For decades the memories lay concealed, painful; some nostalgic, memories which never healed.
The decision to put these memories down on paper was not taken abruptly. The massiveness of the disaster itself, the personal tragedies which it caused, the fate of the Jewish people - all these made the task of publishing this volume almost insurmountable.
We are the remnants of a generation bereft of the most precious thing in human experience - the family. We have grown up without the comfort of a mother's lap, and even though we have found our places in Israel and have brought up families of our own, we nevertheless feel the pain of an orphan, and this pain will be with us to our last days.
Our parents were not privileged to see their grandchildren, nor will our children ever see their grandparents or the beauties of Jewish continuity which they maintained.
We have remained, orphaned and alone after the Holocaust, which consumed our tree of life - the splendid crest, the intertwined branches, even the trunk. But from the roots new foliage has come, such as this book of remembrance.
No, it was not easy to compile this volume. It was written in blood and marrow, and therefore it is a fitting tribute to our towns and villages and to the entire community of the Jewish people destroyed in the Holocaust.
It was a quiet town which nevertheless left its imprint on the survivors of the disaster which struck it, men and women, the handful now scattered all over the world but united in their memories of Nowy-Targ.
The communities in Podhale were destroyed in the Holocaust, its towns pillaged and burned, its villages wiped from the face of the earth. The remnants who escaped the Holocaust and found their way to the State of Israel have seen it as their sacred task to resurrect these towns and villages, if not physically then at least as a written record for future generations, and this book is the product of their painstaking labor. To all of us, born in the Podhale district, this book is our "Kaddish", our "Yizkor", for our parents and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins, who perished in the most violent outburst of sophisticated savagery that the world has ever known.
Three and a half decades after the war, and in the 32nd year of Israel's sovereignty, this volume is our reminder to ourselves and our record for the future. Much work has gone into it on the part of a few devoted townspeople. They made the contact with our townspeople all over the world and had them submit information about life in Podhale as they remembered it, the institutions and the personalities, as well as their experiences in the youth movements, the death factories and the Siberian camps. Our townspeople are not scribes nor the children of scribes, but their simple stories, written with an aching heart are their memorial tribute to our dear ones. We thank them all.
(Ex. 17: 14)
-1 will give them an everlasting memorial, That shall not be cut off".
(Isaiah 56: 5)
It is with deep reverence that we present this memorial volume to the townspeople of Nowy-Targ and its vicinity residing in Israel and abroad, intended to serve as a monument to the Podhale communities of pre-war Galicia. We hope that the volume will find its way to the hearts of the readers.
Thirty-seven years have passed since the terrible disaster which descended on European Jewry during World War 11 and which witnessed the death of six millions of our people - a long period in the life of the individual and the community. Much water has flowed into the sea, but the flow of our tears continues unabated. We shall never forget what the Germans and their helpers, in whose midst we lived for many generations, did to our people. Each and every memorial, dedicated to one annihilated community or another is an indictment of the past, as well as a warning of things that may yet come.
As a people conditioned by history to bear pain and outlive persecution, we shall always remember the tragedy and bequeath its lessons to those who follow us. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Neo-Nazism is on the rise and that thousands of Nazi war criminals are still on the loose. The nations of the world are clearly bent upon forgetting the Holocaust or, even more, upon coming out with "learned proof" that the Holocaust has been grossly exaggerated - if it existed at all! Books in this spirit are being published in the United States, England and Germany itself; along with denying the Holocaust, they seek to plant the seeds of the next assault on Jewry. There is no doing away with the hatred for the Jew.
In our attempt to contribute the story of Nowy-Targ to the commemoration of the disaster we have spared no effort to obtain the documents, reports and photographs pertinent to the com-
munities which this volume commemorates. Our Townspeople Association gathered and compiled testimony provided by the members, and a small group of dedicated workers took upon itself the task of sifting the material and preparing it for publication, with the meager means at its disposal. And now the volume is a reality, shedding light on the our communities to their last days : Nowy-Targ, Zakopane, Charni Dunaietz, Rabka, Yordanov, Shchavnitza, Kroshchenko, Yablonka, Makov Podhalanski.
This volume will be the torch, the memorial candle, for these Podhale communities, their leaders, scholars and everyday people; the Zionists among thern,. forerunners of the nation now in Zion. The book contains the stories of the numerous organizations and associations, religious and secular, and the varied institutions which these communities supported, body and soul, not only to maintain their traditions but also to serve as a buffer against the hostility of their alien surroundings, always ready and eager to bust into violence.
The Podhale Townspeople Association Committee and the Editorial Board it appointed several years ago have done their work with devotion and integrity. They are aware that much other material exists which has not reached them, and they intend to set up the proper archives for it when it will.
My personal thanks go to all those who assisted in compiling and publishing the volume and to those who made it possible to bear the cost. I hope that the book will help strengthen the ties between the new generation and its fathers, they who knew Podhale in its good days and now mourn its passing.
My special thanks go to the historian, the late Dr. Avraham Chomet, Dr. Zvi Herman Kolber, Dr. David Yacobowitz and Israel I. Taslitt.
