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[Page 111]

D. Between Two World Wars

 

No. 1 Krakowski Street

by Sarah Ilan

Translated by Selwyn Rose

When I recall the big house where I lived forty years ago, with its entrances from three side–streets, I see each and every one of the people living there, standing before me as they did in their daily lives, Shabbatot and festivals. The tenants were many and varied: tradesmen, artisans, Torah students and those for whom the Torah was the very source of their livelihood. The house was not communally shared; each apartment was owned by the resident and the house itself was owned by another person, sometimes changing ownership, while the tenants were much more permanent and lived there for years and knew one another as if they were one large family. They reared their children and married them in the same courtyard and it could happen that the same son or daughter would then continue to live after the marriage and parents, children and grandchildren all living under one roof.

Among the tenants were widows whose children had flown the nest to distant parts and every day they awaited the postman in the hope that he would bring a letter from one of the offspring from abroad. I recall one of them who would come to visit us frequently. She left her children in America and returned alone because she was unable to adjust to life among strangers. Here, in this house, were people whom she knew. She would open our door and come in without even knocking and say: “Ah! Being here with you refreshes my soul; warm and plenty of light. May it be that the “light” of Shabbat will never dim.” Her reference was to my father (Z”L), the “Man” of the family. She always had stories and jokes from the time she was in America.

As for the women in the courtyard, one could see some of them standing or sitting in front of the front door of the house. There were among them a mother and daughter who, from the few words and snatches of phrases one could catch, one would learn that no event, even the smallest of details, escaped their eye or attention. From the front door one could see the town spread out and humming with peddlers, shops and people just enjoying wandering slowly about the streets. Another mother and daughter used to come to our house, greeting my mother – may she live long – with advice for all, while they, themselves were at a loss all their lives.

 

The Cantor's House

His was the neighboring apartment, above ours. I would go there because they had a daughter about my age. Who can describe Friday evening? When Cantor Yankeleh (May his Righteousness be Remembered for a Blessing), was in front of the Holy Ark, intoning the melody of the Kiddush and “Woman of value…”, with his two sons accompanying him, their deep, rich voices were like musical instruments ringing in my ears until this day. On the eve of the Day of Atonement people would come from all over town to hear his “Kol Nidrei” – even non–Jews would stand outside the synagogue listening to his rendering and telling each other: “Aah! He and his two sons could be opera–singers!”

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Even Jews, who never came to the synagogue throughout the year, would come to the concluding service to hear “Ne'ilah” from the Cantor.

There was a very pleasant ritual enacted every Rosh Hashanah after the evening prayer and the sanctification of the festival, the congregation would rush to greet the Rabbi with the blessing “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,” to which he would immediately reply “Le–Haim!” From the Cantor's house to the house of the Rabbi: whose apartment was also in the same courtyard. They would first greet the Rabbi showing the respect due to the Father of the Beit–Din and afterwards to the Cantor who was known far and wide for his simple popularity and welcoming expression to all he met.

Many people would visit the Rabbi every day of the year, some to obtain advice, some to receive encouragement or for one reason or another, others for condolences and some just for a secular conversation.

For the “Third Shabbat Meal” many people would congregate at his home to hear the prayer “Yadid Nafshi” and cantorial pieces from the Sabbath that were sung on Shabbatot between the afternoon and evening prayers. Often we would sit, his daughters, me and another girl, a good friend of Gold'eleh, in the Rabbi's wife's room and quietly hum the melodies we could hear coming from the other room, receive a slice of chalah and salted fish from the Rabbi's table and wait to hear the “Havdalah” prayer. The Rabbi would deliberately stretch the prayer signifying the end of the holy day of Shabbat, by half–an–hour to keep Satan from coming close to the Sabbath.

The Purim festivities would extend until daylight; musical instruments would play the dances of the orthodox, but sad songs were also heard, to remind us of our exile even in times of pleasure.

The preparations for the forthcoming Passover would commence in the Cantor's home immediately after the conclusion of the present one. Every year one of our Jewish congregants who owned fields and resided in town would bring a few sheaves of wheat in order to prepare Matzo Shemurah.

This was how it went: On one of the days when there was no rain and reaping took place, the Jewish owner of the field would come with his horse and cart and invite Cantor Yankeleh to be present at the reaping. The sheaves were stored until the next Hannuka, in a dry barn where no rain or moisture could reach them. They were then brought to the Cantor's house. We, too, the children, had a part in the preparation – to help sort the wheat from the chaff. All our spare time throughout the holiday was devoted to that purpose. When we had completed the selection all the wheat grains were again stored by the Cantor in a dry secure place where they remained until just a few days before the Passover festival. The grains were milled in the Cantor's house on millstones and the day before Passover eve the Matzo was prepared. At dawn the Cantor and his two sons, together with a couple of their closest orthodox associates went to bring water from the well to bake the Matzoth. On coming down the steps leading from his house the Cantor would approach the window of our apartment and call out to my father (Z”L): “Reb Herschel, Reb Herschel! Are the shovels ready”? And my father would reply: “Ready – but I am waiting until the last moment to flatten the dough as close to the time as possible so that they don't become contaminated with hametz.”

Cleaning the house for Passover and the urgent consultations about what is Kosher and permissible and what is not, was in itself like a tractate from the Talmud. Every year, on the last day of Pessach, the Cantor loved to tell the popular story about eating “kreplach”:

A woman named Fassia prepared kreplach on the last day of Passover. Her husband ate them with great gusto, having looked forward to them all the eight days of the festival (in an orthodox Jewish home it is not customary to eat them except on the last day). When he finished eating he felt a little uncomfortable. His wife warmed a saucepan–lid and placed it on

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his abdomen in order to ease the discomfort. Intermittently the husband would cry out “Fassia! Bring me a kneidle;” ”Fassia – Bring me a “Pokrivka” …because how can one forgo “Kneidlach” on the last day of Pessach?

Cantor Yankeleh was always ready with a wise comment or words from the Torah. He knew to walk with his creator. He would say: “In today's world of lying, a man is obliged to clothe himself in a lie in order to get to the truth.” In his acceptance concerning those who failed to keep the Sabbath in those days, he would say: “The time has come for Jews to ride publicly on the Sabbath and a few in town will remind them: ‘Gentlemen, today is the Shabbos.’ And they would think the orthodox ones the minority.” On Selichot, when the congregation came to the synagogue and the Study House, they came also to hear the Cantor's rich voice. The younger generation would gather in our house and the conversation flowed on this and that. When the service had finished and our parents returned one of the group would jump up and say: “Reb Hershel! We made the prayer for Selichot here in your house, we heard every word…” and my father would reply with forgiveness: “I believe you, I believe you,”

 

The Wedding

One morning we got to know that the eldest son of the Cantor was engaged to be married and the wedding was to take place in the bridegroom's house because the bride was from abroad. It would be easier for her family to come to Poland than for the extended family here to travel abroad.

The owner, who had the biggest apartment in the block, vacated his house to enable the guests to use it for a week. Other tenants also made rooms available in their own homes in order to accommodate the many guests who were coming to the wedding from all over Poland as well as from surrounding countries.

