Thursday, May 8, 2014

THE HOLOCAUST EFFECT - Part 1 - INTRODUCTION - and Pages 1-27





INTRODUCTION


My father, Ben Neuman, was a Holocaust survivor. He experienced unimaginable suffering over a period of several years. His ordeal included starvation, exposure to the cruel Polish winters, and constant fear of certain death. Near the end of the war, as a result of a chance encounter, he survived. His salvation was linked to a pact that required him to protect a Gestapo Agent.
In 1944 Nazi Germany began to collapse as a result of a relentless onslaught by the Allies on two fronts. During this period my father finally found refuge with a rich and powerful family living just outside of Binem's hometown Radziejow. The husband was German and the wife was Polish. They owned a thirty room mansion that was surrounded by a sprawling country estate. My father affectionately referred to the wife as the “Polish Princess”. After being sheltered by the his benefactors for several months, Binem was confronted by the couple’s son, a German officer, who was on a short leave for Christmas.  The son had been experiencing the fury of the Soviet Union on the Russian Front.  When the parents told him that they were hiding a Jew the son insisted he meet with the Jew alone. Without any warning given to Binem the awkward meeting was arranged.  After the initial startling encounter, the two young men, as different as good and evil, engaged in a surreal conversation. The Nazi son made it clear that the demise of Germany was near. The regally dressed soldier who pledged loyalty to Adolf Hitler, may his name be erased, did something quite unexpected.  He managed to extract a pledge from my father to protect his parents once the war ended. He had his reasons for picking this forsaken Jew. He knew firsthand of the horror that was soon to be released upon his parents once the Russians arrived. He had already witnessed the in kind the havoc the revenging Russians were engaged in against the retreating  Germans regardless if they were soldiers or civilians. My father, who had endured the unrelenting hardship from the Nazi ilk this son had fought for,  had zero compassion to this smiling Nazi, may he rot in hell; however,  he had strong merciful feelings for the Polish Princess.  Since refusal to this request would have been the equivalence of writing one's own death sentence, Binem had nothing to lose by agreeing with the Nazi son of his protectors.   He could only agree to use his best efforts to try and save this soldier's  Nazi's parents but he made it clear that he could not guarantee that he would be successful. 
A short time later the Russian army liberated Binem. Only then did my father learn that the soldier's father who he swore to try and protect was in fact a German spy before the War and during the occupation of Poland he was a Gestapo officer. At that time Binem was but a shell of a man. He weighed a mere 114-pound.  His mind was clouded by  the haunting memories of his life prior to the War, his tragic odyssey during the Holocaust and what his life would be as one of the  few Jewish survivors.  If this load was not heavy enough he now had the additional burden to somehow serve as the protector of a hated couple. In essence he was to stand alone between the Russians conquerors and his German rescuers.


* * *
My father died of natural causes at age 83.  The date of his death was April 29th, 2003 which happened to be Holocaust Memorial day. I point this out because had he been murdered as a result of the Holocaust I would not exist.
 At his funeral I represented the family and delivered the eulogy. For the Rabbi in charge of the funeral it was an unusual request since the ceremony was taking place during a period on the Jewish calendar that no eulogies are allowed.  However, as my son would say I "know just enough about Judaism to be dangerous." So after some persuasion peppered with some accepted exceptions to this rule  the Rabbi relented.  I truly wanted to speak that day because I felt that it was important for the hundred or so people in attendance to understand the true miracle of my father’s Holocaust experience.


