Table of Contents

[Page 18]

Jewish Strzemieszyce

By Sonder, son of the Strzemieszyce rabbi

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

A. The Jewish Community

The Jewish settlement in Strzemieszyce began around the second half of the 19th century. The first Jews lived in the neighborhood of the so-called Vienna Station, the train station of the Vienna-Krakow-Warsaw line.

The development of the Jewish settlement in this place was further boosted by the opening of the largest – and one of the first – chemical plants in Poland, “Strem,” from which many Jews drew their livelihood.

Jewish life converged around R'Nachum Englard's Hoyf [Hassidic “court”], where he had a Bet Midrash [synagogue and house of learning], a Hachnasat Orchim [place for accommodating guests] and a Mikve [ritual bathhouse].

R'Nachum Englard z”l was one of the few unique persons in Poland, who were blessed with “Torah and Greatness in one Place” [Tora ugdula bemakom echad]. Not less famous was his wife Hinde'le, for her charity and good deeds. They were specially blessed with having good children, among them the Rav R'Yeshayahu z”l of Sosnowice and R'Yechezkel Toib z”l – a great scholar and charity-giver. They married with families of Admorim and other respectable Jewish families in Poland.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the government began building the Sosnowice-Kielce-Ivangrad railroad line, where about 2,000 people found work. The Jewish settlement began developing rapidly. Soon the so-called Ivangrad Street became more populated than the Vienna Street; the Jews built a synagogue and a Mikve, with all the necessary religious equipment.

In 1922, an independent Jewish Community was founded, which included, together with the surrounding towns about 500 families. Strzemieszyce became a miniature reflection of Jewish life in Poland. Although the population was divided into Hassidim, Balebatim [house owners], Easterners, Zionists and laborers, the relationship between them was like in one family. The Strzemieszyce Jews excelled in charity giving in great measure.


B. Rav Shlomo David Sonder z”l, the first Strzemieszyce rabbi

He was born in 5635 (1874) in a small town, Garszcovice near Radomsk, in the Pietrkow Gubernia [county]. His father R'Zev-Wolf Sonder had six children – 2 brothers and 3 sisters of R'Shlomo David. One of the brothers, R'Moshe Sho”v [ritual slaughterer] lived in Klabock and Czestochow. R'Zev Wolf was a Hasid of the Radomsker Rebbe, the author of the book “Chesed Avraham.”

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As a young boy he showed great talent in study, excelling in diligence and perseverance. He went to the Belchatow Rav z”l and studied together with the adult young men, all of them gifted in the Torah study. He studied also with Kaminsker Rav, R'Stieglitz z”l.

In 5656 (1895) he became the son-in-law of R'Pinchas Fuchs z”l from Streszow near Pietrkow, who was a devout Gur Hasid. His grandmother was a descendant of the Radoszyce court, and he lived there several years and studied diligently. He was ordained as rabbi by famous rabbis, among them rabbi Leibish of Przsedborz z”l.

For several years he was judge at the religious court of the Rav of Klabock z”l (who was from the Radomsker Hasidic court). There he studied in the class given by the last Radomsk Admor, R'Shlomo-Heinich-Chanoch HaKohen, may God avenge his blood. In Klabock his son was born, the Rav R'Moshe Pinchas, may God avenge his blood. He was lovingly called “Pintche.”

In 1903 he came to Strzemieszyce as judge in the religious court with the approval of the Admor of Radomsk, the author of Kneset Israel. He lived on Vienna Street, near R'Nachum's Hasidic court, where he taught Torah. Young men from Strzemieszyce and surroundings came to study in his classes.

After First World War, when the town of Ivangrad developed he relocated there, to be together with the growing number of Jews and near the Bet Hamidrash in town.

At that time, the Strzemieszyce community belonged, officially, to the Jewish community in Bendin. However, practically the Strzemieszyce Jewry and the Strzemieszyce rabbi and his community functioned independently.

It is worth mentioning that the Strzemieszyce rabbi was very friendly with R'Yissachar-Ber Graubart from Bendin and visited him often. Some of the responsa in the Bendiner rabbi's Responsa Book Divrei Yissachar are answers to his queries.

1n 1922, the Polish government declared Strzemieszyce an independent community and recognized R'Shlomo David as the official rabbi, without elections, considering the general approval of the community.

