[Pages 60 - 68]
As my yearnings for my birth town overcome me and I am shaking with excitement, affection, and longing, I would like to express some of the typical features and memories of the days that Jewish Zloczew was still standing on its ground. Unfortunately, I do not have all the information and details that will testify to the beginning of our town and its development. Nothing remains from past days but vague and foggy memories that were kept in my heart. Time's jaws also bit portions because it has been more than thirty years since I left my town, but my soul's attachment to it did not cease to exist a bit and its reflection is still vivid in my eyes to the fullness of its beauty and glory.
These pages will probably be read by the previous generation, those who still remember our town, the town in which they spent their best years, walked her streets, worked, created, dreamed and struggled for a better future. It's possible that some of their children and grandchildren, who were also born there but were too young to remember those days, will also find it interesting to know something about their ancestors' way of life, customs and traditions, character, writings and legacy until the slaughterer's hand caught them. But, these lines are dedicated mostly to our children and grandchildren, to the young generation born here in this land and in the diaspora; to them, Zloczew is like a sealed book.
Occasionally, the younger generation does not understand the history of the previous generation, and they even have reservations of its experiences, but it's possible that, in days ahead, curiosity, the desire to learn and to search their origin and roots will rise and make them turn to the history of Zloczew and all that surrounded it. For that purpose, we shall remember who, what and how things were.
As little as this stream was, it contained all kinds of currents: right and left, extreme and moderate. Regardless of how apart they were, united they stood in the big and active river of Jewish life, full of interest and work. It isn't one of the easier tasks to turn the eyes to this far and full of deep nostalgia period. They are far and ambivalent- the culture and its terms, the distance and daily life; and deep is the pain in the heart when remembering the beautiful years of youth, because not only did the flowers wither, but the stems and the leaves were torn from their roots as well. Not just the community, but also the entire Jewish town was destroyed and annihilated. The way of life that had developed from the town's unique culture was destroyed and erased, and even more: all the essence and atmosphere of Jewish Zloczew is gone.
You could feel the multi-faceted labor, deeply rooted in the town from the six days of creation, and no strong wind or storm could uproot the strong foundations of the Jewish community. Events and processes of other provincial towns from this destroyed and no longer existing world were also reflected here.
Not only was the Jewish person permeated and interwoven in the generations' texture of the Jewish entity and essence, nature and the environment were also filled with it. Everything breathed air that was soaking in the hidden treasures of Jewishness, not to mention the streets, the alleys and the homes, all completely based upon the Jewish character and contents in other words, Jewishness was reflected upon the unique atmosphere floating above the town and sweeping with it a fullness of a universe. Clearly, this camp included various parts, distinguished by social identity marks, but despite the difference between them, a difference that grew as years passed by, the partnership of fate was maintained. Here, all shared with all joy and grief, sorrow and content.
Nonetheless, Zloczew was different. Following the horrible Holocaust that befell the Jewish people, we shed our tears for the entire Jewish world, a rich world that was uprooted as if it was formed from one piece of material. But in reality, the Jewish town in Congressional Poland had its unique nature and character. It represented a complete mechanism of features. These towns were located next to the big metropolises - Lodz and Warsaw, and their rhythm of life was poured into their provincial habits just as blood flows from the heart to the artery.
The pulse of life of neighboring cities beat in Zloczew. Jews traveled from here to Lodz and Warsaw to sell, work, and to visit relatives. The pace and sizzle of the big cities activities were immersed in the provincial way of life. The outside bubbly centers, and especially the productive industry of Jewish Lodz, brought the dynamic factor of social activity into the Jewish atmosphere and thus opened a window to the wide world. But, as great as the contact with the outside world was, and as much as it brought new ideas and thoughts, it did not weaken the local multi-faceted vitality of the town.
