Forty years have passed since the community of Zgierz was destroyed by the armies of Hitler, may his name be blotted out. However, our hearts are still grieved and filled with agony and grief as we remember the vibrant lives that were cut off in their primes, our families who perished, our brothers and sisters, our relatives and friends who were brought to slaughter during the time of the Nazi enemy.
In order to perpetuate and note this tragic historic event, we present to you today
which is a continuation and completion of the Book of Zgierz that was published eleven years ago. We hope that this book will also be received with appreciation, through feelings of honor and esteem to the martyrs of our city, may G-d avenge their blood.
The Book Committee
Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel
Printed in Israel 5746 1986
Ch. Halprin, David Hamelech Street 51, Tel. 233870 Tel Aviv 64237
Arranged in Lino-Tur, Yesod Hamaale Street 39, Tel Aviv
Printed in Orly Printing House, Tel Aviv
Printed in Israel 5746 1986
(Drawing by the illustrator Bromberg
Published by the Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel
Tel Aviv 5746 1986
|Yeshayahu and Dvora Frugel
Published by the Zgierz Landsmanschaft in Israel
40 years after the destruction of our community
|Woe, Zgierz, my native city
To you I will raise a dirge and lament
For your Jews, for they are no more,
For their destruction and loss.
You are empty, Oh Zgierz, empty of your Jews
Only we, the survivors, will raise in lament, out loud
by Zeev Fisher
Forty years, more than a generation, have passed since our holy community was destroyed. However, its memory, the memory of it people, rabbis, rabbinical judges, administrators, communal workers, scholars, study halls, streets, and landscapes remain alive to this day in the hearts and souls of all Zgierz natives. These additional pages, which we are publishing today as volume II of the Zgierz Book that was published ten years ago, is testimony to this. Through this book, we have attempted to build an eternal monument to our city from the first sprouting of the community, through its period of development, until it was overtaken by the terrible, cruel Holocaust.
Indeed, the Book of Zgierz includes rich, variegated material, with memories, stories, and exciting personal testimonies regarding communal life, its glorious past, and the terrible Holocaust that has no equal in the history of the Nation of Israel, overflowing with tragedy. However, already then, with the publishing of the book, we announced that no small amount of material remained unused in our hands. That material not being included in the book for technical and other reasons. We hoped that redemption would be found after the book, and that everything fitting to be published eventually would be.
Despite great efforts in this matter, ten years have passed, and the material was still waiting for its redemption, until we finally succeeded in overcoming the difficulties. We imbued constructive creative efforts and energy into this. A great deal of work went into arranging and editing the material, into organizational activities and the collection of money efforts which fell into the hands of few, who did this with a full sense of volunteerism.
Like the Book of Zgierz, this addendum is being published in two languages; Hebrew, the Holy Tongue in which the Jews of our town studied and prayed to their Father in Heaven, and through which their dreams, aspirations, and hopes to return to the Land of their Fathers, the city in which David camped, was expressed; and in Yiddish, the language of the martyrs, through which they conducted their day to day affairs, and through which they educated their children to Torah, the wedding canopy and good deeds.
Through the articles in the two languages, the struggle of the Jews of Zgierz for their existence is expressed. Sections describing the striving toward variegated national life are presented; images of people of many deeds, and expert in Torah are painted; and a flowering treasury of a life of culture and creativity is surveyed.
The common appearance with the life in other communities is great. Nevertheless, our city exhibits something that is typical and special only to itself.
Indeed, through its way of life, the multitude of images, its internal structure, its religious and secular institutions, our city was a part of Polish Jewry. Everything that transpired in the variegated life of the threemillion strong Polish Jewry was reflected in the lens of our 5,000 strong community. The variegated activities of Jewish society and culture continued to grow. Young and old sat in the study halls and the Hassidic Shtibels, studying Torah day and night. When the times changed and new tunes arrived, the youths, male and female, were enthused with ideas and ideals that penetrated to us. They were prepared to dedicate their time and money to the goals of their factions. Every faction had its own headquarters; and conducted lectures, presentations, and especially a plethora of debates. From time to time, every faction would bring in an honorable, veteran orator, a member of the national council, a member of parliament and there would be joy and gladness in the city. Things were especially joyous when the election time came: elections to the communal council, to the district council, and especially to the Sejm. The debates and disputes extended for weeks. Every free wall was covered with placards, praising themselves and denigrating the opponents. Everyone was convinced that their party was blessed with the most wonderful ideas, and that truth can only be found with them.
