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About the Community and Immigration

At the end of the 17th century there were about 400 people living in Czyzewo and 150 years later, there were about 2500 people, including all the Jews in the surrounding villages. The Jewish population in Czyzewo remained the same until the end of the 19th century.

In the last 50 years of the town's existence, the young people emigrated and went to the New World, mainly to North America and in the last 20 years, also to Israel.


czy077a.jpg [16 KB]
Welwel Jabka, the famous droshky driver,
at the station in Czyzewo –
Leja Zylbersztejn and a tourist.




The Relationship between Jews and their non-Jewish Neighbors

The relationship between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, with a small number of exceptions, was good. The entire area was made up of aristocratic courts (estates) and semi-enslaved farm hands and the rest were gentry, the so-called "pans" (squires).

As the Polish gentry had always found commerce and trade distasteful, they had come to an agreement with the small merchants and traveling peddlers to act as a go-between between those in need of a service and the Jews. They were happy to provide they service and would send Jews from the nearby town. Jewish merchants, butchers and artisans were able to go out freely by day and by night, without fear, and travel around to the near and far villages. Every Christian house was able to serve as an inn. Every peasant cooked, with pleasure, (in the special pot that the Jew had brought with him) a little something for the Jewish artisan, or traveling peddler. The peasant always took the Jew with him to milk the cow, so he would be sure that the milk went right into the special pot and the Jew would be able to drink it.

Only during the week of Passover the Jews did not travel in the villages among the gentiles. For the most part, during the week of Passover, Jews avoided leaving their homes.

Relations with the Polish population were truly friendly. Every Pole was loyal to his stores and merchants. They never forgot to bring a gift in honor of a Jewish holiday: a fat hen, a basket of eggs or only a sack of apples and pears.

Also, a Jewish storekeeper never forgot before Passover to distribute matzah to all his important clients. Fridays he would honor them with gefilte fish.

Even the town intelligentsia had Jewish friends. How often for example, the apothecary Paris had theorized about what a pain the Jews generally were, but Lejzor-Salte's stood as the master of honesty.

The idyll ended in 1935/36 with the heavy boycott lead by Organinski.



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Volunteer fire brigade with Shalom Grynberg (in the center)




The Town's Christian Intelligentsia

There were about 30 to 40 non-Jewish families living in Czyzewo. They were the community officials, post office, police, teachers, private tutors, 2 or 3 storekeepers, a baker, a wine tavern, priests and their families, an apothecary, 2 doctors, 1 artisan, 2 agents, etc. The officials did not have any competition from the Jews. On the contrary, the Jewish population was necessary for their material needs. Consequently, everything superficially was in order. Those who were forced to earn a living in pursuits similar to those of the Jews exhibited certain hatreds. The professionals belonged to the extreme right in Polish society and were exposed to negative ideas and an attitude of hatred for Jews. One did not expect to be liked by them. However, it must be said that their attitude towards the Jewish population was correct. Naturally they took care that there would never be a Jewish doctor in Czyzewo. During the years when the Jewish doctor Gelbaum lived and practiced, they did everything to make his life difficult. The attitude of the Christian doctors was downright hatred. Even Paris, the apothecary, sabotaged him whenever possible. When Dr. Gelbaum was forced to leave Czyzewo, the Jewish doctors who came after him, without exception, were not able to exist. One after the other they left town.

In General, the Christians lived apart from the Jews, even the youngsters scarcely met together. Once, once, at a ball organized by the firemen, one Christian took part in a Jewish entertainment for a charity.



Economic Structure

The economic structure of Czyzewo was not very complicated. Artisans and merchants – they were at the high end of the economic scale. There was no industry, even in the surrounding area. To reach the nearest industrialized town, Bialystok, one had to travel 67 kilometers.



Stationary and traveling Artisans (Tradesmen)

One encountered a variety of tradesmen among the Jewish artisans: shoemakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cabinetmakers, tinsmiths, shinglers, roofers, bakers, butchers, hairdressers, watchmakers, wheelwrights, bricklayers, thatchers, turners, cap makers, tanners, etc. There was not a trade in which either the Christian or the Jewish populations were in need of that the Jewish artisans were not able to provide.

