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[Page 190]

The Development of Communal Activity
and Communal Life in Jewish Zawiercie

by Dr. Yeshayahu Baumac

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We know that Zawiercie already was a city right at the end of the 19th century. Our parents would tell us that in 1890 there were 200-300 Jewish families in Zawiercie. A large number of them came to Zawiercie from various small shtetlekh [towns] a few years before 1890 – mainly from the so-called meylekh evyens giter [king of the estate of the poor – ironic nickname of an impoverished area in the Lublin region] in the Kielce gubernia [county], or from shtetlekh and villages in the neighboring area of Zawiercie (Kromołów, Pilc, Lośnice, Włodowice, Siewierz, Mrzygłód and so on).

A few “charming” young men arrived a little later who married daughters from the middle class who were firmly established from before.

This fact as well as the economic basis of the Jewish economy in the city – buying and selling and packing of scraps in the factories – meant that agents of TOZ [Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej – Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population] depended on the development of the social fabric and of the communal idea in Jewish Zawiercie – both for the acceptance of goods and for supplying of goods.

* * *

The Storm of Immigration from the Small Shtetlekh

Jews from those shtetlekh [towns], who had lost the ground under their feet, originally came to Zawiercie. However, these were not shtetlekh with an old, deep, scholarly, Jewish tradition, with old Jewish generational connections to culture. In the old shtetlekh the young people kept together and continued to be drawn to the golden thread of the family's scholarly tradition. [Other] young people arrived in the new industrial centers in Poland, the majority from shtetlekh without any great scholarly tradition (it was the same during the first dozens of years of emigration to America).

During the first dozens of years, the Jewish way of life there [in Zawiercie]

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corresponded to the forming of Hasidic shtiblekh [one-room synagogues] without the absorption of any scholarly foundation; artisan circles without a feeling for organization and for developing a folk culture; Jews who were so preoccupied with concerns for earning a livelihood around scraps and other hare-brained schemes that they were satisfied with only a little bit of rest, with a few chickpeas and beer in their stomach at a bris-milah [ritual circumcision], with a melave-malke [meal ending Shabbos – the Sabbath], with a good herring and little bit of beer.

Melamdim [religious teachers] in their houses – where their children's cradles stood – ran khederim [religious primary schools]. With great effort, young men maintained a kind of yeshiva [religious secondary school] in the house of prayer, which, during the first 10 years, could not be compared to other, well-known yeshivus [plural of yeshiva], particularly in Lithuania.

A few rich, influential Hasidim, not [particularly] great scholars and also not particularly sensitive communal workers, dictated the way of life in the Zawiercie community for those newly arriving in Zawiercie.

* * *

“The Germans”

Another characteristic phenomenon for Zawiercie was the separate colony of “Enlightened Germans” who worked as employees in the factory.

They were considered [as having been] assimilated and [as being] Jews without any faith – which [they had absorbed] with their mothers' milk. This is an error. Among them also were a few former Hasidim, with Jewish reminiscences and youthful memories. The founders of the Ginsberg factory were Jews who were first of all interested in the fate of their “people infused” with provinciality (they built a modern school for them – because of the promise [by the workers] not to buy scraps but “to make themselves into something”). They created the Dobroczynność [charity]; they were dozors [members of the Jewish community council] (incidentally) with the help of the most fanatic Hasidim); they created the general Bank Vzajemni [Mutual Bank], from which Jewish merchants mainly profited.

However, they had no common language with their provincial brothers.

Time passed quickly. They were drawn into the sphere of the factory machine. The period was a period of believing

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in new words: industrialization, “practical results,” “without dogma.” Their lives became more strongly woven into the life of the modern factory that had the highest prosperity. With each year, the abyss also deepened between them and the Hasidic, ecstatic Jews without occupations from the backward shtetlekh.

The industrial prosperity strengthened the Polonization – the effectiveness – of a certain circle of Jews. The former majority of Jewish officials in the factory management became much smaller. Their practical [Jewish] communal obligations narrowed their contact with the non-Jews. Their houses had little spirituality. Everything became practical there [in their houses]. It was not practical to send their children to study in Reb Itshe Meir's kheder [religious primary schools]; there were no other Jewish school available. Their children began to be close friends of non-Jewish children. They had no contact with Jewish children and young people. They snubbed young Jewish children with long kapotkes [long black jacket or coat worn by pious males] and peyes [side curls]. Thus was prepared the basis for [religious] conversion.

