by The editorial board
… And it will be if the asker askes about the destroyed cities, about whether there is yet a name and memory in the hearts of its children, the teller will tell: On the contrary, open this book and read it. As it passed through the recesses of the heart, it now passes through the pages of this book in which the hearts beat and nestle over the generations of its children, and whose energy is set in their hearts. Since it is alive in their hearts and memories, it is a sign that it is set for eternal life in the annals of our nation.
… At times it happens: you leaf through some old picture, or through a bundle of newspapers and manuscripts from bygone eras, and then suddenly: Zgierz, your city… The blood awakens in your heart… Zgierz the city that was once an integral part of your life… The city for which you feel yourself as a severed limb in its reality… Zgierz it arises in your memory as a warm echo, even though we are talking about Zgierz from bygone years.
You read and read with great interest and curiosity, as if it happened just yesterday or the day before. As if you hear echoes from our lives… For that which happened to them [would have] happened also to us the coming generation if the years had been in order and as usual…
Woe to us! Destruction overtook the community of Zgierz as well, as it did with all the Jewish communities of Poland. The chain of the generations has been severed, and it no longer continues. We are the last of the Zgierz natives. Therefore, let us honor these fragments of memories of our parents and ancestors, for they are also for our honor.
Warsaw Monday (January 2, 18 Tevet) one of the honorable people of our city, Reb Shmuel Aryeh the son of Yitzchak Margolis of blessed memory has passed away. He lived in the city of Ozorków from 1849 to 1866, where he had a large factory for the weaving of wool, from which many poor Jewish families found their livelihoods. He moved to the manufacturing city of Zgierz in 1866 and became one of the largescale factory owners in that city. There too, he did a great deal for individuals, for his hand was open to any poor person who knocked on his doors. He did a great deal for the city in general, for communal activity was close to his heart. He was a faithful lover of that city, and directed the community and its institutions. Even the gentiles in the city honored him for his good spirit and great worth. When he was forced to leave the city in 1882 and come to our city, all the people of Zgierz accompanied him on his way, and the parting was difficult for them. They many families who found work and support through him wept bitterly.
The city of Zgierz is a one hour walk from the city of Łódź. Its population is about 20,000, and its Jewish population is about 4,000, mainly Hassidim and the minority householders. There are two factories for weaving and sewing, in which our brethren also have a share. However the number of Hebrew workers is small, approximately 50, and no more. Jews earn their livelihood from various businesses and trades. There are many wagon drivers who travel the route to Łódź, earning their livelihoods from their frequent journeys. The spiritual situation of the Jewish community in the city of Zgierz is also not that different from other such cities; it had a charitable fund, a Bikur Cholim (organization for visiting the sick), and other such institutions, whose purpose is to help the poor during their times of tribulation.
The city of Zgierz has now become famous for its Business School, which was founded there and accepted Jews without any quota. Hundreds of students from other cities, near and far, would come here.
Along with them came work for the tradespeople and shopkeepers. Some of the teachers of the Jews rented large houses and set up rooms for housing and tables for eating for the outside students, and prepared them for acceptance to the school. It is said that the supervisor of that school was an honest man who loved Jews and respected their Torah. He did not at all force the Jewish students, even through moral persuasion, to write on the Sabbath. This should be no small matter in our eyes! For he knew that even some of the children of Orthodox Jews violate the Sabbath at the school, for that is the will of the director, who thinks that Sabbath observance is only for fanatics and believes that fanatics are not fit to gain knowledge and insight and to later influence the people with their dark spirit. There are also government rabbis who support the opinion of the director through their rabbinical seal! However, more guilty than anyone are the fathers themselves, who compromise their faith and Torah to do the will of the supervisor.
Zgierz (District of Piotrków). An honorable enterprise operates in our midst, the Tzedaka Gedola [Great Charity] institution that encompasses all benevolent operatives in our midst. The Jewish community here has taken a great stride forward: it has now been two years since several of the prominent people of our city interceded with the authorities regarding the founding of a general charitable society. Now, after many obstacles the society has been set up and certified.
The residents of our city are solicited for every charitable matter, and they give. Amongst us we have various institutions, and why should we not try to bring order to all of them so that the charitable acts shall be whole?
Through the efforts of several people of our city, and through the work of Mr. Eiger, the head of the workers, the group moved from thought to deeds. The institution was set up, and all the parties participate. There are great results to this day.
After the first meeting, all of those who signed up for the society were called to come to elect directors and functionaries for its various divisions.
The following were elected by majority vote:
Mr. Moshe Tzvi Eiger (chairman)
Nota Heinsdorf (vice chairman)
Shimon Ring (secretary)
Mordechai Margolis (general treasurer)
The directors of the various charitable endeavors, each in accordance with their task and work, are:
Mr. Shlomo Sirkis
Eliezer Kotszinski (accountant)
And Mr. Aharon Kaltgrad, recording secretary.
All have been summoned by name, are clean of hands and pure of heart. It is expected that they will set up something proper and respectable for them, and for our city.
At the first meeting, the meeting of members, we immediately recognized their goodwill, for all of them participated and donated what they could to purchase the furniture and other necessities for the rooms of the organization. They brought many utensils to furnish the rooms, and everything was set up nicely everything from private donations.
The members expected to dwell in peace and to carry out their work, but the wrath of the tramway overtook them! At the time when the members began to carry out their work, the tramway from Zgierz to Łódź Pabianicki, opened up, leaving 70 families, who had earned their livelihoods from wagon driving, without sustenance.
Anyone who is knowledgeable and expert in communal affairs knows how difficult it is for a new enterprise to have a heavy burden fall upon it all at once. Seventy families without the staff of bread, the coffers were small, and there was not an amount to sustain them!
The members of the committee have made efforts to obtain support from the action committee of the tramway. We hope that their efforts bear fruit.
Blessed be Gd, Monday of the Torah Portion of Ki Tisa, 5625 (1865), Zgierz
To my friend the high priest of his brethren in wisdom and knowledge, the great researcher, Rabbi Yitzchak Mizes, may his light shine.
The reason for my delay in responding is that I know that merely a friendly letter will not be sufficient for you, and that you will want to know not only about my status and situation, but also about the situation of the city in which I live, and I realize that it is a difficult task to understand the essence of people in a brief period. I said that after a few months, I will send at length the material that is fitting to put in a book, and you will receive a booklet on the situation of our brethren in this country, and I would tell you main details about the status of the city, that are worthwhile to know.
The city in which I live has 10,000 residents, including 4,000 of our nation. They earn their livelihood from wool and cotton, and a few of them from smallscale manufacturing. The poorer people are mainly middlemen sitting at corners, tradesmen in various trades from weavers and embroiderers to heavy coal workers clean work earned by the sweat of the brow, the likes of which I have not seen in our country.
In general, the city is desolate, and its business is sparse. As all Jewish communities, it had a rabbi, cantor, scribe, administrators, rabbinical judges, physicians, and unemployed people. The rabbi receives a stipend from the communal coffers. He travels several times a year, formerly to Kock and presently to Warsaw. He studies with lads or youths the laws of shopkeepers and their ledgers,
the cow, and the tallis [prayer shawl], but not Bible, Mishna, and proper behavior [and I trust that they will be rabbis and teachers in the Jewish community]. He has no contact with people, and he sits in an inside room rejoicing with his Torah didactics. This is not a complaint, and not to show haughtiness, for we can see in him clear signs of a person who occupies himself in Torah for its own sake in our time. Such individuals merit many things, are not interested in monetary gain, do not have interest in writing or language, and do not provide advice and recommendations on matters of the world or on matters of the city.
The livelihood of the rabbinical judges is very difficult, for they do not receive a stipend from the communal coffers. Rather, they earn something when there is a Torah court case something that takes place here once in a jubilee they do not engage in work, for they are either unemployed or frequenters of the Beis Midrash. The communal administrators are such in name only, for they keep their distance form communal affairs. There are many ignoramuses who are involved in communal affairs, for it is considered a disgrace here to be a leader of the people. The maskilim here are those people who own valuable books, and learn seven subjects on one foot, such as the book of the covenant, the paths of faith. There are also those who know the Bible well, who can read the fine points of Rashi, and are considered the splendor of the city.
There are two Jewish physicians whom I know, with whom I come into contact at times. The first is a donkey of burden, with the books of Walter and the encyclopedias spoken from his throat. He thinks about them as one seeks after the truth. He is of the spirits of the 18th century. He has not seen or does not know about the wisdom and sciences that have taken place from that time until now, for he is a fortress of memory of the previous century.
The second one knows and understands a great deal; whose treasury of knowledge is very great. He was one of the excellent students of the halls of wisdom of Berlin. However, the science of medicine is to him the sum total of the wisdoms. He concentrates on it, and restricts himself to that subject. They are different from each other, and what they have in common is that they do not benefit from each other's company.
