by Dr. Shmuel Shpan
Translated by David Schonberg
Wolf Getzler was not a child of Tarnow, as he wasn't born there and he didn't grow up there. Nevertheless he was a citizen of Tarnow in the best sense of the word. During the 30 years in which he lived in the town (from 1906 till his early death in 1939) he achieved great popularity, recognition and regard from the whole population, especially from amongst the poor classes of Jews.
Wolf Getzler was born in 1877 in Jaslo, where his parents Mordechai and Fradl lived. They had a small ironware business. They were not well-to-do people but they weren't close fisted at all in regard to their son's education, so that he would have a good grounding in Jewish learning. He was sent out to learn in various Yeshivos- to Krakow, Kortshin [Krotoszyn] and Bardejov. The parents wanted that Wolf would grow up to be a learned, Orthodox Jew, even a Rabbi, as in his young years he had shown great talents and he readily and quickly learned.
These wishes of Getzler's parents were partially fulfilled as though he didn't become a Rabbi he absorbed a great deal of Jewish learning and most importantly, he was deeply filled with Jewish faith and throughout his life he strictly observed all the mitzvos [stipulations] and Jewish customs. Though Wolf Getzler was a religious Jew through and through, he was not at all taken with religious fanaticism. Exactly the opposite, he had a full understanding and respect for secular studies and also for non-religious people, as long as they were honest.
Mostly what shows this is the fact that his only daughter completed university studies and one of his sons, though he learned in the Tarnow kloyz and wore a velvet hat and a long black robe (the style of dress that was adopted by young people in Galicia, of Hassidic parentage), at the same time at home he received lectures in the framework of gymnasium education and after matriculation, he went to study to
Berlin, learning there both in a polytechnic higher school and in a Jewish religious seminar. This was all done in accordance with the wishes and with the knowledge of Wolf Getzler. Already from his earliest youth Wolf Getzler was enthralled with the Zionist idea, becoming an active member of the Zionist organisation and one of its most ardent followers.
After coming and fully settling in Tarnow Wolf Getzler started intensive activity to promote [spread/propagate] the Zionistic idea amongst orthodox youth and also amongst older religious Jews, which in those times was not a simple task as it might seem today, as he had against him the anger [rage/ fury] of fanatics who were more readily shocked at Zionism than at apostasy [casting off Judaism].
The striving to improve the material circumstances of the impoverished classes in the Jewish population and also the wish to enable poor Jewish children to receive some education [learning] was the main concern of Wolf Getzler. To this goal he founded in Tarnow the Zedakah association which, out of the funds that it collected, paid out to elderly people and those unable to work monthly support. Thanks to this, Tarnow Jews were freed from the scourge of what was called beggarliness [destitution] and the younger, those capable to work, were given the possibility to carry out productive work, instead of begging in the streets. Wolf Getzler was also a member of the directorate-board of the Talmud Torah and thanks to his efforts this association received a specially built two-storey building with large airy rooms, where Jewish children could learn - instead of how it was till then, in dark rooms of dilapidated small-houses. Besides this, he helped a great deal that the study program in the Talmud Torah be changed, and in place of the old, inexperienced melamdim [teachers- instructors] there were taken on younger people who had also an idea about pedagogy [education science].
With the democratisation of the Tarnow Jewish community Wolf Getzler became a member of its board-directorate and later even held the position of vice-president of the kehillah [i.e. community] administration. Also in this position he did everything to bring aid for the needy in the community.
In the harsh times of the Hitler occupation Wolf Getzler did not stop taking care, with the possibilities that were, of Tarnow's poor population. Testimony of that time tells us that in that day when the Hitlerite murderers ordered 10,000 Jews into the market-place, sentenced to death, to kneel with raised hands, amongst them was Wolf Getzler. Destiny was that Getzler was not to be further subject to the inhuman suffering and from a heart-attack he fell down dead on the ground. In the same time some Jews who were nearby on their knees, notwithstanding the threatening danger, took [snatched] his dead body
and carried it away to the Jewish cemetery, where it was brought for burial, not in a mass-grave but in a special tomb in accordance with all the Jewish customs.
In such a way did the Tarnow Jews express their gratitude to one who had showed such goodness and was the pride of Tarnow Jewry- Wolf Getzler. He who, while living, had so strenuously upheld all the Jewish customs and mitzvos was also brought to kever Yisroel [to Jewish burial] in accordance with the Jewish law.
