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[Page 11]


The Jewish Community in Czestochov

(Its Composition and Activities)

by Dr. Tzvi Cohen

Translated by Mark Froimowitz

Translator's comments are indicated by [ ]

The Composition of the Community

Jewish Czestochov was able to serve in many particulars as an example of a lovely Jewish life, both with its institutions and those who headed them. Jewish Czestochov had a whole line of personalities who were always ready to do something for the good of everyone and to help those in need. Jews who were well-to-do and yet were not haughty.

The first group that comes to mind are the leaders of the Jewish community or the gemine, the wardens and presidents of the shuls [synagogues]. These community leaders constantly devoted their time and energies to best arrange the Jewish life of this large and distinguished Jewish city.

However, when one talks about the gemine and her presidents, the first that comes to mind is the glorious figure of the great Jewish rich man and philanthropist Mr. Henrik Marcusfeld who dedicated himself for decades to the city and who made himself beloved by both Jews and Christians with his modesty and honesty.

Henrik Marcusfeld was the leader of Jewish Czestochov for many years. And when he died, both Jews and Christians cried at his death. One of the city preachers said at his eulogy in the shul that “he was a rare Jew this Marcusfeld. Yes, gentlemen, marcus felt [Marcus is missing]! ( a word play on his name) and we will miss him more as time goes by!”

However, other presidents and leaders of the Jewish community in Czestochov were filled with the same spirit. Such, for example, was Shmuel Goldshtayn, one of the most distinguished people in Czestochov. He was president of the Jewish community for more than 20 years. He was the Gabe-Rishon [First Trustee] of the Khevre Kedishe [Burial Society] and held office in many other institutions, particularly in “Mizrachi” in which he was one of the top leaders.

Shmuel Goldshtayn took the place of Marcusfeld after his death and did not play a small role in Jewish Czestochov. Shmuel Goldshtayn perished at the hands of the Nazis, let their names be erased.

Another such leader was the fine Jew Chaim Wexler who was also a leader in Mizrachi who took over after Shmuel Goldshtayn resigned the office. There were also leaders of the Jewish community, the devoted community leaders Dr. Sax, Simcha Dzshiryat, H. Maytlis, Itzak Mendel Epshtayn who made a strong impression with his patriarchal appearance and, not less, as the representative of the artisans in the community, Dr. H. Geisler. The latter was a doctor in private life who healed the sick but when he had a free minute, he gave it to artisans organizations such as the artisans guild and the artisans school. Geisler always stuck up for the cause of the working man.

The Activities of the Community

The activities of the Jewish community in Czestochov can be divided into two parts. The time until the First World War, when Czestochov, as all of Congress Poland, was still under the rule of Czarist Russia, and the time after the liberation of Poland until the outbreak of war in the year 1939, about 20 years.

Before the First World War, when Czarist Russia still strongly ruled Poland, the Jewish community or gemine, which it usually called itself, was an insignificant institution though it lead the entire Jewish life of such a large city as Czestochov. This is because, according to the Russian statutes, the activities of the gemine were limited to issues of Jewish religious life such as the shuls and batei midrashim [houses of study], mikves [ritual baths], talmud torahs [free traditional elementary school for the poor] and the cemetery. The gemine also had in its jurisdiction the hiring of religious officials such as a rabbi, a cantor, or a shames [sexton], and so forth. There was a community tax, a fee, which the more well to do Jews paid for these purposes, but the community tax was not a large one since its uses were not too large. In the gemine, there were several Jewish owners from the town, mostly from the more well off. Concerning secular issues, the community did not even want to talk about them. The gemine did not have any relevance to people from the populace, from the broad masses.

It was different, however, soon after Poland was freed and the institutions of the land were established on democratic foundations. Then, the Jewish community in all of Poland left the narrow idea of only handling Jewish religious issues and stood on a much wider platform that took into account all issues, religious and nonreligious, which had relevance to the Jews of the city. The same was also in Czestochov.

Afterwards, elections were held in the community and for the community council that was created at the time. It was in these elections that the religious elements, such as “Mizrachi”, “Agudas Yisroel”, and the General Zionists, were strongly active. The workers parties were particularly active, such as the “Bund” and others, who elected the leaders of the community and the community council.

The activity of the community also became quite different now, much larger and broader and did not concern itself only with religious issues that consisted of five points. (One used to designate them ironically with the word “Tshmish” [pronounced tashmesh in Yiddish which also means sexual intercourse]: T for talmud torahs, Sh for shuls for praying, M for mikves, Y for issues concerning yetziasneshuma [last breath] such as the Khevre Kedishe and cemetery and S for sachar [income] for the rabbis, cantors, and shamosim). No. The community now had a much broader and larger program, thanks to the intellectual powers of the Jewish intelligentsia and the Jewish workers who participated.

That is how, for example, the new secular elements of the community and the community board set up the program - help for the new education institutions for the Jewish folk masses such as educational courses, trade schools, evening courses, and others. Not less did the new forces fight for support for the Jewish library which serves the Jewish folk masses by providing them with the very latest books to read; a Yiddish publication which often came out periodically or not periodically; Jewish singing clubs and theater groups; and also other undertakings in the domains of arts and literature. In Czestochov, there was a strong battle about the “Artisans School”, the “Lira” and other such institutions.

