[Page 223 - Yiddish] [Page 13 - Hebrew]
by Eliyahu Rind, Haifa
Translated by Moses Milstein
It is, unfortunately, difficult to establish exactly when the Jewish community in Krasnobrod, near Zamosc, was founded.
According to certain known facts, we can assume that a Jewish community already existed there 500 years ago. There was a cemetery hundreds of years old, on the road to the village of Hitek, left of the woods on the sand. The remnants of tombstones found there is evidence of this fact.
In 1914, when the Russian army was fortifying its position in the shtetl, and digging trenches, they uncovered a tombstone in good condition. They were able to make out the engraved title of a respected Jew who died in the year 5337, that is, 379 years ago. From this, we can conclude that a Jewish community had already existed there years earlier.
When Rabbi Nachum Feigenboim, zl, (originally from the shtetl, Lamaz, in Lithuania) was informed of this, he, along with several community leaders, went out to the site and concluded that it had once been a cemetery. They also decided that a small wall should be constructed as a sign to future generations that this is a holy place.
The age of our community can also be demonstrated by the fact that half the cemetery was full and some of the gravestones are 300 years old. I believe that the community was founded by a given number of families who intermarried. This must be the reason why almost half of the families in our shtetl had the same surnames. Also the ancient wills and testaments provide evidence that Jewish assets were held by a few families only.
According to an old legend, the shtetl lay in another place entirely hundreds of years ago, somewhere around Greshtis mountain, and it was called Chelmnitz. But after the shtetl was completely destroyed, the Jews moved lower down, closer to the river Wieprz, and rebuilt the town under its new name.
It is hard to know where the legend originated from, and how true it was. I have childhood memories of the great fires that wiped the town off the map, and living among the peasants until the town was rebuilt.
The Jewish community before the First World War.
Our shtetl, exactly like all the Jewish shtetls in Poland, was home to Jews from a variety of circles and social classes. Business owners, merchants, grocers, tradesmen, laborers, and dorfshendler. They were not particularly worried about making a living. Their reward was living respectfully. They lived together in peace and unity. They were mindful of prayer and the injunction to love thy neighbor as yourself.
Our community always strived to acquire the most renowned rabbinic personalities as our spiritual leaders.
Four generations ago, the spiritual leader of our congregation was Harav Mordechai Yosef Babad, a descendant of Tarnopol. His place was passed to his son, R' Israel Yakov Babad. After him came Harav Zvi Yechezkel Michelson, later to become Rosh Bet Din of Warsaw. (Died under the Nazis.)
After R' Michelson left Krasnobrod, the aforementioned R' Nachum Feigenboim, also of renowned rabbinic lineage, a brotherinlaw of the Radziner rebbe, R' Gershon Chanuch, was engaged. In his later years, he published a book, Halachta Rabta L'shavta. He died in 1917.
The old folks used to tell us that the rebbe of Lublin, the seer, came from Krasnobrod. They would even point out the house where his wedding took place, to substantiate the legend.
The rebbe of Lublin, the seer, was betrothed to a tenant farmer's daughter from the village of Katchuka, 5 verst from our shtetl. The wedding was to be celebrated in Krasnobrod. When the bride was brought under the chupa the seer said, The sages of the Talmud say, Asur l'adam sh'yikdesh et ha'isha ad sh'yirenah. Thus, I want to see her before I take her for my wife. When they lifted her veil and uncovered her face, he declared that he would not marry her because he saw a cross on her face. The wedding did not take place. Later, it was said that she left the derech hayashar and converted.
The rebbe from Lublin's real wedding also took place in Krasnobrod, and the house where it took place was known.
The following story about the time of Chmielnicki was told in our shtetl.
When Chmielnicki's forces got closer to our neighborhood, the Jews of Krasnobrod began to lobby the noblemen of Kranobrod, Bander and Jadamow to keep them safe. They promised to protect them for a large sum of money, and they fulfilled their promise.
At the time, Chmielnicki's general staff were quartered on Jadamow's estate. The army remained in the Bander forests and avoided the shtetl. As a result, the Jews escaped mass murder.
Some bandits still managed to get into town, and coming upon a wedding in the shul's courtyard, they shot the bride and groom. They were both buried there.
We all knew that, on the north side of the shul, between the shul and the beit hamidrash, there was a little mound indicating the grave. The cohanim avoided the area and took the path between the beit hamidrash and the public baths.
The really old people, that I can remember from my childhood, were always telling us about how well previous generations got along together in peace and unity, how they were true Chasidim, and followed the ways of their great rabbi, the Besht, and his disciples.
Until, that is, the wellknown makhloykes haskholes, broke out among the Radziner Chasidim between those who wore tikheyles threads in their tzizes, and all the other Chasidic dynasties who were against it.
The quarrels spread to all the Jewish residents of Polish Russia. It was especially acute in our region. The rabbis called them makhloykes kerakh meaning the towns of Krasnobrod, Rajowiec and Chelm. In these areas, they even came to blows, and a strong enmity grew between the Chasidim on both sides.
This resulted in marriages arranged between other towns, and thanks to that, the shtetl began to grow and increase in population. New Chasidic shtieblach were established. Everyone did their own thing and travelled to their rebbes.
In the end, it was a quarrel for the sake of heaven, and slowly, the fire of fanaticism extinguished itself. Nevertheless, the enmity was felt for years, and if I am not mistaken, it was the reason that Harav R' Zvi Yehezkel Michelson left the chair of the Krasnobrod rabbinate.
Krasnobrod was not even listed on any maps until the First World War, and carried the qualification of Osada (settlement). This gave her the privilege of benefitting from the few rights that were granted to the peasants in the 19th century when they were freed from serfdom.
By decree, a certain portion of aristocratic land was granted to the peasants as compensation for their years of servitude. Our community was also given a portion of forest, and everyone's portion was recorded by number and boundaries.
In order to avoid arguments where someone preferred a nicer piece, or someone got a less welltreed portion, it was decided to sell the land, and share the proceeds equally.
R'Meyerl Untziga scholarwho was a good writer, was chosen to carry out the transaction.
The city was divided into sections, and it was announced that the forest was being sold without the land beneath, only the right to harvest trees was sold.
