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My Father Isuchar Moshe Szwarc (Schwartz) [1]

Translated by Doubi Swarc and Emanuel Frankel

Edited by Jerrold Landau

1949 will mark a decade since the death of the enlightened and renowned Jewish thinker, Isuchar Moshe Szwarc. He was eighty years old when he died in his hometown Zgierz, a day before the deportation.

They burnt his library, which was one of the most well known, important private collections of Jewish books (known as Hebraica in the vernacular). Even his house was completely destroyed.

As can be seen, those murderers were not satisfied with murdering an old Jew, a drop in the sea of six million that they murdered in a cruel fashion – for their plan was to exterminate the Jewish body of knowledge, along with the Jewish people, by destroying all Jewish books, and even the houses in which such books were found.

In this case, they had no complaints. For Isuchar Szwarc's home in Zgierz was the home of Jewish Haskalah and intelligentsia, writers, scholars, communal leaders and artists – starting with David Friszman and Nachum Sokolow, and ending with Yaakov Cohen, Katzenelson, Nomberg, Glicenstein and others.

You, my beloved friend, my brother of the Jewish people of Zgierz, have convinced his eldest son to write about his father's great personality. Can indeed a son write without a dose of reverence, for who has any other option than to suspend the objectivity that is needed to write about such an enlightened personality as Isuchar Szwarc?!

{Photo page 393: The family of Isuchar Szwarc on the occasion of the wedding of Shmuel Schwartz in Odessa in 1914. Standing from left to right: Shmuel, Manya, Dov, Simcha, and Marek. Sitting: Agatha (the bride), Sara and Isuchar Szwarc, Roza, and Yechiel Frenkel. Lying at the bottom Aleksander Szwarc (currently in Canada).[2]}

Incidentally, I have an additional fault: I write a poor Yiddish, for I have already been away from the home for over 50 years.

Even though one does not forget one's mother tongue, I rarely have the opportunity to write in Yiddish. As long as my father was alive, I corresponded him in Hebrew, and with my mother in Polish. In truth, we spoke Yiddish at home – in those days it was still referred to as “jargon” – however I never wrote Yiddish.


It is written in Pirke Avot [3]: “Someone who quotes something in the name of the person who originally said it brings redemption to the world.” I wish to commence describing the character of my revered father with a quote from one of his original statements, which helped me greatly in my literary work:

First, regarding the origin of the word “Marrano”, the term used for the secret Jews of Spain and Portugal. From where does the term “Marrano” originate?

In the Spanish and Portuguese languages, the word “marrano” means a pig, and this case, the term “Marranos” means “pigs”. However, this is not correct, for in the entire literature of the inquisition, spanning over 300 years and over 40,000 inquisition trials that can be found today in the Lisbon archives, one does not find the term “Marrano”, the term that was and still is used by the masses. They are called “Neo-Christians”, or simply “Jews”, as well as “meshumadim” [4], and such terms as “hunt” [5]. But the term “Marranos” was unknown there. This proves that the term does not stem from Portugal, and has nothing to do with the Spanish and Portuguese word “marranen” (pig).

According to my father, the term “Marrano” comes from the Hebrew “Lemareh Ayin” [6], that is a Christian only as appears to the eye – and from there arose the term “Marrano”.

I do not wish to record here all of the statements that my father made in helping me with my work, for I would have to write a book… but one more fact is indeed worthy of repeating:

One of the old tombstones from 1345 that is found in the Jewish museum of Tomar ends with “Nun Bet Tav, and he is buried in this grave”. What does Nun Bet Tav refer to? My father was able to decipher the inscription: these are the initials of the statement “Nafsho Betov Talin” (“his soul shall rest well”), from Psalms 25, 13.


As I have stated, I am his eldest son. He was only twenty years older then I; we looked more like two brothers. I was born in 1880 in Zgierz, and as I calculate, my revered father was born in 1860 or 1859 (I am not sure which), also in the city of Zgierz. His father was Hersz Ber Szwarc and his mother Miriam (nee Glicksman).

My grandfather Hersz Ber of blessed memory was a wealthy metal trader. My grandmother Miriam of blessed memory was his second wife.

My grandfather had four sons from his first wife, all merchants and metal traders. He had only one son, my father Yissachar Moshe (pronounced Isucher[7]), from his second wife.

My father's house that the Germans destroyed was built in the lifetime of my grandfather Hersz Ber. My mother Sara, also born Glicksman, was very beautiful. She was tall, with blue eyes, black hair, and clear, white skin, milk and blood…

My father was also tall and slender. He was a handsome, delicate young man. From among all his brothers, he was the only one who did not become a businessman. He consecrated his life to studying. Don't think he went to a Gymnasium, Heaven forbid! After some time in cheder, a tutor was brought home to teach him. At first, obviously, it was a tutor who taught him Bible and Talmud. Later, he also studied German, Russian and Polish. Generally speaking, I can say that he was self-educated. The fact that he wore a long kapote cloak did not stop him from delving into the writings of Mendelsohn, Heine, Zunz, Luzzato, or into the works modern Hebrew writers of the era, such as Yehuda Leib Gordon, Mapu and Smolenski. I also know that he read Frug's Russian poetry in Russian, and “Meir Ezepowicz” by Ozszeszko in Polish. He was able to read whatever he wanted, and, as it seems, he combined Bible, Talmud, the love of Zion of Mapu, and the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).

Already at that time he began establishing his library, his book collection, which was as dear to him as his own life.


At a young age, my father married his beautiful and beloved cousin Sara Glicksman. He was a young man of nineteen, and she – a child of sixteen. As was the custom, his father-in-law supported him for a year or two, till he could choose a means of livelihood. Less than a year after his marriage, my grandfather Wolf Glicksman, died. Since mother was the youngest daughter, the beloved mezinka [8], my widowed grandmother did no want to be separated from her. That is why my father lived and was supported at my grandmother's home for eighteen years, as long as my grandmother lived.

In the interim, my Szwarc grandparents died. My grandfather's house was left as an inheritance to my father.

The income from the house enabled my father to educate his children in Gymansias, and to send me, his eldest son, to study in Paris. My father was free of financial worries. He was able dedicate himself to “Torah Va'Avoda” [9] and to his intellectual aspirations.

As far as I am concerned, my departure for Paris to study always was a miracle, since my father had always wanted me to study to become a rabbi at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin [10].

Although a liberal, my father still wore a long kapote cloak. Discarding it and replacing it with a short coat required a great deal of courage…

This he did in 1892. While visiting St. Petersburg, where he met Jewish leaders, he visited the Imperial library, and befriended the famous poet Yehudah Leib Gordon.

After my father returned from St. Petersburg, he never wore a long coat again.

After the death of my grandmother Zise, my father's financial condition deteriorated considerably. My grandmother's house, where my parents were living, was given to one of my uncles [11] as an inheritance. The period of in-law support ended, and my parents had to move to their own house which they had inherited from my Szwarc grandfather. Since my parents took over the best part of the house for themselves, the income from renting the house decreased, and was not sufficient to provide for their day to day needs.

My father then opened a factory that produced silk ribbon. This enterprise did not last long. The factory burnt down, and my father lost the little money left from the recent inheritance.

At that time, a government school of commerce was opened in Zgierz with all the rights of a Gymnasia, which accepted Jewish children without a percentage quota. Many young Jews arrived in Zgierz from Poland and Lithuania. This created new opportunities for landlords in the town: renting rooms to Jewish students. My father also opened such a hostel, since he had a large multi-room house.

Obviously, the entire burden fell upon my mother's shoulders, but she undertook it lovingly. Father again was free of worries of livelihood, and was once again able to dedicate himself to his books and the like.


At that time, I was a student in Paris. The hostel business continued for several more years, and ended when the regime moved the commerce school to Russia. By that time, I had already graduated as an engineer and was working in Spain and Africa. I already had the financial ability to help my dear parents, and I gradually paid back a part of the large expenses they had spent for my studies.

