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[Page 345]

Episodes and Events

 

A “Debate” About Jewish Patriotism

By Arija Margolis, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Renée Saltzberg Paton

Comrade Szymszon Dow Jeruszalmi (previously Jeruszalimski) who was a son of the eminent rabbinical scholar Rabbi Mosze Nochym Jeruszalimski, Rabbi of Ostrołęka (Łomża Province) later Rabbi of Kielce, tells an interesting story. It is about a meeting with the rabbis of the regions that took place in Łomża, in 5661 [1901] at the invitation of the Governor of Łomża, Baron Korf. He describes a very interesting dispute between our Rabbi J. L. Gordon z”l and the “Russian patriot” Baron Korf.

In 5661 [1901], the anxiety of the rabbis of Łomża Province was aroused when they received an official invitation from the Governor of Łomża, Baron Korf, ordering them to come to Łomża for an urgent meeting to consider an important question.

Through the Łomża rabbi, Rabbi Reb Zwi Michel Tenenbaum z”l the others tried to learn what it was about, but even the most renowned in the province knew nothing about the worrying meeting and they wait impatiently.

The Governor opened the meeting with a long speech in which he emphasized that although the government does not differentiate between its citizens, the Jews who have the same rights as citizens, are not loyal and harm the government within the country. The government is sufficiently strong to overcome the phenomenon and punish the guilty. He, the governor, found it necessary to gather the Jewish leaders together to ask for their help in rooting out the evil: “Is it possible” the governor cried with pathos, “that twenty-one years ago, all Jewish boys were born with perforated eardrums, with amputated fingers, even on the right hand!

The military complain that all the young Jewish men who have to fulfill their military service come to the draft board with such defects that they must be released from service.

Don't you understand that to enjoy equal rights with all citizens requires that they also fulfill their duty to the government?

I invited you here so that you, the spiritual leaders of the Jews, should stop these occurrences. If your action does not produce results, then the government will take the strongest remedy”.

A deathly silence descended on the rabbis who were left sitting with bowed heads.

Suddenly the voice of the Ostrower rabbi, Rabbi Gordon was heard speaking in beautiful, fluent Russian. He said, “I wonder why my Lord, the Governor invited us in order to ask this question. Does he not understand that when someone harms himself, he does it in secret? If a young man disables himself in order to avoid the draft, he does not ask the rabbi's permission.

It is also a mistake to say that the Jews are treated equally with other citizens. The recruits from our locality are sent deep into Russia or Siberia.

Does the governor not know that a Jewish recruit, even one with the best military decorations, when he finishes his military service in a Russian city will not be allowed to settle there? As my lord knows, there exists a Jewish “Pale of Settlement” and does he still say that we are treated as equal citizens? Possibly, if there really were equality for Jews, their patriotism would increase”.

On hearing the explanation, the governor became angry and said: “I spoke in a general manner, without emphasizing where the situation is worst. However, after this outburst from the Ostrower rabbi concerning the deeds of the young men, I must emphasize that according to the statistics from the draft board, the greatest number of self-mutilators come from the Ostrów district. Thus, it appears that the implication of what Rabbi Gordon said is that district should have the worst statistics…” At this he left the meeting in anger and did not bid the assembled rabbis farewell.

It is interesting to recall that the patriotic Russian Governor was promoted to Governor of Warszawa shortly after that. In 1914, after the outbreak of World War One between Russia and Germany, this patriot and “moralist” fled to Germany taking important plans and documents with him. It later emerged that this Latvian Baron was a German spy.

 


[Page 347]

Episodes

By Tuwia Makower, Bnei Brak

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

A) About Rabbi Jechuda Leib Gordon zz”l

The auctions for wood in the forests around Ostrowa took place every year after Sukes. Many wood merchants would come from near and far for these auctions. They would take place in the main forestry office in the woods. The rabbi would travel to the auctions at the forestry office and talk with all the merchants so that nobody would inflate the prices. This enabled them to buy wood from the government at the lowest possible price. Subsequently, they could make a profit and the poor would also be able to get wood. The director, General Trównikow, overlooked this practice. Several times the rabbi would go into the forest for several days as a guest of the General. These visits, were a tremendous effort and sacrifice on the part of the rabbi.

And another fact about his standing up for the poor. Sometimes erev Shabes and a Yontef created a shortage of meat. The butchers used to take advantage of this and raise the prices. At those times, the rabbi would go to the butcher shops and watch to be sure that the prices did not go up.

Another time a new Tsarist official arrived, a Provincial Manager, and he began to show a heavy hand against the Jewish population. As one of his evil decrees, he sent his guards to chase Jewish men who wore high silk hats and kapotes on Shabes and women who wore shawls or wigs. He ordered his guards to arrest them.

Simchas Torah when everyone was gathered to honour the holiday, they decided that the rabbi should tell the military committee, which would convene after Sukes, about the abuse by the Provincial Manager.

