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[Page 285]

Mr. Chaim WALTER Hy”d and Mindel z”l

by Abraham and Israel WALTER, Ramat Gan

Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Walter was born in 1882 in Kutno, to his father, Mr. Avraham Zvi (Hirsz), who was a mohel volunteer, the synagogue gabbai, reading the Torah and blowing the shofar. Mr. Avraham Zvi z”l was the son of Mr. Chaim z”l, who served during his lifetime as a member of the Jewish community council and treasurer. Mr. Avraham Zvi Walter also went to circumcise children in villages where single families of Jews lived, and not only did he not receive any payment for this effort, but in most cases when he knew that the circumcised parents were in need, he used to put his money under the mother's pillow. Roiza, the mother of Mr. Chaim Yaakov, owned a manufactory and in this way allowed her husband to engage in Torah and mitzvot.

 

 

Mindel and Chaim-Yaakov WALTER z”l

 

Mr. Chaim Yaakov had two brothers: Yitzhak Meir (who immigrated to Israel with his wife in 1935) and Henich and five sisters: Bracha Bajla Szmitanski and Tova Carka Brot, Selka Rabe, Miriam (Mania) Esther Laznowski and Mikcza Benet.
Mr. Chaim Yaakov was a student in the Cheder and the Yeshiva. His friends in the “Cheder” were the writers Szalom Asz, Dr. Avraham Glicksman and the journalist Bar Drora (Frajer). When the writer Asz visited Kutno, he would remember his friend Mr. Chaim Yaakov and come to visit him. The author Szalom Asz mentions Mr. Chaim

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Yaakov in his well-known story “Dos Shtetl” (“The Town”), calling him: “Der Langer Chaim[1] because Mr. Chaim Yaakov Walter was tall. He was a Chassid of Skierniewice and Radzymin. He seriously considered liquidating his business and immigrating to Israel. But the Rabbi to whom he went to ask his authorization did not allow him to make aliyah[2].

Mr. Chaim Yaakov Walter, in addition to owning a well-known manufacturing business in Kutno, was also a modest and humble public activist. Being endowed with a good heart, he was much in charity and doing graces; Through his own means and with the means at his disposal, he helped the needy, established a modest “bakery” enterprise designed to provide financial assistance to those in need for Shabbat requirements, and he even served as treasurer of the enterprise. Even on Fridays, when there was a large revenue and a nuisance in multiple businesses, he would leave his store to distribute aid to the needy.

Mr. Chaim Yaakov was a member of the committee and one of the founders of the “Am HaSefer” school, which existed until the Holocaust. Despite his many troubles, he had time for Torah study.

His wife Mindel née Gluba, was born in 1881 in Turek and died in 1938 in Kutno. She was a woman of valor, looking after the household, and was gifted with a good heart and often did charity and kindness. She had a warm feeling for others and assisted the needy. Every bitter soul and every needy person found relief and support in her. The provision of help to the needy was done by her with a beautiful eye, with devotion and especially meticulous observance of the commandment to give in secret. She gave clothes and shoes to poor and orphaned children. To everyone who opened before her his closed heart and confessed his troubles before her, apart from the mental encouragement she gave the rebellious soul, she also gave her money with a generous hand.

She dealt with many social cases, but we will mention only a few, to testify to the size of her soul and the breadth of her heart.

It was a winter day, and the frost was strong. It was difficult to get to the alley where a pair of extremely old and destitute old men lived, but Mrs. Mindel did not shy away from the harsh weather and being short-sighted she went with her son to the old people's apartment, to which she used to send for years hot meals and provide medical help and medicine.

Once a dairy department came to her and poured out her heart before her. She listened to their words and encouraged them with heartfelt words. And when the dairy department came back home, they saw that they had ten gold coins in their pocket. They understood that Mrs. Mendel Walter's hand was involved in it. All this was told by the dairy department, when they came to comfort us after the death of our mother. Once, on a cold winter day while standing in the manufactory, a woman and an 8-year-old boy dressed in rags entered. Immediately, she told her son of the same age to enter the next room, undress and put on other clothes. The son did as the mother commanded and the poor boy was immediately dressed in the son's clothes.

She once met a woman whose conversation before her worried that her son was getting married in the next few days, but she would not be able to go to his marriage without a suitable dress for the wedding; so she returned to her store, immediately cut a fine cloth and sent the woman home.

The house of Chaim Yaakov and Mindel Walter, was open to all Jewish soldiers of Turkish descent who had lined up in Kutno, in the 37th Regiment of the Infantry, and would host them, to prevent them from eating non-kosher food. More than once went to see the senior officer, to ask him to treat his Jewish soldiers with kindness.

When our father contracted pneumonia, our mother sewed a hundred “small tallits” at her expense for orphans.

Every Friday our mother used to send flour, sugar and eggs to the homes of a number of needy people. Even after our mother died suddenly, we continued in the humanitarian tradition and in the giving of graces that our mother had so kept alive.

A large funeral was held for our mother, followed by her coffin were rabbis, yeshiva heads, yeshiva members and orphans, and of course many people who helped her, who paid her respects. Had she been so deserving, her death straight but heavy in the city.

Mr. Chaim Yaakov Walter h”yd perished in the Holocaust among other Jewish saints in the Auschwitz- Birkenau extermination camp at the end of August 1944.

His descendants are: Avraham Zvi (Romek), a survivor of the Auschwitz camp, immigrated to Israel in 1948 and lived in Ramat Gan, Israel Yehoshua (Salek) immigrated to Israel in 1934 and lived in Ramat Gan. His descendants who perished in the Holocaust are: his daughter Menucha (Nyuta) Bister (née Walter) hy”d who perished in the Warsaw ghetto with her husband Gronem Bister (who was a pioneer in the sock industry in Israel, one of the sock factory partners) and their two children Ruth and David hy”d.

The boys: Shmuel Mordechai (Motik) hy”d, who perished in the Konstancja ghetto, was one of the activists of Jabotinsky's movement in Lodz and Kutno. He was known for his kindness, pleasant demeanor and excelled with his help to others.

Perec Walter hy”d, who perished in the Warsaw ghetto, studied in Belgium and France and completed his law studies with a textile engineer degree. He was an active member of the Esperanto movement and was sent as a delegate to the International Congress of Esperanto in Brussels.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Yiddish: “The long Chaim” Return
  2. Literally “Ascent” (immigration to Israel). Return


The “Litvak of Kutno”

by Rivka GWIRCMAN

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Honest and fair were the ways of Mordechai Gwircman, a believer in God, and a good person, always loyal and hopeful. His gentle, pale face said what was in his heart. His eyes looked out good and quiet.

He came to Kutno at the beginning of the First World War. The children were sent to the Cheder [infants' school]. His home was strictly religious - he was generous towards everyone. There was a bag of flour for everyone from his own pantry.

No one knew who he was or where he had come from. Altogether from a great Torah learned family from Brisk, in Lituania, in his youth he had studied with the father of Rabbi Unterman, who today is the chief rabbi of Israel. In our little town he was called “the Litwak”. All the Jews in Kutno knew him as the Litwak who did good deeds.

He requested his children to take part in the rebuilding of Israel and worked to send them all to the Holy Land. One son was away on training to emigrate to Israel. Unfortunately he never returned - that turned out because of a tragedy. The second son went to Israel in 1925 and worked there, and the whole family emigrated. And so, the dream of Mordecai Gwircman came true.

When the first Jews from Kutno appeared in Israel, he was there with his smiling face, saying: “Don't worry, we are in Israel now“, and he secretly slipped them a small sum of money. His daily life was divided into two, between the first half of the day in working because he had to make his own living, and the other half of the day he spent teaching the Torah in the Bet Midrarash [bible study hall] to the other Jews. He used to say: “Good deeds and the Torah are the best merchandise”. He always knew who needed help. Everyone who was close to him used to call him “One of the 36 righteous men, on whose worthiness the world existed”*. When he was in the hospital dying, visitors requested his “blessing”. His same fine stature with his lovely face and white beard made him look like a saint. He did not disturb any one. He went with such peacefulness.

This was one of the population of Kutno - the “Litwak”. A reader from the Torah, a prayer leader, whose prayer book was sacred.

* According to Jewish tradition, life will continue as long as there are 36 righteous men in the world.


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Our Home

by Efraim WAJKSELFISZ, Tel Aviv

In the dear memory of my father, Rabbi Israel Mosze Wajchselfisz, and my mother, the forgotten Tamar daughter of Yosef Dymensztejn, descendants of Rabbi Akiwa Eiger.

Do I have the strength to put on paper things and memories about my father's house and in particular about my father z”l? These were only about seventeen years ago, a time of threat on our world, leaving Kutno fallen and trampled by Nazi boots. No, it is not easy at all, but a mitzvah is to present a tombstone to the father and mother who ascended to sainthood in the blood of these days and not even knowing the day of their death and the place of their burial. I did not mourn for them, and I did not visit their grave because, like millions of other members of their people, they were victims of the raging Nazi beast.

