Dr. Avraham Chumet
Translated by Libby Raichman
|A regional capital in the Krakow province.
In 1880 the population was 3144, of whom 1963 62% were Jews.
In 1890 the population was 3246, of whom 2245 69% were Jews.
In 1900 the population was 3444, of whom 2318 67% were Jews.
In 1931 there were 2101 Jews in Bzshesko.
According to information found in the Calendar for Jews of the years 1914-15, published in Vienna by the Austrian Jewish Organization Unyan, in the budget year of 1914-15, the Jewish community comprised 1125, of whom 832 were communal tax-payers. At that time Henoch Klapholtz was the leader of the Briegl community, Yisroel Hofshteter was his deputy, and Shlayme Kas belonged to the community administration. The representatives of the Town's Rabbi were Chaim Teitelbaum and Menashe Kopler. The community secretary was Leo Shtirrer and head of the burial society that year was Ch. Gutfroind, who also administered the Talmud Torah. In Briegl at that time, the following organizations were active - the society Maintaining the Poor and the Sick administered by Shlayme Flantzer, and the society Torah Scholars, led by B. Landau. A women's society also existed in Briegl at the time, chaired by Mrs. Y. Klapholtz, that provided clothes for poor children, as well as a general women's society led by Mrs. Marye Kas, that cared for sick women. The income and expenditure of the community in the budget year 1914-15, amounted to 37,717.71 Austrian Kroner.
After the collapse of the Austrian empire in 1919, a wave of anti-Jewish violations was rampant throughout western Galicia. As we read in
the Lemberg Kvilla of 25. 10. 1919 (no. 280), the peasants of Yadubnik perpetrated a bloody pogrom in the town of Briegl, during which they set alight eight Jewish houses and killed three Jews. In addition, in Bzshesko itself, the houses of 241 Jewish families were plundered. The general cost of the damage from the pillage, and the reconstruction of the ruined Jewish community in Briegl after the First World War, amounted to six and a half million Austrian Kroner. This figure was supplemented significantly by the treasury of the Benevolent Society. At its first general assembly, the following board of management was elected: Dr. Alexander Dyches as president, Professor Fierst as his deputy, Sh. Shnur as treasurer, Ya'akov Faust as secretary, and the members: Y. Weisbart, Yosef Shindler, Hirsh Peffer, Sh. Sandetzer, and Wolf Bransdorfer.
The activity for the Aid for Orphans society was of great importance. At the general assembly in June 1936, the following management committee was elected: Mrs. Dyches as chairperson, Mrs. Bloch as deputy, Mrs. Torbe as treasurer, and Mrs. Erna Hershkowitz as secretary. The following were elected as board members: Mrs. Shtil, H. Baum, and Dr. Shtil. Yosef Shindler, Ya'akov Faust, and Sh. Shmid, were elected to the investigating committee.
The local Zionist committee developed a very successful operation, to which the following members belonged: Dr. Krietenshtein as president, Sh. Shnur, Ya'akov Faust, A. Shpielman, D. Green, Sh. Einhorn, and H. Lebel.
Faust administered the activities for the K. K. L. [Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael]. Head of the committee of the organization Aid to the Pioneers, was Perlberger (General-Zionist), vice-president V. Hirshfeld (Mizrachi), secretary Ch. Shteinlau (HaShomer Ha'Tza'ir), and the treasurer N. Eizen (Zionist Organization). Committee members were L. Ulman (General- Zionist), B. Appelbaum as a representative of the (Akiva) organization, and one representative of the Zionist youth.
The gymnastic sport association Maccabi was very active in Briegl. In 1936, the president of the association was Edmond Shtruber, his deputy, Avraham Teichtl, secretary Henrik Geller Berger, and on the committee were, Shlayme Shpielman, Shmuel Perlman, Sh. Vestreich and Mendl Forst. The General-Zionist youth were grouped in two organizations - the Zionist Youth, led by R. Moses, and Akiva led by Borgnicht. The HaShomer HaTza'ír, led by Aharon Kanner, was well-organized.
In March and April 1942, a compulsory transfer of Jews was carried out, and in August 1942, a complete anti-Jewish deportation took place in the town, and Briegl became Judenrein - free of Jews.
Outline by Bunem Flantzer
Written by Chaim Briegler
Translated by Libby Raichman
Briegl (Bzshesko) was a western Galician Jewish town with particular characteristics that the Jews in the town had woven for many generations.
The town was situated on the main road between Krakow and Tarnow. The Jewish residents were an absolute majority, more than 500 Jewish families totaling approximately 3,500 people.
1. The Occupations of the Jews in the Town
It appears that, just like many other small towns in the Krakow province that originated about 700 years ago, the right of the Jew to exist was legally restricted, both in the area where they settled and also in their occupations, that were limited to trade and craftsmanship only.
In our town, trade was in Jewish hands. People traded in goods that varied from bread to an ox, and from sewing thread to the longest iron rods.
As previously mentioned, trade was not the only Jewish occupation. Craftsmanship was almost 99% in Jewish hands, that included milliners, brush-makers, watchmakers, confectioners, bag/purse makers, tailors, shoemakers, stitchers of shoe leather, carpenters, house-painters, glaziers, barbers, capmakers, bakers, butchers, printers, and others. Only two trades lay in the hands of Poles blacksmiths, and locksmiths.
