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[Page 425]

VII - Surrounding towns:
Łęczyca, Krosniewice, Dabrowice

 

History of the City

(Łęczyca, Poland)

52°04' 19°13'

 

 

Łęczyca, the city on the river Bzura. The name of the town is derived from the Slavic word ‘lenki’ (mud, swamp). The city is located in an area of valleys, full of swamps.

Łęczyca was established in the tenth century as a Slavic fortress. The first chronicles tell about the city in the days of the Polish king Bolesław Krzywousty. In 1108, the reigning king conquered Łęczyca. The city stood at a crossroads and therefore served as a meeting place for princes and kings, as well as a place for synods of the Catholic Church (such synods took place there in the Middle Ages around 20). At the time of the feudal disintegration, the city belonged to different princes of the dynasty of the peasants, in 1321 the city was burned by the German crusaders,

In 1655 the city conquered Sweden. In 1794 a great fire broke out which destroyed the city. From the 6th to the 8th century, until the partition of Poland, Łęczyca was a province town. The Jewish community is one of the oldest in Poland. It can be assumed that the first Jewish inhabitants came to Łęczyca in the 11th–12th century.

The Jewish community received the privileges in 1453 from King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk. According to the census of 1564, the Jews owned in the city 17 houses. Besides, they lived in three more Christian houses. They then paid a pound of pepper tax for each house. It is believed that the famous Magid Ephraim of Łęczyca came from the city.

In 1629 a blood libel trial took place here. The Jews Meir and Eliezer were accused of killing a child for ritual purposes. The two Jews perished on Kiddush Hashem.

In the church of Łęczyca there is still to this day a coffin with the bones of the child and a picture on which is depicted the scene of bloodshed in a child by the Jews. The clerics staged this process in order to obtain a relic for their new church (it was built in 1632),

In 1656 a massacre of Jews took place in the city. King Jan Kazimierz captured the city from the Brandenburg troops, and after the storm, the Polish troops destroyed virtually the entire Jewish community. The Jewish sources tell about 3000 fallen. The Jewish children were abducted. He then burned 600 Torah scrolls.

After the Swedish wars in the first half of the eighteenth century, the Jews settled in Łęczyca en masse. In 1724 the Jews were given a privilege to trade and occupy themselves with liquor and production of beverages, as well as renting inns and bars. In 1728, they received permission to build the synagogue. All handicrafts were then in Jewish hands. According to the 1765 census, the Jewish community numbered 1,067 people. The Jewish community of Łęczyca was made up of the congregations of Stryków (625 people), Brzeziny (243 people), Sobota (114), Parzęczew (267 people) – and a couple of smaller Jewish communities.

In 1789, the Jews owned 47 houses in Łęczyca.

(Sent by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw)


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On the History of Łęczyca

by Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidia FRENKEL, Tel Aviv

Translated from the Yiddish by Leon Zamosc

 

The Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidia Frenkel, Tel Aviv

 

Excerpts from the larger historical work “Łęczyca (970-1939)“, which originally appeared in the “Memorial Book of Łęczyca”, edited by the author and published in 1953 by the Association of Former Residents of Łęczyca in Israel, translated from Hebrew.

First chapter

Łęczyca in Ancient Times – Seat of Polish Kings –The Legend Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim, Author of “Klei Yakar” – The Plot of the Blood Trial – Jewish Life in the Sixteenth Century – The Maharal of Prague in Łęczyca – The Swedish War – The Council of the Four Lands – The years 1647-1649[1].

In the years 970--980 of the Christian era, when King Mieszko I established the Polish monarchy, Łęczyca was already mentioned as one of the first cities of the country. The ancient church in the village of Tum, where the first Catholics in Poland adopted their new faith, can be seen from hundreds of meters away. The thousand-year-old church stands to this day. According to Polish history books, King Boleslaw the Brave convened national meetings in Łęczyca, and in 1181 “King Stanislaw[2] was the first to convene the National Assembly in Łęczyca, although he ruled from the capital”. Throughout history, Łęczyca has occupied a place, with Cracow and Gniezno, among the oldest cities in Poland. In Łęczyca there is an ancient fortress (Zamek), which served as a seat for the kings and under its foundations, there is a cave that stretches underground to the village of Tum. Many legends have been woven around the fortress and its cave, whose pictures are distributed in colorful tourist cards. According to legend, the fortress was the palace of King Jan Leszczynski, whose legendary figure hovers over this ancient building. Near the fortress is a magnificent park with venerable trees that block the sunlight. Between the cypresses and pines slowly flows the famous river Bzura, shaded by trees on both sides. The ancient garden was called “Royal Park” in memory of that Polish king, who had planted it near his palace as a place for physical and spiritual relaxation, where he was transported to another world full of legend and poetry. These sites were lovely remnants of an era in which Łęczyca had occupied an important place in the country, during the heyday of the Polish empire.

But what interests us most is the history of the city's Jewish community, which is also steeped in legends. Ancient splendor shines over

 

The Rabbi and the community leaders of Łęczyca (1939)

From left: Yeshayahu Kohen, Kusznir, Szlama Kohen, Rabbi Eliezer Auerbach, Yaakov Elchanan Herman, Michael Landau, Rogozinski

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the geniuses, people and princes of Łęczyca, who transformed it into a voeym ir[3] in Israel that was famous beyond the borders of Poland and filled its people with pride of their Łęczyca origins. Among them was the great Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Łęczyca, author of “Olelot Ephraim[4] and “Klei Yakar”, and presiding rabbi of the Beit Din of Prague.

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim, son of Aaron of Łęczyca, was born in 1545 and died in 4 Adar II in 1619[5]. In his youth he lived in the city of Jarosław and wrote his first book, “Ir Giborim[6], which is full of admonishment and morality. In the introduction to “Olelot Ephraim” he writes that all his references to the Torah and Talmud are based on memory, without the help of books. In 1581 he lived in Lviv and was one of the greatest preachers. He also gave his sermons in Lublin. In 1603, when he was appointed head of yeshiva and preacher in Prague, the Maharal Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew was at the head of the city's Beit Din. After the Maharal's death in 1609, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim became the new presiding rabbi of Prague's Beit Din.

… Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horowitz, also known as Baal HaShelah, was a member of Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim's Beit Din at the end of his life. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim's books “Olelot Ephraim” and “Klei Yakar” made him a world-famous scholar. He also authored the books “Siftei Daat,”[7]Orach l'Chaim[8] and “Amudei Shash[9]. His students included: Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, author of “Tosefet Yom-Tov”; Rabbi Shabtai Sheftel HaLevi Horowitz, son[10] of Baal HaShelah, author of the book “Vavei Amudim”, head of Beit Din and yeshiva teacher in Fürth and rabbi in Frankfurt, Poznań and Vienna as well as the son of Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh of Łęczyca (died on 19 Tammuz 5384 [6 July 1624] in Prague). R 'Shlomo Ephraim was head of yeshiva and Beit Din in several communities and, for many years, was rabbinical judge and preacher in Prague. The inscription on his matzeva reads “He was called the head of the preachers and he wished only good to his people.” In the year 5376 [1616] he signed his haskama to the book “Yesh Nochlin” by Avraham ben Sheftel, father of Baal HaShelah, together with Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Eidels Halevi, the maharsha, Rabbi Yehoshua Falk-Kac, author of “Sefer Me'irat Einaim” (sam“e) and Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, author of ”Beit Chadash“ (ba”ch).

This is a short biography according to reliable sources, but there are many legends about Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim's birth and childhood, as in the book “Sipurei HaKedoshim[11] published in 1837 in Leipzig (see also “Sefer HaMaasiot” by Mordechai Ben Yechezkel).

… Such is the image of one of the great Łęczyca personalities, shrouded in miracles and mysteries. The atmosphere in Łęczyca has been steeped in many legends about the righteous, such as the author of “Kav v'Naki”, author of “Kol Yehuda”, Rabbi Chaim Auerbach, author of “Divrei Mishpat”, his son R' Itzik Auerbach, author of “Divrei Chaim”, his son R' Meir Auerbach, author of “Imrei Bina”, head of Beit Din in Kalisz and Jerusalem. And finally, the late Rabbi Leibush Malbim, who wrote most of his books and commentaries in Łęczyca, as he emphasizes in his commentary on the Book of Yehoshua. The geniuses of Israel, whose life stories we present in this book, have left their mark on this city and its Jewish inhabitants.

