“Ciechanowiec” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume IV
(Poland)

52°40' / 22°31'

Translation of “Ciechanowiec” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1989


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Ada Holtzman

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to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume IV, pages 392-395,
published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1989


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(pages 392-395)

Ciechanowiec, Poland

(District: Wysokie Mazowiecki; Province: Bialystok)

Written by Shmuel Levin (until WWII) and Abraham Kalvan (the Holocaust)

Translated by Ada Holtzman

YearTotal
Population
Jews
1808526442
1829617247
18571,200760
18992,3201,498

It is assumed that Ciechanowiec was founded in the 10th century. The settlement was destroyed by the Tatars in 1240. In 1366 Ciechanowiec moved under Lithuania patronage and after the unification of Poland and Lithuania (in 1385) it returned to the patronage of Poland. In the 15th century, Ciechanowiec was the property of the noble family of Kiszko and its descendants, who called themselves “Ciechanowski”. Urban privileges were granted to Ciechanowiec in 1429; in 1520, a central station for customs was founded which controlled the merchandise transported to Russia through the town. In 1592 Ciechanowiec was transferred to the ownership of the Radziwil nobles.

The river Nirzec crosses Ciechanowiec and divides it into two parts. By the end of the 16th century, the town was also divided administratively and each part became a separate administrative body. The part to the right of the river was called Nowe Miasto (the new city) and part to the left was called Stare Miasto (the old city). The separation between the two parts of the town was kept until World War I. Every part of the town belonged to other owners and was included also in other provinces. The area of the “old city” was much bigger than the “new city”. Also from an economic point of view, the “old city” was much stronger than its neighbor. By the end of the 16th century there were already some industrial plants and a large number of artisan workshops, primarily tailors, cobblers and furriers. At that time artisan associations had been founded. In the “old city” there were 275 houses, while in the “new city” there were only 58 houses. In the Swedish war, at the middle of the 17th century, both parts of the town were severely damaged. Ciechanowiec was conquered by the Swedes, but it did not recover, even after it was liberated by the Polish army, until the 18th century. The number of houses decreased t to 120 in the “old city” and only 35 in the “new city”. In addition, the number of inhabitants decreased to 700 in both parts of the town. In the year of 1786, a hospital was founded in Ciechanowiec, which served the population of the whole region.

Ciechanowiec became famous for its botanic garden founded by nature researcher Krzystof Kloka. In the first partition of Poland, in 1772, the “old city” was included in Russia and the “new city” was transferred to the government of Prussia; afterwards it was annexed to the Warsaw Princedom and included in the kingdom of Poland. In the 19th century, the “old city” had an important economic role. The textile industry was developed and buttons factories were also built. The economy of the “new city” was based mostly on agricultural products and only by the second half of the 19th Century were industrial plants started—for example, a flour mill, a potash incinerator, a beer brewery, and a soap shop, etc. During World War I, under the government of the Germans, the two parts of the city were united.

The Jewish community in Ciechanowiec has been regarded as one of the most ancient Jewish settlements in Poland. According to one theory, the Kuzary Jews founded it. Near Ciechanowiec there is indeed a small village called “Kuzari” and in the town itself there was a street named “The Kuzari Street.” Historians saw in these signs the proof that Jews had settled in Ciechanowiec at the origin of the town. There is no doubt that by the second half of the 16th century Jews lived in Ciechanowiec. During the 17th century their number increased constantly. At that time a synagogue was erected and near it 3 Bathei Midrash (study houses). (According to the accepted lore in the community, the synagogue was built in the 14th century.) In the 16th century the cemetery was sanctified.

