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[Page 27]

Times and Regimes

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Kałuszyn - Our town

by Shalom Soroka/ Tel Aviv

Translated by William Leibner

The Main Road

Kałuszyn was located along the main road between Warsaw and Siedlice that led to Brest and the Eastern border of Poland. Across Kałuszyn streamed daily shipments of goods from and to Warsaw. Jewish suppliers and merchants frequently boarded the heavy loaded carts and trucks that stopped in the summer in Kałuszyn to take a breather and in the winter to warm up. Sometimes, the visitors even spent the night in Kałuszyn at the local inn where business deals were negotiated while consuming food. Some sold and others bought. The merchandise went East or West with the growing commercial world ties…

Our wholesale providers namely Arieh Ptak, Mordechai Mendel Grodzshitzki and so on brought merchandise from Warsaw for the local merchants and transported merchandise from the merchants of Kałuszyn to the big city of Warsaw. One could see the big heavy loaded carts driven by Shliamke or other drivers. Each Sunday and Wednesday, one saw loaded carts with chickens, dairy produce and other articles heading to Warsaw. During these days the loading places were a beehive of activities. The places were noisy and boisterous as the sellers tried to sell items the last minute or to give final instructions. Suppliers, butchers and cart drivers exchanged words and bargained for rates. The arguments lasted for hours and only stopped when the carts started their trip. The same situation existed on Tuesdays and Fridays when the carts came back to Kałuszyn. All the merchants of the city assembled at the place where the carts stood and wanted to know whether the merchandise was sold and at what price. They were also curious to know what merchandise was brought from Warsaw. Each merchant's livelihood depended on the trip and the latest news.

This steady contact with the big city exercised a great deal of influence on the development of Kałuszyn namely economically, politically and culturally.

The nearness of the big city and the steady contact with it attracted the youth of Kałuszyn to the big city. The older generation saw in Warsaw a place to trade but the younger generation saw in the city a place to work, to learn and to study. Those that stayed even for a short period of time in the capital were rapidly drawn into the hectic and active social life of Warsaw. On returning to Kałuszyn they began to initiate some of the activities that they saw in the big city.

The geographic proximity also enabled all the institutions and societies of Kałuszyn to maintain close contacts with the central offices that were located in Warsaw. Speakers and political leaders frequently visited the city and addressed the population. Kałuszyn worked and traded all week long but on Saturdays there were always cultural and social events that activated Jewish social life.

Kałuszyn benefited greatly due to its location for it attracted ideas from the big world and the tempo of the big city. These factors influenced the growth of the political and cultural development of the youth.

The geographic location of Kałuszyn on the road between Warsaw and the Polish eastern border also exposed the city to many dangerous situations. With each war troops crossed the city and Kałuszyn suffered the results. Old timers still talked about Napoleon's army marching towards Moscow. Our generation still remembered the days of WWI., followed by the Soviet Russian-Polish war and finally WWII when the Germans torched the city with the first military attack on Kałuszyn.

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The surrounding villages

Jewish Kałuszyn was surrounded by villages and estates that were inhabited almost exclusively by Catholics. The surrounding milieu disliked the Jewish presence in Kałuszyn and the anti-Semites did not miss an opportunity to instigate the local population against the Jews. They tried to gain influence by staging provocations, fights and ugly scenes.

Still Kaluzsyn was the commercial center of the area and the villagers from Tzegelow, Dobry, Siennica, Boimie, Mrozy and others came to the city market to sell their products. Here they met the merchants and the intermediaries that helped finalize the sales. On Tuesdays the market of Kałuszyn was flooded with the produce of the area and on Sundays the farmers brought their families to the church in town.

Jews were not welcome in the villages and they kept away. They preferred to stay in their own town where it was much safer. As a rule they tried to avoid crossing or entering the surrounding areas. The only exception were the young daring Jewish youngsters that sneaked into “ Stasze's” orchard to pick apples. The ritual slaughterers reb.Moshe Chaim, reb. Eliezer, reb.Henech and Chaim Naman also went to the slaughter house daily that was located outside the city near the barracks.

