One of the excellent and well-known people in Ciechanow was Reb Yantshe Robota ZL, born in Ciechanow, whose father and grandfather were also born there. Even at his remarkable old age of ninety he was still active. He greeted everyone in friendship, treated young people as equals. The whole community respected him greatly. He was particularly punctual for davening in the bais hamedresh morning and evening. Summer time and winter time, he was the first one in the bais hamedresh. Very early in the morning he could be heard reciting Tehillim (Psalms) or studying Mishna. He would perform mitzvot large and small, do acts of living-kindness personally, particularly by visiting the sick. His work and his heart were one. He ran away from honors and anything like that. He worked hard and accepted everything with love in spite of his old age. He was happy to perform any mitzvah. Every year, for the High Holidays, he would travel to the Rebbe, Alexander, of whom he was a hasid.
Upon his death at the age of ninety, he was given much honor.
If we wish to express the essence of the exemplary person, Reb Binyamin Malina ZL, the main description would be the words: Ahavat Yisroel (Love of Israel).
Yes, love to every Jew in particular and to all of Israel as a whole, and a special love for every Ciechanower resident ruled his whole being. Ahavat Yisroel was the main motif in all his dealings, and only love could bring out such courage, devotion and paternalism in his relationship to every Jew, and particularly to the Jews of his Kehillah, Ciechanow. Everyone who came in contact with Reb Binyamin Malina was enchanted by his walk, his respect for God, and his conduct as a spiritual Jewish aristocrat.
and Kehillah officer, Reb Binyamin Malina
His communal activity encompassed all spheres in the life of the Ciechanow kehillah. There wasn't one function in which Reb Binyamin Malina would not be the first to throw himself into action, no matter how hard the task was. He was an example of someone who works for the good of all.
During World War I, when typhus and cholera was prevalent in Ciechanow, and the Jewish dead were, according to an order from the government, buried in mass graves together with Christians, a group of volunteers was organized, under the initiative of Reb Binyamin Malina, who dug up the Jewish bodies in the middle of the night from the mass graves, and gave them a Jewish burial.
Naturally this was deathly dangerous but Reb Binyamin was ready for everything, just as long as he could carry out his holy mission. The Germans did arrest him. They cut off his beard. He was freed and immediately restarted his work. Reb Binyamin also carried on help and rescue work for the sick He visited them in the hospital and thereby put his life in danger.
While the Germans were murdering Jews and the plan of the Germans to destroy the Jewish cemetery became known, which was to convert it into a field of grain, it was Reb Binyamin Malina who was at the head of a small group to dig up the body of the Tzadik in the middle of the night and to take the remains of his holy body and bring it to burial in the new Jewish cemetery.
Reb Binyamin's whole life was devoted to a long chain of devotion to Jews and Yiddishkeit.
The house of Reb Binyamin Malina was actually a house for the wise. One could always meet there business people from all walks of life who came to seek advice from Reb Binyamin regarding various undertakings for the general benefit.
More than once it would happen that when a function was planned for the Kehillah, and everyone was uncertain and worried about where the money would come from, Reb Binyamin Malina, with his warm, encouraging words, would say: Jews, don't despair' let's make a start and God will help, and with his encouragement everyone would get started and work towards the goal with enthusiasm to realize the project.
Reb Binyamin absorbed all the good traits of his famous grandfather, who raised him because his father died when he was a young child. He was a Hasid and davened the Gerer shtibl. In his work in the community, Reb Binyamin was very friendly to people. He greeted everyone with a smile. He had a word of encouragement for everyone. Whoever had a troubled heart full of worries felt better after speaking with Reb Binyamin. He was popular not only with frum Jews of his kind but also with secular enlightened ones, who had great respect for this Hasidic Jew.
Aside from the fact that he was not very wealthy, Reb Binyamin always had an open hand to help those in need. There were times when he neglected his own livelihood in order to do communal work. He forgave debts that poor people owed him and encouraged them, saying that when God will help them and they will get back on their feet, then they will pay their debts.
With particular love Reb Binyamin fulfilled the mitzvah of hakhnasat orkhim. When a night's lodging was needed for a guest, Reb Binyamin Malina's address was always know. Though his wife was nearly always sick, his house was always open for everyone. He would tell his children to give up their beds for the visiting strangers, and father's word was the law. The weak wife and the children never had any complaints to Reb Binyamin. Just the opposite -- they always helped him to fulfill his requests.