By the 18th century there had already been a distinctive Jewish settlement in Ciechanowiec. The representatives of the community of Ciechanowiec were active in the Vaad Arba Aratzoth (the General Assembly of the Jewish 4 councils of Poland during the 16-18th centuries) and were among the main speakers in that Committee. In the year of 1760, Nissan, son of Yehuda was appointed to be the pleader of the Committee (a central role in the framework of the Committee). He was described as “a diligent man, who knows his work, a holy work, he faces kings and rulers and his lips drop honey”. In the assembly of the Committee in 1726, the claim of the community of Ciechanowiec against the community of Wegrow regarding the affiliation of the Jews of Wysokie Mazowiecki was discussed and the two communities demanded the patronage over it. The debate was rejected because both communities did not prove their claim in evidence. After a short time, the Jews of Wysokie Mazowiecki gained their independence and were not subject of either town.

Rabbinic Figures

In the beginning of the 18th century, R' Yehoshua Halevi held the office of the community Rabbi, who was also the representative of the community in the Vaad Arba Aratzoth. His signature appears on various documents of the regulations of the Committee. He was succeeded by his son, R' Issachar Berisz, who was among the signatories of the excommunication of the Frankists sect. R' Issachar Berisz was among the messengers who went to Warsaw in 1759 to appeal to the Pope “nuncio” to speed up the process of converting to Christianity of that sect. In 1756 R' Issachar Berisz was also among the signatories of the excommunication of the Sabbatai Zevi followers and he took the side of R' Jacob Emden in his conflict with R' Yehonatan Eyebeschuetz. In 1750, R' Moshe Segal of Ciechanowiec is mentioned in the debates of the Committee, regarding the assistance of his sons, Aharon and Zajnwil', to the owners of a big printing house in Amsterdam, Josef and Jakob Propes, which published a new version of the SH”S (the six Orders of the of the Mishnah). In 1761 Rabbi Dawid Szaul Katznelenbogen served as the Rabbi of Ciechanowiec and managed also a Yeshiva (Talmudic college there.

After him the Rabbi of Ciechanowiec was R' Szabtai Zusman K”tz, author of the book “Meir Nativ”. After Rabbi K”tz moved to Hamburg Germany, the Rabbi in Ciechanowiec was R' Chaim B”R Perec, who was called “R' Chaim Ciechanowiecer”. After a short time, R' Chaim left Ciechanowiec and moved to Pinsk, from where he immigrated to Eretz Israel. Between the years 1848-1888 the Rabbinate in Ciechanowiec was served by R' Jakob Lajb Heler, who was born in Ciechanowiec. In 1889 he was succeeded by R' Eliahu Baruch Kamai, who served 10 years as a Rabbi (until 1899). From Ciechanowiec he moved to become the Rosh (head) of the famous Mir yeshiva. During this period the town was served by Rabbis R' Dawid Kamin, author of the book “Beth David” and Hazan and Shochet, about rulings of ritual slaughtering, and R' Mosze Rubinstein, author of the books “Esh Dat” (fire of religion) and Magid & Matif (herald and preacher). After him R' Zalman Szneorsohn came to office as the Rabbi of Ciechanowiec (until 1928).

Institutions

The Jews of Ciechanowiec were engaged mainly in commerce and artisanship. In the year 1775 some Jews owned weaving mills. The weaving industry under Jewish hands developed starting from the 20s of the 19th century. This industry left its mark on Jewish economic life in Ciechanowiec. After the Polish revolt in 1830, the Russians set up a very high custom tax for crossings of the border from Poland Kingdom to Russia. The “New Town,” which belonged to the Kingdom of Poland, and especially the Jews living there suffered severely from the closure of the border. Then some of the weaving mills owned by Jews were transferred from the “New Town” to the “Old Town. “ As a result the “Old Town” became a very important center of wool commerce, almost all of which was owned by Jews. The well-known industrialist, Szaul Horowicz, who was born in Ciechanowiec, moved his buttons factory from Warsaw to Ciechanowiec. This was the among the largest buttons factories in Poland. The Jews also owned large shops of textiles (”manufaktura”). But many of the family supporters in Ciechanowiec were engaged in small commerce and crafts. Because the town was far from the railway station (which was in Czyzewo), transportation cooperative was founded, which transported passengers to and from the station and transported merchandise to Warsaw, Bialystok and other towns. Jews owned the cooperative.

