by Reuven Yemenik
Translated by Sara Mages
When the Holocaust, which destroyed thousands of Jewish communities and most of the Jewish population, descended on the magnificent European Jewry, in that black period I lived in the city of Sompolno near Kolo. The Germans entered the city on the morning of Rosh Hashanah 5700. In the early morning hours we prayed in private homes and guards stood outside during the blowing of the Shofar for fear that the Germans would notice us. All the private prayer houses were filled to capacity. Everyone, men, women and a lot of youth, felt the fear of judgment of that day and knew what those damn Nazis were capable of doing. Everyone prayed in tears and emotions and felt the meaning of the requests - Zochreinu L'chaim [Remember us for Life], Unetaneh tokef Mi Yichye [Who shall Live], etc. On the first day, and also on the second, the prayers were held without interruption because the Germans were still busy with their arrangements and their organization in the city. After the prayer we went home separately so as not to attract the attention of the Germans and the Polish informers. The Jewish stores were open by the order of the temporary German governor.
On the Saturday after Rosh Hashanah the Germans started to catch Jews in the streets and also from their homes for forced labor. They brought them to the courtyard of City Hall and sorted them for various jobs in the city and outside it. It is important to know that then, at the beginning, before the establishment of Jewish committee and a Judenrat, absolute lawlessness prevailed in this area. Those who were captured went to work, and those who managed to hide remained at home until a Jewish Committee was organized under the leadership of Mr. Plotzki the owner of the flour mill. Later he became the head of the Judenrat and the mediator between the Gestapo and the Jews. The organizer of the work was a Jew named Vart. The Jewish Committee, who had a special building for its operation, prepared lists workers. Those, whose names appeared on the list, were notified the day before that they had to report for work in the courtyard of the Jewish Committee building. From there each person was sent to work in the city for the Volksdeutsche [ethnic Germans] or outside the city in excavation, cleaning the roads and more, and woe to the man who didn't report on that day. He was brutally beaten by the Gestapo and was forced to work for a long time even if his name wasn't included in the list. Here I have to describe the fifth day, the day before Yom Kippur Eve which, at that time, fell on the Sabbath. On this day, in the afternoon, the Gestapo announced that all the Jewish men must gather in the market square in front of the City Hall and those, who wouldn't appear, will be shot. The fear was great because no one knew what these murderers plotted to do. At the fixed hour, hundreds of men, young and old, gathered in the designated area. No one was missing. The Germans searched all the homes but couldn't find anyone. A high ranking Gestapo officer stood on the tall steps of the municipality building and next to him stood many Volksdeutsche and the new German mayor. Various papers were scattered on the table. The Gestapo officer held a whip in his hand and S.S. men, who held machine guns in their hands, surrounded the Jews. We were sure that that they will be given an order to kill all the Jews, but silence prevailed and the Gestapo officer started to address the Jews: Your dignity has ended, from today you will work with shovels and pitchforks,
those who own a store or a business must liquidate it within a short period of time, and all of you will work for us the Germans. Damned Jews! Up to now you've cheated us and sucked our blood and bone marrow. Now he poured a heap of scorn, insults and curses on the Jews who stood quietly in their disgrace without uttering a word. A member of his entourage, a Volksdeutsche, pointed at a Jew by the name of Gershon Czerniak hyd. He was a highly respected rich Jew who owned an iron shop in the market. The Nazi told the officer that this Jew cursed Hitler's name. The officer consulted with the new mayor and asked for his opinion. The latter replied that he knew Czerniak and that he was a decent and honest man. Then the Gestapo officer said that he respects the mayor's opinion, and if not - he would have ordered to kill the Jew on the spot and ordered the Jews to scatter and run to their homes The Poles, who stood around the market, laughed about what had happened to the Jews and accompanied them shouting, swearing and cursing. The Jews were saved this time. The Germans broke into the homes and with brutal beating looted everything in sight - furniture, household items, blankets, clothes, furs and everything of value. From the shops they've looted fabrics, shoes, foodstuffs, tobacco, tea and rice, and left the Jews naked and destitute. They moved the Jews to small crowded apartments and gave their apartments to the Volksdeutsche. They also took the business, shops and warehouses from the Jews and gave them to the Germans. The suffering reached its peak, there was nothing to live on and the Jews starved. There were constant searches and Jews were abducted for work day and night. In the winter of 1940 the Jews worked in cleaning the railway near the city of Konin. We worked for two days, day and night, without food or drink. We only ate what we had brought with us. The Jews sold the property that they had managed to hide to their Polish neighbors - jewelry, clothing or merchandise from the stores that the Germans closed or seized. The Jewish Committee organized small food rations of milk and sugar for the Jewish families. There wasn't a designated ghetto but the number of apartments was reduced and the crowding and the density were great. The transports to labor camps in Germany began in the summer of 1941. The first transport of several hundred young and old men to a labor camp in Germany took place in the month of Tamuz 5701- August 1941. Everyone gathered in the courtyard of the Jewish Committee and the Jews, whose names appeared on the list, were sent accompanied by policemen and Volksdeutsche to the train station in the city of Sompolno. Women and children stood around the train station's fence and their heart-rending cries accompanied their loved ones who were sent to the labor camp. The transport left for the nearby city of Kolo where they slept on the Great Synagogue's floor. From there they we were sent to Posen [Poznań] and to other camps. The second transport, that I was in, left on 9 Av 5701 [22 August 1941] and took the same route as the first. On the next day, at dusk, we arrived to Zbąszyń camp near the old border of Poland and Germany where the German Jews, who were expelled from Germany in 1938, were being held by the Germans. We were there for a day and met part of of the first transport from Sompolno. On the next day the Germans carried out a selection - some stayed in Zbąszyń and some were sent to the labor camp in Buchwarder-Forest near Posen. There, we met a large group of Jews who arrived at the beginning of the summer from Lodz. They held the various jobs in the camp like: the deputy of the camp's leader,
the heads of the barracks, the kitchen managers and the cooks, the leaders of the work outside the camp, the distributers of the work in the camp, clinic, in the barrack of those who peeled potato and more. The Jews, who arrived from Sompoln, also received a number of jobs because the camp's population has grown and the number of meals increased. The situation of the veteran Jews, who came from Lodz, had improved because the newcomers from Sompolno and other cities in the Kolo district like: Kłodawa, Dambia [Dąbie] received food parcels from home. The Jews from Lodz didn't receive food parcels because of the great famine in the ghetto. Most of the time we didn't eat the food from the camp's kitchen, and the Jews from Lodz received more food from the kitchen and also a portion from our food parcels. Most of the work was done outside the camp in the construction of the Reichsautobahn [the German motorway] which was called R.A.B. in short. The Germans wanted to build a fast road, a wide road with a boulevard in the middle, from the city of Danzig [Gdańsk] through Posen [Poznań] to Berlin. The Jews leveled the ground which passed through forests, fields, lakes, rivers, villages and cities. We worked from dawn to dusk with wheelbarrows and wagons. We uprooted trees and rocks, worked in the sand and in the earth, in the swamps and in the water. It was a hard work under the supervision of the evil German foremen, under blows, insults, curses and shouts. The Jews returned to the camp in the evening tired and exhausted and received a meager food ration of thin soup of potatoes and carrots, and a piece of bread with or without margarine. They got up at four in the morning for black coffee and a little bread, and left for work at five under the supervision of the foremen. It was a labor camp without the S.S. only elderly Germans maintained the order at work and in the camp, but the camp was surrounded by barbed wire. The commander of the camp was a German named Stupengel who wasn't mean or cruel. Unlike in other camps he didn't beat or cursed and was better than the others, but there were two cruel German foremen there. The first was Resel who was cruel and sadistic. Almost every day a Jew, who was beaten and tortured by him during the hard work, was brought back to the camp. The second was Novek. He didn't hit but he forced the Jews to work fast and didn't let them rest for even one minute. Working for him was like the hard work in Egypt. The Jews worked without rest and ran with wheelbarrows full of dirt, sand and stones. On the first day I worked for the cruel Nazi Resel, but when I saw the brutal blows that he had inflicted on the Jews I moved to work for Novek without anyone noticing it. Before sunrise, when it was still dark outside, I joined those who worked for Novek and was saved from his cruel blows. A few weeks later I became ill at work, and under the recommendation of the camp's doctor I moved to the potato peelers barrack where I worked under the supervision of a Jew named Kroshinsky from Sompolno. On Chanukah of the same year, 5702 -1942, the Germans brought two Jews from a nearby camp - an adult named Yakov Friedman from Zichlin and a teenager named Neta Piaskowsky from the city of Bełchatów. The Germans accused them that they walked out of the camp to ask for food, and hung them in front all the people in the camp.
