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{103 - Yiddish} {647 - Hebrew}

Between The Two World Wars

by M Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Jewish life of Sochaczew was active and full of beauty. The city experienced ups and downs, as did Polish Jewry in general.

I left the city in 1927 with the stream of emigration that flowed out of the smaller towns to the city, in order to remove myself from “provincialism”. I returned, and was active in communal life, and even during the days of deprivation I breathed the air of my town. Now, here I am as one of the survivors who witnessed the destruction.

Sochaczew was known as an old community, as a center of Torah and Hassidism, and anyone who had a feel for Jewish life in the country as a whole would be connected to it as well. Due to the tribulations of the time and the battles that took place on the banks of the Bzura, a portion of the population fled to Warsaw after the First World War, and settled there as well as in other places. However, Jews from other places also came to Sochaczew. The Jews slowly but surely overcame the difficulties of the destruction that came in the wake of the war, and displayed much fruitful initiative, especially in the realm of business and workmanship.

Sochaczew was surrounded by many villages, whose population depended on it for shoes and clothing, which were supplied by the Jews. The Jews also began to trade in wheat. They were the middlemen between the city and the town, and were the prime suppliers. There was a market day in the town. Those days were actually 'barter days', where the Jews sold their wares and purchased the produce of the villages. Another area was completely in Jewish hands: fruit orchards, many of whose owners were wealthy Christian landowners.

The Jewish gardeners leased the fruit orchards even during the cold days of winter. There were also cases where shoemakers, tailors and carpenters worked in their own profession during the winter, and leased out fruit orchards during the summer, even though both endeavors together did not guarantee them a comfortable livelihood…

Communal Life

Many members of the intelligentsia were among those who left the city after the First World War, and did not return. These include:

1) Alexander Zusha Frydman (the son of Yehoshua), the leader of Agudas Yisrael, an author of Torah literature, and an esteemed communal leader. He was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, and one of its victims.

2) Ozer Warshawski (the son of Gedalia), a well known author (the author of the novel “Smugglers”). He was from the school of Y. M. Weissberg. He lost his life in a concentration camp near Paris.

3) Pinchas Graubard, a donor and patron of literature, a publisher and folklorist. He arrived in America in 1941 with a group of refugee authors and communal leaders. He died in America.

4) M. B. Stein, the son of the Rabbi of Sochaczew. He was an author, and he wrote the dramas “Erd Un Himel” (“Heaven and Earth”), “Di Churba” (“The Ruin”). He settled in Israel.

However, the communal activity did not stop. Zionist organizations were founded, with Simcha Grundwag, Berel Laufer, and Moshe Lodzer (Jakobovitz) at the helm. They also founded the first Hebrew school “Hatechia” (“The Renaissance”). Through their efforts, other assistance and support organizations were founded.

The second communal body which was established was the populist faction (“Folkistn”). Its leaders were Vove Rosenberg, Lotek Skotnitzki, and Moshe Schwartz (who moved to America). It was the umbrella organization for progressive and activist organizations, and filled a significant role in the community during the period right after the world war.

Since the workers organization was not yet founded (it only started during the 1920s), a controversy broke out between the Zionists and Folkists over control of the Jewish community. This controversy first manifested itself in the first elections of the city and community. The Folkists gained control over the library, which had been renewed and had been previously led by Zionist activists. The Folkists filled an honorable role in the spiritual life[1] of the Jews of Sochaczew.

This activity stirred up dormant forces within the Jewish community, and awakened it from its complacency. The social awakening occurred simultaneously with the economic awakening in all branches of work, artisanship and small-scale manufacturing including tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, and hat making. The number of hired workers increased, both among the locals and outsiders. The Jewish population grew. In the civic elections of 1925 Jews accounted for half of those elected – 12 out of 24. Moshe Schwartz, the leader of the Folkists, was elected as deputy to the Polish mayor Moszikowski.

The focal point of cultural life as the library, where in particular, the youth gathered and conducted heated debates about issues of literature and culture. Speakers were invited from Warsaw. A drama group was founded under the leadership of Nachum Grundwag, which bestowed pleasure and spiritual joy to the Jews of the city, and was held in high esteem. The group was conducted without controversy, and there were no interruptions in its work. The first leader was Nachum Grundwag, a Zionist leader, followed by Simcha Cohen, Moshe Schwartz, and Yosef Muney – without any controversy.

The communal and spiritual life of the Jews grew and flourished until there was a spiritual crisis among the youth. One of the reasons for this was the lack of opportunity in the town, as well as the backwardness that still prevailed in town. There were still Jews in town whose work was an embarrassment and shame to them. The anti-Semitic climate prevented Jews from entering into communal service and official positions. Furthermore, there was a general depression to which the Jews of Sochaczew were not immune.

The time of the fourth Aliya[2] arrived. A portion of the youth decided to immigrate to the Land of Israel, however some returned since they were not able to withstand the difficulties of work and pioneering. A portion of the youth, the non-Zionist intelligentsia, and others left the town to go to larger cities or overseas, in search for an outlet for their activism and talents. All of these factors together were the root of spiritual and social decline in the city, the indifference and hopelessness.

Those who remained continued their activities and were jealous of those that left. The communal activity weakened. The library was only open for two hours each evening, but nevertheless it obtained every new book, continued on, and guarded the spark.

In 1929, the first large factory was founded in Chodakow, as well as smaller factories for the production of bricks and gunpowder. In addition, Sochaczew was an important communications terminal. However, the conditions of work were poor and difficult. There was a reawakening among the artisans, in particular on the evenings before the large fairs, which took place on the first Tuesday of each month. Prior to the fairs, they would work through entire nights, as this was an important part of their livelihood. There was no limit to their hours of work. As morning approached they would hurry off to their prayers, and then return to work. They would eat breakfast in haste and return to work again. There would be a short break around noon for the afternoon prayers (mincha), and lunch would be merged together with supper. In the factory of Moshe Nelson, for example, where eight or ten people were employed, they would pray the mincha and maariv (evening) services at the factory itself.

There were two types of workers in the town: salaried workers, and people who worked at home (“chalopnikes”), who worked for cash and were paid for the finished product. At times, the conditions of the home-workers were more difficult than that of the salaried employees, since they would work without limit together with their wives and children.

