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[Page 37]

The First Primary School
in Pabianice for Jewish Children

Written by M.W. Kochman

The year 1880 marks the most important date in the development of Jewish education in Pabianice. The first primary school for Jewish children in our city opened its doors in that year.

Jewish Pabianice, like all Jewish settlements in Poland at that time, had a few chedorim where cheder teachers taught Torah to children from the age of four, together with basic reading and writing. By age seven, the children were learning chumash with Rashi and also Gemorah with another cheder teacher.

The cheder consisted of a larger or smaller room. In its middle stood a long table, flanked by two long benches for the children to sit on. The cheder teacher sat up front, holding a leather whip in his hands. This was how he taught Torah to small children. The room also served as a bedroom and as a kitchen. Among the beds was a cradle for a baby. Everything was together in the cheder. The idea of teaching children to read and write any language other than Hebrew was never even considered. Even teaching how to read and write Yiddish or the language of the country in which we lived – Polish – didn't happen in the cheder. That was the job of private teachers. Only the wealthiest could afford private teachers or the government secondary school. The poor were left without the slightest secular knowledge. They were actually illiterate!

At this time, there was a Jewish baker named Reb Jisrol Gedalja Rosensztejn in our city. He already had the view that children needed to be educated. This fellow spoke to Dawid Ejlenberg and Jakob Kalinski about creating a school for Jewish children.

Of course, at this time Poland belonged to Russia. Each province was ruled by a governor. The three above-mentioned Jews discovered that the governor of the Warsaw Province would be in Lodz over the next few days and that he was also planning to stop off in Pabianice. They decided to have a formal request to the governor written out, suggesting the opening in our city of a primary school for Jewish children. The request was motivated by the fact that, for various reasons, it was impossible to send Jewish children to the existing government schools. Also, it was to the government's advantage for Jewish children to learn how to speak, read and write Russian. They also included the number of Jews and Jewish children living in Pabianice. Since the Jews paid all their taxes, they were

[Page 38]

entitled to a school for their children.

While the governor was in Pabianice, these three Jews presented him with their request. He promised to interest himself in the matter.

A few months passed. Everyone had already forgotten about the request. Then one day the three Jews were called into the City Hall, where it was explained to them that his excellency the Governor- General had ordered that a school be opened for Jewish children and had commanded the municipal government to carry out his order.

It wasn't long before the primary school opened its doors and they even sent a teacher from Czestachowa to run it. This was the famous Szapacznik.

Later, after Szapacznik's death, the leadership of the school was passed to his son, Markus. The school brought secular education to the Jews of Pabianice for the first time. Some of the Jewish children who graduated from this primary school later attended the secondary schools in Pabianice and in Lodz.

This initiative of Reb Jisrol Rosensztejn had a good outcome. His children became respected community activists in our city.

* * *

Jewish Pabianice at the
Beginning of the 20th Century

pab038.jpg

Written by Yosef Bialik

[translation of the Hebrew text begins on page 250]

* * *

Old Wooden Synagogues in the Pabianice Region

Written by Engineer Dawid Dawidowicz

In this article I would especially like to remember the wooden synagogues in the neighbouring towns Lutomirsk, Stercew and Selow. They were exceptional examples of interesting creations by Jewish folk-artists, known and unknown.

[Page 39]

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A plan of the front face of the wooden synagogue in Lutomirsk

 

The synagogue in Lutomirsk was one of Hillel Binjomin's best works. It was a fairly large building, about 24.2 metres long and 16 metres wide. It was an imposing building compared to the small Jewish community, which numbered about a thousand people in its best days.

The wooden synagogue in Lutomirsk, which was built about halfway through the eighteenth century, was burnt down during the first days of World War I in 1914. It was the work of the Jewish master builder Hillel Binjomin from Lask. Even though he was not trained as an architect, and was self- taught, he became known in the history of Jewish art in Poland as one of the earliest builders of synagogues. In addition to the synagogue in Lutomirsk, Hillel Binjomin also built synagogues in Kurnyk (Posen), Drzaloszyn and Zloczew (south of Szeradz).

