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[Page 261]

Hasidism in Oshpitzin

Yehuda Kinderman

Hasidim still tell the tale about the three great Tzadikim of the generation, the “Three Shepherds”, the Rebbe R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk [Lezajsk], his brother R’ Zusha from Annopol, and R’ Shlome'le Chrzanower, who met in Oshpitzin during their trek of “Exile Redemption”. They spent a whole day in the city. Towards evening they wanted to leave, as is the custom of those who make this type of journey not to spend the night where they had been during the day. R’ Elimelech remarked that he wanted to spend the night in Oshpitzin. He immersed himself in the little Mikveh and remained to spend the night in town. To this very day the little Mikveh is known as Rebbe R’ Elimelech's Mikveh. Oshpitzin later became a burgeoning center of Hasidism.

There were great Hasidic Admorim in Oshpitzin itself who were world-famous, namely: The Rebbe R’ Berish, a disciple of the Seer of Lublin and of R’ Shloime'le Bochner of Chrzanow; the Av Besdin, R’ Moshe Yakov Scharf, the leading disciple of the Saba Kadisha of Radoszyce, who authored “Darkei Yosher”, whose graveside was always crowded with people who came to pray there at their time of distress. For a lengthy period the Bobower Rebbe, R’ Shloime'le Halberstam and R’ Elazar Rosenfeld, the son-in-law of the “Divrei Chaim” of Sacz and the Dayan of the town, lived and made their influence felt in Oshpitzin.

Although Oshpitzin was a “town that had everything”, Hasidim and Misnagdim, the wealthy and the indigent, merchants and craftsmen, Zionists and anti-Zionists, students and Yeshiva Bocherim, all had one purpose: To be proud and true Jews – nevertheless, Hasidic life in town was on an especially high plane. Hasidic Shtiblach were full of scholars and worshippers, and most of the town's youth belonged to the Hasidic camp. True, there were various conflicts and quarrels between the Radomsker, Bobower, and Belzer Hasidim, but these too were imbued with Jewish Hasidic flavor and it was all for the sake of heaven.

I can never forget the “Kidnapping” episodes, when the Bocherim of the Radomsker snatched Bocherim of the Bobower Shtiber and vice versa, and each tried to convince the other that his Rebbe was greater and holier. I am recounting my own “sins”. I was, myself, one of the kidnappers. I remember one summer, how I and a group of Bocherim from the “Keser Torah” Yeshiva snatched several of the best Bocherim of the Bobower Yeshiva, and some of them didn't even want to return as a result.

The sound of Torah issuing from the Botei Medrish and Yeshives never ceased, day or night. I studied at the “Keser Torah” Yeshive. Every winter’s end there was an exam in which the Gaon, The Radomsker’s son-in-law, R’ Moishe'le, took part. For months the students had crammed, day and night, gone over all of the commentaries and the differing opinions of Rashi and Tosfos in order not to be shamed in the eyes of the Gaon and Tzadik, R’ Moishe'le.

The day R’ Moishe'le came to Oshpitzin was a festive one for the town. He was, after all, one of the greatest Talmidei Chachamim of the generation. There was a popular saying, that the world was based on three Moishe'lech: R’ Moishe'le Bojaner, R’ Moishe'le Rozwadower, and R’ Moishe'le Radomsker. The most important people of the town went to welcome him. That same day and evening a table was prepared with fruit and pastries. All of the young people and the Bocherim stood around and regarded every movement he made with awe, and listened with rapt attention to every D'var Torah he uttered. At the table sat the town's scholars and Roshei Yeshiva. My father, R’ Yechezkel Shrage Kinderman, HY”D, was the Rosh Yeshiva of  “Keser Torah”. He and other Talmidei Chachamim, not specifically Radomsker Hasidim – talked Torah and Pilpul until dawn, and we, the young Bocherim, crowded around the table and didn't want to go home to sleep.

Radomsker Hasidism was considered an aristocratic type of Hasidism in which there was a harmony of Torah and Hasidism, nobility and modesty, but the main emphasis was Torah. Each young Bocher strove with all his heart to achieve entry into the “Upper Level” that was instructed by R’ Moishe'le.

I remember when my father used to go home after instructing his class in the Yeshive, there was always a group of Bocherim that accompanied him and continued to discuss the lessons. One would ask for additional elaboration of a difficult Rashi, another didn't understand the answer of the Tosfos, and my father would patiently respond to each and every one so that the Bochur could go home untroubled, and with a clear understanding. Yes, it was an entire world that existed and is now gone. Where can one find today such precious Jews, Talmidei Chachamim, who are prepared to devote and sacrifice their whole lives in order to disseminate Torah to the many?

In Oshpitzin, Hasidim would often travel to their Rebbes, and when they met together would tell one another about the Rebbe's ways, his fiery prayers, his way of presiding at table, his love of Jews, and his wonders. After such a trip to the Rebbe, a Hasid would tell and retell his experiences endlessly.

I still remember my father telling of a tragic event that took place at the Radomsker Rebbe's table in Sosnowice. At that time, his only grandson, R’ Moishe'le's child, who had been born ten years after the marriage, suddenly became seriously ill. The Rebbe was conducting a “Melave Malke”. In the middle of the meal the Rebbe suddenly said: “Is there any news? It is necessary to travel to Radomsko, to the graveside”. Immediately, an emissary traveled to Radomsko and when he arrived at the cemetery the Ohel of the “Tiferes Shloime” was on fire. That very same night the grandson died. The Rebbe later imparted that the child had had the holy soul of the High Priest Ahron. [The Radomsker Dynasty were all Kohanim].

