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[Page 236]

The Environs of Zawiercie

 

Memories of Kromołów[1]

by Tovya Fogel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

According to the local book of records that was in the possession of the gabbai [sexton] of the khevre kadisha [burial society] until the outbreak of the First World War, the Fogel family already was in Kromołów in 1852 (5612): Haberman, Rotman, Zaks, Brat, Zandberg, Reb Meir Mendlson and his sons–in–law, Lewensztajn and Holenderski, [in] Mrzygłód. Lewensztajn was descended from the famous gaon [genius], Reb Akiva Eiger. The younger Lewensztajn and Holenderski, whom it appears were born in Zawiercie, also were connected to Kromołów. Dr. Lewensztajn, who was a surgeon with the rank of colonel, after returning from the First World War, took as his first task the erecting of a fence around the cemetery in Kromołów. He financed it himself and supervised the work. Stanislaw Holenderski had converted [to Christianity] after his parents died. He did not want to cause pain for his mother. He continued to support the Kromołów kehile [organized Jewish community] by providing Passover flour, money for holidays. He came to the Jewish cemetery to the graves of his parents for every yortsayt [anniversary of a death]. Holenderski was converted by the Priest Dzientara.

At the Kromołów cemetery – a year or two before the outbreak of the Second World War – a group of priests researched the headstones because it was known then that Kromołów was one of the oldest cities in Poland. The group of priest–researchers actually found a headstone that was then over 440 years old. As Ruwin Benet says, no trace remains of this headstone. Headstones only remain at the

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graves of: Shlomo Haberman, Shmuel shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] (Shmuel Zaks), my father Avraham Shlomo Ben–Tzvi Fogel, of blessed memory.

* * *

I provide here what I heard from older Jews in general and my father, of blessed memory, in particular about Kromołów in the old days. They said that a great plague broke out in Kromołów in 5612 (1852). People simply fell in the street then. There were no Jews to bury the deceased. Three Fogel brothers, young, strong men, dedicated themselves, took care of the sick, carried the deceased on their backs in order to bury them. They, themselves, sad to say, died and left young orphans, who after the deaths of their fathers, supported themselves through their own strength. They grew up in Kromołów and then they moved to different places.

The graves of those who died of cholera were concentrated in one place at the cemetery in Kromołów. Sometime before 1939, the headstones had sunken into the ground. At every opportunity, and particularly on Tisha B'Av [fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem], after the [reading of the book of] Lamentations, Jews would come to these graves.

About 400 years ago the “noblewoman” of the town donated the Kromołów synagogue and the house of prayer. There was once a small textile factory with hand–looms there. After the death of the noblewoman's son, this building was given as a synagogue and house of prayer. A residence for the shamas [synagogue caretaker and assistant to the rabbi] also was arranged there.

Rabbis. According to what I heard, Reb Yisroel Leib, a Gutn Yid [pious Jew] from Neishtat (Nowe Miasto) came to Kromołów 80 years ago. He was descended from the Neishtat Gutn Yid and was a relative of the Czaszyner Rebbe. He actually was a manufacturer–merchant. He received a rabbinical seat in Kromołów, without, however, a salary. After Reb Yisroel–Leib died (around 1899–1900) Reb Mordekhai Yosef became the rabbi in Kromołów. In between, Reb Yisroel–Leib's son, Reb Avrahamtshe, moved to Zawiercie. At that time the city welcomed Reb Yakob–Ber, who led city authoritatively. He led an open, warm home. His grandson, Buksbaum, was the director of the Zombkowicer glass factory. Reb Yakob Ber died in around 1901.

Then began the matter of bringing to Kromołów the

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rebbe who later was well–known as the Kromołówer Rebbe. The elite of the city were the Habermans and the Goldmincs. Their father, Iser haKohen [descendent of the priestly class] (later Firsztberg's father–in–law) was one of the richest Jews in Kromołów. The Goldminc family (under the influence of the great Chaim Danciker, who came to Kromołów from Wolbrom – 45 years before the outbreak of the Second World War) was supportive of inviting the grandson of Tiferes Shlomo [Rabinowicz – founder of the Radomsker Hasidic dynasty] as the rebbe [Hasidic rabbi] in Kromołów. The Habermans were Sochatchower [Sochaczew] Hasidim and they wanted to bring the Wyszogroder [Rebbe], who was a grandson of the Sochatchower [Rebbe]. The Goldminc family prevailed and Reb Nakhum Nusan Rabinowicz, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed, then still a young man, became the rebbe in Kromołów.

