« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


Their Role in Cultural and Spiritual Life

{Photo page 248: Alexander Zisha Frydman}


Alexander Zisha Frydman

M. B. Sztejn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the final years prior to the Hitlerian war, Alexander Zisha Frydman did not belong to Sochaczew alone. As the general secretary of Agudas Yisrael in Poland, he belonged to all of Polish Jewry.

His grandfather Friman Hirsch Frydman was one of the notable activists in Sochaczew. Alexander Zisha's childhood and youth were spent in Sochaczew. He was a student of the Sochaczew Yeshiva that was run by Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer.

Already as a youth, Zisha Frydman (as he was called at that time) showed great capabilities in learning. Not one Sochaczewer alive today can still remember his youthful voice, which was heard in the large Beis Midrash of the Sochaczewer Rebbe from morning until late at night. From that period of Zisha Frydman's life, Dr. Hillel Zajdman in Morning Journal brings down the following episode:

"In Warsaw there was a well to do Jew, a homeowner and a merchant, who imported watches from Switzerland. His name was Meir Yoel Szwarcsztajn. He came upon an idea as to how to infuse the youths with a desire to learn. He would examine them, and if the student did well on the exam – for that Jew was himself a scholar – he would receive a "prize": an authentic Swiss watch. The greatest geniuses would get the best watches.

Zisha Frydman's watch, which he received at the time of his Bar Mitzvah, still ran – as he showed me – when he was in his forties."

His illustrious youthful years in Sochaczew accompanied and lit up Alexander Zisha Frydman's political activities in Warsaw. Dr. Hillel Zajdman further relates:
"In all his days, when he was extremely busy, he not only knew how to learn, but he learned in a scholarly manner. He studied not only Talmud, but also Tanach (Bible). He had rabbinical ordination, but he did not wish to serve as a rabbi, even though he had all of the qualifications for that.

His Torah novellae[1], published in "Degel Torah", that was issued in Warsaw during the 1920s by Rabbi Menachem Kasher (the author of "Torah Shleima"), were recognized by scholars. His book "Kesef Mezukak"[2] – as the well-known Warsaw banker and philanthropist Refael Szereszewski referred to him – was both pedagogical and scholarly. His collections under the name "The Torah Well" were not only obscure "items", but even more so, they were full of breadth and sharpness.

He loved Hebrew. He was the pioneer of the Hebrew press of Agudas Yisrael in Poland. He was the founder and editor of the "Digleinu" ("Our Flag") newspaper, and later of "Darcheinu" ("Our Way"), which were published in Warsaw.

His articles in "Yid" and in "Yiddishen Tagblatt" in Warsaw were full of temperament and logic. His style was fine and clear.

Zisha Frydman was the greatest organizer. As general secretary of Agudas Yisrael in Poland, he was responsible for the significant growth of that organization during the latter years. He put in much energy to this."

Alexander Zisha Frydman, the great organizer who was responsible for the growth of Agudas Yisrael in Poland, the general secretary of Agudas Yisrael, was more of a populist activist than a political activist. He left "the politics" for others, and primarily involved himself with education. He was the executive director of the "Chorev" religious educational organization. This was a continuation of his years of Yeshiva in Sochaczew. He was appointed over the "clothers of the naked"[3] of the Yeshiva students. This is what he was involved with when the misfortune of Jewry, the Nazi invasion of Poland, took place. As Dr. Hillel Zajdman relates:
"The war came, and then Zisha Frydman showed his true colors. Already from the very beginning, the greatest victims were the Orthodox Jews, and especially the rabbis, educators, scholars and Yeshiva students (why this was so – we will leave for another time – Z. [4]). Zisha Frydman heard the heavenly voice: "Woe to humanity for the disgrace of Torah"[5] . He was the constant intercessor for those categories of wronged, neglected, forlorn people. He never ceased to make the rounds to all of the committees, assistance organizations, communal institutions, the "Joint", etc., saying: "Woe to the generation in which you are the communal leader, for you do not understand the agony of the scholars"[6]. They did pay attention to him, either because of his sincerity, or because, as they knew, he was the representative of religious Jewry. Later, everyone recognized him as the leader of religious Jewry, despite the fact that he did not want to take on any official position.

In 1940, he was invited to be a member of the communal committee: he declined. Later, Adam Czernikow, the communal leader, begged him many times to take a seat on the communal council. On can surmise that he tried to encourage him with, aside from the salary of 1,000 zloty a month, a set of benefits and a certain level of security. He never agreed. He was committed solely to the work.

This activity, which he undertook for a few zlotys to cover his basic needs, grew into a grandiose, multi-branched assistance effort, with many public kitchens, schools that served as secret Talmud Torahs[7], Yeshivas, Beis Yaakov courses for girls[8], classes and libraries."

He was in his prime when the Nazi murderers entered Poland. From among the Jewish political activists, who did not make haste to save their own skins and leave the Jewish masses to their fate, Alexander Zisha Frydman remained at that unfortunate time in his position, and together with those that remained, bore the Jewish fate in the ghetto.

