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[Page 80]

B. Cultural
and Educational Establishments

 

The “Heder” and Teachers in Miechów

By Moshe Spiegel

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In 1913, one year before the outbreak of World War One, when I was a 3–year old child, my father, Avraham Spiegel (Z”L) decided to enroll me in Reb Aba'leh Malamud's “Heder”.

I don't think there was a single child in those days that didn't pass through those first “Aleph–Bet” classes. Both my father and his entire generation learned there. During my time there, Reb Aba'leh was a man somewhere in his seventies. Nevertheless, he still had all his vigor and his wife bore him a son whom they named Hillel. Reb Abba Lewit a neighbor of Reb Aba'leh “Baby–face” Malamud was a short broad–bodied man with eyes expressing his good–nature. He habitually visited the homes of his little pupils and discussed their development and progress in “Hebrew” and “Chumash” with the parents. The little children of the Heder sat at a long table, learning their lessons together with their “Rabbi”. During the long winter days we returned home with an enclosed lighted candle, to light the way home in the dark streets of the town. More than once Aba'leh's loyal helper, Reuven Lewit would accompany us home. Reuven survived the Nazi Holocaust and is here, in Israel with us.

Our studies continued every day from seven in the morning until the late evening hours but during the afternoon, while Rabbi Aba'leh had his afternoon nap, we were looked after by the “Rebbetzen” and she worked us very hard. The Rabbi had a few goats that he milked, providing him with a small additional source of income. Since they had no pasture available, we, the pupils would bring them old dry bread from home that we cut into small pieces with knives and that, for the goats, was virtually the only food they had, roaming around his yard.

The classes with Reb Aba'leh lasted for three years and when I was 6 he said to my parents that my knowledge of the Chumash and Rashi was greater than his own and that I should be sent to a more learned instructor.

So, I went to study under the “Litvak”. We didn't know his name but everyone called him the “Litvak” because he came from Lithuania. As was usual with the Lithuanian Jews – whom we nicknamed “Tselem–Kop” – he was learned and a scholar, but easily angered and we occasionally suffered from smacks for minor offences or for any attempt to avoid working diligently. His gaze was piercing and penetrating so that we froze when he looked at us. His “Heder” was in Shlomo Scheintal's yard on Krakowie(?) street and in our haste to breathe a little freely and as a slight release from the heavy burden that the “Litvak” placed upon us, we exploited his little herd of goats and sneaked out. Behind his yard was the bakery of Yankel Becker, the father of Mendel Olshevski. In the few moments we had, we went into his bakery to see how he prepared the loaves of bread for the ovens. His work, in our eyes was holy work. At those times I felt a slight release from the atmosphere of the Litvak's “Heder”.

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One fine day, I ran home and told my parents that under no circumstances would I return to his class because instead of teaching me Torah he made me feel mentally disabled. As a result, my parents sent me to the “Heder” of Reb Yisroel Eli Krymolowski. It happens that the “Heder” was a “university” compared to the “Elementary School” of Rabbi Aba'leh and the “Secondary School” of the “Litvak”. In as much as with Reb Yisroel–Eli there were older boys – after their Bar–Mitzvah – and I was only 8, Reb Yisroel–Eli had to open another class for the younger pupils. Reb Yisroel–Eli was considered one of the teachers of the “Metukan” school movement. He introduced the study of the Gemara interpretations of the Torah into his lessons, like the explanations of Ibn Ezra and the “Radak” (Rabbi David Kimchi), et al…In addition he would also teach his pupils the “eight levels of giving” (Maimonides). He was tall and slim and loved to slap our fingernails with a ruler. His “Heder” was in Reb Salzburg's yard on Kshoynzh Street. We made a habit of going for a walk as far as Koyfetz Kushczushko to breathe a little fresh air in the open fields there.

These are the senior pupils that I recall from the “Heder” of Reb Yisroel–Eli: Mordecai Sultanik, Shmuel Bachmejer, Schmerl Isenberg, Hertz'ki Kornfeld and David Pinchawsky. The smaller children who learned with me were: Arieh Weltfreund, my brother Elimelech Spiegel, Elimelech Friedrich, Itcha Eisenberg, Haim Eisenberg, Moshe Pinchawsky, Moshe Shinblad, Yosef Grosz, Ya'acov Kornfeld and others.

During the first years after WW1 the “Mizrachi School” opened in our town and thus began a new era for the Jewish youth of Miechów.

