Rabbi Eilyahu Hacohen Duschnitzer was one of the few who was sanctified by the nation due to his piety, integrity, modesty, prudence and concern for all.
The renowned "Chazon Ish", who participated in the funeral of Rabbi Eliyahu, upon returning home told his household ; "Know, that Rabbi Eliyahu was one of the thirty-six righteous people, outstanding in their generation, upon whose merit the world exists", and it is well known that the "Chazon Ish" was very cautious in his speech, appraising every word he spoke.
Rabbi Eliyahu was born in 1876 in the small town of Yedwabne, in the vicinity of Lomza. In his youth, he was edcated in the Yeshivot of Telz, and Slobodka. In Yeshivah he excelled above all, in his good deeds, pleasant ways with others and especially in his modesty and cautious tongue.
When he matured, Rabbi Eliyahu travelled to Radin to receive guidance from the Chofetz Chaim. He went to Radin to learn the art of unoffensive speech from the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim took cognizance immediately of the attributes and characteristics of Rabbi Eliyahu, and showed him signs of esteem. He even accepted him as one of his confidantes.
It is told that when Rabbi Eliyahu would come to Radin to visit the Chofetz Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim would rise to greet him with great love. When Rabbi Yerucham, renowned as one of the grear moralists of the last century, left the Yeshivah of Radin to go to the Yeshivah of Mir, the Chofetz Chaim asked Rabbi Eliyahu to fill the vacated position. Rabbi Eliyahu stayed in the Yeshivah for a short time but resigned afterwards since he set his principles in life, wthout wanting to carry on his shoulders the burden of an official position. Yet, he didn't cease his work of expounding the Torah and teaching reverence, for G-d.
In the year 1926 when the Yeshivat Lomza in Petach Tikvah, Israel, was founded, Rabbi Eliyahu was sent there to be with the students that came there to study.
I remember when I came in 1935 to learn in the Yeshivah. I met face to face with Rabbi Eliyahu. A Jew short in stature, a glowing face, a hearty smile spread across his lips : his whole being proclaiming simplicity. At first I didn't know his position. He wasn't the "Head", the "Principal", the "Overseer", or any such official. But after a few weeks, his existence became clear to me. He was a living example of spiritual perfection. It was sufficient to look upon him, upon his radiant face, to be a simple, whole Jew Without any sophistry. His coversations with the students were conducted slowly. His words that were said with pleasantness and in way of conversation as one speaks to his neighbor, penetrated the depths of the soul and touched the heart. Then I began to understand why the head of the Yeshivah in Lomza, the esteemed Rabbi Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, sent him to Yeshivat Lomza in Petach Tikva.
One Shabbat, I witnessed Rabbi Eliyahu walking to and fro in an alleyway. What had happened ? Upon walking down the alley he sensed a Jew watering his garden on Shabbat, a serious violation. To enter the house, speak with the farmer and reprove him would perhaps embarrass the man and Rabbi Eliyahu was punctilious when it came to respecting man. Instead he paced to and fro on the chance that the Jew might come out, see him and from that understand that it pained him, and cease to violate the Shabbat.
Such was Rabbi Eliyahu all his life. He lived in fear lest he insult or offend someone. Even when he had to explain something to a student, he would weave between the desks to reach the student, and then after explaining the ethical matter he would ask forgiveness from the student on the chance that he nudged him in passing.
After partaking in some joyous occasion, he would ask the host's forgivness in case he spilled something from his cup and soiled the tablecloth.
He was very cautious in the prohibition of taking time away from Torah study. Each moment of his time was precious not to mention that of others. When his wife, the Rebbetzin who helped support the household by selling chickens in the market died, Rabbi Eliyahu was rifled with worry. His worry was not about his personal situation of loneliness. Instead, he worried that if the Yeshivah students would participate in the funeral, it would detract from their learning. What he did was to arrange for the funeral to take place during the hours between classes.
For twenty-five years Rabbi Eliyahu stayed with the Yeshivah of Lomza in Petach Tikvah. He taught lessons and led ethical discussions. He left after him many students who remember their prominent and virtuous teacher with trembling reverence. In the Summer of 1949, the learned and rightous Rabbi Eliyahu HaCohen DuSchnitzer was asked to the heavenly school in the seventy-third year of his life.
Before his death he told his students : "It pays to be born in order to die if one has the opportunity of the Mitzvah of saying Yehey sh'mey rabo m'vorach l'olam ulolmey olmayoh May His great name be blessed forever and ever) and Boruch hoo. Uvoruch Sh'mo (Blessed is He and blessed is His name).
Daily tuition paid for with a liter of milk!
My brother Hershel, (now in Ohio, U.S.) felt highly honored when he carried to his Rebbi, Reb Itzchok a liter of milk daily as cheder tuition.
In his early cheder age Hershel already showed signs of business acumen, for on that accord he allowed himself to be drawn into the cheder. Our revered father, who would certainly have provided money for tuition, had already passed away, and Hershel knew well that since most of the people in the Shtetel owned cows, each parent would prefer to pay the cost of his child's tuition with milk. But what would the Rebbi do with so much milk ... ? The wise Rabbi applied child psychology and begged Hershel the great favor of providing him with a daily Liter of the special milk from our good red cow, as it would help him personally, and therewith, his class immensley. Consequently Hershel teamed wonderfully as a result of his sense of achievement that he was causing the whole cheder to progress.
As the Town's expert in the Mitzvah of "Hachnosas Orchim" (Hospitality to Strangers) the Rebbi, Reb Itzchok greets me "Sholom Aleichem" for the first time!
Although Rebbi Itzchok knew me the way he knew of every other Yedwabner child, it seems that to forestall any iota of jealousy on the part of other Rebbis, he never spoke to a pupil who belonged outside of his own cheder.
However, when I returned home for Yom Tov from my first year in the well known Lomzer Talmud Torah, the Rebbi extended to me his heartfelt Sholom Aleichem as though I were his old and honored friend. He took such a fatherly interest while warmly testing my progress in learning, that I felt as though he was curing my yearning for fatherly love.
