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Belchatow 1914 – 1922 (cont.)


It occurred then that Hasidism also contributed a great deal to the development of the shtetl. True, we carried out a constant war with them, both individually and collectively. We considered them as the serious darkness. However, just looking back to a dynasty of so many years and with a little objectivity, we see the great virtues that they possessed and how they contributed, without class consciousness, to the progress of the shtetl.

We had two categories of pious Jews: Hasidim and balebatim [businessmen] (not misnagdim – followers of the Enlightenment). The Hasidim were almost all well educated, knew the minute letters [were well versed in Jewish teachings] and even knew worldly things. And the balebatim were simple working people, hard toilers. As for piety, perhaps the balebatim were much more pious than the Hasidim, because the Hasidim, as was their style, were too “friendly” with God and skipping a Minchah [afternoon prayer] was not a very big thing for them… Therefore, it was easier to be able to debate with a Hasid than with a businessman.

The Hasidim belonged to various rabbinic dynasties. The largest in number were the Gerer Hasidim (near 600), next were the Aleksanderer, then the Nowa-Radomsker, Radziner, Wolborszer and Rospesher [Rozprza].These were very few in number. Therefore, they were great scholars. The last two, the Wolborszer and the Rospesher, were not scholars; the largest number of them were simple, common, businessmen who posed as Hasidim.

The most eminent and most lively were the Gerer; they controlled everything in the shtetl and administered the Agudah [the anti-Zionist Orthodox group, also known as Agudas Yisroel].

The Gerer, as the other Hasidim, thought little of the Wolborszer and Rospesher “Hasidim” and, like other Hasidim, did not consider them at all. The real Hasidim also did not approve of their rebbes because they were “women's rebbes” (they took payment for advice – mainly – from women).

Fights among the various sects of Hasidim were never lacking: once it was because of a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] or a khazan [cantor]; another time because of a dayan [religious court judge], or about a rabbi or another religious functionary. Reasons for which to wage a mitzvah war [war of obligation] were never lacking. Very often arguments turned to beatings and even to denunciations. It happened many times that one Hasidic group banned the slaughtering of a shoykhet who belonged to another Hasidic side. Then they would send out a shamas [synagogue caretaker] to nail a declaration to each Jewish home that the food of all who had bought meat from this and that shoykhet is as treyf [unkosher] as pork. It happened that some, true, a few, who took this earnestly and the lunch was thrown out for the dog and they themselves ate heartache and, more, they had to kosher the dishes.

A number of those with religious functions were Gerer Hasidim. And although they, the Gerer, were the largest in number, they did not always come out as the victor in all of the quarrels. They had a particularly large failure in bringing a rabbi. The side of the middle class, who brought the Wolberszer Rabbi's son as the rabbi, was victorious after a quarrel of many Hasidim. And the rabbi, by the way, who “reigned” here for many years, was a very smart and cunning Jew.

With the appearance of the Bund and of the Zionists, the Hasidim found that a significant number of their young were being torn from them. Immediately it seemed that with the renown of the Bundists and the Zionists, the Beis Asher [House of Asher] began to “suffer disgrace and shame,” and no one remained to utter reproof because almost everyone had his own trouble in his own house… And a series of conferences began among the Hasidim, “What do we do?” How do we restrain the young so that they do not run to “them?” And with the approval of Agudah, it was, first of all, decided that they needed to give their young people something, something similar to that which they could have with “them.” Poalei Emunah Yisroel [workers for the faith of the Jewish people] was then founded in Belchatow. The Hasidic young had the opportunity to imitate and to play a role in unions with managing committees, with meetings and gatherings, with speeches and all of the other good things.

A time later, the Hasidim, with Agudas Yisroel at the head, created the Beis-Yakov schools for girls, so that another youth organization was added for them.

One of the ways to win back their young was also that the Hasidim lowered their tone a great deal in relation to their children. It was no longer a scandal to wear a stiff collar or pressed pants and it was even once ignored that a young man met with a young girl.

And we must concede that the Hasidim won a great deal with this. True, they did not at that time carry on any great activities, but nevertheless, their presence was really felt and in time they became a side one had to consider. Several years later, the organized Hasidic young became a very great power.

