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[Pages 233-234]

Sewing the First Flag

Memories from After the First German Occupation

by Feyge Kurdelas-Miller

Translated by Debbie Nathan


After we came back from Warsaw, which is where the Russians expelled us in 1915, a more or less normal life took hold, and things also got livelier for the young people. We tried to bring what we had seen in Warsaw back to the city. We would get together and talk about what needed to be done. At first we met in the woods; we organized these gatherings in secret. From these first days I remember Hertske Shvartshtayn, Barukh Kzhonzhenitser, Meylekh Hershkovitsh, Tsipe Dzhaloshinsky, Hinde-Rivke Grushke, Feyge Kurdelas (later Miller, when I became the daughter-in-law of Vove Miller).

After we had become a more or less stable group, we rented an office in Itshe Kzhonzhenitser's courtyard on Wiskicka Street. Even more young people started coming together here. Our parents also started working with us: for example Feyvl Rotshtayn, Hershl Yakubson, and others. The apartment got to cramped, and we rented – also on Wiskicka Street – a bigger and more comfortable one, on top of where Dr. Rozenberg lived. The size of the membership was considerable. The number on my library card was "20." Our work really broadened, and we went into a bigger office, on Szeroke Street at the corner of Familijna. Here we had a large reading room and also a buffet café where one could drink tea and get a cookie for a snack.

During this time a youth organization was founded and a trade union was created that encompassed all the Jewish workers in the city. All the organizations – the library, the youth group and the trade union – were located in the same office. I belonged to the management. Women comrades volunteered to work in the café; everyone took turns being on duty and serving visitors. After a while, different tendencies arose in the community at large. The Zionists left the library and community, and created the Zionist Center, called "The Center" for short. All the Zionist organizations that were active in Zyrardow went there.

Once, on a Friday night, when I was on duty in the cafe, there was a meeting of the management of the secretariat. The door was locked so that no one who didn't belong could take part in the meeting, which was for the Bund. It so happened that when someone left – it was Yankl Nayman, Yisruel Plotsker's brother-in-law – he forgot to shut the door. So the gendarmes came and discovered the gathering. It turned out that the leader of the patrol was himself a socialist. After looking at the office with its pictures of Karl Marx and others, and with slogans like: "Long Live Socialism!" he ordered the soldiers to leave. And this happened during a time when, in other cities and especially in Warsaw, they simply "pogromed" the workers offices and destroyed the pictures. The news that police had been in the office soon spread through the city. Jews gathered around the office and waited for us to be taken to the police commissariat. Others were saying this was punishment for violating the Sabbath (the meeting took place on Friday evening). But as I said, we got away with it.

I remember how much we loved to work there and lead the activities. I see in front of me Elke Lubtshansky, The Litvak's daughter: she was the secretary. And before my eyes Khane-Feyge Goldberg; the librarian who gave out the books (she was a fan of Mann and lives today in Detroit). There is Avrom-Shloyme Meppen, who apparently taught us youngsters a little something. The organization was dear to me. The office was simply my second home.

I remember how one night we sat together and sewed the first red flag. We helped embroider the inscription onto it. A few days later, in 1918, it was carried at the head of the Bund, in the first legal May Day demonstration. We girl comrades sat for a whole night preparing the flag and red flowers for the holiday.


[Pages 254-255]

The Butchers’ Union

by Leah Krakov-Yakubovitsh

Translated by Debbie Nathan


The Zyrardow butchers were already organized during the first German occupation, from 1915 to 1918. In addition to Jewish charitable matters, they were involved with questions concerning the trade. In this early period, the union leaders were the butchers Avrom Pizhshitsky, Itshe Krakov and Mendl Feygenboym. The union was entirely Jewish, so it was called "the gang." Then, in 1923, the first official union was created under Polish rule. All the butchers of Zyrardow belonged. It had 27 members.

The union busied itself first of all with defending the interests of the trade. There were also questions regarding taxes and prices for kosher and non-kosher meat. But it also played a very active part in Jewish communal life. Although the members were a very small portion of the Jewish population, their role was much bigger, because they contributed an important, if not the most important, part of the community's income. They influenced questions about kosher slaughterers, rabbis, and other community issues that were dependent on the butchers.

The first leader of the union was Mendl Feygenboym, known as Mendl the Bialer Butcher.[1] Among the butchers were people with a well-developed sense of community, and they took part in general civic institutions and activities. The butchers' group worked together in cases where a poor butcher in need required support. This is what happened, for example, with the meat deveiner Shmuel Landau. He died in the 1920s and left his family – wife Nekhemya, two daughters and a son, Menakhem – without a livelihood. The butchers got involved with their situation and decided to insure the meat deveiner's family a minimal existence. The family was given the guts from butchered animals (kosher and non-kosher), which could then be sold to the Christian butchers, who used it for sausage.