I questioned then the reason for his publicising in the Beth Hamedrash the promise of a 12 year old, as though I were already a real Yeshiva student, but after a while, when I noticed my wonderful, young, but widowed and afflicted mother, arrive home rejoicing from what she had heard in town, I began to comprehend the purpose of the Rebbi, Reb itzchok's actions.
He thereby fulfilled not only the mitzva of Hachnosas Orchim, but also caused to rejoice an "almono" (widow) who tirelessly devoted her entire life towards giving her children a Torah education.
As it is known there was no hotel in Yedwabne, for there were Rebbi Itzchok together with Reb Kadesh Freedman (the Shamos), who formed the living institution of "Hachnosas Orchim" by supplying each wayfarer who was in need with full sustenance and lodging.
It is interesting to note that in the later years, when our Shtetel finally built and commenced operations of the public "Hachnosos Orchim", civic controversy over its management arose.
Yedwabner Baalei Batim (residents) preferred to observe the mitzvah of "Hachnosos Orchim" in their own homes. There was never a shortage of space in a private household. In case there was no extra bed, one would always bring in a sheaf of straw from his barn, spread it on the floor and cover it with a clean bed sheet. Upon being so warmly welcomed to stay over with the family, a guest would sleep and rest up better than in the best of hotels.
How Rebbi Itzchok's "Hachnosas Orchim" Medicine helped the famous Yedwabner Rebbitzen !
"Good morning Rebbitzen", said Rebbi Itzchok warmly, when he entered the Rov's house, "How do you feel today ?" "Not so good. I feel quite weak, I don't know why" replied the always gentle and righteous Rebbitzen. "Perhaps I should honor you with an 'Orach' which will cause you to feel better ?" She answered that she had one orach already. "So perhaps one more will do the trick ?" . . . "Yes, Rebbi Itzchok dear", Immediately agreed the Rebbitzen. And the Rov Reb Avigdor, who was known as a healer, used to say that watching his Rabbitzen working around two 'orchim', it was the best medicine for her.
Rebbi Itzchok's tricks that aroused children's urge for learning
The Rebbi, Reb Itzchok possessed a special talent that attracted children so that whenever in the Beth Hamedrosh, he would be surrounded by young students who thirstily awaited to hear of his wisdom.
He used to pose a question while grasping and toying with his beautiful beard, and wisely observed each child's reaction and the way one attempted to answer.
His type of question was, for instance: "We sing in 'Zmiros Leshabbos' (Sabbath chantings) 'Kol Shomer Sabbos Kados Mechalelo' (All those that keep the Sabbath from violating it), he asked, "the Hebrew word "Mechalelo' could mean 'he does profane Him'?
You could perceive how beautiful a smile surrounded his always loving and patriarchal-looking face when he found that the large majority of the surrounding youth comprehended, and arose to answer rejoicingly that had there been a 'shva' under the Hebrew letter 'M' the translation woud be 'does profane Him'. But there is a 'Tzeire' 'Maichalelo' and that means, 'from profaining the Sabbath' !
The 80 year old Raizale requests of Zev Jabotinsky to be accepted into his group of "the 1000 young men of Brith-Hachayil" who were undertaking to walk by foot to Eretz Israel !
It was in the days of the British 'White Paper', when England closed the gates of Palestine for Jews, that 80 year old Reizale, proprietor of the Jewish wind mill of Yedwabne, appealed to the world's conscience by applying to Zev Jabotinsky and pleaded that he use his good offices so that she, an expert foot walker, be accepted into his group of the thousand young men of the Brith-Hachayil who undertook to walk by foot from Poland to the Holy Land. This walk was foreseen to take one whole year's time.
As it turned out, the Polish government, under the pressures of England, forbade that group to exit from her borders, and the group of one thousand, including Reizale, had to seek out other means to accomplish its goal.
Their son Noah became a shochet and mohel and practiced in Jerusalem, and later in Hartford, Connecticut. He took a wife from the famous Hurowitz family in Jerusalem. Her father was the renowned Rabbi Shimon Lidder, Dean of Yeshiva Shaarei Tzedek in the Old City.
Their daughter Shainke (born in Yedwabne) married a Yerushalmi, Ben-Zion Gabriolowitz, named after his father who had died before the child was born. Ben-Zion the father was a great grandson of Rabbi Haim from Valozin, Dean of the Yeshiva Eitz-Chaim of Valozin. Raizel, the mother-in-law of Shainke, was widowed at the age of eighteen, shortly before her son's birth and she never remarried. The Naturei-Karta were against the marriage of Ben-Zion to Shainke, and as protest broke windows in the young couple's home. Shainke died in Beersheva in 1978.
Hyman Weinberg was not well and the doctors recommended that he live near the sea. Rabbi Avraham decided for the sake of Hyman's health to move the whole family back to Hartford, and among the travelers were the two youngest children born in Israel, Yisochor Leib and Irving N. Weinberg.
Rabbi Irving N. Weinberg, who was born in 1911, studied in the Yeshiva Eitz-Chaim in Jerusalem and when he arrived in the United States he studied at the Yeshiva of New Haven, Connecticut, where the famous baal-mussar and speaker Rabbi Levenberg was the Rosh Hayashiva. Rabbi Weinberg followed the Yeshiva when it moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Then he studied at the Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchonen in New York City, under the famous Rosh Hayashiva Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, from whom he received Smich in 1933.
Rabbi Weinberg first served as assistant to Rabbi Hurowitz of the Congregation Agudat Achim in Hartford, and when Rabbi Hurowitz died, he became the Rabbi. In 1936 he married his wife who was from Hartford and they honeymooned in Eretz-Israel, where his mother Rachel was living. When the Rabbi and his wife returned to America, he was offered and accepted the position with the Washington Heights Congregation in New York City. That synagogue had no mortgage and could offer a salary of fifty dollars a week. Rabbi J. D. Eisenstein, editor of the Encyclopedia Ozar Yisrael was instrumental in Rabbi Weinberg's acceptance of the position on Parshat Noah, 1941.