Our Hasidim, may their virtues be exalted, very much believed in the saying, “Love labor and shun power, and do not become close to the authorities. ” If a Hasid descended to a lower level and became impoverished; if a young man went off of kest [support of a son-in-law by his wife's father while he studies] and did not have something to do; if a Hasid was a failure – instead of becoming a teacher or a religious functionary, he became a barber. Some of them also became bookkeepers (they were called verk-firer [work leaders or guides] here).

I believe that there were not so many such Hasidim in Poland, Hasidim who were not only not ashamed of any craftsman, but were themselves craftsmen.

It is not an exaggeration if I say that 60 percent (we do not have any exact statistic) of all barbers in Belchatow were Gerer Hasidism. The first professional class union in Belchatow was actually the haircutters union, and to our satisfaction, it should be underlined here that the majority of the Hasidim in the union entirely supported the experiment of the class conscious proletarian. It is true that the leaders of the haircutters union were the Bundists. However, we had nothing to complain about the Hasidic membership. As a proletarian party, it happened that we had to carry out various strikes. However, we had very few strike-breakers to record among the Hasidic group. It must be added here that they, the Hasidim, always found themselves in an uncomfortable situation because at the time, the bread bakers also were Hasidim and came together in the same Hasidic shtibl and very often were from the same families.

If a strike took place in a trade, we made sure that several Hasidim would be found on the strike committee. At the negotiations with the manufacturers, for their comfort, we would arrange with them that they would speak little. It once happened that we were sitting with the manufacturers negotiating a new wage increase and, as usual, the shkutsim [plural of shaygets – non-Jewish male, often a derogatory term, but also indicating less pious Jews] were the spokesmen. A Hasidic manufacturer wanted to provoke a Hasid-proletarian and turned to him with these words: “Tell me, Shlomo (Liberman), you have nothing to say about this matter? Your job here is only as a quiet judge at khalitzah.[7] Let us hear your words!” The proletarian Hasid answered him: “We cannot all speak at the same time and, in addition, do you remember the Tractate: 'Silence is tantamount to admission.' It says that if we keep quiet it is a sign that we agree…”

One proletarian Hasid, Reb Moshe Aizyk (Bresler), paraphrased a gemara saying for us after each winning strike: “At first we really did not need to strike; because the weavers earned more? But, afterwards – go out.”

1921 was a very stormy year in Belchatow. This year was specially engraved in memories and left a very marked impression. During this year there was a regrouping of forces, a transformation that warned of new competition; this was the year in which a split in the Bund took place.

A discussion had long gone on in the Bundist press. Long articles with arguments for and against were written from all sides. And there were three sides. Each group pleaded its viewpoint. One group pleaded for “16 points” for progress. A second – “19½ points” and the third – an entire “21 points.” The groups were designated with the names of the points. Thus in the press, thus in the large cities and also in the small shtetl: “the 16s,” “the 19½s,” and “the 21s.” It also reached our shtetl.

Meetings, consultations, gatherings, reports and discussions were held day and night. The reports and discussions took place with our forces and also with those from outside who came from the center. The greatest wrangling and arguments took place at the election of delegates to the preliminary conference that took place in Lodz. And, then, during the election of a delegate to the general national conference.

The frictions and rift tendencies were already clearly felt. We were sure that even if it did not come to a division on a national scale, we would not emerge from this matter with our bones intact.

The first one on the fire was the “Culture Union.” The signs of division were already visible; many books, a flashlight and other trifles, were already missing from the library. And it was left for us to think about a very earnest question of what to do with the library? The library, which we so loved, that we thought of as the dearest of our possessions. We were ready to forfeit many things, but not our library. We were simply afraid that the books would be dragged to different places and the library that had been built up and protected with so much effort, love and reverence would become nothing.

After many nights of not sleeping, after many consultations and deliberations, it was decided with great heartache (many comrades cried at this) that for the safety and security of the library, we should provisionally remove the books from the Union and place them in private homes with two responsible comrades.

When it was learned in the morning that the library had been “captured,” the other side that had also considered doing the same thing, but had come a little too late – began a very great uproar, warned and threatened, but like Jewish thieves, we got away with empty threats.

