Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I suppose that each true Goniadzer feels as I do and it is difficult for him (or for her) to write about Goniadz, but a Yizkor Book is a document of generations and a spiritual matzeyvah [headstone] for a community - and the effort must be dear to us because the responsibility is great.
A shtetl [town], like a person, has its own physiognomy; it is different from its sister shtetlekh [towns] in some way. How is Goniadz different? How was our shtetl actually different - and was distinguished - from the surrounding shtetlekh?
Among the Gentile nations, a city usually excels with beautiful buildings, parks, gardens, monuments and art works that appeal to the esthetic senses. However, among we Jews, from primeval times on, everything points to spirituality and good qualities and in this sense, I think, Goniadz excels.
Surely, Goniadz, as regards fashions, had its own portion of provincialism. Our shtetl at that time certainly had its so-called curiosities. But this does not belong to the nucleus and the Goniadz that we from the last several generations knew possessed many strengths.
Praise for the fathers and mothers must be included because they showed a great amount of tolerance for their sons and daughters by permitting and at times encouraging things and changes that would have been fought in other shtetlekh.
Goniadz was equal with respectable people in everything that has a connection to God. And yet individuals who were rooted in a traditional Jewish way of life and to whom everyone looked up with trust and respect, helped to raise the shtetl on the way to a modern, Hebraic education of Zionism, of education, of theater pieces and, finally - of the Halutz [pioneers who prepared for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] movement, which transformed even the parents and set the tone of life in the shtetl - and of the environment.
It is a fundamental fact that the Goniadz Hebrew school was recognized as the first Tarbut [secular Hebrew school system] school in
all of Poland. And it is symbolic that on the first day of the occupation and chaos in the fall of 1915, the Goniadz Jews requested from the Prussian commandant for the town only the chairs from the Russian school in the neighboring shot-up Russian fortress, Osowiec.
It seems to me that only in Goniadz could it happen that a former Novoradoker [Novogrudok, Belarus] yeshiva [religious secondary school] young man who died as a modern Jew and, still a young man - Yehoshua Rozenblum (the son of Golda Elia Asher's daughter) - should be carried to the cemetery by first circling the beis-hamedrash [synagogue or house of prayer] And it is hardly believable that it would have happened at that time in surrounding shtetlekh,
that the diploma (graduating certificate) of the first mahazor (graduation) of the students who had finished the modern Hebrew school would be signed by the rabbi of the shtetl as had the Goniadz Rabbi, Reb Tzvi Hersh Wolf, of blessed memory.
All Jewish cities and shtetlekh were ebullient with thoughtful life, but our shtetl had the luck that the generations tolerated one another and in many respects cooperated with one another.
Let all of us, who once took part in the life and creation of the shtetl think of it as justification that they can now take part in the yizkor [memorial] book and in making its publication possible.
First row, standing (from the right): Elia-Hershl Nitvadovski, Yehoshaya Tsviklits, Moshe Furman, Zeidl Sidronski, Yehezkiel Perets Tshernia, Chana (?).
Second row, sitting: Shimshon Yevreiski, Josl Olshaniski, Chaim Treshtshanski, Leizer Trachimovski, Henokh Gelbard, Jakov Treshtshanski, Mishkovski (Chaim Kopelman's son-in-law), Leibl Mankovski, Dr. Blum, Wolf Piekorski, Zelig Nitvadovski, Sender Miltshan, Chaim Kopelman, Efroim Halpern, Beilach, Yakov Rubin, Leizer Tadaravitch, Ruwin Gelbard, Gedelia Treshtshanski.
Translated by Marvin Galper Our hometown Goniondz has a rich historical background. According to old documents, Goniondz has been in existence since the thirteenth century. Thanks to its geographical location as a connecting point through land and water between Poland, Lithuania and Prussia, our town played a very important strategic and economic role. For many generations Goniondz had been a battleground between Prussian crusaders and Lithuanian and Masovian (Polish) counts. This fact was confirmed by the accidental excavation of human bones and many skeletons, as well as old coins and weapon parts in various parts of town.
School children loved to tell stories about sunken houses and graves in the center of town. These childrens' stories were not entirely fantasy, but evolved from historical fact.
Under the combined rule of counts and clergymen in the fourteenth century, Goniondz was granted the so-called privilege to not permit Jewish residents. However, Jews moved into the city on an unofficial basis until Goniondz was transferred to the dominion of Lithuania in 1425. Goniondz received the Magdeburg Rights in 1547, which gave Jews permission to live in the city and become involved in commercial enterprise and the trades. The town grew, but this state of well-being didn't last long.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, King Karl the Twelfth of Sweden undertook his march to Russia, and his path from Prussia lead through Goniondz. Brick ruins remain from construction of his army over the Bober River in the village of Shoshna. In memory of the period, the Russians named a section of the Osowiec fortress The Swedish Fort.