Charity institutions were founded in Ciechanowiec in the beginning of the 20th Century. “Gmilut Khassadim” was established first; after a few years the following organizations were started: “Bikur Kholim” (visiting the sick), “Hachnasat Kala” (caring for the bride), “Hachnasat Orkhim” (welcoming visitors). A committee was also erected whose aim was to assist passers-by when they came to Ciechanowiec in order to prevent them from begging from landlords. Every year they also distributed “Maot Khitin” (money from the wheat) to the poor for the Passover Holiday.

Ciechanowiec also had one synagogue, a Beth Midrash (college for Talmudic study), and “Shitbalach” of the Hassidim. Until the end of the 19th century, the Beth Midrash was the only spiritual center of town. In Ciechanowiec there was a “Talmud Torah” (Torah study), in which almost all the children of the Jews got their education. In the beginning of the 20th century “Cheder Metukan” (revised religious study school) headed by the Maskil (the Enlightened - a disciple of Moses Mendelsshon) Mosze Dawid Heller. In the beginning it had only one class in which boys and girls studied together. At the same time, a professional school was also established, mainly for girls. Its language was Russian, but one hour a day was dedicated to study of Hebrew. In the year 1908 a “mechina” - a preparatory school for Gymnasium -- was established in Ciechanowiec. The share of the Jews in it was limited to 9% only, so very few Jewish pupils attended it. In later times (near the outbreak of World War I), a “Tarbut” school was founded, which after the war joined the Tarbut Hebrew school chain centered in Warsaw.

By the end of the 19th century, the first Zionist group was organized in Ciechanowiec, which called itself “Khibat Zion”. In the first Zionist Congress, 1897, two Zionist delegates were from Ciechanowiec. Because the Zionist movement was prohibited in the Russian Empire, the organization ran secret activities and meetings held in private houses. At this time the “Bund” movement was active in Ciechanowiec, also operating underground.

During World War I many Jews escaped to Russia. In battles, which took place near Ciechanowiec during 1915, 22 Jews were killed. The town was conquered by the Germans by the end of 1915 and slowly life returned to its routine. The escapees started to return to town. Public activity, which was completely paralyzed by the beginning of the War, was renewed and even increased. During 1916, a popular library was founded, which attracted the younger generation. In addition, the pioneer Zionist youth movements started to get organized. In spite of the difficult economic situation of most of the Jewish inhabitants, the educational institutions were re-opened. In Ciechanowiec, as in other cities in Poland, there was a shortage of food and assorted industrial products. Commerce and craft were completely frozen. Many Jews had no means of earning a living. The community opened a public kitchen for the poor and 200 Jews got their hot meal there daily.

Between the Two World Wars

During the war between Prussia and Russia in 1920, Ciechanowiec was conquered by the Bolsheviks for a short period of time. After the rule of town was returned to Poles, there were pogroms against the Jews, who were accused of collaboration with the Russians. Many Jews were beaten and robbed. Pressured by the Jewish representatives in the Polish Parliament (the “Sejm”), the government sent an inquiry committee to Ciechanowiec, as a result of which order returned to the town.

During the period between the two World Wars the Jews of Ciechanowiec continued to earn a living primarily from commerce and crafts. Jews owned some of the biggest textile shops. Also the trade of eggs and goose was an important source of earning money for the Jews. Jews also owned some industrial plants, such as flourmills, a sawmill, and factories producing tiles and. In the outskirts of town there were two farms owned by Jews. Tailors and cobblers distinguished themselves among the Jewish artisans.

The financial situation of most Jews was very difficult. Economic and social institutions tried to relieve the financial hardship of the Jews by organizing mutual aid societies. The Jewish Merchants Union, founded in 1927, gave extended credit with very low interest. In 1928 this bank had 250 members. At the same time, a Jewish artisans association was founded and small merchants created their own union. Their main aims were to arrange trade permits and work licenses for the members. In 1925 a charity fund (Gmilut Hassadim) was founded which assisted the merchants and artisans by awarding interest-free credit. The societies and institutions of the community gave aid to the poorest. The society “Linat Tzedek” added to its activities, also granting free medical aid to people in need.

