Moses Mendl, Kiryat Shprintzak
The small town of Briegel in West Galicia, on the train route between Krakow and Tarnow, is little known to many of the readers. At the outset, I would therefore like to mention a list of personalities who lived and made an impression, and of whom our town was proud, because they were well-known in the scholarly as well as the wider Jewish world.
It is not actually known, exactly when Jews began to settle in Briegel. I will begin with a period of about 200 years ago, when dates can be applied, even though Jews had already been living there for many hundreds of years. This can be confirmed by the old cemetery, that according to all probability, numbered about 400 years.
Among the first Rabbis who lived in the town, was the famous Gaon Reb Tzvi Hirsh Heller who lived in the time of the Chatam Sofer, with whom he was in constant contact on legal matters. He was known in the scholarly world as the Tov Gittin, a name taken from his book of subtle arguments of fine points of Jewish law, based on the Talmudic tractate Gittin. He was later the Rabbi in Ungvar and in Banheit, in Hungary.
Our town was even more famous for the great Gaon, the righteous Reb Aryeh Leib Lifshitz, author of the books Gevurot Ari, based on the Talmudic tractate Ketuvot, in the tractate Kiddushin, but he was most renowned in the scholarly world as the Aryeh D'vay Ila'i, taken from the name of his book of Responsa, dealing with questions and answers, called Aryeh D'vay Ila'i. He lived in the years 1767- 1846. He was the son-in-law of the author of Yismach Moshe, Reb Moshe Teitelboim of Ul, who was one of the younger students of the visionary of Lublin. His grave can actually be found in Briegel. On the day of the anniversary of his death, hundreds of Jews and Rabbis from the entire vicinity would come to pray at his grave.
In a later period, Mordechai Dovid Brandshtatter (1844-1928), lived here and was an influential member of the community. He was one of the first Hebrew writers of the enlightenment generation. He published his narratives in Hashachar, a publication that was edited by Peretz Smolensky. His parents strove to educate him to be a Rabbi but after his marriage to a daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Tarne, he ventured into business. He dedicated his free time to learn languages and to writing.
A few hundred Jewish families dwelt here and made a living for many generations. In 1918, immediately after the First World War, the Poles carried out a terrible pogrom in the town where they robbed, plundered, and burnt Jewish possessions; in addition, Jews were murdered. This is how the Poles celebrated the joy of their independence after 150 years.
Shortly after the Second World war, the great synagogue was restored. Its giant walls had stood deserted for tens of years after the big fire that broke out in the time of
Rabbi Reb Tuvia Lifshitz, of blessed memory, (1825-1912). In a few hours, the fire swallowed almost the whole town. When the fire reached the neighborhood where the Rabbi, Reb Tuvia lived, and while addressing old people the Rabbi took up a position in front of the fire and issued a decree, or prayed, that the fire should no longer have the power to rage. And so it was …
Later new, modern houses were built in the town, but the section of the town that was not affected by the fire, remained with its wooden cottages whose windows almost reached the ground.
Still later, the old neighborhood was designated by the German beasts as the ghetto for the Briegel Jews.
In one of these cottages lived the ritual slaughterer Reb Yiddel Kaufman, may he rest in peace, or as he was simply called Reb Yiddel Shochet. He was very friendly and people would say that he would even eagerly greet a child with a good morning.
Reb Yiddel was the father-in-law of the famous cantor, Yossele Rozenblatt, the king of the cantors. I still remember when Yossele and his wife once came from America to visit his father-in-law. Although it was already late at night, despite that, the whole town came out to welcome the important guest. We, who were then small children, were also taken to see the renowned Yossele. His father-in-law gave him the honor of singing one of his well-known prayers Elohai N'shamah in the prayer house, and even though the acoustics were very poor, his singing left behind a strong impression on all those who attended.
Jews of all levels lived in Briegel. There were Jews who were small scale traders who wandered for entire weeks to the surrounding villages to earn an honest living; there were academics, scholars, and simple hardworking Jews. Many families supported themselves by travelling to the fairs on market days, to the small towns in the vicinity. They would rise in the middle of the night, in cold, in rain, and in snowstorms, to toil with sweat and blood, to earn a living.
I am reminded of the storm that broke out in Chassidic circles. They opposed the opening of a public house, the Dom Ludovei, that was organized by the Zionist youth, who, after much effort, managed to establish such a house, together with a library, where the youth could gather for literary evenings, or simply to enjoy a cultural chat.
This facility was boycotted in Chassidic circles as they feared that it would lead to the spread of impiety.
There were Jews who liked to provide loans without interest and give to charity anonymously. There were also lobbyists, and active members of the community, who in times of trouble for the Jews, appealed to the appropriate authorities and did everything they could to try to repeal a decree.
Nowadays, in Ramat Gan, there is a famous communal worker and lobbyist, Reb Yehoshua Shnur, who was popular not only in Jewish
circles, but also among the Christians. This fact can be demonstrated in the best possible way, by this episode: once, when elections took place in the town council, to elect a mayor in Briegel, Yehoshua Shnur was elected almost unanimously by the entire Jewish and non-Jewish population; but Yehoshua Shnur voluntarily refused the position in favor of a Christian, knowing that a Jew in this position could provoke undesirable reactions in anti-Semitic circles.
