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[Page 204]

Z. Apel

Jewish Ciechanow, As I Saw It

In Memory of My Unforgettable Parents, Sisters and Brothers,
My Chaver Urke -- Tortured By the Germans

The Teikhe (River) Street Nadzetna -- the river street, that's how the quiet street was called in Yiddish. One end stretched to the green-covered fence of the “Broy-house” and the other met up with the Proshnitzer Street. Where Proshnitz ended and the wide road began, the road to the shul buildings, to the barracks and to Proshnitz, 24 kilometers away.

A long cross-street was River Street. On one side, the exit yards joined the river Lidinya and that is where it got its name. And on the opposite side: two cross-streets uphill to the marketplace and a passageway to the pharmacy street. The main passageway led through Mishlinski's long, long, yard that shortened the way. The problem there, though, was with the dogs, fearful large dogs, that sniffed out a Jewish child from a mile away.

The River Street had a magical attractive quality for us children. It was not densely built up. On one side there were fences and on the opposite side, all along the river, it was more populated, especially the part between Lubinsky's mill and Yoel's “peasant” courtyard.

Here there stood a wall, set back somewhat in the background of the street, a wall with various bricks without doors and without windows, because it served as a (storage) granary for wheat. In that enclosure, in the left wing of the ground floor, the Hashomeir Hatzair had its meeting-place for many years. It was called the Izbe by us. For us the Izba was the “wishing-ring” -- the quintessence of all our dreams.

The River Street dispelled all the fears that lurked in other streets. New songs rang out in River Street, fresh melodies, Hebrew words, that distinguished themselves from the ordinary and which were reinforced by the teacher, Moishe Hersh. Proud, courageous, worthy, the confident walk when the kvutzah marched under its flat, singing: “Su Ness Tzionah”

Years passed, and during the time we lived through great events, shattering destruction, and above all, the terrible khurban, the German extermination that wiped away our former homes; years when rooted truths lost their status.

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Jewish soldiers in the Polish army before the start of World War II
Leaders of Hashomeir Hatzair
Right to left: M. Levitzki, Sh. Trombka, I. Trombka (Yisraeli), Tobe Mundzak, Tzila Zeloner, Soreh Mlovskeh
.

Picture Index

In the dark recesses there sparkle a few bright lights that will remain from those years, from those meetings and of those wonderful dreams. And from time to time memories of the group that left strong memories - the youth meeting-place behind, in the background on River Street.

*

Ciechanow, as a provincial shtetl, with all its good points and bad points, possessed specific characteristics.

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It is hard to believe that Jews constituted only a third of the population. That's what the statistics showed, purposely including in the circumference of the city the parts that were inhabited exclusively by non-Jews. The center, however, the factual city-part, had a thoroughly Jewish population.

Only on Tuesdays and Fridays was the marketplace and the surrounding streets full of peasants and their wagons. They filled the Jewish stores, the Jewish shops, and created the Jewish economic position. Six days a week the Jews worked hard to earn a living, but Friday, when the sun started to set, sinking further and further into the horizon, the Zahabed Street, on the edge of the fields, a calm peacefulness descended on the street. Peasants quickly set off with their horses and wagons, as though fearing to disturb the approaching Shabbat rest.

And as though in response to a signal, doors were bolted, everything closed, and the shtetl took on another appearance -- the marketplace and all the surrounding streets.

Four stores only, on three sides of the marketplace, stood out from amongst all the others because they belonged to non-Jews. They did not change the general picture, though. They also took on a Shabbat appearance somehow. The city hall also took on a Shabbat look, as though shamed, shut off in a corner. Only the tower clock struck every quarter hour, disturbing the general peace.

