Bolesława Proskurowska z"l

Bolesława Proskurowska z"l

We stand before the remains of Bolesława, of blessed memory. In a moment, her body will have eternal rest in mother-earth. Deep in mourning, in silence and profound thought, we bow our heads not only over remains of the deceased. We also bow our heads over the remains of the generation which experienced the greatest tragedy of the Jewish people in modern history.

The life of Bolesława was a living tableau of the tragedy of our people – a people who, for over three centuries, has lived in Częstochowa. Amongst our small group of Częstochowa Jews, Bolesława was a determined bridge between the present day and a world which has irrevocably departed.

With pride, Bolesława always stressed her own origins. She was, at the same time, a patriot of her city from which, despite various opportunities, she did not wish to leave.

Always with a sense of humour, she vividly remembered her own childhood and her younger years. For hours on end, she would speak with the young people of the Słowacki Lyceum (from which she, herself, was a graduate), about pre-War Częstochowa, about the tragedy of the ghetto and of the Holocaust. She concerned herself, to the last of her days, with present-day problems. She was a cultured lady often delving into the wealth of Polish and world literature and poetry. She loved being surrounded by a world of people, animals and nature.

With her sunny disposition, with a joke, she could bring to life every meeting, supporting each of us in moments of difficulty. She taught us patience, to draw joy from the smallest things in life, to be proud and to remain in the traditions of our own people. In the blessed Bolesława, we lose a friend and “a member of the family” who was so necessary in our lives, such as we would miss one of our cousins, aunts or uncles.

On behalf of myself and in the name of the whole of our circle of members of the Częstochowa branch of the TSKŻ, we bid farewell to the blessed Bolesława Proskurowska.

The Eulogy at
the funeral of
Bolesława Proskurowska z”l
held on
11th August 2006
delivered by

Halina Wasilewicz z”l

– former Chairperson,
Częstochowa Branch
Social and Cultural
Association of Jews

Translated into
English by
Andrew Rajcher

Esther (Ada) Frajman Ofir z"l

Esther (Ada) Frajman Ofir z"l

- Częstochowa Holocaust Survivor

On 22nd September 2016, during our World Society’s Fifth Reunion, a memorial plaque was unveiled at Stary Rynek 24 (Old Market Square) commemorating the site where, seventy four years earlier, Esther’s family and other Jews went into hiding.

That was the day when the Nazis began the liquidation of the “Small Ghetto”. The cramped, damp basement of that building became the hiding place for twenty seven Jews, the survival of whom became a mission for Esther’s father.

The memorial plaque (above) was unveiled by Esther in the presence of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and was covered by the local media. The plaque honours the memory of her parents and the Jews of Częstochowa who perished in the Holocaust.

Esther, with her family, at the plaque unveiling.

Thankfully, for posterity, Esther wrote her memoirs entitled, in English, “Thus Began My New Life”, the PDF’s of which are available to read online, by clicking on one of the three links below

Esther's Memoirs
in English

Esther's Memoirs
in Polish

Esther's Memoirs
in Hebrew

Sadly, Esther passed away on 3rd July 2017.
May her memory be a blessing to her family and to all of us.

Webmaster’s Comment:

During our World Society’s Fifth Reunion in 2016, I had the privilege of being Esther’s Polish-to-English interpreter, as she told her amazing story to a lecture hall full of academics, high school students and Reunion participants.

For me, it was a truly amazing experience. As an interpreter, one needs to concentate on what is being said, without becoming emotionally involved in the content. As Esther told her story, and that of her family, for me, this requirement became quite difficult.

It was an experience which I will long remember.

My thanks go to Alon Goldman, Chairman,
Association of Częstochowa Jews in Israel,
for providing me with the text of Esther’s memoirs in all three languages.

Alexander Imich z"l

Alexander Imich z"l

- in 2014, the oldest man in the world

Alexander Imich was born in Częstochowa on 4th February 1903 into a secular family. His father, who owned a decorating business, installed an airstrip for early aviators. “At the time, flying was a demonstration,” he recalls. “It attracted people for the show.” He called “the aeroplane” the greatest invention of his lifetime. He also remembers Częstochowa’s first automobiles.

