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[Page 162]

“Freedom” and the “Red Scouts”

by Shmuel Wolf Pinczewski

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

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Shmuel Wolf Pinczewski

 

1923. The youth at that time in Gostynin was governed by the “Bund” and by the assimilated communists that grouped themselves among the youth that was studying in the Polish gymnasium.

Finally a small number of youths, who were soaked through with the ideals of Zionism and democratic socialism, succeeded to break through the anti–Zionist ice that was blocking the road forward. Gradually, we won over new friends to our ideas. We rented a small room and we gathered there in the evenings. We were active in Zionist funds, in the elections to the congress, and in other activities.

At the founding of “Freiheit” [“Freedom”] in Poland, all of us affiliated ourselves with the Poalei Tzion (Tz. S.) party. Right then, we set up a unit of the Freiheit for younger children. In the course of time, we also established the “Red Scouts.” When the city council elections approached we had our first opportunity to step forward with our words for the workers' Land of Israel.


[Page 163]

Communistic Youth

by Sh. Makowski (Belgium)

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

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Sh. Makowski

The resonance of the October Revolution in Russia carried also to us in the town. Some of the youth that was studying in the Gostynin gymnasium, especially in the student circle, took upon themselves the mission to set up an organizational framework for the leftist–leaning youth. Every Shabbath, groups of youth gathered in the surrounding forests of Gostynin. These groups consisted primarily of the poor, but also attracted some of the wealthier youth.

With this establishment of the professional needle union, a legal opportunity arose for open economic and cultural work – the communist party in Poland was still illegal. Under the direction of the communists, the tailors, who were mainly young apprentices, went on strike. Reports and lectures were organized with political and literary themes, along with discussions. Kettle evenings [evenings of discussion with tea, etc.] went until late in the night. They collected money for the illegal international Red Help Fund that helped the victims of the reactionary Polish regime. Mokowski was the secretary.

The youth that believed in revolution were idealists. They had to bear the Polish government, the police, and no less from the na…ve, homey, small town mindedness, …

[Page 164]

… that could not tolerate the audacity of the Jewish young men and women as they spited authority, be it anti–Semitic and reactionary.

The independent thoughts nonetheless still embraced a portion of the Gostyniner Jewish youth.

 

The Committee of the Professional Unions in Gostynin

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Seated from right to left: Lieba Mikholski, Yehoshua Apelas, Hersh Kharkowycz
Standing from right to left: Pluczer, Itkowycz, Nisinowycz, Rabinowycz, Khaya Ospe


[Page 165]

The Princess, Gostynin

by Rose Shoshana

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

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Rose Shoshana

 

In the holy memory of my mother, Hinda Brawarska-Mozer, who was killed by the Hitler murderers.

My mother was a widow for many years, and did not want to marry a second time. She spent her young years, dark and alone, because she didn't want to give us – her little children, a stepfather.

Only when I was a young girl and chose to marry the publisher Lazar Kahan, may his murderers' blood be avenged, did my mother marry a Gostynin resident. And so she became a Gostyniner, and that's how I became tied to Gostynin.

I fell in love with the beautiful, clean town of Gostynin. I remember until today the lovely and powerful impression the town made on me the first time that I came to Gostynin. The cleanliness of the houses and the streets, the beautifully dressed women – completely different from the other provincial towns. Like a queen's daughter, a princess, is how Gostynin looked in my eyes. And as I would come there more often, I was sure that I had not been wrong, and that my first impressions had been right.

Gostynin was a lot more intelligent than other Jewish towns of the same size that time in Poland.

[Page 166]

Maybe this was because there was a gymnasium and officer school in Gostynin. The city was full of students from the surrounding cities, and even from larger cities. Students came to Gostynin to study in the gymnasium because it was easier to get in there than in other larger cities.

Gostynin actually also earned a livelihood from these students. They were given board, food was cooked for them, and the cooks even had a chance to eat these meals as well.

