The City of Blessed Memory
by Dr. S. Zalud
In the middle Ages most cities were built according to a regular design. The streets were laid out like a chessboard; a number of squares were placed at a few crossings and the whole city was surrounded by a defensive wall. It was not possible to build like this in every area. The river Prosna and its little tributaries on whose banks Kalish was built made it possible to build only part of the city in the chessboard style. The Jewish Street, which began at the Old Market Square, went straight for more than a kilometre and a half across the Jewish Bridge to the Maikow Field. If you stood at the upper end of the street on a bright day, you could see the other end as well.
In this street and the many side-streets to the right and left, lived the cream of the Jewish community as well as the rank and file. Coming back from the Maikow Field, I would reach Nowa Street with two-storey or three-storey houses on either side and vacant lots here and there. These were the dwelling-houses of families with many children, various factories surrounded by timber sheds belonging to well-known merchants, stores for all kinds of lumber, the Shtieblech (Hassidic prayer-rooms) of various groups of Hassidim and the Hadarim (Hebrew classes) of Hebrew teachers at various levels.
The first street cutting across Nowa Street is Chopin Street; part running down to the river and the other to the New Market. At the corner, either by chance or purpose, is a large building separated from the others. It has factory windows and a large chimney stack rising high above it. Here a factory hooter sounds four times a day and the whole neighbourhood set their clocks by it. This is one of the first and finest piano factories in Poland. Chopin and pianos go well together. Beyond are Shtieblech again, more dwelling houses and stores. As the street approaches the market, we come to shops: retail, very retail and most exceedingly retail! By the river there are factories and dwelling houses. The Russian cavalry ground is followed by the Polish one. At the end of the street is the velvet fabric factory which is one of the first and best in Poland.
We are back at the corner of Nowa and Chopin Street and continue along a small stretch of Nowa Street to the next corner, Ciasna (Narrow) Street. This section is brighter and gayer. The sky above seems loftier because the houses are low and there are no high trees or orchards. In the evening, the street lamps are brighter here. Here is the Bakery; the scent of whose fresh bread accompanies you in the morning on the way to Heder. Here is your shoemaker; here is a new perfumery shop. On the corner is an old, low house with a huge rusty key on the roof telling everybody that in the cellar you will find a locksmith in a room four metres by four. On the same corner is a shop that sells cheeses of all kinds. Their smell spreads far and wide .
Ciasna Street also runs in both directions. Towards the market there are every so many little shops, then once again, a Heder and a Shtiebel. On holiday nights and particularly on Simhat Torah, harmonious and fervent Hassidic melodies burst from here, sung by mingled young and old voices. You can hear the echoing dances and hand-clapping even when the street is fast asleep. At N°4 is the Arbeiter Heim of the left-wing Poalei Zion up on the third floor. It is reached by ancient wooden stairs that are hard to climb. In the entrance is a preserved fish shop whose scents mingle with the others that reach the top floors. Here, Zerubabel, with his black beard, used to speak when he came to town to put heart into his Party. Here the various election stratagems were carefully plotted. Here as well, fervent song resounded though of a different kind.
Across the river you suddenly reach an orchard. Beyond the slaughterer's home is a tannery with a huge iron gateway and its own distinctive fragrance. The villa of the Doctor is on the corner facing the bridge. Across the street is a one-time factory which in due course became the Stilowy cinema. The next house, n°19 is very varied. Here you find a modern mechanical workshop, a private House of Prayer, then another mechanical workshop and a Hassidic Shtiebel in the courtyard, as well as the Shomer Hatzair Quarters. From the various storeys around the courtyard come music and melody which reach their peak on Friday and festival nights. We had to close the windows in the summer in order to escape the music. That did not always help either and the evenings usually finished with lively arguments between the interested parties on the stairs or in the courtyard. Here the dreams were woven; here the s-resolutions were framed. And from here, many started out on their own way in life.
Now we are back again at the corner of Nowa and Ciasna Streets. Here is a general store for odds-and-ends, fenced with boards, trading in the minutest coin of the realm. Next to it is a spacious lace factory. Nearby, in the heart of the Jewish street, is a tavern where things are very lively on Saturday night and Sunday.
Take another twenty paces. On the corner of Babina Street is the Jewish pharmacy which swiftly obtained many customers from all over town including Christians when it was established after the liberation of Poland. The owner also set up a medical laboratory and did well.
Opposite is a large and spacious corner house with an extensive internal courtyard. Here we find a weaving factory and the city bookbinder, the owner of a lace factory, a well- known surgeon, the District Judge and the hostel for secondary students. Here lived the Community's cantor and many others. In this house, I was born.
Beyond Babina Street, the first broad street running across is a spur of the Prosna. It is shallow here because of the numerous little weirs and dams. On either side of the street are acacia trees. You can smell their blossoms far away. We used to use them for learning our fate when we were in love. She loves me she loves me not
And now comes the Jewish bridge which seems to be very high because the water here runs shallow. It is built of seasoned oak. Don't be afraid, it won't collapse. So far, no heavy lorries cross it only light carts or carriages harnessed
to one horse, two or sometimes three (if the squire of Winiari or of Bezhazini is passing). Or maybe the cart of a carrier or a farmer passes here. It is kept up and looked after. A Russian cavalry unit camps in the neighbourhood and passes here together with a band on horseback when they make their way to the centre of the city.
The opposite bank is called Nadwodna Street. It is the Jewish butchers' quarter. The doors are all of red iron. These butchers are all kosher and one day but we shall come back to them. As for the bridge, there is not the slightest trace now left of all the generations who used to cross it.
I see Jews in groups and bands leaning against the parapets; and not only at the Tashlikh ceremony on New Year's Day but all year-round. Some discuss high policy while others argue which rabbi to elect and others again quarrel about party control in the community. And some are just passers-by. On clear winter nights, and particularly at the close of the Sabbath, you would find crowds from the various synagogues hallowing the new moon with the old formula: Peace be with you, peace by with you, with you be peace.
Amid a large groups of Jews of all kinds, young and old, densely bearded or shaven, pious or secular, well-dressed or in rages in the middle of them, all and towering head and shoulders above them, you were bound to find Enzel young and Enzel old. A Jewish cap with a peak is set a trifle slanted on his head, sometimes less slanted, sometimes more but never straight, not even on Sabbaths or festivals.
Enzel always feels hot: he sweats even in winter. The barber attends to his little beard once a week or once a fortnight without using a razor, of course and sometimes he cuts it a little too short. Then Enzel goes around without his little beard for quite a time joking about it, of course. Enzel jokes in the street like an ever-flowing fountain. He serves as the Badhan or jester at marriages and a fine chief jester he is, mingling his speech with wise words of Torah and fine phrases, with laughter and tears, accompanied by the Klezmerim, the local musicians who have learnt to suit their melody to his fine and accomplished style. Enzel is an accepted and successful match-maker. But his successes do not get him anywhere. His children are hungry but they have also learnt to smile and even laugh. His wife is the only one who has not learnt how to laugh except on the days when Enzel returns from a circumcision or a wedding in a wealthy home and brings all kinds of good things with him. He sells the Warsaw Yiddish dailies Haint and Moment. He knows all that is written in them and mocks them and adds his own jokes. In the course of conversation, he starts on a deep and difficult Talmudic discussion, forgets all about making a living and comes home in the evening carrying his papers with him. And then his wife . He also sells fringes and prayer shawls. If you meet Enzel late in the evening by himself and he does not notice you, you see the deep sorrow on his face. I have also seen Enzel the jester weeping.
Two houses face one another at the beginning of Zlota Street: the Street of Gold. In former times, the gold dealers and goldsmiths were all to be found here. Now it is a neglected and filthy turning. There is a shop at each step, one just like the other, all tiny in the wooden buildings. They sell every kind of trifle: Jewish ritual requirements and tools and utensils of craftsmen,
things needed by small tailors, cobblers, linen seamstresses and shroud-sewers and makers of iron-ware. There are grocery shops above all. In most of them, a piece of herring is sold for the smallest coin in circulation. Before your eyes they will cut a piece from the entire little fish. Some people will come and buy several heads for one farthing: Little cook-houses and beer houses. Well, and then come two big houses facing one another on the river bank; the Lustig House, the first, and the Shmerkovitz House, the second.