They waited all week for the Sabbath day of rest, and they would return to work right after havdalah[3]. They hurried out to services on Sabbaths, at “Chevra Tehillim” or the house of study, they ate their meal, and returned to rest. After their rest, they returned to the house of study again until the conclusion of the Sabbath. This was the set order of life.

At the end of 1925 or the beginning of 1926, the founding meeting for workers union took place in the home of Feivel Galek. At that time I was an apprentice for Moshe Temes. How much simplicity and naivete was there at that meeting! The organizers had no idea how to conduct a professional union and how to organize it. Nevertheless the union was founded, even though it was about twenty-five years later than in other cities…

The union rented an apartment for itself from Geitin. A secretary named Wyszogrodsky came from Wyszogrod. He was a communist, who later switched affiliation to the “Bund”. He lived in Woloczlok, and later died in a concentration camp. The secretary received a salary that was paid from the membership dues. The union organized not only the tailors, but also the shoemakers and workers in other fields, who were organized into separate sections. Its activities included the organization of strikes and the setting of wages. An employer had to come to the union and to reach an agreement with the professional committee who would set the acceptable tariff. After some time the employers also established a union – and the deliberations would occur between the representatives of the two bodies.

The union began to campaign for a workday of eight hours. After a difficult campaign, including a strike, the workers were victorious in 1927 – and the salary was not cut. The next day, the union sent out auditors who would check that the workday of eight hours was being respected, since the workers themselves also needed to be monitored…

The victory achieved the main objective of its time, and the union removed the possibility of extra hours of work, so that the workers would be able to enjoy the fruits of their victory. I remember that Mendel Plonski came to the union to request permission for his workers to work extra hours, since he had to pay a pressing sum of money.

Even though the establishment of the workers' union in Sochaczew was late, it was very active and vigilant. The union was at first affiliated with the communist center in Warsaw, and was subject to its influence. It conducted activities in the economic and political realms. The secretary oversaw all activities.

Alongside the union, the was an illegal communist “cell”, which maintained relations with the non-Jewish left, and conducted joint activities.

At that time, Ezriel Skornik, who was a tailor and the organizer of the union, died of tuberculosis. The union arranged the funeral from its own accounts, and prevented the Chevra Kadisha from conducting a religious service. Work was stopped during the time of the funeral, and a demonstration was organized, with banners and slogans against the government. Political speeches were given at the open grave. The police then came and broke up the large gathering.

This was the first event of its kind in Sochaczew.

That year (1927), the union made preparations to celebrate May Day along with the Polish workers. The night before, they prepared banners, placards, and “flower” ribbons[4]. The youth, both the communists and Bundists, prepared for the day with all their enthusiasm, and hoped that the status of the Jews would rise in relations to the Poles. For was this not the first demonstration of the Jewish workers in the city, alongside with their non-Jewish friends!

The demonstration took place despite the rain that fell that day. After the procession through the streets, a general gathering was held. The well-known communist from Blojna, Hirsch, spoke on behalf of the Jewish workers. He inflamed the gathering, but was forced to immediately flee from the place due to the police. He eventually fled to the U.S.S.R., and died in the “purges” of 1937.

There was a recognizable faction of Bund members in the union. They invited the secretary of the union of the hide-workers in Warsaw, Berel Ambaras, to speak at the union in 1927. Afterward, a meeting of the Bund membership took place, and a local branch was established. The beginning was not straightforward, as the branch had to stand up to opposition from those further to the left, as well as from the Zionists.

I recall the following curious event, which was told in jest:

During the events of 5689 (1929) in the Land of Israel, the Bund, as is known, stood in opposition to the Zionist camp. The Bund activist Simcha Goldberg (the son of Binyamin the tinsmith) lived in Sochaczew, and they chased after him declaring that he had letters from Arabs hidden in his pockets… It is obvious that nobody took this seriously.

Top photo on page 651 – The “Yavneh” School. The teacher Streicher with his students.

Bottom photo on page 651 – the Beitar group of Sochaczew, Lubitz, April 5, 1931.

Aside from the workers, there were a significant number of home-workers (“chalopnikes”) under the influence of the Bund. They later founded the socialist union of artisans, who played an honorable role in the town until the war of destruction.

This union, which included members of other unions, was headed for a long time by the Bundist Ziama Steiglitz. The communist Adam Kloska was also always involved in the leadership of this union. He gave much of his time to communal activities.

The Bund maintained constant contact with the P.P.S. Its leader Darber was a sympathetic leader and a friend of the Jews. He was killed in Auschwitz. Through his good offices, they were able to obtain a representative in the town, Meir Zaltzman (“Shkolak”) who returned from Russia in 1905. He was the only Bundist in Sochaczew prior to 1905. They also were able to have a representative to the government health care fund – Shlomo Swiatlowski. As the Bund organization expanded its sphere of activities it rented a hall, founded a youth movement “Zukumft” (“The Future”), and a sport organization “Morgenstern” (“Morning Star”), established a library, conducted cultural activities, invited speakers from Warsaw, and began to actively turn around the sad situation of Jewish communal life. Nobody in the Bund in Sochaczew ever worked for money. The activists included Yuntel Rosen, Hershel Warshawski, Steiglitz, Simcha Goldberg, Mendel Frydman, Moshe Geier, and Chaim Pinczewski (who transferred allegiance from the communists to the Bund).

The Zionist movement also strengthened, even though some of its activities left the town. The “Yavneh” Hebrew school was founded. Representatives from the Sochaczew Mutual Benefit Society of America came for the laying of the cornerstone. The primary donors were Yisrael Keller and Tema Rabinowitz. A great celebration was organized. After several years the building of the school was completed, and teachers were brought in for the six grades. The school was granted government privileges. The language of instruction was Hebrew. The school was directed by a board of governors, and always required the assistance of the town -- the requests of the Jews were always answered positively by the P.P.S. and its leader Darber.

There was another Jewish school in Sochaczew, a religious school founded by the Aguda. This school was called “Yesodei Hatorah” for boys and “Bais Yaakov” for girls. They also invited in teachers from outside the town. These schools existed until the Holocaust.

