[Pages 341- 342]
by J. Kornblit
Translated by Howard Bergman
In the last several years before the great destruction, Chelm was a large center of Torah studies. There existed a number of Yeshivot and religious educational institutions. Three years before World War II, in 1936, the Lubavich Yeshiva was founded; one year later, the Radzyner Yeshiva was established. The Lubavich Yeshiva grew very quickly, becoming one of the loveliest in the region, but the Radzyner Yeshiva also became a distinguished seat of Torah learning.
There were forty houses of study where Torah learning took place day and night. Every one of us remembers the nights in the Belzer, Kotsker, Radzyner, and Gerer (Gora Kalwaria) small Hasidic houses of prayer. When one entered the houses of the Kuzmir Rabbi, Reb Pinchas, and the Reisher (Rzeszow in Polish) Rabbi, one became carried away with the saintliness of the Torah and Hasidism, and one forgot the entire ordinary world.
Friday evenings, from every Jewish home, Sabbath melodies were heard and Sabbath candles twinkled. An air of holiness floated in every comer.
On Saturday momings the streets were full of worshippers who were either going to or returning from the prayers. During the Sabbath day the streets were filled with promenading Jews. Lublin Street was overflowing with Sabbath Jews.
Jews in Chelm brought up their children with the Torah. The city could pride itself when compared with other towns.
The Agudat Israel (Israel Association) founded The Beit Yakov School where many students were learning. Parents would also send their children to study in other towns. Students from Chelm were enrolled in the Lubavich Yeshiva in Otwock; in Yeshivot and religious educational institutions in Kleck, Radzyn, Ludniir, Brisk (Brest), Baranowicz, and others.
The Agudat Israel maintained a large youth organization named Tsairi Agudat Israel. The chairmen of A. I. were Hersz Grodzicki and Heszl Fasz. The influence of A. I. on the Jewish communal life was markedly strong.
There was also in Chelm an organization of Mizrahi. Its chairman was Reb Nosn Mandel. The organization also maintained the youth division Tsairi Hamizrahi and Hapoel Hamizrahi.
Chelm had famous rabbis and teachers who were very influential in strengthening the faith.
To the extent that my memory serves me, I will recall the following Rabbis:
The Kuzmirer Rabbi, Reb Nukhem'che Twerski, HYD
The Kuzmirer Rabbi, Reb Nukhem'che, was the son of Reb Moyshe Leybele and grandson of Reb Nukhem'che who was the son of the Trisker Magid (Preacher). Rabbi Nukhem'che took over the leadership of the Kuzmirer Hasidim after the demise of his father. There were several thousand Kuzmirer Hasidim. Most of them lived in the Kielce region and when World War II broke out; the Rabbi was visiting his Hasidim in the town of Pinczow, where he probably died a martyred death together with all other local Jews. The Rabbi also had two brothers-in-law, one of whom was the son of the old Rabbi of Komarno. During the war he succeeded in traveling to the Soviet side, arriving in his home town of Komamo, near Lemberg (Lwow), where he perished when the Germans began the invasion of the Soviet Union. The second brother-in-law was Fishl Lazar, the longtime publisher of the Chelemer Shtime. In the last years, Fishl Lazar lived in Warsaw, where he was an instructor at Keren Hayesod. He perished in the first days of the war when German planes bombed Warsaw.
The Reyvitz (Rejowiec?) Rabbi, Yehoshue Avrom Alter Sochaczewski, HYD
The Reyvitz Rabbi was greatly loved in town. Day and night his house was a place of study. The Rabbi and his sons would sit at the Torah and work, demanding the same from his Hasidim and those who were paying tribute. The Rabbi, together with his children and son-in-law, Rabbi Gershon Henech Leiner, were killed by the Nazi murderers in a gruesome way.
Rabbi Pinkhas'l Lerer, ZTsL
Rabbi Pinkhas'l was a descendant of Rabbis Tudrus and Notele of Chelm. He passed away several years before WW II during an election in the nearby town of Selc. Rabbi Pinkhas'l had very few Hasidim, and the poverty in his home could literally be seen on the walls. He often traveled to the Gerer Rabbi. Rabbi Pinkhas'l was a sincere and devoted Jew.
Rabbi Israel Najhojz, HYD
Rabbi Israel Najhojz was the son of Rabbi Meyer Najhojz, ZTsL, the Rabbi of Tomaszow, the last rabbi of Chelm. Rabbi Israel Najhojz was the brother-in-law of the Bayaner Rabbi of Lemberg, and assumed the leadership of the Tomaszow Hasidim. Up to the last days of the war, Rabbi Najhojz tried to obtain the rabbinical position after his father, but opposing Hasidim did not allow that to happen. During the Hitler occupation in Chelm, Rabbi Najhojz was tortured by the Nazis as Der Rabbiner of the town. He perished under most tragic conditions.