There were many people from both sides dressed in Streimlers and silk caftans and the women in elegant decorated hats with gold necklaces round their throats. On the night of the wedding everyone congregated: musicians, comedians and entertainers, orthodox and just ordinary Jews. After the bridegroom's speech one of the comics stood up and began to make humorous comments, as is usual, about the various presents that were being given to the newlyweds and after the actual ceremony and the festive meal everyone went out for the traditional “Dance with the Bride”. For the first time I had the opportunity to see this event taking place among those who keep up the traditions with exactitude. And now the announcement is made: Honored “Mr. So–and–so” will please gladden the heart of the bride and groom with the Bridal Dance; the “someone” takes a kerchief at one corner and the bride the other corner and start dancing surrounded by a large circle of the other guests, the bride's “partner” changing from time to time, for over an hour, accompanied by the musicians and singing until the long list of dancers was completed and all the honored guests had danced. At the end of the dance the womenfolk, in a long chain, would accompany the bride to the previously prepared courtyard, while the men accompany the groom – accompanied by music, singing and good wishes to the newlyweds and blessings for creating a new home under the Torah and Good Deeds.

Every evening other guests were invited for each of the “Seven Blessings”, as was the custom and the only thing missing from previous meetings was the actual ceremony.

On one of the evenings a man arrived, known throughout Polish towns by the nickname Reb Reuven “Come here”. In a very original fashion, acting like a scholar of the Torah, he would tie some sort of a belt round his hips and hang upon it a large copper container filled with water on which was written “Fresh well water” and on his other side he hung a cup on a chain and thus adorned he would shout to all: “Let all those who thirst, come and drink from fresh well water!”. And with that he would serve water to all who were thirsty. The man was tall, good–looking and had a long white beard. He would stroll all evening with a pleasant expression, and with faith in his place in “the world to come”, because he was a Torah scholar. At all these events he had a list was so that not one of the participants, neighbours or children was missed out.

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The last landlord of the house that I knew before I left there was Wenchdelowsky. He and his family were good–hearted people with not many like them. They were our closest neighbours, with facing doors; we were like family members. When a tenant was unable to pay the rent in time he was likely to pay an embarrassing call on the family and say: “Maybe you haven't even got with what to live. Here, I'll give you something to get you by and when things get a bit easier you can pay me back together with the rent.” Later on the family immigrated to Palestine and joined the Moshav Kfar Baruch. They loved agriculture and the farm and they loved the people they came into contact with. We made great friends with them in Palestine as well for many years. May they be remembered for a blessing.

Thus I remember the festivals, the joyful days and the ordinary days and the tenants in the house I lived as a child. Those I have mentioned, and to those I have not mentioned, please do not be hurt.

Shabbat gave flavour to the six–days of toil, which for most people was a daily struggle for survival under pressures of one sort or another – persecution, the acquisition of means to survive. But Shabbat made it all worthwhile: a day of rest, a walk to the synagogue, visits to neighbours and acquaintances, studying the Torah, visits with friends, a little freedom from the materialistic world and a little time to breathe, each one according to his taste and ability.


Our House

by Sarah Wertheim

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Our house was constructed in three sections and to each section there was an exit onto another street. There was a large courtyard that united all three buildings. The house belonged to Wenchdelowsky. The courtyard of the house resembled somewhat a small neighborhood in a city: There were people who had many professions and trades. Jews and non–Jews lived there together side by side.

Most of the tenants worked at their professions or trade at home, or opened a small shop in the courtyard. The charcoal–maker and a welding–shop opened on to the courtyard and the street while the jeweler, textile merchant, the feather seller and others – their apartments were their shops…

The relationships between the Jews and the non–Jews were not good and there was much open anti–Semitism. In the apartment beneath us was a tax–collector, Komornik, a Christian. When we needed to wash our floor, which was made of wooden planks, if a few drops of water seeped through the cracks, he would knock on the ceiling with a broomstick, shouting and cursing.

On our floor was another anti–Semitic family with five older daughters and a younger boy with a limp, named Stefek. The boy would often scare us and surprise us with blows. Once when he was hitting us and we called for help, our mother quickly came to help and coming down the stairs in excitement, she burst a vein in her leg.

The concierge of the house, Yana, was also anti–Semitic. She chased us regularly with a stick or broom and hit us with it. My sister used to anger her by calling to her from a distance: “Ya–niah!” – “Not me!” At Christmas, when we went to give her a Christmas present, she would change her tune completely with compliments and caresses. But an hour later she had forgotten everything and would chase us as if nothing had happened.

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As if to complete the image of a town as it was represented in our house, in front of us lived both the Cantor and the community's Rabbi who, at festival times generated an atmosphere of sanctity and happiness in the lives of the rest of the Jewish tenants At Succoth we ate our meals in the Succoth erected by the Cantor and after the meal my mother would bring a basket full of big plums from the stock we would sell at that time of the year. Our sustenance came from various sources. A few of the older children sold fruit in the streets of Miechów, my mother would travel to Bedzin taking milk products and chickens for sale and return bringing items of haberdashery for sale at home. My mother was known for her honesty and extreme righteousness to the extent that before she went to Argentina with a few of the family, she received clothes and frozen foods and commodities of various sorts because the shopkeepers knew and trusted her and were sure that she would send back to them the proceeds of her sales from Argentina.

School–time study was a happy period. I loved learning and did well in class especially handicrafts and mathematics.

My handicrafts also found a positive reaction from my teacher who was anti–Semitic, and she gave me her night–dress to embroider. To this day, I regret doing it.


Impressions of the Pogrom of 1920

by Moshe Burstein

Translated by Selwyn Rose

I was then at the dawn of my existence, a child, with the secrets of life still hidden from me when the frightening disturbance occurred that shook the very essence of my soul.

One Friday morning, a nice spring day, a rumor, like thunder from heaven, was heard: The Christians, and among them a mob of Poles, were attacking the Jews.

The center of the disturbance was in front of the gates to the synagogue, when the worshippers filled the place during the mid–morning hours of that Friday.

My father (Z”L), had managed to finish his prayers and returned home, but my brother, Raphael (Z”L), who had remained in the Study–House to finish studying a page of the Gemara, was one of the victims and received a serious head injury. Our brother was the most educated and esteemed of all the boys in our family, self–educated in secular subjects, specializing in Torah and languages: Polish, Hebrew and German; he was well–mannered with a personal charm, and loved by all who knew him.

My sisters Sheva and Tsiril were in Perchal the baker's, looking at the windows of the synagogue and before their eyes they saw the atrocity happen. They saw how the men, draped in their prayer shawls, were dragged out by the Polish mob, how they fell upon them with knives, iron bars and stones. The extreme brutality was carried out with sadistic pleasure and ended with acts of murder.

Our house bordered the synagogue building. To prevent the hooligans from breaking into it, we closed the corridor entrance door and hung an axe on a hook in the door jamb – it was the only defensive measure we took.