 

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From right: Rose Shoshana, her sister Chava Bresler (who was killed), her mother Hinda Mozer from Gostynin, her grandmother Chana Jakobowicz, and her brother Philip

 

I see that large gymnasium on Kutner Sreet, a building that would have been proud to stand on any street in the largest city in Poland. Kutner Street could have told many tales, because it stretched for many streets behind the city where it turned into a highway, covered on both sides by dense trees that hid the deepness of the forest in which the youth loved to stroll.

How romantic and beautiful was the Kutner highway on a Shabbos afternoon when the city's youth …

[Page 167]

… would go for walks. The Gostynin forest could also have told many tales about all the discussions that took place there, and about lucky and unlucky love. We were young, young with emotion, and yet we were hunched over with the yoke of seriousness. The youth of that time, and that includes those of Gostynin, was filled with obligations and responsibilities; they were not as carefree as today's youth.

The strolls on the “mountain of mountains,” the long, black peat fields, the four-cornered trimmed pieces of peat (heating material with which they used to heat the ovens) that were spread out across the fields to dry, accompany me without end when I remember myself in Gostynin.

Now I see them, the temperamental youth, during discussions about the theater and about other problems.

Now I see them the religious Jews, during heated discussions about politics, as they are spread out in a wide row walking after prayers on Shabbos in the wide open market place.

Now I see her, the large, beautiful, proud shul … and I see them, the proud Jews.

I see before my eyes the amateurs from Gostynin who loved the theater more than life, who sacrificed themselves for art, fanatics about Jewish theater ….

Jewish theater was like air for them, like sustenance, without which one could not exist. They worked tirelessly, rehearsed, studied, and performed in the theater. And they performed well! This was the best amateur troupe from all the surrounding areas, and was there anything they did not perform? Everything was from the better literature, such as: Tchirikov's “Jews,” Ansky's “The Dybbuk,” Kobrin's “Yankel Boila,” Ibsen's “Ghosts,” Psibisewski's “Snow,” Sholom Asch's “With the Stream,” and Yakov Gordon's “God, Man, and the Devil.”

And if they only sensed that a professional actor was somewhere in the area, they did everything possible …

[Page 168]

… to ensure that this person would come to perform with them, and he ultimately did.

Actually, once they found out that I was visiting my mother and delegations came right over saying that I had to perform with them. My answer that I was only here for a short time made no difference, and soon they put us all to work.

I see before my eyes Adam Domb, who had a photography studio in Gostynin that served more as a meeting place for the amateurs rather than a place of livelihood.

A customer enters, wants to take pictures, but Domb has no time, he first has to end his discussion with us.

When I performed Pinskin's “Gabri and the Women,” with the Gostynin amateur group, Domb played the male lead roles with me. Later, Adam Domb actually became a professional actor. He left the photography studio that gave him a good livelihood and joined WIKT (Warsaw Jewish Acting Theater), and then later the Vilna acting troupe.
And now I see the provocatively beautiful Pela Sarna, and Zandman and Keller and Yakov Leyb Motel and Shloime Gostinski – all, all of them worked for the performance with all their soul, those on stage and those off the stage.

And Yakov Gostinski, what didn't he do for the benefit of the theater! And all the others whose names I cannot remember who always supported the goal of improving the Jewish theater in Gostynin and in the surrounding areas wherever they went.

Now I see the theater, the firemen's coach house on Gombyner Street not far from the shul, a guardhouse, very primitive, but the beloved Jews would flow there in masses to the Yiddish performances.

When I came for a second time to visit Gostynin, and at that time there was also the famous singer and performer Yakov Kelter, well, would the stubborn Gostynin amateurs miss an opportunity like that? They got both of us, and to deny them, these beloved Gostyniners, was impossible … so we performed in several one-act plays (understandably without honorarium). Again, they were exceptional both in their acting and in their commitment and love for this project.

And now I see before me the beloved Chana Bagno, Shmuel Keller, and others in Mark Ornstein's “The Eternal Song,” and in Peretz's “After the Burial” that we performed at that time.

And this youth was not only busy with activities of the theater, but they were also busy with other cultural activities and projects.

I remember well the warmth of the Gostynin Jews also towards the Polish speakers. The Jews respectfully attended the speeches that were brought from Warsaw and Lodz. My husband as well, the deceased publisher Lazar Kahan, was among those who came to Gostynin with a presentation. How hungry they were for worldly knowledge, they swallowed ideas of Strindberg and his views about which my husband spoke.

