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[Page 94]

Simkhah-Bunim Danciger

Moshe Danciger, Israel

Translated by Pamela Russ

Simkhah-Bunim Danciger was born in Wyszogrod in the year 1853. He came from a fanatically religious, chassidic home. Nakhum Sokolov, who later became a famous Zionist leader, also lived in Wyszogrod in his younger years. Sokolov left the city of his birth early on, and Simkhah-Bunim Danciger followed him in Wyszogrod in all his wanderings and all the places he went. In the later years, Simkhah-Bunim often confessed that he caught his eagerness to leave the town from his great fellow townsman.

By nature, Simkhah-Bunim was an active man, and at the same time he was an idealist. He participated in the Katowicer convention of the Khovevei Zion [“Lovers of Zion”; foundation builders of modern Zionism]. In the year 1885, he went to live in Gostynin. In those years, he was still a Gerer chassid [follower of the Gerer chassidic dynasty], but along with that, he preached about Zionism in the town. Of course, in the Gerer courts they looked at this very distastefully. The Gerer chassidim in Gostynin harassed him for this, humiliated him, and distanced themselves from him.

Simkhah-Bunim's popularity grew, nonetheless, within the misnagdish [opposers of chassidic ideology] courts and among the general populace. He spread his ideas and found many listeners who wanted to become informed about Zionism and the Land of Israel, and found their support in this Zionism.

Ignoring his illness, from which he suffered greatly – he suffered with asthma – he did not give up his Zionist propaganda and activities. A Zionist group was established at that time, that was small in number and not too involved with its growth.

Simkhah-Bunim was 53 when he left this world, in the year 1906.

[Page 95]

Yakir Warszawski

Y. Morbid

Translated by Pamela Russ

Even though he was not born in Gostynin, Yakir Warszawski was considered a Gostyniner. He actually came to our town from Mlawa, his birthplace, near the former border of Germany. But over the years when he lived in Gostynin, he identified with its youth, struggled its struggles, and was its guidepost.

Yakir Warszawski was born on March 14, in the year 1885, into a chassidic-business family. He studied in a cheder, then in a shtiebel [small place of prayer] for chassidim, then by himself. While he was studying Gemara [Talmud], he also spent time with non-traditional philosophy books, Kabbalah [book of mysticism], and chassidus. Under the influence of his fellow townsman Yosef Opatoshu, the great Yiddish writer, he began in his early youth to read Hebrew literature and to study foreign languages. At age 20, he left for Warsaw, and after he was married, he settled in Gostynin where he became a Hebrew teacher.

In Gostynin, Yakir Warszawski already demonstrated great skill as a teacher. His students loved him, and he enveloped them with a lot of love. The mutual relationship was one of faithfulness and high regard. Therefore, from time to time, Yakir Warszawski read the first fruits of his pen to those who were closest to him. Often, in his short stories he would tell about the different characters in the town and he painted homey landscapes.

But the small town became tedious for Warszawski. It was hard for him to earn a living. So he moved back to Mlawa, where he had business as a bookkeeper. Nonetheless, he maintained contact with his friends. Yakir Warszawski's letters went from hand to hand, and the city's intellectuals swallowed them up because of their popularity and because of the direct tone …

[Page 96]

… in which they were written. Aside from that, his former students wanted to know what their teacher wrote.

On the eve of World War I, Warszawski traveled across Germany, Italy, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. He published his travel journal in the Yiddish and Hebrew press at that time, and a newspaper with Yakir Warszawski's articles was read in Gostynin with great interest and enthusiasm.

Returning to Poland, he was hired as a Hebrew teacher in the Jewish gymnasium in Plock, and he frequently visited Gostynin where he spent his …

A Group of Gostyniner with Yakir Warszawski in Gostynin
Seated from right to left: Yakir Warszawski, Yosef Keller, Tuvia Jakubowycz
Standing from right to left: Iser-Meyer Matil, Yakov Linderman, Efraim Matil

[Page 97]

… younger years. During this time, Gostynin had changed. Many of his close friends had left the city, some to America, and some to other places. But he loved the Gostynin landscape, loved the Gostynin Jews, and in his heart, there was always a small corner for this bright, Jewish town.