The Zionist organization renewed its efforts under the leadership of Simcha Grundwag, who won general respect. We should also mention the organization of Revisionist Zionists[5], which was directed by Dr. Salomon. The head of the Beitar youth movement was Pinchas Bressler. Members of this movement participated in physical activities, wore uniforms, and participated in various festivities. This is my recollection of one of their events:

In 1930, the Beitar movement organized a flag dedication celebration in the synagogue, in the presence of many guests from out of the city as well as government representatives. At the critical moment of the raising of the flag, Yona Livna appeared from out of the women's section with a red banner displaying slogans against Beitar… a tumult and disruption then took place. Suspects were arrested and sent to the prison in Lewicz. This event was a topic of conversation in the town for quite some time…

The head of the Chalutz (pioneering) organization was Pinchas Weinberg (who survived the war but was killed in Sochaczew by Polish murderers as he returned from his hiding place). The Chalutz excelled in its local activities, and was held in high esteem in the town. It had its own band that played during festivities and events. It also sponsored courses in the Hebrew languages, which were taught by a teacher from Yavneh.

The Mizrachi[6] organization was quite active in town. Its heads included Izak Waldenberg and Yaakov Biderman. Its youth branch was headed by Mottel Baumhertzer and Eliahu Blumenthal.

The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Leyisrael) was quite active in town, and every organization sent a representative to its directorship. The chairman was Simcha Grundwag, and later Michael Cohen, who returned to town and was active in it until the last days. He founded the local newspaper “Sochaczewer Leben” (Sochaczew Life), which ceased publishing after a few editions due to financial difficulties and shortage of staff.

The organization of Orthodox Jewry was “Agudas Yisrael”, whose membership consisted of a significant amount of the local Jewish population. They had representatives on the city council, and held the chairmanship of the community council for several years. Yosef Wolkowicz was at the helm. It conducted a great deal of activities with the youth, and founded an organization “Poale Agudas Yisrael”. Aside form Yosef Wolkowicz, other activists included the brothers Mordechai (Mottel) and Yitzchak Winer (who was later the head of the community), Sheynwald (the son of Yankelel the teacher), and others.

There were also communist youth in Sochaczew. These were organized clandestinely, and conducted various activities. Some of the activists were imprisoned, and others fled abroad. Some transferred allegiance to the youth wing of Bund, which was also quite active. The chief activities of the Bund were in the realm of raising the quality of life and level of culture among the oppressed and impoverished masses.

It is important also to point out the role of the teachers in the Polish public schools in the spiritual and public life of the community. For example Kampelmacher was a multi-faceted personality who did not belong to any specific movement. He came to Sochaczew in the 1920s and remained there until 1936. He was assimilated, but was a man of the people who did much for the youth, primarily in the real of physical education, the organization of sports activities, choirs, reading clubs, and other such activities. He founded the Z.T.G.S. sports club.

A generation of youth grew up, who were active, cultured, and workers. (In the silk factory in the village of Chodakow, four kilometers from Sochaczew, there were more than 5,000 employees, but Jews were not accepted for employment.) Business developed. A period of economic success and communal progress came to Jewish Sochaczew. Organizations were founded, and various institutions such as banks and mutual benefits organizations were set up. A public organization called “Ogroid” was even set up – it was a para-communist organization to promote the settlement of Biro-Bidzhan[7]. There was also an organization for the supporters of the Esperanto language, a library, as well as a drama club that continued to flourish and maintain a high level of activity even though several of its members left the city.

In the final summer, the summer of 1939, we made preparations for a performance of “Noach Pandra” which had already been put on with much success in Warsaw. It wasn't to be…

The library played a special role in the development of the town, in particular among the youth. It was a center for common activity among all the different factions. It attained its height of development during the final three years prior to the war of destruction. It was a center for education and information for the youth, in a sense a university for the masses. A reading-hall was adjacent to it. Its membership grew from 40 or 50 people in 1937 to 200 in 1939.

There was a change in the administration of the library in 1937. This took place during the annual general meeting. They decided to expand the newspaper group in the reading hall (by subscribing also to “Folkszeigung”, the Bund newspaper), and to make connections with book publishers. However, Avraham Cohen, who was serving as the chairman of the library, revolted… On the evening following Yom Kippur, he called a meeting with various activists – including the writer of this article, Pinchas Weinberg and Yisrael Eisman. They feared government intervention, in particular the intervention of the inimical vice-mayor (vice-starostowa) Borkowski (“Brodka”). Simcha Grundwag, Simcha Cohen, Lotek Skotnitzki, Menashe Knott, Nachum Grundwag, Michael Cohen (Avraham's brother), Yosef Muney, Hershel Warshawski, Yoel Miller, Dr. Kaplan, as well as others all participated in that stormy session. A committee was set up comprising of Lotek Skotnitzki, Menashe Knott and Mendel Frydman, who were to travel immediately to Noach Prilocki in Warsaw in order to insure, first and foremost, that the government would not close the library. Due to the intervention of Noach Prilocki and the leader of the Bund Henryk Erlich, the library was not closed.

A new general meeting took place with government permission, and in the presence of the government representative Skrent. However prior to that, a meeting of the library activists was called, with the participation of the vice mayor who announced, first and foremost, that the request for an allocation from the town was refused, and even were such a request to have been authorized, it would have been cancelled, since the Jews have enough money… He also advised, for example, that a fine should be imposed on one of the householders who was there in the library at that time, Mr. Goldman, for the crime of uncleanliness, and he would set the amount… Of course we rejected this advice and advised him that if the request would not be authorized, we would appeal to higher authorities. Later, he requested to inspect the catalog in order to advise us which books should be removed so that the Polish population would not look upon us as strangers, and that we provide a poor education for the youth… He advised us to remove the works of Gorki, Tolstoy, Rolen, Barbis, Tovim, Janowski, and others. He particularly advised us to remove all socialist and progressive books. He also advised us to remove from the list of members anyone who was not a “patriot”. We were warned about the dangers of communism that was lurking within the Jewish populace, and that the government would fight against it until its annihilation…

Photocopy on page 655: A flyer from the library, in Yiddish. Here is a partial translation (note, the photocopy itself is not clear, so a full translation is not possible):

Jewish People's Library and Reading Hall of Sochaczew

Today, On November 9, 1938[8], at 8:30 prompt
Come to a program
An Academic event
Marking the 20th yahrzeit of the Jewish author
Mendele Mocher Seforim

Program: {details not translated}

  1. Introduction
  2. “Zeidene Kroin” – a song
  3. Mendele, his life and works
  4. {cannot make out}
  5. “The Travels of Benjamin the Third”
  6. “Zeidene Kroin” – the song again
  7. Conclusion

Come give honor to the kind Mendele!!!
Come Promptly!!!
All places are 49 groszy

Notice!!! The library has moved to a larger location, 50 Staszica St. (Tilman's house), front entrance, first floor.