 

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Boy's Mizrachi School in Miechów

 


[Page 82]

The “Mizrachi” School

by Ze'ev Dror (Friedrich)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The imbuing of the youth with the spirit of Zionism, expressed itself in the founding of the “Mizrachi” school in town; the school was established in 1920. The founders, who maintained their concern and interest throughout the years of the school's existence, were: S.L. Adlist, the Chairman of the school committee, S. Abramowitz, the unofficial “inspector” of the school; A. Gottfeld, Y. Liesha, S. Fogel, A.Y. Nyberg, A. Spiegel and Y. Schweitzer.

The Haredim, the disciples of the Beit Ya'acov “Heder”, tried to prevent the secular school's establishment and declared a boycott against it and more than once obstructed the supporters' right to be called to the Torah during prayers. Nevertheless, the grass–roots public support against their stand forced them at last to come to terms with the existence of the “Mizrachi” school and even to struggle for their own existence being such a tiny branch of the Seminary.

It should be said, the Committee members, to their credit, made sure to base the school's instruction on modern advanced methods and sound organization. Hebrew was the language of instruction except for one or two subjects where Polish was used. The social activities included parties as fore–runners to festivals, excursions, plays, activities in support of the Foundation Fund and participation in Zionist activities in town. The standard of cleanliness and discipline was in no way less than at any Beit–Sefer “Takin”. I remember the atmosphere that spread throughout the school; the feeling of cooperation; the identical caps we all wore with pride, the ten o'clock obligatory meal–break (cocoa and the bread–roll that melted in one's mouth), the bubbly activity during recesses. Even now, recalling these memories, I live again events in school as if they truly happened just yesterday or the day before.

The first school manager was Yesheyahu Shmuel (Shyer Schmiel) Hirshenhorn. He ran a private “Heder” in his home. With his special, great understanding he devised new methods of management. His natural approach and affection towards children awoke trust and respect. In his twilight years we saw him sitting among peddlers selling woven baskets: it pained us much to see our beloved teacher thus. We passed by him and greeted him and he replied “Shalom!” with his usual smile as if all was well.

The vice–principal was Herschel Kleinplatz. He was always meticulously dressed. His work was carried out faithfully, with constancy and without too much business with the Committee or the parents and he even kept a certain distance from his pupils. His attributes earned him general approval.

Both of these head–teachers were still very much of the old Yiddish “school” of instruction. Those who came after them were already teachers of the modern style.

The appearance of the young teacher, Dov Goldenberg (today, Achihu, an academician in Israel), his behavior in class, his polished Hebrew, left a deep impression on us. His graceful and refined behavior towards the women in town was superior to that expected even in a progressive town like Miechów. About two years later, he left town and we, his pupils, deeply regretted his going.

Another teacher whose presence remains etched on our memories was the erudite old man, S. C. Kohanowitz. We learned much wisdom and knowledge from his lips. He lived his life in a sort of isolated splendor and accompanied us as one whom we all were obliged to respect. He was an enigma. Every verse that we quoted to him from the Tanach, he identified by book, chapter and verse; we were never able to fault him. His home was full of long memoranda and every corner that we could see in his house drowned in these notes in boxes or…a salad in the process of preparation for his meal. Even though at that time we were unable to evaluate adequately his personality – we took pleasure more than once from the Bohemian way of life he lived in the town where the fates had brought him.

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All the rest of our teachers left the mark of their personal touch on our school experience.

Yisroel Shai Krimolowski loved pedagogy and it was apparent to all that he had much pleasure from it and from his pupils.

Rosenberg. The teacher of secular studies, he liked wearing Rubashka–style clothes and walked very erect, like a trained military man. He was the only teacher who permitted himself to sit bare–headed in class.

Elimelech Spiegel: his room was full of Hebrew books; he was a very gifted teacher, with a noble spirit and soul. He earned much respect and prestige. We were proud of him as a secret writer of stories and hoped to hear great things of him.

The Head–teacher, Y.D. Weiner – he had vast pedagogical knowledge and was a very active man. He organized the school with great skill and raised the standard of education. He made sure that the first of the school's matriculation students would continue their education in the “Tachkemoni” school in Warsaw. His domestic life was not a happy one and after some of his colleagues on the committee began to constrain his activities, he left town and took up a position as Head–teacher at a big school in Katowice.

Finally, I cannot fail to mention Lipa Yazkirowitz, the community secretary, who was the religious teacher at the general public school (for Jewish pupils) and at our school taught Zionism and the love of Zion with great enthusiasm.