     My father was a quiet hero.He was a true survivor in so many ways.His life was filled with many tragedies as well as triumphs. He lived through the worst nightmares we can imagine and persevered.
     Dad grew up in a very religious home in the village of Radziejow in Poland. He was the second youngest of eleven brothers and sisters. His brothers and sisters, like so many in Poland at the time, were less religious than their parents.But because my father was the youngest son, he was the one my grandfather pushed to maintain the traditions.
     My father went to public school from early morning to early afternoon.  As soon as the school bell rung he rushed to  attend cheder for his Jewish studies.When he finally arrived home in the evening, he would study with my Grandfather Talmud until late into the night.
      The Nazis invaded Poland when my father was twenty years old.He observed my grandfather, Shimon Najman, the most trusted member of the Jewish community, refuse to allow the Nazis to change his religious ways. For example, my father begged him to shave his beard lest the Nazis use it as a pretext to beat him.  My grandfather “compromised” by placing a handkerchief over his beard.\
      The Nazis first acts in occupying Radziejow, my father's hometown, were to humiliate the Jews by an endless set of laws to degrade the Jews.  These included roll calls in which the Jews were degraded before the townspeople.  But my grandfather refused to participate. He simply continued to study Talmud in his living room despite the family’s pleas for him to cooperate.
     Within months of the beginning of the occupation my grandfather became ill. He died at home surrounded by his still-intact family and was then buried by the community with dignity. Some attending the funeral remarked that Shimon Najman’s death received a blessing from G-d by allowing him to  pass away at home rather than face what the Nazis had in store for the Jews.
     Two years later the Jews of Radziejow were liquidated by the Nazis. During the liquidation of the Ghetto, my father was a laborer in a forced-labor camp with his brothers.When they learned what happened to the Jews of Radziejow his brothers told him that they were doomed, but as the youngest brother, he must somehow survive.
      So my father escaped and hid in the fields surrounding his village. He had no food, no shelter, and no plan. Life became unbearable. So unbearable that he decided to end his misery. Late one night he crept into the Jewish cemetery where his father was buried. First he prayed and then he cried.When he was done he removed his belt and wrapped it around his neck. He then pulled as hard as he could at the belt, but nothing happened. So he took a substance that he had in his pocket that he was sure was poisonous and swallowed it. Again nothing happened.  He suddenly heard a voice in the wind moaning, “Get out of here.” So he ran away, feeling that he failed at even trying to kill himself.
     And thank G-d that he did because he survived. What drove him to survive was his desire to watch the Nazis suffer as he and the Jewish people suffered. His vision was achieved when he watched the Russians liberated him and then they administered vengeance on the Nazi barbarians.
     After the war, he did not know where to go or what to do so he returned to his town.The Russian officials drafted him as a police officer. He moved back into the house of his birth. There were no longer any Jews left but him but soon a few others returned.He soon found that the Poles of his town were not so happy that the Nazis had failed to kill all the Jews. Within a year a friend on the police force warned him that there were people plotting to kill him.
     So my father took flight from his beloved Radziejow never to return again. He ended up near Frankfurt, Germany at Bergen Belson, an infamous concentration camp now-turned refugee camp. There, his name was published on a list of survivors that was sent around the world.
     An older brother, Harry Neuman, who had left Poland when my father was four years old, located him. My father had already signed up to go to Palestine to help establish the State of Israel, Harry convinced him through letters that he had already lived through hell, and it was time to begin living a normal life. He decided to listen to his brother's advice and immigrate to the United States. He moved in with Harry and his wife Ida in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There his brother set him up in business, and most importantly gave him the tools to live a normal life.
     Soon thereafter, my father decided it was time to find a wife.He took dancing lessons at the Fred Astaire Studio. He was set up to meet Bernice Halevy, from Chicago, Illinois.They couldn’t have been more different.She was born and raised in the United States, spoke Yiddish, but knew little about the Jewish religion.She was always known as tomboy. During the war, she had volunteered in the spirit of “Rosie the Riveter” and became a welder in a munitions factory. She matured into a woman who was lovely but always remained tough as nails. On the other hand, my father was a quiet man. He was still experiencing the after-effects of the Holocaust. But they fell in love and got married.
     My mother forced my father to give up his business in Milwaukee and move to Chicago.He knew how to sell shoes from his family business in Poland so he went to work at Mailings Shoe Store in downtown Chicago. One of the salesmen took advantage of my father because he was a greenhorn. He stole  my father’s customers and robbed him of his commissions.After discussing it with my mother, my father took the salesman into an alley and taught him a lesson. That salesman never took a penny away from my family again.
     As a child, I watched my father sleep in an odd manner.When he slept, his legs would constantly be moving.My mother said he was dreaming that he was running from the Nazis.
     My parents ultimately decided to open their own shoe store, Ben’s Shoes, in the 1960s. Through robberies, shakedowns, slow business and thriving business, my father raised three American children that grew up to be proud Jews.
     After my mother died, I watched my younger brother Keith care for my father until his last days.  My father's health deteriorated. His lungs were bad.  He had heart problems, His hearing was impaired. He could barely see. Still, as long as he was alive, I always felt I was someone’s child. But today, at age forty-seven, I realize that I now have to fully grow up and play the role of a mature adult as my father did.
     My wife, my children, and I will miss Grandpa because we know that if he did not survive the Holocaust we would not be here today.


     After I finished speaking, I returned to my seat satisfied that I honored my father.While the Rabbi spoke my mind wandered. I finally stared at the casket that was about ten feet in front of me. Completely at ease I experienced a waking dream. I saw my father hovering above and behind the casket. He was in a standing position. The entire area around him was basked in a soft calming light. He was dressed in a shroud and wore a shimmering tallis, or prayer shawl. He stood between two similarly dressed apparitions. The vision felt natural, it was as if I was experiencing a very pleasant ceremony.  I  felt enveloped with a feeling of peace and tranquility.The vision ended as naturally as it had begun. It suddenly occurred to me to turn to my sister and brother and ask them if they were watching the same thing.  Unfortunately they both answered that they did not see a thing.


* * *


      My father was a Holocaust survivor and only because of that fact do I feel elevated to an honored status in life. That status is that I am the child of a Holocaust survivor.  By writing this book I now feel that I have earned the right to claim this special honor.

           The process of writing this book started 36 years ago, in 1981.  As if guided by an unknown power, I persuaded my father to recall his personal experiences during the Holocaust.When he was done I felt that the events he described were so extraordinary that he had what could only be described to have experienced a series of miracles.            I do not use the word miracles in flippant manner.  To illustrate let me cite a few examples. My father told me that soon after he escaped from his work camp he became so depressed that he decided to end his life. So he returned to his hometown, Radziejow, and walked around the middle of town waiting for a Nazi, German, or Pole to catch him. Miraculously, no matter what he did to bring attention to himself that day not one  person paid the least amount of attention to him.  The only words he could use to describe this eerie day was that he must have been invisible! 

     Similarly, after the War, my father was walking alone one night through the lonely streets of Alexandrow. Out of nowhere, a man appeared and addressed him by name. My father was startled; he had thought the streets were completely deserted. He asked the man, “How do you know my name, and by the way what is your name?”The man answered,“That’s not important.”He continued, “Europe is a Jewish cemetery; you must leave Poland now.” My father turned his head for a mere second, and when he looked back, the man had disappeared.He searched the area frantically for the mysterious man, but could not find him. Soon thereafter, he fled Poland to avoided being murdered as a result of contract being put out on him by a group of Polish anti-Semites.


* * *


The purpose of this book is to memorialize my father’s life as well as the Jews of Radziejow that were murdered by the Nazi scourge. Today, Jewish Poland as it was before the Holocaust is no more. There is not a single Jew remaining in Radziejow.All that remains of the world of the Jews of Radziejow are the descendants of the survivors scattered throughout the world. The children of the survivors and their children are living examples of Hitler’s failure to destroy the Jewish people.
My father’s saga represents a microcosm of how the Jews throughout Europe were systematically murdered during the Holocaust and how some Jews were able to adapt and survive. In my father's case he survived because he was destined to live over the War. His only survival tool was he had the ability to successfully deal with the Germans, Poles, Russians. It is my hope that when the reader reflects on Binem's experiences this will cause one to reexamine one's own perspective concerning the meaning of mankind's short existence on this small planet called Earth.