And I was just a boy. I did not often see them in their lives, but in all my wanderings, in all my ways and struggles for life, their image was always before my eyes. They are my upbringing and education and their blessing has accompanied me in everything I do.

 

My Father

My father, Mr. Israel Mosze, came to Kutno in 1916, from his hometown of Łódź, where his family had lived for generations. My father's grandfather, Mr. Israel-Mosze, was a resident of this city and was one of the first industrialists in Łódź, his name is mentioned several times in Prof. Philip Friedman's book on the history of the Jews of Łódź (p. 192), and played a part in the development of industry in this city. One of the sons of Mr. Israel-Moshe, Fiszel Wajchselfisz, married the daughter of Mr. Eliyahu Welcman (Mr. Eli Kaliszer) from Kutno. After the marriage, Mr. Fiszel, my grandfather, returned to Łódź and began trading in yarn.

My father Mr. Israel Mosze was the youngest son of my grandfather and when the day arrived to stand on his own, he married Tamar, daughter of Yosef Dymensztejn, granddaughter of the late Rabbi Akiwa Eiger. These were, however, the days of the First World War and the city of Łódź could not support the young family. After consulting with family members in Kutno, my parents decided to move to Kutno. They arrived there in 1916. When he arrived at his new place of residence, he opened a textile and haberdashery store at 14 Królewska St.

Dad soon acclimatized to his new place of residence and it was not long before he began public activities in Kutno. In fact, it is worth noting that this was not an unusual activity at all, since in Łódź, the city from which he came, Dad was involved in public life. He did not do many things but was always multitasking, enterprising and active by nature but also a scholar, a smart student full of Torah, Arbitrators, Gemara, Mishnah and Ramba”m. He also wanted to pass on all these spiritual treasures to us and to walk in his ways and teachings. But he did not only want to impart the heritage of Judaism to us, but to everyone who was created in His image, regardless of origin and occupation, and indeed this doctrine and its influence is felt among us to this day, because he himself was a tolerant, kind-hearted man and his ways were pleasant.

As stated, he was a father in his faith, a member of a privileged family and a descendant of Mr. Eliyahu Welcman (Kaliszer). However, his piety did not stand in the way of his life, he was an activist and a member of the witness organization of the merchants' organization in our city and a fighter for the rights of the merchants. Along with him, the Merchants' Committee also included Meir Opatowski, Avraham Szymonowicz and others. In his spare time, he looked at Hebrew newspapers of those days, since he spoke Hebrew. A closet full of books stood in our house, these were books he purchased at his choice and added to them after coming to Kutno. There were many books: Talmud, books of morality and books of Chassidim, Commentators and Arbitrators, Torah and Gemara, books of religious philosophy and the writings of Maimonides, and only The Guide for the Perplexed[1] did Dad strictly forbid touching. And just plain non-religious books.

Father z”l was also active in the synagogue and in Mizrahi — the religious-Zionist party. Together with R. Meir Leczycki, Royer and Mr. Aharon Shlomo Elberg. But our house was a house-committee for all lovers of Hebrew culture and public life. The house was always open to anyone who had the Zionist idea close to his heart. With joy in my heart, my father accompanied every immigrant who immigrated from Kutno to Eretz Israel. I remember that even after we left Kutno in 1935, Dad would return to it to accompany the Kutno sons who immigrated to Eretz Israel. But he himself did not get to fulfill the dream of his life. He did not come to Israel.

The war broke out that wreaked havoc on our home and on the whole house of Israel. Like many of the Jewish youth, I was forced to flee from the Nazi killer. In saying goodbye to my father in the city of Lipno, where he had moved, he blessed me on my way, and the last words I heard from him were: “Remember my son that you are a Jew!” And bitter tears flowed from his eyes. At that moment, I remembered an experience from my childhood, as a baby when I was two or three years old. Dad carried me in his arms to the synagogue, probably on the occasion of a solemn event held there, he embraced me and I was sure that he would always protect and guard me from all evil, but Dad knelt under the ax of Nazi murderers and his sons were scattered around the world unprotected and homeless.

 

My Mother

My mother, Tamar Wajchselfisz, was born to Mr. Yosef Dymentsztejn, a rabbi from Łódź before the First World War, in 1893 and was the granddaughter of the late Mr. Akiwa Eiger ztz”l of well-known rabbis in Israel from the Chassidim of Kock-Warka[2]. Mother z”l was a devout woman in her faith, but not bigoted. She saw that the world was changing and there were no ways for her, like in the days of her ancestors. The younger generation should not be required to continue to be faithful, without any change, to the world of their ancestors. And although she understood all the changes that took place around her, she could not completely accept in her heart that her sons would “deviate” from the path of her ancestors, so she asked that at least one of them continue to study Torah. Indeed, my brother Yosef z”l bought Torah at the famous Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin, where he was also ordained a rabbi. We, her younger sons, received a religious-traditional and national education, and we studied at Kutno's high school “Am-HaSefer”.

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Mother never sought to justify the assertive and authoritarian, always standing to the deprived and weak's rights and demanding apologies for insults. She also pitied wandering animals and did not forget them because they were hungry.

Mother z”l used to tell us stories and legends from our people, especially the memory of the story of Hannah and her seven sons, whose morality was: in all conditions and under all circumstances, be proud of your people and do not bow to false idols in all generations.

For many hours, on summer and winter evenings, she would devote herself to extending relief and help to every poor person and did not spare her trouble and strength if she believed that her help might be of little use.

One request she always asked: to win and see her sons build a house in Israel, but she did not win. But all human and national values in light of which I lived all the days of my life — I inherited from her. Her character and memory have not gone unnoticed in all the upheavals of life since we left the dear and good father's house.

May her memory be bundled in the bundle of life.

 

My brother Yosef z”l

Yosef Weichselfisz was born in the city of Kutno on the Sunday of Passover 1917, to his father Mr. Yisrael Mosze Wajchselfisz and mother Tamar née Dymentsztejn, descendants of rabbis and of Rabbi Akiwa Eiger ztz”l.

As a child, he studied the Torah at the elementary school in Kutno, where he stood out as one of the most diligent and talented students.

When he reached the age of mitzvot, Yosef already knew by heart entire pages of the Gemara and knew how to explain them sharply. To the Chassidim of Skierniewice, he was Kutno's prodigy. From Kutno, he went to the Gur Chassidim Yeshiva in Łódź and from there moved to the Yeshiva of the Sages of Lublin. At this yeshiva he received ordination to the rabbinate from famous rabbis, including the Rabbi from Gur and from Skierniewice.

 


Yosef WAJCHSELFISZ

 

Yosef was one of the young men who published the Torah monthly Zichron Moshe. In the same group was also the son of the butcher Mr. Shlomo Hochgelernrter z”l. The monthly appeared in Kutno and Yosef, although living in Łódź, left his mark on it and was one of the decisive forces in the editing of the monthly. Yosef also showed great interest in public affairs. He was one of the founders and organizers of the Agudat Israel youth organization in Kutno. In 1937, despite living in Łódź, he appeared as the Kutno representative at Agudat Israel Youth Conference.

The young people of Kutno loved and respected him for his great devotion to public affairs and for his great vigilance in the life of the Jewish public in Kutno.

His mother was a guide in his life; after her death, Yosef was completely broken and was in mourning and depression. In his conversations, he compared his private catastrophe with the suffering of the nation and its hardships, which came to it in the wake of the destruction ... and he would say: trouble for many is half consolation. When an individual

 

Discussions on the Torah, in memory of Yehoszua MOSZE, son of the Admor of Skerniewice

 

is in sorrow together with all others, it is possible to comfort him ... but who will comfort a miserable young man in his sorrow? ... And it was hard for him to console himself for a long time.

During World War II, Yosef traveled to his father and from there to Żychlin.

From here he was transferred to forced labor in the camps.

Eyewitnesses told his brother in Italy that Yosef worked for a German farmer in the village, near Poznan. While trying to escape, he was apprehended by the Nazi-German police and killed on the spot.

Yosef was a builder of aliyah for the young Jewish generation in Kutno.

May his memory be blessed!

 

Characters

Characters and events of the life of our city pass before my eyes, lights and shadows of Jewish reality. A man who has not lived this life, who has not felt the pulse of town life, does not know and will never understand what we have lost. And after all, it was only yesterday.