In Zvi Ankori's Chestnuts of Yesteryear (Gefen, 2003) at pp. 324-325, the circumstances of Getzler's death are described in a similar fashion:
On September 7, 1939, Getzler found himself under German occupation and, on June 11, 1942, the day of the first murderous German akzia (action), he kneeled, as ordered, alongside ten thousand of his brethren and comrades-in-sorrow on the pavement in the Rynek, exposed to the whips of the Nazi soldiers who that day slaughtered about half the town's Jewish population. And yet: the Lord of Death, who works in mysterious ways, took pity on him and stilled his heart before the tyrant's hand could deal him a death's blow. His companions in the back rows, at their own risk, dragged their leader's body out- and brought Wolf Getzler to proper burial in Tarnow's Jewish cemetery.
by Dr Avraham Chomet
Translated by Gil Stamberger
In Austrian Galicia prominent Jews were the first leaders of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). In addition to the main leaders such as Liberman, Hecker, Diamand, the brothers Drovner, the PPS in every larger town had local leaders who were Jewish. After the creation of the ZPS (Jewish Socialist Party, aka Bund) in the first years of the 20th century the number of Jews in the PPS diminished. With the growth of the Jewish national consciousness within the Jewish streets in Galicia the Jewish intelligentsia found their own path and joined the ranks of the separatists. The segment that did not find its place in the Zionist camp either in the Poalei Zion or in the general Zionist organisation joined the ZPS. The inflow of the Jewish intelligentsia and Jewish workers to the PPS stopped completely. The Jewish working person and the Jewish intellectual already had their own Jewish parties where they could live their lives and fight for their own ideologies and did not need the PPS.
Yet, a few individuals remained stubbornly devoted to the PPS. In Tarnow, Maurycy Hutter belonged to that group. He remained in the PPS and did not join the ZPS. His alliance with the Polish Socialist Party however did not lead him away from Yiddishkeit, which was deeply rooted in his soul. The Polish Socialist, Maurycy Hutter had always been a good Jew and he showed this in various ways. He believed honestly that Socialism meant a liberation for all the tormented and oppressed therefore also for the Jewish poor. His socialism was free from party control and party political considerations. He was educated in socialist thought and for him Socialism was a creed, a belief. His brand of socialism was meant to solve all unsolved problems of the Jewish poor. His socialism was not built upon theory, rather it came from inside him and filled his whole being.
Maurycy Hutter had, in reality, never struggled against Zionism. In his political and social activities on the Jewish streets he had been a natural ally of the Zionist social and political activities in all the daily questions of Jewish life and existence.
The basis of his Socialism was to improve the needs of poor people, Jews as well as Christians. He had felt and seen the great failure to recognize the needs of downtrodden Jews and therefore he dedicated himself entirely to the Jewish poor. His philanthropic approach to Socialism did not permit
|Maurycy Hutter in a May 1st demonstration in Tarnow.
On his left is the Socialist deputy to the Sejm (Polish Parliament) of the Tarnow election district Adam Cialkasz.
him to look for an answer to the specific aspects of needy Jews. He did not understand that the Jewish worker in Galicia and later in Independent Poland lived in unfortunate economic conditions. This required one to analyse and propose a solution for the struggle of the Jewish masses in Poland so they could achieve a full national existence. For Maurycy Hutter the Jewish Problem simply did not exist.
As a Polish Socialist, he did not become estranged of Yiddishkeit in the national or even in the religious sense. Becoming a leading Polish Socialist in the Tarnow did not prohibit him from becoming the president of the Jewish Progressive Temple Society (Translator note: Reform Judaism) which had its own synagogue in Tarnow with an organ, its own choir and its own rabbi. And he himself was never absent on the High Holidays and could be found among those that prayed in the synagogue. He was strongly attached to the Jewish masses, particularly with Jewish craftsmen and in general, with the Jewish folkpeople. Maurycy Hutter did not serve any dogmas. A complete mentsh, a humanist who always acted in the way his Socialist conscience and his Jewish heart dictated.
By profession Hutter was a photographer and he had his own workshop on the Krakowska Street. The Jewish poor knew the address of Hutter's workshop; especially those in need. Those with an eviction order, those with an executive order, those with an issue for a magistrate or another functionary came to him. One could meet all of the needy at any time of the day in Hutter's photography workshop. He had a group of lawyers who he could refer clients to for specific problems. The lawyers who received a note from Hutter accepted the job without complaints and without any payment. They represented and defended Hutter's clients impartially, or wrote the necessary legal documents or applications for them.