The first graduates, all of them, except Yehezkiel Unger (Z”L), went on to study at the “Tachkemoni” seminar of Mizrachi, in Warsaw. Two of them died untimely deaths: Yona Blatt (Z”L) died from a heart disease one year before the Holocaust and Yehuda Zalmanowitz (Z”L), survived the Nazi horrors of the Holocaust, arrived in Palestine, fought in the War of Independence and only a few years ago passed away after fighting a malignant illness contracted during his sufferings in the camps.

 

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The Girls' Public School; the religious instruction teacher, Eliezer Lavie and his girl students

 

[Page 84]

 

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The “Mizrachi” girls' school; Manageress Fassia Teitelbaum (1926)

Standing (l–r): Yochaved Zarnowiecki, Haya Feigenboim, Hanna Salzburg, Esther Weltfreund, Gila Abramowitz, Zinda Szprynca, and Bashi Sheinfrucht;
Sitting: Fassia Teitelbaum, Founder and Manageress; Frieda Platzkovner, Teacher;
Kneeling: Selka Unger, Rahel Feigenboim, Timka Unger, Frieda Isskowitz;br> Sitting: Bloomer Unger, Rachtza Sheinfrucht, Dovila Abramowitz, Raize'leh Abramowitz, Platzkovner;

 

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A stage production of the children presented in Miechów
by the girl–students of Fassia Teitelbaum, directed by Herschel Lubetsky

[Page 85]

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8th year students of Miechów Gymnasium, among them four Jews

 

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Girl students in senior school in Miechów

Standing (l–r): Sarah Horowitz, Sarah Sukenik, Rosenbaum, Isskowitz, Gimelkovitz, Blum, Tamar Sheinfrucht, Hinda Shtolk
Sitting: Rafalowich, Assia Isskowitz, Rosa Ginsburg, Latovicz

 


[Page 86]

The Gymnasium in our Town

by Shmuel Berger

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Before the Second World War Miechów was a small town with a population not above 6,000 souls, Nevertheless, the town was notable in that its general level of education stood high for its day. The population of the town – Jews and Christians – was mostly cultured. Among the residents were many high–school, or higher, graduates and only a few were illiterate. In general terms the Jewish sector had a higher level of education than the Christians.

The educational framework in town played no little part in that achievement. There was no Jewish public school in Miechów, only “Haderim” in their various sects in which the children learned up until a certain age and since, in Poland there was compulsory education for children (up to fourteen years of age), the Jews were compelled to send their children to Government public schools where lessons were taught in Polish.

There were two public schools in town, for boys and for girls. In time another modern school was built for boys. In the public schools the Jewish children were not taught any specific Jewish topics, just “religious instruction”. For many years our dear community president, Eliezer Lavie taught them – (see his monograph on Jewish education and its institutions, page 24).

Apart from those schools, there was a Polish Government gymnasium based on the humanities. The gymnasium earned a nation–wide reputation as one of the best in the country.

The Gymnasium carried the name of the bravest of freedom fighters of Poland, Tadeusz Kościuszko and that was because one of his decisive battles, which he won, was the battle of Miechów–Rac┼éawice.

The gymnasium head, at the time I was accepted, was Mr. Tadeusz Lech. He was a member of the Andak Party, known for its intense hatred of the Jews and of course as one of them was himself a virulent anti–Semite. Nevertheless his attitude towards the children he taught in his school was fair and correct. He led the school's operations with exalted benevolence and kindness and it is thanks to those attributes and his courage that the school level of education was so high.

In 1927 only one Jewish child learned at the school. Not one Jewish family in town tried to register their child at the gymnasium believing that he wouldn't be accepted there; the perception being that the “Numerus Clausus” was in effect so far as “those of the Mosaic persuasion” were concerned.

My father, who wanted with all his soul to provide for his son an education as broad as was humanly possible, decided to try to enrol me in that institution.

Towards the end of my 4th year in public school I began to prepare myself for entrance to the gymnasium, and sat for the examinations at the appointed time. The examinations extended over three successive days. A few days later my mother went to the Head–teacher find out about the results. He answered her thus: “Your son has successfully passed the entrance examinations and is accepted as a student at the Gymnasium.”

The news fell like a clap of thunder on the ears of the entire Jewish community of Miechów that was almost unable to believe what they had heard.

