by Yekhiel Dancyger
Translated to English by Jon Levitow
I was Born in Zawiercie
It was my good fortune that I left Zawiercie and Poland in general in the year 1919. Thus I was saved from the terrible fate of my parents, my siblings, but all the Zawiercie Jews. For this reason, however, I can only talk about Zawiercie before the First World War.
I will begin with the year 1894 (the year of my birth).
My mother used to tell me (as a tear fell from her eye) about the ceremony of my circumcision, which was in a rainy and snowy month of Shvat.
In those years the inundations of mud in Zawiercie rose over your ears: there weren't any paved streets back then, certainly not in the district that was called Little Zawiercie, on the other side of the textile department of the TAZ.
There on a Friday evening a Jewish child was born whose father was at that time in Moscow, serving in the Russian army.
The mother and her elderly father (the grandfather of the newborn) had to provide for the circumcision but to whom did one turn? One went, of course, to Reb Moyshe Shoykhet (Moyshe Zaks), who was also a moyhel. Reb Moyshe promised to come to the circumcision.
And, in fact, on Saturday after prayers were over, Reb Moyshe Shoykhet and with him Reb Iser Dimant; Reb. Itshe Dovid Kipkevitsh; Reb Dovid Blokhozh; Reb Lipe Dovid the paver; Reb Berl the synagogue caretaker; Reb Pinye Vigderzon; Reb Yisroel Leyb Bozhikovski (the cobbler as people used to call him); Herman Shayn, the old feldsher in the factory; Shmuel Dancyger, my mother's uncle; and also my grandfather, old Dancyger, all arrived. That was the quorum.
They all came to Little Zawiercie in spite of the rain and snow
in order to carry out the religious obligation of participating in a circumcision. This shows the devotion that the Jews of Zawiercie showed to one another from the early days of Zawiercie until much later and up until the present day.
The Beginnings of Zawiercie
Until the 1860's, Zawiercie consisted of a few dozen small houses and barns. The little place was called za Vartshe (on the far side of the Warta River). A small river flowed there, not far from the little village Marcziszow. Towns in the surrounding area, including Zawiercie, Blanowice, Losice, Marcziszow, and other small places, did not usually appear on maps. They all were included within Kromolow, which was on the map. Kromolow was the political center for all the surrounding towns and the center for the local Jews. By the standards of the time, a lot of Jews lived in Kromolow. The wellknown Haberman brothers lived there. The large Haberman family eventually became widely known in Zawiercie. The Goldmintz brothers also lived in Kromolow, as did other Jews, and among them my greatgrandfathers.
Many Jews emigrated or better said, they fled to Austria because of the law requiring 25 years of military service (the kantonistn). In the years 18731875, when the Ginzberg brothers started building their factory, there was a serious lack of workers because the rural population of the area was not accustomed at all to factory work. Therefore, the Russian government offered amnesty to all local deserters under the condition that they work in the factory. Among those granted amnesty were my grandfather, two of his brothers, and other Jews. Those who came back had to work in the factory together with their children, not only because of their legal obligation but also simply to make a living. My mother always used to tell us children that she was six or seven years old when my grandfather first carried her to work on his shoulders because the snow was so deep. During the winter time people were also afraid of wolves that roamed the area.
My mother's parents lived at that time in socalled Little Zawiercie, very close to the factory. Later the konzum stood there.
For several reasons, Zawiercie had hopes of becoming known as a center of industry and commerce:
The best and biggest attraction in town was wintertime by the well. People used to go there to ice skate regardless of the cursing and arguing of the wellknown watercarriers, among whom was Big Rudolf. Zawiercie was built, developed, and grew from day to day. People made quite a respectable living there.
Before the RussoJapanese War
The year 1904, just before the RussoJapanese War, was a time of prosperity in Poland, and in Zawiercie as well. The big factories operated at full capacity, and many smaller factories opened in Zawiercie at that time. As regards workers, however, there was a labor shortage. The Russian government was meanwhile in need of a workforce for the war, so it sent soldiers to work in the Zawiercie factories. There were many Jews among the soldiers. Most of them came to the synagogue on the Sabbath or on holidays to pray. The Jewish families invited the soldiers to their homes to eat after services.
With the outbreak of the RussoJapanese war, the Russians removed the soldiers from the factories and sent them to the front.
On the first day of Passover, the Jews of Zawiercie didn't allow themselves to rest until they secured food that was kosher for Passover for the Jewish soldiers.
After great effort on the part of the devoted Jewish leaders, the Russian authorities allowed them to provide suitable Passover food to the soldiers. Within a few hours the generous Zawiercie Jews collected all kinds of good things: meat, matza, fish, and eggs enough to last for every Jewish soldier during the eight days of Passover.
