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[Page 45]

Under three Systems of Government[1]

By Chaim Rayzman

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

Struggle against the Tsarist Regime

The people of Kałuszyn, especially the Jewish youth, took an active part in the struggle against the tsarist regime in 1905. All tradesmen who worked for the Russian military – shoemakers, quilters, tailors, hatters, linen seamstresses – went out on strike. The most active among the strikers were the hosiery makers. Their industry too, worked for the military and employed many men and women, as well as ten year old cheder – boys.[2]

Big clashes took place between Jewish workers and the police during raids by the latter on workers' meetings. Such clashes became a daily occurrence since the military were stationed in the town. The workers' fighting squads made good use of the narrow lanes and from there used to attack the cavalry riding through the main road, the Warsaw Street. All the skirmishes used to end with searches, arrests and exile to Siberia.

The antisemitic acts, pogroms and chicanery embittered the lives of the Jews but also taught them to act spitefully and disloyally in relation to the laws of the empire. People tried to trade without permits, to avoid paying taxes and even not to register new-born children. Also, when a child died the authorities were not notified. In any case, in the eyes of the Russian officials there were already too many Jews – so it was better they didn't know that one more Jew was born, nor should they have rejoiced that a Jew died… Thus the people understood how matters stood and acted accordingly.

The population registry remained empty… however, the Russian authorities needed soldiers and every town had to supply a certain number of recruits – so what could fonie[3] do? The municipality officials together with the police roamed the streets and on seeing a young man they registered him, estimating his age. This gave rise to some comical incidents: a tall fifteen year old was estimated at being 25 years old, but a short twenty year old was registered as a 15 year-old.

Police was also on the lookout for 21 year old persons who were long deceased, but not crossed off the register. All the protestations of parents that their son had been dead for twenty years were of no avail. In order to evade military service new “disabilities” used to be invented. There emerged “laboratories” that fabricated new “defects” to confound the military conscription commissions.

In such manner did the Jewish population conduct a daily cat-and-mouse game with the officers and functionaries. However, even within the Jewish community there arose dark forces, the so-called “shtarke[4], who assisted the police in their struggle with the workers. These shtarkewere mainly recruited from the underworld and from among some lower middle class bosses. The workers did not lag behind in their fight with the shtarke.In this war a town used to be helped by other towns, and from Warsaw to Brisk[5] the workers used to liaise and as soon as shtarkeshowed up they were dealt with appropriately.

Police chicanery kept growing and the meetings of the workers and strikers became more secret. “Entertainment” used to provide a cover for such meetings. Boys and girls would congregate in noisy revelry. The first gramophone and movie camera were brought into town by Avremele klantchist[6]. It was at Avremele's that I saw then the outstanding wonder of living persons on a sheet. I told about it the children in chederthe following morning, and when the gist of it reached the rebbe[7] he wouldn't believe the story and yet punished me, because “a Jew is not allowed to see such things”…

Following the defeat of the revolution of 1905-06 most of the youth left Kałuszyn. Many went to Warsaw or overseas, to the Americas. The town was quiet as if after a storm, everything lapsed back into a congealed stupefaction like it was decades before. The young people who remained in town had no option but to work for a living and then spend the rest of the time in beis-medresh.[8]

There were no schools. Illiteracy reached 90% and among women even higher[9]. When a girl received a letter from her fiancé she went to the Semiatitch[10] melamed[11] who would read the letter to her. He would also write a reply. He wrote in the style of the standard printed letter-writers and considered himself an expert in Yiddish. All the women and girls saw him as a great writer and used to say that the Semiatitch melamed knows how to commence a letter, so that it'll flow like the water from the pump. The effect was, that the groom-to-be or husband “would be compelled to answer forthwith, even if he was not so inclined”. He would begin his letters with a highly stylised “To the honourable” for which he charged well – the curlier the “To the honourable”,the steeper the price.

The town was full of superstition. People believed in imps, demons, spirits and “remedies”. At night you were not supposed to pour out water into the street, lest it hits stray souls of the departed. A woman was not meant to go outside at night without an apron, or a man without a gartl[12]. It used to be said that imps and demons disguise themselves as pieces of wood. If someone became ill, no doctor was called, but a female exorcist in order to ward off “the evil eye”. If that did not help, the diseased was asked to count nine chimneys on the roofs – and as the smoke escapes the chimneys, so will the sickness. Another “remedy” was to drip hot wax on the sick person, or for a kohen[13] to jump three times over a sick child. There were exorcists galore in town, both male and female. One of them had the reputation of veritably waving away the sickness with his hand, so that no doctor was needed.

The young no longer believed in all that; however felt locked in as if in a vice and had no option but to conform to the backward surroundings. A couple of youngsters in love dared not to walk together in public view, but went singly out of town – the boy using one side of the road, the girl, the other. They would meet up on the “Warsaw Bridge”. There they were safe and life was free…

That bridge on the road to Warsaw was the romantic meeting place for all couples and inspired a ditty then sung by urchins:

Yosef sports a nyopke[14]; Naomi has combed her hair,

They walk towards the bridge and are holding hands.

As the mills grind, the millstones are turning.

When Yosef and Naomi were kissing

No one was seeing.

No one was indeed seeing. The young people lived in concealment and backwardness. The town fell into slumber after the setbacks of 1905-06. This lasted until the years of World War I, 1914-18.

 

Under German Occupation

Conditions changed after the Germans invaded the town during the Great War. As they did everywhere, they began in Kałuszyn with seizures of property. Many Jews faced prison for moving goods out of town or for bringing produce in. There was almost total unemployment. Workers and the poor even had no money to buy the rationed bread. Again like under the tsar, Jews tried to manage by getting around the edicts. People started to bring in food via various detours. Smugglers helped the Jewish population in Kałuszyn and the environs at considerable risk. More than once they ran into German patrols with serious consequences.

Though the Germans made life miserable for the Jewish population in the economic sphere, they were, however quite liberal with respect to the cultural life of the community. They allowed the formation of cultural associations, and indeed an educational society was organized. The latter tried as much as possible to lift the moral and cultural level of the youth. The young left the beis-medreshin droves and threw themselves thirstily on secular culture and the modern Yiddish literature.

