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The Yidishe Gymnazie

by S. Wirstel

The Yidishe [Jewish] Gymnazie [secondary school] in Czenstochow was founded in 1917. The opening of the school made a great impression in Czenstochow. At that time interest in Hebrew grew strongly in connection with the Balfour Declaration and with the opportunity for a larger emigration to Eretz-Yisroel.

Students from all strata of the Jewish population began to stream into the gymnazie: children with Hasidic parents, who had just been studying in a kheder [traditional primary school], children of half-assimilated parents who did not know how to read or write Hebrew, had only studied in Polish schools, and, naturally, children of nationalist Jews and Zionists.

The school was called the Yidishe Gymnazie, but Yiddish was not taught or spoken there. Both the teachers and the students always used the Polish language, even outside the hours of study. A student was frowned upon even if he was permitted to speak Yiddish during the recess times. Even the Hebrew lessons were limited to a few hours a week. Only the Hebrew teacher and the students who had come from the kheder knew Hebrew.

The Hebrew teachers really rejoiced with these students and they achieved the greatest distinction for Hebrew, religion, Tanakh [The Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings] and Jewish history.

The gymnazie was founded on Jasna Street. A year later, it moved to its own spacious building at Szkolna Street 10.

At first, there were only the first, second and third classes, preparatory classes. Then the first and second classes for boys and girls separately. Then a higher class was added every year until the full eight gymnazie classes, that qualified [students for] study in the university.

Just like the Polish gymnazie in Czenstochow, the c also had its special uniform, in the form of a hat. The hat of a student from the Yidishe Gymnazie was of dark blue cloth with a blue-white stripe.

The first director of the gymnazie was Dr Shmuel Brisz, a tall man with a short, trimmed beard and a constant smile on his lips. He was beloved by the students because he devotedly felt his duty as director. After a short time, he had to leave his position because of illness. Professor Meir Balaban, now a holy martyr of Polish Jewry, took his place.

Professor Balaban was a very energetic man. He raised the Yidishe Gymnazie to a much higher level than before. He hired competent teachers and gave more time for Hebrew instruction. He increased the number of Hebrew teachers and introduced the study of religion and Tanakh. The Hebrew teachers of our class were Janowski, Rubinsztajn and Wajnberg. Of Jewish history - Brawer and Miss Stobiecka.

Janowski, our Hebrew teacher, would often invite us to his home and lent us books of modern, Hebrew literature from his valuable library.

Gymnastics at the Yidishe Gymnazie were led by the proficient professor, A. Krist. Professor Perec Wilenberg taught drawing.


A group of students from the Yidishe Gymnazie with Dr. Dovid Einhorn, the director


In addition to the above-mentioned teachers, I remember only Makrojer and Asorodobraj,

Of the women teachers I remember: Werchowska, Gizn, Wolf, Wajs and Latringer.

My closest colleagues were: Ahron Luksenburg, Dovid Lewit, Yakov Czeriker, Geniek Zisznicki, Eizner Wolman, Leyzer Rozenberg, Hochman, Lewkowicz (the last two are now

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in Argentina), Rotbard, Grindman, Kongrecki and Berliner.

After, Meir Balaban, the director, was invited to Warsaw to the Tachkemoni [Rabbinical] Seminar and his place in the gymnazie system was taken by Dr. Dovid Einhorn, a learned man who in the later years occupied an important place in the Jewish literary world.

In his time the gymnazie developed with relation to general instruction. However, they adapted so much to the government program for middle schools that the Hebrew subjects were reduced to a minimum.

The Hebrew language was spread outside of the gymnazie through Zionist youth organizations, particularly, Hashomer Hatzair [The Youth Guard - secular Socialist- Zionists].

Evening Courses

by A. Khrobolowski

Evening courses for the young workers first were created in 1920 at the workers club, Fareinikte [united], later at the central council of the professional unions and in 1926 at the Y. L. Peretz School.


