REB ZISMELE SHAMES OF BLESSED MEMORY
Reb Zismele Shames was an interesting Jewish character- a paradox even in the
early years-and it is worth acquainting ourselves with this truly honest man
who once lived in Chrzanow.
Reb Zismele Shames (Cyzner) had a fine textile store in the middle of the
marketplace, and didn't lack income. He traded in feathers, did business with
the great Cracow firms, and was respected by other merchants. Moreover, he was
also a scholar whose opinion was to be reckoned with; he had a phenomenal
memory, and knew the entire Mishnah by heart. He was the very model of a
philanthropist, and nevertheless, for five decades, he was the simple caretaker
of the great synagogue. How did this happen? Quite simply. For some time the
great synagogue had no caretaker. Since there. was no one to light the candles
and take care of other everyday chores, Reb Zismele volunteered to serve as
caretaker without remuneration, thus demonstrating that it was no shame, but
rather an honor, to serve God's home. From that point on he neglected his
business, and devoted himself entirely to his responsibilities at the synagogue.
Private citizens provided some income, and later the community also began to
pay him a salary, but he devoted this money to charity in the very highest form
imaginable. His distribution of charity was according to a plan. It didn't
consist of giving pennies to poor people who extend their hands for alms, for
whom taking charity is a profession. Rather, Reb Zismele made it his specialty
to seek out worthy heads of 29 families, artisans, who suffered hunger along
with their families, unwilling to let others know about their need. Reb Zismele
saw to it that these needy people had food.
As a child the writer of these lines often saw Reb Zismele secretly approaching
such respectable people while they stood reciting the Eighteen Benedictions,
slipping several guldens into their pockets. Often the recipients themselves
didn't know who their benefactor was, who had perhaps rescued them from hunger.
Commendably, the city knew how to honor this Jew, and was well aware of his
modesty and piety.
REB HIRSH LEYB BAKON OF BLESSED MEMORY
(The Study House Cantor)
Although Reb Hirsh Leyb was not born in Chrzanow, he made Jewish Chrzanow
famous throughout the world, and the fact that Chrzanow became in time a center
of Jewish and Chasidic music is largely attributed to him.
He was simultaneously a scholar, a musical genius, a wonderful Heldentenor, and
a prolific composer. His compositions are said to number in the hundreds; they
were carried across the world, and often people didn't even know who composed
them. Reb Hirsh Leyb composed settings for all of the Jewish prayers, including
the blessing of the sun (which is said only once every 28 years) and final
confessions. In fact, many composers and musicians have expressed the opinion
that his setting of the confession surpasses the power of Chopin's Funeral
March. His melodies and his specifically Chasidic style of prayer exemplified
both Jewish sincerity and cantorial craft.
Reb Hirsh Leyb founded a school in Chrzanow, conducting services according to
his original style. No new or foreign elements were introduced- rather, like a
skillful art collector, he conserved various forms, and as an expert in his
craft he sorted out all the versions that had been passed down from generation
to generation. Out of them he created a single harmonious, complete melody,
which echoed, precious and intimate, in the ear of the Jewish modern musicians,
Reb Hirsh Leyb prayed in the large study house, which was filled to overflowing
every time he performed.
Reb Hirsh Leyb was closely connected to Chrzanow, and had no desire to exchange
his Chrzanow audience for any other. When he was temporarily in Berlin, from
1919 until 1924, representatives of the local orthodox synagogue on Grenadier
Strasse tried hard to hire him, offering much more favorable terms than he had
in Chrzanow. He was also offered a cantorial post in London, but Reb Hirsh Leyb
refused. As he quite accurately put it, he only wanted to lead prayers for Jews
who prayed along with him, and who understood what he was saying or singing.
And he was even understood by people who could not translate the Hebrew words
of the prayers. In addition to his cantorial compositions, he was a master of
the art of cantorial "saying,"
interpreting the prayers in such a way that he reached hearts and minds. The
following episode illustrates how powerfully his talent influenced his audience.
While the writer of these lines was riding the train from Breslau to Berlin one
day many years ago, he was approached by a German, who introduced himself as a
Jew. One Rosh Hashanah, he said, when he was in Chrzanow, he wanted to hear the
famous cantor. When he entered the large study house, he was simply terrified
by the gesticulations and rocking back and forth of the Chasidic congregants,
and by the inhuman sounds they made as they prayed. But when he heard Reb Hirsh
Leyb "saying" the cantor's prayer "Here am I
he was overcome by a monumental urge to repent, and he decided that from that
day on he would live only for Jews, and if necessary sacrifice his life for
A few of Reb Hirsh Leyb's students are still living as this book is being
written. They remember his wonderful compositions, and it would be more than
worthwhile for them to collect these treasures of Jewish music and record them.
In doing so, they would earn the thanks of future generations, and be blessed
for the merit of this good deed.
[Publisher's note: His son Itzchak, who is a professor of literature at Ben
Gurion University, is working on this task, and I am certain that he will
accomplish it admirably.]
REB LEYBISH MAYZELES OF BLESSED MEMORY
(The Synagogue Cantor)
Equal glory attached to Chrzanow thanks to the efforts of the cantor of the
town synagogue, Reb Leybish Mayzeles b/m. Those Jews of Chrzanow who knew him
well will agree that he belongs among this gallery of the prominent people in
our city. Reb Leybish thoroughly and properly earned this distinction not only
through his forty years of activity as a cantorial musician, but also through
his fine character as a Jew and as a man. A member of nature's aristocracy, he
had been well brought up and also had an advanced musical education. He was a
scholar and an honestly pious, observant Jew, an enthusiastic Chasid, and close
to the courts of both Sadigura and Husyatin. These virtures earned Reb Leybish
considerable honor and recognition from the Jews of Chrzanow.
