There were many water carriers in Oshpitzin, who would trudge carrying pails to the homes of the city residents. This was primarily a woman's job and usually an occupation of Goyim. Each one of them had a circle of her own steady customers. The payment was generally dependent on the number of pails that were supplied every day and a larger number on the eve of Sabbaths or Holidays. In addition to the regular compensation, the carrier would also receive a Shabbes Challe and additional little gifts preceding the Festivals. Moreover, the carriers would light the ovens on the winter Sabbaths.
This was hard, tiring work, especially with the snows and frost in the winter. The carriers would then gather in groups at the wheels of the water-pumps for hours on end without pause, and at times they had to light bonfires in order to melt the ice that had accumulated in the pipes, otherwise it was impossible to draw water. Their equipment was the yoke and pails. They would place the yoke over their shoulders, and chains or sailor's rope with hooks served to suspend the pails. In the winter, when it was very cold and frosty and the paths were slippery, it was necessary to be very dexterous and have good skills so as not to slip on the ice.
Yet, among the troupe of water carriers there were also three Jewish men that I knew:
The first, as I remember from childhood, was a very tall man, upright and stocky, with a large head that looked like it was stuck between his broad shoulders. His eyes were deep-set and sparkling. A short trimmed gray beard in the shape of a rectangle set off his face. His clothing fit and was clean, although not new looking. He was diligent and taciturn, and I never heard him speak, nor did I know his name. No one seemed to know his history, where he came from or where he was going, for he suddenly disappeared one day as if he had never been.
The second was a sturdy man with a ruddy complexion and scraggly red hair and beard as if on fire, constantly uttering groans and screeches he was a mute. His clothing, like his stride, was awkward, a short jacket with patches, and shoes too big for his feet. His yoke and pails were much bigger than those of the water carriers whom he intimidated with his wordless screeches. He was a local, stemming from a good family, but I don't remember his name since he was known only by the name the mute water carrier.
The third was not originally from our town. He had been brought in the thirties from Kamionka to the court of R Luzer in Oshpitzin. Here he ran errands, did maintenance work, as would be called today a handyman. Later he received the weekly stipends for the Rebbe and his family from his adherents. He got a certain percentage of what he collected, but that didn't cover more than a fourth of his few needs. They added on another duty as the assistant Shammes at the Admor's Shtibel and in exchange he was allowed to set up a kiosk in the corner of the shtibel and sell tea, cake, and sweets at dusk. This added more work but wasn't enough for his subsistence.
He was an extraordinary scholar and fluent in all of the Torah's treasures, and all his actions reflected a virtuous and ethical character. He was very modest in all his ways and in his speech as well. He was satisfied with the little he had although even this little sometimes didn't materialize. In these straits he began the exhausting work of drawing water and carrying it on his narrow shoulders to the houses of Jews.
To begin with, we were surprised to see this fine Jew walking with his head down as if refraining from looking at others, since it was strange to see a bearded Jew in a long winter coat with velvet collar and similar cap on his head, carrying a yoke on his shoulders among the water carrier Shikses. This was an unusual and even bizarre image, but with the passage of time it became routine, a day-to-day event.
R Eli was naturally reticent and didn't converse much with others only in Torah and then with very few words. He remembered and could recall the locations of texts with wonderful expertise. He did his work faithfully and devotedly and for that everyone treated him with respect and affection.
One day a report made the rounds in town that R Eli (water carrier) was no more! This information struck all hearers like a thunderbolt and elicited many cries of Oy! and sighing and silence. An air of sadness and sorrow enveloped the entire town, one woman whispered into the ear of another about this bitter news, and that one to her neighbor, and so on. You could see people in various places whispering to each other, their lips moving without uttering audible sounds. Yet, if you bent your head to listen closely you heard: The Lamed Vavnik [One of the legendary 36 hidden righteous men].
Before dark, as the funeral procession left town for the cemetery, the houses emptied of their residents. Men, women, and children, mothers with children in their arms, old men and women, all plodding along the streets wrapped in sorrow and tears running down their cheeks. There were some who burst out in loud wails, and these were the voices of the Shikses, his coworkers who keened and eulogized him.
There had never been such a funeral in Oshpitzin.
Abbaye said: There are no less than 36 Tzadikim in each generation, as it is written: Ashrei Kol Chosi Lo [Happy are all they that take refuge in Him. Psalms 2,12] 'Lo' in numerical count is 36 (Sanhedrin 97:). Oshpitzin was blessed with one of them, R Eli, the water carrier. May his memory be a blessing.
Side by side with religiously observant Oshpitzin, with its Batei Midrash, synagogues, Shtiblach, Rabbis, scholars, Talmud Torahs and Yeshives, there was also an Oshpitzin of worldly intelligentsia, professionals, a progressive youth, labor leaders and Zionist activists who fought for their ideas and openly appeared at social events and lectures in order to gain adherents to their movements.
An outstanding and distinguished politician in town was the lawyer, Dr. Goldberg, a capable, intelligent individual, a good speaker, and a fearless fighter for the Zionist idea. His lectures at the Hotel Herz drew masses, mainly the youth of the city. One of his sons is now in Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan and is realizing his father's principles. Belonging to this series of university-trained intellects was also the elderly, good-natured, and always smiling, Dr. Wechsler and his colleagues Dr. Przeworski and Dr. Klang, Dr. Reich, who was the deputy mayor of the town, and the lawyers Auster and Druks. Nearly all were communally active in broader or narrower circles, except for Dr. Tyberg, who did not take trouble with Jewish problems.
To this group one can add the moneyed elite of town, the manufacturers and big industrialists, Lieberman, Schenker, Nathansohn, and Haberfeld, whose names were known far and wide beyond the town limits.