He sought to become a captain in the Polish Navy, but as a Jew was told to forget it. “I decided to become a zoologist and travel to exotic countries in Africa,” Alexander recalled. But blocked from advancement, he switched to chemistry, earning a doctorate at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

On 4th May 1921, he sat for his written matriculation examinations at the Sienkiewicz school, and then, on 5th June 1921 sat for his oral examinations.

In the early 1930’s, Alexander Imich grew fascinated with a Polish medium who was known as “Matylda S.”, a doctor’’s widow gaining renown for séances that reportedly called up the dead. He participated in numerous inexplicable encounters that he detailed in a German scholarly journal in 1932 and recounted in an anthology he edited, “Incredible Tales of the Paranormal”, published by Bramble Books in 1995 (at the age of 95!!).

He keeps a box of forks and spoons twisted in macropsychokinesis experiments. “I watched ordinary people doing that,” he said, although he himself was unable to duplicate it.

He married a childhood sweetheart who, a few years later, left him for another man. He then married her friend, Wela. When the Nazis overran Poland in 1939, they fled east to Soviet-occupied Białystok. Refusing to accept Soviet nationality, they were shipped off to a labour camp.

With Russia reeling under German attack, they were freed and moved to Samarkand, in what is now Uzbekistan, and then back to Poland. There they found that many family members had died in the Holocaust. In 1951, they immigrated to Waterbury, Connecticut.

Wela Imich, a painter and psychotherapist, opened a practice in Manhattan. After she died in 1986, Alexander moved into her suite in a pre-War apartment hotel in Manhattan. Eight years later, it was turned into a luxury seniors residence and he was “grandfathered” in. His savings vanished in dubious investments and The New York Times Neediest Cases campaign came to his aid in 2007.

He and his wife never had children. (His closest relative is an 84-year-old nephew.)

So what are his secrets of longevity? Did his many hardships prolong his life? “It’’s hard to say.” He credited “good genes” and athletics. “I was a gymnast,” he said. “Good runner, a good springer. Good javelin, and I was a good swimmer.” He used to smoke, but gave it up long ago. Alcohol? Never, he said.

He always ate sparingly, inspired by Eastern mystics who disdain food. “There are some people in India who do not eat,” he said admiringly. Now, his home-care aides said that he fancies matzo balls, gefilte fish, chicken noodle soup, Ritz crackers, scrambled eggs, chocolate and ice cream.

(Alexander Imich passed away on Sunday 8th June 2014. He held the title of the world’s oldest man, albeit sadly, for only a short time.)


The New York Times


Częstochowa biuletyn informacji publicznej.

The Finkelstein Family

The Finkelstein Family

nee Dziubas


The Dziubas family was very orthodox, Gere Hassidim, and, on ul Nadrzeczna 36-38, they built the biggest soap factory in Poland and Russia.

In 1895, Majtla Dziubas married Abraham Hanoch Finkelstein, who was born in Sosnowiec.


 As well as being a Jewish scholar, Abraham was a chemist and worked in his father-in-law’s soap factory, while studying Jewish texts “all day long”.

Between 1896 and 1913, they had eleven children, eight sons and three daughters. Each of them eventually turned away from religion and became a Socialist-Zionist – several were members of Hashomer Hatsair.

Living by the Warta River, their home was vibrant with a passion for chemistry, music, and tikkun olam. Majtla was such a good mother that each child had the feeling he/she was her favourite.

The older son, Motel, became a journalist. Because of the numerus clausus, Moshe, Victor and, later, my father Luzer went to France to study.

In 1933, Abraham died of a heart attack.

Regina survived working in Hasag, Cesia and Włodek worked in Germany as Aryan Poles, Luzer> fought with the partisans in Belarus, Perec escaped to Russia.

Motel was tortured and murdered in Treblinka. Sala died of typhus in Częstochowa.

My grandmother, Majtla was taken to Treblinka in September 1942. Her grandchildren, who never knew her, are dispersed around the world in Israel, France and the United States.

Submitted by:

Sylvie Finkelstein

– granddaughter of
Abraham Hanoch and
Majtla (nee Dziubas) Finkelstein

Felix Beatus z"l

Felix Beatus

Felix Beatus was born in 1917 into an assimilated family in Kalisz. Around 1931, they moved to Częstochowa, where his family ran a paper-bag manufacturing business on ul.Garibaldiego. When War broke out in 1939, with his wife Francesca, he fled with the Polish army retreating into Russia-Ukraine, where he found work near the city of Sitri as a driver. Francesca worked as a nurse.