There is historical evidence that the Jewish settlement in Łęczyca dates back to the time of the Spanish Expulsion at the end of the fifteenth century (see “Monumenta Polonia Historica”, Lviv 1888, p. 837; Hermann Sternberg's “Geschichte der Juden in Polen[12], p. 109; and the “Archive of the state of Warsaw”, section “Province of Poznań”, p. 250). However, it is difficult to determine when exactly the Jews began to settle the city. The ancient cemetery contains remains from 1503, but other sources suggest that the Jewish settlement is much older.

 

Malbim – Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Wisser

The wonderful Bible commentator Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Wisser, known by his acronym Malbim, lived in the nineteenth century. He held rabbinical posts in Kempen, Wreschen, Königsberg, Kherson, Mohilev and Bucharest. But his period in Łęczyca, as he himself writes, was the most beautiful, because in this city he was able to sit quietly with the Torah and work on his commentaries. He wrote his introduction to the book “Yehoshua” in Łęczyca in 1860. We can also find in most of his books the remark: “I wrote about this in Łęczyca”. At the end of the book “Mi Noach”, he signs: “Meir Leibush Malbim – formerly Chief Rabbi in Bucharest and now Chief Rabbi of the community of Łęczyca.”

Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michal was born in the year 1809 in the city of Volochysk. As a child

 

The Bzura River near Łęczyca

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Rabbi Chaim Auerbach ztz“l,
author of 'Dibrei Mishpat'

 

he was called “the Volhynian prodigy”. At the age of twenty, he received haskama from the Gaonim: Moshe “Chatam Sofer”, the Gaon of Nickelsberg, the Gaon of Tykocin, the Chief Rabbi of Breslau and the Gaon of Amsterdam for his important book “Artzot Chaim” which he began writing, as he explains in the introduction, when he was nineteen years old. In 1838 he was accepted as rabbi in Wreschen, in 1845 in Kempen, and then in Bucharest, where he was severely persecuted by the maskilim[13], arrested, sentenced to death, and finally released thanks to Montefiore's efforts. Later on, he served as rabbi in Łęczyca, Kherson, Mohilev, and Königsberg. He died in Kiev while traveling to Kremenchuk, where he had been appointed as rabbi, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5640[14]. He had studied Kabbalah with the holy Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Eichenstein of Zidichov. In addition to “Artzot Chaim”, he authored many other books including “Artzot Shalom”, “Torah veMitzvah”, “Midrash Halacha” (a detailed commentary on Safra), “Megilat Starim” (on Kabbalah), “Yair Or”, “Eilat HaShachar” (on grammar), “Mikre Kodesh” (a commentary of the Bible), “Parable and Proverbs” (poems), and “Eretz Hemdah” (sermons).

The authoritative Brockhaus Russian-Jewish Encyclopedia reports the following about Łęczyca:

“In the times of the Polish monarchy, Łęczyca was the most important district capital. The Jewish community of Łęczyca was one of the oldest in Poland. In 1453, Jewish representatives of Łęczyca and other communities received special privileges from King Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk. The census of 1564 shows seven houses belonging to Jews. For the right to buy them, the government charged one pound of pepper for each house. In addition, Jews occupied three houses of Christians. The celebrated Maggid Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Łęczyca was born in the town at that time. The famous blood-libel trial of Łęczyca took place there in 1639. In 1652, after the abolition of the old Jewish privileges, a fire destroyed the synagogue and Jewish houses. King Jan Kazimierz ordered the local authorities not to hinder the Jews from rebuilding the school, engaging in trade, and exercising their old privileges, which were confirmed during the city fire. Four years later, a great disaster befell the Łęczyca Jews, when the city was in the hands of the Brandenburg Army and Polish insurgents. King Jan Kazimierz, who besieged the city, met courageous resistance from the enemy. The Jews foresaw the terrible results, especially after the lights in the synagogue suddenly went out during Yom Kippur. On October 4, 1656, the second day of Sukkot, the city was captured by the King's army. The King wanted to spare the population, but the Poles killed in a barbaric and completely unchristian way all those who were still alive, especially the Jews, thousands of whom, regardless of age and race, were massacred (see “Theatrum Europaeum”, Volume 7, p. 88). One priest gathered the Jewish children and slaughtered them. Jewish sources mention three thousand victims or five hundred families, and describe the destruction of city. Six hundred Torah scrolls were burned. The names of some of the martyrs are preserved in various memorial books. According to a description of the year 1661, the city began to rebuild, but the number of Jewish houses was insignificant (only five). During the Swedish War, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Łęczyca suffered again. After the end of the war, Jews began to resettle in Łęczyca in larger numbers. In

 

Rabbi Abraham Tiktin,
author of 'Petach HaBeit'

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1724 they were allowed to trade, slaughter animals, make wine and set up inns and taverns, and in 1728 they were allowed to build a synagogue. There are interesting details corresponding to the year 1765. At the time, there were more than twenty tailors in the town, but only one of them was not Jewish. The number of Jews in Łęczyca, together with the tax collectors and customs officials in the area, reached 1067 that year. To the community of Łęczyca belonged the Jews of neighboring towns: Strykow – 624 Jews, Brzeziny – 243, Ujazd – 212, Sobota – 114, Bielany – 8, Parzęczew – 267, Piątek Pokrzywnica – 139, Krośniewice – 79, Katowa – 69. The total number of Jews in the whole district was 2905. According to a description from 1789, the Jews of Łęczyca worked in other occupations, besides tailoring. In that year the number of houses was 47. In 1856, there were 2903 Christians and 2496 Jews in Łęczyca. According to the population census of 1897, the city had 8863 inhabitants, of which 3471 were Jews. In the entire district of Łęczyca the number of inhabitants reached 100,000. The towns with the highest percentage of Jews were Grabów (1054 inhabitants, of whom 640 were Jews), Ozorków (11533 total, 5838 Jews), Parzęczew (984 total, 254 Jews), Piątek (2325 total, 1090 Jews), and Poddębice (2724 total, 1266 Jews)”. So tells the Russian-Hebrew encyclopedia, which is not the only source for the history of Jews in this city.

In 1924 excavations were carried out near the walls of the synagogue and it turned out that in ancient times Łęczyca was a fortress town, surrounded by a strong wall three meters thick. The synagogue, which was also built in the shape of a medieval fortress, was erected near the city wall in such a way that it served as a wall in front of the synagogue's corridor and an entire family could live in its arcades. To close the shutters of the windows, you had to walk 3 meters into the thick wall. During the same excavations, items were discovered that left a strong impression on the archaeologists. After digging two meters deep into the ground, a hole appeared in the wall revealing that the wall was hollow. When the diggers went through the hole in the wall, they found themselves in a space the size of a room where there were broken bones and various Jewish names engraved on the stones of the walls. Various explanations were suggested for the finding. According to one of them, proposed by Polish scientists, the finding had to do with events related to the Swedish invasion of Poland. As they marched victoriously across countries and peoples, the Swedes encountered stiff and bitter resistance in Poland. In 1656 they reached the heart of the country and captured it completely. This is what the historian Simon Dubnov wrote in his “History of the Jewish People”:

“… Łęczyca, which had been occupied by the Germans and Swedes, was besieged by a regiment of Polish troops led by King Jan Kazimierz himself. This happened during the Days of Awe. During the Yom Kippur prayer service in the synagogue, the wax candles went out and the Jews saw a bad sign in it. A few days later, on the second day of Sukkot, the city was captured from the enemy. The king wanted to spare the inhabitants of the city, but the Poles attacked all those who had survived the fires, especially the Jews. According to a “German” description of those days, they killed in a barbaric and not Christian manner over a thousand men, women, old and young people. A Polish source said: “We have a special case against the Jews, because they helped the enemy defend the city. With frenzied anger we also killed the women of the Jews and their children, and many of them perished in the flames. Wolf, one of the royal knights, gathered all the remaining Jewish

 

The great synagogue in Łęczyca

 

children, who were half-burned, saved from the flames, and then slaughtered in order to save their souls. According to many Jewish sources, about 500 families (3,000 persons) were killed in Łęczyca. Many threw themselves into the fire or the water to avoid the horrors of the enemy.”

The old people of Łęczyca tell the story as they heard it from their ancestors, passed down from generation to generation. The Swedes, dressed in long clothes and fur hats that were similar to the Jewish shtreimels, stood on the wall pouring boiling water and oil on the Polish soldiers. When the Poles occupied the city, they claimed that those who had poured the boiling stuff from the walls were Jews because they were Jewish-dressed. That was their excuse to justify the horrific murders and destruction. It turns out that a number of Jews hid in the sanctuary behind the wall because they knew the secret of the existing “bunker”, and somebody inscribed their names on the stones of the walls.

