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B. Ksiaz

(Książ Wielki, Poland)

50°26' / 20°08'

 

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An Anthology of the Rabbis of Ksiaz

Collected by Mr. David Shapira (Z”L), the grandson of
Rabbi Moshe Natan Kahana Shapira (Z”L), Shimshon Dov
Yerushalmi (Z”L) and, May They be Spared for a Long Life,
Eliezer Lipa Lavie, Avraham Wolbromsky and Yehoshua Ze'ev Abramczyk.
Prepared for publication by Moshe Spiegel.

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The Community of Ksiaz was blessed with its spiritual leadership, a dynasty of Rabbis whose names preceded them from generation to generation as incomparable scholars, renowned for their knowledge of the Mishna and as Posekim[1] who knew to lead the Jewish flock on the correct road and who, themselves, studied the Torah day and night.

The greatest of the luminaries in our generation from among the rabbis of Ksiaz was the Gaon, our teacher the Rabbi Moshe Natan Netta Kahana Shapira (May his Righteousness be Remembered for a Blessing) who was unique in his generation, a wise scholar in the fullest sense of the word, excelling in the Mishna and Posekim, who preached and disseminated knowledge among many, an erudite scholar digging out the finest points and weighing this opinion against that in a ceaseless search of the sayings of our scholars and their writings and in addition to all that, published a book “Shemen la–Maor[2] in which are found new and illuminating different explanations on the Book of Psalms.

His predecessors were:

The Rabbi Yosef Dover Ha–Cohen the son of the Gaon Rabbi Arieh Leib, author of the book “Ketzos Ha–Choshen” who's father (“Ha–Ketsos”), was the author of “Avnei Milu'im” a commentary on “Even Ha–Ezer” (“The Stone of Help”)[3], (Chap. 51) and similarly in the last comment printed in that book.

Officiating after him as Rabbi of Ksiaz was the rabbi from Wodzislaw, Rabbi Moshe bar Ya'acov from Apatów, pupil and son–in–law of the author of “Maor Shemesh”. He died and was interred in Kraków on Yom Kippur 1832.

He was followed by the rabbinical genius and righteous Rabbi Simcha the son of the superlatively spiritual Holy Arieh Naphtali, the author of “The Implications of ‘He who causes damage’….” as discussed in the second chapter of Talmud on “Nezikin” – damages Bava Metzia (Warsaw – 1864); written in the Foreword is the following:

In this book, there are significant innovations on the tractate, “Bava Metzia[4] that I composed, the least of my family[5] here sit I, among my people, in the town of Ksiaz (May G–d preserve it), Simcha, the son of my lord, father, teacher and Rabbi, the righteous, orthodox and keenly perceptive well–known thinker and teacher in our generation the spiritual Rabbi Ari Naphtali.

After him came Rabbi Ya'acov Yitzhak Frankel Teomim to officiate as town rabbi and his signature is to be found on a proclamation on the day following the festival of Shavuot, 1869 in the matter of a dispute between two rabbis, in the following words: “Ya'acov Yitzhak Frankel Teomim, Chairman of the Community Bet–Din, Ksiaz, Poland.” The proclamation was signed in Tsanz (Nowy Sącz).

Rabbi Yeshiah Fisch (May his righteousness be for a blessing) was one of the distinguished rabbis of Ksiaz. He was the only son (he had five sisters), of his parents, Rabbi Yedidiah and his wife, Tsirle (May she rest in peace), well–known in their day. Rabbi Yeshiah's mother was full of wisdom, appreciated for her intelligence and earned the respect even among the estate owners in the surrounding districts of Ksiaz.

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Rabbi Yeshiah Fisch was a distinguished Gaon and officiated under the auspices of the Government; apparently Rabbi Moshe Natan Shapira (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing), failed to pass the examinations in Russian and was not licensed to officiate as a registered government rabbi and therefore his official place was filled by Rabbi Yeshiah Fisch (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing).

According to information from the court of the Rabbi of Gur, he and his wife were murdered Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 1898, by robbers who entered their house at night, while they slept.

The circumstances of his birth are outlined in the following popular legend:

The noble Hassid Rabbi Yedidiah from Ksiaz was always to be found among the throngs in the holy shadow of Rabbi Yosseleh Neustadter, known as “the Good Jew” author of “Ma'or Veshemesh” (May his righteousness be a blessing in the world to come). His wife would often travel to Lelów to the Holy Rabbi the Gaon, Moshe'leh and would occasionally complain to him that she had no male child (she had five daughters), and ask the Rabbi to pray for her. Long periods passed with no signs of further pregnancies and even though the sainted Rabbi had assured her that he had no power to help her she refused to despair and maintained her faith and always sent her written “plea” to the Rabbi to pray for a male child. On one occasion on sending her plea the Rabbi turned to her and said: “I am determined in my heart and soul, to travel to our Holy Land of Israel, therefore – if you will give me enough money to cover all the expenses of my journey, I promise you that with G–d's help you will be remembered this very year with a male child but only on the condition that you return now to your home and get your husband's permission to all this. On hearing the Rabbi's words the wife was overjoyed, returned home and related everything to her husband who answered: “I won't do a thing about this until I have spoken with my teacher and Rabbi in Neustadt and asked him. I cannot decide without his opinion.” He travelled immediately to the Rabbi – “The Good Jew” in Neustadt – and laid before him the suggestion from the Rabbi of Lelów. “The Good Jew” replied that that he agreed to the suggestion of the Rabbi of Lelów and that Rabbi Yedidiah can give his permission but first he must speak with the Rabbi of Lelów and stipulate that the child should be granted a long life. And so; the wife travelled to Lelów and put into the Rabbi's hand the required sum of money and a long life for the child. The Rabbi of Lelów replied: “Throughout the entire time I in am the Holy City – Jerusalem – every single day will be counted a year in the boy's life – a day for a year. The Rabbi from Lelów went to the town of Ksiaz and prayed there and during the prayer a wondrous event occurred: it is said that he prayed in such a loud voice they thought the very walls shook and after the prayer he called Rabbi Yedidiah and his wife and toasted them with cognac and cried out “Mazal–Tov” and added that it was hard work and that with G–d's blessing he succeeded. Rabbi Yedidiah immediately journeyed to “The Good Jew” and told him everything that had happened and the Holy Saint “The Good Jew” said “It is true that I know the Holy Rabbi of Lelów but I was not aware of his awesome holy power,” and toasted him with cognac honey–cake and congratulated him with a “Mazal–Tov” and they had a son – the intensely sharp–witted genius Rabbi Yeshiah (Z”L).

And when Rabbi Moshe'leh of Lelów had been in our Holy Land 70 days and in the Holy City of Jerusalem fifty–five days, thus was it also with the Holy Sainted Rabbi Yeshiah Fisch (Z”L), who lived fifty–five years until the day he was murdered – a year for every day, as the Sainted Rabbi of Lelów had predicted (may he be protected).

(Extract from “The Merits of Abraham” by Rabbi Abraham of Parysów, Jerusalem, 1949).

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Rabbi Moshe Natan Kahana Shapira

 

The Rabbinic genius Moshe Natan Kahana Shapira was born to his father Rabbi Raphael Naphtali Hertz (Z”L) and mother Leah (Z”L). His date of birth is not known. He died at the age of 84 on 10th January 1937 and is buried in Ksiaz.

The family of Kahana Shapira is an ancient and important family going back many generations as far as Natan Shapira of Kraków, the author of “Megaleh Amukot”, who lived 1585–1633, and beyond that to King David (Z”L). The family relationship to King David (Z”L) is one of the reasons to which our Rabbis have attributed his great talent and energy in interpreting the Book of Psalms with new, basic and original explanations.

Already in his youthful years, when he was about 12 or 13 years old he studied under the rare genius, Avraham Bornsztain, the author of “Agudat Azov” and the father of the great and genuine genius and ADMOR[6], the holiest of holy, author of “Eglei Tal”, Shmuel Bornsztain also known as the author of “She'eilos U'teshuvos[7] and by his soubriquet “Avnei Netzer”. He was much liked by his Rabbi, the ADMOR and holy genius (May the righteous be remembered for a blessing) of Sochatchov. He was highly honoured as a master of pedagogy.

