Shmuel Alon (Domb)
Translated by Meir Livneh
Over forty years have passed since the destruction of Poland's Jewry. Even our Jewish City of Lipno was destroyed and the thousands of Jews who lived in it have all, save a few who survived in extraordinary ways perished in the valley of death.
The city of Lipno stands in its place, but the Jewish City of Lipno has been razed to the ground. Of the two thousand people in that community only two or three families survived and still live there. Not a single trace is to be found of the marble tombstones in the cemetery, where many Jews from the community, who died the way of all flesh, were, for many generations, laid to rest.
It was one of many towns, but it was OURS, the town where we first saw the light of day and made our first steps, where we went to school and where our parents and relatives lived, it was the town where people struggled to make ends meet and fought over ideals, a morsel of bread and vision.
Lipno was one of the hundreds of little towns and cities in Poland where Jews used to live. We know very little about the first Jewish settlers. Still a child, then a youth, it only seemed natural to me that in this town, as in any other, Jews and Gentiles lived together, and at the time it looked as it had always been like that and that it would always be that way.
Every town, like every human being, has its own character, its own face, something that distinguishes and sets it apart from other towns.
Lipno was not a small town yet it was not quite a city. It was more beautiful and modern than the others were, though some of the warmth and charm of the shtetele never quite left it. It did not at all resemble the typical Jewish towns, which I got to know during my wanderings over Poland. The Jews only made up 25% of the population in Lipno, and yet left an indelible mark on it.
As in many other cities had a Jewish quarter and a Jewish street, the Yiddish Gass, and though it was given a Polish name Gdanska, it remained the Jewish street, for it was both mostly Jewish and bordered the synagogue, the Beith-Midrash house of study, and other institutes of the community.
It was somewhat unusual and perhaps even unique, for behind the synagogue and Beith-Midrash, stretched green lawns and a river. The places of worship were located inside the Jewish quarter, yet seemed outside it, not among small rundown houses, leaning against each other, but rather detached and surrounded by a green landscape.
From the point of view of the Jewish population, this was not a big town; still it was vibrant and bustling with activity.
Lipno was not of great wealth, and neither did people of great fame and stature live in it; but it had exuberant and colorful life; at the synagogue, and the Beith- Midrash with its Mitnagdim, young boys and elderly Jews pray, study the Gemorah and read Psalms; Shtibalech, crowded and swarming with Hassidim, who would Pray devoutly as All my bones shall say (Psalms 35.1O). The various factions constantly battling against one another; the various youth organizations and institutes, which were in charge of the religious life and mutual assistance.
Many were the fights and struggles - over ideals and issues of paramount importance in the Jewish world and beyond, and there was no lack of dispute or rivalry over trifles. Some were of the Beith Hillel school and behavior while others of Beith Shamai, and there were people of many words, others of much humility- but all of great deeds.
To all of those who were mentioned by name aria to those who were not, the
following pages are dedicated - pages which do not pretend to write down the
history of the town and its community, for our scope is too short, yet say,
with awe and compassion, Yizkor, and set up a modest monument in their blessed
Avigdor (Tchustakovsky) Gezel
Translated from Hebrew by Meir Livneh
Memories of Lipno
Dedicated to the memory of my family, the Jews of Lipno and the neighborhood, and the eternal ignominy to the Nazis.
Lipno is the district town, and belongs to the county of Torun. The county
encompasses a big agricultural rural region and several townships: Skempe,
Kikol, Tzernikovo and Lunitz.
The governmental institutes in town
The Strotsvu house (60), Syemic (64), police (57), the Traugot high school
(47), two elementary schools (39,46), the finance minister (65), the post
office (59), the prison (71), and the school of commerce, the address of which
I don't remember.
The municipal institutes
The municipality house (57), the fire brigade station (53), the court house
(73) and the hospital (72)
Cultural, sports and resort institutes
A theatre in the building of the Provo Slav church (66), two movie theatres (53, 63), a soccer field (74), the stadium (75), bathing shores, the main one new the farm of the Jewish Kendelshtein family (44) and the rest (67) near the meadow (70). The river used to freeze at wintertime, and the area between the two bridges on Torunska street was used as a skating arena.
The Narotovitch public garden (29) was huge, with cultivated lanes and lawns, in which many trees and a variety of flowers grew. Alongside the lanes there were benches for the comfort of the walkers. There were also dark lanes, where the treetops converged to create a natural roof. These were mainly used by the teenagers.
