...And I will take you one of a city and two of a family ... Jeremiah, III-14
It is doubtful whether after the Holocaust someone could harbour the notion of resuming life anew on the ruins of Jewish Dzialoszyce. If a few rescued embers, drawing upon the last of their strength returned, deluded into hoping that perhaps some of their dear ones might be still alive, and that here was the natural meeting-place for a gathering of this sort, they met with the refusal of the antisemitic Polish population to accept the idea that such Jews intended staying longer - until they would recover. The Poles resolved that not a single one of these wretches would cross the gates of the city. With a pogrom, they finished off the work of the Germans. Those who were able to escape the axe or the gun, fled in the thick of darkness, so long that body and soul held together. Broken, exhausted and ill, the few survivors dispersed in all directions, facing every evening the recurring problem of finding that night a stone to lay their head on.
And the city of Dzialoszcye remained to no Jews - this time for ever !
One generation and more went by. Most of us who chanced to be saved from the hellish nazi horror, have concentrated here in the State of Israel where, within the framework of national resurrection, we built our homes, set up families and begot children. Others among us dispersed to the four corners of the globe, wherever relatives and kinsmen abroad helped them to emigrate and strike new roots in a foreign land. And although but a few of us were left after the nazi sword had decimated us, the biological processes did their part and our fellow-townsmen also sent the way of all flesh. At the early commemoration ceremonies we hold here to bemoan our sacred dead, we call up the memory of those among us who in that same year, passed away - and who, to our great sorrow, are many - and when this present generation will come to pass - this generation born, grown, brought up and who lived in the city of Dzialoszyce - then the memory of that sacred community many, Heaven forbid, vanish altogether, as did most of the Jewish population.
Our children were born in this country. With their mothers’ milk, they did not suck the tradition of the small Jewish town in the Diaspora. Not only are they unable to enunciate the name of their fathers’ native city, but they moreover tend to reject the customs, the traditions that nurtured their parents. Under ordinary circumstances, this is the natural phenomenon of the clashing respective cultures of fathers and sons - which in view of the changes that affected the people of Israel in its homeland, are here all the more so. It is likewise with our fellow-townsmens’ children who were educated in alien countries, where assimilation draws the young generation further apart from the traditions of its parents.
Maybe our city Dzialoszyce was not very different from hundreds and thousands of other Jewish communities in eastern Europe. It is true that much of the small Jewish towns peculiar character was common to most such settlements: similar ways of life, institutions of the community, livelihood and even poverty. In each small town, there were the usual associations for visits to the sick, provision of dowry to needy brides, charity deeds and the like. The Beit Midrash, the Shtiblach - synagogue houses of learning - the Yeshivot, differed only on the outside. Inside, in their contents and the spirit that permeated them, they were as one, to the point that sometimes even the prayer melody and study came forth from one rabbinical court.
It is not necessary to search for the distinctive traits of our city Dzialoszyce in order to justify in this Yizkor book the chapters of reminiscences and way of life because although to all intents and purposes our town may have looked like numerous other communities, and although it is not within our hands to glorify and extol it and sing paeans to its unique greatness - it is our town that was and is no more !
For hundreds of years, it throbbed with a bustling Jewish life, one generation passing on to the next the flame of Jewish tradition and the yearning for salvation and deliverance. Except for us, nobody can tell about its sages and rabbis, about the ordinary, humble Jews who for six days of the week, ran hither and thither among the peasants, but on Friday, hastened to their homes to behold in reverence and awe Queen Shabbat; about the porters who all day long, stood in the market-place, murmuring one hundred and fifty psalms while waiting (often in vain) for the half-zloty payment for unloading a crate, so that they might be able to purchase a loaf of bread; about the Yeshiva students who spent their nights as days over their Talmud, but did not always manage to provide for their fare at the table of the rich.
And who, except us, will remember the terrible days of the Holocaust when, despite the inhuman suffering and persecution, faith did not waver nor hope falter, even when the townsfolk were driven to the unknown, on the way from which there was no return. Most of our martyred townsmen had not even a Jewish burial and their place of interment is unknown. The old cemetery was completely destroyed by our Polish neighbours, intent to erase memory and vestige of Jewish Dzialoszyce. And we cannot even put up a tombstone over our fathers’ graves.
