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Our Amazing Forefather

Yissachar Moshe (Sucher) Szwarc


By Mary V.Seeman

Yissachar Moshe Szwarc was born in Zgierz, Poland in 1859 to Hersz Ber Szwarc, a wealthy metal trader, and Miriam née Gliksman. The name Szwarc had been imposed on or selected by his grandfather Mordechai ben Hersz from the town of Brzeziny. During the Prussian conquest of that part of Poland (1794-1806), German-sounding surnames were made obligatory. Until then, most Jews had no “family” name but were known by their "first name ben father's name." Wealthy Jews were able to buy pleasant sounding names, like Gliksman (lucky man). Indigent Jews were given derisory names by the Polish authority (for instance, signifying “vermin” or “cripple” in Polish). Szwarc (the Polish spelling of Schwartz = black) lies somewhere in between. Mordechai might have been a swarthy man or it is possible that he took the name from the river Czarny (black in Polish) that winds around the outskirts of Brzeziny. The landowners of the nearby town of Strykow (where part of the family seems to have lived in the 18th century) were called Czarnecki.

Sucher was the only child of Hersz Ber and his second wife, Miriam. Hersz Ber had been married before, to Chaja from Brzeziny, and they had had four sons. Chaja died in childbirth when her daughter Chana was born and Hersz Ber married the sister of well-to-do salt merchant Wolf Gliksman. Miriam was a capable woman who looked after the family and ran a distillery, an occupation forbidden to most Jews of Zgierz. It is not clear who Sucher was named after, perhaps after his Gliksman grandfather. He was a studious boy, first studying in a Cheder and then, because of his delicate health, private tutors were hired to teach him. The first one taught him Torah and Gemara. Other taught him German, Russian and Polish but, in the main, he was self-taught.

Though an observant Jew, he read Mendelson, Heine, Tzuntz, Lutsato, and Hebrew writers such as Gordon (Yala"g), Mapou and Smolenskin. He also read Frug’s poetry in Russian. From an early age, he collected books, the beginnings of his famous library - a treasure which was as important to him as his own life. Eventually, he owned one of the most important private collections of Hebrew books in Poland. His library included so many thousands of books and manuscripts that it is impossible to estimate its worth. It was unique, one of the largest in Poland. Later on, Sucher gave books from his collection to Jewish intellectuals and provided Dr. Israelson, Brodsky’s secretary, the books he needed for the Baylis trial (1913). Sucher was not only a book collector but also a great thinker who read day and night, annotating his books with quotes in Polish or in Greek. He was often called a living encyclopedia.

From Bela Czajka’s poem about Yissachar:

I see him once more pouring over a book, reading and studying

Memoirs, treatises, essays on the soul

His thoughts wander, lonely, on starry paths

He wants to illuminate the dark fog, control the snowfall

He considers and reflects.

Books, manuscripts, texts, and documents ……

Covered in cotton, in leather, in velvet

Books were closest to his heart, faithful companions.

In 1979, at the age of 20, Yissachar married his beloved cousin Sarah (Salomea) Gliksman – a beautiful, tall, blue eyed, black haired young woman of eighteen, the daughter of Wolf Gliksman. At first the couple lived with Wolf and Zissl (née Tanenbaum) Gliksman. Their first child, Samuel, was born in 1880 and, shortly afterwards, Wolf Gliksman died. The widowed Zissl refused to be separated from her daughter so Yissachar and Salomea continued to live in her home until her death eighteen years later. In the interim, Grandfather Hersz Ber and Grandmother Miriam both died. They left to Yissachar the house that Hersz Ber built. The house was rented out, and the rental income allowed Sucher to provide his ten children with a good education. The eldest,Samuel, on graduation from high school, was sent to university in Paris to be an engineer. Free of financial worries, Sucher could dedicate himself to "Tora Va’Avoda" (learning and work). In 1892, he discarded his long coat (kapota), the mark of a religious Jew. While on a visit to St. Petersburg, he had met Jewish scholars and intellectual leaders; he had visited the Imperial library and had made friends with the famous poet, Yehudah Leib Gordon (Yala"g). He never wore a long coat again.

After the death of Zissl Gliksman,Sucher’s financial condition deteriorated. One of Zissl’s sons inherited the house so he and Salomea and their growing family moved into the Szwarc house. They needed most of the house for themselves so the rental income dwindled, barely providing for daily needs. Sucher opened a railway factory but the place burned down and he lost the little money he had left from his inheritance. Around that time, a new commercial school that accepted Jewish students opened in Zgierz. Many young Jews came to Zgierz from all over Poland and Lithuania and, since they owned a large house with many rooms to let, Sucher and Salomea opened a boarding residence for the students. Salomea did most of the work and Sucher was again free to dedicate his time to his books. Eventually, the Russian government moved the school away from Zgierz but, by that time, Samuel had become a mining engineer and was working in Spain and in Africa. He was able not only to support his parents but to pay for the education of his brothers, Szymek, Henryk, Marek, Olek and the weddings of his sisters, Mania, Cesia, and Zosia. Sucher continued to travel and disseminate, in writings and in oral presentations, his plans for a Jewish Renaissance in Poland. In 1911, Zionist organizations were declared illegal by the authorities. It was forbidden to conduct political activities, so only cultural events were ever mentioned in the program of meetings. Discussion centred on the spread and propagation of the study of Hebrew, on the strengthening of the Hebrew press, and the creation of a library for Hebrew books. Haskalah and the study of Hebrew literature were led in Zgierz by Yissachar Szwarc, Moshel Eiger, and Reb Tuvia Lipschitz. They started the Chovevei Zion group in Zgierz and, later, founded the Zionist union. Under their influence, Zgierz became a pioneering centre of Zionism.

