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[Page 429]

Institutions and Personalities

 

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National religious groups in Zawiercie and their institutions

by Dr. (of medicine and dentistry) Y. Borenstein

Translation donated by Alain Bornstein

It is with a holy fear that every one of us remembers the Kedoshim[1], who during their lifetime kept alive the eternal flame (Ner Tamid), with the feeling of national self–awareness that one is a Jew. It was the spiritual burning bush that burnt inside them like a fire, until their pure souls left them.

We, children and brothers of the “holy ones” (Kedoshim), do not simply want to recite “yizkor[2]” and “kaddish[3]” for our deceased loved ones; we also say “yizkor” in the ears of future generations: see and remember what became of the entire Polish Jewish population. Remember too that all the achievements in Israel, the strength and Jewish national pride, which uplifts you and purifies you, today, tomorrow and the day after, is all thanks to the initiative and dare courage of those who died (for the sanctification of G–d's name – a Kiddush Hashem).

 

An example of the physical destruction

Let us illustrate the degree of the physical destruction of our nation by describing just one house in one town in Poland: the large apartment building and dirty yard on 21 Aptetchne Street in the town of Zawiercie. In that house I spent my youth.

Only a few individuals remained alive from the many inhabitants of that building. Entire families, like Mendel Yoskowicz's, were wiped out, and no memory remained of them. Both the younger Yoskowicz brothers, Moshe and Elazar, who were members of the “Hashomer Hadati” movement, are no longer with us. Yoskowicz's[4] two daughters, Chana and Frumtche, are no longer with us. No memory remains of the families of Naftali Weil, Dovid Weil, Mendel Zandberg, Hillel Kocki[5], Getsel Lewkowicz

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and Birnfreind. From the large families of Leibel Kwat, Mordechai Kravetz and Dovid Tcherkowsky, there remained only a single daughter from each family.

The heart constricts when one remembers all that. Who am I that I should be worthy of saying “Yizkor” for all those families mentioned above, while their memory is still so fresh in my memory? I feel small and lowly compared with those who have given up their pure souls amidst the most terrible tortures; people with whom I used to play during my childhood and with whom I spent time during the Jewish holidays like when we celebrated the holiday of Succot[6] together in the succot[7] that were was set up in the yard.

The words of kaddish stay stuck in our throat when we say them for our father and mother, relatives, close friends and acquaintances, our spiritual leaders, rabbis, teachers, our fellow pupils and comrades in the youth movements. I was at the time a student in the Mizrachi cheder “Torah Va'Daat” and an activist in the “Shomer Hadati” movement, which during a certain period was a strong movement organization in Zawiercie.

 

Be Respected and Sacred

 

The “Torah Va'daat” School – The Torah and Knowledge School

Everything that had an influence on my spiritual development later in my life stems mainly from the time when I started going to the above mentioned modern cheder (more correctly, school). The school “Torah Va'daat” was situated on the Marszalkowska Street in Hendel Hammer's house. It was there that the headquarters of the Mizrachi and Tzeirei (Young) Mizrachi were located.

The classrooms there were large ones and had large windows. Hanging on the walls in the largest room were portraits of Herzl, of Rabbi Mohilever and Rabbi Kook, as well as of our national poet Bialik.

On another wall hung a large picture of the beloved bochur[8] from Zawiercie

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who had recently passed away at a young age, Moshe Dovid Szkloz. He was the son of a shoemaker, a simple, honest, kind–hearted, dear Jew who honoured the Rabbis. His young widow (I think she was called Malle), who was also a daughter of a well–to–do shoemaker and a fine Jewess, was well–liked in town thanks to her refined ways and kind–heartedness, her delicate manners, and her lovely smile. This made her husband, who already as a boy was well–liked in town, even more popular. Their wedding was held in the presence of a large crowd. R' Moshe Dovid Szkloz was a popular boy in the “Migdal Oz” Yeshiva – a scholar who was later very involved with the Tzeirei Mizrachi movement. He used his youthful vigour especially for helping to organise the “Torah Va'daat” school. His funeral was one of the most imposing impressive in Zawiercie at the time.

His friends (Yisroel Herman, Yehoshua Grinberg, my father, may G–d avenge his blood, Osher Yechiel Bornstein) used to organise remembrance ceremonies in the “Torah Vodaas” school in Szkloz's memory. At one of those ceremonies I sang a song which Moshe Dovid Szkloz had written in Hebrew.

The school was somewhat of a revolution in the life of religious Jews in Zawiercie, just as the Mizrachi movement was at that time in Zawiercie.

* * *

I feel fortunate that I spent my youth in the environment of the above–mentioned school, where we learnt not only Talmud, but also the Bible, Hebrew, Jewish and general history in the spirit of modern Jewish thinking. There, we celebrated the national holidays including the fifteenth of Shevat, the anniversary of Theodore Herzl's death, Lag Ba'Omer, and the Proclamation of the Balfour Declaration. Hebrew was much developed there. In those days this was something new in our town because I do not think that a Tarbut[9] School was already established there at that time.

Studies of nationalistic nature were greatly encouraged. Stories in the Talmud and the Midrash that were in line with nationalistic ideology, such as the story of Bar Kochba and his uprising, were taught to us children in much detail.

I spent my time in the classrooms of “Torah Vodaas” not only during school hours.