                                          PART ONE
                             THE  HOLOCAUST SAGA
Radziejow and Surrounding Countryside

The town of Radziejow is located in Kuyavian-Poverainian Province.  It sits  ideally on a moraine hill approximately 124 meters above sea level. It is picturesquely surrounded by the countryside's lush greenery and the rolling fields of farmland.  Dotting the landscape are haystacks, shacks, farmhouses, barns, cottages and even mansions located on large estates. 


Springtime in Radziejow


Crops Begin to Grow in a Field Near Radziejow

      Spring turns Radziejow and the surrounding countryside into a kind of Garden of Eden.  The forests turn green and the crops in the fields begin to grow.  This continues until Autumn when the harvest season arrives and nature reaches its peak. Golden stalks rise high towards the sky covering the fields created like a dense forest.  Peasants scurry as they cultivate their fields.  All this in a cacophony of sounds such as the humming of buzzing insects.  To top it off the sweet fragrance of wild flowers permeates everywhere.  

After Harvest in a field Near Radziejow
Winter in Radziejow

When the harvest ends the countryside completely transforms.  Winter arrives and the fields become  a barren wasteland. Still the fond memories of  the forests, the smell of the wild flowers and the vitality of nature affords the citizens of Radziejow solace to await the Spring when the cycle of life renews.  
Radziejow is a relatively short distance away from one of Europe's major rivers, the Vistula.  The town is located within a few hour's drive of Bydoszcc, Pozan, Lodz and Warsaw. As a result of this central strategic location Radziejow could be described as a national  football for Poland's neighbors in that it periodically changes possessions with neighboring Russia and Germany.  
Map of Poland 1770
     
Radziejow's was located within Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century.  In fact when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 he used this disputed area as an excuse to immediately annex, Radziejow and  incorporated into Greater Germany. 
The Germans called this region Wartheland.  The Nazis changed the town's name from Radziejow back to its German name, Radichau.   At the time of annexation the incorporated area known as the Wartheland was about 92,000 square kilometers in size and its popluation was about ten million. (Poland's Holocaust, p.8).  As part of Hitler's so called reunification of this territory into Germany, it was  planned that the Army would soon completely empty the land of Poles or Jews and replace them with Europeans that the Nazis have officially labeled ethnic Germans. ( WWII, Gilbert). 
The history of Jews living in Poland dates back to the thirteenth century. King Kazimierz III and then later King Boleslav of Poland granted charters that invited Jews from around the world to live in Poland.  The charters contained several specific provisions meant to attract Jews.  Those provisions included promises to provide a safe haven for Jews; for at the time Jews were being expelled from several European countries.  Even in places where banishment was not yet ordered the Jews in those countries suffered greatly.  Poland's new charters providing a welcome invitation was thought by many of the long suffering Jews as a gift from G-d.
Interestingly, it has longed been said among Jews that the very name Poland can be divided into two Hebrew words.  The first syllable Po meaning here.  The second syllable land was similar to the Hebrew word loon meaning lodging place.  A prominent Rabbi even went so far as to remark  that  G-d knew that one day the Jews would be exiled from Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel). To protect his people he hid away in Heaven a portion of Eretz Yisroel so when the time came that the Temple would be destroyed he would return this piece of Eretz Yisroel and place it  in Poland so it could serve as to be a resting place for the Jews during their exile.  (Poland's Holocaust, p. 35).
Historical accounts concerning the town of Radziejow date back as early as the 12th century. About three hundred years later there are references that Jews began to settle there.  One of these records show that a Jewish synagogue was located in Radziejow in the early 1500s.  Later that century, around 1546, a king's edict ordered all the town Jews be banished from living in the town.  Two centuries later, the Jews returned.  By the 1770s, Jews made up approximately five percent of the town residents.  Those Jews were restricted to reside and do business  along Torunska Street which became a main street.  Under the Nazis that same street was where the  Jewish ghetto was placed.


Radziejow and surrounding countryside back in the 1800s

The Jews engaged in a variety of professions and businesses.  By 1862, Jews were no longer required to live in the vicinity of Torunska Street.  By then, the street was known by Pole and Jew alike as Jewish Street.  Even with this newly granted freedom, the Jews, for the most part,  remained living and doing business along and nearby  to Jewish Street.  The reason for this is simple; Jews enjoy living and working together.  Likewise, they loved to be around the familiar sounds and smells that could only be found on Torunska Street. 
Jewish life is demanding with its communal prayer times along with many food restrictions.  So for the Jews of Radziejow it was convenient to live close to the Shul (house of prayer),  kosher bakery, and kosher butcher shop.  It was a delight for them to just stroll along Torunska and take in the sweet smell of different breads that were baked fresh daily; but, of course, never on Shabbos.  Likewise, the Jews enjoyed the hustle and haggling found at the kosher butcher shops where a variety of meat delicacies were to be found.  Likewise the familiar sound of animals awaiting kosher ritual slaughter seemed to shout in the ears of a Jew, "I am home!"Even the unpleasant smell of those same animals created a certain sense of inner tranquility.  To sum it up, the Jews of Radziejow felt secure among their lantzmen (Jewish relatives or friends).
Street located in Radziejow 
Map Depicts Radziejow When the Town Was Controlled By Russia

