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[Page 284]

On the Roads to the Familiar Shtetl

by Y. Rozenberg, Warsaw

Translated by Tina Lunson

Each time I happen to be on the Podliash soil I am overwhelmed by a gnawing longing. How many reminders of the recent past I am immersed in when an absentminded glance looks at that nap-ending passage of pine trees and succulent Podliash meadows that is cut into my heart.

The train carries us east from Warsaw – to Shedlets. A bright, sunny Sunday morning. People are smiling, whole families with playful children travel to the nearby forests for a respite.

The train runs through the pine trees just barely nodding their heads, hardly noticing the line that the train cuts toward Shedlets. Who can say now that through this very tidy, pleasant station, for over a period of about one year, whole train- transports of Jews sentenced to death all over Europe passed by here to the very close-by, forlorn place of slaughter that is called Treblinke.

Not far from here, over a span of eight months, by day and by night, the dead rose to heaven in the suffocating flame and smoke of the crematories, before the eyes of the residents of dozens of towns and villages. And over the surrounding fields, by day and by night, the horrifying screams were carried.

Here, at the station, onto these same pines and sands, millions of human eyes looked out from the trains that slowly passed this platform on their last journey past the platform of the Shedlets station. Treblilnke is not far from here. Today, over that sacred burial ground, meadow flowers and daisies quietly murmur…

Of the seventeen thousand Shedlets Jews only a few Jewish families remain. The memory of the seventeen thousand Jews cut down is eternalized in the center of the town. In the place where the old Jewish cemetery was once located, a special memorial was installed in honor of their memory.

From Shedlets we take an automobile to Sokolov. Traveling with us is Eli Shteynberg from Paris, who had left the town many years ago; but now he wants to look with his own eyes, to walk the streets where once the sounds of tailors and shoemakers singing about a better and more just world carried through the open windows.

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We travel over the Podliash earth, along the highway which leads from Shedlets to Sokolov. The signs of generations of Jewish life have vanished. Only the abandoned cemeteries give witness that there were Jewish settlements, that Jews lived everywhere here, even in the villages. In these Podliash fields Jews fought against the tsarist armies for Polish freedom and independence. Not far from here, in Kotsk, is the grave of Berek Yoselevitsh. On that very ground Jewish youths jabbed their bayonets into the heart of the Hitleristic human-beasts.

Our automobile turns off onto a sandy side road between thick pine forests. In the village Vola-Vadinska, in the military cemetery among the long mass graves over which slender pine and birch trees wave, you can find the graves of eight Jewish soldiers who fell, along with their Polish fellows, in battle with Hitler's army on the 17th of September 1939. The birches shelter the eight graves with their hanging branches; and some hand has tossed bundles of fresh wildflowers onto the little grass-covered mounds.

This is the village Sukhazshebra. Jewish peasants lived here, Jews with broad shoulders, thick bushy beards and creased, tanned faces, who for generations drew their living from Mother Earth; they sold their dairy products in the surrounding towns, and in the village Podnieshna, the dividing line between the Shedlets and Sokolov districts. The road continues on as a narrow ribbon between fields and forests and suddenly arrives among houses and huts. The small ones are wooden and the tall ones are masonry. Sokolov – the town surfaces unexpectedly. You really have to have a good eye to notice when the fields turn into streets.

Here is Shedlets Street and soon we have gone the length of it. The war has ruined much of it. Vanished, destroyed, the old houses. The stones, though, are near and familiar. We soon find the place of “Libe the baker's” shop, the Jewish porters' and wagon-drivers' “exchange”. We wander down the hill to the old Jewish study-house, where the shul courtyard was, and the “king of the paupers' estate” – the small hunch-backed, bowed-down little houses where the Jewish poor lived. The kingdom of the wagon-drivers, shoemakers and fur coat makers whose houses were separated from the old study-house by the narrow, muddy little stream “Tsitrinka”.

A thick pine forest had sprung up at the site of the old study-house, which was fenced in with wire. Although the sky was a deep blue and the

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sun was hot, it was dark in there. You could hardly push your way through the small trunks and footpaths. The pines were thick and their branches entangled, and reminded one of clasped hands. As before when we rascals used to gather apples in the overgrown grass of the cemetery grounds…

We did not walk from alleyway to lane, we ran. Here is where “Shmakedeske” the village traveler and fruit-seller lived, and there “Shleyme Fertsiker” the teacher. Here is where we went to kheyder. And further along on the left stretched Lipove Street, or as Jews used to call it “among the trees”, where in summer you could walk under a bower of leaves.

Here is the strolling garden near the cloister that used to be noisy with Jewish youths, with the chestnut trees still growing, their crowns grown thick. Oy! If the old trees could talk! How many whispers of love in Yiddish have they overheard?

The slaughter of the Sokolov Jews took place in the small market square. For three days the fascist murderers simply slaughtered their defenseless victims here. The buildings around the square had been destroyed. Already other ones had sprung up, one-story red brick houses. On the neighboring Ragovski Street the half-ruined building “meshenem” of worn-out, crumbling bricks still stands. Elye Shteynberg was born and educated here. In the dark, depressing corridor doors are open and the flaxen heads of children pour out. And it seems to us that from some door we should see a familiar face should emerge… Shteynberg ran his glance over the four walls that were once “their home”. Through the window we can see the fields and meadows and once again feel the gruesome truth that no one, not one of the children remains.

To the left of Rogov Street sits the Nietshetse highway. Jews used to come here on shabes to the “water tree”. Even now the old, bowed-over weeping willow stands by the water. In autumn the reflection in the water will be full of golden and copper leaves, like tears from the weeping willow for her one-time visitors.

It is already evening, but it is hard to tear ourselves from the homey town. I want to engrave it in my heart, in my memory, everything that we have seen. When we leave the town the sun is already setting fire-red behind the edge of the world. A silvery moon accompanies us on the road to Shedlets as if she wanted, with her cool, soothing shine, to quiet the pain of the reopened wound in our hearts.

(Contributed by Ester Rozenberg – Ana, in Israel)


[Page 287]

Social Struggles in the City-The Pioneers are Coming

by Haim Bar-Shalom, Givatayim

Translated by Adam Ganson

In the year 1933, one year before my immigration to Israel, I became experienced in a particular aspect of my Zionist activities. And this is how the story went.

A group of pioneer youth of the “Eastern Labor” came to Sokolov to carry out training. This was a special social occasion in the city. Indeed Jewish Sokolov was a city of toils, a city in which most of the inhabitants lived by hard physical labor, a city that put forth from it loyal and brave warriors for working people's rights. However, deeds were separate and the code of conduct was separate. The worth of physical labor was low and those who took part in it did not receive too much honor. Only few of those who engaged in physical labor were elected to public office. Even in Socialist Parties most representatives that were appointed were not truly working people. In the Study Hall and in the “Shtibl” their place was not remembered among the members of “Eastern Labor”. The working person was lonely and subject to an air of disregard. Even the lowest rank of the defenders had an attitude toward the project owners and even more so toward the low level laborers. There is no theme in the general disregard toward the value of the work, even the workers themselves viewed their work as a forced fate that they must be released from.

Thus when Jewish Youth came to the city to work in hard and simple physical labor like the “gentiles” it really struck with astonishment the “poverty” in the city-such madness, they argued- Jewish loggers? But for the multitudes of heavy laborers it was a sight that lifted the soul. The worth and honor of these workers increased in the eyes of others, but more importantly in their own eyes.