The adult children again prevailed upon their parents with regard to rapid assimilation. The little bit of Jewish succulence dried out because they had become a community that no longer had a common language with the remaining Jews.

Yet one must not generalize: among the older generation of “Germans” there still beat a Jewish heart (Wajc, Wiczic, Brandes and so on). The standard of the crucial majority of Jews was a different one, a little worldly, perhaps it would fashion an energetic collaboration and a widespread form of educational-cultural activity.

* * *


The authentic maskilim [followers of the Enlightenment] strata, with a rich Jewish education and with a solid general education, was a very thin strata in Zawiercie during the first 10 years. Their weak economic situation and their meager influence in the life of the Zawiercie community had, in general, greatly limited them in their impulse to work for the expansion of the haskole [Enlightenment]. It also was because the old form of the Enlightenment already was a corpse a bit before 1882 (when the pogroms dealt a death blow to the Enlightenment). Hibat Tzion [Love of Zion] began to rise on the horizon, but not in shtetlekh [towns] like Zawiercie – far from the center of the Enlightenment and from

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the center of Hibat Tzion Hibat Tzion was not the communal philosophy, as it was in Odessa, Vilna or Warsaw. Collections were made for settlements in Eretz-Yisroel, but they did not want to create a communal revolution in Zawiercie. Such a thing would have meant a struggle and the small group of maskilim in Zawiercie were not ready to fight.

They became dispersed in the unschooled Jewish way of life in Zawiercie with its sensations involving quarrels about a rabbi, about a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and so on.

The large merchants, such as the Helbergs, the Buchners, the Potoks, were closer to the maskilim, but they took almost no part in communal life.

* * *


An idyllic life near the marshes of Warta Pond went on for many years.

A kind of awakening came during the era of the Kishinev pogrom and from the first Russian revolution. There was a clear differentiation then among the nationally conscious young people. The Zionist circle and Jewish socialist circles (Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion – Marxist-Zionists], Bund) already had been formed; the general Zionist circles had been created much earlier, actually by the maskilim. Leibush Frenk, a devoted Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion], was one of the intense maskilim. The Zionist spokesmen then were Shabtai Szpeiwak [spelled Spiwak elsewhere in the text] (Shabtai khazan [cantor]), Shlomo Baumac and Avraham Barensztajn, who later particularly excelled with his communal temperament, with his brilliant speeches on behalf of Zionism and as chairman of the kehile [organized community] and vice mayor of Zawiercie. Zilberman, the alter paker [the old packer] and his sons-in-law, Borukh Blat and Yosef Sobelman, Zalman Margulis, Wiczic, and among the younger men, Meir Frenk and Benyamin (Yoma) Klugman, the son of the Hasid, Menakhem Mendl Klugman, were devoted Hovevei Zion. Shmuel Helberg, Benyamin Soyka, Sznajderman of the small soda factory, as well as a few artisans such as Zelig Sztajnkeler, Izer Diamant and a few whom I no longer remember also took some part.

Some of them were still comfortable with their involvement with Hibat Zion.

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From Zawiercie, Shlomo Baumac, Borukh Blat and Wiczic (as his son who is now in Israel confirms) participated in the anniversary in Katowice in honor of the 25th anniversary of the organization Hovevei Zion. I remember well because my father took me, still a child, to the conference in order to plant Zionism in me. As I remember, Shmaryahu Lewin also took part in the conference.

This Zionist circle was so active in the years 1903-1905 that they organized a Zionist-influenced kheder [religious elementary school] for their children. There was a modern teacher (after the closing of this school, Reb Shabtai Szpeiwak opened his well-administered school at which almost all of the male Zawiercie intelligentsia later studied and graduated).

This circle also organized a collective food shop whose profits were dedicated to the settlement. This circle sent two delegates, Meir Frenk and Shlomo Baumac, to the Zionist Congress, which took place in Vienna.

