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Neighboring Towns

 

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A map of Ostrolenka and its environs

 

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Kaczyny

53°04' / 21°36'

Mark Rakowski (Warsaw)

Memories

Our house was in Kaczyny, a railway station about five kilometers distant from Ostrolenka. About thirty Jewish families lived there. (There were many more Christians.) Most of them were shopkeepers, carters, some workmen, including a blacksmith, two flour mill owners (windmills), some who engaged in luftgesheft [air business] and, besides these, a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer and a butcher. They all lived in small, onestory houses on the right side of the street, on the road from the city to the train. My father's house, and a few other houses belonging to Jews, stood on both sides of the street, on the road from Ostrolenka to Ostrowa. Our house stood on the main road from the city to the railway station. On the other side of the road, the train tracks led to the railway station's offices.

 

My Father, Jakow Meir, of Blessed Memory

My father was the grandson of the well-known Gaon, Rabbi Lejbele Plocker. He was not a Chassid, as he was described in the The Forward in America, but a Misnagid, a learned Jew, who had a general education and was not a religious fanatic. He had a short, pointy beard, shaved on both sides by a mechanical razor, and he wore a short jacket. His sons studied in a heder and, later on, with Hebrew teachers. He tried to provide them with higher education. After his marriage, fate brought him to Malkin, where he ran prosperous businesses. In Malkin, exactly as later in Ostrolenka, he took upon himself the building of a synagogue that would serve more than one kind of Jew. He was expert at obtaining building materials at cheap prices, and sometimes even for free. After the following incident, construction of the synagogue was completed at an accelerated pace. The Russian army held training exercises around Malkin. The only Jewish officer in the entire Russian army, Alfred Ginsburg, the son of the famous baron, Haradi Ginsburg, served in one of those regiments. On Rosh HaShana, my father invited him to pray in a private home, where he was honored with maftir [being called to read the final section of the weekly Torah portion read on Sabbath and holiday mornings in the synagogue]. To the astonishment of all the worshippers, he sang the maftir without missing a word and with the right cantillation. Of course, he paid well for that maftir and, when he discovered that a synagogue was being built in the city, he ordered that construction be completed at his expense.

 

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Jakow Meir and Jenta Rakowski

 

My father was innovative and full of energy. At that time, the station in Malkin played an important role as a junction for trains on the Warsaw-Bialystok-Grodno- Vilna-Dvinsk-Petersburg line. In addition, a strategic track was built then, Malkin-Ostrolenka-Tluszcz, and the Malkin-Siedlce line, so that all the wholesale merchants from near and far came to Malkin. My father, of blessed memory, owned warehouses of kerosene, salt, herring and all kinds of legumes. They called my father, in the slang of that time, “Vagonczak”, that is, “[Train] Car Owner”, because he brought his merchandise in by railway car.

A number of years after he arrived in Malkin, he expanded his business and opened a branch at the Ostrolenka station (Kaczyny). He sent one of his friends, Awraham Zbar, there. The latter built a house there with my father's money and ran his business, as in Malkin. In later years, when my father settled in Ostrolenka, Zbar became his competitor.

Apparently, my father already felt then that he had to move to Ostrolenka, and therefore ordered that a

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house be built there, as he did not have a house of his own in Malkin. Why was Ostrolenka suddenly more important to him than Malkin? Because Malkin had an abundance of railroad tracks, and in Ostrolenka and its vicinity, Myszyniec, Chorzel, Makow and Rozen, there was no train. In addition, the Ostrolenkan region constituted a large demand-market for grains, especially millet, which did not grow in Poland and had to be brought in from the far reaches of Russia. And so, in the beginning of the twentieth century, with all the family, my father moved to a permanent residence in Ostrolenka. He transferred his business in Malkin to a distant relative of his, Solomon.

Our house stood near the road, on the way to the train, so that all the wagons and pedestrians had to pass our way. We could see them from the window. But behind the house, marshes spread, reaching the nearby forest and the fields on the horizon. We, the children, were enticed by that place in particular, because of the storks that built their nests there, and because of the colorful reflection of the sun's rays between the branches of the trees. Therefore, we were always drawn there, although when we got closer – all the magic melted away.

 

Three Patriarchal Families of Carters – Of Eminent Kaczynyans

When we arrived in Kaczyny, it was “ruled” by three patriarchal families of carters, which included sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. The most important was the family of Awraham Mordechaj Blumberg (he was named after one of the Gur Rebbes), a man in his sixties, with a long beard and the outer appearance of “the master of the house” [the local authority]. The family had two nicknames: “The Royal Family” and “The Medics”. “The Medics” did not come from the root word “medicine”, but from the word “meditation”, as they were experts at different and ingenious contrivances and combinations – in order to outdo competitors.

At the head of the second family stood Hone Perkal, a man in his sixties, with a wide, red face, heavy eyebrows and a meager, short beard. He was not a great scholar, but enjoyed respect and esteem because of his son, Meir Josel, a fellow of eighteen, who was considered the strongest of all the Kacznynyans. To us, the children, he was the biggest hero in the world. He would lift the heaviest loads as if they were feathers, and walked around with them as if he were out for a stroll. Hone's prestige increased even more, when his son-in-law, Lejbel Szuster (shoemaker), arrived from England. He was dressed in an elegant suit and a red necktie, and strewed his conversation with English words that no one understood. In the bosom of this important family, Lejbel discovered that shoemaking was contemptible work compared to respectable carting. He therefore rolled up his sleeves and became a carter. But he could never get free of the name “Lejbel Szuster”.

The third was Awraham Mosze Medzowicz, the richest of the three and the youngest among them. His beard was trimmed short and, sometimes, especially on weekdays, he wore a short jacket, because, as he said, the Messiah would arrive “shortly”. But Awraham Mordechaj and Hone saw him as a spiritually inferior man. Because no one was ready to test them, no argument was raised as to spiritual precedence. None of the heads of the families worked. They just observed how the sons worked; sometimes, however, they could not restrain themselves and grabbed sacks and loaded them onto the wagons.

Their hatred of Awraham Mosze developed primarily on an economic background. He was a sort of contractor and richer than they. He built some houses and had a number of wagons and horses, while the others had only one horse. Their hatred became stronger when he “bought” a son-in-law, a young student who he maintained. He gave him a respectable dowry and fixed him up with a store. The son-in-law, Eliahu, was also a real scholar, and amazed the whole carters' study group with his hidden talents. Kaczyny did not have a good synagogue Torah reader, and Eliahu announced that he was ready to take this mission upon himself. And indeed, everyone marveled when he ascended the reader's platform and began to read in a sweet, trilling voice. His mouth produced pearls and gems. Later, he also demonstrated true cantorial ability on the pulpit. He captivated the Kaczyny community.

My father, of blessed memory, who was a scholarly Jew and conducted himself in the synagogue as an equal among equals, behaved politely toward Awraham Mosze and Hone, who were older than he.

 

My Father as a Jester

My father liked to joke and sometimes gave samples of his jests. Once, when I was talking to my

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brother about our neighbors' scholasticism, he told a joke about two land leasers. In their old age, they looked for an objective, and decided to study Gemara. They began “The Four Archetypes ['Fathers'] of Damages” – and did not know how to continue. Where did Four Fathers suddenly come from, when everyone knew from the Torah that there were only Three Fathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? “Simpleton,” said one of the leasers, after long consideration, “the intention is the Four Mothers: Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. In the Torah, it sometimes happens that 'Fathers' is written, and 'Mothers' is meant, and vice versa. I'll give you a simple example. It is written in the Torah: 'Vekarot emo' ['and you made a covenant with him' – he mistakes emo spelled with an ayin, meaning 'with him', with emo spelled with an alef, meaning 'his mother'] – what is the connection between 'make a covenant' and 'mother'? In the same way, 'Fathers' is written, and 'Mothers' is meant.” That was the kind of scholars they were.

Awraham Mordechaj, Hone and Awraham Mosze occupied [places] at the eastern wall [of the synagogue, the most prestigious side] and felt at home there. Also at the eastern wall, stood Awraham the American, whose face was as red as a beet, and whose nose was blue from drink. He was nicknamed “the American” because he was an agent of a company in Ostrolenka which smuggled turkeys via the German border. He was rash by nature, even when he had large sums of money, which he distained. He paid a much larger sum than necessary for his place at the eastern wall. A joke was told, as if he went to the doctor to give him advice about his red nose. The doctor asked him how long he had been drinking, and when he told the doctor how many years he had been drinking, the doctor advised him to drink for many [more] years, until his nose would turn blue …

 

The Three Intelligent Families of Kaczyny

At the station lived three intelligent families, who were prominent for their short [modern] dress. They wore derbies, like my father, shortened their beards, and the main thing – they knew the Torah commentaries …

In the synagogue, there was friction and quarreling about the “fat” and “thin” aliyot [being called up to read a portion of the Torah]. My father refused to be appointed gabbai, because he knew that in one weekly Torah portion, there was only one shlishi [third aliyah] and one shishi [sixth aliyah]. He passed the honor on to the son of the Rabbi of Slutzk, Chaim Wolowski, who owned a store at the station. By the way, my father's avocation was maftir [the final section of the weekly Torah portion]. He did not read it in a whisper, like the Chassidim did, but aloud. He had the right of possession of the Chana maftir [from the Book of Samuel, which tells of Samuel's mother, who could not bear children], a “remedy” for women who had difficulties giving birth. He would not agree to pass it on to anyone. More than once, he was called in the middle of the night to a woman in confinement, who was in distress. But he would not rush over, and the worried family would send for him a number of times. My mother asked him why he took his time and did not run over immediately, the first time he was called. He answered, “You silly goose, do you really think it works? It's just a delusion. The later I arrive, the more effective the maftir will be …”

During times of aliyah disputes like these, each attacked the other's Rebbe. For example, the Worka Chassidim accused the Gur Chassidim, saying that their Rebbe belonged to the rich, who shared their income with him, while the Worka Rebbe gave everything to the poor, and he, himself, lived from hand to mouth.

My father, every inch a Misnagid, did not especially like Chassidism, and especially, its Rebbes. The tradition of his negative attitude toward Chassidism began in Plock, where his grandfather, the Gaon Rabbi Lejbele Plocker served as Rabbi. The Chassidim there persecuted him, mocked him and spread ashes on his seat in the synagogue, until finally he had to leave the city.

 

My Father Intervenes in Kaczyny's Disputes

In Kaczyny, my father tried to moderate disputes, but at the same time used stinging jests against the disputants. In this respect, Szaje Milner (the owner of the windmill), whose roots were Chassidic, helped him. I don't know whether this was because he had revoked his Chassidism or because of his bent for jesting, but he was always my father's faithful helper. He was a very intelligent man, and never laughed when he told a joke. One of his jokes is etched in my memory: in a certain town, where a Jewish flour mill owner lived, someone built another windmill. The miller immediately ran to his Rebbe and told him about it. When the Rebbe saw that the miller was prepared to give him a sizeable gift,

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he accepted his invitation and agreed to come and deal with the matter on the spot. As they approached the town, the miller pointed out the mill's turret to the Rebbe. The Rebbe strained his eyes and said that he did not see anything. The miller, believing that the Rebbe suffered from short-sightedness, pointed at the new mill a number of times more, but the Rebbe always replied, “I don't see anything.” Even when they arrived at the place, where even a blind man could not miss seeing the mill, the Rebbe rolled his eyes and said that he could not see it. The miller invited the Rebbe to dine, and said to his to his wife gaily, “You know, Sara, the Rebbe told me that he does not see the mill. This is a sign that it will turn into dust and ashes.” So, what happened to the mill? – asked the Chassidim. Nothing happened. It is still standing today.