Even before that, there had been a lot of troubles in Łęczyca. In the year 1633 the two wardens of the synagogue, Meir and Eliezer, were charged with murdering a Christian child from Komaszyce and were taken to a city court, and then to the Supreme Court. The false witness in the trial was an old Polish beggar, Tomasz, who testified after torture that he himself had stolen the child and sold it to Jews. In vain did the mayor of Łęczyca argue that the trial was against the law, because only the provincial court, appointed by the judiciary, had jurisdiction on the Jews. The case was eventually brought before the Supreme

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Court, which ruled: “Despite the fact that the accused Jews claim after torture that they are innocent, and also because of the fact that there are more than a hundred wounds and stab wounds in the body, it is probable, although not with absolute certainty, that the Jews are the murderers.” Notwithstanding the reservation of the Supreme Court, a death sentence was imposed on the wardens and immediately carried out. Both martyrs were torn to pieces and hung on crossroads.

In time, the real causes of the muddle were discovered. A glass coffin with the bones of the sacred child was put on display at the Bernardine Monastery in Łęczyca, with a metal plaque containing a written description of the whole episode. On the wall, there was also a painting showing Jews sucking the blood of a child. From then on, the church of Łęczyca became famous, and until recently, masses of people flocked there,” says Prof. Dubnov and other researchers of Jewish history. However, the Russian-Hebrew encyclopedia, under the letter “L”, provides more details about this blood libel story:

“In June 1633, the royal tribunal in Łęczyca prosecuted Meir and Eliezer, accused of killing a child from the village of Komaszyce. The child disappeared on April 20, four days before Passover. The parents left him at home and, when they came back, they found him dead. The child's body was covered with wounds in many places. Suspicion fell on the wandering Christian beggar Tomasz who confessed that he had abducted the child and sold it to the Jews in Łęczyca. Following an investigation, the court allowed the Jews to file an appeal to the court in accordance with their separate royal privileges. The tribunal recognized the Staroste's action as arbitrary and illegitimate, because the Jews accused of the murder were under the jurisdiction of the city court, ruling that the Staroste's decisions could be appealed to the tribunal. During the interrogation, the beggar confessed that he had sold the child to Meir and Eliezer for half-złoty and that, next morning, he found the dead child and hid it in the bushes of the forest according to the Jews' instructions. The beggar repeated the confession in the presence of the Jews, following torture and interrogation.

Before being sentenced, Meir and Eliezer pleaded not guilty, despite the fact that they were severely tortured. They were condemned to death and quartering. Ten other Jews were accused of 'intellectual' complicity. Among them was the head of the community, the rabbi, and the elders of the congregation, who were questioned after they swore that they knew nothing. The local Bernardine clergymen were very pleased with the whole thing for a simple reason: in 1632, they had erected a monastery in Łęczyca and wanted to attract believers to the new temple. The death of the child was a bargain for the monks. The bones of the slain child were placed in a glass coffin in the church, and to this day the oil painting that depicts Jews sucking the blood of a child, is preserved there. A metal plaque describing the event is attached to the coffin…”

A memorial to the martyrs is kept in a Siddur of prayers manuscript from the synagogue of Pinczow. It briefly refers to “The torture in the town of Łęczyca, in the month of Shevat 5399 (1639), of our teacher Rabbi Meir son of Rabbi Mordechai HaCohen, and Rabbi Eliezer son of Rabbi Avigdor.” In a different section of the same Siddur, the prayers of remembrance for those who perished on Kiddush HaShem, their names are mentioned again as victims of an innocent confusion.

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen (one of the founders of the Mekor Chaim neighborhood near Jerusalem, who immigrated to Israel more than thirty years ago) recounts that in 1915 there was a bookshop called “Krejwa” in Łęczyca. The owners of the bookshop printed a card with the image on the wall of the church, which depicts Jews standing around a child lying on a table, with rattlesnakes on their heads and holding silver cups being filled with the child's blood. They included the card as a bonus in every book they sold. This was on the eve of Passover and the card could provoke a pogrom in the city. Rabbi Shlomo Cohen saw two men arriving in a carriage to the office of the local magistrate. One of them was a uniformed general and the other man was Professor Bodenheimer, an important personality whom he recognized from seeing his picture in the newspapers. Rabbi Shlomo went straight to him with the story of the card distributed by the bookstore. To make sure that the story was true, Professor Bodenheimer asked Rabbi Shlomo to see someone who had actually purchased one of those books. Rabbi Shlomo's sister-in-law, Ryvka Rachel Leibzon, brought the book with the card. Professor Bodenheimer immediately told the story to the general, who gave an order to close the bookstore.

Even in our times, we used to avoid walking along Poznań Street, where the Bernardine monastery is located, when the Polish crowd came out after prayers. It was not until twenty years ago that an order was issued by the Pope to remove the coffin, but the image on the church wall is still there to this day.

These are individual chapters of the tears and pain of Polish Jewry in general and of the Jews in Łęczyca in particular, because in this city not only the fate of the Jews of Łęczyca was decided, but also the fate of all Polish Jewry. Here is an excerpt from the pinkas of the Council of the Four Lands of the year 1656: “On February 27, 1656 (2 Adar 5416), the King of Poland, Jan Kazimierz, ordered that the leaders of the Jews of Poland must immediately introduce the tax for the entire Jewish population in Poland, because everyone is responsible for one and one for all.” The principal, amounting to 70,000 złotys, had to be paid

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in the following manner: The Lviv Jews paid 10,000 złotys to the ruler of Łęczyca, for the office of land registry they paid 3,000 złotys, for the Cossack regiment 2,600 złotys, for Jan Zamoyski's infantry regiment 4,000 złotys, for the commander of the military camp 1,600 złotys and various sums for the Polish infantry, the company of Andrzej Potocki and so on (the Zemsky Archives, Lvov, Vol. 405, p.142).

The pinkasim of the Council of the Four Lands contain judgements that are often signed by great Jewish personalities who stood at the head of the council. Among them… R' Naftali, son of beloved father, our teacher and rabbi R' Shraga ztzlh“h Bloch of Łęczyca.

In the book “History of the Jews of Leszno”, written in German by Dr. Louis Lewin, it is told that in 1628 the first head of the congregation in Leszno was someone called Eliezer from the city of Łęczyca, and that he received the privileges recognized to the Jews of Leszno.

There is an entire bibliography of the history of the Jews of Łęczyca, published in various collections by well-known historians Prof. Meir Balaban and Dr. Y. Sziper hy“d, as well as of Dr. Emmanuel Ringelblum. A special brochure on the history of the Jews of Łęczyca by Dr. Philip Friedman has been published by YIVO.

The history of Łęczyca is very rich and it is surrounded by many legends. The books of the dead tell us more than the books of the living. In my youth, I did some research on the pinkasim of Łęczyca. I learned a lot from them about the city's past, including facts that are unknown to the historians.

… On one occasion, the rabbi of Prague, the Maharal, received a pamphlet with Torah commentary from a student who belonged to the rabbis of Łęczyca. As soon as the Maharal touched the pamphlet with his hands, he fell down and there was a foul smell of uncleanness in the room. The Maharal was shocked and said: “The words of the Torah do not admit impurity.” Impurity has no place in the Torah – so where does this bad smell come from, that one cannot not stand it? Praise and remember God's name in such a place – certainly not! The Maharal was discouraged. Has impurity contaminated the Torah? The danger is great and one has to muster strength and she will recover.
Despite his weakness and old age, the Maharal decided to ride to Łęczyca. He was an eighty-year-old man, but he realized that from the distance he could not help – one had to be on the ground, from where the impurity spreads to all the Diaspora, in order to be able to fight with it and uproot it, even if it was connected with the holy Torah. When the Maharal reached the city limits, he had a terrible feeling and knew that a difficult war awaited him. Here the holiness mixed with the impurity and the evil had entered the Beit Midrash and settled there. When the Maharal entered the town and heard the voice of Torah and, by contrast, the bell-ringing of the Dominican churches for their Easter Day, he already knew what was going on. After the short prayer for entering a city, when the rabbis and yeshiva students came to greet him, he did not receive them. Instead, he asked to see the rich Jews of the city, and especially their famous nagid, whose name he did not even want to mention. The rabbis realized that something was wrong and their hearts were pounding with fear and trembling. When Reb Abraham heard that all the trouble was about him, he quickly came to the Maharal of Prague. He stood before him quietly, bowing his head and listening to the Maharal, who spoke to him not with anger, but with mercy and grace. And this is what he said to him: “Abraham, you are a sinner and a sinner of Israel, and many great men have already failed and been pushed into the deep abyss because of you. As a rule, a sinner who sins in public is not even able to repent. But I can assure you that your repentance will be accepted. I will take the weight of the burden on your behalf, and you will be helped from heaven, because he who wants to purify himself, is helped. Therefore, Abraham, please tell me from where does this wealth come to you?”