In spite of the difficult financial situation, the cultural and public activities of Ciechanowiec increased significantly. Nearly all the parties, the political movements and their youth organizations, which operated in Poland, had branches in Ciechanowiec. The membership in the Zionist groups nearly doubled. “The League for Working Israel” was the head of the groups. Second place belonged to the General Zionists (“Al Hamishmar” group), and after them came “Mizrachi”. Among the Zionist youth organizations, Hashomer Hatzair was pre-eminent. The youth organizations founded pioneer preparatory farms (“hachshara”) near Ciechanowiec. In 1927 a branch of “Hakhalutz” movement (the Pioneer) was founded. In the 30s, branches of the Revisionists and Beitar were also started.

Agudat Israel” and its organizations, “Tzeiri Agudat Israel” and “Poalei Agudat Israel,” were mainly active in the election to the municipality and the community. They were very active in education. The “Bund” was based on the professional unions it founded. In the 20s, the groups of Folkists developed and their main influence was in the associations of petit commerce and artisans. Its influence diminished with the passing years. Few youth belonged to the illegal communist party and their delegates were behind strikes and demonstrations in town.

In the community committee, the Zionists had the major influence. In the elections of 1924, they, together with the artisans under their influence, received most of the votes. In the next elections the Zionists lost a few delegates but maintained their power. The Jews had some representatives in the City Council. In the 30s, the rabbi of the community was R' Benjamin Zeew Kagan, who perished in the Holocaust.

In the inter-war period there were a few Jewish schools in Ciechanowiec. In addition to “Talmud Torah”, the “Cheder Metukan” continued to exist. In the year of 1925, a girls' school was erected, “Beth Yaacov” of “Agudath Israel”. In 1925, in the “new city” a kindergarten was founded. In Ciechanowiec, in addition, there was also a state elementary school for Jewish children with seven classes (the “Szabasowka”). In the year 1928 a Yeshiva (Talmudic college) began where 100 young men studied, in addition to students from other towns. In Ciechanowiec there were two large libraries, the first one, by the Zionist group, was called “Tarbut,” and the second one, by the Bund, was named after Y.L. Perec. In addition to them there were also small libraries of parties and youth movements. For a while, sport organizations were active in Ciechanowiec, like “Maccabi” of the Zionists and “Stern” of the “Bund”.

When anti-Semitism grew in Poland during the 30s, it appeared in all realms of life in Ciechanowiec. Boycotts against Jews continued, including pickets, which were placed near Jewish shops, but also attempts to rouse more violent attacks against the Jews. In July 1937, during a market day in the neighboring villages, violent anti-Semitic groups attacked the Jewish stalls, but the Jews chased them away. The pogroms occurred again in September of that year, with the rioters attacking even little children. After these events, an investigator on behalf of the Voivoda (the regional council) was sent to Ciechanowiec. But his investigation was carried out only superficially. The rioters were caught and brought to trial, but the court only warned them and imposed no punishment.

During the Second World War

Ciechanowiec was occupied by units of the German army in the beginning of 1939. After a few days the Germans left town according to the Pact between Germany and the U.S.S.R., and Ciechanowiec fell under Soviet rule. Because it was near the border, it became a center for refugees from the German-occupied territories in Poland. Many refugees fell sick with typhus. The Russians built a hospital in which the sick refugees and townspeople of Ciechanowiec were hospitalized and the epidemic was stopped. Ciechanowiec Jews adjusted quickly to the new situation. In the beginning of 1940, the artisans organized themselves in cooperatives and many worked in offices and factories for the new rulers. In the spring of 1940 a decree was issued obliging everyone to carry a Russian “passport” (identity card). During this period, many Jews of Ciechanowiec were declared as “untrustworthy elements,” and their property was nationalized by the Soviets and many were sent to exile in Russia. In addition, the refugees who refused to receive “passports” were banished. But due to this deportation decree, many survived the war and saw its end. In the years 1940-1941 many of the youth enlisted in the Red Army.

