About the Community and Immigration
At the end of the 17th century there were about 400 people living in Czyzewo
and 150 years later, there were about 2500 people, including all the Jews in
the surrounding villages. The Jewish population in Czyzewo remained the same
until the end of the 19th century.
In the last 50 years of the town's existence, the young people emigrated and
went to the New World, mainly to North America and in the last 20 years, also
|Welwel Jabka, the famous droshky driver,
at the station in Czyzewo
Leja Zylbersztejn and a tourist.
The Relationship between Jews and their non-Jewish Neighbors
The relationship between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, with a small
number of exceptions, was good. The entire area was made up of aristocratic
courts (estates) and semi-enslaved farm hands and the rest were gentry, the
so-called "pans" (squires).
As the Polish gentry had always found commerce and trade distasteful, they had
come to an agreement with the small merchants and traveling peddlers to act as
a go-between between those in need of a service and the Jews. They were happy
to provide they service and would send Jews from the nearby town. Jewish
merchants, butchers and artisans were able to go out freely by day and by
night, without fear, and travel around to the near and far villages. Every
Christian house was able to serve as an inn. Every peasant cooked, with
pleasure, (in the special pot that the Jew had brought with him) a little
something for the Jewish artisan, or traveling peddler. The peasant always took
the Jew with him to milk the cow, so he would be sure that the milk went right
into the special pot and the Jew would be able to drink it.
Only during the week of Passover the Jews did not travel in the villages among
the gentiles. For the most part, during the week of Passover, Jews avoided
leaving their homes.
Relations with the Polish population were truly friendly. Every Pole was loyal
to his stores and merchants. They never forgot to bring a gift in honor of a
Jewish holiday: a fat hen, a basket of eggs or only a sack of apples and pears.
Also, a Jewish storekeeper never forgot before Passover to distribute matzah to
all his important clients. Fridays he would honor them with gefilte fish.
Even the town intelligentsia had Jewish friends. How often for example, the
apothecary Paris had theorized about what a pain the Jews generally were, but
Lejzor-Salte's stood as the master of honesty.
The idyll ended in 1935/36 with the heavy boycott lead by Organinski.
|Volunteer fire brigade with Shalom Grynberg (in the center)
The Town's Christian Intelligentsia
There were about 30 to 40 non-Jewish families living in Czyzewo. They were the
community officials, post office, police, teachers, private tutors, 2 or 3
storekeepers, a baker, a wine tavern, priests and their families, an
apothecary, 2 doctors, 1 artisan, 2 agents, etc. The officials did not have any
competition from the Jews. On the contrary, the Jewish population was necessary
for their material needs. Consequently, everything superficially was in order.
Those who were forced to earn a living in pursuits similar to those of the Jews
exhibited certain hatreds. The professionals belonged to the extreme right in
Polish society and were exposed to negative ideas and an attitude of hatred for
Jews. One did not expect to be liked by them. However, it must be said that
their attitude towards the Jewish population was correct. Naturally they took
care that there would never be a Jewish doctor in Czyzewo. During the years
when the Jewish doctor Gelbaum lived and practiced, they did everything to make
his life difficult. The attitude of the Christian doctors was downright hatred.
Even Paris, the apothecary, sabotaged him whenever possible. When Dr. Gelbaum
was forced to leave Czyzewo, the Jewish doctors who came after him, without
exception, were not able to exist. One after the other they left town.
In General, the Christians lived apart from the Jews, even the youngsters
scarcely met together. Once, once, at a ball organized by the firemen, one
Christian took part in a Jewish entertainment for a charity.
The economic structure of Czyzewo was not very complicated. Artisans and
merchants they were at the high end of the economic scale. There was no
industry, even in the surrounding area. To reach the nearest industrialized
town, Bialystok, one had to travel 67 kilometers.
Stationary and traveling Artisans (Tradesmen)
One encountered a variety of tradesmen among the Jewish artisans: shoemakers,
blacksmiths, carpenters, cabinetmakers, tinsmiths, shinglers, roofers, bakers,
butchers, hairdressers, watchmakers, wheelwrights, bricklayers, thatchers,
turners, cap makers, tanners, etc. There was not a trade in which either the
Christian or the Jewish populations were in need of that the Jewish artisans
were not able to provide.
