by Aharon MENDELEWICZ zl, Tel Aviv
I came from to Kutno from Brzeziny, in the end of the year 1916. At that time, a Zionist Organization was active in Kutno, which was located in the house of Wolf Asz (Sholem Asz's brother). Active members included: Sender Falc zl, Abraham Erdberg zl (Hebrew teacher), David Kalman zl, Timkowski zl and Yehuda-Leibish Grinbaum. As I still belonged to the movement in Brzeziny, it was natural to join the organization in Kutno.
The city was occupied by the Germans, who generally allowed the Jews to engage in social activities. The Keren Kayemet was publicly and legally funded, organizing lectures and various activities.
Parties and institutions
In 1917, during the Passover holiday, a general meeting of the Zionists was held in Poland. In the printed report of the meeting, the positions of incomes and expenditures did not concur As an accountant, I did not like that kind of accounting and, having the floor, I strongly criticized the committee and reminded them about the legend, which is well-known among Jews, that when the Messiah comes the Christians will walk on an iron bridge and fall into the water, while Jews will cross a paper bridge and nothing will happen to them. I finished my critique with The paper report that was presented today is a great failure. It carries with it many dangers!. In the committee, completely new candidates were selected: the teacher Yonah-Baruch Kac, Yehuda Riftin, the writer of the lines and others.
Yehuda Riftin died in the early thirties in Warsaw, in his brother's apartment. Several dozen Jews traveled to his funeral from Kutno. The writer of these lines eulogized him.
In 1915 (or 1916) the community established a kitchen for the poor.
The kitchen served the poor and was run by the community. As in any philanthropic institution, there was a demand for dedicated workers. And such were: Margulis, a son
of a manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Plock, Timkowski, Wladislaw Hirszberg. And the women: sisters Lipa and Pola Bromberg, Yadwiga Opatowski, Ruzha and Mania Rabinowicz, Hela Elbaum, Hinde Majranc, Sabine Sztrom-Halbersztat, Sala Kibel (wife of Dr. Goldman), Berta Moszkowicz and Rebecca Benenson.
For the meals, no one paid, space for the kitchen was given free of charge by Y. Majranc. Only one cook received a salary. About one hundred meals were served daily. Until the Germans left the city, it was the only Jewish kitchen for the poor and needy. Later, during the Polish rule, a number of institutions created kitchens that served yeshiva students, cheder youngsters, school children, and the poor.
Before the Germans left Kutno, I am reminded of such an anecdote: at a meeting of a committee of the Zionist organization, the upholsterer Aaron Fuks came up with the proposal that one could buy from the Germans a number of guns. He even brought a gun to show. The committee decided not to buy any arms. However, this did not stop the Poles, as soon as they established their government in Kutno (November 1918), to carry out a house search at the Zionist Union, attempting to find concealed arms there. Sender Falc told the senior police officer that he wanted to attend the entire house search, which also needed to be done at the kindergarten, in case they would plant something They did not find any weapons.
Of the philanthropic institutions, it is still worth
mentioning the Society for the Visiting of the Sick, at the head of which stood Mr. Yonathan Majranc. The Society provided free medical care to the needy Jews. Later, the administration decided to charge a fee: 10 pfennigs for a note to the doctor and 10 pfennigs for each prescription. On the other hand, the management paid the doctor one mark for a visit and the nurse, 50 pfennigs. After establishing the fee, the number of sicks to the doctor fell by half
The cultural needs of the Jewish community were also taken care of. On Królewska Street, in Moszkowicz's house, was a library that had been originally founded by the Zionists, but ruled by the Bund. It is believed that permission to open the library came from St. Petersburg, before the war, in the name of David Kalman zl. It is possible that the Petersburg Society for the Promotion of Culture made the request for the license.
In 1926, when a Zionist library was established, people turned to the Bund to publish at least the Hebrew books but the answer was negative.
During the German government in the town, a Jewish-Polish folk school was established, which in Polish times was transformed into the Powszechna school number 3 (Szabasówka) for Jewish children. The Jewish-Polish school was founded by the community, mainly by Mr. Aharon-Shlomo Elberg. The first teachers there were: Zundel Comber, Esther Goldman (a refugee from Kalisz), Hinde Majranc-Mendelewicz, who taught handicrafts, Yehuda Riftin, a teacher of Hebrew and later of Jewish religion. Finally, the school was located in the building of former Russian barracks of the 4th regiment, on the old market.
To conclude the chapter of the German rule in Kutno until 1918, I would like to add that in the town court as a lawyer was the Jew Yonathan Majranc (my father-in-law), the chairman was a German, lay judges (lawnikes) the Pole Starnawski and the pharmacist and midwife, who was also a German magistrate.
The Jewish Community
In 1919, elections to the Jewish community took place for the first time. Twelve dozórs were elected to the community council: 4 Zionists Aharon Mendelewicz, Aharon-Shlomo Elberg, Naftali Rabinowicz and Yehoshua Falc. 2 of Bund Herman Kirszbaum and Ajzman, 2 Craftsmen Szpajer and (?), Populists Zundel Comber and Yaakov Mamlok, from the Agudah Yoel Sztajnfeld and Abraham-Fishel Zandberg.
Until 1924, the Polish supervisory authority, not happy with the outcome of the elections and the composition of the community council, did not convene the elected instances. All community-affairs continued to be led by the four dozórs from German times. After a series of interventions by the Zionist councilors in local and higher power, the Constituent Assembly was convened for the first time, 4-5 years after the election.
To ensure the fruitful activity of the community administration, a coalition of Zionists and Agudah was formed. The block was set up on the initiative of the Rabbi. He elected a board of eight dozórs, with the Rabbi, who legally belonged to the community board: Mendelewicz (Zionist) president, Abraham Fishel Zandberg, Yankel Bromberg (of Agudat Israel), Yankel Mamlock of the Populists, Kirszbaum of the Bund, Shaje Falc, Naftali Rabinowicz (Zionists).
The highest Jewish municipal tax fee was up to 100 złotys. The new community administration increased the budget to 2,000 złotys. The Jewish municipal tax had to be paid by every Jewish resident in Kutno, whom the community recognized as eligible. The decision also applied to the Jews, who had their businesses or immovable property in town and beyond.
The new community administration, taking over an empty coffer, began vigorously began colletcting the above-mentioned old Jewish municipal tax debts. Following the drafting of the new budget, certain requirements for Eretz Israel were also taken into account and a certain percentage was set for the positions (one third for Keren HaYesod, one third for Keren Kayemet and one third for Keren HaYishuv of the Agudah), or the entirety just for Keren Kayemet. It is clear that the Eretz Israel budget items did not appear under their real name, but under a general designation support for emigration to Eretz Israel.
I am reminded of a certain case; not every Jew living out of Kutno, on whom the community imposed its Jewish municipal tax because he ran businesses in the city, was willing to pay the tax. They did everything possible to get out of the Kutner tax. In the case of one such Jew living in Warsaw, the Warsaw magistrate's secretary came to him on behalf of the Kutner Jewish community, to collect the tax. He could not do anything because the wife showed him a notarial deed of intent. This prompted me later, at the handing over of the Kutner Staroste and in the Warsaw Voivodeship to approve the budget and Jewish municipal tax, that to each sequester's order should be added the remark to be recovered from husband or wife. My argument was that since the wife belonged to the Jewish community, the duties rested on her. (Aforesaid Jew later had to pay the interest and debts, no longer able to hide under the name of his wife If I am not mistaken, this was the first case in Poland that people were not allowed to evade paying the Jewish municipal tax, even when the property was transferred in the name of the wife ).
Searching through the documents in the Kutner Magistrate's Office, I came across a budget of the Jewish community from 1840, approved by the governor of Warsaw. The budget was signed by three dozórs (one of them Yosef Sloma a grandfather of previously mentioned Y. Majranc).
In 1924, it suddenly became apparent that a number of community objects and buildings were not listed as property in the inventory. True, the synagogue, the Beit Midrash, the mikve, and the new cemetery, figured in the mortgage as property of the community, opposite the old cemetery and the building where
the Jewish butcher shops were located were, from a formal legal point of view, without fathers ... The butchers took advantage of this situation and did not pay any rent money. It so happened that at the end of the last century, while building the butcher shops, they made an agreement with a Jewish judge, an employee of the community, that the kosher butcher shops would be located on a community site on Warsaw Street for a certain annual fee. After that, the contract was lost somewhere and the butchers did not pay anything.
The house of the movie theater Polonia, which also housed an inn (zayazd), was registered as a perpetual servitude for the community, amounting to several hundred rubles annually by previous owners of the house. The community-management in independent Poland, did not want to accept such an ownerless condition regarding its property and also wanted to benefit from a source of income. All my efforts before the mortgage judge in Kutno, Mr. Lorzinski, had not yielded any results. He said it would pay well to just check the mortgage books.