The educational society didn't last long. Political parties began to hatch and this led to inter-party struggles, which caused the demise of the society. It was replaced by five party-dominated associations: the Bundist[15] “Grosser-Club”, the “Workers Home” of the Poalei-Tsiyon[16], “Workers' Roof”[17] of the S.D.K.P.L[18], club of “S.S.”(later the Fareynigte)[19], society of General Zionists[20]. There was then no communist grouping and only the Bund, the Poalei Tsiyon and the S.S. were active among the Jewish workers. Later, trade unions were organized under a central management consisting of the three abovementioned parties.

 

In Independent Poland

With the end of World War I and Poland having regained independence, Jews hoped to become citizens of the new state with equal rights and obligations like everybody else. However, soon after independence there were pogroms which recalled the tsarist times. And yet in spite of the persecution and disappointments after the “liberation”, the social life in Jewish Kałuszyn grew considerably.

The seeds sawn by the “education society” were nursed and gleaned by the political organizations. The young thirsted for education and a great many of the orthodox elders eventually agreed to their children studying. Yiddish books could be found in almost every Jewish home, where they became an adornment and lightened up the otherwise miserable existence. Mainly this was the achievement of the libraries maintained by the workers' associations which ceaselessly tried to increase the number of Yiddish readers. They also organised various activities, inviting writers and lecturers. All the income from such functions was designated for the purchase of books. All these cultural activities were designed to imbue the Jewish population with a desire to learn.

In our town Yiddish occupied the Eastern wall[21], Yiddish was heard at home and in the street, at work and in shops and Yiddish songs blended with the Shabbes zmires[22].

During the evening hours many minyanim[23] spent time in beis-medreshand chevres[24], immersed in a chapter mishnayes[25], or in an argument of the Gemara[26]. At the same time workers studied in evening classes, and in their clubs one could hear heated discussions, as well as choir and play rehearsals. To the west of the town, on the road to Warsaw were heard the Torah sounds from the Ger shtibl[27] blending with the Hebrew songs from the near-by youth club of “Hashomer-Hatsair”[28]: Chassidic exaltation on one side of the street and ecstasy from a Horah-dance[29] on the other.

Such was the face of Kałuszyn. And when a future Jewish historian will research the Jewish communities in the ruins of Poland, he should know that on the roads between Warsaw and Brisk,wedged between Minsk-Mazovietsk and Shedlets[30] there existed for hundreds of years a Jewish town Kałuszyn, leading a Jewish life and singing Jewish songs; and that German killers, assisted by (ethnic) Poles murdered and burned until the town became Judenrein[31]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Unedited translation of article, אונטער דרײַ רעזשימען published in Sefer Kałuszyn by the Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. An orthodox primary learning establishment, where boys were taught the Chumash – the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch. Return
  3. Derogatory for Russian. Return
  4. From the Yiddish word for strong or violent. Return
  5. Polish: Brześć, Brest-Litovsk. Return
  6. No translation found for this expression. A player on some musical instrument? Return
  7. Here used for teacher in a cheder. Return
  8. House of study and/or prayer. Return
  9. The author may be in error. Whereas the majority of women may have been illiterate, men were not so in the strict technical sense. They may have been so in respect of the Polish or Russian languages, but since every boy attended chederthey could read basic Hebrew texts and could compose a simple letter in Yiddish, (albeit with spelling and grammatical mistakes). Return
  10. The name of a town. Return
  11. A teacher in a cheder –interchangeable with rebbe. Return
  12. Yiddish for belt, sash or girdle worn by Jews during prayer – in order to separate the upper part of the body (the seat of spirituality) from the lower, profane part. Return
  13. “Priest” – a member of one of the three hereditary “castes” in Judaism – kohens (kohanim), levys (levyim –a lower class of priests) and all the others. Return
  14. No translation found for this expression. Perhaps a localism for a necktie? Return
  15. Of the Bund – Abbreviation of Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland; “General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia”), Jewish socialist party founded in Russia in 1897 (Encyc.Judaica) Return
  16. Labour Zionists. Return
  17. Polish: Strzecha Robotnicza – strzechameans a thatched roof. Return
  18. Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. An all Polish left-wing socialist party, most of whose members later joined the Communist Party of Poland. Return
  19. S.S – Sionist-Socialist; United Jewish Socialist Workers' Party (Fareynigte, i.e. “United”); group in Russia and interwar Poland. It was formed in 1917 through the union of the Zionist Socialist Workers' Party who were territorialists, i.e. willing to accept ANY territory for a Jewish National Home (state), and the Jewish Socialist Workers” Party who were autonomists, i.e. striving for Jewish cultural autonomy. (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  20. General Zionists. When the first parties (Poalei Tsiyon and Mizrachi, the latter – religious Zionists) were established in the Zionist movement, those Zionists who did not join any faction or have drawn up a program of their own came to be known as “General Zionists.” (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  21. A turn of phrase indicating a place of honour. It was coined as a result of the placing of the Holy Arc with the Torah scrolls on the eastern wall in synagogues in Eastern and Central Europe, so that the people faced Jerusalem (since it was assumed that it was situated to the East) during prayers Return
  22. זמירות – songs traditionally sung at Shabbat and Festival meals ; religious songs and psalms. Return
  23. Plural of minyan, literally – quorum, but used for “small congregation”. Return
  24. Chevre – fraternity, gang; here – a small congregation. Return
  25. From Mishnah, a written collection of Judaism's Oral Law (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  26. Gemara – a discussion of the Mishnah and related writings (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  27. Shtibl –literally a small dwelling but used in the sense of a small house of prayer. Gerer –Chassidim ( pious men, adherents of a Chassidic stream) of the Gerer rebbe, a Chassidic branch centered in the Polish town Gòra Kalwarii, or Ger in Yiddish; rebbe – a leader of a Chassidic sect. Return
  28. Hashomer Hatzair (השומר הצעיר, Hebrew – “The Young Guard”) the name of a left-wing Socialist-Zionist youth movement founded in 1913 in Galicia (now in Poland), and was also the name of the group's political party in the pre-1948 British Mandate of Palestine. (Based on Wikipedia) Return
  29. Horah, the best-known folk dance of pioneer Israel. (Based on Encyc. Judaica). Return
  30. In Polish: Mińsk Mazowiecki, Siedlce. Return
  31. “Cleansed of Jews”, a Nazi expression denoting areas where all Jews had been either murdered or deported. Return