The tough reality of everyday life did not defy the romanticism of glamorous freedom ideas expressed in various ways, and the coherence that erupted from the daily hardships did not intimidate great dreams. As I look back to those years, I am thrown into the simplicity of Jewish atmosphere. During a history of a thousand years of Jewish exile, communities erupted in every corner of the world. I do not intend to point at all the small and big stations in our wanderings, stations in which Jewish life, full of activity, developed and flourished. Nonetheless, a known fact is that in no other place throughout our geographic Diaspora was the drama of the Jewish factor so elevated as it was in the provincial towns of central Poland. Toledo could have been a flourishing garden to our poetry; Magenza could have been the capital of Jewish learning, a center of Torah and knowledge; Medzhibush could have fertilized and fed the sources of Hassidic thought, but all these communities lacked the typical uniqueness of the Shtetls of congressional Poland. They lacked the colorful heavenly rainbow, the natural curiosity to the various worlds, the interest in contradicting ideas and concepts, all found a wide field in this region: pious and secular, Zionists and Bundists, socialists and communists - all these combined and intertwined within the multi-faceted social activity and mingled within the perfection of simplicity and Jewish solidarity. This characteristic was typical of our town of Zloczew.
The respiratory system of the Jewish union was able to absorb into its lungs outside influences without losing its uniqueness and spirit of life. The youth could sing melodies originated elsewhere and mix them with Jewish melodies filled with national ideas. The line between the new literature read in the partisan libraries in town and the literature studied in Beit Hamidrash or Shtibalach was hardly seen because the mutual destiny and the mutual struggle (in all shapes and fronts) for the right to exist with dignity tied the different parts of the Zloczew Jewish union.
The Jewish town, although an integral and inseparable part of the general population, made the impression that it lives far from it and that sometimes moved outside space and time as if it was a community hovering above space and existing in its own era.
The Jewish town celebrated its Sabbaths, its national and religious holidays. The Jewish population was a minority within the general population, but only in the statistic sense. Nonetheless, from the spiritual and psychological sense, Jews lived in their own world as if they were the majority.
In the days of my youth, the town was passed from one hand to the other. This was during World War One, when leaders changed rapidly; the Russians left and the Germans entered. Then came the Poles. Even the expulsion could not steal from the Jews their sense of identity with the town or take away the security that the decree is just temporary. And, indeed, the moment circumstances changed, they all rushed back home, reconstructed the ruins, and again all social life began developing with all its characteristics - rules, details and manners.
But despite the stormy events, not a single factor could remove the Jews from their place. They matched themselves to the changing circumstances and, with great strength and resourcefulness, moved themselves to new sources of income. Their spirits remained unshaken. Although everything can fall apart in times of riots, war and chaos, events did not break their sense of security and belief in Jewish eternity. The belief in the eternity of the people of Israel was deeply rooted in the hearts of our town's Jews.
The youngsters were forced to mature and sober early in life, but they did not give up the sincere belief in a glorious future. They stood on solid ground with both feet and dreamed of ascending to a higher reality. Over the years, since I left my town of Zloczew, I was able to participate and listen to Kol Nidrei in various synagogues and Minyans, but in no other place did its holiness penetrate inside my bones the way it did in the Zloczew synagogue, covered with wax drops of the holy day candles and approaching me from the foggy memories of my childhood years.
I cannot forget the worshippers standing with their heads bowing down with humility, covered with their prayer shawls turned yellow after years of use and tears, and hovering above them is the mystical prophecy that promises a day is coming when wickedness and malice will pass from the earth and heaven's mercy will atone for the transgressions of those who have never transgressed and who never stopped praying to their Deliverer.
That same echo of holiness and great anticipation was felt in the air when Hatikvah had been sung enthusiastically in all the Zionist gatherings in town. It was not a mere singing but an expression of the existing Jewish national 'have' and pathos. [Translator Daphna Brafman notes: 'have' is defined as It's the existing national spiritual and emotional possession. All this possession they put in the singing of Hatikvah, in other words, they sang with all their heart and strength.] That same warmth was felt in the gatherings of the Jewish socialist parties in town, swept in the spirit of romanticism and full of the best of human ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood. As these parties made sure the distance between them was not too big, they were able to stand close enough to weave their great dream. And it seemed as though the magical harmony from within, despite the deep contradictions and difference of opinions, is what symbolized the typical characteristic of Zloczew - the Jewish town of congressional Poland that, to our great regret, was completely annihilated in our time.
The community's budget was limited because it relied only (if I am not mistaken) on the taxes the Jewish residents of the town paid for slaughtering the poultry and cows. The cemetery was also a source of income for the communal funds, but it was limited and rare because money came only when a wealthy person died.