Hutter's Yiddishkeit also expressed itself in the fact that he always participated in the activities of the [Jewish] Community in Tarnow. Hutter, one of the highly regarded leaders of the Polish Socialist Party in Tarnow, had been for many years, until the Holocaust of Tarnow's Jewry, been the president of the Association of Craftsmen, Yad Kharutzim, in Tarnow.
He held a high position in the PPS for the local council. During the elections to the [Jewish] Community he had achieved first place of the list of Yad Kharutzim. His name attracted votes in the Grabówka (Translator note: Jewish working-class neighbourhood in the eastern part of Tarnow) and in all Jewish streets where the Jewish poor lived. It was difficult to compete with him in campaigning. He did not hold any large election meetings or campaign events. It was his hundreds of clients, whom he took care of throughout the whole year, who served to garner much support for him
and voted for him in large numbers. He had been a keen competitor both as a Socialist and as a Jew especially to the Bund (Translator note: Jewish Socialist Party) which had its headquarters in the Grabówka neighbourhood.
In the Community he always made an effort to maintain his independent position. It did not serve him to become involved in general Jewish questions or social questions with the Zionists. In the City Council where he was a member for the PPS he did not once engage in issues that went against his Jewish conscience and at the same time he considered himself to be a representative of the Jewish poor.
His Yiddishkeit, his activity in Jewish societal and communal institutions, did not reduce his stature and popularity in the circles of Polish [i.e., non-Jewish] workers, who organized in the PPS.
In the May 1st demonstrations, he always marched in the first row together with official leaders of the PPS in Tarnow. In all local and national institutions, the PPS sent Maurycy Hutter because he was met with the highest regard everywhere and his ideas were taken under serious consideration.
He was a complete mentsh, an honest community leader who throughout the whole day dedicated himself to the benefit of others, like a father to the poor Jews. On top of this he lived alone in difficult material conditions.
Hutter's son made Aliyah to the Land of Israel before the Second World War. Who does not remember the pride of this leader of the Polish Socialist Party when he read to us Zionists the wonderful letters that he received from his son in Eretz Yisrael?
Later, Hitler's thugs took control of Tarnow and the Gestapo began their campaign to persecute Jews. It began with the destruction of all the synagogues and prayer houses. Soon afterwards, Hutter left Tarnow and moved to Eastern Galicia. When the Soviet-German war started he did not manage to escape deep into Russia. His life was ended by Hitler's henchmen. One of the most beautiful personalities of Tarnow's Jewry was killed tragically. Honour to his memory!
by Zev Kimel
Translated by Gil Stamberger
He joined Hano'ar Hatzioni in Tarnow relatively late, when he already was already known in the world of sports as Gotek, the table-tennis champion. He chose this pseudonym for the simple reason that as a pupil in the gymnasium [high school] he could not officially belong to the Zionist sport club Shimshon and at this time, his name often enough appeared in the sport pages of the Polish press. Over time, he reached significant successes in his sports abilities. In a period of six years, he won the championship in table-tennis five times in Poland. As a representative of Poland, he participated in the international table-tennis competitions in Baden (Austria) and in London. He also showed great promise as a tennis player. Two times in the years 1937 and 1938 he won the award in the tennis championships of the province of Krakow. The award was presented by the mayor of Krakow, Kaplinsky. It was expected that he would win the award for a third time in the future.
At the age of 16 years, he joined the Zionist movement. It was not an accident which brought him there. He chose this path consciously he actually became one of the most dedicated and best-known members of the Hano'ar Hatzioni branch in Tarnow.
When I got to know him closer Milek's character and conduct were a surprise to me. I thought that this uncommonly handsome young man, renowned and popular in the circles of the sportive youth, the winner of many competitions, would be conceited or self-satisfied. But Milek was very humble, not spoilt, as one might fear due to spending time in the company of much older colleagues of the sport club. These was no sign of pride in him. On the contrary, more often one felt that he had a permanent lack of satisfaction with himself. He had big intellectual aspirations. In high school he was a brilliant pupil.
As a high school student, he mastered many languages, took a very active part in the cultural work of the group and had learned much.
After spending some time in the group training to be an instructor of the Zionist movement, he worked his way up in the leadership of the movement. He became a leader of a small core group, then of a several groups of the same age and then of the whole age group. Often he took on various leadership functions at the same time. He was tireless. He never said no when one gave him new duties which he always fulfilled conscientiously.
As a sportsman he was exceptionally sensitive and well versed intellectually. He was attracted to literature and writings, philosophy and poetry. He was one of those special leaders, who managed to create for the group an atmosphere of an intense cultural life.
