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[Page 133]

About the Jewish Community of Nowy Dwor

by Dov F.

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

After having written about the rabbis of Nowy Dwor prior to the beginning of our century (in my historical overview at the beginning of the yizkor book) and about the last rabbi of Nowy Dwor, Ruben Yehuda Neufeld, I want to also mention all the khazonim [sing. khazn – cantor], shamosim [sing. shames – sexton], tfile–vekers [those who woke people for morning prayers] and shokhtim [sing. shoyket –ritual slaughterer] – all the servants of God involved in holy work, who met the needs of the religious community and enabled it to fulfill its religious obligations.

There was a Hebrew acronym, rekhash, composed of the initial letters of three words: rov [rabbi], khazn, and shames. This word denoted a custom that arose because a rabbi was prohibited from accepting payment for officiating at a wedding since it was his obligation to do so. It was therefore the custom that when the rabbi [rov] was given a gift by the family after the wedding, he shared it with the two other partners in “rekhash,” that is, the khazn and the shames, who usually also took part in the wedding. So this custom was an expression of the democratic equality of all religious personnel. And in the interest of this spirit of equality, I will mention here all of these people, who deserve to be recognized along with the rabbis.

 

Cantors

I remember Reb [respectful term of address] Leyzer Borukhovitsh from the time when I still lived in Nowy Dwor. He was a very handsome man with a wonderful lyrical voice. He had studied musical notation and had composed heart rending music for the High Holy Days prayers that delighted connoisseurs of vocal music. He was especially appreciated by the women sitting in the women's gallery in synagogue, who would cry their hearts out, drenching themselves in tears, as they listened to his quiet, sorrowful rendition of “Mi yichyeh, umi yamut” [“Who will live and who will die, prayer recited at Yom Kippur].

The women would practically swoon when discussing Reb Leyzer's praying. After the last prayer of Yom Kippur, when the fasting men would watch the sky for the appearance of the few stars that would mark the end of the holy day, so they could rush off to eat, the languishing women would be ready to stay a couple of hours more just to hear Reb Leyzer praying, because “when Reb Leyzer prays, you forget your hunger.”

Reb Leyzer served in Nowy Dwor for many years and his children were born and raised there. Having arrived there as a young man with a fine blond beard, he would certainly have remained there his entire life had it not been for the jealousy of the larger Jewish community of Tshekhanow, which competed for his services and won him away. With a broken heart, the elderly, bent, and graying Reb Leyzer apologetically left behind his congregants in Nowy Dwor, saying, “What a person has to do to earn a living!”

It wasn't so easy for Nowy Dwor to find a successor to Reb Leyzer. The town continued to believe that Reb Leyzer would not get along with the stingy people of Tshekhanow and would return to Nowy Dwor. But when that didn't happen and the High Holy Days began to draw near, and it was time to start selling seats in the synagogue, and the town needed a khazn in any case, they had no choice but to hire a new cantor.

Reb Dovid Berish Bernholts. I was no longer in Nowy Dwor when he arrived. I heard that the town was pleased with him, but that he was no match for Reb Leyzer. He was the last cantor of Nowy Dwor. During World War II he

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escaped to the Soviet Union and after liberation he made his way to America. There he served a small community and died in 1963.

 

Sextons

Reb Hersh Volf Migdal. I remember him from my childhood as a tall, strong man with a grey beard and a thick stick in his hand. I still remember how he appeared at our house one freezing cold night, a lantern in his hand, and called out to my father in his deep voice: “Good evening to you, Reb Yisroel Khaim. The Rabbi of Nowy Dwor summons you to the rabbinical court to the case of Hershl Goldfenig.” When my mother offered him a glass of hot tea, he refused: “There's no time; the court is waiting for me.”

Reb Khatskele Segalovitsh. In my day, he was already a respectable man who owned his own home and was an administrator of the burial society, for which he kept records of births and deaths. He was involved in all communal affairs and was a regular participant in the rabbinical court. It is unclear whether it was because of that, or because in his youth he had actually been a shames, that he was called “shames.” In any case, everyone knew him as “Khatskele Shames” and that remained his name.

Itshe Shvitser. I remember him as a hearty, strong man with a pitch–black beard. He was the chief shames in the besmedresh [house of study, also used for worship]. As for his nickname, shvitser [restless person], I imagine that the street kids dubbed him that because he was very active and spry.

Isaac Shames. He was actually a shoemaker somewhere on the “Piasek” [Piaskowe Street]. But he didn't earn much from that trade, so he somehow got involved with working in the Lines Hatsedek [home for the indigent] when it was established by Reb Meyer Likhtenshteyn. He began by sweeping out the besmedresh, ran errands for the rabbi, and worked his way up to become an under–shames, serving under the demanding authority of Itshe Shvitser. I don't know if he ever went on to become a full– fledged independent shames.

 

Menkhesmol

This was the name of a tailor on the Piasek who made cheap, ready to wear garments. There was a song about him that went:

When Menkhesmol makes a dress
It's narrow on the bottom
And wide at the top.

If he had lived in our time, he might have been a modern tailor. But in those days, he had another job, going through the town on dark winter mornings, waking Jews up in time for prayers. “Wake up to worship the creator!” he would cry; or, during slikhes [period of penitential prayers before and during the High Holy Days], “Wake up to say slikhes!” In those few words, which he sang out in his unique, drawling intonation, one could hear all the sorrow of poverty, hunger, and human

now134.jpg
The bookbinder Alman escorts the aged Khatskele Shames,
who had gone blind, from the besmedresh to his home

 

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despair. It is hard to know if the community paid him for this service or if he did it for the sake of performing a mitzvah [religious obligation]. He was a quiet, pathetic soul, a kind of saint in disguise, who clearly fell into the category of shames.

 

Shokhtim [Ritual Slaughterers]

Reb Leyzer Borukhovitsh and Reb Dovid Berish Bernholts, the two town cantors, were also shokhtim. In a small town it was hard to make a living just as a cantor, so cantors, as a matter of course, also served as shokhtim.

Reb Avraham Yitshak Tkhurzh was one of the first shokhtim. He was born in Nowy Dwor and served as slaughterer there for a short time before moving to Wlatslavek. He was a member of a large rabbinical family in Poland and Israel.

