The Lira [Pol.: Lyre] institution for music, literature and culture was founded in our city, back in 1908, by Zionist activists Mojsze Zandsztajn and Leon Kopiński, who, in order to widen the scope of its activity and influence in our city, endeavoured to also include, within it, people of culture from amongst the intelligentsia, who were already standing on the threshold of assimilation.
This was not an auspicious action, for immediately when the question concerning the name of the Society arose, and the Zionists suggested calling it HaZamir [Heb.: The Nightingale] as institutions of this kind were named in Warsaw, Łódź and other cities in Poland those in the assimilationist circles insisted that the name of the society should be Lira, a name that did not reveal its Jewish character. In order to not dissolve the Society right at the beginning, the Zionists agreed to their opinion and it was given the name Lira. It was also dominated by the Polish language!
Among those active in the Society were the writer Abram Wiewiorka, the cantor Abram Ber Birenbaum and Mr Zaks and they were those who strove to dissipate the atmosphere of assimilation that prevailed in this Society at the time.
In those days, a branch of the Jewish Literary Society (Jüdische Literarische Gesellschaft), whose centre was in [St.] Petersburg (today Leningrad), had opened in Częstochowa, which set itself the same goals for which Lira was created.
At the head of that branch were Dawid Borzykowski, A. Chrobołowski, Ze'ev Lewenhof, Rafail Federman, Jakób Kopiński and P. Szmulewicz.
This institution developed a comprehensive [range of] cultural activity. It held lectures on literary and cultural subjects. It organised choirs and also founded a rich library. There was a sort of competition between it and Lira. This Society particularly broadened its activities when Józef Aronowicz (from Wilna) and Jakób Rozenberg and his wife (from Łódź) settled in Częstochowa. They dedicated much of their time to its activities.
Meanwhile, the Tsarist government decided, for some reason, to terminate the activities of the Jüdische Literarische Gesellschaft in [St.] Petersburg and in all of its branches in the country.
This happened at the end of the summer of 1911.
Activists of these two societies, therefore, decided to merge and a joint committee was elected for the Lira Society which comprised: Henryk Markusfeld (Honorary President), Aron Perec (Chairman), Kuna Chrobołowski (Secretary), Józefowicz (Coordinator) and, as committee members, Józef Aronowicz, Chaim Dawidowicz, Herszlikowicz, Wajnsztok, Luria, Markus, Leon Kopiński, Rozenberg and Henryk Szmulewicz.
Lira then became the centre of cultural life in the city. It encompassed the best of public forces in the city, from all parties and strata, and it became a meetingplace for our city's enlightened and public figures, and for all devotees of Hebrew and Jewish culture in it.
Lira often held lectures by the greatest of writers and journalists on literary, cultural and political subjects and also arranged practical discussions on the questions of the time.
It should be mentioned that, at Lira's invitation, I.L. Peretz visited Częstochowa (three times over the course of one year!). Our city was also honoured by the visit of Sholem Aleichem, [which took place] a short time prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
Lira also organised lectures by Izaak Grünbaum (who lives in GanShmuel), Y. Tunkel (Der Tunkeler [Yid.: The Dark One]), Luzer Kohn (who edited the first edition of Der Fackel [The Torch] a literary periodical that was to appear regularly in Częstochowa at the initiative of Lira activists (Z. Lewenhof, D. Borzykowski, Ch. Fajwlowicz and Ch. Dawidowicz), Ch.D. Nunberg, Z. Segalowicz, Hillel Cejtlin and Szmul Rozenfeld.
Lira also established a choir of male and female singers, among whom the ladies G. BemSzmulewicz and L. Frymorgen, and the men Edelist, Bem, Mojsze Waga and Grabiner especially distinguished themselves.