While in Warsaw, I went to the Central Office of Mortgage and to my great surprise and delight found there written, in the books, that the Yevreyskoye Kladbishche (Jewish Cemetery) is the property of the community, Lorzinski was surprised and... disappointed by my revelation. Now there was no doubt that this cemetery belonged to the Jewish community. I also came across an old map of Kutno, where it was once noted that the Szpital żydowski (Jewish hospital that was the name of the house of the Jewish butcher shops, because there was once a poorhouse for Jewish patients) was a property of the community
About Kutner Magistrate
The first elections to the Kutno City Council in independent Poland took place in 1919. Then, as these elections gave the Jews a majority (13 out of 24 councilors), it was annulled and decided by the central government, or the Warsaw Voivodeship, that the inhabitants of Kutno must once again elect their town-fathers. No problem, this time several neighboring settlements were included in the city of Kutno to secure a Polish majority. In the second election, which took place the same year, 11 Jewish representatives were elected: 6 from the Zionist Bourgeois bloc, 2 from Populists and 3 from the Bund (in the first election, a representative from Poalei-Zion was also elected Eliezer Elberg, a younger brother of Mr. Aharon Shlomo Elberg ny).
The constituent meetings of the newly elected city council took place in late 1919, or early 1920, only after it had previously been canceled 2 or 3 times due to lack of a quorum. The composition was as follows: 6 bourgeois Poles, close to the Endecja, and 7 of the Polish Socialist Party P.P.S. But at the inauguration of the mayor, his deputy and the lay judges, the 7 councilors of P.P.S. and 5 Jews (3 from the Bund and the 2 Populists) left the meeting, which was again left without a quorum. On the first subsequent meeting, when only one of the populist councilors, Comber, together with P.P.S. and the Bund left the meeting and the second populist, Abraham Marcus, remained in place, it was possible to elect a mayor.
The policy of P.P.S. and the Bund was clear: by failing to elect the constitution of the new City Council, new elections would have to be called, in which they had every chance of getting a left-wing majority. Abraham Marcus was not sure, however, that in a third election, his party, the Populists, would win two seats again. Therefore, he did not show solidarity with the councilor of his faction, Zundel Comber.
At the aforementioned meeting it was therefore possible, albeit with the presence of blue 13 councilors (6 bourgeois Poles and 7 Jews), to elect the administration of the magistrate in the following composition:
Mayor Tomasz Klepa; Vice-Mayor Petka, owner of an agricultural machinery factory in Kutno. After his resignation, the high-ranking official Pągowski was appointed in his place; 3 lay judges Chlebicki of the Bourgeois Poles, Umerski of the P.P.S. and the writer of the lines, as a representative of the Jewish-Bourgeois bloc and of the Zionists. Two years later, Chlebicki resigned and was replaced by pharmacist K. Starnowski. In 1925, Engineer Nowakowski of Płocker Street was appointed to Starnowski's place of lay judge.
The Jewish councilors at that time represented virtually all social forces in the city, according to the composition: lay judge Aaron Mendelewicz, the councilors David Kalman, Hersh Wajnsztajn, Yitzhak Weber Zionists: Nathan Wajnsztajn chairman of the retailers' association; Yaakov Bromberg and Abraham Ajzman of the Bund. While the first was a Gur Chassid, the second belonged to Alexander Chassidim. Zundel Comber teacher; Abraham Marcus - bakery owner, representative of Populist Craftsmen's Association. To the Bundist faction belonged the local leader of the party, Herman Kirszbaum, a boots sewer; Moshe Chaim Tiger elder brother of Poalei-Zion activist Nathan Tiger zl, who immigrated to Israel in the 1930s and was active in the cultural department of the Histadrut. He died several years ago in his kibbutz, Yagur; Yitzhak Cohen by trade a trepiarz (wooden boots worker).
After a few months, Tiger resigned and his place as councilor was taken by Ewa Fudalowicz, the later wife of councilor Herman Kirszbaum. Her name was later Ewa Fudalowicz-Kirszbaum.
In 1922, councilor David Kalman passed away. Eliyahu Szajnrock, a representative of the merchants, took his place in the city council. It is also possible that Kalman's place was taken by Yithzak Weber and that Szajnrok was chosen from among the first councilors. I write these pages from memory, nearly 50 years later and I am possibly mistaken.
* * *
In the article of our Yizkor Book titled Jewish-Polish Relationships in Kutno 40 Years Ago
40 years ago (pp. 115-131), D. Sztokfisz describes in detail the activity of the Jewish councilors in Kutner City Council, as well as my fight Jewish rights as a lay judge in the Magistrate. My principle was to defend the Jewish interests as a whole, without consideration of party and status, as well as the interests of each Jew in particular. To illustrate this, I will briefly recount some episodes from that time.
By the summer of 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik war, the Russians had occupied Płock, 40 kilometers from Kutno. The Polish authorities arrested, among other suspect elements in our city, the three Bundists and detained them in a camp behind Cracow for several months. But even after they had just returned from camp, several town council meetings were held without their participation. As it turned out, they were not sent invitations at all, even though they had already been in town and no one had taken their rights as counselors. Therefore, it was a big surprise for everyone, when the three federal councilors suddenly appeared at a city council meeting uninvited. Only then did it get out of control and a series of interpellations, protests and scandals began.
The antisemitic councilors of the Endecja suggested that since the representatives of the 'Bund' were disloyal to the Polish monarchy, given the evidence that they were interned in a camp as suspect elements, they should be excluded from the City Council. Interestingly, the councilor of P.P.S. drank some water and did not react at all to the proposition of the Endeks and so there was a danger that he should accept it. Such a decision at this time could easily have turned into accusation against the Jewish population in general. I asked for the floor and sharply attacked the Endecja proposition, pointing out that an accidental, administrative arrest based on wartime draconian exemption of laws is not the same as a standard court ruling, especially after detention in a camp with not even an appeal in a court of law. I expressed my doubts about the validity of those decisions of the City Council, which were adopted in the absence of the Bundist councilors, especially after their release, when it was not considered necessary to send them invitations to the meetings.
Councilor Zundel Comber, too, opposed the final proposition, which was not on the agenda at all, but only came up suddenly in the current meeting.
This was followed by a compromise proposition from Mayor Klepa, who demanded from the Bundist councilors a public declaration of loyalty, at the meeting. I sharply replied to the Chairman that such a declaration of loyalty to Poland would further suspect the Bundist councilors in the eyes of the power and the public and suggested that all 24 councilors, including the Mayor, the Vice-Mayor and the lay judges, should deliver a declaration of allegiance to the Polish Empire No one would suspect such a declaration.
* * *
I once discovered and pointed out to the Magistrate that Poles, guild masters who had carried out certain works for the city, had misappropriated municipal funds and tricked us with their work. For example, a Christian carpenter undertook to create floors in the Public-School no. 3 for Jewish children (the Szabasówka) on Płocker Street. Based on a letter from a magistrate, the craftsman obtained the necessary number of boards in Itsche Holcman's wood warehouse. When I looked at the account of the warehouse, confirmed by the carpenter, I expressed to the mayor my suspicion that too many boards had been used for the floors and the rest of the wood he had taken for himself.
The mayor instructed the guild management (to which, incidentally, no Jews were accepted) to investigate the matter and they confirmed that my suspicion was justified. The craftsman took twice as many boards as he needed. No lawsuit was filed against him, but a certain amount of money was deducted. At the meeting of the Commission, the chairman of the Polish carpenters told me, that he was ashamed by the actions of his carpenter-master, who wanted to defraud the Magistrate and enrich himself at the expense of municipal funds. And the fraud was discovered by a Jew
After that event, Jewish artisans also received work from the Magistrate, such as the painter Opoczinski, the bricklayer and furnace maker Samuel Wolsztajn, the watchmaker Haller, and others.
* * *
At the end of 1925, or the beginning of 1926, the teacher of the Am HaSefer school, Moshe-David Grinberg zl, approached me with a request that since he and his family wanted to immigrate to Eretz Israel and as a teacher he would not get a certificate, but that he would on the basis of an official confirmation that he is a worker or craftsman so I proposed him to officially contact the Magistrate about issuing the necessary confirmation. We really managed to get an official document, adorned with the stamp of Kutner Magistrate and signed by the mayor, that M. D. Grinberg is by profession a carpenter. We understood that the ease with which Mr. Klepa signed the document was certainly a result of the will of the Poles that more and more Jews should leave Poland
In 1926, the teacher Grinberg came from Kutno as a craftsman, a carpenter, and settled in Raanana, where he became the director of a public school. In 1960, he retired. He passed away a few years ago in Tel Aviv. Hundreds attended his funeral. Students, countrymen and worshipers. He was buried in Raanana.