As I have said, there were three intelligent families living in Kaczyny – Lithuanians or semi-Lithuanians. They were educated, read HaTzfira and Hebrew books, as well as a Russian newspaper. Because my mother was from Russia and she had a secondary school education, we had many Russian books in our house. Thus, I had to borrow Hebrew books from others. Although reading Hebrew was not easy for me, I borrowed Ahavat Zion, Ashmat Shomron, Kivurat Chamor, HaToeh BeDarkei HeChaim and others.

One of the three, Pinczas Gewitzman, who was from Brysk, was my father's partner in the kerosene business, which he brought to Kaczyny. A wealthy relative of his, Kagan, had oil wells in Baku. My father liked to talk to him about politics, especially about the question of the Jews in Russia. He was a Torah scholar and an intelligent man.

The second was Kramer (I have forgotten his first name), a man of about fifty, sick and broken, who owned a small store for the sale of “everything in the world”. He was also a Torah scholar, with a spark of Enlightenment. He had a large Hebrew library and loved to delve into philosophical matters, and often quoted the Guide to the Perplexed. Because of this, he was versed in the ancient philosophical methods of Plato and Aristotle. But this doctrine was not suitable material for the people of Kaczyny, and Kramer was forced to keep his knowledge to himself. By the way, Kramer had an adopted son, Chaim Kramer, who was my boyhood friend. As a young man, even before World War I, he immigrated to America and I do not know what happened to him later.

The third was Chaim Wolowski, mentioned above, the owner of a spice store, run by his valiant wife, Bejla. How could it happen, people asked, that the son of the Rabbi of Slutzk found his way to Kaczyny and became a spice shopkeeper, something that did not interest him at all? Evil tongues and wags said that he did not want to learn and loved dissipation, shaming his father. For that reason, the latter found his son a match, married him off and sent the young couple to settle down in one of Russia's distant districts. Spiritual happiness eluded him, but it was always merry in his company. Finally, he could not support his wife and their three children, and he immigrated to America. The townspeople said that he exploited his father's reputation there, and stood in the synagogue, wrapped in a prayer shawl, filling various religious functions.

By the way, in 1942, while in Kuybyshev (Samara), I met his wife, Bejla, his daughter, Rejzel, who is married to a factory manager, and his second daughter, Chaja, a doctor. Old Bejla told me that their son, Welwel, left Ostrolenka during World War I. While traveling on a train, a heavy suitcase fell on his head and he passed away a short time later.

We were friends of these three families. They visited us and we visited them. But besides us, these intelligent ones did not succeed in finding anything in common with the simple people of Kaczyny.

*

 

My Mother, of Blessed Memory

She lived quietly and died quietly.

When I strain my memory, I see my mother in different periods of my life, in the gallery of people, distant and forgotten, who pass before my eyes with the speed of a kaleidoscope. She stands there among them, gentle, silent, serene.

My mother was good to everyone, not just to my father and us, her children. Whoever came into contact with her appreciated and esteemed her. With concrete help, comforting words and a kind smile, she always cared for those who were needy or suffered. I cannot remember her angry or irritated, even if she had reason to be. She never lost her composure. There was a quiet, hidden piety in her. Her soul suffered when confronted with instances of injustice, and she implanted her good qualities in us during our childhood years.

My mother was from Samara (Kuybyshev today), from the aristocratic Jewish Frankel family. Her mother,

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too, that is, my grandmother, was from the aristocratic Szeftel family. Her father, or perhaps her grandfather, was Rabbi of the city of Slutzk. Each of my mother's three brothers had a higher education. Two of them are engineers; the other one, a doctor, passed away two years ago in Stalingrad. One of her brothers, the Engineer Frankel, 85 years old today, is a veteran and honored teacher in the ORT school network and lives in Paris.

My mother had a secondary school education, and I remember that she read French novels. Two years before World War II, she passed away in Bialystok, where our family lived since World War I, when we had to leave Ostrolenka-Kaczyny because of the serious battles between Russia and Germany that took place near our city. She had a proper Jewish burial.

My father and some other members of my family were murdered, together with the six million. My father, who was then eighty-three, was killed in the Bialystok Ghetto. May God avenge his blood.


Zamość

53°02' / 21°41'

Hone Holcman – Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Zamość is a village nine kilometers from Ostrolenka. Most of the population was Christian. Fifteen Jewish families lived there, most of them related, except for the hatter, the tailor, the blacksmith and the shoemaker.

Besides these four workmen, all the rest engaged in agriculture and trade. They traded in geese, turkeys, grains, cheese, butter, honey, flour, fruits, leathers and more. The merchants marketed mostly to Ostrolenka; the rest they sent to Warsaw and, sometimes, to Germany.

Social and cultural life in Zamość was very poor.

The handful of Jews in the village found spiritual rest on Sabbaths and holidays, or on a memorial day for someone.

The little children studied locally with the melamed. The bigger ones traveled to school in Ostrolenka, Ostrowa or Lomza. Religious needs, such as a rabbi, a ritual bath and a cemetery, were supplied in Ostrolenka. They ate meat from the Kaczyny ritual slaughter. Sometimes a magid [storyteller], a Jew from Israel or just a beggar arrived, and they would stay for the Sabbath. On Sabbaths and holidays, young people from the surrounding villages – Troszyn, Chrostova, Rzekun, etc. – came to us and passed the time singing, dancing, playing group games and arguing. The more educated read the Yiddish newspaper or stories by Shalom Aleichem, Mark Twain or Peretz Herszbejn to the others. The attitude of the Christian population toward the Jews was friendly enough. Starting in the 20's, the economic situation changed for the worse. Anti- Semitism, rampant in Poland, came to Zamość as well. The Jews began to immigrate, some to Israel and some to Ostrolenka. In the autumn of 1928, the last Jewish family left Zamość.

Today, the Jews of Zamość live in North America, Russia, Australia, Uruguay and Argentina.


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Czerwin

52°57' / 21°45'

Shalom Wiater, Argentina

My Town of Czerwin

This was a small town near Ostrolenka, but in the Jewish sense, it had everything a big city had. In my childhood, it seemed to me that our town was the center of the world. Roads went out from it in four directions: northwest – 20 kilometers to Ostrolenka, southeast – 20 kilometers to Ostrowa, north – 14 kilometers to Sziadowa, west – 14 kilometers to Goworowo. We were 40 Jewish families, and very few Christians. The number of Jews did not change over the years. If someone left the place, someone new immediately came in his place. If someone passed away, a new baby appeared … It was said that a famous rabbi passed through the town once, a great saint, and he wished (I don't know if this was a blessing or a curse …) that the town would never grow or shrink, and that there would be no fires in it. And thus it actually was. There were all kinds of Jews in it: Chassidim, Misnagdim, religious workers, workmen, institutions. We even had a river of our own. The Chassidim were of the courts of Gur, Alexander, Otwock, Amszinow and Kotzk. The rest were Misnagdim. There was a permanent rabbi, a ritual slaughterer and a beadle. There were four stores that sold everything. The rest were workmen. The town supported itself from its environs. The farmers came, bought, sold and traded. The town had a courthouse, a local council and a large church. The synagogue stood about ten meters from the narrow, clean river, the Hirsz. Opposite were the ritual bath and the bathhouse. The synagogue was built of wood, and around it was an open space without buildings. It had large windows, a beautifully carved holy ark and a beautiful pulpit. Each of the balabatim had his permanent place of prayer, which was passed down the generations.

The melamdim taught the local children according to a “time” agreement. In the absence of a proper place to teach, the heder was held in the synagogue. The windows were open and the smells of the flowers, the fields and the river filled the space. Near one window, the Rebbe repeated a chapter of Psalms using a beautiful tune; near another, the melamed taught children the Bible by heart; near a third window, they already learned Gemara, in a sweet, warm tune that has not left my memory to this day. Sometimes, birds flew in through the open windows, and their happy chirps blended with our song. Sometimes, it seemed to me that the birds took a ritual dip in the river before they came through the window into the synagogue. Everything was so pleasant, so intimate. Life went on calmly, time did not oppress us. When there were no customers, the storekeepers opened a book and read aloud – using a happy or sad chant – but they sang. Thus did the tailor near his sewing machine, the shoemaker near his last and the carpenter in his workshop. Every day, they rushed to pray: in the morning – to morning prayers and, toward evening – to afternoon-evening prayers. Sometimes, after evening prayers, a magid, who had happened by, would preach. The magids went from one city to the next, stopping and preaching. Everything went on slowly. The day was great, the month was long and the year lasted a whole year …

Although there were six Torah scrolls in our synagogue, they began writing another one. Rabbi Gerszon Blumsztejn, the ritual slaughterer, wrote it. The writing took eight years, because every time he wrote a few lines, he went to immerse himself in the ritual bath. The completion of the Torah scroll was celebrated with great joy! We brought a band, the stores were closed and work stopped – the entire city celebrated for 24 hours. The band played, the congregation danced, food and drink were in abundance!

I will never forget the way our town looked on Sabbath nights. Candles twinkled in the windows of forty houses that faced the main street, announcing the arrival of the Sabbath Queen. On Sabbath morning, there were two minyanim. The Misnagdim prayed at 9 o'clock and the Chassidim at 11. I miss Sabbaths in our town – the Psalms reciters, the beautiful Torah reading cantillation, the youths' sweet voices.

On holidays, the synagogue was full – Jews from nearby villages came then. There was not a village in the area without Jews. In each of them lived at least one or two families. On Sabbaths, they met in one of the villages to pray in a quorum, but on a holiday, everyone came to Czerwin.

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On the New Moon [first day of the month] of Elul, with the first blast of the shofar [ram's horn], the town became sad and happy sounds disappeared. Only Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur melodies were heard. The awe of the High Holy Days encompassed the city; from the shoemakers' chair, from the tailors' workshops, from everywhere. We had some of the finest public prayer leaders – most of them members of the Blumsztejn family, mentioned above. They led prayers unpaid. They were invited to big cities, but preferred to stay in their small town. I will never forget the appearance of our town on Yom Kippur Eve. No one worked that day. Everyone was either going to the ritual bath or coming from it. People who had borne a grudge during the year went to ask forgiveness of their adversary with cookies and liquor. They wished each other all the best, and opened their hearts by evening. “The fish in the water trembled”, everyone prepared for the Day of Judgment. All the Jews from the neighboring villages locked up their homes and, with their wives and children, gathered in Czerwin and stayed there until Yom Kippur ended. Fathers wearing prayer shawls blessed their children. While lighting candles, with tears in their eyes and with great intentness, mothers blessed their families on the coming of the New Year. The synagogue's courtyard was full. The light shining from every window was reflected in the river, as if someone had set it on fire. Half of the Jews slept in the synagogue. Most of the Jews from nearby villages were awake all night, reciting Psalms. Everyone prayed and cried and was certain that their pleas would find an attentive ear in the Heavens. With the help of such good prayer leaders and advocates, they would merit a good year.