Between the two world wars, Yakir Warszawski was working in Keren Hayesod [official fundraising organization for Israel], and would travel across the Polish province in the interests of this fund. From 1906, he published literary items and journalistic articles in Yiddish and Hebrew periodicals, also under the pseudonym of Y. Ben-Aharon and Y. Warszai. He published in book form “Hegeyonot Ve'za'zuim” [“Reasoning and Shocks”], travel pictures, “Min Ha'moledet,” [“From the Homeland”], “Maalot u'Mordot” [“Rising and Falling”], a series of children's stories in Hebrew.

The beloved and idealistic Yakir Warszawski experienced the fate of the Jews who were locked in the Warsaw ghetto.

The Gostyniner across the entire world will always remember the beautiful character of their Hebrew teacher Yakir Warszawski, may God avenge his blood.

[Page 98]

The Gostyniner Khazen
(Memories of His Son)

Yoel Miller

Translated by Pamela Russ


Yoel Miller


For just about 30 years, my father, Reb Yakov Miller, was the khazen-shokhet [cantor-ritual slaughterer] in Gostynin. His life and impact in this beautiful and Jewish town left an enormous impression there. Until this day, the sweet songs of their khazen are still sung by Gostyniner, with a gnawing yearning for their past youth, remembering his name with love.

As other khazanim [cantors], my father also aspired, other than to be a leader of prayers, respected and recognized for this, also to bring out Jewish music and heartfelt prayers, and in that way to evoke in his listeners a feeling and taste for characteristically Jewish music. It was difficult for a khazen to carry out this mission completely with limited energies and limited means that he had at his disposal. But his [my father's] great desire, however, was always to raise khazzanus [cantorial music] to a higher level, so that he alone should be satisfied and that the singers should have enjoyment; and he achieved this. He always sang with a choir. Disregarding how large or how small the choir was, he applied his compositions according to the strengths and capacities of the singers. Once, it happened that he did not have enough singers in town, so he brought choirboys from outside the city. Here the two brothers Lewitt should be mentioned – Aron Hersh and Binyomin, who had beautiful voices and were musically gifted. In the later years, Binyomin Lewitt took on …

[Page 99]

… important positions as khazen here in America. In his last position, he was the replacement for khazen Kwartin in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Maintaining a choir according to the requirements of my father was always fraught with great difficulties: from both the financial and musical perspectives. He generally did not use prepared compositions because here he was missing an alto and here a tenor, so he had to get compositions to be appropriate for the skills that he had. The singers changed often, so he had to always prepare new songs, and this was exceptionally difficult. He really had no time for this. He therefore used every opportunity, even outside the house, to sing with his choirboys: in the slaughter-house, or in the forest that was not far from the slaughter-house, waiting for the butcher to prepare the animal to be checked [before the slaughter], he thought up a composition, and once when he was traveling to a village to slaughter [an animal].

He was all music. Everywhere and always, Jewish music poured out of him. The music flowed melodiously, filled with Jewish content, with the Jewish krekhtz [sigh, like kvetch], and Jewish joy. He submerged himself deeply in the profound content of the prayers, and with a lot of understanding and grace, gave the prayer its fullest interpretation.

My father was not satisfied only with thinking up a melody, he had also to work through the harmonies for the choir. Naturally, it was very difficult to carry this through. How does a young person from Skidel, whose total musical knowledge comprised a few notes that he learned from the Skidler khazan, create theoretically sound musical compositions? He gained more musical knowledge by traveling with the then famous khazen Meyer Lieder's choir. At that time, they took my father out of the choir and set him up him as a khazen in a small city in Poland. But my father was still not satisfied with those few notes that he knew; he was always searching, wanting to get to the bottom of the secrets of musical creations, to learn more of the …

[Page 100]

… Torah of music. He used all kinds of methods to acquire this knowledge. He learned a little through a correspondence course which the renowned Czestokhower khazen Birnboim ran. But still this did not satisfy him.