 

The wooden synagogue in Lutomirsk

One of the first researchers of synagogues in Poland, the well-known historian Matysjohu Berson, wrote the following about the building of the Lutomirsk wooden synagogue:

“While this synagogue was being built, the master builder was interested in a new style, which was different to the previously accepted forms of synagogue architecture. Here we saw no high roofs and also no small towers with their individual roofs – details that were so characteristic of ancient Jewish buildings of this sort. Part of the modest roof stuck out at the front, above the synagogue nave, by about 2.2 metres. It rested on six round pine columns, each one of which was cut from a single log and decorated with capitals. Under the roof was a porch with comfortable steps on both sides of the building, which served as entrances to the women's section (on the second floor, above the vestibule and the winter cheder, which were on the western side of the building – in other words, near the entrance). Besides the lintel, which was made of light and dark wood and which encircled the whole upper part of the building under the roof, the master builder decorated the outside with modest decorations. The interior of the synagogue was more highly decorated and was worked totally in pine wood. Semi-circles on the ceilings rested on eight wooden beams, four on each side. The capitals of these beams were carved from a single log.

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pab040.jpg

A photo of the wooden synagogue in Lutomirsk

 

The master builder wanted the interior of the synagogue to look respectable yet modest, so over the large windows (double or so-called twin windows), he carved a lintel and a similar one over the higher, small semi-circular windows.

The interior walls were painted light blue. There were no special paintings on the walls. The height of the walls was 14.5 metres.

The six-cornered, wooden, covered bima in the middle of the synagogue, which was encircled with a carved balustrade, was modest in form. Above the Ark on the Eastern Wall (although it was built in the form of a small closet), he excelled himself with a canopy carved from stone, above which was a large, gilded eagle with spread wings and a lowered head. A crown was attached over the eagle, and above it was a second eagle with raised wings and a raised head.

Amongst the interesting treasures of the Lutomirsk synagogue, Berson noted an old charity box, which was attached to the entrance of the synagogue. It was carved out of a single piece of oak and was of impressive artistic value. The charity box was made in the form of a lion with an open mouth sitting on a pedestal. The donation was given through the mouth. According to Berson, this beautiful and original work originally came from another synagogue and was obviously given to the Lutomirsk synagogue as a gift.

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pab041a.jpg
 
pab041b.jpg

Tzedaka box from the Lutomirsk Synagogue in the form of a lion

 

The synagogue was built in the days of the last Polish king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski (1764-1772). As we have already mentioned, it was burnt down in 1914. Where it once stood, a stone synagogue was built, which was destroyed during the last horrible war.

* * *

The wooden Lutomirsk synagogue was the only one of Hillel Binyomin's synagogues that has been described by many art historians, such as the above–mentioned Matysjohu Berson, Zygmunt Gloser, Aleks Brajer, Georg Lukomski and others.

Hillel Binjomin of Lask was an artist with a deep understanding of old architectural forms. The capitals that he used to decorate the synagogue columns show that he was influenced by old classic Greek forms. Even more interesting is the fact that the three divisions inside the synagogue and the decorative portico with its delicate columns at the entry to the synagogue both remind us of the architecture of the old synagogues in the Land of Israel, which date from the first centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple. They have now been reclaimed from the deserts in the Galilee, Emek Israel and other places.

After finishing the Lutomirsk synagogue, Hillel Binjomin began to build other houses of prayer, among them, a large wooden synagogue in Zlochew. He never finished it because, as the Jews of Zlochew used to recall, during the building process he fell off the roof scaffolding and was killed immediately. His grave was in the Jewish cemetery in Zlochew.

Lutomirsk, which was first built in the thirteenth century, is also mentioned in the communal history books of the Council of the Four Lands [the medieval Eastern–European Jewish parliament]. The town was very artistic, with old Jewish homes, historic churches and with the already mentioned beautiful and charming wooden synagogue. Many artists came to admire its form. Among others, the great

[Page 42]

Jewish artist Szmuel Hirszenberg came to see it. He often painted old Jewish streets, Jewish characters and the fields and forests around the small Jewish town Lutomirsk.

The small town Stercew, on the southern side of Lask, had two hundred and fifty to three hundred Jewish inhabitants. It also had an interesting wooden synagogue, built in 1910.