The circle would arrange gatherings and meetings at the synagogue. In fact, the synagogue was the fortress of the Zionist circle because they set its tone. The “Germans” also educated these Jewish Zionists with whom they could more easily speak than with the others. The very pious and strongly orthodox circles prayed in the beis-midrash [house of prayer] and in shtiblekh [one-room houses of prayer]. Various Zionist orators would come to the synagogue during my youth with speeches on the subjects of the day and the “Germans” would hear reverberations from [the speeches].

* * *

The Democratic Spirit in the Synagogue

A strongly democratic spirit reigned in the synagogue, although the “aristocrats” prayed at the head, at the eastern wall. However, there was no discrimination in regard to artisans and common people who did not have their [“reserved”] “seats” at the very eastern front. At certain opportunities and especially on Shimkhas-Torah [holiday commemorating the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah and the start of the reading for the new year], almost the entire synagogue came together at Shabtai Spiwak's spacious, wooden house of five large rooms that was very near the Moszkowicz's garden. There in the garden a large crowd would have a good time at large

[Page 195]

covered tables. Yosef Sobelman, Sznajderman and Galster were specialists at making “punch” (from wine and esrogim [citrons] cooked with sugar and aromatic spices). There they would sing, tell funny stories, speak about politics and, mainly, about serious Jewish and Zionist matters. Reb Avraham Bornsztajn was a very funny and clever speaker. On other holidays or for the third Shabbos meal, a crowd would gather at Reb Shabtai's house. However, this was a narrower circle of Zionist activists in the city and of their sympathizers.

An important role in warming the ice around the first Maskilim-Zionists in the city was the fact that the people in the circle took an active part in the philanthropic institutions that arose in the city: Rev Avraham Bornsztajn was the secretary of Dobroczynność [charity] for many years and he was influential in [the institution]. My father was active in Linas haTzedek [society to care for the sick] and in the gemiles khesed kasa [interest free loan fund]. Wiczic took an interest in community matters and was even a dozor [member of the synagogue council] for a time. Zalman Margulis had a good reputation as a philanthropist and was known for his charitable activities. The “Alter Paker” also benefitted from general sympathy. Reb Shabtai's very varied activity as khazan [cantor] and leader of a large choir, which has a good reputation in the area, as well as a pedagogue and educator of the “best children” and, in addition, his quality of being a supporter of the common people, created popularity for him even among the non-Zionists or anti-Zionist circles.

There was movement in Zawiercie at the beginning of the 20th century. There were flower days [selling flowers] to benefit the Keren Kayement [National Fund], although this was forbidden during tsarist times. Zionist activity arose among the women.

It can be said about that era that the decisive majority of Zawiercie Jews then were Hasidic-Orthodox and they continued to trudge in their oxen harnesses [of backwardness]. They continued to live according to the small backwater concepts of having pleasure from a doubtful bal tefilah [prayer reciter] and a more doubtful miracle worker, from a warm, magical ecstatic discourse with God, but not always an ecstatic final Shabbos meal marking the end of Shabbos or from the dry brandy at a yohrzeit.

Yet the group of Maskilim-Zionists devoted themselves to placing the national enlightened plow into the poor soil of Jewish Zawiercie.

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However, this was not enough for the young who grew up in progressive houses. The revolution that had broken out in 1905 had revealed that there already were certain groups of Jewish socialists. Gutek and Anya Bornsztajn (later Anya Margulis) belonged to the S.S. [Zionist Socialists]. They were active in Czenstochow. Borukh Abravanel, who even gave fiery speeches on a balcony at the new market, belonged to the Bund. Erlich's son Itshe, pock-marked, who left for Galveston after this, as well as a circle of young workers, such as, for example, Yankl Pelznsztajn – about whom I do not know if they remained devoted to the Bund after the revolution. In any event, during the later years the Bund did not have any value in Zawiercie. The same can be said about Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion – Marxist-Zionists]. Yeshaya Targownik, who emigrated to America many years before the [First] World War, was among those active in Poalei-Zion. The later Hebrew teacher in Zawiercie, Kopl Minc, from Zarki, took part in the Poalei-Zion movement. He ran away after 1905 (I think to England) and then returned as an opponent of socialism. It apparently was a smaller Poalei-Zion group in Zawiercie that acted quietly during tsarist times, but they did not have any great influence on society as a whole.