We thank the Achdut Press for its attention to the publishing of the book, the Zincographia Eretz-Yisraelit, and lastly to the Editorial Board and all the wonderful townspeople of Podhale, wherever they may be.
Michael Walzer-Fass, Hod Hasharon
The first settlement in the valley was established near the customs post close to the Hungarian border and was called "Alterzahl". The move to settle the area came from the Cistercian church in Lodzimeiz, which dispatched friars to the locality from Maindziov and Italy (1234). Because of frequent assaults upon it by bandits, the church acquired the village of Shtizhitz and built itself up on the spot.
In 1252, Piotr, the prelate of the new church received the privilege, from Prince Boleslav, to establish a town near the river, based on the German law, to cover 100 hectares and carry the name "Nowy-Targ". To defend the town, a fortified palace was erected, named "Shaflary". King Cazimir the Great exempted the inhabitants from paying taxes on their lands for several years, provided that they carried on trade with Cracow.
In 1380 the prelate in charge of the bastion leased it to a Jew who had converted and became engaged in producing counterfeit currency for the neighboring lands. The king finally ordered the army to capture the palace and confiscate the property of the church, which sought to protect the counterfeiter. Eventually the area became part of the royal domain of King Wladislaw Zagallo.
Hungary was at that time ruled by Poland, which had its hands full with the Hungarian claimants to the throne of their land. Each side sought to gain the support of the towns along the border. Nowy-Targ's inhabitants helped King Cazimiesz in his campaign. In return he granted the town various privileges, among them the permission to hold two fairs annually.
The trade ties with Hungary were very strong. From its neighbor Poland imported wine, salt, iron, steel and horses. The
Polish kings built winecellars in Nowy-Targ, and early in the 17th Century a stone quarry was built there. The inhabitants were encouraged to prospect for minerals, in return for a ten-year exemption from taxes.
The Swedish invasion wrecked the town, but it quickly recovered. In 1772, after the first division of Poland, Nowy-Targ became part of the Austrian Empire. The town was sold to a wealthy man by the name of Stanislaw Homolochov, whose brother developed the town to the point that it drew the interest of real estate dealers in Berlin; in 1873 the town was acquired by the Eichhorn Company of Berlin.
The conflagration which destroyed the town in the Swedish invasion also annihilated the town records, and little is known about the first settlement of Jews in Nowy-Targ. Dr. Yitzhak Schiper (Economic History of the Jews in Poland During the Middle Ages, Warsaw, 1926) sets the date as 1332. The Jews at that time engaged in trade and money-lending.
The more elaborate details of Nowy-Targ Jewry, at the turn of the present century come to us from the Calendar fur Israeliten, published by the "Austrian Israelite Union in Vienna", for the fiscal years 1897/98 and 1914/15. In the earlier year the heads of the Community Council were Jacob Goldfinger and Josef Herz; Moshe Perlman and Lazar Syrup were among the heads of the Sacred Society. The community also had a Ladies Aid Society to help the impoverished, led by Mesdames Goldfinger and Syrup. The 1914/15 calendar reported a Jewish population of 2,475. The community budget reported an income of 17,699 crowns and expenses totaling 15,686 crowns.
The prosperous state of the Jewish community before the First World War, marked by its cultural, religious, social and Zionist. life, came to an end in the fighting, and were it not for the superhuman efforts of the community leaders to weather the crisis, Jewish Nowy-Targ would have gone out of existence. As it was, even though the community never regained the prosperity of pre-World War 1, it developed its institutions and functioned on an extremely high level to the very end. In 1939 it elected three representatives to the Town Council - Ignacy Hammershlag, Henrik Fishgrunt and Mauricy Papier. To elect delegates to the World Jewish Congress, the community appointed a committee consisting of Ignacy Hammershlag and Dr. Goldner (Community Council), David Faber and David Kolber
(Poale Zion), Hanina Gnevish and Naftali Apfen (Mizrachi) Shlomo Grunspan and Marcus Ginsberg (Merchants Association), Ernst Rubin and Adolf Rosenfeld ("Yad Harutzim"), Dr. Bluma Fisher and Leontyna Goldner (WIZO), and Dr. Henrik Mindelgreen and Dr. Shlomo Stamler (Zionist Organization).
In the economic field, the community established several bodies, among them the Tovazhistvo Zalichkova and Yad Harutzim. In the cultural sphere there were the Chitlena Zhidovska, the Yavneh Hebrew School, the Zionist and other clubs, and an "open university". "Maccabi" and "Gibbor" were the main sports organizations.
It is worth noting that all these institutions were closely interwoven, as is indicated by the fact that most of the activitists in one organization were also active in others. These workers were imbued with a sense of communal responsibility, which only adds to the pain that we feel at the destruction of our community. We shall always remember our wonderful townspeople.
Midpoint in the 17th Century, Nowy-Targ was captured by the Swedish invaders. The Jews suffered both from the invasion and from the Polish forces of Stefan Czarniecki, as the Swedes were driven out. The Poles in the urban centers of the Podhala District petitioned King Michael Koribut Wishniowicki (1673) to allow Jews to settle in their midst and develop the economy. By the turn of the 18th Century, Podhale had several well-established Jewish communities.