Evening courses for young people with A. Chrabolowski


The emergence of the courses was connected with the organization of the youth group, Shtral [beam of light]. After the nursery and Folks-shuln [people's schools], the youth courses were the best that was done in the realm of the cultural development of the working young. Previously, the young along with the old comrades would pack the clubrooms and workers' meeting places and waste their time doing nothing.

The first organizers of the evening courses were the active workers from Shtral: Avraham Brat, S. Wegner, Alek Lewinsztajn, Moshe Lewinhof, Malka Danziger, Gliksman and others.

A group of students from the Hebrew Yidishe Gymnazie [Jewish secondary school] also belonged to Shtral. Their leaders were Matek Pliwacz and Eksztajn, who later become leading community activists in the workers movement, Matek Pliwacz with the “independents” and Eksztajn with the Bund.

In 1920 the courses were organized in the premises of the nursery number two, at Strazacka 10, with 40 to 50 children taking part, then on Garncarska in the house of the cooperative bakery where there were two divisions, separate for the young and for adults. The number of applicants was large so that there were not enough places for everyone. The premises could only accommodate approximately 90 to 100 students. In the courses emphasis was first given to teaching the young to learn to write, read and speak Yiddish correctly. However, in addition to Yiddish, they also studied: Polish, arithmetic, geography and natural science. During the summer


A group of students from the evening courses with the teachers and managing committee


excursions to the surrounding area were arranged almost every Shabbos in the morning. Popular talks about literature, history, social science and other topics took place during Shabbos afternoons. The evening courses also arranged gymnastic exercises and singing.

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The teacher of Yiddish and general speaking was A. Chrabolowski. The geography and natural science teacher – M. Kanowski, teacher at the gardening farm; Moritz Kremski led the gymnastic exercises.

The greatest benefit of the courses was that the majority of students learned to write Yiddish correctly. The students particularly liked poetry. They were read to aloud and they had a great desire to recite. In general, in Yiddish literature, there was a particularly enthusiastic response to [Y. L.] Peretz's short stories.

The young from various parties took part in the courses, as well many unaffiliated young people.

A number of the students had earlier belonged to the communist movement and a large number of those who belonged to Shtral later joined the communists. The majority of them had spent long years in the jails of “independent” Poland.

The Hebrew language was spread outside of the gymnazie through Zionist youth organizations, particularly, Hashomer Hatzair [The Youth Guard - secular Socialist- Zionists].

Lira and the Jewish Literary Society

by F. Szmulewicz, A. Khrobolowski

Lira, the literary and musical society, was founded in 1908. Its first leaders were Zionists, among whom were found Moshe Zandsztajn and Leon Kopinski. They attracted a number of the assimilated intelligentsia and regular cultural activists to the work.

Avraham Wewiorka, Leon Kopinski, Khazan [cantor] Avraham Ber Birnbaum and Zaks took part in the discussion about the name for the society. The Zionist side proposed the name Hazamir, the assimilated Lira. The latter won.

The assimilated spirit ruled in Lira for a long time. The reigning language was Polish. However, the chorus, under the leadership of Khazan Avraham Ber Birnbaum, also sang Hebrew songs in addition to the Polish [ones]. Yiddish was foreign to Lira. In general, Lira had limited influence over a small group during its early years.

Therefore, the “Jewish Literary Society,” which was founded in Czenstochow as a division of the Petersburg society under the same name, immediately at the beginning attracted the largest number of Jewish youth and of the Jewish democratic intelligentsia.

Among the initiators were Dovid Borzykowski, A. Chrabalowski, Wolf Lewenhof, Rafal Federman, F. Szmulowicz and Yakov Kapinski.

It is difficult to have access to find the first three responsible people in whose name the society would be legalized. The three, who took upon themselves the liability were: teacher Ufner from the First Aleje, Itshe Meir Erlich, who in the evening enjoyed the company of the young people in his wurst business, and Jakob Wajnsztok, an owner of a paper business and an activist in the society.


