Previous Page | Next Page

The Jewish Nationalist Movement

IN ORDER to describe the activities of the modern nationalist and socialist movements in our city, we must first return for a -moment to the age of the Jewish Enlightenment. Although the Jewish Enlightenment was not directly related to these movements, to a certain extent it laid the groundwork for their development by producing talented individuals, who later served the political organizations.

It should immediately be mentioned that the Jewish Enlightenment found relatively little sympathy in Chrzanow. The movement did not inspire the same selfsacrificing enthusiasm in our city as in the rest of Poland, or in the Russian Pale of Settlement, where love of secular culture was an overwhelming passion. In those regions this passion demanded many young Jewish sacrificial victims, who lost their health and became tubercular in the brutal conditions in which Jewish students lived at the time. The lack of involvement may perhaps be explained by the fact that Chrzanow was located close to the centers of culture. Since no particular restrictions were placed on Jews, and since they could eat openly the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the evil impulse had less influence and the passion lost its sharp edge.

Only a few individuals permitted their children to be students at the end of the last century. Interestingly, these Jews were not "secular." The fathers of the future doctors and lawyers were pious men with beards and peyes, who wore Chasidic clothing, shtreimelech, and silk overcoats. They had certainly never missed an afternoon or evening prayer in their lives, nor had they failed to pour water over their fingertips when they arose in the morning.

We would like to name here two of these citizens of our town who, in letting their children study, were motivated by Enlightenment impulses and Jewish nationalist ambitions in addition to practical material considerations. The first was Reb Leybl Cyfer along with his wife Fannie, who gave Dr. Shmuel Cyfer to our city, and in whose house the first Zionist circle in Chrzanow had its earliest meetings. The second was Reb Mordechai Shaul and his wife Chane Schwartzbart, whose children were among the first Zionists in Western Galicia not to mention their son Itzchak, the future Sejm deputy. They raised their children not only in the spirit of the Enlightenment, but first and foremost in the nationalist Jewish spirit. The eldest son, Engineer Dr. Joseph Schwartzbart, who lived in Bruenn (Czech territory), was a pioneer of Zionist thought and developed strong Zionist activities. He died in Israel. Their second son, Dr. Aron (Adolf) Schwartzbart, a well-known medical expert and active Zionist, lived in Tel-Aviv. Their only daughter, Dr. Eli Rieger, was a professor in the teachers' seminary in Tel-Aviv. These details demonstrate the Zionist character of the education these parents gave their children.

These two families gave Jewish Chrzanow two brilliant personalities of whom the city was justly proud: Dr. Shmuel Cyfer and Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart. Although the latter took no major part in the development of the youth organizations of Chrzanow, they served as an example of national pride and Zionist enthusiasm in a time of deeply-entrenched political and cultural assimilation, which touched a large portion of our people.


Reb Leybl Cyfer also deserved credit for having the initiative to be among the founders of the first Zionist organization in Chrzanow after the publication of Herzl's The Jewish State. This group consisted of Enlighteners and Torah Jews who raised money for the settlement of Erets Israel, working under strictly conspiratorial conditions. In order to avoid attracting the attention of all the various rebes of the time, who suspected Zionism of heresy, those true idealists continued their work until the youth took over the Zionist idea and carried it into the open. The names of the first Zionist pioneers may be recorded here for posterity:

Reb Leybl Cyfer
Reb Mordechai (Saul) Schwartzbart
Reb Yehoshua Holander
Reb Ziml Shternfeld
Reb Shimen Biderman
Reb Shabsay Vurtsel
The minutes book of this first Zionist society in Chrzanow was, until 1939, in the possession of Boruch Holander, who died in Auschwitz.

(General Zionists)

Quiet, modest, without noise or tumult, were the beginnings of the first purely Herzlian Zionist society, Bnai Zion. If we are not mistaken, this group was created in an attic room in Eliezer Boruch's house across from the community building (the magistrate). Conspiracy was a necessity because the first comrades of the Bnai Zion were "silk and satin," youth from the privileged classes. They were students of the Talmud who had left their studies and wore silk coats and kolpakes- a sable shtreimel which the Chasidic youth used to wear on the Sabbath. Since they had no trade to earn a living, they lived at the mercy of their pious fathers, and their dependence on their parents forced them to be discreet. Most of all, however, they were well-raised children who did not want to cause their parents any unnecessary anguish. On the other hand, their love of Zion was genuine and hot, full of enthusiasm and commitment.

