by Dr. Yeshayahu Feig
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
When I was 13 years old, I was captivated by the Zionist movement. At that time, I would spend my summer vacations at my parents' home in the village, while during the school year (since I went to school in town) my parents arranged for my to live in the apartment of a widow, on Kosharow Street, across the street from the army barracks. In another apartment in the same courtyard lived the family Bienenstock, actually a widow (who made her living by giving private lessons to pupils who had difficulties in learning) with her three children: Max, a student at the University; Adam, a high-school student, and Sara, who went to elementary school. One summer, just before starting high-school, I went to visit my landlady, proudly dressed in my new uniform, with the shining silver stripes on my collar, and as I entered the courtyard I saw Max, in mourning dress, a black band on his sleeve. Frightened, I did not dare ask him what had happened. I went straight up the stairs to the widow and asked her what the meaning of Max's mourning attire was. She explained that a person by the name of Herzl just died, a man who wanted to create a Jewish state. He was a bit deranged in his head - she added, but Max was in correspondence with him, and his idea was about to be realized. He even spoke with emperors and other rulers about the problem she added, laughing. But now he is dead, so there is no use talking about it, only Max decided to wear a mourning band, and tonight they will be holding a mourning gathering.
That evening I did not go back home to the village. Through my uncle, who went back, I let my parents know that I will spend the night in the apartment of my landlady.
I cannot remember who attended the mourning assembly that evening in the Zion-Hall. I listened like spellbound. An entire new world opened for me, a world of mixed feelings, hope and sadness, wonderful visions and terrible tragedy.
I left the place as in a dream, and I couldn't sleep all night. Next morning I left the house furtively and looked for my friends, to discuss with them the happenings of last night. I asked for Zionist literature, and I was handed old editions of the newspaper Die Welt - every new edition passed from hand to hand as soon as it appeared. I returned home a new person and, if I may compare small things with great ones, I'd use the Latin saying: Saul was transformed into Paul.
It became clear to me that I must join that wonderful movement. A secret group by the name of The Jewish Circle has been formed by the students of the High-School upper grades. The students of the lower grades were not accepted, since it was feared that they would not be able to keep the existence of the group secret. Would the authorities become aware of it, the lightest punishment would have been expulsion from school. I remember well the founding meeting of our group, which took place in the hotel London, owned by Mr. Haber, the father of one of the members. Later, after the Haber family left Tarnow, the building was rented by the community for the Hebrew school Safa Berura (the young Haber left the movement and I do not know his fate). The meeting was attended by: Alter Beitch, whose father was a book-binder; Emil Wieder, the son of a goldsmith; Bernard Edelstein, the son of an iron merchant (Wieder and Edelstein's older brothers, who were in the higher grades of the school, belonged to the higher group); Yitzhak Fisch, the son of an accountant; Naftali Leinman, whose father was a land owner some distance from Tarnow, and the writer of these lines. I am not aware of the fate of all the persons who founded the Zionist organization in town. I know this much - that Beitch was later in Berlin and died there at an early age; the older Wieder lost a leg in the First World War; Edelstein died at the end of the War during the epidemic of the Spanish flu and his older brother was the director of a large Children's Hospital in Berlin named after a Queen (I think Victoria) and is now a famous pediatrician in Tel Aviv; Yitzhak Fisch was an attorney in Tarnow and Leinman was, I think, the owner of a movie theater in Krakow at the outbreak of the Second World War - both perished after the Nazi occupation. I can remember another detail: we tried to persuade Adam Bienenstock to join our group, but he had already been a member of the higher circle.
When we reached the 6th grade of high-school we were ready for the higher group. Some of its members were really talented persons, who later became famous: Wilek Berkelhammer, Eliyahu Tisch, Adam Bienenstock, Wilek Schenkel, Yosef Maschler and others. Young people who came to Tarnow to study and joined the group brought new life to the movement. Often we invited them to give lectures on various subjects (Max Bienenstock, Yitzhak Schieffer and others). The first lecture I heard in the group was given by Adam Bienenstock, on Lilien, the famous illustrator of the Bible. We would also gather to read newspapers, to keep up with the important events. Some of the Tarnow young people made Aliya to Eretz Israel: Yosef Perlberg, Leib Lichtinger, the Leibel brothers. In our eyes it seemed like a journey to the North Pole. The rumor was that there, in Eretz Israel, people are dying of malaria and other diseases. Those immigrants were heroes in our eyes, larger than life, and we envied them. One of the colonies in Eretz Israel, Machanayim, was founded by our townsman Avraham Saltz, the vice-president of the first Zionist Congress, and Bromberg-Britkovski. We heard that Radek Sobelsohn, a friend of Max Bienenstock, had become a nihilist and as a revolutionist he fled to Russia. Laufbahn from Dembitz went to Eretz Israel, as did the Brandstetter brothers, Yehoshua and Yehezkel. They were of a very rich family, and their aim was to live off the land in Eretz Israel, like simple peasants. Yehezkel is now a land owner in Yavneel in the Galilee and Yehoshua works in the film industry in the country. Their families followed them soon, and all are now strongly rooted in the land.