The town was not quiet between elections. There was a great deal of cultural and social activities. The libraries, both of the right and the left were a spiritual gathering place. The youth read with thirst our classics in Yiddish and Hebrew. They regularly participated in evening courses in Hebrew, listened to lectures on literature, politics, and society, and searched for various paths for enlightenment and development.
All of these are written about in the Book of Zgierz with a sense of pride mixed with love. Along with this, however, we know that Zgierz was also exceptional. It differed fundamentally from other cities and towns of Poland.
The famous names of Admors [Hassidic masters], writers, poets, and leaders are connected to it. There was certainly something in the air of Zgierz that was conducive to the development of splendid talents. A synthesis between Torah and the people was formed therein. The relationship between all circles of the Jewish community between the scholar and the simple Jew, between the Yeshiva lad and the maskil created organized familial relationships. A healthy earthliness, the heartiness of simple Jews blended with the sharpness of thought of the scholars, and lead to the spiritual development of the masses, from which the talents sprouted.
From here, a sense of awe, honor, and very deep feelings come to the natives of Zgierz, filling their hearts with a connection to their city all the days of their lives. This is only because of the latent strength hidden in this community, which is close to
Łódź. Therefor, even those who left it in their youth remain with their unforgettable, childhood love the source from which they draw their desire to know, understand, and to value the beauty of Jewish life.
The Jews of Zgierz did not abandon their education and culture even during the most difficult moments. Their first concern was to impart knowledge to their children. Lads hastening to their schools, to the cheders or elementary schools were seen on the streets early in the morning. At the conclusion of their course of studies, some lads went on to Yeshiva, which was the crowning highlight of traditional education. However, many continued on to high schools, and there were some who continued on in the universities of Warsaw, as well as foreign universities.
There were also those who studied, expounded, and aroused themselves to cultural activities. They arranged lectures, performances, reading evenings, public debates, and literary trials on the books of Peretz and Sholem Asch, Tolstoy and Archebashev which became the discussions of the day and the songs of day and night. These literaryartistic evenings attracted a crowd of male and female youths and were accompanied by song, pouring forth from edge to edge. It seems that through their songs, more than through their discussions and debates, they expressed with warmth and enthusiasm everything that afflicted their hearts, that stormed and aroused their souls souls saturated with the fire and joy of youth, full of longing and desire for faroff places, for the Land of Israel, for a life of toil in the homeland.
When we come today to write something on the life of our town, two types of Jews stand before our eyes those who were immersed in a firm way of life and its customs, with the Jewish way of life from morning to night, from generation to generation; and those who absorbed the revolutionary spirit, the nationalist Jewish winds, which came to expression through all types of communal, political, and educational activities, as well as in private life and interpersonal relationships. The small groups of Zionists saw themselves as the pioneering brigade of a large movement, which took upon itself the aim of rousing the Jewish world from its slumber, and turning their attention to the solution proposed through Zionism. In those days, most of the youths of Zgierz were imbued with the sense of importance of the mission placed upon them, and they invested their entire youthful enthusiasm into it, as they waited for change, and they desired to instigate the change through their deeds.
All of them stand before our eyes, and we write about them in the memorial book, in the Book of Zgierz, and in this additional volume. With all these, we realize that our stage is small, and we cannot state that we have finished. All of this is only an introduction and a beginning. We still have the duty to add, to write, to add another line, to enlarge the mark, to include another image and another vision, so that the memories of a single soul on the large canvas of our great past should not descend to oblivion.
It is our hope that this holy task will also be passed to coming generations, who will accept upon themselves the task of perpetuation. They will remember and learn, for there is no memory without learning. They will learn how their parents and ancestors lived in our city, how they organized their lives, and how the Jewish community functioned.
The generations will learn how to remember all of them, and to bring to life the values and principles for which they were killed; they will learn to understand their way of life, that was wonderful to a significant degree. This should not only be to pay a debt of honor, even though that is a precious thing, but first and foremost it should be for their own sakes, so that they will know from whence they came, who their parents and grandparents were, what they created, what they fought for, and what they brought here.
They will learn about them, speak about them, write compositions about them, and we will thereby reach a situation that our city, which is no longer, will not only continue its spiritual existence through our hands, but will continue to live in the hearts of our children. From learning and knowing these matters, from uncovering the splendor of light hidden in our community, in its personalities and institutions, they will love them, honor them, and thereby bring honor to themselves and bring preciousness to the path that they are taking.