1n 5691 (1931) the rabbanit [the rabbi's wife] became ill. This situation caused the rabbi a breakdown and he died on 18 Adar 5692. He was buried in the Krakow cemetery. The rabbanit Sara Feige died on 6 Tishrei 5693.

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The Bet Hamidrash
and the Holy Duties that it fulfilled

by Yakov Leizer Klapper

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

My father David Yitzhak z”l rose every morning at 2.30 a.m. at the call of R'Mendele Shames [beadle of the synagogue], whose job, among other duties, was to walk from house to house and wake up the people for early services.

We lived on Katchelne Street, not far from the Bet Midrash and from the home of the beadle. The two would open the Bet Midrash every morning. The first thing to do was lighting the fire in the iron stove, then they went to R'Kopel Zalashitzki's house and woke him, and the three of them sat down to study Gemara [Talmud] until 5 o'clock, although R'Kopel suffered from weak eyesight.

Then my father came home and woke me, to get ready to go to the Bet Midrash to study Gemara as well. I was then only 11 years old and it wasn't easy for me to get up so early and to carry the heavy Talmud volumes; so my mother went with me and carried the books. I hope her Mitzva will be remembered in Heaven.

At five in the morning, the Talmidei Hachamim [scholars] entered the Bet Midrash and began learning: R'Berish shochet [slaughterer], R'Leibish melamed [teacher], Chamile Palivode and Avraham-Yakov Zhelanke. A little later they were joined by the young men Meir Green, Moshe Lifshitz, Alter Lifshitz, Neta Rosenblum and Mordechai Binyamin Kaminski. This study, with R'Berish shochet leading the lesson continued until seven o'clock, then they all went to R'Shlomo David Sonder and studied with him until nine. At that hour other students came: Yechezkel Sonder, Mordechai Weissbord, Avraham Yehoshua Haberfeld and Yakov Leizer Klapper, who later wrote memories.

In the meantime, in the Bet Hamidrash study and prayer continued until eleven thirty. After lunch the young men returned and continued their study until two. At three, R'Pintche Sonder came. We, the young boys, were his pupils. We studied with him until late in the evening, with a break between Mincha and Maariv [the afternoon and evening prayers].

Sometimes we would go from house to house to collect money for the Yeshivot, or for the needy Jewish families, by the instructions of R'Berish Shochet. This we did in pairs – Mordechai Weissbrod with Yechezkel Sonder, Moshe Zhelanka with me and Moshe Schlesinger with Avraham Yehoshua Haberfeld. We collected money to buy books, as well.

After we finished the rounds, we went back to study until late at night; twice a month we studied the entire night. There were also the Thilim Yidn, [Psalms readers], who came daily to the Bet Midrash to read from the Book of Psalms.

To our great sorrow, all these pious and honest Jews perished Al Kidush Hashem [for the sanctification of the Holy Name] by the hands of the German murderers. May God avenge their blood.

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The Bet Hamidrash Jews
in our Town Strzemieszyce

by Yakov Klapper

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

There were several seats near the small table at the Mizrach wall [the Eastern wall, which is the most respected place in the synagogue]. The people who occupied these seats were good Jews with open hearts, always ready to do an act of good will or charity:

R'Avraham Manowitz z”l – Jews would often come in to his shop to ask for a loan. Fradl Manowitz would empty the cash register and lend them money without asking interest, or even give the money as charity.

Yerachmiel Green was also one of the occupants of the Mizrach seats at the small table. Also Pinchas Weissbard and Yitzhak Mendel Schantzer – all of them Jews with open hearts and open wallets. And so were their wives.

I remember how the pious woman Bluma Schantzer, in her quiet way, would help out with a loan, a donation, or spending the night with a sick person together with her friend Shifra Weissbard. And we must not forget R'Yanke'le Fainski, R'Hendel Sachs and their wives.

Almost every week, R'Berish Shochet z”l would send us to collect money for charity. Wherever we went, we were welcomed warmly. I would like to mention in particular R'Leizer Luksenberg, Sheindl Mertz, Sussman Gedaynski, R'Akiva Hendler – all respected Jews, goodhearted and sensitive to the needs of their fellow Jews. Every Sabbath they would have a guest in their houses.

The poor from the surrounding villages liked to visit our town. They knew that they would be welcomed and helped.

Unfortunately I am not in the position to remember and mention all those good Jews, honest people, always willing to support their fellow men.

May their virtues protect us.