In June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia, Felix’s truck was stopped at a road block. That same night, he was drafted into the Red Army as a truck driver. Felix said to the Russian commander, “Either I’ll be a good soldier or no soldier at all. But you have to let me inform my wife that I’ve been drafted”. The Commander agreed and sent him, with a guard, to tell his wife. The next time he saw his wife was nearly four years later, after the War.

As a driver, Felix’s technical talent was already evident. There were no spare parts but many scrap vehicles were littered along the roads. At the age of 28, he was sent to the Ukrainian front, where he was wounded. When he recovered, he was sent to become a tank soldier in the Polish Army which had been established by the Soviets.

His commanders wanted Felix to become a Politruk (a army political officer), but he refused saying that he did not wish to become a “Politruk Jew among Polish soldiers”. However, his commanders insisted and threw him into prison, Eventually he was released and dispatched to a T-34 tank commanders course.

At the end of the course, in October 1943, Felix was sent to the fight near Warsaw with General Herling. The Poles sent him to an armoured officer’s course in Russia and then on to an advanced armoured reconnaissance course.

In July 1944, Felix’s Polish brigade arrived in Lublin and he was among those who liberated the Majdanek death camp. After Lublin, the great battle to retake Warsaw from the Germans began. Felix was in the intelligence unit’s patrol division which formed the bridgehead on the Wisła River, enabling the first tanks to cross to the other side.

The Warsaw Uprising broke out. The Polish military commanders wanted to join the rebels and to participate in the liberation of Warsaw, but the Russians were apparently more interested in the downfall of the Polish Army. The Uprising failed with thousands of casualties.

Meanwhile, Felix’s commanders decided to send him to the Molotov Academy in Leningrad where, for half a year, he studied advanced armoured warfare. This was vocational training at the highest-level given to commanders of armoured brigades. Study was based on lessons learned from fighting the war, not yet ended. Each participant learned combat planning and practice of a full armoured brigade. Field training sessions were held at brigade level with the help of Finland.

Following this training, Felix returned to the Wisła front where he commanded a Polish Army armoured battalion comprised of Russian soldiers and tanks. In one of the fiercest battles against the Germans, in April 1945, his force was practically destroyed, leaving him with only seven tanks. Russian reinforcements of Stalin tanks with 122mm guns saved the rest of his unit. In May 1945, he completed his service on the border of the Czech Republic and Germany.

Felix was then called, with his unit, to the city of Stettin, where Germans, Russians and Poles, who returned from captivity, were fighting each other. He received an order from Moscow to clear the city of German residents, and turn it into purely Polish town before the Potsdam Conference (July 1945, the division of spheres of influence in Europe following the fall of Germany). Stettin then became Szczecin.

Within six weeks, Felix had managed to transfer a quarter of a million German inhabitants of Stettin and had become Military Governor of the city. It was here that Felix was first exposed to “Irgun Ha’Bricha”. Under pressure from his wife, he met with members of the Aliyah Bet organisation and helped them to illegally smuggle Holocaust survivors to Palestine.

On 16 April 1946 the Polish Government decided to hold a victory parade in Szczecin and Felix was assigned the task of organising it. Among the guests he invited was a Jewish youth group undergoing agricultural training prior to immigration to Palestine. While heading the parade’s armoured column, he could see Jewish youth marching with both the Polish flag and the blue and white flag. He also saw how they were despised by thousands of the Polish Scouts yelling “Jews to Palestine”. It was apparently then that he came to the decision to immigrate to Israel.

On 27th May 1947, Felix arrived in Palestine with his family. While he was fluent in Polish, Russian and German, he knew not one word of Hebrew. Maccabi Motzri (a senior Haganah and Palmach officer at the time) met him and took him to meet with Yitzhak Sadeh, Yigal Allon and Dan Lehner in a Tel Aviv Cafe. With Yitzhak Sadeh, he spoke Russian, with Dan Lehner, he spoke German. However, Yigal tried to speak to him in Yiddish, a language which Felix did not understand. “How come you are Jewish and don’t understand Yiddish?”, Allon asked him.

