Moshe Sali (Kerbel)
My beloved birthplace, Wierzbnik, you haven't expanded their families, raised their children and wholesomeness, attributed to some cities and Jewish communities in the Polish Diaspora. But you [Wierzbnik] were fortunate in having the love of your own people and the respect and appreciation of your visitors, due to your forests, rivers and lakes that surround you and because of the richness and the excitement of your life, your work, trade and production, as well as learning and enlightenment.
You [Wierzbnik] were so much enriched with liveliness and gaiety of youth. Zionist and pioneering spirit prevailed all over you, and lust for Zion bas been veiled over all Jews. That was the popular, humble, Jewish community, orthodox learned but a struggling one, for bread as well as human rights. That was a very earthy community, but very anxious about its spiritual possessions.
Your streets and narrow alleys were without any splendor or beauty. The dwellings manifested the economic standing of your citizens. Nevertheless, adored you as you were. We never took notice of you repellent and faulty spots. You [Wierzbnik] stood for the enterprise of your people, industrious and creative ones, and the intelligence of your Jews who were at the center of your daily life. For two generations Jews used to live there, they expanded their families, raised their children and struggled for their existence at all conditions and circumstances.
I remember you [Wierzbnik] with excitement; I cherish with fondness and admiration your Jews because of their modesty, innocence and simplicity; because of their way of life pure and relaxed and the wonderful harmony of nobility, and unlimited love of Israel.
That was a magnanimous and hospitable town. Whenever a stream of refugees reached its boundaries, at times of catastrophes and emergencies, it opened wide its arms and hearts to welcome the victims of fear and sword. You knew to shelter them, to assist them, to support them in their time of stress. Nobody of its people uttered, there is no room.
The Jews inhabited the center of the town around the main square, the market, and the neighboring streets. Only the remote suburbs at the outskirts were settled by the majority of the Polish population.
Most of the villagers in the vicinity of the town were farmers who lived on the land and workers, while most of the businessmen and the craftsmen in town were Jews (cattle dealers, tailors, shoemakers, upholsters, hatters, carpenters, blacksmiths, and others). Most of the sawmills surrounding the town were owned by Jews and so were the iron and copper foundries and the armories in which thousands of Polish gentiles were employed.
I remember vividly the town's market day. It was actually a day of joy and festivity for the Jews, since it used to provide an endless source of income and welfare for them. Thursday the traditional weekly market day, when the people of the town, of its suburbs and of the neighboring villages used to stream into the central market place from the very early hours of the morning, some walking, some driving in long convoys with their carriers. On one side there stood the counters of tailors, shoemakers, hatters, haberdashers, and others. On the opposite side there used to stand tabernacles, carriages and counters loaded with fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy products, chickens and piles of potatoes. The market place used to be heavily crowded with buyers and visitors. The proceeds came in abundance.
The shops and the inns in the market area mostly belonging to Jews, benefited most. They were crowded with buyers, traders and visitors who would spend lavishly. At the side streets, the blacksmiths and craftsmen were conducting their business and working, income was flourishing too. They were selling kerosene, and timber, as well as haberdashery, and grocery (in addition to foods and drinks). In essence, the market day mainly provided the Jewish people of our town with opportunities, livelihood and support. Only at late hours of the evening the farmers galloped their carriages through the town's streets back to their villages and then the market place was deserted again by thousands of its visitors and the Jews would relax and make a blessing, blessed is God daily
And today everything is gone forever. The main square is probably still there, but with a different shape and look. The rumbling of the active Jewish business has become mute forever. Polish murderers took it over, as the prophet said, hast thou killed, and also taken possession
But in spite of all this, it is impossible to erase the memory of our youth days, which we spent in our town until the catastrophe occurred and turned life into hell, without hope, without salvation.
There are tombstones erected to commemorate fellow man. There are tombstones to mark one's achievements. But the most important of all tombstones is the ad memoriam, the commemoration book which unfolds the life of one generation, its joys and vivacity, is agonies and torment, and its struggles until its last gasp.
I mourn you, my town. A devastating hand annihilated your Jews, your prime source of liveliness and strength. It is all over and done with a community of exemplary life full of excitement and fermentation of culture of knowledge, of trade and of study.
There was a blessed town. She has gone forever.
Sixteen days in the month of Heshvan, on Tuesday October 27, 1942 the murderous hands of the Nazi snuffed out the Jewish life that existed for man generations. At the same time, twenty years ago, in the early hours of this dark Tuesday morning, the remaining survivors of Wierzbnik and Drilz congregated to remember their dead who were tragically lost before our own eyes, a world still fresh in every one of us, even though twenty years have passed since this bloody destruction. Everyone of us of Wierzbnik will always see before us this frightening picture, the way we congregated with those from other communities in the thousands and in the early hours of this Tuesday morning. While it was still dark, we were brought together from our camped ghetto quarters and brought together into the market place with clubbing and shooting. There were cries of the little children and the wailing of the Mothers looking at their sleepy tots and the children that were lost looking for their Mothers.
At eight o'clock in the morning we were all standing in the empty market place. Our hearts were bleeding; everything was black before our eyes to see the S.S. murderers with their Ukrainian and Lithuanian helpers shooting at the people and telling the Jewish people to drag the corpses into the yards. Rivers of Jewish blood were flowing like water.
Put the pages back twenty years in our life and for us the few survivors it appears just like yesterday. It is difficult to free oneself of this destruction that the murderers made in a few hours. Eleven o'clock of the same day you will remember that we were standing in line when the murderer Althoff and the others selected who is to live and who is to die and not a light death, but the sealed cars they prepared were already waiting at the station where our sisters, brothers, parents and children by the hundreds packed 150 to the car.
Until that day whoever had hidden valuable items could bribe themselves to life, but on this seventeenth day of Heshvan, the dark Tuesday in the annals of Jewry of Wierzbnik, was the end. You all remember that it was a hot day. It was the 27th of October1942. Those who were chased to the factories for a distance of five kilometers, so far beyond the city with our possessions on our backs and only the bare minimum. Many had to thrown some of these bare possessions away because of the heat and the chase of the murderers.
Our town was the last to be annihilated and the murderers said that the Jews of Wierzbnik are useful; they are good workers in Hermann Gerring's ammunition factories. On this Tuesday, the children were standing with their parents and as my brother-in-law, Kopel Maslowitz held his twins in both hands; they asked him if he will give away his children so that he can go to the factory and when he refused they permitted him together with his wife and four children and sister to step aside and go to his death in the sealed cars. The seventeenth day of Heshvan, this unfortunate day in our lives, when the largest number of Jewry of Bendzin, Drilz, Wanhatzk, a part of Plotzk and other cities which the murderers brought to our Wierzbnik, participated together in their dark hour by saying their Shma Israel (Hear Ye Oh God) with such composure. You all remember the line condemned to death and how their crying eyes looked and how quietly they accepted their verdict of death.