 

The 'Jewish street' after the deportation

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— Holy Rabbi, I will tell you everything, if you will save my soul. I give you my possessions and I will fulfill your commands. And he began to recount how he had formerly been a poor man and a merchant of antiquities. He once found a figurine of metal that had two gems fixed in the place of the eyes. He sold the figurine with its precious stones to the bishop and he received in payment a bag of gold thalers. Since then, he became rich.
The Maharal sank into thought, his eyes lit up and he spoke to his heart: “How great are the words of the sage z“l, paganism defiles as niddah[15]. The same uncleanness, the bad smell and no one feels because of the dull senses, may the All-merciful protect us.”

That night, the Maharal, together with Abraham and his family disappeared from Łęczyca, leaving no trace. In the morning, the rabbis and yeshiva students left the city. Rabbi Avraham's property remained ownerless, but no one took any part of it, because both the Jews and the Gentiles were afraid to benefit from it.

After several days of fright and trembling of the entire urban population, a fire broke out and destroyed all the property. The fire went on for three days and three nights, destroying all the houses that Abraham had built, while the other houses were spared, as if a boundary had been drawn between them. Nobody tried to put out the fire, because everybody knew that it was a fire from heaven. That night, it was revealed to the rabbi and the head of the Beit Din of Łęczyca that the city had been cleansed of the filth and that there would be no more fire in the city.

Translator's footnotes

  1. the years of the Chmielnicki massacres. Return
  2. in 1180, the 'king' was in fact High Duke Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy (“Casimir II the Just”). Return
  3. lit. “Mother city”, meaning an “important Jewish settlement”. Return
  4. Hebrew, “Gleanings of Ephraim”. Return
  5. there was no Adar II in 1619. His usual dates of death mentioned are 3 March and 21 April 1619, in Prague. Return
  6. Hebrew, “A City of Heroes”. Return
  7. Hebrew, “Words of Wisdom”. Return
  8. Hebrew, “A Path for Life”. Return
  9. Hebrew, “Pillars of Joy”. Return
  10. in fact, he was the son of Akiva and grandson of Abraham, the latter being a brother of Baal HaShela. Return
  11. Hebrew, “Stories of the Saints”. Return
  12. German, “History of the Jews in Poland”. Return
  13. followers of the Jewish Enlightenment movement. Return
  14. 19 September 1879. Return
  15. Hebrew, “menstruation”. Return


Memories of the Old Life

Shimshon LUSNER

There was once a Jewish town named Łęczyca. Its antiquities make it clear that Łęczyca must be one of the oldest cities in Poland. There is a very old church, two kilometers from the city. Today it is a village called Tum. Hundreds of years ago, the church belonged to the town of Łęczyca. There, King Kazimierz used to perform his prayers when he spent time in Łęczyca. There is still, today, a ruin of a castle. Legend has it that from a castle a tunnel leads directly into the church. It is located under the ground tombs, horses' stables etc. There is also a large garden – “The King's Garden”. The church of Tum is one of the oldest churches in all of Poland. It was built when the Poles adopted the Christian faith nearly 1000 years ago.

Łęczyca was once a province (capital-city), to which Kutno, Brzeziny and a number of other towns belonged. From time to time, the Senate held meetings there.

There is a large mountain between Łęczyca and Tum – “Szwedzka Góra”: there, the Swedes, at the beginning of the 17th century, occupied the city of Łęczyca. In the Middle Ages, every city had a high wall around it, with a fortress. When the Poles saw that the city was on the verge of collapse, they disguised themselves as Jews and poured hot water from the wall on the incoming Swedish army. Therefore, a terrible massacre broke out, almost all the Jews of the city were killed. Only one woman – the legend tells – survived because she hid in the synagogue behind a thick wall, where she could not be found. That saved her from death…

Jewish life has always been tumultuous. The general population numbered over 13,000, including about 5,000 Jews, most of whom were engaged in trade and craft: tailors, shoemakers, purse-makers, upper-shoe makers, watchmakers and other trades. Łęczyca had not factories. Years ago, there was a cigarette-paper factory belonging to R' Yonah Libke. There was a brewery, two soap factories: one belonged to Sh. Rawicki the second to Sh. M. Lipner; Two mills: a watermill and a steam mill. There was once also a textile-factory; it had no success because of the nearby town of Ozorków with her textile industry. After a short time, the Łęczyca textile factory had to be liquidated.

Łęczyca also owned two churches: the Bernardine was for the devout Christians. There was a window through which a small casket with a child's skeleton could be seen. Behind the casket – a painted picture in color, where Jews with long beards draw the child's blood, to the Passover matzah. It was simply a blood libel. (When Shalom Asz once visited Łęczyca, we introduced him there and showed him the picture. It made a terrible impression on him… Years later, Lazar Kohn visited us, we also showed him the picture. He later wrote an article about the horrible picture, in the Lodz Folks-Blat). This image later spread to the Poles as antisemitism escalated to provoke more anger against the Jews. And in the second church, the Germans gathered all the Jews of the city before they were sent to the ghettos.

There was also a beautiful synagogue, an ornament for the Jewish population. A terrible catastrophe occurred in this synagogue in 1898, precisely at Kol Nidrei[1]. There was no electric lighting yet. The pious women were provided a kerosene-lamp,

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which was overturned. There was an outcry “It burns”!…

The women, in terrible panic, ran to the exit. The doors were closed and it was impossible to get out – 22 women were killed and many fell from the second floor and were found dead. In the morning, the whole city was filled with mourning. At night, after maariv, the burial took place. All the victims were buried in one long tomb in front of the cemetery. For many years, people who entered the cemetery could see the long tomb under their eyes. The Germans destroyed the cemetery, tore out the tombstones, and blocked the street leading to the train. Even the ohel was destroyed and the field was turned upside down, so that one could not recognize what once was here. Grass grew there and the Christians fed cows and pigs.

Jews had their own a community, with four dozors[2]. The competence of the community was only to take care of religious matters. To this end it sustained, a rabbi, judges, ritual slaughterers, a gabbai for the synagogue and a cantor. Cantors – from these times, we remember three: one Lithuanian Jew named Berke. He was a cantor until he was very old. Later came Cantor Menachem Lubelski: in the 1920s he traveled to Belgium, where he died shortly afterwards. After him, arrived to Łęczyca Cantor Henech Brush: he originated from Kleczew; he remained a cantor in Łęczyca until the outbreak of World War II and perished in Chelmno along with many thousands of other Jews.

Jews who paid the municipal tax had the right to vote.

Every three years, there were community elections to choose new dozors, but almost every time the same nice Jews were chosen… The city still did not have a water supply. Each house had its own water carrier. Water was taken from the Bzura River that flowed into the town. In the summer, people bathed in the Bzura River.

On Passover, the water-carrier was not trusted, because Jews were very carefully pious. A child had to be sent to guard the Goy, so that he would not throw any chametz into the water.

Jewish artisans sent their daughters to be servants in rich men's establishments. Later, the daughters worked as tailors, hairdressers, hat-makers, or sock-makers!

There were cheders with teachers: from a young boy teacher, who taught the alphabet to children, to a Gemara-teacher, who taught the grown-ups. There were different societies, such as: Chevra-Tehilim, Knesset-Orachim, Chevra-Kadisha, a Beit-Midrash where young and old always sat and studied.

Every Saturday evening, a scholar Jew taught a lesson to the craftsmen and explained everything in their mother tongue. Other Jews recited psalms and later people prayed at maariv

This is how Jewish life went!

Every year, on the 15th of February, the “prizyv[3] takes place. When young Poles from all over the province gathered, and when they wanted a party, they robbed Jews of their possessions. However, as Jewish youths broke their bones, the looting and pogrom stopped.

The Łęczyca province belonged to the Kalisz governorate. Łęczyca as originally a Polish city, but most of the shops and houses belonged to Jews. On Shabbat or Jewish holidays, the whole city was kept in a holy silence, except for the sausage shop and the Christian bakery, which were open!

