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The Jewish Community of Pabianice
until World War I

 

The Tortured Jewish Community of Pabianice:
A Historical Overview

 

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Written by M.W. Kochman (Tel Aviv)

 

I remember our dear Jewish community of Pabianice with a painful and deep sigh. The name Pabianice, which has always been connected with so many happy and peaceful experiences – with so much of the joy of youth – is now recalled by us with the deep sorrow felt by the mourner. We stand with deeply bowed heads before the disaster that has touched us all.

Our hearts overflow with endless sorrow. We are ruled by feelings of anguish and anger when we remember what happened to our Jewish community of Pabianice.

The twelve thousand Jews of Pabianice were our dear and unforgettable parents, brothers and sisters who were tortured by the Germans. The ash of their gassed and burnt bodies is spread over all the fields of Poland. There is no longer any sign, any memory of their existence. Even the grave markers of those who died before the war are no longer there. Together with the Polish anti–Semites, the Germans stole our holy gravestones and used them as footpaths. The rich, colourful Jewish life of a hardworking community was pitilessly and tragically erased. It is lost forever.

* * *

Pabianice is a neighbouring city to Lodz, known as the Polish Manchester. Here hundreds of textile factories were created and tapped to the commercial beat while their manufactured fabric spread throughout Poland and other countries. Jews contributed their energies to the industries of Pabianice and for many years they helped the city to grow and develop.

Jewish Pabianice, like the larger Jewish community of Lodz, had a short history. Jews first began to settle in this solidly Catholic town when the textile industry began to develop there. Despite the newness of the community, Jewish Pabianice blossomed with the whole cultural and communal treasure of Polish Jewry.

Little Jewish Pabianice had a Hebrew secondary school with hundreds of Jewish students, a primary school, synagogues; it had a “Hazomir” [Yiddish cultural organization], a library, Jewish workers' organizations, trade unions, Jewish sports clubs and philanthropic organizations such as the old aged home and the hospital. This small community had its own Yiddish weekly newspaper, which was published up until the outbreak of World War II. This newspaper reflected the local Jewish communal and financial life. There was also a Jewish bank, which supported the Jewish artisans, the shopkeepers and small factory owners. Thousands of Jewish and Christian workers were employed in the Jewish factories.

The two Jewish weavers' co–ops gave work to dozens of Jewish families.

This is how the hardworking Jews of Pabianice lived and worked.

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Jews were only twenty percent of the local population, but their vibrant life influenced the entire city. The so–called “Ragotka” teemed with Jewish life. From morning till night it was always full of factory owners, merchants from almost all of Poland, porters, wagon drivers and agents. Everything was creative and lively.

 

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Pabianice Jews on the Ragotka

 

The city park and the avenues in the new part of town were full of Jewish faces every yom–tov.

This pulsating life of Jewish Pabianice was squashed and destroyed by the German hordes, who arrived like a wild storm. The Germans brought to pass what generations of wild local anti–Semites, who wanted to be rid of all Jews, could only have dreamt of. And Jewish Pabianice ceased to exist.

* * *

We remember our destroyed community with great respect, and also the holy ones of Pabianice. The Jews in the Pabianice Ghetto were surrounded by armed as well as civilian Germans, so the idea of carrying out an uprising was stillborn. Individuals amongst the Jews of Pabianice, however, have inscribed their names for eternity with their heroic actions.

Who does not remember the glowing figure of Lejbl Pakyn? He left Pabianice for Paris before the war. During the German occupation he led a partisan group in France and fell in battle. The Poles thanked him by naming a street in Pabianice in his memory.

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Let us remember here the martyr Szlama Zelichowski. He was a simple Jew from a Chassidic family. He himself was also a Chassid. The Nazi beasts hanged him in Zdunska Wolja. His courage surprised his hangmen. He went to the gallows singing and dancing, with his head held high. His heroic death was eternalised in a poem by the tragically murdered poet from Lodz, Jichak Kacenelson.

Let us also remember the heroic sons of Pabianice, who fell in battle for the independence of the Jewish State.

We, the remaining remnants of the tortured Jewish community of Pabianice, will eternally remember the martyrs of Pabianice, whose names are engraved in our hearts forever.

We want our yiskor book to tell the story of the life, the rich cultural activities and the tragic end of the Jewish settlement in Pabianice. Let this yiskor book stand as a community memorial over the invisible mass graves of our dear Jewish community of Pabianice.

* * *

Pabianice and its Jewish settlement

Pabianice is one of the oldest settlements in Poland. During the rule of the first Polish kings of the Piast dynasty, the location of the current city of Pabianice and its surrounds were the personal property of the local nobleman. In the year 1086, Judita, the wife of the nobleman Wladyslaw Herman, granted ownership of the area to the Krakow church. From then on until the second partition of Poland (1793), Pabianice belonged to the bishops of Krakow. In 1796, Pabianice was taken over by the Prussians.

Pabianice was declared to be a city during the fourteenth century. Since the small river Dobzinka (previously known as the Nerec) flowed through the city, the area was ripe for development. In 1411 and 1432, King Wladyslaw Jagiello visited the city. In 1463, King Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk visited together with his wife and court.

After two major fires that occurred in 1513 and 1532, the city was rebuilt. Various artisans settled there and the number of market days was increased.

During the second half of the sixteenth century two major stone buildings appeared in Pabianice. They are standing to this very day. They are the castle, which is now the City Hall, and the Church of the Holy Saint Matthew.

During the sixteenth century a number of Jewish settlements had developed in the cities and towns of Poland. Although Pabianice was already a city with artisans and merchants, Jews were forbidden to settle there. Instead, Jews usually settled in Central Poland – in the towns around Warsaw and Lublin – where they could do business with the larger centres. At that time, Pabianice had no connection with the larger cities and Lodz was just a village. Pabianice was also a “priests' city” that belonged to the bishops of Krakow. These reasons combined to ensure that Jews were not free to develop a community in Pabianice.

Jews only began to settle in Pabianice after the second partition of Poland, when the city and the surrounding region fell under Prussian rule. Jews would normally stream from one Jewish settlement to another, but couldn't have wandered into Pabianice at that time, because the city was separated from other Jewish settlements the entire time that it was under Prussian rule. At that time, too, Pabianice was so poor that it could not support new settlers.

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A Polish–language history of the district tells us that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought disasters to Pabianice, such as fires and robberies by the Polish, Swedish, Saxon and Prussian armies. As a result, the city went downhill. Once the Prussians took over Pabianice after the second partition of Poland, they considered reclassifying the city as a village because it was so poor. No Jews would have settled there under such conditions.

The Jewish community of Pabianice only began to develop when Lodz and the surrounding area became the home of the Polish textile industry.

In 1807, after Napoleon drove the Prussians out of Poland, Pabianice belonged to the Count of Warsaw. There was a local Jewish settlement there from that time. Pabianice had twenty–seven Jewish inhabitants in 1808, while Lodz had fifty–eight Jewish inhabitants. The role of Jews in the city's financial life grew from that time on.

In 1815 Pabianice became a part of Congress Poland. The city thrived. Now is the time we first have evidence of branches of the weaving industry having developed and the government of the day beginning to assign and to rent out its newly acquired weavers, who originally came from Saxony and Silesia. Owners were given free building materials and tax abatements in order to encourage the development of the weaving industry. At first weavers worked individually on their own looms, but soon their facilities expanded and dozens of workers who worked on handlooms were employed.

At this time Jews began to join branches of the new weaving industry in Pabianice.