When Poland was first divided, in 1772, Galicia was annexed by Austria. Two years earlier the Nowy-Targ region had been taken over by the Austro-Hungarian forces. Unfortunately for the Jews, the disabilities already in force were maintained by the Empress Maria Theresa and became even more stringent under the Emperors Josef (1780-1790) and Franz (1792-1835). Everything was taxed: shechita, Sabbath candles, synagogue construction, even holding prayers in a minyan. Certain occupations were closed to Jews altogether.
The liberalism engendered by the 1848 revolution promised relief for the Jews of Galicia, but it lasted for just one year. The old edicts were reinstated; civil liberty was achieved only 20 years later. Impoverished by many decades of taxation, the Jewish communities gradually recovered. Before long Nowy-Targ could boast of several prosperous Jewish families: Hertz, Goldfinger, Mendel. Zilbering, Riegelhaupt.
The Podhale area had several distinctive climatic and topo. graphical features. It lay in a beautiful valley between the high Tatar mountains and the Gurala forests. The two arms of the Dunajetz river coursed through the valley, coming to a confluence near Nowy
Targ. The soil was largely rocky, unsuitable for tilling, and the valley was blanketed with frost all winter. These conditions created a rugged type of population, "the mountaineers" - imaginative and freedom-loving. The Jews in the area became imbued with these traits, as well, and were known for their industriousness, initiative and broad outlook.
Despite the flow of Jews to the Nowy-Targ area, they never formed more than 15% of the population, thereby avoiding the friction and competition present in communities 50% or more Jewish. Trade and commerce was in Jewish hands almost exclusively. There was brisk trade with Vienna and nearby Hungary and Slovakia. Several Jews engaged in many fields: Jacob Goldfinger (flour, fabrics, iron, lumber) had enough to set up several merchants in business, on his retirement. Joseph Hertz's winecellars were famous throughout the land (the cellars were still there when the Gestapo got to them).
Nowy-Targ had no industries, merely several workshops, but there were many Jewish artisans and craftsmen of considerable skill and enterprise.
This ideal situation was undermined several years before the outbreak of World War 1. Under pressure by the Prussian legislators, the Poles had to move out of the rural areas to make room for Germans, and the Poles had to find new sources of livelihood. They organized credit and commerce cooperatives, built factories and turned to shopkeeping. Such a cooperative was organized in NowyTarg, but it could not compete with the Jewish establishments. It was only during the period preceding the Second World War that the virulent Endek antisemites sent in their strong-arm squads to incite the populace against the Jews. Fortunately, for a while, at least, the municipal and provincial authorities were friendly and held the Endeks in check.
As elsewhere in Poland, Nowy-Targ's Jews were not accepted for civil service nor did they seek it. Later several Jews were accepted, notably Judge Shmuel Becher, an excellent jurist of impeccable reputation. Jews in the free professions also enjoyed a good name in the city. The medical and dental practitioners were on call at all times, and they treated impoverished patients without taking a fee.
Among the most colorful personalities in Nowy-Targ, at all times, were the scholars and religious functionaries - its rabbis, religious magistrates, and "ordinary" people who acquired extensive learning but filled no official posts: David Leibler, of ascetic appearance and habits who hardly ever left his Talmud; Shimon Englender, a textile merchant whose learning ranged from kabala to Zionism (he went to Eretz-lsrael before the war and passed away in Haifa in 1950). But religious life in Nowy-Targ centered on the officials, and their appointment was a matter of vital interest to the entire community, which consisted of many currents of thought and belief. At times there were clashes in the selection of the functionaries which divided the townspeople, until more authoritative sources settled the disputes.
The Main Synagogue on Jan Kazimierz Street was located on a large plot of ground and was surrounded on three sides by lawns. Built in modern style, with high windows, it accommodated 800 worshippers, half of them in the women's gallery. The bulk of the congregation consisted of the more "progressive" and well-to-do They came to services in frock coats and top hats, and the women came dressed in all their finery. Here the community observed also special events on the calendar: under Austrian rule it was
the Emperor's birthday; between the two wars it was May 3, Poland's national holiday, in the presence of the civil and governmental authorities,
When the community was about to engage a cantor for the Main Synagogue, one of the candidates was a "beginner" by the name of Yossele Rosenblatt, whose family was residing at the time in Nowy-Targ. The "experts" rejected his candidacy because his voice was not pleasant enough... Shortly afterwards he was engaged as chief cantor in the Hamburg Temple and later went to the U.S., where he became known worldwide.
About ten years before the Second World War, a two-story building was erected in the synagogue compound by Norbert Stern of Crakow, in memory of his wife Salomia (Fishgrund). The building served as the administrative office of the Jewish Community Council, a school for children from poor families, a wayfarers' lodge, and an auditorium for public meetings. Neither the synagogue nor this edifice was destroyed during the war, and the authorities converted them to other uses (the synagogue became a movie house), since there were no longer any Jews in Nowy-Targ.
Nowy-Targ had several others synagogues, some of them Hassidic centers of learning which added greatly to the Hassidic atmosphere in the town.