A group of Lira chorus members
Among them: Warmund, Hercberg, Grabiner, Welgryn and Oweczka


The managing committee, according to the statute of the society, had to consist of 10 people not younger than 25. Among the members of the managing committee were: Gelbard, Chaim Dawidowicz, Luria, Erlich, Leon Goldberg, dentist Peretz and others.

A. Chrabalowski, was chosen for the managing committee from the working class.

Two enthusiastic mass meetings took place in the hall of Harmonia [Harmony]. The founding of the society was proclaimed at the first one.

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The managing committee was elected at the second one.

Fervent work began immediately that left even deeper marks in Czenstochow life.

The first evening of the society took place in the Harmonia hall. Avraham Wewiorka, among others, presented his two sketches: Kheykl Shiker [Kheykl the Drunk] and Der Hoyker [The Hunchback]. The evening brought in a rich income of 25 rubles.

The second undertaking was an entertainment in Walberg's garden, in the First Aleje that brought in income of over 100 rubles.

The premises of the society were located at Aleje 8. A reading room with newspapers and journals was created. A chorus was founded under the leadership of the director of the choir in the “German Synagogue,” as the new synagogue on Dojazd, or Wilson [Street], was called. The soloist with the chorus actually was his small son. The chorus rehearsed Jewish folksongs in Yiddish and Hebrew. One of the classical numbers by the chorus was Hallelujah

The great significance of the “literary society” consisted not only of the fact that a legal cultural center was created for almost all of the young Jews in Czenstochow, but also that all of the parties worked together here for Jewish culture.

In addition to the previously mentioned names, Moshe Weksler, Dwoyra Szicer, Yeta Pokula, Gordin, Yankl Kopinski, Leyzer Berkowicz and Mendlson (now in New Rochelle, New York) were active in the society, either in the chorus or in the dramatic section.

A. Peretz led the dramatic section. Among others taking part in it were: Aronowicz, Szmulewicz, Yeta Pekula, Meir Fajnrejch, Rafael Federman. Approximately 30 people belonged to the section. However, there were few women among them. The dramatic section not only produced acts, but often, mainly on Friday evening, came together in the society room and recited poems by Yiddish poets.

The first presentation of the dramatic section took place on the 6th of April 1911 in Walberg's garden. They staged Bokherim [Young Men] by Yitzhak Katzenelson and Dos Eybiker Lid [The Eternal Song] by Mark Arnsztain.

The great appearance of the “Literary Society” in public was the concert of Jewish folksongs, performed by the Petersburg opera singers Medvedyev, Rozovska, and N. Janowski, accompanist – composer A. Pontoker. Two weeks later, on the 25 of January 1913, Lira arranged a concert with the same artists.

At the same time two people came to Czenstochow who excelled in their communal work.

One was Josef Orogonowicz, a student from the famous Vilna Teacher's Institute. He was sent from the Russian public school to Czenstochow by the Russian government as a teacher for Jewish children. He was a Bundist. His first appearance in Czenstochow was a lecture about Lev Tolstoy. This was the time when Tolstoy escaped to a church where he spent the last hours of his life.

The second one was Jakov Rozenberg and his wife, whom we called “Hygenia.” He wore a beard and had the stately appearance of a [member of the] intelligentsia. He also was a Bundist. He was from Lodz. He came to Czenstochow from Warsaw, sent by a society as an official of the metallurgical factory Vulkan, where many Jewish officials, among them engineers Ratner, Eiznberg, Kisyn [and] Y. Szwarc were employed.

At the initiative of Lewenhof, Dovid Borzykowski and Hershele Feywelowicz, a group of young people with literary inclinations tried to publish a literary journal in Czenstochow. With the help of Chaim Dawidowicz and other sympathizers, one issue of Der Folk [The People] was published. The journal was edited by Lazar Kohn in Lodz.