It wasn't easy for them to find work. There were no Jewish factories in the city. In the municipal institutions there was no footprint for the Jewish worker. The biggest sugar factory close by the city, that employed hundreds of people, was also closed to Jewish laborers, therefore the only possible work available was logging and cleaning work for other Jews. A new view was added to the city that their fathers and grandfathers had never seen before: every morning groups of Jewish youth going out, thin framed young men, to log trees and to do other simple labors. At the beginning, everything was going as it should, but not even a few days passed and the communists-the Jews of the place- jumped on them with their anger from a concern that the increased self-worth of the pioneers in the eyes of the toilers would start to disturb the pioneers in their tasks. Under the slogan “Against taking the work out of the hands of non-Jews”, these matters escalated to a war. The youth would return from work covered in blood.

Members of the “Eastern” together with Rabbi Yehudah Tzvi Sakschodlover z”l who worked with courage and dedication for the matter, were at a loss about how to proceed.

I arose and joined in defending them. Every day I would show up at the pioneers' place of work in order to stand up and help them fend off assaults from their communist attackers.

I appealed to the communists' conscience and when they didn't respond, I slammed hard objects in their faces. Supposedly that bothered them and they decided to take revenge on me. I found out that

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they were lying in wait for me, and for many weeks I didn't leave my house in the evenings. Notwithstanding, they succeeded in their plot. During one of these days just before evening, they were stalking me on Daluga street and they beat me with a metal rod over the head. Doctor Grodinzik z”l patched my wounds and when he found out why I was beaten up, he also joined the struggle.

The instance of the beating roused the communities' opinions, and there were responses throughout the city. In the end the communists gave up their futile campaign. And I believe that these then- communists that lived with us were regretful about their mistakes.


The First Zionists of Sokolov

by Haim Bar Shalom, Givatayim

Translated by Adam Ganson

They appeared together with the beginning of social rebellion among Eastern European Jews at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a rebellion of rising public powers against the ideological and social stagnation of the town, a rebellion against helplessness played out in front of the quickly advancing, threatening storm that would topple the foundations of Jewish life in that diaspora.

They rose up from the center of the Jewish spirit, from its practice in the Study Hall and the “Shtibl”, invigorated by the national social renaissance that brought revolution to the lives of those in the diaspora. Zionism charmed them with its supreme vision and the illegality of immigration that went with it.

A small group of members of the Study Hall, about a Minyan (ten) in number, established the foundation for the Zionist Histadrut of Sokolov.

It wasn't easy being a Zionist back then because of the challenge Zionism presented to jealous religiosity and fossilized conservatism and the habits of the generations of “Sit and Don't Do”.

Zionists argued with their parents, were cast out by their community, removed from their Study Hall and the “Shtiblach”, and pursued by the Tsar's authorities, who saw them as a threat to their regime.

This small group was the first cell of public-national activity in the city, the nucleus that grew and branched out in the course of time to a many-faced public Jewish movement that thrived in Sokolov for many years thereafter.

If in Sokolov there arose schools, literatures, youth movements, if Jewish democratic representation was organized in the municipal institutions, if there was an ongoing protest for Jewish rights in the city--surely all of this is due to the merit of that Zionist group, whose influential power continued even after the Zionist Histadrut broke apart into opposing branches and factions.

This group had a nascent spirit that remained true to its essence even with the passing of time. Their imperative of loyalty to the nation and to Zion set their precise character.

Few among them experienced comfort in their personal lives, with their existence split into the necessities of the mundane and their efforts to realize their dream of the return to Zion.

Many of them are no longer alive: neither those that died before nor those that perished in the Holocaust.

I had the privilege to live my youthful days active in the Zionist movement and here at my halfway mark I hold love and appreciation in my heart for the giant values that they gave to me.

I raise my thin pen and mark the memory of those among them as a symbol of the many that continued on their path.


[Page 293]

Sokolov at the Beginning of the Century

by Khayim Bar-Sholem (Fridluv), Givatayim

Translated by Tina Lunson

The Sokolov Jewish community at the beginning of the century numbered about 4,500 souls, who lived in a very small area. Two main streets – Dluga and Rogovska – cut through the length of the town and, along with another dozen short streets and lanes as well as the big market square in the center, that completed Jewish Sokolov.

Of the streets only a few were cobbled with un-worked stones, and when a wagon went through it echoed over the whole town. The other streets were dirt roads, and when winter came they turned into deep mud.

This was a circumscribed area, almost a ghetto, whose border Jews did not dare cross, which was called “behind the town”, although Poles lived there too.

People lived in little houses pushed together, almost without a yard, and if one married off a child a garret room was soon added. Only a few families “risked” living “outside of town” and although they had larger and more airy apartments, no one was envious of them – rather, it was seen as turning away from Jewishness.

The residences consisted of small, low, half-collapsed wooden houses; the roofs were covered with shingles or paste and rarely, with tin. A tin roof was a sign of “wealth”. The walls and roofs were for the most part covered with moss from old age. Those little houses remembered many generations; almost all were “under-built”, that is to say, when the lower part began to sink from collapse, the Jewish “carpenters” found a way to fit in pieces of wall and make it back into a “new house”.

This town sunken in poverty created a special craft: under-building houses, under-sewing boots, and reusing old clothes. It is worth mentioning how the interiors of such a home of an average Jew looked in those days. As one opened

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the door – which closed with a clasp – one found oneself in the so-called kitchen. There was a bench for a pail of water and under that, a vessel for dirty water; beside that, the chimney for cooking and a hood which led to a vent hole for the smoke. On the stove under the hood stood an iron tripod heated from underneath on which hung a pot for cooking. And if there was a strong wind the smoke – instead of going up the vent – blew down into the house. When I was studying in kheyder with Yisroel Leybele Melamed that happened often, and each time he shouted out, “Sore Mindl you are causing contempt for the Torah!”

Later they made a pipe with plates and the smoke did not go through the vent. In the kitchen there was also a sofa where an “extra child” would sleep, or the apprentice boy, since the kitchen also served as a workshop, especially for tailors and shoemakers.

After that one came into the “shtub”, that is the room where the beds for the parents and a sofa for children stood. (If there were guests they slept on benches or on the floor.) There was also a table with benches of various types, often generations old. The crevices in the walls were plastered over with lime and caulked. (People of means covered them with wallpaper.) The floor was not always made of boards. There were many residences where the floor consisted of hard-packed earth. Even in 1933 before my aliye to Erets Yisroel I saw such a floor in the musician Hirsh-Nakhum's house.

The clothes did not look any better. In summer men wore a smock, in autumn they put on another smock and in a winter frost they put an overcoat over the two smocks; and if the cold dried out the muddied corners of those three garments one could hear the approach of such a bearded Jew from a good distance. The women's clothes were no better. Summer they attired themselves in cheap linen dresses and in winter they put on several petticoats, one of top of the other.

Thus when Shabes came people cleaned themselves up, men and women dressed in their wedding clothes – that is, the clothes they wore at their weddings, even their wedding had “silvered”. The garments went through many “operations”: first turned over, then patched and finally made over for children. New shoes or boots were made when there was no alternative, when Pinkhas Aron the cobbler ruled that

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the old ones had to be thrown on the trash heap. Generally the new boots were sewn on to the old tops – “the old bootlegs are better than new ones” Jews claimed.

