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[Page 199]

Dąbrowa, my birth-town

by Iser Lavy [Lemkowicz] (Israel)

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

I remember, when I was an 8-year-old boy, how the sons of our neighbors returned home from the First World War, physically broken. I still see them now in front of my eyes, the invalids, half dead, half living. But the spark of hope in their eyes was not extinguished. They had the will to create new lives, but not here, on strange land; there, far away in Zion, where the Jewish people would establish territorial concentration in their own home.

And my neighbor Szymon Grosfeld, among the first in the “Shomer”[1] movement in Dąbrowa, returns from the polish military in 1920, and goes quickly to Palestine. In his honor there is a welcome and a farewell evening at the same time, and I, a small boy, declaim Bialik's poem, ”If you want to know.” What a deep meaning lies in the lines of the poem, and it applies today.

And I still remember the first 20 years, when the National Fund took upon itself to redeem the Jezreel Valley. In the Study House, in Śliwka's house in “Reden,” the Palestinian messenger Jakob Uri from Nahalal, brought Dąbrowa Jews the news about redemption from the earth. The listeners were carried away by his stories, which he described with simplicity, but with much warmth and soul. His words were completed by Dąbrowa dedicated Zionist Jakob Śliwka (today in Israel). Then I, the smallest at the assembly, standing on the table, accompanied by tones of the violin, sing the poet's song, “Take Me Under Your Wings.” The enthusiastic group in the study house sings along, the farther away the more resounding, and the tones deafen the neighborhood.

My father, who used to deal with public needs, a Chasid, but with understanding also for general and national matters, gives me a traditional Chasidic education but teaches me also worldly subjects, wanting to see me as both a pious and a worldly person.

Childhood was quickly gone, and growing up I really belonged to another world, to the “Hashomer Hatzair,” but my heart still smolders for those Chasidic years.

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The center of social life in “Reden” was the study house, where my father was the sexton. He loved song and spread over all the Chasidic “stibelech” [prayer houses] in the area the songs and prayers which he learned in the Courts of the Ger, Alexander, and Radomsk Rebbes. In the study house he heartily aided the cantor in the prayers at the end of holidays and in the Days of Awe, so that those praying had great pleasure. And Shabbes at twilight, when the crowd gathered in the synagogue for supper, we young men gathered in the women's gallery, and sang Zionist songs. They, the Chasidim, finished a sad, miserable tune, full of devotion – and we began to sing loud Zionist songs, which expressed hope, comfort and faith and quick redemption. So we used to enthusiastically mix Chasidic and national tunes, and in ecstasy we would weave together with our fathers' hands on our shoulders, or holding onto the material of their long coats, and dance, heads inflamed and held high; this cannot be forgotten.

Dąbrowa was divided into two parts: the first with the name “Huta Bankowa” concentrated around the coal mines and metal undertakings, and the second with the name “Reden.” Between the two parts was an area of two kilometers, which was occupied, but only a tram united them.

The “Reden” mine with its main street “Królowa Jadwiga,” and also its surrounding streets, was settled with Jews who lived from business and trade. The Jewish residents were almost all in agreement regarding nationality, and without exaggeration I can confirm that in every house, in every family, the head of the family, or his son and daughter, belonged to a Zionist organization.

I still imagine the families: J. Sz. Fiszel, Szlomo Halpern, Mosze Nachman Gutman, Grosfeld, Rozenblum, Plawes, Bornsztajn, Aks, Janowski, J. Lorie, Miodownik, Kożuch, Najfeld, Frochtcwajg, Liberman, Londner, Strzegowski, Lenczner and scores of other dear Jews. They belonged to all levels of society: mine managers and daily wage earners, owners of wood and iron warehouses, and artisans, businessmen and toiling workers. Love for Zion tied them all together. But few of them had the privilege to come to the land of Israel. Among the lucky ones who survived, Reb Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, a prominent activist in Dąbrowa, one of the first builders of Jewish Dąbrowa and a devoted social worker, has been many years in Israel (died meanwhile – ed.).

Also the “Huta Bankowa” colony had distinguished families. Let us remember their names, even some of them: The Klajn Brothers, Rechnic, Zilberszac, Sztorchajm, Fridman, Weltfrajnd, Szajn, and others. Truthfully, it should be told that the majority of this city section was not united in Zionism. Most of the Jewish population consisted mainly of workers, wage earners, and artisans. They belonged to the “Bund,” the left-wing “Poale Zion,” Folkists, and even “Reds.” The Communists had a strong influence here, and among their leaders were quite a few quite respectable and even rich men. The influence of the left radical groups became a bit weakened with the establishment of the right Poale Zion movement and its youth “Freiheit” [Freedom] in the neighborhood, which had meaningful power on the Jewish street in our town.