I have now brought before you something from all sections of the city, and you will see what has happened in my life, and how I have been chased out from dwelling in the heritage of wisdom, which was the desire of my soul and the life of my spirit. I feared that a worm and a thorn might afflict my meager knowledge. Therefore, I ask that, from time to time, I be granted from the fruit of your knowledge in the fields of the wisdom of Israel, and that you tell me about your family, and your dear daughter and granddaughter, and news from the world of research and the wisdom of Reb Pinchas Mendel and Kirchheim. Please accept my deep gratitude, from your friend who honors and holds you in rabbinical esteem, A. Y. W.
Please, my friend, forgive me for my poor writing, for I am writing this at midnight, and am hurrying to finish the letter, so that I can send it in the mail tomorrow. That way, it should arrive to you on Purim, instead of Shalach Manot [Purim gifts].
The community of Zgierz shall wail, shall raise its voice in lament and weeping, for the wonderful crown of Torah, adorned with bright sapphires, has been lost. Woe! It has fallen to the ground and its splendor has been removed, the light of Torah has been trampled, and darkness has come to the world on the day of Tevet 6, for that day the angels were victorious, and the holy ark has been taken to eternal life our rabbi, the Gaon and Hasid, Rabbi Shalom Tzvi HaKohen, may the memory of the holy be blessed. Not only the community of Zgierz, but the entire house of Israel shall weep over this great loss, for the late Gaon of blessed memory was one of the uniquely gifted people, one of the few strong pillars upon which the sanctuary of Torah rests in our generation. Anyone who merited to stand and serve before this late Gaon of blessed memory, and to know a bit about his holy ways, is obligated to rise up and declare publicly about the great loss to our holy nation with the death of his holy individual. The Gaon and righteous priest was crowned with three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of a good name:
Regarding the crown of Torah, he disseminated Torah publicly for the 54 years that he served in the rabbinate of our community. Fine youths streamed to his great Yeshiva from all corners of Poland, for he preserved through his learning style the paths of the great early sages of holy blessed memory. With his great toil and wondrous expertise, he forged a path in the sea of Talmud and in the strong waters of the rabbinic decisors, delving deep into Jewish law, understanding the ideas of the early sages of blessed memory. In all his digging into the Talmud, he did not set his aim solely at the effort of building castles flying in the air, which have no spirit, like the babbling pilpulists. Rather, the spirit of our early ones rested upon him to place all his effort in interpreting, clarifying, and polishing the matters like refined silver. He was granted success from Heaven, after all his great, selfless work, to save many pearls from the sea of Talmud, which had not ben seen yet by the eyes of the great latter sages. More than 50 of his great students are scattered throughout our country. Thus was his excellent manner in holiness, in the courtyards of Torah and Talmud.
Regarding the crown of priesthood, he was a Cohen to the Lrd of High, a student of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving his fellow, and drawing them close to Torah. Anyone who basked under his shadow did so without fanfare or
force, but rather with the spirit of Gd dwelling in his midst, with the spirit of grace etched on his lips, and with the quiet voice drawing near even those who were faroff, returning their hearts to their Father in Heaven.
Greater than all, however, is the crown of a good name. His modesty was extreme. The holy Torah with which he occupied himself for its own sake was that which bestowed upon him that crown overlaid with precious stones, fine and good, with praiseworthy traits. Everyone who saw and knew him, and the many people who visited him, were surprised and astonished. They all said unanimously that they had never seen such a modest person as this laudable person. He never conducted his leadership with a high hand, and he never said to people that they must accept his opinion. He would flee from honor as distantly as he could, even though he earned great honor during his lifetime, and the great rabbis gave honor to his name, with every holy word that emanated from his mouth being holy to Gd in their eyes. These signs of honor did not at all affect his pure heart, and did not even make a small impression on his precious soul. To him, honor was a disgraceful thing, an impure matter that should not be brought into the house of Gd. His door was open all day and a large part of the night to anyone who had something to request, to anyone beaten and depressed. He was available to any petitioner, from the great wealthy people, men of renown and leaders of the community, to the least of the least, the hewers of stone and drawers of water. There was no minute issue for the people of our community that was not brought before him. He would answer the many matters with extra patience, and give words of comfort to anyone who came to his tent. Just like the High Priest who entered the inner sanctum of the temple of Torah, his voice was not heard as he entered the sanctuary to speak about leadership and greatness; he only gave forth the dew of his words calmly, so they would be accepted by the hearts of the listeners. He would direct all his words, in any place that he turned, toward the spirit of each individual, and say to them purify yourselves.
Last Friday, we heard the terrible news that the late Gaon passed away at around midnight. All those who heard trembled, it was a Gdly trembling, and all the people gathered to lament and weep for him. Several hundred people came as well from the neighboring cities of Łódź and Ozorków. The rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Ozorków was among those who came. The aforementioned Gaon raised a voice of lament and dirge to eulogize him in the large Beis Midrash here. However, the voice of the eulogizer could no longer be heard, for all the people were weeping loudly and shedding rivers of tears, for a cedar from amongst the cedars of Lebanon, the mighty ones of Torah, the elder of the rabbis in his character, has fallen. He was 84 years old when he died his eyesight did not dim and his lifeforce had not abated. Our community is left bereft and desolate, isolated and alone, for its splendor, glory and radiance has departed, and who will bring the likes of him to us a prince in Torah and charity? Woe over those who are gone and who will not be forgotten. May his name be bound in the bonds of eternal life, Selah. Written with tears by Avraham Yaakov Weisenfeld, Zgierz, Tuesday, 10 Tevet, 5637 (1876).
by Zeev Wolf Fisher
Dedicated to the memory of the Jewish Street, a symbol of vibrant Jewish life in our city 40 years after its destruction; in memory of its builders who struggled hard for their rights, to its residents who were deported from their homes and went on their final journey with their hands on their heads; the street in which the Jewishness of old pervaded, without problems and without disturbances; the street of the melodies of Torah and the spirit of prayer; in which the permanent residences of the rabbis of the city, righteous people, and people of good deeds were situated, in a good and honorable neighborhood along with the simple folk who earned their bread with the sweat of their brow, upright and straightforward who can remember them without a tear in the eye, without an ache in the heart. The Jewish street the warm, beating heart of Jewish Zgierz that once was as an eternal memory.
Two main streets extend out from the Old Market, cross the length of the city, and extend from south to north. On the right is the Jewish street (Yiddishe Gasse, formerly Łódź Street, for the road leads directly to Łódź), and on the left is the Long Street (Lange Gasse), later called Piłsudskiego after the Marshal and Polish President Piłsudski. Jewish life specific to our city arose on these two streets in two planes: While business and commercial life centered and stood out on Piłsudskiego Street, as the primary artery of commerce and the textile trade the Jewish Street (later, Berka Joselewica Street, named after Berek Joselowicz a Jewish hero in the Polish revolt against the Russians from 1794) became the center of religious life in the city and anything connected with such already from the beginning of the Jewish settlement in that city.
Therefore, the Jewish Street was counted among the old roads in our city, but only the main part of it was built by Jews for Jews. In the history of the community (famous
for its battle against the laws of the Rewir (ghetto), we have found the names of people who approached the district committee with requests for permission to build residential houses on the street that was then called Łódź Street (next to the road to Łódź). The first building requests connected to that road were from the years 18231848. The following were the names of the petitioners: Nachum the son of Michel Feldon from Lutomiersk, a merchant of wool; Rachel Wajnsztajn, Leizer Bornsztajn, Daniel Rywan, Yaakov Jedlicki (the owner of the tax), Yaakov Sadokierski, Hirsch Horowicz, Yaakov Poznansky, Rada Dobrzynska (the mother of the Admor Rabbi Abrahamele of Ciechanów, may the memory of the holy be blessed), Shimon Landau, Jozef Wejlandt (later fatherinlaw of the maskil A. Y. Weisenfeld), Marek Wajnsztajn, Avraham Salomonowicz, David Hendlisz, Herzl Lewkowicz, and several others whose names are not clear. Apparently, most of the people who appear here had status in the community and were important members of the community, for we find names such as theirs in other places. They are from among the fathers who were the first settlers of the Jewish Street in Zgierz. Along with the first rabbi, the Elder Tzadik, they also imparted their personal and spiritual stamp on the way of life of the street, and the specific manner for future generations.
With the building of the new synagogue (1860) and alongside the Great Beis Midrash in the center of the street, other religious institutions sprouted up here, and found their set place alongside them. These included the new mikva [ritual bath] building, the slaughterhouse for fowl, and the like. When the first rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Tzvi HaKohen, may the memory of the holy be a blessing, moved his special dwelling into the Beis Midrash building, he also set aside a place for his famous Yeshiva, in which lads from all over Poland studied. Similarly, with the passage of time, almost all the religious and Torah institutions moved to the Jewish Street, including the Yeshivas, the cheders, the various shtibels, and of course the clergy the cantors, the shochtim [ritual slaughterers], the shamashim [beadles] as well as the groups that occupied themselves with communal matters, and ordinary Jews who desired the atmosphere of Torah and prayer.
