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Sokolov Between the Two World Wars

by Meyshe Zayants

Translated by Tina Lunson

Because of the frequent fires in Sokolov, the old shtetl that was built almost entirely of wood was obliterated. There were none of the old–time buildings or even any ruins of them. The oldest place in the shtetl was the old cemetery, in which the oldest gravestones had long since collapsed and literally melted into the earth; here and there you might have seen a stone, but due to its antiquity, it was almost impossible to read the inscription. The old study house was not so old. The name “old” probably came about because it was rebuilt after the big fire on the foundation of the actual old study–house. And the big shul, whose construction was not finished until recent times – especially the interior parts were built on the foundation and some of the walls of the old burned shul.

The old study–house was not noted for its antiquity, either in the style of its exterior appearance or of the interior arrangements (the Holy Ark or the cantor's stand), just a simple large and long room with big windows in the eastern side. From the street there were a few, not high, steps to the vestibule and from there to the entrance to the study–house itself.

Inside, along the eastern wall between the windows, was a small, simple holy ark and a lectern for the prayer leader. In the middle of the study–house was a large [Torah] reading desk surrounded by a railing, approached from both sides by a few steps. Around the walls stood long wooden tables with benches which on shabosim and holidays were full of people praying, and on

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the weekdays between one prayer service and the next, full of yeshive youths and young sons–in–law on support studying, and old Jews constantly studying. The western wall of the study–house had a small wooden railing serving as the mekhitse dividing the women's shul from the men's section. The front part of the women's shul was occupied by the women who knew Hebrew: they would repeat the cantor's words in a loud voice and all the other women would repeat the prayers after them. The women cantors knew how to provide the tone for each prayer. When the prayer should be a quiet one, you could only hear a quiet murmuring like a whispered prayer, and when they would repeat a section from the Days of Awe liturgy with a crying melody you could hear wailing and heartrending voices from all the women, as though they were helping the cantor with all their might to split open the vault of the heavens. More than once the women's voices were so strong that someone would shout from the men's side of the study–house, “The women should pipe down, we can't pray!” Then the women, offended, would repeat the prayers in a quieter tone, and allow the men alone to plead for good things from the Master of the Universe.

The oven occupied an important place in the study–house. It stood near the entrance, by the door, not far from the copper hand–vessel used for washing the hands [natiles yadayim]. The oven was square, wide and almost as high as the ceiling, made of white tiles with two black round iron doors for fuel, and square brass door in the middle of the oven and the door for the “gourd” to heat water and boil tea. The study–house oven was an institution in itself. Sitting in the study–house “behind the oven” was a kind of by–word in town and a known address for many idlers, loafers, poor people, cripples and homeless people. Also, for a political chat about world events or a lesson in military strategy, Jews would drop into the study house, behind the oven. More than once the old study–house was a gathering point for Jewish homeless and those fleeing pogroms and those driven from one place to another, Jews deported or displaced. Those unfortunates would jostle for a place by the oven. And if the place by the oven was not taken by strangers, it was usually taken by a local, or a homeless Sokolover, Yidl Plinder or another.

The old cemetery was located at the end of Shul Street, down–hill from the “strige”, a little running brook by the name

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“Tsitrina”, that in summer used to dry up almost completely. Mostly it was used by the wagon drivers to water their horses, and by the laundry washers to beat the clothes. The old cemetery had been open on all sides for many years, and with its long grasses it was a good place to pasture the town's cows and goats. Then, not long before the First World War, thanks to the town rich man Butshe Rubinshteyn (or as we called him in the shtetl, Butshe the vinegar–maker) who gave a large sum of money to build a stone wall around the old cemetery. The appearance of the cemetery was then completely wild and neglected. No sign of a grave remained. There could only be found a few ordinary stones, half sunken into the ground, whose inscriptions could not be read. No one took the trouble to clean such a stone of his thick moss and reveal a name or a date that could help to ascertain the time of the establishment of the Jewish settlement in Sokolov. The only visitors to the cemetery were the kheyder boys on the eve of tishe b'ov who pulled off the hard little pears from the trees in order to throw them at the prayers reciting the sad verses; or during the Days of Awe a few people went there to visit the graves of their ancestors [keyver oves], to place notes on the graves of the saints. (During the Nazi occupation the stone wall was taken away, the entire area of the cemetery plowed under so that no trace would remain.)

