by A. Szwarc, of blessed memory
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
We will remain the eternal dreamers,
Who cannot find any rest on the way;
The sunny days of youth
Once intoxicated our blood, like wine.
Like experienced hands in the field,
Like white small clouds in the blueness of heaven
That wriggles terrified in a net of dreams
We will remain the eternal dreamers
*A liturgical poem
by Arieh Khativa
Translated by Selwyn Rose
In every man's heart is hidden a certain special measure of love for the house in which he was born, his town or his village, the place in which he grew and took his first steps. However, that is the attachment and the special affection that the people of Goniadz have for the town where they were born, refined, without a doubt, by the magic of the passage of time: her forests, river, her fields and meadows, her hills and gardens. It is seemly, therefore, to place a memorialstone to our pleasant childhood's cradle whose earth has been sanctified with the blood of our loved ones and it will also be a kind of memorial to those of our martyrs whose pure souls breathed their last far from her borders in a land of blood and whose burial place is not known.
In my mind's eye, my spirit flies to the distant days of my childhood, through the streets of Goniadz, looking in the homes, wandering through her lanes and scenery. Here I stand on top of the hill by the synagogue and face north. On the horizon is stretched a
|The youth on a boat on the river Bober on the hill in the background the synagogue and the brewery of Yaakov Rudeski.|
thick black line, neither its beginning, nor its end can be seen. A veil of mystery is spread over the mass of that forest. Perhaps beyond there are The Dark Mountains the location of the exiled tentribes. For sure the River Sambotion also rushes there although no sound reaches to here.
My eyes probe between the tall pine trees before me. On the hill yellow sand shining in the distance, I see the straw roofs of parts of the town; isn't that the dwellingplace of the giants? Or perhaps that is where Nimrod the Mighty Hunter lives.
Beneath the black line a green carpet a grassy wilderness, with no beginning and no end. When the eye stops, it sees herds of cows, sheep and horses, wandering freely at their pleasure. Carts, laden with freshmown hay, move across the scene towards the river.
|The River Bober, at the foot of the hill…|
Two at a time they cross the river by ferry to the other side of the river and from there they make their way to town.
That's the river Bober at the foot of the hill the joy of every child. Every rebellious child found shelter there, on the boats that plied upon it here and there, in the long twilight hours of the hot, summer days its banks next to the house of Bohanky* the fisherman, were crowded with bathers.
Fleets of rafts weaved like snakes between the curving course of the river and would disappear downstream when only their lanterns in the distance could be seen. At night they could be seen from the town center twinkling like stars, as if lost on the face of the earth.
The Bober wasn't just a river for us: surely it was none other than the Nile itself and an many occasions we went searching for the little ark of reeds in which we expected to find the little Moses…and among the bushes of Kalutczki's garden, not far from the bathhouse, I imagined finding his sister, Miriam, watching over him, her eyes full of tears as the little craft drifted away to the middle of the river.
We were very proud of our river in springtime, with the melting snow. Its water reached as far as the first barns, wooden fences could be seen sticking up out of the flood,
and on the other side, the waters just reach far enough to kiss the edge of the endless forests on the horizon.
I feast my eyes and soul on the sight and set forth on the dirt road which rises and climbs beyond the silos of the farm buildings and I arrive at the crossroads: to my left an unmade road of deep sand leading to the slaughterhouse my shortcut, the Shabbat road along which my feet had trodden down a pathway to the village of Klewianka. There was an orchard there that I guarded during the school holiday months the Fritz farm, and just before the High Holy Days we picked the fruit: piles of apples, pears and plums that were transported to the town by wagons for the festivals.
The righthand road is the Christian road and at the end, living alone among the Christians, Yankel the blacksmith. Birch trees line the road and at the gate of every house cherry trees. All the houses were made mainly of wood with thatched roofs on a few of them. A pleasant lane, straight but unpaved; there is something of a city quality, fastidiousness about it. Pigs rarely scavenge round here. Only rarely the forbidden animal happens by, it can be heard squealing from the boiling water that was thrown over it. Hearing the noisy commotion only awakened the anger of the Christians at the Jewish impertinence. To help their anger they uncaringly allowed their pigs to scrabble around in the Jewish courtyards.