Without delay, the rabbi went alone to see the Provincial Manager in his house and asked that this conduct be stopped. The order was rescinded after the rabbi's visit. Not long afterwards, the Provincial Manager fell off his horse, broke a foot, became crazy and died.

 

B) About Rabbi Majer Plocki zz”l

In 1925-26 when the kehilla sent their yearly budget to be approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry raised the rabbi's salary to 1800 zlotys. At a session of the kehilla that the rabbi attended, he said no to the raise that the Ministry had given him because he was not the government's rabbi, nor the kehilla's rabbi and he did not take the money.

Once, on the first day of Passover, six o'clock in the morning, tired after the first Seder, the shames from the old besmedresh woke me and told me to go quickly to the rabbi about an urgent matter. I arrived at the rabbi's to find him upset and Jakob Welwel the porter (called the shiterer [thin]), who by the way was a student of Torah was also at the house. One of his sisters was there too. They are wringing their hands and crying. The rabbi told me that Jakob Welwel's sister, a bride to be, was very sick and had to be driven right away to Warszawa for surgery. They are poor people, so they must be given a “chit” in order for the kehilla to pay the driver. The rabbi felt that I should prepare the “chit” quickly but added that the orthodox dozors would not sign it and they would not write on Yontef. Would I be prepared to sign first and then the others would surely do the same? I then explained that for cash somebody would drive her quickly to the hospital. “How much money would it take?” – asked the rabbi.

I told him that it would be 200 zlotys, but guaranteed that if a driver was given 100 zlotys cash, and told to bring a “chit” for the rest after Yontef , this would get her to Warszawa.

The rabbi told Jakob Welwel to open a drawer and take 100 zlotys and some for expenses and the sick sister was quickly driven to Warszawa.

The rabbi thanks me and also mentioned that I had prevented him from desecrating the Yontef.

It is also worth mentioning that the rabbi never asked the community for the 100 zlotys and the expense money that he paid.


A Catholic Bishop came to visit Ostrowa and during a large celebration the then Governor Dąbrowski had a heart attack and died. The Church and the government decided on a large funeral and even invited the kehilla. There was the troubling question about participating with uncovered heads – without hats.

This brought about a meeting of the kehilla and the rabbi, who said that they must not go with their heads uncovered. The rabbi spoke to the organizers of the funeral and told them that the Jews could take part in the funeral only if they could wear hats, because for Jews this is a sign of respect.

The organizers took notes and confirmed. The Jewish delegation made quite an impression on the Christian population.

 


[Page 349]

Episodes from the Shtetl
(Memories)

By Arija Margolis, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Leah Krikun

Shabes Shuva

I had just left the Shaarei Zion shul after prayers and I noticed that on the market place, where I lived, a large crowd was creating a disturbance and a great deal of noise next to a barber shop which had opened on Shabes. The police had been called about the “uprising in town” and immediately informed the Police-Commander and the Provincial authority. Immediately a platoon of soldiers arrived from Komorowo.

After shots were fired in the air, the crowd quickly dispersed. During this incident the following people were arrested: Reb Zinger, Dayan Natan Plocki along with the following pious men: Bendet Lichtensztejn, Moisze Grudka, Moisze Jozef Surawicz, Wolf Augustower, etc. The story behind this incident was as follows:

After the shop opened, the rabbi and several others went to the owner and begged him not to desecrate the Sabbath and to close the shop. Until then no Jew had ever opened a business on Shabes. Ignoring their requests, the barber did not want to close up and stood firm. Meanwhile someone in the throng broke a pane of glass in the door and the owner raised a hue and cry that he was being attacked…

At that time, because of the general relationship in the country between the government and the parties, there was a rule concerning a “condition, or state of exception.” This made the situation difficult as those arrested were charged with calling for unrest in Ostrowa. The new anti-Semitic police commander used this incident and made a major issue of it.

The arrested rabbis and residents fasted on Shabes, as the above-mentioned police inspector did not allow food to be brought to them. On that same day the investigating judge from Ostrołęka (he too was a bitter anti-Semite) fully utilized this “bargain” that had fallen into his hands. He declared that he would teach these Zhidkes [insulting term for Jews] about demonstrating and attacking…the situation was very serious and tense, especially because of the laws in Poland. Those in power were interested in blowing the incident out of proportion so that the men under arrest would be brought to court quickly.

However, the Jewish representatives did not let this pass quietly and immediately following the end of Shabes they gathered to consult with the community representatives and Town Council advisors in order to decide what to do as quickly as possible. The next day, Sunday, was erev Yonkiper and so those in jail would have to spend Yonkiper under arrest. This would have been a great injustice to them and an embarrassing victory for the Christian population. It was decided to establish communication immediately with the active members of the Łomża Jewish community so they could prepare the groundwork for an audience with the Prosecutor the next day, in order to advise him about the existing situation and request assistance. They immediately contacted the people in Łomża by telephone, told them of the decision and informed them that early the next morning a delegation would leave for Łomża in order to explain the situation.

