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[Page 500]

A Jew from Będzin who was an officer in the Polish Legion
during Napoleon’s regime

by Prof. Dr. Majer Bałaban (Warsaw)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

When we speak about the Kościuszko Uprising and about the “campaigns” of the legions of Napoleons armies, we always encounter the name of Berek Joselewicz, as if other Jews did not participate in Napoleon's military battles. However, ledger records from new investigations bring up names of soldiers and other officers in the Polish Army. One of the exceptional Jewish officers was Jakob Szpot, son of a poor craftsman in Będzin. This officer participated in the Spanish “Campaign”, excelling in the battle and because of this Napoleon awarded him a medal of honor. Szpot also participated in the battle of Moscow and fell in 1812.

Heronim Borowski, a citizen of the Lubklin district, tells of the heroism of Szpot, in “Jutrzenka” from 1861:

In 1908 officer Jakob Szpot served with me in the army in Spain. He was a very upright person and one of the heroes of the regiment. He always went first and in the brutal battles he commanded his men with composure, as if it was a parade on the Parada (festive army ceremony) field. He did not own property but nevertheless distributed a fourth of his wages amongst the soldiers, who excelled in their heroism and behavior.

There were many instances of his courage and I will note one of them. In January 1908 Szpot was dispatched by General Chłopicki to conquer the small town of Cuenca [Spain], an important military position, during our Marsch (march) on to Saragossa. Szpot conquered the town, heading 200 soldiers amongst which there were 60 Frenchmen. After a short time he was surrounded by 3,000 Spanish soldiers, to whose aid came local residents. Szpot now had to fight against a double enemy: internal and external. Nevertheless he didn't hesitate and went out towards them.

The Spanish knowing that our numbers were few, attacked us with great enmity, however after three hours, they retreated, leaving 300 casualties, excluding wounded of a similar number. Szpot's soldiers also suffered badly and half of them fell or were wounded in the battle. Szpot himself was wounded by a bullet in his leg and a sword to his head. In spite of all this he fought bravely, however the Frenchmen in the regiment refused to continue fighting, since twenty of them were killed, the rest were wounded and those that remained alive were weak and their spirits were low. Szpot pleaded with them to no avail: “We will all be killed, however we must obey the General's order”.

The French surrendered and gave themselves in to the Spanish. Szpot was left with only thirty soldiers and with them he planned for a new battle, which was very bitter. They displayed extraordinary resistance. Szpot was wounded in another two places. His few soldiers asked him to rest a little, however he refused, saying: I promised the General to fight till the last drop of blood.

The Spanish overtook the house, in which Szpot was barricaded, set fire to it, however Szpot did not surrender, defending without any hope of surviving. Miraculously the 11th mounted regiment appeared, having heard shots form this battle. They provided assistance, and thus Szpot was saved with nine of his soldiers who had remained alive. However all of them, to a man, were severely wounded.

In recognition for their heroism, Napoleon awarded them medals of honor, the Order of the “Honor Guard”.

I should add – writes Heronim Borowski – that Szpot was a member of the faith of Moses [Jewish], son of a craftsman in the town of Będzin and he fell in the battle field in 1812.

This article, written by the well-known Jewish-Polish historian, Professor Dr. Majer Bałaban, that was printed in the “IIlustrierter Almanach fon Yiddish Zaglembie” [Illustrated Almanac of Jewish Zagłębie], edited by S. Rotenberg, which was never published, as a consequence of the Second World War. This article was copied as it was written, word for word, from the few pages that survived from the “IIlustrierter Almanach”, which were in the possession of our friend M. Hampel, in Pinkas Bendin (page 33)

Hebrew translation: M. H.

[Page 501]

The reminisces of a Jew from Będzin of the Polish
Uprising of 1831 and 1861

by Dr. Jacob Szacki

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

In 1914 I was introduced in Będzin, through the editor of “Zaglembier Zeitung”, Lajbisz Szpigelman, to an elderly Jew, Pinchas Szwajcer, who related to me in fluent Polish, chapters of his life, related to the National Polish Uprising of 1831. I requested from the elderly Szwajcer, that he put down his memories on paper. He agreed to my request. I translated his writing into Russian for “Evreyskaya Starina” [a magazine]. The facts that Szwajcer told me were definitely factual and I found proof of them in historical books.

