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D. Characters

[Page 169]

Dr. Salomon (Szlomo) Weinziher

by Abram Liwer

Translated by Ricky Benhart (nee Schikman)

When I was a young boy, my grandfather, who was active in the community of our city used to mention the name of Weinziher very often, as someone with whom he used to work together in community matters. I remember that my grandfather once brought me to the home of Weinziher, when his wife still worked as a dentist, for her to give me something against toothache. My grandfather then said: – “You see this Dr. Weinziher, even though he speaks only Polish he is a fine man with a good Jewish heart, and helps many poor Jewish people in our city.”

I never thought then that in later years I would become one of Weinziher's close friends, and a close co-worker in his social and Judo-political matters. Before I come to my proper task at hand, to describe Dr. Weinziher, as a man and as a Jew, – a couple of words about my grandfather who contributed immensely to Dr. Weinziher's coming and settling in our city.

Bed-169s.jpg [4 KB] - Dr. Salomon (Szlomo) Weinziher
Dr. Salomon (Szlomo)

My grandfather's scope of learning consisted of knowing how to pray, to recite a chapter of psalms, to go over the portion of the Torah of the week, and to be able to sign his name. But he was a tremendous businessman, with a large, warm Jewish heart. A rich man, numbered among the respected people in town, popular because of his social commitment. He was a warden in the community, which meant in those days, that he was boss over city issues. He was a generous charity giver; he supported on his own a Chassidic shtibel (prayer house) in his home, and in his old days he hired Avremele Hendels, the Bendiner genius in learning, as a teacher. He sat with him every evening in the shtibel and had a lesson with him. He supported poor retailers. He helped them manage their stores. He raised his 4 sons and son-in-law as learned Torah followers and important businessmen. In general my grandfather was always ready to help individuals and the community at large. And when the Bendiner synagogue needed a concrete fence, my grandfather had it made at his own expense.

Everyone in the city knew that if you were in a pinch, you went to the “Big Ruwen” as he was lovingly referred to, because of this athletic build and snow-white beard. I would like to remark that his grandchildren were community minded, and leaders in various organizations in the city – from the Zionistic Labor Party to the Agudah: this was inherited from our grandfather.

Dr. Weinziher settled in Bendin at the end of the nineteenth century. He came from a very assimilated family in Pietrikow, where his brothers became doctors and engineers. Shortly after his arrival to our city he displayed interests for community welfare work, in those days it was called “philanthropy”. He was the organizer of the well-known institute called in Polish “Towaszistwo Dobroczynnocz”, and was its president for many years. This organization's purpose was to help the sick as well as the orphans. It is from this effort that later on the orphanage was built, which was one of the most splendid institutions in Bendin and the region. It is these efforts and work for the Jewish institutions that made Weinziher so beloved and popular in our city, in all classes of the Jewish population. Weinziher always spoke Polish although he understood Yiddish well, and he enjoyed it when he could throw in some Yiddish words into his Polish speeches. No one complained about his Polish speaking, because they felt that the Polish speaking stemmed from a Jewish heart.

After World War I broke out, Weinziher also became active on the Polish front. During the German occupation, the first city council elections were held in Bendin, which resulted in a Jewish majority. These election results worried the Polish people, who didn't want to deal with a Jewish majority in the City Council. They, therefore, came up with a gutsy suggestion that the Jews should give up their majority in favor of the Polish population. The Jewish council members, led by Dr. Weinziher, rejected proudly this unheard of suggestion, and took over the leadership of the City Council. Dr. Weinziher was elected as chairman. This case was a big sensation in the country; imagine! A Jewish City Council! An exception in all of Poland; and when Icchak Grinbaum, after Poland's liberation, came back to Poland, he said to me: “Your Bendin Sanhedrin (City Council) was very popular and famous; it was talked about even as far as Russia”.

Weinziher was not a Zionist, but he still cooperated and worked with the Zionists. Zionistic work – he stated – means fighting for Jewish rights at the same time, and for such a fight he was always ready to give of his time. We, Zionists, therefore, also always supported him in all of his important positions; whether in the Jewish or non-Jewish institutions. We helped him become elected as community president of our city, although we should perhaps have tried to place a Zionist in this position. We had tremendous confidence in him. His honesty and energy made him liked in all classes of the Jewish population. He understood the Jewish masses, felt their needs and always made an effort to help them.