With an interpreter, Felix was sent first to the Galilee, where Yitzhak Sadeh had asked him to organise the planning of its defence. In Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar, he met Molah Cohen, commander of the Palmach Third Battalion, who asked him “How long have you been in the country? You seem so familiar with the area!” According to Dan Lehner, “Felix has been here only a few days and knows all the places just from studying the maps”.

Until March 1948, Felix was busy creating an armoured warfare training facility. He had brought with him a great deal of training literature and translated it in the Sarona training camp (now the Ministry of Defence centre in Tel Aviv).

When the fighting began on the roads, he persuaded Yitzhak Sadeh to stop using armoured “sandwich” vehicles with arrow slits, since they were like death traps with limited fire and observation possibilities. Instead, he developed a protected vehicle based on a Dodge truck with a welded steel bottom plate and top turret of steel with the possibility of easy swing and machine gun openings.

Yitzhak Sadeh then called Felix and said to him, “We have some tanks!”

According to Felix, “We came to a large warehouse at the port of Tel Aviv. There were ten Hotchkiss H-35 tanks, each one with a technical problem. This was a French tank, developed after World War I, with a short 37mm cannon. The next day we went to an orchard in Bnei Brak where there were some half-tracks.

“That’s it”, said Yitzhak Sadeh. “Now we can form an armoured battalion.”

“That’s not enough”, replied Felix. “We still need soldiers, mechanics, communications, ammunition and supplies”.

“Look”, said Yitzhak Sadeh. “We have a Commander, that’s you, and we have tanks. As far as the rest is concerned, we’ll manage!”

Felix recalled that “during the first two weeks of April, new immigrants, who previously served in the armoured corps, started arriving from Czechoslovakia and Russia. They began to get organized in Tel-Levinsky, amidst a jumble of languages. I decided to set up three companies: the Slavs would have the Hotchkiss, the Anglo-Saxons would have the Cromwell tanks stolen from the English and the two Sherman tanks assembled from different spare parts, and an Etzel squadron under the command of the Jacob Banai would get the half-tracks”.

With the 8th Brigade, commanded by Yitzhak Sadeh, the first armoured battalion of the IDF (the 82nd) under the command of Felix Beatus, was established in May 1948 and it’s first battle was in Operation Dani, the conquest of Ramle-Lod, the nearby airport and the villages and roads in the area.

Years later, two 1948 commanders meet. Felix Beatus meets his comrade, Prime Minister at the time, Itzchak Rabin z"l.

For Hebrew text, click below:

Part 1 and Part 2

Submitted by:

Alon Goldman

with English
translation by
Cedric Olivestone.

This piece is based
on an article by
Nadav Man

Originally published
on Y-Net.

Irit Amiel

Irit Amiel

- Poet, Writer Hebrew/Polish Writer and Translator

Irit Amiel, formerly Irena Librowicz, was born on 5th May 1931 in Częstochowa to a modern Jewish family, the daughter of Leon and Yentl (Hasenfeld) Librowicz. Her ancestors came to Poland around 400 years ago.

Duriing the War, she was in the Częstochowa ghetto. Her father managed to have her smuggled out of the ghetto and, with the help of Poles and false documents, she survived the War in hiding in a village and in Warsaw. Sadly, her parents and relatives perished in Treblina.

Together with a group of other young people, she managed to reach Palestine illegally in 1947 where, at first, she settled on a kibbutz. She then studied philology, history and literary history at the Open University of Ra’anana. Her post-graduate education was in Translation Studies at Beit Berl Kfar Saba College.

She made her literary debut in 1994 with a collection of Hebrew poems in a book relating to the Holocaust. A Polish language edition of that book was published in that same year. There then followed other literary works, all of which have also been published in Poland. These include poetry “I Could Not”(1998), “Test in the Holocaust” (1994, 1998), “Here and There” (1999), “Breathe Deeply” (2002), and prose including “Carbonized” (1999), “Dual View” (2008) and “Life – a Temporary Title” (2014). She has been twice nominated for the Nike Literary Prize.

Her works have also been published in English, German, Italian and Hungarian.