* * *

Jews in the Pabianice textile industry

The first records of Jewish participation in the Pabianice textile industry are dated 1825. In October of that year, the head of the Kalisz gubernatorial commission signed an agreement with two Jews from Kalisz (Josef Redlich and his son–in–law Ludwig Mamrot). They were to build industrial camps on the Kalisz gubernatorial lands except for the city Czestachowa. The entrepreneurs undertook to provide appropriate working facilities for the weavers and to build industrial camps in Pabianice and Turek.

It is clear from the complaints that flowed in about Mamrot that the Kalisz merchants set up these camps in Pabianice and did extensive business there. Mamrot owned businesses throughout the province of Kalisz and opened a branch in Pabianice. There is no doubt that this branch was left in Jewish hands. Mamrot would have brought Jews into the textile industry. Those familiar with the history of the development of the textile industry know that this kind of business led to the construction of looms. This is exactly what happened in the 1820s in Pabianice. Thanks to Mamrot, Jews entered textile production.

Mamrot was not the only one who built such camps in Pabianice. During the years 1824–1831, there were plenty of Jewish merchants in Lodz who ran their own camps. It is also certain that they found their way to Pabianice just as Mamrot did, since it is only fourteen kilometres from Lodz. So, during the 1820s, Pabianice already boasted a large number of Jewish textile firms. Jews from all over began to participate in the financial life of Pabianice. In 1828 three Jews (Abram Szefner, Kochanski and Szmuel Segal) bought the right to collect taxes in Pabianice. In order to do this they must have been wealthy enough to be able to guarantee the tax total with their own money – as was required of tax

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collectors in those days. This would not have been a way of making a living for the majority of Jews in Pabianice. As the textile industry developed in Pabianice, so did the Jewish participation in Pabianice.

By the years 1835–1840, Pabianice could already boast of having eighteen Jewish factory owners, the so called “Middlemen” or “Manipulators”, who subcontracted to local weavers.

The entry of Jews into the textile industry inflamed the anger of the newly arrived Germans. These first owners of weaving and spinning factories saw the Jews as their competition. The main battle between Germans and Jews in the textile industry occurred in Lodz, where Jews were simply not allowed to settle at all at first. This struggle was waged in the form of anti–Jewish complaints filed with the Russian rulers. It then spread throughout the province of Lodz and was turned against the Jewish textile barons of Pabianice.

Complaints against Jewish merchants appeared as early as 1829. We know that Josef Mamrot already had camps in Pabianice. The head of the Mozowsze Provincial Committee, Rajmond Rembelynski, who was one of the foremost developers of Polish industry, attacked Mamrot out of anti–Semitic motives. Mamrot was accused of using imported raw materials in his camps, thus competing unfairly against native industries.

According to the documents that Dr. Phillip Friedman cites in his “History of Jews in Lodz”, Mamrot, one of the earliest Jewish textile industrialists in Pabianice, was not a speculator – which is how the anti–Semite Rembelynski portrays him. Actually, Mamrot was a pioneer of the textile industry in Pabianice. This wealthy Jew kept many Pabianice artisans on their feet – those who had come from Silesia and what is now the Czech Republic.

Mamrot supported the weavers with raw materials for a whole winter, even continuing to pay wages. He only asked for the spun goods in April, when he transported them to his hometown, Kalisz. There they were dyed and carded. Thanks to this Jewish businessman from Kalisz, the spinners of Pabianice were able to survive and to continue developing the local textile industry.

The report of the Kalisz Provincial Commission in the year 1826 indicates clearly:

“The beginning of the development of the cotton industry was not the same as that of the wool industry. One of the main reasons for this was that there was then no entrepreneur who could supply the spinners and then buy up the raw merchandise, finish it and sell it on.”

Such entrepreneurs appeared only later, amongst both Christians and Jews. The entrepreneurial activity of Jewish capitalists, however, upset the German textile entrepreneurs, who again saw Jews only as competitors. They received the full support of the Polish state administration in this struggle. This was the reason for the battle that was waged against Mamrot, the first great Jewish textile baron in Pabianice and in Lodz.

The more that Jews entered the textile industry in Pabianice as merchants and as middlemen, the more non–Jewish weavers hated the Jewish entrepreneurs. We know that in 1835–1840, Pabianice had eighteen Jewish middlemen and entrepreneurs. It is not known how many Christian weavers were employed by them. There were no Jewish weavers at this time. Yet without a doubt, the number of Christians who worked for Jews was large at this time. Every entrepreneur employed a large number of weaver–families and home workers. This was the basis of the hatred of Jewish businessmen, especially during the years when the young Polish textile industry first encountered economic crisis.

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The 1840s witnessed a financial crisis that particularly affected the textile industry in the Lodz region. It was a normal capitalist crisis. There was over–production and no market willing to take the excess off the entrepreneurs' hands. Those Poles who had once been employed weavers, were now factory owners, thanks to the activities of the Jewish middlemen and speculators. They had no capital to last out the crisis, however, and had to resort again to the Jewish entrepreneurs – who had both capital and raw materials at hand. Of course, unemployment and need arose among the apprentice weavers as a result. As usual, a hunt began to identify those who were guilty and the guilt was pinned on – the Jews.

It all began with complaints against Jewish wholesalers from Pabianice, Lodz and other cities. They were accused of smuggling in raw materials from other countries and of competing with the local spinneries. Jewish factory owners were accused of being “factory owners without factories”. This is how the situation faced by the weavers was described in the “Protocol” of 13 June 1844:

“Today the weavers themselves go into the Jewish shops to ask them to buy up whatever they have made. The shopkeepers push them out the door and, supposedly out of feelings of humanity, when they see the need of the weavers, buy up their goods at a price that doesn't cover the production costs. Or the shopkeepers pay them with raw materials so that they can continue to weave, together with a small sum of money, depending on the size of the woven goods.”

These complaints about Jewish entrepreneurs relate to Lodz, where the main battle between German textile factory owners and Jewish middlemen was fought. The situation was similar throughout the province of Lodz and especially in Pabianice, which was an important textile centre, second only to Lodz and Zgierz. In 1844, Pabianice had a hundred and eighty–seven weavers, Zdunska Wolja had thirty weavers and Kalisz had fifty–one weavers. Pabianice was mentioned in every complaint by weavers against Jewish middlemen.

The battle against the entrance of Jews into the textile industry continued without result. The German factory owners and the anti–Semitic Polish state administration did not succeed in pushing the Jews out of the positions that they had taken up in the young textile industry. In Pabianice, as in neighbouring Lodz, Jewish participation in this industry continued to grow, as evidenced in the following table:

The Growth of Jewish Participation in the Pabianice Textile Industry

Year Jewish Entrepreneurs Total no of employees in Jewish factories Total no of non-Jewish factories Percentage of Jewish factories
1835-1840 18 businessmen give work to home-workers ? ?
1867 9 factories 259 7 55.5

 

Together   with the growth of Jewish participation in the Pabianice textile industry, the Jewish population of this city also grew, as evidenced by this table:

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The Growth of the Jewish Population of Pabianice:

Year # of Jews # of Christians Comments
1808 27 ? Friedman
1856 745 3,487 Russian Jewish Encyclopedia, Letter P
1897 5,017 26,765 Russian Jewish Encyclopedia, Letter P
1921 7,230 22,436 K. Staszewski, “Ill. Pszewodnyk

 

From 1808 to 1856 – during a period of forty–eight years – the Jewish population of Pabianice expanded over twenty–seven times. After 1856, the growth of the Jewish population was less explosive. From 1856 to 1897 – during a period of thirty–nine years – the Jewish population of Pabianice expanded to seven times its size. Similar growth could be seen in Jewish communities throughout the province of Lodz. The increase in the Jewish population at this time was not so explosive, because Lodz, the growing textile centre, attracted most of the Jews who wished to shift into this area.