I want to note that a third of the Jewish population were craftsmen.
2. The distinctive Chassidic character of the town
Despite the influx of spiritual and cultural influences into Briegl immediately after the First World War, the town still remained frozen in its original Chassidic character until the Second World War and the German occupation beginning with its Talmud Torah for children, and its prayer houses, where Jews, old and young men, sat and studied Torah for its own sake.
I find it necessary to mention a few aspects that were the focus of community leaders and young men who created typical, beautiful institutions for themselves: the large Chassidic Prayer House, Reb Ephraiml's prayer house, the Vilipoll Rabbi's prayer house, the prayer house of Rabbi Moshe Lifshitz, the town's Rabbi, the radiant Chassidic center of the youth, and the Bobov Chassidim at Reb Chaimele Din, may his righteous memory be blessed.
3. The Zionist Organization
As already mentioned, Briegl was a Chassidic town, but it is necessary to note that in the 20 years prior to the Second World War, the Zionist party was created, and during those years, it was substantially split into different branches, particularly among the youth. These parties were Ha-Shomer ha'Tza'ir, Akiva, Betar, the left Po'alei Tzion, Po'alei Agudat Yisrael, and Mizrachi. These were colorful movements with intensive Yiddish cultural activity, each group individually, and all of them together with their fiery discussions among themselves. All these movements together, introduced a new strand of cultural life into the town. Yet, even in these seemingly new movements, it was noticeable that they were no more than a continuation of the original Chassidic town. An indication of this was evident in the enthusiastic singing, and ecstatic dancing in the youth movements. Taking this all into consideration, it was clear to us that the new strands too, did not alter the Chassidic spirit or content of the town, and that these traditions continue to accompany us throughout our lives.
Unfortunately, much to our immense regret, only a small number of people from our town, managed to emigrate to the Land of Israel before the destruction that befell the entire Jewish community of Briegl.
4. Wartime in the Town
In September 1939, the Nazi German murderers marched in and occupied the town and soon wounded and murdered dozens of Jews. They also burned the town's synagogue, together with the holy vessels and Torah scrolls. Then they issued difficult and bitter decrees for the Jews. They created the so-called Yudenrat with its Jewish police, who were called ordenungs-dienst, who to our shame and derision, only further embittered our miserable lives. The Poles too, took advantage of our chaotic situation and helplessness; they robbed, tortured, and murdered Jews, with Polish zeal and pleasure.
5. The Ghetto and its Liquidation
The name ghetto and its substance were accepted, both by us Jews and by Gentile nations, a name, that already had its roots in the Middle Ages. In those days, it meant confinement in a restricted area, and was no more than a stain on the historical world of culture there is also a huge question mark regarding the concept of a cultured world whether such a concept exists at all. The ghetto, in Hitler's wartime, may his name be erased, was not a ghetto, but rather, an extermination camp. In the short time that our ghetto existed, hundreds of Jews perished from hunger, torture, and sickness.
See article on page 51
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On the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5703 [corresponding to September 1942], the Germans, assisted by the Poles, gathered the last few Jews in the ghetto. The next morning on the day of the Fast of Gedaliah, they led the Jews to the train, accompanied by murderous beatings and shootings. Then they packed them into freight railroad cars and sent them to Belzshetz where they were murdered. No Jew returned from there.
This is how the Jewish town of Briegl, to the joy of the local Poles, became free of Jews.
God will revenge the blood of the sacred, of the community of Briegl.
May their memories be eternal. Amen.
by Gad Buchman
Translated by Libby Raichman
I feel that it is my moral duty to record everything that I absorbed with all my heart and soul, the impressions from the days of my youth in the town of Briegl. The older boys told us that 90% of the town burned down in the great fire that occurred in 1904.
In those days, houses were built entirely of wood, but a number of years after the fire, the Jews were the ones who rebuilt them anew. This time they were built according to new plans in the style of houses in modern towns.
The center of the town that in Yiddish was called the mark, the market-place, had streets that branched out in straight lines and houses built of bricks with two and three stories. In front of those houses were quaint shops. The town, like all the other small towns, was situated on the main road between the provincial city of Krakow in the north, and the town of Tarnow in the south. Its entire economic existence was based on micro-trade, where twice a month it hosted a market day. Many of the farmers in the area, came and sold their merchandise and bought goods from the Jewish merchants.
It should be noted, that as a regional town, (pubyat in Polish), it was the largest in the whole of Poland. There were 126 smaller towns and villages that belonged to this region. I will mention the most important of them, according to the size of the Jewish population. They were Dimbarva, Shtzuroba, Tzchof and Zaklotzshin, that included many dozens of Jewish families who were scattered in villages in the region. They were farmers who worked the fields and raised cattle. It should be emphasized that their economic situation was infinitely better when compared to many of the Briegl residents.
The Pogrom in the Town
I was young when I experienced a very bitter life lesson that was the pogrom in the town. It was on a Sabbath in 1918 when the First World War was over, and Poland was freed from the yoke of Austrian occupation, because, until then, Galicia in western Poland had belonged to Austria.
The Poles wanted to mark their freedom from the burden of enslavement and did not find a more appropriate expression for the day of their restoration than to organize a pogrom against the Jews of the town.
And all this occurred with the approval of the mayor of the town and the priest of the Catholic church. In this celebration, four Jews were killed in cold blood, many were injured and beaten, all the Jewish shops were plundered, and people were impoverished.