The library existed in this way in private homes for a long time. Books, although not as often as earlier, were exchanged. Until the time came and the books were replaced in their spot in the closet of the Union and everything became normal again.

After the split in the Bund, the split off group under the name “Kombund” became active in Belchatow. Two comrades arriving from outside had a great part in the split in Belchatow: one the well known name, Comrade Hershl Bekerkunst and the other, a Lodzer, Comrade Aleksander. Actually this was the birth, the beginning of the Jewish Communist organization in Belchatow.

Although it lost a portion of its members, the Bund was not weakened very much. The opposite, it had to take on new strength for new challenges. It received a new, an important opponent in the form of the Communist party which, in time, grew into a large movement.

The leader of the new party in Belchatow was our former comrade, Yechezkel Birencwajg.

* *

In 1922 a great emigration of the Belchatow Jewish youth began. There were many reasons: in first place was the economic one. After the ending of the First World War, when everything slowly began to start and become normal, the situation for the Jewish workers hardly improved. Only a few fortunate ones succeeded in finding work in the mechanical weaving factories; the majority of Jewish workers had to continue working in slavish conditions at hand weaving. A second cause was the anti-Semitism from which they ran as if from a fire. Another cause, I will say, was “adventuristic” – the young learned a little about geography, read many travel writings, saw before them a large, beautiful, wide world. They wanted to look at the world and not shrivel up in a small shtetl. So they sought means and ways to extract themselves from the shtetl.

There had once been a large emigration of working youth from here into the world. This was after the failure of the Russian revolution of 1905. Then the emigration was mainly to the United States of North America. This time it would have gone in the same direction if not for the quota decrees. As it was not possible to go to America, the travel was to wherever possible: to the Soviet Union, to Germany, France, Belgium, Eretz-Yisroel, Argentina, Brazil and other American nations. So that today, large groups of our landsleit are found in the United States, in Israel, in the Soviet Union and in Argentina. And smaller groups – in Belgium, France and Brazil. And individuals among our landsleit are found scattered in countries all over the world.

On one side it is a joy that Belchatow Jews are found all over the world, and on the other side, very sad that in our dear shtetl, Belchatow, there is not one living Jew to be found.

* *

I cannot end my description if I do not at least remember several interesting people and unusual types in Belchatow.

Our haimish [homey] and good Jews stand before my eyes and implore: Remember us, we accomplished something in our poor life!

Reb Levi Matseyvah Kritzer [headstone carver] (Reich): a Gerer Hasid, a scholar, a Jew, a know-it-all and can-do-it-all. The headstones that he carved were works of art adapted to each one's character: if the deceased was a kohen, one saw two hands giving the priestly blessing, if it was a levi, a hand with a pitcher that pours water on the hands of the kohen. For a Jew who was knowledgeable about Yiddishkeit [the Jewish essence; a Jewish way of life], a closet with religious books. If it was a deceased child – an extinguished candle; a grown child – a broken off tree. For a young woman who left several children – a lost flock of sheep without a shepherd… And so constantly. Today, the inscriptions on the headstones are actually poetry, it should be understood, matched to each one's character. What did this Jew not know? From exorcism from an evil eye to repairing complicated machines; from a page of the Zohar to painting a room with birds in the air. And if one of the few telephones possessed by the shtetl ceased to function – no one but Reb Levi was called. And if the rich man, Reb Mendl Jalowski, wanted to make a permanent sukkah in one room of his rich apartment, Reb Levi invented a machine, fastened in a crate on the wall and with a crank to open or close the roof from inside in a given minute. If this Jew had gone to school, he would have certainly been a great inventor.