Only memories remain ….


[Page 170]

Gostyniner Jews

by Yitzhak Zandman (Israel)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Sometimes one thinks that there was no yesterday at all. You never had any parents, no brothers or sisters, no wife and children, no friends and acquaintances – you think that you were born from a stone…

Here I am going back and stepping on Gostynin ground. I am taken over by a chill, by a shudder. No one is left. The murderers eliminated everyone. And a longing takes over you for what once was. You see the people, the shops, the houses, the homes, and you want to eternalize each voice, each nuance. The cheerful laughter of children greet me, a father's worry as he admonishes his children with love, the tender whispers of a loving couple; I would eternalize the groaning of an invalid, the cries of the unfortunates, the rhythmic melody of those studying a page of gemara or a chapter of Tanach.

* * *

It's the year 1946, after my return to Gostynin. No one – I meet no one. And my ear catches no Jewish sound, does not pick up any familiar voice.

There is the train station – the appearance is the same as it was. The railroad street did not change either. But on Gombyner Street I immediately see the gruesome changes. There is no trace of Jewish life in Gostynin. The Beis Medrash, the small shul, erased – there is no shul, the Rav's house, the municipal office, the ritual baths.

I go around, deep in my thoughts and mourn over the gruesome destruction. Here was our Beis Medrash.

[Page 171]

The Beis Medrash

A large wooden building with big windows looked out onto Gombyner Street. Inside, long tables were set out with even longer benches, and opposite that, there was a bookcase on the wall filled with religious books (seforim). The podium stood at the eastern wall – and several steps up directed you to the Holy Ark. Right in the middle of the Beis Medrash you could see the table used for the people [who had been called up to the reading of the Torah]. On both sides there were steps for those people going up and for those going down. At that table, they honored many congregants who had been called up to the Torah reading. In that same place, the Rav delivered his Rosh Hashona sermons just before the blowing of the shofar and then on Shabbos Tshuva [the Shabbos between Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur]. From that same table, other rabbinic speakers that were passing through penetrated the hearts of the Beis Medrash Jews with their sharp words as they called the congregants to repentance. From that same place, there were also speeches about the rebirth of Zionism. Also from there were the protests against the world for the Jewish problems and pains, as well as eulogies for scholarly, true sages of Torah.

The uncrowned (?) manager of the Beis Medrash was Michel Ber (Pluczer) the beadle (shamash). He was a little taller than average, and had a long, white beard. His eyes were hung over by dense, pitch-black eyebrows. He opened and locked up the Beis Medrash. On his order – after a bang on the podium – they began the prayers. At the call of the shamash – again after a bang on the podium – the Baal Tefila (one who led the prayers) began and allowed his voice to be heard. The shamash called individuals up to the Torah reading, and took care of the pledges as well.

In spite of his harsh glare, that sometimes threw fear onto the children, he really had a mild character, played with the children, and told them enjoyable stories. Not once did he remind me that thanks to him I was made a Jew in the right time, on the eighth day after birth. And he told me all the details about this: I was born a weak and thin soul. “Experienced men” said that the circumcision (bris) should wait until I had more strength. But Michel Ber, the shamash, of blessed memory, ….

[Page 172]

… gave out the order: “Go ahead and cut! He will be a young man with strong bones …” And that's exactly how it was.

Outside, on the street, through the walls of the Beis Medrash, one could hear the gemara melody of the young boys who were learning, even though in the later years they were small in number. But there were always students who made sure that the voice of learning Torah would be heard.

Directly opposite the entrance of the Beis Medrash was the Rav's home. The first room in this house served as the room for the Jewish court.

Reb Yitzchok Meyer Borenstajn, of blessed memory, was the last Rav of Gostynin. He was of average size, a little bit full, with a handsome dark, wide beard peppered with silver hair. When walking in the street, he would carry a dark brown cane with a metal white handle.

In the shul courtyard, when this Rav eulogized the deceased, he tore apart the hearts of the mourning Jews, with tears pouring down everyone's faces. On the Days of Awe, when the Rav led the prayers, the hearts of the congregants were very moved.

