« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 457]

The Yiddish School System in Siedlce

by Moshe Mandelman, New York

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In October of 1915, barely two months after the Germans had occupied Siedlce, the first Jewish Folk School opened there, created by the energetic and intelligent young woman—Mrs. Radak. In later years she, together with her husband, worked in Riga's Jewish secular school system, and from there they went to the Soviet Union.

Mrs. Radak arrived in Siedlce as a refugee. She fled with her parents from a border shtetl called Khorszel (near East Prussia). In Siedlce, together with the Siedlce women Tzviah Zubravicz and Rochel Edelstein-Barg, she received from the German school authorities the right to open a school for Jewish children with Yiddish as the language of instruction. This idea—of Yiddish as the language of instruction—belonged exclusively to the above-mentioned Mrs. Radak. She was a teacher from the education courses at the community “M'fitzei Haskalah” [Spreaders of the Haskalah], which were under the supervision of Chaim Fialkow. For a short time she was active as an educator in Warsaw in the newly established nurseries for homeless children, thousands of whom were in Warsaw at that time.

I will never forget the impression that it made on me when my longtime friend Yosef Rosenzumen enthusiastically told me the news: “A Litvak woman, very sympathetic, has come wearing shoes with low heels, and she has opened a school for Jewish children where everything is taught in Yiddish. She speaks Yiddish—it's a pleasure to hear. I myself am studying

[Page 458]

singing there.” This information from my friend was a big surprise to me. I was very enthusiastic about what he said, and I decided with him that early the next morning I would go to the school to see and hear with my own eyes and ears this miracle—a Jewish school for Jewish children in Yiddish!

The school captured me. I was bound to it, and I was ready to do my utmost for this educational institution. I sat together with the children and listened with all of my might to hear these new things—they taught natural history, computation, history, and so on—in Yiddish!…Mrs. Radak led the studies in Yiddish, computation, natural history, and history; Rochel Edelstein taught Polish; Tzviah Zurowicz taught crafts, and Yosef Rozenzumen taught singing. Even now I remember that the first song that he taught the children was “Do You Know the Land Where Esrogim Bloom?”

I remember how Mrs. Radak troubled herself to find materials and terminology for all her studies in Yiddish. I brought her some popular scholarly books from the “Yehudia” publishers that came out under the name “People's University,” Philip Krantz's “Culture History,” and the like. When, after several months, the school moved to a bigger locale, near “Woiskow Place”—I carried the benches on my shoulders in order to cut down on the moving expenses.

Gradually the school developed and earned a good reputation in the city. There were already four classes with 60 to 70 children—mostly girls. Later on, the school adopted a more private character with the goal of earning a profit. It as called Radak's School. Tz iah Zubrowicz had left. I and my friend Rosenzumen maintained that a school with instruction in Yiddish—something new in Jewish life at that time—should have a community character. Little by little we moved away, until we were entirely separate from Radak's School. But we had already begun to organize a new school on a community basis.

At that time in Siedlce there was also another school for Jewish children where Yiddish and Hebrew were taught. This school was founded and let by the so-called “Brisk Committee.” This was a “self-help” committee

[Page 459]

shaped by people from Brisk and Pinsk who were “homeless” (as people then referred to refugees). The number of the homeless was not small at all, several hundred families, among whom there were also teachers. This Brisk Committee at the end of 1915 created a school for children from among the Brisk homeless. The teachers were also from among the homeless. About 200 children studied there in two daily sessions. This school was under Zionist influence.

 

2.

We began to establish the second school by organizing a school committee. Serving on this committee were: Yosef Rosenzumen, David Neumark, Yakov Tenenbaum, Rivkah Burstein-Mandelman, Avraham Zigelwaks, and Moyshe Mandelman. Permission to open the school was given by the German school authorities to three Jewish women who had graduated from a Russian gymnasium and had the right to be teachers. They were: the already mentioned Tzviah Zubrowicz, Royce Tenenbaum, and Minya Gutglick.

The school opened in the summer of 1916. It enrolled many children. In six classes we had 240 students. The following were the teachers: Zubrowicz, Tenenbaum, Gutglick, Rivkah Burstein-Mandelman, Dovid Neumark, Moyshe Mandelman, and Yosef Sonnschein (singing). This school grew quickly and earned a good reputation. Lawyer A. Hartglass (later a well-known Zionist deputy in the Sejm who died in Israel), demonstrated at certain times sympathy for this school with its Yiddish instruction and promoted the institution with the authorities.

The children were recruited from among the poorer classes. You must understand that we took no tuition fees and that the teachers received no pay. They did not need any, because they were for the most part the offspring of middle-class homeowners and did not have to worry about their livelihood. Rent money was just a few groschen because at that time there were many empty apartments in the city, thanks to the evacuation of all Russian clerks, who numbered in the thousands.

