Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
1916 – Kielce, Poland – 1937 Revisit to Kielce
I arrived at Kielce at noon and went straight from the train station to the army office outside the town and handed over the packages and received a receipt. From the office, I walked to the center of town to look around. On both side of the long street, there were stone houses with metal roofs. Some houses were made of wood with tiled roofs. In all sections of the town, I saw many people, both Jews and Gentiles. In the market, there were Jews selling food, vegetables and all kinds of sweets. The stores were closed because it was Sunday and they were forbidden to be open. I found a coffee house open. All three rooms were filled with mostly Jews, some busy with business, others with games and cards. I went to one of the Jews and asked information about the town.
He said there were about 2,000 Jewish families, most of them made a decent living in the area which was rich in forests. Some of them had land that produced a good harvest. Jews bought from the forest and from the farms and many of them became rich. Even the middle class made a good living in all kinds of businesses like stores, as craftsmen, etc. Most of the population was Polish and their relationship with the Jews was satisfactory.
The ministers of the government as well as of the province, ministers of the court, mayor of the town and the citizens committee treated the Jews as if there was no difference of religion or race. There was a Chief Rabbi who was knowledgeable in Torah, a head of the Jewish court, Shamash who guarded the various Beit Knesset and they all made an honorable living. There were Beit Knessets and a Talmud Torah. The town was filled with spirituality and satisfaction. I was happy to hear this “מה טובי אוהלך יעקב” (what is good is in your tent, Jacob)
After a few hours, I left Kielce and was once again in the house of R’Moshe Shatner. After some time, we parted from one another with kisses and blessings and with hope to see one another again. This never happened. I was accompanied to the train which left about midnight and I arrived in Aparis about three. It was very cold and there was snow. I did not want to go to my room because I would disturb others who were sleeping and went to a house where candles were lit. It was a bar where there were others like me. A Jew stood near a table that held all kinds of food and drink. I asked for hot tea and a sweet piece of cake which I got. Before I finished, he brought me a cup of coffee and hot milk. He asked me about myself and I told him. He told me there was a room with a bed where I could sleep until dawn. I gratefully accepted.
I awoke from a deep sleep at about seven and asked the owner of the bar, what I owed him. He replied, “Nothing, I took upon myself the Mitzvah of הכנסות-אורחים (receiving visitors) such as you.” I get up at midnight to warm up the bar, prepare something warm for the soldier who is on guard duty at night. In this way I do my duty for the war. It did not help that I wanted to pay. You are the righteous ones and may God keep you Amen
The Jew gave a helping hand to his brother, even to a stranger that he did not know. Not only in the days of war but also in the days of peace. In 1933 on a trip from Eretz Israel on business abroad, on the train Warsaw-Danzig, my purse with money and my passport were stolen from my pocket. I was informed that N. Kopelmann was a citizen of this town and he received me in his apartment and gave me the money I needed. It is not easy to get a passport. Mr. Jacob Margshein was a good friend with the minister of the province. He came from Mikolitchin and was a wood merchant that I did not know. I had heard about him and was not sure that he knew me. When I approached him and explained my situation, I urged him to help me as quick as possible to get a passport from the province. He remembered where I lived in Mikolitchin. His daughter brought me to the office and on the spot I got a passport and an English visa. Mr. Tzvi Fogel, born in Stanislau, took care of all the difficulties including the expenses.
In the previous pages I told about Kielce and it is interesting to describe how it changed in the last eleven years. In 1937 I again traveled abroad and an acquaintance Shmuel Bienenstock approached me. He had bought a large number of crates from “Spalam”, a Polish company from the mill in Kielce.
He offered me a partnership, on the condition that I go to the mill and check the quality of the crates and gave me the address of the agent Yacobovitch.
I came to Kielce in the evening and was well received by the agent who offered me to stay with him because it was dangerous at night to look for a hotel. The following morning we went by carriage to the mill a few minutes away. The manager of the mill showed me the wood that was ready for the crates. I made all the arrangements. On the way back, we went to a coffee house that had only a few customers and all of them were far from the windows. When I asked what happened to the town, he explained that people were attacked when outside the middle of town. That is the reason that people traveled in a carriage and did not sit near windows. Yacobovitch explained that a Jew that went out of the center of town was attacked with stones by the young Polish Gentiles. Those sitting in a coffee house close to the windows were in danger of getting a stone in the head. All the sellers of fruit and vegetables had their own stalls in the market until a few years ago. Now all Jews lived in danger. Many had left the town and those that remained hoped to make Aliyah. These happenings were not just in Kielce but occurred in every town in Western and Eastern Galicia. Who knows?
These were the holy and pure Jews that I met in the Carpathian Mountains of Bukovina to the distant countries of Yugoslavia and Herzegovina. Where are the Admorim that I met from time to time, these special souls knowledgeable in Torah, books and Haskalah? Where are the Rabbis, the famous merchants, the small merchants, the friends, the acquaintances, the fathers, the sons, the old and the young?
Sadness and pain disturbs the soul and the heart bleeds when I remember the big city, the towns, the naïve and pleasant Jews who received guests with a warm heart, who gave with an open hand to all who asked. I remember when I walked the streets of Stanislau and passed Balbader Street. I felt the air of the Torah that filled the space and the voice of Jacob that comes out of the Yeshiva Or Torah. At that time the genius R’Moshe Horovitz was the guardian of the Yeshiva. In the years 1933-1937 I met the Rabbis, the Rabbi R’Fishel Horovitz from Lisitch, Rabbi R’Joseph Nebenzahl from Achani, RabbiR’Moshe Knalel from Mikolitchin, students from the Yeshiva in Stanislau and many others. When I passed other streets, the voice of Torah and prayers were heard from the big and small Beit Midrashim, there were 60 of them.
My ears are still ringing when I passed the street where I lived “Batarah”; voices of the Torah and prayers from the distance of the big Beit Knesset of the Admor Rabbi Israel Hager זצל, the prayers during the High Holidays of R’Liebele Shlein with his voice in the evening. He was a devoted Chasid, owner of a woven goods store. That same year, 1937, I visited the Admor Rabbi Israel Hager זצל while he was busy in the Succah. I was received warmly and he showed me a thick book that he had written of about 150 pages, the size of the Gemorra, about Halacha which he hoped to publish shortly. After an hour of discussing Torah and worldly topics, we parted as brothers, to my sorrow forever.
That same year I visited the Rabbi Damta in his house. Rabbi Moshe Harb was accompanied by R’Reuben Pahan, R’Berl Shtendik outstanding in Torah. We spent hours conversing over a glass of wine and sweets. Where are these wonderful people? Where is the Admor Rabbi Chaim זצל, from Kosov that I met in Eretz Israel in 1938?
I met him in the company of the brilliant Rabbi R’David Sperber who accompanied him in the search for a plot to buy.
More than once, I went to pray in the Beit Midrash that Horovitz managed on Rechov Subisky to listen to the questions of the assembled and the joy of the answers. I remember R’Moshe Shochat Shtrafeld זל during the High Holy Days and the chorus of his three sons and two others. One of the sons, R’Lippa, was a student of the Yeshiva Or Torah, who sat on the rabbinical chair of one of the towns in East Galicia. People came from all parts of the town to enjoy his prayers. Where are they? Where are the bright Talmudic students, R’Jacob Sperber, R’Benjamin Schmerler who edited books on the Torah and Halacha that I met in 1938 in the town of Tatarov in the Carpathians?
Content last updated Friday, March 15, 2013 at 06:47 PM Mountain Standard Time