After the big fire in 1910 only the foundation of the old shul and a section of the walls remained. On those remains of the old shul, they built the new shul. Because of that the shul was faithfully built in the old accepted style of building a shul like a fort: thick brick and masonry walls with very small windows high in the walls, just under the roof (so that it would not be easy to break them and get into the shul) – a big almost square building finished with a half–round roof.

A wide plaza, paved with stones and walkways opposite the old study house, encircled the shul. The entrance to the shul was on the western side. Heavy oaken, brown, polished doors led to the vestibule, and from there into the shul. The south entrance led to the women's shul, which was upstairs. The women joined in the services through large cutouts in the wall, detailed with turned wooden railings.

There were two rooms in the vestibule in which the students of

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the “Yavne” school studied during the week, and on shabosim and holidays the rooms were a little shul for the artisans.

The entrance from the vestibule into the shul made an imposing impression. The beautifully–carved Holy Ark [arn koydesh] took up the entire height of the eastern wall. A few steps, not steep, led to the hold ark, which was hung with a lovely, heavy velvet curtain with gold letters. On both sides of the steps approaching the ark were two lions carved from wood and covered with gold–leaf, keeping watch over the holiness.

Along both sides of the ark and above it almost reaching the ceiling stood an artwork of sacred motifs in a popular style: hand–carved in wood and decorated with gilt and various other colors appropriate for the natural appearance of the carved detail. Each detail, in almost natural size – and which could be removed from its place and set back into it – was a work of art in itself. The lions, symbol of heroism, the running deer and the eagle with its wings spread were carved in near life size. In a special carving on one side stood Moses' rod, with which he showed the miracles to pharaoh, king of Egypt. The rod was longer than a human's height and was finished with a curled head with various carvings. Nearby twinkled the precious stones of Aron the priest's vestment. So, without introducing any human figure, the artist had depicted two sacred leaders, Moses and Aron. On the second side [of the ark] was an altar with the bread of offering, with a special detail of the seven species, the fruits with their leaves and their natural colors, and in another corner the seven–armed menorah, a shofar, a lulav and an esrog – everything in its natural size and colors. Above the ark were the two tablets of the covenant with the letters of the Ten Commandments, and over the tablets was a huge golden crown, the keter ha'torah. All together it comprised a magnificent work of folk–art which – even for a non–religious or a Christian visitor – brought out a feeling of awe for the holy. Plus, the reading desk in the center of the shul, the modern book stands and benches for seating and all the animals, birds and motifs of the Land of Yisroel painted on the walls – such as the Western Wall, Mother Rachel's tomb, the river of Babylon and the examples of purity and order – created the appearance of a modern shul.

The shul served not only as a house of prayer but also as a

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place for large Jewish gatherings about various community matters. And when the administration of the shul changed over to Zionist hands, the shul also hosted meetings of the Keren–kayemet and the Keren–ha'yesod. Sharp protests speeches were also heard in the shul against the bloody events in the Land of Yisroel. After such speeches the whole audience, their heads filled with the words, would burst onto the streets in demonstrations, calling out against the criminals who were spilling Jewish blood in the Land of Yisroel, until the police had to come and disperse them.

The Sokolov Jews had collected money and built their shul over many years. Every town leader–– beginning with Hershl Grinberg the Jewish secretary to the German mayor in Sokolov during the First World War, who very much helped the community administration in creating the splendid, artistically–carved holy ark and himself gave the shul the gift of the huge brass candelabra that hung from the ceiling above the reading table – down to the last energetic trustee of the shul, the Zionist leader Benyumin Rubinshteyn, each one took part in finishing and beautifying the shul. It gave the Sokolov Jews great pride to possess such a shul, which was an exceptional one in the small Jewish towns and one of the few such in all of Poland.