The synagogue consisted of two parts. The lower portion, with its Eastern Wall that faced the street, served as the main synagogue for the congregation. The higher portion, the western portion, contained the vestibule and the women's section.

pab042.jpg

The wooden synagogue in Stercew

 

It is worth noting that there were beautiful twin windows that were rounded at the top in that simple wooden synagogue. These windows were characteristic of most of the wooden synagogues in Poland. There were two such twin windows in the main section on either side of the Ark and also in the northern and southern walls. Above the Ark was another small decorative window, which was reminiscent of a rose window with its round, carved form. These rose windows were found in large stone synagogues and, to separate the holy from the profane, churches.

This synagogue was not built in the style of the famous wooden synagogues in Poland. It was instead similar to the small Jewish wooden houses in the town. Only the twin windows that decorated its walls reminded one that this building served as a House of Prayer.

Staczewski, the author of the “Illustrated Guide to Pabianice, Lask and the Lask Region”, believed that the Stercew synagogue was “an interesting example of the art of building in Poland”.

[Page 43]

* * *

The small town Zelow, which was founded by Czech immigrants in 1803, was an interesting combination of nationalities in our area. Poles, Czechs, Jews and Germans lived there. Of course, each religion had its own House of Prayer. Jews built a beautiful wooden synagogue here in the middle of the nineteenth century. From an artistic point of view, it did not have much value.

* * *

Jewish Weavers:
Their Lives, Struggle and Communal Activities

pab043.jpg

Written by Jehojszua Birnbojm (Tel Aviv)

My grandfather, Szymon Fryszman of blessed memory, arrived in Pabianice in 1849 as a graduate master weaver from the town Krymelow (Radom Province). My grandfather's father rented an estate from a nobleman to earn his living. He learned the trade in order not to have to serve in the military at a time when Jewish boys were forced to serve for twenty–five years. At this time weavers had special rights because the tsarist government was interested in developing a textile industry in Poland. Those who learned how to be weavers and received a diploma were therefore free not to serve in the army. When the master weavers organized themselves in Pabianice, my grandfather was one of the founders of the group. He taught the trade to his children before he died at the age of 103. He had five sons and two daughters and all of them were hand–weavers.

As I remember it, in 1905 hand–weaving was the main way of earning a living in Pabianice. Wherever you went, you could hear the banging of the handlooms. Most of the Jewish weavers were concentrated on two streets – Konstayn Street and Nowopolna Street (more recently known as Kopernyk Street). Here you could hear an orchestra of work and song. I remember how we worked for one of the first factory owners in PabianiceJisroel Baruch. He owned his own factory with mechanised looms. In addition he owned other businesses, including a printing–house, so that he could produce woollen fabrics in various styles.

Baruch was a proud Jew and a great philanthropist who was interested in Jewish national life. He outsourced work to Jewish weavers and made sure that they made a good living. He was also very interested in the poor and the needy. It is worth mentioning that he was one of the first important communal activists in Pabianice.

[Page 44]

pab044.jpg

The avenue on Zamkowa Street

 

The factory owner and philanthropist Herszl Faust rose to prominence in Jewish communal activity in Pabianice. He owned a mechanised factory and produced the best quality ladies' and blouse fabrics. Therefore he was called “the king of the blouse fabrics”. He also outsourced work only to Jewish hand–weavers. He was one of the founders of the Jewish community and of Jewish communal life in Pabianice.

Faust supported all the charitable institutions and as the head of the community organization, he looked after the Jewish poor in Pabianice.

His son, Moric, took a progressive view of Jewish life. He donated a lot to Pabianice. In 1905, he organized a Jewish self–defence group, because at that time Jews were afraid of the hooligans who were sent from tsarist Russia to carry out anti–Jewish pogroms. He also organized a Professional Weavers' Union, which the tsarist government did not want to legalise.

When the younger Faust became the head of his father's factory, he employed Jewish weavers and taught them how to weave on mechanised looms. When he taught the first group of Jewish mechanised weavers, he had to battle with the Polish workers in his factory, who didn't want to allow Jewish workers into their trade. Jewish Pabianice appreciated Faust's activities and named the Pabianice Jewish library in his honour.

* * *

The changeover from manual looms to mechanised looms

Times changed. The Polish hand–weavers had already partially changed over to the use of mechanised looms, but the Jews remained at their handlooms. Soon, on the initiative of Jichak Wolf Baruchowicz, ten Jewish master hand–weavers – Judl Lys, Szerodrzki, Grossman, Birnbojm, Bressler, Herszlikowicz and others – got together and rented a hall from Mojsza Dombek. Each of them purchased two English looms from the Bauer firm in Lodz. These machines ran on petrol, because there was not yet electricity in Pabianice.

