Raizel Nechama Wolhandler (PART I)

Please tell us where you were born.

I, Raizel Nechama (Rosalie) Wolhandler née Dym, was born in Cracow, Poland in 1917. I grew up in a corner house on Weglowa Street. Our house had two floors, with two entrances. The Belzer shtiebel was situated on the first floor of our house. We never took any money for it. My father was one of the three gabba’im of the shtiebel. My father and my brothers would travel once a year for Shavuos to the Belzer Rebbe.

Our house had three rooms and a kitchen. There was a porch off the kitchen, and this is where we built our sukkah. We had a radio and a working telephone.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

My father, Yehuda Dym, was born in Cracow, Poland. My father and his partner, Mr. Horowitz, owned a factory that produced labels for clothing. During the war, the Germans used my father’s factory to make badges for the Polish police.

My father was a to’ein. People would come to our house with all sorts of questions for him to mediate. He was a Chassidishe Yid and wore a shtreimel. In, Lodz after a boy was bar mitzvah, he wore a katchketel; in Cracow, he would wear a hat.

My mother, Bluma Dym née Gutwein, was born in Sanz. She was well-known for her chessed. She would go with a friend from door to door collecting money for different causes. My mother was the picture of a true “Yiddishe Mama.” She was extremely devoted to her children and her family.

My parents were first cousins. My maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother were brother and sister.

I came from a family of four children. I had two brothers: Uri Lipa, who was married with two small boys; Tzvi Hersh, who was married with one little girl; and one sister, Tzila, who was married too, with one little girl. I was the youngest child.

We spent our summer vacations of eight or nine weeks out in the country. My paternal grandfather was quite elderly and couldn’t even go out to shul. My maternal grandfather, who lived in Sanz, visited us often.

While you were growing up, did you feel anti-Semitism in your town?

We lived among the gentiles and got along nicely with them. They were cordial to us and vice versa.

What kind of education did you receive?

In the morning we went to Bais Yaakov and in the afternoon we went to the Polish school. I attended a Polish elementary and high school exclusively for Jewish girls. When I graduated, I went to Bais Yaakov Seminary in Cracow. At first, the Chassidishe Yidden were afraid to send the girls to Bais Yaakov because it was a new idea. We had never heard of it – a school for girls?! Boys learned in cheder and yeshivah, but girls learned privately at home.

Besides Sara Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov, there were other organizations that opened too. There was Akiva and a Zionistic organization. Some of the very frum people were leery of Sara Schenirer’s idea to make a Bais Yaakov. There were many Bobover Chassidim who didn’t send their daughters until much later. My favorite Hebrew subject was Chumash.

Sara Schenirer put on plays that she wrote in Yiddish. I had a part in the Tu BiShvat play; I remember my part clearly until today.

Sara Schenirer instilled in us four ma’amarim: Bimakom she’ein ish, hishtadel l’hiyos ish; Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid; Reishis chochmah yiras Hashem; and l’mnos yameinu kein hoda.

Coming from Polish schools and having Polish friends, it wasn’t so accepted to wear tzinusdig clothing. I would come to Bais Yaakov many times wearing sleeves above my elbow. Sara Schenirer would check the inside of the sleeve to see if there was extra material, and if there was she would let it down to cover my elbow.

Sara Schenirer had no children of her own. She would refer to us by our first name, or lovingly she would say, “kinderlach.” She easily caught our attention and brought us close to her with her big black eyes. I was privileged to have the job of taking her briefcase and carrying it home for her. It was considered a kavod and a real zechus.

On the short Fridays, Frau Schenirer would see how we brought our school bags with us so that we could go to public school. However, she couldn’t imagine that after our mothers had already bentched licht we would be writing and doing melachos. I recall that she wrote a letter to the administration of the public school requesting special permission for those who attended Bais Yaakov to be let out of school a little bit earlier on Fridays.

On Shabbos we had a Bnos group, where all the girls got together. I recall that each year the Bnos leaders would choose a few girls who would join the Bnos Convention. I went with one of these groups to a convention in Lodz.

to be continued…

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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