At that time Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik's yeshiva was in the Young Israel Congregation, and had only 30 pupils. Since the Washington Heights Congregation had room for many more students, the Yeshiva moved there and Rabbi Weinberg became the principal. In a short time the student population increased to 290. The entire area was settled by Jews from Germany, and under the influence of their spiritual leader, Rabbi Breuer the children were sent to the Washington Heights School. The synagogue then bought a larger place, which had been a conservative congregation. Rabbi Weinberg converted it into an orthodox synagogue and the school in the new premises grew to 700 pupils:
After thirty-five years with the Washington Heights Congregation, Rabbi Weinberg decided that it was time to retire. He and his wife settled in Netanya, Israel. He is the rabbi of the Young Men's Congregation. He also gives shiurim in Talmud for several groups.
Rabbi and Mrs. Weinberg have one son who studied in the Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchonon and received Smicha from the Dean, Harav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik.
A yedwabner characteristic is admired in Lomza
The Rebbi, Reb Itzchok of the 7th grade of the famous Lomza Talmud Torah, was well familiar with the admiration that the Yedwabner student, 11 year old Eliezer Piekarz, had for Kopel the shoemaker whose shop was located on Shul Street.
The student admired the Zadik (righteous man) Reb Kopel who always rushed to repair his torn and oft times water logged shoes, rather than allow a helper to do the repairing.
When Reb Kopel sewed a patch of leather upon an old shoe, he resembled the Biblical Chanoch, who also sewed shoes. His devout attitude instilled sanctity in his deeds. He repaired and dried the shoes quickly so the student could attend at least the middle of his Gemorroh Shiur. He was fullfilling the dictum: "A Mitzvah that arrives into your hands, do not let tarry".
One day, the Rebbi informed his student, with joy, the good tidings that a transport of new shoes had just arrived from the U.S.A.. He advised him that he should immediately enter the big ball and select the right shoes for himself. The Rebbi, however, was highly astonished when his ever devoted and obedient student declined to respond positively. All convincing arguments that in this emergency he should forego his pride and accept a pair of American donated shoes, were met by the student with deaf ears.
When at a later date the student's widowed mother visited the Rebbi to receive the expected joyous report on her youngest son's progress, the Rabbi recounted the shoe incident and complained to her that the unique moment of stubborness was incomprehensible to him The student however took pride in the way his mother defended his action. She stated : "Dear Rebbi, you must remember that Yedwabner trudge only with shoes of their own"
We recall the busy preparation for Pessach which started in Yedwabne immediately after the Purim Holiday. During these 30 days everyone was busy airing, cleaning, scrubbing, painting, and generally renewing every particle of the household, to ensure the observance of a real Kosher Passover.
But the "Parneisim" (elected leaders of the Jewish Community) were extra busy. They had to cope with the problem of providing the traditional "Moath Chitim" (Passover expenses for the poor), and, moreover to prevent embarrassment by concealing the giver and the receiver, so that each did not discover the other's identity.
Here is an episode that occurred in connection with "Moath Chitim" that may shed light on the untiring efforts of the Yedwabner community leaders to discover new ways to deal with the difficult "Mitzvah" of "Matan B'seyser".
It was about an hour before the Seder of Passover 1922 when the Piekarz family was startled to discover a strange large case standing in the outside foyer of their home. At first glance they thought that it was surely placed there by mistake. But upon examination of its contents, they found that it consisted of provisions for a large family for use during Passover. The widow, Mrs. Chaitche Piekarz, had tears in her eyes when she stated : "This time they practiced the mitzvah of "Matan B'seyser" on me" ! Would she accept it? Time before the Seder was short.
She immediately brought the case of provisions to the attention of her three sons ; Yehuda, then 12, Hershel - 10 and Eliezer 7 years old, who were deeply engrossed in the final preparations for conducting their first fatherless Seder.
The three rejoiced in lifting the heavily laden case on their shoulders and with the Passover song of "Dayeinu" (we have sufficient), quickly walked the distance of about a kilometer to the respectable house of Shirke-Reizel Zinowitz. They asked permission to leave the case there, expressing the hope that its contents would be enjoyed by more needy people. They then rushed back to their own Seder.
As an insight to this moral story, it is necessary to picture the deep concern by the leaders of the Jewish community for an ordinary family that had up to that very Passover supported every good community cause. Since the loss of the head of the family, the "parneisim" had been racking their brains to find ways to accomplish their duty of "Matan B'seyser". They had planned to secretly trudge and deliver the Passover case by themselves in such time and manner as the recipient wouldn't notice, and thus not be able to refuse
Manufacturers of clothing, shoes, articles of wood, iron or steel brought their products on the market days to sell. Merchants from near and far came to trade.
On one market-day, a certain villager was doing some shopping at a Jewish store and left there his billfold containing 100 Rubels that the villager just received from selling a cow and produce. When the villager asked the store keeper for the billfold, he denied ever seeing it. The farmer, stirred by anger ; called upon his friends amongst the farmers to make a Pogrom against the Jews of Yedwabne, because they are thieves and deserved a good lesson. An air of violence permeated the village.
Sh'muel Binshtein (Shirke's) heard what happened, realized the seriousness of it and ran quickly to the storekeeper at whose place the farmer claimed he left his billfold with the 100 Rubels. After some argument with the storekeeper, Sh'muel Shine's recovered the billfold and the money. He brought it to the Magistrate and asked Piontkowsky the Drummer to start drumming at the Marketplace and make the following announcement : "Someone delivered to the Magistrate a billfold containing money in it, that he found. The one who lost it shall come to the Magistrate to identify it". The farmer who lost it got it back. The villagers dispersed peacefuly and the Jews of Yedwabne began to breathe a bit easier.