The ritual bath - Mikvah - was rented to a Jewish resident who paid rent to the community (in my days few Mikvah renters had rotated. Among them were: Shlomo Mikvah-Nikk, Moshe Fishales, Leib-Michael Hershlikowic, or as he was called 'Der Hoikher Leib'.) The bath was opened to men every week on Fridays and before a holiday, but women had special days during the week.
Community expenses were high because there was a need to maintain a rabbi, a shokhet, community clerk and more. Contact between the Jewish population and its community leadership was not frequent and it usually took place for such occasions as weddings, circumcision, or birth, when it was necessary to register the newborn and similar events that required approaching the community and its clerks.
There was also a 'Beit Hamidrash' near by. Those who prayed here were peddlers, traders, craftsmen and others. The place also hosted conferences and gatherings in which speakers and preachers of existing parties spoke: Socialist Zionists etc. Anti-religious activists, like the 'Bund', also used this place for their meetings. There were others who used to gather in 'Beit Hamidrash' to listen to a sermon of a traveling 'Magid'. Groups of young men gathered in 'Beit Hamidrash' for a study in depth of a Gemara page or a chapter of Mishnayot. In my time, I remember three such groups that included: Haim-Meyer Alter, Arieh Bresler, Yitzhak Zommer, Shimshon Zilberberg, Yekhiel Freund, Kalman Krimlovski, Yekhiel-Arie Krimlovski, Barukh Bergman, Yitzhak Gelbart, Faivel Gross, David Hershlikovitch, Yaakov Viroshevski, Arieh Zaltzberg, Moshe-Shimon Klinovski, Avraham Koll, Yehuda-Leibish Kashpitzki, Yoseph Zommer, Avraham-Yehoshua Lukatch, Hersheleh Lantzitzki, Yerakhmiel Freund, Faivel Freund, Meir-Gershon Krakovski, Yekhezkel Kashpitzki, Avraham Shlomkovitch and others. Here they used to recite a chapter of the Mishna in honor of the dead or on the 'yorzeit' of one of the town's dignitaries.
Aside from that, Zloczew had 'Shtibalakh' (small prayer houses) of Hassidic sects of Ger, Alexander or Amashnov.
In order to make the picture complete, we should also mention the 'Minyan' of the 'Bikur Holim' (visiting the sick) society that had organized social activities of many types, and it also had a charity fund (Gemilut Hassidim) that performed great deeds but that, unfortunately, I don't have enough details to present them here.
All these synagogues were an official part of the community, but their maintenance and expenses were upon their worshippers.
The Jewish teachers, with the exception of a teacher of religion, were not allowed inside the public schools. Teachers of religion changed several times during my days. If I am not mistaken, these were the teachers: Avigdor Tsalnik Mashirdaz, Yekhiel (Hilek) Freedman and Emanuel Dawidowicz. The three did not work much with these classes, but it was their official duty. As a matter of fact, they used religion classes for another purpose and under this cover they taught the history of the people of Israel. But, Ultra Orthodox factions could not tolerate it and they made sure that real religion lessons would be taught in school and not some Zionist stuff. Because of that, these excellent teachers were expelled from their position and replaced by a young Ultra Orthodox rabbi, Khanokh-Mordechai Gutfreund who was the son-in-law of Rabbi Damta (who became the rabbi following his death), and he taught religion classes the way the Ultra Orthodox demanded.
In addition to the two public schools, Zloczew had Hebrew and Jewish schools in which pupils from families with national awareness studied. The pupils of these institutions enjoyed the warm support of the town's Zionist organization. But maintenance of these schools was the responsibility of the children's parents and teachers. The teachers included:
The Lubshitz school functioned at the home of r' Avraham-Hirsch Faiwlowicz; Dorkhwolf school- Braudeh and Landau as teachers; Mizrahi school at the home of Avraham Gelbart, and the teachers were- r' Mordechai Baumgarten, Yoseph-Eliezer Moroko for holy studies, Yaakov Freund as Hebrew teacher, and Eliezer Baumgarten for general studies.