In order to pay our small bills, we would offer, from time to time, social gatherings. The member of the school committee, Yakov Tenenbaum,

[Page 460]

who was just crazy about writing, wrote a three-act comedy with the strange title of “That's No Mouse—It's a Rat,” which was produced several times by the drama section of “Jewish Art.” Proceeds went to the school.

 

sie460.jpg
A number of students from the Jewish Folk School, with the teachers:
Sarah Czarnebrode, Falle Altshuler, Yosef Sonnschein, Rivkah Mandelman

 

But again this time we quickly realized that as things were going, the school had to become the private property of the three women in whose name the school license was given. We sought various means to get the school out of private hands. And that brought about an extraordinary political moment.

 

3.

In the fall of 1916, the Germans announced that the organization and leadership of the Polish school systems would be given over solely to the Poles. Jews then began to demand their right to organize and lead a Jewish school system for Jewish children. It was a great victory when the “People's Group” in Warsaw won the elections to the Warsaw city council. This is what

[Page 461]

led to the creation of the “Jewish People's Party,” and its representatives, in the press and at rallies, presented a demand for a school with Yiddish as the language of instruction. Noach Prilucki's speeches made a huge impression in the Warsaw city council, which was considered at that time to be the most important platform in the country. Poles and assimilated Jews watched “with angry amazement” the meetings of the city council in Warsaw to see who was this “Jew” [“Zhid”],who dared from the floor of the Warsaw city council, to ask for “schools” in “Jargon”!…

This was a time of large rallies over educational and cultural problems, where V. Medem, G. Zibert, and other members of the Bund appeared together with the Folkists Prilucki, Hirschorn, Stupnicki, Naumberg, Mendelman, and others.

In Siedlce, too, a struggle began for a school taught in Yiddish. The aforementioned school committee, the newly organized People's Party, and the directorship of “Jewish Art” organized several rallies where political resolutions were taken demanding of the authorities that they give us the right to organize and lead a Jewish school system with Yiddish as the language of instruction, to be supported by the city. Keep in mind that a struggle with Zionists-Hebraists flared up from day to day as the debates about the school question grew more heated, whether in the press or at gatherings.

We organized all of the Yiddishist powers in the city and collected a large number of signatures Fromm the members of “Jewish Art”—the only large cultural institution in Siedlce. We requested from the directors of “Jewish Art” that they should convene an extraordinary general meeting of its members and there consider the question of opening a Yiddish school by the “Jewish Art” society. Our hope was that “Jewish Art” would in time become the Yiddish cultural center where all branches of the Yiddish cultural activity could be found under one roof.

This all required a great deal of effort, because the opposing Zionist-Hebraist side did everything they could to forestall the broadening of Yiddish cultural activities. They clung

[Page 462]

to the argument that it was not the responsibility of “Jewish Art”—according to its by-laws—to concern itself with school building, and furthermore it would be materially quite difficult and the membership would not want to support it. But we were obstinate, so that an extraordinary membership meeting was called. This was sometime in the winter of 1916-17.

This meeting, one could say, was historic. There was laid the foundation for a modern Yiddish-secular school system in Siedlce. The opposing sides had mobilized their best speakers and tried to persuade the members to vote one way or the other. Three evenings, one after the other, were taken up with the meetings. Each side tried, in writing and orally—as if it were a big election campaign—to use an assortment of tricks. There were moments of amazing heat that almost resulted in fisticuffs. Finally our Yiddishist side won. With a large majority of the votes, it was decided that the community “Jewish Art” would open a Yiddish school with Yiddish as the language of instruction.

The school committee wanted to direct that the existing school should be given over to “Jewish Art.” When the current owners heard of this plan, they rebelled. They demanded assurances that they would be the teachers in the new school. We did not want to do so in advance. The school committee ceased shaping matters, and the school lost its meager income. A few members from the directorate of “Jewish Art,” relatives of the current owners, tried to delay the carrying out of the meeting's decision to open a school. But we were prepared that week and did everything we could to remove obstacles. We saw to it that the whole school inventory should be turned over to “Jewish Art.” We received from the German school authorities a charter in the name of the community to open and maintain a Jewish school for Jewish children in Yiddish. The school was set to be open for the new school year of 1917/1918. In order to avoid conflicts with the former teachers, we decided to bring in teachers from Warsaw, even though they would have to be paid. Friends from Warsaw

[Page 463]

recommended as a good teacher Asher Perelman, who had taught for a long time in the Warsaw Jewish schools. One Shabbos, Perelman came to Siedlce. He gave a talk about the goals and responsibilities of a Jewish school. He pleased everyone, and we encouraged him to make arrangements to stay with us as a teacher. We We proposed that “Jewish Art” should engage him as a teacher in the new school.

I should note an interesting fact: at a critical moment, during negotiations between the directorate of “Jewish Art” and Perelman over the school budget, when the directors categorically declared that they did not have the authority to guarantee the full sum that the school would cost per month and that the whole matter should be abandoned, our dear, beloved friend Itsche Altschuler—an enthusiastic Folkist and Yiddishist—said, “I will, out of my own pocket, each month make up the deficit in the budget.” He kept that sacred commitment, and for many long months he punctually made his donation, 20 marks each month, I think it was. This was a considerable sum, and Altschuler was not a rich man—his income came from a small sugar business.