Reb Eli Sherer [barber] (Leib), a rich man, also a scholar. He became impoverished during his middle years; he had to become an artisan. First a bookkeeper (with Reb Moshe Nechemia Teitlbaum) and then a simple worker – a barber (that is how he got the nickname). A great pedagogue: his days were calculated and divided to the minute. Although a factory worker, he always prayed with a minyan. He still had time every day for a few chapters of Psalms, a portion of the Chumash, a chapter of the Mishnah and then also a page of the Gemara. His closest friend was Reb Levi Matseyvah Kritzer. Like the other one, he knew everything. What his eyes had seen, his hands made: all kinds of carvings from wood and and from bone; taking apart and putting back together the most complicated machines. If a part was used up, he carved or poured another part, so that it was hardly noticed. He never took a watch to be repaired by the watchmaker and if Reb Levi ever had a complicated matter, the two Jews came together for a consultation and the mystery was solved. An artist was also submerged in Reb Eli Sherer.


Moshe Eliezer Pudlowski   Reb Eli Leib

Reb Yeshayahu Shrage. A respected Jew, a Gerer Hasid. Always wearing a long garment down to his knees (except on Shabbos). The constant bal-musaf [one who recites the supplementary – Musaf – prayers on Shabbos and holidays] in the Gerer shtibl during the Days of Awe. A Jew from generations of Hasidim.

Reb Yehiel Itshe Elbinger. A Radziner Hasid. A very bright Jew. A patriarchal Jew from a family with many branches. One of the greatest scholars of the shtetl, perhaps the greatest scholar.

Reb Josef Leibush Gruszke. A Radziner Hasid. Tall and straight as a stick. Always very earnest. It was said that he was never seen smiling, let alone laughing.

Reb Eli Feywl Gelbard and Reb Yakob Hersh Stadtlender. Two respected Jews, always dozores [synagogue wardens]. The mediators of the shtetl. One ran to them if a matter had to be undertaken with or requested of the regime. They did not make anything from this, did it only for the sake of heaven.


Yakob Hersh Stadtlender

Reb Shlomo Shamas [Szmulewicz]. The shamas of the synagogue. Accurately, the rabbi's attendant. He was a very intelligent Jew and also a sort of mediator who never did it for his own self interest.

Reb Yeshayahu, son of Zuske (Eksztajn). A Gerer Hasid. His was a bel-tekiah [blower of the shofar or ram's horn] by “trade” in the Gerer shtibl [one room prayer house] his entire life. It never happened during the blowing of the shofar that a tkie [drawn out sound] was the least imperfect. When he died, his son, Reb Moshe, son of Yeshayahu son of Zuske, took his place.[8] He also carried on his “mission” with great success and his father was never shamed.

Reb Mordechai, son of Josef: “The tall Mordechai, son of Josef” (Liberman). A Radziner Hasid. The father of a family with many branches. Tall, stiff and cold. “The small Mordechai, son of Josef (Jalowski), a Gerer Hasid, Lively, joyful. A piece of quicksilver.

Reb Lozer Szpigelman. A Gerer Hasid. A Jew, a very poor man. He was always ready to die in the sanctification of God's name. He was always the first one, the leader, in the wars with the non-believers. He always came out of such a war with another tear in his already ripped frock coat.

Reb Shmuel Yeshayahu (Szilit) and Reb Michalke. Both were dayonim [religious judges]. Both were occupied with deciding religious questions [usually deciding whether something is kosher or not] for the shtetl. The first was young, genteel; the other – old, angry. The first – lenient; the other – rigorous. The majority of the women went to Reb Shmuel Yeshayahu with a question. Shmuel Yeshayahu used an opportunity to explain: He said that with a rich Jew's question he is just as strict as Reb Michalke, but if a question comes to him from a poor man, it hurts his heart and he cannot say something is unkosher with a light spirit.


Reb Michalke

Reb Hershl Shoychet, Reb Berl Shoychet, Reb Chaim Itshe Shoychet, the Grocholicer Shoykhet, Reb Leibl Shoykhet (the son of the Opter Khazan [cantor], the Soyfer [scribe] and the Soyfetre [wife of the scribe]. Fine Jews, good Jews, some of the clergy of the shtetl.


Rochl, Hershl Shoykhet's wife   Reb Hershl Shoykhet

Reb Meirl Gerer (Starawinski), Reb Josef Shaul Krakowski, Reb Alter Bornsztajn (the fat Alter), Reb Mordechai Szpigelman, Reb Chaim Tusk, Reb Josel Warszawski, respectable Jews, Hasidim about whom it would be worthwhile to describe each separately with their virtues and, even, their faults.