In the corner facing the bridge are wooden stairs of middling width which over the years have developed the habit of creaking at every step. There are iron railings on both sides. These steps lead to the General Store for literature, newspapers, writing utensils and everything of that kind. Here you obtain everything that has arrived in town except for Yiddish dailies Haint and Moment and the Hebrew Hazefira. Here you can order any periodical; say: Hashahar or Hashahar Lanoar (for youth) at your convenience and pleasure. When you enter the shop your eyes grow bright, even after sunset. All the heads here are reddish including those of the grandchildren and they all have a Jewish grace and charm. In 1913, during the Beilis Trial, my late father would wait impatiently for the paper to arrive from this shop.
At the entrance of a small shop opposite stand an elderly couple. What do they sell? They have no window but every cultured person in town knows that you find anything here: The Tze-ena Ure-ena or Women's Yiddish Pentateuch, from the oldest editions to the most recent. The whole of Jewish and Hebrew literature, scholarly, sacred and profane, rare editions and everyday publications can be found here. Ever since I can remember, the old couple are aged, bespectacled and with white hair. But their eyebrows are black and thick. Through the simple lenses and the silver frames, lively eyes gaze bright and grow weary towards evening. It is a strange shop: two metres by six. The colour of the ceiling is hard to judge, so old it is; but it is lofty and to my eyes towers almost to the skies. All the walls are set with cases crammed with books arranged in order or piled higgledy-piggledy; some bright with lettering and other worn with age.
The bookseller is not interested in modern technology. The shop is lighted with an oil-lamp although the city has long had gas and more recently electricity. If ever he has to fetch a book from the top shelves, he clambers up and down a ladder at tremendous speed a lamp or candle in one hand and the book required in the other. More than once I used to think of the Ladder of Jacob in the Bible.
When the school year began, hundreds of pupils came to buy and sell school books. A table stood outside with heaps of books upon it and the bookseller used to buy and sell at astonishing speed. Whether he earned or lost didn't matter. Schoolchildren got a book. You could see that this gave him pleasure. The children used to line up as far as the bridge but this market only used to last a few days.
In the square opposite is the large synagogue which has been standing, it would seem, ever since the Creation. It has burnt down and been rebuilt several times, so history tells. The windows are longish and are of coloured glass. Lower down, with normal windows and mesh curtains, are the women's sections. High above the roof is a round tower whose colour changes according to the
colour of the sky from blue to greenish to grey. Surrounding it is a round balcony with a parapet but I never saw anybody on it although the tower has a small door. The old folk tell that ever so many years ago the communal Shamash (beadle) used to mount the tower and summon the congregation to rise and serve the Creator, shouting: In Shul arein. (come to synagogue!). I myself can remember a Shamash who engaged in this holy task but in a different fashion. He used to walk along the Jewish Street and with a special wooden mallet dedicated to the purpose; he would knock at the doors of the houses shouting: Come to the Synagogue! That was why he was known as Simha Klapper or banger. Nobody knew his real family name. He also used to knock on the table of the Bema in the synagogue and shout: Sha sha sha before the rabbi's sermon and before prayers.
The interior of the Great Synagogue was awe-inspiring even when it was empty with its spaciousness, its height and its magnificence. Here was a spiritual centre; a centre of joy and of sorrow in days of stress and calamity. Memorials were held here for the Kishinev Pogrom and the Lemberg Pogrom. With thousands of Jews within and thousands outside. And who will ever forget the prayers?
The synagogue had a custom of its own: Between afternoon and evening prayers on the Sabbath, the ample congregation waited for the stars to appear. The sun sank. It grew darker and darker and through the windows, one could see the swaying shadows of the trees as though they had already begun to pray without waiting. Then suddenly the assistant cantor would begin to sing, first in a whisper then with his voice growing louder and louder and all the congregation would respond. The echoes spread afar and the whole Jewish Street knew that this was the accompanying of the Sabbath on her departure; until the prayers began.
Before the first Penitential Prayers that began a month before the New Year and commenced with the evening prayer at the close of the Sabbath, a special prayer was said. This was the Psalm: To the Chief Musician with Neginot, a psalm and song. The cantor, Reb Noah Lider, had prepared a special melody for the choir and the whole congregation sang with them in four voices. This was a great experience. The melody has passed to many congregations all over the world and is still widely sung today.
The synagogue had a garden of old ornamental trees which surrounded the building. But it was unprotected and neglected. So the synagogue wardens decided to preserve it. But where was the money to come from? The Brokman and Mamrot families erected a fine iron fence with two main gates and lesser gateways hung on concrete pillars. It was all painted properly and in the gateway was a memorial tablet for the benefactors. Now they are all one: synagogue, fence, congregation and the Brokman and Mamrot families
In Zlota Street opposite the synagogue, was a Jewish tavern. Its owner was a short, solid Jew whose cheeks were always red. He had the short dense beard of a young man and a pencil behind his white ear. The gentiles of the vicinity who came to the market on Tuesdays and Fridays used to prefer his vodka and the salt and pickled herrings of his wife as well as the stuffed fish. The place was always full to overflowing after morning prayers when all those
who had said the annual Kaddish (Memorial prayer for kinsfolk) used to come out of the synagogue and treat the congregation to a glass of something, in accordance with established practice. Since there was no lack of death anniversaries, things were always lively and cheerful here.
A panting and dishevelled housewife suddenly comes dashing in. Guests have arrived unexpectedly. The wife of the innkeeper delivers her from her distress. A meal flavoured with plenty of onions is ready in a moment.
Next to the synagogue is the Talmud Torah. The House of Study always has people praying there from before dawn until late at night. You will find quorums for prayer, groups studying a daily page of Talmud or Ein Yaakov (the legendary and homiletic sections of the Talmud). Others are reciting Psalms. The voices resound with their singular melodies fresh young voices. Many, many years ago I came to the House of Study in the middle of the day in order to recite Psalms for my older brother who was about to undergo an operation. I recited the whole book aloud from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150 and hundreds of voices responded. To this day I can hear those wonderful voices echoing in my ears. Their faces I see as in a dream for that is what it has all become. Only legends remain.
From here to the Old Market Square, there are shops on either side, tiny and middling. Here as well herring is sold by the slice next to a shop which sells everything from drapery to ironware. And why is a crowd suddenly collecting at the street corner next to Nagurski House? Let us come over and see. The barber surgeon is standing there with a curious crowd all around him, listening to his stories about his real and imaginary sick patients as well as his jokes.
This fellow is a solid little Jew, fat and round as a barrel with a big head that is almost round as well and a face that has been cropped of its beard. Nobody has ever seen him really clean-shaven but his beard is like a fine brush. The hair never changes its length. His glasses hang on a silk thread hidden behind the collar of his smoking jacket. He used to put them on to inspect someone's throat or startle somebody or, particularly, when he was going to give a portion to someone who had insulted him. Before speaking he would put on his spectacles, angrily look the other fellow in the face, take them off again and only then commence. And then the party concerned would have done better to let the earth swallow him up, rather than hear all the pinpricks and stabs and stings as well as insults that the barber surgeon let him have before he went his way. He was always prepared to examine people in the street free of charge. All that was necessary for the man was to open his mouth wide, poke out his tongue and yell: A a a a h with all this strength. He had a fine practice and was a serious fellow but went his way with joy and laughter.
Here is the large square and in the centre of it is the large Town Hall built in Italian style on pillars, with the finest shops of the town behind them. This is a square three-storey building with a lofty tower on the roof which also has several floors in it. At the top is the ever-correct town clock with its four faces one for each of the cardinal points. The clock stopped once and once only! That was when the Germans shelled the town before occupying it in 1914. When I was a child we used to play hide-and-seek around these pillars, particularly in the evenings after the shops were closed. But when the square was rebuilt with
new and modern-style houses and shops, it was no longer worth much as a memory. All the romance departed from the Old Market Square (the Stary Rynek) and its name was also changed.
