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[Page 76]

World War I and its Effect on Ciechanow Jews

 

Tankhum Makaver

Memories of the Years 1914 - 1918

The outbreak of World War I, on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, greatly worried the Jews of Ciechanow. It was approximately forty kilometers from the shtetl to the German village; therefore a great fear fell upon the Jewish population in Ciechanow. Suitable Jews and non-Jews were conscripted. They were immediately sent to Modliner Fortress. The fear and panic increased even more when a great explosion was heard. On the horizon, in the direction of Mlawa, clouds of smoke were seen. This was the result of the Russians blowing up the bridge. Jews started to pack their household belongings and wanted to run away and many became apathetic because of fear and did not know what to do.

The confusion grew even worse when two German planes appeared in the sky above Ciechanow.

Soon all coin money disappeared. The Poles went to the Jewish stores to shop – some for bread, some for butter and sugar and they paid three or five rubles in coin in order to get the rest in small change. But the storekeepers did not have that much small change. There were scandals, shouts and threats.

A meeting was called in the magistrature of the Jewish and Polish bosses. The meeting made the following suggestions:

To issue coupons in place of small change.
Everyone who will want to exchange will get coupons with the same worth as the change.
To take charge of the security in town.
The security was put in the hands of the voluntary fire brigade, Jews and Poles.

A committee was elected consisting of four people, three Poles and one Jew – Moishe Yaacov Rakovsky.

People calmed down somewhat but the normal daily life did not resume.

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The trades-people did not work. Children did not attend school. This situation continued for several weeks, until General Sasonov arrived with his army from Russia and went to conquer Germany.

The Russian army brought a slight revival in the economy. Besides the merchants, others also started to earn. But this calm did not last long.

In Ciechanow some cherkasn were found at that time who went wild over the Jews. They grabbed twenty-one Jews in the streets of Ciechanow, took them to the prison and beat them. The tortured ones came home in great pain. Jews were afraid to be seen in the street. Still, before dawn people went to S'lichot. Here one could see the same cherkasn who were the heroes of yesterday over the defenseless unprotected Jews, now escaped, two on each horse, barefoot.

It did not take long before several divisions of German soldiers arrived. They brought along a Jewish male, Bainish Kansky-Volsky, from the village of Niestem, where he lived with his family. The Germans tied him to a post in the middle of the market. Jews wanted to speak with him but the Germans guarded him and would not allow this. Immediately a rumor spread that they will hang the young man, or shoot him.

Moshe Rosenberg, whom religious Jews in Ciechanow called Moishe “Apikores” because of his education and knowledge of languages, went to the temporary German commander, who was billeted at Mendl Klainyud, and explained to him that the young fellow who was tied to the pole in the market is an idiot who does not understand the German language. He did not understand what he was being asked.

The German occupiers of World War I, who were not yet poisoned with Hitler's poison, still took such arguments into consideration. The commandant said to call the Rov of the shtetl. The Rov, Reb Landau Z”L, was not in Ciechanow at that time. The religious prayer leader, the dayan Reb Yosef Perlmutter Z”L, an honest and trustworthy person, one who sat day and night studying Torah and in prayer, who had never looked at the face of a non-Jew and did not know the language of the non-Jews, represented him. Moishe Rosenberg went to the dayan and told him what was going on. The dayan asked for the gabai (sexton) of the Bais Hamedresh, Reb Moishe Strashiner, and the three Jews to be called: Yosef Dayan, Moishe Rosenberg, and Moishe Strashiner went to the commandant.

The commandant demanded from Reb Yosef Perlmutter to tell him whether it is true that the young man is an idiot, that he did not understand what was said to him. The dayan assured the commandant that this is true; the fellow did not understand what he was asked, so he was freed.

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Two hours after he was freed the German division left Ciechanow.

 

The Anti-Semitism of the Czarist Soldiers and Officers

In October, November 1914, Russian military divisions arrived in Ciechanow from Siberia, peaceful people who were not yet contaminated with anti-Semitism, but in the area of Ciechanow there were also Don Cossacks, true murderers. Some of the officers of the Cossack brigade

lived in a Polish hotel. Opposite the hotel there lived the Ciechanow Rov Landau. One night, when the officers got drunk and went wild, the hotel owner indicated that across from the hotel there lived the Ciechanow Rov. At two o'clock in the morning they dragged the Rov out of his bed, took him to the hotel, and there amused themselves with the old frum Rov. At daybreak they released him. It is easy to imagine the fear and the suffering of Rov Landau Z”L, a great-grandson of the Ciechanow Tzadik, Reb Avraham Z”L.