The city in reality began and ended at the “ Rogatka” or city gate where the municipal tax inspector collected passage fees. There were always arguments at this point with the travelers. The mayor of the city tried to abolish the office of the fee collector but failed since the tax brought in a sizable amount of money for the municipality.

The Warsaw Street

At the city gate started the Warsaw Street that crossed all along Kałuszyn. This street connected the city with outside world and along this street evolved the economic and social life of the city's Jewish population.

On this road rolled the heavy loaded carts and trucks with their merchandise and later even private cars, officials that came to inspect the situation and brought anti Jewish regulations. The road was also used by famous and not so famous rabbis, preachers, commentators, party messengers, and people. Everything that headed to Warsaw or further could be seen on this street.

On peaceful days, military units practiced marching along the street and in war time entire armies marched along the road. All military parades, manifestations and protests took place along this street. Lately even the telephone wires were strong along this street and occasionally communists would throw red flags that attached themselves to the wires and caused outrage amongst the officials.

The Warsaw street began with the two gas stations owned by Moshe Kishelnicki and and Yehiel Gelbard. The stations were open twenty four hours a day to serve their customers. Across from them, was the blacksmith where there was always banging and hammering. The large boned Jewish blacksmith repaired the carts, coaches and changed horseshoes when needed. Meanwhile conversations began with the travelers from the outside.

Along both sides of the street, there were always carts. The noise was loudest when transports arrived or departed the city. Negotiations between the merchants, intermediaries, passengers and the drivers lasted for days. Yaakow Motzedeler's drinking place was open throughout the night. Lately Moshe Kishelnicki opened a restaurant where the people could eat and rest. Life was made easier for those

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leaving the place or just passing through. The coach drivers would frequently drop into the restaurant for a bite or a drink. This was an excellent opportunity for the thieves to steal merchandise. All cries for assistance did not help until intermediaries appeared on the scene and arranged the return of the stolen merchandise for payment.

Very well known to all passers by was the restaurant in the hotel of Berish Gelbard. Here the merchants and travelers not only had a place to stay but they could also eat without moving about. State officials also used the hotel. For a number of years the doctor of Kałuszyn, Dr. Shimon Hoffenstadt resided at the hotel. This of course raised the prestige of the hotel.

Along Warsaw Street were located large wood warehouses that belonged to the timber merchants like Shmuel Miodowanik, Mendel Kocker and Hertzke Tzimmerman. The “ Talmud Torah” children loved these stacks of wood where they could play all kinds of games. The street also contained many leather stores that were owned by Malka Kupperboim, Mendel Shalit, Hawa “the leather merchant” and Simcha Feigenbaum. There were also the big colonial stores of the “Litwaks”, Zalman and his son Moshe Gelbard, Yankel Stein, and the scholar Itzhak Lucker.

The large flour mill of Dawid Ruze was not far from the city gate and all along the street were the stores and shops. At the center of the street was the flour store of Pessah Perkol, the clothing store of the Zionist Nathan Atzop, the first soda bottling plant and the store of Zisman Zitelni, the general store of Yossel Zimels, the large liquor and tobacco store of the influential community leader Yudel Pieknowiesz, the beer hall of Leizer Zilberman, the restaurant of Chaim Dawid Zilberman, the grain store of Israel Garfinkel and so forth. The shoe stores of Yossef Jaworski, Aaron Dawid Zlotnicki and many larger and smaller stores that are impossible to enumerate.

The street not only contained stores but also workshops namely tailor shops, shoe artisans, knife sharpeners, leather artisans, carpenters and belt makers. All workers were Jewish; some were Hassidic, others were pious, still others were traditional and some were non-believers. Amongst all these places one could also see signs and plates representing pharmacists, doctors and nurses.