Rabbi Gedalye Leiner, HYD
Rabbi Gedalye was the son of Rabbi Heshl, ZTsL, who was a brother of the Radzyner Rabbi Gershon Henech, ZTsL. Rabbi Gedalye was known as the author of the book Arkhut Khaim. Rabbi Heshl was the son of the Radzyner Rabbi, who was called the Beit Yakov and was highly respected for his honesty and righteousness. He perished together with all the martyrs of Chelm. To the consolation of all of us, his brother Rabbi Yerukhem Leiner, the current Rabbi of Radzyn who lived during the time of WW II in London, survived and now lives in the USA.
Rabbi Moyshe Hacohen Adamchyk of Chelm (The Rabbi of Krilow)
Rabbi Moyshe Hacohen Adamchyk, the Rabbi of Krilow, occupied the position of trustee to the religious community of Chelm for several decades. As an objective judge he would not deviate one iota from the Shulkhan Arukh (the Orthodox Religious Laws). He was the oldest Rabbi in town. He was known in the entire rabbinical world as a great Talmudic scholar and an honest man. His son published the well-known book Gan Ruva, a commentary on Pri Mgadim. In the book one will find an interesting introduction of his father, the Rabbi of Krilow.
The Krilower Rabbi passed away in the first year of the German occupation. Afler many long efforts, the Nazi authorities gave permission to bury him in a Jewish cemetery.
Rabbi Yehuda Hacohen Mendelson, HYD
Rabbi Mendelson was one of the most outstanding Kuzrmirer Hasidim, a scholar and a great student of the Torah. The Kuzmirer Hasidim tried to have Rabbi Mendelson accepted as a member of the Chelmer Rabbinate, but there was opposition. In spite of this situation, Rabbi Mendelson performed the rabbinic functions privately. He would render rabbinical judgments and people came to him with (ritual) questions. He died together with the whole Chelmer Jewish Community a martyr's death.
Jews of Chelm!
Wherever you may now be, wherever fate of Providence has dispersed you, remember what the German Amalekim (murderers) have done to you.
YIZKOR, Remember the beautiful, flowering Chelmer Jewish Community so atrociously annihilated.
Although our lament is very great and it is difficult to find any consolation, yet we must have confidence in the eternity of our people. But we will never forget our fathers; our mothers; our brothers and sisters; friends and acquaintances; our neighbors, and all other Jews of the Chelmer Community, who, along with the other millions of our people, were burned and slaughtered. We will forever mourn our great devastation.
Let our pains and the feelings in our hearts, together with this Yizkor Book, remain an eternal memorial for you Jewish Kedoshim, to whom we pledge never to forget.
|1.||HYD - Hashem Inkoym Domoy (May the Lord Avenge His Blood) return|
|2.||ZTsL - Zikhroyne Tsadik Livrokbe (Of Blessed Righteous Memory) return|
by R. Rikhszrajber, Australia
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Almost everyone in Chelm knew the intelligent communal worker Shlomo Samet, who would often stroll on Lubliner Street with slow steps, tapping with his cane on which he leaned, trailing his rubber foot.
Shlomo Samet was born to rich, middle class and Hasidic parents. As an only son, he was raised in great luxury and comfort. His father, the Hasid, Motya Samet, a significant wood merchant, was concerned about his only son's education and wanting him to be religious, he taught his son Yidishkeit and Torah. However, this was not enough for his son; he had a great desire to study worldly subjects. Disputes arose between father and son because of this desire. Shlomo, who was unaccustomed to having his wishes refused and not being given into, could not bear the injustice. He went outside the city and threw himself under a speeding train that cut off his foot. Shlomo was a cripple for his entire life.
In 1929 Shlomo Samet married my sister. We never spoke about his tragedy in order not to awaken his wound. Shlomo did not get on well with his father. After his mother's death, he retained an extraordinary reverence for her. However, he remained a great enemy of his father.
This tragedy had a bad effect on Shlomo Samet's
First row, sitting from right to left: Avram'l Orensztajn, Josef Milner
Second row, standing: Mondelboim, Josef Beker and Haim Zemelman
outward appearance. He always went around with an embittered face. However, Shlomo was not bad by nature. His house was open to poor and rich. One came to him, as to a good Jew, as to a rabbi for advice and instructions. He knew all of the laws of the land and could give advice, often better than a lawyer. Therefore, one came to him with various problems.
Shlomo Samet was known in the city as a well educated person; he knew our national language and foreign languages, too. He knew Latin perfectly. He was known as one of the greatest intellectuals of the city.
He was a great Zionist and follower of Yitzhak Gruenbaum [Polish Zionist leader]. He was an active worker in the Zionist movement. He was a member of the Zionist Central Committee in Warsaw for a time. He was also the representative to the Central Zionist Committee of Berlin, which delegated him to attend the inauguration of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shlomo Samet spent a year in Eretz-Yisroel and when he returned, he again worked actively in the Zionist movement in Chelm. He often gave lectures and led instructional work among the Jewish young people in Chelm, participating in all election campaigns. He also directed the department of the Palestine office in Chelm; everyone who traveled to Eretz-Yisroel had their papers approved by Mr. Samet.
