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[p. 322]

After the Holocaust

On the Ruins of Jewish Krinek

By Beylke Shuster-Greenstein

Translated by Judie Goldstein


As a remnant of my entire family only I remain. It is unbelievable that I am alone, but it is so. On leaving the forest, in 1944, I immediately set out for Krinek to see if perhaps I would find somebody there.

On the road to the shtetl were military personnel with rifles, wearing badges of the detachment I had fought with. They told me about the report from the border patrol, that there were no Jews left in Krinek and it was dangerous to go there because the “A.K.A.” [Armej Krajowa – Polish Nationalistic anti-Semitic partisans] was on the rampage there. The couple of Jews who survived were in Brestovitz. I soon traveled there and met Herschel Roitbord and Pearl Levi, Jankel the Klorn's daughter. I hear from them, for the first time, about the sad end of my family and of the whole shtetl.

“Not anymore to Krinek!” concluded Pearl.

But still I could not bear the thought that I was finished with this. And so with the help of fellow Krinkers and newspapers, I found an aunt who lives in Argentina. Beside myself, she is the only member of our entire family that once numbered more than a hundred.

The memorial book should, for our children and us, remain a living memorial.

Sarah Fel-Yelin: On the Cemetery of Our Hometown

1960, forty years after I had left Poland, I returned to my hometown.

A shtetl – a cemetery, a ruin, Jewish Krinik is no more! The round market place stands naked – no more stores, the gates or the houses around it. Here and there houses remain, they are gray, shrunken, buried in the earth. I find Plantanske, recognizable because of the five trees my father planted at my birth. I recognize the well that now stands dry against the square where Boruch khokhem's [wise] house was.

I stand there thinking. With a sea of tears in my eyes, I look at my house. None of my dear ones are here. A woman comes out, feels uncomfortable, frightened. Perhaps she thinks that I have come after my inheritance? A second neighbor comes outside. We shake hands. His name is Michal Tzarevitch. Yes, certainly he knows Eli the tinsmith and his family…

kry322.jpg - 1967 - Tepershe Street (Plantanske) in the snow
1967 – Tepershe Street (Plantanske) in the snow

[p. 323]

Where and how – nobody knows anything: “It was terrible…Nobody's life was safe, if they spoke a word to a Jew…” He wonders: - “Are you Eli's daughter – the small blond young lady?”

We go to the cemetery. Even the dead were not spared by the Nazi animals. The gravestones have been knocked down and the fence is broken. Edward Pogoda, a director of a larger enterprise in Bialystok, my former pupil from Krinki, had brought me to the shtetl. “When the Red Army opened the train cars and begged the Jews to save themselves, a lot of them answered, 'We will manage.'”

“Yes: I know about this,” my father wrote me. “I did not want to abandon my home. We have already lived under the Germans once.”

Krinik – the little shtetl – has become a cluster of houses without one Jew, but Krinkers are now everywhere. I travel around the United States – meet a fellow Krinker here and there; in Poland I met several Krinkers – Rivka Shinder, a former partisan captain with a dumdum bullet shot into her arm, an important person in Poland, and also others.

Let us, Krinkers, from everywhere recognize and understand that all of us together carried from our shtetl an important inheritance – the tradition of justice and self-sacrifice; the tradition of together in life and combat!

Boruch (Bendet) Nisht: On Our Ruins

Coming to Israel in 1933, I immediately went back to Poland to finish my mission of organizing “illegal” immigration from there and later from all of Europe.

First of all I went to Krinki to see my family, friends and to visit the shtetl that was so dear to my heart. I was born and bred in Krinek, studied there and was a member of institutions there.

And I made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] in 1935, leaving Poland forever – I felt that I had to say farewell to my cozy shtetl, because who knew if I would ever see Krinki again. In the summer of 1939, I had to be in Poland again and visited Krinki. Then the bleak war broke out there and like all the Jewish communities, our Krinek was wiped out.

