by Judyt Malach-Feder
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
It seems that it was only yesterday and whilst looking back, once again the whole town could be seen lit up by the fire from Huta-Bankowa a red flame, whose sparks and flares spray from it, turn the Dąbrowa night into day. The workers are returning from their work. And suddenly it seems that the whole town is in a hurry to return home.
This was the lifestyle that typified Dąbrowa: Work, culture and a developed social life. And also amongst the population were some Jews - most of them dealt in manual labor, or commerce. And it is surprising, since during the same period the Jews would customarily sit about employed and study Torah, and here in Dąbrowa all of the people, even the most orthodox, worked for their existence. And this fact didn't interfere even the tiniest bit to the social life, society and the friendship that blossomed in the town.
Each and every morning it was possible to see scores of Jews praying in the
synagogue, and immediately afterwards leaving for their daily work. And after
the Ma'ariv prayer they would gather, study Torah, and argue excitedly about
G'mara matters. And there isn't a man who saw this scene, who cannot erase this
from his memory figures sitting next to the table, devotedly studying,
and between Torah issues, debating issues between a person and his fellow man.
All the problems of society were solved with love and respect for the needy.
The neighbor is ill, and he doesn't have money to pay the doctor? Immediately a
number of Jews volunteered to care of the problem. Someone needs to sit next
the sick person at night? The problem was immediately solved. And all this
without publicizing the issue, without a fuss and with great modesty. The love
and understanding between a person and his fellow man cannot be described in
words, and in addition all of the great assistance was done out of a sense of a
higher obligation. Without anyone noticing, they would collect food supplies
and challot [bread used on Sabbath and festivals] each Shabbat for the poor and
the needy. Without a bank, without a signature and without a guarantee the
needy would receive loans from the philanthropic and mutual aid societies.
Hundreds of orphans, sick and poor would receive help and support with a loving
heart, and in a subtle and pleasant way. And occasionally the desire arises to
compare the social assistance institutions of today with the same dozen who
would collect challot for Shabbat. The aid office with its
thousands of clerks and papers with the loan funds that were created
spontaneously. The advertising and the disrespect of the needy of today, with
the love, the subtleness and respect of then. And because of this comparison,
the necessary and obvious conclusions are reached: Dąbrowa isn't inferior,
and is certainly better than the many of towns of today.
by Hilel Bart
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
On coming to write the history of our family, I would like to note that I don't remember much about my father's side. Although I am named after my grandfather Baruch Hilel, I only know that he lived in Kromołów which next Zabrze, and my father Josef zl was also born there.
My grandfather on my mother Ester-Chaja's side, was Reb Lajzer Wolbromski. He came from Kozienice. In the first years after his marriage to my grandmother Hinde-Rachel he moved to Dąbrowa, and here he dealt in trade as did most of the Jews at the time. He was a distinguished man, he had a handsome face and was strict. He was a great scholar and it was sometimes possible to meet Jews reading small lettering in his home, which was how it was customary to study Mishna or G'mara. Their five children were born in our town and my mother was the fourth amongst them. In 1912 three of my grandfather's sons left Poland: Dawid, Szalom and Sara and traveled to the United States. Grandfather followed them, since he wanted to see in his own eyes if it was possible for Jews who stringently kept mitzvot to live there. However, to his disappointment he soon learned that many of our brothers desecrate the Shabbat [Sabbath], and reached a decision to settle in Dąbrowa, amongst the Jews of our town, a place in which there was no desecration of the Shabbat.
My parents lived at number 22 Kolejowa Street. They made their livelihood from a convenience store from which the six children who were born over time also made their living. Making a livelihood was difficult in it, being that in the beginning we were the only Jewish family in the street, however later on another Jew, Welwel Rozenberg who was a boot-maker by trade, moved in. Trade in the store was mainly by credit, writing down in the ledger and at the end of the month they had to pay, however unfortunately many of those who were Christians didn't pay. I recall occasions that Father went to demand what was owing to him, they threatened him with physical harm and even worse. Later on, the situation improved and was eased when the children grew up. My brother Dawid and I began to work in the plant belonging to the Klajn brothers, who were relatives of ours: Grandfather Reb Lajzer and the father of the Klajn brothers, Reb Icchak, were cousins. I learnt metalworking and my brother Dawid worked in the office and learnt accountancy, our wages greatly helping the income of the family.