Kutno is rightly proud of her important personalities who glorified her name and earned her a worldwide reputation. Indeed, she is proud of Rabbi Yehoshua Trunk, the founder of the Kutno rabbinical dynasty, she is proud of its sons, the great Jewish writer Szalom Asz, of the writer Singer-Bashevis,

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and more and more renowned people who have added respect and value to our city. But with all the respect these personalities have instilled in our city, they do not reflect the Jewish community within it, the masses of Beit Yisrael, the “everyday” Jews, some of whom were in the daily war for their existence and the existence of their families, the constant struggle not to lose their human and Jewish image…

Indeed, the Shabbat was the day that restored to them the feeling of self-respect, for on that day they knew, that they are the sons of a king, the sons of a people of virtue. All expected all days of the week for the knocks of Nuta HaShamash[3] (“Nuta Krajer”) on the door or shutters of the house with the entry of Shabbat, before lighting the candles that he was announcing, that one should prepare for the work of the Creator. To this day, Neta HaShamash's muffled knocking resonate in the ears. For they symbolized the transition from secular to holiness, from the murky reality to a world that is all spiritual, all transcendence even for a short time, for one day. Indeed, the synagogues, the shtieblech, and the Jewish study halls were full of people who prayed to the Lord of the worlds, before whom they prostrated their supplication for their own redemption and for the redemption of all the people of Israel. And after the prayer on Shabbat or on the holiday, the Jews, dressed in black silk capes and streimelech, return to their homes to dine around the arranged and solemn table. However, before they arrived at their homes, the Jews would be allowed to receive hot water for tea at the nearby bathhouse.

And here at some distance from here stands the slaughterhouse that works all days of the week, and especially on Shabbat eve and holidays. Here officiates master slaughterer, Mr. Shlomo Hochgelernter. The “shochet's knife” between his teeth, his left hand holds the chicken's wings, the right one pulls its head back and that's it, the chicken is slaughtered. And the knife again between the shochet's teeth. But suddenly a woman's voice was heard: “Mr. Shlomo, slaughter my birds!”. Mr. Shlomo looks around him and asks the shouting woman: “How many birds do you have?”

— “A little chick”, the woman answers...

Sometimes the children of the “cheder” also came with the chicken to the slaughterhouse, their mother sent them on Shabbat eve or a holiday, for fear that she might not have time to finish the preparations before lighting the candles. The “cheder”, the Talmud-Torah and the slaughterhouse were located in one yard.

More than once, “wars” broke out between the children of the cheder and the children of Talmud-Torah. Then the old housekeeper, the Russian-Christian Smyrna, who was always equipped with a broom, would try to make peace between them with the help of this broom, but did his labor was not rewarded. On the contrary, when the old Smyrna appeared with the broom in his hand, the children forgot the quarrel between them and “with joint forces”, with a common “front”, they started to tease the old housekeeper. But this is not how they were greeted by their teacher Mr. Zandberg hy”d, who was the director of the Talmud-Torah. At the sight of his majesty and his deep, calm voice, there was silence among the hawkish children, all entering their classrooms, excited and sweaty, with in their hearts a determined decision to end the “war” next time…

But the boys will not live on the Pentateuch alone ... they had a big and interesting world outside the walls of the “cheder” as well. Here, for example, the blacksmith's workshop of the Litvak, near the train station. The blacksmith stands there from morning to evening, forging horses' hooves, cart wheels, iron hinges and yarns, his heavy sledgehammer going up and down, sparks of fire rising high, his muscular arms moving at a steady pace, and the children standing around him with their eyes wide open and never swearing to see the heat To do. Their admiration for the blacksmith is especially great, seeing how he wisely knows how to convince the stubborn horse who by no means agrees to wriggle. Then Litvak approached him and the blacksmith whispered in his horse's ear, stroking his stomach and back, and here was another horse in front of them. It's not the same horse anymore! Obedient, submissive, lowers his head to the ground, and his foot is removed to the hand of the blacksmith. And even after the end of the ironwork “care”, the horse's leg remains hanging in the air, as if he wanted to thank his benefactor for his dedicated care. After the horse is forged, the coachman was also ready. He harnessed his horses among the carriages, tightened the straps, took the reins in his hands, and he was ready to go his own way, to toil his day. Indeed, proud were the carters, scaring all the Gentiles in the town. They were muscular men and not shy. In the morning they went to work and in the evening they returned home. But not only them got up early. The baker, Berl the dirty, was already seen at dawn in the Old Market, his ax and saw on his shoulders as he sawed trees for his bakery oven. After him, the Mekhel the carrier hurried to Joel Steinfeld's warehouse, this is his workplace and it must be guarded.

The whole town is already awake and ready for a new day, for yesterday's worries will be added today, but do not despair. Your people Israel are used to worries and troubles but their spirits will not be broken. There is a God in heaven, a watchful eye and will not forsake his faithful people.

Only the children of Beit Rabban are still carefree. These are the children, the little student boys, who study in the Institute Katzap. Mordechai the Teacher lives in the house of Hinech Brot, on Królewska Street. He has two rooms for Mordechai: in one he teaches and the other serves him as a bedroom. There were no wardrobes, the underwear and clothes were scattered in all corners of the room.

Only his Sabbath clothes did he treat respectfully — they hanged on the wall, wrapped in a sheet, as befits clothes intended for a holy day. Mr. Mordechai was chubby, short and heavy with flesh and a black beard adorned his face. Teaching was not a pastime, for him. He saw it as a mission, a vocation that filled his whole heart. When a child was distracted from learning and sank into reveries and dreams, R. Mordechai would return him to the dull reality.

— “Do you think that your father pays me for nothing?”, he told in the ears of the distracted child, “And what will happen to you? No Pentateuch, no Rashi, just like a Gentile!”

And in order to give more validity to his preaching, he told about his service in the army of Czar Nikolai, where he was given the nickname “Katzap”.

His wife was an assistant, against his will. She was a good woman. During the breaks, she made sure that the children ate their pitas; if a quarrel would break out between the little ones, she tried to make peace between them, reconcile and calm the crying child. That is why everyone remembers her fondly to this day.

There was another Jew named Mordechai in the town – Mordechai the Psalmist. Who will not remember Mordecai sitting on the threshold of his house in the basement, the Book of Psalms in his hand and day and night, saying psalms? The concern for livelihood rested with his wife and three daughters. On market days they set up a stall for their wretched merchandise, ran around like persecuted animals to bring a piece of bread to their home. The rest of the week they “traded” at home, in the basement.

 

Ewa and Herman Kirszbaum

Until the war, this combative Kirszbaum couple was well known in Jewish Kutno. Their activity in the “Bund” put them at the forefront of Jewish social life, on a mission for the party. For a time, Herman represented his party in the community and in the city council.

The fate of the war sent them to Warsaw — and only after the liberation of the Polish capital, I was able to deal with the burial of Herman, who fell like a soldier, with a gun in his hand, on the Żoliborz[4] front during the Polish uprising of General Bor-Komorowski against the Germans (November 1944).

Ewa and Herman Kirszbaum belonged to the organized

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resistance movement in occupied Warsaw, taking an active part in preparing for the uprising. Arriving in Warsaw after the liberation, I met Ewa Kirszbaum, who told me about the last years of Herman's struggle and heroic death. She had already applied to the Central Committee of Jews in Poland for the exhumation of his body and burial at the Genscher Cemetery[5].

One day, a Central Committee car, along with several delegates, including his wife, Ewa, and the writer of the lines, drove to the temporary tomb on Żoliborz, where the

 


Herman and Ewa KIRSZBAUM

 

inscription “Herman Kirszbaum” was written on a piece of paper. Just before we arrived. On the way, an accident occurred on the way. Before entering the tunnel from the Danzig station, Mrs. Ewa Kirszbaum had a heart attack and we had to take her to a doctor. She then stayed at the home of B. Szefner's wife, the well-known journalist of the post-war “People's Newspaper”. The exhumation and second burial took place without Ewa.

It took a lot of hard work until we were able to reach the grave through thick snow. The Polish people of Żoliborz gave the fallen fighter in their suburbs the due honor. Then our car drove over empty fields and completely destroyed streets of Warsaw until it reached the Genscher Cemetery. There, Herman Kirszbaum was brought to Israel's grave. In moving words, he was greeted by Salo Fiszgrund[6] of Bund and the writer of these lines.

After the mourning, we went to see Mrs. Szefner to enquire about Ewa's health condition. Unfortunately, Mrs. Szefner was barely able to convey to us the sad news that Ewa Kirszbaum was no longer among the living. Her sensitive soul did not bear the experiences of the years of war, the death of her Herman. Her heart could not stand the prospect to exhume his dead body and bury it in the Genscher Cemetery. Death united them both as they had been in their lives.

Honor their memory!

Translator's footnotes

  1. Book originally written in about 1190 by Maimonides. Return
  2. Two towns in Eastern Poland. Return
  3. Synagogue assistant. Return
  4. Żoliborz, northern district of Warsaw. Return
  5. Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. Return
  6. Salo Fiszgrund, a main Bund leader in the interwar period, born in Sułkowice September 7, 1893, died March 4,1971 in Tel Aviv. Return


David KALMAN, z”l

by A. MENDLEWITZ, Tel Aviv

One of the most prominent social workers in Kutno even before the First World War. Particularly active in the General Jewish Library (before the Bund took over), organized lectures on literary topics.

In 1919 he was elected by the Zionists as town councilor in the Kutno Municipality.

He died in the year 1923. The funeral should have happened on Sunday early but the Christian councilors asked to postpone it to noon, so that they too could pay their last respects to the deceased.


