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Occupations of the Chrzanow Jews

THE ECONOMIC description of Chrzanow Jewry may be divided into two periods. The first part lasts until World War I At that time Chrzanow still belonged to Austria, and therefore had economic connections with the west. The second period begins with the establishment of the Polish state. At that time the economy turned its face toward the east.

The first period is more interesting to us, because it had a more exclusively Jewish character. The Austrian government placed no impediments in the way of Jewish involvement in trade and industry, so that Jews were able to develop their economic capacities and achieve a certain degree of well-being. Thanks to the results achieved by the Jews of Chrzanow before World War I, they were able to maintain their positions in independent Poland, despite heavy pressure from the Polish government and civil society.

As in many Jewish cities and towns, so too in Chrzanow, the sources of income for Jews were quite limited. We neither intend nor are we able to give, within the framework of this book, a full report about each branch of Jewish industry. We will, instead, suggest the particular character of our town in the following sections.


The fact that Chrzanow was better off and more advanced materially than other towns in Galicia was largely thanks to the Prussian merchants.

To a very great extent before 1914, and to a lesser extent later, in independent Poland, a large number of the Jews of Chrzanow moved to Upper Silesia, which was part of the Prussian region at that time, in search of a living. These Jews had neither their own businesses in town nor any particular artisan training, and therefore had no other way to support their families.

They would leave Chrzanow on Sunday and return on Friday. Most of them were fruit dealers. In time they got so proficient in the fruit business that they became the most important factor in this branch of the economy throughout Upper Silesia, and even as far as Breslau. Others took up peddling, selling assorted textiles and also finished clothes to workers and employees on the installment plan.

These Jews got along quite well with the German population. Their honesty and hard work earned them the trust of both the German and the Polish populations. A law from Bismarck's time was still in effect in Prussia, forbidding Galician citizensmeaning, for this purpose, Jews-to sleep in Prussian territory without permission from the authorities; nevertheless, they got by with a good word at the right place, or by bribing the police. The authorities took cognizance of the fact that the Jews were both well-liked by the population and economically useful, and did not openly harass them. An elderly Jew from Chrzanow, Reb Lipe Hirshberg, relates the following:

In my time, that is, in the years before 1914, Jews from Chrzanow went to Prussia to do business. As a rule they were called Prusians. They left on Sunday evening, and returned Friday before candle-lighting time. Officially they were forbidden to spend the night in Prussia, but they did so on the sly. If a violator was caught, he was supposed to pay a fine of two marks. The most prominent of these merchants were the families Shmeker, Proloch, Soltis and others. They generally returned home Friday evening. They chartered a special train from the railroad company, which was called the Sabbath train; it ran from Katowice to Chrzanow. The Jews chartered this train summer and winter. The train always arrived one hour before candle lighting. I remember that when the train arrived in Chrzanow, the whole town was filled with joy. The cry, "The Prusakes train has arrived, rang throughout the entire city, and everyone was happy.

When one observed the everyday routine of these Jews in the Upper Silesia cities of Katowice, Myslowice, Boytn and Hindenburg, it made one's heart bleed. They had such a bitter and tiring life, struggling to make a living. They lived in dark cellar rooms and in narrow attics. The Jew who looked like a poor Gypsy in the streets of Prussia, looked like an aristocratic rabbi, dressed in dean clothes in Chrzanow during the Sabbaths and holy days. Since they earned a good living, the Prussian merchants in Chrzanow behaved like rich men: they gave to charity generously, supported Jewish institutions, helped out poor scholars, and so forth.

In general, Chrzanow was a prosperous city thanks to the bounty of the trade with Prussia, and this also explains the attraction of Chrzanow for Jews from elsewhere. Throughout the entire province, Chrzanow was known at that time as "little America."


The clothing industry in Chrzanow began at the very beginning of the twentieth century. We aren't thinking here of the Jewish tailors like Reb Mordkhe Doydele, or Reb Yitschok Aron, the kind who worked by the light of a tallow candle, and who recited entire Psalms while they worked, or sang the melodies used during the High Holy Days. Jewish scholars like these were to be found in great numbers in other Galician and Polish towns-wherever Jews had settled. We mean here rather the clothing industry under modern conditions of production.

It was in Chrzanow that the so-called Vichres originally appeared. Nearly all of them lived on one street, which was called Vicharska Street. These people traveled to the larger cities, such as Vienna and Prague, bought up various articles of used clothing, brought them home, dyed and remodeled them. In time, seeing that there was money to be made, they began to make finished articles of clothing from pieces of new fabric. In addition to the local market, outerwear and underwear gradually began to be shipped and sold in the industrial regions of Merisch-Ostrow and Karvin.

Workshops were established which, lacking capital, were limited to subcontracting to entrepreneurs, who sold the finished goods in the industrial regions.

The tailors-both masters and apprentices- were poorly organized. This led to their exploitation by the merchants and exporters. Because of their bad economic situation, many of the tailors emigrated in search of better living conditions.

The first place the emigrating tailors went to was Berlin. The first pioneers who arrived in Berlin quickly worked their way up to a better situation on the strength of their diligence, competence, and willingness to work twelve-hour days. They opened the way for more tailors from Chrzanow to go to the same place.