There were six of us at home, four brothers and two sisters: I, Hilel, was the oldest and after me was Dawid, Selka, Janka (Jona), Leon and Icek. I studied in the cheder of Herszel Krzewonza and later on with Jechiel Amstebar. At the age of seven I began studying in the elementary school, and when I finished I began learning metalwork with the Klajn brothers. My brother Dawid and the rest of the children in the family received a similar education. After finishing elementary school my sisters helped my mother, and brothers Leon and Icek went out to work and learn with the Klajn brothers. When my brothers began working in the plant there was already a kibbutz hachshara [pioneer training] called Borochov in our town, and almost all the members of the kibbutz worked with the Klajn brothers.
In 1933 we set out to the kibbutz hachshara in Łódź. During the same period my sister Selka married Kalman Bajtner and moved to live in Modrzejów near to Sosnowiec. Over the years before the war, three children were born to them.
In 1935, after I returned from the hachshara, I made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael together with my childhood sweetheart, Idel Izraeli, and settled in Petach Tikwa, a place where I live to this day. Immediately after I made aliyah, my brother, Dawid, married Rywka Przerowicz (sister of Mosze and Icchak). They had a son, Aleksander, and thus they began their lives in comfort till the war broke out.
Immediately following the outbreak of war restrictions on Jews began. My
parents liquidated their store and were supported by their children. Dawid and
Leon continued working with the Klajns. I corresponded with home through my
cousin, Mosze Dawid Blat, son of Naftali Blat, who when the war broke out went
with the Polish Army to Hungary and from there to Yugoslavia. Till the middle
of 1941 he would transfer my letters to Poland. I learned that my brother,
Icek, had escaped to Russia. I remember that Dawid wrote to me that time will
tell who had acted sensibly, those who had remained there or Icek who had run
off to Russia. A short while after this letter was sent one of the betraying
Poles informed on him to the Nazis, claiming that my brother was in an
anti-German underground organization. Gestapo people came and took him and he
never returned. About a year later his wife and son, Alexander, were taken and
thus the family disappeared. A similar thing happened to my parents who taken
at the same time to Auschwitz.
In 1941 my sister was murdered after being informed on, having bought bread in order to feed the children. The murderers held a trial and later executed her, such that Janka and Leon remained in the Nazi concentration camps and Icek in Russia. After the war, Icek made aliyah and raised a family. Leon and Icek traveled to the United States. Icek passed away from a chronic illness in the month of Sivan [June] 1965.
My brother and I were educated in Freiheit and Dawid in Gordonia. In our organizations there were mainly working class youths gathered, being that we were in a socialist movement, the movement demanded vigorous activity from its members, a movement which was a second home to its members. Once after the First of May celebrations, our flags disappeared from the clubroom and also the archives and the protocol ledger. We suspected Jewish communists, since during the same period they operated amongst the youth movements to draw out members from the movements they belonged to. It was decided that one of our members would go into the communist party and through this discover if someone from our members was located there. We were successful and thus prevented activity from within, we also found the stolen property, apart from the flags that they had made use of.
We educated the young to maintain Jewish honor; there were instances of plans
based on Endekes type anti-Semitism to riot against the Jews of the town, and
students from the Górnicza school were meant to lead the
rioters; all the Jewish organizations gave a hand and thus defended the Jewish
quarters and in certain cases taught the Christians a lesson.
by Zanwel Fisz (Paris)
Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal
The town of Dąbrowa is a part of the Zagłębie industrial center. The region has the largest number of coalmines. In this area of mines and the well-known iron foundry, the Huta Bankowa, a workers' proletarian neighborhood developed. More than once the workers spread fear among the business owners. On the other hand, they were also admired for their revolutionary courage.
The Jews in Dąbrowa were, in relation to the Christian population, a large minority. The Christian majority consisted of workers, officials, artisans, and small businessmen.