She has translated literary works from Polish to Hebrew and vice vera. Among the authors whose works she has translated are Marek Hłasko, Hanna Krall, Henryk Grynberg, Leo Lipski and Lucia Glicksman. into Hebrew.

In May 2014, as part of the Aleja … tu się dziejie festival, the City of Częstochowa invited Irit to take part in the event.

She used that opportunity to show her daughter where she had lived, where she had been in the ghetto, and from where she had escaped.

To mark the occasion, the Częstochowa City Council made a video of her visit..

The City of Częstochowa honoured Irit with an Honorary Award for Literary Achievement. Irit accepted the Award, in November 2014, at her home in Israel. It was presented to her by Alon Goldman, World Society Vice-President and Chairman of the Association of Częstochowa Jews in Israel.

Webmaster’s Comment:

The contents on this page
has been compiled from material supplied by
Alon Goldman, Chairman of the
Association of Częstochowa Jews in Israel
and from material about Irit
which appears on Wikipedia.

Lives & Legends

Write a Tribute

- for the "Lives & Legends" section of our website

Częstochowa Landsleit are encouraged to pay tribute to their parents,
their grandparents or other members of their nuclear or extended family,
who either survived or perished in the Holocaust.

  • In fact, anyone who wishes to may write a tribute page to some or all of their family,
    so long as their family comes from Częstochowa or the surrounding area.
  • Each tribute should be a maximum of 1,500 words (in WORD or plain text format)
    and MUST be accompanied by at least 2 or up to 4 photographs (a page of plain text
    without a pic or two does not look good at all)..
  • Each tribute should be headed CLEARLY with the names of the people being written about.
  • You may submit a tribute for as many families as you wish – but please,
    write each one SEPARATELY.
  • Please state clearly the name you want to appear as the author of the tribute and,
    optionally, your relationship to the family being written about.

All tributes
should be
emailed to
the Webmaster

Sigi z"l & Hanka Siegreich

Sigi z"l & Hanka Siegreich

- a love story: Częstochowa Holocaust survivors celebrating seven decades of marriage

Melbourne Australia couple Sigi (93) and Hanka (91) say after all of these years they are still very much in love.

Having virtually grown up in labour camps, the teenagers were both wasting away when their eyes first locked in the Częstochowa camp in Poland.

“I lost my mind,” Sigi says. “When I saw her, the whole world was turning around me. I saw a pair of beautiful eyes and I heard bells ringing.”

It was New Year’s Eve 1944, eighteen days before the camp was liberated by the Red Army.

“I had no interest in girls, because I was a skeleton,” Sigi says. “There was a pair of beautiful eyes looking at me, with a smile like I never saw in my life.”

He approached her and they talked. Before returning to his barracks he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“I remember the first kiss,” Hanka says as she puts her hand on her face. That is exactly what she did on that first day because, she says, she wanted to hold onto it forever. Sigi had stood out in an environment where the inhumane conditions had left most people shells of their former selves.

“At that time, the people in the camp were terrible,” she says. “He was very gentle.”

Over the coming days, this new love was tested. Sigi had been working in the munitions workshop making bullets for the Nazi German army. He says he had been sabotaging the factory line — making bullets too small for the gun barrels. When he received word that the Gestapo were looking for him, he found a hiding spot in a nearby abandoned construction site. He says only Hanka knew where he was hiding.

“She was the only person I could trust my life with,” he says.

Hanka says she risked her life to keep him alive — smuggling him small pieces of her bread ration and a blanket that she had made to keep him warm on -15 degree nights. Then one night, she came for a second visit. This time, she was smiling and had her arms out. The camp was being liberated.

“They’re gone,” she told him. “We are free.”

The next day they were married.

The year after, Hanka gave birth to the first of their two daughters, Evelyne, the first baby born to Holocaust survivors in Sigi’s home town of Katowice after the war.

Sigi and friend Adam Frydman, a fellow camp inmate and witness to his marriage to Hanka.

Sigi and Hanka Siegreich with
their daughter Evelyne in 1946.

Having moved to Australia in 1971, it wasn’t until their 50th wedding anniversary that the couple had a proper wedding, in their daughter’s Melbourne backyard.

Amazingly, their witnesses were fellow inmates at the labour camp, who had also witnessed their 1945 marriage signing.