 The town was considered by Poland's central government authorities as a small rural town.  The closest border to Radziejow was Germany located about thirty miles away.  However that border was always changing. During different times in Poland’s history Radziejow was controlled by not only Poland but also Germany and Russia.  Around the turn of the twentieth century Radziejow was part of Russia.  The Russian occupiers were extremely anti-Semitic and that manifested itself by Russian soldiers constantly harassing Jews.  Russian soldiers would often make a special visit to Radziejow for the sole purpose of harassing the Jews.  They did this by pulling on the the beards of Jews along with other degrading acts.  These bullies had but one purpose, that being, to humiliate the hated Jews.
In an act of sheer desperation by the town’s Jewish leaders, a delegation was sent to Germany to beseech the German government to take control over Radziejow.  Germany at this time was led by the Kaiser.  Upon hearing this request, and of course with other considerations, he sent in the German army to take over the town.  The German justification for this border seizure was to protect the Jews.  And in fact the Jews were grateful and felt much safer under the protective umbrella of Germany.  Some decades later when World War II erupted, many Jews of Poland fled German controlled Poland to Russian held territory.  A few weeks later, when Russia invaded Poland in the East, some Jews actually fled to German controlled territory because historically the Germans treated the Jews better than the Russians. WWII, Gilbert.
With the end of World War I Poland regained its independence.  The reborn nation was a result of the partition of Germany's territories which was a consequence of Germany's surrender. In 1918 Poland became known as the Second Polish Republic,   
 A year prior to Poland's rebirth, in November of 191,7 Vladamir Lenin leader of the Communist revolution, became its dictator.  War broke out when the Communists attacked the new Polish Government. The war began in 1919 and ended in 1921.  In a decisive battle, known today as the Battle of Warsaw, Poland was victorious. Many historians agree that this decisive battle essentially stopped Communist plans to sweep across Western Europe.   During the War with Russia the Jewish community of Poland was threatened with a particular virulent strain of Polish anti-Semitism.  A group of rabble rousing nationalists charged that the Jews never assimilated into mainstream Polish society and therefore constituted a fifth column. These haters made the audacious diatribe that the Jews conspired with Russia to help Russia defeat Poland.  This accusation filtered its way to Radziejow.  Locals branded the Jews as traitors. These Jew-haters pointed out that in recent local history the Jews petitioned a foreign government, Germany,  for their own benefit.
Around the same time, Gabriel Narutowicz, the first President of Poland, was tragically assassinated five days after taking office on December 11, 1922.  The assassin , Eliguiusz Niewiadomski, was believed to be a member of the right wing National Democratic Party.  This same party would later align itself with Hitler's anti-Semitic polices prior to the outbreak of World War II.   Many believed that the assassin acted on the false rumor that the President was married to a Jewess.  
Under the guise of patriotism, several city officials of Radziejow, without any cause other than greed, arrested several prominent Jews. These Jews were falsely charged with treason for alleged collaboration with the Russians during the War.   It was irrelevant to the persecutors and prosecutor that the accused Jews were never even involved in politics.  The sole rationale for their arrests was a timeless moneymaking scheme used by anti-Semites for extorting the Jewish community.  In this case the plan was to implement a newly established criminal statute to justify the  arrest of  Jews and charge them with the capital crime of treason.  Government officials dropped the hint that if the Jews were to pay  a ransom then the charges would be dropped.
The ransom demanded was the then enormous sum  of 100,000 zloty.  When the Jewish community complained that this extortion amount was impossible to raise. The government officials doubled down and said if the Jews failed to pay the ransom, then the hostages would be killed.    To understand the enormity of the ransom demand one need only review official documents that calculate that the total value of all the Jewish community properties in Radziejow in 1938 was valued at 18,000 zloty.  These crooked town officials demanded a sum over five times that amount. 
The Jews of Radziejow, just like the Jews throughout the nearly 2,000 years of exile,  painfully realized that they had no alternative but to somehow find a way to pay the ransom as the only way to save their innocent lantzmen, which in Yiddish means relatives and friends.  Those Jews  appointed by the Kehilla (Jewish Community Governing Committee) that were made  responsible to collect this ransom made it quite clear to their fellow town Jews that if they failed to collect the ransom then the community would have to bear the guilt of standing by and watching the execution of innocent Jews.  Left unsaid but the Jews implicitly understood that if the hostages were executed the Poles that would not end this tragedy.  For the execution would surely be followed by a pogrom against the whole Jewish community. So against all odds the money was collected and presented to the extortionists before the arbitrary deadline expired.   The hostages were subsequently released. 
A short time after the release, the Kehilla filed a formal protest with the national government.  To the credit of the new Government of Poland, an investigation was conducted to determine the facts surrounding the payment of the ransom .  The investigators concluded that malfeasance was perpetrated by several town officials.  This resulted in  an actual  judicial proceeding.  Evidence was presented to determine  whether the Jewish Community of Radziejow should be compensated as a victim of government corruption. After a lengthy trial that  examined all the evidence presented, the Court, to the surprise of all, ruled for the Jews; to the  consternation of a good many of the town's Poles.  The Court ordered the local government to disgorge the ransom money and return the entire amount to the Jewish Community.
 
The Jewish community was located in a row of houses and businesses along Torunska Street. Jack Marcus, a Holocaust survivor,  stated that as far as the Jewish community was concerned  it was called Yiddishe Street. The building architecture was unremarkable being comprised of one story shops on both sides of a gravel road. A majority of the shops had living quarters behind the retail space and above. None of the shops were noteworthy because they were little more than shack like structures with some of the more larger stores being slightly more elaborate by the adorned display windows. There were no trees lining the side of the road.  The vast majority of the traffic on the street was pedestrian. Next was the horse drawn wagons. Few motor vehicles were to be found traversing Yiddishe Street; or for that matter, Radziejow itself.


Radziejow Jewish Day School. 1916-1917

 There were two Jewish houses of worship in Radziejow.  The first one was located across from the corner where Torunska Street begins.  The building was not only a place for prayer but also an after day school schoolhouse.  Within the building there were two separate minyans (congregation of ten or more men required for communal prayer), one Chassidic and one Traditional-Orthodox.  The minyans met three times a day, 365 days a year.   The building had a large Beit Midrash (study hall) as well as classrooms. 