There were stationary and mobile artisans. In the category of mobile or wandering artisans belonged the carpenters who would travel to the villages from Monday to Friday afternoon and build houses for the peasants or stables. They lived in the village the entire week. Friday afternoon the "gospodarz" (landlord) took him home for Shabes. Monday morning he would bring him back. Among those who belonged to the wandering artisans were the tanners and tailors. Monday morning one would see a peasant wagon go to pick up the tailor, his associate and machine and then bringing him back Friday before candle lighting.

Some of the artisans would travel with their merchandise to the fairs in neighboring towns and villages. They were the so-called second class artisans. They would turn out ready-t-wear boots, clothes, furs, hats, various tin bowls, furniture, wagon wheels, spinning wheels and also bakers. There were also blacksmiths would travel around to the markets with a stock of various horseshoes and shoed the horses on the spot. Aside from several Polish shoemakers who made shoes for Jewish businesses and a baker, there were not any Christian artisans in Czyzewo.



Commerce

Jewish commerce encompassed all possible and necessary branches. The economically strong businesses were 2 iron stores, 2-3 wood warehouses, two shoe businesses, 2-3 wholesalers of building materials and also several manufacturing concerns. The rest were small food stores, fancy and dry goods stores, wine taverns, grain traders and horse dealers. The butchers were in charge of cattle trading and they would buy up cattle for slaughter. Livestock sales took place only at the fairs and peasants would buy one or two animals, sometimes for milk. Horse dealing was also done at the fairs. But there were stables where horses could be bought on certain days, besides at the fairs. The poorest of the fancy goods manufacturers and shoe merchants would also pack up their little bit of merchandise and leave for the neighboring towns and villages along with the artisans to sell their wares at the fairs.



Small Industry

Except for the specifically Jewish Tzitzis industry, Czyzewo also had a brush factory, that employed 4 to 6 workers and would deliver brushes from Rejz-Wurcel to Grodno, Suwalk, Wolkowisk and even Bialystok. In the Czyzewo area there was a source of soft wood trees and cheap, unorganized labor. Meshal Blajwajs, who was smart, had developed this trade into a respectable scope. Until the First World War there was also a good, firmly established soap factory that belonged to the Rabinowicz family. The factory burned along with the shtetl during the retreat of the Russian military in 1915. Also the four windmills were burned at the same time.

After the doomed windmills, two steam mills came into existence and were able mill all of the flour and feed for the entire area. And in a year when the wheat harvest was good, they were able to export flour to Bialystok and Warszawa. The two mills were able to give employment, along with the owners, to 15 to 20 families.



Passenger Transportation

About ten families were able to earn a living by passenger transportation and transporting goods. Besides the railroad line, the main connection with the neighboring towns and villages was the horse and wagon. Every morning Szlama Zelman Hofman would come to the market with his covered wagon, harnessed with three horses (he spoke of them as "eagles"), round up his passengers and at the appointed hour he would get on the road to Lomza, a journey of 50 kilometers.

Szlama Zelman Hofman went to Zambrów, 22 kilometers away; Lejzor Nebach had the concession for Ciechanowiec, 20 kilometers away and his son, Jehuda Mendel, inherited this run.

The only driver to go to Zaremby was Szmuelke Koszleon. The road to Zaremby was difficult, as it was sand. Therefore he never had any competition. His son Michal took over after him.

Andrzejewo, the closest town to Czyzewo, about 8 kilometers distant, was connected with a regular horse and wagon passenger service, but this route belonged to an Andrzejewer, perhaps because he was a Czyzewer son-in-law.

The above-mentioned three passenger services, running on good highways, were at the beginning of the 1930's done away with. Horses and wagons gave way to the newly arrived automobile.

There was not any stable connection with Wysockie Mazowieckie, Nur, Sterdyn and Sokolów. Within the district, people would travel through the Szepetów by train. "Nur" would come with it's wagons. Sterdyn and Sokolów were connected to Czyzewo through family affairs and Hasidim who did not need daily transport.