The struggle for a bit of bread was hard and bitter, in the literal sense of the word. And when Jews had no livelihood they created a livelihood from saving. They would be happy if they could just fill their mouths. They saved from a piece of bread, from a little potato, even a bit of salt. The kerosene lamp was protected so that it would not heaven forbid flicker out; the fire in the chimney should not get blown out by the wind. Wives went to a neighbor to grab a hot coal in order to save matches.

One of my teachers, the Dark Khayim, used to send me to a shop to buy a piece of herring and to say “only the tail”. When I brought back the herring tail he would lay it out on the table, measure it with his eye, make five marks with a knife and then cut off five pieces for the five children.

Only rich people ate white bread, everyone else ate black bread, and that only the “heymish” kind because the German kind – that is, bread baked in modern ovens – cost dearly and one ate more of it.

Eggs were eaten at Passover and milk was drunk only if one was hoarse. And when Jews, starving the whole week long, grabbed up the Shabes and holiday foods, it harmed them.

That poverty was a result of loss of livelihood – the usual companion of the overwhelming majority of Jews in Sokolov, except for a very small number of people of means who were negligible in the general need.

The majority of the Jewish population worked – the shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, hat-makers and so on. They labored hard, day and night, in order to earn their poor coins. And not all did their work in the town. Some of them stumped over the villages, sleeping in strange beds the whole week in order to find work. And the merchants had to travel to the fairs with the wives and children to sell a little merchandise. Even worse was the situation of the so-called village walker. They trudged over the villages with packs on their backs, getting by on bits of bread and hoping for a peasant to sell something as a bargain; and being subject to insults and even attacks by incited dogs.

And not only the men bore the burden of that difficult life,

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as the larger part of Sololov's Jewish women also took part in that struggle for livelihood.

They were sellers in the shops, they stood in the heat and cold with various merchandise items in the street, traveled to fairs, made bread, wigs, worked in the bakeries all night, carried merchandise into homes to sell on credit, sat at sewing machines until late at night with their eyes half closed from exhaustion, and at the same time carried the burden of a mother's obligations to the children and worried that there not be hunger in their homes. They were old before their time and ill, and if we mention the hard life of our fathers and mothers it gives us great woe.

In the early mornings and evenings Jews prayed in the study-houses and shtiblekh and begged for salvation. Some had saved up their last groshen and went off to a rebi with a note of request. They hoped for help, for redemption from the difficult life.

But salvation did not come, and the poor life of the Sokolov Jews was a pain added to the deeply-rooted Jew hatred, the gentile environment, which at the beginning of the century was transformed into a societal anti-Semitic boycott movement under the slogan “Poles for Poles”. Jews were driven out of the villages, removed from work on the princely estates. In the cities cooperatives were founded whose main goal was to fight against the Jewish merchants and artisans. Life became even more difficult and less secure.

 

Community Life

The difficult economic situation of the Jewish population in that time was also a result of societal backwardness. The town had lived locked in its traditional, set-in-stone forms for many generations, and was helpless with regard to the oncoming dangers. The tsarist authorities added to that regression by undermining any societal initiative.

The revolutionary wave of 1905 also awoke revolutionary energies in Sokolov. The Jewish workers in town, the most suffering and overcome part of the overall need, took a large

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role in the general struggle against the tsarist reactionary authorities. Dozens of workers and their leaders were sent to prisons. But after the flood of that revolutionary wave there were few constructive traces left in the life of the Jewish worker in the town.

Plus the Zionist organization which rose up at that time in Sokolov had changed the conservative stance very little in the town, being limited in its activity because of the struggle with the tsarist powers as well as with the religious classes.

The great Enlightenment movement that encompassed the Jews in Russia and which had a large constructive influence on their lives, did not reach Sokolov. Kheyder metukan in Sokolov was has melhazokir. When Yenkl Flinder, the doctor's son, became a student, he was an only child in town.

The lack of dynamic, modern energies caused a delay in modern community institutions in Sokolov. In that era only the “poor hospital” existed; one of its founders, the long-time Zionist leader Binyumin Rubinshteyn, lived with us in Israel.

Even the big emigration movement among Jews in Russia at the end of the 19th century did not come to Sokolov. Traveling to America was known in our shtetl as leaving Jewishness, going off to convert in other words. The first Sokolovers who dared to emigrate did so because of tsarist authorities forcing out the revolutionaries of 1905. And if anyone else emigrated it was a sign that they had no sustenance whatever. Those families hid their faces in shame. I recall that when Khayim Leyb the orlianik left for America it was a sensation in town. People asked, How does it come to be that a Jew, a hasid, should go to a goyishe land?

But those who fled to the “goyishe land” were the sole source of much help for Sokolov Jews in their great need in the coming years.

But it would be a mistake to say that no mutual help existed in those days among the Sokolov Jews. It existed, but in its specific, traditional forms.

First of all the houses of prayer. They were a place not only of Torah and prayer, but also to a large measure for matters that were between a man and his community. They were concerned for anyone in hard times, anyone ill, and it was their concern that a man could marry his children. If a wagon-driver's horse died, they would find a replacement. There was a feeling of mutual responsibility in the prayer-houses,

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especially in the hasidic shtiblekh and in the smaller minyonim.

Besides that there was a specific, unorganized aid institution among Sokolov Jews, the so-called gemiles-khesed institution. Giving or taking gemiles-khesed loans was the natural way of economic life. How would the dozens of small merchants get to buy a little grain on market day? From where would the poor shopkeepers get money to travel to Warsaw to buy some merchandise? And how would Jews be able to pay a note on time – if not for the function of the gemiles-khesed. One could take a loan for a week, for a day or even “grab” it for an hour, to be able to slip out of a situation. It was a type of collective, anonymous, moveable capital that went from hand to hand. It was a type of moving bank without an administration or a set place of business. That spontaneous mutual help was born into the lap of Jewish need.

When I ask, where did Sokolov Jews get the strength to carry the burden of their hard week-to-week life, their Shabes happiness comes to mind.

I recall my early teachers: The broad-boned, dark Reb Khayim, Reb Yisroel Leybele with his beard and peyes that flowed together as one, Reb Yosef Akive Yekel's with his high intellectual forehead and Reb Henokh Dovid Hertsl's the zealous Torah teacher, may their memories be for a blessing.

They lived poorly, had modest means, but when a boy showed a desire to learn, their faces shone with joy – the joy of love of Torah.

I remember the study-houses packed full on the long winter nights, where Jews would immerse themselves in the clear waters of Torah and prayer. The resounding echoes of the sung prayers on Friday evenings and the haunting prayers of the Days of Awe filled my ears as Jews wept out their sorrow and pain. The joyous tumult of a wedding in town flashes in my memory. Flash-bulbs lit the house and the street, people played and danced, in-laws danced, neighbors, the whole street danced.

I recall the surging joy of a graduation sermon or the dedication of a Torah in town. Finely-dressed Jews streamed from all the streets and lanes toward the shul. The entrance to Shul Street was blocked with the press of people. Jews danced under the khupe with their eyes closed. Yes, that innocent faith and joy defeated the sorrow of the days of the week.

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The Storm

All along the length of the big, four-cornered market square stood the long, brick and stucco building, the so-called “Reberzshe” (perhaps an old Polish name for a large prominent building). That building embodied the authority in the town since the last division of Poland – the tsarist government. The “Reberzshe” was the seat of the district authority and also the police department.