The garden spanned over a hill and the visitors had to climb dirt roads that passed through areas full of wild plants and big trees.
At the entrance to the garden were a lawn and a paved stage that was used by
the fire brigade orchestra to give concerts of popular music in the summer
time, Sundays, and Polish national holidays. In the wintertime, the lanes were
covered with thick snow, and were used for sledding and skiing.
A general description of the town
Most of the houses were two stories tall with big fenced yards that defined the boundaries of the estate. They were usually built of red bricks, with inclining roofs covered with slates or galvanized tin, with gutters in the corners.
There were also one-story houses, wooden houses, and newer three-stories houses.
Trees were planted alongside the streets, squares and roads. The sidewalks were paved with stone and drains. Electricity, and telegraph slopes stood in the corners of the streets.
High above the buildings of the town, in the corner of Dkarta square and Pildzutsksy square raised the catholic church (35), and the protestant church that was standing in the square of November the 11th (37). Both had gothic clock towers with crosses and bells that used to ring on every Christian and civic holiday and on funerals.
The municipality building also had a big clock tower (57) while the Jewish
synagogue on Gedanska street had the ten commandments carved in a marble stone
attached above its eastern external wall.
By the end of 1939, the town counted 12,000 habitants, most of them Catholics, 25% Jewish (500-550 families, 3000-3500 people), and 10% of Lutheran Germans (about 1000-1500 people.)
Most of the Jewish households were concentrated in the center of the town: Dkarta square (1), Rynkova street (12), Gedanska street (2), Rapetzky street (4), Torunska street up to the second bridge (6,51), Pilsudtzku street up to Koschtsushku street (3,5), Koschtsushku street (5), Kilionsky street (7) up to the 24 th alley (24), and all alleys among these places.
Some Jews were also living in other areas of the town.
The Germans were living mainly in the south-west suburbs and the square of November 11 (30).
Outside of the town on the road to Skempe there were two Jewish farms, the small one belonging to the Fenster family (55) and a bigger one, 4 kilometers furtherer, on the other side of the road, belonging to the Levkovitch family (56).
The way the Levkovitch's cultivated their land was a paradigm to local farmers.
The Levkovitch's eldest son (who changed his last name to Lahav) was later a member of the Nir-David kibbutz, in the Beit-Shean valley in Israel.
On the way to Grodovo was another Jewish farm that belonged to the Kendlshtein family (44), the farm was bordering the Manin river where we used to swim and play.
Two sons of the family Israel and Aba, still live there and maintain a their
farm. I also remember two mentions owned by Jews, Konotopia nad Dombrovka on
the way to Kikol.
The habitants of Lipno made their living mainly off commerce, craftsmanship and small workshops that used to serve the needs of the locals and the villagers. Mondays and Thursdays were market days; on those days, the local farmers used to sell their products, and purchase their needs. One market was located in the Dkarta square- Stri Rynak (1), it was the place were the merchants and peddlers (most of them Jews), set up, in addition to the permanent shops, their temporary stands and booths, and sell their stuff, including: clothes, ready made garments, haberdashery, shoes, and groceries.
The farmers were selling vegetables, fruits, diary products and poultry.
The second market, the Pigs' Market, was located in the square of November 11 Rynak (30). This is where the farmers sold their grains and cattle.
In the rest of the days of the week, except for Saturdays and Sundays, Jewish and Christian holdidays, the farmers used to sell coal, wood and dairy products.
The butter and cheese were wrapped in water-lily leaves that grew in the lake and river.
In the autumn time we used to see conveys of wagons, loaded with sugar beet, passing Gedanska street on the way to Wloclawek to Helnitz, where the sugar factory was.
The kids would collect the beets that fell of the wagons and joyfully eat them.
The polish habitants made their living mainly off government and municipality jobs, small factories and other occasional blue-collar jobs.
On the way to Skempe, behind the catholic cemetery, was a slum, where the poor people, mainly Polish, lived in wood and tin huts. The pace was called the lice neighborhood. To alleviate the unemployment, the city council placed a special employment tax on the town's business people, which took the form of a compulsory working day. This reduced to some extent the level of unemployment. The tax what placed mainly on Jews, for they were the vast majority on the businessman in Lipno.
They had to hire the Christian workers and pay for a one day work.