A Jew, Bezalel Panczewski, lived in Łęczyca. He had boys to whom he wanted to give a secular education, and therefore brought a teacher. At that time, it was not acceptable to send the boys to a Christian school, although there were two Jewish teachers: Moshe Lerer, who had his school in his apartment, illegally; The second, Yeshayahu Lerer, was at the same time the Sołtys among the Jews. He also ran a school in his apartment – but legally.

This Yeshayahu Lerer also had another function: when a child was born, he was given a couple of gold coins to report to the municipality. As he loved hard liquor so much, that he drank the money and did not report the child! But if it was a boy, he realized that it would affect the prizyv and there would be great

 

The ancient fortress (‘Zamek’)

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trouble… he reported the child years later. This is how it was done: one was registered as older and another as younger, and so on.

The teacher who came to Łęczyca for Panczewski was named Klausner. He was an active Zionist. Soon a Zionist movement organized. Most of the time he went to the students' study hall; this was for him a gratifying element. The Łęczyca Zionists were for the most part General Zionists.

There was also a Revisionist movement, supporters of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. In later years, Zionist youth organizations, “Gordonia” and “Mizrahi”, also existed.

In 1904 a dentist, Moshe Kuszner, also a Zionist, came to Łęczyca from Lithuania. With his help and great effort, he succeeded in obtaining the legalization (in 1907) of a Jewish social library. Ten years later, during World War I, already under the Germans, the library celebrated its jubilee with great enthusiasm.

There was also a large Chassidic movement, the majority Gerer. There was also Alexander Chassidim. In later years, the Gerer Chassidim organized themselves into a party – the Agudah, with its own cheders, a girls' school Beit Yaakov, a youth organization, Poalei Emunei Israel. They always went to the polls with the Sanation, the governing party. There was also a third Chassidic movement, the more enlightened “Mizrahi”. They called themselves the Zawiercier Chassidim.

Łęczyca also possessed an ancient dynasty of rabbis. Four great rabbis of one family were buried in a tomb at the cemetery. The last rabbi was killed in the Łódź ghetto.

A long time ago, there was in Łęczyca a great righteous. He was, however, a mitnaged[4], the Chassidim persecuted him with such gossip and gossip that he was forced to leave Łęczyca and move to another city. His name was R' Malbi”m[5]. In 1863, Łęczyca Jews took part in an uprising against tsarist power, for an independent Poland; They later paid a heavy price for it…

On August 1, 1914, World War I broke out. After several weeks of heavy fighting, the Germans occupied a large part of Russian Poland, including Łęczyca.

The plight of the Jews became extremely difficult: those who managed to grab the government bank's rubles were still able to survive, but most of the population was starving. We saw that something needed to be done to alleviate the need. We need to set up a relief organization and make lunches. We approached the commander with a request that he should give out goods. The prosperous Jews were taxed.

We went on this way with help for almost an entire winter.

Before Passover, we agreed to perform a theatrical performance – “The Wild Man” by Yaakov Gordin. This theater belonged to the fire department. We got it for a very small fee.

Shortly after Pesach, we celebrated a glorious day, which brought us a nice income.

In the summer of 1915, we began to think about raising the mental-cultural level of the population, which was at a very low level. Aaron and Samson Lusner, Yaakov-Yosef Wojdislawski, Yehoshua Grinbaum, Zelik Benedik, decided to create workers' evening classes. With the help of Yechiel-Meir Rogozinski (Chemistry Engineering), the courses were performed. Two teachers from Łódź were brought: Karlicki and Ajchner. In addition to the lessons every evening, we conducted science classes on Saturday, such as chemistry, physics, cultural history, and Jewish history, which were well attended. The fee was a small one. Later, over the years, the premises where we held the evening classes were transformed into the city's Jewish public high school No. 4.

Almost at the same time, a fellow by the name of Abraham Gutman appeared in Łęczyca. He was a Poalei-Zionist. At that time there was no Labor Party in Łęczyca. With the help of Łódź's colleagues, it was possible to create such a party, which later grew into a large force, with its own premises and a councilor in the town council. Gutmann later settled in Łęczyca, married, lived here until the late twenties, emigrated to Paris, where he died three years ago.

In Łęczyca, there has been a labor movement since Russian times, such as the Bund, the P.P.S., the S.D.K.P.L. Each party had its “bojówka[6]. At that time, Łódź political detainees were often sent to jail waiting for their “wyroks[7] or, on the “prisoners' convoy”, to be sent to Siberia – in the Łęczyca prison. In 1906, a Łęczyca girl named Rivtshe, the Mohel's daughter, was brought from Łódź. She worked there as a bodyguard and belonged to a socialist party. At a rally, she, the speaker, and other colleagues were arrested and sent to Łęczyca, where she was detained for nearly two years and later deported with a party of political detainees to Siberia. From Siberia she later fled to Paris, where she was never heard from again. Her father, a great Chassid, cried about her…

It was often heard that someone shot at a “rewirowy[8] or a gendarme. Suddenly – a tumult in the city: the warden of the prison was shot, while he was accompanied by a Jew, a contractor, Bernard Przedborski. This Jew was not harmed; This assassination attempt was carried out by one Kopaczewski of P.P.S.

On October 15, 1905, after Russia's defeat in the war with Japan, a great revolutionary storm broke out. There have been major political strikes. Apprentices were sent to check that people were not working in the workshops. As soon as they entered in Moshe-Leib's workshop, the ladies' tailor, he called the police and the boys were arrested. They were jailed from Thursday until Saturday.

As the tsarist government issued a manifesto and promised the people of Russia a constitution, we met early Saturday morning at the prison

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and demanded the release of all political detainees. At noon, the gates opened and all the political detainees were released. A large demonstration with red flags was soon formed, with various inscriptions. Speeches, revolutionary songs, different challenges. Later, they entered a Christian restaurant, drank and ate until midnight, all at the expense of Moshe-Leib…

One Friday night, the Łęczyca Polish population staged a demonstration under various flags, also religious, and called out to the Jews: “Let the unity live!”…, “Let an independent Poland live!” The tsarist government looked into the situation and abolished the constitution. The reaction was overwhelming. Many fled to the United States, England, France, and Germany. Thus ended the “freedom” that the tsarist government granted to the people!

In the summer of 1916, a terrible typhus epidemic broke out. People, in their prime, were being swept away every day. The disturbance was great… Pious Jews decided to web a poor guy with a poor girl[9] in the cemetery…

The whole city of Jews, the most beautiful landlords – were 'in-laws'; they played and danced, gave sermons. The end result was that a couple of days after the wedding, the fellow left his young wife and she remained an eternal agunah[10]… It helped little to stop the epidemic…

In the cultural sphere, we have done a lot: in the summer of 1918, we celebrated the three-year anniversary of the aforementioned evening classes, with the participation of a guest speaker from Łódź, Freind Rawin. The celebration was very impressive. This was already during Poland's independence.

We formed a choir “HaZamir”, our own orchestra, which it was conducted by Zajderman. Some successful concerts have been held.

We also organized a sports club, trained in the open field, under the direction of a German soldier. Later we hired a sport-teacher from Łódź. After a while, the work stopped. After a few years, the sports association was reorganized under the name “HaKoach”, with its own premises, a football-drużyna[11], its own wind orchestra, with which it was led by Shimon Brodzicki (now in Israel).

There was also an artisans' union, presided by R' Nathan Rogozinski. The Craftsmen's Union was affiliated to the Warsaw Central. Every three years a congress was held and Łęczyca sent her delegates. There were a lot of complicated questions to solve, such as: the artisan card, the exams for new masters.

There was also a merchants' union presided by Moshe Piatkowski – until World War II. A retailers' association was organized with Yaakov Spiegel as President and Yaakov Wiszegrodzki as Secretary. Both were hanged by German assassins.

The Retailers' Union did not exist for a long time, as World War II broke out shortly afterwards.

There was also a Jewish loan and savings bank, which in later years was transformed into a people's bank, connected to the Warsaw Central.

In parallel with the popular bank, there was also a charity fund, where a poor merchant or a small craftsman, could obtain an interest-free loan. The charity fund was organized by Moshe Messerszmid, who settled in Łęczyca during the First World War. He originated from Łódź. The charity fund was a great help to the poor!