One could say that the whole town was like one family. If someone had a celebration, everyone took part, and if God forbid, in the case of mourning or a misfortune, everyone participated in the sadness of those affected.
There were also small prayer houses, where raised voices could be heard during the day and at night. The two largest prayer houses were of the Villopoll and Bobuv Chassidim.
In this way, lives of both suffering and joy continued for entire generations, until the outbreak of World War 2, when the Jews in the town were assembled in the afore-mentioned old neighborhood and locked into the ghetto.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in 1942, the bitter decree was issued. The German Asmodeus, may his name be erased, assembled all the beloved, sincere Jews Rabbis, judges, scholars, academics, tailors, artisans, laborers, and hardworking women, children, and elderly folk, at the so-called, thrashing place. There they stood for many hours on their knees, with their hands raised above their heads, in the greatest heat, without a drop of water. Dantean scenes occurred in that place. Finally, they were packed into barred railway coaches, normally used for transporting goods, and taken to Belzshetz, from whence no one ever returned.
Even before the general deportation, some military operations took place, in which many Jews died. In one of these actions a brother of mine was killed, may the Lord avenge his blood. Eye-witnesses told the following: once, Italian soldiers who fought on the side of the Germans, drove through our town on the way to the front. They happened to chance upon one of these actions and hearing the shooting, and seeing the bodies lying in the streets, they assumed that they had arrived at the front lines of the battle. They jumped out of their vehicles and took up positions, until the Germans explained their error.
On a second occasion, a German entered a provisional hospital that was located in a private house. This hospital housed sick Jews who were unable to be transported. The German said, ‘good morning’ and asked how each one was. The sick, who were very surprised to encounter a German with such a decent heart, were immediately bitterly disappointed when they saw this same German, take out his revolver and shoot one patient after the other.
One of the last two rabbis in Briegel, was the Villipoll Rabbi Reb Yitzchakl Lifshitz, may the Lord avenge his blood. Every festival, hundreds of Chassidim used to come to him,
to spend time in his company. He died as a martyr together with his whole family, after they were discovered in a bunker in Buchniye. It is told that his clothes were pulled off him and a German murderer placed his revolver against the Rabbi's heart and said: if you are a Rabbi, see to it, that the revolver should not be able to shoot. The Rabbi placed his hand on his bare head and began to recite Vidui. Then the German murderer released his revolver and shot the Rabbi several times.
The second Rabbi was the town's Rabbi, Reb Moshele Lifshitz, may the Lord avenge his blood, who used to bring pleasure to his worshippers with his beautiful voice, particularly on the High Holy days. No one ever tired of hearing him recite the prayers. It is told that in recent times, he was seen walking around with swollen feet bound with rags, and it is not even known where he died.
When I came to Briegel in 1946 to find traces of the Jewish past, that was no longer in existence there, I unfortunately found no sign of Chassidic life. Everything was destroyed. No sign remained of the site where the ghetto was situated. The synagogues and prayer houses were converted into grain-silos and stables storing hay. The house of the Villipoll Rabbi, together with the prayer house, was totally wiped off the earth. On the road from the train station into the town, one could still see large inscriptions on the walls of the houses: Strike the Jews and drive them out of Poland. It seems that the immoral Gentile blood had not yet taken leave of the sea of forgotten Jewish blood.
When I arrived in the town, the Christians looked at me, as if I had come from another planet. I learned from the Christians, that Jews who wanted to escape from the Buchniye ghetto, were murdered on their way and were buried in the adjacent Slovinne forest. After much suffering, we, a score of Briegel Jews, who miraculously survived the catastrophe, gathered 50,000 zlottes, ordered eight large coffins, hired two militiamen to guard us on our way, (this was shortly after the Kielce pogrom) and went into the forest, to bring the bodies out and give them a Jewish burial … before we left the town, forever. However, when we exhumed the burial sites, it appeared that there were not eight bodies there, but 21. We had no alternative but to bury 2 3 victims in one coffin. We also recognized the body of a girl aged about 11 or 12. Among the bodies, we should have found, according to all probabilities, the bodies of Meir Borgenicht, may the Lord avenge his blood, and Chaim Kroiter, may the Lord avenge his blood, who were two well-known established figures in the town. We buried them in two large mass-graves that had been prepared earlier in the Jewish cemetery, and one of those among us, Dovid Shindler, may he rest in peace, said the kaddish, the memorial prayer, in a broken voice. We all stood there paralyzed. Then we spread out through the cemetery to farewell the graves of our fathers, mothers, and other relatives. One of the women present burst out in a heart-rending cry when
she came across the grave of her mother. Her voice carried over the entire cemetery and we were all very upset. Then I went to the graves of the righteous, first to the grave of Reb Matityahu'sl (Matessl), and Reb Pinchasl of righteous memory, two good Jews who once lived in Briegel. Finally, I prostrated myself on the grave of Aryeh D'vay Ila'i to whom, thousands of Jews came on the day of the anniversary of his death, or just to pray at a time of sorrow, for many generations. A shiver went through me when I realized that I am possibly the last Jew to pray at his grave. Here I want to note, that there was no longer any trace of the monuments that were built over the graves of all the righteous. I do not know whether they were destroyed by the German beasts, or by their Polish accomplices.
