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[Page 209]

Benevolent Societies and Organizations

As in every town and village where Jews lived, in Oshpitzin, too, there were benevolent societies and communal charity institutions which were active in serving the needs of the town's poor, the elderly and exhausted, the sick and chronically ill, the downtrodden and those who were in need. Heading these institutions were people who cared for them with devotion and did whatever they possibly could to support and develop the institutions to help people during their time of distress. It would not be right to ignore their existence and fail to record them in the pages of the book that is dedicated to the memory of our town, its inhabitants, and its public-spirited patrons who are now gone.

There were all kinds of institutions in our town, beginning with Tomchei Aniyim [Supporters of the Poor], Hachnosas Orchim [Hospitality to Strangers], G'milus Chasodim [Free Loan Society], Bikur Cholim [Care for the sick], Linas Hatzedek [Hospice], Talmud Torah, Moshav Z'kenim [Old Age Home], Hachnosas Kalla [Wedding Assistance], and as far as providing the ultimate loving kindness through the Chevra Kaddisha [Burial Society]. I will attempt to list these institutions and name their leading lights, and beg forgiveness in advance, should I inadvertently forget and omit any of them.

Bikur Cholim

The Bikur Cholim Society, well known and respected, was founded before the First World War by the patrons of the city in order to provide medical assistance and care for the needy, either openly or secretly.

I have been told that during and after the First World War the Bikur Cholim Society did wonderful work in aiding both the city's residents and the Jewish soldiers who were stationed locally as well as those passing through town to and from the front lines and later returning to their hometowns. Particularly, the society excelled in aiding refugees who, because of the approaching front lines, were uprooted from their towns and were left homeless. Distinguished leading townsmen headed the society and performed this sacred task as volunteers.

The society was founded to aid the indigent who did not have the wherewithal to pay a doctor's fee or for medications at a pharmacy. Such people would receive a voucher from the society to present to a specific doctor or pharmacy entitling him to a lesser fee or none at all. In fact, the society did a lot more than that and provided for a substantial segment of the population. Only a very few exceptions had some form of medical coverage, and when someone was ill, the family was not able to bear up under the burden. There was neither a hospital nor a clinic in town, and only most recently in the thirties a branch of the government health center was opened, primarily for post-natal advice for women and in the case of an illness suspected to be tuberculosis. The advice was in fact without charge, but which “Yiddishe Mamme” would bring her children to such a location? Immediately the rumor might spread that her children, God forbid, had tuberculosis. Generally, when someone fell ill, the wisest thing was to employ a talisman against the evil eye and other home remedies, and when this failed, R’ Chaim Silbiger was summoned. He was an “all-around practitioner” [unlicensed folk doctor], who treated all patients and all diseases.

I wouldn't exaggerate if I were to say that there wasn't one house in the whole town to which R’ Chaim Silbiger hadn't been summoned to heal, help, and cure. I remember that Dr. Wechsler, the oldest physician of Oshpitzin, had once told me: “Dr. Silbiger can never harm a patient, since aspirin and talcum powder are not harmful.” The truth is that R’ Chaim was an institution all by himself, and for decades this warm and friendly Jew, who was incidentally a great talmid chochem and also a learned Maskil, would trudge from house to house, during the day or at night, in all seasons, visiting the sick and prescribing medicines, but most importantly giving physical and spiritual comfort to all who needed it, without expectation of remuneration.

A void was created when R’ Chaim Silbiger made aliyah in 5694 [1934]. Since that time the numbers turning to the Bikur Cholim increased even more.

The leading members of the Bikur Cholim Society in the recent years before the war were: R’ Shimon Schmeidler, R’ Michel Sender, R’ Zvi Nebenzahl, R’ Ahron Weissberg, R’ Eliyahu Miller, and others. Heading them was my friend R’ Shimon Danzig, the prime mover who inspired all the members. In his home he had a stockpile of medicines that were distributed free of charge to all who needed them, as well as medical equipment that was loaned out to whoever required them.

All of the administrative members toiled and did much more than required. They gave their time, energy, and money to the society, especially to provide help unobtrusively to dignified people in need, in consonance with the principle: “A gift in secret pacifies anger” [Proverbs 21:14].

Chevra Kaddisha

Some seventy people, of the select and honored Jews in town, were members of the Chevra Kaddisha of Oshpitzin.

In order to join its ranks one had to pass through a long and difficult process. The privilege of membership was granted to the sons of veteran members or to newcomers if they or their parents had been members of the Chevra Kaddisha in their previous hometowns, and only after they applied for and proved their ability and talent in actual performance.

Every candidate was tested and had to undergo a period of probation. Only after the passage of some time since applying could he be accepted at the general meeting of the members, which was held annually on the seventh day of Adar, the day of demise of Moshe Rabbenu [Moses, our teacher].

There was also an annual festive meeting of all the members on Shmini Atzeret in the meeting-hall of the kehilla, which lasted many hours. Obviously, there was plenty to drink until evening time, when they left as a group to go the chief rabbi's house and from there proceeded singing and dancing to the Great Synagogue in preparation for the Hakafot of Simchat Torah.

At the head of the society were dignitaries such as: R’ Chaim B”R Yakov Wulkan, popularly known as “R’ Chaim Yakov's”; Rabbi Shlomo Segal Landau, R’ Yosef Lauber, R’ Chaim Natowitz, and R’ Yosef Nathansohn.

Some of the members excelled as especially dynamic and as men of accomplishment, for even before being summoned they were already on the spot, appearing whenever needed to do this ultimate kindness, anytime and anywhere. They were: R’ Mendel Mondschein, R’ Avrohom Ringer, R’ Yosef Simcha Wolnerman, and R’ Moishe Fischer.

R’ Yosef Simcha and R’ Avrohom took care not only of the dead but also of the sick, by providing help and care. Frequently they were summoned by the family, sometimes by specific request of the dying person who felt his end was near and wanted these two especially at his bedside.

This was an amazing thing for the veteran members, for those dying generally shrank from and feared seeing the members of the Chevra Kaddisha, but it seems that these two, because of their pleasant mien and their readiness to give support and help, merited to be the exceptions, and in their personalities they truly displayed life in the here and now rather than life in the hereafter.

Their sacred service was especially dramatic during the German occupation in the Second World War. They were then among the very few, because of their performance of this task, who were permitted to leave their homes at all hours, in spite of the curfew that was imposed on all inhabitants from early evening until morning. They exploited their status and the possibilities it presented to provide assistance where necessary at all hours, something which was at times fraught with great personal danger.

Even after the expulsion of Jews from Oshpitzin and deportation to the ghetto of Sosnowiec-Bedzin [Ghetto Szrodula] (a few were deported to Chrzanow), these activists continued in their sacred task on behalf of their townspeople at great personal risk, until they themselves perished in the last Akzie (the final liquidation of the ghetto) in the summer of 5703 [1943]. May their memory be a blessing!