[Page 49]

Dealing with Restrictions and Persecution[1]

By Moshe Tchernitski /Ramle (Israel)

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

kal049e.jpg Moshe Tchernitski
Moshe Tchernitski

 

In 1905 I became a resident of Kałuszyn and began my activities in the Jewish community in 1912.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 I organized a Jewish Aid Committee, the aim of which was to assist the families of draftees. Many went to the front leaving wives and children without means of support. The committee, which consisted of Dovid Ruzhe, Dovid Gelibter, Israel Avrohom Faygnboym, Mendl Sharfharts, Yitzchok Munk, and I as chairman, organized the help with funds collected from the wealthier residents. We also imposed a levy on the sale of meat, and it took some time before the shochtim[2] and the butchers consented to it.

We also tried to help Jews in obtaining exemptions from the draft[3]. In those days there went on a trade in Red and White tickets. The Red became Blue and the latter in turn became White…We were greatly assisted in this task by Dr.Regalski who understood well the language of cash…

The entry of the German Army in 1915 created a lot of problems. Towns became cut off from one another, and this caused hardship to the talaisim - makers[4], whose livelihood depended on access to distant markets. I then established an aid committee of the talaisim-makers under the leadership of Pesach Shpak, which committee organized mutual assistance between the families.

The town experienced a lot of trouble from the hundred or so natives of Pinsk expelled by the Germans and forced to settle in Kałuszyn. Almost all of them were undesirables, and their behaviour in town testified to the fact that they were far from being tsadikim[5]… All the while we heard about thefts from different parts of town. They were stealing wood from Yitzchok Munk's little forest and wherever and whatever else they could. We therefore created a Jewish guard composed of among others: Dovid Zylberberg, Alter Tcheladnitski, Shloyme Zylberberg, Dovid Bekerman, Mendl Grushka and Petchak - a Gentile. In charge of the Guard was Alter Royzman and its commander was Zysman. The Guard was established with the consent of the Germans, and was engaged in combating theft, as well as looking after the sanitary conditions in town. It existed till 1918.

In 1916 the first municipal council in Kałuszyn was elected . The leader of the Gentiles in town, Stash tried to negotiate with me a deal, according to which we would forgo elections and agree to half Jewish and half Gentile representation in the Council. I didn't agree and insisted on elections, so that the Jews in town would get what they were entitled to – a majority representation.

The elections took place and there were eight Jews among the twelve councilors: Mordechai Yehuda Domb, Yankl Bzhitve (the feldsher[6]), Chaim Symcha Vayntroyb, Yecheskel Lutsker, Itche Mayer Gelbard, Yisroel Avrohom Faygnboym, Yehoshua Vinokamien, and I. They represented all strata of the Jewish populace – merchants, tradesmen, intelligentsia; each would show up to meetings of the Council in their working clothes. (Reb Itche Mayer Gelbard, for instance, would come rushing decked in his smock covered with flour and everybody would recognize him straight away…)

The mayor was Stash, a liberal Gentile with whom it was possible to get along. In the selection of aldermen an appropriate ratio was maintained – two Jews and one Gentile: Yisroel Ruzhe and Dovid Gelibter, and the Gentile - Butkowski.

The Council existed till the end of the War and the liberation of Poland.[7]

With the start of Polish independence new troubles began. During the Polish-Bolshevik war[8], when (detachments of) the Polish Army passed through the town, there were always disturbances. Soldiers used to break into Jewish stores and bakeries, loot and cause mayhem. Since the main cause of these attacks was the hunt for bread, we used to set up stands with cigarettes and bread. The soldiers were given these for free and thus we avoided the break-ins, which sometimes led to wild excesses and pogroms[9].

Just before the Bolshevik invasion the town was in a state of lawlessness. Again there was no alternative – if I am not for me, who (will be) for me[10] – we organized a people's militia of 100 persons, mostly Jews.

Soldiers ran rampant in the streets, assaulted people, broke into shops and looted. Someone came running to me with the news that soldiers were breaking down the doors at Pesach Manchemer's. I went forthwith to the Municipality to protest to the military commander (that the soldiers misbehaved in town). He listened to my complaint and retorted with derision: “every minute another snotty Jewess comes to complain”. I answered that I came as the official representative of the Jews of the town and that it was his duty to maintain order. My proud attitude had an effect and he straight away sent a few officers to restore calm.

Once at dawn I was woken by Tnocham Beder to tell me that soldiers were causing mayhem in Avrohom Gordon's shop. When I got there, they explained that they are looking for hidden cigarettes, as well as weapons. Of course, the whole story about arms was a libel and an excuse. I proposed that they conduct a search in my presence, and by all means, let them find the weapons. They left in embarrassment.

In my intercessions I was greatly helped by the Gentile alderman Butkowski, who came to my assistance whenever I called on him.

For many years the town's Gentiles conducted a campaign at the county office to move the market to the big square near the municipality building. The intention was clear – to remove the market from the Jewish area into the Gentile one and thus rob Jews of their livelihood. The struggle about the location of the market used to flare up frequently, until we succeeded to remove this threat once and for all from the agenda.

I exploited the benign disposition of the starosta[11] during a festive ball given by the municipality in his honour. All the Councillors and notables, both Jews and Gentiles set down on each side of the starosta.On the table were drinks and delicacies fit for a king, “and wine will gladden his heart”[12]… So, saluting the guest of honour, I suggested in passing that it was time to give the town a face-lift, and that it would be to the credit of the starosta to sow plants in the horse market and thus convert the huge empty space into a garden. Excited by the drink and food, he accepted with enthusiasm, and yes, this proposal should be implemented forthwith. The Gentiles around realized what I have pulled off, wanted to say something, but it was too late. The starosta made his decision and that was that. Thus came to naught the scheme of moving the town-market to the big square of the horse market in the Gentile section of the town.