"Alexander Zisha Frydman became a shoemaker in the "Shop" of the German firm "Schultz" on Nowolifia 44-46. The foreman was Mr. Avraham Hendel. Many rabbis, rebbes and scholars were employed there. He resided in the dwelling of Mr. Yosef Krel (junior) on Nowolifia 59. He worked in the workshop for an entire day or an entire night, twelve hours straight. I visited him there. He was sitting in good company: Moshe Betzalel (the brother of Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe); the Piaseczener Rebbe Reb Kalonymus Szapira; the Sosnowiecer Rebbe Rabbi David Halbersztadt; Rabbi Alter; the Rapaport brothers – Mendele, Simcha, Aharon and Yaakov from Bielec. They would remove nails from old shoes and study Mishna from a book that was lying on the knees under the tabletop. Reb Zisha Frydman recited the Mishnas to those gathered around. They were studying the Mishnas from the Order of Moed[9]. In the evening when they came home from work, he taught an in-depth class in Talmud discreetly to youths. He also taught a chapter of Bible from the book of Jeremiah. Thus did one live, between fear and hope, as one drew strength from the Torah, "from the eternal wellspring". Zisha Frydman completed his book on commentaries on Torah and the Bible, called "Even Haezel". He showed me several thoughts that actually came to him at the workshop. I now understood how Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar was able to be a shoemaker and a Talmudic sage simultaneously…[10]"

At the end, he drank from the bitter well. He alone remained from his family. In the despair, he elevated himself and wrote a poem.

"He was very deeply pained. He remained alive alone. He lost his entire family: his wife and his beautiful daughter, who was born 11 years after his marriage and who was 13 years old. A splendid child, raised in the manner that an educator such as Zisha Frydman was capable. He wrote a Hebrew poem, in which he lamented his beloved child. He showed it to me. In it he wrote that he does not know what to request, whether she should come back or whether she should be no longer alive: that she should have an easy death and not have to suffer any torture."

The Nazi murderers could not break him. Steadfast like an oak tree, he withstood all of the tribulations. He fulfilled his task, which was indeed a part of him – to help Jews. But who could he help, for soon there was nobody to help, for those who remained alive had to live underground in order to avoid the danger that hung over them like a sword over the head, and the sword could drop at any moment. Hidden in bunkers, they studied Torah in the modern language, as Dr. Hillel Zajdman relates:

"In the Warsaw ghetto, there existed a combination: Yeshiva-bunkers.

'Bunker', which for the Germans connoted a nest with machine guns from where one shoots, in the ghetto connoted – an underground cave where Jews hid from the Nazi slaughter. Often the bunkers were equipped with various amenities: running water, electric light, and gas; and when students studied in such a bunker with great rabbis, it would be called – Yeshiva-bunker. There were many of these in the Warsaw ghetto.

From where did they obtain their food? How could they sustain themselves with the stocks?

A new factor entered into the picture, Zisha Frydman. He was certainly one of the finest august personalities, not only in his own personal history, but also in the general history of Warsaw Jewry.

Zisha Frydman, already without his family, working as a "shoemaker" in Schultz' "shop", ran around all day – and it was indeed a danger at that time to go around in the streets – knocking on all the doors and collecting food for the underground (literally) Yeshivas.

The task was a difficult one, for during that time now, unlike now, people did not only keep their daily provisions on hand. No, that was not sufficient. People had to put aside "stocks", and who knows for how long? The longer the better, for one has to have enough provisions to hold one over until the end, i.e. until the day of liberation (they did not yet know that bombs would eventually be thrown into the cellars).

Zisha Frydman found for this task men who had an understanding of Torah and the concept of the sanctification of the Divine name. His confidantes included: Avraham Gefner, the president of the Central Jewish Merchant's Union prior to the war, and today the director of the food office of the Judenrat; Yitzchak Giterman and David Goszik, the dedicated director of the Joint (it was no simple matter at that time to be a director of the Joint… today it is much simpler. They helped him warmly, and provided the needed sums and large reserves of food.

Frydman also provided food for the rabbis who studied with the students in the Yeshivas. The following Torah luminaries were in Warsaw at the time: Rabbi Menachem Zemba; Rabbi Ari Fromer, the former rabbi of Kozieglowy and later the Rosh Yeshiva[11] of Lublin; Rabbi Ari Leib Landau, the Kalibieler rabbi and also a Rosh Yeshiva in Lublin.

{Photo page 254: Reb Yehoshua (Shea) Frydman and his wife, the parents of Alexander Zisha Frydman.}

Thus did hundreds of Yeshiva students sit in bunkers, studying day and night in depths and innovating thoughts of Torah. The rabbis gave classes and lectures, and conducted the learning.

Above ground, in the "legal" world, the Nazi murderers raged about, carrying on with frightful cruelty; while underneath, below the ground, Jews sat immersing themselves in Torah, as they lived in the netherworld full of refinement, displaying the epitome of spiritual strength.

The regime of the deepest darkness reigned above, and the light of the sanctification of the Divine name – through life – went on beneath the ground. The voice of Torah rose from the deepest depths.

