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[Pages 94-101]



In writing about Jewish schooling in Siedlce, I chose as the distinguishing feature the criterion of language. At the outset I would like to explain the language problem of the Eastern European Jews who were called the Ashkenazim.1 The Ashkenazim in their overwhelming majority used the Yiddish language (also referred to as the Jewish language). This language arose in the middle ages from one of the German dialects among Jews living on the Rhine River.2

The other language used by the Jews was Hebrew. It was the language of the elite, a religious and literary language. An attempt to revive it was made in the sixteenth century. It came into common use for good during the Jewish enlightenment (haskala) and the birth of the Zionist movement. This took place in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.



After the age of 4–5, the sons of Orthodox Jews attended cheders, that is, elementary religious schools. In the first years, they studied the Pentateuch of Moses under the direction of melamdim (teachers of small children). Some melamdim were assisted by belfers (aids) who brought the youngest children to and from the cheder, especially during winter. The study of the Pentateuch generally consisted in the collective reading aloud of particular books [Genesis through Deuteronomy—ed.] in Hebrew and translating them into Yiddish. In this way children became familiar with the beginnings of Jewish history and the Hebrew language.

In the first half of the twentieth century, there was a primary religious school in Siedlce called Talmud-Torah (Study of Torah). The school building was given over for use at the end of August, the beginning of September 1903.3 It was built by a Jewish entrepreneur of that time, Isroel Grinberg, at a cost of four thousand rubles. The school was blessed by Rabbi Szymon Dow Anolik. The school was attended by boys who were the sons of Orthodox parents. The former teachers of the Talmud-Torah that up until that point was located at 71 Piękna Street probably found employment in the new building. These included Josel Czetwer, who taught the youngest boys; Abraham Ratyniewicz, who was responsible for teaching the Pentateuch of Moses; Baruch Lajbel Strusman, who taught the Gemara (the part of the Talmud that contained [dialectical discussion of the law and—ed.] biblical commentary); and Mosze Mordechaj Kirszenbojm, who delved more deeply into knowledge of the Gemara with the oldest children. At its beginning the school had 60 pupils and was maintained through the voluntary donations of the faithful. The Jewish community council contributed to its upkeep by allocating to it a part of the money brought in by the ritual slaughter of kosher animals.

During the interwar period, the Jewish Orthodox Party Agudah, which took care that all of life conformed to religious dictates, exerted an ideological influence on the school. After Poland gained its independence, the Talmud-Torah was placed under the supervision of the superintendent of schools. Secular elements of study were introduced, such as the Polish language, arithmetic, drawing, history, geography, and the natural sciences.

On average, 300–400 children studied in the school and communicated among themselves in Yiddish. The school day lasted from 8 AM to 7 PM with a one-hour break for lunch. The teaching of secular subjects took a mere two hours a day. The pupils had no summer vacation, and there were also no organized sightseeing trips. As the pupils remember it, “in school, the rabbi ruled with a strap.” The school board consisted of N. D. Gliksberg, chair; Israel Gutgeld, Manisz Ridel, Mosze Chim Lewin, Mosze Zagan, Sander Kantor, Henoch Sztajberg Kałuszyner, Szloma Szmuel Abarbanel, Jehanatan Asbeszyc, Welwel Orłowski, Jeszajahu Zelikowicz, Eliezer Śliwka, and Josef Czarny. In 1922, at the initiative of Israel Gutgeld, a locksmith's shop was created in the Talmud-Torah, where boys could learn a trade. It only functioned a few years under the tutelage of Josef Berg. The board responsible for the running of the school at that time was not interested in it.