The Jewish cemetery of Nowy-Targ was situated outside the town, on the way to the village of Grinkov. At one time it abounded with the headstones on the graves of great rabbis and community leaders, as well as the simple folk. During the Holocaust, this cemetery witnessed the tragic end of Nowy-Targ Jewry. In August 1942, following the last roundup, the town's remaining several hundred Jews were taken there and shot. Their bodies were thrown into a common grave. The Nazis and their helpers among the local populace uprooted all the stones, which the peasants in the area later used for building purposes. Today the cemetery is a neglected, forgotten marker of the past.
The City Schools
Like many other communities in the region, Nowy-Targ had no special schools for the Jewish children. However, Jewish studies formed part of the curriculum of the public school, and these were taught by Jewish teachers. The first high school was built in 1904; until then, well-to-do parents had to send their sons to high schools
in the larger cities, whence many went on to the universities of Crakow and Vienna.
Jewish students in the Nowy-Targ high school numbered more than the proportion of the Jewish population. The liberal spirit of the teachers was reflected in the good relations among the students.
It goes without saying that all Jewish high school boys had attended one "heder" or another in their childhood years.
Despite the existence of several banking institutions which served the entire population, it was found, as far back as 40 years before the First World War, that Jewish merchants, artisans and property owners required a bank of their own. Accordingly, they founded a cooperative credit association called "Tovazhistvo Zalichkova". By 1914, this bank had thousands of members and depositors.
The Merchants' Association, formally the body of all merchants in Nowy-Targ, consisted mostly of Jews and was highly respected by the municipal authorities.
Benevolent associations, always present in Jewish communities, engaged the attention of the Jews in Nowy-Targ, as well. The Sisterhood helped women from the more economically depressed strata to care for their families. The Bikur Holim members assiduously visited the sick, helped them obtain medicines, and eased their economic burdens. The Gemilut Hassodim (Free Loan) Society lent small sums at no interest to tide the needy over immediate needs, and saved many families from going under.
Relations with the Polish Population
Up to the period between the two world wars, the Jews enjoyed good relations with their neighbors. Antisemitic incidents were few, and were met with staunch resistance on the part of public opinion. About the middle 1930's the situation deteriorated. The Nowy-Targ newspaper, Gazetta Podhalenska, preached economic isolation of the Jews, and the Endek incitement threatened the community. Fortunately, for the moment the city authorities resisted its inroads, until finally the Germans attacked Poland and overran the region.
A Dramatic Neighbor: Lenin
Until after the First World War, Podhale was under AustroHungarian rule. Soon after the outbreak of the war, the news spread in Nowy-Targ that a Russian "spy" was being brought in. The spy turned out to be none other than Vladimir-Ulianov Lenin. He and his wife, Krupskaya, had been living in a nearby village as political exiles. Among his visitors were Bolshevik leaders, many of whom were liquidated in 1937-38. Lenin's economic situation was very bad. For a time he received funds gathered for him by Nowy-Targ Zionists, who saw in him an anti-Czarist champion. When he was arrested, his wife asked Dr. Bernard Cohen, the noted Nowy-Targ advocate, to undertake Lenin's defense. Dr. Cohen got in touch with his friend, Advocate Dr. Zygmont Mark, a member of the Austrian parliament, who in turn enlisted the aid of Dr. Viktor Adler, the leader of the Socialist Party, and Lenin was released and taken to Switzerland, whence he sent food to those who had befriended him in Nowy-Targ.
I was enrolled in the Jewish high school, read a good deal, and began delving into the intricacies of religion. One Sabbath, as my father and I were leaving the Temple, I was amazed to hear one of the choir girls say to her companion: "Jesus Maria, today we didn't sing the 'Shema Yisrael' well at all !" I was confused; how could Christian girls sing the most Jewish of all prayers?
I also remember the Italian ice-cream vendor whom I patronized, on my way home from school. On the day that Italy joined the Allies against the Central Powers, the vendor disappeared, and on the Street the Viennese were greeting each other with a fervent "May God destroy the Italians" along with the popular "May God punish England". Would God do what the Viennese were asking ? I wondered.
I was most confounded by another incident. When the Austrian forces captured the fortress of PrzsemysI, Vienna turned out to celebrate the victory. As I joined the throng in the street an elderly Jewish woman hurried by, shouting "Long live the Kaiser ! Long live the Kaiser !", then added breathlessly, in Yiddish: "Let him drop dead. I can't run any more!"
My two brothers were conscripted. One was declared lost on the Italian front. The other was wounded, and my father went looking for him, braving enormous hardships, until he found him - deaf and mute from shell shock.
We returned to Nowy-Targ two years later. Poland was now free, but it wasn't prepared to absorb its three million Jews into the fabric of freedom. Antisemitism made inroads into politics.
"Jews to Palestine" became a popular slogan, and "Buy Polish" was the economic guideline.
I felt that I had to strengthen my Jewish allegiance, and I joined "Hashomer Hatzair". The movement, started in Vienna in 1916, had strong Marxist proclivities. At the second convention, held in Lemberg in 1920, 1 was elected to the National Executive. That same year I left high school and went to work as a watchmaker's apprentice. My main job was to set the church clock. I didn't find the craft very attractive. In 1921 my family left NowyTarg and settled in Dombrova (Silesia). Three years later I left for Eretz-Israel together with 15 comrades, all of them in their twenties.