I was in those Yeshiva-bunkers more than once. In the first place, when I came inside from the street, where the Nazi beast lurked in every corner, it brought to mind images of ancient times: of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who studied Torah in a cave, which was also a Yeshiva-bunker [12]; of the Marranos in Spain, who also served G-d from their hiding places, and whose light still shines to this day.

Thus should the light from the Yeshiva-bunkers of the Warsaw ghetto shine.

Heaven and the abyss merged together.

Between them fluttered the soul of the nation. The light from "down there" is their legacy.

In our own precious legacy, we must preserve the light from this legacy."

Zisha Frydman was active in the Warsaw ghetto until 1943. He was a member of the resistance committee. At that time the murderers deported him from Warsaw to the Trawniki labor camp near Lublin. In one of the "selections", he was sent in the known direction.

May his memory be honored!

May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.


  1. A Torah novella (in Hebrew, a chidush – an innovation) is a reference to a novel Torah thought. Return
  2. Refined Silver. Books of Torah thoughts often are entitled by the nickname of the author. Return
  3. A reference to the daily morning blessing, thanking G-d for clothing the naked (i.e. providing humans with clothing). Here it apparently refers to teachers, who spiritually "clothe" the spiritually "naked" young students with the "clothing" of Torah. Return
  4. Z. is evidently the initial of the interjector of this comment into the text. It must stand for Zajdman, the author of the quoted text. Return
  5. A "heavenly voice" here is literally a "bat kol" ("a daughter of a voice") which is a term used in Talmudic literature for a message from Heaven after the termination of the period of Jewish prophecy. The quote here comes from the sixth chapter of Pirke Avot (The tractate of The Chapters of the Fathers). Return
  6. A quote from the Talmudic tractate of Brachot, chapter 4, rebuking a communal leader whom did not realize the dire straits that the scholars lived in. Return
  7. Torah oriented schools. Return
  8. Orthodox girl's schools are often given the name "Beis Yaakov". Return
  9. Mishna is divided in to six Orders (Sedorim), and each Order is subdivided into tractates. Moed (Festivals) is the second Order of Mishna, dealing with the laws of the Sabbath and festivals. Return
  10. Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar (literally, Rabbi Yochanan the Shoemaker) was a almudic sage who was a shoemaker by profession. Many well-known Talmudic sages earned their livelihood from their own professions. Return
  11. A head of a Yeshiva. Return
  12. According to the Talmud, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent thirteen years studying Torah in a cave with his son, hiding from Roman persecution. They were sustained by the fruit of a carob tree. Return


Ozer Warszawski

Lea Kenig

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 257: Ozer Warszawski}


When we are to talk about Ozer Warszawski the artist, we must gird ourselves with strength and forget about his tragic end: We have sufficient self-esteem – and we are guilty towards our literature – not recognizing our own artists, when they fall like martyrs.

I am also certain that Ozer Warszawski would himself have had it thus.

I see Warszawski's slender, elastic figure; his pale, half-boned face, as he talks, standing over an aperitif in the café on Montparnasse:

“Go, forget it. don't even mention it… if you want to draw me – draw; if you want to paint my portrait – paint… make a good thing, but without the olive oil embellishments about holy martyrs. I have a good face for a holy Antony, or Reb Nachman…However, be careful not to fall into artificial falsehood, in poses… in “composition”… Make a good portrait, if you can. A human face is indeed a world with form, with lines. And a martyr's wreath around the skull can have a theatrical effect, and can spoil a good portrait of a person.

… Do not speak about my end. I have completely disappeared, as one who disappears in a thick, English fog. I am like one who became lost afar in a strange place, one does not know where, far from myself and friends. It is better thus, I wish to die only where one sees them die, however I have disappeared and am lost – I believe that they will not return… Therefore one does not know if one should sit Shiva [1] for them.

The immortality of those who disappeared and who are lost. Perhaps the only immortality…”


Ozer Warszawski is – and will remain – a lonely figure in our literature. A one of a kind in many important details:

He appeared to us not like most of the Jewish writers, with “first steps”, with sketches, with short, promising narratives and songs; He appeared suddenly, was quickly noted and became well known in our literature with a large work, with a large novel. And this is a rarity. I cannot mention whom of our older and younger Jewish writers and poets showed such maturity, such a thorough entry into our literature.

He probably also wrote before the publication of his “Smugglers”; perhaps he also published something, but nobody heard of his first steps. Suddenly a Jewish novel was published in Warsaw – a large one, a robust one, a new novel – and Ozer Warszawski became famous. Ozer Warszawski became a figure in our literature. (Already the mere sound of the name Ozer Warszawski implied something ready, something mature, although he was in his early twenties when he wrote the novel.) Naturally, we will all greatly rejoice when as yet undiscovered, important writing of his will be found. He would always experiment in his writings during his later years; however from 1920 until today, we know him especially as the author of “Smugglers”.

We certainly know that he wrote a fine number of works after that novel. He wrote a large work “Harvest Time”, and a couple of essays. We also remember the brief period when he was involved with the Imaginist-Expressionist group “Chaliastra” [2]. We know and also love the “Parisian”, the esthetic naturalist Ozer Warszawski. However his life's work, his unique work is, as far as we can see, the novel, the truthful, large novel “Smugglers”.


