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CRARG Story Project
To begin, here is a view of CRARG’s area of Poland in a very detailed 1883 map.
Częstochowa: In 1765, 75 Jews lived in Częstochowa and in 1808, 495. By 1900, the Jewish population had grown to 11,764, nearly 30% of the total population. Częstochowa was one of the cultural capitals of Jewish Poland. The German military entered the city on Sunday, Sept. 3, 1939, two days after they had invaded Poland. The next day, now known as “Bloody Monday,” a pogrom took place and many Jews were murdered. “The first three days of Nazi rule over Czestochowa were marked by bloody murder and looting. Jewish economic life was completely paralyzed. Cultural, social, and political life, including the entire school system, was completely dissolved.” (Samuel David Singer, ed., Tshenstokhov: Naye Tsugob-Material tsum Bukh “Tshenstokhover Yidn,” New York: United Relief Committee in New York, 1958; transl.: Mark Froimowitz.)
Andrew Nusbaum, San Francisco, California: My mother’s cousin Boleslaw Montag was born and raised in Częstochowa in the 1920s-30s. They had always felt very Polish, attended Polish schools, and spoke Polish at home. An uncle had even been an officer in the Polish army. Boleslaw and his sister Anna were in hiding when the ghetto was liquidated and were taken to the Hasag-Pelcery work camp. While there his sister became ill with typhus. Boleslaw stole an apple so she would have something to eat and was caught and severely beaten by a guard. He was only twenty years old. Out of an extended family of over twenty living in Częstochowa, only Boleslaw, his sister and their ex-officer uncle survived the war. They came back to their homes but found that they had been occupied by Poles during their incarceration. They moved to the nearby town of Katowice and tried to rebuild their lives. The uncle died soon after the war from cancer (possibly caused or exacerbated by working conditions in Hasag). Anna moved to Israel in the mid-1950s and was only allowed to visit the family after the fall of Communism in 1989. Boleslaw, who changed his name to Tadeusz, wanted to leave too but his wife felt that Poland was their home and they should stay. Tadeusz and his family, which now include children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, still live in Poland today.
James W. “Jim,” Chico, California: Sydney (born Zysman Szlamkowicz in Czestochowa, Poland in 1921) is a Holocaust survivor and the last of my grandmother Esther’s family. My grandparents got out of Poland in 1920, but left her three brothers and two sisters and their families behind. “Aunt Esther” was well remembered and helped her family until 1939. After the war she found four survivors; a niece and three nephews. In 1949 three, Abram, Esther, and Moshe, went from DP camps in Europe to Israel, where they married and raised “Sabra” families. They have now passed away. In 1950 Sidney came to the United States and New York City. He tells of the time when he was a courier sneaking in and out of the Czestochowa ghetto. He was shot in the stomach by the Nazis, but was able to get himself back inside the ghetto, where a Jewish doctor operated and saved his life. His second story is about when he was finally caught by the Nazis. He and two other youths were lined up against a wall to be shot, but was saved at the last minute. He was taken to jail then sent to Buchenwald, where he, together with his cousin Abram, survived as skilled labor, doing tailoring and shoemaking, and other work. His third story of survival happened somewhere near Buchenwald where he was slave labor in a steel mill making rails for the railroad. He worked right at the ovens and molten steel dripped on his foot, burning down to the bone. Severely wounded, he knew he would be killed. Instead, the SS Guard got him a Jewish doctor, who said Sidney would need surgery and drugs they did not have. The SS guard took a list from the Jewish doctor and got the supplies and drugs he needed to save Sidney’s foot and life. He cries every time he tells that story and asks why did that SS guard save him, “the boy” as the guard referred to him.