The house of Yankel the blacksmith, The Iron Plow, is a wooden house with a small veranda attached to the side facing the street. It is unusual and not from the time of the original construction and I always remember it covered in moss. Just a few paces from the house, along the row of houses, is the smithy itself. Smoke swirls out through the cracks in the walls and the open window. The regular tempo of the squeaking bellows can be heard from afar. Yankel stands with his back to the bellows with the eternal cigarette dangling from his lips. Tailoring, shoerepairing and the work of the blacksmith were the three most important trades in our town and these last, as if by design, placed themselves at the edge of town and the suburbs at the main road leading to all the nearby villages. The smithy of Yankel the blacksmith was the furthest of all from the center of town and in my imagination I see him as if making weapons for the Messiah: The smithy there / light as a horseman / performing there his work / with his bellows he strengthens the flame / whuff, whuff, whuff, whuff / he strengthens the flames.
And from there just a few steps and we are at Dolistowa Street. This is the road the highway to the big surrounding country: the silos, the flocks of sheep, and all the fruit of the earth.
This was the road along which, on market days, came all the wagons and carts laden with all the produce of field and garden and in the evening the last of the drunkards dragged themselves noisily along. If one turns left this part of the road passes through a suburb of the town that is not built and is unpaved and after a very few minutes one gets to the end. From here and onwards only fields until it meets the road coming from the south and down the hill to the north east. The avenue is lined with willow trees for its entire length. Through the trees one can glimpse the forest of Kolkowoczyzna* which is some distance from the road at this point but a little further along the road turns eastwards and crosses it. The riot of trees and copses encircled the town and we, the children, the pupils of the school, would make our way there at Lag B'Omer in a festive parade, with the blue and white flag waving before us, singing To the forest, the forest with bow and arrow.
Proud and full of strength, the children march on, twobytwo, singing Hebrew songs of springtime, holidays and freedom.
In the forest are many mighty ancient oaks with wide spaces filled with many treestumps showing that the hand of Man had been here, and beyond them many young birch trees and bushes and shrubs all tangled together. Narrow paths lead to no one knows where. Indeed it is very easy to find hiding places here during games of hideandseek. Hanging above our heads, like the tassels on a tablecloth dangled the clusters of fruit on the birch trees while the pollen dusts all our clothes. The joy of the world around us infects not only us but also the adults who accompany us. The leaders of the singing and the happiness are our first teachers: Shimon Halpern, the effervescent and happy, ready for any prank perpetrated by his pupils, his secondincommand, JoelMeir Cohen The Tall, introspective, his face always expressing seriousness. Even when laughing his lips remain closed, a forced laugh, as if he is listening to the constant sound of music and heaven forbid that you should trouble him. Nevertheless, he is indeed pleasant and friendly to his pupils. We like his good taste and choice of music. When he picks up his tuningfork complete silence reigns. The audience of children at last cease to skip and jump and are still, the heart listening to the song and the story of the deeds of heroism of our forefathers of long ago, in their wars against the Romans, the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and from the recent past: the heroism of Hashomer and their defense of the Moshavim in Palestine against the Arabs.
The introduction of the school's Lag B'Omer parade to the forest became the start of many such hikes to the forest. Groups of friends would wander through the forest afterwards and meet at the forest rangers hut and dine royally on dark rye bread liberally spread with cheese and yoghurt.
The cabin of the ranger is in the middle of the forest, near the road that crosses between the old forest and the new one, close to the well that has a low wall covered in moss surrounding it. Resting on top is a beam from which is suspended a large wooden bucket.
However, if one turns right from that section of Dolistowa Street one arrives very soon at the paved section of the street. The section of the street as far as the pavement is empty on the south side facing the windmill.
On the other side of the street, stood just one whitewashed house, without any shade tree at the side. This was once the house of the postman.
The start of the paving marked the entrance to the town as apart the suburbs. From this point, the homes of the Jewish residents begin one after the other. Except that in contrast to other streets, whose houses are mostly duplexes, here, in Dolistowa Street, the houses are detached and separate from each other and a few of them have a small patch of land behind them.
I remember Dolistowa Street when all the houses were still intact. The wooden houses had verandas with wooden decorations on the beams, and red brick houses with steps leading up to them. On summer evenings, the residents gathered on the stoops splitting and eating seeds and conversing in loud voices so that passersby could hear them from afar.