There were years in which it seemed that Jewish life was conducted here in accordance with autonomous Jewish laws, and the local authorities did not get involved with what was taking place on the street unless a legal or public complaint was lodged. Life was conducted here in an orderly fashion, and nobody was so daring as to disturb it. Every morning before dawn, Fishel the shamash would pass through the center of the street and bang his wooden hammer on the gates of the Jewish homes. He would bang three times on each gate. If he would only bang twice, the residents of the street would know that someone passed away in the city that day, may Gd save us, and one must prepare for the funeral. The shamash would pass through the streets on the eve of the Sabbath, and use his hammer to inform everyone that the time of the kindling of Sabbath candles was approaching. There were also times when groups of Hassidic young men, generally of the Shomrim Laboker organization, would pass through every morning at sunrise, both during the summer and the winter, and sing with a sweet and enticing voice in chorus, echoing for an extended period through the festive quite of space: Jews, Jews! Arise to the worship of the Creator! Thus did they sing:
To the service of the Creator!…
The Jews would arise and go to the Beis Midrash, where they would recite Psalms with the congregation, and worship the morning service early. Some would then stay to recite a chapter of Mishna. Thus did they greet the new day.
After the First World War, the Admor Rabbi Menachem Mendel, may the memory of the holy be blessed, of Stryków lived in our city. His Hassidim set up a residence for him on the Jewish Street with a Beis Midrash in the courtyard. Yeshiva lads, even those from other cities, studied there. As was customary, they too filled the street with a religious, Torah based, essence. However, the specific character of the Jewish Street was expressed on Sabbaths, festivals, and other evenings of Torah based celebrations. Indeed, the Jewish Street lived up to its name.
However, with the changing times, the human landscape of the street changed. The sounds of Torah, which had been dominant on the street, changed into a pioneering spirit. There was the house of Reb Yosel Rubinsztajn, the first Jewish master and teacher of this profession in our city, whose weaving workshop became a textile school from where the theory of weaving emanated and spread through the Jewish Zgierz, and even reached the residents of the area (see Book of Zgierz, pp. 422423). It is therefore no wonder that Jews involved in labor and trades, who earned their livelihoods from everything connected to this sector, began to gather on this street. There were also entire families with energy and diligence, who had begun their work with hand operated machines, and, after several years, transferred to mechanized weaving machines, and joined well into the textile manufacturing industry, which was the prime source of livelihood of the residents of our city. These were families such as Michowicz, Kaszikec, Ber, and many others who had been involved in this sector for a long time and who established a generation of experts in this sector. There was barely a house on the street, especially the onestory wooden houses, in which there was not one loom, the din of which burst forth outside. In the summer, when the windows were open wide, one would hear the voice of the weaver accompanying his work, along with the monotonous ticktaktak of the weaving machine one with a cantorial piece from Beinish the Cantor, who was beloved by the community, and the second with one of the melodramatic couplets of Goldfaden.
Thus did Jewish life stream in its regular path on the Jewish Street, quietly (even though not always calmly), with a unified blend of holy and secular, Torah and work, which always went forward together under the same sky, which was so typical of the community of Zgierz from the ancient days until the current time; Hassidim and Torah observant people would work in the factories together with simple or independent workers, in unity and harmony. They would also struggle together for a raise in salary and for an improvement in working conditions, in accordance with the demands of the community of workers in this business sector.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the leadership of he city decided to change the name of the Jewish street to Berka Joselowica, as a gesture of goodwill toward the Jewish residents of Zgierz. A splendid ceremony took place on the street, in the presence of communal representatives and a delegation from the city hall. The honor of unveiling the new sign was given to the lawyer Mr. Hilary Sztykgold, the son of Reb Yisrael Sztykgold a family of maskilim, city notables, and veteran residents of the Jewish Street. However, despite the official and festive change of name, the old name Jewish Street [Yiddishe Gasse], etched in the hearts of the residents for generations with all the life and action connected to it, remained in the mouths of the Jews of our city until the final day, the most tragic day in the annals of the Jewish settlement of Zgierz.
… Much water has flowed since then in the vistas of the Bzura River, which crosses the Jewish Street. Its clear water still flow at its pace, as in former days in the same direction and with the same quiet, as if nothing had happened… However, Jews no longer go to its banks for tashlich, for their sins have already been wiped out and expunged in the flames of the crematoria. Children no longer play outside, and no longer call Mamma!… for there are no mothers and no children… they went up in fire to heaven. There is no more sound of Torah and prayer on the Jewish street, and the din of work has been quieted with a deathly silence. Even the dust and ashes of the burnt synagogue has been scattered with tie in all directions. Zgierz, like other Jewish communities in Poland, is no more. The community of Zgierz has been liquidated, destroyed, and erased from the earth.
However, they still live in the depths of our hearts. They will live within us as long as we live. Each of us bears their images in our hearts, and our souls weep in secret, in secret.
by W. Fisher
The pogrom that took place in Kishinev in 1903, and a few months later also in Homel [Gomel], terribly stirred up Eastern European Jewry, and its frightful echo aroused worry and fear in Jewish hearts for many years. The silent fear of tomorrow peered forth from Jewish eyes. In those years ,the known song (seemingly from Sh. Frug) was commonly heard, and which deeply affected everyone's Jewish mood:
Brothers, sisters, have mercy
Woe, how terrible is the night!
Send shrouds for the dead
Give bread to the living!
It seems that the murderous pogroms left an oppressive impression in Zgierz as well. People spoke with quiet but meaningful glances, afraid to express the terrible events with their mouths, in accordance with the adage, Do not open your mouth to the Satan. Even the Zionist meetings, illegal at that time, conducted declamations or readings from Bialik's In the City of Slaughter. From the itinerant book sellers, one would get the books that described the pogroms and the terrors of the pogromchiks things that the newspapers were forbidden to write about.
We bring here a letter from one of the Zgierz merchant commissars, Y. A. Rusinow, in which he expresses his impression and deep experiences under the stress of the bloody pogroms. It was written to a friend of his who was on vacation outside the country in Wiesbaden the distinguished person of Zgierz, Reb Moshe Eiger. There is no doubt the he expresses therein the mood and feelings of Zgierz Jews in general during those days.
by Y. A. Rusinow
Zgierz, September 8/21 1903
To Mr. M. H. Eiger in Weisbaden
My dear friend!
They still bear the mark of Cain on their foreheads, the black stain is still on their foreheads, the page sullied by blood and brains in still in their annals. The city of Homel flows with blood, the hand of a person is upon his fellow; those created in the image of Gd have turned into beasts of prey; they gouge out eyes, spill out guts, break legs, and wash their hands with blood. And where is the lamb for the sacrifice? It is not a lamb caught with its horns in the thicket. The lamb for sacrifice is Isaac, not a sacrifice to Gd, not a sacrifice to a holy, lofty and sublime ideal; it is a sacrifice to a coarse force, the force of the fist; these sacrifices are fitting to the destructive demon. Evil spirits rule the world. Night spirits pervade, satyrs dance about, wolves of prey assist them, and we are a poor, destitute nation wallowing in blood. My heart is full of terror, my ideas have become perplexed, my lips murmur, and I utter a prayer:
|Oh Gd!||It is full of agony and pain|
|As the years pass||To the next year|
|From atop the skies of our nation||Hasten salvation|
|Scatter the clouds.||Hasten the redemption,|
|Blood flows from your nation||To the chosen nation|
|Here and also there||Bring us to Zion,|
|Our bitter exile||Speedily in our days.|
The iron hand has sealed the mouths of our newspapers with force, and does not permit them to express the naked truth in public. But the land does not cover the evil of the cruel ones, and these evildoers will get their recompence, from the grace of Gd. Perhaps the event is published in the newspapers there as is appropriate to write about us, for the official knowledge will displace the guilt onto the heads of the Jews, for they incited it, and their hands were first in murdering the innocent Christians. It is appropriate to know the truth of the matter, and if you are able to inform me, my desire will be for your good. I bless you will a good, quiet year, a year in which the prophecy of the seer will be fulfilled, and not halfway: that shall live together, not necessarily the wolf with the lamb but even people with people, and man shall not consume the flesh of his fellow. Your friend, who is embarrassed to be called by the name of humanity.
by Zeev Fisher
I believe this was in 1911 or 1912, when the first movie theater (called in the vernacular kinmetograph, and in Polish zywe obrazy) opened in Zgierz. It was housed in the home of Shaya the Baker (Shaya Beker), and later moved to the home of his soninlaw Hershel Luftman.
The day of the opening of the movie theater was an unforgettable experience for all residents of the city. The curiosity, especially amongst the youth, was great and understandable, for how can it be: Living pictures on a screen? How can this be understood, that the pictures that we see on the wall in front of us, are indeed coming come the wall behind us… as those who already visited the movie theater in the neighboring city of Łódź tell. You sit in a hall with the darkness of Egypt around you, and if it is dark how can you see at all? There were more such questions. Therefore, it is no wonder that during the hours of operation,
Błotna Street was full of people, and no small number of them were willing to pay kopecks (one kopeck is two groszy) to purchase an entry ticket.
