Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund After the rise of the Polish nation in November 1918, the life of the Jews in Poland became very uncomfortable. The hatred of Jews that had been hidden until then, earlier with the Russians and in the end during the time of the German occupation, had now come out in public. The government in Warsaw set the tone and the priests in the churches spread hatred of Jews. The Hallertichikes and Poznantichikes threw Jews from moving trains, cut Jewish beards and there was no one to turn to for help.
America gave its large stocks of ammunition, which it had brought for its army in France, as a gift to the rising Poland. Now, after the war, it had no more need of them. Their worth reached many tens of millions of dollars. Poland permitted itself to serve as a barrier against communism and the entire capitalist world supported her and tended to overlook her nice deeds against the Jews. Poland celebrated its liberation. It organized a volunteer Polish army and began to expand.
We, in Goniadz, forgot the general troubles because a typhus epidemic broke out here during the winter. The first patient was Heikl Jewrejski. Later, I became ill. It was said in the shtetl that I caught it from Heikl at the Linas. Yankl the rufah had diagnosed me as having stomach typhus. He told me that Shimeon Halpern also had typhus. Two months later, when I went out into the street, I learned that it was a long time that Shimeon was no longer here. Josl Gopsztajn, Yehuda the furrier's son-in-law, was ill. He was a good friend of mine; I went to him and spent the day and night. When he recovered, my sister, Keyla, became sick. At that time there was a kind of hospital in Goniadz at the old market, where Wajntraub's house was once located. I tended to my sister and others who were ill. Zalman, the old rabbi's son, lay in a nearby room. I also tended to him. He died. Many people left the world in a very short time.
When the typhus epidemic ceased, a new affliction started. The Polish government began to mobilize the young people. They needed a great number of soldiers to pry loose even more land from Russia. From our family, my brother, Moshe'ke had to be recruited. The only way out for him was to escape to Germany. Shmuel Ber's son, Moshe, agreed with him. In Kolnya, neither Moshe was successful in smuggling himself across the border; we tried Raczki, a shtetl near Jagustow and here they succeeded. It did not take long and my brother, Kalman, was called. He was all of 16 years old, but he was tall and looked large to Tovya-Motl. Tovya-Motl was the scribe at the city hall and was a very influential person. Perhaps, if my father were alive, he would have been ashamed to do this. They were good friends. Now my mother was a widow and we had no strong shoulders to support us Kalman had to run away. The road to Raczki was broken up. We met Moshe-Chaim Burak and Yonatan Neyman in Jagustow; they came out of their hiding place and gravitated towards the German side. We all traveled to Raczki; they went across the border safely. We were calm for a time. But then I received a notice; I was being called to the military. It is true that I had wanted to leave exile-Poland for a long time, particularly after the wild Poles murdered a large part of the Tzeirei-Zion in Pinsk, creating a blood libel about them, that they were Bolsheviks. But my mother did not permit it. An iron business is a difficult business. It demands physical work. She said that without me, they would not be able to maintain the business. I remained at home. It cost us 100 dollars, a huge sum of money for us. For it I received a swiadetstwo(certificate) that I was much older than those being called to the military. I was nervous because I was concerned that someone would denounce me. Several months before, Leibl Rejne's son went from house to house with the police with a list seeking those in hiding. He said, What do you mean, I will go to serve the Poles and they not? There was turmoil in the shtetl and whoever could ran away; others reported for service.
The Poles captured Vilna, although the city was promised to Lithuania. She also occupied White Russia and then tore off a piece of Ukraine and occupied Kiev. [Jozef] Pilsudski, the field marshal of the Polish army, stuck his sword in the earth in the center of the city of Kiev and solemnly swore that they would not move from there. He said, It was ours and ours it will remain. (Before Chielmnicki's Rebellion, it had belonged to Poland.)