A Conservative Town
The town of Briegl was situated near cities like Tarnow and Krakow where Jewish life in that period was dealing with constant unrest, as a wave of change swept through the whole of Judaism. Conventional practices were severely destabilized by new streams that arose in Judaism prompted by the people of the enlightenment movement, the Zionist movements, and the socialists of various persuasions.
Despite this, Briegl remained anchored in its conservatism, as if everything new around it had nothing to do with it. It did not need change or revival. Its community leaders, those who were important, or as they were called in Yiddish the fine Jews, knew well what spiritual and social sustenance was required to sustain the Jewish population, and the needs of the community.
In retrospect, the dominant group in the town saw no need whatsoever to change. On the contrary, their current situation matched their desire and their appetite to control the status quo.
On the other hand, there were the ordinary people, the artisans, the workers, or simply Jews who were observant all year round who did not belong to the Chassidim. They were not great scholars, and their lives in any case did not revolve around the centrality of the synagogue. These people did not have the mental strength or the courage to rise up, and do something new; instead, they were drawn to the spokesmen who controlled them.
This is how it continued for decades, despite the culturally and socially dismal lives of the greater section of the Jewish population of the town. The stronghold of religious control in the town remained unbroken, and despite the clashes between the controlling groups, people did not wake up or respond to what was happening around them. Furthermore, the internal clashes had become an issue for everyone; yet no one questioned the practices and the ways of the community.
A Youth Movement
However, the restrictions to which the residents of the town were subjected collapsed of its own accord from old age, and from the discontent that was created in the town.
If my memory does not betray me, it began in 1920 when a few young boys and girls had tasted a little of the pleasures of life, that were happening among the Jewish people in the big cities at that time. Those who had left the town for these cities were drawn into the new stream, and some who returned began to organize themselves in a manner that was accepted in many small towns.
At first, they opened a clubhouse for the youth and organized groups according to age. There they conducted conversations on themes that provided awareness of the history of the Jewish people and a knowledge of the Land of Israel Palestinography, as it was called in those days. They introduced the study of the Hebrew language and felt the need to read modern literature, according to the spirit of the times. For this purpose, they acquired a library that housed Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish literature.
The youth became stronger, and some of them began to search for a purpose for their ideas and came to the realization that there is a need for self-fulfillment and not purely discussion. After some time passed, the organization became Shomer Ha'Tza'ir that was successful among the youth of the town.
I was the son of a religious, traditional family in the full sense of the word, and although my parents did not belong to the Chassidim, in terms of their observance and their traditions, they were completely devout without doubt about their faith and fulfilled all the 613 commandments as was proper. It is therefore obvious that they educated their children in this way.
When I turned three, I was sent to cheder to learn the alphabet like all the Jewish children in the town, and I continued my studies there until my Bar mitzvah. After that my studies centered on the Gemarra with Rashi's commentaries and Tosafot. This was the year of making a decision to continue in the house of prayer,
or to take on the burden of life.
In my youth, as the son of an artisan, work was not strange to me because in my free time, I was used to helping my father, of blessed memory, Yossl Stoller, as he was called by the people in the town. I was not drawn to the prayer house, with its narrow perspective of the town, as I mentioned above, and was influenced by the discontent that arose among the youth, at that time. There were days after the First World War, and particularly after the pogrom against the Jews of the town, when the influence of these two factors caused the youth to search for an answer to the question of the life that prevailed in the lives of the Jews in the town.
The answer to that was the organization of the youth. I do not know why I did not join HaShomer Ha'tza'ir, but in the course of time, another youth movement arose -- the Association of the Hebrew Youth Akiva. This organization was intended to be for secondary school students, but what transpired was that there were youth in the town who were isolated, and this organization received a large section of this group who for some reason did not join Shomer Ha'tza'ir. I joined this organization but after two years, it came to an end, and as far as is known, after three years, a new Akiva movement arose, this time structured as a typical pioneering organization, many of whose members settled in the Land of Israel, thanks to the education that they received in Akiva.
At a Vocational School in Krakow
As I have already mentioned above, the youth felt that there was a need to change the values regarding the lives of the Jews, and first and foremost, they had to spearhead the changes and make things happen. To accomplish this, they needed to acquire a profession and become accustomed to hard work.
In most cases, they travelled to units for agricultural training, but I chose to attend a vocational high school in Krakow. I had learned my profession as a carpenter from my father of blessed memory, in my childhood. However, in those days, enormous advances in technology had begun, and it was only possible to acquire the knowledge of these developments at school. Whoever wanted to learn this technology and gain an understanding of wood had to study at a school to receive a professional certificate.
I made every effort to go to this type of school in Krakow. It was a huge state school and there were about 40 students in my class, of whom only six were Jewish. Three of the six dropped out at the end of the year and only three of us remained for the remaining four years, so I find it necessary to note something very exciting that happened to those of us who remained.