Oshpitzin had youth organizations of all shadings, from the extreme right to the far left: Hitachdut, Gordonia, Boslia [?], Po'alei Tzion right and left, Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, and a small Bund organization headed by Gimpel Bornstein. There were also communists, open and hidden. The Akiva youth formation was led by Ch. Loew, already middle-aged, but who conducted himself as if a young man, always contented and smiling, with gray streaks of hair. He made Aliyah, became a member of Kibbutz Usha and died here in Israel. It should be mentioned that the only Hebrew teacher in town, Ch. Schulberg, a quiet person, unassuming, and a Maskil. He lived by the clock, always in a hurry and overworked, looking at his watch, he should, God forbid, not arrive late for a lesson in order to honestly earn his living.
An important role and influence in town was that of the Hitachdut organization, led by Ch. Yosef Mannheimer, but everybody called him Yoske. On Shabbat afternoons he would organize lectures and discussions at the meeting-hall, which were not restricted to members only. The teacher Schulberg enjoyed expounding on his theories in Hebrew, which not all understood. Yoske Mannheimer had the assistance of a corps of Ch.: Mondrzek Weinheber, David Kleinhendler, and Posner, who assisted him to carry out the activities.
The Gordonia youth organization, to which I belonged, was led by Alter Farber, assisted by Kuba Gutman, Bianka Steinmetz, Sala Goldberg, and Sala Silbiger. Farber and Steinmetz made Aliyah several years before the war.
An important active role in town was played by Heshek Laulicht. He was a gifted person full of spirit and knowledge. He was a graduate of the Law Faculty of the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. His fiery Zionist lectures had a great impact in town.
The meeting-hall of Hitachdut was in Falik's house where the State High School [Gymnasium] was. They had a reading library of several hundred books in Polish and Yiddish, and offered a drama club led by the Ch. Gutman and Laulicht.
Yakov Brown, Shmuel Bochner, and Weinheber, members of the older guard made Aliyah together with their wives, and of the younger generation the following Nionke Steinmetz, Sala Silbiger, Sala Goldberg, Salomon Scharf, Jetke Goldstein, Meir Bloch, Moniek Siegman, Chishe Ressler, Shmuel Zyslawicz, Shlomo Silbiger and others.
The Sports Club Kadimah was led by Ch. Jakubowicz and Zige Feiler. The former perished at the hands of the Germans, while the latter is now in Israel.
Permit me a few warm words about Ch. Laulicht whom I mentioned earlier. He was a Yeshiva Bochur until the age of 17 and learned Torah diligently. Suddenly he was attracted to the beautiful, sweeping outside world. He left the narrow confines of the Yeshiva and was accepted into the State Gymnasium [European equivalent of high school and junior college]. Later he went on to study in university. He possessed an extraordinary memory and an analytical mind. One could say about him: A cemented cistern which loses not one drop [Pirkei Avot II,11]. He barely made it to Israel after the war and died suddenly. He was laid to rest in the Rehovot Cemetery.
The Oshpitzin branch of Gordonia was in close contact with the main Krakow organization, which was then led by Dr. Yishayah Shapiro, who later became the director of Kol Yisrael [Radio Israel], and by Pinchas Lubianker, today Pinchas Lavon. Almost all of the Gordonia members went on Hachshara [pre-Aliyah training center] with the goal of eventually making Aliyah. Unfortunately, only a few received the longed for certificate [permit issued by the British Palestinian Authority] while all the others regarded the lucky ones with jealous glances.
There were two official libraries in Oshpitzin, which featured books in the Polish language. One was directed by Mrs. Frenkel, on Kety [Kenty] Street, and the second by Mrs. Berglass. There were also two cinemas in town, and occasionally there were performances by traveling Yiddish theater troupes.
This is how life streamed along, quietly and peacefully, until the fatal disruption of 1939. Soon a flood of troubles rained down, decrees and persecutions as well as acts of murder by the German despots. The situation constantly worsened and became more dreadful until the greatest misfortune of all times came for Jews. Jewish Oshpitzin was not only destroyed for all time, but it also became the grave and place of extermination for hundreds of thousands of Jews from the world over.
Of my nearest and dearest, my mother and oldest brother and his son, three sisters, one of them with her husband and daughter, the second with her two daughters, and the youngest with her little boy, all perished, not including friends and acquaintances. All perished in the Auschwitz gas chambers.
I had occasion to visit Oshpitzin once more in 1947. I spent ten days there. The entire period was taken up with a sacred mission, to record the wording on the broken tombstones, which were strewn and scattered all over town and the surrounding areas. Together with Heshek Kindreich, Schenker, and Getreider, we gathered, arranged in order, and noted down the tombstones, which had been used to pave the streets on which the murderers trod with their defiled boots. We made every effort to bring them to the cemetery and to record them as a sacred memorial.
To our great distress we encountered freshly dug graves of Jews at the cemetery: Moshe Berger from Brzeszcze and his elderly mother whom the murderously wild Polish hooligans had managed to murder just after the war.
My heart was heavy and my eyes pained to look at my birthplace Oshpitzin, now Auschwitz, the city now epitomizing crematoria and gas chambers, which had been rebuilt anew as a beautiful, large, and aesthetically planned city, but regrettably an Auschwitz without Jews....
Yitzhak Tzivoni (Farber)
(Memoirs of Oshpitzin before it became the Auschwitz Vale of Death)
I will attempt to sketch some contours of the activities and lives of people whose entire craving and desire was to help bring about the establishment of a free homeland in the Land of Israel, and at the same time defend the honor of the Jew in the Diaspora. Sorrowfully their bravery did not enable them to escape the great disaster that overcame the Jewish People and in which they perished. May their blessed memory be everlasting.
Let me begin with two episodes, which influenced me deeply, and opened new horizons in my life to perceive that the lives of Jews in the Diaspora were very cheap, and that a Jew requires a homeland of his own which could come about only in a rebuilt Land of Israel. This idea brought me to Zionism and pioneering. Thanks to that I am now here in Israel, and am able to write these memoirs of my friends and acquaintances who, unlike me, were not able to make their vision a reality.