It was difficult to leave this place where the bones of whole generations of our ancestors were laid to rest. One needs to be a divine poet to be able to express on paper, the feelings of the remnant of a destroyed community, of a remnant that is abandoning everything, leaving behind this holy place to strange, impure hands. In silence we left this good earth, each absorbed in his own thoughts, without uttering a word to one another, so as not to disturb the thoughts of the other.
A strange silence prevailed all around us, and a shiver went through our bones. When we came out of the gate of the cemetery, a wagon happened to pass by, that was occupied by some peasant farmers, women and a child. When they saw us leaving the cemetery, such a large group of Jews, all at once, they took great fright. The women began to cross themselves, the child burst into tears and one of the farmers began to whip the horse to spur it on, so that it would leave the place more quickly, where just then, an apparition appeared before their eyes.
That is how the chapter of Briegel ended (in Polish, called Bzshesko), just like so many other Jewish communities that the German cannibals, the Amalek of our times, managed to destroy.
Every year, immediately after Rosh Hashanah, on the day of the Fast of Gedalia, a memorial service for our holy ones takes place, under the chairmanship of Yehoshua Shnur, one year in Tel Aviv and the next year in Haifa. Besides that, there is a memorial service in Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av, in the Holocaust Chamber on Mount Zion. There, among hundreds of other memorials, in memory of almost all destroyed communities of Europe, is also a symbolic memorial in memory of the martyrs of Briegel. Prayers are rendered and the prayer El Malei Rachamim is recited, to their holy memory. May the memory of our annihilated brothers and sisters remain forever engraved in our hearts.
May their souls be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.
May this article serve as a memory for the exterminated community of the Yizkor book, that we were unfortunately unable to publish
for technical, financial, and other reasons, and we admit, also due to the absence of a little more initiative by our fellow-townsfolk.
Understandably, the article is not intended to take the place of a Yizkor book it is not possible in the framework of an article to describe even one hundredth part of what the Yizkor book would contain.
It is not easy to describe the cultural, social and scholarly life in the town, the Jewish folklore, its nuance, its characteristic Jewish way of life, that almost every small town possessed; a whole chapter could be written on each topic separately.
In a conversation with a few Briegel fellow-townsfolk in recent years, they promised to add material and photographs when the publishing of such a book becomes a reality.
By Rafael Perlman, 6. 1. 76
by Main points by Rafael Perlman
Written by Chaim Batlan
Translated by Libby Raichman
The Gentile Poles expressed their joy at the reinstatement of the free Poland in 1918, with cruel riots against the Jews, particularly in Galicia. Sh. Ansky, influenced by these riots that occurred in tens of cities, small towns, and villages, wrote the famous book The Destruction of Galicia. As mentioned, this was in 1918, during the First World War, as it was slowly nearing its end, and the Austrian army was falling apart and dispersing, and a few young men subsequently returned to the town from the Austrian army.
Immediately, on their return, news spread that the Poles were preparing to unleash a pogrom in the town. Quick as a flash, and with great haste, the Self- Defense organization was set up, and we negotiated with the people in Krakow who sent two young men to assist us in leadership roles. However, this aid was minimal and not at all sufficient, and we were therefore convinced that our efforts were too late. Although we managed to delay the day of the pogrom in the town, we were not able to prevent it altogether.
Here, I will allow myself to think aloud about the lack of spirit that existed among the Jewish population in the town. It was known in the town that the Gentiles were preparing a pogrom, but there was little response to volunteer for the Self -Defense organization, and the Jewish population was not at all ready for the disaster that was awaiting it. Even the people in Krakow, had a negative attitude to the situation, and did not in fact, assess what was about to happen. Since our resources were so poor, we placed most of our young men next to the bridge over the Ushvitza River - that river connected our town with the large adjacent village on the other side of the Yadubniki River whose inhabitants were known as habitual rioters1.
Lo and behold, while we stood guard next to the bridge, a carriage appeared from the direction of the town to the village of Yaduvnik, and aside from the coachman, only the priest of the town sat in the carriage. We stopped the carriage and conducted a search. And to our great surprise, under the priest's seat, in other words, under the packs of straw that were covered with a woolen blanket, we discovered guns and ammunition.
Of course, we confiscated the weapons, and the priest was forced to return to the village, angry and embarrassed, but this did not bring the issue of the pogrom to an end. We were misled into thinking that we were now free, as, at the head of the instigators and their emissaries - the looters, the robbers, and the murderers, stood a very respected man, the mayor of the town, Dr. Bzsheski2 himself, and the priest, Tzevi3. They were not prepared to give up the planned pogrom; but on the other hand, they feared for their lives, knowing that the Jewish Self-Defense organization had weapons and young men who had just been discharged from the Austrian army. Indeed, if they were facing these young men, they would need to think twice about the outcome, because in a confrontation with them, some of the rioters would also be slain; this undermined their confidence. Fear and anxiety gripped them, because they feared the law, and knew that they would need to appear before the authorities.