Reb Binyamin Malina ZL, whose life was so closely tied up with the Jews of Ciechanow, together with all the Ciechanow Jews, lost their lives for Kiddush Hashem during the annihilation of Polish Jewry. His wife Frumet perished and his two sons -- Boruch-Shmuel and Shmuel-Dovid, and their daughter Rokhl Rosenshtein. Left living from the Malina family are: Chana-Raizl Fish, Chaim Leib Malina in America, Moishe Malina and Tziporah Aaronovich in Israel.
World problems, Zionism, revival of our nation on its own soil -- were Reb Yaacov Misher's beloved concerns, both in his private discussions and in his public appearances.
Reb Yaacov Misher was a central figure in Ciechanow. He was a member in all institutions, where he participated not only with his own work, but also with much money, and in this way was an example for everyone.
It is worthwhile to mention the case with the fire brigade.
There was, in Ciechanow as in other cities, a Christian fire brigade. Jews did not go there. When there was a fire in a Jewish house the effort to put it out was much less than when it was a Christian house. Reb Yaacov could not stand this and started to conduct propaganda for Jews to be part of the fire brigade as well, and he joined the first one. So the situation improved a lot. It was interesting to watch Reb Yaacov during a fire. Dressed in the blue jacket, and the brass helmet on his head, he ran around with a shiny trumpet and alarmed everyone.
Reb Yaacov was often elected as an officer in the Jewish Kehillah and was outstanding with his oratorical talent.
Specifically great was his devoted work for Zionism. At the first sprouting of Zionism in Ciechanow he was amongst the first who threw himself into the work. Naturally, he suffered a lot from the opponents, and he was even distanced from the Gerer shtibl. But Reb Yaacov was not discouraged by all these opponents, and worked tirelessly for the holy ideas.
Reb Yaacov Misher's most holy dream was to send his son away to Eretz Yisroel and afterwards come there himself to settle. Unfortunately, his dream did not materialize. He perished, together with millions of Jews, in one of the lagers or in a gas chamber.
Much has been written in this book about Reb Yisroel Yaacov Student. He had many Hasidim. It was hard for him (for Reb Yenkl as he was called) to pronounce the letter r - therefore he called his daughter Lukhl. This name for some reason appealed to all of us and so we all called her that to this day. She wasn't insulted. Apparently the name was very dear to her. Reb Yisroel Yenkl didn't have much time to devote to his three daughters. He spent most of his time on Hebrew sacred texts -- little time for his livelihood that came to him with much difficulty. Deep in thought, short-sighted, he crossed the street without taking note of anyone. He didn't interfere in household matters. He depended on his daughter and agreed with them in all matters. He knew all their friends and called them all by their names. He spoke to us at home, honored us, and took an interest in our lives.
It once happened that my one-year-old daughter woke up at night because of the noise that my friends and I caused in the house late at night. The child couldn't calm down in spite of all my efforts. She didn't eat, cried non-stop. In desperation I decided to seek help from Reb Yisroel Yenkl regarding an Eyin Hara (evil eye). He listened to me patiently, calmed me, and said: Let Dvora put the child to bed without food, let there be complete quiet in the house, and Dvora also must rest.
And what about the prayer regarding the Eiyin Hara? I asked.
If Dvora will be quiet, everything will improve.
I listened to him - and a miracle happened. The child woke up healthy, quiet and refreshed. I was delighted. The Eyin Hara was ineffective, thanks to the prayer of Reb Yisroel Yenkl. I want to thank him. Once again he listens to me attentively, patiently, telling me not to allow loud noise in the house during the hours when the child is asleep. I thank him and go towards the door. And at that moment he says to me: I had the impression that she is an understanding child, Dvora! I erred apparently -- she's a foolish child.
About many victims of the Shoah it is written in the book, The Merit of Avraham (Zkhuta d'Avraham). My husband did not understand the spirit in which I bought this book. In it there is an article about the father of Lukhel, Reb Yisroel Yaacov ZL, our next-door neighbor in Ciechanow.
He was a man such as is generally called a good Yid -- a great Torah scholar who never missed studying the Daf Yomi with others. He was full of Hasidic fervor and was always ready to rush to do a mitzvah for another Jew.
He died a tragic death.
Someone reported him and other two Jews to the Germans that he and Reb Avraham Friedman and Reb Berish Kleinetz, had removed the bones of the Ciechanow Tzadik ZL and buried them elsewhere.
For this sin the Hitlerites hanged these three Jews in the marketplace.
Was from amongst the finest Jews in Ciechanow. A beautiful Torah scholar and learned from generations of ancestors -- a prominent merchant. Was a member of Mizrachi. Did much for the Yishuv in the Land of Israel. Gave money for the Yishuv even before the political Zionism.