During this period young students in Zawiercie organized a yeshiva in the beysmedresh, where they studied on their own and also gave classes for other students. They studied the Torah for its own sake. As well as I can remember, some of the students were: Zelig Maimon's son, Aaron; Reb Iser Diamant's son, Eyle Glikszteyn; Reb Avreymele Gantsveykh's sons (Shloymele and Velvele); and Reb Shloymele's son, Moyshe. Deserving of special mention is the subsequent head of the yeshiva, Reb Simkhe Mendl Naygeboyer, who was Reb Ber Sznayder's son. The Zawiercie yeshiva became known in many areas of Poland. It attracted students from all over the country. As a result, there arose a question as to how to feed and house the arriving students.
Once again the Zawiercie Jews, and the tradespeople in particular, demonstrated their capabilities: they willingly made public that they would offer and room board to the yeshiva students one or two days a week at each household.
This support attracted the most gifted students to Zawiercie. Many students who studied in the Zawiercie yeshiva became great scholars with reputations across Poland.
The yeshiva was the pride of the Zawiercie Jews, good, kind Jews who were always ready to make sacrifices for each other.
Of course, there was also a charitable organization in Zawiercie, Linat Tsedek. These were people who sat by the side of the sick all night long, or they did so during the day without being paid. The duty was carried out with love. No questions were asked one went because one knew that such help was for the common good.
It was wonderful to see how the crowd gathered every early morning at the beysmedresh to sit at the long tables and study the Torah. Some of them would recite the psalms with great fervor. Some of them, after praying, would drink tea with Reb Moyshe, Reb Meir Lelever's soninlaw. Moyshe had a gigantic samovar in a corner by the oven, and he made money from it. It was a great pleasure outside it was completely dark and very cold, and inside the beysmedresh it was already bright and warm. How honest and sincere was the good morning that one Jew extended to another! One would answer with enthusiasm, Good morning! Good year! It's difficult to describe on paper the Jewish warmth and brotherly spirit of the old days. Yes, those were good days.
In our youthful days, we 13 to 14 year old friends who studied together in the cheder (religious school) started an organization of students that used to meet every Sabbath and holiday. We had our own quorum (in the house of Efroym Kotsher). Today several of the students from that group are students here in Israel: Yosef Finkl, Avrum Ber Norkh, if I'm not mistaken, Melekh Gutman was also one of them and I. This was in the years 19101912. At the same time we also studied professions. We divided ourselves according to age: the first group consisted of Volf Toper, Shmuel Meser, Lipe Rotmentsz, the second Dovid Vortsman, Dovid Meir Grinblat, Itshe Meser, Leyzer Dombrovski, Moshe Yitshok Manovitsz,
Hershl Yablonski, Efroym Dancyger, and I were all painters. Other professions included: Khayim Vortsman a roofer; Shmuel Toper a hatmaker; Dovid Toper a tailor. We were all classmates from the cheder. There were no unions in Zawiercie then. Young people often wandered around with nothing to do: some read, some spent time together. One accepted everything as it was. We lived in this happy and harmonious way until the First World War broke out in 1914. Then the Zawiercie young people broke apart from one another and scattered.
During the War: 19141918
The situation in our town was not good during this time. Some of our friends left for Germany to work in the coal mines. Some became active in the black market or worked as smugglers. For some families the economic situation became very difficult. Once again we relied on mutual aid, as was the practice in Zawiercie.
When the war finally ended, the Jewish youth began to come to life a little bit. Various unions were started. The older people as well as the upandcoming young people filled these unions. I belonged to the United party the continuation of the S. S. Party. Dr. Yoysef Kruk used to come to Zawiercie for lectures and discussions. The discussions brought our youth to life to some degree. The Zionist Workers and Zionists were always holding discussions amongst themselves. Each group did its work in the larger society, and each was active within its own circle. I couldn't devote much time to the party then because I had a party of my own a wife and a child. My situation at that time wasn't so easy. I left Zawiercie in 1919, and maybe I'm in Israel today because of the relationships I made in the Zawiercie of those days.
Conditions as a Pass (A TragiComic Event)
Saturday evening after Sabbath ended during Chanuka of 1915 the period of the First World War I had the good luck to become a groom. Of course, it was a great joy for me, for my bride, and for my relatives. Fine if modest weddings could still be celebrated in Zawiercie because the front was a way off. The area around Zawiercie and Zawiercie itself were divided by the railroad line into German and Austrian occupation zones. The right side of Zawiercie and the territory that lay to the right of the railroad tracks (Kromolow, Pilice, etc.) were Austrian territory. The left side (Poreba, Siewierz, etc.) was the German zone of occupation.
The border was heavily guarded by the occupying armies of both Austria and Germany because there was a very active smuggling trade. The Austrians occupied the most economically productive lands in Poland. The German zone had less productive land but was more industrialized. The economy of AustroHungary was in fact mostly based on agriculture, and Germany's much less so. Therefore, Germany imported more from its part of Poland than AustroHungary did.
In the Austrian zone of occupation there was no lack of food, but in the German zone there was. Smuggling paid. Everyone smuggled some took a kilo of butter and some eggs in their pockets, just to cover household expenses, and others sold large transports in order to make a living.
There was also legal commerce with the approval of both occupying forces in order to guarantee the distribution of food to the population of Zawiercie and the surrounding area, on the German side in particular.