A wooden balcony had been built in front of the building and over the wide gate, supported on wooden pillars. The local tsarist authorities appeared on that balcony, dressed up in colorful uniforms hung with military ribbons and medals, and looked down with glances of rulers onto the town spread beneath it. From there they could follow the course of Jewish life, peering into each Jewish house and shop and thinking: Here we have them all in our hands.

On a public holiday, since important guests would come, the governors of Shedlets or Lublin, or even a military retinue at the time of maneuvers, an orchestra would play on the balcony and “conquer” the town with its fine Russian marches.

If sometimes one saw a group of Jews dressed in their Shabes clothes walking through the wide gate under the balcony of that building one quickly understood: There go the heads of the Jewish Council to beg off a decree.

Now, in the late afternoon hours of one of the August days in 1915, the “Reberzshe” stands empty, and one can hear canon fire. The front is approaching, the tsarist office workers have been evacuated. The only one remaining is the short district authority Ivanov with his two assistants. From time to time remnants of the defeated Russian military run by. The market square is empty. Jews stand by their half-closed shops, fearful of the morrow.

Suddenly a wagon harnessed to a pair of horses pulls up and comes to a stop at the “Rebezshe”. Ivanov appears on the balcony. He takes in the town with a blank stare as though he will soon see the end of the generations-long tsarist domination.

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Shorty after that he walks out through the wide gate in the company of two officers, gets into the wagon, and sets off in an easterly direction.

The hasty pace of the wagon on the stones echoes in the emptiness of the town. Jews cautiously stick their heads of from houses and shops, looking worriedly after the leaving wagon and ask fearfully: the persecuting tsarist power is gone, who will come in their place? What will the new ruler look like?

The fear of the Jews had a foundation. The next days were days of horrible suffering for the Sokolov Jews. More than ten Jews were murdered by the retreating Cossacks. Jewish shops were robbed.

It is worthwhile to note an incident of martyrdom of a Sokolov Jew in those pogrom days. Sholem Goldshteyn of blessed memory (his son is in Hertseliya), disarmed two Russian soldiers who had attacked a Jew and brought back the robbed goods to the ones attacked.

 

The German Occupation

The three-year German occupation in Sokolov was an era of deep suffering. Hunger and epidemic diseases were rampant and took uncountable victims. The persecuting German war-decrees (perhaps already a warning of later Nazism) closed every path for free trade and work. Smuggling life arose. Earning a bit of bread was tied to the danger of heavy punishment. But that era also brought a relaxation of the horror of the tsarist pogromists and Polish anti-Semitism that had dominated Sokolov, as it had for all Jews in Poland on the eve of and after the outbreak of the First World War.

The pre-war movement under the slogan “Poles for Poles” became, with the outbreak of the War, a tool in the hands of the tsarist pogromists to persecute Jews. Right after the first defeats of the Russian military there was a stream of decrees against Jews. They sought a scapegoat and found it in the Jew. They fabricated the idea “Jews are spies”, and always found witnesses among the Polish population who had “seen it themselves”.

Also on the pogrom day in Sokolov before the Cossacks lost the town, some of the Polish population aided the Cossacks in robbing Jewish businesses.

Also Sokolov is deeply etched into my mind

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when I remember the “holy pictures” that appeared at times on all the Christian houses in order to indicate to the Cossacks the right addresses to murder and rob.

With the arrival of the Germans the Sokolov Jews could breathe freely and an era of great social gusto began. The German authorities had, along with their war persecution, brought to Poland something of the spirit of European liberalism. Institutions of secular culture quickly arose: libraries, professional unions, Hebrew and Yiddish schools, orphanages and aid committees for social help. An especially hopeful effect on the Jewish population was the fact of assigning Jewish officers to the town institutions. For the first time in the history of Jewish Sokolov Jews were taken into the military. Hershl Grinberg of blessed memory was assigned as vice mayor. Jews worked as workers in the health department. New social energies arose that tore the town out of its paralysis and hopelessness.

The legalization of political parties brought about a fruitful political enlightenment work among the youth, particularly among the Zionist youth. The Zionist organization came out with a wide range of actions.

Disregarding the inner splits in the “Mizrakhi”, “Poale-tsion” and others whose main activity was the return of Jews to Zion, the Zionist movement in Sokolov remained the main carrier of the struggle for Jewish economic positions, for freedom in Jewish education, for full citizens' rights and national equal rights. The activity that blossomed in the time of the German occupation grew after the rise of Poland without faltering until the tragic end.

 

Sokolov in Liberated Poland

The path of Jewish Sokolov since the rise of a free Poland – from 1918 to 1939 – was a path where hope and despair both made impacts.

On the day the German occupation fell a pogrom mood arose in the town. People were fearful of attacks

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by Poles. I remember that on the same evening there was a multi-party discussion in the cellar room of the old besmedresh about organizing a self-protection group.

The attacks by Polish soldiers on Jews, and the pogrom in Lemberg, quickly weakened if not destroyed the hope that a free Poland could also be the place of a free Jewish life.

Sokolov stood up to a severe trial in 1920 during the time of the Bolshevik invasion of Poland. The Polish–Bolshevik war uncovered the tragedy of Jewish exile in Poland. The Bolsheviks used Polish anti-Semitism in order to acquire followers among the Jewish population and the Polacks identified each Jewish communist with the entire Jewish population.

At the Jewish cemetery I saw Jewish soldiers in the Polish military, heads shot and split open, who had fallen in battle during the taking of Sokolov by the Bolsheviks and in a few weeks later innocent Sokolov Jews were shot by Polish soldiers after retreating from the Bolsheviks. After that came a few peaceful years – years of rebuilding.

Jews fought for equal rights because the Jewish youth believed in the emergence of liberal energies in Poland. Those were times of collaboration in the Sokolov town council, of giving support for Jewish institutions, and so on.

But the same hopes were quickly ruined right after that, when even the Senatsiye Party – which had begun its way with liberal slogans – spoke out for an economic fight with the Jewish minority. The famous “Avshem” slogan of Professor Bartel.

The rise of Hitlerism in Germany made the path clear for zoological anti-Semitism in Sokolov and in all of Poland. It began a physical fight against Jews: pickets at the shops, hooligan attacks in the Sokolov Jewish community, neared the catastrophic.

In 1933, soon after the rise of the Hitler government in Germany, the Zionist organization along with Mizrakhi called a protest meeting in the shul for Sokolov Jews.

I recall how I went, along with Meyshe Shapira of blessed memory, and called on Jews to leave their shops and go to the shul. I stood on the cantor's stand with Khayim Zilberman of blessed memory and (a good long life to) Pinkhas Rafelovitsh, and called out to a shul packed full of Jews to fight against Hitler's

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Germany, to boycott German merchandise, and warned against the great oncoming danger.

As I recall neither the Jews gathered in the shul nor I at the cantor's stand believed deeply that the danger was very near. The belief in humanity prevailed…

Shabes evening the 2nd of February 1934, the day of my leaving Sokolov, I took one last stroll around my hometown. I walked over all its streets and lanes in order to soak up my home into myself forever.

When I came to the end of my stroll I was suddenly overtaken by a feeling of pity for my shtetl, and I felt like a deserter leaving my company which was in danger. Something in my heart said that the danger was near.