Small Dąbrowa, comparatively speaking, had all the Jewish parties and youth organizations from right to left.

The only national learning establishment was the “Mizrachi” school, on the 3rd of May Street, in Rajchman's house. The school was not on an especially high level because of its poor financial possibilities, although the devoted teachers gave all they could in order for their students to get the broadest ideas, and especially to implant in their hearts the love for Palestine and for Hebrew. We remaining students need to thank our teachers Szlomo Wajnrajch (murdered), Symcha Nusbaum (today in Israel) and others, for our knowledge in Hebrew language and other Jewish subjects. Many of us, after finishing the “Mizrachi” school, completed our courses in the well-known Zagłębie Hebrew-Polish gymnazia “Yavne” in Będzin, and several Dąbrowa graduates of the “Yavne” gymnazia are found actually in Israel, at higher academic occupations.

The national-cultural work in Dąbrowa concentrated mainly around the society “Tarbut,” which introduced Hebrew courses and maintained a rich library in three languages: Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. For many years Dawid Kożuch, a devoted, murdered, social worker, lead the work; his earnings for the cultural basis were quite large. The Hebrew and Yiddish classical writers we learned with the help of Kożuch, who was versed in Yiddish literature. Hebrew lessons were given by the outstanding pedagogue, Mordechai Gotlib (now in Jerusalem), who educated an entire row of Hebrew-speaking pioneers.

[Page 201]

Also the united National Fund Committee did important work for Palestine. This was the only institution where Zionists of all types could have discussions. Among the first and later authorized were: Jakob Śliwka-Shalvi (Haifa), Eliezer Tenenbaum (murdered), Fiszl Lenczner and Mordechai Rozenblum (both in Israel).

Also the League for Working Palestine did important work; it announced means of money for securing worker positions in Palestine.

The “Chalutz” (in Siwek's house and on his place) witnessed a concentration of many young Dąbrowa people, who worked the greens-garden and prepared themselves skillfully and psychologically for Palestine.

Important Zionists visited us, helping to strengthen the national consciousness among the Jews in Dąbrowa.

Among representatives of the Dąbrowa Jewish community on the city Council: the important social worker Reb Lajbl Strzegowski from “Agudat Israel,” accepted by the powers in the city; from the Zionists, Bernard Rechnic, who led a consistent, national line of judgment on the city council; and also the Zionist councilman Eliezer Tenenbaum.

The Jewish community was also inspired and influenced by the Zionist leadership.

The difficult economic situation in Poland, the anti-Jewish boycott, the ever increasing anti-Semitism, the known “owszem” [yes] politics (supposedly: hitting Jews – no, but boycotting – yes), from the government in the 1930s – all this led to a strengthening in Dąbrowa of the national movement, and many Jews began seriously to think about Palestine, but few could reach it, because the gates of Palestine were shut by the English.

Dąbrowa had a department of strong kibbutz-training, “Borochov” from the right wing Poale Zion. Their friends worked in assorted industrial enterprises and especial in the metal factory of the Klajn Brothers. Those were the first Jewish workers in the town who bore into heavy industry, which was, until the coming of the kibbutz, not friendly towards Jews. In this way a Jewish national proletariat started to be created in the last years before the war.

The Hitler groups march into Poland; the youth is mobilized into the polish military, and others try their luck by running to the Russian borders. They all become quickly disappointed. The Polish army was smashed within a matter of days; many of the young men from Dąbrowa fell on the front and on the wander-roads. It was very seldom that anybody attained a salvation point.

Remaining youth are sent to labor camps and the rest of the Jews are sent to a constraining ghetto, which is slowly liquidated. In 1942 the last Dąbrowa Jews are taken to the large Sosnowiec ghetto Środula and from there, summer 1943, driven to the Valley of Tears – Auschwitz.

Only a little holy ash remains from the six thousand Jewish residents in Dąbrowa, a little box of ashes, which came to the tomb in Israel in the Israeli earth, for which they always strove – and could not attain in life.

May these few lines, which I write with a shaking hand, be a tear on the ruins of the Dąbrowa Górnicza community.

(From Hebrew: M. Hampel)

  1. The Ha-Shomer Hatzair was the first Zionist pioneer youth group – HBF  return

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