Our revered Rabbi (May he rest in peace), was widowed in the prime of life. His wife, his boyhood sweetheart Shprintsa Brandl (May she rest in peace), left behind two orphans: the Holy Rabbi and genius Mordecai Tsvi Kahana Shapira (May G–d avenge his blood) aged about eighteen months and a daughter, Gittel (May she rest in peace) about 3–years old. Later he remarried a widow of good family, Golda Szydlowski (May she rest in peace), of Miechów. She was a great and important woman and the owner of a haberdashery store.

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Shemen le–Maor Commentary on the Book of Psalms

 

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When he came to Miechów he immediately opened a Yeshiva and learned students began streaming there from all over and the pulse of the Torah began to beat in the town and the surrounding area. Quite quickly his good name and reputation spread far and wide. Sometime later the shop began to fail and he was compelled to take upon his shoulders, against his will, the office of the Rabbinate of Ksiaz. The union produced two daughters: the Rabbanit Hindle from Czeladź, (May G–d avenge her blood) and the Rabbanit Miril'e (May G–d avenge her blood) of Sochatchov.

In his old age after the death of his wife Golda (May she rest in peace), his son and daughters convinced him to marry a woman so that he should not be solitary and alone and he married the widow Mrs. Langfus of Bedzin and she gave birth to his last child Brandl Leah (May she rest in peace and may G–d avenge her blood).

His father–in–law, the great ADMOR of Sochatchov and also his son–in–law, the ADMOR author of “Shem from Shmuel[8] both of whom admired his study “Shemen le–Maor” on the Psalms, also grumbled at him because he devoted himself entirely to Torah when in their opinion his future lay in the realm with the greatest and most important thinkers of his time because of his depth and clarity of thought. Every difficult, abstruse problem from far and near was brought to him because he was the one specialist to debate and clarify arguments and disagreements among the communities and their rabbis, according to our Holy Torah.

Several communities, like Wolbrom, Olkusz and others, tried with all their might to persuade him to accept the post of Rabbi in their respective towns and always he found some good excuse to avoid accepting the honor and additional onus and imaginary “extra honors” and a larger income, and to dedicate his energies and time to Torah.

Once, the Haredi community of Łódź voted for two great extra rabbis in the hope that by their influence and their wisdom of the Torah, the honor of the Torah would return. One of the rabbis was our Rabbi (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing), whose speciality was in the field of marriage and divorce; but he declined the offer in spite of the efforts and pressure from the Haredi community and the Hassidim of Sochatchov.

His dedication and perseverance were exceptional, both day and night. For forty years, during which he was engaged in composing “Shemen le–Maor” and the rest of his works that remained in manuscript form and were lost in the Holocaust, he never slept beyond midnight. He was known among a closed circle to be much interested in the Kabbala, to the knowledge and agreement of his Rabbi (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing).

He was important to – and much respected even by the local nobles, non–Jews and large estate owners in the area. As a sign of their esteem for him they contributed generously for needy Jews in Ksiaz with gifts of timber, field crops and other produce from their lands during the winter months.

His only son, Rabbi Mordecai Tsvi Kahana Shapira the Holy genius (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing and May G–d avenge his blood), was among the most important Rabbis of Kraków and was a member of the distinguished Great Rabbinical Court of Kraków. Before that he was the Father of the Rabbinical Court of Brzesko.

After the death of Rabbi Moshe Natan Kahana Shapira and after his son, the rabbinic genius Rabbi Mordecai Tsvi Kahana Shapira (May G–d avenge his blood), officiated on the council of Rabbis in Kraków and was unable to relinquish his seat in order to inherit the Chair of his father (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing), their candidacy was put forward by two of the grandchildren of the late Rabbi (Z”L) and they were Rabbi Avraham Zinger (May G–d avenge his blood) and Rabbi Raphael (Z”L). Both of them appeared before our town's community and the first of them was preferred and much liked by the public and elected by about 90% of the residents.

Notwithstanding that he was much liked in town, his salary was very small and he was the head of a large family, while our town was not considered by any means to be among the wealthy and was not able to provide a generous salary to its Rabbis, our Rabbi accepted the situation and a life of hardship and near–poverty lay before him.

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Rabbi Mordecai Tsvi Kahana Shapira
 
Rabbanit Rivka Zinger
wife of the young
Rabbi Avraham Zinger

 

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I recall in a conversation I had with him, he said: “When the time comes to go to ‘the next world' and they ask – How dared you officiate as Rabbi in such an important town as Ksiaz while you were still so young?” the community will testify that I made no attempt to seek the position so it seems that the Almighty decreed it so and I accepted the will of the community.

To our great sadness of heart he was not to officiate long in our town and the Holocaust that cast its shadow over the whole House of Israel touched him also and during the month of Elul (August/September) 1940 when his wife, the Rabbanit, with all her children were taken with the rest of the residents in the first group of exiles to the death camps.

Our Rabbi, (May G–d revenge his blood), stayed with the remainder of the refugees and accepted his torment with love and lived with the remnants of his community until the first day of the month of Kislev (December) 1943 when the rest of the Jewish residents of Ksiaz were liquidated together with their Rabbi and Teacher with extreme, unimaginable cruelty, unprecedented in the history of our people (May G–d avenge their blood).

We will mention one other beautiful flower in the House of Israel in Ksiaz and that is our ritual slaughterer and inspector Rabbi Haim Shraga Galster (May G–d avenge his blood) the son of the Rabbi of Chaba.

He was a dear man of many fine attributes, an excellent scholar and a faithful disciple of the ADMOR of Alexander. One might say of him that he was loved by all sections of the community who saw his contributions as a miracle. On him also fell the cup of poisonous bitterness – and with the second Transport on that same eve of the month of Kislev 1943 – he was sent for extermination. May G–d avenge his blood.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Particularly brilliant luminaries and scholars who hand down learned decisions covering all aspects of juridical Judaism. Return
  2. A reference taken from Exodus 25: vi Return
  3. Itself the basis for Rabbi Yosef Karo's later “Shulchan Aruch” Return
  4. The second of the first three tractates of the Talmud dealing with “Nezikin” – damages Return
  5. Taken from Judges Chap. 6: xv Return
  6. An Acrostic for “Our Master, our Teacher. our Rabbi.” Return
  7. “Questions and responsa” – replies and decisions of learned rabbis. Return
  8. A comprehensive scholarly work on the Bible, the Pentateuch, commentaries and cabala Return


High Holydays in Town

by Avraham Y. Walbromski

Translated by Selwyn Rose

During the month of Elul (August/September) with the approach of the High Holydays, a strong sense of awakening was apparent among the Jews of Ksiaz. With the ending of summer and the approach of fall everyone wondered in his heart and began to think of his place in the world to come and to repent of his ways. During the month all the people living out of town gathered together and came to visit the graves of their parents asking them to plead for them before the Holy One, Blessed be He, for them and for their families and to request forgiveness and pardon for their sins, “…for there is none who is perfect and sinneth not.”

Throngs of people hurried to the cemetery, to the mausoleum of the distinguished Rabbi Yeshiah'le, to pour out their hearts in prayer, lighting many candles. They begged from the departed soul to be a true representative for them and the small congregation. The Cantor, Rabbi Avrame'le chanted the prayer “O, Lord Who art full of compassion” and everyone repeated it after him in their hearts for themselves and the whole House of Israel. The emotional situation sensitized the hearts of the Jewish people and all of them donated generously to charities for the poor. In addition, on hearing the sound of the Shofar coming from the Study–house, a feeling of dread gripped everyone realizing that the Day of Judgement was drawing near. Even trees in the forest – their canopies trembled from the threat of the judgement, as it is written: “Shall a trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid, and the Lord hath not done it?”[1]

 

“Forgiveness”

At the end of the last Shabbat before the New Year, during the late evening hours, as it gets colder and darkness spreads over the streets of Ksiaz, I remember the feeling and disposition of everyone as the time for the first prayer for “Forgiveness” in the town's Study House approaches. After midnight everyone rushed along the darkened streets, women and children with the prayer–book in their hands. From afar it looked like a great light spewed out of the Study–House and the light brought a sense of great warmth in everyone's heart. A few

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of the men–folk returned from the ritual bath–house found at the bottom near the stream in an isolated building. The owner of the bath–house, Mr. Wolf who lived in a room next to the bath–house, made great efforts to prepare the water–boiler for them so that they could purify themselves before the prayer for “Forgiveness”.

