The Yizkor Book of Wyszogrod
לקדושי וישוגרוד שנספו בשואת הנאצים 1945-1939
העורך: ח. רבין, עורך משנה א. פלז חברי המערכת: נ.ל. דייטש, מ. וולפיש, ב. זאוויערוכה (גוטמן), ח. לוין, פ. מלניק, א. פופובסקי
ארגון יוצאי וישוגרוד בישראל ובתפוצות, תל אביב תשל"א 1971
H. Rabin: Wyszogrod; Sefer Zikaron: Vishogrod, Memorial Book,
Vishogrod; Dedicated to the Memory of the Vishogrod Martyrs Who Died by the Hands of the German Nazis and Their Henchmen 1939-1945
Editor: Haim Rabin
Assistant Editor: A. Felz
Editorial Board: N. Daicz, B. Gutman née Zawierucha, VA, Felz H., H. Levine, P. Melineck, M. Walfish
Published by The Former Residents of Vishogrod Organisation, Jerusalem 1971, 316 pages, Yiddish, Hebrew, English
The English Part
Submitted by Lois Jolson and edited by Ada Holtzman
Email: Lois.Jolson "at" firstdata.com (to avoid spam).
The Whole Book in the NYPL Web Site
|VISHOGROD History, Description and Values|
|Jewish Vishogrod||H. Rabin||
|Vishogrod, Town of "Schools"||N. Sokolov||
|The Vishogrod Synagogue||David Dawidowicz||
|I Remember||Bella Gutman (Zawierucha)||
|A Purim-Day in Vishogrod||Haim Aaron Grodsdorf||
|An episode (Related by David Lipman)||Haim Aaron Grodsdorf||
|I Fought out my life by myself||Yitshak Pasterniak||
|From the diary||Natan Daicz||
|With Mengele||G. Zalcberg||
|The manager of the Moscow synagogue from Vishogrod||A. Holender||
|Haim Joseph Holender of Blessed memory||M. Silbershtein||
Dynasties and Personages in Vishogrod
|The Lipman family||N. Daicz||
|The Silbershtein dynasty||N. Daicz||
|My grandfather, R. Pinhas Levine of Blessed Memory||H. Levine||
|Yoske Levine of Belssed Memory||N. Daicz||
|The Last Rabbi of Vishogrod||M. Walfish||
|Avraham Meir Krongrad of Blessed Memory||P. Milineck||
|The Society of Vishogrod in America||M. Zilbershtein||
|The "Zionist Center"||D. Lipman||
|Zionism in Vishogrod||M. Zilbershtein||
|Beithar and the Youth Movements in Vishogrod||H. Levine||
|The cultural condition in Vishogrod in 1906||G. Lichtenshtein||
Members of Agudat Israel in Wyszogrod
From right (standing): W. Fridland, Y. Wierzwinski, M Zand, Sz. L. Krongrad, M. Naszelski, A. Rora, A.M. Zajac, M. W. Holander, Ch. Rozenberg
Sitting: L. Spiwak, Szmuel Michael Taub, A. Sz. Felz, Y. M. Taub, M. Krongrad, Sz. Gurfinkel
In our present research we are interested in the Jewish settlement in Vishogrod, its beginnings, its roots, its social image up from the beginning, its transformations until assuming Hassidism as its main aspect, and also in the period of revival before the destruction.
Like in any similar research, connected with a memorial book, the aim is to erect a fitting “tombstone” to the destroyed community, bound to describe in minute detail, as far as possible, its rise and fall, stating the particulars of “born” and “died”; but not “buried”, for the memorial book will make Vishogrod exist in eternity as a spiritual entity, and nobody dare show the place of its burial.
With this end in view we had to avail ourselves of the sources of research which are based on documents, as far as they are in existence; or to have recourse to books of history and historians who had access to documents and datas that are outside our reach.
So we have had recourse to the Profs. Dubnov, Shipper and Mr. Levinson, even when knowing that their sources are not richer than ours, as above-mentioned. We also mentioned Prof. Mahler though he is an eclectic, only because he concentrated upon Poland.
And it must be pointed out in advance that concerning Vishogrod something must and shall remain incomplete.
That is so, for Vishogrod, as a free town, independent from kings, provided with privileges by two independent deeds (the “Magdeburgian” and the “Jewish”, later also the Kalishian statutes) did not leave over any “Deeds of Kings” or “court records” which are the principal sources of all histographs and encyclopedists. Exactly as the case is with Warsaw! Because “…Mazowia was during all of the Middle Ages an entirely independent principality” (Shipper, par. 118).
Everything stated about Vishogrod are indirect inductions and analogies, but they give us two secure points of support:
Its antiquity, i.e.
its ancient mentionings in documents;
Its special importance as a town with a fortress and advantageous communication, a town of well-based economic life and free social regime.
He who knows about the foundings of Jewish communities, will understand the importance of the second point for our research.
About the last years of Vishogrod we shall have to learn and describe them from the memorial book, which is the last record book of the community.
The board of editors has felt earnestly obliged to state in the book essentials only for the description of the town: facts, reminiscences, portraits, experiences, and the like, which have the value of social testimony, so that this book can be used as a basis of research of the epochs it deals with. This we should be able to say we have made use of anything possible to complete the memorial stone of our Vishogrod from “Born…” to “Died…”
The town appears for the first time in the “Deeds of Kings” in 1231 (S. Geogr. Dict.), but in the “Universal Encyclopedia” the year 1095 is mentioned, the well-known year the first crusade and Jewish emigration from Germany. There it already appears as a town from which “Boleslaw the Courageous received certain monies” for the Benedictine monks (id.) – and that always means, “From its Jews”; for already at that time the town was rich in taxes and excises and labor-turnover, which goes together with industry and trade only – which spells presence of Jews.
We know that in times of peace Jewish merchants from Frankfort-on-the-Oder and Berlin used to ship their merchandise via the Baltic Sea up the Vistula river to Cracow and Lublin, and to carry on the way home field and forest products from Poland. We may assume that they did not keep off Vishogrod with its natural landing pier of the Vistula. It is sure that the same Jews who were the factor in the development of Cracow, Warsaw and Plock, were also the factor in the development and wealth of Vishogrod, which had an attractive power to Jews and “did not endure prohibition of residence of Jews for ages” (S. “Jewish Encyc. [in Russian]”).
In 1905, when the first crusaders committed the horrible massacre of the Jews in the Rheinland, (S. R. Eliezer's from Mainz “Kuntras HTN'U”), Dubnov writes (IV, par. 55) “the emigration changed into a mass flight”; Dinaburg admits (“Israel in exile”) “We have no specific information about the flight and its dimensions, but on the ground of rabbinic and other contemporary notes we learn that “Jewish merchants from Germany and France visited Poland and Russia and took in time root in the towns they visited”. Which means, they built there houses for themselves and in times of stress they made their temporary residences into permanent homes.
This certainly happened in Vishogrod, too. Prof. Mahler asserts explicitly: “…although Jews as permanent citizens in Poland settled in the 12th century, there is much evidence that Jews settled in Poland already two centuries before it, or earlier even”.
As to Great Poland which afterwards included Mazowia, Mahler admits “…Kadlubek Vincenty (the Polish Historian H.R.) tells that Mieszko III the ruler of Great Poland in the years 1173-1202 inflicted the “Seventy lash” penalty upon a Jew murderer (the same punishment that was imposed for defamation of the name of the king).
“…in Great Poland there are listed in the twelfth Century three villages of the name “Zhydowo” (Mahler, ib).
Dubnov (IV par. 31), writes explicitly:
“…From that time on (966 H.R.) German Jews began to settle in Poland…even earlier than in the tenth cent. Jews used to come from time to time to the Slavic towns between the Vistula and the Warta”.
And about the twelfth cent. Says Dubnov:
“Jews settled at that time (1173-1209) in Great Poland and in Little Poland, in Mazowia and in Kuyavia”.
Jews came to Mazowia also from Kuzaria, when this sate disintegrated in 969, and the Jewish settlement spread into “Poland, Mazowia and further” (Shipper, History of Jewish economics I, par. 50) We may accept therefore, with certainty, the year 1095/6, the year of the great flight of the Jews from Germany and Bohemia, as the first year of Jewish settlement in Vishogrod and in other Mazowian towns, and perhaps even the year 966.
In annihilating the Vishogrod Jewish community, the Hitler vandals destroyed one of the oldest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, which had existed, if not for a millennium (Mahler), then for 900 years, at least (Mahler, Dubnov and oth.).
Nowadays there is no doubt the main occupation was commerce, industry and trades. Dubnov writes of 966 “Jewish merchants using the great trade-route (the Baltic and the Vistula, H.R.) did not pass over Poland”.
Of the 12th century Dubnov asserts:
“…Mieczyslaw who needed revenues, made use of the Jewish industry in all professions”.
In the 15th century, writes Shipper (History of Jewish commerce 517), the way of commerce reopened for the Jews. They brought ash, tar, grain (from Russia H.R.) and shipped them to Danzig via Volinia and Mazowia”.
We may suppose, therefore, Jews came to Poland-Mazowia for economic reasons brought about by persecutions of a background of religious and economic jealousy, but also for considerations of sale combinations. When the need arose to get rid of merchandise apt to get spoiled along the long route, or in order to safeguard the prices, or when obstacles happened en route, merchants might sell in temporary or occasional markets, put up booths or shops on their passage, and workshops even, for carrying out various processings and treatments of the products.
Thus there arose a connection between German Jews and Polish towns (Mazowia in particular H.R.), and “…in the 11th and 12th century already Jews occupied an important position in the economic life of Poland, being the factor of financial economics in this country”.
And “…many Jews in Poland were engaged in a small-income livelihood, as farming and gardening” (Shipper, ib).
Casimir the Great published in 1364 a decree, saying” “The King has granted the request of the Jews living in all the Polish towns… in order do enlarge his royal revenue by their incomes” they are granted: “…freedom of trading, the right to import and to expert merchandise, and also to lend money on interest, pawn or mortgage.”
As aforementioned, we infer that Vishogrod is included whenever Mazowia is the matter, firstly because Vishogrod was the wealthiest town in the whole district, as Levinson says” “…in the lending business the Jews of Vishogrod were outstanding” (1347 H.R.). “…In order to carry out large credit operations, small Jewish bankers (of Warsaw H.R.) associated with the rich men of Vishogrod in co-operatives”. (“The history of Jews in Warsaw”). Secondly, because Vishogrod was privileged with a status of independence, and all those who verify their researches with “Deeds of Kings” will not find there Vishogrod.
Besides commerce, finances and agriculture Vishogrod was known for its craftsmen. In the 16th cent. already, “Sigmund III confirmed their corporations in the town”, and that Jews are meant there, we learn from the anonymous pamphlet published in 1539”…and there he states that in Poland there are scarcely any Christian craftsmen, and the Jewish craftsmen are the triple number of the Christians” (A. Levinson, ib). When Shipper is speaking of “Jewish gardeners and farmers,” it is to be taken for granted that Vishogrod Jews are to be included. As shown in the writings of those participating in the memorial book, gardening had been kept up until their times, without interruptions as it seems. “…in the 17th cent. Vishogrod was renowned for its superb orchards and vineyards' (Univ. Encycl.)
Thus it can be said:
According to all writings and witnesses, direct and indirect, the Jewish community of Vishogrod was well developed and diversified in its economic life, right from the earliest centuries, especially from the 10th century, when Poland received the Christian faith and became closely connected to Germany.
Universal Encyclopedia (Polish) 1867
Vishogrod, a township in the district of Plock, 39 versts from Plock, on the Vistula.
It was a town of the Crown in a part of the Mazowian principality, and the exclusive property of the dynasty of the Ziemowit dukes.
…In 1095, when Boleslaw the Courageous founded the Benedictine order, he assigned them certain revenues from the Vishogrod budget.
…From times immemorial there is a fortress in which Conrad I granted refuge to the Duke Danilo who had fled from the Tartars who had invaded Rus.
Casimir the Great when he wanted to increase the dependency of the princes from the Crown, took away from them all the fortified places and also the ancient fortress, which he himself restored and fortified.
In the reign of his successor, Ludwig, the grand duke Wladislaw caused Vishogrod to assume the status of the principal town of the district by annexing to it 4 large villages. He also presented it with the right of the German constitution, the Magdeburger one, and other privileges in the year 1382.
…In 1780 the town grew much. Thanks to its autonomy (Magdeburg) and several exemptions, Vishogrod became very populous and owing to its geographic and good commercial position it developed and came to have a big textile industry.
In 1564 there were listed in Vishogrod over 300 tradesmen, and there were also many wealthy merchants, and there grew up a brewery.
In 1597 Sigmund III confirmed the rights of tradesmen, among them: locksmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, glaziers, saddlers and goldsmiths.
…In the 17th cent. Vishogrod became renowned for its magnificent orchards and vineyards. All of this disappeared in the Tartar raids.
…The fires and wars destroyed all of Vishogrod. Nothing at all remained of the textile factories.
…The fortress is there still, commanding the Vistula river, and beside it the synagogue and the market.
…Now (1896) the town numbers 3977 inhabitants, out of them 2997 Jews. There are 107 brick buildings and 131 wooden huts.
Thanks to its vicinity to the Vistula the Jews there deal in grain.
The town is very picturesque; it is divided into two by a deep valley. A bridge connects the two parts of town.
Dictionary (Polish), Gebetner publishing house, 1895,
Edited by: P. Solimski, B. Chlebowski, W. Woliewski
Vishogrod, a township on the right shore of the Vistula river.
Known from the documents of the year of 1232 under the name of Vissegrod or Visegrod. IT is situated on a plateau, divided into two by a deep valley, descending towards the Vistula.
In the town there exists a synagogue, a poorhouse, three primary schools of one class (for boys, girls and coeducational), and a landing pier for steamships.
36 brick buildings, 54 German buildings, 103 wooden huts, 4009 inhabitants, out of them 3034 Jews.
There is a watermill, two oil presses, a brick factory and a vinegar factory.
In 1827 there were 279 apartments, 3305 inhabitants.
In 1864 – 238 apartments, 3977 inhabitants, among them 2997 Jews.
This is an ancient settlement that had been founded close to a fortress, that had been there for many generations.
…Casimir the Great occupied the fortress and fortified it. In 1938 Janush, duke of Mazowia and Prussia, expanded the limits of the municipality. The nearest villages belonged to it from then on (Law of Mazowia 126, 127).
…Thanks to its convenient geographical location the town develops in the 15th and 16th century and becomes the center of all of the commerce and industry of the hinterland near the Vistula. Then a textile industry develops up to 5000 bales, breweries also and a big artisanry.
Sigmund Augustus confirmed the corporations of the tailors and furriers.
In the letters patent of Sigmund III there are listed: goldsmiths, locksmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, saddlers, glaziers.
…In the 17th century, wars and economic events wrought ruin upon the town. All that remained of the textile industry, was a street of this name.
…1747 a fire broke out and the entire town burned down.
…Under Prussian rule the stream of Jews towards Vishogrod increased. The Jews built a large synagogue. The old fortress was beside the synagogue and the market and existed, as it had been restored by Casimir the Great until the middle of the 17th century.
Swiecicki, in his book “Description of Mazowia”, calls the fortress “well-known for its beauty”.
Editors: Dr. A. Harkavy and Dr. L. Kazenelson, 1908-1913
Small town belonging to the province of Plock. No limitations were there to the right of Jews to settle and live there, as there were in the harsh edict on the “reservation”.
In 1856 there were 990 Christians, 2956 Jews.
In 1887-4160 inhabitants, 2735 of them – Jews.
Beautiful Wyszogrod (source: the Yizkor Book)
The ancient town of Vishogrod (the name means: high city), on the right shore of the Vistula river, on a plateau somewhat above the river level. The river is on the verge of sand dunes, bordering its shores. The town is on crossroads, 65 versts from Warsaw, 29 from Plock, 8 from Dwinsk, facing the latter. The village of Kamien is on the left shore, its inhabitants numbered already in 1827 4 thousands, 3000 of them Jews. After the fashion of those days – an important town and a considerable congregation.
And, in fact, in ancient times this municipality was a kind of metropole in Poland, quite a permanent town, not erected in haste and patched together overnight, a mechanic produce, but a city born and growing up continually; fading too, and coming round again; a city with its history, and something else, more indestructible than any building and monument: legends. It is not exactly known when the town was founded; but it is clear that in the 12th century, about a thousand years ago, the town was already built up or, to be more exact, a castle was already built on a hill, which is now much lower owing to the influence of the winds and the river floods. Until today, it is called the Castle hill. In 1065 the duke Boleslaw the Brave, Polish king, granted to the Benedictine monks of Mohilna the tithes of the grain. That means it was a town of many inhabitants, they already were sowing and reaping, and already it was worth the while of the monks of Mohilna, which is quite a distance from Vishogrod, to visit the barns there. It was, no doubt, a blooming spot on the earth.
In 1240, when the Mongols flooded the Rus districts of Poland, and when the town of Halicz (the town of the Caraites), near Lwow, was besieged and in dire stress, the duke Danilo escaped from it and found refuse in the Vishogrod castle, erected, citadel-like, on top a mountain, where he was received by Conrad I, duke of Mazowia.
In those times the castle was built of timber, but the fact it served as asylum to the duke Danilo, proves that is was like a fortress. Thus, a fortress was the cradle of this town.
Then Casimir the Great came, king of Poland, in whose time the country flourished, and the Jews enjoyed a degree of freedom relatively high in comparison with their condition in other countries – and he built a high stone wall to this castle, which was seen still by the Polish poet Kolonowicz, of the 17th century, who wrote about it:
“The place where on the right a lofty citadel reaches heaven.”