Although to all appearances, we the surviving remnants are living our renewed life - we are nonetheless bound with the innermost fibres of our souls and heart to all that is dear to us from our childhood and dour past. And so that no city and mother might be forgotten in Israel. So that a memorial be erected to the sacred community and its martyred members - to these ends are the chapters of this Yizkor - In Memoriam - book dedicated.
Unfortunately and most sorrowfully, we are but a pitiful few. And because of the Jewish city’s destruction, down to its very foundations - and the destruction of all that was connected with the Jewish community, sources and material are scarce. Were they to be found, they could have enabled an extensive picture of the community. This is why we must restrict ourselves to these chapters of memories and events, as they were recorded and evoked by those who found it well to put them in writing.
Be they blessed the friends, particularly Mr. Dov Beiski, who saw it as their sacred duty to work for the perpetuation of the memory of our community, and ceaselessly laboured until they attained their aim.
Dzialoszyce developed from a game-keepers’ village established almost a thousand years ago by Polish nobles at the confluence of two tributaries of the river Nidzica in the middle of a vast forest. It lay on the high road to Cracow, and was well populated by the 12th century, a stone church being built there in the 13th. century. Jews were first permitted to settle there in the reign of Casimir the Great in the mid-14th. century. It was a nobleman’s city and was very favourably situated for trade, taxation being less than in neighbouring royal cities. Before long most of the population were Jews engaging in crafts and commerce. The non-Jews were farmers, coopers, potters and wood-workers. Dzialoszyce received full urban status early in the 15th. century. In 1520 a bridge-toll was levied and in due course the number of annual fairs was raised from 12 to 16, with two market-days a week.
Under Russian rule in the 19th. century Jews were 75% of the population. The town prospered, largely thanks to large-scale smuggling across what had become the neighbouring Austrian frontier. During and after the First World War wealJews began to buy up estates in the surrounding countryside. In the Second World War the Germans killed more than 10,000 Jews and destroyed most of the buildings, leaving less than 2,000 impoverished Polish inhabitants.
As in so many Polish town, Dzialoszyce was repeatedly burnt down, most of its buildings being constructed of wood.
City and Population
Dzialoszyce was originally part of the Cracow Province, and was annexed to the Pinczow District after the Partition of Poland. It is now part of the new Kazimierz Wielki District. In 1820 there were 1692 inhabitants, of whom 1256 were Jews. In 1921 the population was 6765, with 5638 Jews. This population ratio continued until the Nazis exterminated the Jews in 1942. The town is connected with the neighbouring towns by a main road and a narrow-gauge railway.
The countryside round Dzialoszyce is exceedingly fertile, and the Jews of the city played their part in providing a useful trading centre for it. They handled all the crops and produce of the peasants, while the estate owners usually sold their produce to wholesalers from larger centres.
The Jewish population consisted of: Peddlers and dealers making the rounds of the villages and purchasing direct from the peasants, agents and middling merchants buying from the medium-sized estates and wholesalers who usually did business with the owners of the large estates. Each village or group of villages had its own long-established dealers who were known as village-goers (Dorf-geher in Yiddish). Each large estate owner had his own agent or steward, usually a Jew, who handled current affairs and marketed the produce. Tuesday and Friday were market days, when the villagers brought their wares to town and bought their requirements from about 100-120 shops and stalls. Thus the rural countryside provided a living for 300-400 families.
The town also supplied centres such as Sosnowiec, Bendzin, Dombrowa, Zawiercie and the coalmine districts. As the town was not on the main railway line goods were carried in wagons, and this transport gave a living to 50-60 families who took agricultural produce and brought back all kinds of industrial goods. But part of the produce was processed on the spot. There were two oil-manufacturing plants which also produced cattle fodder and supported several dozen families. Nor should the opportunities afforded by smuggling across the local frontier with Austria be overlooked.
Goods smuggled from Cracow included ostrich feathers and corals, the latter providing a livelihood (stringing coral necklaces) for about half of the women and children, who prepared them for the extensive Russian market. Local dealers sold these good as far away as Ukraine and even Siberia, leaving town after Passover and returning for the festival a year later.
Two flour-mills in the town and about 6 in the vicinity were managed or leased by Jews. Consignments of several hundred tons of flour left for Dombrowa and Sosnowiec every week, apart from local consumption. Several dozen families lived on the land. Two local banks financed all the trade. There were scores of tailors, shoemakers and harness-makers, as well as a chicory factory. These were the sources of Jewish livelihood in Dzialoszyce on the eve of World War One.