If Reb Hirsh Leyb was the Verdi of Chasidic music, Reb Leybish was, if the comparison may be permitted, the Wagner of thoughtful composition in his cantorial
creations. He was a master of choral music, a wonderful conductor, and above
all a lyric tenor with a voice that was a gift from God. In the earlier years
he would sing the blessings over the lighting of the Chanukah candles to the
accompaniment of an expanded choir and a finely balanced string and brass
orchestra. This was always a great event, attracting crowds of music lovers.
Among his listeners and fans was the above-mentioned Reb Hirsh Leyb.
Several of those who trained and sang with his choir later became well-known
cantors. Among them were the head cantor of the Pazmonit Temple in Vienna,
Yosef Giblikhman, and the future first Heldentenor of the Royal Opera in
Berlin, Yosef Man.
Thanks to these two famous cantors, Reb Hirsh Leyb and Reb Leybish Mayzeles,
the Jews of Chrzanow had some notion of good music in general, and of Jewish
music in particular. Chrzanow had an entire pleiad of singers who were widely
known for their extraordinary talent, such as Igor Goren of the Metropolitan
Opera, despite the fact that they did not know how to read music. In Chrzanow,
the one who led the prayer in congregation was not only responsible for
appealing to the Most High, but also had to be a fit musician.
REB YISROEL LEYZER WEINTRAUB OF BLESSED MEMORY
from Chrzanow," the wedding performer Weintraub was famous not only in
Poland, but beyond Poland's borders as well. He was much in demand at the
weddings of wealthy and rabbinical families.
More than simply a facile inventor of rhymes, like the majority of wedding
jesters, he was a typical Chrzanow bathan and a serious rabbinical scholar. In
addition to his first-class skill at recitation, his rhymes were peppered with
profound textual insight and pearls of wisdom from the ancient rabbis. His
jokes and puns were packed with cheerful good humor.
Weintraub was a bona fide genius at this craft, a first-class performer. When
he was reciting in front of the groom before the ceremony, or in front of the
bride during the ritual of checking her veil, even elderly Jews wept rivers of
tears- and then they doubled over in laughter after the wedding supper, when
Weintraub entertained the crowd with his jokes and "bits."
As a rule, whenever anyone was invited to a wedding, the first question was
whether Weintraub would be present. Everyone knew that the catering had to be a
little fancier at a wedding where Yisroel Leyzer Weintraub was going to perform.
His jokes and impersonations often lifted Jewish Chrzanow out of deep sadness.
When people were depressed it was enough for Weintraub to appear, and they
began to laugh and forget their troubles. Such was the power of this modem
Hershele Ostropoler (famous Galician humorist).
DR. ADOLF RIESER
We, the older Zionists, always called him "The Old Man." This
nickname expressed both our affection and our deep respect for the well-known
We liked him for his warm human and Jewish heart, for his pure conscience and
his affectionate attitudes. As a doctor, he earned the affection of every Jew
in Chrzanow without exception. But we also respected him as an honest and
unconditional Zionist of Herzl's school.
In his youth he and Dr. Shmuel Cyfer had led the Zionist movement in Chrzanow.
He had taken an active part in every Zionist undertaking, and gave a great deal
of his income to Zionist funds. His money paid for the erection of the
synagogue, which served as the assembly hall for Zionist demonstrations. Under
his influence, his wife worked tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish nation. Her
commitment and behavior served as a model for our Jewish women.
When the Jewish intelligentsia became better developed, Dr. Adolf Rieser set
the tone for the Jewish nationalist camp in general, and for the nationalist
intelligentsia in particular.
All of the surviving Jews of Chrzanow will be happy to learn that our "Old
Man" miraculously avoided the murderous hands of the Nazis, and survived
to see the realization of his lifelong dream: the proclamation of the Jewish
state in the Land of Israel.
(The touch of his hand, his smile, his mere presence was enough to make one
feel well again. S.G.)
DR. SHMUEL CYFER
The son of Leybl and Fanny Cyfer, Shmuel Cyfer was born into a modern,
enlightened Jewish family. A lawyer by profession, for a long ti me he was the
director of the Jewish birth registry, and the First Vice Mayor of Chrzanow.
Samuel Cyfer, as he was generally known in the city, well earned the right to a
monument among its prominent folk. A warm-hearted Jew and a Zionist with a
broad perspective, he had a fine instinct for the common good. He could have
achieved high status in the larger Jewish world. However, his patriotic feeling
for Chrzanow and his concern for the needs of the Jewish population kept him
rooted to our city. Of equal importance was his true and pure love for his
extended family, to which he sacrificed his own family happiness.
In order to evaluate his forty years of activity, we must first acquaint
ourselves with the atmosphere in which Dr. Shmuel Cyfer lived. On one hand
there was a Chasidic, conservative mass that wouldn't permit even the slightest
fresh breeze to blow in from the outside world; on the other hand there was a
young generation growing up, which threw itself from one extreme to the other.
In addition there was a small Jewish intelligentsia, made up of people who
prided themselves on their Polish culture, but were unable to find a proper
place in the world.
As soon as his social activity on behalf of Jewish nationalism began, Shmuel
Cyfer's talent, potential, stubbornness, and Jewish pride became obvious. He
was held back neither by the petrified attitudes of the Chasidic masses, nor by
the "What will the Gentiles say?" crowd, the distorted ideologues
among the small group of assimilators.
During the elections to the Austrian parliament, the rabbis and rebes, who did
not have an activist conception of politics, controlled the masses and always
ordered them to vote for the candidates put forward by the government, even if
they were the worst anti-Semites, to keep the aristocracy satisfied. But Dr.
Cyfer fought like a lion in defense of Jewish national principles and political
In matters that had to do with defending Jewish interests, Shmuel Cyfer was a
competent lawyer of deep erudition. At the same time, however, he was an
outspoken fighter against discrimination. He thoroughly opposed the
accommodationist politics of many of the leaders of Chrzanow, and he struggled
against them despite their temporary successes. Jewish national honor was more
important to him than all of the little favors and kindnesses which the
well-known Jewish representatives Reb Faytl Halman and Reb Zisma Kinreich won
from the Polish authorities by dishonorable means.