We, the ones selected for labour, well understood their looks; should some of us survive to take vengeance of their murderers. For those who survived a long list of suffering began. Our punishments were such that we envied those condemned to death. Hunger, epidemics, hard labour was the order of the day. Remember the sick in the special barracks. There were many ill with fever and the murderer Althoff shot them all on their straw beds. Think today of your camp with 120 people for whom pits were prepared and thrown in almost alive, men and women together. Remember the Fathers and the Mothers who would not part with their children and perished together.
How gruesome was the picture for all of us to return to the city and find corpses lying in various parts of town. Let us bow our heads for the 107 who perished and on whom we performed Jewish burial rites and buried them in one plot.
Let us remember those who perished and those who survived that Tuesday and put on our prayer shawls for those whom the murderers shot in their houses. Like our neighbour, Mr. Henoch Biderman, a very fine Jew, put on his religious clothes and marched to his death in the market. Remember; remember all of them who fled from the camp into the woods, 800 in all, and the Poles who reported many of them to the Germans.
I remember, every year, those of us who perished. Itshele Weizer, who came to the woods and found a group of Jews and brought with him his phylacteries and prayed on the eve of Yom Kippur and two days later Itshele was found cut in pieces and we buried him. As shivers run through our bodies remembering all this and it is our duty to remember those of us who perished, we shall never forget them and always avenge them. I want to remember my brother, Isaac, may he rest in peace, whom the murderers shot as he was working in the factory. When the police found him, he had a prayer book open in his hands at the prayer, God Our Lord Take Vengeance From Those Who Spilled Our Blood. April 1, 1944, after a night's work he apparently prayed after completion of his work and the Ukrainian murderer found him doing this and shot him.
Let us remember them all. I want to mention the name of my Mother with whom I was standing in the market place together with my three sisters and their three children, wanting to go together and not to separate from their children. My Mother kissed me and begged me to go to work, maybe I will survive and be able to tell what they did to us; maybe she said, you will live long enough to see their end. When an S.S. murderer came to me and took me by the throat and told me if you don't come to work you will be shot immediately, I did not see my dear ones again.
The great, classic Jewish authors at the beginning of the 20th Century did a great service to the people by describing as profusely as they did, Jewish life in the villages of Poland and Russia. Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that those very same writings would come to be seen as the swansong of the Jewish village. After the Holocaust of 1939-1945 their authentic and creative works came to serve as the graveside monument for the European Jewish village.
In the past, Jewish historians writing in the Diaspora had always skilfully immortalized the heroes and heroic deeds of the nation. They described that national heroism which always emerged in times of suffering: from the Babylonian Exile through the Maccabean Revolt, and down to our own times.
Today, over thirty years since the beginning of World War II, a national poet has no yet arisen, whose writings adequately describe the great Holocaust and the terror which accompanied the unparallel devastation of this cruelest of wars.
Certainly the burden is too great for the historian who might aspire to uncover, beneath the ruins of the villages and ghettos, their nameless heroes. Heroic deeds were almost without number.
Many were those who suffered hellish torment before they breathed their last breath in the Nazi ovens. The Nazis left few survivors in any village and even fewer from any family, as it is written, One of a city and two of a family.
Thus, for the few survivors there exists a holy obligation to eternalize the memory of the pure and holy dead, that it may never be forgotten.
In the book of Exodus, G-d says to Moses, Write this as a memorial in the book and rephrase it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. ne might think the word this unnecessary, were it not that it hints at a deeper meaning. In the original Hebrew, the letters of the word this are identical to the initials of the Biblical phrase, Remember and do not forget. In that phrase the words do not forget also hint at a deeper significance. Perhaps, the verse warns not so much against literal, absolute forgetting (Tishkach) as against a failure to preserve in memorializing and the command is not to tire in effort Koach to remember (Tish-koach). From the above we learn of the duty to remember and the prohibition to forget, as Divine commandments incumbent upon us all, That you may tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son. We, the last generation in the bondage of exile and the first to glimpse redemption, are obligated and commanded to recall the past, this for our own sake and for the sake of future generations. Let them be proud of the stone from which they were quarried. Let them realize that whole nations and peoples have lived and schemed and are now vanished from the earth, but The Jewish People lives and endures. and The Eternal of Israel will not fail. These are not mere phrases, but real truths, which have been tested in the melting pot of history. These words are proven; they are engraved with the blood and flames of blameless martyrs consumed by fire.
The village Wierzbnik-Strachowitz, was perhaps only a small speck on the map of Poland, but in the thirties it was my whole world. It was a small village in the midst of the surrounding fields and pastures, forests, lakes and streams. There were no asphalt roads or large buildings. The antiquated wooden houses, which lacked electricity, running water, or built in sanitary facilities were, nonetheless, marvelously clean. The Jew's life was that Jewish way of life that had belonged to his grandfather; yet it was still alive and effervescent. No wonder then that great writers like Shalom Aleichem, Mendele and Peretz saw fit to describe and immortalize the village Jews as he really was. One's own, everyday people who would arise before dawn, winding their way through darkness or by lantern light to serve their Maker at the first service in the study hall. From there they would go to their daily affairs, some to stores, some to their small crafts, and some to their merchandising, The village may have been without luster and pomp, but it certainly did not lack scholars, students of the Torah, righteous persons and others who busied themselves with holy matters.
The study hall was not only a place to pray or study the Talmud, but it also served as a meeting place for all pubic functions. Here was the parliament where the congregation's policies were formulated with regard to all local or public matters. Here communal workers would wrestle for influence in all matters that they considered within their sphere. Here, from time to time came important public leaders, famous preachers, and public functionaries. Here, for many years Jewish life and affairs were managed peacefully.
From the time of Hitler's ascent to power in Germany, the world, and particularly the Jewish world, began to be shaken by increasingly severe tremors. Anti-Semitism had always existed, and was deeply rooted, but it had usually been masked and furtive. Then, it gradually began to rear its ugly head and show its true colors. The feeling of economic insecurity grew and Jewish youth began to wonder about the future and seek a way out.
As if born on the wings of a violent storm, the magic word Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel began to take hold. Through every Jewish village swept a wave of Jewish youth movements, religious and secular. Inscribed in their banners and in their hearts was the hope for the return to Zion. Clubs were established where the youth could release its pent-up energy. Not easily did the parents accept this rebellious development. Many Jews, however, made a de facto peace with it in the conviction that in time the youth would find the road to their own salvation. Young people had simply found themselves and their mission in life.
Wierzbnik-Strachowitz was blessed with a small number of communal workers who gave of their time and spirit, of their money and support to this holy work. The Zionist movement was a basic and formative influence upon the youth. It educated them towards human and solid values, towards the acquisition of enlightenment and towards a widening of the horizons of Torah and thought.
On the other hand, there also arose an increasing number of youth organizations, which cleaved to the nation's heritage and to the generation old wellsprings of Torah. Their members plowed deeply in the fields of the Talmud and Codes. They found in the depths of traditional methods of interpretation, whether simple or elaborate, a source of support of boundless enthusiasm. Biblical stories about the desired land of the Patriarchs, about the Beauteous Land of the Bible, intoxicated with delight.
The town spewed forth their sons and daughters. Hostile Poles joined with theNazi oppressors in an effort to destroy us utterly.