The Swedish retreat and later return after their defeat in the famous battle at Poltava brought hunger and epidemics to Goniondz to which the greater part of the population succumbed. In the second half of the eighteenth century, after the annexation by Prussia, Goniondz experienced renewed vitality in all areas. A large town hall was built in the center of the new town square, and also a guild house for the education of manual laborers. The Prussians built a castle with the royal emblem as well as shops and houses for their employees. In order to shorten the water route to Prussia, they built a canal from the right side of the River Bober to the Prussian city of Lick. Grain from Goniondz silos was sent by special ships, berlinkes, directly to Prussia. The Russian chronicles of that time described Goniondz as an important grain port on the Bober River.
After the wars and Partition of Poland (1795), Goniondz was given over to Russia. The town hall and the depots on the synagogue hill were destroyed at the end of the nineteenth century by the Russian government. The economic situation of the town fluctuated under Russian dominion. The town took on vitality from the construction of the Grayewo-Brisk railway line that connected it with the outer world-Russia on one side and Germany on the other
Later the fortress of Osowiec was built, which became a permanent source of Jewish livelihood. The fortress attracted Jewish military suppliers and experts from other places, for example, the military tailor Kantorowski and the photographer Karasik. The Jewish population adjusted itself quickly to the Russian regime and made business connections with the Osowiec military administration, providing various products and services. Prominent Goniondz suppliers were Bajkowski (Elioshers' son), Moishe Weintraub, Chayim Kobrinski (Chayim Poliaks), Moishe Katinko, Yakow Rudski, Moyshe Shilewski, and Moishe Kramkower.
Goniondz supplied the fortress with tradesmen-glaziers, metal workers, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, watchmakers, tailors, shoemakers, and so forth. Every Sunday groups of soldiers would come into town to buy their ordinary military goods--underwear, and all kinds of other supplies--and to buy clothing and other products of better quality than the standard military issue. Military personnel also came for the army camps at Monki and Downari. At noon time all the Jewish shops, teahouses and taverns were full, and it was a prosperous time. At times the order was disturbed by a drunkard or a group of drunkards, and the Jews would feel a little apprehensive. The military patrol would re-establish order in the town.
While Sunday was the time for commerce with military personnel, the Monday market was time for the farmers from the villages, who came to town to sell their produce and buy all kinds of merchandise for their needs. Both the new and the old town squares were filled with wagons of grain, chickens, potatoes, eggs, sheep, and so forth.
The old town square was the commercial center for horses and cows on market days, especially at the fairs which took place there three or four times a year. Merchants for grain, horses and cattle would assemble from near and far, even from the towns and villages on the other side of the river. Thanks to the connection of the River Bober with the Narew and Bug rivers, long barges laden with lumber would glide down towards Germany in the summertime.
Commerce in lumber developed in Goniondz. The most important lumber merchants were Chatzkel Bialototski (the wealthiest merchant in town), owner of the electric mill and the lumberyard, Alter Yisroel, Yisroel Yitzhak Farber, Yankel Shmerkes, and the Raigrodski brothers from Dolistower. The lumber merchants also arranged to have storage silos constructed for them on a custom basis because of the frequent fires in the surrounding villages. Many tradesmen derived their livelihood from the building construction industry--carpenters, painters, glaziers, shingle makers, and so on. Jewish millers who had a franchise from the princely owners of the wind and water mills in town were also successful.
The Jewish population in Goniondz fluctuated over the various periods, according to circumstances. According to available statistics, in 1847 there were 1337 Jews and 2050 in general population in the town. In 1897, there were 2056 Jews in the city, with a general population of 3436. In 1921 there were 1135 Jews in Goniondz with a general population of 2642. The decline in Jewish population can be ascribed to two causes--war and immigration. The two great fires, in 1906 and 1911, intensified the immigration to America. Some immigrants returned from America with the money they had earned, to build houses and open shops.
This situation continued until the First World War. The War, which broke out on Tish B'Av of 1914, caused much suffering in Goniondz due to its proximity to the front and the Osowiec fortress. After Rosh Hashono, the Jewish people were forced to flee. At that time the entire town was robbed by Russian soldiers at the front. That winter, after the German retreat, was a peaceful one. But at Purim time the Germans began a new offensive on all fronts. There was chaos in Goniondz.