In Berlin, the tailors from Chrzanow created the basis for the German clothing industry. Thanks to them, the Germans began exporting clothing to England, India, and South America. It is worth mentioning that the Berlin police force understood that any especially competent tailor must surely be from Chrzanow. The Chrzanow tailors in Berlin did not forget their home town. They created a Chrzanow Society in Berlin in 1918, which did a great deal to help the Jews of Chrzanow as they arrived in Berlin, and which also raised money to benefit the existing philanthropic institutions in Chrzanow.

Tailors from Chrzanow also emigrated throughout the world, to places like Paris, New York, Montevideo, and others.

Thus it is clear that the needle trades in Chrzanow were well established, flourishing, and ambitious. Before World War I Chrzanow aimed to catch up with the Czech town of Prosnitz, which was famous in pre-World War I Austria for its highly developed men's and women's clothing industry. These Czech-Germans actually were affected by the competition of the Chrzanow tailors.

After the Polish state came into existence, the tailors of Chrzanow had their first real opportunity to show their competence and their ability to produce on a much larger scale. With their endurance and industry they brought Chrzanow to the point where it was independent of such larger clothing industry centers as Brzezin and Tarnow And until the outbreak of Hitler's war, Chrzanow was one of the most important customers for the textile manufacturers of Lodz, Bialystok, Tomashow, and other large mills..


A special economic niche was occupied by the money changers of Chrzanow. Since the city lay near the German border, and previously had been near the Russian border as well, certain Jews of Chrzanow would accompany the Prussian merchants at the beginning of the week to the border regions around Myslowice, Katowice, and Sczakowa. Each carried a leather pack on his back, which contained currency from almost every country in the world. Each of these men was a kind of walking exchange bureau. Although the large banking houses maintained exchange bureaus at the train stations, most of the business of exchanging currency was in the hands of Jews. This demonstrates that Jews enjoyed a good deal of trust in matters relating to currency exchange.

Naturally, the busiest season was the summer, when international traffic going to the Austrian and German spas was heavy. At that time the money changers would ride in the trains with the passengers, and exchange money according to the daily exchange rates. The stations themselves were extremely busy at the beginning and end of the summer. The traffic consisted mostly of Polish agricultural workers who were brought from the impoverished Polish countryside to do seasonal work in Germany. At those times the money changers had their hands full.

Just as with the merchants, there were categories of money changers. Most of them looked for customers among whatever passengers happened to be traveling through, and who might need to exchange money. Jews made enough to live on in this fashion. But there were also those who had an established clientele. The latter included wealthy landowners, officials, and international playboys, who spent money casually. And the money changers who had the "better customers" grew wealthy from this trade.

Various anecdotes were told about a well-known money changer from the previous generation, Reb Manes Shneider. Among his clients was the popular King Nikita of Montenegro, the father-in-law of the Italian King Victor Emanuel, and of the famous anti-Semite, the Russian Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaievitsh, who played a significant role as a European politician and engaged in intrigues among the various royal courts. This king, who often traveled between Rome, Vienna, and St. Petersburg, insisted on having his money changed only by Reb Manes. When he arrived at the border, the king would summon Reb Manes to his private car, take care of their financial business, and then seek his advice concerning world politics. This Reb Manes Shneider was later robbed and murdered by unknown bandits in a border town.

With the fall of Austria, exchange as a form of commerce also virtually disappeared, and many of the former money changers took up the rather dirty business of lending money out at interest. They were called chashtas (loan sharks), which was virtually a curse word in Chrzanow at the time.


It may seem curious, but nevertheless it is a fact that because of its geographical situation as a border city between Tsarist Russia and free Austria, Chrzanow had a large number of traditional Jewish teachers.

During the Russian anti-Jewish actions in the 1880s, as well as during the years 1905-1906, masses of Jews escaped the pogroms and arrived at Chrzanow. Those who could afford the trip or who had relatives in America, continued further. But the mass of poor and hopeless Jews, who possessed no material goods, remained in Chrzanow. Since many of them were scholars, they settled there and became teachers. These Jews initiated a certain revival, and influenced several generations of students.

Forty or fifty years ago (around 1900) it was impossible to imagine a boy who had reached the age of Talmud study who hadn't spent several semesters with Reb Yosl Lipe, Reb Shloyme Kotsker, Reb Hersh Melamed, Reb Nute Dayan, or one of the other "Polish" teachers. While not all of the teachers were from the other side of the border, the majority of them, in fact, were not from Chrzanow. This diversity had a certain cosmopolitan influence on the Jewish youth of Chrzanow.

We cannot deal with the subject of teachers without describing Reb Volf Shor, who was well-loved by everyone and who was a pedagogue in the fullest sense of the word. He wasn't someone who turned to teaching because he had nothing else to do; rather, he was a teacher with character and a strong sense of responsibility. Born and raised in Chrzanow, he had a profound knowledge of the German classical literature, and was at the same time a traditional Jewish scholar. In contrast to other teachers, he placed the greatest emphasis in his teaching on the Bible, the Prophets, and the Writings, accomplishing wonders. Most of his students were the children of simple Jews and artisans, because the Chasidim harassed him, spreading the rumor that he taught Moses Mendelssohn's Biur "P22" as a commentary to the Bible. But it was an uncontested fact that when the Sabbath arrived, all of his students, even the ones with "rocks in their heads," knew the weekly Torah reading along with the Haftorah like the backs of their hands. His students who are still alive today can testify to that.

