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[Page 60]

The Turmoil of 1920[1]

By Yaakov Palma

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

On 15th June 1920[2] , after midday Moyshele - Goldberg's younger brother[3] told me that Dovidl Zylberberg wanted to see me urgently. I left the workshop in a hurry and met Dovidl, who was about ready to leave town. He told me that during the night the police of Minsk-Mazovyetsk[4] intended to arrest party activists, and that he, Ezra Skovronek and I were on a list compiled by the district police. A carriage was already waiting for Dovidl; we said good-bye and he left me to take charge of the Bund [5] archive, which was then housed in Dovidl's home. So, most of it went up in smoke and Mendl Grushka (died in London) took the rest to a safe place.

Having disposed off the archive, I went through back lanes to warn the other comrades. In the street policemen have gone berserk with whips over peoples' heads and the whole town was in turmoil. After I was done with all matters, I went to sleep at the home of my boss Aron Edelshtayn. About six in the morning I was woken up by a big commotion outside. Looking out the window, I saw groups of young men surrounded by police. Every now and then they brought out a new bunch. I suddenly spotted Ezreal Skovronek, who was the whole week in Warsaw and by coincidence had come home that night. I also saw two policemen breaking into my dwelling across the street.

In the meantime the groups of arrested kept growing outside. I saw among them Hersh Yosl Sokol, Menachem Domb, Moyshe Rozenfeld, Esther Vinokamien, Ezreal Skovronek, and others. A few hours later they were all taken on wagons to the Minsk-Mazovyetsk jail.

I found out that the railway station at Mrozy[6] was guarded and that passengers of every train were thoroughly checked. After some reflection I decided to get to Mrozy, where Shloyme Zylberman stayed for his holidays. The idea was to look for an opportunity to go from there to Warsaw. In Mrozy I also met Shloyme Velondik and Avrum Gluzman.

Although the holiday place was at the outskirts of the village, the police found out where I was. Three days later – on a Saturday afternoon - Moyshele Goldberg and Itche Kramarz came running through the fields: “Comrades, run – the police are coming!” We immediately decided to return to Kałuszyn and let the police look for us in Mrozy.

In order not to waste time we, Avrum Gluzman and I, left through the same fields. As we arrived in town dishevelled and out of breath, we were assailed by shkotsimlech[7] shouting: “communists”. Somehow we made it through to the yard of the krochmalnitchke [8], jumped over the fence and into the house of Rabbi Naftole, where we lost ourselves in the throng of the worshipers during the afternoon prayer.

Later I went to Moyshe Pasklinski's house and his mother Sure-Laye ע”ה[9] hid me for a few days. I decided to reach Warsaw, and if it were not possible by train, then by (horse and) wagon.

A place was reserved for me as a “shmayser[10] among the wagoners transporting goods between Warsaw and Kałuszyn. A loaded wagon waited for me on the road to Warsaw, near the bridge. The real shmayser, the “tall Zalmen's” son was given money for a train ticked, and I together with Chaim Mordechai Sht. got on the way. I – on the coachbox with whip and rein, my neighbour keeping an eye to make sure I don't drive the wagon into a ditch… Still, we made it safely till Minsk-Mazovyetsk.

At a military checkpoint they inspected the load and the documents, everything passed and we arrived in Milosne[11]. It was already midnight. My eyes were closing, but there was another police check. Again an inspection and it seemed my “attire” was not to their liking. They dragged me off and threw me into a dark cell.

I sat on the floor till morning and reviewed my situation. I had somehow to reach Warsaw and from there make contact with Kałuszyn, where everything was left without leadership. In the morning I was taken to the police station so they could discover my real identity. My shaved head and white hands didn't match my “profession” of a shmayser. So who was I? - Most likely a deserter. I was sent to the Minsk-Mazovyetsk military police.

I found myself in the stockade in the P.K.U.[12] and was “received” by the commandant, a fellow who could deliver a blow or two. He sniffed me: “Ha, zhidek?!”[13]

He took away my cigarettes and the bit of money I had, but that didn't satisfy him. With a lot of cursing he forced me down on the cot, a few Esau[14] paws held me fast and the “commandant” bichvoydo-ubeatsmo[15] gave me a “treat” with his soldier's nail studded boot. Having no choice I let go of my kol – kol Yankev[16]. My screams brought out the officials and the higher rank officers. They inspected my papers and having satisfied themselves that my documents were “in order”, they threw me out.

Now I was free again, but then I saw two Kałuszyn policemen running towards the office of the P.K.U. Not losing any time I got outside, went to my uncle Yisroel Chaim, had a meal, slept through the night, took some pocket money and started planning my getaway.

Before leaving I went to pay a visit to the comrades under arrest in the Minsk-Mazovyetsk jail. The jailer, for a bribe opened wide the door and I saw all those inside. Surprisingly they seemed to be in good spirits. They were delighted at my unexpected visit, and seeing their cheerfulness I myself felt more assured – these were people belonging to a movement and the activity of years was bearing fruit.

The following day I went again to see the arrested. They were throwing questions at me and as I was trying to keep up I saw two policemen leading Yisroel Raychnbach. He was arrested in Mrozy at the railway station. The policemen noticed me and that meant that Minsk became “hot” and it was time to leave as soon as possible.

Early next morning I left for Kołybiel with the view of reaching Warsaw via a different route. The nag plodded on slowly, the wagon bumped and I tried, dozing, to make sense of the situation and reflect on everything that happened: the Polish Army at Kiev[17] completely routed and retreating in panic; the Red Army[18]was advancing with giant strides; the Polish authorities venting their rage on the Jewish population. The arrests in the country took away the entire body of activists. Every day brought new gzayres[19]: Yablonna[20], the closing down of all political and trade union organizations. The Jewish newspapers were also banned. Nevertheless, the Bund decisively opposed the invasion by the Red Army[21].

