Moses Mandelmann: Education System in Siedlce

During October 1915, only two months after the Germans occupied Siedlce, the elementary school was opened in the city. It was founded by Fanny Radak, which has moved, after a while, to work in the Yiddish school in Riga with her husband, after which they have moved to the Soviet Union.

Fanny Radak came to Siedlce as a refugee, who fled with her parents from the border town of Chorzele in East Prussia. I will never forget the impression the enthusiastic words of my old friend, Joseph Rozenzomen, made on me:

“A very sympathetic, Lithuanian woman wearing low heeled shoes came, and has opened a school here for Jewish children to attend. All teaching was done in Yiddish. She speaks Yiddish – it’s a pleasure to hear! I myself taught singing there.”

This was the big surprise for me. I was very excited and agreed with my friends to go to school the next morning to see and hear with my own eyes the wonders of a Jewish school, Jewish children, and Yiddish – learning!

School has captured me. I was bound to it by bonds of love. I sat with the children and paid careful attention to all the wonderful classes: nature, math, history and all the rest – in Yiddish? The subjects of Yiddish, Math, Science and History were taught by Fanny Radak herself. Rachel Adelstein has taught Polish. Tzvia Zobrobitz  handcraft, and Joseph Rozenzomen – singing. I remember, as if it was yesterday, the first song the children learned: “Do you know the country where Etrogs bloom.”

At the time, there was another school for Jewish children in Siedlce, which was under Zionist influence. It, too, taught Yiddish and Hebrew, and was managed by the “Committee Hbriskai”:the fund for mutual assistance to the Homeless “- as refugees from Brisk And Pinsk were called. These were several hundred families, including teachers, who at the end of 1915 established a school for refugee children. There were about 200 children there, who also received two meals a day.

The second school needed a board for which the following teachers were appointed: Joseph Rozenzomen, Dod Niimark, Jacob Tenenboim, Rebecca Borstein-Endelmann, Abraham Zigelwaks and myself. The German authorities’ permission to open the school was received by three of our colleagues, who were graduates of Russian gymnasium and in any case they were given the right to teach: Zivia Zobrobitz, Roiza Tannenbaum and Minya Gotglik. The school opened in the summer of 1916, with 240 students who studied in six classes. It expanded quickly and acquired a good name. Zionist lawyer Apolinary Hartglas, later – a member of the Sejm, operated on behalf of the institution with the authorities.

In the autumn of 1916 the Germans handed over to the Poles the organization and management of the Polish educational system. After the big victory of the ” Folksgrupe “- the popular faction – in the Warsaw City Council elections, Jews has claimed self-management of the education system for their children. The “Jewish People’s Party” was established and its’ representatives raised strong demands, both in the press and in public gatherings concerning Culture and Education, which included both “Bundists” and “Folkists”. Noach Pryłucki speeches at the Warsaw City Council made a tremendous impression all over Poland. Both Poles and Jews came with interest to Council meetings, to see and hear who this ” Żyd ” was, who dared to demand from the City Hall the establishment of schools that will teach using “Jargon” …

A similar struggle, for such a school, has started in Siedlce as well. All the Yiddishist forces of the city were organized and a large number of signatures were collected from members of the “Yiddishe Kunst”- the largest cultural institution in Siedlce. We aspired to become, in time, a center under one roof, for all the branches of Yiddish cultural activity. We encountered stubborn opposition from the Jewish-Zionist circle, which wanted to prevent the expansion of Yiddish’s circulation. But we managed, very stubbornly, to arrange a conference, a special meeting of the members of the “Yiddishe Kunst”, which decided on the opening of the school, in which the teaching language will be Yiddish.

When “Yiddishe Kunst” has announced the opening of a Yiddish school, about 300 children were registered in a few days. However, we aspired to build a regular school, which would grow with time, and so we opened only two first grades, with only 80 children, aged six and seven.

The school opened in October 1917. It was in the “Yiddishe Kunst” building, on 66 Warsaw Street. A large room was allocated near the concert hall, used by students as a sports hall and for recreation breaks. The first teachers were: Asher Perlman and Yulia Kanterowitz, who later married Itzhk Gordon and perished in Russia.

The school was dear to all of us. Classrooms with walls painted colorfully and decorated with children drawings were treated as Holy of holies. Anyone who passed by them, even when they were empty, walked on tiptoe, quietly, with dignity.

The school was officially opened on December 31, 1917, during the Hanukkah holiday, in which hundreds of people participated. The writer H.D. Nomberg came from Warsaw, especially for the holiday, and related with pride to his participation in the event and called himself the “godfather” of the school.