We shall not weep for her destruction, but only for the destruction of human dignity, for lives that were cut off in their prime. For dear ones whose names were sanctified,
Let us memorize this and remember forever.
Remember what the Amalekite Nazi did to you and may his name and memory be eternally blackened!
Reva (Naiman) Karstadt
As the daughter of Yosel and Chana Naiman, perhaps I, more so than others was brought up on Wierzbnik. It was a long time before I realized that Wierzbnik was a small town in far off Poland. For Wierzbnik in those dark dismal days of the depression and the ghastly programs there, was a living, vibrant, all-encompassing part of our household. Meetings, meetings, it seemed as if life revolved around meetings to aid our landsleit, and there was no distinction between the responsibility shared by us children, who were products of Canada and our parents, who were products of Wierzbnik. We were a viable part of Wierzbnik too, as indeed Wierzbnik was of us and our past and our future were bound up in it.
As soon as we children were old enough, we addressed envelopes, cut ribbons and made decorations for the annual banquet; mailed parcels and a host of other jobs for we too were involved with Wierzbnik.
But our emotional involvement went far deeper than the physical acts allotted to us. Not only did our beloved parents relate stories of the life in Wierzbnik, but the constant stream of visitors to our home while my Father was organizing the Society here in Toronto and long after it was established. Besides the friends, relatives and landsleit sparked our imaginations with their recollections of the people, their homes, and most of all those wonderful, sad, marvelous, tear-jerking maises. Many times my sisters and I would listen behind the closed living-room door to the adventures and reminiscences of our Wierzbnikers. So, Wierzbnik and its assortment of characters lived in our home and it seemed almost as if we were an island in a foreign land, where Wierzbnik still thrived. My sisters and I were very proud to be accepted and included.
This book is filled with facts and recollections written by those who were there. Perhaps, it will serve some useful purpose to know that as a first generation Canadian-born Wierzbniker, I feel this book is a very necessary part of the heritage we can pass on to our future generations. For how else can our descendants know what it was like when their beginnings started in a remote part of our world that was obliterated from the face of the earth in the 1940's.Where else can they learn about our ancestors, the leadership they assumed and the avenues that leadership took in their tiny shtettle.
What other source can convey the warmth and comradeship all Wierzbnikers jealously guarded against a hostile world that smote them time and time again? How will they know, except from sterile history books what it was like to be a Jew in the midst of Poland, not just any fellow Jew, but their very own ancestors. What source other than this book, can bring alive in perpetuity those precious accounts and experiences that in the end shaped our destiny and molded our character? These are things that are lost from generation to generation.
How can my children be expected to understand, when it is difficult even for me, to hear that it was necessary to hide Yomtovdicke clothes under everyday garments in order to go to Shul unmolested? When here in North America, whole portions of cities literally stop on High Holy Days.
Although each of us knows that we all lost members of our families in the Holocaust, it seems so remote to us born here in North America. They are tragic, heroic figures of another time, remembered at Yahrzeit, except for their immediate family survivors, who never forget. The old, the young, the poor, the sick, the women, the children yes, those innocent little children who never had a chance to give of themselves to this world and who never shared the joys that abound in life. Only through a book like this Wierzbnik Memorial Book will we, the next generations remember and have some record of a special place called Wierzbnik. I recall how zealously my Father worked for, and how dedicated he was to the erection of a Yahrzeit Memorial Monument to the memory of those beloved Wierzbnikers who perished in the war. So, it would be recorded for all of time that these families existed and should not be forgotten. I recall how passionately his desire to see this dream a reality was and how very much it means to all Wierzbnikers now that it is completed. But a stone memorial isn't enough. This biography will make those names impersonally carved in granite, living, breathing, and responsible human beings worthy indeed of our memory.
My personal involvement goes so very deep. My paternal Grandparents Hershel and Rifka Najman and their family, except for one son, were all here in Canada. But my Mother was the only child of Mordechai-Mendel and D'Vorah Raizel Zylberstein fortunate enough to have been here in Canada at the time of the war. My Mother kept alive her family for us, her many dear brothers and sisters and all those precious memories by recounting tales of them. She keep telling us over and over again who they were and what they were and what they did. I see this Memorial Book as accomplishing the same feat of bringing alive through memories set down on paper, all our families and landsleit for all the generations to come.
Wendy Tucker, Staff Reporter
Gusta Blass was 16 when she stood beside what could have been her grave.
The Germans had come into Poland and Jews were being placed in a series of work camps. She and her parents and younger brother had escaped from the large textile city of Lodz to her Mother's hometown of Starachowice.
The day came when they were forced into a work camp with about 300 others where the Germans put them to work making such things as ammunition boxes and stretchers.
Even then, she recalls, Their main purpose was to eliminate as many of us as they possibly could. There was little food and no medicine. Many died.
Then the time came when Jews from small camps such as that one were gathered together at a large camp called Majowka to be shipped off to concentration camps.
It was at that camp that Gusta Blass, her family, the man she would marry and the others almost went to a mass grave. Her actions would be praised for having saved them on a night of horror in late 1944.
The man who planned their execution that night, Erich Kurt Willi Schroth, the leader or fuhrer, of the Ukrainischen Wachmannschaften who was in charge of that camp, is on trial this month for war crimes in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Gusta Blass, now Mrs. Leon Weintraub of Charleston, was unable to go to Germany to testify. But she has given sworn testimony before a German judge and an attorney in Philadelphia.
She and her husband both survived a series of concentration camps that included Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Belsen and Dachau to be reunited after the war and marry.
They came to Charleston in late 1946 and have made their home here. In addition to raising six children, Mrs. Weintraub has made a career as a dress designer, and has a dress designing and dressmaking shop here.
She tells of what happened on that night in 1944 out of the belief that, these things should not be forgotten.
I would like to forget, but I know I shouldn't. My concern is that such things should be a lesson to people. My hope is that if people do remember these things they will not let them happen again. History should not be allowed to repeat itself.
Gusta Blass, Mrs. Weintraub, recalls Schroth as a man who was known to be very brutal, almost bloodthirsty.
As she, her family and the others from the smaller camp were gathered in a large fenced field area, two tremendous graves were dug and each were about 100 feet long and six feet wide.
They lined us up on each side, with the women standing three in a row on one side and the men on the other.
She recalls, Schroth stood at the end of the grave, facing us. He said, These are the last moments of your life. I give you my permission to say your prayers and he said, You will be shot.
She was standing in the second row of women beside the long grave. I cannot describe what a person can feel when you hear words like this. I was standing with my Mother. My Father and brother were standing on the other side, she said.
But standing there at that moment, deep in me I felt that there might be a spark of hope. I felt that I must do something in this moment. So, I stepped out from the line and I went to him. I started pleading with him to spare us, to send us on to Auschwitz where we would not have much chance anyway. I pleaded with him to spare us then.
She recalls, Evidently he thought I was attacking him. He grabbed his rifle and with the back of it, hit me in the back of the head and knocked me down. I fell, but I got up.
At that moment I knew I had to do something more than just plead. I ran and grabbed his arms from behind and held on, trying to reason with him.
Instead, the German officer yelled that, he would kill us all. While at that moment everything seemed to be lost, she recalls determining that at least I would not die, slaughtered like a lamb.