Thus it was every year, until Yom Kippur of 1939. The synagogue and the courtyard around it filled with people, as always: men and women, young and old. No one stayed home. Everyone's eyes were raised to Heaven in fear and trembling. The enemy was already near. With faint light, the windows were covered. With bitter tears and a broken heart, the cantor began the Kol Nidrei prayer. When he reached the “Ascends”, the entire congregation sobbed: “May our supplication ascend from evening, and our cry for help come from morning …” During Musaf [the additional morning prayer], Netaneh Tokef and “Who will live and who will die” – tears flowed endlessly … At the [closing] Neilah prayer, the elderly Rabbi got as far as “Open the gates of Heaven”

… The enemy arrived right after Yom Kippur. His bloody work was easy. There was no place to hide, nor was there hope of resistance. We were weak and few in number. The Nazis assembled all the Jews of the town, little and big, young and old, and led them to an unknown destination. The Rabbi marched at their head. They understood their bitter fate; they knew that they were leaving their birthplace forever. The Rabbi ordered them to say the Vedui [final confessional prayer]. He began and everyone repeated after him. Then they said Kaddish [the mourner's prayer] for themselves, because they knew that no one would be left after them … And so the town was left empty of Jews.

Yes, the saint's blessing was fulfilled. The town remained intact, it was not burned, as he wished, but without Jews! The Jews! Who praised the name of God in prayer and with measureless faith. Who trusted that, when they were destroyed, some small salvation would come from He Who is in Heaven. They are no more, they have all been burned – as well as those who recited Psalms, and those who studied Gemara, the Rabbi, the ritual slaughterer, the dear sons and daughters, the saintly women and the innocent babes …

May God avenge their blood!

May my town be exalted and sanctified!

I commemorate you in the Yizkor book of Ostrolenka and its environs – which were obliterated – as an eternal monument to your memory!


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A Mother's Refrain

(Memories of the Area)

 

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A.S. Sztejn[1], of blessed memory (Tel Aviv)

In the plains of White Russia, anointed with suffering, in villages and towns, in the heart of a nation of farmers, are planted the days of my childhood and the dawn of my youth. And also in “the capital” – the young center, Bialystok. Although the Jews made it a humming hive of industry, work and trade, social activity and spiritual effervescence, while it could no longer be called a town, it never reached the scope of a city.

Close to World War I, here stood the cradle of my birth, great-grandfather's house. I did not know him, but his memory lived in the family's heart, and in his writings which I found later, for he made notes on pages of tractates of the Mishna. By the way, in that same large bookcase which provoked the Nazis were also books of Hebrew enlightenment and of course, Russian books. I still remember Grandmother in her last days, when the new development already prevailed in the house. Of course, the house had an atmosphere of piety in the Misnagdic, humanistic style, the style of the lives of her brothers, the rabbis, and of her sister, married to Rabbi Jehuda Mosze Jehoszua Lejb Diskin, an exalted personality in the world of Torah, spirit and deeds, one of the gifted ones of the generation in Lithuania and in Israel. And here, in Grandfather's house, the house of my birth, with Torah and education seemingly wrapped about it, and Zionism's rays lighting and warming it, the personality of a young man was formed. He was from a nearby town, and had immigrated sometime ago (to avoid the draft requirement) to Galicia. From there, he emigrated to Israel and was one of the best teachers and thinkers in the Labor movement – Szlomo Shiller (Blanksztejn).

*

The sketches of my father's house are different. Grandfather, my father's father, his face adorned with a white, elegantly shaped beard – his livelihood was leasing the holdings of Russian and Polish land owners (including the estate of Przytali, well-known in the area and mentioned in Opatoshu's stories), among them highranking nobles and military commanders who spent their days in places of amusement in the west. He, Grandfather, administered their annexed farms, took care that their fields were cultivated, marketed their crops and paid land lease fees and other taxes and municipal rates.

Even today, I see the wide courtyard of the Jewish “poretz”. At its center is a stone house, like a mansion, with many rooms, attics and cellars, and the smells of fresh hay, potatoes and pitchers of fresh milk standing in it, with intoxicating perfumes and jasmine bushes.

Around it, on three sides, is a fruit garden that Grandfather leased to Jewish sub-lessees from a nearby town. Populating the barns and stables were large herds of cattle, sheep and oxen for work in the fields, and especially horses, which were greatly loved in my grandfather's courtyard. Work and riding horses, colts and horses for breeding and improving the stock. On moonlit nights, they were taken out to pasture in areas of the estate where lush grass and clover flowers grew near clear lakes, their hind legs tied, and shepherd boys, near the bonfire, watching them. It need not be said that among the herds of coarse beasts moved flocks of fowls, geese, ducks and turkeys, standing on the sides of the roads, on their horns and on any clear space.

And the wide threshing floor, the farm and work buildings, and the wooden well with the high shaduf, overlooking expanses of fields and forests colored blue on the horizon. Is this the dwelling of Boaz, a Jew of the days of the Kingdom of Judah, who came to this plain in the heart of the land of the Slavs? No, he is not Boaz the

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Jew, but a small-scale Jewish prince, whose principality is based on the benevolence of Gentiles and strangers and on the labor of farmers from surrounding villages.

Its gates are open to every pauper, needy person and passerby, and it is the pride and joy of the Jews of nearby towns and villages.

*

In the house, Grandmother works hard and with her, sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, grandsons and granddaughters – an entire populace. The eldest son, who oversees the work on the farm, patrols the fields on his horse, keeping a close eye on flora and fauna, the produce of the fields and the gardens. The next oldest son keeps the books, engages in purchasing, selling and redeeming payments. The younger sons and the daughters must study their prayers, Torah, Hebrew and the language of the state, and the erudition of mathematics. Grandfather hires melamdim and teachers, maintains them at his table, gives them rooms in the house and pays the full cost of their salaries. Sometimes, however, the children prefer nature's pleasures and other chance activities on the farm, and it may be that the teacher, too, a former yeshiva student or well-born, prefers the delights of the scenery to diligently studying a book. One of them, whose soul is bound in love to one of the daughters, has manuscripts of “In the forests of Poland…” in his satchel.

There are joyous sunny days at the end of summer; golden ripe grain interwoven with colorful wild flowers spreads everywhere. The happiness of the harvest and the full granaries rejoices the universe. The fruit trees are loaded with ripe fruits – the apple and the pear, the plum and the nut, all sorts of berry bushes, vari-colored and -shaped, saturated with juice and nectar. And man is also happy. Behold! A large procession of many farmers, girls dressed in pure white at its head, wreaths of grain on their heads, sheaves of yellow stalks in their hands. A delegation of harvesters has come to Grandfather's house, to place an offering of the fields on the wide decorated wooden table. After exchanging blessings, Grandfather will offer them liquor and reward them with holiday money; then he will make a speech of congratulations. At night, bonfires are lit, and the harvest celebration will be carried away into circles of dance and songs of generations of laborers, whose souls are tied to the land and who take their bread from it.

For years, Grandfather lived on his leased estate. He was one of the last of the Jewish lessees of his kind. In the course of time, his status weakened and his subsistence declined… The sons and daughters left their parents' nest, those who went to distant towns, those who settled in nearby towns – in Lomza, Ostrolenka, Goworowo and Jedwabne. And many, many – even today – harbor in their hearts the sorrow of this decline, the sorrow of this tiny Jewish principality, the patriarchal dream that has disappeared.

*

When World War I broke out, my parents and their little firstborn son, the writer of these lines, found temporary shelter in the home of my grandfather, my father's father, on his estate. But the misfortunes of the time did not pass us by, as we were situated on a main road, along which the fighting armies streamed. So a chapter began of wandering and moving from place to place in neighboring towns and villages, disrupted by troops and endless calamities. Stories of plunder and theft, scorched fields, ruined houses, tumult and panic in Jewish towns along the Narew River, wandering in wagons, starlit nights on dirt paths – these are stamped in my memory.

Here is the town of Goworowo, a crowded, spurned and poor town, but how great is the light, the light of man, that shines on it. The paved main street crosses the market, which is open and exposed to the distant fields, to the forest, to the world of the Gentile farmers. Wooden houses, stores, workshops. Jewish youth, yearning and vigorous. And here, on the banks of the Narew, in this land, Father was laid to rest at the height of the war – and again a chapter begins, of the wanderings of my mother and her children. These memories are in my book, Alim Terufim BaRuach (Am Oved, 1952).

I don't know how the connection of my parent's homes, the home of my father and the home of my mother, led to marriage. Their portraits, pervaded by boundless Jewish beauty and grace, are preserved in my heart. A perfect Jewish home, with humane and Judaic qualities, inundated by the Divine Spirit. Sometimes, I look over the remnants of the correspondence my parents wrote before their marriage, written in poetic Hebrew, seasoned with verses from the Bible and the Gemara, in which both were expert, and I wonder at the awareness of the problems of the time and the spirit of

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the love of Zion surging in them. Included in the letters is a bundle of notes from Adolf Shtand, the famous leader of Galicia's Zionists, who corresponded with my father – the Hebrew, the Talmudist, the Zionist, the man of Jewish benevolence in its full splendor, whose life was prematurely extinguished.

Here he smiles calmly at his son, his firstborn, who studies Bible and Gemara with his rabbi. (This is the veteran teacher, the protégé of Slobodka, Mr. Y.L. Grodzienski, who lives, as we do, in Tel Aviv.) He strokes my head and journeys with me in a conversation about ancient worlds. For this lad, I have prayed, he said, for Szmuelke, my firstborn – like ripe borage.

And here Mother sits me on her lap, Father near her. I listen to the songs of Zion that they love: “At the crossroads there, a rose tumbles around, a rose with reddish eyes…” or “Hammer, hammer bang”, “You will be a rich man, my little seed”… And sometimes, warming herself with her back to the brick oven, on a cold night of a snow storm, she softly sings Peretz's song: “Lord of the Universe! Have we not suffered enough? When, Lord of the Universe, will you understand/The deep depths…”, as well as refrains echoing the Revolution of 1905 and, of course, prayer chants in abundance. Once, she said to me: “Remember, my son, that you came into the world on Kol Nidrei night, a time when our Jewish People pour out their pleas before He Who Dwells On High. Remember that you must keep faith with your people all your life and sanctify His Name, as your holy forefathers did…”

On Sabbaths, they stroll with me, up to the boundaries permitted on Sabbath, to the iron bridge over the Narew, near Ostrolenka. At this place, where the river overflowed its banks, reeds and water plants grow. A flock of geese and wild ducks fly by. Fishermen cast their rods. The river is impressive in its high tides, when it floods, when it storms. Rafts and barges glide by on its watery surface. But these serene days, the innocence and the dream are not long for the world. The storm of World War I destroyed my father's house. Until the stabilization of the new State of Poland, we were sated with distress and wandering. I can still remember the houses of my family, with the light of man spilling over them – in Lomza and in Ostrolenka, in Jedwabne and in Szczuczyna, to which we wandered. The refrain that Mother was so attached to still comes to my ears, and will not be forgotten:

“God in his justice is right,

We must never say that God does ill…”

*

Years have gone by. The son grew up and went out to learn Torah in distant towns, went out to find his God, and finally settled in Israel. An ocean of blood and tears flooded the dwellings of Israel there, including his own.