In 5702, before the holiday of Passover, they transferred us to Küstrin camp about sixty kilometers from Berlin. There, we worked in a factory that manufactured cardboard, paper, oils and turpentine. The first shift worked from six in the morning to six in the evening, and the second shift from six in the evening to six in the morning. Relatively, it was an easier work than the work in the previous camp. On Passover, of that year I received a package and a letter from
my parents. It was the last letter because on 7 Iyar 5702-24 April 1942, they were taken by the Germans to the Christian Church and from there to Chełmno extermination camp. Then, the Germans liquidated the remaining Jews in the city of Przedecz. May the Lord avenge their blood. On 16 Shevat 5702, I received the last letter from Sompolno. They wrote me that everyone was taken to the big movie theatre near the train station, and from there they were sent for extermination in Chełmno. From Küstrin-Neustadt we were transferred to Fosstenbürg near the Oder River where we worked outside the camp until August 1943.
On Passover 5703-1943, after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Germans decided to liquidate all the open camps and transfer the Jews to camps that were surrounded by an electric fence and were under the strict observation of the S.S. We were transferred from Fursstenberg camp through the Liibbenau camp to Auschwitz where everyone received a tattooed number on his arm. I received the number 142047 with the Jewish mark, which was half a Star of David, below the number. In Auschwitz I was in the Krentin Block from August to the end of September 1942. I was transferred to Birkenau where the crematoriums and the gas chambers were located. From Birkenau I was transferred back to Auschwitz and from there I was sent to Jaworzno camp (here, I have write a lot about my life in these camps, but, this isn't the place for it). In Jaworznom most of the prisoners worked in the coal mine. The rest, about six thousand Jewish, Russian, and Polish prisoners worked in the construction of a huge power plant which was supposed to serve the entire district of Silesia, but the Germans didn't finish the construction of this plant. On 15 January 1945, when the Russians got closer the city of Krakow and to Auschwitz, and Auschwitz was also bombed, the Germans liquidated the camp, took most of the prisoners with them and retreated to Germany. Only those who managed to hide and the sick remained. After a long walk through impassable roads, forests and fields we arrived to the city of Beuthen and from there to Blechhammer. We stayed there for three days and then we were sent to Gross-Rosen - a terrible camp with all the cruelty of the Nazis. We walked under the strict observance of the S.S. who shot those who lagged a little, and the entire road was littered with the bodies of Jewish prisoners. On March 1945, we were transferred from Gross-Rosen to Buchenwald concentration camp. From there I was sent to Berga an der Elster labor camp to work in the quarry. I was there for about two weeks. After I became seriously ill I was sent back to Buchenwald together with other patients. On Wednesday, 28 Nisan 5705, 11 April 1945, American soldiers captured the camp and I was liberated on that day. After the liberation we were transferred to the city of Landsberg. A year later I moved, together with several hundred Jews to Italy, and from there I sailed on the illegal immigrant ship Kaf Gimel Yordei Ha'Sira to Eretz Yisrael. The British caught us in the middle of the sea and transferred us to a detention camp in Cyprus. After six months in Cyprus I was transferred to the detention camp in Atlit and later to Kiryat Shmuel near Haifa. After I was released from there I built, with God's help, a new home and a new life in Israel.
by Moshe Bilevski
Translated by Sara Mages
Dedicated to the memory of
My father Mendel Wolf Bilevski zl
My mother Chane Sara zl
My sister Breina zl
My sister Balzia zl
My brother Leibel zl
Who perished in the Holocaust, hyd
In general, it's possible to say that Przedecz was a city of workers and small trades who worked hard all week for their livelihood.
When Friday afternoon arrived it was possible to feel the change in the atmosphere. The Sabbath Queen is approaching!
Each family prepared its own challot and baked them in the bakery. Families, that their income was limited, ate what they ate during the week and tried, for the honor of the Sabbath, to prepare food that will bring a spiritual atmosphere to their home. Obviously, there were families who lived off comfortably and were able to afford large expensive fish, and there were families who could barely afford sardines at a cheap price, but still, they were fish for the Sabbath.
It's Friday afternoon, the housewife, with the help of her older daughters, is still busy with the last preparations. The men go to immerse in the mikveh.
The last hour before the beginning of the Sabbath is approaching, and the cholent is taken from most of the Jewish homes to the bakery. And here is Itche Kawalski, the town's Shanash [beadle], and with a wooden hammer in his hand he knocks on the doorposts of the houses to speed up those who are late with their final preparations for the Sabbath.
A tremble passes through those who haven't yet finished, fast, or, God Forbid. I will desecrate the Sabbath.
And now the Shanash is calling - Light the candles! He stands on his tiptoes at every crossroad so it would also be possible to see and hear in the high heaven how a Jewish community is welcoming the Sabbath, and it's also a sign that all the preparations have reached their end.
The appearance of the town has changed and peace and moderation reigned in all.
The housewife is wearing her Sabbath dress and her head is covered with a scarf. She lights the Sabbath candles and blesses them with great deliberation. Now, the men and the boys are leaving the house dressed in their Sabbath clothes, some in the direction of the synagogue, some to Beit HaMidrash and some to Hevrat Tehillim [Psalms society], for the Kabbalat Shabbat [welcoming the Shabbat] prayer. The streets come to new life, to life of serenity and gentleness. With darkness the Sabbath candles shine through the windows. Oh! These Sabbath candles, how much magic
and how much soul were in them. A sea of teas was shed by our mothers of blessed memory when they lit the candles. They prayed for the welfare of the home, for livelihood with dignity and the health of all the family members.
It happened, that during the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer in Beit HaMidrash one of the latecomers whispered to someone that the light was still on at the barbershop. Immediately, a number of worshipers rushed to the barbershop to punish the desecrators of the Sabbath, buy by the time they arrived it was already dark in the shop and the worshipers returned to Beit HaMidrash.
The prayer ended. At times, Reb Itche the Shanash appeared and with a hand clap on the bimah announced that the eruv is faulty and it's forbidden to take an object from place to place, or, that there are guests in town and it's necessary to invite them for a meal. When the eruv was faulty the children had to bring the Tallit or the Siddur to the synagogue, and also bring the cholent from the bakery. In addition, a single guest wasn't left without a Sabbath meal. The worshipers returned home. After the blessing of Gut Shabbes [good Shabbat] they start with the prayer - Shalom aleichem malachi ha-shalom [peace upon you the angels of peace], the same angels who accompany every Jew on his way from the synagogue. At the end, the Sabbath prayer, which praised the housewife, wasn't forgotten - A woman of valor who can find? Far beyond pearls is her value.
The additional soul, which entered to dwell in every Jewish home on the Sabbath, is noticeable. The table is covered with a white tablecloth and on it are the candlesticks with the flickering Sabbath candles, the two challot that are covered with a special napkin, a wine bottle and the Kiddush Cup which was inherited from a father or a grandfather. All these factors created a festive atmosphere at the house. After the Kiddush the family atmosphere was also felt at the table and during the meal, because for a large part of the townspeople it was the first meal during the week that the whole family sat together and delighted the meal with Sabbath songs.
