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[Page 465 Hebrew] [Page 467 Yiddish]

VIII - Children of Kutno and around
in Israel and in Diaspora

 

A Report on the Organization's Activity in Israel

Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff

During the horrendous years of the Second World War, when the first greetings arrived from our town's people who were wandering as refugees across Russia, a group of people from Kutno living in Israel decided spontaneously to establish a committee to assist the needy. At that time (1943-1944), the representative of the international aid-committee, Mr. Josef Klarman, arrived in Israel. We handed him a list of names and addresses of Kutno Jews in Russia, in order to send them packages of food and clothing via Turkey.

 


Ashes of Chelmno's holy martyrs are brought to burial
in the Nachalat-Yitzhak cemetery in Tel-Aviv (1949)

 

In May, the first official information of the Jewish annihilation in Poland, and the Kutno community there, reached us. At the same time, the first refugees from our old home started to arrive in Israel. Then the establishment of an organization for former Kutno residents turned to be more timely and urgent.

The first meeting took place soon after, one Shabbat afternoon, at Aharon Szlomo Elberg's home. About 20 people were present; old-timers in Israel and relatives of Kutno people. Chosen for the board were the members A. Sz. Elberg, M. Wigdorowicz, Z. Nordenberg, J. Falc, and A. Lustigman. The important decisions made at that time were mutual-aid, a memorial to the town's martyrs, and the erection of a monument perpetuating the memory of the Kutno community on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

All those decisions were carried out. Our organization was among the first of former-town-residents to put a memorial tablet to the Kutno's Jewish community in the “Shoah cellar” [at Mount Zion in Jerusalem]. Many from our town participated in the solemn assembly the day after the memorial, among them two Knesset members who were former Kutners: S. Babe and Jakob Riftin, and also the director-general of the Ministry of Religion, Rabbi Sh. Kahana.

In 1962, a marble monument was erected there. Many of the former Kutners from all parts of the country participated in the ceremony.

At that time, an idea had crystallized of memorializing the Jewish community of Kutno in a “Kutno Memorial Book” that will perpetuate her memory for generations to come. Letters were sent to all former-Kutners organizations in the world, requesting them to start collecting documents, memories, lists, and funds to enable it to be published. In 1950, when our town's resident the historian J. J. Trunk was staying in Israel, we discussed with him the planned “Yizkor-Book” in more detail.

*

In 1956, the organization had decided to have a festive reception for the great Jewish writer from our town – Szalom Asz. Not only Kutners came to the reception, but also many others who had nothing to do with our town, who wished to honour and give respect to our distinguished Kutner. (About the reception – see A. Lustigman's speech).

However, the main activities and concerns of the board were concentrated on publishing the book, on holding yearly memorial services and by keeping in touch with the Kutner organizations and individuals in other countries.

In 1961, the elected board of former Kutners comprised of A. Sz. Elberg as the honorary chairperson. Chairperson – I. Mayranc. Vice chairperson and in charge of the secretariat – J. Elbaum. The secretariat – A. Lustigman, E. Wajkselfisz, and Ch. Grinbaum. In charge of finances – P. Hirszberg, Sz. Laron (Falc), P. Chasin, (Bagno), T. Puterman-Stuczinska, H. Plocer, M. Wigdorowicz, Z. Lasman, Z. Metal, N. Moszkowicz, and E. Szimonowicz.

The full board held regular meetings each month, but the chairpersons met once a week. Their decisions were brought to the full board for discussion. There were also frequent meetings with the Kutners in Haifa, in Lajzer Niebialkowski's synagogue, or in one of the rooms in the Technion or

 


Memorial stone on Mount-Zion

 

in comrade Arie Orner's home. In Haifa was active a board of former Kutners. Its members were Arie Orner, Dr. Nisen Welcman, Felek Teichner, and Liuba Turbowicz. Visits to the Kutners in Jerusalem and other towns were made also.