In the light of that success a few other well–off Jewish families thought to try their luck and send their sons to the Gymnasium. and at the second sitting that year two additional Jewish families succeeded and after them, slowly, slowly the numbers began to grow. In 1930/1 there were already 12 Jews studying at the school (according to the official report from the management of the school).

[Page 87]

The school concerned itself with as complete an education as was possible in fields different to the topics taught by teaching civil and social topics also. Among the themes were: literature, humanities, history, sociology, drama, a department of philology, a sports organization, scouts, chess and others.

In addition there was an orchestra of wind– and string–instruments that took part in school festivities of one kind or another including different parades – both national and religious.

All the Jewish students at the school helped one another and we were like one family: we studied together and played together.

It is impossible to deny that there was anti–Semitism in the school, and a number of the Christian pupils conspired against their Jewish colleagues. But they were in the minority. Officially the Headmaster and Staff were against the incidents, reacting strongly and with severe punishments to every complaint. I have already mentioned that the Headmaster, who behaved negatively towards the Jews in the different institutions in which he was active, especially those of the municipality but here, within the walls of this academic institution he would not permit any instance of negative behavior, verbal or otherwise against the Jewish pupils and was extremely strict on that issue.

He related with all due respect towards our parents and whenever they approached him and received them gracefully and courteously. We were all children of fervent, Zionist parents and from time to time we compelled to defend our honor as Jews. It occurred most frequently in the lessons on Polish literature in the senior classes. The literary analysis of Polish writings from different periods, showed the anti–Semitic strain quite conspicuously. Our colleagues in the class exploited the opportunity to attack the Jews. Clearly we did not remain passive under the attack and very often gave back twice what we received in bitter and unrestrained arguments. The teacher was obliged on more than one occasion to justify our stand on the debate.

It is true that not all the Polish writers were anti–Semitic. There were among them lovers of Israel – Righteous among the Nations (not in the modern post–holocaust context – Trans.), such as Eliza Orzeszkowa, many of whose works dealt with the Jewish question. Her writings pictured the Jew in a positive light, as a lover of his homeland, working and living from the toil of his hands.

In other contexts, too, we fought with pride as Jews but it wasn't always easy.

As students of the school we were forbidden to belong to any youth–movement except those approved of by the Gymnasium itself. Nevertheless and in spite of it all, we, the Jewish pupils, interested ourselves in everything going on in the Jewish youth movements and from time to time secretly took part in various activities, and helped wherever we could.

On the 1st of February 1931, Mr. Lech was relieved of his post because of his affiliation to and with the Andak Party and in his place as Headmaster a supporter of Marshal Pilsudski and his governing party was appointed. I must point out that the headmasters that followed Mr. Lech did not succeed to the same degree as did his predecessor and as time went by the school began a downward trend both in terms of administration and level of instruction. Mr. Lech was a headmaster and manager par excellence: he loved his school and his pupils.

In closing I must emphasize that the Gymnasium was for me first of all a place of learning and widening of horizons in all the subjects taught there, and an excellent preparation for my future life. I acquired a sound basic education – general and social, and that advantage is still with me today.

[Page 88]

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Gymnasium students

From r–l: Simcha Silberberg, Yisroel Yitzhak Lewit, Getzil Lewit, Moshe Katzengold, Shmuel Blum

 

List of Jewish students who studied at the National Gymnasium in Miechów in the Academic Year 1930/31:
  1. BERGER, Shmuel: Graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, lives today in Israel.
  2. GERTLER, Alexander.
  3. WDOWINSKI, Aharon.
  4. ZILBER, Eliyahu.
  5. MALINROWSKI, David.
  6. ZIVANBERG, Aharon.
  7. SERCAZ, Yehezkiel: living today in Israel.
  8. CZERBONOIGOTTA, Haim.
  9. KOPPELOWITZ, Yehezkiel: Graduated from the Technion, Haifa as an engineer; today senior engineer in one of Israel's top companies.
  10. KOPPELOWITZ, Mordecai.
  11. SCHEINTEL, Dov.
  12. SCHEINTEL, Michal.
  13. (From the official administrative report of the gymnasium)
    I have no information to hand concerning the remaining students; most – if not everyone of them perished in the Holocaust, May G–d Avenge their Blood.