Following the entry of the Bolsheviks I was arrested together with a few other councillors, including the priest. The Jews locked up were Yidl Pienknavyesh, Yisroel Avrohom Faygnboym, and I. We were accused of organizing a committee to assist the Polish army. We were taken to Shedlets and put on trial. Among the judges was Karl Radek[13]. Together with the Gentile councillors and the priest we Jews suffered the harsh conditions of jail. However, soon the Bolsheviks started to retreat, and following their defeat at the Vistula and the ensuing turmoil, we were all released.

The roads were full of the military when we tried to get back to Kałuszyn. As we were nearing Boymye[14] we heard that Jews were being killed there, and it was suggested we avoid that road. However, our fellow travellers, the Gentile councillors from Kałuszyn promised to protect us. Twenty-three Jews from Kałuszyn fled in the direction of Shedlets together with the retreating Soviet army. When they arrived in Boymye they were met by local peasants and Polish soldiers who brutally murdered them.

Also when we arrived in Boymye,a wild mob of soldiers ran to meet us with fury in their eyes, but the Gentile councillors interceded on our behalf declaring that we just spent time together with them in a Soviet jail, and that we Jews saved them. After many entreaties of the non-Jewish councillors we were let through Boymyeand continued on to Kałuszyn.

Upon arrival in town we found desolation and fear. All the doors were bolted and soldiers roamed the streets and pillaged. They cleaned out Chaim Torbiner and Doba. They were also getting close to my neighbour Gamzo. I went forthwith to the mayor and conducted negotiations there with the military commandant – a Poznantchik[15]. I demanded that he pacify the soldiers. My endeavours succeeded only after I promised to accommodate him and his officers in nice dwellings.

I also asked the commandant for permission to transfer to Kałuszyn the bodied of those killed in Boymye in order to provide them with a Jewish burial. At first he refused, but relented and sent some soldiers to move the bodies, after I explained that we need to at least exhume the dead for identification, so that the wives won't remain agunot[16].

The events in Boymyereached the Polish Sejm[17] where many representations were made by Noah Prilutski[18]. After a few weeks a governmental commission came to investigate the Boymye matter.

For the second time the graves were opened. It was painful to watch the extraction of the half-decomposed bodies with ropes, as if these were carcasses and not (the bodies of) human beings (created) in the image of G-d…

The persecution of Jews had not abated. The Jews were accused of collaboration with the Bolsheviks. The “defensywa” (Polish secret police) repeatedly brought in new groups of Jewish prisoners, and each time I had to confront the gendarmes and save the accused.

Three Jews - Shloyme Popovski, a son of Mendl Olyarnik and one from Mrozy were court-martialled. At first it was thought that they were sentenced to two-year terms of prison, however after two weeks an execution platoon suddenly arrived and the three were shot.

The town's Gentiles exploited the situation and claimed that since Jews committed treason, they should no longer have a majority on the town council. The Jewish councillors were called in and were pressured with shouts to agree. They presented us with a protocol that we agree to remain on the council as a minority and to forgo elections. There was no way I would agree to sign, and notwithstanding the pressures, the elections took place and Jews retained the majority on the council.

The Jewish population in town kept declining. Many left after the Great Fire in 1920: from twelve thousand Jewish inhabitants only eight thousand remained (in addition to) three thousand Christians.

The new council which was elected in 1935 had the following Jewish representatives: Mordechai Rimvrot, Aron Rapaport, Ruven Michlzon, Yidl Pienknavyesh, Layzer Bornshteyn, Chaim Rayzman, Avrum Goldberg and Sadovski[19] – as alderman.

That was the last council with a Jewish majority.

Until 1935 I continued my work on the council, and all this time struggled against the attacks on the Jewish population using all sorts of means and ways to resist our bitter foes.

The war unleashed by Hitler brought everything to an end. I went to Russia, wandered all over the country including Siberia, miraculously got back to Poland, and from there to Israel.

It was my fate to see the town for which I toiled all my life suddenly destroyed. In the past we managed to cope with so many anti-Jewish acts, but this time we were all helpless.

Jewish Kałuszyn does not exist anymore. For many years we struggled with the Gentiles (for our existence). In the end they vanquished us.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Unedited translation from Yiddish of article, דורך גזרות און רדיפֿות (durch gzayres un redifes) published in Sefer Kałuszyn by the Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries, Tel-Aviv, 1961.
    Although dictionaries translate גזר (plural – גזרות) as (fateful) decree, edict, Yiddish speakers used it mainly to denote any laws & regulations designed to curtail Jewish rights. Return
  2. Ritual slaughterers. Return
  3. Jews had little incentive to fight and die for the antisemitic Tsarist government. Return
  4. Plural of talis -prayer shawl. Return
  5. Plural of tsadik - pious, saintly (righteous) person. Return
  6. Old time barber-surgeon (Weinreich's); not fully-qualified physician in Eastern Europe (from German Feldscher – army medic, doctor's assistant) Return
  7. 1918. Return
  8. The Polish-Soviet War (February 1919 – March 1921) was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and the Second Polish Republic (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  9. Pogrom is a Russian word designating an attack, accompanied by destruction, the looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another. As an international term, the word “pogrom” is employed in many languages to describe specifically the attacks accompanied by looting and bloodshed against Jews. (Based on Encycl. Judaica). Return
  10. Part of the saying of Rabbi Hillel the Elder (end of first century B.C.E. and beginning of first century C.E., the greatest of the sages of the Second Temple period – Encyc. Judaica). Return
  11. Sheriff, the head of the county. Return
  12. Paraphrase of “and wine which gladdens man's heart” (Psalm 104-15). Return
  13. Radek (Sobelsohn), Karl (1885–1939?), Russian revolutionary and publicist. Born in Lemberg, in 1922 became a leading official of the Communist International. In 1924 he joined the Trotskyite opposition and in 1927 was expelled from the party. In 1937 Radek was arrested and charged with complicity in plots against the Soviet government. At a show trial he was convicted of being “an enemy of the people” and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. There are conflicting accounts of his subsequent fate, and the date of his death is thus a matter of conjecture. (Extract from Encyclopaedia Judaica) Return
  14. Bojmie in Polish. Return
  15. Poznanczyk in Polish - a native of Poznań, a city in historical Great Poland ; in Prussia 1815-1919; now in Poznań province, W. Poland. (Extract from Encyclopaedia Judaica).
    Poznanczyk was also the nickname given to soldiers and officers of the Polish military units (Armia Wielkopolska) during the Uprising of 1918-1919 - a military insurrection of Poles in the region called the Grand Duchy of Poznań against the German/Prussian forces.(from Wikipedia).
    (The Gentile natives of Poznań had a reputation for strong anti-Jewish sentiments). Return
  16. (Jewish law) - plural of agunah, “chained” woman, a woman bound in marriage by a husband who refuses to grant a divorce or who is missing and not proved dead (Milon Morfix).
    From Hebrew “agun” for “at anchor”. Return
  17. The Polish parliament. Return
  18. Born 1882 in Berditchev, died 1944 in Vilnius, Yiddish linguist and folklorist, member of Sejm in the 1920's (Based on Encyclopaedia Klalit Izreel, Izreel Publishing House Ltd. Tel-Aviv, Israel, 1950) Return
  19. See page 479 of Sefer Kałuszyn. Return