The Conspiracy to Deceive the Jews of the Town
They therefore looked for a way, sought advice and a scheme to deceive the Jews of the town. So, the mayor, Dr. Bzsheski4, invited the head of the Jewish community Chanoch Klapholtz, to meet with him, and convinced him that he was bringing in the Polish army, centered in Buchniya, a town close to Briegl; the official Polish army was preparing and would allegedly restrain the rioters. Hence, the Jewish self-defense needed to disband and lay down their weapons. The head of the community yielded to the request of the mayor Dr. Bzsheski and influenced and persuaded the people to disarm. Then, Bzsheki's people came from the council and went directly to the very large synagogue that was called the the Chassidic prayer house, that housed the recruits and the weapons in the women's section of the synagogue. The young men disarmed and Bzsheski's associates removed the weapons and took them to the municipal council premises. The young men were told to scatter and hide, and so they did. They found shelter in the attic of the Gentile Dr. Kanuar, where an empty space was created. They disarmed and went into hiding. The Polish army had promised to come from Buchniya, but before they arrived, a sign was given to the rioters that they were allowed to go wild. As the day dawned, the rioters entered the town from every direction, without restraint. Daylight … … … shooting of the Jews of the town began, and so too, the looting of Jewish owned shops. On that same morning, Yechiel Moses and Moshe Goldman may the Lord avenge their blood, were shot and died5. Goldman was an enlightened figure in the town, yet remained faithful to his ancestral traditions, and the only one whose children studied at a university. On that morning, he went to the synagogue of Rabbi Wolf Laub to attend the morning prayer service and was shot near the synagogue6. In the same way, a young man named Rozen, may the Lord avenge his blood, who had been sent from Krakow to assist with self-defense, was shot by a sniper concealed in the church steeple in the town. It is said that the sniper was none other, than the priest Tzevi, himself. (Incidentally, in brackets, that same priest Tzevi, and Dr Bzeshki, the two main instigators of the pogrom, received the full support of the Chassidic people after the pogrom; they, the Chassidim, controlled the Jewish people of the town in all the elections to the council) because this suited the Catholic church who were glued, so to speak, to the deeds of altruism, that means, to extend the other cheek, after receiving a slap on the first cheek; but in fact, they were waiting to rejoice in the looting and killing. And on the day of the pogrom, another Jewish person of the self-defense group was stabbed to death with knives. He was transferred to the hospital in Krakow but the efforts of the doctors to save him, did not help and he
died. He was Aharon Mendel Brantzdorfer7, may the Lord avenge his blood. This is how the rioters continued to run wild, unhindered, even under the protection of the Polish army. In fact, the army controlled the town, and all its activities were directed in the search for members of the Jewish self-defense.
As the sun was setting, in the presence of the Polish army, the rioters set fire to a row of houses that extended from the house of Shalom Kum, to beyond the house of Mordechai Loksh. Very quickly, rumor spread, that the rioters were about to burn the entire Jewish neighborhood, the Shtzanka8, that remained with wooden buildings after the big fire in 1904, a time when 90% of the town burned down. The Jews of the Shtzanka were notified that they had the option of leaving the town, so the majority, tens of Jewish families with their bundles, escorted by the Polish army, went to the train to escape the fire.
The First Youth Movement in the Town
At the end of the pogrom, after the dead were buried and the wounded recovered, and the fury of the pogrom began to subside slowly, the tension in the town dissipated, as if life began to take its normal course with the rioters. In those days, a commission of inquiry came to Briegl, on behalf of the provincial governor (Vibutztav9 in Polish) in Krakow, and behold, wonder of wonders, this investigating committee did not find the main culprits - the priest Tzevi, and the mayor Dr. Bzsheski. Instead, they harassed one of the looters, a Gentile of the town … … and he was prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison. The hiding places of the loot that was hidden by the Polish residents of the town, were then revealed. So, the commission of inquiry proffered compensation of 50,000 Austrian Kroner, a currency that was still in circulation in Galicia.
It is worth mentioning that the spokesperson on behalf of the self-defense unit in the town, Yehoshua Shnur, opposed this general ransom of the soul. As mentioned, the mood in the town calmed down, yet the scars of the pogrom remained but did not influence a considerable section of people in the town - the Jews who blindly followed the Chassidim and did not find a place for themselves, except in the synagogue. It was mainly the youth who decided that it was necessary to organize a youth movement, so they contacted the headquarters of HaShomer in the town of Tarnow, and they in turn, sent one member of their group to guide us. Together with him, we openly and officially announced the establishment of HaShomer in the town.