His sons, Moshe Mordechai and Gedalia, accompanied him during prayers like a choir. Gedalia had definite musical skill. Moshe Mordechai did not remain in Gostynin, but he tried to live his life in the larger cities.

The Rav's daughters, Chana and Gittel, were both brunettes and very charming. One married Falek Landberg, the editorial official of the Poalei Agudas Yisroel organization and one of its main people. The Rav's daughters would elicit a sigh of longing from the pious young men who were in the chassidim room that was part of the Rav's house. The daughters' singing and laughing often mingled with the melodies of those who were learning.

 

The Shtiebel

As in all the cities and towns in Poland, the Jewish community of Gostynin was also divided into different colors. There were …

[Page 173]

… separate groups of the Agudah individuals, Poalei Agudah, and even the more extreme religious people. We had Zionists of all kinds. There were Bundists, Folkists, and even Communists. There was also not a shortage of assimilated Jews and regular Jews from the whole year. But the difficult challenges of the Jews united them all. The various decrees from the Polish government hurt everyone, and danger hung over everyone's head, regardless of what type of Jew he was.

The shtiebel was the natural haven for the Chassidic circles. A large majority of them supported the religious party of the Agudas Yisroel. Among the Chassidim were also followers of the Mizrachi movement. A portion of the youth were discreet sympathizers of the radical socialist movement. In the shtiebel, all were Chassidim, and all prayed in the same manner – but they weren't all united when it came to traveling to see the Rebbe. Each group glorified its own Rebbe whom they would visit to seek counsel or ask for a blessing. Before God, these Jews were all of one camp. In the shtiebel, Gerer and Alexander Chassidim prayed together, as did Sochatchover, Skernewyczer, Strykower, and Ostrowczer.

On Shabbos morning, the Gerer Chassidim prayed in two quorums: one at 7:30 AM and the other at 10:00AM.

The entrance to the shtiebel was at the front of the house where there was a cement floor. In this foyer of the house there was a door on the right side that opened into the Beis Medrash, and the door on the left led to the Rav's house.

Right at the entrance of the shtiebel there was a ladder. One could climb up the ladder to sneak up to the attic.

As you entered the shtiebel, on the right side stood a large barrel with water for hand washing, along with a long, hanging towel that was always wet from drying hands. Near the barrel was a small cup in which dirty water collected as people rinsed their hands. Each person washed his hands six times (three times on each hand), bending the body to the right then to the left over the barrel – just to be able to get some water out of it. Most of the water ….

[Page 174]

… was spilled directly over the wooden floor. If I'm not mistaken, in later years, the barrel was replaced with a sink.

Along the wall to the right of the barrel, there was a long table and benches. The table was used by the congregants for putting down their daily prayer books, their chumashim (printed Torah books), and their holiday prayer books. They also put their tallis and tefillin bags there. On this same side, the majority of those who prayed there were the “cold” Chassidim. These Chassidim also traveled to see the Rebbe, but not very often. They did not join in the joyous dancing nor did they participate in the Chassidic gatherings. One of these Chassidim was Reb Leibish Bender, the grain merchant, a short and stout Jew with a straight beard. His four sons were: Fishel, Yossel, Yakov, and Simcha. He also had several daughters. Simcha, the youngest son, became a scholar in his later years.

The wealthy man in the shtiebel was Reb Meyer Brustowski, a handsome Jew with a superbly long, silvered beard. He was one who led the prayers. When he stood before the pulpit leading the prayers, everyone felt as if it was a holiday. His three sons were: Yankel, Yechiel Moshe, and Leybish. He also had four daughters. Reb Yankel Brustowski, also one who led prayers, merited to die a natural death when times were still good.

One should also remember Reb Mendel Vajngarten, an elderly Jew, a Chassid, who would study together with Yissoschar Pinczewski, was a scholar of mishnayos, and also studied the Zohar (a book of Kabbalah, mysticism).

One of the most prominent figures in the shtiebel was Reb Avrohom Mordechai Cohen, a wealthy man with a wide, white beard and with a large wart near his eye. He was already in his eighties but he still held his regular position as the leader of the prayers. On the Days of Awe, he led the morning prayers and on Yom Kippur he even led the mincha (early evening) prayers. When he banged on the podium for attention, the walls actually trembled.