There was a large shul, a bais hamedresh, many shtiblekh and just plain minyanim. There were daveners, but also non-daveners. Everyone greeted the Sabbath as they wished, each according to his conscience. The religious Jews -- with Lkhu Nirranenah and shakhrit prayers and the younger people in their groups, where their premises were. There they cast away their weekly concerns and devoted themselves to things of the spirit. Young couples, all along the Vorshever Street, dressed in their Shabbes clothes, strolled along in good spirits for Shabbat. Even accompanying the secular enlightenment lecturer for Shabbat from the railway station to Misher's hotel also added something to the general picture of Shabbat.

*

The river Lidinya that surrounded Ciechanow does not play a significant role in the chain of Polish rivers. Especially in recent years, after civilization interfered and redirected the Lidinya flow between two symmetrically related borders, the river shrunk even more, as though shamed and insulted for her former frolicking. Still, the meadows and lawns along the river's edge remained green and soft.

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Spring time or summer time, the green-grass divan was destined for special purposes. Around the walls of the castle the public, old and young, enjoyed their Shabbat. Families used to come in masses to rest their weary bones in nature's lap. Barefoot children would splash in the swampy ditches, chasing quick-moving fish, playing with young frogs, or picked up fat green leeches, of which there were so many. It was a unique Shabbat experience in nature's lap.

It appeared that no one at that time was at all concerned with the ancient history of the destroyed bare walls of the castle, that remembered the days of Zigmund the First, Poland's king The majority of the Shabbat visitors had never stepped into the castle. The entrance was generally closed. Only from time to time was the gate opened, particularly when the firemen, the factual overseers of the castle, would arrange some holiday or entertainment. But at such times fellow Jews would avoid the castle. It smelled of drunkenness, with ruffians and hooligans.

*

After the wonderful Shabbat came the gray week. Six days of the week the Ciechanow Jews struggled with the economic difficulties. There wee some prosperous Jews, but the majority earned their bit of bread with much hardship. They earned their livelihood by the traditional Jewish trades. Most of the Jewish stores dealt with small items, a small stock, and the earnings were meager. There was no sign of Jewish industry. Aside from the four flour mills from which the roar of the motors could be heard, there was no other sizable Jewish industry.

In Jewish homes there were laborers who put in a workday of twelve to fourteen hours. Branches of families occupied themselves solely with tailoring or shoemaking, generation after generation taking over the trade, and left for their children's inheritance only a long chain of these kinds of trades. They worked to fill orders and cheap work. On market days they would put their goods out for sale at the fair.

There were some privileged tradesmen, specialists who bragged about their trade. Before the season, before a yomtov, we had to arrange an appointment with these men in order to be sure that the work would be completed on time.

There was a bricklayer, Avraham Elye Tautengreber. In the fall it was not easy to get him to do work. If one succeeded and Avraham Elye repaired the oven for winter, a load fell off ones mind.

There were also times in Ciechanow, and not so long ago, when a trade was a stain on the family's reputation. Time and enlightenment corrected this stance. Still, there remained traces that found their expression in insulting remarks at the expense of the tradesmen. The Ciechanow butchers of the old generation were considered amongst the very respectable men in the shtetl. Many of them even occupied the “Eastern Wall” and amongst the younger generation there were also no noticeable “profession-marks”.

The Jewish population represented a varied mosaic: Different parties, organizations and various societies. This was a mirror of the Ciechanow community.

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The lights of the Party premises shone over the dark, slippery, narrow streets of the Jewish poor. The communal singing of the youth echoed far and penetrated the silent walls of Jewish homes, revived, called, gave meaning and expression until… until the Germans lifted the bloody ax on our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, destroyed with fire and murder the Jewish population of Ciechanow.


[Page 209]

Yosl Mlotzker

The Shtetl in Light of My Memories

Childhood Years

I am a young boy, a child of poor parents in Ciechanow. In my eyes, the city appears “immensely” large. From my Zsabe Street (that was also called the Zsabarniak, I do not know why), up to the barracks, seemed to me in those days so far, as though the distance was the same as to Warsaw, of which I had heard much told; and to the tzmentazs -- that was really like to the end of the world for me.

