« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 432]

ו    F

Doctor Josef CHAZANOWICZ

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

As the best comes last, we pause at the personality of Dr. Josef CHAZANOWICZ who in his time was a central figure in Bialystok philanthropic and national life. And he became a world famous Jew through his founding of the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem. In his memory, I present his biography and his characteristic traits.

 

His Life

Josef CHAZANOWICZ was born in 5605, 21 Heshvan [3 November, 1844] in the city of Horodne to middle class parents. His grandfather, Reb Hirsh RUSOTE[1*] was driven from the village of Rusoti, near Horodne, during the expulsion from the villages and entered the city with his inn for nobles and lived with his three sons, one of whom was CHAZANOWICZ's father, Ahron. His [Josef's] mother died during his childhood and

[Page 433]

he was raised by his grandfather because his [Josef's] father was always in positions abroad without his family. His [Josef's] father was a Jew, a follower of the enlightenment; he wrote poems and was able to play the violin. He also knew languages and possessed worldly knowledge.

The young Josef was given into the hands of his grandfather and grandmother who raised him in their old fashioned manner in kheder [religious school for young boys] in Khumish and Rashi [Five Books of Moses – Torah – and Rashi's commentary] and gemara [rabbinical commentary]. It is said that he was a good student of the gemara.

In this environment he absorbed piety and an inclination to think about supernatural matters. The lament of his grandfather during khtsos [midnight prayer], which his grandfather would recite lamenting the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh [Temple] in Eretz-Yisroel, made a very deep impression on the feelings of the young Josef CHAZANOWICZ and he could never forget it.

On the other side, his grandmother raised him on her family legends, chiefly, from her grandfather, the famous, Reb Hirsh HASID[2*] from Rusoti, who had the reputation as a righteous man. He would study for the entire day and his wife was engaged in earning a living. He made sure that, God forbid, she not wrong and fool the non-Jews in measurements and weights. The peasants in Rusoti believed that things grew well in fields through which Reb Hirsh HASID had walked.

His [Josef's grandfather's] noble once made a bet with other nobles that he had the most pious innkeeper. In order to demonstrate this to his friends, he called them at Minkhah [evening prayer] time while Reb Hirsh stood for shemonah esrei [18 benedictions recited three times a day] and shot over his head. There was shouting and a great tumult around him, but he did not move from his spot because he did not notice. When the Vilna Gaon died, Reb Hirsh HASID sat shiva [seven day mourning period observed for parents, spouses, siblings and children].[12]

Thus in the modern sense, Reb Hirsh HASID was transformed into our Dr. Josef CHAZANOWICZ, his grandson.

 

His Education

The young Josef studied in kheder until he realized that it would have no practical purpose at all in his life. He himself

[Page 434]

began studying Russian. Later, he entered a folkshul [public school] and from there a gymnazie [secondary school] that he left after several years with a great scandal because he did not want to write on Shabbos. Later he and the director came to terms and he was given a diploma for five classes in order that he leave the gymnasie.

Possessing enough of a mastery of Russian, he took a post in the central hospital in Grodno where he saved a little money. With it, he went to Konigsberg, where in the course of a year and a half he passed a German exam for university admission and entered the medical faculty of the university there in 5626 [1865]. He studied well there. He worked for a time under the two famous professors, BUROW and LEYDN, by whom he was very respected. LEYDN even interceded for him at the Konigsberg Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community], asking that it give him support because CHAZANOWICZ, the student, studied in great poverty.

In 5632 [1872] he took exams for medical doctors with a dissertation on the effect of light on the animal organism. In 5636 [1876] he took an exam in Petersburg and practiced for the first year in Grodno; the next year he was already practicing in Bialystok.

 

His Family Tragedy

He married a woman from the well known WILBUSZEWICZ family in Grodno and Bialystok, but his wife took her life a short time after the wedding; she poisoned herself (a frequent occurrence in her family) and died without children. Dr. CHAZANOWICZ never married a second woman. The rest of life was dedicated to his people.

Dr. CHAZANOWICZ was one of the extraordinary people who are found infrequently in each generation. He was made of pure heart and feeling. He also thought with his heart.

