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[Page 560]

My sister Gucia

by Y. Avrahami-Lustig

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Jewish Zagłębie no longer exists. The murdering Nazis erased every indication and relic of Jewish life that had blossomed there for hundreds of years.

The murder of the Jews, the annihilation of the Jewish population took different forms and was carried out in stages during the years 1939 – 1943. Most of the Jewish population succumbed to the tribulations and the hardships, powerless in profound apathy: but there were Jews, mainly youths that quickly realized the danger and resisted the Nazi monster, fighting for freedom and for the pride of the Jewish people. They fell believing that their resistance would aid their brothers and sisters.

Amongst those that took part in the struggle was my sister, Gucia Lustig.

She gave her young life for the right of the Jewish people to live in pride.

Gucia was born in Będzin in December 1917. She was the third of five children in our family. Even as a young girl, Gucia showed a strong will together with a kind heart and love of mankind. At the same time as being brave and stubborn, Gucia was also modest and shy. We always joked that if there were Jewish convents, Gucia would have made an excellent nun.

Gucia showed musical and literary talents from an early age. She started playing the piano when she was only four years old, and later, in years to follow, she would make the most of every opportunity to play and she provided us with a great deal of pleasure.

She began writing when she was still a young pupil. Later she wrote songs and stories which we hoped be published when the time came.

Gucia started at the Number 4 public school (Polinska), and everyone loved her there. In the higher grades she was elected as the head of the class committee and later of all of the school. When she finished her studies in the public school she was the leader of a group from the vocational school and with the aid of several friends she published a magazine, dealing mainly with Jewish problems.

Gucia had many friends, who greatly respected her. A few of them truly worshiped her. As she grew older her intelligence and kind heart emerged even more.

After completing a business course Gucia went to work in a loan bank in Katowice. Here again she showed diligence and progressed quickly. She worked there till the war broke out.

[Page 561]

Her “political life” began in 1934, when Gucia enlisted to “Freiheit” movement (the youth movement of “Poalei Zion Yamin”). She strove to improve the lives of groups of Jewish laborers and she had a strong compulsion to be active. The “Freiheit” movement was too passive for her. In 1935 Gucia enlisted into the ranks of the communist youth movement. As a member of “Komsomol” she carried out activities amongst the Jewish youth. After a short period her conscientiousness was recognized and she was elected as a member of the “Regional committee”. In spite of the fact that I was close to her, she never spoke about her illegal activities. Gucia's love of her parents was very strong. As a dedicated and loyal daughter she always tried to prevent grief to her parents. However she was also unable to avoid this since she took part in extremely dangerous work.

I remember a series of articles that were edited in the years 1937-1938, amongst the communists. All of us worried about Gucia's safety. Many of her close friends were sent at the time to Bereza Kartuska or to a local jail. In 1938 the communist movement in Poland was dispersed.

From hereon, till the outbreak of war, Gucia singularly devoted herself to her work and wrote and read a great deal. After the entry of the German army into Zagłębie, the Jewish banks were liquidated and Gucia lost her work place.

Like all of us, Gucia also looked for ways of earning something of a wage and improve her financial state. She worked in a coffee shop and excelled as a salesperson and waitress. With the introduction of work cards she began working in a Sznajder's clothing workshop. She sought ways of fighting the Nazi murderers. She made contact with an underground movement that planned sabotage activity and a struggle against the Nazis. After the Jews were transferred to the ghetto, Gucia's underground activities intensified. Her views became more nationalistic from this point on, and she often spoke about the need for a national home for the Jewish people.

As part of her underground work Gucia took part in the printing of pamphlets and bulletins and distributing them. This work was difficult and dangerous. She not only had to hide from the German authorities but also from the Jewish police, who knew everyone and peeked through every crevice. At the end of 1942 a young man was caught with a pamphlet calling for insurrection in his hand. After torture he revealed to the Germans, that Gucia was one of the printers and organizers. Gucia was arrested and sat in “Brzoruszyniec” [?]. The Germans promised her freedom and all sorts of benefits, if she revealed the names of her other friends. When these promises don't help, the murderers tortured her terribly. They kicked her, beat her till she bled, stretched her arms, burnt her fingernails, cut her flesh with a shaving razor, but Gucia did not break down.

Her body bled, but her spirit – stayed with her.

The German murderers transferred Gucia to Katowice, and there in the Katowice jail she was hung.

Gucia the heroine will never be forgotten.

Gucia, the pure spirit, will always be in my heart.

Honor her noble memory!