One night, in Tel Aviv of 1953, he imagined that he saw his mother dragged by the murderers to her annihilation. And he saw her near crowds in snowbound Treblinka, hidden among the forests. On that night, he took up his pen and wrote his story, Atza Rakevet LeTreblinka, and he heard her voice again in a song of a prayer acknowledging divine justice, of one who is taken to her death believing until her last breath:

“God in his justice is right…”


Wojciechowice – “Cegielnia”

53°06' / 21°37'

(Brick Factory)

Yehuda Yitzhaki (Chomont), Haifa

Wojciechowice is about three kilometers from Ostrolenka. It is actually a beautiful suburb of the city, in the direction of Lomza. The Jewish families who lived there for generations supported themselves mainly from small trade. Most of the customers were army personnel from the local barracks. But there were also

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Jews who engaged in different crafts – tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, watchmakers, barbers and just laborers.

Before it became a military center, Wojciechowice belonged to the owner of the estate, named Wojciechowski. He built a big factory for burned bricks there and supplied his product to the entire area. Almost all of Ostrolenka was built with his bricks. In time, the place was nicknamed “Cegielnia” (brick factory).

Jew lived there even when the estate was there.

Their number grew greatly after the barracks were built, particularly in the last years, when the Polish Cavalry's Fifth Regiment and the 12th Cannon Unit camped there.

The Jews of Wojciechowice were active in all areas of public life in Ostrolenka. They participated in community elections, helped build the study hall which was burned in World War I, and took a large part in founding a charitable loan fund. The first sum was donated by a Jew from Wojciechowice, who lived in America.

Local youths were represented in all Ostrolenka's organizations. Rain, wind and snow did not deter them from coming to evenings of activities in the city. They did not cover the distance, Heaven forbid, in modern cars, but by foot. At six or seven in the evening, after a hard day's work and a hasty meal, they set out – some to Poalei Zion, some to HaShomer HaTzair, some to the Bund and some to the library to exchange a book or read a newspaper. With youthful fervor, with sincerity and faith, they devoted themselves to public needs and to fulfilling the Zionist idea.

It was said in Ostrolenka that Wojciechowice's youths returned home at 12 o'clock at night, and that they fell asleep along the way, while walking. More than once, Polish bullies attacked them and they resisted bravely. This did not prevent their coming to their organizations the next day and continuing to be active.

The Jews of Wojciechowice drew their spirituality from the same sources as the Jews of Ostrolenka. They also buried their dead in the same cemetery. One fate united them, and their tragic end was the same. Together with the Jews of Ostrolenka, they were expelled from their homes, wandered to ghettos and different camps, and were murdered by the Nazis, may their names be eradicated! Only a few survived. We say Kaddish with pain and, to this day, we ask, Why?! We will never forget our martyrs. May God avenge their blood.


Wojciechowice – “Cegielnia”

Lejbke Jabek (Uruguay)

They called the place Wojciechowice, after its founder Wojciechowski, the owner of an estate and a wealthy industrialist; and also “Cegielnia” – after the burned bricks factory he owned. The estate owner employed all the area's inhabitants. “Cegielnia” supplied building materials to build houses in the city and also for the big barracks built nearby. It was a strategic location due to its proximity to the German border.

The factory drew work forces, including Jewish families from Lithuania and Russia. Over time, about thirty Jewish families settled there. They were divided into two categories, workmen and small merchants. Some supported themselves well, others meagerly.

Our rabbi, Rabbi Josef Maluszkiewicz from Grodno, filled his post voluntarily. For his livelihood, he had a small store. He fulfilled the verse “Love work and hate authority”. Military business was represented by a contractor named Magryl, a warmhearted Russian Jew. In time, his family became the most extensive, as well as the richest in Wojciechowice. They will be remembered here as devoted and generous community workers, always ready to help individuals and the community in times of trouble.

When I was still a small boy, Magryl suddenly assembled the Jewish inhabitants, including women and children, led them to a certain place and pointed to a plot he had purchased as a gift to the community, to build a holy place on it. What he said, he did. Acceding to his request, everyone gave an amount according to his ability, in order to lay the cornerstone for the study hall, which was built entirely “at the expense of the rich man”.

The well-known merchant and community worker, Reb Awraham Josef Jabek, was the study hall's first gabbai. He was chosen by a general election. The permanent prayer leader was Reb Szlomo Icchak Miller, a Lithuanian Jew, Chassid and Torah scholar, who fostered a generation of students and Torah observers.

I would like to mention a Jew named Beniamin Szlomo Bialik, the manager of a large wood warehouse, who supplied his wares to the local army. He was expert at Mishna, saturated in Torah, but did not have a happy family life.

As in all towns and villages, there were some Jews who were God-fearing laborers. There was a permanent heder, but every year a new melamed was brought in,

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according to the situation and the level of the students.

Studies reached the point of learning a page of Gemara from Baba Metzia and Baba Kama – no more.

Continued studies were conducted in the city: in Ostrolenka proper, or in the Lomza Yeshiva. According to a special government order, for at least one hour a day, general studies were conducted as well in the heder. A teacher was brought “on behalf” of the government for this purpose. He provided us with general knowledge “in a nutshell”, because this was all he was capable of doing. Local, educated Jews were an additional source from which we drew. Thus, a relatively educated Jewish youth was created, having wide horizons, each according to his abilities and potential.

So it was until World War I broke out with the invasion of the Germans, and later with the establishment of independent Poland and the revival of its army. But national liberation was only for the Polish people. Nothing changed regarding the Jews. They lived as in the past, and fought for existence. World War II destroyed everything. The Nazi beast eradicated all Jewish existence from its roots. Barely “one of a city and two of a family” remained.

May these lines be an eternal memorial to our destroyed homes, Ostrolenka and its suburb “Cegielnia”, and to our martyrs, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our grandfathers and grandmothers – a remembrance to future generations of places where lively Jewish life grew and flourished.


Kadzidła

53°14' / 21°28'

 

ost320.jpg

Israel Lewinski, of Blessed Memory, Tel Aviv

The village of Kadzidła is situated midway between the district city Ostrolenka and the provincial town of Myszyniec. Only three kilometers separate the latter and the Prussian town of Rezyja (the distance between Ostrolenka and Myszyniec is 38 kilometers, and Kadzidła is situated at the end of the 17th kilometer). Until World War I, the road was primarily dirt and sand; only here and there was the land hard and rocky. Facing the village of Podgorze stood a hill of sand of not insignificant height. It was difficult to climb, even with a trio of strong horses. The road became especially disrupted in the beginning of the autumn, during the frequent rains, and at the end of the winter when the snow melted. But one cannot complain that the Ministry of Transportation of the Russian Tsar's government did not take measures to improve transportation for the good of its subjects. It actually had good will on this subject, but encountered factors that could not be predicted in advance. This is what happened:

Nikolai I, the Russian Tsar, who ascended the throne in 1860, decided to visit oppressed and occupied Congressional Poland after its rebellion in 1863. Ostrolenka was included among the places to visit. Here, in 1807, the Russian army fought a brigade of Napoleon's army. In 1831, during the first Polish rebellion, the Russian military leader, Skarzynski, fought rebels in that city. In the second Polish rebellion, the Kurpie companies (which will be described below) fought especially hard against the Russian brigades, and wiped them out. In memory of those battles, a large memorial monument to the Russian army was erected on the banks of the River Narew, and stood there until

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World War II. Because of the possibility that the Tsar might extend his visit to the Prussian border, the Minister of Transportation decided to pave a gravel road on this land. Following a government tender, a Jew from Lomza won the competition to contract this work. Because the land was swampy, it was necessary to sink layers of stone into it to make it solid, something the road engineers had not predicted in advance. In addition, the farmers who inhabited the villages in the area refused to produce stones for a highway to be paved for the tyrant who enslaved their land and subdued them with angry cruelty. Thus, the Jew could not fulfill the conditions of the contract. After paving five kilometers, in which he invested all his capital, as well as foreign funding, he gave notice that he was leaving off work, losing the sum of money he had given as a security to fulfill the terms of the contract. And so the road remained unrepaired. The part of the road that was done was neglected and was just an obstacle for pedestrians and wagons. Bicycles, encountering this gravel obstacle uprooted from its place, would wobble and their riders danced about until their stomachs turned.

Kadzidła, situated midway between Ostrolenka and Myszyniec, served as an intermediate station, a sort of inn for passersby (the road from Ostrolenka to Myszyniec took seven to eight hours or more during [clement] days of the year, let alone rainy days and days of melting snow), where carters gave hay to their horses, tired from the toil of the difficult road, and watered them with chilly well water. The passengers would also stretch their limbs, painful and numb from cramped wagons. They warmed themselves with a cup of tea or milk, as well as a hasty meal at a Jewish home, near which were places for the wagons.

Kadzidła also served as an intermediate station for thousands of Jews who emigrated without government permission from all the cities of the Russian Pale of Settlement. Escape to America began at the time of the pogroms and riots against the Jews. (Those who helped them cross the border illegally led them to Prussian territory. The Russian police in Kadzidła turned a blind eye because of monthly bribes it received from them; from there, they reached their destination.)

Surrounded as it was by forests and groves of pine and fir trees on all sides, Kadzidła's air was clear and dry, healing to the soul and the body's health. It was a vacation spot for those from nearby cities such as Ostrolenka, Lomza and others. People from Warsaw also came to spend the burning days of the summer there.

Kadzidła was not laid out like a village. Some of its streets branched out and spread beyond it. The number of households in Kadzidła first reached 150 and, in time, 500-600 and more. The population in the neighboring area belonged to the Polish-Mazury tribe. They had settled in the forests of Ostrolenka and Myszyniec and were called Kurpie, after their sandals, which were woven from the bark of the linden tree or from strips of leather, which were called kurpja in their language.

The Kurpie were a brave and warlike tribe, having special and sometimes strange customs, different from the rest of the Polish tribes. They were zealous and pious. The Kurpies spread and reached the regions of Plock, Suwałki and Lomza. They were workers of the land, hunters and beekeepers (bartnicy). They had a tradition of rules and customs in matters of raising bees and making honey water, which they passed down from generation to generation and did not consider the government's laws at all. They called it Bartne Prawo… Once a year, on Św. Wojciech Day (the 23rd of April), their court was held in Prosnitz (Plock region), dealing with disputes among the Kurpies, matters of trade and competition, damages, etc. The judges, from among the elders of the tribe, judged according to their ancestors' tradition. This right was finally taken from them; in 1801, they were forbidden to judge in Sady Bartne

The Kurpies often rebelled and fought the Polish government and its laws. In 1050, 1711 and 1733, Kurpie rebels entered Lomza, captured it and destroyed it. They fought Bohdan Chmielniski, may his name be eradicated, and expelled the Cossacks from the land of Mazowia. They expelled Cossack military companies from Lomza.

