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[Page 14]

When a City is Destroyed

Many years have passed since that day when the curtain rose and revealed before our eyes a scene more horrible than the human eye had ever witnessed. It was an appalling phenomenon for those who stood outside the abyss and could not offer any help-a nightmare for the lost souls who survived and were suddenly forced to stand before a world that behaved as though nothing had ever happened.

In the years that have passed, time has helped us to forget the sorrow of this event; it has placed upon the community the responsibility for the present and the future. But the Jewish People cannot yet console themselves for the tremendous disaster which befell them; the more we are separated from that horrible time in our experience, the greater is our responsibility to remember the people, to immortalize their buried splendor for the generations that will follow.

In this great Holocaust we lost our city of Piotrkow (Trybunalski) and her almost 20,000 brothers and sisters, the residents of a magnificent “Kehila.” For about 400 years this royal Kehila of Piotrkow had blossomed, and, in the last century, she had become an “Ir V'em B'Israel.” From her beginning, she had produced “G'doley Torah” and “tsadikim,” “Talmidey Chachomim,” “Chassidim, Rabanim” and “Admo'rim” dynasties, as well as scientists, writers and freedom-fighters, respected “negidim” and “amcho” people, industrialists and laborers, bankers and tradesmen-a many-colored mosaic and productive and active Jews who occupied an important position in Polish Jewry.

The Jewish historian, Dr. N. M. Gelber of Jerusalem, describes in his instructive overview both the city's beginnings 750 years ago and the first blossoming of its Jewish settlement. In this historic summary are pictured the struggles of the Jewish Kehila and its first steps beyond the periphery of the city, even before Jews were permitted to settle within the city itself. The rise and fall of the Jewish settlement and its communal and economic structure are described, as well as its first attempts at realizing an organized Kehila life, with religious, philanthropic and educational institutions. The historian doesn't omit the personal factors which contributed in shaping the Kehila: he sketches the dynasties of the famous families of rabbis--“admo'rim,” “Lamdanim”-whose roots were in Piotrkow. He also portrays the movements and aspirations of the “Chassidim” and “Mitnagdim,” the enlightened ones and the revolutionaries, and of “Chovevey Tsion” and Socialists active in the Jewish settlement in the city.

Dr. Gelber depicts the life of the Piotrkow community up to 1914 and the beginning of the First World War. For the period after 1914, we have the credible, written account of the Piotrkow Jews related by a man who was active in shaping many of the events that took place between both World Wars and which ended on the eve of the destruction of the city. This valuable work was produced by Reb Yakov Maltz, who, for many years, manned the rudder of our Kehila and made unceasing efforts to publish what he saw.

His descriptions include the most perceptive accounts of the bubbling life of the city of Piotrkow. However, not everything that occurred in our city took place within its borders. Piotrkow had no influence on what took place outside. Piotrkow was known of in every Jewish home which contained holy books, it had the privilege of having in the Rabbinic Seat “G'doley Hatorah” of their generation, whose beginnings extended far from that Kehila. This was a shrine for groups of Tzadikim, who spread the word of Torah amongst their Chassidim throughout the land. Piotrkow was also the cradle of many noteworthy families among Polish Jewry; such respected and legendary personalities arose there as the Tsadik and doctor, Dr. Bernard, who was known by the name of Rabbi Chaim-David Doctor, zts”l.

More is told about these men in descriptions by Harav Shmuel Zanvil Zharski, z”l, a Piotrkow Talmid-Chacham and researcher, who died in Tel-Aviv while working on this book, and by the writer and researcher of religious music, Rabbi M. Sh. G'shori.

Our beloved Jews excelled not only in spiritual matters, but also in physical accomplishments. They gave the Jewish People human values and ideas. Among those affected were the youth who left for distant places to fight for the oppressed and to further their knowledge for the benefit of all. Their names are inscribed for perpetuity in this book.

Our work would not be complete, however, if we did not mention those citizens of our city who are alive today and who have contributed their blessed efforts on both sides of the Iron Curtain. They are Professor Ari Shternfeld, born in Shieradz, whose family originated in Piotrkow. He is considered by scientists in Soviet Russia to be the one who “paved the road to `Chalel' ” (outer space vacuums); he is one of the leading Soviet scientists in their space program. On this side of the “curtain,” there is the young scientist, Dr. Yakov (Kovi) Lubliner, z”l, son of Dr. Michael Lubliner, one of the “Tseirey Agudat Israel” in Piotrkow; he is an educator in Los Angeles,1 and the grandson of Rabbi Simcha Ozer Lubliner, z”l, who was “Rosh Hakol” of our city during the 1930's. The young scientist is no more than 30 years old, although he, together with other Piotrkow Jews, experienced the road of destruction that led to the complete liquidation of the Kehila. He was liberated by the American Army from a concentration camp. He is now world renowned in scientific circles and is considered a “gaon” in solving mathematical problems dealing with calculating the movement of ships, satellites and rockets in space.

The chain stretches for a hundred years, from Michael Heilperin, the Piotrkower who left for the freedom struggles in Hungary and then in America, until the final days when the city fell.

Alongside these bright portraits appear the figures of dozens of individuals who left their mark on the city because of their intellect, good deeds, and service to the community with such devotion and loyalty as those of the notable Horowitz, Aibeshitz, Shidlowski, Michelson and Lifshitz families. These people created the healthy-minded economic support for orthodox educational institutions-Yeshivas, Cheders, houses of prayer, and “shtiblech” -- and lent an air of royalty to the Jewish appearance of the city.