The Jews lived in relative peace with their Christian neighbors. The Christians did not go as far as extremism, nor did they perpetrate pogroms. Still, there was a feeling of separation between Jews and Christians. The Jews were ejected, isolated from the Christian society. Excluded from the strongly developed syndicated movement with the giant institution of Dom-Ludowy [People's House], led by the PPS (Polish Socialist Party), the Jewish workers grouped themselves in their own professional unions, or organizations. Truth be told, the Jews never tried to get nearer to Christian society. They ingeniously maintained their courage in this way against the Polish anti-Semitic reactionaries who had the motto of Divide and Conquer.
Entrance to Polish society, or to its culture, was strange and forbidden to
Jewish youths who grew up after Poland's rebirth and independence, even though
some of us travelled around or were educated in Polish middle schools. While
some of the Jewish youngsters found fulfillment in sports, others stood idly
by. There were young people who thirsted after desires and searched for an
answer to assorted problems. But how could they attain their goals? We would
meet when we would exchange books in the one Jewish library on 3rd of May
Street; we would have friendly discussions, or we would go for a walk in the
evening on the highway. In the summer months, we would meet in the damp forest
on the lawns. The idea came up that we should form a tighter group.
|Cultural activists from the Jewish community in Dąbrowa|
To avoid legal problems, it was a loose group without statutes, without regulations. Young people of assorted political beliefs belonged to the group. In order to maintain the integrity of the group, it became a holy obligation for every one of us to erase every political difference that could be divisive.
Even with the difficult material circumstances under which we lived at the
time, (most of us had barely begun to earn living), we did not miss a single
cultural event. I remember the collective visits we made to Będzin to
attend the lectures of Dr. Josef Kruk.
The group superbly organized a wonderful Purim evening, which drew a larger number of invited guests. There was an appropriate program of poetry, recitations, songs, violin interpretations by our friend Mechl Kirszenbaum, a lively humorous newspaper, and the dance led by Hashomer Hatzair youth, which today is the world famous Hava Nagila, left a very good impression on all those present.
As young people, we felt the need to become more acquainted with Modern Hebrew.
In order to later become good yidishists, we understood that we needed to learn
Hebrew. (The little bit of Yiddish, which we learned by Mosze head
in cheder, or by other teachers, was not sufficient to help us understand a
good book). We turned to the famous Hebraist and then Secretary of the Jewish
kehila [community]: Jankel Śliwka.
Under his leadership, Communist Sympathizers mixed with Zionists, and together, twice a week, we learned Hebrew grammar and later, simple conversation. I remember the lovely poem by Chaim Nachman Bialik, If Your Soul Learns to Know, which we memorized.
Friends quietly would write; somebody would compose a poem, somebody a novella, a short story, or a critique of a newly-read book, with the smallest hope, that the work would be published one day.
And the miracle happened
Our tireless friend Dawid Kożuch gathered the contributions together, and classified, edited, and with a special handwriting (half print half script) gave the material an existence in book form. It had a nice, aesthetic cover page, and was named Baginen [Dawn]. The beautifully bound book circulated from one friend to another. After the group was dissolved, we presented it to our friend Dawid as a gift.
We understood, that in order to maintain healthy spirits, we also had to strengthen our bodies. A group of us left for Będzin and enrolled in the sports union Hakoach [the strength]. After a day of heavy work, we would walk to Będzin twice a week, (not always was there sufficient money for train tickets), where we performed sports exercises and developed our muscles a little. Our enthusiasm for physical culture conquered all its difficulties.
The Jewish population in Dąbrowa was small and the library had a weak
representation of books. Whereas it was difficult for a person to get a new
book, we enthusiastically accepted the proposal that every member of the group
should contribute 1 zloty to the general fund every week. [1 złoty = U.S.
$0.18 until 1939 HBF]. As soon as tens of złoty were saved up, we
subscribed to the newest editions in Warsaw. The books circulated from one
friend to another; this gave us the opportunity to become acquainted with the
newest modern creations of Yiddish and non-Yiddish writers.
|Jewish youth in the city learning the Esperanto language|
by Rywka Barkai
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
My neighbors in the same house that I lived were very friendly. From my earliest youth I would go into their home. Indeed I was a little older than the boys and girls of the family but nevertheless I always found interest to talking with them or even playing with them, or simply telling stories or exchanging books between myself and the oldest daughter Bluma zl.