It happened that the streets of Sokolov rang with singing and instrumental music when the congregation, radiant with religious ecstasy, brought a newly restored Seyfer Torah into the shul, under a khupe [marriage canopy]. Observant women had sewn and embroidered the covers with golden thread; a town leader had gifted the wooden scroll handles; the ordinary folk had bought a letter or a stitch to sew the curtains together.

And who did not go to see the circuits on simkhes Toyre in the big shul? Even the “free” Jews pressed into the crowd in order to grab a glimpse at the dancing Jews with the Torah scrolls in their arms. At the head were the fine proprietors of the town who received the deferential circuits. After them went the poor folk with their circuits, and the children followed at the end with their simkhes Toyre flags and red apples stuck with lighted candles and inserted on the ends of the flag–sticks. The town's porters, wagon–drivers and impudent youths especially appreciated the simkhes Toyre circuits, as this was the only opportunity for them to be in such proximity to a seyfer Toyre, and to Sokolov rabbis who came to shul

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to dance the circuits. They would grab the Torah with their strong, laboring hands, choosing in particular the biggest and heaviest scrolls, and dance with them, feeling intimate with the Torah as with a good brother, not wanting to release it from their arms and jumping into another circuit.

The elder Ben–tsien, the hoary–grey beadle of the shul, would then try to make order and told them to give the scrolls to someone else who was waiting impatiently for his turn. And people had respect for Ben–tsien the beadle. The kheyder boys told that he was the only one who was not afraid to go past the shul after midnight. It was said that one time, late on a winter Friday night, as he was passing the shul, he had heard someone calling him up to the Torah. He realized that it was one of the unfortunate “gilgul neshomes” who because of their sins in this world could have no rest and no place in the next world, now seeking a redress. Ben–tsien the beadle was not shocked, he approached the door of the shul, rapped on it with his heavy walking stick, and called out three times, “Dead, go to your rest!” Then he called out several verses from the kri'shma and it was quiet in the shul; they no longer called him to the Torah and Ben–tsien the beadle was not injured.

 

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Ben–Tsien the beadle

 

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In general, one's first glimpse of the shtetl did not make a bad impression, especially the center. Those who knew the appearance of Sokolov in the time of the tsarist regime could easily see that changes and the progress that Sokolov went through in every area during the twenty–some years between the two wars. After the big fire in 1910, two parallel, straight streets were built, with several–storied, brick houses along the sides. The market places as well as the central streets were paved with plain field stones (“cats' heads”) that were not as nice as asphalt streets, but thanks to them people in Sokolov in recent times did not suffer from dust in the summer or mud in the winter. Wide sidewalks were laid out before the houses and shops. The streets were swept every day and the cleanliness of the houses and shops was strictly protected under threat of monetary penalties. At night the shtetl was lighted by electric gas lamps. Of course the back streets, where the poor Jewish population lived, was not so protected. The half–collapsed wooden houses that the fire had not touched, and their “yards”, were still plenty dirty. There was no plumbing in Sokolov. Water–carriers brought water to the rich homes, and the poor carried water for themselves from the wells in the town. The “pomies”, the dirty water, and other unclean things, were thrown into the yards. Many Jewish children in Sokolov went around with pale little faces and crooked legs. And the “TOZ”, the Jewish health institution, had a lot to do in the area of sanitary help for the Jewish population in Sokolov.

Sokolov was little developed economically. Except for the sugar factory “Elzshbietov” in which, as usual, no Jewish workers were accepted, Sokolov did not have any industrial institutions that could hire workers and be of help to the economic development of the town. The Jewish population, the majority of the town, consisted of handworkers and merchants. After the First World War the town was economically completely ruined. The so–called Bolshevik Invasion (1920–21) also had a ruinous effect on the population. The Jewish population, which generally operated more with money than with immoveable goods, was impoverished by the currency inflation of the time.