Dr. Y. S.

The following is the abbreviated story told by Pinchas Szwajcer:

During the Polish Uprising, 1831, I was six years old, however the riots, that occurred during that period have been engraved in my memory all my life and I will not forget them even in my old age. A decree was once received (in the original: A Papier – M. H.) in Będzin about the founding of a guard unit, in which Jews were also to be included as civilian policemen (in the original Strashnikes – M. H.)

They stood guard in the local market. During that period in Będzin there were altogether 300 Jewish families. I remember their bayonets from steel, with which the guards were armed when carrying out their duty.

Amongst the Strashnikes were old and young, homeowners and paupers. It was an extraordinary sight to see religious Jews in long garments, having been taken from their businesses, their trades and yeshivas, to walk about the market and on their caps was written Straż bezpieczeństwa (security guard).

Amongst the guards, whose number was three, one Jew especially stood out, Reb Anszel, a well-known scholar, learned and extremely knowledgeable. His wife was the wage earner and dealt in the salt trade and financed a quite large family. Reb Anszel was so proud of this, that he didn't know, thank G-d, what a coin looked like and was a mediocre “account owner” and in general – a boor in trade…

Then, on one fine day he had to roll up the Gmara, to abandon, Heaven forbid, the yeshiva and to be a Strashnik… His distress didn't continue for a long time, since after a few weeks all the Jews were released from the guard unit. In the town it was said, that the release of the Jews from the guard unit cost a considerable amount of money. However, impressions of those Strashnikes still exist up until now in Będzin, and there isn't one member of a family who can boast that his grandfather was a “Jewish soldier”.

In the Polish Uprising of 1863 the Jews of Będzin were left alone. One time were three Paritzs [Lords] seen in our local area. They wandered around the streets of the town and announced that Poland has been resurrected and released from the enslavement of the Tsar and the Russians. Though most of the Jews supported the Poles and were on their side, there was a sense of fear of the authorities which said to them: “Sit and don't do anything”. Only a few brave Jews donated quite a large sum of money, around then thousand rubles, for the Szand Narodowi.

This is the story told by the elderly Szwajcer, that Dr. Jacob Szacki published in “YIVO Bletter”, volume 5, 1933, and this is a note from the translator: Dr. N. M. Gelber z”l, who participated in Pinkas Zaglembie, speaks in this book in detail about the participation of the Jews of Będzin in the Polish Uprising of 1831 and 1863, based on historical Polish sources, and also brings up, amongst other things, the story of Pinchas Szwajcer, based on the article of Dr. Szacki in “YIVO Bletter”.

Hebrew: M. H.

[Page 502]

Rabbi Reb Isachar Berisz Graubart z”l – Będzin’s rabbi

by M. Hampel

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

When Rabbi J. B. Graubart was invited, towards the end of the previous century [19th], by the Będzin kehila [community] to be its rabbi, he already had a reputation as one of the important rabbis in Poland, having had time to preach Torah and impart his influence in various communities, in which he served as the town Rabbi.

He was born in the town of Szreńsk (the Płock district) in the year 5604 (1844), to his father Benjamin and mother Rachel daughter of Abram Goldszlak, a descendant of the Rabbi gaon [genius], Reb Jechiel Michał from Niemirów. In keeping with family tradition, passing from fathers to sons, he was a descendant of Rashi, who is Reb Szlomo Icchaki, the great Biblical and Talmudic commentator of the Middle Ages.

He received a religious education and studied in yeshivot [seminaries], and excelled in his studies, and his name achieved fame as the “Genius from Szreńsk”. According to the testimony of his brother, Rabbi Juda Lajb: “He was a “man of many talents”, a diversified personality, a Torah scholar, intelligent and knowledgeable, sat in the yeshiva from his boyhood till his last day and taught many students, astute with wisdom, an excellent preacher, a speaker, writer and poet. He knew several languages, a philosopher, and a versatile activist.”