Conflict of Beliefs and Opinions
As elsewhere in Poland, much of their spare time was spent on the internal conflict of beliefs and opinions. Here the war was waged between Hassidim and Zionists. None of the various other groups were represented, except by two Communists one of whom went to Russia and was apparently liquidated in due course, while the other came to pray in the synagogue at the festivals. The observant were of two kinds. Some spent all their time at prayer or study of the Torah, while others made it their business to combat all Zionist activities on account of their secularist character and their desire to set up a Jewish State in Eretz Israel before Messiah had come. These were mostly Gerrer Hassidim and members of Agudat Israel. Their political opponents were the Zionists and Mizrahi members.
The Zionists were young and youngish people who set up a Zionist group immediately after the Balfour Declaration (Shlomo Gertler, Yitzhak Kolatach, Herzl Carmel, Joseph Alter, Joseph Targovnik, Joseph Tauman, Israel Ber Skora, etc.). They had a Club in the Talmud Torah Building where there was also a Public Library, and in it they held meetings and discussed Zionist and Jewish developments. They also conducted their specifically Zionist celebrations and activities.
The Mizrahi and Tseirei Mizrahi were also represented, the leaders of the former being Pessah Sternberg, Bendet Meyerchik, Hershel Mohr, etc. For the greater part of the year there was an armistice between the Hassidim and the Jewish Nationalists. Debate became fierce only on certain occasions. Thus the Hassidim objected to the Memorial Service for Herzl in the Synagogue, and there were lively election campaigns to the Polish Seim and Senate and the local Community Council, for which the Aguda and the Zionists presented lists of their own.
The Younger Generation emerges
The younger generation emerged on the scene in the later Twenties, following an abortive attempt to establish a Scout Movement some years earlier. In 1927 the pupils of the Yavneh Hebrew School set up a society to foster Hebrew as a living language. A branch of the Hashomer Haleumi was founded in 1928 as a national Zionist Scout Movement, as against the already Socialist and Marxist Hashomer Hazair. The founders were: Moshe Schweitzer, Moshe Zuckerman, Moshe Wdowinski, the writer, etc. In due course it came to be headed for many years by Z’ev Sternfinkel, the late Joseph Shulimovitch, Dov Bejski, etc. One of its first steps was to set up a Choir. Following a visit by a Hashomer Haleumi leader it was decided to join the latter, but the local group soon separated again. In due course the name Hashomer Haleumi was changed to Hanoar Hatzioni. The youth movement served to maintain the Zionist spirit at a time when older Zionists were inactive for various reasons.
The Hanoar Hatzioni was very active in the 1932 Polish General Elections, when the leaders of Agudat Israel chose to support Pilsudsky and his followers whereas the Zionists remained opposed. Zionist electioneering material sent by post failed to reach the town, and police pressure was applied and seemed to deter the older Zionists. However, an Election Committee of young peoplwas set up, electioneering material was locally printed and placards were prepared by hand. Finally most of the local Jewish population voted for the Zionist list.
The Halutz Movement was strengthened by the growth of anti-Semitism and the difficulties of finding employment. There were two hachshara (training) centres in Dzialoszyce. The Hanoar Hatzioni centre was on the estate of the Zionist Shapiro family and was agricultural. The other was set up by the Gordonia Movement and its members took on work in town, as was then the practice in urban hachshara centres.
In 1933 the late Joseph Brandys, Moshe Wdowinski, the present writer, Bella Burstein and Necha Brenner, leaders of Hanoar Hatzioni, proceeded on hachshara and were followed by members of other youth movements which had meanwhile been set up. These included Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Betar and the General Zionist Youth.
Life and Living
Besides the struggle for a living and the conflict in beliefs and attitudes (largely a conflict between fathers and sons), daily life was lived to the full in accordance with Jewish tradition, which encompassed everybody. The year was marked by the Sabbath and the periodicity of the festivals, when the families dispersed all over Poland returned home. Weddings were usually held on Friday afternoon in the square between the synagogue and Bet Hamidrash, bride and bridegroom being brought in two separate processions accompanied by the local musicians - Lokay the tinsmith and his children, each playing a separate instrument. They were also the orchestra for youth parties and amateur and professional troupes.