 


[Page 89]

The “Dror” Youth Library in Miechów

by Moshe Spiegel

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Education began earlier in Miechów than in other towns in the county. The town's Gymnasium opened in the days of the Russian Government. A few families sent their children to that gymnasium and they were the ones who founded the “Zamir” library at the end of the First World War Among the founders were Avraham Sercaz, Wolf Ber Warschawski, Reuven Shmuel Kleiner, Ya'acov Buchner, Yerechmiel Itzkowski and others. The erudite and the Zionist youth of our town were always to be found around the library. There was also a drama group which staged their first shows in the flour silo of my grandfather Mr. Yisroel David Spiegel (Z”L): “Shulamit” and “David's Violin”. Later they produced and staged Ansky's “The Dybbuk”, Gordin's “The Slaughter”, Peretz's “A Night in the old Market” in the fire brigade's hall, and others.

In the meantime a few of us other pupils from Mr. Yisroel Eli Krimolowski's “Heder” had joined and we became good friends. We exchanged secular books among ourselves and had conversations about them. We were six friends, Ya'acov Kornfeld, Moshe Pinczowski, Haim Eisenberg, Ya'acov Friedrich Elimelech Friedrich and the writer of these few lines. This how it really began: On Lag B'Omer in 1921, we six of us went on a picnic to the Chodowi Forest. We took a picnic hamper, eggs painted in different colors and each a book to read. After we had eaten our lunch, we all sat down in a quiet spot and were soon deeply immersed in our books. After a few hours, when we had finished reading, Ya'acov Kornfeld stood up and said: “Since we all want to be educated and we have no possibility from any source, let's all of us pool our books and then try to get some more books from among our seniors. In that way we can create a library for the young people and we can provide a little education from among those without means to buy books.” We all expressed agreement with Ya'acov's idea and we gave him our books. In the fullness of time we collected more books and when we had collected about 20 books we opened the library in the attic of Ya'acov's house.

A few months later we met in the attic and named the library “Dror”. At the start we were a very small daring group. In addition to learning Torah we dedicated ourselves to reading and increasing the number of books in the library. Eventually we managed to penetrate different sectors of the youth and guarantee some income for the library by making a monthly payment for the loan of books.

From among the pupils studying in the Gymnasium some joined the library: Shlomo Katzengold, Barish Scheintal, Yehezkiel and Herschel Solewicz and others. In the second year of our library we rented accommodation in the Rabbi's yard near the Scheinold family's house. The library expanded and already had 70 members and about 400 books in Yiddish.

It was during this period that the struggle between our parents and the religious sector on one side and us the operators of the library on the other side. It was a real intense fight. There were times when the owners of the premises, honored citizens, would come in while we were having a meeting and dragged us outside by force. We were young and had to give way to our seniors. I have to point out there was one element very much to our disadvantage: in the same courtyard lived the local Rabbi Yankeleh Rotenberg (Z”L). It was in this courtyard that all the orthodox zealots would congregate and exert much influence on the residents who would obstruct us in trying to operate the library in an orderly fashion. Nevertheless we were not deterred. With the increase in the number of our readers the library and its activities we opened other pastimes for seminars on our own initiative.

We began a drama group led by Ya'acov Friedrich, Eliezer Lewit and myself. Our

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work based itself on scrutinizing a play together, reading excerpts from it in the group and exchanging ideas of how to stage it. In the years 1925–1928 we produced and staged the following: “The Jackpot”, by Sholom Aleichem, “The Slaughter”, “G–d, Man and Satan” and others…our “Prime Donne” were Sarah Federman, (now Sukenik) and Malka Lubchi. The younger members were: Ya'acov Friedrich, Eliezer Lewit, Aharon Brukner (Z”L) (he died after a brief illness at 19), Aharon Blum, Moshe Scheinold and others.

Similarly, we created a literary group that functioned in two areas: A) a lecture organization for Saturdays in which we featured well–known lecturers. Many of our youths took part in these and they were an excellent vessel for disseminating knowledge and acquiring literature in Yiddish. B) Publication of a news–sheet for review and for literature. During two years we published a news–sheet named “The Torch”, not by print and not by stencil – but hand–written. Lack of funds and experience were the cause of making this extremely tiresome work. The news–sheet mostly covered reviews on newly published books, on different plays, poems, and feuilletons. However we were forced to stop publication in order to travel to other localities in Poland to continue our studies or to start to work.

In spite of it all, it was by that initiative that the first awakening of education for the youth in Miechów as a ground–breaking activity causing strong waves in our entire social framework.


The Drama Society

by Sarah Friedman (Sukenik)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The young Jews in Miechów lived an unworried life and with no plans for the future. Most of them were employed in the family business and – as was usual, the business would be inherited by them, so for most of them there was little ambition to go out into the big, wide world. Every day they would walk around town to the center and the city square. The principal route was “from A to B” and there, there was a lot of congestion so they would walk down to the gardens near the church for some seclusion.