On that day, the idealistic yeshiva student Yitzhok Laib Vitkowski (Laizer Isaac's younger son) met a tragic end. Yitzhok Laib had been arrested as the result of a false allegation and was taken to Osowiec, where he was killed by a German bomb. This tragic event threw the entire community into turmoil, which led to a massive flight from the town. Several weeks later the town was faced with the anti-Semitic edict of the Commander In Chief of the Russian Army, Nikolei Nikoleiwitch, that the entire Jewish population near the front be cast out of their homes.
Many people from Goniondz went to Bialystok and the surrounding towns--Knyszyn, Yashinowka, and so on. Many traveled to central Russia, from which they returned after the revolution. During the period of the German occupation, many Jews were involved in reconstruction of the destroyed fortress and road repair. The Jewish population became very impoverished, but social life flourished. Under the dominion of the New Poland, Goniondz lived through difficult times with psychological and economic suffering. Immigration intensified and those who had the ability to do so moved on elsewhere. The dynamic Zionist youth migrated to Israel.
Mordekhai Aronowicz, Shmuel Ziskinowicz, Shlomo Zelmanowicz and Meir Ayzykowicz presented themselves to the Goniadz kehile, at which the same kehile signed and placed the kehile stamp. Given in Goniadz on the 3rd of July, in the year 1835.
During the reign of Count Radizwilow in Goniadz-Rajgrod. there were only a few very small shtetlekh [small towns], which began to develop relatively late. Rajgrod, which possessed bailiffs who received their office by inheritance, and Goniadz were already mentioned as shtetlekh in the acts of the year 1536.
In 1547 Goniadz received Magdeburg municipal rights and a city hall, which consisted of a mayor and three counselors. Rajgrod, then the property of Count Kizczyna, received the Magdeburg Rights 19 years later.
Lithuanian rule did not affect any Jewish interests, but from what we know Goniadz-Rajgrod was not in the area of the Lithuanian rule. In the known historical works by Professor [Sergei Aleksandrovich] Bershadski about Jews and even among his carefully collected materials, we have not found
the least hint about Goniadz and nothing about Rajgrod Jews (page 16).
Goniadz in the 14th century was the object of quarrels between the Mazowiecka and Lithuanian dukes.
Gonaidz, was attacked from both sides, went from one side to the other many times and the city suffered greatly from this; the city lies opposite of the Bobra River - Biebrza.
Lithuania did not devote itself to capturing the entire actual area of Upper Podlasze.
The Mazowiecka dukes, who colonized the area from the west simultaneously with Russia, were not entirely expelled as a result of that defeat - and therefore they remained in Goniadz. And the Gemindoviches [Gediminidis], that is, the Lithuanian dukes, had to contend with them.
Thus, in 1358, an attempt was made to establish a mutual boundary.
Translated by Marvin Galper A German geographical researcher from the period of Branitski's widow in Bialystok, A.K. Von Holtzen, in his 1800 book wrote about the inception of their rule in the Department of Bialystok at the time of annexation. He complained with bitterness about this Department. The majority of the cities are dependent on agriculture. The Jews who were not involved in agriculture established themselves in all kinds of enterprise. Many merchants had to relocate out of the cities to the neighboring villages where they became farmers.
Jews were given the prerogative of establishing breweries and no Christians were found involved in this kind of enterprise. These, together with taverns, were designated exclusively for Jewish owners. Christians were involved to a very limited extent with commerce, and few professionals were found among them. Involvement in trades did not require a great deal of effort.
According to historical documents, Goniondz was a flourishing city one hundred and fifty or two hundred years earlier. In the early 1800s, more than six hundred merchants had been given permission to live and conduct business there. But the town was totally destroyed as a result of fires and plagues. It is stated in an authentic German document that no town could exist without Jews. The merchants began to slowly return. Many merchants were forced to move out of the city to the suburbs.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund Parties in Goniadz
Goniadz, our shtetl [town], as I remember it in the last era - in the years 1925-1935 - was active in many areas of communal life. In general I think that Goniadz boasted of itself in contrast to its provinces. I do not know if it had a basis for this. In any case, Goniadz was the first in certain respects. Our Hebrew school was founded earlier than in the rest of Poland. The first who travelled to Eretz-Yisroel from our area, right after the First World War, were from Goniadz, such as: Efraim Halpern (Efraim the writer), Mordekhai the baker, Shakhna's son Leibl, Gedalia Grinszpan, Chashke Bachrach, Sholem Luria and many others.