A unique person.

A writer, who was suddenly exposed with a great artistic work, and just as suddenly stopped writing.

“Oh, Ozer Warszawski has a great talent”, said his writer colleagues among themselves, “However he has ceased to write. Now he creates nothing”…

Even though it was completely and only through the guilt of the successful author that the time came that he ceased writing, one need not search for the true reasons of the silencing in the general socialist and nationalist underground[3].

And this I now wish to note. It is a great trait that many writers do not cease to write and are able to repeat their initial success, so that they can earn their living. It is most certainly the case that many writers – in all literatures – lament greatly when they cease writing, when they in truth have nothing more to say. The true strength of a writer is perhaps to overcome the “drive” to “create” over and over again.

It is obvious that “working” is a great thing, but more regarding quality than quantity… and I must admit a difficulty: My love and respect for Warszawski increased, despite, or rather because I knew that he stopped writing. In his “cessation of writing” we can hear the artistic honesty that says: Rather than staying on and repeating, it is best to maintain the former honorary position, a city in the east.

I have long ago come to the conclusion that a true good writer can be recognized more from what he doesn't write than from what he does write. I often regret the famous national chief poets and writers: in their youth they are very pleasant and spontaneously creative.


In our literature, Ozer Warszawski is the only one, it appears, who came out with a book that immediately placed him among the first ranking storytellers of our time. This book – “Smugglers” – remained his unique book.


Is this, which one calls “talent”, such a thing that can suddenly appear like a flash and just as suddenly be extinguished?

Was it Warszawski's illness that prevented him from continuing to write? Gorky's attack of blurry vision did not hinder him from write for long. (Incidentally, he, Gorky, wrote his best book “Memoirs” in the latter, mature years of his life).

Is then an illness not a stimulus for artistic work? Would, for example, Marcel Praust have written his major work had it not been for his asthma?

So why did Warszawski stop writing? Why do we know him only by his “Smugglers”?

Is Y. M. Weisenberg[4], who “discovered” Warszawski correct when he used to angrily claim that Ozer stopped writing because he was away from Poland, and yet (or, it seems like it was only?…) he developed and grew artistically on foreign soil. One can perhaps say that most of our poets and artists wander from land to land together with their masses of readers, that is to say, that their territory wanders with them. And who of us does not thank G-d now, that such a large number of Polish Jews with their poets left their Polish home in the years between the two world wars?

“Paris harmed Warszawski.” – When I heard this from Weisenberg, I had a thought that would he, the artist Weisenberg, not be harmed at all if he had spent a few years in Paris, if he had seen Jewish Poland from afar for a period of time…


Ozer Warszawski's three part novel “Smugglers” was published in 1920 – that is in the time when the crisis that led to the Second World War began to become apparent in Europe; and our Jewish literature, just as other world nationalities in general, began to strongly feel the internal, terrible crisis, from which we are not free of until today. The new platonic idealism of the European intelligentsia after the First World War began to evaporate and the economic, nationalist and ideological contradictions and conflicts, which almost destroyed Europe and European Jewry during the Second World War, began to be seen.

The luster of the center of Warsaw was removed with Peretz' death[5] . The great literary center was slowly drained and became impoverished. Almost everyone dispersed, and the only one left was the somewhat primitive, great artist Weisenberg (the others, even Nomberg [6] who used to be in Warsaw were living by now outside of Poland). Warszawski was too young and too fine an artist to remain only with Weisenberg; and when the rift in the “Chaliastra” came – Uri Zvi Greenberg[7] went to the Land of Israel and Markish[8] went to Russia – Warszawski remained alone in Paris. He was perhaps too fine and too artistically Bohemian to relocate to the America of that time.


And the main thing: when Warszawski's realistic-animalistic novel was published, the end of the realists had already begun – the earlier Maskil-satirical and later artistic – era in our literature. It is true that at approximately that time, the robust realistic storytellers Y. Y. Zinger and A. M. Fuchs appeared, and that theme led to Shalom Ash's Kiddush Hashem [9] themes and Opatoshu's[10] Polish forests (not for naught did the realist Weisenberg begin at that time to incite rebellion against Ash and Opatoshu). That short period, when we began to enjoy the “healthy Jews” in the Jewish literature (and with “Rayach Hasadeh”[11] in Hebrew literature), came to an end unnoticeably. The tendency to display our lives – for us and for other people – as it was, without the perfume and the apologetics, was replaced with a tendency to search for and display positive words. And not only because bad times had begun to appear, but rather because we began to idealize and publicize our accomplishments: we indeed already had a literature, a new Russia, a Balfour Declaration…

We began to rejoice greatly with Shalom Aleichem, but primarily because of his optimism. Through him, we idealized the “masses”. Not for naught was Shalom Aleichem so “idealized” in Russia, where a proletariat socialist, that is a romantic realism, began to dominate – and still dominates to this day. And the young Warszawski was absolutely a realist. And he had the “misfortune” to be taken with becoming a writer and artist caught between two spirits of the times, when our literature suddenly came to the cross-paths.