Shortly after his arrival in the country, he changed his last name to Magad (initials of Moshe-David Grinberg). His two sons, Aharon and Mati Magad, are today two prominent Hebrew writers. Thus, I indirectly made my modest contribution to contemporary Hebrew literature
by Rabbi Mordechai Yehuda LUBART
The term Kutno of heavenly, which we use here, we mean the Kutno before the Holocaust, when our city lived and existed. We would like to highlight here chapters reminiscent of Kutno, which has to do with the spiritual realm of community life, a life sanctified and that stood higher than anything else in private life.
In fact, in all our sanctified communities, it is difficult to divide the roles between spiritual and material life, because in all areas there has been a burst of spiritual and practical deeds.
It is even more difficult to come up with an accurate estimate of our destroyed communities. It is impossible to put into words the uniqueness that each city has created. Natural properties, which have been shaped over the centuries. These are priceless treasures, which cannot be evaluated by the human eye, escaping the concept of understanding.
As the heights of heavens and the depths of the earth, the widths of a wise heart are beyond research. With these words, the divine scholar Yedaya HaPnini Bedersi begins his famous book Bechinat Olam. And the same words can be applied to our communities. Just as we cannot reach the heights of heaven and the depths of the earth, so are we unable to appreciate the immense spiritual possessions of our immortal communities, for each of the smallest detail of the town was a little that means a lot.These words were uttered even after the ordinary, daily life that had taken place throughout the years in Kutno, all the more so when we want to look with our distant memory into the Holy of the Holies in our city, the Temple of the Kutner Synagogue, which still stands today in our memory as a living, spiritual figure. And the second holy building opposite the Synagogue, the Kutner Beit Midrash, which was the spiritual center for the Torah youth in Kutno, where the greatest scholars were hammered out and forged, the greatest rabbis and greatest personalities that have come from Kutno.
About the Kutner Synagogue and the Beit Midrash, I would like to show the features by which the two holy places were different one from the other. Generally speaking, just as once in the Temple there was holy and holy of the holies, the places were different in their degree of holiness it was the same also for our synagogue and the Beit Midrash. We remember the synagogue, which breathed with holiness and Torah, was isolated from external life, devoid of mundane. It required a special preparation to enter synagogue. The customs and formulas there had to be observed with
the utmost rigor, the synagogue was not to be used for the trivial use, only for a sacred thing, so that the synagogue gave the impression of a sacred monument, a matzeva to the memory of previous generations, reminiscent of the distant past. It is also worth noting another interesting thing that has to do with the synagogue, how Jews used to call the seats in the synagogue by the funny expression cities. Every landlord there had a city, and this city was inherited from generation to generation. All this has to do with the general character of the Synagogue, which was like a separate world by itself; This created the so-called cities, with a higher meaning than the ordinary and natural city.
In contrast to the synagogue, the Beit Midrash was more popular and cozier. With motherly warmth, the Beit Midrash welcomed everyone, whether they came in to pray or just to warm themselves by the oven, or to spend time. Jews with their everydayness caught up in the Beit Midrash, without any preparation. The Beit Midrash was used as a House of the People, where various celebrations were held and as a resting place for regular guests. The Beit Midrash also served as the place for Torah study in the city in other words, the yeshiva.
Kutno had a Talmud-Torah for poor children, also a cheder called Yesodei HaTorah, but all this was for younger children, up to a bar-mitzvah age and a little more. However, as a young man grew older and no longer had a place in Talmud-Torah and in the cheder, his further pursuit and his development in learning was the Beit Midrash. And let a really interesting remark be made here: we know that, from time immemorial, Jews have had yeshivot who played an important role in Jewish life, as we see in different periods, in the places the Jews settled on their way to exile such as Spain, France and Germany. Jews settled in the city where the yeshiva was established, and students from other parts of the world flocked to study there. The great yeshivot's chief rabbis, studied with them and gave them a way to teach, so that every well-known scholar and genius taught in a yeshiva and his way to teach was similar to that which he received from his rabbi.
For Kutners, it is enough to remember our great and righteous Rabbi Yehoshie'le Kutner ztzl, who was considered the rabbi of all the exiles, whose rulings in halacha were decisive for the whole of the Jews and at the same time was a follower of Chassidism. According to his grandson, the last Kutner Rabbi Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk, in a book, Yeshuot Malcho, a summary of the history of the righteous, his grandfather, Rabbi Yehoshie'le, spent six weeks in Kock, with the Kocker Rabbi, who was at that time the focal point of Chassidism in Poland. It is also worth mentioning another famous gaon, who was a rabbi in the Kutner area, in Kroniewice, and a later Rebbe and rabbi in Sochaczew, R' Abrahame'le Bornsztajn.
The approach to Torah, not based on the yeshiva character as before, had brought excellent results in the field of spread his Torah among Jews. For the past 200 years, Torah study has been gaining ground among the masses, and Polish Jewry has been at the forefront in this field. From the simple masses, from merchants and artisans, grew famous Torah Jews and great scholars.
In this respect, our city of Kutno was no exception. The general impression was of a scholarly city. Many of our Jews were considered great scholars and had a reputation, aside from those belonging to the clergy officials, such as: R' Yitzhak Kowic. R' Mendel Neeman (Elbaum), R' Shlomo Shochet (Hochgelernter), R. Chaim Hirsh Hiller (his two sons, Moshe-Michael and Benjamin-Wolf, live in New York) were also from the landlord world, famous scholars, such as: R. Leibl Mamlock (his grandson, Mordechai Fogel, lives in New York), R. Moshe Pinchas Kleczewski, the son-in-law of R. Pinchas Dayan zl, his two sons, Simcha and Mordechai, R. Israel Rak, the son-in-law of Rabbi Yerachmiel Shochet, was known among Ger Chassidim in Poland as Israel Kutner, the brothers Rabbi Chaim Bechler and, may he live a long life, the Rabbi Shlomo Bechler, who is in Israel today. His children were among the learning youth in the Beit Midrash in Kutno. Also, the Zandberg family, Perec family and many others. There were also those who did not belong to the landscape of the town, but were hidden under-furnace Jews, who possessed a great deal of knowledge of the Torah, such as
for example: R' Itshe Kenig, whom he found in the Beit Midrash warming himself by the furnace. His memory was phenomenal, there was nothing in the Torah that he did not know, was immersed in books of research and knowledge. And so were many others who belonged to this category of extreme scholars.
As is well known, the system of Chassidism stems from one root: the founder, R 'Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov ztzl, founded the Chassidic movement 200 years ago, and over the years, the followers of this system have grown, and penetrated significant strata of the people. At the same time, this root gave rise to many branches, a number of rabbis and disciples, different ways, styles and customs were formed, which divided the Chassidic camp into separate groups. The so-called Chassidim-shtiebels, with different names, were formed.
In Kutno too, there were Chassidim from different circles: Gerer, Alexander, Sochaczewer, Skerniewiczer and others. Gerer was the largest one. They had two buildings. One building, a large hall, where hundreds of Jews used to pray, and a second one, smaller, where the sharp Chassidim used to pray. The Alexander Chassidim, who were much smaller in number, had one shtiebel, yet they behaved aggressively and sometimes clashed with the Gerer, playing an equal role.
In the Kutner community, no Chassidic party dominated. Neither Ger nor Alexander have held any position in the community. All the clergy was independent, unrelated
to any Chassidic party. Thus, in Kutno, there has never been a dispute between Gerer and Alexander over a position in the community. The frequent frictions between the two groups were not material, just ideological.
The Beit Midrash in Kutno, which belonged to the community, was strictly neutral. The strife in the Chassidic shtiebels, between Ger and Alexander, did not exist in the Beit Midrash, so it was the appropriate place for a place of Torah for all adult students in Kutno who continued their studies (after finishing the cheder).
The large, massive tables in the Beit Midrash were densely populated by dozens of grown-up students. The mode of study for the most part was alone, by oneself, or together with a comrade. They studied all day, until late at night. Thus, the Beit Midrash in Kutno presented an image of a true yeshiva.
In the late twenties and early thirties, R' Israel Rak stood out among Beit Midrash boys in Kutno. We have mentioned his name before among the scholars of Kutno. He was a son of R' Henech Rak and the son-in-law of R' Yerachmiel Shochet. Being a son-in-law on financial support, he sacrificed many years, day and night, without any reward, to study with the grown boys in the Beit Midrash. Being a great scholar and pedagogue, he greatly contributed at that time to the success and growth of the students in Beit Midrash. In those years, the rabbi of our town also became very interested in the students of the Beit Midrash. From time to time, he used to listen to the students and engage with them in learning.