Janów (with information provided by the mayor of Janów in Dec. 2001)…
Kłobuck: Thanks to its location on the way from Lublin to Warsaw, Kłobuck hosted yearly markets and fairs in the 1700s and it became a center for commerce. The Jews of the neighboring town of Kamyk joined the Jewish community of Kłobuck in 1854. The great variety of commerce in Kłobuck included a vinegar factory. According to Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1976; pages 502-503): Kłobuck fell into Germans hands on the first day of the war and Polish mobs began riots against the Jewish people, as well as plundering property. Many tried to run east but the German army moved fast and the killing started. Jews became the “play” of the German soldiers, who gave them demeaning tasks such as pulling carts designed to be pulled by horses.
Koniecpol: According to Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1976): “In 1764, the Jews numbered 110 families living in 70 houses, of which 69 were their private property. Among the Jewish breadwinners were 3 tailors, 2 silversmiths, a glazier, a bookbinder, 4 butchers, a barber, 2 musicians (klezmorim), 2 clowns (entertainers), a teacher, 2 rabbis, a cantor and a shamash (sexton).” The Jewish population of Koniecpol grew from 445 in 1808 (24% of the total population) to 1,077 in 1921 (45% of the total). In September of 1942, Jews from nearby small towns (including Janów, Lelów, and Przyrów) were transported to Koniecpol. The next month, 1,600 Jews in the city were taken to the Treblinka death camp.
Krzepice: Jews lived in Krzepice as early as 1633, and more than 100 Jews lived there by 1765. In the mid-1800s, Jewish migration into Krzepice was restricted by the Russian authorities, because the towns was very close to the Prussian border. In 1921, 1,772 Jewish lived in the city, making up 43% of the total population. The Germany army captured Krzepice a day after entering Poland. Young Jews from the city were taken to forced-labor camps in the 1940s and in June 1942 most of the remaining Jews were transported to Auschwitz.
Lelów: The Encyclopedia Judaica we read that “Several dozen Jewish families were living in Lelow in 1547, but in 1564 only six families remained; each paid the king one red guilder residence tax and a certain quantity of spices for the right to slaughter cattle.” In 1808, 269 Jews lived in Lelów (29% of the total population). About 700 Jews lived there just before World War II. The Jews of Lelów were deported to Treblinka death camp in September of 1942.
Mstów: The small town of Mstów included about 200 Jewish families by the end of World War I. The weaving of coarse wool was an important profession among Jews. Just before World War II, 532 Jews lived in Mstów. In August of 1942 the remaining Jews were brought to the Radomsko ghetto, and then deported to the Treblinka death camp in October of that year.
Pilica: Jews played an active role in Pilica’s economic development in the 1800s and many worked in the city’s factories. One of the community’s rabbis, Yehiel Danziger (died 1894), was later a founder of Aleksandrow Hasidism. The Jewish population of 2,688 in 1892 (more than 2/3 of the total population) dropped to 1,877 by 1921, following the social and economic troubles of World War I. In the spring of 1942, many young Jews of Pilica were sent to forced-labor camps in Plaszow and Bochnia, and most of the remaining Jews were sent to the Bełżec death camp in September of that year.
Nowa Brzeźnica: Ten Jews lived in Brzeźnica (now called Nowa Brzeźnica) in 1793, and nearly 300 by 1857. Before World War II, 150 Jewish families made up 60% of the population. Gloria Berkenstat Freund writes: “In the section on Brzeznica that appears in Memorial Book of the Community of Radomsk and Vicinity, a survivor describes the reaction of her Polish neighbors to the expulsion of Brzeznica’s Jews this way [David Goldman, trans.]: ‘I remained as the last Jewish woman in Brzeznica in the month of Nisan (April) 1942… I shall never forgive our Polish neighbors, with whom we lived, played, and studied in school. They stood in the streets, watching our suffering [as we saw our mothers, women and children for the last time], as if it were a festival ceremony. Clapping and laughing, they watched this tragic expulsion of our parents and children, as our women and children were being sent to their death.’”
Pławno: The Jewish population of the small town of Pławno grew from 101 in the 1790s (25% of the total population) to 752 in the 1890s (50% of the total population). In the 1900s, the town’s population grew steadily, but the Jewish population decreased, perhaps because the Jews moved to the nearby (and larger) town of Radomsko. The Jews of Pławno were deported to Treblinka death camp in Oct. 10-12, of 1942.