Reb Mates Shoykhet. Reb Matisayu was the shoykhet in Modlin, where all animal slaughter was done according to the rules of kashrut [kosher laws]. He was a very pious, observant Jew. When he grew old, he passed on his post to his son–in–law Dovid.

Reb Dovid Shoykhet was an ardent Gerer Hasid, the son of Avigdor Melamed. He sometimes led the prayers in the Gerer shtibl [small synagogue], was very involved in Hasidism, and travelled to Germany. Later, in Pinsk, he committed a sinful act, which is described elsewhere, and lost his position as a consequence. He emigrated to America, where he again led a strictly religious life.

Isaac Hersh. When Reb Dovid Shoykhet was fired, he was replaced by Reb Isaac Hersh, an ardent Kotsker Hasid, as well as a skilled cantor.

Reb Hersh Shoykhet. Even in my childhood he was called “the old shoykhet.” He was the permanent shofar [ram's horn] blower in the besmedresh, even in old age, and did not allow anyone else to do the job.

 

now135.jpg
The burial of a mes–mitzvah [one whom the community buries at its own expense],
a Jewish soldier in the Tsar's army, at the Nowy Dwor cementery

The shames Itshe Shvitser is second from the left

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He always succeeded in producing a clear sound conforming to all the religious requirements.

Reb Avraham Hersh, the son of Reb Hersh, inherited the post from his father.

Reb Shmuel Zanvl Finker was the shoykhet in the town slaughterhouse. When he got old and his hands developed a slight tremor, he voluntarily gave up his post, so as not to violate kashrut. He was very observant and was a prominent member of the Gerer shtibl, where he had the privilege of calling on people to carry the Torah scroll on Simkhes Toyre. He had several sons, the most successful of which was Reb Binyomin Finker.

Avraham Lozer FInklshteyn. The son of Mendl, Feyge Lozers. A flour merchant from Zakrotshiner Street, from a generations old Nowy Dwor family, his wife was also from Nowy Dwor, the daughter of the well known community activist, Reb Mendl Rozenblat (Redheaded Mendl). For many years, he was supported by his rich father–in–law. And since he didn't know what he wanted to do and was a bit of a scholar, he studied ritual slaughter and became a shoykhet.

Avrahamtshe Vildnberg. He came to Nowy Dwor when he married the daughter of Ratse the bakerwoman. Later he was secretary of the Nowy Dwor branch of Agudath Israel [orthodox organization]. He was a quiet, modest young man, very observant and a fine scholar. He and Avraham Lozer Finklshtayn were shokhtim in Nowy Dwor when I was no longer living there.

All of these people served the Nowy Dwor community day to day. Each one was a brick in the wall of generations–old Judaism that was wiped out in a moment.


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Khadorim[1] and Schools in Nowy Dwor

by Josef Lichtenstein

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Even if it was without a prayer shawl, one summer morning I entered Yerukhemke's kheder along with tens of other boys in cloth coats and scabby noses and some with scabby heads as well. To get to the kheder you passed through a large courtyard that had all kinds of attractions to delight a small boy – a broken pump, a garbage bin in which pigs rummaged, and a mill, which consisted of a pole pulled by a blind horse. This “mill” ran all day long, operated by Hershl the porridge grinder, who milled all kinds of grain for porridge.

Not far from the courtyard Nekhe the Seamstress had her workshop, which was always piled with pieces of linen to be made into trousseaus for Jewish girls. The women who lived with and worked for her as embroiderers labored day and night, and dreamed of liberation from their ceaseless toil.

In the courtyard there also lived several craftsmen – a shoemaker, a tailor, a carpenter. So the boys always had something to look at to satisfy their curiosity and to enjoy.

Next to the kheder, on the same floor, there was a dark attic, frightening and mysterious, about which we boys imagined all kinds of things and made up scary stories.

At the entrance to the kheder, there was a kitchen where a pot was always bubbling away. At a long bench, which held a slop pail, a water container and a two–handled copper jug, the rebetsn [wife of the rebe, or teacher] Sheyne Sore, worked busily away. She was a tall woman who wore a wig and a wide skirt with numerous pleats and pockets. She was an administrator with the burial society and from her pockets there peeked out pieces of white and black linen which hinted at funerals, shrouds and mourning clothes, so frightening to young children.

In the large room two beds were lined up along one wall, and along the other wall was a long, low bench on which we dozens of boys lived in our own world, telling stories of spirits, dragons, and demons who disguised themselves as goats and calves who stuck out their mile– long tongues when the wagon driver tried to get them into his wagon.

Although we were familiar only with the Vistula and Narew rivers, we nevertheless knew how to describe the stormy sea, how the waves reached as high as Khaim Shedletser's apartment house, and how the church could sink so deeply under the waves it would be barely visible. We also told stories about robbers in the woods and wild animals in the wilderness, so that our hair stood on end. Every tale–teller swore his story was true – if not, may

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his father die. One boy saw a bison when he travelled to Pomiechow with his father. Another swore that his father heard demons calling out at midnight in the besmedresh [house of study also used for worship]. Another swore on his tsitses [fringed undergarment] that his mother saw a herd of goats walking from the house of the gravestone carver directly to the mikvah [ritual bath] and she fainted away and could barely be revived. All these stories were told at that long bench as we listened to the pot boiling away and smelt the odors from the slop pail.

Aside from telling stories, we busied ourselves with playthings. At the tailor's in the courtyard we found enough thread and military buttons to play with while Yerukhemke was busy with a few children who were thick headed and need special attention.

Yerukhemke sat at a table near the window. His long, rusty, worn out kaftan made him appear even taller than he was. He had an olive complexion and a beard of many colors. On the table he had a pointer and a large chart showing the alphabet, with letters of various sizes. He had his own method of instruction. He would describe the letters as pictures of various objects. The giml was a boot, the zayen a crooked head, the final fey a lantern, the final mem a locked–up house – just try to break in!

Our rebe [teacher] did not beat us, but still we shed many tears at our lessons. Whenever we got a chance, we try to catch a glimpse of the large picture that hung over the oven, of a Christian wearing epaulets and medals – that was the Tsar. Next to it hung the picture of the Tsarina. We knew all about how things were done at the Tsar's court, how they ate from dishes made of gold, how the food was cooked in silver pots, how they bathed in perfume while soldiers stood by, saluting. While discussing these things, we'd look at the rebetsn and compare the Tsar's pots to hers, and the rebetsn herself to the Tsarina.