The fencedin enclosure of Old Yisrael woodstore breaks the continuous buildingline of houses on the south side of the street and destroys the orderly row. But that didn't stop the children; they find a use for all the logs and beams of wood stored there, climbing on the logs without losing their balance. They make seesaws out of planks balancing them on logs. It was here that we saw our first automobile which had come from the Osowiec Castle in the days of Ponia the Thief.
Just a few paces away is the town square, rectangular in shape. From its four corners four streets radiate outwards. In its center had stood for many years a large wooden building the fire department's station and all its machines. Next door to it is an adjoining room which is the temporary jailhouse for all the drunks and street brawlers arrested on market days and Christian festivals. The opposite side of the square the west side is composed of a row of almost continuous houses with no gap between them. Starting with Motke Kaliap as far as the house of Navoddowski (the watchrepairer), and from there as far as the street leading to the old market place. In that row are two twostoried conspicuous houses: from the veranda of the first one it is possible to see the entire market square. The upper floor of that house was always used as a hostel for different officials. However, our memories transport us from here to the second of the two houses the limewashed one. An arched passage a tunnel serves as a quick route from one house to the other for the residents of the courtyard. This is the house of the Nimoy family. Many people remember the upper floor: It was used as a temporary hostel by the
school, a readingroom and a meetingplace for lectures and partydebates. Later it was taken over by haters of Zion among our brethren of the Children of Israel who ensconced themselves there. From among a string of memories one stands out starkly, etched into my memory: during a lesson on literature, into the classroom walked the poet Idel Tershansky from our town, who was due to sail beyond the seas to distant lands, asking to read to us as a parting gesture one of the poems of Tchernichovski. He reads with deep emphasis On the Wide Blue Sea while we all sit enchanted and in front of us spread the endless sea with its waves constantly moving, coming and going, not like those waves that …in their separation sadden the heart and destroy the soul of the stranger, we feel, as youngsters with sensitive emotions, a great sadness when separating from Tershansky. At the time many youngsters took the staff of the wanderer and left, a feeling of tearing apart spread among those who remained.
The parallel row of houses on the east side of the square, begins with the brownstone house of the BourakBreski* family. It has two frontages one facing onto Dolistowska Street and the other onto the market square. Stuck to it is a wooden house belonging to old man Pandrei*. At the end of this row is the house of Moshe Dubcek and the opening to Death Alley. Here there is nothing worth mentioning. Perhaps just to recall that those who are pupils of Diyudka the teacher A: the Heder of Diyudka is in the courtyard of Moshe Dubcek B: in the center of the row is the shop of Marie and in the yard of her house, a factory for making sodawater that is operated by Shlomo Kijak (the nickname he was given because he loves to play the fool to the amusement of all). In this corner of town, in the depths of winter when the river is frozen solid and fishing is
impossible, they sell stinkyfish fish that has been brought from some distance. They have a smell all their own and when I recall that smell, I see before my eyes the snowstorms at the end of the winter month Tevet, deep drifts of snow pile up at the front of the houses and against the fences. The streets are empty of people. Passersby hurry along, pushed sometimes by the wind; while those who have used up all the water from the barrel or is frozen, where will they find the watercarrier in this weather? With no other option, they take a yoke and two buckets and go down to the spring
or the waterwheel at Dolko*. To leave the warmth of the stove in that weather is the least desirable of all activities. However, the exercise and the work of going and fetching the water makes you twice as warm!
The third side of the square is a row of buildings the first of which is a church and as far as the house of BerlLeib at the beginning of Death Alley, this row, unlike the others, is broken at two places by two alleys. One, the access to the house of Yitzhak Foreman a dealer in leather and opposite was the house of MosheLazar, the watchmaker. The exits join up with the alley from the other side near the Empress's House as far as the home of Gedalia Mondrim*, bordering the churchyard. On its other side, at the corner of the street, the house of Cherniak* and beyond the churchyard fence continues.
In the first alley there are only a few houses. By the way, for the first half there are houses only on the right of the street and beyond that only on the left.