Eagerly we studied for the end-of-the-year exams. Passing the exams would mean that we were ready to join the higher group. With our hearts racing and full of hope we submitted the applications to the group. When we joined, a new world opened before our eyes. We could attend lectures about art, literature, Judaism, Jewish artists, Hasidism and emancipation. Berkelhammer was the editor of the journal Moriya. But he was not only editor: he filled the pages of the journal, writing on various subjects under different pseudonyms: Berwill, W. B., Pepin (after the name of his mother, Peppi). It should mentioned, that he could not sign his real name, because he would have risked being expelled from school.
The discussions in our group were stormy. We had to overcome and subdue two strongholds: the assimilation, which threatened to become a fighting anti-Zionist power and the religious Jews, who may have been Zionists in their hearts, but in practice they were against Zionism. All events pertaining to the Jewish life were reflected in our discussions. We also discussed the various factions of the Zionist movement, but these were friendly conversations, devoid of the dislike that dominated the discussions concerning the assimilation and the orthodoxy. At the time, the Zionist movement consisted of two sections: The Mizrahi and the Po'alei Zion. It is worth stressing here the fact, that the first Po'alei Zion group in Galicia was founded right here in Tarnow, in 1902. The founders were: Yakov Kenner, Yitzhak Butterfass, Sigmund Penichel and Henrik Flor. The fighting Po'alei Zion group in our circle was represented by Eliyahu Tisch, who made every effort to win our sympathy. Although our group did not include active Mizrahi followers, we knew that certain members went to the synagogue every Sabbath and holiday and observed at least some of the Jewish laws; however, openly they would not acknowledge membership of the Mizrahi.
When we graduated from high-school we joined the students' organization Bar-Kochba. During the school-year, the Zionist activity at the university was minimal; however it came back to life in the summer months. The Readings and discussions were endless. On summer vacation the students came back from the university-cities, bringing to town a variety of news and scientific reports, including problems. Most of them studied in Krakow and in Vienna. A student's organization by the name of Hashachar (The Dawn) was active in Krakow, and in Vienna the Jewish students joined the Bar-Kochba group. As for myself, I did not take an active part in the summer events of the organization, since I went to my village to spend the summer with my parents. Besides, there were many students more talented than myself who could lead the activity. The first among them were Wilek Berkelhammer, Eliyahu Tisch, Wilek Schenkel, Fritz Wasserman (who was employed at the income tax offices), Adam Bienenstock, Shimon Schoenfeld. Among the older members were Max Bienenstock, Yitzhak Schiffer, Shmuel Spann, and Dienstag, who was later an actor at the Vienna Folk-Theater and changed his name to Stefan Darnau.
When I began writing these memories, I remembered many facts and events, friends and acquaintances. However, in the course of writing, as I realized that all those that I am telling their stories were so cruelly murdered, tortured and persecuted - I feel the tears filling my eyes, not allowing me to further weave the thread of memories about Jewish Tarnow that once was, but is no more.
|Dr. Yeshayahu Feig (at right) and the
Poet Uri Zvi Grinberg on his visit to Tarnow, in 1932.
At left: Dvora Hurwitz-Abramowitz
by Yosef Heiman zl
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
1. Leib Bardach
Who among the older Jewish generation, does not remember Leib Bardach, may he rest in peace? He was a first-class doctor, barber, barber-surgeon etc. His salon, situated in Maschler's house, was very popular among the Jewish as well as among the non-Jewish population. He was a tall man, with a long and impressive gray beard and during conversation - in Yiddish of course - he would throw in, here and there, a German word. Due to this custom his prestige grew among the Jews, who considered him part of the intelligentsia. I remember that in particular he liked the word natürlichweise and this, albeit not always used in the right place, won him the respect of the people.
I was still a young boy when I first met him. He was a close neighbor of my parents. I liked to peer through the window of his shop, especially during market days, to see how he received his patients. Besides cutting hair and shaving - work that was done mostly by his apprentice - Bardach was busy doing medical work: drawing blood, extracting teeth, and applying cupping-glasses and leeches. Peasants would stand in line and wait impatiently for their turn to draw blood, believing that it was a therapeutic as well as a preventive procedure. As to toothache, the means to diagnose it was a simple little iron key: Bardach would tap the tooth with the key and ask the patient whether he felt pain. If the reply was affirmative, the forceps would go to work that very moment and the tooth would be out. If, however, it would later turn out that it was a mistake, a second extraction would be performed at a much lower price.