Sunday morning, erev Yonkiper, a community meeting was held and the decision was made to send two representatives: the president of the community-council Dawid Lichtensztejn and Lejbl Margolis, a member of the community executive. They left for Łomża in a special vehicle.

Upon reaching Łomża, we immediately turned to the local activists Cwi Mark, Tobolicki, Fejwel Strykowski and Droznan, who were awaiting our arrival. They went to the prosecutor for an audience, even though it was Sunday. He listened to their claims and explanations, that there was no collusion and certainly no plot against the government, but rather a very ordinary incident based on religious differences. The prosecutor understood the truth of the situation and ordered the Ostrów Mazowiecki commandant to immediately release those under arrest and set bail at two hundred zlotys for each of them. The local anti-Semites, however, did not rush to set the prisoners free. They called each of them separately for a hearing in order to keep them under arrest as long as possible. During the entire time we were in contact with Ostrowa and waited until the last man had been set free, then, with the same vehicle, we drove quickly back to town. By the time Kol Nidrei was being sung all the prisoners had been set free. We arrived late at night and each of us went quickly to his synagogue to say Kol Nidrei and we had no opportunity to eat the before-the-fast meal. Joy reigned in town. Instead of sorrow we had pleasure and satisfaction.

 

A Night of Staying Awake

On a summer night in 1925, the Palestine Commission representing all facets of Zionism sat in session throughout the night. The old businessman Reb Michel Tejtel worked together with a delegate from the central Palestine group in Warszawa, H. Szychor, to confirm candidates who would receive certificates allowing them to immigrate to Israel.

The number of certificates that had been sent was far too small to satisfy the needs of all those requesting permission to make aliyah.

Young and old, men and women - all were anxious to go. Most of them did not even have a trade. Permits were not given according to a candidate's political standing; everyone was individually considered, as to his suitability.

The enthusiasm for going to Israel was enormous. Before being called, each person stood by the door with his heart pounding and awaited his fate, “for or against”. As each one entered the room, he begged with tears in his eyes to be taken as a soldier in the army of “the pioneers marching in the front of the camp”. They tried to find someone from among the commission members who had influence and could help them to be among those granted the right to go to Israel. But the commission members were very strict. Craftsmen were needed, young and able people with seniority or experience in Zionist work or at the very least - sympathizers of Zionism; so that in the event of a crisis in Israel, they would have the courage and strength to survive the difficult times and not leave the country.

The committee took into account the following three points:

  1. First consideration went to those who had a trade. (Farmers and builders were privileged candidates).
  2. If a person had no trade, they should at least be young and able to perform simple tasks.
  3. A candidate should have Zionist ideals. (Be a member of a Zionist organization familiar with yiddishkeit in general.

The selection and confirmation of candidates was no easy task, especially when the number of certificates which Ostrów-Mazowiecka and the surrounding area received was very modest compared to the number of requests handed in by various people.

Particularly strict about this was our old general, or rather “military chief” of the conscription commission, the Zionist veteran Michel son of Isser Tejtel. At this point I want to add an interesting episode. It was already late and we knew that the work would last throughout the entire night and the old man was tired and under stress. I told him gently and politely that he should go home and have a rest, as the selection would probably go on until the next day (which is exactly what happened). His weak physical state would not permit him to last the whole night. He looked at me with an angry stare and said: “I have lived long enough to sit in on a Jewish committee and confirm candidates for aliyah to Israel. Now, do you want to take this good deed and pleasure from me? This will not happen”. He stood up, fresh and cheerful and said the prayer “Thank God we have lived this long”…

 

A True Story

In the month of Elul [August], 5683 (1923), the collection of jewellery for Keren HaYesod took place in Ostrowa. It was organized and run by a delegate from the Centre in Warszawa, Asna Żitkiewicz who was born in Łomża, a skilled activist and fine speaker, who convinced the women to give up their jewellery for Israel.

Hundreds of women brought their ornaments, their prized possessions. Some of them gave the very last pieces they owned with great joy and satisfaction, accompanied by an inner feeling of solidarity with the Zionist idea of preparing a home for the long-suffering people, at least for the youth. There was a great deal of enthusiasm. For ten days people continued to bring their jewellery and every day the table near me - where the delegate stood - was filled. It was so satisfying to see how the faces of the women shone with pleasure because they had the opportunity to fulfill the obligation of building Israel via the Redemption Fund, wishing that the day of total liberation would indeed arrive…

Organizing this event was not easy. The religious extremist party, sworn opponents to the establishment and support of Israel, saw to it that arranging this fund-raiser would be a task beset with problems and disturbances. When, nonetheless, we received permission to have the women's gathering in the Coliseum cinema, the police arrived. Apparently those in power regretted their decision - and the fund-raiser was cancelled. Nevertheless, we decided to organize a second gathering in the women's section of the new besmedresh, without a permit from the authorities and without their knowledge. But someone saw to it that this event too would not take place. The police arrived and using force drove people away. The speaker, despite the police prohibiting it, arranged the gathering again and this time the women were unwilling to disperse. The police used brutal methods to force the women to leave. We, the initiators and organizers of the gathering, were reported. This of course affected people in exactly the opposite way intended and the affair proceeded at full speed and with such enthusiasm that the results were colossal. The drive was crowned with great success and left a powerful impression that lasted for many years.

