Jewish Ideological Movements
The Free Thinkers of Ozarow

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 Even today, no matter the country in which you may meet an Ozarower, it is remarkable to see how passionate he is about politics. But you can sometimes also detect bitterness: that of having seen an ideal he once believed in crumble. He may have struggled for more justice, for freedom of expression, for Communism, for socialism, for the right, for the left, for religion, against religion ..... This activism was almost universal in Ozarow, a surprising fact about a little village of such limited means. It is explained, however, by a high level of cultural development and by a serious conflict between generations.

     Only after independence in 1918 and in the aftermath of the war with the Bolsheviks of 1921, did political parties develop to any degree in Ozarow. Two of them especially, the Poale-Zion and the Free Thinkers, served as way stations for the Communists. They carried on propaganda against religion and militated in favour of equality and fraternity. They based themselves on the Soviet model which would in time bring universal happiness. It was necessary to struggle for freedom by revolution. From that perspective, to combat religion was a duty, since it served only to keep man in a state of ignorance. These anti-clerics, who were also inspired by western literature, settled across the street from the musicians' house and from the house of El'ye Shafir, Wovke's. They chose their location well because it allowed them to attract a lot of attention to their propaganda. Furthermore, it was located directly on the way to the synagogue, which appeared to border on provocation! To "set a good example" one of these ideologues went so far as to refuse to recite Kaddish at his father's burial.

     One Sabbath afternoon in 1926, the Free Thinkers organized a debate on "Clerics and Clericalism" with the participation of their friends from Cmielow and Ostrowiec. As soon as Rabbi Reuven Epstein heard this news, he mobilized all the faithful: This meeting was a sacrilege, an insult to God, the Creator of the Universe! An aggravating factor was that these "Yiddish goyim", these renegades, had the audacity to travel in the middle of Sabbath. The meeting hall was located at the edge of the village, at the mill, toward Wyszmontow.

     Having got wind of the impending attack, the Free Thinkers put up barricades and lay in a stock of rocks and clubs. Rabbi Reuven arrived on the scene, accompanied by Shya Kleinmintz, his right-hand man and bodyguard, who solemnly demanded that the rabbi and his followers be allowed to enter. The Free Thinkers agreed to allow the rabbi in, but his followers were out of the question! This refusal lit the powder and a brawl broke out. The rabbi's followers threw themselves into the fray, confronting the impious with all the force given them by God.

Stones flew from everywhere; sticks flailed the air. A veritable pitched battle! Before long the police intervened and made a lot of arrests. Although it was an internal matter for the Jewish community, the police supported the rabbi against the "Communists".

This violent event put an end to the activities of the Free Thinkers. There was a trial in Radom which the rabbi and 15 of the Communist militants who had been jailed attended. When the presiding judge asked the rabbi why he wanted to prevent the meeting from taking place, Shya Kleinmintz answered for him, "Because they're Communists!" The defendants' lawyer Liberman, who had come specially for the trial from Warsaw, asked the rabbi to explain exactly what he meant by "Communist". The rabbi answered: "These are people who no longer pray at the synagogue, who do not lay tefillen every morning, who do not cover their heads and who do not respect the Sabbath."

     Thus, the lawyer was easily able to obtain the release of almost all of the accused. Only Abraham-Itche Glauber was sentenced to 18 months in prison for possessing illegal literature. As soon as the "heroes" of the Radom trial were released, they scattered to the big Polish cities and abroad.

     Among them was my brother Meyer, whom I found 41 years later. He quickly fled to a larger town, then to France, where he continued his political activities. In 1932 he left for the Soviet Union to build the "Autonomous Jewish Republic of Biro-Bidjan". He was arrested during the great Stalinist purges of 1937 and spent 15 years in a Siberian work camp.

     After serving his sentence, Abraham-Itche Glauber stopped his political activities. He married Minka, the daughter of Yankele Birenbaum, a very cultured man. Minka herself was well-read. Their house was a meeting place for people who enjoyed discussing politics or current events in 1936 and 1937, such as the Spanish Civil War or the purges in the Soviet Union. They had one son, David, who was ten years old in 1942.

top photo
:  Shya Kleinmintz, Reb Reuven Epstein's right hand man.
bottom photo: Abraham-Itche and Minka Glauber, with their son David, then age 6.

Ożarów 7

photo and written excerpts
from "Memories of Ożarów: A Little Jewish Town That Was" by Hillel Adler. Translated by William Fraiberg.





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