The Jewish population, rich or poor, would ask Bardach for a house-call to diagnose an illness, before calling a real doctor. Bardach maintained, that by placing his hand on the sick person's forehead he could tell the temperature more accurately than the doctor's thermometer. Mostly he would apply cupping glasses, and often the blessed results of a simple enema would save the patient the fee of 50 kreutzer necessary for the services of a medical doctor. Bardach's services were not expensive; he accepted what was offered to him, and this usually was not much. People did not have much.
Besides the income from his profession, Bardach enjoyed a side-income from the earnings of his wife Neche, who sold roasted geese. She would roast the geese and from the sauce that remained in the saucepan she would prepare a soup that she sold to the poor people, who could not afford to buy the roasted delicacy, because one quarter of a goose cost as much as 25 kreutzer. How she always managed to make such a great quantity of soup from the few geese that she had roasted - for me that remained an unsolved mystery.
On Fridays, Bardach's shop was the most active and lively. Before dinner, the peasants from the neighborhood villages would come to shave and to draw blood, in the afternoon the Jews would come to have a haircut and the very religious would shave their heads.
Once on a Friday - I was about ten years old - I went to Leib Bardach to have a haircut. He was already an elderly man and at work his hands would shake a little. Since it was Friday and the assistant was very busy, the master himself offered to cut my hair. Unfortunately, due to his haste and his shaking hands, he made a cut in my ear and the pain was so strong that I thought he had cut off a piece of my ear. I began yelling so loudly that the neighbors came in to see what had happened. However, Bardach did not lose his self-control and began to calm me down: Keep quiet - he said - don't get excited, you will not pay for the haircut, and the four pennies you may keep in your pocket. He applied some medication to stop the bleeding and I calmed down, still in considerable pain but happy to hide my well earned fee.
Neche the wife offered me a piece of freshly baked Hallah dipped in her famous goose-soup but I refused the honor.
This incident, however, has not in the least tarnished the reputation of the barber. To the neighbors he explained that I, a "temperamental" and unpredictable young boy, did not sit quietly during the haircut.
2. The Tarnow El Capone
Whenever I read about the security measures concerning the life and property of the population of New York and Chicago and hear about El Capone, the king of Chicago Underworld, the ruler of organized bands of thieves and robbers in this city of millions - I remember, as a boy, hearing stories about the Tarnow El Capone, as told by the elderly people in town. A more modest edition of the original, he was, some 70 years ago, the head ruler of the Tarnow thieves, known in general by the name Yidele Ganev [Yidele the thief] or Yidele Motz.
It is really difficult to explain the meaning of the word motz - a mixture of rogue, rascal, clown and scoundrel.
Yidele ganev began his career Early. In his youth he used to pick pockets, and thanks to his agility soon became the leader of an organized band. In his later years, however, he ceased to pursue this profession; instead he taught it to young people, who listened and faithfully followed his way.
Sometimes it happened that one or another member of his band fell into the hands of the police. Yidele Motz, thanks to his acquaintance and good relationship with members of the police - not unlike the real El Capone - managed, in most cases, to release his colleague in a very short time.
Whenever there was a theft, the victim would usually go to Yidele Motz, who at first would look surprised: How come you are asking me about such matters?? - but soon, after some bargaining and after a certain sum of money passed from hand to hand, the "lost" object would quickly and mysteriously be found in the possession of its rightful owner.
Yidele Motz introduced a system (that he learned, probably, from the real El Capone): wealthy Jews would pay a certain tax, thus they would buy insurance against burglary and theft, for a given time.
Yidele Motz, as a man of honor, usually fulfilled his commitments. However, if he thought that the tax was too low in relation to the circumstances of the insured person, or if the insured became somewhat delinquent in his payments, then a sudden theft would occur. This would convince the insured that he must soon come to a new understanding with Yidele.
Yidele Motz could have easily directed an espionage agency that would have been fully recognized and accepted by the local population. He had at his disposition a brilliant team of well-functioning spies, who knew exactly, at any time, how much and what kind of merchandise was brought to town, and by whom. They also knew in whose house the goods were stored, how many rooms in the house and how the rooms were situated and so on and, no less important, what the owner's premium was.
The following true story, as related by our great Hebrew novelist Mordechai David Brandstaetter best depicts the behavior of the local Jewish population toward Yidele Motz.