The Kurpies treated the Jews who lived among them well. They called them the People of the Old Testament (Starozakonne), traded with them and trusted them. During the war of Poland with Russia, and particularly in the rebellion of 1863 (Miateż), Kurpie companies crushed the Russians and wiped them out. In memory of the fallen Russians, a large memorial monument was erected on the banks of the Narew, as noted above.

Kadzidła was preferred over all the villages in the region. Although there were bigger and more populated villages, it became the seat of the region. A wooden house of worship was established in it, which served as

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a house of prayer for all the villages of the area. A cemetery was also established. In time, when the populace grew, a new house of worship was built of bricks at the initiative of the head priest and with the encouragement of the Bishop of Warsaw. This building could hold over five thousand people. Construction was turned over to expert builders and well-known architects. When the land was dug for the foundations of this giant building, the excavators discovered the bones and skulls of humans. It was said that the place was a cemetery for Kurpic soldiers who fought the Polish government and, at the time of the rebellions, against Russia. The remains were buried with great honor and splendor. The seat of the village magistrate's court was also in Kadzidła, where litigation was conducted just for the inhabitants of Kadzidła's region, but other village regions as well. Even the inhabitants of the town of Myszyniec were subject to Kadzidła in legal[2] matters. A post station was also established in Kadzidła – not in Dylewo, a larger village than it was, perhaps double in size. Kadzidła was more deprived than Dylewo in only one thing: the government of the Gmina remained in Dylewo, despite great efforts by the Kadzidłans, particularly the Jews living there. But as has been reported, the Kadzidłans have recently succeeded in [changing] this, and Kadzidła has been decorated with the title of Gmina.

In its miniature institutions, the small Jewish community in the village of Kadzidła included the same units and foundations required for the existence of a Jewish settlement in a city having a larger Jewish population. The Jews of Kadzidła were not at all like the Jewish village type, the yeshuvnik [hick], who did not change and who did not learn. Among them were Torah observers who knew Talmud and Jewish law. Even those of lower status among them were expert in prayers and liturgical poetry, and did not “grind their teeth” during prayers. It also had the most crucial institutions of a Jewish community, such as a permanent place of prayer and a ritual bath. They also had their own prayer leaders for the High Holy Days, ram's horn blowers, ritual circumcisers and so on. It should be noted that some Torah greats were in Kadzidła, grand scholars of Talmud and Jewish law, such as Achi Yom-Tow, Alter Jagoda (who, after his marriage, studied blacksmithing with his father-in-law in Ostrolenka), Szlomo Dolowicz, Awraham Dolowicz, Mosze Szczawinowicz, Jehuda Cwi Gibalt, Josef Lewinski (my nephew) and others.

When did the Jewish community in Kadzidła begin, and what were the conditions that made it a magnet for the settlement of Jews there? To my regret, I do not have the data, nor can they be acquired, for obvious reasons. It may be assumed that the Jews were brought to this central village by its ruling pritzim, before the emancipation of the vassal farmers, in order to supply them with essential needs, such as clothes, shoes and the repair of work tools.

The first of them, as far as I know, were Jechezkel Gilda, my grandfather, Meir Lewinski (painter), Eliezer Gibalt (a tanner and a sheep leather worker), Eliahu Jagoda (tailor), Awraham Zylbersztejn (shoemaker), Aron Jakow Dolowicz (melamed) and his brother, Nachman (tailor).

The undisputed right of permanent settlement for these families was recognized with the emancipation of the vassals in the village. At the same time, they were allotted plots of land for the construction of homes for their families and for vital buildings, such as a barn, a granary and so on. Some of them also received plots of land near their homes to “till them and keep them”.

When the dark reactionary forces in Russia strengthened, this right of the Jews of Kadzidła was not revoked even by the temporary decrees published by the Russian Interior Minister, Ignatov, our bitter enemy, according to which it was forbidden for Jews to settle in villages within 50 kilometers (versts) from the German border or from houses belonging to farmers. (This decree seriously harmed Jews who lived in villages; the sword of this decree hung over our families' heads for a long time.)

Housing problems did not permit the growth of the Jewish settlement in the village until 1905, when the Tsar granted his vassals a constitution, and Ignatov's “temporary decrees” were revoked. Many Jews began to settle in the village after World War I, when Poland was freed and became a free republic, and the Jews held rights equal to all citizens.

 

Forest Trade and Barges in Kadzidła
and Sources of the Income of the Jews of the Village

The area around Kadzidła is rich in forests, extending for dozens of kilometers. The seat of the Forest Ministry

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was in Suwalki; it had authority over the forests of the Lomza region and the Suwalki region. Every year, at the beginning of the autumn, it would publicly advertise forest plots in known sites for sale. Lumber merchants came to tour the plots offered for sale, and evaluated their worth according to the amount of wood that could be obtained from them. Only mature, thick trees, on which were stamped the forestry seal, were sold. The trees that were sold were felled, their branches removed, their outer bark stripped and the entire trunk prepared to be sent abroad for ship building.

Work was done in the forest only during the winter, when the ground was frozen and smooth, making it possible to take the heavy trunks out of the forest and transport them by sled. This could not be done in the summer, when it was impossible to transport them on the loose dirt road to the nearby river. The trees were lashed to barges and floated on the Rivers Narew, the northern Bug and the Visla to the coastal city of Gdañsk (Danzig), where the barges were unloaded. Shipping the processed trees to the river provided a great deal of income for farmers who had a team of horses and wagons adapted for this job. There were Jews in Kadzidła who engaged in forestry trade and also took part in the competition and bought forest plots at their own expense.

The sources of income of the Jews of the village – some of them were workmen, as mentioned above, and supported themselves from the work of their hands. When they were asked to do so, the village tailors worked in the homes of the farmers in the area. The farmer generously provided the tailor with his meals from the fruits of the land and the produce of his garden. The tailor worked for a week for one or two or three [farmers], and his livelihood was assured.

Shoemakers, tanners and leather workers did not go hungry either. Among the Jews of Kadzidła were peddlers who were sought after by farmers, who bought anything they could lay their hands on: a calf, a ewe, eggs, skins, pig bristles and so on. Each had right of possession of a specific village, which he visited regularly. No one tried to infringe on another's boundary. The peddler loaded his great variety of merchandise on a wagon rented from a farmer and brought it home. There, merchants from the city awaited him, and he would sell them his wares for a certain profit.

At the end of the summer, trade flourished in geese and honey. How geese? A wholesale goose merchant from Prussia would appear in Myszyniec at the end of the summer, when the geese, which almost every farmer raised, were big enough. From a merchant he knew, he would order a railway car of geese, that is, the number of geese necessary to fill a railway car. He would pay in advance. The second merchant, who had connections with Kadzidłan Jews who specialized in this trade, would divide the money among them, so that they could go around the villages and purchase the required amount of geese. The geese were brought to the Prussian border, where they were loaded on railway cars and sent to Germany. How honey? In nearly every garden near a farmer's house there were a large number of beehives. (As mentioned, the Kurpies cultivated hives.) Honey was collected from them twice during the summer. The honey of the first collection was very fragrant and clear, without wax. It was called lipa honey (after the lipa tree: linden tree, and perhaps after the month Lipiec – July). The second collection took place at the beginning of the autumn, when the bees prepared to winter in their hives (the beekeeper prepared food for them for the whole winter). The Jews of Kadzidła bought the honey from the farmers in the area and sold it in nearby cities.

In the winter, there were also merchants who traded in pelts (furs) of forest animals like foxes, skunks, etc. When the first snow fell, the foxes came out of their holes in search of prey. Hunters followed them to the entrances of their holes and placed poisoned meat or some other bait there, or they shot and killed the foxes. Skunks were also hunted, as was the mongoose, whose pelts were very costly. They were purchased from the hunters, who could distinguish between the pelt of an old fox and a young one. They hunted rabbits, which they sold to priests, village nobles and others. They dried and sold their pelts, and many were eager to buy their tasty meat.

The Heders and the Melamdim

Due to housing problems, there was no permanent place for a heder in Kadzidła. Therefore, the heder moved around from place to place, from one household to another, together with the Rebbe-melamed. The melamed did not live in Kadzidła permanently. He was invited to come from Myszyniec or Ostrolenka and was salaried for a “time period”, that is, from the month of Iyar until Tishrei, or from MarCheshvan until the first of Nissan. He was boarded by the students' parents, each according to their share, arrived at by dividing the number of weeks of “time” by the number of students.

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This caused great suffering for the parents, especially for mothers, in their small apartments. Despite this, they denied themselves, so that their children would not miss their Torah lessons and would not be ignorant. For example, our one-room apartment, although it was not very small, served as a kitchen, a dining room and a bedroom. For three to four weeks, a heder for seven to eight children was added, and with this, also the melamed, who resided in our home for the period of the heder. (This was the heder I learned in. I had a younger brother, whose heder also had to be accommodated.) In the heder, we learned from eight in the morning until nine at night in the winter. (In the evening, study hours were determined by the number of hours that a twogrosz milk [beef fat] candle burned). I remember how Mother, of blessed memory, tried so hard to set the melamed's table with the finest foods, so that, Heaven forbid, she would not be slandered by others, who might say that, in our home, the melamed was deprived. The melamed ate alone, not with all the family. Bread was often a delightful meal for us and we filled our bellies with potatoes, morning, noon and night. The melamed, however, had white bread and eggs, drank liquor and ate dairy dishes for breakfast; for lunch – meat; and in the evening, again, the best of foods. So that we should not envy the Rebbe his feasts, we were sent outside in the summer. In the winter, we huddled in a corner or behind the stove, where two or three slept.

The melamed was hired by one of the parents, authorized to act for all the parents whose children learned in that melamed's heder. The students were nearly of the same age, and their knowledge was comparable.

One summer brought relief of our crowding: Uncle Dow had a barn in his courtyard that stood empty in the summer. We moved to the barn, even though it was very gloomy, as light entered only through the door and a small window in one wall. Often, we rented a threshing floor, which stood empty until the harvest, from one of the farmers, and enjoyed the wonderful spaciousness. We could also learn and sleep there at night and on Sabbath afternoons.

Of the figures of the melamdim, three remain in my memory. Mordechaj Lamparpurdi (the meaning of his name is unknown to me) was my childhood melamed, with whom I studied when I was five years old. It was said that he was in the Russian army, kidnapped in his childhood, at the time of the reign of Tsar Nikolai I. He was old, the hair of his head and beard was white. When I came into the heder with my mother, he caressed me. To see if I would be obedient, he said that I had to bend over a chair with my pants down, to get “an advance” [spanking]. When I stood up, I sat near the alphabet that was spread out on the table, and pointed with the pointer in the hand of the melamed to the letters, while saying their names. In a week or two, I had learned the letters and vowels fluently, and had already begun to “parpel” (this was what we called reading combining vowels and letters).

