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About Mendl Rozenzaft, מנדל רוזנזפט, הי"ד
Reb Mendel Rozenzaft of Bedzin, Poland was one of the town's most distinguished Jews and an outstanding type of personality.
He was born in 1863. His father, Mosze Szmul, was a great Torah student and one of the most important men around the Gerer Rebbe, called the CHIDUSHEI RIM (Z"L).
Reb Mendel, received as was usual, a traditional Jewish education in Cheder and Yeshiva. Already in his young years he became known as a genius; was married young and became a son-in-law by the known wealthy man, Reb Jenkele Szapiro, who was know in Bendin as a gentle man and a very charitable man.
The person that ran the business of his father-in-law (supplying of smelting for glassworks), was his young wife, Dworele.
The atmosphere in his father-in-law's house and his way of life had a strong influence on the young student of Torah. For example, Reb Jenkele Szapiro kept five young boys in his house that learned Torah; lived in this home on the top floor room under the roof (in the attic). Thus Reb Mendel used to learn with thee 5 boys until his father-in-law married them off.
In the Gerer Shtibel, which was not far from Reb Jenkele's house, as early as four in the morning, winter and summer, serious students began learning. There were such as Reb Izaac Erlichman, the 80-year old Jankel Dancygier, Reb Abram Mordechai Gutensztajn, Reb Joszua Dawid, Majer Fiszel Rinsky, Abram Zelig Erlich and Reb Jenkele Szapiro.
Many a time did the young Reb Mendel Rozenzaft go into battle with some of the older ones regarding a tractate of the Gemara, which always ended with a hot coffee brought daily from Reb Jenkele's home.
By Reb Jenkele Szapiro there was always a guest for Shabbat. In one of those Shabbosim – at the beginning of World War I, when all the foreigners fled Bendin, all the children sat around the table, but Reb Jenkele did not make Kiddush – he was distressed by the fact that there was no guest for Shabbat. He asked a grandchild to go quickly to the shtibel or to another synagogue and see perhaps there was indeed someone left that had nowhere to eat for Shabbat. When this grandchild came to the Shtibel he saw a man sitting engrossed in his learning. The child said to the man: “Reb Yid, come to my grandfather for Shabbat”! This man who was indeed a stranger in the city, was however a wealthy businessman and was staying in a hotel. He then answered the child: “I have where to eat”.
The grandchild insisted: “Come to us, Reb Yid. Because my grandfather refuses to make Kiddush if we have no guest.” The stranger understood that he can help a Jew do a good deed (a mitzvah), and he went along. Reb Jenkele was very happy with the guest. His father-in-law confided in him that more than once he sent a needy man to him in a secretive manner that the man should not feel he is being helped; and the father-in-law did this because he knew that his son-in-law was discreet.
This also characterized throughout his life, all of Reb Mendel's social activities in which he was drawn into during the First World War. During the German occupation, when there was hunger in the city, Reb Mendel would take out of his father-in-law's storage of food, and distribute it among the poor in the city. Reb Mendel began his activities for the poor in the “Street” (Gessel), where he lived, and later it expanded to include all the activities for the needy in the whole city.
Thus he started working for the good of the people, never looking to get any reward from it. He didn't look at the fact that he was a great student and highly knowledgeable in the Gemara and its commentaries; and was not embarrassed to take care of the simple people who needed his help.
He was a clever man and knew how to speak to the people interspersing an anecdote when possible. He didn't care that he was very religious and a member of Agudah, he was, nevertheless esteemed and liked in all circles of the Jewish population, from the Zionists to the leftists alike. And this because he was someone who worked with honesty and with devotion for all alike.
And when, in 1914, the “Committee” was established and a kitchen was opened to feed the poor with bread and warm food, Reb Mendel became its greatest activist and kept after the wealthy in the city so that the kitchen should be able to exist. Later on, with the foundation of the organization called “Dobroczynnocz”, managed by the assimilated Jews, Reb Mendel became there also one of the first and most active members, and was involved with its development until the building of the large orphanage which housed several hundred orphans.