In contrast to that the second alley is empty of structures that draw the attention. It is virtually one large empty square, to all appearances, the result of a fire which occurred at one time, leaving behind a number of empty lots. In fact, the empty areas are in direct contrast to those that are built up with house after house, block after block, crowded and pressed, one against the other. Usually, the homes of the Jewish people in towns and
villages were built cozily close to each other, in each other's shadow, maybe because of the fear of the Christian neighbors, rather like sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves…
For the tots of the town, there was good reason for that. Indeed there are no pleasant houses here and important institutions are not situated here either. But doves there are aplenty lots of them all sorts of shapes and shades. Just between us, where will you find a child who's soul doesn't hunger after a puppy, and who's soul doesn't pine for that pleasing bird? That's why we stand for hour after hour pressed against the high wooden fence in order to feed our eyes on the flock of doves of the priest pecking around on the ground and flying up to the redtiled roof of the warehouse where they had their nests.
That same street with the church is the street where we stroll on Shabbat and festivals. Almost half its length is taken up with the garden fence of the church. The continuation leads
to Dolko*, the location of the waterwheel and the weir , next to which is a path used as a shortcut to the road. On hearing the name Dolko* many people will immediately recall the smell of blackbread with the aromatic weeds that grow there in the shallow water. This is also the habitat of large flocks of ducks here. Even the storks, who make their nests here at the nearby granaries, find plenty of prey for their mouths. Their slow, stately strut is an expression of their calmness and selfimportance.
A little to the right, on the way to the road, it is possible to discern the tower of the Catholic cemetery and the entrance gate. Willow trees alongside the road form an archway casting their shadows over the gates although they are readily visible because the path from the road below to the entrance climbs upwards. After saying the prayer of acceptance: …And thou shalt utterly detest it we sneak a look as we pass by the surrounding low wall at the sight of so many crosses and inside, row upon row of beautifully caredfor flowers between the tall pine trees, their trimmed trunks affording a wider field of vision. Nevertheless, above, the treetops merge together forming a canopy of evergreens that casts a shadow of gloom and depression from both the desolation and the rustle of the wind among the trees. A few minutes' walk from here, along the same road, is the Jewish cemetery in the center of the fields on the main road to the village of Downary, alongside the road to the county capital Bialystok.
The stone wall surrounding the cemetery can be seen by people moving along the road on the east side. Inside high weeds, thorns and thistles and much neglect. The scattered pines are not very tall. It seems that our departed fathers (ZL), devoted to their faith and beliefs, considered that the future of the dead in any case, at the coming of the Messiah, will be transported to the Promised Land and that there was no point in caring for the halfway house.
The row of houses on the other side of the street, parallel to the churchyard fence comes to a stop with the Russian school building, only the walls of which remain standing, a reminder of the destruction. No luxurious mansions are found here and no business houses. All the residents are laborers and artisans. Plots of land behind their homes are vegetable gardens, a safetynet for the family income. The paved roadway reaches as far as the entry gate and then stops.
|The weir of the waterwheel of Meir Nuzar* (Palaskovski*)|
It is also the extreme limit of the casual strollers. This far they come, gaze upon the thatched roofs of the houses and at the barns and silos of the village of Guzy*, and then retrace their steps. Guzy* is a suburban village only a short distance westward from here but can be clearly seen.
The road down towards it from the Russian school is discernable without having to
search for a vantage point. The tracks of cartwheels stretch in a straight line between the staked fences on both sides of the road.
Seemingly a street in the town center, peace and serenity reign during the earlyafternoon hours. As such, there is no better place for a friendly conversation, debates, arguments, a brief stroll with a guest in town or to hold forth in public with his opinions.
On the Sabbaths and festivals the street was jammed with people. The youngsters milling around in the street with only the starlight to illuminate the scene: in those days there was no streetlighting and only the heavens lit the world.
Now, just for a moment we will turn our attention to the lane we have called Death Alley. Isn't the strange, expressive nickname not justifiable? Surely it has to be the only
fitting name for the path taken by our town's departed on their way to their eternal resting place?
The entire lane is composed of two rows of houses and the residents are mostly artisans and small traders and businessmen. There is just one shop here…that of Yashak Ulshavski, who lives at the end on the left. Whenever I remember this, I am full of wonder: his perfect Yiddish is liberally seasoned with the sayings of our rabbis and wise men of old and his speech more pleasant than some of our own brothers…his Jewish neighbors.
