At the crossroads close to the town stands a post and on it arrows pointing in three directions: 27 km to Lukow; 18 km to Kotzk; 1 1/2 km to Radzyn. I will not linger on the rest of the neighboring towns like Miedzyrzec, Czermierniki, Wohyn, Komarowka and others that also contributed their share in shaping Jewish life in the whole region. I will start my tour at the sawmill. Since my late father was a dealer in lumber and wood, I often visited there, and it made a deep impression on me. The two large bench saws swallowed up giant logs and noisily spewed out boards and planks which were sorted into neat piles. Most of the laborers who performed these tasks were non-Jews, but I only remember the two Jews, Michael Rosenfeld and Shmuel Fast who worked there for many years. They typified the hard working Jewish day laborer and played an important role in the slogans about proletarianism, productivisation etc. that so influenced us, the Pioneer Youth of those days.
Mostly Christians populated the outskirts of the town, although there were a few Jews among them. The town itself began with the theater building, which because of its size stood out among the other buildings even though it, too, was built of wood. Inside there was a roomy auditorium with a large stage and backstage area. I remember the first motion picture show after word got around that at the Luzion they are showing snow, despite the fact that today is a summer's day. The stage was used mostly by school and other amateur dramatic groups. This is the place to mention two very theatrically talented people: Motel Vineapple and Hannibal Appleboim (who is with us in Israel) who showed great initiative in this field. They kept the town in a state of theatrical tension for most of the year. For weeks and sometime for months various parties and groups prepared plays. This was followed by the sale of tickets (the income was devoted to good causes) and finally to the performance itself and the discussions that followed it. They performed Shalom Aleichem, Peretz Hirshbein, Ansky and others. I cannot summarize this section on the theater without mentioning the Purim Shpiel The Sale of Joseph which was performed by the shoemakers and of which they were very proud.
The Polish Library was the other institution on this part of the street which attracted young people and some of the Polish speaking Jewish intelligentsia. I remember two small rooms, one of which served as a sort of waiting room with a large picture of Jesus on the wall. The other room's walls were covered with books with black bindings. The librarian, a pleasant looking Christian woman, was dressed in black as if to say: My books and I are one.
Across the street and behind the city hall there was a big blue building, the Rabbi's house. Rabbi Fine was a very respectable looking figure in his turban, who, standing next to his short wife who wore pincnez glasses and a long black elegant coat, commanded respect. From here on, the population consisted only of Jews living in small wooden houses on both sides of Warszawska Street. I will point out a few of them. There is the building that housed a mangle. The women would drag heavy bundles of clothes on their backs to be ironed by the heavy weight of a wooden box filled with stones while at the same time exchanging the latest gossip. They told a story about the owner of the house, Reshke'le, whose husband went out one evening to close the shutters and disappeared. A few months later she got a letter from him from America. Her partner in the lot was Eliyahu Haim Tennenboim the builder. Despite the fact that his son and daughters were members of the Bund (Jewish Socialist Party), we respected him for being one of the two or three builders who actually built houses. In the next yard, they produced oil which they sold in a store at the front of the house. Two girls who lived in this house immigrated to Israel. Their brother was the last Jew to leave Radzyn. After experiencing the Nazi tribulations and long wandering, he finally reached Israel. Next to their house stood that of Dr. Petrolivich. This was a villa built of stone and surrounded by a blue fence covered with an abundance of flowers, vegetation, and trees. All this was guarded by a loyal, gigantic dog who reacted to anyone's touching the fence by barking loudly. We, the children of the adjacent house, were attracted to the doctor's yard because of its cleanliness and beauty even though our own yard was wonderful. It contained flowerbeds, young pine trees, and a patch of varied fruit trees all of which played an important part in the memories of my early youth in my father's house. This is the place to mention our neighbor Beryl-Leib Appeloig, a tall and very unusual person, a man of science, a graduate of the faculty of philosophy of Vavelberg Polytechnic School in Warsaw who lived in the other apartment in our house. He was a member of the city council and gave private lessons. His hobby was scientific books which he read even on his way from his house to the store. Across from our house stood that of Michelovsky, a wooden villa of an unusual style with a large garden with an ornamental pool. This house was purchased by a Jewish family from the village of Vela-Savinska who were forced to move to the city because of a pogrom .By the way the, mayor of the town, who was a drunkard and caused great embarrassment to his wife and children, lived in this house.