The Study–House was full to bursting with people and the atmosphere was tense with the significance of the event. The peak arrived with the opening prayer: “Glorified and sanctified be G–d's great name throughout the world which he has created….” chanted by the Cantor, Rabbi Moshe Shlomo Abramczyk and when he reached the phrase “The soul is Thine and the body is Thine…” the entire congregation entered into an ecstasy of outpouring of their soul that sprang from fear of the Creator.

In the evenings, during the month preceding the Festivals, we could hear the Cantor's voice pealing out from his home, rehearsing the tuneful prayers in preparation for the services and the sweet melodies penetrated our hearts and from deep inside welled up a spiritual preparation for the coming days bringing with them redemption for all of us for the coming New Year.

On the Eve of Rosh Hashanah two residents from a local village, came especially to pray with us on the Holy Days. One of them was Wolf Herszkowicz (Z”L) nicknamed Wolf Gewaltower, who rented pasture for his milk herd from a local Polish Paritz[2]. He arrived with his son and settled in the town. The second one was Yitzhak Drevnowski from the village of Zarszyn, a farm worker who lived by the toil of his hands. He rented a room for the period of the High Holydays and prayed in the synagogue and was determined to purchase the “Maftir[3] of the Torah reading. Both of them were villagers who lived in a non–Jewish environment and in spite of being far from town were zealous in keeping the commandments.

Most of the Jewish population gathered in the synagogue for the New Year prayers. The town Rabbi, Moshe Natan Shapira (May his righteousness be remembered for a blessing), usually prayed in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah as was the custom in the community. For as long as I can remember he was the one who sounded the Shofar and as usual preached a sermon first, encouraging the congregation to repent.

 

The Ten Days of Penitence

The ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement constitute a natural follow–up towards the great anxiety surrounding the act of G–d signing and sealing His decrees of the fate awaiting us and culminating with the Day of Atonement, during the coming year and according to tradition it is the custom to offer a chicken or rooster as atonement which is then presented as a charitable gift to the poor and needy for food. Already in the first days after the New Year the crowing of roosters and the clucking of hens can be heard throughout the courtyards of the Jewish quarters because the families had hastened to secure the creatures according to the size of their families. Early in the morning of the Eve of Yom Kippur, I, together with my sister, took our hens to the slaughterer Rabbi Moshe Natan Silberberg. During the day we congregated round the heads of our families to be blessed with “A good signature.”

After partaking of the last meal before the Fast the homes of the people emptied out: men, women and children hurried either to the synagogue or to the Study–House or to the Steibl to take part in the opening “Kol Nidrei” prayer. In front of the Ark in the synagogue stood Reb Avrame'le the Cantor and mouthing quietly together with him the yearning for forgiveness and absolution that each and every one of us hoped for from our Creator from our sins and iniquities. A large proportion of the congregation remained all night long in prayer.

Immediately, with the early morning, prayer continued with “Shahrit” – the morning prayers, the reading from the Torah, the memorial prayer for departed souls, “Musaf” – the additional service – and “Ne'ila” – the concluding service and I remember when the Cantor Reb Avrame'le, was already weary and hoarse, came the last appeal to heaven: “Open the gates for us at the time of the closing of the gates, for the day declineth.” Each of us believes with complete faith that his prayer was acknowledged and that the Creator will forgive us for all our transgressions.

With the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, after we had all eaten to satisfaction after “The Great Fast” every house–holder inserted the first peg of the Succah in the ground for the up–coming Festival of Tabernacles.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Amos Chap 3:vi Return
  2. Landowner Return
  3. The concluding portion of the weekly reading Return


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Friends and Teachers
from the Days of My Youth

by Avraham Y. Walbromski

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Oh, that my head were waters, And mine eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people!
Jeremiah 9:1

Very often, when I am deep in thought, I recall from the recesses of the past memories of my youth, the surroundings where I grew up and where my personal identity was formed and nourished spiritually and morally for all the days of my life. Then I see before me the period 1926–1932 – the years of my youth.

Three major spiritual streams influenced us in those days:

  1. The Zionist Movement in all its manifestations and multi–faceted activities, stamped its signature on Jewish life in every town and village in Poland. The fact that within the Movement there were opposing streams, Left and Right not only did nothing to reduce the intensiveness of the Zionist activity but even went to increase it.
    Of special note was the Mizrahi Party that created training in Ksiaz during 1933–1934 for members of the Mizrahi workers who were preparing themselves for immigration to Palestine.
    The initiative to organize the training crystallized after the disastrous fire that broke out in town at that time and brought down a major tragedy on the local Jewish community. A large proportion of the homes were burnt together with the only synagogue in town that represented the focus of Jewish life.
    The members of Miechów and Ksiaz then decided to organize a training Kibbutz of the Labor and Torah Movement, that would bear the name of Rabbi Ya'acov Reines[1] (Z”L).
    The initiators of the project were Yosef Horowitz (Z”L) from Ksiaz and Yehuda Bornstein (may he be spared for a long life) from Miechów, now living in Israel. Yosef Horowitz acted as works coordinator and organized operations at the farm of the Polish Paritz and at the local saw–mill. In addition the trainees also worked rebuilding homes and the synagogue. The activities of training left a deep impression among the residents of the village and awoke in them a spirit of pioneering that had lain dormant until then. Next to that group was a Zionist Youth group “Working Youth” that was also drawn to the training activity and later – immigration.
  2. The Hassidic Movement centered itself in our town round the two “Steibls”: Gur and Alexander. The argument that raged between them was for the sake of G–d but neither of them forgot the Mitnagdim, and especially the Zionist factions. In the eyes of a number of Rabbis the Society was even flawed and invalid. All the religious streams concerned themselves with their own youth: “Yeshivot” taught Torah and didn't forget in the mean–time the Rabbis. The Society maintained a “Beit Ya'acov” school like the others around the world. The number of Jews in the village was small and their resources meager.
  3. The Communist Party whose influence among the young grew from day–to–day, following the economic crisis that struck Poland, acquired “disciples” even from among the religious and affluent sectors.
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    The Communist Party was, of course, illegal and its members liable to heavy penalties. A family, one of whose children was a communist saw it as a tragedy. The information that the son “fell into bad company” spread from mouth to mouth. The affected family prayed that he wouldn't fall into the hands of the police, something that had happened from time to time and caused a tempest throughout the village.
Following the struggle between these factions a special spiritual atmosphere was generated during which I spent the years of my youth. Among the teachers from whom I learned I will mention chronologically: Avraham Eizenoff, who was the first of my teachers; Moshe Mohar who taught us to read; David Birenboim, who taught Torah and Mishna – he knew excellent Hebrew as if born with it and spoke it in the Sephardic fashion.

After them came Shlomo ––––––(?), who taught Gemara.

When I finished “Heder” I found myself at a cross–roads. My parents (May they rest in peace), were G–d fearing and lovers of Israel and, concerned that I would stray from the straight and narrow path as they saw it, and that I would be “swept up in the storm” that parted children from their parents and the traditions of the forefathers, sent me to the Hassid Akiva Luft; he was considered a youth leader who centered around the Steibl of Alexander, founded the Yeshiva “Beit Yisroel” (named after Rabbi Alexander (Z“L), author of “Yisrael will Rejoice”.)

