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Charsznica and Ksiaz

A. Charsznica

(Charsznica, Poland)

50°25' / 19°26'

 

The Town of Charsznica

by Yisrael Rogovski

Translated by Selwyn Rose

 

The Railroad Station

Before Charsznica became a place of Jewish settlement, it was a neglected agricultural area with no discernable produce; just a hilly area whose surroundings provided pasture to the farmers for their cattle and sheep.

Transportation was by horse and two–wheeled carriages in the summer and sleighs in the winter. The farmers had no means of transporting their herds' and flocks' produce to commercial centers which were located in coal–mining districts close to the German–Russian border.

The development of industry in the towns of Zaglambia and their surroundings created a demand for agricultural produce in ever increasing amounts and the consequent need for rapid transportation became urgent. The Russian treasury agreed to finance the construction of a railroad between the centers of food–production and the consumers in the south west of the valley.

On a flat plateau in the valley a structure was erected that was to serve as the railroad station and on both sides of it, at a distance of some hundreds of meters, at the lowest areas in the valley, two high stone bridges were built to protect the tracks from the flood waters that flowed down the valley from the mountains in winter. Two tall levees of earth were built on either side of the station and these joined the two bridges together.

The earthworks and construction of the levees on such a scale required the employment of a large labor–force together with the workers and professionals brought in from the larger towns. All this together with the local day–workers constituted a large work–camp needing significant food supplies and clothing. The Jewish traders and peddlers, always on the look–out for new sources of income in the surrounding farms and villages, found in the new railroad station an additional source of income. In time they transferred their homes from the surrounding villages and settled in the areas close to the station.

The railroad station was destined to become the area of settlement and commerce for both the Jewish and Christian villagers from round and about. The Jews became agents and intermediaries as traders in food and agricultural produce and a few of them opened shops there. As time went on personal and friendly relationships developed between the new settlers and the local Polish population from the villages and farms and when work finished on the station a few of the traders made the “town” their permanent home.

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The nearest town was Miechów, about eight kilometers south of Charsznica. In the west and north were Wolbrom and Żarnowica and to the east Kielce – the county seat with the small towns and villages teeming with Jews.

The first permanent settlers round “the station” (also known as “Miechów station” or Miechów–Charsznica), were: Mr. Khamil Wadowice, Mr. Simcha Sztych, Mr. Alter Chudwar(?), Mr. Reuven Chudwar and others. (As was usual among the Jews at that time, in addition to their first name they often added the town they came from).

Charsznica was a small Christian village with few residents; they found their living in the small surrounding farms or as porters and in services. They were daily workers and their homes were dilapidated wooden shacks, their food poor and their water they drew from the wells that they dug with their own hands. The “station” was their gateway to the outside world.

Even the larger traders who, because the nearness of the Austrian border somewhat restricted their activities, began to operate via the “station” at Charsznica. The railroad carried them to industrial areas and factories and the coal– and salt–mines. Goods–trains laden with solid and liquid fuels and industrial materials unloaded there and then loaded–up with agricultural produce. Warehouses and storerooms were built, vast unloading and vast storage areas for coal, salt, farm produce, fuels and timber. Some of the facilities were financed by the authorities and some by private merchants and entrepreneurs – Jewish and Christian. The wholesale trade in fuel and food was undertaken by a few Jews and the rest of the Jews mainly lived from small trading and peddling in the surrounding villages. They would travel by horse–drawn wagon or on foot and their wares consisted of eggs, cheese, butter, chickens, goose–feathers, waxes, hare– and rabbit–skins – all of which they carried in wicker–work baskets. Those among them who were able to acquire a horse and wagon also spread to the local villages and traded in waste metal, wrecked machinery, old clothes and rags and also decorative colored glass items and general haberdashery, to catch the eye of the farmers' wives and daughters. They rose early in the morning, before dawn saying the morning prayers for travelers, sometimes combining the morning and evening “Amidah” prayers together before eating their one hot daily meal prepared by the wives and mothers and waiting for them on their return.

 

Social life

The “Station” acquired the character of a country village. Additional homes were built, the area was leveled and any furrows or deep crevasses filled. The value of the land increased and several families purchased lots, building homes both of timber and brick and they became house–holders.

On the Shabbos, they would meet for prayer in one of the prayer–houses, dressed in their “Shabbos finery”, their children behind them carrying their bags containing their prayer–shawls. The women–folk read their prayer–books or the “Tze'ina Ve–Re'ina[1], and on festival days they would sit in the “Women's gallery” reading prayers and supplications, dressed modestly, displaying their finest jewelry from their bridal days.