A printing press was located in a house near ours, and the sound of the machines could be heard from a distance. After every third thump, a poster or copy of a municipal announcement slid out from under the press. The owner of the press, Yaakov Lazer, a very honorable, reserved person, was a member of the city council and an ardent follower of the Radzyner Rabbi. It was told that his son Yoel was a Communist and when the Russians came close to the town he seized the keys to the town. Later, when they retreated, he joined the Russians and disappeared into the wilds of Russia .The next neighbor was a non-Jewish industrious peasant and anti-Semite Pruchnitzky. The picture of him, bare footed, with his pants legs rolled up and a scythe on his shoulder going or returning from the fields cast great fear on us children and has remained engraved in my memory. Behind the house, there was a big lot where the horse traders gathered .It was a very lively place on market days. The meeting with the non Jewish buyers and sellers running up and down with the horses to try them out, the hand shake and beer drinking when the deal was closed, were characteristic of this place.
On the steps in front of this house sat Shuchmacher the Communist, a short thin and terminal sickly looking man usually reading a newspaper. Across the way stood a number of miserable buildings whose walls were whitewashed. Behind them there was a U shaped alley. Among those who lived there, I remember two shoemakers the sound of whose hammers could be heard late into the night. One was Shmuel who had a silent look. The other was the father of Hershe'le the Angel who was always annoyed and angry. I also would like to mention Shoshanah the milkmaid who could be seen dragging her heavy milk cans. My late father's lumberyard was opposite the crosswalk to Ostrowiecka St. Behind it stood Yisroel Hersh Kavebloom's bakery from which the odor of freshly baked bread could be smelled from afar. On Saturday morning there was heavy traffic of women and children who came to take their casseroles of cholent (a bean stew for the Sabbath) from the oven. This bakery was in the home of Reb Yaakov Moshe, a shrewd clever witty Jew. Tzvi Koppelman, the founder and a leader of the Hitachdut (Socialist Zionist Party), lived here too. A joke about him and his fellow worker and party member Uziel Wiesman made the rounds. It was said that they prepared themselves for immigrating to Israel by studying bee- keeping, but instead of immigrating they both got married and continued working in the flower mill. Instead of immigrating and getting themselves black doing agricultural work, they continued working in the mill and stayed white. Above, in the attic, lived the Patshek family, a mother with five beautiful daughters. One of them married the well-known artist Moishe Appleboim and settled in Katowice. This house was considered very romantic, singing, accompanied by a mandolin, could be heard from afar until late into the night.
By turning ninety degrees to the right, you go up an unpaved road that leads to the barracks used by the soldiers in World War I. Later it housed war refugees and in the end it housed the elementary school run by Balshatziac, a non-Jew who was very knowledgeable about nature. He was a good friend to both his Jewish and non-Jewish students and was a righteous gentile. His wife however was an Anti-Semite. Beyond the fence that surrounded the barracks stretched the old, abandoned and neglected Jewish cemetery with its rough stone gravestones. Two graves of famous departed, built in the form of small buildings, stood out. This road passed over a stream on a wooden bridge next to which there were usually many women, up to their knees in water, washing clothes. Near the bridge stood a building that served as a public bathhouse during the German occupation and later became a studio for the fireman's band. On summer afternoons, many Jews could be found bathing in that section of the river between the threshing buildings owned by non-Jews. There was always the danger of clashing with the shkotzim (young non-Jews) who would wait and interfere with our getting out of the water. While we stood there naked, they would attack us with mud and stones from the opposite bank. This usually ended up with one of our boys going naked to the other bank and chasing the fleeing shkotzim thus allowing us to get dressed and leave.
On the left of the bridge there was a green meadow maintained by Reb Mendel (Danilak) who was both bookbinder and farmer. I think he was the first Jewish farmer I ever knew. Beyond the meadow, on a ramp located between two frog filled pools, stood a thatched booth where the finest of Jewish youth gathered on summer evenings to sing and discuss books. An intimate and romantic atmosphere was created that served as the basis for a Zionist youth movement. One who stood out from this group was Pearl Kiettelgisser who worked all day in the large garden (the Rabbi's orchard) preparing herself for working in agriculture in the Land of Israel. She was the first of all the girls to immigrate to Palestine paving the way for many more to follow in her footsteps.