At a very young age - he was 17 at the time - Brandstaetter married the daughter of the well-to-do and respected local tanner, R'Avraham David and worked in his father-in-law's store. R'Avraham David was insured at Yodele Motz's insurance company.
One night, two pieces of leather were stolen from a securely locked closet in a well fenced area in his courtyard.
The only thing to do was to call on Yidele Motz for a serious conference. Since R'Avraham David was a generally appreciated and respected leather manufacturer, Yidele himself paid him a visit, to discuss the matter. He was warmly received and invited to the table to join R'Avraham David, his wife Golde'le and Brandstaetter himself with his wife.
The tanner told his guest about the theft that had happened the previous night. Yidele expressed his sympathy: It is really impossible with those thieves, he said . Their arrogance and daring has no limit…, . R'Avraham David responded by asking Yidele's advice, at the same time hinting that he would be ready to pay a certain sum of money for the stolen merchandise, which, by the way - he said - was not his property but a customer's.
Yidele, in turn, complained about the hard times, and finally mentioned a sum that he needed in order to uncover the thieves and resolve with them the problem of returning the merchandise.
A little bargaining followed,and finally they came to an understanding. Yidele Motz did not forget to mention that, if the next night the residents of the house heard a suspicious noise, or some object falling on the floor, they should not be alarmed, and certainly not go out to investigate, to find out who would disturb the stillness of the night; the curious could meet with serious and unpleasant consequences.
As a token of the successful completion of the negotiations to mutual agreement and satisfaction, the master of the house produced a bottle of good brandy and a large piece of sweet cake and Yidele Motz drank lechayim in honor of the master of the house and his wife, as well as in honor of the young son-in-law - the future pride and joy of Hebrew literature.
In the course of the conversation, Brandstaetter asked the guest how it was possible to carry out the theft through such a tall and fortified fence and a door with such a strong lock. Yidele Motz was very angered by this unnecessary and naïve question. In a slight haze due to the brandy, he turned to the master of the house with the following words:
The young man has some nerve! It is real chutzpah to ask such questions. I have been a thief for several decades and believe me, it is a very difficult and exhausting occupation… and this curious young man expects me to explain in one moment how these things are done…
The host tried to calm his guest, apologizing and reassuring him that the young man's chutzpah was only due to his young age. After another drink of two, the comforted guest left the tanner's hospitable home.
Later that night a loud noise was heard in David's house, as if a very heavy package was thrown on the floor of the entrance hall.
In the morning David recognized the pelts that had been stolen a few days before, in exactly the same condition as they had been before.
by Gershon Argov (Reev)
A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Translated by Sara Mages
In memory of Dr. M. Rosenbusch, the school principal in the last years of its existence, who was tortured to death by the Teutons of the 20th century.After I graduated from the Polish elementary school in a small town in central Galicia, I was confused, and didn't know where to turn and where I could continue my studies and my education. All of my parents' efforts to enter me into a government high school failed. Torture and anguish penetrated deep into my heart, and filled my whole being. Horror gripped me at the thought that I might have to spend a few more years in the anti-Semitic atmosphere which dominated all the government schools in Poland. For three years I wasn't able to attend any school, three precious years have passed without a formal education. And here, by chance, I learned of the existence of the Hebrew high school Safa Berura [Pure Language] in Tarnow, one of the few that existed at that time in Galicia. The idea of studying at a Hebrew school attracted my heart. The fact, that there is an institution where the principal and the teachers, without exception, are Jewish, at a time when a Jewish teacher in a public school was scarce, and best of all - an institution in which Hebrew is one of the languages of instruction. All that excited me, and with great energy I studied for the exam for the sixth grade, the upper class of that year in the young institution. This isn't the place to tell the whole story of the difficulties that I had until the authorities allowed me to take the exam. The teachers' cordial attitude toward the examinee left a great impression on me. But the most pleasant surprise for me was the exam in Rashi that was given by the principal - Dr. Zechariah Silberfenig. The exam took place in a classroom during a lesson. My tongue stuck to my palate from excitement and I couldn't utter a sound from my mouth. Not only that Rashi was taught from the Chumash while the teacher and the students wore hats on their heads. Not only that the subject was taught in the traditional manner that I studied in the Heder, but in a different understanding, different explanation and interpretation, but primarily the fact, that Jewish girls studied Rashi with Hebrew interpretation together with the boys, and their knowledge wasn't less from the knowledge of the boys. This fact surprised me, because I remembered that the education of Jewish girls was neglected in the Diaspora, and all their knowledge was limited to the reading of Tze'nah u-Re'nah, Kav ha-Yashar, or similar books that were translated into Yiddish. In recent generations, many of them turned their back on Jewish culture, flocked to foreign schools and integrated in the foreign environment.