The second melamed, whose memory I greatly honor and to whom I owe thanks and appreciation, was Awraham Dawid, a young melamed of about thirty from Ostrolenka, the son-in-law of a melamed named Icchak Zev. He had a red growth on his forehead, the size of a little finger. Besides the usual studies, he began to teach me pasuk, that is, the Early Prophets: Samuel I and II. He also taught me to write, something no other melamed had done. He had a wonderful handwriting and, to get me used to writing, he wrote letters to me as examples. He also taught us arithmetic. He was very dexterous in making and fixing anything. On Chanukah, for example, he made spinning tops in various shapes from wood and lead for us. And before Purim, with what artistry he would make the figure of Haman for us, and other wonderful things that symbolized the holidays. He would take a sheet of paper and make cut-outs of animals, birds and lamps that amazed anyone who saw them. Cut-outs like these were pasted on the eastern wall of the study hall. Who knows what an artistic talent was lost in him, without being expressed and discovered.

The third and last melamed, with whom I studied in our village, was completely different. His name was Chaim Meir, and he, too, was from Ostrolenka. He taught only Gemara. He was a great scholar and knew how to explain things, but he had one great shortcoming: he liked to drink. He ate little and drank a great deal of hard liquor, not mixed with water (90 or 95 proof alcohol), and not in small glasses. The alcohol was supplied to him by Prussian border smugglers in whole barrels. He drank many times a day and did not get drunk. He was healthy and strong. He used to walk from Kadzidła to Ostrolenka, leaving the village in the afternoon and arriving in the city a few hours before sunset.

These were my melamdim, who helped me with my studies. After Chaim Meir, I did not learn in Kadzidła anymore. I traveled to other cities to study, and reached Vilna.

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The Story of a Torah Scroll
That Was Found to be Unkosher…

Jealousy and hatred are listed in Ethics of the Fathers among the things that remove one from the world. In Kadzidła, these two bad traits caused an abominable and scandalous deed that shocked its hearers. This is what happened:

There were two village tailors in Kadzidła, Nachman and Awraham Aron. Both of them were childless. Nachman (the brother of Aron Jakow the Melamed) was of average height, good-tempered and polite. He was honest and observed the mitzvot [religious commandments]. He was not very educated, but was not illiterate either. He remembered his childhood education in the heder. His wife, Lejbe, called Aunt Lejbe (die Mume Lejbe), was taller than he. Her face was oval, with a thin-lipped small mouth and blue eyes that expressed goodness of heart and understanding. Aunt Lejbe was also an “educated” woman compared to most of the women of her generation. She was fluent in all the prayers in the Korban Mincha prayer book and the supplications in Ivre Taich [Hebrew translated into Yiddish-German]. All the books in Ivre Taich, such as Tzena U'Rena, Kav HaYashar, Shevet Musar and others were found in her home. The women, taking note of this, made her a “reciter” (forzogeren) at the time of prayers, to which she willingly agreed. In her clear voice, on Sabbaths, holidays, and especially on the High Holy Days, she would read aloud the prayers and supplications in Ivre- Taich to the women surrounding her. They repeated after her, word for word, and poured out the bitterness of their hearts before God in Heaven. Aunt Lejbe was gifted with many other virtues. She was “Mother Midwife” of the Jewish women in the village and a first aid expert in emergencies. She was a “healer” (before they called a doctor, she treated them) using herbs, plants and various roots and also knew how to whisper [a prayer against] the Evil Eye.

Nachman excelled in his faith more than all the tailors in the village. Aunt Lejbe, with her good taste and sense of beauty, advised her husband and remarked about every blemish and defect that she noticed in her husband's handiwork, and pointed out necessary repairs. She was especially careful that the villagers' colorful blouses should be sewn well, and because of this, he had customers in abundance. Nachman sewed also for men, but not with great expertise. When the Singer sewing machine appeared, Nachman bought one. His brotherin- law, Becalel, a women's tailor from Myszyniec, came to Kadzidła sometimes to teach him how to sew on it and take care of it; then Aunt Lejbe also learned to sew, and she helped her husband.

Usually, there was marital harmony between them. They loved and respected each other. To perpetuate their name (as they were childless), they decided to have a Torah scroll written. The completion of the scroll was celebrated very publicly. Many guests came from Myszyniec, the Rabbi among them, as well as from Ostrolenka. The couple gave the scroll to the Kadzidła community, because until then, the community had been unable to purchase a Torah scroll and was always dependent on the benevolence of the Myszyniec or Ostrolenka communities to lend it a Torah scroll for a specific occasion.

The second tailor, Awraham Aron, the son-in-law of Eliahu Jagoda, nicknamed “The Colt”, was a tall, muscular man. His face, displaying pride and coarseness, was adorned with a small, sparse black beard; his short-sighted eyes were large and brown. He was a complainer, always jumping to the front of a line. He was arrogant and wore a long satin kapote, belting a sash around his waist. While he was not illiterate, he did not achieve the rank of a Torah scholar, and was a Chassid. His wife, Masza, was short, with a serious, sour face. Her green eyes, like the eyes of a cat, expressed strange fire and jealousy, her dress was sloppy. Because they had no children, and her husband was invited to other villages for purposes of his work, she was free of any burden. She walked around from house to house, while knitting a stocking, and gossiped, sowing disputes between people. The people of the village were careful not to “walk on her coals”, and avoided coming near her.

Instead of buying himself a sewing machine, Awraham Aron was sanctimonious and traveled nearly every year to the Rebbe of Trisk, presenting him with “notes of redemption” and asking him to remember his barren wife. The Rebbe would accede, take the redemption and give him various medications and folk remedies to open his wife's womb, but the medications did not help. When he returned home, Awraham Aron was even more arrogant. He talked much about the greatness and honor of the Rebbe's house, and about his practices and customs with his Chassidim. The last time, when he parted from the Rebbe and poured out his heart and troubles to him, because they had not yet been blessed with the fruit of her womb, the Rebbe comforted

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him and gave him an amulet for his wife, to wear around her neck. He blessed him, saying that in the next year, God would remember her, and released him with a joyous face. Masza, his wife, boasted about her husband the Chassid, and repeated all her husband's arrogant stories, but the amulet did not bring salvation to Masza. Meanwhile, the situation of Awraham Aron's livelihood weakened. The villagers deserted him and went to Nachman. Thanks to the machine, his sewing had improved. It was nicer and was completed in time, without foot-dragging (the well-known problem of tailors…). This led to the increase of Masza's jealousy and anger. Because of an unintentional, small imagined slight on the part of Aunt Lejbe, while reading prayers of supplication before the women, Masza became insulted and began to argue and quarrel aloud with the Aunt. The women tried to quiet and placate her, but to no avail. The noise got louder and reached the men's section [of the synagogue], where a quarrel also broke out among them, which quickly became a fistfight, where the full fury of Masza's brothers was felt.

Since then, the hatred increased, until Nachman's rivals decided to take out their anger on the Torah scroll. One night, they took the Torah scroll out of the house of prayer, erased a few words in different places in the weekly Torah portion, and returned it to its place.

On the Sabbath, before the Torah reading, the abomination that had been done was discovered. The distortion was impossible to repair – the scroll was rendered unusable, and the congregation finished prayers without reading from the Torah. Although it was not clearly proven whose hand had done the crime, the suspicion was not a false one.

Kadzidła's Religious Workers

Of course, a small community like Kadzidła could not maintain a rabbi. Therefore, everything, from the simplest to the most complex, was brought before the Rabbi of Ostrolenka or of Myszyniec. The small community of Kadzidła could not even support a permanent ritual slaughterer, nor did it have a local butcher. Butchery was a sort of sideline of all the small merchants who wandered around the villages. A small merchant like this would slaughter a few thin animals and sell their meat. If the animal was found to be kosher, he would get a good portion of meat, the entrails, as well as the skins.

There was an agreement between the Kadzidła community and the community of the village of Czarny, that their ritual slaughterer, Mr. Szraga Fajwel, would come every Thursday to Kadzidła to slaughter the animals its butchers had prepared for slaughter. This arrangement was not the most convenient for Kadzidła's butchers, who had to prepare everything for a specific time and a specific place. In addition, because of there was no place for refrigeration, they only slaughtered enough to provide meat for customers for that day. There were those who dried out lambs' meat in an oven, as this meat could be preserved for a longer period of time. But not everyone had an oven and the utensils necessary for drying meat. The Jews of Kadzidła refrained from eating meat on weekdays. Whoever had a desire for meat or needed meat for a sick person or a new mother, had to make the effort of going to the ritual slaughterer in the village of Czarny. When the Jewish population grew in Kadzidła, the community decided to hire a permanent ritual slaughterer.

When the matter became known to the ritual slaughterer of the village of Czarny, Reb Fajwel, he did not want to give up his position. To pacify the Jews of the village, he agreed to come twice a week. Then the community of Kadzidła summoned him to a Torah law litigation before Rabbi of Myszyniec, and the Rabbi decided in favor of Kadzidła, explaining to the ritual slaughterer that if he could not go to Kadzidła every day, his position was forfeit.

The first ritual slaughterer hired by Kadzidła, Reb Motel, was the son-in-law of a ritual slaughterer in Ostrolenka. He was young, dexterous and very skillful at his work. He became well-known as a ritual slaughterer expert in checking lungs, having a light hand at removing defects in the lungs. He spared the money of his butchers and did not relish declaring meat non-kosher. Therefore, he was not in Kadzidła for long before he went to the city of Rozan, after the position of ritual slaughterer there was vacated.

After Motel, one of the members of our family from Ostrolenka, called Mosze Aron, was hired as ritual slaughterer in Kadzidła. He also excelled in his craft. In addition, he had a pleasant voice, and led the additional morning prayer on the High Holy Days. Once again, the people of Kadzidła did not have to ask for another prayer leader for those prayers (of course, the ritual slaughterer received a special payment for his work as a cantor). Mosze Aron also left Kadzidła after a few years, when he moved to the city of Malkin.

After him, Gerszon Sarny was the ritual slaughterer,

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until the Holocaust came and destroyed him and the entire community.

 

Kadzidła Between the Two World Wars

World War I left its mark on Kadzidła. On the day war was declared, Russian regiments invaded Prussia, under the command of General Samsonov. When they were defeated near the Mazurian lakes, they retreated to a distance of three kilometers from Kadzidła. The Jewish inhabitants of Kadzidła were forced to leave their homes because they were confiscated for officers of the Russian staff, which entrenched itself in Kadzidła, and also because they were suspected of spying for the Germans. The Jews grabbed everything that came to hand and left for the nearby cities of Lomza, Ostrolenka and others. After the war, the refugees of Kadzidła returned, although they had found their livelihood for a time in their new places of residence. It should be noted that the Christian inhabitants of the village were glad that they had come back to Kadzidła, and returned to them the furniture that they had left, which they had taken care of all that time.

The Jewish community in Kadzidła developed because transportation conditions had improved, thanks to the road that the Germans paved between Ostrolenka and the border, and due to the narrow railroad track laid down in the region for strategic purposes and to transport “spoils” from the occupied territories to their land. Before the Holocaust, the number of Jewish families reached fifty. The Jews opened stores for the sale of textiles, agricultural implements and more. New craftsmen also came: tailors, shoemakers and carpenters. A new bakery was opened in the style of sophisticated city bakeries. Instead of the minyan previously found in a private home, a house of worship was built on a plot acquired from a farmer. It was licensed by the village council and given the permission of the local priesthood. During that time, they also wrote Torah scrolls for themselves, so as not to depend on the kindness of Ostrolenka and Myszyniec, which, until then, had loaned them Torah scrolls for specific periods of time.