From the square the streets run off in various directions. Two are main thoroughfares. One, four kilometres long, runs to the railway station and is named Wroclawska. Facing it, rather shorter and running towards a huge Russian Orthodox Church Square, is the Warsaw Street and beyond is the Sukienice Browarna. In Warsaw Street before the Church Square there used to be another little square with tremendous oak trees. Underneath them were many seats for the pleasure of those who lived there, namely higher officials and such like as well as passers-by. In the middle of the square was a monument in the form of a little obelisk on which various names and dates were inscribed: Friedrich Wilhelm; Maria Theresa; Czar Alexander; the three heroes or villains in the drama of the Partition of Poland; then the Emperor's Conference of 1814. Next to the monument is a big water-pump. Here is the deepest and tastiest water of the entire city. The municipal water pumpers used to deliver this pure water to the outlying inhabitants at high prices, all depending on the distance. Jews used to draw this water for baking matzos or Matzah Wasser. In the course of time, however, a pump was fixed in the courtyard of every self-respecting house while an internal water supply was laid on in a few buildings. In spite of this, there were long queues lining up at the Pomenik pump until quite recently.
Beyond this point, Warsaw Street grows narrower and quieter, almost without shops. Here is the Asnik Municipal Gymnasium (secondary school) and beyond comes the gigantic Square of the Russian Orthodox Church which was dismantled in 1921 after the Miracles on the Vistula, when the invading Russian communists were defeated and withdrew. On the other side of the square was the Evangelical Church. All the District offices are found in the House of the Jesuit Order and on the corner is the well-known Municipal Church with the big tower and giant clock which insisted on its existence every quarter of an hour. At midnight, the twelve strokes could be heard in each corner of the town and the vicinity. A trumpeter used to appear every morning on the balcony of the Tower, ever since the time of its foundation, so ran the tale, and played the well-known old song: Kiedy Ranne Wstaja Zorze
And here is the bridge with a more handsome appearance: the Iron Bridge. The big house on the corner belongs to one of the local industrialists. Opposite is Niecala Street where the Doll Factory and the handsome dwelling of its owner. Then again, a wooden bridge crosses the Bernardinka next to the Church and a path leads to Stawiszyn. Here is the Jewish Old Age Home, a fine building by the standards of times gone by.
Here lived the Hebrew teacher Zwik who had a reformed Heder. It was the largest Heder in the city and was supported by both the community and private funds. During recent years, the Heder had not been held in his home. He had gone up in the world. At one time the pupils studied in his dwelling, even on washing days. This teacher Zwik raised whole generations in town. All the outstanding folk, and they in particular, sent him their sons. My elder brother who was about twenty years older than me, was his pupil; and so
was I and my sister's little boy. He went to join his children in America when he was about eighty years old.
Teacher Zwik was an outstanding example of the enlightened Lithuanian intellectual. He had extensive familiarity with all the humanities and was a fervent advocate of Modern Hebrew. His bible lessons more than fifty years ago were of a very high standard. Even in his old age, he scarcely needed to glance at the bible text or commentaries for he knew them all by heart. His lessons in the Ethics of the Fathers and Psalms were of a remarkable character. He used to conduct them in his Heder, free of charge every Sabbath after the afternoon prayers, according to season. On these occasions, he gave us some idea of the world and the fullness thereof and told us about the latest research and discoveries in the world of nature. At his funeral in New York, large numbers of Kalish townsfolk attended and many of his pupils carried his coffin.
Leizer Moshe Cohen and his sons were the grocery wholesalers of the city and had a large spice shop with five opaque windows and excellent wares within coming from all parts of the world: You would find tea, sugar, coffee of the best and dried fruits. I can remember the fragrance that was wafted from there into the street. Business went on by itself. Leizer Moshe was entirely dedicated to communal affairs gratis. He was a member of all the charitable and good deed societies.
Sometimes you would see Benjamin Hayyim Wolkowicz, a most worthy Jew, hurrying out of his home in Babina Street, his well-combed beard waving in the breeze, his coat unbuttoned, his stick in hand and a worried look on his face. Sometimes, he would emerge together with a roly-poly Jew with a big beard and gold-framed glasses who was always smiling and friendly. Where was he going? They would be going to an important discussion with their comrade Leizer Moshe Cohen. In the shop they would sit down to a glass of tea and after a brief discussion of current affairs, would get down to the point.
The conversation might last for hours until they set out for the Afternoon synagogue prayers together. Zlota Street has narrow pavements so the three of them walked in the middle of the road. In front of the synagogue or the House of Study, they would run into Tsalel Halter as though by appointment, and they rejoiced that God had brought them together since Tsalel Halter was a supreme giver of good counsel. A tall Jew with a friendly and shrewd face and eyes, his beard straight and well-tended, he was the lawman of Jewish Kalish, lawyer, judge, defending counsel and prosecutor. He always knew in advance and with absolute certainty all the paragraphs of the law and the judgments that would be handed down. Officially, he was a petition writer and in secret, a lawyer. Everybody honoured his ample knowledge. If judgment was given against his client and not as prophesized by him, then Fate was to blame Tsalel Halter would hear out the problem as stated by friends, would express his views and then turn with slow and assured paces, his hands clasped behind his back, to say the Afternoon prayers in his Hassidic Shtiebel.
After Evening prayers, Tsalel Halter could not go straight home. Deep in thought, he went down Zlota Street, entered the synagogue garden by the gate at the corner next to the House of Study, crossed the garden and came out
by the main gate, crossed the street, dropped into the bookshop to riffle the pages of a book, went out, crossed the bridge, stood still a moment and returned. Beyond the Lustig House, he vanished into the narrow street turning left, looked in on the Jewish Hospital, crossed the street, glanced at the garden of the Jewish Girls' Orphanage and came out on Kanonicka Street. Now he turned left, passed the Jewish Community building next to the ritual bath on the river bank, crossed the bridge and gazed at the Fire Brigade Building as you enter the large square of the New Market.
A man was lighting the gas lamps in the streets and around the square with a long stick. Lights came on in the houses. The Fire Brigade Band was meeting for a rehearsal. A gentle tune could be heard. Tsalel Halter leaned against the Bridge parapet, glanced for a moment at the shallow water of the Prosna and retraced his steps across the bridge to Kanonicka Street where he lived in a dwelling that occupied a whole floor. A light goes on in his study facing the Church of Holy Mikolai from which can be heard the tinkle of the little bells that summon to Vespers.
In Rzeznicza Street, at the corner of Sukienice Street, stands the house of one of the veteran heads of the community, an industrialist who is one of the first wardens of the synagogue. Few people have seen his laugh. He is a serious man of affairs, always active with hard lines to his face that shows unflinching resolution. His eyes are dark-grey and deep-set with dense eye-brows above them. He has a thick moustache and a little pointed beard. He walks with a valuable stick that has been artistically carved. On it he leans wherever he goes. He buys his hats when he goes abroad to the Baths each summer. Down below in his house is the barbershop of the Barber-surgeon who is an expert in setting leeches. The barber stands in the doorway enjoying a pleasant chat with passers-by. The shop is attended to by the young assistants who know nothing of medicine. Only the better-class clients enjoy the personal attentions of the master himself .
Anybody who arrived in Kalish by train in the days before the buses or the diligence used to come to town by carriage. A row of carriages was lined up in the station square which lay several kilometres from the heart of the city. Not far from the station on the way to Skalmierzyce, the frontier post between Russia and Germany before 1914 stands the big building of the new flour mill.
Among the first houses to be seen at the entrance to the city were the large buildings of the Boraks brothers in Wroclawska (Gornoszlonska) Street. The Boraks family came from Stawiszyn towards the end of World War I and settled in Kalish. They were horse dealers on an international scale. The home of Leon Boraks swiftly became an open house, particularly for the young friends of his sons and daughters. He often placed his summer home at the disposal of the youth movements in summer for holidays and leisure. Adek, the youngest of the Boraks family was one of the heads of the Halutz underground in Poland and fell fighting in the Bialystok Ghetto.
The carriage passes the spot where the city gate once used to stand according to tradition. To the right is the Saint Trojca Hospital. To the left is the Nazarene
Church and the Nazarene Girls School. Further on, near the handsome building of the Trade Bank and just opposite another bridge over the Prosna, we reach the Josephine Alley, the Venus Cinema, and the Europa Hotel on the right. On the left is the Electric Power Station operated by the river current with the aid of a dam. Beyond is an up-to-date bath-house with public showers modern times.