These violent disturbances continued until the evening of Friday. My mother (Z”L), was in shock and collapsed on the floor. As far as I recall and if I am not mistaken, at that time my brother Shai, Lazar, Leibel and myself – the youngest – were all at home. The injured, their heads covered in blood, managed with the last of their strength to get to Lewit's house, which also abutted the synagogue, and went down to the cellar of the house.

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When they had finished with beating up their victims, the bullies ransacked the synagogue itself, bringing out the sacred Scrolls from the Ark together with other holy books from the Study House, tearing and ripping everything to shreds and strewing the shreds all over the floor. When they had finished with this act, they pelted the beautiful stained–glass windows high up in the clerestory of the prayer hall, the windows I so much loved to gaze through their colored glass. Thus they continued until dark, the beginning of the Sabbath.

The Reception of the Sabbath my father performed at home. My mother spread the table–cloth, white as snow, on the table, lit the Sabbath candles and with great sorrow blessed the candles. My father put on his black silk caftan and in a soft voice we sang the “Lecha Dodi Likrat Kalah” Sabbath hymn, my father's face pale and the signs of his suffering clearly seen on his face.

All that same Shabbat we remained closed and secluded in our home with no one going out and no one coming in. We heard the Christian landlady chatting with the neighbors and saying that all the Jews needed to be slaughtered.

On Sunday morning, at dawn while dead silence still reigned outside, our mother sent the youngest of her children, Leibel and myself (for fear that maybe the disturbance will renew itself), through a window opening on to a lane alongside the post office, to our eldest sister Gittel (Z”L), who lived in the Karchova's house and there we stayed until Monday morning.

At night the heavens closed in and it began to rain heavily on the blood–soaked ground. Early in the morning, my brother and I returned home. The spring scent of flowers pervaded the air and the singing of the birds mingled with the smell of innocent blood that stuck to the walls of the synagogue and the adjacent houses.

The visible results of the dreadful events presented a spectacle before our eyes: the smashed windows, their shattered colored glass spread all over, the torn pages of our Holy Scrolls and books torn to shreds spread over the sidewalks and the road. A sight etched so deeply on my heart that never in my life will I forget it.

My hand will not stay from my obligation to add the following: At the time of the disturbances the district head, Kulesza, came into the Study House, spread his arms wide in front of the Holy Ark and said: “Don't touch this!”


Pogroms against the Jews of Miechów

by Ya'acov Spiegel

Translated by Selwyn Rose

We had in town an organization called “The Guard” whose function was to perform the Mitzvah of visiting the sick, helping and encouraging the needy. Ya'acov belonged to that association. In carrying out his duties, he went one day to visit Yosef Kornfeld, who had fallen sick with Typhus. On the way he met Berl Malinarski in Dzialoszyce street who said to him: “There's some news in town, the bookbinder Kowalski hit Berl on the head with a stick – and he wonders: Why and what for?” While they were talking David Mordecai Lejzorek joined them and told them that his landlord performed some act of villainy in town and as a result there was an atmosphere of extreme hostility among the Christians towards the Jews, pervading the town – without any cause or explanation…that happened on the Thursday, 1st May. As usual on that date the poor farmers would congregate in order to celebrate Labor Day. At the same time there was also a general mobilization of many men for the army taking place, following the advance of the Soviet

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Red Army towards Warsaw. In Miechów there was a gathering of young recruits from all the surrounding villages. This only added fuel to the fire. In the midst of rumpus, Ya'acov tried to run home but he was blocked by the inflamed farmers who already filled all the town's streets and lanes. Having no alternative he returned to Dzialoszyce street and climbed up to the roof of Ezriel Pulaski's house. From there he saw a harrowing sight: a beaten and stabbed Jewish man was being dragged along by the Christians. It was Ezriel's brother – Haim Pulaski, who died as a result of his injuries a few hours later.

A rumor quickly spread that it was the intention of the rioters to set fire to Ezriel's house. The Jewish men began organizing themselves for self–protection and to repel the attack of the incensed hooligans. But the plan failed to materialize because the farmers from the entire area arrived in such great crowds and their numbers grew from hour to hour while the Jews were represented by only a small group. The town Governor was away in the county town of Kielce and the Municipal officials ordered army units from Wolbrom but they, instead of subduing the rioting farmers abetted them in committing further acts; alarm among the Jews increased from moment to moment.

They hid in their houses for all three days that the Poles rioted. The Jewish people that prayed in the synagogue took many casualties – some of them very serious – and only a very few managed somehow to escape their clutches.

In the meantime the Governor returned from Kielce and when he saw how serious the situation was and that there was a danger of even more murders – he mobilized army units from Kielce from General Haler's command and these opened fire on the inflamed rioters and even killed a few of them. That was enough to subdue the crowds and to suppress the Pogrom.

 

mie117.jpg
The old Miechów cemetery

 


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How the Jews of Miechów and Charsznica celebrated
the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus

by Shimon Dov Yerushalmi

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In the darkness of Jewish life in the Diaspora there gleamed a large beacon of light.

The information that uplifted the spirit – the building of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on the heights of Mount Scopus – awoke enormous excitement among the Jews of the Diaspora, among them, of course, the Jews of Miechów and Charsznica.

The rumor, that on 1st April 1925 our University was due to be consecrated in the presence of many notable guests from Palestine and Righteous Gentiles [1] from around the non–Jewish world and at their head Arthur, Lord James Balfour, added wings to it. In the hearts of our brethren throughout the Diaspora the hope grew that the days of fulfillment foreseen by our Prophets were indeed in the offing: “For the Torah will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem…”

And how much greater was the joy of our Jewish community when I was learned that our Chairman, Mr. Avraham Sercaz (May G–d avenge his blood), was scheduled to represent our community and go to Jerusalem in order to take part in those national ceremonies, the like of which had not been seen since the exile from our country and from our land.

The Committee that was created to celebrate the opening of the University included representatives of all the various Zionist and public institutions and was the body that decided to elect Mr. Avraham Sercaz as the Community's representative and in his hands a congratulatory epistle written on vellum and signed by the representatives of all the institutions and foundations.

The message was composed by one of the foremost Russian teachers and authors, Mr. Shmuel Nahum Kochanowski, whom fate had decreed that his latter years be spent functioning as teacher of religion in the primary school in Miechów.

The text of the epistle, composed by him and found to this day in the archives of the University on Mount Scopus, is as follows:

In the name of those of Zion

On this most excellent historic day, in the life of the Jewish People of today – in an era of its rebirth in its National Home, a day of the consecration of this Temple of Wisdom, The Hebrew University on Mount Scopus.

On this joyous, splendid and heartwarming day of peaceful victory, for the Jewish People, for its Hebrew Language and for the Land of Israel, we, our little community of Miechów, one of the many dispersed throughout the five continents, find ourselves hard–pressed to express our great happiness in fitting words and to convey our congratulations and our deep feelings of this event and with soaring spirit, intense gaiety, commit our thoughts to this parchment. To this Great House and those great ones of our people chosen to head the staff and pave our way forward, who have worked, are working and will continue to work for the benefit their People and its future and who are establishing this University.