There were times when the butchers had to work as a cooperative. Entire transports of animals had to be bought, but not all butchers had cash to put down in advance. The union stepped in to help. It would put up money for butchers who couldn't afford it; and later, after the meat was sold, collect the money.

The butchers' union got a representative onto the kehila. And the union once ran a slate of candidates, but just as with the other Jewish slates, this one had no leader. However, a representative from the butchers' union would be invited to City Hall, where he would deliberate with the councilmen regarding questions about meat prices. The butchers' union established a special tax payment system (for both the government and kehila tax), which was different from that of other trades. The tax here was according to the slaughter, a tax on the butchered animals. In addition, there was the tax on the kosher butchers.

In 1936, the condition of Jewish butchers underwent a severe transformation. This was during the period of intensifying anti-Jewish tendencies in the last Polish government – the so-called Sanatsye government. There was a constant search for ways to expel Jews from more and more roles in the economy. Thus, the proposal from Madam Prystor, the Sejm (Parliament) deputy, to forbid Jewish butchering. Jews started a big movement against this vile decree. It was clear that anti-Semites were not concerned with the claim that Jewish butchering was "inhumane," but rather with the fact that the beef and meat business was in Jewish hands.

Through a series of actions, the Jewish population forced the government to rescind the total ban on kosher butchering. Meat boycotts were organized throughout Poland. Once Jews decided not to consume meat or fish, and the treasuries of many city councils felt it strongly. The government made a compromise: Jewish butchering would not be completely forbidden, but only as much meat as Jews needed could be butchered, about 10 percent of the total meat slaughtered. As a result, only four butchers in Zyrardow got a concession to run kosher meat markets. Permission was received by the butchers Dovid Hershkovitsh, Itshe Krakov, Itshe Grinberg, and Avrom Slupski. Christian customers could not come into their meat markets.

But the butcher's union, in this case, handled the matter in solidarity. Officially only the four butchers had kosher meat, but they organized things among themselves to mitigate the effect of the decree and so that the authorities would not guess how the butchers were operating. Anyway, the set quota was too small for the Jewish community. It was then that the Polish rabbis gave rabbinical permission to "porge"[2] the hind quarters of beasts so as to have enough kosher meat for the Jews.

The butchers' union did not have its own office. But it has its own minyan[3], which had its own great tradition. Only the butchers came together to pray there. They had their own holy book and their own Torah reader. The minyan would move from one place to another. I remember when the butchers' minyan was found in Naftali Tiger's house, and in Khaym Birnboym's and Mendl Feygenboym's.


[Pages 256-260]

Memories of the “Bleykh”

(The Bleach Works)

by Mindl Tiger (née Flamboym)

Translated by Debbie Nathan


The edge of the "Bleach Works" began right by the Blue Cross, at the intersection of Teklinowska Street, which leads to the "nanny goat" – that's what we called the jail. The name Bleach Works came from the fact that this is where the the linen was whitened. After it came from the factory, it required a series of operations to make it look the way it did when it was finished and packaged. It had to be "florkeven"[4], rinsed, and cleaned. Countless pieces of linen were rinsed in the water that ran through our city. After being rinsed the linen was stretched out on meadows that were overgrown with tall grass. There, on the grass beneath the sun and pierced by wind, the linen got its snow-white appearance. This process was called bleaching. That's how the neighborhood got the name Bleach Works. Here I will talk about this section of the city, where I grew up.


* * *



Though the Bleach Works was graced with trees and greenery, there certainly were no improvements on the streets. They were bordered with sidewalks, beside which were big, deep ditches overgrown with weeds. All kinds of garbage and refuse collected in them. In summer during a big rain, the ditches would fill up with water so that you could even go swimming. When that happened the kids really had something to do, and it was great fun for them. They tucked their pants into their galoshes, the girls hiked up their dresses, and they went in the water and pushed against the current. We generally went barefoot in summer – this was thought to be healthiest. After such an adventure, we definitely knew what was waiting for us at home.

Poplars grew on both sides of the road, which lent charm to this part of the city. To our disappointment, though, the poplars were eventually chopped down and the ditches by the roads were filled in. The city removed the earlier, awful sidewalks and made new, wider ones. The muddy ditches dried up, and flowers were put in on both sides, as well as saplings. But we didn't like it – we preferred the earlier panorama, where we could unleash our youthful energy.