The young men studied in the town's Study House with older students who were referred to as the “big boys”. I also began to study under their care and scrutiny and I recall their names with some emotion and good memories and they were: Shaye Erhlich, Avraham Nerdan(?), Haim Friedberg, Yitzhak Leib Abramczyk. In addition, Akiva Luft taught us a page of Gemara every day and “Tosafot[2]: Yerachmieyl Luft, Shabtai Silberberg, Altar Friedberg, and Yerachmieyl Weinberg). The “Steibl” of Alexander was situated in the home of Shlomo Zagnil(?), (a metal worker) who acquired from Hirsch Leib Gewirtzman work from the community; he was a G–d fearing man, a simple “tent–dweller”. He owned a large shop dealing in skins that he presented to the “Steibl”.

I perceive it as a Holy obligation to myself to mention my friends with whom I went to “Heder” and learned together with them in the Polish school and with whom we observed the Memorial days of our Rabbis, carried lanterns, took part in welcoming the Sabbath and bidding her farewell, with ritual meals and festivals.

With them, I spent my loveliest youthful years. With a few of them I went to study at “Yeshivot” outside Ksiaz: in Zduńska Wola, Bedzin and finally in Warsaw.

And these are their names: Yonatan Sultanik, Hirsch Leib Sultanik, Berish Friedberg, Leibush Mendel Winszman(?), Yerachmieyl Birenboim, Ya'acov Vishlitzky, Matil Wajskol, Yerachmieyl Friedberg and Lazar Rozmaity. All these demonstrated friendship towards me; I learned much from them and I am grateful to them for many things. It is impossible to detail all the many good things about them. All of them perished, either in the German extermination camps or during the evacuation programs or by other means. They were for me a source of “water of life” from which I drank but my thirst was never satisfied… “My soul thirsteth for G–d, for the living G–d.”[3]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The founder of the Mizrachi Religious Zionist Movement Return
  2. Medieval commentaries on the Talmud as critical and explanatory glosses. Return
  3. Psalm 42:iii Return


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Memories of Ksiaz

by Yitzhak Silberberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

I was born in Ksiaz in the last years of the nineteenth Century to my father, Rabbi Moshe Ya'acov (Z”L) who was a G–d fearing distinguished scholar. I learned with a number of teachers in the “Heder” and later in the Study–House. Older Yeshiva students would teach the younger ones.

In 1924 I married the daughter of Rabbi Abba Shochet of Piotrokow and I moved there to live. As one of the disciples of Gur I frequented the Yeshiva and drank thirstily from every word that came out of his mouth. The ADMORIM of Gur were always against immigration to the Land of Israel. They commanded their followers to await the coming of the Messiah and not to force the issue against the will of G–d. Nevertheless during the thirties, with the growth of anti–Semitism and persecution in Poland the people of “Agudat Yisroel” with the Rabbi of Gur at their head, began to change their stubborn stand towards the Land of Israel and began to allow the Hassidim to immigrate to Palestine.

In 1935, together with my family, I immigrated to Palestine.

One of the spiritual leaders in our town was Rabbi Yeshiah Fisch (Z”L), the brother–in–law of Rabbi Yehuda Arieh Lev Alter, the author of “S'fat Emess” the pre–eminent G–d–fearing Torah scholar who knew how to lead a community. Rabbi Yeshiah was the official appointed Rabbi and was supported by the Russian authorities. He rented land in the village of Zygmuntów that belonged to Graf Wielopolski.

Rabbi Yeshiah, together with his wife met a tragic death in 1903 (or 1905), when they were murdered while they slept when their home was invaded by two murderers, one Jewish from the town of Władysław, and one non–Jewish.

A mausoleum was erected to their memory over their graves by the community and every year on the memorial of their death people would come and pray for their souls. The mystery and motive of the deaths remain clouded and unknown until today.

The accepted Rabbi of Ksiaz was the esteemed Rabbi Moshe Natan Shapira (Z”L), the renowned scholar, a G–d–fearing Jew and the author of many well–known books among them “Shemen le–Maor”. Rabbi Moshe Natan was the son–in–law of the ADMOR of Sochatchov and the leader of the esteemed long–lived dynasty of great Rabbis of the Torah.

His apartment was attached to the Study–House and he rarely left it during the six working days. Only Erev Shabbat he would go to the ritual baths to purify himself for the Sabbath. On his way he would hurry the other Jews to close their shops in order not to profane the Holy Sabbath.

Rabbi Moshe Natan was also the leader of a small Yeshiva in the Study–House for the young men who had finished their earlier studies and wished to continue on to higher levels.

Students from other small towns round and about and beyond came to his Yeshiva to study Torah at his feet because of his widespread reputation as a learned scholar and knowledge of the Talmud and relevance of his decisions.

 

Ritual Slaughterers in our Town

The first slaughterer in Ksiaz that I remember was Rabbi Yitzhak Mendzigursky (Z”L); He was injured by a horse when riding to the Rabbi of Gur and died from his injuries. He was buried in Warsaw in the month of Elul (September/October) 1936. His son Rabbi Mendel (Z”L) was appointed in his place in Ksiaz. He died before the war. After him came his uncle Rabbi Natan Silberberg (Z”L).

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Rabbi Natan, my uncle, was very shy, quiet diffident and modest and didn't have much contact with people. He was extremely accurate in all matters concerning the ritual slaughtering of animals and all the people in town saw him as one of the “36 Righteous Ones”. He walked in the way of his fathers and strayed neither to the left nor the right. His wife, Nekha was well–known and recognized as being very righteous. She habitually spent the week–days going round to the houses of all the wealthy people collecting food and cast–off clothing later distributing it all to the poor and needy in town. She was tireless in her toil always ready to extend help to those in need. In the women's gallery in the synagogue she was highly respected and esteemed for her noble attributes.

My memories lead me to the period at the beginning of the month of Nissan, before the Passover. As is usual every year we would go down to the stream near the bridge and draw water in clean utensils for making the matzoth in the bakery of Mr. Nahman David Friedberg and his sons. Those who needed Matzo “Shemura[1] would arrange a certain time for every family and someone from each of the families would come to the bakery at that hour and do all the necessary preparation of the dough including the prescribed waiting time, placing it in the oven with his own hands.

They tried to improve the taste of the matzoth. The stately ceremonial, the traditional meal of Passover spread a festive atmosphere on the whole family for all the days of Passover and the year.

 

Trade and Labor

Our town, Ksiaz was surrounded by many successful farms and the estates of Counts and other notables of Poland like Count Wielopolski, Count Taczortynsky(?) and others. Because of this, most of the traders and businessmen in town dealt in farm produce. The small traders would buy the produce from the farmers and sell it to larger traders who passed the cereal to mill–owners for milling and the rest of the crops – like broad beans, beans, grits and oats as animal feed to a grinding–mill.

The farmers would come on Wednesday – market day – with their small home–made products: chickens, geese, ducks, eggs and butter. After they had sold everything to the Jewish folk they went shopping for cloth, clothing and other products for their homes.

A small number of Jewish artisans in the town like tailors and shoe–makers also provided services.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Exceptionally Kosher to the Nth degree Return


The Town Markets

by Haim Friedberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

For many long years the townspeople were accustomed to hold the market every Wednesday, in the center of town and prepared themselves for that day; either in their shops, workshop or bakeries. The street–traders were especially active in their preparations in readiness for the day. They wandered round the market eyeing keenly the farmers who came from the nearby villages with their carts loaded down with goods for sale to the residents of town. The farmers brought chickens, butter, eggs, vegetables and all sorts of produce, items that the residents of the town were in need of, and at the same time they would purchase sugar, kerosene, salt and especially clothing and footwear.

 

The People of the Market

Already early in the morning there was a long convoy of wagons and carts on the horizon making its way into town. They were the people from Wodzisław coming to Ksiaz with their wares that included textiles, ready–to–wear clothing, shoes and haberdashery and so on.

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These were the main traders who managed the market; fair weather or foul, rain, burning sun or snow, nothing deterred them or stopped them from coming. They were the biggest specialists in trading in the area. They erected their stalls in the center of the square in their regular individual places. Occasionally a few would ask a chair from an acquaintance in town and with planks of wood they had brought with them erect their shelves and stalls and arrange the goods they had brought to sell. The local farmers from neighbouring villages would come with their families. They hitched their horses and wagons in the square next to the shop of “Mordecai the Tailor”. Apart from that “parking–place”, next to the synagogue was a water–well and they would tether their horses there next to a trough and water–pump, place a feeding–bag of oats over the horse's head and leave them to rest while they hurried off to the market to attend to their trading business with the Jewish traders.