|A group of teachers at the Safa Berura High School, with the school physician Dr. Y. Feig|
I breathed in relief in the school's atmosphere. National spirit and Hebrew atmosphere prevailed in all the corners of the institution. Every day, when I left the school's walls after the lessons ended, it seemed to me that I left Eretz-Yisrael for the Diaspora. The three years, in which I studied at the Hebrew high school Safa Berura in Tarnow, were years of happiness for me. A long line of living images is standing before my eyes when I remember that period. The building, which was the property of the Zionist movement in Tarnow, stands vividly before my eyes. It stood in a beautiful quiet corner of Tarnow with its rooms full of light, its narrow corridors, and a small courtyard that contained a very valuable treasure: a Hebrew elementary school with several hundred Jewish children, a Hebrew high school with two hundred students from all circles - from the children of Agudat Yisrael and the ultra-orthodox, to the children of the Bund and the extreme assimilated, from the rich to the poorest - and a Hebrew library of thirty thousand books, which served the large Jewish public of the holy community of Tarnow.
I especially remember the preparations for the matriculation exam in Hebrew. The students of our class were considered to be pioneers because we were the first graduates of the institution.
The administration and the teachers treated us very well. Of course, there was no lack of moral preaching from the principal and the teachers, which energized us to intensify our studies. The teachers also spent their best efforts to prepare us properly for the exam. And indeed, the results were quite satisfactory - as Dr. Tratkower, the chairman of the Hebrew exam said: Three out of the fifteen examinees received a certificate of excellence. Dr. Chaim Neiger attended the examination of a female student, and after she explained the point of view of Ahad Ha'am, he said: I doubt if a high school student in Eretz-Yisrael knows Ahad Ha'am the way this graduate knows.
The purpose of the institution wasn't only to increase the Hebrew intelligence and add a few dozen Jewish graduates, but to produce Jewish graduates who were imbued with Jewish national recognition. Therefore, it didn't only teach the Jewish subjects according to the curriculum, but also included national recognition in every lesson.
|A group of teachers at the Safa Berura High School|
In addition to that, the classes gathered once or twice a week and various international issues were discussed. A broad activity on behalf of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund] was conducted at school, and every month the classes competed with each other and tried to collect the greatest amount.
The teaching staff cared to develop the social life among the high school students, and for that purpose, a student council, which handled the school's internal life, was elected by the students of the four upper classes. The management gave a broad freedom to its students, and didn't restrict their life within the regulations of the governmental schools.
By this conduct they reinforced the students' sense of responsibility. The relationship between the teachers and the students were quite friendly. Often, it was possible to see a teacher and a student walking down the street engaged in a conversation. Not once the students visited their teachers and vice versa. The cordial relationship, which existed between the teachers and the students, didn't stop even after the graduates' final exam.
The existence of the school wasn't easy. Of course, the Polish government didn't support it at all, and it was also not supported by the community, which was controlled by Agudat Yisrael, the orthodox and the Hassidim, the supporters and the helpers of the Polish government. Not only that they turned a blind eye at this Hebrew and national institution, which educated a new Jewish generation, they also put obstacles on its path and found ways to fail it. Therefore, the institution's budget was only based on the students' tuition.
Most of the students came from the poor circles, and it was necessary to give a large discount to the children who were eager to receive a Jewish education.
The board of supervisors, with Chaim Neiger and Dr. Shmuel Schefen as its leaders, often wondered how to balance the school's budget. The institution was able to grow and develop only thanks to the numerous efforts of these people. The school was able to develop and move into a spacious building, to receive governmental rights, and to open its doors to a large number of Jewish children.
And here, at the height of the development of this institution, came a cruel hand, and destroyed it.
Only four graduating classes left the high school in Tarnow. Several of its graduates immigrated to Israel and continued their education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Seven years have passed since I wrote these lines. Meanwhile, we learned about the destruction that came on the Polish Jewry in general and on the Jews of Tarnow in particular. None of the teachers of Safa Berura high school in Tarnow survived. The principal, Dr. M. Rosenbusch, was tortured and murdered by the Nazis immediately after the outbreak of the war. Only a few graduates and students survived and arrived to Israel, and two of them, Adam Schenkel and Domst hyd, fell defending the homeland in the War of Independence.
Next year will mark the twentieth year since the first class graduated from Safa Berura high school. This institution, which the Zionists of Tarnow were proud of, is noteworthy by the former residents of Tarnow, especially by its students.