It was the castle of the dukes of Mazowia, and there grew in the neighborhood (the climate being more clement then, and there were doubtless hothouses, too) vineyards yielding much wine. But under the reign of the Prussians on Poland, at the beginning of the past century, the castle was already in ruins; and in 1798 the Prussians sold the remains of the ruins. Legend has it that the Jews bought some of the stone of this place and used part of it to erect the beautiful synagogue existing till now in the town – a metamorphosis of the stones of Casimir the Great the Jew-lover into a Jewish synagogue. It is the selfsame synagogue with the balconies for the children, which was so dearly beloved by Izic the saddler, which is opposite the school, where R' Michael Bizhonski is learning daily. The same synagogue of which the legend tells, as of some others synagogues, how the architect who had built it, fell down dead the very moment the work was finished, less he reveal the secret of his building art. The synagogue has a dome, and on its top, in the middle, is a weather vane. It faces the castle-hill, and who is standing there, overlooks the Vistula with its sand bars, and the Conspirators' sandbank among them. There were hiding the Confederates of the Mazowia districts during the battles and conflicts in the town of Bar. And the onlooker sees the small Bzura river (so often mentioned in the last war's news), whose translucent blue waters flow into the Vistula and stay different in coloring, not mixing; this attracts the eye of every visitor and rouses mysterious wonder in the soul of the child whose father shows him this marvel. The mouth of it is at the village of Kamien, where there was formerly a saltery of Wieliczka, and many Jews of rich and wealthy family were named after this village, and spread it all over the diaspora.
In rain and snow time this “castlehill” kept busy the imagination of those sitting up late into night in the “school” opposite it. There is no mention made in the chronicles of wars in the times of the dukes of Mazowia or of Casimir the Great. But the bes-hamidrashian fancy liked to see in the castlehill an ancient battle-ground. In fact, you could find there under the ground, between the layers of sand and loam, arrowheads and coins, pots, dishes, knives and axes, iron plates for leather shields, staves with handles of copper; harnessing gear and riding gear, hunting and fishing tackle; strips of fur, kettles, tent tarpaulins, embossed tin plates, broken stone pillars, and the like. All kinds of spirits and ghosts, so it was told, were roaming and playing there round at tonight in the deep dark, and they were so delicate and airy, they were invisible even at daytime, but whoever happened to come very near them, heard them humming.
(On the flight of the birds around the synagogue says N.S.:)
"It seemed to Leibke like the chant of wonderful small choir-boys; after a short while he saw a large flight of birds soaring like white souls into the blue skies, and on rising, they got stirred up and, made dancing movements like a congregation of Hassidim of the Rabbi R'Bunim of Pshisha, who had began by that time to found their groups in Vishogrod and in other towns around.”
Leibke cast a searching glance on the school. If the synagogue was like an honored father, revered, and sometimes forbidding and cold, the school was like an ever-loving and kind mother. If about the synagogue you could find a pretext (and a pretext only) for the disparagement assimilationists insisted upon, a generation later, that “Jews are citizens of the country of Mosaic confession,” and no more, such a negation was an obvious lie, when it came to the bes-hamidrash. For the latter was not only a place of worship, but also a place of study and talk, meeting plae, and guest house, parliament and club of a nation living and struggling for its existence; open day and night, open to everybody, a popular institution that had not its like and that counterbalanced all other institutions by its power and influence to keep the nation. The assimilationists who came later, could remain, and hardly so, praying Jews, but not studying Jews, people talking with each other, taking a guest home.
The school was not able to exist any longer, and the synagogue became still more stern, ceremonial and official than before.
The characteristic trait of the school was its classifying the degree of scholarship of each one. They were pointing at a person; This one is a great scholar of the Bible, that one is an expert in Ibn-Ezra; another one a specialist in Talmud. These great ones were like spots of Paradise in a vast desert of illiteracy (this serves us as a figurative criterion, for illiterates were, in fact, very rare there).
The School was full of a fine way of life, of the sweetness and harmony of family life. There were objects lessons for children (and still we are looking for something to take their place, and have not found it). The roots of the Jewish community were there, not of a group of men-in-the-market, assembled haphazardly, or forming a common body for materialistic and economic reasons, being interdependent for their livelihood, but a living stream full of feelings and elation and a deep knowledge, guided by wise theocratic rule, whose lights and shades were contained in books and from there issued forth by different ways and means and were applied in practical life. This was the nursery that was the background of various types of men. But the base was strong and sound, a striving for refined life, nobleness of mind and generosity of spirit. This was the gist of R'Michael's toil – to elate the popular crowd to a high level not by learning the Law only, but by the light of the Torah. Therefore, whenever Leibke passed the School, he deemed passing his own home, for inside R'Michael was going over his lessons with the workmen, on Shabbat and holidays. Here was the root of the tailor's soul.
The main trade in town was the grain trade. In times when this commerce was well-established and strong, the world was at peace and well off. The commands in the stores and in workshops increased, for the Jews wanted to enjoy life – to eat and to drink and to dress very very fine. On the other hand, when this commerce fell off, the income of all town inhabitants decreased, even of those in other sorts of business. The red from the cheeks of the shopkeeper changed over into his account books, and the bes-hamidrash student on his bench, and the Rabbi and Judge in his rabbinic seat, nay, the chants of the local cantor became sad and sadder until they touched bottom. There was an invisible, deep and absolute interdependence between Jews and Gentiles, between poor and the rich, workers and idlers, villagers and town dwellers.
In those times the town was named “Little Danzig” on the analogy of the Vistula being for Poland something of a sea, and the Vistula waterfront was something like the seashore. In Vishogrod they loaded the ships and boats and the houseboats with grain. These convoys floated at fixed intervals and in a fixed order towards Danzig, the mouth of the Vistula to the sea. German skippers, suntanned and stout, used to go ashore up to town, have a look at the grainstores and turn back to their houseboats moored at the shore, on the flat rooftops of which the “Frau” always was washing and wringing linen. The Jewish rich men were self-importantly the rounds of their grainstores, and all kinds of workers and assistants and stevedores hurried around. On the days of loading the Jewish energy and intelligence, frozen in times of idleness, erupted, like lava, which afterwards broke into pieces spreading and flying in all directions.
This was the economical mechanism of this town and all neighboring towns. In order to understand the different types and their strivings and controversies and compromises, its parts and particles, one must know this machine, all its wheels and joints by way of which the Jews organized and combined.
"Yavne" school in Wyszogrod
The synagogue in Vishogrod was built in the middle of the 18th century, by the architect, builder, sculptor, painter David Fridlender, and it is a first-rate example of a Polish synagogue built of stone and decorated by a Jewish artist.
Vishogrod-born Nahum Sokolov dedicates to this synagogue a few words in his book “Napoleon in the Ghetto”: “According to the legend the Jews brought a quantity of the local stones (i.e. the remains of the ruined castle of the Mazowian dukes, which the Prussians sold to the Vishogrod Jews in 1798 D.D.), and erected wit h part of them the beautiful synagogue of their town, a transformation of the stones of Casimir the Great the Jew-lover into the Jewish synagogue – the selfsame synagogue with the balcony for the children…(meaning the part of the building ornamented the interior of the house alongside its Western wall D.D.), the synagogue about which the legend relates – like about several others – that is builder, having completed his work, fell down dead, lest he be able to reveal the secret of his art of building. The synagogue has an arched dome, and on its top, in the middle, there is a weathervane.”
Although chronologically belonging to the quadrangular type of synagogues, with four central pillars, of the last ones in Poland, it is, with respect to its interior structure, a near-classic example of the synagogues distinguished by division of the hall area into nine squares, the central square being occupied by the platform in between the four pillars; it is not to be doubted that its Jewish builder did not give up easily the “Jewish element” of the pillars, that is to say, continuing the tradition of emphasizing the platform as the center of the house of prayer, even in this “late” synagogue; but, on the other hand, he was not able to construct it without the pillars, in consideration of the area of the spacious room (about 18 x 18 m.), that is to say, the open space of the relatively large building.
As a matter of fact, in the synagogue of Vishogrod the importance of these supporting pillars is particularly stressed, also from the static, security viewpoint. These “four heavy supporting columns, at equal distance in between themselves and from the walls, joined to each other by semicircular arches that divide the vault into nine spaces. Nearly all the open space in between is taken up by the large platform, and the pillars themselves occupy a rather large room”. The central field of the vault, that is to say, above the platform, is spreading out; the other fields are intersecting.”
The entrance to the synagogue is in the West. Close to it, but from the inside, there are wooden steps leading to the “children's choir gallery” built on the entrance wall. This interesting structure, made of wood, known in several synagogues in Poland (Zamosc, Krasnobrod, Pinczow, Gombin, mainly in Congress Poland, and also in the synagogue Without-the-walls in Lwow). We suppose it was intended for the helpers of the cantor.
The chief ornament of the synagogue in Vishogrod was doubtlessly the Fridlender Holy Ark which extended over nearly all of the eastern wall. The “Ark” was divided by means of a horizontal open-worked frieze into two stories, each of them being divided, in its turn, by white columns (in pairs or single) into niches. At the ends of the upper story there were diminutive beautiful sculptured figures on biblical or legendary topics, as: the beasts entering Noah's Ark, the Tree of knowledge – sign of the Paradise, the “Bull and the Leviathan”. Above this story, in the center close to the ceiling, there were two lions holding the crown of priesthood, each of them fixed separately between two columns of this story. In the lower story, in the semicircular niches (five of them), there were, against a background of fantastic growth, the figures of the four beast symbolizing the characteristic qualities of the Jew: a lion, a deer, an eagle and a leopard, and above them the musical instruments of the Levites mentioned in the Book of Psalms, with the pertinent quotations (Psalms, 103), and articles of worship from among those mentioned in the Temple. There was also in the upper part of the Ark a picture of Moses beside the burning bush with the inscription: “Put off thy shoes off from thy feet etc.” Incidentally, this is one of the rare instances of figurative ornament on Holy Arks in Poland, and a series of inscriptions, like: “So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet”. On the Torah crown there was written: “The statuettes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart”. And beside the crown of priesthood: “thus shall you bless the house of Israel” and “It is appropriate to guard silence at the time of prayer”. In the large central niche of the lower story there is the door of the “Ark”, and above it an ornamental lintel made into a handsome heraldic composition of birds (hoopoes); above this plate with the inscription: “And thou shall make cherubim of gold, of beaten work”. The whole structure of the large Ark, in the rococo style, was one of the most ornamented in Poland, and “gave the impression of an antique clock with marble columns”.
When speaking about the artistic importance of the masonry and woodwork synagogues in Poland, and especially of the Vishogrod synagogue, in Polish art history, Shyshko-Bohut points out: “…our synagogues built in stone during the baroque period, are an invaluable treasure, and this ought to be stressed, as beside the many monuments of ecclesiastical architecture the secular architecture has not many remarkable monuments to boast of”.
“These synagogues, semi-secular buildings, fill this void in a great measure.
The Vishogrod synagogue was destroyed and pulled down in 1939 by the Germans, and there is nothing left of it.
“…The synagogue in Vishogrod (as described above) was built according to the plan resembling the type of synagogue – fortress. The building was quadrangular (18 x 18m.), and though its exterior was not distinguished by those architectural ornaments that are characteristic of the synagogue –fortress, the interior, with the vaulted cupola supported by pillars equally distanced from the walls and in between themselves, created the impression of a monumental structure. Here, too, the “Ark” was Fridlender's handiwork, this time in rococo style. In this holy ark, among the most richly ornamented in Polish synagogues, the artist introduced not only magnificent sculptures, depicting whole scenes or biblical musical instruments, but also human figures, Moses and Aaron, which is a revolutionary step in the tradition of religious Jewish ornamentation in Poland”.
The road to the destroyed synagogue of Wyszogrod (source: The Yizkor Book
I see you in all the glory and richness of my earliest youth.Here you are, stretching alongside the Vistula river, on which we look down from our town-on-the-hill. The long way up from the Vistula leads to the rectangular market-place. From there extend all the side-streets, large and small. For me all of it is unique, more beautiful, more friendly, more joyful than anything else; the houses and cottages, the shops of different size and cellars, and the shopkeepers, men and women. I see each baker and his family, each tradesman, each storekeeper and villagebuyer, each orchardist and watercarrier, all the members of the community and the notables.
All, all of them were upright, decent people, high-minded, possessed of the Jewish "over-soul". Broad is the flow of our Vistula, where it converges with the Bzura. It rushes noisily, carrying with it, every now and then, fragments of the bank belonging to the town or to the castlehill that rises aloof, by itself, and about which we have so many tales and dreams...
The castlehill is very high, and we look up to it, and see in it more and more the enchanted castle of the King Casimir the Great, with his - our - Esther'ke. It's a long time, nothing has remained of the castle, but it's so good to spin out the legends; everybody likes the legendary and the fanciful.
In the wintertime, the Vistula is locked in by the frost and waits silently for the spring, when we will wonder at its surging up, when the ice floes begin to stir more and more, noisier, quicker, and the flow carries away trees, bridges and huts.
Uphill from the Vistula, you can reach the shoamekers' street, so near to my aunt Hendel's, my uncle Shiye's and my cousins Moshe and Israel.
The small street continues to the Rembova street, ending in a row of wooden, red-daubed huts, bordering on the big deep "paroves" (ravines) that follow the whole width of the town, far away, to the Vistula, in one direction, and in the other one, farther still, up to the "stegenes" (uphill paths), this magnificent walk alongside the Vistula. Because of those big deep ravines that cut the town in two, two streets are connected by a bridge. It seems to us so natural, such a stone bridge in the heart of the small town. We think, sure all small towns are built like that.
Once can also ascend from the Vistula to the town center by stairs, leading to the synagogue, lose to the house where we are living, and to the house of Sara-Toibele, Ya'acov Moshe Goldman's wife. This is the home of several families; each one in its inherited quarters, together with the married children. There was the drygoods store of Goldman-Selman, and the hardware store of Lipman, and the button factory of Maisdorf-Popowski. About this house alone you could write a history book of human energy, wisdom, piousness, kindness, and progress.
Our window facing the synagogue was occupied on all Shabbat days and holidays by my friends: Mania and Sala Weingart, Henele Rotbart, Hadaske Baum, Salra Malka Kirshenbaum, Eta Lichtenstein, Sima Gmach, Haya Libe Gutfarb, Eidel Krongrad. Also kept company with us Tove Ides and Blime Lea Goldman. We liked them very much and welcomed them gladly.
We look out at the synagogue. The stout thick walls, the large green double door and tall windows, looked all week long like an enchanted castle, fast asleep. On Shabbat and holiday the synagogue came alive. It was full with people, and round it colorful children with their parents in Shabbat finery; everybody moved towards the synagogue.
From outside the synagogue did not look very tall, because it was square, big, with a roof with cupolas; but whoever entered it was wonderstruck with its height. (People said that it had been built deep under ground level, because it was forbidden for a synagogue to be higher than a church). Therefore you had to go down from the entrance by stairs. And then you saw a magnificent great work of art, an object of wonder and interest to everybody: The Easter wall, large, marvelously carved, the great pictures on the side walls; on the entrance wall, the lions, one of them being so lifelike, that it seemed to look at you from any direction.
The center of the ceiling looked like open heaven, with Shor-Habor and the Leviathan round it. From both sides stairs led up to carved balconies, where we used to stand to hear the shophar blowing. In the large entrance halls, on three sides, there were spiral stairs up to the women's part of the synagogue. Near them, there were small rooms for those coming to pray early. In the middle entrance hall there was still the pillory chain, of the "kuna".
Each time I was standing on the balcony to hear the shophar blowing, I used to wish to see that lion that used in former days to hand out the tora scrolls from the Holy Ark and let hear such a lifelike deep roar, it scared pregnant women. It proved necessary to take out the contraption which constituted its life. In my time, it was, unfortunately, dead.
Between the synagogue and the Beth-Midrash there was alarge square, where we, our crowd, used to play on workdays and set free our energy and skill.
Two gates were leading from the square into the yards of Weingart's and Rotbart's. There was the bakery, and Henele let us perform plays on the oven platform. Our first rehearsals were held there, and later on Shabbat afternoon we played in the Rotbart's drawingroom, before the whole family and guests, with great success.
We used to be much scared In the evenings when we were obliged to cross the dark house and the dark yard, where Gedalia Moshe, son of Yohere of the dairy, a handsome, tall, sturdy man, with magnificent black eyes, was standing quiet, deep in his thoughts, and from time to time let out with his loud, beautiful voice: -- I am Bar Kochba, where is Shulamit?
Every day at the same hour, the three roads to the Vistula come alive: the ship is coming, the only means of communication in summertime of the Plock-Warsaw route. On the landing pier, it grows lively with the arrival of the ship. Moshe Zlotnik gets busy. Porters get ready to earn a little money. Guests arrive and leave. Merchants bring goods from Warsaw. People see of guests.
On one of those beautiful summer days, when the ship was at the pier and some passengers on deck were poking fun at Jews, their joking wound up in betting, who of them would have the closest aim, with an apple, at a porter on the shore. And before long there was a tumult, loud shouting: the thrown apple has hit the broadboned porter Yitzhak Okovietz Rudlak. His broad, gray beard is covered with blood from his plucked out eye. Even before the German Nazis there were Polish hooligans.
In town itself, Jews
and non-Jews live in peace side by side. Koblinski the Gentile says in Yiddish:
" God save me from Gentile hands and Jewish heads". He also was rather inclined
to go to law before a Jewish religious court than before a civil court.
The town draws its livelihood from the surrounding villages. At dawn, the village buyers, men and women, go out to the villages, in pursuit of their living. They buy up fowls, fodder, eggs, calves, cows. At nightfall they are seen coming back, tired, exhausted, one with a bundle, another driving a calf, another disappointed, emptyhanded...