Then the War broke out. People escaped in all directions. In my family, we found ourselves on a hot September days on the road which led to the East. After the war ended, I did not get any clear news of Milek. I believe that he left for Japan, and from there further away.
When I returned to Poland after the war I found out that he was in the country. We made contact. In 1947, during the international table-tennis competitions he came to Paris. He was reunited there with some of his acquaintances. In Warsaw, we organized a small gathering of the remainder of our group. And there I met Milek after eight years and learned of his wartime wandering.
His story was really extraordinary. After having been in Japan for a short time he emigrated to South-Africa. From there after a stay of several months he travelled to Egypt and from there at last to Eretz Israel. At the first opportunity, he volunteered for a military group in the English Army. Later he was as a soldier of the Jewish Brigade at the Italian front where he achieved the rank of an officer. After the end of the war, he returned to Eretz Israel.
Our post war reunion took place in Warsaw. The meeting with his former comrades (chaverim) whom he had not seen for such a long time was a deep experience for Milek. In his wartime migration around the world, he reported that loneliness was his biggest problem because friends meant a lot to him. He was uplifted by his visit to Paris and Prague. It was no miracle that all his interpersonal interactions contributed to a cheerfulness during the two days of our being together. Five of his friends participated. Milek talked more than all the five of us together. He had much to talk about. Clearly during these few years of his life, he saw more and lived more than what could be expected in a lifetime.
Milek was sensitive, deeply immersed in his impressions, and it is no miracle that his thoughts abounded with images, impressions and ideas. He surprised us not only with the richness of his memories, but also with original thoughts which were interesting and impressive.
He spoke and wrote well in Hebrew, Polish, English, French, Italian, German. He spoke Yiddish and Czech quite well. He knew poems in all these languages.
At the reunion, we spoke in Polish, but when the discussion moved to themes about Eretz Israel he changed to Hebrew. Otherwise, he would not have been able to tell memories and jokes about the life in the Yishuv which he did freely.
The last dinner we ate in a restaurant. After many remarks about the purposefulness of several French aphorisms and after a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life, Milek wrote on the paper tablecloth: Dos Lebn C'est la vie, 11.12.47. Milek. The meaning of those words was symbolic. When I look at the strange, slightly exalted, a little bit young and romantic note, written in a well-known handwriting today, it is meaningful. Milek does not live anymore but these words are remembered!
The last news we heard about him was from the Negev (Editor note: southern Israel). He was an officer in a Hagenah unit.
Suddenly, like a thunder, bad news hit us. Milek had left us. He committed suicide. More we do not know.
Once, many years earlier, I wrote an article for the newsletter of our movement called Hano'ar (The Youth) . It was read by Milek. After he read it, he joked: our Aytsh (he often called me like that) will once describe all of us in a novel. We laughed. I never could have imagined that I would have to write memories about Milek after his death.
Once I got over the shocking news about his death I was able to think about what had actually happened. In my thoughts a sentence appeared from Three Speeches on Judaism which we once liked to read very much. In certain conditions - says Martin Buber we stop to relate to Jews only as a brother or sister. Each of us feels: these people are a part of my being.
Today when I think about Milek's death, I understand the meaning of these words: a part of my being has been torn out.
Opiniye, Lodz-Warsaw 20.9.48, Number 42 (55)
by Avraham Kahana, Avrech
Translated by Florence (Feyge) Rubenfeld
Reb Leibish was a short Jew, heavyset, with a disheveled, uncombed beard, which had never in his lifetime seen a comb. And on his head, he wore a worn-out, dirt-encrusted hat. He also wore a quilted jacket and a pair of peasant boots. We called him Yanowitzer after the name of the village where he was born. We got to know him only after he had married and became a Jew.
God needs a person's heart, and not just his deeds, and his heart led him to the tsadikim of his generation; initially to the Sanzer. Later he passed on, to his son, the Shinyaver of blessed memory, whom he accompanied and used to travel to for Shabbat. In that way, he became a member of the inner circle of the Shinyaver, of blessed memory.
He made his living in the dairy business, meaning that each day he brought milk to town from the rebbe's court, which was three miles from town. And don't imagine that Reb Leibish was an ordinary dairyman. Reb Leibish used to travel into town, and this was at two or three o'clock at night, and on occasion even earlier, with his strange little wagon, pulled by a weird, decrepit horse, a nag. While the whole world was still in a deep sleep, Reb Leibish began his prayers, praising the Almighty with the 'gates of Zion' morning prayer, reciting Psalms and selections from Scripture, and additional such matters. Later, he arrived at the Rabbinical Court, took his allotment of milk, and returned to town, went to the ritual bath ('mikvah') and served G-d.