The company, Federbush, from Lemberg, bought the right to the timber for a sum of close to 50 thousand rubles, and began to work immediately. Some Jews from our town were also employed there. I remember two of them, Tevel Schreiber, and Israel Leib Eilboim. They worked there as employees.
It is to be remembered that in the serfdom era, Jews were obligated to work for the nobility along with the goyim. They were allowed one exception, not to work on Shabbos or the holidays.
The forest was actually called the Jewish Forest, and I can remember parts of it from when I was a child. Every Tisha B'Av, when we were freed from going to cheder, groups of us got together, and with sacs in our hands we would go to our forest to gather nuts. Even though it was our Jewish forest, we still ran away in fear if we encountered shkotzim because they often greeted us with blows, or snatched away our hats.
No one of my generation knows what was done with the large sum of money that flowed in from the forest. Nor were any documents found. It didn't take long, and the land left from the loggedout forest also went over to goyishe hands. In their landhunger, they gladly bought it from the Jews. The few who did not immediately sell, gave it over to the peasants to sow. In return, the farmer would bring them a sac of potatoes or a measure of wheat for Shmurah Matzah. Slowly, the peasant became the de facto owner of the land.
One Jew nevertheless, stubbornly refused to sell his part of the land. That was Arche Schlegela pious Chasidic Jewwho worked the field with his children, planted along with the farmers, cut and gathered the wheat in sheaves. He was the only one among the shtetl Jews who still occupied himself with that kind of work, really the Last of the Mohicans.
|R' Artshe Shlegel|
But even he gave it up later, thus putting an end to the chapter, land, that our community received as a great prize from the Polish aristocrats.
One portion alone remained in Jewish hands, and was never sold, and that was the portion of woods and field owned by Berl Knebel (Yokele's)
In the year of the jackpot, Purim was happily celebrated with no poor people. Not one pauper was to be found in our shtetl, and no begging hand was outstretched.
The musical Purim troupe led by Moishele Sofer and his retinue of old men from the Belzer shtiebel, among whom I remember: Mendele Beker, Elhanan Shuster, Matieh Ber, and Azriel Beker.
They had two goals: First, to get everyone happily singing holiday songs; and second, to raise several hundred rubles to be donated to Hachnoses Kalah.
One of the elders in shtetl told me that, years ago, he had lived for a while in Josefow where he had a little shop. He made a living with his business, but did not have a dowry for his daughter. It was almost impossible to marry a daughter without a dowry in those days. Nevertheless, he told no one about his poverty.
One day, Moishele Sofer, AH, came to see him and asked him: Why aren't you getting a husband for your daughter, ha? And with that he took out 200 rubles, put the money on the table, and quickly left.
R' Shlomo Bergstein, an old man, once told me that this very same musical troupe of Belzer Chasidim from our shtetl recognized Yoshe Kalb in the Belzer court. He had lived in Krasnobrod for a time. They were the chief witnesses in the great Din Torah. Years later, when I saw the play, Yoshe Kalb, by I. J. Singer, in the Yiddish theater, I was reminded of the tales I had heard during my childhood.
Before World War I, there were about 400 Jewish families in our shtetl. To this we must add some tens of Jewish families living in the surrounding villages who were in every way like the Jews of the shtetl. Among them were scholars, Chasidim, and simple warmhearted Jewish folk. They participated in shtetl society along with everyone else. Their children either studied in town, or they brought the best melamdim and teachers to them. All the folk tales and jokes about illiterate villagers did not apply to the Jews around our shtetl. They came to the shtetl as equals, and brought the finest presents and donations. They occupied important leadership roles along with the important men of the shtetl.
I remember that every Rosh Hashana they would leave their wellestablished homes and come to town in wagons fully loaded with packs. Everyone already had a place to stay for the holidays. You could feel the love that Jews had for one another, and the holiday peace that pervaded the shtetl.
It is certainly possible that today, when we evoke the memories of our shtetl, everything seems brighter, more beautiful. It's possible that today we see only good things, cherished stories, true brotherhood and love among Jewsand it's possible that we are not inclined now to see the negative sideswhich there undoubtedly wereof our shtetl Jewish life. Nevertheless, we know that life was brighter, that beauty shone from Jewish life and filled us with faith and meaning that were the foundation of our lives.
We were 20 km from Zamosc, the district seat, to which we were closely tied. We would go there to see doctors, on business, and for all kinds of government things. Even though Zamosc was a center of Haskalah, it did not affect our shtetl, and the Haskalah spirit did not infect our youth.
Up until World War I, there was not a Jewish boy who had shaved his beard. There was hardly any difference in appearance or dress among the various social classes.
After a day of work and trade, everyone went to his beit hamidrash, and the melodies of those studying rang through the town. At dawn, the shammes woke the shtetl for Avoydes Haboyre, knocking three times on every Jewish door, and not missing anyone.
On Shabbos and the holidays, when the whole town's Jews dressed in their Shabbos clothes, the women in their Jewelry, and everyone going to daven, one could really feel the holy spirit entering every little Jewish corner. When a rebbe came to visit, the celebration was tremendous. Goyim passing by would listen with envy to the zmiros singing that came from every Jewish home.
On summer Saturdays, the women would sit outside their homes and loudly read together the Tsenerene.
On Shabbos, in those days, no one dared to cross the tkhum on the other side of the bridge, or the other side of the shtetl. The pious Shmuel Zeinvl, AH, established an eruv, al pi ha'din. If the shkotzim tore down the wires, he would take Ber Tezer or another of his students, and quickly repair the eruv.
As soon as Rosh Chodesh, Elul, was observed, the city acquired a different appearance. The fear of the coming Days of Awe made everyone more religious, and reflections on atonement occupied everyone's mind.
In the evenings, after mincha and ma'ariv, most people remained in the beit midrashim or shtiebls. They began to study. Large naphtha lamps were lit to make it easier to study. Some held a candle in their hands, deeply engrossed in their reading, ignoring the wax that dripped, like tears, onto the old, yellowed pages of the holy books. On Thursday nights, some stayed up all night studying.
After a boy had his Bar Mitzvah, he would stop going to cheder and went on to the beit hamidrash, or went to another city to the yeshiva. They studied chumash with Rashi, Gemara with Tosafot and Mefarshim. But they insisted that Nevi'im and Ktuvim not be taught. The Chasidim did not think it was desirable to study them.