In the Polish district I went only when I was dragged along with the older chaverim. The Polish youth called me “Bailis”. I did not know where they got such a name. I also did not understand why they were throwing stones at us. There was no shortage of them. And if it didn't help, and we continued on our way, the goyim would loosen a large dog on us, which we feared greatly, and we had to run away as fast as we could. Once, it happened that the dog, with its sharp teeth, tore my only pair of trousers. Because of this I also had trouble at home. After that I decided never again to go to the goyishe street.

On the contrary, though, I felt very comfortable in the nearby marketplace where, on a fair-day, one could pat a horse, or a lovely white and black little calf. All week, without any fear of punishment, I could also run after and pull the beards of the goats that belonged to the little Rebbe Trule, who was occupied at home, working with his pointer on the siddurim while he taught his students the aleph bais.

I loved Shabbat very much, the day when we are free from kheder, when I could stroll down to the not-so-distant Lidinya River -- there where it was such a pleasure to remove the shoes and wade in the water up to the knees. But God forbid going beyond that to Weinstock's mill. There the water was deep. One could drown there. Only grown men could swim there. When the cold winter came and the river froze, one could slide over the whole length of the river without risk. At worst, one would wear out ones pant seat because, not having any skates or sleds, we would slide down the hill, sitting on the hard snow.

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The Fine Respected Jews

There were in the shtetl fine Jews whom we respected and honored, amongst them the learned Reb Yosele and his long gray beard. Every Friday evening he would go, in his black capote, from street to street, from house to house, reminding: “Jews, light candles. It's time to forget the daily business.” He reminded the women to take the candlesticks out of the cabinets because the important guest, the Sabbath, is arriving.

Soon the shutters of the stores would be closed. Jews with pale faces and black capotes ran, some to the mikveh, and some already with the siddur to the bais medresh or to the shul, taking the children along. Nobody wanted to miss the festive Lcha Nirannenah and the singing of Lcha Dodi.

I remember our chazzan, who was busy all week, as I assumed at that time, with not such nice work -- he slaughtered such beautiful multi-colored poultry which could crow so beautifully -- and such beautiful ducks which did not harm anyone. But when a yomtov came, the chazzan took on a different face in my eyes. He sang with his fine voice so that it captured one's heart.

I remember, as though it had just taken place, the Kol Nidre singing after the deadly silence in the bais hamedresh. At that moment I always felt that the heavens were about to open and God Himself would appear to us in the bais hamedresh.

The boys particularly enjoyed the eve of Shabbat or Yomtov when they would run to the mikveh, open their kapoteleh and show their tzitzis at the entrance, because otherwise we were not allowed to immerse ourselves, which is to say, to dunk ourselves in the somewhat dark, warm water of the mikveh, plugging our nose and ears thereby, with our fingers.

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When I was older, I once more met a Ciechanow Jew for whom I had great respect -- Moishe Lerer he was called. He gave us our first lesson on the unfamiliar letters of the aleph bais.

I did not feel any special love for most of the teachers who put so much work into making us proper Jews. They, the teachers, taught us all the commandments and statutes (dinim umishpatim) of Chumash and Gemara and the minutia of Jewish Law. All this minutia irked me because of what relationship did it have to me when my life was so poor that there was not even an egg to eat during the week An egg was too expensive for my father's purse, but that was not as important as having a piece of bread in the house.

From a Life of Religious Observance to Social Ideas and Secular Enlightenment Cultural Activity

Some time ran on. Much water flowed through the Lidinya. We grew up, had to leave the Cheder, school, started to work, apprenticed to learn a trade so that we would be able to earn our daily bread. And here there were fresh difficulties and problems: rich and poor, from where does the difference come in the life of various families -- the poor, who went about free all day and bought the best fish and fowl for Shabbat and during the week: These new thoughts had to come to a boy, and with this -- dissatisfaction and hope for a better day.