What should I do? What was the way out? I was thinking that maybe it would be better to go to jail and be together with my comrades. On the other hand: what about responsibility, the public? No, I should remain free, resume contact with the community and try to give courage during these trying times.

Engrossed in these thoughts I arrived in Kołybiel with my horse and wagon. I stopped at the marketplace and went into a tavern to get a cup of tea. Soon a young man arrived, then a girl. They were happy to see me. My name was known to them from my activities in the region. They took me away from the tavern, more comrades joined us, and they all asked me for news. I was exhausted and begged them for a chance to get some sleep.

The following day a policeman asked for my papers, and when he saw that I was from Kałuszyn he ordered me to leave immediately: he did not want any Kałuszyn people in his town. I left for Otvotsk[22] and again found myself among kin, at the place of an uncle.

Here too, confusion reigned. The local railway line Kurtchev-Warsaw was still functioning, but was overflowing with Otvotsk Jews running with their belongings to Warsaw.

Here I also learned that a new Polish army was being formed in France – the Hallertchiks[23]. From Yablonna came terrible news: two military trains collided and there were two Kałuszyn casualties – Motl Piasetski killed, Moyshe Zhelazny, injured.

On the third day it became clear that I could no longer stay at my uncle's. He bewailed me, the goy[24]. He made a mark on the tfillin[25] and became convinced that I had not put them on… The man sat and wept. I was at a loss how to explain to him my revolutionary Shulchan Orech[26]. So I rather remained silent and preferred to allow myself being seized to dig trenches in Kurtchev, near the Vistula[27]. Work went on from sunrise into the night. We had to sleep on the beach guarded by brutal soldiers. The nights were cold and we had to cuddle up to each other to be able to catch a few hours sleep.

One morning the army left, leaving the trenches and the workers to their fate. I dragged myself back to Otvotsk only to find my relatives' little house locked up. They left for Warsaw abandoning everything. I settled down in an empty loft, which they left unlocked and I found in a cellar a “reserve” potato to keep me from starving.

Otvotsk was in a state of lawlessness, isolated from the world. The Polish army had left, the railway stopped, the government offices closed. The heat was oppressive and I wandered around in the empty streets. The bulk of the Jewish residents went away to Warsaw; I felt lost and tried to find my co-workers from the trenches.

And then, one afternoon the first khaki-clad Bolshevik appeared, with one hand leaning on his rifle, with the other scratching himself under the shirt. He was a scout, the main force sitting in the nearby woods.

Bolsheviks[28] – we have known of them for three years, since the October Revolution[29], which caused many discussions and ideological feuds in the party. Many hopes were associated with that event, but also great disappointments. Every word coming out of there was resonating as if it was the sound of the trumpet announcing the coming of the Moshiyach[30] and got deep into one's being. And here I was beholding him, the Bolshevik – the dense muzhik[31] in his silence seemed to me like a mysterious saviour…

I ran into the little forest to see the new army. I was drawn there by curiosity, as well as by admiration. There were about score riders - the Comrades, who informed me that the Red Army would march into Warsaw at any moment and from there on to Berlin to proclaim the victory of the World Revolution.

Under the spell of the speeches I fell into a kind of ecstasy, where the line dividing dream and reality ceased to exist. But then the Comrade Commissar released me from the tension. He gave an order and the troop left. He took farewell from me and advised me to go home. It became dark as night fell.

I barely managed to arrive in town as a volley of machinegun bullets flew over my head. I dropped to the ground (after all, I was once a soldier) to wait until it was over and then rushed into town to find some comrades with whom to share my enthusiasm.

The friendly and comradely attitude of the Bolshevik soldiers affected me deeply. After being hunted for so many weeks like an animal, physically exhausted and hungry -at twenty years of age I was now thirsting for something great and wonderful, for being addressed as “comrade” rather than “zhid”, for freedom rather than jail, for equality rather than humiliation. In my overwrought condition I thought that something new and mighty was being born.

*

That night the Otvotsk Jews that remained in town congregated in the buildings around the “Otvotsk bazaar”, in the cellars with vaulted ceilings. They clung to each other like sheep in a storm.

In the morning I went to a villa, where a group of young men from the trenches stayed with a local family. I hardly managed to sit down on the lawn when there was an overflight of planes, bombs fell and there was heavy shooting from machineguns. We were running, staying low, looking for a hiding place. I was thrown to the ground by a gust of air from an exploding bomb. A building next to ours was hit, thick smoke and flames burst from there. A woman screamed, a child that was hit by shrapnel dead in her arms. Another bomb fell, hitting the railway line. I lay on the ground to escape the bullets from the planes. They flew very close to the ground unimpeded in their deadly work. Again night fell.

In the buildings around the “bazaar” the mood was depressed. People congregated in circles and commented on the events of the day. From snatches of conversations I gathered that a large contingent of the Red Army entered the town in the morning, in the vicinity of the railway station, but that after the air raid they went back into the nearby woods, only to re-enter the town at night; and that their commander was billeted close by.

At about 11 pm I managed to reach the commandant, “comrade colonel”. I tried to impress on him the necessity of my returning home and asked for some sort of safe passage. He said that he was not entitled to do such things since he was from a mobile unit on the front. I sensed in him some kinship and began to speak mame-loshn [32] and wonder of wonders – he spoke a fluent Lithuanian[33] Yiddish. He told me I was free to go. If I were to be stopped by Red soldiers, it would be enough for me to say “Yevrey[34] and I would come to no harm. He gave me advice (on how to carry on) for the first few miles from the front, and at dawn I went on foot towards home via Kołybiel.