There were stationary and mobile artisans. In the category of mobile or
wandering artisans belonged the carpenters who would travel to the villages
from Monday to Friday afternoon and build houses for the peasants or stables.
They lived in the village the entire week. Friday afternoon the
"gospodarz" (landlord) took him home for Shabes. Monday morning he
would bring him back. Among those who belonged to the wandering artisans were
the tanners and tailors. Monday morning one would see a peasant wagon go to
pick up the tailor, his associate and machine and then bringing him back Friday
before candle lighting.
Some of the artisans would travel with their merchandise to the fairs in
neighboring towns and villages. They were the so-called second class artisans.
They would turn out ready-t-wear boots, clothes, furs, hats, various tin bowls,
furniture, wagon wheels, spinning wheels and also bakers. There were also
blacksmiths would travel around to the markets with a stock of various
horseshoes and shoed the horses on the spot. Aside from several Polish
shoemakers who made shoes for Jewish businesses and a baker, there were not any
Christian artisans in Czyzewo.
Jewish commerce encompassed all possible and necessary branches. The
economically strong businesses were 2 iron stores, 2-3 wood warehouses, two
shoe businesses, 2-3 wholesalers of building materials and also several
manufacturing concerns. The rest were small food stores, fancy and dry goods
stores, wine taverns, grain traders and horse dealers. The butchers were in
charge of cattle trading and they would buy up cattle for slaughter. Livestock
sales took place only at the fairs and peasants would buy one or two animals,
sometimes for milk. Horse dealing was also done at the fairs. But there were
stables where horses could be bought on certain days, besides at the fairs. The
poorest of the fancy goods manufacturers and shoe merchants would also pack up
their little bit of merchandise and leave for the neighboring towns and
villages along with the artisans to sell their wares at the fairs.
Except for the specifically Jewish Tzitzis industry, Czyzewo also had a brush
factory, that employed 4 to 6 workers and would deliver brushes from Rejz-Wurcel to
Grodno, Suwalk, Wolkowisk and even Bialystok. In the Czyzewo area there was a
source of soft wood trees and cheap, unorganized labor. Meshal Blajwajs, who
was smart, had developed this trade into a respectable scope. Until the First
World War there was also a good, firmly established soap factory that belonged
to the Rabinowicz family. The factory burned along with the shtetl during the
retreat of the Russian military in 1915. Also the four windmills were burned at
the same time.
After the doomed windmills, two steam mills came into existence and were able
mill all of the flour and feed for the entire area. And in a year when the
wheat harvest was good, they were able to export flour to Bialystok and
Warszawa. The two mills were able to give employment, along with the owners, to
15 to 20 families.
About ten families were able to earn a living by passenger transportation and
transporting goods. Besides the railroad line, the main connection with the
neighboring towns and villages was the horse and wagon. Every morning Szlama
Zelman Hofman would come to the market with his covered wagon, harnessed with
three horses (he spoke of them as "eagles"), round up his passengers
and at the appointed hour he would get on the road to Lomza, a journey of 50
Szlama Zelman Hofman went to Zambrów, 22 kilometers away; Lejzor Nebach had the
concession for Ciechanowiec, 20 kilometers away and his son, Jehuda Mendel,
inherited this run.
The only driver to go to Zaremby was Szmuelke Koszleon. The road to Zaremby was
difficult, as it was sand. Therefore he never had any competition. His son
Michal took over after him.
Andrzejewo, the closest town to Czyzewo, about 8 kilometers distant, was
connected with a regular horse and wagon passenger service, but this route
belonged to an Andrzejewer, perhaps because he was a Czyzewer son-in-law.
The above-mentioned three passenger services, running on good highways, were at
the beginning of the 1930's done away with. Horses and wagons gave way to the
newly arrived automobile.