It is understandable that the religious and philanthropic institutions were put as the first ones on the list by the religious and reactionary elements who were mostly the majority in Czestochov. Nevertheless, the radical elements did not let themselves be bullied. They always had to fight against the reactionary forces for whom the Jewish word did not mean anything and for whom it was right to persecute and oppress the Jewish Folk Schools, education courses, and libraries since they are a “source of hereticism” which is how one of the persons on the community council expressed himself.

This battle was not an equal one in the number of forces (since later, the “Agudah” arose and sent its representatives to the community and the community councils where they mostly united with the Zionists and the Mizrachi against the radical elements.) Nevertheless, the representatives of the “Bund”, who lead all of the radical forces, were particularly active in the battle for the Jewish institutions and many times carried out what they wanted. They achieved this through various means which we will describe later.

However, before we go further, we will give here a list of the activities of the community and the community council in the 20 years from the establishment of new Poland until the Second World War.

However, before that, let us see what the sections of the community were.

There was a program where, except for the issues of ecclesiastical positions, religious groups in the religious institutions of learning, the non-radical elements, also had to agree for money for the Artisans School, trade schools, education courses, evening courses, the library, the Jewish theater group, the “Lira” and many others. It is understandable that the philanthropic institutions were taken into the deliberations.

Ecclesiastical Positions

(School Principals, Judges, Cantors, Shochtim [Animal Slaughters], and Shamosim)

We now turn to the domain of spiritual Jewish leaders in the religious sense. Czestochov possessed a large number of renowned scholars, true giants in the domain of talmudic knowledge.

Aside from the great gaon [genius] Harav Reb Nachum Ash who adorned the city, Czestochov also had a whole line of school principals and judges and also ordinary Talmudic students who had a great name. We will mention only a few of these. Such as, for example, the great skilled master and shrewd person Rav Yosele Kirer (or as he was called, “Yosele Prakash” ) who was one of the school principals that the rabbi could always depend on. Or, take the moreh-halachah [teacher of law] and judge Rav Nachum Greensfeld. Whether the other Yosele, Rav Yosele Klaynplatz or even Rav Yosaif Rubin (the rabbi Rav Avigdor's son-in-law).

Include with them the preachers, the great scholars. The brother-in-law of Harav Nachum Ash, Rav Moshe Halter who was both a great scholar and a wonderful speaker. Hundreds of people came to his sermons. He continuously spoke for the “Oneg Shabbats [Sabbath gatherings]”of the “Makhziki Hadas” or in “Mizrachi”. Moreover, the other preacher, Rav Yosaif Shimon Koblentz, who was called the “Czestochov preacher”. Rav Yosaif Shimon was a Jew of stately appearance. He used to speak a fine, modern Yiddish, full of secular knowledge and sprinkled with Talmudic sayings. He was a member of Mizrachi and used to devote his entire time to the organization. Nevertheless, he was not a fanatic and he understood the psychology and the interests of Jewish workers.

During his older years, Rav Yosaif Shimon lost his sight and his son-in-law used to lead him into the shul or in the bais hamedrish [house of study] where he used to deliver his sermon with full fire and flame. He particularly did not stop speaking in the shul that he founded on Kateralne number 10 until his last days.

The shochtim of Czestochov were also great scholars and lovely Jews since one could not become a shochet in Czestochov unless one was a good scholar. Mainly, he had to know all that was relevant to the issue of the kosher slaughter of animals from A to Z. That is how Harav Reb Nachum Ash ran things and he was very strict that the shochtim should be true bnei torah [scholars]. In particular, one couldn't prevail on the rabbi with any kind of favor. A shochet who was not literally “soaked in learning” (as was said), Harav Reb Nachum did not allow to become employed by the community as a city shochet. Of the city shochtim, the following seven were distinguished: Reb Abele Koyfman, Reb Chaim Factar, Reb Nachmiyew Gotlib, Reb Yechezkal Bergman, Reb Zaynvil Barzshikovski, Reb Moshe Dialovsk, and Reb Yosele Shnitser. There were still others but they were not employed by the city. Most of the city shochtim also had a claim to lead the prayers in the morning service during the High Holy Days.

Of the seven mentioned city shochtim, Reb Abele was worthy to live a long life. He died an old man of over 90, leaving a large family of children and grandchildren. Reb Abele was particularly beloved by the city's butchers and in every din torah [lawsuit] that they had with the sellers of animals, he was their arbitrator. He was also the oldest shochet in Czestochov and its vicinity. What is relevant for the other ecclesiasticals of Czestochov was that this Jewish community was blessed with an abundance of renowned Jewish cantors who were also renowned outside of Czestochov.

Of course, the greatest musician and scholar, Reb Avraham Ber Birnboym, is self-evident. He was yet an extraordinary phenomenon and the city of Czestochov truly felt lucky to have the great song master in its “new shul for over 20 years”. However, there was under him in Czestochov, an entire line of great masters of song starting from the great composer Matisyahu Bensman until the last cantor from after the Second World War.