At the end of the meal, and after Birkat Hamazon, the youth finds himself in meetings of the various associations. Some in Tzeirei Zion which conducted an extensive activity among the youth, some in Betar or in the Jewish library, and some walk together around the town.
They get up on Sabbath morning and the father reads Shnayim mikra ve-echad targum, and revives his heart with a cup of hot tea. And now they hear the voice of the Shanash calling - Enter the Synagogue! The little children want to sleep a little longer, but the eruv is faulty and they have to bring the Tallit to the synagogue. There were also a number of early risers who came early to Beit HaMidrash. Some study a chapter from the Talmud and some read a chapter from Ein Yaakov. At any rate, the voice of the Torah is sounded most of the hours of the day.
Until 1925 there was still a place of prayer for the Ger Hassidim in a rented apartment in the yard of Reb Yeshayahu Zelinki's house, but for financial reasons they were forced to close it. There was no shortage of problems in the Parshiot [Torah passages] Bechukotai [By my decrees] and Ki Thavo [When you enter], and during the reading of the Tochacha [verses of rebuke] they honored one of the wandering poor who agreed to be called to the Torah for a financial compensation. But, if he didn't agree, the Baal Koreh blessed the Parasha and read it to himself quietly. In 1928 the Baal Koreh was Reb Chezkel (Yechezkel) Mordechai Lenchitzki. The worshipers gathered in Beit HaMidrash for a prayer, but he was missing. They started with the Shacharit [morning] prayer, maybe he was late and will arrive by the time of the Torah reading, but the boy was missing. Someone whispered that one of his sons locked him
in his home to prevent him from reading the Tochacha, and to avoid all kinds of misfortunes which were caused by it. After the delay in the reading of the Torah they found someone who was willing to be called to the Torah for a fair monetary compensation. In addition, he was also given a cart of firewood which was promised to him by my father, Reb Mendel Wolf Bilevski, who was the Gabbai of Beit HaMidrash, and Reb Itche Weiden zl. Since then, Reb Aharon David Yechimovitz was honored with the reading of the Torah.
Occasionally, the rabbi delayed the reading of the Torah. As we know, the delay of the reading on the Sabbath was a very important way to solve unique and important community issues. When the rabbi, who usually prayed in the synagogue, appeared in Beit HaMidrash for the Sabbath prayer, we knew that something important was at stake. And indeed, after the Shacharit [morning] prayer the rabbi climbed on the bimah and informed the worshipers that he was forced to delay the reading of the Torah because there was a deficit in the education budget, or another important matter such as Hachnasat Kallah [helping a poor bride], and demanded the participation of the worshipers to cover these expenses. Reb Neta Wesrzog stood up and, as it was his custom in such cases, and promised to cover the deficit. The entire congregation joined him and promised to help to the best of their ability. Then, it was allowed to continue with the reading of the Torah and the prayer service.
In the winter, Orbienski, the blind cemetery keeper and the town's Shabbes Goy [Sabbath Gentile] passed from house to house on the Sabbath and turned on the heaters that warmed the houses on the Sabbath. On his back he carried a sack and in it he kept the slices of challah that he received from the Jews for his trouble. On the next day he received his payment in cash.
In the afternoon the youth gathered again for activities in the various Zionists organizations. The adults used the time for a short nap because - It is a joy to rest on a Sabbath.
A large crowd came to Beit HaMidrash for the Minha [afternoon] prayer.
In Hevrat Tehillim, where most of the craftsmen prayed, chapters of Tehillim were read before the Minha prayer. The cantor, who passed before the Holly Ark, was Mr. Michael Hersh Neumark who had a unique tune for the Minha prayer.
All the town's scholars came to the traditional third meal at the rabbi's house. The rabbi uttered the words of the Torah and the ritual slaughterers, R' Shmuel Yamnik and R' Eliyahu Wlter zl, conducted the singing during the meal. The Sabbath ended with the Maariv [evening] prayer, the lighting of the Havdalah candle and the blessing of A Gut Voch! [a good week], and life began to ferment again for a week of new worries
When we came home from Beit HaMidrash after the Maariv prayer, we found our mother zl on the doorstep whispering the prayer - the plea that is recited at the conclusion of the Sabbath and before the Havdalah blessing.
God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, protect your beloved people Israel from all hurt, in your love. As the beloved holy Sabbath goes away, that the week, and the month, and the year, should come to us with perfect faith, with faith in the sages, with love and attachment to good friends, to attachment to the blessed Creator, with belief in your thirteen principles of faith, and in the ultimate redemption, may it be soon, and the Resurrection of the dead, and in the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, may he rest in peace. Amen!
by Yitzkhak Ben Shalom
Translated from the Yiddish by Roberta Paula Books
© Roberta Paula Books
From time to time I walk through the town where I was born. I will tell you about one of these walks.
The Trial on Synagogue Street.
This happened a while ago, but it could have been yesterday, I can't say exactly when, I could have happened day in and day out.
It could also have happened only in my imagination. The memories churn in my head, and I can't seem to free myself from them.
A grey darkness fell upon the town, together with a stillness. It was so unusual that it rang in my ears. We heard nothing, not even the quiet conversations of the trees nor the gentle song of the wheat and other plants. The nightingale did not sing even though it was its time. There was no sign of life; however, from time to time a bat's sharp whistle cut through the light air. The town sleeps calmly. The old wooden houses stand quietly. The town sleeps, soon you will
Photo: Synagogue Street Simkha Noymark stands on the street corner during his visit to Przedecz in 1965.
strain your ears and hear the breathing of sleeping Jews after a long day of difficult work. I approach the small houses. I stride through the streets and look inside. The shutters are broken, the windows removed. The doors are gone. Everything inside is either broken or stolen, the floors and ceilings are torn apart. Even the winter oven and the kitchen are destroyed, and feathers from pillows and blankets are strewn all over. Fear peers out of every corner without face or form, just eyes of various colors and various ages, congealed in suffering and dried out, looking at you and shouting without a voice, without words, they speak, they shout, they they.
Be quiet for a moment. From afar, we can hear footsteps, a sort of song. A man strides in the middle of the street in worn out shoes and is saying something; no, he is singing, yes, he is calling.
This was Itche the Shammes (the rabbi's assistant). He is walking in the middle of the street because the sidewalks are paved with tombstones. He walks lightly as if he is swept through the air and sings. He is talking as if he is singing in his light, raspy voice. He sings the partisan hymn Never Say This is Your Final Road.
As this reverberates, people begin to appear in the streets. Entire families float about, as well as individuals from all the streets, from German Street, from church Street, from Khatch Street, from the market and the old market, hundreds, thousands stride from all around. There are now millions and all are heading to Synagogue Street. People, men and women. Old and young, and young mothers with small children in their arms, quietly filling the width of the street in an empty space near the where the synagogue once stood. Everyone is looking and waiting for someone.
Pessi the blind woman approaches, led by the blind Tzeria.
Yes, yes I know. I just want to say we have to put on trial the reason for the hatred of our people, this is what I want to remind everyone, said the blind Pessi.
Many people are standing, six million people, broken, with split open heads and torn breasts, without hands and feet, and squeezed heads. All are with burned bodies. No one is dancing here. No one is singing here. They stand deep in thought and stubbornly, quietly scream, don't forget us.
The dead song of hope rings out, Never Say This is Your Final Road.
Three middle aged people appear with grenades in their hands; it appears they died in battle, they are the leaders of a battle. Among them is an older Jew; he is absorbed in his task. His hands are on his shoulders and his mouth is moving as if he was talking.
Itche the Shammes suddenly bangs the podium and says: Jews, be quiet. The trial is about to begin.
