The kehile [organized Jewish community] of 30,000 Jewish souls in Czenstochow, with the exception of a small remnant, shared the fate of the 3,500,000 Polish Jews and of the six million Jewish victims of Nazism and Fascism in Europe. Yet our book, Czenstochower Yidn, was not conceived as a stone matseyve [headstone] at the cemetery of Jewish Czenstochow, but as a Book of Life. We held as a duty the writing of this Book of Life about all of the generations and layers of the Jewish population that struggled and created our home city. The memory of Jewish Czenstochow was sanctified on a thousand layers by the martyred death of our brothers and sisters.
Our Book of Life, Czenstochower Yidn, is also our Book of Lineage. The neighborhood of Czenstochow that Jews built and inhabited is now either utterly ruined or settled by non-Jews. A large number of institutions that were the pride of the Jewish kehile most likely will be taken over by strangers. All the Jewish streets, all of the Jewish houses, all Jewish institutions belong to us. We will always take pride in them and honor those who created them.
We are aware that this book in not in any way complete in every respect. Some of the communal movements and institutions in Czenstochow, as for example, the Zionist movement with its many branches and the religious institutions, were not handled with the necessary thoroughness. The abnormal conditions in which the preparations had to be made for this
book, the destruction of the authoritative people who would have been able to give the necessary information, is the only reason for the blanks. Our sincere intention was to record the memories of all of the innovations of Jewish life and creativity in Czenstochow without distinction as to its direction.
A consolation in our great misfortune is that large numbers of people from Jewish Czenstochow immigrated in time to America, to Eretz-Yisroel, and to other nations during the course of dozens of years. Everywhere they created their organizations, assisted in the development of Jewish life in the nations in which they now lived; they, who with generosity always supported their brothers in their old home, took upon themselves the great responsibility of publishing this book, Czenstochower Yidn, through the United Czenstochower Relief Committee. This book is also joined with the sacred work of fraternal aid. The income from this book will be used for the aid and building fund for the survivors of the Holocaust from our home city. Let us here express our great thanks and recognize our Czenstochower landsleit [people from the same city or town] in America, in Eretz-Yisroel and in all of the other countries who exerted themselves, sparing no effort or money, in order to see that this book saw the light. They all share a portion of this book and they deserve much pride and reward.
Let this book, Czenstochower Yidn, help still more to bind our landsleit all over the world as an integral conscious community among our severely tested people. Let this book be a reminder that the Czenstochower Jews will not give up the struggle for the survival and happiness of the Jewish people.
Abraham Yakov Senzer
Yakov Ber Silver
Yanakl Kopinski (Kopin)
However, a history of a Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] in Poland is also more than an isolated fragment of the history of the settlements in the country. Each kehile was an important Jewish cultural center, not only with its wonderful traditions, but also because of its unique significance and its role in the life of the Jewish people. Each kehile possessed its own individuality that was a product of peculiar, specific development over the course of many generations.
The Czenstochower Jewish kehile shared the suffering and joy, the struggle for survival and the struggle for the cultural ascent of the entire courageous community in Poland. However, it possessed its own characteristic physiognomy, its peculiar charm and its proud consciousness about its own great achievements. Although much smaller than the Jewish kehile in Lodz, the second largest Jewish community in Poland, it displayed so many similar traits in its historical evolution and in its social-economic and cultural structure that it can rightly be labeled as small Lodz. Lodz counted barely one Jewish arendar [tenant farmer] family at the end of the 18th century and in 1931 the kehile consisted of more than 200,000 Jewish souls. At the end of the era of old Poland, seven Jewish families were counted as inhabitants in Czenstochow and on the eve of the Second World War, a robust kehile of approximately 30,000 souls was there.
In Czenstochow, as in Lodz, the Jewish population grew with the rise of industry in the city and consisted in great proportion of factory workers. Both relatively young communities
were not able to cite any lineage of old synagogues and houses of study, Torah geniuses and followers of the misnagdim [opponents of Hasidism] and Hasidim. Therefore, they were able to grow with the wonderful achievements of the Jewish entrepreneurial spirit, economic initiative and energy and with impressive accomplishments by Jewish workers and the common people in the areas of professional and political struggle, as well as in the area of modern Jewish cultural institutions. While Jewish Czenstochow was small Lodz and not large Lodz, it merged the attributes and virtues of being an industrial center with hominess and a warm, intimate atmosphere of a medium sized Jewish community. The geographical position near the German border also had an impact in that Czenstochower Jews, in general, were more enlightened than Jews in other medium sized communities in Poland. Czenstochow, as a Jewish community in an industrial city of middle size, was substantially unique in Polish Jewry.