The Sokolov Aid Committee dates from that time. Thanks to the help from the American “Joint” [Joint Distribution Committee], a soup kitchen was established

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that gave out warm food three times a day to the Jewish population. Long rows would form at the kitchen near the old study–house, especially children who represented the embarrassed parents, who stood with pots and bowls in their hands and patiently waited until they had received the bit of warm food then quickly ran home with it.

The situation gradually stabilized. The new Polish currency became a good coin. The Sokolov shoemakers and fur coat makers had a lot of work, because by then they were supplying boots and fur coats to Russia.

The Jewish savings and loan office help Jewish artisan with small loans to buy some supplies or a new machine for his work. But the livelihood was almost never sufficient. In fact young artisan youths used to run away to the big cities – mostly to Warsaw to get trained in a trade, and were happy if they succeeded in staying there to work.

Jewish commerce did not look much better in Sokolov. Despite the fact that commerce in the town was, until the last years before the outbreak of the Second World War, almost exclusively in Jewish hands, it was for the most part only small trade, and the livelihood except for the few large businesses of manufacture and foodstuffs that had built themselves up, the largest percent of the Jewish shopkeepers could barely exist.

Jewish commerce drew its livelihood largely from the Polish peasants from the surrounding villages, who came into town to sell their countryside products and to buy everything that they needed from the town. In Sokolov Jewish shopkeepers impatiently waited a whole week for the Thursday market day and begged God that it not rain, and that trade would not be spoiled. This was the day of redemption, when the peasants from the villages would drive together with their horses and wagons and set up in the big market square in the center of town. The Jewish shops and street stalls were concentrated all around that square. Most of the shops were the property of Prince Hirshman. The Jews provisioned the shops, paid rent, suffered from the prince's wild caprices and were regularly threatened with evictions. On market days the shopkeepers would set out little sample tables with examples of piece goods, inexpensive linen and colored chintz

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dresses for the village women, gentlemen's articles, needle and thread, buttons, combs and hairpins and also a block of soap. The merchants with the little tables would argue among themselves all day because of the competition: dragging a customer by the lapels to his set–up and convincing him that his was better and cheaper merchandise. The Jewish shopkeepers were already busy on Wednesday night, preparing for the morning's market day, running to borrow a small loan in order to get a little more merchandise into the shop.

The first village wagons would arrive in town in the early morning. The wagons bore all kinds of good things: big sacks of various grains and dairy products – white cheeses, big tubs of butter, buttermilk and sour cream as well as chickens and eggs. In some of the wagons were bound calves, or a cow led along by a rope tied to the wagon. The commotion at the market was great: the lowing of cows, the snorting of the horses, the crowing of the roosters and the voices of the buyers and sellers filled the town with enough clamor and din to make one deaf. But it was those voices that filled the Jewish shopkeepers with joy and promised livelihood. Tomorrow was Friday, and from a market day there would be fish and meat for shabes.

The first middlemen to appear among the wagons in the market were the Jewish grain dealers. As soon as a dealer saw a sack on a wagon, he could feel it and right away know what was inside. They bargained a little and arrived at a price, he put the sack on his shoulder and buyer and seller went together to Rubinshteyn's at the granary, weighed the sack, the broker paid the peasant and kept a zloty of earnings and – back out and into the market.

The Jewish butchers went among the wagons and examined the cattle. A poor butcher had to be satisfied with buying a calf. The rich butchers would buy a big beefer. After walking around and feeling the animal all over, the buyer began the bargaining with the peasant about the price, each one slapping their palms, each slap indicating a zloty added or subtracted. Once the price was worked out, both parties, and sometimes a third party too, a broker who helped to close the deal and get a little broker's fee, would go into the “greens”, into a tavern, to have a stiff drink and a bite of herring. The peasant got his money and the animal was taken straight to the slaughter house.

The women were a specialized sort of sellers,

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the “street vendors” who went among the peasant wagons buying up chickens, butter and eggs. Vendors came from as far away as Warsaw to compete for the products and did not allow the local vendors to make a groshen. Then there was bitter struggle among the women. And then the peasants would withhold the merchandise in their baskets and demand higher prices.