The vast majority of the Polish students were anti-Semites, to the point of zeal, and as our days of study were approaching their end, they began to annoy and harass us with derogatory comments and curses that went as far as physical fighting. As there were only three of us and there were so many of them, they were confident that they would not be beaten. However, we knew how to improve our positions, which meant that we stood with our backs to the corner of the walls, so that our backs would be protected, and as each one of them approached us, they would be severely beaten. It became clear to them very soon that indeed we too, would suffer their blows, but that we were good at beating them. In the first few minutes, some of the non-Jewish Polish boys were already severely thrashed, some of them with black eyes, others with bleeding noses, and one missing two teeth. Then they ran to summon the principal. As the principal came into view, the brawl ceased. He invited all the students into the classroom and sharply reprimanded the Polish students, and among other comments, he said to them: Who would believe you, that such a small number of Jewish students in the class assaulted you? I am therefore ashamed of your vile deeds, and I warn you, that any Polish student that causes a fight, will immediately be removed from the school.
At that time, the teacher, originally from Czechoslovakia, who taught drafting, approached me and said: I want you to know that I am recommending that you receive the first prize as a sign of your excellence in the subject of technical drawing,
but he added, to his regret and disappointment, You will not be the one to receive the prize since the priests who teach Christianity are, of course, objecting to a Jewish student receiving the prize. I thanked him and informed him that the greatest prize for me were his sincere words, besides which I did not need a prize. I thanked him for the profession that I had acquired, and added further, that after I finish school, I was planning to travel to Palestine. To that he answered: That is the wisest answer that could be, considering all that is taking place in the school, and in Poland in general.
I also remember that in our school textbooks, we studied, among others, the book Polish Civics, where it said that the government of Poland is doing and will make every effort to transfer trade and industry and craft professions into Polish hands throughout Poland. That is how we learned Polish civics.
Already in 1925, 1926, 1927,19 28, the theme of anti-Semitism in Poland reached the level of the priest tz'tz''k and the Pristruba, whose names were already infamous years before Hitler's war, may his name be erased, for spreading the most virulent anti-Semitic libel in the Polish press, and even at Polish parliamentary level. And all this in the name of humanism, so to speak. It is clear, that this frantic atmosphere of antisemitism, has agitated and pushed the Jewish youth towards the polarization of their thinking.
An important part of the youth was drawn to socialistic-communistic ideas of various kinds, thinking that by repairing the lives of people in the world, they would also bring a solution for the Jewish people.
But the majority supported the path of Zionism, in other words, to build the state of Israel anew for the Jewish people. In any case, in our town, among most of the non-Chassidic youth, there was a leaning towards a national path.
I immigrate to the Land of Israel
In 1928, I finished school and in 1929, I immigrated to the Land of Israel, through the youth movement Akiva, but I will be remiss if I do not mention those who left before me through Ha'shomer HaTzaír Reuven Loichter of blessed memory and long life to Chaya Schneider.
Even before them, there were two capitalist families who moved from Briegl to Germany, the Hammer family of blessed memory, who opened a large wholesale business selling kitchen utensils, and sometime later, opened the first factory in the Land of Israel, manufacturing kitchen utensils.
The other was the family of Aaron Kenner of blessed memory, whom we remember from the days of the pogrom that took place in Briegl. He was one of the members of the self-defense group in the town. After the pogrom, he left Briegl and moved to Vienna and after a few years immigrated to the Land of Israel. In the course of time, he brought large machinery, the most modern in those times, and founded the factory Tirzah near Rishon-L'Tzion. After a few years it became Solel Boneh.
It is a pity that many grew tired on their difficult path to fulfillment, waiting years and years to emigrate to the Land of Israel, as the mandate of the British government, took upon itself the guardianship for building a national home for the Jewish people. Yet, in all kinds of ways, the British government did everything to curtail the process of building the national homeland and did not allow the Jews to immigrate. Nevertheless, and despite everything, scores of people from the organizations in the town, reached the Land of Israel, and we gained an independent state. So, may God grant that we have complete redemption. Amen!
Translated by Libby Raichman
In 1936, I travelled to visit my family that had remained in the town of Briegl, and regretfully, I found that my mother, may peace be upon her, was no longer alive. I found my father of blessed memory, with six children, three of whom had not yet reached
adolescence, living in the same apartment at the residence of Yekl Tziment, where I was born.
Considering the circumstances in which I found my family, I advised them to immigrate to the Land of Israel. And my father's reply was that he would have to take advice from the Rabbi of Vilipoll. For this consultation, the Rabbi requested that I should come to him, as he wanted to hear from me personally what was happening in the Land of Israel. I went over to him. After the welcome, with peace be upon you, my Rabbi, he turned to me directly and asked: Is it true, as they say, that in Israel they eat non-kosher food and publicly desecrate the Sabbath?
And to this, I answered with a question. Why, esteemed Rabbi, do you speak of this generalization about the Holy Land? Does the Rabbi know that there are pious Jews in Jerusalem, in Petach Tikvah, in Tel-Aviv, in Tzfat, in Tiberius, and even in Haifa? There are rabbis, rabbinical judges, and ritual slaughterers, there are Talmudic colleges, scholars and teachers, and even religious kibbutzim, and the Rabbi has surely heard of the Jews of Yemen who are ultra-orthodox and perform all the commandments with devotion? Therefore, one cannot generalize and speak about all the Jews in Israel as non-believers in all that is sacred to the Jewish people. It is true, that in Israel there is a large community of Jews who live freely, but here too, in the town of Briegl, there are those who desecrate the Sabbath, and the one who desecrates the Sabbath publicly, [who] was selected on the Rabbi's list of the chief rabbi, Reb Moshe Lifshitz and his followers?