So, for example, Czestochov was privileged to have as a cantor the famous master of the liturgy Ziskind Rozental who was the city cantor for 33 years. This was a Jew of stately appearance and, in addition to that, also a scholar. Cantor Rozental wasn't just a musician, he also used to play two instruments, the violin and the piano. He also composed a whole series of Jewish compositions. He had a whole orchestra of singers and, every year during the High Holy Days, he used to prepare new compositions for the prayers in the old Jewish spirit. That is why Jews in the city who loved music used to run to the city shul during the holy days in order to hear the new works of Cantor Ziskind.

Cantor Ziskind Rozental passed away at an age of 73 years.

After him, the young Yosaif Badash, who already had a name as a great master of song, was employed as cantor in the city shul. He was immediately beloved in the city and they were consoled with him after Cantor Rozental. However, he was in Czestochov for no more than 10 years since the Jewish community of London soon grabbed him and, after that, he went to Johannesburg (South Africa) where he was taken up as the city cantor in their shul.

After Cantor Badash, there came as cantor in the city shul, a master of liturgy from Czestochov itself, H.Y. Khaleva who had previously prayed in a different shul. As the city cantor, he organized for himself a choir of good singers in which every one of them had a distinguished voice. He was the last cantor of the city. The Nazis sent him to Oswiecim [Auschwitz] where he died.

In the German Shul, there were during its entire existence, no more than two cantors. The master of music Avraham Ber Birnboym, about whom we previously wrote, and after him, the Head Cantor, the renowned song master Cantor Fishel who was in his office until the Nazis burned the German Shul and sent him to Treblinka in the year 1942.

To the ecclesiastical workers, one also has to reckon in the shamosim of the city shul, the German shul, and the bais hamedrish of Czestochov. It is a fact that all of the shamosim of Czestochov were educated and, therefore, lovely, respectable people.

In Czestochov, there were 4 old shamosim who literally grew with the growth of the city. Thus, for example, no one remembered when Orei Shames [or Shemesh which might be a wordplay meaning Light of the Sun] (Aharon Faltz) was still young since he was virtually the oldest of all. Moreover, Orei Shames knew everyone, knew every individual lineage and was virtually at everyone's bris [circumcision]. He was the shames of the city shul for many years and passed away at the age of 90.

The second shames, Kalman Shtshekazsh (or as he was called in the city “Kalman Shames”), the shames of the bais hamedrish was also an old man. He was also an old Jew but very energetic and when one came into the bais hamedrish, it was light and warm there. The third shames was also an old man, the one from the Makhzicki Hadas, Reb Yitzchak Meir Boym, but he was called “Bitshner”. These were the Jews who were shamosim, personalities who gave themselves over to their work, literally, with self-sacrifice.

There were also other shamosim in the smaller shuls, but they were not so particularly distinguished. However, it is a fact that even the shamosim of the workers' shuls were scholars. It was known that, of all of those who were in the service of the Jewish community in Czestochov, there was not a single one who was not a ben torah [scholar] who knew all of the small details. With this, Czestochov distinguished itself over all of the surrounding cities. And with this, the leadership of the Jewish community in Czestochov stood on a very high level.

Houses of Prayer (Shuls, Synagogues, Batei Midrashim, and Chassidic Shtiblech)

The places of honor in the houses of worship in Czestochov were taken by the city shuls and the “German Shul”. The city shul, however, was not the oldest Jewish shul in Czestochov since there was an earlier small shul that was built in the first year of the 19th century. In the year 1801, the newly established Jewish community of Czestochov built a small shul for the small number of Jews who were located there and, 15 years later, in the year 1815, the community built a small bais hamedrish. They prayed in the small bais hamedrish during the winter since it was too cold to pray in the shul.

In the year 5594 (1834), several prominent Jews of Czestochov sat down around a table and realized that the number of Jews in the city was much greater and that it was necessary to have a new prayer house. They thought about what they should build, a shul or a bais hamedrish. It ended up that since, it was too cold during the winter to pray in a shul , they should, therefore, build a large bais hamedrish.

The first day of Adar in the same year, by the initiative of the then head of the community, Reb Leibel Kuhn, an assembly was called together in the house of the then warden of the shul, Reb Gershon Landau at which it was agreed to build a new bais hamedrish with a section for women.

In the year 1855, however, they realized that the Jewish population had greatly increased and that it was necessary to have an appropriate shul. A resolution was therefore made to build such a shul and they immediately began to build it. This was the city shul which existed in Czestochov until the Nazis destroyed it.

Another superb shul, or the way others called it, “The Synagogue”, was “the new shul” or the German shul which was built by the assimilated Jews in the beginning of the 20th century.

The new shul was a beautiful building, built according to the pattern of the German shuls in Warsaw and Lodz. The shul cost a treasure of money and, when it was finished, Czestochov had something to be proud of. It was a gorgeous building. They hired as Head Cantor in the shul, the renowned great master of song, Cantor Avraham Ber Birnboym who lead services there for 20 years from the year 1903 until the year 1923 when Head Cantor Fishel came.

The new shul was ignited and burned down by the Nazis on the night of the 25th of December, 1939, soon after they entered Czestochov. Together with the shul was also burned the Yodaistishe Library which contained many precious rare items of the Jewish religion and secular literature.