Fate thrust me into the vortex of Marxism and espionage which brought me back and led me into events which found me, at the age of 68, a "house arrest" prisoner of the Polish Government, for three years. On February 23, 1972, my birthday, calls and messages came from all over the world. I had not been forgotten. Now I am in Jerusalem, where memories of the personal past are intertwined with traditions and events of the national past, and I find myself going back in my mind to those unforgettable childhood days in Nowy-Targ.
The Jewish population of Nowy-Targ (500 families in 1939) played an active role in the town, although it had only 2 or 3 representatives on the 48-member town council. These, in the last years, were Dr. Kahan, Isaac Hammerschlag, Heinrich Fishgrund, Dr.
Israel Hammerschlag, Dr. Zecharaiah Goldner and Josef Folkman.
The Main Synagogue mirrored the aristocracy of Nowy-Targ's Jewry. For many years its chief cantor was Peretz Kaufman, brother in-law of the famed Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. But aside from this and other synagogues, Nowy-Targ had scores of minyanim", tiny congregations led by sages and Hassidic rebbes. Often a handful of worshippers created a "minyan" in the home of a destitute scholar so as to provide him with a respectable source of income.
Political Zionism also exerted much influence on Nowy-Targ's Jews, in both directions - as a force which brought Jews together and one which caused ideological rifts, as was the case with the Hebrew School founded by the Mizrachi, which lasted no more than two years because of the pressure of the anti-Zionists among the pious.
On the other hand, the numerous welfare organizations and societies -"Gmilut Hassodim", "Tomhei Aniyim", "Bikur Holim" united the Jews in a common effort to take care of their own. The Jewish merchants had a loan fund to tide their people over critical times; the fund was affiliated to the main enterprise in Crakow, and among its activists were Meir Ginsberg, Heinrich Fishgrund, Hayim Yitzhak Dagan and Hanoch Gutfreund.
My father, R. Aharon Gerstner, was a devoted worker for the yeshiva and its students. His favorite task was to arrange "meal days" for the students who came from other localities. He managed to enroll 700 such meal days - not a mean achievement, in a town of no more than 500 Jewish families. We always had several students at our table, and I recall many a merry Sabbath in their company. In
general, these students added much to the spirit of the community, performing plays on biblical themes, They were true exponents of Hassidism.
This was the period of conflict between Agudas Yisroel and Mizrachi. The latter instilled a deep love for Eretz-lsrael in the hearts of the young, and its leaders were a source of inspiration, particularly Rabbi David Avigdor of Andrichov, a man of noble soul and great devotion. The camp deepened my Zionist consciousness as nothing else did.
In 1939, several months before the outbreak of World War 11, Nowy-Targ's "Hashomer Hadati" sent two of its members to Eretz Israel. However, the upheaval in Poland put an end to the dreams of the others, and the British Mandatory Government of Palestine saw to it that the survivors shouldn't set foot in Eretz-Israel.
Coming as I did from "Congress" Poland, I found a new world in Nowy-Targ. Its Jews were better off materially. Polish was their mother tongue, and what astounded me was what I found in the synagogue, on the first Sabbath after my arrival: Jews dressed in
kapotes and shtreimlach conversing in Polish, which, to me, was sacrilege. I was further stunned to discover that heder melamdim were teaching the siddur by translating the prayers into Polish. Had I not been bound to teach by contract, I would have packed up and left.
But I was glad that I didn't leave. In the one year I spent in Nowy-Targ I came to know and like the people. I made many close friends, and I learned a great deal. No wonder that I still recall the community in minute detail.
The "Yavneh" School, where I taught, was part of the network maintained by the National Religious Movement, headquartered in Warsaw, Here the pupils learned, in addition to the standard subjects taught in the governmental schools, Judaica, Jewish history, Eretz Israel, Jewish moral and ethical values, and love for the people of Israel, plus, of course, the Hebrew language - all forming the essence of the complete Jew.
The traditional heder, which had played a tremendous role in the preservation of Jewry and Judaism, was now giving way to change. Devoted though they were, the melamdim could not respond to the challenge. The government school, on its part, did not bolster the spirit of the Jewish child, who needed the content of the heder and the format of the modern school. The "Yavneh" network supplied the answer.
The children who attended "Yavneh" came from traditional homes imbued with Zionism. The pious kept their children away, lest they stray from the right path. To them, the insistence of the teacher on inspecting the children's neatness was intolerable. But "Yavneh" kept making headway. The results were excellent. The lessons were conducted in Hebrew and the children knew the language well, to the point that they could present stage plays in the tongue, much to the delight of the parents. The school was like a piece of Eretz-lsrael in Nowy-Tag.
The Mizrachi Movement
Most Mizrachi members were Jews in comfortable circumstances who did not see themselves as making their aliya but who nevertheless wanted their children to be reared in an atmosphere of love for Zion and the Jewish people.