Apparently, this angered him and then he interrupted me, as if I insulted him, for this was the truth, and he raised his voice and said, But in Israel they work on the Sabbath. I allowed him to calm down, and I turned to him and said, Esteemed Rabbi, I did not come to annoy you, God forbid, and I have no desire to anger you, your honor, but it is precisely this issue of working on the Sabbath, to which I have something to add. So, it is well known to you, your honor, Rabbi, that the Jews in Israel, work at the most difficult tasks, in agriculture, in construction and in factories. Naturally, people who work at such difficult and physically exhausting tasks, want to rest at least once a week. For them, already on Sundays, they await the coming of the Sabbath, so that they can rest and regain the strength to continue their work.
And then the Rabbi turned to the question of the Arabs, and as one who is expert in this matter, I answered him a little sensitively, Who knows better than the Rabbi, the Torah portion about the spies etc… ten of them said that the land eats its inhabitants, and only two said that the land is one flowing with milk and honey, and that we can overcome them. When I finished speaking, he turned to me saying, May you succeed young man, in your path, and all the best to you. He gave his consent for my father to immigrate to Israel and extended warm wishes to him in the Holy Land.
by Yehoshua Shnir
Translated by Libby Raichman
I was born and raised in the small town of Briegel. The town has become engraved in my memory. One of my memories is from the time when I was 6 years old, I mean, a small boy, because for us in Briegel, our childhood years lasted until the age of 3. When a boy turned 3, his hair was cut from his head and he was immediately sent to cheder. There he was showered with sweets and as he bent his little head over the large alphabet, he became a cheder boy and no longer a child.
The Fire in The Town
As already mentioned above, I was then a boy of 6 years old and I was studying with the teacher Reb Shimon Leib, of blessed memory, sitting at a table with a number of other boys, studying Chumash and beginning to learn Rashi. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, my sister Malka burst in and shouted: Reb Shimon Leib! A fire has broken out in the town! And my mother expects me to come home quickly; and when he asked how and where? … in the blink of an eye, we boys took advantage of the opportunity and freed ourselves of the tension of our studies, left the cheder and went out into the street at the site of the small marketplace, close to the Shtzianke. From a distance we heard screaming and heartrending cries. On that day, an exceptionally strong wind blew, causing the fire spread quickly from one house to another. People grabbed whatever they managed to take from their homes and ran to the river. They gathered at the flowing little river in the town where they felt more secure, and as the fire grew larger, they alerted the firefighters from Bachnye, Tarnov and Krakow, but by the time they arrived, the whole town was ablaze, in one flame. They only managed to extinguish the wooden walls that were still burning and had fallen in, on one another. This was how 90% of the town was burned. All that remained was the house of Sholem Kas and the Shtzianke on one side of the town, on the second side, Kvoretz Street, and the little street of Menashe Dine, and on the third side, a few houses near the wooden bridge that led to Akatzim. So, of all four sides of the town, what remained, resembled the burnt side branches of a burnt tree, the little town. And when the timber was still burning, many families whose houses had been burned, began to leave the town, some went to friends, and some to relatives in the surrounding towns and villages. Many of those who left then, did not return to the town. It is worth noting, that the wooden houses at the four corners of the town that were not burned in the fire, remained standing until the last World War. It is also notable that all those who left the town, received free train tickets.
The AidCommittee, or, as it was called in the town, the FireCommittee, was established on the same evening that the houses burned down, and people remained in the town without a roof over their heads. They were housed in the remaining houses that survived the fire. When the darkness of night enveloped the town, a downpour descended on the town truly a cloudburst. The oldest residents of the town said that they did not recall ever experiencing such a torrent of rain in Briegel. During the night, the rain brought so much water,
that in many of the lowlying areas, whole rivers were formed that were covered with halfburned doors, beams and boards. Soon, we boys, small ones, and older ones, took advantage of every pause in the rain, and headed for the rivers. Here we immediately began making things from whatever we found in the water and made rafts and boats. We bound the beams, the poles and the boards with wire, string, and nails, and sailed on our own rafts on the rivers, that were gifted to us from the heavens. Oh! Our happiness was so great, that many of us expressed the wish that we would have a fire in the town every year and a cloudburst of rain and a flood. This lasted for three days and three nights and the fourth day, was a beautiful summer's day. Then the residents of the houses that had burned down, came out and began to clean up and search for sections that could be used to repair the houses that had not entirely been burned. From these they built rooms and booths. In these days, the AidCommittee from the surrounding towns and villages arrived, bringing food, utensils, clothing, and money, for those affected by the fire.
Over a period of four weeks, the town was covered with rooms, booths and makeshift booths. In these structures, shops were organized, and the Jews began to rebuild the town again this time, no longer wooden houses but concrete houses built with bricks, twostoried, modern houses, according to a new plan: straight, wide streets with sidewalks, like all new, modern towns.
This is how the town burned down before my eyes, and this is how the Jews rebuilt the town before my eyes.