When the Haberman family saw who was victorious, they gave in. Reb Yeshaya Haberman was related by marriage to the Radomsker [Rebbe] (his son Shlomo had married a daughter of the Radomsker.) They gave the Rebbe a large part of their palace, which originated in the times of Kazimer the Great. The Rebbe had his “court” there. The Rabbi, Reb Yakov–Ber lived a long time after that. The Rebbe recognized him as the local rabbi, just as did every homeowner. He would send the rabbi presents for Purim and for every holiday.

After Reb Yakov–Ber died, the members of the community designated the rebbe as rabbi as well because the income from the community was then very good because Kromołów also did the ritual slaughtering for Zawiercie and the surrounding area. According to the precepts of that time, the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] received 55 percent of the slaughtering income and the rabbi 45 percent. Whereas, a rebbe cannot be involved with cases of religious law and [answering] question, Reb Yitzhak Szmuelewicz (from Lodz) was brought then from Tomaszow as a religious judge. He was called Reb Yitzhak Tomaszower (he was Reb Hercke Liberman's brother–in–law). He took a portion of the rebbe's income from the slaughtering. In order to have more than just the necessary income, he founded a yeshiva [religious secondary school] with approximately 20 young men.

There was peace among the rebbes in the city. In about 1912–1913 the rebbe decided to move to Zawiercie because the Hasidim had asked him to live in a city with a train station. The rebbe went to the “local elite” in connection with this, saying that whereas he must take the step of moving to Zawiercie, he hoped that his son, Shlomo Elimelekh (then Kaminsk and, later, Zawiercie rabbi), who was a son–in–law of his brother, the Radomsker Knesset Yehezkiel – would be

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designated as the Kromołów Rabbi. The community unanimously agreed to this because they said: the young man grew up in the shtetl. He was qualified to be the rabbi in Kromołów.

However, a change came to the income from kosher slaughter at that time: Zawiercie already was a city and a great number of butchers moved to Zawiercie (for example, Chaim Saldin, Menakhem Hecht and so on). Therefore, the income decreased and it would not be sufficient for the rabbi or for the dayan [religious judge]. The rebbe gave the dayan, Reb Yitzhak, suitable compensation to relinquish [his position] to his son. The dayan also thought this was correct because it was improper that he, the older one, would be the dayan with a younger rabbi. Reb Yitzhak went to Lodz as a rabbi (in Lodz he was called the Kromołówer Rebbe).

The head of the community and gabbai of the khevre kadishe [burial society] in Kromołów then was Reb Chaim Haberman. Mendl Zelig Szwarc (Zelig Szwarc's brother–in–law and cousin) also was parnes [elected community leader] and gabbai of the khevra kadishe; they led the city further in a grand style. At the outbreak of the First World War, the kehile proceeded undisturbed. Reb Shlomo Elimelekh Rabinowicz continued as rabbi at that time. There was plentiful income then in the city because of the trade with the Germans in Zawiercie (Kromołów was an Austrian–occupied area). In between (1919–1920), the rabbinate in Kaminsk near Radomsk was offered to Reb Shlomo Elimelekh. The city then greatly regretted that its beloved rabbi was leaving it. However, everyone knew: we had no right to prevent a person from bettering their position.

Then the rebbe made a proposal to take the Sochaczewer Rebbe's son, Reb Elimelekh Bornsztajn, as rabbi. However, nothing came of it because of various matters among the “local elite,” and Reb Elkhanan Dovid Szidlowski who was a student of Reb Yitzhak Elkhanan Spektor from Kovna, was brought from Piltz [Pilica].

Kromołów Jews were employed on a great scale (about 10 families) with the sale of livestock. All of the bakeries were Jewish. The brewery was in Jewish hands. It had previously been Haberman's. Then it was taken over by Reb Moshe Brewda, a Jew from Lubavitch [Lyubavichi] (Lithuania). He had built the brewery for Haberman and ran it as a professional and then he, himself, bought the brewery, Brewda was a great philanthropist. The brewery was named Browar nad Wartą [Brewery on the Wartą River]. Alas,

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of the entire family only one daughter survived. She lives in Israel and is employed as an official at the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Jewish tailors and other artisans, Jewish food stores had good income. Jews were large merchants. They traded with the landowners. Gentiles were employed with hand weaving, carpetmaking and so on. During the last years, a few years before the outbreak of the Second World War, they also began to be involved with trade. They competed strongly with Jewish businesses. And earning an income became difficult; the Jews began to look for a way to slowly leave Kromołów. There were no organizations in Kromołów.