The father of the family, Reb Aron Lemkowicz zl, was a tall person, his body slightly rounded and his head bald. He was a respected trader and owner of a rich clothing store. His wife Szpryncele zl kept mitzvot, a extraordinary housewife. Both of them were honest people and never hesitated to help their fellow man. I remember how almost every day how beggars would come from the nearby town of Będzin to our town, and if they went into the home of the Lemkowicz family they didn't leave empty-handed, they received food, money and even clothes.
Reb Aron was from Będzin, from a wealthy and respected family, and he was a member of the philanthropic institutions in our town, like Linat Hacholim [Lodging for the sick], Gmilat Chassidim [Charity], Hachnasat kala [Dowering a bride] and others. He would collect donations from the wealthy of the town for the needy. As a committee member of the Linat Hacholim his task was to distribute notes that allowed the sick with minor means to receive medical assistance for free, medicine by a doctor's prescription and also equipment. Reb Aron was also the gabbai [beadle] in the synagogue, his pleasant voice and songs or Hassidic tunes pleased his listeners.
I remember how it was pleasant to hear the songs that emerged from his apartment accompanied by his two sons who are now here in Israel. All of the family would sit around a table laid with good food, the tablecloth gleaming white and the candlesticks and the polished silverware sparkled. I loved to hear this choir, this was mainly on Shabbat eves or festivals. During the festival of Sukkot we would sit in Reb Chaim-Lajb Jungster's sukka [booth] in a house close to ours. This was an unforgettable experience of friends sitting together as one, eating traditional foods and singing countless songs, together in the evening of the ushpizin [guests] There was then a competition of stories amongst those seated there, and we the young girls ran from house to house serving tasty food.
The Lemkowicz family had another three daughters, good looking and noble minded, who received their unique qualities from their parents. Bluma zl, tall and slender, was a daughter dedicated to her parents, always took care of the housework and looked after her young sisters, Lea and Cyla. When I left the town on my way to Eretz Yisrael they were still young and after that I never saw them, the cruel war that befell the world broke the contact between us.
An elderly couple lived in the same house, they were the parents of Mrs.
Lemkowicz zl. They were the owners of a convenience store I was always
amazed by the cleanliness in their home and their store, they could serve as an
example to other young people despite both of them were quite elderly, over
by Baruch Simchoni
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Charming is the place with its people
Charming is the time spent in it
A place and a time
L. A. Sztajnman
It was from Grandfather, who was one of the first settlers in our town, we heard the history of the town of our birth for the first time, from it being a rural settlement till it reached the stage of becoming a municipal community in the previous century [19th].
Father continued to describe his growing years and education there, and Mother also came from a nearby town and continued to add her impressions and made a comparison in the light of her previous visits to other towns,
We, the third generation, were born in that place. Our impression of the world around us began after World War One.
The town of our birth which is at the south-western tip of Poland did not have any historical importance, no ancient sites and not even moss covered roofs which were typical in Jewish towns. Nevertheless the land under us on which we stood retained a black and precious treasure from its origins.
Jewish settlement began in the southern part of the town, that when settled was later called the Ancient town. Typical of the place was that those who lived in it were relatives, with family relationships between themselves. In the days of the Pale of Settlement, when it was forbidden for Jews to settle in villages, they settled in the outermost western street of the town called Miejska (municipal), that was occupied in the main by Jews only. A synagogue was built in the middle of this street. The front of the synagogue pointed east. In the center of the fašade was a large window, made from colored glass, that propagated glory in the direction of the youths, sons of the first settlers, who had left the Pale during that period and settled independently in Ulman Street.
Dąbrowski Street stretched along the hill bordering on the Ancient town in parallel to this street. There was a plugata [disagreement] regarding this name: There were those who said it was called thus for a general from the Napoleonic period, and there were those who indeed associated the name with a Polish writer Maria Dąbrowski, the editor of the The laughter of childhood. And in indeed there was the joy of youth in that street for both the Jewish youth and the shkutzim [non-Jewish boys].