If you are stuck here around noontime on a hot summer day, with an hour or so to spare, you should turn left, towards the top of the hill where two windmills stand, their sails rotating. At the beginning of the street there are houses on both sides in which Christians live; towards the end there is a row of barns built on one side.
The top of the hill is bare and exposed to the winds from all directions. A cool refreshing wind always greets your face. The constant noise of groaning and creaking from the turning sails is nearly deafening. The giant sails, in the shape of a cross turning, turning, turning.
But if your soul seeks serenity, silence and solitude, to lie and wonder and nourish your soul with the beauty of the scenery then you had better retrace your footsteps to your starting point, to Yashak Ulshavski's home and from there make a detour to the right and wend your way through the plowed and sown fields because there is no prepared path, as if by intention, so that those who wish for solitude from prying eyes, may be alone. There at the top of the hill is where you will find a stonebuilt chapel, filled with icons.
The stretch of road ahead of us that passes close by the weir at Dolko on the left, seems to stop at the crossing to Rawe, but from here onwards it disappears behind the rise which hides its continuation on its way to Suchawola and Goniadz. This part of the route is cut by a small tributary of the Bober which eventually flows into the Narew. There are two other waterwheels: of Dolko and Guzy*. The second is maintained by Meir Guzi* (Plasktowski*).
The willow trees planted on both sides of the roadway for its entire length, are swallowed up between the trees and bushes that sprang up from the soaked surrounding
|The River Street|
ground. On hot days, during the twilight hours, the road swarms with people out for a stroll. The green trees and the grassy areas between them imbue the area with the grace of an urban park. Couples stroll to and fro. Not so the Halutzim [Pioneers]: they get every new song from Palestine brought by the missionaries and from them to all the towns and villages. They come here in organized ranks taking up the entire roadway singing loudly, from the time of the founding of the HeHalutz [Pioneer] movement by the teacher, Mordecai Nolobitzki* and while we were still pupils at school, without compromising the spirit pervading the town. The question of respect for one's elders was pushed aside, and not heard of again: We are all equal under the sun* .The discharge of these earlier judgments spread over us a small measure of pride. The children of families began to interest themselves in acquiring an education in a profession or trade. Some of them went to various training institutions of HeHalutz. Business houses of some of the members of HeHalutz were defined as temporary business. The most respected employment was that of farmworker. The vision of being a farmer in Palestine, …who bringeth forth bread from the earth alluring for all of us. Our mothers and fathers pester us and drive us mad with
warnings about the life of toil and difficulties of the farmer as sons of the earth. Privately, however, in their hearts, they, too, are caught up in the enchanting idea of working the land at peace, in our land in our state. Therefore they place no obstacles in our path. We are quite sure that the major and principal work of the land was plowing. So we spread ourselves over the local fields surrounding the town and ask the farmers to teach us the work of plowing. There were those who agree and the satisfaction we have at grasping the plow and watching the ground turn into long, black parallel rows of freshly turned earth, was great. Although there were also those who hate the Jews and would make the usual Christian comment: Jews have never plowed the fields and never will plow. The sneering comment meted out to us by the Christians and our own brethren who agreed with them, doesn't deter us one little bit from our path and the idle dream is the beginning of the road that led a small group of youngsters boys and girls to become, in time, the way of life for thousands. The last side of the rectangle contains a row of houses, starting with the street crossing the old market and ending at Dolistowa Street with the house of Sarah the pastrycook. That row, with its six twostoried houses is like a sandwich to the town. The row, like its parallel, is broken by two lanes that lead from it. One starts from the limewashed house of the Luria family. That spot is the lowest in the town square and the rainwater always collects here and pours noisily down the steep slope of the lane until it reaches the river. It's a wonderful place for sledding in the winter. The whole righthand side is covered with broken bricks and the remains of walls. The place has remained desolate since the time of the great fire, apart from the wooden home of the tailor, a fixture on the synagogue hill, where the flames failed to reach. In contrast to that the lefthand side is fully built up to the point where the slope downwards becomes too steep. I am often reminded of the expression: Between two mountains and I saw myself as standing as if in a deep Wadi with the synagogue on top of one steep hill like a wall and the hill facing it which is also fairly steep. At the foot of that hill, on the side facing north, facing the river was the brewery of Yaakov Rudeski. For many years the town theater was here. There would be amateur performances by local enthusiasts and groups who occasionally visited the town.