The “charm” Yevrey that the “comrade colonel” put into my mouth worked on me like a real talisman. Not realizing the danger, I marched out on the road Otvotsk-Kołybiel.

The first few miles I used a Polish road[35]. I could not see another living soul. There was a heavy cannonade. Shrapnel was flying over the little forest. I heard dull thuds and could hardly feel the ground under my feet. Finally I reached a cobblestone road which took me away from the front and brought me into the little town of Kołybiel.

I went to the town hall and turned to the revcom[36]. I was greeted friendly by a stocky Russian officer. I unburdened my bitterness and asked him to help me get home. He ordered some food for me and started to explain the aims of the Red Army. What could be the significance of a town like Kałuszyn for the World Revolution...? He offered me the position of secretary of the revcom in Kołybiel, with a considerable wage and a payok[37] for a whole family. I tried to explain that my place was only in Kałuszyn and that first I had to turn to my Party. In my desperation I tried to convince him that it wasn't in the interest of the Red Army to leave a void and that I would be most effective in my town where people knew me. The conversation dragged on without success. I left his office and moved on towards Minsk-Mazovyetsk placing my faith in the amulet of “comrade colonel”.

The whole way between Kołybiel and Minsk – about 20 kilometres – I couldn't see a living soul. The Russian trains could not use the Polish railways due to the difference in the rail-gauges, and people were hiding in order to evade being grabbed for forced labour.

In Minsk I found out about the mass meetings in Kałuszyn, where Russian officers and Yisroel Manchemer spellbound the listeners, and that some Jews of Kałuszyn welcomed with derision the passing Polish peace delegation. At about 9 pm I left Minsk and arrived in Kałuszyn after dark.

I reached Chava Laye's foot bridge through empty streets. A fellow with a rifle on his shoulder grabbed me vice-like, exclaiming: “comrade Kapote”. He was Yankl Vaksman (“Lalke”[38]) who was a few days later killed by a Cossack's sword in Semiatitch when Polish partisans attacked with machine guns a retreating Cossack detachment.

Late at night I met with a group of comrades who told me that of the Bundist leaders in town no one was left: some were arrested, some fled. Avrum Gluzman and Shloyme Velondik went to Shedlets to Rachmiel Vaynshtayn (a known Bundist who was then a political commissar in the army) to ask for instructions. Some comrades from the Bund joined the police and the requisitions-commission. I was also told that the priest, the Rabbi, Yidl Pienknawiesh and Moyshe Tchernitski were taken away as hostages to Shedlets.

The town administration then consisted of: in the revcom – Pływaczewski, the gardener, Yisroel Manchemer, Moyshe Goldshtayn, a shoemaker – headed by a Russian officer; in the “workers' council” (replacing the former town council) - Bendit; in the sanitary commission – Fayge Lis, Fayge Obrontchka, Ruchtche Z., Volovtchik (then deported from France); the commandant of the militia was Oyzer Vozhnyak (a son-in-law of Toporka), a former Siberian cavalryman in the Tsarist army, (among the youth of Kałuszyn he was known as the “educated one”). There was also active a “People's Court” and a political committee of the Communist Party – the official authority.

After I became acquainted with the situation, I came to the conclusion that we ought to do something, try to work with the town's poor and breathe some orderly life into the general confusion.

I started with an application to the revcom to call a party meeting of the Bund. With heavy heart I tried to convince the Russian officer how important it was to collect the masses, to form a collective force and encourage the towns people to pull through the hard times and momentous events. His answer was succinct: “nye razreshayem” [39]. Over and over I tried to convince him of the importance of the request, but he stuck to his short, dry answer, and when I asked: why? He answered: “because the Bund is a counter-revolutionary party”.

That left no other option but to organise the meeting clandestinely. I went away upset from the conversation with the Russian and on the way I met Yisroel Manchemer (with whom I had a bond of friendship from cheder[40], shtibl [41] and the first steps in the outside world). As was his wont, he proudly and with youthful charm extended his hand. I related to him the conversation with the Russian, the resolute refusal of the “chairman” and my equally resolute decision to call the party meeting, adding that if he was courageous enough, he himself would come to arrest us all.

Yisroel Manchemer in consternation went to the officer. I went to the militia and found there the commissar, Oyzer Vozhnyak. During our heated exchange arrived fully armed, comrade Shloyme Popovski, a shoemaker and a member of the town committee of the Bund. “Do you (still) consider yourself a Bundist”? I asked him. “Certainly” - he replied. On my instructions all Bundists took off their armbands and resigned from the local militia.

That made a strong impression. On the commandants table there was now a heap of armbands of the Bundists who had previously voluntarily joined his force. We all then left to organise the Bund meeting. However the meeting never took place.

*

While we were still at the militia post there started a shooting from machine guns and an overflight of military planes. We all dropped to the ground and while laying there in a circle I started to relate my experiences in Otvotsk. In a corner lay Avrum Butches, the former secretary of the Kehilla [42] and now of the tcherezvytchayka [43]. He was whispering “Shema Yisroel[44] and his teeth were chattering.

A dull thud caused the walls to shake. A bomb hit Stashek's yard, and when the shooting stopped I saw outside a frightening stampede. In the beginning I didn't realise that it was a general retreat from the front.

In town there was utter confusion with many displaced people from outside – from Minsk, Stanislova and other towns. The turmoil was great, so many strange faces, bundles scattered all over the place. The confusion overwhelmed me, and in a state of utter physical exhaustion and without deliberation, I grabbed my bundle and followed the crowd – young and old – out of town.