Majer and Anna BOZHIKOWSKI

Majer Bozhikowski was born in Kutno in the year 1880. Since early youth, he was active in the General Zionists, occupied the position of chairman of the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] in town, was a member of the sponsors of the training place of HaShomer Hatza'ir [Young Socialist Zionists] in Kutno and was active in the special commission, in partnership with the Jewish community, to support the poor pioneers, who had requested to emigrate to Eretz Israel.

His wife Anna was a prominent social worker in Kutno, chairwoman for many years of “WIZO” [Women's Zionist Organization] in town.


Jehuda (Juliusz) LIPSKI

Juliusz Jehuda Lipski, the son of Luzer Lipski, was known in Poland as one of the leaders of the Jewish sports-organizations and of the shooting-club, where he obtained his participation in the Olympic team.

During the war, he went to France and joined the French Resistance. Anna was a prominent social worker in Kutno, chairwoman for many years of “WIZO” [Women's Zionist Organization] in town.


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My father, of blessed memory, Avigdor GROMAN

by Ester Volfskal-Groman

Translated by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Out of my extended family, the image of my father, may he rest in peace, is engraved deep into my memory. I did not remember him from he was young, because when I was born he was already the grandfather of two grandchildren. His great beautiful beard, his serene, serious face always showed his respectfulness.

A Radzyner chasid, born to elderly parents, he was left an orphan at the death of both parents a short time after he was born. He was brought up in the home of his eldest brother, Hershel Groman, who ran the largest paper business in Warsaw, and possibly even in Poland.

Reb Avigdor married Dacha, a grandchild of Reb Yehoshuale Kutner - and his family became became respected from that day on. He believed in God and was a good person, always ready to sympathize with others' distress. I remember him once, crying with great sadness. This happened when Schuster Street caught fire, when Jewish old age homes and property were burned down; this demanded more help and comforting words for the afflicted.

My father used to hear secret confessions: who could not afford to marry off a child, or who did not have the means to celebrate the Sabbath or a holiday. Avigdor went straight away to some well-to-do Jews and everything was done to wipe away a tear and diminish the hardship.

Every Passover eve and the second night of the New Year he organised the traditional feast to which all the Hasidim came. Everyone sang and discussed the Torah.

My father was very religious but taught the children that honesty and a good will are more important than religious observance. My mother, may she rest in peace, was a great help to my father in his community affairs. Out of us ten children, only my brother and myself, the youngest daughter, survived.

May these lines be a remembrance candle lit to the memory of all other martyrs.


Laybel PANKER

Translated by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

In the small Jewish town of Kutno, into a shoemaker's family of six children, on the 2nd of April, 1902, the seventh child was born; he was given the name of Laybele. Two years later another child was born to the same family and Laybel's father had to work hard with his hammer to provide for the ten people. In the needy, hardworking home, Laybel had to work until he was 10 years old. After that he was sent to work with a baker. “The best thing about the baker was eating the bread, which was never enough at home.”

In 1914, the Jewish bakers' union was formed in Kutno with the help of associates from the great working city of Lodz. In 1916 Laibel Panker, aged 14, could be seen among the organized workers. He belonged among those who sought to understand the world of commerce, giving up his free time [how much free time could a unionised baker have?] to teach himself to read and write. He was one of the professional bakers who had, at that time, a certain amount of knowledge of both the Yiddish and Polish languages.

Owing to his advancement in labour matters, in 1920 he became the head of the professional bakers' union in Kutno.

The drive to live in a large working class neighbourhood brought him to Warsaw in 1923. This opened up an active professional prospect. Laibel took an energetic part in the strong professional bakers' union in Warsaw. The extreme conservatism in Poland and the constant unemployment in the baking trade was a problem and young workers were forced to leave. In 1929 one finds Laibel in Paris, where he is again exactly organizing the Jewish bakers' unions. Laibel was equally at ease in the local organizations, as a member of the trade commission until he was arrested by Hitler's criminals.

Day by day, throughout ten years, Laibel remained in the workers' syndicate. The little knowledge that Laibel had, he used completely in the interests of the Jewish worker. This comes out at all the meetings of the trade. At one of the trade meetings he said: We do not understand what the French worker says to us: He , the French worker, understands what are our needs and requirements. We are here in the country without a language and with little knowledge of the work. After working and earning not only for my own keep, we can from time to time give financial help to our families in Poland.

In September 1939 he voluntarily enlisted in the French army. Following the collapse of the French military forces, he avoided capture by Hitler's army. Despite the dangers in his connection with the French workers' union, Laibel kept his position in the illegal trade commission of the Jewish bakers' union, He was arrested in 1941. In July 1942 he was transported to Auschwitz. In August 1942, a month after he had entered Auschwitz, he threw himself on to the electric wire fence and was killed.

Taken from the book: “Fighting for freedom”; Published by the Jewish Workers Syndicate Commissions in Paris.


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Noah GURKER

by Abraham LUSTIGMAN, Holon

Translated by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Noah Gurker was well known as a chauffeur for the city council of Kutno. We called him “The Jewish Official”. Even Gurker was very proud of his position. He used to walk elegantly down the streets, wearing his uniform with a round crowned hat. From his shoulder tabs dangled two tassels from which hung a little whistle. By his side hung a long sword, and he marched with a military step, wearing his shiny boots…

The children were only delighted when they looked at the dignified “Jewish Commander” with the long sword. Even the bolder boys used to stand to attention and salute him. He used to stop next to the children and give their heads a loving caress, offering some kind words. And I myself, like every child, had great respect for him and dreamed of being a commander like him when I grew up. When Noah Gurker stopped, I was also among those surrounding him, stroking his sword, touching the silver buttons of his uniform and asking him to show us the whistle.

Noah Gurker was friendly with my brother Yosef. He used to come to ours to buy wood and charcoal and to keep up with my brother. All the time he was conversing with my brother, I, with great pleasure, played with his sword.

And even more, Noah Gurker told us of his friendship with Fajwisz Izbicki. When Noah came to our store, the lame Fajwisz used to creep forward on his two wooden boards and start discussions with Noah. I had no idea what they were talking about.

The lame Fajwisz had a kiosk with newspapers and cigarettes in a corner of the old market. He used to sit in the kiosk on a high bench next to the window and sell newspapers. Noah Gurker often used to sit with him in his kiosk and help him sort the newspapers and package them up. The friendship lasted many years.


The Public Health Sanitary Worker Mosze Lajb ZAK

by Abraham LUSTIGMAN, Holon

Translated by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Mosze Lajb was a sanitary worker in the First World War. He worked in the “Steam room” [Sauna] in the bathhouse, giving haircuts, disinfecting clothes, and spraying carbolic into the houses where there was a case of typhus. The Germans, who had then occupied Poland, had strict sanitary controls over the state population. When typhus was diagnosed the whole family had to be isolated, kept away and held in quarantine, near “Petka's” factory. The house was disinfected. A special sanitary team dealt with this and Mosze Lajb was appointed head sanitary worker. A German police officer was in charge of the committee, and was in charge to ensure that everything was in order. Also with us, when my brother Haim David fell ill with typhus, the whole house was disinfected and everyone was held in isolation.

At that time Mosze Lajb excelled in his aid work. Some years later, therefore, he obtained from the town council the concession on a small kiosk. Indeed he built a big kiosk in a corner of the old market where he sold cigarettes, ice creams , and all sorts of sweets for children.


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The Righteous Villager

by Abraham LUSTIGMAN, Holon

Translated by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

I do not remember the family name of the village peddler from Beilawa. Everyone called him the righteous man of the village. He lived in the same house as the Kalman family, in our neighbourhood. The righteous villager was a modest, quiet man, with a grey beard, great blue eyes and heavy eyebrows. His face was pale and worried. He was pushed like a shadow right against the walls. Before sunrise, when the sky began to turn light gray and everyone was still asleep, he would go out of his room with his bag on his shoulder and his stick in his hand.

In the winter even in the greatest cold and snow he would go round the villages, trading poultry. In the summertime he would rent a small fruit orchard and stay in one place. While the righteous villager was walking around he would recite psalms by heart or a prayer for the road. The Christians who met him greeted him and also regarded him as saintly man. Even the village youth did not pester him but showed him respect.

The righteous villager was very religious and lived by himself. In the summer he sat outside in his little orchard, but on Shabbat he would go back home. Even on Shabbat he would pray alone by himself standing in the corner of his room. He used to avoid meeting people in order to not to speak to them, except for those he met through his business.

On Shabbat he used to stand in the corner of his room for a long time, wrapped in his prayer shawl and praying quietly. Sometimes I used to visit him at home, but the righteous villager's eldest daughter used to prevent me from talking to him because her mother did not feel well. It was a fact that the righteous villager's wife was not altogether stable in her opinions.

As far as I know no one had ever paid attention to this person. He never turned to any one for a favour or advice.

This modest man was living with us in the town for many years, a rare type, a mysterious image- the bygone righteous villager from Beilawa.