This initially small circle eventually developed into a significant pleiad of conscious Zionist activists, who carried out thoroughgoing nationalish and Zionist propaganda activities. Their forum for these activities was the so-called "Toynbee Hall, " which took place on winter Saturday evenings in the large room at Leybisch Klein's house, where well-known Zionists from Cracow, such as Dr. Shimon Feldblum, Dr. Bulva, Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart, Dr. Chaim Hilfshtein and others came to give lectures.

Some 30 plus years later, the first pioneers left the ranks of the Bnai Zion in Chrzanow for Erets Israel, carrying Herzl's Jewish State in their packs. They led the way toward realizing Zionism, even though they were the children of well-to-do parents. They were the avant-garde of the several hundred Chrzanow Jews who later emigrated and thus saved themselves from Hitler's Hen and slaughter. Hershl Klein, Shimon Volf Yungervirt and Shloyme Guter-these Enlighteners and kolpakbachurim had enough sense and courage to forge a better future for the Jewish people.

After the departure of these first members of Bnai Zion, the work did not diminish; on the contrary, it increased in intensity. Thanks to the effective and energetic Zionist work of its members, such as the tragically murdered Lipe Wiener, Hershl Bochenek, Kalmen Proper and Moyshe Leyzer Wachsberg (Pidele), Bnai Zion always took the lead in all of the Zionist institutions, such as the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Foundation Fund, and the rest of the national and Zionist undertakings.

After World War I, thanks to the establishment of the general Zionist youth organization Akiba, which acted as a transfusion of new blood on the older Zionists, Bnai Zion became even more lively. Hebrew teachers were brought to town, and thanks to the tireless Zionist activist Aron Grajower, served their people faithfully until their tragic death. May these few lines serve as a monument to them.


In fairness, we must admit that the Jewish Socialist Party, as it was originally called- later known as the Bund- at first displayed impressive and moving activism in Chrzanow. There were two reasons for this. First, there was strong support from the Polish Socialist Party, which was then at the height of its strength, and which boasted its popular Galician tribune, Daszinski and Marek in Western Galicia and Diamant and Liberman in Eastern Galicia. These men enjoyed extraordinary popularity among the working masses. The second reason was more important. A group of socialist idealists, fanatically intense fighters and competent, intelligent Chrzanow organizers, including the major Bundist activists Nachman Shneyder, Herman Helfer, and later Sholem Goldshtein, filled in the gaps in the Bund as a Jewish movement with their own personal acts, sense of life, and faith in socialism. It wasn't the Bund as an ideological movement that was successful in Chrzanow. However, until the Zionist parties appeared on the scene, the leaders of the Bundist party managed to gather around themselves certain parts of the Jewish population.

Undeniably, the Bund was the first group to bring a bit of light to the oppressed artisans of Chrzanow. This was accomplished more in the spiritual than in the economic realm. The Bundist activists were the first to bring delegates from Cracow, who arranged various cultural productions and also supplied the young people with Yiddish literature.

The Bund's appearance among the Jewish public in Chrzanow caused a stormy reaction on the part of the pious Chasidic masses. The latter were not acquainted with the movement's goals, and saw the Bund as attempting to destroy Judaism and lead the youth away from the true path. But the reaction of the Chasidirn, who later responded in force, was not really aimed against the Bund; rather, it was primarily a natural agitation against progressive tendencies, against the "little Gentiles" who didn't want to obey the good and pious people. The Bund, through its open hostility to traditional Judaism, only summoned the wolf from the forest. It became the scapegoat for a major offensive carried out by the pious Jews of Chrzanow one Sabbath in the summer of 1905.

