Rabbi Dawid Kurzmann was born in 1865 in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland. He moved to Krakow and established a business in iron, steel and metal products. He was also active in the Jewish community and directed a Jewish orphanage at 64 Dietla Street in Krakow, a building that is now a youth hostel.
Meir Bossak, a Holocaust survivor, wrote a newspaper article about the little-known rabbi. “Kurzmann devoted his entire life to the orphanage,” according to Bossak. “He saw to the funds for the needs of the orphanage and the traditional Jewish education of the children.”
Kurzmann was seen as a father figure because his attitude toward the orphans was “fatherly and full of tenderness, love and kindness,” according to the book, Eleh Veazkara by Yitzhak Levin. “Every orphan was given his warm caress and felt like his only, personal child.”
In 1941, the orphans were forced to move with the other Jews in Krakow to a ghetto. They were moved from building to building until the deportation order was given. The Germans ordered the orphans to go to the train station, but offered to allow Kurzmann to remain in the ghetto. The rabbi insisted on staying with the children. A letter written by a Jew from Krakow after World War II describes the events of October 28, 1942: “When the barbarian Nazis came to destroy us, he did not part from his sainted flock but rather arm in arm with his pupils he marched proudly towards death, sanctifying the Holy Name aloud and giving up his soul in all purity as a righteous man.”
Kurzmann, then 77-years-old, led about 300 orphans to the deportation train, which took them to the Belzec extermination camp where they were sent to the gas chamber.
There are no monuments to Kurzmann, but his family has attempted to make the public more aware of his story. In 2014, a street was named after him in Rishon Lezion. A Polish historian also wrote a book about him. In 2016, Kurzmann’s grandson, Marcel, published a book about the rabbi, They Were All His Sons, based on research he did about his grandfather’s life.
Source: Ofer Aderet “The ‘ultra-Orthodox Janusz Korczak’ Who Saved Hundreds in the Holocaust,”Haaretz, (January 26, 2018).