*

In the early 60s, applications and requests from former Kutners, in Israel and other countries, to accelerate the process of bringing about the planned “Yizkor-Book” had increased. At a meeting at the home of Mrs. Hela Plocer, all the pertinent matters in relation to the book were brought up for discussion, and it was decided to choose a special board consisting of P. Hirszberg, L. Laron, Y. Elbaum, A. Lustigman, E. Wajkselfisz, Pola Chasin (Bagno), and Tola Puterman-Stuczinska (of blessed memory). In addition, it was decided to reorganize the secretariat – the results were not late in coming; connections and contacts were strengthened with the boards of former Kutners in Paris, New-York, Mexico, Canada, Britain, Brazil, and Australia. In Israel, too, our Kutners felt the intensive activity of the new board, as they received frequently memos, circulars, and letters requesting them to share their writings for the book, and to donate money to enable its publication.

The visits of Kutners from various countries in Israel were very helpful in tightening the connection with us. We received them with warm hearts, often. around festively set tables; time spent exchanging memories of our old home, and in conversations about future plans. After returning to the countries of their residence, many of them turned into our good-will ambassadors. Those were A. M. Bild, and the engineer J. Grabinski in Mexico, J. Trunk and Zomer in the USA, Hofman and Shlajfer in Paris. The editorial office started to receive testimonial material, articles, chapters of memories, and photographs from bygone days in the town of Kutno.

In 1963, we published a prospectus “Kutno Book and surroundings”, in which the contents and goals of the book were presented. The prospectus was sent to all the members of the organization in Israel and other countries.

A special problem came up, when a request was presented to include in the “Yizkor-Book” for Kutners, other places near our town where Jews were settled. According to the request of the organization in Paris, we decided to enable the perpetuation of the memories of three large Jewish settlements in the Kutno area. Those are Leczyca, Krosniewice and Dabrowice, since, in Paris, those three towns are organized together with the former Kutners.

*

After we got in touch with the editor Mr. David Sztokfish, the editorial members (decided upon by the board) - the comrades: Babe, Mendelewicz. Mayranc, Riftin, Moszkowicz, Fromer, Wajkselfisz, Elbaum, Wigdorowicz, Laron (Falc), Hirszberg, and Lustigman – started reading (alone or together) all the material that had arrived at the book's editorial office.

 


Mr. Zumer (USA) visiting the committee in Israel. (1964)

 


The editorial board members in Israel

 

The editors gave their notes, sorted, corrected what needed correction, and prepared the material for the book. One fundamental idea was held by them – no material received should be rejected. Therefore, they had to labour hard in adapting and polishing the large amount of material. The members of the board and the editors had many discussions over each article, essay, etc. until it was found to be worthy to be included in the book.

The group of the editors was comprised of Kutners' representatives from all the countries where they settled.

In spite of the intensive activities about the book publishing, the regular activities of the organization had not stopped. Purim and Chanukah balls were held, as were receptions for visitors from other lands. Even those and other activities were intertwined with our efforts to publish the book. The lectures and various appearances, and the income they generated, were dedicated to this “Yizkor-Book”.

The date for the yearly memorial – 23rd of Adar – was strictly kept. The first part of the memorial was dedicated to the remembrance of our martyrs, and the second part was about organizational business: report on the board's activities, financial report, discussion and election for a new board.

The board elected in 1963 is still active today with hardly any change in its members: A. Sz. Elberg as honorary chairman, Y. Mayranc for chairperson, Y. Elbaum as vice chairperson and general secretary, P. Hirszberg, and Sh. Laron – finance. A. Lustigman, A. Wajkselfisz, and Ch. Grinbaum - the secretariat. Members of the board: E. Szimonowicz, M. Wigdorowicz, G. Wolsztajn, Z. Lasman, N. Moszkowicz, S. Fajner (Bagno), H. Plocer; the auditing board - S. Fromer; from Dabrowice - Z. Wajnsztok.

To make the activity more efficient, an executive board was elected comprised of members Y. Elbaum, P. Hirszberg, E. Wajkselfisz, Ch. Grinbaum, A. Lustigman, Sh. Laron (Falc), and M. Wigdorowicz.