Among the members of Lira's dramatic group, which was directed by A. Perec, Mrs Awner, Paula Maujer, Itta Pakuła, Dora Szacher, Mrs Kromołowski and Mrs Szapira, and the men J. Aronowicz, Werner, Sobol, Sz. Frank, D. Krak and Faitel Szmulewicz distinguished themselves in particular.
Lira also established the first sports team in our city, headed by Awner, Bram, Gonszerowicz and Krak.
The Book Committee
Częstochowa proved that the spiritual food provided by the booksellers and their binders, Reb Emanuel Bajgele and Reb Henoch Lapides, was not sufficient.
To the praise and glory of all parties in our city, it should be mentioned that each and every one of them provided their members with books and various pamphlets obviously, those which would, first and foremost, light up their eyes in current party matters and, together with this, also literary reading material belleslettres, poetry and any material which attracts the reader's heart.
The Russian authorities, who then ruled in Częstochowa, saw in this signs of Kramola [Old Ru.; dissidence], the propagation of which should be contained. They therefore refrained from granting licenses to open libraries and reading rooms, and all the activities in this area were conducted illegally literally underground.
The first and most important library to rise in our city was that of the S.S [ZionistSocialist] Party, which was located in one of the side storagerooms of the ironmerchant Mr Berliner on ulica Ogrodowa. He was one of this party's adherents and employed Szaje Lewenhof (S.S. member) in his business as its accountant.
Party member Nuta Szwarcbaum took it upon himself to look after this illegal library. He purchased books in Warsaw and brought them to Częstochowa. He catalogued them, worked to distribute them in the factories and workshops and the party's different circles, and also dealt with their replacement.
The library housed belleslettres books in Yiddish (originals and translations) and, from time to time, expanded.
After the branch of The Jewish Literary Society from [St.] Petersburg was opened in Częstochowa, it also received a license to open a library, conducting its work publicly. Indeed, before long, the Russian government changed its mind and banned the activities of this Society and of all its branches.
As is known, this Society then, at the end of 1911, merged with Lira, with its library passing over to it over two thousand volumes in Yiddish and over six hundred in Hebrew.
Faitel Szmulewicz, who also conducted an interesting statistic on the configuration of the readers and their reading rooms, served as librarian.
During the First World War, this library passed over to the local Zionist Organisation and continued its activities at ulica Dojazdowa 19.
The Jewish workers' parties did not view this favourably and, through their [respective] headquarters, they established their own libraries and reading rooms, transferring to them the books still remaining from the days of Russian subjugation, when the libraries were conducted illegally. After the German occupation government licensed the first professional union named Bildungsverein [Educational Association], which was headed by the S.S. party, this library was opened and expanded, and Chaja Waga, Ester Fuks and S. Landau served there as librarians there.
Concurrently, special libraries for Poalei Zion and Bund members were established, albeit on a limited scale.
When, after the War, a delegation of the American Częstochower Relief in New York appeared in Częstochowa and brought with it a large shipment of books and monies as well, all the parties' libraries merged, at the delegation's initiative, under the name Algemeine Arbeiter Bibliothek [General Worker's Library]. Its management was in the hands of representatives of Vereinigt [United], Bund and Poalei Zion.
This library was supported, in a large measure, by the Relief in New York and CYSZO [The Central Organization of Yiddish Schools] in Warsaw.
At proposition of workers' representatives on the City Council, municipal funding was also approved to buy books in Polish for the library.
The library, which was housed at first in the Children's Home at ulica Strażacka 10, later moved to Beit Peretz, next to the public school at ulica Krótka 23.
As librarian, Jakub Icek Zarnowiecki first performed that function, followed by Herszel Lipszyc.
On Friday nights and on Saturdays, discussions were held at the library with readers [discussing] what they had read and wished to read. The number of participants in these discussions was large.
In Częstochowa, there was also a library belonging to the Trade and Industry Workers Association, but it only held books in Polish and Russian, and books in Yiddish or Hebrew were outside its realm. They were considered not to be seen and not to be found!