I remember an incident involving a lad from the Weinfeld family. For his Bar-Mitzvah I taught him an intricate speech based
on the biblical Portion of the Week, I felt sure that he understood the speech well, unlike parrot-fashion. In the course of the dinner held at the Weinfeld home in honor of the occasion and attended by many prominent people, the pious amongst them, the Bar-Mitzvah boy rose and delivered the speech - in Hebrew. I overheard one of the rabbis comment that the young man was probably unfamiliar with what he was saying. I arose and asked the parents' permission to have the boy repeat the speech, in Polish, which he did, magnificently, much to the delight of the parents and to the credit of "Yavneh". Even I, the "German", received enthused compliments.
Tz'irei Mizrachi and Beruriya
In line with the times, organizationally there was a separation of the sexes. The young people were divided into Tz'irei Mizrachi and Beruriya, two distinct branches which nevertheless held common cultural and social meetings. These young people comprised the best traditionally Jewish material in Nowy-Targ - sincere, dedicated, determined to consummate the Zionist ideal of settling in EretzIsrael. Some did, despite the British blockade and the barbed wire camps, which doomed myriads of our people to death in the Holocaust.
All of us were attending Polish schools; the acculturation was prompted by the small size of the Jewish community, and Polish was spoken in most Jewish homes. However, the movement imbued us with national pride. We strove to learn Hebrew, under the tutelage of the fine Hebraist Chaim Itzkowitch from Russia. Through him we came to know and love Bialik, Tchernichovsky and Brenner.
Many of our members went to Horodenko for hachshara, leaving us without leadership. I took over the administration of the branch. During the summer we met with other branches in the
region, but our contact with the central office was weak, since it took six hours by train to Crakow.
Our Zionist bibliography was quite extensive, covering subjects other than Jewish culture and Zionism. The town library had a "Jewish Reading Room", where we held many of our cultural sessions. Books were our window to the world.
At our peak (1931) we numbered 120 - quite an achievement, considering the size of the Jewish community.
The will to make our aliya was there, but certificates were few. We also had to think of our aging parents. But those of us who managed to survive the Holocaust retained the deep sense of values of "Hashomer Hatzair" for the rest of their lives.
Many of the secular young people turned to sports - hiking, swimming, skiing. "Hakoach" and "Maccabi" drew increasing numbers to their ranks. But the real answer to our frustrations was Zionism.
My two brothers, Shimek and Henek, belonged to "Hashomer Hatzair", and my beloved older sister, Celia, was a founder of "Akiva" in town. I joined its "Anahnu" group of girls; our group
leader was Gina Rand. A new world opened before me. I could hardly wait for evening to come and the club to get together.
In 1935-38 we numbered 120 boys and girls. The club premises were small, but we managed. In the summer we held our meetings and played games out of doors, despite the provocation of the young hooligans. After all, we were fulfilling the national ideal.
Parents who at one time were antagonistic now relented to the point that even 11 and 12-year-olds were allowed to attend summer camps sponsored by the movement. We now had four large groups. We avidly read everything about Zionism in the "Jewish Reading Room". A special treat was Divrei Akiva, the organ of the movement. Our Group 3 also published its own bulletin, edited by Shimon Dranger and Gusta Davidson, both of whom perished in the Holocaust.
Jewish tradition was the core of "Akiva". Our Oneg Shabbat gatherings were famous. But equally as important was our social outlook -the selflessness which characterized the kibbutz. Our scouting program was oriented toward making us fit, body and soul, to endure the difficulties of pioneering in Eretz-lsrael. We also danced the hora and sang Hebrew songs which had to be translated to us.
We learned Hebrew sporadically (whenever Sarah Feiner could find the time), until headquarters sent us Josef Kreis. We began learning quickly and zealously, and soon the older members were teaching the youngsters.
We spent the hot summer months in our camp at Banska Vizna. Meeting other "Akiva" members gave us a tremendous lift. Here we also met the heads of the movement, among them Joel Dreiblatt, Moshe Singer and Dr. Yehuda Ornstein. Shelichim from the kibbutzim in Eretz-lsrael were greeted with rapturous joy. They asked us to get into hachshara, to prepare for aliya. To us, this meant coming of age. When Zippora Mark received her certificate from the movement - the first in our community - everyone rejoiced with her. But the rest of us waited in vain. In desperation, many of us, in Nowy-Targ and elsewhere, went with "Aliya Bet" ('illegal immigration'). Some managed to get out before the war broke out. Those who remained behind became part of the Holocaust martyrology.
We were drawn into "Akiva" by the reports we received from the movement's summer camps. We rented a room, cleaned it, decorated the walls with pictures of Herzl and Bialik and the map of Eretz-lsrael, and placed the blue JNF box where it could be seen best. We studied Hebrew and the Bible, and utilized the Oneg Shabbat gatherings to gather spiritual energy for the week that followed.
When we sensed approaching doom, "Akiva" raised its voice in warning. But it was too late. The war broke out, and the best amongst us perished in the Holocaust. The dream died.
We had made our way, in stress and difficulty, first to Lemberg, the central point of departure, then to Rumania by train to the seaport, where a bleak and rundown freighter was waiting to take us aboard. Our beds were tier upon tier of wooden bunks, so low that you couldn't sit up. But this was the path we had chosen. The waves beat against the walls, as if trying to obstruct our passage. And why not ? The whole world seemed to be doing just that!