Russia was weak. Four White Russian armies with the aid of the Entente fought against the Bolsheviks. But when Trotsky conquered all of them, he turned to the Poles. The Poles retreated from Kiev with Pilsudski at the head. It was not long before Vilna was taken by the Bolsheviks. The goal was Warsaw. The Poles resisted near Grodno, but the Russians overcame them. The Polish army withdrew; the highway that passed Goniadz did not rest day and night. Soldiers and baggage trains went from Grodno to the fortress and farther to Lomza. When the police left Goniadz, we knew that the Russians were very close. We did not sleep that night. All of the young, around 50-60 young people, were on watch and protected the city. We wore white ribbons with a stamp from city hall that meant that we were policemen. In the middle of the night three Polish riders came running from Dolistower Street. They said that the Bolsheviks were near and that we could expect them in a few hours.
The night passed quietly. When it became light, I went to Tzalel's son Leibl's to rest in the attic. Tzalel's son Leibl lived on Tifle Street, not far from us. His house was on a courtyard away from the street. He had a large stall and a great deal of hay in the attic. I had just lain down; I heard that there was running and shouting: The Bolsheviks are here. When I awoke from sleep several hours later, there were many soldiers in the city. I learned that I was late for a very important speech. Henokh, the tailor, the son of the mute Itshe, was giving a fiery speech on Chaya-Ruchl Lurie's small bridge. He said, We have freed ourselves from anti-Semitic Poland. In Russia, there are not Russians, but people. He described the happy future that waited for us under Bolshevik leadership and ended by saying that today is a bright day for us. Henokh was then crowned with the nickname, the bright day.
The Russian army was dressed very badly, simply in rags. Russia was greatly impoverished by six years of war. Several wore the clothing of prisoners or murdered Polish soldiers.
Hunger strode in with the Bolsheviks. They did not carry any food with them. Whatever food there was in the shtetl was used. The fruits in the orchards that were half ripe (it was 15 days into the month of Av July or August) were ripped from the trees and eaten. They looked to buy watches, but there were none; everyone had sold their pocketknives. They paid in rubles, a ruble for a mark. We knew that their money had no worth, but it should be understood, we had to take it. One bit of luck was that they quickly moved farther and left in the direction of Lomza.
The revkom (revolutionary committee) built a sort of city hall in the shtetl to keep order and carry out the administration of the shtetl. The revkom was quartered at Chaya-Ruchl Lurie's on the second story. The commissar was Josef Winer, a son of Moshe the sotnik. Moshe was a shoemaker and lived up on Dol [Dolistower Street] where one went to the bath. His wife, Teme Rayzl, Josef's mother, sold fruit at the market. Josef, himself, was a tailor. That is, he was a man with a pedigree, a proletariat ben proletariat. Even more, he also had a certificate that he was a comrade in the Communist Party from when they were under Polish rule. So he was chosen as commissar. He aides were: Henokh, the son of Itshe the mute. He spoke very well, also for his father, for whom speaking was very difficult; Leizer the baker, himself from Szczuczyn, a son-in-law of Yitzhak Czejnku; Zelig, the son of Moshe-Mendl of the old market, a tailor; Leizer the son of Rywka-Dwoyra of the old market, a former Russian soldier who survived the World War. Leizer received a sword from the Bolsheviks. He rode on a horse like a Cossack, with the saber at his side and galloped through the streets like an arrow from a bow. Josef carried a revolver, but no one knew where or for what. He was some sort of commissar. There were also two Polish comrades in revkom. One of them, Bochenko the woodchopper and the other, a shoemaker, a tall gentile with blond hair.
There were two policemen: Ruwin Drak's son, Zeydke, and Moshe-Feywl the shoemaker. Zeydke held a rifle naturally. He was a former soldier. But with Moshe-Feywl it was like an ornament. Moshe-Feywl's son of around 10 years old danced in the street and sang: Father is an engineer! Father is a gendarme. During the German occupation [during the First World War], they dreaded the gendarmes like a fire. Now, his father was a gendarme. Some kind of trifle?...
There was no income; the peasants did not come to the city. It was very difficult to get bread. They did not take Russian rubles in the villages. Give them dollars, but where did one get this? Merchants took Polish marks, although the Polish government had escaped and who knew what would happen. Salt was very important. But where could we get salt? Girls came on foot from Trestine to buy a few kilos of salt and they were happy if they got it. Moshe-Feywl, the policeman, lurked near the cemetery and caught five girls with illegal goods. They cried and they pleaded; they were poor and they would get a piece of bread for the salt. But he did not listen and took them to the revkom. There the salt was taken from them.