Furthermore, he was a fine Chazzan ( i.e. prayer leader) for the High Holy Days, since he always prayed with great devotion. However, when he was deep in prayer, he changed his facial expressions, causing you to sometimes break out in laughter even at such a serious moment.
It was a difficult to manage the prayers and his livelihood. He knew that he needed to prepare an income for the entire winter, for that difficult time when you needed must have wood, warm clothing, potatoes, and other such necessities.
But he also knew he had to watch out for his voice. So, every day he took care of his voice, so that it didn't, heaven forbid, become hoarse. And he truly was particularly careful. Once it was past the holiday of Shavuot, he wore a thick warm scarf, so that he wouldn't catch cold. Because of this, he in general greatly protected himself from speaking loudly, so as not to overstress his voice. He managed fine with ordinary people because even when he spoke more softly, they could understand him, but with his horse it was more difficult.
On one occasion, while he was on his way, the horse went crazy, she refused to budge. What do you do? He pulls on the reins and quietly says, giddyap. The horse was deaf in her old age; she didn't hear. Once more he says, giddyap but louder this time. She still didn't hear. After a half hour, he lost his patience and says, To hell with all the morning and evening prayers and shouted giddyap with such a loud voice-- that the old, horse got frightened and galloped off.
He was very enthusiastic about his Rebbe. He never tired of recounting his wonders, night and day, among the group of Hassidim and non-Hassidim who used to gather separately in the narrow darkest corners of the study house, especially at dusk, in the hours between day and night.
Something else happened with Reb Leibish. He once came to a dorf, and met a neglected young man there. Some say he was a bastard. He was a fool and a stutterer since his childhood. He was a shepherd and tended to a gentile's herd. Reb Leibish could see in this the mitzvah of rescuing someone from a harsh fate, so he took the lad into town, taught him a bit of Hebrew so he could receive a blessing of food from the Rebbe's table. He took him under the wing of divinity and piety. Additionally, he set him up so that he apportioned the milk for the various customers.
Reb Leibish was also the great organizer of the town's hospitality. If a beggar has nowhere to sleep or to eat, you would send him to Reb Leibish, and he got him a good straw-sack for a cover at night, and quite a bit of bread and cheese for free.
If a Yeshiva student lacked for 'a day's meal' or a beggar needs a place to spend Shabbos, Reb Leibish took care of all of them. And Reb Leibish was no more than a dairyman, a plain but pious dairyman.
by Dr. Yeshayahu Fajg
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
This is a folk saying: Every city has its madmen. Tarnow also had its madmen. I mean, bizarre people who added color to the city, complemented its scenery, became part of its make up. There were crazy people among us, according to their actions, clothing and entire way of life. Tarnow possessed the well-known clown, Sztrajsenberg, who never refused the offer of a glass of wine or whiskey. He was a kind of bohemian who had renounced all of the comforts of the world but not his witticisms and remarks that were very sharp and hit the bull's eye.
There were tens of strange people who occupied high positions in society, those who were did not precisely follow the conventional line and, therefore, they were spoken about by everyone and there was no lack of gossipers in the city; they had a great deal of work. There also were beggars and peculiar types without whom Tarnow would have lost its character: Chaim Shtolts [proud], Khona'la the Tarnower, then with a partner, who always fought over a penny, and others.
Here I will immortalize a man whose name no one knew although he spent his entire life among the residents of the city. It was not known if he had relatives or a family, from where he came in the morning and to where he went at night. He was deaf, mute and blind. He was called der shtumer [the mute]. He was tall, always dressed in a smock, with a cane in his hand. Krestin, the painter, painted his portrait, which was reproduced later on postal cards. His entire treasury of words consisted of a sound from his throat that sometimes expressed anger, sometimes joy. And in the course of a week he wandered through all of Jewish Tarnow (he would recognize the houses of the Jews
when he touched a mezuzah [small box placed on door frames of Jewish homes containing the Shema Yisroel Hear O, Israel the central prayer of Jewish worship] at the entrance [of the house]). He would never cross the threshold and no one refused to give him a donation a half Austrian kreuzer (a hundredth part of the Austrian krone), the smallest coin that there was.