By order of the Tsar, we were supposed to have a day off from school on the Tsar's birthday, so we could attend the ceremonies. But Yerukhemke didn't follow the Tsar's order. And only at noon, when the government officials went to the besmedresh to hear the cantor singing the prayer for the Tsar, did Yerukhemke let us go off into the courtyard to play at the mill driven by the blind horse.

*

After Yerukhemke, my next rebe was Borekh Fierats, whose kheder was closer to home, in town. The courtyard and the classroom were similar to the one's at Yerukhemke's. The teacher was short and stout, but not from eating too much. He had a handsome wide white beard. His method was to pint to a letter with its vowel sign and we had to name and pronounce it. We sat at a table, and he taught us entire words.

After we spent a semester with him, and were ready to learn how to recite the prayers, we went to the “German” melamed, Berl Milkhiker. Berl Milkhiker lived on a lane that led to the Narew, in the same building where Tall Yosl ran the bakery where he sold sweets, bagels and pletzel rolls that we so enjoyed. The first room of the kheder, the kitchen, was where we studied the prayers. From

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the window you could see the Narew. We thought that beyond the Narew was America, where trains flew over the roofs. We got our ideas about America from the photographs sent by Berl Milkhiker's sons and daughters “the Americans.” They hung on the wall, the sons in top hats, the daughters in wide dresses and tall hairdos.

We also got our ideas from Berl Milkhiker's daughter Royze, who was always grabbing a boy and kissing him. Royze was preparing to go to America and this further stimulated our fantasies about trains flying over roofs and ships captained by giants. If you earned a punishment, Berl Milkhiker, instead of hitting you, would put you into a small room, where you would often fall into Royze's loving hands, forced to submit to her caresses.

Once you learned Hebrew and how to say the prayers, you went on to the next step – studying Khumesh [the Torah, the first five books of the Bible].

*

During the Sukkot holiday, I saw Meyer Yehiel sitting and quietly drinking tea with my father in the suke. I knew immediately that this had to do with me, that the new term was staring and it was time to enroll me in kheder.

Reb [respectful term of address] Meyer Yehiel's kheder was different from all those I have previously described. First of all, he was a small, tidy man with a little white beard. His apartment on Warsawer Street was very beautiful, with windows and balconies facing the streets. When a marching orchestra of soldiers or firefighters would march down the street, he would let us go out onto the balcony to enjoy the show. We really liked his home. The only problem was the big bulldog, as fat as his master, who always lay in front of the building and of whom we were very afraid. Once you successfully got past the bulldog, you got your reward from the clockmakers who lived there, where we always found screws and wheels to play with.

At the entrance to the kheder we hung up our coats like well–behaved boys and after passing through the hall where in winter we left our lanterns, we entered the large square kitchen where the kheder was held. In the next room, which held a table and beds, we were fascinated by the photographs on the wall, of Russian soldiers and Americans in top hats.

The rebe Meyer Yehiel sat at the head of the long table, quiet and refined, but his whip, with two long tails, reached from one end of the table to the other.

We began our studies with Genesis, which dealt with the Creation. Then we read the Torah portion about Noah and his ark. The rebe liked to make everything real, by demonstrating scenes on the table. A pipe–smoker, he would put his tobacco tin on the table, smeared it with pitch, just like the ark, and showed with his finger how the dove flew away and landed with a leaf in its mouth.

The tobacco tin also served as the mishkin [tabernacle that accompanied the Jews in the desert after the flight from Egypt]. He covered it with a red scarf, and in our eyes it became a tabernacle, with all its equipment and furnishings. When we came to the portion describing the vestments of the High Priest, Aaron, the rebe used paper to fashion the vestments, the breastplate and the Urim and Thummim that Aaron himself would have been proud to wear.

When we came to the story of Isaac and Rebecca and their sons, we could see them before us as if they were people living in our town, as if Rebecca had just walked past the besmedresh and Jacob wanted to go pray.

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When we came to the part where Mother Rachel died, the rebetsn in her kitchen cried and blew her nose in sorrow. She knew the Khumesh by heart and she would help us read a passage when we were in danger of being punished with the rebe's whip.

When we began reading the Bible, a new world opened up for us, with stories of angels and wars, Philistines and Samson the Strongman. At a certain point, we began staying in the kheder until 8 o'clock in the evening. Hearing all these stories, especially at night – further stimulated our fantasies and often, going home from kheder, we started fighting the Philistines. In the Bible, the Jews always won, but in our fights the Philistines won. They were the older students who were studying with Reb Shmuel on Piaskower Street.

When we left the kheder to go home, the rebe would light our lanterns for us. Usually, the lantern was lit by a candle, but the richer boys had kerosene lanterns with a wick. The rebe would light each one, then escort us to the street, and we set off for home singing.

The rebe would bestow on the better students the honor of sending them to buy a packet of tobacco from Avraham Zaltsman, for a copper coin. The rebetsn Gitl would show her affection by watching over the pots of food we brought from home, warming them in the kitchen so that they would be more appetizing.

In the summer, the firemen would march with music on the way to their balls, and with Meyer Yehiel's approval we went out on the balcony to watch. We also went out on the balcony when an airplane flew overhead, and we could hear the rebe and the Polish officials cheering it on.

Meyer Yehiel's kheder was a model kheder for those times. We studied and were engrossed by the stories and the heroes of the Khumesh and we no longer felt the need to make up foolish stories. When we studied the story of Jacob and his sons, Joseph and his brothers, we pictured Father Jacob as the rebe, with his white beard and gray caftan. And who was the son of Jacob son who brought him Joseph's bloodied shirt, if not Fishl Parekh [nasty person] from Nowy Dwor? There was only one person for whom we could not find an equivalent in Nowy Dwor – Potipher's wife, she who tempted Joseph into sin. We felt very close to Egypt, for the Narew served us as both the Nile and the Red Sea. At the Narew we fantasized about the exodus from Egypt, we saw the dead Egyptians before us, and we looted them of their gold and jewelry;

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we beat our drums in a song of victory and praise for Moses, and in the meantime the time was approaching when we would have to study Gemore [Talmud] with Leyzer Milts.