About all these things our older friends told us. They already belonged to a professional society. And the more we listened to their talk about the poor, hardworking, and the bosses, the more we wanted to know. The thirst for their kind of knowledge led us to listen to all kinds of discussions and read books that filled our young minds with thoughts of justice, freedom, about a different life without rich and poor.

Our thirst for knowledge was also satisfied by enlightened young men who did not spare time and effort in order to teach the younger ones who had to, because of material reasons, interrupt their studies at school. Some organized libraries. Others -- sport clubs -- so that the working boy would be able to straighten out his back from sitting at the machine.

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It was not only the sport competitions that interested us. It gave us great pleasure to see how our Maccabi members parade in Varshever Street after a football match. How much pride and joy that sight gave me!

Another thing that springs to my mind is the rich library named after Sh. An-ski. There, through the works of An-ski, Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, Asch and Mendele Mokher Sforim, we learned about the life of the Jewish masses, about the poverty in the Jewish shtetlach, and about wealthy merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen; wagoners, who work a long week and yet did not have enough to satisfy their hunger.

In the library, through the books of Ozsheshkova, Raimont, Sinclair, Barbis, Zola and other European writers, I learned about the wide world, its many countries, nations. From Gorky's Mother and Zsheramsky's Before Spring we became acquainted with those who fight for justice and freedom. They gave us much hope for better living conditions for all citizens and also for us Jews. And the evening gatherings also helped us very much to understand many difficult problems. On such evenings, youths of various organizations, with various political affiliations, discussed, in a friendly manner, events and theories.

 

A Summer Shabbat Afternoon in the Shtetl

In these Shabbat afternoons of my youth, all of Ciechanow, after the heavy cholent, would stroll through the streets. Mothers, with their young daughters clad in white embroidered pinafores, with their shiny heads of hear that were washed with kerosene erev Shabbat, boys with white shirts and short pants, often with a ball in their hands -- all headed to the castle. There everyone enjoyed themselves. The children ran around on the soft green grass, rolling down the hills while the mothers watched over them from the distance and had naches. The young boys and girls went to their various organizations to meetings. Others strolled for long hours from the marketplace to the garden, in groups, until they got tired.

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Boys and girls, with newspapers and books that they could not read at home, went to the Gurke where, amongst the old trees and bushes, they had no fear of an “evil eye”.

My friends and I preferred to go to the small forest not far from the sugar factory. There we could rest and dream beside the quiet murmur of the Lidinya River.

The life of our mothers was quite different, full as it was with daily problems and worries. Sometimes a tzimes would get burnt. Another time a cholent would mistakenly get exchanged at the baker's. True, these were not amongst the most serious problems, but when poultry had a fault on its guts and the Rov concluded that it is treyf, it was a lot worse. In addition, there were great problems of earning a living. How does one make ends meet?

There were also happy moments in a mother's life. The wrinkles disappeared from the brows for a short time when a letter would arrive from a beloved son in a far-off land, and one would run, full of joy, to all nearby neighbors to share the news. The mothers had to share their joy. The mothers would start to dream about their beloved son's arrival on a visit. “He'll give alms to the poor when he will go to visit the graves of his ancestors, and God willing, maybe he'll make a match with the neighbor's daughter, who has long been waiting for him.”

The memories of my childhood and youth quickly come to an end. How I would have liked that there be a happy end, but unfortunately it is a great tragedy. Our parents are no longer with us. Our near and dear ones perished. Almost nothing remains of the past centuries of Jewish life in Ciechanow except for one monument in the new Jewish cemetery erected in 1947 in memory of the thousands of Jews, put to death by the Nazis.

We have been left with a constant sorrow in our hearts, and through this Yizkor Book, compiled by the survivors of the Ciechanow Jewish Kehillah, we want to preserve in memory from generation to generation our past and be connected with our tortured-to-death ones, far and wide, dear and beloved martyrs of Ciechanow.


