In a quiet country village about fifty miles south of Warsaw, a three-spired church stands sentry over a smattering of low houses. Fewer than a thousand people inhabit sleepy Przytyk today, but a visitor here a century ago would have found it a bustling town of more than 3,000 – 80% of them Jews. Particularly on Monday, the market day, one would have found dozens of vendors at stalls lining the main square and hundreds of residents doing their weekly shopping.
Jews first settled in Przytyk in the early part of the seventeenth century. From an initial group smaller than the quorum of ten required for prayer, the community grew over the following decades and eventually built a stone synagogue. By 1787, the census recorded more than 480 Jewish residents in Przytyk, drawn by the town’s location along a key highway between Warsaw and Krakow. During the nineteenth century, the community thrived, and the cemetery just beyond the bank of the Radomka River filled over the years with bakers, tailors, butchers, silk merchants, brewers, and teachers who lived and died quietly in a peaceful town.
One family of butchers in Przytyk, its business passed from father to son, was that of the Rozenblits. In the early twentieth century, Abraham Rozenblit took over the business from his father. He married and became a father himself. When his daughter Leah Rozenblit was fourteen years old, she witnessed one of the horrific precursors to the Shoah in Poland.
On March 9. 1936, armed Polish peasants, looking for a scapegoat for the economic hardships that befell the country during the Great Depression, stormed Przytyk’s Monday market and began beating Jewish vendors and looting their stalls. Some fought back, and eventually order was restored. But in what would come to be known as the Przytyk Pogrom, three of the town’s Jewish residents were killed. Among them were Leah’s aunt and uncle, Chaya and Josef Minkowski.
After the pogrom, the peace of Przytyk would not return. Yiddish poet Mordechai Gebertig wrote his famous elegy “Es Brendt” (“It Is Burning”) about Przytyk. By 1939, when the community erected a plaque in memory of the pogrom, many of the 3,000 Jewish inhabitants had begun looking trying to emigrate. After the town fell under Nazi occupation, nearly all its remaining inhabitants perished in the Shoah.
Leah Rozenblit and her sister Sarah survived the Shoah and ended up in an American displaced-persons camp. Their older sister Chana made it to Israel. Leah eventually immigrated it to the United States, where she married her husband of sixty-two years Louis Finkel and raised their daughter, Marlene.
Leah Rozenblit before the war, far left
Today, Marlene’s daughter Francie Harris lives in the Washington D.C. area and helps to keep her grandmother Leah’s memory alive – along with the memory of Przytyk – through her service on the Leadership Committee of 3GDC.
Francie Harris and her grandmother, Leah Rozenblit Finkel