Here, I must mention that our organization was none other than purely Zionist. As spiritual sustenance for the youth, the ‘Ten Commandments’ of our group, as well as other ideas that were nationalistic in those days. Included in all the topics of general group discussions, was the spirit of national Zionism such as: the history of the people of Israel, the geography of the Land of Israel, knowledge of the Hebrew language, and Zionism. Understandably, at the same time, we saw ourselves as emissaries, spreading the message of enlightenment.
We therefore invested much effort and money to acquire books in Hebrew and Yiddish because most of the youth did not know Hebrew. This is how the first library was established in the town, outside of the walls of the synagogue. So, we arranged a reading room next to the library and this attracted many from the non-Chassidic community, mainly the youth, and for the most part, girls, who had no part in the cultural and societal life in the town that was centered exclusively on the synagogue. This was the only communal institution in the town in those days.
So, we organized a drama group that staged a few plays, like: Hertzele of Distinguished Lineage, and The Jewish King Lear, and others. These performances were arranged in the tavern belonging to the Tall Shmil, which was the only hall of its size in the town that we were able to acquire to perform Jewish plays in public, in those days. The Sokol hall was in the hands of the Bzsheski people,
Tikvat Tzion in Briegl
and antisemites like him, who did not consent to us renting the hall, despite the fact that the vast majority of the audience who attended the movie shows in this same hall, at that time, were Jews.
We were also not able to hire the council hall because all the Jewish members of the council were followers of Chassidism, and with their influence, the council decided not to allow us to rent the hall.
The essence of the sacred work of our organization, was the raising of funds for the Jewish National Fund, and because of this, there was a clash between us and the Chassidim, who exercised total control over the Jews of the town, so we, and they, became engaged in fierce arguments and reciprocal cursing, but never violence.
Yes, that is how it once was! Now, there is no trace of Jewry in the town! May the Lord avenge their blood.
Thank you to Dr. Anna Bryzska for her comments in this section, including alternate spellings for names and places. Dr. Brzyska is the founder of the Association of Memory and Dialogue. Common History, an organization established in March 2019. Among her projects are the cleaning of the Jewish cemetery and the commemoration of Brzesko Jews. The Association's website can be found here: https://brzesko-briegel.pl/en/
by Narrated by Tzvi Dorf
Written by Chaim Batlan
Translated by Libby Raichman
When I approach the task of recalling my memories of the days that I spent in the town, I feel that there is no purpose in writing about our family as a unit on its own, because it was an integral part of the way of life in our town. Hence every rule and every detail were entwined in many, many strands, so that one strand could not be separated from another. I was therefore forced to consider every thread and to grasp every detail, because they were all wrapped into one, within this society, in the small town that was called Briegl.
I do not in any way, pretend, that I have the knowledge or the talent to produce a literary work of my own story, so that before it is published, I will be the oracle of the secrets of the urban way of life in general, and of our small town of Briegl, in particular. However, the feeling of duty towards our parents, as well as to all the people of the town who were killed in such a tragic way, I feel obligated to write what was in my heart. More than this, I will allow myself to say, that for ourselves, and also for our children, it is necessary to put our memories on paper. Yes, we are the last generation who lived this kind of life, so that future generations will know, that thanks to these Jews from all over the world, they are now living in an independent Jewish state.
The Street of the Chassidic Shtiebel
This is what the Jews of the town called this street, even though the street was actually named after a Jewish hero, Barak Yossilevitz, who fought against the Russians for the revival of Poland in 1868. We lived in this street for many years in the house of Kubaluba, a Gentile lady who belonged to an offshoot of the Ravitzki family. The head of this family was the mayor of the town, 200 years earlier. The name Kubaluba, resounds and invokes in me a special appreciation arising out of an unusual episode that occurred during the liberation of Poland from the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian regime. In 1918, the Jews in the town sensed that a pogrom was imminent. The priests of the church incited the Poles to riot against the Jews of the town, but the lawyer Tzigi, who was born in the large village of Yadubniki that bordered our town, saw that the Jews were being harassed excessively. It was precisely this man, of that village, who knew how to overcome the situation when he called out, to a rally of the Polish population in the town, and asked them not to do such a shameful thing to their nation - and then a shout was heard
from the midst of the crowd. That was the voice of Kubaluba who said, this will be an eternal sign of disgrace on our foreheads, that at the time of the liberation of Poland and its rebirth, we are promoting riots against the Jews!. But to our dismay, the antisemitic instigators in the town achieved their aim with the assistance of the neighboring villagers and the rabble in our town.
We remained in Kubaluba's house under her auspices, and many of her neighbors were guests in her home, that was filled to capacity, both our home and hers. In truth, nobody was harmed except for those who owned shops, that the rioters looted.