One kilometre outside town I found indescribable chaos: men, women, children and old people, tents, riders and overturned wagons. The road was blocked. Riders were galloping and planes strafed the crowd. Horses reared and people scattered into the fields until the planes disappeared only to be replaced by others. This lasted till the mass reached a fork in the road – one road leading to Vengrov, the other towards Brest-Litovsk via Shedlets.

Most people including all officials, commissars and militiamen turned towards Bialystock via Vengrov. Fewer, among them I, went towards Shedlets. Neither I, nor for that matter the others knew then that Brest-Litovsk and the entire road beyond was cut off by the Polish army which broke through from Lublin. Disoriented and panicked we reached Mordy, six kilometres from Shedlets. There I collapsed, and our comrade Shmul Layzer Sadovski[45] somehow managed to get me on his back into Shedlets about midnight.

Under heavy machinegun fire Shmul Layzer took me into a small timber house on the edge of town, near his sister's dwelling. About five in the morning could already be heard the shouts of Polish army scouts. I went out into the street towards the Polish soldiers, who were dishevelled and wore patched up pants. They checked my papers and told me that I could safely return to Kałuszyn.

About mid-day a civilian with an armband came to me. He was a Jewish policeman whom my comrades sent to find me and bring me to them. He took me to Shloyme Zilberman's dwelling in Shedlets. I found there Pinchas Chroshtchitski, Avrum Gluzman, Shloyme Velondik, Mayer Fishl Zorman and Nechama Piasetski (Hendel), Miriam Goldvog (Milgrom), the sisters Helman and others. My miserable appearance made them take care of me, and in the warm atmosphere surrounded by friends I began to recover.

It is worthwhile to mention the considerable help from Pinchas Chroshtchitski, the treasurer of the “American Committee”, who then assisted and supported the people from Kałuszyn who in those days lived in Shedlets. With “moneys from America” he hired a big truck which brought into town a few dozen young comrades.

The aforementioned bribed Jewish policeman took Shloyme Velondik and me to night lodging, somewhere in a loft. The shingle roof was rotted; there were holes in the mattress, and our food – potatoes and herring. Bread was not available. He warned us to be careful, not to talk or smoke because in the next house was the military headquarters.

It was painful to watch lung diseased Shloyme Velondik clench his lips in order not to cough loudly. He used to press his face to the mattress in order to muffle his cough.

Somehow we pulled through the night. In the morning on a signal we lowered the ladder and Miriam Goldvog, our “food manager” climbed up with food and news. The first news – from the Bug River – was that all those who went via Vengrov did not get across. There too, the road was cut and a few hundred battered Jews from various towns were brought into the Shedlets jail. Awaiting them was a court martial which could only pass death sentences. They were under threat of being shot within 24 hours.

Early next morning we saw horrible posters in the streets: Yisroel Manchemer, Moyshe Blumberg and a third person were given death sentences for treason and were shot. We were almost paralysed by the news and were under the impression that a similar fate awaited all the arrested Jews.

(Only thanks to the untiring intervention of Deputy Noah Prilutski[46] it became possible to moderate the court sentences and to abolish the summary field courts).

My loft-mate Shloyme Velondik was the first to recover from the shock and said that we are not to let ourselves be caught and shot by the bloody butchers[47]. We ought to get off the loft as soon as possible. And if we had to die, we should do so honourably, with our heads held high like free men. Our talk about “dying with honour” shook up even the cool Pinchas Chroshtchitski.

The proud courageous death of Yisroel Manchemer (he refused to be blindfolded, tore open his shirt, shouted revolutionary slogans and called out to the execution platoon: “fire”) filled us all with pride and dignity.

Not everyone then displayed pride. The defensiva [48] also found from among the mass of arrested, weaklings who took part in the court's proceedings as “witnesses”. Even “socialists” were among those who in exchange for better conditions in jail or outright release were willing to sign statements denouncing others…

*

Chronicles from that time relate about a massacre in Drogotchin.

After all refugees crossed the Bug River and dispersed in the town seeking shelter, Polish soldiers appeared in town. They collected all out-of-town people and attacked them shouting: “to the river”. Forced to run between two rows of soldiers and other non-Jews wielding sticks and rifle butts, the battered prisoners had only one option – to jump into the river. Some saved themselves; others were killed by hand grenades tossed after them. Velvl Chaskelevitch was wounded by a grenade and drowned. Many of the survivors were taken into jail.

After the first execution sentences were passed by the military tribunals, the rest of the arrested were processed by normal court proceedings. Dovid Grushke and Yeshaya Grodzitski were given lengthy jail sentences. Dovid Yagodzinski remained in jail many months.

*

Finally we - about thirty Kałuszyn people - returned to our town and already the same day in the afternoon we heard rifle shots. This was the execution of the three (Shloyme Popovski, Shmul Shtaynberg and Pinchas Shvarts from Mrozy).