About 300 families (about 1,000 persons) of former Kutners are living in Israel: 170 families in Tel-Aviv, Ramat-Gan, and Givatayim, 85 in Haifa and vicinity, 10 in Jerusalem, 52 in various kibbutzim and 8 families in the south of the country.

THE SECRETARIAT


[Page 472]

Shalom Asz Near His Townsmen in Israel

by Abraham Lustigman, Tel Aviv

Just at the time when Shalom Asz was creating controversy in Israel, the great writer felt the need to enter the country.

This was in April 1952.

There was trouble not only in Israel, but in all Jewish cultural centers. Asz's latest works, “The Man from Nazareth” and “Moses”, caused a great stir in the Jewish world. The great writer was downplayed on all sides and his face blackened. Suddenly, his friends from yesterday persecuted him, boycotting him and designating him a missionary writer. Others went further and openly accused Shalom Asz of being a “sold soul”, that he wrote his Christian books for… money.

The attack against Asz first erupted in the United States and soon spread to Israel. Here, the fire became even more intense. Religious circles had thrown pitch and sulfur on Asz, settling accounts for an old debt – his play “God of Vengeance”.

And although Shalom Asz was himself happy to be in Israel, these were difficult and horrible days for him.

He then lived in a boarding house on Mount Carmel, in Haifa. A number of Kutno townsmen wanted to arrange a reception for him. However, there were opponents who argued that Asz should be shaken off. The position of our honorary president, Mr. Aharon–Shlomo Elberg, was decisive. He protected Asz. It was decided to hold the reception in a large hall in Tel Aviv. A delegation of three was elected: B. Epstein, Ephraim Wajchselfisz and the writer of these lines. We left for Haifa, to “Pension Badenheimer”, where Asz lived. However, he refused to accept the delegation. We understood his bitterness and asked the pension–owner to persuade Asz to receive us. Mr. Badenheimer was able to accomplish this.

It was in the morning hours. Shalom Asz was going down the stairs. We saw the tall, majestic figure with white head hair and large sad eyes, surrounded by dark circles. We approached the stairs, greeted him and introduced ourselves. Asz stopped on the last step. For a while he looked at us,

[Page 473]

shook his head, as a sign that he agreed to receive us. But soon, he took a nervous stride forward. He turned away from us and apologized:

– I'll eat breakfast first and then hear what you want from me, Asz said in a mischievous tone.

We decided to wait.

After breakfast he approached us. Nervously, he blinked his eyes and immediately asked:

– What do you want from me?

– We have been delegated by the Hometown Society to invite you to a reception.

At first, he straightened up to his full height, then his face became a little gloomy. He shook his white head, walked forward with slow steps into the garden. His lips quivered as if he was talking to himself silently. His shoulder bent slightly and he asked in astonishment:

– What do you mean by arranging a reception? For whom? … We are arranging a reception?! … For the Jew, who is non–kosher and is shouted at? …

He was puzzled. His whole body shook. We only heard ragged words:

– Townsmen … Reception …

Suddenly he straightened up, hastily stepping back and forth. Soon he stopped and faced us. Calmer, he started with a soft tone:

– Why do I need this? And why do you need it? To what and when?

He was a bit annoyed and soon continued:

– “You want to give me a reception and they all want to shout at me and drive me away. Yes, yes, they want to burn me!” He was shaking out of annoyance. “They are plotting against me. My enemies do this out of jealousy. Yes, yes”, Asz sighed. “If all my Jewish readers were living, they would not dare to do so. But all my readers are no more, who will stand by me? To whom should I shout out that all they are throwing at me is a big lie, a nasty lie!”

He remained silent and tears flowed from his eyes. We were left petrified. It was only now that I came up with the idea that the great Jewish writer had really become a pariah. His tens of thousands of readers had been exterminated. Thousands of Jewish libraries in Europe, where his books were kept, had been burned. The new Jewish generation will not read his work in the language of Asz, the Yiddish.