It is appropriate here to mention a true story, which was told by the instructor of Keren HaYesod, Rabbi Reb Icchok Borg, who often visited our town to take charge of the yearly activity of Keren HaYesod. This is his story:

In the town of Skemiewiec, between Łódż and Warszawa, the same year, there was also a collection of jewellery, led by the same delegate Żitkiewicz, who stayed with a Zionist businessman, a Hasid, a follower of the Ostrowcer rabbi. The Hasidim did not want to put up with the Zionist work their friend was doing in their town and told the rabbi the story to show how much the Zionists sinned, stating that this man had taken a strange woman into his home.

When the pious man came to the rabbi on a Shabes, the rabbi spoke to him about this sin and said it was not a suitable thing for him to do. Then the Hassid reminded the rabbi of a story that had happened to him, the rabbi, – a story he had told the Hassid. It is as follows: Once, when the rabbi was taking his daily walk, coming towards him was an elderly gentile and after greeting him, remarked to the rabbi that it was not proper for a rabbi to go for a walk with no purpose in mind. The rabbi took this comment very much to heart and saw in it a hint from above and from then on he stopped taking his daily walks. “So tell me, rabbi,” the pious man said “when one gentile made you pay special attention on a long-ago occasion, you understood that this was a hint from above and ceased your activity. In these times, when every gentile complains and says to every Jew 'Go to Palestine', should one obey them, or not?…”

 


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The Fire Brigade

By Arija Margolis

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

As in all the towns and villages in Poland, Ostrowa had a fire brigade. I remember it, from my childhood as being primitive: a lot of wooden kegs of water and a tired horse whom people would borrow. The firemen ran with the kegs of water and by the time they arrived at the fire, half the water in the kegs had spilled out. They had axes and hatchets to break down the houses; this caused the fire to extinguish faster. They also had shovels to throw sand on the fire. Later they acquired pumps with hoses to put out fires, but they always arrived too late. When people waited for the firemen, nothing good could come of it. The fire would destroy everything.

The fire brigade was recruited from the Christian population, but several Jews had at one time been members. The reason there were no Jewish firemen was first of all because the Christians did not want Jewish colleagues in their ranks. Also, the Jews were in no hurry to enroll because they placed their faith in a rabbi who at one time had driven through the city and blessed the city when a fire had broken out. The fire did not spread to any of the other houses, burning only the house where it had started. People say that it really happened…and they admit that this same rabbi had also said that the fire would not burn the entire city and that also came true.

ost353.jpg
Szlam'ka Goldman hy'd

 

As I previously mentioned, only a few Jews were firemen. From my childhood I remember one with the name Hirsz Icchok Wizenberg. He was also a dozor. After came H. Szlama Goldman. He was a fireman for dozens of years, very committed to the task. There was also Pinie Gilner, a butcher, and in the last years – Komorowski.

After the election for Town Council in 1927, the Jews were well represented and became more interested in town affairs. I, as one of the above men town councilmen, became interested in the subject of the firemen because it was a shame that the Jews who had such a large stake in this were so poorly represented in the fire brigade.

I called a meeting of the younger people and appealed to them. It is not right that in a city that has mainly wood houses, built one on top of the other, densely populated by Jews, that we should have to ask the gentiles for help. As a result forty men immediately signed to join the institution that is tied to the firefighters. Several days later their names were given to Mieczkowski who had to put the list to a vote during a meeting of the town council.

A long time passed (several years) and nothing had happened. Each time the Chief answered politely as usual: “Mr. Margolis, it will be arranged.”

Finally I ran out of patience and I decided to bring the matter up at a meeting of the town council of which both were members. I asked how it was possible that the people in charge of such an important institution did not work for its betterment and did not have the city's best interest at heart. The majority of the population is interested in the question so they can become members and take part in saving the city in case of a catastrophe. Because they are Jews Messers Mieczkowski and Rodwonski are not interested in them.

Mieczkowski answered that due to the statute, every individual in turn will be invited and accepted.

I demanded an answer as to why it had been dragging on for several years and nothing had been talked about. He defended himself by saying that he had talked about it. I declared that this was a lie that I never thought I would hear from a Polish noble. He became so excited he almost had convulsions. He wanted to answer but could not. He went home and that night he died.

In the morning I heard that Mieczkowski was dead and that I had brought about the death of an anti-Semite. So shall they perish!