When the Germans arrived Dr. Shmuel Cyfer fled deeper into the country with his
sister, believing that he would be able to escape them someplace where he, was
not known. He and his sister both died at the hands of German murderers during
the slaughter in 1942 m/b/a.
REB JECHESKIEL ZAJAC OF BLESSED MEMORY
The older generation has tragically disappeared, and in the future we will
never again have the opportunity to meet such fine and interesting Jewish
characters as Reb Jecheskiel Zajac. Therefore it is worthwhile to include a
brief and modest picture of this rich personality amongst our gallery of the
city's prominent people.
A son of the Rabbi of Olkusz, in his youth he had absorbed Torah for its own
sake, without neglecting books of Jewish morality as well as secular books.
Nevertheless, he didn't lose his soul, as the expression went in those days. On
the contrary: it was while reading foreign literature that he first became a
devoted patriot of higher Jewish morals. The education of the younger
generation became his main mission. Reb Jecheskiel Zajac believed that neither
the slaps of the fathers nor the whips of the teachers were proper means of
education, but rather kind speech and impassioned appeal to the conscience of
the child. Some extremely moving scenes took place when Reb Jecheskiel
addressed the children in the study house or the Talmud Torah. His native
talent as a spiritual guide greatly influenced their religious and intellectual
Reb Jecheskiel Zajac also devoted a good deal of time and energy to elderly
Jewish artisans and storekeepers, giving them lectures in the Jewish morality
books and the Torah portion of the week on the Sabbath and holidays. He also
stood out as a preacher, drawing large audiences with his power of logical
persuasion and his wonderful parables. Since he was himself an experienced
merchant with a solid knowledge of the practical world, his influence over his
audience was significantly greater than that of the professional preachers and
the speakers who had no other occupation.
Because of his fine personal character and his friendly attitude toward his
fellows, he was loved and respected by a large number of Jews in Chrzanow. May
his memory be blessed.
REB SHMUEL GRAJOWER OF BLESSED MEMORY
Reb Shmuel Grajower was neither a community activist nor a simple busybody. He
was neither a "big shot" nor even a representative of the community
in its dealings with the authorities, although his intellectual capacities and
his material means were such that he could have held a prominent position in
society. Nevertheless, Reb Shmuel Grajower was one of the brightest lights
among the leading personalities of our city.
He was a descendant of the rabbinical judge of Cracow, Reb Yidl Grajower
and also of the well-known Cracow family Shamrot, who were famous for their
quick and "'wild" minds. Reb Shmuel was among the "last of the
Mohicans," a representative of the old-style Galician Jewish Enlighteners,
and a leading student of the founders of
Wissenschaft des Judentums
(Jewish secular knowledge), Reb S.Y Rappoport, Reb Nachman Krochmal, and Reb
Among the large number of rabbinical scholars in Chrzanow, Reb Shmuel stood out
with his thorough, encyclopedic knowledge, his phenomenal memory, and his
logical analysis. He was a man of deep erudition both in Talmudic and secular
knowledge, and he had a modem, relevant approach to all of the problems of
Judaism in general, and to Jewish research in particular. Reb Shmuel
represented a fine Jewish synthesis of deep religiosity and modern humanist
In addition, Reb Shmuel, along with his brothers Reb Chayeml Grajower from
Kwocala and Reb Sender Grajower from Jaworzno, were known throughout Western
Galicia for having the most thorough knowledge of the Book of Books-the Five
Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings.
As a good Hebrew stylist and grammarian, he devoted a great deal of study to
the older Jewish literature. Catholic clergy visited him frequently, in order
to hear his opinions regarding various philosophical or religious questions,
although they managed somehow to avoid unpleasant religious disputes.
The nobler individuals among the Polish intelligentsia also treated him with
great respect, which was a source of great honor for Jewish Chrzanow.
REB CYNA KURZ OF BLESSED MEMORY AND HIS COURTYARD
Reb Cyna Kurz was a sort of Jewish patrician, quite a wealthy man, and the very
model of the old-fashioned Jewish patriarch. He was a philanthropist on a
generous scale, with a deep understanding of others' needs. The story is told
of how he was once visited by a pauper whom he did not know. Seeing that the
Jew was well dressed, he gave the man a gold piece, assuming that he had once
been well-off but had lost his money. That night, however, a member of his
household reported seeing the same pauper at a restaurant, spending the entire
gold piece on goose and wine. Hearing this, Reb Cyna left his house, found the
poor Jew, and gave him another gold piece, saying that if he had known the Jew
was accustomed to eating goose and drinking wine, he would have given him two
gold pieces in the first place, instead of just one. This episode is generally
characteristic of the wealthy Jews of former times, who distributed charity not
for the sake of their own reputations, but because of their desire to help the
Reb Cyna Kurz was always cheerful when it came to giving money. He and his
partner Reb Shloyme Zelinger held the monopoly on the sale of spirits under the
Austrian government. He was a loyal devotee of Reb Naftoli, and since he wanted
to support the latter somehow, Reb Cyna invented various disputes with his
partner, whose handling of financial matters left something to be desired. Reb
Naftoli earned a fine living from these frequent court cases.
Although he was wealthy, Reb Kurz lived modestly; although not a scholar
himself, he supported rabbinical scholars and Torah institutions; although he
was not a Chasid, any rebe who came to town found a warm welcome at his home.
That was the kind of Jew the master of the courtyard was. And now a few words
about the courtyard itself.
If Chrzanow was a true Jewish city, Reb Cyna Kurz's courtyard was the most
Jewish spot in town. In addition to Reb Cyna and his children, other Jewish
families lived there, and together they comprised one large Jewish family.