Once, because of various frictions with comrades, Shlomo Samet withdrew from his active work for the Zionist party. However, he maintained his longtime contract with the Yidishe Vishshaflekhn Institut [Yiddish Scientific Institute -YIVO] in Vilna. He often corresponded with Moshe Lerer, who was the secretary of YIVO in Vilna.
Shlomo Samet also often sinned a little with his pen. He wrote for foreign newspapers; from time to time, he also took part in the publication of the Chelemer Shtime [The Voice of Chelm].
He was also a constant co-worker with HaTzefira [The Siren a Hebrew language daily newspaper]. In his home, Sh. Samet possessed a valuable library of treasures of old and the newest works and seforim [religious books].
During his last years, Samet was occupied with publishing a collection of Jewish folklore. He arranged this book in two volumes. In order to accumulate the finances for this, he rented out his rooms and this helped him in making a template and publishing the first volume of his collected folklore. The second volume did not live to see publication. Shlomo Samet's life was annihilated by the Hitler regime, this energetic, intellectual man. Shlomo Samet perished as a martyr together with all of the other Chelemer martyrs in the Hitlerist extermination aktsie [Translator's note: the assembly, deportation and annihilation of Jewish populations by the Germans] of the Chelemer Jewish community in 1942.
by Karl (Yeheil) Wasserman, New York, NY
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
On the 23rd of December 1944, the Chelemer landsleit in America learned the sad news that Chava Szafran, landsmeydl [girl from one's town], was killed by a trolley car in Los Angeles, California. Her sudden death brought great sorrow and sadness to her friends and landsleit and many Jewish progressive workers and ordinary people also grieved for her.
Chava Szafran lived in Los Angeles for the eight years before her death, where she was the director of the Workers' School (a progressive English worker's school). She was also an active worker in the movement to fight Fascism and anti-Semitism in America. Despite her occupation as director of the Workers' School, she still found time to be the secretary of the Morgn Freiheit Association in Los Angeles [Translator's note: Morgn Freiheit was a Yiddish language Communist daily newspaper], an organization that carried out political-communal activities in the Jewish neighborhood: the struggle against anti-Semitism, the distribution of the progressive worker newspaper, Morgn Freiheit, and, in general, the broadening of the Yiddish cultural world among the Jews in Los Angeles. Chava Szafran's personal appearances before the broad mass of Jewish people were all received with great success.
On the 24th of November, the Morgn Freiheit had an editorial dedicated to the memory of Chava Szafran with the following headline:
Honor the Memory of Chava Szafran. an accident prematurely brought the end to a beautiful personality, to a creative life to Chava Szafran who was completely devoted to the brightest ideals, hopes and strivings of humanity. A devoted Communist, who distinguished herself in leadership positions, Chava Szafran was as one with the working class, as one with the Jewish people. she devoted her strengths and capabilities to the struggle for Jewish anti-Fascist unity Her untimely death is a great loss for the progressive movement and a personal loss for her numerous friends.We knew her in Chelm as Chava, Ajdele der fisherkes takhter [the fish seller's daughter]. She was still a very young girl when she left Chelm. She graduated from the Chelm public school and later began being seen in the Poale-Zion youth movement that was located in Kuper's house. There she began not only as a simple member, but she participated, took part in discussions in general; she began to take her first steps on her political-communal way.
She came to New York with her family in around 1920, settled in Brooklyn, in the Williamsburg area, a compact Jewish quarter. She began to play a role in the labor club there. The young Chava appeared
at street meetings and spoke with fervor to the Brooklyn Jews about friendship and brotherhood among peoples and races; she spoke to them about creating a world of peace, freedom, equality and brotherhood.
When I came to America in 1926, after my wanderings from Europe to Havana, Cuba, and from there to New York, I met Chava Szafran, a leader of the Cap Maker's Union professional union of the hat makers Local 23. She was far different from the younger Chava in Chelm. Here, there stood before me a young girl, but also a union activist who had already led struggles for the interests of the workers.
It seems that Chava inherited something from her family and this was her progressiveness, her militancy. Her older brother, Fishl, was a Bundist in 1905, active in the movement; her second brother, Nakhman, was at that time an activist in the S.S. [Zionist Socialist] movement. In 1936, a brother's son, Jack Szafran, joined the American Lincoln Brigade as a volunteer to fight in Spain on the side of the Loyalists against Franco.
Yes, Chava Szafran was a beautiful personality. After her death, many prominent writers and activists wrote about her. It is interesting to hear what was said about her by the not long deceased labor leader and writer, A. Ged. In the Freiheit of the 26th of September, 1944, A. Ged wrote:
Among the militant fighters on both sides of the ocean she distinguished herself with her perfect honesty, humane simple good heartedness and spirit of sacrifice, ignoring any self-interest. She was always ready to help everyone and to be a flaming, holy believer in the justice of our ideals. She was most resolute in the struggle of all of us. She always offered encouragement and was an influence.I met Chava at the end of the 1920's in faraway Denver, Colorado, where I was because of my health. Chava had come to Denver to recover after hired reactionary hooligan-gangsters had attacked her in Los Angeles and severely beaten her because she wanted to help the workers there.