Hasidism in Oshpitzin was as natural as breathing air. When a Rebbe came to town, the entire Shtetl became one Hasid, and all went to honor the Rebbe. When the Bobower Rebbe, Rabbi R’ Benzion Halberstam, HY”D, came on a visit to Oshpitzin, everyone lit candles in their windows that night, and everyone, young and old, went out to greet him.

There were some notable personages in Oshpitzin who could have tilted the balance of the entire world by their great merit. Suffice it to mention the intense devotion and ecstasy during prayer of a Jew such as Avrom'tche Gross, HY”D. He was suffused with Torah and Hasidism, and meek as a little child, as if dust and ashes, such a R’ Boruch Meier Benet, HY”D, the son-in-law of the Zuterrer Rebbe, about whom it could have been said: Torah and greatness combined in one person. His house was a meeting-place for the wise and many people benefited from his largesse. He was the Ba'al Mussaf on the High Holidays at the Radomsker Shtibel.

Incidentally, talking about a Ba'al Mussaf, it is worth mentioning a bit of humor concerning the last Ba'al Mussaf at the Radomsker Shtibel, R’ Eizik Koszicki. He was a very wealthy man and many people gave their money to him for safekeeping. When he began the Mussaf with “Hineni He'oni” [Here I stand, the poor one....] the whole crowd shuddered for fear that he was about to go bankrupt, but when he finally uttered the [following] word “Mima'as” [in deeds] they began to breathe more easily.

Our own family itself represented all types of Hasidim, Belzer, Bobower, and Radomsker. My uncle, R’ Shloime Rosen, now a Shochet in London – was always a Bobower Hasid and makes the trip to this very day to the Rebbe in America every Hoshana Rabba and stays there until after Shabbes Bereishis. My grandfather, R’ Moshe Ahron Ohringer [?] was a Belzer Hasid. My uncles, Avrom'tche and R’ Feivish Rubin were Belzer Hasidim as well, while my father and all his sons would travel to Radomsko.

My grandfather was accustomed to send a pineapple from Beuten to Belz every Rosh Hashana so the Rebbe could make the “Shehecheyanu” blessing. He, himself, would make the trip to the Rebbe on Hanukkah every year. He would leave home on the Sunday before Hanukkah and stay there until after Hanukkah. The Saturday evening before he left home his house was full of Belzer Hasidim who gave him Kvitlach for the Rebbe. He packed the Kvitlach in several suitcases and this was the most important baggage he took along.

My father had a custom that the entire family would gather in his home every Saturday night. The conversation ranged over all possible topics: Torah study, prayers, the usual news of the world, but the topic of Hasidism was never mentioned. This was an unwritten gentleman's agreement.

Now, thirty years after the Destruction it is difficult to concentrate and provide more details. Generally speaking, Oshpitzin was a city suffused with deep-rooted Hasidism and it flourished with Jewish life. At all times during the year, beyond merely the penitential month preceding the High Holidays, there was a pervading feeling of love of Torah and the Fear of Heaven. It is a heartache that this idyll was wrecked for eternity.

May my words be a monument for the pure and holy martyrs who were annihilated by the foul murderers – for the Sanctification of God.

[Page 265]

The Melamdim in Town,
and other Memoirs

Chaim Nebezahl

My very first Melamed who taught me Alef Beis, was R’ Eliezer Zlotorow, a tall Jew with a patriarchal appearance, a long black beard interwoven with silver hair, and good-natured, wise eyes. He was nicknamed “Leizer Fonie” in town because he stemmed from Congressional Poland. His Cheder was all the way inside Avrohom Feniger’s house.

Because I walked to Cheder every day, the families and interesting characters that lived in the same courtyard are deeply etched in my memory. I remember R’ Hirsh, R’ ElozoR’s son, and his beautiful children with the blond curly Payes, the saloonkeeper, R’ Yakov Kleinhendler, the Fischer family of the confectionary, Hornung, Fleischer, and the well-known Yoshe who knew everybody in town and their children by name, and everyone's Yichus going back to their grandparents.

There, too, sat R’ Avrohom Reifer, an unassuming Tzadik who eked out his living from a little grocery. People said that each kilo of flour that he sold was permeated by a few Chapters of the Psalms, some chapters of  “Shevet Mussar”, “Kav Hayoshor”, and other Mussar books. Too bad that I don't remember the name of the teacher who prepared children for [public] school. He had a red trimmed beard and prayed at the Bes Medrish of the “Menachem Avelim”.

By the way, as long as we're talking about “Davenen” [praying], it is worthwhile mentioning that of all the residents in FenigeR’s house, everyone frequented a different Bes Medrish. R’ Avrohom Reifer davened at R’ Eluzer’s, the Melamed, R’ Elozor Zlotorow – in the Schneider Bes Medrish together with Leizer Schneider, Pesach Hollander, Moishe Wolf, and Leibele Steger; my father and Fleischer davened in the Chevre “Kove'a Itim” with the Dayan of Kety, R’ Eliezer Landau. R’ Yakov Kleinhendler davened in the Bobower Shtibel at Elchonon Seidenberg's, and of the entire Feniger family, the father, Avrohom, davened in the Bes Medrish, his son in the Bobower Shtibel, and the son-in-law, Rosenberg, was a member of the Great Synagogue where the davenen was in the Ashkenaz Nusach and the Gabbai R’ Avrohom Jachtzel wore a top-hat.

I remember as a child when I was sent to buy a coupon for the Shochet* or to go around gathering Chametz for burning. I remember the [early morning] calls of the Shammes to come to the synagogue, my Chumash festive meal, when I made my first speech, and the candies they tossed at me in the primary Cheder. I still have the mental picture of how I used to go every Shabbes for my quiz to our neighbor or my uncle. When I knew my Torah well I was rewarded with Shabbes fruit, and when I didn't, I would get a few slaps and have my ear pulled.

