אלטע היים

 

Where unknown memories come back

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 Krakow – Kruke was historically the second Polish capital.

With the crowning of Wladislaw Lokietek in 1320 Wawel Castle became the throne of Polish kings until Sigmund III Wasa moved the capital to Warsaw in 1596 after the unification of the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania into one government. Wawel remained a place of coronations until 1734, 38 years later Poland began to lose it independency and was divided among three neighbors; Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1794 Tadeusz Kosciuszko, hero of the American independence War came back to Poland and in Krakow’s central market began his unsuccessful attempt to restore the Polish government.

Until 1918 – the year of the reposition of Polish independency, Krakow was under the Habsburg administration.

The Jewish presence in Kracow’s vicinity dates from the very beginning of the City’s history. In 1335 the Polish King Casmir the Great established a separate town nearby the original Krakow, the name of the town was the same as the King’s name – Casmir - Kazimierz in Polish. Quickly Kazimierz became the center of Jewish life when after the establishment of the University Jews sought to avoid harassment from its students. In 1495 King Jan Olbracht expelled the Jews from the capital, most of them settled in Kazimierz which later became part of Krakow anyhow, as the city developed.

For a few hundred years Kazimierz was one of the main centers of the Jewish community worldwide. The founder of Krakov’s Yeshiva and method of Talmudic study Pilpul is Rabbi Yaakov Pollak; he is one of the first on the list of the most prominent and influential personalities in Jewish History that lived in Krakov. Rabbi Shlomo Shachna, the founder of the Lublin Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Iserles – Remu, Rabbi Meir ben Gedalia – Macharam, Rabbi Yoel Serkis – Bach, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipa Heller – the Tosefos Yom Tov and many others spent years and were buried in Kazimierz’s Bais Hachaim.

A few times during its History, the Jewish population of Kazimierz was reinforced by Jews who were expelled from other countries. Numerous Jews from Spain resided there including the Royal doctor Samuel Kalahora. After the expulsion of Prague’s Jews, many of them settled in Kazimierz.

In 1917 Sarah Schenirer established the first Bays Yaakow School and it became the cradle of Jewish Girls education. Within the next 22 years there were more than 300 Bays Yaakow schools in Europe.

Krakow remained one of the most influential Jewish centers until the Holocaust. From approximately 64,000s of Jews that lived in the city before WWII(28% of Krakow population),  only about 3,000 returned after the war, many of them left the country within the year of 1946, after the pogrom in Krakow.

Krakow’s Jewish history gained its fame among the general society after the Oscar wining movie depicting the story of over thousand Jewish lives spared by Oscar Scindler; the German factory owner in the occupied Poland.

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Warsaw – Warszawa is a relatively young city and third Polish capital. Established as a settlement at the beginning of the 14th century by Masovian’s prince Boleslav II, it became capital of the country only in 1596 after King Wladislav III Vasa moved his court from Krakow.

However, for Jews, Warsaw will be remembered as a cultural capital of the nation. With the biggest Jewish population in Europe escalating over 330.000 just before WWII, Warsaw was the center of Jewish political, economical and of course religious life. At some years, the Jewish population of Warsaw contained over %40 of its total number of inhabitants.

Tens of Jewish dailies were sold on Warsaw’s streets and major publishers printed the books in all languages used by Jews. At that time Europe just started to organize its education for children, more than %90 of Jewish boys attended Chedurim.

At the end of the Jewish existence in Poland as the center of Jewish civilization, Warsaw was predominantly Hasidic, with many Rebbes residing the city for most of the year. After the Bolsheviks revolution in Russia, Some Rebbes and many Lituanian Yeshivos found their shelter in the Polish Capital. Even before WWII the Jewish cemetery at Okopova Ave was the biggest one in Europe. During the war, when Nazis concentrated over half a million Jews in the Warsaw’s Ghetto, Warsaw itself became the Bais Hachaim for many. Today, Warsaw’s Jewish community is still rebuilding, however, without any chance of reaching its past glory.

Warsaw is one of the most visited Jewish cities in the world. For its glorious history, for its cursed history and, L’chvdil, it is visited by many Hasidim going to pray at the graves of their Rebbes from the past; Tzvi Hirsch Radzyminer, Rabbi Menachem Kalish of  Amshinov, Rabbi Isruel Meir Taub of Modrzic and his son the second Rabbi of Modrzic -Rabbi Yakov Duvid Taub, Rabbi Alter Isruel Shimon of Novominsk, Ostrover Rebbe, Rabbi Yacov Arie and Rabbi Aaron Menachem Mendel Guterman of Radzimin, Rabbi Elimelech Menachem Landau of Strykov,  Rabbi Mordeche Menachem Mendel Kalish of Vurke, Rabbi Yitschok Yakov Rabinovich of Biala, Rabbi Shlomo Hanoch Rabinovich of Radomsk, Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim, Rabbi Dov Ber Meisels (the chief Rabbi of Krakov and Warsaw), Chaim Soloveychik of Brisk. These are only some of great Rabbinc leaders of our nation who find their rest on Warsaw’s Bais Hachaim.

If you would like to leave a Kvitel by let alone the Hasidic Rebbes Qevurim you would need a notebook. To visit this place where our brothers and sisters are resting, a city of such Jewish prominence is an experience to remember for anyone.

When the Nazis closed the Ghetto by separating the Jewish population with the masonry wall and numerous watchtowers and checkpoints, over half million people were congregated within its walls. Many stories were told about heroism of individuals and groups who were denied from basic humane conditions.