We presented the results of the discussion at the general meeting. We realized that the battle was about our right to existence as Jews. Representatives of the government, including the Jewish official Mondacz were at the meeting. Menashe Knott chaired the meeting. Everyone vetoed the stand of Avraham Cohen, and blamed him for the events that took place during the previous administration. At the end of the meeting a new administration was appointed, consisting of: Lotek Skotnitzki, Menashe Knott, Yona Bressler, Yisrael Eisman, Pinia Weinberg, Mendel Frydman, Avraham Taub, Yosel Grundwag, and Shpotrik (a dental technician who arrived in Sochaczew). L. Skotnitzki was chosen as chairman, M. Frydman as vice chairman, Weinberg as secretary, and Y. Eisman as treasurer. This committee served until the end. Skotnitzki died suddenly of a heart attack in 1938. At the memorial gathering, M. Knott was chosen as a replacement.

The administrative committee rented a larger hall in the home of Hertzke Tilman. New books were purchased, a larger reading hall was opened with newspapers and works of Jewish and a few Polish authors. Contacts were made with publishing houses. New members joined. The drama club made its home in the library, and an attempt was made to found a theater group as existed in other cities. Actors were invited from Warsaw, and various plays were performed.

In 1938, the administration of the library invited the Jewish violinist Klara Mendelson, with the approval of the writers' club of Warsaw. They also invited writers to give lectures on Friday nights, with great success. The cultural activities of the library provided great enjoyment and sowed light in the lives of the youth.

In the winter of 1938, they organized an academic evening in memory of Mendele Mocher Sefarim, and on Passover a celebration of Peretz, which was the final event! Both events took place in the largest halls in the city, and were attended by a large audience. Sections of “The Travels of Benjamin the Third”, were presented at the first gathering, and a thirty person choir performed under the direction of Leibel Furstenberg. At the evening in honor of Peretz, selections of his works were read, and lectures were given; however the atmosphere was already saturated with the fear of the times!

Anti-Semitism grew in the meantime. Jews were beaten in Sochaczew, and guards were placed near the Jewish shops. However, life continued, and the Jews were not subdued. The library continued it existence and development.

When the draft order was issued, we decided in an emergency meeting of the directors to pack away the books in chests and hide them in the attic. Many members were asked to help with this work. The last of the books were hidden away as the enemy fire had already begun to rain down on Sochaczew.

When I returned from Russia together with Hertzke Tilman in 1946 we went up to the attic, but there was no remnant of the thousands of books. Several torn out pages from “Antiquities” of Spinoza and “A Night in the Old Market” of Peretz were found rotting in the trash… According to the story told to us by the Poles, the Poles burned all of the books on the orders of the Nazis after the Jews were expelled from the ghetto. A bonfire was set up in the middle of the marketplace.

The two years prior to the destruction were the height of communal activity, as well as economic growth in our town. Professionals and experts, in particular Jewish doctors and lawyers came to Sochaczew from other cities. Sochaczew natives who had left returned.

With all this anti-Semitism, boycotts, shoving incidents, and hooliganism grew. Posters and placards of anti-Semites were posted on Jewish stores. The inimical “Brodka”[9] excelled in anti-Semitism; riding on his white horse, dressed in platinum[10], he instilled fear in the hearts of the Jews. The Jews were oppressed, fined, and persecuted. Work and business were forbidden on Sundays and days upon which Polish holidays fell. Jewish communal life became bogged down and permeated with difficulty. Attacks on Jews increased, particularly during the evening hours. Non-Jewish artisans began to stream into Sochaczew. The heating up of the activities of our enemies in the German government obviously strengthened the hooligans in Poland.

Even with this tense situation, it was necessary to continue activities, to encourage the Jewish population, and to strengthen ties with the portion of the Polish population that had not yet been poisoned. The P.P.S. party and its leader Darber in particular stood with the Jews in their difficulties.

Two events took place in this atmosphere of terror and oppression. The final elections of both the town and the community took place. The son of Zmiaowski, a well-known Andak[11] hooligan, was the chief of the ruffians. He chased the Jews out of the line of voters, however the Jews resisted, and the number of Jewish voters was not reduced. The Bund gained proportionally in the elections. All of the Jewish factions and organizations continued their activities until the destruction. It is obligatory to note here the head activists who stood in their posts until the final moment:

General Zionist – Simcha Grundwag, Moshe Lodzer (Jakobovitz), Yoel Miller, Dr. Kaplan, Shimiontek.

Mizrachi – Yankel Biderman, Montshik, Izak Wazenberg, Blumenthal.

Agudas Yisrael – Yosef Wolkowicz, Yankel Bienczkowski, Eliezer Zusman, Yitzchak Winer.

Hechalutz – Pinia Weinberg, Shmuel Jakobovitz.

Bund – Hershel Warshawski (the brother of the writer Ozer), Yuntel Rosen, Aharon Greenberg, Simcha Goldberg, Chaim Pinczewski, Mendel Frydman.

The communist faction was disbanded in Poland, including in our town, in 1937. The professional union ceased to function, having been disbanded by the authorities after they imprisoned several of its activists during a Beitar celebration.

The role of the Jews was reduced after the final elections for the civic and communal institutions. There were only three representatives in the city in accordance with the new structure of the local authority, namely: Michael Cohen the representative of the Zionists, Yosef Liksztik representing the artisans and small scale merchants, and Chaim Pinczewski representing Bund.

The final chairman of the community was Yitzchak Winer of the Aguda. The Bund representatives (who were elected for the first time) were Hershel Warshawski and Aharon Greenberg.

On September 1st, 1939 everything ended… Sochaczew was bombarded already on the first day of the war, and victims fell. On the fifth day of the war the Polish army appeared in town during its retreat, and the Germans already stood at the gate of the city. The Jews all fled. Many of the Jews of Sochaczew gave their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Only very few survivors returned to Sochaczew after the flood of blood. Not one Jewish household remained intact.