The second synagogue, Beit Rachel, was built in the mid 1930s.   It was located near the center of Jewish Street, approximately five blocks away from the first synagogue.  Beit Rachel during its short period of existence served the mainstream type orthodox Jews along with  many Jews that considered themselves modern, progressive, and some even thought of themselves as secular.  The strictly observant Jews remained loyal to the old house of worship and study.
Be it Rachel -Opening Ceremony mid  1930s

In contrast to the near non existing building standards of Radziejow, Beit Rachel was built according to the best building practices available at that time.  Both Jews and Gentiles agreed the building was both opulent and sound. For example, it was unusual for a structure in Radziejow to be built of brick.  Beit Rachel was completely constructed of this material.  In fact, the contractor made sure that only the finest building materials of the day were used in its construction.  He claimed that the building was virtually fireproof.  Unfortunately, only a few years after it was opened the Germans proved that even a fireproof building could not withstand the destructive capabilities of the Nazis.
The first and only Rabbi of Beit Rachel was Chaim Plotgevitz.  He was the Rabbi of the old Shul starting in 1926. His politics was that of pro-Zionist leanings. In fact his son Menacham immigrated to Israel after the Holocaust and lived there well past the 1980s.  Menacham operated a liquor store on the main business street in Tiberias, next to the Sea of Galilee.  The previous Rabbi was Sziojma Grodzinski who served the community from 1919 until he left this position in 1924.  
 After Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War I, as per the terms of the armistice agreement imposed by the victorious allies, German territories and lands were taken away. Radziejow was one of these areas. It was incorporated into the newly reestablished country of Poland. At that time, the population of the town was about seven thousand people. The Jewish population less than one thousand.
Binem Najman was born in June of 1919.  His parents were Shimon Najman and Hinda Pocziwy.  Shimon was born in the town of Piotrkow Kujawski which was the nearest town to Radziejow.  It was located south of Radziejow, less than six miles away.   Shimon's father's name was Moshe Najman and his mother's maiden name was Maria Braun.  
Shimon, Binem's father, was one of twelve children. The oldest sibling was named Hersz.  Hersz was  followed by Masza Masha Shayman, Markus, Perel Gitel, Michal, Mindia Lecycka, Nachman Nuchem, Izrael Ber, Rywka, Szmul, Abram Jakob, Szymon (Shimon), and Mendel.   At one time Shimon's brother Hersz lived in Radziejow because he married a woman from the town named  Bajia Leszcynska.  He and his wife had eight children.  It is unclear whether Herz continued to live in Radziejow, because my father never mentioned him in his interviews.  His only comment about Shimon's side of the family was that they were not close.  Still, Manes, a cousin of Binem from his father's side, and also a Holocaust survivor, lived in Radziejow and was among Binem's closest friends.   Binem did state that he had several cousins that were in the Polish Army when Germany invaded Poland.  He remorsefully said that those that were not killed during the invasion were captured and later murdered by the Germans.
Moshe Najman was Binem’s grandfather. He was doctor that died in a plague.  Unfortunately we have no information concerning Binem’s grandmother.
Najman Family before the birth of my father, Binem - Photo includes my great grandparents, Baer and Miraim Poczciwy, my granparents Shimon and Hinda Najman
   
   Hinda was Binem’s mother.  Her maiden name was Poczciwy.  Her father's name was Baer and her mother's name was Miriam.  The Pocziwys lived continuously in Radziejow from the 1700s.  Hinda's grandmother was Hana Lajerowicz and her grandfather was Shimon Lajerowicz.  Her great grandfather was Jacob Gradowski and her great grandmothers name was Maya Gradowska.  
My Grandmother, Hinda Najman
Hinda was one of eleven children.   The oldest was Hudis Wagner. Hudas was followed by Hinda (Neuman), Max (Levy), Szymszon , Izrael Szymsio, Hudes Ryfka, Sam (Levy), Izrael (Levy), Gitel (Witkowski), Chava Brenner, and Chaim.   Hinda's brothers and sisters lived in Radziejow.  Sam, Izrael, and Max emigrated to the United States prior to the Holocaust.
The listing of the names of Binem's relatives serves two purposes.  First, one reason for writing this book is to show the roots of the Najman family and Binem’s life in Radziejow. Another reason for the list is that all the names give context to the scope of the losses involved in the Nazi created nightmare called today, The Holocaust.  A quick calculation reveals that both Hinda and Shimon's come from families of ten to twelve siblings.  And their siblings each had a corresponding number of children.  In turn, Shimon and Hinda had eleven children.  Many of their children were of the age to have had several of their own children prior to World War II.  A quick mathematical projection shows the sheer number of Jews murdered by the Nazi menace and the scope of the Holocaust tragedy.
  Baer Poczciwy, Binem's grandfather on his mother’s side, was by profession a horse trader.  His reputation in the community was that of honesty and integrity in all his personal and business affairs.  He was so honest that a incident he had with government authorities became folklore among both Jews and Poles of Radziejow. It occurred at the border crossing between Russia and Poland.   Baer was confronted by a border guard and asked if he had any contraband in his possession.  He answered no.  The guard proceeded to search Baer's belongings and discovered an undeclared bottle of contraband whisky.  Baer, an honest man, truly forgot about the bottle.  But he knew that it appeared that he told a government official that he lied. Baer thought fast and grabbed the bottle whisky from the startled custom official and drank out all its contents in one great gulp before the official could protest.  The contraband was gone. A crowd of government officials and border guards surrounded the now inebriated Baer.  After discussing the matter between themselves they concluded that there was no evidence of contraband.  With a smile on their faces they let Baer pass.   Thus,  Baer maintained his reputation for honesty and never breaking the law. 
Many skeptics believe that honesty and success in business do not go hand in hand.  Even to these skeptics they had to admit  that Baer was the exception to this rule.  He was an example to both Jews and Gentiles. He was well liked and became one of the wealthier Jews in Radziejow.
Baer was rich enough to afford to arrange for his four daughters to marry Torah scholars.  In the Orthodox Jewish communities in Poland a shidduch (match) for one's daughter to a Torah scholar was more prestigious than marrying a wealthy man.  The best place for a father to find such scholars were in the Talmudic academies known as yeshivas. Baer was committed to marry all his daughters to Torah scholars.  He traveled across Poland visiting the very finest yeshiva to find the perfect matches for his daughter from the very best students. 
Once he located a suitable prospect, he would offer the young man a generous financial package.  This unusual method enabled him to entice three highly intelligent bachelors to court his daughters.  For example, Gitel, Hinda's sister, married a red bearded Torah scholar named Hersh Jacob Witowski who came from a rabbinical family.  Hersh's  daughter, Joyce Wagner said her father was known to be the “best Baltifilla", meaning the finest person to lead the community during  prayer services. She stated that he was a kind and considerate man.  Unlike many Orthodox fathers' attitude about educating girls, he  insisted that Joyce be given a Jewish education.  Moreover,  he was a large donor to the opening of Beis Yakov Girls School in Radziejow.  
Radziejow's Beit Yakov Girls School 