We were raised to love all people and everything Jewish. Everywhere one met Jews doing Mitzvos and good deeds. I went daily with my father to daven with the Minyan in the Chevre Mishnayes with the much-loved R’ Chaim Yehude Halberstam. Opposite the Chevre Mishnayes was the Chrzanower Shtibel where the extended family of Chaim Yakov Wulkan, Noson Bornfreind, Shloime Quadrat, Velvel Wachskertz, and Hershel Shainovitz davened.

Every day, between Mincha and Ma'ariv, R’ Boruch Matye taught chapters of the Mishnayes at the Chevre Mishnayes to a crowd of about a hundred Jews. In my eyes, he seemed to look like our Patriarch Avrohom: A tall, handsome Jew with a long, white beard, and broad, unruly Payes. He had a deep, pleasant bass voice.

I remember other Melamdim: Ephraim Schwartz, Itche Schroit, Chaim Scherer. R’ Moishe Simche Teitelbaum taught boys for Bar Mitzvah and told them exaggerated stories. R’ Yakov Unger taught older students, about whom it was said that they had big ears since their Rebbe was always oulling on them. R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Wilchfurt taught in the anteroom of the Great Synagogue. There was another Melamed, R’ Shmuel Zuterer. He stemmed from the nearby town Zator. Once his students pasted his beard to the table with sealing-wax while he snoozed. Last, but not least, is the Melamed of Gemore, R’ Shloime Posner, a sharp Radomsker Hasid who accepted only the exceptional students. He used to quiz them every Friday. If a boy didn't know his Gemore, he would summon his father, and plainly and simply declare that he refused to accept money for nothing.

Aside from Melamdim, Bocherim would study on their own in the Belzer, Bobower, and Radomsker Shtiblach. Later on, the Radomsker “Keser Torah” Yeshiva and the Bobower “Toras Chaim” Yeshiva were established. R’ Dovid Reifer was the Rosh Yeshiva of “Toras Chaim”.

Yes, pleasant and unforgettable memories.

[Page 269]
Political Parties and Youth Movements

The Zionist Movement

Yakov Better and Shmuel Bochner

The first Zionist association, B'nai Tzion, was founded in 1901. The chairman was the head of the kehilla, Bernard Pilcher; the treasurer, the watchmaker, Nathan Scharf; the secretary, the birth registrar, Lieberman; and the expediter [transfer and storage], Haber. The meetings were irregular and far between, cyclically ceasing altogether and then resuming again. It was not until 1911 that regular and continued Zionist activity began under the leadership of Dr. Moshe Goldberg, and a meeting-place was established in the house of Yochanan Tobias, called “The Jewish Reading Club”; they also started the only library in town.

The leading members were: Dr. Goldberg, Dr. Pilcher, Yosef Koszicki [?], the brothers Yehuda and Chaim Einhorn, and David Goldstein.

Regular members were: Yochanan Tobias, Shlomo Gruber, Yosef Fertig, Yakov Kleinman, Melech Horowitz, Chaim Landau, and several others. Aside from the activists, the rest of the Zionists tried to hide their affiliation so as not to damage their reputation, inasmuch as Zionists and apostates were identical as far as the town's zealous ultra-orthodox Jews were concerned.

In 1913, Dr. Feifer from Krakow came and founded the Machzikei Limud, which conducted an all-out war against the Zionists. Even they were considered too progressive by most of the town's ultra-orthodox, and they, too, were considered improper. When the First World War began, all Zionist activity ceased and the reading-room was closed down. In 1916, Zionist activity resumed under the guise of cultural activity in the Yiddish Reading Club, since all political activity was forbidden during the war. The club was opened in the Hennenberg House, a library was established and new books were acquired.

The founders were: Yakov Better, Chaim Hornung, Yosef Koszicki, Boruch Hennenberg, Shmuel Shalmon [?], Shmuel Bochner, Motel Steinfeld, David Helfman, Arush [Uri] Hanis, Yisrael Reicher, and the religious studies teacher at the public school, Shlomo Dudlis [?], who was the speaker at the first Zionist general meeting in Oshpitzin, marking the publication of the Balfour Declaration.

A clubroom for girls only, under the leadership of Leah Hornung and Tzila Schoenberg, was established at the Steger House. They carried on an intensive propaganda campaign among the youth, as well as varied cultural activities. They were assisted by Dr. Berkowitz, who had been the Hebrew secretary of Dr. Herzl; he was a Hebrew instructor at the Reali School in Bilice and would often come to lecture in Oshpitzin. A group of chaverim from Oshpitzin who studied in Bilice and were members of the Chashmonaim there also assisted the club. These chaverim had profound knowledge, a broad education, and wide horizons. They were: Zimek Frischer, Hans Tramer, Karl Neiger [?] (Shachor), Mundek Weinheber. Leading this activity were the chaverim Dr. A. Rosenberg and Shmuel Shalmon.

Many young people joined the movement and the Zionist idea began to make inroads even among the adults. The activities in support of the Jewish National Fund were led by Yakov Better and Dudlis.

As the war ended, riots targeting Jews broke out in the whole region. A self-defense group was organized with the help of demobilized soldiers and led by Dr. Przeworski, Dr. Pilcher, Avraham Scharf, and Lieutenant Blatt from Krakow.