The first event occurred after WW I, when the Habsburg Monarchy was defeated in the war and Poland became independent. Anti-Semitism grew and flourished in all its fury, and its main efforts were to harass and plot against Jews in various ways, such as, pillage of Jewish property, beatings and cutting off of beards, which occurred in all places where Jews lived in Poland, but not in Oswiecim.
One fine day after a stroll in the main square of our town, I saw several Polish soldiers stop with their wagon in front of a Jewish store. They decided to load their wagon with goods they would take from the store. The protests of the Jewish shopkeeper did not concern them, and they were certain that the authorities would not interfere. The leader of the pack was a redheaded sergeant. Although fifty years have elapsed since then, I can still remember it vividly. I stopped to see what would happen. Suddenly, there appeared a group of young Jews, they too led by a redhead, whose name was Mundek Weinheber, and I don't remember who the others were. They entered the store and made the looters understand that Jewish property was not up for grabs, and it would not be easy to rob the goods and ride away. When they saw before them a group of courageous youths who were prepared to spoil their plans and oppose them with force, they meekly left in embarrassment, without touching Jewish property. These young men were Zionists.
Active then was a virulent anti-Semitic Polish general whose name to eternal shame was Haller. His gangs were called Hallertchikes. Their daily acts of physical abuse , robbery, and murder were carried out without interference. There was no law and order, and all the Jewish towns and settlements suffered enormously... but it was not that way in Oswiecim.
When I was once near the Bes Medrish, I saw a wagon stop and a group of young men, under the direction of Dr. Przeworski were unloading rifles and bringing them into the Bes Medrish. Through the intercession of Zionist activists and with the permission of the local authorities, a self-defense organization had been set up. Jews went out at night and patrolled so that no evil should befall while all were at home in bed. My father used to tell me occasionally about all kinds of unusual events which would take place during these night patrols. Once, on Friday night, while we were sitting at the Sabbath table, a fusillade of shots rang out. Understandably, panic resulted among the city residents. From prior experience we knew that the rioters loved to attack the Jews on Shabbat or Holiday nights. Right away we learned the cause of the shooting. Near the gate of our house I found several Jewish young men of the self-defense, and they told me that they had learned that hundreds of rioters were planning to attack the town that night. Since it was probable that they would come via the bridge it had been decided, for safety's sake, to post guards at all the entrances to the city as well as in the city proper. The shots had come from the direction of the bridge. Near the bridge was a hill on which stood the district governor's offices. It was on that hill that the men of the self-defense were posted, armed with previously prepared firearms. They had let the murderers and robbers advance to the middle of the bridge, and then attacked them. Many were killed and the rest ran for their lives. On the corpses left behind on the battlefield they found axes and sacks. From then on, after the lesson they learned from our heroes, they didn't dare to conduct riots against the Jews of Oswiecim. For many years we spoke with pride about our youngsters who had upset the plans of the rioters.
In the early part of 1920 a group of Chalutzim made Aliyah. Their Aliyah caused a great upsurge in the activities of the Zionists and Chalutzim in our city. Many young people streamed to the Chalutz youth movements who were preparing to make Aliyah. There was a great deal of activity on behalf of Eretz Yisrael. The efforts to raise money for Zionist Funds were intensified, and this sacred task was carried out by our youth, and was extremely successful.
While talking about money-raising activities, I want to mention only those who are gone and did not succeed in being with us. May the Chaverim and Chaverot I don't mention forgive me.
Among the activists to be remembered are Dr. Goldberg and his wife whose home was always a center of Zionist activity, and who devoted much of their time and energy. Mrs. Lieberman did so as well. They arranged for Chalutzim to get elementary agricultural training in their orchards. I also want to mention Shimon Schechter and Yosef Mannheimer. I especially want to expand on the latter. He was the living spirit in all the sacred work for Eretz Yisrael, and there wasn't any activity or group or any work at all in which he was not one of the active initiators. He not only requested pleasantly, but also himself performed with every fiber of his being. He gave of himself 24 hours a day if it were necessary, despite being a family man and his business. There was never an occasion when I came to his home about some matter or activity that he would not leave his family and store, in order to devote his time for a Zionist or communal matter, and he knew how to influence others to participate in the activities, which were indeed many. Before the branch of Hitachdut was established in Oswiecim, Yosef had been a General Zionist and he decided to transfer to the Hitachdut. He managed to influence most of the organization to come with him to the Hitachdut and with his help we obtained the beautiful Meeting Hall and library. He began to organize a broad series of cultural and educational activities. Among others, he saw to the organization of a youth group of Chalutzim through the founding of Gordonia which attracted the young people around the city. Since we of Gordonia didn't have enough money to pay rent, it was Yosef who took up the burden and saw to the payment of rent for us. A great deal of money was required in his acceptance of the obligations of two organizations. With great vigor Yosef organized a drama club, and all kinds of performances were produced in which he also appeared, either as an actor or singer. Yosef Mannheimer had a very nice and pleasant voice and he would grace our parties with his melodies. We also organized dance evenings in order to amplify our income.
All means of expanding the effectiveness of our organization seemed proper as far as we were concerned, and we did not look down on performing in the theater. Prior to every theatrical performance the stage and scenery would have to be brought down from the attic at the Herz Hotel. Through Yosef's connections this job became exclusively our organizations prerogative and the Chaverim willingly volunteered to do it. There was never a time when a Chaver was asked to devote time for some activity that he would attempt to evade it. This is how he attracted a loyal and devoted corps around him. I'll list some of the dedicated activists I remember, that didn't succeed in getting here with us: Mundek Weinheber, Asher Ribner and his wife, Hoffman, P'tachia Gottlieb, Mendel Gutman and his brother Kuba, Appelbaum, Avraham Barber and his wife, Wolf Braun and his wife, Yechezkel Mandelbaum, and Chaim Gutter. [All apparently perished].