Chava Szafran was an example of the proletarian fighter, a comrade who never had any enemies, only friends. She was the woman of our future. Therefore, the news of her premature and senseless death is so painful.
Chava did not rest. She heard that the beet workers here in Colorado were strongly exploited because most were foreigners, Mexicans. She went to work organizing the heavily exploited beet workers, winning better conditions for them. However, she could not remain in Denver too long. As soon as she felt healthy, she traveled to New York. We heard of her creative activities, not only in the trade
union area, but also in the cultural sphere. She studied until she became a teacher in the Workers' School (Arbeter Shul). She returned to Los Angeles where she became the director of the Workers' School there.
In the Morgn Freiheit of December 1944, the famous Yiddish writer, Gershon Einbinder, known by the name Chaver-Paver, writes:
She, who previously was a student in the Workers' School in New York, was a teacher in the Workers' School in Los Angeles, the main teacher her classes were always overflowing. I (Chaver-Paver K.W. [Translator's note: initials of the writer of this article]) was also a student in her class. I sat on the school bench and admired the Jewish shop-girl who now stood before my eyes in the role of an educated, fluent speaker of the language of the land. She also possessed so much wisdom, was devoted to her discipline and also possessed a magnetic strength to attract students and to inspire, to summon their ambition and their creativity.[Page 350]
Yes, a girl, a student, a learned person, deeply versed in the doctrine of Marx and her classes were not only for beginners. Even writers in English, artists would come to study Marxism with her
To this day, the Chelemers are proud that they had such a landsmeydl as she. It is a loss that she was torn away from our ranks so young. She stood at the battle front for years, taking part in terrible battles for the American and Jewish Workers' movement. She came out of many battles wounded. After she recovered, she again stood at the battle front. However, she was killed here on a peaceful night by a passing, speeding streetcar.
The Morgn Freiheit Los Angeles manager, A. Lekhowicki, writes, Over 1,200 people came to her funeral; her funeral procession went on for a mile. People cried about the great loss as they passed her casket. The famous Yiddish-American writer, Samuel Ornitz, said in his eulogy: 'Our teacher' has left us.
This is how the girl who was brought up in the public school in Chelm lived and fought and ended as the director of the progressive Arbeter Shul in Los Angeles. Let the name of Chava Szafran be among the martyrs, those who fell for a more beautiful and better world.
by Y. Nunison
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Sholom Goldhar was one of the most courageous fighters for a socialist world order, one of the most passionate progressive socialist activists. He was born to poor parents in the summer of 1910 in the village of Strachoslaw, near Chelm. Sholom Goldhar's family later moved to Chelm.
He studied in a kheder [religious elementary school] and also graduated from a Polish public school (powszechna). After, he studied in a technical school, Szkola Techniczna, on Dr. Bieszower Street. He did not graduate from this school because of need and poverty and he became a gaiter maker.
He became interested in communal-political problems while still very young, when he was still in school. He joined the Poale-Zion Youth and because of his activities he very quickly was chosen for the committee of the P.Z. Youth.
He left to work in Kowel. Although he remained there a short time, he had time to clarify the ideology of the left Poale-Zion movement for the young people in Kowel.
When he returned to Chelm he became absorbed in the Poale-Zion movement with his head and body and was active in all areas. He led various groups and gave lectures. He organized the children's union, Yungbar, and edited a wall newspaper for children.
He was not happy with the gaiter maker's trade and became a bricklayer. He met Polish and Ukrainian workers at this work.
In 1929, when Poland was overwhelmed with strikes and the political situation in the country became turbulent and tense, it became restrictive for him to be in the ranks of the left Poale-Zion and he joined the leftist workers' movement.
During the summer of 1930 he was arrested with Moshe Apelboim (Apelboim a Chelemer young man who lived on Narjenczna Street; after spending two years in prison, he left for Spain to fight against Fascism and fell on the Spanish battlefield). Goldhar was accused by the Chelemer train management and in the surrounding villages, such as Ruda-Opalin, Plawanice, Okszow and Brzezno, of organizing and leading the strike of the train workers. He was sentenced to eight years of hard labor. He served in the jails of Chelm, Krasnystaw, Lublin, Sandomiersz, Placen (Plesno/Plössen) and Kochanowo.
His courage was not broken in prison. He was also part of the political organization there. He used the time that he spent in jail to enrich his education and knowledge. When the rights of the political arrestees were limited in 1937, Sholom Goldhar organized a hunger strike that lasted nine days.
He came out of jail physically broken; however, he was not morally shaken. He was full of belief in a better morning. However, it is unfortunate that his life was cut short. When the German army assaulted Warsaw, in the fall of 1939, he was killed by German shrapnel.
Honor his illustrious memory!
by Shmuel Winer, New York
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Here, in the Yizkor Book for Chelm, I will try to draw several short features of the turbulent journey of one who represents Chelm in the socialist sector of the current divided world. One who excelled in the fight against the enemies who stood up to annihilate our people. One of the quiet heroes who again and again during the two World Wars and world crises, was found on the front lines of this terrible social concussion.