*
At Leyzer's the big attractions were the rebetsn and the hen that wandered around the house. In addition to teaching, Leyzer Milts had another trade – caning chairs. He did this very early in the morning before the boys arrived. He was a passionate smoker, forcefully blowing the smoke out of his nostrils as from a bellows. Meanwhile, he was fastidious about odors, and would yell, “Feh, feh!” when he detected one, each time looking suspiciously at some boy.

We studied Khumesh and Gemore. His teaching method was similar to Meyer Yehiel's with one difference. Meyer Yehiel translated the word “asher” as “which” and Leyzer as “this.” “This” became a curse word for us. The boys who studied with other teachers would taunt us with it.

The rebetsn was a short woman with red, swollen eyes. She was always seeking out someone who could bring her news from Zakrotshin. Every day she would take the hen and, squinting, she would fluff up its feathers and feel it with her fingers. Then, the hen would go behind the chimney and from there, cackle out the news: “I have fulfilled my duty.” The rebetsn would apply the freshly–laid egg to her sick eyes and waited for a miracle to happen.

We studied the religious laws such as those governing whether or not you had to return something you found. Reb Leyzer's kheder did not excite our fantasies. We were already serious students, Gemore scholars. We no longer gave our imaginations free reign. We began to immerse ourselves in the Talmud.

 

now141.jpg
A group of students of the Nowy Dwor Talmud Torah

 


Translator's Footnote

  1. It was the custom in Nowy Dwor when a child started kheder, for his father to wrap him in a prayer shawl and carry him to Yerukhemke the dardeke melamed [teacher of the youngest children]. But my father didn't do that with me, perhaps because of the distance between our house on Zakrotshiner Street and the kheder, which was all the way on the Piaske [Piaskower Street] on the outskirts of town. Actually, my father,who was a Gerer Hasid, was not eager to take a child such a great distance wrapped in a prayer shawl. Return


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From the Kheder Metukan to Modern Schools

by Ben Sore, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

In memory of the best friend of my youth, Naftali Hertsl Dubnikov, his wife Genye and their little son Mayus, killed by the Nazi executioners

In the years before World War I, when I was still living in Nowy Dwor, there were no schools there – no Tarbus schools, no Tsysho schools.[1] All pedagogical enterprises were in the hands – or better said, the whips – of the few melamdim who reigned over their private khedorim[2] and over the Talmud Torah located in the anteroom of the synagogue, which was supported by the generous donations of

“the old men of property
with their brass spectacles
and their gilded mansions”

You can read a very comprehensive account of the traditional khedorim in this yizkor book, written by our townsman, Yosef Lichtenshteyn, who died before his time in Uruguay and who was the son of the well–known Hasid Reb Meyer Lichtenshteyn, who was very active in communal affairs.

I want to concentrate on the first sprouts of modern pedagogy in Nowy Dwor in the years around World War I.

One of the pioneers in this field was Reb [respectful form of address] Yisroel Mogelnitski, commonly called Reb Srulke Melamed, who had come to Nowy Dwor from Russia or Lithuania. His kheder was located in the very center of “Jewish” Zakrotshiner Street, in the building owned by Khane the Midwife, who saw her clients there. He was the first to introduce the study of Hebrew and the Bible with a pure Litvish accent, insisting that each word be pronounced clearly and individually, with no slurring. Students were not permitted to swallow half the words as was allowed by the home–grown melamdim, for whom the important thing was the meaning and intention and not the outward impression or manner of speaking. Even this modest novelty was considered by the Hasidim of the town to constitute a bit of heresy, and Reb Yisroelke, who in fact was very pious and observant, had to put up with a lot of trouble from them.

A leap forward was taken with the establishment of the kheder metukan [reformed kheder], or as the Hasidim called it, [making a pun], kheder mesukn [dangerous kheder], which was supported by the few “Litvaks” [more modern, less traditional Jews], the military contractors who had settled in Nowy Dwor in order to do business with the nearby Modlin Fortress. They, together with a few “maskilim” [sing. maskil, follower of the Jewish enlightenment] in town initiated a more progressive form of education in the spirit of Hibat Tsion [Lovers of Zion] with all instruction in Hebrew.

In actuality, this was no longer a kheder but a true school. Gone were the whips, the always angry melamed and his helper, who brutally pinched the young students. Gone were the musty old classrooms. The kheder metukan had its own quarters in several airy rooms in the annex of the large company owned by Akive Bokman. It was furnished with comfortable reading stands and benches and there were breaks between lessons, unlike the old way, when they would study from morning to late evening, breaking only for lunch, and the student would have to continue studying late into the night

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now143.jpg
Ruven Milner and his wife,
both teachers in the kheder metukan

at home. In a word – a real, up to date school.

Although I wasn't a student in the kheder metukan, I still recall one of the teachers there, Teacher Shteyn, a bohemian–type. Well–versed in Hebrew, he would occasionally publish in [the Hebrew newspaper] HaTsifirah. I still remember a slim pamphlet of his, consisting of 10–12 pages, entitled “The Drowning Man,” with the author's name printed as A.I. Shteyn. The children carried it around, boasting that their teacher was also a great writer. Shteyn stayed in Nowy Dwor for only a short time.

It was the teacher Ruven Miller who established the kheder metukan on a firm pedagogical foundation and put a lot of energy and effort into education. He died several years ago in Israel, where he was a teacher and for some time also principal of the gymnasium academic high school] in Petach Tikvah. In Nowy Dwor he taught the Bible and Hebrew, which he taught in Hebrew. His wife taught Russian and Math. There was another teacher whose name I've forgotten, an “eternal student” who taught other subjects. Ruben Miller lived in Nowy Dwor until the outbreak of World War I. In addition to teaching he was very active in communal life.

The school became a base for then–secret Zionist activity, where they held Chanukah and Purim celebrations and parents' meetings that ended with the quiet singing of “HaTikvah.” The school quarters also housed the Zionist minyen [prayer group] whose chief administrator was Reb Shimshen Note Srebrenik. When he was called to the Torah, he made a donation in return for the privilege to the Jewish National Fund.

The kheder metukan lasted until the outbreak of World War I, when the Jews of Nowy Dwor were forced from their homes and the school was disbanded. When the Germans occupied Nowy Dwor during the war, the Jews returned to the town, life became normalized, and there was renewed activity in the field of education. At this time, the teacher Rozenbaum arrived. He had been a teacher in the Jewish public schools in Warsaw, and he founded a school for boys and girls where Hebrew was taught and Russian was translated into Polish and German. This school was located in a house owned by Rozenfeld formerly owned by Motele Peretz, which was on the “Polish Marketplace” opposite the town garden. Rozenbaum himself was the Hebrew teacher. The German teacher was a man named Brand, a soldier in the small German garrison stationed in town. This German Jew Brand strove to instill in his young pupils the German language and most importantly the words of the chauvinistic hymn, “Deutschland Uber Ales.”