This enabled my father to provide higher education for almost all of my brothers, to marry off my three dear sisters, and my father himself was able to continue his publicity efforts, in writings and in oral presentations, towards a renaissance of Polish Jewry.

A few Jewish intellectuals were living in Zgierz at the time, and they cooperated with my father in his publicity activities. Two were much older than father, Reb Tovia Lipszicz, a good Hebraist and a picturesque Lithuanian Jew; and the elderly Galician Jew A. Y. Weicenfeld, who was an expert in Jewish and German literature. The third was from Zgierz, still a young man, Moshe Eiger, a grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger [12].

They all used to meet every Sabbath afternoon at Mr. Weicenfeld's little one-story house at the market square. I came along many times.

Most of their activities were oral. Only my father used to publish articles from time to time in the “Hatzefirah” newspaper, and later in “Hayom”, as well as in the Yiddish journals of Warsaw and Lodz. He wrote under the pseudonym, “Yam Shachor” (Black Sea). The Yod and Mem were the initials of Yissachar Moshe, and Shachor (black) was for Szwarc.

My parents conducted an Orthodox household. My father was tolerant with respect to the greater or lesser religious observance of his children. On Sabbaths and festivals we all went to the Beis Midrash, since my father did not worship at the Great Synagogue, but at the more democratic Beis Midrash. My mother was more fastidious with regards to her religiosity, and would ask me at times whether I had recited my prayers.

I will never forget my embarrassment when, on my first return from Paris for the summer vacation, mother unpacked my luggage and asked me if I had worshipped every day. “Of course,” I replied. She examined by Tefillin bag [13], and took out a gold coin that she had put there before I left for Paris for the first time. You can imagine my shock, shame, and also my disappointment...

My father was a close friend of Nachum Sokolow, and of the native of Zgierz David Friszman, who lived in Lodz. Father used to often visit Warsaw. He went to Lodz almost daily, even before the Zgierz - Lodz tramway was installed.

Transportation was in horse drawn wagons. Most drivers were Jews. The wagon station was on Schule Gasse very close to father's house. There were four seats in a wagon. If a fifth passenger came, he had to climb up with the coachman.

When the driver collected the fees from four or five passengers [14], they set off. The drive to the old city of Lodz was approximately one and a half hours.

In the winter times, when the highway was frozen, the poor, lean horse could not carry the wagon uphill, and the passengers had to go out and push for quite a large part of the way.


My father was very disorganized. It could happen, for example, as he himself would tell us, that he would travel to Lodz, while the whole family was expecting him for lunch. Simply, he met up with a friend who was travelling to Lodz, and he traveled together with him, without contemplating that they might be concerned at home as to why he has not shown up for lunch.

I was familiar with the 10-verst [15] stretch from Zgierz to Lodz like the back of my hand [16]. When the carriage brought us, through the grace of G-d, safely to Siebler's garden (I have no inkling of what it is called today), we would take comfort that were almost in Valut [17]. That is the same Valut that the Germans converted into a ghetto, and later – into a cemetery.

My father visited me twice in Paris. Once it was completely unexpected. In Paris he met with the famous professor Joseph Ha-Levi, with the Chief Rabbi Zadok Cohen, and with Max Nordau, Dr. Marmorek and others.

I have forgotten to write that my father was always a Zionist. I can remember how fifty years ago, when Dr. Herzl published his “Judenstadt” (“State of the Jews”), father wrote to me in Paris: “I am for him, and his dreams are mine”.

My father did not eat non-kosher food. While he was in Paris, I had to go with him to eat in a kosher restaurant in the Jewish quarter. My mother however, when she arrived in Paris in 1900 for the International Exposition, was not satisfied with the kosher certification of the restaurant, but went into the kitchen herself to make sure personally that the meat was properly rendered kosher in accordance with law and tradition. Father would be satisfied with the sign of certification. He used to say, “If someone's name is Gnendel, we can eat her Kendel [18]”. He understood that I could not go daily to eat in the Jewish quarter, a two or three hour journey from the Latin Quarter, where all of the students lived.

My father's life was generally happy. He was somewhat delicate physically. He never complained and never went to a physician. I never remember seeing him ill enough to take to bed. My beloved mother kept him well – and they both lived happily and joyously.

During my youth, my younger brother died in his childhood. However, their first disaster and greatest tragedy was the death of my sister Miriam (Mania). She was only 25 years old. She had gotten married and settled with her husband in Tel Aviv. A few months later, she died of typhus. The sanitary conditions were still very poor in those years.

This did not stop my other sister, Tzipora, who married the famous Zionist leader of Radom, Yechiel Frenkel, from settling in Tel Aviv, nor my brother, the engineer Simcha, from settling in the Land of Israel with his family. They have already been living there for about 20 years. They were the only ones who inherited and fulfilled my father's dream, and his love for the Land of Israel.

My father was also a delegate to the Zionist Congress in Vienna in 1913. I came from Spain to visit with him there.


The biggest disappointment that my parents had from a child was from my brother Mordechai, the famous painter and sculptor, who lives in Paris. It is no longer a secret that he converted from Judaism with his wife and child… One can imagine the terrible chagrin that this caused my poor parents.

Marek (Mordechai) was the best-loved son. He would often come to Poland for exhibitions, and he would paint and sculpt for my parents. He was very attached to our parents, and they loved him very much.

His apostasy was not only a terrible shock to my parents, but also to the entire Jewish world. It took place suddenly and unexpectedly approximately twelve years ago, and nobody can understand the reason until this day.

My father withstood the unexpected catastrophic shock. He tried to persuade his beloved son, whom he always – even after the conversion – referred to as Mordechai the Tzadik, that he was living an error. He would write to him heartfelt and philosophical words. All of the brothers, even myself from my side, wrote to Marek and attempted to convince him that he had committed a terrible travesty, and that his crazy deed was a deathblow for our dear parents. However, it was to no avail.

For my mother, that blow was the most terrible. It shortened and embittered her life. She died suddenly of a heart attack. She was three years younger than my father, and died two years before him, at age 75. She died without having previously been ill, through a kiss of death, as a righteous woman [19]. One can consider it to be lucky that she died before the war, and did not witness how the German murderers killed my dear father. All her life were devoted to her husband, enabling him to live without having to work, so that he could devote himself to the benefit of his people and the benefit of Judaism. She deserves to be remembered as a model mother in Israel. May her holy soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life!


My father died as a Tzadik in sanctification of the name of G-d. The same fate was in store for my brother Hersz-Ber, and my youngest sister Zosia who were killed along with his wife and children in the Warsaw Ghetto [20]. From all the family living in Poland at the time, the only one to survive was the eldest son of my brother Hersz-Ber, David Szwarc, who was saved thanks to a Polish acquaintance, a refined person, Stanislaw Pielka (who lived in Mokotow, Palencka 3). He saved David's life at the risk of his own. I am writing about him here, before the community and congregation, in order to express my best and heartfelt thanks to him. My nephew David is now living in Canada, with my youngest brother, Dr. Aleksander Schwartz.

My brother Dr. Aleksander Szwarc is a famous chemist, a scientist who settled in Canada. He might be successful in becoming a professor, something that my father might have become had he lived in a free country.

I wrote in error that my nephew David Schwartz was the only member of the entire family in Poland who survived. After the war, my brother-in-law, the engineer Kazimierz Lewi, came back from Russia. He was not able to find his wife, my sister Zosia, and his only son, who were gassed and burnt.

My other brother-in-law, Yechiel Frenkel of Tel Aviv [21], is the only one who can be compared to my father. One can state that he was the “alter ego” of my father, with respect to his virtues, Jewish education, and love for Israel, where he has already been working for 20 years.

He translated my writings on the Marranos in Portugal into Hebrew. These were published at “Ha-Yom” (Today) in 1926. I turn to him today, as I used to turn to father, for consultation on difficult Hebrew manuscripts that I find in the local archives.