The above years can be considered as a high-learning period of Kutner Beit Midrash. Its students had a great future, occupying an important place in the rabbinical world, if not for the war that destroyed it. At that time, the famous Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin was opened in Lublin. This yeshiva, which was the largest and most popular among Jews, aroused the interest of thousands of young men from all over the world, to be accepted in this yeshiva, which had a limited number of places. Therefore, only the most excellent, with exceptional qualifications in Torah knowledge were accepted. In order to find these excellent ones, gatherings of the boys were arranged in different places. Each city and town belonged to a certain circle, and great rabbis came down from Lublin, who listened and tested the young men. Kutno and surroundings belonged to Włocławek. Kutner Beit Midrash students came to Włocławek for this purpose. As a result, five young boys from Kutno have studied in the Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin. Moshe Welcman, a son of R' Hirshel Shochet and grandson of R' Mordechai Shochet, Mordechai Yehuda Lubart (the writer of these lines), Zysha the scholar, son of R' Shlomo Shochet, Hirsh Rozenberg, son of R' Israel Isaac Rozenberg, and Wolf Szczerbinski.
Due to the influence of the last Kutner rabbi on the students in the Beit Midrash, which helped them to be
admitted to the Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin, he felt a closeness to the aforementioned Lublin students. In 1938 (according to the Jewish calendar it was 28 Sivan 5698 [27 June 1938]), the Kutner rabbi came to Lublin to visit his students. I had a picture taken of him then, standing on the balcony of the yeshiva with some Kutners, may he live a long life, and with us.
These memoirs, which I have noted here, are until the end of 1932, because I left my hometown of Kutno afterwards and went to study at the Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin.
I was in Lublin until the outbreak of the war. It was not then possible to reunite with my mother, sister and brothers (my father had died a few years before the war), who were then in Kutno.
From Lublin, I ran to Vilnius, Lithuania, and then to Russia, Japan and Shanghai, where I spent the whole time of the war.
In 1941, until around Passover, I continued to have a weak contact with them. I also got a picture of them, which I noted in a notebook, but later all contact ceased.
The heart bleeds and tears flow when one thinks about the reason for their sudden silence. It was the German assassins, may their names be blotted out, who put an end to their young lives, killing them along with the entire Kutner community, hyd.
by Meir HOREIN (BECHLER), Haifa
On the map of the Jewish cities and towns in the state of Poland, Kutno was considered, in the last decades before the outbreak of World War II, an enlightened city. Life was marked by the storm and eruption of the period and the stamp of modern culture was imprinted on them. Freedom slogans shouted over red flags and a national revival of blueandwhite flags. And within this secular life remains a small circle of atlas silk carried by the Jews of ShabbatYomTov. They characterized the uniqueness of Polish Jewry. Its way of life and way of thinking.
For many generations, the Jews lived among their Gentile neighbors, with the farmers met in the shops and near the stalls in the market. They were familiar to each other and would shake hands with them. Despite this, not a single thread connected them with their neighbors. As guests staying for the night under the foreign sky. They were there and not there. They are sons of a nationworld, that is, a people with its own world, a people that lives in isolation from its neighbors.
The scholar and philosopher Prof. A. Heschel from the United States (grandson of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt) said: Ashkenazi Jews would build temples while Polish Jews would build bridges, our lives would create a bridge between the human heart and their heavenly Father. These are the Jews that Heschel meant, and we shall discuss about them here.
There were three types of houses of worship in Kutno. The Great Synagogue, which was a little temple, solid on the outside and magnificent on the inside, one of the most beautiful in the area; opposite, the great Beit Midrash, where many windows were broken and innumerable books covered its walls, and houses of worship of Chassidim. In the synagogue, the Jews homeowners in the city prayed: the Zionists and the educated, the white collars and those with ties, the able merchants and the spokespersons of the community. The sparkling top hats also stood out on the holidays. Here came the lords of the city: Simcha Zachlikowski, owner of a flour mill; Mordechai Manchester, a wealthy iron merchant; the Holcmans forest and timber merchants; Wolf Asz, who sheltered in the shadow of his brother the writer Shalom Asz; the doctors and the assistantsurgeons. The eastern wall was adorned by Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Trunk, the grandson of Rabbi Yehoshua, a man of spirit who was separated by an invisible wall from his community members. On Shabbats and holidays, the cantor with the evening and clear voice, Yeshayahu Polakewicz, passed in front of the Holy Ark, surrounded by a large choir, and while the Torah was being recited, his voice made the shamash curl, when he was making a long call to one of the community's dignitaries to rise to the Amud.
In the Great Beit Midrash, the ordinary people prayed: shoemakers and carpenters, peddlers and petty merchants, tailors and butchers. Psalms' Jews and righteous Jews in archaic Yiddish. Here passed before the ark, without a choir, the old butcher Mr. Mordechai Welcman, adorned with an elegant, long beard whose end split into two wings.
From here, Mr. Neta the shamash went out on Shabbat eves, close to the time of lighting the candles, to pass through the city streets, knocking on the doors of the shops.
Here Mr. Meir the blacksmith, symbol of innocent faith and Jewish perfection, prayed.
We should dedicate a few lines to him.
Mr. Meir was small, his face adorned with a short white beard. But in spite of his extreme old age, he would stand in its smithy in the back street (untergasl), stood by the blower and kindled fire in the coals, knocking on the sledgehammer once the long tapping on the hot iron and twice the short tapping on the anvil; he ironed horseshoes for horses and installed wheels for carts. Whereas at night, in winter and summer, at the beginning of the third part of the night, he would come to the Beit Midrash. Outside, still in darkness, the winds blew hard and snowflakes blurred the paths leading to the Beit Midrash. But Mr. Meir would not be deterred by snow and wind. He was the first to kiss the mezuzah of the Beit Midrash, the first to light a candle in the dark, to go to the amud with a trembling hand holding the lit candle and, in the flickering light of its meager flame, he sang the chapters of King David in a pleasant voice, the sounds of which would spill out into the space of the Beit Midrash.
Before dawn, one by one, Jews arrived at the Beit Midrash. Healthy, upright, masculine Jews. At first, they resembled individual cobs, but gradually became a small congregation and then, when stripes of air were seen through the east windows, the old man would mumble in a different melody: Blessed are you… who did not make me a gentile; Blessed… who adorns Israel with glory…
We were boys then, we surrounded the old man and asked him about the secret of his old age. Mr. Meir put a smile on his weary lips, his eyes would light up playfully and he replied: a small glass of schnaps 96% and a chapter of the Psalms prolong a person's years.
In this Beit Midrash, Mr. Yaakov Comber ruled. He was a cheerful Jew and had a Chassidic spirit. All his life he served as head of a secondary company. Between Mincha and Maariv, he was sitting near the Shulchan Aruch in the Beit Midrash and his voice, a mighty voice, conquered a large community of popular Jews. Around the other tables sat yeshiva young men, who were quibbling and diving into the depths of the Talmud, while Mr. Yaakov Comber was not a great debater and wasn't investigating things too much. He interpreted Talmud ins a simple way, for all to understand. He poured out a sweet parable, told a nice story, and sometimes also some joking, and all to attract the hearts of the common people to the Torah.
While studying Mishna, bearded Jews who during the day were preoccupied with the burden of earning a living, surrounded his table. One from a shack in a village and one from a stall in the market; one from iron and scissors and one from a shoemaker's counter they're now immersed in another world. For a short time, Mr. Yaakov Comber brought them out of the Valley of Weeping; for a little while they forget the bitter exile and the angry gentile, the degenerate poverty and the sorrow of bondage.
In these moments, the Jew returns to himself, to his uniqueness and to his inner world.
In the shtiebelech of the Chassidim the scholarly levels, the sharp minds, were concentrated. Here they forged the together. This made it easier to bear the burden of exile. In the houses of the Chassidim there were no marked seats, no partitions between rich and poor. The scale by which the man was measured was different here; it did not matter that the shelves of his shop were full of goods which he had earned respect for; it was not the scholar who had his belly full of the six orders of the Mishna and religious law literature, but the follower with a high level of faith, with fear and love of God.
The chassidim did not erect solid buildings for themselves, their shtiebelech lacked any external splendor. They would rent a modest apartment, set up two or three wooden tables and a few benches along the walls; A simple curtain covered the Ark, without the decoration of lions. Two barrels of water for washing hands and a towel and here is a prayer house for the chassidim. The only ornaments are: the Shiviti on the amud, the eyecatching boards of Modim D'Rabanan, KaGwana and Brich Shmei prayers which were scattered on the walls. Cantors with wellgroomed voices did not pass here before the Holy Ark. Here, they make sure that the public messenger is Godfearing and cleanhanded that is an honest Jew…
In the Beit Midrash, too, there were Jewish worshipers who went to the Rebbe, but they were not chassidim in atlas silk, just ordinary Jews, wanderers, who in hard times would travel to Gostynin, to Rabbi Yechiel Meir, the good Jew (the central figure of Shalom Asz's Salvation) to be blessed by his mouth.