A first-aid station was set up by Malka Goldstein, Mindel Gruber, and the Sheinowitz sisters. In consequence of the expulsion of the rioters that saved the city, the Zionist influence increased to unprecedented levels and the Zionist candidate for the Polish Sejm received 80% of the Jewish vote.

Hechalutz was founded in 1919 and dozens of chaverim were trained in preparation for aliyah, and they became the pioneers of the Third and Fourth Aliyah.

The Hashomer youth movement was founded in 1917 by Malka Goldstein, Mindel Gruber, Elfi [?] Chayes, Dov Weinheber, and Yosef Bochner. Many of its members made aliyah.

The Kadima Sport Association was founded in 1921 by Moshe Goldberg, Joachim Lieberman, Dr. Julius Przeworski, Dr. Sindhaus [?], Hans Loew, Ferdek Wulkan, David Leschner, Isidor Enoch, Dr. Emil Reich, and Asher Ribner. Kadima was most influential with the city's youth. Thanks to the initiative and organizational skills of the association chairman, Norbert Klingberger, various sport divisions were organized, and a comprehensive sport program involving hundreds of youths thrived.

The Zionist-Socialist party, Hitachdut, was founded in 1925 by the chaverim Yosef Manheimer, David Kuperman, Asher Ribner, and Moshe Hoffman. With the passage of time it became the most active and assumed the leadership position among the Zionist organizations in the city. The youth division, Gordonia, was later organized and educated its chaverim in chalutziut and towards aliyah. Many of them are in Israel. At about that time Menachem Schaalberg, the Hebrew teacher moved to our town. He made a significant contribution to the dissemination of the Hebrew language. During that period, Hans Loew, one of the Zionist activists, founded Akiva, the General Zionist youth organization, many of whom are in Israel.

The Revisionist movement was founded and led by Dr. Iro [Uri?] Druks.

The Mizrachi movement was founded by Zalman Frankel, Baruch David Brenner, Avraham Hirsch Blumenfrucht, Mordechai Fortgang, and Sender Hornung.

The Poalei Tzion Yamin [right-wing] was led by Shaul Hoffman.

All of the Zionist movements were organized and affiliated under the umbrella of a local committee, and they pursued their Zionist goals in mutual cooperation with reference to external concerns, such as elections to the Polish Sejm, the municipality, the Kehilla Council, the Zionist Congress, Jewish National Fund activities, Keren Hayesod, and Ezra, the relief organization. The chairman of the committee was Dr. Moshe Goldberg, Mrs. Adler for Keren Hayesod, and Mrs. Lieberman for the Jewish National Fund and Ezra.

The Zionist Women's Movement, WIZO, was founded and led by Mmes. Lieberman, Adler, and Loew.

There was also an Agudas Yisrael movement.

[Page 271]


Shmuel Bochner and Natan Goldfinger

The aliyah from Oshpitzin between the two World Wars was primarily of chalutzim. Owing to economic distress, there was almost no aliyah of entire families. The participation of our town's chalutzim was considerable: in the settlements, moshavim and kibbutzim, in construction, in defense, in the cooperatives, and in all branches of production in the land. They were the pioneers of Emek Yezre'el and Emek Hefer, the first of its settlers and those who drained the swamps and built the roads.

Hechalutz in Oshpitzin, founded in 1918, was General Zionist like all of the Zionist movement at the time in our town, which had not yet experienced factionalism, and was affiliated with the Central in Lwow. The very first members were: Yakov Better, Yechezkel Bornfreund, Yakov Holischitzer [?], Binyamin Bornfreund, Shmuel Bochner, Yechezkel Wachsberg (Herzog), and Shlomo (Zalek) Better. They did their hachshara at an estate owned by the Jew, Holtzer, in Stawy. He had a brick-works and they worked there as well. They mixed the clay with their feet, packed it into the frames, and put it into the kilns. Once, as they returned from the field, in group formation and singing, their scythes and pitchforks on their shoulders, they happened to pass a platoon of the militia. They suspected the chalutzim of being dangerous revolutionaries and arrested them. A panic overtook the town, as well as gloating at their calamity or this is exactly what these “sinners” of Israel deserved. Through the intervention of Dr. Moshe Goldberg, all of them were soon released. At the conclusion of the war in November 1918, the entire group decided to make aliyah immediately. Since they were unable to obtain passports, they crossed the German border, then hardly patrolled, and traveled to Berlin in order to obtain laissez-passer as refugees. Only Yechezkel Wachsberg (Herzog), who had an Austrian passport, was able to travel via Czechia to Vienna. Karl Neiger [?] (Nethanel Shachor) also reached Vienna after arrests and many adventures. These were our town's first chalutzim, who reached Eretz Yisrael in January 1920. Shlomo Wachsberg followed them shortly afterwards by himself, having made his indirect journey alone and without any organizational assistance. Shlomo (Zalek) Better, who also had an Austrian passport but was taken off the train by the police at the request of his father, reached Eretz Yisrael in May 1920. In 1919, a second group was organized. Its chaverim were the Hornung sisters, Leah and Shoshana, Yosef Nechushtai (Kupferman), Avraham Chaviv (Lieblich), Baruch Hennenberg, Nathan Goldfinger, and Urish Hanis, the group's leader. Their hachshara was the same as for the first group. There were also negotiations with vocational institutes that had been established in Krakow by the Joint [Distribution Committee] in order to learn a trade, but after the fall of Tel Chai the decision was made to make aliyah at once. Due to difficulties in obtaining passports and obstacles put in their way by the Eretz Yisrael Bureau, which generally opposed the aliyah of chalutzim, they left only in July and reached Eretz Yisrael in August 1920. Arriving then were: Leah and Shoshana Hornung, Eliezer Glitzman, Avraham Chaviv, Yosef Nechushtai, Nathan Goldfinger, and Mordechai Better. Coming after Sukkoth and during the winter were: Yosef Stiel; Shmuel Bochner; Tzila Schoenberg; Yakov Wiener; Menachem Thieberger, who was the only one who was joined shortly after by his parents, brother, and sisters; Mordechai Scharf; Elfi (Shulamit) Chajes; Yitzchak Frischer; Eliyahu Jakubowitz; Lukim (Mikol) Hornung; Leizer Scharf; Munk; Feivel Blumenfrucht; Mendel Kolander [?]; Salka Gruber; Sarah Goldberg; Shmuel Shalmon; and Urish Hanis.