“We’ve achieved a lot,” Sigi says. “We’ve got so many grandchildren and great grandchildren. She charmed me. That was that, the rest was history.”

Unlike Hanka and Sigi, only a handful of their classmates survived the Holocaust. Their great-grandson’s school, Bialik College, is currently collecting 1.5 million buttons to honour the children who were murdered under the Nazi regime. Sigi is donating 180 buttons to the project this month, to represent the family he lost in the Holocaust.

The doting couple, aged 93 and 91, have already had their gravestones prepared, side by side, for when they leave this world. The inscription also commemorates their immediate family who were never given a grave.

“We are inviting the souls of our exterminated family to rest in our grave.”

[Webmaster: Sadly, Sigi passed away, in Melbourne, on 18th October 2019, at the age of 95.]


Story by Margaret Burin
Australian Broadcasting Commission
News 24 TV


Material reproduced here
with the kind permission of
Sigi and Hanka Siegreich

Write a Tribute

Write a Tribute

- for the "Lives & Legends" section of our website

Częstochowa Landsleit are encouraged to pay tribute to their parents,
their grandparents or other members of their nuclear or extended family,
who either survived or perished in the Holocaust.

  • In fact, anyone who wishes to may write a tribute page to some or all of their family,
    so long as their family comes from Częstochowa or the surrounding area.
  • Each tribute should be a maximum of 1,500 words (in WORD or plain text format)
    and MUST be accompanied by at least 2 or up to 4 photographs (a page of plain text
    without a pic or two does not look good at all)..
  • Each tribute should be headed CLEARLY with the names of the people being written about.
  • You may submit a tribute for as many families as you wish – but please,
    write each one SEPARATELY.
  • Please state clearly the name you want to appear as the author of the tribute and,
    optionally, your relationship to the family being written about.

All tributes
should be
emailed to
the Webmaster

Yaakov (Kuba) Wasilewicz

Yaakov (Kuba) Wasilewicz

- son of Halina Wasilewicz z"l

“Because You are Jewish” – the Story of a Young Man’s Journey from Poland to the Five Towns

I was born in Częstochowa, Poland, in 1988. Since there were no Jewish schools in Poland at that time, my mother sent me to public school. When I was 8 years old I came back home from school and I told my mother what the teacher told us that day – “Mom, tomorrow we can’t eat meat, we are going to church and the priest is going to pour ashes over our heads.” My mother looked at me and said, “Sure, if you don’t want to eat meat tomorrow, I will not give you meat to eat, but you will not go to church.” I asked, “Why not?” She said, “Because you are Jewish.”

This is when I found out for the first time that I was Jewish. Since that day, I knew that I was Jewish but I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Jew. All my friends from school would go to church and I was the only one who didn’t. When I was asked which church I belonged to, I would have to lie and make up a name. I once told my best friend in school that I was Jewish and the next day I was called by everybody a “dirty Jew”. That taught me to keep my mouth shut and not to tell anyone my secret.

For many years, my parents and I would attend a summer and winter Jewish camp in Poland called The Lauder Camp. This camp was a place where all the Jewish families from the whole Poland would come and spend a few weeks learning about Judaism. The camp was for all three generations of Polish Jews: Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren. Once I knew I was Jewish, it was refreshing to be in a place where I didn’t have to hide my true identity — the secret of who I was. There, everyone was Jewish and everyone felt comfortable. There, for the first time, I learned my favorite song, Modeh Ani, and I would sing it everywhere I went. I would even sing it in my school.

Above: R’Yonah Bookstein and I sing Modeh Ani at the Lauder Camp in Rychwald, Poland

Right: My mother, me and an older Jewish woman lighting Channukah candles at my mother’s Jewish Centre.

Aside from camp, I had another source for my Jewish education – my mother. My mother was the child of two Holocaust survivors – Braindl (nee Cwajghaftig) and Yankiel Wasilewicz (pic left). It was very hard to keep anything Jewish after the war, but they ried and they did. My mother’s mother lit the Shabbos candles, and my mother’s father made Pesach sedarim. My grandmother would take my mother, as a little girl, for the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers to the “Congregation”, an old building in Częstochowa that housed the mikvah before the War. My grandfather used to do kapparos at home with my grandmother and my mother and would then bring the chickens to the shochet. Whatever they did after the War, even though it was hard for them, that’s what my mother knew, and that’s what she taught me.