We pray that it may it be the will of our Father in heaven to enable this establishment to project its wisdom on its environment with sense of security and confidence among its students such that they will not need to seek abroad in the Diaspora and its foundations for knowledge and wisdom and spiritual nourishment; that it should be open for all to study and learn without regard to religion, race, sex or creed; that it should radiate to the world the visions of Moses our Teacher and Law–giver (Deuteronomy 4, vi): “Keep, therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the Nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” And the vision of Isaiah 2, iii: “And many people shall go and say Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem”.

May it be the will of our Father in heaven, that this House on Mount Scopus will shine forth as a Pillar of Fire that will illuminate the Universe with the light of Truth, Righteousness and Justice to open the eyes of the blind that they may find the way that leads to the happiness of Mankind and peace shall prevail throughout the world for a good and seemly life.

May it be the will of our Father in heaven that the founders of this House and their helpers will gather strength and courage to perform their sacred tasks for the sake of their people and that the memory of their toil shall not fade from the knowledge of Israel.

Amen!

The fourth day of the week, in the seventh month of the redemption, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty after the destruction of Jerusalem the Holy City 5685 (1925).

The Municipality of Miechów–Charsznica, Kielce County Poland.

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Signatories:

Community Rabbi: Hanoch Ha'anich Sheinfrucht, Rav Gaon, Our Teacher, May his Righteousness be remembered for a blessing in the world to come, Father of the Community Rabbinical Court, Miechów and Galilee.
Community Leadership: Avraham Sercaz, Shimson Dov Yerushalmi.
Miechów Zionists: Ephraim Blum.
Charsznica Zionists: Avraham Gertler, Shmuel Ya'acov Gleitt.
“Mizrahi”: Shmuel Pagel(?), Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler.
“Young Mizrahi”: Yitzhak Pri–Hadar.
“Hechalutz”: Haim Itzkowitz.
“Hechalutz Ha–Mizrahi”: Yesheyahu Burstein.
The Eretz Yisroel Office: Aharon Leib Adler.
The KKL: Moshe Koppelowitz.
The Foundation Fund: Ze'ev Dov Kaiser.
The Primary School: Shmuel Nahum Kochanowski.
The Mizrahi School: Shmuel Abramowitz, Yitzhak Tsvi Weiner – School Head–teacher.
“Ha–Zamir”: Yerechmiel Isskowitz.
“Ha–Dror”: Benyamin Elimelech Friedrich.
“Maccabi”: Tsvi Lifsher(?).
“Kadima”: Avraham Buchner.
“Book–Buyer”: Yehuda Burstein.
The “Artists' Society”: Yisroel Brumer.
The “Merchants' Society”: Bezalel Weitzman.
The Small Traders: Ze'ev Weissfeld.
The Cooperative Bank: Yermiyahu Blum.
The City Council: David Isskowitz.
“Brotherly Help”: Avraham Mordecai Stern.
Sick Visit Association: Haim Lewit.
The Synagogue: Shlomo Feigenboim.
The Burial Society: Avraham Goldberg.
The Committee for organizing the celebration of the opening of the college:
President: Shimshon Dov Rabbi Moshe Nahum Yerushalmi.
Secretary: Eliezer Lipa Yazkirowitz.

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Members – All Yisroel

I have put on paper the names of all the institutions and societies that signed the Epistle in order to emphasize the degree that the Jewish communities of Miechów and Charsznica felt involved in the enterprise and the extent of their wish to associate themselves with the other parties congratulating the University and to celebrate with joy its opening.

I think, and feel obliged, to note at the beginning, the behaviour of the heads of “Agudat Yisroel” in Miechów, that an order “from on high” forbad them to sign as themselves as affiliated to the movement, among the others and their names and signatures appear as follows: Chairman of the “Aguda”: Mr. Avraham Mordecai Stern who signed as “Brotherly Help”; the member Mr. Ze'ev Weissfeld who signed as The “Small Traders Society”; Mr. Bezalel Weitzman who signed as The “Merchants' Society”.

Those who attained the right to sign and also to see the country being built after immigrating:

The writer of these lines; Yehuda Burstein; Ya'acov–Tsvi Gitler; Mr. Eliezer Lavie. May they be blessed with good lives and long years!

The attitude of the Polish authorities to riots and disturbances

This is the language and instructions published by the County Governorship in Miechów from 28th March 1925 No. 5433/1 (Translated from the Polish):

“To the Jewish religious management in Miechów

To your request of the 26th March 1925, I hereby permit Miechów–Charsznica to organize celebrations connected to the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, according to the following program:

  1. A meeting of the primary school children in the cinema hall “Uciecha” in which the teachers from the same school will deliver speeches suitable to the occasion.
  2. Prayers in the local synagogue will be accompanied by suitable speeches.
  3. Decorative illuminations in the windows of Jewish homes.
Parades in the city streets are strictly forbidden.

In addition, I permit emblems and stickers on the houses in accordance with the directives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs from 4th February 1921, as is shown in the attached copy. In respect of the income derived from the sale of emblems and stickers, etc., and the time and place of counting that income, you will inform the local Government police command who will send a representative to preside over the accounting.

The results will be forwarded to me no later than 5th April 1925.

Signed: in the name, and in place of, the governor Y. Lachowski.

 

The Festivities

And indeed, the opening of the Hebrew university was a great day for the Jews. From earliest light youths from the various Zionist youth groups moved from house to house and distributed the emblems ad stickers of “University Day”. There, almost no single person was not displaying an emblem or failed to donate something. The spirit of the event raised the souls that showed on everyone's face as everyone and everyone wore festive clothes and every workshop and trading business was closed as if it was a religious Jewish holiday.

During the morning hours, Jewish children streamed to the cinema “Uciecha” – which means “Joy” – and indeed joy and happiness filled the hall that was full to overflowing.

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The children's festival opened with Zionist songs. Afterwards came the speeches of the school manager, teachers and public representatives, who explained to the pupils the value of the great day for the future of the Nation and its original culture. The enthusiasm of the youngsters is difficult to describe.

The central public celebration was attended by many people from all sectors of our society who hurried to the town synagogue which was illuminated and decorated with national flags.

Among the guests were present representatives of the authorities, the Mayor, elected Polish representatives of the city council, heads of the Polish Socialist Party and the Manager of the government Gymnasium Dr. Lech (who was associated with the extreme Polish Nationalist right–wing “Andak” party); and several other prominent Polish people in town.

Exactly at 4:00 in the afternoon, the writer of these lines opened the proceedings in the name of united committee for organizing celebrations on the opening of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus with these words: We are all, at this moment, in our hearts and thoughts, on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem where just a few hours ago were gathered together the elite of our people, our teachers, illuminators of the Nation and thousands of its guests who came together from near and far, to take part joyfully in the consecration of these Halls of wisdom and knowledge, in which our people will renew its youth and efforts to fulfill the vision of our prophets – “For the Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

Clearly the happiness of the Yishuv and of all our Brethren in all the places of their dispersion is also our happiness and in our hearts with appropriate enthusiasm in joining wholeheartedly in this historic moment.

We are happy to have been granted the privilege to be a part of it.

