Ajzyk Berkensztat (born 1923) about his life in Poland and Israel, including a story of the Bund Socialist movement in Częstochowa
An English resume of an interview, conducted in Hebrew, which took place in Israel, as a part of the "Polish Roots in Israel" project. Interviewee: Ajzyk Berkensztat
Ajzyk BERKENSZTAT was born on March 9, 1923, in Częstochowa.
The Częstochowa Jewish community was set up in 1765. Very rapidly, the city became an industrial centre, based on the region's iron mines, the railway junction and the pilgrims visiting the Jasna Góra Monastery to pray to the Black Madonna whom many Christians believed would cure them.
The Jewish community developed and prospered. The Jews were working people, mainly in handcrafts, trade and banking. They had a hospital, a school network and an agricultural training farm known all over Poland.
Most Jewish children went to government Jewish schools, where the only non-Jew was the school principal. All the teachers were Jewish. The community was very proud of its Jewish high school, where the teaching language was Polish, but Hebrew held a significant place. There was also a private high school, where Hebrew was not taught.
It was a socially active community, with culture, music, sport, literature and journalism. There was even a Jewish football team. All the youth movements, Zionist and non-Zionist, were represented.
During the 1930s, there was a series of population shifts. Jews from small villages all around settled in the city, while many emigrated to the U.S.A. Very few immigrated to Palestine. Before WW2 there were about 30,000 Jews in Czestochowa, while the total population was about 100,000.
The BERKENSZTAT family lived in a Jewish neighborhood. In their street of about 90 houses, everybody was Jewish. Only the gate-keepers were gentiles. Jews used their services to light the oven on Shabbat, to heat the coffee, etc., - what Jews call "Shabbas Goy". The gate-keeper wouldclose the main gate at 22"00 and, someone arriving later, would have to rang the bell for the gate-keeper to open the gate. The gate-keeper usually received a tip.
Ajzyk's father, Mosze BERKENSZTAT, was born in 1894, in a village near Częstochowa. When he was eighteen or nineteen he left his village and moved to Częstochowa. On his birth certificate, his name was written "Moszek", which was a derogatory name. The authorities refused to write "Mosze" or "Mozes". Ajzik's mother, Rejzel Rizela (nee FAJERTAK), was born in 1899, in Częstochowa.
Mosze was a shoe leather worker. After a few years, he became a salaried Bund political activist. Both Mosze and Rejzel were enthusiastic activists in the socialistic movement Bund. The two main objectives of Bund were to care and fight for the Jewish working class, and to preserve Yiddish language and culture. The Bund was very influential in the city. They had very active representatives in the city council, in the workers' unions, and in the Jewish Community committee. They organised cultural and social activities.
Between the two wars, Bund set up a youth movement, a children's movement, a sports club, a women's organisation and a school network. The Bund maintained tight connections with P.P.S (Polish Socialist Party), and the two took action to protect Jews during the Częstochowa pogroms of 1919 and 1937. The two organisations were considered as sister-parties.
Mosze and Rejzel met during their S.S. (the Zionist-Socialists) activity, under the leadership of Dr Józef KRUK. The Zionist-Socialist movement disintegrated and Dr KRUK established a new movement, the Non-Dependent. Mosze and Rejzel didn't follow Dr. KRUK who affiliated the Bund into the union of S.S. (The Zionist-Socialists), the Farajnigte (the Unified) and the Umapenike (the non-dependent). Dr. KRUK emigrated to Palestine after the war and joined the Mapai Socialist Party.
Mosze and Rejzel fell in love and married in 1921. When they spoke about marriage, grandfather BERKENSZTAT came to grandfather FAJERTAG and said to him in Yiddish: "I have a son and you have a daughter, and they want to marry. What do you say…?".
A short time before they got married, Mosze was in jail for political reasons. The two exchanged letters. Their love flourished and they decided to marry. A love story like theirs, without a sziduch (matchmaker), was very rare and happened only among intellectuals.
They had two children:
- Ajzyk, the interviewee
- Hinda, who was born in 1927. She called herself Henia, as she didn't want people to know she was Jewish.
After Ajzyk finished his third year in a Bund school (where the teaching language was Yiddish), the Polish authorities closed the school down as they had forbidden the teaching of Yiddish in schools. They accused the schools' management of subversive activity.
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