 

His Behavior

Whoever spent even a little time with him thought that when speaking he would mix together various matters and would spring from one matter to another without any connection and he would gesture sharply, shouting and fuming. The listener who did not understand him

[Page 435]

considered him to be crazy and he was actually called “the crazy CHAZANOWICZ” in the city. But those who listened to him well and understood what he was saying always found a great connection and a sweeping, deep content in his talk.

I once tried to reproduce several such conversations with him and gave them to then Hebrew newspaper, HaTzefira [The Siren] in the form of an interview.[13] It made an impression because all of his words were content-rich aphorisms that were worth publishing. He always found himself in a world of clouded ideas where at times there were found flashes of lightening and storms.

Very often, right when he got up in the morning, he received such an inspiration that excited him at the highest level and lasted for him continually for several days like a fever. Then he could not speak calmly. The first patient who would come in to him had to endure a great deal from him. He would rage at him with his new idea, not listening to him first about his illness. Only after he poured out his entire heavy heart about Jews, about our intelligencia, rich men and rabbis (then he would shout, twist his mouth, tap with his foot and aim a blow with his fists) – would he begin with the sick one. The usual patient looked at him as a crazy person because he did not understand a word he was saying to him and what he was asking of him.

Dr. CHAZANOWICZ went with the same tempo as he made his visits throughout the city and with each sick person he first said his piece and then considered the sick one. It was said that once after he looked at the sick person, the members of the household asked what he thought about the condition of the sick person. He answered: “Very bad!” There was a tumult and crying in the house. He caught himself, calmed them and said, “Things are very good with the sick one; he will get well. I meant that things are very bad with Eretz-Yisroel (Turkey had then forbidden Jews to come to Eretz-Yisroel).

 

His Love of Israel

Traveling on a visit in this excited condition, traveling in the horse cab he would stop Jews with whom he was acquainted and go up, grab them by the lapels

[Page 436]

and fume at the Jews. Usually, immediately there was a cluster of people around him who listened to him nodding their heads in agreement. Everyone - a rabbi, a doctor, an old woman, a merchant, an artisan, a horse cab driver, an intelligent person, a simple person - was the same to him for pouring out his heart and bringing out his ideas. He was an exemplary Jew and a self-sacrificing friend of the Jews. Therefore, Jewish errors excited him terribly because he wanted his Jews to be without any faults. He always fumed at them, cursed them with all kinds of abuses, all curse words, such as “old pants seller,” “Jewish swindlers” and the like. And in addition, he would curse with such strong curses that others with little understanding thought of him as a true enemy of the Jews.

 

Standing Up for a Tortured Jewish Young Man (the GRANOWSKI Matter)

Dr. Josef CHAZANOWICZ would respond with fervor to all events affecting the Jewish people as a whole and the Bialystok kehile in general. When the news arrived about the Balter pogrom, he quickly went out into the city in an uproar and in the course of a few days he collected a large sum of money for the victims of the pogrom. He seized upon every large and small sin that was committed in the city, as with the GRANOWSKI matter (5650 - 1889), and he overdid things a little excessively and was punished by the higher government regime.

The story was like this: A young Jew slipped into the garden of a Polish Doctor GRANOWSKI and picked several apples from a tree and he was caught. The doctor struck him in the face with the words: “Wor, zlodzie.” (Thief, robber), and crippled his entire face. CHAZANOWICZ began such a storm in the entire city that hundreds of people surrounded the doctor's house and made noise, including CHAZANOWICZ. The crippled youth was photographed with the corroboration of Rabbi MARKUS and a sharp article was sent to the then liberal Russian newspaper, Nowosti [News], which was published immediately.

In all of the largest European and American newspapers, the case was connected to the persecution of Jews by the Russian regime. This incited the higher Russian regime in Petersburg and, therefore, in 5621 (1891) CHAZANOWICZ and Rabbi MARKUS were punished and both sent from Bialystok for two years. They [the regime]

[Page 437]

required a large payment of money from the Bialystok kehile, but with intense mediation this was successfully removed. The higher government officials in Petersburg then said that more was written about the GRANOWSKI matter than about the death of Aleksander II.