Several days later, I carried a wreath of flowers, on behalf of the town council, to his “pogrzeb” (funeral).

 


[Page 355]

Episodes from Ostrów

By Arcze Rotenberg, New York

Translated by Renée Saltzberg Paton

In 1918-1919 I worked in Chrust's shoe store sewing gaiters. This was during the elections to the Sejm. One evening, when my boss went home for his evening meal, I spoke to several gentile shoemakers about voting for the Socialist Party. I supported the Socialist Party with my heart and soul. I was about eighteen years old then. I felt strongly about it and I agitated to bring happiness and freedom in a new world. Unnoticed by me, my boss returned, overheard what I said and fired me. I left the store. Next to the shoe shop was a barbershop where a young man from Warszawa named Torek worked. He was the first Communist in Ostrowa. He asked me what had happened. I told him and he asked me to wait until he could speak to Chrust. Shortly afterwards, he returned and told me that he fought to get my job back, but without success. Later, he went to the Department of Employment for me. At that time, the government leaders were Moroczewski and Dasiński.

A few weeks later I received a letter informing me that on a certain day my appeal would be heard by the tribunal, on ulica Zambrowska.

An employment inspector representing the government gave the verdict. I stated the facts. Torek was my advisor. Chrust did not deny that he had fired me, although he had no criticism of my work. The Tribunal decided that Chrust had to pay me three months wages. That was my first experience during that period.

 

The Theatre in Ostrowa

A young Bund activist named Zlatowski came to Ostrowa and settled in Komorowo. He was very capable in drama and he organized a theatre troupe that gave concerts for the trade unions on Friday nights. He used to give beautiful solo recitals and was a fine comedian. Thanks to him the Siedlce troupe came and gave two performances in the municipal theatre, to much acclaim. Throughout his stay in Komorowo, he worked very hard. During the war between Poland and Russia, when the Red Army entered Ostrowa he worked for them. When the Russians evacuated the city, the Poles arrested and hanged him on ulica Malkińska, in Ostrowa. He was one of the finest, idealistic members of the Bund.

 

The Trade Union

The first secretary of the trade union was Luria. Before he arrived, the workers were terribly exploited. Hours and wages were solely in the hands of the bosses. He began organizing one trade after another. What a difficult road that was! When we started to organize the tailors, they were like children, serving as apprentices for a year or two without wages and then working from home. They were terrified to strike. When we took them away from their work, they hid under the beds. We had to look for them in the wardrobes, under the beds and in the corners in order to get them to work only eight hours a day and to improve their wages. They were frightened even to think of striking. The entire needle trade was organized as well as the woodworkers, carpenters, the sawmill workers, the metalworkers, the entire leather trade, shoemakers, seamstresses, harness makers, porters and bakers. With faith in their own strength, five trades were organized. At the same time political agitation began; lectures were held concerning political and cultural issues. Luria was the first to lay the groundwork and he established a fine worker's movement. The second secretary was Arnold Grossfeld. He developed strong participation by the union members, founded a “Bund” group and taught them Karl Kautsky's writings. We spent a lot time on lectures and discussing Kautsky. That was the “abc” of socialism then. Speakers came from Warszawa. Arnold upheld the greatness of the movement and it spread into the neighbouring towns. The Bund was established with a strong following in Łomża District. The third secretary was the academic Goldring. He led a very broad based, cultural movement. Hundreds of young people from the city and surrounding area would come to his lectures. They listened with admiration. He was also one of the best teachers and educators. He was loved and respected; he was one of the nicest Bund activists.

 

The Porters in Ostrow

The porters, who served the city well and did the hardest work, never made a living. When a wagon of flour or sugar arrived at the Lubiejewska Station, all the porters would immediately rush over there. As a result there were a lot of disputes. The secretary of the trade union, Luria, organized the porters. They soon organized themselves into a cooperative. Every Thursday evening they came to the trade union for their wages. Luria divided up the money for the week, according to the amount each earned. (The quicker, more hardworking received more) and at the same time he collected the union membership dues. In the evenings and on Saturday the porters came to union headquarters and listened attentively to lectures. They were very loyal to the union. Many times, when not everyone was willing to strike, the porters sent delegations to stop the “scabs” from working. They were always ready. Once, on a Saturday, when the leader of the Warszawa Bund, Herszel Himmelfarb came and spoke in the new besmedresh after prayers, all the doors and windows were closed. The porters kept watch to see that no one left the meeting. Himmelfarb led the mass meeting. The synagogue was packed - it was before the election to the Sejm. He was an excellent speaker and his appearance made a big impression.

This is how I remember you, my beloved city. I saw how the young shoots began and how they blossomed so splendidly. How painful it is today to write this, knowing all that is gone. May this serve as a memorial to those who perished in my dear city Ostrowa.