Together with Chaverim and Chaverot who are now in Israel, we established an outstanding branch which served as a model in West Galicia. We were always in the vanguard in activities in assisting Chalutzim make Aliyah, in the sale of Shkalim[voting rights in the World Zionist Congress], and in raising funds for Zionist causes. We were always in the majority in the local elections for the Zionist Congress. We were able to send people to the nearby towns in order to help and encourage the Hitachdut people to do well in the elections. I almost fell victim in one of these activities. Once, on the night before the elections, Yosef asked me to go to Chrzanow to help them in the election campaign. Equipped with an authorization from the district office of the Hitachdut as a member of the district election committee, I arrived in Chrzanow. When meeting with our Chaverim I was asked to go to Krzeszowice, where the election campaign and the propaganda efforts were in a sorry and apathetic state. I accepted this assignment. Since travel by railroad would have taken too long and time was of the essence, they suggested I go by bicycle. They got me one on the spot. I didn't examine the bicycle, the main thing being that it had two wheels and the rest of the necessary components, and I took to the road I had never before traveled. As time passed, I became aware that the road was through mountains and that the brakes didn't work. The roads were steep and I tried to brake the front wheel with my feet without losing my balance. I careened along at great speed. Luckily, the road was clear all along without my meeting a living soul and I got there in one piece, otherwise it would have been disastrous. I arrived breathless and exhausted, and I was unable to participate in the campaign. I returned with the bicycle by train. This is a case of No harm befalls those on a mitzvah mission!
A major part in the dissemination of Hebrew should be attributed to the Hebrew teacher, Ch. Schulberg. In addition to the Hebrew lessons we had a Hebrew Club of Chaverim and Chaverot under his direction, and we would gather on Shabbat with one of the Chaverim giving a Hebrew lecture with the lively participation of all.
It should be noted that our activities did not run smoothly, and that we had to overcome many obstacles and restraints. We particularly had difficulties in educating the youth. A majority of them came from homes where the parents opposed Zionism and the rebuilding of the Land. They regarded us as a bad influence which leads their children away from the right path, and we had to handle them with delicacy in order to ease their entry into our ranks. Often, parents such as these came to my home to quarrel with me about beguiling their children from righteous ways.
Just as Oswiecim was a crossroads during the Shoah for those brought to the slaughter, so also was it once a crossroads for those longing to make Aliyah, some by train and others on foot. Many Chalutzim who wanted to smuggle themselves over the Czech border on their way to Israel would stop in Oswiecim and get our advice and support. Kuba Gutman and I once led a group of Chalutzim over the mountain peaks to the Czech border where we parted company. Years later, after making Aliyah and coming to Hadera, a laborer approached me and asked if I came from Oswiecim. I didn't recognize this man, but he remembered me from the trip we had made through the mountains. We were both delighted at meeting once more.
In 1929 I was on Hachshara in Nadworna. One night, as I stood guard at the sawmill, a messenger arrived to inform the group that several were required to pack their things and travel immediately to Lwow to appear before the English Consul to receive the Certificate to make Aliyah. On that very day, riots erupted in Palestine, there was a massacre in Hebron and Safed, and bloody incidents all over the country. Ben-Gurion sent a telegram to the Diaspora We are in danger. Help! In response, the Chalutz movements gathered all their people who were prepared to make Aliyah so as to dispatch them immediately after the formalities had been completed in Lwow. Next day I arrived in Oswiecim and found the city nearly empty.
The stores were closed and few Jews could be seen in the streets. I was puzzled that on a regular weekday everything had come to a dead stop. When I reached home my sister told me that because of the riots in Palestine all the Jews were congregating in the Great Synagogue where the Chief Rabbi and representatives of the Zionist organizations would make speeches.
I was utterly amazed to experience the sensation I had when I arrived there. Our group was seated at the tables in the courtyard and were collecting money on plates for Eretz Yisrael from any Jew who came there. Generous amounts of money were donated.
This was the first time that pious Jews in Oswiecim donated money for Eretz Yisrael. Moreover, the very Jews who fought us all along and were vehemently opposed to the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael, closed their shops and attended a rally for Eretz Yisrael, and listened to speeches by the Chief Rabbi and representatives of Zionist organizations. This was a great surprise for me and left me with a mighty impression.
Surely, a pious Jew who would contribute towards Eretz Yisrael, or a Zionist meeting being held in the Great Synagogue, had always been considered a blemish in Oswiecim. After these events though, when a Chalutz would make Aliyah, he would not slink away like a thief in the night. When I left by train at midnight for Aliyah, hundreds of Chaverim and Chaverot came to the station to say goodbye, and all were envious and hoping for the day that they too would make Aliyah. It was so nice, as the train left the station, to hear the mighty sounds of Hatikvah as sung by these zealots.
Woe for the loss, for those who are irreplaceably lost!
1) Poverty Stricken
I heard this story from my father just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Even though my father didn't name the hero of the tale, I knew whom it was about, and it was none other than a relative, a resident of Oshpitzin, who had once been one of the wealthy dignitaries of the town and had become impoverished as a result of Jew-hatred that had burst out among the Goyim in the last few years before the destruction.
This story is etched in my memory as if I had just heard it, and it deserves retelling since it is characteristic of the general economic situation prevalent in Poland at that time before the Shoah. This is how my father told it:
Outstanding among the “finer Jews” of the town, was the figure of R’ Ahron, the proprietor of a seed and grain business. He was a good-looking Jew, tall and upright, a Talmid Chochem and businessman who was well received by Jews and Goyim alike. His erect posture, his traditional clean and neat clothing, his well-groomed beard and his deep and somewhat sad eyes all invited respect.