G'milus Chasodim

This society was formed a long time ago. Some say that this was the first community society founded in previous generations in this town in order to provide interest-free loans to those in need. Our sages have stated: “G'milus chasodim is more beloved than tzedaka [charity],” and in the list of good deeds that have no limits, g'milus chasodim stands even higher than Talmud Torah. It is no wonder, therefore, that at the head of this institution were important dignitaries of the town who achieved much success in this sphere, and there were many people among the merchants and craftsmen who had been helped and restored through the loans given them for long periods without interest. I remember the names of the gabbaim who were recently in charge, and they were: R’ Shmuel Weinberger, R’ Simcha Lichter, and R’ Yosef Lauber.

The office of the society was in the home of R’ S[hmuel] Weinberger on Koscielna Street.

Tomchei Aniyim

(Supporters of the Poor)

Our town had no lack of poor who went begging from door to door, having arrived on foot or riding from near and far, and who toured the town from house to house with hands extended for alms, especially during market days when the merchants and craftsmen were engaged in negotiations with the non-Jews, and all were too involved to be able to help the poor with food and drink and all their other needs. [Tr.: Negotiations is a proper word for the process of haggling with customers when there is no established fixed price.] In order to help these poor and prevent shaming these unfortunates, the Tomchei Aniyim Society was formed which dealt with them and provided them with vouchers of a certain sum so that they would not have to make the rounds from door to door. The income of this society came from steady contributions that were made by most of the townspeople. The office of the society was in the women's section of the Great Synagogue. R’ Ahron Shtub was in charge of the distribution of the vouchers and the treasurer, R’ Chanoch Kreiser, redeemed the vouchers for the holder and sent him off. Assisting them were R’ Chaim Eisen and R’ Yosef Lauber.

Hachnosas Kalo

When it comes time for a Jewish girl to be married and there is no dowry, no wherewithal to make a wedding or the means to acquire an apartment and purchase furniture or household goods, it is a tragedy and one can reach the brink of despair. There are, to boot, orphans without a father or any other who can come to the rescue. What would be the lot of these poor daughters of Israel? Will they sit at home until their hair turns white?

God forbid! Israel is not without succor. Generous people, movers and shakers, pursuers of righteousness and loving kindness got together and contributed themselves as well as solicited others to set up a fund for hachnosas kalo. There were male and female gabbaim whose entire being was involved in helping the poor girls to gather a dowry and to marry them off to decent husbands. Usually there was such a committee in every bes medrish in town, but the activity was carried out quietly, and modestly, in order not to embarrass the have-nots.

Moshav Zkenim

In order to make the lives of the elderly more pleasant, a building was erected as a moshav zkenim where the elderly, both male and female, who had no relatives or whose relatives were unable to provide for them, could be housed. The building was on Glebokie Street, not far from the village of Klocnikowice, an area later incorporated into the city. This was a narrow, one-story building with windows facing outwards, while behind it was a large yard where the old folks warmed themselves in the sun.

Talmud Torah

The Talmud Torah Society of Oshpitzin had existed for many years. Its first successful activities began with the outbreak of World War I, when the city became host to refugees fleeing the front lines and isolated settlements. In the city itself there was stress and poverty, and children wandered the streets like unattended sheep without someone to care for them. The city patrons stepped forward and brought the children under one roof, hired melamdim, and grouped them into suitable classes. The organizer and gabbai of the Talmud Torah was R’ Chaim Silbiger. Everyone paid what he could, one more and another less, so that no child would remain without schooling.

The institution grew by leaps and bounds. Larger buildings were acquired and a kitchen was started where needy children received a warm meal.

After some years this wonderful institution ceased to exist, because of the improvement in the economic situation, when everyone was able to see to the schooling of his household and send his child to a cheder or yeshiva of his choosing.

Hachnosas Orchim

In one of the winding alleys off Koscielna Street there was an ordinary building, almost invisible, but clean and shining. It had two floors with low ceilings, and had been contributed by the Metzner family to serve as the Hachnosas Orchim house. It was modest, yet pleasant and neat. The rooms were shady in the summer and heated in the winter, and served as a resting place for the vagrants who had come to town and required lodging for the night.

A paid supervisor saw to the arrangements and the cleanliness of the house and provided all it required. In recent years the supervisor was the bocher, Avrohom Raubvogel of Kamionka, a young man with a good heart, who, at his own initiative, even supplied a hot cup of tea and occasionally a light meal for his “guests.”

I have been told that none of the “guests” ever left the place hungry, and at times even with some provisions for the road. Bread and other baked goods were supplied by the bakers in the neighborhood: Mrs. Feigel Halper and sons and Mr. Chaim Gerstner, who was hanged by the Nazis in the main square of Chrzanow together with my dear friend, a prince among men, R’ Yisrael Frisch.

Linas Tzedek

Our town didn't have a hospital, nor were there any organized medical services or clinics. Those without means would turn to the Bikur Cholim, which assisted them in obtaining the services of a doctor and medications free of charge. There was, however, no home care or nursing since there were no nurses or trained caregivers. A sick person, even one seriously ill, usually remained at home. Only cases requiring surgery were brought to a hospital; cases of infectious diseases that could not be hidden away or for which arrangements to remain at home could not be made with the district medical official, would be transferred to a quarantined house. This was a small, isolated building close to the Jewish cemetery, fenced off and with iron bars so that people should stay away for fear of infection, even when the house was empty. In the case of elderly patients, who required constant and extended care, the situation was especially severe, because the entire burden fell on one or more of the close relatives.

As a result of these circumstances an organization was formed, primarily of young people, by the name of Linas Tzedek, among whose responsibilities it was to provide groups of two or three volunteers each night to watch over the seriously ill or elderly requiring help and to assist them as much as possible.

This was a wonderful form of bikur cholim, among those kindnesses that have no set limit, to provide direct help to the ill and to let the family rest and recuperate.

May the memory of all who faithfully occupy themselves with the needs of the community be remembered and blessed.

Social Service

When war refugees began arriving in Oshpitzin in 1916-1917, huts were erected for them not far from the railroad station. Among them were no few Jewish families requiring assistance and support. The heads of the kehilla turned to Mrs. Sofia Reich, Regina Wulkan, and Rozhe Hollander and pleaded with them to undertake the care of these refugees. They became the supervisory committee who joined with Dr. Wechsler and Dr. Przeworski and were responsible for distributing food supplied by the “Joint” [Distribution Committee] and for providing medical care.

Mrs. Reich was also the first chair of the parents' committee of the primary schools, the Committee to Aid Jewish Children. Following her, Mrs. Regina Wulkan was elected to head the committee, with Mrs. Tyberg serving as her deputy. Their primary responsibility was to sponsor the children of the poor, to provide for their food and clothing, and to organize summer camps and recuperation facilities for the weak and needy. Dr. Tyberg would examine the children regularly and his wife, Mrs. Tyberg, saw to their sanitary and clothing requirements as far as it was possible.

The school administration provided breakfast for the children, but the Jewish children were not able to benefit because of kashruth constraints. The Jewish Committee decided to provide breakfast that met the kashruth requirements. They received an allocation from the administration and the women prepared the meals themselves and distributed them to the pupils. This was an important and noble task – to provide a satisfactory breakfast to the children, accompanied by a cup of warm milk.