My brother Binyamin was born in Chelm, Passover 1891. His education was in the usual tradition in a kheder [religious elementary school]. He tasted the flavor of need when he was very young. He studied typesetting at age 13 at Erlikh's printing shop. A child of a poor generation, poverty drove him out of his parents' house at an early age. At 14, he left to find his luck among strangers. He returned home and then wandered again. At 17 he was already in Yekaterinoslav [Dnipropetrovs'k, Ukraine]. He also was intensively involved with self education. He married there a few years later.
In the autumn of 1912, he came home to enter the military. Although he was short sighted, he still had to present himself as a soldier so that a rich son could be freed from serving. He had no interest in serving in the Czar's army; going to America was all that remained for him. He waited until after the taking of the oath, so that his father would not have to pay a 300 ruble penalty for him. Immediately after the swearing in, he disappeared from the barracks. He hid for a few days before leaving the city.
It was the last night. Everything was ready; at dawn he needed to leave quietly with his wife for the border. His hiding place was attacked by the police and the military in the middle of the night and he was caught. A certain Chelemer informer and influential person had sensed something he immediately brought the information where one does. The informer later explained that he thought it was actually me who was hiding there.
A military court sentenced him to a year in a military prison. The 300th anniversary of the reign of the Czarist Romanov dynasty occurred just then (beginning of 1913). Binyamin Winer was freed after over a month in prison thanks to the general amnesty declared by Czar Nikolai. He was immediately sent to serve in Penza [Russia]. It turned out that he was the only one in his company who knew how to read and write; they had no choice and they had to make him the company scribe. His service became easier.
August 1914. The First World War began. Among the long columns of those from the Russian military going by foot,
Binyamin Winer marched to the western border in the burning heat on the dusty roads, with a heavy pack on his shoulders and a rifle in his hand.
At the front, a new unusual career opened for him, for a Jewish soldier in the Czarist army. Because of corruption, theft and general chaos and treachery, Russian soldiers at the front very often went around with empty stomachs simply suffering from hunger. He became known in his regiment for his administrative abilities. The commander had a bizarre idea for that time in the Czarist army, to appoint the Jewish soldier, Binyamin Winer, as the purchaser of provisions for the regiment. He carried out this responsible and difficult assignment in the best manner at a time when there was already a lack of foodstuffs. He won the trust of the peasants in the villages and they sold him as much food as he needed. His reputation spread far he quickly became the purchaser for the entire division. He also did well with his increased responsibilities.
Luck did not protect him for very long.
And the day came that the Chief Commander of all the Russian Armies, the bitter anti-Semite, Nikolai Nikolaievitch, the Czar's uncle, came for an inspection of this part of the front, where he [Binyamin] was located. He [Nikolai Nikolaievitch] glimpsed the trouble. A zhid [Translator's note: derogatory Russian word for Jew], a soldier in such a position! Heaven opens! So nothing more was needed. Several high officers, those guilty of this crime were demoted to lower ranks and he, Binyamin Winer, was, sent to the battle line in the trenches at his [Nikolai Nikolaievitch's] strict order.
It did not take long before he [Binyamin] was wounded. On his recovery, he was sent back to the trenches. In 1916 he was again wounded, this time so badly that he was no longer of use in the war and he was completely discharged.
The year 1917 stole in. The February Revolution broke out. This time the Czarist despot was not successful in saving himself as in 1905. The revolutionary surge gripped everyone in the entire country and put a quick end to czarism along with Czar Nikolai. Years of enormous social shocks followed. The struggle between the old order and the new that would take its place became more severe. His [Binyamin's] strongly developed sense of social justice led him to the ranks of the revolution.
1918. The civil war blazed. Various White Guard pogrom gangs spread death and devastation in hundreds of Jewish cities and shtetlekh across the length and width of Ukraine and White Russia. Jewish blood flowed like water. Binyamin Winer again voluntarily put on a
military uniform and threw himself into the fight against the pogrom gangs. Every day he saw death in front of his eyes. Many times it appeared as if the end had come. There was no longer any escape and each time his naked life was saved, literally as if by a miracle.
It is worthwhile to note just one episode here one of many. This was at the beginning, when the bands of murderers had the upper hand. December, 1918. A small riot of about 300 people's fighters, under the command of Binyamin Winer, started a battle with a horde of Makhnovtses [Translator's note: followers of Nestor Makhno] that went on a spree against the Jews in Yekaterinoslav. They massacred, raped, tortured and looted. This was an uneven fight from the start. On one side a few thousand wild cutthroats, well-armed by the Allies (America, England, France), with new, warm uniforms, well fed. On the other side a bunch of several hundred poorly armed, poorly clothed, half hungry people's fighters. Yet, in this uneven fight the small army ranks inflicted heavy losses on the pogrom bands. Of the several hundred, few survived. Relegated to an attic, among a bunch of wounded soldiers also lay Binyamin Winer, passed out, boots filled with blood, without a drop of water, in a burning frost. It was on the third day in the middle of the night that he was quietly taken out in an unconscious condition with the others and saved.