The Germans and their helpers destroyed everything, uprooted everything from its roots. They slew and took possession[12]. A Jew such as Yechiel Meir Tilman, who owned ten houses in Sochaczew, did not find one corner for himself when he returned from Warsaw.

The community that acted, created, struggled, and organized its life for centuries was cut off.

We will not forget its contribution to the life of Jewry, and its memory will last forever.

{180 - Yiddish} {659 - Hebrew}

The Local Theater

by Yosef Grundwag of Jerusalem

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A group of theatre dilettantes started in Sochaczew immediately following the First World War. My father, Nachum Grundwag filled the main role. He was the producer. He played roles in plays and his name drew audiences also from the surrounding towns.

However, the theatre activity in the town was not only due to his efforts, since there was a group of amateurs in the town already fifty years previously. My father, when he was still a youth, participated in performances. It is interesting to note that his first role was that of a woman, and at that time, apparently, he became enthralled with theater.

Aside from my father, the following individuals participated in performances: Moshe Schwartz, Yaakov Frydman, Vove Rosenberg, Bluma and Rachel Weinberg, Lotek Skotnitzki, Chaya Rashel Fleischman, Machla and Dina Grundwag, as well as my mother Rivka. Of course, as time went on, the cast changed, and others joined such as Bina Festman, Avraham Nashelwicz, and others. My father expended great effort, and worked with great dedication to raise the level of the amateur players, so that their names and plays would become known in the surrounding towns, which would invite them to entertain them with their plays.

Almost every performance was associated with a memorial day or a celebration. Every new play was a festive time for the community as well as the actors. They related to their roles with seriousness and dedication. The put their best efforts into their performances, in order to insure a high level of entertainment. My father's name went before him in every performance. It as sufficient to publicize that Nachum Grundwag would participate in the performance – and success was guaranteed.

The greatest success came from the performances of the productions of Peretz Hirschbein (“Nevala” – “Travesty”, and “Hasadot Hayerokim” – “Green Pastures”); Sholem Asch (“Amonoteinu” – “Our Craft”); Strindberg (“Haav” – “The Father”); and Shalom Aleichem (“200 Elef” – “Two Hundred Thousand”). The following performances were also put on: “Kuni Lemel the Second” of Goldfaden; “El, Adam and Satan” – “God, Adam and Satan”, and “Haalmoni” – “The Anonymous”, of Gordin (March 1918); “Kreitzer's Sonata” (Passover 1922); in which I also participated by playing the role of Albert the son of the Eight. I remember that on that day tears overtook me as I took to the stage, and father showed me how to stand, which movements to make and how to speak.

On the long Saturday nights of the winter, we would conduct theatrical Melave Malka[13]evenings, in which, aside from my father and others, writers from Warsaw would lecture about topics from the fields of literature and theatre. Performances of professional actors from Warsaw would also took place.

Shortly before the Second World War, my father along with the other amateurs put on sonorous performances. He himself composed ballads, parodies, and songs and prepared them for the stage. Freda Chmiel (who currently resides in Argentina), and her husband Meir Zaltzman of blessed memory excelled in these performances.

Photo page 660: A scene from the play “Haalmoni” – “The Anonymous”.

My father was the director and producer of the dramatic club of the workers “Yidishe Bina”, and he performed with them “Hacheresh” – “The Deaf One” of Bergelson, which was highly successful.

Of course, there was no shortage of comical events in our town – and I will mention some of them here.

At the time of the appearance of the Warsaw actor Jack Levi (who had mainly a classical repertoire), our community witnessed the miracle of “the resurrection of the dead”. The following is what transpired.

When the actor dressed himself in the Roman toga for his role as Marc Anthony and began the well-known Shakespearean eulogy for Caesar, the “dead” Caesar suddenly came to life; he jumped up from the table and fled… Pandemonium broke out in the theater. The actor was astounded and frightened.

It was later verified that the two candles that were burning near the head of the “deceased” dripped wax onto him and burned him – therefore he got up and fled…

There was this and more.

The Zionist drama group decided to perform on Saturday night after the Sabbath, without paying attention, due to forgetfulness, that the evening was between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av[14]. Therefore, the rabbi and the Orthodox people decided to prevent the performance from taking place. The rabbi called on the Hassidim and other householders for a “holy war”. Immediately after the conclusion of the evening service (maariv) at the conclusion of the Sabbath, they hurried to the “theater” and “took over” the fire-hall in which the performances were held. A lengthy dispute took place between the two sides, and a significant number of the theater goers who came to purchase tickets met in the hall … their fathers wearing their Sabbath kapotes, and did not dare to cross the threshold of the theater.

Nevertheless, it was impossible to cancel the play after the manifold preparations. As usual, a policeman was stationed near the hall in order to investigate the goings on and to report immediately to the civic supervisor who also appeared… The Hassidim did not want to leave the hall, and explained their reasoning to explain to the supervisor in Polish “This month has three weeks”. However the captain did not understand at all what they meant…

“How can this be, doesn't a month have four weeks and not three?” he asked.

Even after the conversation between the supervisor and the rabbi, they did not understand one another, and at the end the rabbi and his entourage left the hall. Of course, there was no income from that night, since most of the tickets were not sold. And from that time on, the drama group never performed during the “Three Weeks”.

The third episode is as follows:

During one of the performances of the drama group in the hall near the library (in 1920), the talented actor Hermelin Malewicz performed. He stayed in our house, as was customary for that caliber of guest. After he left his suitcases and belongings in our house, he went with our family to the performance in the hall of the library. The atmosphere was festive and exalted.

The large picture of Jeremiah, entitled “By the Rivers of Babylon”, that was drawn on a hanging by a talented artist from Sochaczew, added seriousness to this event, as well as a pleasant atmosphere. (For years, this hanging served as a wall for grandfather's Sukka[15]. This is what took place.

Photocopy of document on page 662: This document is in script Yiddish, and the script is not easy to make out. It is apparently some notes about the performance of “Kreitzer's Sonata”. The notes give a list of the characters, and the actors that will play them. They note that there are four acts, the first three take place in Russia, and the final act in America. Between the first and last act, seven years elapse.

We returned home very late at night (the performances always ended a long time after midnight), and we found the windows of our house broken. The clothing of our guests were missing, as well as a plush cloth, which the “thieves” used to wrap the goods. The suspicion was that this was the work of political opponents, who wished to take revenge in this manner on the drama group, which had Zionist tendencies. The investigation and bargaining were to no avail – the clothing was not returned, and the guests who were robbed left in disappointment.