The activity of the “Help Committee” gained a reputation not only among Jews. After Mr. Meisels was elected mayor, he turned to Mrs. Wulkan and asked that the committee provide for all the schoolchildren, Jew and Gentile. They were asked to establish a kitchen and distribute warm meals at noon, especially during the cold winter months. To accomplish this, the committee was enlarged to include Mesdames Tyberg, Sternberg, Reich, Feit, Schmeidler, and Scharf, while in Zasole the committee consisted of Mesdames Liberman, Druks, Adler, and others. Some of them helped in the kitchen and in distribution, while others saw to raising funds and purchasing supplies. This was a most admirable endeavor, worthy of imitation, which received much recognition and well-deserved praise.

Once more, when the “Zbaszyn refugees” arrived after deportation from Nazi Germany in 1938, those same heroines worked diligently with the help of the kehilla and raised money in various ways. They distributed weekly stipends to the refugee families that had been housed in Oshpitzin. This then was the work of the Social Service in Oshpitzin and this is how these volunteers toiled for the benefit of their community, which was wiped out and is no more. “May the beauty of the Lord be with them!”

[Page 215]

Factories and Workshops

Oshpitzin itself was not an industrial city, but the few factories and the industrial concerns of the town and nearby area were mostly owned by Jews.

In the area of the railroad station, some two and one half kilometers from the city center, there were a number of factories. The larger ones manufactured tar-paper for roofing, “Pappe Fabriken, ” owned by Korznicki-Lieberman [?], R’ Wowtche Landau and his son-in-law R’ Yosef Nathansohn, and those owned by R’ Eizik Koszicki and R’ Kalman Lieber.

Nearby was a large flourmill, built only in the thirties, owned by R’ Shimon Barber and partners. There was also a nearby factory for fish products, smoked and canned, owned by Mr. Schentzer [?], and a large brewery for beer and soft drinks owned by Mr. Silpen [?], as well as a factory for the production of preserves and marmalade owned by Mr. Wasserberger. Closer to the city center, beyond the River Sola, in the area called Zasole, several hundred meters from the main road, was a large slaughterhouse and on the other side of the road, alongside the barracks of the Polish army, which was turned into the early base for the foundation of the gigantic concentration camp after capture by the Germans, there was the factory for leather processing, derma, and offal owned by R’ Moshe Grin and a large factory for tanning and leather processing owned by Mr. Stempel [?]. (Some years before the outbreak of the war, the latter was sold to Messrs. Miller and Pipsh [?] of Katowice).

In the late twenties, some 2000 meters south of the military camp, a quarry had been founded by Messrs. Tyberg and Haberfeld which supplied sand and gravel for construction throughout the entire region.

A factory and kiln for the manufacture of bricks was run by Mr. Haber-Silbiger at the southern end of town in the Dwory village. (Incidentally, this was the meeting place of young people who wanted to avoid being gossiped about).

Also on this side of the Sola was Mr. Fischman's large sawmill and Mr. Zvi Selinger's building-carpentry works which was adjacent to the immense lumberyard owned by his father, R’ Shmuel-Yoinoson [perished in the Shoah]. Near them was the winery of Mr. Eliezer Hollander.

We now cross the cement bridge over the Sola, which was constructed in the thirties to replace the old wooden bridge. It had been damaged by many instances of annual spring floods, when the rushing water burst its banks, threatened its collapse, and flooded the city's streets and homes. On your left is the ancient castle which stood high on the hill and housed the office of the district governor, and on the right is the mansion of the Haberfeld family, on whose ground floor is the large factory for liqueurs and spirits that was constructed by the well-known Haberfeld family many years ago.

Walking along from here you were already in the city itself, with the Jews' Street on the right, where all the synagogues, cheders, yeshivas, and community institutions were concentrated. The immense market-square was surrounded by mansions, stores, and workshops, and streets in all directions led to and from it. I will detail only the leading factories and workshops: the three workshops for carbonated water and soft drinks owned by R’ Dovid Lazar, by R’ Elchonon Silbiger, and by R’ Chaim Bronner [perished in the Shoah]; the bakeries of R’ Chaim Schmeidler and his son Dovid, of R’ Pesach Schmeidler, later run by his widow Rochel and sons, of R’ Pesach Bornstein and sons, of the Jerut family, of Mrs. Halper and sons, and that of R’ Chaim Gerstner.

In Zasole there were two Jewish bakeries, those of Wisznicer and Karp, and near the railway station the one of R’ Yechiel Schindel-Frei.

There were also little workshops of carpenters, glaziers, tinsmiths, locksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, painters, etc., whose owners made a decent living.

R’ Chaim Natowitz, the deputy-head of the kehilla and proprietor of a furniture store and warehouses, had recently established a factory for the production of kitchen furniture, which employed Jewish craftsmen and laborers. There was also a brush factory founded by R’ Nosen Silbiger in his courtyard, where only Jewish laborers were employed.

There were two print shops in town. The first belonged to R’ Avrohom Gross, who had for many years been the head of the kehilla, a learned Jew with a very broad education, and the second – a more modern press – was founded in the thirties by R’ Moishe Kahana, a talmid chacham and community patron who was one of the leading Bobower Hasidim.

On the eastern side of town there was the large chemical works of R’ Yosef Schenker and his son R’ Eliezer (there is a separate chapter about the Schenker family). The above-mentioned establishments and merchants did their financial transactions primarily in two banking houses:

  1. The P.K.O., which was akin to a postal bank, a government institution;
  2. The Savings Fund, a bank founded by the municipality and administered by attorney Dr. Reich, the deputy mayor.
Before and during the First World War another bank (later closed) was active in town, belonging to R’ Wowtche Landau and his son-in-law R’ Yosef Nathansohn, who incidentally was one of the patrons and heads of the kehilla and its representative on the city council.

During the thirties, another bank opened its doors. It was founded by R’ Naftoli Braunfeld, the son-in-law of R’ Boruch Yosef Wachsman, a young Hasid and a great scholar, most energetic with a broad education. This was a mercantile bank that developed very nicely and successfully served the city's Jews.

[Page 217]

The Peddlers’ Association

(Hoizirer Verein)

In contrast to the neighboring areas – Silesia with its coalmines or the area on the southwest with its petroleum refineries and well-developed textile industry – Oshpitzin had no natural resources. Because of the swampy earth, agriculture was not well developed. Yet Oshpitzin did play an important economic role in history, owing to its location near the border and to the waterway that passed through Oshpitzin, the River Sola, a tributary of the Vistula. Oshpitzin was thereby a key point that connected a part of West Europe with the eastern lands: West Galicia, Congress Poland, and Pomerania, up to the Baltic Sea. Small wonder that for many years it was fought over by kings and dukes to gain hegemony. Oshpitzin passed from hand to hand, to princes and counts of Bohemia and Moravia, Silesia, and Poland. Each one wanted to rule over this central transportation point of trade and communications. Later, it was King Kazimierz Jagiellonski who bought it from Silesian princes and annexed it to Poland, though granting it certain autonomous rights.

