Professor Ephraim Katzir
President of the State of Israel
This book is unique among the Yizkor books that commemorate the Jewish communities that were destroyed in the Shoah. It was in Auschwitz that the Devil's work reached its peak, and the very name more than any other concept symbolizes to us the intensity of the disaster committed by the Nazi murderers against our people. The wildest imagination could not have conceived that human beings are capable of perpetrating against their own species what the Nazis carried out in this extermination camp, and the imagination became a horrifying reality.
Now that these atrocities did actually take place, they have become an indelible part of human history and the most frightful chapter in the annals of the Jewish people. We, the generation which lived through that terrible period, are duty-bound to see to it that the memory of the Shoah should not fade, not from the minds of the perpetrators who want to suppress it and not from the hearts of the children and grandchildren of its victims. We shall do this by memorializing the six million through study, writings, communing with them, by planting and building, and even more in the ultimate effort of strengthening and reinforcing the State of Israel, towards which they yearned in their vision as they walked to their deaths.
The State of Israel, where the few escapees from the sword who survived the Shoah have come and where we hope our people in the four corners of the earth will yet come, is for us a small comfort for the great catastrophe, and insofar as we prosper, in spirit and materially, in strengthening and fortifying the land of the Jews, in the spirit of the values of Judaism, so we will fulfill the desire of those whose faith in the eternity of Israel did not diminish even when they went, not to return.
On the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Messiah was born, said our sages. This faith in a better future, despite all the dangers and disasters, sustained our people since time immemorial and it shall be, for us too, a source of strength and vision by whose light we shall proceed, as the memory of the Shoah shall ever remain with us.
[There is a facsimile signature of Ephraim Katzir]
Oshpitzin that is what Jews called it. One of the earliest Jewish communities in Poland, it was situated on the crossroads in West Galicia formerly on the border of the Three Empires and in later times, close to Germany. It was crowned with a noble ancestry, a long lineage of generations: some say five hundred years, and others claim six hundred years.
One of the book's chapters tells us that many of those stemming from Oshpitzin who had left to live in larger cities would return to it in old age. They said that while it is good to live in a metropolis, a Jew must die in Oshpitzin. They were certain that in the merit of thetzadikimburied in the old cemetery, its soil had become holy.
And it turned into a repository of the ashes of three and one half million martyrs.
Oshpitzin known as Oswiecim in the Polish language became Auschwitz.
A valley of death.
Before us, now, is the Memorial Book, in its dreadful uniqueness.
Out of the mountains of ashes, from the millions of non-existent graves, from the depths of the hush of nothingness, it arises and stands before you in the splendor of its surrounding panorama, its streets and alleyways, its workshops and factories, its synagogues and batei midrash, its tzadikim and rabbis, its Hasidim and Maskilim, its organizations and institutions full of life.
Six thousand Jews lived there.
A spacious world, it spread its wings afar, its sparkling wealth of spirit vibrant in its overflowing vitality.
You read the chapters of the book and the deep roots and wellsprings from which it drew its sustenance are placed before you: the Torah giants and renowned tzadikim who lived there, in Oshpitzin, who fixed its cornerstones and stitched its embroidery, forging and building life patterns and spiritual energy they, their disciples, and disciples of disciples, to the last generation. Reaching you are the sounds of Torah that never ceased and the melody of the Hasidim that filled it the Bobower and Sondzer Hasidim, the Hasidim of Belz, Radomsko, and Sassow, the strains which extended from generation to generation in a long chain, link after link and you see the pillar of fire going before them, lighting their darkest days.
The Jews of Oshpitzin in their many generations experienced great misfortunes. They struggled daily in the stranglehold of decrees and assaults that rained down constantly on all Jews and on them too, never ceasing but they were never vanquished, they were never demoralized, they never despaired. They never succumbed, nor did they sink into the narrow confines of their toil and distress.
See for yourself not only the Hasidic courts, the synagogues, and the batei midrash but also the institutions that flourished there: the wholehearted charitable organizations, the cultural institutions, and the movements that were founded there the first Zionist organization was established there in 1901and the Hechalutz movement in 1919.
Examine the full expanse: The Zionist Socialist Alliance, Hashomer Hatzair, Mizrachi, Agudat Yisrael, the Revisionist movement, Po'alei Tzion Yemin, and WIZO. Stormy debates, struggles, dreams, and much activity filled its spaces. There were many Maskilim there, some of them renowned celebrities.
A wide world of broad horizons and blue skies.
There were six thousand Jews there.
Worlds upon worlds, interwoven that was the Jewish world you knew. It bore upon its shoulders the eternity of Israel, the long trek of Diaspora affliction and the great faith, the hope of the redemption that was about to come.