A sapper division arrived; their baggage stood at the old market until they built the bridge over the river. They had no wood. They went through the courtyards and searched. I brought several wagons of wood to our courtyard from Bojdener Woods. I was afraid that it would be taken. I brought Bochenko, the woodchopper to cut it. After cutting it, I asked that he split it later. The bridge was finished without our wood. The Bolsheviks built the bridge on the same spot that the Russian army had built it in 1914, not far from Moshe'ke's son, Chatskl's mill.
Bochenko was no longer a comrade in revkom because of an occurrence. Wagons from the surrounding villages were brought together for the military. The Bolsheviks did not have any military wagons. The civilian population had to provide them. He, Bochenko, told a peasant that for a sum of money he would be freed [of providing his wagon]. This information was brought to the revkom. A military division had just arrived. Lev Kopian embraced the officer. He knew him from Russia. When the officer heard the story of the bribe, he ruled on the spot: Dwad-tsat liet.; Not more and not less than 20 years in jail. Bochenko was placed in reshyotka and, as soon as the soldiers departed, he was let out. Now, he sawed our wood with great eagerness.
A transport of the wounded from the Lomza front arrived. They said that the fighting was very heavy there. Their arrival was entirely unexpected. The Hebrew school was above Chaya Josl's. They threw out the crude benches (skamejkes), brought straw from Guze, spread it on the floor and lay the wounded there on the floor. Girls went to the gentiles to gather a little milk and they gave it to the wounded. There were no instruments to treat the sick and nothing with which to bind the lightly wounded. As the air there was not very fresh, the soldiers who could, dragged themselves to the surrounding neighbors, opened a door and crawled into a room and lay down on the ground. Two crawled to us. I served them, got a little milk and did whatever was possible for them. Early in the morning, wagons were brought and they were taken to Grodno. More transports of the wounded arrived, but they were not taken down from the wagons. They were given milk; the lightly wounded were wrapped up with swojske linens that were collected from gentiles. The horses rested and then went farther to Grodno. Once, a transport of the wounded stopped opposite our store. I went onto the wagons and with difficulty gave a half glass of tea with milk to a very sick soldier. The three Lenczewskis from the pharmacy, the mother and both of her daughters, who lived next to us, stood in front of the pharmacy and watched how we were busy with the sick. Their eyes burned with hate.
The Bolsheviks were already here for three weeks. They had conquered Lomza and they were going to Warsaw. There were no newspapers and we had no exact information. An important man in the Red government arrived during the fourth week. He came from Moscow through Vilna, Grodno and was traveling to Warsaw. He was enraged at seeing that the stores were open. He went to the revkom and created a tumult. What is this, he said, permitting the businesses to operate! Do you not know that in the Soviet Union free trade is forbidden? They should go out immediately and requisition the goods in all of the businesses. He left and the comrades from revkom began to transfer the goods. We read in a Bialystok leaflet that a new Polish Red Army had to be formed immediately to fight against the lords, the bloodsuckers and so on, according to the well known formula. We saw that we faced a mobilization.
Saturday night when we were in the synagogue for Ma'ariv, Leyzer, the rabbi's son, came in from the street with news. An officer of a very high rank was lodged at Chaya-Ruchl Lurie's. He was lodged with her on the first day when the Red Army entered. Now he came from outside Warsaw. We understood from his words that something was fishy. But we were not allowed to ask him. All sorts of suppositions were created. Sunday, early in the morning, the highway in Dolko was already full of wagons. They were moving in the direction of Grodno. It seems the Poles were returning Our skin began to tremble. The local Poles would betray us and in that fiery minute we would pay. During the day several automobiles with officers came and looked for quarters. Several came into us. They sat at the table resting and the driver prepared food for them. My mother worried that they were making our pots and pans unkosher. It seemed that here was the headquarters of the Fourth Army. They came from the revkom with the announcement that they had found a good headquarters at the Christian clergyman; they left for there, moved in telephones and began to work. They would only come to us to sleep. One automobile stood in front of the house and the driver did not leave. We recognized that he was a Jew, but he did not say so. He spoke and many people stood around him and listened. He said that the Jews were guilty in that they were going back [to Poland] the capitalists supported the Poles with money and weapons. Who were the capitalists if not the American Jews who had all of the wealth. Consequently, revenge needed to be taken against the Jews. Terrible, where is Henokh, the bright day who needs to hear this!...