Oshpitzin has always served as a transit point for traveling merchants, business agents, and smugglers who transported their merchandise through it, yet the numbers of the local population did not increase. It was only after the railroad lines were laid, and Oshpitzin became an important nexus in all directions, that many Jewish merchants traveled through and later came to settle and become local residents. Jewish Oshpitziner had always excelled in hospitality. Every traveler was received with a hearty welcome and soon came to feel at home, as if he had been a local resident for many generations.

There was not a class of wealthy men in Oshpitzin. Most of the population made a living from petty trade, handicrafts, and skilled labor, and a great number were occupied with trade away from home, that is, they traveled with a bundle of merchandise to Silesia or Bohemia, spent a few weeks and returned home with a nice profit.

A great change took place in the economic situation of Oshpitzin after the plebiscite at the end of the First World War. As a result of the vote, a part of Upper Silesia was annexed to Poland. The border moved from the banks of the Vistula to the city of Beuten. Suddenly new sources of business opportunities opened up through the addition of the Upper Silesian population. Business boomed and the Jewish population increased. Many new Jewish families arrived from Galician cities and villages, among them refugees of the world war. Most of these newcomers made their living from peddling in the towns and villages of the region. They sold anything and everything, from haberdashery, underwear, and clothes to furniture and household goods.

This trade was based on credit and payment by installment. The peddlers bought their wares from wholesalers and paid with promissory notes. Their customers were miners in Upper Silesia, minor officials in government service, and simple farmers. When times were normal the peddlers made a good living, but even a minor crisis such as a rise in unemployment was immediately felt in a loss of trade to the peddlers. The installment payments stopped and promissory notes were not honored. Credit came to a halt. The merchants could not pay their debts, and a series of bankruptcies began – as it used to be called: “Everything down the drain.”

Such a situation was created in the crisis years 1928-29, and later to an even greater extent during the thirties. All of the peddling trade was threatened with total collapse, and as a result there was a tragic influence on all business and trade.

In order to prevent the danger of a complete collapse, it was necessary to arrange that credit should not be denied. On the contrary, it was crucially necessary to increase the credit lines in order to prevent the crisis. This was a most important task, which a single individual could not resolve with his own resources. An organized association that would find ways and means to carry this out was necessary. This is how the Peddlers' Association was formed by the peddlers of Oshpitzin and Chrzanow. The leaders of the organization were R’ Dovid Gruenbaum, R’ Motel Lerner, R’ Moishe Kaufman, R’ Benzion Galitzer and R’ Kalman Scharf from Oshpitzin and Mr. Ashkenazi and others from Chrzanow. Thanks to the strenuous and devoted efforts of the committee, with the cooperation and assistance of the Merchants' Organization, they managed to restore the credit of the suffering peddlers and in this way the possibility of continuing to do business.

The activities of the Peddlers' Association were multifaceted and complex. Problems existed, at times very difficult and entangled, that affected the entire membership. There were also difficulties that affected only individuals. The association attempted to deal with, and was very successful in resolving, the problems for the benefit of its members. Thus they managed, after lengthy negotiations and interventions, with the active assistance of the Sejm representative Mr. Wiszlicki, to convince the finance ministry that the peddlers were not agencies that were required to purchase licenses of the second category, to keep regular books, and to pay taxes according to the higher rate. If these hoizirer actually fit the category of peddlers, then they only required licenses in categories 4 - 5 and were to be assessed according to a much lower tax table.

One of the most important achievements of the Peddlers' Association was the postponement and tabling of the catastrophic proposal of the Silesian province governor, Mr. Grozhinski, which would forbid peddling in the entire province of Silesia and Upper Silesia by people who were not residents of the province. The decree was superficially of a general nature, but in truth it was designed only against Jews, against the thousands of Jewish families in Oshpitzin, Chrzanow, etc. The decree threatened to cut off, with one stroke, the branch of livelihood of hundreds of families who lived from peddling in Upper Silesia.

The indefatigable efforts of the Peddlers' Association and the repeated interventions of Jewish members of the Sejm within all levels of government departments, including the Interior Ministry in Warsaw, brought about the shelving of the decree.

The job of the association was to be constantly on guard against any and all dangers that threatened trade by Jewish peddlers, above and beyond its other usual responsibilities to serve its members, and in fact it discharged its obligations with honor.

[Page 220]

The Municipality and the Jewish Community

The Jewish population in Oshpitzin took an active and constructive part in all the civic affairs of the municipality. Its representation was very discernible in all the departments. Similarly, Jewish representatives participated in all of the municipal and public institutions on a fifty-fifty basis. This had been the practice as agreed upon between the representatives of the kehilla and those that were not Jewish. Although elections were held for the delegate positions on the city council, these were so arranged that each side could put up a slate of delegates of their own choosing, but the number of delegates that each side could elect was agreed to in advance: fifty percent to each side. Furthermore, the agreement stipulated that the mayor would be a non-Jew, and serving as his deputy would be a Jew. Indeed, for many years fifty percent of those elected to the city council were Jews. I remember only one occasion when the Jews ran on an independent ticket and, in fact, received seventy percent of the vote, but then the district governor intervened, did not authenticate the elections, and appointed a temporary commission to administer the municipality.

Generally those elected were competent people from the “elite,” who were mostly the very same people who served on the kehilla council. These were Jews who were involved in public affairs. Although competent and educated people were not lacking in any sector of the Jewish community, somehow those elected almost always represented the wealthier class. To sum up, the Jews of Oshpitzin had nothing to be ashamed of with respect to their municipal representatives: they all belonged to the best class and carried out their duties properly and with dignity.

According to this organizational key, six Jews were elected to the city council, and three to the administration. The well-known attorney, Dr. [Emil] Reich, was appointed deputy mayor and also managed the City Savings Bank. Among those elected in the more recent terms of office were: R’ Yosef Schenker, R’ Chaim Natowitz, R’ Yosef Nathansohn, R’ Avraham Gross, R’ Baruch-Meir Bennet, R’ Eliezer Schneider, R’ Moshe'le Wulkan, Dr. A. Druks, M. Manheimer, Eliezer Schenker, and David Grinbaum. In earlier years as well, so we were told, the kehilla leaders were also the Jewish representatives on the city council, such as R’ Vovtche Landau, Mr. Haberfeld, Dr. Piltzer, Tiberg, Weinberg and others. All of them, except for Dr. Reich who received a salary as bank director, did their civic duty faithfully without remuneration. All their toil was solely for the welfare of the community at large and especially that of the Jewish community.

The Kehilla and Its Leaders

Regrettably, we were not able to find even a trace of the kehilla ledgers of Oshpitzin anywhere; similarly, we were unable to locate any records of the kehilla members and those who headed it.