Mendel RACK

by Abraham LUSTIGMAN, Holon

Translated by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Everybody knew Mendel Rak. Everyone called him Mendel Sidelock*. He was a son of Henech Rak [Henech the sausage maker]. He caused Reb Henech much trouble. Mendel was a different sort of person, a little unusual in the town. He would wear a long coat with a Jewish hat** over his sidelocks. His ritual fringes poked out from under his coat. Summer and winter he wore cuffed boots. He drifted around the place aimlessly. In the Hasidic circles, everyone looked at him unfavourably, he even did not fit in with the modern youngsters. But Mendel was not ashamed to come into workers' meetings in his Hasidic outfits. He merely pushed his sidelocks behind his ears. Mendel had his own way, he considered himself to be something of a philosopher. He would come to the Kutno intellectuals for a discussion, to visit the Perets library, the “Bund” rally, leftists of Poale Zion and … he saw himself as a communist. He even hid an illegal pamphlet under his coat. He used to sneak into the communist club, but kept his Jewish hat in his pocket.

Mendel Sidelock used to creep about in hidden places, in the fields outside the town. The Poles set the dogs on him and several times they gave him a slap. Very often he used to sit behind the ritual baths, next to Past's garden, where he used to read booklets. From time to time he would go to Esther Yochet's candy shop in a basement. But he never had a single coin in his pocket. The friends in the group used to offer him tea, a biscuit. At first Mendel would wink and refuse but then he would straightaway agree.

People always said that he never knew what he wanted. He liked to talk about KarL Marx's “Capital”, Darwin's theories, Rambam, and various Greek philosophies.

My opinion on this subject is that Mendel was a lost soul, who could never be restored. Still, he was a great reader who understood serious work and methods of philosophy. It is possible that he was not understood and that he did not understand himself. Who knows ? He took his secret with him. He shared the same fate as the other Kutno martyrs who perished in the Holocaust.

*Religious Jews did not cut the hair at the side of the head. The long sidelocks hung down either side of the face, in front of the ears.
** A Jewish hat was a round cap with a small peak in front.


In the KUCZINSKIS' Home

by Bracha-Tsipora LAMSKI-BILD

The home of Szija Kuczinski z”l was known as a Poalei-Zion one. This is where the most active members of the party and its youth met. Meetings, conferences, and even larger meetings were held in that house. Here I received the first lessons about Jewish working life, about the Land of Israel. The “teacher” was Menasze Katz z”l. Also, Yaakov Mroz, the later son-in-law of Szija Kuczinski, led circles and was among the most active colleagues.

At the Kuczinskis' house, people not only learned aroused interest in reading, and “digging” into problems. The party also demanded practical work. I remember how we used to stick posters or calls to vote at night. Especially for elections, when you need to reach high places, where none could tear down the calls to vote...

 

Mosze BILD and his wife

My father Mosze Bild was known in Kutno as a Jew with an open hand and open heart. He was active in the management of the Chevra Kadisha and the Gmilut-Chesedim Fund. He also used to fulfill the mitzvah of

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visiting the ill, staying overnight with a sick. As a busy man, he always had enough time and energy to help others. He was born in Kutno in 1876.

My mother was active in various women's charities and therefore she was called righteous. She gave her children a religious and a Jewish-nationalist education. She provided help to the needy and expressed great concern and interest to the suffering person.

 

In memory of my sister Rywka z”l

From a letter I received after the liberation of Germany, it was reported that my sister Rywka had a chance to escape from the murderous hands and possibly survive the war. Only her loyalty and attachment to the family, her conscience, did not allow her to exploit the possibility of salvation — and she perished in the ghetto along with the Kutner Jews. Honor her memory! The tragic fate of another sister and other family members became known from a letter my brother-in-law sent me from Munich. My parents died in the ghetto of the typhus epidemic, which broke out in 1942. When the ghetto was formed in Lodz, my brother-in-law Moniek Opas, the son-in-law of Moshe Bild, with his second sister, from Kutno, her husband (Buksner) and two children left for Warsaw before the Jews were deported to the ghetto. After my father's death, my mother went to Warsaw with the children. But even there, their miserable freedom did not last long — and one had to enter the ghetto that was created. My brother-in-law was employed in hard work. When he came home one evening, he did not find his wife and one child. The second child was also kidnapped some time later.

I ignore the fate of my brother Lajzer Bild and his wife.


In Memory of a Jewish Family

Jadzia GRABINSKY, México

Translated by Jaime Grabinsky Steider

I, Jadzia Grabinsky, daughter of Szmuel Asz and Rifke Rabe-Asz, want to present several personalities from our greatly ramified family that the inhabitants of Kutno will, even now, certainly remember.

My parents were killed during the frightening Hitler-era in Żychlin, where they had to relocate due to the loss, by theft of their possessions. The death of my father (O'E) [Olam Emet; In the True World; In Heaven], happened thus: the Germans had prohibited Yom Kippur services in synagogues or in locals with a minyan. Such a sacrilegious transgression was unacceptable for my father and he prayed at home with a group of Jews. During Nehila, the Germans irrupted in the house and they forced the group of praying men to keep fasting for 24 more hours while remaining on their feet. My father's poor health couldn't stand this great effort and died after a few days, his soul went to Heaven…

Not long after his death, my blessed mother followed him. I will never forget the fine education and high culture that she gave her children; she taught the beautiful habit of Tzedaka and help to the needy. When I was ten years old, my mother used to wake up all her children very early each Shabbat morning, and gave everyone of us a package of food, sometimes clothing for poor and lonesome men. Each one had “his” poor person to care for. “My” poor was a dear old blind woman who lived in a cellar in Podrzeczna street. While I climbed the steps, she used to recognize me and asked: “Jadziele, is it you?” I stayed a long time with her. For me they were interesting and pleasant conversations. (I often tell my children and grandchildren of my mother`s admirable customs (O'E)).

My eldest brother Jacob Asz escaped to Russia. Later we learned that he wanted to come home, but he died in a mysterious way.

My youngest brother Isaac Asz, his wife and children didn't want to be dispersed — and they all died in a gas chamber.

The only one of my siblings who was saved from hell and survived the concentration camps was my sister Esterke, who lost her husband and child.

My heart suffers due to the loss of my uncle and aunt and other relatives. I often remember my uncle Chaim Rabe and my aunt Salcze; my cousin Frajdke Rabe, who married Moniek Rasz from Kutno. She was, from my earliest age, a very close friend…

In Kutno are the graves of my two beloved sisters, Balcze and Franie, who died during the “Spanish influenza” epidemic, in 1918.

These memories are sent to Israel where my beloved and honourable grandparents, Wolf Lajb Rabe and Ester-Fajgl from Konin, wanted to finish their highly esteemed lives. My grandfather studied in Frankfurt-am-Main to become a Rabbi and was a very close comrade and friend of Szyele Kutner and of I. J. Trunk. He informed his children: “Up to my 70 years of age, I will be together with you — but not even one more day, because I plan to dedicate the years that God will grant me afterwards to study (which he certainly always did…). I will finish my days in the Holy Land”. He kept his word, took his books and clothing, and divided his possessions among his children. They protested, because they didn't need his inheritance. He assigned the duty to fulfil his will to my mother, knowing that she was going to comply faithfully and honourably with all his stipulations.

I will never forget the farewell meeting. All his children, daughters and grandchildren from Kutno, Konin, Kalisz and Sompolno came home. My grandfathers' farewell words were:

“I have sown a beautiful garden and the fruits are good and mature. Now, I can travel in peace to Eretz-Israel with the hope that my children and grandchildren will follow my example”.


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Mr. Aharon LAMSKI

Mr. Aharon Lamski, son of rabbi Lajbusz – a shochet and inspector – from Gostynin, married to Mrs. Laja, daughter of rabbi Mosze Lichtensztajn. He was a successful cereals merchant in our town. In the year 1913, he emigrated to Israel, to settle there. When the First World War broke out, Kemal Pasha issued a decree to expel all foreign citizens from Eretz Israel. Mr. Aharon Lamski and his family were forced to return to Poland.

Aharon Josef, his wife Laja and their son Nachman died in the Kutno ghetto, [their son] Jakob in Warsaw. Another son, Fiszel, was killed in a train accident.


Our Parents Jakob IZRAEL and Roza JAWEC

by Rywka FISZER (JAWEC) and Laja JAWEC

Our father Yaakov Israel Jawec was born in 1893, in Warta (near Sieradz). Son of Golda and Chanoch Jawec (Nino), a descendant of the well-known rabbi Jawec, in Poland of the time. His grandfather bequeathed to my father a great many books that he authored and covered an entire wall in our home. I still remember the Book of Esther written in his own hand on parchment paper, of 12cm in diameter; the tiny letters could be easily read with the help of a magnifier.