 


[Page 357]

Innocent Jewish Victims
(The Poles shoot and hang Jews)

By Arija Lejb Margolis

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Friday, 17 August 1920, the Poles once again took the Malkinia Station near Ostrowa (after the departure of the Bolsheviks 15 August 1920 - called “The Miracle of the Departure”). The Polish soldiers grabbed seven Jews, among them old men and without any reason or even a field-court - shot them dead. This created fear and grief in the entire Jewish shtetl population in the area.

Two days later, Sunday, 19 August 1920, Ostrowa was again ceded to the Bolsheviks by the Polish military. The Bolsheviks stayed three weeks and did whatever they wanted to. They were the bosses in the city. They found a few Communists, young men who had been waiting for this moment, who were willing to work with them.

One of the young men was Moisze Zlatowski, born in Siedlce (one of Sokolow's sons-in-law). According to the Poles, he had openly criticized the Polish Government and the régime. He was denounced and arrested. A field-court sentenced him to death by hanging.

The same day he was taken to the execution site on ulica Malkińska and there hanged from a tree.

Thousands of Poles ran to see the execution and openly expressed their pleasure.

The Jewish population felt pressured and beaten. A great fear enveloped the Jews.

The Rabbi, Reb Mejer Plocki, had to be present at the execution to see the sentence carried out. Afterwards, on arriving home, he became very sick.

May the Lord avenge his blood, he of blessed memory.

 


[Page 358]

Terrible Auto Catastrophe With Eighteen Dead

By A. Grafman

(“Moment”, Warszawa, 1934)

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Renée Saltzberg Paton

Thursday the 9th of August

There it is…

Seven kilometers from Łochów, a half-kilometer from the Sadowne station on the road from Łomża to Warszawa – we remain standing near a wooden bridge with one railing missing.

This is where it happened.

The water is calm. No waves, no movement.

And under the calm water are located the graves of so many young, healthy people.

The families of those killed have been standing there for two days. Their faces are already etched with worry. There are Jewish men with grey beards, ear locks, Jewish wives…they cry together. They have one language – one “oy”.

The police who are keeping order give reports on the situation so that the unfortunate ones will stay out of the way.

The bus lies with its passengers under eight meters of water.

The first day they had determined its position: it is lying on its side. Men are already towing it from there. They were hoping to drag it closer to the shore where the water is about two meters deep, but the steel cables could not hold the weight and they broke.

The second day - men are already at work.

The Provincial Vice-Minister is directing the work. The sapper Captain gives orders. Groups of sappers are in small fishing boats and tap with long oars on the roof of the bus. There it is…from time to time bubbles come up disturbing the calm water…there is an oil and gasoline slick on the water…

There is where it lies.

A winch is sent out to the bus. Six sailors from the navy who had been specially sent for have arrived from Gdynia. The winch begins to rise from the water.

An immense effort.

They will soon be able to pull the bus out.

Soon the families will see…

The winch works a long time.

The rabbis have arrived from the cities the victims come from. They want to make plans to photograph the victims in order to expedite the official identification.

ost359.jpg
The Jadower rabbi Wajngot
talks to journalist A. Grafman

 

The Jadower rabbi – a well-known scholar and therefore an intelligent man: Rabbi Symcha Wajngot read us his note on those killed. One of them, Aron Apelberg is a grandson of the Żurików rabbi and was a moyreh-hoyreh. A second, Stanisław Fierowicz was a Jewish student.

The rabbis cannot wait. It is dark and there was nothing to photograph as yet.

The winch is already working…

Everything is ready. The winch has started to pull. The sappers are sitting on the roof of the bus with sharp poles that they move slowly so the bus will move closer to shore.

Closer and closer. They measure the depth of the water over it. Only four meters, three and a half, two…then a half meter.

And the families are located on the other side of the bridge. It pulls closer…closer…the screams become hysteria, terrible…the police order everyone to be quiet, but it does not become quiet.

Closer still.

The photographic equipment is already in place. Everyone holds his breath. Soon we will hear…only to have the cable break again.

Nobody has noticed that night had arrived. It is dark.

The work starts again. Men crawl into the water.

It is a cold night.

But nobody leaves.

The police commandant has compiled an official list of those killed. The list contains sixteen dead.

But the list is not final, as there could be more than sixteen.

What does the bridge look like? Indeed, the very bridge through which the bus fell. Look closely: each slat is rotten. Each board through which the bus fell is broken, rotten through and through. The foundations of the bridge, are they not a “little” neglected?

The military authorities and the public prosecutor's office representatives investigate in the succession. Perhaps they will find that there are irregularities.

 

Friday, Sadowne

The bereaved families stand and do not lift their eyes from the water, which is now strangely still. There are not any bubbles. Not the smallest indication that eighteen or nineteen people lie buried there. Last night the contours of the roof were still visible and one could see a piece of metal belonging to the baggage ladder. Today nothing is visible except the coloured globules of fat, oil and gasoline that float on the water.

The rabbis arrive.