As in all towns, the first Jews in Pabianice organised a Jewish community life. We have no knowledge of the activities of the early Pabianice Jewish community or whether or not it could at first support a rabbi and a Jewish cemetery. We do know that, in 1847, the local Jews built a synagogue. It was rebuilt in 1880. The street on which it stood was named Shul Street by the local authorities.

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The first Jewish weavers in Pabianice

We know when the Jews of Pabianice began to enter the textile industry, though we know very little about when the local Jews entered the weaving trade, either as apprentices or as master–weavers. The so–called “speculators” were not necessarily weavers by trade. Every merchant could become a “speculator” by purchasing raw materials in Lodz and outsourcing the work of weaving it to Christian weavers in Pabianice.

The memoirs of our townsman Jehojszua Birnbojm give a picture of the first Jewish weavers in Pabianice. He tells that in 1849, his grandfather, a master–weaver with a diploma, came to Pabianice from the town Krymelow. Birnbojm's grandfather, Szymon Friszman, must have been one of the first weavers in Pabianice. During the 1850s and 1860s, Jews came into the weaving trade as workers. Historian Phillip Friedman wrote that in the year 1860, Lodz had twenty–eight self–employed Jewish master–weavers who employed an additional two hundred and thirty workers. This averages out to more than eight employees per master–weaver. Since the development of Pabianice as a textile centre ran parallel to the development of the same industry in Lodz, we can accept that at this time – that is, in the 1850s and 1860s – Pabianice also entered the weaving trade.

Jews considered weaving on a handloom to be nicer and more acceptable than other trades, such as shoemaking, tailoring and others. A master–weaver who employed apprentices could easily become a factory owner. Some of the first Jewish weavers actually became factory owners later and did outsource work to other weavers who owned individual handlooms and took in outsourced work

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in this way, Jews from Pabianice entered the weaving industry. It is worthwhile to note the names of the first Jewish factory owners who employed weavers that worked on handlooms: Kopl Lewycki and Baruch Majer Koruchowicz.

* * *

By the end of the nineteenth century, Pabianice was a city similar to all the surrounding cities and towns. However, it was located close to the major textile centre Lodz, with its dynamic strength and its potential power. These attributes made Lodz the largest textile centre in Poland and earned it the name of the “Polish Manchester”

Pabianice was heavily influenced by its close neighbour Lodz and was able to grow thanks to the great commercial impetus of this city. Beginning with the original handlooms that were owned by German immigrants, weaving developed into a large industry in which Pabianice Jews undertook an important role in all its aspects. Jews were factory owners, master–weavers and apprentices. The number of wooden handlooms increased. The factory owners developed and enlarged their establishments by increasing the number of handlooms used and by hiring more employees.

In 1850, the German Benjamin Kruscha brought the first steam–driven machine into our town and also the first mechanised looms. This revolutionised the handloom industry, not all at once, but over a period of time. At first it did not affect the Jewish weavers, who all worked at handlooms. With their qualifications and their abilities – especially in producing tablecloths, woollen covers and delicates – Jewish weavers could still compete.

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The growth of the Jewish weaver–proletariat and its struggle against the entrepreneurs

There was a call throughout the towns of the district for handloom weavers needed by the city of Pabianice. Since this was not considered to be a Jewish trade, young men arrived from close by and from faraway, in order to learn the trade. They hoped to become master–weavers or even wealthy factory owners. At this time, a strong desire to become productive workers had begun in the community and the weaving trade was considered to be more suited to the “better” Jewish young men. Jewish factory owners from Lodz, who couldn't find enough qualified hand–weavers there, brought work to the Pabianice weavers. This meant that the weaver received the raw materials and an example of what he was to weave, so he would know what the factory owner expected of him. They wove woollen and cotton clothing fabric, bedding, and headscarves of various types and colours, among other things.

The greater use of outsource weavers in Pabianice increased the number of middlemen, as we know from the earlier chapters. These middlemen were known as “smarter” weavers. The “smarter” ones took loads of raw materials from the Lodz factory owners and gave them to Jewish and non–Jewish hand–weavers to be woven into the above–mentioned textiles in return for payment. In this way, a class of employed weavers developed and a class of middlemen developed.

This system was worthwhile for the Lodz factory owners because, instead of having to deal with dozens of weavers, they dealt with a few middlemen, which was more satisfactory than dealing with the individual weavers. The middleman took the raw materials from the factory owner and was paid either according to the number of weavers to whom he outsourced the work, or according to the amount of finished work received by the factory owner.

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As the weaving industry developed, it became more and more clear that there were not enough qualified hands available. The master–weavers, who owned their own handlooms, went out to other Polish cities, including Lask, Dzaloszyn, Stercew, Widawa, Piotrkow, and Lowicz, and returned with many young men of between fifteen and twenty years of age, to whom they taught the trade. They supplied them with room and board for the duration of their apprenticeships, which lasted from two to three years. After this the young men worked as “term boys” for about six months or from yom– tov to yom–tov. Later they became journeyman weavers.

At first these journeymen earned well and were able to settle down. They were referred to then as the “Princes' children” because, compared with other workers and by the standards of the time, they lived like “princes”. It didn't take long, however, before exploitation set in. They began to work long hours (up to fifteen hours a day) for very low salaries. They also worked on Thursday nights and Saturday nights from Havdala [the end of the Sabbath] until midnight. This was usually the schedule of the apprentices.

The master–weavers agreed amongst themselves that if an apprentice, exploited in this way, left his master before the end of his contract, no one else would employ him. The so–called law for the protection of workers, which existed during tsarist times, did not require anything of the master– weavers or masters in other Jewish trades. There were examples of very inappropriate behaviour towards apprentices. It went so far that the tsarist authorities were forced to punish such behaviour. One master–weaver named Vovele was sent to Siberia after he ripped off the ear of an apprentice with a poker, because the boy forgot to come to work on a Saturday night. You can imagine how inappropriate some of the behaviour was when the tsarist authorities felt that they had to protect Jewish apprentice weavers, who came from the lowest rungs of the Jewish population.

In later years amongst Jewish weavers, a movement began which stood up for the rights of apprentices. Jewish workers began to organize themselves into political parties like the Jewish Labour Bund and the Polish Socialist Party. Jewish apprentices began to understand that they were being exploited by the masters and fought against the violence that was perpetrated against them.

At first the Jewish master–weavers were afraid of the workers' organizations, and they began to organize members of the underworld to help them. With the aid of some of these violent characters, the masters tried to continue mistreating their workers. There were occasions when employees had to pay these gangsters part of their salaries in order to avoid being set upon in the street. There were even occasions when, if a worker had the nerve to go for a walk with a girl, the gangsters demanded a payout from him. He would have to forfeit part of his earnings for the right to go for a walk with his girl.

The battle between the workers and the gangsters occurred mostly before the Revolution of 1905. It occurred not only in our city, Pabianice, but also in Warsaw, Lodz, Radom, Czestachowa, and in all the factory cities. At this time, the workers' parties began to deploy strong means against the Jewish hooligans. Often it came to bloody hand–to–hand combat. Of course, the police were on the side of the gangsters, who convinced them that the Jewish workers were organising strikes and revolutions, and also wanted to depose the Tsar.

Two workers parties competed for the support of Christian workers in Poland at this time. They were the Polish Socialist Party [P.P.S.] and the National Workers' Party [N.P.R.]. The National Workers' Party was an anti–Semitic movement that stirred up the Polish workers against Jews in general whenever they got the chance, and against Jewish workers in particular, saying that they stole bread from Polish workers. This led to bloody attacks on Jews. The Polish Socialist Party, whose official program was free of anti–Semitism, ignored anti–Jewish violence so as not to lose its influence over

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Polish workers. The anti–Semitic National Workers' Party protected the Jewish gangsters and helped them to carry out their attacks on Jewish workers.