I couldn't really do anything to him. I had no weapon or anything, she said. But the German guards were astonished, not knowing exactly what had happened, and she and the officer were so close they dared not shoot.
Then, we both fell.
One of the guards pulled the officer away and cries went up to kill her immediately.
But he decided not to kill her, and that she should suffer first. He used a phrase in German, which she understood, that meant he wanted the grim pleasure of seeing her fight for life.
At that point I decided no matter what he did, how much they tortured me, I would not give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry or plead, she explained.
She lay still on the ground, not moving. The guards began kicking me, knocking and pushing me until she heard a woman's voice pleading them to stop, saying she must have fainted.
At that point the German officer said that if that were the case, she won't be alive any longer. He stood over her and fired. The bullet grazed her forehead but, there was blood all over my face, and when they looked they thought I was dead.
She remembers that, I was thinking very clearly at that moment, more clearly than ever in my life. I was thinking of all people, especially my family and I was still hoping that nothing would happen to them.
Feigning death, she heard sounds then of the people being marched away. Later she would learn that because it was then dark and late, the German officer who was acting on his own rather than from any orders in deciding to kill them chose to let them live for the moment.
She was left on the ground with a single guard to watch her, and then came more terrifying moments.
He searched her first for money or valuables; he then grabbed her arm and then her leg, trying to break them, to make sure I was not alive. It was so painful; I felt like every bone was broken. But I didn't utter a sound. I knew if I did it would be the end of me.
Before leaving, the guard made a final check, picking up her hand to feel for a pulse. Still he had no indication I was alive.
After he left, she was able to make her way to nearby barracks, crawling between passes of a searchlight, and hid beneath one throughout the night.
In the early morning the Germans discovered her absence. She had already discovered her people were in the barracks building above her, and they tried to hide her.
But Schroth arrived screaming in German, Where is the beast? When he threatened to kill everyone, she emerged and approached him. I felt nothing at all. All I was concerned about was that they not kill my people. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside to a small enclosed storage area.
She was not killed. Instead, because the German in charge of the city had learned about her and, she learned later, because her fiancé had given a diamond in hope of saving her, she was saved, for Auschwitz.
She learned that her fiancé had been told, I don't have to kill her; you are all going to be sent to Auschwitz anyhow.
The next day, she and the others were packed aboard freight cars to be shipped away. But after hours, were released.
Unfortunately, we were finally put on the train and sent to Auschwitz where many of us met immediate death.
A very small minority of us survived and are still able to tell of the horror of that night, able to testify about what happened.
Years pass, but these things should not be forgotten. People should be treated as people, not as animals.
I remember. I know. Other should know how to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future of humanity.
It was a dark and gloomy day in our town of Wierzbnik-Strachowitz, when in the morning at approximately eight o'clock; we heard the yelling and shouting of the S.S. beasts. Get out! Get out! they screamed unceasingly.
With terrible fear and trepidation, each and everyone left his house for the Square, where the Nazi preying wolves ordered us to stand in numerous Jewish homes. They were murderous shots aimed at people who were not fast enough to leave their houses.
We lingered at the Square until the afternoon, when suddenly, we heard bloodcurdling shouts, Line up! Soon after we were forced to march forward on the way to perdition. With tears in our eyes and bleeding hearts we marched in the direction of the railroad station. Suddenly, I was removed from the line of people and ordered to stay in town. My task was to serve in the clean-up force (Raum-Kommande).
As soon as I realized what my fate held for me, the last parting from my family and my dear friends, I posed to myself this question, By what merit have I, Leibush Herblum, been chosen to serve in such a holy task, to engage in the burial of our martyrs? Will this be my last privilege?
I cast a last glance at the martyrs and my dearest, wife and children, my friends and acquaintances my whole world was to disappear. Bloody tears streamed from my eyes and moistened the death-darkened road. Oh Lord of the Universe, avenge the bloodshed of the holy ones, of the pure and the righteous!
The clean-up force, which consisted of twenty people, including myself was commanded to march toward the Jewish graveyard of the town. There we beheld unspeakable horrors. Every few minutes a new transport of slaughtered Jews arrived, the cherished ones who had died a martyr's death. We counted 48 bodies, 26 men and 22 women, whose bodies were scattered in the area. We were commanded to bury our murdered brethren.
We dug two graves, a separate one for the men and one for the women. While at work one of the young men of the clean-up unit, Eliyahu Sharif of the town of Bazechin, broke his leg. A Nazi shot him on the spot. The bullet pierced his mouth, and while he was fully conscious, we were ordered to bury him alive. It is difficult to describe my feelings at that moment. It seemed to me that the ground we stood upon would give way; the earth would open its mouth and swallow the universe. At the very last minute, somehow the order was changed to place him in our bunk. Even then, his luck was shortlived; the next morning he was killed.
With great awe, and with the sense of performing a holy task, I buried the martyred women. Amongst the murdered were: Dvorele Morgenstern, Miriam Kaufman, Freindel, and wife of Fischel Menashe. Amongst the 26 murdered men were: Yosef Reuven Lichtenstein, Moshe Pinchas Lichtenstein, Henich Kaufman, the son of Yisroel Yizchak, Fischel Drexler, Moshele Kamf, Moshe Krazman, Shlomo Melamed. Three martyrs had prayer shawls (talesim) to cover their bodies. I did all I could and more than it had seemed possible to bury them honorably, with due respect to their holy and cherished memory.
Before our own eyes perished the elite of our town. Our hearts became afflicted, and we were engulfed in darkness. It is fitting to quote in honor of these martyrs the following opinion of our sages:
One who stands near the dying at the time when he breathes his last, he is in duty bound to rend [his clothes]. To what is it like? To a scroll of the Law that is burnt. (Sabbath 105; Moed Katan 25ff, and Rambam, The Laws of Mourners, chapter 9.
One has to rend twice, once for the sake of the parchment (which implies the body), and the second time for the sake of the script (which implies the soul). Rashi, the illustrious commentator, elucidated thus, For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light. (Proverbs 6, 23). The soul is called light, for it is written, The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord. (ibid. 20, 27).
Further, in the tractate of Sabbath (105b), it is said:
If a sage dies, all are his kinsmen. All are his kinsmen? Can you think so? Rather say, all are his kinsmen, all must rend [their garments] for him; all must bare [their shoulders] for him for whoever weeps for a worthy man is forgiven all his iniquities [And] if one sheds tears for a worthy man, the Holy One, blessed be He, counts them up in his treasure house, for it is said, Thou count my grievances; put thou my tears into thy bottle, are they not in your book. (Ps. 56, 9).
Thus we bewail our martyrs and lament their passing twofold. Once because they were the embodiment, while they were alive, of the best in human qualities and secondly, because we were deprived of their good deeds and the further contribution that they could have made, if they were allowed to live their full natural span of life.