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Between Hammer and Anvil

Memoir of the events in Sokolov during the Bolshevik invasion after the First World War

Y. Grinberg, (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Tina Lunson

In 1920 the Bolsheviks drove the Polish military from the last territories captured by the Russians and also retook a large part of Poland. In August of the same year the Russian military occupied Sokolov for about two weeks. There was no big battle in taking the town, the Polish military was in retreat back to the Vistula line. And there were military victims from both sides. Among the fallen Polish soldiers was an outstanding number of Jews.

For the short while that the Bolsheviks were in Sokolov their relationship to the population was proper, one could even say friendly; they arranged meetings for the population, and entertainments and games. Their relation to the Jewish population was especially friendly, because a large number in the Jewish population could understand Russian, although there were a lot of Jews in the Russian Army. One must remember that this was in the times when anti-Semitism was strictly forbidden in Russia, and official anti-Semitism was a crime.

In Poland on the other hand anti-Semitism was rampant in those days. Polish society was being corrupted by hatred of Yisroel, and defeats on the battlefield were being laid on Jewish heads. The presses incited against Jews. The army was infected with anti-Semitic poison, especially General Haller's army group, the "Halertshikes". Jews were openly beaten in the streets, had their beards cut off and so on. There were cases where Jews were thrown from speeding trains, and the wildest libels were invented about Jews, among others that they poured boiling water on the retreating Polish military, spied for the Russians, and carried secret telephones in their beards.

It is easy to imagine the mood of the Sokolov Jewish population when it became clear to them that the Russian Army was retreating. Certain leaders and youths left town, some

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went off to the neighboring towns – where no one knew them – and some left with the army.

The triumphant Polish Army had a murderous approach to the Jews on the roads, and thirty-some victims and dead were Sokolov Jews in the region. But many more were wounded, maimed and beaten.

When the Polish military came back into Sokolov the local Jews were torn off the earth – outside the sword and inside the terror. One was afraid to appear on the street. The shops were locked, the houses closed, anyone who appeared on the street was grabbed for work to drive livestock, it involved a danger to life, and the situation began to become catastrophic. There was no food and there was danger of epidemics. Then someone succeeded in sending an alarming letter by way of a Christian messenger to the Jewish National Council in Warsaw. Thanks to their intervention and with a wink from above, the conditions changed a little and there was even a military investigatory commission researching the events.

From a surviving notice one can see the mood among the Sokolov Jews at that time:

 

Watchman, how goes the night?

Friday evening, shadows slink across the grey lanes, the conical trees by the Catholic Church become dark and spread despair. The shul stands embarrassed and solitary – no one is coming. Her shadow embraces the neighboring low little Jewish houses as if she wants to protect them from the misfortune that is sliding toward them.

It is quiet as a cemetery on the Jewish streets. Jews are behind lock and bolt, it is dark in the houses and the moods of the residents even darker. What was actually happening in the town, and how had the Jews offended?

Although we live in the twentieth century – and witness to that is the network of electric wires above the streets – and the horror of accusation of ritual murder is no longer valid, but a new libel hangs over the Jews of the town: a libel about treason, aiding the enemy. Shooting at your own military and the like. The fear is great, and the children sit entangled with one another, looking silently at father, mother, at everyone around. Everything

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is something new for the children, a puzzle, and they are even afraid to [line cut off].

And each time they hear the steps of the military the [line cut off] grows even stronger and makes the heart tremble, freezes the blood. Adults sit helpless, despondent and dejected, their eyes toward the dear outdoors, the familiar market square, as if it had changed itself. In its quiet stillness lay something savage, gruesome, hidden. And something terrible, explosive, in their expectation did not deceive them.

In the dead quiet outside one hears a dull pounding, tearing at a door. It begins with a weak blow and grows stronger. The Jews hidden in the houses wring their hands in despair for the Ruler of the Universe to send a miracle but it does not come.

There is a coarse scrape of a door broken off its hinges. Then the first desperate scream. Now there is screaming in all the streets and lanes, in all the houses and apartments, from the attics and cellars [line cut off]. The town begged for mercy from God, from Man or anyone else. And shooting was the answer.

Late at night the "work" is in full fervor, the screaming is weaker and what was to be done is done.

High in the sky above floats a pensive moon. She ponders so many similar nights that the people of Yisroel have had to undergo.

Watchman, how goes the night?


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The Day of Giving of the Balfour Declaration in Our Town

by Mattel Freider-Kaplan, Tel Aviv

Translated by Adam Ganson

I remember the day of the giving of the Balfour Declaration as though I was then an adult though I was only a little girl. This was the one and only national holiday, when the Jews of Sokolov celebrated all together and the splendor and the happiness was great and generally felt. On that day I felt that happiness and the hope of the entire nation of Israel. A hope of the resurrection of a nation in their homeland, although I couldn't yet understand the meaning of the concept of the “Balfour Declaration”.

That same wonderful feeling came to me from my mother, who to her joy, there was no end to that day. Her entire being was dedicated to the ideal of the resurrection of our nation, she was proficient with all of the problems of the Zionist movement and the hope to realize that ideal gave her purpose and interest in her difficult life. My mother, all the days of her life, waited for the great miracle that would occur, and she believed that quickly in our day thousands upon thousands of Jews, with her among them, would immigrate to their homeland, the Land of Israel.

This faith forged my mother and empowered her to stand strong and optimistic in the difficult face of the day-to-day. That same late fall day stood out from all days before and all days after, it was as a wonderful summer day. I remember well the hot and clear day, when the sun wraps around the courtyard in a cover of gold in honor of the great holiday.

From the early morning, the women of the city started to decorate their windows and gazebos that faced the main streets of the town. Each one tried to make her gazebo the most beautiful in the city. I had the impression that there was some kind of competition among the women and in my heart I hoped that ours would be the most beautiful. I didn't move from my mother's side the entire time that she decorated our home's gazebo that faced the market square.

My mother decorated the front of the gazebo with red velvet rugs. In the middle of the rug, she hung the photograph of the leader of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, who gazed from a Star of David made from white and blue ribbons. Above the gazebo were hung electric lamps, in order to light up the gazebo when darkness fell. On both sides stood decorated trees and next to them two big flags and lots of little flags wrapped around everything and flowers. This is pretty much how all of the gazebos looked facing the market square. That same square was used as a place for celebrations, it had never been so beautiful, fancy and celebratory as it was on that day.

These decorated houses were all empty of people that day because everyone went out to celebrate

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in all splendor with drums and dance, at gatherings and parties on this great holiday, of the realization of the hope of the nation of Israel to return to their homeland.

Dressed in fancy clothes all the people of Sokolov gathered, the Zionists and the non-Zionists in the square in front of the synagogue.

In the entire city work ceased and shops closed. Leaders of the Zionist movements with blue and white flowers in their lapels took their place at the head of the movements.

All of the children of the school and all of the children of the religious schools were present at the square with their teachers and rabbis in order to take part in the parade, one that our town had never seen.

The parade had to route through all of the main thoroughfares of our city.

The members of the movement stood arranged by couples, children of the school were arranged in long rows and above everyone spread the clear blue skies, and the warm sun and happiness reigned in the hearts of the rejoicers. I had never seen so many people in that square. Public leaders stood from time to time among the crowds and gave different instructions. I remember well the radiant faces of the Zionist leaders in our town, Haim Zilberman, Migdal Leschizky Varkudash z”l and more. These people were dedicated to the ideal of the resurrection of the nation in heart and soul.