As for myself, the eldest son, I inherited my Father's love for books, love of Judaism and of the History of the Jewish people. Thanks to this, I undertook my work regarding the Marranos. I published a work on their prayers and customs. Thanks to my research, I was able to rescue an old synagogue from the 15th century, and turn it into a Hebrew museum with the support of the government. I also established, a large Hebraica book collection which is found in the museum. This collection was founded by my wife and myself, and will one day be sent to Israel.

I would also like to mention my studies about David Reuveni, Shlomo Molcho, and about anti-Semitism. These have been published here. I thank my revered father for the motivation for this.

All of my brothers, and my brother-in-law Yechiel Frenkel, as has been stated, inherited some of my father's qualities. However, none of us has inherited his golden soul, his exceptional goodness, his great altruism, his extensive knowledge, and his clear mind.

May his soul rest in peace.

By the Engineer Shmuel Schwartz
Lisbon, February 15, 1948


Isuchar Moshe Szwarc of blessed memory[22]

By Y. A. Malkieli

One of the most respected members of the city, and the glory of the Zgierz community, a central figure in the community, a scholar, an erudite thinker, a lofty public activist, one of the old-timers and builders of the community, an outstanding person, an educator of the generation, whose home was a meeting place from which Torah and wisdom was disseminated to the public – such was Reb Isuchar Moshe Szwarc of blessed memory.

He was born in Zgierz on the 7th of Adar, 5619 (1859) to his father Reb Hersz Ber Szwarc. His father was a merchant and prominent person, who educated his children in the spirit of Torah and tradition. He studied in cheder during his youth, and later studied Torah from famous rabbis, including the first rabbi of Zgierz, Rabbi Shalom Tzvi HaKohen of holy blessed memory. He became involved with Haskalah at a young age, but he never severed his connection with religion and tradition. He was a childhood friend of his fellow native, the eminent writer David Friszman. They delved into Torah and wisdom together, studying Talmud, Jewish law, language and science. He was a close friend to his educated and erudite friends, Reb Tovia Lipszicz and Reb Moshe Eiger of blessed memory. Together they formed a threefold strand [23], as they disseminated Torah, light and knowledge in our city.

After he married his cousin Sara the daughter of Reb Wolf Glicksman of blessed memory (in the year 5645 – 1885) [24], he opened a factory for silk ribbons, and earned a good livelihood. His Torah and wisdom did not become his profession, but rather remained his main delight for all his days. He dedicated all of his free time to Torah and literature.

{Photo page 403: Isuchar and Sara Szwarc. [25]}

He published many articles In “Hashachar”, “Hamagid”, “Magid Mishneh”, “Hatzefirah” and other periodicals on historical and bibliographic topics. In these articles, he demonstrated a deep breadth of knowledge, as he shed light on books, their authors, their time period, their locale and their style. He signed with his real name, and under pseudonyms such as “Yam Shachor”, “Shachor Tushiya”, and others. He published an important historical survey on Tiberias, its settlement and its rabbis in the weekly “HaMenora” that was published in Lodz (edited by Reb Moshe Helman). He published articles of research and bibliography on books about Torah, and he also published twelve historical articles in Yiddish under the name “Barimte Kinder” (“Eminent Children”), regarding the Marranos of Spain and Portugal. He also published articles and essays, on a reasonably regular basis, in the Yiddish newspaper “Lodzer Tagblat”.

He maintained contact with great leaders of his generation. The poet Y. L. Gordon mentioned him in a positive light in his memoirs. Nachum Sokolow mentions him in his book “Ishim” (“Personalities”) as a regular visitor at the literary parties that took place each Monday in Warsaw. The writer Reb Avraham Weicenfeld (author of “Sdeh Chitim” – “Wheat Fields”) and lived for a period time in Zgierz, was among his friends. Visitors to his home included David Friszman, Yaakov Cohen, Binyamin Katzenelson (“Binyamini”) and his son the poet Yitzchak Katzenelson, H. D. Nomberg (who was for a period of time the tutor of the older sons in his house), his relative the sculptor Chanoch Glicenstein, Nachum Sokolow, and others. The sage Reb Eliezer Tzvi Hakohen Zwiefel contacted him on his visit to Zgierz and corresponded with him by letter. Some of these letters were published in “Haolam” in 1939.

On his visits to St. Petersburg (today Leningrad [26]), he would visit Y. L. Gordon and also, lehavdil [27] also met the Russian priest Johan Kronshtedsky, an advisor to Czar Aleksander III (it was interesting to hear him tell of his impressions of his discussions and debates with the clergyman). He visited the home of the famous Polish writer Alyza Uzszkowa, a righteous gentile who wrote about Jewish topics in her books, and related to the Jews with great admiration.

His rich library included thousands of valuable books and manuscripts, It is possible to say that it was one of the richest and largest in Poland. Szwarc used to lend books to sages and writers, such as Dr. A. Sh. Poznanski, Sh. P. Rabinowicz, etc. During the time of the Beilis blood libel trial (1913), Dr. Israelsohn, Brodsky's secretary (Brodsky being one of the wealthy men of Russia, who paid the legal fees for the trial) expressed his anguish about the fact that he was missing several books, particularly about the topic of Kabbala, that the anti-Semitic “expert” the priest Franeitis relied upon, as it were, in his accusations against Jews and Judaism. Reb Isuchar Szwarc made haste and promised that he would find for him any book that he was missing, and he fulfilled his promise. Dr. Israelsohn thanked him in public for this (“Hatzefirah” from the year 5673, 1913).

He not only collected books but also studied them day and night. The fruits of his thoughts were written in their margins: explanations, notes with Russian and Greek adages, and other pearls of wisdom and science that gave testimony to his all-encompassing body of knowledge. It was not for naught that he was referred to as “a living encyclopedia”. Many secret storehouses were bound up in his closed closet, which could shed light on many issues regarding the Haskalah era, memories of the renaissance of the national idea, etc. It is too bad that this precious storehouse was destroyed by the vandals of the 20th century, for there is no replacement.

Isuchar Szwarc was friendly with different Jewish circles, both in Zgierz and outside of it. He cultivated friendly relationships with the rabbis and Hassidim of Zgierz. Reb Moshe Helman writes in his memoirs (still in manuscript form) that he was once present during a visit in the year 5648 (1888) of Reb Isuchar to the home of Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Meizel of holy blessed memory, the rabbi of Lodz, and the rabbi greeted him with a kiss on the face.

He further relates in his memoirs that, once a month, Reb Isuchar Szwarc would travel to Lodz to join a circle of Maskilim. Once a month, that circle would also meet in his home in Zgierz, and occupy themselves with Torah thoughts and research. The chief spokesman in that circle was, of course, Reb Isuchar Szwarc, who was able to walk comfortably among the old and the new, among life in accordance with the Code of Jewish Law and in the spirit of Haskalah, that is to say, with classical humanistic tolerance.

Mr. Helman relates that during one of these meetings in Zgierz, it was decided to send a delegation to Warsaw to the wedding of David Friszman, and to give him a gift of valuable silver vessels worth approximately 1,000 Rubles. Of course, one of the members of this delegation was Reb Isuchar Szwarc. David Friszman writes the following in his thank you note of 1903: “ -- -- -- and say to Y. M. Szwarc that I received the letter that accompanied the gift with a great deal of pleasure, and I recognized it as the work of his hands. It is clear to me that this man realized, as he states, that Lodz takes pride in me, and indeed, I can state the opposite with full sincerity, that I take pride in Lodz, and I am proud of it. For at the end, we did not see any deeds such as this in any city other than Lodz, which is the first city to us, and which is a sign to others. Peace and blessings to the friend of my youth, to Szwarc.”