[Page 562]

The history of the original,
200 year old ledger of the Będzin “kehila”

by Mordechai Hampel

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

The Jewish kehila [community] in Będzin is ancient, the religious ministers and societies that were in it, maintained ledgers, in which information and events were recorded, relating to Jewish life in Będzin. The ledgers were written in the holy tongue [Hebrew] in a flowery, flawed manner, interspersed with the Yiddish language, and there are ledgers, in particular of the societies, that were written in early Yiddish, interspersed with the holy tongue. These ledgers are of great importance from documentative and social aspects, since they somewhat reflect the religious and public life of the Jews in Będzin, exalted in their scholarliness, in their magnificent spirituality, their attributes and their superior characters from the past, till the loss of our kehila at the hands of the evil Nazis, in the Second World War.

In “Pinkas Bendin” (Tel Aviv, 5719 – 1959) there are sixteen pages (37-53) of sections, together with their translations, from the original ledgers of the various societies in Będzin, that were collected and edited by our fellow townsman Szymon Rotenberg and Mosze Manela (killed in the Holocaust). At the time, these collators carried out something of great benefit to the Będzin societies: “Chevrat Kaddisha” [burial society], “Chevrat Chitin” [Tailors' society], “Hachnasat kala” [Charity to dower a bride], “Chevrat Thilim” [Psalms society], “Chevrat Nosei hamita” [Pallbearers society], “Malbish arumim” [Clothing the needy], which raised them from the oblivion – and not sparingly – and triumphed in “Illustrirter almanch fon yiddishn Zagłębie” (edited by Szymele Rotenberg, who was annihilated after this appeared, and from here we copied it into “Pinkas Bendin”. (Tens of pages from “Illustrirter almanch fon yiddishn Zagłębie”, in which I participated, were sent to be to Eretz Yisrael before the war by the editor, I transferred it for safe keeping to “Beit Lohamei Haghetaot al yadei Itzhak Katzenelson” [Ghetto Fighters' Museum named after Itzhak Katzenelson], run by Cwi Szner).

Most fortunately, one of the original ledgers of the Bedizn kehila miraculously survived. In the summer of 5729 (1969), when this book “Pinkas Zaglembie” was already at its final printing stages (the placement in the final layout of hundreds of pictures and documents), a letter was received at my address, that was intended for the Będzin Émigrés Organization in Tel Aviv and came from the “General Archives of the History of the Jewish People” next to the “Israeli Historic Society” in the Jerusalem University campus, whose president was the President of Israel, Reb Zalman Szezar, may his light shine on.

The concern of this important institute was predominately to save archival material of the Jewish communities that were destroyed in the Diaspora, of which there were still relics and they could be saved, since most of the documentation of the communities was destroyed by the Nazis, or ruined and lost in the war. Indeed, the “General Archives of the History of the Jewish People” managed to collect valuable and very precious material, keep it in its archives, edited and prepared for research purposes, and available for investigation by scholars, scientists and historians, required for their work. (I will note our pleasure in that the original ledger of the Olkusz community from one hundred years ago – Olkusz once belonging to the Zagłębie region and in “Pinkas Zaglembie” a little is written about her – survived and is located in the “General Archives of the History of the Jewish People” in Jerusalem).

The following are excerpts of the letter from the “General Archives of the History of the Jewish People” to the Będzin Émigrés Organization:

“…at this time we were offered an opportunity to purchase the original ledger of the Będzin kehila from the years 5430-5672 (1770-1912). The ledger contains some 260 pages in which there are various records relating to the administration of the kehila. The requested price is 6,000 lirot [Israeli pounds], a large sum indeed, however that is not to say that the price is expensive, considering the extreme rarity of this type of material, and from Poland in particular. – – – If the original ledger had been available to the editors of the magnificent “Pinkas Bendin”, that came out in Tel Aviv, in 1959, it certainly would have been an invaluable source and beneficial material for the editors.” “It seems to us, that the organizations of Będzin and Zagłębie émigrés could not have placed a better memorial of this famous kehila, than to allow us the required means to purchase the ledger and transfer it in this way to the ownership of the people to be placed within its archives…”

The committee of our organizations decided unanimously, that this rare ledger should be purchased, and the committee to perform this went into immediate action. The initial response was encouraging, since from amongst a few of the committee members, to begin the collection drive, a sum of money, that was transferred to Jerusalem.

A special delegation went up to Jerusalem and met with the director of the archives, in order to discuss the means and conditions for purchasing the ledger. We saw the ledger, stretching over 260 pages, whose quality was greater than its quantity.