At that time, at the end of World War I, there was a group of Poele Tzion (Workers of Zion) and Tzeire Zion (The Young of Zion) that spread the idea of cooperatives. They rented a room in Reb Legible Reichenberg's house, and with instructions from a carpenter began to produce kitchen chairs sold to homeowners. Some time later a co-op food store was started in the same room. An adjacent building housed the Bund (Jewish Socialist Party) center. Among its outstanding members were Shmuel Itzl Meir Goldes (a leader of the fire brigade), Leitzeh Gelibter and Velvel Tennenboim. Later on Pshenitza and others joined. Yehoshua the builder, a very proud proletarian stove repairman, lived some three lots down from there. From there I remember a women with two orphaned children, blind from birth, who aroused great pity in us and for whom we often served as guides. Further down the road, there was a fenced-in empty lot with a very tall post with rungs going up to the top which served as a look-out post for the fire brigade. On the opposite lot there was a stationery store belonging to Pessach Yehoshua. The door would open accompanied by the ringing of a bell, and only after a few moments a salesperson would appear, either Chanoch or Shmuel or their mother. The store was crammed full of books and stationery, and was the only one of its kind in the town.
A few steps down from there stood the Rabbi's house, court and the Beis Medrash (study hall). Behind it stood a blue hut where the Tchelet (a blue dye used for dying the ritual fringes) was produced. The big house stood opposite. The old timers told many tales about that house. I will only mention the darkness in the entrance passageway, which forced you to feel around in the dark to find a door for entering. Different craftsmen lived there: Yisrael the building carpenter, a short Jew with a short rounded beard some of whose pupils are now in Israel and are noted for being good carpenters. Opposite and facing it stood Reb Boruch Hersh Appelboim's house. Women and children came there with their fowl to get a kvittel (note) to the shochet (ritual slaughterer). Beyond the lane that led to Ostroweicka St., stood Alter Blichovitz's house. He was short, spoke slowly and had a heavy watch chain across his chest. He was a skilled mechanic who educated all of his sons to be workers. It was a pleasure to watch him wholly concentrated on repairing a sewing machine, the peak of mechanical knowledge by the standards of the town at that time.
The house behind that one belonged to Moishe Berman. The house was very low as compared to its inhabitants who were all very tall. He was a tall, well to do Jew with a white beard and looked very patriarchal as he strode leisurely to the synagogue. What was special about his son, Chanoch, was that he wore a black Russian shirt on weekdays and on holidays and led a very modest life He lived in Israel for a number of years and passed away childless.
The city hall stood opposite. This building was very different from all the others: heavy, gray and built of stone with massive windows. Sometimes the representatives of the Jewish community, Lazar, Appeloig, Z'laza, Greenblatt, Kleinboim and others were seen sitting at the tables inside.
The house of Shvalbeh the photographer, who was known to us youngsters from our class pictures, stood near the city hall. He was the father of Nathan Shvalbeh who was a famous journalist in Poland.
Then came the Christian orphanage, the pharmacy, and the church, which stood in the center of the town and was bordered by the three main streets. Behind the church, in the priest's courtyard there was a well (the priest's pump) famous for its good water. People came from all parts of the city to draw water for brewing tea. Then came the Midlarnia the home soap manufacturing workshop. It was a very picturesque place, a low sunken building surrounded by some old wooden huts that stood on wooden posts reflected in the water. By the way, the son of the soap maker, Mendel Lichtenstein, eventually became a famous artist who is now in New York. (A number of his drawings appear in this book). This place, between the huts, attracted many bathers in the summer. To pass this part of the river from the huts to the bridge (between the posts) was a sort of swimming test. These were burnt wooden posts sticking up from the water that were left over after a fire destroyed the flourmill that once stood by the river.
The new cemetery was located about two kilometers from the city along the road that ran from the further end of the bridge to Czermierniki. This was the source of the curse used by the ordinary people You should go already on the Czemiernicki road, meaning to the cemetery. Beyond the bridge there were two giant ponds teeming with frogs whose croaking blended well into the surroundings of rows of ancient trees, the old house of the landlord, and the murmuring of young couples who spent the late summer evenings here. The ponds were intersected by two ramps .One was used for learning to ride bicycles, and the other was sort of the end of the world for us young children. The ramps met on one side with the road to the government hospital, and on the other side they connected up to the palace.