But there were others who came on foot with their small quantities of, perhaps a fattened duck or a large earthenware pot of butter covered with large leaves. With these small–traders came their wives who would purchase this, that or the other that seemed to them to be a bargain item.

 

The Market in Full Swing

On market days there was noise, movement and throngs of people crushed together, compared to the peace and quiet of the other days of the week. It was difficult to walk along the street. From every side were heard the shouts of the vendors inviting purchasers or calling back one who stalled at paying the price for this or that; and when eventually a compromise was reached the sale was completed with a handshake. Apart from the traders there were also drunk or half–drunk villagers roaming around the market stalls causing minor disturbances.

There were interesting types there as well. One of them was Miriam Rochmes, an old poor woman with rosy cheeks, whom the traders nicknamed Old ––––––––![1] because she kept repeating the expression over and over again. She sold broad beans summer and winter – sour apples and pickled cabbage. She roamed around the market among the stalls calling out “Heisseh Bubbes” (“Hot broad–beans”), and with a friendly smile offers her beans to the market people for a miniscule profit.

Before the summer sowing, after Passover, the Toplonski's appeared with their wares. They settled themselves in the market square next to the church and sat on the ground or large stones and offered different kinds of seeds and fresh vegetables just coming into season. When the Christian farmers bought from them they habitually gave a little more for the master of the farm to encourage a good yield and a little for the inevitable “thief” among them.

 

The Cattle Market

The cattle–market was outside of town on the road to Wodzisław, opposite the saw–mill. There, live–stock was bought, sold and even exchanged – cows, horses, goats, pigs, etc. Most of the larger middle–men were from Jewish towns and even Christians from all the surrounding towns and villages. The dealings weren't conducted in the best of good faith and management. It happened that the Christian or farmer who bought an apparently healthy beast arrived home with a corpse. By various tricks and chicanery they tried to sell their animals to the farmers and even succeeded in making a profit from both sides.

At the end of the day the traders, the middle–men and the buyers would go to “fat” Shboyntik's(?) banqueting rooms or Szeid. There they drank half a liter of vodka and dined to their hearts' content on sausage and white bread that is unavailable in their villages. On more than one occasion the evening ended up in loud arguments and disturbances from the drunks, to the point that the police were forced to arrest some of them until they sobered–up. Thus it was every week, every year until the coming of Hitler.


Translator's Footnote

  1. A Polish curse Return


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Avraham Zelig Silberberg

by Avraham Zelig Silberberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In the middle of the month of Elul 1942 Erev Shabbat at 10 in the morning, my mother (Z”L), stood in the kitchen preparing the dough to make the Shabbos “Challot” and the “tcholent”. Suddenly there was the sound of a commotion coming from outside in the town. The bad news immediately became known, that by order of the German authorities leaflets had been posted in town ordering all Jews to report Saturday morning in the town square for “resettlement”.

It is difficult to describe the depression that spread amongst us that Friday evening. There were among us those who escaped from the Gestapo by a hairsbreadth and found shelter among us. Now the process of resettlement had reached them – and us – here. I will never forget all the days of my life our last night in our town, my mother crying while lighting the Shabbos candles, as if feeling that it was the last Shabbat of her life. That same night we heard shooting and we discovered that the Nazis had murdered the town's leaders. In the morning we were summoned to the market square and there we were transferred under heavy guard to nearby Słomniki.

From time to time, the SS men would take Jews from the wagons and shoot them. It is hard to describe the fear and terror that fell upon us.

For three days and nights we were held in an open field without food and water. During the day the sun was burning hot and at night we froze in the cold. After three days they separated the old people from the children and younger people. The old men wrapped themselves in shrouds and their prayer–shawls and put on their phylacteries in the knowledge that this was their last hour. At 12 noon the Gestapo came, drunk as lords took the old people and led them away to about a hundred meters distance, or so, and there they shot them. In front of our very eyes they killed the innocent old men from Ksiaz and the surrounding area.

I am not able to describe at length that horrifying scene; my hand shakes and my heart pounds as I recall those bitter moments and my lips mumble “Our Father, our King, for the sake of the martyrs of Thy Holy Name.”

Later they took the men, women and children, loaded them onto rail–cars for their last journey to Bełżec. All the remaining younger people were eye–witnesses of the terrible journey. We saw how children in the cattle wagons choked for lack of air and from thirst. After that they took us to the Płaszów camp near Kraków. I stayed there for about a year. From there, in the autumn of 1943 we were taken to Camp ‘3’ at Skarżysko (Werke ‘C’).

When we arrived it was night and dark in the town, the Gestapo fell upon us with their dogs and made us run to some distant place in the forest that appeared to be some kind of fortress fenced all around with barbed–wire and with armed Tatar guards (Russian soldiers who had betrayed their country), patrolling between the fences. They stood us in front of the SS commander who said: “Everyone who has articles of value – gold, silver or other valuables will hand them over now – if not, he will be killed.” And in the blink of an eye, they took one of the men and shot him on the spot.

He was simply an example for the others. We shook from fear and cold; we gave the Gestapo everything we had but they didn't believe us and made body–searches until the morning. Eventually they sent us to empty barrack blocks.

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In the morning we exited the barrack to see and grasp the nature of the camp and its inmates. We saw people with yellow and green complexions dressed in torn and worn paper sacks that had contained crystalline Trotyl and Picric Acid (both chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives), and every one of them a bag of dry bones. We asked them where they were from and they answered “From Warsaw and the surrounding area. We took part in the uprising and they sent us to Majdanek and Treblinka.”

After cruel tortures, they chose the youngest among them and sent them to Werke 3 where they lost all image of human beings.

When the “veteran” workers went to work, the Gestapo came with the German works manager and sorted out men for the different departments that were changed every few weeks. I was a carpenter by trade so they took me to work constructing barracks and the others they distributed to the various departments. The Managers of the Jewish camp – Isenberg and Markowitz, and the men of the “Ordnungsdienst” distributed everyone to the various barrack–blocks, according to their work department. I was considered very lucky since I had no night–work.

I could not adjust myself to the sight of the older prisoner–workers when I stood with them to get our food – yellow–faced bags of bones. It was enough to see how the starving men leapt at the food to understand what the Gestapo had done to our people. From that sight alone the scales fell from our eyes and our world fell apart for we understood then that we had fallen into the deepest part of Hell.

At three o'clock in the morning we suddenly heard the sound of a trumpet: “Every one out for night work!” I went out to see who and how many would go. And I heard: “Hall No. 53 form up here and Hall No. 58 Trotyl form up here.” Men of the SS and the works' manager count the number of people and there is always someone missing. Men of the “Ordnungsdienst” with sticks in their hands roam around in the barracks and the toilets looking for people and when they can't find them they round up replacement victims from other departments and beat them until they get up and join those outside. Suddenly I see a horrifying sight – they catch a young man sobbing bitterly “I'm ill, I've got a fever and high temperature.” He got beaten and was forced to go to work.

In the end they had the right numbers and after standing outside for an hour, they went to the factory. The factory was massive, in the center of town, surrounded by a few fences, tens of different workshops with sophisticated store–rooms and underground bunkers large arms store and rail–lines leading from and to all of them.

The camp spread over 10 kilometers. In that factory we manufactured mines, ammunition for rifles and artillery of all sizes and weights up to 50 kgs., all in noisy surroundings. Steam–locomotives were coming and going and teams of men pushed wagons from store–room to store–room with the overseers brandishing their sticks, and hurrying the workers along with shouts.