With the increasing economic stability of sections of the Jewish community came a certain but recognizable segregation between the “elite” and the simple folk. The status was determined according to appearances, manners, style of speech and behavior of each individual Jew. The simple folk centered themselves in the Study–House of Rabbi Reuven Ziegler (Z”L) while the “elite” in the Study House of Rabbi Micha'el Zukerman (Z”L). There were also a few established “Steibls”: that of Rabbi Mordecai Greitzer, of Rabbi Reuven Kleiner and sometimes, when the pride of one of the “elite's” congregants was hurt, he and his supporters would congregate in his own house until “peace” was restored. Those who had reached the age of “common sense” and understanding claimed for themselves special attention.

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All the other “decent” people – community leaders and others, claimed for themselves the status of a scholar or noble.

The differences in status caused a stir in the community sometimes reaching serious proportions that required the intervention of the town Rabbi, Rabbi Hanoch Scheinfrucht and the ritual slaughterer Rabbi Yisrael Lazer, also a community preacher.

The town of Miechów, whose excellent location was marred because the railroad track by–passed the immediate vicinity, was compensated by the paving of a roadway which joined it to the “station” and later by a small–gauge railway that was routed via Charsznica, Miechów and Działoszyce. These two arteries constituted supply routes that eased the transportation of goods to the wholesalers, industrial workers and artisans from the “station” Miechów. The Miechów residents sold the goods to the retailers of Charsznica, Ksiaz, Działoszyce, Skalmierzyce and Słomniki which was located close to Kraków whose border with Austria was closed. These towns contained small communities of Jewish residents and vibrant Jewish life flourished there.

For many years the cultural influence of Charsznica prvaded the route of the railroad.

 

During the First World War

With the outbreak of the First World War a period of great economic and social change began. Many centers of Jewish settlement throughout Eastern Europe became killing–fields for the various armies of Nikolai II, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Franz–Joseph of the Austro–Hungarian Empire, whose targets were Warsaw and Moscow.

Fear and panic gripped the population of Poland. The industrial towns of Zaglambia remained cut off on the western side where, behind the front was Wolbrom where bloody battles were taking place. Trade and workshops came to a standstill, the warehouses emptied. It was impossible to obtain industrial materials and fuel – a great proportion of which was pilfered by residents who profited by the situation. Jewish war refugees began arriving in Charsznica seeking refuge and food.

All roads were full of an unceasing flow of military traffic of the Reserve Army carting injured from the front and the wounded were transferred to hospital via the railroad to the west, nonstop night and day.

The motto of the Russian Army of Defense was “Beat the Jews and Save the Homeland” – and it inspired a terror among the Jews of Charsznica that froze the blood in their veins. They beat, robbed and snatched whatever came to hand. When they had finished pillaging the shops to the last item of value the Cossacks turned their attention to the homes of the residents. They conducted searches in cupboards, drawers and beds, filling their pockets with watches, rings, religious items – everything that seemed of value that they could lay their hands on. And when they left they even stripped the door–jambs of the Mezzuzot. With the disappearance of the Cossack riding his horse, the people breathed a sigh of relief and thanked G–d on high that at least they had not been physically harmed. The Cossacks hurried to turn their booty in to cash. The Christian population grasped the “goodies” from the Cossacks and the Jews redeemed their property at double and triple the price lest the sacred and religious articles fall into the hands of the “uncircumcised” and become defiled.

The Jews of Charsznica shut themselves up in their homes and refused to take to the streets. When the situation of food supply within the home worsened only a few dared to take their lives in their hands and venture to a near–by village for essential supplies. Cossacks ambushed them taking everything they had sending them on their way after horse–whipping them on their backs.

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There were Jews who were caught and accused of treason and cooperating with the enemy and the evidence – telephone wires strung between the poles along the boundaries of their courtyards, after the wooden fences had been destroyed and the wood taken by the army to use as fuel for their field–kitchens.

During these days of madness the teaching of Torah to the little children did not stop. They were collected together in the small room of Rabbi Yitzhak Yoel the teacher who awoke envy in the hearts of the needy women because his work was done without danger to his life, even though he had not received any salary since the outbreak of the war – many weeks; they were appeased only because one night a rifle bullet came through the door into the laundry–tub while the Rabbi's wife was working there. After that terrifying night the children dispersed and the lessons stopped.

The Cossacks disappeared over the horizon but the Wolbrom Front continued to claim victims. The army continued to stream towards the front. All the roads were clogged: the infantry and cavalry, artillery and horse–drawn wagons loaded down with military gear. The movement continued night and day. Suddenly, as if by a magic wand, the whole thing went into reverse, the army turned round and headed east. The sound of artillery ceased, only occasionally in the far distance the sound of explosions was heard. The reddened skies cleared and even the nights became less threatening to the residents' hearts. The roads and courtyards emptied of Russian soldiers who ran for their lives and silence reigned over all. The last train made its way eastwards with the few injured that had managed to find their way to the station; the others were abandoned to die of thirst and hunger, where they lay on the battle–fields, the corpses became food for the crows and other predators.