Since 1974, my mother has been working for the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Częstochowa. Throughout the years, she worked hard to teach those Jews who were left in Częstochowa about the Jewish holidays. She organised events, inviting actors from the Jewish theatre in Warsaw to come to Częstochowa, hosting famous artists, writers, musicians, etc.. At this Jewish Centre I learned a lot about Judaism, but still it was not enough for me. I wanted to learn more.

When I was 12 years old, my mother started to think that it would be nice if I would have a bar mitzvah. She called Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who is Chief Rabbi of Poland today, but who back then was the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz, and she asked him if he could teach me and prepare me for my bar mitzvah. He then asked my mother, “But does he have a bris?” My mother honestly said, “No”.

When I was born, there was no mohel in Poland, so I couldn’t have a bris when I was 8 days old. Therefore, I was never circumcised. The rabbi told my mother that I need to have a bris and that he wold try to arrange everything. A few days later, we got a phone call that the mohel (Rabbi Fisher, from Monsey, NY) will come to Poland just for me, so that I can have a bris, and that we should come to Warsaw where my bris would take place. So that’s what we did.

It took us three hours by train to get to Warsaw. After we got to the Jewish quarter and entered the Nozyk Synagogue, the main synagogue in Warsaw, we were informed by Rabbi Schudrich that, unfortunately, Rabbi Fisher was unable to come because something went wrong with his flight. We turned around and went back to Częstochowa. A few days later, we got another phone call from Rabbi Schudrich. He assured us that, this time, Rabbi Fisher would be able to come and that we should come once again to Warsaw. So we did. When we got to the Jewish quarter in Warsaw, we entered the Jewish theatre which is not far from the synagogue. We ate something there, and there we met my mother’s friend.

She asked us what we were doing in Warsaw so my mother told her the truth. She right away took me aside and tried to convince me not to do it. She said that it’s like cutting off my arm. After she was done, I thanked her but I told her that I was a Jewish boy and, if a Jewish boy has to have a bris, I’m having it!

We went to the synagogue. There, we met with Rabbi Schudrich and Rabbi Fisher. That day was a day after the yahrtzeit of the famous Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, Poland. Thousands of Chassidim were coming back from Lizensk and going to the airport in Warsaw. Before going to the airport, some of the Chassidim decided to visit the synagogue. They came in and they saw that something was going on there, and one of the Chassidim became my sandek. His name was Rabbi Yaakov Yossef Neushloss. Afterwards, we were dancing in a circle and my sandek asked me for my address and my phone number. I gave him my address and my phone number and then my mother and I went back to Częstochowa.

A few months later, I had a bar mitzvah in a yeshiva in Kishinow, Moldova, where for the first time I learned the Hebrew alphabet, just to be able to read the blessing before and after the reading of the Torah. The rabbis at that yeshiva found out that I love music, so they offered me that if I stay in the yeshiva, they will get me a private music teacher. But my mother would have to go back to Poland. I was only 13 years old and I didn’t want to stay by myself in a foreign country, so I went back to Poland with my mother.

Now I had a bris and a bar mitzvah – but I was still in a public school.

After the summer, we were invited by the Jewish Community of Warsaw to come to Warsaw for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We came and we were staying in a hotel there. After the holidays, I asked Rabbi Schudrich if he could help me come to Warsaw so that I could learn in the Lauder Jewish School there. I told him that, in Częstochowa, there was not much of a Jewish life. “I’m in a public school, there is no synagogue in Częstochowa – and in Warsaw there is.” He told me that he will see what he can do.

A few months later, we got a phone call that Rabbi Schudrich had found us a place to stay and that we could come to Warsaw if we wanted to. We chose to go. At that time, I was 14 and I was in a middle of 8th grade. We moved to Warsaw for a year and a half.

In the Lauder school, I learned Jewish history, Jewish culture, and Hebrew language, but not Torah. After school, I had a private teacher who taught me how to put on tefillin and he got me a pair of tzitzis. I started to remind myself how to read Hebrew and started to pray, but only on Shabbos. I started to keep Shabbos and kosher as much as I could.