Łęczyca also had a bikur cholim[12], to which belonged virtually the entire Jewish population – from left to right. The task of bikur cholim was to provide medical assistance to the poor. For this purpose, we contacted a Jewish doctor, in connection with a pharmacy; every month, a doctor and a pharmacist gave consultations.

The Łęczyca town council consists of 24 councilors, a mayor, a deputy mayor and three “lawniks[13]. Jews have always carried out eight councilors, including one Poalei-Zionist. Therefore, Jews had a lawnik. For years, it was David Kopel.

Jews of Łęczyca loved theater. On the world map of theater, Łęczyca occupied

 

Town hall (‘Magistrat’) in Łęczyca

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an important place. The best actors came to us, such as: Julius Adler, Herman Sieradzki, Esther-Rachel Kaminska, Ida Kaminska, Zygmunt Turkow, Abraham Morewski, Samberg, Rachel Holcer, Jacob Wajslic, Dżigan and Szumacher[14] from the “Ararat” theater in Łódź, Goldstein and also others. We also had a dramatic circle, which was formed after the first Germans. For many years, the director was Laser Gasz; He later traveled to France – now in Belfort. After his departure, the direction was taken by the writer of these lines, until his departure (February 10, 1939) to Australia. In later years, under the auspices of the Polish government, the dramatic circle was affiliated with the Warsaw Central as a “Jewish Stage”, with its own premises. We have performed a number of plays from the Jewish repertoire, as well as from European ones.

The labor organizations have also carried out a feverish activity. They have brought down the best speakers, to various lectures on partisan or literary topics. We have also been visited by Jewish writers, such as: Melech Rawicz, Z. Segalowicz, Dr. Czerman, Dr. Michael Wajchert and others.

On September 1, 1939, World War II broke out. After heavy fighting, which lasted several days, the Germans occupied a number of cities, including Łęczyca. The situation of the Jews became very difficult: it was not allowed to stick a head out in the street. And he who did not listen to their command was shot on the spot. The synagogue was soon demolished with dynamite. In the middle of the market, they erected gallows and all the Jews of the city had to gather and watch the 10 Jews being hanged. Then they were taken to work, sent away to camps. It did not take long, perhaps a year, for all the Jews to be gathered in a church and sent away to two ghettos: Poddębice and Grabów. Thus, a Jewish settlement a few hundreds of years of existence was wiped out.

To this day, Łęczyca is Judenrein. A few Jews from Łęczyca escaped to Russia, forget about the Germans. All were scattered – to Israel, America, Canada, Australia etc. The Łęczyca Jews who stayed shared the fate of the six million Jewish martyrs.

Some Łęczyca Jews found themselves in Chelmno death camp, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed. They worked there as tailors. Before leaving, the Germans took them all to a yard and shot them with machine guns. Among the martyrs: Simcha Wachtel with his son Israel, Yehoshua Juda, Beniek Jastrzewski.

This is how the chapter of the Łęczyca Jews ended…

Translator's footnotes

  1. Yom Kippur evening service. That year, it was on 25 September 1898. Return
  2. unpaid representatives of the community, elected by the adult Jewish population, under Polish authorities' supervision. Return
  3. Russian Army conscription, under the tsarist regime. Return
  4. Hebrew, “opponent” (to Chassidism). Return
  5. Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (March 7, 1809 – September 18 1879 Kiev, Ukraine). Return
  6. Polish, “raid party”. Return
  7. Polish, “Court sentence”. Return
  8. Polish, “constable”. Return
  9. Jewish religious custom, also called “black wedding” or “orphan wedding”. Return
  10. Hebrew, “chained woman”, married woman who cannot get an agreement to divorce from her husband and thus cannot marry again. Return
  11. Polish “team”. Return
  12. Hebrew, “visiting the sick”. Jewish tradition to give company to and help sick people with little or poor family. Return
  13. Lay judges, members of the town council. Return
  14. Shimon Dżigan (1905 Łódź – 1980 Tel Aviv) and Israel Szumacher (1908–1961), comic duo. Return


Our Shtetl Łęczyca

by Sh. ROGERS, Melbourne

Translated from the Yiddish by Shoulamit Auvé-Szlajfer

Our former town of Łęczyca is located in one of the most fertile regions of Poland. The Jewish livelihoods in the city depended on the surrounding peasant population. Virtually all shops belonged to Jews. During the market days (twice a week), the Jews without shop spread their

 

Mr. Henich BROSZ, Cantor of Łęczyca z'l

 

goods on tables and, on the other days of the week, went on markets in the neighboring towns. Some Jews were also village traders, buying and selling whatever they could get.

Our craftsmen were usually tailors, cobblers, shoemakers, bakers, blacksmiths, watchmakers. Not all craftsmen had a livelihood for a whole year, so they had to look for other jobs during the summer months. They worked in the orchards of the surrounding villages and left the city for a whole summer. There were also Jews who increased their revenues as tenant farmers (pachciarz). A pachciarz had his horse-and-cart, each traveling in the morning in the village, bringing milk and distributing it among the Jews in town. They also made butter and cheese — and from this led a modest life.

There was also a group of unskilled workers in the city, such as porters and carters. This was the poorest class, especially the porters. They went out into the street early to look for work and did not have a few pennies for their wife to cook something for the children. Also, the carters worked on long distances. Years ago, when there was no train between Kutno and Łódź, they had relatively large incomes, but later, when the train and buses started running, their situation became difficult. They lost their sources of income — and found no other.

The children of all these hardworking Jews learned trades and became skilled workers. Since Łęczyca was not an industrial town, the young people learned the trades from Jewish artisans, mainly tailors, renowned for their skills. Unfortunately, there was no job for everyone in the town, many traveled to Łódź, some also emigrated to the United States, England and France, where they succeeded materially but never forgot their families at home, still supporting them. Moreover, some workers

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The synagogue on fire (1942)

[Page 438]

emigrated not for material reasons, but political ones. It was so after the failure of the revolution in 1905, when they were threatened by tsarist repression.

The Jewish workers in Łęczyca had an appetite and an attraction for cultural and political activity. They have with their activity. Their activities brought about a revival in the city, they were the creators of the Jewish theater in Łęczyca. They also created the workers' political movement in the city, a Communist Party, a left-wing Poalei-Zion movement. Political party activities began during World War I, after the victory of the Russian Revolution. Speakers from all the workers' parties came to us from Łódź and excited the workers of Łęczyca. Thanks to the impact of the Russian Revolution, the Communist movement gained considerable influence. After the end of World War I, workers' councils were formed (Polish and Jewish workers together), but this did not last long. The councils were abandoned from power because they were under communist influence. Poland began to wage war against Russia.

The only Jewish trade union that existed in Łęczyca was the Needle Union. For political reasons, the tailors did not want to be attached to the Warsaw federation. The founders of the Needle Union were Moshe-Lajbl Bornsztajn (killed by the Germans), Berel Szkolnik (now in Paris) and the author of these lines.

The Needle Union's activities have been successful in the professional, political and cultural fields. We have carried out successful actions for better wages and fewer working hours. A library with many books was established at the association. Weekly lectures, discussions, moneybox collecting nights were organized and an Esperanto group was formed there, led by a expert teacher from Łódź. In the same premises, the “MOPR”(to help the political prisoners) was also working. Packages were prepared for the detainees in the Łęczyca prison and, through us, the detainees were in contact with the outside world. The doors of the Needle Union were open to all workers who came for help.

We kept in touch with the organized progressive Polish workers and, thanks to this, prevented a pogrom in our city.

This was in the 1930s, when the economic situation in Poland was very bad. The Polish fascists exploited the situation to provoke antisemitic outbursts. Also, in Łęczyca, the endemic hooligans wanted to provoke a pogrom, targeting a market day, when Jews displayed their goods on the tables. The hooligans, however, were repelled with the help of Polish workers, with whom we had good relations.

The same year, a large May Day demonstration took place and several speakers denounced the provocations. The author of these lines spoke on behalf of the Jewish workers…


The Sports–Club “Hakoach” in Łęczyca

by Zalman Bornsztajn, Australia

One of the bright spots in town was the sports–club “HaKoach”. It was not easy to build this non–partisan sports organization, which was very popular and beloved by everyone. An organization where anyone, regardless of party affiliation, could enter. The color of her banner was also impartial: purple–white.

After the First World War, attempts were made to create the “HaKoach”. However, there were obstacles among the religious Jews. They held that a Jewish boy should only study in school.