By chance, a Jewish music director [conductor] of the stationed Russian regiment was in Gostynin. This conductor was really a great expert both in worldly and Jewish music. His name was Gersowycz. When he came to shul on Shabbos and heard my father leading the prayers and singing with the choir, he was captivated. He quickly befriended my father and offered to enhance his musical knowledge. At every opportunity, when both – the khazen and the conductor found some free time, they would spend the time together and absorb themselves in theory issues of music.

A new, interesting world opened for my father. Gersowycz taught him harmony, counterpoint, and familiarized him with classical music. Of course, my father used these for his shul compositions, and soon you heard a “Hodu…” [“Praise to…”] in “Hallel…” [“Thanks to…” – prayer recited and sung on special festivals] influenced by the great creations of Hayden; a “Shoshanas Yakov…” [“The Rose of Yakov…” – recited on Purim] that smacked of segments of “Troubadour.”

It was obvious how great was the influence of the education he received through his khazen musical activities. All the hidden treasures opened up to him and a well of Jewish compositions flowed out of him. That period was the most creative time in his life.

That really was why he was so beloved by all. With limited strength, and often with self-sacrifice, he brought out the best of himself. He inspired many young boys who had a good musical ear and nice voices, and they became my father's students. One of them became the famous composer Yisroel Glatsztajn, who was killed by the Hitler murderers. Yisroel Glatsztajn began his musical career …

[Page 101]

… as a singer in my fathers' choir and later achieved his recognition as the creator of original melodies to the texts of famous Yiddish poets. He also contributed a lot to Yiddish theater in Warsaw and in Lodz.

Today, my father's students are spread across many countries – in Israel, in America. And my father had many followers. They absolutely worshipped him. They took my fathers' music everywhere with them. In Gostynin homes in New York you often hear my father's compositions. These Gostynin Jews measure up other khazzanim [cantors] and their songs to the arshin [measure of length formerly used in Russia; about 28 inches] of the Gostyniner khazen, Reb Yakov Miller…

A chapter of the difficulties that my father had with the choir members should also be described here. Among them were also poor children. My father promised them several rubles for singing, saved some from his own small income, and paid them. But it often happened, that a few days before Yom Tov [Jewish holidays] the parents of the children came to my father and explained that their little boys could not come to sing because they had nothing to wear; one was missing a suit of clothes, another a pair of shoes; and just as if on purpose, this always happened to the better singers, to the best alto or soprano who was selected to sing a solo. Now my father could not rest, gathered all his resources, and saw to it that everything should be attended to; really, under great strain, but everything was taken care of. The children who had nothing to wear, were dressed up to come and sing. These were small problems. But with bigger children came bigger problems… because the majority of singers could not read notes. So, naturally it was difficult to teach them the compositions. With a lot of energy and patience and hard work, the khazen evoked the best from them, and when everything was all done, some of them lost their interest and did not want to sing. Now, once again he had to begin with new singers and once again start to teach a whole new choir. Aside from all these struggles, my father trembled over the singers so that they should not catch cold or become hoarse. He …

[Page 102]

… looked behind their eyes, caressed them, invited them to come to his house on Yom Tov morning to have a cup of hot tea and a bite to eat, so that everything should be in order and pass uneventfully. And when it was the time before the High Holidays, the world became lively! Especially the night before selichos [special prayers for forgiveness recited during the days preceding Yom Kippur]. In order to be certain that the entire choir would be together and no one would be late, the entire group of singers slept at our home and it was a rollicking time. But when they stood at the amud [the head of the congregation] all the problems were gone – it was all worth it, because the choir sang one composition after another and provided pride and joy, both to the khazen and to those praying. This Jewish music carried over to the Jewish homes. At the tailors' tables and near the shoemakers' benches, in the warehouses of the stocking manufacturers, you heard the sweet songs. The entire Gostynin sang along with my father, may he rest in peace.