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Rozenbaum brought in several starving students form Warsaw to work as teachers in his school and some of them became involved in communal activities. Among them was Yonah Sper, quite an interesting person, a quiet Talmud scholar well versed in Jewish learning. He didn't stay long in Nowy Dwor but returned to the big city to complete his studies. He later became a longtime leader of the Jewish division of the Lubliner provincial government.

Another such student, Dovid Zharnower, gave private lessons. He came from a generations–old Warsaw family and a highly intellectual home. He lived in Nowy Dwor for several years and did not participate in communal life, since he was solitary in nature. Ideologically he belonged to the “salon Communists,” hated Zionism and was an assimilated Jew who didn't know a word of Yiddish and spoke only Polish.

I recall a discussion at a Zionist gathering in Rabinowitsh's hall where Zharnower, speaking in his fluent and charming Polish, tried to demonstrate that [Chaim] Weitzman was actually a representative of English imperialism. But I lost my patience, and I and my friend LIpe Mundlak wouldn't let him speak further. And the hot–tempered Berele Wengazh ran up to the podium, with his hands balled in fists, crying, “Heretic! Get down!” Zharnower remained standing at the podium, deathly pale, his usual cynical smile on his lips, but he had to yield to the will of the crowd and stopped speaking. As I later learned after World War II, he managed to escape from Poland and lives today in England.

The Hebrew teacher was Wolowitsh, whom Rozenbaum brought in to the school. Wolowitsh's fiery temperament caused a break with the “dictatorial” Rozenbaum. But he remained in Nowy Dwor and supported himself giving private Hebrew lessons and teaching bookkeeping to the sons of the middle class. He was a stern person, an ardent Zionist and a militant Hebraist. He participated in Zionist groups and frequented the Sholem Aleichem library, where he was always complaining of something: “Why so few Hebrew books?” When defending Hebrew, he would choke up with anger, speaking in a Russified Yiddish that no one could understand. He was the staunch defender of Hebrew in our town, but he was not a good teacher and he was not in the ranks of the great Hebraists.

Last but not least was the teacher Yosef Rozenzaft who was also driven by hunger to our town, where he remained for many years. We all remember him for his many–faceted participation in community activities, including sports and theater, and mostly for his wholehearted devotion to Zionist youth organizations. His Zionist work sent out deep roots that left their lasting mark and continued to grow after he left Nowy Dwor. He died several years ago in Israel.

We should also mention the general public school that prior to the establishment of Polish Independence was located on the road to the train station. The majority of the students were Jewish and as far as I remember, there were also three Jewish women teachers: Froy [Mrs.] Berman, wife of the head of the kehile [organized Jewish community], Reb Yeheskl Berman; her daughter; and the likeable teacher Rabinovitsh, the wife of the Bundist activist Yisroel Rabinovitsh, who died last year in Melbourne, where he settled after escaping from the clutches of the Nazis.

Everything I have

[Page 145]

written here about the schools is based on my memories from my youth. I want to conclude with a few observations about the teachers in the Tsysho schools in Nowy Dwor, which existed when I was no longer living there. (The Tarbut schools are described elsewhere in this book by one of the teachers, as well as in a lovely page of letters from former students.)

For the Tsysho schools I have relied on the “Teacher Memorial Book of the Murdered Teachers of the Tsysho Schools in Poland” published in 1954 under the editorship of Kh. Sh. Kazhdan, a veteran of the school movement in Poland. The names are listed chronologically, as in the teacher memorial book.

Mendl Brandes graduated from the Tsysho Teachers' Seminary. He was originally from Stanislavov in Galcia. He taught in Zhetl, Nowy Dwor and PInsh.

Peshke Goldman was born in Kobrin in 1908. In a letter of November, 1938, she wrote: “The teachers Biter, Zak and Batsian work in our school. The first two studied in the teachers' seminary. The school is in a bad state. The material conditions are very difficult and this naturally affects the appearance and content of school life. A total of three teachers cover six departments. Last year Khave Segal also worked here, but she left this year.”

Feygl Goldman, older sister of Peshke Goldman, graduated from the Vilna Teachers' Seminary. She taught in Korbin, Nowy Dwor and other places.

Batsian (Batshian) was a longtime teacher, who worked 1938–39 in Nowy Dwor, previously in Pruzhani.

All of these teachers were pioneers of the Jewish school network in Nowy Dwor in all of its various shadings. At a time of barbarism, they strove to build a world based on knowledge and refinement. They and their students later got to see the true face of the “refined” world.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Tarbut schools were a network of secular Zionist schools in which the language of instruction was modern Hebrew. Tsysho [acronym for Tsentral Yidishe Shul Organatsie] was a network of secular schools sponsored by the Socialist movement, in which the language of instruction was Yiddish. Return
  2. The kheder [pl. khedorim] was a traditional religious primary school, conducted by a melamed [pl. melamdim] or teacher (also called a rebe.) Return


[Page 146]

The Tarbut School

by Zvi Flesser / Tel Aviv

Translated by Amy Samin

The years 1932 – 1933 were a time of flourishing and revival for Hebrew nationalism in Poland in general, and for the Tarbut [Culture] movement in Poland in particular.

Polish Jewry, which was exceptional in its devotion to the Zionist movement, understood that a full and complete national movement would only be possible with a background of Hebrew education. In every city and town a Hebrew Tarbut School was established, an institution which radiated love of Zion, of Hebrew, and of nationalist revival. Young teachers, both men and women, who had been trained in Tarbut teachers' seminaries in Grodno and Vilna, were scattered throughout the cities and towns of Poland. They educated the next generation with devotion and love for Hebrew. The Hebrew language, in the Sephardic pronunciation – which was the accepted form in the Land of Israel, rang through the streets of every city and town in Poland. The young generation was educated to love the Land of Israel, the pioneering spirit, and the Labor Union, and all of the values that were associated with the Land of Israel in those days.