Many in Kutno were followers of various groups of Admors of Congress Poland. But the groups of followers were no more than three: Gur, Alexander, and Skierniewice. Gur (Ger) was the most popular. Their large chassidic house was located on the main street, on Królewska Street. A saying was prevalent in Poland: Gur smart; Sochaczew Torah; Alexander frumkeit (piety); and Skierniewice Honesty. The Gur Chassidic House had learning centers in the city. Here the two dayanim prayed: Mr. Pinchas'le and Mr. Zelig'le. To the former, women turned to resolve doubts about (non)kashrut; to the latter, learners would turn, to decipher for them complicated passages in the Mishna and Arbitrators. Here Mr. Yaakov Bromberg, the nobleman among the chassidim, and Mr. Avraham Fiszel Zandberg, the respected merchant, and a Godfearing Jew, would pray.
Generally, the chassidim lived in a closed group and their influence was not great on the life of the congregation. But each group of followers had its own politician, who ran the organizational side of the community and the shtiebel politics. Among the chassidim of Gur, this role was played by Mr. Itshe Meir Zaklikowski, the witty and shrewd among them.
The educationaltheoretical institutions of Agudat Israel the Elementary Torah schools for boys and the Beit Yaakov for girls were the result of the work of this Mr. Itshe Meir.
Among the followers of Gur, Mr. Lajbel Mamluk stood out in his personality. A short Jew without an external appearance, and yet the most beautiful Jew among the community. Poor and destitute was Mr. Lajbel, steeped in trouble and a chain of wounds would haunt him. In the house the poverty whistled in all its corners in full force and power. His son, the philosopher David, lost his mind over him; His wife was always sickly and confined to her bed, but when Mr. Lajbel entered the shtiebel, a spirit of reverence entered with him that was difficult to grasp.
Not because of his learned scholarship chassidim do not just value scholars but because of his righteousness, because he was a Jew with high soul. He was always immersed in distant worlds. His mind was almost reaching the sky. He was like hovering over the city rooftops a figure descending upon us from a Chagall painting. He never remained idle. There was always the mitzvah v'hagit, and the chassidim would say that he never distracted himself from the Creator, he was always a thinker in the Torah. As he walked the streets of Kutno, his mind floated in distant places to Nehardea and Pombadita in Babylon, or to the mysterious worlds of the Zohar. He was a great expert of the Kabbalah, and the only one of Gur's chassidim who knew how to decipher a difficult chapter in the book Language of Truth, which is the classic book of Gur's chassidim.
Second to Mr. Lajbel Mamluk was Mr. MoshePinchas Kalczewski. His women's clothing store was located in a dark, narrow basement. There his pious wife ruled. She was the one conducting the bargaining with the nonJews while he, her husband, was the aide instead of her taking the cloth off the shelves without looking up from the table. He was a symbol of honesty, sure of himself and his Creator. When the Gentile buyers did not bother him, he immediately sat down by an open gemara, and already heard with him the melody: Oy, said Abaye. Meanwhile, his wife went out into the street with a handkerchief in her hand, to collect charity for the needy. Sometimes, in the days of the fair, in the hustle and bustle of the negotiations with the boys and girls of the village, some young men would go down to the basement to ask Mr. Moshe Pinchas the meaning of a complicated passage in the Tosafot or Commentaries, then he would let the gentiles to his wife, himself going to the bedroom next to the store, stayed there a while then got out with a bright and happy face he had found the right answer.
Mr. Moshe Pinchas was very hospitable. His small apartment served as a hostel for Jews who were trapped in Kutno for various purposes. He made tea with his own hands for them, and offered them the bed. On cold nights when snow was blowing outside, he would go to each bed to see if it was hot for the guest himself.
Mr. Shlomo Bechler, my father, a loyal merchant and a true chassid, also prayed here. Our house served as a house for the chassidim. During a night of intermediate festival days, some chassidim would occasionally gather and secretly applaud a person who had his properties seized, and the measures to be taken to rehabilitate him, through respect. During the holidays, especially on Simchat Torah, Purim and Pesach, the house was wide open to all. Crowds of chassidim burst into the apartment, emptying everything in the cupboards and kitchen and after soaking their hearts in the favorite drink of Gur chassidim hot punch they would go out in a dance that shook the house and the sounds of singing and singing resounded at midnight across the old square (der alter mark) and put a little joy into the hearts of the Jews who awoke from their deep sleep.
In the house of the Gur chassidim, Mr. Avraham Orner, a man of modesty, prayed. His wife gave birth to eleven sons and one daughter. The apartment was not spacious, but was never narrow for the guests. He was hosted by two teachers from Żychlin Mr. Asher and Mr. Gershon. How did they find room? That is a riddle we cannot solve.
Mr. Avraham Orner was the secretary of the Merchants' Association. The small merchants came to him to pour their hearts out. More than once he took out of his pocket his last gold coins to pay taxes for one of the merchants whose property was confiscated by the Polish treasury. What would happen if he himself dropped out of his assets at the end?
In my memory, a chassidic figure, a relic from the Kock House Mr. Shalom Kronzilber pops up and rise. He was tall and broadshouldered. His forehead, broad and bright, with a majestic face and a long, elegant white, silver colored beard. At the chassidim house, we would dedicate a place of honor to Mr. Shalom at the eastern wall near the amud. Despite his extreme old age, he remained fresh. He was known for his sharpness of mind and his tongue was razor sharp. Always pensive and a look of seriousness on his face, but this man knew how to encrypt his seriousness and contemplation under the guise of mischief. On Yom Kippur, between the Musaf prayer and the closing, he sang Russian songs whose content I did not understand; but I know that the souls of the fasters would be lifted up by them.
There was another house of the Gur community, especially for young students, who were close to their fatherinlaw's table or who had recently stood on their own. There was a big rule among the Gur young people do not interfere with the old. Here, however, in the shtiebel of married studentchassidim, the passion was different, chassidic life was more intense. The students were staying in Gur more than in Kutno. Each of them was, whether before the trip to Gur, or after, or between trips. On Shavuot and Rosh HaShanah, this house of chassidim was completely closed. They all went to the Rebbe. Chassidic life was perfect, there. There, they had meals together that deepened the friendship between the chassidim and increased their closeness.
Every Saturday night when the streets of Kutno and the New Market square (der neuer mark) were full of walking couples, they would make their way, silkwearing Yeshiva students dressed in Shabbat clothes and shtreimels, with plates and pots in their hands. They then hurried to the ritual dinner of Shabbat ‘queen’ departure. Everyone brought with them the leftovers from Shabbat food, one brought a slice of challah and another a piece of fish, one brought chicken legs and another a bottle of schnaps. And Mr. Israel Rak, the leader of the group, would collect the remains, mix them in one plate, and place them in the middle of the table. Each of the mourners snatched from it, like an olive or an egg. They sang He was a chassid and did not go out for a long time, and on the main street there were impressive cheerful echoes Gur's style!
More modest in scope was the house of the Alexander chassidim. The Alexander and Gur chassidim were leprous to each other and there was almost no contact between them. The spirit of Alexander chassidim was less militant. Their temperament was quieter. Here, too, there was rustling of atlas silk coats on Saturdays, yet these were pleasant walks. Mr. Yerachmiel
Shochet and Mr. Isser Wiszinski were Jews who adhered to the Torah and chassidut, but did not seek to impose their authority on the public. Alexander's followers even found a common language with the Zionist camp in the city.
One chassid stood out in this chassidim house, and that is Mr. Yitzhak Kowic. A skilled scholar of the Mishna and Arbitrators. Proficient, sharp and witty. His scholarship inspired terror to Gur chassidim. Mr. Yitzhak cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Because his wit and cleverness were exercised at the rabbi's right side. The eldest son of Mr. Yitzhak was among the first pioneers to immigrate to Israel in the mid1920s.
Skierniewice chassidim were not many in number; But they earned recognition thanks to the dedication they showed to each other. A family spirit was present among this community. No one hid anything from the other. One's trouble was everyone's trouble and the joy of the individual was the joy of the whole. They did not skyrocket. Their ways were simple. Simple love for Israel and human dignity were the qualities that characterized the followers of Beit Warka. They moved away from the political cauldron. Their main concern was to educate their children as good and godly Jews.
Their house of chassidim was narrow. Mr. Yaakov Bromberg assigned them a narrow room in his big house. But in this little room, there was love, brotherhood, peace and cheers.
Typical of the chassidim of Skierniewice was the figure of the shochet Mr. Shlomo Hochgelernter. He was described as having the qualities of rabbis Mr. Moshe Lajb of Sasów and Mr. David of Lelów, who would disguise themselves as farmers and shouldered sheaves of straw for a sick woman. Mr. Shlomo served as an address for all the failing and miserable. He took care of the earthly needs of any Jew who was in material distress. He respected everyone and that's why everyone respected him.
Mr. Aharon Shlomo Elberg also belonged to the Skiernewice congregation. He was the nonconformist in the chassidic camp. His horizon was wider than the rest of his comrades, so even standing inside the camp, it seemed as if he was standing outside. He was completely passionate about the love of the Land of Israel and imbued with an unspeakable national feeling.