 

His Zionism

Dr. CHAZANOWICZ would travel to all of the Zionist conferences and there he drew attention to himself with his fuming and cursing everyone who was in opposition to [Theodor] HERZL whom he represented. Once he lifted his cane to [Chaim] WEIZMANN who stood at the head of the opposition.

Although he was a fervid Zionist, he was one of those saying yes at the Sixth Congress (when there was a vote on the question of Uganda[3*]). At that time from the Congress dais, HERZL cited the old CHAZANOWICZ for his agreement with him. But CHAZANOWICZ did not go into the substance of the matter; he was here a disciplined soldier following HERZL.

 

His Love of the Common People

He loved everything that was Jewish. Therefore, he also observed every Jewish tradition. He equally loved the Hebrew and Yiddish languages and, therefore, he read everything published in both languages. He used the most common expressions in speaking Yiddish, often even vulgarisms.

He loved the simple Jew from the multitudes; this was his friend. He poured out his bitter heart to him. He very much did not like the Jewish rich man and intelligencia because these were not natural and it is true to say that they did not like him because he was a man without manners and hated all external structure.

Even in his simple, almost poor clothing – his strange hat with a point that he had made according to his taste – he showed that he was very eccentric. He would sometimes carry it to the absurd. Therefore, he was the doctor of the masses, of the cellar and attic rooms, but not of the salons. But this did not concern him.

He loved his poor clients and was at home with them. They understood each other and he actually had the largest practice

[Page 438]

in Bialystok and he earned well. However, he would not take money from a large percentage of his patients. He would support all of the poor from his own pocket.

 

His Way of Life

He spent very little on himself. He would nourish himself with 30-40 kopekes a day. He was a strict vegetarian for a number of years. And when he got older, he would in general eat not more than one meal a day. He would say that when an old steam engine becomes overheated it explodes. Almost all of the money that he earned, he would give for communal and individual concerns. As long as his father was alive, he supported him and a brother, with whom his father lived, and the brother's entire family in Grodno. Later, when his father died, he brought those remaining to Bialystok and supported them here.

He did not have any physical pleasures from life. His pleasures were only spiritual in his world of ideas. His medical work also did not satisfy him. He always looked to connect his activities with a higher, ambitious ideal and this he found right from the start in the Hibbas Zion [Lovers of Zion] movement.

He had an attachment to Eretz-Yisroel from earlier. In 5643 [1882], he visited there. But because of a cholera epidemic, he was detained in Smyrna in quarantine. He became ill there. He had to come back. When Reb Shmuel MONHILEWER became the Bialystok rabbi during the same year, 5643, Dr. CHAZANOWICZ became one of his ardent coworkers in the area of Hibbas Zion. He devoted his entire residence as an office and center for the work. It should be noted that the work was then done in secret; it was not approved by the Russian regime. As a frequent visitor in many houses and with many families, Dr. CHAZANOWICZ made the idea of Hibbas Zion and the colonization of Eretz-Yisroel very accepted by the entire city.

 

His Work for the National Library

But this was still nothing to him. He searched for a special national endeavor that would not be

[Page 439]

swallowed in the general work. Once during a private meeting I gave him the idea of creating the beginning of a national library and showed that this would be very easy for him: giving part of his yearly earnings for the purpose he could, if he lived long, do a great deal. This pleased him and he asked that I give him a list of the needed books until he created a bibliographic work and catalogue. I gave him such a list.

Several days later, coming to him for an evening, I found his entire sitting room clogged with books and he was lying on the floor and arranging and tying them up. He took to it with the entire fervor of his heart; he gave the largest part of his earnings to it, all of his time that was left after his practice. He undertook with my help a great campaign through letters, calls and brochures to the entire world – to collect books in all languages and subjects for the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem.

In 5650 [1889] with the activities (the delegation of Hovevei Zion [another name of Hibbas Zion – Lovers of Zion] in Eretz-Yisroel) and Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER at the head in Jerusalem, Dr. CHAZANOWICZ joined the local “Office of B'nai B'rit,” that had already founded a local, small library, Midrash Abarbanel. He agreed with them to send the books he had bought and collected for a national library.