One could feel that dark days were approaching. The blackout on the train and in the cities we passed depressed me. I arrived in Lomza began Walking through what were once familiar streets, but were no longer recognizable. Dluga Street, the old market place and the new market place no longer existed. The Synagogue, the Yeshiva and the beautiful building of the Talmud Torah were wiped off the map of Lomza.
I took a taxi to Yedwabne. From afar I saw our house and the gardens. We passed the Sajefka (a small lake), and soon I was in my parent's home, embraced in the arms of my mother and sister. My father was then at the bet-hamedresh. My mother told me that she dreamed that all her children came to visit them.
Unfortunately, I was the only one who did. I also managed to visit the aged Rabbi Avigdor Bialystocky, who had lost his wife before the war.
The news of my visit spread like wildfire all through the community. Yedwabne at that time had a population of 2000 inhabitants. When the Germans came in 1939, all the Jews fled. Very few families were left. But with the arrival of the Russians they all returned, and many people from all over Poland came to Yedwabne where they felt it was still possible to earn a living. And so I was fortunate to meet again with not only my family, bu also with many friends. All too soon it was time to part.
Saturday night I ordered a taxi to take me back to Lomza. There was a hidden feeling that this was the last time we would see each other. But I was at ease with myself for having made this wisit with my very beloved ones before leaving the country. The way back took me again through Bialystok. Once more I was with my brother Meyer and his family. From there, I wandered for several days until I reached Vilna. There I immediately joined a group of young men from Warsaw who were going on transit through Russia and Japan to the United States. We went as far as Moscow and here we learned that Japan no longer permitted transit since that country was about to enter the war. After a few weeks in Moscow, we finally received transit visas through Teheran, Iran. From there, I and many others went to India, which was then under British rule. I settled in Bombay and became in time the leader of the Indian and Afghanistan Jewry. There were also Jews who fled the pogroms in Iraq in 1941. And, not surprisingly I found many refugees from Poland. However the majority were native B'nai Israel who had lived in India for over 2000 years.
I was by profession an advocate and practised in the High Court of India. My position there enabled me to help Indian Jews to emigrate to Israel. During my time in India approximately 25,000 Jews made Aliyah.
want to see once again the town of my birth, Yedwabne. We applied for and received from the Polish Consulate in Tel Aviv a visa granting us a 10-day stay in Poland. On May 2, 1966, we flew to Vienna, and waited several hours for our flight to my past.
As soon as we set foot on the plane, we felt as if we were in Poland. The crew and all passengers, except for our family, were Poles. We arrived shortly after at Akentze Airport, near Warsaw, and were the last ones to leave for that city due to inspection and clearance. We were told at the embassy in Tel Aviv that prior reservations were not necessary. Nevertheless, I tried to obtain a hotel room for us by phone while we were still at the airport. Both the Bristol and the Yerozalimska (the only 2 hotels in Warsaw) informed that there were no vacancies. We had arrived just at the time that Poland was having its one thousandth anniversary. The city was filled with foreign guests. Fortunately, we took the advice of the English-speaking taxi driver. He drove us to the Yerozalimska Hotel, where he had an acquaintance, twenty dollars discreetly changed hands, and we were shown into a lovely room for which the rate was $50.00 per day.
While I was attending to our accomodations, my wife and Haya walked about the beautiful lobby. Haya was attracted to an unusually elegant circular staircase that seemed to float to the upper floor, and she ran to investigate. My wife lost sight of the child, and after looking about in vain, called softly, "Chaya, Chaya", a number of times and received a shock to hear a strange male voice calling "Chaytcheh, Chaytcheh". She looked about and saw a Polish porter beckoning Haya down from the staircase, and still calling her name. Fortunately, child and mother were quickly reunited. However, my wife was much shaken by the snaring of a Jewish diminutive from the mouth of a Pole.
Our luggage was soon brought to our room, we refreshed ourselves, and went to the dining room to feed Haya. Our emotions were too strong for us to do more than drink some hot tea. But Haya was delighted by the sight of an Israeli flag at the table next to ours. There were flags of the many nations who were participating in the celebrations that were taking place. But only the Israeli brought warmth into our hearts. After a brief stroll, my wife and child returned to our room, and I took off alone.
The neighborhood streets were very familiar to me from the days when I was a young boy and studied in Warsaw. There was the hustle and bustle of busy people, of old, tired and dragging ones ; of children running and playing games undisturbed by the heavy foot traffic from opposite directions. These streets knew laughter and tears, constant movement that waned only at night. And always, people. People entering doorways, Gentile people, people leaving doorways, big people, little people, Jewish people, those streets were familiar. But what I now saw was a shock. Each street comer was dutifully marked with its name and the name of the cross street. But there were no people, houses, buildings. Only empty flat streets and corner posts.
I walked on and reached the famous Nalevki Street that had been the hub of all the bustle. This was where the heroic Jews of Warsaw had battled against the might of the Germans. This was where the Jewish Ghetto had been before it was totally destroyed with many thousands of Jews buried under the ruins. And on the site of our blessed dead, the Polish government had built, on Nalevki Street and the adjacent areas, a number of red brick apartment houses. In front of them -- facing the emptiness of what had once been filled with life -- was the Ghetto Monument. The Ghetto Monument to remind us of our glorious Fighters of the Ghetto and the innocent Jewish blood that had been spilt in these streets.
I went to see the cemetery at Okopova Street (or Gensha Street). I searched for the graves of the famouse Roshei Yeshivah of Valozin the "Netziv" and Rabbi Chayim Soloveitchik. Both died and were buried in Warsaw on that cemetery. There was enough light to see. But I could not find the graves because the burial places were completely neglected.
On a huge open space on Marshalkowska Street was erected a large platform. From it, diplomats representing many Communist countries were addressing the Polish populace. They were asked to be loyal to their Communist ideals, that by following those ideals Poland would be secured for the next thousand years and after. - I noticed there were very few listeners.
