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Institutions and Parties

 

The Zionist Movement in Szydlowiec

by Saul and Hinda Zlotov

Most of the people belonged to the General Zionist movement in Szydlowiec were from the middle–class. The Zionists had a fine library of Yiddish and Hebrew books located in the center of town, in the home of Yehiel Dimont. It attracted many readers.

Aside from matters having to do directly with Eretz Israel, they were also active in the elections to the Sejm, to the city council and to the Kehillah.

When the Balfour Declaration was issued, the Zionists organized a large open–air rally. People said that there had never been such a large demonstration in Szydlowiec, “before or since.” In honor of the opening of the University of Jerusalem they called a meeting in the synagogue at which 2000 people were present.

For a few tears their activities declined, but then the movement was strengthened by the founding of BETAR, which attracted many young middle–class people, who were tremendously impressed by the uniforms and the whole military attitude. One of their leaders was Abraham Finkler, a teacher of religion in the Polish school and secretary of the Kehillah. Their principal leader was Jacob David Blizinski.

BETAR and Brit Hachayil often arranged events, mostly dances, which attracted many young people. Their activity weakened the General Zionist movement and they even took over the administration of the library.


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The Bundist Movement in Szydlowiec

By Yankl Silberman

The Bundist organization in Szydlowiec had been active long before my time; it was already in existence in 1905, when people called Bundists “achdutniks” (unity) or “strikers.” The social–political awakening in our town was strengthened even more by the creation of Independent Poland and by the Russian Revolution. With the establishment of Bolshevism in Russia a struggle began in Szydlowiec for hegemony in the ranks of the working–people and in the Bund itself. This period ended in 1924 when the police closed the trade union hall. Many workers were arrested and their leaders imprisoned.

By 1926 the Szydlowiec workers had recovered from this police persecution. Their leaders had been released and with their return, the Bundist activity gradually revived. In the fall of 1926 Yosl Stark came from Lodz, where he had belonged to the Yugntbund–Zukunft, the Bund's youth organization. With his initiative, a Yungtbund was organized in Szydlowiec. An executive committee was formed, headed by Yosl Stark. Summertime we used to hold our meetings on the outskirts of the city. Wintertime we met every week in the homes of the older Bundists – Hershl Modzevyetski, Henech Blok, Benjamin Tenenbaum, Mendl Meyerfeld, Berl Glas.

The work of the entire Bundist movement was strengthened. Organizational Secretary was Bene Frishman, who was assisted by Aaron Shichter, Melech Tenenbaum, Eliezer Erlichman and a few others.

The Bund's political activity was very broad: elections to the city council, elections to the Sejm, May First demonstrations, cooperation with other organizations – the Polish Socialist Party, the trade unions, the Left Poale Zion. The Bund always participated in the city council elections. In 1920 the Bund already had 110 members and three councilmen;

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later we had four councilmen plus two senior councilmen – Abraham Blicher and Shabbatai Lachs.

The Bundists worked closely with the local trade unions. The tannery workers, who had a well organized union, were affiliated with the Warsaw central labor council. The members were mostly Polish workers who were influenced by the Polish Socialist Party, plus a large number of Jewish workers. Aaron Shichter, a tannery worker, was one of the leaders and prominent in all the activities. Several strikes took place over the small earnings of the workers, which were being still further reduced by inflation.

In general the tannery workers were better paid than the other workers. They were almost the only ones who had steady jobs and who worked an 8–hour day. Among their leaders were: Abraham Ber Stark and Aaron Shichter, of the Bund, Joel Shichter of the Left Poale Zion, and a few men from the Socialist Party.

The leaders and activists of the organizations and trade unions acted out of the purest of ideals and a belief that they were helping to improve the conditions of people who earn their living by their labor.

Together with “Zukunft,” the Bundists also organized an extensive cultural program for both the members of the organization and the Jewish community as a whole. Many of the young workers, who came from the poorest homes, were illiterate. The Bund taught them to read and write and to discuss elementary social and political problems. Former street urchins became class conscious workers.