After many battles the underworld gangsters were defeated and driven from the workers' streets. Then the Jewish workers began to organise themselves into trade unions and to fight for better work conditions. The workday was limited to ten hours a day. Salaries also improved.

These good times did not last for long. Tsarist reaction strangled the Revolution of 1905. The situation of employed weavers worsened. This led to a crisis which passed fairly quickly. Greater Russia and even distant China once again demanded weaving from the industry in Pabianice and in Lodz. The industry became more and more mechanised. The wealthier factory owners began to import mechanised looms, which produced much more fabric than the old handlooms. This led to more confusion within the industry. People thought that the day of the handloom had passed forever, at a time when most Jewish workers were employed as hand–weavers.

Jews were not employed in the newly built mechanised factories. Due to their anti–Semitism, the non–Jewish factory owners would not hire Jewish workers. The Jewish factory owners claimed to be too pious to allow their fellow Jews to work on the Sabbath, and their factories, like those of the non– Jews, ran from Monday to Saturday. They didn't want their Jewish employees to become “goyim” or to allow them to desecrate the Sabbath. This was, of course, an excuse. The factory employees had all been Jewish up to this point and they had all worked almost all day on Saturdays. The true reason why the owners didn't want to employ Jewish workers was that Jews were more socially aware and were less likely to accept exploitation than the Christian workers, most of whom came from backward villages.

The entrepreneurs were afraid that if Jewish workers were allowed into their factories, strikes would occur and this would affect their pockets badly. But not allowing Jewish employees to work in their factories did not help them much. The Polish labour parties started a campaign amongst the Christian weavers to teach them how to demand better conditions. This led to many economic strikes. Although the Jewish factory owners made use of force and terror, they were forced to meet the workers' demands. There was a case in Lodz, where the Jewish factory owner Zylbersztejn was tortured to death during one such strike. All of these events convinced the Jewish factory owners that their fear of Jewish employees was needless. Then they began, one at a time, to hire Jewish workers in their factories.

Once individual Jewish workers entered the factories, the Christian workers revolted. They felt that the Jewish workers were taking away their jobs. Many distressing conflicts occurred between Jewish and Christian workers. The Christian workers used to go out on strike and keep the factories from producing when Jewish owners hired Jewish workers. The final compromise was that Jews would only be employed in newly built factories.

Jews were not allowed to work in factories in Pabianice, nor in Lodz or Bialystok. These events forced Jewish weavers to think about mechanising their handlooms. Those who could afford it bought two mechanised looms on the never–never and took on work in their homes from the Lodz factory owners. It was difficult to run two mechanised looms.

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There were as yet no electric motors available, and connecting the looms to a factory with a steam motor was not easy. Therefore, the idea of communal mechanical weaving factories was born. The first one to realise this project was the Pabianice inhabitant Mojsze Dambek. He built a factory in his home on Tuszyn Street in 1907. Twenty mechanised looms and a petrol motor were fitted in. Later he built a large factory by combining shops that could fit over a hundred looms.

Others followed Mojsze Dambek's example and built factories that could be rented out to individual weavers. In this manner, a number of communal factories were built and got work from the Lodz factory owners. It was worth their while to weave their fabrics in Pabianice, because it was much cheaper to do it there than in the Lodz factories.

Moving over from handlooms to power–looms continued until 1914 in Pabianice. Once World War I began, the development of the textile industry was interrupted in the region around Lodz and, of course, in Pabianice. When the Germans occupied Poland, they closed down all the textile factories in the Lodz region by removing both the raw materials and the machines. The Germans, after all, were expecting to win the war.

* * *

Jewish life in Pabianice during World War I

Before the outbreak of World War I, Pabianice had fifty thousand inhabitants and was one of the largest textile–factory towns near Lodz. The city had large capitalist businesses, such as the textile firm of Krusza, Ender, a paper factory, chemical factories and others. Jews owned the textile factory of B.M. Baruch. Jews were active in all industries, but especially within the textile industry. Officially, six thousand, five hundred and thirty–nine Jews lived in Pabianice in 1914, but this is certainly not accurate. We know that in 1896 Pabianice had five thousand and seventeen Jewish inhabitants. If we were to accept the official statistics for 1914 – six thousand five hundred and thirty–nine Jewish inhabitants – that would mean that during the eighteen years from 1896, the Jewish population of Pabianice grew only by about one thousand individuals. During these eighteen years Pabianice grew financially and the general population almost doubled. Therefore, it is improbable that the Jewish population did not grow in the same proportion as the Christian population. We estimate then that, before the outbreak of World War I, Pabianice must have had about ten thousand Jewish inhabitants.

During the war, the number of Jewish inhabitants in Pabianice fell dramatically. The Lodz region was on the front line between the withdrawing Russian army and the advancing German army. The encirclement of Lodz in December 1914 also affected Pabianice badly. Jews ran from the city to save themselves wherever they could. Then came the German occupation. The textile industry was ruined. The Jewish weavers suffered most of all, because they did not receive even the basic support that Polish workers received.

Most Polish workers, who came from villages, returned to their families, while the Jews, who returned to Pabianice after the encirclement, now suffered from hunger and need.

Jewish society began to get used to the war conditions. They organised consumer co–operatives that were headed by Joska Dawidowicz and Fiszel Rosensztejn. They were able to feed the

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Jewish population to a limited degree through their shops. The German occupation authorities rationed food through a system of cards, but the co–operatives attempted to purchase food in the villages to supplement the limited amount of food that the Germans allowed.

Of course, the co–operatives were only able to serve those parts of the Jewish population that could afford to buy food. The workers continued to starve. On their own initiative they created, together with the writer of these lines, a “workers' home”, which was a self–help institution. This institution opened a “tea hall” and an inexpensive kitchen, where everyone could purchase a cup of tea with bread for one kopek or at dinner–time a soup with bread for five kopeks.

The “Workers' Home” was located in a large hall which was rented from a Jew named Czerkoski on Popzeczna Street. Once the tea hall and the kitchen were functioning on a regular basis, the organization created a cultural section with a library of over a thousand Yiddish books and a reading room where everyone could read the daily newspapers and the periodical press.

Dr. Josef Szwarcwasser settled in Pabianice at this time. He had served in the Russian army, was taken prisoner by the Germans and was then freed. (He lived in Israel, where he Hebraised his name to Dr. Ben Renan). The doctor was very capable. His greatest action was the revival of Zionist activities amongst us. He gave scientific lectures that were always successful. Finally, his lectures ceased due to party differences within the “Workers' Home” between the Bund, the Poeli Zion and the Polish Socialist Party. Each of the parties wanted to have hegemony within the organization.

Cultural activities continued after Dr. Szwarcwasser left town. We created a drama group which occasionally staged plays from the Yiddish and also from the general repertoire. They staged “The Great Win” by Sholem Aleichem, Strindberg's “Father”, “The Yeshiva Boy”, Gordin's “God, Man and Devil” and others. Any profits went to buy books for the library of the “Workers' Home”, which served all the Yiddish readers in Pabianice.

* * *

The founding of the Artisans' Union

Of course there were other Jewish artisans in Pabianice as well as the weavers. There were three kinds of tailors: those who sewed for the peasants and sold their work at fairs (which occurred twice a week in Pabianice, on Tuesdays and Fridays) and at annual markets in the surrounding towns; those who sewed for wealthier clients – workers and employees; and those who only sewed to order for factory owners, other householders and for better situated office–holders. All in all, Pabianice had about two hundred and fifty Jewish tailors until World War I. There was a similar division amongst the shoemakers. Besides these main trades, Pabianice Jews were also employed as roofers and carpenters, although there were relatively few of these, because Christians were mostly employed in these trades. There were also those who worked in the traditional Jewish trades, such as watchmakers and hat–makers.