Before the day was half over the peasant wagons were already empty, the money paid for the village products they had brought put away. Now the peasant was free to shop in the stores to buy the things necessary for him and his household. Each peasant had his familiar Jewish shop where he liked to buy. Even later when Christian businesses opened in Sokolov, the peasant preferred to buy from Jews. He could get the merchandise cheaper from a Jew because the Jewish small–town merchant expected a minimum earning so that he could at least survive. The peasant also felt better in Jewish shops, he could bargain, sometimes barter for merchandise and in general had more loyalty to his familiar Jew than to the newly–arrived “patriotic merchant”. Even in the times before the outbreak of the Second World War, the times of open boycott and pickets against Jewish businesses, some peasants risked being yelled at as traitors and Jewish “boys”, and went into a Jewish shop to buy. But those were few in number.

The economic boycott inspired and supported by the Polish government circle of the so–called “Owciem politik”, completely ruined the Jewish merchant and took the meager bread from his mouth. Well before the official Hitler occupation of Poland in September 1939, Poland was already entirely dominated by Hitleristic antisemitic agitation. On the eve of the outbreak of the war, Poland could see no greater threat to her independence than Jewish commerce. Sokolov's Thursday market days, the days of commerce and livelihood, were transformed into days of anti–Jewish provocation and anti–Semitic outbreaks and the big market square turned into a showplace of Jewish shops vandalized by pogromists, broken and overturned tables and bloodied Jewish heads. Joining with village peasants who were coming to the market–days for the last time, Endek “bayuvkes” also came into town with sticks in their hands and took up the trade of the holy pogromists. Some of the “bayuvkazshes” occupied the picketers'

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posts near the Jewish businesses and would not let any Christian customers inside. Others of the “khloptses”, issued anti–Jewish calls to arms among the Christian population – calls to arms that dripped with the poison of the wildest, zoological Jew hatred.

Sokolov possessed bold youths who had prepared themselves to stand against and defend Jewish lives and Jewish property. It was not a formally organized group, but at the call they appeared on the streets, bonded buddies, Jewish wagon–drivers, butchers and porters. Leading them was Sokolov's well–known “wild child” Khaymke Poshelentshik. Some with a piece of iron, one with a stick or a stone in his hand, they approached the market square. It was no great contest. It was enough with the first split heads of a few Polish hooligans and the Endek “heroes” began to withdraw.

In the beginning, when the hooligans rampaged, the police were never seen. And now they quickly appeared and started to restore “order”. They did not come to help the robbed and beaten Jews and arrest the attackers – the police set out against the Jewish defenders. Obviously there was no point in fighting against the police, and none of the Jewish youths would be happy to fall into their hands. They ran off and hid in a place one of them knew, not from the hooligans but from the peace–keepers. Khaymke had to hide out for a long time because the police were searching for him.

Of course, once the market–day was lost the peasants quickly left the market square and went back to their villages. Some Jewish shops reopened later, but there were no customers. And the fair that was set up so nicely and promised some livelihood, ended with a pogrom against the Jews.

The Jewish senator Trokenhaym, whom people had specially requested to stop in at Sokolov on a Thursday market–day and see what the Endek “nationalists” were doing, was insulted by them and they threw stones at him. The local Polish authorities did not find any need to stop the hooligans, and only asked the senator to leave the place.

Sokolov herself could always boast about her antisemites. There had never been any collaboration in the town between

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the Jewish and Christian populations. Officially the Jewish council members were representative in the town council. The first time – more, because the Jews were usually the majority in the town; later – fewer, because the local authorities had created a Christian majority in some artful way by incorporating all the surrounding villages with their purely Christian populations into the town. They never responded seriously to the Jewish council members' demands. Often the Jewish council members were the object of entertainment and mockery from the side of their Polish compatriots.

Even in the most peaceful times a Jew could not be secure on a stroll through the totally Jewish section. Very often, when a pair of Jewish strollers wanted to separate themselves a little from the passers–by and strolled a little further outside the town, on Kupientin Street or Vengrov Boulevard, Polish hooligans would insult them and beat them and the romantic stroll ended with injury and pain.