It is interesting to note that notwithstanding that the largest part of this organization consisted of mostly Polish-speaking intellectuals, Reb Mendel had no problem mingling with them and speaking with them specially in Yiddish, in the language of the masses that he was trying to help.
There was in the city no philanthropic organization in which Reb Mendel did not take part. Aside from which, Reb Mendel was an institution in his own right without administrators, budgets, or anyone else's help – all alone, he did not leave the wealthy Bendiner people at rest, always requesting from them financial help for social aims, which indeed they did not refuse him, and gave willingly.
As soon as winter approached Reb Mendel became busy gathering coal for the poorer population of the city.
He came up to the well-known iron merchant Yakov Gutman, who immediately asked him: “Reb Mendel, how many wagons do you need? “Upon which he answered: For the time being about 15 wagons. When I need more, I'll come back again”. Or he came to the great benefactor, Szymon Fürstenberg, who always gave generously and enjoyed the coal activity.
And when spring arrived, and Passover came upon them – then Reb Mendel accompanied by the Rabbi approached the other respected residents for the Passover Collect. And for Sukkoth (Tabernacles) – how can you shame someone that he should not have to eat among his neighbors? So he again became busy collecting. And so he went throughout the year in perpetual activities for the poor. One purpose chased another. His house became a charity fund, without anyone else's help, on his own, because he was particularly fond of giving discreetly without anyone's knowledge. There were many families that were helped without their knowing from where it came. He disliked being thanked, and shirked recognition and honors.
He did not want to become a leader of the community, even though the Agudah wanted to have him as an official leader very badly; he felt that these honorific positions would hinder his philanthropic activities.
In order to illustrate his beautiful personality, we would like to transmit a fact as told by Szmul Liwer:
It was Shavouoth 1938, and Reb Mendel came to my home accompanied by the known wealthy man, Reb Dawid Lasker z"l. I was astonished, what is Reb Mendel doing in the middle of the holidays by me? Upon this question, Reb Mendel answered me: I need money – How come in Yom Tov (in the middle of the holiday) – I asked him. He then explained to me: We must save a man who will be evicted tomorrow and his belongings sold in auction. Thus was the way of Reb Mendel: in order to save another Jew in a difficult situation, he was ready to take money even on a Jewish holiday.
I can see his presence before me with his temperament, and always in motion, his age notwithstanding. Of medium height, with broad shoulders, a full face with a big beard, dressed in a long coat, impeccably clean, a scholar with not a spot on his clothing. He belonged to the type of Jew where the candle was always burning, the true Jewish fire that never was extinguished and was always ready to bring warmth and light to the perplexed and the downtrodden; did not spare his time in order to help others. He had in him a warm glowing heart and a soft sensitive soul.
A glowing gentle image with fatherly love for each individual.
In the evening, when the “Gessel” was asleep, then Reb Mendel sat in his room and learned, or he sat by himself and wrote, and he did write a lot. Unfortunately we did not have the privilege to see his writings, which perished together with him in the flames of Auschwitz.
May his memory be honored!
Of Mendel Rozenzaft's children there remained only one son, Josele, who lived through the hell of Nazism.
He jumped from the train that was bringing the Bendiner Jews to Auschwitz; he escaped from the labor camp; was again brought to Auschwitz; towards the end of the war he was in the death-camp of Bergen-Belsen, where he tried to keep alive the half dead “muselmanen” (the half-dead men); but all these difficult tribulations did not break him morally – he remained the happy and energetic Josel, who continued to spin further the golden thread of his family, and continues the grand heritage of his illustrious father.
בנדין היהודית, היא המכונה ירושלים ד'זגלמביה, דורות של יהודים בנוה, שיקעו בה מרצם וכוחם ונפשם – כוורת של פעלתנות וחמדת חיים ומידות טובות, של שאיפות נעלות ואהבת ציון וישראל.