It all started with the family of Lazar and Rukhl Tabaksblat, their two daughters, Paye and Hentshe, and their only son, Yekhiel. Yekhiel was a friend of my youngest brother, Moyshe. Together with other youths from our city, these two were Zyrardow's first martyrs to the Holocaust. Lazar's younger daughter, Hentshe, was my childhood friend. We went to school and grew up together. Together we spun out our youthful dreams and fantasies. The entire family was killed; only Hentshe survives in Israel with her family.

Then there was the family of Tuve and Malkhe Shteynzalts. They had a little grocery store. At one time they were our closest neighbors. As young children we grew up together. From this family only the oldest son, Yisruel, remains; he lives in Israel.

There were also Shloyme Shpitsak and his wife, Soyre. Like my father, Shloyme was a shoemaker and had a houseful of children. He was sick for practically his entire life. It was impossible to know the source of his illness: lungs, heart, asthma or all of them combined. Shloyme had to work hard to support his family. When the children were grown up, they helped the sick father at his work.

Haskl Holtshtayn's daughter Leah and her husband "The Litvak" moved into the Ayzenbergs' house after their marriage. They lived there with their children, near Hebel the baker's. We called him The Litvak because he was from Lithuania. The Litvak had a little grocery story. He wasn't very lucky; I don't know if he was really cut out for this business. But he was well versed in world affairs. He would often come to our house and chat about international politics with my father. He, my father and others would always get together and say the prayers for the new moon. Being very young, I would listen quietly at how The Litvak began with "Sholem Aleykhm – Aleykhm Sholem," recited three times. The Polish neighbors paid no attention. They were used to the way Jews performed their prayers.

Among the residents of the Bleach Works was also Yekhiel Hershkovitsh and his wife Esther and son Meylekh. The were poor people even though they had a little grocery store. Esther was always in bed sick. On shabbes after the meal my mother would take the youngest child and make a convalescent visit to Esther. Yekhiel would be sitting in his satin Sabbath coat with a skullcap on his head, rocking back and forth over a prayer book. For us children, the mood in the house was unpleasant, and we would cling to our mother in terror.

Later Yekhiel moved to the city – thinking things might get better, for as they say, "He who changes his place changes his luck." He built a little house and opened a little grocery store there, nothing to sneeze at, which his son Meylekh managed. Yekhiel became a part-owner of the Zyrardow electrical power plant. Esther got well and graced the family with two nice-looking daughters. For my wedding, Yekhiel ordered that electric lighting be installed in all of our rooms so that a Jewish party would be lit up.

And who didn't know Yekhiel-Meyer Lifshits, The Parasol Maker, father-in-law of Elke-Soyre Lifshits. He lived in the Bleach Works with his wife Khaye-Gitl, two sons and two daughters, Ite-Feyge and Vitl. Their older son, Abeh, was exiled by the Russians during World War I and never came back. Khaye-Gitl was very religious with a good heart. A poor man never went away from her house hungry; she would give him her last piece of bread. But things were totally different if a Christian crossed her threshold. Then she would tremble that something impure had been done to her. Whatever this sort of "visitor" had touched, she would scour, scorch, and soak with pails of water, as though putting out a fire, until it seemed "kosher" to her again. When she went to the pump for a pail of water, the line after her got very long because Khaye-Gitl's water collecting was bogged down with all kinds of ceremonies. First of all she would look around the pump in case, God forbid, someone had thrown something unclean into it. Then she would start rinsing the pails through running water, one after the other. Only when she was completely sure she'd gotten the best and cleanest water would she finally carry it home. But on the way home with the pail of water, some pitfall might occur. Khaye-Gitl would imagine that a pig had passed by, and though she was not sure if the pig had rubbed up against the pump, she thought nothing of dumping what she had to get cleaner, kosher water.

Yekhiel-Meyer was not one of the big money earners in the family. He used to put a little sack on his shoulders very early and go into the courtyards, shouting his usual "Trade! Trade!" He tired quickly from the long hours. We lived on First of May Street, in Hebel's house, and since the store was on the street, where my father sat by the window and worked, Yekhiel-Meyer would stop by for some conversation. It so happened that there was always a chair in front of our store. People would catch a britshke[5] to go to Viskit, and they would wait here for it to come. Here also is where people walking through town would stop to rest. Yekhiel-Meyer very often occupied this chair. We were in-laws with his family. He would sit and chat, then go back to his "business." His wife, Khaye-Gitl, often poured her bitter heart out to my mother. They were friends from girlhood; both came from Amshinov. She was especially regretful about her two daughters – Ite-Feygl and Vitl – who, poor things, had to work like drudges to help support the household.