He served as the rabbi of various communities in Poland (Przasnysz, Siedliszcze) and in 5654 (end of 1893) he reached the “Jewish metropolis” of Będzin, known as the “Jerusalem of Zagłębie” and sat on the rabbinical throne for twenty years.

As a Torah scholar and doer of good deeds he was very popular with the people of the Będzin kehila, who admired him. He would provide advice and assisted and did all that he could to those who approached him, he strengthened them, encouraged and comforted them. With his dignified personality, noble characteristics and his aristocratic qualities, he was alluring to all the people of his flock.

He didn't only deal in rabbinical and religious matters only, rather devoted to education and indoctrinating the Torah amongst the yeshiva students in his flock as a mitzvah, for altruistic reasons. Most of his days and evenings he dealt in giving lessons to students, inspiring them mentally with intellectual debates. His aspiration was to expand on and glorify the Torah.

On special Sabbaths and festivals he would appear in the synagogue and speak about current affairs. The worshippers listened intently to his words, full of interest and logic, substance and morality, since he was a gifted preacher and his brilliant sermons conquered hearts.

As the rabbi of Będzin he took upon himself all the responsibility for the kehila, for its many public institutions: The yeshiva, Talmud Torah [junior school], Linat Hatzedek [sleeping arrangements for the needy], Malbish Arumim [clothing for the needy], the synagogue, the bathhouse, the cemetery and so on. He participated in all the discussions and consultations with the kehila leaders and city elders, who respected his opinion.

In 5670 (1910) his book, “Divrei Isachar” [The words of Isachar] appeared, which was a high quality book, and included an exchange of letters between himself and rabbis and famous people, in the form of questions and answers in issues of prohibition and permission. Apart from this book his left in his legacy some other manuscripts, the labor of years, which he didn't have time to have printed.

Thanks to his command of the Russian language he represented kehila matters and also public matters in various delegations before governors and ministers. It was known that his daring recommendation to the Russian authorities was not to accredit rabbis who did not have a minimal general education and knowledge of the language of the state.

Zag502.jpg [10 KB] - Rabbi Reb Isachar Berisz Graubart z”l
Reb Isachar Berisz Graubart z”l

In 5670 (1910) he participated as a representative of Polish Jewry in the rabbinical conference in Petersburg, that was for discussing the high level problems of the rabbinical world and to develop religion in the life of the people.

In 5672 (1912) a rabbinical conference took place in Katowice (then – Germany, today – Poland) of Ashkenazi, Austrian, English and Polish Jews, which laid the foundation for the orthodox organization Agudat Yisrael. Rabbi Graubart participated in this conference and was amongst the founders of the Aguda, however his heart was always aware of the Lovers of Zion idea and showed a tendency and understanding of the dream of a nation, a return to Zion. He was one of the veteran unofficial Lovers of Zion. According to the book Geulat Haretz [Redemption of the Land] by Mordechai Ashkenazi from Warsaw (5664 [1904]) he called for cooperation between all the Zionist bodies for settlement in the Land of Israel. He wasn't able to openly work for Zionism and to be its advocate, because of special circumstances, that the rabbis in Poland were subject to, and besides which he was regretfully compelled to reconcile with the situation, that his spirit wasn't with.

[Page 503]

He fell ill with a grave sickness, and was taken to Breslau (Wrocław). He was operated on in the Jewish hospital but to no avail. The sickness which took hold inside him, ate away at his health and brought him down.

He passed away on the 25th of Heshvan 5674 (26th November 1913) to the sorrow of our kehila and Jewish Poland as a whole. He was brought to rest in the cemetery in Będzin and above his grave a ohel [tent] was erected, as was customary for the great rabbis[*].

I remember his funeral – and I was then a boy of seven – that passed through the streets of our town on its way to the yeshiva, in which his casket was placed and he was eulogized there. The open areas were full of people, streaming after the “bed” [casket]. In order to keep order, tens of policemen and horsemen were positioned, ropes were stretched across on both sides of the road. Delegations on behalf of the communities in Poland and even from outside of it and their rabbis moved in this immense funeral procession, which showed in its large numbers, how much the late rabbi was liked by people, grieving over their venerated rabbi.