There was no more peace or rest. There reigned an oppressive atmosphere with denunciations and dangers. The entire socio-communal life lay in ruins. Singly we left for Warsaw to seek consolation and a new field of activity.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Unedited translation of article אין דער בהלה פֿון 1920 published in Sefer Kałuszyn by the Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine endnotes were made by the translator. Return
  2. The article deals with the events during the Polish-Soviet War (February 1919 – March 1921) which was an armed conflict between two nascent states in post-World War I Europe. In some Polish sources it is also referred to as the “War of 1920”. The war was the result of conflicting expansionist attempts. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  3. Moyshe Goldberg (see page 470 in Sefer Kałuszyn), younger brother of Avrum (See page 149 ibid.) Return
  4. The administrative district to which Kałuszyn belonged. Return
  5. 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
  6. A neighbouring small town (village). The railway did not go through Kałuszyn. Return
  7. Little shkotsim (sing. Shkots or sheygets – a derogatory term for young gentile urchins. The term is often also applied to a Jewish impudent boy. Return
  8. A female starch vendor. Return
  9. עליה־השלום - ole(ha)sholem – may she rest in peace. Return
  10. Lit. “One wielding the whip” - a wagon driver. Return
  11. Miłosna – a town between Minsk-Mazovyetsk and Warsaw. Return
  12. Powiatowa Komenda Uzupełnieñ – District Complements Office, the district conscription office. Return
  13. Literally – “little jew”, a Polish pejorative applied to adult Jews. Return
  14. The brother of the biblical patriarch Jacob. Esau is often used as the antithesis of Jewishness. Return
  15. בכבודו־ובעצמו, “his honour himself” (ironic for “in person, personally”). Return
  16. An allusion to the sentence הקול קול יעקב והידיים ידי עשו (the voice is Yakov's but the hands are Esau's – uttered by blind patriarch Isaac, when his younger son pretended to be his first-born Esau), here used as a euphemism for a loud scream. Return
  17. The capital of the then Soviet Ukraine. Return
  18. The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, usually abbreviated to “The Red Army” were the armed forces first organized by the Bolsheviks (see endnote 28 ) during the Russian Civil War in 1918; in 1922 became the army of the Soviet Union. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  19. Lit. Evil decrees, but here means persecution. Return
  20. Jabłonna in Polish: Polish military detention camp set up in the summer of 1920 during the Red Army counteroffensive on Warsaw. The fact that Jewish officers were serving in the Red Army and Jews were prominent in the Soviet leadership created an atmosphere of suspicion toward every Jew, particularly in the (Polish) army. The military authorities gave instructions that all Jewish volunteers, and “in particular officers,” should be detained. Three thousand Jewish soldiers and officers were removed from their units and subjected to physical and mental hardship in the Jabłonna camp. After protests the authorities yielded, and the notorious camp was liquidated in September. (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  21. However, a number of individual Bundists welcomed the Red Army. Some, whilst supporting the official position of the party, nevertheless tried to avoid actively combating the invaders, still considering them at the time as representing a “fraternal workers' movement”. Return
  22. Otwock – a popular, predominantly Jewish holiday town in the neighbourhood. Return
  23. So named after their commanding officer, General Haller. HALLER'S ARMY (“Blue Army”), force of Polish volunteers organized in France during the last year of World War I, responsible for the murder of Jews and for anti-Jewish pogroms in Galicia and the Ukraine. (Based on Encyc. Judaica) Return
  24. Literally “Nation” in Hebrew. Often used as a synonym for Gentile. Ultra-orthodox Jews sometimes applied the term also to non-observant, secular Jews. Return
  25. tefillin: (Heb.תּפֿלין ; usually translated “phylacteries”; sing. tefillah), two black leather boxes containing scriptural passages which are bound by black leather straps on the left hand and on the head and worn for the morning services on all days of the year except Sabbaths and scriptural holy days.(Encyc.Judaica). Return
  26. The collection of laws and prescriptions governing the life of an orthodox Jew. (Yiddish-English Dictionary by U.Weinreich). Return
  27. The Vistula (Polish: Wisła) is the longest river in Poland. Return
  28. The Bolsheviks (derived from bolshinstvo, “majority” in Russian) split apart from the Menshevik faction 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. (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  29. The October Revolution in Russia, also known as the Bolshevik Revolution, is traditionally dated to October 25, 1917 (according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but took place on November 7 according to the Gregorian calendar). The October Revolution was the second phase of the overall Russian Revolution of 1917, after the February Revolution of the same year. The October Revolution overthrew the Russian Provisional Government and gave the power to the Bolsheviks. It was followed by the Russian Civil War (1917–1920) and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922 (Based on Wikipedia). Return
  30. Messiah - promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people; any expected deliverer. Return
  31. A Russian peasant. Return
  32. The mother-tongue, i.e. Yiddish. Return
  33. The Yiddish as pronounced by Lithuanian Jews became the literary Yiddish. Return
  34. “Jew” in Russian. Return
  35. In Yiddish אַ פּױלישער װעג meaning an unpaved, dusty, muddy path. Its etymology is unclear: could it be a corruption of a Polish expression “polna droga” meaning a field path? Return
  36. A Russian acronym for “revolutionary committee”. Return
  37. Russian for “ration”, specifically food ration. However, in the Soviet Union it was used broadly for anything supplied (freely or for a payment) by the State or by its enterprises. Return
  38. “Doll”. Return
  39. “We do not allow”. Return
  40. An orthodox primary learning establishment, where boys were taught the Chumash, the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch. Return
  41. Literally - a small dwelling but used in the sense of a small house of prayer. Return
  42. For many years the organisational form of Jewish communal autonomy. In Eastern Europe the traditions of self-government retained their vitality into the 20th century. (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  43. In Russian slang a reference to the word “tcherezvytchaynaya” – extraordinary, as in The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, a.k.a. by its Russian acronym “Cheka” – an organ of repression created after the Russian revolution of November 1917. Return
  44. The twice daily recitation of the declaration of God's unity: Hear, oh Israel, the Lord, our God - the Lord is one. Also recited when faced with imminent death. (Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  45. See page 479 in Sefer Kałuszyn. Return
  46. Born 1882 in Berditchev, died 1944 in Vilnius (Vilno), Yiddish linguist and folklorist, member of Sejm (Legislative Assembly) in the 1920's (Based on Encyclopaedia Klalit Izreel, Izreel Publishing House Ltd. Tel-Aviv, Israel, 1950) Return
  47. The original Yiddish word used is “hitsles” (plural of “hitsel”) which literally means “dogcatchers” but carries in Yiddish as well as Polish a much more sinister connotation. Return
  48. The Polish secret and counter-intelligence service. Return


[Page 73]

Struggle against Antisemitism[1]

By David Felner (Ben-Avraham)

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

The Boycott Agitation

For many years our antisemitic neighbours sharpened their teeth against Jewish Kałuszyn because of the authentically Jewish character of the town and the well-organized Jewish youth and workers' movements.