For a certain time, a yeshiva, a Jewish religious university that prepared for taking on the function and office of rabbi, was run in the school. One of the forms of teaching was the analysis by students of rabbinical texts in two-man groups. Much time was also devoted to deliberations about ethics and morality. The Siedlce yeshiva came into being as early as the 1870s and was quartered on Piękna Street in the house of Herszl Śliwka. It was run by Reb Isroel Dragoeiner, who was called Reb Isroelke.4 He was known for his Orthodox views, among others, he signed a proclamation, “Notes on Faith,” which forbade reading secular newspapers. In running the yeshiva, he placed greater weight on the study of the Russian language than on Hebrew. He felt that the Russian language was more useful in contacts with the authorities and residents of the empire. To this end, he brought from Kobryń a respected teacher of Russian, Reb Icchak Tenenbaum. When he took on the function of secretary of the community council and did not have time for lessons in the yeshiva, Reb Isroelke brought in another “Litwak,” Szeflan. After the pogrom of 1906, Reb Isroel Dragoeiner left the city, and the new director became Reb Dawid Icchak Międzyrzecki from Radzymin. He was a noted scholar, a Chassid, a follower of the tzadik from Aleksandrów. After the building of the Talmud-Torah school in 1903, the yeshiva was also moved to the new building. It has not been possible to determine when it stopped functioning and was incorporated into the Talmud-Torah. In 1924, efforts were made to reactivate the yeshiva. The school, on the other hand, lasted until the time of World War II.



At the end of 1915, under the German occupation, a school was founded in which Yiddish and Hebrew were used as instructional languages. It was founded by the Brześć Committee that assembled exiles from Brześć and Pińsk who had taken refuge in Siedlce. It consisted of several hundred families. In this school, teachers who were recruited from among the exiles taught. Meals were given to the children. The institution was under the care of the Zionists.5



In October 1915, the first primary school was founded in which Yiddish was the language of instruction. The school came into existence at the initiative of Fania Radak in cooperation with Cywa Zubrowicz and Rachela Edelsztajn-Berg. Fania Radak was a graduate of the teachers' courses affiliated with the Society for the Dissemination of Education, the director of which was Chaim Fijałkow. Josef Rozenzumen remembered her in the following way: “A 'Litwak' girl arrived here, very likeable, wearing low-healed shoes, and opened a school for Jewish children here in which everything is taught in Yiddish. She speaks Yiddish in such a way that it is a pleasure to listen. I myself teach singing there.”6

This school taught natural history, arithmetic, history, Polish language, needlework, and singing. It had four grades. It was attended by about 60–70 children, mostly girls. After a certain time it became a private school, in which children paid for their education. Some of the teaching staff was replaced in connection with this change.

In the summer of 1916, a new, six-grade Jewish school was founded. It was attended by about 240 children. It was registered under the private names of the ladies Cywa Zubrowicz Rojza Tenenbojm, and Mina Gutglik. Aside from the aforementioned, Jakow Tenenbaojm, Ryfka Bursztajn-Mandelman, Dawid Nojmark, Mosze Mandelman, and Josef Zonszajn also taught in this school,. The school was free, and the children were enrolled from the poorer spheres. Teachers did not get a salary for teaching; they came mostly from well-off families. If needed, financial aid came from the Jewish Art Society.7

In 1917, the Jewish Art Society founded its own school. It was attended by about 80–90 children aged 6–7. The school initially had two grades. The first teachers were Oszer Perelman and Lola Kantorowicz.8 The official opening took place 31 December 1917, and the teaching staff was joined by Ala Koszer, who later married Oszer Perelman. Singing was taught by Josef Zonszajn, the choir director at the Jewish Art Society.

In May 1918, there was a manifestation of the pupils of all types of Jewish schools. The following schools participated: the school for Brześć and Pińsk homeless children, the Hebrew school, Halbersztat's private school (with Polish as the language of instruction, intended for children from wealthy families), two private cheders run by Hebrew language teachers Goldfarb and Morgensztern, as well as a few Polish city schools for Jewish children (so-called Shabbat schools [szabasówki—trans.]). The parade was composed of pupils, teachers, and athletes and moved out accompanied by the orchestras of Jewish Art and Polish City Schools at 8 AM from the city park and went as far as the Sekuła Woods. About 3,000 children took part in the manifestation. The point of the effort was the consolidation of circles of Jewish youth with the aim of supporting the political aspirations of the Jews, who wanted to form a federal state with the participation of Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians on the territory occupied by the Germans.9

After the formation of the Polish state, three boards of education were formed in Siedlce at the beginning of 1919 that directed schooling. They were formed by the political parties. And so there was the Dinezon board of education run by the Folkists,10 the Medem board of education run by the Bund,11 and the Borokhov board of education run by Poalei Zion. These boards of education took over the schools and also created orphanages.