A purely Jewish life pulsed in that courtyard. A clock and a Jewish calendar
were superfluous there-all of the neighbors arose to say penitential prayers at
the same time; everyone lit Sabbath candles simultaneously. Even if someone had
forgotten that it was the Sabbath, the redolence of fish and cooking cholent
would have reminded him. And it was the same at every Jewish holiday.
A contemporary description of this courtyard was printed in the
published in Vilna, as an example of genuine Jewish culture. There were other
Jewish courtyards in town, but Gentiles sometimes made their way into those. At
Reb Cyna Kurz's courtyard, on the other hand, the air was purely Jewish.
For various political purposes, such as elections, the parties would send
representatives specifically to concentrate on this courtyard. In the earlier
years all that was needed was Reb Cyna's approval, and the entire courtyard
would vote along with him. Reb Cyna's word was law.
Reb Mordechai Shor, who was well known to the people of Chrzanow both in the
past and today, must not be omitted from our pantheon of the prominent folk of
the city. He was sensitive and energetic, and despite his 56 years-he was born
about 188-90--he had an activist's youthful temperament. He was tied body and
soul to Chrzanow, both as a founder of Poalei Zion in 1905, forty years before
this writing, and also by seeing to the needs of the surviving Jews from
Chrzanow in America after Hitler's war.
Mordechai Shor was one of the most interesting of the characters who stood at
the cradle of the Zionist movement in Chrzanow early in this century. He stood
out both for his seriousness as a leader, and for his eternal good humor, which
earned him the affection of all the young people. He was very popular
everywhere, and was referred to as "Comrade Shor, " a title he earned
honestly by his friendly and compassionate attitude not only toward his own
comrades, but also to the opposition camp. Even dyed-in-the-wool pietists
treated him with more sympathy than any of the other party leaders in the city.
And as it turned out Mordechai Shor remained the same always; only the
circumstances changed around him. He remained the same "Comrade
Shor," and perhaps became even more so. Right after the war, when the news
spread about the great destruction of Polish Jewry in general and of the Jews
of Chrzanow in particular, Mordechai Shor was the first to spring into action.
He was the only Jew from Chrzanow outside Europe who responded to the great
disaster. With self-sacrifice and abundant energy, he organized assistance for
the Jews of Chrzanow, although it was bitterly difficult for him to assemble
petty sums from the poor Jews from Chrzanow (rich people do not give easily).
When the money was finally counted, however, it came to several thousand
dollars. He himself bought goods, packed them, and sent them to the surviving
Jews of Chrzanow wherever they were living. And for this the Jews of Chrzanow
will eternally remember him.
May these few modest lines serve as an acknowledgment of his altruistic
efforts, and comfort for all of the bitterness and anguish he doubtless
experienced. And may the Lord give him his reward.
REB MOYSHE BOCHNER-MAY THE LORD AVENGE HIS BLOOD
(Moyshe Avrom Heshl's)
just like his grandfather, the first rabbi of Chrzanow, Reb Moyshe Bochner was
also a modest man who kept his light under a bushel. He didn't seek fame, but
stayed within his own four walls. Even among the Jews of Chrzanow he was not
particularly popular, because the public did not know him well. They were
unaware of his sharp insight and his thorough knowledge of the sea of the
Talmud and of the rabbinical literature. He was valued at his proper worth only
by the scholarly circles in Chrzanow, and to some degree in Cracow as well,
since he lived there for several years.
He only revealed himself to the public, and to the scholarly world in
particular, in 1926 when, already 60 years old, he published his
Book of the Thoughts of Moses.
Its contents display unusual breadth of knowledge and insight, of a kind
attained only by rare individuals. He was the only Talmudic scholar in Chrzanow
to publish a book that would have a major impact elsewhere.
Reb Moyshe also completed a second volume in his last years -a sort of
anthology of Torah insights and commentaries on difficult passages of the
Talmud. Unfortunately the manuscript was destroyed by Nazi murderers. Among the
Talmud scholars of Chrzanow, Reb Moyshe occupied the most prominent place,
despite his modesty and humility, despite the fact that he fled public honors.
His extraordinary simplicity served as an example for those around him, who
appreciated his fine character. He lived among Chasidim, and yet he was no
Chasid; he didn't think much of the rebes with their "courts," unless
they were sources of pure, genuine Torah.
Reb Moyshe suffered the full cruelty of the destruction of his city. In May
1942, at age 79, he was sent to Auschwitz during the first deportation. He was
accompanied by his youngest daughter Taybl, who would not abandon her father to
the murderers, even though she could have escaped. His pure and honest soul
left his body, along with the souls of many other Chrzanow Jews, there in
May vengeance befall his murderers! (Will they ever be avenged?)
DR. ITZCHAK SCHWARTZBART
And last but not least, the best and the brightest gift of the city of Chrzanow
to world Jewry in general and to Polish Jewry in particular. The son of the
city who is the pride of Chrzanow Jewry, and who miraculously survived, from
among the large circle of Jewish personalities which Polish Jewry once boasted.
If a few Jews get together and start talking about Dr. Schwartzbart, you will
immediately discover which, if any, of these Jews comes from Chrzanow. The Jew
from Chrzanow won't refer to him as Itzchak, but rather as Ignac, since that is
how we knew him from his earliest childhood on. Forty-odd (circa 1905) years
ago he used to come home to his parents for the 'Jewish holidays wearing the
uniform of an Austrian gymnasium student, with gold stripes on his collar. We
who were still small boys, although strictly Chasidic, drew strength and
pleasure from every new stripe, which indicated that he had passed into a
higher grade. Eventually, he went to the university to become a doctor. Somehow
we children of that generation instinctively sensed that Ignac would make
something out of himself. We just didn't know that he would go so far, that he
would be known throughout the world.