My father excelled also as a shokhet [ritual slaughterer]. He guarded the purity of his holy work with a true fear of God. He was respected and beloved by all classes of the Jewish people. Chassidim, Misnagdim [opposers of chassidim], God-fearing men, and those who are perfect in their character, all ate from his slaughter [meaning, they trusted his products because of his adherence to the Torah laws of slaughtering and kosher meat]. He was a Torah scholar, and followed the news and evolution of Hebrew literature. A man who was friendly to all people, everyone loved him because he had a kind word for everyone, and he greeted everyone with a broad smile of friendship. With his good advice and smart words, he won over the sentiments of the congregants.

The Gostyniner khazen died in Detroit at age 85. On his tombstone, a picture is set in of him wrapped in a talis [prayer shawl] as he used to stand at the lectern [in front of the congregation] in the Gostyniner shul.

[Page 103]

My Fiddle
(A Song with Notes)

Translated by Pamela Russ

We are herewith printing one of the songs to which the Gostynin chazzan [cantor] Yakov Miller,
may he rest in peace, wrote this music when he was close to eighty years old.

I ask of my fiddle: play me a song
Of love and beauty and good fortune;
Awaken in my heart at least a little faith,
Revive my sad gaze.

Oh, play me the song of yearning to live,
Tones of hope and comfort,
Choke off the moods that pull at the heart –
Create a spirit in my body.

Yes, once I took from life,
Drank wine from the goblets;
So play, my fiddle, of those joyous times,
When the glow was still so bright.

And the fiddle replies: Your plea is too large,
The strings have already been torn, my friend.
Only moaning and sighing, suffocated wails,
That's what remained for today.

[Page 104]

Yisroel Glatsztajn

Mikhel Gelbart[1]

Translated by Pamela Russ


Mikhel Gelbart


Thousands and thousands of Jewish children across the entire Jewish world will cry and mourn when they will learn how the Nazi killers murdered their beloved composer, Yisroel Glatsztajn, in such a tragic way. Dear God, why are you silent? Why are You not taking revenge from these murderers who stole so much joy and so many Jewish children? Whoever once experienced a song-lesson in a Jewish public school, or has sat through some children's concert, in whichever city, in whichever country where there are Jews, and have seen the shining faces, the glowing eyes, and the hearts of the young Jewish children filled with joy as they sing Glatsztajn's wondrous children's songs – these people will understand the great loss that Jewish music, Jewish schools, and especially the Jewish child, have suffered.

It was 1908 when I arrived in Zondberg's large …


Yisroel Glatsztajn

[Page 105]

… theater in Lodz, as choir singer. That same day, Yisroel Glatsztajn also arrived as choir singer. Tall, slim, with a pious pale face, and large, dreamy eyes. I from Ozrokow, and he from Gostynin.

He often told me about the Gostyniner chazzan [cantor] Reb Yakov Miller with whom he sang in the Gostyniner synagogue and from whom he received his introductory knowledge about music. Yisroel Glatsztajn was a child of Jewish poverty, and was drawn to the world of music. In his home, he already demonstrated a talent for composition. When the newspaper series [booklet] from Warsaw would arrive, he swallowed the notes of each new song and then sang it with a group of accompanying singers. Very often he would try his own abilities, and he would compose his own melody to the text of a song, and the chazzan would help him write it down.