The Bund organized a children's section called SKIF under the leadership of Bina Frishman and Yekutiel Gutman. The first members were Pearl Lachs, Esther Futerman, Elka Goldberg–Silberman, Hannah Rachale, Manya Stark Tenenbaum, Berl Bekermashin, Isaac Noro, Jocheved Rosenzweig, Shlomo Silberstein and Samuel Tenenbaum.

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The Bund arranged lectures on Polish political problems as well as literary and Jewish problems, often with speakers from the Bundist central office in Warsaw.

A sports club known as “Morningstar” was organized in SKIF with the help of Bundists in Radom, who gave us advice and funds. We were able to recruit a good number of capable young people who organized a soccer team that included the Fishlevich brothers, Berl Green, Moshe Ber Moro, Isaac Moro and others. They played many matches that drew large crowds. Our games with non–Jewish clubs sometimes ended in fish–fights. We also organized a ping–pong team.

The executive committee of Morningstar consisted of Aaron Shichter, Itche Midlarski, David Shchenshlive, Shmuel Tenenbaum, Leybl Stark and David Zusman.

One of the first things the Bund did was to open a library. The library committee arranged discussions with readers, as well as “kestl” evenings. For a week before the event they hung up a box (kestl) into which people could drop written questions. At the “Kestl evening” the questions were answered by the library committee.

Part of the cultural activities was a dramatic section that put on plays. I remember some of these plays: The Seven Who Were Hanged (Andreyev), Hertzele Meyuches (Gordin), The Blind Painter, The Jewish Heart (Latiner), The Wild Man (Gordin), The Two Kuni–lemels and “The Singer of Warsaw,” directed by A. Veislitz. They also presented one–act plays with Israel Freedman, Henech Bok, Chava Katz and Chayele Gutman.

I should also mention those who were not actors but who helped stage the productions: Mendl Mayerfeld (decorations), Hershl Kaufman and Yekutiel Gutman (technicians), Yudl Midlarski (decorations and posters).

The dramatic groups of the Bund and other parties were important financially and culturally. Both the players and the

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audiences derived a great deal of artistic pleasure from the performances.

While writing these reminiscences I could see before my eyes all those wonderful people who hoped and believed that a “better world” was coming. May these few lines be a sad memorial to those vibrant young lives that were so brutally brought to an end.


Betar and Brit–Hachayil

By Yosel Silberstein

Betar was organized in Szydlowiec in 1930. Joining Betar was mostly girls who were graduates of the Polish school as well as of the Hebrew Bet–Sefer Mizrachi, directed by Yerakhmiel Haim Blizinski, where they had received a national Jewish education in the Hebrew language. Betar's Jewish state idea had a great appeal for them.

It was not easy to join Betar. First you needed written recommendations from several Betar members. Then you had to go through a long examination. They wanted to be certain that their members were ready to help spread the message of Betar and be a good example themselves of its ideals. Almost every evening there were lectures, discussions, Hebrew classes, Jewish and Zionist history classes. Israel Ferenbug gave scout training. They also ran Hebrew classes for beginners. Every week there was a “living newspaper” program, as well as cultural discussions and entertainment.

In 1933 Brit–Hachayil was organized, headed by Abraham Finkler. This organization consisted of Jewish reservists who had finished their service in the Polish army. Many Jewish war veterans joined this group. Their activities were conducted in the Betar meeting hall. There were classes in Zionist history, but their main activity was military training preparatory to joining the Jewish Legion.

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One day five uniformed officers drove into Szydlowiec in an open automobile, painted blue and white with the menorah of Brit–Hachayil on both sides of the vehicle. They stayed in our town for an entire day, on their way to Eretz Israel. Their visit made a tremendous impression on the Jews of Szydlowiec.


Left and Right Poale Zion

By J. Silberman

The Left Poale Zion had a well functioning, active organization with a good number of young people. They used to bring in well known lecturers such as Zerubavel, Leyb Malach, Joel Mastbaum and Beinish Silberstein.

The Right Poale Zion did not have their own organization until the late 1930s, when a youth group was formed. They were helped by the fact that groups of Halutzim came to Szydlowiec to stay at the hachsharah kibbutz supported by the well known Zionist H. Pinkert. In this hachsharah they carried on an intensive cultural program which influenced other Zionist youth in the town. Eventually some of them emigrated to Eretz Israel.