[Page 214]

Avraham Perlmutter, New York

What I Remember of Jewish Life in Ciechanow

When I was three years old, my mother dressed me up in a pair of short pants, with an opening in the rear, a cap with a stiff brim, and a large Arba - Knafos (four-fringed-cornered religious garment worn next to the skin) with long tzitzis beneath a long robe, so that I should look yomtovdik My father took me by the hand and said to me: “Come, khosn bokher to Cheder, to Reb Wolf, the melamed in the Yiddish Street.”

Reb Wolf, a Jew in his sixties, with the appearance of an old man, raised his spectacles on his forehead and said to father:

“Baruch haba (welcome). What good news to you have?”

“I brought you my khosn bokher so that you should make a mentsch out of him” -- my father said. After the exchange of a few words between the Rebbe and my father, my father said to me that he would come later to take me home.

That's how my learning in cheder began.

When I could already read Hebrew I was taken to a more learned teacher, Reb Zalman Fentsil, in the Butcher Shop Street. Why was he called Fentsil? Because his wife Chana had to help to earn a living, so she baked flat rolls for the market. So from “Pletzl” came Fentsil…

Reb Zalman was a very strict teacher. One was in fear of his mere glance. That was called -- learning respect… When I explained to father, father gave me a few slaps and assured me that “the Rebbe knows what he's doing.” That's how education looked at that time.

 

Interests of the Kehillah

When I got older, my father took me to the Kehillah meetings that ended with a bit of a “meal” at the expense of the Kehillah. At that time Ciechanow had the following societies: Burial Society, Society for Visiting the Sick, Psalm Readers Society, Society for Assisting for Brides, and a Savings and Loan Society, where every needy one could borrow a few guilder.

Those who busied themselves with these societies were: my father, Yosl Itche Libers, Mendl Burshtein, Hersh Yoel Kiffer, Laizer Price, Yekl Klanover, Binem Malina, Binyamin Krasne, Binyamin Malina, Mendl Mlamed, Henekh Fuchs, Herschel Mai, Khune Kashnmakher, Herschel Kleinetz, Isaachar Ciechanower,

Itche Becker, Zalmen Moishe Krubiner, Laibele Byalietofsky, Berl Mundzak, Mordechai Mundzak, Dovid Klezmer (Gurny), Noske Feldsher, Shmulek Rosen, Aba Mundshtik, Noah Misher, Nate Rosenblum, Nachman Perlmutter, Vava Burshtein, and many others. Every week a committee used to make the rounds to raise money for these purposes.

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At the time of Moishe Rabeinu's yahrzeit, the Burial Society prepared two special meals -- one for the poor folk who delighted in a good piece of fish, a bit of whiskey, a drumstick of a goose… then there took place the real meal of the Society…

After such a meal the treasury was a bit depleted, so thoughts were turned to regarding how to raise fresh sums, It was decided that since it is already close to Purim, a few horses should be rented and the members of the Society should dress with masks and costumes on Purim day and ride out in their costumes, to collect funds. The parts were assigned as follows: My father and Hersh Yoel Kiffer went to the Varshever Street, all the way to the railroad. That's where the wealthier Jews lived: The Rubinsteins, Dovid Wise from the lumber yard, and others. Dovid Mundzak and Hershel Mai took the stretch from the Pharmacy Street to the barracks, and so on. And enough funds wee raised for the coming year.

Jews are Forced to Become Firemen

I remember:

On certain evenings, particularly summer time, the barns on the edge of the city would start burning; so too did old houses. Since the fire brigade consisted mainly of Christians and inflamed barns belonged to Christians, anti-Semitic leaflets suddenly began to appear that threatened: if Jews will not enlist in the fire brigade, Jewish homes will be set on fire, including the shul.

A pressure spread over the Jews: how could Jews with beards don the shirts with hats and leather belt and with an ax on their hips, run to put out a fire? This is not a Jewish matter…but after a few consultations with Reb Shlomo, the Rov, and Reb Yosele Dayan, it was decided that because of danger to human life Jews are permitted to become firemen.