With part of his family he was put through torture by the Germans.
Adla appears before my eyes whenever I think or write about my youth, about my beloved Ciechanow. Adla always comes to mind when I think about our group of Hashomeir Hatzair, and many others remember this tall girl with dark eyes, friendly to everyone. Her house was always open to those who wanted to learn and make something of their lives. Adla did not base her merit on her family, but rather on her own merit, her wonderful personality, her wisdom. She knew how to get to the root of problems.
What was her human outlook? Adla wanted above all to be a good human being, a free soul, idealist and intellectual. She felt good amongst our group. Here I feel I'm amongst deep thinkers and people who have a goal in life she would say.
She had more education than most of her age. She knew how to be silent and her silence spoke in a friendly language from heart to heart. And when she did speak her words rang deep. She knew how to listen and was a dear friend to many.
She was an active group member with all her heart and soul, observing fully all the negative and positive commandments.
Only in one respect did she set herself apart. Adla chose a different way. She decided to go to France to study medicine. Nobody imagined that this choice would cause Adla to perish amongst millions.
How well I remember some of her words and I shall quote them here:
A certain force pushes me to study, separate from what I know and my aim in life -- as though I was caught up in something over which I have no power. A person is made up of many contrasting pulls, each one pulling in a different direction. There is a curiosity within me that wants to learn and know and on the other hand to put all this aside and return to my group and to the people of my dear Ciechanow.
I'm sure that I'll come out of all this turmoil. I have seen death in my family and I know that life is nothing compared to eternity, that man is the most tragic creature. The thought of the end doesn't leave him for a moment. I'll learn and discover the secret of life so that I'll be able to extend it. I'll be a physician.
When I sit in the library I feel the eyes of the young who are learning to fulfill themselves with spiritual effort, as though wanting to dig deep to discover the secret of life. I'm so happy at such moments.
This and similar thoughts Adla wrote when she was 17-18. From whence do such deep thoughts come to a girl of this age?
Her way was special, because Adla was very individualistic. In a special way and in a search for what was right -- this was her way and she constantly sought it and found it, not in the known paths. So it was in her walks and so in her life as the leader of a group she found what was special in the approach to education.
She chose as a name for the group she led B'Tzedek Hakfari. The choice of this name was to explain the relationship between man and his God.
The boy -- the Tzadik who davened in shul on Yom Kippur, not knowing how to read, felt privileged to be able to express himself by whistling and ran off to the nearby forest to do so.
Would he have done something like this in public?
Yes, she said. In this way it's possible to feel God's closeness and in this different way this whistling prayer of the boy was acceptable because that was his way of feeling close to God and he felt sure that he would be understood and pardoned.
We spent many hours in friendship together. We spoke about the future and dreamt dreams that took us far away.
How sorrowful it is, Adla, that your young life was cut off and you were not able to realize your dreams! You were together with all the other dear members in our life. We shall remember you always.
Reb Avraham Friedman
Reb Avraham Friedman conducted his communal work quietly and modestly. We never heard him speak loudly and there wasn't a single religious institution in which Reb Avraham did not participate. He was very attached to his friend, Reb Binyamin Malina. Together they bore the responsibility of looking after the needs of the Kehillah. Here are the facts:
In the year 1920, when Haller's army spread out in Ciechanow, their first job was to torture Jews. When a bearded Jew showed up in the street, the hooligan soldiers tore out his beard, together with pieces of flesh. There was fear of going out of the house. Reb Avraham Friedman and Reb Binyamin Malina then fearlessly fulfilled their duty and went to complain to the authorities. They carried out funerals and gave the dead a proper burial. The hooligan soldiers, in return, attacked both of these men and tore out their beards.
During that difficult winter there was a shortage of heating fuel and the study of Torah could not take place in the Bais Hamedresh, Reb Avraham Friedman brought coal from his home and heated the oven in the Bais Hamedresh. The learners could once more sit with their Gemaras and the words of Torah were heard once more.
Every mitzvah was clear and holy for Reb Avraham. He made sure that there should be a hygienic mikveh so that the laws of family purity would be observed. He occupied himself with the Burial Society and arranged their celebrations. Reb Avraham's communal work was very widespread as well. He was active in the Agudah and was its representative in the Kehillah, in the Folks Bank and other institutions.
In the spirit of religious observance and on behalf of the Kehillah, he also raised his children. His daughters were active amongst the B'not Agudat Yisroel. One daughter, Yokhevet, was a teacher in the Bais Yaacov School. The son, Mordecai Eliezer, was the leader of the Tzirei Agudat Yisroel. His wife was active in the committee for Taharat Mishpakha.