After “Smugglers” he attempted to rescue his artistry in an expressionist realism, which was revolutionary at that time. However, finally, he presently split off into proletariat art from one side, and into various romantic and ideological meandering and searching from the other side. Warszawski was perhaps too honest in his artistry (in other words, his sincerity was a weakness) – and he remained alone and “lost” in Paris.


Nevertheless, if Ozer Warszawski is a lonely and tragic figure in our literature, his “unique” work “Smugglers” is not from the rare works that are relics from an earlier era, or first sprouting of an era, which must first come. Warszawski's novel is not a work of an isolated existentialist artist. Just the opposite, the novel “Smugglers” is as we say a parent of our literature: the personalities and characters – often a little too silhouetted – that we find in Warszawski's book are not at all strange to us. We have already met their kin, their flesh-and-blood relatives, brothers and sisters, in the first stories of Shalom Aleichem and Weisenberg.

… Warszawski's “Smugglers” is a continuation of our literature, not an isolated artistic phenomenon. Warszawski stems more from Weisenberg than from Ash's “Shtetl”. And perhaps even a breath from Mendele's influence – which is natural and healthy – can be noted in Warszawski's novel.

Warszawski is poetic and lyric in spots, like Ash; not as plastic as Weisenberg, but therefore picturesque. He was more colorful than plastic.

That which mainly distinguishes him from the earlier Ash and Weisenberg is his strong inclination to the grotesque, which brings him nearer to the expressionists, who were at that time modern.

In comparison to him, Weisenberg was classic and academic, and Ash – idealistic. Warszawski had a strong tendency to the picturesque grotesque, and his protagonists were very animalistic and sexual, unlike those of other Jewish writers.

Ash flirted with his sexualism; Weisenberg presents the women as sober and hard. In Warszawski's “Smugglers” sexuality rages. Often, he presents the impression of an orgy of passionate, provocative bodies; To him, men are primarily animals who tear and fight for women and bread, although they can also be fine and romantic, as when he depicts, for example, the awakening of true love between Pantel's son Mendel and the prostitute Natshke.

Often one feels oneself in the infuriating calm depicting the announcement of the later, meandering, refined artist Warszawski.


However the news that surprised and delighted when the book appeared, was that it was not a novel from the far or recent Jewish past, but a great and wide canvas of the Jewish-Polish present of that era.

The modernity of the new novel “Smugglers” was very surprising news; Warszawski had wildly and vehemently opened the door of our literature to the truth, which had closed after the death of Mendele and Shalom Aleichem. Most of the young artists of that time – and not only from our literature – published with portraits, sketches, narratives and even novels from their childhood memories and experiences from the recent past. Almost all of our best storytellers did not touch the present and the nearby surroundings. It is possible, and such would have been natural and perhaps even artistically correct, to write with the necessary perspective. Thus our literature often gives the impression of being a literature of historical themes, a literature based on memories, particularly from recent times. Our artists and poets, with a few exceptions would be afraid to touch our tragic and often loathsome reality. On occasion a new writer appears, and with great boldness describes upon a giant canvass the life in a Polish-Jewish Shtetl, perhaps the entire Jewish life in Poland during the German occupation of the First World War.

A young, as yet unknown writer should come with such great pictures of the present day life which he himself lived through!

That was the novelty and pleasant surprise of that novel: it was not related to the distant past, but rather it was a great artistic and social canvas of the experiences of the realities of Jewish Poland at the time of the German occupation. It was not a documentary novel – in 1920, that type of thing, apparently, was not known.

Already at that time in our literature, greater novels were known that described the realities of that time, of vivid depictions and characters of the region: Nomberg already gave us “Fligelman” (“Wing Man”), Berglas – “Arom Wokzol” (“Around the Station”), and “Noch Alemen” (“After Everything”), Ash – his novel “Meri”, Weisenberg his “Shtetl”, Reisen and others already sketched various modern issues externalities, teachers and various lively experiences. If a great novel about experiences of a national and social drama – from a young, still unknown writer, and a first book – this is what the happy surprise was. And it was a book that did not fear portraying the true face of a Jewish Polish Shtetl at the time of the First World War.

It was the time when we still were afraid to portray the true, realistic pictures of Jewish life, it was the time when we were still healthy, or considered healthy as a people. One can say that it was the time when our eyes were still not blinded by the true and false tears of destruction like in the present.


Reading Ozer Warszawski's “Smugglers” again, I got the impression that this book is still timely. Most books become watered down and faded with time. They become difficult to read, even though they were very interesting when they were published. Warszawski's books is, as we say, beyond time, despite the fact that it was published more than thirty years ago. And what a period of thirty years this was for all people, for the Jewish people.. for tormented Polish Jewry.

When we read Warszawski's book in the present, we quickly get the feeling that we have come to a new terrible tragedy with frightening freshness, almost like it is in the present. Therefore I believe that Warszawski's “Smugglers” will remain as a novel in Jewish literary history.