There is a spacious building in the middle of a little square halfway along the Josephine Alley, facing the bridge beyond the dam. This building marks the end of Sukienice Street. It is the old District Court. Its large halls serve the lawmen and as offices for the public notaries. Under the sloping little roof is a painted pair of scales with a gilded text in Latin: Suum Cuiquae. Nearby is a handsome residential building with a spacious courtyard. Within and on either side is a dwelling house with the Oasis cinema, the first in Kalish, at the far end. For the opening of the cinema the owner had a documentary film brought of recordings of Eretz Israel in 1912-14. All the fine folk of the city, the orthodox leaders, and heads of the synagogue, the wardens and the others were invited to this opening.
From the Oasis cinema begins the broad Avenue. In the middle is the walk with trees on either side, chiefly fragrant acacia. In the flower beds are the seasonal flowers. Beyond the trees on either side are one-way streets with pavements in front of the houses. The Alley leads to a park. The houses to the left of the Avenue lie in the Polish Venice. The description is justified. The Prosna flows behind the houses and almost every home has its own rowing-boat. People here often held garden parties in the evenings. The garden would be lit up with the gondolas floating on the river. Not that there was much room for boating; only as far as the next dam, about a hundred metres in all. But they could boat and fish.
On the right was the new Polish Bank followed by the Municipal Theatre which was always under construction and so represented all kinds of queer architectural styles. From the Theatre balcony towards the park there was a magnificent view. Bands played here on Saturdays and Sundays. In winter they played for the skaters on the ice; in summer for the boats floating on the river. And then there was the Boat Race of the Boat Club.
Before entering the park, let us glance for a moment into the Wiejska Street (whose name was later changed to Pulaski Street) lying behind the right-hand side of the Josephine Alley. It was here, at the end of the street, that the lace factories were to be found.
I remember that after the San Remo Conference in 1920, when Great Britain accepted to Mandate for Palestine, it was decided to celebrate the occasion with a big public affair in the fields on the way to Meikow Village. A great platform was constructed, composed partly of flat waggons for goods carriage. All the work was done on a voluntary basis. Planks were supplied by well-known timber merchants whose yards ran the length of the Third of May Street. A huge crowd of almost ten thousand people filled the whole square. The programme was rich and colourful. A large choir was organized and was accompanied by the orchestra. Townsfolk and visitors from elsewhere delivered speeches and finally, the public made their contributions for the Redemption of the Land.
It was an unforgettable scene. Women brought silver candelabra, took the rings off their fingers, men contributed gold and silver coins and watches. The enthusiasm was boundless.
In Kalish, there was a very happy scene one year on the 33rd Day of the Omer when members of Hashomer Hatzair in their hundreds marched through the streets with their banners, accompanied by the Band of the Jewish Sports Association as they made their way back from a hike.
There were also occasions of mass grief and sorrow. One of these was round about Purim 1921. Anti-Semitism was running riot in Poland under the leadership of General Haller. Jews were flung from railway carriages of trains in motion. In the streets soldiers cut off their beards. Jews became toys in the hands of rioters and murderers and were virtually put beyond the law. They were tortured and tormented and nobody said a word. To be sure, the Jewish carters and butchers of Warsaw displayed their bravery and showed the rioters what they could do, but the reports from all parts of Poland were very grave.
Kalish was quiet and there were no signs of anything wrong. But one day, I went to school and the streets seemed different somehow. The shops were open and Jews were coming back from the morning prayers. But Christian youngsters were standing on the street corners, which was not customary, with sticks in their hands.
During the third lesson, the Headmaster instructed the Jewish pupils to go home. In the interval, we gathered together by order of our older companions from the upper classes and each one set out on his way. The streets were empty and all the shutters were down. There was a pogrom raging in the centre of the city and it lasted for twenty-four hours.
The butchers opposed the rioters with organized force. A crow of rioters gathered around the Jewish butcher shops in Nadwodna Street. When the Jews offered resistance, the rioters attacked one of the butchers, pulled an iron door out of its frame and crushed him with until they killed him.
After the dreadful pogrom in Lember, a Memorial Meeting for the victims was held in the Great Synagogue. Reb Noah was the Master of Ceremonies. The service was conducted within the building which, however, was not large enough to contain the thousands of people who came to mourn. There was absolute silence inside and outside. Reb Noah went up to the Holy Ark and began to weep, first quietly and later roaring: Alas, what has befallen us! following the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The silence inside and outside the building was so complete that the prayers could be heard at a distance. This was a day of great grief for the Jews of Kalish.
The landscape made a unique contribution to the romantic spirit of the city which was beautified by the river and its tributaries. The many bridges, the greenery, the trees and last of all, the extensive old park with all its delightful nooks and corners did their share. Much came from nature but the hands of men had no small share in it. Kalish folk walked about in the park from babyhood in prams under the shadow of the trees then into childhood, youth, maturity and old age. For the youngsters this was the place of their
dreams. For adults it was a spot to rest and forget the troubles of the day. Everybody who comes from Kalish remembers this part of his childhood home with love.
There were many entries to the park. The main way led from the Josephine Alley, with the Municipal Theatre to the right, the Avenue to the left and the Bridge a bridge again in front of you. But no bridge resembled any of the others. Then came the Boat Societies.
You will find yourself standing at a meeting place of three road-ways all leading into the park. Turn right with the Prosna. Walk on for a hundred metres and again you find a bridge and a big dam. Continue. The river is on your right and a green valley in on your left but you cannot see it for everything is a dense forest here. Only between the branches can you see paths, trails, benches and maybe statues in the distance.
The river grows wider. Now you can reach the ancient oak where the roadway runs down into the little valley; in the centre of which is a lake. In the middle of the lake is an island with a statue upon it. The spot it called: Kogutek. The ancient oak is thick and lofty. They reckon that it is two hundred years old. It takes three men with outstretched arms to encircle the trunk. We know, for we have tried.
From the street of the square from the statue in the island, there is a circus with a diameter of a hundred metres. All around are ornamental plants with benches beside them. During the mornings of the summer weekdays, when the park was not crowded, you could really enjoy sitting here, taking pleasure in the quiet, the singing of the birds and the beauty of nature all around you. Here Adam Asnik wrote his poems and musicians composed melodies.
In the early hours of the beautiful spring morning, you can see special kinds of persons walking here, sometimes alone and sometimes in groups. Those wearing green caps were called frogs; those in red caps were known as beetroots. These were the pupils of the Government Gymnasiums. Somewhat later, other caps were also to appear: The pupils of the Jewish Gymnasium.
The Jewish Gymnasium was actually set up by a public Committee of parents who, for national or religious reasons, preferred an institution of this kind. The teaching staff was an effective combination and the Gymnasium swiftly achieved an excellent level. This was the first Jewish Gymnasium to last. Several earlier attempts had been made to establish a school of the kind in Kalish but without success.
For some time, there had been a Secondary School for girls. In spring 1914 while the Russians were still there, a Jewish pre-gymnasium was set up as a reaction against the numerus clausus exercised in Russian Secondary Schools. A vast number of young Jews registered to study there but the onset of World War I put an end to their good hopes.
You will see pupils walking about in the park. Now and again, you may come across a group headed by a teacher, all speaking pure Hebrew.
A little further along and to the right is the Orangery a beautiful, well-tended spot with a greenhouse and lofty windows where plants from all over the world
are grown. Here I saw my first orange tree together with other specimens of exotic sub-tropical flora. The whole area is full of beautiful flowers whose fragrance spreads far and wide. Oppose the Orangery is a typical Swiss Chalet built entirely of wood with stairs, balconies and characteristic ornaments. This is where the gardeners live and the central nursery is tended. Between the two buildings in the centre of the square amid the thousands of flowers is a sundial erected in the 19th century as well as beautiful statues. There is no shadow here so people come to stroll only towards evening.
The park is large and has many lovely nooks. Here is a little artificial brook with a tiny flour mill on the bank. The water hurries by. There are benches on the hill. A romantic spot and yonder is the Mills. Here is the spacious Prosna. On the hill is a space with a parapet: it offers a panorama facing the boat jetty. And here is the Prosna, racing towards the waterfall which creates the Bernardinka Stream. Far, far beyond, is the red bridge (yet another!).
