Hillel Adler of Ożarów, Poland


Ożarów is a member of the Museum's World Jewish Communities

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Hillel Adler



Throughout the entire reign of the Czars, our parents had to endure the behaviour of the Cossacks toward the Jews. Russia was often at war, and if things went badly at the front, the Cossacks took their revenge on the Jews, as they did with the Ozarow fire of 1915.

Poland's independence in 1918 should have brought the Jews greater tolerance and harmony with the Poles, but alas that was not to be. Once he had returned from France where he had been exiled during the First World War, General Haller exhorted his troops to attack the Jews. On these forays one of the favourite sports was cutting the beards off old religious Jews. The successive governments claimed to respect equality before the law, but in fact a Jew could never obtain a job as a functionary at any level, not even as a sweeper. It was impossible for a Jew to work in a metal factory, let alone a coal mine.

In Ozarow relations between Catholics and Jews varied according to circumstances, but the Jews' mistrust was a constant because they knew that the Polish people, intensely Catholic, hated them as supposed Christ killers. 

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 coreligionists.

"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 God ..

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?

Ożarów 20







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