At the same time the Cossacks took out two Jews from the village Sammierz near Ciechanow, and shot them. In the year 1915, after the German army occupied Ciechanow, the occupying forces allowed the two bodies to be exhumed and brought to Ciechanow. They were given a Jewish burial.

December 1914 the powers in Ciechanow demanded from the Jewish Kehillah that a Jewish delegation, headed by the Rov, should present themselves to the nobleman Michael, a brother of Czar Nicholaas II. The delegation was to be picked up at the Ciechanow train station.

Rov Landau was not in Ciechanow. After the night when the Cossack officers dragged him out of bed, he went away for some time The dayan Reb Yosef could not appear in the Rov's place in the delegation because he did not understand the Russian language. So it was decided that Reb Moishe Shlifkeh should be the “Rov” . He was a military tailor, understood Russian, and had a wide beard. He greeted the nobleman in the name of the Ciechanow Jews. The nobleman gave him his hand. The very same month the Ciechanow Russian front was visited by a delegation of the Russian Jews with the well-known advocate, A. A. Gruzburg, at its head. The delegation distributed gifts to the Russian soldiers. It did not come in contact with the Ciechanow Jews.

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Winter 1915, the Russian authorities arrested three Jews: Yaacov Kalfus, Mendl Burstein and Mendl Klainyud as hostages for the Jewish population in Ciechanow and sent them to Siberia. When the Russian revolution broke out, they returned to Ciechanow.

Spring of 1915 arrived. The cannon shots from the front were heard more often, but the Jews of Ciechanow were used to this. From Turkestan a new military division arrived. It settled outside of the town. A town commandant was appointed. Power was transferred from civilians to the military.

The dayan, Reb Yosef Perlmutter Z”L, was arrested as a hostage for the Jewish population of Ciechanow. He was given a room at the magistrature and he was allowed to bring in bedding, food and books for learning. Shimshon Perlmutter attended to this. He was a carpenter by trade. Three times a day Perlmutter went to the dayan at the magistrature in order to bring him something, or simply to ask him what he needs. The dayan lived this way for days, in great fear and distress. All the Ciechanow Jews suffered the dayan's pain along with him. Finally he was freed.

The military local commandant was not an anti-Semite. During a consultation of high-ranking officers, when it dealt with sending out all the Jews of Ciechanow, the commandant was against this. He proved that the Russian soldiers would suffer thereby; he won't have where to buy his needs. In fact, during the time that he was commandant, not one Jew was accused in any transgression. Eight Poles were hung at that time as spies.

 

The Expulsion of Proshnitz Jewry and the Help of the Ciechanow Jews

A few days before Pesach 1915, Nicholaas Nicolevich, the father of Czar Nicholaas II, issued an order that in the course of twenty-four hours all Jews in Proshnitz must leave there. Proshnitz was twelve kilometers from Ciechanow. This date was Friday erev Shabbat Hagadol. The news spread like lightning regarding the expulsion of the Jews of Proshnitz. Quickly, not in an organized manner. Jewish Ciechanow wagons set out for Proshnitz in order to rescue the poor Jews with their scanty belongings. The wealthier ones had already long before left for Warsaw.

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In Proshnitz they also found Jews from the shtetlech, Khurzil Yanov, who had left their homes months before. Impatiently the return of the wagons was awaited in Ciechanow. The sun set as usual in the west. Shlomo Shames knocked with his wooden hammer as usual and called out: “To Shul” The stores closed for Shabbat and through the windows of Jewish homes Sabbath candles were seen. Reb Yosef Perlmutter Z'L, with his shames Yaacov Dantos, as usual were going to the Bais Hamedresh to welcome in the Sabbath (Kabbalat Shabbat) and at the same time he takes a walk through the nearby streets calling out: “Light candles. It's late. Light candles.”