He was a phenomenon even for the medical world. I have not found such a case of a blind-deaf-mute simultaneously in the rich medical literature. All three defects in their completeness in one person. He did not see, did not hear and did not speak. Only when he wanted to turn to someone [for help] he would let out a sound and the passerby would know that he was asking him to lead him to the other side of the street or that a door should be opened for him. For this purpose
he also knocked on the door with his cane, with whose help he would escape from the clutches of mischievous boys.
He divided the Jewish quarter into six parts and every day he would visit the houses in one part of the city. He appeared at every residence on the same day of the week and even at the same time with literally a precise punctuality. The day and the hour could be ascertained exactly according to the appearance of the mute.
He was an extraordinary gentleman with all of his defects. He did not take more than the smallest coins from anyone. If he received a larger coin he would immediately put his hand in his pocket and all at once remove the [amount] that he had to
return. There were cases when he received an entire krone; he would make change of exactly 49 and a half kreuzer, that is, 99 pennies. If he was given something to eat, he would not take any money.
He came to the synagogue every Shabbos [Sabbath], stood at the western wall and it meant that he prayed as an equal to everyone. It is difficult to conceive what he thought then. When he would sometimes not appear on the designated day and hour at a Jewish house, it was clear that he was sick. When he was healthy again he began to beg in his customary order; every day in his designated area of the city. No one had any idea of what was in his heart, in his thoughts, but one can assume that he more or less lived his own intellectual life, despite his terrible defects.
Where are you now, my city? Where is your charm? Where are your madmen?
by Dr. Avraham Chomet
Translated by Gil Stamberger
Wolf's father, Rav Avraham Wachskertz, was a member of an esteemed group of very learned men in Tarnow. Of course, Wolf was educated in a strictly Orthodox atmosphere and belonged to a circle of Yeshiva students whose sole occupation was to study Torah.
When Zionist slogans and ideas started to permeate the Tarnow study halls and synagogues, Wolf Wachskertz became an ardent supporter of the Zionist philosophy and within a short time he became a brilliant Hebrew language expert. He influenced a large circle of Hassidic boys, and introduced them to Hebrew literature and encouraged them to adopt the Zionist ideals.
However, for Wolf Wachskertz Zionism meant more than just a pleasant dream. He did not rest until he and his closest comrades (between them the devoted young Zionist and pioneer Zylber zl - may his memory be blessed -) overcame all the obstacles which young man from strictly Orthodox families encountered in the 1920's after the First World War if they wanted to make Aliyah to the Land of Israel.
In the year 1920, Wolf travelled with a group of comrades to the Land of Israel. Wolf and his friend and pupil Zylber (after a short time after his arrival in the country Zylber killed himself) settled in Benetiya in the Jordan Valley. When the agricultural workers of Yavne'el, Beit Vegan and Menakhamiya created a Hakhshara Center for new pioneer immigrants in Degania Gimel, Wolf joined a group which included pioneers from Tarnow such as Weidler and Esther Hershkowitz, who now live in Ginegar and gave us details of Wolf Wachskertz's life in Degania Gimel. (Ed. note: Degania Gimel was a short-lived Kibbutz which was abandoned in 1922 and later became Kibbutz Bet Zera).
In Degania Gimel Esther Hershkowitz recalls we were 12 comrades. Ze'ev (that was what Wolf was called) soon became ill from Malaria and stayed in a hospital for quite a while. However, he did not take the status of his health into consideration when he was at work at the hardest jobs with his[Page 799]
comrades and as he strove to create a larger family. The delicate and weak were always put first but not in Wolf's case. For all of us, he served as a role model and older brother. We all counted on his advice and wisdom. We used to call him Our Gordon (Ed. note: A.D. Gordon, 1856 - 1922 was a Labour Zionist philosopher and thinker from the Second Aliyah and one of the spiritual leaders of Labour Zionism. He died in Kibbutz Degania Bet in 1922) and his good-natured spirit always surrounded us. He became our teacher and educator.
And while he suffered strongly due to his physical weakness, he took care that no one from his surroundings should feel this. On the contrary to everything and to everyone he always had a smile and a good word.