Ite-Feygl and Vitl were seamstresses and real artisans. With their amazing talent and creativity, they turned out the most beautiful lace and taffeta; various bows, button holes, little butterflies, and birds for brides' trousseaus. These two dressed all the Jewish fiancees and brides with their wedding outfits. They shared their artisanship with others. From them, many Jewish girls from Zyrardow learned to be seamstresses. Yekhiel-Meyer and Khaye-Gitl died shortly before World War II. Their entire family, including the married couples, were killed by Hitler's beasts.

In the same house as Khaye-Gitl, where the roof attached to the wooden walls, lived Little Meykhl and his family. He had a dry-goods store and was a very observant Hassid.

When the children were grown they traveled around with their parents to all the markets in the surrounding towns. The whole family was killed in the Holocaust.

At the beginning of the Bleach Works, on First of May Street, also lived Ezriel Lifshits, an iron dealer, and his family. Ezriel was the uncle of Yitsik Lifshits. He was an observant, pious Jew, but did not overdo it. His entire family was also killed.

Before World War I, the Krist family also lived in the the Bleach Works. The family came back to live in the city in 1915 from Warsaw, where they had all been driven, and little by little started emigrating to America. One son, Sholem, lives in France with his family. His brother Moyshe stayed in Poland and was one of the first martyrs of the Nazi assault in November, 1939. He was shot along with my brother Moyshe and others.

After the return in 1915 of the "homeless" – as people in Warsaw called those who had been chased from the towns – some were unable to find their previous residences, so they moved to the Bleach Works. Thus, the family of Yidl Shulevitsh the meat deveiner moved next door to us, including his wife Feygele and their three very young sons. They wore small, round silk hats from which you could see their little earlocks. Their business was in their home, and in the middle of it was a strange, circular machine that was turned when necessary. We children had no idea what it was used for, and it was something of a sensation. We only saw that cans of milk got poured into the machine – it was an amazing mystery for us. We got along very well with these new neighbors. Yidl the deveiner often came to my father's cobbler shop and got wrapped up in conversation. His wife, Feygele was a quiet, gentle, pious woman whom we hardly ever heard speak. She often asked my mother for advice about housekeeping. Feygele thought that Dinele (my mother) knew more about such things, because – knock on wood – she had been a housewife for a long time. The family didn't live long in the Bleach Works; later they moved somewhere else in the city.

Afterwards, Binyomin Goldberg, a butcher, his wife Toybe, two sons and a daughter, Manye, moved into the same apartment. Binyomin always talked loudly: he was an angry man and did not speak but practically shrieked. One had to be careful about speaking to Binyomin when a calf or a cow went treyf on him during slaughtering. Binyomin was called "Kozhe". He had a habit of going into the butcher shop and starting to say (presumably as a remedy): "Kosher, kosher" – over and over, until it came out "kuzhe." That's how he got the nickname.

Binyomin was very noisy at his business, but at home he could not tolerate the slightest commotion. He believed that at home he had a right to total peace and quiet. He even stopped the clock that struck every hour as clocks normally do. He would get up very early every day to go to the butcher shop. When it snowed in winter, he would lie down to sleep after a rich, greasy dinner. After a few hours he would think it was already daytime. He would get dressed quickly in the dark, grab his things and leave breathlessly for the butcher shop. The watchman already knew that it was Binyomin knocking. He wouldn't open for him, but would yell out, "Binyomin, you've gone nuts! It's twelve o'clock at night, go back to sleep…"

His wife, Toybe, was a quiet, pious woman. She never went to the meat market before praying. She would amiably say that "It's harder to live with a man like Binyomin than it is to learn a page of the Talmud." Every shabbes after sleeping, Toybe would sit with her women's prayer book. Wives and female neighbors would come and listen with earnest sighs to how Toybe recited the Yiddish version of the Pentateuch. During these gatherings Binyomin would be in a holiday mood. He wouldn't allow anyone to utter a loud word. It was shabbes, a day unlike other days, and he would take a break from the daily noise. Later, Binyomin and his family went to America, where he married off his daughter Elke. In Zyrardow his married son Lipeh remained with his wife, Khane and their two children. Khane was the daughter of Khaym and Mintshe Ginzburg.