Since Friday morning a deathly silence spread over the town and the smell of gunpowder was in the air. The people who lived close to the railroad and those whose apartments were built of timber left their homes and sought shelter between stone walls. Mr. Teiwel the baker lived in the house of Mr. Pan Leiman, It is a two–storied, brick–built house with a cellar and the cellar was now packed with frightened mothers with their children. Suddenly an enormous explosion split the air…

The big stone bridge on the east of town had been blown skywards and all the bricks cascaded back down onto its foundations and made a hill of rubble.

With the Shabbos Eve Kiddush approaching the families sat around their dining–room tables over a loaf of dry bread, waiting for what will happen next; thus passed Shabbos with that question hanging on everyone's lips. Early Sunday morning the approaches to Charsznica became choked with the soldiers of the invading army. They greeted the people with a friendly “Good morning.”

The battles moved eastwards and Congress Poland fell into the hands of the Austrian army. The Jewish population, Yiddish–speaking, understood the language of the German–speaking conquerors. Life became routine quite quickly. Industrious and enterprising women under financial stress turned their living–rooms into tea–salons. Soldiers, residents and army–employees paid well for the cakes and pastries and donuts supplied together with the tea and rum. The youngsters busied themselves on the streets selling cigarettes that they had made themselves and the men–folk sold farm produce that they had brought in from the surrounding farms and villages.

On the heels of the invading army came an unending stream of smugglers making their way to Charsznica from the hungry towns and villages of Zaglambia. They bought up all the available food supplies that they could get their hands on, out of sight of the Austrian police force. The Austrian Koruna became the trading conversion currency which the farmers gladly accepted and in which they had confidence. Silos for storage were erected and filled and food–trafficking flourished. The farmers' pockets bulged with Korunas which eventually found their way to the pockets of the traders in Charsznica.

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A rumor spread among the towns and villages of Zaglambia that “there were food supplies in Charsznica” and the local landscape began to fill with new faces and the town found itself hard–pressed accommodating the growing population.

During those days a family of four arrived: Rabbi Baruch, whose appearance alone inspired confidence, his wife and two sons. The children of Charsznica had remained without Torah instruction from a teacher. Rabbi Yitzhak Yoel, their teacher, since the crust of bread – so to speak – had been snatched from his mouth, opened a small tea–salon and supplemented his income with food–trafficking, which damaged in the minds of the fastidious – his reputation – and prevented him from retrieving his place as the teacher. The men also stopped holding public prayers during this period and the women–folk were no longer to be seen in the women's gallery, nor were the sounds of study and dissertation heard in the “Beit Ha–Midrash”.

The “Staff of Office” of teacher passed to the hands of Rabbi Baruch; the women's gallery was used as a residence for the family and a classroom for tens of children at one and the same time. The large hall, in the past the study room of the men was given to his son, Moshe, a most pleasantly mannered man, well–experienced in the ways of life, who spread his spiritual personality over the older boys. In addition to Torah studies time was also set aside for “external” (secular) studies, Rabbi Baruch taught them to write in Yiddish using black clay tablets and red markers. When necessary the slate could easily be wiped clean and re–used. The youngsters, under the care of Moshe, achieved learning to write using a foreign alphabet. In time, the “Metukan” school staff added to its strength a new member – a German teacher: a young, religious Jewish woman from Zaglambia elegantly dressed and well–mannered. She quickly became well–liked by the parents who welcomed her into their homes inducing the children, too, to enjoy her lessons, learning assiduously the rules of German grammar: the nominative, genitive, dative and accusative cases… the parent's hearts warmed within them and without understanding the significance of the words were certain that without them their children would be held back from advancement.

The sounds of the war grew more and more distant. The military restrictions on trafficking of food supplies were loosened and transport was renewed. The levees were repaired and strengthened and trade broadened. Products of good quality from Austria and Germany appeared in the market and local farmers, who had never seen the like, envied them and paid well in products from their fields and hen–houses.

Passover was on the horizon. The Jewish people felt blessed in their hearts from what little rest they had and hoped that the Russian terror would never return – ever.

The Russian language, that had been the lingua franca of everyone, was discarded and people trained their tongues to speak German and correct Polish. On the night before Passover, when homes were cleansed of all remains of leavened and other forbidden foods, all reminders of anything from Tsarist Russian were consigned to the flames. Among the items destroyed were portraits of Tsar Nicholai the First, Tsar Nicholai the Second and Nicholai Nicholowicz, the failed commander of the great Imperial Army. On Passover night, when families sat at their festive tables to relate the Exodus from Egypt, they spoke too of the “exodus” of the Russians, their hatred of the Jews and the anti–Semitic deeds of their former leaders.

But their days of peace and quiet did not last long.

 

The Hallerczyks' Mistake[2]

It is 1918. The end of the war between the opposing armies is approaching. Rebel movements are organizing in all the Polish villages under the very noses of the Austrian army and removing their uniforms and hurrying to return to their homes in the over–crowded trains.