Many legends circulated about this palace. No one knew who built it and when. What was known was that its owner was the wealthy Lord Shlibovsky who was often seen riding through the town in an unusual carriage drawn by two glorious horses. My father told us of the impressions he had of his visits to the lord's house where he went in connection with his buying lumber and other business deals. As mentioned, it was a very ancient building built in the old square style with two giant gates. Eventually it was adapted for use as the district offices. Beyond the palace, in the direction of Miedzyrzec, there was a park that covered an immense area surrounded by a high wall. Inside were thick trees with winding paths between them, and a giant pool that attracted many young people and froze over in the winter. Beyond the wall was the road to Miedzyrzec with its promenade on the one side and the square (a sort of municipal garden) on the other, with a closed up Orthodox Church in the center. The high school, the post office, Shlomo the Smith's workshop, Leskovsky's machinery factory and a windmill were located here. The big flourmills were also located here. The owners were three rich Jews from whose wealth the poor also benefited.
The busiest spot was the two market places called The First Market and The Second Market. A lane filled with small stores connected them. On market days peddlers and merchants from the surrounding towns came here with their stalls, as did the peasants from the neighborhood with their wagons. Together, they completely covered the whole area.
This is the place to mention the stores of Moishe Appeloig who sold cigarettes and tobacco, Kiseleh (Yekutiel) Lichtenstein who sat by the door of his hardware store reading a book while waiting for customers, Ahre'le Lurkis who one bright day switched from being a tobacco merchant to being a textile merchant and Mushkat's restaurant which was patronized mostly by non-Jewish porters since no self respecting person would eat in a restaurant. After that, there were a number of hat shops, one of which was known for making the hat fit the customers head by the hat-maker inserting fingers between the head and the hat so that it was always a perfect fit. Here there were also a number of ready-made clothing shops and Shaul Henich's saloon from which the voices of its drunken customers could be heard
Beyond those buildings were those of the Second Market with two wine shops, that of Yossel Zita and that of Beryl Nachman Laizers who kept the peasants supplied with alcohol. Further along in that row, was Yosef Dovid Wolf's haberdashery store and Itshe Meir Rav Azshes paint store.
Here too, were the stores of Chaim Burker, Beryl Shtrik, David Lomka, and Chaim Gelerman who was an official and delegate of the Jewish National Fund for many years. Across the way, were the storerooms and hardware store belonging to David Lichtenstein and Shimon Kleinboim. This was a very fancy store with a telephone, cashier, and bookkeeper. Laizer the watchmaker's (Zigelman) shop stood in the corner of the market. Reb Laizer was a short Jew who was considered an expert in his field and was often invited into homes to service large wall clocks. He also gave great pleasure to the congregation when he read from the Torah on Sabbath and holidays.
Kozia, Szkolno, Kotlarska and Kalen Streets were partly paved roads without sidewalks that branched off from the two marketplaces. Ordinary people, mostly craftsmen, shoemakers, tailors, coachmen, owners of vegetable gardens and the like inhabited these streets. The Bais Medrash (study house), the synagogue, the Hassidic study house, the different cheders (the Jewish religious elementary schools), the public bath house, the school and the fire station were all located here.
I remember the bais medrash and the synagogue from the Sabbaths and holidays when Jews would come there to pray. They were both high stone buildings with large windows that stood out among the low wooden houses and were visible from a distance. The western side of the bais medrash served as a center for the ordinary people: storekeepers, artisans, coachmen, porters, etc. who usually prayed in the first shift. The more respectable class of citizens, shopkeepers, merchants and observant Jews who were close to the religious officials, could be seen on the eastern side. An itinerant preacher or a Zionist official from the Jewish National Fund or the Keren Hayesod (Palestine Foundation Fund) would appear there and would be seen the next day going from house to house accompanied by a local official to solicit contributions. The synagogue was used mostly for praying on Sabbaths and holidays. The building was clean and well taken care of, and the atmosphere was festive. I remember the very artistic Torah ark, the colored glass windows and the women's balcony from which sighs or sobs could occasionally be heard. It is worth mentioning by name the various shtibles (small prayer huts): Chevreh Mikra Shtibel (The Bible Reader's Hut) The Bialer Shtibel (The people from Biala's Hut), the Kotzker Shtibel (the followers of the Rabbi of Kotzk), the Artisans Shtibel, etc. The public bathhouse and the mikveh (ritual bath), which was used for ritual immersion, were located behind the synagogue. On Friday evening the everyday Jews would gather here on the high benches among the steam vapors uttering groans of satisfaction while flogging themselves with the famous bezemel (whiskbroom). The Jews would come in here pale and with a bundle of clothes under their arms and leave clean and with pink cheeks, their sidelocks spread out and wrapped in their capotes (long black coats), a feast for the eyes.