The Warsaw Street was also the center of Jewish religious life in the city. Following the city gate and the blacksmith was the big synagogue called the “shulhoif” or synagogue

kal030.jpg Warsaw Street in Kaluszyn
Warsaw Street in Kałuszyn

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kal031.jpg Area around the court yard of the synagogue
Area around the court yard of the synagogue

court yard where Rabbi Yehoshuale the “Porissower” Rabbi continued the chain established by his father Rabbi Meir Shalom at the beginning of the twentieth century. The synagogue was dominated by the Porissower Hassidim. In the “shulhoif” was also the old small study center where the teacher Israel Asher taught his yeshiva students. Here were also located the congregational rooms of the Aleksander and Strickower Hassidim. The “ Talmud Torah” was located here as well as the Porissower study room where Shmuel Klaman thought yeshiva students. All these students relaxed and sometimes tasted some fruits in the orchard located next to the shulhoif.

At the entrance to the shulhoif stood the community center where the Kalusziner Rabbi Shmuel Kopel Hacohen Kligsberger lived. All the judicial cases and questions awaited the results here. There were always ritual slaughterers, judicial judges and community leaders in this building. The Jewish community board met and worked in this building where it tried to solve the problems of the Jewish community of Kałuszyn

The area of the shulhoif contained three more houses; namely the house of Shmuel Miodownik that was essentially an inn for the rabbis of Skierniewic and Otwock, the house of Dawid Ruze that once belonged to the Kolibieler Rabbi, and the house of Mendel Blat and Mendel Kocker was the congregational synagogue of the Gerer Hassidim where yeshiva students were instructed by the practically blind rabbi Yaakow Leib who also provided the students sharp drinks and cookies.

On the shulhoif ground in the middle of the Hassidic bastion in the city there was also for a time a workers kitchen that provided meals for the unemployed workers. On the shulhoif ground we also found the “ new trenders” or non-believers who had a club there next to the Gerer shtibel. Here was also the “ Folkshule “ led by the teacher Batalin. The same room was also occupied by the Jewish evening school that provided an education to workers and youngsters during the evening hours. Not far from there, at the house of Berl Itche Fuks was the “ Tarbut School” , the pioneer club and the branch of the Shomer Hatzair. They all existed and co-operated within the narrowest of spaces at the western entrance of the city where the Warsaw Street began in an easterly direction near the end of the street in the direction of Siedlice were located all the municipal offices and institutions. This was the gentile section of the city. Here we found the municipality where one could always find the municipal counselors and lawyers . The Jewish side always appealing for an easement of one sort or another The city was predominantly Jewish but there was hardly a Jewish clerk in the municipal offices.

Next to the municipal building was the electric plant that was built in the twenties by a Jewish entrepreneur and provided electricity to the Jewish residents of Kałuszyn, yet it only employed one Jew Itzik Kramarz. Even this position required political pressure.

This area also contained the public schools where Jewish and non-Jewish children attended school Later, evening courses were also introduced.

The intelligentsia and high officials also lived in this area near the end of the street. Doctors and the Polish pharmacist who was also in charge of the fire department lived there. The fire house, the police station, the court, the detention place and the cinema were also located in this area that

Limited the extension of the “ horse market” with the big church where Jews experienced the first tortures at the hands of the Nazi soldiers.

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kal032.jpg The old market of Kaluszyn
The old market of Kałuszyn

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Two Markets-the Old Market and Horse Market

The commercial center was the old market located in the center of Kałuszyn. For generations Jews struggled here to earn a living and continue their physical existence. The old homes that were about to crumble testified to the daily struggle of the Jews.

In the middle of the market stood the big night oil lamp that was lit every night and provided a shady light on the stone covered ground of the market. From this area always down was the race area for the youngsters who drove their four wheeled carts and in the winter this was the local scene of winter sports where the youngsters used their sleds and ice skates. There was an old water well in the market with a chain attached pail. It was later replaced with a pump.

The market was surrounded with one or two story houses that contained stores with a great variety of merchandise. The market slowly expanded with time and reached Shia Lubliner's well. The extension was called the new market.

The market contained a special section for the butcher shops. This was their area built up over generations and shaped in a triangle. Women vendors, vegetable and fruit dealers had their permanent stands here. Frequently the farmers also brought their loaded carts here where their had their reserved places.