The 70th anniversary of Zeyde [grandfather] Mendele[1] was celebrated by the literary society with an informal and intimate banquet. Because of Zeyde's weak condition, the society was not successful in bringing the dear celebrant to Czenstochow. A mimeographic copy of Sh. Niger's treatise about Mendele Moykher Sforim was sent from the Petersburg Central [office]. We sat around covered tables in an elevated mood. Local speakers spoke abut the significance of Zeyde. Hershele Feywelowicz, who was a humorist talent and knew how to create rhymes, composed a special song in honor of Mendele, which was sung by a collective chorus.

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The song went this way:

We drink another ladle
In honor of Zeydn Reb Mendele
Because it is clear to everyong
That the Zeyde is turning 70.

Oy, Reb Mendele, oy Reb Mendele,
You still write so beautifully
Oy, Reb Mendele, oy Reb Mendele,
You still write so beautifully…

Rafal Federman, being a little tipsy, recited the ode, Tsu di Shtern [To the Stars] in honor of Grandfather Mendele's great anniversary.

Lectures often took place in the Society, two of them by Rafal Federman. One was on the theme “Yiddish” and the other, “the cross.” Both themes were based on the article from Dr. [Chaim] Zhitlovsky's journal, Dos Naye Lebn [The New Life] that he published in America. A discussion took place at the first reading with the Hebraists represented by Leon Kopinski,. The second reading dealt with the question that Dr. Zhitlovsky raised about a review of the relationship with Christianity.

A smaller audience was drawn to the lecture by Chrabalowksi: “Sholem Asch, the Prophet of the Earth,” in which the type of striving by a large number of the young people to return to agriculture actually was expressed. This striving was embodied in both Zionism and Territorialism.[2]

The last and greatest achievement of the literary society was the founding of the first legal Jewish library in Czenstochow. The first sum of 100 rubles was donated by 10 members of the managing committee, 10 rubles each. All of their names are found in the minutes-book of the literary society, which remained somewhere in Czenstochow. Only [the names] Erlich, Chaim Dawidowicz, Luria, Gelbard, L. Goldberg remain in my memory.

Rafal Federman and Gelbard were designated to travel to Warsaw to buy books, Yiddish and Hebrew. Another commission had to check the books. The first librarians were Rafal Federman and Yankl Kopinski.

During the course of time Ofner, the first founder of the society and its chairman, resigned from his office. Thanks to the efforts of the managing committee to place at the head well-to-do, middle class and “virtuous” people, the office of chairman was taken by Radoszycki, a well-off wood merchant, and Beser, an owner of a large house in the Second Aleje.

At the end of the summer 1914, the Russian government closed the Jewish Literary Society in Petersburg and all of its divisions. The Czenstochow division received an order to liquidate. The members of the Literary Society had the idea of uniting with Lira. The manager of Lira then was Josefowicz. It was agreed that all three languages, Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish, would have equal rights and that a managing committee would be elected. A group, with Rafal Federman at its head, was against joining Lira. However, the majority, led by A. Chrabalowski, was for it. At the last meeting liquidating the Literary Society in the Harmonia Hall, a large majority decided to join Lira. With this began the Lira epoch of the cultural activity of Jewish Czenstochow.

Elected to the combined managing committee were: Henrik Markusfeld – honorary chairman, A. Peretz – chairman, Alkona Chrabalowski – secretary, Jozefowicz – manager, Markus Herszlikowicz, Rozenberg, Luria, Wajnsztok, Chaim Dawidowicz, Leon Kopinski, Josef Aronowicz, Henrik Szmulewicz – members of the managing committee.

The Lira represented a colorful mosaic, the assimilated intelligentsia and the well-known Dr. [Ludwik] Batawia, Zionists and the middle class youth and with them, all of the Yiddishists [supporters of the Yiddish language and Yiddish literature] of the former Literary Society. Sporadic confrontations, particularly with the manager, Jozefowicz, who represented the assimilated component, did not interfere with working together. The chorus, under the leadership of Khazan [cantor] Avraham Ber Birnbaum, sang Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish songs. In Zionist evenings and readings, Yiddishists and Zionists took part in all cultural undertakings in Yiddish.