Praszka: During the 1700s, the Jews of Praszka belonged to the Jewish community of Działoszyn. The town of Praszka consisted of more than 50% Jews by the end of the 1800s, with a total Jewish population of nearly 2,000. The town was occupied by the Germans in September of 1939. A ghetto was set up, and Jewish residents from Wieluń and Wieruszów were transferred to the ghetto as well. Later, Jews from the ghetto, were taken to a forced-labor camp in Przedmoście and to the Chełmno extermination camp.
Przedbórz: Jews lived in Przedbórz as early as the 1500s. The town was twice destroyed by fire, and rebuilt. Przedbórz is home to one of Poland’s most famous wooden synagogues. In 1865, Jews made up approximately 75% of the town’s population. About 4,500 Jews lived in Przedbórz just before World War II. Oct. 9-12, 1942, all the Jews of Przedbórz were taken to Treblinka. Over 6,00 Jews lived in Końskie before World War II. They too were deported to Treblinka. Kielce included some 25,000 Jews before the war. About 200 Jews attempted to settle or resettle in Kielce after the war. Following a pogrom on July 4, 1946, in which 60-70 Jews were murdered, the surviving Jews left Poland.
Przyrów: The roots of Przyrów go back to the 1300s, but its commercial and economic development were slowed because of the growth and success of the nearby town of Mstów. The population of Przyrów was 102 in 1808, grew to 954 by the 1850s, but then fell to 802 by the 1920s.
Radomsko: Jews were not permitted to live in Radomsko until approximately 1780. Instead, beginning in the 16th century, they lived in the nearby village of Bugaj. By 1808, a small Jewish settlement was established in Radomsko and a cemetery was begun in 1816. In 1827, 21% of the town’s population was Jewish (369 Jewish inhabitants out of a total population of 1,792). Just before World War II, the Jewish population had reached approximately 10,000 out of 25,000 inhabitants (40% of the total population). The Jews of Radomsko were a vibrant part of the city, establishing religious, commercial, educational, social, and philanthropic organizations and institutions. In June of 1943, the Nazis declared Radomsko Judenrein (“free of Jews”).
Litman Zarek (1916-2011), Toronto, Ontario: My father Jacob was a baker by profession. He worked all his life for someone else. We were not rich, but in comparison to other Jewish families, we were better off an not hungry. As a baker, he was able to bring home bread, buns, chalas. He worked long hours, mostly during the night but the pay was low that all seven of us lived in one room. In that room we slept and ate our meals. In this room my mother also cooked and washed the laundry. When we children started going to school and had homework we also had to do it in this room. In spite of all these restrictions we were happy and were good students. To complete this picture of where an how we lived it is only fair to say that ten families lived in the same yard and all had the same landlord. There was only one wooded structure with three toilets for all the tenants and this was outside in the backyard. Therefore at night winter or summer healthy or sick we had to go outside. This toilet had no running water or electricity. Everyone had to carry a candle in one hand during the night which was very unpleasant.
About myself, at seven years of age I began public school and heider. My public school years were happy ones, because I was a very good student. My parents had no problems from this part of my life, for I also enjoyed the heider. After school my friends and I played soccer in the streets. Since there wasn’t much space, we had to walk about two kilometres out of the city. Our ball was made of pieces of material. Rubber balls were not of this world. In those days, it was especially hard to clothe a family. I remember that today’s parents would only laugh at this, but in those days it was tragic. My parents bought me a pair of shoes not boots and I went out into the backyard to play. In our yard was a little stream and as I wanted to jump over, one shoe fell off into the river. Imagine what happened when I cam home without a shoe. I received such a good spanking that I remember it until today.