I completed the teachers' seminary in Vilna in 1932 and was immediately sent by the Tarbut Center to manage the Tarbut School in Nowy Dwor. I remember well the day of my arrival in Nowy Dwor. I arrived at the end of the summer of 1932, before the Sukkot holiday, for the opening of the school. I was wearing light summer clothing – a white shirt with an open collar – and I was bareheaded. Among the board members who met me at the station were a number of religious people who did not approve of my manner of dress. They had expected to see a school principal dressed in a fine suit and tie, with a hat on his head… The youngest among them, who had faith in the Tarbut Center, took upon themselves the task of preparing me for my appearance at the board meeting that same night. One of them, Yitzhak Griner was his name, placed his own hat upon my head to wear until such time as I purchased a hat suitable for a school principal for myself. They also prepared me for the “reality” of Nowy Dwor: there were a number of religious members on the school board, and it would not do to show them disrespect. In the school the bible must be studied while wearing a hat, and one must beware of displaying agnosticism in public, which could harm the institution.

That same day, the school board convened and I was to appear before it and speak about the curriculum and my educational goals. They told me about the school building, which was located in a rented house, about the financial status of the school, about the students, and so forth – things that put me into the reality of a typical town in central Poland in those days. The next day the rest of the teachers arrived to complete the staff: a first grade teacher, a teacher of the Polish language, and others. In the evening there was a gathering of the parents who had enrolled their children in the school. The school inspector at that time, Y. Einstein of blessed memory, also arrived. The event began, and once again I was required to speak to the gathering, explaining the curriculum and the goals of the Tarbut School in general. I introduced the teachers, and then turned the podium over to the inspector, who was very down–to–earth and whose remarks – sprinkled with jokes – were directed mainly towards the parents. He spoke of the value of a Hebrew school in the town as a cultural center for all of the Jews of the town, and of the teachers – as experts in instruction of the highest quality who were proficient in all of the latest pedagogical treasures, who knew how to adapt themselves to each of their students, even the most difficult of them. His remarks found great favor with the parents, and removed many doubts and fears from their hearts. Everyone felt sure of the success of the endeavor, and of the teachers, and the Tarbut School of Nowy Dwor was established.

The next day it was the turn of the students to assemble for the opening of the 1932–33 school the children about the textbooks, about the school year that was about to begin, about the curriculum, the scheduling, and so on. The children were happy to have the opportunity to attend the Hebrew Tarbut School, despite the difficulties, such as the aforementioned problems with accommodations and the lack of suitable textbooks, etc., and our humble abode was saturated with joy. The people of the city, the movers and shakers who took part in every Zionist activity, both in the city and beyond it, immediately rallied around the school. At the head of the school stood an active board, [which] was also called the Parents' Association, and almost every single member had a child in the school. The board met every week. For the most part, its discussions concerned the school's budget, which was not entirely balanced. The foundation of the budget was the sliding–scale tuition paid by the parents, supplemented by activities in the city and by central Tarbut institutions. I must mention some people who were particularly devoted to the school, and who saw it as a vitally important undertaking in the city of Nowy Dwor; among them Yitzhak Griner, the living spirit of every activity, and G. Krachovitz. I am pleased to note that both of them were able to reach the Land of Israel after the Holocaust.

[Page 147]

Concentrated around the school were the town elders, whose hearts were open to every Zionist enterprise; they saw the school as a central nationalist undertaking, and words cannot describe their joy and happiness. On the other hand, there was in Nowy Dwor a contingent of assimilated Jews, who kept their distance and were not involved in the school. This contingent was educated at the knees of the Polish language and literature, and they had no contact or connection with Zionism or with Hebrew and its culture. Also, the youth who were educated in the Polish schools spoke Polish at home and amongst their friends, and they had almost no interest in Hebrew or the Tarbut School.

We gradually established a cultural center in the school, where we organized various literary lectures and debates on various books, some in Hebrew and some not, reviews from Jewish newspapers, and in particular the activities taking place in the Land of Israel. We also made connections with organizations and institutions that actively supported the Land of Israel, such as the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael [Jewish National Fund], the Keren Poalei Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel Workers' Foundation, which was established in the Land of Israel following the events of 1929), and the school became a center of activity benefitting the Land of Israel and its endeavors, the echoes of which reached us. We brought every event and every activity to public attention.

In order to enable the children to see something of the life of the Land of Israel, we held various activities at the school outside the framework of their studies, such as Sabbath parties and holiday parties, which were focused around the week's events in the Land of Israel as they had been reported in the newspapers there and that had reached us.

Once or twice a year we held parties for children, the proceeds from which were dedicated to the school's budget. For the most part, the parties were held during Chanukah, Purim, or at the end of the school year. At the end of the first year, those of us in the pedagogical council decided to arrange an exhibition of the work done by the children in their handicrafts lessons.

The housing conditions of the Tarbut School were awful. The school was located in two rooms on the second floor of a rented house, with two additional, smaller rooms in the yard. We did not have a teachers' lounge. Our meetings were held in a room at the public municipal library named after Sholom Aleichem, amongst the stacks. It was also there that I, as the school's principal, met with parents.

We decided to hold the exhibition in those terrible conditions. Many items were brought from the children's homes; they were varied and quite lovely. I must mention here the devotion of the teachers to the work of the institution; above and beyond their dedication to teaching, they lent a hand to every endeavor and activity for the good of the school.

In particular I must make note of the devotion of Yehudit Krachovitz, the handicrafts teacher, who spent many hours at the school with the children working to improve their work and prepare it for the exhibition. We assembled some lovely works and arranged them in the two classrooms. The impression made by that exhibition was evident throughout the city. The parents of the children came to view their works, and even parents who didn't have children in the school came. That exhibition generated good will. The fact of the matter was that an exhibition of the works of children was a new idea which interested even the teachers from the Polish school. Despite their hatred for Jewish institutions, they came to the exhibition. We explained the displayed items to them, and they praised our efforts and those of the children.

Before the summer vacation the idea was raised to take the children from the highest class, third grade, to one of the nearby villages beside the Vistula River. I took it upon myself to set off with one of the idea's supporters to find a suitable house in one of the neighboring villages, close to the city so that the parents of the children could visit them in the village.