Therefore, we will talk extensively about our community, about its annals throughout the entire time of its existence, from its beginning to its end its origins, its spouting, its development, its growth until its setting, until the tragic destruction; about everything that encompasses the spiritual image of the community and its cultural values. We will continue to tell about its social structure, its economic life, and the dynamic life therein. They will learn not only about the supernal Zgierz, but also about the earthly Zgierz about all the factors that forged the community of Zgierz.
Zgierz has written its own page in the martyrology of our nation. During the first decades of the 19th century, its community was a victim of the establishment of a Jewish ghetto, but despite all the persecutions and harsh tribulations of that period, the members of the community succeeded in overcoming the obstacles and developing the life of the community, both spiritually and economically. The Jews established factories and textile plants, and became an important factor in the development of manufacturing in Zgierz. Just as the restrictions did not quiet the energy of the community members in their concern for Torah and education, they also guarded their strength of spirit in the economic sector. Thanks to their business and organizational talents, the Jews knew how to integrate themselves, as individuals or as small groups, into the economic reality and social structure of the city at first in a modest manner, and later in much larger proportions. They developed the marketing of textile products to faroff cities in the Russian empire. This was an era of the blending of commerce and manufacturing in the economic life of the Jews of Zgierz.
Thanks to the creativity of work conditions, a great change took place in the social structure of the Jews of Zgierz. A manufacturing and bureaucratic proletariat was created. Fifty percent of the Jewish population of the city earned their livelihoods from the work of their hands. There were also modest workshops, through which the family members earned their livelihoods through the sweat of their brow themselves or with the help of one or two employees. There were also workshops in all the trade sectors of daytoday life, everyone according to their expertise. Jewish Zgierz was a working city, but its spiritual form was forged through traditional Jewish value that imparted to the vast majority of the Jewish community a set way of life, and imbued in it an atmosphere of historic Judaism.
The bearers of the idea of Zionism were members of the previous generation, who bore both the old and the new of Jewish culture in their hearts. They were students of the Talmudic school, with broad knowledge of Jewish sources. On the other hand, they amassed knowledge of Jewish wisdom and general erudition. Thus, they unified all these values into a single, complete harmony.
Is it indeed so? Has all of this world of yesteryear been destroyed?
The reality that pervades our feelings and memories answers us in a voice of dread: indeed, this world has been destroyed and is no longer. No more will the voices burst forth from the synagogues. No more will the melody of the cheder students be heard in the city. No more will the stories of Abraham our Forefather and his descendants be heard in the melodic Hebrew language. This entire multifaceted world has gone to destruction and oblivion.
Let this additional book, just like the Book of Zgierz, guard all the beauty that once was and that will never be forgotten from the hearts of future generations. Let it also serve as a sort of bridge between the past and the future, and testify that it, Jewish Zgierz, lives on in the hearts of its children. It is a sign that eternal life is prepared for it in the annals of our nation.
by W. Fisher
The pages of this section are a supplement to the Book of Zgierz that was published ten years ago. Already then, we estimated that there remained a great deal to tell about the life and destruction of our community. There was such a rich society and spiritual life there among all the circles of the fivethousand strong Jewish community through all its dimensions and spiritual endeavors, Jewish from all perspectives, not only in its festival and cultural manifestations, but also in its daytoday, economic, societal and family lives.
The Jewish settlement of Zgierz went through various eras. It overcame many struggles, decrees, and persecutions that were difficult for the Jews. It conducted a bitter struggle against the restrictions on areas of settlement during the middle ages, which placed the Jews into a ghetto. However, not looking at this, the Jews of Zgierz did not refrain from building their homes. By so doing, they demonstrated zest, enterprisingness, love and dedication to their community. They built textile factories and became and important factor in the development and growth of the textile industry in the city. This also created a new source of livelihood for the Jewish population.
A new epoch began when the restriction to be ghettoized was abolished in 1862. Jews began to build houses and various textile enterprises in all portions of the city. The business, the industry, and the handworking sectors all developed on a large scale. Jews played an important role in all administrative agencies of the city.
The textile industry developed further with the passage of years. Factories grew and branched into other sectors of livelihood. More and more Jews
left their smallscale sources of livelihood, such as shopkeeping, and branched out into all areas of the textile industry.