The most idealistic among the Zionist young was Moshe (Morris) Goldberg, who later left for London. He returned from there after the First World War and arranged a branch office of a bank house in Warsaw, where he died a short time later in his youth.

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Our Lira members were: Wajtenfeld, now in Palestine, Moshe Oderberg, an influential Poalei-Zionist [Workers of Zion – a Marxist-Zionist organization], now in Chicago, Szferlkas, a sympathizer of the Zionist Socialists, Yankl Kapinski, a Poalei-Zionist, now in New York. Also active in Lira were: Sh. Chaiutyn and Lutek Gajzler. Two people who ran the buffet at Lira and served the members tea and snacks also must be remembered. One of them was Mrs. Frimorgn; the second one – Barensztajn.

Leasha Frimorgn (during the first era of Lira), Gutsha Bem, later the wife of Henekh Szmulewicz, Grabiner, Edelist, Moshe Waga and Bem excelled as male and female singers in the chorus.

One of the organizers of the chorus at Lira was Berish Dawidowicz, now in New York.

Lira was located on the corner of Dojazd and the First Alee over Bloszczinski's candy factory. The windows of the large reading room looked out onto the First Alee. The windows of the large theater looked out onto Dojazd or Stancja Street.

The great days of Lira were: Y.L. Peretz's three visits to Czenstochow.

The first visit by Y.L. Peretz took place in the spring in 1912. A solemn banquet took place after the reading in Lira's large reading room at which he read from his still unpublished folksy history. The “elite” of Czenstochow and almost all of the class-conscious Jewish young were gathered at the banquet. Josef Aronowicz greeted the people's poet in the name of the first [group]; Chrobolowski in the name of the second [group]. Josefowicz and Dr. Branitowski (dentist) led the arrangements. They drank champagne. The arrangements were exemplary. The joy and inspiration that also found an expression in song is impossible to describe.

Y.L. Peretz came to Czenstochow for the second time on Shabbos, the 21st of October 1912 to the opening of the Jewish Library in Lira. This actually was the library that the liquidated Jewish Literary Society had created. After long preparations and negotiations, the present Lira revived the library under the name, Henrik Markusfeld Library, which was led by Faytl Szmulewicz.

The tickets for the evening already had been sold out the day before. High prices were paid to be able to stand on the side.

A cabinet of books encircled with white and blue ribbon was erected on the decorated and richly illuminated platform.

The chairman of the managing committee, Dentist A. Peretz, who gave over the chairmanship to the honorary president, Henrik Markusfeld, opened the evening. Engineer Ratner, Dovid Wolfowicz, Landau and Goldberg were invited into the presidium.

Yosef Aronowicz gave a short review of the history of Lira and of the newly founded library in his opening speech. At the end of his speech, he gave a gift to the chairman, Henrik Markusfeld, from the Society: a scrapbook that was symbolic of a Yiddish book, created by the Czenstochow artist, Perec Wilenberg.

Engineer Ratner greeted the opening of the library in the name of the Czenstochower Artisan Club. Greetings also came from the young people of Noworadomsk and Lodz, from the Czenstochower Reklamen-Blat [Advertising Sheet], from the Bedziner Anonsn-Blat [Announcement Sheet] and from several Hazamirs [the nightingale – possibly theatrical organizations].

Henrik Markusfeld said that of all the institutions that he founded, Lira is the most beloved to him because in it the young are found, the source of life.

Y.L. Peretz, who took the floor after him, warmly shook the hand of Henrik Markusfeld, as a sign of approval for his words. About the Yiddish book, Peretz said that it was the duty of the library to obtain even more historical books because we know little of our history… We are spread over the entire world and the entire earth is soaked with our blood and wet with our sweat, and if you knew the history of our people, you would know that here, too, in Poland, every piece of earth, every stone is soaked with our blood and sweat, enriched with our physical and spiritual work and we are not invited guests here. We are equal citizens who have made the country rich with our effort and work and we are entitled to full equal rights as people and Jews.