After the Chairman of the Organizing committee, our Rabbi, Hanoch Ha'anich Sheinfrucht, wrapped in his prayer shawl, took the stage and blessed the event as the entire audience stood and replied with a hearty “Amen”. He continued with a tasteful sermon interspersed with comments and quotations from the Torah,, after which there was an appropriate prayer service.

Mr. Ya'acov Buchner made a speech in Polish, expressing publicly the thanks of the Jewish community of Miechów and Charsznica to the Polish guests for their participation in the festivities and their complimentary comments. The event came to a close with raised spirits and the singing of “Hatikvah” by the large congregation.

 

The Celebration in Charsznica

A large majority of the Jewish community in Charsznica, a community somewhat small in number in itself, took part in the gathering in the synagogue in Miechów, but it didn't stop there and they hurried to the congregation in the local Study House where prayers and the singing of suitable Psalms took place. Afterwards there were speeches on matters of the day by the writer of these few lines, Shmuel–Ya'acov Gleitt and Nahum Gertler.

 

Gala meal in honor of the event

The celebrations and festivities of 1st April 1925 ended but the spirit of the event and its impression lingered on. In every Jewish home, every workshop and shop and of course from every public institution and foundation and at its head the Jewish community, shone forth lights and candles from every window in candlesticks reserved for Shabbat and the Hannukiah from Hannuka all of which imparted a festive tone, sanctity and magnificence to a day of national, historic event.

In the evening the council gathered together from Miechów and Charsznica in one of best restaurants in town, and all enjoyed an excellent meal at a well–laid table.

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I closed the festivities with a blessing that we may yet attain the right to see the children of Miechów and Charsznica immigrate to Jerusalem as students of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In the evening hours the “Ha–Zamir” library threw a party in the cinema hall.

 

The Children of Miechów and Charsznica as Students of the Hebrew University

Cruel fate determined that only a very few of those who were present at the celebrations survived to obtain the consolation of seeing Zion and the country being built; the rest were destroyed by the oppressive Tsarist regime.

Nevertheless we did have the satisfaction of seeing some of our communities sons – Miechów and Charsznica – counted among the students at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus during its first years and they were:

The writer Yisroel Zerach Gertler (Z”L), who was also counted among the University Secretariat until his last day, and saved for a long and good life Mr. Shmuel Berger, Chairman of our committee and the originator of this “Memorial Book” and the living spirit of the fulfillment of the project, Ze'ev Dror (Friedrich), who served for some time at the head of the Students' Union of the University, my son, Lt. Col. Yesheyahu Yerushalmi, and Attorney Meir Fogel.

 

A Wish

It was a great privilege for me to be placed at the head of he committee organizing the celebrations for the opening of the Hebrew University on 1st April 1925 in Miechów and Charsznica and that I succeeded in uniting at that celebration both communities with all their respective parties.

As I give these compliments and praise to all, – may God bless them –I also give thanks that I was granted this privilege and that I lived to this day to write my memory of that day. I raise my eyes in Prayer to the Creator of the world, that I may yet see the buildings of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus when they are free and given into the hands of the Independent State of Israel! Amen! May it be His will!


Translator's Footnote

  1. Not in the present–day, post–Holocaust connotation – Trans. return


The Foundation Fund for Israel
– Miechów's magnificent operation

by Yehezkiel Dror (Friedrich)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The involvement of Miechów in the operations of the Foundation Fund and the pleasure in its achievements there expressed the spiritual connection between the Miechów Jews and Zionism and everything connected with it.

Relatively speaking Miechów held fifth place in the listing of its donations among all the towns in Poland. The town was very proud of that attainment. Miechów was Zionist in spirit and not in order that once the admired Yitzhak Greenboim could state – without any hesitation – it would be possible hang a sign at the entrance to Miechów declaring “Zionist Federation – Miechów.”

The “Foundation Fund” boxes captured for itself a respected place in every house. It was integrated within the corpus of the family life, its events and its festivals: the lighting of the Shabbat candles, Bar Mitzvah parties, festival parties, family visits, squabbles between children, etc,

Family homes – especially with young people – competed among themselves as to who would be “number one” with their donations to the Foundation Fund.

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mie123.jpg
The organizing committee of the Foundation Fund bazaar

 

I recall how I used to examine test the weight of the box several times a month and gauge its contents by rattling the contents and I wasn't content if I didn't hear the sound of coins from within. Even the simple emptying of the box was performed with much preparation. Everyone of the collectors made efforts to increase the numbers of contributors and at the end of the year corticated were distributed to the collectors giving details of the showing the success of the donors' and collectors' activities.

When a delegate came to town the town's leaders immediately gathered together: they fixed quotas of donations and the project was conducted with religious punctiliousness and with the efficiency of men of affairs. Because of the success of Miechów's endeavors it was the top delegates who came: Droyanov, Bistritzki and others. Bistritzki excited the whole town, he started dancing with the youth and was particularly well–liked by the businessmen. His visit left an impression that lasted for many days. Droyanov, of his own choice and volition added his own holiday to his workdays in Miechów and remained in town for eight days. When he left town people lined the streets on both sides and cheered him on his way. His jokes had the population rolling with laughter for a long time after he left.

Virtually the entire Jewish population of the town participated in the annual collection. Those youngsters who were unable to get their hands on the target sum as individuals joined together in twos and threes in order to achieve the requisite amount. The first promissory note I signed in my life as a young person was for the Foundation Fund when I was but 15 years old, together with my cousin Yona Blatt (Z”L).

During the years of riots in Palestine the contributions reached their highest, and that was in addition to the donations of gold, jewellery and other articles of value. The Jews of Miechów were deeply sensitive and who doesn't remember the weeping that broke out in the women's gallery when Lipa Yazkirowitz [1] shouted out: “Miechów women – weep!”

In 1927, the Foundation Fund organized bazaars throughout Poland. The Bazaar in Miechów became renowned in the area. Women decorated the town, embroidered, sewed, donated and got others to donate, lotteries, “selling kisses” – the whole town seethed with noise and activity. The “Israel” hut, which was decorated tastefully by our member, Dov, contained “Carmel” wines, Fruit from Palestine, candies wrapped in nice papers decorated and written in Hebrew, products manufactured by “Shemen”, soap, “Bezalel” decorations, and Yemenite embroideries. We had never tasted such candies as those that we bought there.

The Bazaar lasted for eight days and attracted many people from the surrounding towns and villages: Działoszyce, Wolbrom, Dombrova, Olkusz and Charsznica.

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The synagogue, the Study Hall and the “Shtiebel” were used not only as a place of prayer and learning but also as a hostel for visiting Zionist delegates and everyone who was “Called to the Torah” during prayers, donated to the Foundation fund.

On festivals meetings took place of activists, lectures about Palestine, Flower days and on Lag B'Omer, when the local branch of the “Young Zionists” “captured” the town marching in their parade through the town, while in their uniforms, the operatives of the Foundation Fund were the mainstay of the project and the main speech was always made by a local representative of the Fund, or a delegate direct from the Fund to attend the event.