My father, of blessed memory, arrived in Kutno in 1912 and married Mrs. Rojza born Jeruchemsohn, my mother. She was only one year younger. He was a wise man, talented, honest and humble, a devoted husband and caring about the education of his children. His influence was by way of logical explanation. He had many friends among Jews and non-Jews. He learned and worked for years, read a lot and worked on his self-improvement. He taught children younger than us in the yeshiva and, on winter evenings, Talmud classes were held at our home. They said of him: “to God and to Men”[1]. His voice was tuneful and occasionally he replaced the ill cantor in the synagogue, on holidays. He always used to sing at home and was happy of his. He gave help to all in need: with money and good advice, and arbitrating a quarrel between friends. If it was necessary to face an official government institution, he could write a fine letter and a request in fluent Polish. In the last years before the breakout of World War II, he was elected as the president of Agudat Israel and nominated by it for the Polish Sejm[2]. He aspired to immigrate to Israel and join his daughters and build the country. A cruel fate said otherwise.

He died along with my mother and my 16-year-old brother Abraham in the Kutno ghetto, in the year 1943[3]. May their memories be blessed.

Rojza Jawec (wife of Jakob), of blessed memory, was a humble, good-hearted woman, keeping religion and tradition. A daughter, mother and wife dedicated to her family. She always reached out and helped those in need, without hurting their feelings. Her home was open to Jewish soldiers from faraway places who served in our city. They were regularly dining their hearts at home on Shabbat and holidays. On winter evenings, Torah study classes were held at home and, thanks to her, the home was filled with warmth, light and joy. In secular matters too, she devoted her time between household chores and outside work, in the shop. She was active in the school's parent committee from beginning to end. In the last years before the outbreak of World War II, she aspired to immigrate to Israel but a cruel fate wanted otherwise.

Translator's footnotes

  1. meaning "Generous to God and to men". Return
  2. Polish Parliament. Return
  3. father and son died of typhus in 1941, in the ghetto, the mother probably died in Chelmno, in 1942. Return


Dawid KLECZEWSKI
(of Blessed Memory)

Icchak KLECZEWSKI

Dawid Kleczewski was the grandson of a Kotsk Chassid, Dawid Ampilner. However he did not follow in the footsteps of his grandfather. He was the first to bring to Kutno the [book] “Auto-Emancipation” of [Leon] Pinsker, which caused upheaval in the minds of the Chassidic yeshiva students.

After the creation of the Zionist Organisation, he shared his time between his main activities and the school Am HaSefer. Together with Jechiel Arbuz, they created the Artisans' Union, which was under the influence of the Zionist movement.

 


Dawid Kleczewski, of blessed memory

 

Dawid Kleczewski also worked to create cooperative banks to help the artisans who, with limited incomes, were always in need of money to fund their businesses.


Abraham Menashe KATZ

by Chenoch H. HOFFMAN, Paris

From the earliest years, he was active in the Poalei-Zion Party and the “Yungt[1]. As a young man, he emigrated to Belgium and also there remained true to his nationalist spirit, helped establish a Hebrew supplementary school, a Jewish library and was an active Zionist. His daughter and grandchildren were raised in the Jewish spirit.

During the terrible years of the Hitlerite occupation, his sister Chana and her husband Abraham-Isaac were deported from Belgium to Auschwitz. Their two children, a boy and a girl, were transferred to a village where they were sheltered by a Belgian Christian family, and also got a pronounced religious education, according to the New Testament.

After his release, survivor Avraham Menashe Katz sought out his sister's two under-grown orphans, but they refused to talk to him. The children only trusted and believed the photographer and their parents in the village. Abraham-Manasseh used many means, until he managed to bring the children to Brussels, buy gifts, have them stay at home for a few days, until they gained a little confidence in their uncle. A messenger from Eretz Israel, whom Avraham Menashe trusted, advised to send him the children to Eretz Israel. First — on a tour. It did not take long, and they wrote enthusiastic letters from the country, did not want to come back to Belgium and even asked their uncle why he was staying there... Menashe really came to see them. The son had already served in the army when the war of liberation broke out after the proclamation of the Jewish state. He was killed by an Arab bullet — but for Menashe it was a bit of a consolation that the estranged child who, after the liberation, went to sleep with a camera under his pillow, left and

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gave his life for the Jewish people and country. The girl, Malka, got married and lives today in Haifa with her husband and children.

Abraham Menashe died in Brussels on February 10, 1964.

We will always remember his beautiful figure.

Translator's footnote

  1. Youth organization of Poalei Zion. Return


Mr. David LUSTMAN z”l and His Family

by Kalman LUSTMAN

My father (RIP), Mr. David Lustman, was a native of Kutno, the only son of Mr. Eliezer Lustman, who was related to the Apt family in Radom, and of his wife, Rachel nee Falc.

My mother Leah (RIP) was the daughter of Aryeh Tuszinski and Toibele née Asz. The latter was the daughter of Mosze Asz and the sister of the famous writer Szalom Asz.

Father (RIP) was born in 1880, married at a young age and when he was called to participate in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, he left five small children at home. After returning safely from the war his condition was dire, and his friends who immigrated to America wrote to him and offered him to immigrate with his family. Dad sold his shop, sent his wife with his 6 young children to her parents' house in Lowicz and said goodbye with a heavy heart to his parents. But when he was already at the train station, his parents came to him and wept bitterly that they could not separate from their only son and could not agree that he should go to a foreign land. Dad surrendered and canceled his trip and returned with his family to Kutno. There he opened a “Cheder[1] and would teach boys by day and girls by night. And until the outbreak of World War II he had four more children.

When the war broke out, in 1914, he was recruited again and the burden of earning a living for the large family was placed on my mother (RIP) who had to work hard to support her ten children. For four years, my father (RIP) was in the war in Russia and when he returned in peace, he became a teacher in a “yeshiva” in Kutno and for over twenty years taught and educated generations of students in the city and everyone loved and respected him.

I will also mention here my brothers and sisters who also perished: the eldest brother, Mordechai, was married to Alexandra née Koraft. He died in 1932 and his wife and two children lived in the city of Torun; Malka was married to Elyahu Kotlarz, a well-known family in Kutno; Arieh was married and lived in the city of Kalisz; Rebecca was married to Mosze Zandberg in Kutno; Masha was married in Kutno; Yechiel was married to Bina Apelast from Kutno, she survived with her 2 children and now lives in Paris; younger sister Priwa; sister Chaya-Liba with her husband Zandelewicz in Kutno; my sister Hinda left Kutno in 1919 and married Chaim Spielberg in Leipzig and now lives with her family in Haifa.

I myself left Kutno in 1929, and when I talked about it with my father, he told me: “I will not delay you; to this day I am sorry I did not go to America in 1905. If you want to go — go.” I said goodbye to my father and I never saw him again.

Translator's footnote

  1. Jewish school for young children. Return


My Grandfather David KOLSKI

by His grandsons Yehoshua, Menachem & Abraham

I did not get to know my grandfather while he was alive, but I got to know him very well thanks to the photo album from which his face portraits looked, which I learned to love. Grandpa's figure peeks at me with his pleasant smile and cheerful eyes. It seems as if I have known him from time immemorial, as if he held my hand when I was a little boy and he protects me from any harm. Yes, this is my grandfather, this is how I described him in my imagination, this is how I wanted to see my grandfather, if I had met him while he was alive.

From the face portraits that glance at me from the photo album, excerpts from stories about him, and from his letters, my grandfather's personality appears before me. He was born prematurely — his family said. He was among the pioneers, among the first in every act and thought! According to his townspeople, Edison did not invent electricity, Grandpa did! After all, he was the first to illuminate our city with electric light! Yes, he installed the first generator in Kutno! But at the same time as the generator, David Kolski brought another ingenious invention to the city of Kutno — the cinema! Only my grandfather's mother, 108 years old Sarah Reisel, was unhappy, fearing that all the people and animals she saw on the canvas had to be supported and fed by her son, David ... For how is it possible that all these will move on the canvas just like that?! ... The cinema hall also served as a theater hall. And when the Lodz theater troupe was about to perform in the play “Motke the Thief” — a character immortalized

 


Mr. David KOLSKI z”l

 

by city writer Szalom Asz in one of his stories, and who was nothing but a living character among the Jews of our city — Motke the meat thief burst into the hall shouting: I'm still alive I will not allow “Motke the Thief” show! However, Motke the Thief softened a little after receiving two free entrance tickets to the show. In the première, he “honored” the show with his partner.

Indeed, Motke the thief was also a son of Kutno, but their imprint on the life of the Jews in the city was not made by characters like him, but by personalities such as Grandpa David Kolski.

Blessed be his memory.

Yehoshua (his grandson)

Mr. David Kolski, son of Zeev and Sarah Reisel was born in 1861 in the city of Kutno. By nature, David was a man of action and an entrepreneur. He was the first to build a movie theater called “Modern” in the city and the first to use a generator to generate electricity for this purpose. He was also very resourceful and very organizationally capable. During the First World War, when there was a severe shortage of all kinds of essentials and on the eve of Passover, the Jews of Kutno did not have matza in honor of the holiday, so he organized with the help of his friends the baking of matza and even provided matza for the city's poor.