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The administration of the town fell into the hands of Polish patriots, who treated the local population as if they owned them and financed their expenses by extorting donations from the residents.

In the footsteps of the new administration came groups of youths not from the local population, who had come to Charsznica at the outbreak of war from larger towns and the surrounding villages. They were poor youngsters sent away to save their lives and survived mainly by stealing anthracite from the railroads and selling it to the residents. Because of this they were nicknamed “snatchers”. Since there was no way to obtain coal during the war their presence became tacitly “essential” and their name was known throughout the region. Even the police force was helped by them especially in spying.

With the cessation of hostilities the transportation eastward of coal by rail also stopped. The “street–gangs” who, in the meantime had grown and matured, found themselves without the means of sustenance; they turned to robbery and looting, spreading their terror among the population, particularly the Jews.

Another negative element operating in town in those days were the “Hallerczyks”. They were much admired and praised soldiers from the liberating Polish army, highly trained soldiers, taking their name from that of their Commander Józef Haller. These soldiers, the pride of the Polish people, found for themselves a unique form of amusement: catching the Jewish men and pulling their ear–locks and cutting off their beards. When they realized that the onlookers enjoyed the spectacle they widened their activity: no longer satisfied with simply pulling the beards – together with the flesh – they began throwing Jews from moving trains in full view of the population and the authorities.

Fear and terror returned to the Jewish street. Again the Jews were fearful of travelling on the roads and many were afraid to even leave their homes. About 80 people were harmed or injured, some seriously and there were those who died from their injuries.

Rabbi Leibush Mendel, who had a striking beard, had his beard tied up and wrapped in a large kerchief, maybe because of a tooth–ache, and didn't move from his doorway. His children kept watch alongside and when they heard the sound of heavy footsteps of the Hallerczyks approaching rushed to climb the ladder in the house leading up to the attic and hid there.

One Sunday morning, people who lived near the pharmacy were filled with anxiety on hearing blood–curdling screams outside in the street. The screams continued repeatedly accompanied by heart–rending groans. The few Jews who dared to peek outside through the cracks of shuttered screens, saw an atrocious scene: the figure of an old gray–haired man, half his beard hanging from his cheek and the other plucked; his jaw covered in blood, his eyes expressing terror and his lips seeming to tremble in prayer. Two “Hallerczyks” released their victim from their grip and, completely helpless, he collapsed on the sidewalk. The Jews rushed to help the injured man and as they approached heard him murmuring: “Jesus, Mary – save me!” and while they were dressing his wounds in the pharmacy where he had been taken, they discovered the cross, drenched in his blood, hanging round his neck. After they had attended to his needs and nursed him, they sent him on his way. He had simply been a passerby, a poor Christian who had the misfortune to grow a beard…

That same day the “Hallerczyks” disappeared from the streets of Charsznica. Rabbi Mendel and the rest of the Jewish people of the town began to walk freely again in the town, proudly displaying their bearded faces.

 

Searching for Ways Forward

The three years of war – the first two for the independence of Poland, opened the eyes of Polish youth, and allowed them to see clearly and their hearts filled with longing, and they began to weave for themselves dreams of a new life.

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The movement for the liberation of the whole of Poland began to achieve its targets and became responsible for the administration of state affairs. Economic and diplomatic connections were formed and there were many ignorant Poles who were inclined to see the Jews as interlopers snatching positions.

The official authorities adopted Grabinski's policies, impoverishing the Jews and excluding them from any commercial standing; anti–Semitism became open and reached a peak in a bloody pogrom on 3rd of May 1919.

The Jews of Charsznica began selling their goods and chattels. A few of them dreamed of going to America, and acquire wealth there; others had wider dreams, of expanding their knowledge, or a quiet corner somewhere, their own independence. Those who were still held by their forefathers' ways, married, had families, made flimsy homes and delayed the fulfillment of their dreams for some misty future.

The economic possibilities grow less and less and the stranglehold on Jewish life increased. Only a few succeed in uprooting themselves and fleeing the country that was rejecting them. The number of those needing some community assistance grew and the coffers always empty. The teacher and Study–House beadle, and his family, suffered extreme hunger and the social aid services able to help by obtaining a franchise to sell yeast and raisin wine for Kiddush were unable to save him; for the majority of the Jews only coarse challot are available while raisin wine is no longer seen on the table even though it is being sold legally by the teacher.

The last of the first generation of settlers and the two following generations were deeply concerned. The maturing generation hung on to the faintest shadow of hope looking for a future with the “Bund”, in communism, in assimilation. There were those who fell into the arms of their “Yiddish” origins and despair gnawed at their hearts; others still hoped for a miracle.

The Zionist activity in town increased. The number of houses accepting KKL collection boxes which are viewed with favor increased. They hang on the wall next to the collection box of Rabbi Meir Baal Ha–Ness, so favored and blessed by countless generations of mothers and grandmothers.