Transport

Some of the drivers started passenger traffic to the railroad station. About eight families were employed at this. Others were occupied by transporting goods from the station and back. Some families lived by being porters, loading and unloading heavy cargo.



Religious Personnel and Professionals

At a certain time there lived in Czyzewo a dentist's family that did not stay long, especially when a Polish dentist arrived. A Jewish doctor lived and practiced for a long time. In the late 1930's there were three Jewish teachers in the state school, also 5 to 6 teachers in the Jewish schools such as the modern heder, Beis Yakov, heder, Yesodi haTorah heder. There were two ritual slaughterers, two sextons, 1 bath attendant, two gravestone engravers, a scribe (for religious purposes, i.e. Torahs, phylacteries, etc.), melamdim (heder teachers) for all grades and a rabbi. For the last 36 years until the Second World War, the rabbi was Rabbi Szmul Dawid Zawlodower.



Various Businesses

The following businesses were in Czyzewo: a cotton wadding factory, a wool carder, a small soda water factory, a soap factory. Egg and fowl merchants, lease holders and several families made oil for domestic use. There were freight forwarders and a specialist for sick horses who did not have a university education.

Until Poland's independence, a number of Czyzewer Jews were occupied with illegal emigration. They smuggled emigrants going to America across the border.



Social Life

Until the end of the 18th century, social life was very limited. During the week Jews were busy earning a living. In the early hours of the morning (from 3 am until they had to work) and evening hours, Jews would go to the kloiz (small prayer room in a person's house or business) and pray as a minion. After Maariv, they would sit for a while in the bes midresh (house of study and synagogue) near the warm oven and talk about various subjects that were of concern to everyone. The scholars were not occupied with this nonsense. They used the early morning hours to study Torah.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Hasidic wind began to penetrate the town. At that time the ruling of society went over to the Hasidim and dominant among them were the Ger Hasidim and they cooperated in getting Rabbi Boruch Szapiro of Stuczyn to settle in town. He was one of the followers of the Kocker court and and a supporter of the later Ger rebbe.

For a short time Rabbi Chaim Lejb Kaliszyner lived in town, also a supporter of the Kocker rebbe and later the founder of the Kaliszyner dynasty.

Playing second fiddle in society life were the followers of the Aleksander rebbe. Both had Hasidic shtiblach (prayer rooms) with rich religious libraries. Besides concentrating on Hasidism, both also concerned themselves with all learning and making sure the town was G_d-fearing. There were also Sokolower and Amszynower Hasidim in town. The latter had a great influence on the common people, on the bes midresh Jews. It was the cause at that time of a sadly, famous "difference of opinion". The Snaidower-Wizners kept the Amszynowers with them and even became leaders of that faction. It is worthy of mention that at the end of the "difference of opinion" in 1903, Czyzewo chose an Amszynower Hasid as rabbi. This shows that there was a compromise as everyone was tired of the "difference of opinion" that had lasted for years, brought insults, anger and worse still disgrace and shame.

The main faction in the difference of opinion was the Gerer and therefore it is not difficult to understand why the official greeters of the young rabbi were two respected men from the Aleksander shtibl, Israel Icchok Gorzalczany and Israel Tyktin, who had been sent to Ostrolenka to give the rabbinical contract to the young, 23 year-old gaon (genius) Reb Szmul Dawid Zawlodower.

It is worthwhile mentioning that after Reb Szmul Dawid became the leader, there were no longer any disputes between the Besmidresh Jews and the Hasidim. On the contrary, the shtiblach gave the besmidresh prayer readers, a cantor who was a Ger Hasid, a cantor for the additional service who was an Aleksander Hasid and even a reader of the law who was a shtibl Jew, for the Days of Awe (High Holy Days).

The bes midresh Jews were the so-called "common people", Jewish artisans and workers, hardly scholars. If in the last years pretty gamara melodies were heard coming from the bes midresh, it was the daily page, led by Israel Jona Raczkowski, a Ger Hasid. Mainly Hasidic youngsters were learning there.