The Jewish Community, its Institutes and Services
The Jewish community enjoyed full religious, cultural and social autonomy. The
community leaders were elected on a political basis, and they would then
nominate a chairman. To cover the religious and social services, a tax was
collected, mainly from the more wealthy ones. The secretary of the Jewish
committee and his assistants carried out the decisions. The last secretary was
Moshe Biderko, blessed is his memory. Additional committees working alongside
the community committee were the Charity society, the Mutual Assistance
society, the Jewish Burial society, the Hospitality Society and others.
The Religious institutes
The synagogue was built of white walls on top of the eastern wall. Outside the synagogue was a marble plate in which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The roof of the synagogue was covered with a gardened tin. The ceiling was arched, supported by heavy carved wooden pillars. Heavy crystal chandeliers that had the form of candles were hanging of the ceiling. The floor and half of the walls, up to the French high windows, were covered with marble plates. The seats were rented to the worshipers. In the middle of the eastern wall stood the Ark of the synagogue, covered with a golden curtain, and with golden lions and a golden crown on top of it. Close to the ark, hanging on a chain, was the perpetual light. The cantors' stage stood a few meters to the right of the ark. The stairs on both of sides of the ark were used by the synagogue choir.
In the middle of the hall was a raised stage on which the Reading Of the Torah table stood; the rabbi also used it to give his speeches.
Two praying halls were located in the basement of the synagogue, one used by the Bible Society and the other was used by the Psalms (Thilim) Society.
Worshippers that could not afford buying synagogue seats used these halls on Saturdays and Holidays. During the weekdays, this halls were used as Heders (Religious Elementary School) where the youngsters learned Hebrew, Hunash (Pentateuch), Bible and other religious studies. The boys usually started the Heder at the age of 3-4.
The Jewish cemetery was on an alley at the very end of Gedanska (34) street. It
was surrounded by cement walls, on top of which pieces of broken glass were
The Jewish public had a strong influence on the town life. On Saturdays and Jewish holidays, for example, the streets would be quiet, with almost no activity. On Saturdays, one could have observed many Jews walking delightfully in the city streets, mainly in Koshciusku street the public graden.
In the summer time, the public beach (42) was crowded with Jewish youth.
In the noon time of Fridays and holidays, the attendant (Shamash), Mr. Shmuel Abraham, blessed is his memory, used to walk the streets, reminding the Jews to close their stores and prepare for the Sabbath or Holiday.
The Jewish women used to start the Sabbath and holiday preparation a couple of days ahead of time. In most of the houses, they used to cook and bake special foods, unique for each holiday. On Sabbath and holiday evening the maids or the children were sent to the bakeries with the Cholent (stew) pots covered by paper on which the name of the owner was written. The next day, on Sabbath morning, they went to take it back.
More than once fights started over the pots due to mismatches and mistakes.
The Jewish kids were very happy when holidays approached, as their mothers used to give them various pastries: cakes stuffed with blackberries in the spring time, plums in the summer and apples in the winter. One could determine the type of cake by the looks of the kid's mouth.
The Jewish girls used to wash their heads before the Sabbath and Holidays, with kerosene
And the smell was spreading all over.
The Jewish street was all dressed up, the Jewish community, elegantly dressed, crowded in the synagogues, whilst the seculars went out to walk the streets and return home for the holiday dinner, after which the secular youth went to their social clubs, for cultural and sports activity.
The non-Jewish population knew exactly when these days are occurring, and some of them served as Sabbath Goys in the houses of those orthodox families that did not have non-Jewish servants.
Special preparations were made for the Passover. The activity started immediately after Hanukah, when the Jewish women would start buying geese and prepare their fat for the Passover, and buy beet for the borscht. A couple of weeks before the holiday they started to buy the rounded Matzoth, which baking process was accompanied by much of excitement. The more wealthy ones, used also to buy the square Matzoth , olive oil and fruits from Israel.
Their special garments noticed the religious and conservatives Jews. The men wore a black long coat (Kapotah), black or dark pants and wore special shoes (Shtiblats), or boots, into which the edges of the pants were inserted. On their head they wore a black and tall casquette. The elderly grew beards, well groomed or wild, at various lengths and side-locks, straight or curled, hanging above their ears.
The women were modestly dressed with long sleeves, their dresses reaching below their knees and a wig (Sheitel) on their heads. On Sabbath days and holidays, they dressed more elegantly.
Men had embroidered bags made of silk or velvet for the Talith , Tffilin and prayer books.