Since we don't have the opportunity in this book to expand on details of the ledger, we will hereby present some characteristic features of the ledger, in which there are various reviews on specific subjects, worded in Hebrew (the then holy tongue), in written letters and a mixture of fields, recorded by those whose signatures are so complicated and flowery that they can't be deciphered.

There are the first pages with records of events, that took place during a later period, and there are earlier records, that were written, naturally with pen and ink, on the last pages.

[Page 563]

There are even blank pages that for some reason the administrators of the ledger, skipped over, and it's possible that this was to save a place for a later date, when the appropriate time came…

It can be assumed that pages in the ledger were removed from the binding over this long period and were dispersed, and discovered in various places, and they were collected and the pages were given Roman numbers and not Hebrew ones by the collators, as is customary in ledgers of this type. This and more: according to the English writing “Pinkes Bendin” on the cover of the book, it had been, it seems, catalogued in one of the non-Jewish libraries or archives.

The ledger gives us an idea of the uniqueness and the quality of the Jews of Będzin in the distant past, and they throw light to a certain extent on their history and character. The subjects seem to us today as unimportant, however there is no dispute and no doubting that they served as a major issue in the life of the Jews of Będzin.

We managed to decipher some of the records relating to various matters, that held a high place in the Jewish public in Będzin, for instance: the purchase of a place (in the language of the people: “a shtot”) by the worshippers in the synagogue and by worshippers in the “ezrat nashim” [women's section] (the section designated for men was called “ezrat anashim” in the ledger): donations in cash and notes (in the original: “weksl”) and likewise gifts for synagogue needs – a cover for the Torah (in the original: “mentele”), ornamental curtains covering the front of the holy ark and tablecloths from velvet covering the bimah [platform for Torah reading] (in the original “ploosh”), a “yad” [pointer used in torah reading] (in the original: “wajzer”) for the reader and so forth.

In the ledger perpetuated are festive and sorrowful occasions, burial matters and last testaments, that the Jews of Będzin had designated whilst still alive, signed by witnesses. Even a plague is written about, that broke out in the town and caused casualties, and so on.

We read about the renovation of the synagogue, which in the ledger is classified as a “mikdash me'at” [little temple], and amongst other, matters that are poetically expressed, replete with powerful yearnings and intense longings for the Holy Land, embracing and expectation to the coming of the redeeming Messiah, in these words, without correcting the errors in language and the grammar:

Zag563a.jpg [36 KB]

These quoted verses, a few of many, indicate something about the attentive heart of the people and its awareness of the time of redemption and hopes for the future in strong expressions within Jewish prayers over generations, and spiritual matters the people saw the light of redemption, breaking through from the skies of Zion.

There are even rhyming verses:

Zag563a.jpg [12 KB]

On flicking through the ledger, which was written in curly script and rabbinical style, we came across worship leaders, teachers, gabbayim [beadles] and public activists, whose names are familiar to us, as the “Last of the Mohicans” of the Będzin kehila, of which only a few of their descendants remained alive and even live in the State of Israel.

The ledger, as it was spread out before us, is only one of the other ledgers in Będzin, which miraculously was rescued and brought to Israel and now waits for its redemption.

We, the surviving remnants of our communities that were destroyed, were given a great privilege to purchase this ledger and pass it on to be looked after for the coming generations in the “General Archives of the Jewish People” in Jerusalem, since it entails an important contribution not only of the past, but more for the present and even more so for the future.

It is obvious, that within the two hundred years of the book's existence time took its toll: most of the pages are yellowed with age and some of the pages are even damaged, however in general they have been kept in good condition and can be read, as this precious ledger will be kept in trustworthy hands.

It is superfluous to stress, that the contents of a book of this type cannot be summarized within the narrow framework of this article, being that it requires study and deciphering, investigation and expertise and great effort needs to be invested to clarify and understand it, since its reading is tiring and requires a great deal of effort. In the article that I have presented, as an example, only the smallest number fragmented subjects, that the book discusses and are not related to the type of popular literature, however they are liable to interest investigators and scholars.

With the kind permission of the director of the “General Archives of the Jewish People” in Jerusalem, Dr. Daniel J. Cohen, I herby present pictures of two pages from the ledger, which cause great spiritual pleasure, and the reader can appreciate their historical and Jewish importance.

[Page 564]

Zag564-1.jpg [42 KB]
Reproduction of the original Pinkas Bendin

[Page 565]

Zag564-2.jpg [37 KB]
Reproduction of the original Pinkas Bendin

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