There is no end to all these lovely spots. But here is the Ruin; maybe the remains of an ancient palace or maybe an artificial structure. It is all of stone with numerous winding old stone stairs; one open space adorned with domesticated wild flowers. Steps lead to a second level. Here as well is a space with a concrete surface surrounded by an artistic stone parapet and a magnificent view. The ruin has a tunnel and from it a path leads to a modern hydropathic building: an institute for Medical treatment by means of artificial mineral waters. Here, the first medical examinations for gymnasia pupils were conducted.
The new park lies beyond the waterfall and the Sports Stadium. Groups of the various Youth Movements, particularly Shomer Hatzair, engage in their meetings at the ruin by the waterfall or in the wood. You will hear songs bursting out. The words are in Hebrew; still corrupt but Hebrew just the same. The songs resound afar. Then come the notes of the Okarina, beautifully played by one of our friends while another begins to lead them in singing.
There are many entrances to the park. One of the nicest is from Niecala Street. On the left of the 'red bridge' a roadway constructed out of great rough stone blocks leads to the hill on top of which is a building resembling a fortress of the Middle Ages. It has four towers at its four corners and the windows are barred. This is the District Prison on the Turek Road. The 'red bridge' used to be a regular starting point for many hikes and rambles outside the city. But let us forget the bridge. Here is an entry to the park through an avenue with a hill above it. In the avenue there is a roadway for the carriages of those who come to rest and recuperate in the park air. Here you will also see the carriage of the Russian Governor, driving with his family. This avenue is more than half a kilometre long with giant chestnut trees on either side. The branches meet overhead and make a natural roof. On sunny days, the blue sky gleams through the gloom, while in the evening, the stars appear. There is cool shade on hot days and darkness at night.
My late father used to spend much time here and gained inspiration for many of his musical compositions and melodies. It was here that the melody for the once popular song Seu Ziona Ness va-degel (bear flag and banner to Zion) was composed more than seventy years ago. More than one of his compositions was based on the Song of Nature in the Kalish Park. Almost every day, and for many years, he used to meet with Rabbi Ezekiel Libshitz, the rabbi of the city, at this spot.
When the two friends reached the Red Bridge, they were often joined by a third man: A short, tubby little fellow with a big head, fine blue eyes and a carefully tended beard. He did not shave, not because he was orthodox, but because tradition is a fine thing. Day-by-day he used to walk on foot to the city and back in order to attend to his affairs in the various institutions and banks. It was his habit to meet various worthies and citizens for friendly conversations or to discuss Zionist affairs. This was Reb Moshe Krakowski who used to cross the Red Bridge at least twice a day. Whenever he met the rabbi together with my father in the park, he would pause and then the conversation would indeed become lively. After such a conversation he would hurry home. Once again he would cross the Red Bridge slowly, his back slightly bent and his hands clasped behind him. He would mount the hill on which stands the Mediaeval Fortress which was the District Prison. Reaching the hill, he would turn to the right and vanish.
That is the end of our ramble.
A dream rambles through something that once existed and has vanished. Deep in the soul the memories remain of a distant past which is near to the heart. Those we met on the road now rest in Paradise. They have passed away. The city stands with all its beauty and charm but the Jews are no longer there. Their birthplace has been betrayed them. It has forgotten them.
But we remember. Let us hold them dear in our memory.
by Stefan Frenkel
To deal with the development of economic life in Kalish, it is necessary to survey the beginnings of the city's industry at the time of the Russian Occupation. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Minister Lubelsky did his best to improve the economic condition of Poland and it was he who supported the establishment of industrial enterprises. To this end, special privileges were given to industrialists and craftsmen from other countries who wished to settle in Poland. These included exemption from taxes for a number of years and exemption of the sons of the settlers from military service. The success of these measures was helped by the industrial crisis that ensued in Prussia following the Napoleonic Wars, which resulted from the Customs War and Industrial competition of Great Britain. Several tens of thousands of new settlers, chiefly Germans, came to Poland. There were also Czechs who settled in the vicinity of Lodz. At first, these newcomers were permitted to choose the domiciles they desired and for the greater part, they preferred to settle down on Government land. Similar industrial colonies were developed on private estates in Tomaszow, Ozorkow and Konstantinow.
At the same time industrial workers were recruited in Germany, France, Belgium and England. These included the well-known technicians Philippe Gerard as well as Fragette.
From 1821 onwards, the Customs policy of the country protected the local industry against Prussian competition while the Customs Agreement with Russia opened satisfactory opportunities for exports to Russia and China. The steam engine also played its part in developments. By the 20's of the 19th century, its influence could be felt not only in heavy industry but also in flour mills and textile factories.
After the November Revolt, i.e. after 1832, Russia abolished the Customs Agreement and the decline in exports led to a decline in manufacture. Many weavers moved over to Russian territory. Industrialists moved largely to Bialystok where they continued to manufacture. This state of affairs continued for close to twenty years because it suited Russian interests. In 1860 the Russians did away with the Tariff wall in order to facilitate the unification of Poland and Russia. Favourable conditions for the establishment and growth of industry were thus restored.
These conditions account for the commencement of industry in Kalish; but thirty years had to pass before the right entrepreneurs were found. Kalish was not the proper place for heavy industry because it was too far from the necessary raw materials. Beside this there was a high rate of profit in light industry. Less investment was required and the turnover was more rapid.
Another important consideration was the presence of skilled manpower.
There was a shortage of the necessary experts in the town. Only two settlers of this type reached the city. These were Repphahn, who established the Kalish weaving industry and Mueller who set up a similar industry in neighbouring Turek. These two undertakings belonged to the type that preceded the Industrial Revolution. Repphahn's factory was rapidly liquidated whereas Mueller's enterprise continued to function for many years in Turek.
The embroidery and lace-making industries which were characteristic of Kalish before the war were established in the 1880's. Their development was conditioned by two factors: plentiful supply of water that was suitable for bleaching the fabrics and the close vicinity of the Russian-German border which facilitated contact with the west and the purchase of the raw material for embroidery (i.e. cambric) from England. Threads were purchased in England and Switzerland while washing and finishing materials came from Germany.
It was then the fashion to use embroidery on sheets and women's underwear. This fashion was widespread in Switzerland and Saxony. In 1886 the first factory for embroidery was founded in Kalish by Felix (Fishel) Frankel, a local Jew who had made money in France. He purchased the machinery in Saxony and brought embroiderers from there as well. These used hand-machines operating on the principle of the pantograph. The operator conducted an instrument over the design and the machine carried out the movement that the instrument indicated.
All this was done without the use of mechanical power but the embroidery differed in no way from handwork though the labour invested was far less; for 4.5 metres of material could be embroidered simultaneously. The embroiderer was assisted by several men who put the threads in place and fixed the needles in the frame. After the embroidery was finished, the material was sent for bleaching and was washed and bleached in primitive vessels. After drying, the various embroideries were cut from the roll, ironed, packed and prepared for dispatch. All operations, naturally, were performed by hand.
At that time, Meizner opened a similar factory in Kalish and Danziger did the same a few years later. Before long, this industry was invaded by the machine. The washing was the first section to be mechanized. A steam boiler was built at the Frankel factory to operate the primitive laundering machines. Somewhat later a direct-current generator was installed and operated by the same steam engine while the factory was illuminated by electricity instead of kerosene. The dwelling-house was also illuminated as were the courtyard and the street.
At the beginning of the 90's there was electric light in the Josephine Alley where the factory was situated and it caused a sensation. Mechanization went no further in the Frankel factory where embroidering continued by hand. After Felix Frankel died in 1909, his son Raphael wished to bring in new machines but did not succeed in doing so before 1914.
Frankel and Meizner were large-scale industrialists who employed hundreds of workers. Their factories were professional schools. The men learnt their work from German experts who were first brought for the purpose. But the new workers were local Poles and Jews.
The wages paid were relatively good. In the course of time, the more ambitious among them wished to become manufacturers themselves. The larger industrialists helped them. In particular, Raphael Frenkel helped many of his workers to open workshops of their own which grew and expanded as the years went by. His assistance took the form of selling those building plots on reasonable terms, granting credit and providing securities for the purchase of machinery.