Rabbi Nachum Sokolov dedicated an article in memory of Rabbi Graubart in the “Hatzfira” [The Siren – newspaper] of the 13th of February 1914 in his regular column “Mishabbat Leshabbat” [From Sabbath to Sabbath], and hereby present sections from it:

“… He was a handsome man, with a face white as snow with a black beard surrounding it. His large eyes were full of life and a very good heart peeked out of these apertures. Like myself, he came from a small town in Poland. His reputation appeared in our small world as one of the geniuses from Szreńsk. Our parents were friends. With particular curiosity I would look at my father as to how he enjoyed the company of Reb Berisz and how they were two clever Jews, Torah scholars, sharp of wit, with a sense of humor, being entertained by words of the world and the words of Bible. Sparks would fly from these discussions. Berisz's doctrine was measured and clear.

My first lesson with him was “Hazkat Batim” and he drew my attention with his glowing magnetism. He had a mirthful charm, innocence and decorum, and he had a pleasant singing voice, yearnings from some other world, pure, clean and old-fashioned. I can also say that he had an emotional heart and a poetic soul.

Oy, forgotten dreams, pictures that have been extinguished!

Many years passed and the same Berisz became a rabbi, an important rabbi, patient, embroiled with worries. He was constrained in his activities, the seal of the rabbinate had already been placed upon him…

And more years passed and I knew that there was a brilliant rabbi in Będzin. Orthodox and innocent, believing and observant, with firmly set in his beliefs. Had this man been independent, with internal development, free and natural, without any subjugation or coercion from external conditions, he would then have been capable of reaching the highest level”.


The grave of Rabbi Graubart with the ohel, which was above it, was the only one, that miraculously remained in all of the old cemetery of Będzin, which was destroyed by the foul Nazis. The rabbinical organization in America was called upon to instigate the transfer of his bones, after one of its delegations toured in Poland and thus organized the transfer of the casket to Israel, on the 7th of Adar 5721 (23rd of February 1921) and was buried in Har Hamenuchot [Mount of Quietudes] in Jerusalem.

Accompanied by many émigrés from Szreńsk, the birthplace of Rabbi Graubart, émigrés from various communities in which he had served as a rabbi, they walked after his casket, which achieved, after close to fifty years, to receive a Jewish burial in the soil of Israel. He was eulogized by Knesset members, Rabbi Reb Icchak Meir Lewin, Rabbi Reb Arie Lewin (the rabbi of the Asirei Zion [Prisoners of Zion]), Rabbi Itamar (Wohlgelernter), attorney A. L. Globus (on behalf of the Szreńsk émigrés), Dow Chaviyon (grandson of Rabbi Graubart) and the writer of these lines, on behalf of the Będzin and Zagłębie immigrants.

His dear memory is locked in the hearts of the few survivors from glorious Będzin, from those distant years.

* The picture of the ohel over the grave of Rabbi Graubart is presented in an article by his daughter, Mrs. Rachel (Rela) Gutman: “Baym ohel fun mayn taten”. return

[Page 504]

Zag504.jpg [35 KB] - “Unzer Telefon”
A special publication of “Unzer Telefon” on the death of
Rabbi Berisz Graubart in Będzin in 1913

[Page 505]

The Jewish musician


by Ruwen Brajnin (United States)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

The famous writer, Ruwen Brajnin (1862-1939) was in Będzin and Sosnowiec in 1908 and gave a number of lectures there on literary matters. He visited the Jewish alleyways in Będzin, in order to research the lifestyle of the poor. The observations of this visit were published in his essay (volume 3, cf. pages 177-180) and the essay is presented here as it was written and in its linguistic form.

M. H., The Editor

I was in Będzin for two days, and I read three lessons there. I didn't only come there to teach, rather I came more to learn about the life and reality of my brothers in Poland. I walked accompanied by Dr. Maximilian Wasercwajg (one of the most senior doctors in Będzin, dedicated to his profession, provided assistance for all who needed it, he cared about the health of the people at all times. He died before the last war, and luckily didn't see the demise of the Jewish people in Poland – M. H.), I came to visit the homes of the poor and the unfortunates, and he (Wasercwajg), as a doctor of the ill, indeed was familiar with all the dwellings of the poor and the sick and all the refuges.