The schools and orphanages were supported by party funds. This promising development of schooling was destroyed by the Polish–Bolshevik War. After it, difficult times set in. The Dinezon board of education barely managed to sustain one of the two prewar schools and a preschool during 1921–1926. Because of a lack of funds, a tuition fee was introduced, and the school became subordinated to the Central Jewish School Organization (CISZO), from which it received aid. Dinezon's board of education ran a five- or six-grade school, depending on conditions at a particular time, in which about 200 children studied. The Siedlce authorities impeded the free development of the school. Some classrooms were even requisitioned. In this connection, the Folkists made all kinds of efforts to take back the requisitioned classrooms. This matter was brought up in the Sejm as an example of the restrictive policy of the government in relation to the Jews. Finally, in 1926, the classrooms were returned. In 1921, the teachers in this school were Krusman and his wife, Aharon Sienicki, and H. Borensztajn. In the 1925–1926 school year, the school came under the patronage of the Jewish League for Primary Education12 and thanks to its aid could continue to function. During this year, Mordechj Giliński “Batko” arrived at this institution after completing the Jewish teachers' college in Vilnius and with his work revitalized the school. In 1925, on the tenth anniversary of the death of Icchak Lejb Perec,13 the school was named after him and a banner was funded. Thanks to the active battle of the Folkists in the community, in the literal sense, since it sometime came to blows and police intervention, finances managed to be obtained from the community, thanks to which the school did not have any financial problems during 1927–1929. During these years, a full seven-grade school operated and was attended by 250 children. Extra food for the children was also introduced in the classroom (consisting of two rolls and milk or cocoa). In 1928, the tenth anniversary of the school and the regaining of independence by Poland were ceremoniously celebrated. A jubilee exhibit was organized on this occasion. Guests came from Warsaw for these celebrations, among them the leader of the Folkists Noach Pryłucki and the representative of CISZO, Josef Leszczyński. This school lasted until 1933. The economic crisis that encompassed the whole world at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s came to Siedlce as well. The absence of financial aid from educational institutions and the progressing impoverishment of the population made the continued running of the school impossible.



The beginnings of Hebrew schooling reach back to 1904. It was at that time that a group of Zionists founded the first school in which Hebrew was the language of instruction. It was located on Piękna Street. The teachers in this school were Górewicz, Kapłański, Akiba Goldfarb, and Dawid Morgenstern. There were 180 children who studied in it.14 In addition, courses in Hebrew for adults were also conducted at that institution. This school existed for several years.

In 1917, a Hebrew-Jewish school was founded by the Zionist M. M. Landau called Daat (Knowledge). It lasted for a short time, however.

After Poland's regaining of independence and the introduction of mandatory schooling for children between the ages of 7 and 14, Dawid Morgenstern and Akiba Goldfarb founded two separate schools taught in Hebrew. Cheders were affiliated with these schools. In 1924, the group Supporters of the Hebrew Language arose in affiliation with Akiba Goldfarb's school, which was located at 22 Warszawska Street. It was formed by Zionist youth aged 16–17. This group organized evening Hebrew language classes for young people from various social strata. Meetings called “question and answer evenings” took place as well as “literary conversations,” during which discussions took place exclusively in Hebrew. Lectures on the subject of the Torah and religion were conducted by the well-known Zionist activist and educator Israel Gutgeld. The founders of the group were Sara Kleinlerer, Tonia Barbanel, Mordechaj Gotesdiner, Israel Jon-Tow, Lewi Pasowski, and Dawid Pasowski. Its members gathered in the evening by the drug store on Warszawska Street and demonstratively spoke in Hebrew, attracting thereby the attention of passersby. For them this was a form of demonstrating their views and propagating the idea of Zionism.15