When the first elections for the Polish parliament (the Sejm) came about, the Zaglembie area was permitted to vote in a Jewish deputy, with one condition, that all the Jews together would vote on one voting list. The only person that could reunite around one person all the different parties was Dr. Weinziher, and he was indeed elected as a Sejm deputy. That made a tremendous impression on him. And when the writer of this article went the day after the elections, with the renown Mizrachi leader, Beresh Preger, to greet and to congratulate him on behalf of the Zionist movement, for his election as deputy, one felt from his answer, that now he is not only a Bendiner social worker, but a messenger from all of Polish Jewry; and he is ready to defend their interests before the Polish parliament.

We, Zionists, directed the whole voting process to the Sejm. I used to travel with Dr. Weinziher in the cities and towns from the whole area of Sosnowiec, Dabrowa, Zawierce, Zarki, and speak to the Jewish masses in synagogues and schools. Dr. Weinziher used to speak in Polish. Often during these trips, he would say to me; “I wish I could speak to my Jews in the language that you speak to them”. His Polish speeches, however, strongly warmed the Jewish listeners and they felt that they were being spoken to by a great, warm-hearted Jew. In the Sejm, Dr. Weinziher, although no Zionist, immediately joined the National Council of the Zionistic group, and experienced all their battles against the Polish government and defended Jewish rights.

It is difficult, in a short article to describe his work in the government. I would just like to point out that when there was friction between the groups of Greenboim vs Reich, at that point Dr. Weinziher was elected as president to the Jewish “KOLO” in the Sejm. Everyone understood, at that point, that with his honesty, he would be able to avoid a split between the Jewish deputies of Congress Poland vs those of Galician Poland. Bendin had a great deal of capable and devoted social workers, who worked for many years for the good of the social community and contributed greatly to the development of Jewish life in Bendin, but according to how my memory serves me, Bendin never made any banquet to honor these people. An exception was made for Dr. Weinziher, and this, in itself, is proof of the respect accorded to him.

Several years prior to the outbreak of the horrible war, Dr. Weinziher turned 60. During a meeting of some social activists and do-gooders in the home of a woman, who herself was very well-liked in our city, Cyrele Szajn, a decision was taken to make a banquet in his honor as acknowledgement for his worthy work, combined with his birthday. In the Warsaw press, especially in the newspaper, “Nasz Pszegland” there appeared a series of articles praising his work as Sejm deputy, while indicating that although he comes from an assimilated background, he, nevertheless, demonstrated his Jewish pride and his love for the Jewish masses, both as a doctor and as a social worker.

The banquet took place in the orphanage, in the building that was the crown of all his endeavors. Dr. Weinziher was always an open-minded person. When they informed him about the banquet, he didn't say, as some often do – why are you doing this? On the contrary, he was very happy. With moving words he said to the person penning this article, “I'm proud that my work for this city is being appreciated. True, I couldn't always please everyone with my work, that's why I'm all the more proud of the confidence they have in me, and that is the best reward for all the long years of work. This gives me energy to continue working many more years for Jewish interests.” He also remarked: “I know that as is the custom, there will be many speeches at the banquet, but I'm impatient to hear particularly 2 speeches and they will be in Yiddish – your speech, Mr. Liwer, and Dr. Liberman's speech”.

Dr. Weinziher worked in the Jewish Hospital in Sosnowiec. Dr. Liberman, a significant social worker, also worked there, although a leftist Labor Zionist. Dr. Weinziher praised greatly Dr. Liberman's work, as councilor in the City Council of Sosnowiec. With these couple of words I want to emphasize his relationship and attitude to close friends and to everything Jewish.

All party activists from the whole Zaglembie area came to the banquet. This was a means of expressing appreciation for a man who devoted the greatest part of his life for his brethren, and forever felt the responsibilities that the Jewish society imposed upon him.

The last time I saw him was on a Friday, the first days that the Nazis attacked Poland. A couple of moments together and we said goodbye. And just as then, when I was a young man, I didn't think that Dr. Weinziher would one day become such a close friend, so also, this Friday, I never thought that this was to be the last time I would talk to him and that this was the last hand-shake I was to have with a man that I was so close to for more than 30 years.

I left Będzin that same day, and after a lengthy journey, reached that big and free land of America.

Dr. Weinziher had possibilities to leave Bendin. He didn't do it. He no longer was a social worker, no longer a fighter for Jewish rights. He returned to his medical practice. His heart surely bled watching what became of the representation of Jewish Bendin. He worked for the poor, for the sick, and ached with pity for the Jewish masses, for them that he had expended such energy and effort – and with them together he went to the tragic death – that the Nazi murderers had prepared for them.

He lived a proud Jewish life until his last days. Did not sully his name until the last moments of his tragic perishing.

Pride be given to his wonderful memory!