When I returned from the cemetery, I was met by two S.S. men, and they ordered me to follow them. I obeyed and walked after them to the local police courtyard. There I found two bodies that were shot by the wild beasts. These were the brothers Aharon and Noah Silverberg, the sons of Abraham Silverberg. Outside the courtyard, I found the body of a murdered child whose name was Mordechai David Cornwasser. I somehow dug up a cart, placed in it the martyred bodies, and gave them a Jewish burial. On Friday morning, the third day of the Nazi atrocities, I was led by an S.S. murderer on the road to Boagi and was ordered to bury two young children. These were the children of Reise, daughter of Shmuel Isers.
With a bleeding heart and eyes full of tears, that still remained, I gave these children a Jewish burial. Again, after I returned to the bunk, I was awaited by a murderer who ordered me to bury yet another martyred girl whose body was lying in a room next to the bunk. And again, I was called to drag out a murdered victim from under the bed to give him a Jewish burial. This was the body of Moshele, the son of Naftoli.
It is not in my power to describe and to enumerate all the horrors and the murderous deeds of the Nazi beasts. Too numerous were the victims I was ordered to bury within the frame of the clean-up group to which I was a part of. May their memory be blessed and may the Lord revenge their blood.
These are the facts conveyed to me by one of the eminent citizens of our town, a man of splendid deeds and accomplishments. In the words of the Sages: A fully rounded man Mr. Leibush Herblum. He endangered his life every second of the day in order to fulfill his holy task and to carry out the burial of our martyrs in accordance with the Jewish laws, He thus performed acts of true kindness and to this day he fully lives up to the dictum of love thy neighbour as thyself. Mr. Herblum is especially dedicated to the welfare of the descendants of our town (the poor of your town come first') and is responsive to their needs. Whoever knows him extols his praises. It is therefore our honorable duty to inscribe him in this Memorial Volume and may his light shine as the glow of the firmament forever.
I was born July 7th, 1940 in Wierzbnik, Poland. My parents were Ben Zion and Sala Baranek.
In 1942, just before Hitler liquidated all Jews from Wierzbnik, my parents gave me away to a Polish couple in Warsaw and I took on the identity of Zosha Murofska. I was two years old and spoke perfect Polish.
Two days after my parents gave me away, they were taken to a labour camp in Wierzbnik called Tartak. From Tartak, my parents communicated with the Pole who kept their child. He was to keep them informed about her health and they in turn would pay him at regular intervals, as agreed upon. After a few months, my parents were transferred from Tartak to Myufka and they had no choice but to ask somebody in Tartak to communicate with the Pole on their behalf. My parents gave this person all the information and money to pay for me. When the Pole came, this person paid him and at that time asked him to take the son of Mortry Maslowicz, a little boy who was hidden in the Tartak Camp with him. The Pole agreed and took the little boy to his home.
This, I believe, was a very important step in my life, an actual turning point. The only recollection of this part of my childhood was a little boy walking back and forth, back and forth and I sitting crossed-legged like an Indian for days on end. The Pole was arrested by the Germans and his wife, was in fear of her life, especially since she was hiding a Jewish boy, had no alternative and found us a new home, beside Warsaw.
The Nuns were very good to us and tried to keep us alive with what little they had. I can remember the hours spent on my knees in prayer, the Virgin Mary was taught to be our one and only Mother. I do not know the date, but I remember when again, I had to leave my home. The Germans made the Nuns evacuate their home and we all had to get out within hours. The healthy had to walk the long journey to Zakopany. Babies and the sick rode in buggies. It was winter and those who had no shoes had to walk barefoot in the snow. When we arrived in Zakopany it was Christmas and I will always remember the warmth and light of that very beautiful Christmas tree. My new home consisted of tables for beds, bread and milky soup once a day and devoted prayer.
When the war ended, a Jewish lady took us away from Zakopany. There were five of us: three girls and two boys. It was a rainy night and I can remember being carried out to the horse and buggy that would take us to a new home. From the horse and buggy we went into trucks that had been waiting for us, and it was here that I got my first taste of sugar in cubes. I recall being very sick for quite a long time and then, we arrived at our new home a Jewish orphanage in Bellevue, in the outskirts of Paris, France.
My Father died in Motthausen. My Mother survived and in 1944 she began her long journey in search of her child.
My Mother's search began in Warsaw. It was a great shock to her when she learned from the Polish lady that her child was no longer there, and in fact had no knowledge of my whereabouts. From here, Mother went to the Missing Children's Bureau in Warsaw. Her daughter, Zosha Murofska was listed as one of many children brought to the Convent outside of Warsaw. From here they traced her to Zakopany and then to a committee who had taken out five Jewish children. My Mother's next step was to go to this committee, who informed her that two days before, all the Jewish children were taken to an Orphanage in France. It had taken my Mother one full year to accumulate all this information. She wrote to Miss Keller, who was in charge of the Orphanage and gave her all the information about me. It was another full year before my Mother was able to get all the papers she needed to go to France, and in 1948 she left Poland. She took me out of the Orphanage just a week before all the children were taken to Israel. It was another four months before my Mother could get all the necessary papers to come to Canada. We arrived in Toronto to begin our new life in March of 1949.
Sam Stein (in Wierzbnik, Sam Bumstein). My Father was Avrum Pavlavor and my Mother, Chana.
In 1929, my sister Brucha brought me to Toronto, Canada from Wierzbnik. During the Second World War, I served with the Canadian Forces Army, and in 1945, at the tail end of the war, I was shipped to the European Theatre. First, however, I went to England for training and then the camp was all cleared out and we were shipped to the Continent. After much going back and forth, I was sent to Germany, one of 30 Canadian soldiers of the First Canadian Railway Company as reinforcements. I was stationed at Ebenburen, Germany. I spent all my spare time trying to track down the camps but to no avail.
While I had been training in the United Kingdom, I had written a letter to my brother in Paris, France as France was now liberated but there had been no reply. While I was in Germany, a letter was forwarded to me from Paris from my nephew. I had to find a French Canadian soldier to interpret the French writing, and he found it quite difficult to understand. The drift of the letter was that my brother had disappeared, leaving no trace, but he, a brother, and their Mother had survived. He had been so long in answering because they had only just returned to liberated Paris, and as my letter was in Yiddish so, he too had difficulty finding a translator.
I was so anxious to see them, and I began to cause a lot of excitement around the army camp. I approached the Commanding Officer for permission to leave and go to France to see my surviving family. Permission was granted and I had an extraordinary first meeting with my sister-in-law, her oldest son who had written to me, and another son who had gotten compassionate leave from the French Forces to meet me.
When my leave was over, I was transferred to the Army of the Occupation and shifted to Baad Tsvishen, near Oldenburg in Germany. I continued again to search for the 'camps and inquired of everyone and every place I could. Finally, I discovered that there was a camp in existence not far from Hannover, which was Belsen. I found out how to get to Belsen and upon my arrival there asked how to get to the camps. No one appeared to know anything about a camp.
A group of British soldiers were leaning on a building and as a last hope; I approached them and asked for the Belsen camp. But they too said they knew nothing. I argued with them for over an hour, and finally one soldier asked if perhaps I meant the honey camp and if so to follow a group of 5 men passing by as they were from the honey camp.