There were also many Chassidic shtiblech [shuls in the residence of the rebbe] where the Chassidim of each rebbe would separately pray. These include: Gerer, Suchatshover, Alexander, Ostrovtzer, Skernivitzer, Grudzshinsker, Piltzer, Belzer, Rupshitzer, Amshinover, and Novoradumsker Chassidim. Every group of Chassidim had their own shtibl. (Other Chassidim such as, for example, the Gerer had several shtiblech.). Most of the “shtiblech” were found on Krakover Street. Entirely of a separate character was the “shtibl” of the Braslaver Chassidim who were called “the dead Chassidim” since their rebbe was still Rav Nachman Braslaver, though he had passed away about 150 years ago and was buried in Oman (Kiever gubernia). The Braslaver had told his Chassidim before his death that they should not choose another rebbe after his demise but to come to his grave and to put kvitlech [notes] there and that he would help them. The Braslaver, therefore, did not choose a replacement in Rav Nachman's place and he remains their eternal rebbe until the present day. The Braslaver “shtibl” was located in Chaim Wexler's house on First Avenue, number 6.

A peculiar place was also taken by the Chassidic shtibl of Zshoriker (Trisker) Rebbe who lived in Czestochov. The rebbe was a Russian from the Trisker line and the Chassidim of the Polish rebbes used to say about him that he was a “Chassidic Misnagid [opponent of Chassidism]” since those Chassidim were very cold when they prayed and nothing like the Polish Chassidim. They also said their full prayers according to the Ashkenazi [Germanic Jews] format. In general, this rebbe did not follow the manner of the Polish rebbes.

In Czestochov, there were also several minyanim [prayer groups] or small shuls of artisans such as, for example, tailors and others. There it was customary, during the prayers on Shabbos [the Sabbath], to discuss all of the issues of the trade.

The Religious School Institutions (Cheders, Yeshivas, Cantor School and Others)

In the domain of religion, the Jewish community of Czestochov had all forms of school institutions from the very lowest to the very highest.

First of all, the cheders [traditional elementary schools]. In Czestochov, there were several teachers of the youngest children who had a name in the world. First of all, the cheder of Rav Leibele Landau. “Who hadn't learned by Rav Leibele Landau?” writes a Czestochov Jew. “Who from the previous three generations”, he write further, “doesn't remember the long room on Mustove Street, with the broom and with the poor invalid, without feet, who sat on his low wagon by the entrance to the cheder, him with the little green hat with the pins”.

Also concerning the other religious teachers, the same Czestochover has something to say:

“How can one forget Rav Pinchas Orkushin? The teacher of the children of the wealthy, where, aside from Torah [religious studies], one also received a general education with a “censor” for each half year?”

“And how can you forget Rav Itshe Meir Amstever or Rav Motlen by whom the young boys already learned a page of Gemara [part of the Talmud] from Nedarim with r”n [Rabbenu Nissim], or even made a completion party for “Chulin”?

This is concerning the cheders: The lowest, the middle ones, and the higher ones. Now concerning the yeshivas.

As soon as he arrived in Czestochov, the rabbi Rav Nachum Ash z”l [of blessed memory] founded a yeshiva where boys who were dedicated to Torah study, studied. Later, however, other yeshivas were founded. The most renowned was the yeshiva “K'sav Torah” lead by two giants of the generation. The two distinguished heads of the yeshiva, the genius Rav Rubella Rekhtman and Rav Michal Shwartzboym. In the yeshiva, there were classes and levels of achievement. Almost half of the city's Jewish youth learned there. And even those who went to gimnazye [advanced high school]. The yeshiva was under the supervision of the Radomsker Rebbe and the head was the fine Jew and great scholar Rav Leibel Cantor. Aside from these two yeshivas, there was a third one that was run by the Vierzshaver Rav where over a hundred students also studied.

The “Agudah” had in Czestochov an entire series of lower yeshivas under the name “Yesodei Hatorah” in which the leaders of Makhziki Hadas were active, the Messieurs Grilak, Pinchas Orkush and Edelist.

There was also a “Folk Talmud Torah” that was created by the community and was lead by Rav Yehoshua Zeligman, a scholar and a Jew with a fine manner. Aside from them, there were many private cheders.

The rabbis who taught the children in the yeshivas were, aside from those already mentioned, as follows: The Head of the Yeshiva Rav Layzer Yacubovitsh, Rav Avraham Naftali Horovitz, the scholar and Chassid Vulvish (and the scholars) Borenshtein and Rav Motel Pzsherovitsh.

The Jewish gimnazye in Czestochov occupied a separate place, which was the pride of the city. The gimnazye was founded in the year 1917. Children from all segments of the Jewish population were taught in the gimnazye. Misnagdishe [those opposed to Chassidism] children, youth from Chassidic homes, children from Jewish nationalists, Zionist parentage, and even up to those who had half assimilated or assimilated parents.

Jewish Secular Schools and Institutions

Aside from the religious schools, Jewish Czestochov had an entire series of regular Jewish schools which did much for the Jewish population.

The first one that comes to mind is the Artisans School that was founded as early as 1898 through the philanthropist Henrik Marcusfeld in memory of his parents.