[Page 53]

After the Liberation of Poland[1]

By Moshe Frak / Machne Israel

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

The capitulation of the German army was nearing. The hitherto highly held heads of the haughty German gendarmes became somewhat bent and on their faces now appeared a look of dispiritedness. In their sentry-boxes and dwellings one could notice a nervous haste – the Germans were already packing for departure.

After years of suffering, hunger and epidemics the Jewish community sensed that a change was coming, but no one knew for certain what was going on.

The (ethnic) Poles in town became assertive and the Polish legionnaires were ready for the longed-for hour to throw off foreign rule.

All sorts of rumours circulated: there was talk of a workers' government headed by Piłsudski[2], and even of a communist administration. Groups of Jews were congregated on the Varshever Gass (Warsaw Street) and discussed the new situation. Every sound was pounced upon, every person was expressing an opinion on whether it was going to get better, or worse…

Before long everything became clearer. The Germans were leaving town, and Poles pursued them, taking away their weapons and uniforms. The change was obvious, German rifles were now being proudly displayed on the shoulders of Polish youngsters.

The Jewish workers' movements were also active - staging street demonstrations and mass meetings in the clubs and in the bote-medroshim [3], with torches and flags and resounding slogans: long live Poland! Long live the Polish Legion! Long live Piłsudski!

kal053e.jpg Polish Army soldiers
Polish Army soldiers* from Kałuszyn 1919-1920
*(standing 2nd from left: Avrum Goldberg, see pg 149 SK G.G.)

 

At one of the meetings spoke the brother of the mayor Stash. He spoke of the many years of enslavement and about the miracle of Polish independence. Many Jews in the audience chimed in, but the majority did not pin their hopes on it. I remember how at that meeting old Hershl Ketche said to a Jew who took part in the Polish celebrations: “for them, the (ethnic) Poles it is a joy – they get back their country; but we Jews – what are we celebrating? The Germans were for us a plague and the Poles –will be for us a disaster”…

The festive days with the meetings and demonstrations passed. Day to day life began to function normally… The Gentile Wasowski, the municipality official, resumed implementing all the restrictions and proclamations, and the Jews of Kałuszyn went back to eke out a living as they did during the Germans' stay – to illegal manufacturing of booze and bread, etc. The women went again into the villages to barter all sorts of goods for bread and potatoes. Various workshops sprang up, and the Jewish community rejoiced at the promise of the Gentile mayor that he would generously subsidize the construction of the new synagogue which had been in the process of building for many years. Jews hoped for better times.

In the meantime, however, came harsher times – the war between Poland and Russia[4].

In the bote-medroshim and on the streets there was turmoil: war or no war. “Itchele's Political Letters[5] were scrutinized closely in order to guess the state of the war.

And the war was on. The highway was busy day and night. Armies were on the march or in flight. The Bolsheviks[6] chased the Poles and on the road to Shedlets[7] one could already hear shots.

During the night the Polish Army left Kałuszyn. The “Warsaw Bridge” was on fire and in the town hung an eerie quiet. In the morning, on the Varshever Gass near Zysman's shop appeared the first two barefoot Bolshevik soldiers. Soon after, there was a steady stream of Bolshevik military – foot soldiers and horsemen, wagons and artillery.

The streets filled up. People were greeting the Russian soldiers and marvelled at the barefoot, raggedy and pale warriors: whom were they going to war for? They, however kept on declaring that in a couple of days they'll capture Warsaw…

Meanwhile they began to establish order in town in communist fashion. The Jewish communists in Kałuszyn, as well as (some) members of the other socialist parties formed a red militia. Carrying rifles and sporting red armbands the new rulers began to rule.

They started arresting the town's Jewish and gentile prominent citizens and nationalizing property, particularly the hardware stores.

The military moved around, bought up things and paid with huge sheets of paper - tchervontsy[8]; the whole town was engaged in trading. Even those who previously had no idea about commerce now tried their luck. The army bought at any price and did not skimp on the paper money that everybody could print on his own printer, and people hoped to become rich.

Artisans too, worked day and night, all for the army which paid lavishly with the utmost politeness… Everybody quickly learned a few words of Russian, particularly the word tovarishtch [9] which helped in business.

Big meetings took place in the market square. From the balcony of Moshe Tchernitski the speakers let it be known that the hour of equality and brotherhood had arrived. I recall the deep impression made by the speech of Pływaczewski who for many years hid his membership in the communist party. He called on all downtrodden who hitherto lived in cellars, to occupy the upper floors of the rich. This had an effect on the poor, and it became a great honour to speak to a communist. Everybody started boasting of his connection to the communist party: “I… I've been a member of the party for many years”…

Many hoped to acquire a new station in life – manage the shops of the affluent and even become leaders of the municipality. The shtetl[10] sparkled with festive spirit, the streets swarmed with people and every military vehicle was given a warm welcome.