In the summer of 1926, a Zionist committee came into existence, composed of Lewi Tenenbojm, Mosze Jon-Tow, Jehoszua Akerman, Fiszel Popowski, Abram Altenberg, and Meir Gutgeld (secretary). The goal of the committee was the founding of a Tarbut (Culture) school. A two-grade school was already formed in the 1926–1927 school year, attended by about 100 children. Their teachers were Josef Okuń (principal), Szalita, Weinen, and Frieden. In following years the school grew considerably and became a seven-grade school. The 1927–1928 school year saw the addition of the teachers Kuszlian and Ihorowicz, and the number of children rose to 200. The school continued to grow the following year. The teaching staff was supplemented by Heler and Mlaszen, and the number of children rose to 250. This school was attended by children from the Protection of Orphans custodial institution. They did not pay for their education, but fees were collected from the remaining pupils. The majority of the school funds were covered, however, by money received from the Jewish community council as well as from party dues. In 1930, changes took place in the management of the institution. Josef Okuń left Siedlce, and Cwi Bokser took his place. In 1931, the school was ceremonially given a blue-and-white banner. In the 1930s, this institution continued to function; during this period it was located at 60 Piłsudski Street. It ran a library, a drama division, and a choir. On 5 May 1934, at the school's initiative, the Holiday of Spring, Lag Baomer, was celebrated. It literally means the Thirty-Third Day of Counting Omer.16 A parade of about 1,500 people marched down the streets of the city. At the end, those present were addressed in Hebrew by the principal of the Tarbut School, Hersz [Cwi] Bokser. He talked about the significance of the Holiday of Spring and the planting of trees. After him, Lejzor Bernholc spoke and praised the builders of Palestine. He concluded his speech with a shout against Vladimir Jabotinsky. The members of “Brit Trumpeldor” who were gathered at the celebration started to raise loud shouts in honor of Jabotinsky and did not allow any more speeches. Other members of the assembly dispersed to their homes in peace among the general uproar. On the next day, the parade in which about 1,500 young people took part went to the woods located in Skórzec Township. There the young people stayed until evening in a picnic mood.

The last principal of the school was Borenstein. The Tarbut School lasted until the outbreak of World War II. Some of the graduates left for Palestine before the war and thanks to this survived. The task of the school, besides providing primary teaching, was the preparation of settlement recruits for Palestine.17



A portion of Jewish children, independent of the existence of Jewish schools, attended Polish state schools throughout the twenty-year [interwar] period. This applied particularly to the assimilationists. However, after the liquidation in 1933 of the Yiddish-language school, most of its pupils moved to Public School No. 7 at 24 Więzienna Street (currently Świętojańska Street). This building is still in existence today.

Rachela Berg became the principal of this school. At the beginning of the 1933–1934 school year, Jewish pupils en masse left classes on Saturdays. The Jewish community council demanded of the management of this institution and of the school superintendent that pupils be excused from classes on this day so that they might, in accord with the dictates of Judaism, celebrate that day. School authorities did not agree. This caused protests by the Jewish community council, which issued a proclamation, directed primarily at parents, to look after their children and properly celebrate Shabbat along with them. The Zionists also supported the aspirations of the pupils. Those Orthodox students who were older in age would stand in front of the school on Saturdays and try to explain to the Jewish pupils the significance of this day. At the recommendation of the superintendent, the police intervened, intercepting the Orthodox pupils. The dispute ended with the exemption from Saturday school attendance for children of Orthodox parents.18

At the same time, the Catholic population of Siedlce started a campaign against teachers of Jewish background employed in public schools. It was particularly vocal in calling for the dismissal of Rachela Berg from her position as principal of the school. This led to a demonstration of Catholics supporting the above demand. A boycott of the school was even threatened in the event that the demands were not met. The pertinent petition was signed by 800 people.19 State and school authorities strove to soothe the conflict, which they were successful in doing after a certain time.

Jewish schools in Siedlce functioned within the sphere of influence of various parties. Very often, the language used in the school coincided with the political aspirations of the parents whose children attended the relevant institutions. In school, aside from learning, the attempt was made to influence the children politically, bringing up young activists in this way. With this goal, young people's organizations were also formed, both the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair (Young Guard) and Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneer). Yet the political division within Jewish society was not rigid. Some people changed their views; children matured and looked at the world more critically than during their childhood and youth. Jewish young people, after graduating from primary schools, often continued their studies in Polish secondary schools and universities, where they either cemented or changed their previous views.

