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[Page 158]

Zaglembie and her Jewish Communities

Mosze Fajnkind

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Mosze Fajnkind was not a Zaglembian. He was a resident of Piotrków, and the old Jewish city was close to his heart. He wrote monographs in Polish about the Jews in Piotrków, but he had affection for Zaglembie. He had friends and acquaintances there with whom he corresponded. He participated in the “Zaglembier Zeitung” that came out in Bedzin. He earned friends and readers and also admirers.

Piotrków was one of the district cities in Congress Poland, that most of Zaglembie was affiliated with. Almost all the cities and villages in Zaglembie (apart from places on the train line from Sosnowiec in the direction of Iwangorod to Olkusz – the last train stop in Zaglembie – that was affiliated with the Kielce district) had their signs indicating the “Piotrków District”. The district minister was located in Piotrków, and in his office were the files and ledgers with special sections for the Bedzin region. Whilst Russia ruled Poland these files were termed secret documents sealed to foreign eyes. When the Russians left Poland after World War One (1914-1918) and Poland received independence as a free republic, these files were transferred from the Russian district office to the auspices of the Polish authorities, and free access was given to interested parties, historians and researchers. Mosze Fajnkind, who knew Russian, looked through the documents pertaining to the Bedzin region and the Jewish communities of Dabrowa, Sosnowiec and Modrzejów, and began reporting his findings about these communities to the Jewish press. His articles, which have a historical importance, are presented herewith.

Mosze Fajnkind was born in 1865 in Turek near Kalisz to a distinguished Chassidic family (his great grandfather, Rabbi Reb Moszele from Poddebice, took part in the Kosciuszko Uprising). He studied in a “cheder” and various yeshivas, and at the same time became dedicated to secular studies with private tutors, whilst preparing himself to receive the title of rabbi. At the age of 17 he became engrossed in Jewish studies, learned Torah from Dr. Kassel, Lazarus, Dr. Hildeshajmer and others, and at the same time translated German classical poems into Hebrew. Fajnkind began his literary work in 1884, when he began to publicize his writings in “Hanizanim” [The Buds], “Hatzfira” [“The Siren”] and later in Yiddish Polish newspapers in Warsaw, Lodz and Lwów, and took an honored place in historical and published articles. He wrote in a simple, layman's language that was comprehensible to everyone. He would search through archives, exchange correspondence with Christian scholars and brought to light our past which he held very dear. He was criticized for being absorbed in the smallest details, till you couldn't “see the woods for the trees”, however thanks to this he managed to learn historical details of great importance. He did not hesitate to send a few gulden from his meager earnings to the leader of a small village, in order to receive a certificate from him of some Jewish officer in the Polish army before the partition. He would spend hours in the Piotrków cemetery looking for early headstone writings.

He was a lover of Zion of the “Katowices” breed, and from the first Zionist Congress participated in the Zionist movement as a national activist in Piotrków, worked as a private attorney and an unrelenting translator, strove for the rights of the Jewish language, and communicated with YIVO[1]. During his final years he frequently wrote articles and stories in the “Naj Folks-Blatt” newspaper [New Peoples Paper], and published several historical Yiddish and Polish booklets. He passed away on the 2nd of Sivan 5795 [3rd June, 1935] in Piotrków. He was seventy years old when he died.

The Editor


50°20' / 19°09'

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

a) The participation of Bedzin Jews in the Polish freedom fighters uprising

The Jews of Bedzin can be rightly proud of the virtuous patriotic past, with their participation in all the Polish struggles for freedom. Bedzin was affiliated with the Krakow district (Wojewodstwo), and since it was close to the royal capital so that the influence, apparently, of “Krakowian love of the homeland” greatly affected the Jews of Bedzin, who always saw themselves as loyal sons of the Polish homeland.

This tradition was transferred to the last generations. It is sufficient to leaf through the yellowing pages of historical files located in archives that have yet to see the light of day, in order to receive an account of the Jews of Bedzin, whose names were written in gold letters in the Polish annals of freedom.

It is not my task to provide all the details relating to the participation of Bedzin in Poland's historical battles for freedom, and I have to admit that I also never managed to reveal everything. Hence, readers will need to be satisfied with the few details that are presented herewith, which give an idea of the sacrifices made in battles by Bedzin Jews during those periods when the city was expected to be conquered by the enemy.

We will relate events in the order they occurred.

King Stefan Batory was tolerant with the Jews of Bedzin: He gave them a license to settle in the place, that is to say, in the city itself and take part in commerce on a par with the Christians. After his death (1586) some of the aristocrats, led by the Zborowski family, sought to make life difficult for the Zamojski family, by transferring the Polish crown to the young Austrian duke, Maximilian, brother of the Austrian emperor Rudolf the Second.