It is beyond our scope here to describe all of the occupations of the Jews of Chrzanow. We only want to demonstrate that they were hardly idlers. Characters on the model of Sholem-Aleychem's Menachem Mendl were hardly to be found in Chrzanow. There wasn't a single area of the economy in which Jews were not heavily represented. Jews in Chrzanow made their mark in trade, industry and as artisans. With their hard work they made Chrzanow a major center of trade and production that was known throughout the business world.

Furthermore, aside from their competence and success, they always remained true to Judaism and the Torah, their tradition, and their ways of dressing.

In contrast to other Polish Jewish towns, Chrzanow was unusual in that its scholars in Rabbinic learning, its pious and God-fearing Jews were not necessarily the most fiery Chasidim, but also simple merchants and storekeepers, tailors and shoemakers, artisans and horse traders, and so forth. There were several examples. Reb Moyshe Hochbaum, the well-known scholar and town preacher of Chrzanow, was the son of a shoemaker and himself a confectioner. Another shoemaker's son became the rabbi of the nearby town of Kalwarie, Reb Avrom Neuhof. Reb Elye Shuster, also popular, repaired old shoes by day, while in the morning and at night he taught a Talmud class to older men in town. Reb Itshele Weitzenblum, who was a tailor, a scholar to be reckoned with, and a man with a record of good works, was the preacher at the Psalm Society, and simultaneously the First Officer of the burial society. Reb Zismel Shames, the secretary of the town study house, knew the entire Mishna by heart. Dr. Itzchak-Schwartzbart, who became the pride of Polish Jewry, was an innkeeper's son. Reb Yukl Bochner, a horse trader, a Jew with aristocratic manners, and a philanthropist, was the chairman of the Jewish community for many years. An optician, Reb Avrom Hirsh Reifer, was a Belzer Chasid and a scholar. These examples illuminate the essence of Chrzanow Jewry.

After the death of Reb Shloymele b/m the first rabbi in Chrzanow, the rabbinical post remained vacant for many years, until a decision was made to fill it with Reb David Halbershtam b/m the son of the author of the revered Divrey Chaim. For the first Sabbath in his new position, Reb David was accompanied to Chrzanow by his father, the Rabbi of Sanz, Reb Chaim b/m There was still no railroad station in Chrzanow at that time, so the community ordered a carriage, driven by two Chrzanow coachmen, to bring the rabbis from the nearest railroad station at Trzebinia. During the trip, the two coachmen sitting next to each other in front argued over a particular passage in the commentary of Tosafot on the Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin. Overhearing this dispute, Reb Chaim said to his son, "You hear, Dovidl? You'd better work hard. If the coachmen are such scholars, can you imagine how brilliant the bourgeoisie must be?"

When Dr. Natan Birnbaum b/m (Matisyohu Akhar) was in Chrzanow in the year 1913, he related an anecdote that illustrated his personal impression of Jewish Chrzanow.

As is well known, Dr. Birnbaum was quite distant from Judaism and from Jewish life in general in his younger years. Living in Vienna, he had only the slightest connection with the Eastern Jews. Even more: as he expressed it at the time, he felt a certain contempt toward the "unproductive Ostjuden." Once, however, as he was traveling through Chrzanow on the Sabbath, he looked through the window of the railroad car and saw something that radically changed his attitude toward Eastern Jews. He saw a coachman-from Chrzanow, dressed in his Sabbath clothes-a silk overcoat, with a broad silk belt wrapped around his waist and a shtreimel on his headleading his horse to the town stream to drink. This image, Matisyohu Akhar declared, motivated him to become more interested in the Jewish question in Eastern Europe.

The observance of the Sabbath by the Jews of Chrzanow is extremely interesting. Despite the fact that Jews were in almost complete control of the economy, not once did a Jew keep his store or workshop open in public on the Sabbath. If other cities kept the Sabbath, Chrzanow kept the "Sabbath of Sabbaths." Even the Gentiles had to rest on the Jewish Sabbath. The synagogues and study houses were packed with congregants. A sublime atmosphere reigned outside and at home, and Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky put it well during his visit to Chrzanow before World War I: "Jews, you should be proud of your city. It is the Jerusalem of Galicia."

Rabbis in Chrzanow


JUST WITHOUT A DOUBT the high point in the rabbinical history of Chrzanow is occupied by its first and most significant rabbi, Reb Shloymele b/m. In fact it can fairly be said that Chrzanow's history as a Jewish city began only when it hired its first rabbi. The fact that Torah and work went hand in hand in Chrzanow is largely the result of the efforts of its beloved and unforgettable rabbi.

Reb Shloymele was born in Olkusz. His father was Reb Moyshe Charif, one of the last members of the Council of the Four Lands. His name itself ("charif" means someone with a sharp mind) bears witness to his greatness in Torah. As a member of the Council of the Four Lands, which met at the major fairs at set times, he played a considerable role in regulating the religious and social life of the Jews in Poland, Lithuania, and other areas.

Little is known about Reb Moyshe Charif's activities or his influence, because he was an extremely humble man all his life. He sought no publicity while he was alive, nor did he leave behind any writings that might have cast more light on his life and works. His most characteristic traits were modesty and simplicity. He didn't want to turn the Torah into a source of income. His son inherited these qualities from him.