The first hundred years of the history of the Jews in Czenstochow is one chain of persistent, courageous struggle against legal decrees for the right to live and reside in the city. In ancient Poland, the small Jewish community, a sub-district of the neighboring brave kehile, Janow (Janowa), took the first stance against the feudal, clerical state and city administration that according to law did not permit Jews to settle in the city near the Bright Mountain [Translator's note: The hilltop monastery of Jasna Gora, where Czenstochow's famous Black Madonna is located]. Under the Prussian occupation, a ghetto for Jews in Czenstochow was legalized, although the poor Jews who did not pay taxes also had to use every means possible in order not to be thrown out of the city as a useless element. In the half feudal Kingdom of Poland, the ghetto in Czenstochow was like those in a series of other Polish cities, officially recorded under the better sounding name, Jewish District, and except for a few rich individuals, the Jewish population was squeezed into several narrow and dirty alleys.
With the reforms of Count Wielopolski in 1862, a new era began for the Jews in Czenstochow as well as in the rest of Poland. The struggle for the right to live in the city ended. However, the no less difficult struggle for economic existence, for a place in life, remained.
One is simply amazed when one reads the history of Jewish industry in Czenstochow. Without significant capital, without professional training, without any support from the Czarist and later Polish governments, Jews in the city built almost all intermediate-sized and small industries (the large factories belonged to foreigners, mainly Belgian and French firms). Young Jews, who received their entire education in houses of study and who would later, as manufacturers, interrupt the work in the evening in order to go to the small synagogues for the Minkhah-Maariv [evening] prayers with their workers, built entire branches of new industries toys and fancy goods, celluloid and paper, mirrors, paints and a series of others. The Jewish manufacturers who themselves had only once smelled a Leipziger cathedral, or a German factory*, had their production exported not only all over Russia, but even to the Balkans in competition with German manufacturers. Unlike Lodz, this industry not only had Jewish owners. Jewish workers from the back alleys of Szika Street and Jatka Street, Teper Street and Kasza Street contributed to the ascent with their toil and sweat and with their experience and proficiency were part of this impressive industrial rise, no less then the Jewish entrepreneurs with their
*[Translator's note: in other words, the Jewish manufacturers may have visited larger cities but were provincial.]
initiative and agility. With heavy work, from dawn until late at night, through 12 and 14 hours a day, the Jewish workers men, women and even children, who barely reached the work table, built up jobs for themselves and for the entire working class of the city. Many manufacturers who became wealthy through the work of Jews, later closed their factory gates to Jewish workers. That is how a condition came about that even in this significant industrial center, most Jewish labor was squeezed into the traditional Jewish trades of tailor, furrier, cap maker, shoemaker, butcher and baker.
The old shtetl with its colorful, old fashioned appearance remained almost untouched under the layer of modern capitalist industry and wholesale trade. Haim Leib Szwarc's writings about the New Market in Czenstochow on the threshold of the 20th century describe the Jewish second hand goods dealers, fruit traders, herring and kasha [buckwheat groats] shops; with the stands of earthenware pots, bowls, baskets, chests, beds, closets, lime, string, lokhshn-breter [wooden boards for rolling out noodles] and graters on a Tuesday market day; with paint shops, cloth merchants and haberdasheries; Jews with small wagons and package carriers the writings recall the fairs of Sholom Asch's Shtetl, in just the way his sellers of lemonade, skullcaps and the Kopls and the Shaya Stopes and Nakhum Yankls are blood brothers of Sholem Aleichem's Motl Peyse der Khazan's [Motl Peyse the Son of the Cantor]. A world of energy and a love of life bubbled among the petty bourgeois masses of shopkeepers, traders and craftsmen.
The awakener, the organizer and the leader of the Jewish masses, both economically and politically and in the cultural realm in Czenstochow, as in all of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, was the Jewish working class. Not forgetting that Jewish labor was splintered among small factories and workshops, and perhaps because of this abnormal condition and difficult national oppression, it showed a revolutionary spirit and energy for struggle like the neighboring established proletariat. The Czenstochower Jewish working class in the revolutionary years of 1905-6, organized by the stubborn, systematic work of enlightenment at illegal discussion meetings in the forest and at the cemetery, in the synagogue and in the tea house, appeared as the recognized, leader of the Jewish masses in the city. The Jewish workers played a very important role in the struggle against czarism, not only with systematic political education, but also by organized struggle against the police (attempted bombings) and their underworld helpers.