The Foundation Fund tried hard – and succeeded – to take part in all the festivals but the most conspicuous of them all was Purim in which the rebuilding of the National Home was merged with the fall of Haman and all persecutors of the Jews and the exultation and songs of prayers were many and great. The boys were accustomed to dress in the style of pioneers, according to the illustration in the Golden Book, mobilized rakes and shovels (the tool closest in appearance to the hoe), dressed up older men to look like A.D. Gordon, copied “Trumpledor” shirts and groups of these “pioneers” would roam the streets calling at the houses, producing pictures displaying the “Land of Israel” experience and reading excerpts from the ideals of D Szimonowicz, translated into Yiddish.

The Chairman of the Committee for the Foundation Fund of Israel in town, was Mr. Wolf Ber Kaiser (of blessed memory), and he was an indefatigable worker in its cause. He worked every single day, every hour with intense, efficient determination and understanding. He never looked for reward.

Everyone who saw Wolf Ber at work was caught up and infected with the same zeal, love and understanding that each cent that was collected for the Fund helped. His helpers of the Committee were: Elimelech Friedrich (Z”L), Tuvia Rosenboim (Z”L), Itzi Sheinfrucht (Z”L), David Burstein (Z”L) and Nathan Kornfeld (Z”L); saved for a long and good life were: Selah Sercaz, Yehuda Burstein and the writer of these lines.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Today Eliezer Lavie, the secretary of the Religious Council in Israel return


The “Miechów Group” in Israel

by S.D. Yerushalmi (Z”L)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

From the memoirs of Mr. Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler

Mr. Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler a luminary, grew up from his youth in the home of his uncle, Mr. Shimon Londner (Z”L), who later became one of its respected wealthy citizens.

His uncle deprived neither him, nor his brother Hanoch (Z”L), of anything yet for all that there awakened within him a yearning for Zion, his heart's desire and his ambition to “pitch his tent” on a plot of land acquired in the Land of Israel.

Already by 1912 a number of youngsters had decided to send one of their group to survey the country and examine the possibilities to immigrate and settle there. Y.D. Gitler, Avraham Goldberg, David Yehuda Marczyk, Shmuel Fogel and Ya'acov Zimmerman (Z”L), had saved together 100 Roubles and sent their colleague, Ze'ev Feureisen (Z”L), to Palestine. He remained in the country about three months, returned to Miechów and reported that each family of settlers would need about 6,000 Roubles, something that was well beyond their financial abilities.

In the meantime, the Great War broke out and all organizational activity of that nature ceased.

During the war years, when the economic situation improved somewhat for the Jews of Miechów, activity in that direction renewed and a few more people registered with the original group and among them Mr. Aharon Leib Adler (Z”L), and they began to collect together some funds, and deposited it in one of the banks. But a devastating devaluation struck their savings and a sum of 8,000 Roubles was lost…

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There is room to praise the fact that the determination to continue was not destroyed, neither did they despair of achieving their aims and began immediately to work towards their target of acquiring land in Palestine. This time, after having failed in their previous efforts, they decided to centralize their money in solid foreign currency and in the spring of 1925 Mordecai Greitzer and Haim Feureisen (Z”L), were sent to Palestine in the name of the Miechów group which now numbered 17 members. After they had criss–crossed the country from north to south and east to west, they contacted the “Zionist Commonwealth of America” in Jerusalem and bought from them 1,000 Dunam (100,000 sq.m. – Trans.) of agricultural land and 10 lots as a commercial center in Afula.

 

Copy

To the Zionist Commonwealth of America

New York–Jerusalem

We, Mordecai Greitzer and Haim Feureisen, hold official Power of Attorney documents as delegated representatives of the “Miechów Group” affirm by this that the 1,000 Dunam that we purchased for our “Miechów Group” belong to the following registered members:–

 

Mr. Mordecai Greitzer 80 Dunam Eighty
Mr. Haim Feureisen 80 Dunam Eighty
Mr. Shmuel Fogel 80 Dunam Eighty
Mr. Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler 80 Dunam Eighty
Mr. Avraham Goldberg 80 Dunam Eighty
Mr. Mordecai Rubin 80 Dunam Eighty
Mr. Mendel Feigenblatt 60 Dunam Sixty
Mr. Yudel Lishmann 60 Dunam Sixty
Mr. Michael Wexler 60 Dunam Sixty
Mr. Shmuel Burstein 50 Dunam Fifty
Mr. Haim Kelewicz 50 Dunam Fifty
Mr. Gershon Gimliekowicz(?) 40 Dunam Forty
Mr. Haim Walberg 40 Dunam Forty
Mr. Manish Yaskiel 40 Dunam Forty
Mr. Yakel Salzburg 40 Dunam Forty
Mr. Shlomo Yama 40 Dunam Forty
Mr. Yesheyahu Greitzer 40 Dunam Forty
Total 1,000 Dunam One thousand

 

Within the city: Registry of lots  
1). Mordecai Greitzer 1 Lot One
2). Shmuel Fogel 1 Lot One
3). Mandel Feigenblatt with Gershon Gimliekowicz 1 Lot One
4). Yesheyahu Greitzer with Mordecai Ze'ev Flamenbaum 1 Lot One

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In the commercial center:
1). Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler 1 Lot One
2). Avraham Goldberg 1 Lot One
3). Haim Feureisen 1 Lot One
4). Shlomo Feureisen 1 Lot One
5). Yehuda Lishmann 1 Lot One
6). Mordecai Rubin 1 Lot One

 

At a general meeting of all the members it was decided to elect a group committee of three members to travel to Palestine as early as possible and they were: Shmuel Fogel, Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler and Yesheyahu Greitzer (who remained in Palestine).

These members were given the authority to accept into their hands the 1,000 Dunam and to allocate the lots among the members.

The rise in the value of the Lira and the fall in the value of the Polish Złoty caused a situation where the group members were unable to meet their financial obligations of payments on the agricultural land and the commercial lots they had purchased and according to a new contract that was negotiated between Mr. Mordecai Greitzer and the head of the “Zionist Commonwealth of America”, Mr. Shimon Fishman (Z”L), when he visited Poland, the purchase was reduced by 50% – the Commonwealth waived its right to foreclose on the payment of the full amount due under the agreement.

Among the above members of the Miechów Group who are alive and dwell among us in Israel are: Ya'acov Tsvi Gitler, Ya'acov Saltsburg, Shlomo Feureisen and Mordecai Rubin – may they be blessed with long and happy lives.

Mr. Gitler, who was the first to immigrate among the members in 1925, received Power of Attorney to arrange affairs for the group with the “Zionist Commonwealth” organization and the Afula Municipality and he performed that function to their complete satisfaction. The contract and agreement were kept by him in their original entirety and they are valuable survivors salvaged from the fires of destruction of our community.