 

4.

When “Jewish Art” had advertised through posters in the city that a Yiddish school would be opening, we enrolled about three hundred children in a few days. We decided to build up a normal school that would grow and develop from year to year, so we agreed to open that year with only two elementary classes. Therefore we chose from among the enrollees only eighty-some children ages 6 to 7.

The school opened in October of 1917. It was located in the premises of “Jewish Art” at 66 Warsaw Street. It had a large hall near the concert hall, which served as a recreation and sports room for the schoolchildren.

[Page 464]

The first teachers were Asher Perelman and Lyalya Konsorowicz. She was later the wife of Yitzchak Gordon and she died in Russia.

The school was precious to everyone. The classrooms were a kind of holy of holies. The walls were colorfully decorated and covered with drawings and childish, primitive writing. When one went through the classrooms, even if the children were not present, one went on tiptoe, quietly, lightly , as if in a sacred spot…

The solemn official opening of the school occurred on December 31, 1917. This act took place with great solemnity. Many hundreds of people participated. For this celebration, from Warsaw came the famous author H.D. Naumberg, who in later years was proud of his first trip to the Siedlce Yiddish school and referred to himself as the “godfather” of the Yiddish school in Siedlce. There were delegates and greetings from prominent institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish, from Siedlce and other cities. The children already demonstrated, after a short time, how to show what they had learned. Among other things, I recall, dressed in beautiful costumes, they presented living “menorahs.” (It was, after all, Chanukah time.)

After this official portion, there was a banquet for more than four hundred people. For the whole night, until early in the morning, people socialized and danced. From the ten or so windows of “Jewish Art,” lights shone, while singing and joy went out into the night. The happiness can only be imagined. I remember the following incident: Naumberg was greatly pleased with my youthful singing singing of the then popular folksong “Oy Avram”!…I had to sing it a second time. Like someone a little drunk, he had me write on the left side of the published program for the evening the words of the folksong: “Over the attic lies a roof.” While writing, he sang it with a deep, raspy, sad tune. Naumberg then explained that people used to sing that very song in Peretz's home, at 1 Tsegliana on Shabbos before sundown, when a group of writers would gather around Peretz.

[Page 465]

The school grew. In its second school year, two new classes opened and a third teacher was brought in from Warsaw, Pearl, who later became Perelman's wife. At the beginning of their third year, they—already with a child—went to the Soviet Union, where he died tragically. His only son was killed by an automobile, and I do not know the fate of his wife. The singing teacher was the director of the choir for “Jewish Art,” Yosef Sonnschein (now in Argentina). The teachers showed a great deal of sincerity and love in their work. The school stood out even among Polish folk schools. Every open performance by the children, every children's production was celebrated like a great holiday for the parents, friends, and the children. At the same time, there was great sympathy for community political actions around the question of rights for the Yiddish school and about obtaining resources from the city coffers.

The extent of the school's prestige can be seen in the following:

On Lag b'Omer of 1918, we decided to make a large school demonstration: a march of all the types of Jewish schools around the city and an imposing folk-demonstration near the woods, six kilometers from the city. At that time in Siedlce there were the following Jewish schools: the school for homeless children from Brisk and Pinsk (Yiddish and Hebrew), the Zionists had established a Hebrew school, a private Polish school for well-to-do Jewish children (led by the Halberstadt sisters), two private modernized cheers (led by the Hebrew teachers Goldfarb and Morgenstern), and several Polish city schools for Jewish children, where there was no teaching on Shabbos (and they were therefore called “Shabbesuawkes”). From these schools a special ad hoc committee was formed, and it accepted our worked out plan for the celebration.

This was a school holiday that the city remembered for a long time. Six days before, scouts from the “Jewish Sports Union,” led by Professor Mandelstadt [fn.: The Sports Union was founded on my prompting in the summer of 1917. It had its own uniform: hockey apparel and bicycle hats, with green-white bands at the bottom.] went around with trumpets

[Page 466]

to arouse the Jewish population and announce that there would be a great holiday. The meeting spot was in the city garden. The march began at eight in the morning. All of the children wore badges for their particular schools. A large militia—our own and the city's—guarded the route. In the front was the combined committee for the school march. They carried signs with different political school demands and slogans. About three thousand children marched along the route, to sounds of two orchestras—from “Jewish Art” and from the Polish city schools. We marched through the main streets of the city. The grandeur of route aroused great respect among the Poles and the Germans. The streets were full of thousands of onlookers, who called to the marches with joyous voices.

After noon, thousands of people came to the city woods, and the school and children's holiday was transformed into a people's holiday. Rallies were held. Scores of groups came with a variety of games and entertainments. Songs, music, joy, and laughter were everywhere.