The morning was clear, the air pleasant and the spring was announcing its arrival with thousands of signals and wonders. And here I am walking accompanied by the doctor to visit the homes of the poor and I feel ashamed: I am going to the poor not to help them in practice, rather to investigate, only to explore their lives.

The doctor brought me to the room of the Jewish musician (clarinet) who played at weddings. I say “room”, but to clarify, this is only an illustration and poetic. It was a cave, a black narrow hole. We went into the room of this Jewish “artiste” only after passing through a vile courtyard, in which poor Jewish children, with unwashed faces and covered with titziot [four cornered garments] with filthy fringes, danced and pranced about, and on seeing us they were frightened by us, and looked at us in wonder and curiosity, enquiring: Pritzim [landlords]. I wanted to talk a little with these children and enter their lives, however each one of them that I approached, pulled back. Only one of them dared to stay standing where he was and was not intimidated. He was a little cheeky and he answered all of my questions without fear. I guessed: This boy has a future, perhaps a millionaire, or a Jewish baron, everything was possible, and the boy is already equipped with enough cheek to be a property owner and to be a “big shot”.

When I entered the “room” of the Jewish “musician” I saw a terrible picture, a picture so terrible, that I hadn't seen in my imagination, nor in books and nor amongst the paintings of artists. A narrow room, black and vile walls, two beds that instead of pillows and beddings had hard straw laid down on them. All the household items were: A rickety table and a single broken chair. The floor was damp and full of slops, vomit and feces. The air there was choking. By the stove stood a filthy housewife and covered in soot and in both her arms were twins: Two one year old children yelling and fidgeting, hungry and in pain, children of the poor.

In one of the beds lay a young woman, of about seventeen, sick. The young woman moaned from the intensity of her pains and her hunger, her moans being of a hungry and injured animal. In the second bed two children wallowed, groaning and groaning. They were also hungry and sick. Two other children rolled on the floor. The eldest son stood by the entrance, a youth of about twenty suffering from tuberculosis, which I was recognized and the doctor bore testimony to this. This youth played at weddings. Blowing into the “clarinet” had harmed the health of the patient.

The father of the musician's home, a man aged forty five, father of nine children, was also suffering from tuberculosis. He carefully checked the clarinet, he wanted to get ready and to prepare it for playing.

When the doctor came in with me, all the family's eyes were upon him. It seemed that the doctor had brought a cure for all their diseases. It seemed to them, that their hunger was also some kind of disease. And the doctor told them, that I was a “professor” from Berlin. When the musician heard this he was filled with joy. He believed that all at once, with one “prescription” all his pains would be cured and he could again return to his work at weddings and bring bread to his family. A professor from Berlin – a trifle matter!

The musician turned to me to describe his physical state and moral affliction: “For years I have had difficulty playing the flute. I am short of breath, and I don't have the strength to play. My livelihood has been completely deprived because of this. Indeed I didn't earn a great deal even when I was healthy, and recently there aren't many weddings and rich ones even less, but for all that I still made a profit. Now I am a broken vessel, a failure…”

After a short break he continued again: “I don't play any more. My oldest son tried to learn my skill and he helped me, however he is also ill, and he was also forced to throw away the “clarinet” and it is now neglected and soon will become rusty. What sort of curse hangs over us? I don't know how I have sinned to G-d and why he is He so angry with us, and we are just innocent sheep “

His eyes filled with tears and the children's gaze was concentrated on him, as if they hoped that the rescue and the cure would come from him. The wife of the musician stood and nodded her head as if supporting the words of her husband with her silent movements, his bitter complaints.

I stood in shock. My sorrow was infinite for my inability to help the family apart from a few coins. I pulled out coins from my pocket and gave them to one of the children, saying to him: Buy yourself some sweets. The mother seeing that I had given money to the child, reprimanded him: Heaven forbid, don't take money from the professor!