Six streets began in this street and all of them plunged sharply down in a straight line, crossing Ulman and reaching Szosa Street (whose translation is road: known as Sowiecki). All six streets were steep and because of this served for races in summer and tobogganing on the ice in winter. There was not yet a fear of motorized vehicles. All these streets led to the walls of the foundries and they had names related to the plant, before national names were instituted. For example: The Factory Street, the French Street (in which experts from overseas lived), the Clubroom Street (in which there was a clubroom for the reception of trade delegations) and at the far end Kolejowa Street (Railway Street). Szosa Street became in coming years to be the main street in which a transport line stretched along (in addition to the railway) the electric tram connected to Upper Silesia.
The northern part of the city had no possibility of expansion, since the foundries built a high wall which divided between the residents and the factory over the wall. And on the other hand it was only possible to reach it by a long, roundabout way. Hence, the northern part was concealed, and in order to reach it one had to cross a towering bridge, and below it ran railway line branches transporting freight and people. On the other side of the bridge was the Dębnik valley; a few Jews settled there but still there were independent educational institutions: a mikveh and prayer house. This was so it was necessary to trudge needlessly across the bridge and to head to the south and then west to far way locations and thus violate the mitzva of Shabbat and a day of rest. Nevertheless, the southern and western residents who took the shortcut to the north through Dębnik earned their just rewards: a sort of nature reserve was revealed to them that survived, a wooded forest and next to it the Przemsza River that flowed towards the nearby Jewish town through dormitories of the Koszlow mine. To the south-east the road led to a valley called Zagórze like the name of the mine within it, and onwards from there the road led to a bathing beach in the village of Dańdówka (it was a border crossing, during the regime of Franz Josef).
The Reden colony (named after the mine) developed independently and
in part of it was a foundry called Huta.
To this day when two people meet each other their first question is: Are you a resident of Huta or a resident of Reden. The division was created by freight railway lines that transported loads between the mines and the foundry. Some of the materials were transported via carts along a suspended cable. To a certain extent it was caused by the Christian church that was built between the two sections of the town. The barrier fell for the first time by the establishment of a Hebrew school which was shared by pupils from all parts of the town, and later on by the youth movements which unified the two sections.
The development of the town and the utilization of the resources buried underground began by effecting the participation of investors and experts from overseas, who enlarged the activity of the mines and the foundries, this as a result of the invention of the steam engine, the extensive molding of railway lines, the branching out of railway traffic and the increased use of coal. All this brought about a mass influx of laborers for work in the plants, and simultaneously there was an increase in the influx of Jews from the towns and villages in the region and even from afar, in order to supply the needs of the laborers in the mines and foundries. Here, as in every place, the main profession of the Jews was in commerce and trades.
The Jews would bring agricultural products and other items from their previous
locations in order to sell them to the residents of the mining and steel town,
in which the produce was scanty. However, tradesmen also found a livelihood in
the organizing and developing town.
As the Jews became established and their numbers grew they began making a living and supporting one another, and the elderly, the first settlers from the Pale of Settlement, turned to the business of being the leaders of the Jewish community: We find Reb Zysza, abandoning his trade (hides) and establishing a kosher mikveh, for men and women, in an extensive and open area at the south-west end of the Pale. In this place our fellow Jewish brethren could wash, bathe and purify their souls, as each of them held a wooden tub. The waters from there flowed in open channels to a distant uncultivated field, which grew an abundance of thistles, its prickly flowers served at Tisha B'Av [Ninth of Av (day of mourning)] for throwing and sticking to the beards of one another. It indicated some sort of suffering, but in the main this custom was because it was a diversion on a long hot day of fasting waiting for the hour of Mincha [afternoon prayer service] and Ma'ariv [evening prayer service]. The former occupation of Reb Zysza was taken up by his son, Icze Majer, who left the Pale and moved East to the developing Ulman Street and continued to trade in hides.
The magnificently was renovated synagogue with a Ezrat nashim [Women's' section] on which the twelve zodiac signs were painted, and within the picture there were intricate details: The verse from the End of Days, the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard with the goat will lie down.