In winter a maggid or preacher appeared to describe the battle of good and evil, the reward of virtue and punishment of wickedness. Sometimes an outstanding hazan or cantor would lead the prayers. A Hassidic rebbe might come to town to visit his group of followers. (Dzialoszyce actually had its own, Rabbi Eliezer Halevi Epstein, most of whose followers lived in neighbouring villages). Sabbath and festivals were celebrated as they had been for centuries. On Sabbath morning children brought steaming jugs of tea and coffee and cholent from the bakeries, where they had been put in the ovens the afternoon before. The Hevra Kadisha or Burial Society was something like a Masonic Order; and whenever Itzikel the gravedigger was asked how business was he would answer, poorly, very poorly of late.
The young people developed their own Zionist, sport, theatrical and literary activities. A cinema had opened in the early Twenties but soon closed again. Travelling Yiddish theatrical troupes were regular visitors. The local amateur theatre was largely the offspring of Jacob Leshman, a private teacher. There were annual balls, Keren Kayemet bazaars, etc. On Sunday mornings villagers in vast numbers came to prayer in the ancient church, but by afternoon the town was Jewish once again.
The Calm before the Storm
I went to Eretz Israel in 1934, and returned for a visit in 1938. It was a very disturbed year on the international scene, and Poland was becoming more actively anti-Semitic. The town was almost without adolescents. Young people had moved elsewhere ,particularly to the towns of Upper Silesia, but otherwise nothing had changed and the inhabitants were almost entirely unaware of what was going on in the larger world. The Zionist Movement and its Youth Movements seemed to have gone to sleep. Nobody had heard of the Illegal Aliya to Eretz Israel. But after Munich, when Poland demanded the ceding of the Teschen district by Czechoslovakia, the town became excited for a little while until the latter gave in. Then the town returned to its former tranquillity. It was the calm before the final storm.
Premises were never adequate or suitable, but there were regular classes and for some time pupils received a roll and cocoa at school every morning. The teachers were: Isaiah Samuel Hirschenhorn of Miechov (Talmud, Mishna and Literature); Isaiah Jonah Pschenitza (the same subjects); Hayyim Jacob Gottlieb (Bible, Mishna and Talmud), who used the old-style Polish-Jewish pronunciation of Hebrew; Herzl Karmiol (Hebrew literature, Grammar, Geography and History); his brother Mordechai Karmiol (the same subjects in the lower classes); Mordechai Unger (Bible, Literature, Singing and Play-production); Shimon Platkevitch (in charge of the lower classes, Singing and Gymnastics). Hebrew was taught in correct Ashkenazic pronunciation, which made the study of Grammar far easier. Though there was no playground, time was dedicated to drill, singing and rambles every Sunday afternoon in fine weather. The pupils used to contribute to the Hebrew children’s weeklies which then appeared in Poland. However, the economic crisis at the end of the Twenties caused many families to move elsewhere and the Yavneh school had to close, though repeated attempts were made to continue it on a private basis by the brothers Karmiol and others. After the outbreak of the Second World War Mr. Landau and Mr. Rosenman continued to conduct organised courses in Hebrew for as long as possible.
Teachers at the Girls’ School were: Mrs. Czwik and Hayyim Shlomo Rosenfrucht (Shlomo Lehrer) who taught Jewish religion at the Government School. They were joined later by Mrs. Haya Brenner, and in due course Sarah Klementinowski was sent from Vilna.
I. The Talmud Torah
When I came to Dzialoszyce in 1925 the Talmud Torah scarcely existed while the Bet Hamidrash was almost empty. I promptly took steps to organise the Talmud Torah, with the aid of Reb Abraham Moshe Shenkar, the late Reb Yutshenka and the late Reb Hayyim Joseph Dzievientzki. Reb Shmuel, a Gerrer Hassid, not only raised money but recruited others and dedicated himself to the development of this and other orthodox schools, such as Bet Yaakov, etc. Similarly Reb Hayyim Joseph was dedicated to everything that encouraged the study of Torah and the performance of good deeds, and was both personally charitable and dedicated to communal welfare. Naturally they were by no means the only ones. May their memories be blessed.
At first it was very difficult to raise funds for salaries, etc., as the pupils’ fees covered very little of the costs. However, the community came to realise the value of the institution and the Community Council allocated an annual amount. This was not enough, however, and with the assistance of Mr. Shapira, the landowner of Dziekanowice we prevailed on the District Governor at Pinczow to permit the Council to increase its allocation.