Even though we, the students of the Yagdil Torah Yeshiva, were no less curious about the matter than the other youths, we knew very well that this was not a matter for Torah students, and that all the wonders that are seen there are nothing other than an optical illusion. We have also heard news that anyone who dares go the movie theater will be thrown out of the Yeshiva. Therefore, we even avoided passing through Błotna Street during the day, when the hall was closed, due to fear and the evil eye.
Then, one day, large blue signs appeared on the walls of the houses, in Polish and Yiddish, that the movie The Land of Israel Being Built Up will be shown the following week. In it, one would see the new colonies that are being set up, the holy city of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the tomb of Rachel our Matriarch, the Jordan River, and much more. So, what Jew in our place would not want to see our Holy Land even from afar? The wellknown, renowned Reb Nachum Sokolow would be heard at the beginning of the film, certainly to express his words on the redemption of the Land. Therefore, everyone in the city, from old to young, prepared for the following week, and the youth of the city of Zgierz only spoke and discussed about this matter.
In truth, there were also those among the orthodox, and some of the Hasidim, who strongly opposed this movie, with their reasons: first this is an act of the Zionists, who are trying to hasten the end, and we all know that their intention is to attract the pure and upright to follow them; second it is told that men and women sit together there, may Gd protect us, and how can we support sinners… They had other such excuses. However, these reasons and outcries were ineffective and had no influence. In the evening, when the movie theater opened, Jews from all strata streamed there entire families, grandparents and grandchildren, to see our Land of Israel with their own eyes, the Land about which every Jew dreams, and every religious student pines for…
Now, with the perspective of years, we can testify that many sons and daughters of our city, who left their parents during those days and made aliya to the Land of Israel that these living pictures of this first, modest movie, were, to no small measure, a factor that enthused their imagination and whet their desire to make aliya and build up the desolate Land.
Appropriate to the title of this article, we describe an episode that surveys in a specific way the social reality in our city (and certainly not only in our city) during the years prior to the First World War which I found written in Man of Faith, page 81, as follows:
In those days, the movie theater reached Zgierz as well. All residents of the town went to see the wonders of the movies except the Hassidim, who regarded this as a gathering of scoffers. Attendance was not forbidden to their wives and daughters. Chayale also joined the stream of attendees, which was a source of dissatisfaction to her husband, even though he did not disrupt this. Once, when she returned from the movie theater to her home, she found her second son ill with a serious disease. Her husband reproved her, and pointed out the results. On the spot she vowed that if her son would recover, her foot would never tread over the threshold of the movie theater again. Her son recovered, and she, Chayale, kept her vow until her last day…
by Tamar (Tala) Cincinatus
Zgierz, my town Zgierz.
It comes to my memory very often, and I look at it with youthful longing in my glance, with disheveled dreams in my soul, and with quiet pain in my heart.
Zgierz, my small, clean town Zgierz, was a beloved part of my childhood, my warmly beloved parental home, the city of my birth, where I spent the best years of my life.
Zgierz, it is odd, as if that single word spins as if from a scroll of the history of my faroff childhood years, a complete world with all the colors of the rainbow, which dazzles the glance and blurs the pain; a world with memories and associations, which blend together in a confusion of angst, macabre visions of the terrible destruction.
Everything that once was beautiful and good in my personal life is bound up with my hometown Zgierz. A bright world went forth from my home, from the warm, heartwarming circle of my boundlessly dedicated parents, dear beloved brothers and sisters, and many beloved relatives and friends, whose lives were so cruelly cut off.
The former Jewish Zgierz is dead. Remaining is only us, the survivors those who left the town long before the destruction of Poland and settled in Israel and other countries, as well as those who were miraculously saved from the horrible destruction.
Our fathers and mothers are no longer here. The dear souls who caressed us and worried about every step of ours are no longer here. They, whose eyes brimmed with tears of joy when we were happy and tears of agony and pain when we were suffering are no longer here.
Our brothers and sisters, all our dear friends with who we spent the best years of our childhood and our youth, happy and bittersweet days, with dreams and hopes for a finer and better life, are no longer here.
All of our dearest and nearest, whom we will never forget, have been murdered with unusual deaths.
The years of my childhood and youth live in my memory. You and I constantly feel the living breath of all those who were so horribly annihilated.
In my glance, I carry all that is fine and soulful from that which the terrible realities destroyed in a manner that exceeds every human fantasy in its horror. Those horrors are our unfortunate reality.
I wish to participate significantly in the important work that you have undertaken to perpetuate our martyrs, write about this life of Zgierz Jews, about individuals and entire families whose memories must remain for generations. However, firstofall, permit me to write a few lines about my own home, about my own widebranched family, of which only two now remain.
The Cincinatus family was wellknown in Zgierz. We were two sisters and six brothers. My father, Shlomo Cincinatus, was a tailor by trade. My mother was involved with maintaining the household, and both devoted their entire lives to raising their children. They also found time for societal work.
I recall how my father, after a hard day of work, found the time and energy to sit an entire night with a seriously ill person. This was one of the tasks that he took on as a member of the Bikur Cholim Society.
My parents possessed a great deal of vitality and life energy, as well as a great deal of understanding for the various problems of life. They invested all this in the daily work of educating their children. They did not satisfy themselves with elementary education and with sending us to gymnaszja. They also sent us to study in seminaries and universities, and in those longago years, this was a very difficult achievement for a working family. It was required a great deal of energy and perseverance to accomplish such.
The days when our entire family was gathered around the table for a holiday meal always remain before my eyes. Joy radiated from everyone's face. Words, stories and episodes that everyone told about their experiences, about their areas of study or workplace were discussed. This always evoked cheerfulness and joyous laughter, and made us forget our daytoday worries and concerns.
The radiant faces of Father and Mother gave testimony to their inner experiences, fine and holy.
The town of Zgierz, the town of the years of my childhood and youth, lies in a mound of ash, destroyed and ravaged.
It is hard to comprehend that Zgierz is now a town devoid of Jews, without Sabbaths and festivals; that the houses full of weekday toil, and full of Sabbath grace and holiness, are no longer there.
It is hard to believe that this is all no more, that the life of our beloved and dear ones has been so horribly cut off.
This is the sorrowful and cruel remnants of my home, of my deeply beloved family. I see them day and night. They obscure the entire world before me.
They always remain before my eyes, only them I see. Only them…
There are no words that can express our difficult mood and pain after their destruction. My brother Yaakov and I are the only survivors. We remain mute in the face of the memory of our dear ones, of the murdered Jews of Zgierz, the holy martyrs, and will remain mourners forever.
by Leon Rubinstein
Leon Rubinstein is among the veterans of Labour Zionism, and was the organizer of the first group of Chalutzim [Zionist pioneers] who made aliya from Poland to the Land of Israel in 1918. As a teacher and culturalsocial activist, he was immersed in the variegated web of Socialist Zionist activity. His interest both in the activities and in the theories, as with all other Jewish problems, always increased, and his personality grew with that. Among other factors, his emotional richness was also drawn
from the environment in Zgierz, to where he came from Łódź already as a Bar Mitzvah lad.
His fervent striving for aliya, drawn at the outset both from Zionist and Socialist thought, and, above all, from the great longing for the Land of Israel that pervaded among the youth in Zgierz, was formed in Zgierz.
We bring down here the beginning of his autobiography, which has a connection to Zgierz, the city of his grandfather, greatgrandfather, and close relatives those dear Jews with good heads and warm Jewish hearts. The relative glory of that widebranched weaving family of Zgierz is also expressed in the latter chapters of his autobiography.
I was born in Łódź on February 2, 1901. My father and my entire family, my grandfather and greatgrandfather were all textile manufacturers in Zgierz. My father moved to Łódź when he married my mother, Baltsha, also from a family connected with the textile industry. However, fate had it that my father was incidentally on a business trip to America when the First World War broke out, so my mother with my four brothers and my sister moved to Zgierz. At that time, I was already a Bar Mitzvah lad, and I remained in Zgierz until 1918, when I made aliya to the Land of Israel.
I write the history that I am going to tell in the form of a diary. This is the history of my aliya, beginning with the journey that I made together with a group of friends through Poland, Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Egypt, until we finally arrived at the coast of the Land of Israel.
Like the majority of the Jewish towns of Poland, Zgierz had a vibrant Jewish life, and was full of cheders, Yeshivas, and worldly schools. Zgierz had a large number of Jewish cultural organizations, a large library named for
David Frischmann, an old age home, a literarymusical organization called Hazamir, a drama group, a sporting organization called Maccabee, and a full set of political parties of all colors, starting from Aguda, Mizrachi, and Young Zion, until the Bund, and others. Like many other Jewish towns, Zgierz also produced a large number of Jewish personalities, such as David Frischmann, the renowned speculator Marek Szwarc the son of the wellknown maskil and writer Isucher Szwarc, the Hebrew poet Yaakov Kohen, Yitzchak Kacelenson, and others. The Jewish writer Yehuda Elberg also comes from Zgierz.