      Miriam Poczciwy, Binem's grandmother, was a pious woman who was beloved the community. She was known for her generosity.   She would help poor brides to have weddings with dignity.  She would raise money for the bride's dress,  dowery and the wedding feast. As a result of her many contributions to the community she was loved and respected by all Jews in Radziejow regardless of Jewish affiliation or financial status.
Years before the outbreak of World War II, Baer passed away. Her sons had moved to the United States.  They insisted that she come to live with them in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Since the brothers were all were successful businessmen they made sure that her life in the United States was extremely comfortable.  She lived with them in Milwaukee until just before the beginning of World War II. To the surprise of everyone, she insisted that her sons send her back to Poland.  They tried to tell her that Jews from Poland and the rest of Europe were fleeing for their to the United States.  She didn't care.  Instead she gave them two reasons for moviing back to Poland.  First, she maintained that the United States was not kosher enough for her.  And second, she wanted to be buried next to her husband, Baer, in the Radziejow Jewish cemetery.  I was also told by Gilda Wagner, the great granddaughter of Miriam, that a third reason for her return was to care for her great grandchildren of one of her sickly granddaughters. 


My Grandfather, Shimon Najman
Shimon, Binem's father, was considered a melamden, a scholar, and was among the best students at his Yeshiva located in Piotrkow.   Baer offered him a deal that a yeshiva bacher (student), couldn't  refuse.  In exchange for marrying his daughter, Hinda, he promised to pay room and board at the Yeshiva for five additional years of study and then he would set him up in business of his choice. It is unknown whether another reason for Baer’s choice was that he may have known Hersz who at one time lived in Radziejow and was Shimon’s brother. 
      The engagement contract was signed, and soon thereafter Shimon and Hinda met and subsequently married.  As per the agreement, Shimon continued his studies. After five years of intense Talmudic studies, True to the terms of the agreement Baer eventually set up Shimon in the leather/shoe business in Radziejow.
I believe that the engagement might have been even longer because I recollect that Shimon arrived in Radziejow after his army service.
Ruta Neuman

Shimon was quite successful in the leather business.  As the business grew so did the family. According to the family plaque located in the Holocaust Museum on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, Binem had five brothers and five sisters.  Rifka, his sister, was the oldest,  followed by his brother Harry, Masha, Max, Machel, Gucha, Ruta, Shmiel, Azriel, and Malka.  His sister Ruta, died at the age of 19 just before the War when she choked to death on a chicken bone.





Najman Family Tree

My father pointed out that one reason Jewish families had so many children was that children represented a retirement plan for the parents.  This was a centuries old tradition among the Jews of Poland. When children were old enough they were trained in the family business.  Eventually they would take over the business and the father and mother would retire.  The children, in turn, were required to support the retired parents during their old age.  My father mused that in this system parents lived quite happily in a secure family environment without ever having to work again. 
This tradition resulted in Jewish boys from a very young age already knew what their future would be. This caused most boys not to aspire to seek out different professions.  To do so would mark the child as rebellious and ungrateful.
Shimon was a completely pious man.  Every waking hour was spent devoted to following the Torah.  He was Radomsker Chasid.  The Radomsker Chassidim was large Hasidic sect with thousands of followers throughout Poland.  The sect was led by the Radomsker Rebbe, Reb Shlomo Hakohan Rabinowicz.  The name Radomsker was derived from the name of the town in Poland where the Rebbe lived, that being Radom. 
The Rebbe was thought to be the richest rabbi in Poland.  As a result of his great personal wealth, he was not beholden to donations since he himself provided the bulk of the funds for maintaining the institutions.   It is said that he gave half of his personal fortune for the upkeep of the sect's several yeshivas of higher Torah learning.
He was known for his extensive personal library which was renowned among Torah scholars throughout the world.  In those days, the sign of a Jewish scholar was outwardly judged by the quality and quantity of holy books on one's shelves.   For example, I remember visiting the house of the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, located in Tel Aviv.  I was amazed at the thousands of books in his personal library.  Well the Rebbe’s library elicited the same reaction from visitors to his home.
       His chassidic sect, established many shtibelehs ( houses of worship) throughout Poland.  It was calculated that the number of Radomsker Shtebilahs was greater than those operated by Geyer Chassidim, the largest Hasidic sect in Poland and considered to be one of the great Chassidic dynasties in the world. The philosophy of the sect was that members that were scholars should remain in their own communities.  This is in contrast to most Chassidic groups at that time which encouraged scholars to live near the movement's Rebbe.  Radomsker's emphasized constant Torah learning and steered clear of distractions, such as local Jewish politics.