[Page 159]

A violent battle erupted between the aristocratic Zamojski and Zborowski noblemen over the Polish crown. In the royal elections that took place near Warsaw two armed camps stood opposite each other and each of them elected the king that appealed to them. Thus the “Black Faction” (the Zamojski faction) elected Zygmunt Waza to be king, whilst the “General Faction” (the Zborowski faction) elected Maximilian.

Maximilian acted quickly and with a heavily armed band went up to Krakow to take the Polish crown by force, and placed a siege over the whole region (1587). Bedzin was in danger of being infiltrated by Maximilian's army, and there was a need to fortify the city's walls against the enemy's attack. Burgrave[2] Mieszkowski didn't have the money available for this. The rabbi of the time, Rabbi Natan Majteles, hastily raised the sum of 5 gold ducats from the Jews of the city, and with this money Burgrave Mieszkowski repaired the gates of the fortress. When Maximilian's band came and placed a siege on the city, they had difficultly in conquering it.

By-the-way, I should point out: As far as I know, members of Majteles's family living with us today, are descendants of the same patriotic Bedzin rabbi. They carry his name – Majtlis, and lived in Zaglembie till the period of the Holocaust and the destruction.

We have further information on other instances of Bedzin patriotism. This occurred during the Kosciuszko Uprising (1794).

Kosciuszko, the great Polish national hero, formally took the leadership of the uprising upon himself in the Krakow market again the Queen of Russia, Jekaterina the Second [Catherine the Great]. He spoke on the stage of the old Jewish synagogue in Kazimierz, that they also take part in the war of freedom against the enemy and help him to secure freedom for everyone.

After Krakow, the neighboring city of Bedzin once again was first to reply, and the Jews also supported Kosciuszko. Rabbi Jakob Natan began organizing a propaganda campaign amongst the Jews for them to sign up for the rebel units, he collected money for the rebels, and even spied on the Russian positions on behalf of Kosciuszko's regiments.

The “Anonymous Rabbi”, as the rabbi was called in Polish circles, didn't desist in his activities even after the crushing of the unfortunate uprising, and after the Prussians conquered the whole of Bedzin, they arrested the rabbi and placed him in the fortress's dungeon. Only following the victory of Napoleon the Great near the besieged Friedland – according to the Tilsit Agreement (June 1807) – the “Warsaw Princedom”, the regions conquered by Prussia and Austria led by King Friedrich August, was the great patriotic Polish “Anonymous Rabbi” released from his internment. Immediately following his release he continued his labor for the national Polish army that together with Napoleon's regiments operated against the Austrians (1807-1809).

His full life of dedication and struggles against the enemies of Poland caused the imagination of the people to weave a string of legends around him, one of which says, that Rabbi Jakob Natan was a miracle worker, dressed in torn and worn clothing, after he had given all that he had to the poor irrespective of religion. That Rabbi Jakob Natan was a strange character, no one disputes. If he was a minister or a rabbi in Bedzin – next to this we can place a question mark. Indeed, something can be learned from his headstone which exists up till now[3] in the old cemetery near the fortress in Bedzin and which is decorated with a Polish eagle. It is possible to know when he passed away. However, since I haven't seen the headstone and haven't received a copy of the inscription on it, even though I frequently wrote about this to a friend in Bedzin, I find that Rabbi Jakob Natan was not a rabbi in Bedzin.

In the “Chevrat Kaddisha” [burial society] ledger of Bedzin (as was written to me by Wermond, my long-standing teacher friend) are written the names of the city's rabbis up until 5559 (1799), the year in which the teacher Rabbi Reb Menachem-Nachum served and who was the head of the rabbinate for many years. It is known, that where there weren't regular town rabbis their places were filled, voluntarily or by tenure, by a suitable teacher rabbi. Now since the name of Rabbi Jakob Natan does not appear in the same ledger, one can conclude that he did not serve as a rabbi in the city, rather he was, apparently, head of a congregation or his deputy. A person like this would be given the title of “rabbi”. At that time there were no uneducated congregation leaders, rather they were scholars and wealthy men.

The deputies and the community leaders would collect funds for various purposes and would appear as representatives of the Jews before the authorities. Through their dedication to the Jewish people they were treated as “miracle workers” including Rabbi Jakob Natan, something that was very common amongst the Jews.

We should also credit to the Jews of Bedzin account their financial participation in the later Polish uprisings.

In secret reviews found in the Piotrków district minister's archives (for a strange reason they were lost), it is described, that Jewish traders in Bedzin supplied weapons to the rebels, scythes and so on…

Salomon Gutman, may he rest in peace, from Bedzin informed me before his death, that his father supplied weapons to the rebels, and Jews of Bedzin also gave money, and because of this several of them were arrested.