Memories of My Birth-Town

by Henya Zingerman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

My childhood years that were spent in my birth-town, Miechow, bind me closely to my Fajgenbaum family. My great grandfather, Bunes Fajgenbaum came to the shtetl [town] 100 years ago. I heard from my grandfather Dovid that when his father came to Miechow he was the tenth Jew and he completed the minyon [10 men required for prayer] in the city. My great grandfather had an iron business and his wife, Ruchle, bore him many children. Several among them remained in Miechow and my grandfather had a restaurant on Charsznicer Street. I, the oldest grandchild, from his son Moshe, actually was born there. I spent my early childhood years in my grandfather's restaurant. Merchants from the entire area would go there. My grandmother, Sura'le, also ran a guesthouse, a hotel, and there always were unfamiliar people there. If it ever appeared that a Jew did not have any money to pay, my grandmother did not drive the person out because

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she knew that if he did have money, he would pay with a thank you. The door was always open both for the rich and for the poor. Jews could eat well, sleep well and also simultaneously [hear] a chapter of Zionism.

My grandmother was a fervid Zionist and when she would sit and read the newspaper people went on tiptoes and listened to the news from the wide world.

The Purim days are particularly etched in my memory. Jews from the entire shtetl came together at my grandmother's to hear my grandfather, Dovid Fajgenbaum, read the Megile [scroll of the Book of Esther]. My grandfather had a very beautiful voice and the sounds reached out far to the fields. After he read Megilus Ester [the Scroll of Esther], the Jews had a drink and had some cakes.

The housewives sent shalakh-manos [gifts of food] to each other during the day of Purim and they began to prepare the holiday dinner. The aromas of the food that she cooked for the Purim meal, baking fresh Challahs, roast goose, fish and so on filled the [rooms] at my grandmother's. We children waited impatiently for evening to come so that we could sit at the table.

My father had earlier ordered the music. The poor people and beggars from the surrounding towns waited for Purim the entire year to earn a few groshn. Whole groups went from house to house presenting scenes from Jewish history such as: the selling of Joseph, Haman and his 10 sons, Chana and her seven children, Bar Kokhba, Rabbi Akiva and so on.

One thing I remember is that they would make their first visit at my grandmother's because they received a good pastry there.

The pogrom that took place in the shtetl in 1920 still lies in my memory. I was a small child then, but it is engraved in my memory. After the pogrom our family began to think of going to Eretz-Yisroel. Miechow consisted of 10% Jews. Many of them were Zionists. A Mizrakhi [religious Zionist] organization and a Zionist movement were created that year. Ahron Leib Adler was the chairman of Mizrakhi and Avraham Sercacz was chairman of the Zionists. A Hakhshara [Zionist agricultural training farm] was created for Halutzim [pioneers] who prepared to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel. My father also was one of them and he worked as a locksmith. His entire life he dreamed of going to Eretz-Yisroel, but, alas, his dream was not realized. My entire family perished at the hands of the Hitlerist murderers.

In 1921 three comrades immigrated to various countries. My Uncle Leibl Fajgenbaum to Eretz-Yisroel, Yekutial Grajcer to Mexico and Noakh Gruszka to Australia. All three were intelligent young men, full of life and a drive to learn. My Uncle Leibl studied with Gruszka the electrician. My grandmother once asked Gruszka what her son Leibl had learned.

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Gruszka answered her. He already knows the trade; he stands on a ladder and reads a book. The three comrades celebrated their last Purim in the shtetl before their departure and performed various humorous sketches. Two delegates traveled at the same time to buy land: Chaim Fajerajzn and Shmuel Fogel. My grandmother Sura gave them her entire [savings] to be invested in land. They searched for a long time for suitable land and they could not decide because Haifa was full of stones and Tel Aviv was pure sand. They finally decided to buy [land] in Afula because the soil there was good for agriculture and also for construction because it was flat as a table.

Meanwhile, my Uncle Leibl wrote from the country [Eretz-Yisroel]. He wrote that he was in the Jewish Brigade and was building the university in Jerusalem. Then he built a large synagogue in Tel Aviv. In 1925 my grandparents and four children went to Eretz-Yisroel. At first they suffered hunger here. They had no money to settle on the land in Afula and they settled in Haifa. My grandmother continued her tradition here in Haifa; the door was always open and everyone who was hungry went away satisfied. My father Moshe Fajgenbaum and his family remained in the old home. Times were difficult; there was an economic crisis in Poland. My father would go to a village to buy wheat from a peasant. Many Jews traded in the villages. They created a retailers' union. At the same time my father and Wolf Mandri, Brener and others created a bank kupiecki [merchant bank}. They discussed this for weeks. It cost them much effort, but they finally opened the bank. Earlier, my father had not looked for any income until he learned of the world political situation and about the situation in Eretz-Yisroel, in particular. He left for the market very early. Yosef Fridrich already was [reading]. He already had read the entire press and he was able to spread the news further.

At the same time, the young sons of the rich parents of Miechow were studying in Warsaw Tachkemoni [teacher training seminar], as for example, Yekezkial Fridrich, Zev Fridrich, Meir Fogel (now in Israel), Yona Blat, who died before the Holocaust and Yehuda Zelmanowicz, who died in Israel. The Miechowers in Warsaw were organized in Hashomer Haleumi [the National Guard] and when they went on vacation they recruited the young and founded an organization of Hashaomer Haleumi. The best young people from the shtetl were drawn to the organization. Elimelekh Fridrich, Moshe Finczowski and Yehezkiel Fridrich were the first leaders. They provided their great vigor to the organization. We learned much here. Both the poor and the rich children worked harmoniously in the organization. Courses were created.

In 1929 during the events in Eretz-Yisroel we were very worried. In Poland, anti-Semitism had increased and my father

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could no longer go the villages because the gentiles had begun to hate us. Earning an income became more difficult from day to day; the young people began to think of practical matters. We began to organize for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel. Yehezkiel Fridrich was the first member of our movement to go to Hakhshara. Some time passed and a large number of young people left for Hakhshara to be ready to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel.

But, alas, the English mandate government was in power then and only issued a small number of certificates. A few traveled with the Makabiade [Maccabiah games – international sports event for Jewish athletes], such as for example, Rywka Unger, Yona Zelmanowicz and Miriam Fajgenblat. Fridrich succeeded in emigrating very early.

Five years of the accursed war passed when the Nazis annihilated all Polish Jewry. My entire family perished as well except for my brother Benyamin who survived through a miracle and is with us in Israel.


Of Events in My City

by Ruwin Lewit

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

1919. I came home. It already was sinister in the street. The windowpanes already had been knocked out of our house. It was raining heavily in the street. This was lucky because the police could not control the situation. The military arrived from Kielce Friday at night. Wagons arrived from the villages on Shabbos [Sabbath] morning and the peasants gathered on Kielce Street. We called it the Kaiser Street near the church. Hercil Zalcberg [and] Ayzyk Zalcberg lived there. They had a business. They were rich men. The business was forced open, robbed. They beat the old Hercil so [badly] that he died immediately afterward. The military intervened; one of the robbers was shot. Rumors were spread among the pogromists that Jewish soldiers did the shooting. The mob became wilder. The situation began to become calmer when they began to arrest the leaders of the pogrom.