Radomsker’s for the most part were businessmen that spent as much time as possible studying the Talmud.  They were modest in lifestyle but large in both their financial and spiritual expression.  At a minimum, Radomskers’ tithed their gross income.
Many of the pious Jews in Radziejow were Radomskers.  Which brings up the question, where did my grandfather, Shimon, pray? There was sufficent numbers of Radomskers in town as well as other hasids such as Geer, the largest sect of Hassidim in Poland,  to maintain their own separate minyan .  On the other hand history points out that Shimon had a hand in the building of the mainstream Orthodox Synagogue, Beit Rachel.  Joyce Wagner, daughter of one of these pious men said that her father, Hersh Jacob Witowski, prayed at the small shul and not at the newly built Beit Rachel, headed by Rabbi Platkiewicz.  It is probable that Shimon was a member of both congregations but probably oftened prayed with Hersh and the other Radomskers at the old Shul.
Why would he attend both Shuls? I met Radziejow survivors in Toronto, Canada, they were all in agreement that my grandfather was considered among the most respected Jews as well as devout Jews in Radziejow.  As evidence, they recalled fondly that on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar,Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when almost all of the  Jews of the town attend synagogue for the entire day.   They recalled the last prayer set called Neliah, which marks the last chance to repent as to improve your lot in the coming year, that the Congregation always picked to lead the prayer of the community the member that G-d most likely would would respond to and thereby to respond to all the members praying with him.  That man was Shimon. For the Jews agreed that with Shimo Najman beseeching G-d to erase any bad decrees that G-d may have been  written for the New Year against them, they were confident that Shimon represented for them the the best chance to obtain  good results. My guess is that Shimon's history of performing this service began with the small shul and with the moving of Rabbi Plotkevich to the large shul two years prior to the German occupation, the Rabbi would have tasked Shimon to lead the Nilah service where it would do the most good, that being the place where most of the Jews prayed.  That place was the new Beit Rachel.  On the other hand, for regular daily prayers, I believe that Shimon remained loyal to the Radomskers at the small shul.



Radziejow Today - Arrow points to the location of the Najman Building.  Market Square is now a park.
     As Shimon's shoe leather business continued to grow. He decided that it was necessary to relocate to a larger building.  In the same year Binem was born, 1919, my grandfather bought half of a building, not along Jewish Street, but at a prime location in town. The building sat opposite to one of the corners of Market Square. Although it was not on Jewish Street, many Jewish shops were located on the four sides of Market Square.  Many of these store owners sons were either friends of Binem or actual relatives such as the Levys, Markowskis, Frankenbergs, and the Rosenbergs.
     Shimon's building was large enough to house both the business and a respectable and comfortable living quarters in the back.  So the family moved to the residence area of the building that was located behind the on the first floor storeroom as well as the entire second floor.
     This expansion caused Shimon's wholesale leather business as well as the shoe store to become the largest of its kind in Radziejow.  It did so even though the store had stiff competition.  There were at least six other shoe stores owned by Jews in the town.  Shimon had the advantage of selling leather and findings associated with the making and repair of shoes and boots.  When the Holocaust broke out, Shimon's reputation along with his business relationship with several Polish shoemakers helped Binem to survive.

Najman Building



Within a few blocks of the Najman Building is one of the two churches of Radziejow.  As a rule in the Jewish community, all Jews would steered clear of the Church.  A Jew would never enter a church.  Thus the Jews  had no idea what the interior of the churches looked like, let alone what was done inside a church.  Sadly, in 1942 their first introduction to the  interior was when the Nazis used the church as a transport point for all the Jews living in the ghetto the night before they were sent to the Chelmo Extermination Camp.
Several family members lived around the store.  Radziejow Survivor Joyce Wagner, known to us as  Aunt Yetka, lived just around the block.  She was a first cousin to Binem on his mother's side.  Joyce survived the Holocaust and told her experiences in her book entitled A Promise Kept.  Joyce's family name was Witkowski.  Her father, Jacob Witkowski, owned a grocery store.  He was a Torah scholar like Shimon. Her mother Gitel, Hinda's sister, helped her husband in the store. Yetka and Binem were not only cousins but also good friends.  When the War broke out, Yetka experienced the liquidation of the Radziejow Ghetto and then later managed to survive the horrors of the most infamous extermination camp of the Holocaust, Auschwitz.