In the bes midresh there was a table where a Hasid would constantly study a Mishna (collection of traditional laws) lesson, or something else. There were also half-slumbering bes midresh Jews sitting there. But the study of Torah with enthusiasm, ardor, and the right traditional melody could only be heard in the two Hasidic shtiblach. Therefore it is no wonder that when a young Litvak misnaged (those against Hasidism) groom arrived, who was receiving room and board from his father-in-law, a scholar such as Israel-Icchok at the beginning against his will had to go to the shtibl. Only there could he find his equals. Besides him, there was the famous "missionary" Wolf Lejb the melamed, who if he cast an eye on a good young misnaged, a good student, or a recently returned students from the yeshiva, had to rescue him and make a Ger Hasid of him.

There was also a small "Khevre Mishnayos" (Mishnah study group) in the bes midresh in which the comfortable Misnagdim Jews, who were not great scholars but also were not ignorant, studied every day a Mishnah chapter with the people. There were "shtibl-Jews". The first lesson giver was Israel Tiktin, then later Szlama Israel Gdalja's.

The founders of the "Khevre Mishnayos" were the brothers Mendl and Nuske Gromadzyn, the brothers Mosze and Mendl Niewad, Jekel Wibitker, Abraham Chaim the "zimer", Szmulja Gaczer, Kelman Zajonc, Judel Orlinski, Icchok Hersz the melamed, etc.



The First Winds of Enlightenment

During all the hundreds of years that Czyzewo existed, in this area virtually nothing changed.

When a boy was three years old, his father wrapped the boy in his talis (prayer shawl) and took him to heder to the grammar melamed. From the grammar melamed he went to the humash-melamed (Bible teacher). Later he went on to Gemara with the Toisefes (additional discussions of the Mishna) melamed. The last stage was undertaken ordinarily only by children from Hasidic families, or sons of rich Misnagdim. Later they traveled the roads to the various Polish yeshivas in Radun, Lomza, Brisk, Warszawa and others. Still later, to the Lublin yeshiva. During the era of Russian rule, there was a law about compulsory schooling, but Jews ignored the decree. It was rare that somebody attended the government school. This was also perhaps because to study with a multitude of gentile boys, meant risking your life.

Those who had the desire to study were self-taught. There were several who received an academic education, i.e. Chaim Szmul the schochet's son. He had the strength to fight for the title of engineer. There were also private teachers, who gave Russian lessons, or Polish and arithmetic. Of course these lessons were only available to the children of rich parents.

There were also Rebetzin (Rabbi's wives) who taught young women to pray, write and do simple arithmetic. The first public school for Jewish children was founded in 1916 during the German occupation. The principal of the school was Lewi Icchok Rubinsztejn. The boys went to school in the afternoon. At first the school was in a room at the hospital and later in Surewicz's house.

With the coming of Polish independence, the two Jewish professionals, the Jewish Dr. Gelbaum and the Jewish dentist Szachnerowicz (the first dentist in the shtetl during its existence) began to organize a Jewish public school that was run by Mrs. Gelbojm with the help of Miss Blajwajs. The school only had the lower grades. Those who wanted to continue in public school through grades 7 and 8 had to go to a larger town. Only westernized Jews sent their daughters to study in other towns, i.e. Lewi Belczyk, Gorzalczany, Lepak, Prawda and Kejmowicz.

In the 1930's there was already a government public school for Jewish children that was run according to the government plan. Jewish teachers were Kliar, Chmiel etc and there were also Christian teachers in the Jewish public school.

The winds of enlightenment first began to blow during the German occupation in 1916. The older young people received a taste of knowledge. They wanted to broaden their amateur ideas and then a Jewish public library was founded. The following young people were among he first founders: Alter Szerszyn, Alter Baran, Dow Brukarz, Bucze Jablonka, and Plocker. The first managers were Dr. Gelbaum and H. Szachnerowicz.

Also at that time a Dramatic Circle was created in order to support the library.