[Page 170]

Eliezer Rubinlicht

(Chairman of the Community, Vice-President of the City Council)

by D. L.

Translated by Ricky Benhart (nee Schikman)

He came from Warsaw and became a Bendiner son-in-law. He became actively involved in the political social life of the city. He was among the first establishers of “Hazemer” where cultural activists concentrated after World War I.

He impressed with his appearance, which called for respect. He managed a large wholesale business of paper. Shortly he was drawn into the business circles, and became the main speaker of all business meetings and assemblies.

Since 1913, chairman of the Business Club; known as a business social worker who is ready to help everyone. Did not belong to any political party but voted through the business exchange for the City Council and since Poland's existence until 1938, he was active in the City Council; quite a while as Vice President of the City Council and in the last years as alderman. Since 1912 he carried out an energetic battle against the Endekes boycotts; and later also against imposed Sunday as a rest day. There existed no help-action in the city of which Rubinlicht was not one of the leaders.

In 1936, he was elected as chairman of the Community executive. He was an executive member of the Chamber of Commerce in Sosnowiec and commercial judge in the Sosnowiec chamber tribunes.

Bed-171b.jpg [15 KB] - Eliezer Rubinlicht
Eliezer Rubinlicht

It is difficult to remember all the positions and posts that he held in the social life of Będzin.

During the war he was pushed out of the social work, he was also in no way ready to work with those that collaborated with the Germans.

He was shot by the Germans in one of the last evictions.

[Page 171]

Reb Mendel Rozenzaft

by Dawid Liwer

Translated by Ricky Benhart (nee Schikman)

He was one of our most distinguished Jews and an outstanding type of personality.

He was born in 1863. His father, Mosze Szmul, was a great Torah student and one of the most important men around the Gerer Rebbe, called the CHIDUSHEI RIM (Z"L). Reb Mendel, received as was usual, a traditional Jewish education in Cheder and Yeshiva. Already in his young years he became known as a genius; was married young and became a son-in-law by the known wealthy man, Reb Jenkele Szapiro, who was know in Bendin as a gentle man and a very charitable man. The person that ran the business of his father-in-law (supplying of smelting for glassworks), was his young wife, Dworele.

The atmosphere in his father-in-law's house and his way of life had a strong influence on the young student of Torah. For example, Reb Jenkele Szapiro kept five young boys in his house that learned Torah; lived in this home on the top floor room under the roof (in the attic). Thus Reb Mendel used to learn with thee 5 boys until his father-in-law married them off.

In the Gerer Shtibel, which was not far from Reb Jenkele's house, as early as four in the morning, winter and summer, serious students began learning. There were such as Reb Izaac Erlichman, the 80-year old Jankel Dancygier, Reb Abram Mordechai Gutensztajn, Reb Joszua Dawid, Majer Fiszel Rinsky, Abram Zelig Erlich and Reb Jenkele Szapiro.

Many a time did the young Reb Mendel Rozenzaft go into battle with some of the older ones regarding a tractate of the Gemara, which always ended with a hot coffee brought daily from Reb Jenkele's home.

By Reb Jenkele Szapiro there was always a guest for Shabbat. In one of those Shabbosim – at the beginning of World War I, when all the foreigners fled Bendin, all the children sat around the table, but Reb Jenkele did not make Kiddush – he was distressed by the fact that there was no guest for Shabbat. He asked a grandchild to go quickly to the shtibel or to another synagogue and see perhaps there was indeed someone left that had nowhere to eat for Shabbat. When this grandchild came to the Shtibel he saw a man sitting engrossed in his learning. The child said to the man: “Reb Yid, come to my grandfather for Shabbat”! This man who was indeed a stranger in the city, was however a wealthy businessman and was staying in a hotel. He then answered the child: “I have where to eat”.

The grandchild insisted: “Come to us, Reb Yid. Because my grandfather refuses to make Kiddush if we have no guest.” The stranger understood that he can help a Jew do a good deed (a mitzvah), and he went along. Reb Jenkele was very happy with the guest. His father-in-law confided in him that more than once he sent a needy man to him in a secretive manner that the man should not feel he is being helped; and the father-in-law did this because he knew that his son-in-law was discreet. This also characterized throughout his life, all of Reb Mendel's social activities in which he was drawn into during the First World War. During the German occupation, when there was hunger in the city, Reb Mendel would take out of his father-in-law's storage of food, and distribute it among the poor in the city. Reb Mendel began his activities for the poor in the “Street” (Gessel), where he lived, and later it expanded to include all the activities for the needy in the whole city.