One of the cars that passed the town and was greeted warmly by the Jewish crowds turned out later to have carried the Polish armistice delegation. They had the honour of a festive welcome, but afterwards the antisemitic “Dwa Grosze” in Warsaw had written that the Jews of Kałuszyn greeted the delegation with such warmth because they thought they were greeting Bolsheviks[11]. This antisemitic description cost the Jews of Kałuszyn dearly.

After ruling the town for eight days the Soviet military started to withdraw at a terrific speed. The stampede grew from minute to minute and the mood of the people changed again.

The roads were choked with countless wagons, one almost on top of another. Masses of people were leaving their homes and running after the retreating Soviet military.

The panic was great. Everybody was fleeing. Jews understood the implication of the return of the Polish army. I, a small boy then, not having told anyone at home, was also fleeing. Whereto? - where everybody was running – to Russia, via the road to Shedlets.

Night fell with a lot of noise and screaming. Wagons were trying to overtake one another. Soon Polish planes appeared and started to spray the road with machine guns.

We asked the soldiers to take us aboard the wagons but they refused. We walked all night and arrived very early in Sokolov[12].

The people here were distressed and in tears. It was said that the Poles broke through the front at Warsaw and the Jews of Sokolov were standing with their bundles also ready to flee.

Our people from Kałuszyn who have taken a rest after walking all night had decided to continue the flight. I too, was trying to stand up but my legs buckled under me – I couldn't walk any more. Alone I remained sitting on a doorstep. My Kałuszyn fellow travellers were advising me to have a little rest and then walk towards the Bug River and on to Russia. In the meantime I was left all by myself. I was hungry and had no money. Actually I did have money – the Soviet worthless pieces of paper.

Lonely, tired and hungry I managed, in the panic of the retreating army and fleeing Jews, to get to the home of a Kałuszyn native, now a resident of Sokolov. I found there a roomful of people, among them many from our town. The host himself also fled, leaving the wife and children. I spent the night there, and early morning we found out that the Bolsheviks already left Sokolov and the Polish army was about to enter town.

The frightened hostess came into the room and begged us to leave - she didn't want any trouble. We had to go.

Somehow I managed on my sore legs to reach the synagogue. There I found many people, among them from our town: Yosl Yagodjinski z”l[13] and Yona Elson (now in Argentina). I stayed in the synagogue the whole day. All of us were starving and every now and then one of us fainted. As night fell, shooting began.

In the morning we cautiously neared the windows and could already see Polish soldiers breaking into shops and looting. We could hear screaming in the streets. We feared leaving the synagogue, but the hunger forced us to make a move. One of the more daring among us went out and brought back the news that all over town they were hanging posters calling on all refugees from other places to register at the local command post or face the death penalty.

There was no option but to comply. Each person was interrogated as to who he was and where he came from. We didn't want to admit that we were following the Bolsheviks; and as we agreed among ourselves beforehand, we all explained that we were grabbed for forced labour, namely to herd cattle. After the registration we were advised that at four in the afternoon we would all be sent by rail to our respective homes.

A few bold people pleaded for permission to go out to procure something to eat, and were told to go and ask the rabbi for food.

The Sokolov Rabbi wasn't then in town. We found however his servants and asked them for food. There was no bread there either, but they cooked some potatoes for us to quench the hunger.

The fourth hour was approaching and each one of us was awaiting it with trepidation: was it true that we would be sent home? At precisely four o'clock we were arranged in rows, four to a row and started marching towards the railway station.

From the opposite direction appeared a troupe of soldiers and as soon as they reached us they began to throw stones and threaten us with fists. At a command we stopped marching and the soldiers pounced on us with rifle-butts and sabres shouting “hurrah”. I and a few others ran into a Christian cemetery and hid behind the tombstones. It was getting dark; we heard a Gentile woman pointing out our hiding place and we could make out soldiers climbing over the cemetery fence.

We could hear the thumping of our hearts. However, we were lucky and they didn't discover us. We lay there among the tombstones until late into the night, waiting for complete quiet and then we fearfully left the cemetery and started walking.

On the way we met a Christian woman who warned us that the roads were full of soldiers. She advised us to walk through the forest. She also told us that on the way to the railway station many Jews were killed and she suggested we go to a Jewish miller who lived nearby.

It was Friday night. In complete darkness we approached the miller's house with a “Good Shabbes”[14] greeting. He received us quite willingly, since – as he said – all the while people keep on coming and he's busy baking bread for the military, even during the Sabbath. He advised us to go through the forest to Mizna, which is near Vengrov (Węgrów).

He gave each of us a half loaf of bread, and we set out late at night on our injured and bruised legs towards Mizna. I'll never forget what I saw then in the forest: soldiers' crushed bodies, horse carrion and broken rifles and cannon.

Late at night we arrived in Mizna. Not a living soul could be seen. We made our way to a hut in which a light was on. We asked whether there was a Jew living in the village and went to that place. We knocked, but there was no response. Only after we let them know that we were Jews, had a woman opened the door. Since it was the Sabbath she did not turn on a light, and in the darkness told us about the wild excesses of the “Hallertchiks”[15]. She treated each one of us to bread and milk, and we spent the rest of the night in the stable.

At her request we left early and went on to Vengrov. On the way we met some Jews who warned us that in Vengrov they're catching people for forced labour and arresting non-residents. Nevertheless I walked into town and enquired about my relatives there. I thus became separated from my group and thereafter reached Kałuszyn on my own via a number of detours – the roads to the town were patrolled by the military, which were on the lookout for refugees returning to Kałuszyn. Each one caught by them was greeted with a severe beating and sent to jail.

Evading main thoroughfares I reached the town and went straight home. My parents' joy mixed with tears was beyond description. Every minute another neighbour came in to enquire whether I saw so-and-so. Each time the door opened I was overcome with dread, fearing immediate arrest. And the neighbours kept on coming and probing.

The feeling in town was like on Yom-Kippur[16]. Every minute one could hear about new events: that they arrested Yeshaye Grodjitski, Yakov Hertz Gontarski and others, that they were kept in the Shedlets jail and that they were under the threat of a death sentence. Men and women flocked to the synagogue to pray and weep, and felt helpless.