It was said that our melamed, R' Baruch Yokele's Glustman, was studying Tanach in secret with the Malbim, which according to Chasidic thought, was strictly prohibited. One could believe it of him. He was a learned scholar with greater understanding than any other melamed or scholar in town. His method of teaching was unique. He could also write in several languages: Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German, and a little French. It's hard to know how he learned these languages, because he never travelled away from home. He certainly didn't learn them from his father, a poor melamed from the little shtetl of Komorow.
During Slichot, Zalma Ber (he was a shoemaker) would begin waking people up at 3:00 o'clock in the morning.
One night, Zalman Ber awoke at midnight, and not having a watch, he got up, took his wooden hammer, and set off to wake people for Slichot. People, tired, sleepy, got up, woke the boys older than 12, hastily poured out negelvasser, lit the lanterns, and set off for the beit hamidrashes. The houses where no grownup girls were left (girls who were not yet married did not go to Slichot) were shut with padlocks, and the rest went off to beg God for health and a livelihood. The bandits quickly sniffed out the situation, and when the people returned at dawn, they found heir houses emptied out. A pity on poor old shammes Zalman Ber who received his share from the outraged owners.
Min hametzar karati yah…with awe and fear and deep mysticism, the whole congregation stood at the blowing of the shofar with holy fervor in their prayers. Above, in the women's gallery, the women and girls sat in their finest dresses and jewelry, and looked down through the large windows on the men in shul. From time to time a man would glance upward, but remembering what sort of day it was, he would quickly return to his prayers.
Once finished davening, everyone went home to eat, and then quickly returned to the beit hamidrash. No one dared take a nap, becaue it was written in the holy books, that it was forbidden to sleep during the day of Rosh Hashana: you could, God forbid, sleep your good fortune away. After mincha, the crowd went singing to the river for tashlich. The men took over the whole bridge, the women standing along the banks, and all the sins and sorrows were shaken into the water. Returning, it seems, one walked easier, as though relieved of a heavy load. One felt the kind of spiritual enjoyment which nourishes the soul and the body together.
How fanatic our shtetl was can be illustrated by the following: Just before World War I, a respectable man from our shtetl gave his daughter in marriage to a young man from Warsaw. As soon as the young man arrived, the news spread that he was an apikoros, even though he was wearing a kapote, and a Chasidic hat. Because his beard was pointed and his payes weren't as long as those in our town, they viewed him as an apikoros. Chasidim did not trim their beards, and were scrupulous in not throwing away any hair that might fall from their beard.
It did not take long for them to divorce. There was no place in town for such an apikoros as this Chasidic, young man was.
A fire broke out in the shtetl, in the middle of the night, during the week of Shavuot, 1913. Two warehouses full of goods burned down. One warehouse, filled with glass, was owned by Pinyele Glatter. The second, full of flour, belonged to Myer Fuchs. The fire quickly grew and could not be extinguished. More than half the shtetl was consumed in flames. The other half, with the shul, and the batei midrash were spared. The shtetl rebuilt itself so completely that, at the time of the First World War, no traces of the fires remained.
But a new fire arrived, one that enveloped the world and set it ablaze with the flames of war. It did not spare our shtetl.
During World War I
During the first mobilization of the Tsarist army, about 20 Jews from our shtetl were mobilized. They were quickly sent to the front.
On a Friday, they assembled the mobilized group in the middle of the market, before being shipped out. The howls and cries from their families could have moved a stone. When the group began to move out, and the farewells began, the wailing reached the heavens. On this Shabbos, families were left orphaned by the departure of their husbands, fathers, and sons. This Shabbos was disrupted in the shtetl of Krasnobrod where for generations, Shabbos was a symbol of rest, joy, and holiness.
|Dovid Ben Yechezkel (Yakov Ber's) and Avigdor Rind in the Tsarist army|
If my memory does not trick me, those mobilized were: Shalom (Naviner) Fersht, YitzchakHersh Weissfish, Nachman Shtokhammer, Avigdor Rind (my father, A'H'), Moshe Kupfer (the hat maker), the three Krelman brothers, Chaim Pipek's son (the old man was later dragged into the Austrian army as a spy) Matye Knebel, Yakov Leibreiner, Leibish Fuchs (Mendel Beker's son), Nathan Interboich (today in America), Velvel Hackman, Israel Tabak, and others. (The last two did not return).
When the front approached Komorow, the military authorities ordered the evacuation of the shtetl. There were trenches already dug surrounding the city. There was generalized panic. In haste, people dug graves, and buried their fortunes. They fled in search of a place to save themselves, taking only what they could carry. The deserted shtetl was later destroyed by the battles, and burnt down.
After a while, as the battles moved further away, the Jews began to return. They settled in the ruins, or stayed with goyim in the surrounding villages, and began to rebuild the shtetl anew. But the shul and the beit hamidrash remained in ruinous condition for years.
The davened in minyans in the private homes of Pinchas Rothheiser, Hersh Geist, Itche Lefler, Shlomo Bergstein, Shmuel Levenfuss, Shmuel Gortler, and Itche Bleichman.
In 1917, Rav R' Nachum Feigenboim died, and the only one to carry on was the moyrehhoyreh, R' Mair Zilberman.
Under Polish rule
When the first Polish government came to power, a town council was created, and the Jews elected the clever Moshe Eli Chaim Gerzon. Although he was a zealous Chasid, he mastered both speaking and writing in Polish. After his death, R' Shmuel Gortler became the representative, a post he held until the Devastation.
The Polish authorities had scarcely had time to solidify their power, before the peasants began to rob and plunder Jewish possessions. Every Sunday and Tuesday, they would descend in large groups to rob Jewish stores. Whoever tried to resist them was met with blows. Goyim, who we personally knew well, came with iron bars and axes, and without shame or fear, they broke open the doors of stores, and took whatever they pleased. The three Polish policemen in town were not to be seen, nor did they try to stop the robberies.
The Jews in the villages also were included in the terror. Their homes were ruined. The windows broken, the possessions taken. The days, and especially the nights, were passed in dread. It was a miracle that they did not yet take to murdering people, and were occupied only with stealing Jewish wealth.
During market days, Sunday and Tuesday, the Jewish stores were locked. But the Jewish stores needed the two days of business, and as a result, there was an economic decline.