There was controversy in the town for several weeks regarding the cause of the “robbery”.

At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, there was a group of amateurs in Sochaczew who put on performances themselves, and also invited professional actors from Warsaw.

My father stood at their head until the bitter end. He taught the group their repertoires, encouraged them, and implanted culture and joy in the town.

Photo page 663: A group of activists. Standing: L Skotnitzki, M. Schwartz, V Rosenberg. Seated: P. R. Fleischman.


Sochaczew as I remember it

by Yerucham Ines

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the country of Poland, in the vicinity of Warsaw, surrounded by clean fields and villages, lies the city of Sochaczew. As out of the darkness, the image of my birthplace Sochaczew appears before my eyes, with its Jewish inhabitants, surrounding villages, "Schlossberg" mountain rising to the north. On top of the mountain are the remnants of an old palace covered in mystery and legends, the Bzura River flows at the foot of the mountain, with its clear water covered with rays of sun – what a glorious vision I behold. People thirsting for water would come to the waters of the river that were flowing with the current, and the elderly water-drawer Kalman Yankel, walking with difficulty, laden with his pole and buckets, would draw water in both the summer and the winter for the homes of the Jews of Sochaczew.

During the warm months of the summer the townspeople would go down the slope at the edge of the road to Tarnow, near the hospital, in order to bathe in the waters of the Bzura. During the cold days of winter, days of snow and ice, the youths would gleefully skate on the river, on foot, with skates, or with handmade sleds. With the approach of Rosh Hashana, once again the banks of the Bzura teamed with the local Jews, who came for the Tashlich ceremony, in order to empty the sins of the past year into the depths of the river

Thus was the Bzura interwoven an inseparable element in the happenings of the lives of the Jews of Sochaczew.

The marketplace was in a central location in the city. The area of the marketplace was paved with large stones, and was surrounded by stores, wooden shacks and rows of merchants' stalls, primarily for merchants of fruits and vegetables. During the cold days of winter, heat would be obtained from burning wood coal in cast iron basins. In the center of the market area there was a high platform with an alarm bell on top of it, which would be used to call the firemen whenever a fire broke out.

On Tuesday, the market day in the city, the marketplace would appear very different than any other time. The marketplace and the adjacent roads would be filled with farmers from the nearby towns and with wagons laden with sacks of wheat, animals and poultry. The shouts of the villagers would be merged with the noise of the wheels of the approaching wagons, the neighing of horses, the clucking of chickens and the mooing of the cows into one thundering, deafening sound. The local merchants would circulate around, this one meticulously checking the quality of the wheat, another one examining the poultry that was for sale or the calf that was on top of a wagon. They would estimate the value and finally reach an agreement and complete the transaction.

Once a month, on the day of the large fair, the city would be filled with farmers and merchants who came from near and far, bringing all sorts of desirable merchandise, from a string to a shoelace[16]. The marketplace was full of stalls that sprouted up as mushrooms after the rain. Purchasers would mull around the crowded area, as well as people who were simply curious due to the picturesqueness of the area. There was also no shortage of jesters, magicians, fortune tellers, card diviners, puppeteers, and swindlers of various types.

The stores and artisan shops would all be quite busy on that day. The majority of the Jews of Sochaczew were merchants or artisans, and the bulk of their livelihood came from the fair days, which they eagerly awaited from one month to the next. {photo in middle of page 665 – Zeinwil Zibola and his wife}

The market and fair days were a blessing for the city as well as for the surrounding villages, with the exception of isolated incidents perpetrated as drunks would break into the area as the marketplace was being evacuated. The villagers would bring the fruits of their labors and the fruits of their fields to the city, and would purchase provisions that were produced in the city. The merchants of Sochaczew would export grain, poultry, eggs, and vegetables that were purchased from the farmers to the capital city of Warsaw as well as other localities.

From the marketplace, the city spread out in all directions. Warsaw Street was the largest street. This street began at the bridge over the Bzura, adjacent to which stood the Christian church with its steeples and crosses, and crossed the entire city to the other side, where it joined with the highway leading to Warsaw. The second largest street was Tarnow Street, which ran from one edge of the city which bordered on fields and gardens, crossed the city by its width, passed near the area of the marketplace, and on the other side of the city passed by the railway station and the Christian and Jewish cemeteries.

There was a distance of several kilometers from the city to the train station. In order to travel that route, the people of the city, primarily the merchants, would require the services of the coachmen of Sochaczew, such as Leizer Droshkosh, Hersch Tindel and others who always stood by – in the summer with their wagons and in the winter with their sleighs – ready to transport those who were making haste to the departing train.

The homes of several dozen Jewish families surrounded the train station. These Jews obtained their livelihood from the railway. The house of Mordechai Fein was located in this area, and this house contained the synagogue for the local Jews. The pastureland of the villages Janowiec and Duranow was on the other side of the train tracks.

On Sabbaths and festivals the roads would be filled with strolling youths, as well as other Jews, who would go out bedecked in their Sabbath finery to enjoy the world around.

The memory of the deeds of the local anti-Semites also comes to my mind. I recall the wildness of the soldiers and army conscripts as they would pass through the city. I particularly have bad memories of the "Hellerchiks" named after their commander Heller and the "Poznanches" named after their city Poznan. These wild men dressed in army fatigues were expert Jew haters, and they caused the Jews of our city no small measure of suffering. I can never forget, and I still see in my mind the image of one of these hooligans in a Polish army uniform torturing my father of blessed memory, and pulling out the hairs of his beard along with the skin of his face which was dripping with blood…

The instigation of the Andaks[17] and other anti-Semites in the city also poisoned the souls of the Christian children, and I can still feel it in my flesh very well to this day. As we returned from Warsaw as refugees from the world war, having lost all of our property, we took up residence in one of the houses owned by my grandfather on the other side of the train tracks in the Christian neighborhood. On several occasions as I was going into the city to study, I had to be on guard for the youths of our neighborhood who would incite their dogs against me, and I can still remember their curses to this very day – "Jew to Palestine", or "Jew a pig is chasing you", and other such curses which hurt my young heart.

The Jewish community of Sochaczew, one of the oldest in the vicinity of Warsaw, numbered approximately 5,000 souls. Mutual benefit was well organized, charitable organizations helped the poor overcome their straits, and the commandment of caring for the sick was fulfilled with great diligence.