There was not any stable connection with Wysockie Mazowieckie, Nur, Sterdyn and
Sokolów. Within the district, people would travel through the Szepetów by
train. "Nur" would come with it's wagons. Sterdyn and Sokolów were
connected to Czyzewo through family affairs and Hasidim who did not need daily
Some of the drivers started passenger traffic to the railroad station. About
eight families were employed at this. Others were occupied by transporting
goods from the station and back. Some families lived by being porters, loading
and unloading heavy cargo.
Religious Personnel and Professionals
At a certain time there lived in Czyzewo a dentist's family that did not stay
long, especially when a Polish dentist arrived. A Jewish doctor lived and
practiced for a long time. In the late 1930's there were three Jewish teachers
in the state school, also 5 to 6 teachers in the Jewish schools such as the
modern heder, Beis Yakov, heder, Yesodi haTorah heder. There were two ritual
slaughterers, two sextons, 1 bath attendant, two gravestone engravers, a scribe
(for religious purposes, i.e. Torahs, phylacteries, etc.), melamdim (heder
teachers) for all grades and a rabbi. For the last 36 years until the Second
World War, the rabbi was Rabbi Szmul Dawid Zawlodower.
The following businesses were in Czyzewo: a cotton wadding factory, a wool
carder, a small soda water factory, a soap factory. Egg and fowl merchants,
lease holders and several families made oil for domestic use. There were
freight forwarders and a specialist for sick horses who did not have a
Until Poland's independence, a number of Czyzewer Jews were occupied with
illegal emigration. They smuggled emigrants going to America across the border.
Until the end of the 18th century, social life was very limited. During the
week Jews were busy earning a living. In the early hours of the morning (from 3
am until they had to work) and evening hours, Jews would go to the kloiz (small
prayer room in a person's house or business) and pray as a minion. After
Maariv, they would sit for a while in the bes midresh (house of study and
synagogue) near the warm oven and talk about various subjects that were of
concern to everyone. The scholars were not occupied with this nonsense. They
used the early morning hours to study Torah.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Hasidic wind began to penetrate the
town. At that time the ruling of society went over to the Hasidim and dominant
among them were the Ger Hasidim and they cooperated in getting Rabbi Boruch
Szapiro of Stuczyn to settle in town. He was one of the followers of the Kocker
court and and a supporter of the later Ger rebbe.
For a short time Rabbi Chaim Lejb Kaliszyner lived in town, also a supporter of
the Kocker rebbe and later the founder of the Kaliszyner dynasty.
Playing second fiddle in society life were the followers of the Aleksander
rebbe. Both had Hasidic shtiblach (prayer rooms) with rich religious libraries.
Besides concentrating on Hasidism, both also concerned themselves with all
learning and making sure the town was G_d-fearing. There were also Sokolower
and Amszynower Hasidim in town. The latter had a great influence on the common
people, on the bes midresh Jews. It was the cause at that time of a sadly,
famous "difference of opinion". The Snaidower-Wizners kept the
Amszynowers with them and even became leaders of that faction. It is worthy of
mention that at the end of the "difference of opinion" in 1903,
Czyzewo chose an Amszynower Hasid as rabbi. This shows that there was a
compromise as everyone was tired of the "difference of opinion" that
had lasted for years, brought insults, anger and worse still disgrace and shame.
The main faction in the difference of opinion was the Gerer and therefore it is
not difficult to understand why the official greeters of the young rabbi were
two respected men from the Aleksander shtibl, Israel Icchok Gorzalczany and
Israel Tyktin, who had been sent to Ostrolenka to give the rabbinical contract
to the young, 23 year-old gaon (genius) Reb Szmul Dawid Zawlodower.
It is worthwhile mentioning that after Reb Szmul Dawid became the leader, there
were no longer any disputes between the Besmidresh Jews and the Hasidim. On the
contrary, the shtiblach gave the besmidresh prayer readers, a cantor who was a
Ger Hasid, a cantor for the additional service who was an Aleksander Hasid and
even a reader of the law who was a shtibl Jew, for the Days of Awe (High Holy
The bes midresh Jews were the so-called "common people", Jewish
artisans and workers, hardly scholars. If in the last years pretty gamara
melodies were heard coming from the bes midresh, it was the daily page, led by
Israel Jona Raczkowski, a Ger Hasid. Mainly Hasidic youngsters were learning
In the bes midresh there was a table where a Hasid would constantly study a
Mishna (collection of traditional laws) lesson, or something else. There were
also half-slumbering bes midresh Jews sitting there. But the study of Torah
with enthusiasm, ardor, and the right traditional melody could only be heard in
the two Hasidic shtiblach. Therefore it is no wonder that when a young Litvak
misnaged (those against Hasidism) groom arrived, who was receiving room and
board from his father-in-law, a scholar such as Israel-Icchok at the beginning
against his will had to go to the shtibl. Only there could he find his equals.