There are some who do not go afoot; they have horse and wagon, and drive around like gentlemen-farmers. Such one, for instance, was Izie Lisser, son-in-law to aunt Malka - his whole appearance, too, was like a country-gentleman's. Izie and Hana had three beautiful sons, and like all parents, they very much wanted them not to follow their parents' profession, and wanted to push them further, out of the limited parochial p.
On market days, Tuesday and Friday, the farmers used to come to town and bring with them products for sale: fowls, fodder, eggs, fruits, calves, cows, horses, grain, hogs. There was a noisy commotion, of human voices, sounds of beasts; they areband selling, bargaining, running about. After the sale, each farmer made his own purchases, in turn: working and cookinutensils, foodstuffs, cloth, clothes. These are the important days providing the living for the whole week.
The Rembova street goes from the market place, continues out of town up to the highway, the Warsaw route turn, where Leibbish Gmach is living. Here one goes for a walk on Shabbat evenings. Here lives my aunt Malka and my uncle Itzhak. The whole large family gathers there for Shabbat tea: Zeinvel the son and wife, Hershl the son with wife Beile of the Kirshenshtein family and two children, daughter Feige with her husband Baruch-David Wisenberg, daughter Hana with her husband Ize Lisser and three sons, another son and daughter, aunt Hendel, uncle Shiye, Moshe and Israel, uncle Yukl with wife Malka.
My parents, Avraham and Yocheved Zawierucha, and the little children, none of them are left alive, all of them found their death as martyrs of Hitler's horrid mechanism.
Hershl Futerman was the victim of the earliest bombardment of the town; together with Menashe Grosdorf (Diabel's son), they sought shelter in a building, a burning bomb fell there, and they were both burned alive.
Some of the youth of the Lisser-Futerman family were martyrized in Nowy Dwor, the rest in the gas chambers.
We recall them, after they are dead.
Hanka and Zajnwil Zawierucha
With the arrival of the month of Adar, the young men of the Hassidic small prayer congregations and of the Bes-hamidrash used to make big posters bearing the words “When Adar begins, merrymaking increases”.
About the year 1905, after the reciting of the Megillah in the Bess-hamidrash, with the termination of Esther's fast, people went home to break the fast and the “boys” gathered in the Bess-hamidrash and decided: whereas it is a “mitzvah” to get drunk at Purim, they would put all long tables and benches entwined crosswise on the almemor, so that when the worthies of the town would come in the morning, they would not be able to read the Megillah, until they would give the wherewithal for drinks.
And so the boys did and they got what they asked for, in order to fulfill the saying “A man ought to drink at Purim, until he loses his power of discerning”.
There lived two brothers in Vishogrod, Mordecai and Baruch Shmukler (“Shmuler” was not their family name, only they were hosiers). Mordecai and Baruch were many times mistaken for each other, for though not being twins, they were very much alike.
When Mordecai died in 1907 or 1908, the boys hid the board of last ablutions and the other implements n the loft of the Bess-hamidrash among the discarded books.
When the Hevra Kadisha came for the implements and did not find them behind the stove, which was their usual place, they inquired of the Bess-hamidrash residents: Who has put the implements away? And the boys answered in a Gemara sing-song:
Whereas the deceased has no children, we will not hand over the implements for the last ablutions, until we receive the Talmud set that was his, for the benefit of the Bess-hamidrash.
And they did get the Shass.
A Hassidic Rabbi came with his Beadle and Manager to Vishogrod. This was about 1904-1905. The town went wild. Everybody was hugging the thought that soon he would welcome the Zaddik, or even submit a written request and beg the Rabbi for deliverance. There was a great interest.
There were no big drawing rooms in the small town, where the festive reception could be held. A question, a very weighty question arose: Where to put the Rabbi's table, so that the greatest possible number of people could be present and participate in the enjoyment.
The Rabbi asked for his table to be put in the Bess-hamidrash.
The women joined forces, bought the best fish, the choicest meat, and baked big, sweet glossy white bread and prepared other dishes. They laid the tables with white shiny tablecloths and even brought silver candlesticks from their homes.
On Friday night the Bess-hamidrash was packed full. There was a crowd that tens of people were obliged to remain standing outside the Bess-hamidrash. Everybody longed to hear a saying of the Rabbi, to snatch up a word of learning from his mouth, and to hear some nice Hassidic songs.
I think of this evening, this week, and I muse: -- Vishogrod always welcomed gatherings of Jewish heartiness. Greatest efforts were made to enjoy a bit of Jewishness and heartiness and togetherness.
Mother of Abraham Icchak Popowski (sitting to the left) - a child survivor of the Holocaust; his testimony is in the Hebrew part of the book
I was thirteen when we were driven out from Vishogrod.
After the transportation from Vishogrod to Dzialdovo we came to Slupie-Nowa, after a succession of troubles, blows and murders by the Gestapo in Vishogrod.
It was nearly dark when we arrived at Slupie-Nowa, and we had dismal forebodings. Wolf Karp approached me and said, let's go home.
Not in vain I was called old calamity boy, so I asked only, when shall we go?
The same day we were away to the railway. It is a distance of 10-20 km. from Slupie-Nowo to the railway station, a small one. We kept hidden behind trees and waited for the train to come. We were waiting for three hours, maybe. A goods train arrived; we jumped on it and went to Warsaw.
It was already dangerous to be in Warsaw. But Wolf knew Warsaw very well; so we went to the Central railway station and rode to Sochaczev. We intended to reach Mlodziszyn by way of the Protectorate border.
On the frontier they caught us. They asked us were we were going. So we said, we are going to Warsaw. We understood that should we say we go to Vishogrod, they would transport us to Warsaw.
And so it was. The watchmen shouted at us: -- You must go to Vishogrod, to Hochburg! You must not go to Warsaw!
They took us to the commandant's port. We got sound blows there, went through a hard day without food, and at the end of the day they allowed us to go to Vishogrod.
In Vishogrod Wolf Karp went to his family, and I who had nobody left, decided to go to a village, to hire myself out to a farmer for work. A friend of mine from the shoemakers' lane took me with him to Roszewo. I started grazing cattle with one Stanislaw Wolski. At a neighbor's farm Mendel Forshtat's grandson grazed cows.
In harvest time I helped my landlord with mowing the corn and he came to like me thanks to my good work. I got good food and clothes and also a couple of zlotys in the pocket.
At that time my father came back to Vishogrod. He told me they had caught my mother and sent her away into the camp. What could I do, a boy of fourteen. I related it to my landlord; he gave my father a loaf of bread and butter and a little money, and father went away, for the farmer was afraid to keep him. As soon as he was away, they said – I knew: he is gone to the ghetto.
Once, I was sitting with my landlord, they told us that all Jews had been transported to Czerwinsk; my father and my young brother, Yankale, were there, too.
Once, at night, a car drove up to our farm. Two policemen got down and started searching. The coachman, a Jew who name was Jacob Kiepchak, asked my landlord:
We want to know whether there are no Jews with you.
My landlord became pale as death; I was just together with all of them, eating. But he answered there were no Jews with him.
Jacob threatened him that should Jews be found, he would be shot. But he kept his wits about him.
Jacob then ordered to prepare for them two ducks. I was sent out to fetch the fowls. I caught them and hacked off their heads, as Gentiles use to do, brought in the ducks and went back into the fields to my work.
Till this day I don't know whether Yacob Kiepchak knew I was a Jew. But the farmer took it amiss and reproached me with the conduct of my brethren.
Once the longing for my father overcame me. I told it to my landlord, and he said:
It is dangerous to go to Czerwinsk, there is danger for you, too, in the ghetto there. The Jewish police will catch you to press you into work and send you into camp.
But I begged him, I want to go to Czerwinsk to the ghetto; so he gave me bread and sugar and flour, and let me go.
I the ghetto I found my little brother and my father. There were in great distress, starved out, broken, lonesome without the killed mother.
In their place there were two long bunks. With them were Raphael Kalman Grosman, and the rope maker of Rembow Street. Their condition was more than bad. I gave them the food, and went back to the village.
Thus I did each week and brought food to my father and brother.
Once I was caught by the Jewish police, and brought before the Jewish Council. There sat the Jewish elder man, Mr. Neuberg, and the police commander Hazkel Braverman (now in Canada). They said to me:
You must remain in the ghetto, we must not let you stay outside the ghetto, for we pay a 10,000 mark fine for every Jew outside the ghetto.
I explained to them, I'm not on the lists of the ghetto, and I am not obliged to remain there.
I got a “warning” from both, left their office, and away and back to my landlord. But a fortnight later I longed again for my folks. I went another time to Czerwinsk, carrying food, and…was caught again, but this time I remained in the ghetto.
I was taken to work on the other side of the Vistula, and a few days later I was arrested.
In prison there were already some thirty Jews. Another 20 were to be added; they wanted 50 victims.
At nightfall the prison was filled with people. I decided to escape. I told my little brother to go to Ruben Kurshtein's sister, a cousin of mine, and ask her to bring me food before the departure.
Soon she brought the food. Haskel was on duty in prison on that day. I asked him if he doesn't mind, if we go outside to eat, for there is no place inside.
Haskel allowed me, and I went outside. As soon as he turned away, I wasn't there any more.
I jumped over the wires, and up a tall tree, up to the top. I fastened myself with a belt so I wouldn't fall down, and sat on the treetop the whole night.
From the tree I saw everything that went on in the ghetto. Hazkel was running around like mad, looking for me. About four o'clock in the morning wagons arrived, and all the 50 were taken away. And I was forgotten.
At 7 o'clock in the morning, when everything had quieted down, I climbed down from the tree and went towards the Vistula to wash my face. Somebody saw me and went to inform. So I kept hiding and, much later, went to the village.
Later I went again to the ghetto with food. My father baked matzos and was somewhat relieved; and I thought I would be at peace for some time and should not be obliged to run into danger in the ghetto.
A few weeks alter I felt I had high temperature. I was afraid to tell my landlord lest he turn me out. I went back into the ghetto to my father, into bed.
This was typhoid fever, but my father did not drive me out of his bed, the bunk. My good father.
After 8 days I let myself out, and back to the village. The landlady understood that I had been ill. She asked me, and I related everything to her. She took all my clothes, washed them, and said nothing.
As soon as I felt a little better, I went again to the ghetto.
It was the last day of Passover 1942. I found my father dead. He had died a natural death. He had been 56-58 years old. He was duly buried, and Kaddish was recited for him by me. This was called a happy death: dead in a natural way, brought to a Jewish tomb, with a “kaddish”, like a Jew, and got rid of a senseless life.
Meanwhile the Nazis transported all inhabitants of the Czerwinsk ghetto to Nowy Dwor.
In the meantime I recovered, ate well, became a real worker, and kept on working.
After the harvest was over, the farmer was afraid to keep me any longer. He told me about the danger he was running into and told me to go into the fields.
This was about October 1942. It was very cold during the nights; I used to come at nighttime to sleep in the cowshed, and at daytime I was rambling through the fields. I was fed up with this. I went to the farmer and asked him to sell me some victuals, and I would leave the village. I bought some sugar and meat and flour, and went to Nowy Dwor, to the ghetto.
With 40 kg. on my back, I walked through the whole night. About three o'clock in the morning I was in the ghetto.
There I found my little brother, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles. They received me like an angel descended from heaven. I gave them one half, and the other one I sold in the ghetto. Jews were grateful to me, and I had some earnings.
Thus I became a smuggler of the ghetto.
After two days in the ghetto I was away again back to the village; rested myself, bought food and back again to the ghetto. This time I was caught, together with other Jews from the ghetto and pressed into forced labor. The Germans required 400 men, the Jewish Council had only 350, so they arranged a raid, and I was trapped.
Each Vishogrod man knows what happened. It was hard work, without food, accompanied with murders. People fell down dead from the Gestapo blows. This happened to one of the Buchner family. Not everybody was able to stand it. Many died, others were shot.
When we were back in the ghetto, I son slipped away to the village. I had met again Wolf Karp, my “old partner”, and we went both. At midnight we left the ghetto, and in the morning we were in the village, with my landlord Wolski.
He was afraid to sell us food. We made the round of other Gentiles whom I knew. We bought good, wrapped them, and at night set out on our long walk. At 4 o'clock we were already in the ghetto.
So we went smuggling twice a week. We took with us two more fellows, and did quite extensive business.
We were caught once by the Gestapo. It's a mercy we heard them approaching, so we threw everything away, and were caught empty handed.
First they beat us within an inch of our lives, then they put us into a cellar fill of water, and kept us in the cold water until noon. Only then they handed us over to the Jewish police in the ghetto, and these put us into prison for a day. When we were let out, we were away, Wolf and me, the same night, to the village. The two other men were too afraid. When we came back, they were not there any more. They had been sent to Auschwitz.
We continued smuggling. Now across the frozen river Narew, through Modlin and Zakrocin.
Once we were told that just that day a “transport” would be sent. So we got up at night – and away. Across dense watches of the S.S. and S.D. Germans we tore and over the ice on the river. We lay low for a time, and took up smuggling again.
The last time we came back to the ghetto, we found there scarcely anybody of our relatives. Also not my little brother, Yankele. Only my cousin, David the policeman, was still there. He told us in the morning the ghetto would be “cleaned up”. I took counsel with Wolf Karp what we should do. Says he, why shall we be left alone here without Jews, better let us go with the transport.
Two days later we were deported. This was the last transport.
The drive in the chockfull cars we shall not forget. We made up our mind to jump out and to escape.
We were standing already on the steps, ready to jump off, when the guard saw it and started shooting. So we went in again, and decided to go with all of them, although we had very sad forebodings.
We arrived in Birkenau. This hell has been described already. From Birkenau to Bona, on foot. In Bona we were put into quarantine. After being washed and disinfected, we were transported into the workers' blocks. I and Wolf happened onto block 12, later on block 10, and there I remained until the end. The German decided before their collapse to extirpate all Jews, so that nobody would left to bear witness against them.
The deportation from that place was on the 18th of January 1945. Everybody was then taken from Birkenau, and we did not know where we were going.
Before the departure Shaya Lichtenshtein suggested that we should have ready civilian clothing, and escape during the transport. Towards morning I had a pair of trousers and a jacket. I was always light on foot.
On the way they allowed us to rest in a brick factory. We saw this was the time to run away.
When we were out of the brick factory, it was entirely dark. According to our understanding, we were to wait until the whole transport had passed, and then we would meet and go together, and see what we should do later.
WE passed a small bridge over which went the highway, and under it went a way for horse carriages. I jumped off and hid under this bridge. Shaya was a bit late; when he jumped off, he was seen and shot.
For two hours I remained lying alone under the bridge. When the night became very dark, I entered a coal-shed and remained all the night. Before morning I started on my way back to Auschwitz, because the Russians were about to arrive there, and Germans were not there any longer.
After a day's walk in the snow, over fields in a strange country-side, I came upon a village. I knocked at the nearest hut. A woman came out; I asked her to let me stay overnight. She was afraid, her son was a German soldier; but when I showed her a good lady wristwatch, she agreed.
I slept in a cellar; she had given me to eat; I slept soundly. About 10 o'clock in the evening the son, the soldier, entered the cellar. He had lost a hand and an eye. He had quite a friendly chat with me; he thought me a Pole. I told him I was from Cracow, so he advised me to go by way of Katowitz – Sosnoviec “home” to Cracow.
It was a very difficult road. In Dombrowa Gornicza was the war-front, so I was obliged to run back. On the way I was caught to dig ditches; I run away again. I spent the nights in ruins, and one night – in a toilet. The Gestapo again, blows, trouble, until finally I cam to Rybnik.
The Russian army was there already close to the town. There were still some families there, so I hid with them and waited for the Russians to come. Unfortunately, they stayed for months outside the town. I started working in the coalmines.
After 4 weeks I was sent, together with 15 other workers, to a factory.
Only 6 weeks later Russians came in, and I was freed.
With my liberation, deep worries started: Where shall I go? Who has been left to me? Where should I make my home?
I went to Katowitz, Warsaw, Sochaczow. There I met a Gentile from Malewicz, one Yankowski, who had worked in the shoe shop of Yontze Levine. He told me my sister was in Vishogrod, and Yoske Levine was there, too.
I rode all night and came home. A home of danger and ruins.
On the Vistula shore – like in old times. There are ferrymen, ferryboats. I boarded the ferry of our neighbor Wladarczyk and went over to Vishogrod.
My sister and Yoske were already waiting for me.
I lived to come to Israel by way of Cyprus, under troubles, but to the country. And here EZEL, and then ZAHAL. And I had become a free Jew.
On Friday the 1st of September 1939, at 6 o'clock in the morning, the Nazis started bombing the Western parts of Poland. We were then in the orchard, 10 km from Vishogrod. We reported immediately in Vishogrod, to enlist in the army, in order to fight the Nazis. We were four brothers: Nathan-Leib, Yitzhak-Ya'acov, Shmuel, Michal. On Friday nothing happened in our town. We were busy gluing paper strips over cracks to prevent gas seeping. (They did use gas, but, to our sorrow, to kill 6 million Jewish martyrs.)
On Sunday, the 3rd of September, Vishogrod was bombed for the first time. Bombs fell into the Vistula, opposite the firemen's hall. Panic broke out, and 60% - 70% of the Jews fled from town.
Monday the 4th of September 1939: All the authorities fled away and the town was left in anarchy. The vice-mayor Leibish Gemach together with the firemen put up a militia force to keep order.