The public toilets, not noted for their cleanliness, were located behind the bathhouse.
The area between Kotlarska and Kozia Streets and the Beis Hamedrash was inhabited mostly by coachmen, porters, shoemakers, and tailors It was covered with wooden huts, abandoned old wagons, and a jumble of buildings, horse stables, barns and chicken coops. The place was impassible for most of the year as everything was immersed in mud that surrounded two puddles of stagnant water covered with green muck. Two shoemakers, Hersh Leib Putzig and Tzalkeh controlled this area. They were both tall Jews, excellent craftsmen who marched in front of the fire brigade parade, and played the leading rolls in the traditional shoemakers performance of The Sale of Joseph. Liquor was not uncommon in these houses whose windows were almost on the same level as the earth outside .The moving sounds of Jewish folk melodies being sung or played could be heard late at night accompanied by the banging of hammers.
The different cheders (Young boys' religious schools) were an important part of this neighborhood. Here was Lozer's Cheder for beginners. He was a broad shouldered red faced man with a long beard who terrified us children. Then there were the Yossel Glutz's, Itche Kune's and Pinchasel Melamed's Cheder for advanced students. Hershel Lipe's Cheder was for even older students, a sort of institution of higher education.
The institution that later succeeded in attracting the majority of the youth was the David Lichtenstein School. It was named in honor of a leader who had been the head of the Jewish community for many years. Here there were a number of teachers dedicated to educating the younger generation and whose mission in life was ensuring the existence of the school. Worthy of mention are Blachovitz who was the first zealot for Hebrew in the town and its flag bearer all his life, Yehoshua Freedman, the Bible teacher, Rachlis, p.143 the math teacher and the language teachers Yehudit and Menucha Lichtenstein and others. The school building was made of wood and was located on Skolno Street. It served as a center for youth many of whom, as members of the youth movements, made their way to Israel. Hebrew courses for adults, dramatic groups, Zionist meetings etc. also took place there. Yehoshua Lichtenstein, one of the leaders of the local Jewish intelligentsia, who exemplified the period, lived in that building.
From the corner of Kotlarska and Kozia St., I can see the house where Yosef Dovid Wolf and Itsche Meir Burshtein lived and in which I was born. (We later moved to Warshavska St.) This house was known for its social and Torah activities. On the bottom story, many visitors and family members could be seen around a long table, carrying on friendly discussions and arguments. Above, on the second story, Reb Itsche Meir could be seen bent over a Gemora with his tobacco box next to him. On Kozia Street, I remember Vinderboim's house with its grocery store that was a center for the young people thanks to all of his children, who belonged to Hashomer Hatzair. (Young Guards a Zionist youth movement.) There too was Hershel Mandleboim's famous grocery store. He later immigrated to Israel together with his whole family. They were followed by the their neighbors, the family of Chanale the Sticher (Adelman). Here is the place to mention the two shochtim (ritual slaughterers) the Big Shochet and the Small Shochet whose names suited them.
The offices of the Jewish Community were in a building that stood in a large empty lot on the side. This was the realm of the affluent David Lichtenstein. This house was the center of activities for the Jewish community although not always in close contact with it. Worthy of mention were perpetual leaders led by Reb Israel Vinderboim (his grandson Levi Vinderboim served as the secretary of the community for many years). Two other buildings that were located at the end of Kozia St. are worth mentioning. First there was the house of Akiva Rubinshtein with its big garden. He was an aristocrat who had little involvement with the people and with community affairs and was only interested matters of culture and education. The second house was that of Motyia Bashes Katznelbogen, a God fearing, Torah learning Jew, who spent most of his time studying the Talmud and educating his children to traditional Jewish life style. When one of his daughters when on Hachshara (a farm where young people trained for life in Israel) he came there and took her home by force.