Kk Kehilla Kedosha, The Holy Community Oshpitzin that was.
Before it became Auschwitz.
Whose surviving embers from the flames have written with their lifeblood, in trembling script; whose every letter comes fromthere from the letters hovering in the air over the valley of death, gathered together to be its witness, one of thousands of kehillot whose ashes lie in its embers.
With holy trepidation and feelings of awesome responsibility we took upon ourselves the mission of editing and assembling the Yizkor book for our city, Oshpitzin. We set ourselves two important goals when we began our efforts: to memorialize the holy memory of our dear and precious martyrs, parents, brothers, sisters, and relatives who were tragically and savagely exterminated by the Nazi murderers in the gas chambers and extermination camps; and to restore the likeness of the once beautiful and pure Jewish life of our town, which flowed like a living fountain in the wilderness of the Polish exile, and which pulsed with youthful impetus and joy of life.
Jewish Oshpitzin exists no longer. Aside from the few lucky ones who survived by a miracle and are scattered over five continents, the entire population underwent the identical martyrdom and perished, as did all the Jewish towns of Poland. The tragic lot was even worse for our town, Oshpitzin. The Nazi murderers transformed our quiet and peaceful town into a valley of hell and a cemetery for all of European Jewry, and the dignified and honored name Oshpitzin was perverted and changed to the dreadful name Auschwitz. Why did the Nazis choose our city for their gruesome, bestial ends? There is no logical answer to that question, just as there is no logic in the sudden transformation of a highly cultured people into wild, bloodthirsty beasts whose like has not existed since the world began.
In accordance with the proposed goals, we have attempted through this Yizkor book to disclose the multifaceted life of former Jewish Oshpitzin, the history of the city in the context of Jewish life throughout Galicia, the community, social, economic, and religious life of the town in recent times, and the activities of the parties, youth organizations, community institutions, batei midrash, cheders and yeshivot, rabbis and academics, and leaders and public servants. We have, thereby,erected a worthy monument and lit a memorial candle on the unknown graves of the Oshpitzin martyrs whose ashes and bones are strewn and scattered over the plains, mountains, and valley of the Polish earth.
We have presented in this book a full description of the horrible pain and suffering which our townsmen experienced equally with all Polish Jews in the bloody years of the war, but at the same time we could not conceal the catastrophic role of extermination which Oshpitzin-Oswiecim played for the arch-murderers in their plans to liquidate Polish Jewry. We have, therefore, included a bibliography of over 500 books and articles written about Auschwitz with blood from the hearts of various authors. Additionally, leading Jewish personalities and Shoah researchers have participated with articles on the meaning, aftermath, and effect of the Auschwitz tragedy on the condition of the Jewish people in the future and its influence on Jewish history. Notable is the article by the last kehilla leader, R Eliezer Schenker, who pictures with great talent the history of his many-branched, noted family and describes his own experiences as a public servant of the tormented people during the war years. These memorials have a literary and historic value. Of historic importance, too, is the article by Mrs. Gruenapfel, who details the help she and her friends gave to the uprising in Auschwitz. Most illuminating are the name and personality of the leader of the uprising, Zalman Gradowski, whose unique literary manuscript was found on the grounds of the crematorium by Chaver Wolnerman; a portion of his journal is published for the first time in our book.
We express our deep appreciation to the president of the State of Israel, Professor Ephraim Katzir, to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, to Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, to the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Y. Y. Frenkel, to Minister Dr. Yosef Burg, rabbis, Knesset members, authors, Shoah researchers, and all the Oshpitziner townsmen who took part with articles, memoirs, and homages. We also want to thank all our friends who provided material assistance that made the publication possible.
With full consciousness that we have honestly and conscientiously discharged our responsibility, we cannot claim that the work is complete without errors. The modest editorial board was barely able to foresee the colossal preparatory efforts required. There were no historical materials, archives, or documents at our disposal. A particular encumbrance was the indifference of many townsmen who did not properly appreciate the importance of the Yizkor book and, despite our requests, did not respond positively. This is evident, primarily, in the section on Personalities and Figures, where dozens of important personalities, leaders, party heads, and other significant people were omitted, not through malice but because there was simply no one who was able to record their biographical details and spheres of activity. Though we do not feel guilty, we do apologize and beg pardon.
May this book be a memorial for one of the most important and admirable Jewish kehillot in Poland, our town Oshpitzin, where once a rich, Jewish, original life of wisdom and Torah flourished, a life of culture and creativity, spirit and soul until the hideous enemy came and razed everything to the ground. Let this book serve as a memorial light and Kaddish for our parents and relatives who perished for kiddush HaShem, blamelessly, only because they were born Jews:
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