During the time of the Japanese-Russian War in 1905, when revolutionary unrest broke out in Russia, the Jewish youth in Czyzewo also revolted. But this was not a class struggle. This was a revolt against the social slavery of their parents.

With the suppression of the revolution in Russia, the social uprising in Czyzewo also came to an end. Once again daughters were slapped by their fathers for only being suspected of speaking to a young man. Once again the father waited for evening when he could catch his son or daughter with a Yiddish book. The first enlightenment was suppressed but not extinguished and it awoke ten years later.

The younger generation carried on difficult wars with the older generation for every concession. Only with great difficulty were they able to get a room for the library. Excommunication was the main weapon against the rebels. There were never ending disturbances at the theater.

First at the beginning of the 1930's it stopped. The older generation had to capitulate to the coming generation of middle class young people who did not have the same politics as the old Hasidic world. On the wings of the Zionist movement they built new cultural institutions in the shtetl.

Besides the government school, during the late 1920's, Agudas Israel (Orthodox group) founded the modern girls' school called Beis Yakov. One of the best graduates from Sara Szenirer's Beis Yakow seminary, Professor Tojba, was brought to the shtetl. Also founded through Agudas Israel was a school for boys called Heder Yesodi HaTorah. In both schools secular and religious subjects were taught.

Through the Zionist youth, under the leadership of Jechiel Oszer Prawda, the "modern heder" was created where boys and girls learned together. Starting with pre-school, Hebrew and other subjects were taught according to modern methods. The directors of the school brought qualified, young, Jewish teachers, graduates of the Tarbut seminary in Wilna and Warszawa. Special buildings were erected for the above mentioned schools.



Jewish Parties (Political)

There were always sympathizers of the Lovers of Zion movement in Czyzewo, but these sentiments were only strongly expressed after the Balfour Declaration. Then parties of all shades and directions were established. The General Zionist Organization, Mizrachi, League for a Working Eretz Israel, Bet'ar, HaShomer HaLeumi. All had a headquarters where the youth would gather and talk about events, study and broaden their general and political ideas. Also Agudas Israel and the Tzeiri Agudas Israel carried out substantial activities.

The leftist organizations showed very little life. The Communist Party was outlawed. There were, it seems, no Bundist activities in Czyzewo.

From 1923 to 1926 the left took part in certain activities. These consisted of ransacking the public library and in other demonstrative acts of this nature. The Communists were brought to trial and as a result one young man was sentenced to a year in jail.



Institutions

In Czyzewo there existed government institutions such as the Polish "gmina" (community) and the Jewish Kehilla (community council). There were also religious institutions such as the synagogues and Hasidic prayer room. Additional institutions were the Jewish People's Bank, Free Loan Fund run by the Zionist youth, Agudas Israel, Tarbut library, "Centos", (orphanages run by the "Joint"), "Toz" (the "Joint"s" health care for children), Bikur Holim (visiting the sick), Linat HaZedek (caring for the sick), Zionist organization clubs, League for a Working Eretz Israel, Mizrachi, Tzeiri-Mizrachi and Bet'ar (belonging to the Revisionist Party). There was a modern heder and Beis-Yakov a merchant society and artisans' union.

All the institutions were partially or totally run by young people who developed these activities and demonstrated that it was possible for young people and also entire families to go to Israel.

The 1st September 1939, the Second World War broke out. The tragic events of this war put an end to all of this. The 7th September 1939, the shtetl was taken over by the Hitlerites.

The 10th October the Hitlerites retreated and the shtetl was occupied by the Soviets.

The 22nd June 1941 – The Hitlerites occupied the town.

The 15th August 1941 (25 Av) – The first round-up, 1750 Jews were murdered in Szulborze.

The 10th September 1941 the ghetto was created in the shtetl.

November 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. All the Jews who were still alive were taken to Zambrów.

January 1943 – The rest of the Czyzewo Jews were sent to the crematorium in Auschwitz.

Those who survived along with who had immigrated to Israel and with the help of the Czyzewo landsmanschaft in New York, Mexico, Buenos Aires and around the world created this memorial book to the memory of Czyzewo that once was, is no more and will never be again.


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