A second school that had a good name in the province was the Czestochov Agronomist school. The school was also founded by Mr. Henrik Marcusfeld together with Messieurs Grossman and Stanislaw Herts. For this purpose, they bought a piece of land of about 20 acres in the year 1902.

Jewish Czestochov was rich in libraries. They weren't very large but they did a lot for the Jewish population.

In the domain of philanthropy, Jewish Czestochov had a large number of institutions. There were two kinds: One type of institution was to help those in need. A second sort was to help sick people. Aside from the Khevre Kedishe which was occupied with burying the dead.

At the top of the philanthropic activities, one must place the society “Dobrutshinushtsh” which means “Nice Activities” in Polish. This is how the society was called by its founder and head Henrik Marcusfeld and that was the name that remained until the destruction by the Nazis.

The society “Dobrutshinushtsh” was actually not a single organization but eventually five.

The society was founded as early as the year 1901 and it had, right from the very beginning, the task of concerning itself with the following aid activities: 1) emergency aid, 2) the Jewish hospital, 3) an old age home for the elderly and also an orphanage for poor, lonely children, 4) a home for children, and 5) supervision of poor women giving birth.

The task of emergency aid consisted of giving interest-free loans to those in need. It was a fund for Gmiles Khosdim. During the time of the First World War, the work of the fund was weakened but it was renewed after the war under the chairmanship of lawyer Kanyarski and with the help of “Dzshont”, he directed great activity.

The Jewish hospital began to be built as early as 1910 and was opened at last in November of the year 1913. The Jewish hospital immediately proved to be a great need for the number of surgical and gynecological treatments in the first year alone, amounted to about 2500. The hospital was supported by the city and from monies that came for that purpose from Czestochover landsleit [people from the same town] in America.

The “old age home” and “orphans house” were called by the name of Mina Verde.

The “Home for Children” was created later through worker groups and grew much larger. The section to help poor women in childbirth was lead by women and was called “Ezras Noshim”.

However, besides “Dobrutshinushtsh”, there were many other important philanthropic institutions in Czestochov.

The society “Linas Hatsedek” and “Linas Kholim” both had a single purpose to help unfortunate sick people.

“Hakhnoses Orkhim” had the goal of helping to give sustenance and a place to sleep for poor Jewish strangers who came here and didn't have a place to stay. Hakhnoses Orkhim had a house on Garnitsarska Street. The Zionist leaders Nossen Gerichter, Henech Lapidus, Isaac Mendel Epstayn, and Shmuel Nemirovski devoted themselves to this institution.

A second institution was “Hakhnoses Hakale” to supply poor brides with a dowry and an outfit that they needed in order to be able to marry. Often they would help the brides in such a way that no one knew of it. The head of the institution was also at one time the philanthropist Henrik Marcusfeld who often gave for such brides out of his own pocket.

Another institution was named “Malbish Arumim” which helped poor people with clothes. The society gathered old clothes and fixed and cleaned them up and divided them up among poor Jewish men and women in the city.

The “Bais Lekhem” was a society to help poor people with food. The management consisted of president Shmuel Nemirovski, Beryl Butshan, Isaac Mendel Epstayn, and others. The last was the founder of the society which mainly interested itself with providing poor Jews with all the necessary food for holidays.

A society that was peculiar to Czestochov was one that called itself “Good Shabbos Jews”. This was a group of Jews who used to go around the houses every Shabbos and yell “Good Shabbos Jews, you have to eat, give to eat for others who don't, give something for poor people”. Mostly, they would stand in the middle of a courtyard and would call out to everyone that they should throw down food. And Jews would wait for them, mainly children, and throw down valuable things. They would gather all of this in baskets and distribute it. There were certain devout Jewish women who would specially bake extra challehs [Sabbath bread] in order to have them to throw down. The gathered together food was mostly divided among Jewish prisoners and among plain Jewish poor and sick people. The president of the organization was Emnuel Weitsenblat, a plain working man, a maker of brushes.

Another organization with the name “Ezra” was founded by the woman Gerichter. This was a group of women who especially interested themselves with poor sick people and they later took over the responsibility to help poor women in childbirth.

The “Khevre Kedishe” was an old institution of Czestochov and it was an honor to belong to it. The Khevre Kedishe occupied itself only with bringing the dead to a Jewish burial. It existed from the beginning of the 19th century and they had their own cemetery (since earlier they needed to bring the Jewish dead to the nearby town of Yanove). The head gabbai [trustee] of the Khevre Kedishe was Nossen Gerichter and, after him, Shmuel Goldshtayn.

The Khevre Kedishe had a whole series of rules which all members had to abide by. So, for example, they had a tradition that Shabbos Breishis [the Sabbath when the reading of the Torah would begin again from the beginning], all would pray together in the shul together with the rabbi and all gabbaim would receive an aliyah [be called up to the Torah] and they also had other rules and traditions.

In the beginning of the 20s of the present century, the Jewish-Russian society “Oze” which occupied itself with caring for the health of Jews, opened a division in Warsaw in order to work in Poland. After the Bolsheviks interfered with their work in Russia, the society changed its name “Oze” (which was its Russian acronym) to “Toz” (its Polish acronym preserving the same meaning).