Delegations to the starosta in Zamosc were sent frequently to ask for help with the bandits. Other than fine words, no help was forthcoming. Despair crept into every home, and fear was reflected in people's eyes.
One fine Tuesday, groups of policemen arrived from the direction of Zamosc, armed with rifles and grenades. They took over the center of the city and all the surrounding streets. At the same time, from the Tomaszow side, organized bands of bandits appeared carrying weapons. They came in the hundreds, and immediately began to pillage, in view of the police.
But when the police began to beat them with rubber batons, and fired a few salvos into the air, they fled like rats to their dens. The city became quiet after that.
It must be said that if we had mounted a resistance and not allowed them to run wild, we would not have reached such a state of robbery, and we would have restored order with our own efforts. In order to prove this, I will present several facts:
On a certain Sunday, a bunch of bandits grabbed old Yokele Knebel, and began to cut off his beard with a knife. Hersh Sender's (Lefler) was a witness to this, and not being able to stand the humiliation, he grabbed a stick and threw himself on the shkotzim. His brotherinlaw quickly came to his aid, and the bandits ran away in fear.
|A group of Krasnobrod young men in the Polish army|
It was quiet for a short time, and it was thought that life was back to normal. It turned out though that the cup of sorrow was not yet full. In 1920, Petliera's bandits came to town, and for 24 hours they ran rampant, raping women, plundering Jewish possessions, beating, stripping naked two Jews and murdering them: Chaim Schneider and Shlomel Melech.
After six hard years of pain and sorrow, the shtetl became quiet again, and life normalized and bloomed again. The rabbinate proclaimed a day of prayer and a TanesTsiber. All the stores were closed and business stopped, and the whole community gathered at the shul, and offered prayers. At the exit, the gabais collected donations from the assembled.
A few months later, the Linat Hatzedek group celebrated a Hachnasat Sefer Torah in the shul ruins. R' Yosef Rind, a former Krasnobrod resident who had returned from America, was present. Upon seeing the ruins of the shul he delivered a passionate drasha calling for the restoration of the shul. A committee was soon established to reach this goal with the participation of everyone according to their abilities.
The best master builders were brought in from everywhere, and the shul was quickly built. Moishele Sefer, AH, painted it in beautiful colors. The big, sixfoot, brass menorah was brought back, which the gabai, Aharon Luchfeld, had saved from the fires, and Chanukathabayit was celebrated with great joy.
It was a real yom tov then in the shtetl. Old and young were dressed in their holiday best. Music (brought in from Lublin), was playing, people danced in the streets and visited family at tables laden with the best. It could really be said:
He who has not seen the simcha at the Krasnobrod beit haknesset, has never seen a simcha in his life!
|R' Aharon Lochfeld, zl|
Control of the shul went to the Chevra Kedisha. Its gabai became the shul gabai.
At the Simchat Torah kiddush, the battle to elect a new gabai for the coming year began. Motzi Sukkot, everyone would get together at the rev's house, and hear who was nominated. After that, a child would draw the ballots with the names out of the rebbe's yarmulke. That's how the gabai and two of his deputies were elected. Sometimes, a gabai was hired for an additional year. This happened only with someone who managed the financial side well, received fat burial donations from the heirs of the wealthy, and who, every Shabos, provided a Kiddusha Rabba for the congregation.
I can remember the following gabais: Aharon (Israel Kupiec's) Lochfeld, Eliyahu Zimmerman, Yosef Lederman, Shmuel Rind, Yosef Friedlender, Mordechai Gortler, Itzhak Hersh Weissfish, Shmuel Levenfus, Shimon Untzig, Berl (Naftali's) Steinberg, Chaim Untzig, Aharon Shmuel Miltz, Itche Moishe Untzig, and the director of the shul, Leib Borg.
New winds in Krasnobrod
Our shtetl was small in size, but large in quality of life. In this, it was no different than in larger Jewish settlements in Poland.
Our youth, who passionately embraced life, and the challenge to bring a new agenda into Jewish life, encountered substantial difficulties. It required much courage and endurance to break down the wall of old ideas and customs behind which our parents took refuge, staying true to the conservative way of life of previous generations.
Quarrels and fights increased between parents and children. They spread from the home to the schools and synagogues. The battles between the older generation and the awakening youth became sharper and more determined.
When the Balfour Declaration was announced, we wondered around drunk on nationalist dreams and fantasies. We eagerly read every newspaper and journal that we could get our hands on. Nevertheless, we lacked the power to organize and accomplish something.
Finally, some of the youth joined the central committee of the Keren Kayemet L'Israel in Warsaw, and received from them instructions on how to organize the activities.
Their opponents, the youth of Agudat Israel, began a counteraction and brought in a Rava speaker. They distributed for free the orthodox organ, Der Yud. The older generation gave them all the help they needed. They were able to get the attention of the shtetl youth for a while, but not for long.
In 1920, the house of Berish Givertz became a Zionist center. The majority of the youth went there. We acquired a gramophone, and thus were able to listen to the speeches of a great variety of Zionist leaders, whose names were written on the records. They were sent from the central K.K.L. The establishment of the Zionist movement in Krasnobrod became a fact.
We took to the work with youthful passion. It was not easy to distribute the blue, white tins. Nevertheless, we managed to take an important position in the K.K.L. In 1923, commendations for their activity were received by: Yakov Zimmerman, Yehoshua Babad, Yehoshua Gortler, Alezer Glickman, Sholom Aharon Rendler, and Eliyahu Rindthe author of these lines.
Because of the great storm caused by our activities, our parents became calmer, and slowly made peace with the idea of our abandoning the Derech Hayashar. We conducted meetings without disturbances, and we planned to establish a library at the Zionist organization, the first of its kind in the shtetl.
The library, and its books, was to be open to anyone. More than once, parents stormed in shouting and hitting their son or daughter and dragging them home. Nevertheless, we managed to enlarge the library and buy new books.
The work for the K.K.L was proving to be difficult. I am reminded of an episode from the first Chamisha esser b'Shabbat action that we carried out: We received, from K.K.L. central, various kinds of dried fruit, and small paper bags. All night we sat and filled the bags. In the morning, on a frosty day, we set off to sell the little bags. Buyers there were none of, but insults to our appeal there were plenty of.
The single unified Zionist organization in the shtetl did not long maintain its oneness. Gradually, each group began to organize itself separately. Speakers, and organizers from various Zionist parties visited, and increased the rift in the shtetl.