It was only in the quiet of the night that the clatter of the returning wagons could be heard. Without delay the wagons rode up to the Hasidic shtiblech and brought in the Proshnitz Jews with their few possessions. Food was not lacking because every Jewish woman brought from the Shabbat cooked food: fish, meat, challahs for the homeless. The wagons returned to Proshnitz. The arrival of the homeless continued until the following night.

A group of Ciechanow youth was organized to help the homeless. Meanwhile, after the holy Sabbath, the homeless were arranged in private homes. A committee was founded, consisting of Zionists and non-party youth: Esther Milner, Avraham Rembom, Baruch Mordecai and Hershel Malina, Dvora Kviat, Wolf Levine, Chaya Rivka Robota, Tova Klinger, Yosef Trabker, Yaacov Misher, Yosef Farma, Laib (a baker), Moishe Parakh (Kviat), Moshe Sokolover, Michael Kirshenbaum, Nachum Rosen (a feldsher), Natan Berman, Faleh Dresner, Raigl Shutzka, Shlomo Klinger, Shaineh Faigl and Tankhum Makover.

The committee started to energetically gather products for Pesach for the homeless because only two days remained until Passover. The work was divided into groups. Every group had its job: Yentzeh (Yaacov) and his wife Chana Chava Robota gave permission to have the matzah baked in their oven. Yekhezkl Trombka fired and koshered the oven. That took a whole night. Those who owned the mill gave flour for matzah. The wood dealers provided wood. The members of the committee gathered everything. The baking of the matzah lasted from very early until late at night. But in addition to the matzah there was also a need for fish, meat, potatoes..

Tankhum Makover undertook to look after all this. He contacted Chaim Laizer, the butcher, regarding meat. Mendl Greenbaum gave wine and Bainish Kanskavolsky – potatoes.

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Notes were distributed so that every family could receive products according to the number of its members. Money was collected in a very unusual manner: The b'chorim boys who learned in the Bais Hamedresh prepared some money for their redemption so that they would not have to fast on the eve of Pesach as is the custom. The payment for the b'chorim went for the refugees.

The gabais (sextons) of the shuls and Bais Hamedreshim gave the money for their aliyahs to the Torah for the refugees. Other contributions were gathered by members of the committee. Tea and sugar were donated by the colonial merchants. That's how Ciechanow Jews supplied the homeless Jews of Proshnittz at that time when, because of the brutal Czar Nicholaas Nicholevich they were driven out of their homes.

On the second day of Pesach the local authorities sent an order to Rov Landau, to bring the boy who picked up a package that a German plane had dropped. A Pole construed this libel. The Rov Landau went to the local commandant and explained to him that this is no more than a false accusation, and with that the matter was closed.

Amongst the homeless there were old folk and sick people. There were no doctors in Ciechanow. They were all mobilized as soon as war broke out. Only one Jewish feldsher remained in Ciechanow by the name of Nachum Rosen. He constantly helped the committee and provided medical help, both day and night, without charge. That's how all the members of the committee worked also. In the case of severely ill cases a doctor was brought. In such a case a military doctor was used, one who someone came upon in the street. They willingly visited the sick and prescribed medication that the committee bought in the pharmacy.

One day two members of the committee - Tankhum Makover and Yosef Trombka, went to seek a doctor for someone who was seriously sick. They came across two military doctors and asked that one of them visit a sick person.

The doctors said: “A hospital has been opened for the civilian sick so that the military doctors will not be called upon.”

Tankhum Makover and Yosef Trombka visited the hospital that was outside of the shtetl en route to Plonsk. There, there stood several houses that belonged to a German master builder called Weizner. The Russian authorities had sent him and his whole family to Siberia. The hospital was set up in these houses. The committee was informed about this. Two members, Dvora Kviat and Tankhum Makover, were immediately delegated to get to know the personnel of the hospital.

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Two female doctors worked in this hospital. One was Jewish, by the name of Kazeri Anovska from Zhitomer. The second one was a Russian, a very liberal one. These two doctors helped the committee very much, that is to say, with the sick.

Those seriously ill were brought to the hospital and the other sick got their medication there.