When we returned to our birthplace, Oshpitzin, in the first part of March 1945, after having been liberated by the Red Army from the German concentration camps, the war was still raging; the front advanced toward Berlin, and the roads and railroads were thronged with soldiers and military equipment moving toward the front. There was no public transportation at all, and if you wanted to reach some destination it was necessary to stand on the side of the road and hope for a “hitch” with the military or for the rare chance of some other form of transportation. Chaos and disorganization reigned everywhere, and mutual distrust and suspicion were the rule of the day.

Countless times, you were stopped by various militias and military patrols and required to identify yourself, and if lacking identification or a transfer permit from place to place, you exposed yourself to dangers and trouble.

Thus, when we finally arrived “home” after some weeks of wandering and many vicissitudes and impediments on the road as detailed above, we turned at once to the municipal authorities and registry offices. We requested for ourselves and for other Oshpitzin Jews in similar circumstances, primarily young people who had survived and had begun to return singly and destitute from their incarceration in the German concentration camps, a document or corroboration of some kind that would confirm our identity. We were refused, since – so we were told – all of the documents, whether they were from the kehilla or the registry office or the municipality, that had any bearing on Jewish matters such as birth certification, marriage records, or deaths, had been kept by the matrikelamt [bureau of vital statistics]. The registry of inhabitants kept by the municipal authorities, as well as the documents of the district governor, all of them, all materials about Jews, their births, marriages, and deaths, had been transferred by the Germans to Berlin immediately after the last Jews had left the city and been deported to the ghettoes in Sosnowiec, Bedzin, etc., in April of 1941. The district governor at Biale too, to whom we had turned about the matter, confirmed that all the documents had been taken to Berlin and there was no way he could help us, nor was he able to refer us to anyone to whom we could turn – so he said.

He only gave us, to the writer of these lines, de facto permission to issue confirmations of identity to townsmen personally known by us; this was a semi-official appointment as a sort of manager of a registry office for Jews.

We made additional attempts in all kinds of places and offices to locate documents about the Jewish community, but to our sorrow with no results, since we were up against a stone wall everywhere, and to whatever department we applied about this we received the same laconic response: Unknown! So as we turn to write about the leaders of the kehilla of Oshpitzin, we are doubly distressed that we had not had the foresight back then, those who gathered information towards the publication of Sefer Oshpitzin over the years, to turn to those older than we who had survived this terrible Shoah, to people who knew the several generations before us or to those who had themselves held leadership positions in the kehilla and who knew the kehilla history and those who administered it. Just a few years ago, R’ Moishe'le B'Reb Yakov Wulkan and R’ Yitzchak Schnitzer were still alive. They had been active in community work for years and had themselves been kehilla council members. They and others like them could have contributed much, to record in their own handwriting and tell of their work and their predecessors. Too bad that we have suffered an irreparable loss and we are left, then, with the only remaining possibility: to work backwards by making attempts to remember and mention their predecessors until that point in time that we ourselves can recall, to those years before the Second World War which brought the horrible Holocaust down on us, destroyed our splendid community, and annihilated the vast majority of its people.

Let us begin then, from the end, with the man who stood at the head of our kehilla until the outbreak of the war, in the latter part of 5699 (September 1939): Mr. Haberfeld, a modern Jew, enlightened and prosperous, the proprietor of a wine and liquor distillery which had passed to him from his forbears, who had themselves also been in the kehilla. He had been elected to this high post through the active support of the Bobower Hasidim, whose representative was R’ Chaim Natowitz, a learned Jew of great wealth who was the deputy head of the kehilla. This constituted a strange coalition of Hasidim and intellectuals, seemingly the one and only instance. It should be noted, however, that despite this extraordinary partnership, all of the kehilla activities were conducted well and as peacefully as they had been in earlier times.

R’ Yitzchak Schnitzer had headed the administration previously. He was an intelligent Jew, diligent and wise, one of the prominent Belzer Hasidim – at times, though, too much of an extremist. He governed the kehilla forcefully and successfully. R’ Yitzchak survived the Shoah and lived in Antwerp, Belgium until a few years ago. (His son, R’ Mordechai, and his family live there still). Before him, the kehilla was run off and on by our friend R’ Avraham Gross, the proprietor of the first printing press in town, a Jew of great ability, a brilliant scholar, an honorable, educated intellectual who was well liked by all as well as by the government officials and upper echelon executives. He was highly successful in the post and won the admiration of even his few rivals.

During that period, rivalries and struggles became more acute for the posts in and leadership of the kehilla (as well as for the Jewish representation on the city council); vying for these were – among others – Belzer Hasidim, Bobower Hasidim, the various Zionist elements, the Agudat Yisrael, and their adherents. R’ Avraham Gross, who had ostensibly been neutral throughout the years, for which he was well liked by practically all the Jewish sectors of the population, suddenly revealed his preference for one faction of the rival groups combined with antipathy for certain individuals of the opposing faction, so that on the day of reckoning [the elections] he found himself with almost no support, and it remained for him to relinquish his post to his successor.

Together with him and before him the kehilla was alternately headed by R’ Michel Blumenfrucht and R’ Naftali Bochner, who were among the pillars of the community, known for good works and high reputation, popular, and philanthropic. They were quite successful in their many activities on behalf of the kehilla and its institutions. When R’ Avraham Gross left the first time, R’ Zelig Kurz, a respected easy-going individual, intelligent and pleasant, succeeded him together with R’ Chaim Natowitz and R’ Moishe'le Wulkan, both very active in the community. They achieved harmony between the militant factions and an end to inter-party strife and led the kehilla with tranquillity. Some years before them, the man in charge was R’ Vovtche Landau, the son-in-law of R’ Chaim Schenker, the well-known landowner. R’ Vovtche, a young man at that time, was a personality in his own right. Together with the affluent philanthropist, his aristocratic brother-in-law, R’ Yosef Nathansohn, he had established the Mercantile Bank, the first financial institution in town, which for some reason closed and ceased to operate at the end of the First World War.

Before that, R’ Yosef Tyberg, the grandfather of R’ Tyberg, the prominent physician, served as the head of the kehilla of Oshpitzin.

I know of two others who served in that post in prior times: R’ Yakov Haberfeld and R’ Berish Pilcher. This was during the period when the first admor of the Bobowa court, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, of blessed memory, occupied the post of chief rabbi, and was forced to leave town due to the quarrel and disputes between his Hasidic supporters and the “enlightened” kehilla leaders. He moved to Wisznice. R’ Abba'le Schnur was also obliged to leave Oshpitzin and move to Tarnow, where he served as rabbi, for similar reasons.

There is a well-worn saying, that history repeats itself. This time the repetition was as if seen through a distorted mirror: the Bobower Hasidim, whose first rebbe, the founder of that famous dynasty, had been obliged to leave town, exiled and banished by the leader of the kehilla R’ Yakov Haberfeld, after several decades, by their own free will, themselves saw fit to elect the grandson of the above Haberfeld as the chairman of the kehilla. There were many who saw in this the prank of destiny, and there were those who said: “The Messianic Days.”