And now, Reb Avrohom Yitzchok the dye maker. He was a small, thin Jew, but he was the best swimmer in the entire region. He would wade across the mouth of the lake standing up, eating a meal while going one way.

[Page 175]

Then there was Reb Avrohom Meyer Flajshman, the teacher of young children in the Talmud Torah. Hundreds of children went through his hands, as he instructed each of them in the alef bais. He was known in the shtiebel for his deep sighing during the prayers of “The song of ascents, I call to You God from the depths…” said during the Days of Awe. His deep sighing was heard from under his talis which covered his head. This was a sign that one had to recite this particular prayer with great earnest.

There was another teacher that was well-known in the town, Reb Avrohom Yitzchok Holczman, a short man with a dark brown, little beard. He was considered a great scholar. He studied gemara and its commentaries (tosefos and poskim) with the young men. When he studied the books of the Torah, particularly the Book of Isaiah, all his limbs trembled. Many students were gripped by fear when this teacher became angry and admonished the students severely with: “Oy, you sinning goy!”

Let us remember a whole line of pious, devout Chassidim: There is Reb Shmuel Hersh Fajnzilber and his sons Yisroel Yitzchok and Yoshe; Reb Yisroel Dovid Alberstajn the alderman of Agudas Yisroel, and Reb Yankel Lewi the councilman of the same organization. And there is also Reb Yishai Princz and Reb Chaim Domb. Reb Sholom Alberstajn – a great grandson of the Gostynin Rebbe. Reb Sholom would never leave the shtiebel before having completed his reading of the entire Book of Psalms (tehilim). Reb Yakov Lomzer, the one who read the Torah, and Reb Elchonon Placzman, a charming, pious leader of prayers. And there was also Reb Efraim Yitzchok Rotenbach, an intense Chassid, he was able to learn well, had a sharp mind – he was also called “Grinboim.” He was the synagogue councilman for the district. He went to the Rebbe for Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur and then for Shavuos as well. If anyone criticized him for going to the Rebbe and leaving his wife who had just given birth, he gave this answer one Friday night before the Shabbos prayers. He banged on the podium and said in these words: “When a person becomes dangerously ill, and they have to operate immediately, would it occur to anyone to say that the sick person should refuse to have the operation? And what if it is someone in his family who is sick, God forbid? No. I, friends and rabbis, am sick in my ….

[Page 176]

… soul. When the Days of Awe approach, I feel that I must have an urgent operation on my soul – Do I have to forego this and God forbid, die from this?…”

Let us end with Reb Shmuel (Shmelke) Zarkowski, the fiery Chassid, and Reb Berl Zonshajn. For a time, the community representatives were Reb Motel Hobergricz, the leader of the mussaf prayers on Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur, and Reb Yakov Aryeh Zundman, the one who blew the shofar.

* * *

Every city had its Jews. Gostynin was no exception. We loved Gostynin, because there were Jews there. These very Jews left their imprint on the town. And without these very Jews Gostynin would not have been Gostynin. They are no longer here. Gostynin is standing, but Gostynin is without Jews. My city is no longer, it is not the same Gostynin.


[Page 177]

Cultural and Theater Activities

Yakov Gostynski

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

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Yakov Gostynski

 

The great era of enlightenment in Eastern Europe, the Haskalah, infected the Gostynin youth with worldly ideas. A town like all the others, with a tradition of God-fearing and Chassidus, it was transformed into a center of advanced thinking and activity.

The Zionist movement in Gostynin caught onto many people, and made a great impression on them. Simkhah Bunim Danciger was the director of the Zionist organization in the town at that time, and the liberal elements and general public grouped themselves around him. Often there would be meetings and lectures with speakers brought in from Warsaw.

The youth at that time was under the influence of the national progressive movement, Poalei Zion. Many of the youth moved themselves to the forefront, and one of them was Yosef Keller, the leader of the youth, who contributed greatly to this cause so that Gostynin should be revived, and modern cultural life should be raised to a higher level.