On both sides of the highway buses arrive with passengers, many of them Jews. The burial society has arrived. The rabbis are there. One feels the terrible finale is close.

The workers are already on the surface. They believe that this time they will be successful. The winch is already set up. The wild, heavy beast is fettered from both sides with steel cable and will not move again. The winch starts working. The sappers and the fishermen sitting in the boats indicate that the bus is rising from the mud. It is moving and rising closer.

The dead bodies are dragged along.

The bus is already three-quarters on dry land. It emerges in its light yellow colour, crushed…the left front tire is punctured. Everyone is shocked.

The crowd makes a dash for the winch that looks ironic in the sun with its colours and its metal.

Nothing can be seen through the dark perforated windows. Only an eerie terror emanates from there. The police surround the workers who clamber through the windows in order to remove the bodies.

ost361.jpg
Bus being raised from the water

 

The unfortunate families are arguing with uncommon force. Their cries rip through the air and are entwined with the fierce orders of the police. It is hard to control the relatives now. The young woman from Warszawa insists that she be allowed to go to her relatives. Her son and her sister are there - –but no one will permit it.

The small group standing close to the bus is feverish with anxiety. An initial glance through the windows gives a terrible indication of what lies between the seats of the bus. Nobody is sitting on the seats. At the time of death the unfortunate bodies were flung together. They are all lying together in a jumble. It takes a long time before the first body is pulled out, its face black and blue and swollen. It took four perspiring men to get it out the window.

From a clear sky a flaming sun shines on this great catastrophe which embraces the body and begins to dry the clothes. Quickly a second corpse follows, then a third.

A young woman only slightly swollen, with a pale face and noble, white hands, is found. This is Ewa Bodowicz a twenty-five year-old woman from Warszawa. She was on holiday with her nephew from Praga. They spent five weeks relaxing, sunning themselves and were on their way home. But the body of the eleven-year-old nephew is missing.

Next the body of a girl is pulled out. After that a grey, old man and again, Jews, Jews…

And a mother clasps her child to her breast, one bracketed inside the other.

The bodies were somewhat blackened with growth from the muddy bottom which came in through the windows during the two days under water.

Twelve bodies were already removed. The thousand or so people who surrounded the water and could not get any closer tried to count from afar. They tried to find out who was already there and who was still missing.

Now they are removing the thirteenth body. He is somehow stuck under a seat and cannot be dislodged.

It is hard work…the sun is scorching…the workers sweat. Finally, the work is done. Nobody else remains in the bus. The empty seats are ready to take new passengers.

A census is taken based on the clothes on the dead bodies. The rabbis stand nearby. The bodies are cleaned a little and carried over to the grass, one next to the other in a row.

And the instruction is given: “The families can come to identify their relatives”.

Like a cloud of falling birds, the relatives hastily approach the bodies. The police have already opened the cordon.

With an anguished scream, the information is given that someone is recognized…mothers call their children by their pet names…elderly fathers give along shuddering “oy” that breaks the heart.

But some bodies are still missing.

“My child is not here!” The young woman, Mrs. Flejszer (from Warszawa) has not found her son. She runs alongside the corpses again, removing the wet cloths covering the dead faces and cries out: “Where is my child? At least give me my dead son!” Her twelve year-old son Lejzor Flejszer is missing. Perhaps he fell out of the bus when it was dragged out of the water.

“And maybe something else happened to him?” a Jewish woman suggested, throwing her a spark of hope. “Maybe he was late for bus.” “No! No! My son did not escape this misfortune. My sister was bringing him home. Here lies my sister, my dear sister.”

An old man does not find his son. “Where is my Josl? Josl? Josl?” The father runs around as if he wants his son to call out to him. Josl - is the conductor – Josef Lifszyc. Most likely he is lying on the bottom of the pond along with twelve-year-old Lejzor. At the beginning of the journey the conductor kept the young boy close to him. Maybe he is still near him?

ost363.jpg
Josef Lifszyc z”l

 

Everyone is now identified…

The grief from those identifying relative's bodies pours out in unison, while each family stands nears its corpse. They are like one tragic family living through one misfortune. When eighteen white, straight coffins are brought and they are place in the field a single cry reaches to the heavens.

The burial societies of Ostrów and Łomża get together. It is late…almost Shabes…things are happening. The police set up a cordon around the cemetery where this strange army anxiously wants to enter. Young farm boys, talking to each other, push their way through.

 

The scream from the water

The families are wailing now, but those who are lying there cried before when they fell from the bridge inside the bus.

The young boys were there for the entire tragedy. They were on the highway when they suddenly heard terrible screams. Looking around – the bus fell from the bridge. The entire bus screamed in a horrific voice. The women's voices were the loudest…and even later when the bus was under water, the youngsters continued to hear screams for a short time.

One of them was sure he had heard ringing and trumpets coming from the water…they both told the same story during the first police inquiry. The two brave boys immediately jumped into the water and swam to the bus. They tried to tear open the doors, but were unable to.