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The School “Torah and Knowledge”. Teacher and Students

 

I would go there also on Shabbat and on certain evenings, when Tzeirei Mizrachi held their meetings. My father would often take me along to the debates and speeches. Despite the fact that I was still a child – and I would often fall asleep during the debates and discussions – a lot of it nevertheless remained engraved in my memory.

Y. D. Erlichman and Leibush Yehuda Erlich of Tel Aviv invested much effort and resources in the “Torah Vodaas” school in order to educate the youth in the spirit of national–religious Judaism and pioneering. They are, to the best of my knowledge, the only survivors from amongst the leading members of Mizrachi and Tzeirei Mizrachi. The name of Shabtai Chazan who used to be the leader of the school was often mentioned with much praise and as a model of pioneering because he made aliya[10] and settled in Israel and worked there in agriculture.

Unfortunately, many of the activists in Mizrachi and Tzeirei Mizrachi had planned to make aliya, but due to family commitments they did not manage to realize their plans. This was also the case with my father. My father's friend Yehoshua Grinberg returned from Israel. Sadly, he did not survive the war. I also did not hear from his son Avraham, one of the best students in the “Torah Va'daat” school, after the great catastrophe.

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My father, my mother, my youngest brother Leib and my younger sister Naomi died in Auschwitz.

As mentioned earlier, Shabtai Spivak was principal of the “Torah Vodaas” school. The teachers were Mordechai–Motel Szechter and Dovid Werdyger (later Reb Shabtai Spivak's son–in–law, today of Magdiel, Israel). I think that Kopel Mintz was also a teacher there. Secular studies were taught by Leibel Wigdorzon and Shlomo Spivak during a certain period of time.

* * *

“Hashomer Hadati” – The Religious Guard

From the “Torah Va'daat” school we continued into the “The Shomer Hadati”. The Mizrachi youth movement was industriously organised by Zvi Rubinstein. He trained us to become group leaders and encouraged us to publish a wall newspaper. Shortly before World War II, the “The Shomer Hadati” was considered the largest youth group in town. The leadership of this group consisted mainly of the younger contingency like Manek Rosenberg (who died unfortunately), later also Shalom Granek, Zoshye Vigodska, Yechezkel Szachter (today in Sweden) and myself. Granek died in combat in Israel.

At the Mizrachi headquarter there was also a large library

 

The Group “Flowers” of the “Hashomer Hatzair”

 

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that contained almost the entire haskala[11] literature in Hebrew, Yiddish literature and many literary classics.

For a short while I was the assistant librarian, together with Zvi Rubinstein. As assistant librarian I often took books to the town's rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Elimelech Rabinowitz. The truth is, as a child I felt antipathy towards Rabbi Shlomo Elimelech, due to the well–known controversy about the rabbinate. As a child I aligned myself with the supporters of the Rabbi of Kozieglowy out of a feeling of fairness. When my father took me on the eve of Rosh Hashanah to Rabbi Shlomo Elimelech, the town rabbi, I grudgingly and in a not very friendly manner stretched out my hand to him to wish him “a good year”. I could not forget the controversy as well as the injustice done to the children of the Rabbi of Kozieglowy, who walked around in threadbare clothes and whom people in town said were literally starving. As a child I could not easily forgive the Kaminsker (i.e. Rabbi Shlomo Elimelech) this injustice, and this was the cause of my childish antipathy.

However, later, when I used to bring to Rabbi Shlomo Elimelech books from the Mizrachi library, my attitude toward him changed completely. From the short conversations that I had with him, I discovered his refined nature and kindness. In 1945 I met him again in a camp, just before his death. More details about this case will come later.

 

The great destruction

In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the war, the Jewish–nationalist youth from all denominations were well–organised in Zawiercie. Generally, nationalistic fervour was strong amongst all national–religious Jews in Zawiercie. Tens of national–religious pioneers travelled to Israel.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority remained attached to their town – mostly because of family commitments. The mind was oriented towards remaining in the town. We continued believing in the “civilized world”, and it did not occur to anyone that on 1 September 1939 German airplanes would start bombing Zawiercie (at 6 o'clock in the morning).

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kedoshim. The term “kedoshim” is sometimes also used to refer to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust because these people fulfilled the commandment of bringing honour, respect, and glory to G–d. Return
  2. A special Yizkor “Remembrance” prayer for Holocaust victims is recited at various times during the year. Return
  3. A special Memorial Prayer for Holocaust victims is recited at various times during the year. Return
  4. The surname in Yiddish is אסאקאווס and is difficult to interpret. Yoskowicz was the closest surname from Zawiercie Necrology. Return
  5. The surname in Yiddish is קאציקע. The closest surname from Zawiercie Necrology is Kocki. Return
  6. Festival of Tabernacles Return
  7. A temporary structure with a roof of branches in which Jews eat and, if possible, sleep during the festival of Succot. Also called a “tabernacle”. Return
  8. Young learned student Return
  9. The Tarbut movement was a network of secular, Hebrew–language schools in parts of the former Jewish Pale of Settlement, specifically in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. Its existence was primarily between World War I and Two. Return
  10. Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel Return
  11. An 18thi19th–century movement among central and eastern European Jews, begun in Germany under the leadership of Moses Mendelssohn, designed to make Jews and Judaism more cosmopolitan in character by promoting knowledge of and contributions to the secular arts and sciences and encouraging adoption of the dress, customs, and language of the general population. Return

 

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