At the congress elections, the most votes went to Poalei Zion with its youth wing, FreiheitDror. Mizrahi came second, and third, the General Zionists and their two spinoffs, Al Hamishmar, and Et L'banot. The Revisionist party in our town was very small, but it had several active and dedicated members: Bintche Rosenfeld, Mechl Meyer, Yonah Lerer, and Yodl Untzig (today in America).
The Bund and the Communists had very interesting and knowledgeable members in their organisations. They also had a splendid youth wing.
In 1929, the Polish police carried out night arrests of the members of the Communist party, and sent them to various prisons for long terms.
The drama society, under the direction of Yehoshua Babad, produced a host of pieces which went off with great success, and contributed greatly to the cultural development of the youth.
Agudat Israel was left weakened organizationally when it lost the youth. Not willing to give up, they decided to monopolize education. They established a cheder under the name of Cheder Yesodei HaTorah. Among the founders were: Chaim Untzig, Baruch Eli Broder, and Motl Halperin.
At the top of Agudat Israel were, apart from those already mentioned: Itche meir Kupiec, Aharon Greenboim, Moishe Helfman, Moishe Margolit, Zvi Steinberg, Zvi Broder, Itche Knebel, Israel Lochfed, and others. When the cheder closed after a short time, they began, with fanatical bitterness, to harass the Zionist youth who were still in the batei midrashim. Every Shabbos they created scenes and refused to daven with them.
In order to avoid the confrontations, they organized minyans for themselves. With time, the minyan grew, and became a place of true unity.
In their battle to save the youth, the Radziner Chasidim came to the conclusion that they needed to bring in a Manhig Ha'ir, and not continue with the scholarly R' Meir Zilberman. They succeeded in influencing several Gerer Chasids and together, without the consent of the majority of the residents, brought in a Rav for the shtetl.
The outrage over the action of a small group of Chasidim was great. A huge quarrel erupted. The other side also brought in a Rav, a local from the Babad family, Harev Menachem Manish Margoliot. The majority demanded of the minority that they retire their candidate. But they refused with the argument that the Chair of the Rabbinate belonged to them in as much as the late Rav R'Nachum Feigenboim was a Radziner Chasid.
After much quarreling and investigating, a Din Torah was handed down by several prominent rabbisheaded by the Tarner ravand they ruled that the first rabbi must leave the city, and that Harav Menachem Manish Margoliot, the rabbi picked by the majority, should stay. He remained our spiritual leader from 1923 until the Destruction.
In the period from 19201930, the economic situation of the Jews was quite good. It was a prosperous time. About 30 of the residents were engaged in the lumber industry, one of the good businesses in Poland. This stirred feelings of envy among the Christian neighbors. They took to business themselves, built stores in the center of town, and tried to conquer the Jewish businesses.
When this failed, they proposed to the authorities that the market be moved outside of town, ostensibly for sanitary reasons, but as a result the Jews would lose business. They also picked out the suitable spot for the market, naturally in a completely Christian neighborhood. They immediately began to build stores and opened two bakeries.
In a short time, farmers were no longer seen in the shtetl market. Jewish economic life fell with one blow. In light of this situation, the prominent people of the shtetl went to see the priest to get him to influence the farmers. A delegation that travelled to the starasto got no answer. A delegation headed by Eliyahu Zimmerman went to Warsaw to see the Jewish deputies in the Sejm. They brought along lawyers, headed by Dr. Hartglass. And after long interventions the decree was voided. The shtetl breathed easier for a short time.
In 1932, the members of the Zionist minyan began action to take Jewish education away from the cheders and their oldfashioned melamdim.
|A group of sixth grade schoolgirls in the folkshule|
The issue was real also because the children attended the Polish state school and after half a day of studying in a modern, bright school building, they had to spend the second half of the day in cramped, dark, and often dirty cheders.
Understandably, our actions simply meant a revolution in the shtetl. First of all, it was compared to conversion, and secondly, it threatened the livelihood of a group of melamdim who were, moreover, not capable of any other kind of work.
A group of schoolgirl members of Hashomer HaDati.
In the center is the counselor, Itah Margoliot
(All perished under the Nazis)
The Mizrachi party, according to a directive from Yavneh central in Warsaw, started to organize a Yavneh school. The Polish school authorities began to raise objections and refused to consider the school under any circumstances. They could not allow the freeing of Jewish children from the obligation to attend a government school. After long negotiations, they came to an agreement that the children would attend the Polish school, but were exempted from religious studies.
After getting the government's permission, we got a place at our chaver Bintche Rosenfeld. Yavneh central sent us the pedagogue, B. Kohanovitz, as teacher (from Jedwabne by Lomza). To teach religious subjects, we hired the best melamed in town, R' Chaim Untzig.
In a very short time, the children could speak Hebrew, knew well the Tanach, mastered the religious studies, and were happy with their school. The zealots did not however, stop their attacks, slandered ceaselessly, insulted the parents, and plotted endlessly.
|R' Chaim Untzig, hyd|
Unfortunately, there also came to be conflict between the teacher, Kohanowitz, and the Chasidic melamed, Chaim Untzig. Untzig saw Kohanowitz as an apikoros, a transgressor of Chasidic laws. R' Chaim Untzig began to write complaints to Yavneh central, and even to the president of Mizrahi, Harav Brodt, ZL. As a result, Kohanowitz left his job, and a short time later, the school closed.
The eve of the Destruction
Already by 19361937 we could feel the growing Polish antiSemitism and its goal of ruining the Jewish population, robbing them of their few rights, breaking them economically, and drowning them in bloody pogroms, according to Hitler's design.
The goyim began to increase pressure in the city, opened stores and competed with the Jewish small shtetl merchants. Insults to Jews became frequent. When hooligans harassed a Jewish business, the Police commander urged them on, saying that Hitler was what was needed for the Jews. On market days, the Polish storekeepers brought in pickets to sand in front of Jewish stores and let no one in. We felt the full meaning of premier Skladkowski's famous Owszem.
Under the conditions of the time, it wasn't even possible to dream about mounting a resistance. The Poles were hoping for it. At the time, Nachum (Sender's) Lefler, told me he was becoming ill from watching, with hands tied, the scenes of hooliganism. I heard the same from Moishe Shnor whose windows were shattered by hooligans.
