Folk Bank and Co-Op Bank
After World War I, when the Kehillah life started to organize itself on a new basis, two banks were immediately founded: a Folk's Bank and a Co-Op Bank. The banks developed very well in the beginning. Around the merchant bank clung mainly the upper class, large-scale merchants. The president was Avraham Gurney. In the executive: Shlomo Brenner, Yechiel Maier Sokoloff, Natan Skurnik, Dovid Wise and Shlomo Rubinstein.
Merchants and recently prosperous people deposited large sums in the banks and the financial institutions gave sizable loans in the time when the Polish Finance Minister, Stanislaw Grotsky, conducted the economic fight against the Jews.
Parnoses became weaker and a wave of bankruptcies swept over the Jewish businesses and merchants. Jewish Ciechanow fell victim to the economic boycott against Jews, and many merchants went bankrupt. The bank started to feel a lack of capital, a crisis approached. The trust in the financial institutions disintegrated. The wealthy men, Avraham Margolit, Moishe Alters and others, because of the bank's difficulties, started to demand payment with interest, they introduced interest against the bank and it was put under suspicion. Advocate Alshevski was appointed guardian and liquidated the bank. The advocate lived from this until nearly the outbreak of the war. All the attempts of the Ciechanow community activists to save the bank from sinking did not succeed.
The Folk's Bank was, as it was called, a financial institution for the folk. Every craftsman and small merchant was a member there. The capital consisted of payments and the institutions got large credit from the central co-op bank in Warsaw.
The majority of Ciechanow Jews were members in the bank. Its main bookkeeper was the businessman Binyamin Kirshenbaum. The bank had a right of existence and would have developed well, but the trouble was the inner Party conflict. The Folk's Bank was the center of the political struggle for hegemony in the institution.
At the head of the bank were the craftsmen: Yekhezkl Shtifsholtz, Avraham Yosef Alevnick, Shulem Shuster, Aaron Slivkeh, Velvel Galetzer, Avraham Yaacov Biezuner and others.
The annual meeting always took place in the firemen's hall and the shouts of the assembly when an election of the executive took place for the Folks Bank carried throughout the street.. The ones whom the loudest shouters wanted were elected. At each meeting there was a representative of the headquarters in Warsaw.
At the elections of the Kehillah, the Folk's Bank put forth its hand-workers' candidates.
The fights and the scarcity in leadership led to the losing of the bank. In its place stood the Free Loan Society.
The Free Loan Society
The by far largest group of Ciechanow Jews, at the beginning of the 20's was greatly impoverished. The tradesmen: tailors, shoemakers and others did not have any work; merchants, storekeepers did not have money to carry on their business. The Polish banks that were conducted by anti-Semites did not issue any credit to Jews. There were some Jews, so-called war-speculators, who accumulated money and after the war they lent out money on interest. Normally, interest for 5% monthly on every borrowed sum, but soon these took daily interest.
Seated: M. Klinger, V.H. Zilbershtrom, A. Sh. Lichtenstein, .I. Kronenberg
The war speculators lent out money on a daily basis, only for very high interest. The terms of payment were arranged for only a few days that were long enough to go to Warsaw, shop for goods, bring this to Ciechanow to market day or to the fair, and immediately after the fair the money had to be paid back. If, though, because of bad weather or for some other reason the fair was not profitable, a new series of loans for the debts arose.
These loan payments ate up the profits after the loans were repaid. Things were very bad for the small merchant or shopkeeper. This bad situation brought about the idea of forming a Free Loan Society to loan money without interest. A group of merchants got together. A consultation took place in which there participated: Yudl Kronenberg, Moshe Klinger, Shlomo Slud, the writer of these lines. It was decided to form a Free Loan Society. Everyone present contributed one hundred zlotys. With this capital, free from interest loans started to be given.
After receiving permission to carry on legal activities, it was announced in the bais medresh that a founding meeting will take place for the Free Loan Society. To this meeting came Jews from all levels. And since, at that time, Parties were already active in Ciechanow, a competition around the voting for the president began.
Finally, all the Parties united to elect as president a non-Party man, Wolf Henekh Zilbershtrom. I invited a member of the Zionists to the executive -- Binyamin Kershenbaum, and a representative of the workers whose name I unfortunately do not remember.