There were also delegations and greetings from various institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish, local and from other cities. The children demonstrated their knowledge and skills, and presented, in beautiful costumes, living “Chanukah candles”.

On Lag B’Omer of 1918 we held a big parade of all the Jewish schools in Siedlce, with an impressive event in Scola forest, located six kilometers from the city. At that time our city included: the school for  refugee children from Brisk, a Hebrew school established by the Zionists, a private Polish school for children from wealthy Jewish families, ran by Halbestat sisters, two private “Cheider”s directed by Hebrew teachers Goldfarb And Morkenstern, and some municipal Polish schools for Jewish children, which have not learned on Saturdays and were called “Shabsobeks”.

According to a plan set up by a joint committee of representatives of all the schools, trumpets sounded by scouts belonging to the “Athletic Association in memory of Professor Mandelshtam” has woken the Jews of the city at 6 am and heralded a great holiday. The marchers gathered in the municipal park and at 8 am they set out. Each child was a symbol of his school. Members of the Joint Committee marched in the lead. The participants carried political posters, including various demands relating to the education system, and a large number of police officers – volunteers and municipal – maintained order. 3,000 children marched to the sounds of the two bands – one of the “Yiddishe Kunst”, and the second, the municipal Polish schools band. We passed through the city’s main streets, filled with thousands of spectators – Jews, Poles and Germans alike – who welcomed the marchers with cries of joy and applause.

In the afternoon they gathered in the forest and thousands of city residents joined us. The singing, the music, and the sounds of joy and laughter echoed far away.

The celebration ended with the cheerful march of thousands of adults and children back to the city and finished late in the evening by torches” lights.

Due to the Russian revolution at the beginning of 1917, public-political life in Siedlce became stormier and political contrasts became more prominent. Under the influence of the revolution, the Jewish labor movement has grown and developed, and in the bosom of the “Yiddishe Kunst” two new institutions has developed: the Bundist “Beit Hapoalim” in 22 Dluga Street, and “Poale Zion”‘s “Beit Hapoalim” at Ugrodova Street. These two, despite the harassment by the German occupier, conducted extensive political, professional and cultural activities. The “Jewish People’s Party” also grew enormously, and unions of manual laborers and small merchants were established.

At the end of 1918, when Germany was defeated in the war and Poland gained independence, the Jewish street boiled in a fierce political struggle for national and general rights.

In the new city council of Siedlce, there was a large contingent of supporters of a secular Jewish educational system. The People’s Party, the Bund, “Poalei Zion-Left”, and representatives of the Workers’ Union fought a stubborn war for the Jewish schools. Indeed, they were able to obtain municipal aid in various ways, which enabled the Jewish educational system to become established and expand.

The schools did not dare charge parents for tuition. On the contrary, the children received two meals a day in the school, and occasionally a garment or a pair of shoes. “Dinzon” school has recorded large expenditures, and when management was forced to seek additional sources of income the “People’s Party” has set up a grocery store, targeting the profit for education purposes. At that time, the commodity prices were very high and the profits of the store were handsome and provided some solution to the problem.

The blessed activity was cut short while it was still in progress. The war between the Soviet Union and Poland, which broke out in 1920, severely damaged Jewish life, especially in Siedlce. The ferocious bullying of the Polish reaction, during the war and sometime later, forced the Jewish labor movement to go underground. The harassment and decrees were constantly being waged on the entire country, and especially on the Jewish population in the city. The Bolshevik army spent only ten days in the city, but for many years we felt the devastating consequences of the entry of the Polish army.

Hundreds of young people fled the city, in order to escape the revenge of the Polish reaction. Hundreds were imprisoned in prisons. Many were beaten and tortured; some were even shot, according to military court verdicts.

With matchless brutality, Polish troops destroyed and looted the equipment of the “Yiddishe Kunst”. All the furniture – hundreds of chairs, tables, curtains and so on, dozens of expensive musical instruments, theater sets and costumes were looted and vanished. The rich and old portfolio held in the archive of “Yiddishe Kunst” was savagely destroyed. The building itself, with its seventeen rooms, was confiscated. We miraculously managed to save the library, the few thousand books, which we hid in the cellars of the grocery store.

In fact, all Jewish educational system in Siedlce has been destroyed.

With renewed vigor and stubbornness, we went to reestablish the schools.