Already from the time of his youth, Reb Isuchar Szwarc was a loyal member of Chovevei Zion. He already merited to be accepted as a member of Bnei Moshe , which was established by Echad Ha-Am (he appears in the list of Yehuda Appel, # 1942), and he took pride in it for his entire life. When Zionism arose, he immediately joined its ranks. He was chosen as a delegate to Zionist Congresses in London and Vienna prior to World War I, and he participated in every effort on behalf of the people and the Land.

His personality was a pleasing combination of an old type Halachic Jew and a modern communal activist. He was noble in his virtues, good natured, loved by the public with a distinguished appearance and a splendid visage, which inspired respect and love in all those with whom he came in contact.

He always held a chief position in our city, as a communal leader, as the head of public institutions, as the head of the Zionist organization, and a member of the town council (from 1928 until the outbreak of the war, he served as head of the “Lawnik” division), etc.

On the occasion of his eightieth birthday (in the year 5699 – 1939) the Jewish press all over Poland and also in the Land published articles in his honor, including his photograph. He was honored with the title of Honorary President of the community of Zgierz. For all his life, he desired to make aliya to the Land, but he never merited doing so.

Reb Isuchar Szwarc had five sons and also five daughters[28]: the eldest is the engineer Shmuel Schwartz, who is famous for his activities regarding the Marranos of Portugal and his research into their lives and history; Hersz Ber Szwarc who lived in Lodz; Simcha Szwarc, and engineer who made aliya and died in the Land; the sculptor Marek Szwarc who lived in Paris; and Dr. Aleksander Szwarc, a chemist who today lives in Montreal, Canada. His daughters were Miriam (Manya), who made aliya at age 25, got married and settled in Tel Aviv, and died of typhus a few months later; Tzipora who also made aliya with her husband, the well-known Zionist activist Reb Yechiel Frenkel of Radom who stood at the helm of the veteran Zionist in the Land; and his daughter of his old age Zosia, the wife of the engineer K. Lewi, also from Radom, who perished in the Holocaust with her child.

Destruction came upon the Jews of Zgierz towards the end of his life, with the invasion of Poland by the German army. The Nazi murderers had no mercy upon his home. They pillaged his property, including his one-of-a-kind valuable books and manuscripts, into which he poured all of his energies. When he rose up to defend his library, and all of his pleas had no influence upon the hearts of the enemy, as they pillaged and burnt his library – he collapsed and died of a heart attack. According to the reports that we received, the Red Cross took care of his burial, since there were no available members of the Chevra Kadisha. Nobody from the town came to pay him his final respects. This was on account of the expulsion, for the expulsion of the Jews of Zgierz from the city took place that very day.

Reb Isuchar Moshe Szwarc died on 14th of Tevet 5700 (December 26th, 1939). He was 81 years old when he died. He was one of the earliest residents of Zgierz, and also the last one that stood on guard of its flock until the bitter end.

May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.


One in the City

(Isuchar Szwarc – as I remember him)

Reb Isuchar Moshe Szwarc was one of the most prominent personalities in our city, and his popularity, his radiant personality grew into the frame of a representative patriarchal family portrait, which his children witnessed and portrayed.

Reb Isuchar Szwarc was the pride and gem of Jewish Zgierz [29]. He was respected and held in esteem by all segments of the Jewish population. This was not only the case with Jews – the Christian population, especially of the older generation, respected him. For many years, he was the only Jewish lawnik – and later also a councilor – on the Zgierz magistrate; where with his high level of intelligence and rich body of general knowledge he was often drawn into involvement with joyous and cultural events in the city. He was, especially in the early years, the head of the standing group of representatives of the Jewish community to various official civic enterprises, particularly for Polish nationalist government celebrations. He often served as the representative along with the rabbi. Both represented the Jewish community of Zgierz with dignity, wearing silk top hats. Also in times of distress and threatening danger, he bravely was the representative to intercede for the good of the wronged Jewish minority.

{Photo page 407: Isuchar Szwarc as a delegate to the Zionist Congress. [30]}

In the 1850s, when the first rabbi of Zgierz, Rabbi Shalom Hersz Hakohen of blessed memory, occupied the rabbinical seat, Zgierz became known as a place of Torah and Hassidism in Poland. In the 1870s, after the two well-known Maskilim who were scholars and deeply knowledgeable about Judaica – Reb Avraham Yaakov Weicenfeld of Krakow and Reb Tovia Lipszicz from Kovno – settled in Zgierz, the first kernels of Haskalah began to be appear in Zgierz, and a fruitful field for their pioneering cultural work A recognizable group of the more progressive and intelligent young people formed who diligently and thirstily studied the ways of education and Haskalah. One of the first of these – together with his friend David Friszman, a student of the old rabbinical judge Rabbi Moshe Bendet – was Isuchar Szwarc. Due to his deep level of knowledge and broad Jewish conception, and the rich baggage of general world images that he had acquired by that time, he became recognized as an important, creative factor in the community. He became the third element of the threefold strand that worked for and sowed the basis of the intellectual environment for the Jewish nationalistic renaissance idea in our city.

With respect to his important service for the Jewish community, it is necessary to especially mention his devoted and tireless work for the spreading and popularizing of the Hebrew language and culture among the youth of Zgierz, and his publicity of the idea of Chovevei Zion at every occasion. Together with his older friends, the aforementioned Reb Avraham Yaakov Weicenfeld and Reb Tovia Lipszicz, he was the most active and important factor in the establishment of the fundamentals of modern Zionism in Zgierz. Firstly, with his bringing of the well-known Maskil and Hebrew writer Reb Binyamin Katzenelson from Warsaw to open and run the first “Cheder Metukan” [31] in the city, he began a new era in the Zgierz Jewish nationalist educational style. Zgierz was known in Poland not only for its “Torah and business”, but also for its nationalistic Zionist intelligentsia as well as a center of Haskalah.

The dignified elder (and we remember his as a tall, thin, stately elder) who was known in the Jewish world as a Torah scholar and a Maskil, as a scholar and a commentator, as a writer and a bibliographer, also became, with the passage of time, a dedicated communal activist, and for many years was the elected communal leader. He was the chairman of the “Agudat Hatzionim” (“Union of Zionists”) for many years, and was also the “leader” of all of the Zionist events. He was an eminent representative to all of the recognized humanitarian and social institutions in the city.

His large, two-story, brick house on Strikowska and Krotka Streets, which was built by his father Hersz Ber Szwarc – who himself was a determined fighter against the “quarter settling” during the first half of the 1800s [32] – was a veritable gathering place of scholars. With his famous library, containing a large Judaica section, his house was a serious cultural center for the Hebrew-Jewish literary world and Jewish students. Isuchar Szwarc himself was a bibliophile by nature in accordance with the finest definition of the term. It was a veritable pleasure to see him in his large library room, as he caressed each book that he took off the shelves with the tenderness of water.

His characteristic image, his fine mannerism, his majestic, measured gait, all elicited notice. People would look at him – Reb Isuchar Szwarc! This harmonized wonderfully with his natural, sincere modesty and populist simplicity. If a passerby greeted him with a “good morning”, he would bow and answer with a grateful smile. He would often stop a child that he encountered and ask him who he is, to whom does he belong, where does he study – and parted from him with a caress on the head… he was a true father to all in the city, and his heart was full with love of his fellow Jew. I still remember with certainty who of us (alas, alas, very few of us can still remember…) how he would often turn to us, the young youth of Zion, with an enlightening discussion or similar conversation, and he would began with the call “Children!” – in the manner of a fatherly educator…

{Photo page 410, Isuchar Szwarc with his in-law Sh. Barabash at the Zionist Congress in Vienna, 1913 [33].}

Reb Isuchar Szwarc was also an exquisite raconteur, and his ordinary conversations, spiced with words, quotes, adages from our sages, and anecdotes, left a deep impression, and were literally like an oral tradition to his various young listeners… Therefore, it is no news that his reports on the Zionist congresses, in which he took part as a delegate, always elicited great interest in Jewish social circles, and simultaneously blew a fresh breath of life into the Zionist groups. I use the term “reports”, however, these were really impressions and reflections upon greater and more intellectual experiences. His incomparable encounters and discussions with leading personalities of nationalistic Judaism, and his personal contacts with the ideologues and guides of the world Zionist organization, imparted a special significance and importance to his speeches and deeds, which left a strong and favorable impression upon those gathered together.