The Zionist movement also returned to Kadzidła. The HaNoar HeChalutz and HaOved movements sent young people from their ranks for preparation for emigration to Israel (to Kibbutz Kolosowa). Movement leaders and speakers who visited cities in the area did not skip Kadzidła. The youth established a Yiddish and Hebrew library near the house of worship. Hebrew lessons also began.

But during the last years, before World War II broke out, when the Polish Andaks (National- Democratic) party came into power, the hatred of the Poles for the Jews grew. Their youths, incited by the priests, troubled and distressed the Jews; they placed guards near the stores of Jews and did not let Christians buy their merchandise. Polish craftsmen settled in the village, and drew the Jews' Christian customers to themselves, depriving them of their livelihood. But despite the incitement and propaganda, most of the inhabitants preferred buying from the Jews, because they knew that they could buy better merchandise for less from them. They also preferred the Jewish craftsman, whose skill and experience were superior to those of the Polish craftsman.

While the N. D. was busy persecuting the Jews, it was not looking out for the country's security. Meanwhile, the bitter Nazi enemy continued to eye Poland until it invaded it, occupied it and defeated its army in a few days. The Jews, the bitter enemies of the German Amalek, immediately felt its minions' cruel arm. The Jews near the German border drank first from the poisoned cup: ruin and annihilation were decreed on them.

There is no clear information as to the fate of the Jews of Kadzidła – where they fled and where they were at the time of the different “aktzias”, until they were destroyed. Vague reports were received about Awraham Lewinski and his wife, Chana Lea; his son-in-law, Owadia Zylbersztejn and his wife, Sara, and their children, who were known to be in Ostrow-Mazowieck for a time, before they were sent to Oœwiêcim from Zambrow, together with the Jews of Lomza and the entire area. It is known that, for a time, the family of Josef Lewinski (his wife, Henja, his sons, Jakow and Cwi, his daughters, Cwija and Ester Rywka) was known to be in Jedwabne, which, after the division [of Poland], was under the Bolshevik government. When Germany declared war on Russia, the family escaped to the city of Nieswiez in White Russia. The mother died in Jedwabne. Cwija got a job in the post office in Nieswiez, and wrote letters from time to time to her sister, Nava, in Tel Aviv. But, with the Nazi invasion of Russia, all contact with her ended, and the fate of this family was the fate of the other Jews in the city. It is known that the Szmuel Burnsztejn Family fled to Lomza. Szmuel, who had a textile store, salvaged his

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merchandise and brought it with him to Lomza. When the Germans broke into Lomza, he sent his wife and children to Vilna, and he moved, with his wares, to Bialystok. From Bialystok, he moved on to the city of Tobolsk, in the Omsk province of Siberia. There, he fell ill and died in the hospital in the city. The hospital issued a death certificate for the deceased, and sent it to his son, Dawid, who came to Israel as a pioneer, settled in Hadera and engaged in fishing.

Thus the thread of the life of the Kadzidła community was severed. They were brought to an end in the world, together with hundreds and thousands of holy communities, with their study halls and synagogues, and all their public institutions, religious and secular.

May God remember the martyrs of Kadzidła, together with all the holy and pure ones destroyed in the Holocaust of the German Amalek, may its name be eradicated. May God avenge their blood.


Myszyniec

53°23' / 21°21'

A border town, a few kilometers distant the eastern border of Germany, and 38 kilometers from Ostrolenka. A narrow railway led from Ostrolenka directly to Myszyniec.

Nearly the whole town was squeezed into one long street. The houses were built of wood and had one story. Here and there was a two-story house, but built of bricks. After World War I, the Jewish population was 240-250 families, who came out of the places of hiding that they had run to at the time of the battles. According to statistics, in 1897, 1,800 Jews lived in Myszyniec. More than a few lived in houses owned by Christians.

 

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The Myszyniec study hall

 

Myszyniec was a commercial town. It had extensive contacts with settlements in the area. Most commerce took place near the German border, and most people made a living by smuggling silk textiles, raisins, etc. This “black” commerce was based on an unwritten agreement with those in charge of the border guard, who made as if they were unaware of anything, in exchange, of course, for a high monthly “salary”.

But, the city did not live off of smuggling alone. It also had stores and market days. There was a flour mill, too, powered by steam (a gas engine) which stood near the River Rozoga. The owners of the mill were Awraham Lejb Alterman, Gedaljahu Tikolsker (now in Israel), Mosze Josel Krieger, Hersz Ber Laska and Szlomo Laska. They sold white flour there on the spot. The chaff or (coarse bran) was sent to Germany.

Myszyniec was a town of unity – “one for all and all for one”, as the following incident proves. Icchak Eli once brought a wagon from his town Chorzel (35 kilometers distant from Myszyniec), loaded with flour for sale in Myszyniec. Sales were sluggish and the carter, a farmer from a nearby town, lost his patience and began throwing the sacks from the wagon into the middle of the street. Icchak Eli was helpless. The inhabitants of the town saw this. In a flash, men and women, big and small, gathered and attacked the Gentile, untied the horse's harness and took the reins from him – until the Gentile asked for mercy and promised to act properly in the future. The event raised a commotion in the town and only strengthened the inhabitants' unity.

As to the parties in the town: among the founders of the General Zionists was Icchak Blumsztejn (now in Israel), as well as Netta Kramer, Berel Ulert, Mosze Peretz, Bercie Werman and others. They had a library. Later, the Poalei Zion party (Z.S.) rose. Its founders were Jechiel Alterman, of blessed memory, Jakow

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Peretz (Israel), Szymon Kac, Y.L. Zyman (Mexico) and others. They conducted extensive cultural activity, with a library named after Y.C. Brenner.

I remember an incident from that period: once, on a Friday, an emissary from the center in Warsaw came to our Poalei Zion. After his lecture, he smoked a cigarette. When this became known to the religious Jews, they completely destroyed the Brenner Library and burned nearly all the books. Later, HeChalutz and HeChalutz HaTzair were founded. The activists were Zelig Baruch Kramer, Jakow Peretz, Azriel Elichowski, Dawid Peretz, Mosze Bergman, Dina Laska-Technay (Israel) and others. They also had a drama circle, a League of Workers in the Land of Israel organization and Freiheit.

There was also a group of leftist Poalei Zion, lead by Fiszel Tobjasz (now in Uruguay). There was also Agudat Yisrael, lead by Mosze Galina, Eli Lerman and others. There was also a Bejt Jakow school.

We also had a Mizrachi branch, and it had a house of worship – a separate shtebl (at Alter Chapnicki's). They prayed there in a minyan and also ran party matters. The head of Mizrachi was Zew Jerushalmi (Jeruzalimski), devoted to his party heart and soul. He was the authorized representative of Keren HaKayemet. To support himself, he ran a small factory for the production of oil. Fajwel Beckerman (a Hebrew teacher) also headed Mizrachi.

There was also HeChalutz HaMizrachi, headed by Mosze Blumsztejn (now in Israel) and Shalom Marcus, as well as HaShomer HaDati, HeChalutz and HeChalutz HaTzair, headed by Icchak Weisman and Azriel Elichowski.

During the last period, revisionist groups also appeared, but they did not have any influence. Despite this, anti-Zionist parties did not exist among us.

In Myszyniec, there was a local council, run by the head of the council and the secretary. These Jewish community workers cooperated with them: Joel Zyman, Awraham Lejb Alterman and others, who helped set municipal taxes. In Myszyniec, there was also a courthouse and a charitable fund run by Mosze Lejb Blum. Eliahu Lerman, the son of the Rebbe of Brok, represented Myszyniec in the tax committee in Ostrolenka, the district city.

Chassidim of all kinds worshipped at the shtebl of the Chassidim, the only one in town. Here Reb Reuwen Krieger, the son-in-law of the Rabbi of Zaremba, must be mentioned. He lived in his big house, and gave the small house in his courtyard to Chassidim as a gift. Half of it was used for guests, to whom he attended personally. There was also a Linat HaTzedek organization in the town.

The local Rabbi, Rabbi Jehuda Lejb Analik, had great influence on community life. He was the son of the Rabbi of Siedlce, Rabbi Szymon Ber, called “The Black Genius”. He was a Torah great, and in addition, a fanatic of fanatics, who guarded Yiddishkeit and did not waive even the smallest detail. It was said that after the first library run by Icze Blumsztejn (now in Israel) was established in Myszyniec, the Rabbi appeared and burned all the books (as unfit and unacceptable). He also hampered theatrical plays and caused an uproar when the dress of a young man or woman was not modest enough in his eyes. On the other hand, he actually had a good heart, and was always ready to help a Jew in trouble. He did not take judgment fees from poor litigators. Even if one of the two parties was rich, he was also exempted from payment, so as not to embarrass the poor person, Heaven forbid. Every guest who came to him was warmly received; with his own hands, he prepared his sleeping accommodations. In Myszyniec, he established a yeshiva of four classes, where 60-70 boys learned, some from Myszyniec and some from the area. One of the students, Goodman, went to England at the age of 13, and later sent support to the Myszyniec Yeshiva and also built a new building for it. (His son, Harry Goodman, was recently head of World Agudat Yisrael and lives in London).

Reb Gerszon Blumsztejn was Myszyniec's ritual slaughterer and ritual circumciser. He was a learned and courteous Jew. He was also a scribe and wrote Torah scrolls, phylacteries and mezuzot [parchments inscribed with verses, affixed to doorposts in Jewish homes]. He was a musician, as well, and excelled as a warm prayer leader. He was also the ritual slaughterer in the town of Czerwin.

Reb Berysz Jablonowicz was the incumbent senior religious attendant. In addition, there was also an assistant beadle, Tuwja (the son-in-law of Alter Finkelsztejn), who did the grunt-work. Reb Berysz was a household name in town. He always engaged in community-administrative work, and represented Myszyniec's affairs before external government institutions, as a “deputy rabbi” of the town. It was said of him, that he once arranged a birth certificate for himself and deducted 13 whole years from it. When the head of the local council asked him, “Berysz, why did you conceal 13 years?” he answered thus, “In order to

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avoid army service, I gave them to Tsar Nikolai, but today I am returning to my real age…”

He used to wear his tzitzit [fringes on the corners of a ritual garment] out [not tucked into his clothes]. When asked to explain this, he answered: The tzitzit are a kind of whip, reminding us that we are forbidden to sin…

Although Myszyniec belonged to the Ostrolenka district, the style of speech was closer to that of Lomza. In Myszyniec “Gut [Good]” was said, instead of “Git”, ”Yeh [Yes]” instead of “Yoh”, “Azey” instead of “Azoy”. This dialect also brought in elements of the Yiddish of villages in the vicinity, such as Kadzidła, Dylewo and others.