One Friday afternoon the Bund displayed a sign announcing that on the afternoon of the Sabbath, a speaker from Cracow would be present. (Apparently this was Dr. Bros.) The rabbi, Reb Naftoli, countered this with an announcement that people were to assemble and forbid this desecration of the Sabbath. After the Sabbath meal, crowds of Jews in their Sabbath garments streamed to the assembly area in front of the synagogue, foregoing their accustomed Sabbath nap. A large demonstration began at the synagogue and went to Krzyska Street, where Bund headquarters were located. When they arrived at the locked headquarters, the rabbi and the crowd stopped. In the rabbi's presence, one man in the crowd broke through a window and threw out everything he could lay his hands on-books, newspapers, and correspondence. He also came upon a postcard bearing information concerning the time of the speaker's arrival. With such clear evidence, the rabbi and the entire crowd set off for the train station. (Here they had to wear their kerchiefs around their necks, because they were outside the boundaries within which they were permitted to carry objects during the Sabbath.) The speaker arrived at the station and unwittingly fell into the crowd of Chasidirn, who gave him a thorough thrashing, beating him mercilessly and piercing him with pins they had brought from home. He was barely recognizable when they were through with him.

The epilogue of this incident, played out in court, is unimportant for our purposes. But two elements are indeed worth noting. One is the decisiveness and aggressiveness of the zealous defenders of religious Judaism and especially of their leaders, Reb Shloyme Naiman, Tall Yoske, and others, who rightfully or wrongfully threw themselves into the battle. On the other hand was the calm behavior of the youth at that time, who avoided physical arguments throughout that period of hot debate.


At first the Socialist Zionist workers' movement had difficulty establishing itself firmly in Chrzanow, since the Bund had already captured the loyalty of a significant portion of the working class. It was even harder to take on the Bund"s talented leaders, Herman Helfer and Nachman Shneyder. But the power of the Zionist idea overcame every obstacle. Energy, patience, and stubbornness on the part of the Labor Zionists strengthened the organization at a time when the Bund ruled the hearts and minds of a large number of workers.

In a short while the Labor Zionists, thanks to their energetic activist Mordechai Shor, the two brothers Blitzer, Chaim Wiener and, first and foremost, the eternally youthful Motl Rosner m/b/a, began to make headway among the workers. Their frequent meetings, speeches, and entertainments brought new life to town. Thanks to the Labor Zionists and their activities on behalf of Jewish culture in general, Chrzanow soon was graced with such world-famous guest speakers as Dr. Natan Birnbaum (Matisyohu Akhar), Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky and Dr. Yitschok Schiper. Zionist labor leaders such as Berl Loker, Leah Chazanowitsh, and (Casriel) Nachman Mifelev were frequent guests among the Labor Zionists of Chrzanow.

Although stagnation was the general rule among the Jewish parties during the war years 1914-1918, since some of the young men were at the front fighting for the Austrian empire, others were serving with the military behind the lines, and many remained "neutral" in attics and cellars- nevertheless the Labor Zionists of Chrzanow did not stop working. Motl Rosner, who was the ideologue and, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the Labor Zionists after Mordechai Shor's departure for America, strengthened the party's work. The group known as Frayhayt was transformed in later years into a Zionist pioneering movement, led by Avrom Tagner, who emigrated to Palestine a short time before the Holocaust.

After the split between Left and Right Labor Zionism, the group known as Unity reigned in Chrzanow thanks to the activities of the well-known Hebrew teacher Menachem b/m. The socialist Zionist idea took hold among ever-widening circles of the working class, thanks in large measure to the intelligence and dedication of the leading comrades of Unity, such as Yechezkl Guter, Berek Laufer, and Izak Urbach. After World War 1, this labor Zionist group provided the largest number of Zionist pioneers, and in the last years before the Holocaust, a youth group named Gordonia was established, by the active Unity member Yakov Forst. This group was very helpful in spreading the pioneering spirit among the young people of Chrzanow, thanks to whom quite a number managed to get out in time.