The synagogue and study hall were located a small distance away from the rest of the buildings of the city. The synagogue was very beautiful with its high, round dome and long glass windows with a colorful mosaic. The interior of the synagogue was also very glorious. The prayer stand and holy ark were fine crafted with engraved wood. The ark cover was woven with fine gold, and a beautiful lectern (bima) stood in the center, upon which one would ascend by steps. The bima was surrounded by small, engraved pillars. At the entrance there was a large sandbox[18]and the chair of Elijah the prophet which would be used for circumcisions. To us children, the appearance of the synagogue resembled the Holy Temple, about which we had learned in cheder.

On Sabbaths, and in particular on festivals, the synagogue would be full of worshipers, and the Rabbi would give a lecture about the significance of the day. I in particular remember the words of Rabbi Perkal of blessed memory on the second day of Shavuot (Pentecost), which according to legend was the day of the passing of David the king of Israel. On that day the synagogue was decorated in honor of the festival, and a festive atmosphere pervaded everywhere. With the dancing flames of the lit candles in the background, Rabbi Perkal preached, and proved with great enthusiasm that the time of the redemption was approaching.

{photo in middle of page 667 – The Zibola twins – Yitzchak of blessed memory and Eliahu may he live long.}

The study hall which stood next to the synagogue building served as a popular place of prayer for the Jews of the city, who flocked there in great numbers. Various preachers and expositors of Zion would come to preach from the pulpit of the study hall, and their words would find paths into the hearts of the multitude of listeners, in particular of the younger generation, in whose hearts longing and dreams of the return to Zion and the redemption of the land would be awakened.

During this period, Sochaczew began to become more active in organized communal life, and culture began to sprout up; cultural organizations began to have activities, and politically oriented youth movements began.

When my late father made Aliya to the land in 1922, we began to receive postcards and letters from him, and I was very excited to see the square letters which were printed on the stamps and letters.

My family made Aliya to the land at the end of 1924. It was difficult to part from the rest of our family whom we left in the city, as well as our many acquaintances. Who would have imagined that this parting would be permanent …

Everything terminated… the gravestone was placed upon the Jews of Sochaczew…

1942 was the year of suffering and destruction for the Jews of Sochaczew, the year that they were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto. The final journey of the community was complete. There was slow death from hunger, sickness and torture, as well as the tragic end in the death camps.

The Jews of Sochaczew are no longer. Entire families were wiped out without leaving a single survivor. The simple folk along with the Torah scholars, the artisans along with the property owners; innocent Jews, pure souls who conducted themselves with modesty, including my own family members of the Ines family. They stand before my eyes with a thirst for life and activity, longing for peace and good deeds – and now nothing remains except for a memory.

Everything ended. Sochaczew is empty of Jews. The work of dozens of generations was destroyed. Our Christian neighbors filled their houses with pillaged Jewish property. The murdered would no longer claim their properties… so the conscience of the Christians would be at peace. Most of the work was done by others; however they did assist with the bloodbath in some way.

When he arrived in Sochaczew after the liberation, Pinia Weinberg, may his blood be avenged, was greeted with pistol fire. His pure blood flowed onto the streets of his birthplace.

The community of Sochaczew was wiped off the face of the earth. Its charitable and cultural organizations, which were founded and nurtured with great self-sacrifice, were all destroyed. The Jews who excelled in love of their fellow Jew are no longer.

May their memory be blessed and sanctified for generations to come. Yitgadal Veyitgadash…[19]


1. The term 'chayey ruach' does not mean spiritual life in the religious sense, but rather 'life of the spirit'. Return

2. The fourth wave of immigration to the Land of Israel, which took place between the world wars. Return

3. The ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. Return

4. I am not sure what the reference is here. Return

5. The right wing Zionist movement (the precursor the modern day Likud and Herut parties), founded by Zeev Jabotinski. The youth wing of the revisionist Zionists was called Beitar. Return

6. Religious Zionist organization. Return

7. Biro-Bidzhan is an area in eastern Siberia on the Mongolian border that was set up as a Jewish Autonomous Republic by the U.S.S.R. in an attempt to solve the Jewish national problem. Return

8. By coincidence, this was the night of Kristallnacht! Return

9. Here spelled “Broka”, but the previous mention was spelled “Brodka”. One is in error. Return

10. Perhaps a suit of armor. Return

11. The Andak was apparently an anti-Semitic party in Poland. Return

12. A very poignant Biblical reference from the book of Kings. It is an allusion to the question posed by the prophet Elijah to King Ahab after Ahab had killed Nabot in order to take over his field which he desired: “Have you slain and also taken possession?” Return

13. The 17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av are two summertime fast days marking the breach of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple respectively, as well as several other tragic events in Jewish history. The three-week period between these two fasts is a semi-mourning period in the Jewish calendar, when weddings as well as any other musical festivities are prohibited. This period is often known as the “Three Weeks”. Return

14. A sukka is a temporary hut used during the celebration of the fall Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Return

15. The “Tallit Gadol” or large prayer shawl, is worn primarily during prayers, while the “Tallit Kattan” or small prayer shawl, is a smaller garment worn at all times. Most Orthodox Jews wear it as an undergarment, however, some Hassidic Jews, primarily in Europe, wore it at all times on top of their shirt. Return

16. 'A string to a shoelace' is an expression meaning a wide variety of items. This is taken from the expression that Abraham used in the book of Genesis when refusing to take any of the booty that was offered to him by the king of Sodom after his victory in the battle against the four kings. Here its meaning is similar to the English expression "everything but the kitchen sink". Return

17. Andak was the name of an anti-Semitic Polish party of the time. Return

18. The sandbox is the sand-filled receptacle for the burying of foreskins after a circumcision. Return

19. Yitgadal Veyitkadash (or Yisgadal Veyisgadash), are the first two words of the Kaddish, which is a prayer said in memory of the departed, as well as on other occasions during the course of a prayer service. Return

{158 - Yiddish} {669 - Hebrew}

The Birthpangs of Zionism in Sochaczew

by Sh. Grundwag

Translated by Jerrold Landau


In my memoirs about the awakening and growth of Zionism in our town, I will try to elaborate in depth about the persecutions and methods employed by the Hassidim under the influence of the "Courtyard of Sochaczew" in their battle against the movement of national renaissance during that period. They published an edict, signed by the Rabbis of Gur, Alexander, Amshenov and others – that declared an excommunication and ban on Zionism in all of their respective places.