A few days later came the news of the massacre in Boymie[17], where about twenty Jews were hacked to death with axes and spades. I remember the names of only a few of the victims: Avrohom Shmerl, my aunt Royze's husband, Yisroel Ashel (a son of his lives now in Argentina), Simche Bromberg, a shoe uppers maker, the “black” Alter, Hershl, a son of Liba Broche the laundress, Chone, the son of a talismaker[18], Yeshaye, the son of Shloyme the Chassid[19], Symche Palma.

Some time later three Jews were shot, having been sentenced by a military tribunal. This was the price paid in blood and suffering by Kałuszyn for the write-up in the antisemitic “Dwa Grosze”.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Unedited translation from Yiddish of article, נאָך דער באַפֿרײַונג פֿון פּױלן, published in Sefer Kałuszyn by the Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries, Tel-Aviv, 1961. The endnotes were made by the translator. Return
  2. Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935), Polish statesman, Field marshal, first chief of state (1918–1922) and dictator (1926–1935), leader of its armed forces (Wikipedia).
    Earlier in life Piłsudski was a leader of the Polish Socialist Party. Return
  3. בתּי־מדרשים, houses of study and prayer. Return
  4. Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. Return
  5. A news bulletin published by someone called Isaac (Itchele endearingly)? Return
  6. Soviet Russians. Return
  7. Siedlce in Polish - a neighbouring town east of Kałuszyn. Return
  8. Plural of tchervonets - Russian monetary unit equal to 10 roubles. An indication of its worth in 1920-21 can be inferred from this history of Soviet currency:
    “…In March 1924 the monetary reform was completed and the new rouble, which was used as change and equalled one-tenth of the (t)chervonets, exchanged for 50,000 roubles of the 1923 issue or 50 million roubles of the earlier issues”.
    (http://www.cbr.ru/eng/today/history/print.asp?file=gosbank.htm) Return
  9. Comrade. Return
  10. Small town. Return
  11. The Bolsheviks, (the “majority”) were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) which split apart at the Second Party Congress in 1903 and ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks seized power in Russia during the October Revolution phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and founded the Soviet Union. (Wikipedia). This was another name for the Soviet soldiers and functionaries during the Polish-Soviet war 1919-1921. Return
  12. Sokołów Podlaski in Polish. The refugees seem to have left the main road from Kałuszyn to Shedlets and travelled on minor roads since Sokołów is some distance to the north of Shedlets. Return
  13. zichrono levrocho – of blessed memory. Return
  14. A Yiddish Shabbat greeting nowadays replaced by the Hebrew “Shabbat Shalom”. It is still used by the ultra-Orthodox, especially Chassidim. Return
  15. So named after their commanding officer, General Haller. Haller's Army (“Blue Army”), a force of Polish volunteers organized in France during the last year of World War I, (was) responsible for the murder of Jews and for anti-Jewish pogroms. (Based on Encyc. Judaica). Return
  16. The Day of Atonement, metaphorically - a day of fearful expectation.
    The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur. (Based on Judaism 101 - http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday3.htm) Return
  17. Bojmie in Polish – a town in the vicinity of Shedlets. Return
  18. talis – prayer shawl. Kałuszyn was renowned for its talis-making industry. Return
  19. Chassid – a very pious Jew, a follower of a Chassidic Rabbi. Return


[Page 57]

In the Minsk-Mazovyetsk Prison[1]

By Yisroel Raychenbach

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

It was August 1920. The Bolshevik[2] army began the great invasion-offensive on Poland and penetrated deep into Polish territory. The Polish government at the time was a coalition of workers and peasants – Daszyński[3], Witos[4]. However, in addition to them also “governed” General Haller and his blue-uniformed army, the Hallertchiks[5], who introduced into the towns the “fashion” of cutting Jewish beards and tearing pieces of skin and flesh.

An order was issued in those days to arrest all politically suspect people and the order was being implemented.

I was also among those named in the arrest order - marked with two red lines, which meant: arrest at any price. The reason was my activity at that time as chairman of the cultural association “Tsukunft” in Kałuszyn. However, the authorities didn't manage to arrest me at the same time as the rest of the suspects because I was then in Warsaw in hospital in the care of the army mobilization commission.

After release from the hospital on leave for three months, I got off the train at Mrozy with the intention of going home to Kałuszyn, but at the station I was met by a messenger who warned me to avoid the town, where I was being sought.

I spent the night in Mrozy and intended to return to Warsaw in the morning. However, at day-break the police besieged the station and demanded identity documents. I showed them the release papers of the hospital, but they looked for me in the list of suspects and a policeman from Kałuszyn, after succeeding in reading my - for him not easily pronounceable – name, exclaimed: “gotcha, you communist s.o.b.”

I was taken into the Mrozy police commissary and placed under guard. I negotiated with my guardian for my release and offered him a considerable sum. His answer to my propositions was: “I would release you if you were a thief or a bandit, but a communist?!” In the meantime they brought in another prisoner – a deserter, an eighteen year old Mrozy youth.

Around eleven in the morning came the police commandant, who already knew about our arrest and displayed his knowledge about each one, pointing his finger at me: “communist”, and about the other: “deserter”.

The interrogation of the deserter he began in this vein: “you're eating Polish bread while the country is in danger, so why did you dodge the army?” The youngster tried to say something, but the commandant treated him to his mighty hand and belaboured him with such passion that he was foaming at the mouth.

I waited, expecting a similar fate. But to my amazement he turned to me with a proshe pana[6] – would I please sign the report in which he informs the higher authority that he succeeded in executing the order and was transferring the arrested communist Raychnbach.

I refused to sign and asked him on what grounds he was accusing me of being a communist. He answered that he wasn't obliged to provide me with an explanation, (but) I have the right to not sign the document.

I did in fact not sign and two policemen led me off to Minsk-Mazovyetsk.

In the Minsk police quarters they were “overjoyed” at my arrival and after a short procedure and search they transferred me to jail. There I found all my old acquaintances – the detainees from Kałuszyn – Ezra Skovronek, Menachem Domb, Berish Altenberg, Itche Milgrom, Hersh Yosl Sokol, one of the sisters Vinokamien, Mendl Grushka, Moyshe Rozenfeld and the “long” Yosef. Among the prisoners were also about 15 political detainees from Minsk-Mazovyetsk.