The Jew standing in the middle stretches out his right hand and begins with these words: I have been elected to be the chief judge. I believe we are all judges, chief judges. Everyone here knows me. I lived a life of toil, like the majority of Jews, working hard for a piece of bread, for a bit of food. I lived on the street of the old market. I spent my life fulfilling good deeds, like all other Jews. All my life I judged and was a mediator for those who needed justice. My name is Mikhl Hersh Noymark. When the strange murderers brought Yom Kippur to our town, they placed me in the middle of the market and mocked me, since they wanted to humiliate the entire Jewish people.
Looking at the house of Volksdeutsche where a small group of Judenrat leaders were gathered, he turned to them and said don't stand apart from everyone. We will not put you on trial for the problems you caused due to your weakness and belief that causing pain to your brothers would protect your small lives. No no we will not try you. We will not even harm your lives, we only have pity for you.
Then he turned to everyone and continued: they strove to annihilate the Jewish people and to burn the Jewish heart. But as they burned bodies, hearts became stronger. We can put them on trial and pass judgement, but on whom? Here, we must try an entire nation that, for its entire modern history, continued to bring trouble to humanity, to culture. But how can we put a nation on trial when the whole world remained silent. With this silence, they are accomplices.
Can we try the whole world?
Too often when times are difficult, the Jews are blamed?!
Too often, the physically weak are blamed! He stretched out his right arm and continued:
May Jewish blood remain a stain of guilt and shame on all who actively and passively murdered people. May the continuous fire of all the burned synagogues burn the conscience of all who took part!
May the nonexistent ash of our burned corpses arise as a strong free nation in a free Jewish state and be a sign that the strength of Israel will not be false.
The sun comes up, flaming blood shining on our cemeteries, from the cities and towns where Jews lived and built.
A stillness, a deathly pallor in the captured lands.
by Manik Reuven
Translated by Janie Respitz
© Roberta Paula Books
Photographed by Simkha Naymark in 1965
|I knew my town
Tied together with thousands of threads
I knew the fathers, the mothers, the children
Until the day they disappeared.
I knew the sincere Jews
|I knew the small houses
Embracing as if dancing together
The simple Jews from their small prayer houses
Looking affectionately upon holidays.
And the clean tidy little houses
I knew my town
I knew my town
I knew my town
I knew my town
|I knew my town
Small, pious, calm and hearty
From all our nearest and dearest only a bit of ash remains
After the extermination in the abyss of hatred.
I knew the small Jewish children
Let my sad song serve as a monument
We must build a new life in our own land
May the blood of our beloved martyrs
Translated by Janie Respitz
© Roberta Paula Books
I want to believe that the index finger on your right hand did not sarcastically mock the imprisoned women. I want to believe that your children risked their lives to toss them a piece of bread. I want to believe that there were many good deeds. If not, why did you erect the tombstone? On the anniversary of their deaths, surely you bring flowers and wreaths, just as you did the first time you did it beautifully that time. A marble slab with an inscription. This is the grave of 67 Polish citizens of Jewish descent. And from money collected from the villagers, nice, really nice.
On the other side of the stone slab lie skeletons of brutally murdered Polish citizens of Jewish descent.
From where do you know the important resident from the village Yanikov near Inowrolaw (Inavratslov in Yiddish)? Huh, from where? The skeletons are without names. Only a small hole at the bottom part of their skull, without documents, without names, without guilt. It could be that among them there was a citizen from rich America, from mighty Russia, cold Finland, from the province and the small town Przedecz. I believe this is the grave of the conscience of the whole world which remained silent.
Yes, for sure. This is the grave of my and your sisters, mothers. Until today somewhere there is a man or woman searching for his or her mother. He lights a candle on a designated day of the year and looks into the glow of the small bloodied flame and asks, mother, where are you? Where are your remains?
You should have inscribed the following on the cold stone:
This is the grave of the murdered conscience of the world. Then, in a few years, the stone will be able to tell the story.
by Moshe Bilevski
Translated by Marshall Grant
© by Roberta Paula Books
Back in those days, in 1929, news began to reach us of bloody riots taking place in Palestine, mainly the massacre in Hebron, and we felt that we, with all our hearts, were with those there who were fighting the Arabs. We were not able to publicly express these sentiments, because that would reveal a breach in the wall of our Jewish studies. Torah studies still continued on one hand, but there were pages of the Haynt newspaper between Gemara pages, on the other. It was our friend, Ze'ev Rusk, who would bring us the newspaper he was able to pinch from his uncle, Netta Wasertzog. Even though it would arrive a day late, we could still follow the events taking place in Israel.
Then we came up with the idea that, along with our studies, we would dedicate ourselves to work for those in Palestine. However, the institutions of Agudat Yisrael, the organization we had grown up with, did not sufficiently provide us, the younger generation, what we desired. We had to venture into the unknown, meaning the ReligiousZionist Movement.
Then Rabbi Katriel Fischel Tkorsh, from Wloclawek, visited our city. He currently lived in Israel and served on the Tel Aviv Rabbinate. His speech in the home of Mr. Leibish, a longtime Mizrachi businessman, excited us and we felt that this was the path we needed to take. The Tzerei Mizrachi (The Young Mizrachi) Movement was established. Later, The Shomer Hadati (The Religious Guard), consisting of younger boys and girls. Even though Rabbi Zemelman was angered by our decision, he took solace in the fact that we remained within the ReligiousZionist Movement.
Our first steps were to distribute pamphlets of the Zionist movement and to collect money for the JNF. Remember, at that time there was an agreement between the Mizrachi Movement and the JNF leadership that all the monies collected by the Mizrachi organizations would be used only to redeem land for religious settlements.
The JNF instructed us to collect 400 zlotys that needed to be collected that year, and I am proud to say that we surpassed this amount from the first year of our operations. The blue box was found in almost every Jewish home in our city, and almost every person called to the Torah knew that he had to make a donation to the JNF. A large part of the proceeds came from the sale of the JNF calendar and making deliveries on Purim. On the day before Yom Kippur, during the afternoon prayers, when almost every Jewish home was preparing for Judgement Day, we put a collection bowl in the prayer hall, along with all the other collection bowls, with the sign, Redeem Israel. It was eventually filled with tens of zlotys, and it came from everyone, from all walks of Jewish life.
There was a special atmosphere when Simchat Torah came, and every male from the age of thirteen was called to the Torah. The message was that the donation for this important cause should not be the few grushen that one gives from his pocket for some common cause, but much more. This was a contribution for the redemption of the holy land in order to further establish a Jewish presence there. And God willing, maybe he or one of his family members will be one of those who benefits from these efforts.
The message reached every Jewish household in our city, and almost everyone who was called to the Torah on the Simhat Torah holiday donated to the JNF and its efforts towards the redemption of land in Palestine. This was considered a huge achievement for the fairly new Young Mizrachi movement. The great contribution of many adults, supporters of the movement, must be positively acknowledged,
in addition to the extensive assistance of the synagogue and study center.
While going around the city to collect donations for the JNF, we did not skip the home of the rabbi who had taught us in the past (and once said we had left for an evil culture). The rabbi warmly welcomed us, but explained that he could not personally donate to this cause for obvious reasons. However, he referred us to his wife, who provided a generous donation.
The JNF representatives among us were Itzhak Leibish Ofenbach, Ze'ev Rusk and the secretary Moshe Tshanskavesky. In the winter of 1932, Moshe Tshanskavesky and his associates were recognized by the JNF head office for their accomplishments for the JNF. I will note the assistance of some of the adults who were members of other Zionist movements and were at our side to achieve this respected goal.