Shabbat, the 9th of September 1939 – another heavy bombardment, and Vishogrod was occupied. The houses from Kaminski's up to Mendel Firsht's were bombed. The first victims were Menashe Grosdorf's son, Hershl Lisser, Baruch Mordechai Kobelniker, Puterman, and the son the Yoshua Plum's. At the termination of Shabbat the German murderers fulfilled the Scripture of the Ki Tavo'u Section: “Thy ox is slain before thine eyes and thou shall not eat thereof. They ass is taken away from thee and shall not be returned to thee. Thy sons and daughters are given to thy foe into slavery for scorn and derision and there is no savior. A shameless people is upon thee that will not respect the old and will not have mercy upon children.” All the evil and distress unmentioned in the Book befell us, to our great sorrow. We were like slaves. We spent our strength to the utmost, just to survive. (Later, we were driven afoot to the crematory, to be gassed and burned.)
I and my family, my father and two sons and a daughter, my uncle Zacaria Natan with his family, my brother Yitzhak Ya'acov with his wife, and Shmuel Moshe, and Leibl Kopenhagen, all of us spent the first weeks of the war in the village Stare Wody near Mlodziszyn. We were there till Tuesday after New Year. Two days before Atonement Day we came to Vishogrod. I took at once the Torah scroll of Zeirei Agudas Israel to my house. We read from it all the time we were in the ghetto. We were soon taken to all kinds of filthy work, accompanied by blows. We also worked repairing the bridge.
On Yom Kippur part of is prayed in private homes, part in the synagogue. Amidst the prayer a t the synagogue, the Gestapo came, drove people out to work and beat them to death.
The day after Yom Kippur a goose disappeared at neighbor Shpitulski's, the manager of the landing pier. Police came and took ten Jews to shoot them:
I do not remember who the tenth man was. It was a miracle the goose was found on the Vistula, and the Jews escaped death.
Sukkot – part of the Jews erected a sukkah, but they had to be guarded, like in the days of the Spanish Inquisition.
When the Germans occupied the village Sladow eight Jews were found in a cellar:
They were shot. Pinhas Sheinblum was lying wounded among the dead for some hours. Then he felt he was alive. At night he came to Vishogrod and told the tale.
Hol-Hamoed of Sukkot all stores were plundered, and the goods were requisitioned. After Sukkot Mendel Firsht was arrested and deported to Dachau. Some time later the Germans brought a box with his ashes. They asked several hundred marks for it of the family. IT was buried at the cemetery.
Jews were compelled to wear a yellow patch, to take off their hat to every German. Part of the youth escaped to Russia. The rich fled to Warsaw. All businesses were liquidated. Workmen still had something to do. People sold household goods to buy food. Goods were expensive: They had to be smuggled from Warsaw, and therefore the prices rose. Two farms laborers from Grutkowa informed the commissar they had paid fifty marks for a pair of boots, and four men were arrested: Moshe Lipski, Ya'acov Shtern, Shimon Zayonc and his son Asher. They were held in prison in Plock, until all the Jews of the district were deported, it was made “judenrein”. Then they went together with me and another thirty nine Jews to Auschwitz.
Soon after Sukkot 1939 there arrived money from America for needy people. The Rabbi R'Naphtali Spivak of blessed memory called a meeting: R'David Hirsh Lubin of blessed memory, R'Pinchas Gorbarz, Avraham Grywacz, A'ron Zelig Holender, Israel Gedalia Daicz, Moshe Lipski, Yoshua Sokolov, Pinchas Kostas, Meilech Gemach, Baruch Mordechai Skszydlo, Tovia Goldman, Faivel Meir Lichtenshtein, Yasichek Diamand, and Natan Leib Daicz.
The Rabbi of blessed memory said: Brother Jews, we are in a time of dire stress. We shall be able to ease our situation somewhat only if we help each other without any haughtiness. When two small points are at the same height, like this “it is: God's name; when two small points are one above the other, like this: then – God forbid! – it means sof posuk, the end has come.”
These words had their influence upon our town. We may be proud – the Vishogrod people have followed his words.
The first Jewish Council (Judenrat) was asked to put up a list of people to be sent to Belsk. They did not do it. Thereupon the prominent Jews in town and part of the Judenrat were taken. The Gestapo demanded a list of 200 Jews to be deported to Slopie Nowa.
At Hanukkah time Jews were driven into the synagogue. The Gestapo beat with whips and rifle butts and compelled Jews to pull down the beautiful Eastern Wall and all wooden benches. The Gentiles got this wood to use as fuel.
Till Passover the whole synagogue was pulled down, to its foundations. The source was closed up.
On the 8th of May 1940 all the houses below the castle hill were destroyed, from Reuben Haim Lebenzki's to Meir Yente's. Afterwards all Jewish houses in Shoemaker's street were pulled down, from the butchers' shops to Avraham Stoliarz', on both sides of the street. Then the old cemetery was desecrated, the tombstones broken, the place leveled, and the bones thrown into the Vistula. By means of a big bribe to the overseers the bones could be gathered and buried at the new cemetery.
The 9th of Av 1940 the Belsk camp was established. One hundred twenty Vishograders were there, until the camp was liquidated.
On the 6th of March 1941 seven hundred Jews were deported to Slopie Nowa, and an open ghetto was established: from the market place by Kobilinsky Monastery Street from the left hand; from the Plock Street to Yasieczek's and the place of R'Binyamin, with Moshe Hmiel's house from behind.
On the 9th of Av 1941 the ghetto was closed up, fenced in with barbed wire, and an order was issued, whoever would be caught outside the ghetto without a permit would be shot. 3-4 families were herded in one room. Life became hell.
In summer 1941 groups of one hundred people were taken out to rid them of lice. The people were driven to the electricity plant of Wita. There was a water tank, 100 m. farther there was a building. The Germans beat them terribly. And they were compelled to take their clothes off, men and women together, and run stark naked those 100m. The Polish inhabitants of the neighborhood peeked and looked. So we were humiliated. Such was Nazi culture. A physician had been brought over from Plock to direct the delousing. On the third day Yitzhak Bohl, the chairman of the Judenrat, managed to bribe the physician with a big sum to annihilate this decree.
In August 1941, many refugees returned to Vishogrod from Warsaw and from Slopie Nowa.
On a beautiful morning people were driven out in the street. One hundred twenty were loaded on three trucks, taken away, and nobody knows till this day where their bones lie. Fifty other Jews were driven to the Vistula, put on rafts, beaten up terribly, part of them thrown into the water, part driven to Warsaw.
In spite of all the persecutions, Jews in the ghetto preserved their Jewishness. There were several prayer congregations. I set up a minyan in David Meir's storeroom. We put there the Torah scroll from Ze'irei Agudas Israel. Every now and then Jews were caught praying, were driven out into the street, and made fun of and put to shame. But we did not desist, we prayed in congregation each Shabbat and holiday. On Yom-Kippur there was a great minyan in the yard of Meilech, where Kohn had his sugar magazine. Avraham Yizraelovitz the cantor said the Kol Nidrei and Mussaf; Neila – Meir Shochet; morning prayer – the present writer.
On Thursday Parashat Vayetze all people from the Belsk camp were brought. On Friday it was already known that on Shabbat all would be deported from Vishogrod. At midnight a guard drew up at the ghetto. People started wailing, crying, saying good-bye to each other.
On Shabbat p. Vayetze all were driven to the market place. Six hundred Jews were sent to Czerwinsk on farmers' carts; Twelve hundred persons were herded on trucks. They were beaten, the knapsacks were cut off. A great part of them were left without anything, empty-handed. In the early afternoon we arrived in Nowy Dwor ghetto, broken, humiliated. We were crammed into the small ghetto, 3-4 families in one room. We slept on the hard floor. A committee of three was appointed: Leizer Rotbart, Yoel Lipa Kroy, Yoel Bohm. People were registered, got ration cards. The rations were very small. A soup kitchen was organized to distribute a little soup. A Vishogrod Jew, Hershel Fuks, was cook; he is living now in Israel.
Owing to overcrowding, filth and bad food, an epidemic of typhoid broke out. Several hundred Vishogrod Jews died of typhoid in the ghetto of Nowy Dwor.
Life was very hard. We sold our last belongings to keep living. Each day three hundred Jews were driven to the river port to work. Overseers were war invalids. They shouted Jews were responsible for the war and for having become invalids. They took revenge on us, beating and killing. We were compelled to roll the barbed wire rolls like a ball. Blood streamed like from a fountain. Men came home from work completely incapacitated. It was forced labor, unpaid.
Jews smuggled for a livelihood. Whoever was caught, was hanged. Once seven Jews were hanged, among them a son of Wolf Levin's; a sixteen year old boy. They were left hanging in the ghetto for 24 hours. All Jews were obliged to be present at the execution and to look at it. There were many such executions.
Jews created congregations and prayed under danger of life. There was one minyan at the Lanziner Rabbi's of blessed memory; another one at the ritual slaughterer's of Zakrocim. In the little ghetto there was a minyan at Shimshon Silberboim's, Avraham Grzywacz had a shophar, and on New Year he went from minyan to minyan to blow it.
Before Passover the Rabbi ordered baking matzos of the dark flour we received. I and Avraham Grywacz showed them how to bake the matzos in the kitchen.
After Passover people were deported to the camps. An order was issued to hand over money and rings. Should something be found with anybody, he would be shot.
In the month of November 1942 all Jews from Czerwinsk ghetto were brought over. Twenty-thirty persons were herded in one room. They started sending transports to Auschwitz. On a certain day forty persons were wanted to fill up the quota; militia arrived and seized forty. Eleven of them succeeded in getting away. The remaining twenty nine were taken to a certain place to work. After work, they were ordered to dig a ditch, they were butchered and buried half alive. Two men from Vishogrod were among them: Shlomo Buchner and Moshe Puterman. At night, when the eleven returned to the ghetto, there was a great tumult there.
On the 12th of December 1942 the last transport was sent to Auschwitz, in the morning. In the afternoon, the 6th of Tevet, our nearest and dearest, fathers, mothers, wives, children, sisters, brothers, were gassed and burned in Birkenau. May the Lord revenge their blood. May their memory live in eternity.
We were picked, six hundred able-bodied men; we were told to take off our clothes, and they sheared us from head to feet, ten men at one time, all hidden spots of the body, tearing pieces of flesh in the process. We were given a pair of trousers, a shirt, a coat. We were taken to sleep in a horse stable, six men in one stall; it was freezing cold. We were so tired, we managed to sleep. In the morning the numbers were tattooed on our arms. Mine was 83059. In middle of the week we were given other clothes, striped ones. A transport of thirty men went to Bona. We were kept in three week quarantine.
There was money found with me and with my brothers. They kept asking for more money and jewelry, which we did not have.
On Sunday the 18th of January, in the morning all our bloc, two hundred men, were ordered out. My brothers and I were ordered to make penal exercises – running, falling down, knee bending, for an hour. Afterwards we were taken to the bloc. They put all people in and put in a gallows. I and my brother were stood against the wall. The elder of the bloc said: Now the Daicz brothers will be hanged. You, the eldest dog – he said to me – shall hang first. I was ordered to take off the shoes and mount the hanging stool. I said the Confession prayer. They bound my hands behind me, I gave a last look at my brothers and my friends, and called our loudly Sh'ma Israel. The rope was put, not around my neck, but my hands. The stool was pushed away. I was hanging for fifteen minutes, suffering tortures worse than death. The bloc elder asked me every now and then where I had hidden the jewelry. After fifteen minutes my hands were freed, and he said that he was sure now the Daicz brothers had no more money. He shouted, all prisoners with whom money should be found, would be executed in this way.
After three weeks in quarantine, I was transported in a labor camp. We worked on hard jobs. Each day the “reserve” of 150-200 men were sent to the gas chambers.
Up to June 1943 my three brothers were destroyed, among the others. A small number of Vishogrod men were left; the rest had died of hunger and overwork.
In June 1943, by a miraculous stroke of luck, I was detached to the shoemakers' shop. That meant sufficient food, and even taking some for the hungry in camp. At that time I became aware that all the women of our transport had been destroyed on the 6th Tevet 1942; not a single woman had escaped. All the people who had been taken in reserve had been destroyed, so I had no relations left. I was in utter despair. I was together with Hershel Naiman. We comforted each other, we must live to see the fall of Nazism, and take revenge.
Yet another thing that kept us up was our religious life. When somebody's relative's death anniversary came round, Kaddish was recited. In High Holidays season we organized prayer congregations in the wash-room. We prayed in the morning before work. A man named Radzik, an electrician, who had a shed at his disposal, had pair phylacteries. We hurried there every now and then, put on the phylacteries and said Sh'ma Israel.
Before Passover 1944 we began to take counsel about matzos and holding Seder. I had some connections with the kapu of the kitchen: I obtained some flour. I spoke with Ephraim Buchner (from Vishogrod, now in America), who was servant and cook of the work leader at the Commander's post. I gave him instructions, and he baked matzos, under risk of life, and thus 200 Jews were able to fulfill the religious commandment.
We held Seder in the Bona-Auschwitz camp in the year 1944. We demonstrated and proved that we could be crushed in body, but not in spirit, and on the threshold of the crematory we did not lose faith in The Lord Blessed be He. I am thankful, too, to the elder of the bloc, Bernard Strauss, a Jew from Tchekia, who allowed to hold Seder in his bloc No. 60. I celebrated the Seder with tears and a bleeding heart; I prayed “This year slaves, next year free men.” “This year slaves, next year in the Land of Israel.” I think it is a great merit to me, to my family and the town of Vishogrod, that Ephraim Buchner and the present writer were the initiators of this Seder.
At the end of 1944 many were executed who tried to flee and escape the Nazi murderers. Most of them were caught, brought into camp and hanged, before the eyes of all, to put fear into our hearts.
On the 18th of January 1945 the camp was evacuated, and we were driven to Gleiwitz. On the way 50% of the prisoners were shot dead, after they had survived the years in camp. Zecharia Roch met a violent death. Yoshua Lichtenshtein tried to run away, and was shot.
From Gleiwitz Hershl Naiman and I were taken to Buchenwald, into Grauwinkel camp. This was a horrible concentration camp. We slept in airless underground bunkers, without drink water. At four o'clock in the morning we got up for roll-call.
Herschel Naiman and I were freed in Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. On the 20th of May 1945, we came to Warsaw on the 22nd – to Vishogrod. We found there Yoske Levin and his wife Marysia, the later Yitzhak Pasternak, Ephraim Buchner, Israel Shvarzbart.
I married my present wife, established a new family.
The little town was empty without the Jews. In the morning I used to go the foundations of the destroyed synagogue, prayed, and had a good spell of weeping. Each other day I used to go to the destroyed cemetery – there was no trace left of it, there was a coppice – asked forgiveness of the souls of our martyrs, recited Kaddish, and my wife said Amen.
After 5 months we left Vishogrod for ever and went to Germany. We were there some time, and then we went home, to Israel, to the Jewish State, to stay here. We arrived in Israel on the 11th of May 1949.
I left for Birkenau on the 11th of December 1942, together with my husband, my brother-in-law and some acquaintances from Vishogrod, Hirsh Lipsker and his two children, the Taub family, and others, whom I knew as Vishogrod residents without knowing their names.
After we had arrived and were still standing together, I wearing my white nurse's apron, suddenly I heard calls: Berliner, Berliner. I looked in the direction of the call and saw Hirsh Lipsker standing with a S.S. man, a clumsy giant, whose name was Dr. Ruder. I did not know what to do. Hirsh said to him: That's her! He introduced me as his sister and as a medical nurse. He explained to me that he heard they looked for a nurse and he told them I was his sister, in order to enable me to leave the column. He had some sad premonitions and he said:
“You will now be important and in demand. Please, don't forget what I did and help my wife and children.”
I promised him.
Unfortunately, I did not fulfill my promise. The same day all of them, the people of my transport, were sent to the gas chambers.
I was left alone and solitary in the Birkenau camp. We spent the night in the bathhouse, and in the morning we were taken out to the showers. They shaved us and placed us on benches and showered us with cold water; afterwards they kept us under steam. Whoever was not able to bear it fell down and did not rise any more.
They took our clothes and gave us a striped uniform of the camp. And I was given shoes, both of them left ones.
Thus we were sitting from Saturday till Sunday without food. At noon they gave us a tumbler of soup, 200 gr bread, 20 gr margarine, 20 gr sausages. We were confused. We didn't know whether to eat it or leave a reserve to still the hunger later on. We did know we would suffer more hunger.
That giant S.S. man Dr. Ruder appeared at the door and asked for that nurse of the name of Berliner. When they pointed to me, he shouted:
“What did you do to this nurse? How dare you?”
He showered heavy blows on all the workers in the bathhouse who dared to shave my head and all the time he shouted:
“Who gave the order to shave her?”
He took me and brought me to block 27 which served as transitional hospital for one night.
It was a brick room 25.30 m long, its small windows 20 x 25 cm. It was 10 m wide and was divided into two by a “stove”, which was nothing more than a concrete ditch; it was stoked at one end, and at the other the smoke was passing and “warming” the block.
There were no arrangements in it suggesting its use for medical purposes, except a table at the entrance, used for dressings. The patients lay on concrete bunks running alongside the walls. They were in triple tiers. In the bottom tier lay the “Muslims”, that is the men reduced to skeletons, who had no strength left to go up higher. They were lying in fives on one bunk. On the whole there were about 600 men placed on 120 bunks.
We were received at the entrance by the woman appointed to in charge of the block, Bertha Unger, a kind-hearted Slovakian from Chomna in Slovakia. She tried to help us as far as possible and will remain remembered by us as one of the righteous of the Gentiles.
I worked there for three months, made injections, made dressings, made the beds for people, looked after them, together with the others, with true devotion to our fellow-men. And our hearts ached because we knew all our care was for 24 hours, and after that they would be sent, most of them, to their death.
The arrangement was known: If somebody fell ill and did not report to work, he was taken at once to block 27. On the next day giant Dr. Ruder appeared, looked at the faces of the hospitalized and determined who would remain and who would go to the block 25 of ill fame, whence people would be taken directly to the gas furnaces.