His 70th birthday (in the year 1929) was celebrated in Jewish Zgierz in a valuable and positive manner: with a solemn reception organized in the large “Lutnia” movie theater in honor of the renown Zionist activist and political leader of Polish Jewry, Sejm deputy Yitzchak Grynbaum – on his visit to Zgierz. The participants who mainly included the city notables and national-social activists – decided, through a special elected committee, to inscribe the “Zionist elder” of Zgierz, Reb Isuchar Moshe Szwarc, in the “Golden Book” [34]. As well, his closest friend, the late Zionist activist Reb Tovia Lipszicz, was inscribed in the “Golden Book” on that occasion (as described in the “Lodzer Tagblat”, December 18, 1929).

Unfortunately, in his later years, he did not have a great deal of contentment. In particular, the death of his beloved and dear life partner Sarahshe, the exemplary wife and mother, of whom even age could not efface her prior beauty and refined grace, had such a great effect upon him that he withdrew from all of his societal work and sought solitude and consolation in the books of his library. One could also see him going for a walk from time to time, resting on his cane, on the way to the rabbi's home. There, with his closest friend the scholar Rabbi Shlomo Leib Hakohen, he attempted to rediscover his spiritual balance through their conversations on religion and philosophy.

On the tragic winter day of the expulsion from Zgierz (15th Tevet 5600 – December 27, 1939), when over 5,000 Jews were thrown out of their homes with death and destruction – the great Jew and dignified resident of Zgierz, Reb Isuchar Moshe the son of Hersz Ber Szwarc of blessed memory, was killed, or expired from fright. It is not for us to determine the supernatural equations of those bizarre days of confusion. However, this is clear: he was the last Jew of Zgierz who was buried in the holy earth of the generations old cemetery of his community, with which he was bonded with thousands of bonds. Indeed, he merited having a Jewish burial. Even this is a consolation…

In those dark days, together with the covering of the ground over the grave of Reb Isuchar Moshe Szwarc, the tragic end of the glorious and effervescent history of Zgierz Jewry arrived. How fateful and symbolic… May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

By Vove Fisher of Tel Aviv


Song about my Grandfather, Isucher Schwartz of Zgierz

By Czajka (Izabela Gelbard) [36]

{Portrait page 412 – Isuchar Szwarc, drawn by Henry Glicenstein [35].}

{Note from translator: At this point, there is a footnote in the text with a biographical note. There is a Yiddish and Hebrew version, both with different details. They contradict as to the relationship of Gelbard to Isuchar Szwarc. Mary Seeman points out that the Hebrew version is correct – Izabela Gelbard was the great niece of Isuchar Szwarc, not the granddaughter. She is the granddaughter of Isuchar's half brother.}

Izabela Gelbard (pen name: Czajka) is a granddaughter of the renowned activist and cultural leader of Zgierz Isuchar Szwarc. She was active in the partisan movement in Poland during the Second World War. She was also the author of several books (in the Polish language), which relate, among other things, to the era of destruction. They were published in Polish under the pen name Czajka. (Related by Aryeh Ben-Menachem.)

Izabela (Bella) Gelbard, later Stachowicz (from her second husband) was the daughter of the nephew of Isuchar Szwarc, that is to say, her grandfather was the brother of Isuchar Szwarc. Her first husband was Jerzy Gelbard, an architect by profession. She was a graduate of the academy of arts of Paris. During the Holocaust, she lived in the Otwock ghetto near Warsaw. At the time of the liquidation of the ghetto, she managed to escape and join a group of partisans. Later she joined the Polish army. The name Czajka was her pseudonym during her time in the underground. She published 11 books, including an anthology called “Songs of the Ghetto”. She died in Warsaw in 1969. (Related by Aryeh Ben-Menachem.)

It was He, my grandfather Isuchar, who stood by the side of Moses at that time
When Moses smote the rock and commanded: “Let the water come forth!”
It was He, together with Jacob, who climbed the rungs of the ladder that reached to the
Protected from the fate of Sodom, free of sin – G-d kept him away from sin.
He wandered through the pages of the Bible for a thousand years
When He was lost in the desert – the moon led him through the desert night!
When He was hungry – the manna nourished him, and he pleaded towards the ruddy
desert heavens:
“Please send us in your mercy, oh Eternal Creator, our daily morsel of bread!”.
He forever had these words engraved as prayers in his heart --
He, my grandfather – Isucher Szwarc, the eternal Jew from Zgierz –
Our King David sang his Psalms with a melody for him,
Waiting for grandfather's praises, for is there enough grace present in those verses?
And he, grandfather? – His gaze towards heaven, his arms outstretched:
– My King, venerate the eternal God in your heart, rather than in half uttered words.”

{Note from translator: the following section was not in the Yiddish translation in the Yizkor book, but was provided in Mary Seeman's translation.}

It was he, my grandfather, who secretly watched Joseph, the son of his late years
When he in silvery consecration bent his face over the water
Night darkened with envy. The young and victorious
Form of his son he fixed with a penetrating eye:
“A charmed narcissus believes in his beauty
Vanity of vanities– in the passage of a wave
They lose that which is immortal – nothing will save them.

{Note from translator: the Yizkor book provided translation resumes here. [37]}

… And I – His granddaughter, today sing this song of love, bearing my grandfather's fate
My body – with his bones is bound, and bonded with his Jewish blood;
My origin is from his thoughts, and I wish it would remain so forever
No storm will break me, and no wide horde will trample me.
Flames of fire will not scorch me, floods of water will not drown me,
Neither murder, nor war, nor burning pillars of fire –
I will be completely protected from slaughter, and withstand the storm like a mountain;
Not one hair from my head will fall to the ground,
I will overcome everything, like the beams of the first light.
For My grandfather, with his might, mandated me to live.
For me, his bright shadow is like the illumination of an elder prophet
I will bear his great and immortal heart in my bosom
The heart of my grandfather from Zgierz – Isuchar Szwarc.

And now I want to praise and sing to Zgierz, the cradle of my holy forebears
The simple marketplace, lined with white gutters of limestone:
In springtime – the leaves of the chestnut trees softly cling to the glittering panes,
I wish to laud the crooked houses and also the weary fences.

{Note from translator: The following two lines are not in the Yiddish translation in the Yizkor book, but were provided in Mary Seeman's translation.}

Bearded goats amble along the narrow streets.
The wind ruffles their beards, they point at the sky with their horns.

{Note from translator: The Yizkor book translation resumes here.}

It is Friday evening. The Sabbath. You can see through the windows silver candlesticks
and burning candles.
On the tables – white tablecloths, bedecked with the fish, challas, and the wine – it
You can still hear the prayer, and the Sabbath Kiddush still shivers in the still alleys. [38]
Why, with tears in my eyes, do I now mention the wold that is no longer?
Where lies the dark secret of my grieving heartfelt lament?
Long ago, long ago, I lost my religious belief –
Yet – my heart is full of that world, which was holy and Jewish.