Great development of the Jewish community in Zgierz took place as a result of the establishment of business connections with the near and far areas of the Russian Empire, where Jewish merchants from Zgierz would go with their merchandise, which had attained a good name. This also led to an increase in the Jewish population of Zgierz. Jews from Lithuania, Latvia, Volhynia, White Russia, and other provinces settled in Zgierz and quickly set themselves up in industry and business.
We find Hassidic Jews among the Zgierz travelers. In their Hassidic garb, with beards and peyos, they set out for the expanses of Russia for long weeks and months. They traveled with bundles full of samples of merchandise produced in the Zgierz factories, and took orders. Those Jews presented themselves as accomplished businessmen with excellent experience. Through their honesty and respectable, proud poise, they earned respect and trust, thereby making the Zgierz factories famous throughout the world.
In the years prior to the Second World War, Zgierz was already a city with a population of about 40,000, of which 5,000 were Jews. The economic base was the textile industry. Almost all the branches were mechanized, and they provided work and employment for the majority of the population. About 80% of the Jewish population were employed in the textile industry. The others were involved with trade and business.
The Jewish factories in Zgierz had their own union. The Jewish workers belonged to various political parties and organizations, and were active in various social institutions. The Jewish tradesmen were also organized into their own union. They were loved by the population, and many Christians were their regular customers. The union was involved with helping and tending to the needs of its members, with giving advice regarding taxes, examinations, and diplomas, and with granting loans so as to prevent the weakened workshops from going under during times of crisis.
Our Book of Zgierz discusses the wide branched cultural and educational work of the various institutions and youth organizations. The rabbi, known as The Elder Tzadik disseminated Torah study, good character, and refined Kocker style Hassidism in a pleasant fashion for fifty years in his Yeshiva. The study of Torah was accompanied by pride, high flight into the upper worlds, in the world of thought and poetry, with a tune of the outpouring of the soul. The hundreds of students who graduated from the Zgierz Yeshiva invested their entire soul, brain, and heart into their learning. Torah stood at the center of life, and learning was an esthetic undertaking. It was learning for its own sake. A life devoid Torah and following the commandments was considered a hollow and wanton life. A person without Torah and good deeds was like a wild beast to them.
Modern Judaism also sprouted up in that fertile soil. The strict Jewish observance, the deep world concept took on a new manifestation with the maskilim. The Haskalah movement produced such personalities in Zgierz as the wellknown Maskil, erudite in the wisdom of Israel and worldly knowledge, Avraham Yaakov Wiesenfeld, who sowed in Zgierz the ripest kernels of his Haskalah concepts, Galician style; Reb Tovia Lipszyc, considered the lion of the group, a great scholar, and scholar and interpreter of the Bible and Talmudic literature. He explained Torah science and the ideas of Chibat Zion in accordance with the style of Lithuania; Reb Isucher Szwarc, the scholar and expert of the old Polish literature as well as in modern scholarship, who popularized the modern Herzlist Zionism in Zgierz, Polish style; Reb Moshe Ejger, a rare example of a great industrialist who unified glorious financial activity with proficiency in Jewish knowledge. He was a great expert in the old German literature, and wrote poems in Hebrew and Yiddish. He was immersed in the Zionist ideal and promoted Zionismus in an erudite German fashion. Strong nationalistic energy laden with wonderful potential accumulated around them.
Specifically that multicolored culture circle, which was permeated with true love of one's fellow Jew, forged the specific uniqueness of the Jewish person of culture in Zgierz through the years. In that atmosphere, the Yiddish language grew into an important cultural factor, with love for the Jewish book and press.
That relatively small Jewish community produced over 50 rabbis, students of the elder rabbi's famous Yeshiva. At the same time, 35 Jewish writers, poets and thinkers, as well as authors of religious books, were raised in Zgierz. Their literary creations had a deep and wide resonance in the Jewish intellectual world. The works of the classicists from our Hebrew and Yiddish literature David Frishman, Yaakov Cohen, Yitzchak Katzenelson were treated with special reverence. Like them were also Tovia Lipsyc, Isucher Szwarc, and others, who are mentioned in the Book of Zgierz as being full of Jewishness, of the Jewish culture in Zgierz.