This girls' society in Chrzanow only existed from about 1910 until 1914, and its precise nature cannot be delineated. Actually the group was not connected to any of the Jewish parties but was, rather, an artificially created umbrella group, beneath which Enlightenment tendencies took shelter. In the conditions which obtained at that time, it was worthwhile in itself for daughters of Chasidic homes, of pious fathers and mothers, to have the chance to come together in their own space, in a thoroughly Jewish atmosphere, to hear lectures about Jewish and general literature and Jewish current affairs. This alone was a real gain for these Jewish girls, who were destined to bring up the next Jewish generation.

But in fact, the "Rachel" society actually did preparatory work for all of the Jewish nationalist parties. It awakened national consciousness among the Jewish women at a time when assimilationism and pietism combined to combat the national consciousness of the Jewish people.

Cadres of women sympathetic to Jewish nationalism and members of WIZO were among the products of this society.

The "Rachel" society was unique to Chrzanow. Its members were recruited from amongst various classes and segments of the population. Its leaders, as far as we can remember, were: Libe Klein; Chayetshe Lezer, later Karol; Faygush Gasner, later Fishler; Yocheved Dunkelblum, later Haftl; Malke Rosenbaum, later Klein; and the sisters Zajac.


Mizrachi was virtually the last of the Zionist parties to be established, although in a city as religious and pious as Chrzanow, it should have been the first. On the other hand, Mizrachi's task was much easier, because the ground had already been prepared for Zionism by the other parties. Zionist fund-raising was already functioning well, and many people longed to go to Erets Israel. Mizrachi served as a line of defense against the Agudat Yisroel, which promoted an uncompromising antiZionist line. And though its numbers were not large, Mizrachi grew into an influential force with which the Zionist parties had to reckon. Its moral influence on otherwise uninvolved religious Jews grew steadily, thanks to its charismatic activists, such as Avrom Zilbiger and Betsalel Cuker, the latter of whom later played such a bitter and tragic role. Other activists were Yechezkl Reich, Chaim Hirshtal, Chaim Gutter (all victims of the Nazis) and, may he enjoy long life, Baruch Hirshberg. These experienced activists devoted all of their energy to the Zionist idea.

One of the finest accomplishments of the Mizrachi was the maintenance of its synagogue on the Plantn. In addition to Zionist activists, the place was frequented by a group of music students devoted to Reb Hirsh Leyb and Reb Leybish Mayzeles' musical works, such as Avrom Zilbiger, Simcha Shenberg, Berl Frankel, and others. Prayers were sung with musical competence and piety. It was sheer pleasure to worship at the Mizrachi synagogue on the Sabbath or on holidays; every comer was fined with wonderful melodies.

Mizrachi was also the first group in Chrzanow to introduce the custom of holding modem Sabbath parties, following the example of Chaim Nachman Bialik's Sabbath parties. It was delightful to observe Jews in their shtreimelech and Sabbath garments discussing contemporary issues between hymns, or listening to the various speeches that were given.

Mizrachi also established a youth group called Hashomer Hadati (the Religious Guards). However, this group's achievements were unimpressive in comparison with those of other Zionist youth organizations, especially Akiba.

We have tried to give a brief account of the most prominent movements in the political and social life of Chrzanow. But in the last years before the Holocaust two other parties came as well which, although they played a major role on the global scale, were hardly significant in Chrzanow. These were the Agudat Yisroel and the Revisionists. While they had a fair number of members, they had little influence on public opinion.

We should also mention the Anski Drama Club, which was apolitical, and a source of true Jewish culture and secular knowledge.

It is also worth noting that despite the various differences of opinion among the parties, there were never any serious conflicts or personal rivalries in Chrzanow. On the contrary: the young people of every tendency lived together in friendship. It was truly an ideal to which one should look up.

Jewish Students in Chrzanow

by Engineer S. Schwartz

LIKE EVERY Polish town, Chrzanow had its Jewish students. The Jewish Enlightenment had been at work in nearby Cracow for quite some time, and the spirit of progress began to seep into neighboring Chrzanow.

While still under Austrian rule, Chrzanow had possessed a gymnasium and in its streets, as in the rest of Austria, the students strode about proudly in their black uniforms and tall hats, with gold stripes on the collars of their jackets.