The Parcels for Rabbi Ephroim'l
At that time, in later years, I studied at the cheder of Reb Shimon Leib. At first, I did not understand why I was sent to a cheder such a great distance from my home when we were much closer to the cheder of Moshe Hillel. My father, of blessed memory even mentioned this to my mother, may the Lord avenge her blood, but she was uncompromising only to Reb Shimon Leib. She had her reasons but did not disclose them only over time she revealed her motive. The home of Reb Shimon Leib was situated in a section of the town that the people called the Shtchanka. Incidentally, this house was built of wooden logs and was submerged in the ground, almost to the windows. Its windows were directly opposite the large house of Moshe Goldman, may the Lord avenge his blood, the first victim of the pogrom. In this wooden house, lived Reb Efroim'l, a Jew who was not involved in any Jewish communal matters, and not in any small talk with the Jews of the town. He simply sat, days and nights, and studied the words of Torah. Twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, my mother sent parcels to him, and I did not dare to peek, to see what they contained, but on Thursdays she would add three large turnips that I carried on my shoulders. It was a type of very sweet, white, beetroot. The Rabbi's wife was beautiful and merited receiving first prize as a chef; she knew how to prepare excellent and amazing delicacies from the turnips that were guaranteed to please the Chassidim who sat at her table for the Friday evening meal. And in the town, they would joke at their own expense, that they were going to eat turnip stew.
As mentioned above, I studied with Shimon Leib, the teacher. This was my third and last period of time with him, and immediately after Passover we began our studies according to the traditions that were passed down to us by our predecessors, and we also played games with nuts before Passover. When we returned to cheder, we went back to play with the nuts, that were called in Yiddish, velshenne-nuts. This game exempted us from the strict discipline that Rabbi Shimon Leib imposed upon us when we sat around his table studying the Chumash. However, we did not have full satisfaction from this game because some of the boys were excluded, as they could not afford to buy nuts, despite their cheap price. I was one of the more fortunate, thanks to my parents, of blessed memory. My father Yekl Dorf was a good businessman and traded outside of the town, and my mother Chatzril, had a shop where she sold various items, among them, also nuts. I, therefore, had a large quantity of nuts, almost unlimited, compared to the others. We were able to play this game anywhere, along a straight line, within a space of 3 meters. We made a line that served as the starting point for every participating player. At a distance of three meters from the starting line, we placed three nuts in a triangle, and one extra on top. Each player, in turn, would throw, or roll a nut towards the triangle, and whoever hit the target, was the winner, and gathered for himself, the nuts of the other players who did not hit the target, and so forth. But, since the nuts entailed financial expense, the games became less frequent from day to day, and diminished the value of the game, that was generally accepted among us, as a game for the festival of Passover. If you asked me, what is the connection between the nuts and Passover? This is the question that faced us. There were some
who explained that the nuts were most suitable for eating on Passover, as there was no uncertainty about them being leavened food. But this did not satisfy us, and the older boys among us, those who were knowledgeable, who knew how to present a historical explanation, commented:
that it was Rabbi Akiva's custom to distribute toasted grain to the minors on the evening of the Passover seder so that they would not fall asleep during the stories, and instead of the grain, came nuts. The scholars, those who were qualified to pass an opinion, pointed out, that the source of the flavor of the nuts, could be found in the Talmud, in the tractate Pesachim (110:9), and that according to the hypothesis of Rabbi Chanina Bar Shila, and Rabbi Yochanan, the afikoman was the dessert of the meal, and in addition to this dessert, they also mentioned: dates, grain, and nuts. So, the origins of the nuts are ancient, and it was very convenient for us to fulfill the command to do. This is the connection to nuts.
After we were no longer satisfied with the game of nuts, for the reasons mentioned above, and the fact that we, the young ones, were tired of it, we needed something new, because those days, were the days of spring in all their glory. Everything came alive after the period of hibernation and we too, shook off the lethargy of the winter, and when the time arrived for the counting of 18 20th days of the Omer, our time had come. Our first task was to locate trees that had suitable branches that we could cut and use to make bows and arrows. We were not concerned about the arrows because thin branches were plentiful and easy to find, but we had to search for branches for the bows. These had to be young new branches, flexible enough for a bow. These we accessed from the barren trees that grew on both sides of the banks of the Ushvitza river, at the border of the town. In this way, we began to make the bows and arrows. We made the arrows immediately. We removed the leaves and the bark from the thin twigs and washed the twigs in the sun so that they were light in weight when they were discharged from the bow. Around each end of the branch that we used as a bow, we made notches to which we tied string, and then shot with it a few times to strengthen the string. We did not remove the bark from the branch that we used as a bow because it preserved the dampness and flexibility of the bow. The attraction, however, in celebrating the festival of Lag Ba'omer was different from all the days of the year when we went out with Rabbi Shimon Leib, into the bosom of nature, even to the forests where we could do as we pleased, and be boisterous all day, in complete freedom. Could there be anything greater for us, mischievous children, who were confined most of the days of the year in cheder? And in the afternoon, on our way home, we already disposed of our weapons.
May Lag Ba'omer
What remains in my memory is this: on the day of Lag Ba'omer the plague that affected the students of Rabbi Akiva, ceased. This is all we were told, and nothing more about the role of Rabbi Akiva and his students. No further mention was made, even in the modern Jewish schools in the big cities that taught Hebrew even there, the national aspect of Lag Ba'omer was not emphasized or highlighted. Some years later, after joining the youth movement Akiva, I found that there too, the uprising, Bar Kochba the national hero, and the role of Rabbi Akiva and his students in the revolt, were not stressed. The joy of Lag Ba'omer therefore remains very hazy, devoid of its essence, and what a pity!