In grandfather's room. Books, books right up to the ceiling
Purple hyacinths blooming from the salon run over the wall;
In the day – white doves, pigeons knocking into the windows
For grandfather scattered little seeds from his outstretched hands.
I still see him still – his holy hands, straight like the pages of a book
Pouring out the little seeds with humility and zeal.
Later –he sits at his writing desk in order to delve into Torah,
Old ledgers, and books full of wisdom , knowledge, and depth.
In solitude, his glowing thoughts wander over starry paths.
He wants to illuminate the haze, to pierce the darkness of black eras,
He is still young, in old age, for everything he searches for a bright solution –
For the spider web of years and time has no control over him.
Day in and day out, he paces through the alleys of Zgierz,
As if fulfilling a holy command, he visits relatives daily –
The distant and the close, in the marketplace of Zgierz. In the vault of things gone by
He sits with us for a long time, the times whisper: “See, without the evil eye, how young
he is,
Oh Dear Father [39], grant him in Your mercy long and healthy years.”
They bow their heads in prayer – the relatives and neighbors, all pious, utter:
“See, he goes, Isucher Szwarc!” – we still hear the flowing of their lips about.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- [40]

Until the burning Satan casts his net of murder and death upon the earth, [41]
On all of the Jewish cities, on every settlement, every town that has a prayer hall (kloiz);
A decree of fire and hatred falls, and kith and kin are cut off –
And now only in cinders fly about – my grandfather's tiny, black letters.

From Polish: Yeshayahu Spiegel.


Shmuel Schwartz of blessed memory

The Researcher of the History of the Marranos of Portugal

{Drawing page 415: Uncaptioned – evidently Shmuel Schwartz. [42]}

Shmuel Schwartz was born in Zgierz to his father Isuchar Moshe Szwarc and his mother Sara the daughter of Zeev Glicksman. He received a traditional education, studying in cheder, and later on in a modern school that was based upon Torah and haskalah – “LeTorah VelaTeudah”, which was located in Lodz and was under the direction of the scholar and scribe Chaim Yaakov Kremer. During his childhood, Shmuel displayed excellent capabilities, and his father, who realized that he was gifted, sent him to Paris to complete his studies, even though the separation from his son was difficult.

After he finished high school, he entered a polytechnic institute, and graduated with an engineering degree. He then entered a specialized scientific university in the faculty of mountain mining. Among his friends in this study hall was the son of the “renowned philanthropist” James Rothschild, who maintained a friendship with him afterwards.

After he finished his studies as a mountain engineer, he went to practice his field of mining mountains in Monta Rosa on the Italian border, and later in Spain and eastern Africa, where he worked in gold mining. His professional work and research are published in several important works.

He was appointed as a member of the Scientific Academy of Madrid on account of his scientific work. He lived in Spain for a few years, and maintained his connection with Paris, where he spent most of the years of his youth.

In 1914, he married the eldest daughter of the renowned banker in Odessa, Shmuel Barabash, one of the earliest Chovevei Zion activists. He was the treasurer of the Odessa committee, and one of the directors of the treasury for Jewish settlement (Colonial Bank) based in London. He was also one of the founders of the Yeshiva in Odessa, along with the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik and others. In this Yeshiva, one of the Talmud lecturers was Rabbi Chaim Chernovitz (“The Young Rabbi”). The matchmakers were Nachum Sokolow and M. Spektor of Warsaw, and the first meeting of the in-laws, the matchmakers, and the bride and groom took place during the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna.

The father-in-law Shmuel Barabash promised to give his daughter a dowry of 50,000 rubles, but when he saw the groom speak a clear Hebrew as a living language (which was a very rare thing), he added another 25,000 rubles to the dowry.

This was the year of the outbreak of the world war, and the young couple, who had traveled to honeymoon in the countries of Europe were cut off on their journey in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and they remained there. Obviously, all of their money was lost.

In their difficult straits, being trapped in a foreign country, cut off from their city and their country, alone, without a coin in their pockets to maintain themselves, they decided to sell the jewelry of the young woman and use the money to engage in the tin business, a metal that was found in great quantities in Portugal. The business succeeded, and they founded a shareholder-based company with the assistance of well-to-do people in Portugal and England, for the purpose of salvaging the local tin mining industry. The company, which was under the directorship of Shmuel Schwartz, developed well, and took an prominent place among the well-known economic enterprises of Portugal. His rich father-in-law Shmuel Barabash died in the interim in Odessa of hunger and famine, after the Bolsheviks impoverished him and made an example of him as an empty vessel.

Even though Shmuel Schwartz was extremely involved in his professional business, such as salvaging the mining of mountains, and the mining of tin and other metals, his heart was always alert to everything that took place in the Jewish Diaspora, and he dedicated himself full-heartedly to helping the poor of his people in every manner possible.

During his travels throughout the Pyrenean Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, the noble images of the Jewish greats of “Golden Age” of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry arose before the eyes of his spirit. He researched the roots and the successors of this Diaspora, and put together a rich amount of historical material regarding the Marranos of Portugal. His book “The Neo Christians in Portugal in the Twentieth Century” (Lisbon, 1925), was translated into all European languages. It was translated into Hebrew by his brother-in-law Yechiel Frenkel in the “Hayom” newspaper of Warsaw.

It was an accepted belief that the remnants of the Marranos had already died out, for they had assimilated among the gentiles. However, during his business travels that took him through the length and breadth of Portugal, Sh. Schwartz came into contact with many Marranos. He examined them carefully and discovered their Jewish spark. His knowledge of languages allowed him to find the key to their closed hearts and to the secret of their double lives, even though this could not be done publicly, due to the fear that had been implanted in them from generation to generation, and the fear of the inquisition that ruled over their conscious. Step by step, with caution, he won their hearts, until they revealed to him their deep seated secrets, which were only clear to themselves in part, for they lived in a spiritual fog.

The stories of how he uncovered Marranos in the mountain mining area of Da-Astrala, as well as in Belmonti, Covilha, Faro, Pondision, Castelo, Branco [43], and in many other places, how he won their friendship to the point where they allowed him to study their secret texts, are most fascinating. He succeeded in collecting an entire anthology of manuscripts of their prayers, in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. He also wrote down the prayers that had been transmitted to them orally as a legacy from their parents and grandparents.

Sh. Schwartz worked hard for the ingathering of the Dispersed of the Jews. He provided two explanations of the term “Marranos”. One was, in accordance to his view, given to the Marranos by the Jews, since they loathed pork, which is called “Maran” in Spanish. The second explanation comes from philologist Isuchar Moshe Szwarc, who saw in the name “Maran” a corruption of the Hebrew expression “Mareh Ayin”, that is to say, that they were Christians only with regard to external appearance [see footnote 6].

In his latter days, he published his book of translation “Song of Songs” [44] that completed his research in a praiseworthy manner. Prior to this, he published, in addition to the book that was mentioned above, scientific treatises on “The Archeology of Minerals”, “The Judeo-Portuguese Museum of the City of Tomar”, an anthology on the topic of anti-Semitism, and other works on Jewish topics. In his last days, he planned to publish a set of books on the history of the modern Sephardic Hebrew community of Lisbon, and he did not know if he would be able to complete this work during his lifetime. In 1952, Sh. Schwartz published a series of articles on Portuguese Jewry in the Yiddish newspapers “Der Tag”, and “Forward” of New York.

Sh. Schwartz saw himself as the redeemer of his Marrano brethren. For this reason, when he was in the city of Tomar close to Lisbon, and he found the ancient synagogue there, the only synagogue from the period prior to the expulsion, he purchased it, and transferred it as a gift to the Portuguese government on the condition that a Jewish museum be established there.

The Rabbi of Zgierz, who recognized and honored his activities on behalf of the nation, gave him his portrait as a symbol of thanks and appreciation. The following is written on the portrait: “To my friend the Engineer Reb Shmuel Schwartz, the son of my friend Reb Isuchar Szwarc. A souvenir with love. I take pride in this unique individual – a native of my city of Zgierz, who was sent by Divine providence to the country of Portugal to return the dispersed Spanish Marranos to their foundation rock. Shlomo Yehuda Leib HaKohen, the Rabbi of Zgierz.”

Sh. Schwartz desired to make aliya to the Land with his entire family, and he even publicized this desire. However, he took ill suddenly and did not recover. He died on 28th Sivan 5613 (June 11, 1953), and was gathered unto his people and buried there, prior to actualizing his desire.

