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[Pages 268-269]

The Jewish Firefighters

by Mordechai Landsberg, Kiryat Haim

Translated by Menachem Daum

It was a widely known fact that the well–organized Torah–true Jewry among us in the city had a dominant influence on the local Jewish community, as well as on the general social dynamics of Jewish Zdunska Wola.

This fact is attributable to the evolution of a specific and clearly defined style of life that has formed the population along firmly established norms and demarcated the boundaries for the various sectors which composed the local Jewish collective.

It was a lifestyle that, without doubt, exhibited a whole range of positive effects – on the development of a spiritual worldview; on raising a vigorous[1] generation grounded in Torah and tradition; on recognizing and respecting Torah scholars and all those who with their day–to–day behavior and love of mankind personified the high spiritual and moral values of the Jewish genius; on the essential continuity of the organic Jewish people in a strange and hostile world.

However, on the other hand, it also created more than a few negative and harmful aspects.

There arose a dismissive attitude toward work, particularly towards specific professions and to their practitioners; it crystallized into an inexplicable negative attitude towards Jewish members of even absolutely essential, so to speak, basic social institutions – already undervalued[2] because of irrelevant mystical attitudes to the problematic exile and its unavoidable crippling influence on national reconstruction.[3]

One of the institutions that I want to mention here, for which these influential Jews, and we should also add, the entire Zdunska Wola Jewish society, did not show the proper regard – if at all – were the firefighters.

The latter, who stood day and night to serve the population – Jews and non–Jews – in order to protect peoples' accumulated material possessions from going up in smoke, a function of immense first–rate importance, without which there can be no human communal life – in this commando, which numbered a few hundred people, of various social and educational backgrounds were found in total … five Jews. Literally: five Jews. Of these, two of them – Gigi Lubashitz and Maniek Winter – were administrators[4], one – Jacob Lazichak – was a health worker and only two of the five – Leibish Mintz, the son of synagogue officer Reb Avraham Mintz, and Itzik Butchinsky, the shoemaker – were among the firefighting ranks. The significance of this fact becomes even greater when you consider that the danger to Jewish property owners of being burnt and cleaned out was usually incomparably greater than that to non–Jews, because of the character of the former in that theirs mainly consisted of movable goods[5].

On the other hand, it should be noted that the only two Jewish firemen previously mentioned displayed great moves and acrobatic feats during drills and certainly during actual fires with which few of the non–Jewish firefighters could compare.

Naturally, this fact garnered much respect for the entire Jewish population – this was evident from their obvious devotion[6] to this important institution to which they felt a moral and social duty, to the Jewish people as well as to the entire community of our city.

And the ending proves its beginning.

In the later years, during the fearful atrocities of the German destruction operation against the Jewish populace, Leibush Mintz, as is described, revealed the personal inner essence of his character. At that time it became obvious that it was not the desire for camaraderie or of making an impression[7] which motivated him to the firefighter's command and there to become one of the most active and capable executors of the most essential and most dangerous functions. It turned out that the real[8] reason was a profoundly human calling from a deep–seated sense of responsibility to all Jews, whose fate he lived and breathed.

And here is what is told!

When the German angels of destruction drove the entire Jewish population of the cemetery, the command was given: “Children left …“ Leibush Mintz, not thinking about his personal fate, stepped out of line without permission and demanded that he be allowed to quench the thirst of the children with water – before they go on their final journey.

Later, after his request was fulfilled, the Nazis demanded he return to his line – Leibush Mintz proudly and with determination answered, “No – I'm going with my children!”

Thus did Leibush Mintz, with boldness and national honor, knowing full well what awaited him, entwined his fate to that of the dear Jewish children – whom the devil in German form had denied the right to life.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. קערנדיקן Return
  2. אפגעזען Return
  3. This paragraph is very unclear and needs a better translation. In general, the author seems to be critical of Orthodox influence and attitudes that deterred Jews from certain occupations and looked down upon those who chose to enter them, including those who chose to become professional firefighters. Return
  4. נאטשאלניקעס seems to be a Polish word meaning administrators or supervisors. Return
  5. Perhaps implying Jews owned more goods while non–Jews owned more land and produce. Return
  6. אנגעהעריקייט Return
  7. Suggesting the Orthodox fear of Jews becoming firefighters was that by becoming too close to their non–Jewish comrades they would forget their Jewishness Return
  8. אורשפרינגלעכע Return


[Pages 279-281]

Episodes From the First World War

by Yosef Shlomo Granat

Translated by Menachem Daum

Among those who do not know the Germans from former years or who have not looked into history books, there is a general false assumption that the German bloody hatred for Jews is a sudden inexplicable phenomenon that first appeared only recently, probably as a result of the deadly political–military understanding of the pathological rulers of the Third Reich, who thereby hoped to increase and strengthen their power at home, in Germany itself, as well as in other conquered countries.

So in the next few lines I want to tell of an episode about the German treatment of Jews during the First World War, in 1914, when in Germany was still ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm and there was no talk of official anti–Semitism and certainly not of Jewish extermination.

Already then, 25 years before the outbreak of the Second World War and the German declaration of war on the Jewish people, the experiences of the Jews of Zdunska Wola proved the Germans to be our greatest blood–enemy. Soon during the first weeks of the war in 1914, as soon as the German army crossed the borders of Poland (then Russian territory), they organized a massacre of over 100 people in Kalisz – mostly of Jews. And when they arrived in our city the soon shot a Jew on Laskier Street, without any questions or investigations – claiming he allegedly hid a Russian soldier.

But that was only the beginning. Soon afterwards the German commander of the city issued a order that all Jews must leave the city in three days. During those three days the army was given free rein to steal as much they desired.

The command was to go to the village of Tshecha[1] –in the direction of Sheradz.

Thousands of Jews – big and small, young and old, weak and sick – took the most necessary items with them and began their journey.

In confusion and terror Jews grabbed their bedding, some clothes, some saved items of value as well the little children who could not walk.

My father, of blessed memory, carried on his hands the two youngest children, my sisters Bayltsha and Tzerek (killed by the Germans).

Thus, under the accompaniment of flying bullets and thunderous cannons, we arrived in Tshecha. In Tshecha, the Jews were laying on open fields, huddling[2] one to another and trembling from cold and fear, especially at night. There were fatalities among the old and sick people who had to endure the punishing road together with the others.

When we returned to town we discovered a dreadful scene. All the shops of the ratusz and the surrounding market were broken into and robbed by the German Army. Nor were the homes spared.

In the coming months of war, hundreds of young Jews were taken away to work digging trenches in Kurland – Latvia. Later they also recruited many to work willingly, because of the great poverty that prevailed in many Jewish homes – a direct consequence of the German policy of looting, of the confiscation of businesses and the most important factories and the stoppage of all incomes.

For the same reason there was also some immigration to Germany, Russia and other places. Many of the captives could not endure the difficult working conditions and never returned.

¥

This chapter of Jewish suffering during the Germans Occupation in the First World War, which is not even one–thousandth of the tragedy and destruction that the same Germans brought to our people in the Second World War, nonetheless was a sufficient indication of how “good, cultured and humane” the Germans were toward Jews, even in those still good and normal years, when they were not yet preparing[3] for the destruction of Jews or planning the “Final Solution”.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. טשעכא (need to identify this town) Return
  2. צוגעטוליעטע Return
  3. געפריידיקט Return

 

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