The stocking factories transferred from the great industrial city of Lodz to Gostynin, as to other towns.

[Page 178]

With the evolution of the small industry, the PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Part)], the Bund [General Jewish Labour Party], and the Poalei Zion [Zionist Socialist Workers' Party], were born in Gostynin. They all helped improve the workers' economic conditions.

The heavy burden of earning a livelihood that rested on the fathers' shoulders, forced even the children of chassidic families to become stocking makers. The efforts of the religious circles to maintain the old ways were not successful.

It was almost like a wildfire from the large cities had caught onto the smaller cities. The stocking makers snatched up the freedom-catchwords, the revolution songs, the folk songs, and theater songs, and sang them with fire and spirit. When you think about …

 

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A picture of the Gostynin drama circle in the Gombiner forest
Standing from right: Yakov Leyb Matil, Yakov Gostynski, Dvoire Zajacs, Yakov Czelemenski, Adam Domb, Feige Sarna, Efraim Kofman, Shloime Krancz, Bronka – a Plocker girl.
Kneeling from right: A Gombiner girl, Yissachar Matil, Shmuel Markowicz, Laytche Makowski, Berl Lewi.
Last Row, sitting, from right: Yakov Leyb Pinczewski, Kayle Goldman, Mashe Dzhencjol, Pesse Narwe (Wajczman), Ber Gonsher, Khana Zajacs, Moishe Klajnbard, Khaim-Sender Zandman
Of this group, in America there are: Yakov Gostynski, Yissachar Matil and Yakov Czelemenski, a Gombiner who was one of the fighters in the Warsaw uprising. Khaim-Sender Zandman lives in Israel, and Ber Gonsher died in America in 1944.

[Page 179]

… those years, you remember that not only were you young, but also the entire period of Jewish life was still young and blooming.

At that time, there was already a library in Gostynin. The youth read all kinds of books, including theater literature. This was the first push for the youth to organize a drama circle and perform Yiddish theater. Yosef Keller became the founder of this group. The orchestra leader of the Russian military orchestra, who was Jewish, took upon himself the initiative to perform the first two pieces, “Hertzele Meyuchas” [“Special Heart”], and “Der Wilder Mentch” [“The Wild Person”]. Yosef Keller played the lead roles in both pieces. Understandably, the performances were primitive.

Years later, various “-ists” grouped themselves around the library. The library administration accepted all political parties. Of the activists around the library, Shlomo Krancz was exceptional in his knowledge and intelligence. He got a lot of merit for the development of the social work. Years later, he moved to Bialystok, worked in his profession as lawyer, and at the same time was busy with social activities.

The Gostynin library had a reading room with newspapers and books. The library held discussions about literary works, and from time to time, brought speakers over from Lodz or Warsaw. The lectures were about various topics, both literary and political. These lectures brought in a lot of life, stirred up and nourished the Jewish youth.

My sister Rokhtche and my brother Shlomo, who were also very active in the library, had a tremendous influence over me, and actually because of them I was enticed to the “tree of knowledge” and began reading books. The youth at that time thirsted for knowledge and swallowed up every new book and every new publication. This pushed the youth to participate in this cultural life that was sprouting in Gostynin.

[Page 180]

The Development of the Drama Circle

The movement of the drama circle bloomed in all towns. But Gostynin, in this area, had more good fortune than other towns. The professional actor, Adam Domb, lived in Gostynin at that time and he organized the amateur group in the library.

Adam Domb was an actor with a European manner and demeanor. He performed with Russian and Polish troupes, wore elegant suits, and didn't really have in him the specific Yiddish nuances. He was not able to speak any Yiddish, but with time, through his work and as stage manager with Yiddish amateurs, he learned the Yiddish language.