Birth of a male baby was a special event. The Cheider students used to visit the mother twice a day during the first eight days and pray Shma Israel. On their way out they were rewarded with candies.
On the evening of the Brith, the family held a Shlom Zachar (well-being prayer), in which the male guests were treated with cooked pees spiced with salt and beer from a barrel. The Brith took place on the next day, and a special dinner was served.
Another common custom was on the eve of Purim to send a Purim gift to relatives and acquaintances. The gift was usually made of pastry, cookies and fruits from Israel.
At evening time, disguised children would visit the homes, signing the Purim Shpil, and get Purim Gelt (Purim money) from the home owner in return.
The Jewish families were buying imported fruits from Israel on Fifteen of Shvat (Arbor day), as a reminiscence of its produce, and pray the Shehecheyanu (a thanksgiving prayer, thanking God for giving us life.)
The Ninth of Av also had some special customs, on the eve of the fasting day, and the day after, when the adults were going to say the Kinoth (lament prayers), the small children would collect thorns and throw them on people's heads. The thorns would stick, and it difficult to pull out.
On Shavuoth (feast of weeks) the kids used to go out to the big meadow and pick up long leave canes and decorate the house with greens.
In the Passover and Sukkoth the children were given nuts to play with, and rolled them into holes specially dug in the ground. In Hanukkah they were given Hanukkah money and draidles to play with , while the grownups played cards.
The Chevre Kaddisha (the burial society) used to go to night watches at the dying man's home, and pray with him the Vidui (confession prayer); this was considered a great mitzvah.
I remember two very big storms in the Jewish community. Once, when we heard
that a Jewish fish merchant from Kikol had shot another Jew, and the other when
two Jewish girls and one boy had converted to Christianity.
The Relationships with the non-Jewish community
Though there were occasional bursts of anti-Semitism, the relationships with the non-Jews were usually of tolerance. There were some anti-Semitic teachers in the public schools which had, more then once, fanned anti-Semitic impulses, and disturbed the school atmosphere. The anti-Semitic wave increased after the death of Philsodzky, and the ruling party's delegate passed a law in the Polisg parliament (the Saim) against the Jewish slaughter. At the same time the Polish prime minister, Sladkovsky, made some statements against Jewish merchants, declaring that they should be excommunicated, and not to be shopped at. Anti-Semitic groups held, more them once, shifts in front of Jewish businesses, to prevent the Polaks from entering there. From time to time, they were raising accusations, blaming the Jews for bringing the Communism into Poland.
There were also riots against Jewish students in the colleges and universities. The Universities also adopted a Numerous Clauses or Numerous Nolus (a limited number of Jews or no Jews at all) policies. The echo of these events was felt in out town as well.
We organized groups of Jewish youth known for their strength, to protect the
Jewish community. Eli Iser Aurbach, who was known as a mighty man, headed these
groups together with the Jewish porters. Nevertheless, life was tolerable, and
the Jewish habitants were able to maintain the physical and spiritual life
until the break of the war.
Education and Culture
Boys and girls went to public schools for seven years, starting at the age of seven.
Boys had actually started their education earlier, at the age of 4, at the Cheider, where they were taught Hebrew, Humash, Gomorrah, and reading and writing in Yiddish.
The religious girls went to Beith Yaakov and the non-religious ones to private classes.
The public schools were mixed, boys and girls, Jews and non-Jews together.
These schools operated in shifts, starting early in the morning till noon time, and from noon time till evening. As boys went also to the Cheider, they did not have time to play, except for Saturdays and Holidays.
Very few enjoyed high school education, and even fewer were lucky to have higher education, the reason being the difficulty of bearing the very high tuition. This is probably the main reason as to why many of the youth joined the youth organizations, to acquire knowledge and education. The education in the youth movements included the movement ideology, scouting and general knowledge. To broaden their horizons, the youth read scientific and history books, and novel, in any language they could.
Amongst the youth were many autodidacts, and literates who know many of the books written in their times and prior to that. There was not one single issue that was not subject to discussions, the main ones being Zionism, self-fulfillment and socialism.
Their interest did not bypass literature, and they did not hesitate to express their view of Yiddish and Polish literature. They were also interested in politics, actually, and used to read the daily and weekly magazines and periodicals.
The religious kids learned at the Beith Midrash or the Chasidic
Stiblach, though the contents was conservative studies, some of the
students did not hesitate to sneak in secular literature and read it when they
were not noticed. Many of them had eventually gone astray.
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