The coming history for the once great, healthy and creative Polish Jewry (“Vos far a min gezuntenish” [12] – as Warszawski used to write) must be read and reread in Warszawski's “Smugglers”. And even the Jeremiah[13] of the destruction of Polish Jewry during the Second World War can be read in Warszawski's unique book.

In our literature, it seems that there aren't such artistic works that reflect upon Polish Jewish life during the First World War under the Germans. (And it seems to me that in the general war literature, Warszawski's “Smugglers” should take an important and unique place, and it should be translated into other languages.)

In the book, we see the degradation and demoralization that war brings into the life of the civilian population. We see a picture of decline and degradation of the Polish-Jewish Shtetl during the time of the First World War, when even proper people had to take to smuggling and liquor production in order to save themselves and their children from hunger, and when with our primitive healthy popular energy with which Polish Jewry was so rich, we created such a life-wisdom as “The kosher groszy should atone for the treif[14] ruble”!

“What is it with health” – and in the full-blooded curses, animalistic coarseness of Warszawski's wagon drivers and smugglers, we painfully feel the despair and oppression of the exile.

Ozer Warszawski's “Smugglers” is not only a grotesque Rubenesque [15] orgy of struggling, wild sexual passion from half-primitive youth in their struggle for death and life. A continuing respect for “humanity” and “Judaism” glistens like a light fog over the smugglers, their wives and “mistresses”[16].

The naturalist-animalist Warszawski is also a fine sophisticated poet and he knows how to tell about Arele the quartermaster, who saved seventeen Jews from being shot, placing a patch over the army cloak of the “commandant”. One feels such sharp bitterness in that work, the bitterness of a young painter and poet who saw and survived a raw, naked life of humans who were half animal.

This was a bitterness of despair that he certainly could not free himself of during his own Parisian years, and which perhaps prompted him: what to write? Was that then the hope of that type of person?


Pantel – one of the prime heroes in Warszawski's “Smugglers” who is somewhat blurred and party formless – a type of a Jewish Taras Bulba [17] , utters “prophecies” about when the war (don't forget, the First World War) will end, his “pshiatsheles” smugglers are afraid that they will have to take their peaceful “kosher” groszy: -- “I, Pantel, I say: now the true smuggling will be begin .. the kosher”.

Pantel's prophecy came true. And afterwards like…

I stated that Warszawski's “Smugglers” has now taken on a new freshness; and I will give over its meaning.

Perhaps on account of the time, the over thirty years that have elapsed since the novel was published, a new edition of the book should appear.

The bitter tragedy is: when we read “Smugglers” in the present, it presents the effect to us as an ideal Polish-Jewish life during the First World War.

The German occupation of Jewish Poland was at that time so humane and so ideal in comparison with the German occupation during the recent Second World War.

Now, the lot of Polish Jewry during the first World War – and its lot during the recent Second World War!…

The final quarter century has refreshed Warszawski's “Smugglers”: a brutally realistic novel was turned into an ideal. And Ozer Warszawski, the fine poet and painter of the “Smugglers”, who left Poland and celebrated the exile in Paris, was not spared the lot of Polish Jewry, and was killed like them and along with them.

“Speak not of this, good brother… keep quiet about this, be mute and do not even ask if I have another song”…

(“The Golden Chain”, number 14)

{Photo page 267: Gedalya Warszawski – the father of Ozer Warszawski.}


  1. The seven day Jewish mourning period for close relatives. Return
  2. In Polish 'Halastra' is a mob. Return
  3. This sentence is quite cryptic. Return
  4. Y. M. Weisenberg was a Yiddish novelist from Poland (1878-1938). Note: for author's names, I have used the name by which they are generally known, rather than the Polish version. For some of the authors mentioned, the Polish version would be as follows: Weisenberg – Wajsenberg, Peretz – Perec, Fuchs – Fuks, Ash – Asz, Greenberg – Grynberg, Markish – Markisz. Return
  5. Yitzchak Leib Peretz was a prominent Yiddish writer who lived from 1852-1915. Return
  6. Hersh David Nomberg was a Yiddish writer who lived from 1876-1927. The following article about Nomberg appears in the Radomsko Yizkor book, translated on the JewishGen website: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Radomsko/rad274.html. Return
  7. Uri Zvi Greenberg, born in Lvov, was a well-known Yiddish write who lived from 1896-1981. A brief biography of Greenberg can be seen at http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/uzgreenberg.html. Return
  8. Peretz Markish, a Yiddish poet, was born in Volhynia and lived in the Soviet Union (1895-1952). See the following article on him, published on the JewishGen site: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Radomsko/rad274.html. He was murdered in Stalin's purges. Incidentally, when I was a young child attending the Hillel Academy Day School in Ottawa, perhaps in grade 4 (approx. 1970), I distinctly recall a school assembly where we were addressed by his widow, Esther Markish. Return
  9. Kiddush Hashem is sanctification of the Divine Name, often referring to Jewish martyrdom. Shalom (or Sholem) Ash was a Polish born (Kutno) American Yiddish novelist and playwright (1880-1957). Return
  10. Yosef Opatoshu, 1886-1954. Yiddish writer, born Yosef Opatowski in Poland. Return
  11. The aroma of the field – from the Bible a reference to the aroma of the field on Esau's garments that were worn by Jacob when he went to receive the blessing from Isaac. Return
  12. Does not translate well – it means something like “What is it with health”, or “What's the business with health”. Return
  13. The prophet Jeremiah foretold the destruction of the temple. Return
  14. Treif is non-kosher. Return
  15. Probably a reference to the artist Rubens. Return
  16. Literally – 'bride shikses' i.e. 'bride gentile women'. Return
  17. Taras Bulba and Other Tales is the title of a book by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol. For an excerpt on line, see http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/lit/shortstories/TarasBulbaandOtherTales/chap12.html. Return