Soon after the war I traveled to Italy as an emissary for the Jewish Agency – to rescue Jews, the remnant from Europe, to bring them help and restore immigration to Israel. I was aware that there were several Krinker survivors in Italy. I started to search for them in order to do something for them. And so I found Ayzik and Motl Brustin in a camp in southern Italy, Lola Wolf in Rome, Shaya-Leyb Nisht's daughter and family – in a northern camp. I learned from them more precisely what had happened in our Krinek.

In 1945

Late, in 1949, I was appointed Israeli Consul in Warsaw. I threw myself into my work, diplomatic and consular, especially concerning immigration to Israel. At the time a small exit door was open for Jews from Poland and for me it was a great and rare honor to give out the first Israeli visas, to our brothers, at the legation in Warsaw. It was from there, in past years, that I secretly dispatched pioneers to Israel.

[p. 324]

But no matter how busy I was with my specialized activities, Krinkers were constantly on my mind. I had to go there to see what was happening there and perhaps still find one of ours.

I was advised not to travel by train because gangs of Fascists, who were on the rampage, were killing Jews on trains – allegedly as “Communists who had seized control of the government in Poland.” I drove my car directly to Bialystok. The road from Warsaw went quickly. The highways were empty, no cars, not even a wagon. It was as if everything had died out. In Bialystok a lot of streets were in ruins, torn up; traces of the Nazi animals were visible in the large mass grave of the cruelly murdered Jews of the city, an atrocity that has become prominent.

First of all I went to the Jewish Committee, the head of which I was given to understand, was a Krinker, from the Petritser family. I met him and we talked; I felt he was weighing his words carefully as he was an official in a Communist country and limited in what he could talk about and perhaps even think.

There were very few Jews in Bialystok, remnants of the surrounding towns, where it is now impossible to stay – as the solitary, miraculous survivor. I learned from Petritser that there was a Krinker in the local old people's home – Adinak's wife. I went to visit her, thinking perhaps I could help her with something. Except for meeting her, there was no pleasure in our encounter.

I continued on my way to Krinek. The road was empty. I drove quickly. There was a policeman with me in civilian clothes. The district police commandant told him to accompany me.

Ot in shoyn Sokolke” [“Here in Sokole already”] – do you remember the tune? I must see it up close, not just drive through. We got out, searched for a restaurant and found only a gentile inn, not a Jew to be had. The city was hardly damaged. But two houses had fallen, Kantor's and Kapeliushnik's, where Krinkers would stay overnight or wait for the bus to or from Krinek. Sokolke, the effervescent Jewish city with its Jewish laborers, artisans, storekeepers, merchants and leather factories – all of it perished in the Holocaust.

I traveled further. The villages rushed past; Sloike, Sudzialove, Ostrove, and we reached Krinki. Coming from the mountain it was close at hand. It did not appear as it was. There were less houses, it felt as if there was nothing moving in the fields and near the highway it was empty, dead – Krinki!

The Sokolker gentile street with its small houses rushed by. Here was the market. It seemed as if Ozsheshkove (Heykel's) Street had disappeared – everything burned. On the market place – there were no more round stores, no more firemen's shed. A lot of houses have fallen down – Mordchailevitch's, Chatzkel the Shenker's [tavern keeper's] and all around it was empty.

The Potcht [post office] Street was empty, not one house until Kleyne's Street (Vonske). Where is Zezmer's house, where is the “benkl” [small bench], where are the houses I knew so well, where did my childhood years go? No more Jankel and Shmuel Vine's (Fink's), Mordchai Terkel's houses, the house where the Tikotskis lived – everything is destroyed.

Going further: streets, lanes – half and entirely burned. “Kavkaz” – almost clean of houses, Kastsiol Street half burned down, Garbarske – in ruins; of the school – a singed skeleton. From the large besmedresh [synagogue] with the boarded up windows and doors – hit a melancholy note. Only the non-Jewish streets are whole.