The machinery brought at the beginning of the century was no longer hand-operated but mechanized and wove a roll of 9 metres. Production costs fell. In addition, a cheaper kind of stuff was used and the number of stitches was decreased. The workers were employed on piece-work. As a result, it proved possible not only to lower the price but also to expand the market. Naturally, hand-embroidery remained more expensive and was still in demand.
In addition, there were now automatic machines in operation which produced a width of 13.5 metres. Meizner among others brought these automats. Both quality and prices declined. The Russian market absorbed the new type of goods very well. By the time World War I broke out, Kalish stood for the embroidery industry. However, the outbreak of the war interrupted its growth completely. Still, it was not the burning of the city that stopped this for it so happened that the embroidery factories were left untouched. The real reason was the loss of the Russian market; not only because the frontier was closed but also because of the change in the character of Russian consumption after the October Revolution, and the course of development taken by the Russian economy. None but vital commodities were supplied to the population there; and those did not include either embroidery or lacework. The Polish market was unable to absorb the entire production of Kalish and
Kalish without Jews (anti-Semitic poster)
meanwhile, the embroidery and lace fashions changed. The manufacturers began to adapt themselves to the market and produced new articles such as Valenciennes. Many machines were sold for scrap. Towelling was made in the large Flakovitch factory; curtaining, etc. were introduced. Little-by-little, the embroidery industry began to flourish again.
In 1928, i.e. at the period before the major economic crisis in Poland, there were close to fifty large or small factories for embroidery and lace making in Kalish. Apart from this major industry, Jews were also engaged in other fields. Thus a stocking factory belonging to Marcus Holz was established in the 19th century and developed well. Jews were also active in the food industry. The agricultural surroundings maintained the flour mills. In 1928 there were more than 10 power-driven mills, most of which were in Jewish hands.
Naturally the developing industry required commercial and transport services. There were many businessmen, including Jews, who supplied the embroiderers with raw materials, not to mention a considerable team of agents and travelling salesmen.
Many Jews were also active in the field of credit. Before the war, the State Bank, the Commercial Bank and the Riga Trade Bank were all operative in the city. The two Jewish banks which engaged in all commercial operations were those of Landau and Mamrot. However, these could not withstand the competition of the large institutions and were liquidated before 1914. On the other hand, Polish commercial circles established a bank called: The Kalish Mutual Credit Society which in due course became the Kalish District Bank and existed for many years.
The Jewish merchants felt the absence of a Credit Institution of their own and in the 20th century, they set up a bank which they called: The Second Mutual Credit Society of Kalish. This bank achieved a great deal for Kalish merchants but did not renew its activities after World War I and was liquidated.
During the 20's, two Jewish Cooperative Banks were set up under the Jewish Audit Society for the whole of Poland. These were the Cooperative Bank set up by the Jewish craftsmen and the Merchants Bank set up by the Jewish Merchant Society. Both institutions supplied considerable credits to Jewish businessmen. One should not ignore the activities of the Societies mentioned above, or that of the Society of Embroiderers and Lace Manufacturers, all of which looked after the interests of their members. Special mention should be made of Tsalel Halter, the adviser of all the Jewish Merchants and Industrialists in matters relating to the law.
The economic activity of Kalish Jewry developed well but the economic crisis which began in 1929 and continued for several years, checked this development. A general non-payment of debts set in, followed by bankruptcies, receiverships of factories, etc. The banks also suspended their activities and caused losses to the Jewish depositors. Shortly before World War II, Jewish industry began to flourish again but for only a short while. When the Germans came, they took most of the Jewish machines to Germany. The Jewish industrialists and the workers alike lost their lives in the Holocaust.
by K. C.
The products of lace-making industry of Kalish achieved a world-wide reputation. They gained a wide clientele, particularly in the former Russian Empire which included Poland, Great Russia, White Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Siberia, Central Asia, the Far East and Vladivostok. Lace reached the large and small towns and these markets were relatively soon opened up.
A number of other cities in Russia and Poland, such as Moscow, Warsaw, Lodz and Wileika also tried to establish their own lace industries but were not successful. Kalish remained the only one to achieve this.
The lace industry actually came into existence in the following manner: Kalish was near the one-time Russian and Prussian frontier. After three months of residence in the city, any inhabitant of Kalish could receive a permit to cross the frontier to Skalmierzyce, Ostrow, Wielkopolski and Pornan and could visit Germany as well. There were also family ties between the inhabitants of Kalish and German residents. People visiting Germany would return bringing all kinds of goods with them. This led to the development of a flourishing smuggling trade.
Lace goods were also smuggled into Poland from Germany. The leading dealer in lace-wear was Etta Winter. She was apprehensive about putting her lace goods on the market for she was afraid that the customs officials would pay special attention to this and fine her, so she found a method of deceiving them. She brought two hand-machines for lace embroidery from Germany and after that, the goods smuggled in from Germany were put on the market as her own manufacture. Other dealers learnt from her and also brought machines; lace-makers were brought and taught the Jewish embroiderers how to make use of these machines.
In those times there were two kinds of machine in use: double and triple. The double manufactured quality goods, while the triple ones produced simpler wares. The machines were built with cast-iron frames and were four metres long and three metres wide. They were divided by two waggons which met and received the little needles in which the silk or cotton threads had been placed. In the front part of the machine was the model piece. The embroiderer followed the design with the aid of a pantograph and transferred it to the machine.
There were also special drills in the machine for making holes where necessary and the needles would embroider the edges of the hole. Each machine required three or four attendants: the embroiderer himself, his assistant and two needle-threaders. The machines were very expensive for those times, costing 1900 roubles. Special mechanics looked after the machines and a seamstress was also required to make repairs in pieces that had been spoilt by the machine.
The following raw materials and auxiliaries were necessary for manufacture: silk or cotton thread, material, needles, wax for waxing threads so that they would not fray and large frames. Quite a large room was necessary for setting up the machine. All this required considerable investment but the
merchants felt that this was a good business and enthusiastically engaged in building suitable premises, buying machines and producing the raw material for lace manufacture. Although the manufacture of the lace was a complex and intricate operation, the finished products proved to be cheaper than the goods being smuggled from Germany.
The city grew rapidly. Within a short time, dozens of three-storey buildings had been built in all the streets and containing hundreds of workshops. The Chopin, Ciasna, Nowa, Zlota, Wodna, Majkowska and Babina Streets as well as others were transformed into an industrial district. The Frankel family built large factories in the avenues.
The inhabitants of the neighbouring towns and villages began to move to Kalish. They all made their way into the lace industry. Within a short time the goods had so improved that they drove the German product right off the Russian market. As the industry developed some of the embroiderers began to work at home. In the course of time they also became major industrialists.
All this led to the transition of hitherto unproductive elements to the life of workers. In addition, there appeared a new class of intellectual worker: clerks, bookkeepers, designers and travelling salesmen who went from end-to-end of Russia booking orders. The industrialists established ties with thousands of merchants and for thirty years there was no crisis. On the contrary, the industry expanded, developed and absorbed young and old. When Germany began to manufacture embroidery machines that were mechanically operated and the lace making industry of Kalish seemed to face severe competition, the local manufacturers promptly brought the new machines to their factories.
This industrial revolution came about in the years 1909-1910 and the whole industry swiftly moved over to mechanical operation. The old hand machines had done their share and were thrown away being replaced by the long and new machines. The distribution of work did not change. The small machines manufactured the most delicate materials and silk products for blouses and costumes while the eight metre long machines manufactured cotton embroidery for the mass trade.
The number of workers employed did not decrease. The machines were operated by motors brought from abroad. However, the manufacturers had to introduce a labour code and labour discipline in their factories. The workers had to become accustomed to this. The skilled hand-workers swiftly adapted themselves to the new machines. They even paid large sums of money to be given rapid courses in the methods of operating them.
Operating the power machines did not cause any unemployment but demanded more workers. Wages were attractive. A first-class embroiderer earned 25 roubles or more a week. A threader earned 6-10 roubles a week or more. The working day lasted for ten hours. The new factories were specially built for the power machines and their operation. Some of these were actually driven by electricity.
In 1913-1914, on the eve of World War I, the technical innovation of the automat was introduced and reduced the number of workers serving the machine. It replaced the embroiderer and only threaders remained. One
mechanic could serve dozens of machines at the same time. But the benefits of this new technological advance were not felt for when the industry was at the peak of its development; World War I commenced in August, 1914. The Germans took the city, destroyed it, burnt houses and smashed up many factories. The Russian market the main customer was cut off. And the German occupation itself brought about entirely new conditions.