“Toz” made an effort to open divisions in all of Poland. One such division was also opened in Czestochov. The leader was Dr. Stefan Kankalin.

Jewish Community Life Until World War II

The Jewish community of Czestochov with its various local representatives of all of the strata of the Jewish population was constantly a battleground between the reactionary and radical elements for the Jewish secular institutions. While the representatives of the Jewish worker parties displayed tolerance and a willingness to cooperate with the religious elements and to support their desires for the religious institutions, it was not possible to persuade the latter that they should be just as tolerant and cooperative with the radical forces and their demands.

This is reflected in all magazines and newspapers of all radical camps in the course of the entire 20 years of free Poland.

That is how we read in “Our Voice” (organ of the independent Socialists Workers Party in Poland) of June 11, 1926.

“It is impossible to do some joint work with the reactionary powers of our gemine, because they don't know what it means to be cooperative and the word “tolerance” is, in general, foreign to them; In a time that city councils controlled by the National Democracy Party have appropriated subsidies for Jewish secular schools, our Agudah-Zionist gemine at their last session did not want to appropriate a single penny for the secular Jewish schools; city councils controlled by the National Democracy Party have appropriated large sums for Jewish libraries because they understand and know the value of culture and enlightenment but our community did not want to appropriate anything for the cultural interests of the Jewish masses, such as the library and other institutions.”

We read the same in the “Proletariat” (weekly organ of the Jewish culture office in Czestochov) of July 16 of the year 1926.

“See how the community council works. The community budget for the coming year stands at 419,420 zlotys. However, what does this sum go for? For religious issues, for the shochtim, for the mikve, for the Bais-Hachaim. But for Jewish cultural issues, for education, they appropriated no more than 43,450 zlotys. A drop in the ocean against the true use. However, at the same time, the Agudahniks with the help of the Zionists appropriated 3,500 zlotys just for Agudah's “Bais Yakov”. That is why the radical elements have succeeded and struck out the sum of 2,500 zlotys for the yeshiva Keser Torah of the Radomisker Rebbe.”

The same picture was also like this continually in later years. In “Our Way” of Czestochov of the 24th of October 1930, we read almost the same story:

“In the community, the picture did not change. The same attitude that prevailed toward the radical elements during the last ten years is still continuing. The Agudah may quarrel with Mizrachi The Agudah people are against Zionism and are waging a bitter battle against the Zionists. However, when it comes to hitting the worker representatives and to not allowing their requirements to be taken up, then all of the reactionary powers unite and become a single bloc against the radical front. A fine bunch of people! Also during the last session of the community council, this bloc was not to allow any increase in the sums that they distribute for the institutions of secular Judaism.”

And we read exactly the same in “Our Way” from December 1934:

Oshviate [education]” is how our gemine trustees call our cultural life. What kind of mixture do we have in the gemine and what kinds of demands do they make? The Zionists want a “Hebrew to Hebrew” school; the Mizrachi want a “Hebrew to Yiddish cheder”; the Orthodox a “Torah foundation cheder”; those that don't belong to a party want a “Torah in Torah cheder”; the “Poalei Agudas Yisroel” - Torah in Yiddish according to the new orthography; the “Histadrut” - “Tarbut [a chain of schools in which modern Hebrew was the primary language of instruction]” schools; but for secular schools, they don't want to know anything and why do you need more? The Talmud Torah Earoni, where they teach Jewish children without cost and where there are only two classes for beginners and a chumish [Pentateuch] class, they do not support. The talmud torah was founded for those children who go to the “Povshekhne [universal or public]” schools, but the community council has very little interest in the children of the poor. They are not too concerned about poor children”.

And that is how it always went also in later years. In the year 1935, the community agreed on a new community tax which was three times larger than the previous one. But for the secular institutions, they didn't want to give any increase at all. The answer was that the community had a deficit of 100,000 zlotys for the year 1934.

It didn't even help that many of the radical representatives conducted a strong battle against the reactionary bloc. The representatives of the Bund particularly distinguished themselves and didn't hold back and called the reactionary bloc by their true name. That helped very little. The Jewish secular institutions didn't receive a penny more.

This is how the community life in Czestochov looked also in the later years until the destruction year. Yes, until that sorrowful Friday, the first of September of the year 1939, when the Hitlerite bands destroyed the city and destroyed every trace of Jewish life in the great Jewish city of Czestochov.

Yes, yes, there was once a lovely, large Jewish community in the city of Czestochov. However, the devil in the shape of a Hitler made everything desolate.

These words should be a monument for its memories.

[Page 21]


The Zionist Movement in Czestochov

(General Zionists, Mizrachi, Revisionists)

by Dr. Tzvi Cohen

Translated by Mark Froimowitz

General Zionists

The Zionist movement was strongly represented in Czestochov in all of its shades, beginning from the far right, the Mizrachists, the General Zionists who stood in the center, to the far left groups such as S. S. [Zionist Socialist Workers Party] and left wing Poalei Tsion. A great portion of the youth and also not fewer among the middle class population belonged to one or another Zionist group. In the parties and groups one could encounter people of all strata, from the poor uneducated masses to the most highly educated Jewish intelligentsia and also not a few of the rich Jews who imagined themselves the business class of Czestochov.