In the summer of 1931, a public meeting was held in support of the JNF, in which the JNF representative Mr. Bernstein from Warsaw came to speak. He described the situation in Palestine following the riots and the need to increase efforts to redeem the country's lands. For emphasis he added, Rachel refused to be comforted, and wept for her children who were gone; and then, Rachel, our matriarch, cried on her grave for her children in the diaspora. And in order to enable more Jews to return to the Land of Israel, the first thing that was needed was the redemption of land there, and to redeem it with money from the people for the people. The contributions to the JNF increased.
I would like to especially note the Hebrew lessons given to us by I. L. Ofenbach in our hall. The lessons would take place three times a week, and almost all the young boys and girls attended.
On Shabbat afternoon, we would gather to further our Hebrew knowledge, in which we would extensively analyze the events that took place in Palestine in the previous week.
Almost immediately after founding the movement, we recognized that we still had a large amount of organizational work ahead of us, and the relatively high costs exceeded our means. We had no choice but to search for alternative sources of income. We began by distributing newspapers in the city: Yidishe Tagblat, Haynt, Letste Nayes and other newspapers written in Polish. The proceeds went to finance the branch's vast activities. Another advantage for taking this course of action was that many families, who had not had a newspaper in their home for years and were disconnected from current world events, were now reconnected. They knew they could buy a newspaper today without committing to buy one tomorrow. They bought a newspaper, which created gatherings in tens of households where the family members would read together. Many community members would gather at the afternoon and morning prayers and provide their own analysis of events taking place around the world.
The visit of Rabbi Litman from Kolo
The visit of Rabbi Litman in February 1933 was deemed a great success. Attempts made by our supporters to hold his lecture in the synagogue were unsuccessful due to the rabbi's opposition. Rabbi Litman's lecture in our hall attracted a large crowd; tens stood outside the hall to listen to him calling to increase the efforts of the Mizrachi, the Young Mizrachi and the Shomer Hadati movements. He was a guest of the Ofenbachs and for the duration of the threeday visit, the house was overwhelmed with people coming to express their support of the movement. In the elections for the Zionist Congress that year,
our movement won 70% of the vote in our city, and we credited this to Rabbi Litman's visit. This was Rabbi Litman's second visit to our city; the first time was in the summer of 1932, which also attracted large crowds who came to hear his lecture.
In 1932, I left the city and travelled to a training kibbutz in Blizyn. My parents opposed the idea, and even though my father was a Mizrachi member and was one of the most prolific supporters of our organization, he was not a supporter of my decision. He considered it a sort of adventure due to the slim chances of making Aliya. It was well known that the government in Mandatory Palestine only issued a very small number of immigration permits. However, when I arrived at the kibbutz, they sent me their blessing in a letter. My friends continued their efforts, and several more registered in similar training groups.
Then some members arrived to the kibbutz from Myszyniec. One of them was a cute girl, Liba Friedman, and after a short acquaintance we decided to marry. After we were approved for Aliya on behalf of the Center, we were married in February 1933.
In August of 1933, I made Aliya to the Land of Israel, and now I will describe my last Shabbat in my city. My uncle, Pinchas Aharon and Lipman Bilevsky and several other relatives on my mother's side came from Sompolno especially for that Shabbat. Of course, in the synagogue where I had prayed with my friends over the years, I was blessed by everyone there. Lunch on one hand, was cheerful everyone was happy for me, and I, with God's help, was grateful for being able to receive such an opportunity. On the other hand, there was my parents' distress over their eldest son leaving them. I will always remember the melancholy and happiness in my mother's eyes, a mix of both joy and sadness. However, the thought that I was travelling to the Land of Israel, the land of my dreams, prevailed, and our house was a happy one.
In the afternoon, I went out with my friends I. L. Ofenbach and Ze'ev Rusk to say goodbye to the city's residents. I went to almost every home, and when we arrived to the home of Shmuel Yamnik, the city's shochat, he apologized to my friends and invited me into the other room. There he revealed his secret: his son Yehoshua, who had been a student in a Warsaw yeshiva, had left and was now in a training kibbutz. He asked me not to tell anyone because it could harm him and his livelihood.
On Saturday night, my friends surprised me and threw a party in a large hall at the local fire department. Almost all the city's Jews were there, which again proved everyone's support of our organization and its final goal of making Aliya.
We were sure our city was on the verge of massive emigration to the Land of Israel. However, for various reasons, only of a few arrived from Przedecz (in Hebrew, Pshedets). My friend I.L. Ofenbach spent five years in the training kibbutz, but was never allowed to make Aliya; and in the end of 1934 my friend Ze'ev Rusk arrived. In the second world war, he was conscripted under an order of Supreme Council of the Jewish Yeshuv into the Jewish Fighting Brigade of the British Army. He fought against the Nazis on the Italian front and fell in battle. Eliezer Pearlmutter also arrived; he was born and educated in our city. In the war of Independence, he fought and fell in battle defending Jerusalem. In 1935, my friend Yehoshua Yamnik arrived, and then the numbers dwindled. This appears to be due, to a certain extent, to the riots that broke out in Palestine in 1936 and continued until the beginning 1939, when the war broke out. These disturbances and the Aliya restrictions enacted by the government in Mandatory Palestine put an end to my years of efforts to bring my family to Palestine.
And that was the last chance for Przedecz's Jews.
These simple and honest Jews were nationally renowned; they were supporters of the building of the Land of Israel, in their subconscious they were avid Zionists, and felt all the pain felt by our brothers in Palestine.
Unfortunately, they were not able to see the huge miracle of Israel's resurrection when the Jewish state was established. Only a few remained after the war and moved to Israel.
Where are you, my dear parents, my sisters Brayna and Baltzia, my brother Leibel, my teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Zemelman, my fellow students and Zionist activists, all the residents of Przedecz: men, women and children.
A cruel storm passed over Europe and took with it six million of our Jewish brothers, and you are dearest among them.
There is no longer a Jewish community in Przedecz (in Hebrew, Pshedets).
May their souls be bound in the bond of life.
by A. Pshaytcher
Translated by Roberta Paula Books
© by Roberta Paula Books
Like every Jewish town in Poland, Pshaytch (Przedecz) had its Gmiles Khesed (interest free loan society). Townspeople remember it having been active from 1905. Wars came and went, governments changed, headed by Russians, Germans, and Poles. In each of these circumstances, the loan society was an important factor in the town's economic life.
After the First World War, there was significant inflation and a kilo of bread cost thousands; unfortunately, the Gmiles Khesed had to close.
In 1923, economic life normalized a bit and Jews wanted to rebuild their lives. This would have been impossible without working capital loans for establishing a business. Thus, the desire to restart the institution. Thanks to a few substantial people, the bank was re-established and grew. Over the years, the fund was run by volunteers, without administrative costs.
This fund was particularly important. Anyone who needed a loan could come without ceremony or intervention by a clerk. Anyone could approach the administration and present his request.
For sure, we remember the years from 1923, on Saturday nights, right after the Havdallah service
to welcome the new week, when Reb Moishe Topolsky, its leader, and other men of substance would come to the House of Study, sit at a long table, and receive requests for loans and payments on outstanding loans. For the most part, the requests were confirmed without ceremony. Understandably, this depended on the amount of money that had flowed in that evening. More than once, someone needed a special loan and there was not enough money in the fund. Sometimes members of the board reached into their own pocket to provide the loan so that there would be no interruption in the functioning of the fund.
The foundational capital of the institution was raised from the wealthier community members, with a token contribution from the other members of the association.
This is how the institution helped all levels of Jewish society with loans, particularly small businessmen, artisans and those who travelled to the villages to buy and sell goods.
In 1935-36, when antisemitism oppressed Jewish businesses, those who had needed Gmiles Khesed loans were hit especially hard and unfortunately were unable to pay their debts. The institution, which was limited in funds, was forced to stop its activity.
In 1937, with the help of young energy, the bank resumed its activity, aided by the central Gmile Khesed in Warsaw, which was supported by the Joint, and was able to provide larger loans.