Zloczew also had two schools for girls: Beit-Yaakov of the Agudat Israel which was located at the home of r' Avraham-Shmuel Lifshitz, and a private school owned by Channa-Beila Goldring and Retsa Yadvab and operating at the home of the Kozhokh family, or, as it was called, Getsaleh's home.
|The school for girls of Channa Beila and Ratsa Yadveb
To my regret, I have no detailed information about these schools because it was during my early youth and things were not kept in my memory. But, what I do recall is that Rabbi Damta, with another Hassidic group, had established a Talmud Torah to compete with the existing Jewish schools, and especially with the Mizrahi School they viewed as a Treifa (impure). Talmud Torah taught children from the age of five to fifteen years old. They taught the Aleph Bet, Humash, Rashi, Gemara, Tosafot, and also basic math, Polish and more. But this school was not very successful and they had to return to the primitive method of teachings of the Heder in which the children spent twelve hours a day in an overcrowded room. A child who did not know the alphabet yet was forced to continue to Humash and other studies because age determined the subject and not readiness. The conditions in the Heder where they studied Humash were better than the ones for the younger kids but on Thursdays not all came prepared to the Parashat Hashavua's test. The highest levels of holy studies curriculum were the lessons of Gemara, Tosafot and Mishna, taught by the rabbi.
|The Moshkovitch sisters with kindergarten children
I regret not having documents or detailed information about the pre-Zionist period that could testify of the nature of such activity in Zloczew. We only know that the Ultra Orthodox circles were not fond of this activity and influences in town and that they used all tricks and measures to fail this activity.
According to their stories, things were conducted in such a manner until the beginning of World War I in 1914. Jewish refugees came to town after being forced to flee from their homes as a result of the fighting. All public activity ceased when the Russians took over because the new rulers treated the Jewish population with much suspicion. The economical situation turned worse with every passing day.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the hopes and waves of idealistic reawakening it caused encouraged strong activity and a national renaissance in Zloczew. The Zionist organization in town became a collection of groups that later evolved into political parties: Poalei Tsion Smol, Poalei Tsion Yamin, and the Mizrahi.
The leftist Zionist circles and the anti-Zionist groups had no influence.
Following the decisions made at the San-Remo convention in 1922, I remember how women had removed wedding bands and other jewelry to contribute for the land of Israel. That same scene repeats itself when the Hebrew university was opened on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.
The enthusiasm caused by this enterprise rose far beyond our visions. Activists of the Zionist Organization - under the direction of the late and admired Yaakov Bielawski - did great even in the Siem (parliament) elections of 1922 and 1928. But, at the same time, the Polish government and its local messengers began actions and attacks against Jews. Nonetheless, strong Zionist activity at all levels had received a strong boost.
Activity of the Zionist Organization with its youth group of Hakhaluts Hamerkazi was especially prominent. Many of these youngsters had joined summer colonies and training camps to prepare them for future Aliyah to the land of Israel (see details in the article about Hakhaluts Hamerkazi).
Of hundreds of Zloczew's youth first and most worth mentioning is Hashomer Hatsair with Yaakov Freund as its leader until 1925 (until he left for Israel.) Hashomer Hatsair was an exemplary youth movement in those days.
Other active movements in Zloczew were Dror, Beitar, Poalei Agudat Israel, all running a strong activity for the land of Israel, each according to their own way. I have no information about all the facets of their activities but I am convinced that those who were closer to them can elaborate.
The Melamdim (teachers) were also busy on Market Day. For instance, Lazer (Eliezer) Melamed: his wife had a permanent stand in the market where she sold pottery, dishes, bowls and vases. That is why Lazer-Melamed used to prepare the merchandise a day early and on Market Day he himself used to watch over it so it will not be stolen.
Take Israel-David Melamed for example - what help could he offer his wife on Market Day? After all, he had nothing to trade with and his wife had no stand in the market! Here is this story: the wife of Israel David, Esther-Leah, used to buy fruit, butter, eggs, and especially chickens from the farmers' wives. She kept the chickens and fattened them during the week, and then sold them to the town's wealthy ladies for the Sabbath. What, then, was Israel-David's job?