Everyone was very troubled and frightened and decided to escape. I packed several pieces of underwear, my tefilin, a sack, took a piece of bread and went to Dolko to the highway. There I would go until Suchowola by wagon and from there to Jagustow, Suwalk and Lithuania. It was dangerous to go through Raczki; the Poles could catch up with us. Before I began to descend from the mountain to the highway in Dolko I heard voices and loud shouting. As I came to the highway I saw what was happening there. If three wagons would have gone in the width, they would have moved forward, but the wagons took the entire width of the highway, ensnared each other and remained standing. Go and stop. This one shouted, the other raged; all screamed and cursed and we did not move, only crept. And thus along the entire highway as far as the eye could see, a wagon train extended without an end We crept. Suddenly a bang was heard, a wagon broke. The baggage was laid in other wagons. The wheel with the broken axle was thrown onto the side of the highway and we moved farther. Gentiles stood by the side of the highway and one grabbed a wheel, one an axle, one a board. They stood thus from very early and waited for something to be thrown down. I decided to go back home. No good could come from such tumult. But then I saw how the artillery was running along Monker Road, six horses hitched to each cannon. They came to the highway and stopped. The officer of the artillery shouted: Stop the wagon train, the artillery is more important; I will give you to the court! But no one heard him. The thick mass moved slowly forward with the voices and shouts as earlier. I took my sack and went back home.
My mother was very happy about my return. It was Sunday night. It was dark in the house; we turned on a small lamp. I went out to look for bread. The soldiers from the highway had emptied all of the bakeries. Gershon's son, Motke, entrusted me with a secret that his sister, Merke, had just taken a baked bread from the oven. I immediately ran there and she weighed out a very large piece for me. Merke lived at the old market on the street that led to Moshe'ke's son, Chatskl's mill. It was an out-of the-way place and no soldiers came there. There was no water in the house. The water carriers were afraid to appear in the street with horses. I took a pail and went to the well. Motke's daughter, Beylke, and her small sister, Grunye, also came with a pail. On the way we met many Jews with containers. The well water was cold and fresh, straight from the well. Summer, on the hot Shabbosim we would go there to drink cold water.
I woke up with the day and went to the synagogue to pray. There I heard that all of the young were leaving the shtetl. I came home and told my mother that I had decided to go away. Everyone was going; I wanted to go, too.
I went to the highway through Dolistower Street. My mother accompanied me to the end of Krutka Ulica.There were no longer wagon trains on the highway, only walkers, 25 of them from Goniadz. Young men and girls from Ostrowa, Ostrolenka and still other shtetlekh were walking. Individual Russian soldiers went like us, with a gun, without a gun we went. A soldier came close to me, tapped my sack and asked me in Russian: What do you have there, bread? I did not need anything clearer. I would immediately have scores of soldiers around me. I told him to be quiet. I went down with him among the bushes, opened the sack, showed him how much bread I had, divided it with him and done. I went back to the highway and he followed me. I wanted to be farther from him, but then we heard shouting in the bushes: Govjandinu, govjandinu! (meat). A few soldiers had caught a cow; killed it and they were dividing the meat. All of the soldiers on the highway ran to grab a piece of meat and I was rid of my companion.