The Jews of Zgierz were involved with various means of livelihood, but the majority were the textile manufacturers, spinners, and weavers. Zgierz had a number of large factories that employed their own workers. There were also smaller textile enterprises that distributed the work to home workers, daily wage earners, cutters, and stuffers. When the mechanized loom was later operated, the Zgierz weavers got accustomed to the new, modern times. A fair number of the population was employed in the textile industry. The factory owners were Jews and Germans. The employees were Jews, Germans, and Poles. There were factories that sent their own traveling salesman to deep Russia. There were manufacturers who collaborated with factories in neighboring Łódź. In brief: Zgierz lived to a large degree on the rhythm of the weaving industry. My family, including my greatgrandfather, my grandfather, and my father, lived to a large degree according to that rhythm. My father Eliezer (Lezjor) Rubinsztajn, was a thirdgeneration textile manufacturer.
My greatgrandfather already had a textile factory in Zgierz in the middle of the 19th century. Master weavers were employed for the work, for at that time they had a guild which permitted no others. My father's older sister, my aunt Baltsha, used to love to tell us children stories about her father, our grandfather Yosef Rubinsztajn, who died when I was only oneandahalf years old. She lived with her mother, our grandmother Malkale Rubinsztajn. Our aunt would always tell us stories about Grandfather when we went to visit our grandmother.
On of her stories is deeply etched in my memory. She related
that on one occasion, when my grandfather came home from the Beis Midrash, he met his father, our greatgrandfather, pacing around the room, nervous and upset. When he asked him what had happened, our greatgrandfather explained that he had a sharp discussion with the German master weaver, who called him an accursed Jew. Our greatgrandfather then opened the door and threw him out. He, the German, turned around and said to him with a malicious smile that he will yet come to him and beg him to return to work.
When my grandfather heard this, he calmed his father and said, You do not need to do this, for I will direct the factory. For his father, this was an unexpected statement, and he looked at him with astonishment. It did not occur to him that his son, the Beis Midrash student, had an interest in the factory. However, my grandfather then told him that for a long time already, when he came home from the Beis Midrash, he would go to the factory and ask the ask the master weaver how the machines work. He took interest in every minute detail of the factory. The master weaver, noticing his sincere curiosity, explained everything to him. To his father's great surprise, my grandfather believed that he could direct the factory.
Indeed, that is how it was.
My grandfather, as my aunt explained further, learned the profession the best of the family. He even took on students from near and far towns, and taught them the profession. Of course, his own sons, sonsinlaw, and even the daughters were among the students. My grandfather later played a very important role in the textile industry, not only in Zgierz but also in the entire region. After the Second World War, the Book of Zgierz, a memorial book for the destroyed community, was published in Israel. Some of the participants in the book tell about my grandfather's pioneering role… One of the participants, Leon Lipschitz, states in his memoirs, My Hometown at the End of the 19th Century… The first Jewish industrialist in Zgierz was Reb Yossel Rubinstajn, a deeply pious Orthodox Jew. He studied the weaving trade, and set up future generations of weavers
who founded weaving enterprises in Zgierz or in the surrounding towns.
A second participant in the book, Y. L. Weinstein, writes about the Zgierz clothmakers, The influence of Yossel Rubinsztajn, along with others, was evident here. He was the educator of a generation of weaving professionals and master weavers. A recognizable number of Zgierz cloth makers came out of his factory.
Dr. Avraham Eiger gives over more details about my grandfather in his article about his own father Moshel Ejger, who was one of the wealthiest and distinguished manufacturers in Zgierz, and also an important cultural activist. He writes: My father's life and especially his young years were seriously bound with the life of his uncle Reb Yosel Rubinsztajn. After his father died during the cholera epidemic, Moshele's education was directed by his mother Zisele and her brother Yossel Rubinsztajn… Yossel Rubinsztajn was the first in Zgierz to set up two hand workshops. He quickly mastered the German language and thoroughly learned the profession from the trade literature. He forged contacts with Jewish manufacturers in the Sudeten, and was known as a specialist in the branch of industry. People came to him not only from nearby Łódź, Ozorków, and other nearby towns, but also from Lithuania, Podolia, and other areas.
The Union of Youths was established in Zgierz at the end of the first decade of the 20th century. Its purpose was Zionist activity in all areas of Jewish life in our city. In essence, this was one of the first chapters of the Young Zion movement in Poland. This organization was called the Union of Youths on account of the ban on Zionist (political…) activity during the time of the Russian Czar, so as to obfuscate its primary aim.
In its time, we received from our friend Mr. Fabian Grynberg, one of the founders of the union, the original set of ordinances or aims of the organization, that were defined and written in minute form in the year 5671 1911. We bring them down here in their original language (Regarding Young Zion, see the Book of Zgierz, pp. 299300).
by Z. P.
In former times, it was difficult for authors of books to publish the fruits of their spirit and toil, especially when it comes to books of religion, Torah, and morality. Only an author who has good luck as well as a generous patron will find it easier to actualize his aspiration and achieve his goal. Alas, not every writer merits such. Thus, we recall the wandering of authors from city to city and town to town, with a sack in the hand containing their tallis, and tefillin, as well as their manuscripts (the fruits of their many years of holy labor, work done for the most part through a life of difficulty, and with intentions for the sake of Heaven that is to disseminate Torah and books of morality to the masses). They would go about searching for benefactors in the city, whose way was to help and support endeavors such as this, whether through a good recommendation a bit of money, or at times even advance subscription fees for the book when it would be finished.
However, not every home greeted the writers in a pleasant manner with a blessing. There were some householders who related to them and their request for upfront payment like beggars who were requesting donations. Our author, Reb Chanoch Henich Ehrsohn was one of those in luck, who avoided this obstacle.
Reb Henich Ehrsohn (nicknamed: Henich the Yellow) was an honorable man in our community. He was a scholar who was sincere, splendid in his dress, and pleasant in his mannerisms. He was also the most fruitful of the Torah authors in our city, and there was no insignificant number of such. His motherinlaw, the widow Mrs. Elka, was a woman of means. She was also generous and supportive of rabbis. She literally revered her soninlaw (who married her only daughter) and related to him with awe and respect. She regarded it as a great merit to serve him, to be a support for him, and to help him achieve his spiritual goals. Thus did Reb Henich succeed, without any effort, to publish his first three books in short order. Through them, he earned a name for himself and became famous in the Hassidic and Torah world.
The day came when his motherinlaw, Mrs. Elka the owner of the butcher shop, his dedicated patron, went the way of all people. Then, Henich's luck turned bad. The economic situation of the family declined, and they had to skimp and save. When, with all this, he had three more book manuscripts that had to be published, he had the idea of using the post office as his personal emissary, and the prospectus as a mouthpiece. Thus we see how the printed prospectus was disseminated to the masses, resulting in wonderful things, for not only did this help him in publishing his books, but it also crossed seas and oceans, and reached the YIVO institute in New York…
His economic situation and depressed spirit can be seen in this prospectus. I can testify that the last lines of that prospectus to not plead or flatter a wealthy benefactor, were written as a parable, as was the custom of authors in those days…
Behold, Gd has assisted me in bringing a precious book to print to be published to the light of the world, consisting of three opened books.
Therefore I request from the masters and studiers of resourcefulness, the upholders and supporters of Torah, to find it in their benefit to help me carry out and actualize my thoughts. I request of you, in your goodwill, to be an aid and enabler. Do not spare your money, each in accordance with the generosity of his heart, for money is nothing when it comes to registering your name for the aforementioned book and to send me advance money. In this merit, may you be blessed from the Dweller of Heaven, who Suspends the World in Space.
And, Gd willing when the publishing of the book is finished, I will send it gratis by mail to all who subscribed to it, and I will include your good names for glory and honor, and let this be a souvenir and memento to you. In my great faith that you will fulfil my request, I am sending you my gratitude in advance, and I bow and prostrate myself before the splendor of your honor:
Chanoch Henich Ehrsohn
Rabb. Ass. H. Ehrsohn, Zgierz (Russ. Polen)
by Reb Moshe Eiger
(As the elder, witty, but always humorous Reb Moshe Eiger solved the old, difficult language question in a simple manner; YiddishHebrew, read and be amazed.)
To my friend!
Instead of bathing in Iwanowice, here I sit now
Come here now, to place a patch
A patch on the old, torn clothing…
As they say: Here instead of the medicine for
My pain in my old feet
And if the doctor decrees I fulfil:
I drink the water, take the baths,
But I request from you, do not bring any reports from the cheder,
I continue to remain the old heretic
I will not believe in this much, and I do not deduce or claim,
That I will find the cure here
That in Iwanowice can be found the wellsprings of salvation…
Perhaps baths could help me sometime
If I would bath in the hot springs of Tiberias in the Land of Israel…
I would sit on the balcony, like an old dreamer,
With the trees swaying in the forest opposite
And I would hear the whisper of the trees of the forest;
There sits an old fool…
Here, you see, my dear one, that the daughters of poetry have surrounded me
(From the booklet: To the son to the daughter)
Iwanowice, Tammuz 5691 (1931)
by W. F.
A memorial light to those Jews of our town, mainly the common folk, whose true names have become obfuscated due to common usage, the times, and the place and did not reach us.