While still a boy of eight or nine years, Reb Shloymele was noted for his diligence and his straightforward approach to study. An enemy of artificial disputation, he always sought the clearest and simplest interpretations, rather than the twisted, uncertain strategies of interpretation that did so much harm to the minds of the yeshiva students and those who sat in the study houses at the time.

It is said that one time his father, Reb Moyshe Charif, attended a very long session of the Council of the Four Lands at a fair in a large city in Poland. The session dragged on because the leading scholars present got involved in a dispute concerning a certain point in the Talmud. They couldn't determine the plain sense of the text, and eventually Reb Moyshe Charif called out to them: "You know what, gentlemen? I have a nine-year-old son at home in Olkusz. With his brilliant mind, he'll get us out of this confusion." They immediately decided to hire the swiftest pair of horses, so that Reb Moyshe could ride home to Olkusz to ask the boy what the proper meaning of the text was, and all the scholars stayed at the fair to wait for the answer.

Arriving home at Olkusz in the middle of the night, Reb Moyshe immediately woke up his Shloymele, who was sound asleep near the warm oven. After the boy had washed his hands and rubbed his sleepy eyes, his father opened up the Talmud to the correct page, and asked the boy to explain the passage which had so confused the members of the Council. The boy scanned the entire page of the Talmud, and opened his eyes wide, as if to ask his father, "What's so hard to understand here?"

At that, his father rewarded him with a resounding slap and angrily said to his son: "Several luminaries of the Torah are sitting at the fair struggling to understand such a complicated topic, and for you there's no difficulty whatsoever?"

The nine-year-old boy replied: "You see, Father, it would indeed be a difficult question, unless you remember what the Talmud said four pages earlier. If you compare the two, you will see that the meaning is clear and simple, and there's no need to apply fancy interpretations to it."

His father, abashed, kissed his child on the forehead and said, "May his kind multiply in Israel."

Of Reb Shloymele's earlier years, all we know is that he studied with the early Chasidic Rebe, Reb Shmelke in Nikolsburg, and that the "Seer" of Lublin was his closest friend. He was a unique personality, remarkable for his unusual modesty. A century and a half ago, already a well-known star scholar in Poland, he did not seek to assume a rabbinical pulpit, but instead decided to learn a trade, so that he could support himself without depending on the organized community and those who collected its revenues. In fact, he worked as a goldsmith in his earlier years, and he supported his wife and children from his income at this trade.

Having such a great scholar among them, the prominent men in town approached him to ask that he become their rabbi. However, Reb Shloymele categorically refused, explaining that he didn't want the Torah to become a source of material benefit.

Realizing that they wouldn't get anywhere with Reb Shloymele, the committee turned to his wife, the future rebetsin Hese, trying to convince her to influence her husband to accept the rabbinical position. Like every wife who wants to have a rabbi as a husband, she criticized him sharply for his stubbornness, even threatening to disrupt the tranquility of their home. One time Reb Shloymele responded to her with the famous pun, "You should love your work, even if it leads you to oppose the rebetsin.

It wasn't until the committee approached Reb Shmelke, who ordered his student to take the rabbinical post in Chrzanow and backed up the order with his own rabbinical authority, that Reb Shloymele agreed to become the rabbi of the city.

Reb Shloymele's greatness was centered in his simplicity. He had no pretensions to establish a rebe's court, nor did he consider the rabbinate to be a position with a status above that of ordinary people. In contrast to his comrades, such as the abovementioned Seer of Lublin, Reb Kalman of Cracow, the author of the Meor veShermesh; and Reb Berish Ospitziner, he led a poor and modest life, following the authentic way of the founder of Chasidism, Reb Yisroel Baal Shem Toy. Like the Baal Shem Tov he was involved with the simple people, the masses. It is well known that he even helped establish a congregation of completely unlettered men in Chrzanow, so that they wouldn't have to feel inferior to the Talmud scholars in the study house.

Reb Shloymele and his family lived in an area that later became the back room of the study house. He sat studying the Torah day and night, carrying on extensive correspondence with the Torah luminaries of his generation, especially with the abovementioned Meor veShemesh of Cracow. The following legend has been handed down, and it can serve as a measure of his influence on the Jews of Chrzanow and their indestructible faith in him:

One Friday before dawn, Reb Shloymele stood at the entrance to the study house, holding a letter addressed to the Meor veShemesh in Cracow (about 40 kilometers from Chrzanow). A young boy arrived just then with his tefilin under his arm, planning to pray with the first minyan. (The boy was the grandfather of Moritz Feltsher.) Reb Shloymele said to him, "Be so good, child, as to go to Reb Kalman in Cracow and hand this letter to him. Wait for Reb Kalman to write his reply on the other side of the paper. Meanwhile, I'll hold onto your tefilin until you return." The boy didn't ask any questions. He went to Cracow. Returning with the reply, the messenger found Reb Shloymele still standing at the same place, and the boy still managed to pray with a minyan...

Despite his diligence as a scholar, Reb Shloymele devoted a great deal of time and energy to community affairs, especially charity. He often made the rounds of the homeowners to collect money, so that he could distribute it among those who were ashamed to ask for money themselves.

Honored and esteemed by the Talmud scholars of the time, and beloved by the masses, Reb Shloymele also had a great deal of influence on the noblemen and peasants in the countryside surrounding Chrzanow. According to various legends, the Gentiles of the area had a great deal of respect for the holy rabbi, and his word was law even to them.