Until the last few days of his life we remained around him throughout this time - he was our guardian. One morning he had to travel to Tiberias in order to pursue a definitive cure for his weak health. That evening I stayed in his company until the late hours and we talked a lot, mostly about the future and the growth of our Kvutzah (Ed. note: Kvutzah = pioneer group). We already knew it had become necessary to move our group to a new location due to the lack of land in the Jordan Valley. Indeed, he had already seen how necessary water was in the Jordan River was in order to irrigate the land and enable the settlement of more Kvutzot in the region. We only truly understood this several years later, after the movement of our
|Wolf Wachskertz zl (may his memory be blessed) with a group of comrades in Tarnow|
Kvutzah to Ginegar, which was newly created (Ed. note: in Degania Gimel) and Bet Zera. Afikim and Ashdot Ya'akov which were also established. But Wachskertz did not live to witness this. Who of us that last night could have believed for even a minute that the during the next day Ze'ev would chose to end of his life? He left us in the hardest of times, while we were confronting important decisions. We were left behind like sheep without a herdsman. Still, many years later, when we had already settled in Ginegar, his spirit continued to live among us. No one knew what the reason was for his tragic decision to commit suicide. Could it have been his physical weakness and his suffering? We lost him forever and not for a moment have we forgotten our dear comrade and leader from 31 years ago.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Kvutzah created by Wolf Wachskertz zl (Ed. note: may his memory be a blessing) in Ginegar, a memorial book was published. The following memory of Ze'ev Wachskertz zl was written:
In the most tragic of ways, he departed from us in the springtime of his life. With his own hands he cut off the thread of his life. Our hearts to this day do not allow us to come to peace with this great loss. A mensch who has accomplished a deep knowledge of Hebrew and general literature, a mensch with a rich understanding of Hebrew culture and Zionism that he learned in his youth in Tarnow, his birthplace. He made Aliya in 1920, worked in Benatiya and from there joined us in Degania Gimel. In the first month of the establishment of our Kvutzah, after only a few day had passed, we understood what a great privilege it was to live in his midst. He surpassed all of us. We were young and due to lack of experience and knowledge we struggled with the huge challenges of our new life which we had just begun in Israel and here came along a mensch who lifted us up with his beautiful soul and purest of intentions. Our relationship with him was like he was an older, beloved and dear brother. He was modest in his behaviour; he did not want to outdo anyone. Notwithstanding his physical weakness he refused special privileges in regard to labour and the difficult circumstances surrounding our lives. With great effort he completed all of his work jobs. His struggles in life and the addition of his own physical weakness led him to a tragical death. When he died we were orphaned and lost a big brother and dear leader .
by Dr. Avraham Chomet
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Tarnow had all kinds of Jews. In addition to Hasidim and Agudath Israel [Orthodox non-Hasidic organization], Zionists and Bundists, there were the masses of small shopkeepers, artisans, porters and just plain workers who lived in the low, wooden houses on Grabvuke [street] or in the narrow lanes of the old Jewish center of town.
The Jewishness of Grabvuke and the Jewish lanes had a specific, folksy character. From these places came the first Jewish community activists of social and national importance. There stood the cradle of Machanaim [Zionist organization] and Safah Berurah [a Hebrew-language school]. There the Zionist and Socialist movements were born, before in any other town in Galicia. From the low houses and narrow lanes came great Jewish leaders who were bound with a thousand bonds to the common folk from whom they sprang.
The history of Jews in Tarnow and its Zionist and Socialist movements clearly demonstrates the unique character of Tarnow Jewishness as it manifested itself in communal life. We can find confirmation of this fact in every chapter of the Yizkor book. But at the end of this work which reveals and illuminates the efforts and suffering, the failures and successes of Tarnow Jews in their more than 500 year struggle to live and progress I want to especially emphasize the last of the social activists who came from the common folk, and whom fate had placed in responsible positions both in the town generally and in the realm of Jewish life, during the final years of living Tarnow Jewry.
* * *
From 1906 on, the position of Vice-mayor was without exception held by a Jew. The first was the able and intelligent Dr.
Elihu Goldhamer. After him, the position was occupied by his political opponent, Yuliuzh Zilbiger. When Zilbiger resigned, Dr. Herman Mitz was elected Vice-Mayor and remained in the post until his death at the beginning of 1939. After him, there were no more Jewish Vice-Mayors because the City Council elected in July 1939 was never convened.
|Dr. Herman Mitz, the last Jewish Vice Mayor of Tarnow|
Dr. Herman Mitz began his community activism as chairman of the Handworkers' Union (Yad Kharutsim), which was founded by his father, a Tarnow tailor. Elected to the City Council, Dr. Mitz remained neutral in the bitter fight between [Mayor] Dr. Tertil and his opponents, led by Dr. Goldhamer, and thanks to this, was elected Vice Mayor. In the course of many years he was the actual leader of the city government and became very knowledgeable in all its problems. Dr. Mitz, the last Jewish Vice Mayor, died several months before the outbreak of World War II and was thus spared the torment of the Nazi murderers. Honor to his memory.