On Sabbath Eves, before lighting the Sabbath candles, they stand before the boxes hanging on the wall, their fingers tightly holding on to the few coins they managed to save and drop half of them into the box of Rabbi Meir Baal Ha–Ness and half into the KKL box. Then they turn to the lighted candles and their lips whisper a prayer moistened with their tears, asking for salvation.

At the end of the ‘Twenties, the first two youths went to training kibbutzim; the first of them was the Israeli writer Israel Zarchi (Zerach Gertler).


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A prayer book in Yiddish composed late in the 16th Century by Ya'acov ben Yitzhak Ashkenazi, mainly for women who were unable to read Hebrew and is based on The Song of Solomon Cap. 3 v. 11: “Go forth ye daughters of Zion…” Return
  2. Named after their commander Józef Haller (see below). Return


A Family that Was Cut Down

by Israel Rogovski

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Mr. Reuven Rogovski (Chodów) was one of the first Jewish settlers in Charsznica. The beginning of the construction of the railroad station – the future Jewish Charsznica – found Mr. Reuven Rogovski who dwelt in the village of Chodów, a community of prosperous Christian farmers – just one kilometer from the station. From there he conducted his business with the rest of the villages in the area, and from that he made his living and supported his wife Malka (nÊe Matizansky), from Ksiaz.

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Before that, he had lived in Brogowa, a village close to Ksiaz. From there he moved to Chodów. He acquired a good name and reputation among the villagers because of his fair dealing and honesty and he was nicknamed “Truth Speaker”.

Reuven was convinced that there was a good future for him if he moved to the “Station” so he took his wife with him for help and put down roots in the new place. He opened a shop, supplying haberdashery and textiles – Emil Woitowitz, his neighbor, living in the same house, was similarly engaged; the house was rented from one of the local dignitaries who had abandoned it because of the distance from the town.

At the start of the family's “integration” in their new home, their income from the shop was not sufficient to cover their household expenses and when their first son, Mendel was born, their expenses also grew. Then Mr. Reuven began his business as a tailor, a profession he learned as a soldier in the Tsarist army – it happened like this: One day standing on parade, the officer cast a glance along the row and saw to his surprise a thread of cotton hanging from a soldier's collar. He walked over and pulled at the thread and found at the end a shining sewing needle… the needle and thread had been put there by the soldier's mother on his departure so he would have the means of sewing on his shirt buttons so he shouldn't – G–d forbid – catch cold.

The following day, the soldier Reuven was designated as “tailor'…

Reuven served in the army for four years and was registered officially as “Tailor”. The whole of his service was spent sewing on buttons – his hands never touched the sewing machine.

Now the idea of being a tailor caught Reuben's attention and he thought he could see a promising future and hoped to build on it. He bought a big sewing machine, a pair of tailor's shears and a thimble and his wife took on the job of managing his dealings with tradesmen and negotiations with buyers.

One day a villager came in with a request: “I want you to make me a sheep–skin coat for the winter!” The words “sheep–skin coat” fell upon his ears and filled him with fear. The thimble fell from his finger, the tape–measure round his neck seemed to choke him and his voice shook…when his wife Malka realized the degree of his “expertise” as a tailor, she didn't despair. She took courage and said: “A tailor of women's garments it shall be – and why? First of all the Christian women are very modest in their dress and the quality of work on undergarments need not be high since it will not be seen publicly and secondly – it will give a lot of work.”

At first, on hearing the words “women's undergarments” Reuben shouted: “What have I got to do with women's undergarments!? I'm a men's tailor!” But when he reminded himself of the man's serious requests he relented and surrendered to his wife's suggestion and thus he began to make long warm winter underwear for the Christian women. Malka his wife spoke with her regular women clients who came to the shop and convinced them to order their underwear from her husband Reuben and occasionally succeeded in increasing the turnover by selling extra material, suggesting to a young pregnant woman jokingly: “Perhaps they're twins?”

Their commercial activities were a success and Malka, in their new home brought them much business. Their shop prospered, their family and their apartment expanded and their reputation spread. They acquired a plot of land and a two–storied wooden house with a well and front yard – their first proper dwelling–place since they first came to Charsznica. After many days, his commercial contacts multiplied with wholesalers and his business expanded significantly, his work as a tailor ceased and the sewing machine fell into disuse.

Reuven was familiar with the Holy books and his studies drew much for his spiritual nourishment from the writings of our learned men throughout his life. While still in his middle–age, he fell ill with sugar diabetes and when he was only forty–nine he died from his sickness after the enlightened doctors of Vienna were unable to cure him. He was buried in Miechów because Charsznica had no cemetery of its own.

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He left behind him two sons and four daughters, he lived to see thirteen grandchildren and after his death were added a further twenty. His offspring survive to this day, a few in America and Argentina and seven in Israel.

Mr. Mendel Rogovski, the eldest son of Reuven and Malka, inherited from his father the same superior qualities and even exceeded them. His reputation preceded him in all the surrounding villages and was nicknamed “Mendel the Pleasant” and known to all by that soubriquet.