That Jewishness was authentic and integral, not merely a stylistic Jewishness, not external, which is called today traditional. That which appeared so strongly on the surface in Zgierz was a result of that which was etched in the depths of that hundred percent Jewishness and is a synthesis between the Torah and the people. Since the life of the public was infused with Jewishness, with Jewish culture, the branches of all the strata and circles were like one large family. The spiritual legacy is precious to all to those were committed to renewing and deepening it, and to those who only want to know and understand it; for those for whom Jewish law is a matter to be understood and drawn from, for those for whom the Code of Jewish Law brought joy every day of the week, from the Modeh Ani upon awakening until the reading of the Shema before going to sleep.
Such were our fathers and grandfathers, with their completely spiritual lives, in all the wonderful shades of Jewish fineness. They imparted to us the belief in our historical path, the understanding of our great responsibility that is expressed in all of our tasks, including the perpetuation of our annihilated community and its martyrs.
by ZevWolf Fisher
Yosef Katz, Pinchas Sirkis, Zeev Fisher, Rafael Katz, Chaya Halpern, Y. Sczaranski, Yeshayahu Frogel, Y. Malkieli
(A few words dedicated to the 30 years of activities of the Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel on the day of the memorial gathering in 1982.)
On the annual day of memory, permit me to make note of a societal event that took place about 30 years ago, and is also connected with our memorial gathering of today, which had already become a holy tradition for us, with all its Jewish and societal influence.
That event was the founding of the official, organized society that encompassed all Zgierz Jews in the country, and bore the name: The Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel.
This took place on January 5, 1952. It resulted in the founding of that organization about one month later, on 7 Shevat 5712 (February 3, 1952). The first memorial gathering of the Zgierz Jews in Israel took place in Beit Hachalutzot in Tel Aviv. That gathering was the largest and most influential. That first positive achievement was of great importance.
The Zgierz Jews, saved from the terrible deluge, had just arrived on ships, and met up with the Zgierz Jews who were already settled in the country, having come hear years earlier. They reunited, fell into each other's arms, and reestablished old relationships and friendships.
From that day onward, the newly arrived Jews of Zgierz had an address to which to turn, whether it was for the initial assistance, professional advice to help get established, or merely for a friendly word, warm hominess and encouragement to build up their new homes.
The Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel gained importance and recognition, and became a serious societal factor for the Zgierz Jews in Israel.
That is how they took their first steps, and encouraged the further important goals, about which there is so much to speak and write. Like many great accomplishments, they could not be attained with brief efforts.
Thirty years: the years of a complete generation. In general, these were difficult years. Many difficulties and struggles had to be overcome. Objective situations and conditions were often created that made it difficult to continue with the speedy activity. The difficulties resulted in discouragement more than once. It seemed that we were too weak to continue on with our work, but the Zgierz Jews displayed great steadfastness and continued on with the work, year in and year out, with conscientious responsibility and a deep sense of honor and awe. We observed the historical date of the anniversary of the destruction, and we gathered together in order to unite ourselves with the martyrs of our city in quiet reflection. Were our organization to have been created solely for this single holy aim, it would have been sufficient justification, and to bless the day of its founding.
Great and important was the work that was created in the following years the Book of Zgierz: the impressive memorial to the Jewish Zgierz that was destroyed. The Book of Zgierz is a work of value for the generations, a work that bring honor and importance as a glorious memorial to the entire community of Zgierz Jews.
Indeed, the 30th anniversary of the Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel is a great historical event for the Zgierz survivors.
I would not be historically accurate if I do not mention briefly that the foundation of our organization was laid yet on the soil of our former homeland, Poland. This took place in Łódź at the end of 1946, and the first general memorial gathering took place shortly thereafter, in January 1947.
There, on Poland's soil, in the shadows of the death camps, we lit the first memorial candles for our martyrs. There, on the ruins of our destroyed homes, did we, the survivors, pledge the memorial slogan Remember! Never Forget!
By the red light of the congealed blood of our martyrs we swore: we will keep the bygone times, saturated with blood and tears, in our memories forever! We will never forget!
We will never cease to demand the accounting for their destroyed lives.
Just like the Book of Zgierz, this additional book will be a permanent reminder for generations to come, who will find in the straightforward stories a document and a window into the former rich way of life of our city, which is no more.
Let the shout that emanates from the pages of our books not ceased until the furthest generations.
Every gathering of ours, every meeting and party is imbued with the continuity of that holy oath.
Our gratitude is deep toward all those who helped us continue with this holy work. We express special gratitude for the fruitful activity of Mrs. Chava Halpern, through whose work personifies the soul of our committee, all of whose members excel in their societal responsibility and great dedication.
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