A specific feature of the Jewish socialist movement in Czenstochow that lasted until the end of the First World War was the supremacy of the S.S. [Socialist Zionists] (Territorialists). A. Charabolowski notes in his section on the S.S. Party that the proportional strength of this party in Czenstochow was not only a result of chance, but because it possessed a series of leaders such as Dr. Ahron Singalowski and Dr. Josef Kruk. The geographical location of Czenstochow was important here. As a border city and an important point for passing emigrants, there were auspicious conditions for the growth of the worker's party that inevitably placed the regulation of emigration at the center of its program on the Jewish question.
After the failure of the 1905 revolution, the political and professional movement of the Jewish worker's unions (Poalei-Zion and the Bund) in Czenstochow dwindled, just as everywhere in Poland. Therefore, all legal possibilities were used for cultural work at that time. In 1911 the Jewish literary society joined with the Lira and carried on cultural work with the combined strength of worker activists and democratic Zionist intelligence, and it is worth recording as an example of the rise of secular Jewish culture in Poland. A dramatic section, choir and sports circle, public readings by prominent lecturers (Y.L. Peretz) and the first public Jewish library this was the means by which modern Jewish culture was built in Poland after being under the yoke of Czarism. The local Yiddish press that began to publish before the First World War was also an important cultural achievement, as an organ of struggle against assimilation and to make the Jewish masses productive.
Thanks to the high state of enlightenment of the local community, Czenstochow was one of the rare Jewish communities that was not satisfied with its earlier productivity, although it was substantial in this field. The gardener school (farm) and the artisans' school that were founded on the threshold of the 20th century educated proficient agricultural workers, locksmiths, carpenters and wheelwrights. After the First World War, many of the graduates of both schools emigrated to Eretz-Yisroel and with their specialized abilities helped to build the Jewish nation.
Philanthropy was with reason a discredited institution in communal life. Yet, in the Czenstochwer Dobroszinoczsz (the Polish name for a charity), a positive example was achieved with Jewish communal self-help, initiative and energy. In addition to the organization of emergency help, of an old age home and orphan house, this society built a hospital in 1913 that was exemplary with its most modern accommodations and divisions for all fields of medicine.
This is how Jewish Czenstochow struggled, built and created under the yoke of Czarism until the First World War.
The First World War and the German occupation brought extraordinary desolation and need to the Jewish population in Czenstochow. Local Jewish labor again turned out to be the most agile and most responsible strength in Jewish communal life. Taking advantage of the new legal possibilities, professional unions were created in various industrial sectors. The worker unions also included, those who organized self-help institutions for the Jewish masses, such as a people's kitchen, a bakery, a children's home and who developed cultural work around a newly founded reading room.
The condition of the Jewish masses in aristocratic capitalistic Poland was determined by the changed political and economic conditions in the country. Legally, the Jews in Poland were citizens with equal rights. We also see in Czentochow how the changed legal conditions led to the development of a strong and widespread Jewish professional organization; the middle class organized itself in a respectable artisans club. A Jewish educational system was built with two children's home, two public schools, evening classes for
workers and a Hebrew-Polish gymnazie [high school]. A large Jewish library grew and the Jewish sports movement spread.
Although formal deprivations ended for Jews, the difficult economic conditions and, chiefly, the anti-Semitic reaction in the country also greatly oppressed the Jewish population, as in the time of Czarism. In Czarist times, particularly from the beginning of the 20th century, the fresh wind of the upcoming liberation was felt. In independent Poland, one watched with concern and anxiety how the [rightist] reaction grew increasingly strong from year to year. As a result, although Jewish communal and cultural life broadened and grew in size, the zest and the self confidence of the work before the First World War was missing. With the deepening of economic need and the sharpening of the political reaction, the level of Jewish cultural life also diminished. It is enough to remember that in the last years before the Second World War that in Czenstochow in the Jewish educational system in the Yiddish language, barely one children's home was supported with great self sacrificing devotion.
The pogroms that the Czenstochower Jews lived through, the pogrom of 1919, a kind of omen for the brutal anti-Semitic course of the newly founded Polish government, and the second in 1937 that cast a dark shadow of the coming Hitler devastation, were a sorrowful symbol for the condition of the Jews in all of Poland in the era between the two world wars.
