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[Page 423]


(Brzezinka, Poland)

5003' 1912'

Mordechai Schindel-Frei

Adjacent to the city, yet a separate entity, near the railroad station of Oshpitzin, which in administrative terms was a part of the village of Brzezinka – infamously known as Birkenau – there was a Jewish settlement of some 100 Jewish families consisting of more than 700 souls. Most were concentrated in a number of buildings, nearly completely inhabited by Jews only, with the remainder scattered nearby. A few of them were the merchants who ran the shops opposite the station, craftsmen, manufacturers, and professionals, while the rest of them – like a great proportion of the Jews in Oshpitzin – made their living as peddlers in Silesia.

These Jews were like a separate community with a public and social life of their own. There were two Botei Medrish, and for a certain time also had a Rabbi of their own, Rabbi Shmuel Bombach, the son of the Chief-Rabbi of Oshpitzin, who left before the war for Bedzin, but the Kehilla services were obtained from Oshpitzin. There was amity between them, and they were closely associated. They supported each other in times of distress. They participated in each other’s celebrations and miseries, in a type of family closeness.

The Jewish children attended public school in the mornings with the other children of the area. In the afternoons, both in the heat of the summer and in snow and frost, they went to the city – a distance of two kilometers – to study in Cheder.

Unlike the city children, who were the vast majority of the students in their [public] school – we were a small minority among the Polish children. Although we lived in peace with the Poles of the area, and had never had the conflicts as prevalent in other places- except for a solitary Goy drunkard, who cursed or threw stones – between the children at the school it was otherwise. There were always scuffles or “wars” between us and the “Shkatzim” at recess, and at times we even quarreled during class. At times we beat each other up. The “major wars” were generally in the evenings when we returned from Cheder and passed the meadow where the Polish lads pastured their cows. Then the “war” was fought in earnest. The “Shkatzim” were waiting for us with their bags full of stones. We also were not unprepared. We had banded together and went home together from the city, and before reaching the meadow – we filled our pockets with stones and approached the “battlefield”. On those days when there were not too many Polish boys in the meadow, we passed by peaceably without a fight, but on the days when they were many – the “war” went on for about two hours until it began to get dark. At times we were late in getting to the Bes Medrish for the Mincha prayers.

It should be pointed out, that the adult Poles almost never intervened, except for a reprimand to both sides. This was a war between Jewish and Christian boys, when occasionally a boy returned home with his head bloodied by a stone, as a war memento. So it was during the summertime, but in the winter the wars waned as we were at Cheder until 8 o'clock at night. Then, too, we would gather together and come home as a group carrying paraffin or carbide lamps. The Shkatzim were then at home.


The Village and the Villagers

I will attempt, as well as I can, to describe the entire settlement, including the Jewish residents, as I still see them today with 40 years hindsight, when I was a young lad. The station, the hub of the settlement's life, was vibrantly alive almost 24 hours a day. From early in the morning until late at night, crowds of travelers passed through, mostly Jewish peddlers who traveled to Silesia to earn a livelihood. In the last years, there were also many youths who traveled to the textile mills in Bielsko.

The square fronting the station was crowded with carriages (fiacres), most belonging to the town's Jews, which brought the passengers to the train and back to town. On Shabbat the station was still and you could hardly see a living soul in or nearby, except for the station personnel or a lone Polish traveler.

This is the same station which millions of Jews saw on their last journey. The building was long, one-storied and contained enormous waiting rooms, separated by each class, restaurants, snack-bars, kiosks, ticket-booths, offices, and all the station services. On both sides of the building there were three-story structures, where aside from railroad offices, there were also the post-office, the telegraph bureaus (from which we took – when we were little, the rolls of telegraph tape that were hundreds of meters in length, to play with), and the residences of the upper-level railroad clerks – which included two Jewish families: Mr Blumenstock, the stationmaster, who was ordered to convert to Christianity in the 1920's, if he wished not to lose his position. Mr. Blumenstock rejected this condition, but in spite of it he was not fired, seemingly due to his ability. Mr. Ferster [?], the stationmaster in charge of freight trains was the other Jew who lived there. On the platform you would almost always find Mr. Ziterman [?] in his red hat signaling instructions to the locomotive engineers with his red flag to stop or to go. In his later years he attained the post of stationmaster in Haifa, and was very proud of that, despite that this was picayune compared to the Oshpitzin depot.