As soon as he recovered a little, he was again back on the front lines. He excelled in battle and rose to the rank of captain. A gentle, easy-going person by nature, far from being heroic, he was a little shorter than average height. However, if one fell into his hands, pain and woe awaited this human riff-raff. He burned with revenge for our innocent spilled blood. A hundred and fifty thousand Jews were murdered at that time by the bloody hands of the Petlurtses, Makhnovtses, Denikintses* and the assorted other murderous bands that rampaged across the length and width of the country. They were virtually the forerunners of Hitler and provided an example that one could kill our sisters and brothers, tens of thousands of Jews without consequence and the civilized world would look on at the violence with indifference.
*[Translator's note: Petlurtses were followers of the Ukrainian politician, Symon Petlura; Makhnovtses were followers of the Ukrainian anarchist, Nestor Makhno and Denikintses were followers of Anton Ivanovich Denikin, a leading anti-Bolshevik White Russian general during the Civil War.]1921. The end of the Civil War neared and with it the dark end of all of the White Guard pogrom gangs. Such armies could show their heroism against unarmed, unprotected Jews, old people,
women and children. They were not heroes against a people's army that fought for freedom.
Captain Binyamin Winer also took off his military uniform and returned to civilian life. The country proceeded to recover after the fearful destruction, hunger and epidemics. As a capable administrator and organizer he now again laid his hand to rebuilding the disrupted state administration in a series of southern Ukrainian cities. He then returned to Dnipropetrovs'k (formerly Yekaterinoslav). Now he was occupied with organizing cooperatives.
Around 1930 he took advantage of the opportunity that the government gave to workers to qualify for a higher profession. Out of 5,000 applicants in his city, he was the only one to qualify to study as an engineer without prior academic education and he was sent to the Kiev Academy to study engineering.
Then his heart began to beat. A fear attacked him. Was it not too risky a step for him at this time? He was no longer a young man. He was approaching 40. His entire academic preparation for studying higher mathematics, he joked in a letter to me, consisted of the four elementary precepts in arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which he had studied with the Lukaczen melamed [teacher in a religious elementary school] in his kheder [religious elementary school] as a child in Chelm.
Yet this did not impede him from receiving his diploma as an engineer in three years of study, instead of the normal four. His zeal, persistence and, chiefly, his sharp head was of help here. Naturally, he, his wife and daughter were supported by the state during the course of his studies.
He started to practice his new profession in 1933 with the hope that now finally his life would go smoothly and calmly. However, the beginning of his new career coincided with Hitler coming to power. Dark, threatening clouds began to creep over the world, particularly for our martyred nation [for the Jews]. With his great experience, he instinctively sensed what this meant. There was no more rest for him.
In September, 1939, Hitler's murderous army fired the first shot against Poland and ignited a conflagration. In a few days, Poland was finished. Jews escaped across the Soviet border in deadly panic. Several hundreds of thousands of Jews saved themselves in this way from the bloody hands of the Nazi assassins. They spread themselves across the cities and shtetlekh [towns] of the Soviet Union. Refugees from Poland also appeared in [Winer's] city. He had heard enough about the Hitlerist murders against our people. Every day the newspapers also were full of reports about the Nazi murders against the Jews he did not skip even one line. The bestiality of the murder of Jews 20 years earlier again swam in front of his eyes. From then on, he no longer found any rest.
On June 21, 1941, Hitler threw the entire power of his war machine against the Soviet
Union. Binyamin Winer, immediately, on the same day, appeared voluntarily before the military commission in his city. However, he was totally rejected. That night he did not close his eyes. He personally had to take revenge against the Nazi beast for the spilling of innocent Jewish blood and also to defend his country against the barbarians.
He again appeared before the military commission in the morning. His plea could no longer be resisted and finally he was taken into the army with his old rank of captain.
With lightning speed, the frightening Nazi war machine cut deeper and deeper into Soviet territory and brought with it death and devastation. And right on the first day, the accursed monsters carried out their inhuman violence against the Jews they captured in the cities and shtetlekh. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, who because of the Nazi speed did not have time to save themselves by going deeper into the country, were tortured to death, buried alive, burned to ash by the beasts.
The world looked on with baited breath to the never before seen titanic struggle between two mighty forces. And when it appeared that it was already the end of the world, that the worst enemy of humanity was getting the upper hand just then the wheel turned back. The terrible Nazi defeat at Stalingrad sealed the fate of Hitler. This was the beginning of his dark end. However, the road was still a long, superhumanly difficult one.
Our fellow townsman, Captain Binyamin Winer, marched in the ranks of the Soviet army. He found himself in the thick of gigantic battles the entire time. Earlier the Nazis inflicted heavy destructive blows. The losses on both sides were enormous literally in the millions. Now that the Nazis had begun to receive the fitting blows, one right after the other up to their dark end, they could not recover. They were no longer given any rest. They were driven farther and farther. In the heat of the battles it seemed as if his end had come. This time our fellow townsman would not emerge alive. And, literally, through a miracle again and again this naked life was saved. Or even worse in a moment he fell into their paws alive. All roads were blocked. Unable to escape he again escaped from captivity. Where did he get the power and endurance? He did not forget for even a minute the sacred will, the last cry of our saintly martyrs: Never to forget and never to forgive, when they were driven on their last road to the ovens and gas chambers. He drew courage and superhuman strength to throw himself into battle. To take revenge against the bestial murderers of the Jews.