The Mayor, Dr. Tertil, did a lot for the development of the town. The magistrat [city administration] took over the gas and electric companies. Both of these town-run enterprises grew to become a large sector of the town administration and economy, and required a skillful and responsible leader. This important position was filled, soon after World War I, by the young Zionist engineer, Moyseh Laykhter. He did not conceal his Jewish nationalist convictions and was always active in Zionist work, taking part in many Zionist fund-raising campaigns in Tarnow. He was respected and appreciated not only
|Engineer Moyshe Laytner, the last Jewish director of the town gas and electric utilities in Tarnow|
by the Jews, but also by the Christian population. Engineer Laykhter did not abandon his responsible position even when the Germans occupied the town. The Germans exploited his knowledge and skills and let him continue in his job. They even exempted him from wearing the yellow Star of David insignia. This idealistic and proud Jew did not want to accept the privileges granted by the Germans and when the time came, he was killed along with all the Tarnow Jews in one of the Nazi gas chambers. Honor to the memory of this proud Tarnow Jew.
* * *
Tarnow was a well developed commercial town and almost all commerce was in Jewish hands. Jewish merchants played an important role in economic as well as political life. For that reason, the Jewish Merchants Association was very significant. Later, the Jewish Industrial Association merged with it. This strong association was led by Yoysef Mayman for many years. After his death in 1937, Magister [term of address denoting completion of university degree] Henrik Shpilman was elected chairman.
This young, able and energetic Zionist youth leader developed quite an active and effective program for the merchants and industrial association and in a short time achieved recognition and popularity in the Tarnow community.
|Magister Henrik Shpilman, the last chairman of the Jewish Merchants and Industrial Association|
For the entire time of the Nazi occupation he and his family were in hiding, in bunkers and elsewhere, but he did not survive the war. Close to the liberation of Warsaw he was killed during the bombing of the capital city. He left behind his wife and child who today live in Israel. Thus died the last chairman of the powerful merchants and industrial association Magister Henrik Shpilman. Honor to his memory.
* * *
The Jewish hospital in Tarnow had behind it quite an illustrious tradition. A whole generation of extraordinary and able Jewish doctors considered it an honor to be associated with the hospital. Until 1937, the Shitser family grandfather, son, and grandson, held the post of Medical Director. In that year, Dr.Zigmund Shitser died and a young doctor from Warsaw, Dr. Evgeniush Shifer, a child of Tarnow, was chosen to replace him. He brought fresh effort and energy to the work of the hospital and quickly acquired a reputation as a gifted
surgeon and an able leader of the hospital. He too, in the difficult, terrible time of the occupation, did not abandon his post and with great sacrifice served the oppressed Jewish population until the liquidation of the hospital and its patients, doctors and nurses.
|Dr. Evgeniush Shifer, the last director of the Jewish hospital in Tarnow|
Dr. Shifer managed to survive the war, but he did not return to the Jewish hospital in Tarnow. Today, the last Director of the once splendid Jewish hospital in Tarnow lives and works as a doctor in Poland in the city of Katowicz. Tarnow Jews who survived give him their heartfelt blessings.
* * *
You can count on the fingers of one hand the important Tarnow community activists of the older generation who survived the war. Today in Tarnow there are very few Jews, and some of these did not actually originate in Tarnow. But there does remain a kind of symbol of the former Jewish life. The Nazi storm ripped out all the trees, wiped out the magnificent Jewish forest. But one sole tree survived, that withstood all the storms and winds. That tree, the only survivor, is the family of Avraham and Freydl Shpilman, who lived through the war in hiding, returned to Tarnow and remain there to this day.
Avraham Shpilman and his wife (of the Krauter family in Brigle) came from learned Orthodox families. Right after World War I, Avraham Shpilman was active in the Zionist movement in Tarnow. With his earnestness, political understanding and honesty, he quickly achieved a prominent position in the Jewish
community, connected in countless ways to the now vanished Jewish Tarnow.
|Avraham and Freydl Shpilman, the only remaining [Jewish] family now living in Tarnow|
The Shpilmans are the only remaining representative of the Jewish Tarnow of old.
* * *
Gone forever is the Jewish community of Tarnow with its 25,000 Jews. Bare stones and a cemetery are all that remain.
I, too, am among the last. I had the honor of being the last President of the Jewish community of Tarnow, and also a son of the honorable and unassuming craftsman, Shloyme Chomet.
|Dr. Avraham Chomet, the last president of the Jewish community in Tarnow|
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