At the age of seventeen he married Rachel'eh Zonshain of Olkusz and together they brought into the world five sons and three daughters.

He made his living from the shop in which one could buy everything: needles, shoe–laces, marinated fish, pitch, oil, bridles and whips, violins and batons, women's stockings and men's socks, shoe–repair kits and wood–glue, sewing–machine needles, plows, food–stuffs and herbs, colored paper to make decorative flowers, horse–shoes, decorative colored glass balls for Christmas trees and many other things. Apart from all this, he bought eggs from the villagers, cheese and butter and sold them to the traders from Zaglambia in large quantities. In exchange for the produce of their farms the farmers' wives would take sugar, tea, coffee, salt and soap and also buttons, sewing needles and articles to decorate themselves and their homes.

Jewish customers would also come and purchase wares – some for cash and some on credit; they paid if they had the money or deferred payment until they had earned it. Mendel would also supply them knowing they hadn't the money to pay because he was good–hearted and understood their position.

All this broad–based and increased trade was not sufficient to support the large family and when his children grew Mendel opened another shop and that, too, was insufficient to cover their needs, even though Mendel, his wife and children worked to exhaustion from dawn to dusk.

Rachel's assistance in the shop was made possible by having an honest Christian woman, who served the family faithfully for many years, manage the home. The woman freed Rachel from many kitchen– and other household–chores, and over the years fulfilled the role of the house–wife; she fed and dressed the children, sent them to the “Heder”, reminded the children to say their prayers at the appropriate times, put them to bed at night, etc. But one day the woman was caught with the stolen money on her person and Rachel'eh was surprised and unbelieving: “Is it really possible that such a woman would steal?”

The children of Mendel were called “Rubenki” in the name of their grandfather.

On every Erev Shabbat the whole family would gather round the table with Mendel sitting at the head and by the light of the Shabbos candles would sing the Sabbath hymns. When they reached “The Sabbath Day is Holy” Mendel would raise his eyes and look at Rachel'eh, who had changed her dress in honor of the Sabbath, and sing the hymn to her and tranquility would enwrap the whole family.

Mendel continued to walk the same path as his father, Reuben; the doors of his home were open before all who came, among them non–Jews. Farmers among his acquaintances who chanced to come to Charsznica on cold winter days found a dish of tcholent and a blazing fire waiting for them. His home was especially welcoming to collectors from other villages and towns making the rounds and taking donations for the needy and poor. His good deeds were performed modestly, with others he dealt honestly, greeting all in peace. At the time of his first daughter's wedding all who entered his shop, without exception, were greeted with a glass of cognac.

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He raised his five sons and educated them in the spirit of achievement; he taught them trades so that in the future they could live by the toil of their hands, and be “dependent neither upon the gifts of mortal men nor upon their loans,”[1] with Racheleh's help at his side.

Charsznica the town that was his home, he never left; there he was born and there, at the hand of the Nazis (may their names be blotted out), he and his growing family and their bones dispersed together with the rest of the Jews of Charsznica and the place of their burial is unknown to this day.

May their memories be for a blessing.

Mendel and his wife left behind them one surviving daughter and three sons with their families, three of the parents with five grandchildren and six great–grandchildren – three boys and three girls (may they be fruitful and multiply), alive and growing in the Homeland.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Paraphrased from the “Grace after meals” prayer Return


Charsznica

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Jews first began to settle here [in Charsznica][1]) at the beginning of the 20th century and their numbers kept increasing until the outbreak of the First World War. A small Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] was created here with a house of prayer in which to pray, a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and support for all of the Jewish institutions that a Jewish area in a small shtetl [town] had to have at that time.

After the rise of independent Poland, pogroms also arose here in 1919–1920 as in the entire Miechow Poviat [county]. Therefore, a large number of the resident Jews moved to the larger cities (Miechow and so on); others left Poland completely and emigrated abroad. Several who had the possibility (capital or were sought–after specialists and the like) emigrated to Eretz–Yisroel (Mordekhai Weklser).

In later years, the young – organized in youth organizations – worked as halutzim [pioneers] here, (studied) agriculture and dreamed about receiving a certificate [from the British mandate government necessary for emigration to Eretz–Yisroel]. The majority of them had not received a certificate ny the time of Hitler.

At that time in Poland, Charsznica was considered a village and was the only village in Miechow Poviat that, according to the census of December 1921, contained more than 100 Jews and here, out of a population of 1,568, 446 were Jews, 28.4%.

The Jews here worked at agriculture, “kept” orchards (leased from the owners and sold the fruit), some were artisans, others

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were merchants, had shops or went through the villages [selling goods]… There also were two melamdim [religious teachers]: Ruwin Beder and Shmuel the shamas [sexton].