Y.L. Peretz also was given the honor of carrying out the joyful ceremony of the opening of the library. The librarian gave him a gilded key on a small cushion,

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made by Moshe Weksler, and a scissors to cut the ribbon.

In the evening, Y.L. Peretz read two of his unpublished folksy stories: Shlomo haMelakh [King Soloman] and Motl Princ [Motl the Prince].

A banquet took place after the [readings] and the crowd enjoyed itself at richly laden tables and with toasts, songs and dance.

Groinem Frank decorated the room and the stage. The lighting was arranged by the electrical technician Landau. The manager of the evening was Henekh Szmulewicz, photographer. The evening made a great impression and left the most beautiful memories with all who took part.

Peretz appeared in Czenstochow for the third time on Shabbos, the 14th of November 1913.

This time his theme was his Yiddish translation of “Song of Songs.”

We read in the report of the Czenstochower Woknblat [Czenstochower Weekly Newspaper], number 41:

“The hope of hearing the translation of Songs of Songs from the poet's mouth was not fulfilled.

“Our speech is too poor; our ideas are too small for the healthy, physical beauty of the body, separated too much from the wide and free natural life, that one of us – if he is such an artist like Y.L. Peretz, can translate it into Yiddish for us. He has given us the key to Song of Songs. Today, the poet is our rebbe.

“And he sat at the table like a rebbe, a teacher and with his clear language and rich ideas, he taught us the literal meaning of Song of Songs.

“The evening was a great success and brought a great deal of inspiration into Jewish life in Czenstochow.”

Other well-known personalities who appeared in Lira were Hillel Zeitlin, Yitzhak Grinbaum and H.D. Nomberg. Grinbaum spoke on the theme: “The sum of Jewish assimilation in Poland.” The lecture was very successful and drew a large audience. H.D. Nomberg, who was born in the neighboring city of Nowo-Radomsk, also appeared at Lira with a lecture. It was after his visit to America and his theme was: “Our brothers in America.” The most important part of his lecture was: “The Jews in America distinguish themselves with their giant organizations and discipline that rules in them, with their industriousness and sobriety and with the physically developed young generation. However, even greater is their success in the general social, communal and cultural life of the country.”

Z. Segalowicz, the humorist Josef Tunkl (der Tunkler [the dark one]) and the well-known commentator Sh. Rozenfeld also appeared.

There were also readings in Lira [by] Muljakowski the Zionist activist, Luria from Lodz, about the poet Sh. Rozenfeld, Zigmund Majorczyk (pioneer from the Zionist Socialists] on the theme: “the Jewish prophets.” Y. Abramzon, the editor of the Czenstochower Togblat until the First World War, gave several lectures about Dostoyevsky. Engineer Ratner, Leon Kapinski and Josef Aronowicz also gave lectures.

During the course of time Khazan [cantor] Birnbaum left Czenstochow and Bensman, the famous musician, took his place.

In addition to classical musical creations, Bensman also was the pioneer of Jewish folk song. He taught several of the folk songs he created, such as Der Fodom [The Thread], to the Lira chorus. Under his leadership the Lira chorus changed entirely, becoming more folksy-Jewish.

Among the amateurs who played and the several who distinguished themselves in various performances were: Yeta Pokula, Dara Szacher, Feytl Szmuelwicz, Sh, Frank, Aronowicz, D. Krak, Wener, Pala Mauer (the very talented amateur), Avner, Miss Szapira, Sobol and Kramalowska.

The first sports group also was organized in Lira,

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to which Gonszerowicz, Bram, Krak and such belonged. The group organized a presentation in Lira to obtain financial means and endeavored in Piotrkow to legalize a sports union in Czenstochow. As usual, Henrik Markusfeld supported the group.