Fourth Radomsker Rebbe- Rebbe Shlomo Chonoch Rabinowicz 


When Binem was a young boy he traveled with Shimon on several pilgrimages to the city of Radomsko .  There Shimon would arrange to attend private audiences with the Radomsker Rebbe.  Having a private audience with the Rebbe was considered a great honor for a Hasid.  The Rebbe was believed to be endowed by the Creator with Ruach Hakodesh, the holy spirit.  When one presented him with a personal problem, the Rebbe had the ability to combine his intellectual powers with that of divine inspiration to help him advise his Hasidim on how to overcome life challenges.
These private audiences were difficult to arrange.  To have a private meeting with the Radomsker Rebbe, one began the process by writing out the problem. Then the note along with a donation was brought to the Rebbe's personal Shamos (assistant).  Binem described the Shamos as a giant man with flaming red hair.  The Shamos in turn would consult with the Rebbe to determine if the Rebbe would meet with the supplicant.  If the Rebbe agreed, then the hasid would wait his turn to be called into the Rabbi's private study for the consultation. This waiting period could take several hours.
Binem remembered one such audience with the Rebbe.  It was the day his father took him on a journey to request an emergency meeting with the Rebbe.  Shimon asked the Rebbe for advice and prayer concerning his daughter, Masha. She was in the midst of a difficult pregnancy.  At that time Masha was 31 years old while Binem was a mere eleven years old when the meeting took place.  Masha was a delicate woman of small physical stature.  Her doctor stated that her pregnancy was very risky for Masha because her body, most likely, could not withstand the pangs of childbirth.  Upon being informed Shimon, of course, was extremely distraught with this diagnosis.  Without delay, he rushed to Radom to ask the Radomsker Rebbe what should be done.   
Masha Najman
Binem remembers the two men as they discussed the matter.  After an intense discussion the Rebbe came up with what seemed to Binem to be a preposterous solution. He told Shimon to buy a chicken and donate the chicken to the poorest family in Radziejow.  The Rebbe assured him that once this was accomplished all would be well. 
On the way back to Radziejow, Binem although only a boy thought that the Rebbe’s solution to this medical life endangering problem was at best questionable.  Shimon, on the other hand, appeared to have no doubt that the Rebbe's advice was sound and must be acted upon with due haste. For in Shimon’s way of thinking if the Rebbe told him that the birth would happen without any complications if he gave a chicken to a poor family, there was no reason to second guess.
So the first thing Shimon did when he returned to Radziejow was rush to buy a plump healthy looking chicken.  He then made inquiries and determined which family in Radziejow was most in need. Shimon then cheerfully gave the chicken to that  poor family.  Having fulfilled the advice of the Rebbe, Shimon was satisfied that the problem was solved. In fact, the subject never came up again.  All that remained was the waiting period for the birth.  Miraculously, time proved that the Rebbe prescription was the correct one because Masha had an easy birth.


Radomsker's Rebbe Gravesite
Warsaw Jewish Cemetery
    It is interesting to point out that the Radomsker Rebbe, may his soul rest in peace,  several years later died a martyr’s death.  During the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Nazis, in a surprise roundup, stormed into the the Rebbe's apartment that was located in the heart of the ghetto. He was there with his daughter and son-in-law.  The soldiers ordered the Rebbe to accompany them.  He refused.  Clearly, it was his position that a Jew does not take orders from the enemies of G-d. 
He said, " [y]ou are planning to kill me, so do so now, because I am not cooperating with you."
          The Nazis again ordered him as well as the married couple to follow him.       The Rebbe replied that "I am ready to die here in my room and not somewhere in gas-wagon."
The Nazis in the room were infuriated.  As a result of the Rebbe's righteous defiance, one of the outraged Nazis shot him in the head, and then shot and killed his daughter and son-in law.
Max and Harry Neuman


Before the War two of Binem's older brothers immigrated to the United States.  Harry in 1921 and Max in 1924. According to Harry's son Don, a retired professor of English, Harry decided to leave Poland when after an anti-Semitic incident that took place at his high school.  Harry was the top student in the class.  One teacher, a known anti-Semite gave the class an assignment.  Harry completed the assignment and  handed in a paper.The teacher graded it giving Harry the mark of failure.  On the other hand, the student in front of Harry, that was considered one of the least intelligent students in the class received on the same paper the mark of excellence. Harry had a verbal confrontation with the teacher.    Harry felt he was completely justified to respond in kind to the derogatory statements made by the teacher that articulated his deep hatred of the Jewish people.  These statements were not new, the teacher had for many years manifested his anti-Semitism both in his words in the classroom and his behavior towards the Jewish students. When the Principal of the school confronted Shimon concerning his son’s behavior  Shimon sided with the school authorities. Shimon knew that if the argument escalated then Polish authorities would likely become involved and the outcome would be that the government would side with the school.  So in order to maintain the balance of peace between the Jews and the government authorities Shimon forced Harry to apologize.  Harry, being a proud young man was upset with his father’s reaction.  When Harry continued to argue his point, Shimon slapped Harry's face. With that day Harry decided that he had enough of the ways of Poland.  He told his mother, Hinda, what occurred.  Hinda made arrangements with her relatives in America to assist her.  The relatives sent Harry a boat ticket for him to come to Milwaukee.  Hinda then arranged with her father to bring the wagon to the Najman building the night before the sailing.  With the wagon under Harry's bedroom window.  Harry climbed out and made his way into the wagon.  Grandfather and grandson then travelled to the Port of Danzig, about fifty miles away. The next day Harry boarded a ship bound for the United States.
Harry Neuman
        According to my father’s version Harry was nearing draft age for service in the Army.  Army service was very difficult because of the hatred of Jews by the soldiers and officers.  Therefore,  Shimon decided that Harry should leave Poland to live with his relatives in the United States. Harry settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 
Whatever the actual reason, Harry made his way to Milwaukee to join is uncles and cousins from Radziejow.  They helped him with both employment and housing.  Harry was a bright and hard worker that possessed excellent business acumen became a highly successful entrepreneur. He operated a number of businesses over the years and eventually owned a large retail garden supply complex.   He married Ida, and had two children, Donald and Helene.


Max Neuman
         When another of Binem’s brothers, Max, decided to go to America the process became complicated.  The United States immigration policy had changed.  A strict immigration quota now limited the number of people allowed to enter the United States. So instead, Max decided to try his luck in Canada.  Max gained Canadian citizenship becoming a soldier. Still his dream of joining his brother in Milwaukee remained.  For several years he actively sought entry to the United States.  Finally he had an opportunity.  
Max and Marcella Neuman



Soon after gaining legal immigration status he was drafted this time into the American Army.   He eventually settled in Los Angeles and owned a successful non-kosher butcher shop.  He married Marcella and had three children, Sheldon, Helene, and Mark. My Mother told me that the children’s Hispanic nanny was a fervent proselytizing J Witness.  Needless to say two of the three eventually converted to Christianity.  Mark became a Jew for Jesus and Sheldon became a Seven Day Adventist.  The sister Helene remained Jewish.

















































Comments