At my appeal to the meeting, everyone agreed that the Free Loan Society must be non-partisan and work for the benefit of all. The executive of the Society was elected, consisting of the following: president Wolf Henekh Zilbershtrom; president of the executive committee -- Avraham Shmuel Lichtenstein; members of the executive and management: Moishe Klinger, Yudl Kronenberg, Shlomo Slud, Gedalya Nagar, Yoel Dovid Weingarten, Binyamin Kershenbaum, Baruch Mordecai Malina, and Moshe Rosenberg.
For the activities of the Society I gave my counter where I had my mill, in order to economize on expenses. The executive made an announcement that whatever needs a loan should request same at the Free Loan Society. The limit of the loan was fifty zlotys , to be repaid at the rate of five zlotys per week.
The Society helped people in the following cases: a carrier who was evicted from his dwelling, a wagon whose horse had died, a handler who sells goods at a stall in the marketplace, a shoemaker who needed to buy some material for his workshop, etc. Such needy ones got loans.
The Joint came to the aid of the Society. It changed its procedure of general support and gave money only for constructive purposes. In reply to our first appeal we received a Joint loan of five hundred zlotys and later another five hundred zlotys that we repaid in various terms.
The central management of Joint in Warsaw called a conference, at the end of each year, of the Loan Society in Poland, whose representatives had to undergo an audit of their books. From our Society the following were the representatives: Zilbershtrom and Kronenberg. Our bookkeeping and accounting made a good impression on the Joint directors and we received a credit of one hundred zlotys per person.
After our great success, when the Society had established firm roots in Ciechanow amongst the Jews, we decided to establish our own financial means through collecting voluntary contributions. Members of the executive went from door to door and Jews undertook to contribute fifty zlotys per week to the Society. In the beginning, we ourselves made the contribution. Later we appointed Berl Speculant as collector, and for a specified fee, he made the weekly collections.
The Free Loan Society developed very well. It moved to its own premises. The Joint continually increased the credit and we already issued loans of three hundred zlotys per person. This enabled more than one merchant to get established.
In the course of time the executive changed. In place of the president, A. Sh. Lichtenstein, there came Gedalya Nagar. I also resigned from my position and in my place came Yehoshua Greenbaum.
When I went on aliyah to Israel, I bade a friendly farewell to my chaverim of the Free Loan Society and left them, as a souvenir, my metal box from my counter.
The Elections to the First Polish Siyum
At the time of the elections for the first Polish Siyum a united front was formed through the initiative of Yitzhak Greenbaum, together with all the Polish minorities (except for the Folks Party of Noach Prilitzky and the Bund). Ciechanow was a main locality for a larger circle, and with this work, once again, the leaders were the Zionist activists.
I remember that our house had the appearance of a packing house, full of large show cases, full of election material for the whole area. There came to us, for a special meeting, in the Gemina, three of the later Siyum deputies: chaver Farbshtein, chaver Klumel, and advocate Alshvanger, leader of the Zionist movement in Poland, and we were proud of them.
I also remember a request to us from the Warsaw Central Committee that Ciechanow should send, to Pultusk, electioneers to the Siyum elections, and the following were sent: Yaacov Kahane -- a Zionist, presently living in Israel; Yisroel Yaacov Student -- an Agudist.
A Hechalutz group was also formed, led by Berl Agradnik, the only Jewish member in the shtetl. They prepared for work on the land, and part of them did go on aliyah in 1920. From that time on the aliyah to Israel did not cease. Our ranks began to be depleted.
In March 1925, I, with my three children, left Ciechanow for the Land of Israel.
Accused of Spying
In 1920 Jewish youth started to leave the shtetl. They went to America and some to the Land of Israel. I was also amongst those who prepared to go on aliyah. But meanwhile the Polish-Soviet war broke out and the Polish powers accused us of spying.
I, and Voveh Burshtein, tried to smuggle across the border into Germany. At the Polish border we were arrested and taken to Warsaw jail and we were in danger of getting the death sentence. When the Bolsheviks neared Warsaw we were given the opportunity to gain our freedom by going as the first ones into the line of fire. We accepted the suggestion, not having a choice. Thanks to the intervention of my wife's sister to the mayor of Ciechanow, chaver Yanetsky, our innocence was proved and we were freed. V. Burshtein left for America, I for the Land of Israel.
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