[Page 227]

Rabbis and Heads of Yeshivot

On the Publication of an Oshpitzin Rabbi's Book

Since the beginning of the settlement of Jews in Oswiecim many Rabbis had served the community, among them great Torah Sages and authors of many learned books. It is likely, had the old cemetery still existed, that it would have been possible to discover by way of the inscriptions on the ancient gravestones the names of the city's Rabbis. There were Rabbis who had served there and gone on to serve in other cities. It is not my purpose here to detail the books written by those Rabbis, which were more than a few in number, nor to deal with the local Rabbis who had corresponded with Gaonim from elsewhere through the responsa references where their names are mentioned. My intention here is to clarify the events surrounding the issuance of a book which had not been written for publication, and which also reveals the personality of the author, and appended to the book is a list of subscribers from various cities. Today, after the destruction of Polish Jewry and the Kehilla of Oshpitzin, it is worthwhile to publicize the list of subscribers and to memorialize them in this fashion in the Memorial Book, which is about to be published.

The name of the book is “Darkei Yosher” [Paths of Integrity], and in the frontispiece the publisher (the son of the author, R’ Dovid Scharf from Kalvaria near Krakow), indicates that the book contains “novella and wonderful explanations on most of the tractates of the Talmud in a direct manner and honest dialectic encompassing every difficulty in the writings of Rashi, Tosafot, and the MaHaRSHA which was fortuitously bequeathed by the renowned Rabbi Gaon, the illustrious Sage, the Tzadik and modest… our Master and Teacher, Moshe Yakov Yekel Ben Ephraim Scharf, of Blessed Memory, who was the Av Besdin and Rabbi in the Holy Congregation at Oshpitzin”. The book (first edition) was published in Przemysl in the printing house of the learned rector Chaim Ahron Zupnik and associates in 5632 (1872).

The preface features three imprimaturs of Rabbi-Gaonim that were famous at that time. The Rabbi Gaon, author of “Divrei Chaim”, the noted Admor of Sacz, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, notes in the imprimatur he gave to the son of the author, R’ Klonimus Kalman Scharf and his brother R’ Dovid, that he had perused the entire manuscript that had been written by their late father, “the Rabbi, Light of the Exile, the sharp, erudite, acclaimed Tzadik, the pious and modest” Rabbi Moshe Yakov Scharf who had been the Av Besdin and Rabbi of the Holy Community of Oshpitzin and region, which contains Torah wisdom in analytic and penetrating dialectic of most of the tractates of the Talmud. The Rabbi in his imprimatur apologizes that due to his many responsibilities he was unable to thoroughly examine the manuscript. However, he relies on the author not to have produced anything that is imprecise, and attests to having known the pious author from his youth, unceasingly learning Torah for its own sake, having been under the tutelage of several great Tzadikim of the time and been greatly esteemed by them. He would often discuss Torah with him in evaluating the responsa as with one of the foremost Torah Sages of the time, yet he modestly hid his scholarship. He encourages the sons of the author to publish the book, which he considers very important.

The second imprimatur was issued by the noted Rabbi Yosef Shaul Halevi Nathansohn, the Av Besdin of Lwow. He, too, showers abundant praise on the author “The penetrating and erudite Light of the Exile, the Tzadik and modest” who named his book “Darkei Yosher” and as its name, so, too, is he. His paths are straight and perfected, following in the footsteps of his forebears. He expresses the hope that the efforts of the author's sons will be crowned with success and realize the great reward of their labors, and that their father's words will bring them great spiritual merit.

The last of the imprimaturs is by Rabbi Shimon Sofer, (the son of the “Chasam Sofer” of Presburg [Bratislava]), the Av Besdin of Greater Krakow, who had examined the book which contains marvelous novella shining like sapphires, and that because of his great modesty, the author had not published them during his lifetime. In his opinion, there is no necessity to praise and commend his holy words, for his great acuity and expertise is well-known to all, that he had studied and taught many students, and asserts that it is a great Mitzvah to publish the book.

This is followed by a foreword by all three of the author's sons: Ruven, Dovid, and Klonimus Kalman Scharf. In the foreword they reveal that the Tzadik of Sacz was the one who suggested the title to be “Darkei Yosher” and encouraged the sons to have it printed. They detail some of the life history of their father who had occupied the post of Av Besdin in Zator and Oshpitzin for about fifty years, during which he studied and taught the people, had educated many disciples, most of whom were outstanding Torah scholars and pious men. During the last years of his life, although in his eighties and suffering from ailments, he still continued his regular classes with students, since this was his life's pleasure. He had been an outstanding disciple in the methodology of the foremost Gaon, Rabbi Zvi Heller, the author of the works “Tiv Gitin” and “Tapuchei Zahav”. The Tzadik, Rabbi Dovber of Radoszyce said of him specifically that his soul stemmed from the source of holiness.

They take the opportunity of praising their mother, the Rebbitzin Chvolle Kreindel Bas Avrohom, whose concern for her offspring knew no bounds and who died when nearly eighty years old. The book contains only a portion of the author's manuscripts, leaving out a number of manuscripts relating to some of the tractates of the Talmud, on “Choshen Mishpat”, “Yore Deah”, responsa, and glosses on Torah. The major share of the work in preparing it for printing was R’ Dovid's, who trod the paths which none of his ancestors had taken, and the many journeys he undertook took their toll. He neglected properly providing for his household in favor of the publication of his father's book, traveling from town to town to enroll subscribers, and even stayed in Przemysl at the printing house for some three months in order to perform the Mitzvah of honoring his father. Seemingly, the effort involved prevented him from also publishing the remaining manuscripts.

The book was printed in Rashi script in a large format, two columns per page. There were 283 large pages. At the end of the book there is a list of subscribers according to the Aleph Bet from the cities of Oshpitzin, Bilice, Brigel, Bochnia, Gorlice, Gdow, Debice, Dabrowa, Wadowice, Wisnicz [Nowy], Wanice [?], Zator, Trzebinia, Tarnow, Jendrychow, Myslenice, Niepolomice, Sucha, Podgorze, Premisla [?], Sacz, Kalwaria [Zebrzidowska], Chrzanow, Klasny [?], Krakow, Ropszyce, Reishe [= Rzeszow], and Sedziszow.

Below is a listing of the Oshpitzin subscribers who were living at that time, some 100 years ago, and from which one can deduce which of the city's Jews were interested in “S'farim”, loved them, and despite the poverty of some of them attempted to help by their subscription. They are:

The Rabbi, Light of the Exile, Rabbi Eliezer Mintz, Av Besdin of Oshpitzin and area.

[Tr. note: Some eighty names are appended to the list. Many family names will be recognized by careful readers of the articles in the book. Since none were alive during the Shoah period, they were not transliterated for this edition.]