The following was stated at his eulogy: “This man is fitting to be remembered forever in the heart of the nation”.

From sources given by A. Y. Brzezinski [45] and other sources.


The Szpiro Family

Reb Yosef Hersz Kahana Szpiro of blessed memory

{Photos page 418: on the right, Avraham Yitzchak Szpiro; on the left, Rivka Szpiro, the daughter of Rafael Yaakov.}

Reb Yosef Hersz Szpiro set up his household in Zgierz during the 1850s, after he left the city of Aleksander. He was a large-scale forestry merchant. All of the forests between Zgierz and Lodz belonged to him. He was a Hassid of the Rebbes of Kotzk, Aleksander, and Gur.

On one occasion, he mentioned his difficult means of livelihood to the Rebbe, Reb Henech of Aleksander. The Rebbe said to him: “It is said of you that you earn on occasion 100,000 Karvonim [46] at one time, and you are still complaining about lack of livelihood?” Reb Yosef Hersz answered him: “This is indeed the truth, but what can I do if the small change is not available in my hands for my daily sustenance?”… As he was seated around the holy table that Sabbath, the Rebbe began: “I have heard from a Cohen of good lineage, that if one earns a large sum of money at one time – even though one's fortune continues to grow – this is not considered sustenance. From this it is possible to learn that we do not do good deeds for the reward, but rather so that the fortune should continue to grow”…

During the time of the Polish revolt (“Powstania”) against the Russian government in the year 1863 (5623), they imprisoned Reb Yosef Tzvi on the pretext that he granted some of his money to the government in order to put down the revolt. They sentenced him to death by hanging. The erected a gallows in the old marketplace of Zgierz and prepared to hang Reb Yosef Tzvi. His granddaughter Hena Glicka accompanied him with tears to the place of execution. At the last moment, the priest of Zgierz came and testified that Reb Yosef Tzvi was forced to give over his money to the government against his will, and thus was he saved from death.

Reb Yosef died on the day after Yom Kippur of the year 5639 (1878). Since he built the canopy over the grave of the elder Rebbe, Reb Shalom Tzvi HaKohen of holy blessed memory with his own money, he merited to be buried next to him.

His children were: Reb Rafael Yaakov, Roiza Eidel the wife of Reb Sender Landau of Krakow, as well as three other sons and two other daughters. Reb Sender Landau was a communal activist, and also the trustee of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society). He was buried next to the grave of his father-in-law.

The children of Reb Sender Landau were expelled from Zgierz to Austria by the Russian authorities, since they were foreign citizens. The exiles included the Hassidic writer Reb Aharon Markus of blessed memory, the author of the book “Hassidism”. He had been living in Zgierz at that time. The great-granddaughter of Reb Sender Landau is the wife of the Admor Reb Yisrael Alter of Gur, may he live long, of Jerusalem.

Reb Rafael Yaakov Szpiro of blessed memory

Reb Rafael Yaakov was the expert student of Reb Henech of Aleksander, until the time that the latter was coronated as Admor. His father Reb Yosef Hersz once asked Reb Henech how his son was advancing in his studies, and he answered: “He is absorbing it thoroughly”.

Reb Rafael Yaakov was very distraught over the termination of his studies with his Rebbe. When he traveled after the death of the Rebbe to supplicate over his grave, he did not leave a note, in the manner of Hassidim. He said, “I feel myself at home with him, and therefore I do not leave a note at the grave.”

A strange event took place to Reb Rafael Yaakov on May 19th, 1894. When he was in Warsaw, he passed in front of the national bank, and due to his sensitivity, he hid one of his sidelocks (peyos) under his hat. (At that time, the Russians punished people with long peyos). A Russian policeman caught him in his disgrace, and fined him five rubles. In the receipt, it was written: “The sum of five rubles was received from Rafael Yaakov Shapiro for the wearing of one peyah (sidelock)”….

Reb Rafael Yaakov used to gather all of the guests and wanderers who remained in the shtibel on Sabbaths into his home, and who were not invited to the homes of other Hassidim for reasons of cleanliness, etc. He would provide them food and drink from all the good of his home.

{Photocopy page 420: A receipt for the payment of a fine for the bearing of peyos (1894).}

It is related that in the week that he married off his son, Yosef Hersz, to the daughter of the Radziner Hassid, he opened an iron vault in front of his son and said to him: “Take as much as you want, on the condition that you do not turn to another Rebbe”…

Reb Rafael Yaakov died on the 28th of Shvat 5661 (1901) and was buried next to his father Reb Yosef Hersz and his brother-in-law Reb Sender Landau. Due to the shortage of space, his grave is found the distance of 1/2 meter from those two graves. (Had he died in the summer – said the men of the Chevra Kadisha – it would have been impossible to bury him between them.)

In exchange for the price of the grave, the Szpiro family paid for the first legal eruv (Sabbath boundary) [47]. The arranging of the eruv cost several hundred rubles, and was attached to the telephone wires (of course, with the help of payments to the authorities).

His wife, Rivka Szpiro, was known as Roitsha Di Shpirita (the beautiful) [48]. Like her husband, she also excelled at the providing for guests (Hachnasat Orchim), and in the days before Zgierz had a restaurant, wayfarers knew that they would receive good meals at the home of “The Shpirita”, without payment, of course. There were guests who got annoyed and pushed her to accept payment, but “The Shpirita” was stubborn, and it was impossible to convince her otherwise.

She bore fifteen children. Their sons include Reb Yosef Hersz, Reb Moshe, and Reb Avraham Yitzchak Szpiro. May their memories be blessed.

I. Sh. HaKohen


  1. Selections of this section were translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Emek (Emanuel) Frenkel, 1991, and then to English by Doubi Szwarc, 1999. These selections dealt primarily with the paragraphs that dealt with the family itself, and omitted those that dealt with more general issues. Doubi Szwarc is Isuchar's great-grandson, and Emek Frenkel is his grandson. Jerrold Landau, in the context of translating the Zgierz Yizkor book, worked from Doubi's translation, editing it and filling in the missing portions. Back

  2. I translated the caption as it appears in the text (with the exception of omitting the question mark that appears after Roza's name). Mary Seeman, the daughter of Aleksander Szwarc, provides the following elaboration of the caption: “On page 393 - the occasion was Samuel's marriage to Agatha Barabash in Odessa. In the back row from the left: Samuel (Shmuel), Manya, Henryk (Hersz Ber, Berus, Dov in Hebrew, the grandfather of Doubi Szwarc), Szymek (Simcha), Marek. Middle row from the left: Agatha (the bride); Sura (Salomea), Isucher, Roza (Szymek's first wife); Jechiel Frenkel, a son-in-law (Cesia -- Tzipora, his wife, is not in the picture because she was giving birth at the time). Front row: Aleksander (Oles).” Back

  3. The Mishnaic Tractate “Chapters of the Fathers”, that deals primarily with ethical adages. Back

  4. Meshumadim is the Hebrew word for apostates. Back

  5. Dogs in Yiddish. Back

  6. Lemareh Ayin means “to the appearance of the eye”. The “Le” is an introductory preposition, and if it is dropped, the phrase “mareh ayin” does indeed sound like Marrano. Back

  7. Pronounced with the accent on the second syllable. Back

  8. An endearing Yiddish term for the youngest daughter. Back

  9. The term literally means “Torah and Work”, but here the implication is “Torah and Divine Service”. Back

  10. At the time, a progressive Orthodox rabbinical seminary, which believed in the value of secular knowledge as well as Torah knowledge. Back

  11. Miriam Seeman points out that this would have been one of Mordechai's Glicksman uncles (i.e. his mother's brother). Back

  12. A famous rabbi (1768-1838), who wrote commentaries on the Code of Jewish Law and the Talmud. Back

  13. The bag used to store the phylacteries (Tefillin) which are worn by males for the weekday prayers. Back

  14. There is an error in the text here. It says “four or four passengers”. Back

  15. A verst is a now obsolete Russian unit of distance, equal to about 2/3 of a mile (according to the Weinreich Yiddish / English dictionary). Back