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In 1915, during the German occupation, the Jewish artisans organised and created an Artisans' Union, which developed a good reputation and had about five hundred members. The Artisans' Union also organised cultural activities and created a drama group that staged a few plays under the direction of Wolf Bresler. They also created a communal lending society, which loaned money to artisans without interest.

* * *

Pabianice revived after World War I. The textile industry began to develop again. Once again Jewish weavers faced the old problems. Until the mechanised looms were brought back and the owners could purchase suitable machinery, the old handlooms were revived which enabled Jewish weavers to make a living for a short while. Then they again had to face the issue of power–looms.

The small mechanised factories were once again created. In 1920 the Employed Weavers' Union was founded. It carried out a mighty community–wide struggle against the Jewish factory owners, who did not want to employ Jewish workers.

The Artisans' Union also extended its activities and played an active role in the mighty struggle that the Jewish artisans in Poland waged against laws that were used to harm them economically. In Pilsudski's Poland [1926–1936], there were laws that aimed to ruin the Jewish population financially and to reinforce the hatred of the Polish artisan for his Jewish comrade. Jews fought off these attacks, but the anti–Semitic governmental campaigns in Poland and later the laws forbidding kosher slaughter laid the foundation for the coming German policy of wiping the Jews out totally, rather than just discriminating against them.

* * *

Jewish Pabianice:
Sketches and Memoirs

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Written by Engineer D. Dawidowicz (Tel Aviv)

Dedicated to the members of my sacred family
– who were murdered, down to the youngest child

 

The founding of the Jewish Community and the Synagogue

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Jews began to stream into Pabianice from neighbouring Jewish communities such as Lask, Lutomirsk, Tuszyn and Konstantyn. They also came from more distant communities, such as Lenczyc and Kalisz.

Even when Jews finally were allowed to live in our city, they still were not allowed to have their own cemetery. The tombstones from the old Jewish cemeteries of Lask and Tuszyn actually tell us about the first Jews of Pabianice, who came to their final rest in these neighbouring towns.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, quite a few Jews could be found in the old city – the first sign of a Jewish community in Pabianice. And as is common amongst Jews over generations, once the foundation of the young community was laid, they began to build a synagogue – a place for prayer and for study.

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In 1849, Jewish stonemasons, carpenters, locksmiths and roofers began to build a synagogue on a narrow square in the old city, on the street that was later known as Shul Street. They undertook a difficult job and they had to wage a bitter battle against the Christian population, which did not want to agree to the building of a synagogue and especially not to one built by Jewish artisans.

 

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The main synagogue of Pabianice

 

Old residents of Pabianice told stories that they had heard from their parents about the case of the stone synagogue (unusual for that time) that was built from top to bottom by Jewish hands. But the non–Jews did not cease their resistance. During the day the Jews built the shul and at night the non– Jews would tear down the freshly built walls. The first Jews of Pabianice then decided to guard their as yet unfinished synagogue at night. So the night was for watching and the day was for building, until the sacred building was finished.

The outside of the synagogue was grey. The front was similar to that of other synagogues in central Poland. The top of the building was crowned by a sphere (as was mentioned in the biblical Book of Ezekiel), decorated with blue ornaments in the form of fantastic flowers and fruit, reminiscent of the

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thousand–year–old decorations, carved in stone, that are found on the ruins of ancient synagogues excavated in the Galilee in Israel.

Inside, the synagogue was richly painted. The walls and the ceiling dazzled the eye with their colourful paintings of folk motives taken from the legendary world of animals, birds and flowers, intertwined with quotes from the sacred books. These fresco paintings were truly Jewish – an artistic creation of the first Pabianice folk–artist, Majer Rosensztejn.

The synagogue was divided into three sections: the wooden part of the shul, the vestibule with its little winter room where we used to pray on cold winter mornings; an older section near the Western Wall for the congregation; and the Eastern part, which was built on years later. Around three of the walls (all except the Eastern Wall) stood the balcony of the women's section, which was separated from the men's section by a beautiful carved wood mechitza and hidden by thin white tulle.

In the middle of the shul was the four–columned lectern, which was enclosed with a cast iron wall and two doors that were decorated with lions. Between the two windows on the Eastern Wall was the richly decorated and large Holy Ark, which was carved out of wood and covered with delicate colours – a masterpiece in the Moorish style that was created by the same artist who spent years building the Holy Ark and the famous “German shul” in nearby Lodz. Between the stairs that led to the Holy Ark was the small lectern, which was decorated with a world full of fantastic animals. Two of the lions held aloft a seven–armed menorah.

Through the colourful glass windows shining with all the colours of the rainbow, light rays used to cover the synagogue and the congregation with fantastically coloured light. During afternoon prayers you would think that light from far–off worlds was shining into the sacred place of this young community.

* * *

The first Jews in the textile industry

Like their brothers living in Poland, the Jews of Pabianice had behind them a tradition of work, trade and business. Generations of Jewish tailors and hat–makers worked for Polish peasants and urban citizens. The richly painted wooden synagogues in hundreds of cities and towns in Poland were built and decorated by Jewish artisans and artists.

When German immigrants began to develop the textile industry in the Lodz district, Jews immediately became active in new trades despite the negative attitude of the privileged Germans and discrimination from the tsarist and Polish authorities. Jewish workers in Pabianice, Konstantyn, Zdunska–Wolja, Zelow and Bechatow learned new methods of weaving very quickly and instituted improvements of their own. They also accommodated themselves to the new tempo of the young textile industry.

It is with these weavers that the history of Jewish factory labour began in Pabianice.

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After barely twenty or thirty years had passed, the small provincial city changed and became a city full of factories that employed thousands of labourers. The Jews of Pabianice held a respectable position in the developing textile industry. The first Jewish weavers, the “chalupnikes”, worked on simple handlooms in their narrow, tiny homes. The first Jewish factory owners developed from this group and built mechanised looms.

About a hundred years ago, the first known Jewish factory owner (in the broadest sense of the word) appeared in Pabianice. His name was Baruch Majer Baruch. He was a Jew with an amazing entrepreneurial spirit in the textile industry. His son Jisroel (or Isidore) built a factory that ran on steam and employed dozens of workers on his mechanised looms. After Baruch, the Jewish industrialist Herszl (or Herman) Faust made a reputation for himself as one of the first leaders of the Jewish community in Pabianice. His factory employed hundreds of labourers, some of whom were Jewish, and who came from other communities.

We know about the first weaving workshops in the old part of the city, owned by the Adlers, Dzaloszynskis, Glassers, Rotbergs, Beers, Urbach, Szynicki, Wajnsztejn and others. Some of them began their careers as weavers and thanks to their energy and talent, in time they became the main textile industrialists in Pabianice. They built factories that employed thousands of labourers. Their products were sent to markets deep in Russia – as far away as the Caucasus, Siberia and even China. Pabianice gained a reputation as a manufacturing centre and a place where it was possible to earn a good living. It began to attract new settlers from faraway places including Litvaks from the provinces of Vilna and Bialystok. Jews from Podolia and Volynia [Ukraine] and even from Besarabia settled in the city and in time became real “natives” of Pabianice. Together the new and old settlers placed their stamp on the factory city.

This is the place to recall the fact that only Christian workers were employed in all these factories. Only after a difficult and long struggle (about which we have written elsewhere) did the Jewish workers succeed in entering the mechanised factories.