* * *

And now a few words about my experiences during the war. I was mobilized in the DAK [dywizjon artylerii konnej – mounted artillery division] in Krakow on the 24th of August 1939. This was the first mobilization before the war broke out. Zawiercie Jews were at the train station in Zawiercie. They were very worried. They felt sorry for me. Reb Dovid Czeriker told them: “I am convinced that he is luckier than we are because he is going into the military.” I was stationed in Krakow until the 4th of September. From Krakow we were sent in the direction of Romania. We were among the last who arrived in Romania. We were brought to a military camp. There were 2,600 Polish soldiers, among them nine Jews and several of them were from Zawiercie. All nine Jews from that camp are now in Israel.

It was terrible in the camp; half of the camp inmates died. We saw that it was bitter. With money I took out all nine Jews (including me) from camp as civilian refugees.

Immediately afterward, the Poles received permission to organize Polish schools. The Romanians placed one condition: they had to have their own Polish professors, a rabbi and a priest. I received a post of rabbi to teach Jewish students. The priest was President [Ignacy] Moszczicki's priest, Humpola, who would give the oath to diplomats in Poland.

I was in Romania until 1944. Given that I had heard the tragic news from Poland I decided to travel to Israel, although I had other possibilities. The rabbi Yeshaya Szpira, of blessed memory, learning that I was in Romania and wanted to immigrate to Israel, obtained a certificate for me. I arrived on the ship, Bulbul.


Translator's Footnote:

  1. The Polish spelling of the name of the shtetl is Kromołów; the transliteration of the Yiddish spelling in this article is Krimelew, but it is usually transliterated as Krimilow. Return


[Page 241]

Kromołów, the Mother of Zawiercie

by Yehuda (Leibel) Dimant

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The train line made Zawiercie a city. Previously, Kromołów was the city and Zawiercie a small village. In time, many Kromołów residents actually moved to Zawiercie. Only a few minyonim [prayer groups of at least 10 men required for religious services] of Jews remained in Kromołów. There was a rabbi, a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], and so on. The pride and joy of Kromołów was the old synagogue, which had a good reputation in the entire area for its artistic painting. The rebbe's old house of prayer also continued to exist although he already had lived in Zawiercie for a long time. The historical palace, which belonged to the Jewish dziedzices [heirs], the Habermans, also was a treasure for Kromołów.

There were several personalities in Kromołów:

The Rabbi, Reb Elkhanan Dovid haLevi [a Levite] Szidlowski. He had a brilliant mind; he learned the Talmud and commentary by heart.

The Rabbi, Reb Mendl Szwarc, who dedicated his entire life to the Kromołów synagogue.

Reb Yekl Diamant (my father) was a great, hospitable person and no Jews could pass by who would not eat with him.

Reb Chaim Danziger and his beautiful, long white beard (although, the Germans cut Jewish beards, they left his for a time, because it was so beautiful).

* * *

The Nazi Times

At the beginning of 1940, the Nazi beasts already had domination over all of Poland. Kromołów became a border city between the “Reich's realm” and the so–called General Government.

Several hundred German soldiers of the border guard arrived in the shtetl; that is, three to four soldiers for each Jew. Jewish affliction began then.

Firstly, they took our residences, the furniture, the household utensils to take to their quarters. Secondly, they

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began to tear boards from the synagogue to build booths for their border posts. They could not burn the synagogue because there were small, wooden houses owned by the Christians around it and it would have been a danger for them if the synagogue was to burn.

They actually began to tear pieces from the synagogue – and Jews, alas, had to do this work over the weeks. It really stabbed one in the heart.

As the Kromołów neighbors saw that [pieces were being] torn, they also began tearing.

In the interim, I and several other young men took the Sefer–Torah [Torah scroll] out at night and placed them in private houses.

A number of Jews were afraid to let us in with the Sefer–Torah. One night, literally in mortal danger, we dug a large pit in the synagogue courtyard and buried all of the books there: two large Vilna Talmuds and another hundred valuable books.

Whereas, as already said, it resulted in one Jew for three to four Germans, we were all employed in serving them. Therefore, we had no time to earn a living.

We worked for them hungry and barefoot – from early until night: women washing, scrubbing. Men – with other heavy work, loathsome work.

There was a bit of a Judenrat [Jewish council], but it did not have any great influence, except with what it provided to the camps in Germany – once several young men, another time, several girls.