True, even before the gymnasium was established a few families, such as the Schwartzbarts, the Cyfers, the Riesers, sent their children away from Chrzanow to study. They did not belong to the student circles of Chrzanow.

Later, Jewish students were recruited from among the families who lived on the Plantn. Called the "Plantn people," or the "better class," they lived in fine apartments, dressed in "German" (that is, modern) clothing, employed Polish servants, sent their children to secular schools, generally spoke Polish with them, and generally aspired to have well-educated children. The parents were religious, but tolerant. The mothers went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and on holidays just like everyone else, behaved like Jewish women, maintained Jewish customs. The fathers were well-respected merchants, who had even worn shtreimelech at first, which they later exchanged for modern European hats. They sent their sons to Cheder, and saw to it that they studied well. On the Sabbath they examined their children to be sure that they had thoroughly learned the Torah portion of the week. If the children studied diligently, they were rewarded, but when they didn't learn their lessons thoroughly, the Sabbath was ruined. Fiery slaps found their mark more than once. The shouts of the father mixed with the weeping of the children could be heard in the street.

When the children finished the fourth or fifth grade of elementary school, the parents usually decided to send them to the gymnasium. The fathers, however, only agreed on condition that the melamdim would come to the house after school and tutor the children in Jewish subjects. Thus the parents were confident that their children would be respectable in the eyes of both God and society.

At first the Jewish students were excused from gymnasium on the Sabbath, so that they could join their fathers in prayer. Later, when the gymnasium was run by the Polish state, the Jewish students had to come on the Sabbath, but they were not forced to write. Nevertheless they had to wear the student's matsheyavke on their heads, and many parents were embarrassed when their children came to services wearing matsheyavkes. I remember keeping another cap in my pocket and exchanging it for the matsheyavke before I entered the synagogue.

I always went to pray in the little synagogue at the Plantn, where my father b/m was the secretary for many years. I can still feel the warmth and hospitality that surrounded me there on winter Sabbath afternoons, before the afternoon prayers. A group of Jews sat around a table, listening to a lesson in Talmud taught by the wellknown scholar Reb Shachne b/m. Around the iron stove sat prominent elders, serious and preoccupied during the week, but today with cheerful, calm smiles on their faces. They chatted of politics, dissecting Itshele's "Political Letter" and Kipnis's "Over a Glass of Tea." (Itshele and Kipnis were famous commentators at the time.)

While there, I forgot about the meaningless world of the student, forgot about the piercing remarks of the anti-Semitic Polish professors, and the mockery of my Gentile comrades. There one was surrounded by an unforced, free atmosphere, and an intimate Jewish warmth informed by the light but sharp wisdom of the synagogue.

During the years after World War I, the Jewish students numbered around fortyfive or fifty. As assimilation increased, they became distanced from Jewish national sentiment, and empty arrogance reigned among the Jewish students of Chrzanow. They were ashamed to speak Yiddish or to find themselves in the company of Jews; it wasn't befitting for them to go to the speeches organized by the hard-working Zionist organizations. After they finished their homework, they strolled back and forth on the Plantn with nothing to do. They flirted with girls, lay around on the hills or by the river, and sat listening to the concert of frogs, speaking of football or idly joking until late at night.

The efficient Zionist student organization in Cracow tried to make some headway in the provinces and establish cells in the smaller cities. The Polish Jewish newspaper Nowy Dziennik published inspiring articles by our beloved leaders, the unforgettable Dr. Tohn, Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart, and Dr. Berklamer, who stormed against the indifference and passivity of the provincial intelligentsia, trying to force their way into the closed minds-of our provincial Jewish students.