Biographical Notes

Melech Rawicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The first name that rang through all the revived continents and isles of the Jewish literary world after the standstill of the First World War – was the name Ozer Warszawski, and the first great work was his “Smugglers”. This was a completely new name at that time, and its bearer was scarcely twenty-something years old. The realists took the matter as it was – it was a time of smuggling during the German occupation, from Poland to western Russia, and this made an imprint on the literature. Such was natural. The idealists interpreted it with idealistic noses. It was not only a time of smuggling, it was a pathetic time, it was also a time of great upheaval in Europe, a time of preparation for great revolutions, a time of great transition and great premonitions, and then the Jewish people come out, a people with seven faces – all kinds of ideals are established – and the people reveals itself with an eighth face, which is not its real face, it reveals itself as the people of the smugglers. However, this was not the fault of Warszawski, but rather of those who silenced the seven faces, and not the fault of he who disclosed the eighth face. He was a naturalist artist and he performed his duty. He certainly cannot do the job of others.

Itche Meir Weisenberg (Wajsenberg) initiated Warszawski into literature. And he has was forever so proud of him, such that Warszawski would not have had his fortuitous discovery had he not been the messenger, the secretary who inscribed his – Weisenberg's – work. Weisenberg enjoyed discovering talent, and he also had a talent to discover talent – mainly prose talent – (Shimon Horonczyk was also his discovery). However, he also enjoyed reminding the world that he was the one who discovered the talent. He generally held the accounts for the talent that he discovered before the eyes of Jewish literature. He did not allow the accounts to be paid once and for all, and he did not, like a gentleman, return it to their pocketbooks. Rather, all of his talent and the talent of others praised him, recalled to him, and fell on their knees before him, in the manner that Columbus holds before the world his accounts for the discovery of America, so that one could say to him one fine day: Take America back, and take back your accounts! – Thus did he hold his accounts before the Jewish literary world. Thus did he even moreso hold them up before the uncovered talent themselves, so that he acted literally despotic. He would correct their work, control their friendships, upwind their friendships, their sympathizers, their conclusions, and he imposed upon them the orthography of his native town Zelichow. A short time after his great success, Warszawski left Warsaw and went to western Europe. A document scrambler also played a role, or perhaps a scrambler of military certificates, however the chief role was played by Weisenberg. I often observed encounters between Warszawski and Weisenberg. Warszawski appeared thin, delicate blond, and white complexioned. He was a calm speaker, and did not like to speak about high matters. Weisenberg was exactly the opposite. When Ozer noticed Weisenberg, he would appear even more thin, delicate, blond and pale, and would become even quieter. His face changed color. It was somewhat like a delicate genius before his coarse, youthful father, which implies that the genius must sit over books and the young lad realizes that he can also know about this. If the discoverer would enter the club, the discoverer would look around at all sides to see that there is no possibility of escaping. However, when speaking to others, Warszawski would boast about his Rebbe to the heavens.

After his great success with “Smugglers”, Warszawski never again found literary appropriateness. At that time, one could not place almost the entirety of Yiddish literature on his left shoulder. One turned to the right, the other to the left, and there was no other set path – and the European Bohemian life meandered and turned – and whomever would come from Paris to Warsaw – after the year 1924 – would hold it his duty to inform someone or another that not all was straight with Warszawski. One would tell of his excessive romances with Parisian women, another would assert that it was bad luck, and a third would say that he held literary to the Bohemian principle of doing nothing – and work for Warszawski became very scarce, until it completely ceased. – I met him a few times in Paris. He had become even thinner, paler and quieter – He would often make motions of despair with his thin hands, displaying a silent cynicism. However, there was never any lewdness. I would always take leave of him with the belief that a good director could revive him and bring him a great work. The material was indeed in him. During all the years of silence he read a great deal, learnt a great deal, and observed a great deal. He was only lacking internal organization and external stimulation.



Shmuel Lehman of blessed memory,
the Lamed Vovnik [1] of the Jewish People

Yeshaya Trunk

Dedicated to the Memory of:

Bernice Phyllis (Mann) Knee (nee Mittleman)
Beloved Sister of Sandra Mittleman Robinson,
Granddaughter of Sochotzover Society Member Charles Miller

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Shmuel Lehman belonged to the group of Divinely blessed “Crazies for one thing”, thanks to whom things which nobody looks upon them and which lie upon the street “as a stone that nobody turns over” are gathered together for generations and preserved in treasuries.