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Reb Mendel Rozenzaft

Thus he started working for the good of the people, never looking to get any reward from it. He didn't look at the fact that he was a great student and highly knowledgeable in the Gemara and its commentaries; and was not embarrassed to take care of the simple people who needed his help. He was a clever man and knew how to speak to the people interspersing an anecdote when possible. He didn't care that he was very religious and a member of Agudah, he was, nevertheless esteemed and liked in all circles of the Jewish population, from the Zionists to the leftists alike. And this because he was someone who worked with honesty and with devotion for all alike.

And when, in 1914, the “Committee” was established and a kitchen was opened to feed the poor with bread and warm food, Reb Mendel became its greatest activist and kept after the wealthy in the city so that the kitchen should be able to exist. Later on, with the foundation of the organization called “Dobroczynnocz”, managed by the assimilated Jews, Reb Mendel became there also one of the first and most active members, and was involved with its development until the building of the large orphanage which housed several hundred orphans.

It is interesting to note that notwithstanding that the largest part of this organization consisted of mostly Polish-speaking intellectuals, Reb Mendel had no problem mingling with them and speaking with them specially in Yiddish, in the language of the masses that he was trying to help. There was in the city no philanthropic organization in which Reb Mendel did not take part. Aside from which, Reb Mendel was an institution in his own right without administrators, budgets, or anyone else's help – all alone, he did not leave the wealthy Bendiner people at rest, always requesting from them financial help for social aims, which indeed they did not refuse him, and gave willingly.

As soon as winter approached Reb Mendel became busy gathering coal for the poorer population of the city.

He came up to the well-known iron merchant Yakov Gutman, who immediately asked him: “Reb Mendel, how many wagons do you need? “Upon which he answered: For the time being about 15 wagons. When I need more, I'll come back again”. Or he came to the great benefactor, Szymon Fürstenberg, who always gave generously and enjoyed the coal activity.

And when spring arrived, and Passover came upon them – then Reb Mendel accompanied by the Rabbi approached the other respected residents for the Passover Collect. And for Sukkoth (Tabernacles) – how can you shame someone that he should not have to eat among his neighbors? So he again became busy collecting. And so he went throughout the year in perpetual activities for the poor. One purpose chased another. His house became a charity fund, without anyone else's help, on his own, because he was particularly fond of giving discreetly without anyone's knowledge. There were many families that were helped without their knowing from where it came. He disliked being thanked, and shirked recognition and honors. He did not want to become a leader of the community, even though the Agudah wanted to have him as an official leader very badly; he felt that these honorific positions would hinder his philanthropic activities.

In order to illustrate his beautiful personality, we would like to transmit a fact as told by Szmul Liwer:

It was Shavouoth 1938, and Reb Mendel came to my home accompanied by the known wealthy man, Reb Dawid Lasker z"l. I was astonished, what is Reb Mendel doing in the middle of the holidays by me? Upon this question, Reb Mendel answered me: I need money – How come in Yom Tov (in the middle of the holiday) – I asked him. He then explained to me: We must save a man who will be evicted tomorrow and his belongings sold in auction. Thus was the way of Reb Mendel: in order to save another Jew in a difficult situation, he was ready to take money even on a Jewish holiday.

I can see his presence before me with his temperament, and always in motion, his age notwithstanding. Of medium height, with broad shoulders, a full face with a big beard, dressed in a long coat, impeccably clean, a scholar with not a spot on his clothing. He belonged to the type of Jew where the candle was always burning, the true Jewish fire that never was extinguished and was always ready to bring warmth and light to the perplexed and the downtrodden; did not spare his time in order to help others. He had in him a warm glowing heart and a soft sensitive soul.

A glowing gentle image with fatherly love for each individual.

In the evening, when the “Gessel” was asleep, then Reb Mendel sat in his room and learned, or he sat by himself and wrote, and he did write a lot. Unfortunately we did not have the privilege to see his writings, which perished together with him in the flames of Auschwitz.

May his memory be honored!

Of Mendel Rozenzaft's children there remained only one son, Josele, who lived through the hell of Nazism.

He jumped from the train that was bringing the Bendiner Jews to Auschwitz; he escaped from the labor camp; was again brought to Auschwitz; towards the end of the war he was in the death-camp of Bergen-Belsen, where he tried to keep alive the half dead “muselmanen” (the half-dead men); but all these difficult tribulations did not break him morally – he remained the happy and energetic Josel, who continued to spin further the golden thread of his family, and continues the grand heritage of his illustrious father.