Day after day death took its toll of precious, guiltless people; Dr. Ruder, the ambassador of death and its satanic messenger, officiating devotedly and tirelessly to Moloch.
Now Dr. Mengele began to appear among the physicians, together with Dr. Ruder, to supervise our work. This human monster I was seeing for days on end and he keeps haunting my nightmares till now.
Dr. Mengele was a handsome man, broad-shouldered and tall, with dark blonde hair and very beautiful smiling eyes. Nobody would ever catch him angry or enraged.
Dr. Ruder was in charge of the women's camp with Dr. Anna, a Slovakian Jewess, as assistant; Dr. Mengele was the chief physician of the whole camp, with innumerable helpers. Sometimes it looked as if those monsters were self-appointed physicians without any professional qualifications. But from their talk it became clear that they were real physicians, even good ones. Till now I am not able to understand how a man studies medicine for so many years and applies his knowledge to being cruel to men.
Once Dr. Mengele and Dr. Ruder entered my block quietly, as if playing at a genuine hospital call. They approached my table very closely and looked around. My heart jumped madly. I was dressing wounds of the patients. Dr. Mengele took down my number and said:
“Tomorrow at the roll-call you'll report to me.”
I reported to him the next day and he sent me to the registry. He told me to go there at once, to report to the person in charge and to say I had been sent by him.
In the office there was a Slovakian Jewess named Edith. On hearing Mengele sent me, she went simply into hysterics:
“Away with you! Don't remain here a single moment! Don't say to anybody you were here. I'll fix it so you won't suffer. Don't be afraid.”
She knew for what purpose I had been sent there, and this horrified her. The same day Dr. Mengele performed his experiments in sterilization of women.
She was a true Jewish woman, religious and observant. She never was without a head-cover, lighted Sabbath candles on each Shabbat eve. All the time she was in the camp she never ate meat and subsisted on bread and tea. She kept all fasts of the Jewish religion. She knew their dates and kept them over-strictly. On Passover she arranged Seders in our block, where she was at night. During my stay there the Seder was celebrated twice, and those two times I was only an eye witness. Everything was prepared by Edith with a heavenly zeal and under danger which is unimaginable nowadays. She was ready to pay with her life for saving anybody. And for Jews she was doing more than humanly possible.
So did Cilly, too, the other just one, also a Slovakian. These two women stirred in all the spirit of hope and faith, silently, by being there, they encouraged people to live. Edith saved my life.
I escaped at once back to my block as Edith had ordered. As nobody had registered my number; nobody paid attention to me. Edith hushed up everything and the matter was forgotten.
At the beginning of 1944 we were sent to Brzezinki. It was a place affiliated to Auschwitz and all the hellish functions of this town.
There were four large furnaces, in the people were burned after being killed in gas chambers. Two were in Birkenau, one in the field between Birkenau and Brzezinki, and another one, the fourth, in Brzezinki.
To my great sorrow I was destined to see with my own eyes the whole process of burning.
When the martyred Jews were brought over from their places, Dr. Mengele together with Dr. Ruder used to appear to see the “import”. Dr. Mengele did not utter a single syllable. He never made a remark, never gave an order or rebuked anybody. He walked about among the people, looked at each of them, mentally taking their picture. He was silent, and afterwards gave orders to Dr. Ruder, written and oral.
I used to observe his face. It seems to me the man was over-complicated, towards others and within himself. Sometimes a foolish smile of self-satisfaction appeared on his face when he saw a Jew dying.
Sometimes Dr. Mengele turned his eyes away disgustedly from a half-dead body, frowned and passed quickly, as if deliberating: “What shall I do, speed up his dying or enjoy its prolonged lingering and prolong it with the help of my medical science?”
On a day Mengele appeared in the camp, all inhabitants were forbidden to leave the blocks. People got scared when news got round of his arrival. Nobody was told this, but always a curfew was imposed in all the area, and all knew then death was stalking about in the camp.
Never will the survivors forget the days of ghastly ceremonials those idiots arranged for their teacher and master murderer. I shall never forget my meetings with them together with Dr. Mengele.
When one speaks of Mengele as a physician, as engaged in a scientific employment, one might come to suppose, that here was a scientist, who for the sake of progress sacrificed the man, or that he availed himself of the given opportunity for humanity's sake. But we saw he was not engaged in scientific research, for no notes were taken about his “experiments”.
It is doubtful whether Mengele was a physician at all. This remains to be looked into. It is to be doubted if he was sane. It seems to me he was an unhappy man who tried to forget his unhappiness in atrocities, and in the sufferings of his fellow-men he drowned his own pains and sufferings.
Another trait to Mengele's image:
In the Brzezinki camp the commander was a S.S. man, most cruel, named Wunsch. He had a mistress, a most beautiful Jewish girl, brunette, with raven-black locks, burning eyes, and shapely like a statue. As soon as she appeared, the savage was calmed down and we could do as we desired. We did not work then, we did not do anything, and he did not, too. He was like wax in her hands.
She used to say:
“When I am here with Wunsch, you may rest yourself; but when Mengele appears, try and work double, and try not to see him.”
She heard that a transport from Budapest had arrived, and her sister was in it. The transports passed through our camp. We were the last ones who had a look at them. She was affected very much realizing her sister would be burned, and she would rest with the Gentile. She jumped up and told Wunsch that if he would not save her sister, she herself would follow her. And she began running towards the train as if aiming to join the death convoy. He was afraid, ran after her and promised her to fulfill her request. I saw when she ran like one mad, and also backwards, when he brought her back. He implored her, kissed her and begged her to stay alive. He would do anything. I saw it from my window.
The next day he went and took the sister out of the crematory completely naked. She had been undressed and was in line for the furnace. Compelled by his love, this fiend endangered himself and pulled her out from there.
And here is the tale related by the girl herself: Wunsch went up to the stoker who put the people into the gas chamber, and before he closed the door, stopped him and said to him, let out this woman. The order was given in a commanding tone, so that the man did not know what to do, and let her out; but as she was naked, they told her to sit down, and she, the sister who told the tale, went to fetch her clothes. Meanwhile the executioner recovered his self-possession and refused to obey the order. There was a commotion, the two S.S. were seen in hot discussion. They thought a riot had broken out and informed the commander's office. Mengele appeared at the head of armed men, to quench the riot. When he learned what had happened, he asked Wunsch:
“Why did you do it?
"That's my wife and this is her sister!”
Mengele was silent, took his men and went back. Before he went, he told her to come with him.
In his office he told her to relate the whole truth, and not to lie. She said to him:
“It's not him who wanted to save her, but me, I'm guilty, for I told him, if he would not pull her out, I would go and be burned. So he pulled her out.”
Mengele did not speak – so she related – showed no reaction, he stood stock-still and looked as if surprised all the time she was speaking. But when she ended her tale, he stood still a moment, and suddenly rushed upon her, seized her hair with one hand, showered upon her with the other hand terrible blows, again without any change of expression in his face. Then he stopped, stood a moment, and shouted:
“You damned Jewess, out with you, and double quick!”
In July 1944 the furnaces in Birkenau were liquidated. First No. 1 was pulled down and No. 2; after a few days No 3, too. There remained only No. 4 and it was very active. During 24 hours, day and night, it burned Jews, hundreds thousands and more of them.
In September the rumors grew stronger, that had been abroad for some time already, American planes were nearing. There were some who had seen them flying every now and then. The crematory crew was by now more at liberty and mingling with the Germans and spirit of revolt arose in them. They were also physically rather fit, as they got not too bad food. They felt strong enough, and they decided to revolt.
The Jewish woman, who worked at sorting out ammunition, hearing of it, brought those arms and ammunition. The objective was to join the Americans from inside, to blow up the crematory, to save by means of it the remaining Jews destined to be burned, and to make hard for the Germans the work of mass liquidation.
And the planes appeared, in fact.
On the eve of the transportation day and “the changing of the guard”, the Jews blew up the crematory, broke through the fence and swept across to escape. But somebody seemed to have informed against them, and when the planes went away, they found themselves surrounded by Germans. They were caught some distance from the crematory and shot dead. Among those shot were Goldfarb and Moshe Leib Diamant (I do not remember Goldfarb's private name).
This killing was executed by Mengele, with his own hands.
At night, when the “disturbance” had died down, Mengele appeared in the women's camp and began to examine us, to investigate and to ask, what was going on in the camp.
When he entered our room, we were lying in our beds, I, Dr. Rosa and Dr. Blimko. He ordered us to rise and to remain standing. We stood up, half-naked and were standing. We waited for a long time, and Mengele did not come back. We were standing so till 4 o'clock in the morning.
The 16th January 1945 all women in the camp were assembled, put into ranks and ordered to follow the German conductors.
We were several thousands. We were led like cattle. We walked eight days from Brzezinki to Leslau in Germany. The frost chilled the last of the blood in our veins and hurt our bodies with its stabs, making us weep. We did not know which hurt more: the hunger or the cold.
At rest-time we licked the snow to still a little our hunger and thirst.
We were concentrated in miserable shacks that were not heated, in some deserted shack camp.
On the 3rd May 1945 there came many S.S. men, surrounded the shacks, locked the doors and shuttered the windows with barbed wire. We were trapped, caught.
In the evening the doors opened suddenly, and the Germans appeared. They were very, very quiet. All of a sudden their tyrannical boisterousness had disappeared. They moved about humble and trembling. Their clothes were neglected and they wore a wretched look.
They brought us a large kettle of coffee, but had forgotten to bring a ladle and cups. Out of shock and dismay they had forgotten them in the kitchen.
On the 4th May 1945 we saw no guards at the gate; the camp was not being guarded any longer. We felt that an important change had happened. In spite of it we remained apathetic with blurred mind and in stupor of senses. We had no strength or energy left. We were lying in a heap, our eyes nowhere. Even the will to live had deserted us.
The day before the Germans came and took away our clothes, the remains of it. We were left, the majority of us, half-naked. We stood up, and the feeling of nakedness stirred our activity anew. We were irritated, like one is who wants to rise, has to rise, has no clothes – and how can he stand up!
This irritation was a good sign for us. I had been with an old winter overcoat. I collected the last of my strength, ripped out the lining and put on the latter like a dress.
On the 5th May 1945 we waked hearing noise and rattling. We looked through the windows and saw Russian tanks approaching.
A few minutes later Soviet soldiers opened the shacks and on of them announced:
“You are free!”
In March 1941 I went from Siberia – Novosibirsk – to Krasnodar. With me went my wife, our three-month-old son, and two brothers of my wife. In Moscow we three men went to have a look at the city, and my wife and child remained at the railway station outside town. We asked for the Great Synagogue, and a Jew presented himself, who was willing to show it to us. Walking with us he spoke about its beauty. I say to him, that even before seeing it, I am sure it is not so beautiful as our synagogue. Asks he: “Where are you from, to be so proud of your synagogue?” When I told him I am from Vishogrod, he was beside himself, he was quite stunned. I am from Vishogrod, he said with singular warmth, “I'm Moshe H'miels brother, and I'm the manager of the Moscow synagogue.”
I already had told him who I am. It appeared that he was well acquainted with my grandmother Royze Yanushev of blessed memory. In the course of our conversation, on hearing I was there with wife and baby, asks he: “How old is the baby? Who is circumcised it?” Upon hearing he was three months old and as yet uncircumcised, he was entirely shocked. “How can it be, a native of Vishogrod, and uncircumcised? An unheard of thing!”
He suggested we circumcise the child at once.
And already we were back at the railway station, to talk over his suggestion with my wife. He came later in a cab, together with another Jew, took us with him, and we were off. We came to the synagogue; the rabbi and a circumciser were already waiting for us, and some other Jews. A meal had been prepared, whisky and herring and bread, and Jews beamed looking forward to attending to the religious command. We were united in a great secret for a “crime” was about to be committed (Heaven forbid!) against the Russian empire – to join another Jewish child to the Jewish people.
The child was circumcised with all the trimmings. The people enjoyed this bit of Jewishness, finished off with herring and whisky. There was great and true rejoicing.
The same day I went to Krasnodarsk, and those precious Jews went each his own way.
The manager found lodging for my wife and son with a Jewish family where they spent three weeks, until the child recovered.
Haim Joseph was born in Vishogrod on the 28th of April 1920 to his parents Gutman and Golda.
In his childhood Haim Joseph emigrated with his parents to America and there he spent his life, learned, studied, acquired high education, and was preparing for a normal happy civilian life.
When the Second World War broke out, Haim Joseph enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to fight the Nazi vandals, more as a Jew than as an American. According to a pronounced Jewish upbringing in the spirit of national pride, Haim Joseph, the young, beautiful, blooming, strong and brave young man wanted to do his share towards the victory over the murderers of the Jewish people.
Haim Joseph was on the most dangerous war-fronts where the Americans were active, to hasten the bloody march to victory.
On the 20th of October 1944, a few months before victory came, Haim Joseph, the son of Gutman and Golda Holender, fell in battle of Balches-France.
In him another Nazi victim from Vishogrod was added. We will remember the sacrifice of his young life together with the other martyrs.
In 1953 we named our Loans Bank in Israel after him together with the name of Shmuel Buk of blessed memory.
As is well-known, our Golda Holender, Haim Joseph's mother, donated a considerable sum to our Loan's Bank during her visit in Israel in 1953 and thus enhanced the Banks importance. She also activated other Vishogrod people in America to interest themselves in the Bank with money and donations; and all this to spread Haim Joseph's name.
Also in the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan there is a picture of Haim Joseph, in acknowledgement of his mother's activity and donation.
Blessed be His memory.
Itta Lichtenstein was 113 years old
R' Shmuel - Moshe Lipman of blessed memory was a distinguished man in his own right, a familiar with the Rabbis of Purisov and Sochaczew, with R' Schmuel of blessed memory and with R' Davidl Bornshtein of blessed memory. His family was the best one in Vishogrod. His sisters, Sara'le and Hanna-Lea, were among the prominent women in Vishogrod. Sara'le owned the biggest dry-goods store in town; she managed a fine household, gave many alms and loans without interest to poor people. You could get from her clever advice, too. She was called affectionately Sara'le Toibele.
R' Shmuel-Moshe Lipman had merits of his own. He was known under the name R' Shmuel-Moshe Lipman, or Shmuel-Moshe Eisenhandler (which means a dealer in hardware); he had a hardware store. More than being at the store, he used to spend his time studying. The store was managed by David Lipman and his sister of blessed memory. R' Shmuel-Moshe was a great scholar and a cabbalist. He married in Ilove, was cantor and ritual slaughterer in Krasnosielce, in the Lomza Gubernia. Before the First World Ware, 1913, he settled in Vishogrod.
As a small boy, I knew R' Shmuel-Moshe leading the morning prayers in the Bes-Hamidrash during the High Holidays. He was a handsome man, wit ha rounded beard, distinguished-looking. Always cheerful, a smile upon his face. He was also a circumciser. When there was a circumcision in a poor man's family, he used to send money to him on the eve of it for the preparations. Unfortunately, he caught cold when he went, during a great freeze, to a village, to circumcise a child. A week later he died, on the 10th January 1924, the 4th of Shvat 5694, at the age of 61.
R' Shmuel-Moshe ceased to be ritual slaughterer when he was 51 years old, for he translated the verse: “Al tochal mimenu na” as N A meaning 51 (by the numerical value of these letters). At this age he returned to Vishogrod.
His wife was a pious woman; hers was a fine household, as written in Pirkei Avos: Let your house be wide open and let the poor be your familiars. It was a house open to guests, alms giving and granting loans without interest to the poor. On every Sabbath and holiday there were guests at the table.
They had three children with them in Vishogrod: Sara, the late Lea, David (long live he), and Rachel, besides the married children outside Vishogrod. He had 9 children altogether. The eldest sons were ritual slaughterers.
Sara-Lea Tyk was a truly excellent housewife. She fulfilled for her husband the verse from Prov. 31/23: “Her husband is known in the gates, where he sitteth among the elders of the land.” Her husband, R' Hayim Tykof blessed memory, was a young man of great studying abilities, a genuine scholar. Every morning he spent learning the daily lesson in Gemara, in company with Yankel Taub at the Bes-midrash. He possessed also secular education; he was a human being in the fullest sense of the expression. He busied himself with the needs of the community, was among the founders and active members of the “Mizrahi”. He helped to found the “Yavne” school, where Hebrew was being taught in Hebrew exclusively. The basic idea was “learning and working”, and it prepared youth for emigration to Israel. He was the president of the cooperative bank. As a matter of fact, he was an active party man, but he was like Aaron the Priest: peace loving, striving for peace.
His wife, Sara-Lea, was a true helpmate. She did not interfere with his sacred business; she did her share in the upkeep of the family, working at the candy store, and lent a hand with everything. She became quite renowned after the catastrophe, when she was in the D.P. camp at Eschwege, in the kibbutz of the Poel-Mizrahi. She was called mamma by all the young people of the kibbutz; she used to try and persuade young couples into marriage. When my oldest son was circumcised, she stayed up all night, helping prepare the “bris”.
After she came to Israel, she worked all the time in her profession, until her last day. Once, on her way to work, passing my house in Giv'atayim, she felt not well, came in, sat down, and died instantly, a painless death, like the pious woman she was. May she rest in Paradise.
Rachel's husband, Moshe Sapirshtein, was a fine Hassidic young man. He took over the business together with his brother and sister-in-law, treated them honorably, and kept up the tradition of a proper household. Unfortunately, Rachel died very young.
These are the origins of David Lipman.
