by Nisan Veltzman, Haifa
Translated by Sara Mages
After many years I return, in my mind and imagination, to our Hebrew school in our town of Kutno. I try to pass before my eyes the figures of my beloved teachers and neither the mind, nor the emotion, can perceive that, indeed, they are all gone, because they were all destroyed by the Nazi murderers. The school, its teachers and students, the Hebrew and Zionist atmosphere that prevailed in it, was a precious asset for us all. Its leaders, teachers and students protected it, nurtured it as much as they could, and not once it was necessary to breathe life into it because its financial situation was never satisfactory.
All the teachers pass before my eyes starting with my first teacher, Rachel Riftin zl, who married the teacher Yitzchak Schorr. However, Rachel Riftin wasn't only a teacher, she was also the school's secretary - a role that involved administrative responsibility for the school. And here is the young teacher, Priva Trunk, and her brothers - the sons of the town's rabbi. And after them appear before my eyes the teachers: Peled who was elegantly dressed and always clean shaven, the serious teacher Tzintzinatos with his wild hair, the teacher Mrs. Feinberg who was fair-haired and graceful, the teacher Horowitz, the teacher Fluger and her husband Czechi, the teacher of Hebrew subjects. After my emigration to Israel I corresponded with them for many years, and deep ties of friendship bound me to them. And here is the teacher, Mintz, who taught Latin and also served as the school's principal, the teachers Rosenbusch, Prust and many more.
Of course, we were boys like all boys in schools around the world. Mischievous, at times lazy, squinting at a friend's notebook during a test, teasing girls our age, sometimes pulling the braid of a graceful girl, or just provoking them to cover up our embarrassment at the age of adolescence. And the truth must be told, that the teachers impression of our behavior was not always satisfactory, and there were also misunderstandings between us and them because, after all, we were young boys like all the boys of the world. At this age we didn't always know to appreciate the importance of seriousness in the teachers' eyes. Nevertheless, there was a partnership and identification between us and the teachers regarding the school, because it was our school, the Jewish and Zionist, which, in addition to its purpose as a school for the study of general subjects, instilled in us the
love of people and the love of Eretz-Yisrael. It educated us to values of pioneering and Zionism. In all ways they sought to educate us to be Jews with Zionist consciousness, for immigration and self-realization. The teachers not only fulfilled their obligation at school, they also met us after school, in group activities, in the preparation of celebrations, in plays and in many other activities that were not included in the framework of their regular work. They invited us to their homes for talks, for a joint reading of a newspaper from Eretz-Yisrael, etc.
In school, they demanded appropriate achievements from us because we had to prove ourselves more than the Poles in order to please the Polish government commissioner. And indeed, we tried not to disappoint the teachers and to achieve the required level, and we managed to do it well.
However, we always we felt that we were strangers in this country. This is not our country, its holidays are not our holidays, its flag is not our flag, and also the green field is theirs, and the river and the forest, even the playground and the ice skating rink are not ours!
We had ill-feelings toward the gentile children, especially on the days of their national holidays, when their national pride was expressed in attacks on us, provocations and beatings.
We found some consolation within the walls of our school. There, we found a good word from our teachers, or an encouraging and friendly smile whether thanks to academic success, or even because of the shortening of the school day during the winter due to the lack of coal for heating the classrooms. We had nice days at school during our holidays - on Chanukah and Purim. Queen Esther avenging the oppressor of the Jews, the Maccabees, liberators of the people and the homeland, were exemplary figures of fighters for the dignity of the nation and its freedom. After all, we did not imagine that the Maccabees' plot would return quickly in our time! We went to the forest with a bow and arrow, Lag BaOmer is a holiday for children. The Lag Ba'Omer trips have given us a lot of satisfaction and pleasure. Preparations for the trip began before Passover and many plans have been made on how to spend this day. The teachers did their best to make our trip pleasant. They told stories, prepared games, and even told us jokes. Indeed, it is not for nothing that this day is etched in our memory.
We also took longer trips, not only to the forest about six kilometers away. We reached Warsaw and Kraków as well. However, it was not easy to make such a trip because it was involved in great expenses and not every father was able to bear the expenses of his son's trip to such a remote city. However, the trip to Kraków, after the death of Marshal Pilsudski, is engraved deep in my memory. It was an unforgettable experience. Indeed, it is possible that, here and there, the students did not always observe the forma and the proper behavior of schoolchildren, because the trip enabled us to loosen the daily discipline and helped us to unload some of the burden. However, it seems to me that the teachers understood our spirit and forgave us. The trip was a topic of conversation for a long time and our experiences were also written in the school newspaper.
The number of students in the school was never great and
financial distress accompanied it throughout its existence. At the beginning of the year teachers and students hoped that new students, who graduated from elementary school, would enroll in our school. Although, a quiet competition for the title of outstanding student took place between the old and new students but, with that, we wanted them to join us because every new student made it easier for the school's financial distress. Many left school and did not complete their studies because they could not afford to pay the tuition despite the discounts they had received.