We found a house suitable for our needs in the home of the mayor of the village, near a pine forest next to the river. The mayor pledged his protection, because the situation around Warsaw was quite tense in those days, with the rise of Hitler in Germany, and its influence was felt for the worse also in Poland, particularly in the villages where the nationalists viewed Jewish endeavors with a jaundiced eye.

The news of the summer camp was greeted with great joy, and they prepared beautifully for this event. We found a woman in the town who was willing to take on the task of cooking and food preparation throughout the camp session. The children saved up for the camp all year long, collecting money in special money boxes, and in July of 1933 I set off with a group of children for the village. The children were very happy, but my heart was filled with doubts: who knew how the youth of the village would treat us? Would they frighten the children? And I had a basis for my fears – the mayor had asked me to notify the police regarding the summer camp and to ask for its help.

Indeed, on one of the first nights, while I was gone from the village (I had gone into the city for a meeting), the youth of the village took the opportunity to attack the children playing in the garden that surrounded our house, throwing stones at them and causing great panic with their unruly actions. The next morning, when I returned to the village, I was barely able to calm the children and get them back into the structure of their daily activities in the summer camp.

The mayor of the village told me that when he heard about the attack,

[Page 148]

he came at once and sent the attackers away, telling them that the camp manager had a weapon. This deterred them, and they did not dare to approach the house again until the summer camp was over. The events taking place in the area, the announcements in the newspapers of various attacks on Jews on market days, also had a negative impact on us, but despite it all we held on until the end, and I was pleased we were able to deliver the children safely back to their homes.

There is no doubt that living together for a month contributed greatly to the general development of the children and their mastery of the Hebrew language, since it provided them with the opportunity to live fully in that language.

I remember even today the experience I had at the memorial that was arranged after the death of Haim Nachman Bialik, of blessed memory. The memorial was imbued with a special atmosphere of mourning. The children could not get over the bitter feeling of knowing that the great poet, that exemplary man, who had walked among us and shown us the way, had been taken from us.

When I returned from the summer camp, I began my preparations for making aliyah [moving to the Holy Land]. I had the feeling that I must not continue living in the Diaspora. I knew that I was doing important work in the Diaspora, but I was not at peace in my soul and my heart told me that I must make aliyah without delay. Since in those days it was difficult to obtain a license to make aliyah as a pioneer, I applied to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to be accepted as a student. And indeed, I was accepted to the Jewish Studies faculty [department], and it was necessary to hasten my aliyah in order to arrive in time for the start of the coming academic year.

I worked that whole year with the belief that I would be making aliyah prior to the coming academic year at the University, and that this was to be my last year in the Diaspora.

At the end of the 1933–34 school year, I spent the summer vacation with my family circle. I did not know that this was to be the last summer I would spend with my mother and my brothers and sisters of blessed memory, who were murdered in the enormous Holocaust which befell our people.

In 1933 many were the manifestations of hatred against the Jews in Poland. The air itself was saturated with a deep hatred. It was not difficult to see the first steps toward the Second World War. The newspapers were filled with announcements about pogroms against Jews taking place here and there, in various towns. There were many attacks against Jews on market days. Not far from Nowy Dwor the Polish government established a camp for Polish youth in order to employ them in various development projects. There was a great deal of incitement against Jews in that camp. Every evening when those youth appeared in the city, they would seek out Jews and beat them vigorously. They would smash the windows of Jewish–owned shops. There was great fear in the city, and every morning the children would bring stories of the shenanigans of the youth from the camp. In the Jewish youth organizations in the city, they began to speak of the need for defense against those youths in the future. The influence of

[Page 149]

Hitler, may his name be blotted out, became more and more predominant throughout Poland, and strengthened in me my determination to make aliyah as soon as possible.

In early November of 1934 I received a notice from the Land of Israel Office [aka Palestine Office] that I must be ready to leave at the end of the month. Before my departure on the train that was to take the immigrants from Warsaw to Constanta, the parents' association arranged a fine farewell party, in which every parent of the students participated, and we celebrated until quite late. During the day I parted from the students, many of whom cried and presented me with gifts. The best gift of all was a notebook, in which each of them had written a farewell message. That notebook is very dear to me, and I have kept it with me until today.

After the party, at 12 o'clock at night, they accompanied me to the train station in the city, and many of them even accompanied me to Warsaw, to the international train which would take the passengers to Constanta. And thus I left Poland.

It is difficult for me to finish this memoir without mentioning several of the students who even today are treasured in my memory: Yisrael Shtulzman, Esther Zuckerman, Yosef Shalgag, Chechnovski, Erlich, Bender, and many others; pure souls, sainted children of Israel, who planned with all their hearts and souls to work for the good of their people and their land.

I have no doubt that, had the cruel oppressor, may his name be blotted out, not risen to power all those I remember would today be in Israel. May their memories be blessed, and may their souls be bound up in the bonds of everlasting life; theirs, and the souls of our pure and sacred people, who perished in the terrible Holocaust that befell us.

 

now149.jpg
Note: The image is of a note written to the author by one of his students, Yisrael Lerich. The text under the image is in Yiddish.

 


[Page 151]

Letter from Keren Kajemet LeIsrael
[Jewish National Fund]

Translated by Amy Samin

 

now151a.jpg

 

To: Student Committee for Matters of the Keren Kajemet LeIsrael
Tarbut School
Nowy Dwor, Warsaw

Dear Young Friends,

We read with great interest the article you sent to us, from which we learned that you are trying to fulfill your role faithfully and conscientiously on behalf of the redemption fund. The celebrations, academic activities, and enterprises which you are arranging find favor in our eyes, and we wish you success in advancing the work of redemption even more.

Mr. Nokser, who visited your institution, informed us of your devoted and faithful work on behalf of the Keren Kajemet LeIsrael. In his letter, the special excellence of the committee chairman, the seventh grade student Dov Sushinsky, stood out. We have made note of his intensive activity with pleasure and special satisfaction. It is our hope, dear brothers, that all of the students will emulate him and continue this work of salvation.

Write to us, dear children, occasionally; write to us of the celebrations on Tel Hai Day and Purim. Write at length.

With blessings,

School and Youth Department
Keren Kajemet LeIsrael in Poland

 

now151b.jpg

 

handwritten text:

Acknowledgement

I hereby acknowledge that the student Sushinsky, Dov is outstanding in his studies and his behavior, works with great dedication as the chairman of the Student Committee on behalf of the Keren Kajemet LeIsrael, and is worthy of assistance from the institutions authorized to provide such aid.