The social life among the youngsters was lively. There were two active libraries in town: “The Dror” and “The Zamir”, which was under the management of academics. A drama group was organized and in time became a lively living theater. For every festival a new production was prepared. The direction was undertaken by the members Isskowitz, Liptscher(?) and Buchner. The success of our production awoke an echo throughout the area and we travelled to nearby towns as well. There is no need to add how much toil and sweat our work cost us, and how much we struggled to overcome the disapproval of our parents, the conditions of our work–place and our miniscule budget.

Obviously everything we did was on a voluntary basis: sometimes for the benefit of the “Zamir” library, sometimes for the “Women's Society” and sometimes for the Histadrut. The productions in which I myself took part were: “Motke the Thief” by Sholem Asch; “The Jackpot” by Shalom Aleichem; “God Man and Satan” by Ya'acov Gordin; “Moshke the Pig” by I.D. Berkowitz; “Herschel the Nobleman” by Moshe Richter; “The Slaughter” Ya'acov Gordin and “The Scoundrel”. In the production of “God Man and Satan” Aharon Bruckner (Z”L) played the lead. He invested his heart and soul in the theater and I remember that immediately after the show he fell ill, took to his bed from which he never rose again. After that they related how, though he was ill and running a temperature he went on stage. It was one of the examples of the complete and utter enthusiasm and sacrifice for the sake of the success of the social activities of Miechów's youth.

The memory of Aharon Bruckner (Z”L) will not fade and his image will forever be before our eyes.


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The Youth of Miechów

by Gershon Charig (Katolyk)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

I remember clearly the period when I was a pupil at the “Mizrachi” school in Miechów. We learned in the synagogue building, on the second floor while the pupils from “Agudat Yisroel” learned on the third floor. I think it was probably 1922. I was then 8 years old, and most of the children were older. The animosity then and always, between the “Aguda” and “Mizrachi” didn't pass over us unfelt and frequently fights broke out between us – real fights. We both received and returned significant blows. Even stones were used, clubs, iron bars, belts – whatever came to hand.

Most of the young people belonged to one or other of the parties that had branches in Miechów starting with the extreme right – “Agudat Yisroel” – and finished at the extreme left – the Communist Party. This last was always under a false name out of fear of the authorities. Among the parties that were well organized were also “Agudat Yisroel Workers' Party” and the “General Zionists” party. At the head of the Betar group was David Bornstein, an ideal organizer. Also active was the youth group “Hashomer Hatza'ir” who organized many excursions and trips. My young sister Adel–Edna was a member of the National Guard. The “Young Guard”, mostly not from local youth, underwent training in Miechów before immigrating to Palestine. The members of “Hashomer Hatza'ir” organized weekly meetings where members of different parties attended. Debates and arguments took place on many interesting and topical subjects. We also had in Miechów a few unorganized members of the “Bund”. I was an active member of the left–wing “Poalei–Zion”. We had a library that included books in Yiddish and Polish and we tried to bring culture to those, some of whom, could barely read and write. Most conspicuous among the leaders of our party were Meyer–Fischl Gertler and Ozer Bornstein.

From time to time lecturers would come from party headquarters to speak on different topics, political and literature. The appearance of Zerubavel in our town was greeted as a great event and he made a tremendous impression on us, both as an orator and a leader–figure.

I should point out that in Miechów, unlike many other places, there was a certain closeness between the Jewish youth of all the parties. Nevertheless at times there were indeed some stormy arguments although they never reached the point of a brawl. It may be said that our youth was cultured and devoted most of its spare time to reading. In addition to the party libraries, there were also general libraries. The “Zamir” library was excellent and richly stocked with good books, and also served as a meeting place for us all.


[Page 92]

Cultural Activities

by Moshe Spiegel

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In the period before the First World War, one could already see in the Jewish streets of Poland the buds of the various streams of political parties. But in Miechów the strongly conservative and devout community held sway, on the one side the various orthodox dynasties and on the other. The group of “Mitnagdim” from the Rabbi Ya'acov Emdin Beit Hamidrash – the “mid–point” between them, was not permitted to inject their new ideas into the younger generation.