One of them was Reb Jochanan (Joachim) Mondszajn from Modrzejów, whose punishment was to be under strict scrutiny by the police for a period of three years for the crime of distributing revolutionary material against the Russian authorities, as was recorded in archival documents.

The Jews of Bedzin can also be credited with glorious deeds in supplying heroes to the ranks of Pilsudski's legions, a matter involving grave dangers.

One of the heroes was Dr. Mateusz Frenkel, who took part in many frontline battles, and in then was jailed by the Germans in a refugee camp in Beniaminów because of his refusal to swear allegiance to the coalition. Dr. Frenkel escaped from the camp and returned to Bedzin, dismantled the weapons of the Germans, and was appointed by the Polish authority to be the deputy commander of Bedzin. In reward for his battle field service, he received several medals of distinction.

Jewish Bedzin produced amongst others another Jewish hero, a seventeen year old student from the local high school, Szmul Szwajcer.

When World War One erupted the youth left school and joined the legions, experiencing with them all the adventures of battles and the torments of war, and was finally arrested by the Germans and jailed in Szczypiorno. There he was severely ill and died at his home on the 2nd of April 1922. He was posthumously presented a medal of distinction of the highest order.

[Page 160]

The Jews of Poland left their mark in blood and the Jews of Bedzin in particular through there love and belief in the rejuvenation of Poland, its independence and liberty, in particular in the last war of freedom.

b) Recollections of the rabbi from Bedzin, Rabbi Issachar Berisz Graubart of blessed memory[4]

In relation to the rabbi “Gaon” from Bedzin, Rabbi Issachar Berisz Graubart, I would like convey several recollections, which have historical value regarding the Jewish community in Bedzin.

Already during the lifetime of his predecessor, the great “Tsaddik” [righteous person] Rabbi Icekl Kimelman of blessed memory, who had previously been a teacher in Piotrków, the Bedzin district minister reported to the regional minister in Piotrków (28th May, 1893), that Rabbi Kimelman was already old, can't hear and can't see and is unable to fulfill its duties, and in the community there were disruptions, and because of this some of the progressive section of Bedzin's Jews had complained to him, and due to this he requested that the regional minister relieve the rabbi of his duties and dispatched an order to elect a different rabbi.

Even before the regional minister had time to reply, a second piece of news came from the same district minister, that on the 3oth of June 1893 Rabbi Icekl Kimelman had passed away, and he reiterated his request to take care of the election of a new rabbi. And indeed on the 2nd of December, 1893, 300 homeowners elected Rabbi Issachar Berisz Graubart, who from 1887 served as the rabbi of the town of Czedlaz, and the regional minister approved him as the rabbi in Bedzin.

In the letter of agreement between the kehila [community] and Rabbi Graubart, the kehila obligated itself to pay the rabbi a wage of 1500 rubles, instead of 500 that the previous rabbi had received, 800 rubles was the expense if his transfer from Czedlaz to Bedzin, and 400 rubles as a teacher in Sosnowiec, that was then still considered a village and affiliated with the Bedzin district.

In December 1893 Rabbi Graubart took his place on the rabbinical throne in Bedzin. However, a year passed and a further year passed without the kehila paying his wages and not even the cost of his transfer. The rabbi contacted the district minister with a complaint, and wrote that he was situated in a difficult position because his wages had not been paid. Members of the kehila committee, J. Erlich, G. Landau and others came and apologized to the district minister that the treasury was empty. The minister dispatched an order to the Bedzin council, that it collect the “Etat” (tax) without any type of consideration and pay the rabbi his wages. It was only in July 1895 that the rabbi received a little money, and thus ended the first struggle of the rabbi with the Bedzin kehila (district file 19 – 1893 “Bedzin community”, State Archives in Piotrków).

After sitting on the rabbinical throne in Bedzin, Rabbi Graubart was forced to begin a second struggle, not with the kehila, but rather with Sosnowiec and Dabrowa that were part of his jurisdiction. These towns were considered as contributing and participating in the income of the region, but had suddenly began striving to break their ties with the Bedzin kehila. Sosnowiec began, and Dabrowa sought independence following her. Several disputants that were never lacking in Bedzin, entangled the rabbi in this matter and caused this exalted Jew great suffering.