Certainly some of our students in Chrzanow were sensitive to the ideas of the time. Hershl Brener certainly wasn't one of the "Plantn crowd." A boy who had been to cheder and had a good mind, he would sneak off into the Libianzer woods early every morning with Marx's Capital under his arm. Izak Daytsher with his offbeat sensibility later became a talented journalist in Warsaw. Yosek Bester from the village of Lipovice, a pitifully poor child of the countryside, later became a popular doctor in town. The socially conscious Chane Dunkelblum, the sisters Wolf and the committed Zionist youth leader Rose Orenstein also belonged to this group, as did Idek Verner, the intelligent Chrzanow youth who became a lawyer. Izak Reffer, who only began to devote his youthful enthusiasm to socialist community work after he completed gymnasium, made his way to New Zealand after finishing the Politechnikum, where he occupied a government position and worked as a scholar. I also want to mention my friend Yosek Bochner, a brilliant mathematician, who later studied in Berlin and went to Moscow, where he worked in an airplane factory. There was also a seminary in which about fifteen Jewish girls studied, several of whom took active part in Zionist organizations. Among the latter was the unforgettable Chava Schwartz, the leader of Gordonia in Chrzanow.

This picture of the Jewish students of Chrzanow would not be complete without mentioning a small, dosed group of older scholars, who actually did not study in Chrzanow, but who came home on vacation each year. These included the talented, serious and very intelligent Heniek Rieser (who became a doctor and engineer in Milan), the "Casanova" and prankster Heniek Nadel (in Shanghai), the brothers Yosef and Dovid Bachner, both engineers (in Canada), the rebellious son of the Chrzanow magnate Reb Zisme Kinreich, Boruch (later a doctor of economics in Berlin), and the extraordinary student and joker Yukl Kurtz. They looked down at the younger students, as if they were talking to puppies, to use Yukl Kurtz' words. When they came from "outside" to Chrzanow, they kept to themselves, speaking about theatre and about new books, attracting youngsters and mocking them endlessly.

In the 1930s the distance between the "Plantn Jews" and the "city Jews" began to lessen and the students changed as well, becoming more imbued with sensitivity and involvement with Jewish national problems.

Leisure Activities

(The Synagogue "Bobowianka" Lawn and the Polish Bridge)

CHASIDIC JEWS occupied the so-called Synagogue Lawn as far as the slaughterhouse, and from the Polish Bridge lengthwise from the railroad station to the cemetery. Within those boundaries on summer evenings one could see respectable Jews in black overcoats with wide silk belts, long pipes in their mouths and carrying sticks as protection, taking in the fresh air from the surrounding woods, a blessing which Chrzanow enjoyed in plenty.

Usually the evening strolls of our fathers, Chasidim and scholars, were a continuation of the rambles they had just taken through the Talmud and law codes. Their minds were still mulling over the material they had learned in the course of the day. Naturally, when they began to breathe the fresh air, they sometimes permitted themselves to speak about lighter matters, such as pithy sayings or interesting parables attributed to Chasidic rebes.

Young men who studied at the study house delved deeply into the particulars of the material they were working on. Women wearing hair bands and wigs settled modestly on the lawn, chatting about their daily concerns, sometimes throwing in a bit of gossip as well. When a male had to pass, the women withdrew to one side, so that he wouldn't be forced to pass between two females.

In fact the synagogue lawn was quite overgrown, both literally and with the Jewish life of Chrzanow. Before Passover, it was the place to light fires to bum one's leavened goods (Chometz). Here Jewish children from the nearby municipal Hebrew school played games of nuts, and on Lag Baomer the youthful troops fought battles with bow and arrow. On the Ninth of Av pranksters took burrs from the lawn to all of the study houses and Chasidic synagogues, to torment the worshipers during the recitation of the laments for the destruction of the Temple. On Yom Kippur Jews who were beginning to suffer from the odors of the melting candles in the main synagogue and the other houses of worship came out onto the lawn wearing their taleisim to get a bit of fresh air.

Although the lawn belonged to a Gentile, the Jews considered it their own. Despite the owner's protests, they felt as if they were in their own father's vineyard.