Mr. Aharon Shlomo, like Mr. Lajbel Mamluk, saw himself as a foreign planter in the city. As his feet tread the streets of the city, his spirit hovers elsewhere. Only one difference differentiated between the two. While Mr. Lajbel asked for another heaven above his head, Mr. AharonShlomo also sought another land under his feet his homeland. That is why Herzl was as fond of him as a chassidic Rabbi. It is no wonder, then, that the chassidim indeed treated him with respect but did not recognize him as a chassid, with the exception of the followers of Skiernewice. It is worth mentioning Mr. David Mottel zl and his son Mr. Zelig, may he live a long life, noble figures who bestowed on their small but elite community.
At the house of Skierniewice chassidic community, I gave to friends and students the first lesson in the Talmud before I left the city and headed for Eretz Israel.
In the synagogue and in the Beit Midrash, Rabbi Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk was the sole authority, but the chassidim were not subject to him. The source of their ideas was not in their city, the authority that shaped their way of life resided elsewhere, in Gur, in Alexander, in Skierniewice.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the chassidim did injustice to the personality of the rabbi. Rabbi Yitzhak Yehuda, grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua, was a spiritual aristocrat. He was not in the same league and above all the people of his city. And not only from them. He was not ready for them at all. In my youth I was privileged to be one of his students. I regularly attended his classes, visited him at home and I stood by his deep knowledge of the Talmud (his book Yeshuot Malko is one of the deepest books in Talmudic literature). There was an abyss between the world of this leader and the world of merchants and chassidim alike.
I was attracted to the figure of the rabbi back when I was still young and one of the pages from those days will be told below.
This happened forty years or more ago. Judaism (Yiddishkeit) was then on a steep decline. The teeth of time began to erode the wall that separated the Jewish world from the foreign world. The winds of progress and its slogans swept the Jewish youth in a tremendous stream. The Socialist and Zionist movements destroyed foundations. Everything was marked by a rebellion against the past. New songs and new names were heard: Perec, Asz, Zeitlin, Segalowicz, Bialik and Ber Borochov. The forces of youth erupted in force. At that time, the rabbis from the district gathered in Kutno to summarize advice on how to stop the youth from fleeing Judaism. The conference was held at the Talmud Torah house in the courtyard of the Beit Midrash and was attended by about a hundred rabbis. The topics of discussion were forgotten. Apparently, I also did not understand their meaning. But one argument remained etched well in my mind, it was the argument between the Rabbi of Kutno and the Rabbi of Ozorków. The words of our rabbi were said quietly, and he logically analyzed the flaws of the generation by saying that if the rabbi engages in improvement and otherwise, he will lose control of the Jewish street. While speaking, the rabbi uttered this sentence: Ich bin nisht kein pupikrav. Zu pipkes zenen do dayanim! (I am not a smalltime rabbi, there are dayanim for ruling on questions of koshernonkosher). This utterance went down like a blow to the heads of the honorable rabbis. Then the Rabbi of Ozorków stood up and called out to Rabbi Trunk: Kutner Rav! Der pupik iz undzer shtolz, mir haben awekgegebn undzere beste yorn zu lernen dem pupik. (Rabbi Kutner! These smalltime matters are our pride, we have given away our best years to learn what is kosher and what is not.)
As mentioned, that was forty years ago and more. However, if the chassidim had reservations about the Rabbi of the town, their appreciation for his grandfather, Rabbi Yehoshele, was nevertheless deep and he was treated with reverence in his memory.
Mr. Meir Zandberg recounted: Once, two yeshiva students from Warsaw, the capital, came to Kutno to see Rabbi Yehoshele. They introduced themselves as envoys from a famous yeshiva. The yeshiva they said is in a very bad material condition and they are looking for help. They asked the Rabbi of Kutno to help them raise money. Rabbi Yehoshua immediately gathered the town leaders and asked them to go in the street and knock on the doors of the generous people. After less than an hour, they returned to the rabbi and happily announced that they had succeeded to collect what was needed in that short time. Rabbi Yehoshele thought a little, and requested from the shamash to immediately call the two Torah students. While they were alone in the room, Rabbi Yehoshele said to them: I urge you to tell me the truth who are you? The Rabbi's rebuke shocked them and trembling out of fear they admitted that they were nothing but emissaries of a missionary order in Warsaw.
It was immediately published in the city and everyone saw it as a miracle, a divine inspiration. Meanwhile, Rabbi Yehoshele called the patrons of the community and said to them: I know from experience how many obstacles pile up on the way to the observance of a mitzvah. Had the money been destined for the Torah, it would not have been collected so easily. But since you said that you succeeded at collecting such a large sum in a short time, I knew that it was only sinful. It was a matter of instinct. Success must be credited to us. Go and return to each one the amount you received.
These dear Jews are no more. Everything was wiped off the face of the Earth. Their pure souls float over the world and their dust is scattered by the wind on fields and rivers. The splendor has turned to ashes.
The poet Byron said:
The bird has a nest
The animal a den
The man a house
And the Jews the cemetery.
And the poet did not foresee that days would come when Jews would have no cemetery.
For a thousand years we were in exile in Poland and our home there was our grave.
May God avenge the blood of our martyrs!
by Gershon FOGEL, New York
My father, whose life was cut off in his youth,
The head of yeshiva Yitzhak Meir Fogel
What a memory of his crystal-clear personality
My mother held like a ner tamid
For the orphaned children
Dedicated to the world for remembrance.
In the treasure of Jewish legends is a wonderful story, how God for giving the Jews the Torah, demanded from Moses a guarantee that the Torah will be kept by the people. Moses tried to guarantee it on the patriarchs, then on himself, as the leader of the nation, but the Holy One, blessed be He, answered him: I do not want you and not the patriarchs (Midrash Tanchuma). Then Moses declared: The sons will inherit (The children of our people will be the guarantee!).
Such a deeper and more instructive truth lies in the legend. No matter how important the famous past may be, no matter the role of glorious leaders, as important as it can be this is of course not the fundamental guarantee for the continued existence of the people. Only in this guide will the future generations, in the daily effort to lead their own children on the historical paths - in this lie hidden the mystical secret of the existence of a nation.
The cutting off from Polish identity will remain for us as a wonderful example of this lesson. Our destroyed community of Kutno, is another excellent example of it.
The chaotic storm of the twentieth century tore down the walls and fortresses of traditional Judaism with destructive and misleading force. Like phosphorus-fire, which attracts lost wanderers, foreign and hostile ideals have infiltrated the Jewish camp, threatening the unity and existence of our people, the wholeness of the Jewish home and its family life, sowing disorientation in its difficult present and spreading threatening shadows of a doubtful morning.
The age-old preventive measure against the destructive forces, could be a firmly-disciplined education system, creating a concrete protecting wall around the souls of the infants of the rabbinical house, to protect the young generation, from childhood, from abusive influences, from misleading illusions and popular hostile ideals, to arm them with the eternal Jewish truths in the midst of the turbulent, relative world.
The cheder Yesodei Torah in our city was a fierce effort by our fathers and grandfathers in this direction.
In the midst of the looming waves of economic conflict, in the face of growing material hardship, plagued by day-to-day care, tormented by antisemitic persecutions and hooligan aggression, they managed to build a proud fortress that looked like a towering tower. An island of everyday life, and between its protective walls formed the delicate souls of the 'guarantee' for Jewish existence, the minds and hearts of Jewish children.
The cheder Yesudei Torah, or as it was called the yeshiva, was in fact a major pedagogical breakthrough in the old education system. We remember the old type of cheder, the figure of an evil or sickly teacher, who studied with students of different ages, in a home, which served for various purposes, with the accompanying figure of an evil Jew, the rabbi's embittered wife; this room has become the target for all the enlightened, for all those who, behind the pseudo-pedagogical critique of the erroneous form, sought to destroy the valuable content the Torah education of the Jewish child.
Our fathers and grandfathers did not read the books of modern educators, but with the founding of a cheder Yesodei Torah, they actually carried out a pedagogical revolution, overthrowing the whole external system of education, giving continuation and new impetus to the worthy matter: the traditional education of young generation.
Considering the present, in retrospect, how our non-modern parents have managed to carry out such modernization of the room-system, swimming over philosophical thoughts: who knows how many obsolete forms would have been replaced by traditional Jews themselves, if the enlightened and their followers had not made them camp positions and create in our spiritual territory a belligerent 38th parallel between two worlds!…
In a positive and creative way, a group of idealistic businessmen radically changed the much-criticized cheder system. Instead of leaving the problem of finding a new teacher to a single parent over and over again, instead of the private schoolhouse with all its unwanted side effects, the new system provided a school building that solved the problem of Jewish education within its walls. From the young child to the young man, it was ready, virtually, for a teaching permit, with a staff of teachers and yeshiva heads, a manager and businessmen, who all together and individually were ready for the greatest personal sacrifices, maintaining and strengthening the beloved institution.
