The family of the rabbis of Mszana Dolna

The family of the rabbis of Mszana Dolna came from Lviv, the place of origin of the town’s first rabbi, Josef Holländer. According to Josef’s New York-based great grandson, Elieazar Zobremann, who is the main source of information on the subject of the rabbi’s family, Josef’s wife Chana was a daughter of the chief rabbi of Lviv. The Holländers arrived to Mszana Dolna about 1875. This dating is supported by a later document, Jochwed Schwitzer’s birth certificate issued on the basis of two witnesses’ testimonies, with the annotation stating that “at the time [of Jochwed Schwitzer’s birth, i.e. 1874] the record books did not exist yet, as they were established only in 1876.”  The certification bears the seal and signature of Natan Holländer, Josef's son who was the second and at the same time last but one rabbi of Mszana Dolna. For the Holländers, originating from a major city with its own university and rich cultural life, Mszana Dolna, with its mostly wooden architecture, dirt roads, and ubiquitous mud, must have been a culture shock. They stayed in the town nevertheless; Josef established a rabbinical office, and at the turn of the 20th century a large brick synagogue was built. The rabbi’s family lived in a building on the main market square near the synagogue, rented from the Mitan family; according to O. Illukiewicz, it was at no. 11.The office of the rabbi of Mszana Dolna was held by three Holländers. After Josef’s death in 1912 he was succeeded by his son Natan Dawid. Courtesy of his grandson, Eli, his photo can be presented on this website. There are very few preserved memories of the rabbi. When interviewed on 28 December 2009, Henryk Zdanowski could not even remember his name. It seems the rabbi must have been a very modest person. In his memoirs on the Jews of Mszana Dolna, Aleksander Kalczyński writes that the relations between the rabbi and the parson of the nearby parish were remarkably good, and the two men even treated each other to matzah and cake on the holidays. The synagogue had its own cheder. The Jewish religious school was probably run by the rabbi.  In the state-run primary school the Jewish religion was taught for 6 hours a week by Abraham Arbeit from Maków (Illukiewicz, 128).   

Natan Dawid Holländer passed away on 19 June 1938 at 8 p.m. in Kazimierz, Kraków, at ul. Szeroka 2, following some serious health problems. He was 71 years old. His office and duties were taken over by his son, Aron Arie (Lejb) Holländer. The last, third rabbi of the town was born in Mszana Dolna on 7 May 1910. He was only 28 when he had to start leading the Jewish religious community in Mszana Dolna, and he held his office in the most difficult period: the time of the war and extermination of his people. He was murdered before the massacre of the entire community took place, probably during the execution of the group of rabbis from the Nowy Sącz region in 1942. His family, including his wife Bejla Perel (born 18 May 1907) and his children—Chaim Josef, aged 11, Chaja Mirl, aged 9, Ester, aged 8, and Chaskiel, aged 6, were murdered on 19 August 1942. The list of the victims of the mass murder also includes Adela Holländer (born 1879), Natan Dawid’s wife and the mother of the last rabbi of Mszana Dolna. Natan Dawid’s brother Abraham (born in 1897), as well as his family—his wife Malka and their three children, who were killed on the same day.

The synagogue

The synagogue in Mszana Dolna was built at the end of the 19th century. It was a brick building constructed on a rectangular plan. It was built of plastered bricks, had high long vertical windows with curved tops and a round skylight under the roof. Unfortunately, no information on the interior has survived, and there are very few photos presenting the synagogue from the outside. The most valuable photograph shows children and their parents, apparently during some kind of a celebration, against the background of a white wall of the synagogue. According to Anna Kadłubek, who shared the photo, the first man on the left is Mr Stachura, a P.E. teacher.  At first, it was thought that the picture shows one of the Jewish holidays such as Purim, which would be logical given the children are wearing special triangular caps. However, considering the immediate vicinity of the primary school, it cannot be ruled out that the photo presents a school-related celebration. Still, there may be Jewish children and their parents in the picture as well, as Jewish and non-Jewish children attended the same school. The wooden fence between the synagogue and the square where the children are standing also suggests it is a school-related event rather than a religious one. The synagogue was located in the immediate vicinity of the school, the market square, and the Catholic parish church. During WW2, its building has been demolished on Nazi orders, with the “Aryan” inhabitants of the town allowed to take the building materials for themselves. Unfortunately, there were people all too eager to take that possibility. Some materials from the former synagogue were used for farm buildings, including a stable. The synagogue equipment—excluding the most valuable items, which had been stolen by the Germans—was left on the Main Market Square and taken by the non-Jewish inhabitants. The same fate befell the books from the synagogue’s cheder. Anna Kadłubek recounts piles of books which children used as slide, another witness remembers the leather from the book binding which was used as a material for his mother’s school backpack. In 2017, Shtetl Mszana Dolna took initiative to commemorate the location of the former synagogue with a suitable information board. The project took 3 years to be completed, but finally the board was set up exactly on the spot where the Jews used to pray to God in their synagogue, which was allowed to exist in Mszana for less than 50 years.