After a war that continued for some years, this association was conquered and its library, too, was opened for Yiddish and Hebrew books.
Over the course of time, this library merged with the W. Medem library, which was founded in 1926 by the Bureau of Culture (KulturAmt). In 1927, the unified library moved to Aleja 20.
Andzej Monowicz served as its first librarian.
In 1938, the library, for some reason, changed its name to Kultura and was managed by Mrs Roza Berkensztadt (who continued to manage it illegally in the days of Nazi rule. When this was discovered, she was seized by the Nazi murderers, who tortured her until her tragic death).
We must also mention the Tzeirei Ha'Mizrachi organisation's library, whose beginning was at the end of the First World War. It was located at ulica Ogrodowa 14.
This library expanded steadily year after year, until it held a few thousand books mainly philosophy books on religion and nationalism, religious research and philosophy, beginning from the Middle Ages works of the contemporary Jewish sages and up to the enlightenment and Jewish academic research books by the great Maskilim and thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries.
There was also a special section for poetry and belleslettres, which contained the works of the greatest of our and the nations of the world's authors and poets. The majority, of course, were in Hebrew and Yiddish and a few of them in Polish, as well as in Russian and German.
From 1925 and until he emigrated to the Land [of Israel], Chaim Fajnsztadt (who now lives in Rehovot) served as this library's librarian, and he loyally and devotedly served the readers, who were mostly studyhall students. Most of them exercised caution by coming to the library late in the evening, for fear of the evil eye.
We should also mention the Craftsmen's Club library and reading room (which were partly founded by Henryk Markusfeld), the Crafts School's Adolf Bril library, the horticultural farm's botanical library [and] the I.L Peretz School's children's library.
(All this was destroyed and annihilated, together with its activists and loyal personnel, by the murderers of our People, may their names and memories be obliterated.)
Adv. Majer Horowicz
As is known, a large number of Częstochowa Jews wished to give their sons and daughters, at least, a secondary education and, due to the lack of a Jewish secondary school in the city, they were forced to send them to Polish schools, although nothing connected them to their nation and its history in the past.
It is selfevident that the spirit of assimilation progressively intensified within the circles of Jewish youth and the danger of alienation from all things held sacred by Jews was at its full force.
Zionist activists in our city awakened and decided, despite the many obstacles in their way, to establish a Hebrew Gymnazijum in our city, which would be worthy of its name and which would be based, first and foremost, on the study of the Hebrew language and its culture, in the national spirit.
This mission was not so easy to accomplish, due to the lack of funds and, mainly, due to the great difficulty, in those days, of finding teachers with both a high general education and also a Hebrew one, who were capable of educating Jewish youth in accordance with the will and objective of the Gymnazijum's founders.
These initiators were also concerned that, in the end, a sufficient number of parents would not be found, who would be willing to transfer their sons from existing secondary schools to a school at the start of its creation and whose success was by no means guaranteed.
However, thanks to the public figures who were loyal to the idea of establishing the gymnasium and thanks to the stamina of its founders Natan Gerichter, Mojsze Zandsztajn, Aba Hersz Librowicz, Mojsze Mokraujer and M. Najfeld the Gymnazijum was opened in 1917. At first, [it was located] in a rented apartment on ulica Jasna with, in the beginning, only three grades. It was affiliated with the Jewish Secondary Schools Network in Poland, founded by Dr M. Brojda.
The Gymnazijum's first headmaster was Dr.Szymon Berisz, who was an experienced pedagogue and who also, adroitly, chose for himself a staff of appropriate teachers. He was also able to earn the trust and admiration of the students, who especially excelled in the studies of the Hebrew language, its literature and culture, the Hebrew Bible, the history of the Jewish People and the religious laws.
A year later, the gymnasium moved to a spacious building at ulica Szkolna 10. The group of activists, who dedicated themselves to the gymnasium's affairs, also grew. Among those active for its cause, we should mention (alphabetically [in Heb.]): N.D. Berliner, Sz. Goldsztajn, Dr Grin, Ch. Weksler, D.Sz. Zandberg, J. Lewit, G. Frager and L. Kopiński.