Sokolov was gifted with two sorts of hooligans: the so–called “glinkozshes”, which were a known gang of underworld figures, horse thieves, demand makers and plain thugs. Splitting a Jew's head was really a sport. But this was a small group, about whom you could advise yourself, and who could be bought off with as little as a drink of whisky. Worse were the “conscious” hooligans, the ideological antisemites – the members of the Polish outspokenly antisemitic party “Narodnova demokratia”, or Endekes. (During the Hitler occupation they were the faithful assistants of the Germans and the gruesome murderers of the Jews.)

* * *

After the First World War the western culture and the tsarist occupation hardly recognized any official school or general education. In that realm on the Jewish street, the kheyder and the yeshive ruled. In the kheyder a teacher would come from time to time to instruct the boys in Russian, in particular the three–storied title of the tsar.

After the First World War when western culture tore into the far–flung Polish shtetlekh,

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Sokolov also perceived a change for the better in the areas of cultural and communal life. The opportunity to organize professional unions and legal societies was a big push forward for communal life. While in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War the “Bund” with its heroic struggle against the tsarist regime was the almost exclusive choice in party politics, the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 brought about a flowering of Zionist organizations. As in all the towns of Poland, Sokolov too began to organize Zionist parties in all its varieties: from the religiously–inclined “Mizrakhi” and the “B'ney akive”, “Algemeyne tsionistn” to the Zionist–socialist parties “Poale–tsion”, right and left with their “Tsirey–tsion” youth organizations, pioneer groups, sports organizations like “Ha'poel” and the “Ha'shomer ha'tsair” –– in the beginning the first scout organization on the Jewish street, and later the most serious Zionist–socialist and pioneer youth movement. Besides their party work, all those youth organizations also carried out wide–ranging cultural and educational work and established drama circles and libraries.

The parties were also active in the area of secular schools. The “Poale tsion” party made the first effort in that area, after its split into right and left factions. The party founded the first courses of the folks–shul with Yiddish as the language of instruction. Without the necessary financial means to support the school, the party's drama circle produced special presentations with the aim of raising money. Of course, because of the material difficulties and especially because of the splitting of the party, the school went under. The splitting of the “Poale tsion” party also caused the division of the big “Sholem Aleykhem Library” in two, with the left “ Poale tsion” creating the ”Borokhov Library” and the right, the “Brener Library”.

There was also an attempt in Sokolov to create a Preble School – a kindergarten with Hebrew as the language of instruction. But despite the stubbornness of several Zionist supporters who could themselves almost materially support the school, it did not last long and had to close. The one that did best was the “Kheyder mizrakhi” which, besides the traditional kheyder subjects, also taught secular studies and especially Hebrew language. The “Agudas yisroel” had its “Beys yankev” schools. The “Talmud–toyrekheyder – wanting to keep up a little with the times

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introduced some secular studies but that was only so that the authorities could see that the kheyder boys were learning Polish and did not need to go to the general school for the required education.

But even in the later years, when Sokolov already had a “Powszechne szkole” – the Polish school for Jewish children – the traditional kheyder still dominated the Jewish street. At first only girls went to the Polish school, and the boys only went to kheyder and yeshive. More progressive parents had private tutors for their sons and they learned secular subjects in their homes. But the rest of the day they were in a typical small–town kheyder.

There were also kheydarim called the “Talmud–toyre”. There was not much difference between the “Talmud–toyre” and a private kheyder. The same teacher and the same Torah. The Polish government even demanded that some Polish be taught, but those teachers had taught the Russian courses in the kheydarim during tsarist times. The only difference between the “Talmud–toyre” and the private kheyder was that the teaching did not take place in the rebi's residence, so that the kheyder boys were not together with the rebi's householders and overhearing his wife's voice and their crying children. But the rebi was usually the same mean, angry Jew who poured the whole bitterness of his own dark life out at every opportunity onto the heads of the kheyder boys and the students, naturally, repaid him in their own ways.

