The date May 8, 1926 is remembered well by
the survivors of Ozarow, especially Simon Fuks. On that day,
a Catholic village fair brought in the peasants from the
surrounding area. First they went to the church, then as was
their habit, they quenched their thirst with vodka. The wife
of our cantor Leibke had just died. It was Friday and
the funeral had to take place before Sabbath. So didn't
these hooligans try to rip the black cloth off the corpse?
(Following tradition there was no coffin.) This provocation
turned into a pogrom. By chance the Chevra Kadisha (burial
society members) in the funeral procession were stout
fellows. They fought off the attackers and made haste to
carry the mortal remains to the cemetery, but there were a
lot of people injured on the Jewish side, and shops in the
vicinity were looted and vandalized.
Simon Fuks can never forget the inhuman
screams of the poor mute handicapped Jew whom the Poles
viciously beat into the ground.
The Jews of Ozarow tried to return blow for
blow to the aggressors with sticks and hammers. Even Hersh
Yoissef Kleinmintz charged out of his shop brandishing the
pump he used for serving beer. Finally, the Poles fled with
their horses and wagons. As usual, the police arrived too
late and arrested eight young Jews!
In the 1930s the rise of anti-Semitism took
on a larger scope, becoming official and organized. The
Polish government passed laws that made life for Jews,
already miserable, still more difficult. In Ozarow the Poles
began more and more to carry on trades that had
traditionally been plied by Jews. Thus, we witnessed the
establishment of new shoemakers and tailors in the town, and
Jewish tradesmen found themselves evicted because their
Polish clientele naturally turned their custom to their
"Legal" anti-Semitism was not unusual in
this situation either. For example, a certain Krainik, a
hairdresser by profession, moved in with the grocer
Lesniewski. From then on, no Jew was ever again allowed to
step across the threshold of his store. It was at Krainik's
that the "Endecja", the official anti-Semitic movement,
already legal before the war, made its headquarters.
On market day you could see more and more
itinerant Polish merchants taking the place of the Jews.
Benefiting from official preference and protection, their
number grew considerably, without speaking of the favourable
reception which the anti-Semitic campaign orchestrated by
the government received locally. The slogan "swoj do swego"
(Everyone in his own house!) came to be taken for granted by
the Polish population.
In 1938, one Breyer moved into number 10
Main Street, the house recently acquired by Yossel
Cyrels-Goldspiner. He was the first Pole to sell cloth in
the centre of Ozarow. His sign "Handel Polski" (Polish
Merchant) was by itself a profession of faith. There was no
question of a Jew arranging his wares in front of the store
on market day and hiding the sign.
Orthodox Jews were often attacked, but so
too were those who were assimilated and appeared modern,
since they were suspected Communists. There was no safety.
Some Jews crucified Jesus. And the others didn't believe in
The cattle market field served as an
athletic ground where young Ozarow Jews played football.
There was no official sports club for the Polish students,
but during school vacations they played in the same place.
One day, the Jewish Ozarowers invited the Jewish team from
Opatow for a football match. The Polish students had agreed
to let the Jews have the grounds for that Sunday. Ozarow won
the match, but the Polish students wanted to punish the team
from Opatow for playing badly. Any excuse would do. The
Ozarowers had to protect their visitors from Opatow by
accompanying them for a few kilometres past the town until
the last attacker had disappeared.
A few weeks later, the Polish students
challenged the Jewish team of Ozarow to a match. The referee
was the local police chief. He was a great athlete and he
accepted this honour with a lot of pleasure, but he was
hardly fair and constantly made calls against the Jews.
Their opponents played brutally but were never penalized.
David Schneider, our centre, was taking the
ball to the goal when one of the students, Henryk
Kowalczenski, kicked him in the mouth. He fell bleeding,
with his lower lip split and two teeth broken. That was our
last soccer match in 1939.
It was at the time of the events of 1942
that the Poles showed the full extent of their
anti-Semitism. Not a single Jew from the village was able to
find refuge in the house of any Pole. Those who attempted to
disguise themselves were denounced to the Nazis by the
Poles. Not a survivor. Where were the good Poles?