The Little Town
It is true, that after the fire, the little town acquired a new appearance. Unfortunately, it was no more than a new external appearance, because the town remained with its rare intrinsic quality, as if set in its mystical Chassidic beliefs, enveloped in its specific character. Nevertheless, at that time, as in many other towns, both big and small, there was a drive towards culture and scholarship and books of Yiddish and Hebrew classics were devoured. In Briegel there was not even a recollection of something of this kind. It had not entered anyone's mind, that it was needed at all. Briegel had its welltrodden path, going back many generations. And if it desired something newsworthy, something exciting, in an otherwise ordinary life, this too, was created in the town with great effort, because there was no shortage of intrigue. In this way, factions developed in the town some in favour of the Rabbi, Reb Tuvyele and some against him. There was a lot to talk about, and a lot about which to quarrel, and the people of the town was divided into two factions. Those on the side of the Rabbi were called Achdut, and the opposition were called
Yashkes. It was normally accepted both by the Achdut and by the Yashkes that if the Achdut say ‘day’, then the Yashkes say ‘night’. And this was the politics, the social and cultural content of the town. I must also add that the disputes were caused by the fact that all sides established beautiful Jewish institutions that existed in our lives until the last war of Hitler, may his name be erased. During that time Reb Wolf Lube erected the Wolf Lube's Synagogue, and others built the large Chassidic House of Prayer. A third faction built the town's synagogue. Immediately after the fire, the only bath house was built in the town, that also housed a ritual bath. Life continued in this way for many years. When things were a little settled and life became boring and cheerless, it was as if a calamity descended from heaven. And this time, an eminent, holy man. The Rabbi of Oft. His name was very famous, and people spoke of him with great respect, but his arrival in Briegel was not good, not for him and not for the town. With his arrival, there grew, from the former Achdut, adversaries to the Rabbi of Oft. Do not ask what took place in the town. There was resistance, abuse, libel and such curses, that even the Tochachah does not even possess it.
The disputes were a daily event. They turned into hideous fights and both sides lost their moral equilibrium and sense of decency. There were those among the supporters of the Rabbi, Reb Tuvyele, who dared to frame the Oft Rabbi with false accusations and denounced him to the police. The denunciation was accompanied by a nice gift (a bribe). The police arrested the Rabbi of Oft. The news of his arrest spread like the wind. Spontaneously, 80% of the Jewish community gathered and staged a demonstration in protest against the arrest of the Rabbi of Oft. His arrest turned into a public scandal. The Jews from the surrounding towns and villages also protested strongly. Representatives of the Jewish community became involved, and on the third day, the Rabbi was allowed to go free. On that same day, all the representatives of the Jewish community and of the City Hall, gathered and came to the rabbi, asking for forgiveness and to be pardoned. They expressed their absolute faith in him, but the Rabbi of Oft had decided not to stay, and a short time later, left the town. But Chassidic history, and the history of the town remain tainted by these events.
At the Center of the Jewish Community in the town
Although the scandal of the Rabbi of Oft gradually settled, a rift remained between both sides, for many years. And as the representatives were concentrated in the Chassidic prayer house,
a clique was created around them, that dominated the Jewish community and the City Hall in the town, for more than 20 years. They knew how to maneuver regarding all the issues that arose in the town, utilizing every weakness in each issue, separately. In this way they managed to involve Advocate Dyches (by the way, the only assimilated Jew in the town) in their clique, the This was after the (pogrom) that the Poles inflicted upon the Jews of the town. Only then, a mistrust of the longstanding head of the Jewish community, Chanoch Klapholtz, arose. He was unable to avoid the pogrom in his unsuccessful negotiations with the mayor, Dr. Bzsheski, who was an outspokenly declared antiSemite, and one of the agitators of the pogrom; but then, when the Jews of the town had already paid with the lives of four victims, with many more assaulted, and many Jewish shops plundered, only then was Chanoch Klapholtz removed, and in his place, Shmuel Lefelholtz became head of the community. At the first elections after the pogrom, Advocate Dyches was elected head of the community.
The First Appearance of a Youth Organization in Briegel
After the rise of Poland, when some of the youth were discharged from military service, a few of them stayed for some time in the larger cities and had a taste of the new trend of reading books, of theatrical presentations etc. Then a small group of the youth were permitted to establish a youth organization with a library. They collected money for the Jewish National Fund and also organized theatre presentations. When this trend appeared in the town, all the Chassidic groups used whatever means they could, to oppose them, but they were not successful. We were in conflict with the Chassidic groups for many years but the hegemony in the Jewish community and in the City Hall, remained in their hands. The reason for this was, because the central Zionist leaders did not find the appropriate manner and use of language to appeal to the common people who were more inclined to us, than to the Chassidic group.
When Advocate Krietenshtein, an active Zionist, came to the town, we began to encourage him to entertain the thought of intervening in the Jewish community and in the City Hall. The activist for this idea, was Mendl Zelengut, may the Lord avenge his blood. But in the meantime, the Zionist organization in the town, expanded. Young boys from the Chassidic prayer house and girls from Chassidic homes, joined the youth organization, that in time became the Hashomer Ha'tza'ir. The Maccabi organization also expanded. The growth of these organizations evoked a panic among the Chassidim that resulted in physical aggression and the burning of books in the library, until it reached a trial. Then an agreement was reached: both sides cancelled the lawsuits, but we all remained stressed by internal matters, and were therefore unable to participate in local political issues in the town.
Eventually Dr. Advocate Krietenshtein left Briegel while we were in the process of building a Community Centre in the town. My suggestion was, that we should make a chaincollection that each one of us, should belong to a group of five, and each one of this group of five, should establish one more group of five and the contributors should demand the equivalent of a plaske a day. This was a cigarette that cost one groshen. This came to half a zlotte per week and in a short time, we managed to collect a nice sum of money. All the revenue from the undertakings by our dramatic circle and income from the balls (dances) etc, were pledged to our cause. The entire youth applied all their efforts so that we could reach the goal of building the holy sanctuary for the town. All our activities were directed towards this Community Centre.