It is especially worthwhile to note the names of the first Jewish factory owners who took the risk of employing other Jews in their factories. Their names were Urbach and Szynicki, as well as the owners of the so–called “United Mechanised Weaving Factory” – Joska Dawidowicz, Wolf Mandel, Henech Glass – and others who won the right to employ Jewish labourers many years before World War I.

The entry of Jewish workers into the textile industry opened up a series of new trades to them. These trades were connected to this industry and were unknown to Jews until this point, such as dyers, tinsmiths, cutters, card beaters (for the jacquard looms) and many more, including the first educated Jewish loom–mechanic and even textile engineers.

It was not only the Jewish workers or factory owners and industrialists who involved themselves heart and soul in the production process. Youth in the primary and secondary schools, cheders and even yeshiva bocherim were connected to it from early childhood, with thousands of strands related to the industry present in their lives, such as work, talent, machines, factories, production and business.

* * *

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Cheder teachers and chedorim

At first Pabianice did not have its own locally born cheder teachers.

The Jewish settlement was, of course, fairly young and was made up mostly of immigrants from older, more established communities. The home towns of the cheder teachers illustrate from where the Jewish settlers originated. One of my cheder teachers was called “Szeradzer” and another was called the “Kozmynker”. My brothers studied with the “Wlojner”. In addition, there was a cheder teacher from Konstantyn, one from Stercew, and so on. There were also cheder teachers who were just called by their names, like the little Tevye Mojsze, or Nochem–Hercke. The Pabianice chronicles do not mention where they came from originally. We assume that they were not new immigrants and were born in Pabianice.

* * *

Secular education and the first Hebrew schools

When we talk about cheder teachers, we shouldn't forget that Pabianice did not have a very long chain of Jewish educational institutions behind it. Our city did not have much luck when it came to schools and especially not when it came to Jewish schools.

Education in Pabianice: fifty to sixty years ago that word meant the ability to write a letter not only in Yiddish, but also in Polish and even in Russian. In addition, we were expected to do simple maths. That was it. The first students graduated from two schools: one was Miss Rosenzaft's school and the other was the school of Miss Chmura. The third school was the so called “Saturday school” [a Polish government school that was closed on Saturday instead of Sunday]. There was also a private school in the new part of the city, run by Birnbojm.

We often regretted the low level of education in our wealthy factory city. We often asked why Pabianice was so “cursed” in terms of education. And wags would answer: “Why do we need schools? If you want a child to grow up to be someone, you send him for practice to a factory owner. At first he'll learn to be a cutter and once he knows the trade it will be easy for him. After a year or two, he'll travel to Lodz to buy some raw materials, give them to a weaver who has a wooden loom and that will be that. Later he'll have the fabric dyed or give it to a big German company, or to a big Jewish one, or even to Dawid Gelbart or to Josef–Nojach Dojcz. 'Better' young men [young men with higher aspirations] will learn, besides cutting, how to make jacquard with Maks Szwalba and how to make flowered fabric and other designs.”

This is how small factory owners learned the business. They were not always successful, and these people remained cutters or weavers who worked on handlooms. But often they were fortunate and became factory owners, built factories (and sometimes a nearby “palace” where they produced fancy fabrics).

So, people would say, was it necessary to graduate from school – even from a technical school, or a weaving school – to make a bit of fabric?

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We had a factory owner in our town whose name was Michal Zloty. He was smart. During World War One he used to talk about his merchandise: “The Germans shot up the French fortress town Verdun with number forty–two shot and still couldn't conquer it. I shoot 'Verdun' [a type of fabric] with six or seven shots and I conquer all of Poland”. This fabric, “Verdun”, was the lowest value merchandise that the cotton industry in Pabianice sent out to the markets.

I want to finish this chapter about education with a story that was told about one of the first factory owners in Pabianice. When he had to sign a cheque, he hurried his wife and children out of the room so that they couldn't see him count the pen marks that he made when he had to sign his name in Russian.

* * *

Hebrew teachers

Our first Hebrew teacher was Dawid Ejdelsberg, a young man who came from a small town named Staszew, near Kielce, to Pabianice, a city with new possibilities. His main method of making a living was as a salesman in Mazynski's furniture shop. Giving Hebrew lessons was a sideline for him. Like most of the young followers of the Jewish Enlightenment living in small provincial towns, he began as an autodidact and became a good Hebrew pedagogue by his own efforts.

All in all, he taught about three or four classes – he didn't have time for more – filled with the children of a few families, like the Mazynskis (for whom he worked), the Frankenbergs and us. My sister Henja and I studied with him for about a year, I think. Before the outbreak of World War I he left for America. In my sister's yearbook, which was full of blessings and Polish–language quotes that were written by her girlfriends, relatives and other people she knew, he wrote in the only Hebrew lines to be found there, a bit of the philosophy of the Jewish Enlightenment:

“When you leaf through the pages of your album and try to remember days gone by, then read the following lines:

Desire does not determine trust
Nor does ambition contribute to it –
And then, only then, is man able to achieve, through suffering, Is able to work for his future
And pave his way securely,
Thus coming close to achieving his aims.

Sincerely,
Your teacher, Dawid Ejdelsberg

Years later, Dawid Ejdelsberg became famous as one of the main journalists of the New York Yiddish daily “Tog” [Day], where he continues to publish to this very day.

In 1953, during his second visit to Tel Aviv, I met up again with him, my first Hebrew teacher. We remembered that old, almost forgotten, idealised era before World War I in Pabianice – and from that time we jumped over eras, and seas...until today.

* * *

Amongst the first Hebrew teachers in Pabianice who earned reputations as good pedagogues and as Jewish scholars at the same time, was Reb Kopl [Jakob] Zitnycki, who was known as “Kopl the Zionist”. As this nickname shows, his pedagogical work was directly related to the ideal of the Land of Israel, or, more to the point, to the romantic idea of “Lovers of Zion” that was popular at the time.

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He was one of the “unknown soldiers” in the mighty army of the followers of the Jewish Enlightenment in Poland, who spread Hebrew during the early years of the twentieth century. He came to us from Lask. His face was adorned with a grey–black beard and he wore a round traditional black Jewish hat. He was short–sighted and wore thick glasses, which he took off his nose during lessons, especially when he was looking for the correct quote from Rashi. A pair of dark, clever eyes hid behind the glasses – the eyes of a Jewish scholar.

Reb Kopl had a few dozen students. During the first years of World War I (1914–1918) he even tried to open a kind of private school in his home on Tuszyn Street. After a short time he had to close it down and returned to teaching individual students.

Most of his lessons were divided into two sections. The first was dedicated to Hebrew grammar and the other to bible studies. He loved Hebrew grammar. I remember that, during the two to three years that he taught us, he stuffed our young heads with so many rules that we started to believe that without grammar we would never be able to speak Hebrew. The first part of the lesson was mostly taken up by reading Hebrew short stories, especially from Yakob Fichman's old collection “Chapters of the First Ones”, and Reb Kopl demanded that we translate the difficult words and sayings for him, speaking of necessity in Hebrew (even then he understood the importance of teaching Hebrew in Hebrew). So within a few months we already had a treasury of Hebrew vocabulary and this enabled us to converse freely with our Reb Kopl. The bible was, for him as for all followers of the Jewish Enlightenment, a “weakness”. And I must admit that he infected us with his great enthusiasm for the Book of Books.

He also had older students, who studied more about the “Lovers of Zion” with him than Hebrew.

I see the figure of my teacher Reb Kopl in my memory, engraved there to this very day. I see him here, in the brightness of Israel, after four decades and I see him as if in a dream... On cold winter days he went from one house to another in Pabianice. One street would be full of mud, so he would come into the house dripping wet. On coming into his students' room, he used to take off his leaky boots, from which water streamed. He always took them off when coming into a student's home – yes he did – so that he could dry his feet in front of the nice warm oven... And we forgave him from the bottoms of our hearts. He didn't see well and more than once he knocked into the door in the dark. When he took off his glasses while he taught, he would cover up the whole book – and again we forgave him, because Reb Kopl was not just a teacher who taught by the book, but a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, a scholar and, most important of all, he was the messenger of an ideal.