Sometime during that year, I got a phone call from my sandek, Rabbi Neushloss, that he was in Poland and he would like me to join him for a tour and for the yahrtzeit of Rav Elimelech of Lizensk. He sent a private driver who came to Warsaw, picked me up and brought me to where a bus full of Chassidim was waiting for me. We went from one cemetery to the next, from one shul to the next. Eventually, after a whole day of driving, we got to our final destination – Lizensk. There, I spent the most amazing Shabbos of my life. The streets of Lizensk were filled with Chassidim.

This was the second time in my life seeing Chassidim. The first one was at my bris. It felt like I was in a different world. At the Shabbos night meal, thousands of Chassidim were eating together, singing together and, afterwards, dancing together. When everyone was dancing, the whole floor was shaking! It was an unbelievable experience. Sunday was the yahrtzeit and everyone, including me, was praying at the grave of the holy Rabbi Elimelech.

After the yahrtzeit, when we got back to Warsaw, Rabbi Neushloss (pic left: standing with me) asked me if I would want to come to his house for Pesach. I answered, “Sure”, but in my mind I was thinking about how I would be able to pay for the ticket. But I thanked him for everything and said goodbye. Some time before Pesach, I got a phone call from Rabbi Schudrich that Rabbi Neushloss sent him a ticket for me to come to his house in Monsey, NY. So I went. I spent a really beautiful Pesach there and, afterwards, I decided to visit a rabbi whom I knew from the Lauder Camp in Poland, Rabbi Lieber, who would travel to the camp from America to teach Polish Jews at the camp about Judaism. I told the rabbi that I was in the Lauder Jewish School but I didn’t know where to go after my graduation, since there were no Jewish high schools or yeshivas in Poland. He told me that he would try to look for something for me.

In my last year in the Lauder School, right before the summer, I didn’t know what to do. All my friends were applying to different high schools and I was waiting for a phone call from Rabbi Lieber (pic right: singing with me). Finally, a month before summer, I got a phone call that I could come to a yeshiva in America. I got a visa and left Poland at the age of 15. I started learning in the Bobov Yeshiva in Boro Park. I learned there maybe for a month before switching to the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore.

Since I didn’t know much about Yiddishkeit and I never really studied Torah before, I was placed in a second grade where, for the first time in my life, I learned Chumash. I remember when, for the first time, I said a pasuk from the Chumash, all the kids in the class were clapping. That same year, I went to the 4th grade and there, for the first time, I learned mishnayos. Next year, I went to the sixth and the eighth grades where, for the first time, I learned gemara. A year later, I went to the tenth grade and a year after that I went to the twelfth grade and graduated high school in 2008.

After graduating from the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, I went to Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv in Lawrence, NY, where I am today. Aside from making lifelong friends and learning a lot of Torah in Sh’or Yoshuv, ironically, I was told that the song Modeh Ani, which was and still is my favorite song, was composed by a rebbi who taught in Sh’or Yoshuv for many years – Rabbi Shmuel Brazil!

Living as a Jew in Poland was not easy. It was like living in darkness. I tried to put all the puzzles together, but I was missing a lot of the pieces. Today, thanks to many great people and of course to Hashem, our G-d, I fully understand what it means to be Jewish.

I am forever grateful to my mother for letting me leave Poland to study in a yeshiva, even though I’m her only child, and to all the people that made my dream come true. The first words I utter every morning are for me — as they are for all religious Jews — a constant reminder that our lives are a journey guided by the hand of Hashem and that He brilliantly enlightens our path and guides us along the way – Modeh ani lifanecha.

written by
Yaakov Wasilewicz

Yaakov is the son of Halina Wasilewicz z”l, former long-serving Chairperson of the Częstochowa branch of the TSKŻ – the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Home on 8th May 2014 and is reproduced on this website with Yaakov’s kind permission.

Yaakov welcomes your questions and comments.

He can be reached at:

Webmaster’s Comment:

I first met Yaakov when he was a young boy in Warsaw back in 1998 and, over the years, having met him fairly regularly, both at our Reunions and on other occasions in Warsaw, Częstochowa and New York, I’m proud to call him my friend.

His story is one that I hope will inspire other young Polish Jews to learn more about, and embrace, their Jewish heritage.