There was an inundation of water on a Shabbos in 1934-5. Houses were destroyed. People were dragged by water. Shaya Zelikowicz lived outside the city on Charsznicer Street near the bridge; the house was destroyed. They barely escaped with their lives. There was great damage not only in Miechow, but also in the surrounding cities and villages. It was a bad year for the wheat merchants and for other merchants as well, for whom there was too short a time for the wheat harvest because the fields had eroded. That year they depended on the peasants. And then the Hitler era arrived…


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A Monument for Miechow

by Shmuel Blum

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

Around the Synagogue

There are places and cities where people live and create for many generations and no one knows of their existence. Thanks to some event, these cities become known. The occasion arises pointing out a city where a historical personality was born, where a battle took place and so on.

Miechow, our shtetele [small town], had special documents in its book of lineage. Forgotten, yes. Maciej Miechowita, a Polish historian, lived here.

[It was] a shtetl [town] like thousands of other shtetlekh [plural of shtetl], where Jews lived together with non-Jews in good enough contact. Jewish middle-class [residents] and non-Jewish citizens were the municipal authorities. Jewish dozores [synagogue wardens] simultaneously were [city] council members and were concerned with the needs of the city. A memorial tablet has remained until today with the names of the councilmen who led the water management, and among them are many Jewish names.

[Miechow was] not necessarily a shtetl of merchants, but of a large number of artisans, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, wagon drivers, shoemakers and tailors. Despite the fact that the Jews were in the minority, it had its societies and institutions with an [organized] community and its own synagogue. Shabbos [Sabbath] was the day on which the Jews rested and it was silent and quiet in the city.

Exactly as in other Jewish shtetlekh, the more prosperous members of the middle class, the rabbi and the [members of the organized] community were influential.

The synagogue, a young one, was built at the start of our century [20th]. [It was] a tall building with two impressive windows decorated with stained glass, with galleries on three sides for the women's [section of the] synagogue.

It has no history to tell, except a small incident. During the pogrom in 1919, when an excited mob attacked the synagogue, the then starosta [village chief or governor] Kulesza went before the Torah ark with outspread arms, put his own life at risk, and made sure that the synagogue would not, God forbid, be set on fire.

The synagogue had a short, curious history described in these lines. In 1927, the synagogue was closed to the worshippers while the eastern wall and the ceiling were being painted. Boys from the nearby courtyard wanted to look in and to see what kind of paintings were being created inside. Their curiosity was not quieted until they knocked out a windowpane of a side window and crawled inside. I was just about to finish the symbols of the Zodiac.

Their eyes fell on Virgo, which was represented by the stylized, small body of a girl with closed eyes. This was enough for the group of boys to create turmoil in the city because naked women were being painted in the synagogue.

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It is easy to imagine how the news fractured the public, provincial fantasy. The thing ended equally well after the intervention of the city rabbi. However, the existing press in Poland already had sung and wrote about “a synagogue with naked women.”

My father, Reb Yeremia Blum, of blessed memory, an esteemed member of the middle class in the city, a dozor [member of the Jewish community council] and councilman at the city hall, advised me against painting the synagogue, explaining that there would be no satisfaction from the kehile [organized Jewish committee]. It reached the point that at a vote taken at a meeting of the council, my father, Reb Yeremia, left the meeting because he was an interested party, since his son was doing the work.

The synagogue is the only thing that remains today, turned into a warehouse because there is no one to pray in it; the sidewalk near the synagogue is paved with headstones torn out of the Jewish cemetery. The feet of every decent person who steps on this place burn.

 

The Young

Unlike all of the poor shtetlekh that were called meylekh evyen giter [King Pauper estate – the nickname for an impoverished part of the Lublin area], because no railroad even came near them, our city was privileged because it was a district city and a Christian gymnazie [secondary school] existed here. The dozens of Jewish students at the gymnazie became a symbol of progress for the other young people; however those who did not have the material opportunity to study at the school, had a desire and willingness to leave a small place to study a trade and “become a person.”

The parents, pious or not fanatical, looked askance at the doctrine of the young and were not happy that the young were distancing themselves from Yidishkeit [a Jewish way of life], but kept quiet.

The young men and girls who had good enough relationships with the Christian young people went to entertainments, sports competitions and spectaculars together. Makkabi, the Jewish sports club, won more and more in football [soccer matches] with the Christian sports club.

It is interesting to report on one of the amateur performances. It was our custom before opening the curtain [for a play] to play Hatikvah [The Hope – an anthem adopted by the Zionist movement and now the national anthem of the State of Israel] and everyone stood up. Among the spectators were Christian girls, invited by a Jewish friend. When the girls asked why [everyone] was standing at the playing of Hatikvah, a young man said that this was the Jewish Jeszcze Polska [Nie Zginęła Poland Has Not Yet Perished] (Polish national hymn…).

Students brought from university cities helped to spread knowledge. Hazomir [a choral and dramatic society], with its own premises and library, was founded at the same time, a place where girls and young men exchanged books, discussed literature and actual problems.

The very young also remained daring. Based on the program of the

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the scout movement, Hazomir emerged with half-military discipline, with excursions and parades.

There also was a desire to benefit from the creations of the personalities of the world. Hazomir would invite directors to lead the drama circle, brought the artist Zigmunt Turkow for a performance.

Gershon Sirota, the famous Warsaw khazan [cantor], was invited during the 1920s. He gave a concert of synagogue music and opera arias. Many non-Jewish music experts came to the concert. This concert was a financial success. The Jews left the hall with pride that Jews also could show that they had beautiful music.

Leib Bimka and Segalowicz would come with speeches. The writer, Maks Erik, lived in Miechow for a time. Who among us cannot remember his spirited lectures about the source of the Yiddish language? He had the makings of a celebrated man with his language, knowledge and fantasy. He was later professor at the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut [YIVO – Jewish Scientific Institute] in Minsk. He perished under mysterious circumstances in 1934 in the Soviet Union.

The pulsating wave that held sway over the young also was partially connected to fear of assimilation. This fear enveloped the religious circles. As a counterweight, the pious Jews began to create schools, religious in the spirit of progressiveness. Their purpose was to draw the young into religion, but not to remain in a stagnant form. It actually was Zionism with a religious hue: Mizrakhi [religious Zionists].

Together, both, Zionism and Mizrakhi, had the greatest influence on planting the love of the national ideal in the young minds. The administrative bodies were the source of further events and of the hahalutz [pioneers] movement in the shtetl. They should really be thanked for the fact that so many Miechower survived in Israel because they understood the right time to leave Miechow before it was too late. This remnant of Miechower provided a hand in founding and building the Land of Israel.

Clothing, garments from [different] epochs, furniture, candlesticks, various objects that give evidence as a document of the past, are carefully preserved in various collections of folklore in museums. Of us, nothing, nothing remains of that golden time but our synagogue.

Miechow, the Polish shtetl, continues to exist. It continues to be a place where citizens remember their former Jewish neighbors when they eat challah [Sabbath egg bread], which is still baked today in Poland, or fish cooked in the Jewish manner, po żydowsku.

Thus did the small twig of Yidishkehit grow and develop in alien Polish soil. The Jews and the Poles lived together and created together over the course of generations, like husband and wife who live together in love and joy, interrupted from time to time by quarrels and squabbling.

 

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