As I walked that evening, I was shocked to find that there was no vestige, no trace that Jews had lived in the city of Warsaw. There was nothing left of the Old Tlomatzka Synagogue and the Jewish cultural buildings around it. All the familiar Jewish sections and the business establishments were completely wiped out. The only site left was the former Jewish place of worship the Nozick Synagogue. And there one could barely find enough Jews for a minyon.
The loneliness and sadness that I experienced on that first night in Warsaw, the city that I well remember from the good days, left me very heartbroken and subject to nightmares for a long time. I felt that the spirits of the millions of our people who were murdered or buried alive in this cursed soil of Poland were calling on every one of our people never to forget our martyred dead and to plead with G-d to avenge their blood.
In the morning I attended services at the Nozick Synagogue. I was the tenth to make up the minyon of very old people who live on pensions received from the government. One of them walked about with me and pointed out the exact places where famous Jews had been murdered. A place where hundreds of small orphaned children were buried alive. The exact spot where the Ghetto revolt started, where many Germans lost their lives when they tried to stop the revolt. - This old man had been one of the warriors of the Ghetto uprising. He was taken to the extermination camp of Treblinka, and was later saved by the Russian Army. On every "Yohr Tzeit" of the fall of the Warsaw Ghetto he goes to the site to say Kadish for all the Jews who perished there.
I returned to the hotel where we breakfasted, then I went to "Orbis" and arranged for a car with driver and English speaking interpreter, since I refused to acknowledge that I knew Polish. Often, during our stops, the driver tried to get our attention, by writing small notes, but neither my wife nor I reacted to the bait. Nor did I respond when he made overtures in Polish. I was simply suspicious of everyone in this country and concerned for the safety of my family.
We travelled northeast, in the direction of my birthplace, Yedwabne, near the city of Lomza. The highways were paved in three and four lanes. As we approached the cities of Radzemin, Wishkow, Ostrow-Mazovieck and Ostrolonka, we turned off the highway in order to see what was left of them. We drove towards Bialystok to reach the famous city of Tykocin, known for its great Rabbis and very old Jewish community. Our route took us through Sokola, Lapi and its surroundings. Many of our family lived in those places before they were exterminated by the Germans and their Polish helpers. There was devastation. Jewish devastation everywhere.
On our return we stopped in the city of Lomza, where I spent many years learning in the famous Talmud Torah and Yeshiva. I walked through the streets - with the hope of finding some trace of Jewish existence there. To my sorrow, I found only the distinctive bricks of the beautiful synagogue built into a garage on Dluga Street.
All the cities and towns through which we drove had totally destroyed every trace that might show Jews had lived for hundreds of years among the inhabitants, and had also considered themselves as Poles. Everything looked very alien to me.
From Lomza we drove the 21 kilometers to Yedwabne in about 15 minutes. During my youth I walked quite often from Yedwabne to Lomza and back. I knew every village and its people. Many Jews of Lomza were murdered in those villages during the Second World War.
As we approached the outskirts of Yedwabne, I recognized every building we passed. And I recalled every Jewish family that had lived in those buildings. And now they were occupied by the Polish murderers. We drove past the house that belonged to the Zelenitz Family, and it brought back many memories of the happy days when I was a young boy. On the opposite side had stood the remains of the famous wooden Synagogue (it had burned down before the First World War), and the Bet Hamedrash, the Chevra-Tehilim, the Chevrah Bachuriin. And now we passed an empty lot.
We drove through the market place, where the Magistrate still existed. The structures and stores belonging to Jewish merchants were now occupied by non-Jews. We turned towards the road to Pshitula. We passed the old water well, the house that belonged to Shirke-Reizel Tzinowitz, and her big garden. We drove by an orchard that belonged to the priest, and Shilaviuk's house in front of which was a waterwell. I recognized Franek Shilaviuk - he ran into the house. He must have recognized me and feared an encounter. He was one of the chief murderers of the Jews of Yedwabne. There were witnesses to his killing of my Uncles Pecinowitz (the millers) and their families. May G-d avenge their blood !
We arrived at the exact site of our home and the windmill that was in the rear. Now there was no sign of our buildings. In their place was a small gas station.
We continued to the city of Radzilovo, passing the Zaganik (small forest), and many familiar villages. Even in this area there was left no indication whatsoever of the many Jewish families that had lived on its soil. On our return we again passed Yedwabne and drove to the cemetery. Near this area were burned alive all the Jews of Yedwabne and many from the cities of Radzilowa and Wizna on that fateful day of July 10, 1941. For almost two hundred years our ancestors were buried in that cemetery. Now, not one tombstone could be seen. Our neighbors, the Poles, had plowed under even the remains of dead Jews. We returned to Warsaw that evening physically and emotionally broken.
The following day we went to the Praga cemetery near Warsaw. My Father of blessed memory, was buried there when he died in Warsaw during the Bolshevik-Polish War of 1920-21. There too, we could find no sign of a grave.
I had been steadfast in my belief in man. Suddenly, my ties were cut. My past was a memory only for me. Wherever I looked for the known, for the familiar, I found only emptiness. To stop the terrible depression which was overcoming me from every direction I had to get out of Poland as quickly as possible. I needed the comfort of my own people around me to regain my stability.
We left Poland for a very brief visit in Copenhagen. The dreary weather, the lack of all we needed for our Jewish souls shortened that stay. On we flew to London, where kindness from friends and sunny weather helped us over the weekend. And on Monday we boarded the plane for the United States of America and home.
Roots of the family Cinowitz stem from the city of Tikocin, known among the world Jewry as one of the districts of the "Vaad Arba Arotzot". It is also possible that the Cinowitz family came to Tikocin from the small town "Cinowitz" in Prussia. Further, in the records of the Jewish community of Tikocin in the year 1700, we find that the settling of Jewish craftsmen in the village of Yedwabne was under the jurisdiction of Tikocin.
My Grandmother Malke used to tell her children and grand children that in the year 1812, when she was a little girl, she remembered the military forces of Napoleon marching through Yedwabne on their way to Moscow. She used to tell many interesting stories about the French soldiers who stayed in the Jewish homes of Yedwabne. It was from this grandmother that the son was known as "Yankel Malke's". My father, her Grandson, was called "Yosel Yankel-Malke's".