The boycott by the Endekes (N.D. [Narodowa Demokraczja – National Democracy – the anti-Semitic Polish National Party]) in 1912 deepened even more in Zawiercie the feeling that caused worry after the Kishinev pogrom that it was getting worse and worse for the Jews in Poland. They began to interest themselves in emigration to Eretz-Yisroel (three emigrants right after the First World War: Hilel Szpira, Yosef Spivak, Yedudia Diamant). The war interrupted this process. Emigrants also went to America (here the people said: “he went to Galveston” in the state of Texas in the United States instead of “he went to America.”).

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The Young Jews Leave Zawiercie

Before the First World War in the atmosphere of belief that the area held little for the Jews in Zawiercie – and in Poland, in general – a number of young people began to leave Zawiercie for abroad and for other cities in Poland where they had found work or had organized businesses. Among those who emigrated were sons from established families in Zawiercie who married and created factories and businesses in the larger cities in Poland.

New immigrants arrived in Zawiercie instead of them, but they were less secularly proficient in regard to economic matters. They also came from backward provinces. The influence of those newly arrived people did not provide a counterbalance in Zawiercie [for those who had left].

* * *

All of the processes had another result: the impulse for higher education took hold among the young in this heterogeneous Hasidic-Orthodox way of life that became interwoven with a thin cord of the Enlightenment and assimilated (or half-assimilated) members of the intelligentsia or half-intelligentsia. I do not think that there was a middle school in Zawiercie a few years before the First World War (there only was a non-Jewish “boarding school” for girls run by Mrs. Korczewski.

The young Jews had to seek their school education in other cities in Poland. A number even studied abroad in middle schools (Krakow also was abroad in the years before 1914). The young people later studied in hochshulen [German term for schools of higher learning such as colleges and universities] abroad.

The sons of Nusan Lewensztajn, the sons of Sh. Helberg (in Switzerland), a son of Sh. Helberg, a son of Potok, Yeshaya Baumac (Vienna, then Switzerland), Regina Windman and Dora Hendler, Dovid Sznajderman (now [Ignacy] Borejdo, vice minister of Poland) studied in other Polish cities and abroad before the [First World] War. Also several of the “Germans” whom I do not remember. Yehoshua Buchner (Welwl Buchner's son) and so on, [studied] in higher technical schools in Poland.

[Page 198]

I think that the first Jew to receive a certificate of graduation from the Zawiercie Macziesz Gymnazie [secondary school] was Rafal Janowski. A year later – his brother Dovid Janowski.

It can be concluded from this that until the [First World] War there were a few Jews in Zawiercie who graduated from a middle school. If they went away to study, they did not return to Zawiercie.

Zawiercie Jews also did not have any local members of the intelligentsia who completed middle school or higher educational training who dedicated themselves to the development of a modern Jewish society as a whole in their birthplace. Such Jewish members of the intelligentsia in all Jewish centers were an important factor, not in Zawiercie (until 1916-1917).

Yet it must be said that these pioneer members of the intelligentsia, nevertheless and indirectly, had an effect on the drive for education among the younger generation.

* * *

The Younger Generation

This came to fruition during the war years, 1915-1918: tens of young boys and girls in Zawiercie began to study in middle schools. During that time they were the yeast of the turmoil in society as a whole in Zawiercie. They had an effect on their older siblings, as well as on their parents. Zawiercie Jews from all strata began to appreciate the value of organizing and of the modern Jewish social fabric.

The German occupiers wanted to win over the Jews as a counterweight to Polish patriotism. Not only did they not harass or disturb them as the tsarist regime had done, but they even stimulated development. The propaganda tour by the Frankfurt Rabbis Cohen and Karlebach, who visited Zawiercie, was thanks to them [the German occupiers] and an Agudah [union or organization, an Orthodox political organization] was created (as I remember, the very pious in Zawiercie were not on good terms even with Agudah). The German regime permitted and in a certain measure stimulated the Zionist activity (and particularly the sports activity) in the region and in the city.