*

One day there came to Ciechanow the famous writer and journalist of the Jewish newspaper (Der Freyndt), “The Friend” -- Sh. An-ski. He stayed at the hotel of Noach Misher. The purpose of his visit was to help the homeless. He had been sent by the “Moscow Jewish Gezelschaft for Aid to the War Victims”. Sh. An-ski visited a row of shtetls and shtiblech, where he organized local committees to help the homeless. According to his supervision he assigned certain sums of money for help.

In Ciechanow he found an active organized committee. He assembled them and listened to the reports for the time of the existence of the committee; examined the books and the registration of the homeless that consisted of eight hundred people. At his recommendation it was decided that, instead of money, produce should be given to each family according to the number of its members. He decided on 650 rubles per month. In addition, at the recommendation of Dvora Kviat, a one-time sum of 500 rubles was given to the weak ones to improve their health.

The homeless gradually established themselves. They started to earn money. A Talmud Torah was established for the children in the women's portion (Ezrat Nashim) of the big shul.

The German planes bombed Ciechanow from time to time. The following Jews were victims of the bombing: Yosef Mandchok, Yudl Treger and his wife; wounded ones – Henia Mandchok, Melekh Treger and Laib Treger.

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The People's Kitchen in Ciechanow, during WWI
The People's Kitchen in Ciechanow, during WWI

Picture Index

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A warplane struck the shul. The bomb made a hole in the roof. The ceiling remained stuck on the floor of the Ezrat Nashim where the children of the Talmud Torah learned. The bomb did not explode. A military man removed it and in this incident religious Jews saw a miracle from heaven.

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The Cholera Epidemic During World War I

Epidemics arose and started to spread – cholera included. Ciechanow was not spared this terrible sickness. The hospital let out an appeal for people to come to the hospital to get vaccinated against cholera. The young people did so, but the older folks were afraid to go to the hospital for the needle. The hospital accepted many people, but many never came out of there. The Ciechanow Rov Landau also died of this illness.

The situation became very serious. Those who fell ill begged not to be taken to the hospital. The young people who wanted to help did not know what to do.

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The kitchen for the Jewish poor was established. The cook, every day on her way to work, took along meat from the Jewish butcher that was selected by the manager of the kitchen. A few days before Rosh Chodesh Av the question arose about eating meals during the period of the nine days. A representative of the committee came to an understanding with the representatives of the Zemski-Saiyuz regarding the substitution of dairy means instead of meat meals, but for this it was also necessary to change the dishes that was associated with a sizable cost.

A delegation consisting of: Moishe Rosenberg, Tankhum Makover and Yosef Trombka met with the religious leader,

Reb Yosef Perlmutter and with a few more Jews in the Bais Hamedresh and conferred about what should be done. It was decided that the religious leader should call out that it is permissible for those who eat in the kitchen for the poor to eat meat during the nine-day period. He promised us to do this and kept his word.

The third day in the month of Av 1915 -- a panic: Jews were being seized in the street. Great turmoil erupted. Everyone hid wherever they could. In lofts, in cellars. Men were taken from their homes, except for those who were tradesmen. Those seized were taken to forced labor.

 

The German Occupation During World War I

A few days later, the German army occupied Ciechanow. Two Ciechanow Jews whom the Russian soldiers had taken with them, later came back. The hospital of Zemski-Saiyuz was taken over by the German forces. One nurse and one medic of the former personnel remained on staff. The care in the hospital was far from what it was previously. No longer were the sick sent to convalescent institutions. The Germans buried the dead in an open field, Jews and Christians together. That is how (Yaacov) Yekl Fiever was buried also.

The Jews of Ciechanow could not forgive such acts, and one night some members of the burial society: Benjamin Malina, Yisroel Yaacov Student and Avraham Freedman went out to the field and took out the casket with the dead body of Yaacov Fiever and replaced the whole with an empty casket. The burial society members carried the dead man to a Jewish cemetery and gave him a Jewish burial.

The shtetl Ciechanow became closed off – no exit nor entry. The German commandant selected a Jewish major, the above-mentioned Moishe Rosenberg, and also a Polish mayor for the Poles. The secretary of the Jewish mayor was Michael Kirshenbaum, and his helper – Wolf Levine.