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In Rav Shlomo David Sonder's Stiebel

by Yakov Klapper

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Every day the Rav would study with the young men. The first lesson was from 7 to 9 in the morning, the second from 9.30 to 11.30. During the day he would sit in the rabbinic court, discuss problems and give advice.

He was a real genius. In the afternoon all would come to the prayers of Mincha and then Maariv in the Stiebel. In the evening the Rav would give a Shi'ur [lesson, class] to his friends from the Stiebel. My father was among them.

On Sabbath at the Sabbath meal, the friendship between the members of the community was noticeable; it was a pleasure to see. The cantors in the Stiebel were R'Akiva Hendler and his four sons who helped with the choir: Chaim Leib, Meir, Yitzhak and Avreimel. There was also R'Yosef Freundlich, a very good cantor with a pleasant voice. They would often serve as cantors on Yom Kippur.

I remember also R'Yankele the Melamed, Shmuel Wohlhaendler's father. When he recited Or Zaru'a [before Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur] a shiver would pass through the entire congregation. Before Kol Nidrei the rabbi would speak. We respected our rabbi very much. …And who could forget R'Itche Sonder? A genius! He studied day and night. He also held classes for young boys.

On Simchat Torah [the festival of the Torah] the Stiebel was a happy place. R'Yosef Freundlich would begin the morning prayer Shacharit and Shimon Grinberg would complete it. And for Kidush [blessing over the wine] we went from house to house. We started with the rabbi's house next to the Stiebel, then across the street to Yosef Freundlich, where we ate from his stuffed cabbage and rice, a customary dish on Simchat Torah, and the famous Kugel.

Next we went to Yosel Sklaszh and after that to Yidel Spiegelman, on the other side of the railroad line. There we had a special Kidush with so much food and drink that we could barely walk home.

In the afternoon we gathered again and drank beer until late, singing humoristic adaptations of the Piyutim of the Prayer for Rain [Tefilat Geshem] that was recited in the synagogue the day before, on Shemini Atzeret.

To our great, great sorrow, all this exists no more… Why??

[Page 49]


Written and translated into English by Wiktor Kupfer (Victor Cooper)

Donated by Belinda Cooper (his daughter)

He was a quiet man, a widower with elderly daughters. I do not know exactly how many daughters he had. His beard was thin and grayish, his sad eyes of indescribable color were framed with large grayish eyebrows. The face was always sad and drawn from hunger and deprivation. The traditional long black cloak and the boots he wore were old and in need of repair.

One seldom saw this Jew in the street; perhaps in his modesty he did not want to parade his poverty. Besides, he had no business interests there and did not draw his livelihood thence.

It is difficult to pin down his age. He certainly was not fifty years old yet, but looked as if he were seventy.

Nobody knew what this man and his daughters lived from. He had no known trade. Sometimes I saw one of his daughters in the villages around my hometown, Strzemieszyce; perhaps she peddled something to the peasants. It is reasonable to conclude that they suffered hunger in their abode.

Saturdays and on holidays this Jew came to pray at the Krymalow prayer house. Here too he was immersed in his sadness, in his prayers. The Hasids treated him with deference and respect.

The benefactor and supporter of the prayer-house prepared Saturdays after the prayers a lavish “Kiddush,” a spread of tasty snacks, tidbits and drinks. The man, although on the verge of starvation, did not elbow himself towards the goodies. He waited until it quieted around the table where the food was laid out, and only then proceeded to taste the snacks, but with dignity and calmness as if he was not hungry at all.

Other Jews eagerly vied for the honor to be called to pray at the pulpit. This one accepted only once a year, namely on Yom Kippur, for “Nealah,” the most exalted prayer.

The man fascinated me and I observed him while he prayed. With him there was no hasty disposal of prayers. With his whole existence, body and soul, he immersed himself in the holy service, with no theatrics or shouting. It seemed that at this moment he was united with the Almighty. I saw his shoulders vibrate as if crying. Who knows? Perhaps he had a dialogue with his Creator, like Levi-Itzhak of Beridchev? Perhaps, as Itzik Manger says, once a year he quietly poured out his complaints to God? “Lord, Creator of the Universe, what shall happen to my aging bridemaidens, to my poverty and misery and theirs? Help, oh Creator, me and my children; help also the entire Jewish nation, because at this moment I represent all of them!”

When the man finished the quiet prayers and stepped back three steps from the pulpit, as is proper in front of the Holy One, I glanced at his face. It was still in ecstasy. Then I noticed that the spot he stood on while praying was wet from his tears. For a long while I could not tear away my eyes from both—his face and the wet floor.