His father, Reb Mordechai Shoyel, was a simple, honest Jew, who maintained a
proper, religious Jewish house. He maintained a tavern (first across from the
Kamienica, and then on the marketplace, where Bochenek most recently ran the
inn), where he earned his living by honest toil. Reb Shoyel was strict, but
upright. He could pronounce the truth straightforwardly, without flattery or
Ignac's mother was a precious Jewish woman, a "kosher soul" as they
used to say, with a native nobility. Like every pious Jewish woman, she wore a
wig. Nevertheless-, she had a sense of modern education and modern methods of
child-rearing. She participated in all of the philanthropic institutions in the
city, without neglecting her home and children. Together with her husband, she
worked in the business, and she did not forget about paupers, the elderly, and
the sick of the city.
If Polish and world Jewry owes something to Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart, then we
should say, as our parents used to, "Happy is the woman who bore
him!" Chane Schwartzbart honestly earned the right to be mentioned
together with her great son. Moving and just is the inscription on her grave at
the Chrzanow cemetery: "She raised her children to be faithful to their
Ignac and Itzchak Schwartzbart aren't quite the same person, however. Ignac,
the gymnasium student, looked for a semblance of truth in socialism. Later,
however, Itzchak discovered a purely Jewish truth when he went to the
univeristy and encountered the Jewish national renaissance movement represented
and by Yiddish and Hebrew culture. As soon as he convinced himself of this
Jewish truth, twenty-year-old Itzchak threw himself into the work heart and
Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart was born on November 13, 1888 in Chrzanow. In 1911, at
age 23, Schwartzbart was already playing a leading role in nationalist circles,
being elected chairman of the Zionist academic organization
in Cracow. This group later became the avant-garde of the Zionist leadership in
Western Galicia and Silesia. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 sent
Schwartzbart to the countryside of central Poland as a judge in the Austrian
At the end of the war, he was entrusted with the general secretariat of the
newlyformed Zionist executive of Western Galicia and Silesia. At the same time
Dr. Schwartzbart participated in the founding and direction of the Jewish
national council in Cracow, under the leadership of his great teacher and
future adversary, Dr. Yehoshua Tohn b/m.
In 1921 Dr. Schwartzbart was named editor-in-chief of the Cracow daily Nowy
A Polish-language newspaper, it was nevertheless a proudly Jewish national
tribune, and the Jewish and even Polish public gave its opinions serious
consideration. At the same time he was a collaborator on the Lemberg
and countless other periodicals. By the late 1940s, Dr. Schwartzbart had been a
delegate to virtually every Zionist congress for almost forty years; in 1933 he
was elected a member of the Zionist action committee. A short time later he
also became a member of the administrative council of the World Jewish
Congress. As a candidate for Dr. Tohn's position in the Polish Sejm,
Schwartzbart received 94% of the Jewish votes. He was also a member of the
Cracow city council, and chairman of the Jewish councilmembers' club.
When Hitler's war broke out, Dr. Schwartzbart managed to escape to Rumania,
where he became involved in intensive social action among the Jewish refugees.
An of his energy was devoted to getting Jews to the Land of Israel. In 1940,
General Sikorsky summoned him to join the Polish government in London. At the
end of Hitler's war Dr. Schwartzbart was the first Polish Jew to return and
visit the surviving remnant in Germany. His speech at the first congress of the
Jewish survivors in Munich went straight to our bones. In 1946 he was summoned
to America to direct the organizational department of the World Jewish Congress.
It is indeed difficult to characterize Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart. Should we
begin with the organizational activist or the journalist? The Zionist leader,
the politician, or the representative of the people's wishes? His multifaceted
character demands more extensive treatment, and a thorough picture of this
great personality cannot be provided in the narrow framework of this volume.
At the time this book is being written, in the late 1940s, it is too early to
evaluate his activities. Despite his sixty years and hard work, Dr. Itzchak
Schwartzbart is still in the midst of his work on behalf of his land and his
people, toiling with faith and courage. We hope and wish to see Dr.
Schwartzbart as a leading personality in the State of Israel for which we have
longed and dreamed, speedily and in our days.
The Educational Institutions in Chrzanow
CHRZANOW WAS known primarily as a city of trade and artisanry, with its
Prussian merchants, its tailors, and market merchants. Its inhabitants were
Chasidim and men of good deeds. Chrzanow never boasted any world-famous
yeshivas; it never produced any great men of the Torah famed throughout the
world. Nevertheless Torah education occupied an important position. In the
early days prior to World War I, the major center of Torah was the large study
house. It was always packed with young men and boys who studied there day and
night. Later, after World War I, and especially after 1919, when General
Haller's anti-Semitic armies turned the study house into a barn for a short
period (later it was ruined and demolished), the center of Torah was diminished
and dispersed to the Chasidic synagogues of the Sanzer, Bobower, and Radomsker
Chasidim. Only when someone wanted to check a reference in a rare volume did he
go to the large abandoned study house, because its walls were still filled with
shelves of rare, precious volumes.
The pious Jews who resided in the city did not possess any particular sense of
social good, nor did they establish any significant educational institutions.
The educational societies they did establish, such as Talmud Torah, the Psalm
Society, the Regular Study Group and the like, generally flourished for only a
short time. These groups died together with their founders, who had devoted so
much energy and sacrifice to them while they were still alive. The only
exception was the Supporters of Study, which existed for three decades without
interruption, and which had a great influence on the education of Chrzanow's
In the following pages we will review each of the major educational
In every Jewish settlement, a communal Jewish school was established, and it
should have been the greatest of the educational institutions. However, the
Talmud Torah, which existed for over 150 years in Chrzanow, flourished only
rarely. All of its students were poor, or more accurately, the poorest of the
poor, including a large number of orphans. The level of study was quite low.
thousands-passed through its classroom doors, and we can say without any
exaggeration that the Talmud Torah did not produce a single rabbinical scholar.
For the most part its students were ill-clothed, hungry boys who studied in
poorly maintained rooms, with up to eighty in a class, taught by a teacher who
was dreadfully poor himself, and bitter on account of his poverty. The boys,
aged between ten and twelve, studied for ten hours a day. When they turned
thirteen they were sent as apprentices to an artisan- a tailor, shoemaker, or
employee in some business. They left the Talmud Torah as ignoramuses, and if
they became free thinkers in time, it is because they became hostile to Torah
Judaism at the Talmud Torah.