The first address of the German forces to the civilian population was in three languages: Yiddish, German and Polish. The address made quite an impression on the national youth because it was the first time that an official force addressed the Jews in their own language.

The epidemic ceased. The city reopened. The homeless returned to their homes, each one to the place from whence they had come. The little money that remained in the committee's hands was divided up amongst the homeless. The group of medics also disbanded.

Young people during WWI wearing wooden shoes
Young people during WWI wearing wooden shoes.
From right, top row: M. Tenenbaum, Liba Grosbard, P. Kostsheva, I. Mantzkeh, M. Gotliber.
Bottom row: Zeloner, S. Kostsheva, S. Laznik, S. Grosbard, G. Gotliber.

Picture Index

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As already mentioned, the Ciechanow Rov Landau had already died. Ciechanow needed a Rov. There were several candidates, amongst them also the Rov, Reb Mordecai Bronrot Z”L. He was beloved as a community worker and was also a member of the central committee of Mizrachi in Poland. From Mizrachi he was delegated to the Twelfth Zionist Congress in Carlsbad. With a large majority of votes, Rov Bronrot was elected as Rov in Ciechanow.

The economic situation of the Ciechanow Jews became very difficult. The German forces requisitioned everything: food, leather, manufactured goods, etc. Trade nearly came to a standstill. The German powers put a demand for a contribution on the community, as though the Ciechanow Jews had conducted a war against the Germans and they were defeated.

Some of those who worked along with the committee for the homeless started a kitchen for the poor of Ciechanow. The kitchen was open every day from 12:00 - 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon and in the evening it became a club for Jews who wanted to meet over a cup of tea. The tea covered part of the expenses for the kitchen for the poor. The mayor, Moishe Rosenberg, sent a gift for the kitchen – a music box. One only had to put in five kopeks to make it play. The kitchen was maintained by the donations of wealthy Ciechanow Jews.

At the same time, through the initiative of Frau Kahane, a children's home was established. In the organization of the educational institution and in its later activities, those who participated were: Chaya Rivka Robota, Fola Drezner, Raizl Shtutskeh, Dvora Kviat, Bronya Kviat, Esther Milner, and Tankhum Makover. The kindergarten was conducted in Hebrew by the teachers Khinich and Gips. The financial situation of the children's home was a difficult one. Tankhum Makover appealed to Warsaw to Dr. Klimel and advocate Altshvanger, who were members of the central committee of the Zionist organization in Poland at that time. Makover informed them about the condition of the children's home in which the poorest children attend, and they agreed upon 70 rubles per month.

Levine-Epstein from America visited the children's home. He noted the addresses of the children whose parents are in the United States.

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The Ciechanow youth began to devote itself more to cultural and political activities. An amateur group was formed that gave performances from time to time such as the “Kreutzer Sonata” of Yaacov Gordin, Osip Dimov's “Shma Yisroel” and others. Besides the Zionist party that had already existed for a long time, the Poele Zion and Bund parties started to be organized.

 

End of the German Occupation - Start of the Polish State

When the German occupation ended and the Polish state was established, a regiment by the name of Ullaner became established. In this regiment Jews also served. The Jewish soldiers came to shul to greet the Sabbath and also Shabbat morning to daven, so the people at prayer invited the soldiers to come home with them for the noontime meal, but it seems that Jewish soldiers did not want to eat at the table of strangers.

The Kehillah could not stand the fact, though, that Jewish soldiers should not eat a Shabbes meal on the Shabbat. They therefore came to the conclusion the Shabbat meals should be organized for Jewish soldiers. The woman, Chana Raizl Makover, and some other women, took it upon themselves to prepare the Shabbat meals. Tables were set up near the Bais Hamedresh. Every Shabbat, after davening, the Jewish soldiers were welcomed and served by the Jewish women. Chana Raizl Makover, Soreh Elevnick, Soreh Gotliber, and others who participated in this important work.

With the establishment of the Polish state, a new epoch

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started for the Jews in Ciechanow just as it did all over Poland.


Yaacov Kahane

The Tragic Events on Yom Kippur of the Year 1914

On that tragic day on the eve of Yom Kippur 1914, a rumor spread quickly throughout Ciechanow that the Russian state authorities and its administration are evacuating; a sign that the Germans are entering. This was no joking matter. Meanwhile, the Jewish population remained unprotected, thanks to the dark Christian elements who are on the lookout for such an opportunity.