Hechalutz was reorganized in 1924 into three sections. Kvutza 1 was led by Shmuel Bochner, who for family reasons had returned the year before; Kvutza 2 was headed by David Kleinhendler (Kupferman), and Kvutza 3 by Wolf Bratz. They studied Hebrew with the teacher, Shaul Berg, and did their hachashara at the kibbutz hachshara, Czychokonczyk [?], near Krakow and in Czynstoniw near Czestochowa. Hechalutz in Oshpitzin paid 40 zloty a month per chaver at hachshara. Approved for aliyah in Kvutza 1 were: Ahron Trom, who was killed in the Viennese hachshara on his way to making aliyah; Yakov Braun; Sarah Jakubowitz (Herdung [?]); and Yakov Wiener, who was wounded while working in the quarry, lost an eye, and returned home to recuperate, with his wife Esther Ringer; Gusta Gruber; Devora Silberstein with her husband Dov Weinheber; Malka Lewkowitz with her husband Shmuel Bochner; and Mondek Weinheber. They arrived in Eretz Yisrael in February 1925.

The chaverim of Kvutza 2, who made aliyah in 1926, were: Chaike Solnik, Wolf Bratz with his wife Franka Jachtzel, Shoshana Schiff, Pesia Siegman, and Zalman Braver [?]. During the thirties, from Kvutza 3, the following came on aliyah: David Kupferman with his wife Mania, Sheindel Braun, Mandelbaum (Shakdi), and Alter Farber (Tzivoni).

There were many other chalutzim who made aliyah by way of their youth movement whose names I don't remember.

My apologies to all the chalutzim whose names I haven't mentioned, whether through forgetfulness or lack of knowledge.

[Page 273]

Hashomer Hatza'ir

Rachel Shoham

The first Shomer ken [branch] in Oshpitzin was founded in 1919. There was an active Jewish community, and a segment was affiliated with the Zionist Federation. Hashomer Hatza'ir was the first Jewish youth organization in town. The general reaction was not sympathetic, especially that of the religious community. This, however, did not interfere with the development and growth of the ken. The chaverim of the movement were all students. The ken numbered around 60 and was made up of two groups of girls and one of boys.

The ken was quickly integrated into the general Shomer milieu. Contributing factors were the close contacts with Krakow and the area and, of course, the combined hikes and the movement's conventions. Many of the chaverim of the ken participated in the conventions that were held in Tarnow and Krakow, the last one with the participation of Meir Ya'ari as emissary from Eretz Yisrael.

There was a buzz of activity in the ken, the groups were compatible, and the relations between the chaverim were friendly. The ken leader was Malka Goldstein-Chagiti, who had founded the ken and was admired by all her pupils. When Milek Goldschein (Shmuel Golan) visited the ken to promote the raising of funds on behalf of the Shomer settlements, the response was excellent. The girls removed their jewelry on the spot and contributed it to the fund.

Oshpitzin, being a border town, was an important transit point for chalutzim making aliyah, searching for a way to do it illegally and to smuggle themselves across the border. Here they gathered and from here they started on their journey. Obviously, the Shomrim were quite active in helping and housing these chalutzim.

The following words were written by Y. Chorni [?], who had been in the town on his way to Eretz Yisrael, in describing the ken of the Shomer (The Third Book of Aliyah):

“...The town of Oswiecim served as an important transit point for those in the Third Aliyah, and especially so for our group, whose chaverim had many friends in the Hashomer Hatza'ir ken there. Several of the chaverim of the ken, among them the late Chaya Stiel-Offner (one of the victims of the Krakow Ghetto) and our chaver Shlomo Achiezer, helped us in financing the journey of our group....

We gathered in the Hashomer Hatza'ir house and with the help of our chaverim we began to look for a new way to cross the border. The boys and girls of the ken took good care of us, and whoever hasn't seen Rochtche Siegman (now in Bet Alpha) carrying coals in her apron and daily lighting the stove in our lodging or striding towards us with a steaming platter of potato soup in her hands has never seen the kind of service given by a Shomeret to chalutzim. A baker's daughter would bring us fresh bread every day, and to our amazement she revealed that she was a member of the Bund, but who can understand the feelings of a Jewish girl...”

When the leadership made aliyah, and when further aliyah was prohibited, there was a general feeling of frustration in the ken. The ken graduates who were prevented from making aliyah scattered to find work or went off to study.

[Page 274]

The Mizrachi Movement

The “Mizrachi” Weekly, Warsaw

Issue #18-19 Tishri 8, 5684 (18.9.1923)
Oswiecim: An association of the “Mizrachi Youth” has been established in our town and already has a goodly number of Chaverim. A temporary committee was chosen and it is making preparations for expanded activities.

Issue # 21 (221) Marcheshvan 1, 5684 (11.10.23)
Oswiecim: Our association, recently established in our town, is continues to make inroads. Much has already been accomplished in the organizational sphere.