Later I will deal with the various personalities from both camps, as well as the relation of the Czarist government to us. I will deal with in particular the failures and victories in the difficult arenas of cultural life, nationalistic and religious life, and national political life.

A Center of Haskala

Years ago there was in our city, similar to many other towns, a small club of enlightened and progressive Jews, which included Sh. Gelman, G. Lichtenstein, Y. M. Grundwag, G. Warshawski, M. Festman, A. Rosenfeld, K. Welman, as well as the author of these words. This club met in the home of Y. M. Grundwag, where there was a library that contained daily newspapers and periodicals in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. These included "Hamagid", "Hamelitz", and "Hatzfira". During our meetings, we read the news, and conducted debates about the current events.

These meetings and deliberations raised the national consciousness of the participants, and due to the influence of Pinsker's "Auto-Emancipation" and Herzl's "The Jewish State", the members of the group began to regard Zionism as the ultimate and only answer to the problems of the Jews and the tribulations of exile. As a result, the first official Zionist meeting took place.

At that time there lived in our city a great Talmudist who was an expert in Bible and grammar, by the name of Reb Yehoshua of blessed memory (the only son of Rabbi Elazarel, the Rabbi of our city). He had a deep connection to national issues. He requested that the entire group of maskilim[1] should gather in his house, and, secretly, the first Zionist meeting would take place. Other honorable people were also invited to this meeting, such as Reb Leib Greenberg, Reb Hersch Frydman (the mohel – ritual circumciser), Reb Menashe Rabinovitz, and Reb Godel the teacher. Most of those invited were suspected as being apikorsim[2].

On the evening when this gathering was supposed to take place, the famous nationalistic speaker Y. Weintraub was staying over at our house as a guest, as he was invited to a wedding in the Rebbe's courtyard. Due to the efforts of M. Festman, he was able to participate in our meeting. At that meeting, he, along with K. Welman and the writer of these lines, laid the base for theoretical and political Zionism.

Thus was the Zionist movement founded in our city. It numbered 15 members, and was headed by a committee.

The First Zionist Organization

In order to provide an opportunity for the Zionist organization that was founded at that time to continue, and to spread the Zionist idea in wider circles, a Zionistic prayer hall was founded by the name of "Chevra Bnei Zion Sochaczew". This prayer hall was in the home of Gotteskind, a teacher of children, who gave over his schoolroom for this purpose for no fee. Public prayers took place there each Sabbath and festival, Bible and Jewish history were studied, and Zionist and general Jewish newspapers were read. Lectures on current events took place on every day of school vacation, in order to emphasize the nationalistic idea. Due to systematic public relations activities, the numbers of members of the organization grew. Reb Chaim Mishrowitzer, Reb Sh. N. Warshawski, Reb Meir Nashelevitz, Reb A. L. Shemiantek, Reb Meir Kan, and Reb Ben-Zion Kroin all joined. The group of supporters grew. At that time, the Zionist organization moved to a larger hall, in the home of the chairman Reb Sh. Gelman.

With the move toward organized Zionist activity, and with the importance attached to unifying all of the Zionist organizations into one world Zionist federation for the purpose of political Zionism, the committee decided to send three representatives – including this writer as secretary – charged with the mission to formalize our affiliation with the central Zionist organization of Warsaw. This organization was located on 3 Czapala Street (in a four by four room – i.e. a tiny room), and was headed at the time by: the lawyer Jasinowski, Dr. T. Hindes, N. Sokolow, A. Podlishewski, Lewita (the father of L. Lewita), and Dr. Z. Bichowski. A central committee had not yet been established. Congress Poland was at that time divided into districts, each one with a separate delegate. We gave our accounting of the founding of our organization and its activities to the above mentioned representatives, and indicated our willingness to participate in the regional office. They accepted our notice with great satisfaction, and promised their spiritual and judicial help in our Zionist activities.

They fulfilled their promise, and after a short time the well-known nationalistic orator Korotkin visited us. He presented convincing explanatory lectures about Zionism in the city's Beis Midrash, and inspired enthusiasm among the listeners. 400 shekels (tokens of membership in the Zionist organization) were sold on the spot. He presented a special presentation in our own hall, specifically for our members, and this inspired a reorganization of the groups and the election of a formal committee. This writer served as the chairman, M. Festman served as secretary, and A. Rosenfeld as the treasurer. Committees for publicity, finance, culture and education were also elected.

The new committee conducted its activities from the outset with the inspiration of the words of Herzl, that "Zionism involves a return to Judaism prior to a return to the land of the Jews". The committee did not see for itself the possibility of effective Zionist activity without the founding of a school which would educate the younger generation in the nationalistic spirit, ingrain in them an appreciation of the richness of our nation, awaken a love for the Hebrew language, etc. After much effort, the committee opened an elementary school, headed by the noted Biblical scholar G. Warshawski.

It is not easy to describe the persecutions that accompanied the opening of such a school in those days. The outcry of the veteran teachers reached to the hearts of the heavens… and most of the community raised a furor until word reached the courtyard of the Rebbe, from where the "bomb" against Zionism in general and the local Zionists in particular was issued.

(The above was the first of a series of articles that appeared in the newspaper "Sochaczewer Shtima". The rest of the issues were lost.)


{Photo page 671} A group of girls from Sochaczew.



1. Maskil (plural maskilim), is literally an well-educated person, but the connotation here is to an adherent of the Haskalah movement, which was the movement prevalent in Jewish eastern Europe of the 19th century which was marked by the trend toward greater secular education and involvement, and a move away from tradition and strict Orthodoxy. Many maskilim would have rejected Orthodoxy outright, while others would have maintained it and blended it in with the modernity of the day. Return

2. An Apikoros is a Jewish heretic, freethinker, or non-believer. Colloquially, it could also refer in the current context to someone who maintained a degree of Orthodox practice, while simultaneously holding haskala type views. The word literally derives from the Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose motto was that one should enjoy this world, as there is no hereafter. This term is used throughout Jewish religious literature as a halachic term with a formal definition, however it is also colloquially used as a term of denigration for people who are swerving off the path of tradition. Return

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