The order of the crowd was extraordinary, without the ordinary noise when Jews have meetings and gatherings. We stood and waited for the parade to begin. Each group with their flag at the front. After the parade, there were to be gatherings, parties and dances.

The crowd stood tense and waited. I imagined to myself that this was how tense and stressed the Jews were when they stood in front of Mount Sinai waiting for Moses.

Time passed and passed and started to stand still yet that awaited beginning didn't come. I felt that something wasn't right. From time to time, I saw the faces of the Zionist leaders passing among the lines of children and whispering among themselves. It appeared to me that on their faces a shadow of worry. –What happened?--I thought, Where were their radiant faces from just moments ago? What is worrying them?

Suddenly there was a thunder of falling stones, a shower of stones came down upon our town. The faces of the participants darkened even more. Their shoulders fell, their backs bent. And here came an order--an order or a whisper? It wasn't an order of: “FORWARD MARCH” rather an order to retreat. Frightened, we quickly started to retreat to the side streets of our town. We were afraid to pass along the main streets because there was imminent lethal danger that appeared at that moment. Nobody maintained order. The small flag that I had in my hand dropped. Fear arose in me and all that I wanted to do was escape. How I returned home, I don't remember, but here it was informed to me about what had happened and who had disturbed us from celebrating our celebration.

With the intervention of a catholic priest, the police canceled the permit for our celebrations. That priest was a tall man, very thin and flexible in his movement. His expression was just as the

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Great German Oppressor. His lips were thin and clenched, nose straight, and grey eyes that resembled the blade of a knife. I had known him from the dawn of my childhood and I feared his face. When he would pass by me, it seemed as though he were stabbing me with his gaze. I had the impression that he craved to storm toward a group of Jewish children and stomp them with his feet. He was known throughout the city as a great despiser of Israel.

That same ”servant of God” was an educator at the gymnasia in our town. He went out at the head of his students to prevent the Jews from celebrating. They came to the market square and started to throw stones at the gazebos and the decorated windows. They broke the glass and their work wasn't finished until they removed the last blue and white ribbon.

I stood on the porch of our home among the broken glass shards and the torn flags as disappointment and sorrow took over me. It was the first time that I understood the meaning of our existence in exile.

 


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The Agudas Yisroel in Sokolov

A Sokolover

Translated by Tina Lunson

Among the various strata of Sokolov society the Agudas Shlomey Emuney Yisroel also took a significant place.

The Agude in Sokolov was established before the First World War. Rov Binyumin Morgenshtern of blessed memory, the son of the Sokolov Rov, stood at the head of the Agude. He had actively contributed much, with stubbornness and with fervor, to the development of the Agude; and he had drawn prominent householders of the town into it. The authority of the Sokolov Rov had lent much to that success, as he was vice president of the Central Committee of the Aguda in Poland.

Important Agude leaders from the Central Committee often visited Sokolov, such as Aleksander Zishe Fridman of blessed memory, Rov Hershhorn, the Yanvazne Rov and others, who led a broad agitation for recruiting members to the party. The mass gatherings and presentations took place in the Rebi's beysmedresh.

The active members who helped organize the Agude were: Borukh Lashitse, Meyshe Arnshteyn, Hirsh Keyt, Yitskhak Valanovits [sic], Elieyzer Hendel, Avrom Ayzenberg, Yehoshua Shlekhta, Rov Henokh Koen and others.

A short time later the Tseirey Agudas Yisroel was organized, which recruited from a part of the students in the Rebi's yeshive, the young men in the study houses and others. The youth organization was very active and collaborated with the Aguda, especially in the elections to the local town institutions of the town council, the Jewish council administration and so on.

At the head of the Tseirey Agudas Yisroel were Yankev Galant (now in Israel), Shiye Zelanilas, Fishl Yavonovitsh, Shmuel Goldfarb, Mendl Shedletski, Yesheyahu Shtern, Yisroel Grinberg, Hershl Grinberg may God avenge his blood, Avrom Vaysbart (now in Israel) and others.

Thanks to the initiative of the youth organization a Beys-Yankev School was founded in Sokolov, in which 100 girls of school age studied; the school was located in Elieyzer Hendel's house on Dluga Street.

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A special epoch in the Beys Yankev Shule was the teacher Mrs. Karfel, daughter of Yeshive Head Rov Simkhe Volfovitsh of blessed memory, and others who were sent from the Beys Yankev Seminary in Krakov. The Beys Yankev Shule gave the children of the general Polish folks-shule knowledge in Yiddishkayt and religious education.

The Agude was represented in several institutions in town: the Jewish Council administration, the Town Council, the Talmud-Torah Union, Soymeykh noyflim and others.

Their representatives in the Town Council were Hersh Keyt, Yitskhak Valnovits [sic], Menakhem Mendzitski, Avrom Ayzenberg. In the Jewish Council, Meysje Lustigman, Khayim Yankev Shpadel, Hersh Keyt, Shiya Zelanilas, Yisroel Goldfarb.

There were frequent and bitter conflicts in the Jewish Council between the Agude representatives and the Zionist ones and among other groups. In the Town Council all the Jewish representatives conducted a unified activity to defend the general Jewish interests in the town.

 


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Sokolov-Podlask
A Stroll over the Jewish Streets

by Avrom Shpadl, Ramat-Gan

Translated by Tina Lunson

A. Dluga Street

The main streets that cut through the entire town and its whole length were Pienke, Rogovska, and Dluga. The central streets of Sokolov with their three-story buildings and businesses were Rogovske and Dluga. They encircled the big town market like a ring, as well as the fish and vegetable markets (“the small market”) with the shops (and booths) where all the Jewish trade in town was concentrated.

Sokolov was known in the entire region for its large, huge markets. Every Monday and Thursday thousands of peasants from the surrounding villages would come together with wagons crammed with all kinds of things: grain, calves, butter, chickens, eggs and fowl. Sokolov Jews drew their livelihood from the markets; the entire economic situation of the town depended on it. The markets were the barometer for credit from the Warsaw and Lodz wholesale merchants who “felt” when it was a good or a poor market.

Dluga Street was the most beautiful street of the town. All economic, political and social life was concentrated on that street, and almost all the rich people of the town lived on Dluga. The large business of ready-made clothing was located there, at Yerakhmiel Ribak's (the dark Yerakhmiel), that gave livelihood to several dozen Jewish tailors; the fur-coat business of the brothers Tuvye and Bunim Shtshifelevitsh; the office of the sons of Butshe (Butshe Rubinshteyn and his sons) partners with Hershl Zaltsberg – the biggest grain merchants in town. Around their office and large grain warehouses near the Sokolov train station dozens of families gleaned their living by delivering the grain purchased from peasants. There was the soda-water factory of Berl Kives

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(Berl Fazngard); Meyshe Shternitski with the ice cellars that provided the housewives with a little ice for the summertime Shabosim; the wine business of Yitskhak Aron Mogenshtern and Shakhne Tshernitski; the restaurants (below taverns) of Meyshe Perlshteyn, Meyshe Grinerg (Grine's tavern, where the guests were mostly the wagon-drivers who stood around there), and Yankev Kiveyke; the bakeries of Libe Kaver, Ester Grinberg (who were known in town for their receptions); the wood warehouses of Zalman Zaydenburg, Yekhiel Volmer, Yoel Shpadl and Shabsile Goldfarb; the hotel of Shleyme Rozenberg; the hasidic hotel of Pinkhas Feder (which used to be over-full with hasidim from other towns who had come to see the Sokolov Rebi); the printing shop of Hershl Keyt, an aristocrat who stemmed from rabbis; and the book business of Aron Zayonts (one of the intellectual Jews in town). There was also the women's clinic of Dr. Gershon Grudzshentshik, a sincere, devoted Jew who in his free time did community work, actively worked in the Poaley tsion (Right) as an alderman in the city council. Binyemintshe's soda-shop was also on that street, the gathering place for regular folks and idlers. The discussions about “world problems” drew the attention of police officer Gurski, who therefore searched that place for political “criminals”. The heat of the discussions was cooled with pumpkin seeds and a cold drink of soda-water. There were also two pharmacies – the only Christian businesses.