But by describing the “pney” of the city, the folk masses are diminished -- they who gave Jewish Piotrkow its coloration and folk character. A place of honor is given in this book to the “mokum” Jews, who used to wander about Trybunalski Platz with their sharp tongues, who discussed world problems as well as city matters. No more does one see on Yidn Gas (Staro-Warszawska) or Jerusalem Gas the “Shabes-Yidn” in their satin gabardines and the “Vochedike Yidn” in their work clothes. Their shadows float over the pages of this book.

The Jewish Cemetery in Piotrkow
The Jewish Cemetery in Piotrkow

The history of the life of the Piotrkow Kehila closes with a chapter that is dedicated to the rise and activity of the political parties in the city. The Piotrkow name is distinctly marked on the maps and activity plans of all parties' central headquarters in Poland, from the “Chovevey Tsion” and “Bund” to the “Agudat Israel,” with all their sections and branches. In the last 30 years of the life of the Kehila, there was a strong drive in the parties that competed with each other for influence in the streets and for power within the Kehila. A summary of the inter-party strife in the city is given in the overviews of the various parties, as depicted through the eyes of the various authors who generally guarded their devotion to their political affiliation. No less informative is the description of the educational and cultural labors of the parties that wanted to educate, each in its own way, the younger generation which was growing up in Piotrkow.

Fifty-two years ago marked the beginning of the end of the creative life of Jewish Piotrkow. As of that bitter day, September 1,1939, when Hitler's forces attacked Poland, the tranquility of the Jewish homes throughout the country was disturbed-among them those of our city of Piotrkow.

Piotrkow, like all the other Jewish cities of Poland, sank into the depths of loneliness, need and murder; the concept of “destruction” was still, at that time, strange and the inhabitants of Piotrkow hoped that even in the shadow of fear they could arrange a relatively normal life and respect God. The efforts which the city executives made exceeded their capabilities. Businessmen and volunteers created secret schools, conducted prayers in private, organized kitchens for the masses of the needy, collected funds for “matan b'seyter,” and provided health and sanitation facilities. They didn't forget to provide for spiritual and cultural needs. But when the machine of destruction was set in motion during the days of the 3rd to the 10th of Mar-Heshvan Tsh”g (October 14-22, 1942), these efforts were no longer of value. Only about 3,000 survivors remained in the two labor camps in the city. Behind barbed wires and under the watchful eyes of the S.S. and Ukrainians, a Jewish communal life still fluttered, but it was the “gsisa chadashim” (the new dying) of the Piotrkow Kehila following the severing of its vital life's breath in the crematoria of Treblinka and in the Rakov Forest.

Some of the fearful occurrences, accompanied by dates, are given by the researcher of the Holocaust in “Yad Vashem,” Dr. Joseph Kermish, who based his research on accounts given by witnesses who were residents of the city.

A first-hand description was given by Naphtali (Lavie) Lau, who experienced the entire terror-filled road from the outbreak of World War II until the last “legal” Jew disappeared from the city in November 1944. He describes the events as he experienced them in the house of his father, the last rav in the city, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, h”id, who served for a long period as the central spirit prior to these events.

Very instructive, too, are the descriptions given by the eyewitnesses. In the Holocaust chapter of this book, they tell of their experiences during that horrible era and paint clear pictures of what happened to them, memories which are still fresh; men and women relate facts regarding acts so terrible that they exceed any fantasy. From these hellish descriptions arise the pure figures of those who were led to the slaughter with “shma Israel” on their lips, who went into the crematoria for the sake of “Kidush Hashem.” In the witnesses' descriptions we also find heroic deeds as well as spiritual and physical preparations to oppose the enemy and to repulse his murderous hand. Among those who engaged in open, as well as secret, warfare against the Nazi murderers, those from Piotrkow occupy an important place. Among them are war veterans and partisans who are here among us and can serve as living witnesses to the superhuman bravery displayed by the Jews who did not surrender even on the threshold of despair.

We hold dear the chapters filled with splendid heroism written by our Piotrkower in their battle on behalf of Jewish honor so that it would not be dishonored. Just as touching are the pages filled with the suffering and pain which were endured by the masses of our brothers and sisters who were led to their deaths.

It has not been possible, however, to include everything within the limited framework of this book. What is presented within these pages is no more than a drop in the sea of suffering and agony of that horrible time during which Jewish Piotrkow was forever cut off. Likewise, I could not present a “Chesed Shel Emet” to memorialize all the pure souls of the victims of mass murder in our city, as we lack the details of all their names because the city's “Pinkas” was destroyed.

Our undertaking in publishing this book was made with the sincerest intent. If its publication has been delayed, this has been due to the many technical difficulties which arose as a result of the responsibility assumed by those from Piotrkow who undertook this labor in Israel and the Diaspora. Piotrkow, whose Yiddish print shops have enriched the Jewish libraries and bookshelves of tens of thousands of Jewish families during the past hundred years, was worthy of a memorial in the form of a fine informative book. Of course, even our long-lasting efforts to provide the details of the city have not helped us avoid various difficulties and errors, which occur here and there throughout the pages of this book. For this, the readers will have to forgive us, while thanking those who expedited it, for untiringly attempting to realize our goal.

With this book we are unveiling a monument that we should have erected on the mass grave of our dearest from Piotrkow. Now we erect a monument on the ruins of an “Ir Ve'em b'lsrael” -- Piotrkow.

The Editorial Board
Tel-Aviv, lyar 1958
        (Izkor Book)

  1. Dr. Michael Lubliner passed away in 1988. Return

[Page 19]

The Streets of Our Joys and Tears…

[Page 20]
The ceiling of the Great Synagogue which was destroyed during the Holocaust
The ceiling of the Great Synagogue which was destroyed during the Holocaust

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