I followed the men from across the street and as I listened, I heard Yiddish being spoken. I crossed the street and greeted them with Shalom. They immediately looked at me with typical inquisitiveness of the Jewish nature and proceeded to ask me where I was going and who I was going to see. My first question to them produced the answers to Who are you? Where are you from? They were Ostrowicers, a place not far from Wierzbnik. I then asked them with much courage if there were any Wierzbnikers in the camp and they replied, The camp is full of them. My heart began to pound loudly, for there was now hope of finding my family. From then on my feet seemed to be made of clay and that last stretch of walking to the camp was an eternity.
Inside the camp we seemed to walk forever, until we came to the Jewish section. We walked along the street and then one of the men pointed out Landsleit of mine: Herschel Feigenbaum and his 18-year-old daughter (Herschel, son-in-law of Yitche Meyer Schoichet). He came over and we introduced ourselves, and I asked about my family. He told me he had been in Chevra Kadisha when my Father died in 1942, and had buried him. From the description given it must have been due to starvation. When I asked what had become of my Mother and my younger sister Pesel and her family; his [Feigenbaum's] daughter replied, Treblinka. Upon hearing that one word, I felt the earth should open beneath me and swallow me up. I completely lost my composure. It didn't take long to regain it and now that I knew my family had been wiped out, I asked about other Wierzbnikers.
He began sounding off names which tumbled over me in my sense of loss and then I heard familiar names, Chaim Kleinberg, Boruch Zuckerman, Shier Schnieders and these and other names jarred me back to me senses and I asked to see them.
Herschel Feigenbaum sent his daughter to bring my Landsleit. I wasn't there very long when Chaim Kleinberg appeared. He took one look at me, fell on me and kissed me. I assumed he thought I was his brother Yosel who lived in Canada, because of the Canadian uniform. He looked so terrible, just like everyone else and there is no need to dwell on that. Now that my family was gone, these Wierzbnikers were my family and I asked myself, what can I do for these people? I stayed in the camp for a few days and went around seeing others like Roize Shmiel Isses and her daughter. Roize was very ill at that time. Then, I saw Yoinelle Kliman, Romek Zinger, and so may others whose names escape me now. Many are currently living in Israel.
When I returned to my company, I began to try something to help all the inmates of the camp. I found Rabbi Mussman with the United States Forces, a chaplain with an office in Bremin. He and I met and I discovered he was helping these people and he said that anything I could bring is needed. As per tradition, we were 2 Jews and began planning to see what we could do together to help. Pretty soon, I found other Canadian Jewish soldiers, officers, and servicemen whose hearts were also asking how to help. We got together every so often and accumulated whatever we could to bring to the camp, to help make our fellow brethren's life a little better. We turned over the goods to the Jewish Committee inside the camp for distribution to the most needy. I also performed a marvelous postal service for the inmates. I would send letters to my wife to be passed on to families in the rest of the world from the inmates, thus uniting families, which many of whom had given up hope. The answers of course, were sent to me, and when the mail was distributed to us, I always had many letters from all over the world. When I'd return to the camp, I always had a terrific bundle of mail for the survivors. This was carried on until my return to Toronto.
It gives me great pleasure to see so many of those Wierzbnikers I met under such horrendous conditions in the camp, now successful members of our community with families and friends. When I attend their Simchas and see the happiness of these same people, I can't help but look back to 1945-1946, and remember. It does my heart good to see how well things have gone for them. Of course, the memories they carry with them every day of their lives overshadow so much of their lives. But they have done a tremendous job of living with them and adjusting to a new world.
When I first came to Wierzbnik, before World War I, it was a peaceful, pastoral and growing town, and it I never guessed that my entire life would become entwined in the fate of this community and its Jews, from its beginning to its tragic downfall. But time has made that unforeseen future into a reality.
The first time I came to visit Wierzbnik I was accompanying my father, a lumber trader by profession who owned a lumber-mill in the town of Kunów. The purpose of this trip was a lumber deal with the famous firm Heller. The owners of this firm have left their mark on the town's economy and did much for its growth. The owner of the factory, a German Jew named Noah Heller, was among the great lumber-traders of our time and procured many wooded areas near our town, which produced lumber that was processed in a special lumber-mill built for that purpose. This lumber-mill employed a full staff of workers and clerks, each an expert in his respective field and all of then naturally Jews, particularly nationalistic Jews.
The manager was a great man, a Russian Jew called Mendel Rubin, a symbol of the nationalistic Jewish intellectuals among the Russian Jewry. He came from the town of Mir, birthplace of former Israeli president Mr. Zalman Shazar who mentions him, among other residents of his town, in his book Morning Stars. Rubin has chosen a team of some 60 employees from among the townsfolk, among them some of the town's elite such as Avraham Mordechai Rotbart, Heinich Kazimierski, Moshe Bernstein, Nachumovski, Gendler, Aichler, Tenzer and others.
This factory was practically a different realm. It provided income for major parts of town; gave the town's development a financial and industrial push and also spread Zionism among the Jews.
The firm owned by the Brothers Lichtenstein encouraged and spread these values and promoted the community, establishing a plywood factory in the forest-surrounded town, among the first pioneers to promote this industry in Poland. The enterprise was initiated by the brothers' father, Mr. Meir Zanvil, who built a great lumber-mill on the road to Starachowice. As the surrounding neighborhood grew, the main street came to be called Starachowicka Street.
The plywood factory was owned by the four Lichtenstein brothers: Moshe Pinchas, Yoseph Reuven, Avraham and Daniel. Each brother was a remarkable person in his own right, and each had unique character, innovativeness, a spiritual, cultured attitude which brought them from the big city of Lodz and their fundamental Jewish lifestyle that won the respect of townsfolk. To this we add the fact that many of the local Jews found employment in their factory, and their contributions to various charities were generous.
We should therefore note a few aspects about the lives of the four brothers, whose positive contribution was both evident and significant:
Daniel was the key founder of the factory. He and his wife, Helcha, were highly educated people who took part in the turbulent events of 1905, a time of rebellion against the Tsarist regime and of political storms that swept the country. This involvement has forced them to leave the country around the turn of the century, leaving the factory in the hands of the other brothers. As Jewish nationalist revolutionaries, they naturally chose Israel as the place to realize their national ambitions. In Israel they were among the founders of Petah Tiqwa. During World War I they were deported, among all other Russian citizens, by the Turkish government that ruled Israel at the time, never to return from this exile.
Moshe Pinchas was a learned Jew, whose countenance and manners revealed his nobility. He took an active part in the social life of the community and was among the founders and managers of the Talmud Torah School. His pleasant voice could be heard at the synagogue located by the Talmud Torah, attracting worshipers and increasing attendance.
He was also a member of the Shtibl of the Gur Hasidim and as a long-time follower of the Rabbi of Gur, visited them frequently. He willingly and faithfully supported each institute and synagogue. While he lived at the center of town (at Laskovski's house), his residence was a gathering place for scholars, attracting many of the town's public activists and elite. As his future son-in-law, I had the chance to attend a Purim party at his house in 1913. This party, which was attended by important townsfolk, left a great impression on me despite being used to such events at my father's house.