[Page 173]

Cyrele (Cesia) Szajn – The Mother of the Orphans

by Abram Liwer

Translated by Ricky Benhart (nee Schikman)

Someone that belonged to the characteristic personalities of Bendin, who played a strong active role in the social and political life of Jewish Bendin, is the modest and genteel woman called Cyrele Szajn; one of the most active doers on all domains, who excelled in her devotion and energy. Thanks to her cooperation many of the Bendiner institutions were able to reach the high level they did, indeed, achieve.

Cyrele Szajn came from one of the finest Chassidic families in Warsaw, and immediately after she settled in our city as wife of Icchok Szajn (a respectable Zionist in the city), she began to show interest in social work and became a respected member of “Towaszistwo Dobroczynnocz” – “Benevolent Society”, the oldest philanthropic institution under the leadership of Dr. Weinziher, and she helped to procure financial and medical help for the poor masses. Of course, the institution had other co-workers as well, who devoted a lot of time and effort, but Cyrele Szajn surpassed them all. She bubbled with energy and it is not for nothing that she was referred to as “the mother of the orphans”. From the first moment she devoted her extraordinary aid for poor orphans. The old orphanage was established for many years in several rooms in Dovidl Zmigrod's house. Cyrele came there daily carrying the responsibility for the material and spiritual development of our orphans. Like a mother – she bathed and combed, saw to it that the nourishment was adequate, that teachers and melamdim (religious teachers) should be qualified, so that the children should receive a normal general and religious education. She dreamed of creating a modern orphanage where the children would enjoy more freedom, where they would live as happier individuals, in better conditions than in the three rooms on the third floor among tens of other neighbors.

Bed-173.jpg [12 KB] - Cyrele (Cesia) Szajn
Cyrele (Cesia)

After long hard work, her dream came true. The big orphanage was built, a building that was the pride of the city and a joy for those who helped realize this plan. True that there was a committee by the “Benevolent Society” that was busy with the construction of the building, but the force behind it all was Cyrele Szajn, – she wasn't satisfied alone with going around and collecting of funds by the wealthy Bendiner people; but committed on her own a very substantial, respectable sum of money.

After the Home was opened she threw herself into work with full energy and became the “soul “ of the Home. She also followed up with the older children that left the home and helped them settle and establish themselves either in an office, as an employee, each one according to his/her capability.

Cyrele's community public work was not limited only to philanthropy. As a true and good Jewish daughter, she was also very close to Zionistic work. She was one of the most devoted collectors for the Keren Hayesod and other Zionistic funds. She met very often in her home in the evenings with the delegates of Keren Hayesod and under her influence they always reached very good results. Aside from that, she was never too tired to go herself to visit the Keren Hayesod contributors in order to increase the sums collected. All the Keren Hayesod delegates knew that if Cyrele works with them, they are sure to have success.

Thanks to her intelligence and sensitivity for Jewish social work, she was elected as Councilor to the City Council, as representative of the Zionist Organization. In the City Council, she also revealed her energy and her good orientation in city matters. Her speeches in points of matter were heeded in full earnest. Her calm and understanding of city problems called forth from all, including non-Jews great respect for her person. Cyrele Szajn's relationship with people was simple and friendly. We remember that there were Jewish women in the city that had been raised in the Polish language and kept their distance from the Jewish masses. Cyrele, on the other hand, welcomed into her home, with a lot of warmth, people from a lower class who came to discuss with her their problems. She received them all in a friendly manner, spoke to them in Yiddish, accompanied them to the door, and would always add that her house is always open for them.

When she was confronted with problems that she, herself, could not decide, then she sought advice by others. When it was a question of educating and raising the orphans, or about religious issues, then her permanent advisor was Icchok Wygodski. She confided in him everything, including which teacher or melamed is good for the children. Often the writer of this article received a phone call with these words: “Mr. Liwer, please come up to me. I'd like to discuss with you certain matters.” Another person to whom she turned to often was Dr. Weinziher, for whom she had a great respect and confidence. She was popular in all classes, and everyone treated her with respect and gratitude for her untiring activities on all social issues. She did everything discreetly, without publicity, but it was felt that she did it with a warm Jewish heart.

She belonged to the Szajn family, known outside of Bendin as well, that throughout the years portrayed much interest in Jewish and general questions; among them great benefactors to Israel funds. Cyrele, however, gave even more – because she gave of herself, her time, her energy; she gave her life for the good of the public.

The bloody Nazi murderer also killed this wonderful Cyrele, together with her husband and their only son. May her memory remain with us forever. We, who knew her personally and cooperated with her, always admired this dear Jewish daughter, who throughout her life remained alert to soothe the needs of the poor Jewish masses, and at the same time helped build that magnificent edifice – the Land of Israel.

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