The brightest time in the history of the Jews in Czenstochow, as in the history of all of Poland, was during these 20 years with the extraordinary activity in the political realm. The Zionist movement spread widely and was strengthened with the growth of the national consciousness of Jewish citizens and, in particular, of the petty bourgeoisie. Class consciousness among great masses of Jewish labor found its expression in the growth of the movements of the proletarian parties.
The former S.S. reorganized as Fareinikte [United] and then as independent socialists, lost even more of its former positions in 1938 when they were dissolved by the government powers. The strongest Jewish labor parties were the Bund and the communists. The left Paolei-Zion, the heHalutz movement [Zionist pioneer movement] and Hatzeir Hashomer [Youth Guard, a Socialist Zionist youth group], which dominated still wider circles of the Jewish young people, developed as a bridge between Zionism and Socialism. The Czenstochower young people entered a glorious page of the highest human idealism with their blood. Dozens of Jewish socialists and communists languished in Polish jails for years because of their struggle for the liberation of the Jewish and Polish people. Many Czenstochower young people gave their lives on the fields of Spain in the struggle against Franco's fascist Falanges. At the same time, dozens of Jewish young people from Czenstochow left for Eretz-Yisroel and, with their sweat and blood, dried up swamps, irrigated deserts and chiseled out new roads, in order to prepare the way for the old-new national home of the Jewish people. All of them, the halutzim [pioneers] and shomrim [volunteer patrols], right and left Paolei-Zion, Bundists and communists, later, in the dark hour of Hitlerist destruction raised their hands against the deadly enemy and they fell together in heroic struggle for the honor of the Jewish people.
A book about Jewish Czenstochow would not be complete if it did not include an account of the activities of Czenstochower people throughout
the entire world. The feelings of connection to the home city is particularly strong among Czenstochowers and wherever they emigrated, they organized themselves at first as a group with the purpose of coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Poland. In Eretz-Yisroel they majority of the approximately 2,000 Czenstochowers organized themselves into their own organization. In faraway Argentina a union of Czenstochower landsleit [people from the same town] has been active for approximately two dozen years. Here in South America the landsleit organization of Czenstochowers is so strongly united and so vigorously active that they can serve as an example for many other organizations of the same character.
The Czenstochower Jewish community suffered the horrible fate of all of Polish Jewry. There, where in the course of 200 years the Czenstochower Jewish community worked, struggled and created, there are ruins sown with ash and blackened, burned bricks. In the hellish ovens of Auschwitz and Treblinka, 50,000 Jews from Czenstochow and its surrounding shtetlekh [towns] breathed out their last breath. The chapters about the frightening agony of death of the Jewish community of Czenstochow that are collected in this book are a very important contribution to the history of Jewish martyrdom under the Nazis: using the same vile system as in every large Jewish community in Eastern Europe, using the same devilish plan that the Germans carried out in Warsaw, in Lodz, in Bialystok and in Vilna, in Kovno and in Lemberg [Lvov or Lviv], they little by little exhausted the Jewish community in Czenstochow; first with hunger, torture and yellow patches; then the second stage the imprisonment of all Jews from the city in a large ghetto jail; the liquidation of the ghetto and leaving a small ghetto in order to squeeze out the last working strength of the starving martyrs; the last act the annihilation of the remnant in the ghetto.
However, the history of the Holocaust of the Czenstochower Jews is not only a megilah [scroll] of blood and tears, but an epic of Jewish heroism. Czenstochower Jews have shown that they are worthy brothers of the immortal Jewish heroes of the ghetto uprisings in Warsaw and Bialystok. The fighting courage of the sons and daughters of Jewish Czenstochow was erased.
If Jews in Czenstochow have recorded an important chapter in the history of Polish Jewry, they are immortalized in the history of the Jewish people, in general, by their heroic fight against the Nazis.
We all wish that the small number of Czenstochower Jewish survivors, who show so much energy and devotion to reconstructing their economic and cultural position, will withstand the storms of the fascist anti-Semitic wave that tried to drown the new Poland in Jewish blood. May they live to see happy times in Poland and not need to leave their home city, obliterating every trace of a Jewish community in Czenstochow. However, as the fate of a renewed Jewish community in Czenstochow is not inevitable, may the spirit of the 200 year Jewish history in the home city not go for naught for the Czenstochowers: the history of our own home city must be a source of inspiration, a reservoir of strength for the Czenstochowers across the world in the fight for a happy Jewish people in a liberated world.
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