In order to have a small picture of the Zionist activities, we will go the very beginning and see how Zionism came to our city. This was in the year 1898, after the meeting of the first Zionist Congress in Basel in the previous year, in the summer of 1897. The Zionist congress at that time appointed “morshim [deputies],”that is, representatives of the Zionist organization in different parts of the world. In Poland, Dr. R. Yelski, who was the rabbi and preacher in the “German Shul” in Lodz, was appointed as the “moroshaw [deputy]” of the Lodz region up to the Polish-German border near Susnovits. Yelski was a magnificent speaker and a fiery Zionist. He, therefore, made an effort to have representatives over the entire area for which he was the “moroshaw”. According the plan that he worked out, he wanted to have such a representative for the entire Zaglembie district (Czestochov, Dumbrov, Bendin, and Susnovits). For this, he turned to Harav Reb Nachum Ash who hadn't been the rabbi of the city of Czestochov for very long. At that time, Harav Ash was not yet a convinced Zionist and, as he didn't know what to do, he therefore turned to the Chief Rabbi of Lodz, Harav Reb Eliyahu Chaim Meizel with an inquiry about it. Harav Meisel, who was an opponent of Zionism, quickly answered the Czestochov rabbi that he should not venture out to join the group of heretics and drunkards, the Zionists, and that he should not let them into his city. At that time, there already were many devoted Zionists, one of whom frequently talked with the rabbi about helping to spread Zionist thought in Czestochov, who was the later popular leader Reb Nossen Gerichter. When the answer came back from Harav Reb Eliyahu Chaim Meizel to the Czestochov rabbi and the rabbi Reb Nachum Ash didn't want to start Zionist activity in the city, Reb Nossen Gerichter said to the rabbi, “If you, Rebbe, are afraid, I am unafraid! I will found the first Zionist organization here”.

He quickly called together in his house a group of Jews, nice respectable people and the first Zionist organization in Czestochov was born. Reb Nossen also quickly communicated with Dr. Yelski and was in contact with him for many years concerning Zionist activity in Czestochov. Later, Reb Nossen also traveled to several Zionist congresses.

Zionist activity in Czestochov strongly increased. Later, the Czestochov rabbi Reb Nachum Ash also joined with the idea, mainly when Mizrachi was founded through the great gaon [genius] Rav Yakov Yitzchak Rayness, the rabbi of Lida.

The “Mizrachi” Organization

The Mizrachi organization celebrated the founding of its division in Czestochov in the year 1906. The founders were the city preacher Rav Yosaif Shimon Koblentz, Reb Shmuel Goldstein, Blechstein, Finkelstein, Reb Isaac Mendel Epstein, Reb Chaim Wexler, and Reb Yehuda Engel.

They immediately began great activity in Czestochov to pull all of the Jewish households into the movement.

However, this did not come easily to the group since many of the Chassidic elements, true and false pious ones, waged a strong battle against them. In this work, they were also greatly helped by the rebbe, Reb Avigdoral. Aside from that, commands came to the Chassidim of Ger, Suchatshever, and Alexander from their rebbes that they should strongly fight the new Zionists, the Mizrachists, who are just as heretical as the old Zionists. But they only hid themselves under a mask of religiosity. This battle was a severe one that lasted until the outbreak of the First World War I. First, after the First World War, when the Balfour Declaration occurred, the battle weakened and many of the Chassidic elements themselves joined the Mizrachi movement.

In the year 1920, the youth of Mizrachi decided to separate themselves from the older elements with whom they could not live peacefully together and the Hapoel Hamizrachi was born. The founders were the Messrs. D. Brat, Avraham Dantsinger, and Yankel Berman. The new organization grew quickly and, in the year 1922, they decided to create a farm school to teach agronomy to the youth there. The farm school was on Warsaw Street number 27 (Kotlitski's Place). The Mizrachi deputy to the Seym [Polish parliament], Hershel Farbstein, traveled to Czentochov to the opening of the farm school. A great number of the youth of Hapoel Hamizrachi also studied at the Artisans school at that time with the purpose of being able to travel to the land of Israel with a profession in hand. Even at that time, the Artisans school already had a pioneering spirit and made an effort to prepare the youth to be able to do the useful work in the land of Israel. Many of the Poalei Mizrachi youth who finished the Artisans school did in fact travel to the land of Israel. Most of them learned to be carpenters. From them came out many leading personalities in the State of Israel such as A. Shragai and Yakov Lesloy who are active in various domains in the land.

In the meeting hall of Mizrachi , the city preacher Rav Yosaif Shimon Koblents or the other preacher, the son-in-law of the rabbi of the city, Rav Moshe Halter, delivered sermons almost every Sabbath. Rav Moshe also used to teach chumash [Pentateuch] every Friday evening in his unique manner and the audience literally used to lick the fingers of his clever interpretations. Rav Moshe became in time a dedicated leader of religious Zionism and also visited the land of Israel. Afterwards, he continually agitated that every Jew in should travel to the land of Israel at least once in his life and see the land with his own eyes.