During that period the main spokesmen for the Miechów community were: Mr. Nathan Bornstein, Mr. Yermiyahu Blum, Mr. Avraham Yama, Mr. Fischl Koppelowitz, Mr. Yisroel David Spiegel, Rabbi Yisroel David the slaughterer, Rabbi Shmuel the Cantor. All these “stood guard” lest the young men get caught by the “new spirit” blowing on the wind from Warsaw in the newspapers “The Siren”, “Today”, “Heint” and “The Moment”.

But despite all that, things began to change in the minds of the young seminar students. At that time Russia was fomenting on the eve of revolution against the Tsarist regime that found expression in the great Yeshivot, in mass demonstrations of workers and tithed farmers and their fight to liberate the people.

The Jewish youth founded a society called “Unity”, an initiative of the “Bund”. In Miechów, the idea caught on with the young people: Yosef Brukner, Ya'acov Blum, Shmuel Fogel, Avraham Spiegel, Moshe Sukenik, Yehoshua Koppelowitz, Haim Feureisen, Yishai Shmuel Hirshenhorn and Moshe David Blum.

These young men continued with their education normally without any discernible outward change in their behavior, but in the background they met nearly every day for special meetings where they received reports on the progress of the revolution throughout Russia and Poland. They identified with the revolutionaries in many of their definitions, but their heritage withheld them from taking an active part in the rising tide. An additional element to their hesitation should be pointed out: The patriarchal society to which they themselves belonged and honored in the homes of their parents and families and their deep connections with their parents and teachers in the study of the Torah represented a significant constraint on their behavior. When the Revolution (of 1905), failed and most of the revolutionaries were arrested, accused and imprisoned by the Tsarist police, the youth of Miechów continued to dream of a world where all was good, with social equality for all.

The hatred of the Jews by the Russian authorities grew in the years following the suppression of the revolution. Edicts were promulgated that restricted the Jews in the economic field, even more so their choice of where to live, and the areas where they already lived were further reduced, the blood libels were revived, like the historic trial of Mendel Beilis, accused of the murder of a Christian child to use the blood in a Jewish ritual.

All this brought the Jewish youth to an even deeper learning of the Torah and the Talmud. But the national knowledge and awareness caused waves between the pupils studying in the Yeshivot, and the call for auto emancipation by Leon Pinsker strengthened within them the need for general education and the drive towards a personal upright stature in every one of its meanings –spiritual and physical.

Also in 1913 the “Zamir” library in Miechów was opened by Ya'acov Blum, Reuven Shmuel Kleiner, Avraham Sercaz and Moshe Koppelowitz, who placed before themselves the lofty target of disseminating knowledge and education, the injection of good books to every home, the creation of extra–curricular activities like drama and literature, lectures by specialists in all fields of knowledge. And indeed many of the youngsters from all levels registered themselves at the library and enjoyed all the cultural activities programmed by “The Zamir”. The drama group presented to the general public the best of our writers and those taking part were: Tsvi Lubczi, Mendel Olshevski, Ya'acov Buchner, Yerechmiel Itzkowski, Zussia Itzkowski, Shmuel Blum, Haya Buchner and others, staging the shows of Goldfaden, “The Dybbuk” and other productions.

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There was full identification between the plot being shown on stage by the actors and the audience; once the play stopped in the middle of “Sale of the Orphan Girl” because of the “objection” of one who shouted out with all his might:” Jews, Jews of Miechów would never permit such a thing!!”

Lecturers were invited from Krakow and Warsaw. All these activities increased the general awareness of the real existing problems among the Jewish public.

The education of the younger generation also took on a new character. In the place of the “Heder” and the strict teachers, there arose and were founded by the leaders of the “Mizrachi” (see above), the “Mizrachi” school with a staff of educated teachers. Hundreds of children registered for that school. Girls from families of means entered the Polish Gymnasium and received a general education in addition to the traditional Jewish teaching they received from the teacher Shlomo Solewicz or Mrs. Teitelbaum.

Those same years several charitable and communal societies were set up like: “Leinat Tzedek”, “Sick visits” and “Brotherly Help”. There was also an “Artisans' Society” a sports society “Kadima” and a youth library “Dror”. In short, the cultural and social life of the small Jewish youth community was comprised of skin, bones, sinews and all and a broad network of activities was woven in all the fields mentioned above.

The great advances that occurred in the Jewish organizations and parties in the Poland of the twenties of the present century influenced Miechów as well and the first buds of organization, growth and development began to appear. In Miechów an excitement appeared in the ranks of the younger generations where they were taking the first steps within the framework of the organizations which they individually chose as the way forward for the people. There was a mutual struggle to convince the other of the spirit of the ideals that had developed from extensive study of the significance of the ideological streams that pervaded the Jewish street and found expression in the Jewish literature and newspapers.