Though the general economic situation of the local Jews grew worse they devoted themselves increasingly to the growth of the Talmud Torah. Craftsmen, waggoners, small shopkeepers and peddlers and others who made the rounds of the villages during the whole year all helped. Reb Mordechai Isaac Stashevsky, city Rabbi, was invited to the end-of-semester examinations together with town worthies. This ensured better study and greater general support. The registration of pupils and fixing of fees, no matter how minimal, at the beginning of the zeman (semester commencing after the High Holidays and the Passover) often gave rise to heart-rending scenes, so poor were the parents. My partner in registration on these occasions was the late Reb Abraham Zuckerman.
The Talmud Torah provided a living for 12-14 melamdim (teachers of traditional Jewish studies) who served as a team of teachers, and whose position was greatly improved by this. Their headmaster was the late Reb Israel Shlomo Lan. We refrained from bringing teachers from elsewhere in order to ensure that the local melamdim should have a secure source of income.
II. The Yeshiva
When the boys grew older some went to Yeshivot elsewhere; but special free courses in Mishna and Talmud were given daily to those who remained in town by Reb Isaac Meir Friedberg the local shohet (slaughterer), a leading local Gerrer Hassid; by the martyred Reb Abraham Shenkar; and by myself. Some boys studied in the local Bet Hamidrash under the guidance of Reb Hayyim Yehiel, head of the yeshiva, others in various Hassidic shtieblech (conventicles) or in private homes.
In the course of time a Yeshiva worthy of the name was established and a Yeshiva Head was invited from elsewhere. In due course youngsters came to study there from neighbouring towns such as Miechow, Sklabmierz, Proszowice etc. Special care had to be taken of the latter, board and lodging being necessary for them.
The poorer groups were fighting the battle of economic existence and could not afford to pay for the Jewish education of their children. Hence the communal workers dedicated themselves to ensuring that the poorer children in particular should not be deprived of a Jewish education, in order to ensure the continuity of Judaism and the Jewish people.
III. Bet Yaakov
Reb Shmuel Yutshenka, Reb Isaac Meir Friedberg and others, including myself, also established a Bet Yaakov school for girls and hired a dedicated group of women teachers to bring the girls up in the traditional Jewish fashion. Its reputation spread far and wide through the region, and it was visited by Mrs. Sarah Schenierer, founder of the Bet Yaakov Schools. It did a great deal to persuade and convince the outstanding womenfolk of the community that the traditional education of girls was as important as that of boys.
IV. The Bikkur Holim Society
Special mention should be made of the Bikkur Holim Society, whose purpose was to provide for the needs of the sick and their families. Those who were most concerned with education also dedicated themselves to the mitzva (commandment). This society represented all sections of the community. Every night one of a group of young men in rotation would spend the night with a patient in order to enable his family to rest. The Society also paid for doctor’s visits and the services of two feldshers (medical attendants). Reb Leibush Sheniavski and Reb Asher Moshenberg regularly visited the sick. The Society paid for medicines. It must be remembered that there were no hospitals or nurses in the smaller Jewish towns of Poland in those days.
V. Purity of the Family
There was also a special Fund which whenever necessary paid for the minimal costs of immersion in the mikveh or ritual bath, in order to ensure that the time-established practices involved in conjugal relations should not be neglected.
Apart from these organized activities there was a vast amount of private and unrecorded charity. The Bet Hamidrash students and young scholars dedicated themselves in particular to helping needy wayfarers and travelling scholars, preachers, etc., doing all in their power to fulfil the commandment of hospitality. All in all, Dzialoszyce could well stand comparison with far larger Jewish communities.
By the end of the First World War the situation had changed and the Gerrer Rebbe, the beloved moralist Reb Israel Meir Cohen known after his major work as the Hefetz Hayyim, the saintly and learned Reb Hayyim Ozer Grodzinsky and others summoned a Knessia Gedola, or Great Assembly, and called upon Polish Jewry to organise as the Agudas Israel for the purposes of strengthening the study of the Torah and the education of children, while maintaining the fully observant ritual structure of the Jewish communities and act against alien influences. It was prepared to accept all who lived according to the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments).