Sucher’s house was home to Polish Jewish writers, scholars, community leaders and artists. They used to meet every Shabbat afternoon for scholarly discussion. Sucher published articles in the "Ha-Tsfira" newspaper, and later in "Ha-Yom", and in the Yiddish journals of Warsaw and Lodz, under the name, "Yam Shachor" (black sea), Y-M for Yssachar - Moshe, and Shachor (black) for Szwarc. Sometimes he used his own name or the pseudonym "Shachor Ve-Tushiya." He also published many articles on historical and bibliographic issues in "Hashachar", "Hamagid", "Magid Mishneh" and other periodicals. He published a study about Tverya and its rabbinical leaders in "Ha Menora" of Lodz, and wrote many other articles in the Yiddish press. Sucher had close contacts with great leaders of his generation, like Y.L. Gordon and Nachum Sokolov, who mentioned him in their memoirs. He participated in weekly Monday literature meeting in Warsaw. On his visits to St. Petersburg, he met the Russian churchman Yohan Kronshtedsky, an advisor to Tsar Alexander III, and Mrs. Alisa Uzskova, a famous Polish writer. Sucher was an intimate of many Jewish circles, in and out of Zgierz. He maintained good relations with the Zgierz Rabbis and with the Hassidic community, and was a senior member of the Haskala circles. From youth onwards, he was involved with the "Chovevy Zion", and was a member of B’nei Moshe (established by Echad Ha-Am). Before WW1, he was elected to be a Polish delegate to the Zionist congresses held in London and Vienna.

Sucher combined the virtues of the old type of Halachic Jew with that of the modern leader. Noble, good natured, loved by all, he was of distinguished appearance and treated everyone with equal kindness and respect.

From Bela Czajka’s poem about Yissachar:

Grandfather’s room: texts and books right up to the ceiling

Purple hyacynths blooming in the parlour

In the morning, sparrows, pigeons at the windows

Grandfather scattering seeds. I see his palms

Sublime like in the Bible, the Providence of the hand,

Evenly bountiful to each bird, no less, no more.

He was a community leader, the head of several public institutions, very active in Zionist organizations, and a member of the town council from 1928 till his death.

The household was a traditional one but Sucher tended towards tolerance. On Shabbats and the high holidays the family attended the Beit Midrash, more moderate than the central synagogue of Zgierz. Salomea was the more observant of the two; meals were Kosher.

Sucher used to travel daily to Lodz, even before there was a Zgierz - Lodz railway. He visited Samuel in Paris and met the famous Professor Joseph Ha-Levi, the Chief Rabbi Tsadok Cohen, and Zionist leaders such as Max Nordau and Dr. Marmorek. He was a Zionist first and foremost.

Sucher was very delicate and fragile in his health, but never complained and never went to a physician. His children never remembered seeing him sick in bed. Salomea kept him well; they had a good life together despite several major crises. One son, Wolutek (Wolf), died at age 12. Eldest daughter, Mania, married, settled in Tel Aviv, and, at age 25, died of typhus. Son Marek, a well known painter and gifted sculptor, converted to Catholicism, something Sucher could never understand. The conversion took place in 1921 but Marek lived in Paris and the family did not find out until ten years later.

Sucher’s eightieth birthday was noted in the Jewish press all over Poland. He was appointed honorary president of the community. The liquidation of the Zgierz community took place shortly thereafter - at the end of December 1939. On Tuesday, December 26 (14 Tevet 5700) the Germans issued an order that all Jews must leave Zgierz.

From Bela Czajka’s poem about Yissachar:

They’re coming…they’ve already come….

He automatically grips the nearest book,

A book covered in leather, with golden edges

“The Song of Songs” – it speaks with longing of eternal love.

He holds it in front of him in his tremulous aged palm

With a book of love, my Grandfather protects himself, his shield.

Yissachar Szwarc was “fortunate” – he was spared the torment of exile. He died of a stroke, clutching to his chest the Song of Songs, when the Germans entered his home and tried to destroy his library, a day before the town`s deportation (26/12/39). His body was brought by hand wagon to a Jewish grave in the Zgierz cemetery. None of his family or friends could attend his funeral, arranged by the Red Cross. Nothing is left to mark his grave.

The Germans desecrated the Jewish cemetery of Zgierz and the Polish population helped. After the expulsion of the Jews from Zgierz, all the tombstones and canopies that covered the graves of the rabbis were removed. The town streets were paved with the gravestones, and the very old pine trees of the cemetery were uprooted and used for lumber. Finally, the Germans ploughed over the Zgierz cemetery and covered it with earth.

In the Lodz area Yizkor book one can find the following entry: “At the end of the 19th century and until the 1930s, one of the outstanding Zionist personalities in Jewish cultural life was Yissachar Szwarc. His articles appeared in “Hatsfira” under the pseudonym “Yam-Shachor” (Black sea). His house was a centre for Jewish intellectuals. He also nurtured talented youngsters and helped them enter the world of art. He was a member of the community council on various occasions, and was the founder of the Jewish People's Bank.” From the Zgierz Yiskor book: “One of the most respected figures of the community, a scholar, an educated thinker, a public activist, an educator and builder of the community, whose home was a center for scholars and a source for knowle.

From Izkor Book of Zgierz