In the afternoon all the Jewish shops were closed. No Jew was to be found in the street. Through the window one could see the suspected hooligans. With cynical smiles they wandered around as though they were preparing to cause trouble. After a while we saw some officers in Russian uniforms (later it turned out that they were Poles who served in the Russian army). They were chummy with the hooligans and in a short while voices could be heard shouting: “Jews, save us.”

Eight half-naked Jews were being dragged to the center of the marketplace, where they were beaten. This wild scene lasted approximately half an hour. The writer of these lines called together a group of householders and also boys from Ciechanow, and it was decided that on the night of Kol Nidre the davening would not take place in the Bais Hamedresh or in the shul, but that minyanim should be arranged in private houses so as not to put the Jews in danger. The youth were to stand on guard during the davening.

The officers, after that shameful act, assembled in the city hall and carried on there in drunkenness and wild orgies all night, and in this way celebrated their victory over the Jews, and their voices could be heard throughout Ciechanow. The Jews spent that night in fear and in prayer.

At the break of dawn on Yom Kippur, the noise of a clamor was heard that was caused by the bombardment of the town around the sugar factory. At the same time the officers could be seen running half-naked, to the train. At the bridgethey fell into the hands of the German guards who immediately shot them. This was payment from Heaven for the shame and pain that they caused us.

It seemed that we could be at ease for a while, but meanwhile the German soldiers arrived. Some started to saw the telegraph poles and others set off to do “shopping” -- gave instructions to pack up certain merchandise, courteously gave thanks and…did not pay.

The Jewish merchants wanted to go with a complaint to the commandant, but fresh trouble started, a general one, and a very serious one.

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Suddenly, we saw the Germans leading a chained Jewish boy from a nearby village, called Konskawalsky, whom nearly all the Ciechanow Jews knew. He was tied up to a telegraph pole in the middle of the marketplace and a gallows was erected immediately to hang him. It was bitter for us. Yesterday the Poles beat us, and today, Yom Kippur, the Germans are going to hang a Jew. It was painful for us and a shame for the non-Jewish population. *

* The same event of that time Tankhum Makover writes about in his memoirs. We are, however, also bringing Kahana's memoirs also; they give more particulars of those tragic events of the Jews. I. Kahana mentions additional names of people who were included in the delegation to the German commandant.

The unfortunate parents did not know what to do, so they ran to the supporters of Ciechanow asking for mercy, asking that they do something to save their son. They told what had happened.

The family Konsawalsky lived not far from Ciechanow on Freishnitzer way. The same day a German guard group arrived and asked the way to Ciechanow. They also asked if there are Russians in the area. The boy went out to show them the way and replied that the Russians had left the previous evening. No sooner had they gone off part of the way when they heard shots, and two Germans fell down dead from their horses. The rest of the soldiers immediately threw themselves down on the ground and dragged the boy to protect him so that he would not be shot also. At the sound of the shooting, more German soldiers arrived, and immediately liquidated the four soldiers that had hidden in a barn and from there had opened fire on the Germans, and because the boy had said that the Russian soldiers had already left yesterday, he was kept as a informer and sentenced to be hung on Yom Kippur. As 12:00 noon the order was to be carried out.

Very little time remained to do anything for the condemned one, but something had to be done. The writer of these lines, Shlomo Brenner, and Moshe Rosenberg (who later was the mayor during the German occupation), went to the military commandant and assured him that the whole matter is an error and we guaranteed his innocence.

Gradually the commandant let himself be convinced, but also required the signature of the “rabbi”. Since there was no Rov in Ciechanow at that time, we ran to the dayan, Reb Yosele Z”L. Whoever knew Reb Yosele will understand that he did not want to give his signature so easily. We, the delegates, understood Reb Yosele very well. He was very strict with the Law and in general was very far from worldly matters, and here was a matter of signing for the “authorities”. He pleaded that he had never had anything to do with such matters, so he begged not to have to give his signature now.

Understandably, we could not give up this time, and finally he signed the paper with his quill pen.

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The boy was rescued, and the Jews started to prepare for Succot calmly.

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