This holiday concluded with an orderly march back to the city. The route was filled with thousands of teenagers and children who sang lusty and happy marching songs. Later in the evening the route was illuminated with torch lights.

 

5.

Community political life in Siedlce became more turbulent. Political differences—clear and outspoken, especially under the influence of the Russian Revolution, at the beginning of 1917, added to the Jewish workers movement. Within the ranks of “Jewish Art,” two new workers organizations developed—the Bundist Workers Home, at 22 Dluga Street, and the Poalei-Tzion Workers Home on Agradowa Street. Without regard to the persecutions of the German occupiers, both parties conducted multifaceted professional and cultural activities. Also the “Jewish Folk Party” grew significantly. An artisan's union was established

[Page 467]

as well as a small merchant organization. These organizations formed the backbone of the Folkist Party. The problems of the Yiddish school system and other cultural responsibilities were daily concerns. Each political faction undertook to shape substantial responses in these areas.

At the end of 1918, when Germany was defeated militarily, Poland became independent and the revolutionary uproars reached a peak—a sharp political struggle flared up on the Jewish streets for general and nationalistic rights.

In the newly-elected Siedlce city council, the adherents of secular Yiddish schools were prominent. The “Folk Party,” the “Bund,” and the leftist “Poalei-Tzion,” as well as the representatives of the artisans, fought a battle on the floor of the council for the rights of Yiddish schools. They also fought for city subsidies of various sorts that would allow the school system to grow.

At the beginning of 1919, there were three separate school administrations: Dinezon (Folkist), Medem (“Bund”), and Borochow (Poalei-Tzion). The Dinezon administration then had fully under its influence and guardianship the school of “Jewish Art,” which was now in a new location at 61 Warsaw Street. There were now four classes with a large number fo children, and at the beginning of 1919, they opened a second school and a nursery. The Dinezon school system took over an entire building of 14 rooms. The “Bund,” too, and Poalei-Tzion created nurseries in the names of Br. Groser and B. Borochow.

Regarding the school demands, the three administrations were united. Even about certain practical matters they spoke together. The division of funds that had been collected by a Jewish-American aid committee was conducted by a coordinating committee.

No one wanted to take tuition money from he parents. On the contrary, the children received two meals a day at the school, and, from time to time, also a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes. The Dinezon administration had a large budget and still had to seek

[Page 468]

new sources of income. To this end, the “Folk Party” created a consumer-cooperative whose entire income was devoted to the school system. At that time, when the cost of living was so high, the profits from the cooperative were substantial.

But in the midst of this boom, the whole project was disrupted. In 1920, the war between Poland and the Soviet Union broke out and had, especially in SIedlce, a devastating effect on Jewish life. The wild hooliganism of the Polish reaction during the war and afterwards, buried the Jewish workers movement. Vexations and decrees were unceasing. So it was in the whole country, but it was especially awful for the Siedlce Jewish population. The Bolshevik forces were in Siedlce for only ten days, but we felt the devastation that came with the arrival of the Polish army for many years. Hundreds of young men fled in order to avoid the vengeance of the Polish reaction. Hundreds of people were imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, and some were even shot in accordance with rulings from military courts.

With particular brutality the Polish soldiers robbed and destroyed the premises of “Jewish Art.” All of the expensive furniture—hundreds of chairs, tables, wall hangings and curtains, scores of expensive musical instruments, theater decorations and costumes all disappeared. The years-long archive of “Jewish Art” was vandalized and destroyed. And on top of all this, the whole place, seventeen rooms, was requisitioned. As if by a miracle, the library was saved, several thousand books, that were stored for a long time in the cellar of the consumer-cooperative.

The school system, too, was totally ruined. The teachers left for Warsaw, the students were scattered, much of the school property was destroyed, and some of the classrooms were requisitioned by the military leadership.

The Dinezon administration—the oldest and largest school board in Siedlce—did not succumb to the battle conditions. It returned to its work.

[Page 469]

6.

With renewed strength and intent, they undertook to rebuild the schools. The school directorate consisted of: Itsche Altschuler, Menashe Czargabrode, Yosef Tirin, Yakov Schlechter, Yosef, Rosenzumen, Chaim Mendelman, and Moyshe Mandelman. They engaged new teachers, mostly local. These teachers were: Esther Levenstein—who was later the director of a “Shabbesuawke” [a school where there was no teaching on Shabbos]—Polye Friedman-Altschuler, Rivkeh Mandelman, Dinah Friedman-Hochberg, Dovid Neumark, and Yosef Sonnschein.

They had to maintain both schools and the nursery. The “Bund” and “Poalei-Tzion” also reopened their nurseries, but they were soon closed due to lack of funds.

The Dinezon administration struggled with all kinds of obstacles. Especially difficult were the material struggles. Their bills grew, while income declined. The teachers did not receive even their meager pay on time or in the full amount. Fund raising events were impossible to stage, and there was no central body to appeal to. The directors and the teachers,, with full understanding, assumed the burdens and the needs in order not to abandon their school positions. They bore their needs, but they went on believing in their work, with the hope of finding a smoother and more secure path. There were. Hopes to incorporate parents directly in the work of the school, but in hindsight that did not succeed.