The iron foundry belonged to a Jew, Dov (Bernard) Goldkorn, and also employed Jews. A small, narrow–gauge railroad, waskotorowa [narrow gauge], went from Charsznica to Kacimierz, about 97 kilometers, through Miechow, Dzialoczyce to Kacimierz. In addition to the passengers, it mainly served the foundry.

The Jews here experienced the same fate of the Nazi–hell as the entire Miechow Poviat. Only a small number who had escaped to the Soviet Union or survived the German camps or – individuals – who hid with the Poles remained alive. No Jews remained in Charsznica after the terrible destruction. In 1948 the bodies of the Jews shot by the Germans and buried somewhere outside the city were dug up and brought to Krakow where they were given a Jewish burial on a Jewish cemetery.


Footnote

  1. According to the information from the former secretary of the Miechow community before the war, Maior Piwowarski. Return


Jewish Life in Charsznica

by Yisroel Shlomo Wajcman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I moved to Charsznica during my 17th year of life. This was in 1918 at the time of the Austrian occupation. Jews traded and shipped various food products and it can be said that they more or less survived on this income. It was not so easy because the merchants competed among each other in order to win the trust of the peasants, the merchants who resold goods to residents. The trade lasted like this until the end of the war.

Then, when Poland finally received its independence, Jews again continued the trade in wheat and vegetables. In 1919 soldiers and officers from General Haller's Army came from France to help the newly arising Polish Republic in its struggle against the Bolsheviks. First, they went after the Jews – when they met a Jew, they beat him. Sometimes they even threw the victim through a window from a moving train. I remember they saw my father–in–law, Reb Hershl Rajnharc, of blessed memory, on the street and cut off half of his beard and knocked out two teeth.

At Passover time in 1919, the Jews from the surrounding shtetlekh again met a misfortune. A wheat merchant in Miechow was taking a wagon of wheat to Krakow, which was not permitted. A member of the militia, who did not permit him to go, ran into him. Then when the merchant did not carry out the wishes of the militiaman, they wrangled and wrestled for so long until the gentile fell severely wounded and several days later he died. Immediately, there was great turmoil. The Endekes [members of the anti–Semitic Polish National Party] organized pogroms against the Jews in all of the shtetlekh [towns] in the

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area. The pogrom took place here in Charsznica on the 1st of May 1919, a Shabbos [Sabbath]. Organized bands attacked the Jewish residents and beat them severely. They did not bother the women. The writer of these lines received several wounds in his head then and lay in bed for four weeks. Several weeks later an investigating commission headed by Deputy Hartglas came from Warsaw and the commission visited all of the Jews wounded in the pogrom and then they presented a report to the Polish Sejm [parliament]. Several hooligans were then arrested, but they were freed after three months.

From year to year the situation for the Jewish masses in Poland became worse and catastrophic. Several families rescued themselves by emigrating to Eretz–Yisroel, Argentina and America. But the majority remained and struggled for their income and with the dangers, which hovered over Jews.

In 1918 I married my divine wife Bluma. She bore us three daughters. The oldest was named Frayda, the second Brukha and the third Yokheved (Yadzia). The entire family perished in Bełżec. My brother–in–law, Avraham Moshe Rajnherc of Bedzin, also perished there. My other brother–in–law fell in the Chodów Forest. His wife, Rayzl, and her daughter, Frayda, were deported to Bełżec, his son, Avrahaml to Auschwitz.

Eidl Rajnherc, of blessed memory, was murdered in Chodów and his wife, Ruchl, and their children were murdered in Bełżec. My sisters Chaya Rywka Sercaz, Ruchl Frenkl and a year–old child and Beyla perished in Bełżec; my brother, Moshe Wajcman, of blessed memory, in Auschwitz.


The Destruction of Charsznica

by Sura (née Grajcer) Rozenberg

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Right after the outbreak of the Second World War, Charsznica was fired upon by Nazi airplanes, which destroyed the railroad station.

The first “welcome” for the Charsznica Jews was the murder of 31 people (including one Christian). Reb Moshe Szeniawiski, a grandson of an old Charsznica resident, only was wounded. They all hid in attics and warehouses. They were all brought to the courtyard of my God–fearing father, Reb Mordekhai Grajcer, and they were shot and buried on the spot. A few months later we took those shot from the mass gave and brought them to the Miechow Jewish cemetery.

This mitzvah [commandment, often interpreted as “good deed”] was carried out thanks to the great effort of Reb Shlomo

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Ranowski, may God avenge his blood, who later was murdered with all of the other Miechow Jews.

We, like others who had means of transport, ran from place to place, seeking a refuge, alas, in Miechow, Działoszyce, Skalbmierz, Stęszew and other places, wherever one could.

We all returned two days later, convinced that there was no safer place than at home.

Jews no longer had any rest. They were forced to go to various work even on Shabbos [Sabbath]. Arrests and other persecutions and humiliations took place. Their furs were taken from the Jews. The Germans shot my cousin from Krakow, Hela Grajcer, during this “collection action.”