Yoseph Reuven was a unique man, gifted with many talents, both an experienced lumber-trader and a scholar with a rare memory. His intellect and his kindness drew all the scholars, young and old, to him. He related to and kept in touch with the Rogachev Gaon. In the years before his passing, he lost his sight and therefore memorized various religious writings by heart.
Avraham was an expert lumber-trader and represented the factory, while still being publicly active in both Wierzbnik and Lodz, the city he lived in until he immigrated to Israel.
Clearly, the Lichtenstein family added an important layer to the fruitful activity of social and public life in town, and their influence was considered positive indeed. It is not surprising that Hershel Lichtenstein, son of Moshe Pinchas, was among the young Zionist activists in town even before a branch of The Zionist Organization was founded there.
As a matter of fact, even before marrying a girl from Wierzbnik, I was socially active in my town of Ostrowiec, which was already related to Wierzbnik. You may recall that the rabbi of that community was Rabbi Yaakov Aharon Regensberg, and among his followers and supporters were both workers from the Heller factory and the Lichtenstein brothers. My brother-in-law, Gershon, who later immigrated to Israel, was also one of his devout followers.
After the bloody clashes in Lemberg in 1918, the Jews of Ostrowiec were called to gather at the Beit Midrash to mourn the victims. I have arranged for Rabbi Yaakov Aharon of Wierzbnik to say the eulogy during that touching event. As a social activist familiar with the rabbi and his skills, I worked to secure the permission of public activists, the Gabai and particularly that of the Ostrowiec Gaon. This proved to be a fine choice, as the rabbi's eulogy was touching and left a lasting impression on those attending.
I had many opportunities to make contacts with the many families related to my fatherin- law. Thus I made friends with the family of Menashe's son Fishel (Fishel Najman), his son-in-law, the butcher Israel Szarfharc, the Gutermans, Dreksler, Tenenbaum, Kornwaser, Brodbeker, Herblum, Frimerman, Singer, Kleiner and others.
The atmosphere in Wierzbnik was Zionist even before my arrival, and so when I moved there, backed by a considerable record of social and public life, I became acquainted with members of the Zionist movement Yoseph Dreksler, Moshe Birenzweig, Moshe Feldman, Leibale Tenenbaum, Avraham Zylberberg, Yitzhak Laks, Yoseph Tenzer, Itche Singer, Yoseph Unger and others, including of course my brother-in-law Hershel Lichtenstein. We made plans and focused our attention on expanding and increasing Zionist activism. And indeed we managed to widen the existing frameworks and introduce Zionism and Zionist contents to additional classes and members of town. These welcome enterprises and cooperation have helped in the founding of the Tarbut Hebrew School, a cornerstone for spreading the Hebrew language and imparting Jewish nationalistic values, particularly among the young.
As the son of a devout, traditional Jewish family, I tried to prevent Zionist activism from conflicting with tradition, instead characterizing and reflecting all the different trends of Zionism. We established a Zionist Minyan within the Zionist organization, which won the appreciation of both critics and sympathizers. This Minyan was particularly useful during the holidays, offering chances to collect donations to the Jewish National Fund, the Keren Hayesod Foundation Fund and others. During the ten days before Yom Kippur I was granted the honor of leading prayer, a role in which another of our members, Mordechai Lipstein, excelled as well. Our prayers were accompanied by the Zionist choir led by Yoseph Unger. And so the Zionist activity branched, becoming a guide and symbol for all nearby towns.
As the chairman of this vibrant organization during most of its prosperous period, before its tragic demise, I was always on top of events and did my best to act, motivate and create Zionist cells and youth movements, guided and supported by the entire Zionist structure.
But my interests were not limited to the political field only. We were also aware of the financial aspects of most social classes, and managed to accomplish an impressive feat, establishing a Jewish bank in town with myself as its manager. This bank has eventually earned the trust of craftsmen who needed loans and they no longer had to depend on the good will of gentiles.
As an activist in both the public and financial fields I had extensive contacts among the different classes of the Jewish public as well as constant contact with representatives of the polish public and the authorities.
When the Jewish residents were allowed to take part in the elections for City Hall, they have chosen several men of means as representatives: Yoseph Dreksler, Shmuel Isser, Peretz Troper, Shimshon Frimerman, Yitzhak Singer, Chaim Brodbeker and myself. I also had the honor of being chosen as chairman and coordinator of the Jewish group. We participated in city council meetings and were charged with protecting the rights of the Jewish population, preventing or dulling the edge of the Polish edicts and suggestions that would limit and constrain the Jewish population in various manners.
I was thrice chosen as a member of the city council and once as a member of city council management. During this time I gained access to all the local authorities and could intervene and influence things in times of need. Along with the representatives of the Polish public I made public appearances on special occasions and these appearances have clearly earned us the respect of the gentiles. I'd like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to my partner in these activities, Yoseph Dreksler, a great man and a conscientious Jew who was dedicated to the cause. I also fondly remember my friend Avraham Zylberberg, who despite being an orthodox Jew devoted his heart and his soul to the Zionist cause, dedicating to it much of his time and energy.
Before the formal organization of the community, public activity related to both religious and general public affairs was handled by the chosen leader of the community, Shmuel Isser. An organized committee was elected later, once again led by Shmuel Isser, and I was chosen as one of its members. Over time, the representatives changed and the community was led by Mr. Gelbtuch, an important activist from Wąchock. He was succeeded as community leader by Avraham Mordechai Rotbart, who did much to strengthen the boundaries of the community and revive it.
During the last two years before the outbreak of World War II, the community was led by the noble and educated Shmuel Pochachevski, who put much work and effort into turning the synagogue into a proper house of prayer, a pleasant place worthy of communion with our maker, a task he accomplished during his cadence.
Woefully, this holy place was stormed by soldiers as soon as the war broke out, and burned to the ground. This was the first sign of the dark days ahead, a sign that the unique chain of sacred Jewish values and the development of independent Jewish public activity were shrinking each day, becoming almost impossible. As aforesaid, I have witnessed the growth of activity in town and intertwined my fate with it, and so I also bore witness to the doom, the enslavement, the obstruction of any spark of Jewish initiative or independence, the desecration of a person's dignity and the image of God.
Before WWI, when I came to Wierzbnik, a small shtel with a pastoral appearance, for the first time, I could never have imagined that my entire future would be intertwined with that shtetl and its community, its Jews, its thriving and development until its tragic demise. What could not have been thought of at that time became converted into reality.
I came at that time in the company of my father, a major lumber merchant and the owner of a sawmill in the nearby town of Kunow. The purpose of my father's trip was a lumber transaction in the well-known firm Heller.
The Heller firm had placed its stamp on the shtetl's development. The owner of that firm, a German Jew called Noah-Nachi Heller, one of the most distinguished lumber merchants at that time, had then bought large lumber tracts in the Wierzbnik area, to exploit them for the sawmill he had built, and which employed a large staff, with clerks and specialists, almost all of higher ranks in different fields, and especially Jews with national pride.
The director-in-chief of the concern was a Russian Jew called Mendel Rubin, a personality, who symbolized a type of Russian Jew, a nationalistic intelligent class.