The market was a real show of colors and scents. Here the wholesalers, retailers, the big and small merchants, the vendors competed for sales. The crowd consisted of well do to buyers and people that barely finished the day. Some stores were busy beehives while others awaited the customer.

The market was usually a quiet place except on Tuesdays, market day. The commotion began early with the displays of produced goods namely industrial products, metal and iron products, shoes, haberdasheries and colonial products. These items were sold in various stores and attracted crowds. The big signs advertised their presence and their products attracted crowds.

A place of honor was reserved for Itche Meir Perkol that dealt with metal and iron implements. He was a Gerer Hassid and a scholar that frequently interviewed the bright Talmudic students. He dealt mostly with spiritual matters and his children run the business, especially his daughter Sara that was an excellent saleswoman and her bothers Mendel and Simcha and Mordechai. The store sold to the farmers everything that they needed from nails to plows. The store also carried multicolored and flowered small floor carpets that attracted buyers especially prior to the Christmas holidays. During these days, all the alleys and stores were busy with customers, some of which had no money but came to steal items.

Itche Meir Perkol's son in law, Awraham Potashnik ( presently in Israel) also had a big iron store. Feivel Krakowski and Noach the dayan-judicial judge, also had small iron stores. The latter was more familiar with the Talmud than with his business and let his wife and son conduct the business matters.

The manufacture outlets had a large place in the market and were represented by many stores, especially by Moshe Czernicki the Hassidic follower of Sokolow and a long time active community leader. His store was very busy on market days for he sold to Jews and gentiles. The actual business was conducted the gifted business lady, Chayale, daughter

Of Meir Chaim Meyrs. She was very familiar with the business and was frequently consulted on matters of dress for the future bride to be who was a poor yeshiva student, the trousseaus for an elderly daughter, wedding wardrobes, wedding clothes for both genders and clothing styles. Another store was the one owned by reb. Kalman Chaim Meyrs the Hassid of Skierwenik who was a god fearing person and gained the respect of everybody that the met. He always had a book in his hand and read it while doing business. He left the business to his sons and he devoted himself to the study of the Torah and testing the excellent young yeshiva students

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There were other stores namely Mendel Piekarski, Leizer Ephraim the son od Dawid who was an Alexander Hassid, Noami Teiblum, Yankel Kaluszyner, Hershel Feldman, Shlomo Leib Plener, Meir Kotlarski, Shmuel Meir Lipshitz, and so forth. Small stores that barely made it were the ones that belonged to the drunken widow, Nene, Itche Mrozer and so forth.

The haberdashery stores were led by Awraham Feignbaum and Shaulke Kramarz ( both were active community leaders), Chaim Torbiner the Mizrahi leader, Mendel Shalit the Otwocker Hassid and so forth. In these stores one could purchase all kind of knickknacks to embellish the house as well as the latest stylish items.

A big crowd always surrounded the shoe stores of Shlomo Dawid Jakubowicz, Pessah Manchemer, Noach Lewin and so on. The customers went from store to store and tried on shoes until they found the ones that pleased them.

The most important colonial store was the one of Awraham Gordon the Strikower Hassid. He sold a wide range of products, from matches to flour. There were of course other stores in the same line namely the one of Rachel the daughter of Moshe Cohen and the one of Awraham Dimentman.

Amongst all the listed stores there were many small and big stores that sold ready made clothing, hats, flour, empty bags, leather, wood, writing materials, bread, cookies, sugar items and all other things that people needed.

We must allocate a special place to the women vendors that did not have a store but displayed their merchandise on shelves in the market. They sold fresh produce, fish, fruits and other products. These vendors stretched across the market. In the evening they would dismantle their shelves and assemble their merchandise and place them with a store keeper until the morning when they reopened their stands. In the summer they were scorched by the sun and in the winter they suffered from the cold and tried to warm themselves by keeping hot pots near them. They barely made a living and occasionally thieves lifted items from their stands or goats would wonder about and damage their stand. All of this made their life very difficult.