After years of efforts and efforts by a group of dedicated workers, such as: Josef Kotek, Aharon Rabinowicz, Ber Beatus, Henech Ampulinski, Mosze–Lajb Bornsztajn, Mordechai Bzrezinski (the first manager), in 1928, they managed to open the sports– association on the Ozorkow Street, in the house of Abraham–Nissen Bloch, who was later rejected by the Chassidim for giving the premises. He was not allowed to pray until he had to promise that boys and girls would not be together during the exercises…

The slogan of “HaKoach” was: “a healthy body – a healthy spirit”! People really went to the physical exercises with great enthusiasm. Boys and girls deliciously learned the laws of gymnastics, under the guidance of instructor Abraham Metalena, a native of Kutno. The results of the work did not wait long: beautiful and impressive were the sporting celebrations, which took place from time to time, in the open air or on the stage. “HaKoach” has produced a number of good athletes, such as: Lajbel Kenig, Jerachmiel Kilbert, Josef Cielski, Arie Lifszyc, Mosse Glicensztajn, a. Opoczinski, Benie Jastrzębski and others. The girls also excelled in sports celebrations.

In order to maintain the interest of the youth and the parents, the “HaKoach” from time to time invited lecturers to speak about the important importance of sports for the Jewish youth. I especially remember a paper by Dr. Lesser from Kraków, who was a member of the Central Committee of the “Maccabi” Union in Poland. It was an interesting lecture, which left a strong impression.

Apart from the sports celebrations, in the summer

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people used to make trips to other cities and places, even as far as Ciechocinek, where the Jewish musicians Gold and Petersburski played. Very often people used to drive or walk in Sierpow's forest, which was not far from Łęczyca and Ozorków. The youth of both cities used to meet there and spend the day comfortably.

It is especially worth mentioning the Sunday entertainment in Miles' Garden, with its own orchestra, buffet, various attractions. The Jewish clubs of the surrounding towns are also invited to join us and we often go to them for celebrations and entertainment.

Like everywhere else, soccer had become a popular sport for us. When playing with non–Jewish clubs, the atmosphere was tense. Mostly we play with Jewish clubs from Kutno, Ozorków, Zgierz etc.

One time, I remember, we played with the 7th Polk of Kutno. We had invited three guest–players from Łódź “Maccabi”: Frenkel, Bumets and Sinaderko. (Efraim Rogożynski, who played with me on this match, is also in Melbourne, as well as the player Abraham Benedik).

Not many Jewish clubs in Poland have their own orchestra. Therefore, the creation of such an orchestra by Łęczycer “HaKoach” was a great event. First and foremost, we owe it to the fact that we had the brother–in–law, Szymon Brodzicki, a man with a lot of enthusiasm and patience. The musicians themselves paid a significant portion of what the instruments costed. The rest of the Jewish population was pleased. One can imagine the festive mood when the orchestra is out on the street for the first time. Young and old, small and large, came to see and hear this great miracle – their own Jewish orchestra!…

The well–known anti–Semite Szimanski in the city closed his attic, when the Jewish orchestra marched and played on the streets of Łęczyca.

The Łęczycer “HaKoach” and his orchestra soon became known in the surrounding province as well. We were often invited to their celebrations and concerts.

An episode of such trips in the towns, I remember:

 

Staff of gymnastics–club “HaKoach” in Łęczyca

From left: Binem HERMAN, Zalman BORNSZTAJN, Berel SZKULNIK, Josef KATEK
Sitting: Zalman NAJHAUS, Mosze JAKUBOWICZ, Mordechai BRZEZINSKI

 

In Łask, near Pabianice, when the orchestra was playing an overture called “The Polish Queen”, the representative of the Łask club approached us and gave us a bottle of beer for the beautiful march we were playing.

On my way to Australia, in July 1938, I wished people to experience good, although the thought of the dark clouds looming over the European horizon, which came much faster than expected, came to my mind. But we, Łęczycers, the small group of survivors who are scattered all over the world, those who have lived and worked together in the “HaKoach” will never forget the wonderful years of Jewish activity, of an enthusiastic Jewish youth so prematurely cut off, along with our closest and dearest.

Honor their memory!


How the Jews of Łęczyca Perished

Testimony of Mosze SZERPINSKI, recorded and delivered by David VACHTEL z”l, Paris

Shortly after the German march into Łęczyca area, harassment and decrees broke out, the aim of which was to terrorize, confuse and demoralize the Jewish population.

Later, the “Jewish Councils”, “Elders of the Jews”, and the Jewish police began to function.

In early 1942, in the ghettos of the “Vartegau” (Lodz and part of Warsaw 'Voivodeship) rumors were spreading that in the forests between Dąbie and Koło, the Germans had set up a special camp, where they gassed and burned Jews. It was believed that the Jews were taken away from there –– and disappeared. Farmers in the Dąbie area said that in the village of Chelmno, 110 kilometers from Koło, the German troops were bringing Jews, where they are being killed. Jews who used to work at the train station often noticed long freight trains, packed with Jews, who were being driven to an unknown destination.

[Page 440]

A young man, who managed to escape from the Chelmno death camp, told to the ghetto what he saw there. But no one wanted to believe him. He was considered insane or a provocateur. The Jews themselves threatened to hand him over to the Gestapo. In order to be convinced of the correctness of all the rumors, the Jews in the Łęczyca ghetto decided to send scouts to Koło, which was the last station for the Chelmno extermination camp. Using bribery, the “Elder Jew” was able to obtain from the Gestapo a special permit for two Jews to travel to Koło. The delegation came back with nothing. Beyond Koło, they could not pass.

The situation in the ghettos became tense, the control over the ghetto – everything got tighter.

On Purim 1942, the German assassins hanged ten Jews in each ghetto – a reference to the ten sons of Haman. The ghetto inhabitants were required to register: first once, then twice daily. It became clearer that the situation was hopeless, the destruction was inevitable.

On April 12, 1942, the second day after Pesach, when the Jews lined up one afternoon, as usual, in the market square, in front of the commandant's building, they were suddenly surrounded by Gestapo men. They were soon taken away to an urban sports field. They never returned to their homes.

In the morning, the city was surrounded by a group of SS men from Łódź. The eviction began. In groups of about 20–25 men, the Jews were driven and crammed into hermetically sealed cars, which drove them quickly to the Chelmno death camp.

At the same time, the final liquidation of all the surrounding towns took place.


The Death of the Jews of Łęczyca

Testimony of Mosze SZERPINSKI, recorded and delivered by David VACHTEL z”l, Paris

When the Nazi hordes occupied Poland, one of the first cities they bombed was our city. After occupying the Łęczyca, they drove the Jewish population to the city school. Great was the panic, despair and fear of the women and children. As in many other cities and towns, they listed ten men as “hostages” (eruvniks):

Yaakov Chaim Lesman, Yaakov Spiegel (Teve Baharier died of fright on the spot), Szpringer, Reuwen Kolski, Ben–Zion (hung by his own son, later the son

 


Eve of the deportation

[Page 441]

was hung), Jakob Wyszegródski (my brother), Israel Szajbe, Abraham Eliyahu Szajbe, Mordechai Sztar.

 

Jakob Wiszegrodzki, one of the hanged “eruvniks”. The rope snapped when they first hanged him. The German acted in disregard of international laws and hanged him anyway

 

The name of tenth one is unknown to me, as he was a makeshift, not from Łęczyca.

I would like to point out that while hanging Jakob Wyszegródski, it happened that the rope broke. He turned to the elder of the SS and said that “according to international law, I should not be hanged anymore.” The killer replied: “You must be hanged”!

A second case also occurred with James Spiegel, that while he was being led with the other nine men to the gallows, he fell into weakness. The law says that to hang a man, he must be conscious. He was taken out of line and given injections. And when he felt better, he was hanged.

Such were the Nazi bestial laws!

The gallows were erected in the middle of the market, and the whole town of people had to stand and look directly at the gallows, as well as the women, children and family – how their loved ones were hanged.

Later, the young people were rounded up and sent to work, partly in the concentration camps and partly in the gas chambers, mainly in Chelmno, the first gas chambers to be created in Poland.

With various cruel deaths, the young lives of our closest relatives were cut off: fathers, mothers, wives, children, sisters, brothers, who shared the tragic fate of the six million.

With great reverence, we remember our saints. A constant nightmare stands before our eyes. Until our tomb – we will never forget them!