 

The death procession…

Everything was done now. The coffins already contained twelve Jewish bodies. They were carried one by one to the buses that awaited them on the highway. The four Christian coffins were claimed earlier by their relatives. The communities of Łomża and Ostrów claim the Jewish bodies. This is done quickly because the bodies are still waterlogged. With great effort they are brought out of the valley.

The families travel with them.

Quickly, it is almost Shabes.

 

The police list of the dead
  1. Ewa Bodowicz, 15 years old from Warszawa, Nowolipki, 51A.
  2. Lejzor Flejszer, 11 years old, from Warszawa, Praga, Targowa, 48
  3. Josef Barowy, 29 years old, Reservist 71st military unit, Ostrowa
  4. Jakób Alperowiec, 27 years old from Ostrów Mazowiecka
  5. Józef Lifszyc, 40 years old, Ostrów, Poznańska, 6
  6. Motl Hus, 42 years old, Ostrów, ulica Mickiewicz
  7. Gołda Hus, 23 years old, his daughter
  8. Icchok Ratowicz, 45 years old, Łomża, Rynek, 15
  9. Icchok Lewiński, 40 years old, Łomża, Plac Kościuska
  10. Sara Szejnkopf, 24 years old, Łomża, Plac Kościuska, 1
  11. Chana Fredsztejn, Łomża, Plac Kościuska, 3
  12. Jona Rotszyld, Łomża, Polna, 3
  13. Aron Apelberg, Wąsewo, District of Ostrów
  14. Stefanina Boroszewski, 25 years old, part owner of the bus, Łomża
  15. Halina Goroszewski, 14 years old, her daughter
  16. Jakób Lejb Apkewicz, Łomża
  17. Bronisław Luba, from Łomża.

Altogether: fourteen Jews and four – non-Jews.*

The list contains only seventeen names. The eighteenth victim is Aba Widelec.

 

Three bodies are missing

The first transport has already left. Three empty coffins remain in the field and next to them are the relatives, doubly afflicted.

The water refuses to yield the last bodies even though they are blue-black and swollen.

The Flejszer mother is looking for her son.

The old, grey Lifszyc looks for his forty year-old son and a Christian family is searching for its only provider.

But what happens with the eleven year old boy and the forty year old Jew who are still lying on the dark bottom of the deep pond?

“My child! Give me my child already.” – the half-crazed Mrs. Flejszer begs the police commander.

A farmer with a fish net appears. Well, he should start already!

But the farmer bargains with the mother. He wants a guarantee for his nets and well to earn something also…the bargaining goes on for a long time.

The police commander pleads with the farmer, later he demands, but the bargaining goes on and night is falling over the pond and over the three empty coffins waiting between the trees for the end of this misfortune.

In the darkness a fisherman is busy in the water. The net becomes entangled.

And on the bank mother, father and friends await some “luck” from this great misfortune.

The accursed water should at least give up the blue-black, swollen corpses.

 

“Dark Shabes” in Łomża and Ostrowa[1]

Łomża Friday, at six thirty in the evening the bodies of the six Łomżer victims from the bus catastrophe outside Sadowne arrived in Łomża.

More than ten thousand people attended the funeral, Jews and Christians. During the funeral all the businesses were closed. The entire population of the city gathered at the cemetery for the burial. The emotional scenes at the cemetery are indescribable. All the bodies from this misfortune were laid to rest within an hour. The entire city was wrapped in sorrow. The Łomżer Jews had a “dark Shabes”.

The Bishop of Łomża, Stanisław Lókamski delegated a clergyman to convey condolences in his name to the Jewish population through the President of the kehilla, Mr. Epsztejn.

Ostrów-Maz. Most of the victims involved in the autobus catastrophe that took place outside Sadowne were Ostrowers and they were buried on Friday. All businesses were closed during the funeral. Thousands of Jews and Christians attended the funeral. The entire city was wrapped in sorrow. Heartrending scenes took place at the cemetery.

Footnotes

  1. Among the poor there were those who could not bring themselves to beg and they became “street singers” or “street musicians”. In a pre-radio world, where gramophone and records could only be afforded by the rich these modest singers and players filled a void. All of sudden one or two would turn up in a back yard. All at once windows would fly open, three or four heads would appear, listening and enjoying the show. A show of coins wrapped in paper would rain down on the performers.
    These singers were true artists, poets and songwriters. Should a national or international tragedy occur, these men immediately came up with a song to tug at the heartstrings. I remember when a bus, enroute from Łomża to Warszawa plunged into the Narew River drowning eighteen passengers. That was a memorable funeral; even the rabbi attended and delivered a rare eulogy. Within a week, the “hoif” (backyard) singers had composed a song. The melody and lyrics opened all the windows, all the tear ducts and all the pockets.”
    From: “Once Upon a Shtetl” by Chaim Shapiro, Chapter 5, page 142 Return

 

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