The industry adapted itself and worked only to orders. Many workers became unemployed and engaged in other occupations and trade. Some of the manufacturers liquidated the factories and turned their buildings into dwelling quarters since Kalish had been largely destroyed and there was a shortage of apartments.
In independent Poland, the Lace Industry continued to produce for the local market only. The Russian market had vanished. The pre-war period was forgotten. The hand machines had vanished entirely for they had been sold as junk. The small machines were also out of use leaving only the long machines and part of the automats. Little-by-little, the Lace Industry was replaced by the Velvet Industry which was initiated by the manufacturer Solomonowicz, while the curtain industry was established by Flakovitch.
Jews had worked for more than sixty years wisely and energetically and had spread the name of Kalish abroad throughout the world. Kalish lace was known in the U.S., England, France and Germany. The city grew on lace together with the Jewish and Christian population. Here are some figures:
When the Lace Industry was established there were less than 5,000 Jews in Kalish. In 1914, there were 15,000 and in 1939, there were more than 26,000. The Christian population grew in the same proportion. But, in 1939, both the Jews and their industry were brought to a sudden end.
by I. Klechevski
The Trade Union Movement in Kalish came into being during the German occupation of World War I. Later on under independent Poland between 1918 and 1939, this movement set its stamp on the life of the local workers.
To be sure, the beginnings of the movement go back to the turn of the century. The rapid growth of the lace industry which began at the end of the 19th century attracted thousands of Jewish and Christian workers to the city and brought them together under the same roof. Under Czarist rule, working conditions were very miserable indeed. The working day last 14-16 hours. The workers had no insurance whatsoever. The authorities did not permit unions to be established. Any attempt to organize this was cruelly suppressed by them.
In 1895 the P.P.S was established followed by the Bund in 1897, the P.S.D. in 1899 and the Poalei Zion in 1905. All these were political parties but
they gave some shape to the union life of the workers. Conditions began to be established for union activity, suited, of course, to the conditions of those days.
Between 1901 and 1903, these parties established circles of workers who aimed at changing the harsh working conditions. Worker exchanges were founded to settle disputes between the workers and the employers, though this was not in any way an easy task. But, in due course, a large-scale movement came about and attracted large sections of the workers in the lace making and other industries.
Attempts were made to obtain the introduction of a ten-hour working day. When the authorities learnt of this they conducted a series of arrests and these first attempts were nipped in the bud. The industrialists who had their contacts with the authorities helped the government in these measures.
In 1904-1905, during the Russian-Japanese War, Russian political life came to the surface and the first signs of the approaching Revolution were felt. The workers of Kalish also began to awaken. The spontaneous demonstrations of Polish and Jewish workers demanding political rights were also exploited for trade union organizations and were accompanied by steps to introduce a ten-hour working day and raise wages. The manufacturers fought the workers with the aid of the authorities. This in turn led to conflict but after a bitter struggle, the employers submitted to the pressure of the workers. A ten-hour working day was introduced and wages were raised considerably.
These changes were very daring for that period. A hand embroiderer earned between six and eight roubles a week in a 14-16 hour working day while a helper and threader earned 3-5 roubles a week. After the Revolution, the embroiderers earned 8-10 roubles weekly for a ten-hour working day while the helpers and threaders received 3-6 roubles a week or even more. The tremendous improvements were also made possible thanks to the feverish expansion of the lace making industry at this period. New factories were being built almost every day. Scores of new machines arrived weekly. The industry required an increasing number of embroiderers, threaders, finishers, designers, clerks and travelling salesmen. The Kalish product spread far and wide through the Russian Empire reaching thousands of towns and villages over a stretch of 12,000 kilometres and more as well as reaching China, Shanghai and other cities.
Kalish was lucky for the lace making industry took firm root there alone. Attempts were made to establish lace making factories in other Russian cities such as Wilieka near Vilna, Moscow, Lodz, Warsaw, etc. but none of these attempts reached the dimensions achieved in Kalish. All the pioneers of the industry in that city were Jews and even when the industry was fully established, 78-80% of the manufacturers remained Jewish.
After the 1905 Revolution, many active trade unionists of Kalish were arrested and transported to Siberia and other cities in all parts of Russia. Many of them escaped to Germany, England, France and the U.S.
The tempo of growth in the industry continued to increase and Kalish began to attract more and more workers and clerks from the towns and
villages of the vicinity. The city grew and there was a constant shortage of skilled workers. This also caused wages to improve and there was no unemployment. Until 1910, lace making was a hand industry but thereafter, it became mechanical and power-driven. This transition also brought about a revolution for it required additional workers. The hand embroiderers learnt how to handle the machines and while the number of workers did not decline, output rose four-fold and five-fold.
The shortage of skilled workers again led to a rise in wages. The machine embroiderer received 15-25 roubles/week for a ten-hour/day while the threader and helper received 8-12 roubles/week. The improvement led indirectly to higher wages for workers in other occupations such as tailors, shoemakers, bakers, carpenters, house painters, mechanics, etc. This situation continued until the outbreak of war in August, 1914 when the Germans conquered Kalish.
Within a few days, the Germans engaged in large-scale provocation and began to destroy the city. The centre of town was destroyed including many factories and several hundred persons were killed. The inhabitants began to flee for their lives and scattered over the whole of Poland and Russia. The manufacturers abandoned their factories and fled. It took a year before part of the population returned chiefly the homeless and began to rebuild the ruins.
It was impossible even to imagine the restoration of the industry. The manufacturers did not return there was no raw material and above all, the Russian market had vanished. The Germans were not interested in reviving lace manufacture since that was a well-developed industry in their own country. So, those who returned tried to go over to other occupations promising a living. Some of the industrial workers began to exploit the stocks of raw materials and began manufacturing on a small scale and by primitive methods. Some engaged in smuggling and peddling, which was very widespread during the war and some became builders. Part of them proceeded to clothing industries such as shoemaking, tailoring, and textile manufacture and related occupations.
The class-conscious workers exploited the relatively democratic regime of the Germans and started establishing various institutions and unions. However, the German occupation authorities viewed these activities unfavourably and did not permit Trade Unions to be established. Only with the outbreak of the German Revolution, towards the end of 1918, did the workers begin to establish legal Trade Unions and cultural institutions. Labour Councils were set up to establish legal Trade Unions and cultural institutions. Labour Councils were set up whose strength derived from the participation of all political parties and all professions and industries. The parties that participated were the P.P.S., S.D., Bund and Poalei Zion. The Council established legal Trade Unions for the workers in lace making, clothing, leather, transport, domestic service, clerks, building, public works, railway workers, teachers, industries and services. The member of the Council was elected by the political parties the large factories and the Unions.
When independent Poland was established in 1919, things began to improve. People came home and a period of prosperity began. The Kalish folk
displayed their great ambition to restore their city. Large-scale building activities began which employed many workers and officials and the factories revived with a few exceptions. The majority of the lace manufacturers set their machines in operation again. The embroiderers, threaders, finishers and clerks returned to the factories. The embroiderers set up their international union participated in by Jewish, Polish and German workers who showed much solidarity. At the same time, there were other exclusively Jewish Unions in the town. Thus, the clothing industry workers, consisting of tailors, etc. had about 150 members but did not include all the clothing workers as a great deal of work was done at home. The union set out to settle disputes between workers and employers and supported the wage demands of the workers.
Between 1925 and 1935, Kalish won over the Poznan clothing market and the branch became prosperous. Factory workers and home workers earned well. The city became a centre of clothing manufacturing. The Polish tailoring workers belonged to the Polish Craftsmen's Society which was essentially reactionary. With rare exceptions, they refused to join the Jewish Union.
The second Jewish Trade Union was that of the leather workers. This was set up as international with Polish and Jewish members alike but later became exclusively Jewish. About 100 workers were organized. They included: shoe sewers, shoemakers and harness makers. The union dealt with professional matters. This was not one of the occupations that gave a good income. Everybody who learnt something about the work opened a little shop of his own.