Also on that street were the two libraries, the Brener and Borokhov libraries with thousands of books. The reading rooms served as the cultural center of the town. Readings and theater performances took place in the rooms of the town movie theater, “The Liudovi”, often under our own efforts but also by lecturers and theater troupes from Warsaw. The New Besmedresh was located on Dluga Street. Through the open windows one could hear the voice of the town cantor, and a Jew would often stop in the middle of the street to catch a prayer, a borukh hu or an omeyn. The bureau of the Jewish Community Council was in a special large room of the besmedresh, where in the last decades before the Second World War the alderman for the city council and the president of the Jewish Council, Khayim Yankev Shpadl, and the secretary Avrom Bialilev had offices. At the meetings, community and political battles for hegemony in the Council were played out by the parties. Arguments about establishing the Council Budget were especially vigorous.

The

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Zionist representatives, like Mendl Lashitski, Yitskhak Zarembski, Dovid Liberman, fought with the Agudist majority for subsidies for Keren-kayemet, Keren-ha'yesod and other Zionist funds.

Dluge Street was also the meeting point, and after work hours it was filled with strollers, especially the young on Shabes and holiday evenings. More than one marriage match or love was cemented there. The strollers would begin from the small garden by the Russian church at the crossing of Shedletski-Refkovski-Dluge, and go through to Dluge until the big pleasure garden on Koshtshiushke Street by the Catholic church, to the big mill and Yeshayhu Shafran's electric station. No one dared to walk further because of the Polish hooligans who threw stones.

 

B. Rogovska Street

Rogovska Street had its history too, and was also permeated with Jewish life, with Jewish properties. On that street too was a chain of Jewish shops, large and small. Here were located Shakhne Rubinshtyen's big paint business; Khayim Skatsnarik and Yosl Rozentsvayg's haberdashery shops; the wholesale colonial shops of Khayim Zilberman, Meyshe Rozentsvayg (“Meyshe Sheyne-Khave's”) and Yosef Zshitelnye (a fervent Aleksander Hasid, a zealot); the bakeries of Binyumtshe Rubinshteyn, Ruben Bililev and Avrom Shpadl (in whose warehouse many of the Sokolovers in Israel prepared for their aliye to the Land).

The first Poaley-tsion club “Arbeter Heym” was in the rich man Aron Kopl's large house on Rogovska Street; it was the first venue where young men and women could come together (and it caused a storm among the extremely religious Jews of the town). The founders of the group were Khayim Noyakh Vinogura, Ayzik Flatner, Ester Shuster, Simeon Rubinshtyen and Note Koyfman. They then brought light and knowledge among the youth. The Workers' Union also put out a call to Sokolov youth, to change their lives by traveling to Erets Yisroel.

There was also a children's library on the street, in Hersh Leyzer Bram's house, founded by Hershl Madanski and Zishe Fridman, that drew a large number of the Sokolov youth. Its goal for the high-school students

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of the Povshekhne School was to persuade them to read Yiddish books and familiarize themselves with Yiddish literature. Later the Children's Library – after internal battles of various currents in the committee – united with the Brener Library and thus became the largest library in town.

The Aleksander Shtibl was on Rogovska Street. That is where the actions against the influence of the “Agude” on Sokolov's religious Jews were carried out. This was especially in the City Council or Jewish Council elections when the Aleksander Hasidim came out with their own slate, with Menakhem Menderzshitski at the top.

But the real heritage of Rogovska Street came from the court of the Sokolov Rebi, Yitskhak Zelik Morgenshtern. The Sokolov Rebi was famous beyond the borders of Poland as one of the greatest rebis in pre-war Poland. He was one of the founders of the Agudas-Yisroel; and people always listened to his words.

Thousands of Hasidim came from all over Poland to his table to glean his Torah and wisdom. He was a clever Jew, knew how to manage his people. His Torah talk was mixed with fine points and with difficult interpretations that only a few individuals could really understand.

 

C. Pienkne Street

Pienkne Street, which was by the way not in harmony with the sound of its name and its real appearance, was really quite mixed. Christians lived there too. It was more of a residential neighborhood and less a commercial center. But Pienkne Street also had its significance and large contribution to Jewish life in Sokolov. On Pienkne Street was the large warehouse and stores of concrete and cement, lime and other construction materials which belonged to Yankev Edelshteyn (a son-in-law of Khayim the Rov's); he was a Jewish scholar, very pious, sat day and night studying and his wife Feyge (Khayim Rov's) ran the businesses. He had someone to rely on. In that same house lived Mendele Khayim Rov's, a scholar and clever Jew who was celebrated for his wise advice; Avrom Ayzenberg (Avrom Khayim Rov's) who was a councilman on the city council and was known there for his “Polish” speeches. The huge estate was a place for the Jewish youth of the town to grab a little fresh air, unmolested by the hooliganish Polish rascals.

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On that same street in the three-story brick building of Yenkl Maneses (Yankev Konstantiner) were the khedarim of the best teachers such as Naftali Kirshenboym, Yekl Mayer Opatshner, and Yenkl Tam (Yekl Slavititser, who used to brag that he had studied in the same kheyder as the Sokolover Rebi Yitskhak Zelik, and that the Creator of the World had designated him to go to meet the Messiah), a rare Jewish type who knew the entire Talmud by heart. He had modest needs and fasted every Monday and Thursday. For his students he would maintain that the point of a person must not be the flesh but the spirit, not giving too much to the sinning body but much to the soul. He really was a poor Jew, skin and bones, his teaching barely earned him enough to eat – and that thanks also to the help of his partner Freydke, who used to provide the wealthier houses with milk. Those khedarim were the bridge to the Rebi's yeshive, to the future ritual slaughterers and rabbis.

On Pienkne Street closer to Nietsietske Street where the Christian houses already started were the grain stores belonging to the Shulke brothers and Abush Viezshbe (one of the town activists for the rightist “Poaley Tsion”), a generous giver of charity. [Political] Party life was his delight, he always loved to say his piece. Also the warehouse of Elye Shies' (Eliahu Valmer), a small, narrow little Jew, but a great musician and prayer leader, who loved the cantor's stand. His sons Yekhiel, Avrom and Yehoshe supported him in the choir; his praying on Rosh-hashone and Yon-kiper in the Aleksander shtibl attracted many Hasidim.

In Meyshe Meylekh's house on Pienkne Street there lived Hershl Rayzman, the only Jewish officer on the Sokolov town council, a rare type with a phenomenal memory. He himself was an “address book”. He knew each person in town with their name and residence; if anyone needed to know an address they went to Hershl Rayzman, a sturdily-built Jew with a broad white beard who was known to Jews and to Christians.