During this time, small factories were established to make socks, sweaters and other things which were supported by loans from the free loan society. The newly founded administration carried out intensive work which provided the institution with a solid base.
With the outbreak of the war in September 1939, the institution closed.
by Moishe Bilbosky
Translated by Janie Respitz
© by Roberta Paula Books
In town, there was a society to care for the sick (Bikur Cholim) headed by Itche Vaydman.
Actually, we could say that he alone was the society to care for the sick, as he was the person who took care of everything: raising money, sending a doctor to a patient in need, buying medication and taking care of the household of the sick person. If there was not enough money in the fund to pay the doctor or pharmacist, Itche Vaydman would make sure there was no delay in bringing a doctor or medication to the patient. You could also come to him to borrow a thermometer to take someone's temperature, a spray for an enema, and cupping glasses.
When someone was gravely ill, they not only called for a doctor but also a quorum of Jews to recite psalms and pray for a recovery. They would go to the cemetery and ask a deceased relative to intercede on behalf of the patient in the next world and send a full recovery. They spoke out against the evil eye. But these measures that did not require money, unlike a doctor or a pharmacist, which is where the Society to Care for the Sick played a role.
Itche did not know a lot of languages. He spoke a very broken Polish. He made an effort to talk to the Christian pharmacist in Polish, but when the Jewish doctor insisted on speaking only Polish with Jews, Itche, on principle spoke to him in Yiddish. Jews talk to each other in Yiddish he would say.
Revenue for the institution came mainly from someone wanting to say a prayer for the sick in synagogue, with a vow to contribute to the society. On the eve of Yom Kippur, after the evening prayer, a bowl was placed on the podium with a sign Society to Care for the Sick, and all who came to pray donated. On Purim, when Jews sat down to enjoy the Purim feast, two people in costumes with bells came asking for money in the name of the Society to Care for the Sick. Again, Jews would donate to this worthy institution.
There is an expression There is no poor community. From small donations, the society existed and provided useful services.
When there was a deficit, Itche would close his sewing machine, give instructions to the young girl who worked for him, and would walk about town. He knew which doors to open, and when Itche Vaydman arrived he would receive the nicest donations for the Society to Care for the Sick. He also had a few women helping him with this sacred work.
There was also a Linat HaTsedek (guarding the sick). Spending the night with a sick person was among the good deeds performed in our town. Here there was no distinction between rich and poor. Doctors would leave the patient at home, so men and women felt it was a sacred act to spend the night with the patient and care for him. Itche Vaydman contributed to this as well.
The Sabbath Torah parsha Vayira is particularly sacred to the Society to Care for the Sick. In this parsha, the angels come to visit Abraham our forefather when he is sick. All pledges made on this day, whether in the synagogue or the Study Hall or the Psalm Society, would go to this worthy cause.
The burial society would joke with him that, after he had lived 120 years, they will take revenge since he was a spirited competitor! Their activity was thanks to the angel of death, whom Itche and the Bikur Cholim Society would often chase out of town.
Blessed be the memory of Itche Vaydman and of those who helped him in this sacred work.
We cannot end the memoir about the Bikur Cholim society without describing Itche Vaydman the person.
Itche and his wife Esther did not have any children. He ran a workshop for women's tailoring. The young women apprentices were treated by him and his wife like their own children. Above all he loved children. By nature he was quick, a quick talker and walker. But when he met a child, especially a school boy, he would stop and have a chat, and you could really see how much he enjoyed this.
He spoke loudly, you may have thought he was shouting, but when you got close you could tell the words were coming straight from his heart.
He was no great writer, but everyone's needs were written deep in his heart. He had very little free time. He was also the manager (Gabe) of the House of Study, which was situated
near his home. In the winter, when it was cold outside, snow or a frost, poor, destitute wanderers would come to town and spend the night in a hostel (Hachnose Orkhim) or in the House of Study. Itche would not go to sleep until he was sure the oven was good and hot, often doing it himself. He made sure these itinerants who had a difficult life would not suffer from the cold.
Everyone was familiar with his home. Anyone who needed a doctor, medication or those who wanted to donate in his holy work knew where he lived.
He was no great scholar, but he was passionately observant. People who had known him for a long time said that in his youth he had been an enthusiastic member of the Jewish Workers Party. However, he disagreed with their methods on how to achieve their goals and broke away.
Many people called Itche Yellow Itche. He was a Loibitzscher Chasid. Two or three times a year, he would visit his Rebbe and return and tell about his visit and how he received a blessing from him to be healthy and continue in his benevolent work. This gave him courage, and he would return to his sacred mission with even more energy.
May the memory of Itche Vaydman be blessed.
For his deep, great love of people, his compassion for human suffering and his constant readiness to help those in need.
The murderers from the master race destroyed this great magnificent life.
May God avenge his death.
by A. Pshaytsher
Translated by Marshall Grant
© by Roberta Paula Books
After the First World War, there was no banking institution that could assist merchants, tradesmen and shop owners who needed loans to continue their operations.
In general, the economic situation in those times was unclear. The frequent rise in prices drove many businesses to close.
When the situation improved a bit in 192425 and the zloty returned to a realistic value, the need for a financial institution was felt; an institution that could provide loans to the city's Jewish residents.
Even though there was a charity fund, whose loans saved Jews from hunger many times, it was based on philanthropy and limited to what it could provide in the face of the growing demand.
Top row standing, LR: Yaakov Wolf Klar, Itsche Weiden, Avraham Eliah Prochovesky, Lazer Zichlinsky, Herschel Vishinsky
Second row, LR: Gershon Lazer Heltreich, Moshe Levkowitz, Haim Claudevsky, Kapal Saika, Moshe Tapalsky, Moshe Rauch, Nachum Ribinsky, Mendal Wolf Bilevsky, Yosef Tapalsky
Third row LR: Esther Pullman (Sochachevsky), Moshe Aaron Weiden, Shabtai Oppenbach, Yehiel Tapalsky, Moshe Sochachevsky, Netta Wasserzog, Natan Skobronsky, Shimshon Zichlinsky, Hinda Toronchek, Wolf Rusk
In 1926, the Ludoby Bank was established, and it was managed by Netta Wasserzog, Natan Skobronsky and Moshe Tapalsky.
Moshe Sachatchavesky headed the institution, which was a branch of Dezenith. Due to the fact it provided a great deal of the initial funding, the bank was required to report its activities and submit annual reports for control purposes.
Loans of up to 500 zlotys were provided, all according to banking criteria, and with the cosigning of two city residents who were approved by the bank.
Since its establishment, the institution was located in the upper floor of Rabbi Shmuel Abba Avrmovitch's home. The first employees of the bank were: Esther Sochachevska, Ze'ev Rusk and Hinda Toronchik.
The bank's activities included issuing securities, thirdparty payments, and, mainly, the provision of interestbearing loans.
The bankers worked hard and faithfully fulfilled the objectives undertaken towards its members. There was vibrant activity every day; some paying deeds, some paying loans. There were instances, due to varying circumstances, when the deed or loan could not be repaid on time. The bank's administrators always gave an option to extend the payment deadline, and there were even times when a new loan was provided. In 1936, due to the circumstances of the time, the bank had to close its doors. It never succeeded in renewing its operations.
by Yamnik Ruven
Translated by Janie Respitz
© Roberta Paula Books
Young memories, old dreams, do not stop splashing in your thoughts, and disappear and reappear in various episodes and experiences in this small birth town Przedecz, or as we called it, Pshaytch. Who among us does not remember the small Jewish town where we took life's first steps, where we planted the first roots of our future lives. Who does not feel it deep in his soul when he remembers or just says the word Pshaytch, and let out a heart wrenching sigh and a hot tear when we remember the barbaric way the entire Jewish population was annihilated by the Nazis and their collaborators. Unfortunately for us, the small remnants of the town that remained is not Jewish Pshaytch, even though it continues to exist on the Polish map, but for us it no longer exists. It has continued its existence without any Jews
The town of Pshaytch (Przedecz) is situated in the western part of Congress Poland, a part of Vlatslavek district in the Tarner province. It was a small, quiet town with approximately two hundred and fifty Jewish families, numbering approximately one thousand three hundred of the total population of five thousand.