Reb Avraham Friedman displayed great self-sacrifice during the destruction of the Jews in World War II. The Germans issued an order that the Jews must walk in the middle of the street. When a Jew forgot and d and walked on the sidewalk, the Germans shot him and for a long time didn't allow the body to be buried at a Jewish cemetery. Reb Avraham Friedman risked his life and carried the murdered ones on his shoulders to give them a Jewish burial. The Germans went after him and shot and wound wounded him in the leg. Reb Avraham carried on his work with his leg bandaged.
Finally came the last chapter in Reb Avraham's life of holiness. Together with Yisroel-Yaacov Student and Berish Kleinetz, Reb Avraham Friedman carried the bones of Reb Avramele Ciechanower that the Germans shamefully buried, to the new Jewish cemetery. Reb Avraham Friedman also buried the damaged Torah scrolls. The Germans caught him doing this sin and this holy man was murdered by hanging, together with the two holy men, Reb Berish Kleinetz and Reb Yisroel-Yaacov Student.
The Friedman brothers
He was the leader of a group of Hashomeir Hatzair from 1928-31.
He perished in Auschwitz in 1942.
He was of medium height. Had a serious face, full of assurance and characteristics of a leader. Very capable -- that's what Urku was like.
In spite of the fact that he was the group's leader, and he was an example, very sympathetic, he was an enterprising man and demanded much of himself and of others. He was an observant Jew and a man of action. His personality left its mark on all his work and with his death there was a terrible void. He gave a feeling of security to all who were around him from the young to the old.
We called him Urku. It was a nickname lovingly spoken. His voice rang with a special warmth when he instructed the group. Still, he was pleasant and could joke as well.
How to describe him further?
A bright smile, two rows of fine teeth. His smile elicited confidence so that one wanted to follow him.
Urku's life was not easy. His home was not a rich one but an honorable one. There were differences of opinion in the Kostsheva family. In their store one could hear different opinions and discussions about world and Jewish problems, each with a group of followers, both of the right and the left, from Zionists to assimilated ones, the whole rainbow of outlooks. Urku was the youngest of his brothers but he was given much respect. As a youngster he already knew how to stick by his own opinion.
Urku was the leader of a Hashomeir Hatzair group for a number of years. He added to his leadership with his personal charm and the group gave a flavor to his young life, full of action. He was the faithful instructor of the leaders Moishe Lutsky, may he live long, head of the group Daz. I don't know how many classes Urku completed at school, how much school education he acquired, what kind of report cards he got from his teachers. His education was based on the deep sources of Hashomeir. He was a student and a teacher who succeeded in instilling in the young people faith in the future full of light and justice in the kibbutz. Urku built himself learning and outlook of the world and became a serious and dear individual.
Urku did not live to realize his ideas. His dreams, like those of many others, were not for him to reach.
Reb Avraham Aaron Kelman
Reb Avraham Aaron Kelman was born in 1883. His father's name was Yitzhak. The writer of these lines knew Reb Avraham from the young years on. From his young age, people already sensed that from this youngster much could be expected. Reb Avraham-Aaron distinguished himself already as a young boy in his serious learning. He studied at the Lomzer Yeshiva and was a good learner there. He always wanted, however, to do work with his hands and ended up earning his living as a locksmith.
Reb Avraham-Aaron was an honest man, an honest Jew, and devoted to the Kehillah. He devoted his whole life, his time and income for others. He could well serve as an example for learning Torah and receiving guests. He concentrated all his thoughts in implanting in the young and even in the older generation -- the love of learning Torah and hakhnasat orchim. The Talmud Torah of Ciechanow rested completely on his shoulders and he sacrificed everything for its existence, hired the best teachers, and though the budget increased, it did not scare him.
Money was never lacking. Reb Avraham-Aaron made sure of that. The custom of Hakhnasat Orchim was very important for him. When a guest came to Ciechanow and there didn't happen to be anywhere for him to sleep, everyone knew that the guest had to be brought to Reb Avraham-Aaron. At his place a place will never be lacking, not only for the guest, but for as many as will come. Avraham-Aaron slept it mattered not where, and gave his place and the cushion from beneath his head to the visitors. The same applied with food for the guests. From his house nobody departed hungry, and though he himself was poor and oft times hardly had what to eat himself, he always had a ready table for the guests.