Meanwhile, the Gymnazijum's headmaster, Dr Berisz, became ill and, in his place, came Professor Majer Bałaban, the famous historian who, in addition to being a great man of science, was also endowed with an exemplary, organisational talent. With all his heart and soul, Prof. Bałaban dedicated himself to raising the gymnasium's value and succeeded in acquiring, for it, some of the best teachers in the country, such as Brawer, the professor and painter Perec Willenberg, Wajnberg, Janowski, Mokraujer, Mrs Stobecka and Rubinsztajn.
Some time later, Prof Bałaban was invited to become the Director of the Rabbinical Seminary in Warsaw and he left Częstochowa.
In his place, Dr Dawid Einhorn was invited to become headmaster. He was followed by Dr Filip Axer but, due to ideological differences with the teaching staff and the management, he left the Hebrew gymnasium and established his own private gymnasium in Częstochowa.
He, in turn, was replaced by M. Prost, followed by Dr Lilien. During his time, the teachers included Brandlewicz, Dr BaruchBenedykt, Ginsburg, Dr Grinberg, Hajtner, Prof Ch.Z. Hirszberg (now at BarIlan university), Wajsberg, Prof Lauer, Dr Mering, Prof Sak, Mrs Fogel, Krakowiak and Dr Gerszon Szefer.
The gymnasium's last headmaster was Dr Anisfeld.
Apart from the gymnasium's public figures who organised its establishment and whom we have mentioned above, up to the outbreak of the Second World War, other activists included Messrs. Galster, Pruszycki, Z. Sztyller and Feliks Szapiro.
It should also be mentioned that when it was decided, at the time, to construct a special building for this school, Messrs. Najfeld, J. Krak, Józef Szlezinger and Henryk Szpaltyn excelled in their commitment and stamina in the execution of the task. The live spirit among them was Feliks Szapiro.
The building was constructed during the last years, near the outbreak of the Second World War. Częstochowa Jewry took pride in this building which, over the course of time, became a cultural centre and meetingplace for the best of the city's student youth.
The building was constructed using the modern technical standards and was modelled on the greatest educational institutions in the world. The spacious building inspired respect in all those visiting in it, while the Polish population was envious of this achievement of the Częstochowa Jewry.
Among the numerous institutions in Częstochowa was Beis Yaakov which, in the spirit of traditional Judaism, provided a broad, life framework for girls and young women. The initiator of the idea to build such schools in Poland was Mrs Sara Schenirer from Kraków.
That idea was accepted and implemented by Agudas Yisroel. Mrs Schenirer visited Częstochowa and helped make the project a reality. The school was established on the second floor of ulica Katedralna 10, and comprised five rooms. There were few teachers at the institution, but the number of students reached three hundred. Studies were taken in shifts. The possibility was also given to students of other schools to receive a Jewish, religious education in the afternoon hours. Girls from secular homes also studied at this school. They had an interest in this method of education and, over the course of time, they also adopted Jewishorthodox views.
Among the teachers and instructresses who excelled in their work, we should mention teachers Chana Fliderbaum and Wassercug, and the instructresses Taube Gelibter and Riwke Goldbaum, who instilled the spirit of Judaism and the sense of dedication for the school in their pupils' hearts.
Teaching was conducted in Yiddish and, in the last years, the study of Hebrew was also introduced as a separate subject.
A very special atmosphere prevailed in the school. On the walls were displayed diverse slogans, verses from the Hebrew Bible, from Pirkei Oves [Mishna; The Ethics of the Fathers] the handiwork of the students.
The Beis Yaakov council, which brought about its existence, comprised Reb Dawid Szlojme Erlich, Reb Józef Gerzon, Reb Mendel Fogel, Reb Simche Ferleger and, still living, Reb Noach Edelist, Reb Hendel Pradelski and Reb Lipman Rajcher.