There is not one Jew in the whole shtetl. Several of our Krinkers came here to visit soon after the war and then left. Krinek is “free of Jews”. Gentile live in the still habitable houses that previously belonged to Jews.

[p. 325]

I drove my car to Yanek Laputch's, the shtetl photographer. He recognized me immediately, found a couple of my old photographs and told me about himself and his late wife Malka “the converted Jewess.” We spoke in Yiddish and he winked at my escort, the policeman, and presented me with a question, whether “the uncircumcised understands the language?” and concluded: “ Yes, yes, no lady – it is sad, very bad now, to have lived a life among Jews and now I must die among gentiles”…

kry325.jpg - The Krinki cemetery, soon after 'liberation'
 visit of Lola Wolf-Reznick
The Krinki cemetery, soon after
“liberation” visit of Lola Wolf-Reznick

I visited the cemetery. The gravestones are sinking. The mass grave, in which our Krinkers, who gathered and visited after the war from various places, and the exhumed corpses of those murdered by the Nazi animals at the beginning of their invasion, does not have a gravestone. The grave has begun to sink and has the appearance of a large pit. The government watchman for the cemetery expressed a wish, if I could give him some money he would be able to better tend to the cemetery and bring some order to this holy place.

In general, gentile acquaintances that I met in Krinek during my visits in 1950 and 1951 – turned out to be friends of the Jews and righteous men. A lot were afraid to speak to me when they saw the police guards who accompanied me, especially in 1951 when secrets agents dogged my every step. That time I was absolutely sure that I would never see our Krinek again.

My last visit

But “a mentsch trakht un got lakht” [man plans and god laughs]. Sixteen years later, in 1967, I was once again in Poland as part of an Israeli delegation to unveil a monument in memory of those murdered in Auschwitz.

Although our itinerary was over full and the deadline on our visas did not allow for any free time in Poland, I decided to escape to Krinek and see what was happening there and take some photographs.

From Warsaw to Bialystok the Israelis traveled together by train. But to go to Krinek I had no alternative but to travel there by taxi. The young Polish driver insisted on driving through Suprasl: “It is closer,” he claimed. True, but it is a forest road where you do not see a soul.

[p. 326]

Now it is very difficult to recognize our hometown that lies next to the Russian border and where outsiders are not important; and such a person has now arrived – He is suspicious and nobody dares to speak to him.

kry326a.jpg - 1967 - at the square at the market place - now a city garden (photographed on a snowy day)
1967 – at the square at the market place
– now a city garden (photographed on a snowy day)

I went directly to the police and simply told them about my visit and that I wanted to take several photographs. The Chief of Police wondered a little at my audacity to come to a border town without written permission and wanting to take photographs. But after a short chat and with the help of a bottle of liquor that a gentile, Krinki acquaintance had brought with him everything was kosher. The chief was honored and he showed me the city, as if he were its founder.

The market place is now a city garden. “It is just in the process of being prepared.” – he told us. After this “major” change he showed me the “Kavkaz” besmedresh [synagogue]. “That,” he arrogantly emphasized, “is now the movie theater where they have good movies every week.” “Yente's” besmedresh, for many years a part of the Hebrew school, was located on the second floor, and is now a food cooperative and a warehouse for flour, sugar and other products. By the way, at the cooperative I recognized Guttseit's daughter (a “half” German was at that time in Krinek) and she was surprised that I was still alive. The large Synagogue, rebuilt, is now the post office. There is nothing left of the other synagogues and houses of study.

The beautiful effervescent center of cultural and social activity, Krinki, is now a large, quiet village where men pass the time drinking booze…Krinki, our Jewish hometown, has been destroyed and cut down together with our martyrs. May their memories be blessed!

A light snow began to blow in the wind when I took the photographs, but everything was misty, every my eyes. My last visit to Krinki was complete.


On the hill stands a tree –
Looking down at
The small town, there, in the valley –
Together they were slaughtered, destroyed.

(from Song of the Jewish people)

kry326b.jpg - Leaving Krinki
Leaving Krinki

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