Reb Berl Shamas (Gelbart). A Jew, a scholar and a Jew, a strong man and, in addition, unafraid. It was rare to find such a paradox in a Polish Jew: that learning and strength were united in one Jew. He was the father of 16 children (from one wife). In the synagogue in which he was the shamas he ran things with a strong hand. He had no greater respect for eminent, important Jews. Not even for the dozor [overseer]. He was not even afraid of the great show-offs. When he felt it was necessary, he gave them a loud slap and threw them out of the synagogue like a splinter. Everyone actually trembled before him. In order to characterize his fearlessness, a story such as this was told about him: Once, still in the Czarist times, he had to be a witness in the Piotrkower County Court on a very important matter. Before he was given the oath that he would tell the truth, he became bored with the game; he gave the judge a look of contempt, and blurted out in real soldierly Russian (he once served Fonya [Russia] for seven years): “Whoever bores me will have to spit me out…” He sat in jail for seven days for this statement.

“The blind Eli” (Reb Eli Gelbart). A son Reb Berl Shamas. A scholar, a misnagid [opponent of Hasidism]. A Jew, an influential man and a sage. However, he rarely used his influence, but always only with wisdom and with tact.

Reb Moshe Lozer Tomaszewer (Pudlowski). A Gerer Hasid. A great scholar. Spent more time in Ger than at home. And at home, the Gerer shtibl and the gemara interested him more than his own business.

Reb Mendl Josef Przedborski (the treybeczarcz [one who removes the forbidden vein from meat]). A clergyman, he would remove the veins from the cows, a Gerer Hasid, an irascible person. He was never satisfied, always had a complaint to someone…

Reb Yitzhak Leibush Przedborski (“kleyn tatele” [small father]). Brother of Mendl Josef. He was entirely the opposite of his brother. Also a Gerer Hasid, a very lively one, dancing, always cleaned up, happy, a fervent man of faith. He was sure that God would help, He must help! “Who else would He help if not His Jews?” He was a grain merchant. Once, it was in 1918, he failed in smuggling wheat and went to the Piotrkow jail for several months. It was the Days of Awe. He used his persuasion to have a Sefer-Torah [Torah scroll] and permission to pray with a minyan [10 men required for prayer]. He was actually the bal-tefilah [person who recites the prayers at the lectern], the bal-koyre [Torah reader] and also the bal-tekiah [person who blows the shofar or ram's horn]. When he came home after serving his term, he said that he knew why he had been in jail: not for smuggling, but in order to right a wrong. Because if not for him, the Jews who were in jail would not have prayed and, perhaps, not known that it was the Days of Awe and he not only had personal satisfaction from that, but he thought of it simply as a particularly rare honor.

“Chaya the baker,” their sister, a true woman of valor, a very smart Jewish woman and very pious, a Hasidiste [a female Hasid], went to the rabbis and presented kwitlekh [notes requesting the rabbi's intervention with God for a marriage for a child, a child for a barren woman, etc.]. Never ate without praying and the only thing lacking for her to be a man was a talis-katan [fringed undergarment worn by pious men]…

Reb Shalom Amshinower, Reb Hershl Dzialoszyner, Moshe Red (Tsingler), Joske Greger [rattle and noisemaker used on Purim at mention of Haman's name during the reading of the Megillah] (Bornsztajn), Melamdim [teachers]: Yeshaya Baber, Yoske Greger's son, types who each deserve at least to be remembered.

Reb Shalom “Ox” (Grynwald), Reb Yeshaya Dovid “oil presser,” Reb Yankl “winemaker.” Nisele Moshiekh [redeemer] – Hasidic toilers.

Reb Avrahaml Patshner (Czarnilas). A Jew, a great proprietor and extraordinarily pious Jew who believed with complete faith that he would live to see Moshiach [the redeemer].

The Kliszczewer Rabbi, Judl the son of the Rebbitzen [rabbi's wife], Ahron Pinkhus Bornsztajn, Shmul Chaim Kelman, impractical philosophers: it could never be learned what was more dominant with them – the impractical or the philosophy. The last one even made attempts to publish his own journal.