Our “salary” was eight rubles a month. Our eyes met, and silently asked: “How can one live from such an income?” Both of us went into the street, strolled around, conversed, got to know each other better, and then found out that each of us came to Lodz with one goal and one purpose: to study music in order to become composers and create Jewish music for the Jewish masses. We decided that it would be easier to starve if we were together. So we looked for, found, and rented a steel bed for both of us in a cheap inn in Balot. We lived on two “portions” [meals] with a glass of milk a day. Together, both of us weighed 180 pounds and looked like Reb Zadok's fig after forty days…[2] Going to and from the theater every day, we tried to avoid all the puddles and mud because of our tattered shoes – and thank God there were always enough mud puddles in the knobby small streets. But that's why we learned eagerly, studied and perfected ourselves in music composition.

Every night in our beds, we lay awake for a long time and talked away the hunger with our fantasies about the fortunate time when we would create Jewish music, direct Jewish choirs, and popularize Jewish song.

[Page 106]

After several years of starving and studying, we left Lodz and went out into the world to seek and find our fortune. As I wandered, I came to America and later found out that Glatsztajn was in Lublin where he created superb compositions for young and old. He was particularly outstanding in writing children's songs. In 1920, in Warsaw, his first large collection was published as “Song and Play” – 50 beautiful songs and song-games for children to the text of Moshe Broderson and Y. Katzenelson. These songs were sung in all the Jewish children's schools wherever they were scattered, and children happily sang Glatsztajn's songs. Which Jewish child, who attended a Jewish school, cannot sing Glatsztajn's “Marsh Lied” [“Marching Song”]?

“One and two and three and four,
That which we are – are we …”

Tzipele,” [“Little Tzippe”], “Feld Arbet” [“Field Work”], “Felder Grienen, Felder Roishen” [“Fields Are Greening, Fields Are Rushing”], and more and more wonderful songs.

Yisroel Glatsztajn was the first to create a Jewish opera in Yiddish, “Fatima.” Later, Glatsztajn settled in Berlin where he created important musical works, which produced great sensations in the Jewish music world. Among them were: “Khurban” [“Destruction”], “Shulamit,” “Klingen Gleker” [“Ringing Bells”], “Wieg Lied” [“Lullaby”], and “Tzipele,” which were published in America.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, and began to torture Jews, Yisroel Glatsztajn fled to Warsaw, from where I received his final letter in which he pleaded: “Have mercy on me and bring me to America.” After that, I heard nothing from him, until – I read in the local Jewish press the list of the holy martyrs that the Nazi beasts murdered in Warsaw, among which I saw the name of Yisroel Glatsztajn. Glatsztajn's music will live with us forever.


  1. The writer of this article is the known composer and conductor Michel Gelbart. He sent us the music of Yisroel Glatsztajn to the text of the song of the great Yiddish-Hebrew poet, Yitzchok Katzenelson. Both – the poet and the composer of the melody – died in the years before the destruction [World War II]. Return
  2. Rabbi Zadok lived in the period just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, 70 CE. He fasted for 40 years before Jerusalem's fall hoping to avert the catastrophe, sustaining himself with sucking the juice from one fig a day, then discarding what was left. In relation to the Yiddish text above, this refers to the gaunt thinness and dried out look (like the fig) of both men described in the Yiddish article above. Return

[Page 107]

“Di Zun Fargeyt In Flamen”
The Sun Sets in Flame

Written by Yitzchak Katzenelson

Music by Yakov Glatstein

Translated by Pamela Russ

The sun sets aflame,
The sun can barely be seen,
So my hope wanes,
So my dream expires.
The night, the night is dark,
The night is mute and black;
So seems my sorrow.
So seems my heart.
World, you world, do not worry,
Soon your day will shine;
Only my sorrow is eternal,
Only my lament is eternal;
The night, the night is dark,
The night is mute and black;
So seems my sorrow.
So seems my heart.

(Can hear selection on the site http://www.milkenarchive.org/ Enter “DI ZUN FARGEYT IN FLAMEN” The Sun Sets, Aflame.)


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