At the exit stood the ticket puncher with his large, thick mustache, and he was still there one Sunday several months after the war. After standing there facing and looking at each other – I with my heart trembling with emotion, thinking: Nothing has changed, everything is like it was a few years ago, years as long as the Exile, but there was only a “minor” change. The station which had always been full of Jews, not a single one could be seen! – and he recognized me in spite of the different way I looked and was dressed, opened his eyes wide and asked in amazement: Mordechai, is that you?! Someone standing there voiced the famous saying “Jeszcze Rzejesz [?] ?” (Are you still alive?!). They gathered around me in a circle and told me that of all the Jews who had lived there – only a few had come, looked around, and went back where they had come from. The carriages stood in the square in front of the station – not one belonged to a Jew.

On the right side of the station steps led to an overpass of the tracks which led to the village Brzezinka. Nearby lived Moishe Wolf and his family, an old Jew who ran a grocery where the farmers could find almost everything they required; the large Rosner family – the family head had been a high-ranking officer in the Austrian army during the First World War – ran a large tavern, and also Hershel Zirer [?] ran a grocery store there.

On the corner before the steps leading to the overpass, opposite the post-office, there was a little building with the spotless store and apartment of the Klinger family, an elderly couple. Opposite the station there were two three-story buildings. On the right, the Haberfeld House, which was the business center of the village, and in it (in order) the vegetable store of Mrs. Reicher, and next to that the textile shop which had in the last years belonged to R’ Shloime Grubner. He had nine children and grandchildren, and after the Shoah only one daughter, Esther, survived, now living in Even Yehuda. Next to it, was the grocery belonging to R’ Shloime Nachman Gaenger, from whose family only one remained, Frimke, living in the United States. Then there was Dovid Dunkelblum's store, he was an extremely zealous Jew with five children – all of whom perished in the Shoah. In the enormous corner store, Mrs. Geller and her children maintained a bar which was bustling with activity all day long. There were quite a few drunkards which Mrs. Geller knew well how to handle. Most of the Geller children survived and made Aliyah. Her grandson, Shimon, fell in the Six-Day War.

Next to the bar, Mrs. Shainowitz and her two daughters ran a dairy products shop. Passersby who were coming to and from the station would have a snack there. One daughter survived who came to Israel. Next to that was a candy store belonging to R’ Yosef Schindel and his wife, Binah. This store was a kind of meeting-place where you would always find Jews in conversation or playing chess. Both of them perished in the Shoah. Beyond that there was the Meisels drugstore  [?], and the last one was Dovid Lichtman's clothing store. Attached to this building was Neuman's barbershop. I don't think that anyone of these last two families survived.

Living in the building were the families Enger, Dunkelblum, Geller, and Lichtman. Joachim Lieberman, one of the founders and owners of the tarpaper plant “Emil Kuznicki, Inc.” also lived there. He was a Jew with aristocratic bearing, upright, philanthropic, and a Zionist. I must mention the way Mr. Lieberman behaved towards his employees, not at all bourgeois in his dealings. The two following incidents will illustrate this: With the outbreak of the war, Mr. Lieberman fled to Lwow, where he also had a similar factory, and after the Red Army entered Lwow – his employees at the plant chose him to be the plant manager. Also, when he returned after the war to Oshpitzin – the plant's employees chose him to be the manager there. All of this indicates his noble character in relating to his employees. Some years before the war Mr. Lieberman made a trip to K'far Saba to visit his daughter, Mrs. Oppenheim, and bought land and orchards there. After the war and a short stay in Oshpitzin, he and his wife made Aliyah in order to join their daughters, Mrs. Oppenheim and Mrs. Lucia [Druks]. The latter, wife of Dr. Iro Druks, who had been the leader of the Revisionists and a member of the Oshpitzin City Council and had come to Eretz Yisrael with the Anders Army, served for many years as a Military Justice and a [city] Magistrate, and in his last years as a City Magistrate in Holon.

Mr. Hans Loew lived in the same building. He was a gentle person, a clerk at the “Emil Kuznicki, Inc.” plant, and a recognized authority of the Zionist leadership in Oshpitzin. He also made Aliyah in an unusual way and settled with his wife in Kibbutz Usha, where he died in old age. The Secretary of the Oshpitzin Kehilla, Dr. Oster, whose entire family perished in the Shoah, also lived in this building.

The other three-story building stood just opposite the station plaza and was owned by Mr. Moishe Wasserberger. It housed a big bar which was managed by his son, Arthur, a hotel (Hotel Zator), and a restaurant which were managed by Mr. Leiman. One could find there the elite of Christian Oshpitzin and the army officers stationed in Oshpitzin.