As with Jews in every town, nicknames stuck to almost all Zgierzers, and when the nickname was a good one and was accepted, it often replaced the true family name, which in time was completely forgotten. It is typical that it is rare that wellconnected, wealthy or progressive families in the city were coronated with nicknames. They were almost always called by their true names and family names.
The various nicknames, which were certainly created by the anonymous city loafers or simple light headed folk generally bore a diverse character: an innocent wit, mockery, malevolence, or were incidental. There were also family names that were intentionally twisted, or simply took on a different meaning and significance in the mouths of the folks.
I will bring here only a few of the popular nicknames with which entire families were designated, to the point that one could only known about whom it was referring through the nickname.
Di Kasztanes (hatmakers everyone with fiery red beards)
Di Smotkes (coach drivers, wagon drivers)
Di Verem  (food shops, business people)
Di Staniks  (butchers)
Di Szoklers  (butchers)
Di Kurniks (wagon drivers)
Di Platzkes (weavers)
Di Pondzszers (weavers)
Di Muches (householders, patrons)
Di Snopkes 
Di Klekls (shoemakers)
Di Katolikes  (householders, merchants)
Di Chaberikes (iron shop keepers)
Di Sztompers (businessmen, wagon drivers) Di Bekls (businessmen, merchants)
Di Bielases (porters, coachmen)
Di Bols (tailor trade)
Di Paplaks (bookbinders)
Di Parches (a malevolent nickname)
Di Soltises (fowl businessmen)
Di Botszankes and many more
During the years when Zgierz was growing and Jews taking up settlement there was conspicuous, it was easier to identify the newcomers by the place from where they had come. Some were indeed known as such: Leibel Piliwer, Hershel Ozorkower, Mendel Linszitzer, Henech Lasker, Yanker Strykewer, etc. It was also easy to identify call them by their trade, or simpler, by their color, weight, etc. : The White Leibush, the Yellow Henech, the Lame Yoel, the Black Yuda, the tall Avramcha, etc. One could also end up [with a nickname only] without a name, such as the Warsawer Butcher, the Black Shoemaker, the Bagel Baker, the Bolimower Baker, the Yellow Tailor, the Tobacco Maker, and further and further and I knew them all very well…
It was under German rule during the years of the First World War, when, for the first time, everyone had to keep a personal document on themselves. However, especially under the renewed Polish independence when children went to school without exception, surnames became used more and more openly, and began to regain their personal and societal significance. Through their own selfawareness, the new, upcoming generation began to throw off and free themselves from their various family nicknames, which decades earlier adorned the status of their parents and grandparents. Slowly, these nicknames became forgotten, and disappeared.
by Z. F.
At the end of 1918, Reb Zeev Eliahu Reichert, one of the Zionist leaders in our city, was elected as a delegate to the national convention of Polish Jewry that took place in Warsaw. A decision was taken at that convention to create a supreme national, political organization to guard the interests of Polish Jewry, with the participation of leaders from the various parties, communities, and institutions from all parts of Poland. When he returned, he presented a detailed, interesting report on this convention in the hall of the Zionist Union on January 9, 1919.
After he provided in his speech a detailed report of the obstacles placed in the path of the national Jewish movement by members of the Socialist parties from one side, and the assimilationists (who were sycophantic toward the Polish authorities) on the other hand, and on the difficult struggle that the Zionists must undertake to ensure that the true interests of the masses of Jews in the communities reign supreme, and on the makeup of communal representation, he described with great emotion the moments that were soulelevating and won over hearts in that convention. We will now bring a section from his words:
… We reached the pinnacle of emotion and wonderful spirit when with the reading of the telegram of greeting from President Wilson, from the British government via Lord Balfour, from the Zionist leaders who obtained the historical declaration from November 2 Professor Chaim Weizmann, Nachum Sokolov, and Louis Brandeis. At that moment, each of us sensed the historical significance that pervaded through the meeting hall. The moods were sublime, creating spontaneous friendship and fraternal feelings among all those gathered the Orthodox, Mizrachists, regular Zionists, ordinary people, and former assimilationists. All forgot their political aspirations, and everyone sought in their hearts to embrace and kiss each other. We were like one large family gathered for a very joyous event. A stream of boundless joy and gladness passed over us all. Grynbaum, a leftist, hugged and kissed Farbsztajn, a rightist, in the presence of all those gathered. The rabbis delivered sermons on national closeness and unity. The rabbi from Radom spoke in Yiddish, and the rabbi from Sempolna in clear Hebrew. Every sentence emanating from his mouth was a stream of love, faith, Israelite pride, Torah greatness, and national greatness. Our rabbis were not used to hearing such words in the Hebrew language, and everyone asked, ‘Who did all this for us?’
How encouraging and heartwarming were the words spoken by the Rabbi of Zamość:
‘If one of us came to Warsaw with a heart full of doubts, suspicions, and fear of the status of our nation, torn and ripped to pieces, and was immersed in dark thoughts of what might be, as to whether there is hope to mend
the rips and to make us into one people who knows its way its path in life; this most recent convention, filled with hope and security, made it clear that there is hope for our future, that the Nation of Israel will yet live, and that we will inherit our land as in days of yore, returning to the former glory, to reestablish the life of the nation of the foundations of its original culture.’
by Mordechai Roisman
The human memory casts out, like the ash from an oven that burnt and warmed on a winter night, many relics and memories. But there are those that are etched in the memory and remain there like hot embers of fire and gold. Thus lie the experiences of my childhood years as if under a thick fog. Once they were perhaps organized in my memory, according to the years, events, and experiences. Now they are tossed about in disarray. Who knows whether our memory is capable of guarding all the experiences in order. Here a beam tears through that reminds, shows the beginning, and then the events that follow. However, it is possible that there is a large portion of our hot desires therein, which helps us create the illusion that this, and nothing different, happened during those distant childhood years. If there are events that have become bleached with time, there are also events, just like people, that have become colored with time.
It begins like in any story: Once there was, once there was a king, once there was a queen Once there were good times and they disappeared There was a town Zgierz where everything nestled toward some height, and a longing for loveliness does not stop gnawing. Who can describe the loveliness of all the people, the Hassidim, studiers, and simple Jews; their weekdays, their Sabbaths, and their festivals, the hearty prayers and the wonderful tunes of the worshipping and learning?! Those wonderful melodies still resonate in my ears. With the milk
from my mother's breast, I absorbed the stories and legends. Years later, I listened to them and desired that nobody would disturb the calm or weaken their holiness.
Years ran buy, children grew up, humming along in the house as in a beanstalk; Yankele, Rivkale, Mordchele, Reizele, Pinchasl. There was also a Berele, who went on a far, unknown journey, where the angel of death took him, and my parents lost a kaddish.
On both sides of Konstantyn Street stood houses and huts, of wood and brick. A long yard leads far of, to the fields, meadows and gardens. A wooden bucket tied to a metal chain goes down a deep well. Around there, Jewish boys and girls play together with shkotzimles and shikseles. A branch of a tall pear tree hovers near a window. Naughty hands tear off sweet pears, and children's mouths bite into them with enjoyment.
Days go by, turning into years. I drag myself over our bars from the wooden hut in a neighboring hut in the brick tenement. Our new landlady, Mrs. Sobszinska, casts strange feelings on me. She was a widow with an aristocratic face. She takes measured steps, not too slow and not too fast. She responds to a good-morning with a melodic voice and sharp diction, as if on stage at a theater.
The Cheshvan days come. The chestnut trees cast off their yellow-brown leaves. From the unwrapped shells pop forth, as if freed from prison, brown colored, round, shiny chestnuts. The children prance around with enjoyment, filling their pockets with the treasure. The next day, the mother removes the remnants of the previous day's game from the stained pant pockets, and derive satisfaction from the children's pleasure.
Cold winds begin to blow, coming from the heavens with a shuddering chill. The winter covers over the alleyways and roofs with a white blanket of snow. Stalls and cellars are filled with black coal and sticks cut from trees. A heap of potatoes pile up in the cellar.
This means that winter is coming.
A white, snowy Kislev brings the Chanukah days with it.
Shiny eyes gaze toward Father in admiration as the first Chanukah light is lit. It seems that stories from bygone times sprout out from every corner. The night is full of strange dreams, but the early morning smiles upon us with Chanukah gelt.
However, the Christian deity is jealous of the Jewish Chanukah candles; and the gentile houses have green Christmas trees, decorated with colored candles, and silver, paper ribbons surround the green branches. Pictures of people with white beards, but strange faces, hang from the walls The ringing of bells with their menacing clang rips through the silence, and the Jewish homes are enveloped with a strange fear.
Silver forests with tall trees, growing with long, white beards, burn in my dreams during the long nights. They drop white and red chestnuts The first glow of the upcoming day approaches my bed and awakens me from my nightmare.