David Lipman himself is a man of human kindness, warm-hearted, noble-minded. He was brought up both in Hassidic and Hassidism-opposing homes. Until 9 years of age he learned in Krasnosielce. Later on he learned in bes-hamidrash. But he also entered the movement of Enlightenment and helped to found the Zionist Center. He worked for Zionism in the years 1915-1923, participated in the dramatic circle, in the management of the library and led cultural activities together with Yoske Levine. Yoske was chairman, and David Lipman, secretary.
David Lipman felt the ground burning under feet in Poland, and in 1923 he immigrated to America. He married the late Eta, Mendel Goldman's daughter, from a distinguished family. Eta was an orphan, brought up by Seral'e Goldman.
The kindness of David became apparent, when we came to Israel. On our arrival we were sure of our future here, but meanwhile, until one is settled, one needs a loan of several hundred pounds, and on easy terms, to be paid off in easy rates, without heavy interest rate. It was a great boon you could appeal to the Eretz Israel Society of Vishogrod. This was constructive help, providing a basis for livelihood. It is well remembered that the Loans without-in-Israel was founded and managed by David Lipman, until 1955 together with Yoske Levine of blessed memory, and afterwards by himself, assisted by our distinguished friend Menahem Silbershtein.
We do know that David Lipman's painstaking work and devotion is being appreciated by our American members, and they keep helping and supporting our fund.
On this occasion it must be stressed: we may be proud of our activity in the field of loans on easy terms. A new immigrant receives honorably a loan that enables him to establish himself. When somebody finds it hard to meet the expenses of a child's marriage or of changing the apartment after years, or changing over from a slum to a decent apartment – he knows where to apply, and gets his loan easily, without trouble and worry, and without interest.
Our loan fund is a tremendous humane achievement and being established, as it is, by David Lipman, and supported, by his initiative, by our Americans, we accompany him with our best wishes. Such a truly good man ought to live long, for his kind heart and his meticulousness are a source of help and consolation to people.
David Lipman is an honor to our little town, and we shall bestow honor upon
him by holding him in high esteem.
Long live David Lipman!
There was a time when the treasurer (the gabbe) of the synagogue was one of the authorities, or a man – an authority, like the Rabbi, the ritual slaughterer, etc.
The treasurer was second after the Rabbi; he was one of the seven dignitaries of the town. He was the custodian of Jewishness, even hunted up the means involved in its upkeep. He attended to the maintenance of the religious officials: Rabbis', cantors and beadles; to the supplying of wheat money, candles, Kiddush and Havdoleh wine, bread for guests, alms for the poor. If it so happened that ten needy guests remained on Sabbath eve and they must be assigned families for their Sabbath meal, this was done by the treasurer. IT was also his task to make the necessary repairs in the synagogue.
Naturally, it was a difficult job to be a treasurer, still more difficult, to be a disinterested one. Happy the little town that had a clean-handed gabbe. There were towns where men fought for this post, in spite of the difficulties involved in it, as there were profits to be made out of it.
Vishogrod had the luck – or was it merit? – to have a treasurer, whose praises were told for many years, a virtuous man, clean-handed, working disinterested. It was the grandfather of R' Menahem Silbershtein, R'Moshe Cohen. He was a gabbe a hundred years ago. His sons were called, respectively, Hayim Moshe Gabbe's, and Leizer Moshe Gabbe's.
Hayim Silbershtein was for many years treasurer of the synagogue of Vishogrod; Leizer Moshe Gabbe's was treasurer of the small synagogue of Gur. The treasurership passed on from generation to generation.
Leizer was a Hassid of Gur, a good cantor. His wife, Sorche of blessed memory, was a pious woman, a match to her husband. He had a hardware store. He had seven children: Braha, Ita, Ides, and Menahem, Shlomo, Shmuel, and Menashe Ephraim. R' Leizer was during many years busy with public affairs, a member of the board of community. He looked after Jewish public matters: easy-loans fund, Talmud-torah, bes-Yaacov, Heder y'sodei torah. In his time, when he was in charge, the roof of the synagogue was constructed. He participated in all matters concerning public needs, in the manner of the gabbe's of yore.
Menahem added a link to the dynasty chain, and developed a modern manner of social activity.
Brought up in the spirit of Gur and of religious schools, he turned from both to the road of Zionism. Still young, he was one of the leaders of the “Zionist Center.” He contributed much to the propaganda work, looked after the library, held talks, taught Hebrew, drew youth into the ranks of Zionism, procured money for the national funds, and was the natural leading Zionist in town. Menahem was a leading member in politic and economic institutions, in the bank and in town council in the party and at the welfare office, and in schools and educational institutions, as well. He took are of needy Jews; of subsidies for the National Fund, or children's schools; of hospitalizing a sick poor Jew at the town's expense; and stood watch lest the Jews become stepchildren o the municipality.
It was essentially “gabbeship” but in a modern manner.
But the dynasty did not continue much longer. The Hitler war wrought the ruin of Menahem's home and kin and drove him into the ghetto of Warsaw. He went through all the horrors there, and participated actively in the revolt.
On the 26th of April 1943, in a fight with the Nazis, he was deported to Lublin, Blizyn, Mielec, Flossenbürg, Leitmeritz and Mauthausen
After all these events and sufferings Menahem has remained himself – the faithful servant of the Vishogrod community in America and in Israel. He manages the affairs of the Society, and although his time is much taken up with business of his own, he – together with David Lipman – put himself to the service of the community, and is now chairman of the Society.
During his first visit in Israel in 1958 he soon interested himself in a fitting memorial for the Vishogrod martyrs; the memorial tablet in the holocaust cellar was put up at his own expense. But all his interest was dedicated to the book.
In 1969 Menahem visited Israel again, and he has not given up his idea any more. He did not rest until he convened us, and after meetings and discussions – at the expense of his planned-ahead trips and entertainment – the editor was appointed and we set about publishing the book. Menahem knew our straightened financial circumstances, and he pledged his responsibility for money by collecting it, or if necessary, giving of his own.
Menahem's place in the Silbershtein dynasty of Gabbaim will be an honorable one. In erecting the memorial – the book – Menahem proved himself faithful to the Vishogrod community even after it has ceased to be. His public activity achieves the dimension of social and moral quality. Such was the dynasty from its beginnings, and Menahem is continuing. Long lives he.
R. Pinhas Levine was Nahums Sokolov's contemporary and friend of long standing; but his Zionism was earlier than Nahum Sokolov's. At this period when his older friend was busy as a journalist as editor of “Hazefirah”, and was preaching culture and education pure and simple, R. Pinhas Levine already knew that was an enticement of the theory of redemption, of those unreal redemptions; and that his friend would finally reconsider. And when R. Nahum Sokolov did come round and devoted his energy to Zionism, he loved him doubly, and the high esteem in which he held him, rose higher still.
R. Pinhas Levine's Zionism was actually an intuitive feeling, something in his blood he was born with, an inherent part of his life and his being, without any examinations of program and contents, actual achievement and redemption. His intuition itself and the strong impulse of his soul sufficed him to devote his entire life to Zionism, his station in life and his livelihood, without caring for the serious consequences and difficulties that arose.
R. Pinhas Levine neglected his means of maintenance, left the providing for food and upbringing of the children to his wife, and he himself busied himself exclusively with Zionism and winning over souls to the idea. To him, Zionism consisted in three things: in careful study, in devotion to its idea presently, and in bringing up children and youth as the reserves of the people and the hope of its deliverance. To these three things R. Pinhas dedicated himself entirely. Day and night he used to sit and study and ponder over theoretical and philosophical books, in order to establish Zionism on a philosophic basis lest it suffer damage, God Forbid, when put to the test of social modern thought, and in order to provide it with academic as well as practical justification. For this purpose he considered Immanuel Kant the greatest philosopher of his own and the previous generation, the ultimate authority that clinched everything. He became an expert on his philosophical system and his thinking method.
After Kant, more relevant to his theme, came R. N. Sokolov. He used to read all his articles and his dictum was to him the final confirmation of what he had grasped by himself u way of thinking. Sokolov was his steady correspondent, as was customary between friends, and used to send him all his books, each one close to its publication, together with personal remarks and revelations apt to clear up anything indefinite or requiring further reflection, and only alluded to in the text.
These readings of R. Pinhas were followed up by lighter reading matter, to still his simple literary thirst for things of life and descriptions of full life of a people that has to cease to be a problematic people and to become an actual nation, together with all the peoples, whose members are simple and natural humans.
Many nights he spent sitting in the light of a kerosene lamp, fitted by him with a reflecting lampshade, in order to concentrate its light and enable him to read much without getting tired.
The town of Vishogrod that was familiar with men spending their nights in study, appreciated this man Pinhas, who devoted his nights to another kind of study, and he was held in no lesser esteem than other highly honored men.
Now, perhaps, a surprising thing should be pointed out, bearing credit to our little town. As a rule, a man used to be judged and estimated according to his success in business and income, and woe to the man whose wife was supporting him. But to R. Pinhas Levine another kind of measuring rod was applied; although being an impractical man, he was accepted as somebody beyond their comprehension, worthy of high esteem and to be proud of.
R. Pinhas Levine fulfilled in life what was to him the second criterion of Zionism: he used to leave his home every now and then, and roamed about and called at the small nearby towns, exhorting Jews to spiritual awakening, appearing as self-appointed orator in their synagogues, holding up the reading of the torah, mounting the pulpit and making speeches and arousing the enthusiasm of the crows, to become at once the transition generation to deliverance. His words, coming down from his inner heart and without any after thought, were always taken seriously and the seed was sown in the hearts. In this respect he was a prophet in his own country: he showered his speeches from all platforms in Vishogrod, as he was wont in other towns. Vishogrod loved him together with his speeches. If it happened so and he was not on the orators' list at certain occasion, he was asked and invited to make a speech, even if it did not seem to him a fit occasion. There was a harassing impulse in him, urging him on to hasten and win souls, to shock, to awaken and stimulate them to self-redemption. He never was free from this urge; all of a sudden, on a simple working day, he was seem going with his bundle to the next town, to set there glowing embers ablaze lest they go out and lest their national warmth and redeemed human light be dimmed.
Above all, R. Pinhas was devoted to the Jewish child and boy. He was able to spend many hours with children, like with equals. He regarded them as the bearers of his vision, the most serious and perfect ones, and he treated them with seriousness and respect. Anytime and anyplace he was liable to gather round him boys of all ages and keep them spellbound with his thought and vision of the future. They also, clung to him and honored him according to his worth and above it. It was curious, too, how these unruly youngsters, these pranksters, unwittingly were behaving deferentially in his presence. They, too, estimated his personality with a special measure of worth and importance.
He prized in equal measure all the youth movements that arose in Vishogrod and existed there. He did not want to probe into the divergences they ascribed to themselves. To him they were, all of them, seedlings of his sowing and realizers of his life dream.
I recall, when the well-remembered ceremony of hoisting the Beitar flag in the town took place, my beloved grandfather R. Pinhas was invited to the presidential platform. He took in thirstily the whole colorful show of disciplined youth, and warm tears, happy tears, trickled incessantly down his cheeks.
Shalom Ash coined it an occasion the notion “talent for Eretz-Israel” in his story of the same name. Of R. Pinhas Levine it might be said he was blessed with a “talent for Zionism”. He nearly was born for Zionism, as the notion of “making a nation”, of acquiring qualities and changing values, in a generation which had the task to prepare itself for a long journey towards a still non-existing state. All his life he was under the apprehension of danger that perhaps we might inadvertently miss the possibility to turn the apprehension of danger that perhaps changes our nature. Therefore he was burning with perpetual fire for implanting these qualifications in the people, in each Jew, and he never had a moment's time for temporary matters, for making a living, etc.
He seemed to be a man with no knowledge whatever of the worth of money and the ways of acquiring it. But when it was the matter of Zionism, R. Pinhas revealed himself as an excellent financier who knew how to create something out of nothing. Thence stems his constant devotion to the Jewish National Fund. Between speech and speech and between sermon and sermon he worked for increasing the income and donations to the J.N.F. Nobody appointed him; he by himself embarked on it, and thanks to him the J.N.F. was a continuous presence. Whether there was a committee or not – the General committee of the J.N.F. knew that in Vishogrod the Fund was active. Every now and then he went to Warsaw to report the income and his activities. His calls were a well-known thing in Warsaw, and the heads of the Fund considered him their representative in any respect, and they listened to his opinions. In the Funds periodical, “Our fund”, R. Pinhas was mentioned as a man who identified with it and personifying it.
For the sake of income to the Fund he would not back from any means. He was known to have gathered lumber from anywhere to build with his own hands booths and let them to merchants in fairs and this increase the national fund. Gentiles came to his son, a shoemaker, to order shoes; he used to impersonate a “saint”, to give them a (Hebrew) blessing, and was given for it money – for the J.N.F.
Out of his great love of Zionism he abhorred all the movements, which distorted its image. Being himself strictly observant, he could not forgive people like him who preached against Zionism. Every religious Jew, who tried to see in the National Federation a forcing of the coming of the Messiah, he suspected of heresy, as a man who misinterprets the Law. He changed his prayer and added “Zionists” to the “Just,” wherever the latter are mentioned.
He hated, therefore, also the Jewish communists, who preferred the liberation of other nations to the liberation of Israel, and therefore he hated also the Russians, who exploited the naivety of people thirsting for liberation to strengthen their empire, swallowing up small nations and their cultures.
When the disaster reached Vishogrod and I decided to escape to Russia, he was shocked. The Germans, to him, were a transient affliction, whose cruelty was hard, but would pass away. Whereas Russians devise against the soul and spirit and prepare the instruments for entire annihilation. The spiritual annihilation was in his eyes harder than the physical one. He loved the Jewish people, the bearer of the Jewish religion; he loved his religion, and thence came his love for the language in which our religion was received. He was not able to forgive anybody who tried to hurt the values of Jewish culture, religion and the Hebrew language. He spoke Hebrew with Sephardic pronunciation and used it in writing as a living language. When hearing its sounds over the radio, and from “over there” the haftorah and the weekly section of the Law were broadcast, and the daily chapter, he experiences deep pleasure. He used to come to his son Yonc'e who possessed a good Philips radio set, to hear the Voice of Jerusalem, and tears of joy were running down his beaming face. When he heard it the first time, he stood up and said the appropriate blessing.
Such a man was R. Pinhas Levine. The torchbearer of national regeneration and the perpetual fire of the feeling of revival. He burned with the flame of redemption and was humbly devoted to it. A very peculiar man, whose peculiarity was a test for the generation, which was ordered a great national change, and according to its readiness to change it went the way of liberation or annihilation.
Unfortunately, he also perished and was destroyed in the great disaster and did not live to see the great deliverance whose buds he had fostered and whose roots he had watered with his soul's freshness.
A great soul was among us, and only here have we known it.
In the year of 1915, 8 days before Purim, when all Jews were driven out of Vishogrod, I was a child of 6 years. When we returned to Vishogrod, we found doors and windows broken in, the furniture plundered. The German police was in command in town. A little German, named Yoel Koppel was mayor. The war continued till November 1918. Food was scarce; the Germans requisitioned everything and sent it to Germany. We subsisted scantily on ration cards. People were literally starving. In those days American Jews were sending food, and a soup kitchen was established. It had two branches – in Blume Haye's yard and at Leibel Zlotnik's.
There was a committee managing the kitchen. Nearly all those who had little children received food there. For each child there was a sweetened milk can a week, additionally. Each morning there was sweet cocoa with long rolls baked of American flour; you could eat your fill. At noon you got milk-rice. In the committee were: Hersl Shwirz, Mendel Fersht, Yitzhak Meir Kon, Sinye Meir Kronberg, Sinye Mordecai Baum, Ickl Gersht, Yehuda Leizer Klein, Avraham Shinkman, Faivel Meir Lichtenshtein, and Yoske Levine. All these men had business of their own. They devoted to the kitchen their free time- except Yoske Levine. He was a young newly married man, and he was very active. He watched devotedly over the kitchen from early in the morning till late into the night. At 7 o'clock in the morning he was already on the spot, supervising the distribution, lest anybody be wronged.
He was a very handsome aristocratic-looking man, well dressed. At that time I was learning in the Heder of the lat R'Bunim in the shoemakers' lane bordering on Zlotnik's place. Several of us children were hanging around, to see what's going on. Yoske always used to call out to us with a kind smile, give us rolls and say: “—Eat, children and come every day!” Back home I related to my parents Yoske was a very kind man. My late parents said Yoske was Pinhas-Hananya Sopher's grandson: like grandfather like grandson.
About Pinhas Levine it is written in the memorial book. He was a deeply learned Jew, one of the first Maskilim and Hov'vei Zion. Yoske Levine took after him. He was progressive, founder and leader of the Zionist Center. The older generation of pious Jews did not like it over-much. But Yoske Levine enjoyed enormous respect. He was considered an honest, incorruptible man. He was a member in most of the social institutions. Everybody attached importance to his opinion, though he was still young.
In 1923 Yoske Levine felt the ground in Poland burning under the feet and made up his mind to go away. He immigrated to America. He was back at a time in Vishogrod and took with him the eldest daughter, Pola, who is living till now in America.
When Yoske Levine came to America, new horizons in social and welfare activity for the needy opened up before him. He organized, worked, created. He was not concerned with theory only, but “And Moses grew up and went out unto his brethren and saw them in their suffering.” He saw the poor and needy part of the Vishogrod Jews. He had the help of the late Gutman Hollendar, Leizer Bunim's son, David Lipman (long may he live), and of the old Society; and twice a year there arrived a sum of money from America in Vishogrod – in winter for distributing wood and coal and buying sacks of potatoes, and at Passover time for matzos, wine and food for the needy.
The aid was given secretly, not to shame anybody, Heaven forbid! Certain sums were also given to meritorious people to help them out with their livelihood.