Recently, the Chaver, Mr. Yakov Bennet of Krakow, a member of the Supreme Council of the “Tze'irei Mizrachi” Federation, visited our city for organizational purposes. We had a special consultation with him in which he expounded on the goals of Mizrachi and Mizrachi Youth and gave us specific instructions suitable to carry out our work, and how to organize the various committees and the specific tasks involved. His words were greatly appreciated by the Chaverim and they expressed their consent to accomplish whatever possible in establishing our association and the realization of our goals.

Issue # 27 (227) 21 Kislev 5684 (29.11.23)
Oswiecim: Our work proceeds and advances. Our committee does whatever it possibly can to promote our association in town at the fitting and proper level. The areas of activity have been divided among our members in this fashion: Mr. Zalman Frankel – Chairman; Yisrael Reicher – Vice-Chairman; Yitzchak Grubner – Secretary; Avraham Zvi Blumenfrucht – Treasurer; Mr. Zische [?] – in charge of cultural affairs; Baruch David Brenner – in charge of matters concerning the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod; Shachna Schnitzer – in charge of the “Mizrachi Chalutz Fund” concerns; Arye Wasserteil – in charge of Shkalim and dues.

The number of our Chaverim stands at around 50.

In recent weeks we had visitors in our town to promote publicity of Mizrachi. These were Chaverim from Krakow: The Chairman of the Mizrachi there, Mr. Shlomo Bester, the Rabbi R’ Michael Halevi Ish Horowitz and Mr. Rabinowitz, the teacher of the “Cheder Ivry” School there. On the day of their arrival we organized a large public meeting in the main hall of the Kehilla building in our town. Rabbi Horowitz and Mr. Rabinowitz lectured on the topic “The Tasks of Religious Jewry”. Town residents including youths evinced much interest in the meeting and so many came that hall was not able to accommodate them all. With warm words, and many references to quotes from the Talmud, these excellent speakers aroused the interest of the audience concerning the many great responsibilities that were ours, and especially the questions on Eretz Yisrael that were urgently awaiting a speedy resolution. These words, which came from the heart, left a hopeful impression in the hearts of all who heard them. The hall resounded with prolonged tumultuous applause when they concluded.

Our association sponsors evening classes in Hebrew, Gemore, and Tanach, which are well attended by Chaverim and new students join every day.

We have a suitably large hall where nearly all our Chaverim spend their evenings and regularly discuss the ongoing work of the Mizrachi Youth Movement.

Issue 1 [?] (232) – 26 Teveth 5684 (3.1.1924)
Oswiecim: On 1 Teveth, the 7th day of Chanukah, we ran a festive entertainment evening in our hall, featuring a rich program in honor of the festival. All of our members, together with another fifty guests participated. The hall was filled to overflowing. The Chairman of our association, Mr. Frankel, and his deputy, Mr. Reicher, lectured on holiday matters and the aspirations of Mizrachi, both on the religious as well as the national aspects. The gathering enjoyed the sweets and drink that was provided.

At the end of the evening a goodly sum was collected towards the needs of the library in our association.

The committee wants in this way to express its thanks to all the Chaverim who assisted in the preparations of the evening, and most especially to Ch. Frankel, Reicher, Grubner, Schnitzer, Wasserteil, Schere, Rabi, Brenner, and Glitzer [?], who did outstanding work.

Issue # [?] – 28 Nissan 5684 (2.5.1924)
Oswiecim: On Tuesday of the Weekly Portion Tzav, Mr. Y. Scheftman of Lublin visited our city to publicize Mizrachi. That evening he spoke at the Great Bet Midrash on the subject “Our present status in the Diaspora and our role in the Eretz Yisrael question”. His words made a deep impression on the audience. On Thursday, Purim, we held a Purim evening at which Mr. Scheftman participated. He spoke to the Chaverim and guests on current events. This evening produced appropriate collections for the Jewish National Fund and the Chalutz Fund. After partaking of the Purim delicacies and singing “Hatikva” we left the hall in high spirits.

Issue #18 (249) – 4 Iyar 5684 (8.5.1924)
Oswiecim: On the first day of Chol Hamoed Pesach, a general meeting of our Chaverim took place in our hall to choose a new committee. Our president, Mr. Z. Frankel opened the meeting and gave a detailed report of the work of the out-going committee. The Chaverim approvingly accepted the report, expressing their confidence in the committee and especially the president of the association.

The election results were: Mr. Y. Reicher – Chairman, B. Brenner – Vice-Chairman, A. Blumenfrucht – Secretary, S. Enger – Treasurer, S. Schnitzer – delegate to Keren Hayesod, S. Hornung – delegate to the Jewish National Fund, S. Glitzer [?] – delegate to Keren Hechalutz; Z. Frankel – Director of Educational Activities, H. Wulkan – delegate for Shkalim and Dues. M. Scharf – Supervisor of the Library.

The fact that Mr. Frankel was chosen to head the Education Committee was most satisfying, since he has worked long in this field which is the foundation of our association. The new committee began its work immediately and we hope our association will develop apace. We collected funds for the Chakutz Fund and for Histadrut dues.

The Jewish Voice, Warsaw

Issue #19 (121) 24 Sivan 5694: [June 7,1934]
Oswiecim: A combined committee of the Mizrachi and all associations of Torah and Avodah was formed, consisting of the Chaverim: Z. Frankel, B. Brenner, Y. Jerud, Y. Meier, V. Hutterer, S. Miller, A. Grubner, Z. Ziegman [?]. The work proceeds apace. We sold 241 copies of the promotional issue. The campaign for the “Moshavah Fund” was carried out with success. We arranged a lecture by Mr. Simcha Landau of Antwerp on Shavuot.