Perec Frajtag. The richest man in the shtetl, the first manufacturer on a large scale. He employed the largest number of workers and employees.

Michal Avigdor Pilawski. One of the Belchatow “Germans.” An intelligent Jew, an aristocrat. He could tell a fine joke.

Avraham Feldsher [barber-surgeon] (Laskowski). He was once a bad weaver, became a feldsher and made a very fine living from it.

Reb Yankl Feldsher (Warsawski). He was a good, educated Jew in the full sense of the word (even in the Jewish religious sense). In addition, he had a very fine character. It occurred more than once that coming to a poor sick man, he would not only not take payment for the visit, but left a half ruble so that the poor man could pay for the prescription.

Meir Warszawski, Yankl Feldsher's oldest son, was a communal worker, intelligent and a very good person. He stood at the head of the Zionist organization.

Rozenblum Brothers. There were four of them and what a giant contrast from one to the other. Each – a separate world: Zelik the oldest was a cultured man, Yankl – actually a peasant, Yudl – a toiler, a tailor, a very fine person, and the youngest, the Lobudzicer galakh [priest] – was a bit of an exception, half underworld, three-quarters convert – actually a hero of a trashy novel.

Itshe Leib Goldbersht. A great “book eater.” He was always the prompter at the dramatic troop of the Culture-Union until the split in the Bund.

Henoch Liberman, Avraham Liberman, from Hasidic (Radziner), rich parents. Dear, good, earnest and responsible friends. The first, the almost constant secretary, and the other, almost always the treasurer of the Bundist Culture Union.


From right to left:
seated: Avraham Liberman, Henoch Liberman
standing: Yechezkiel Birenzweig, Henoch Pigula, Henoch Grushka

Ruchl Lichtenfeld, Ruchl Szmulewicz and her brothers, Eli Twadowski, Moshe and Shimeon Szmulewicz, the Avramczyk brothers, the Statlender brothers, the Niwinski sisters and brothers, the Sztajn sister and brother, sisters, Yochowed and Gitl Eksztajn, Daniel and Leibush Warsawski, Chaim Meir Czeslowski, “the dark Berl” and Yeshayahu Langnas, each in their way and in their circle made themselves useful in communal work.

Henoch Pigula, a mix of young man of the House of Study and a wagon driver. A son of a Radziner Hasid, Reb Yisroel-Dowid Pigula.

Yissochar Przybylski, from a good family. His father, Chaim-Ber, a Hasid, a very sincere man of the people, from the Jews, of whom it is said: For God and for the people. Yissochar, a dear, devoted comrade. His words were weighed and measured. The responsible missions with which he was entrusted were always carried out faithfully by him.

Avraham-Ber “Poznanski” (Zylbersztajn), Yitzhak Goldminc, Yehiel Boruchowicz, Josef-Leib Gelbart, dear and good Jews. Founders and leaders of Mizrakhi [Religious Zionists].

Tsiml Jakubowicz, from an aristocratic, Hasidic family. Her husband, Yudl, who was not a Hasid, died young. He did not leave any riches. Therefore a full house of children (nine little souls) remained, with whom his wife drudged until they grew up and could help earn money. Most of the children were “Bundists.”

Yechezkiel Birenzweig possessed many qualities and also not a few defects. He came from the yeshiva, had read a great deal, was intelligent, smart, could speak before a crowd and knew what to say. He possessed a great deal of arrogance, courage and daring. And, in addition, was athletically built. With the virtues, he had enough defects: whims as if an only son of rich parents, thought a lot of himself; he considered himself an authority in discussions with the tone of a final judge… He came from simple people (his father was a wagon driver, “Makhl Furman” [driver]).

He was a good organizer, a leader (he liked this very much), but he did not allow himself to be led by others. He was a member of the party until the split in the Bund, but because of his individualistic character he never took any leadership positions. After the split he became the leader of the Communists, but in time, because of disciplinary reasons, he was shut out from it. He had three brothers. The one older than he, Kalman, was a rabbi in a shtetl somewhere in Poland and never visited Belchatow and the one younger than he, Shama – was also an intelligent and gifted young man, who was active in the Communist Party. He was later exiled because of this in Kartuz-Bereza, a Polish concentration camp.