The comrades Tcheladnitski, Velondik and Slutzki succeeded in evading the arrests and to arrive in Warsaw. Thanks to their initiative the central committees of the workers' parties in Warsaw sent assistance to us – eighty thousand złotys, at the time a considerable sum. We straight away elected a cashier, Ezra Skovronek and divided the entire group into three sections – the affluent, the not-so-well-off and the poor. We also decided on the criterion for dividing the help: the impoverished ones received their full upkeep, the others only a part.

The prison administration tolerated our partnership as well as the deal that we made with a neighbour of the jail for the supply of food. So, they got rid of the necessity to provide for us and thus could pocket the funds allocated for our upkeep.

In this friendly spirit we have set our prison life. It is worth mentioning one of the Minsk detainees, Greenberg, whose initiative, courteous and comradely behaviour made everybody exceedingly fond of him.

The days dragged on into the fifth week since our arrest. The air became more and more suffocating. The front got closer. News reached us that the Bolshevik army was already on the outskirts of Shedlets. We conferred about our situation and what we could expect from the Polish authorities with the front approaching.

We heard rumours that we'd be sent to Poznań - to the Wronki prison and also that we would be drafted into the army. Others said that we may be released; however we did not believe this and saw in this rumour a provocation on the part of the authorities because the latter discovered our intention to liberate ourselves by force once the Bolsheviks would get closer. The rumour about our impending release was planted by the authorities to dissuade us from our liberation plans. In the meantime the situation became more tense and we were in continuous consultations among ourselves.

One morning Itchele[7] Milgrom called me into a corner of our prison yard and using his considerable oratory talent convinced me that we were in danger of being split up, each being sent to a different prison and thus being left without a cashier and without cash. He suggested that we split the money, to each according to merit. I saw that his proposal made sense and I accepted it.

We immediately called a conference of all the detainees from Kałuszyn. Itchele presented his plan, and after a discussion of the possible consequences, it was decided to split the funds. We also made a solemn undertaking that whoever managed to escape or be released and reached Kałuszyn would not make personal use of the money, but would hand it over to the local comrades for social and communal purposes.

*

The Bolsheviks meanwhile reached Kałuszyn and went beyond on the road to Minsk-Mazovyetsk. We then decided to remain awake during the night and await developments. We felt that that night will be decisive, and so it was.

Around 10-11 in the evening a large contingent of police surrounded the prison and the police commissioner exclaimed: “collect your things and come out into the yard!”

The commissioner – a bespectacled runt with darting eyes walked around the detainees sniffing until he came to Itche Milgrom. After the latter responded to the question of his age, the commissioner released him with “poshol von do domu”[8]. All the others were lined up and marched off to the Minsk-Mazovyetsk precinct.

A tragic episode almost took place at the precinct. As we stood there a shot was heard, and immediately a poznantchik[9] arrived on horseback from the army forward positions. He accused us of firing the shot and shouted that we all ought to be shot in turn. The police inspector barely managed to convince him that we - the detainees - were not involved, and thus the danger of a bloody outcome was averted.

After a short stay at the precinct, we were ordered to march to Warsaw and mid-morning we arrived at the citadel in the capital.

All able bodied were mobilized into the Polish Army and only a few of our group managed to avoid the draft and reach Kałuszyn.

One of those few was “Long” Yosef.

He – a turner by trade – was always short two days to the week as far as livelihood was concerned; poverty was a constant tenant in his household; he never voiced any complaints at either God or man, not even against “the bourgeoisie” - a quiet and honest workingman, who always related to people with a smile on his face.

I always wondered whether the nickname “long” wasn't somewhat humiliating for this honourable man. Indeed, his nickname should have been “the great” Yosef, the great, noble person.

Yosef Safirshtayn performed the mitzvah[10] faithfully and fulfilled the solemn resolution taken in the cell of the Minsk prison. As soon as he arrived in Kałuszyn he forthwith gave the cash – his prisoner's share – to the local comrades to be used for social and community purposes.

This again confirmed my judgment about the “Great Yosef” – the exceptionally honest man and comrade – Yosef Safirshtayn.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. In Polish - Mińsk-Mazowiecki – the town housing the administrative centre to which Kałuszyn belonged.
    This is an unedited translation of article, אין מינסק־מאַזאָװיעצקער טורמע, published in Sefer Kałuszyn by the Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. The Bolsheviks, (the “majority”) were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) which split apart at the Second Party Congress in 1903 and ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks seized power in Russia during the October Revolution phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and founded the Soviet Union. (Wikipedia). This was another name for the Soviet army during the Polish-Soviet war 1919-1921. Return
  3. Wincenty Witos (1874 - 1945), a prominent member of the Polish People's Party (PSL) from 1895…and member of parliament … from 1919-1920. He served thrice as the premier of Poland, in 1920-1921, 1923 and 1926 (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  4. Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. Return
  5. So named after their commanding officer, General Haller. Haller's Army (“Blue Army”), a force of Polish volunteers organized in France during the last year of World War I, (was) responsible for the murder of Jews and for anti-Jewish pogroms. (Based on Encyc. Judaica). Return
  6. Proszę Pana – A polite form of address (if you please, Sir). Return
  7. Itche and Itchele were used as diminutive and endearment forms of Yitzchok. Return
  8. A mixture of Russian and Polish: “get lost, go home” Return
  9. Poznańczyk in Polish - a native of Poznań, a city in historical Great Poland ; in Prussia 1815-1919; now in Poznań province, W. Poland. (Extract from Encyclopaedia Judaica).
    (The Gentile natives of Poznan had a reputation for strong anti-Jewish sentiments).
    Poznańczyk was also the nickname given to soldiers and officers of the Polish military units (Armia Wielkopolska) during the Uprising of 1918-1919 - a military insurrection of Poles in the region called the Grand Duchy of Poznań against the German/Prussian forces.(from Wikipedia).
    It may also have been used as another nickname for the Hallertchiks [see note 5] Return
  10. Commandment, good deed. Return

 

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