The hooligans, the dumb riff-raff from the barracks used to try to provoke fights and mayhem. They were afraid to do it in the centre of the town, so (instead) they would use every opportunity in a side street or outside town. More than once would drunken shkotsim [2] attack and break down doors at night. Jews, however, never turned to the police for help and would instead themselves pay the hoods back.

In the 1930-ies, during the time of the pogroms in Pshitik[3], Brest-Litovsk, Minsk-Mazovietsk, the endeks [4] had organized Polish youth to fight Jews also in our town. The behaviour of the former became more insolent. Jews stopped going for walks out of town, and those that dwelled on the outskirts had plenty of trouble. At that time too, began the boycott campaign. Organized gangs would arrive during market days, provocatively display their wares next to Jewish stalls and terrorise the peasants to stop them from buying (from Jews).

There was an attempt to rob Jews of their livelihood by default, namely, to once and for all move the market from the Jewish section of the town to the Gentile one, next to the City Hall, and thus wrest business from the Jews.

One of the principal sources of the Jews' income in the whole district was the delivery of goods to Warsaw. Horse-drawn wagons loaded with goods and manned by whole families used to move to the capital from all the little towns surrounding Kałuszyn. This had been a Jewish livelihood for generations, but the antisemitic gangs set their sights even on this, and would attack the wagons on the road.

News about robberies and murders used to arrive all the time. This culminated in the pogrom[5] in Minsk-Mazovietsk. Kałuszyn also expected a pogrom, however, the youth of our town remained true to its traditions, and the organisation of self-defence spoilt the plans of the antisemites.

 

A disrupted Shabbes[6]

Shabbes used to mean: respite, no work or business, the markets empty; on the roads you couldn't hear the squeaks of peasants' wagons.

Shabbes used to mean prayer and zmires [7] for the older generation, and for the young – meetings in clubs and walks outside town, in the fields and forests.

But on that particular Saturday the town was far from restful. The danger of the shechita [8] –gzayre [9] stirred young and old.[10] Observant Jews gathered in all places of worship and discussed the ban and the danger of being forced to eat treyf (non-kosher). The young generation also saw in the bill an attack on Jewish rights, an attempt to rob the Jewish butchers and shochtim [11] of a chance to earn a living.

In the corner at Yankl Shtayn's - the meeting place in the town where Jews used to talk over world events and local politics or community problems – the agitation on that day was greater than usually. Everybody talked about the shechita ban. The crowd was noisy. One of the main speakers in the groups was Moyshe Kane, the president of the hachnoses-kale .[12] He out-shouted everybody with his deep voice.

At the corner, near Dina Chaya-Esther's house, another circle was stirring. Here “in charge” was the dozor[13]and councillor Layzer Bornshtayn... Everybody knew him, Layzer “koks[14], the town's “provider”[15], who was said to go to bed in his clothes, in case somebody would knock needing his assistance for a hishtadles[16], a proshenie [17] - Layzer was always ready and willing, and at that moment everybody was pestering him with questions about the gzayre, and as was his wont, he answered all leisurely and politely.

In a third circle, in the middle of the road the common people, the carriers and butchers were noisily protesting. The dozor and councillor Mordechai Rimvrot declared that Jews will not take things lying down, there will be a struggle, signatures will be collected from all the Jews in Kałuszyn, and a delegation headed by Ruven Michlzon would approach the voyevode [18] … and - the community should be hopeful.

One of those present in that circle was Berl, the carrier (“The duck”). His boots were shining from cod liver grease. He was eating sun flower seeds; he listened attentively and couldn't wait for everybody to stop mincing words. Every now and then he was cursing “them”: “they pity the oxen, but have no pity on Jews”. He grumbled under his breath until he came out openly: “enough pussyfooting, simply clobber 'them' over their heads with stakes – once and for all!”

Hershl Tomak, the shoemaker also shouted that the people should do like in 1905 – organise self-defence and stop being afraid.

The circles grew into one big crowd in the whole length of the main street. Suddenly – a hush – Rebbe Naftole came, his shames [19] at his side and behind him the shochtim – Reb [20] Henoch, Reb Eleazer and the Trustee, Reb Chaim. The Rebbe was wearing his shtrayml [21], his black zhipitse [22] and white socks. He was moving with slow, measured steps, followed by a crowd, towards the old beis-hamedresh [23] - to pray and goyzer-tonis zayn.[24]

Above the crowd, on the podium Ruven Michlzon was conspicuous with his proud bearing. He, the long-serving president of the kehilla [25], the entrepreneur who built a whole town, a market and a synagogue; he the doer, whose strength lay in going with every tsore [26] to natchalstve [27] - was exuding confidence: not to worry, the keys were in his hands…

*

The Sabbath, a spoilt and disrupted one – passed. The older generation prayed in beis-hamedresh and the young in their meeting places talked about organising resistance.