About halfway to Suchowola we met a Jew who was sitting and crying by the side of the highway. We stopped near him. He told us that he was from Wizna. The Bolsheviks had dragged him to Grodno and abandoned him, but they took his boots; he was going home barefooted. His feet had received a drubbing and he could not go farther, so he sat and cried. Hearing the name, Wizna, interested me. I spent my first year of yeshiva study there in 1909. I looked closely and recognized him: this was Dovid the fisherman; I had eaten with him on Shabbos. I did not want him to recognize me; this would take too much time. I advised him that he should use all of his strength and go to a nearby village for a few days and then to go farther. He should not remain on the highway because the Polish Army was very near and his life was in danger.
Wagon trains stood in all of the villages along the highway. Riders ran back and forth, leading one wagon onto the highway, then another.
We arrived in Suchowola around one o'clock in the afternoon, went to a Jew and there received a glass of tea. We did not hear any good news in Suchowola. For the few weeks that the Bolsheviks were there, the revkom, which consisted of a Jewish majority, sentenced a gentile to death and shot him. Now the gentiles were saying very often: If other brothers come in we will take revenge. We immediately decided to go farther to Sztabin. Mikhal, the husband of Feyge-Ruchl's daughter Tsirl, came with me. We were again on the highway. The wagon trains went without end, but only individual wagons. A young officer, of my age, invited me to go with him to Grodno, but I said no thank you. We left the highway on the left and went to Sztabin. We arrived there at night, but the shtetl, Sztabin, was a ruin. The houses had been burned five years ago during the war and had not been rebuilt. An older gentile stood by the side of the road, saw that we had arrived and screamed: Zydkes, communists, let our Poles come and we will slaughter you all! He cursed and berated us. We did not answer him. We went to the only Jew who lived there. We received enough dairy foods from him and a piece of bread. We ate; we went up to the loft to rest.
We slept for about an hour. I said to my neighbor, Mikhal: I think it is dangerous to stay here; if the Poles come they will burn us together with the barn. We must go farther to Jagustow. We immediately all went down from the loft. The Jew showed us the way to go. We tried to go very quietly, particularly when we went through a village. We were afraid that the Poles were already in Jagustow, from the Rajgrod side and then we would be lost. It was already light; we saw four riders coming towards us. Our hearts beat. Poles, maybe? No, they were Russians and they asked us where the Poles were. We told them that last night the Russians were still in Suchowola. They rode on farther. We now went with a light heart. Arriving in the city we separated. Mikhal and I went to Meir Grabower.
Years ago, this Meir was a melamed in Goniadz. Then he rented the farm in Klewianka and sold dairy products. Now he had a farm in the village of Grabowa, so he was called Grabower. He was a relative of Feyge-Ruchl from Tifle Street and was pleased to know someone connected to her son-in-law.
The retreat of the Russian Army stretched through Grodner Street. Meir's house was on Suwalker Street; it was calm here. Meir came in from the street and related that a Cossack had broken in a door in a shop, murdered the shopkeeper and took whatever he wanted. We sat in the house and shook. In the morning Meir came in from the street and said that a company of Lithuanian soldiers had marched in from Sulwak and taken Jagustow. That is, Lithuania had come to us
Jagustower Jews went out to the streets. The Bolsheviks left; the Poles were not here, let only the Lithuanians remain. We Goniadzers wanted to go deeper into Lithuania. We sent in Zeydka Sidranski (Chaya Wikhne's son) to the Lithuanian commandant, a former officer in the Russian Army who spoke Russian. Zeydka came back with nothing; he was not giving permits and without them the group would not go farther. On the third day, Friday, with great difficulty I found a wagon driver who agreed to drive without a permit. But none of the other Goniadzers wanted to go with me. Having no choice, I went alone. The road to Sulwak stretched to the forest and no people were seen. It rained very hard. [Water] ran from my head as from a roof and I became entirely soaked through. I had to change my underwear and clothes in a hotel in Sulwak.
I went to the synagogue to pray Shabbos morning. I knew that the khazan was Ruwen Rosher (Rosh is a shtetl near Grodno) who had studied skhite in Goniadz with the khazan, Reb Nuchem, and led the choir after prayers. I went to him, but he did not recognize me. I told him that in 1908, 12 years ago, I was a choir boy with the khazan, Reb Nuchem, and he and Reb Nuchem had sung with us choir boys from Purim to Passover. On the first day of the holiday, in the beis-medrash, I was ashamed to go to sing in the choir. All of the Goniadz young boys had run after me and laughed at me. On the second day of the holiday, in the synagogue, I stood on the steps of the aron-kodesh and sang. Yes, he remembered this incident, but he did not remember me.