And so it came about in Dzialoszyce as elsewhere that all the Hassidim and fully observant Jews joined the Aguda which, among other activities, maintained the Yeshivot and Talmud Torahs. The first Agudat Israel Committee was headed by Reb Shmuel Yutchenka, Reb Isaac Meir Friedberg the shohet (slaughterer), Reb Hayyim Joseph Dzieviencki, Reb Moshe Weinstein and Reb Israel Joseph Mandelbaum. At first Dzialoszyce Vaad Hakehilla (Community Council) elections in independent Poland the Aguda received a majority. Reb Isaac Rubin was elected first Chairman, and won general approval for his dedication to the public welfare, in Polish eyes as well. When the first Municipal elections were held, he was appointed Vice-Mayor. He actually received a majority of the votes, but the Polish Government could not stomach having a Jewish Mayor. From the beginning he worked for the good of all Jews without exception and was appreciated accordingly. Naturally things became lively at election times, but they calmed down once the elections were over.
At the international Agudat Israel Conference in 1933, Dzialoszyce sent Rabbi Judah Halevi Frankel and Reb Isaac Meir Friedberg as its delegates. They called on the Conference to take all steps, both spiritual and practical, to secure the opening of the gates of Eretz Israel to the tens of thousands of young Agudat Israel members and others who wished to proceed there. The appeal met with general acclamation.
After this Conference the Aguda underwent a revival in Dzialoszyce and more than 100 new members joined the Youth Organisation. They were given premises by Mrs. Bluma Sapovitch and commenced working intensively for Eretz Israel. When Rabbi Shabbetai Rapaport the Rabbi of Pinchow came to speak to the young men, the latter, led by Leibel Yutchenka, brought him to town by a special coach. The Rabbi delivered a fiery address and within a short time 15,000 zloty were collected towards the Million Zloty Eretz Israel Campaign. Reb Hayyim Kleiner, Chairman of the Youth Organisation, together with the Secretary Shmuel Formalski, extended activities on behalf of the Keren Hayishuv of the Aguda. This secretary dedicated himself heart and soul to the development of the local Zeirei Agudas Israel and established a Junior section of Pirhei Agudas Israel, a Yeshiva Ketana of about 120 members aged 13-16 years, who studied their daily Talmud portion daily after work. The lessons were given by Leibel Yutchenka, Berel Patashnik, Abraham Vaga, Yankel Kazimirski, etc. A Library was established containing all the works of all orthodox writers, and Yisrolke Kamelgarten was librarian. Courses in Modern Hebrew were given by Eleazar Katz. Reb Isaac Meir Friedberg conducted a course in Torah for all and sundry every Sunday, which included the Book of Psalms. His course proved increasingly popular.
Later the Tzeirei Agudat Israel helped to establish the Poalei Agudat Israel headed by Hertzka Einhorn, Joseph Pshendza, etc., which prepared for life in Eretz Israel and found work for members. About 500 children attended the Talmud Torah whose Chairman was Reb Shmuel Yutchenka. He was also responsible for Bet Yaakov with 200 children and the Yeshiva with its 70-80 senior students, many of them from the neighbouring small towns.
Indeed, the Aguda’s activities encompassed all aspects of Jewish life, economic, religious and politi, until the outbreak of the bestial Hitler War, during which our town was destroyed with all its institutions. The Poles even destroyed the cemetery, leaving no trace at all of the long-flourishing Jewish community of Dzialoszyce.
The young students and older scholars engaged in the study of the Talmud from dawn till after midnight. Among them was the martyred Reb Abrahamche Zilber, who would be found in the Bet Hamidrash every morning by 4 a.m. An outstanding scholar, he was always ready to help others in their difficulties with the text. Beside him sat his companion in study, the martyred Reb Kalman Blady. Yet another such was the martyred Reb Abraham Isaac Zayontz, a sweet-voiced leader of prayer, who dedicated himself to Bible study no less than Talmud. The gentle-eyed and martyred Reb Abraham Dayyan, a qualified rabbi, would be found amid his group of young students, to whom he dedicated all his free time. Reb Abraham Moshe Shenkar would be seated elsewhere with his group of Little Yeshiva students, clarifying all difficulties in knotty Talmudic texts. The perpetual student, the martyred Reb Jacob Skopf, would be seated at the last table near the bookcases, to have easy access to all the works of reference he might require as he guided the youngsters through their studies.