It is light in our house. Green, plush blankets cover the two high beds. In the middle of the house sits a heavy table, covered with a flower tablecloth. There are benches around it. A tile oven is embedded in the wall, reaching to the ceiling, dazzling with its whiteness. Frozen shoulders and ice-cold hands nestle against it. Mother, bent over her pursuits in the kitchen, glances at us from time to time, beaming with satisfaction. Father sits and reads a newspaper, sighing over the Jewish tribulations and worrying about the wide world.
It is already Friday. Hot steam rises from a large pot, and blue-white soap bubbles rise from Mother's caressing hand on the faces of the bent-over children's heads, with crying voices, and red noses that are being rinsed and splashed. Mother's hand give merciful, calming caresses, and the comb smooths and straightens the curly locks.
Two covered, flat challos, which Mother kneaded and baked, already lie on the table. Two white candles stick out of the two silver candlesticks, waiting for Mother's blessing. A flask of wine surrounded by cups and shot glasses proudly awaits Father's kiddush. It is quiet in the house, a Sabbath eve quiet.
Shortly, Jews in their Sabbath garb, with blond, black or grey beards will emerge from the houses. Children putter around Father's coat hem. From both sides of the Jewish street, Jews go to the synagogue, the Beis Midrash, or the Hassidic shtibels. We are already at the street corner. Liberman's shop is closed. The aromas from Bolimower's bakery, where Jewish mothers prepared their Sabbath cholent, accompanied with prayers, love, and good wishes, waft from the left side.
Father walks leisurely and calmly, having cast off the weekday concerns. We go together to welcome the Sabbath, to hear the cantor's Lecha Dodi [a Sabbath eve prayer], and mingle with the tens of other children and adults.
The iron pump stands like a statue at the corner of Blotner [Muddy] Street. Around it, on the cobblestone pavement, a broad collage spreads out. Candlelight flickers from the rabbi's window. The shamash [beadle] waits for him to accompany him to the Welcoming of the Sabbath service. Sabbath candles sparkle from the windows throughout the entire way of the Jewish Street, lighting up the way to the synagogue.
It seems that we were strangely earnest children, dreaming and attaining heavenly heights, walking with leisurely steps, not jumping brazenly to be the first. Since our early childhood, we were warmed with the feeling of honor and awe for the grownups, who seemed to us like giants. We breathed the atmosphere of the cheder during long days and nights, and we knew that they as well, the giants, had once played the same children's games, but today they shine for us like meteors, like eminent, prominent personalities. Let us at least mention a few of them:
David Friszman, Yaakov Kohen, Isucher Szwarc, Yitchak Kacenelson, Moshel Ejger; and, from the younger ones, Pinchas Bizberg, and, may he live, Yehuda Elberg. Our great rabbis, Admors, Hassidim, Torah giants and people of good deeds, eminent and modest.
I walk thus in our pantheon of the spirit and see us surrounded by our simple, toiling Jews, loving and heartwarming mothers, children, youth, educated and growing up in small Jewish Zgierz.
I pass by Jewish houses afflicted with poverty, but they
comport themselves with honor. The word honor shines from them like golden letters on the parochet [ark cover] of the Holy Ark of the synagogue and Beis Midrash.
It may be that the time will come when it will be difficult to believe that so much fineness and greatness lived in this small town, even though this is the historic truth that has been carried away with the disappearing times.
This is not at all a dream or a legend. This is true, fine reality. A small, modest, but spiritually great and creative community Zgierz.
Evil winds no impure hands tore through and burnt our crown.
by Z. W. Fiszer
Dedicated to the fine Jewishness of those generations.
|Here life was woven with the woof and the warp,
We count thousand as the days and years pass by
Here we never knew of fat years
And the song was often embittered with pain and tribulations
The synagogue was fine here, higher than all the houses,
Everyone wove their life's dream separately,
To present a bit of the variegated colors that were so characteristic of the residents of the oldest Jewish street in our city, and held on to their uniqueness until the final years of their tragic destruction, we must begin many years earlier, at least from the beginning of the 20th century.
I will begin with Jewish smith, Shimon the Blacksmith, as he was called. His smithy was in the first house of the fish market, which began on the right side of the Jewish Street (at first, this was called Lodzer Street), from south to north that is, from the old market until the Kurak, which was on the way to Łódź.
We cheder children often used to stand near the smithy and gaze with wonder upon the tall, thin, but strongly built Jew with a grey beard as he banged with his hammer on a piece of glowing red iron on the anvil, with sparks flying in all directions such power in a Jewish hand! We did not realize then that we were standing before the symbol of Jewish toiling labor.
In the area of Shimon the Blacksmith on the fish market one could find the well-known bakery of the widow Lea Ickowicz (Leah the cake baker). This was a wide-branched family from which several sons became weavers. They worked hard and became eminent manufacturers. Leah had a good name in the city and was known for her warm heart toward those suffering and in need. The following families lived in the same house: Mendel Ofenbach in the weaving business, and Yaakov Okno a fish seller. From among those who sold all sorts of fish, we must also mention the veteran fish businessmen: Nachum Glowinski (Nachum Shimele's), Sender Gelbard, and several others. Nearby to Leah the cake baker lived Shimon Czernikowski (Moime's) who owned a pasture; Mendel Szejwach, a chair maker; and Shilem Tuch, a water carrier.
The Budkes [cabins] also stood in the fish market. The five or six wooden cabins were painted brows. One served for selling fruits and vegetables, and the other for the meat and fish business. The cabins were later liquidated. The vegetable dealers also sold sweets for children. We must remember that the area had
the heaviest concentration of cheders and teachers of children in the city. A carousel was placed behind the Budkes from time to time, and the children were happy and joyous.
Across from the fish market stood two houses that belonged to two local Germans, Dr. Hesner and Mergel. The following people lived in Mergel's house: Shimon Srebnik, a leather merchant (later a manufacturer of wool articles); Meir Fogel, who owned a vegetable hut; Moshe Sofer (the scribe), who wrote Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzos, and also sold Gemaras to the cheders and yeshivos; Velvel Kaufman, a printer; and others.
We cut through Szeroka Street (once it had been a part of Piaskes), and we go on the left side of the Jewish Street in the direction of Kurak. In the corner house of Yosef and Tzirel Poznerzon Yona Ickowicz, a merchant; Shlomo Szajnholc, a tailor; Yosef Gornicki, a weaver; Yaakov Celgow, has a shoemaker's workshop; Shimon Liberman, a leather merchant; and others. In the neighborhood one finds the house of Leib Feldon, a grain merchant with his son-in-law and partner Leizer Ekbia. The following live there as well: Mendel Ickowicz and Yosef Zszeszowski, bakers; Mendel, Shmerl and Yaakov Wroclawski (stitching workshop); Zalman Wajnsztajn, weaver; Shmuel David Kojawski, food shop owner; Aharon Moshe Szwarc, a cotton producer, and others;. In the house of Meirl Kalski the tavern owner: Nachum Feldon, presser; Ezriel Wajnsztajn, businessman; Yaakov Fajnzilber, wagon driver; Shmuel Lipszyc (the blind Shmil); Mrs. Szenker and her son Yisocher-Mendele, a weaver; and others.
In the nearby house: the previous owners, Avrahamke Wolkowicz, his son Eliahu, later his son-in-law Shimin Princ (son of Michel Princ, owner of a lumber warehouse); Chanan Roiznsztrauch (gabbai of Malbish Arumim for the festivals, he purchased trousers and shows for the children of the Talmud Torah), he was the first cereal maker here; later, his son-in-law Abeh Baum (Abele the cereal maker). His wife Keila Hene was a true woman of valor. From early morning until late at night, she was busy with running the household (they had an open house for poor passers-by). David, the son, toiled in the cereal mill from morning until evening. They were Aleksander Hassidim. Also lived there were: Avraham Yaakov Jankelewicz, the monopoly owner, who studied with older youths. His sons were Pesach, Wolf, Shimon, and Yitzchak. They would play chess with their father in the early hours. All later became merchants; Moshe Nadel, a wool merchant; Mindel-Rivka, and old, learned widow. She would read Tzena Urena out loud on summer Sabbath afternoons, and passersby would stop to listen
to her lovely, heartwarming melody from the open windows; Shmuel Zelmanowicz (Shilke the tailor, the Golden Needle); Aharon Zalman Wiechucki (The Warsawer Butcher), who had a butcher shop. During the summer, he would provide products for the country houses around the city. He was a jolly societal man, often evoking good cheer and laughter from the neighbors with his jokes and words; Shmuel David Rozalski, a butcher; Berl the joker, a shoemaker. On Fridays, he would go around collecting for the Tikun Sofrim [book repairing] society of the Beis Midrash. While doint so, he would tell stories, jokes, and rhymes to the children. The elderly Berl the Cobbler, an exquisite character; Pinche Brzozowski, connected with the weaving branch; Sender Gelbard, a fisherman.