The Festival of Shavuot
As I have previously mentioned, Lag Ba'omer ended, on that day. However, the Jewish children did not remain God forbid, without any traditional Jewish spice in their lives. Indeed, these festivals constituted the essence of Jewish lives; so too, the observance of the festival of the Giving of the Torah, within the confined world, and perspectives of our childhood. The dairy foods of the kreplach and the blintzes eaten on the day of the festival, were more easily understood than the concept of the Giving of the Torah and Mount Sinai that were then remote from our lives. Also ha'katzir im bikurei ma'asecha, [the feast of harvest, the first fruits of thy labors, Ex 23:16] to be brought to the House of the Tabernacles to honor God, was not completely within our realm of perception.
Indeed, the study of the akdamot, and in particular, the melancholy tune, aroused in us, a sense of the festival, like the melody of ata her'aita that is sung on the eve of the festival of Simchat Torah; but more than that, the significance of the festival was motivated by the Rabbi Shimon Leib when he told us about the Leviathon and the wild ox with the preserved wine, that is mentioned in the akdamot, and that this is what awaits us with the coming of the messiah - the redeemer of our righteousness.
All these instilled in us a perception of the festival, but more than that, the essence of our festivity was derived from decorating our houses and the synagogue with Shavuot trees and Shavuot grasses as had been done for generations. We were expected to gather the branches and grasses, but to do this, we had to go further away, to the edges of the town and cut them down. This activity was fraught with fear, and even with beatings. Then my importance rose considerably in the eyes of my friends. This was due to the two sons of Kubaluba with whom we lived. One was my age and the other was two years older than me. The two were my bodyguards and anyone who wanted to harass me had to take these two into account, for they would locate the offender and inflict twice as much punishment. Now that the festival of Shavuot was approaching, I was teased by my friends for relying on, and trusting these two non-Jewish boys who accompanied us to the place where we cut the branches and the reeds. My friends ingratiated themselves to me so that they could join me for protection. Two or three days before the festival, a large group of boys escorted by the two non-Jewish boys, who were approximately our age, and on whom our safety depended, reached the place that was called the Pig Place (in Yiddish). This was the market-place for trade in horses, animals and pigs and where a number of white Bezos trees were located. We lopped a quantity of thin branches, more than we were able to take. The branches were white, and a silver color radiated from their triangular leaves. We did not search for these trees for their beauty but knew from experience that the bath-house attendants wove these twigs with excellent leaves into a kind of broom a sweat broom (in Yiddish) and sold them to the Jews who came to sweat in the bathhouse. They beat themselves with this broom made of twigs, to infuse the heat into their bodies. The bath house attendants asserted that only these twigs and these leaves were able to maintain their moisture and freshness, and that there were no others like them.
The next day, we went to the same place, because close to this Pig Place was a valley, and in the valley was a lake that had been in existence from time immemorial, and reeds grew around the lake. We removed the leaves that were a meter long and about six centimeters wide. We spread them out on the floor at home, and used the twigs to decorate the doors, the windows, and the cupboards. We derived great satisfaction from these activities that we saw as a prime example of a positive commandment. I would like to add, that after a few years, during the winter, when the water in this lake froze, I used to skate on the lake with my skates and even participated in dances on the ice. This was the only sport that I loved.
Elected as a Delegate to the Town Council
Over the years, approximately in the years 1924 1926, our father, may the Lord avenge his blood, was elected as a Jewish delegate to the town council. In those years, his reputation preceded him, thanks to his success in business outside of the council.
Success in business was a very important factor. In addition, my father had earned the reputation for being honest and incorruptible and was also well-liked, so he was certainly seen as a man who was deserving of being a representative on the council. The group who determined who should be the Jewish representatives to the council, saw fit each time at the elections to add one or two delegates to their list of candidates who did not belong directly to their group, that centered around the chief Rabbi of the town. Obviously, by doing this, they wanted to supplement their list with people who were neutral, who were representative of the ordinary people, for those too, had to be 'thrown a bone' at the election time. As my father had connections with many people and earned the friendship of the community, he was sought after, and those who compiled the list of candidates wanted his name to appear on the list. To their surprise, he was elected, although in their heart of hearts, they did not pray for his success. In addition, he was elected by several very respected people, no less than the most revered and important people who were on their list.
As a member of the council, many people in the town approached him for advice or a favor, as was then accepted in the town, and Yekl Dorf knew how to adapt his words both to the Chassidic people and to their opponents. He also knew how to relate to each person, according to their dignity and their virtue, and although he was elected on the list of the followers of the Rabbi, he did not change his ways or his manner. (I find it necessary to note that apart from the list of the followers of the Rabbi, no one in the town would dare to compile an additional independent list, in those days). He continued to pray in the town's synagogue that was regarded as a prayer house of second status, where ordinary people prayed, not specifically Chassidim. In other words, they did not belong to a defined Chassidic group, as was accepted in Briegl in those days. So, he did not change his mode of dress, nor that of his children. Indeed, on the Sabbath, he wore a silk shtryml, in the style of almost all the Jewish people in the town. In contrast, on weekdays he wore a short jacket, that was regarded in the town as the attire of a German, obviously not of an observant Chassid. However, as the years passed, a short time before his term of office in the council came to an end, his business began to decline, and forced him to distance himself from community affairs, and to turn to new business enterprises - other sources of income.