Here in Bialystok it is still remembered how Dr. CHAZANOWICZ, when he was going to see a sick person, would first go to the shelves or cupboard and there search for a needed book for the National Library. He would sometimes go to the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] to a sick person for a certain book that he would be given. I remember that once he went to a woman giving birth in Zabludowe for the rare book, Sheltei HaGbroim [Coats of Arms] by Reb Avraham haRofeh MaMontevah [the physican of Montevah – Montua in Italian. This book is about Jewish music and history.]

He was in contact with all of the big booksellers, mainly antiquarians and would receive the lists of the all books that were being sold at auctions in Amsterdam. And he would always buy the rarest and most expensive. When he would receive the news that the rarest book or books had been bought for him at the auction it would be a holiday and celebration for him which he shared with all of his acquaintances and patients. A bibliomania[4*] actually developed in him, but with the highest ideals. He did not collect anything for himself, but for the National Library in Jerusalem. He,

[Page 440]

in time, became a great compiler of bibliographies. He became well versed in the names, publishers and contents of the tens of thousands of books.

During the course of 20 years, he succeeded in collecting up to 36,000 books, more than 20,000 in Hebrew, among them unique copies (only one in the world) and incunabula [a book or page printed in Europe before 1501] (first editions), and in the erection of a building that cost 43,000 francs at that time. His book collection in the presently diverse enlarged library is a property whose worth cannot be estimated. In addition to this, there is the work of an experienced collector. The National Library is today a foundation of the Jewish revival in Eretz-Yisroel.

 

His Last Years

He devoted his income to his poor family during his last years. He wanted to take care of them after his death, but he was not able to give up his activities for the library. In addition to collecting books from the entire world, he “lent out” money from the family on behalf of the Zionists and would buy additional books. According to his account at that time, he charged to me up to an additional 5,000 rubles in such a case.

His departure from Bialystok before the German military occupation [during the First World War], as a result of which he roamed abroad and died thereafter in a tragic way in an old age home in Katerynoslav [Yekaterinoslav, now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine], was also not by his choice. He was not fearful and he thought little about himself. During the pogrom he did not want to leave and remained in the city and there were actually shots fired into his house.

His departure from Bialystok was because of the family of his cousin, his uncle's son who he had supported for the entire time. The family requested that he go with them along with the collected sum of about 30,000 rubles that they expected to extract from him. None of my arguments and evidence helped, that he did not have to leave and could not leave. I always had influence on him because of the help that I had given him with my literary activity for the National Library. He was very thankful and very connected to me, but here I stumbled into a wall: his cousin's small girl found favor with him, a Dobele, who he had adopted as his own child since her childhood. She was an average child who excelled in nothing, but in his eyes had grown into an “oracle.” The old

[Page 441]

doctor would confer with her about his complicated concerns and would ask her for advice and would tell everyone of her wisdom. All of his sick patients knew about Dobele. She asked him to leave; he had to obey and departed with the family.

I foresaw that if Dr. CHAZANOWICZ came to a strange environment in his later years, they would only see his madness and not recognize his true nature as an exceptional person, not knowing his achievements and his past – he would appear as a faded picture of a wandering shape of the former CHAZANOWICZ.

In the last years before the war, he was one of the most popular people among the Jews in Russian-Poland. When he became ill with pneumonia in 5672 [1911], the Jewish newspapers in Warsaw would publish bulletins. Telegraphed questions came from various countries about his medical condition. A great Bialystok wool merchant told me that as he went around buying wool he was astonished that wherever it was heard that he was a Bialystoker, all of the Jews immediately asked him: “How is your Doctor CHAZANOWICZ?” And they wanted to know all of the details about him.