My parents sent me on a summer vacation to our family in the small city of Pshedbosh. This family liked me very much and they treated me very well. Even then I used to go fishing in the river Gilica, which was not far from where they lived. Nobody had fishing rods, but we used to catch fish anyway. A wooden stick was a rod, a string, a pin and a fly attached at the end of it caught fish. It was fun, because we didn’t know at that time differently. We were young and to fish worry free.
Edna Grossman, Chappaqua, New York: Bubshi (Grandma) lived in the tiny, poor village of Strzałków, which is right next to Radomsko. She attended the local public school and was excused from attending Catholic Religion classes. One day, her curiosity got the better of her and she remained in the classroom during the religion lesson. The teacher asked one Polish girl (this is where Bubshi started talking in Polish and I needed a parent to translate) “How many Gods are there?” The girl answered “four” and the teacher berated her for being so dumb. He then asked my grandmother the same question, and she answered “one,” at which point the teacher announced to the class “This Jewish girl knows more about God and religion than all of you put together.” I think this was the proudest moment of her childhood.
Judy Siegel, Fountain Valley, California: My grandfather and siblings grew up in Nowo Radomsk. My uncle, Mendel Finkiewicz, recalled having to be tough. Several gentile boys would corner him after school and beat him up on a regular basis. He learned how to fight and gave as good a beating as he received. This actually served him well during the war. By then, most of his siblings had immigrated to Paris, where he ultimately joined the Free French and fought his way from Spain to North Africa and back to Paris. My uncle didn’t recall too many happy days in Nowo-Radomsk and was glad to leave the antisemitism for what he thought would be a better life in France.
Rozprza: The small town of Rozprza had a population that never exceeded 1000 Jews. A synagogue was built in Rozprza in 1769, burned in 1884, and then rebuilt in 1898. A major cholera outbreak affected the town in 1932. On Oct. 13, 1942, the Nazis took 800 Jews to the Piotrków ghetto, and few days the population of the ghetto was sent to Treblinka.
Irving Cymberknopf, Thornhill, Ontario: There is much to tell about me and Rozprza. I was born in Piotrkow. My father had 7 siblings, 2 of them sisters. My grandfather Chazkel was dealing with the farmers around Rozprza. The main income in Rozprza was wheat and dealing in farm products. But there were some tanners, as I remember my father’s big stories. My grandfather was also a marshalek, but not professionally. Perhaps you don’t know what a marshalek was? Well, a man with many talents. Like singing, dancing, poetry on the spot, called in Yiddish “gramin” and in one word entertaining. Marsheliks were hired for weddings who could afford. My grandfather lived in a small house. I used to visit him in the summer. The house had a earth floor with very clear yellow sand., 2 rooms. My grandmother used to cry for 4 children that died or were lost at birth. There are many Cymberknopf in Israel. Some changed to Zim and very few remained by this very long name that in this country is hard to live with. The towns of Radomsk, Tuszin, and Belchatow had Cymberknops. I believe Rozprza was the source of the main place from where the name Cymberknopf originated.
Szczekociny: An organized community of Jews was established in Szczekociny in the late 1700s, a synagogue was built and a cemetery established. By the end of the 1800s, well over 2,000 Jews lived in Szczekociny, about 2/3 of the total population. Szczekociny was heavily damaged at the beginning of World War II. In September of 1942, Jews were executed or deported to the Treblinka death camp.
Żarki: The Jewish population of Żarki was quite large in early years: 787 in 1766 and 1,544 in 1857. Jews were very active in a variety of industries in the town, including sawmills and brickyards. In the 1920s, Jews ran nearly 100 workshops and small factories in Żarki. According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 2001): “On 6 Oct. 1942, 800 Jews were assembled in the market square and marched to the railroad station under a rain of blows while mothers with their infants and other stragglers were shot down. All were deported to the Treblinka death camp.”
Learn about your family
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Thinking of joining CRARG? Feel free to write to me (email@example.com) to ask if we have records for your family! Daniel Kazez, CRARG President (a volunteer position; all CRARG funding is used for typing archival documents)