School Principal: _____

[Page 152]

now152a.jpg
Appeal from Dov Sashinski, a student at the Tarbut school in Novy Dwor,
to Henrietta Szold, about enabling his aliyah to Eretz Yisroel

 

now152b.jpg
Reply from Henrietta Szold to Dov Sashinksi's request

[Page 152]

now153a.jpg

now153b.jpg
The “Povshechne” [elementary] school with teachers Roznzaft, Rabinovitsh and Berman

 


[Page 154]

The Jewish–Secular Tsysho[1] School

by Shloyme Wronski

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Children come to pick the blooms
On a hot summer afternoon

So went the song sung by the little Moysheles, Rivkeles, Esterkes and Khaims as they marched from their poor, crowded homes to their new home –the Yiddish language secular school. These little children suffered a great deal from poverty and in the children's collective of the school, sitting at their desks with their notebooks before them or standing in line shoulder to shoulder, they had a taste of freedom and their hearts sang. There they were educated to become full conscious people and proud Jews.

It wasn't easy to establish a Yiddish school in our town. Everyone was busy trying to make a living, and to carry out such an enormous task seemed like a dream. But the organized workers movement in Nowy Dwor assumed the burden. The initiative came from the Bund and an organizing committee was formed, consisting of the Bund, the Right Poalei Tsion [Workers of Zion] and the handworkers. Then began the meetings, difficulties and obstacles, but these were overcome by stubborn force of will.

It was clear to all of us that we must not abandon our precious children to the influence of the streets. The main concern was where to find suitable quarters and how to fund the first year.

In the first months of 1928 the creation of a Yiddish school was placed on the community agenda of Nowy Dwor. All they had was the will, a dream, and endless obstacles. But soon they found enthusiastic individuals who took on the job, with faith and with substantial support. First of all, the beloved Shmuel Grabman, the great lover of Yiddish culture and literature came forward with significant funds to help establish the school. By doing this he hoped to eternalize the memory of his son, the Bund activist Leon Grabman–the jewel of the family –who died before his time. And what could be a more honorable memorial for the young idealist than a Jewish school, a home for Jewish children. This financial assistance from Shmuel Grabman made it possible to quickly establish the school.

Among others who helped to establish the school were Mendl Maylekhovitsh, Henekh Tik, Shaye Magid and Nisn Shteynberg. Sholem Kartosovitsh and Menashe Kokhaliski of the Right Poale Zion participated in the board of directors. Financial support also came through significant funds raised through community events, activities and performances.

We began the first school year with energy and enthusiasm. I can still picture the children singing and dancing, and among them, like an overgrown child, the pretty, dark haired teacher Feygele Goldman. Their voices spread through the town, into the homes of the toiling masses, and a circle of supporters grew up around the school.

The first year ended with a well rehearsed performance by the children. The devotion of the school leadership and its support contributed greatly to its success. The theme was a portrayal of various occupations.

The children sang:

[Page 155]

I'm Shimele, the chimney sweep.
See how high I can creep –
Up to the attic, up on the roof,
It's an easy thing for me to do.

Our children went off on vacation and their appearance and high spirits were the best proof of the value of our school. Their spirit impelled us to continue our work, and we began to plan a second grade. Another teacher joined us, a woman named Flam, from Shedlets. Our teacher Feygele was no longer alone and now had a loyal comrade to help in the work. We began to consider adding more grades, but our financial situation worsened.

We could expect no help from Tsysho headquarters or from the local government. Our alderman, (Khaim) Rudowski, made every effort to obtain permanent funding but the then–reactionary and anti–Semitic town council wouldn't hear of it. They saw the school as a center of Jewish proletarian forces in the town, and pretended that they had no funds to give. So the burden fell on us, the organized Jewish masses, on the lovers of Yiddish.

With the help of the labor unions, we obtained a steady subsidy from its members, and the theater groups and other cultural organizations contributed from their income. We travelled to surrounding towns that had no Yiddish schools to collect money. In this was we managed to support the school.

The years flew by, and we acquired additional grades and additional worries. The school got bigger and better. Its esteem won the respect the older generation, which had never had the opportunity to obtain a secular education. The school also began to provide classes for adults. And in 1937, the school opened a children's home.

Despite our difficulties, we arrived at the happy day of graduation of the first children who had completed the Yiddish school. This first graduation ceremony made a terrific impression. There wasn't enough room in the hall to hold the huge audience, and the program had to be repeated.

The seven–grade Yiddish school became renowned for the high level of its educational program and curriculum. The teachers who taught in the Jewish “povshekhne” [public] schools evinced great interest in the Yiddish school's accomplishments. The school premises became too crowded and we started to think about constructing our own building, something we believed we could achieve. But suddenly there came Hitler's war, and all of our dreams came to naught.

With great respect, I will here mention our teachers, who sacrificed so many years for the Jewish children and for Yiddish language and culture. I can still see, as if they were sitting at their desks before me, the always smiling Feygele Goldman; the self–effacing Flam; the talented pedagogue Heltsman; the strict and sincere Birnboym; the hardworking couple, the Brandes; the teacher Zak,who was so happy to become a Nowy Dworer with her marriage to the local theater director and literary scholar Shaye Magid; the teacher Khayetshe Bitner, from Ostrow–Mazawietski, with her strong character, clear intelligence, and warmth. She became enmeshed in our school and in the whole town. She married one of the school administrators, Aron Maylekhovitsh, and they lived modestly, fled to Russia during the war, but were captured there by the German murderers.

Of all the teachers, the only one to survive was Hashke Zakhaym. A native of Nowy Dwor, she came to us directly from the Vilna teachers' seminary, taught for us a few years, and then went to Argentina, where she

[Page 156]

lives with her husband, our townsman Nakhman Novodworski.

Let us remember, with sorrow and honor, all the murdered teachers and their students, our dear Jewish children, whose lives were ended so early.

 

now156a.jpg
Jewish students with their teacher, Frau Shindler Berman

 

now156b.jpg
The Beis Yakev School; in the center, Frau Bernholtz, the wife of the last cantor of Nowy Dwor


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Tsysho, an acronym for Tsentral Yidishe Shul Organatsie (Central Yiddish School Organization) was a network of secular schools sponsored by the Socialist movement, in which the language of instruction was Yiddish. Return

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