My grandfather Reb Icchak Aron passed on his trade butter and cheeses to his eldest son Symcha, who also went east of the Pale of Residence and opened a store in the developing street. From then on you met Reb Icchak Aron with a bundle of religious vessels, prayer books, mezuzoth [parchment scrolls which are fixed to doorposts] and teffilin [phylacteries] and so on. And he was always saying in jest:
I will deal in religious artifacts and prayer books, and won't need Jewish buyers. His meaning was clear: He took particular pleasure in exchanging the mezuzoth of an agnostic, or selling a machzor [Jewish prayer book for festivals] in the month of Elul to a newly religious person. Another rhyming saying, in the field of commercial advertising was said by Reb Icchak Aron: Mezuzoth and teffilin are sold by Icchak-Aron and Icchak's relatives supplies cigars
Reb Symcha was a devout Chassid of the Rabbi from Aleksander, and in his appreciation purchased the rabbi's book Yismach Yisrael [Israel will rejoice]. In this book (on a blank page) Reb Symcha would record in flowery script, in the holy language, the birthdates of his children, who had names in memory of deceased rabbis in order that their merits would be passed on to the children. He called his first son Baruch, in order that a blessing as well as joy would be part of his home. The day of the brith [circumcision] of the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov [founder of the Chassidic movement] was the memorial anniversary of the death of Rabbi Baruchl from Medzhibozh [Międzybórz Russian town in the government of Podolia] of blessed memory, and due to his grandfather's pedigree, it had an influence on his Chassidim (in his courtyard the well-known joker Herszl from Ostropol could be found). He called his second son Jerachmiel Israel in memory of the author of Yismach Yisrael the second Admor in the dynasty of Aleksander rabbis. The white bearded Mosze (named in memory of Reb Mosze Cohen) added the additional name: Cwi in the name of the Admor Szmul-Cwi, brother of the author of Yismach Yisrael who followed him in the throne of the Aleksander rabbinate.
In the following period as his sons grew and the chadarim [primary religious
schools] were almost all closed down, Reb Symcha had to decide for his son
Chanoch, between the Agudat Yisrael School established by the Gur Chassidim and
the Mizrachi Hebrew School. In the depths of his heart Reb Symcha was a
supporter of the idea of Eretz Yisrael [Land of Israel] and he had to decide
openly whether to send his sons to a Hebrew school whilst around him there were
groups that were against Zionism, and hence he decided to extract a
claim from his past, an old quarrel that had been abandoned between
the Admor from Aleksander, Jerachmiel Israel Dancygier of blessed memory, and
the Admor from Gur, Arie Lajb Alter of blessed memory.
The outbursts of his father, Icchak Aron, didn't help though he lobbied for him. When Grandfather failed in removing his grandchildren from the Hebrew school, after a few weeks of studying Hebrew he organized an exam in knowledge of the language.
|Reb Symcha Gorset|
This failure brought about the stimulus of the grandchildren to take interest in various nuances of the Hebrew language and to take up hobbies where variations played a role. Reb Symcha was able to see his son and daughter immigrate as pioneers to the Eretz Yisrael and his second son also prepared himself for aliyah, however the immigration certificate was delayed and he was killed in the Holocaust. He himself was ready to provide himself with a building related trade, considering the fact that without trade and physical labor there was no room in the Eretz Yisrael but the certificate was delayed and the Second World War erupted.
When his first grandson, Ya'ir, was born in 5701 [1940/41] a telegram was sent to him from the Eretz Yisrael (during the Second World War via the Red Cross) he certainly wrote down him name in the book, on a blank page on which were written the family birth dates and certainly found (a coincidence) that the name of his grandson was the same as the fourth rabbi according to the courtyard of the Aleksander rabbinate: the Admor Betzalel-Ya'ir (nephew of the author of Yismach Yisrael)
During the war Reb Symcha still held a prayer house in his home, in memory of his father Icchak Aron.
He was taken out of this same prayer house by the Nazi Satan, during the Yom
Kippur of 5703 [21st of September 1942] he went on his last journey with the
rest of his family.
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