Gradually, Asz calmed down and sat down on a bench. He asked about our Kutno Hometown Society in Israel: how many members, what activities do we carry on. When we returned to the reception, he replied:

– I will first consult with my close friend, Abraham Sutzkever[1], about the reception. If he agrees, I will accept your invitation. Without Sutzkever's consent, I will not come to any reception!

We accepted his terms. Sutzkever's attitude was a positive one – and as early as April 29, 1952, we held a solemn reception for Shalom Asz in the Pioneers' House, in Tel Aviv.

All those who said that “no one will come to Shalom Asz's evening” were bitterly mistaken. The place was packed with all the Kutno townsmen, writers, artists and invited guests. Everyone was curious to hear Asz.

Shalom Asz stood up like a… lion, in that evening. He expressed the same thoughts and let us hear the same words as in the conversation with us. He spoke with fiery and knocked on the table:

– I never got away from the Jewish people! This is a lie and a libel! There is a plot against me that was imagined by my enemies!

After the reception that our townsmen had arranged for Asz, different winds have blown. Different groups and institutions have welcomed Asz. In truth, it must be said that there were also many opponents. Many newspapers have criticized our initiative to give Asz such a warm welcome and wondered how come “that a Jew with a white beard, that is Mr. Aharon–Shlomo Elberg, should publicly greet the ‘Christ–worshiper’”. Mr. Shlomo Elberg did not respond to the criticism, but made a statement:

– Does that mean I kosherized Asz…

There is also much truth in this statement. Because the reception evening created the warm atmosphere, Asz could settle in the land. Without “the road that we had broken,” Asz would not have dared to take such a step.

In 1956, Shalom Asz settled in his home. The town[2] was still undeveloped at that time. Several streets were surrounded with sand. But Asz chose to live in the house, although it was not so easy for him.

 


Shalom ASZ with his townsmen in Tel Aviv (1952)

[Page 474]

As soon as they started building a house for Asz, a fire of hatred broke out again. Religious Jews have put up placards in the streets calling Asz “convert”, “missionary.” They did not stop at making threats, they warned the mayor, David Ben–Ari, that he should not let Asz enter in the city.

In 1958, I. Panner[3], Asz's private secretary in Bat–Yam, published a book of memoirs about Shalom Asz in which he recalls the reception of the Kutno Hometown Society. Here is a quote:

… Apart from this unofficial boycott there were: The Jewish Press and the Jewish Writers in Israel. The “Golden Chain” is, it seems, the only journal in the world that has given Asz “asylum”, long before he came to settle in the country. Someone else did not join the ‘passive resistance’ – the Kutno Hometown Society… The Kutners in Israel were the very first who organized a celebratory reception for their famous townsman. A Jew with a white beard, Aharon–Shlomo Elberg, the chairman of the organization, a childhood friend of Asz, who studied with him at the Beit Midrash in Kutno, said in his welcome speech: “Asz has not sinned against us, but we have sinned against him. Asz always meant only our good. His intention was to dispel the abyss of hatred that reigns between ‘them’[4] and us.” The Jew spoke with heart and choked with tears – wrote Panner.

Panner's book also provides an explanation of why Shalom Asz settled in Bat Yam and not in another city in Israel. Panner wrote:

Talking to me once about her new home, Matilda Asz said that Bat–Yam reminds her of… Kutno. The same appearance, the same small shops and businesses. The same small town… Maybe Asz really chose for that this quiet town for his last home? Perhaps, after all the storms of recent years, he has longed for the idyllic town of his childhood – whose continuation and new incarnation is Bat–Yam?

Translator's footnotes

  1. Yiddish poet, July 15, 1913 in Sorgon, Belarus – January 20, 2010 in Tel Aviv. Return
  2. i.e., Bat Yam, southern suburb of Tel Aviv. Return
  3. Itzhak Panner, Yiddish poet, excerpt probably from “Shalom Asz in his last home”. Return
  4. i.e., the Christians. Return

 

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