The lectures of the two preachers Rav Yosaif Shimon Koblents and Rav Moshe Halter had the effect that the entire respectable public joined Mizrachi. Many of the Chassidic elements also joined Mizrachi. Mainly in the 20's and when the opposition of the Chassidic rebbes to Zionism became stronger and when the public saw that Zionism does not lead people astray, which was what the agitation previously was. It was just the opposite. They saw that many Jews who were very religious were nevertheless good Zionists. This had the effect that belonging to Mizrachi was an honor and even those that previously kept their distance, later joined the religious Zionists and joined the Mizrachi organization.

In the 20 Years Between the Two World Wars

In the 20 years from 1919, when Poland became a nation, until the year 1939 when the Second World War broke out, all strata of the Zionist movement from the extreme right to the extreme left particularly interested themselves with a group of activities that sometimes resonated on the Jewish street but, at other times, provoked a storm of protests against themselves.

In general, one can say that the 20 years mark themselves with three great campaigns. The first was the creation of the Jewish National Council which was founded by the Seym deputies Yitzchak Greenbaum and H. Hartglas who placed for themselves a goal to defend the interests of the Jewish minority in Poland. This new organization, which had subdivisions in the province, also had its representatives in Czestochov who constantly gathered materials and facts concerning all hindrances, restrictions, attacks, and insults that the Jewish masses had to endure solely because they were Jews.

The second campaign was initiated later in the year 1922 when Dr. Chaim Weitzman together with other leaders of the world executive board of Zionist came for that purpose to Poland. That was the Keren Hayesowd which was the forerunner of the various types of appeals [for funds] which are now carried out in various countries in order to gather money for the Jewish nation. This became the principal instrument for funds for the land of Israel and such groups were founded in all cities of Poland. Also in Czestochov, the Keren Hayesowd office was very active and many times brought in from Warsaw important Zionists who carried out an action for this purpose. Among those that came frequently to Czestochov was the president of the Zionist organization, Dr. Yitzchak Shiper, and the leader of the Keren Hayesowd Office, N. Gerbuvski.

The third campaign was the most popular. This was the Palestine office for emigration to the land of Israel which was created in the year 1925 and lasted till the outbreak of the Second World War. This was because the Jewish folk masses, which in the new Poland were oppressed both economically and spiritually, felt that they must leave their homes, the place where their little wagon stood and emigrate to somewhere else.

Soon after the end of the First World War, a great Jewish emigration from Poland began. At that time, the stream was toward the West, to various Western nations and mainly in the Americas (North and South). More than a half a million Jews from Poland left their homes and emigrated to somewhere else. To build for themselves new nests where there would not be any danger that they would be obstructed by Jew-hating hands.

However, when America took to closing the doors of the land; when the quotas began for immigration to various countries and the Jews saw that the number who were worthy of getting a visa was very small and that because of that, one would have to wait many years, they began to turn their eyes to the east, to be able to go to the land of Israel and the activities of the Palestine-Office, which parceled out the Palestinian certificates, began.

However, also with the Palestine Office, Jews had to wait for months and years until they finally received such a certificate. It was soon much more difficult to receive a certificate from the Palestine Office to travel to the land of Israel than it was to receive a visa from the American consulate. That is why, every time that a Jew received a certificate to travel to the Jewish land, it was considered to be a day of great celebration and every time when a group of emigrants left Poland on the way to our homeland, it was treated as a great event by all Jews.

Such a celebration took place in Czestochov as we see in the newspaper “Unzer Veyg [Our Way]” when, on the 12th of October in the year 1934, eleven hundred emigrants left Poland, among them 137 Jews from Czestochov. It was a celebration by the entire Zionist camp and all parties from the right to the left participated in it.

Concerning other activities of the various Zionist parties and groups, they made an effort to penetrate Jewish life everywhere and to play there the main role in all questions that arose but they did not always succeed.

The first thing that we see is that in the 1920s, two directions were created by Polish Zionism: that of Al Hamishmar [On Guard] directed by Yitzchak Greenbaum and Ais Libnos [Time to Build] directed by Dr. Gottlieb. This also played out in Czestochov where the Al Hamishmar group found its representative in Dr. Broom and Ais Libnos in Avraham Gersonovich and both, according to a hint from above, aspired to become the leaders of the Jewish Czestochov. They thereby lead an intensive campaign in all community elections and in all other activities that took place in the city. In the community council, the Zionist elements of all strata were strongly represented. However, there they were, for the most part, united with the members of Agudah and built a reactionary power which placed itself in opposition to the demands of the radical elements who demanded money for Jewish secular schools, for the Jewish library, and other secular Jewish causes. But this was not satisfactory to them. It therefore came out that the radical opposition lead by the Bund through the council member Raphael Federman and others, had to wage a tough battle for their positions and often also threatened to leave their offices. The Zionist council members from the right wing gave money generously to Jewish religious causes such as ritual slaughter, the mikve [ritual bath], the cemetery, and education, but never for the Jewish secular causes.

The National Fund was also an important part of the Zionist camp and the office in Czestochov always arranged a “Night in Tel Aviv” which was the ball of the year in which the entire receipts went for the Jewish National Fund.

The Zionist organization together with other cities also arranged protest meetings against the English government for distributing with such stingy hands the number of certificates for emigration to the land of Israel.

In all of these activities, Jewish Czestochov participated equally with all other distinguished Jewish cities in Poland.

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