  16. Literally “like my ten fingers”. Back

  17. Valut refers to the area of Baluty, mainly forested at that time, on the outskirts of Lodz. This was where many Jews were exterminated in the first months after the Nazi invasion. It later became part of the Lodz ghetto. Back

  18. A Kendel is a 'dipper', i.e. soup ladel. Back

  19. The kiss of death is a reference to the death of Moses, who died through a divine “kiss”, so to speak. Such a sudden, painless death, without suffering, is considered to be a sign of divine favor. Back

  20. Mary Seeman points out that Hersz-Ber and his wife and son Wladek and Zosia and her son Rysio died in the Warsaw ghetto. David, Hersz-Ber's son mentioned in the next sentence, is Doubi's father. Aleksander Szwarc, mentioned at the bottom of the paragraph, is Mary Seeman's father. Back

  21. Mary Seeman points out that Yechiel Frenkel is Emek Frenkel's father. Back

  22. Translated from Hebrew by Doubi Szwarc. Edited by Jerrold Landau. Once again, there were several missing sections in Doubi's translation, which were filled in by Jerrold Landau. Back

  23. A reference to a verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) that indicates that a threefold strand is not easily severed. Back

  24. There is a contradiction here, since the previous article, written by the son, indicates that the eldest son was born in 1880. I suspect that the author of the current article, not being a family member, made a guess without inquiring from the family. Mary Seeman confirms that they were married in 1879. Back

  25. Mary Seeman, points out that this photo was taken in front of the home of Isuchar and Sara (Salomea) Szwarc. Back

  26. This comment in the text is obviously now obsolete. Back

  27. A Hebrew expression meaning “to differentiate”, used when moving from a more holy topic to a profane one – here to differentiate between the Jewish writer and the Christian clergyman – to avoid mentioning them in one breath. Back

  28. Mary Seeman points out that he actually had six sons and four daughters. Back

  29. There is a footnote in the text at this point, which reads as follows: “Indeed, that is how he was described by the Zgierz scholar, linguist and cooperation-theoretician Reb Yaakov Baniel (Berliner) of blessed memory in the book 'Nivim' ('Expressions'), chapters on cooperation and language, Tel Aviv, 5617 (1957), page 122 – where he dedicates one of his articles 'to the memory of Reb Isuchar Szwarc of blessed memory, a leader of the Jewish community of Zgierz, Poland, my native city.'” Back

  30. Mary Seeman points out that this was in Vienna. Back

  31. Modern style cheder. Back

  32. The story of Hersz Ber's fight against the ghettoizing of the Jews in the mid 1800s is recorded in the early historical sections of the Yizkor book. Back

  33. Mary Seeman points out that Barabash was from Odessa, and was the father of Agatha, Shmuel's wife. Back

  34. The Golden Book is a book maintained by the Jewish National Fund for the registration of honorable events. It still is maintained today, and many people are inscribed in it on significant life occasions (of course, after making a significant donation). Back

  35. Mary Seeman points out that this drawing was by Henryk Glicenstein who was a famous Polish Jewish artist related by marriage to her family. Back

  36. Mary Seeman identifies the poem as follows: “From a book of poems called Mourning Songs from the Ghetto By Izabela Gelbard (pen name Czajka), Publishing House: Julian Wyderka, Katowice, 1946, (Last Poem in the book) pp55-59.

    Mary Seeman translated this poem directly from the Polish version. Jerrold Landau compared Mary's translation with the Yiddish translation in the Yizkor book. Minor divergences were glossed over (and the choice was made to translate in accordance with the Yizkor book). Major lacunae are pointed out in footnotes – especially the major divergence in the latter part of the poem. Back

  37. Perhaps the three dots in the Yiddish translation preceding the next sentence is indicative of this lacuna. Back

  38. Kiddush (literally: sanctification) is the prayer recited prior to the Sabbath and festival meals over a cup of wine. Back

  39. Referring to G-d. Back

  40. These marks are in the text, perhaps hinting to a lacuna. Back

  41. From a point about 15 lines up until the end, Mary Seeman's translation of the original diverges significantly from the translation of the original. Before that point, there were smaller divergences. Except for the two lacunae I pointed out, I gave precedence to the Yizkor book translation over Mary's translations, and have not pointed them out. These divergences were minor in general. Mary Seeman speculates that there were probably several editions of this poem, in different forms. The following is Mary's translation from the point of major divergence, about 15 lines up:

    As Satan rushed to do battle, rape, savagery and murder flourish
    Destruction rips apart the capital, the country and towns and cities
    And fire from the sky itself grills and chokes - cruel death
    Force was used, used to the shame of the enemy

    Never again will those greenest of green chestnut trees enfold You
    Never again will those sweetest-scented hyacinths embrace You
    O the terrible deeds of the human heart, sad and terrible!
    O how the sun's rays dance on the crooked fences…

    The screams of victorious soldiers. The sound of mines, the groans of the murdered
    The last judgement. The victory of Satan on earth
    Death alone is not enough…Agony is needed too
    Let the black earth redden with pale blood
    Beastliness has been let loose, .. ?, slaughter, wailing
    “Not enough death, more death. Let death conquer.

    Amid the red pigeons, calmly near the window
    Stood my elderly Grandfather – he is not thinking of war.
    And he is not thinking of death – because he is ready
    The yellowed leaves of the chestnut trees groaned
    Books, manuscripts, texts, and documents ……
    Covered in cotton, in leather, in velvet
    Books were closest to his heart, faithful companions
    Said adieu and moaned (even now I hear their moans)
    Clouds float by on the hill…time passes, time flies

    “Where are the grandchildren…where are the great grandchildren…where are my
    -They love you, we love you…when the curtain falls
    A person is alone with death and dies alone

    Do you hear the uproar on the stairs? The echo of deaf footsteps
    They're coming…they're already coming.. He automatically grips the nearest book
    A book covered in leather, with golden edges
    “The Song of Songs” – it speaks with longing of eternal love

    He held it in front of him in his tremulous aged palm
    With a book of love my Grandfather protected himself, like a shield

    Doors battered down. The gang fell upon him with a howl and hollering
    The quiet house was filled with obscenity and screaming
    “Jude Verflute Alte” He lifted and aimed a bloody dog's fist

    Look! Suddenly he retreated, dropped his fist…Why did he not hit him?

    The book fell from his grasp. Do you hear?……It fell with a clatter
    The white head of the old man slowly slumped onto his chest
    His seeing eyes focused on a distant nothingness
    Before the German could strike………. His life faded away.

    I, granddaughter of your blood, bones, your flesh
    Have withstood the battle with the enemy….so far I have overcome

    The year is forty-three…the war is not over

    In flight…in the forest….in hiding……circling an extending net
    Grandfather - I promise you I will survive. Revenge - holy revenge
    Will be the task of all those in unnamed tombs.

    I promise You Victory. Your blood flows in my veins.

    Soplicow December 1943. Back

  42. Mary Seeman believes that Marek Szwarc, the famous artist and sculptor, Shmuel's brother made this drawing. Back

  43. I identified all of these locations on a map of Portugal in the National Geographic Atlas of the World, with the exception of Da-Astrala and Pondision. Back

  44. Mary Seeman points out that this book is a translation of the Biblical Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim). Back

  45. A. Y. Brzezinski is Mary Seeman's maternal grandfather. He was a noted scholar who wrote the definitive biography of the rabbi of Lodz, Rabbi Maizel. Back

  46. Evidently some unit of money. I am not familiar with the term. Back

  47. See footnote in the historical sections of the translation of this book for a full definition of eruv. Back

  48. Shpirita seems to be a play on the name “Szpiro”. While the name Szpiro most probably arises from the Jewish community of Speyer, Germany, it is quite similar to the Hebrew word Shapir (beautiful). Back

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