[Page 45]

pab045.jpg

Woven floral jacquard, woven by Henjek Szwalba and Icza Dawidowicz

 

The Christians did not allow any of their masters to work together with Jews. One of them took the risk and accepted work beside Jews. He was then tricked into entering a bar, where they drank with him and then took their revenge by decapitating him. His name was Pukczynski. It was under these circumstances that Jewish mechanised weaving developed in Pabianice.

Later a firm was established belonging to a proud Jew, Chaim Sztejn, who brought Jewish weavers into his factory. The moment that I and some other comrades began working there, the workers' delegates closed down the factory. They argued that they would not work together with Jewish workers. However, Chaim Sztejn, with his strong, iron character, succeeded in his aims. He told his Christian workers that his factory could stay empty for a whole year without work and that, even if it cost him his life, the Jewish weavers must be employed there. He succeeded after a difficult battle with the Polish workers. Every day, he personally escorted home those of us who worked the afternoon–shift – with a gun in his hand.

Soon after, a mechanised factory opened up in Lodz, which was founded by the two factory owners Herszberg and Birnbojm. They employed only Jewish mechanised weavers. The firm took us to Lodz, because we couldn't work together with the Poles in Pabianice, since our very lives were threatened. It was, however, a cursed existence working in Lodz while living in Pabianice. We waited for the right moment to have a factory in Pabianice for Jewish mechanised weavers.

And that moment arrived. The Polish workers went on strike against the firm Urbach–Szinycki. The factory was closed for three months, because they would not work with the foreman, a man named Hiller. The firm then requested a delegation of Jewish mechanized weavers. Such a delegation was

[Page 46]

chosen. It included me and Comrades Gyska and Lubnycki. We negotiated for a long time before deciding, together with the firm, that we would undertake the battle. We made a list of Jewish mechanized weavers and began to work. That is when the battle began. A delegation of Polish workers arrived and demanded that we stop working. We argued that we had no choice in the matter, because the Polish workers had not allowed us Jewish workers to work together with them in the same factory. For this reason, we needed to have a purely Jewish factory in Pabianice.

The battle continued. The Polish workers used various terrorist methods. They threw stones through the windows and cost the factory a lot of money. They were very mean to us on the street when we were going home. This was all outside the factory. Inside the factory we had to deal with the two anti–Semitic foremen – Hiller and Krebs. They were both Germans. They deliberately ruined our looms to prove that Jews didn't know what they were doing. The German Hiller completely forgot that the Polish workers had gone out on strike because of him. As a result of his hatred of Jews, he was now totally on the side of the Polish workers.

We found ourselves facing a very difficult situation and the firm suffered material losses. We, the delegates of the Jewish weavers, explained to the firm that the two foremen were sabotaging and ruining the looms. With the firm's agreement, we brought in director Nusbaum from Jaroczynski's weavers' school in Lodz. He examined the factory. The two foremen blamed one another. In the end, both of them were removed. We ended the struggle with a victory, in which we were greatly helped by the firm of Urbach–Szinycki. We showed that we Jews were capable of working and could compete against the Polish workers. We could fight against them and win.

pab046.jpg

A Torah Pointer that belonged to one of the Pabianice “Khevres”, made in 1904. Luckily it was taken to Eretz Israel after the Holocaust

* * *

[Page 47]

Memories of My Childhood

Written by Fiszl Rosensztejn (Tel Aviv)

pab047a.jpg

My father, Jisroel Gedalja, was a baker by trade. He had no formal secular education, but it was the tragedy of his life that his four sons and two daughters grew up without an appropriate education.

At that time, the Jews of Pabianice were very pious and did not want to hear about secular schools that educated non–Jews. The cheder and the cheder teacher comprised the only educational institution available at that time. My father was one of the few Jews in Pabianice who wanted to give their children a secular education and dreamed of a secular Jewish school.

It so happened, that the Russian general Lubalov drove through Pabianice. My father and his friend Kaliski decided to take advantage of the situation and to present themselves to the general as a deputation, to ask him for permission to open a Jewish school in Pabianice.