A special Committee saw to the purchase, binding and good condition of the large selection of books in constant use. The late Reb Hayyim Yehiel and Rabbi Hershel Lida gave lessons for exceptionally gifted students. There were many many more, but I do not remember their names. At the time of the Afternoon Prayers the streets leading to the Bet Hamidrash were crowded with those going there, and it was crammed full until the Evening Prayers were over. Most Zionist and similar addresses were delivered there, as well as the sermons of maggidim (preachers), to which women also came in large numbers. Money was raised for hospital treatment, for secret gifts to those who had come down in the world, and for help to wayfarers and needy travellers, some of whom lodged there at night. Even the town fools found refuge from the children here. And sometimes women in distress, or praying for the sick or those in difficult labour, would dash in, fling open the Holy Ark and utter their imploring prayer before the Torah Scrolls. Ten Psalms daily were recited between the Afternoon and Evening Prayers. On the Sabbaths the tables were covered with clean white cloths and Jews who had no time all the week round came and joined their own groups for the study of what was closest to their hearts. May these lines be a memorial to the Jewish spiritual centre and those who made it the centre.
In those days half the Jews of the town lived on the neighbouring villages, which they regularly visited to buy grain, foodstuffs and milk produce, selling them all they needed. During the war they traded in food, flour and buckwheat, which they peddled from knapsacks on their backs, bringing back tobacco and other wares from as far away as Cracow. Cigarette-making, spirits and soap manufacture also began. Some strong-arm young men also engaged in smuggling goods into Galicia. They did large-scale business, earned well, and helped many poor people. They kept an eye open for any mishandling of Jews in the region, and put a stop to it.
The Joint Distribution Committee had an office and provided food and clothing for the needy, besides engaging in general hygienic measures. The representative was a Jew from Bendin named Weissler. The town was full of refugees with whom the townsfolk lived well. They mutually aided one another.
In 1918, following Polish independence, some rioting members of the Haller Forces (Poles who had returned from USA) took away Yankel Skopetsky’s gold watch and cut his beard off. When Hillel, Yankel’s son aged 18, was informed, he caught them one in each hand and simply banged them together one against the other.
My uncle Wolf Kuzmer was a barber-surgeon and what was called a Nikolai soldier (who had served 25 years in the Russian army). He was very hospitable and treated a number of diseases. He brought up my sister from the age of 8, and married her off in due course. I myself maintained my mother and two sisters, and opened my own barber shop.
When Poland became independent in 1918 arms were distributed and Jews received some, but young Polish ruffians attacked them and shot Zalman Zudzynowski. There was a typhoid epidemic that year, and many people died. Both joy and sorrow were widely shared. Bridegroom and bride were conducted in separate processions to the canopy with music, song and dance. Everybody came. When a Torah Scroll was taken to the synagogue there were eight days of festivity.
Before the Shevuot festival in 1919 the son-in-law of the slaughterer Moshe Benjamin committed suicide because he could not bring himself to learn the slaughtering trade.
Founders and members of the Hevrat Bikkur Halim Umenahem Avelim (Society for visiting the sick, consoling mourners) were: Asher Moshenberg, Chairman; Herschel Skora; Benzion Bejski; Joseph Kamelgarten; Zisskind Jakubovitch; Benjamin Pinchevsky, Maltz, Kuzma, Yoske Bratkevitch and Huna Edelist.
There was a cloudburst and a flood in 1936, beginning one Sabbath afternoon. The town was cut off for eight days. Many houses were simply washed away and my aunt, Uncle Wolf’s wife, was drowned. The Polish Government granted loans to rebuild the destroyed houses.
Itsche Rubin, the Jewish vice-Mayor was a handsome, elegant Gerrer Hassid. He had a mezuza on his official door, and told Jews not to remove their hats when they entered the municipal building. His home was always full of people who came for advice or favours. He was the warmest and most cordial person I ever met. When regulations requiring lavatories and dustbins were issued, he provided these for the poor folk and took the money from the rich. Once I complained to him that the police were troubling me. He advised me to collect the money for a fine, and he accompanied me to the district offices in Pinczow. The road was blocked, but he insisted on his rights as Mayor of Dzialoszyce and we were allowed to pass. In Pinczow he reported the misbehaviour of the police. The fine was returned and the police were instructed by telephone to leave me alone.
There were four Jewish Councillors: Asher Moshenberg, Herschel Skora, Benzion Bajski and Aaron Retman, who always protected Jewish interests and saw to it that no harm was done to the Jewish inhabitants.
There was also a Gemillat Hessed Fund which gave loans without interest. The Jewish Firemen were: Leibele Ptashnik, Meir Kompot, Yoske Bratkevitch, Hertzka Tshonek, Israel Yehuda Prassa and Israel Jacob Wasserman. When a fire broke out the latter would blow a resounding blast on his trumpet. But if anyone asked him, Where’s the fire?, he would answer, That’s my affair.
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