The First Jewish Owned Vehicle in the Town
So, a new business. This business was initially considered a worthwhile service, as the train station was situated about three kilometers from the town, and the Jews of the town would therefore profit from the transportation service that would be located in the town itself, instead of using the train. The merchants would be able to transfer their merchandize to and from Krakow directly by car and would not be encumbered with loading and unloading their goods from the train at each end. It would be of particular benefit to those who were transporting merchandize from the town to Krakow. These people were called shmuklers, that means, smugglers. This name remained from the days when it was forbidden to transport edible items from one town to another, and a special permit was required for this transaction. This entailed great expense that was not beneficial for them, and so they became shmuklers, smugglers. For these people, having transportation was certainly worthwhile and easy. Firstly, they did not have to rise at 2am and be tossed from side to side in a wagon on their way to the train station. Also, at the exit from the platform, a surprise was awaiting them, as from time to time they had to give hush-money to the guard at the gate, so that he would not create problems about their excessive packages. On the train too, the ticket inspectors wanted a bribe, and there were also guards at the gate at the entrance to the platform at the station in Krakow, demanding a hand-out for themselves. In short, because of all these hand-outs, it was much cheaper and much easier to travel by car than by train, although the price of travelling by car was a little higher than by train.
My father was forced to buy the vehicle with a partner, because in those days he could not afford the large amount of money required to enable him to buy a car, or a bus
for passengers. They could only afford a truck, in which seats were installed for passengers. The partner was Avrem'l, the son of Leibl the beadle of the Chassidic prayer house. Incidentally, this Leibl reminds me of a particular incident. As the beadle, he had a permanent place on the podium from which the Torah was read, and from there, he would supervise the decorum. When the mischievous children began to misbehave, he would stand erect like a rooster, move his whole body forward, stretch his neck, throw his head forward, close his eyes and call papres, p'zizim, begone … Heaven forbid that they should return … and order was immediately restored.
These two partners, our father Yekl Dorf, and his partner Avrem'l the son of Leibl the beadle, were not professional drivers and therefore, had to employ a driver. In those days, a Jewish driver was not available, and they were forced to employ a Gentile. This vocation was very important and not very common, so the salary of the driver was therefore, relatively high, but they had no other option. All in all, the business was not bad. In the grounds of our house, that was close to the house of Maishele the baker in the main street, called Yaggelunska, a very high roof was set up over the parking space, and the vehicle was parked there. The tall roof, that was made of canvas, did not arouse the suspicion of anyone in the town, and it did not occur to anyone, nor to us, the residents of the house, what was to take place under this cover. Our father had initially planned to build a house and a shop under this roof. After a few months passed, and the transport business with the vehicle was operating normally, our father, of blessed memory, began to build a house under the canvas. Not much time passed, and the building of the house was completed. I will never know, to this day, if the Turkish law that says, that a house that has a roof, should not be destroyed also applied to our town. The fact is, that after the roof was installed, the authorities could not touch the house. The canvas roof above the house was destroyed, and all that remained of it, covered the vacant section of the plot of ground that continued to serve as a parking place for the vehicle.
The business of our father, of blessed memory, was not involved at all in my mother's shop, for, as in the case of most of the women in the town in those days, she ran her own business.
Apparently, it was a grocery store, and although there were many shops of this kind in the town, hers was the only one where one could purchase all the different types of vegetables and fruit, of the kind that the Jews in the town required, except for tomatoes. These were regarded as treif, not kosher, as they were only seen in the possession of the Gentiles who grew them specifically in the summer and put them on the window-sills in the sunlight so that the rays of the sun would ripen and redden them.
Lemons were brought to Poland from Italy. In recent years, oranges were also brought from the Land of Israel, but people did not want to buy etrogim from Israel, for fear that they might not be kosher.
For Rosh Hashanah, watermelon was brought from Romania so that those who could afford to buy the new fruit of the season, would be able to say the blessing Shehecheyanu on the new fruit, at the New Year.
This is how the shop of Chatzril Dorf acquired a special name in the town.
Three Remained Alive
There were eight people in our family: our parents, two sisters and four brothers. Unfortunately, to our sorrow, only three remained; the rest were tragically killed in the accursed Holocaust, inflicted by the German Nazis, may their names be erased.
(See the article on page 105)
(See the article on page 34)
May the Lord avenge their blood
I emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1933, as a member of the Hebrew youth movement Akiva. Two brothers survived the Holocaust. My eldest brother, Moshe Dorf, emigrated to the Land of Israel after the establishment of the state, and my brother Yosef went to Brazil.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Brzesko, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 04 Dec 2022 by JH