 

pab047b.jpg

Pictures of Pabianice: The Dobzynka Bridge,
which connected the new city to the old city

How did Jisroel Gedalja the baker come to be so brave? In order to understand, you would have had to know my father. I remember him from my earliest childhood. He was a healthy and strong man. He was a first–class baker, so they called him “the nobleman baker”. His hand was always out to help others and he was always ready to do something for the good of the community. With his courage in approaching the authorities, he saved Jews from trouble more than once.

My father couldn't rest when he knew that the city had a Polish school that Jewish children were not

[Page 48]

allowed to attend, although Jews paid higher taxes than the Poles. Therefore, he decided that it was necessary to knock on the doors of officialdom. In order to do this, he made use of General Lubalov's road stop. Together with his already mentioned friend Jakob Kaliski, my father went to the general and handed him a request that permission be granted to open a school for Jewish children.

In the request, it said that the Jews of Pabianice paid quite a lot of school taxes. Therefore, it was only fair that Jewish children should also be allowed to attend government schools. Lubalov, who was none other than the Governor–General of Warsaw at the time, greeted these two Jews, Jakob Kaliski and Jisroel Gedalja Rosensztejn, warmly. He promised to grant their request.

And that's how it was. Not long after, these two Jewish citizens were called into the City Hall building. There they were told that Lubalov, the Governor–General of Warsaw, had granted their request to open a school for Jewish children in Pabianice.

The Jewish community also received an official announcement, that on a certain day a teacher named Szapocznyk would come from Czestachowa and that he would organise the school.

My father often spoke about this school as one of his greatest achievements. I remember a whole series of scenes of life in our home at this time, as well as the school itself.

* * *

pab048.jpg

The first Jewish bank in Pabianice, founded in 1912
Row One (left to right): Russian inspector, H. Wigdorowicz, M. F. Poznanski, H. Faust, M. Srebrni, Russian Inspector
Row Two: D. Gluskyn, R. Szpyro, A.H. Adler, G. Torner
Row Three: B. Fogel, W. Mandel, J. Dawidowicz, J. Adler, J.L. Adler, Sz. Jelinowicz, M. Berliner. Row Four: H. Rajchman, M. Faust, M. Dobzynski, J. Bialik, A. Orbach, M. W. Zylber

[Page 49]

I remember the large baking–oven in our house. There was an upper section (pjekelik), which was a world unto itself. According to my current calculations, it was about sixteen square metres in size. During the winter, transient Jews slept on it or just sat there and rested on it with their walking sticks and their sacks.

Such Jews came to Reb Jisroel Gedalja the baker as if his home was their own home. In the winter, they went right up onto the oven to warm up their frozen limbs. My parents would have already greeted them with hot tea and fresh pastries. Often entire families came with their wives and children.

We also had a large room in our yard, where we used to store wood. In summer it served as an inn. There were always sacks of straw in there and that is where the guests slept.

In addition to those who walked throughout the countryside, we also had more honoured guests. They were Jews from villages and small towns around Pabianice, who came into the city on business. They used to arrive on Sundays and leave on Fridays. They sold skins of rabbits, hares and other small animals, feathers, down, imitation jewellery, tefilin, mezuzas and tsitsit.

My parents paid special attention to these guests. Beds were made for them in our house. These honoured guests sat at the table with us. My parents took great pleasure in talking with these guests until late at night and hearing from them anecdotes and stories of the world.

In addition to the transient guests, from time to time the musical band from Lask stayed with us. The band consisted of seven musicians. These musicians were well known in all the surrounding towns. They played at Jewish weddings and, to separate the holy from the profane, at the weddings of the nobility and wealthy Christians. They travelled with a wedding–jester. When they stayed with us it was lively and pleasant.

On Jewish festivals we had cantors to stay with us. All our guests found our house to be warm and welcoming. The large samovar was always boiling, the fresh pastries smelled wonderful and strangers in the home of my parents, Chava and Reb Jisroel Gedalja Rosensztejn, felt as comfortable as they would have in their own homes.

Of my whole family, the only ones to avoid the German Destruction were my older brother Majer (who painted the extraordinary wall in the Pabianice synagogue; he lived in Israel for a long time and passed away in America) and the writer of these lines, who lives in Israel with his wife and six children.

 

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