The town stood off to a side, not on any rail line and not near any major highway. There have been Jews living there for about 700 years, but we don't have an exact date as we are missing official documents. In any event, it was the oldest town in the region. It received its order as a city from King Kazimierz the Great in the 14th century. During the same century, a fortress was built by the king on German Street which served as protection for the king's military in town. The fortress later became
a German church in the 18th century, which we remember until today, with its large round tower and small windows all around.
The First Jews in Town
Where did the first Jews settle in Pshaytch (Przedecz)? According to how the town was built, we can boldly say they settled on Synagogue Street. Those chased and tormented Jews that arrived built the most necessary Jewish institutions: the ritual bath, the society to recite psalms, which was their first prayer house, and the cemetery. This is how Synagogue Street came to be built. From the records of the burial society, we know that many Jews were brought from surrounding towns to be buried in the Pshaytch (Przedecz) cemetery since the younger and smaller towns did not have a cemetery of their own. We remember there were very old tombstones in our cemetery, half sunken in the ground dating back to the 13th century.
The Environs of Pshaytch (Przedecz)
The neighbouring towns that bordered with Pshaytch (Przedecz) were: Klodawa, 8 kilometers away to the south and on the main railroad. To the east was the town of Dambrovitz, 12 kilometers away. It was a very small town with a few families. Their last rabbi was Rabbi Moishe Drakhman, of blessed memory a son-in-law of the rabbi of Pshaytch Rabbi Berish Menkhe, of blessed memory. He came from Lubin, a small town near Wloclawek (Vlotslavek in Yiddish). To the north was the town of Chodecz, 13 kilometers away and to the North West was the town of Izbica Kujawska.
The Villages Around Pshaytch (Przedecz)
The villages surrounding Pshaytch (Przedecz) were inhabited exclusively by Christians except for the village Ribne where a few Jews lived. There were large forests and a saw mill to cut wood which belonged to a Jew, Moishe Berman, of blessed memory. To the south was the village Gures which, in the hot summer months, served as a summer resort where Jews would rent rooms for their families from village farmers and spend a few weeks in the fresh air of the large pine forest. The children partook in many amusing activities.
To the east and north of the town were long and wide wheat fields and large orchards with a variety of fruit trees. To the southwest were swamps caused by the nearby Yedz River. We would dig out peat from the bogs and use it in the winter to heat the houses and the ovens.
The Yedz River
The western part of town, and a portion of the south side lay on the Yedz River. It was not a flowing river, it was stagnant water. The river was filled with a variety of fish and plants. Before Shavuot the boys would pick green reeds to place in the windows, as the custom was to decorate homes with greens for the holiday. What did the river not do for the Jews of Pshaytch (Przedecz), youth and children? on Rosh Hashanah after the evening service all the Jewish men and women, big and small left the prayer houses with their prayer books under their arms and went to the river to say Tashlich, when pockets are shaken out into the river to symbolize casting of sins. Before Passover the Rabbi and his Hasidim would go down to the river and draw water (called our water), put it in a barrel and bring it to town to make Matzah.
|Leyzer Zikhlinsky's House|
This Matzah was baked with song and devotion. The water would stand in the barrel all night (that is why it was called our water), in other words, water that spent the night, so that it would not be too cold for making matzah. The barrel was covered with a white cloth to keep it Kosher for Passover.
In the winter, when the river would freeze, there were great expectations. The frost made the river look like a shiny table, and it was used as an ideal sports facility for sledding. We would chop a hole in the ice. Fish would jump out for some fresh air, and we would catch them in buckets. The river was calm, never stormy. We swam there in the summer. For the Jewish women, the river was a blessing. They would bring their laundry to wash and bleach in the river. The banks of the river were filled with women and children all summer long. The laundry, after washing and bleaching, was clean and white. They would bring food and drink for themselves and the children and spend many hours. The children played and their joyful laughter could be heard from far away. Their task was to bring water in buckets and spray the laundry spread out on the grass. There was no shortage of work, and mothers and their children were happy.
North of our town on the road to Chodecz, about 7 kilometers away was the village Szatki (Tseti In Yiddish). That was where the small railroad was which we called clumsy, which connected the town to the city Wloclawek (Vlotslavek in Yiddish). The city merchants used the railroad to bring their goods from the city or to export their products and manufactured goods as well as wheat. Pshaytch (Przedecz) did not have a big train. If one needed to travel by train, he had to go to Kshevate, a village just past Klodawa about 12 kilometers away. That is where the large rail line was which connected our town to the rest of the world.
The Orchards and the Fruit Sellers
The orchards in the surrounding villages provided livelihoods for the Jews of our town. Right after Passover, Jews would rent the orchards from the Christians and moved there for the entire summer, until all the fruits were picked from the trees. They had to do this to ensure
the fruits would not be stolen. They lived in wooden shacks. When the fruit was ripe, they sold it to merchants from the big cities of Kolo, Lodz and others. Entire families worked hard all summer in the heat, rain and storms. Living in these wooden shacks, they did not sleep or eat as they were used to, and with a bit of luck, scratched out a living.
Now lets take a walk through the town that once bubbled with Jewish life, raised beautiful Jewish children in an atmosphere of culture, love of life, with Jewish schools, prayer houses, ritual objects, workshops, and business which were all suddenly eroded by Hitler's deluge and cruelly extermination. We begin our walk at the home of our rabbi, the last Pshaytcher (Przedecz) rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman of righteous blessed memory. His house served as his residence as well as a court house and served as a beacon for all Jews of Pshaytch (Przedecz).
The house was the second half of the House of Study and had served as the rabbi's house for previous rabbis; Rabbi Oyerbakh, Rabbi Blum, who later became the rabbi in Zamosc, near Lublin. After him it was Rabbi Goldshlak Yehoshua Dovid, who became the rabbi in Sherpcz (Sheps), and the last, Rabbi Zemelman with his wife and eight children. He had his private residence here as well. All community and religious matters were concentrated here, as well as all meeting of the synagogue council which handled all important matters like ritual slaughter, charity institutions, the ritual bath, the bank, the house of prayer, learning institutions as well as other issues. In the court house, judgements were passed involving established members of the community. The rabbi would make peace among them and settled their disputes. Here he would also answer religious queries about chickens and cattle, and would give a class on Torah commentary with the finest Yeshiva students etc. In the yard they built a long annex with a few rooms and a Sukkah with a roof which could be opened with a string. The branches to cover the Sukkah lay on the floor all year, so it was always ready for the holiday of Sukkot. In the annex there was a school for girls called Beyt Yakov. It belonged to the Learning Institution for Girls founded by Mrs. Soreh Shenirer of blessed memory from Krakow and existed throughout Poland. Also in the annex was a Yeshiva (religious high school) for boys who studied with teachers and the rabbi. There were also boys from other towns who came to learn. They ate their meals in some of the wealthier homes. All day until late at night
you could hear their voices coming from the House of Study and the Yeshiva. There was a custom to stay up all night on Thursdays and study until dawn when it was still quite dark. They would then go to Reb Mendl Wolf Bilbasky to buy a fresh bun and together have a feast. In the morning after prayers they would go home, but shortly after come to Rabbi Zemelman for a class from 11:00 1:00. In the evening before prayers and at night after prayers the boys would review the rabbi's lesson together in the House of Study.