Most of the income of the Talmud Torah was raised through the second pledge of
everyone who was called to the Torah on the Sabbath, in any of the
synagogues and even more from all of the pledges during the week of the Torah
portion of Yittro. Sometimes, there would also be modest bequests by people who
were near death. But despite the popularity of the society that ran the Talmud
Torah, and despite the frequent meetings and appeals in the name of the
prominent men of the city, the school's income was small. The teachers' meager
salaries were rarely paid on time, and often not paid for several months at a
time. Thus most of the teachers were incompetent ne'er-do-wells, who
disseminated the Torah with the whip and the fist.
One exception was an extraordinary pedagogue, the well-liked Reb Elye
Rosenboym. b/m. (He was generally known as Elye Reb Meir's.) He taught the
highest grade of the Five Books with Rashi's commentary at the Talmud Torah. He
would also often read from books of morality. With his great logical powers and
his storytelling, parables, and legends, he appealed to his young listeners. He
gave them a lively description of every chamber in the Gehenna described in the
The Beginning of Wisdom.
He also described the great envy the nations of the world felt toward the
Congregation of Israel on account of the Torah, which is the crown of all the
seven wisdoms bestowed by God. The students regarded Reb Elye Meir with respect
and affection, and he had great influence on them.
In the years after Reb Elye Rosenboym's death, a second Bible teacher, Yehoshue
Shlayderer, was also something of an exception. While he didn't have Reb Elye
Meir's power of interpretation, he did have a good heart. He had a careful,
almost paternal attitude toward the children, washing their hands and faces
before he sent them home. He was also acquainted with modern mores, and tried
to update the curriculum a bit.
Often this neglected institution managed to find people who gave all of their
energy on its behalf. For instance, the well-known philanthropists Gitl
Nachman's, Yocheved Wiener, and Fanny Cyfer collected clothing and shoes for
many years, which were distributed among the Talmud Torah children during the
THE BARON HIRSCH SCHOOL
Thanks to this Foundation, a Baron Hirsch school was established in Chrzanow,
as in several other cities in Galicia, at the beginning of the twentieth
century. This school, with the help of its substantial funding, was expected to
take over Chrzanow. It was set up in finely-appointed rooms in Reb Leybish
Yungenvirt's house on Krzyska Street. Experienced teachers were brought in, and
the students received free instruction in secular studies, Polish, and German,
as well as religion, including the Bible with Rashi's commentary. The students
were provided with free text books, clothing, and food.
Nevertheless the school could not withstand the passive resistance, the silent
ban imposed by the Jews of Chrzanow. Its teachers, for the most part
half-assimilated, half-apostate Jews, could not earn the trust of the pious
population. For the few years of its sad existence the school attracted only
poor students, and after vegetating for a few years, it had to close its doors.
It left no trace of its existence behind in Chrzanow.
THE REGULAR STUDY GROUP
The various societies established in town for the purpose of teaching the
simple Jews and householders Bibles, midrash, the Ethics of the Fathers, and
the sermons of preachers, made a larger impression on the life of the
population. Every few years one of these societies would experience a period of
growth, and then give way to another society. The richest of these was the
Regular Study Group; its Hebrew name,
was popularly shortened to
The members built a headquarters near the large study house, the finest
building any of the communal institutions possessed, where the well-known
preacher Reb Shloyme Baruch Mayer b/m, taught. An unusual character, he had
been educated in the modem, but strictly religious yeshiva in Pressburg, was a
follower of the Hsam Sofer, and had also studied in a German gymnasium. He was
extremely attentive to Jewish law in both major and trivial matters.
After his death, the lessons at the Regular Study Group were led by Reb
Jecheskiel Zajac, the son of the Rabbi of Olkusz and member of the Kamienica
family. This complicated, multifaceted character, with a partially modem
education and much Jewish knowledge, was an important, wealthy lumber merchant
with aristocratic urges, and at the- same time a man of the people who was
drawn to social affairs. He taught lessons in the Ethics of the Fathers and in
the midrash, and his extraordinary rhetorical skills attracted a large crowd of
listeners. Apparently the Regular Study Group was lucky in attracting good
teachers, because the last of them, Reb Moyshe Hochbaum m/b/a, was also an
unusual man. Born and raised in the family of a shoemaker from Chrzanow, he was
nevertheless a great scholar, and the son-in-law of the rabbinical judge of
Chrzanow, Reb Chayem Volf Richter b/m. He was wellread, popular and possessed
remarkable pedagogical talents.
THE PSALM SOCIETY
As its name implies, this society was created for the simple Jews-artisans and
storekeepers-so that they could pray and read Psalms together before praying on
the days when there was no market. Also, on the second day of Shevuot (which is
traditionally regarded as the day of King David's death), they organized a
great celebration, marching with large burning candles into the synagogue
across the way, where the synagogue cantor and the choir triumphally sang the
traditional Psalm of David. At the same time they arranged a festive meal for
all of their members.
As time passed, the Psalm Society began to offer classes in religious texts,
but without losing its focus on Psalms. The society owed its good reputation to
Reb Noyech Holzer
the director of studies. He was a Kabbalist and a remarkable scholar, and he
continued teaching classes until he was quite elderly, even after losing his
sight. The last teacher in the Psalm Society was the excellent Talmud scholar
and moral exemplar, Reb Itshele Weitzenblum,
All of the other societies, with their fine-sounding names, accomplished
little, despite the best intentions of their founders and the sacrifice of the
trustees. But among them are worth mentioning, along with their founders:
1. Love of Torah.
Classes there were taught by the scholars Reb Avrom Hirsh Reffer, the selfless
philanthropist Reb Moyshe Lipschitz, and the learned Reb Mendl Landau;
society, where the judge Reb Sholem Aba's was the teacher;
Tree of Life
society, headed by the extraordinary scholar Reb Shachne Hamerman;
Supporters of the Torah
yeshiva, headed by Reb Nute Dayan; and
Crown of Torah
yeshiva headed by the brilliant Talmud scholar Reb Chaim Tobias.