That Saturday night the drama circle of the Bund [28] staged the play “Uprising” to cheer up the youth… And Chalutsim [29] that night farewelled their comrades who left for the Land of Israel on illegal aliya [30]

And then came the new week with the old problems and worries of making a living. Again one could hear the screeching of peasant wagons on the town's cobblestones. Drunken peasants were again causing mayhem in Jewish taverns, and the fear that was born on that disturbed Sabbath pervaded all the other days of the week.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from the Yiddish (אין קאַמף קעגן אַנטיסעמיטיזם) of an article in “Sefer Kałuszyn”, published by the “Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Plural of shkots or sheygets – a derogatory term for young gentile urchins. Return
  3. Earlier in life Piłsudski was a leader of the Polish Socialist Party. Return
  4. Przytyk in Polish Return
  5. 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. However, 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 Encyc.Judaica). Return
  6. Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Return
  7. Songs traditionally sung at Sabbath and Festival meals; religious songs and psalms. Return
  8. Ritual slaughter. Return
  9. Decree, usually an evil decree, harmful to Jews. Return
  10. In 1936 antisemitic deputies introduced in the Polish Sejm (parliament) a bill to ban Jewish ritual (kosher) slaughter. The proposal was subsequently defeated, partly thanks to a successful general strike action of the Jewish community on 17th March, 1936. Return
  11. Plural of shochet – a ritual slaughterer. Return
  12. A charitable organization to facilitate (provide a dowry) the marriage of poor or orphaned girls. Return
  13. From Polish “dozór- inspection, oversight, supervision”, hence: overseer, custodian. (Harkavy's Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary, Yivo, New York, of 1928 translates dozor as “synagogue warden”). Return
  14. Lit. “coke” (fuel), but often used for “big shot”. Return
  15. Here meaning: “protector” Return
  16. Also known as shtadlones – intercession, the post-exilic pre-modern Jewish defence mechanism. Return
  17. From Polish – a written submission or solicitation. Return
  18. Polish - a government appointed head of an administrative district. Return
  19. A rabbi's personal assistant. Return
  20. An honorific. Return
  21. A fur-edged hat worn by rabbis and Chassidic Jews on the Sabbath and holidays (U.Weinreich, Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary, Yivo, new York, 1968) Return
  22. Gabardine worn by religious Jews in Poland. Return
  23. House of study/prayer. Return
  24. Initiate a fast (prayers) in order to ask the Almighty to rescind a (evil) edict. Return
  25. Instrument of Jewish (denominational) autonomy in Eastern Europe. Return
  26. Trouble, calamity, plight, affliction (based on U.Weinreich's Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary). Return
  27. From Russian – authorities. Return
  28. 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
  29. Plural of Chaluts - Hebrew for pioneer. Return
  30. Hebrew for “rise”, “ascending” - term applied for being called up in synagogue to read from the Torah, also used for immigrating to the Land of Israel. Return


[Page 76]

Kałuszyn during the days of the Pogrom

In Minsk-Mazovyetsk[1]

By Chaim Rayzman

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

The pogrom [2] in Minsk-Mazovyetsk began after a resident of Kałuszyn, Chaskelevitch killed a Polish (Gentile) cavalry sergeant in Minsk during the Christian Whitsunday holiday in 1936.

What caused the quiet Chaskelevitch, a father of four, to commit murder and (indirectly) bring about such events?

The soldiers who served together with him in the Minsk regiment related that Chaskelevitch used to be tormented by that officer who had once forced the former's head into a bucket of manure. That affected the abused Jewish soldier to such an extent, that even (many years) after his release from the army he had been in a state of melancholy right up to the moment when he exacted revenge.

The ruffians in Minsk have long been waiting for such an opportunity and used it (as an excuse) to make a pogrom.

Not in some backwater but in an administrative centre[3] between Kałuszyn and Warsaw thugs went berserk burning, looting and beating for a whole week. The pogrom spilled over the boundaries of Minsk and almost reached Kałuszyn.

They robbed and beat up on all the roads in the environs. Battered and bloody people arrived in Kałuszyn after abandoning their goods. Most of them were small traders from the surrounding little towns like Mezritch, Biale, Lukov, Mordy, Sokolov, and Vengrov who used to ferry their goods to Warsaw via Kałuszyn. And now their possessions were looted and destroyed by the thugs.

In Kałuszyn we found out that the local rabble led by the Yanaks, (the concretepavers) was about to emulate their Minsk friends, however, the Jews of Kałuszyn have immediately prepared themselves to welcome the attackers. The entire youth, from all the political parties formed a self-defence organization whilst the older comrades were engaged in rendering assistance to the Jews affected by the pogrom in Minsk-Mazovyetsk.

The Jews of Kałuszyn have with the help of the police brought into Minsk the first truck with bread. The doors and shutters of the Jewish houses were locked. Many people were hiding in cellars and on lofts, and it was difficult to bring the bread to the hidden and frightened Jews.

In the meantime the market-day was approaching in Kałuszyn and there were rumours that hoodlums from outside would arrive to assist the local ones. Kałuszyn was taking precautions: every second house was guarded by a self-defence squad of five persons.

The night was dark and quiet. It seemed the entire town was immersed in deep sleep. In fact however, vigil was kept in the darkness.

During the night an event took place which could have had dire consequences. A group of Polish swine-traders had a chance meeting with a group of the Jewish self-defence. The former were travelling in the direction of Minsk to the fair, and it almost, by mistake came to a serious clash. However, indirectly this also had a positive outcome. These traders later related to the goyim[4] in Minsk, that the Jews in Kałuszyn are organized and well armed, and this stopped the thugs from taking on the Jews in our town.