The proposed law banning kosher slaughter by the Polish Sejm got the shtetl worked up. The religious assembled at the synagogues hoping that their prayers would avert the decree. Our rav was summoned by the Zamosc rabbinate and the kehila directors. They asked him to put together a delegation of community leaders from Krasnobrod and Zamosc in order to influence the graf, Podakowski, a member of the Polish senate and friend of the Polish president, Maszcicki. The rav turned to R' Shmuel Gortler, a visitor to the graf's house and factor of his mill. He arranged with the graf to meet the delegation.
Taking part in the delegation were the Zamosc rav, several local community members with BenZion Lublinerthe kehila chairmanat the head. And the Krasnobrod rav and community leaders headed by R' Shmuel Gortler. As expected, the delegation returned with a negative answer, and received nothing from the graf.
R' Shmuel Gurtler, hyd,
chatting with graf Podakowski
In the winter of 1937, a 10year old Christian girl mysteriously disappeared. Her neighbors were Jews.
The antiSemites began to spread malicious stories saying that the Jews murdered the child to use her blood for making matzos. Soon witnesses popped up who swore that they personally saw and heard the Jews murder the child. The goyeh who washed clothes at the rebbe's house testified that she had seen full bottles of blood in the rebbe's credenza. The frenzied Christian population, on a Sunday, went to the cemetery and began to dig up the fresh graves looking for the girl's body. After pleading with the starosta the police ordered a halt to the desecration of the Jewish graves.
In spring the mystery was solved, and it was found that the child had drowned in the river. In the winter, when the river was frozen, people would take a shortcut from one side of the shtetl to the other by walking across the ice. The Christians who used the water from the river, and washed their clothes in it would chop a hole in the ice to do it. One evening, the parents of the child went to a wedding on the other side of the river leaving her at home. Late in the evening, the child decided to go to her parents, and in the dark, fell into one of those holes in the ice, and disappeared under the ice without a trace.
Erev Pesach, her little body was found at the mill's sluice. The medical commission concluded that the child had drowned and had been under the ice the entire time.
The beginning of the end
The Second World War broke out on September 1, 1939. Thus began the last chapter in the history of the Jewish community in Poland. In the bloody flood, the Jews of Europe, and with them, the Jews of Krasnobrod, were drowned.
In the very first day of the war, the antiSemites and the police strutted around, and in victory, began to demonstrate their rule over Jews. Friday evening, during Kabbalat Shabbat, they invaded the synagogues, evicted everyone, and ordered them to go home, lock their doors and windows, and sit in the dark. No one dared to say a word, and the order was quickly followed. We sat in the dark and listened to the hysterical laughter of our Polish rulers who walked by our windows as victors and expressed their glee at the fear of the Jews.
Erev Rosh Hashanah, the Nazi troops marched into our shtetl and brought horror and terror with them. Some Jews left town and moved in with the Christians in the suburbs. The next day, after Rosh Hashana, the city was virtually empty. Because of fear of the front, people fled to the woods. Monday morning, shooting broke out from both sides, and victims of the shootings were Moishe Ben Itche Fuchs, Shmelke Ben Ephraim Shtemer, and a third young boy from Cracow. The three boys were searching for a hiding place and perished together. From our hiding places in the forest, we saw the shtetl enveloped in flames. The fires were lit by the Polish troops, and the shtetl went up in smoke. Thursday, when we got back to the shtetl, we could see the whole disaster…
Beneath the ruins and ashes, we found halfburned bodies whose identity we could not establish, because the shtetl was full of refugees from the Cracow region. Eighteen Jews were buried that day without the ceremonies and wailing customary to Jews in normal times. The Polish populace helped the Germans to discover the hiding places and cellars where people's valuables were buried, and shared in the loot. In Leibish Lerner's cellar, aside from merchandise, the books from the rav's library were buried there. Upon finding the books, they built a fire and threw them in, distributing the loot by the light of the pyre.
On Yom Kippur, several minyans were organized. Kol Nidre was observed in total fear. With broken hearts, they sang the holy prayers, and silently, each person begged God to save him from the evildoers. After the prayers, rumors were spread that Russia had entered the war. On Yom Kippur day, at around 10:00 am, rifle gunshots were heard. When we went outside, we saw German soldiers lying near the pharmacy by the little bridge, and shooting in the direction of the sand hill. A few hours later, the Germans left and Polish army soldiers marched in, mostly cavalry and artillery units. They arrived from the Zamosc side, and left via the Tomaszow side. Suddenly, we saw a carriage and mounted horsemen of the the general staff, and a whole contingent of high ranking officers from the Polish army. We doffed our hats and greeted them, and Baruch Eli Broder approached them with the question of whether we should remain in town or flee. Without waiting to hear him out, they answered sarcastically, Complain to Hitler, not us! That answered deepened our distress, and more people crammed into the darkened rooms where the minyanim were held, and continued to pray.
When musaf was startingR' Chaim Untzig was the Baal Tefilawe became aware that something was happening outside. A number of riderless horses appeared in town. Soon we could hear shouting and saw small groups of Polish soldiers fighting with bayonets against German units. In fear we fled the praying. Soon after, we heard the noise of motorized divisions, and a German troop on motorcycles entered. One of the German came over to the window of our minyan and asked if there were any Jews there. Receiving no reply, he disappeared. A grenade exploded right by the window and deafened us, and forced us to go deeper into our hiding places.
Around 4:00 pm, when it had quieted down and not a sound was heard, people began to venture outside. We saw two armed German soldiers, wearing steel helmets, standing near Moishe Greenbaum's house, and patrolling the street. We went up to one of them and asked if we could stay here, or if we had to leave. He did not answer, so we went over to the other soldier. He advised us to leave immediately, and no later than 6:00 pm, because from that time on there was going to be mayhem.
We were seized by panic, and not stopping even to get dressed, we grabbed our children and ran for the forest. We had barely got away before a mighty cannonade of heavy artillery began. The explosions were truly deafening. It lasted for 24 hours without letup, and after 2 days, the fighting continued with breaks. When we ventured out, we saw dead bodies from both sides littering the roads. In the shtetl, the dead bodies were piled together with the corpses of horses and cows. The new bridge was destroyed and the devastation was complete.