When Dr. CHAZANOWICZ arrived in Katerynoslav from Bialystok at the beginning of the month of Elul, 5676 [1916], he rented an apartment with five rooms and furnished them and took in the family of five people of his cousin. Engineer Moshe BRUK, USSISHKIN's[5*] brother-in-law, strongly befriended him as a representative of the Zionist organization. He interceded so that he would be chosen as the doctor of the homeless. He was very satisfied with his work. But later, the assimilated representatives dismissed him from his position. His cousin [Dobele] embittered his life when he remained with a salary of 200 rubles a month and sat at home without work. At the end of the winter, 5676, circumstances became worse because the committee for the homeless from which he received the 200 rubles a month was cancelled with the fall Czarism.[14]

 

His Death

His money, which he brought with him, was stolen from him. His cousin [Dobele] wanted to throw him out. The Zionist organization paid her for him. After this, began the disturbances of the

[Page 442]

between the Bolsheviks and their opponents. Dr. CHAZANOWICZ's condition became frightening. He was emotionally sick. He was placed in a sanatorium for the emotionally ill, from which he emerged after several months, bodily strengthened, but emotionally disturbed. His conversations did not make sense.

During the winter, 5679 [1919], his cousin did not want to keep him; she was paid whatever she wanted. In the middle of the winter, 5680 [1919], the situation in the city became worse. Makhno[6*] entered with his horde of village gentiles who looted and murdered. In the middle of mass fervor and tumult, the cousin declared that she would no longer keep her cousin for any money because he needed extra people [to care for him]. Perhaps this time she was right. The Zionists and the kehile had to place him in an old age home – a building similar to a horse stall. True, he was given the best room and the best bed. This agitated a scoundrel, an old man, a drunk. He threw him off the bed and broke his teeth. The next morning Dr. CHAZANOWICZ died as result – on the first day of Tevet in the year 5680 [23 December 1919].

 

His Funeral

A minyon [10 men required for prayer] was barely assembled for his funeral because of the heavy shooting in the city. The kehile gave him the most beautiful spot in the cemetery.

Returning from his visit to Eretz-Yisroel in 5650 [1890] after his first efforts, CHAZANOWICZ imagined his end in another manner for me. He expected to die of a cancer like his father. He thought he would sense his last days, that he would not be able to work for the library and he would then depart for Eretz-Yisroel and ask to be buried on the slope of the stony mountain in the Am lo Jabel [Arabic name of the mountain] opposite the Zichron Yaakov[15] colony that was the most beautiful spot to him in the new settlement. But that he would die in an old age home in Katerynoslav from the blow from a man in a neighboring bed, a drunk, left and forgotten by everyone – this he could not imagine.

According to a decision from the city hall, Rufajcze Alley, the back street of his last residence in Bialystok behind WIBUSZEWICZE's apothecary, is called Doctor CHAZANOWICZ Street.[16]


Footnotes

  1. Reb Hirsh HASID was an exceptional student of the Vilna Gaon for many years. He is the author of Margoliot HaTorah [Pearls of the Torah] in Sitrei Torah [Mysteries of the Torah] from writings of the Ri's writings. [Yitzhak Hazaken bar Shmuel, known as “the Ri.”] He later lived in Šeimatis and he died there in 5579 [1819] (see the eulogy of him in the book Agudah Azov [Legends of Azov] of Reb Welwele). Return
  2. See HaTzefira, 1093, no. 133, 230. Return
  3. Josef CHAZANOWICZ, a Bialystoker, who was in Katerynoslav, during the occupation [during the First World War], described in Dos Neye Lebn [The New Life], 1922, no. 299, 301. Return
  4. See my book B'aretz Hamizrah [In the Land of the East], p. 137. Return
  5. He was my greatest, truest friend, whose equal I did not have in my life. Return


Translator's Footnotes

  1. RUSOTE is possibly not a surname, but a nickname indicating he was from Rusoti. Return
  2. Again, this is possibly a nickname indicating that he was a Hasid, not a surname. Return
  3. The Sixth Zionist Congress took place during the summer of 1903 at which HERZL introduced a proposal to create a temporary homeland for the Jews in Uganda as a safe haven for the Russian Jews, who were felt to be in danger. The proposal was defeated at the seventh Zionist Congress in 1905. Return
  4. “Bibliomania” is defined as a psychological disorder involving collecting books which are of no use to the collector. A “bibliophile” or book lover would be a more accurate description of Dr. CHAZANOWICZ. Return
  5. Avraham Mendel USSISHKIN was a Zionist leader and later became head of the Jewish National Fund. Return
  6. Nestor MAKHNO was a Ukrainian anarchist who commanded a peasant army – the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine. Return

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Bialystok, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 28 Jul 2012 by LA