A nearby house, close to the synagogue and the Beis Midrash, was owned by Fisel Bunem Holender (Fishel Bunem the shochet). There lived his sons-in-law, sharp Hassidim and great scholars; Reb Mendel Weksler and Chaim Yaakov Ajzenschmidt (The Yellow Shochet). Reb Mendel Weksler later became the Rosh Yeshiva of Beit Meir of Krakow; Bunem Cynamon, who did business with material from torn clothing; Hershel Gelkop (Heshel Smotek), a coachman; Zelig Fogel, a master weaver. He used to perform as an artist in the Zgierz theater troupe. Two sharp Gerrer Hassidim also lived there: Eliahu Baumgarten and Hershel Wagman, merchants, as well as the glassmaker Nachman Turczinski, a veteran teacher at the Talmud Torah.
The synagogue, the Beis Midrash, and, to differentiate, the mikva [ritual bath]. The cantor Herzl Linden later lived in the dwelling of the rabbi. There, in one of the rooms, the community set up an oven for the baking of matzos for the Jews of Zgierz. This was during the years of the First World War. David Gotlib, a tinsmith, also lived there. The mikva keepers lived in the mikva house: Binyamin Lasman, later Pinchas Bentkowski, and still later, Avraham Leibush Michowicz.
Next to the synagogue, in the house of Menashe the oil beater, lived: Sender Malinski, a tanner; Lipman Lipmanowicz (teacher); Wolf Sofer, who was the shamash [beadle] in the synagogue during his elder years; Shalom Ber, who had a weaving business; Nathan Szaja, a tinsmith; The Yellow Avraham, a weaver, and others.
We cross the bridge over the stream that divides the street into two.
Incidentally, the bridge and the water pond come to mind, as does the Synagogue Street (Jewish Street) and the Sand Street (the Piaskes), which are so often mentioned in
Frishman's fine story He Has Passed Away. One can envision that the young Dovidl, like all of us cheder children, standing by the bridge and looking at the fish in the pond below
Next to Borst's long building, which occupied a significant part of the street, in the house of Yaakov-Leib Rozencwajg, lived the rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda HaKohen, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. The city provided him with a fine, comfortable dwelling. Every Rosh Hashanah eve, following the evening service, the Hassidim would come there to wish the rabbi a Good Year. The rooms were always full of people and the Hassidic cheer on the festivals spread far along the street.
The following also lived in Itzik Praszker's house: Eliahu Asher Librach, a Hassid and merchant; Shalom Zandberg, the primary trustee [Gabbai Rishon] of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society], a merchant; Nachman Yechiel Jakier, a tailor; Shalom Hersh Borkowski, a shoemaker; Yitzchak Eksztajn (Yitzchak Ek), a teacher and Gerrer Hassid, Shlomo Zelig Gelbard, a teacher; and others.
The corner house, at the intersection of the Jewish Street with Blotene [The Muddy Street], belonged to the Friszman family. A branch of the Friszman family, Roize Rozenblum lived there. (The house was called Bei Der Friszmante.) The writer and classicist of Hebrew and Yiddish literature, David Frishmann was born and reared in that house. Living there as well were: Yisrael Yitzchak Gad, a Hassid, scholar, and one of the most elder of the shochtim [ritual slaughterers] in the city; Yisrael Mordechai Praszker (the lime maker); Bendit Frenkel, a teacher of the older lads, a scholar, and a fervent Gerrer Hassid. The Strykower Shtibel was also located in that house. Also living in that house were: Shmuel Leizer Grunwald, a coachman; the butchers Zelig and Sender Najman; Yokel Borkowski, a shoemaker; Hershel Rozalski, a cattle merchant; Shaya Feldon, a shoemaker; Wolf Feldon; Godel Frenkel, a merchant; Gedalia Rajzman, a merchant; Yosef Szamszowicz (the Small Yossele), working in the weaving sector; and others. In the further houses and huts lived primarily Christians.
We cross to the other side of the street and return in the direction of the old market. This house once belonged to some villager. Living there were: Pesach Landau, from among the prominent householders, a merchant; Emanuel and Henech Beer, from among the first handweaving businesses; Mordechai Krzykacz, in the weaving business; Kadish Kadysz, a tailor; Shaya Jakubowicz, a weaver; Yudel Konski, a weaver, and others.
In the nearby house, in its time was found the first and well-known
Yiddish school, led by the teacher Avraham Wachtel. Several Jews lived there a well. This house once belonged to the Nombergs. Jews on handweaving stools worked in the back premises.
The neighboring house belonged to the well-known and wide-branched family of Yudel Szapszowicz and his sons Natan David and Shalom Hirsh. They ran a chicory factory that was known throughout the entire country. In the same house lived Yisrael Frogel, an Ostrowczer Hassid and a great scholar; Butshe Grynfarb, a Jew with Haskalah ideas; Hershel Cohen, from the intelligentsia of that time, and others.
The corner house, on the corner of Konstantyner, belonged to Izidor Sztygold, from one of the eminent families of the city. He was a knowledgeable Jew. He also served as the Torah reader in the synagogue. He was from one of the progressive families of the city. He owned a mechanized weaving workshop. Living there also were: Aryeh Kutner, a weaver; Meir Librach, a merchant; Nota Liberman, a colonial store owner; and others.
We continue onward from the corner of Konstantyner in the direction of the old market. The corner house belongs to Avraham Poznanski, a bakery owner (Bolimower baker); Nathan David Kac, a merchant, one of the eminent Strykower Hassidim; Shmuel Benet, from the weaving trade; and others.
The nearby house belonged to Malkale and Yosef Rubinsztajn and the Wagmans. Living there as well were the family of Leizer Sztachelberg, an eminent and well-connected family; Yitzchak Meir Halperin; the well-known Szeps family; Henech Ber, a broker; and others.
Here, in the house of Yosele Rubinsztajn, also stood the cradle of the Zgierz Jewish hand-weaving guild. Located there was the first Jewish textile trade school in our area, under the leadership and supervision of the aforementioned trade teacher, Yosele Rubinsztajn. Our well-known great industrialist, Zionist activist, and poet, Reb Moshe Ejger, was also educated and raised there. Ezriel Cukier, a merchant, a warm Aleksander Hassid, also lived there. Emanuel Ber ran a large weaving enterprise in the yard.
The farther neighboring house also belonged to partners. Living there were: Avraham Berliner, a traveling agent, a scholar and Hassid. He used to take on fast days; Yosef Pinchas Landau, from the elder Gerrer Hassidim; G. Dresler, a tailor and a volunteer teacher of the Ein Yaakov society; the teacher Yitzchak Jakier; Yitzchak Yosef Blosztajn, (the tobacco maker),
a scholar, who earned his livelihood with the toil of his hands until he became seriously ill; Shaya Beker, who baked cookies and fan pastry for the cheder children. The society of the Jewish clothmakers was also located there.
Behind Napieralski's factory there was a house, which was called Hotel Kabcanski. It was owned by many partners, and was inhabited by many residents who changed frequently. The following once lived there: Nachman-Yechiel Jakier, a tailor; Shifra Gurner with her two sons, a shoemaker; Shlomo-Zalman Herzog, a merchant; Hershel Ickowicz, a baker; and others. The Strykower Hassidim purchased the old house and built a new house for the rabbi, with a Beis Midrash and Yeshiva in the courtyard. A new house of Torah and Hassidism stood there. Later, the Kinewer rabbi lived there, who was the rabbi following the death of his father, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Landau, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. Nachman Zajonc, a weaver, also lived there.
The following houses: Living in Michel Praszkier (the deaf Mechel) were: Yaakov Gelbard, a trustee [gabbai] of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society]; Mechel Beer, a weaver; Leib Rozencwajg, a tavern keeper; Melech Frajsztat, in the junk business; Aharon Zakon, a scholar and fervent Aleksander Hassid, who owned a shop; and others.
Frida and later Yoel Goldberg, a councilor and president of the Maccabee sport organization of Zgierz were employed in the business and dying enterprise of Brodacz.
We pass by the Polish folk school, which was built (1906-8) in old Russian style, and we are once again near the fish market.
With the best of intentions and the greatest effort, we have not succeeded in including more names of the residents of the Jewish Street than these which we have mentioned here. We know well that many are missing names of former residents. With the passing of years, many names have been forgotten, and the memory has also weakened.
We thank our friends Yeshaya Frogiel, Mira Akabi, and Shaul Blanket for their help in the recovery of the names of the residents, which we have brought down here with great effort.
by Esther Krol-Jakubowicz
|Zgierz, this is a magical word for me
This is the home of my parents, where I was born and grew up
These were the years of the pleasantness and happiness of my childhood
This the place of the roots of my family.
This is the pond, famous in the entire area
This is the civic garden, with its ancient trees
This is the Old Square with the city hall in the center
On Sundays and Christian holidays, to the ringing of the bells
|Zgierz This is the synagogue on the Jewish Street
Filled with worshippers on Sabbaths and festivals
With Cantor Linden at the head of the choir
Singing the prayers with his sweet voice
And we, the girls so as not to disturb
And on the Jewish Street, from the open windows
Zgierz this is the Hashomer Hatzair group
Ha, how lovely were those days that once were
This, the terrible, tragic, and fateful deportation day
Worried, sad, overcome by confusion
|Pondering in agony what was happening in my city
Without knowing that I was leaving it forever.
Nevertheless, despite all this, my small city
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