The Germans began to force Jews to remove the corpses. The goyim, on the other hand, roamed around looking for something to steal, not scrupling even to remove the boots from the dead Polish soldiers.
When the Red army marched into the shtetl, we breathed a little easier. Some goyim were frightened enough and returned the Jewish possessions they had stolen, claiming that they had found them. We believed the war was over, and we could return and rebuild the shtetl.
Our joy was shortlived. We quickly discovered that the Russian army was retreating to new borders, and that our area was going to go back under the Germans. Some Jews held that we should leave with the Red Army, and others that we should stay. I was of the same opinion. On Hoshana Raba morning, my friends came to visit: Zvi Shoch, Moishe Haz, Yehoshua Babad, Fishl Schlegel. (They all perished). They decided they would stay put together. But if the Germans were to evict them, they would take their children and go to the Russian border. I could not promise them anything, because I was getting ready to go to travel to my grandfather in Tomaszow.
When I got to Tomaszow, I found the city was almost empty. Jews were fleeing en masse, and the Soviet army was driving from house to house, and trying to get the people to leave with them. I also decided to save my family and myself and we got on a Russian autobus that took us to Rawa Ruska. Shmini Atzeret morning, I tried to convince my uncles, Itche and Meyer Fuchs, to leave with us. They answered that although they feared the Germans, they didn't want to desecrate the holiday. At motzi yom tov, they would travel to the rabbi in Belz and ask him what to do. My mother agreed with them, and we said goodbye not knowing that we were saying farewell forever.
A few weeks after we got to Rawa Ruska, my friend Zvi Shoch came to see us. With tears in his eyes, he said to me, Eli, I am petrified knowing that I am going back to the murderers. I know I'm going to my death. But I can't stay here when my wife and children are over there. Whatever is gong to happen to them, it will happen to me too. And that is how they left us, our nearest and most beloved, those who could not bear to be separated from their families and were martyred.
The road of pain
Weeks and months passed. We, on the Soviet side, learned to feel at home in the new society, under the new conditions of life, and we even lived reasonably well. From our old homes, we received disconcerting news, each time worse than the last. However, we did not forget our old home. We were filled with longing in our hearts waiting for something that would come, even though we had no clear idea of what that would be.
There was a proclamation that all the refugees were required to appear on a certain date to register themselves, and to receive Soviet passports.
The refugees were into into a panic not knowing whether to take out Soviet citizenship and give up their Polish citizenship, and possibly lose their right to return to Poland after the war. The majority declined to comply with the authorities demand. The Soviet government's instinct was to see thisand rightly soas an act of unfriendliness towards the authorities. They prepared train transport, and in the summer of 1940, they arrested all the refugees without passports, and their families, and sent them to the farthest reaches of Russia, mostly to Siberia.
Up to 100 people were packed into the railroad cars. For many weeks, we traversed Russia, in filthy conditions, dying for a drink of water.
Finally, we were distributed to various camps and forest settlements (fasialkes) isolated in the Taiga hundreds of kilometers from a city. Our job was to cut trees in the Ural forests, and prepare them for use by the government.
There has been much already written about the Soviet camps and Gulags, so I'm not adding anything new when I talk about the hard penal work, about hunger and filth. About the awful cold that lacerated our bodies, about those who fell at their work like fallen trees and never rose again. I will, however, pass over the opportunity to relate this nightmare, and will instead remember the tragic fate of Abraham Ben Shimon Greenboim, 39 years old, who, in the middle of the day went out to gather some twigs, and disappeared without a trace in the deep Taiga.
We endured all the pain that fate had in store for the few remaining Jews, until we lived to see the day when, on the way home, we crossed the Polish border, and received the first welcome from the Poles in the form of stones, curses and shouts.
Our yearslong dream of our old home, and meeting again with the rest of the family was shattered in a terrible awakening. The Jewish homes in Poland lay in ruins, and not even a trace remained of the old, so creative, Jewish way of life. Even the graves were desolate and destroyed. Our parents, brothers and sisters, wives and children, grandfathers and grandmothers lie slaughtered in mass graves and the earth screams to the heavens at the outrages inflicted on her.
Liberated Poland welcomed us with murdered Jews, with being dragged from trains, with interrogationswhere are you coming from? With pogroms in Kielce and Cracow.
With cutting looks and hidden fists ready to shatter our lives.
Through the hardships of the sharit haplita in camps in Austria, Germany and Italy, through the dangerfilled routes of the illegal immigration, we came to the shores of our homeland. Our brothers and sisters welcomed us, and we began to set down roots in our own Jewish land, drawing from it spiritual nourishment to replace the severed Jewish branch, and giving rise again to proud and free generations.
Pinchas Riamond as soldier
in the Jewish Brigade
Let us, in the telling of our lives, in the reestablishment of the Jewish people, find some good from our lives, a consolation for our tortured souls and healing for our lacerated bodies.
Let us remember our holy families with reverence, and honour all those who were sacrificed in the name of the people of Israel.
May these pages serve as a monument on the graves of the holy community of Krasnobrod, near Zamosc.
[Hebrew page 43]
by Engineer D. Davidovich, Tel Aviv
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
The synagogue of the Krasnobrod community in Lublin County belongs to the type of synagogues with four main supporting pillars, which was very common all over Poland from the end of the 16th century to the beginning of the 19th century. The synagogue was built in the Baroque style and excelled in its beautiful exterior, and in particular, in its wide windows with a semi-circular arch as well as its picturesque two-story mansard roof.
[Hebrew page 44]
[Hebrew page 45]
Note: The photographs of the synagogue in Krasnobrod were published in the aforementioned research by Professor A. Shishko-Bohosh and were given to us with the permission of the author of the article, the engineer D. Davidovich.
[Hebrew page 46]
In the spacious prayer hall (approximately 13x14 m), it is worth mentioning the four rather simple rounded wooden pillars that supported the flat ceiling and divided the area of the synagogue into nine equal areas. Similarly to the synagogue in Vyshgorod, there is no match here between the period in which the synagogue was built, (it is estimated that the synagogue was built at the end of the 17th century, as evidenced by the platform that was built in 1680) and the style of the interior. In fact, the four pillars of this synagogue testify only to a certain traditional connection with the period of the first synagogues with four pillars - and they should perhaps be seen as a sort of a hint of that period, since these pillars are not organically connected with the beautiful wooden platform, which was indeed built between them, but at some distance from them.