His modesty and honesty were legendary. His creed was that the Torah should not be exploited for material benefit. For Reb Shloymele, "the Torah for its own sake" was the highest value in life. He did not publish his letters and Torah insights, preferring instead to distribute them among his children. The extent to which Reb Shloymele refused to view the rabbinate as a source of income may be seen from his will, which he left to his children and his children's children: he forbade them to become rabbis. Although some of his sons and grandsons became major scholars, they were true to the will of their great father and grandfather, until they died during the days of Hitler.

Reb Shloymele died in Chrzanow on Lag Be'Omer in the year 1819. Thousands of Jews from Chrzanow and from other areas near and far would gather together from time to time to pour out their bitter hearts at his grave, weep their troubles away, and gather hope that they would be helped by Divine providence thanks to the merit of Reb Shloymele, b/m.


After the death of the great Reb Shloymele, Chrzanow did not have an easy time finding a new rabbi. Since, in accordance with the terms of Reb Shloymele's will, none of his sons would take over the rabbinate, Chrzanow was without a rabbi for roughly two decades. The legal functions of a rabbi were carried out by the chief judge, Reb Nechemye Pozner b/m.

During this time Sanz also cast its influence over Chrzanow. Clearly, personal factors were no longer decisive in this process, but rather the "court" of Sanz. Thus, the vacant rabbinical post in Chrzanow went to the first rabbi of the Halbershtam dynasty, Reb David b/m.

In contrast to Reb Shloymele's rabbinical tenure, Reb David's may be described as an unhappy experience, despite the fact that Reb David was a great authority in the rabbinic world. As the son of the Divrey Chaim, the famous rabbi of Sanz, Reb Chaim Halbershtam, he lacked the pride and faith in himself which his great father had possessed. He wanted to copy Sanz, and what came out was indeed no more than a mere copy-in a poor edition, at that.

While Reb David occupied the rabbinical position in Chrzanow, a major conflict raged between Sanz Chasidirn on one hand, and Radomsker Chasidirn on the other-or more accurately, between Radomsker Chasidirn and Reb David. Apparently this dispute was based on a local conflict, because as everyone knew, the Sanzer Rabbi had written an introduction to the book called Tiferes Shlomo, written by the founder of Radomsk Chasidism; in addition to which, the son of the first Radomsker Rebe, the author of the Chesed l'Avrohom, was a devoted follower of the Sanzer Rebe, and often went to Sanz for the Sabbath. The dispute reached its climax during an affair involving Reb Heshe Gross. One of the most respected citizens of Chrzanow, this scholarly Jew owned the tobacco monopoly at the time, and was a respected Radomsker Chasid. The well-known writer Gershom Bader describes the Reb Heshe Gross affair in his memoirs, published in the New York Morning-Journal in 1938. 1 cite from memory:

"I was born in Oswiecim. At the age of five, my father said to me: 'My child, I want to take you to Chrzanow. I'm planning to travel there, and there you'll see something that's a once in a lifetime occurrence. And since I don't know whether you'll ever have the chance to witness such a scene in your lifetime, I want you to see it as a child.'

"In Chrzanow there was a Jew by the name of H. Gross. During the bitter battle between Sanz and Sadigura, this Jew had expressed sympathy for the Sadigurer, using an impolite epithet against Sanz. This led to the man's being excommunicated by the rabbi, Reb David. This Jew suffered greatly from the ban, because according to the law, Jews were not allowed to have anything to do with him. Even his own wife and children were forced to keep their distance from him. In order to annul a ban of excommunication, it is necessary that the excommunicated person undergo certain public forms of humiliation, by means of which he is freed of his sin, or whatever caused the ban. The day my father took me along to Chrzanow was the day H. Gross was to undergo these humiliations. The streets were packed with people. Everyone wanted to be in front, to get a better view of the excommunicated man. My father held me up in his arms so that I could see better. It was a terrible picture. A Chasidic Jew came out of a house; he was pale and terrified, and his face was full of sorrow. He wore no hat, and had nothing on his head but a yarmulke. He had no shoes, only socks, like on Tisha B'Av. In this fashion the Jew walked from his house to the large synagogue. All the way boys threw stones at him, while the adults shrank away from him, in order to avoid proximity. I clearly saw him being struck by a stone in the face, and his face covered with blood. As if the stone had struck someone else entirely, the Jew continued to the synagogue. I don't know what happened in the synagogue, because my father couldn't get inside with me."

This event ignited a burning enmity toward Reb David on the part of the Radomsk Chasidim, which was inherited by his son, who took over his rabbinical post. The affair of Reb Heshe Gross drew out like a red thread through further disputes, as we will see later.

Reb David b/m later suffered considerable troubles and anguish on account of various libels that were brought against him to the authorities, stemming from the excommunication episode. He had to hide for a certain time, because plans to put him in prison were discovered. It was said that a special cell had already been prepared, cleaned and whitewashed for the rabbi, but influential Jews and a huge sum of money saved Reb David from this disgrace.