The administration of our school, which Icze Altshuler, Manasseh Tz’rnobrodh, Yossef Torin, Jacob Shlachter, Yossef Rozenzomen, Haim Mendelson and I  recruited a new team of teachers, most of them local: Ester Lowenstein, later director of the school, “Sobek” and years later – the wife of Manasseh Tz’rnobrodh who died along with her husband and children in Siedlce; Sarah Tz’rnobrodh-karts, who was also the teacher B”sbsobkh “and later immigrated to Israel, Puglia Friedman Altshuler, Rebecca Endelmann, Dina Friedman HochbergDavid Niimark and Josef Zonsein.

We were full of goodwill, but we had to fight again and again with harassment and persecution by the authorities in charge of education. During the annual discussions in the municipal budget, bitter struggles were fought to allocate funds to our school. The summer of 1925 was one of the critical moments we knew, when the school was on the brink of collapse: it was the new school year and the renovation of the building had not yet been done, the teachers had to be paid salaries for many months, the rent was skyrocketing, and the chances of assistance were nil – a hopeless situation by all accounts.

As I’ve offered, a meeting of the students’ parents was held, and they were asked to start paying tuition, which covered approximately 40% of the school budget. The rest of the sums we tried to obtain from other sources. The parents were indeed helpful, and the school was saved and continued to operate.

So we made every effort to keep the two schools and the children’s home. The Bund and Poalei Zion also reopened their children’s homes, but these were closed shortly thereafter due to lack of financial means.

In 1925, the tenth anniversary of the death of I.L. Peretz, an impressive mass procession was held in Warsaw. Tens of thousands of people went to the grave. Among the delegations coming from all over Poland was, of course, also one from a school named after him. Since then our school is called “Yiddish school No. 1, I.L. Peretz”. His name, embroidered with silver thread, was on a flag made of damask, which had been laid out only on special occasions.

In preparation for the opening of the school year 1926-1927, we tried to make more improvements in the school, and the teachers’ team was also greatly expanded and strengthened. Excellent teachers were added – Carol and Mina Weisberg. And so we already had seven teachers who, in their dedicated work, raised the educational level and prestige of the institution.

In 1927-1929, the school reached its peak: the institution consisted of seven classes with about 250 students. We have increased public propaganda, both written and verbal. A bonding between students’ parents and our school took place and there was also a pedagogic library for teachers and a library for students, managed by the students themselves, under the supervision of teachers. The students have enjoyed having certain laboratory equipment for experiments in chemistry, and above all – a club which did a lot for teaching students independence and helped shaping their personalities.

At the end of the school year 1927-1928, marking the tenth years of school, we held a series of celebrations and for two weeks we held meetings and events in all public institutions on which we had influence. In one of the largest halls in the city, an impressive performance was performed by the children. On the main streets there was a procession of students accompanied by their parents and friends, and the crowning glory was a wonderful exhibition of the students’ works, spanning all seven classes. Especially for the opening of the exhibition came from Warsaw Joseph Lstz’nski – representing the management of CYSHO (Central Organization for Education Idi) – and MP Noach Pryłucki from the League of elementary education.

In the summer of 1929 I moved to work in Warsaw. For a short time, until the fall, I’ve worked in sanatorium “Medem”, and between 1929 until the outbreak of World War II, in 1939 – as a social instructor for CYSHO. M Gilinsky (Patek) has been working as a teacher sanatorium “Medem” until the Holocaust. My wife, Rebecca Endelmann, began working at the newly established school in Kutno. All this adversely affected the continued existence of the school in Siedlce, but the situation was mostly worsened because of the global economic crisis, which have reached Poland and destroyed the income of the Jewish population in our city.

The school lasted until 1933. With the further aggravation of the economic crisis, the burden of distress on many educational institutions passed one by one, and ours too was hurt. The teachers suffered starvation, the debt of rent on the building grew, and the owners of the place waved legal eviction orders in front of our eyes. Some of the local board members could no longer withstand the pressure, and so, just before its 15th birthday, our school has quietly perished.

In the years to come, especially since 1936, political tension in Poland intensified. The Jewish street was intensively active to the displeasure of the Polish government, and in Poland as a whole the interest in educational problems increased. Thanks to the improving condition of CYShO organization a branch was established in Siedlce after much effort.  Detailed plans were made for reopening of the Children House and 1st grade, and a sum of several hundred zlotys was collected. Unfortunately, however, the plans were not implemented. The shadow of the enemy has darkened skies of Poland, until the thugs have attacked us and within a few days destroyed all Jewish life.

Written by Moses Mandelmann in the book: “Ancestors Tell Siedlce”.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.