Her first husband died when he was young and left her with five small sons. Her second husband Reb Nachum, known as Nachum the Shames, was born in the Suwalki Distict. He was a Talmid Chacham and a worldly man and was recognized by the government as the Rabbinical representative of the Jewish community of Yedwabne. His brother was A. B. Goldberg, the famous bibliographer of Paris, who published several books funded by the Rothchild family. He was also a contributor to the "Hamagid".
Great Grandmother Malke was a business woman. She had seven capable sons. One was killed in the revolt to free Poland in 1863. The others went to the United States, with the exception of Yankel. One son, Israel Radzik, became one of the organizers of the Yedwabner Society and helped in the building of a synagogue in New York City which bore his name, "Peer Israel Anshei Yedwabne". Many Jews from Yedwabne were helped to settle in the United States by the Yedwabne Society.
My Grandfather Yankel Malka's was the most capable of all the sons. After the death of his Mother he took over management of the family affairs. He also looked after Grandmother Gitel's estate, inherited from her very wealthy parents who had lived in Chiezva. Included in the inheritance was a windmill and many acres of land. Grandfather Yankel Malkes's was one of the leaders of the Jewish community and was go-between for his people and the government. For over fifty years he headed a number of worthwhile organizations, and was Gabai of the Old Synagogue till 1878. On Sabbaths and holidays he devoted his entire time to learning Torah. After our Grandmother Gitel died our Grandfather lived with, my parents, his only son Yosef and daughter-in-law Shirke-Reizel. We all loved him very much because of his extraordinary kindness to us. My Grandfather and our family suffered all the hardships and wanderings during the First World War until we finally settled with family in Bialystok. The Kanshinsky and Hanna Marain's families accepted us with open arms.
Grandfather Yankel died at the age of 88 in the year 1916. The funeral service was conducted by Yedwabne refugees in Bialistok, Reb Pinchas the Melamed and Rabbi Moshe Goelman. One day before he died Grandfather Yankel had pictures taken of himself, which were later distributed among his children and grandchildren.
Grandfather Yankel had five daughters and one son, my Father. His oldest daughter, Baila, was married to Reb Moshe Zolondz from Plotzk near Kolno. He was Rabbi of Chevra T'hilim in Yedwabne. In later years he emigrated to the United States of America, and became Rabbi of Anshei Yedwanbe Synagogue in New York City. Reb Moshe and Baila's son Mendel and his family left Kolno and settled in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Grandfather's second daughter, Ribche, married an iron and steel business man from Lomza, Reb Meyer Rothchild. Reb Meyer also was a Talmudical scholar and was active in the Chovvei-Zion movement. This pair had three sons and six daughters who were all given a traditional Jewish education and inculcated with deep love for Zion. Their son Avraham Itzchok came to Israel (then Palestine) in 1920 and lived in Nes-Tsiona. In 1936 Ribche and Meyer's oldest son Yona and his wife Liba arrived in B'nai Brak, and daughter Tsipora with her child Malka and also daughter Rickel and her children came at the same time. Nachum, another of the Rothchild sons, settled in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio U.S.A. He became a very successful businessman, and was of great help to the family in Israel.
The third daughter, Tzina, married Rabbi Moshe Goelman from Yedwabne. He had a wine business and was the Rabbi of the Chevra Mishnayot. In later years they moved to Chicago. Haya Lea, the fourth daughter, married Reb Simcha Skotznadek. He too was Rabbi of Chevra Mishnayot and a successful businessman. Since they were childless, the marriage ended in a divorce. Haya Lea then married Rabbi Isaac Tikochinsky, the Rabbi of Pyondnice who later became Rabbi of Mekor Chayim in Jerusalem. The youngest daugther, Sarah, married Reb Yudke Nadolne from Novogrod near Lomza. He studied at the Chofetz Chayim Yeshiva in Radin.
Grandfather Yankel's only son, my Father, was also a Talmudical scholar. He too gave shiurim in Talmud at the Bet Hamedresh. My Mother, Shirke Reizel, was the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Krasneborsky, a grandson of Yisrael Chayim, the old chazon of Yedwabne. My Grandfather Shmuel was a pupil of Rabbi Diskin who founded and taught in the famous Diskin Yeshiva in Jerusalem. In later years, my Grandfather Shmuel and Grandmother settled in Weisbaden, Germany. He was in the hide business. My parents made their living from rental properties and gardens. In their old age only my sister Elke was with them. The sons were on their own. The oldest, Meyer, was a shochet in Bialystok, I was an attorney in Wilno, Israel Chayim was a businessman in Weisbaden, Germany, and Moshe was in the yeshivot of Lomza and Mir.
What Yedwabne lacked was a Yeshivah. We had instead a good public school, whose principal was A. Dosaky, A Polish educater. He was a very elegant, imposing individual, impeccably dressed and of military bearing. He was clean shaven with a head of flaming red hair and a pair of magnificently manicured hands. Yitzchok, the son of Jonas the ironworks storekeeper, and I were the only two male students from the Jewish community attending the school. About six Jewish girls attended the school, the rest were local gentile boys and girls. A friendly school, but what progress it was for our town in those early years of the 20th century.
You may come to wonder just why a Jewish boy attended a goyishe school and not cheder ? My father realized that I was not "chederishly" inclined and far from becoming a "Talmid Chochom", so he decided I may as well acquire worldly knowledge. Our school hours were from 8 am till 4 pm and somtimes later.
I remember Fridays during the winter when my beloved mother would come to school to fetch me home, as it was getting too close to "Shabbos". Dosaky would argue with her, telling her that Fayvel the shamesh" did not yet call out "Shul Arain" so I had a little time,
But mother would argue back that I had some chores to do to get ready for shul. She always won out and home we marched.