I hereby propose, that a reunion of the school's Alumni and those who worked for it like: Dr. Z. Silberfenig, Dr. S. Schefen, Dr. Homet and others who live in Israel, will be held next year.
by B. Weinreb
Translated by Yoceheved Klausner
The Town of the First Halutzim (pioneers)
Of the three large cities in Western Galizia - Krakow, Tarnow and Rzeszow - our town Tarnow excelled in the way Jews conducted their lives. Although Krakow possessed more adequate means, Tarnow was more popular and demonstrated a higher degree of Jewish creativity.
In Hebrew literature, Tarnow produced M.D. Brandstaetter and in Jewish History the first modern historian, Dr. Yitzhak Schiefer.
One of the first settlements in Eretz Israel - Mahanayim in the Gallilee - was established by Tarnow halutzim (pioneers). The first Po'alei Zion organization in Galicia was created in Tarnow as well, founded by Yakov Kenner.
Tarnow honestly earned the name the town of the first halutzim from Galicia. And in the context of Tarnow pioneers - beginners - we should begin by mentioning the families of Motl Leibel and Neumark, who were among the first in Mahanayim. It should also be stressed that, although Mahanayim suffered a drawback and most of its members returned to Poland, other Tarnow halutzim went to Eretz Israel and filled their place. We shall mention the Brandstaetter brothers Yehezkel and Yehoshua, who left their comfortable life in Poland and lived a working and fruitful life in Eretz Israel. The brothers Leib and Yidel Lechtinger, the brothers Pinchas and David-Shiye Wolf and others joined them.
Although Motel Leibel's family had left the settlement and returned to their home town, other members of the family went back to Eretz Israel long before the First World War. Pinchas Moshe Leibel is now living in Kfar Yehezkel, Binyamin Leibel in Tel Aviv, and their youngest brother has made Aliya as well. Also part of the Leibel family are the writer, poet and journalist Daniel Leibel, his brother Shevach in Haifa, and Yakov, who died in 1953. Almost all of the members of David Leibel's family are also in Israel.
R'Moshe Leibel was Daniel's father. In Tarnow he had
a restaurant - by the way the only restaurant in town - where the national-progressive Jews would pass their free time. R'Moshe Leibel's restaurant was the place where the farewell-parties (for the workers who immigrated to Eretz Israel) were held, and I listened there for the first time to the enthusiastic speech of the Eretz-Israel pioneer and worker, Yehoshua Brandstaetter, who at that time - 1911 - visited Tarnow from Eretz Israel, to honor the departure of Pinchas-Moshe Leibel to Eretz Israel.
A Town of Contradictions
Jewish life in Tarnow was full of contrasts: on the one hand the Hassidim and other Klei Kodesh [religious professionals], on the other hand the simple hardworking men and women who lived in the Jewish neighborhood. They were the Jewish coach drivers, knife-and-scissors sharpeners, ironers, soap-boilers, porters and others. On Shabat, their coaches and wagons stood, locked, in one long row. On the street by the Pilzno gate, near Spindler's restaurant, where the Brody Band used to sing, the locked wagons on Friday afternoons proclaimed to the whole world that the Queen Sabbath was arriving soon.
At the Jewish weddings in Tarnow, the Grocers Band or the Tavern Keepers Band would play moving Jewish melodies that were sometimes sad and sometimes merry. They would also entertain the guests with amusing jokes and funny little plays.
Four weeks before Purim and another four weeks after Purim, one could see the rabbi and his Hassidim marching through the streets and singing Hassidic songs. Most of the Hassidim were tailors or vendors in shops. A Jewish poet lived in town as well, Avraham Neuman, by profession a gaiter manufacturer. His poems were published in the Yiddisher Arbeter [Jewish worker]. He named his first poem My Violin. Avraham Neuman was invited to all Jewish literary events to recite prose and poetry. Other renowned persons were Yoel Schnorr, a Russian immigrant (now in America) and Lemel Schnorr, who perished during the First World War.
An integral part of the general Jewish panorama in Tarnow were the various political parties which had great influence on the Jewish workers, especially on the youth. First among them were Po'alei Zion and the Jewish Socialist Party (JPS). Po'alei Zion was mostly engaged in cultural activities, while the JPS devoted itself entirely to professional matters. Thanks to the support of JPS, the movement had great success throughout the region. The leaders of JPS were the brothers Yehoshua and Yosef Landau.
The Hebrew School was founded in Tarnow before WWI by Chaim-Hersch Lichtblau and R'Itche Brandstaetter. Both sons of the latter, Yechezkel and Yehoshua, were
among the first settlers in Yavneel, in the Galilee, in 1910. The two teachers were Zvi Scharfstein, now owner of a Hebrew publishing house in America, and Shimon Kapelianski. Both made a resolution to speak only Hebrew between them. They sought a restaurant where Hebrew could be spoken and discovered R'Moshe Leibel's restaurant , where Hebrew was spoken freely.