The third was the Clerks' Union which had some 150 members in its final years. Those active in it included members of Hashomer Hatzair, right-wing Poalei Zion, left-wing Poalei Zion, the Bund and the Communists. The Union engaged in independent cultural activities such as evenings for debates and literary activities. Most of the members spoke Polish. Extensive union activities were engaged in such as: fixing working hours, raising wages and proper behaviour on the part of the employers.
The fourth Jewish Union was that of domestic helpers and cooks and the membership was exclusively female. To begin with, it consisted of 70-80 girls who came from the small towns on account of economic distress. They had special working conditions. These were very bad and they had no contact with their environment and found themselves entirely subjected to the whims of their mistresses many of whom were uncultured and treated the girls harshly. The Union did some important work. It helped to raise wages, insisted on fair behaviour towards the workers and a one-day rest during the week. The Sabbath day belonged to the worker. Some of these domestic workers moved on to other occupations and took a hand in public affairs.
The porters also set up a Union with the aid of the left-wing Poalei Zion and the participation of the Bund. The members were not professional porters and many of them engaged in this work only after the war. The Union numbered 40-50 members. The efforts of the porters and the carters were directed towards obtaining fair pay for their hard work and they did their best to get the authorities to permit them to move freely through the
city in order to do their work properly. These efforts were an essential part of the Union's activities.
During the final years, a Barbers' Union was also established with 20-30 members. There were workers in other occupations that only had a few members such as: printing, woodwork, building, public works and banking. Some of them joined the Polish Unions. The disputes of the members who did not belong to any trade union were dealt with by the political parties to which they belonged.
All the Kalish Trade Unions set up a joint council known as the Central the seat of which was in Lipowa Street. This Council was attached to the Central Committee of Polish Trade Unions which represented several million organized workers.
Apart from the Labour Trade Unions, there were also other professional associations in the city such as the Artisans' Society, the Socialist Artisans' Society (domestic workers), Poalei Emunei Israel (Orthodox Jewish Workers), Agudat Israel, Small Merchants' Society, Travellers to Fairs, Market Vendors and the Merchants' Society. All these institutions engaged in professional activities only and represented large numbers of persons gainfully employed.
Until 1914, Kalish had more than 50,000 inhabitants of whom some 15,000 were Jews. Some 9,000 of these Jews were employed in lace manufacture and the remainder in various other branches and occupations. More than three-quarters of the lace industry was in Jewish hands and more than half of the entire population made their living from it. To be sure, there were a number of other large enterprises in the city such as: Mold's Meat Industry, Rephahn's Textiles, Fibiger's Pianos and Fulda's Tannery but about 3,000 families or more made their living from lace manufacture.
After World War I, large flour mills were set up and many Jewish workers were employed there. Both the owners and the workers were organized.
The middle-class Artisans' Society was well organized and included almost all crafts. It had between 800 to 1,000 members and a representative of its own on the Municipal Council. It engaged in settling disputes between members and regulating labour rates; it helped to reach agreements and make contracts. It dealt with negotiations with Trade Unions regarding wages and wage disputes and fixed the rates for those who worked at home. It provided members with legal and material help and also advanced loans. The Artisans' Society was the most important position in Jewish Kalish. It was more progressive and also more respected than the corresponding Polish Society.
In addition, there was the Socialist Artisans' Society known as the Society of Home Workers, consisting of independent experts who engaged in work at home and also employed workers, mostly apprentices. This Society had more than 300 members belonging to all professions. The Market Vendors, Travellers to Fairs and Street Hawkers belonged to the Small Merchant's Society which had several hundred members. The Society obtained loans for those of its members who were in distress (on account of thefts, robbery or other misfortunes); persuaded the authorities to treat peddlers more gently,
secured the cancellation of fines and punishments, provided legal aid and social assistance in cases of illness, misfortune, marriage of children and births.
Apart from the large Unions, there were dozens of small societies in the city which were connected with professional activities such as Loan Funds or Credit Societies which engaged in discounting Bills of Exchange, etc. These societies helped wage-earners considerably in overcoming difficult periods. The Unions also engaged in such economic welfare work on a large scale.
The Jewish population of Kalish was proud of its professional organizations which were regarded as a model on a country-wide scale. They were the fruit of the toil of workers and craftsmen for a full century, yet they were wiped out as though they had never existed in the general extermination of Polish Jewry by the Nazi.
by Leon Solnik
The city of Kalish spreads around fresh green islands linked by ancient bridges and has grown around old avenues, spacious parks and gardens. The deep river breaks the urban area up into islands. The water dominates the spot together with the sun which tans the crowds at the bathing places and the breezes that cool them off so caressingly.
The young people develop their bodies in the large stadium and the football fields as well as on the river. The boat jetties run out into the water and serve as a refuge for boats and weary rowers. In winter, the main channel of the Prosna, the Kogutek and the Little Lake are blocked by ice and summon the younger generation to winter sports: skating and sleigh-riding.
As the day turns to evening, the younger generation crowd the huge Municipal Park which still remembers the days of Kasimir the Great. They fill the wood and the avenues and lawns not only along the banks of the Prosna but also in the centre of the city.
At the heart of Kalish, in the Old Market, rises the handsome and aged Town Hall with the shops all around it except for the main entrance at the front which is shaded as it is by a large portico supported on pillars. After World War I, the building was restored in the Renaissance style and it is the pride of the city.
Kanonicka Street runs to the ancient Church of St. Nikolai which links the vaults of the former walled-city with the cellars of the one-time Asnik Gymnasium. This underground connection branches off to the gigantic building in the Old Market and to the Church of St. Nikolai and has an outlet to Ripinek from the Old Market. The Jewish Quarter begins parallel to Kanonicka Street.
Zlota Street, known as the Jews' Street is constructed of narrow two-storey houses. Here on the left, the Great Synagogue can be seen with its Byzantine domes, separated from the street proper by a large clean lawn divided by gravelled walks and benches on either side. The lawn was
separated from the street by a handsome stone fence on a low base-wall presented by Tikociner.
Next to the Synagogue rose the 13th century House of Study at the entry to which was an ancient stone laver. Over the generations, this aged centre of learning sent forth rabbis and Jewish legal authorities whose name spread far and wide. A little to one side, rises the new two-storey House of Study the only one that has survived.
To the right in front of the bridge are the old butcher shops. In Nadwordna Street next to the arm of the Prosna, are the other butcher shops. All these side streets together with Rosmark constituted the centre of the Quarter. Beyond the bridge Nowa Street opens which is crossed by Babina Street, Ciasna Street and Chopin Street and continues to Majakowska.
How close are the days when the Jewish population lived happily and tranquilly, not imprisoned in its own Quarter but mingling freely with all the population on good-neighbourly relations? The Jews had not only religious schools but also secular ones where the languages of instruction were both Polish and Yiddish. These were headed by the Jewish Gymnasium.
Various Societies maintained reading rooms and libraries. The Sports Association had a library and a reading room and played an important part in educating the younger generation. It also had a band of its own. There were producer and consumer cooperatives, Poalei Zion and other schools. Then there were the Trade Unions of the lace makers, needle workers, upper-leather sewers, shoemakers and transport workers. The Artisans Society maintained a vocational training school.
The Zionist Movement maintained a library in many languages and a reading room providing courses in Hebrew study and also participating in all elections.
The model, Eliza Orzeszkowa School was housed in a building of its own. Tuition was in Polish. The Jewish Hospital with its numerous beds and full range of departments was also in a private building. Mention should be made of the Workers' Home which played an important part in spreading progressive culture and thought. It was situated in Ciasna Street. Apart from its three little rooms, it had a large hall which was used for lectures, meetings and performances. This was a very lively institution that was sensitive to all communal problems.
The premises of the Trade Union Centre had a canteen. It also housed a dramatic group which used to give performances in Kalish and the neighbouring towns. The Workers' Sports Club Stern had its gymnastic and football team, a library, reading room and a band. Literary evenings were frequently held.
The Jewish Community in Kalish lived an autonomous national life of its own. All this has been eradicated. The Jews were murdered, their property pillaged and their homes destroyed. Grass grows everywhere. Even the old cemetery has vanished and is covered with new buildings. Only a small portion is left and is surrounded with barbed wire. Only a handful of Jews remain who passed through the inferno and survived in order to tell the world of the mass murder whose like has not been known in human history.
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