Author's Notes, Chapter 6

  1. Accepted thinking is that as early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Jews in Germany were using a clearly changed Germanic language with an admixture of many Hebrew and Romance words. Manuscripts from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries testify to the existence of a new language. This language subsequently yielded over several centuries to Slavic influences, particularly Polish and Ukrainian. Before World War II, Yiddish was used by about 12 million people worldwide, of whom 3 million were in Poland. The Nazis murdered most Eastern European Jews. Some survived in the United States and in the USSR. Currently, the most well known author who wrote in Yiddish is the American author Isaac Bashevis Singer, who in 1987 won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his creative work. He was born in 1904 in Radzymin near Warsaw; he emigrated from Poland in 1935. [He died in 1991.—ed.] There is another group of Mediterranean Jews called Sephardim, who, aside from Hebrew, also use a language called Ladino. This language arose in the late middle ages in Spain based on Romance dialects, especially Castilian. Return
  2. S. Belis-Legis, “Szkic do autoportretu,” in Literatura na świecie, no. 12/161 (1984): 3–26; E. Geller, „Jidysz—geneza nazwy i nie tylko,” in Kalendarz Żydowski 1987–1988, pp. 110–115. Return
  3. Specifically in the month of Elul—the sixth lunar month of the Hebrew calendar, counting from Passover, or the last counting from the New Year (Rosh Hashanah). This month usually starts at the end of August. It is the month that precedes the Day of Reconciliation (Yom Kippur) and is therefore called the time of repentance. During this time, Jews examine their consciences so as to achieve spiritual order. Return
  4. Reb—a courtesy title, emphasizing the erudition of a man. It is the equivalent of the Polish “Pan” [Mr. or Sir—trans.]. Return
  5. M. Mandelman, “Yiddish Education in Siedlce,” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, p. 459. Return
  6. Ibid., p. 457. Return
  7. Ibid., p. 459. Return
  8. Ibid., p. 463. Return
  9. Ibid., p. 466. Return
  10. Jakub Dinezon, also Dinesohn (1856–1919)—prose writer, journalist, education activist, founder of many orphanages and schools. He wrote in Yiddish and also translated the works of other authors into this language. Return
  11. Włodzimierz [Vladimir] Medem (1879–1923)—a top leader of the Bund, editor of many socialist periodicals. He studied law at the university in Kiev. He was critical of both Zionism and Marxism. Return
  12. An educational and schooling organization founded by the Jewish Folkist Party in 1922. Return
  13. Icchak Lejbusz Perec [Isaac Leib Peretz] (1852–1915)—born in Zamość, died in Warsaw. An attorney by profession. By defending Poles, he fell afoul of the tsarist authorities and lost his right to practice his profession. At first Perec wrote in Polish, then in Hebrew, but his greatest achievement is considered to be his introduction of Yiddish into literature. His home became the literary salon of all those who wrote in the Yiddish (Jewish) language. Many writers fell under his influence. Along with Mendele Mojcher Sforim and Sholem Aleichem, he is counted among the Jewish classics. He is the author of Folk Tales, Tales of the Chassidim, The Golden Chain, as well as many others. Return
  14. F. Dromi-Popowski, “Hebrew Education in Siedlce,” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, p. 483. Return
  15. F. Dromi-Popowski, “The Group 'Supporters of the Hebrew Language',” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, pp. 504–505. Return
  16. This is the eighteenth day of the month of Iyar (April–May). An exceptional day of having the nature of a semi-holiday. The days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot were often times of misfortune and misery for Jews in the past, and thus it is considered a time of mourning and sadness. As tradition states, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died in antiquity as a result of the plague. The plague subsided only for one day, the thirty-third day of “counting Omer.” According to another tradition, it is a day in which God sent manna from heaven during the wandering to the Promised Land. Still others refer to Bar Kokhba's revolt. After many defeats, the rebelling forces scored a significant victory over the Romans on this day. From 1920, the Zionist Organization announced this day as “the day for celebrating the granting of Palestine to the Jews,” and in 1928 this day was announced as the day of Jewish sports. Return
  17. Dromi-Popowski, “The Group 'Supporters of the Hebrew Language',” pp. 463–502. Return
  18. Działalność antypaństwowa Żydów oraz zajścia antyżydowski 1924–1934, Wydz. II Społ.-Pol. 1919–1939, UWL, APL, sig. 498, pp. 47–49. Return
  19. Ibid., pp. 47–49; Głos Podlaski, no. 35, 38 (1934). Return


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