Yoske Levine's help kept coming until 1939. In winter 1939/40, close after Sukkot, was the last time money from America was distributed in Vishogrod. I was present at it.
Yoske Levine's activity gathered strength after the Second World War, when the last survivors from Vishogrod came to America. Yoske Levine was very dedicated in his interest in the new immigrants. He met them as a leader, a comrade and a friend, with good advice and deed. When we, the survivors, were in the D.P. caps in Germany, all Vishogrod Jews received parcels from Vishogrod Jews in America, owing to the initiative of Yoske Levine, and that led to a feeling of unity among them. When we came to Israel, and founded the Irgun (Organization) and the free-loan Fund, when Golda Gutman came to Israel and promised the first subsidy to the Fund, the money came through Yoske Levine. He, together with David Lipman (long may he live), began to send over money. It is a pity he did not live to see with his own eyes the results of what he had worked.
In 1969 we issued 28 loans, adding up to the amount of IL. 14,950. Tons of immigrants were aided by Yoske's initiative, by our Irgun.
Unfortunately, Yoske Levine was untimely and abruptly taken away. On returning from Shabbat prayers, he was killed by the car of a Reformist Rabbi, on the side-walk. His death is a loss for his family, and for us Vishogrod people, as well.
His children and grandchildren, a man of such moral excellence. His son Hanoch, is living in Israel, and is chairman of the Irgun Yotz'ei Vishogrod. Daughter Pola Zwern is in America; her husband is judge there. Daughter Andzia is living in Australia. She is married to our Woftsche Sladov.
We are proud Vishogrod has produced such people.
Americans tell us Yoske, in his old age, became fanatically pious and strictly observant, and deeply involved in the metaphysical problem of the Jewish people. They also tell us, that when you say Yoske Levine helped, that means Yoske Levine went around looking for the needy. He did not wait for them to come and ask; “Whosoever saves a single soul” meant with him continuing the saving of the Jewish nation, which for 200 years had subsisted by deep faith and a deep esteem for the human Jewish individual.
We are proud Vishogrod served as environment for such great souls.
In those days the only dream of father and mother was to marry off their daughter to a young man, a scholar and God-fearing, give him a years' board and lodging, and let him sit and learn the Law.
Thus Naphtali the Yeshiva student became son-in-law to Menashe Tab, a respected Jew of Vishogrod, a great merchant, an influential man, and a Gur Hassid. Menashe gave him his oldest daughter Haya Zirl, tall and handsome, and promised three years of board and lodging.
The years passed quickly, children were born: Yosl, Dvora, Bezalel, Leibl and Sara. As soon as the board-and-lodging years were over, poverty became a permanent guest at Naphtali's. Misery and want resigned there, the only thought and care was for livelihood.
In 1896 R' Moshe Yehezekel Biderman of blessed memory, had need of an assistant to decide in matters of Kashruth; thus R' Naphtali became a petty judge and ruled on questions of ritual fitness, and Jews had their peace of mind.
He continued in the same capacity also with R' David' Bornshtein of blessed memory, who later became the Rabbi of Sochaczew.
The salary was small, the family grew larger, and with it the expenses. They were obliged to do with a minimum. Life was hard, there were hidden cares. The consequences made themselves felt, first of all, upon the mother of the family; she fell ill and passed away still young.
R' Naphtali the judge remained a widower for the rest of his life. These were only the beginnings of his tragedy. Also later on, in R' Davidl's time, his financial situation was not any better. Whoever entered his home was aware of the heavy nightmare reigning there; a mere crust of bread was considered a luxury. The only happy day of the Year was Purim, when the rich men of the town used to send their ritual judge bounteous presents. After Purim came eve of Passover time. Then Naphtali the Judge prepared himself for two matters: the sermon in the synagogue on Great Shabbat, and the petty incomes of Passover, like “cleaning” ritually the sugar in the sugar factory in Malowiez, the same with three ovens for baking matzos, and selling the leaven. With this income he paid off debts accumulated during the whole year.
Owing to these rather bad circumstances, the oldest son, Yosel of blessed memory, a clever one, grew up with affected lungs, and later died. The next son, Mordechai, seeing the difficult situation, became of sabot maker. The third son, Bezalel, was always sitting at the table and making cigarettes, until the tobacco ate up his lungs, and he died young, in his 18th year. Simhale died at the age of 14-15, Sara the daughter was continuously ill. All were obliged to work towards the upkeep of the family.
One may imagine the state of mind and the feelings of R' Naphtali after all those heavy blows of fortune. Thus, his own state of health too, became unstable. Added to all this was a continuous conflict with the Hassidim, the important men, the learned scholars and the big shots in town.
After the First World War, with his term as Rabbi of Vishogrod come to close, Rabbi Davidl left Vishogrod and became Rabbi of Sochaczew. Vishogrod was left officially without a Rabbi. At that time R' Naphtali became very active and involved in the community life. He introduced some order in “school”, in the Bes-Hamidrash, the ritual bath, the cemetery, dropped in often at the slaughter house – and became author of a book. He also started meeting with and talking to guests, Jews and non-Jews, in town and outside it. He became by and by an authority in large parts of the town, if not with his eternal opponents, then with the simple town folks, who were the biggest part of the Jewish population of the town.
In spite of his restricted possibilities, R' Naphtali used always to give handsome alms to poor people, and also to meritorious men from other towns who came looking for help.
According to the statute of communal and religious autonomy, Vishogrod had the right to proclaim, within a certain term, election of the town Rabbi. The election could have taken place quite a time earlier, even, but for the struggle going on behind the scene, the official motivation of the majority being that we were not ready for the great expenses connected with this step. Finally, the Governor of Plock officially proclaimed elections of the town Rabbi in Vishogrod for the fall 1925.
Months earlier, already, the smell of the stormy election campaign was being felt in the little town. It was life-and-death struggle of two opposing parties. One was the corporations of shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, stitchers, petty grocers, peddlers, butchers and simple folks about town. Their main argument run that it was absolutely imperative to elect R' Naphtali as Rabbi, for he had spent nearly all his life of sufferings in the town, had gone through all imaginable hardships, had served the community faithfully and had not had due recompense for a whole life of distress, sorrow and misfortune. Moreover, he was a great scholar, worthy of occupying the seta of Rabbi of Vishogrod for his later time of life. From a purely humane viewpoint, they argued, R. Naphtali must be the Rabbi.
On the other hand, the poor and small town was not financially able to take upon itself a new Rabbi; this would involve enormous expenses, whereas R. Naphtali was at hand, available.
The arguments were objective and logical, appealing to the heart and the feelings of all the simple Jews in town. The election bloc of R' Naphtali also published proclamations, big and small, with explanations and instructions whom to vote. In one of the proclamations it was recalled, how the Judge, in time of danger, during the First World War, had hazarded his life and gone to the military quarters of the Russian satraps, in order to revoke the bad decrees on the Vishogrod Jews. So it was also when Spudnik the carpenter's son had been caught, the baker of pretzels, and condemned to death. So it was also, when he went to intervene to save the life of the hostage R' Avraham Simha Reichman; and he had succeeded.
R' Naphtali, on his part, asked for mercy for taking in account his hard-suffering family, those alive, and those already on the Vishogrod cemetery, and begged their votes. His adherents, headed by Moshe Gemach, Israel Gedalia Daitz Ozer-Meir Goldberg, Meileh Gemach, and many others, devoted time and money, and worked wholeheartedly to bring the cause to a victorious end.
The second opposing bloc consisted of Hassidim of Gur, Warka, Amshniava (Mszczonow) and others. The rich men among the Hassidim started a stubborn election campaign. For this purpose they put into action the best forces. Their argument was, that Vishogrod had a tradition of Rabbis of generation-old lineage of rabbinic dynasties, a tradition of great scholars, great authorities, and R' Naphtali must not be elected. For this purpose they brought over other candidates for the rabbinate of Vishogrod. The first among them was the Rabbi of Zagrova (Zagorow). He talked in the bes-misdrash for 3 consecutive evenings, a great speaker and an inexhaustible source of learning and wisdom. He put a spell on everybody with his wondrous arguments. They also brought over the Rabbi of Neishtadt, and he too, talked in the bes-midrash. Their first candidate, as opponent to R' Naphtali, was the Neishtadt Rabbi, a very young man.
Now started the last stage of the election campaign. Both parties put into action the best forces, both blocs arranged meetings, and conducted individual house-to-house canvassing. The Gentiles even were involved in the election campaign.
Election day was a day of extreme tension. Nobody worked. Everybody wanted to win. Great ambitions were at stake. One hour before closing the polls, the situation became clear, and Lipa Wierzbinski together with Hershl Shwirz came out to save the situation, to win over some votes. It was already to be seen that they had lost. Another half-hour, another ten minutes, people stand under the windows and listen to the counting of the votes. The victory of R' Naphtali the Judge is sure already, and here is the final result: R' Naphtali Spivak has been elected Rabbi of Vishogrod.
Spontaneously nearly all the small town assembled at the house of the Rabbi. Jews and Gentiles congratulated him. But the Rabbi, out of joy, faints away. He is brought around; and now the sound of music is being heard behind the window of the Rabbi. Flaming torches are seen; his followers don him a new fur coat and a new fur hat, and boots, too, and lead him our onto the street. A festive procession gets started, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, and at the head the just-elected Rabbi, and with the orchestra they make the round of the town with the message of victory.
It was a feast of victory. The victory of the simple people; of the simple folks.
Thus R' Naphtali lived to be the last Rabbi of Vishogrod. Unfortunately he too perished, together with his holy congregation, by the dirty murderous hands.
Avraham Meir was born into a religious family and brought up in a Hassidic atmosphere, full of love of the people and Land of Israel.
From his childhood he stood out in society. His companions gathered round him and followed him; he was their spokesman and leader. His notion of life and of the situation of the Jewish people was quite self-reliant, and we swore by him as early as that.
When Avraham Meir grew up, it was evident he was destined to become a prominent community leader and a niche would be set apart for him in the gallery of men of the century. In his youth he was an organizer, planning and carryout out. His main local achievements, due to his initiative, were the easy-loans bank and the founding of the Beit-Ya'acov school that became an incentive to religious girls to free themselves from the generation-long routine.
He was good-looking, of middle stature, and possessed great personal charm. Being very modest, he did not avail himself consciously of this, which made him the more attractive. It was clear he went straight to the core of the matter-in-hand, not paying attention to outside circumstances even though they could be helpful by way of explanation or promoting his activities. This made him a rare phenomenon among party men.
When the organization of Zeirei Agudat Israel became established in Vishogrod, Avraham Meir made his appearance as a persuasive and pleasing speaker. He spoke to the point, keeping to the essential, and was fair in his arguments with opponents. He aimed at the discussed subject and did not mind who represented it. Avraham Meir was able to be on excellent terms with his opponents, without yielding a jot of his opinions. Avraham Meir Krongrad stood by his principles and sought to convince others to accept them, but when he did not succeed, he never took it out on the prospective objects of his persuasion.
Although he was deeply religious, he did not abstain from secular literature and was very fond of classic books. His private library was among the largest in town and contained Russian translated novels, like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Gorki, and Polish authors like Eliza Orzeszko. Avraham Meir kept perusing various encyclopedias; and he himself was a walking literary encyclopedia. Everybody knew, therefore, that from a lecture of Krongrad's he would learn something classic, of general value, on the man of all nations and times.
His activities in town brought with them connections within the movement, and he became renowned outside the town of Vishogrod.
Avraham Meir Krongrad, within his movement, challenged conventions and routine. There were many leaders whom he made feel comfortable because of his superiority and his erudition; but they could not refrain from admiring him.
For years he was among us, aloof and yet involved in them; towering above us in his mental capacity, but inkling in service and putting to our disposal all his abilities.
Also in daily dealings Avraham Meir kept modest; he never was guilty either of false humility or of purposeful haughtiness. He dealt with trifles and achieved great things; he spoke with restraint and aroused enthusiasm for the problems he stood for.
His profundity and original approach made him a rock of thought not to be shattered or conquered. His townsmen, who at first tried to make light of him, the prophet in his country, were eventually compelled to accept him, of their own will, and to refer to his superiority of ideas. You felt there was no quiescence for you when you were with him; you were in for mental agitation, and criticism and new outlook and shattering of illusions; but together with the uneasiness you felt that Avraham Meir Krongrad, out of the shambles of shattered routine that had been alluring and soothing, out of the shaken foundations of peace, would lead you on the rough path towards true peace. Therefore, he was so believed and followed.
He was eventually appointed Secretary General of Zeirei Agudas Israel in Poland and his many gifts found an outlet. He was editor of “The Orthodox Journal for Youth” published in Warsaw, and wrote its editorials. He published, in Polish, a periodical for religious academicians under the name “Moriah”. The editor was mgr. Prives, but Avraham Meir was the driving spirit and the initiator of its propagation of ideas.
He was very esteemed and liked in his Organization, by many; in spite of this he did not derive much satisfaction from his relations with the leaders of the movement. His “Zionistic” inclination and his constant yearning to emigrate to Eretz-Israel and to live there put him in a very awkward position and caused much personal grief.
He was taken away early in life and his gifts were not brought to a full development. It is a pity and a cause of sorrow. The Jewish nation has lost a leader and promising guide, and we, the Vishogrod people, have lost a prominent and faithful friend.
May his memory remain with us forever.
Martin Menahem Silbershtein
The name of our Society in North America is “Hevra Bnei Ya'acov David of Vishogrod”. Its Hebrew name indicates an inner yearning for Jewishness. It has always been so, in every country, when assimilation threatened the Yiddish, and there was danger of the language of the country taking over for everyday use, for convenience's sake and as means of communication with the local inhabitants, the Jews have fallen back upon Hebrew, their national holy language, to maintain their community life according to the eternal Jewish spirit.
The “Hevra” was founded the 11th of November 1881. The founders were: Wolf Rosin, Israel Wolman, Noah Seiman, Hirsch Lovinsky, Max Kon and David Nuss.
Their purpose was to help the Vishogrod Jewish newcomers to America, to make it easier for them in their loneliness in society in the strange country, to aid them morally and assist them, in the first place, materially.
Until 10 years back they had a Gmilus-Hesed Fund.
The old comers are all dead.
At the present time the “Hevra” is managed by the brothers Avraham and Moshe Sheet, the former the President and the latter his deputy and Vice-President. The Secretary is Aharon Salzman from Suchachev (Sochaczew). Sam Borenshtein is the cashier.
Some years ago the eighteenth anniversary was celebrated.
The Vishogrod union (Society) is one of the oldest in the United States, and its age is like this of positive Zionism; the year of its founding coincides nearly exactly with the beginning of the Hovevei Zion. So you might say that in the American Society Jews of Vishogrod have expressed intuitively a sense of brotherly responsibility, and thus have sustained a Jewish way of life and Jewish community life in America, where Jews – on one hand – have aspired, once-for-all, to go to Eretz-Israel, and, on the other hand, until Eretz-Israel, they were obliged to look meanwhile for another Golus (Diaspora) stopover.
If we see now Jewish grandchildren going from America to Israel, and if Jewishness still is holding its own in the golden alluring country, this is so, perhaps, thanks to the then Jewish intuition, in which our Vishogrod people have their share, too.
It started about the year 1915. Our small town was then under German occupation. Several young people joined and founded a library under he name “Zionist Library”. This was the commencement of general Zionism in town.
Of the founders I remember: Yoske Levin, Ichl Gersht, Yuda-Leizer Klein, Yeheil-Moshe Kohn, Meir Con, and myself, the youngest among them.
The library was at Shmuel Lichtenshtein's. The first money came from various donors. In addition to it we collected books from house to house and we also bought every now and them new books in Warsaw.
This activity made itself well felt in town and it had an invigorating influence on society.
Every now and then young people were added, as Moshe Michal Zhichlin, Henich Kohn and Marcus Gemach, Shimon-David Kon, Yidl Deutsch, Simcha Gedalis and Gershon Epshtein. The latter one started giving Hebrew lessons.
There were many girls, too, who helped with distributing the books to the lenders. I do not remember their names, but I can think of Malka Shoichez, Golda Kon, Golda Eizenberg, and others.
Afterwards a “Dramatic Section” was created under the direction of a Jew from Lodz, by the name of Peies. He had come to work as a carpenter at the bridge on the Vistula. He was a fine singer. His sister too, acted at our Section. I remember her especially in her roles as Dina'le in “Bar-Kochba” and Goldfaden's Shulamith.
There was also conducted enlightening ideological work. We held frequent meetings, with Yoske Levin in the chair and me keeping the records.
We had also dancing parties in the evenings. The town was in an uproar when it became known that boys and girls danced together.
There were fine and lively activities.
But the library was the focus. It numbered some hundreds of books, in Yiddish, in Hebrew and a few in Polish.
Later on new groups came into being, new names – “Zeirei-Zion”, “Poalei-Zion”, and others. Everybody wanted to achieve something after his own fashion. The means and ways were “dreamy” and dreams are individual; but all the roads were leading towards on goal: to reclaim Eretz-Israel and be a people on its own.
Our town, like all small towns in Poland, was devoid of any modern social activity. Until the beginning of the First World War 1914, Vishogrod knew nothing about Zionism, as well as about socialism and other modern or modernistic movements.
Until the end of the 19th and the commencement of the 20th century there were with is a few Hoveve-Zion, among them the late President of the Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolov – born in Vishogrod; and Pinhas Levine of blessed memory. We cherish especially the memory of the late Pinhas Levine. He was an exclusively fervent and sincere Hoveve-Zion and he harbored in his heart a flaming feeling for everything concerned with the Zionist redemption. I remember him very well. When I used to talk with him about Eretz-Israel, his face was glowing and out of it shone the vision of the Jewish State. His only desire was to live to see the Jewish state. Unfortunately, he did not achieve his desire.