Who can imagine those working on the transports; at night they loaded the armaments on the wagons, each unit weighing 50 kgs., every wagon had 4 men working and the schedule called for loading 3 wagons during their shift – all to German specifications of perfection and accuracy. The verse: “The gates of tears are not closed”[1], did not apply to these men. They worked in pain, hunger sweat and blood. A man simply cannot carry that heavy burden of back–breaking work for more than a few weeks. So every once in a while new groups were brought in to replace those that died. I will never forget the following incident: they once took me on a Sunday for work; when we were on the way to the factory, we saw a dead man lying on the roadway. He had walked – and he died. No one looked at him. We passed by his corpse and continued on our way. It was not an isolated incident. Men weakened – and fell; walked – and died.

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After a few weeks they brought young women from Kraków and after two months a number of them died from exhaustion. To those who worked in Workshop 53 the Germans gave a liter of milk every day because the picric acid damages the lungs in a very short while, often before a new transport arrives with new workers. Every morning next to the wash–room stood a large wagon loaded with planks and every day the dead were brought out and put on the wagon. The number was never less than 16 or 17 a day.

Our town Ksiaz also provided two victims: Avraham Nordau and Moshe Silberberg, who perished there, may G–d avenge their blood.

To my good fortune I worked in the barracks. The work was lighter and I was able to get out of that hell alive. Once my section was employed in repair work; suddenly we saw at a distance a wagon loaded with material we were unable to identify from a distance. We were called to help thinking something required repairing. When we got closer we saw the wagon was loaded with corpses and limbs. On another occasion an explosion occurred in the ammunition workshop No.58 and destroyed the entire building killing many Jews and the workshop managers. We were called to bury the bodies. Many of the limbs had become detached from the bodies by the blast and it was difficult to arrange it all for burial. We took them to a large trench that had been prepared about four hundred yards away, 10 meters deep and 50 meters long. We took some of the Trotyl paper bags and covering the bodies laid them side by side, layer upon layer in a common grave. In that common grave were eventually buried thousands of dead – May G–d avenge their blood.

In the middle of the forest the SS arranged a large area and enclosed it with high “walls” made of bales of straw so that passers–by outside were unable to see what was being done. That was the place where the corpses were incinerated. Every day empty buses went out and returned full. Our own eyes did not actually see what was being done but every evening when we neared the fires of the “crematorium” our nostrils were filled with the smell of burning bodies.

One afternoon we heard a voice shouting in the compound: “Everyone out!” The SS men came to the factory. Fear and dread swept over us – who knew what awaited us? They got us all together – about 2000 people, and read out “The sentence”: since one of us had taken a piece of rubber from one of the wagons to repair his shoes, he was guilty of sabotage. His sentence: hanging by the Jews. They searched among us for strong men to carry out the sentence on the unfortunate man and eventually the sentence was carried out.

There were also instances of thoughtfulness and care for the individual: I wish to mention Mrs. Markowitz, who saved Etta, the wife of Meshulem Friedberg, from hard work and who remained in the factory right to the end.

In the end they decided to take us westwards, in the general retreat of the German army; thus started a fresh round of atrocities against us. Every day the SS would come and select the weakest among us and take them away for execution. After a general selection they took part of the people and sent them to Częstochowa; from there we were taken to the notorious Buchenwald.

The camp is situated near the city of Weimar, in an extensive forested area. Near it was a large sign–post saying “Buchenwald” there was nothing to be seen in the way of buildings or infrastructure. We were not allowed out of the railroad wagons that had brought us until many of the SS had come with dogs and torches. They fell upon us and rushed us to the closed camp. As we arrived allied aircraft were heard overhead and sirens sounded. We were ordered to sit on the ground. Close to us we saw a large building and on top of it a tall chimney from which smoke was streaming. Then I understood that here was the site of “The Final Solution”. After the “all–clear” we were led to the shower shed. They took all our clothing and gave us prisoners' garb with a number imprinted. We had no name – just a number. My personal number was 68468.

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From Buchenwald we were sent to Schlieben Camp. That camp was situated between Berlin and Leipzig. There was an armaments factory there manufacturing anti–tank artillery. We suffered much in that place both from the bombings by the Allies and from the Germans who, while retreating, mistreated the small number of remaining survivors of the various camps. Later we were transferred to Theresienstadt and there I was liberated by the Russians on 9th May 1945.


Translator's Footnote

  1. From the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Metzia Return


The Evacuation from Ksiaz

by Avraham Ya'acov Walbromski

Translated by Selwyn Rose

 

The Last Friday

On Friday morning in the month of Elul, 5703, (4th September 1942), the information spread that the German authorities were demanding “contributions”. We believed that the money would be used as a ransom for our lives and redemption from the evacuation orders.

Every house–holder brought the required sum to the Jüdenrat because that was how it had always been done on previous occasions when the Germans promulgated their decrees and they were rescinded through the Jüdenrat. In spite of that illusion, fear and despair descended on all of us. The anxiety increased from hour to hour. Tears choked our throats. A few families left town and went to the surrounding villages, to their Christian neighbors, in the belief that they could save themselves.

During the afternoon hours it was possible to discern a lot of movement among our Christian neighbors who came to acquire “bargains” when they realized the “Yids” were being banished from town. There were also those who came to help and offered their friends the Jews hiding places in the homes and farms and refused any form of payment or recompense that was offered them. Everyone acted for himself as he saw fit because there was no one to ask for advice. Many sold their jewelry for the most ridiculous prices in order to get their hands on cash in the belief it would help them get organized in their new place.

Erev Shabbat, with the setting of the sun, when the last of the Jews were hurrying homewards from the ritual bath to their homes in the little back–street lanes, the stunning news spread around that according to the “Landrat” all Jews must leave town tomorrow morning.

An atmosphere of grief fell upon the population; from every Jewish home bitter crying could be heard. At home my mother raised her arms to heaven to cast her woes upwards: “Master of the universe, tear up this decree for the sake of Thy holy Sabbath, for the sake of the righteous great ones of our faith, for the sake of the infant school and remove this shame on Thy people Israel.” Bitter sobbing filled our home. My three sisters, Shifra–Leah, Serka and Sarah–Ruhama suggested fleeing and hiding with a Christian family and even began preparations for doing so but almost immediately changed their mind. How could they leave their parents, to separate from their family and the entire town? The sound of shooting echoed from outside interrupted the continuation of thought. The first victim was the secretary of the Jüdenrat, Yossel Horowitz (Z”L) who had been shot by the Polish detective, Masseter, near Kachalsky's house. Terror descended on the town. Within minutes the streets emptied. It was the sign that the operation of banishment had entered the stage.

[Page 261]

My father Rabbi Aharon (Z”L) and I prayed silently and said Kiddush, we didn't want to cancel the last Sabbath evening meal. But the holiness of the day didn't prevent the murderers from continuing their actions. The Mayor of the town, Kraschynski, entered the house of Rabbi Nahman David Friedberg together with a group of Polish policemen and shot to death the Rabbi's eldest son, Haim Friedberg (Z”L).

Afterwards they came to the house Moshe Shalom Abramczyk and killed his son, Mordecai (Z”L), as well and from there they went to Yechiel Sultanik' house and shot both him and his eldest son, Hirsch–Leib (Z”L).

Footsteps approached our house and in a flash there were loud knockings on the door. My older sister Sarah'leh (Z”L) opened the door. Two Polish policemen came in and ordered us not to leave the house until morning. They ordered me to go with them.

The pleadings of my family were in vain. I went under the guard of one of the policemen while the second one stayed in our house and as I was told later, demanded ransom for my safe return. Everything that was available in the house of value – silver, jewelry and valuables were given to him to save my life. As I went out I saw a group of Polish policemen standing in the street not far from our house, in conversation with the wife of a policeman who lives in our house.

My guard told them that he had found me trying to run away. They began to beat me and shouting at me making fun of me, telling me that a 7 gram bullet would be enough for me. Luckily the policeman's wife recognized me and persuaded them to let me go. They told me to go home and as I started to hurry away they fired a shot after me to frighten me.

Returning home, I heard how they went to Laybl Teitelbaum's (Z”L) house and taken him to the same group of policemen. From there they took him though a narrow lane to Staskiewicz's carpentry shop and there they shot him to death. Until late at night the shouts and the disturbances and the abusive drunken language continued. The town synagogue sexton, Yossel and a few other householders were forced to bury that night's victims in the cemetery.