He always knew how to give wise and correct advice to anyone who turned to him and therefore earned the nickname “Custodian”. But it was not only with advice that David Kolski helped. No other has extended so much financial aid to all who turned to him. He reciprocated kindness to men who were in financial distress and helped them in as many ways as he could.

He loved every craft. The people in his “workshop” often found him immersed in all kinds of work and repairs. He also wanted to instill in his sons a love for the craft, in addition to the education he provided them.

The man was known for his honesty and loyalty, so he was entrusted with the care

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of the community's assets - the synagogue, Talmud-Torah, the cemetery, etc., as well as working in various public institutions (Linat Tzedek[1], justice, the Knesset, etc.). For years, he was also the gabbai in the synagogue.

Although he was not active in the Zionist movement, he was interested in everything that was happening in Eretz Israel and all its problems and concerns were close to his heart. And when he had the opportunity, he went to Eretz Israel to explore it length and breadth. He brought a bag of dirt from the Mount of Olives, and when the day would come when he would gather to his people, the dust of Jerusalem would be poured out into his grave. But his end was the end of the millions of his Jewish brothers and sisters in Poland — together with them he perished in the Holocaust, in the Chelmno camp.

May his soul be bound in the bundle of eternal life.

Menachem and Abraham

Translator's footnote

  1. Accommodation for the poor. Return


Hersz-Majer and Chana RAK

by The Children

My father Hersz-Majer and mother Chana née Weiss came from old families in Kutno. Like most Jews in Kutno, Dad was also busy all his life in his business, to support all his family, but despite the worries of earning a living, he took care of the education of his children —his sons and daughters — who were twelve in number. He himself also found time for Torah and every day, before going out into his business, my father studied the Daf Yomi together with the Gemara in the Beit Midrash. But Daf found the compensation for all the mundane worries on the Saturday. On this day, a spirit of holiness pervaded the whole house. Already in his blessing “Shalom aleichem”, upon his return on Saturday night from the synagogue, Dad brought a spirit of holiness and holiday into the house! Everyone was pleasant and uplifted. And the dear and noble-minded mother added to the charm, beauty and refinement of the Saturday in a Jewish home!

In honor of this day, in honor of Shabbat, Dad used to bring a guest from the synagogue and sometimes even two or more, because he did not like the festive Shabbat meal knowing that there was a lone Jew left in the Beit Midrash, or hungry for bread on the holy day!

Indeed, both father and mother were from Beit Shamai, they were very strict towards themselves in the mitzvot and in everything that concerned their way of life, but they were from Beit Hillel[1] when it came to others. And of course, they sought to educate their children in their spirit, that of traditional Judaism, to keep faith in the heritage of Judaism. And indeed quite a few of us have gotten this heritage. Every Saturday, Dad would study patriarchal chapters with us in an endearing melody, explaining things through the parable, bringing examples from the realities of our lives.

In this way, Dad instilled in us values from our culture and ancient heritage and enriched our world with content and values that did not touch us in the way we lived. These spiritual and cultural assets that were acquired at Dad's home accompany us wherever we go. The holidays were especially beautiful. They were like a bright and radiant light that brightened our murky reality in the conditions of a town in exile. But when the “terrible days” came, the whole house was in gloom. Here comes the battle and doomsday, the day of reckoning of the soul, a day that all in the world stand before the Lord of the worlds! And who would not panic?! Before he went to “Kol Nidrei”, Dad would cover his descendants with his large prayer shawl and blessed us as our ancestor Yaakov did with his sons. We knew that Dad was anxious for our well-being, our lives and our destiny.

But Dad could not protect us. Terrible days that were unparalleled in the history of his people and in the history of the human race were approaching. Hitler came to power. Antisemitism in Poland began to rage in all its ferocity, it was no longer possible to breathe in the poisoned atmosphere and the Jewish youth, including us, began to look for a solution, for wanderings to other countries. We, eight boys and girls, were privileged to immigrate to Eretz Israel! Our dear parents accompanied us to the train station. With tears, sighs, joy and trembling they parted from us, hoping to see you on the Holy Land to which Dad so longed, but no! Father and mother, as well as my two brothers Yehoshua and David and their families remained on the cursed land of Poland and were not allowed to reach the Promised Land — the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, these brothers devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the idea and action of Zionism, to the resurrection of our people and its redemption!

 


Hersz-Majer and Chana RAK z”l

 

My good and honest parents, my good and merciful father! Although we have not walked in all your ways as the commandments of your holy Torah, we carry in our hearts your love for the heritage of our ancient people, your loyalty to all the holiness in our people at all times — the love of Israel, its moral values and hope for complete redemption of our people in its independent, flourishing and free land!

Translator's footnote

  1. meaning, more lenient. Return


Chaim-Noah BAGNO z”l

Sarah BAGNO-FEINER

My father z”l, Mr Chaim Noah Bagno is from a distinguished and respected family and one of the greatest Torah scholars. His father, R. Simcha Bunim, was one of the dignitaries of the Jewish community in the town, and when he died, his coffin was carried on his shoulders by his companions as a sign of respect and great appreciation for the deceased during his lifetime.

Dad was born in 1878 in the town of Gostynin, near Kutno. From his youth he grew up in a traditional Jewish home, observant and imbued with the values of Judaism from generation to generation. Like all his contemporaries, he studied in a Cheder and in a Yeshiva, but from an early age he was interested in the Hebrew literature of his time and was considered by all his friends and acquaintances to be an educated man with wide views.

He came to Kutno as a young man. In this city he married a woman and established his family, everyone knew him as a noble-minded man, gentle, wise and ready to help his friend at all times. As our friend and teacher Y. B. Kac[1] z”l wrote in the “Gostynin Book”[2] (p. 88), my late father participated in meetings of the town's youth who were “Lovers of Zion.” In the house of Y. B. Kac, debates were held on various issues that were at the forefront of the Jewish world at the time. And there were many issues: social problems, economics, culture and, most importantly, Zionism. From these meetings, the Zionist Organization in Gostynin arose and grew. But even here, in Kutno, Dad continued his nationalist activities and the dream of his life was to immigrate to Eretz Israel. However, he had worries about earning a living in a Jewish economy. He was busy and was very careful to provide for his family. However, he always found time to peruse the Book and even learn foreign languages. Interestingly, he also learned the language of Esperanto – a very rare thing at the time especially among the Chassidim – because Dad was a Chassid of the Rabbi of Gur. His Zionism was not

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an obstacle to keeping the commandments of the Torah and leading a traditional way of life like his ancestors. But Dad was also influenced by the new winds that blew in those days. He sent his daughters to a Zionist school, where boys and girls studied together. Of course, his friends – Gur's Chassidim – did not like this. The people of the shtiebel in which Dad prayed threatened to expel him from the shtiebel, but he did not give up. His daughters continued to study in the mixed Zionist “Am HaSefer.”

He sought to educate us in a Zionist spirit, and at the same time entrust us with the spirit of traditional Judaism. He also sent his sons, who studied in the Cheder and in the Yeshivot, to private teachers so that they would acquire a general education and not be cut off from the real world around them.

During World War I, Dad did not stand on the sidelines when trouble struck. He participated in many public actions to alleviate the plight of his congregation. He devoted much of his time to public needs, and when the specialty for the needy was established in the town, he would distribute hot meals to the needy and take part in various charitable activities such as: “Knesset-Kala”, visiting the sick, etc. He also helped to the best of his ability in establishing a Beit Yaakov girls' school, which was a distinctly religious school for girls. But Dad realized that it was not enough for a Jewish boy to study in the Cheder and the Yeshiva. He saw with his own eyes the ascent of new Jew, who blends in his spirit the teachings of his ancestors and the desire for renewal and resurrection of his people. Indeed, his upbringing has borne fruit. All his daughters immigrated to Israel and even Dad was able to fulfill his life's dream and in 1934 he reached the shores of Eretz Israel and settled in Hadera. After a while, his second wife and young son Gabriel also made aliyah. However, his three beloved sons did not get to be with him in Israel. They perished in the Nazi inferno along with the entire House of Israel in Poland.

&bsp;

On the eve of Yom Kippur at my father's house

Eve of Yom Kippur at father's house was engraved deep in my heart and in my memory. The impending Judgment Day atmosphere was in the house since this morning. The Divine and Holy, trembling and terror spread their wings over the whole house. Dad walks focused on himself, with his lips whispering a prayer and totally immersed in other worlds. The great and terrible Judgment Day is approaching. The heart of each of us is shaking. What does the holy day entail for each of us! Who will live and who will die? Who will be written in the Book of Life and who is destined to pass away from the world, God forbid?

The sun is already sinking. The shadows invaded our home in preparation for fasting, prayer and judgment. It is pure and clean and has no corner that is not dedicated to the big day. Shabbat of Shabbats is this day. Silence prevails in the house. The members of the household held their breath and their eyes were fixed on the head of the family – towards Dad, only the clock on the wall made its constant ticking. The very one that is the only witness to our lives that pass with joy and sadness, hopes in the heart and in pain, but which does not interfere with our lives.