No sooner said than done. Representatives went to the fire chief and outfits of uniforms and axes were acquired. Drills started with the water buckets, axes, the whole caboodle, like all the goyim.

Every Sunday afternoon, everyone was called to the exercises. My father, with his lovely beard, polished his brass hat with the number five in front, and the brass buckle of his belt that kept the blue shirt tucked in, and with the ax at his side went to the castle beside the river for exercises. Other Jews did likewise and this was followed by a parade through the city afterwards, equipped with all the tools. We youngsters would run behind.

*

Most of the Ciechanow Jews earned their livelihood from trade with the peasants of the surrounding villages. Tuesday and Friday were market days when peasants from the surrounding villages would come to buy and sell. Most of the peasants knew all the Jewish storekeepers and dealt with Jews in a very friendly manner. There was one goy, however, who really caused trouble. He was the inspector.

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One needed a permit to sell in the market (on a table or a stall). But what Jew will take out a permit to sell only two days during the week? So people tried to avoid the inspector as much as possible. He lived on Varshever Street near the old garden, as soon as he went out of the house Jews immediately spread word in the market. “He's coming.” So Jews immediately started to hide their wares and by the time the inspector arrived at the market there was already nothing there.


[Page 217]

Moishe Fuchs

The Daily Life of the Ciechanow Jews

Ciechanow had very few wealthy Jews. They were wholesalers of dry goods, food products, and owners of a few mills, and of a small number of lumber yards. That was the wealthier element.

The majority of Ciechanow Jews were tradesmen, small dealers and marketers who set up a stand or a table at the market on market days. There were also Jews who, on market days, walked amongst the peasants, stuck their hand into a sack of grain, bargained, slapped hands with the peasants, and in the end, when closing the “transaction” they realized they don't have money for payment. Then the peasant and the Jew would ride to Weinstock's mill, the largest one in the Warsaw area, and they would unload the grain. The peasant would get his money and the Jew his provision.

The worst fate was that of the marketers who drove around from one fair to another. All week they traveled in rain and in snow, in frost and in fiery heat. They had to travel constantly so as not to be late for the fair. This is how they operated: Sunday they would get a loan from the Free Loan Society and Monday they would ride to Galomin; Tuesday -- Proshnitz; Wednesday -- Makow; Thursday -- Kharzil. That's what the shtetlach were called in the region that Ciechanow Jews traveled to in order to earn a livelihood for their wives and children.

That is how months and years passed. The energy for their lives they drew from Jewish faith; “God will not forsake.”

In the evening, after a hard day of toil, the majority of the Jews in the shtetl went to the bais hamedresh for late afternoon and evening prayers (Mincha and Ma'ariv), and to hear a drasha from a good maggid. Meanwhile, out of exhaustion one would have a nap. After the maggid's drasha they would move to Reb Yehuda Mashke's to hear a nice hasidic story about the wonders of the tzadik, Reb Avramele Z”L. Reb Yehuda Mashke doesn't keep them waiting long and he tells:

There was once a fire in the shtetl. Nearly all the houses got burnt. Jews remained without a roof over their heads. Reb Avramele stood in the street after the fire, full of sorrow, and he said: Rebbono shel olam, I give a blessing for the city that should there ever be a fire, God forbid, not more than one house should be burnt. At the same time I make it a rule that on Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre no women should come to shul because when there's a panic amongst a lot of people, many candles are burning and it could cause a fire to break out. !

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“Do you want to know if this is true? Just remind yourselves about the fire in Velvl Remboim's mill on River Street. There was a fire! And near the mill stood a small wooden house and not a single board there got burnt - that's what Jews told.”

*

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Adar it is the yahrzeit of the tzadik, so for the yeshiva boys there is a siyum (celebration upon the completion of study of Talmudic tractate). Reb Avraham Aaron Kalman is the main attendant. The Rosh Yeshiva says Ahadran. Reb Shlomo Zalman and the Rebbe Ziskind sing hearty niggunim and a delicious seudah meal is enjoyed. Glasses are there for a l'chaim and a prayer is said for his merit to protect us, Amen.