Besides him, there was the famous "missionary" Wolf Lejb the melamed,
who if he cast an eye on a good young misnaged, a good student, or a recently
returned students from the yeshiva, had to rescue him and make a Ger Hasid of
There was also a small "Khevre Mishnayos" (Mishnah study group) in
the bes midresh in which the comfortable Misnagdim Jews, who were not great
scholars but also were not ignorant, studied every day a Mishnah chapter with
the people. There were "shtibl-Jews". The first lesson giver was
Israel Tiktin, then later Szlama Israel Gdalja's.
The founders of the "Khevre Mishnayos" were the brothers Mendl and
Nuske Gromadzyn, the brothers Mosze and Mendl Niewad, Jekel Wibitker, Abraham
Chaim the "zimer", Szmulja Gaczer, Kelman Zajonc, Judel Orlinski,
Icchok Hersz the melamed, etc.
The First Winds of Enlightenment
During all the hundreds of years that Czyzewo existed, in this area virtually
When a boy was three years old, his father wrapped the boy in his talis (prayer
shawl) and took him to heder to the grammar melamed. From the grammar melamed
he went to the humash-melamed (Bible teacher). Later he went on to Gemara with
the Toisefes (additional discussions of the Mishna) melamed. The last stage was
undertaken ordinarily only by children from Hasidic families, or sons of rich
Misnagdim. Later they traveled the roads to the various Polish yeshivas in
Radun, Lomza, Brisk, Warszawa and others. Still later, to the Lublin yeshiva.
During the era of Russian rule, there was a law about compulsory schooling, but
Jews ignored the decree. It was rare that somebody attended the government
school. This was also perhaps because to study with a multitude of gentile
boys, meant risking your life.
Those who had the desire to study were self-taught. There were several who
received an academic education, i.e. Chaim Szmul the schochet's son. He had the
strength to fight for the title of engineer. There were also private teachers,
who gave Russian lessons, or Polish and arithmetic. Of course these lessons
were only available to the children of rich parents.
There were also Rebetzin (Rabbi's wives) who taught young women to pray, write
and do simple arithmetic. The first public school for Jewish children was
founded in 1916 during the German occupation. The principal of the school was
Lewi Icchok Rubinsztejn. The boys went to school in the afternoon. At first the
school was in a room at the hospital and later in Surewicz's house.
With the coming of Polish independence, the two Jewish professionals, the
Jewish Dr. Gelbaum and the Jewish dentist Szachnerowicz (the first dentist in
the shtetl during its existence) began to organize a Jewish public school that
was run by Mrs. Gelbojm with the help of Miss Blajwajs. The school only had the
lower grades. Those who wanted to continue in public school through grades 7
and 8 had to go to a larger town. Only westernized Jews sent their daughters to
study in other towns, i.e. Lewi Belczyk, Gorzalczany, Lepak, Prawda and
In the 1930's there was already a government public school for Jewish children
that was run according to the government plan. Jewish teachers were Kliar,
Chmiel etc and there were also Christian teachers in the Jewish public school.
The winds of enlightenment first began to blow during the German occupation in
1916. The older young people received a taste of knowledge. They wanted to
broaden their amateur ideas and then a Jewish public library was founded. The
following young people were among he first founders: Alter Szerszyn, Alter
Baran, Dow Brukarz, Bucze Jablonka, and Plocker. The first managers were Dr.
Gelbaum and H. Szachnerowicz.
Also at that time a Dramatic Circle was created in order to support the library.