Sunday, I hired a wagon and went to Kalvaria, Lithuania. The road also passed through a thick forest. There was an inn half way to Kalvaria. We stopped to rest the horses and to eat something ourselves. There we met people from Lithuania who were returning to Poland. They said that it was very bad in Lithuania; there was no place to earn money, the police did not register people and if someone arrived with a horse and wagon from Poland, it was requisitioned. My wagon driver was afraid and returned to Sulwak, leaving me at the inn. It was night; I did not want to go into the woods alone. There I saw a wagon with passengers was starting to go. They were traveling to Kalvaria. Under no circumstances did the wagon driver want to take me. I hopped onto the back of the open-sided wagon and went along. The wagon driver did not know about this. The passengers smiled. It was very difficult for me to stay on the wagon, but getting off and remaining in the forest was less pleasurable The wagon went very fast and when we went on to the wooden bridge, we were in Kalvaria. I came down off the wagon. The lamplight was homey in the windows and I was happy seeing it. On the bridge I met young men strolling. They were from Sulwak and I brought them fresh greetings from there. They took me away to a hotel to spend the night. I would be registered in the morning. I slept on the ground and my neighbor was Henokh Hirszfeld, Sholem Hirszfeld's brother. I remembered him from home when he studied watch making with his brother-in-law, Chaim Leshkes. Henokh opened a watch business in Jagustow and lived there. He asked me for a favor. He had a great deal of money with him, so I should take a few packages of Polish marks from him until the morning. He would sleep easier. In the morning, the owner [of the hotel] registered me with the police. Now, I went out to the street calmly. There I learned that the Poles had taken Sulwak.
I met a young man of my acquaintance from Grajewo. He was here for three months. He said that I do not have to pay any money for the bed. He slept on hay; it did not cost him any money. He also had arranged for his food. That night I slept on the hay and was satisfied. It was Tuesday morning. I stood in front of the house and saw how [people] were going to the market. Today was market day here. There had not been a market in Goniadz for a long time and here life was going on as before in the quiet years. I truly envied the Lithuanian Jews. I saw a wagon going with young men and after the wagon went another young man holding his hand to his face. His name was Chaim Arya Pekarski, but I did not recognize him at first because he was very covered with dust and his red hair was now sand colored. I shouted: Chaim Arya! He turned around to me. Yes, this was him! He came from Janova, Lithuania. On the road to Kalvaria, his nose started to bleed. Now in Kalvaria on the bridge, he could not sit in the shaking wagon; so he went on foot. He said that going through the border with the entire group was very difficult. I invited him to come with me, but he said he had an uncle named Bash in Kalvaria. We went to him. His relatives welcomed him very warmly and I left him there.
I traveled farther to the German border and stopped in Wierzbołowo. The border was five kilometers from there. I went to the border, gave the soldier who was standing on guard 50 German marks and he let me go through. I was already in Aydkunen, Germany, but when I traveled farther, a gendarme stopped me because I did not have any certificate.
At the gendarmerie I was searched very thoroughly. It was a miracle that I had left my 20 dollars and 250 francs with an honest Jew in Aydkunen. I was arrested in the county town, Stalavka. There was very little food; the jail overseer only bought a piece of bread for the German marks that I had with me. He said to me, if I could give bail he would free me until the tribunal. I asked him to telephone a relative of mine in Lik, an escapee from Grajewo and I knew his address.
It was the first day of Rosh-Hashanah; I lay on the plank cot and prayed from memory. I did not have a Siddur and there was no Makhzor. I prayed and thought: it is now Musaf time; at home, my Uncle Lazer stood before the reading desk and sang the prayers with his strong voice. I was moved emotionally from longing and the door opened and the jail overseer called out: Bachrach, bail had arrived.
Twenty minutes later I was free.
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