On a hill near Tarnow there was an old castle, where young people would go for walks every Shabat. Almost every one carried a book under his or her arm. That was the place where religious Hassidic youths came in contact for the first time with world culture. There, at the foot of the hill, Daniel Leibel gave his first lessons in literature to the young workers. There from him, I heard about Socrates, for the first time. The conductor, Feivish, would lead his choir Harmonia in singing Jewish folk songs, which were later heard in the houses of the Jewish neighborhood.
A poem Tarnow by the poet Reuven Eiseland (who was born in Radomisl, lived in Tarnow, and is now in America), was printed for the first time in Kleinman's Calendar, which appeared in Przeworsk.
Jewish Porters in Tarnow
In no other place have the simple folk of the Jewish people, the hatters, tailors, leather workers and other occupations, left their imprint, as they did in Tarnow. During the last years before the war, the workers of the tailor-industry played the major role with three organized unions. However, one should not forget to mention the Tarnow Jewish porters (carriers), whose class-struggles and strikes finally led them to establish their own synagogue. In other synagogues and Bet Hamidrash, simple workers were discriminated against by the rich and respected Jews and were not called to the Torah Reading… this was another fact that encouraged them to set up their own synagogues.
So the Tarnow porters founded their synagogue, and when one of them had a Yahrzeit [memorial day] he could even have the opportunity to lead the prayer as cantor.
The Tarnow Jewish porters were noted by their superior ethics and morale. There was never a case when a porter was arrested for theft or some other immoral act. They had their own stock-exchange at the Pilzno gate, where the town's entire commerce was conducted. There were attempts to organize the porters in a separate professional union, but with no success.
After the First World War, the
Tarnow Poalei Zion established the Association under the presidency of Antchel Kotch. For several reasons, however, the Association did not function for long.
There were various characteristic types among the Jewish porters in Tarnow. In particular, Antchel Kotch was etched in my memory. He was the authority among the porters and his opinion was respected. His words were sacred - no one dared contradict or oppose him. He was tall - giant build, broad shoulders, muscular arms, two long legs - his entire figure a picture of strength. With a heavy rope thrown over his shoulder he would walk by the Pilzno Gate, always ready to take on some work. He would carry anything, just to be able to bring food to the mouths of his household. When Antchel was at the gate, all other porters felt secure. He was always in a good mood with a constant smile on his lips. But if one of the hooligans provoked a fight, Antchel did not think twice. Without delay he removed the shaft from his hand-pulled wagon and began beating right and left. The beaten hooligan would then swear that he will not mess with the Jewish porters, especially when Antchel was around.
And who will not remember Mendele the porter, a skinny little Jew, who, from his meager earnings had to feed himself, his wife and six or seven children? No load was too heavy for him. Huge bales of merchandise, coffers, packages - everything was carried on his narrow back. When a large load was on top of him, it seemed that every minute he would break down. Only his feet and the load could be seen. Everything else was covered by the burden that kept pushing Mendele with his little red beard to the ground.
Mendele was always pressed for time. He was forced to work more and harder than the other porters, because providing food for his large family was no easy task.
Mendele was very religious. Every Shabat he would put on his shtreimel and his long black kapote [Hassidic black coat]. He did not worship in the Porters' Shul [synagogue], but with the more respected religious craftsmen, who had their own Taylors' Chevra Mishnayos [Mishna study group]. The place was situated in the Tarnow fish market.
Every Friday and Holiday eve, in the afternoon, the wide area near the Pilzno Gate would provide an unforgettable picture: all porters brought their hand-pulled little wagons and locked them up with a long chain, for the Sabbath rest. The wagons stood like a military unit, stretching from the place of Yankele Trafikant to Spindler's restaurant.
Now there are no more strong porters in Tarnow - the wonderful folk types and working people who perished so cruelly by Hitler's hand.
by Dr. Avraham Chomet
Translated by Gil Stamberger
Wolf's father, Rav Avraham Wachskertz, was a member of an esteemed group of very learned men in Tarnow. Of course, Wolf was educated in a strictly Orthodox atmosphere and belonged to a circle of Yeshiva students whose sole occupation was to study Torah.
When Zionist slogans and ideas started to permeate the Tarnow study halls and synagogues, Wolf Wachskertz became an ardent supporter of the Zionist philosophy and within a short time he became a brilliant Hebrew language expert. He influenced a large circle of Hassidic boys, and introduced them to Hebrew literature and encouraged them to adopt the Zionist ideals.