During the time of the Japanese-Russian War in 1905, when revolutionary unrest
broke out in Russia, the Jewish youth in Czyzewo also revolted. But this was
not a class struggle. This was a revolt against the social slavery of their
With the suppression of the revolution in Russia, the social uprising in
Czyzewo also came to an end. Once again daughters were slapped by their fathers
for only being suspected of speaking to a young man. Once again the father
waited for evening when he could catch his son or daughter with a Yiddish book.
The first enlightenment was suppressed but not extinguished and it awoke ten
The younger generation carried on difficult wars with the older generation for
every concession. Only with great difficulty were they able to get a room for
the library. Excommunication was the main weapon against the rebels. There were
never ending disturbances at the theater.
First at the beginning of the 1930's it stopped. The older generation had to
capitulate to the coming generation of middle class young people who did not
have the same politics as the old Hasidic world. On the wings of the Zionist
movement they built new cultural institutions in the shtetl.
Besides the government school, during the late 1920's, Agudas Israel (Orthodox
group) founded the modern girls' school called Beis Yakov. One of the best
graduates from Sara Szenirer's Beis Yakow seminary, Professor Tojba, was
brought to the shtetl. Also founded through Agudas Israel was a school for boys
called Heder Yesodi HaTorah. In both schools secular and religious subjects
Through the Zionist youth, under the leadership of Jechiel Oszer Prawda, the
"modern heder" was created where boys and girls learned together.
Starting with pre-school, Hebrew and other subjects were taught according to
modern methods. The directors of the school brought qualified, young, Jewish
teachers, graduates of the Tarbut seminary in Wilna and Warszawa. Special
buildings were erected for the above mentioned schools.
Jewish Parties (Political)
There were always sympathizers of the Lovers of Zion movement in Czyzewo, but
these sentiments were only strongly expressed after the Balfour Declaration.
Then parties of all shades and directions were established. The General Zionist
Organization, Mizrachi, League for a Working Eretz Israel, Bet'ar, HaShomer
HaLeumi. All had a headquarters where the youth would gather and talk about
events, study and broaden their general and political ideas. Also Agudas Israel
and the Tzeiri Agudas Israel carried out substantial activities.
The leftist organizations showed very little life. The Communist Party was
outlawed. There were, it seems, no Bundist activities in Czyzewo.
From 1923 to 1926 the left took part in certain activities. These consisted of
ransacking the public library and in other demonstrative acts of this nature.
The Communists were brought to trial and as a result one young man was
sentenced to a year in jail.
In Czyzewo there existed government institutions such as the Polish
"gmina" (community) and the Jewish Kehilla (community council). There
were also religious institutions such as the synagogues and Hasidic prayer
room. Additional institutions were the Jewish People's Bank, Free Loan Fund run
by the Zionist youth, Agudas Israel, Tarbut library, "Centos",
(orphanages run by the "Joint"), "Toz" (the
"Joint"s" health care for children), Bikur Holim (visiting the
sick), Linat HaZedek (caring for the sick), Zionist organization clubs, League
for a Working Eretz Israel, Mizrachi, Tzeiri-Mizrachi and Bet'ar (belonging to
the Revisionist Party). There was a modern heder and Beis-Yakov a merchant
society and artisans' union.
All the institutions were partially or totally run by young people who
developed these activities and demonstrated that it was possible for young
people and also entire families to go to Israel.
The 1st September 1939, the Second World War broke out. The tragic events of
this war put an end to all of this. The 7th September 1939, the shtetl was
taken over by the Hitlerites.
The 10th October the Hitlerites retreated and the shtetl was occupied by the
The 22nd June 1941 The Hitlerites occupied the town.
The 15th August 1941 (25 Av) The first round-up, 1750 Jews were murdered
The 10th September 1941 the ghetto was created in the shtetl.
November 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. All the Jews who were still alive were
taken to Zambrów.
January 1943 The rest of the Czyzewo Jews were sent to the crematorium
Those who survived along with who had immigrated to Israel and with the help of
the Czyzewo landsmanschaft in New York, Mexico, Buenos Aires and around the
world created this memorial book to the memory of Czyzewo that once was, is no
more and will never be again.
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