For younger people seeking pleasure, there were the Plantn (Alea Henryka) and the suspension bridge near the railroad station. There the atmosphere was freer and the mood lighter, as the spiritual realm gave way to the material. Young men permitted themselves a glance at young ladies, and sometimes even greeted them, nodding their heads awkwardly and blushing as they did so. Once upon a time, speaking to a girl was not taken lightly in Chrzanow. It took both courage and a bit of audacity. People took into consideration those who might be watching, and even more so the girls themselves, who might go bearing tales later on. In the earlier years, the Plantn served as a sort of passageway to the suspension bridge. As a rule Chasidic mothers and fathers did not permit their grown children to go out strolling unaccompanied by those older and more experienced. But the young people always found excuses, saying that they had to meet someone at the railroad station, or see someone off. However, the real goal was the suspension bridge. In addition to students from the study house, young people of every sort, from every class and estate, boys as well as girls, gathered there. Of course, the boys and girls were in separate groups.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the socialist and nationalist youth organizations were established, the Plantn changed radically. The young people began reading fiction, both good and bad. They became bolder, and a short time later both accidental and arranged rendezvous began to take place, as is the modern custom. The Plantn and the free air also influenced the spirits of the youth.


For the modern youth, aspiring to freedom, these areas had become too narrow, too stuffy. They set off for the forest nearest to the city, about one kilometer away from the Jewish cemetery. Until 1918, the forest was the ideal spot for the more mature Jewish youth. Here they weren't afraid of their strict mothers and fathers. They were also safe from the all-seeing eyes of God's spies and everyday gossips, who were always seeking new material.

In the forest the youth passed their time free and unconstrained, but their behavior was cultured and respectable. "Love affairs," Platonic and romantic, were carried out on an elevated level. Intelligent, informed discussions were held on general as well as Jewish topics, about the newest creations of that shining period in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and German literature. If trees could speak, they would have much to relate about the young people of Chrzanow. Achad HaAm and Max Nordau, Peretz and Nietzsche, Bialik and Mickiewicz were read in their original languages.

With the collapse of Austria everything in the forest changed for the worse. A locomotive factory was established and a workers' dormitory was built in the forest. The local Poles began to harass the young Jews in various ways, eventually resorting to physical attacks and stone throwing. This embittered the Jewish youth, filling them with hatred for the grandchildren of Kosciuszko and Mickiewicz.

These frequent aggressions led the Jewish youth to seek another place to relax. Thus they spent the last several years before the catastrophe at the piaski (sands).


This was a pretty spot near the river Hechlo, which had played a part in the lives of the Jews of Chrzanow for many years. Thousands of Chrzanow Jews went to the river to perform the tashlich ceremony on Rosh Hashanah. Willow branches for Sukkoth came from the banks of the river. Jewish housewives waited by the river for peasant women to come on market days, so that they could get a bargain on a chicken for Sabbath or for the kapore ceremony before Yom Kippur. A number of Jews lived at the Piaski. A Jewish tannery was located there, and people felt more secure there than in the forest. The Chrzanow youth spread their wings, finding a sandy spot and bathing just as if they were at an elegant beach.

But the old magic of the forest was missing. The very fact that the forest had to be surrendered to newcomers discouraged the youth. To spite their enemies, the young men and women of Chrzanow refused to give up entirely. Although they were originally forced to the Piaski, they made it their own. Herded about, first by the Poles and then into the ghetto by the Germans, the young people gathered at the Piaski, and in summer evenings the sound of Yiddish and Hebrew songs could be heard. They sang from the heart, with hopes for a better future.

The Piaski remained the only place for strolling outdoors during the German occupation. Then its cheerful atmosphere faded away altogether, as some of the young people were already in forced work camps. Only occasionally did individuals go there, along with small groups of "politicians," looking forward to some news of the outside world. Now the secret may be revealed: the town's "Jewish radio" was located at the Piaski. It was the source of illegal news during Hitler's war- news that helped to keep hope of redemption alive.


Unfortunately not all can be translated effectively- Publisher.

In Chrzanow nicknames were used as if they were entirely natural. According to older Jews from Chrzanow, the nicknames began because once upon a time, when the railroad station was still at the old Station Street, young people would wait for the arrival of every new bridegroom from out of town, and express their opinion of him. Of course there were always jokers among them, and after the "evaluation" of the new member of the community, they would assign him an appropriate nickname. to a certain extent these nicknames were individually earned-some referred to one's occupation; others expressed physical qualities, while still others had to do with the owner's character.

Today it is hard to give an accurate philological account of these nicknames, even though in its time each one was appropriate. Following are a few examples:

Bobe (Grandmother): He had no beard, or it was barely visible.