The following morning, preparations are made to receive guests from all the surrounding shtetlach as well as from Warsaw. The Strickover Rebbe comes. That's no small thing, because he is the grandson of Reb Avramele! The yeshiva boys each take a tzedakah box -- someone takes the one for repairing books. Another -- for the Free Loan Society -- another for Linat Hatzedek, etc. They go to the Ohel (monument) of the tzadik, knock three times with the large key. The first ones enter: the Strickover Rebbe and the hasidim. After them the Burial Society members with the learned leader, Reb Yosele.

All day long, men and women stream to the Ohel. They deposit kvitten (prayer notes). People pour out their bitter hearts on the grave of the tzadik. After a good cry they go home more at ease. They feel certain that the tzadik will see that justice is done and heal all the wounded hearts.

 

Shabbosim and Yomtovim in the Shtetl

Shabbat and yomtov, the Ciechanower Jews took on a different appearance. Unrecognizable. When Reb Yosele sets out into the Jewish streets with his call; “Yidn, it's getting late, Shabbes, Shabbes is approaching, light candles, light candles” -- there is quite a stir. Customers are hurried out of the shops and everyone rushes: in the bais hamedresh, in the shuls or shtiblech. From the shtiblech there can be heard happy songs. Lcha Dodi and after the davening people go home, humming a happy tune.

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Shabbat morning, when it is still dark, one can already hear from the bais hamedresh the beautiful psalm chant said by the Psalm readers. There are some Shabbosim that bring an added joy. That is when the Navidvorer Chazzan, Reb Laizer, comes with his choir of thirty singers to the shtetl. Jews prepare. First the davening is finished in the shtiblech in order to be able to hear the cantor and the choir.

*

Simchat Torah in the shtetl. The Burial Society makes a grand seudah (meal). A Sefer Torah is brought to the shul. The Sefer Torah is brought from Reb Yisroel Yitzhak Rimorshe's house. Women put candles on their windowsills. Men and children dance around the Torah that the Rov holds. Everyone tries to kiss the Torah mantle. The excited singing and dancing keep growing stronger until the shul is entered. In shul the cantor makes hakofes. Jews, sweating and worn out, are delighted with the bit of yomtov spirit that they have just experienced.

*

Lag B'omer. The youth of Hashomeir Hatzair marches in the streets with the flags, singing, until they come to the shul courtyard. The sound of the trumpets, the sound of the clashing cymbals, announces that the youth are coming. Yaacov Kahane and Yaacov Misher talk to the youth about the homeland of the Jewish people, about the Land of Israel. The same takes place for Herzl's yahrzeit, the twentieth day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz.

*

There is also another branch of Jewish youth in Ciechanow: On the Yiddish Street, in the home of Isaiah Robota, the father of Rosa Robota, who fought so courageously and was so brutally murdered in Auschwitz, there was the Peretz library. There, there gathered Poele Tzion who incorporated their dream of social justice with the ideal of return to Zion; bundists, who tied their Jewish destiny to the social-democratic future of Poland; young Jewish communists, revolutionaries who dreamed of general redemption for all future mankind and for that were imprisoned and there forfeited their young lives for an ideal.

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That's how Jewish Ciechanow lived until the German murderers came and tragically blotted out the Jewish yishuv, together with all its Jewish Parties and streams.


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Yaacov Rubinstein

The Idealists of the Jewish Organizations in Ciechanow

Jewish life in Ciechanow was very difficult. According to statistics, Jewish families lived in very cramped quarters, three to four people in a small room four by four, without any elementary conveniences whatsoever. Water was carried from the river. With one washroom for everyone it is easy to understand that there were distressful sanitary conditions.