 


Forced labor in ghetto

 

The Ten Who Were Hanged

by Zalman Bornsztajn, Melbourne, Australia

Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron

Who by slaughter and who by strangulation… multifarious were the deaths by which our near and dear were overcome in those dark years, when the Hitler-plague was rampant over the most vital and creative part of world-Jewry, which found itself in Poland. When not only Jewish belongings and everything holy and precious fell into abandonment, but even the last physical naked lives were also condemned to death through the devilish, fully-thought-out plan of those “supermen” who wanted and still want to rule the world.

Łęczyca was only a branch of that beautiful mature tree that was Jewish Poland, which over many generations absorbed the nourishment and sap from its healthy roots. And just as branches are like each other, so also was Łęczyca like the countless Jewish towns and shtetls in Poland with their customs, holidays, occupations, unions, party struggles and cultural organization-work.

The Nazis, who committed every crime that can be found in a criminal codex, with the addition of their own sadistic inventions, accused the starved and weary Łęczyca Jews, confined to the ghetto, who had given away their last valuables for a few potatoes, or a piece of bread, in order to keep themselves alive – if it could be called that – of dealing in gold, and sentenced them for that to death. And they did not only accuse Jews from the ghetto, but Jews whom they themselves had thrown in prison.

[Page 442]

When the condemned were brought from their cells, one of them died of fright. When all the Jews were assembled in the market, where special gallows for the ten Jews had been prepared, the officer of the SS-men first took out the best Jew from the first row to replace the dead man. The unexpected corpse, which lay next to the SS-man with his wife and two children, was Yankel Szpigel z”l, before the war a wealthy Jew.

The fact that one was dead already did not count. If gallows were prepared for ten, ten must be hanged. So, the German ordinance would be followed.

 

The confined ‘Jewish Street’ – a part of the ghetto,
where all the Jews of the town were crammed in

 

With one hanging there was a complication, the rope broke. The still living Yankele Viszegrodzki said to the German officer that according to international law it was not permitted to hang him, and he must remain alive. “For Jews there is no law,” was the answer.

Ten Jews had been sentenced to be hanged in the market. The deceitful unspoken thought was: the Jewish holiday of Purim… An order was proclaimed that all Jews must be present and witnesses at the execution, no one was permitted to remain at home, the doors must not be locked or left open…

Among those hanged were two brothers: Israel and Eliyahu Shajbe z”l, one had first to hang the other. There were also among them a father and a son: Ben-Zion and Jacob Moszkowicz z”l; the son had first to hang his father… To such a level had the German people descended in the middle of the 20th century, when, seeking to rule the world with force, they put themselves in the hands of a degenerate mass-murderer.

Following the destruction of our Jewish Łęczyca, we mourn among all the Jews the ten who were sentenced to be hanged, and also the four other Jews: Naftali Kon, Yitzchak Szpringer, Mordechai Sztar and Yaakov Chaim Lesman z”l, who all died a martyr's death for their Yiddishkayt.

Honor to their memory!

 

The ‘Judenrat’, headed by Mucznik, and an SS agent review the list of Jews for deportation

[Page 443]

Leczycers in France

by Dawid WACHTEL, Paris

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

With reverence and a shiver in heart I am setting of to write about my snowy hometown Łęczyca, which I had left in 1927 emigrating to France. And how can one forget you, city of childhood and youth, with your great Jewish organisations, institutions, parties and societies? What is preserved best in my memory is the drama group (in which I had also acted).

As a novice I had a hard time on Paris soil. Already before the war serious attempts were made in the capital city of France to establish a land-network (“Society”) for our townsmen. The outbreak of war has brought all these attempts and plans to nothing and has totally destroyed all these endeavours and plans.

My experiences in the occupied France are a chapter of their own. Thanks to the kindness of several Frenchmen I have managed to survive through the war.

After the liberation, the efforts of the survivors of Łęczyca to create a society was even greater. The first memorial service in the LANKRI hall attracted a huge audience. But we were too few in Paris to maintain such an organisation solely by our own means. Therefore it was natural to get in touch with the Kutno network, under whose hospitable roof, and in collaboration with people from several neighbouring towns, we find ourselves nowadays and will continue with our collaborative activities.

 

Under the photo in Hebrew and Yiddish: Remembrance day by the gravestone in Łęczyca

[On the gravestone on the photo (in Polish):] “On the 4th anniversary of the mourning for our Parents, Brothers and Sisters murdered by the Nazi barbarians. Łęczyca 10.05.1946”

 

A man from Łęczyca in France
The surroundings: Łęczyca, Kursznicvic , Dabrowic

by Shlomo ROGOZYNSKI (ROGERS), Melbourne

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

The horrible news that had come soon after the war about the annihilation of the Eastern European Jewry and of our town of Łęczyca prompted us to create an administrative body in Melbourne that would carry out supportive action for the surviving Jews of Łęczyca. Around that time a Land-network of Łęczyca survivors was created in Melbourne. The first committee was composed of the following members: Zwi Rizman, Z.Bolnsztajn, S.Lisner, David and Efraim Rogozinski. It was, as a matter of fact, a rescue committee.

We contacted the city council of Łęczyca in order to find out how many and who of the Jews were alive. We learned that Dr. Holcer and his wife and several more people came back to Łęczyca. Everyone was concentrated around their house. We managed to establish contact with them. We immediately conducted a money raising campaign. The first aid that we gave - we sent a package with food. Our committee has developed ties with the General Jewish Aid Committee in Australia.

It was permitted for the Jewish representatives to work with the government, which will allow some of the surviving Jews to be brought into the country. For the sake of this purpose the Jewish Land-crew undertook an initiative so that all who wished to come to Australia could receive an entry permit through us.

Along with all that a lot of money for the ship tickets was needed. We have turned to our country men in America, but we have not received any material help from there.

The first people of Łęczyca who came to Australia were Smit from Grabow with his wife (the daughter of Harniak). This was still before the First World War. The Jewish immigration from Łęczyca to Australia started with them. Soon also the brother of Harniak with his wife (maiden name Rizman) came. In the beginning of the 1920s also Sajmon Joskowicz came with his family. Later, when the Jews of Poland could no longer survive because of harsh taxes, also Rizman, Shapiro and Czernikowski with his family arrived. There also came: H. Harinik, Jente Rizman, S. Piotrkowski and David Rogozynski.

At the end of the 1920's, during the economic crisis in Australia, the immigration had ceased. In the year 1936 the gates were opened again, but only for the close family members. And again the people of Łęczyca started to come: Lea Czeriakowska, the Szfarcfeld sisters, Zalman Bornsztajn and his wife, Josef Hirszt Lesner from Paris with his family, Kolski Frajman with his family, Aharon Lusner with his family, Szlomo and Efraim Rogozynski, Gerszon Szfarcfeld, Eliezer, Szkolnik, Sz. Lisner and G.Klugerman (the last three had lost their wives and children in Poland).

In September 1939 when the Second World War had broken out, we were again cut off from our old home. It was only at the end of 1945 that the committee of the Land-crew of Łęczyca had obtained a full list of the Jews of Łęczyca who remained alive. The first who came to Melbourne were: Dr.Holcer, and Jehoszua-Hirsz Jachimowicz with his family. After him there came Abraham Wiszogrodzki with his wife, Akiva Harinik, Abraham Benedig, Szkolnik, the Szlamowicz brothers, the Jachimowicz brothers with their wives, Lida Rogozynska, Kuba Rogozynski, the son of the engineer Jechiel Majer, Jankel Brzezinski, with his sister Rojze, Landau with her husband, Berisz with his wife Etka, Benkel from Grabow, Sztelski and his wife, Eliahu Srebnas's daughter and husband. After them Szajbe the lawyer came from Paris.

Not all of those who received the entry-permissions forms are now in Australia; some went to Canada, America and Israel.

In the last years we have brought several families of Łęczyca here, those coming back from Russia to Poland. These were the following families: Sztar, Erike Goldman, Wajselner, the Engelman brothers with their families, the family of Simon Halinik. All of them have settled down.

Our fellow Jews materially contributed to the edition of The Book of Łęczyca, which was published in Israel and redacted by Rabbi Frenkel. We have planted trees in the Garden of the Righteous with the names of Łęczyca community members. At present a committee has also been established, composed of Zalman Bornsztajn, Abraham Wiszegrodzki, Szymszon Lisner and the author of the article.

Our fellow Łęczycas get together on various occasions. We have preserved this deeply rooted sentiment for our former town, that had been so tragically destroyed by the bestial, German murderers, may their name be blotted out.

 

A committee of the people of Łęczyca in Australia

 

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