Thus he crossed hundreds of cities and shtetlekh. He saw only death and destruction. He rarely met a surviving Jew. He came in close contact with Jewish partisans in the forests. He encouraged them and helped in any way he could.
In July, 1944, Captain Binyamin Winer marched into Chelm among the victorious Soviet armies. After 30 some years, he again walked on the earth where his little cradle had stood. One can imagine his deep emotional experience at this moment. He immediately went to look for Jews and he did not find any. He went to the cemetery to look for his father's matseyve [headstone] there is no headstone. Even the dead Jews were not allowed to rest in their graves. The cannibals paved roads and streets with Jewish headstones. A salty tear was shed and one headed further on his way. It is not yet the end.
On the way to Lublin, the military division in which he found himself freed the remnant of surviving Jews. Skeletons, literally, from Majdanek, one of Hitler's death factories. He later took part in the difficult battle for Warsaw among the most terrible in the war. The fighting was bitter. However, after heavy losses, the Nazis had to retreat from there. With a beating heart, Binyamin Winer first went to the former Warsaw Ghetto where a people in the midst of crashing walls raised the flag of revolt against the accursed Nazis. He walked on the earth that had been burned to cinders, among the ruins where our heroes and martyrs covered themselves with eternal glory and saved the honor of our people. The enemy paid a heavy price in this uneven struggle. It took the murderers of the Jews as long to conquer the ghetto as to conquer all of Poland.
There were still a few big battles before the wild beast was brought to its knees. He went farther; took part in the battle on the accursed German ground. He lived long enough for the last battle and entered Hitler's snake's nest Berlin with the victorious Soviet troops and had the honor to see Hitler's desolate, dark end.
He fought for four long frightening years against our worst enemy with rare courage. He never complained. He went through the fiery deluge and came out alive. Now, that his mission had ended, his strength left him completely. He came home a shadow of a man. He had to have a few operations. His life hung by a hair. When he began to return a little to his old self, he was hit by another blow. He lost his beloved life-friend, his wife, Enya. It was difficult to console him.
Should he, perhaps, have been consoled that he now saw that the Nazis were already back in the saddle in Germany? Or that the danger from German rearmament under the same German generals who had drunk our blood was coming nearer? He thought in his loneliness: Were six million annihilated Jews not enough? Was our terrible great destruction for nothing?
This is a short summary about the stormy, fertile life of our fellow townsman. A life that could have filled hundreds of pages of an exciting book. The colorful life of a brave, self-sacrificing fighter for his people.
by Chava Baliar (Stoler)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Who in Chelm did not know Motl Baliar, Gisha Lipele's son? He was known and respected by the young and old, the great and small!
He was a distinguished teacher in the folkshul [Jewish public school] in Chelm in the 1920's.
How did Motl become a teacher and then such a distinguished pedagogue he was known in folkshul circles in Poland and also later in the Soviet Union this is a mystery to me until this day.
Besides kheder [religious Jewish primary school], Motl did not attend any Jewish or general school. He never had a teacher. The bitter poverty at home, the simple hunger drove him from the house. He would sit for days in the field beyond the Nayer welt [new world] and read all kinds of borrowed books. I would bring him a piece of bread as that was all there was in our house with a drink of fresh, cold water from the deep well on the Nayer welt. If he received a few groshn coins from somewhere, this went for the purchase of books.
He became a teacher in the folks-shul where I studied at a very young age. When Motl entered a class, the children remained quiet and waited respectfully.
Everything about him summoned respect: his handsome, tall figure, wide shoulders, his high, deep forehead with large glasses, all suited him, made him more handsome and underlined his intelligence.
Reading, learning, studying this was his advice, his counsel and order to each young person, boy and girl, his neighbors, relatives and acquaintances in Chelm.
I will never forget when Motl wanted to correspond with one of our brothers-in-law in America, who did not know any Yiddish. Motl obtained English instruction books and he went around the house the entire winter back and forth repeating loudly
some kind of language that sounded so strange, so foreign. There was a clear path on the floor of the house from his constant pacing The result was that immediately after Passover, Motl wrote and received English letters from our brother-in-law. He would not only read the letter to us, but would also show the grammatical root for every word. He stated, You can never know how useful it would be if an English word stuck itself to you
Oy! Was my brother correct! Today in America, we use many words that Motl explained to me and our mother at that time.
Motl was one of the builders and leaders of the Jewish folkshul. There was a time when the folkshul in Chelm did not have a home. The doctor, in whose home the school was located, needed the room for himself.
Motl then led the plan to build its own folkshul house. Money was spent in the city only for materials and to pay for the plot of land the Jewish workers promised to do the building, the work for free.