He ran a big business in the center of town and was very wealthy. All day long, he had customers who came to his office at the back of the store, retailers, estate owners, and farmers, with whom he was constantly busy. Only when the time for the Mincha-Ma'ariv prayers came would he close the business and from that time the commerce ended as if it had never existed. After the prayers he would return home to take time off for his family and guests. R’ Ahron's family lived in a substantial home which took up an entire floor. The rooms were furnished in traditional style, heavy, dark, and massive, cupboards full of S'farim, Talmud in leather binding, books of Homiletics and ethics, and ancient scrolls. In the guest room a credenza glittered with many silver objects: A case encrusted with jewels for an Etrog, Kiddush cups, an Havdalah set, ornate china platters, crystal vessels, and other precious items. There were comfortable leather armchairs, a giant velvet sofa, carpets covered all the floors, all of which demonstrated the affluence and prosperity of the home.
In R’ Ahron's home, his wife Leah ruled. She was an alert and pleasant woman whose entire concern was to satisfy her husband's wishes, to enhance the repute of the family and to be deserving of her good fortune, which according to her, was bestowed upon her when she married such a dear and important man. Indeed, R’ Ahron was a good and devoted husband, who respected and pampered his wife in his own way, showing interest in the mundane stories about the children and the neighbors. Each time he left for travels on business he didn't forget to bring his wife something to adorn the house or for her comfort.
There were four children in his family, three daughters and an only son. The son studied in the Talmud Torah and the daughters went to the public school. A learned woman came daily to teach the girls how to read and write Yiddish, to study the “Tzena Rena” [Yiddish women's bible], and the laws and customs for Jewish girls. The family lived in this fashion for many years.
Then, times changed. A powerful anti-Semitic movement was organized and spread throughout the land and reached even our town. Antisemitic propagandists incited against doing business with Jews. They established businesses free of Jews, and those Jews whose living was earned primarily from trade lost business and began to fail. Among them was R’ Ahron. From year to year his income dropped until his position became unbearable. R’ Ahron struggled valiantly to maintain his status, and tried to keep up appearances. He continued to look well-kempt and neat, spoke pleasantly and in measured tones and conducted himself in an unchanged dignified manner, but bit by bit the expensive items in his credenza disappeared as did pieces of furniture from his home. People knew and considered that his circumstances had changed, but had no conception how bad the situation was until that Sukkos came.
In anticipation of this holiday, a large communal Sukkah was erected in the courtyard for all the neighbors. With the arrival of the holiday, on the first evening after the festive prayers, all of the neighbors came and sat in the Sukkah, everyone with his sons. The women heard the Kiddush and returned to their homes to fetch the holiday foods. R’ Ahron and his son sat at the head of the table next to their neighbor R’ Moshe. The oldest daughter brought the Challah, fish, and soup, and then she returned and brought her father a fine leg of roast duck. R’ Ahron returned the meat dish saying he had a stomach ache and couldn't eat more. Next day at noontime, the same thing happened. He ate the soup and potatoes, but he returned the roast leg claiming he couldn't eat anything else. R’ Moshe, his neighbor, noticed that in the following days the same scene repeated over and over again. The daughter would bring the roast leg on an expensive china plate, and he would return it without having touched it. Indeed, R’ Moshe was astounded at this strange behavior but he had no inkling as to its cause.
It was only on the last day of Sukkot that R’ Ahron's big secret was revealed. As had happened daily, his daughter brought the roast and placed it before him on the table, and, naturally, R’ Ahron refused to eat it and ordered her to return it to the house. On her way back, an apple that had been suspended from the Sukkah roof as a decoration, suddenly fell and hit the plate. The roast fell on the floor next to R’ Moshe, and before the daughter had a chance to bend down, R’ Moshe picked up the roast and to his utter amazement, the roasted leg was revealed as a painted piece of wood smeared with gravy, one of the toys R’ Ahron had brought home from one of his journeys.
Now, all the neighbors learned why R’ Ahron couldn't eat the portion of meat that had been served every day of the festival…
2) Wanton Destruction
There is a Jewish custom that on Purim, whoever puts out his hand – one is duty-bound to give to him.
This is why it was customary to make fundraising appeals on Purim, or to go citywide from home to home to gather money for charitable purposes.
Once, two respected Jews went out on Purim night to solicit contributions for a widow who was about to marry off her daughter. The two made the rounds in town, from house to house, and filled the red kerchief with copper coins and bills which had been contributed by generous Jews.
Passing through the town they arrived at the home of a rich man. They were about to knock on the door when they heard angry voices booming through the door. The two stopped in their tracks, uncertain about their next step, and without meaning to eavesdrop heard the loud argument. Someone, with a commanding and dominant voice, apparently the homeowner, was reprimanding his manservant for wasting a match to light the oil lanterns, when there was a lit candle standing on the table from which he could have lit the wick of the lamp.
The two charity collectors were astounded and one said to the other: “Come, let's get away from here! There is no point to go in here. You see what a big miser he is and he will send us away empty-handed”. His companion did not agree and explained: “We will fulfill our responsibility, and he can do as he sees fit”.
They knocked on the door, were asked to enter, and received by the homeowner with great respect. He invited them to be seated and served them with drink and Purim delicacies and also made a generous contribution befitting his prestige and wealth.
One of the Gabaim could not contain himself, begged the homeowner's pardon and revealed how he and his companion had been privy to the argument with the manservant over something as unimportant as a worthless match, and had thought that he was a niggardly miser who would drive them away from his house, and instead he received them so affably and moreover gave them a sizable contribution. How could one make sense of this?