The extended family of Moshe Wasserberger, including his son-in-law, Dr. Tillinger, a dentist, and his son Jacob, also a dentist, lived here as well.

Further down the road leading to the barracks lived Dovid Levy and family, Gustav Haberfeld, and the Blumenfeld family.

On the left of the Wasserberg House there was a hut which housed Mr. Schnitzer’s barbershop and a candy store whose owners kept changing. Beyond that was the enormous store (a type of department store) belonging to R’ Shloime Weintraub, a rich Jew whose avocation was charity, and mainly G'milus Chasodim [Free Loans], and his sons, Yishayahu (who lost his family and is now in Israel) and Yosef who perished with his entire family. Nearby was the “Zator” cinema which belonged to the Wasserberger family, of whom one son, Fridek, survived and is in Israel. All the other family members perished in the Shoah. Behind the hut, Weintraub's store, and the cinema there was a park where the members of “Gwiazda”, a Jewish sports club comprised of locals, practiced track and field sports. On the other side of the Wasserberger House there was Getzel Metzner’s butcher shop whose entire family perished in the Shoah.

Behind the Wasserberger House there was a small building which used to house the candy store belonging to the Levy family, and some five years before the war, a large addition was constructed which was turned into a factory for making jam, and belonged to Isidor Wasserberger.

East of the jam factory there stood a structure resembling a long barrack, in which one part housed the bakery and residence of my parents: Yechiel and Pessel-Beile Schindel. This house was open to every passerby all hours of the day: facing all who came to town, to warm oneself and have breakfast, or for peddlers to leave their bundles and bicycles. Bicycles – I mention my youthful sins – on which I learned to ride without getting permission to do so. From this family of 11 souls, only my brother Eizik, who lives in New York, and I, survived.

The other part of the building and in adjacent buildings there was the fish-processing plant owned by Mr. Schanzer [?], from whose family also no one survived. Left of Schanzer’s plant there was a meadow (lunka [?]) where we played soccer (with a rag-ball). There, too, we roasted potatoes in the autumn evenings. This was a recreation area for children without any equipment.

On the other side of the road, west of the meadow, there was a field used to store silage, belonging to the Wasserberger family, and beyond that the home of R’ Dovid Goldstein, a Talmid Chacham and a Maskil, and next to it an enormous wooden structure, where a goodly number of the town's Jews lived: Dovid Goldstein and family (one son survived the Shoah), Meir Schwechter and his two sons, the eldest of whom drowned in the Sola on a summer’s day and his parents never stopped grieving to the end. His brother, Shimon Schwechter, his brother-in-law Yakov Glaser, Yosef Schindel, Menashe Lichtman, Schlüssel, Binyamin Schwechter, Eli Sterman [?], Yisroel Leib Sterman; all of these families with their elders, wives, and children perished in the Shoah. Also living in these buildings were, Dovid Jaffe, Mordechai Hammer, the families Nemet [?], Alter, Asch, and Sterman. Only a few survived and most of them live in Israel. All of Noach Feiler’s family perished, and he alone survived to live in Israel.

In this building there had been a Bes Medrish as well until about eight years before the outbreak of the war, when a nice, new building had been constructed for it, which the Germans demolished. There, too, the location of the Borochov Hachshara training center was founded and it operated until the war broke out.

Left of the Goldstein House, some distance away, was the Rosenzweig House, populated by Jewish families only, and I will list them one by one: The family of R’ Ahron Yudel Levy, whom I hardly remember since he died in 5689 [1929] and left a wife and ten children. From stories I heard, he was a Talmid Chacham and a gentle soul who taught a study-group at the Chevra Mishnayes in the city every Shabbat, and would never refrain from making the long trek to town in either the hot summer days or when it rained, snowed, or when it was extremely cold. Mrs. Levy managed to make Aliyah after much wandering with all of her children except for her daughter Manya Lichtman, who with her husband and children, perished in Lwow. Mrs. Levy died at an advanced age in Bnei Brak in the embrace of her nine children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In our lifetime this should be considered a unique privilege granted to the very few.

Also living in the house was R’ Shloime Grubner and family, whom I do remember, and Chaim Jungwirth and his wife, Feigele. Her avocation was visiting the sick and acts of charity. Leib, who lives in Ramat Gan, is the only one of their five children who survived. The elderly R’ Naftoli Neufeld, who purportedly managed the affairs of all the world's governments in the Bes Medrish between Mincha and Ma'ariv, also lived in this house. Additionally, Mordechai Bachner, the old shoemaker and active member of the Chevra Kadisha, with his son-in-law, the tailor Yehoinoson Knobler and their families lived there. Surviving were two daughters who live in Australia and a son living in Ra'anana. There was also a Mrs. Reicher, who as far as I know had one daughter, Gera [?], who survived. In that house there also lived R’ Shmuel Ruven Schiffman and family, the Kleinberger family, the young couple Jungwirth all of whom perished in the Shoah.