Jews were concentrated in the center of the shtetl, the streets around the marketplace on streets such as: Varshever Street. Other streets were called: Yiddishe Street, Pultuska, Pharmacy Street, and a few more streets where only Jews lived!

When a Jew went beyond the Jewish area and got lost in the goyishe part, he felt very unsafe, and was often met with stones and with the familiar anti-Semitic call: “Zhida Do Palestina.”

The local priests had a great influence for causing this anti-Semitism because on the basis of religion they aroused the Christians to Jew-hatred. The difficult economic situation of the Polish peasants also played a role They were stirred up by the poor farmers, who came from the villages to the shtetl. They tried, together with the help of anti-Semitic organizations, to get rid of the Jewish merchants/traders and the tradesmen from their place of work.

Jew-hatred constantly spread. Poles started to boycott the Jewish stores, the Jewish tradesmen, and the hard life of the Ciechanow Jews became even harder.

In such surroundings the Jewish political parties arose and each one had its solution for improving the life of the Jews… every party had its idealists who were devoted heart and soul to societal functions that they took upon themselves.

The idealists gave their free time and with their own means built organizations, institutions, religious groups, and shaped the Jewish community and spiritual life in Ciechanow.

[Page 221]

A significant part of Ciechanow Jews leaned towards Zionism. They understood that the solution to the Jewish problem was only through building our own national home in the Land of Israel. The idealists who were the leaders of the movement were: Rov Bronrot, Yaacov Misher, Avraham Vinditzky, Shlomo Rubinshtein, Garfinkl and others. They gave a part of their life for the Zion idea. They did not let any difficulty stand in their way. Their homes were open to all who wanted to support the work for the settlement of the Land of Israel. Oft times the Zionist idealists had to endure painful differences with the Ciechanower frumeh Jews, who believed that only through the coming of the Mashiach will the Jews return to Israel. But these frumeh Jews, organized in the Agudah, had their idealists.

The leaders of the Agudah were Yoel Weingarten, Malina, Student, Yisroel Yaacov and others. They were jealous and bitter opponents of the Zionists. The leaders of the Agudah and their followers thought of the Zionists as criminals and fought what they thought was a righteous war. These frum Jews were faithfully devoted to their Agudah organization and its institutions.

The second Party that fought against the Zionists was the Bund, who believed that the Jewish problem would be resolved in Poland when there will be socialism. The leaders of the Bund in Ciechanow, Yidl Bronshtein, Kostsheva and others, were outstanding in their idealism and with devotion they fought for the rights of the Jewish population.

I knew the Bundist leader, Yidl Bronshtein, very well. The work on behalf of the community always ranked first with him. It took precedence over his home, his wife and child. The concern for the Jewish population of Ciechanow was the main thing in his life.

The Poale Tzion occupied a special place in Ciechanow. They were in the center between Bund and Zionism. The Poele Tzion idealists also believed in socialism, but above all they felt that Jews must have their own home in the Land of Israel, that will normalize the abnormal Jewish life. Through physical work it is necessary to prepare for the future productive Jewish life in the new home. The first chalutzim (pioneers) who organized the hachshara (training farm) for the Ciechanow youth were the Poele Tzion people, Templehof and Berger. They went out into the field of Berl Agradnik, and under his supervision learned to work on the land.

[Page 222]

The young Hashomeir Hatzair organization was surrounded by love from nearly all levels of Ciechanow's Jews. The founders of this Zionist youth organization were: Herschel Finkelstein, the brothers Trombka, and Yisroel Misher. Hashomeir Hatzair distinguished itself by its wide range of activities: physical exercise through sport, readings and literary dictates, systematic self-education, and Zionist activities on all fronts: hachshara, raising funds for Zionist purposes, and preparations for going on aliyah to the Land of Israel.

*

Jewish Ciechanow was poor, but rich in idealism of its youth. Every Jewish Party in the shtetl had its devoted people who worked with a fanatical belief to realize their ideals.

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