The table is covered with a white tablecloth, looking like a white surface on which the large candlesticks with lit candles and next to them an alveolus in which a large and thick candle is stuck – the Yom Kippur candle, which will light the members of the house praying in the synagogue, tomorrow after the closing, when everyone will sit down to eat their hearts out after the holy fast. At the top of the table is this large braided challah – the “koilitsh”. The table is set and awaits its diners, who will now sit down to eat the last meal before the fast.

But no one has yet taken his place next to it. All the boys and girls are waiting for Dad to take his place at the top of the table and only then will we sit down too. Our gaze follows all his movements. And he is all tense but quiet. He goes to the closet, takes out the white robe, puts it on and sits at the top of the table, so we sit down, each in his own place.

Here, the “last meal” began. Silence reigns around the table, each man engrossed in his reflections on his longings and expectations. Silence all around, only Dad occasionally stops the silence and talks about the sanctity of the day and its place in the life of the people. He begs us to eat more than usual this time, because fasting is long ahead of us.

We end the “break meal” with the blessing of food “in zimmun”.[3] The girls also say the prayer. Then came the great moment that always cast a great fear on me, in which I sought to keep it away from me. Dad got up from the table. His eyes express kindness and anxiety, hope and wishes for the future, sadness and joy, and above all a prayer and a request for a good life for all his family. And while the children stand around him, he spreads his hands over his eldest son and blesses him as Jacob blessed his sons, then, after the eldest, father blesses all his sons and daughters according to their age. His eyes are closed as he blesses, but a tear falls on his cheek and falls on the son's head. And the crying grips everyone, everyone cries softly and is called to his corner to be alone with himself. But the weeping increases, for it is an outlet for sorrow that has accumulated in our hearts for many days, even though it also has a request and supplication to the one who sits above so that he will not hide his face from us.

Father consumed his blessings, now he will go to the synagogue to ask for life, and joy of life for all his family. And before he left his house, each of his sons would approach him, kiss his hand and wish in a quiet and loving voice: “Let the father wish himself a good year.”

Yom Kippur descended on us in tears, prayers, fasting and hope for a good life for us and for the whole house of Israel. But the prayers prayed by the Jews of Kutno and the tears that flowed from the eyes of the fathers and sons every year, on the eve of Yom Kippur were to no avail. The House of Israel in Poland was sentenced to death and not to life. And the tears I shed on the eve of Yom Kippur have not dried up to this day.

Dad died in 1937 in Hadera and there he was laid to rest. His noble figure remained engraved on the tablet of our hearts forever. May his soul be bound in the bond of eternal life.

I did not mention our dear mother, because she died on us while I was a little girl and I hardly remember. She was about thirty-two when she left behind eight small children. May her soul be bound in the bond of eternal life.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Yonah Baruch Kac Return
  2. the Gostynin Yizkor Book Return
  3. Judaism, when three adult men are eating bread, they must be invited to join the host for the Grace After Meals. Return


Yosele the Goldsmith and His Family

by Esther KORN-NATAN

In the year 1935, I came from Koło to Kutno, as the wife of Menachem Korn. Here I had a chance to get to know the wonderful old man and sage — Yosele the goldsmith. He was known as the 102-year-old elder of the Podrzeczna Street, esteemed and loved by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was himself a living chronicle of Kutno. Even the mayor used to visit him at home to find out a date, or an important event, related to the history of Kutno. Mr. Yosele lived peacefully and died quietly in 1936.

On the other hand, his two daughters, Dwora Abramsohn and Fajga Berkowicz with their families, as well as my father-in-law Leizer Korn, were driven by the Nazis to the ghetto constituency and perished there. Before this, my father-in-law had to witness the tragic death of his son and my husband Menachem Korn — the first victim of World War II in Kutno.

In May 1940, we were deported to work in the “Titoniuwke” factory. During a half-hour stroll in the courtyard of the camp, my husband noticed an opening in the enclosure. He pushed me out with the two children, to freedom, he himself returning to his parents —

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and I never saw them again. My surviving daughter, Chana Bajla, died the same year. My son Yosef born in Kutno in 1939, managed with me to go through all seven circles of hell and survive the terrible war.

Let these few lines be a reminder of the three generations of the Korn family and the memory of his mother Sarah [née] Werner from Krośniewice.


Icchak Majer and Zyse Frajde SZPIRO z“l

Masze SZPIRO-ZHURAWSKI

My parents were renowned in Kutno as great philanthropists and good-hearted people. I remember that two foreign young yeshiva students stayed in our home for a very long time. My parents wished them to be able to study Torah in the town of Rabbi Szyjele Kutner. Help for the needy, a good word for the suffering – were the worries and efforts of my parents.

My uncle Henech (my father's brother) was also a hospitable and charitable Jew. His hospitality was renowned in Kutno.

We were five children living in Podrzeczna St 12, but only my sister (in Canada) and I (in Israel) escaped from Hitlerian savagery.

I will not forget the martyrs of my family.


The GORSZKOWICZ Family

by Azriel SZYMONOWICZ, Givatayim

Among our neighbors in Kutno, about sixty years ago, I began to differentiate and get to know particular families, their children, properties, employment and character.

I remember the Gorszkowicz family with their four sons: Israel, Chaim-Yaakov, Abraham-Yitzchak and Eliezer. They were all musically gifted, played different instruments and had rare lovely voices. Of course, they owed it to their father Michael. His striving for the children to dedicate themselves to the vocal and musical arts was a matter for him not only of livelihood, but of faith, excessive soul[1] and ideal.

My childhood ears at that time absorbed the beautiful sounds that the father and the four sons made from their instruments and heroes. Israel, the eldest son, enthusiastically assisted the father in his craft. Over time, the family became recognized as gifted musicians, and it was considered an honor and achievement to have them in Jewish, as well as non-Jewish celebrations. Israel later graduated from a musical school, and as soon as the first cinema opened in Kutno, “Modern”, he became the conductor of the orchestra, which accompanied everything that took place on screen. This was in 1909.

After Poland's independence, when the cooperative of Christian and Jewish cinema owners was established in the city, Israel stood at the head of the organization thanks to its fine action and tactical approach, not to mention his great musical talent. In 1937 he became very active in the cinema business in Kutno.

In that year, it was reported in the city that Israel's sister, Rywka, who was living in Palestine at the time (she is now living in the country), had asked him to return to Poland, as the doctor had recommended her, for health reasons. Israel told his sister that “we must even leave Poland, because for Jews it has become an antisemitic hell.” He emigrated with his family to France where, in 1942, he shared the tragic fate of the deported Jews — together with his wife Leah and daughter Zosze.

His younger brother, Abraham-Yitzchak, died in a horrific manner in Kutno, as soon as the Germans occupied the city. The assassins grabbed him, tied him to the tail of a horse and dragged him across the streets of Kutno until he expired.

The three sisters Szifra, Mirel and Perel were killed in the gas chambers.

Translator's footnote

  1. Kabbalistic Jewish concept. Return


My Family

by Moshe MAISELS (Tivon)

My father and teacher Hanoch, son of Mr. Yosef Maisels (known as Mr. Yosef HaGabbai), fought all his life to support his family. A simple man, he was and always willing to help others to the extent he could. He died in 1941 in the Łódź ghetto.

My mother Rachel-Lea, daughter of Mr. Yitzchak Zvi Menche, perished in the Auschwitz extermination camp. She was a faithful and devoted Jewish mother, always caring for her children, in all conditions and situations.

My older sister Sara-Chana passed away in Argentina on January 12, 1963 leaving a husband, son and daughter.

My sister Yaska perished with her mother in the Auschwitz camp. Miriam died in the Łódź ghetto on the 9th of Tammuz 5702 (June 24, 1942).

 

Mr. Yitzchak Zvi MENCHE son of Mr. David z”l

He was a leather shop owner, a man of initiative and vigor. Yet, he was exemplary in his honesty and decency, from the followers of Gur and gabbai of the synagogue, philanthropist and of reciprocal kindness, his house was a respectable home and many were his friends, among them also Leib Asz, who after a time was also his relative. Mr. Yitzchak Zvi died in 1917, at the age of seventy.

May his soul be bound in the bundle of life.

His wife Chaya-Freida, daughter of Rabbi Gershon Zel, was an exemplary housewife and the faithful companion of my grandfather, Mr. Yitzchak Zvi. She died in 1923, at the age of 74.

May her soul be bound in the bundle of life.

Mr. Leib, son of Mosze Asz z”l (known as Mosze Gombiner), came to America in 1905. He remained a faithful follower of Gur Chassid all his life. His brother, the writer Shalom Asz, told us that he used to bring the chicken to the butcher himself to be sure of its kosher status. When he died, the Chassidim guarded his body so that no one would touch it, to be sanctified and honored.

He died in 1931 at the age of 70.

Mrs. Hinda, the wife of Mr. Leib née Lachman z”l, has lived in America since 1905 and died in 1959 at the age of 96.

 

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