Budke (Booth): His store consisted of a stall of boards nailed together.

Baal-Shem A (Saint): Jew who dealt in old clothes and rags; quite learned, could resolve difficult points of observance, and because of his modest bearing he was called a saint.

Bas (Bass): A musician who played this instrument.

Cap (Male Goat): A nickname for someone who didn't understand much ... a dope.

Zhlob: A glutton; a slob.

Ciucmak: Almost an idiot; schlemiel.

Ciol: Thick-headed, slow to comprehend.

Jajcorz (from Polish for egg): An egg dealer.

Loksh (Noodle): Tall and thin. Since the first "Loksh" was named Shiye, others named Shiye were also called Loksh.

Mocher-Litke: Mentioned in Chrzanow folklore.

Naser (The Wet One): He had been rescued from drowning in the river.

Sroydali: A Jew who had a textile goods store in the market; whenever a Gentile customer didn't want to pay the stated price, this was his response. It's a fact that 90% of the Jews of Chrzanow didn't know his real name, and called him by this nickname.

Tsap (Pourer): Son of an innkeeper, whose father often ordered him to draw beer from a barrel.

Kelbl (Calp): There were two brothers, and since one of them was called Cow, the younger was called Calf .

Koze (Goat): Someone who was lively, half wild.

Knaytsh (Bend): A tavernkeeper who served beer on credit on the Sabbath, since he wouldn't take any money. He had a book containing the names of his steady customers, and in order to keep track of their tab, he would bend over the sheet with the appropriate customer's name. Every time he poured a glass of beer, he told his daughter, "Mirl! Bend!"

Kozemashin: An enterprising Jew. He was the first to bring a booth with a stove to Chrzanow, and it looked a bit like a car. He roasted potatoes and chestnuts, drew apple wine with seltzer from a copper jug, and most impressive, had a sort of roulette game- a wheel with a wooden stork in the middle. One could win an entire string of figs, or a round coconut. The whole business was called the Kozemashin. Even the owner's children and grandchildren were called Kozemashinen.

Ribbentrop: This insulting nickname belonged to a Jew named Ruven, whose nose always dripped. People would say: "Ruven s'tropt (your nose is running)." That evolved into Ribbentrop, later the name of Hitler's foreign minister.

Shvitser (Sweater): A boastful character who was actually a wind bag.

In addition to all of these, there were others which were faintly derogatory, and which designated people by the locales they had come from, such as:

Cracow nibbler; Oswiecim doltnfreser; Tshebiner Korach.

Ksheshovitser/Sodom: The people from this town were considered immoral.

Chrzanow Tsaban: "Purebred," born Chrzanowites.

Polish Pig: An epithet for people from Congress Poland.

Galician Disaster: Those who stemmed from Central or Eastern Galicia.

A large number of Jews weren't called by their last names, but rather by their father's or grandfather's names, such as: Yosl Moyshe Reb Simen's, Shloyme Moyshe the Rabbi's, Itshele Reb Yankev Ruven's, Moyshe Avrom Heshl's, Yankele Aba's, Faygele Melech's, Mendl Cini's, and so forth.

Names deriving from physical characteristics included: Big Aron, Tall Motl, Tall Dovid, Little Shmuelke, Fat Pinkhas, Skinny Leyb, White Zelig, Red Shmuel, Black Dovid, Green Gershon, Pink Moyshe.

Names indicating where the individual came from were Reb Shloyme Kotzker, Miriam from Mentkov, Reb Meir Tshebiner, the teacher from Cracow, the teacher from Dombrowa, the teacher from Warsaw, Polish Mendl, and so forth.

All of these nicknames were used on a daily basis, to the extent that someone from out of town with the address and last name of the person he or she was looking for had a hard time finding where to go. A number of comical incidents also arose because a stranger couldn't properly pronounce a certain nickname. Thus, trying to indicate who he was looking for, he instead invented a new nickname ... and it stuck.

Previous Page | Next Page

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our 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 for verification.
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.

  Chrzanow, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 May 2002 by LA