A row of holes in the western wall serves as a connection between the interior (that is, the prayer hall) and the women's section, which is located above the polish. A second part of the women's section, similar to the previous, is on the ground floor, on the side of the north wall, and completes the space of the synagogue. Apart from these, a wooden gallery for the children was preserved here. The most beautiful examples of this kind of structure were found only in certain synagogues in Greater Poland (such as: Pinchow, Zamosc, Vyshgorod, Gabin, Grojec) and in the synagogue outside the city of Lviv. The function of the gallery inside the synagogue hall is not clear to this day. Gloger describes such a gallery that is in the Renaissance style synagogue of Zamosc, in his book Construction with Wood and Wood Products in Old Poland and defines it as chorek, which means the small choir gallery which is intended for the children of the cheders.
[Hebrew page 47]
The wooden furniture, such as the large table, which has upright style lines, the book stands (the stenders), etc., represent the artistic, folk character. Other furnishings, such as the wood-carved platform and the Holy Ark are works in the style of the Baroque period.
We will also mention here Eliyahu's chair with the wooden tympanum, the shape of which is very similar to that of Eliyahu's chair in the synagogue in Shebreshin, the Hanukkah lamp with the seven candelabrums and its delicate shape, which was found next to the Holy Ark, as well as a row of beautiful brass chandeliers (spiders), which are typical of most ancient synagogues in Poland.
The synagogue was destroyed by the Nazi invaders and no remnant was left of it.
We were lucky that we managed to get photographs of the old synagogue, which went up in flames in 1915, during the First World War.
On the western wall of the synagogue was engraved the date 5422-1661, probably the year its construction was completed. Its antiquity was also evidenced by the thick walls, the windows that were placed at a great height, right under the ceiling, as well as the double tiled roof.
There were two women's sections in the synagogue. One on the west side, above the men's section, and the second women's section was on the ground floor, near the north wall to the front. On the eastern side, there were two large boxes, built as two altars. Throughout the year, the boxes were covered and on the right-hand box stood the large copper Menorah. On the eve of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the covers would be taken off. Those who came to the synagogue would stick large memorial candles in the sand that filled the boxes, which would be lit until the end of the holiday.
[Hebrew page 48]
The interior of the building was lit by the many copper lamps that were hanging from the ceiling on long chains near the four pillars that supported the roof, and in the middle of the synagogue above the bimah . On the bimah was a table and Eliyahu's chair. On the southwestern corner rose a fenced balcony reached by stairs. This place was sacred to the schoolchildren, so they would also be able to see what was happening, without the elders hiding it.
And here is the place to mention Rabbi Shlomo, the cantor, who was at the time the most famous in town. For many years his name was mentioned with respect and appreciation. It was said about him that when he started in the Days of Awe with Hamelach, the whole building trembled. If my memory serves me correctly, Rabbi Shlomo died in 1910. He was succeeded by cantor Rabbi Haim Bergshtein.
In the western wall of the synagogue there was a deep hollow, with two glazed doors, and in which an eternal flame (Ner HaTamid) burned. An incident from my childhood is related to this corner. I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time, and since my father was then in the army, I went alone on the eve of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to pray the Mincha prayer. When I came out of the synagogue, I was amazed. Next to the eternal flame stood a thick-bearded Jew, in his hand a whip with two long straps, and in front of him Jews prostrated themselves, rolled up their capote, and the old man whipped them. A great fear fell upon me. For some reason I remembered at that moment the stories of fear that were told by my friends. The dead who come to the synagogue to pray, about Lilin and the ghosts that dwell in the attic and whoever goes up there never returns. I ran home as fast as I could. Since then, I have been careful not to glance at this corner.
I remember that for a long time this did not let us rest. One day we decided to do something about it. One day, when we were free from the burden of cheder, a group of us children got together, and we decided to go up to the attic. We held each other's hands after checking our tassels seven times, and with trembling hearts we went up. We found piles of Machzor and Techina books that had turned yellow from age and the tears shed on them by mothers and grandmothers from generations before us.
[Page 260 - Yiddish] [Page 47 - Hebrew]
by Eliyahu Rind
Translated by Moses Milstein
We were fortunate to have acquired these photos of the old Krasnobrod shul which had burned down in 1915 during the First World War.
|Outside view of the old shul|
The western wall bore the date 1661. Its antiquity was seen in the thick brick walls, the windows, the tall transom windows, as well as the double shingle roof. The shul had two women's shuls:
|All the photos of the old shul were published in the work of Professor A. Shishka Bohush, and were passed to us by Eng. Davidovitch of Tel-Aviv|
One on the western wall, high above the anteroom, the second below at the northern wall. A strong impression was made by its interior appearance. Up on the eastern wall, there were two brick boxes that gave the impression of two altars. To their right stood a brass menorah. They were covered up during the year. But on Yom Kippur, they were uncovered and the big yizkor candles were placed in the sand they contained. The shul was lit by the many brass chandeliers that hung from iron chains beside the four lecterns, right in the middle of the shul, at the balemer. The Torah reading table was on the balemer, and Eliyahu's chair. In the corner of the west wall, there was a little wooden balcony with small stairs for the cheder children.
We should also mention the cantor, R' Shloime, who was renowned in the shtetl, and was spoken of for years with reverence. It was said that when he sang the Hamelach during the Days of Awe, the whole building trembled. As far as I remember, he died in the year 1910. After him, R' Chaim Bergstein was taken on as cantor.
There was a deep niche in the corner of the west wall that was covered by a set of small glass doors where the Ner Tamid burned. I am brought back to this corner by an episode that occurred in my youth. I was 7 or 8 years old when my father, AH, was in the army. Erev Yom Kippur, I went to daven Minchah alone. As I was going home, I stood struck with fear seeing an old man at the Ner Tamid holding a whip with two long leather straps. Men lay down at his feet, whispered a prayer, and received lashes. Fear ran through me at this scene. As children, we had heard many frightening stories and legends about the shul. It was said that at midnight,
the dead come to pray there, that there are spirits in the attic, and whoever goes up there, does not return.
I also remember that when we got older, free of cheder, a group of us boys got together, and holding on to one another, we climbed up to the shul attic. We found mountains of torn religious books, and women's prayer books that were soaked in the tears of generations of our grandparents.
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