 

Shabbat Morning 5th September 1942

From all the lanes and passageways the families came loaded down with their packages. They come, plodding their way to the market where Polish and a few German police awaited them. This was the central meeting point. Within minutes the market place filled to over–flowing. Immediately the wagon owners appeared – farmers from the villages and their horses and carts who were ready to transport all the Jews of the town. Ordered by the Germans the police entered the homes and with shouts and bullying drove out those who had not yet completed their packing or thought that somehow they could evade being caught.

From a distance the Christian neighbors looked on and jeered at the banished Jews and waited for the moment when they had gone so that they could loot whatever got left behind in the rush. Many of the Jewish people were deeply depressed, broken in spirit and body and no longer believed in any hope of salvation. They wrapped themselves up in their cloaks and blankets and said their “confessions”. Others exhibited revolt, convincing each other they were walking like sheep to the slaughter and the fires of vengeance burned in their eyes.

The pain was enormous, unbearable. Not because of the property and belongings left behind did the heart ache, but the desecration of the Shabbat that they were forced to perform and for the fact that we were forced to leave the town in which Jews had resided for tens of generations. With broken hearts and eyes downcast in shame before their Christian neighbors each one climbed aboard the wagon appointed to him. At a given signal from a German officer, the long convoy began to leave the market square towards Miechów.

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Tens of wagons and carts, loaded down with people, women and children, continued along the road. We were accompanied on both sides by Polish police, who were carefully guarding us made sure that no one got off the carts. In addition a German guard in control of everything rode alongside, back and forth, overseeing everyone. They removed Yossel Bornstein, Lazar's son, shot him to death and left him lying by the road–side.

The heart screamed out and cried for vengeance. It was an unheard cry, a cry from the heart.

We passed by Miechów. Not a single Jew was to be seen, the beloved town was deserted. We passed the market square and arrived at the suburb of Słomniki. Here, in flooded fields, was the central collection point of the villages of Ksiaz, Miechów and Charsznica, Działoszyce and Proszowice. We found there hundreds of families sitting on their bundles. Noise, bustle, crowding – in short: hell – nothing like anything I had seen in my life. It was hard for common sense to grasp what one saw going on here. Our new “lords and masters” hurried us along with shouts and shoves. The entire town like one immense family climbed down off the wagons and carts with the Germans speeding us up. With our bundles on our shoulders we plodded to the place appointed for us in the center of the soggy field. Everyone took out his good clothes and spread them out under him, otherwise we would simply have to sit or lie in the mud.

More than 8 thousand people, women, old men and toddlers were concentrated in that place. Guarding them were Yunaks[1], with shovels in their hands. Both the Polish police and a few German police kept order and ensured obedience to their commands. Men were picked out to dig trenches that were to be used as toilets for the thousands of people. The spiritual and physical degradation of our condition – that was the immediate target to which they were striving at the time.

Broken, depressed and exhausted, after such a terrible day of suffering and torture, without food and water, I wanted to burst through the barrier and fetch a little water from the barrels that were standing next to the Jüdenrat from Słomniki. A German soldier sensed my purpose and hit me over the head with the butt of his rifle. I managed to evade him and disappeared among the throng of people, drinking the blood pouring down my face. A Jewish doctor there gave me some first–aid treatment.

A cool breeze began to blow signalling the coming of evening. The sky was tinged red from the setting sun as if reflecting the blood that had been spilled that day. Like a flock of sheep the people huddled together and tried to sleep. Everyone waited for the night and hoped it would bring some rest and relaxation. But quite the opposite was the case. From all sides came calls for help. They were the cries of those who were robbed and beaten or had put up a fight against the thieves who came to rob them, or insult their Jewish dignity. Our guards fired their rifles above the heads of the crowds. Suddenly something passed over my head with a deafening whistle. Immediately after I heard a Jewish man give a heart–rending moan and he began to recite the death–bed “confession” with the last of his strength, asking to be given a proper Jewish burial. Suddenly everything became quiet until the break of day.

With morning, the night's victim was given a proper Jewish burial in the Słomniki gathering point, between two aged trees.

At mid–day, while all the citizens of Słomniki were strolling freely about town, the Jewish population of the surrounding villages was standing in the muddy fields in rows of ten. The “Selektsia” was conducted by the labor office of Kraków and its assistants. First of all the took out all the old people, sat them on carts that were standing ready and took them not too far away from us where they were murdered. I remember Shlomo Bardin sitting on the cart wrapped in a blanket, his prayer book in his hand reciting the “confession”. Afterwards they took another 800 young men and stood them to one side. I was one of them. In front of our eyes we saw how they sent our fathers to the railroad station where stood tens of cattle–trucks ready to receive thousands of people.

[Page 263]

In the distance we could see how the dark gray cloud was billowing up. There were some of our families who had made their way to the cattle–cars and climbed aboard with their bundles urged on by the Germans.

The guards used their rifle butts to push everyone who slowed up the movement or broke file. We tried to get closer to the railroad station and could see that the cars were already crammed full of people.

They stripped off some of their clothes because the heat inside the cars was intolerable and the floors had been treated with a solution of chlorine. The cattle–cars were shut and the tiny windows barred. Through these windows we could see the pale faces and frightened eyes looking out. The people were begging in vain to the German guard for a little water to drink. Even the children had no water.

The sun had already set when the train started to move. We already knew that our families were being taken to Bełżec and we were wondering to ourselves what fate awaited us.

Indignant, despairing and depressed we were ordered to climb into the open cars guarded by the surveillance police of the train travelling in the direction of the Prokocim camp.

From a distance we saw some flood–lights. It was a sign that we were nearing the camp.

We were forced to enter the camp at the run urged on by our guards. We were welcomed with abuse and curses and shouts as a calculated means of stunning our senses as to what was happening to us. There were Jews in Prokocim camp who had arrived earlier but the Germans made sure that we were unable to communicate with them or be in any kind of contact with them. We were taken into a large hut and told that we must turn in all our possessions: gold, silver, watches, gold pens and any jewellery. We were allowed to keep only 25 Złoty and in order to instil fear they took one of us and shot him in front of our eyes; it worked. In the blink of an eye crates were filled with gold and other valuables. The procedure lasted until late at night.

The following morning we were released from work and we were able to talk with some of the Jews who had arrived before us. From them we learned we were to be sent to another camp. At nightfall we were marched to “Julag”, or, as it was called, Kraków–Płaszów. I, personally, had already been in that labor–camp and escaped from there before the exile and when I learned we were being taken there I feared they would recognize me, because the Commandant, Müller, punished escapers when caught with hanging. There was no way I could escape. I threw away all my documentation so they couldn't identify me and together with everyone else entered the camp so well known to me…

 

Płaszów

In Julag camp, under the command of Müller, hunger and infection ran riot. The sanitary arrangements were indescribable. Every day there were killings by shooting of totally innocent people for the slightest of offences. Thus, for example, a man was shot by the police for going to the toilet outside the permitted time. During the same period Simcha Mlinarski, the son of Itcha Fischer and his grandson of Sandor Yosef from Kraków were also murdered.

We rose at dawn for work. We worked for Siemens–Bau–Union who had built the Kraków–Warsaw railroad. The company employed thousands of workers and accumulated millions while the Jewish workers died by the bullets of the railroad police or lost their lives through starvation and torture. When I saw that my life was in danger I decided to escape a second time from the camp and with that in mind I chose a suitable day – the evening of Kol Nidrei.

In the morning, after going out to work, I managed to slip away in the direction of the Płaszów brick works intending to walk from there to my town where there were still a few Jewish families living after the first exile.

[Page 264]

When I got to my home sometime in the afternoon, I was gripped with fear. The floors were destroyed, everything was in turmoil. It was the work of our Christian neighbors who exploited the opportunity of the deserted house. I found a prayer–book from the Day of Atonement. I went into the Succah in Laybl Teitelbaum's garden and there I spent the whole night of Yom Kippur; I will never forget it. At the same time I took stock of myself and asked myself: Why does all this happen to the Jews?