And once again a correspondence-war began and the district minister's office was inundated with a great deal of protests and requests. In relation to Sosnowiec, even before he received the rabbinical throne in Bedzin he waived part of his wages for being a teacher there. And indeed Sosnowiec received from the district minister a “substitute rabbi” – Rabbi Dawid Zalcsztajn, and the rabbinate in Sosnowiec was signed in his name. However, in relation to the Dabrowa kehila the rabbi was not very eager to permit the ties with Bedzin to be broken, and he acted in opposition to this trend. Nevertheless, the candidate on behalf of the Jews of Dabrowa to the rabbinical throne succeeded, and they managed to convert Dabrowa into a special kehila with their own rabbi (1911). Rabbi Alter Lewi from Pacanów was elected as town rabbi.

The Bedzin rabbi frequented Piotrków from time to time for the purpose of his struggle, coming to request the assistance of the district minister against the injustice deeds that were being done to him. Minister Miller was impressed with the rabbi even from his first appearance due to his conduct and cultured speech, and was especially impressed by his majestic appearance. From then on, he allowed the rabbi to act widely for the benefit of the Jews.

Many Jews living in the Zaglembie region were in danger of deportation from the area due to their crime of dealing in smuggled goods from Germany. The rabbi pleaded with the minister and the punishment was cancelled.

In the stormy years of 1905-1906 many Jewish boys were arrested because the government feared that they were “He'achdut” members, which was an organization covertly combating the Tsar's regime. Once again the town rabbi intervened at government level on their behalf and thanks to him the “innocents” were released from custody…

Rabbi Graubart was one of the initiators of the first rabbinical conference of all the communities in the Piotrków district (1909) on the subject of strengthening religion in other matters relating to general needs and the status of the rabbis. Rabbi Graubart was elected as chairman of the conference for two days, and the decisions that were received were credited to him. The writer of these lines served in this conference as a secretary and edited the decisions that were made.

Later, when the district minister assembled all the rabbis of the district for a special conference in Piotrków (1910), in which senior clerks from the district office participated, once again the rabbi from Bedzin was elected as chairman, and he ran the conference with such great comprehension that the Russian clerks were taken aback. During this conference five rabbis were elected as representatives in the general rabbinical conference in Poland, which took place in Warsaw (1911). The five rabbis were: Rabbi Nachum Asz (Czestochowa), Rabbi Israel Fajnkind (Brzeziny), Rabbi Kanal from Inowlodz (later in Warsaw), Rabbi Sjmcha Rozenfeld from Piotrków and Rabbi Issachar Berisz Graubart. In the aforementioned rabbinical conference five representatives were elected – amongst them Rabbi Graubart – to the “Rabbinical Council” in Petersburg, in which they were meant to discuss Jewish issues that were on the ministerial agenda.

When Rabbi Graubart, as conference chairman, presented his report to Minister Jaczewski, the minister asked him how many years he had already served as rabbi. The rabbi replied: About 25 years, including the period in the rabbinate of Czeladz. The minister told him that he is worthy of a gold award for his dedicated work for the Jewish society and in particular for the kingdom, and he himself promised him to lobby in “high places” for him to receive this award.

Rabbi Graubart once told me, that immediately after the death of Rabbi Elijahu Chaim Majzl in Lodz the then district minister from Piotrków offered him the rabbinical throne in Lodz and that he would help him with the Jewish activists in Lodz.

[Page 161]

Rabbi Graubart traveled to Gur to request advice from the Rabbi; he told the Rabbi about his offer from the district minister, however the Rabbi didn't supply him with a clear response. Because of this, the rabbi from Bedzin didn't offer his candidacy for the rabbinical throne in Lodz.

As the time approached for the elections for the rabbinate of the kehila in Lodz and the district minister didn't see the rabbi from Bedzin amongst the candidates, he asked the rabbi why his name didn't appear amongst the candidates. The rabbi explained that the Rabbi from Gur had not agreed to this. The minister asked what was behind this. The rabbi told him: Seemingly I am not suitable to be a rabbi there, and he added further, as people said, after Rabbi Majzl there won't be a rabbi who will live long… in deed Rabbi Graubart also didn't live long in Bedzin; the people of Dabrowa took away his livelihood and shortened his life.

He was a great learned man, with a warm Jewish heart, a wonderful speaker and a great teacher, his character was distinctly outstanding in the rabbinical world. However the Jews of Bedzin didn't appreciate this.

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  1. YIVO – founded in 1925 in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania), as the “Yiddisher Visnshaftlekher Institut” [Yiddish Scientific Institute] return
  2. Burgrave [German: “Burggraf”] – In medieval Germany, one appointed to command a burg (fortified town) with the rank of count (Graf or comes). Later the title became hereditary and was associated with a domain. return
  3. This was written before the Second World War. return
  4. At the intervention of his relatives and daughter Rachel Gutman in Tel Aviv, his bones were transferred from the Bedzin cemetery to Jerusalem on the 7th of Adar 5721 [23rd February, 1961]. return

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