Motl set down a world of effort for the plan that was never fulfilled because the Polish fascist government of that time withdrew permission immediately after the solemn ceremony of laying the foundation.
It was very difficult to be a folkshul teacher under such extraordinarily bitter conditions.
Motl left for Vilna.
There, too, Motl, the folkshul teacher, was quickly discovered and recognized. He would write for the Chelm weekly newspapers and journals, as well as the Grynike Beymelekh [Little Green Trees] and other pedagogical journals.
When Hitler's murderers attacked Poland and the Soviets occupied Vilna, Motl wrote to us in America:
We lack for nothing I, my wife and our child with the Soviet government. I am the superintendent for 110 Jewish schools 60 day schools and 50 evening schools. I travel around in Vilna circles and organize the opening of new schools wherever they are needed. We have bitter compassion for our brothers, Yona and Yisroel, the dear and courageous fighters for a more beautiful and better world and humanity who knows what has happened to them.Alas, the sun did not shine in Motl's window for long Hitler's hordes, which spread death and devastation in Europe, did not bypass Vilna.
Motl Baliar, the spirited folkshul teacher, poet and writer, was annihilated with his wife and child along with the famous Jewish community of Vilna.
They will always live in our hearts. Honor their memory!
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Almost all of the Chelm khederim [religious elementary schools] were located in the Jewish quarter, on the Naye Tzal. The Hitler murderers created the ghetto here. Khederim were on Poczt Street and the surrounding alleys, where small and large half-collapsed shteiblekh [small one-room synagogues] and houses were located that were inhabited by tradesmen and toilers. The majority of Chelemer khederim were found there, where Jewish children, Moshele, Shlomele were educated in the traditional religious spirit.
Khederim were located on the Naye Tzal, where Jewish children began learning the alef-beis and did not go beyond the Khumish [Torah or The Five Books of Moses] and Rashi [author of Torah commentaries]; there were khederim where more than the Khumish with Rashi was taught; there were khederim whose graduates were later able to enter Talmud Torahs [schools for boys from poor backgrounds] and yeshivus [school for the study of the Torah and Talmud].
The school of the melamed [teacher in a religious school], Abraham Yitzhak Grynberg a teacher of the youngest children was well known in Chelm. He was a sickly Jew who, when teaching children, appeared to be a giant. The children were afraid of him, of his pointer and leather whip.
He began to teach the alef-beis to young children of age three and four and then led them to Rashi and the gemara [Talmudic commentaries on the Mishnah, the post biblical discussions of the Talmud]. He was popular in Chelm, as a very honest Jew and as a melamed who did not take money without a reason; he worked very hard from early in the morning until it was late.
His school consisted of one room in which his bedroom, kitchen and eating room were found. A long table with benches stood in a corner near the wall where he taught his students.
Yankl was a second popular melamed. He had the habit of chasing after young mothers asking that they let him teach their children. The youngest children in the city were always found in his kheder. Great scholars did not emerge from his school.
There was a melamed in Chelm, whose kheder was also located on Poczt Street, just across from the glitsh-trep [slippery steps], whose name I do not remember. I think we called him Jagoda [berry in Polish]. He was considered a good teacher. Older children were always in his school. Jagoda was known in the city as proficient in teaching. He taught gemara. The melodies of the Talmudic scholars Raba and Rav rang in the street.
There was also in Chelm the famous melamed, Binyamin Wolfson; he was a Litvak, who settled in Chelm after the First World War. The students in his kheder had sharp minds and they knew pages of the gemara. It was an honor to study with Binyamin Wolfson.
The Wlodower melamed was called Leibish Dovid Melamed. He was also one of the best teachers and had a good reputation as an honest Jew and good rebbe. The best students, who went on to the yeshiva [school for older boys where the Torah and Talmud are studied], graduated from his kheder.
Of the old melamdim at the end of the 19th century, Reb Yitzhak Strazsnik [scarecrow], the teacher of the youngest children, was well known in Chelm. No one in the city knew why he was called strasznik. Perhaps he was called this because he was a tall Jew and very strict with his students.
There was also a well known and famous melamed, Gedalia Hipszman; he was called Gedalia the fisherman. He was a very good teacher and his kheder had a good reputation in the city and in the surrounding shtetlekh.
There was also a melamed in Chelm that was called der krumer Avraham [the lame Avraham]. Gedalia Kritnicer was also a well known melamed in Chelm. He had six daughters. He was called Gedalia, the melamed with the daughters. The melamedim, Israel Dyn, Khona Yitzhakl, Josef Dovid Sznejderman, Reb Wowa Hershele Cykerman, Shlomoh Hirsh, Yehoshua Cozzack, Itche Szepeles, Shmuel Hersh, and so on, were well known.
Every melamed, or as we called them, Rebbe, was very pious, and was careful to pray each day and not to commit the slightest sin.
One went to kheder six days a week. One left at eight in the morning and came home during the evening hours. One came to many khederim on Shabbos to study a chapter of the Mishnah or to interpret the weekly Torah portion.
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