To this day I cannot forget this picture; a Jew with such total belief, a “Lamed Vovnik,” one of the 36 righteous who support the perpetuation of our world, a man of religion, of hope, of honesty, whose convictions did not break under the stress of deprivation. And perhaps just because of the deprivation?

[Page 50]


Written and translated into English by Wiktor Kupfer (Victor Cooper)

Donated by Belinda Cooper (his daughter)

In the same Jewish inner court lived a family who had a maidservant quite advanced in age; a simple maiden, uneducated, not exactly a beauty, and not particularly smart. But a mouthpiece she did have. Every child from the neighborhood tried to exceed the other in playing a trick on her, calling her a name, making a joke about her.

Jews, of course, have a heart, and marrying off an old maid is one of the great good deeds for which you are rewarded in heaven. So the women had a busy time trying to figure out what to do with this orphan.

One beautiful day the inner court had important news: after much effort and with good fortune the right match was found for the maiden, fitting like two peas in a pod.

With much effort the neighbors scraped together a few zloty and the couple was married according to the law of Moses and Israel, with all details.

When Jews do a good deed, they do not omit even the minor things. In the same courtyard they rented for the “young” couple a “flat,” consisting of a small store which was empty for years. They gave the couple gifts—one an old chair, one a pot, a glass, a rolling pin. Even the “Seventh Day Blessing” celebration they arranged.

The courtyard buzzed with activity. After the Seventh Day Blessing celebration the youngsters jumped around the couple's little window and recited newly composed poems. One recited the couple's love history, ending with:

What is the bridegroom's name?

All: Pinyele Broder

Another: What is the bride's name?

All: Rakhele Shmoder

I listened from a safe distance to the “poets” and “composers” and my heart bled for the young couple. No, the couple did not pour a pail of dishwater upon the heads of the devils, as they amply deserved. Instead, the couple sat quietly in their room waiting for the storm to pass and until the gangs would become tired and hungry and disperse to their houses.

The honeyweek passed, the Jews fulfilled God's commandments—the couple now has to decide how they would earn their bread. They decided that, inasmuch as there are so many horse and buggy entrepreneurs, who with their families died from hunger daily and somehow were still alive, there certainly must be room for one more family. However, the woman's dowry was too meager to buy both a nag and a carriage; there was barely enough for either one or the other.

“You know what?” said the husband, “Let's buy a little carriage on four wheels and I will be the horse, because we cannot afford both. And at the same time we will save money by not buying a whip.” So it was decided.

The Jew-horse pulled the little wagon with a sackful of flour or wheat uphill-downhill.

On a hot summer day I met the man personally when he pulled the wagon uphill from the Wiener section to the Wangroder section of the town. A short fellow with a small black-gray beard, one eye looking toward the east, the other looking south, sweating in the patched, heavy knee-length coat. On his feet a pair of hard, high-shafted and nail spiked shoes. He pulls and pulls, poor soul, the wagon uphill, sweat running down his face in streams, and still stands, without budging, in the same spot. I stand and look and his black sad cross-eye begs me for help without himself saying a word. (The other eye looks toward the south).

My throat felt a pressure and I, an 8-year-old boy, start pushing the wagon from behind.

Reaching the top of the hill, the little man stopped, wiped his face of the sweat, and for the first time I heard his thin and stuttering voice, “Thank you.” I look at him with pity and amazement. He pulls out of his pocket a small coin, presses it in my hand with again a “thank you.” I stand, stunned, with the coin on the flat of my hand completely dazed and the man-horse is already galloping down hill far away from where I am.

Six days weekly the man-horse toiled from dawn to dusk, but Friday evenings and Saturdays one could see him going to the house of prayer, thoroughly washed and scrubbed, in a clean coat, with shined boots on his feet.

Saturday afternoon, after a nap, one could see the couple taking a walk in front of their house, both meticulously clean, looking at each other with a loving smile, and the man humming a song. It appears that the woman was a good housewife and thrifty, too. After several years they could afford to buy a little pony which fitted exactly to the wagon and to the man.

To this day I remember this couple. From the deep poverty, from outside the social life o the community, a man and woman elevated themselves through hard honest labor to find their places as equals with other Jews. Without high aspirations, in modesty and mutual love, they lived in peace with themselves and with their neighbors.

A Strzemieszyce Bontsche Schweig—or a prototype of one.


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