The "Poale Zion" Left, led by Avraham Papier and Moshe Wanselberg, organized a library and reading room in Mikenbron's home until it could no longer accommodate the increasing number of users, and it was transferred to a large room in the home of Dr. Herz. This activity led to the formation of cultural programs such as stage presentations. I still recall the visits of guest actors Diana Blumenfeld and Yonas Turkow.
The young people liked to debate, and the library, where the debates were held, soon became the focal point of our cultural life. It even had a Board of Directors: Papier, Wanselberg, Menashe Kolber, Dr. Zalman Stamler, Yeshayahu Stamler, Mauricy Papier, Goldberger, Moritz Levenberg, Dr. Shtiller, Dr. Stefan Herz. During the last years before the outbreak of the war much was done in the library under its chairman, the well-liked Dr. Wasserberger. May their memory ever remain with us.
"Gibbor" grew quickly, attracting many young people. In time it went into track and field events, rowing and skiing. As members of the Polish Skiing Association we were eligible for an 82% reduction in train fares.
In 1933 the "Haggibor" split, with one faction joining the "Maccabi". This led to public scandals, some of which led to police intervention, until some of the oldtimers stepped in and forced the groups to make peace. The two factions now formed the "Jewish Sports Club", which existed up to the outbreak of the war in 1939.
Nowy-Targ's market day was Thursday. Our usually quiet town became a center of noise and tumult, as the farmers arrived with
their produce, sold it, and went on to the dry goods stalls, the repair shops and the household shops.
Each stall had a set place. The cobblers, I remember, were opposite our store and the Hammerschlag and Bittersfeld shops. The clothiers were near the Kolberg and Lindberger shops. The women farmers, dressed in their colorful attire, displayed an assortment of butter and eggs, hens and geese, and the sounds of bargaining filled the air. We children had to be careful of the horses.
I was particularly drawn by the potters' wares, sold near the public school on Shkolna Street. Many a time I bought earthenware toys instead of sweets. My dear friend Guzia Gross and I combed the market in search of excitement - like the organ grinder's parrot, as it drew "good luck" slips from the hat. We were fascinated by the horse trading we saw and heard - the bargaining, the handshake, the transfer of bills, and finally the visit to the tavern to celebrate the deal. Many a peasant spent the proceeds of the sale on hard drink, and the smell of whiskey on the breath of the cursing peasants filled the market place.
Everyone looked to Thursday to supply the wherewithal for the rest of the week, particularly the Sabbath. We youngsters used to "watch the store" while our parents were doing the selling. The peasants, especially the women, tried to steal items, hiding them in the folds of their dresses. Many a time we missed pairs of shoes.
Bad times came when the antisemites roamed through the market and called to the peasants to patronize the Polish stores in the area. The peasants saw the empty Jewish stores and derisively offered prices far below cost. For us, materially, this was the beginning of the end.
to prevent Poles from entering. "We shall soon be through with you Jews," they said.
A resolution was introduced in the Municipal Council to shift market day from Thursday to Saturday; the intent was obvious.
My brother Henek was an apprentice in Lubertowitz's carpentry shop. The owner employed many Poles and was known as a Socialist. One day my brother came home, bleeding. The Polish workers had demanded the "Jewboy" be sent away. Lubertowitz tried to intervene (he was receiving money from us, while the Polish apprentices didn't have to pay). A fight broke out, and my brother was hurt. He went back to work but was finally forced to quit.
That was it. We couldn't turn to farming, we were excluded from governmental posts, the universities were closed to us, and now our means of livelihood were being taken away. What hope was there left?
This was to be one of the clashes which the scouts provoked against the Jews, in the summer of 1936. Our group of 30 young Jews struck back. We attacked their camp one night and took away their flag, which we returned only when they agreed not to attack us from the rear or in excessive numbers. We agreed to have it out at 5 in the morning near the bridge, and both sides selected Yashin Borowitz as the referee.
It was a beautiful August dawn. The town was still asleep. In the distance we could see the farmers moving toward their fields.
We formed a wide circle, half and half, with the referee at the center. There was to be a duel between the two champions. Theirs, a strong muscular lad, stripped down to the waist and took his place next to the referee. Our man, Marcel Vulcan, did the same. The referee gave the sign, and the two combatants began circling each other, each looking for an opening. The other man got in the first
blow, sending Marcel reeling back with a bloody nose, but the latter came back with a strong right which almost knocked the other down. The Pole suddenly drew a jacknife. This was not according to the rules, and all of us promptly assailed them, scattering most them and pinning the rest down at the bridge. The referee declared our side the winner, and warned the scouts that if they attacked us again, the authorities would close their camp down.
That was how we fought antisemitism, in "the good old days" - but we couldn't withstand the Germans, when they took our town. They were brave, our boys: Marcel, Milek, Berek Gutter, Lunek Stotter, Schindler, Brunek Morgenbesser, Henek Zinger, Hanoch and Edek Grasgrun - all fell in the fighting. May God avenge them, and may their memory remain a blessing.