In March 1941, the German police besieged the shtetl and took away all of the young people. Chaim Goldszmid was shot then. I, with others, succeeded in escaping. We were tormented for another year.

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February 1942 – another police raid. I was the victim then. Everything ended.

Only a few broken old men remained then in Kromołów.

While I was in the [concentration] camps, I received a letter that the few old men had been sent to Zawierice, where the Germans had created a ghetto. I did not receive any other information.

Thus, Mother Kromołów died with her child Zawiercie.


Kromołów – A Shtetl as in a Sholem Aleichem Story

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

There was a shtetl [town], that appeared as the shtetlekhdescribed in Sholem Aleichem's stories. Kromołów, seven kilometers [a little over 4 miles] from Zawiercie, is an old settlement. A few dozen years before the First World War, Kromołów was a city, while a part of Zawiercie belonged, as a village, both to the Kromołów gentile community and to the holy [Jewish] community of Kromołów. Until 1904, a Zawiercie Jew would be brought to buried at the Kromołów cemetery.

At that time, a fair would take place in Kromołów at which people would come from the surrounding shtetlekh[towns] and villages. Christians from the area would come to celebrate prayers at the Kromołów Catholic Church.

I remember the following about Kromołów in my childhood:

The Kromołów Rebbe, whose son was the Zawiercie Rabbi until the liquidation, came to Zawiercie from Kromołów. Hasidim from distant regions would come to the Kromołów Rebbe.

There was a large Jewish brewery, Browar nad Wartą [Brewery on the Wartą River], in Kromołów. The brewery belonged to generations of the Brewda family.

According to the old legends, a hundred years ago there was no settlement in Kromołów. Once a soldier stood on guard in the area, a cavalryman. His horse suddenly gave a kick and from the earth a spring began to arise. Whereas, the soldier was named

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Kromołów, the settlement that sprang up in the area, was called by the name of the cavalryman.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Zawiercie began to develop as an important industrial city with a train station. Kromołów became backwards and remained a small shtetl.

Many years ago, very rich Jews lived in Kromołów – large merchants and property owners.

Every Jew in Kromołów had his own small house that he received by inheritance. The majority of the Christian population were peasants, with their own fields and farms. The Jewish population was employed in trades and commerce. Jews also were merchants, wagon drivers and so on.

I remember about communal life in Kromołów that in the 1930s a Revisionist Party was founded there (with Meir Szwarc at the head). However, for reasons unknown to me, the party dissolved a short time later. Other parties were not founded. Therefore, Kromołów did not have any communal life.

The Poles in Kromołów were mobilized on the eve of the war of 1939–1942. Among those mobilized was a single Jew: Reb Tuvya Fogel, who is now in Eretz–Yisroel. His entire family perished at Auschwitz.


[Page 245]

The Old Shtetl of Krimelew[1]

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Kromołów, a small, old shtetl is located in Zawiercie County. Almost every Zawiercie resident from the older generation was descended from this shtetl.

Rabbis and great personalities grew from the small shtetl: the Kromołówer Rebbe and his son, the future Zawiercier Rabbi.

The Brewda family must be remembered as well as Reb Chaim Danciger [spelled Danciker elsewhere in this text], a Jew of stately appearance of around 80 years old. The bloody Hitlerist murderers took him to the marketplace so that everyone would see them tear out his old grey beard. After this despicable brutality, he moaned and cried without end. Once he told me that he was jealous of his father because he had died in 1936 in his own bed and, after his death, they had honored his death and buried him according to Jewish law. Reb Chaim lamented that he did not merit this and his fate was to fall into the hands of the Hilterist murderers.

The rabbi Elkhanan Dovid Szidlowski and his large family also lived in our shtetl, of whom only his daughter, who lives in Israel survives. The Hitlerist murderers tortured him with pain and indignities: they came to his house. Every day they sat him in a laundry tub and poured pails of cold water over him. Then they told him to put on his talis [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries] and to go outside and pray to God. They made a jester of him in the presence of the assembled Christian group.

The murderers sent to Auschwitz all of the enumerated and unenumerated Jews from Kromołów, among them my family, during the liquidation of the Zawiercie ghetto. Of my family, only my two brothers and I survived.

I am not capable of enumerating everything the murderers did in our shtetl. I will only give a few examples: right after their arrival, they burned the old synagogue and the house of prayer that were packed with valuable books. They took the Sefer–Torahs [Torah scrolls] for use as carpets in their corridors.