Aside from his acting profession, he also had a photography studio. His artistic aptitude was renowned in our town. And by the way, Adam Domb performed in Esther Rokhel Kominski's troupe and later with Ida Kaminski in Lemberg. Some time later, he performed in the Astrakhan Russian Theater. In 1943, he died in Russia.[1]

From his great theater experience, we learned how to perform in a theater. We looked up to him as the chassidim do to their Rebbe. We had great pleasure from his work. Here I am listing the names of the amateurs who contributed a lot to the success of the group. Thanks to their love and efforts that they put into this very important work, the dramatic circle went from success to success:

Adam Domb, main actor and stage manager; Feige Sarna, Khana Bagno-Keller, Dvoire Salomonowycz, Laya Tabacznik, Yehoshua Noakh Wilner, Khana Zajacs, Yakov-Leyb Matil, Yakov Sarna, Henokh Kuczinski, Yisroel Kuczinski, Yissakhar Matil, Ber Gonshor, Regina Matil, Shloime Gostynski, Borukh …

[Page 181]

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Der Dorf's Jung
[The “Village Youth”],
Yankel Boyle, from Leon Kobrin,
performed in Gostynin

Prokop – Yakov Gostynski
Natasha – Feige Sarna
Yankel Boyle – Adam Domb

… Matil, Hersh Kruczik, Heczke Sarna, Shmuel Markowycz, Khaim Yehoshua Tabacznik, Mordekhai Moskal, Yekhiel Moshe Pluczer

Under the direction of Adam Domb, we performed the following repertoire: “Der Meturef” [“The Worthless”], “Gott, Mentch, un Teivel” [“God, Man, and the Devil”], “Der Fremder” [“The Stranger”], (Yakov Gordyn), “Die Yiden” [“The Jews”], (Tchirikov), “Der Dorf's Jung” [The “Village Youth”], (Leon Kobrin), “Die Neveila” [“The Carcass”], (Peretz Hirshbein), “Gavriel un Zeine Techter” [Gavriel and His Daughters”], (Dovid Pinski), “Der Dybbuk” [“The Dybbuk” (evil spirit that haunts or possesses a living person)], (Sh. Ansky), “Der Voter” [“Father”], (Strindberg), “Die Geister” [“Ghosts”], (Ibsen), “Shnei” [“Snow”], (Przibisewski), “Kean” [“Kean”, based on the life of the famous English actor Edmund Kean], (Dumas), and many other plays from the better repertoires.

In some of the plays, the Yiddish actress Rose Shoshana performed with us. She now lives in New York. At that time, she performed in the Lodz Yiddish theater, and when she would come home for vacation to her mother, she could not stand by idly, and she performed with us.

The success of the Gostynin amateur group reached into many surrounding cities and towns, and the performances made …

[Page 182]

… such a sensation that the group was invited to Plock, Kutno, Gombyn, also by the local cultural institutions, and we performed Kobrin's “The Village Youth,” Tchirikov's “The Jews,” and Sh. Ansky's “The Dybbuk.”

The Jewish populace in all these cities welcomed us with the greatest love and warmth. We felt that the Gostynin amateur group was something substantial. We felt elevated from the recognition of the professional stage managers who offered voluntarily to work with us. The first professional stage manager who was invited to do a play with us was Yakov Wajslycz from the Vilna troupe. Wajslycz presented with us “Mitten Shtrom” [“With the Stream”] by Sholom Asch. The play was very successful. And with this performance, the Gostynin amateur troupe wrote another beautiful page in its history.

The Gostynin amateur troupe contributed immensely to Jewish cultural life, and certainly to Yiddish theater in the Polish province. It is not my purpose to describe them and characterize them as a professional critic would, but as a member of the Gostynin amateur troupe, I feel that at this opportunity that they have earned that I briefly qualify their place in performance and go through the roles that they acted.

I will begin with Leon Kobrin's “The Village Youth.” Shmuel Keller played the role of Hersh Ber. He made a sensation with his performance. He played the character of the kind-hearted fisherman-Jew Hersh-Ber as an actor who knows what he is doing and knows what he wants. Keller was a moving actor of fine quality and a natural for the stage.

The role of Khatzye was played by Khaim-Sender Zandman (he now lives in Israel). He played the role with understanding, and the main thing is that he took the role with its complete technique of how to frighten the primitive Yankel Boyle with the “beautiful face of Lilith.”

Adam Domb's Yankel Boyle presented a magnificent portrait.

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The voice, the body movements and his whole demeanor was not of an imagined figure. Seeing him on stage you believed that he actually was Yankel Boyle.