We purchased a site, and over a period of three to four years, we erected the Community Centre. During that time, Dr. Advocate Hurwitz, a Jew, arrived in the town from Radomishle. He stood for the common people and did not establish any connections not with the Zionists and not with the followers of the Chassidic Rabbi. At his own initiative he embarked on an election campaign against Dr. Dyches and was actually very successful. But we did not utilize this opportunity correctly. But what did happen was, that Advocate Hurwitz unmasked Dr. Dyches, and even more so, the clique of the Rabbi. Then the clique made a change to its list of candidates, and in Dr. Dyches' place, came Dr. Bloch, a Bundist, a religious socialist. The Bund stood for private religious tolerance, and when Dr. Bloch arrived in a shtetl like Briegel, he recognized that a field of communal activity was spread out before him. That was his dream. He started mixing among the circles of the clique and began to attend daily prayer services in the town's synagogue. This strengthened his campaign among the Chassidic groups, and he was accepted by them, with open hands. Another couple of years passed in this way, until the elections for the City Hall approached.
We are Going to the City Hall Elections
Only in 1931 or 32, after a long time had passed since the intensive work that was done for the Community hall, we remained, as it were, without work. It happened that some of the declared active Zionists in the town, became proprietors at age 32, that gave them the right to be elected as members of the City hall, and also of the Jewish community, and also many others who sympathized with us and expected there to be a representative of the Zionist organization. This, and the ultimate stand taken by Mendl Zelengut, that we should have our own list of candidates standing for election, put pressure on the local committee. Then we adopted a very fair decision, that we expect that our people should be represented on the general list of the Jews, together with the people of the Rabbi. This only came about because in Briegel
a precedent existed, dating back many decades earlier, that there should be only one list, both for Poles and for Jews. Thirteen representatives were elected seven Poles and six Jews, despite the fact that the Jews constituted 80% of the population of the town.
As the election days drew nearer, a warm election atmosphere permeated the town. Then, unofficial conversations began between our people and the Rabbi's group. I must point out, that there were among them, some who reacted positively to our request, that led to an official meeting for negotiations. At this meeting, the head Rabbinical authority, Reb Moshe Lifshitz, Advocate Bloch and David Lefelholtz participated on behalf of the religious group; may the Lord avenge their blood. Yehoshua Shnir, Mendl Zelengut and Ya'akov Faust represented the local Zionist committee; from the reception that we received from them, we soon felt, that there was noone with whom to speak. When we presented our proposal that one of our people should be represented on the general list of candidates, we immediately received an absolute negative answer. Then in our local committee, we decided to proceed with our own list.
Then the election campaign flared up in the town. The governor of the province tried to get involved because the government institutions were not interested in candidates being selected from different lists. This began to be uncomfortable for them as this could unmask the entire rampage that took place in the town every year. Advocate Tzigi, a liberal Pole, a friend of the Jews who settled in the town in 1918, at the time of the pogrom, called a public gathering in the town and delivered a fiery speech, denouncing the pogrom. At the gathering, this gentleman shouted out: a disgrace, a stain on the existence of Poland. Is this what we fought for, that Poland should become independent so that we can crown her with pogroms? Advocate Tzigi pleaded with the Rabbi's group to include us in the list, but under no circumstances, would they change their attitude. They convinced the governor of the province and Advocate Tzigi by assuring them that nothing would come of our list.
Legally, I was voted out as mayor, and in such a hostile clique atmosphere, we entered into an election campaign. Today, I can say that the hostile attitude that the clique adopted against us, was one of the most favourable reasons for our list. But at that time, it had a serious effect on us, yet it created assurance among us. We searched for a way to forgo our decision in an honourable way, so we submitted our list for only one candidate, and his deputy. I was the town councillor and Mendl Zelengut, the deputy, and when we began our election activities, we discovered that our list evoked great sympathy and support among various circles in the town. In the course
of a few days, we were already certain that we had reached beyond the four hundred votes, that we needed for our list. The mood in favour of our list, grew from day to day. It was, however, already too late to submit a new list. Then Dr. Bzsheski and the Catholic priest, called upon us and asked us to support the candidate on their list and they would support our list. Our reaction to the two of them, was one of mistrust because we still remembered them from the pogrom in Briegel. And what else? We knew that they had a secret agreement with the clique, [the supporters of the Rabbi] for many, many, years and thanks to the clique, Dr. Bzsheski was elected mayor in the town. Many people in the town called him The Pogrom Mayor.
On the day of the elections, tens of Chassidim of Velipol gathered and requested a meeting with me, about the elections. I went to them. They expected me to promise that I would support them. My answer was that we had organized our list, not for our Jews, nor for yours. We did this because we wanted to break, once and for all, the principle of our Jews, and your Jews, that was introduced by the clique, together with the Rabbi, who used their position in their own interests and in the interests of those who were close to them. And if I am elected, I will be a spokesman for all the Jews in the community regardless of the group, to which they belong. Their answer was that 150 of their voters will be voting for our list. At 10pm, the ballot boxes were sealed and at the first count of a few hundred votes, our list stood in first place and when the numbers reached the first 1000 votes, we already had double the number of votes that we needed for our candidate.