Indeed, he, too, was a part of the business. He had to pave the way with the saleslady, meaning, to touch and feel the chicken, blow the feathers and offer a low price while approaching other women so they don't raise the price. Only after such a softening preparation would Esther-Leah approach and buy the merchandize. On that day, obviously, Israel-David was unable to teach the children in the Heder, because even a Melamed has to have some Parnassa (livelihood/income)
This and more, one must not forget that every second Jew in our town was a merchant, a peddler, a craftsman, or someone who trades with something. There were Jews who took loans from the three existing funds (Spoldziltchi, Kopitski, and Gemilut Hassidim of the Bikur Holim society), bought scales and sacks and became a grain merchant. Tons of grains were supplied to Zloczew on market day and brought to the local or nearby mills. But the peddlers waited for the farmers along the roadsides and tried to buy from them at a lower price before they arrived in town.
|The western side of the rink
the central building the old Beit Hamidrash
The town also had tailors, hat-makers, shoemakers, tinkers, glaziers, harness makers and others who have worked for the area's farmers and supplied their orders. When the farmer came to the craftsman for an order, he used to bring his products for sale, another factor in making these Monday Market Days so thriving and successful. Those people who made all effort to prepare orders were honest and decent men of labor, whose livelihood was founded on spending the entire week in hard work until it was time for Reuven the Shamash to bang on his hammer and call people to come to the synagogue just before the Sabbath. For these laborers, the Sabbath was their only day of rest and on that day the holiness of the Shekhina rested upon them and from it they drew the strength to continue the daily struggle for livelihood.
Not once did many wonder why Zloczew's market attracted so many farmers from the entire region. It's possible that the reason lies in the fact that our town had a place for trade of livestock -Targovitsa- where people bought and sold horses, pigs, cows, calves and more. This is also a place where butchers found a wide place for activity. During summer months May to July, when cows delivered, hundreds of calves were brought to be sold - some to the city of Lodz and others remained to be slaughtered in Zloczew. The slaughterhouse had plenty of work that kept all its employees and others of the meaty business in town. Thus we learn that this field was an important source of income for the Jews of Zloczew.
These women acted in additional social arenas. They took care of widows, not just in direct support, but also made efforts to help their growing orphans study a trade so that later they would be able to provide for the widow and the younger children.
These benevolent women also helped needy mothers of newborn babies, and this help came in the form of a warm meal or other food products given to them after birth so they could regain their strength and be able to fully function in their homes. These women were full of desire to help others and full of compassion. They knew how, when and where to act, and were full of understanding of delicate human needs - they knew where to give material help and to whom they should give spiritual assistance, a good word here and advice there, a stress-releasing smile or a nerve relaxing look - all in wisdom, with Jewish humor, in order to bestow a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere.
Following World War One, when America's Jewry, through the Joint, began sending assistance to their brethren across the sea, money-lending funds were established in almost all the cities and towns through cooperative banks. The Joint had set a rule by which they will match every sum of money deposited to that fund. This principle encouraged action, and rules and regulations by which these funds were managed were written. Loans were granted with very low interest rates, and sometimes with no interest at all, and the borrowers used to return the money by weekly or bi-weekly payments.
The funds assistance did not have a philanthropic nature but aimed at constructive targets, like the establishment of livelihood for craftsmen, shopkeepers or merchants. A regular inspection controlled the activities of the funds and made sure they will fulfill their duty and not deviate from the route set for them. In connection with that, it is important to mention the Moratorium that the Polish government had declared for the farmers and that was used to evade returning debts to Jews. For that reason, and also because of the anti-Semitic economical boycott, more and more Jews needed the lending funds to balance their budget.
Zloczew also had a Gemilut Hassidim fund of the Bikur Holim society. Although this institute did not have books, the help it granted was very crucial. An unwritten, but widely known law, was that the financial aid reached only those in real need, those who were in real trouble due to crises, illness etc, and that they would definitely return every last dime when they recuperated.
All this is gone. Jewish Zloczew, with its institutions, parties, organizations and unions, its social, public and cultural life - no longer exists. The Nazi murderers destroyed and annihilated all and nothing is left but the dear memory, the will and the duty to describe the life and destruction of our community as we mourn for our pure and holy loved ones who had perished in the horrible Shoa.
|The destroyed cemetery in 1946.
M. Majerowicz is standing by the ruins
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