But the main beauty of the street was the Sokolov Rov's yeshive, which was located on the border of the Jewish and Christian parts of the street.

The Sokolov Yeshive had a hundred boys from the town and from the region around, and the Sokolov Rov Yitskhak Zelik himself watched over the yeshive boys so that they not meet any pitfalls. The Rebi himself used to give sermons woven with Mussar ideas.

* * *

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But not only the three main streets were Jewish. The other streets were also permeated with Jewish life, with Jewish pain and joy and specific Jewish characteristics. The streets Nietsale, Nove, Buzshnitshne and Sheroka and their side-streets were mostly the residences of workers and other craftsmen: Laborers, shoemakers, tailors, wagon-drivers, butchers and other artisans. The shoemakers' hammering, the sewing machines and the singing of the workers used to echo through the streets.

On Nove Street, at Mates Khayim Binyumin's house, lived Yisroel Fisher (chairman of the Handworkers' Union), a well-dressed Jew of middle height, with a closely-cut little beard. His gait and his manner of dressing demanded respect from everyone.

And there lived Meyshe Aron Dimarzsh, a heavy-bodied Jew, always with his wide talis kotn on his broad shoulders, a fervent hasid of the Kaloshin Rebi. When praying he used to say every word two times, which made the children giggle.

Avrom Nirenberg lived there, the talented musician of the Kaloshin shtibl, who had a basso voice. When he started singing he let loose such voices that the beams of the wooden houses rattled.

And Yosef Grinshpan lived there (the black Yosef) the hasid among the wagon-drivers, solidly built like an oak, loved a glass of schnapps, used to be well known for dancing on the table or on a barrel of beer on Simkhes Toyre in the Kaloshin shtibl.

On Nietsales Street, in the second courtyard where the Kotsk shtible used to be, in Yenkl the carver's house and shop, lived Meyshele Zshitelnye the master of the small loan. He was a Jew with two eye-glasses who put all his money into lending small sums. Dozens of Jews in the town had him to thank for their tiny earnings on the Thursday markets.

On the same street, on the way to the “Zdray” – the only well that provided soft water for the Jewish population – in the two-story, lovely and clean wooden house that belonged to the leather dealer Shmuel Rubinshteyn, Shmuel Khayim Yosl's, lived Khayim Leyb Hokhberg, the only Hebrew teacher in town.

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The Shul Courtyard and Sheroka Street

The streets Sheroka, Buzshnitshne, Shkolhe as they were called – the shul yard – were tied and woven one to another and it would be difficult to differentiate them. Here were concentrated all the religious institutions of the town: the town's large New Shul, which was rebuilt after Sokolov's big fire. The shul was the finest in the whole Podliash region. The holy Ark and the walls were painted by the best artistic painters from Mezritsh. The shul was the fortress of the Enlighteners; the best cantors with Khayim Shmuel Rozenboym heading them all, prayed in that shul. Khayim Shmuel's praying drew a large audience of prayers, especially during the Days of Awe. In the New Shul, near the entrance, and in two separate locations, were the Tailor's Shul , the Lomzshe Shtibl and the Crown of Youth shul. Across from the New Shul stood the old Besmedresh which was always full of people praying, and was used especially in the evenings and on Shabes, as a grandstand for various speakers and messengers from both the secular and the religious parties. There was always an audience. Not far from the shul, in the beysmedresh, right by the Struge [sic] stream, stood the bath (rebuilt and modernized before the Second World War) which was a source of income for the Jewish community and was operated by the bath-keepers Avremle Blakher and Mayer Rayzman.

On the other side of the Strige [sic], opposite Khayim Shmuel Rozenboym's mill, on the border of the town was the old cemetery which used to terrify the little Jewish children with its towering gravestones with the ancient, rubbed-off letters. Various legends about the cemetery were repeated among the children: that each night the dead came together in the great shul, took out the Torah scrolls and read the parshe of the week. And woe to anyone who went past the shul in the middle of the night: he would be called up by the dead to read the Torah and must say the blessing. And that when the Messiah would come, Eliahu the Prophet would reach out one foot onto the shul, place the other foot in the cemetery and with his long stick tap on the stone gravestones and wake the souls for the revivification of the dead.

Sheroke Street which until the First World War had deep holes in the middle of the street that used to fill with water in the rainy season and threaten the little wooden houses of Meyshe Leyzerke (the president of the Burial Society), Dovid Gutke's, Itsel Milkhiker and Leybele Gambkes. That water was rarely drunk, even in

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the hot summer days. After those holes were covered over by the town after the First World War, Sheroke Street became one of the most Jewish streets in town; new wooden houses were constructed on both sides of the street, including the houses of Hershl Flanter and the town Talmud-Torah of the Agudas Yisroel and of the “Mizrakhi”, directed by the best teachers like Yehoshe Froym (the Koval's son-in-law), Yona Midlarski and Kopl Kover. The Rov from the Sokolov youth visited the Talmud-Torah. The Talmud-Torah venue was transformed into hasidic shtiblekh for holidays and Shabosim: Radzin, Amshinov, Forsove, Skernivits, Biale Hasidim celebrated their khasidus. The Hasidic melodies for the Third Meal and greeting the Shabes Queen echoed through Sheroke and the near-by side-streets. Not far from the Talmud-Torah, across from Yenkl Sore-Beyle's the baker's house, stood the Ger Shtibl where people stayed late at night studying the “Daf-yomi”, led by the rabbis there at the time. The scholars of the Ger Shtibl, like Dovidtshe Khayim Shmuel's, Yisroel Henekh, Avrom Ayzenberg and Zalman Zaydenburg would explain and interpret in plain language the sense of the Talmud for the hasidim and simple Jews, who liked to listen to words of Torah. The voice of Talmud study that was often accompanied by Hasidic fervor and ecstasy woke up the streets from its dreaming quiet.

On that same Sheroke Street, across from the Talmud-Torah, deep within a large courtyard and enclosed by fragrant pine boards, in a large room which was an expansion of the host Khayim Yenkl Shpadl's wooden house, was the Kaloshin Hasidim Shtibl of Rebi Naftali Shapira, a tall Jew with a patriarchal white beard and curled peyes. His manner and stately appearance inspired respect and veneration from the people whom he came into contact with. He was a great scholar and very pious but did not have the same good fortune as other rabeyim in Poland. His followers were not wealthy and not very learned, but simple working people, laborers. When Rebi Naftali visited his Hasidim every year at the beginning of the month of Av all of Sheroka Street looked like a Shabes holiday. The day when the Rebi came was a holiday for all the residents of the street. People came out of every workshop, small factory and shop to greet the Rebi. They were elated that their street had merited receiving a Hasidic rebi.

Sheroka Street was also the birthplace of the brothers Sholem

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and Kalman Lekokh, Zelede Roznboym and Hokhman – later revolutionaries and workers' activists, members of the first “RevCom”, the ones who dealt with the Sokolov city administration after the Bolsheviks took the town of Sokolov in 1920.

It was also the birthplace of the young-murdered novelist Simeon Vays (Vaysberg), born in an attic room in a house on Sheroka Street that belonged to his grandfather Itsl the milkman (Yitskhak Vaysberg).

Sokolov Jews, dispersed over all the continents, will, until the last breath of their lives, remember with love and trembling their murdered Jews who lived and produced in the familiar streets and lanes of the town.

 

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