The income from he first school conference, and from the conference alone, brought a revival to the work. People were full of hope for new growth and development. The problem of the school was back on agenda of the Jewish street. At this conference, the Dinezon administration was represented. From Siedlce there were also delegates from the “Bund” and “Poalei-Tzion.” Our delegation belonged to the independent faction, which played an eminent

[Page 470]

role at the conference, like a strong force. When “TZISHO” (The Central Jewish School Organization) was founded, we submitted, organizationally and pedagogically, to their directives and regulations.

For the new school year of 1921-1922, which again began with a hail of persecutions on all of the Jewish school systems in the country, thanks to the socialist resolutions of the school conference, we were compelled to combine the two school systems in one. We did, however, maintain the nursery, as an actual base for the school. Our school and nursery were then the only modern, community, Jewish school facilities in the city.

We began to demand tuition from the parents, which was new for them. The students' parents were for the most part poor, and each expense hit them hard. Our actual financial base was then the monthly subsidies from “TISHO.” We also had a bit of income from the cooperative. We received no help from the city coffers. So the school life went, one year better, one year worse materially—until the school year of 1925-1926.

Every year we had to struggle with the persecutions and vexations from the school authorities. In order to maintain our annual city budget, we had to conduct bitter struggles in the city council for subsidies for our school. When once they agreed to set aside a certain sum, the administrative overseers would come and eliminate it. But at the same time there would be visitations from the school authorities who demanded strict adherence to the school rules. We had great difficulties and worries with our premises. For many years, the military had requisitioned two rooms, but eventually the requisitions were eliminated.

The school grew. We now had 5 or 6 classes with two hundred children, and we were very crowded. We had to institute early morning and afternoon class sessions, which caused bitter conflicts among the teachers and also were not good for the children. We should also note that on the matter of requisitioning schoolrooms, there was a bitter fight. Deputy Noah

[Page 471]

Priludski several times in his speeches in the Sejm illustrated the government's handling of the Jews by using Siedlce as an example. He even brought in a special statement, with signatures of many Polish deputies about the matter. Since this matter also had to do with the War Ministry, this battle lasted for five or six years. Finally, however, we won—we received back the two room and rent for the past years.

The school was several times on the verge of being dissolved, but still it survived, mostly thanks to the teachers' readiness to make sacrifices and the actions of several members of the directorate, whose numbers had decreased. During the years 1921-1925, the active teachers were: Krusman—later the manager of the Peretz School in Lublin—and his wife Miadownik, Aaron Shenicki,, who began his teaching career with us, still wearing his student hat and later for many years was the director of the Borochow School in Warsaw and a member of the board of “TZISHO.” He died in Siberia as an exile from his home and country; H. Borenstein—later a well-known translator of many books from Polish and other languages into Yiddish.

 

sie471.jpg
The Jewish Folkschool, with the teachers:
Borenstein, Flam, Friedman, Y.F. Greenberg, Shenicki, Miodownik

[Page 472]

One of the most critical moments, when the school was on the verge of going under, was the summer of 1925. The new school year was on the threshold and there had been no refurbishing of the premises. The few members of the directorate seemed to have given up. The teachers were owed many months' pay. We owed hundreds on rent and the outlook for subsidies from “TZISHO' was not good. It looked like it was all over. There was no way out. I proposed that we should make the following attempt: we should call and extraordinary meeting for all the parents where we should lay out the situation and together seek a way to save the school. Such a meeting was called for, three days before the beginning of the school year. We were given the task of speaking to the parents who had gathered.

At this meeting, I set forth to the parents in full detail and clarity the question of “to be or not to be” for the school, and I said clearly: “You are not doing us any favors by sending your children to our school. On the contrary, we are hitting our heads against the wall, we are wrestling with all sorts of difficulties, political and material, all in order to provide your children with a good menschlich-Jewish education. So you have to be partners with us. You have to make material sacrifices. You must each pay tuition, naturally all according to their means. It all depends on you today whether we will open the school for the new year. The tuition must amount to 40% of the school budget. If you agree, we, the directors, are ready to go forward and worry about the other 60% of the budget.” As expressively as I could, I demanded from the parents a clear, straightforward answer. Their decision was surprising. The gathering unanimously accepted the proposal for tuition that would amount to 40% of the budget. A parents committee of 5 people was chosen who would work with the directors to establish the tuition for each child.

That same evening we held a meeting for the directors with the local teachers, and we

[Page 473]

decided to open the school and to proceed urgently with the necessary repairs. I had to assume the onerous duties of the secretary and actually worry about the community-financial aspect of the school.