Feige Sarna, the beauty of Gostynin, played the role of the village girl Natasha, whom Yankel Boyle deeply loved. Her Natasha came out as very gentle.

Zalman the fisherman youth was played by Yehoshua-Noakh Wilner. He thoroughly understood his role. He was very fitting to this role, both in appearance and in form.

Khana Zajacs and Dvoire Salomonowycz played the role of the parents of the unfortunatel Khaike. Both of them were very clever in their roles.

gos183.jpg
A scene from “The Village Youth” performed by the Gostynin drama circle
Sitting, from right to left: Adam Domb, Shmuel Keller, Feige Sarna, Khana Zajacs.
At the fisherman's net, from right to left: Herczke Sarna, Hersh Kruczik, Yehoshua-Noakh Wilner, Khaim-Sender Zandman

[Page 184]

Khana Bagno-Keller as Khaike created a character and you believed that she was raised that way, and that she was rooted in this setting.

A very fine role in the play was the farmer Prokop. To play such a role was a feat in acting performance. This role was delegated to me by the stage manager.

In other plays, Mirel Matil and Manja Klajnbard were exceptional, both of them university graduates. They were talented actresses and performed with inner depth, just as seasoned professional actresses, not amateurs at all.

Yakov-Leyb, the “dandy” and intellectual, was the regular prompter. He contributed greatly to the development of the Gostynin amateur troupe. Shlomo Gostynski was the regular stage administrator. With his work, he always helped the performances run smoothly. Hersh Kruczyk-Kraus was exceptional in episode roles. His youthful face had a lot of charm on stage.

Ber Gonshor, my unforgettable friend for many years, performed in Sh. Ansky's “The Dybbuk” in the role of Meyer-shamash [beadle]. He played this role with a lot of piety. In the scene where the Rebbe quarreled with the dybbuk, and then gave the stick to Meyer-shamash and ordered him to go to the Jewish cemetery and call out the deceased for a Jewish trial, there were moments one could never forget. With his performance, Ber Gonshor worked up the audience to believe that the shamash had a difficult mission to carry out. When he left the stage, he created the illusion that all those present in the theater were accompanying him to the cemetery…

Yissachar Matil was the busiest social activist. It became his lot to be the guardian of all cultural achievements in Gostynin, and he accomplished his missions to perfection.

From time to time, Wacsman and his troupe would come to perform in Gostynin, along with Ana Jakubowycz and her troupe (Ana Jakubowycz now lives in …

[Page 185]

… America and performs from time to time). It is worthwhile to mention one very interesting episode. Once, on the eve of Shavuos, Wacsman's troupe came to Gostynin to perform Yakov Gordin's “Shloime's Charlatan” on the two days of the Shavuos holiday. The Rav discovered this and put out a prohibition that the Gostynin Jews were not to attend the performance. The youth, that was already carried away with the freedom movement, went to the performance intentionally and even convinced others to go to the theater, and the performances were well attended.

The theater activity of Gostynin not only refined the artistic taste of the people who participated, but also taught them to see, admire, and take pleasure in a Yiddish theater performance. This activity, with which we in our youth were occupied in our former home, pushed many of us to approach the Yiddish theater in the later years. That's how the author of these lines managed, already in America, to participate in the performances of the “Artef.”[2] More than once, did our amateur performances of Gostynin come into very good use in my theater activity in America. The theater inheritance of the drama circle in Gostynin did not go to waste.


Footnotes

  1. See Yitzkhok Grudberg-Turkow, “Yiddish Theater in Poland,” publisher: Yiddish Book –Warsaw, 1951; and Jonas Turkow, “Verloshene Shteren” [“Extinguished Stars”], 2nd volume, publisher: Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina, 1953. Return
  2. Artef is a Yiddish acronym for Arbeter Teater Farband (Workers' Theater Union), and the company by that name that entertained, hectored, puzzled, and occasionally infuriated its audience over the course of a decade was a grand experiment in the application of left-wing principles to Yiddish theater. (Project Muse: Yiddish Proletarian Theatre, Jeremy Dauber: American Jewish History Volume 88) Return

 

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