Now we arrive on Synagogue Street which is inhabited almost exclusively by artisans. How many memories awaken in me about this street, even after all these years. Many young apprentices felt connected to this small street, which we called the Synagogue Street. The oldest street in town was wide and short, paved with round sharp stones. The sidewalks were paved with the same stones, just smaller. The houses which were small and low with pointed roofs were crowded together as if they were old people being held up to prevent falling. Could you see such a street in other towns? The windows were small, the doors were low, and various sized shutters with spread wings from both sides.
|Mordkhai Poyzner's house|
The shutters were lacquered, painted in a variety of colors, brown, yellow, green, white and others. The air was filled with a variety of food smells: cooked stews and fried onions mixed with the smells of smoke from the high chimneys and the sounds of children laughing and crying, as well as noises from sewing machines, banging of shoemaker's hammers, because artisans live in these small houses. Hard working Jewish tailors, hat makers, saddle makers, shoemakers, fruit sellers, village peddlers, and many other Jews would worry about earning a living, staying healthy, marrying off their children, and other problems. In the evening when the air was heavy inside the homes, people sat on their front stoops or on benches. Women sat and talked with their neighbours. The men went to the House of Study for evening prayers, children played games. Some climbed the chestnut trees. Friday afternoon the Jews went to the ritual bath to immerse in honour of the Sabbath, and Friday evening and holidays Jews went to pray. Saturday morning and holidays, especially Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the mood was elevated. Jewish women, our mothers and grandmothers, wearing wigs, long dresses, some still wearing their wedding dresses, went to synagogue with their husbands, carrying their prayer books under their arms. The men carried their prayer shawls and prayer books and during the High Holidays wore long white coats. You can hear the beautiful holiday prayers coming from the synagogue. On the High Holidays you can hear the choir as well as the blowing of the Shofar by the ritual slaughterer Reb Shmuel Yamnik. Children ran around the synagogue and filled the air with their little voices. You can hear the wailing of the women from the women's section of the synagogue as they ask God with supplications to grant them a good year, health and livelihood. When the prayers ended, the Synagogue Street filled up with men, women and children walking home with the hopes God heard their requests for a good year.
Nearby Warshavska Street, which we referred to as House of Study Street was also inhabited exclusively by Jews, mainly artisans and most of the Jewish institutions could be found there. Of course there was the House of Study and the rabbi's home. In the yard was the Yeshiva, the Beyt Yakov School for girls, the hostel, the Jewish court and community house. The house of Reb Itche Vaydman was an institution unto itself, as it housed the Society to Care for the Sick, repair shop for holy books and other important things. The Ludavy Bank was also situated on this street under the management of
Mr. Moishe Sokhochevsky and his staff, in the house of Shmuel Abba Abramovitch. Betar was also there the Revisionist organization led by the hard working activist Shloimeh Yisakhar Engel. Across the way in the large yard belonging to Khaim Zamer was the town slaughter house for cattle and fowl, a sanitary establishment for those times. Also in Khaim Zamer's yard was the pharmacy of the Christian anti-Semite Grushtzinsky. The Jewish doctor Avrom Diament also lived there. The religious Zionist organization Young Mizrachi was also there. All the institutions were concentrated on Warshavksy House of Study Street. All Jewish cultural, economic and communal life in town flowed from this street.
We are now in the center of town, the marketplace called Pilsudukiega Place. It was paved with small round stones and the sidewalks were paved with the same stones. To the north there were a few Jewish businesses including Leyzer Zikhlinsky's grocery store and Binyomin Frenkel's iron business. To the south was the City Hall, butcher shops and the Fire Hall. From there, the street led to the river. There was a water pump in front of City Hall. The pump had two large wheels which were turned in order to draw water. It was well known in town that this pump had the best water and people came from far away for this water. In winter, when it was very cold, the pump was wrapped with sacks and straw to prevent it from freezing. Often, this did not help. When this happened we poured a few buckets of water from above and this helped to retrieve water.
City Hall was a two story building where city council and administration sat. Jews were also represented in the administration. Next to this were the butcher shops which were rented by Jewish butchers the brothers Khaim and Mordkhai Goldman. Next to them was the Fire Hall, which was also a two-story building. The upstairs was used for entertainment and cinema, and downstairs was used for fire fighting equipment and the fire wagons.
Every two weeks, on Monday, there was a fair at the marketplace.
The fair was loud and noisy. Artisans and merchants would display their goods. People from our town as well as nearby villages would come to buy and sell their goods.
During the Nazi occupation, one of the saddest events for the Jewish population occurred on this spot. This is where the cruel act took place of cutting of Jew's beards and forcing them to lie in the mud and pour water from the pump on their shaved heads. They ordered a Jew to stand under the pump and two others were forced to turn the wheels and pour water on his head. All the Jews there had to witness this. They kept them there, soaking wet, for the entire day. They were forced to run around and were tortured. Our Polish neighbours stood by and happily watched this spectacle. At the same spot, women and girls sat and picked the grass from under the stones, under the supervision of the Volksdeutsch. Here at the marketplace, Rabbi Zemelman was forced to carry heavy wooden planks on his shoulders,
Photographed by Prof. Brand on his visit to Pshaytch in 1965
from the lumber warehouse on Chodecz Street.
There were other large and small streets, some with more and some with less significance, but they were all built in the same style. The population was mixed Jews, Poles, and Germans who once all lived peacefully together, although always with a bit of envy of the Jews. However this was not displayed until shortly before the Nazi war. This is when they started anti Semitic schemes from the boycotts of Jewish businesses and slogans which included; Don't buy from Jews, Beat up Jews, Jews to Palestine and others. They also picketed Jewish stores, not allowing Polish customers to enter. The Jewish economic situation worsened when the Jews who travelled to the villages to buy and sell, and there were many, were faced with horrible chicanery and beatings. Their livelihood was destroyed, as well as the fruit sellers in the orchards, as they were now forbidden to lease orchards from the Christians. At night their lives were at risk due to the thieves and thugs. Even in good times it was difficult for the village peddlers to earn a living. They left their homes before dawn when it was still dark outside and returned home in the evening. Their lives were more difficult than the lives of the market merchants. They had to walk far distances, often threatened by village dogs. Many were actually bitten. They endured bad weather, frost, snow, storms, rain, heat and winds, as well as other problems they faced at the hands of the Christians in the villages, just to be able to eke out a living. Many times they would only have dry bread for themselves, their wives and children often it would happen that if the head of the family, the village peddler would get sick. His family would remain without food and destitute. This was how the majority of the Pshaytch (Przedecz) population lived. When we remember it today, it is hard to understand how they lived. This is how things were until the outbreak of the war, when everyone was annihilated by a variety of cruel death methods. There were also middle income Jews, merchants, businessmen, artisans, each with his own business, each with his own worries and never with any overabundance. They never strove for luxuries and helped each other out as much as possible. But for everyone, when the Sabbath and holidays arrived, they forgot the difficult days,
the hardships of trying to earn a living. They went to synagogue or the House of Study to pray or to listen to the rabbi's sermon. At night on weekdays between the opening and closing of evening prayers they would listen to fine words and parables from a travelling preacher. Such individuals would come often to our town to collect money for an institution or sometimes for themselves, a needy bride, a ransom, or just to earn some money. The preacher would receive permission from the rabbi to go up to the pulpit. He would begin with the words My teacher and gentlemen or Dear Jews. He would quote from the Torah, provide parables and talk from his heart so people would support him. He would end with the words Zion will be redeemed. He would go down from the lectern, take a candle and stand by the door. All the Jews exiting the House of Study would give him a donation. There were fine Jews in our town. They were hardworking, pious and sympathised with another's hardships. They worked very hard in order to feed their large families. Start with our own Rabbi Zemelman, and around town according to where they lived, Lovers are not separated in life and death. So it is that Jews lived here for hundreds of years, generation after generation passing from father to son, with religious feeling, love for the Land of Israel and hope for better times
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