With everything decided and agreed upon, I gradually carried out the principle that all parents should pay a minimum tuition (a zloty per month was the minimum). Although I ran into many unpleasant aspects, I maintained that the most important thing was to create a solid financial base for the school and, in addition, to to involve the parents directly in the work of the school. This effort paid off. The tuition over the following years amounted to 5-6 thousand zlotys per year, which was about 40% of the whole school budget. For the first time in the history of the Siedlce school system we had set aside a firm foundation for a normal, steady income. The parents gradually learned that they had to make sacrifices in order to give their children a modern Yiddish education.

A second important accomplishment:

The school license was in the name of three people, so it was a kind of private business; however, it had no legal community force that would enable it to demand its rights and defend it against grievances. I therefore immediately created a chapter of the “Yiddish Folk Education League” (a school and cultural organization founded by the Jewish Folk Party in 1922). During the 1925-1926 school year, the school license was put in the name of that organization. This also benefited the fate of the school, because as a school of the Folk Party it was treated better by the government, like the schools from the other radical parties. The chair of the central committee of the “Folk Education League” was Noah Prilucki, who was for a long time the Sejm deputy, and he therefore knew better how to defend the institutions that were under his influence. But the “Folk Education League” was not only of political help to us. We benefited materially as well in the fleeting school year of 1925/26. But even in this school year, the financial situation of “TZISHO” worsened, and, in line with the prevailing practice

[Page 474]

of distributing subsidies, our school received almost nothing for the year. The “Folk Education League” central group still had a bit of money. With personal intervention with Deputy Prilucki, I arranged a monthly subsidy of 300 zlotys, and—it should be noted for praise—in that year we received from the central “Folk Education League” 2,600 zlotys for the whole year. This constituted 25% of our school budget. It also fell to me in that year to get from the central board of the Jewish small merchants union in Warsaw a one-time subsidy for the school in Siedlce in the amount off 300 zlotys.

You should also understand that community support for the school grew stronger. With the cooperation of “TZISHO” in Warsaw, it fell to us to enlist the “Bund” and the “Poalei-Tzion” as active helpers with the work of the school. We formed a membership that brought in 150 zlotys monthly. We also distributed among friends of the school, in private homes, about 200 school pushkes. [collection boxes], on the order of the traditional pushes. Once each month we would empty the pushes, and we would collect about 80-100 zlotys a month. On the traditional Jewish holidays, when Jews give money for various causes—Purim, Erev Yom Kippur, and Hoshannah Rabba—on these holidays we would raise funds among individuals. These collections brought in up to a thousand zlotys a year.

From time to time we would arrange large school celebrations, where the children would demonstrate their preparation in learning and education. In order to bring education to the parents, we created a lecture series for the parents, led by the teachers. There were lectures of a pedagogical and community nature, and, from time to time, collective celebrations for the parents, children, and teachers.

The school in that year advanced pedagogically, because we won as a teacher Mordechai Gilinski (Batka), who was in later years known in the county try through his work in the “Medem Sanatorium.” He was among the newly graduated seminarians from the famous Jewish teachers seminary in Vilna. He came to us directly from Vilna, not yet

[Page 475]

having even passed the official examination. One could say, without exaggeration, that “Batka” brought the spirit of life into the school with what he had absorbed in the teacher's seminary, and his overwhelming love for the children was not in doubt. And the children responded the same way. Such love from students for a teacher—the love of our students and later of the hundreds of children in the Medem Seminary for Batka—is seldom encountered. In this way, a great number of people were mobilized to secure the school legally, financially, pedagogically, and in the community. In the following years, this work became even broader.

In 1925, on the tenth anniversary of the death of Y. L. Peretz, a huge march was organized in Warsaw to Peretz' grave. Scores of thousands participated. There were delegates from the whole country. Our school, too, took part. On my initiative it was decided to commemorate Peretz' memory in Siedlce by naming the school after him. From then on it was called “The First Yiddish Folk School in the name of Y.L. Peretz” in Siedlce. At a special ceremony on this occasion a school pennant was unfurled, made of expensive green damask, on which was embroidered with silver threads the name of the school.

 

7.

With the arrival of the 1926-1927 school year, we resolved to improve the schools in all aspects. The teaching staff was especially strengthened. These teachers arrived: Karol and Mina Weisberg—both licensed teachers. We now had seven teachers whose work raised the prestige and pedagogical level of the school.

The number of children increased and we soon decided, at the beginning of the school year, that it was time to hold our first graduation from the school. We had to give the school, we said, the tradition of a graduation. Although we never had in a year more than six classes, we then decided to make a graduation from the sixth class. The studies were specifically planned so that the students in the sixth class—there were about seven of them—should get special care.

[Page 476]

This decision proved to be important. The graduation ceremony was held in a big hall in the city. Each of the students showed off one aspect of the school subjects—Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, history—Jewish, general, and Polish—natural science, and so on. Because these demonstrations were direct results of the year's studies, the graduation made a great impression on the parents. The school thus rose in their estimation. At the end of this school year there was a grand children's production of Oscar Wilde's famous symbolic story “The Happy Prince.” The costumes and the settings, as well as the fine performances of the children, enchanted everyone. It was performed three times in the city's summer theater to full houses of children and grown-ups. The local press praised it highly.