Rabbi Yecheskiel Halshtuk, the Ostrovtzer Rav and his Hasisdim are one of them. Rabbi Menachem Ziembas death on the streets of ghetto is the subject of another story. Matasyahu and his group of youth that were so devoted to learn in the extreme ghetto conditions can inspire a stone to look for spiritual growth.

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BreslauWroclaw. This less known European city is almost as old as Prague, and although it’s not the state capital it was always the capital of the Silesia region. For over a thousand years of its history it was known to be Polish, Czech, Moravian, German, Prussian and again Polish for the last 65 years city.

The oldest Jewish tombstones are more than eight hundred years old, which proves that Jews were part of the Breslau’s Society from almost very beginning of its history. They were expelled from the city in 1455 by the Czech king Ladislav and were allowed to came back two hundred years later, and even then only limited number of people were allowed in. There was a great improvement to the situation the Jewish community was in when in 1744 they got permission from the Prussian government to establish an official Kehila and build Synagogue. In 1812 the Jews of Breslau acquired equal rights with its other inhabitants of the city.

The Jewish community of Breslau was one of the most important and influential community within all of Germany. It was the location of the fierce battle of Orthodoxy against reform represented by Rabbi Gedalye Tiktin on one side and Abraham Geiger on the other.

It is also not that known that Breslau is the birth place of the Conservative movement. With the establishment of Jidishe Teologishe Seminarium in 1854 by Zaharias Frankel and the publishing of his “Darkei Mishna” commentary on Mishna initiated the movement which grew up significantly in United States. One of the main Seminaries lecturers was the Professor of Breslau’s University, Heinrh Greatz author of popular “History of Jews”. He’s style is still followed by other modern presentations of Jewish history.

It is worthy to note that all of the three peoples, Geiger’s, Frankel’s and Greatz’s writings, were subjected as the most fascinating polemics of their time, and to a certain extent this disagreement  still exists today.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, writes in Introduction to the volume V of his “Collected Writing” devoted to Jewish historiography, primarily aimed against Greatz’s History: “To him, Talmudic Law, which through all of the centuries of or exile has upheld the Jews and shaped every aspect of Jewish life, is merely the product of temperamental and psychological characteristics of these eminent figures…and… is not a tradition that harks back to Mount Sinai.

“Since than I have examined this work in detail and checked it against the cited sources… I have found it to be, even from purely scientific point of view, a product of the most outrageous, irresponsible superficiality”. Book of Greatz, serves as a base for whole movement calling itself – Jewish.

What is interesting, with two of them Rabbi Hirsch has previously had close relationships. Geiger was Rabbi Hirsch’s Chavruso (partner in Jewish study) at the time of his academic year in University of Bonn and Greatz was Rabbi Hirsch Talmid (student) living even in his house for a few years.

Wroclaw is also one as one of the most beautiful European cities with the Old Market and magnificent Old “Town House - Rathaus”. 

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Lublin. How many facts do we associate with this city? Its name alone sounds holy.

Yet we can still find on the shelves of Synagogues of our new home in America some old Sefurim with yellowed pages remembering the Alte Heim. When we look at the title page, it is written that the place of its publishing was Lublin. Sometimes in Hebrew letters, sometimes Polish and sometimes even Russian Cyrillic font. Those Books were printed under the ruler ship (government) of Tsar of Russia.

Lublin was the capital of the region and not only Europe but in the world scale of the Jewish community. In some of the towns around Lublin, like Chrubieshov or Lubartov, over half of its inhabitants were Jewish. In other smaller towns sometimes more than 90% of the people were decedents of Israel.

However, Lublin is mostly known for its Rabbis and the Yeshiva Chachamey Lublin. Before Rabbi Meir Shapiro – who was also a member of the Polish parliament, established his first modern yeshiva in the city, Lublin has had a long list of personalities of the greatest magnitude in Jewish History.

The Choze (Seer) - Rabbi Yakov Yitzchok Horovitz of Lublin is one of them. This great leader of the later Hasidic movement influenced others through his teachings and example. He was a guide for hundreds of thousands of Hasiddim, whether through first hand or not. Many of his own Talmidim became Rebbes themselves. His greatness was counterbalanced by another great personality sharing the influence over the city at the same time, Rabbi Azriel Horovitz – the Aizene Kop – although he opposed the Hasidic path.

The quarrels between Hasidim and Misnagdim is another example of Hashem’s providence and way how the spiritual balance of his chosen people is maintained, as it is said by Rabbi Betzalel Landau in his book depicting the life of Rabbi Eliahu – the Vilna Gaon. Without Hasidim, Judaism would blunder on the paths of legality and stiff forms. Without Misnagdim, Hasidism would perhaps derail as a heresy or cult similar to those of Istanbul and its followers in other countries, resulting in apostasy and moral degeneration.

Thanks to the strong leadership of individuals such as Rabbis Yakov Yitzchok Horovitz and Azriel Horovitz, Judaism proved to be a life organism strongly rooted in for 3,000 years of Torah, and yet always ready to adjust to the changing conditions without resigning from any principals.

Going back in history of the Jewish Lublin Rabbis: Meir ben Gedalia the Maharam, Shlomo Luria – the Maharshal and Shlomo Shachna the Rosh Yeshiva of the first Yeshiva in Lublin 400 years before the establishment of the more known Yeshiva of Rabbi Shapiro.

Out of a thousand years, half the time Lublin was one of the most important centers of Jewish life in the world, it soon ended no less than 70 years ago it the town that it’s name will forever bring terror to the mind of every Jewish person. That name is Maydanek.

©2005