Several years before he died, Reb David was fated to suffer another kind of anguish. When the rabbinical post in the nearby town of Jaworzno became free, Reb David allowed his son (Reb Moyshe the Rabbi's son, who, incidentally, was a brother-in-law of Zionist leader Ahad Ha'Am), to convince him to place his grandson (Reb Moyshe's son) in the position, despite the fact that a highly respected Talmud scholar, Reb Vove Rosenblum b/m, was also a candidate for the post. Reb David wanted to force the acceptance of his grandson Reb Yosef Elimelech as the new rabbi, and he rode to Jaworzno to influence the outcome of the affair. But once there, Reb David realized that he had not considered public opinion in the community. Jaworzno wouldn't let itself be bullied into a decision, and Reb Vove was elected by a large majority.

On the Sabbath when Reb David was in Jaworzno, his supporters stole the Torah scrolls from the local study house, so that his opponents would not be able to read the weekly Torah portion. And, even more shameful, the Torah scrolls were later found hidden in someone's bed.


Reb David b/m, died in the year 1894. The only one of his sons who was considered as a possible successor to the rabbinate in Chrzanow was Reb Naftoli b/m , the most worthy of the several brothers. During his lifetime, Reb David had also expressed his preference for Reb Naftoli. But then an incident took place that caused much bad feeling in town. A dispute broke out that did not reflect well on the Jewish city of Chrzanow.

The previously mentioned Reb Yosef Elimelech had been his grandfather's favorite while his grandfather was still alive. Unusually gifted, he was a fine speaker, an extraordinary leader of communal prayer, and on top of everything, quite wealthy. Concisely-Torah and greatness in one. Reb Yosef Elimelech, whom Reb David had sought to proclaim rabbi of Jaworzno, allowed himself to be called "Our Teacher and Master, " and strove to obtain the Chrzanow rabbinate after his grandfather's death. Thanks to his personal qualities Reb Yosef Elimelech quickly gained a party of supporters in town, among whom were the Radomsk Chasidim, who were still motivated by their enmity to Reb David and consequently to his son Reb Naftoli as well.

The dispute over the rabbinical position in Chrzanow between Reb Naftoli on the one hand; and Reb Yosef Elimelech on the other, took on a very dramatic character, especially because of the intervention of the Shinewer Rabbi, the author of the Divrey Yechezkel, a brother of Reb David who was very famous at that time.

The Shinewer Rabbi was on Reb Naftoli's side. Of course, the Shinewer Rabbi's word carried a great deal of authority, and in the beginning it seemed that Reb Naftoli would be victorious. But Reb Yosef Elimelech's supporters didn't remain idle, either. They used freely their most formidable weapon-money, of which Reb Yosef Elimelech had plenty.

According to Austrian law in force at that time, a rabbi could not be elected unless he had at least an elementary school diploma. In other cities the authorities overlooked this detail during rabbinical elections. In Chrzanow, however, the deciding factor turned out to be not the Jewish scholarship of the various candidates, but rather the question of the elementary school diploma. This, in turn, was the result of the explanations that one of the sides provided to the authorities.

According to the election results, and by bribing the necessary parties, Reb Yosef Elimelech emerged the apparent victor. But although the election was considered valid, the dispute did not end there; on the contrary, it became even sharper. The following description by our fellow townsman, Lipa Hirshberg, illustrates the forms the dispute took:

"During the dispute over the rabbinate, or as it was called, 'the great dispute,' I was barely nine years old. I sat at the third Sabbath meal in the great synagogue with my father, may he rest in peace, who was on Reb Yosef Elimelech's side. We were together with a crowd of Jews, singing religious melodies in the darkness. Suddenly stones began flying through the window, and a crowd of supporters of the other side broke into the study house shouting. A fight broke out, just as if -(pardon the comparison) -we had been in a tavern. Many heads were bashed, beards torn, shtreimelech stepped on, and silk overcoats ripped. There was such a commotion that to this very day, I can't understand how this could happen among Jews... "

Since neither side was willing to surrender, the community decided to keep the peace by paying salaries to both rabbis. By law Reb Yosef Elimelech was the official rabbi of Chrzanow, but the townspeople themselves considered both Reb Naftoli and Reb Elimelech to be rabbis with equal status.

In time the two rabbis divided the spoils between themselves-that is, both of them had their respective spheres of influence among their loyal supporters.

This "dual rabbinate" continued for about a decade, until the untimely death of Reb Yosef Elimelech b/m.

Reb Yosef Elimelech, whom nature had blessed with physical beauty and other personal advantages, and who in addition was very wealthy, immediately won the hearts of the people of Chrzanow. Not only his supporters but even his opponents became fond of him and had great respect for him. When Reb Yosef Elimelech b/m died in 1907, still a young man and under tragic circumstances, all the Jews of Chrzanow, without exception, mourned for him honestly and properly.

In praise of the Jews of Chrzanow, it must be said that they learned a great deal from this dispute over the rabbinate. They drew the proper conclusions from their experience, for after the death of Reb Yosef Elimelech, the family proposed that his youngest son Leybele be elected in his stead. However, the city remembered its old wound, and didn't support this suggestion.

Reb Naftoli b/m thus became the only rabbi of Chrzanow, although he was not recognized by law as the rabbi of the town.

Reb Naftoli died in the year 1924. His son was named to replace him while the father was still alive.


Rabbi Mendl, with the disputes of his father and grandfather behind him, consolidated the rabbinate of Chrzanow. He was intelligent and energetic, and he knew how to carry out his responsibilities while displaying sympathy for all sides. During his tenure, the old enmity between the Radomsker and Sanzer Chasidim cooled down considerably.