The Mizrachi Party

By Malke Rosenzweig–Silberman

Mizrachi had a fine organization, though not a very large one. Many friends and sympathizers helped the Mizrachi members carry out their activities. Their greatest shortcoming was that they did not have a youth organization.

They were represented in the Kehillah and participated in both communal and general elections.

One of their most important activities was around the Mizrachi school, where they taught Hebrew, grammar, Bible and Talmud in a more modern way than in the usual

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hedarim. In the Talmud Torah the pupils of their school would arrange Hanuka and Purim programs. Lag B'Omer they would march to the Sodek Forest. Because of their higher tuition, only children of the more well–to–do families could afford to attend their school.


The Bikur Holim

By Abraham Finkler

Up until 1930 there was a Bikur Holim in Szydlowiec, but unfortunately it was turned into a private venture by several Orthodox Jews and its activity became practically nil.

A group of community leaders then proposed that the institution be reorganized by inviting people from all sections of the Jewish community to a general meeting at which a decision would be made at this matter.

At the meeting a presidium was elected which immediately issued a statement to the Jewish population of Szydlowiec announcing that the Bikur Holim would now be a non–party philanthropic institution to help the entire Jewish community. The presidium also arranged with the two Jewish physicians in Szydlowiec, Dr. Tadanier and Dr. Dimont, that needy patients would be treated gratis. They also arranged with the town apothecary, Kowalski, and with the owner of the pharmaceutical warehouse, Edward Goldzamd, to fill prescriptions stamped by the Bikur Holim at no charge.

The presidium also proposed the opening of an electro–medical clinic in the near future with quartz lamps, sun–lamps and ultra–violet equipment.

It did not take long before the apparatus of the Bikur Holim Society was in full swing. David Ostrowski was an intelligent and energetic manager who influenced others to throw themselves enthusiastically into the work. Other members of the presidium helped him a great deal. The

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composition of the presidium changed from time to time, but the institution continued to function along well planned lines.

Medical instruction took place at the movie theater. These lectures were always well attended, even by the better educated Poles of Szydlowiec, and were therefore conducted in the Polish language. The chairman was Abraham Finkler. Speakers were Dr. Tadanier, Dr. Dimont and two other physicians from Skarzysk.

As soon as the treasury of the Bikur Holim received its first funds the presidium decided to purchase all the necessary equipment for the electro–medical clinic. They delegated A. Finkler to go to Warsaw and, with the help of TOZ and other philanthropic institutions, bought the required instruments. They rented two rooms in Hershl Vester's house and opened the clinic, which also served non–Jewish patients at minimal charge, because this was the only medical institution of its kind in Szydlowiec.

The Bikur Holim continued to function until the Nazi Destruction.


Life in Szydlowiec Before the Holocaust
(A Summary)

By B. Kagan

Christians used to call Szydlowiec “Zhidloviets” [“Zhid” in Polish means “Jew”], and the Radom district commander called the shtetl “Judenstadt, because Christians comprised barely a fifth of the shtetl's population.

The history of the Jews of Szydlowiec can be divided into two periods: before the First World War and after it.

Until the First World War, the Jewish way of life in Szydlowiec was largely a traditional one. The atmosphere of

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the community was predominantly religious. Szydlowiec was a Hasidic shtetl and Hasidim played there the leading role.

Szydlowiec had its own Hasidic dynasty, which had an influence both on Szydlowiec Hasidim and on Hasidim in neighboring towns. The source of this dynasty was “HaYud HaKodesh” [“The Holy Jew”] of Pshische. IT began with his son, Rebbe Nathan–Dovid, and extended to the last Rabbi and Rebbe in Szydlowiec, Reb Chaim Yekutiel Rabinowitz.

The most famous Rabbi in Szydlowiec was the Gaon Reb Meir Eisenshtadt, who later served as Rabbi in important Jewish communities.

Generations came and went, but the face of Jewish Szydlowiec changed only slightly. During the events of 1905, Jewish community life in the shtetl roused itself. Jewish young people were drawn into the revolutionary current. Strikes began – this was something which had previously been unknown. A few years later, in 1910–1911, a secret library was established which helped bring new spirit into the shtetl.