מלחמת קיום מצויינת בחריצות ובכשרון, בעקשנות ובאופטימיות, מלכות של חסידות וציונות ועממיות, ונוער גאה, עורג, חולם ולוחם. עיר חשופה כמעט מפאר גנים ויערים ואפרים, שוכנת בלב מחוזות הפלדה והפחם, בסמוך לגבול המערב, בגבולו של עמלק, ושירת חייה – העשייה, היצירה.
הנה משפחת ר' מנדל רוזנזפט, שנולד בשנה בה פרץ מרד הפולנים נגד משטר הצאר, 1863, שגדל אצל אביו, בן תורה, ממקורביו של הרבי מגור בעלי חידושי הרי"מ. חינוכו בחדר ובישיבה. מצוין בפקחות ובעירנות, נושא בגיל צעיר אשה ממשפחת הנגיד ר' יענקל'ה שפירא, אציל-רוח ובעל-צדקה. והיא, האשה, דבורה'לה, מנהלת העסקים בבית אביה, אספקת ברזל ישן למכרות. ואך הוא, ר' מנדל, עיקר חילו, וקיימים עליו עד שחותנו השיאם. ואין צריך לומר, שהוא מצויין בדאגתו לנצרכים, ומקפיד על מתן בסתר. איש אגודת ישראל והכול רוחשים לו כבוד, כי הוא מעסקני הצבור הנושאים בצערו ומשרתים אותו נאמנה ועומדים לימינו – וביחוד לרעב, ליתום ולנצרך. פעילותו מביאה אותו במגע עם משכילים ומתקדמים ומתבוללים למיניהם. ואולם הוא אין הוא בוש לדבר יידיש, כי הוא איש העם ומעורה בעם. ידו בכל מוסדות העזרה והגמל, והוא עצמו מוסד מסוגם, ולוֹ לב חם, טוב ומיטיב.
והאם, לבית שפירא, בית של חסידות וגדולה, היא הרוח החיה בסיר הברזל ונאמנת מסורת עד תום. בית שפירא המסועף זו, מלכי סחר הברזל, חצר גוּר "ביתם" והם מכובדיה. וכמוה האחים מנדל ומשה והניך ואחותם.
בפנקס הזכרון לקהילת בנדין (תל-אביב, תש"ך) כותב דוד ליור, ההיסטוריון שלה: – "והנה עומדת לעיני דמותו של האב, והוא מלא חיים ולהט, בתנועת תמיד, על אף גילו. קומה ממוצעת, כתפים רחבות, פנים מעגלות, עטורות זקן שיבה, לבוש קפוטה ארוכה, נקי ומצוחצח. תלמיד חכם שאין רבב על בגדו. נמנה עם הטפוס היהודי שנר התמיד דלק בליבם, אש יהודית אשר לא תכבה, המאצילה בחומה ובאורה על המדוכדך והמדוכא, ולא חסך זמנו להושטת עזרה לנצרכים, לכל אדם, שהוא היה להם כאב רחום בעל לב רגיש ונשמה עדינה".
...ובלילות כאשר ה"סימטא" עטופה בשינה היה הוא, ר' מנדל, יושב בחדרו ולומד או מתייחס בכתיבה, והרבה לכתוב. לצערנו, לא זכירו לראות כתביו, שאבדו יחד עמם בלהבות אושוויץ".
הבאנו את הדברים המהימנים דלעיל על ר' מנדל רוזנזפט, שמחברם, בן למשפחה המעונפת והמועפת בבנדין, ממייסדי הקהילה ומראשוניה הוא גם מקוננה ומנציח זכרה של בנדין ("עיר המתים" ת"א, תש"ח), לפי שלא שרד בחיים אלא בנו, והוא כממשיך מורשתו ודרכו, הוא יוסל רוזנזפט.
Reb Mendl Rozenzaft's Timeline
January 15, 1911
Będzin, Silesia, Poland
August 1, 1943
Będzin, Śląskie, Polska