On the other side of the road, near the meadow, stood the Flessner [?] House. In it lived the elderly Flessner, Schantzer [?] and their families, all of whom perished, and Ahron Horwitz, the son-in-law of R’ Ahron Yudel Levy who made Aliyah after the war, and the Schnitzer family, whose two daughters are now in Israel.

Next door to the Rosenzweig House there was the one-story home of the Mandelbrot family. The head of the family, R’ Dovid, was a Talmid Chacham who sat at home studying Torah and his wife and eldest son, Ben Zion saw to the family's affairs. Their younger son, bearded and slovenly dressed, had had no formal education but did achieve a secondary-school equivalence certificate after taking a course of accelerated study in his early twenties. Like his father, he was self-taught and had such vast knowledge that Polish students in chemistry and physics at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow would come to him for tutoring in these subjects. Had this fellow studied in an orderly fashion, he would certainly have been a famous genius. He prepared his sister for the matriculation and university entrance exams, and she was accepted and studied chemistry at the university in Krakow. Living in this house were R’ Avrohom Schiffman with his family of five. His younger son, Yosef, was a prodigy, and it was a joy to hear him give a lesson or lecture. No one survived from these two families. The Geller family also lived in this house, of whom one son, Arye, survived, and he died recently in Ashdod. The Geiger family also lived in the house at the time.

Beyond this building stood the Silpan [?] House, which contained a soft-drink plant and cold-storage unit. Yakov Silpan was the only survivor of the family. Nachman Goldberg and his family lived there, as well. I heard some time ago that one of the Goldberg sons had been seen but I do not know where he is. The rest of his family perished. Close by was the Wisoglond [?] House. The family of Moishe Wolf lived there, but I don't know what became of them.

Further on down, on the road leading to the Nathansohn tarpaper plant was the Betar Hachshara collective, and in the house next door lived the Boxer family, of whom none survived.

Not far from the Wisiglond House, on the path leading to the main road was the home of the family of Joachim Adler, one of the directors of the Emil Kuznicki factory. The Paster [?] family's grocery store was located there. Both of these families survived the war. In that area also lived the Rosenfeld family, Yisachar Wolf, Willy Kupferman, of whom none survived. The Zitterman [?] family lived there as well. On the main road leading to the city, R’ Shloime Weintraub had built his house after the First World War. He lived there with his sons, and sons-in-law, Adler and Lichtman. Of these five families only a few survived: His son, Yehoshua, his daughter, Bluma, and his granddaughter, Nechama Lichtman. In that area also lived the Zhernowitz [?] and the Engineer Greifinger families.

Further down the road, between the Goldstein House and the "Rekord" pharmaceutical plant, in the direction of the leather-processing plant, lived the Barber family. Two family members survived and made Aliyah; the family of R’ Hershel Teitelbaum, a quiet Talmid Chacham with his five children, of whom none survived, and Chane-Keile Einhorn who had a small Bes Medrish in her home, and behind her home the splendid new Bes Medrish had been built. Both of these houses were destroyed by the Germans. Behind the synagogue, in two separate structures, lived the Getzel Metzner [?] family and his son-in-law Jakubowicz, of whom also no one survived.

Further along the road to “Gerbernia” [?], in the Königsberg House, lived Mrs. Königsberg with her sons, and Shloime Goldberg and family. Two of their sons, Yakov and Zyga are in Israel. The Isisdor Enoch family lived there, too, but their fate is unknown. After the turn [in the road] to the left, towards the city, some years before the war, the industrialist Wolf from Bilice had built his beautiful villa in which he lived. I recall that the Police-Chief told my father that he had an official order to deport him to Czechoslovakia after it was conquered by Hitler, since he was a Czech citizen. My father informed Mr. Wolf of this. I don't remember if he was able to flee or if he was deported. Further on there was the Kestberg dwelling and grocery. This entire family perished in the Shoah.

My intentions in this report has been to raise a memorial for the Brzezinska Kehilla, for most of whom there is no one left. Perhaps I have forgotten a family, maybe I have been mistaken here and there. Possibly I have lengthened the description in one area and shortened it in another but it was not done in malice. I have written from memory of reminiscences of 40 years ago.


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