We should also mention the Buttercake society, where the greatest ignoramuses
in town prayed. Classes in that society were taught by Reb Motele Kolomeyer,
who was a scholar, but very easy-going.
Particularly important in the religious education of the young people of
Chrzanow were the Supporters of Study and the Beis Yakov-two institutions in
which Jewish Chrzanow could take pride.
(Supporters of Study)
This society had more luck and influence in Chrzanow than the others. A
largescale movement, with its own lecturers and large popular gatherings, it
even boasted its own press The
Religious Jewish Worker,
along with a full complement of the tools of propaganda and instructions, thus
providing a balance to the Bund and Poalei Zion. The newspaper was founded in
the year 1906 with a goal of spreading Torah and religious tradition among
young artisans and commercial employees. Its headquarters were in Cracow. The
Chrzanow chapter grew until in time it became the strongest of all of the local
Machzikei Limud branches. It is worthwhile to acquaint ourselves with the
history of this movement, its founders and leaders.
In 1906-7 in Cracow, there was a Jewish lawyer named Dr. Julius Feifer. Like
most Jewish lawyers at that time, he had relatively little to do with Jews and
Judaism. It was even said that his connection to the Jewish people consisted of
composing false accusations against Jews on behalf of his clients. However, one
morning this lawyer woke up from a bad dream (or was it a good dream) and decided
to repent and become a good Jew. He threw away his non-kosher dishes, grew a
Jewish beard and sidelocks, and had his wife put on a wig. He traveled to see
rebes, and in general became a strictly religious and pious Jew. This Dr.
Julius Feifer later became the main leader, theoretician, and propagandist of
the Machzikei Limud movement (somewhat similar to the Salvation Army). The
Machzikei Limud did not get involved in national politics as a party, nor did
it have anything to do with the Jewish nationalist renaissance or the struggles
for social justice. It limited itself to keeping the youth true to Torah and
faith, using modern methods. In addition to the various lessons in Bible with
Rashi, Ein Yakov, Prophets and Writings, a lending library with Polish, German,
and especially Yiddish books was established-books that had previously been
censored, on suspicion that they might contain heretical ideas. Members of the
society also produced full-scale theatrical performances. The Machzikei Limud
also organized religious services at their party headquarters, where the young
people prayed together on the Sabbath, holidays, and also on weekdays. In this
fashion a collective religious and traditional spirit was inculcated. Reb
Jecheskiel Zajac, who has been described previously, played a significant role
in the development of the local Machzikei Limud, as did Mendl Ashkenazi, who
was blessed with organizational talents. The Machzikei Limud in Chrzanow was
the only organization in Galicia that existed for over thirty years without
As in almost every Polish city, a Beis Yakov school was established in Chrzanow
after World War 1. Without doubt it was needed, and it came at just the right
time. Although Chrzanow considered itself a pious and religious community,
nevertheless nothing was done to ensure the religious education of Jewish girls
until the Beis Yakov was established. A kind of religious amnesia was the rule
among the Jewish girls of Chrzanow, even those raised in Chasidic families.
This changed dramatically after the establishment of the Beis Yakov school. If
we are not mistaken, it was thanks to the experienced community activist
Yocheved Wiener, who had a large role in shaping the model curriculum, that
many progressive parents sent their daughters to the Beis Yakov school, where
they received a Jewish education. The Beis Yakov school indeed went a long way
toward eliminating religious ignorance among Jewish girls.
THE FREE LOAN SOCIETY
AMONG THE Jewish philanthropic institutions that were active in the city, the
first that deserves mention was the free loan society.
The initiative for creating this useful institution came from the Kamienica
family. Its founder and long-time secretary was the famous and wealthy
philanthropist Reb Eli Rauchwerger b/m. The free loan society benefited
householders and merchants who were down on their luck, rather than out-and-out
paupers. Its activity was limited to the distribution of interest-free loans in
exchange for collateral which the clients entrusted to the society.
This fine and genuinely beneficent society was thoroughly Jewish, lacking the
exaggerated bureaucracy that appeared later in many of the Jewish national
banks. For instance, if a Jew needed money to make up his daughter's dowry, he
went to the secretary of the free loan society with whatever jewelry he
possessed, and the trustee loaned him as much as the collateral was worth, more
or less. More than once it happened that the same Jew would go to the secretary
of the society on the day of the wedding, and say, "Dear Reb Eli, listen,
I'm ashamed to walk up to the wedding canopy without my gold watch and chain
which I've left with you as collateral, and my wife would also like to have her
gold earrings until after the wedding." And Reb Eli, or whichever one of
the secretaries was approached, believed him and loaned the items back out. The
Jew was honest, and brought back the items right after the wedding, leaving
them until "God" helped him and he was able to redeem them.
THE OLD AGE HOME
Despite the high and humane standards set by the original promoter of this
worthy idea, nevertheless the city of Chrzanow was sadly neglectful in this
area. It is simply incomprehensible that in such a thoroughly Jewish city, with
a sufficient sensitivity for social institutions, so little was done for the
weakest and loneliest in our midst, the elderly men and *women who, lacking
children, were doomed to enter this institution. To say it was
"neglected" is to put the case very mildly.
THE FREE SHELTER
The initiative displayed by our fathers and grandfathers in their search for
good deeds to perform may well be wondered at. This truly useful institution
aided poor people who had just arrived in town, enabling them to avoid sleeping
on the hard benches of the study house or the Chasidic synagogues, and avoid
freezing in winter. Reb Usher Stem b/m, a childless and warm-hearted Jew, was
the founder of this "'hotel. " When a Jew arrived in the city, all he
had to do was ask for the secretary of the free shelter. When he received a
pass, he was sure of a safe place to stay-with a glass of tea thrown in.