However, for Wolf Wachskertz Zionism meant more than just a pleasant dream. He did not rest until he and his closest comrades (between them the devoted young Zionist and pioneer Zylber zl - may his memory be blessed -) overcame all the obstacles which young man from strictly Orthodox families encountered in the 1920's after the First World War if they wanted to make Aliyah to the Land of Israel.
In the year 1920, Wolf travelled with a group of comrades to the Land of Israel. Wolf and his friend and pupil Zylber (after a short time after his arrival in the country Zylber killed himself) settled in Benetiya in the Jordan Valley. When the agricultural workers of Yavne'el, Beit Vegan and Menakhamiya created a Hakhshara Center for new pioneer immigrants in Degania Gimel, Wolf joined a group which included pioneers from Tarnow such as Weidler and Esther Hershkowitz, who now live in Ginegar and gave us details of Wolf Wachskertz's life in Degania Gimel. (Ed. note: Degania Gimel was a short-lived Kibbutz which was abandoned in 1922 and later became Kibbutz Bet Zera).
In Degania Gimel Esther Hershkowitz recalls we were 12 comrades. Ze'ev (that was what Wolf was called) soon became ill from Malaria and stayed in a hospital for quite a while. However, he did not take the status of his health into consideration when he was at work at the hardest jobs with his[Page 799]
comrades and as he strove to create a larger family. The delicate and weak were always put first but not in Wolf's case. For all of us, he served as a role model and older brother. We all counted on his advice and wisdom. We used to call him Our Gordon (Ed. note: A.D. Gordon, 1856 - 1922 was a Labour Zionist philosopher and thinker from the Second Aliyah and one of the spiritual leaders of Labour Zionism. He died in Kibbutz Degania Bet in 1922) and his good-natured spirit always surrounded us. He became our teacher and educator.
And while he suffered strongly due to his physical weakness, he took care that no one from his surroundings should feel this. On the contrary to everything and to everyone he always had a smile and a good word.
Until the last few days of his life we remained around him throughout this time - he was our guardian. One morning he had to travel to Tiberias in order to pursue a definitive cure for his weak health. That evening I stayed in his company until the late hours and we talked a lot, mostly about the future and the growth of our Kvutzah (Ed. note: Kvutzah = pioneer group). We already knew it had become necessary to move our group to a new location due to the lack of land in the Jordan Valley. Indeed, he had already seen how necessary water was in the Jordan River was in order to irrigate the land and enable the settlement of more Kvutzot in the region. We only truly understood this several years later, after the movement of our
|Wolf Wachskertz zl (may his memory be blessed) with a group of comrades in Tarnow|
Kvutzah to Ginegar, which was newly created (Ed. note: in Degania Gimel) and Bet Zera. Afikim and Ashdot Ya'akov which were also established. But Wachskertz did not live to witness this. Who of us that last night could have believed for even a minute that the during the next day Ze'ev would chose to end of his life? He left us in the hardest of times, while we were confronting important decisions. We were left behind like sheep without a herdsman. Still, many years later, when we had already settled in Ginegar, his spirit continued to live among us. No one knew what the reason was for his tragic decision to commit suicide. Could it have been his physical weakness and his suffering? We lost him forever and not for a moment have we forgotten our dear comrade and leader from 31 years ago.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Kvutzah created by Wolf Wachskertz zl (Ed. note: may his memory be a blessing) in Ginegar, a memorial book was published. The following memory of Ze'ev Wachskertz zl was written:
In the most tragic of ways, he departed from us in the springtime of his life. With his own hands he cut off the thread of his life. Our hearts to this day do not allow us to come to peace with this great loss. A mensch who has accomplished a deep knowledge of Hebrew and general literature, a mensch with a rich understanding of Hebrew culture and Zionism that he learned in his youth in Tarnow, his birthplace. He made Aliya in 1920, worked in Benatiya and from there joined us in Degania Gimel. In the first month of the establishment of our Kvutzah, after only a few day had passed, we understood what a great privilege it was to live in his midst. He surpassed all of us. We were young and due to lack of experience and knowledge we struggled with the huge challenges of our new life which we had just begun in Israel and here came along a mensch who lifted us up with his beautiful soul and purest of intentions. Our relationship with him was like he was an older, beloved and dear brother. He was modest in his behaviour; he did not want to outdo anyone. Notwithstanding his physical weakness he refused special privileges in regard to labour and the difficult circumstances surrounding our lives. With great effort he completed all of his work jobs. His struggles in life and the addition of his own physical weakness led him to a tragical death. When he died we were orphaned and lost a big brother and dear leader .
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