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[Page 63]

Notable Personalities of Piotrkow

Rabbi Hayim David Bernard
Rabbi Hayim David Bernard

Hayim David Bernard (1758-1858), Polish physician and Chassidic leader. Born in Dzialoszyce, near Piotrkow, Bernard is reputed to have been the son of the poet and physician, Issachar Falkensohn Behr. At the age of 14, Bernard arrived in Berlin and later qualified as a physician in Erfurt. The liberal policies of King Frederick William II enabled him to become court physician at Potsdam and a medical officer in the Prussian army – a considerable achievement for a Jew. After Napoleon's conquest of Poland, Bernard was appointed medical inspector for the western regions of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1807-15). A typical product of the German-Jewish Enlightenment, he at first remained aloof from Polish Jewry, but a spiritual crisis led him to approach Rabbi David of Lelov, who introduced him to Rabbi Jacob Isaac HaLevi Horowitz, the Seer of Lublin. Bernard, known thereafter as R. Hayim David, became a strictly Orthodox Jew and a follower of the Seer.

He grew a beard, although he retained western dress and never mastered Yiddish. As the Warsaw Jewish archives have shown, he was a leading communal figure. Among the Jews and Christians whom he treated, Bernard was venerated as a saint. He spent the rest of his life in Piotrkow, both as head of the local hospital and a wonder-working Chassid. For decades after the physician's death, his grave was a center of Chassidic pilgrimage.

(Editor's note: The descendants of the Great Tsadik, the brothers Saul and Robert Dessau, recently restored the “Ohel” of Dr. H. D. Bernard – the shrine of many Chassidic pilgrimages of yesteryear – at the Jewish cemetery in Piotrkow.)

Ernestine Potovsky-Rose
Ernestine Potovsky-Rose

Ernestine Potovsky-Rose (1810-1892), U.S. feminist and social activist, was born in Piotrkow, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. Early in life she rebelled against her traditional upbringing and, at the age of 17, she left home and traveled in Europe. In 1832, while in England, she met the English social reformer Robert Owen and became his disciple. The same year she married William Rose, a jeweler and silversmith by trade. In 1936 the couple moved to New York City, and Ernestine traveled throughout the United States giving lectures on government, religion, free schools, the abolition of slavery and women's rights. In 1850 she helped to organize the first National Women's Rights Convention. Along with Susan B. Anthony and other militants, she founded the Women's Suffrage Society.

Although Ernestine seemed to attach no particular significance to her Jewish background, she did engage, in 1863, in a long-publicized debate with Horace Seaver, the abolitionist editor of the “Boston Investigator,” whom she accused of anti-Semitic opinions.

Michael Heilprin
Michael Heilprin

Michael Heilprin (1823-1888), born in Piotrkow, was a linguist, scholar, encyclopedist, and author. In 1842 Heilprin and his family went to Hungary, where he joined the Hungarian liberal movement and became well known as a writer and revolutionary poet during the revolution of 1848. After the suppression of the uprising, Heilprin went into hiding and fled to Paris. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1858 and taught in Hebrew Education Society Schools. After, moving from Philadelphia to Brooklyn, he became editor of Appelton's New American Cyclopedia. He was considered one of the foremost writers on European literature and politics. In the 1880's Heilprin was active in the work of the Emigrant Aid Society and advocated the establishment of colonies for Russo-Jewish refugees in Oregon, the Dakotas and New Jersey.

Compiled by Lorraine Justman-Wisnicki

Saul Dessau before the Ohel of his ancestor
Saul Dessau before the Ohel of his ancestor, Dr. Hayim David Bernard,
at the cemetery in Piotrkow that he and his brother Robert recently restored

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