Translator's Footnote:

  1. The Polish spelling of the name of the shtetl is Kromołów; the transliteration of the Yiddish spelling in this article is Krimelew, but it is usually transliterated as Krimilow. Return


[Page 246]

Mrzygłód

by Shimon Geldner

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Imziglod (Mrzygłód), my small birth–shtetl, with its small Jewish population, had a beautiful past, therefore it is proper that our shtetl should also be recorded in the Zawiercie yizkor [memorial] book.

Mrzygłód was one of the neighboring shtetlekhof Zawiercie. In truth, our shtetl was older than Zawiercie itself.

All of the Jews in Mrzygłód were respected by the Christian residents. The shtetl possessed a synagogue with several minyonim [prayer group of at least 10 men], a cantor and a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer]. The Porember shoykhet, Reb Henekh, also was born in our shtetl and before he moved to Porembe, he lived in Mrzygłód.

The shtetl was pious; Yidishkeit [a Jewish way of life] was very strongly observed both by the older people and by the young.

Tszebiner and Butnik were among the oldest residents. They then moved to Zawiercie and there they also were beloved and esteemed by the local Jews.

Little by little, Zawiercie became the center of the entire area – as well as in learning. For example, the bal kore [reader of the Torah during religious services], Reb Wolf Szancer, let one of his two sons study in Zawiercie.

The natural process of concentrating in larger settlements did not avoid Mrzygłód. Members of the middle class also moved to other cities, and not only to Zawiercie. Thus, for example, Ben–Tzion, the owner of the Marczszow mill, and another Mrzygłóder, Iser, moved to Czestochowa. The khazan [cantor] Szental, a very esteemed Jew who could be noticed from afar because of his black beard, also left Mrzygłód. Szental always led the morning prayers and the worshippers strongly praised his praying.

Shmuel Szental, the Khazan Szental's son, moved to Dąbrowa (Dąbrowa Górnicza) as a khazan. There, Shmuel Szental was very esteemed by the worshippers.

Reb Shmuel Krajcer, who was known as an honest and rich Jew, permitted all of his children to study in Zawiercie, where they

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later also settled. However, they were very connected with Mrzygłód, their place of origin. They would come often to visit their parents.

One of Reb Shmuel's children, Reb Itshse, was distinguished by his good traits, as a defender of Zawiercie Jews. All of the doors of the government and municipal institutions in the city were open to him. If someone had difficulties with the officials, he did everything he could to help. He did everything, not because of income, but by virtue of doing mitzves [commandments, good deeds].

Two daughters of Reb Shmuel Krajcer – Chaya (Hela) and Malkha'le – were esteemed teachers in Zawiercie. The third daughter, Chava, who today is still in Israel, left Poland 40 years ago. I remember that Chava came on a visit to Poland 30 years ago with her small son, Henokh (today he occupies a respected place doing productive work). During her visit, Chava did not forget to visit her birthplace, Mrzygłód.

* * *

My Mrzygłód lived in serving the Creator – at the synagogue lectern. In my memory has remained the constant struggle among the worshippers about their claim to the lectern. In our synagogue we would yearn for the synagogue's lectern. From time to time this would cause conflicts among the worshippers. Someone did not let someone else approach the lectern to pray. They meant this honestly. I remember the stage–fright before the Days of Awe – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many days before the Days of Awe, anxiety about the holy days already was visible. I remember how my unforgettable father, who was the gabbai [sexton] in the synagogue all his years, busied himself. He would come earlier than everyone – accompanied by us, his three sons – to prayer and he would make sure that everything was in order. On the eve of Yom Kippur, he would make sure that a Christian was paid for the hay that was used to cushion the floor of the synagogue, so that we, the worshippers, could pray in our socks. The white kitlen [white coats worn on special religious occasions, which also serve as a burial shroud] shimmered in the synagogue. We prepared ourselves for Kol Nidre [opening Yom Kippur prayer].

As soon as the first words of Kol Nidre were heard, which were uttered by Reb Itshe Szental, the congregation began to tremble and to repeat the words of the sacred prayer.

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Mrzygłód also was, despite the small number of Jewish residents, a shtetl of charitable people. When someone was in need of something, the local Jews did not refuse help. Poor people also had their true and warm home in our shtetl.

I remember how my father would often go to the synagogue late at night; perhaps someone had remained, God forbid, without a place to stay.

If it happened that he met someone there, he immediately would take him home to spend the night. I remember how satisfied guests would leave in the morning. This also was the habit of other Mrzygłód businessmen.

The idea that the Jews from Mrzygłód were so terribly and bestially annihilated and exterminated is so frightening and unforgettable.

 

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