His greatest importance was that he educated the first generation in our city to develop a deep sentiment for the Hebrew language.

With the foundation of the Hebrew secondary school during the German occupation [World War I], Reb Kopl disappeared from our city. He was too old to teach in a modern school and perhaps he was not enough of a pedagogue either. I don't doubt, however, that during those bright days in the lives of the Jews of Pabianice, during the celebrations surrounding the opening of the Hebrew secondary school, he once again took his walking stick in his hand and went off to other places, where he could carry out his responsibilities and introduce Hebrew to the hearts and minds of young Jewish children.

Reb Kopl's son, the well–known writer and essayist Hersz Lejb Zitnycki, dedicated reverent lines to the memory of his father in his essay “A Book”, which was printed in the second anniversary album published by the Warsaw Yiddish daily “Haynt” [Today] (1908–1938).

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The students and teachers of the first Jewish day– school in Pabianice
the so–called “Pro–gymnasia” – in 1912

The teachers:

Ajzenberg, Mrs. Szykorska and Director Lurja

The students:

Row One (from left to right): Cwi Ratkowicz, Eljezer Nirenberg, Michal Rotberg, Gerszon Rajchman. Mejer Jelenowicz, Zalman Adler, Gothelf, Dawid Dawidowicz, Eliusz Mazynski, Malc, Berkowicz
Row Two: Jakob Baruchowicz, Menasze Gelbart, Nachman Szub, Josef Nirenberg, Jehiel Altman, Worcki, Szlama Adler
Row Three: Cygielman, Frankenberg, Matisjohu Abramson
Row Four: Unknown, Krakowski, B. Pukacz, Nosn Glas, B. Judkowicz, Cygielman, Israelowicz

 

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Student council members, representing three year levels

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Fela Abramowicz's kindergarten

* * *

Jewish students in the Polish secondary school

The old Polish secondary school had an interesting history. It was founded during the 1880s, mostly by rich German industrialists, like Grusza and Ender, Kindler and others. It had the reputation of being one of the wealthiest schools in Russian Poland. Its physics and chemistry laboratories and natural history collections were comparable to the facilities of a higher scientific institution. Two of its directors over many years added to its development. The first one, whose tenure reached back to Russian times, was Henryk Lipski, a physics professor. He was close to the German industrialists (later on, he became the director of the elite secondary school in Warsaw that was named in memory of Jan Zamojski). After him, came the headship of Stefan Pjontkowski, during the German occupation and later in independent Poland. He was a well–known chemist and was one of the great Polish scholars in this field.

Of course, what mostly interests us here is the attitude of the secondary school to Jews. After the Russian secondary school was converted into an eighth grade reale–schule by the Germans during their occupation of the area (1915–1918), the proportion of Jewish students reached as high as thirty percent of the general student body. It was interesting that many of them were Jews from Lodz. The good reputation of this provincial school under the leadership of the above mentioned Lipski attracted students to it, not only from the small towns around Pabianice, but also from the large industrial city Lodz.

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Jewish students in Pabianice state schools:
 
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School # 13

 

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School # 15

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Amongst the students from Lodz were some who were educated in the Jewish national spirit. They certainly influenced us students from the province. They founded the first Jewish scouting group, named after the Jewish historical hero Bar–Kochba, which later became “Hashomer Hatzair” [left wing Labour Zionist youth group]. It is worth naming Charmac, the first leader of the older “Hashomer” group, a proud young Jew who, together with the brothers Rafal and Dawid Mazynski, laid the foundation of the “Hashomer” movement in our city.

 

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The opening of the Jewish secondary school in 1918

 

Years later, in 1918, after Poland became independent, the number of Jewish students in the secondary school fell. This was mostly because of the anti–Semitic direction of the Polish education system. The school, which now became a government secondary school named after Jedrzej Sniadecki, quickly rid itself of nearly all of its Jewish students. By 1925, when the writer of these lines graduated from secondary school, there were barely six or seven Jewish students left in the school – and four or five of them were in the graduating class! The school became almost totally devoid of Jews before World War II and before the anti–Jewish war with the German murderers.

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The old City Hall Castle, which once belonged to the Cardinal of Krakow

 

Other than our religion teacher (Kejzer from Lodz, who taught us a bit of bible once a week – it seems to me that we never reached the era of the Jewish kings), there were almost no other Jewish members of the teaching staff over the years I was there. During Lipski's tenure, there was a French teacher who was Jewish (Stefanja Tarner, later Stefanja Tarner–Lubaszyc). She was from a very assimilated family, but in time even she left the school.

It is worth mentioning teachers who were friendly to Jews, such as the teacher of Polish literature, the gentle Zofia Sawicka. She was an old maid who looked after us with motherly love. Andrzej Mazur, the historian, was a liberal person with a great amount of understanding and tolerance of our desires and our outlook. There was also the priest, Roman Konecki, who is especially deserving of mention.

 

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The Polish Independence Memorial in Pabianice, featuring a statue of a member of the Polish Legions, and with a relief portrait of Josef Pilsudski. The old cathedral is in the background

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At that time, there were two priests in our school. One of them taught religion to Catholic students. The other was the above mentioned Konecki, a professor of Polish literature and history (there was also a pastor named Schmidt, who taught religion to the Evangelical Germans). The first priest, as I said, taught the New Testament and even the philosophy of St. Augustine and St. Francis of Assissi – to the older students, of course. The second priest, Konecki, spent years drilling us in the Polish classics and in the history of Poland.

We, his Jewish students, called him the “non–believer”. We called him this for various reasons, mostly because of things that we had been told about him. No one knew how much of it was true and how much not, but it is worthwhile to mention it here.

A deep dark secret we were told was that, even on his first day at the school, he was estranged from the Church and did not even pass over its threshold. We were convinced that this was true on the occasion of the first 3 May celebration, the holiday in honour of the new Polish constitution. He stood in front of the church together with the Jewish students and waited until the end of the mass, until the Christian students came out with the religious priest. Later, a rumour was spread around that he had been in “Bonicja” (he had been almost excommunicated from the Church, but because he had repented in Rome, he received so–called “Absolution” from the Pope himself). There were also a number of versions of exactly what his sins had been. The non–Jewish students told us that he hated his brother priests, who forgave anything once the correct prayer had been said, or in exchange for a healthy donation to the Church.

He used to weave a lot of piquant stories into his literature classes about those priests who, in the name of Jesus, forgave sinners and especially village girls. The good deeds of his holy little brothers sounded like an echo of the “Decameron” to our ears.

It is interesting that the newspaper “The Worker” (the publication of the Polish Socialist Party) always peeked out from under his black garb. For us, coming as we did from a large proletarian city, “The Worker” was well known and it had a lot of readers. Yet it was unusual for a priest to read it. I think that there was no doubt that he leaned more to the side of Socialism than to the side of the Catholic Church.

His lessons were among the most interesting and maybe even among the brightest moments of our grey school life (for us, the only Jews among about three hundred non–Jewish students, there were very few bright moments behind the stone walls of this Christian school). He was a man of great erudition, knew about almost all worldly matters, spoke about ten languages – Hebrew and a bit of Yiddish amongst them – and he especially loved our bible no less than he loved the New Testament. Often he would show us, as he read aloud, the influence of the bible on the development of Polish literature and especially on Mickewicz's work.