At the entrance to the second lane on the right stands the home of Mania Tsukert*.
On the second floor of that house the Hebrew school was established. With its establishment a new era began in town and a fresh springlike fresh spiritual breeze blew and was felt by everyone. A new tempo was given to the life of the town and the youth from all sectors of the community met together and were revived, in the classroom framework, sitting together.
School excursions outside the town for entertainment were arranged to teach visually something of the flora and fauna and awaken in the children a love of the scenery of the country. We also learned to examine and know the scenery especially of the town itself. A love of our people and our renewing homeland was nursed diligently within the school walls. The spirit of the festivals and performances brought together the many and breathed the spirit of life into the town.
The Hebrew school impressed everyone and its founders were blessed, especially their leader Mr. Moshe Levine.
In that lane stands the Yeshiva, a building constructed of wooden beams with many windows looking out on every side. A large stove serves as a screen for the women's section. It is a prayerhouse, for Torahstudy and a meetingroom for the community, whose doors are open every day and every evening. Our fathers, who toil every day to sustain their families, businessmen, traders and workers alike, find here a relief from their yokes: through prayer, or study of the holy books either alone or in groups. Here we are reminded three times daily: …and may our eyes behold Thy return to Zion.
The house of Benjamin Sofer separates the Yeshiva from the courtyard of the synagogue. It is a low house, made of wood and in the front a garden with fruit trees and behind it is the slope downwards to the river. Those who go down this way take a flight of wooden steps into the valley and can easily see what is happening in the garden from the point of view as a locked and Inclosed Garden. The red cherries on the trees are a source of temptation when ripe and the appetite of the Yeshiva students, peeping through the windows facing that direction. The image of Rabbi Benjamin remains in the heart of many. Rabbi Benjamin, the Cantor and a good hearted man, lover of children sophisticates the children with sips of Kiddush wine…
The people Goniadz, in foreign lands, when speaking of Goniadz will recall instantly the synagogue. It is doubtful if they will recall every small detail, but you can be sure they will see in their mind's eye every little detail of the synagogue's design and décor.
The synagogue is situated on its own on a generous plot of land surrounded by a fence with willow trees planted alongside the fence except for the side facing the lane. The land became ours by a sort of independent territory separated from strangers. The two lanes on either side, left and right of the hill, and the level area of wasteland in front, facing the river, seem like a rocky cliff on the seashore with two inlets of water bursting through into the land. The synagogue building which stood near the edge of the lot allows one to see a great distance. The entire exciting scenery cannot be seen from within the building because of the high windows, as if deliberately constructed so as not to distract the attention of the worshippers to …how pleasant the trees and the plowed field. And indeed, only the sky can be seen. The largest congregation attends the synagogue during the New Year and the Day of Atonement and already at the Feast of Tabernacles with the early frosts, the number of attendees drops off noticeably. Only one or two quorums remain constant and faithful to the synagogue even on the days of hard frost. These are generally young scholars, among whom are also some nonorthodox youngsters, but who keep the tradition who enjoy from music of the liturgy.
The new market square was broadened from the old one by the addition of a short
crossing lane, with shops on both sides. Nothing is found here to bear witness to the age of the place except the wooden house of the Wilamovski family. The square served as a parking place for the farmers from the other side of the river and a crossing point to the railroad station at the Osowiec station.
On this route, the gateway to the wide world, travelers and guests arrive from afar and it is a departure point for those leaving their hometown for distant parts.
For many people, the sound of the wagon wheels on the cobbled streets is the last sound they hear and remember on their way to the railroad station, on leaving Goniadz through the village of Guzy* as far as the hill up to weir and waterwheel of Meir Guzi and the entry to the castle through the iron gate who didn't throw one last glance even at night towards the deep canal on the left. Its waters were always quiet and dark and all the surroundings: trees, bushes and the steep banks express and stir up mystery in the hearts of the travelers and also the drivers.
Please use these chapters of Goniadz and its tragic end as an example for all her sons and daughters who are scattered throughout the world, unable to reerect other Goniadz's in strange lands. As for that, it was good for us there, in our home, and our home still stands still ready and the waves of the blue sea lick its shores with love.
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