[Page 230]

Rabbi Menachem Menli [?] Soifer of Oshpitzin

(Author of “Shlosha Edrei Tzon” [Three Flocks of Sheep])

This book was printed by one of the remaining students of the learned Rabbi Menachem Menli Soifer of Oshpitzin and presently in the city of Makova, Hungary. There were several editions. It appeared for the first time in Przemysl in 5634 [1874] and was published by the author. The second was in Pyotrkow in 5690 [1930] – 57 pages by unnamed publishers, and this time, in a corrected edition including a table of all of the descendants of the author by his grandson, Moshe Goldstein (from Grosswardein [= Oradea Mare = Nagyvarad]), the son of R’ Chaim Shlomo Ben Menachem Menli Soifer. It was published in 5718 [1958] in Tel Aviv, and it opens with two facsimiles of letters from the Admor R’ Hirshale Lisker to the author.

The author of this small book was one of the leading lights of his time. He represented the mighty spiritual relationship between the preceding generation and those that would follow his own generation. In his entire lifetime he never served in any official capacity, accepted no public task other than the task of writing a Torah Scroll. He served many Tzadikim in his lifetime, but was not tied to any one of them. He refused to be fettered to any specific Hasidic court so as not to be seen as belittling the value of the others. Out of principle he regarded Hasidism as a pure and holy means to choose the proper way in a life of difficulty. He particularly loved to teach the villagers of Hungary whose economic position was secure and the problems of earning a livelihood were not a burning issue for them. The terrible isolation and the lack of a knowledgeable Jewish environment had led to a life without Torah, to the loss of Jewish tradition, and a tremendous estrangement from their ancestors way of life, contrarily due to the increase of material wealth.

He was no-one's representative. All of his life he lived as the messenger of an ideal in which he assumed an eternal task until his very last day. He was neither a Rabbi nor a Dayan, but many sought him out. Communities seeking a Shochet or wishing to appoint a Rabbi and spiritual leader turned to him, and he did whatever he could in order to supply their spiritual needs. All his activity was on a voluntary basis. The previous generation in all of Hungary who mention him, honored his memory with holy awe and affection, for this was a great man whose love and compassion for Jews encompassed all of Jewry in all his travels.

The following details were gleaned from the foreword by the author's grandson. Rabbi Menachem Menli Soifer, as he was called by his contemporaries, was born in Oshpitzin (Auschwitz), in West Galicia near the city of Krakow. Since his youth he wrote Torah Scrolls, T'filin, and Mezuzot and wandered from place to place throughout his life in order to dispose of the fruits of his labor in those locations where it was rare to find scholars and spiritual leaders. Oshpitziners were known for their spiritual qualities and noble sensitivities. Philologists called it Ushpizin, because they were model hosts and hospitable, loving the opportunity of having so many guest who traveled through the town on their business trips. The city of Oshpitzin was situated on a crossroads and was also called, for a time, the “Corner of the Three Empires”, because, nearby the town, the borders of Russia, Austria, and Germany met. Many merchants who did business in all of these three countries passed through the town, increasing its commerce and bringing them prosperity.

The city was a Hasidic center and most of the residents were adherents of Sacz or Belz, though there were also Bobowa Hasidim and adherents of other courts there.

The residents of Oshpitzin were well organized, had much experience and lived orderly lives. In addition to their ancestral traditions they were influenced by the customs of the West, and Oshpitzin was one of the few towns, which were exceptionally clean. It is also known that in the years of 5678-5679 [1918-1919], when rioters approached the town, the Jews organized a self-defense group, fortified positions around the city, and zealously defended their families' lives. Indeed, they succeeded, because the rioters withdrew without entering the town.

Now, cruel fate spitefully chose it, that precious pearl in the chain of Jewish settlements that existed in the Diaspora, to serve as a killing field and mass destruction of those Jews who loved it so well and always received a hearty welcome there from the local residents. It is so difficult not to mention the kindness of your past, Oshpitzin.

Rabbi Menli Soifer decided to devote his life to being a scribe, certainly not for reasons of making a good living... since it is well known that a scribe could never attain wealth, and he proved his integrity in his lifetime. He spent all of his time and energy in order to illuminate with Torah and piety all those darkened places where Jews were overburdened with eking out a living, or in those locations where Jews were scattered and few so that a regular Jewish community life was lacking. Seeing this, he decided to go from town to hamlet, from village to village in order to disseminate T'filin and Mezuzot, and in some places he settled down for a longer period in order to write a Torah Scroll for the townsmen or area. He did this all his life.

R’ Menachem Menli Soifer was known in nearly all of the Hasidic courts of his time, and we learn from this that he never joined a specific one. He saw a benefit in each Hasidic system for plain people and thought it proper to attract them to the Botei Medrish of the Admorim so that they would learn to love Torah and Torah scholars.

At an early age we find him in a small village on the River Tisza, Tiszalok in Hungary. This village was near the village of Tisza Eszlar, which was notorious owing to the Blood Libel and the famous trial which had taken place the previous century putting all of Hungarian Jewry in the dock.

From here he set out on his journeys and would return to the family he had left there. On his travels he reached Mako (Makeve) in Hungary and met the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ullman (author of “Yeriot Shlomo”) who influenced him to settle there. He did so, but continued his travels from there, but would always return, for it was an excellent bedrock for his activities, and most of his Torah Scrolls were written there and in the nearby towns, and there he was laid to rest.

On his journeys he came to know three of the Hasidic greats and served in their courts for many years. He learned their way of life and wrote a small book about them, entitled “Three Flocks of Sheep”, which contains stories about three spiritual giants, who were: The Tzadik and Gaon Rabbi Shlomo, the Av Besdin of Chrzanow, the unassuming Tzadik Rabbi Dov Berish of Oshpitzin, and the Rabbi Gaon R’ Arye Leibush Lipshitz, the Av Besdin of Wisnicz [Nowy], the author of responsa and “Likutim Arye D'vei Iloe”.

The byname “Soifer” was not his family name, but rather that of his profession, since he wrote Torah Scrolls. His son, R” Chaim Shlomo was known by the family name, Goldstein, without our being able to know whether it was also the family name of R’ Menli or whether it was his mother's maiden name, as was the custom at the time, due to their unwillingness to appear before the governmental authorities for their official sanction of their marriage.

In the foreword to the book, he apologizes, saying that he had seen publications about the lives of Tzadikim, such as the disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov, and that the contents were merely hearsay from reliable witnesses. Why then, the author thought, should he not relate what he had himself witnessed and heard from these great Tzadikim? Furthermore, “especially in these times when secular knowledge increases and faith is lacking, and falsehood increases in the world, and all that he wrote about he saw with his very own eyes from these great Tzadikim Gaonim”. Indeed, he gained disciples for Rabbi Berish of Oshpitzin who was known for his great modesty and to keep away from honors, thus providing him with a true memorial.