Because the house where the military authorities were stationed was not far from my parent's house (by the crossing), Jewish officers in the Austrian army used to come to visit. I got to know them well.
Once an officer asked me if I could contact someone who could get flour in order to make bread for the people in Zawiercie.
I said that I would be able to do so. I did this in partnership with Leyb Rushinek.
Since the railroad bridges were all destroyed, everything had to be transported by horse and wagon.
So we rode out into the countryside to Poreba, Zarki, etc. and we worked at full speed.
So it was, in the heaviest period of our commercial activity, I became, as I said, a groom. On the night that my conditions were signed, at 10:30 at night, after I had been entertaining my bride and the conditions ceremony guests, Leybush Rusinek arrived and whispered in my ear that we had to go to Zarki, and I had to go because the authorization to do business was made out in my name.
Did I have a choice? We went.
We went through the crossing between Zawiercie and Zarki, where an Austrian soldier was always posted to inspect travelers to make sure they had passes.
Pre pu sku, said an Austrian soldier, a Hungarian.
I quickly put my hand in my chest pocket in order to take out my pass, my przepustke. I took out a large stack of papers the conditions for my wedding that had been written a few hours earlier and gave them to the AustroHungarian soldier. I saw immediately that when changing, I must have taken the conditions instead of my pass.
The soldiers turned the papers one way and another and could not figure them out. Leybush was also stunned: What did you give him? he asked me.
In the moment that I understood what had happened, I couldn't help bursting out into laughter.
The soldier became angry and took the rifle off his shoulder. He yelled at me, Na kom an dan ture (into the command post!) and pointed the way with his hand to a small, nearby house.
The guardhouse was squat and small (no more than two or three rooms). It had previously functioned as the guards' quarters by the railroad crossing.
A wave of warmth hit me, penetrating my frozen limbs as I entered the first room. There were more soldiers in the other rooms of the guardhouse, and they had taken care that the rooms were wellheated.
The soldier who had led me in from outside left me with the soldiers in the guardhouse. With the conditions in his hand, he went in to the watch commander, who was an Austrian Jew.
After a couple minutes, the commander came over to me in the first room. He approached me, holding the conditions in his hand, and in a loud voice said, Congratulations, groom! and gave me his hand.
I am delighted, completely delighted, that you came here today, he said.
I wondered why the Jew was so delighted, but I didn't wonder for long. The Jewish officer invited me in to his room. As he did so, he told me he was doing so in order that the nonJewish soldiers wouldn't see how he happy he was.
I am delighted because you and the other Jews that are still outside are like a gift from Heaven, said the watch commander.
The soldier who had brought me in from outside stood by perplexed, and, clicking his heels like a good soldier, ordered the other soldiers, Attention! He raised his hand to his hat in a salute, and the other soldiers did the same back to him.
I remained with the Jewish watch commander in his office. I saw that he was crying and couldn't speak.
Frightened, I asked him what had happened, and why he was crying.
He asked me to sit down and asked me how many Jews were still outside. I told him, eleven.
When he heard that, his face lit up with joy.
Good, he said. Come outside with me to see the other Jews, and I'll tell you all my story.
We went outside, and he told us the following: My name is Shloyme Blat, and I'm an imperial soldier. I've lived through a lot. I've been on many battlefields. Now my regiment has come to your district for some rest, and I am very happy to be able to rest and recover my strength. Things don't always work out the way you want, though. After a short time here, the military post brought me a letter from home, and at first I was happy to see it, but when I opened it and read it, I received the terribly sad news that my mother has died.
He stopped for a moment because he could barely speak, and then he went on:
It happened, according to the letter, exactly a year ago. Today, precisely, is my mother's death anniversary, ‘yortsayt.’ As prescribed by religious law, after Sabbath ended I sat down for an hour of mourning. I thought and thought, how would I be able to say ‘Kaddish?’ I beg you, dear Jews, make it possible for me to say Kaddish for my mother for the first time.
The Jewish watch commander took out a small volume of psalms, recited a chapter, and then he said the first Kaddish for his mother. He said it while he was standing outside, under the open sky, in a foreign country, where he knew no one.
And now, my dear Jews, he said to us, Move fast and see to it that you get back to Zawiercie as soon as possible. The inspecting officer will be here early in the morning, and he could cause trouble.
He asked us to come back and bring Khaneke candles (it was Khaneke at the time).
We did what he asked. We went back to Zawiercie as quickly as possible. Early in the morning, on time, we were back at the post and brought the Jewish watchcommander Chanuka candles, brandy for a toast, and something to eat along with it.
The Jew recited a couple psalms and said Kaddish again.
After praying the Jewish soldier from Reyshe said farewell to us and thanked us from his heart.
He said that he hoped we would think of him and of his mother's death anniversary, yortsayt, every Chanuka.
Every year at the end of Sabbath during Chanuka, I think of this event, and I become very sad, after the Nazi blood bath, when I recall that there were once better times, even under German occupation.
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