Moshe Janowski and Sztajnberg, one of our neighbors, were also shot a few days later.

The “deportations” of the Jews began right after Rosh Hashanah 5700 [1939].

The first deportations took place in Charsznica on Shabbos. The Germans drove the Jews together, men, women and children, old and young to the Witowka [River] where “Polish wagons” awaited the Jews and they were loaded quickly and transported to Słomniki. The cruelty of the German murderers was so great that they forced the old and weak people to walk and many empty wagons were sent back…

All of those on foot were shot on the spot – during their “march” to Miechow.

Reb Shmuel Ragowski was “qualified” by the murderers as a “one on foot”… And his young son, Ruwin, received a spot on a women's wagon. His [Ruwin's] mother, Chavale, who also was in the transport, asked her son, “Ruwin! How do permit your father to go by foot?” Ruwin quickly jumped off the wagon and for this “sin” he was shot with his father!

Ragowski's two daughters were also in this wagon and they perished in Belzec with the entire transport.

Czarna (Simkha Zilberberg's wife) and Ruchla, the wife of Reb Mendl Ragowski, old residents of Charsznica, were murdered at the “performance” of the German “chaperon” of the transport, who shot at the transport.

The small number of remaining Jews were forced to accomplish all of the work for the Germans.

I was hidden with my entire family at [the house of] Malatinski, our Christian neighbor, during the second and last transport of the Charsznica Jews to their death (with the Miechow kehile [organized Jewish community).

Alas, we could not remain there for long and after eight days of living in fear, we reached the Lotnisko camp with great effort and had the privilege

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of suffering with all of the Jews gathered from the Miechow and Krakow region.

We remained there for five months. We were taken from there to the Jerozolimski concentration camp[1]) where the Germans had driven the Jews from all over Poland and other nations, and at first they gave us work in groups and finally forced us to bury or burn the dead, or similar terrifying things.

I was there with my children, relatives and many acquaintances from Miechow, Charsznica and the surrounding cities and shtetlekh [towns].

All of the women at the Jerozolimski concentration camp were called together. They all had to get undressed, naked as when they were born. Doctors examined everyone. The weak and thin, as well as the small children, were concentrated on a side of the large square that was surrounded by the military. They said that the weak ones would receive better food… However, in truth, the victims of the “selection” and the children were sent to Auschwitz, to the gas ovens. Among the victims of this “selection” was my sister–in–law, Rucza Rozenberg (a daughter of Reb Feywl Chencinski of Miechow) and her daughter, Felia.

My God–fearing husband, Shlomo Rozenberg, may his blood be avenged, and his brothers, Yakov Kopel and Shmuel Zaynwel, may their blood be avenged, were sent to Mauthausen with many other men (where they were then murdered) and I and my two daughters as well my sister–in–law's daughter, Leah Anker, were sent to Auschwitz.

There, a new well of calamity and pain opened for us when we became “prisoners,” and the inhuman, horrible attitude [toward us] began. We had to appear for a roll call at five in the morning in winter, in the greatest snow and frost, barefoot and naked, in wooden shoes and “uniforms,” thin headscarves on shaved heads. After counting the number of victims, the German soldiers accompanied by four muzzled dogs drove us to work. There was varied work. We built highways; some carried heavy stones here and the others did the same, back!... We unloaded wagons of bricks or loaded other freight. This was designated for unqualified people. Tradesmen were sent to workshops. There was no designated time of work; however much our oppressors wanted… There also were no predictable workplaces. Many times [they were] four kilometers and more away… A walk was necessary to bring the kettle of food and the same to carry it back.

We were in that terrible situation until the 18th of January 1945.

That day everyone received two blankets, enough bread and cans of meat and we marched in the accompaniment of soldiers, not knowing to where. We

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marched 30 kilometers a day. Those accompanying us were qualified bicyclists. We had to throw away the blankets because no one had the strength to drag them. Many people even threw away the bread.

We rested during the night in cold sheds. They tried to load us into boxcars twice on the road (to Bergen–Belzen), but because of the heavy gunfire from the Russians at the train tracks, we had to be unloaded.

On the road, the Germans shot the weak “prisoners” who, because of their weakness, could not march 30 kilometers a day. Only some of us “dragged” ourselves in those conditions to Bergen–Belzen.

We no longer worked there, but the dirt and lice simply ate us up. When the English and the Russians neared Bergen–Belzen, the Germans turned off the water and we remained without a drop of water for 10 days…

One evening we heard heavy fire; we began to shout and the German guards demanded that we remain quiet, but we did not hear them…

In the morning, we found a white flag at the gate and all of the German murderers had escaped, like poisoned mice…

The British and the Americans entered a few hours later. Salvation had arrived! We became people again We saved the sick, buried the dead!

Recorded: Sh.D. Yerushalmi

Footnote

  1. On Jerozolimski Street. Krakow–Plaszow. Return

 

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