At the same time, we conducted important political campaigns for the rights of the school, both internally and externally. We made great efforts to obtain subsidies from the magistrate and from the Jewish community organization.

During that school year there were elections for the city council and for the Jewish community organization. In order to hav our voice heard in the election campaign, we created a weekly paper, “The Word.” This was no outspoken party organ. It was edited by a committee: Yakov Tenenbaum, Menashe Czarnobrode, and myself. This was a paper that published radical Yiddishist thought. At that time the Zionists had their self-produced weekly, the “Siedlcer Vokhenblat,” and the “Agudah” also had a weekly paper, “Undzer Veg.” In our paper we had the possibility of informing the community about the inner workings of the school, of clarifying and convincing, and simultaneously fighting our opponents.

As difficult as it was for us not to be receiving a subsidy from the city, it was far more bitter to have to force through in the Jewish community organization what was absolutely controlled by the “Agudah.” We had only a single representative in the community-council—Yosef Rosenzumen. On the board, however, there were representatives only from the “Agudah” and the Zionists. Still, we could exert more pressure, because we enlisted in our struggle

[Page 477]

the students' parents, among whom were many workers and craftsmen. In addition, the organized workers movements “Bund” and “Poalei-Tzion” were on our side in the struggle.

In the city council, where the “Bund” and “Poalei-Tzion” were represented, with the help of those factions who had a significant influence with the magistrate, we managed to get a subsidy commensurate with the number of children in the school. There were times when we received about 3,000 zlotys a year.

The battle with the community council lasted more than two years, and we triumphed thanks to the local Polish official. This is what happened: At every meeting of the community council, we would arrive highly organized and seeking ways so as not to allow the budget to be passed in favor of the “Agudah.” The chair of the council was Mr. Nachum Weintraub (for many years a prominent community activist dating back to czarist times) and we had to work through him. I, even though I did not belong on the council, wanted an exception made so that I could speak and establish our right to be supported by the council. And so it happened. At the next meeting I was given a chance to speak, although the “Agudah” strongly protested. Understand, however, that we had come to the meeting well-prepared and organized. When I had finished speaking, the vice-chair, the Agudah representatives Y Czeranski, stood up and and called out in a loud voice,” And I say 'No,' with a capital N.” This had the effect of an explosion. There was a rush toward the podium, the barrier was broken, the electricity went out, and there began a melee with screaming and shouting that disturbed the whole neighborhood. The police soon arrived and there began a close investigation. But we declared that we would not give up. Our school must be supported by the community council. A new Polish official had just arrived in the city. When he learned what kind of scandal was taking place in the Jewish streets, he assumed the role of a peacemaker. The next meeting of the council came at the behest of the official, on his premises, and he persuaded the “Agudah” to agree that our school should be subsidized on the same principles

[Page 478]

as the Talmud Torah and the “Tarbus” school. After that, the school, received two thousand zlotys annually. Thus in the following years, 1927-1929, the school budget was almost fully covered.

Our freedom from material needs made it possible for the school to be inwardly stronger, and the pedagogical preparation in those years was obvious. This was confirmed by the frequent visits of the “TZISHO” teachers Rosa Simchowicz, D. Police, Ch. Sh. Kaszdan, Sh. Mendelssohn, Y. Pat, and others. Also, the official visits from the school authorities. Thanks to the objective, favorable reports of the school inspectors, we received subsidies from the magistrate. These reports we attached to our official applications for subsidies. It is worth noting that that thanks to such favorable reports from the school administration, we also received funds from the national subsidies that “TZISHO” once distributed.

 

8.

In the years 1927-1929 the school achieved its highest level. We strengthened our community outreach, both written and oral. In those years we had seven full classes with about 250 children. There was a kind of crystalisation—the parental element in our school became more ideologically conscious,

In time the financial situation of “TZISHO” improved. B. Michalewicz' visit to America brought in considerable sums for the Yiddish school systems. That gave us the opportunity to accomplish much. I obtained from TZISHO a special large sum to completely renovate the school. We made the school more comfortable and fixed up the appearance of the classrooms. The monthly “TZISHO” subsidies reached a hundred dollars (800-900 zlotys). In addition, we received about a hundred dollars a month for feeding the children in the school. For this purpose we arranged for a kitchen in the school with all the necessary appliances. All the schoolchildren ate breakfast in their classrooms together with their teachers. This had great educational benefit.

[Page 479]

Incidentally, the children themselves helped serve at mealtimes, where they served two rolls with a glass of milk or cocoa.