The Jews of Minsk were taken by surprise and they didn't have a chance to prepare and organize. There were, however, individual cases of resistance. The Jews of Kałuszyn had time to organize and thus avoided a pogrom.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from the Yiddish (קאַלושין אין די טעג פֿון פּאָגראָם אױף מינסק־מאַזאָװיעצק) of an article in “Sefer Kałuszyn”, published by the “Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. 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. However, 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 Encyc.Judaica). Return
  3. In Polish “powiat”, one level below “województwo” – the latter more or less corresponding to a state. Return
  4. Plural of “goy” – gentile, non-Jew. Return


[Page 77]

My Shtetl Mrozy and the “Kałuszyn Forest”[1]

Brurya Sharfman-Kaplan, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

The train from Warsaw on its way to Shedletz used to stop here with the conductor an-nouncing: “Mrozy station”! A small number of Jews resided in Mrozy, and as was the case in the small shtetls they maintained their distinctive Jewish way of life in the midst of the Gentile population.

Near the railway station, just abutting the highway between Mrozy and Kałuszyn stood the house of the Funt family surrounded by a short fence, which revealed some vegetation and a few young fragrant lilac plants. The small low veranda, overgrown with wild grapevine lent the house, which housed the sole inn in Mrozy, a particular character. Passing traders had there a bite of tasty dishes prepared by Mrs. Fund herself. Also, many local youth used to frequent the place to chat, discuss or just to have a good time.

In Mrozy there were no organisations or clubs although the young people were divided on ideological lines: Poalei Tsion, Bundists, Communists, Zionists, Revisionists[2], with each group striving to speed up the coming of its own messiah. During the lovely summer Shabbats they would go out into the beautiful woods that stretched quite far, but were broken by fields of corn - each group into another part of the forest. There was the tiny wood adjacent to Michlzon's house, close by the “big forest”, a bit further the “Kałuszyn forest”. The latter was the meeting place of Mrozy with Kałuszyn dwellers of like minding groupings to discuss party matters, assemblies and undercover mass meetings. During the summer it was also the venue of scout excursions when the wood rang with songs and laughter. During winter we Mrozy residents could not wait for the Shabbat meal to finish in order to sneak out from home and trek on foot to Kałuszyn to listen to the various speakers brought in from the centres by the local organisations.

Mrozy youths were employed at sewing shoulder straps. A Warsaw entrepreneur that used to spend his vacation in Mrozy introduced the “manufacture” of embroidering military epau-lets. Girls stooped over the cut out metal form and stitch by stitch followed the patterned Polish symbol on the straps. The completed work was transported to the Warsaw merchant by Shmul Layb, the travelling salesman, who was nicknamed “samochod”[3] because he was on the move day and night. He never missed a train, travelled back and forth laden with big packs in addition to smaller bundles hanging from his neck. And all the time he looked dispirited, as if his whole life, weary and hopeless, was stuffed into those, weighing him down packages.

The majority of Mrozy Jews were eking out a living in similar fashion. On Tuesday, the market-day, goods were bought with hastily acquired loans. Shiye Shloymele's forgot about his asthma on that day - the whole week he barely breathed, but on market-day he held his own. Like all the others he packed his bundles sewing them up and right through the night travelled by train to Warsaw. There, climbing the steep stairs he would deliver fresh butter, cheese and cream to well-off residents. He would return home with meagre earning, but panting heavier. His wife, Yenta could not assist him in any way since she suffered all her life from a skin infec-tion on her foot, and all the lotions of the Mrozy apothecary were of no avail. She used to say to my mother: “I wish the pain was in my heart - I would have been happy to at least being able to walk on my feet”.

The Jews of Mrozy suffered from quite a dose of Gentile harassment. A certain Uldak was keen on getting rid of his Jewish tenant, the baker Yisroel. The former used to organise a gang of louts to throw stones at Yisroel's bakery and dwelling. The attacked family's cries for help went unheeded. The police at the nearby precinct wouldn't waste their time on such “trivial incidents”. The window panes of Yisroel's house have already been replaced by wooden boards a long time ago and the family was deprived of sunshine. Yet, Yisroel went on with his life and business behind the shuttered windows.

Faygele, Yosl-Shiye's was involved whole her life in litigation against her German land-lord Berstold, who was determined to evict her from her dwelling - a gloomy falling apart place, squashed in a narrow, hardly passable lane. Faygele spent all her toil on court cases and ap-peals and became half a lawyer herself and in the process almost went to pieces. “It is worth all the money - she used to say - as long as all he gets is grief”.

I see before my eyes Chava Layzer's, - full of anxiety, as if God had poured his entire wrath upon her. She has four daughters ripe for marriage and not a cent for dowries. They were all away from home since she their mother, could not provide even bread and water for their sustenance. So she stands miserably during prayer, her face distorted from much weeping and supplicates the Almighty in Yiddish since she does not know how to pray properly: “Father in Heaven! When? Oy!” - the last sigh as if in response to aches in every part of her body.

Thus lived the Jews of Mrozy. Their long-suffering lives would only brighten on the Sab-bath and holidays when Jewish windows lit up with Sabbath candles. Then, people forgot their worries about earning a living and with unhurried steps walked home from prayers. On Yom-Kippur the small synagogue could not fit in all the worshipers. People had to pray standing with their prayer shawls outside in the yard. From the women's section one could hear stifled cries of mothers with heavy hearts, their trembling hands holding the crumbling pages of the prayer books - yellowed pages covered in stains from the tears of generations.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of מײַן שטעטל מראָזי און דער קאַלושינער װאַלד, an article in “Safer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Poalei Tsion - a socialist-Zionist party; Bundists - adherents of the “Bund”, a Jewish socialist (anti-Zionist) party founded in Russia in 1897: Revisionist Zionism is an out-growth of . political Zionism, augmented by the ideas of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky. The party's principal aim was to change .moderate policies toward the British Manda-tory regime. (Based on http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/Revisionist_Zionism.html) Return
  3. samochód - Polish for automobile. Return

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