Several young Jewish intellectuals decided to teach them a lesson. The "teacher" was to be Yanek Hutman, an outstanding athlete, with not a trace of the Jew in his appearance. Several of our Polish friends in town fell in with the scheme. They prepared a party and invited the "Sokol" girls. The latter accepted, on condition that no Jews were to be present.
Several Jewish young men, Yanek among them, got in and spent the night dancing and carousing. Toward morning the men were to escort the girls back to their camp. Thanks to perfect timing on the part of the schemers, the leader and Yanek were "caught" in a compromising position. The girl tried to escape, but Yanek held on to her and, in the presence of the others, declared that she should never forget that she had given of her charms to a Jew. The girls ran away shamefacedly, and on the next day their camp was deserted.
Our relations with the Poles were a different story. At one time, antisemitism was not virulent, but it increased. When the Nazis came, they included the local Polish population in the Volksdeutche category. As "good Aryans", the Poles stood by and watched their Jewish townspeople being carried away to the crematoria.
I recall the pleasant moments of that winter, when I was among the participants in the "daily (Talmud) page" study circle. We met each weekday evening. Outside the snow was knee-deep. The darkness was thick enough to be cut with a knife. Inside, a group of elderly Jews huddled about the large stove and chatted about Torah and Hassidim, sighed about the "tzoress" of the Jewish people, as they listened to the maggid,
Our family prayed at the nearby Bobover shtibl, on Nadovodna Street.
Jewish life was evident in everything that went on in the Nowy-Targ community, but nothing was as indicative as Sabbath Eve, when the men returned from the synagogue, each with a guest in tow; we couldn't imagine the Sabbath kiddush and meal without a guest at our table. On Sabbath day all the young people would stroll along the streets, in their best clothes, singing Zionist songs and having a good time - just from being Jews.
I belonged to "Akiva", and the love for Eretz-lsrael was the strongest emotion within us. Whatever we did - camping, hiking, physical training - was dedicated to the one goal of, some day, reaching the shores of the Promised Land. So few of us did; so many of us did not.
Zakopane borders on Czechoslovakia, being situated at the foot of the Tatar mountains (rising up to 18,000 feet) which form the natural boundary, in a valley popular as a summer resort and a health spa - "Little Switzerland". The vacationers also raised the cultural level of the town's 20,000 inhabitants, of whom 2,000 were Jews. Many among the townspeople made their living from guest houses
and sanatoriums. The district also drew individuals sought by the police: Lenin lived for some time in the nearby village of Poronin; the cottage he occupied is now a museum bearing his name.
Zakopana's Jewish community soon outgrew its small synagogue, which also served as a schoolhouse, for both the "heder" and the "German" school conducted by Heinrich Frauwirt, an excellent pedagogue.
Our home was a "Jewish center" because of our deep involvement in community affairs. A visiting group of Maccabi sportsmen from Warsaw named it the "Jewish Tataranian Society". On Purim, my father used to invite Bek Tellerman to read the Megillah, much to the enjoyment of the gathering. Tellerman ran a rooming house. One of the tenants was the Polish poet Jan Kasprowicz, who was also fluent in Hebrew.
The WIZO workers in Zakopana did much to implant a national Jewish feeling among the women. The organization was given two rooms for a kindergarten; its first teacher was Russya AmsterdamAmster, now living in Israel.
In 1933 our town hosted the "Winter Maccabiah". The local Ski Club included many excellent Jewish skiers.
Just before the outbreak of the war, the "Akiva" Zionist youth group suffered a terrible disaster. A wild storm arose in the mountains while the youngsters were on a hike. They were scattered over the area, even beyond the Chech border. Some lives were lost, and the local Jewish community did much to rehabilitate the sufferers.
The same held true in the economic field. People worked hard, long hours (the law bade all shops be closed by seven at night,
but the rear entrances of the stores and workshops evidently never heard of the law ... ), depending on the market days for their earnings. There were prosperous families, as well.
In Galicia the Jews enjoyed equal rights. Their children attended government schools and had access to the universities. Rabbis took courses in theology and emerged Rabbi Drs., and forthwith threw themselves into cultural, religious and often political activities.
The Nazi invasion put an end to everything, The survivors from Podhala left Europe. Those who found their way to Israel began a new life. A Podhale Association was formed at the very first gathering of the survivors. At a memorial meeting for the martyrs, a committee was appointed to get in touch with all the townspeople. A "Martyrs' Forest" was planted in memory of the dead, bearing the names of all the Podhala communities, and a marble monument carrying the same names, was erected in the "Holocaust Cellar" on Mount Zion.
Because of its location and sports facilities, Zakopane's major and outstanding contribution was the development of Jewish sportsmen throughout the land. The "Maccabi" was the outstanding sports organization, and its ski team was exceptionally good, attracting old and young alike. In the Winter Maccabiah of 1933, the team won many honors, mainly through its sportsmen Mangel, Warenhaupt, Horowitz and the Stiel brothers. One of them went to Eretz-lsrael for the Maccabiah and remained there. Muckenbrun was Poland's and Tschechoslovakia's ski champion several times. He went to France and drowned there, while still a young man.
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