Nevertheless, he was the vessel of Zionist vision and flag bearer of the Zionist dream, without leaving after him a successor and bearer of ideas.
The Jewish youth of Vishogrod of those times had no modern aspirations. It was brought up by tradition-abiding parents, who did not let enter any new ideas into their souls; so naturally they followed into the footsteps of their parents. The child in the small town was from earliest youth harnessed in the old way. At the age of three the boy entered the Heder. At the age of seven, he already knew his prayers and Humash with Rashi and had already made his start in Gemarah – until bar-mizva. Then part of the youth passed over to study at the beis-midrash, and part of them went to other towns, to the Yeshivos, “eating days” in rotation at rich Jewish homes in those towns.
Other young people were workmen: cobblers, tailors, gaiter makers, watch menders; or they assisted their parents making a living for their family, in most cases numbering 8-10. They worked in the business of their father, a food store, dry-goods store, hardware and others. After having grown up and married, the children joined their father's business, living and working together...
Most of the newly-founded families, if they wanted a life on their own, found no room for themselves in the parents' shops and could not have another business, not having any money, any courage and any training for it. The rest was the work of the Polish anti-Semitism, which restricted Jewish initiative and energy.
In the twenties of the twentieth century, the Jewish Polish youth, and so did in Vishogrod as well – began thinking about their future and about the situation they found themselves in. The young people woke up, saw their parents had not prepared them in any way. They started organizing, founding libraries, let their eyes roam and opinions progress, and with the aid of culture and organization try and solve their own problems.
The library, which was founded, contained books, donated by everyone for the use of society.
The lending library opened with 50 books in Yiddish. A few years later it numbered already 1000 books, in Yiddish and in Hebrew. All that with the help of membership fees, enthusiasm and dedication to the case, given to it by the Vishogrod youth, out of their knowledge that the library conveyed to broadening the horizon and opinions of the people in the town.
The founders of the library, who dedicated to it their abilities and their ardent will, were Pinhas Levine, Yoske Levine, David Lipman, Yuda Eliezer Klein, Hanoch Kon, Yehiel and Meir Kon, Feivel Meir Lichtenshtein, Ichl Gersht and Tova Goldman.
“The Zionist Center” was the name given to it, and indeed, it was the center, the focus and heart of Zionist activity. Young people began reading the books; meetings were taking place, lectures, and gatherings for discussion on various themes of interest to youth. The library was the driving power.
The discussions were deep probing, lively and stormy. Guest speakers came from the neighborhood, and delegates of the Warsaw Zionist organization as well, bent on instructing the youth and getting them to think and modernize their views of life generally, and Jewish life and lot in particular.
The youth drank in the novelty and were agitated. They started taking part in all life-important events, in town and in Poland, and to give expression, in word and deed, in any local and world-wide sphere, as problems were coming up and asking for solution.
Soon institutions were founded in Vishogrod, committees of Keren-Kayemet and Keren-Hayessod were created, a Jewish Bank with a Gmilus-Hassidim Fund to help Jewish businessmen and workmen in their existence under the heavy pressure of increasing anti-Semitism in Poland.
During elections for Sejm and Senate the Vishogrod youth played an important part, in explaining facts that ought to be known, ad-becoming members of the election committees, with all their full-blooded temper.
During those years there came also into being in town a leftist youth movement that seized upon the attention of young people and brought about a political rift in their midst.
The “Zionist Center” became the battleground of the wrestling's; both parties wanting to dominate in it and in other institutions as well; but it was the Zionism only that was meant to be undermined, for it had revealed the abyss laying in wait for the Jews there, be it in under allegedly fair regime of Gentiles or in a chauvinistic Old regime.
After a long time of quarrel and arguments, the Zionistic-minded youth won, and the Leftists were obliged to leave the Zionist Center and formed a library of their own under the name of “Workers Library”. As a matter of fact, this was the center of Communist activity of the entire neighborhood and as it was asserted then, it was supported by the Russian Communist Party. They considered the Vishogrod leftist readers efficient people who would be able to conduct the work in the whole vicinity, and so they cultivated them and looked after them.
The struggle between the two extreme tendencies was aggravated in the Jewish public life. There were important matters at stake, especially concerning the solution of Jewish existence and the future of Jewish youth.
Once the leftist elements forced upon us a public dispute and challenged the Zionists to a debate on the theme: “Zionism – reality or utopia.”
There was no way out for us, we were obliged to take up the challenge. We had joint meetings, in which an agenda was laid down and the succession of speakers for both sides was fixed. For ourselves, we decided to stick closely to the rules agreed upo9n, while having doubts as to the other party: they were candid about their motto that “the end justifies the means”. It was difficult for us to compete with suchlike fairness.
The dispute took place in the biggest hall in
town, at the firemen's.
For the Zionist side appeared Hanoch Kon and Yuda Eliezer Lichtenshtein and Tova Yudith Goldmann.
The hall was crammed full; over 150 people came to be present at the word-combat, in order to sort out some worked problems. Everything was ready for openhearted exchange of opinions about whose points were for the best of us Jews. But as foreseen, the leftists did not fulfill the agreement, and in order to suppress results which were unfavorable for them, they did not allow our first speaker to finish his 30-minute speech, as agreed upon; within the first 10 minutes they burst into song of the International, and disturbed and broke up the meeting.
The victory was ours, nevertheless. The town was left with the impression that we defended our standpoint well and logically, whereas the left party took recourse to demagogy and used arguments that were often far from truth.
From then on the town divided up into adherents of both sides and two extremist directions were formed, though not similar in size and numbers. The struggle continued until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Since this dispute society in town came to life. The Zionist Organization was held in high esteem in Vishogrod and its influence was felt in all spheres, endeavoring to guide the results to Zionism and Zionist aims.
Our representatives were in the town council, in the bank and in the Jewish community council. Zionist activity widened, Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayessod were widely accepted institutions, bringing in each year more money. And people began thinking correctly about emigrating to Israel, either by means of the allotted certificates or even illegally.
The relation of the Hassidic-orthodox population to us was a complicated phenomenon. The urge for knowledge and the way to it, which we had opened in the circles of Jewish youth, earned us the hate of the religious classes of the people, of the Agudas-Israel especially. They simply hated us, whereas the leaders of the Agudas-Israel acknowledged us as equals as spokesmen on all questions of Jewish life.
The Zionist Organization introduced 4 representatives in the Town Council, out of 8 Jews in it, and all of them were elected into the town administration. The leadership of the Jewish part in the town council passed into our hands, and our group was dominant in all important questions in town administration. It should be noted that we succeeded to come to an understanding with the Aguda, and with their help we carried through, for the first time in history of town councils, the vote for a yearly sum from the town budget for the “Bnot-Ya'akov” school. This was in 1933. This is, perhaps, also the only instance in history of Agudas-Israel town council members voting a subsidy for Keren-Kayemet.
In the thirties Sklodowski released the slogan: “To beat he Jews – no; to boycott them – yes.” This meant extermination of Jews but with elegant means. It was an anti-Semitic aim, to be obtained in European-democratic ways. The danger was very severe, for it lent legalization to the Endek part of the population, to cool their claims that the government was not sufficiently Polish-nationalistic. We were aware of the danger and were standing by, should it happen with us.
And it did happen: Soon after Sklodowski's appeal the district governor of Plock issued an order to pull down within 4 weeks an entire Jewish quarter in town in which for generations had lived about 100 Jewish families. These were housed passed on from father to son; there lived the children, as the self-evident heirs, in a number of double families of 5-6 in a single room, and their workshops, being their livelihood, in the same.
The alleged motive was to beautify the looks of the town, but the aim was to take away from the Jews the land and the basis of their existence. Now the Zionist town councilors took a stand, and with their “presence” and energy they cancelled the cruel edict. The Zionist councilors really and truly saved Jewish life and property from ruin and kept Jews from despairing.
We succeeded in coming to an understanding with the town councilors of the Government Party: we had to vote their other bills against the Endeks, and they to annual with their votes the order against the Jews. Before that we caused the execution to be delayed for a year, allegedly in order to build the Jews other apartments; but the anti-Semitic intention of the Endek-minded district governor never was realized.
When relating all this and recalling to mind all our deeds, there turns up a new before our eyes the Zionist Center as a party or movement of immense value and power.
This was a human elite, who with deep national intuition led their adherents towards a “Jewish nationally secure life”, for where they were, there was no longer any room and future for Jews. But at the same time they did not neglect the Jews in town until the time of their emigration, and defended their community, existence and safety, with energy and courage.
The General Zionist Party in Vishogrod was a
movement of the ideas of the future and of the politics of the present, which,
perhaps, in the course of years, would have saved also its opponents in
Vishogrod – if the years had been in its hands, at its disposal. It is deeply
regretted that the will of fate was different.
In remembering and mourning our leaders, our youth and comrades, let us all recall friendly our opponents, too.
They were precious men, acting according to their lights and their opinions. Let us mourn them and keep the memory of all precious Jews of Vishogrod – may the Lord revenge their blood.
In reviewing the youth movements in Vishogrod I shall concern myself with the thirties of our century only. These years are remarkable for a great Zionist awakening, which ended with the disaster.
The beginning of the thirties was marked with growing indifference and lack of action. It seemed that the pioneering ideal had reached its climax; the Zionist movement was declining and facing a fall. It was to be feared that the whole idea was a result of momentary enthusiasm, fading before its being brought into reality, and that it had come to an end.
At this point, the Revisionist movement was established. It was led by Z. Jabotinsky and Meir Grossman, and brought about a change in the situation.
Vishogrod was not left outside the sphere of the new movement. It developed quickly, and included all the ramifications: Beithar, Hatzohar and Beith-Hachayal. It attracted youth of diverse backgrounds, especially Zionist youth, whose thirst for action made them give up principles and political platform, in order to be part of the new movement.
Most of the youth gathered in Beithar. The Zionists in town approved of it and let them use their big hall and library. The heads of the movement in town were Moshe-Leib Dymant and Mendel Greenboim, whose influence and blessed activity was well felt everywhere.
There were fundamental educational activities, including various fields of interest. The local cell consisted of youth between the ages of 14-18, who were divided into groups. The meetings were conducted by group leaders elected by the cell leaders. On Saturdays the whole cell assembled, and after roll call they heard news concerning Zionist world activities. The outstanding figure in these meetings was Moshe-Leib Dymant. His lectures and explanations impressed us all and are still remembered.
In addition to Zionist activities, the new movement also renewed the library and hold meetings of questions an answers, which everybody could attend. Another thing they did was to form a dramatic circle, directed by Mendel Greenboim. IT was the only group in town whose theatrical performances were all conducted with the revival of Jewish heroism. The plays had nothing to do with the traditional Jewish themes, as martyrdom. Instead, the heroes of the contemporary period appeared on the stage, Trumpeldor, Meir Chazanovitz and others, and they served as models to the youth.
The Beithar cell in Vishogrod was considered one of the best and accomplished in Poland. I remember an anecdote from that time. I was 13 years old. A group of children of my age asked to be accepted as members in the movement. We were rejected because of our young age. At that time the ceremony of raising the Beithar flag took place in Vishogrod. Mr. Aharon Props, the representative of Beithar in Poland, came to town to honor the celebration with his presence. We used the occasion to realize our desire. In the midst of the ceremony, the three of us (Meir Baum, Him Lichtenstein and myself) climbed the platform and complained to the guest about the “injustice” being done to us. He ordered to accept us, though we were too young. That was due to the good renown of our cell; it was trusted to be capable to manage youngsters like us.
On the same day, after the ceremony, all our members paraded the streets. The parade was so exciting that the leaders of the Left feared it might attract their own people. In order to prevent it, they rudely assaulted the quiet marching people.
The results of the enthusiastic activity were soon to appear. Three of us – Mendel Greenboim, Haim Bilgoray and Tevia Rosenfeld – went to the “Hachshara” to prepare themselves for later emigration to Israel.
But things were peaceful for a shirt time only. Soon there emerged some people who did not agree with Beithar, for ideological and other reasons. They separated and established Hechalutz. It was the declaration of qualifying for and limiting oneself to emigration to Israel and realization of the ideals. They regarded the current activity of the movement as a waste of the potentialities of youth in too many directions. The main figure in the Chalutz was Moses Zhichlin (Man), together with Wolf Schladov, who is living now in Australia.
After a time, the General Zionists found that the Revisionist Movement platform was not actually acceptable to them. They renewed their activity in the General Zionist movement in town. The leaders of this movement were Henich Cohen, Feivl-Meir Lichtenstein, Baruch Shpigel, Moshe Cohen, Eliezer Rotbart, and also Menahem Silberstein, who is living nowadays in the U.S.A. They too, established a youth cell, and called it “The Zionist Youth”; it was led by Avraham Rotbart, now living in Israel. Some of the best youth in Vishogrod were part of this movement. Their activities included summer camps, whose main subject was preparing for Israel.
We are now approaching dark days in the history of the whole Zionist movement. I am referring to the eighteenth Congress, in which the Revisionist movement seeded from the Zionist movement, and established their own movement under the leadership of Z. Jabotinsky. The crisis made itself felt in Vishogrod too. Part of the Revisionists in town including people who did not agree with the separation, decided to stay within the Zionist movement. Among them was the leader Meir Grossman, Lezier Klein, Avraham Wolman, Hanania Lewin, Meir Baum, and myself.
At the same period there was in Vishogrod a religious Zionist movement – Mizrachi. It was moderate and avoided extremes. Its people were realistic as saw in the Zionist movement a heaven-sent sign, which should be followed. At the head of the movement in Vishogrod were Ickle Gersht, the bank manager, Haim, Meir Cohen and others. They, too, had their own club and prayer congregation. This movement founded the Yavne school, which was the first in town to teach spoken Hebrew. The lessons took place at the club of the movement, and its main figure was Haim Tyk. The first teacher was Mr. Chaleb, brought over from Plock. Mr. Chaleb's influential activity brought with it a development of Hebraic values and a revival of the Hebrew language. Both his cultural activity outside the school and his son Moses' activity in Hechalutz, added a special flavor to Zionist activity in our town. When the family left Vishogrod and emigrated to Israel, the place was taken by the teacher Nissenboim from Brisk. Who continued in the same line. Savage anti-Semitic feeling was growing in Poland in the middle thirties, and we began to talk about preparing bodily. The Maccabee club was established for that purpose. It was a lively club, very active, and we supported it with our savings. We could expect help from nobody, and our independence was a source of satisfaction to us.
We concentrated mainly on athletics, but we also had a football team and others. Luckily, we had a good athletics teacher in our elementary school. I mean Frenkel from Plock. Thanks to him, our athletic team was successful. He also trained some of us to be sports instructors. I, too, went through such a training course, and became a girl's instructor.
For a short time we thought the ground was safe under our feet. But money difficulties were increasing; the leaders of the Zionist movement in town made efforts to win back their youth from Maccabee. To be able to continue its existence, Maccabee had to accept anyone, even Communist youth. But the leaders of the other Zionist movements accused Maccabee of giving legal covering to the Communist activity which was at that time an underground movement. We justified ourselves by claiming that it was the only possible way to continue our existence. After a prolonged discussion we won, and continued to provide physical training to any Jew. We continued till the Second World War. Among the persons outstanding in their activity were Alter Layoutz, Dvora Gmach, Tevia Apelboim, and (may they live long) Itche Kaizman and Joseph Levin, living in the U.S.A.
We shall not exaggerate saying that all Zionist youth movements in Vishogrod were leading a fruitful activity in the town's social life, as well as imparting the youth Zionist ideals. But the stimulus to all this activity was Beithar's. It armed the Jewish people and started a new period in Zionist social and educational activity.
My report is dedicated to the memory of those who worked and gave their time and abilities to educate a generation of Zionist consciousness. I hope my words will serve as a memorial to the blessed activity of those who did not live to see the realization and fruit of their ideals and work.
Markus and Jakob Gmach
In 1903 – 1906 the Vishogrod boys founded a lending library and gobbled up books.
The older ones were not very happy about it. They called the books in Yiddish an abomination and did not want, that “little books” keep away their children from weighty and earnest volumes; they did not want the Yiddish language to tear them away from the Holy Language.
The book buyer was Yoske Levin of blessed memory. He used to go every week to Warsaw to buy goods for the shopkeepers of the town, so he bought also the books for the library.
There was no accommodation for the library and readers, so every few weeks another boy kept the library with him and distributed the books.
The money to buy books came from the few cents
paid everybody lending a book.
One of the subscribers was Jacob Biderman, a grandson of the Rabbi's. Once a relative of his, a deeply religious man, caught him reading a Yiddish book. He snatched it from him, started turning its small leaves, smaller than those of the Gmara, casting here and there a glance into it, knit his brows, and took him to task: where from, you young card, have you got such books?
I remember, it was one of Baruch Spinoza's works. Both the author and the work were forbidden and “dangerous” even with simple Jews.
Yankale told him the truth: Gabriel the Rembovian's son gives such books and others, and whoever wants, comes and reads. The Jew of blessed memory listened to him and continued inquiring: "and where do you get the money to buy books"
"Each boy must pay a certain amount, and this money goes into buying", answered him Yankale. The man stood deliberating for a moment, put his hand slowly into his pocket, took out a ruble and said to Yankale: "g, give this money to Gabriel and tell him to send me". Here the books were enumerated which the Jew ordered to be sent to him. The list is not important; important is the fact in itself that the well-known man would read books in Yiddish.
The town would not have believed it, and who knows... perhaps they would have appraised him differently
The English Part also posted in JewishGen, Yizkor Books Database at:
The Samurai of Vishigrod: The Notebooks of Jacob Marateck
The Samurai of Vishogrod and the Very Small Pogrom
First posted in May 2001!
Last updated October 30th, 2009