Mizrakhi [religious Zionists] was created at this time (Friend Landau, Friend

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Yeshaya Szpira, Shabtai Szpeiwak, Chaim Kron, Y.D. Erlichman, Lewi Haberman and so on).

The working groups (groups from Poalei-Zion, the Bund, the Socialist Zionists, later Fareinikte [United]) began to act.

* * *

The Zionist young began to awaken from their lethargy. At Matilda Szpeiwak's, it was decided to create the first Jewish public library in the city. We gathered books from the people as well as money to buy books. In time, a beautiful library was created. The library was in Berish Sznajderman's house on Marszalkowska Street. Matilda Szpeiwak, Dr. Potok, Matisyahu-Mates Helberg, Yeshaya Baumac, Y. Hipszer and, I think, also the older Yisroel Frenk, Yisroel Margulis and Ayzik Ratmentsh were members of the first [library] committee. The younger Ruchl Baumac, Ruchl Szpeiwak, Yitzhak Szpeiwak, Dora Sznajderman, Yakov Helberg, Gutshia Buchner, Yentl Klugman and, in a certain measure, Dovid Sznajderman (now Borejdo) were helpers with the work.

I was very active during those years in Zionist and cultural life in Zawiercie.


Tseiri Zion

Just then Tseiri Zion [Zionist Youth] was created. Among the founders were Shabtai Klugman (today K. Shabtai, well known journalist, editorial member of the Tel Aviv Davar [Word], Mates Helberg, Dovid Landau, Yeshaya Baumac, Yisroel Frenk, Matilda and Ruchl Szpeiwak, Ruchl Baumac, Yentl Klugman, Gutka Lewartkowska, Saltsha Zilbersztajn, the sisters Fela and Ewa Bornsztajn (Anya Bornsztajn helped later. Fela and Ewa later became leaders of HaShomer HaTsair [Young Guard]), Yisroel Margulis and the Grinfeld-Szladowski sisters, daughters of the dayan [religious judge].

We created a Zionist hall. We held courses there, gave and listened to lectures. We gathered there to discuss Zionist problems as well as to debate political viewpoints

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in Zionism. We invited Zionist speakers from other cities. We organized concerts and held theater performances to benefit Zionist and Jewish aims. We, the young Jews, also were organized in Hashomer HaTsair and we organized excursions.


At the cradle of HaShomer HaTsair in Zawiercie
The Original Founders


I remember once we returned from such an excursion. This made such an impression that the prominent doctor in Zawiercie, the anti-Semitic Dr. Perlowski, stood on his balcony and then said (in Polish): “It was nice. But Poland is not Palestine. This is obviously a country within a country.”

After a certain amount of activity we sent a delegation to the first conference of the Tseiri Zion in Warsaw. The delegation consisted of Shabtai Klugman, Mates Helberg, Yeshaya Baumac. After our departure [emigration], Shabtai Klugman and Dovid Landau were particularly active. After Landau emigrated [to Eretz Yisroel], Shabtai Klugman, Dovid Werdiger and others were very active.

Tseiri Zion developed widespread political and cultural activities. Presentations and courses were organized. An amateur [theater] troupe was created (the director was Horowicz, bookkeeper at the Jewish Wzajemna Kasa [mutual fund].

Taking part in concerts

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were Leibl Diamant, Miss Brandes. Szerman, the khazan [cantor] from Bedzin, also once came. His son played the piano.

The Vilna Troupe, Ester Ruchl Kaminska and so on, came to Zawiercie.

Yitzhak (Ayzik) Ratmentsh took a very active part in the cultural activity.


One of the Zionist cultural assemblies at the time in Zawiercie


Many of our comrades emigrated [to Eretz Yisroel] or left Zawiercie. This thinned out the ranks of Tseiri Zion a little. Then came the unification with the Socialist Zionists. Poalei Zion (right Poalei Zion) brought new people to the foreground about which I do not know very much because I was no longer in Zawiercie.

I left for Switzerland after the First World War, where I continued to carry out my Zionist activities. I was not in Zawiercie often except when I came to visit my parents.

We can be proud of our shtetl, Zawiercie.

Those who remained after my departure from the city would have a great deal more to say than I. But my memories left a sharp imprint on me.

No headstone can compensate for the great destruction that befell us.


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