With great dedication, the council worked to maintain the institution, both financially and spiritually, because the decisive majority of the three hundred girls were without means and the institution did not receive any support from the municipality or from the state. Sometimes, the council was unable to pay the teachers' wages or the school's rent.
Once, during a financial crisis, the girls arranged a minyan at the school. They invited ba'alei tfile and sold tickets to the worshipers, in aid of the school's maintenance. On another occasion, when the school had been closed down because the rent had not been paid, Shabbes, between Shacharis and Musaf, some students entered the Gerer Chassidim's studyhall and told the crowd about the financial situation which jeopardised the school's existence.
On [yet] another occasion, they locked the studyhall with the worshipers still inside and would not allow the crowd to exit before they had pledged to settle the institution's deficit problem.
For the school's maintenance, Bnos Agudas Yisroel [The Girls of A.Y.] and Beis Yaakov students also put on plays, the proceeds of which were mainly allocated towards teachers' wages and the rent. A small part of the earnings also went towards the library, which had books in Yiddish and Polish. All this was the fruit of the students' [own] strenuous work.
Only a few of the students have remained alive and, even if today they find themselves in an entirely secular framework, they maintain a deep connection to Judaism and this is because of what they learned in their youth.
The Book Committee
In the photo, among others, are the music teacher Rozenwajn; the students: Daniel Dorfsman, Chaim Yitzchaki, Dalek Deres, Motek Rajzman, Heniek Richter, Kamrat, Majtlis, Janek Wajskopf, The Szapira brothers, Landau, [and] Izaak Szmulewicz (the others are unknown).
Last Sunday, an impressive Chanukah evening was held at the Jewish Gymnazijum's spacious hall, arranged by the Board of Directors.
The evening was opened by student Alek Orbach, who blessed [the] Chanukah candles. The choir, conducted by Professor Rozenwajn, sang a few Hebrew song Maoz Tzur, Mechorati, Shemesh Avivi, Ha'Yarden [and] Memoshavot Israel.
All the songs were beautifully sung by the choir comprised of the school's 120 youngest students. We remarked that Mr Rozenwajn is surely a great expert if he succeeded in rehearsing with such a large choir and creating a glorious symphony.
For this, he was indeed given roaring applause.
The second part of the celebration was Jewish dances. The first dance was performed by the little [girl] Markowicz, dressed as a merchant of the Land of Israel selling Jewish oranges. The little one danced and sang so beautifully, that the crowd simply did not let her leave the stage and she was forced to dance longer and repeat the dance.
Afterwards, a Yemenite dance with fine costumes was performed. Here, too, was evident the experienced stagemanager's hand of the gymnastics and rhythmics professor, Mrs Hinterowna, who rehearsed the last two dances and also accompanied them on the piano.
Of the participants, the schoolgirls Drutowna, Massowna and Rabinowiczowna especially distinguished themselves.
The Gymnazijum's school orchestra, under the conductor Professor Rozenwajn, played the eastern march Moledet [Homeland], which was performed with all the nuances and was received by all the assembled with delight.
The Gymnazijum's youngest students performed a very nice little portrayal of [the play] Anachnu Bonim Bait [Heb.; We Build a House], which shows how little fellows build a house in the Land of Israel. Additionally, a few dialogues were presented, which characterise the specific Land of Israel life and its new, free youth growing up there.
Another little scene showed the atmosphere in the current settlement in times of Arab terror. A group of workers discover that their friend was murdered by wild Arabian bands. At first, they become forlorn and try to abandon their work. But a group of children coming from the school suddenly appears [and], seeing what is happening, encourage the workers and urge them to resume the labour.