How vivid and colorful stand before my eyes the teachers in their classrooms. Memory carries me back, through oceans of blood and mountains with saints, through ruins of homes and destroyed houses… again walking absorbed in well-known alleys and lanes, I come out on the unforgettable block of Senatorska Street; in front of the majestic synagogue building, with the wide passage between the fences, the narrow sidewalk on the left the outpost of the Jewish buildings.
As if to a legendary, romantic castle, our childish hearts were drawn to the synagogue-building. Its Gothic-shaped window-towers, on summer evenings stirred up our boyish fantasies, which
lit up together with the glittering sunbeams. The coincidental evening shadows frightened us with the shapes of familiar corpses, which in their white gowns slunk between its massive walls… On winter nights, going past the synagogue square on the way home from cheder, we would with bated breath listen to the squeaking snow under our feet, and with forced audacity chase the nights' darkness with our flickering lanterns. Finally, with relief and due respect, we wished the synagogue a good-night.
Right in front of the picturesque long windows of the synagogue, the hospitable building of the Beit Midrash spread out. Broad and short stairs led to the wide-open doors.
Here, inside, was the true and only impartial House of the People of Kutner Jews. On narrow benches, at long tables, noble boys enthusiastically swayed over thick Gemaras, and by the gleaming coals of the primitive square ovens, the simple, the poor, the local and visiting guests warmed themselves. Near the Holy Ark, the proud rabbi taught his sharp lesson and at the table, near the sink, vagrants counted their collected groceries and ate their poor meal. Excited preachers gave punishing sermons to the masses and semi-enlightened youths led skeptical debates at the speaker's box. For each of them, the Beit Midrash had its own corner and a warm home; at the right of the entrance to the Beit Midrash, between its eastern wall on one side and a row of half-sunken pillars on the other side, was the passage to the cheder.
To the rear, the north wall of the Synagogue towered, and to the front laid the wide, square courtyard overlooking the green fields of the gentile doliskes, which were immediately beyond the last Jewish fortress the mikveh.
Here was the empire of the cheder. Here made noise, at the time of pause, children of all ages; small half-tearful alphabet-learning, wild naughty Chumash boys and dreamy thoughtful youngsters with commented Gemara.
Children of all classes and strata of heartfelt Kutner Jewry, here in the spacious courtyard between the Synagogue and the mikveh, surrounded by the Beit Midrash and hospitality, among the dozens of simple Jewish families with the janitor as single gentile, the Jewish children felt safe with all their mischief. Only when some, quite daring, run along the last Jewish line to the small river, does it happen, not infrequently, that one comes back with a bleeding head. The Polish students, whose huge school building was located in the middle of the sun-drenched fields of vegetables, could not stand the insolence of the Jewish cheder boys who dared to enjoy the shared meadows and local hills.
I visualize the teachers: the generous young boys' teacher, David Lustman; the permissive, tender-hearted Chumash-Rabbi Moshe-Leib Goldberg; the Mishnah and Gemara teacher Alie Gershon Klingbajl, a short man, with a long, gray beard, who surprised us children by always wearing a heavy winter coat thrown on his sick shoulders, complaining in the hot days of Tammuz, that he was cold…
After that: the head of yeshivot the tall, vivacious Chaim-Hersh Hiller, who explained the most difficult tosafot with subtle sharpness and youthful lightness. In the summer evenings he also used to study the Bible with us and with a heartfelt longing he revived for us the patriarchal figures of the biblical prophets, made ringing in our ears their fiery punitive speech against the rebellious lords of Judea and Samaria; Two head-yeshivot from Żychlin have also studied here. From their positions, they were not really able to feed their families, who waited in neighboring towns for months for the unpaid pensions, but instead provided spiritual food for the upper classes in the Kutner yeshiva, including the most complex topics in Talmud and in commentaries; The first, R' Asher Majnwald, a broad-boned, shapely Jew, with a carefully groomed bearded beard, was, of course, a well-to-do man who did not make a fuss, but while studying he used to take us for long walks, Introducing us between the poems of Talmudic Shakla ve'Tariya, weaving us in a web of pilpul and contradiction, then, with a victorious smile in his benevolent eyes, leading us on wide, royal path of clear halacha. His townsman, the small-sized,
black-haired R' Gershon Łęczycki, was the exact opposite in appearance and character.
Each of them gave its unique color and style, all of them were the pedagogical staff, which shaped the soul of the yeshiva student, from a small child to a mature young man; They made an immortal contribution to the shaping of the Kutner Jewish youth between the two world wars.
Like a foreign island in the middle of a sea of religious learning, was the group of teachers who came for several hours a day to teach secular studies. There were three of them: the tall, slender Afelos, the son of a poor Jewish woodworker, who had acquired a teaching rank through self-education, but was not officially recognized by the Polish Board of Education. Szapszewicz, a grandson of a Kutner dayan, who made every effort to create the impression of a born-lady's man. And the fat, hard-nosed Klaper, an assimilated Jew who earned the rank of director of the Jewish-Polish public school. The latter was the leader of the triumvirate, who came to bring education to the stronghold of fanaticism.
There have been episodes in memory of how teachers, who were not paid their pensions for months, spoke bitterly about the privileged group, which law required to be paid regularly. But even the alienated triumvirate felt part of the cheder system and often showed a warm interest in the course of life. Out of sympathy for the teachers' plight, they even tried to organize and convince others of a strike in order to be paid regularly. They simply did not understand why the teachers did not want to interrupt the study in any case…
One time, when a brother of Klaper's was seriously ill, he demanded that we, the cheder boys, recite a collective psalm for his healing… and was filled with gratitude after that, as his brother healed.
At the very top of it all, stood the manager.
On this post there has been changes every couple of years. The first was Abraham Boms, a hard-working Jew who, after leaving office, earned an income by delivering milk to the homes. He was also later a member of the Workers' Association for Israel. He was replaced by the energetic, merchant Itshe-Meir Zaklikowski, whose family troubles distracted him from his work. In his place came David-Melech Koper of Grodzisk, an elegant, well-groomed young man, strict and energetic, he kept a watchful eye on everything. After he returned home, the quiet and modest Yechiel Węgrówer became the manager. In the end, until the Holocaust, was director Shlomo Meir Liberman.
An extremely heavy burden was placed on the shoulders of the volunteer businessmen, the members of the committee for the cheder. These were a group of scholars and community leaders, who constantly worried about the yeshiva's ridiculous budget, over which there was always a question as to whether it could be reopened.
The home of my grandfather, R' Leibel Mamlok zl, has always been involved in the problems and worries of the yeshiva's existence. The complaints of the teachers who asked the hard question still ring in my ears:
How long can one feed one's own wife with excuses instead of with livelihood? helplessly, he spreads his hands and exclaims: If there is no flour, there is no Torah, and they complained that water has reached the soul, one can no longer continue… and the quiet confidence-filled answers of my grandfather, that God will not abandon us, the community will not let go of the cheder and his appeals that the teaching should not, God forbid, be interrupted for a single hour…
Many times, it has seemed that the end was coming, that the yeshiva can no longer exist; that all means were exhausted, all is about to be closed.
From where did such Jews as Abraham Fishel Zandberg, Shlomo Meir Liberman, Leibel Mamlock, Meir Zandberg, Shlomo Bechler and many others got their strength and resources, their energy and their confidence during those hard times and difficult years? This is a secret which they have taken into their holy tombs! The fact is that the elementary Torah cheder existed and did its sacred work until the last hours before the Holocaust.
One event remains in my memory and comes up like a thorny plant in the middle of a sunny vegetables field of memories.
It was approximately in the years 1925/6. A group of secular workers had decided that the cheder Yesodei Torah
was a stronghold of reaction in the midst of advanced Poland, and one must see to it that obstacles in the way of Jewish progress are removed.
It is not worth mentioning any names, here. The people themselves were victims, blinded by the deceptive phosphorus-fire, from which the very idea of the cheder Yesodei Torah room was to guard the Jewish street; the martyrdom by the German Amalekites placed them in the same line as all the victims. This episode is only mentioned here as an instructive proof of where modern fanaticism can lead and seduce!
Had it been a matter of making changes to the cheder system, introducing more time for secular studies etc., it would have been understandable, but the ax was raised on the very existence of the cheder.
The mood then, especially on the Jewish street, was a revolutionary one and the slogan of the time was: in order to build the new, one must first destroy, destroy the existing… as is expressed in the famous lines: And on the ruins… will proudly stride, we the…
I remember a summer afternoon. All day long, the manager (at the time, Yechiel Węgrówer) was tense. Over his fine, red beard lay a shadow of deep concern and an uneasy feeling came out of his Jewish eyes. He seemed so helpless to us that day, as if expecting our help. The teachers were very upset and sighed all the time. We, yeshiva children, got no pleasure out of the loose of discipline that had developed. The freedom wasn't welcome to us. We were talking about a danger that lurks on everything and everyone.
However happy we would have been for a break in our daily routine, we realized however that this was too serious a matter and we shared the fears and hopes of the adults.