The last and most tragic rabbi of Chrzanow was fated to join his entire congregation when they went as martyrs to Auschwitz during the time of Hitler, in 1942. May the Lord avenge their blood!

Prominent Folks of the City


REB YOSL LIBIANZER played a significant role-indeed, perhaps the most significant-in the history of Chrzanow Jews, both in the economic and spiritual realms. Although he himself was not a scholar, he supported other scholars. Reb Yosl donated a great deal of money to various philanthropic institutions in the city while he himself still lived in Libianz, about six kilometers from Chrzanow. He was a sort of Jewish leader there; his house was a headquarters for the council of elders. An interesting story relates how Reb Yosl became acquainted with the first rabbi of Chrzanow, Reb Shloymele.

Reb Shloymele was often visited by his comrade and student Reb Berish Ospitziner b/m . Unwilling to part from his friend, Reb Shloymele accompanied him a certain distance on the return trip on foot. They continued discussing affairs of the Torah, until the two men arrived at Auschwitz. And when Reb Shloymele set out to return to Chrzanow, Reb Berish refused to let him go alone. Engrossed in weighty matters of the Torah, the two men came back to Chrzanow. This walking back and forth continued, the two rabbis becoming more and more exhausted, until Reb Yosl noticed what was happening. He waited on the road for them at Libianz, got them into his coach and took both of them to their homes.

From that time a close friendship had arisen between the Rabbi of Chrzanow and Reb Yosl Libianzer. Later on the rabbi betrothed his daughter to Reb Yosl's son Reb Yukele. This marriage was the origin of the Kamienica family, which played a significant role in the development of the lumber industry in Chrzanow, and also played a role in spiritual life elsewhere.


Reb Yukele Shenberg b/m the son of Reb Yosl and son-in-law of the first rabbi of Chrzanow, was a brilliant scholar, and also a merchant with a broad perspective on practical matters. He founded the dynasty, so to speak, of the Kamienicas. Reb Yukele built the first two-story brick house in Chrzanow for his family. It faced onto the marketplace. Because this was the first brick building of any significance in the entire city, it was called the "Kamienica" (brick house), and still bears that name today.

Reb Yukele's family, or "the people of Kamienica," as they were generally called, were almost all wealthy, learned Chasidim, and community activists. Their major business was in forests and lumber. The Kamienica family became the noblemen of the city. In the early years, they had a great deal of influence at communal assemblies, rabbinical elections, and in virtually all aspects of municipal affairs. Their opinions carried weight, and their behavior in both social and charitable affairs was an example to everyone.

The Kamienica family was also the fortress of Sanzer Chasidism. For them, Torah was the essence of life and, thanks to the traditions they inherited from their grandfathers, Rabbi Shloymele and Reb Yosl, they brought a great deal of honor to Jewish Chrzanow.


It is well known that the brilliant scholar and rabbi of Sanz, Reb Chaim Halbershtam b/m never pronounced the names of cities, fearing that a city might be named after a Christian saint, and in pronouncing the name he would bear forbidden words on his tongue. When he wanted to refer to Chrzanow, he would say, "The city where Reb Shloyme Leybish Shenberg lives. " That was enough to identify Chrzanow.

Reb Shloyme Leybish was well known. A grandson of the previously mentioned Reb Yukele Shenberg, he had inherited the leadership of the Kamienica family from his grandfather. The fact that the Kamienicas kept within the framework set for them by their founder was largely thanks to its most respected and important representative, Reb Shloyme Leybish.

This man was a magnificent example of the old Jewish patriarchal type, a scholar in the broad sense of the word, with the finest and most elevated qualities which the term "scholar" suggests. He dealt in lumber on a large scale; his capabilities were well-known, and thousands of guldens rode on his expertise. He studied the Talmud all his life. Simultaneously blessed with prestige, Torah, and wealth, he remained a modest man. It was hard for anyone to beat him to the punch with a "Good morning" or "Good Shabes." He always hurried to greet his fellow man; anyone could approach him; he wasn't full of himself. These qualities earned him the respect of every Jew in Chrzanow, without exception.

While still a young man, Reb Shloyme Leybish had enjoyed a prominent place among the intimate circle of the Sanzer Rabbi, and he embodied the true spirit of Sanzer Chasidism, the fine qualities of Reb Chaim b/m . Scholars valued his scholarship, simple Jews valued his morals and his simplicity, and the masses valued his modesty.

And thus for seven decades, the name of Reb Shloyme Leybish was synonymous with "the finest Jew" in the city, and honest, pious women wished each other children who would take after Reb Shloyme Leybish.


This man has truly earned himself a place on the honor roll of the leading men of Chrzanow.

He was quite wealthy, and was respected by the government officials of the area. Although Reb Berish Levy was uneducated (he literally could not read or write any language other than Yiddish), he was the mayor of Chrzanow for a long time. Since he had no children, he spent his entire fortune on charity. His major responsibility was to see to the marriage of poor girls and orphans, many of whom he took into his own home and then married off in opulent style. It was estimated, based on the number of fur hats he bought for young bridegrooms, that he had provided for the marriage of fifty such orphan girls in his lifetime.