Feywl Klezmer [musician, plural klezmorim] (Jakubowicz). Was renowned in the shtetl. The first fiddler and the leader of the klezmorim company, of whom almost all were from the same family: Zishe Klezmer, his father, Yude Klezmer – a brother and so on. They played at weddings and other celebrations. They also played at the weddings of nobles because they were the only musicians in Belchatow and the surrounding area. They were also invited to play at weddings in surrounding shtetlekh.

The Kradnikes (Felds).
It was a large, many branched family that had nothing to do with its name. They were honest merchants, manufacturers, toilers such as: Yankl, Josef-Leib, Perec, Mendl (the latter was dozor [synagogue warder] for a time and a martyr in 1942 – one of the 10 who were murdered). Perhaps the nickname Kradnikes [thieves] was taken from the fact that they were all smart, ingenuous, cunning, great wits and also a little sly.

The Kliczczewer Butcher (Lejzorowicz). Was an honest businessman, had several children, of whom two were particularly distinguished: one – Hersh Mendele, a thief, a bandit, an aggressor who was feared all over, and the other – Yakov (if I am correct) was a rabbi. A rabbi in the shtetl, Kliczszew.

Yankl Jakubowicz (“Yankl Fish”). An ordinary man, a tailor son of a tailor. An honest craftsman and a great tradesman. Mostly he sewed for the nobles around Belchatow. He was a strange Jew; he improvised extraordinary sayings and curses. It is a shame that they were not recorded. They were a treasury of folklore. Here, for example, are some of his curses: You should meet “Moshe Rabeinu's [Moses] tempest.” “Let a black wind enter your intestines.” “Let twisted lint enter your body.” “Let your head push you to your heart.” And so on. Older Jews said that his father, “Moshe Fish,” had an even larger variety of curses. It is really a shame that they were not recorded.

The Huberman Brothers. Der Skorpis” [the scorpions] or the Sons of Skorpis as the shtetl referred to them. They were three: Moshe, Mikhal-Wigder and Kalman. Wagon drivers. Very honest Jews, well-established businessmen. Unafraid Jews, sturdily built strong men, really athletes. If there was a Jew-gentile tumult, they were the first in the street and really saved Jewish honor more than once with their arms.

Hersh Dowid Furman [wagon driver] (Szwarcberg), Grunem's son, Itshe, wagon drivers. They also did not have to be asked when it came to administer blows.

The shtetl possessed a large group of young, bold strong men of whom the Christian population shook in deadly fear: Dowid's son, Note Hersh, Shimeon Lekekh-beker [cake baker], Avraham Alter Khmol, Yakov Hilel, Chaim Yankl, Grunen's son, Itshe, Yankl Pachczarsz, Melekh Krawicki and others. God forbid, not members of the underworld, but simply working young men, wagon drivers, young giants, who could exchange blows and they did inflict them when it was necessary and even when it was not necessary. They were always ready to defend Jewish honor.

Chaim Leib Drupczik. One of the thieves in the shtetl. Really more a victim than thief, because wherever a robbery took place, he was taken first and was beaten with murderous blows, so that he paid for all robberies, even those which he did not commit.

The Machabanskis were a large, many branched family. The Wengers and the Adlers belonged to the same family. All of them were very fine craftsmen, weavers. There were complete little factories in their house, with three or four and more looms. It depended upon how many children and apprentices one possessed. They almost always stuck together. In the synagogue, too, where they prayed, they had a separate table (the first one towards the door) at which only they prayed. A great number of “initiatives” of buffoonery were born at this table: If a Jew at the table during the reading of the Torah was engrossed in thought, one of them awakened him – Reb Berish, you are being called up to the Torah! The Jew quickly went up to the reading desk, but another Jew had already said the blessing… Another time they saw to it that two Jews would go up to both sides of the reading desk simultaneously and both would stand to recite the blessing. And if they succeeded in tying a feather duster to the tziztes [fringe] of the talis [prayer shawl] of one of the wise men (Avraham Luks, Moshke's son, Leibush, etc.) they convinced the gabbai that this one had a yahrzeit [anniversary of a death] and that he deserved an aliyah[9] At the faln Koyrim [kneeling in adoration] on Rosh Hashanah, when someone received a Makhsor [holiday prayer book] in his head, or even a boot – it was not from another corner, but from the Machabanskis.