He originated from the town of Stoibtz (Stolbtsy), the birthplace of our distinguished President of Israel, Mr. Zalman Shazar, who mentions him among the characters in his book Kochvei Boker.
Director Rubin had a staff of about 60 people under him, clerks and laborers, among whom were important personalities, such as Avraham-Mordechai Rotbard, Henech Kazimierski, Moshe Bernstein, Nachumawski, Gendler, Eichler, Yosef Tencer, and others. The concern was like a kingdom in itself, which provided an income for a large proportion of the shtetl, thereby also bringing about the economic development of the shtetl, and it also had a spiritual influence on the community, because the majority of them were consciously nationalist-Zionist Jews.
The Lichtenstein Brothers company also contributed to the economic and spiritual progress of the community. As pioneers in the veneer industry, the Lichtenstein brothers built up one of the first veneer factories in Poland. The one who started the investments in Wierzbnik was the father of the Lichtenstein brothers, Meir Zeinwel, of blessed memory, who built a large sawmill on the road that leads to Starachowice, which with building and development received the name 'Starachowice Street'.
The owners of the veneer factory were four brothers: Moshe-Pinchas, Yosef-Reuven, Avraham and Daniel. Each of the brothers was a personality in his own right. Coming from the big city of Łódź and leading a big-city lifestyle, they naturally aroused a feeling of respect in the Jews of the town. This feeling only increased because they employed the largest proportion of Jews, and generously donated a large amount for the charitable activities of the community.
I should mention a few aspects of the characteristics and life of the four brothers, whose contribution to the community was so positive and outstanding.
The Lichtenstein family was generally Zionist in outlook, and contributed a great deal to the progress of the Zionist activity in the shtetl. Hershel Lichtenstein, Moshe-Pinchas' son, was a Zionist activist even before the founding of the Zionist organization and its institutions in the town.
But even before my marriage, as a prelude to my social activity in Wierzbnik, I had already taken the first step in that direction in Ostrowiec, namely that at that time the rabbi of the community in Wierbznik was Rabbi Yaakov-Aharon Regensberg, one of whose main adherents and supporters was, together with the clerical staff of the Heller factory and the Lichtenstein brothers, my brother-in-law Gershon, who later immigrated to Israel, and who was also his devoted disciple.
After the pogrom in Lvov in 1918, a mass eulogy also took place in the synagogue in Ostrowiec, in memory of the victims of the pogrom. They invited the rabbi of Wierzbnik, Rabbi Yaakov-Aharon, to deliver the eulogy. This had to be approved by the Gaon of Ostrowiec, of blessed memory. As I was already then a public activist, and on the other hand, well acquainted with the Wierzbnik rabbi, I received the permission for the eulogy in the synagogue, which was packed with thousands of people, and the sermon by the Wierzbnik rabbi really did leave an extraordinary impression. With the passing of time, it was seen that I was in touch with many distinguished families, who had business with my father-in-law. Among others, I was friends with Fishl Neiman's family, with his son-inlaw Israel Scharfhartz, the ritual slaughterer, the Guttermans, the Drekslers, Kornwassers, Tennenbaums, Brodbekers, Herblums, Frimmermans, Singers, Kleiners and others.
Even before I came to Wierzbnik, extensive Zionist propaganda activity had already developed, and among the first row of activists that I got to know in my Zionist work were my brother-in-law, Hershel Lichtenstein, Yosef Dreksler and also Moshe Feldman, Lebele Tennenbaum, Avremele Zilberberg, Yitzhak Laks, Yosef Tencer, Itcze Singer and others.
When I came to Wierzbnik I had already undergone an internship of community work in Ostrowiec, and so I immediately approached the above-mentioned Zionist activists, to develop, deepen and expand the Zionist work.
Thanks to our joint initiative, we established the base for the Tarbut School, which over time became the foundation, the center for the extension, deepening and instilling of Zionist thought in the broader sectors of the Jewish people in the town.
Stemming from an extremely religious, traditional family, I made great efforts to ensure that the Zionist work would not be done contrary to religious outlooks, but would be able to characterize and permit the expression of all the elements and varied streams of Zionism. We created a Zionist 'minyan', which was very warmly attended by the members of the Zionist organization and also by various sympathizers. The holidays had a special character, and were marked by collections for the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod and other monetary activities.
On the High Holidays I was especially honored with a seat in the front of the synagogue, as a public persona. My friend Mordechai Lipstein, who also excelled in this area, had his prayers accompanied by the choir led by Yosef Unger. This is how the Zionist work grew and spread, which served as an example for the entire province and neighboring area. As the chairman of the Zionist organization throughout all the years, until the tragic downfall, I always kept my hand on the pulse and attempted to fix and strengthen the work, founding Zionist youth cells, which would draw their nourishment from the Zionist stem.
But we were not only motivated by political problems, we also dedicated our interest to the economic side of the Jewish masses in the town.
A special event was the establishment of a Jewish bank under my direction, which immediately gained the trust of the Jewish merchants and tradesmen, who no longer needed to approach the Gentile bank for loans. Being in the framework of Zionist work and also active publicly and economically, I came into contact with broader sectors of the Jewish masses and I achieved close contact with the representatives of the Christian population.
Over time there were elections for the city council in which the Jewish population also took part, and a Jewish circle was formed in the city council, in which I took part together with the following property owners: Yosef Dreksler, Shmuel-Isser, Peretz Traper, Shimshon Frimmerman, Yitzhak Singer, Haim Brodbeker, and I was elected to be the chairman of the Jewish circle.
Taking part in the city council, the Jewish representatives had a permanent duty to defend the interests of the Jewish residents against the anti-Semitic decrees and pursuits to reduce Jewish rights, to economically limit them.
I was elected for three terms as a member of the city council, and during one term I was selected to be a member of the municipality.
Thanks to my constant public work, I had access to all government offices and was able to intervene when necessary.
My public excursions to various arenas and celebrations for the Polish public became known, and they brought much honor to the Jewish population.
At this opportunity I would like to emphasize that one of the most distinguished figures in the Zionist social work was my close friend Yosef Dreksler, who was very active and stood out for his devotion and temperament in all areas. The same applies to my friend Avremele Zilberberg, who was a nationalistic Jew, religiously observant and achieved a lot for Zionist-cultural purposes.
Before the rise of the community, communal activity was led by Shmuel-Isser. Over time, the representatives that led the community changed. For a certain time the person at the top was the important businessman Gelbtuch from Vanchikovtsy, and afterwards the position was filled by the talented, distinguished public activist, Avraham Mordechai Rotbard, who achieved a great deal for the welfare needs of the Jewish community. The last two years before the outbreak of the war, the work of the Jewish community was led by the active, energetic Shmuel Puchaczewski, who contributed a great deal of energy and effort to beautify every place, so that it would be pleasant to pray and study there and he succeeded in achieving his goal.
But unfortunately, to our great regret, with the outbreak of the war the first place to be destroyed was the synagogue, which was burnt to ashes. This was the first portent that grim days were coming, and that the chain of the specifically Jewish cultural values and social activities was being limited and cut off. Just as my life was closely tied to the development of the town, so I was a witness to its destruction.
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