Toward the end of the year, the tension and anticipation of the certificate receiving ceremony increased. Many were disappointed (they deserved more), but accepted the judgment with a peace of mind and were even encouraged by the unexpected good grades. With the certificates we burst out laughing! The great vacation has arrived! Now we can unload the burden! We will be free! But the longer the days of freedom continued, the boredom increased, and in the depths of our heart we asked - may the long-awaited freedom will come to an end and we can return to our school which, indeed, was not one of the most luxurious, but it bestowed upon us from its spirit, and many thanks are owed to it by all those who, in their youth, have studied there.
by Efraim Veikselfish, Tel Aviv
Translated by Sara Mages
Now only the memories remained, memories bathed in childhood dew, the glow of youth, the end of life and staring glance of childish eyes.
Here is my mother zl standing in the morning by my bed, handing me the clean clothes she has prepared for me for school and urging me to get up so I would not be late for my studies. I take the book bag and I'm already on Karolewska Street. The street is like every day. I meet on my way the same figures that, every morning, at this fixed hour, make their way toward the Gur Synagogue, to Kleiner Gerer Shtiebel. As is their custom, Chaim Yakov Welter and Chaim Rabe stand next to their shops and, as usual, joke about someone or something and their faces express their satisfaction. As I pass by one of them, he lets me pass only after a pinch on my cheek as a sign of affection they imprint on me and the redness is staying on my cheek all day so that I will not forget their love for me and so it repeats every day, they pinch, and I let out a scream in pain as a token of gratitude for their expressions of affection
After I manage to leave them, I approach the empty lot next to the school. Here, there is still enough time for the students to snatch a light game until the teachers arrive. Suddenly, the bell rings. The principal, Klaper, appeared! All the children are franticly pushing towards the classrooms.
School number 3
I do not remember exactly the year our school was opened, but, according to the documents that are in Mr. Shlomo Elberg possession, the school was established in the years 1916-1917
thanks to his hard work, his stubbornness and energy. However, I do not remember its early years because I have not studied there yet, and I only remember the period of my studies.
Then, the classrooms were scattered in two places in the city. Some were housed at the Kovet house and the others were housed in the school building on Kociuszko Street. Our classroom was already equipped with modern equipment as in the Polish schools. When our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Kuzchnyak-Altman, entered the classroom we received her with the Polish song, Kiedy ranne wstaj¹ zorze, as demanded by the Polish Ministry of Education in those days.
Indeed, many boys wanted to acquire a broader Jewish education, but the Hebrew school - Am Ha'Sefer - was the only Hebrew school in our city and it could not absorb all the students. Therefore, many of them flocked to our school which also provided Hebrew education in addition to the general education of elementary school. The level of study in our school was high and the teachers demanded a lot of the students. As a result, many elementary school students were easily accepted into high school. There was a pleasant and serious atmosphere of study in it since the students studied diligently, with interest, and its discipline was exemplary. In addition to the studies, the students showed great interest in other fields: they published a student newspaper, Chaiyanu, and also founded a dramatic club which performed during Chanukah and Purim. The club was organized by the teacher Taub who, in addition to teaching at our school was a member of the Zionist movement, taught Hebrew in evening classes, organized the Berk Joselewicz Association, and also taught the Bible and Talmud. I remember that during one of his classes Rabbi Trunk, the government inspector of schools and the principal of our school, suddenly visited us. They sat in the classroom and listened to his lesson. Afterwards, Rabbi Trunk told him that he was very pleased with his teaching and explanation. As noted, the teacher Taub was also a loyal Zionist and made sure that his students were educated in the Zionist spirit.
On one of the days of Lag BaOmer, which was dedicated to the festivities of the youth movements, we asked the principal of our school, Klaper, to release us from school for this day, but he did not approve our request. Also the intervention of the teacher Taub in this matter did not help. All we had left was to leave for the forest without permission. The next day, on Lag BaOmer, as we passed in a procession, in unified rows next to the school, the principal, Klaper, stood there and registered all the students who participated in the trip and were absent from school... When we returned to school the principal did not allow us to enter the classrooms, adding mockingly maybe today is also Lag BaOmer. After the intervention of the parents, the counselors of Betar and our teachers Taub and Szaszewiec, the incident was eliminated and we continued our studies. Since then the activities of the youth movements have been uninterrupted, and we no longer had to act underground in fear of the evil eye of this principal. Klaper perished in the holocaust together with all the city's Jews.