And, behold, they came. I can see so clearly the closing scene: the Polish inspector stands with a stoic calm, with a thin, black file under his arm. Next to him stands the representative of the secular who argues something with force. In front of them, without a hat and only a kippah on his head, stands the manager, outwardly dominating, he is but entirely overwhelmed with Jewish trembling. From the side stand the teachers. So do the children. Next, the strange dialogue sounds so clear to my ears: the representative of the secular group clarifies for the goy inspector, how stifling the yeshiva walls are, how medieval is the whole system and, pointing at a boy (he was the eldest son of the previous manager, Zaklikowski), he explains to the inspector that the child's weakness is a result of sitting for so many hours in the cheder, where there is no sun and air, and that the walls of the yeshiva drain the blood of the children… The manager, barely controlling his contempt and anger, tries to explain to the inspector that this child is very healthy, only he is by nature very pale.
Probably there were still more words and counter-words. All these years, I remembered only the eloquent image of a traditionally dressed Jew being forced by his secular brother to defend himself against a gentile inspector and to prove, that no blood of innocent children is shed between the walls of a Jewish institution…
by Abraham LUSTIGMAN, Tel Aviv
Our town was blessed with many chassids, who grouped together in the Great Gerrer shtiebel, the small Gerrer shtiebel, the Sochaczewer, Skierniewiczer, Alexander, Karliner, Zgierzer and other stiebels.
The biggest start was really the Great Gerrer. Sharp Chassidim have been praying and teaching there. Chassids with zeal, devotion and enthusiasm, attaching great importance to the smallest details; fanatics who used to hang out. On the other hand, in the small Gerrer shtiebel it was always a matter of affinity. The chassids from there were more homely among themselves; also, modest, behaving like one's own family. One helped the zealot in need. There was always warmth and love in the air from one to the other.
My father, Mr. Menachem Mendel Lustigman zl, was gabbai in the shtiebel for a couple of dozen years. I knew their ways of praying, I heard their sighs, I took part in their joys and I knew their cares. I was always attracted to them. Their holy figures now hover before me. I loved these dear Jews, do not forget them and mourn their tragic fate.
Where did it all end up? Where is the whole area, the large courtyard behind the Beit Midrash the courtyard where the entire Kutno sanctuary was located, the yeshiva, TalmudTorah, rooms, hospitality, the mikveh. Judaism has always been teeming with it. From the windows of the yeshiva and rooms came the singing of the learning children. Cheerful boys used to roam here. Jews used to gather and catch a conversation. Pious women used to raise their hands to heaven. On Friday and the eve of the holiday, Jews came here, entered the mikveh. On the eve of Passover, the dishes were kosherized there.
During the winter, boys used to glide on frozen ice on the river, near the mikveh, and in the summer, they snatched apples and pears in Fajst's garden and therefore they received slaps from the Rabbi. Everything has gone in smoke. Everything has been cut off!
Our house was also blessed with rare good masters of prayer: Mr. Yonah Sztrum, a tall, beautiful Jew, with a broad beard and wise, kind eyes. His prayer was accompanied by a melodic weeping voice. His singing and screaming Kol Nidrei moved to tears.
R' ZalmanAba Temerson, a cheerful Jew with a yellow beard. Also, a masterprayer. R' ZalmanAba always used to be cheerful, often making a kiddush. The two Jews, Mr. ShmuelNoah and Mr. ZalmanAba, were always in a good mood and thus passed it on to others. Mr. ZalmanAba was a soninlaw of Mr. Yonah Strum. His four children used to help their father. Mr. ZalmanAba's eldest son, Yehuda, was a noble fellow, later a rabbi in Gabin.
Mr. Henech Rak, or Henech Sausagemaker as we used to call him, had a glorious musical voice. His prayer Neila was so enchanting that it was thought he was tearing up the heavens. R. Henech was a tall Jew with dreamy eyes. Always been dependable, perhaps lived in hardships. His small sausage rack in Staranowski's attic did not bring him any money.
Samuel Noah Shapiro had a wonderful voice. A Jew a teacher, always a cheerful, a joyous beggar. With living eyes. He never complained. His prayer provoked an uproar. Moreover, he was a wise man, and very beloved because of his beautiful singing. Where a joy, a kiddush he made happy. A good chess player, I wish you everywhere.
Mr. Binyamin. I do not remember his family, but his rare tenor voice still reminds me of a good master of prayer, whose prayers had a thousand flavors.
Because we had such masters of prayer, such Jews who had long since stopped praying used to come to the house. But they were drawn to our masterprayers.
In addition to all the master prayers, we had in our house lovely, dear Jews with numerous virtues:
R. Pinchas Rabinowicz; A beautiful Jew with an open, generous hand. Gave charity, helped poor Jews. Always cheerful, loved to have fun with the kids in the shtiebel, pinch their buttocks and after every pinch a kiss. Children often like to be petted on the buttocks. Rabbi Pinchas had a rare beautiful sukkah with colorful windows, at his house. On Sukkot, we used to sit by him and receive good things. At times, Mr. Shmuel Noah used to enter the sukkah, and when he presented a psalm, it was a pleasure to hear.
Mr. Katriel Welcman, a handsome Jew with a whitesilver beard, dreamy eyes. A Jew, a wise student and always with a joke, or a story. He used to distribute candies to the boys. On Purim, he was very joyous, throwing nuts and pears on the ground, loving to see how the little kids were scrambling to catch them. Loved sharing glasses of beer and singing in public with the children.
My uncle, Mr. ChaimDavid Lustigman, seldom came to the shtiebel because he lived far away in Nowe Kutno. But on Purim, he had to come, as he loved to be happy. He placed a large barrel of beer, shared fruit, nuts and cookies. And was dancing alone. On Sukkot, he also used to come to Mr. Pinchas Rabinowicz in the Sukkah, to drink with a cheers!.
Mr. Lajbisz Kilbert a handsome, modern Jew, an accurate man, a bit of an aristocrat, a secular man with many virtues, whom everyone respected. At first, he seldom came. But I wonder what was going on there. When my father was ill for many years, he often came to our house. My father used to consult with him on business matters. Mr. Lajbisz was in fact his advisor in matters of commerce.
Mr. Eliezer Zandberg, a modern Jew, always a wellgroomed, serious, silent and accurate. Attracted everyone's attention. He remained in that environment, mainly because of his habit of being with Jews.
Mr. BunimMendel Chassid was the only Jew who did not fit into the environment. He had a big, thick beard and paws, his eyes almost did not protrude. A fanatical Jew, even an evil one, very pious, buried with closed eyes. When he used to shout Hear, O Israel! The walls shook. We thought that the heavens would open immediately… Mr. BunimMendel used to cause the young people great trouble, even slapping them. Most of all, he teased Mendel Rak. This R' Bunim Mendel destroyed the harmony and coziness in the small Gerrer shtiebel.
MenachemMendel Lustigman or Mr. Mendel Gabbai, as he was called, devoted his entire life to the small Gerrer shtiebel. That was a piece of his home, the people his family. I, his son, need not write much about him. I leave it to others who knew him.
by Arie ORNER, Haifa, Israel
Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff
Agudat Israel in Kutno was a branch of the international organization of orthodox Jews, established in Katowice in 1912. The Kutno branch of Agudat Israel stood for the same ideas as the rest of the movement, that is, opposing Zionism and immigration to Israel before the arrival of the Mashiakh (messiah). Agudat Israel was based mainly on the Chassidim, their rabbis, and their various dynasties, mostly in Poland. It developed a political and social activity of its own in the towns and the Jewish communities.
Those Jews, from the ordinary people in Kutno, prayed in the large Beit-HaMidrash [house of learning] or in the various synagogues and other minyans [prayer group of 10], even though they had no sense of political organization. The minyan or shtibel [a prayer room in a house] where they prayed during the Shabbats, the holydays, and the weekdays, this was the mainspring of their lives.
In the Kutno branch of Agudat Israel, there was an active life concerning what was going on in the various arenas. At the head of the chapter were Reb Joel Sztajnfeld, Abraham Fiszel Zandberg, Reb Lajbusz Finkler and Abraham Orner. Agudat Israel kept a network of religious educational institutes for boys (Talmud Torah) and for girls (Beit Yaakov). In Kutno an institute was founded by Yesodei HaTorah, headed by Reb Lajbel Mamlok and Szlomo Majer Liberman. Also, a school named Beit Yaakov was founded for young women.
Attached to the organization, the association of Agudat Israel's Youth was active. It was headed by Prost, Lajbel Lichtensztajn, Hersz Jakob Najmark, and Josef Brzezinski.
At the head of Poalei Agudat Israel in Kutno were the brothers Fajwisz and Icchak Kraut, and Simcha Traub. At the election to the community board, the Agudah appeared as one group and its representatives were Reb Joel Sztajnfeld, Szlomo Zylberberg, Lajbusz Finkler, and Avraham Boms.
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