In our shtetl, as in general then in Jewish community, they were parties and camps, of the right and left. Social workers and community activists stood at the head of the parties. I am not able to describe them properly; I will only mention them in a few words. I will begin with the smallest party.
At the head stood Leibl Mankowski, who was the power of the Bund in the shtetl. I do not remember him well. In my memory remains only the impression
of the large funeral that was arranged for him, with the many garlands of flowers - that was a rarity at Jewish funerals in the shtetl - and mainly that among the Jewish speakers, a Polish teacher also gave a short speech in the name of the Polish population.
Henakh the tailor's son (Gelbard - Itshe the water carrier's son) or as he was called, der likhtiker tog [the bright day] was one of the most active Bundists; the nickname comes from 1920 when the Polish-Russian War took place and the Bolsheviks entered the shtetl. A large meeting under the open sky of the entire population, Jews and Christians, was called on one of the first days after the founding of the local RevKom (Revolutionary Committee). Henakh the tailor's son spoke as the representative of the Jews. He ended his speech with the words: Today der likhtiker tog has come for us! So he was given the name der likhtiker tog…
Henakh was solid and devoted to his party. He almost always appeared as an opponent in the name of the Bund at Zionist meetings. If Henakh was the opponent, Alter Machnowski was the
interrogator. His questions would flow at meetings. He was a baker by trade, the son-in-law of Ayzyk Abiezer and newly arrived in the shtetl. He was a man of the people type, and he was often seen in the street with a creased Folks Zeitung [People's Newspaper] in his hand. His hat was always on the side and his long nose as well as part of his face was covered with flour. He would lead the first and best discussion as he went along, even when he hurried to work in the bakery.
Another type from the Bund was Josl Alszanicki (Khinke's son Josl). He was
the representative of the Bund in the city council for several years. He had a sensitive Jewish soul and wrote folk-poems (several of them were published in New York in the Forvets).
Moshe Toykel was one of the most interesting figures among the royte [reds] - from outside [of Goniadz]. He arrived in Goniadz to work for Shimeon the cutter in his earliest youth and then he became his son-in-law. I remember his first
appearance in the theater performance of Pinksi's play, Di Familie Tzvi [The Tzvi Family], in which he performed with great insight. He concentrated and led an entire group and was the guide of the Communist Shulkhan Oruch [Code of Jewish Law] in the shtetl.
Zeydl Altszuld (Natke the farmer's son) belonged to this group. His party work was in another area. He was the store for the theater performances that were organized in the shtetl and whose income went for party purposes.
There were not only theater performances for the sake of art. The main factor was a party one. A demonstration of this fact was that performances were arranged separately by all parties, those on the right' and on the left.
The stars and prima donnas appeared at the performance. They prepared for these performances for weeks and on the designated day of the performance (it was usually at night after Shabbos) it felt as if the entire shtetl was preparing for it. On the Shabbos of the performance, young and old took longer naps after the cholent [Shabbos stew] because the performance would not begin earlier than 11 or 12 at night and it would end at four o'clock in the morning…
The interest was great notwithstanding that everyone knew before who would appear and how he (or she) acted and everyone was acquainted earlier with the details of the decorations and with the actors' clothing because everything was gathered from the entire shtetl - a long coat as a tallis [prayer shawl], an old chest of drawers as a broken table…
Each performance gave the shtetl something to speak about for weeks.
Goniadz was mainly a Zionist shtetl. Zelik Niewadowski (Leyshke's son, Zelik) stood at the head of the general Zionists. He was not only a Zionist activist, but also a general municipal activist. He was a representative everywhere: in the Hebrew school, in the city council, the kehile, the bank and so on. Zelik was an intimate of the state, had the best relations with the police commissar and with the mayor of the shtetl, as well as with the starosta [head] of Bialystok. Zelik, it should be understood, was at the head of the Zionist meetings and he led the meetings so that it was certain that opponents would not disturb them and that they would not be disbanded by the police.
Zelik had an influence not only in Zionist matters or in general in city matters, but also in the houses of prayer and in the synagogue. I remember an episode from that time. This was in about 1927, after Rabbi Shomowicz, the new rabbi in the shtetl, was chosen. One Shabbos [Sabbath] a group of halutzim [pioneers preparing for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] went on an outing to a nearby forest. The group
left in orderly rows. The new rabbi noticed; he went into the street with a group of Jews - and when the halutzim approached, he stood across the width of the street and began to chastise them and did not let them pass. Understand that the halutzim did not want to be dictated to by the rabbi. There was turmoil - and Zelik Niewadowski appeared and he turned with anger to the rabbi and said as follows: Rebbe, you will dictate to us only in the synagogue; you will not mix in outside of the synagogue. Excuse us and go inside the house. The noise immediately grew still greater, but Zelik's words resolved it and after an exchange of a few words on both sides, the rabbi and his people did go into the house - and the halutzim marched out of the city in victory (the episode was reported in the Provinc Shpigl [Provincial Mirror] of a Warsaw newspaper).