[Page 506]

An accomplishment of Chaim Nachman Bialik –
who converted an assimilated Jew into a Zionist

by Gerszon Stawski (Sosnowiec)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

A section from a series of articles in “Zaglembier Zeitung”, 1936, about the first Zionists in Zagłębie

The first Zionist organization in Zagłębie was established in Sosnowiec, in 1898, when our great poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, was a teacher in Sosnowiec*, and it was he who instigated the establishment of the society. In the same year a Zionist organization was established in Będzin, which was founded with the support of the Zionists in Sosnowiec. Often, after the Shabbat, we visited the organization in Będzin, whose members gathered in a “Kloiz” [Bet Midrash] in Kalman Lenger's house, which was located in the new marketplace. Reb Berisz Prager used to giving a short sermon about “parshat hashvua” [weekly section of the Torah] spiced with Zionist questions, and later we would discuss and talk over current Zionist issues.

The first Zionists in Sosnowiec were Lithuanian Jews, who had settled in our town. C. N. Bialik, who was the driving force amongst them and who we would frequently visit, demanded that we firstly draw in assimilated Jews into our society, saying, that we wouldn't loose the religious circles and the middle class Jews and that they would join us sooner or later, but the assimilated Jews need to be brought in immediately, since if not – we would lose them.

During that period, at the end of the last century [19th], there was a fairly large “colony” of assimilated Jews, that was relatively larger than in other large cities in Poland – Warsaw and Łódź.

One evening, whilst strolling with Bialik in the main road of Sosnowiec, we met up with one of the long-time and intellectual assimilated Jews, one of the participants in the Polish Uprising of 1863, Kempinski, who was elderly, and dealt in dispatch (delivery of goods). According to his national Polish attire, his external appearance and according to his pointy beard, like the beard of Emperor Franz Joseph, it was impossible to discern from him, that he was from a Jewish background.

I said to Bialik:

“Do you know, that this man, that just passed us by and asked how I am, is a Jew? Think for yourself, is it possible to turn him into a Zionist?…”

I thought in my heart, that Bialik, seeing for himself one of our typical assimilated Jews, would give up on them and change his mind about bringing them to the Zionist banner. However this was not the case. In fact, he stubbornly wanted to know details of this man, his history and his deeds. When Bialik heard, that this intellectual man, was knowledgeable in Polish, German and Russian literature, he said to me:

– I will turn him into a Zionist…
At that time in Sosnowiec there was a small coffee shop, called “Cukiernia Warszawska”. Governments clerks, taxation and railways workers and others would go there – amongst them the same Kempinski. I knew that this coffee shop was the best place for Bialik to meet with Kempinski. One time we were invited, by Jakob Wajnberg, a Zionist with all his heart and an acquaintance of Kempinski, to a meeting in this same inn between Kempinski and Bialik. The conversation was very interesting. At the beginning they spoke about matters of literature and poetry in general. Very slowly Bialik changed to a completely different subject: about the terrible injustice that had been done to the historically ancient people, that had given the world such rich culture and such famous people. Could it be, that this people would be forever enslaved and not find protection?…

Kempinski, being so instilled with a Polish entity throughout out his entire body, was convinced, that the historical Polish people was being spoken about, about the Polish culture and famous Polish poets and authors. He didn't consider, not in any sense, that Bialik was talking about the Jewish people, its literature and national rejuvenation, a people that had given the world such great culture for so many generations.

Kempinski, as an assimilated Jew only saw the Jews negatively and in a poor light. He has a dispatch merchant, saw how the Jews smuggled across the border not only merchandise, but also, sometimes, “live merchandise”… He believed, that the Jews were willing to inform on their fellow men to the authorities and “nice” deeds like these, were liable to occur in any town in proximity of the border. Indeed, Sosnowiec and its neighborhoods were closer to the German border, a distance of only several parasangs [ancient Persian length measurement] from it, and several Jews could be found there, dealing in all sorts of smuggling.

How great was Kempinski's surprise, when he heard compliments and praises for the Jewish people, from Bialik, how in most tragic situations over its thousands of years existence in the Diaspora, had not given up its dream, of returning to its homeland, to the land of the forefathers in Zion and to be a free people like all of the peoples of the world.