The homeowner smiled and replied: “You are mistaken, my friends! There is no contradiction between the two matters. To give charity for an important purpose is what we have been commanded in the Torah, to give and give again, but to spoil something unnecessarily, even something of little value and import, is a sin and specifically forbidden and should be protested with vigor, since the same rule applies to a penny as to a large sum…
3) Shabbat Eve
[A poem in Hebrew whose translation into English requires another poet.]
by Fela Recht (Jerud)
Not many remember a sad incident that took place in our town in the thirties. A Jew who had been crippled during the First World War lived in R’ Chaim Hirsch house, on the small square (Maly Rynek). He had a little grocery store from which he eked out a living. He lived in two little rooms attached to his shop.
One wintry Shabbat morning a Christian woman entered the cripple's dwelling in order to light the heating stove, just as she used to do for all the Jewish neighbors in the building. The man who was not well physically or mentally, ran amok, threw a sharp instrument at the woman which hit her in the head and wounded her. Her screams brought all the neighbors running, and they called for help and bandaged her and brought her to her apartment in the basement of the building. At first glance the woman looked to have been seriously hurt and bleeding heavily. Word about the incident spread speedily throughout the town and soon assumed sensational and threatening dimensions. Young hoodlums gathered in the neighborhood and incited all hearers: “A Jew murdered a Christian woman!” Jews who had not yet heard of the sad incident and were walking on their way to the synagogue as usual every Shabbat were attacked by the mob that was growing steadily. An atmosphere of a Pogrom had been created and with it the danger of a general attack of all the Jews.
Jews fled to their homes and many hid out elsewhere, especially those who lived near to where the incident had taken place. In our home, too, a number of Jews hid with my father in the attic and the basement, because our house was facing that small square, and that was where many non-Jews had gathered when the news of the wounding of the woman by a Jew had reached them, and many had come from afar. There was, by now, a very noisy mob, and wild, poisonous, incitement against the Jews was in the air. Windows were broken and store displays looted.
Fear increased by leaps and bounds and there was the growing concern to safeguard the lives of the Jews who were in the synagogues so that they could return home. My sister contacted Dr. Tyberg who had good connections with the local authorities and informed him of the seriousness of the situation. He and other Kehilla figures contacted the civil authorities and the local church officials who responded and came out to calm the situation.
That night I sneaked out after my sister and other young people who had gathered at the Kehilla building, where many youths from all strata and youth movements had congregated. They discussed ways and means of self-defense should they be required – the discussions were not clear to me, I was then too young to understand them – towards midnight I saw groups of young people going in various directions, armed with clubs, in order to stand guard.
Much was told afterwards about the efforts of the Monsignor Skrabek – a known
Judeophile – who gave a rousing sermon in the parish church and did a lot to
calm the situation.
In my youth I used to pray on Sabbath in the Hasidic Synagogue called “Shenker's Shtibel” where they never called any clean shaven person to the Torah, no matter who, even the most distinguished person. If he did not have a beard and Payes he was not given such a privilege.
Once a very wealthy and distinguished Jew from Vienna came for a visit to Oshpitzin, no less than R’ Chaim Landau, the son of Rabbi Landau who was the Av Besdin in Oshpitzin. Since his father, the Rabbi, had been one of the founders of this synagogue, he felt it his duty to pray there on Shabbes. He was a highly observant Jew, a Talmid Chochem and God-fearing, but had neither beard nor Payes as was the custom in Austria. When it came time for the reading of the Torah he waited patiently in expectation of being honored with an Aliyah. The third and sixth honor [tr. considered the most auspicious] had already been given, and soon they were to allocate Maftir [the last, and also auspicious honor] and he had yet to be called. What did he do? He went up by himself, made the blessings for the Torah Reading and began to read the Maftir. People were stunned and didn't dare to touch him, when suddenly, his brother R’ Binyamin got up, he of a silken Kapote and a long beard – approached his brother and tried to force him off the Bima. The two brothers began a loud quarrel which nearly led to fisticuffs. The situation was saved by R’ Zasman Mandelbaum-Grubner, the Torah Reader. He separated between them and permitted the guest to complete the reading.
2) The Exam
When I was of school age I attended public school in the mornings, and in the afternoon I went to Cheder. This was in a small and cold room. We sat there, 40-50 boys squeezed together summer and winter. In the corner stood the Rebbetzin cooking lentil soup, and the Rabbi himself would approach from time to time to taste the cooking broth while we played with buttons. In the summer months we were much troubled by the heat. We waited impatiently for the evening so that we might still have time to run for a dip in the River Sola. We didn't always have enough time to bathe in the river and still make it in time for the Mincha-Ma'ariv prayers, and woe to him whose father didn't find him at the Synagogue for Ma'ariv.
When Shabbat came we breathed easily. There was no Cheder or school. We prayed and ate the Shabbes meal and sang Zmires. My friends were waiting for me near the house to join them on a hike or for a visit at one of the Zionist Youth movements. My father, however, told me to take the Gemore [Volume of the Talmud] and go to Reb Kalman Lieber for an examination of what I had learned that week.
Once, as I was leaving carrying the Gemore my friends called to me and said: “Come with us, no one will know the difference”. I succumbed and hid the Gemore in the cellar under our home and went for a walk.
That Shabbes at Shaleshides time my father happened to meet R’ Kalman Lieber and asked him: “Nu, how is my son doing in his studies?”. My father was surprised to learn that I hadn't come to him and hadn't seen me all day.
Well, the reward I got that evening from my exacting father was sufficient to
learn the lesson not to repeat this mistake.
The First Lady of Poland, the wife of the President, Edward Ochab, was Jewish. She stemmed from a Hasidic family of Oshpitzin. She has an extended family in Israel with which the couple Ochab maintain correspondence.
A brother of Mrs. Ochab worked for 30 years as clerk in the main Post Office of Tel Aviv. Her sister works at the Tel Hashomer Hospital and her brother-in-law, Ahron Hollander, works at the North Tel Aviv train station.