Another important detail needs to be mentioned. R’ Menachem Menli Soifer, who learned his scribal skills in Brigel, lived for a time in Jedrichow, where he married the sister of the highly intelligent Rabbi and Av Besdin of Zator, known as Rabbi Moshe Yakov Scharf (or Zatorer), and who later served as Av Besdin in Oshpitzin following the death of Rabbi Dov Berish Frommer. When he [R’ Menli] settled in Oshpitzin he filled a void in the town and area, since there was no scribe in Chrzanow, only in Oshpitzin. When necessary, the residents of Chrzanow had no other recourse than to turn to Oshpitzin in order to fulfill the standing obligation of every wealthy Jew as proclaimed in the Torah: “Now therefore write ye this song for you”. [Dt. 31,19]

[Page 233]

Rabbenu Elazar Mintz

Dr. Gershon Mintz, Jerusalem

He was born May 2, 1837 in Bilice. His father was Rabbi Arye Leib Mintz, a well-known Talmid Chacham, prominent in the Tarnow Kehilla. He had been asked to serve as the Rabbi of Tarnow, but he turned down the offer. Rabbenu Elazar Mintz was a descendant of an extended prominent Rabbinical family and Torah Scholars. His grandfather, Rabbi Elazar Leib, the author of “Shemen Rokeach”, was a recognized Halachic authority in his time. He taught some 2000 Yeshiva students and authored, aside from “Shemen Rokeach” another 11 books on Halachic novella, such as: “Sha'arei Torah”, “Zichron Ahron”, and “Ma'asei Rokeach”. His grandfather had authored “Atereth Paz” and his father-in-law was the author of “Keter Kehuna”. Rabbenu Elazar Mintz traced his family tree all the way back to 1340, and in his line appear a long list of Rabbis: Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, the ReMA, and Rabbi Shaul Wohl, who according to tradition was the King of Poland for a night. Rabbenu Eleazar Mintz served as a Rabbi from 40 years in several large Kehillot. He was the Rabbi of the Oshpitzin Kehilla and several of his children were born there. He was later elected as the Rabbi of the Kempen Kehilla, the location where the famous Malbim had served as Rabbi. Rabbenu Elazar Mintz authored several books, among them: “Rabbi Elazar, Author of “Shemen Rokeach”, A Biograph” (in German), the book “Torat Nashim”, on the laws relating to menses (in German, and translated into Hebrew), and the book “Get Mesudar” on the names for divorces (in Hebrew) which is a popular handbook for all Dayanim dealing with divorces. After the end of the First World War he left Kempen and moved to a small town in Bavaria, Ansbach, where he continued with his studies. He died on Teveth 7, 5681 (3.1.1921). Of his eight sons, two were Rabbis, Rabbi Ze'ev and Rabbi Yitzchak Mintz; two were deported to Theresienstadt by the Nazis and died there. It is worthy of note that Rabbenu Elazar Mintz had studied at the University of Vienna in his youth and attained the degree of  “Doctor of Philosophy”, an unusual occurrence among the Rabbis of Austria and Poland.

[Page 234]

Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Yisrael Bleicher

Rabbi and Jewish sage, born on October 2, 1813, in Glucksdorf, Moravia, and died on April 6, 1882, in Budapest. During his career, Oshpitzin played an important part.

Beginning in 1850, he was for a long time a Docent of Semitic Languages at the University of Lwow, and from 1854 served as a Rabbi in Oshpitzin. As of 1857 he lived in the nearby city of Wadowice as a regional Rabbi. Most of his career he served Jewish Kehillot in Hungary. His wisdom and scholarship was renowned much beyond Oshpitzin.

Bleicher, as a Rabbi and teacher in Presburg [Bratislava], Koson [?], and Budapest, founded excellent schools. As early as 1838 he showed promise in the publication on a problem in Aramaic grammar, entitled “Marpe Lashon Arami”, which ranged over the fine points of Aramaic grammar as used in the Tanach, the Targumim, and the rest of Talmudic literature. This book was one of the first in scientific literature on the study of Aramaic. For a period of time he sat and studied in Oshpitzin which was a center of Torah and wisdom and even the Hasidic population admired him greatly. His work attracted much attention in faraway lands and the famous Berlin Orientalist, Franz Delitsch published a second edition of the book by the author (Vienna, 1839). He founded a school in Vienna which closed soon thereafter. He also attempted to publish newspapers and journals for the Jewish German reading public. He published “The Scroll of Esther” with a German translation and commentary (Lwow, 1843) and also published a pamphlet on the question of the Jewish Synagogue in Germany (Vienna, 1860). The Scroll of Esther included a Hebrew commentary and a poem in Aramaic dedicated to the recovery of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth at the Kissingen Spa, entitled “Chashivuta Di Kusinga”. Through his educational activities he enhanced the reputation of Oshpitzin whose relationship to the Viennese capital had previously been tenuous.

[Page 235]

Rabbi Chaim Zvi Kupferman, Av Besdin of Oshpitzin

Z. Wolnerman

Rabbi Chaim Zvi, the Av Besdin of Oshpitzin was not a descendant of Rabbis. His father, R’ Moshe, was a wealthy merchant who had moved to Oshpitzin from Congressional Poland. In Oshpitzin he also did business and was a partner in a winery and brewery.

He was the son-in-law of the wealthy Leibel Sheinberg, the son of the renowned estate owner R’ Yosef Libionzer, thus named after his large estate of vineyards and fields that he had acquired in Libiaz.

R’ Chaim Zvi studied primarily with Rabbi Dov Berish Frommer, the Av Besdin of Oshpitzin. From him he also attained his outstanding ethical behavior. Due to his great talents, his cleverness, his knowledge of the world, and his honesty, the townspeople selected him, after his Rabbi's death, as the Rabbi and Teacher of the Kehilla.

During the period of R’ Chaim Zvi's service a bitter and stubborn struggle took place between the Hasidim and the various Maskilim as to the most desirable form the Kehilla should adopt. During the course of this struggle, the reins of leadership in the Kehilla vacillated between the two sides, the Maskilim taking the lead and appointing Rabbi Dr. Bleicher as the Chief Rabbi, and when the Hasidim were in ascendance they appointed R’ Shlomo Halberstam, the Admor of Bobowa as the Chief Rabbi. When the Admor of Bobowa left his post due to a controversy and moved to Wisnicz, R’ Abbale Schnur was appointed Chief Rabbi. He was followed by Rabbi Dr. Leibush Mintz, a Maskil and progressive in consonance with the spirit of the time. From then on until the Shoah only Hasidic Rabbis served as the Chief Rabbis, such as Rabbi Bombach, Landau, Rosenblum, and Halberstam.

During that period in which there were also changes in the posts of the Dayanut, R’ Chaim Zvi Kupferman continued to occupy his post to the satisfaction of his admiring and appreciative community belonging to the Haredi sector of Oshpitzin.

The Rabbi, R’ Chaim Zvi was a great Torah Sage and very pious, righteous and just, easygoing, straightforward, and much beloved. He was an adherent of the Tzadikim R’ Osher'el of Ropszyce and Rabbi Chaim of Sacz. He was also a very close friend of the Admor R’ Shlomo Halberstam of Bobowa.

He held his position for 40 years, gently leading his flock on the paths of Torah and piety. He passed away in good repute and at a ripe old age on the fourth day of the Intermediate Festival of Pesach in the year 5642 [1882] and was interred next to the grave of his Rabbi and Teacher, Rabbi Dov Berish Frommer, the author of “Divrei Tzadikim”.

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