The Last Outcome of the Elections
Finally, what was evident was, that our list attracted the largest number of votes: 2970 votes. No candidate in the town, had ever attracted such a large number of votes, and according to local stipulations, the candidate who receives the largest number of votes, becomes the mayor. This is how I was elected mayor in the town, but due to local politics by the clique, that introduced the ruling that only a Pole could be the mayor, and we did not want to quarrel with government organizations in the town, we relinquished the position, and Suyay became the mayor. He came in second place (more than 2,200 votes). Of the Rabbi's clique, only one candidate drew 400 votes and the great Advocate Bloch, suffered the greatest defeat he received only 270 votes. In order to avoid new elections, we agreed to the request of the nonJewish candidates that their 5 candidates on the list of the clique, be included, despite the fact.
that they were not elected. And we gave them the bread of kindness this time! After the elections, they walked around with their heads down, as if they had been whipped. They felt that they were no longer the leaders in the town.
Right after the elections, I was invited to the Governor of the Province who thanked us well for our active management of the elections, and we discussed future activities of the Town Hall. I requested that one representative of the Jews should be included in the district council. This was a Government organization that ruled over the town and its surrounding small towns and villages. He answered positively to my request and actually emphasized, that despite pressure from the rivals, it was generous on our part that we are interested in the whole district. It should be noted that Briegel was the largest district in Poland. It included 126 small towns and villages. I feel it necessary to mention Mr. Shteinhof, of blessed memory, and his printing works he helped us very much at the elections.
Our Activities at the Town Hall
Our great victory did not spoil us. I did not even take up the position of Deputy Mayor, only the Social Division. With the way we conducted ourselves, we won the trust of both the Jews and the Gentiles. The general population were convinced that we genuinely wanted to do something for its good, and indeed, I introduced a reorganization of the Social Division. I initiated the notion that the people should not need to come to the Town Hall to take their share of coal, potatoes, and other district allotments, and drag their filled sacks. They dragged these as they could not afford to pay for transport. I implemented that the council should deliver these items by horse and cart that were housed at the fire brigade. I also implemented changes that were favourable for the people. It should also be noted that in Briegel, more than 25% of the Jewish population were in need of social assistance. Within a short time, a list was created of the names and addresses of everyone, both Jews and Gentiles, who made a request, a wish, and turned to Yehoshua Shnir. I do not recall a single occasion that I was not able to satisfy someone's wish.
At the first meeting in the City hall, I suggested that every proposition put forth, should be forwarded to the towncouncillor, four days before the meeting so that each one of us could give it some thought, develop a point of view and a position, for each question. In this way we would not have to sit at the meeting and fume about each question. My proposition was accepted, only thanks to the stand taken by the Gentile towncouncillors. I handled a longstanding struggle against a proposition that was put forward by the previous council's term of office who proposed, that on the days of the local fairs in the town, it should be forbidden
for wholesalers of various foods, to make their purchases until 9am. The idea was in favour of the civilian population, so that they would not have to bear the pressure of the small merchants and the wholesalers. If the proposition was accepted then it would have served as a precedent, and it could come to the point that shopkeepers with tables at the marketplace, would lose the right to sell their wares before 9am. In order to reject the proposition, we had to come up with quite an extraordinary, spectacular, secondary statement. We based our argument on the fact that it would actually affect the farmer. The peasant farmers arrive in the town, mostly by foot, before dawn, so that they will be able to go home and return to work as quickly as possible and if the proposition was accepted, we would restrict them considerably. The debate about this question stretched over many sessions. We received support for our stand in the District Council, that was the representative and the defence for the peasant farmers in the surrounding areas. With its assistance, we succeeded after a long struggle, to annul the proposition.
The Electricity Issue
Many of the residents of the town who used electric lighting, were in arrears with their payments for electricity, so much so, that the City Hall found itself with a great deficit in the electrical statistics. As the Akatzimer electricity station was owed a lot of money, the City Hall wanted to take drastic action against those who were in debt to them, by cutting off their electricity and collecting their outstanding debts through the courts. I exerted great effort to ensure that such a decision should not be taken. My suggestion was, that we should divide the debts into 12 monthly instalments, to enable the residents to continue to enjoy the benefits of electric lighting, and to repay the debt. For the City Hall, the benefits would be twofold: firstly, for their actions towards the residents, and secondly, we would collect double the amount of money that would enable the City Hall to lower its debt, and with time, settle the whole debt. My suggestion was finally unanimously accepted. And as an arrow from a bow, the news that my suggestion was accepted, spread through the town. Then a festive atmosphere prevailed in the town, as it was said: and for the Jews there was light and happiness. Oh! There were many, many cardinal questions that we read, that were in favour of the general population, as well as for the City Hall; but memory wanes when trying to remember it all.
There is still one thing that I must mention at the second elections, we were the ones who dictated the list of candidates in the City Hall. Of us, there were:
Yehoshua Shnir, Mendl Zelengut, Ya'akov Faust and the teacher, First. Of the clique, there were only two: Dr. Bloch and Dovid Lefelholtz.
May these words of mine, serve as an eternal remembrance of our dear, sacred Jews of our small town. Yes, they once were, they are no longer here and will no longer exist.
What a pity!
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