Her brother Yishayahu Silbiger lives in a modest apartment in Tel Aviv on Keren Kayemet Boulevard #82. Their father was a devoted Bobower Hasid. He exerted efforts to give his children a religious education. He died during the First World War at the age of 40, leaving three sons and three daughters.
One son followed in his father's tradition and also became a Bobower Hasid. He is now a Rabbi in Scotland. Yishayahu Silbiger “abandoned the proper way” and became a Zionist. He left Poland 35 years ago and after a short stay in Germany came to Israel.
In contrast, his sister Rachel, the wife of the Polish President, joined the communist movement at the age of 14. This brought on great conflict between her and the family, and bit by bit she distanced herself from her home and became heavily involved with communist revolutionaries. In 1929, at the age of 20, she was imprisoned in the Tarnow Prison for illegal communist activity.
In the prison she got to know her future husband Edward Ochab. The family made costly efforts to gain her release from prison. After she was released, however, she renewed her communist activity. Just after Ochab was released they married.
Yishayahu Silbiger reports that in the letters which he received years ago, it was written that Ochab was Jewish. His mother was Jewish but he has no other details.
The correspondence between the siblings was not interrupted after Ochab achieved greatness and was appointed as the successor of Premier Alexander Zawadski. His appointment did not surprise his relatives in Israel, who had received letters from the Ochabs coming from Yalta and other locations. Ochab did much traveling and always took his wife along. They have six daughters.
Rachel Ochab's brother-in-law, Aaron Hollander, is a porter at the railroad station of Tel Aviv. He came to Israel 17 years ago from the DP camps in Germany. His son had arrived earlier as a volunteer.
Hollander, 58, never became a “tenured” employee and works very hard for a living. His wife works at Tel Hashomer Hospital and contributes to the family budget. They live in an Arab apartment in Yaffo. Their son is a graduate engineer.
Hollander and his wife were repatriated to Poland by the Red Cross in 1945 and the Ochabs took them in to live with them. The Ochabs were prepared to assist them to make their home in Poland. The Hollanders preferred to make Aliyah. The Ochabs helped them to do so.
There is no community in all of Poland whose commemoration does not give rise to a feeling of pain and sorrow, for what was and is no more. If, in each community where the mass-murderer and his German henchmen and collaborators from other nations carried out his devastation in various ways, then how much more so those communities that became centers of extermination, locales of colossal, ghastly death camps. The heartache is, therefore, comprehensible when we recall Oswiecim as only one of the many communities in Israel, as it existed, like the others, some 20 years before the Shoah, when the matters of Hachshara and Aliyah of its young people, the members of “Hechalutz” brought me there, and I beheld it and its vitality. Those impressions are etched in my memory. I will now make an attempt to describe it.
From childhood on the nameOswiecimwas certainly familiar to us in our birthplace quite distant from it. In the first place, because of the frequent use of the expression that was prevalent as a designation for a faraway place, for something one couldn't find or supply, to wit: “Even if you make the rounds of all Galicia, from Brody to Oswiecim”. We began to appreciate this saying much later when a teacher arrived, in the lower grades, to teach us about the history of the realm of the Habsburg Monarchy. In Galicia, by her map suspended on the wall, we actually saw these two cities as the extreme points on the longitude, one in the east and the other in the west. We used to puzzle over the fact that the faraway city was calledOshpitzinby the older people andOswiecimby the younger. Later on, in the higher grades, the teacher informed us that both names were of the same place. Oswiecim's suffix was characteristic in that area, akin to Okocim (a name well known to us by virtue of the beer produced there by Baron Getz [?] and available throughout Galicia) while Oshpitzin's derivation is from Auspitz. Both names are open to competing popular philological interpretations as either inferring supervision [German] or guests [Aramaic]. Indeed, much later in my studies, already in Gymnasia, the Jewish Studies teacher pointed out that it was Jewish practice to continue to use the ancient name of a place, and as one of many examples, Oshpitzin was included.
We [?] also remember that there were even other reasons given for the name,
as current among the Belzer Hasidim, my family among them. Its currency was due
to the Yeshiva that operated there, presided over by R Yehoshua Pinchas Bombach,
who was numbered among these Hasidim. It should be noted that the
institution of established Yeshivot was not the custom in Galicia, but its
Rabbis, especially the great ones, would each gather around his Torah table a
few Bachurim, especially those who were prodigies, to instruct them and later
ordain them. They became the vanguard filling the posts of Dayanim and Rabbis in
the Kehillas near and far. However, in our childhood period, the innovation
occurred and several Yeshivot were founded, among them the Yeshiva in Oshpitzin
and that of Brodszyn [?], distant from each other not only in geographic
terms but also in qualitative ones – the former invaded by the Haskala, while
the latter was hermetically sealed off by strictly pious Hasidism.
In order to sharpen the clarification of the difference between the two city names, allow me to explain it by the different ways my granduncle and grandmother, his sister, regarded it. My granduncle, a leading light of the Belzer Hasidim in our town, would praise Oshpitzin, which the Belzer Rebbe, R Issachar-Ber, himself would visit and stay at the home of the esteemed R Yakov Wulkan. Moreover, there was the story about one of his Hasidim, who had sent his son to study at a university, and the Rebbe reproved him for it, while the Hasid apologized explaining that his business affairs were much involved with gentiles requiring that his son be expert in accounting so as to safeguard his wealth by preventing fraud on their part. The Rebbe responded: “I visited a business larger than yours, the concern of R Yakov Wulkan, and I saw a gentile there sitting and tapping on a telegraph”. My grand-uncle added: “He meant, of course, a typewriter, but for the purpose of disparaging gentile practices did he say it that way”. My grandmother, on the other hand, would tell about the disgrace of Oswiecim –There was a clever waiter in my grandfather's inn, and several innkeepers from near and far envied him and tried to persuade the waiter to work for them – but he demurred. Until one day, when men of Oswiecim came and made a big party, got him drunk, and sneaked him out through a window, and when he awoke he found himself on a train to Oswiecim where he went to work for an excellent wage in a large tavern. When he returned to our village years later, his attitude towards the city was different than that of the Belzer Hasidim.