For his entire life, which was filled with hardship and need, he renounced the pleasures of this world literally as an ascetic. That wonderful fanatic of Jewish folklore traveled around Jewish cities and towns, climbed around the attics of shtibels, cellars and hideouts in Stawki, Dzikow and Szmatsze and Warsaw. He did not tire of jotting down in hundreds of notebooks, with his cut off, almost illegible handwriting, Jewish folktales, folksongs (mainly about thieves), proverbs, anecdotes, etc.

That, which for the nations of the world is done by government scientific institutions with costly expeditions, is done for us by individuals such as Shmuel Lehman. He forsook all of his own concerns, and expended his entire means, including his wife's dowry, in his travels over the Polish provinces. (He and his wife came from Jewish families of means.) How often did Shmuel Lehman have to pay another ruble or more for somebody to sing a song, or tell over a story or for some chaps, -- “good brothers: from the Stawki alleys to put out a bottle of liquor and a snack. That Don Quixote of Jewish folklore (externally, he looked like the beloved Don Quixote) performed his holy work quietly and modestly for decades.

That oddball, who paid rubles for songs and stories, was very popular among the Jewish poor in Stawki and Szmatsze. They called him “The sucker in a man's hat”.

Later, when Shmuel Lehman had already become impoverished and was not able to pay rubles for songs, they often would, with a mocking chuckle, forego the payment, and not bother with the sucker games. They would even pull the sucker's hat over his brow in a good-brotherly manner.

Shmuel Lehman had no professional education in the subject of folklore. Rather, he possessed an extraordinary feeling for Jewish folklore. With his sharp, pointed nose, he would always discover in the attics or cellars a new song or perhaps a tenth variant of a folksong or folktale that was already known to him. He had his own system of recording melodies, since he had no formal training in music. Shmuel Lehman did his work himself, without public displays, without having the minutest support of the official Jewish community in Warsaw. Here I will tell the secret, that the 30th jubilee of his activity in 1932 was noted in Poland thanks to the private initiative of a small group of his friends and fans.

As a result, Shmuel Lehman collected an immense treasury (dozens of notebooks) of written Jewish folklore, of which only a few were permitted to see the light of day: “Work and Freedom”, 1921, “Robber's Songs”, 1928, “By Us Jews” (Together with Professor Graubard), “Jewish Proverbs, Smalltalk, Manners of Speech, and Nicknames in Lands, Regions, Cities and Towns” (Together with N. Prilucki) – in Prilucki's anthologies “Of the European War”, anthology “Life”, etc.

It is one of the tragic paradoxes of our Jewish life that the collecting work of Shmuel Lehman received material support for the first time in the Warsaw Ghetto, under the auspices of the general activities to save Jewish creative intelligence. Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and Yitzchak Guterman of blessed memories took special interest in his work. In the era of destruction and doom, the need to preserve – if not the enthusiastic bearers of Jewish folklore – then at least a portion of their treasures, was understood.

Aside from this, unlimited possibilities of work opened up for Shmuel Lehman, for in the Warsaw Ghetto, there was a true gathering of people from all of the provinces of Poland – fleeing or driven out of hundreds of cities and towns. The refuge points were a well from which Shmuel Lehman was able to draw in abundance.

I wonder how Lehman wandered around with his notebook through the starving refugees and searched there – in the sea of human desolation and need – the new tragic folklore, the new frightening ghetto songs, stories and ghetto anecdotes. The role of “The sucker in a men's hat” in a new and tragic situation was certainly nothing to envy. Those people whom fate designated for certain death in terrible need and pain certainly did not have it in their minds to sing ghetto songs for that oddball. His sensitive heart had to cramp and sigh at the appearance of those human laments. All of them were gathered here, in hell of Warsaw, all of his previous “clients” from Jewish cities and towns – the girls with their love songs, the elders from whose mouth he first recorded the wonderful stories of Elijah the prophet and the spellbound Poretz (landowner). However, in the consciousness of his historical mission, that Divinely blessed fanatic stood with a sealed heart and sealed lips, and recorded the song of the depths.

Together with Shmuel Lehman (who had the merit of dying a natural death in the Warsaw ghetto on October 23, 1941), what was perhaps one of the richest collections of Jewish folklore also perished. Its loss is incalculable – the fruit of over forty years of dedicated, superhuman work.

Regarding his death in the Warsaw ghetto, Emanuel Ringelblum writes the following in his notebook of October 1941:

“On October 23rd, Shmuel Lehman died. He worked up to the last moment, collecting a great deal of wartime folklore. The representatives of Jewish Warsaw were present at the funeral. Characteristically, his funeral took place at the same time as the funeral of one of his heroes, Berl Khazer, who told him many stories. Berl's funeral was a large one, like Lehman's. The chairman Czernikow, to whom we turned for a free plot, unfortunately did not know who Lehman was. He lies in the literary alley, near Y. M. Weissenberg.


  1. In Jewish tradition, there are 36 hidden righteous people in every generation. These are termed in Yiddish 'lamed vovniks' – from the numeric value of the letters lamed vov, which is 36. Return

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Sochaczew, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 10 Jul 2006 by LA