That was on Tuesday morning 22nd September 1942. In town, there were still the Jüdenrat members of the Jewish police force and their families who had hidden during the “Aktsia” and returned home afterwards believing that they will be safe. When I went out into the street I saw they were taking the dead to the cemetery. There were twenty Jews who had been strangled to death in the Wielka Wieś prison together with tens of other Jews from the entire area who had hidden themselves at the time of the “Aktsia” and when the order came from the Germans to return home they came out of their hiding places only to be captured at the second “Aktsia” and liquidated.

A short time before the second “Aktsia” I left Ksiaz. When I heard that at the brick factory in a near–by town there were people from our town I decided to go there and try to find some work. It was a private factory owned by a man called Wencel. The German Commissars took it from him but left him there in charge and restyled him as Volksdeutsche.

We could move around freely and I noticed that at that time I was getting good food and also a salary of 30–40 Złoty a week. With that sort of money it was possible to buy two loaves of bread. The work in the factory was hard. My job had various components, like taking all the bricks out of the machine and transferring them to a trolley arranged in rows. The tempo of the work was so high that I hardly had time to spread sand on the floor of the trolleys every time I returned for a fresh load of bricks.

We also had to load the dry bricks into the furnace and remove them after being fired, when they became ready for use in construction work. Wencel also had a delivery service and we were used as assistants for loading. From time to time we also worked the field that belonged to the factory. When an order came to collect all the Jews for transfer to labor camps Wencel made efforts to keep us in the factory.

One day the Gestapo came and ordered all of us back to the Kraków ghetto.

The meeting place where we started out for Płaszów was no. 17 Krakusa Street.

One day in February 1943 a harsh winter's day, with threatening skies and streets covered in snow a group of Ukrainian guards came to the ghetto in Kraków and we were ordered by the German officer in charge to form up in fours and we were marched away in the direction of the labor camp in Jaruzalymski Street; there was a cemetery there.

The Ukrainians hurried us along with shouts of “Hurry–up” “in fours, in fours”. When we got there we found a group of Jewish workers and a few large barrack–rooms already waiting for us. The camp Commandant and the Jewish commander of the Ordnungsdienst, Goldberg, were waiting for us.

The barracks were cold and damp, without beds – just three tiers of bare planks. The cold was severe when we lay down on them. We didn't get undressed because we had nothing to cover ourselves with.

We were woken at dawn and formed pairs and were taken to work. The work was mainly constructing barracks and the uprooting of tombstones which we used to form a foundation for the floors.

[Page 265]

The work uprooting the tombstones was very hard indeed and consisted of hauling them up the slippery hill covered in snow.

We worked hard, accompanied with curses and blows from the SS until we had uprooted all the tombstones. We made a make–shift sledge from some planks and harnessed ourselves like horses, hauling the tombstones up the slope. The Germans made sure that they didn't get broken and that we got them safely to their new location. During that work there were many victims.

After all the tombstones were in place, tractors came and trundled over the area smoothing it out. Hundreds of buried bones were unearthed and mixed together with the earth and nothing remained to show that there had ever been a cemetery there. It should be said that after the area had been cleared mass graves were dug in the same place and tens of thousands of Jewish victims from the Kraków ghetto were buried there.

When the time came for Müller to transfer the camp to the second German murderer, Goetz, he made a “Selektsia” on the open area used for “appel”. In front of everyone he shot Goldberg with his own hands and a few workers. A group of women, babies and weak people were sent to the Kraków ghetto which was used at that time as a collection center for transportation onwards.

Goetz, the new Commandant of Płaszów camp, had tens of new barracks erected, organized a new Jewish Ordnungsdienst, liquidated the ghettos of Tarnów and Kraków; the fit he sent to work and artisans and professionals went to the camp.

Many Jews from Ksiaz who were at that time in the Kraków ghetto or surrounding labor camps were brought to Płaszów. The camp became redefined as a Concentration Camp and the number of victims who fell during Müller's time seemed as nothing compared with the “reign” of the Commandant Goetz. Day after day he would kill with his own hands 10 or 12 people when he walked through the camp with his big dog or rode by on his horse. He would set his dog on his victim for the slightest reason.

I will never forget the terrible sight at “appel” when he set his dog on Almer (Z”L) of Miechów. His screams reached to the heavens but they did nothing to soften the heart of the murderer. The dog tore his victim to shreds before our eyes and Almer's soul breathed its last there at “appel”.

On another occasion Goetz ordered the hanging of a young man and a young woman in the presence of the whole population of the camp on the “appel” compound. On his orders entire groups of laborers were shot to death when they returned exhausted from a day's toil.

Among them were two youngsters from Ksiaz, Shabtai Silberberg (Z”L) and Baruch Mlinarski (Z”L), the son of Itcha Fischer.

He had his victims taken up to the top of the rise, which had turned into a Martyr's altar. Not a single day passed without corpses burned as martyrs.

Goetz particularly liked to be present when the punishment was 25 lashes with a whip. The sadist took pleasure in seeing the terror on the faces of the victims and their terrible shrieks of agony caused him maximum pleasure.

However much I paint the picture of life in the camp at Płaszów, it pales in contrast to the reality. Our lives turned to living hell with no possibility of hope.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Youth Labor Brigade Return


[Page 266]

Ksiaz under the Nazis

by Yehoshua Wundersman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

After the Germans conquered Miechów they sent out patrols to survey the area, in the direction of Ksiaz. But they were intercepted unexpectedly by Polish soldiers who shot and killed them. As a result the German advance was held up for three days; The Germans supposed that a strong force of Poles was firmly entrenched there. On the fourth day a force of German troops in close order entered Ksiaz in order to neutralize the Polish defense post that the Germans thought was there. Immediately a German appeared and ordered all the residents – Jews and non–Jews, to assemble in the market square. There was panic everywhere because no one knew what the Germans were planning and what their intentions were. The Germans soldiers entered the homes in order to ensure that there were no hidden arms or Polish soldiers who were scattered everywhere.

Facing all the residents gathered in the square, the Germans placed a machine–gun intended to frighten and subdue the population. After a short while, a German cavalry officer appeared and asked: “Is everyone still alive?” and left everyone sighing.

Deep depression descended on everyone gathered there; one of them – Lazer _(?), suffered a heart attack and died. He was the first victim of Ksiaz. At last the order came to release us. From then on the Jewish population hid themselves away in their homes looking to the future with great concern.

The following day the German headquarters based itself in the new government school building of Ksiaz and issued “Order of the day” to the citizens to return to work, open the shops and for everything to return to its normal function.

Already in the first days of the German occupation the town began to feel the absence of many supplies such as: kerosene, candles, coal and bread because the bakeries did not have the facilities to supply such a large sudden influx of refugees from the surrounding towns and especially from Zaglambia.

The authorities nominated as mayor, Hibner, a refugee from Silesia, who had married a woman from one of the local Christian towns. From the first moment he cooperated with the German and acted as the major advisor on all activities in the area. The first action of the German command was to create a Jüdenrat that would organize the work–force that the German authorities were interested in. The main work was the paving of a road between Kraków and Warsaw, via Kielce. They also built a rest–camp for the military for soldiers returning from the front.

Now and again the Germans issued orders to the residents to provide articles such as coats, furs, jewellery and radios. The stranglehold on the Jews tightened progressively.

In 1942, during the month of April, a representative of the “Arbeitsamst” (works department), arrived from Kraków; all the young women, capable of work, were brought out and the representative himself chose twenty of them and sent them to the Lotnisko airfield, near Kraków. A few days later, he appeared again and collected all the fit young men, chose fifty of them and put them in the Wielka Wieś prison. He held them there all night and the next morning sent them to Płaszów under the command of the notorious Müller. The camp was encircled with a fence. We were kept there as prisoners under the guard of the “Schützbahn Polizei[1]. We worked at various tasks such as road–making in the area for the Siemens–Bau–Union company. Müller behaved with unbelievable cruelty and many fell victim at his mercy.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Railroad security police Return

 

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