Indeed, bits of memory and thoughts of the past ran through my mind as I traveled by the night train to that city of double names, in order to work out the complicated and enervating matters of “Hechalutz” there. As I had already been in nearby towns, I was no longer surprised as I had been earlier, especially in Chrzanow, by the general atmosphere in West Galicia. For example, there were many families whose daughters attended the gentile schools and spoke Polish, and acted in relative freedom, while the sons knew only the teachings of the Bes Medrish, their clothes, the clothes of the pious, their Payes long, as if they came from different worlds. How far the external pressure had made its mark, one could learn from the fact that there were branches of “Hechalutz” whose members made a pretense of belonging to the milieu, which was then in vogue in the area, under the influence of the Rebbe of Bluzhew [Blazowa], known as the “Tiferes Bachurim”. These pretenders would gather furtively at the branch, climb up to the attic by ladder, which was then taken away. In that period the “Tiferet Bachurim” was powerful, especially since it was administered with a spirit of understanding of the youth's attraction to music and song, and some of these melodies had spread throughout the “Hechalutz” branches. Many years later, when I was in Tel Aviv, I would hear voices singing on Shabbat mornings, issuing from the basement of the synagogue in an alley off Dizengoff Street, and the melodies were Blazowa tunes, and some of these singers were the very same members of those “Hechalutz” branches.
The complication besetting the Oswiecim branch of “Hechalutz” when I visited there (5684 ) was primarily the quarrel between Krakow and Lwow on lines of authority, and the attendant problems of groups of Chalutzim whose impending Aliyah was of uttermost immediate urgency. With respect to the chain of authority – this was but a minor aspect of a greater dispute. The division of the two parts of Galicia was from the point of organizational unity of the Zionists only an aspect of the internal politics of Poland. If justifiable during the war between the Poles and Ukrainians, it was difficult to do so thereafter, especially from the viewpoint of the work on behalf of the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, there were parties and institutions such as the Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayemet, and even the Offices of the Land of Israel were separate entities as if there were two Lands of Israel. The Chalutz youth movements that were opposed to this separation naturally rebelled against this, and did so not only with reference to the two parts of Galicia, but to all of Poland. I want to mention this as I remember my great astonishment and my dissatisfaction: There was only a short distance between my birthplace Brody, which had belonged to Austria before the war, and the nearby town Radziwilow, which had belonged to Russia before the war, yet our “Hechalutz” branch belonged to Lwow while theirs belonged to Warsaw. The Aliyah contingent, “Brit El” which had been organized and was composed of Chaverim from both sides of the Goyim-border as it used to be, was required to split itself in two. We won't go into all of these aspects at this juncture as to who was interested in the maintenance of these divisions, and let it suffice to point out that those primarily concerned with Aliyah were not so inclined.
While we were attempting to unify the membership of “Hechalutz”, at least in Galicia, the opposing trend from outside the organization, to separate, grew more powerful. Thus, a special center for West Galicia was organized in Tarnow and an exceptional conference was called to convene in Krakow. I took pains to forewarn the assembly about the tremendous damage arising out of this unnecessary duplication, but it was almost in vain. The tendency towards separatism of some of the activists in “Hechalutz” and especially that of David Quadratstein was more powerful. A group of Chalutzim in Oswiecim was mired in this morass of authority, as they were under the aegis of the Lwow center, and which was denied by the Tarnow center which questioned their authority. Since I was responsible for this group, I had come to deal with the issue. I found a fine group of young men and women who were tremendously impatient for fear that their continued residence in their hometown and its lifestyle would weaken their resolve. They thoroughly believed that only through immediate Aliyah could they genuinely be rescued. I also want to mention that they were in contact with Chaverim who had made Aliyah earlier, and they too, in their letters, urged them to hurry. This was the situation then, as I recall my stay in Oswiecim, it seemed to me, that the entire city was seized in the grip of impatience and wanting to escape, as if the whole town, like these of it youth, felt the ground under their feet was in flames.
Our meeting was successful – a portion of the group, joined by members of the Rzeszow branch of “Hechalutz” went on Hachshara in East Galicia. Some found work in Belz, primarily in the coal-yards of the writer Yosef Falk, and reinforced the position of “Hechalutz” in that city of Hasidim. I noted in my foreword to Falk's works, which were published recently, how great was the agitation of the venerable lion, R Uri Lukman [?], who had been the Gabai of three Belzer Tzadikim, when he saw the Chalutzim working in the coal-yards at loading and unloading. When he discovered that I was involved he denounced me by saying: “We have become as Sodom!” [Isaiah I,9]. When I told Yosef Falk about that, he explained: They are accustomed to apply the text to us, the rebels, but in multiplying the comparisons they have forgotten the danger of the evil decree itself, and even more so the warning: Escape lest ye perish! [Gen. 19,17]
I am often reminded of that minor incident, and so also is Yosef Falk. It was a delight to meet those Chalutzim from Oswiecim and Rzeszow who settled in Tel Aviv or visited there. There is another reminder I have: A set of photographs of a group of the first Oswiecim Chalutzim at the graveside of Netter in Mikveh Yisrael and pictures of individuals (Shmuel Bochner, Dov Weinheber, Moshe Kalman Weinheber, Yakov Weiner, D'vorah Silberstein, Sarah Jakubowitz), and I handed them over to the Oswiecim Landsmanshaft, in memory of those who were among the first to heed the warning: Escape lest ye perish, and escaped, and they remain the very few of the Kehilla which suffered such a bitter end.
Jerusalem, Shevat 5737 
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