THE SUPPORTERS OF THE POOR
This institution, founded by Reb Henoch Timberg b/m, had two tasks. First, it
dealt with the masses of wandering paupers who came to town and went from house
to house asking for alms, many of whom treated the residents of the city very
rudely. The Supporters of the Poor gave these people "travel
expenses," so that they could continue on to other Jewish communities, and
leave the burghers of Chrzanow alone. Second, it benefited weak or elderly
paupers who had difficulty making the rounds of the houses, as well as those
who were afraid to beg actively. The initiators of the Society had the best
intentions, but as a practical matter it didn't work because the paupers were
smarter. They both accepted "travel expenses, " and begged. In the
last years before the war, this society dissolved more or less of its own
THE TIFERES BOCHURIM
Although this society was little known, and hence not very popular among the
public, it had a good influence on the young men who studied at the Study
House. The society's goal, if the expression is appropriate, was "mutual
aid." Amidst the commotion of everyday life, the young men looked after
their poorer comrades. When a poor young man got married, he received money
toward the wedding expenses. On occasion respected Jews also turned to the
society for assistance. The society mobilized young men who went out in groups
across the city, and gathered money for the needy, yet embarrassed poor.
THE SOCIETY FOR VISITING THE SICK
Our parents always had the best intentions, wanting to help out, whatever the
situation. Unfortunately, they did not always take the proper approach, and
sometimes the necessary conditions were not met. Although this society was run
according to the same stale, outmoded conceptions as in other Jewish towns, it
performed a useful function.
The society's first task was to stay with seriously ill people at night. The
secretary was responsible for seeing to it that appropriate companions were
sent for the invalid in question. Voluntary discipline was the rule in this
respect. Rarely did someone refuse to spend the night at another's home.
Out of the money collected from voluntary monthly payments, the society
distributed medicine, and often paid the doctors for their treatment of poor
sick people. Medical instruments were also loaned to those who could not pay
This institution was something for which the Gentile neighbors could really
THE SOCIETY FOR THE ASSISTANCE OF PREGNANT WOMEN
In our age of modem hospitals things are much easier for pregnant women. Our
mothers and grandmothers had it a bit harder- especially the poor among them.
Although women had more children in earlier times, and a birth was nothing
unusual, still it was a more important family event than it is today. Jewish
women actively participated in earning a living, and many simply didn't have
any time to prepare themselves for the big event. While on their way to fairs,
or standing in their stores, they began to feel labor pains. As they lay in
labor, Jewish women often lacked even a bit of cereal to keep body and soul
together, let alone enough to prepare for the circumcision feast or the
redemption of the firstborn son. In these circumstances the Society for the
Assistance of Pregnant Women rendered valuable assistance, delegating its
female members to visit the women in childbirth and help them in any way
Among the activists in this society, Mrs. Yocheved Wiener and Mrs. Fannie Cyfer
should be mentioned. These women who were so dedicated to the community also
laid the foundation for the future branch of WIZO, the Women's International
WIZO in Chrzanow wrote one of the finest chapters regarding philanthropic and
social activities in town. It was directed by educated women, with Mrs. Rieser
at their head, and had significant achievements to its credit. First of all,
thanks to their intelligence and education, the founders of WIZO took a modern,
practical attitude toward every problem of the Jewish woman and the Jewish
child. WIZO had room for women from every tendency, from the conservative
Chasidim to the progressive Zionists, even including assimilationist circles.
Goodwill toward everyone reigned in this organization, and this goodwill
brought together people of opposing views, such as the above-mentioned Mrs.
Rieser and the conservative, Chasidic, but highly intelligent and refined Mrs.
Zajac (widow of Reb Jecheskiel Zajac).
The best and most refined women of Chrzanow belonged to this organization. We
need not list all of the social accomplishments of WIZO, since everyone from
Chrzanow is quite familiar with this list. However, worthy of special note is
the idea, which originated with WIZO, of establishing an orphanage solely for
Jewish children. With great difficulty, a fine building was erected in the late
30's for this purpose. To our great sorrow, the children could not long enjoy
this wonderful gift.
WIZO was also the first Jewish women's organization to set itself the task of
relieving distress without regard to party or class. Perhaps this was the main
reason for its success and popularity in our town.
THE BURIAL SOCIETY
Remarkably, none of the foregoing institutions had as much independent
authority as the burial society. Nevertheless the burial society was organized
on a democratic basis-the trustees were elected according to the old Jewish
system of casting lots, so that every single member had an equal say in the
outcome of the elections. The acceptance of a new member into the burial
society was not a simple matter. First of all, the applicant really had to
deserve to be a member of the society. Power and money had nothing to do with
it-moral purity, honesty, and genuine fear of God were the main criteria for
The trustees of the burial society were responsible first, for maintaining the
cemetery; second, for distributing burial plots; and third, for arranging
funerals. Since the burial society had no other source of income, it had to
charge a fee for burial plots. Thus there were frequent disputes between the
families of the deceased and the society's trustees, who had to be absolutely
aboveboard and honest in their financial dealings. They only took money from
those who had it and could afford to pay. Larger sums were also taken from
those who had been reluctant to give to charity when they were alive, whereas
poor people were not charged at all.
The secretaries needed to exercise tact in the distribution of plots. Such
decisions had nothing to do with the deceased's wealth or power. The burial
society was in the "true world." The rich man and the poor man were
equal, and the secretaries refused to be influenced by the children or the more
distant relatives of the dead. If the deceased had earned an outstanding burial
plot during her or his life, then it was granted. To the credit of the Jews of
Chrzanow, the burial society was always run appropriately, and misdeeds were
few. The secretaries' power was indeed unlimited, but their morality was beyond
This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc.
and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and
destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied,
sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be
reserved by the copyright holder.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Yizkor Book Project
JewishGen Home Page
Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 May 2002 by LA