It is very painful to recall the tragic death of Reb Avraham-Aaron. He was the first one to perish at the hands of the Germans in our shtetl. As he went out of his shop a mischievous bullet of a German soldier killed him on the spot for no reason.
A Few Lines About My Teacher Reb Avraham-Aaron Kelman
As I set out to write, at the request of the Committee of Ciechanow Jews, about the community worker, or more correctly, the one who worked on the Kehillah's behalf so faithfully, one who with his work on behalf of others is hard to duplicate, I must dwell on three aspects of his world. Torah and good deeds and acts of loving-kindness. I couldn't free myself from the pain in my heart even though fifteen years have passed since those terrible days when the ones most dear and close, parents, siblings, teachers, who left such precious memories with me, memories of my youth and growing up as were the days of Jewish youngsters growing up in Poland. Those days ended so inhumanly that we couldn't utter it or think about it. And those fifteen years for us in Israel. Those years of our national revival were years of our full destiny in which we saw the establishment of Israel. Like compensation by divine decree for what had happened to them there. A terrible feeling! A dreadful price. Our wise men said that we must forget the dead in our hearts otherwise it is not possible to go on living. Therefore every opportunity to memorialize the names of those who perished so tragically.
May they not be forgotten. And I shall try to devote a few lines to my teacher, my guide, Reb Avraham-Kelman of blessed memory. I remember the house, the roof of the Talmud Torah building amongst the neighboring buildings of Jewish Ciechanow, the mikveh, and to the right of the old Jewish cemetery where Reb Avremele Ciechanower is buried. I remember also the stories about souls of departed that emerge in the mikveh during the night and go afterwards to pray in the great shul whose windows reflect the sunlight.
I remember the Talmud Torah and its director, Reb Avraham-Aaron. Early in the morning, he was there to open the Talmud Torah. He would be carrying his large bag that held his tallis and tfillin. His look was strict but loving. He would go from room to room in the Talmud Torah to see how the students were doing. He had a special love for the class of Reb Shlomo Zalman. He liked to chat with him because there was a special relationship between them. Afterwards he would put his tallis and tfillin in his office. He would check to see what repairs the building needed. Sometimes right after prayers in the Bais Hamedresh he would go to the Yeshiva Bais Avraham to hear a shiur given by Reb Avraham-Yonatan Kuzlovsky to his students.
Reb Avraham-Yonatan excelled in his explanations and would elucidate various points of view. And Reb Avraham Aaron got lots of naches: I remember times when we used to immerse ourselves together in study. And when he recognized that a student was particularly adept at learning he would do everything possible to send him away for further learning. He used to go to the parents and convince them to let their son go away to study further. And there was a saying amongst us that for Reb Avraham a bit of cholent on Shabbat is enough for him until the third Shabbat meal because of the special additional spirit he derived from Shabbat, and when one of the boys left to learn and trade he would be happy when he saw him in the Bais Hamedresh for this was Torah with derekh eretz.
And he had special love for the Land of Israel. He sent his son to Eretz Yisroel with the fourth aliyah, and every letter that he received from Eretz Yisroel was very special for him. And I remember all his aid and rush to do good deeds. Oft times when I was in his house I would see that his bed is made up on the floor to make room for a guest. This was the kind of person Reb Aaron Kelman of blessed memory was. And survivors of the Shoah, from Ciechanow, tell that he was amongst the first to perish at the hands of the Nazis ymakh shmam and that he died with his tallis and tfillin bag under his arms.
Reb Berish Kleinetz
As a young man he was already active in the community. As a young man he was already active in the Burial Society and later in all philanthropic institutions. He was also someone who would sacrifice himself for others and sought out opportunities to do a favor for another Jew.
He was one of the holy martyrs whom the Germans hung in the marketplace.
Reb Moishe-Yaacov Rakovsky was one of the great Torah scholars. He was a descendant of the Plotzker Rov, famous for his iron head. He was an active member of the Agudah and in philanthropic institutions. Several times he was on the Kehillah leadership and a representative of the Agudah in various state institutions.
He was a great philanthropist and his house was always open for guests. He was active in all the Ciechanow institutions on whose behalf he worked and to which he contributed much money.
As one of the first Zionists in Ciechanow, Reb Shloime Rubinstein was the founder of Mizrachi in Ciechanow, together with Eliezer Auerbach and the writer of these lines.
He was also one of the finest members of the community and every Yomtov he davened elsewhere.
Let us recall here his wife Esther who also took part in all community philanthropies and contributed a lot of money.
He was tortured by the Germans together with his wife and only daughter.
A. D. Vinditsky
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