On market days there were frequently ugly incidents between the various regular stands and market day display stands. Each wanted a good place and each party claimed that they had seniority over the few meters. Squabbles resulted between various parties as to who can claim the area as theirs. Intermediaries tried to settle the disputes. The vendors displayed a great variety of merchandise, textile materials, haberdashery items, ready to wear clothing and shoes, hats, cakes and drinks, furniture and other items. In one place next to the store of Kalman Chaim Meyrs, there was a concentration of gentile stands that sold religious articles, smoked meats, and other items and nearby were the stands that sold earthenware pots and other kitchen utensils.

To all these vendors we can also add the peasants from the area that came to the market to sell a bag of cucumbers, a large basket of potatoes, butter, cheese and eggs. The market area and all the streets and alleys leading to it were noisy and boisterous on Tuesday until sunset when the peasants having sold their produce and bought their needed items began to head home. Next the visiting vendors began to pack their merchandise and load it on their carts to head home. Finally, the noise began to subside, shouts and curses could still be heard in the market indicating a slow sales day.

Wednesday was a rest day following the market day. On this day the market assumed a calmer tone. But Thursday was already a busy day for the fish vendors and stores that sold fish for Shabbath. Amongst the fish vendors was a special character named Miriam who had a loud voice and invited people to buy fish but objected to extensive handling of her products and she was not bashful of telling potential buyers to stop handling the fish. The orders were usually given in very loud tones and readily embarrassed the involved buyers. The vendors also displayed fresh garden produce for Shabbat. At the butcher shops there were arguments and disputations between the butchers and the customers about a better piece of meat or a larger part of a particular cut for the Shabbat and even arguments about the price. Amongst the crowd walked slowly Chaim the trustee of the kashrut section to see that kashrut was being observed.

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Friday afternoon the market became a quiet place, here and there one still saw a woman rushing to buy something she forgot . The stands were already being dismantled and the vendors were getting ready for Shabbath. There were of course woman that waited for the last minute to do their purchases in the hope that they would get better prices. Sometimes it worked and at other times they had to pay full price.

With the arrival of the Shabbat the market ceased all activities. The market was a different place from the regular weekdays. As usual, Zalman lit the oil lamp earlier than other days of the week. The Jews soon started to walk across the market to the synagogues, study centers and shtibelech for their prayers.

Saturday the market was empty except for a few children that played hide and seek.

Thus lived the Jewish population for generations in Kałuszyn.

Kałuszyn had another market namely a horse market where horses and cattle were sold and bought. This was essentially a gentile market and took place every other Friday.

Many Jews also handled this merchandise and frequently bought a fine horse and sold a looser.

The gentile municipal counselors always wanted to transfer the old market to the horse market that was near the Christian quarter of the city. The Jewish counselors objected and use all the pressure to cancel the plan. For the transfer of the market would have greatly curtailed Jewish income and employment.

The Jewish character of Kałuszyn gave the Jews a sense of security that enabled them to withstand all the pressures and anti-Jewish laws that were enacted against them from the Czarist period down to the Polish period of the thirties. The Kaluszyner Jewish community knew how to defend itself, especially the working elements and the youth against any lurking dangers and attacks by Polish underworld gangs even physically when needed.

In those moments we saw the entire Jewish community standing united regardless of religious or secular affiliations facing their opponent. This idea of the united stand was carried over to the daily worries for the continuation of Jewish existence in Kałuszyn. Although each element was concerned with its own people be it Hassidim, secular, Zionists, or workers, there was still an over all concern for the existence of the Jewish character of Kałuszyn.

The old market remained the commercial center of Jewish Kałuszyn where the mass protests, worker demonstrations and election rallies took place. The old houses of the old market witnessed the growth of the Jewish working movement fighting for their rights.

Everything on the market was burned with the arrival of the Germans. There remained merely some of the bigger coble stones of the place where the Germans lined up the Jews of the city and sent them to the death camp of Treblinka. Jews blood covered many of the stones.

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kal036.jpg The old 'shulhoif'
The old “shulhoif”

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