When Binyumin and his family departed for America they left their belongings behind for Lipeh. His and Khane's two children, Mintshe and Shloyme, were almost raised in our house. They were like our own children. When I left Poland they were still small. In 1938 Mintshe went to France to her uncles and aunt, the brothers and sister of her mother. (One of the uncles, Leybl, was deported with his family and did not come back. The younger one, Motl, and his wife's sister Leah Ginzburg, are in Paris). Mintshe missed her parents and brother. She didn't feel at home in Paris. She went back to share the fate of all our brothers and sisters, the fate of all martyrs.

I have tried in this memoir to call up my old home, my family, my youthful and childhood dreams, my friends from the Bleach Works. They were not rich people. They were laborers who worked hard and with hardship at their jobs. I wish I remembered everyone, but no doubt I've left out some people. I want these lines of mine to be a wreath on the unknown graves of these dead martyrs who perished at the cruel, unclean hands of the Nazi murderers. May their memory live with us forever.


[Page 269]

The Women’s International Zionist Organization: WIZO

by Malkhe Khanakhovitsh

Translated by Debbie Nathan


In summer 1933, a local chapter of the Women's International Zionist Organization "WIZO" was founded in Zyrardow. The founders were the following women: Henye Shvitshka, Rudele Titelman-Grunvald, Mrs. Bronshtayn (the mother-in-law of Reb Shloyme-Dovid the wine merchant), the wife of Dr. Landau, my girlfriends: Zlate Rotnberg-Kshonzhenitser, Dvoyre Nisnberg-Landau, Khave Vasertsug-Rozentsveyg, and the writer of these lines.

We rented an office for the union on Ogrodowa Street, where Itsik Ziskind lived, of blessed memory. We developed far reaching activity in this office. We conducted a fund raiser that was successful. The next activity was also very successful and was widely recognized in the city. Our undertakings were very popular locally. I want here to especially remember my sister Khayele, who excelled at special activities. Of the major activists, I want to remember Mrs. Khaye Mostavska-Goldberg, who now lives in Israel.

One of our successful actions was to create a kindergarten that was an example for the whole neighborhood.

After making aliyah to Palestine in 1934 and until the Holocaust, I kept in touch with the management of the Zyrardow WIZO and learned about their activities. During the rupture everything was destroyed, and the faithful activists shared the fate of our Six Million.




 

Photos in order of appearance in the original text:

Page 255: The family of Itshe Krakov. From right to left, seated: Daughter Zlate Krakov-Yas; Itshe Krakov; grandchild Beyle Tsirele (daughter of Zlate and Gershon Yas); Itshe's wife, Khaye-Soyre; son-in-law Gershon Yas. Standing: The children: Fishl, Neshe, Berel, Freydl Diamont (Berel's bride-to-be), Hendl. Of the entire family, the only ones who survived are: Berel Krakov (Buenos Aires), and Leah, who went to Argentina in 1936 to her husband, Moyshe Yakubovitsh.
Page 257: The Flamboym family from the Bleach Works. From right to left, seated: Yitsik Flamboym and his wife Dinah. Standing: Moyshe, their youngest son, one of the first martyrs of the Nazi brutalities, shot by the Germans during their march into Zyrardow; Rekhl, their oldest daughter, who was married to Yankl Rotblat from Amshinov; their son Avrom Zavl, who was married to Rivke from Amshinov. All were killed in the Nazi extermination.
Page 258: Ite Feyge Lifshits, daughter of the pious Khaye-Gitl from the Bleach Works.
Page 258: Lozer Tsalel from the Bleach Works, killed with his wife, Ite-Feyge Lifshits, and their child in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Page 259: Mendl Lifshits, son of Khaye-Gitl (nicknamed "The Pious One") from the Bleach Works. Killed with his wife, Khane Gothard, and their two children in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Page 259: The Krist family from the Bleach Works. From right to left: Moyshe Krist, who was later shot, together with several other youths, when the Germans arrived. Soyre Krist, who died in America; Rivke Krist, killed in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Page 260: Lipeh Goldberg his wife Khane, daughter of Aaron Khaym Ginzburg, with their children. The whole family perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Page 269: Children's home of the WIZO in Zyrardow, together with the administrator, Rivke Goldberg (today in Israel). Most of the little children were killed by the Nazis.


Footnotes

  1. This nickname could be translated as The White Butcher or the Butcher from Bialy. return
  2. To remove the forbidden fat and veins from meat to make it kosher. return
  3. Gathering for religious services. return
  4. This is a direct transliteration of the Yiddish and refers to a process in preparing the linen. return
  5. A horse and cart. return

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