He was especially kind to us Jews. I don't know whether or not this was due to a simple love of the individual Jewish students, or perhaps a kind of spiteful love. If none of the other teachers showed any kindness to us, he wanted to be the exception to the rule. If none of them showed any interest in Jewish matters, he would go out of his way to raise these issues during his Polish literature classes. Quite often he would discuss Zionism and Socialism with us. He was interested in the Polish–Jewish publications (for example, he enjoyed [the Jewish historian Majer] Balaban's magazine “New Life”, which I once loaned to him). He even loaned us books from his own well–endowed library.

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Of course, his behaviour was not approved of by the school administration nor by many religious Christian students. I remember a student once remarking to him ironically that, during the French Revolution, priests were hanged together with donkeys on the same gallows. The priest answered him drolly that “we're both lucky that we don't live during the French Revolution, because we would certainly have hung together”.

After taking my graduation exams, I passed very well. (He himself examined me about the rights of minorities under the new Polish constitution. I had learned it all off by heart, like a psalm. He also asked about Polish–German relations during the era of the first Piast kings – something that I did not remember very well.) Afterwards, he invited me to his home. For the first time I saw his well stocked library, which included – among other volumes – about a dozen old Jewish bibles in various languages, bibles that had great bibliographic value.

In his library there was a kind of lectern, on which he wrote his studies of literature and sociology while standing, and a simple bed, similar to that of a church monk, which stood in a corner of the room. Together they gave the impression of a monastery cell. I told him that I was leaving to study in France, because as a Jew I had no chance to study in “my” Poland... He comforted me, saying that better times would come.

“Travel to Italy”, he said (for the first time using the polite form of the second person singular rather than the familiar form), “it's a great country: old universities, beautiful cities. You'll feel good there.” “But I don't speak any Italian,” I reminded him.

“Ridiculous – you will learn many more languages.”

On saying this, he removed a small book from his library, which was signed in Polish on the last page in small letters, “Remembering my student, Dr Father R. Konecki, and gave it to me as a present. At first I thought that it was certainly one of his books, or maybe even a Jewish bible, but I was mistaken. It was Korolenko's novel “Without a Language” in a Yiddish translation.

Years later, during one of my visits to Poland during school holidays, I met up with him again. We were both very pleased, but I barely recognised him. Before me stood not a priest, but a civilian. He was now the rector of the first Workers' University in Lodz.

We, the Jewish students, as I said before, did not have very good memories of the Polish school. Although there were some liberal teachers there, who had a positive attitude towards us Jews, most of the teachers had a negative attitude towards their Jewish students, although we were in a proletarian city. The German teacher, Szliwuna, a Polish woman from Upper Silesia, used to settle down her class with the words:

“Why are you as noisy as if you were in a buznicka?”

Our blood boiled, but we had to be silent. We knew that in two or three years' time we would be well rid of them all. In general, she was a bitch who took sadistic pleasure in pulling the students' hair.

[Page 35]

The Christian students vented their anger in a series of songs, most of them pornographic, with which some of them decorated the school's bathrooms. We Jews took our revenge on her – I think in Year Seven – by choosing French when we were allowed to choose an obligatory foreign language. The French teacher was Madame Bernja Szukewiczowa. She had been born in France and oozed gentility. We actually said more than once that we chose her not because we loved French, but because of our hatred of Szliwuna.

I'd like to mention a case that upset Polish–Jewish students during those years and which was an outcome of the anti–Semitic atmosphere that prevailed in the school after Polish independence.

This was in 1918–1919, immediately after Poland was liberated. During a celebration of the national holiday on 3 May, a group of Jewish students missed the traditional celebration to visit the school in the Old City. This group was of older students, mostly from Lodz, who decided to celebrate the Polish holiday in a very Jewish manner. It seemed that everything was fine. One of them gave a speech about the importance of the national holiday and then the ceremony ended with the singing of the “Hatikvah”.

But a certain Galewski, who was also a Jew from Lodz, but who came from a very assimilated home and was one of the main founders of the first Polish–Jewish assimilationist scouting organization that was named after Berek Joselewicz [the Jewish hero of the Polish Uprising of 1863], felt that, by singing the “Hatikvah”, they had insulted or even defamed the celebration of 3 May. In short, the school administration soon realised what had happened and understandably was in agreement with the opinion of their “patriotic” student, who felt that the three students involved should be punished. The administration really didn't want to get involved in this matter and suggested that the students undergo a trial by their peers. The peers' eventual judgement was that the three Jewish students who sang the “Hatikvah” would be expelled from the school.

This greatly upset the Jewish students. It was during the first years of the Polish Republic. It also upset our Zionist leaders, like Jichak Grynbojm and A. Hartglass. They published sharp protests in the Polish–Jewish magazine “Glos Zydowski” [The Jewish Voice]. The protests did not change much.

We, the younger students, understood now for the first time the meaning of the words “National Minority” in the new Poland. We could no longer even dream of friendships between us and the Christian students.

The “trial by peers” had another side effect. The above–mentioned Galewski arranged for his own relative, whose name was also Galewski and who was among the three singers, to be removed from the secondary school.

However, fate decreed that many years later, Galewski – the assimilationist – would settle in our city as an engineer and that his sister would marry Jehiel Mandeltort, the lovely Jewish leader of the youth organization.

Even more interesting is the later history of Galewski.

[Page 36]

You can't gauge a Jewish soul. For years his conscience would not leave him alone. During his university years, he even became a Zionist. During the Hitlerite destruction he was one of the most active members of the Jewish underground. He also engendered the desire to rebel in Treblinka – at least so say those who survived the war.

The first national–cultural–activists in our city were recruited from this school, as were the founders of “Hashomer”:

The Mazynski brothers,

Nosn Glass,

Gerszon Rajchman,

Josef Rosensztejn,

and the author of these lines.

This is how my school years passed in Pabianice. Where are my school friends now? What has remained of the Jewish life of that time?

* * *

The bottom line about Jewish life in Pabianice is: this settlement existed for a hundred and fifty years. It began its story towards the end of the eighteenth century, in the era of the Polish Uprisings, through the unruly early years of the twentieth century with the bloody Russian Revolution of 1905, the First World War during the years 1914–1918 and the Soviet–Polish War in 1920. Each of these events saw the shedding of Jewish blood.

And after the days of the Uprisings, the wars, pain and poverty, we thought for a while that with the rise of the Polish Republic, we would see a new life.

In this small town, which was closed off to Jews for generations, a community of over ten thousand developed, a city with a mighty desire to create a strong new Jewish economic life. During this short time of illusions, the saying “the more production, the more secondary markets for Jewish merchandise” rang out as an ideal.

Today you were a weaver with a handloom, tomorrow you might work on a mechanised loom – and not just on one, but on four, eight, or even twenty of them! Jewish workers and the proletarian intelligentsia fought for financial positions in the textile industry: as cutters, weavers, spinners, master–weavers and textile–engineers. This was a chapter of unknown Jewish capabilities and energies, together with illusions, dreams, on foreign soil, amongst foreign peoples, goyim...

And then the end came...

[Page 37]

A Renaissance artist engraved the old Latin words: “Sic transit gloria mundi” on the outer walls of the city hall building.

After the fall of the two–headed Russian eagle, which ruled over the castle for almost a hundred years, the castle was decorated in independent Poland with a bust of Kosciuszko, the great Polish democrat and freedom fighter [who fought in the American Revolution]. Opposite him, on the old marketplace, near the Church of St. Matthew, was a monument to the Polish legionnaire.

This was all destroyed during the years 1939–1944, until a new Poland rose with new monuments... and Polish history continues.

But for us, the saying of the unknown artist was like a prophecy: Sic transit gloria mundi. So passed the fame of our world, of the world that built its life on foreign soil.

 

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