The new local leadership of “Hashomer Hadati” (one of the best branches in the entire district) is composed of: brothers Simcha Miller, Chaim Silbiger, Yakov Jerud, and sisters Shulamit Schiff and Yehudit Wolf.

Oswiecim: Kislev 5695 [Nov. 1934]
Our Chaver, Yakov Jerud, participated as a delegate at the second national committee of Mizrachi in West Galicia which took place in Krakow in Kislev 5695.

[Page 277]

The Po'alei Agudas Yisrael Federation

Ch. Zion

The branch of the Histadrut Poalei Agudas Yisrael [PAY] in Oshpitzin was founded in 5689 (1929) by a number of Bachurim and young Balebatim, that in addition to being steady frequenters of the Bes Medrish also were in business or professions, along with those who wanted to learn a trade and prepare for Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

At that time most of the Jewish youngsters in town were students at Yeshivos or Kloizer, while only a small number had joined the various Zionist organizations or the Mizrachi, had gone on Hachshara in order to acquire the privilege of making Aliyah when the time came. The economic condition of the Jewish population was not at all rosy. The majority of the residents made a living from peddling in Upper Silesia, an occupation that was perhaps not too dignified, to travel every morning to various villages and townships, to trudge from house to house and coax the wives of coal-miners and factory hands to buy textiles, notions, and other sundry merchandise on a monthly installment plan, and then to deliver the merchandise, and finally to return to the very same doors two or three times a month in order to collect the payments.

This peddling produced a livelihood for people, and for some a rather good one, but, nevertheless, none of these good Jews considered this “profession” as a future for his sons. Necessity could not be faulted, especially during recent times when official anti-Semitism grew and had reached serious and even dangerous proportions. There had been incidents of attacks and serious injuries while riding the trains. Quite frequently the “peddlers” were driven away from the homes of those who owed them money when they came to collect and were chased away by setting their dogs on them to drive them off, and the like. Then, as a result of these circumstances, young people began to consider and reflect on their future and the first harbingers of learning a trade or profession appeared.

Yet, it wasn't so simple as all that. To begin with, it was necessary to overcome the almost natural opposition prevalent in the environment to learning a trade, since at the time “a tradesman or craftsman was a blot on the family escutcheon”...secondly, there was hardly any industry worthy of its name in the area, only a few small workshops owned by observant Jews, while most of the other employers were owned by gentiles, and to top it all off there were no trade schools in our town. It was, therefore, a nearly impossible plan for a young man to acquire a decent trade and to receive a certificate permitting him to engage in that craft as either an employee or as self-employed.

In order to overcome all of these obstacles, therefore, required heroic measures, which any one individual could not conquer. A group of young men gathered to organize in order to cope with all of these problems. It was natural and understandable that their only venue was a religious worker's organization such as “PAY”, which, by the way, was the only one in town during that time that concerned itself with the professional predicaments of its members and adherents as well as their social and cultural needs. The organizing committee consisted of Menashe Blaugrund, Akiva Altman-Pfeffer, Akiva Zwerling, Chaim Wolnerman, Moshe Ahron Schindel-Frei, Moshe Engelstein-Carmi, Yitzchak Jerut, and Yechezkel Ben-Chaim Fleischer.

They parceled out the tasks among themselves, formed separate committees for vocational training and for placement, for liaison with other organizations, for Eretz Yisrael matters such as Keren Hayishuv, Hachshara, and Aliyah, for culture, for youth, etc.

All of the work was done, naturally, on a voluntary basis, and the results were soon forthcoming and better than expected.

In a short time the group consisted of excellent professionals such as the sole expert electricians in town, our Chaverim Akiva Zwerling and Menashe Templer, HY”D; the bakers: Moshe Ahron Schindel and his brother, Shlomo David Silbiger, and Moshe Engelstein-Carmi. The weavers were: Shaul Braff, Zvi Elazar Silbiger. There were tens of others who became gainfully employed. This was, however, not the end of the story, since in spite of the fact that our boys were already hard at work at their vocations, and even highly skilled in them, they lacked the official certifications which prevented them from legally opening a workshop or to receive a permit to practice their profession as self-employed. True, they did not want for work, but for the long haul it was necessary to see to their entry into the market as recognized professionals with the attendant rights involved.

After many efforts and various attempts, the PAY leadership was able to attain a one-time arrangement with the “Czech” [?] (The General Trade Union) to organize evening courses for general studies during the summer months, and that the participants who would successfully pass the examinations would attain the status of accredited professional recognition from the professional association.

Several dozen of the Bachurim took the course, passed the examinations successfully, received the accreditation in their various fields, and were inducted into the “Czech” as regular members. In this way they achieved professional backing and the right for each of them to work at his profession either as an employee or independently.

The activities of the branch continually increased as did its membership. The branch offices were always humming with people and soon became too cramped to accommodate them all. It became necessary to make plans for opening additional branches in other parts of the city, especially in Zasola and the neighborhood of the train-station. Each evening, the branch maintained courses of study in Torah, regular classes in Hebrew, Tanach, English, accounting, etc. These courses were always well attended. On Friday nights there were Torah studies and discussions of the Weekly Torah Portion led by important Balebatim, and outstanding Torah Scholars such as R’ Chaim Natowitz, R’ Kalman Lieber, etc. Frequently, lectures on relevant topics and sciences were organized, which were superbly presented by Ch. Yisrael Zeisel [?], Yisrael Mandelbrot, Moshe-Shmuel Frish, and others, as well as guests from out of town, who drew large audiences. Occasionally, public lectures were organized in the synagogues or in halls, featuring famous speakers such as Rabbi Zvi Hirschhorn of Jaworzno, R’ Chaim Leibush Berglass of Bilice, and others.