The last historic undertaking of Lira was the visit of Sholem Aleichem. While the young mainly rejoiced with Peretz, Sholem Aleichem was adored by the entire Jewish neighborhood, by every ordinary Jew. There was no room in the large city theater hall to even stand.

A large mass of Jews gathered at the train station. A downpour began just at the time of his arrival. However, the Jews were not impressed by [the rain]. Sholem Aleichem accompanied by his wife greeted the Jews in the downpour with his customary humor: “Rain means prosperity.” – he said.

The mass of Jews accompanied Sholem Aleichem to Behm's Hotel, in which he stayed.

A delegation of the young along with Avraham Wewiorka addressed him in a solemn speech, put together by Avraham Wewoirka.

Warmund, who spoke in Hebrew and for a long time, was also among those offering greetings on the stage. After this speech, Sholem Aleichem told a story of a khazan [cantor] who had a very beautiful voice. However, he had one defect, when he began to sing, he forgot to stop…

That same evening a banquet took place in Behm's Hotel. However, because of his stomach illness, Sholem Aleichem could not enjoy the prepared foods and also [made light of this] with a fine joke.

The First World War broke out a short time after this and a new chapter in communal life began in Czenstochow.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Mendele Moykher Sforim – Sholem Yankev Abramovich – is considered the “grandfather” of Yiddish literature. Return
  2. Territorialism was a Jewish movement working for the creation of a Jewish territory. It sought territory suitable for settlement by Jews, not necessarily in Eretz Yizroel. Return

Jewish Libraries

The modern movements in Jewish life and particularly in the workers' movement did not dishonor the name of the old “people of the Book.” The Jewish book occupied a place of honor in every organization, in every union and in every party.

After Emanuel Bajgele and Henekh Lapides, the bookbinders and booksellers in Czenstochow, who provided reading books for the Czenstochower Jews, came the illegal libraries of the Jewish workers' parties: S.Z. [Socialist Zionists], Bund, Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion – Marxist Zionists]. The first larger Jewish general library with literary works, but by Jewish writers and not Jewish writers in Yiddish translations, was created by the Socialist Zionists. The library was located at the house on Ogrodowa that was one of the locations for Socialist Zionists. There, the comrade from the Social Zionists, Nuta Szwarcbaum, and the Social Zionist sympathizer Berliner had an iron business. Yeshaya Lewenhof also worked there as a bookkeeper. A side room was provided in the house and large crates of books were brought from Warsaw bookstores. The books were registered in a catalogue and distributed throughout the factories, small plants and circles. The designated librarian distributed and received the books according to the requests of the readers through their representatives.



The first legal Jewish library was created by the Petersburg division of the Jewish Literary Society in Petersburg. The library took over Lira when the Society was legalized by the Czarist government.

The librarian was Feytl Szmulewicz. Over 2,000 Yiddish books were found in the library

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and over 600 in Hebrew. Forty or 50 books were exchanged a day. Seventy-five percent of the works were Yiddish originals. Of the translations into Yiddish, those mainly read were Knut Hamsun, [a Norwegian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920], Zola and Victor Hugo. Scientific books, such as natural science, chemistry, biology and so on, were read by 20 percent. Novels – 20 percent, dramas – 10 percent.

During the time of the German occupation, when Lira had collapsed and the members of differing [political] directions took its possessions – the Zionist members took over the library that continued to function in the Zionist premises on Dojazd 19.

However, then the worker movements founded their own parties' tea halls and libraries. A new library was created at the Leather Workers Union with the remaining books from the earlier Socialist-Zionist general library, the first legal professional union under the German occupation. The Socialist-Zionist stood behind this union. Later, the Education Union, which took over the library and enlarged it, was legalized. The librarians were: Chaya Waga, Ester Fuks and Sh. Landau. Smaller libraries existed at Paolei-Zion and the Bund.

When the delegates from Czenstochower Relief in New York came to Czenstochow, they brought with them a large sum of money for books. The merger of all worker libraries into one general workers' library took place under their influence. The representatives of Fareinikte [United], the Bund and Poalei-Zion took part in the managing committee.