The initiator of all of these jokes was Yeshayahu Machabanski, and his “scholar” was Moshe Grois [large].

Tsine's son, Hershl (Herckowicz). He had two trades; he was a shoemaker and a liar. He did not have food from his shoemaking. What he had from this trade was a pair of gallant, shiny boots, with high, small feminine heels. Try to imagine: A Jew with a wide, red beard, a Jewish hat with a long smock and boots with high heels.

He also did not have food from his second “trade,” but in his fantasy (in which he very much believed) he swam away to such high worlds with such enthusiasm and winged stories that he forgot that he had a wife and an entire gang of hungry, crippled children and that he himself was also not so sated. When all of his exaggerated stories had been recorded it would have been a treasure for Jewish folklore. As he had once served in the Czarist Army, a large number of his exaggerations were about the Czar and his gang. Everyone in the shtetl knew the Hershl possessed a small gold sword, “a gift from him, from the Czar.” The Czar's picture always hung on a wall in his home, “an award for heroism given by the Czarina herself.” When the Germans occupied Belchatow in 1914, no plea and no warnings by his Jewish neighbors that he should take the picture off the wall helped. He had good fortune that the picture was already so dotted by flies that for a long time one could not recognize who was in the picture.

Many Jewish men and also Jewish women stand before my eyes and ask that if they are not described, then at least remember, remember them as they were.

How can we not remember such Jews as Reb Leibush Fajner and his wife, Mikhal's son, Mikhal's son, Shlomo, Reb Avraham Pakter, Reb Motele the shaky one (Gliksman), Reb Alyakim Propan [propane] (Zwierczinski) and his sons, Reb Josef-Leib and Reb Shlomo Midlarcz [honeyed]. Leibush Moszkeske, Zarah Polakewicz (“the coffee roaster”), Jakow Ajzner (“the blind Jekev”), the very many branched Wilhelm families, Henech Michalski, Yankl Ostrowski, Yankl Flakowicz, Itshe Meir Girwec, Itshe Meir Valus [heavy] (Naperstek), Yankl Czitnicki, Avraham “Soldier,” Shmuel-Zakan Chojnacki, Josef-Ber “Paplok” (Jakubowicz), Manish Treger [porter], Moshle Dorfsgeyer [man who goes from village to village to either buy or sell things], Manele Shneyder [tailor], Groynem's son, Yekl, the old Binecki, the deaf Emanuel (Czikocki), Moshe-Lejzer Voitel [governor] “the tall Moshe,” Yudl the cake baker and his wife, Zakan the shoemaker, Yeshayahu the baker, Yudl Grocolicer and more and more dear and good Jews, merchants and toilers who labored very hard in order to honestly earn a piece of bread. May their names at least be recorded in this book of memories for our vanished shtetl, Belchatow.


Managing Committee from the Belchatow
Talmud Torah (Yeshiva)

Standing (from the right): Moshe Vishniewsky, Yechezkiel Pabianicer, Yosef Pigula, Berish Novak, Israel Starawinsky, Hershl Zeidman, and S.M. Reinbad.
Seated (from the right): Zeinovl Boim, Friedlich (the oil maker), Meyer (the black Meyer), Eliyahu Gelbard (blind Eli), Nissan Meir Warshawsky, Moshel Mendel Krawiczky


Participants in the Belchatower evening
courses with Aaron Bergman Brash


A group of school girls from the Beit-Yaacov School
[The sign in the photo says “Beit-Yaacov School Belchatow”]


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Khalitzah is the release, in the presence of religious judges, from a Levirate marriage – a marriage in which a brother is required to marry the widow of his childless brother. return
  2. It was customary to refer to someone as the “son of” or “daughter of” someone. Hence the repetition that his son was his son. return
  3. A call to read a portion of the Torah at the reader's desk. This is an honor and often given to one who is observing a yahrzeit. return

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