In 5693 (1933) a youth department was established.

Special efforts were expended in order to encourage youths to learn a trade or professional skill while maintaining the ancestral traditions of Torah and custom.

The department rapidly grew and expanded and entirely new problems arose: Vocational education, youth leaders, library, special interest groups, etc. The veteran members responded and accepted the challenge, worked ceaselessly and succeeded. An appeal for funds for the library was made. The Jews of Oshpitzin, who had come to appreciate the welcome activities of the PAY membership on behalf of the youth and the general public, understood the need and generously contributed towards the library. More than 400 books were made available at the start, and the library was soon opened.

In Israel today are four of the founders and active supporters of the library, the Ch. Akiva Zwerling, Moshe Engelstein-Carmi, Yechezkel Ben-Chaim Fleischer, and the writer of these lines. Thanks to their great devotion and efforts the library was established.

Many of the youth were also quite active at the branch in the various projects, in the organization of presentations, and especially in raising funds for the Keren Hayishuv. I remember well the enormous success of the dramatic troupe in its impressive appearance in the largest cinema hall in town in their charming presentation of “The Sale of Joseph” under the direction of Ch. Akiva Zwerling. This was a success both in terms of publicity and returns at the box-office. (See the photograph).

Summer camps were organized annually for the youngsters in the woods of Elworna [?] or in the Baskid [?] Mountains. (See the photographs). One of the greatest achievements of the PAY was the establishment of a Hachshara post for Aliyah in Bilice-Biala, which, by the way, didn't survive very long, but was a break-through and penetrated the gates of the textile factories of Jewish industrialists which had heretofore been closed to Jewish workers. Many dozens of jobs were obtained by our Chaverim and others as weavers, spinners, etc., as well as employment for girls in spinning, inspecting, etc. It should be noted to the credit of PAY that it prepared its members for Aliyah – a significant number of Chaverim went to Hachshara at Gorlice, Lwow, Lodz, etc., but only a few were privileged to make Aliyah before the war, and its fruitful efforts in raising money for direct transmission to Eretz Yisrael.

The members of the PAY branch also succeeded in making inroads to the public and communal scene. They had representatives in all the important institutions and were participants in all important events in town. The doubts and opposition that were their earlier lot at the beginning of their appearance on the public scene quickly changed to admiration and appreciation of their accomplishments. Things came to such a pass, that the Admor, Rabbi Elazar Halevi Rosenfeld, who with his family, supporters, and admirers, all of whom had always been the most intrepid opponents of PAY, since like every new movement in formation was considered “Chodosh” [new] – “Forbidden by the Torah”, when he settled in Jerusalem, after making Aliyah in 1936, sent a letter of appreciation to the Oshpitzin branch of PAY in which he requested the residents of the town to contribute to the “Keren Hayishuv” of Eretz Yisrael.

The letter was published by the branch and distributed in town before the holidays in 5698 [1938] and made the strongest impression and was the talk of the town for many months.

This, then, was the success story of a few people whose strong wills and serious deeds gained the recognition and esteem of all sectors of the public in their town.

The municipal and governmental institutions knew about and recognized the positive influence and the dynamic undertakings of the PAY in the Jewish community at large and particularly with the youth, and for that reason they consulted with the PAY representatives when a problem arose and sought their cooperation in decision-making and in its implementation.

So it was also in the spring of 5699 (1939) when the political situation became uncertain. The tension at the border with Germany rose and it was necessary to make preparations. The representatives of the government and the army turned to the PAY representatives, by way of the regional health department, with the proposal to organize, among others, self defense groups and courses of the Red Cross in first aid and care of the wounded.

This was quickly and efficiently arranged. Some 30 Chaverim heard lectures from the best physicians and reserve army officers, and received appropriate instruction towards organizing civil defense, the use of arms and communications gear. After passing examinations they were given authorization documents and stationed at various points, went through pre-military exercises, and each of them received a specific assignment, manual, and password. Unfortunately, not too much time elapsed and it was necessary to make use of them. Shortly before the war, the Bachurim were partially mobilized and were issued Red Cross uniforms. (See photograph). The city was subdivided into various sectors and everyone was stationed in and responsible for a specific area.

When the war broke out, you could see in all parts of the city and environs, bearded Bachurim with Payos in uniform with first aid back-packs and other equipment instructing the citizens how to conduct themselves during an enemy attack, and especially during air raids, of which we had never known before. When the first bombs rained down at noontime on Friday, September 1, 1939, those same Bachurim removed the dead and rendered first aid to the wounded. They saw to the safety of the civilian population as far as possible, by directing them to shelters and places that seemed secure. They disseminated emergency instructions and information, in addition to providing first aid. Who knows how much more tragic the situation might have been and how many more casualties might have resulted from the aerial bombardment in the first days of the war were it not for the helpful activities and efficient instructions provided by the Bachurim of the PAY, who were everywhere at all times and calmly and heroically assisted the bewildered and confused citizens of their town as they were bombarded by the enemy from above and the mass exodus at their sides scattering in all directions in advance of the enemy invasion. The roadsides were crowded with men, women, and children who had been uprooted from their homes and were fleeing in panic with only a few possessions and with fear and helplessness reflected in their faces. Here, too, you found these brave Bachurim, tirelessly searching for stray children and also adults who have lost their dear ones in this haphazard confusion, and attempt with all their power to provide aid and comfort. This was one of the last activities of the Chaverim of PAY in the service of the Jews of Oshpitzin, their townsmen who are no more.

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