Sometimes theatrical plays were held on the shaky platform of the firemen. It had to be climbed onto with ladders. Most of the time, itinerant actors or troupes invited from out-of-town appeared there. There were also local amateurs: Baruch Kramer, Mosze Peretz, Szejna Alterman, Peretz Jakow, Frida Krieger, Rajchel Weisman and others. The director was Icchak Gerber.

Thus the Myszyniec community lived for generations, until the Nazi beast eradicated it from the face of the earth. It was said that, even before the entry of the Nazis, many of Myszyniec's Jews were killed by the bombs near the small railway station. The others were scattered in the different ghettos and camps, and there they gave up their holy souls.

May God avenge their blood.

(According to G. Tikolsker and M. Blumsztejn)


My Town

(Personalities and Way of Life)

Mosze Blumsztejn,
Secretary of the Jewish Community of Myszyniec in Israel

Everything that was Jewish in Myszyniec is no more. The study hall, the cemetery, the Jews' homes, stores and workshops, where life sparkled for generations. No longer the voice of Torah, the clear voices of little schoolchildren in the heders of Szmuel Rafael Icel and Mosze Galina. There are no longer youths strolling on Sabbaths at dusk toward the [distant] pharmacy. Their voices and ringing laughter have been silenced forever. No longer the tumult of Myszyniec's youth movements, HeChalutz, HeChalutz HaMizrachi, HaShomer HaDati, which nurtured and instilled dreams and hopes for a shining future in the Land of Israel, hora dances and the impassioned singing of We Are Going to Israel. Those who, in innocence, believed and hoped – did not get there…

The happiness and mourning of Myszyniec's Jews, Sabbaths, holidays, charitable Jews, compassionate children of compassionate ancestors – all uprooted. Great destruction remains. The ruins shine with the memory of the martyrs of Myszyniec.

I see before me the martyrs of Myszyniec in the fullness of their lives – Jews of all kinds: learned Chassidim, with their deep eyes, high foreheads, groomed beards and pale faces; God-fearing Jews with pilpul [sharp analysis] of a page of Gemara; Jewish merchants with foreign contacts, buying and selling, giving God His due and hurrying to engage in beneficial work for the community. Secular Jews, as well as enlightened ones; Zionists dreaming of a Jewish redemption. In addition: simple Jewish laborers, healthy and strong, with calloused hands, always ready to help others and even to endanger themselves, if necessary.

Simple Jews, but with a great deal of heart – ready to support the needy, but even so, not to push themselves forward, to the [synagogue's] western wall, who had never had the taste of receiving a hakafa [one of seven dancing circuits made with Torah scrolls on the Simchat Torah holiday] or an aliyah [being called up to read a portion of the Torah].

Here, I want to remember and dwell on these Jews, in particular, who are likely to be forgotten. Jews, types of the “common people”, carters who transported everything from Myszyniec and to it, the living and the dead. Due to their bodily strength, they kept the city “on its feet”, and raised the spirits of pale Torah scholars.

 

1. Chaim Ipeles

In the Zohar, it is written: “Everything depends on

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luck, even the Torah scroll in the Ark”. And indeed, a carter also needs luck. But Chaim Ipeles, with his two “lions” (horses), did not have luck in Myszyniec, may his “lions” forgive me. They were apparently not at fault, but he was, Chaim himself. He was not, apparently, a carter worthy of the name, because his mouth was too “weak”. A real carter must spit out a curse the way it should be. His curses were not juicy enough, not according to the carters' rule book.

 

2. Mosze Papurza

He was a carter for generations, born with a whip in his hand. Even during his heder years, his best friends were stable boys. He related to his horse like to a pampered only child (even though he had never had an easy time of it in his life…). He behaved politely to his customers.

I remember Sabbath nights in Myszyniec. The setting sun weakens more and more toward resting at night among the mountains of Zdunska. Everything is immersed in darkness; only a few blazing rays, winding around the church spire, illuminate the distorted face of Jesus with a golden light. The Jewish mothers are busy with the final preparations to receive the Sabbath Queen; the fathers are clean after washing at the ritual bath, their faces crimson and their earlocks still dripping water. The daughters, with braids plaited after a shampoo, a sign that Sabbath preparations have been completed. In the houses, everything is sparkling and polished. Myszyniec did not need Persian carpets. Fresh, pale yellow sand is spread on scrubbed floors, creating an atmosphere of holiness and contentment. More fastidious mothers also sprinkled sand in front of the house, so that the Sabbath greeted you before you entered the house. The sand was provided for the Jewish housewives by Mosze Papurza. He took it liberally from the mountains in the area.

He had an additional job that was no less important, did Mosze Papurza. He was the only carter who connected Myszyniec not only with the living neighborhood, but also with “the world to come” – with the next world. If there was a funeral in town, may the All-Merciful protect us, Mosze came in the morning and brought the ritual purification board in his wagon. When the burial society finished its work, he came back and took the deceased on his final journey. Relatives and acquaintances walked behind the wagon, on the long, unpaved way to the old, quiet cemetery, with Mosze Papurza at their head.

His gaunt horse did not derive pleasure from its owner, although it lovingly received his curses and painful lashes. After a gloomy funeral, life returned to its usual routine. People forget, but a horse does not. Its back became even more bent, black bitterness overtook it… Poor horse, no doubt a bit of fresh barley would have put you back on your feet, returned you to life. It may be that in other hands you would look better, but you may feel easier when I tell you that not only your legs shake from weakness – your owner also lowers his head to the ground like you, despairing and hungry, but suffering in silence. His meals are poorer than those of his horse…

 

3. Icchak of Lejzorkes

Who does not remember him? Very tall, he walked among the other carters with special pride and selfimportance. In the presence of his “pals”, he was not generous with smiles. Healthy, strong, with a mouthful of sparkling teeth and flashing, shrewd eyes, he treated his colleagues, who seemed to him like idlers, with a hint of condescension. They lived from hand to mouth, and his life was different. At work, they wore worn-out clothes, but he was “elegant”. His wife, too, often wore a new dress and a special ornament. In short, distinguished, strong and confident. He was a man who knew his own worth.

I remember that once, to my great surprise, I saw him broken, unlike his usual habit. Only the elect knew the secret: they caught him at the border with sacks of raisins and fine silk clothing. This shocked him and undermined his self-confidence. He sat in prison, as was proper, and after he was released, he began to engage in trade. His fellow carters regarded him as a traitor, while the merchants treated him like one of their own. They accepted his “Good morning”, which was sometimes accompanied by a half-smile. At the synagogue, Tuwja the Beadle announced: “Stand, Reb Icchak the Tall, son of Eliezer!” He got a third-level aliyah on Sabbath for the afternoon prayer, but it was still an aliyah… and he showed the congregation with what ease and confidence the Torah was in his hands. Even so, when he told a joke, finicky Jews turned their heads… What else? Once a carter always a carter!

 

4. Eli “Pemp”

He was a carter – he spoke like a carter, cursed like a carter and his insolence was enough for ten carters. Despite all this, something was lacking in him –

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originality and sincerity. A carter's horse must be part of its owner's soul, part of himself. A genuine carter will not sit down to eat if his horse has not yet eaten; he raises hell when his horse is sick, Heaven forbid. He rushes to the veterinarian and begs him to get his horse back on his feet. But it sometimes happens that a carter is nothing more than a dry professional, without a heart and without a soul.

In his youth, Eli Pemp was a carpenter. No one knew this secret. One fine day, he appeared in the market with a pair of horses, and became a carter. His other profession became like a second wife to him. Something drew him to “his first love”. So, one day, in the middle of the week, he deserted his cart with the horses and returned to his saw and his profession.

 

5. Czombe

Czombe, “Pemp”'s son, was one hundred percent a carter. Every inch a carter. He suckled it with his mother's milk, and was respected even among the carters of Warsaw. Half the carters of Poland gathered in the courtyard at 17 Bonifraterska Street. Czombe's loud voice was heard there and everyone took his opinion into consideration. When he neared Bonifraterska Street, he would stand up from his seat, grab the two reins in his right hand and thus standing, enter the courtyard on his wagon like a tempest, like a warrior and like a victor. He lashed his whip in the air and greeted those present with a ringing “Good morning”, accompanied by juicy curses. Despite this, who would believe that on a most usual of Tuesdays, they would look and marvel? For the first time in the town's history, a car appeared on the streets of Myszyniec. It arrived with enormous noise and loud honking, leaving behind a wake of thick smoke and the strong smell of gasoline. Most important, behind the wheel sat none other than Czombe, in person.

Some of the horses in the market began running wild, as if they sensed the appearance of a rival, standing on their hind legs and neighing out of anger and fear as one. But they gradually got used to the change, like all the town's inhabitants. From then on, Czombe did not hold reins ever again, and kept exchanging his car for a new one.

 

6. The “Derszyl”

Do you remember the “Derszyl” with his two “eagles” [horses]? Bright and early in the morning, his eagles were hitched to the wagon with the canvas canopy, their heads high, their cropped tails and groomed manes blowing in the wind, their iron hooves drumming on the stone street. With loud neighs, they invited the “Derszyl” to take his place on the high seat. When he appeared and seated himself, with only a quiet s-s-s and a light touch of his whip, the eagles began to gallop and transport clients from Myszyniec to Ostrolenka. It was quite a pleasure to travel with the “Derszyl”, as well as a great privilege.

The “Derszyl” was punctilious. He always left exactly at the scheduled time. He never measured time by a watch. What for? Where would you find two watches that showed the exact same time anyway? With one, his watch was fast, with the other – slow, and the third one didn't even have a watch. Yes, “Derszyl” had a watch, but most of the time it sat at Mosze the Watchmaker's, waiting for an “operation”. Therefore, the “Derszyl” set the time according to the prayers of the study hall minyanim. When the “Derszyl” decided: “We are leaving after the first minyan” – this meant the following: we will pray and then we will go. Breakfast was eaten on the road, in the wagon. When he went a distance from the pharmacy [at the edge of town], everyone opened his bundle of food and ate his fill.

It once happened that departure was delayed because one of the customers, who usually said a few chapters of ma'amadot [sections from the Scriptures, Mishna and the Talmud for each day of the week, recited after the morning prayer], was in no way willing to give up this pleasure because of the trip. Having no alternative, they waited for him, and those who waited had a chance to say the Traveler's Prayer before starting out. At that time, there were no longer wolves in our forests, and the danger of being beset by robbers was insignificant. Despite this, stories were spread in our town of “jesters” and “spirits” who caused carters to get lost, especially if their tzitzit [fringes on the corners of a ritual garment] were not kosher… Since I can remember, a trip with the “Derszyl” from Myszyniec to Ostrolenka always ended safe and sound.

Thus Myszyniec lived until the destruction of Poland's Jewry – a town that existed for generations and created a typical way of quiet Jewish life.

May these lines be an eternal memory of our martyrs and remain in the memories of all of us who have survived. As we do not know your place of burial, we will keep an eternal monument to you in our hearts.

May their memory be blessed and holy!

Footnotes

  1. A.S. Sztejn, writer and journalist, came from the region of Ostrolenka. He passed away in Tel Aviv. Return
  2. The judge was the old poretz of Kadzidła and he was not appointed from above (at the time of the absolute government of the Tsar), but was elected once every three years by the inhabitants of the villages. Return

 

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