Next, a choral recitation was performed, with Mrs Prof Sak at the paino. As the last number, a scene from Ch.N. Bialik, Lemitnadvim Ba'am [To the Volunteers Among the Nation; a poem] was presented. Mostly older schoolgirls participated who, in the introduction sang On the Rivers of Babylon offstage, with Miss Lenczner at the piano.
The Hebrew productions were taught and rehearsed by Professor Uri Ton who, for such successful performances, was presented with flowers.
(Quote from Częstochower Zeitung No.51, dated 23rd December 1938)
The Book Committee
One of the important, educational institutions in our city was Dr Axer's private gymnazijum.
Its founder, Dr Axer, showed much audacity and energy, creating with his own strength and on his own responsibility a private gymnazijum and setting it at a high standard.
Over time, a series of communal activists and, separately, parents of the children studying there, became convinced that this private gymnazijum deserved for the Jewish community to take it under its protection and to aid in its further growth.
(Sadly, the Axer gymnazijum archives met the same bitter end as all the Jewish archives of our city).
Therefore, in order to immortalise the gymnasium's name in Sefer Częstochowa, we are forced to only utilise details which we have found in Unser Express [Our Exp.] (Częstochowa edition) No.137, dated 16th June 1936, regarding a parents' general meeting which was held on Sunday, 14th June 1936, in the overfilled hall of the Craftsmen's Club. There, it was also decided to create a Community Committee, which would see to the gymnazijum's further growth and development.
The meeting was opened and chaired by the President of the Parents' Committee, the dentist Lajzerowicz, who delivered a report on the gymnazijum's situation and proposed a plan regarding the support from the community that it could, and should, be granted.
Dr Axer then expounded on his gymnazijum's first steps, prior to it earning the trust of Częstochowa Jewish parents, and on his plans for the future development of his lifeproject the gymnazijum. He also expressed his hopes that, with the community's aid and also that of his students' parents, he would be able to fund his dreams.
The same plan was also discussed at length by parents Feldberg, Zolondz and Mrs Rajch.
The meeting approved the proposition and also elected a committee to realise the project as soon as possible.
Concurrently, the Parents' General Meeting expressed its warm thanks to Director Dr Axer and to the entire teaching staff for the good education and broad knowledge which they gave the students and an especially warm blessing for those students who had completed their studies at Dr Axer's gymnazijum.
Following the distribution of diplomas by the Director Dr Axer, schoolgirl E. Majzner gave thanks on behalf of the graduates and also, in a wellcomposed report, spoke of what a Jewish gymnazijum gives Jewish schoolboys and schoolgirls, as a pointer for its future.
Graduate R. Gotlib also spoke along these lines.
The students then showed that the school had not only enriched them with wisdom, but also with artistic abilities.
The school cantor, very beautifully, recited Ch.N. Bialik's Mikrei Zion [Events of Z.] and schoolgirls Z. Opatowska and K. Cyper performed a dialogue about a Heart, in which they showed that wealth and treasures have no value without a Jewish heart as well, for only a good heart is the greatest and most essential gift.
Next, the choir sang Beethoven's The Skies Boast [Die Himmel Rühmen], and a march from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus Rejoice and be Happy.
In the last part of the programme, schoolgirl M. Szlezinger recited a song by Friedrich Schiller in the original and, at the end, young Mania Jakubowicz read a contemporary satire about the world politics at that time, which was written and produced by the Director Dr Axer. An appearance was also made by puppets, which played their roles so successfully that, at times, it seemed that experienced actors were performing and not schoolchildren. For this, they were indeed given resounding applause by the exhilarated audience.
It must be noted that these roles were not easy ones. They portrayed the characters of an experienced journalist; Ghandi the seeker of peace and rectitude; a rigid English diplomat, a representative of the Commonwealth; the dictator Mussolini; and the Ideal Race the Nazis.
In conclusion, schoolgirl Epsztajn recited a song about Socrates and the choir sang the French National Anthem and the Hatikvah.
This is all we can provide for future generations regarding Axer's Gymnazijum.
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