There was also a rebi in Sokolov who never struck his pupils. He interpreted the khumesh with his own wonderful stories, and with his tidy appearance and tactful treatment he won over the hearts of his pupils. This was Ben–tsien, the beadle of the big shul. He was not an official teacher and he only taught a few boys who only later began to study at the folks–shul and so as not to interrupt the kheyder.

The time was ripe for a general folks–shul for Jewish children in Sokolov. The Polish authorities issued an order about enforced schooling. The first few lower classes were opened in two rooms in Moyshe Piekarske's little wooden house. Later when the number of students was larger the school moved to Alshevske Street, into a one–story house that was rented from a

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Jewish owner. (Officially it was “Szkola Powechna” number 2 in Sokolov: Polish folks–shul for Jewish Children.)

School number 1 was for Christian children. There was no difference in the course work between the two schools except that in school number 2 they were taught on Sundays instead of shabes. The mood of Polish patriotism was no less in the Jewish school than in the Polish school either, because of the teachers, who were very assimilated and unwilling to hear about any Jewish problems. The “manager” of the school, Trumper, the teacher Grinberg, Gompl, Vaksberg, the teachers Shteynerovna and Malevantsik, were all outspokenly assimilated. Trumper, Grinberg and Vaksberg were also left inclined and vocal opponents of Zionism. They had an especially strong influence on the higher grades in the school.

 

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The Jewish folks–shul with the teachers Trumper and Grinberg

 

Some of the students remained outspokenly anti–Zionist their whole lives because of that influence. For many years there was not even a teacher for Jewish religion and history, and when such a teacher – Moyshe Migdol –– did arrive, he was not given any power in the faculty. The assimilationist, anti–Zionist atmosphere in the school did not suit the town or the education of the children according to the spirit of their homes, but that was how the school was for the younger generation of first–ranking importance.

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This began the first general normal education that the Jewish youth had in Sokolov. The teachers, and especially the director, Trumper, were very devoted to the school and they invested a great deal of energy to establish it on a high level. The majority of the teachers were not from Sokolov, except for two women teachers: Grinbergzshanka, who was much loved by her students as a good and devoted educator; she, to our great sadness died in her young years in full bloom, and the funeral in which the entire school took part was an expression of the children's love for their teacher. The second, Helmanuvna, later married the director Trumper and so made him a Sokolover too. And they both were the actual leaders and the living spirit of the school.

 

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The folks–shul with Director Trumper and teacher Shteyner

 

Overall the children felt very good at the school despite the strict manager, who more than once pulled the pupils by the ears. But the children did appreciate what it meant to have their own school for Jewish children. They appreciated it even more when the school was liquidated a few years before the war, and the Jewish children had to study together with the Christian children. More than once they went home from school in tears over insults and

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even blows from their Christian schoolmates. The antisemitism among the Christian children was no less than among their parents.

It reminds one of the Polish celebration of the Third of May. Or the special celebration that occurred in Sokolov around the unveiling of the memorial to the priest Bzshuski (a Polish patriot hanged by the tsarist regime after the rebellion of 1863). The school did not observe any Jewish celebrations, but Jews had to take part in all Polish celebrations on a large scale. For the unveiling of that memorial all the school children were marched out to the big market square. The town proprietors did not even look at us and the school was not given any particular place. When they led the Christian children straight into the Catholic Church to celebrate their service to God, the teachers of the Jewish school found it necessary to lead the Jewish children somewhere and placed them on the plaza in front of the church. There we were cursed with the familiar litany of “Jews go to Palestine” and literally spit on by the Catholic children.

Only after the whole ceremony when the celebratory orchestra could be heard playing and all the Christian children and other institutions began to disperse, did we approach the memorial and lay a huge garland of flowers in the name of our school. Even today I feel the taste of the insults for which our assimilated teachers had no response.

Nonetheless they are remembered for good, because they were the first who gave us a taste of secular education and the chance to study further.

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The first class of the Jewish folks–shul during the First World War

 

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The Jewish (“powshechne”) folks–shul

 

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The first crop of children in the government folks–shul (shabesuvke)

 

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