On June 22nd, 1941 at 4:00 am Ciechanowiec was bombarded by German artillery. The bombardment mainly hit a neighborhood in the “old city”, where 30 Jews were injured and many died later from their wounds. The town was occupied in the same day. As a mayor of the town, the Germans appointed a “Volksdeutscher” name Richter. Life of the Jews became lawless. Murders, robbery and abuse became a matter of daily routine. The Germans imprisoned seven Jews, among them Szabtai Kaszmejn and Yeszajah Klopot, and executed them. Men and women were snatched to forced labors. These acts were accompanied by brutal and cruel treatment. The situation worsened when the Nazi Romanus arrived to Ciechanowiec and appointed the mayor of town. In the end of 1941, all the Jews over 12 years of age were obliged to wear a white ribbon with the yellow Star of David on it. The synagogues were shut down and even individual prayer was considered a severe offense. A Judenrat was appointed with Efraim Winer as its chairman. In the autumn of 1941, a ghetto was established. It included 2 quarters. Around each one a wire fence was built connected by a bridge. Exit from the Ghetto was banned. Those who left in search of food were shot on the spot. Food supplies were brought into the Ghetto by authorization of the Nazi Romanus and his Polish anti-Semitic assistant, Pszilkowski. Every day women and men between the ages of 18-60 were led to forced labor outside the Ghetto. They worked in paving the road, in building, and in German factories. As wages for their work, they were given only 300 gram of bread. The situation of the artisans was little better. Raw materials were brought from Bielsk and for the finished products they received food products. In the winter of 1941/42 Jews were deported from Zareby and Czyzewo to the Ciechanowiec to the ghetto, where there were 4000 Jews. Around 1000 of them were worked daily for the Germans.

The persecutions worsened in the year 1942, and at the end of January 1942, 18 Jews were arrested. The Germans accused them of being communists. Among them were Lin and his two sons, Mosze Zolotow and Ajzik Midler. The prisoners were held for three weeks and were executed after being cruelly tortured. In March 1942, six other Jews were murdered, among them Menes Lew and Icchak Zeliger. In October 31st, 1942, the Germans ordered the Jews to bring 250 men and 35 women with professions to Romanus, to be sent to the nearby village Pobikra for work. The aim of the Germans was to deceive the Jews and hide the truth about their tragic fate. All the men and women who presented themselves were taken out of the Ghetto under guard, taken to a place 35 kms far from Ciechanowiec, and shot to death. Only five managed to escape.

In the morning of November 2nd, 1942 the German and Polish police encircled the ghetto, where panic ensured. Many tried to escape, to no avail. The Germans and their Polish collaborators opened fire and many of the Jews were murdered on the spot. Only 31 persons managed to escape. A large part of the local population collaborated with the occupiers. They blackmailed those who run away to the forests and asked for hiding in the villages. They were paid by money and valuables and later denounced to the Germans. Very few survived and lived to see liberation. On November 15th, 1942 the Germans liquidated the ghetto completely and the remaining Jews were deported by carts to Czyzewo railway station and from there deported to the extermination camps Treblinka and Majdanek.

Bibliography

The Yad Vashem archive in Jerusalem, documents: M-11 / B73, 155, M-11/46, 022/47, M-1/E/2230/2757
The Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem, documents: HM/7604, HM/6673
The Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, documents S-5/1972, S-5/1804, S-5/1707, Z-4/3569/III
Ciechanowiec; Memorial and Records, editor: Eliezer Leoni, Tel Aviv 1964
Yehoshua Mordechai Rozenblum, My Town Ciechanowiec, Tel Aviv 1951
”Hajnt” 14.6.1938, 24.12.1936, 11.6.1930, 29.1.1929, 9.11.1927, 11.7.1939, 25.7.1938, 28.6.1938
”Naj Folkszeitung” 9.1.1937

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