As young as I was, I had even then and ever since, an appreciative eye for feminine beauty. My eye fell on a pretty little girl named Wandlowsky, the baker's daughter. Mama found out about it soon enough and our relationship came to an end.
I remember also our little town being definitely class conscious. A shuster did not dare associate with the Gabbai or Dozor who were the elite in the town. The middle class were the shopkeepers, and at the bottom of the ladder were the toilers ; shoemakers, butchers, carpenters, etc. I used to love to watch our neighbor the shoemaker put "shtifter" in the soles of the hand-made shoes. I hope he continues his work in Heaven, he loved it so much and his finished boots were most elegant-works of art.
As I look back at these colorful characters that made up the town of Yedwabne, I can't help but to think of each one of them with nostalgia and affection, as I hope you do.
From where can we learn that a name bears significance ? Rabbi Elazar said from this verse. "Come let us behold the works of G-d who hath made desolations on the earth (Psalms 46: 9). Do not read "Shomos' (desolations) but read "Shemos" meaning "names" (Brochos 7B).
More than 39 years have already passed since the 15th of Tamuz 5701 July 10,1941. On that tragic day, 1440 of our brethren, members of the Jewish community of Yedwabne and of the nearby communities of Radzilova and Vizna, laid down their lives for "Kiddush Hashem" - Sanctification of G-D's name, as they were burnt alive at the stake.
Out of the dark depths of destruction and loss, nevertheless, rays shine forth; rays as bright as the light of the heavens. These Sacred souls shine forth with a light emanating from the deeper meaning of these sublime words of Elijah the prophet. Words so profound that they pierce to the very depth of the earth and they go up as they reach their way through to the celestial heights of the heavens. Those profound words "Indeed thou hast asked a difficult thing" and the answer "If you will behold me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee."
From the great wonders which the Almighty has done for us in the Holy Land during the last 40 years, we realize that in this stormy world, we can survive only if we strengthen ourselves to take a "double portion" from the sacred spirit of these mighty warriors, the sacred martyrs.
The burning embers - let us not call them "dying embers" - saved from that terrible fire, confounded and confused the whole world more than once with their great might. Within a short time our enemies forced upon us five wars through which, with the help of G-d, we came out victorious. We saw, furthermore, the extension of our borders and the unification of Jerusalem the Eternal City. All within so short a time and while witnessing of wonderful unbelievable triumphs. Again, we were forced into the unprecedented "Miracle of Entebbe". It appeared as though the devil once again desired to taste the living flesh of Jews first preserved and then burnt at the stake. Once again he tried to annihilate the Eternal Jews with his hellish torture, much as he did in Yedwabne under the Nazis.
Truly, with the help of G-d, L-rd of the Hosts, our Situation is different. "A name bears significance" ! How profound and wonderful are the words of our sages, when they said "Read not Shomos-destruction, read better "Shemos" - Names. Out of the destruction and desolation that our enemies wreaked upon us, there and then, the Almighty made "Names". Significant names, names for our Nation and names for our land. The Nation of Israel and the land of Israel, upon which the eyes of the Almighty forever watch and protect.
The outstanding might of Israel relative to the land of Israel has already been alluded to by the Ramban in Genisis 32:2. Angels from Eretz Israel had come to greet him. Jacob had called the place "Machanaim" - "Two-Camps". It was a meeting place for two hosts of angels. The angels of the exile that had accompanied him until now, were met by the angels, who would protect him in Eretz Israel.
The Ramban asks "And I wonder, for Jacob had not yet reached Eretz Israel, it was yet still distant ; he had to cross the ford on the River Jabok, which was the border of Ammon and this is to the South East of Eretz Israel. He still had to pass through the borders of Ammon and Moab and after that, the land of Edom. His first approach to the Holy Land was much later, when he arrived at the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan. The answer, the Ramban says, is that Jacob beheld this wonderful sigth of angels as soon as he had come to the borders of his enemies, to tell us that his power was greater than theirs!
Indeed the Ramban points out to us in his beautiful, meaningful] expose, that the angels from distant Israel appeared as Jacob approached the borders of his enemies. Entebbe is over 2000 miles away from Israel, yet when the children of Israel were kept captive there in the hands of their foes, the angels of Israel were there to deliver them. This is the "significance of a Name" instead of "destruction". Those dying embers, those burning embers, had verily turned "destruction" into a "name of distinction and significance." No more were they embers, they were flames of fires. Before embarking upon their perilous journey, they had visited the memorial tablets of "Yaad Vashem", and straight from there, they entered the Entebbe hell. There, from the very mouth of the lion, from the maniac called Idi Amin, they rescued almost all 104 people. Their return home was to a jubilant Eretz Israel and an astonished, awe stricken world.
When Jews are in danger, whether near or far, but as long as it concerns the Land Eretz Israel, the angels of Eretz Israel come forth to deliver salvation.
Our generation stood before this deep mystery. "Thou hast asked a difficult thing", Who is able to explain that request of those terrible years ? A request that goes together with the fearful answer "if thou seest me when I am taken from you". Both the request and answer are links in the chain of "then it shall be so unto you", In the very depths of vision "when I am taken from you" the Almighty enlightened us with the "double portion". This is the spirit that came from their depths and which instilled life into the dying embers to create a life of strength and glory in the land of Israel.
In the pages of the "Memorial Book of Yedwabne" will be found the story of Michael Kuropatve the wagon driver of Yedwabne. He had jumped into the fire despite the murderers' offer to spare his life. He had saved the life of a Polish pilot from the hands of the Russians and as a reward they told him he need not go with the others. He spat in their faces in disgust as he rejected their offer. He did not want a life which was "given" to him by these murderers. Instead, he said, "where the Rav goes, there go I". His wife and his daughter pleaded with him at that moment saying; "perhaps you should listen to them and we will be saved". Michael answered with certainty that this is his final decision, to go where the Rav goes, and that they may do as they choose for themselves. Then the wife and daughter exclaimed kissing and hugging him that they all go together, and quickly, they ran forward and jumped amongst those that were to be burnt. Together with the Rav they said VIDUY and the blessing recited upon "Kiddush Hashem". The one overriding thought that obsessed them was, as witnesses later testified - that not even a thought should defile the sanctity of the "sacrifice".