Many of the simple folk, who grew up under straitened circumstances, were caught up in the ideologies of the left–wing parties and a few of them even left the town where they were born and grew up to move to one of the larger urban centers and in time became conspicuous because of their political activities.

During that same period, changes and transformations occurred in the Polish government, once it was the Andak party in power, then it was the farmers (PIAST party) holding the reins of power and once the socialists (P.P.S.) held the State “rudder”. All these transformations failed to weaken the cultural activities of the various Jewish streams, rather the opposite is true, and they increased their presence in the struggle for its rights in all possible ways. Many young Jews, who had completed their obligatory education in high–school, in spite of the numerus clausus, operating in Poland, joined the leadership of the various streams of the parties and brought fresh blood into the new, Jewish society that had been created following the special circumstances of the new era, the springtime of peoples and nations.

During the thirties, the right wing held sway in Poland, anti–Semitism shot up and the hatred of the Jews increased. The Andak party publicized their slogan:”Don't Buy from Jews!” and “Haters of the Christian State”.

In the wake of that policy, the small businesses suffered greatly, the economic status collapsed and many layers of the Jewish society became impoverished. The leaders of the Zionist movement warned the public that the time was coming to leave anti–Semitic Poland and immigrate to Palestine.

Debates commenced in the Zionist party on how best to move the idea forward to action. There were those that claimed that it was forbidden to abandon the struggle in the Diaspora and there was a need to struggle for the national and cultural rights of the Jewish people in all the places of its dispersion – and there were those who said there was no future for Jews in the Diaspora and that a great economic and physical disaster awaited the Jewish people without a territory and without a homeland of their own.

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These arguments received a tangible presence in the light of the various decrees enacted by the Polish authorities. The growing younger generations saw that there was no future for them in the slowly deteriorating economic life and joined the ranks of “Hechalutz”, went to training camps of the various parties of their youth movements and increased their activity for the Zionist funds – “K.K.L.” and “The Foundation Fund”. They also became active in broadening clarification meetings to capture the hearts and minds of their parents, to generate a change in their lives too, and get them to obtain a profession and immigrate to Palestine.

In 1927 I left Miechów, the town of my birth and began to roam. I first went to Warsaw and afterwards to Sosnovitza. There I joined “Hechalutz” went through pioneering training in Suchedniev and in 1931 immigrated to Palestine. All those who fulfilled their vision and emigrated from Poland moved around for days and months before their immigration amidst the sense of the impending, growing and approaching disaster.


Cultural and Social Development in Miechow

by Moshe Savitzki

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Right after the First World War the young people began to take part in cultural and community work. A much smaller number did so openly. The majority was secretive because of the negative attitude of their parents.

In addition many helped in the founding of the Hazimir [choral society] library that in time developed into a large, valuable library with books in three languages. The majority of books were in Yiddish, then Polish and a much smaller number in Hebrew.

The library leaders gave everyone instructions about what everyone should read; the directors changed often.

The daily press, such as Der Heynt [Today], Der Moment [The Moment], Hatzfira [The Siren] could be read on the spot.

An amateur theater was founded at the library that

[Page 95]

carried out very successful performances of the then current repertoire. Among others, Anski's Dybbuk was staged very successfully.

The founders of the library and of the amateur theater were: Klajner, Bachner and Itskowicz. The also were the directors of the presentations.

A sports club was founded later that, alas, did not develop.

Thanks to the organizations mentioned, there was a coalescence of intelligent, aware young people who later founded a halutz [pioneers] and Zionist youth movement. The same society also began to organize the young in the Miechow area. Elimelekh Fridrich, who perished in a German camp, carried this out with great success. The first hakhshara [agricultural training centers] location in the area was founded in Miechow and later, they also appeared in other locations in the poviat [county or district].

The shtetl was divided politically into an organized Zionist party that was led by Avraham Sercaz, at the head of the Mizrakhi [religious Zionist] Party, organized by Adler, Yehoshua Kuplubic, Avraham Szpigel, Abramowicz, Fojgler and Joskerowicz.

The Mizrakhi Party organized everything first for the young, a carpentry school that Yehoshua Kuplubic led along with Yakov Szpigel, a carpenter by trade. Alas, Mizrakhi was not successful with the school. The very pious Jews and the Hasidim in the shtetl were not organized.

 

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