Kempinski's ears were opened to Bialik's stories of the “Chibat Zion” [Lovers of Zion] movement and its activists, about political Zionism, under the leadership of Dr. Herzl, to which intellectuals had joined up to, like Dr. Max Nordau, writers and other circles. Kempinski was influenced, undoubtedly, by the words of his partner in conversation, and the dim Jewish spark in his soul, suddenly awoke and his heart began to pound. He stood up, took Bialik's hand and thrust his hand into his and said with great conviction and with sparkling eyes the blessing “Shehechiyanu” [a thanksgiving prayer].

I thank the Lord in the heavens, who granted me in my old age, as I stand on the verge of death, His benevolence has opened my eyes to see, that the Jewish people, to which I alienated myself from all my life, has such a glorious past, rich in spiritual assets and important culture – and is now aspiring to be like all other people…

[Page 507]

Zag507.jpg [26 KB] - Chaim Nachman Bialik
The poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik
with Zagłębie residents in Karlsbad (1930)

Sitting in the middle: C. N. Bialik
Standing: Second from the right, Abram Hampel, Wajnsztok (both of them
from Będzin), the painter Wachtel (painted Bialik and his picture is
located in “Beit Bialik” in Tel Aviv), Szlomo Halpern (Dąbrowa)

Kempinski convivially declared, that he stood ready to serve the people and the Zionist movement.

Already on the following day he visited the Zionist assembly and we voted him in as chairman of our organization. He faithfully and skillfully filled this position, despite his advanced age. We called him “Bialik's righteous convert”. The poet was pleased with this nickname and from the fact, that he managed overnight to “change the skin” of a typical assimilated Jew and turn him into a dedicated Zionist.


Several years passed. Bialik left Sosnowiec and returned to Russia and settled in Odessa. He was in correspondence with us.

Then the fourth Zionist Congress approached, to be held in London (1900). In one of his letters Bialik wrote, that the state of the workers in Eretz Yisrael [Land of Israel] was poor in every sense. The poet was very angry with the Zionists for their apathetic attitude to the workers in Eretz Yisrael, who were leaving through great disappointment in the country, through hunger and shortages. He suggested to us, the Zionists of Sosnowiec, to send a delegate to the Zionist Congress and oblige him to join ranks with the delegates who would defend the interests of the workers in Eretz Yisrael. He suggested that Kempinski be the delegate, and we, indeed, selected him.

The essence of questions in the congress – problems of culture (Kulturfrage), which were dealt with by the delegates, was a completely new issue for Kempinski. We could imagine how great was his wonder, on hearing for the first time in his life historical speeches by Nachum Sokolow and Dr. Chaim Weizman, Rabbi Rajnes and other distinguished people regarding the ancient Jewish culture and about cultural activities, which was an essential part of the Zionist movement.

Kempinski, was in so much awe, that he forgot to ask to be recorded in the list of speakers, and requested this, when the list was already full and additional speeches were not accepted. The chairman of the same meeting, Dr. Herzl, who was strict in rules of “protocol” in the congress, requested from the delegates to nevertheless allow Kempinski, the elderly delegate from Sosnowiec, to speak, in spite the letter of the law. The Congress gave its approval to this.

Kempinski's speech was publicized in the stenographical report of the congress. The contents of his speech aren't particularly interesting, and there were several delegates that interrupted him with heckling: “Speak to the point…” but for all that he aroused interest and made an impression, for his emotional “confessions”. He spoke German and attacked the “sin”, that of his alienation from the Jewish people, and expressed satisfaction from what had occurred and what had been heard at the congress, matters for which were a revelation for him…

A few months after the congress Kempinski suffered a kidney ailment, and this brought him right down. He died during an operation in the Jewish hospital in Wrocław [Breslau].

May his memory be blessed!

Translated freely into Hebrew: M. Hampel

* See the article by M. Hampel, “Chaim Nachman Bialik in Sosnowiec”, and likewise “Zichronot fon di ershte Zionisten in Zagłębie ” written by G. Stawski. return

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