And so was a soul of a simple Jew inspired by the mighty spirit of Jewish sanctity that spread its inspiration to the rest of his family, so that they gave the highest price for the sanctification of G-d's name in holiness and in purity.
In our aim to perpetuate our town in our life time, we shall mark down a few cases of "Kiddush Hashem" in the generations that preceeded us, so as to convince ourselves how our town's martyrs added their names into the story of great martyrs and in the tradition of "Kiddush Hashem" by our people.
1) The Ramban (Nachmonidies - 13th century) certified that he was forced once to be witness at the moment when a Jew was burned at the stake on "Kiddush Hashem". He noticed that when the fire grasped the martyr's body, his face beemed forth with a wonderful light and a radiance of spiritual joy surrounded him (Sefer "Hatorah Vehaolam", Rabbi N. Telushkin).
2) When the Gaon of Vilna heard that the Ger Tzedek (righteous convert) Graff Potocky was being terribly tortured while he was willing and ready to go up on the firebrand for Kiddush Hashem, he greatly was moved and he sent a message to the "Ger", encouraging him with his blessings to be able to adhere to his desision and in the same time he offered him his readyness to activate his G-d given powers by using the sanctified names, through the secrets of Kabala, to save Potocky from his tortures.
However, when those words were given to the mighty young man, he pushed away the thought saying in his Polish language: "niechtzem" (I don't want), adding "since I recognized the true G-d, I pray that when the mitzva of "Kiddush Hashem" shall come to me, I shall fulfill it, and I don't want to give it up in exchange for saving the body to repeat my duration of life upon earth !" (Rabbi Eli Moshe Bloch in his book "Ruach Elijah" Lakewood 714 from the mouth of Reb Aaron Kotler, also in "Chaye Hamusor" Page 274 Bnei Brak Israel 724).
3) In the introduction to the book "Yesod Veshoresh Hoavodo" (Jerusalem 724) Rabbi Shor Yoshuv Cohen relates the following incident about its author Rav Alexander Ziskind. When he heard that the court was trying to persuade the martyr Reb Eliezer B'rab Shlomo of Rovalov to convert to Christianity, by informing him that if he would only convert, his decree of being burnt at stake would be abolished. Rav Alexander Ziskind, who feared perhaps the martyr couldn't withstand this hard and terrible trial, interceded and received Permission to visit him in the jail. There he impressed upon him, strengthening his spirit to go through "Kiddush Hashem". The martyr truly withstood the test ! On the 2nd day of Shovuos of the year 5550 was the execution. The multitudes of gentiles of Grodno gathered to watch how this 'sinful" Jew was being punished, while the Jewish inhabitants of this city hid in their houses for fear of a pogrom. But Alexander Ziskind left the Synagogue in the middle of the services, put his life in danger to pass through the bloodthirsty gentiles. He listened to the martyr making the blessing of "Kiddush Hashem" that he had taught him. He answered the Amen, and he returned to the Synagogue where he made a memorial for the Martyr's soul.
4) When the 2 brothers Reitzes ; Reb Chayim, born 1687-1728 and Reb Yeshua, 1697-1728 were taken out to be executed in Levov during Passover of 1728, because of a blood accusation, one brother asked the other; "why -- my darling brother did G-d almighty, may his name be blessed, choose this Holy Day of freedom that we shall then sanctify his name ?" His brother answered with extra love -, Think - "dearest of my heart", in the Biblical sentence (Leviticus 22, 32-33) "I am the one who took you out of the land of Egypt" (Sifro 138 (6) "On the condition that you shall sanctify my name" ! It was told that with keen excitement and eager spirits did the two brothers "then" continue their way to carry out the Mitzvah of "Kiddush Hashem" !
These examples brought above, are, a pillar of light and fire by which walked and are walking martyrs of all generations including this generation of ours. Ours is a generation of furious beauty, masters of higher strength, whose beginning is from those mentioned above, until this horse and wagon driver and his family and the community of Yedwabne as well as the rest of the martyred Jewish communities who burned at stake on Kiddush Hashem.
It is fitting to proclaim upon them the sentence (Deuteronomy 5, 23) "FOR WHO IS THERE OF ALL FLESH, THAT HAD HEARD THE VOICE OF THE LIVING G-D SPEAKING OUT OF THE MIDST OF THE FIRE, AS WE HAVE AND LIVED?"
Indeed our martyrs live on in the Yedwabne of above and if we will merit to be imbued with their life styles, this book will have accomplished its goal. More than any previous time in our history, we had to discover to day, what were their secret ingredients that enabled them to make over 300 years of history -- that their Rabbis, leaders and plain people succeeded to overpower all their enemies by raising beautiful generations up to this bitter day.
We are convinced though to see that at all times our people faced the exact kind of 'neighbors' who stood always up to annihilate us, and as then, so now, stood our Jewish Yedwabne in the strength of Jewish Heroism.
And this was the same power that all the six million of our Martyrs sucked from their fathers and forfathers, that stood them by against all kinds of torture through their acursed oppressors.
In this, our Book's portrayals, we will find how simple people had lived simple clean lives : that even rough and otherwise blood thirsty gentiles recognized the nobleness of these simple Jews, and even honored them. This was the secret of their existence during this long period "a poor sheep among wild volwes", until the furious hour when their bloodthirstiness sprang forth.
With bent heads we stand upon the "Ashes" of our dear beloved martyrs, and from the depths of our hearts beseech our lips the same prayer as did the Jews in Yedwabne during the High Holy Days -- 'Slichos' services (and as I remember it was with unique devotion) : 0 G-d, see the bound "Ashes" and sprout for us a remedy, destroy ravage and crash, storm and gale, teach us and enlighten us your refined Torah sayings. Answer us, as you answered our forefathers.
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