But these were only small beginnings – a prelude to the great changes which would take place in Jewish life after the First World War, in the years of Polish independence. The greatly expanded and far–reaching activities of the Jewish political parties – the various Zionist organizations, the “Bund,” and the Jewish Communists – left their mark more and more on local Jewish life. The battle for power and position which was being waged found expression when the time came to elect representatives to the Sejm, the municipality, the Kehilah, or to the Zionists congresses. All this had its effect on the youth and on the entire local Jewish way of life.

The religious sector also did not sleep. It fought hard to keep its old position of power, particularly in the field of Jewish education. There was a large number of Chadorim in the period of Polish independence, and the Talmud–Torah

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played a larger role. In the battle against the new Jewish secular schools, a Bes–Yaakov School was established for girls and a “Yavneh” School for boys.

The economic situation of the Jews in Szydlowiec was not a lofty one, but neither was it very severe. Of course, there were more than a few poor people, and the growing generation of Jewish young people had great difficulties finding work. Many of them sought an alternative in emigration. But the special economic structure of the shtetl was such that it somewhat eased the local Jewish economic situation.

It was primarily the leather industry which was the vital nerve of Jewish life in Szydlowiec. A network of large and small tanneries was spread over the shtetl. Finished leather was sent out over all of Russia, and the number of ready–made exported shoes manufactured in Szydlowiec in a season amounted to about ten thousand pairs. What this meant for a small shtetl is easy to understand. To the list of Jewish small industries should also be added iron foundries and stone quarries.

The need for loans was also great, and here the two banks “Bank Ludowy” and “Bank Kupiecki” assisted. The needier Jews obtained assistance from the treasure of the Gemiles Chasodim [the community loan society, offering interest–free loans], which was strengthened by funds from American “landslayt.”

In general, Szydlowiec was a shtetl of Jewish workers and artisans, and this influences the social patterns of local Jewish life. The various Jewish political parties developed a vigorous cultural life; their cultural activities were attended not only by their members, but by many Jews of the shtetl. Well–known leaders from Warsaw and abroad often lectured in Szydlowiec, and this acquainted the local Jews not only with political problems, but also with Jewish spiritual matters.

There were several dramatic clubs, which from time to time performed for the general public. Such theatrical

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performances were always a holiday for the Jews of Szydlowiec.

The Jewish libraries in the shtetl and the Yiddish press of Warsaw helped greatly in the spiritual development of Jewish youth. In the time of Polish independence, many Jewish children – mostly girls – attended the local “Shkola Povshechna,” and a number of children attended out–of–town gymnasiums [schools comparable to high school and junior college].

In Szydlowiec there were no pogroms. Inasmuch as Szydlowiec had a majority of Jews, and since the worker and artisan element was a large one, Gentiles were rebuffed when they tried to harass Jews. There was an incident when peasants from the neighboring area agreed on a day and prepared to attack the Jews of Szydlowiec. The Jews found out about this, so in the morning they went out of the shtetl, and with the help of friendly shtetl Christians battered the would–be pogromists. The Jews later warned the peasants that if they attempted to assault Jews, al their fields would be set on fire. This warning caused many peasants to come to Jewish homes to say that they had had nothing to do with the proposed attack.

In the time of independent Poland, the government did more than a little to inflate anti–Semitic feelings. Szydlowiec was no exception, but the anti–Semitic proclamations that were posted by day with the support of the police, were for the most part torn down by night. The anti–Semitic policies of the Polish government brought much more trouble to the Jews of Szydlowiec than did the rowdy actions of the local anti–Semites or common scoundrels.

This anti–Semitism raised its head even more after Hitler's coming to power in 1933. Each year Jews grew more afraid of the influence of Jew–devouring Nazism on the Polish neighbors, who had never shown any great love for Jews. And even more, people feared the possibility of a Polish–German war and a German victory.

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People were very afraid, but not even the greatest pessimist could have imagined that the Nazis had it in their sinister plans simply to exterminate all the Jews.

 

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