Wolf Pekarski (a son of Mushke's) also belonged to the (General) Zionists. He was a lovnik [alderman] on the city council and the only Jewish government official
who received his salary from the city council. He was an intercessor for Jews in their small and large matters.
One of the Zionist types was Asher Szirotes (the black Yisroel's son), a teacher in the Hebrew school. He was one of the first makhzor (graduates) of the Hebrew school (in 1918), and thanks to his pedagogic capabilities he became a teacher in the school. He was the director of the Zionist theater performances and also of the children's performances at the Hebrew school. He was the recognized reviewer and expert on theater in the shtetl. Asher also gave lectures on this theme. He, himself, also took part, in the main roles in various plays: Got, Mentsh un Tayvl [God, Man and the Devil] Khashe der Yesoyma [Khashe the Orphan] Der Meturef [The Madman] and so on. He performed Der Meturef with so much heart that he was later called der meturef in the shtetl.
The basis of the Zionist education was the Hebrew school. The entire young generation studied, was raised and grew there. Only a few, who
can be counted on the fingers, studied in the Polish school and the majority of them were those who after graduating from the Hebrew school, wanted to perfect their Polish speaking. And when in the later years the Yiddish school was founded, a small number of children studied there.
The Halutz Movement
The Zionist-Halutz Movement had a great influence in Goniadz thanks to the influence of the Hebrew school. The haHalutz organization was created earlier and then the haHalutz haTzair (the young pioneers). From the earliest age - from 10 to 11 - the children were organized and engrossed in their Halutz education. This was expressed in the systematic conversations, courses, evening classes and so on. Incidentally, at several evening courses in which our opponents took part, their participation in the discussions was permitted but only if they spoke Hebrew as we did.)
Summer colonies were arranged whose task was, firstly, to acquaint themselves with other living conditions than in the city and, secondly, to study problems of the pioneers and of Eretz-Yisroel. Outings to the closest shtetlekh also were arranged and a hectographic journal was also published that spread across the entire area.
Many conventions of the surrounding shtetlekh were arranged in Goniadz. The celebration that was organized for the tenth anniversary of haHalutz-haTzair in July 1934 particularly left a strong impression.
All of the branches from the area took part in the celebration. The preparations were massive because preparing food for hundreds of people demanded their complete work. A guest was taken in at the house of each comrade. A kitchen immediately was created at which mothers also helped to prepare lunches that were served at large tables to the accompaniment of pioneer singing.
The entire shtetl looked yom-tovdik [like a holiday] as no time before. All of the guests were dressed in white blouses. Several balconies in the main market were specially trimmed and decorated with Zionist pictures, slogans and flags. The shtetl was brightly lit in the evening. At that time Goniadz possessed five or six large gas lamps that would only be lit in long, dark nights. But on the evening of the celebration all of the lamps in the shtetl were lit (at our cost).
The military trumpet that gave the signal that the celebration was beginning was heard at seven o'clock at night. We marched from every corner and courtyard, where each group had arranged itself, to the old market from where the solemn demonstration began. The orchestra walked at the head, especially invited from Bialystok; after it marched the long
line with drums, through all the Goniadz streets and at the sides were organized the order keepers, riding on horses.
Understand that the line was accompanied by the entire shtetl, young and old, until it dissolved on the synagogue hill. On the program of that night and into the morning was: a performance of the dramatic studio of the pioneer settlement in Bialystok, speeches and greetings, sport entertainments and other solemnities.
During the two days of celebrating the 10-year anniversary of haHalutz-Hatzair, everyone in Goniadz forgot their concerns about income and joined in the holiday that was unique - not like other holidays, such as Chanukah, but as something that does not repeat itself…
Therefore, it is no wonder that a significant number of Goniadz young, who were raised in the pioneer spirit, are found here in Eretz-Yisroel. If not for Hitler and the war, a larger part of our shtetl would be with us here where everyone had someone from their family - a brother or a sister - and to which we were drawn and strived for in the course of many years.
Tel Aviv, 1945
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