There were also occasions on which Jews who had promised a certain dowry before the wedding were unable to come up with the specified sum. The only thing to do in such a case was to go to Reb Berish Levy. He was often awakened in the middle of the night, at which time he would provide the needed funds.

He was quite profligate in regard to charity. It has been told that one Purim only a few poor people were asking for money. He got up in the synagogue and announced that the people should come without fail to pick up the money which he had designated for the holiday. He actually begged them not to ruin his holiday.

In addition to the mitzvahs of charity and arranging for the weddings of poor girls, he was also very much involved in visiting the sick. Reb Berish stayed up entire nights with the sick people in town, bringing the finest and most costly of goods for the poor people among them.

Even though he wasn't a Talmud scholar, Reb Berish Levy was deeply beloved by the Jews of Chrzanow while he was still alive, and he assured himself of a good name in town after he passed away.


When as a boy I read the various wonderful legends about the pious women of the generations, and especially about the glorious figure of Sara bas Tuvim, I was left with the impression that the latter must have looked exactly like Gitl Nachman's.

In Chrzanow Gitl Nachman's embodied the qualities traditionally expected of a Jewish woman: fear of God, love of her fellows, and charity.

She was the daughter of a simple, honest Jew, Reb Nachman Vishnitser b/m. He was neither a scholar nor a Chasid; on the other hand, he was a charitable man with a warm Jewish heart. His daughter Gitl placed herself in the service of the poor and oppressed, the elderly and the sick, widows and orphans.

There wasn't a single charitable society or philanthropic institution in which Gitl Nachman's did not participate. This noble and sympathetic woman also possessed an iron determination to carry out her own plans, thanks to which she became a legend in her own lifetime.

She rightfully considered herself the mother of the town, and she carried out the task fully. She displayed extraordinary energy and courage during efforts to rescue Jewish souls from the hands of proselytizing Gentiles. In Bobrek, about ten kilometers from Chrzanow, there lived a countess who considered it her duty to maintain a dormitory for deserted children in a nearby convent. Every time Gitl Nachman's found out from the employees of the convent that a Jewish child had made its way there, she would run to the countess and apply every possible means of persuasion to convince her to surrender the Jewish child. This required energy and selfsacrifice, because the anti-Semitic countess would set her dogs on Gitl and make the servants tease her, knowing that if Gitl managed to get in, she would have to accede to her every request.

The old age home in Chrzanow was built thanks to her initiative and even more, thanks to her money. She put a huge amount of work into that institution, which unfortunately became neglected and declined after her departure.

Even mental defectives in town benefited from her attentive eye and noble heart. The well-known town madman Menachem Moyshe, who always neglected his appearance and hygiene, was occasionally seized by men whom Gitl paid to force him to the bathhouse, where he was washed and given clean clothes. Many stories were told about her influence on open and secret sinners whom she brought back to decent, Jewish society. One of these stories relates that the mayor of Chrzanow at the time, the committed assimilationist and Jewish anti-Semite Dr. Kepler, who literally could not look a fellow Jew in the eye, was so moved by Gitl's personality and nobility that he promised for her sake to wear fringes and to put on tefilin every day.

Gitl Nachman's longed all her life to travel to the land of our ancestors. Still middle-aged and childless when her husband died, she moved to the longed-for land, and continued her work on behalf of Jewish Chrzanow through her prayers and supplications at the Western Wall and Rachel's grave.


- (The Zheliner Rebe)

The Zheliner Rebe lived and played a significant role in Chrzanow for many years. This Jew was remarkable neither for his scholarship nor for his sharp mind, nor even for his "court." If he is reckoned here among the prominent folk of the city, it is primarily because his piety was famed not only in the city itself, but also beyond its borders.

A small, thin Jew, he did not stand out in a crowd. On the other hand, he was absolute and strict. He had an immense influence on his Chasidim, who were recruited for the most part from among the Jewish masses, and in particular, from among the German Jews who lived on the other side of the border.

His conduct was different from that of the other rebes of his time. He was an ascetic in the full sense of the word, spending entire days in prayer and fasting, totally removed from the vain things of this world. Bitter hearts streamed to him from far and wide seeking relief, and they went away feeling more cheerful, having received a blessing or a promise from this genuine holy man.

The spiritual influence of the Zheliner Rebe on the Jews of Chrzanow was not especially great, however, because Jews in Chrzanow tended to be attracted to Chasidic courts that were also centers of Torah, such as Sanz, Shinew, Radomsk, and later Bobow. Nevertheless, his moral influence was noticeable among the Jewish population because of his extraordinary love of charity. The Zheliner Rebe set an example of how charity is to be distributed, immediately distributing to the poor all the money he received from his numerous wealthy followers. He didn't even keep enough for his own needs-it was said that the Rebe's wife often had to approach his secretary for a loan. Especially impressive was his concern that poor but respectable families be provided with the necessities for Passover. The Rebe had matzohs baked at his own expense, bought potatoes, and had good wines for the four cups brought from Hungary and from the Land of Israel. He had these distributed by people he trusted to the homes of the needy, sparing the latter unnecessary embarrassment.

When the Koshenitser Rebe returned from a visit to the doctors in Vienna in 1910, broken and sick, he stopped to visit the Zheliner Rebe in Chrzanow. He died at the latter's home. Before he died he wrote to his family: "I'm staying at the home of a Jew, who can intercede with Heaven on behalf of a Rebe.

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