At the end of the 1927-1928 school year—on the tenth anniversary of the school's founding—we created a number of school celebrations. Over the course of two weeks, among all the organizations and institutions where we had any influence, thee were extra school rallies and gatherings. In one of the largest halls in the city there was an imposing performance by the children. There was a march by the school through the streets of the city, by children, parents, and friends. And to top it off—a wonderful exhibition about the school that took up all seven classrooms. For the opening of this exhibition, Yosef Leszczinski (Khmurner) from TZISHO and Deputy Noah Prilucki (Folk-Education League) came from Warsaw. The exhibition, which was the result of a year's worth of work, represented all the areas of study and made a great impression on all who attended. The exhibition was open for two weeks. In that time it was visited by more than five thousand people. Among the visitors were representatives of the school administration, a number of teachers and professors from the Polish folk school and gymnasia, many of whom reacted with great praise and attention. In the visitors book there were many interesting entries in Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew from numerous Jewish and Polish circles who expressed amazement at the great pedagogical education in our school. Some of the designers of this exhibition in 1929 were at the international school exhibit in Locarno, where TZISHO had its own hall.

In 1928-1929 we had our first graduation from the seventh grade. This solemn occasion occurred in the presence of a large audience. There were delegates and greetings from various groups and from abroad. This graduation publicly demonstrated the great educational preparation of our school. For this special occasion, we distributed a one-time publication in which students from different classes published their work on a number of subjects. The year 1928-1929 was also a record year, because this was the only year in which the teachers received their full salaries for all twelve months.

[Page 480]

The school also had a fine library for teachers and one for children—run by the children under the supervision of a teacher, a selection of important laboratory equipment for experiments. The crown of our educational work was the student club, which, during the year, promoted education in independence and character building for hundreds of students.

 

9.

In the summer of 1929 I was working in Warsaw, for a short time in the Medem Sanitarium, and, from the fall of 1929 until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939—as a community instructor for TZISHO. M. Gilinski (Batka) was also away, permanently, working in the Medem Sanitarium, where he was active as a teacher until the Hitler catastrophe. Also my friend Rivkeh Mandelman had accepted a job in the newly established school in Kutna. These developments did not have a good effect on the continuing existence of the school. Things were made worse by the general world crisis that also affected Poland and almost entirely ruined the Jewish population of Siedlce. Jews were simply impoverished—left without anything.

The school existed until 1933. It struggled in its last years with all sorts of obstacles-chief among them, financial problems. TZISHO was again in a bad way financially. It made heroic efforts to maintain the school system in the country, and it gave special attention to the school in Siedlce. From time to time TZISHO sent special envoys to conduct local school activities and to reinforce certain people there who did not want to relinquish their positions. In addition, the subsidies from the magistrate and the community organization collapsed, so that necessarily the teachers' wages were decreased.

The few members of the directorate were worn out. The whole burden of the school was borne by Menashe Czarnogrode and Mottl Friedman. In the school's last years, representatives of the “Bund” and “Poalei-Tzionn” joined the directorate. Binyamin Kramosz

[Page 481]

worked hard. He was the secretary of the school until the end. The crisis became worse and worse. It was one of the most bitter years in the history of TZISHO. The “slaughtering knife” of need made one cut after the other, and the school in Siedlce fell under its blade. The teachers suffered from hunger, the burden of rent for the school increased over the year and the landlords threatened eviction. The two leaders of the directorate could not persevere and the school was no longer opened. Even in that year, when we should have been celebrating the school's fifteenth anniversary, it quietly gave up the ghost…

The landlords went through with the eviction. The school furniture and everything else was put out onto the street. For a little while it was stored in a warehouse. Finally the school inventory received a reprieve—it was transferred to the Yiddish school in neighboring Mezrich.

In later years, when the situation of TZISHO improved, especially after 1936, when there were attempts to improve political conditions in the country, when the Jewish public became much more active in reaction to the reactionary governmental attitude toward the Jews—even in those years, throughout the country, interest in the problems of schools increased. There were again attempts to renew the school activities in Siedlce. After much effort, a branch of TZISHO was opened, and concrete plans were made to open a nursery and a first grade of a school. Funds were even gathered amounting to a hundred zlotys. Sadly, these plans could not be carried out. The shadow of the anti-Semites grew greater and darkened the Polish skies until—Hitler's hordes took over and in a few days Jewish life was destroyed. The German beasts burned and destroyed everything which we had with so much love, faith, and devotion built up over 25 years in Poland.

**
*

When I ask myself what resulted from all this work? Was it worth all the effort?

[Page 482]

What did we achieve with all that money and human energy? I answer wholeheartedly—Yes! It was worth it! The understanding of oneself as an individual and as a member of a people that we planted in the students of our secular Yiddish school played an important role in the heroic struggles of young Jewish workers in Poland in the ghettoes against the Nazi enemy. They are the ones who wrote the hero chapter of Jewish history in our tragic time; they are the ones who sanctified the name of “Jew” and the Jewish people in the world! The small number of survivors, former students of the TZISHO schools are today, spread across the whole world, the enthusiastic fighters and builders for a renewed Jewish life in all its forms!

 

sie482.jpg
A class from the Polish government folk school

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Siedlce, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 21 Mar 2021 by MGH