The teacher, Taub, was one of the teachers who were not natives of Kutno. They arrived to our city after the First World War and easily integrated in the life of our city. They were the teachers: Chapchewicz, Apelast and Altman. They were loved by all, students and parents alike. We were proud of our teachers because we loved them and appreciated their dedication to teaching and to their students. The teacher, Chapchewicz, the mathematics teacher, knew everything about the lives of his students, he took an interest in them and took care of their safety. The teacher, Altman, came to us immediately after his service in the Polish army. He integrated in the city's life and also married the teacher Kozniak. They were involved in the Jewish community. Both survived the Holocaust. Today they live in Israel and continue teaching.
The teacher, Kozniak, was an excellent teacher and educator and knew how to endear her subjects, history and literature, on her students. She survived the slaughter, immigrated to America and recently visited Israel. The teacher, Tatz, who was also a good teacher, taught us the Polish language and its grammar. She perished in the Holocaust. May her memory be blessed.
And last but not least, the music teacher, the only non-Jewish teacher in our school. He was a Christian and much can be told about him and his help during the terrible days that haunted the Jews of our city. He was a Righteous Among the Nations. More than once he went to the barbed wire, which surrounded the ghetto, to bring to his students, and their parents, a little food or something of other value that the unfortunate Jews needed during their terrible distress. He suffered together with the Jews and wanted to help them in every way.
Linat Tzedek and Bikur Holim
Linat Tzedek occupied a distinguished place among the Jewish institutions in Kutno. Its activities were supervised by Avraham Yehudah Zendberg, May God avenge his blood. He acted and activated others for this institution. Even though there was a list of volunteers, who were assigned to sit in shifts by the hospital bed, each case was referred to Avraham Yehudah Zendberg, and he arranged for proper arrangements for the patients. The medicine storehouse and other medical equipments were also found in his home. There were also different types of medicine in his home to help the patient to recover after his illness.
It should be noted, that Linat Tzedek was active before the First World War. It was headed by Yonatan Meirentz who was in charge of distributing aid to the sick. He referred the patients, who had contacted him, to private doctors.
Indeed, the people of our town have always known what mutual assistance is, generously supported every patient and the institution Linat Tzedek.
by Abraham Kolski, Haifa
Translated by Sara Mages
The Jewish Organization for Physical Education in Kutno was nonpartisan and this fact enabled all young people, from all walks of life and all parties, to join it. This organization took care of the physical education and, to a certain extent, also the spiritual education of the Jewish youth in our city. The organization established two orchestras - one for strings and the other for wind instruments, a choir, a sports club, and gymnastics and sports groups for children, youth, women and also men. There were teams for soccer, handball, basketball, etc. The athletic equipment for all groups was acquired thanks to the volunteer work of its members.
The organization had active members and supporters. The latter, of course, were the elderly and the adults who supported us with various financial donations, provided assistance to the management etc., but they rarely practiced sports. The younger ones, the youth and the children, were very active in the various groups and in gymnastics.
In order to finance all sporting activities, as well as the payment of the salary of the gymnastics and sports instructor, the conductor of the orchestra and choir, and in order to cover the current expenses of the administration and the teams (the income from membership dues was quite limited and insufficient to cover all expenses), we were forced, from time to time, to rent the hall to various bodies who almost covered our expenses. In addition, we also organized evening meetings on a cup of tea, and dances accompanied by our orchestra. The meetings and dance evenings were attended by youth from all walks of life. However, all these activities were not enough to finance our expenses, so we also served as agents and brought stage bands, organized concerts, lectures, etc.
The organization held gymnastics and sports evenings twice a year: on the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. These sports evenings were very successful because they were performed with great precision and grace. They left deep impression on all those present and served, for a long time, as a topic of conversation among all the sports fans in our city. However, apart from the success and the athletic value of these operations, they also served as a source of financial income that we needed so much.
We also organized sports competitions between our teams and other teams, Jewish
and Christians, local and non-local. In 1933, we were also privileged to host an Israeli group that came to us from Tel-Aviv. I don't remember if it was a group of Maccabi of Hapoel. The appearance of the group from the Israel made a huge impression in our city and in all the surrounding towns.
On Lag BaOmer our organization appeared in an impressive procession through the city. We walked in perfect order, our uniforms glistened in their purity, the orchestra played and our blue and white national flag was carried at the head of the procession. Our performances on Lag BaOmer left a deep and pleasant impression on all the spectators - Jews and Christians alike. The Poles were not used to seeing Jewish youth marching with confidence and pride, youth who aspire to straighten their back and no longer be ridiculed by the gentiles. It was a youth prepared for every effort and sacrifice in order to raise the respect of the Jews in their eyes and the eyes of the gentiles alike.
May these few lines be a memorial to the members of the Jewish Organization for Gymnastics and Sport in Kutno, a memorial to a healthy and vibrant Jewish youth who was cut off in his youth by the Nazi murderers and was not given the right to live his life.
May their souls be bound in the bond of everlasting life.
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