The general library was enriched with a great number of books collected by the members of Czenstochower Relief in New York and from the TSYSHO [Central Yiddish School Organization] in Warsaw. The city hall, under the influence of the representatives of the Jewish workers in the city council, designated a certain sum of money to buy Polish books for the library. The general library was open to all and everyone who desired to read made use of it.

From its start, the library was located in the house of Nursery 2, Strazacka 10. Later, it moved to the Peretz House of the Folkshul [People's School] on Krotka 23.

At first, the librarians were Yakov Yitzhak Czarnowecki and, then, Hershl Lipszic, who was a student in the evening courses and a great lover of the Yiddish book.

On Shabbosim [Sabbaths] conversations were held in the general library with readers, particularly with young readers, on themes appropriate for them.

The report that is given here, gives an idea of the activity of the largest and most important library in Czenstochow.

A separate library, not Jewish but only with Polish and Russian books, also existed at the Trade Workers Union. Jewish readers who did not speak and did not read Yiddish used this library. After a long struggle that lasted for years, the Trade Workers Union became Jewish.


The managing committee of the Medem Library
Sitting from right to left: Y. Rozenfeld, L. Kaminski, Kh. Wilczinski, Kh. Lajzerowicz, Zamel, R. Federman, A. Perec, Brener and M. Lederman


Later, in 1926, the library merged with the Medem Library that was located at the Culture Office. The foundation stone for the Medem Library was laid by Jakov Rozenberg. Immediately after Medem's death, larger sums of money were designated for this purpose.[1] At the end of 1926 the Medem Library possessed over a thousand Yiddish books in addition to those in Polish. In 1927 the library was active every Tuesday, Thursday and Shabbos in Aleje 22 in the premises of the Culture Office.

The registration fee for the library was one zlote. A [security] deposit for a book – two zlotes. Monthly

[Page 87]

dues – 50 groshn. For young people – registration fee – 50 groshn, monthly dues – 25 groshn.

The Medem Library functioned in two rooms of the Trade Employees Union starting in September 1926.

The first librarian was Anja Manowicz. In 1938 the library functioned under the name Kultura, and was led by Rayzl Berkensztat. The library functioned illegally under her leadership during the most frightening time of the Gestapo terror during the time of the Nazi occupation of Czenstochow, until the Nazi hangmen tortured her to death. The library had a thousand readers at that time.

The general library later moved to the Second Aleje and functioned further under the leadership of Hershl Lipszic.

Hershl Lipszic, the leader of the library, wrote the following in a letter about the role of the library during the difficult years of fascist rule in Poland:

First, the city hall reduced the subsidy for the library from 500 zlotes to 200, and yet we succeeded in expanding and beautifying it externally under the most difficult conditions. Artistic pictures, portraits of Jewish and non-Jewish writers and poets decorated the walls. We created a reading room at the library, where one could find almost all of the periodic publications in the country. From time to time we arranged talks on literary themes. Thus the library became the center, which raised the courage and strengthened the spirit of the masses at a time when apathy and depression planted deep roots.

Thus with great sacrifice, the Jewish workers and young people held high the flag of the people of the Book until the last breaths of their lives. And Hershl Lipszic, the poorest child of the poorest Jewish masses, who in a cellar home had no more than a bare straw mattress on which to sleep, also perished among all the martyrs of Jewish Czenstochow.


To the libraries in Czenstochow should also be added:

The library and reading room at the Artisans' Club, which partly was founded by Henrik Markusfeld.

The library at the Artisans' School named for Adolf Bril.

The library in the gardening farm about botany.

The children at the Y.L. Peretz Folkshul [People's School] had their own children's library.

Sections for selling books also existed at the Fareinikte [United] cooperative and at the General Workers Cooperative Bund.

Translator's footnote

  1. Vladimir Medem was a leader of the Bund. Many institutions in Poland, such as libraries, were named after him. Return


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