The end of Kozia St. was connected to Ostroweicka the main street by an alley. Here at the corner stood Leah'le Klayman's house. She was a widow who owned a nice cigarette and tobacco shop. By the way, her son in law introduced the first taxi into the city that competed with the coachmen who carried passengers to the railroad station. I remember very well the coachmen's glee when he did not know how to start the engine and he had to ask the passers by to push him. The adjacent house belonged to Mendel Klayman. It was a two-story building of unplastered red bricks. The bottom story contained a store that sold kerosene and salt. The peasants, who came into town and sold their produce, (butter grain etc.), would come to this store to stock up on its goods before returning home. The next door was the electric company office. Here one could see Lichtenberg the bookkeeper, a feeble looking Jew who sat bent over his ledgers with a colored pencil stuck behind his ear. The entrance to the flourmill was located behind this house. Varied agricultural machinery, remnants of the big machinery warehouse belonging to Yehoshua Lichtenstein, stood in the front part .The entrance to the mill was inside the back of the second lot. People white with flour and the continuous roar the machines were all an integral part of the scenery. All of this bordered on David Liechtenstein's magnificent two-story house with its garden of ornamental and fruit trees.
The owner of the house was the head of the community who had a very keen sense of control of everything. He raised a large family. His oldest son was the first to flee and come to Israel after deserting from the anti-Semitic army. Among his other children it is worth mentioning Michael Lichtenstein, a sensitive and sickly young man, who died while still young. In the evenings, one could see young people sitting on the sidewalks in front of the house and engaging in friendly conversation. Ostroweicka St. continued on from here under a different name De Kleine Gass (The Little St.) David Kleinman, the petroleum dealer whose son and daughter came to Israel, also lived in this house. A number of grain dealers lived in this house including Hershel and Henich Punchiak the leaders of the Tzeire Tzion. It is also worth mentioning Shlimak's house. One of his sons was a prominent soccer player and was in charge of activities connected with this sport for many years. His second son was a founder of Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guards). One of his daughters became the only Jewish teacher in the government school. An unpaved path to Nedzink led from the corner of Lichtenstein's house, passing through an area inhabited by non-Jews, through which we finally reached the soccer field. Nachum Yekel Brezers the Petition Writer's house stood not far from here. Yekel Kantor, the bank clerk, lived in the front of the house. He was a Zionist, very devoted to public service who in later years left the city. Across from the vacant lot stood the house of Label Nachtingel, one of the city elders. His son Nissan was an important watch manufacturer in Switzerland. One of his grandchildren was among the first to reach Israel. The Kugele a smith standing by his anvil could be seen through the window of a dark room in a dilapidated building. (By the way, his son reached Palestine right after World War I and passed away in Haifa not long ago after having lost his son in the War of Independence). Through another window Yitzchak Butman, with a growth above one eye, could be seen standing by his sewing machine. Behind that is Pincus's house sunk partly into the ground. Opposite was Eliyahu Shteper's (the sticher's) house and Neche Kupliak's small store all of whose goods could be packed into one sack. After that came the house of Reshke who was one of the two or three Christian families on the whole street. (By the way, Reshke's boy Adik spoke an excellent and fluent Yiddish). In the yard was the Herbst family that had the only cowshed in the middle of the town. Opposite was Yekel Gershun's barbershop. He was also a paramedic, who was very proud of his profession and considered himself almost a doctor. He took great pleasure in saying with special emphasis: In our medical profession. His wife was Freidel the Midwife and his daughter was Felinda the manicurist. (At present in U.S.) . Yekel Buber's store was in the yard. I remember the lane leading into Warszawska St. and just behind that Yisroel'ke Gottesdiner's store where he sold ice cream and soda. This was a meeting place for the older petite bourgeoisie young people. (Give me a half of glass of soda water with syrup). Next to that was another soda shop belonging to Aaron Knop with an altogether different clientele, mostly craftsmen, laborers and ordinary people. Here I should mention their unfortunate, mentally disturbed daughter called Die Shtumeh (The Mute) who ran around the streets barefooted and dressed in a sack frightening the children. It was reported that she was the first victim of the Germans when they entered the town.
After that I remember the Feivel'eh Putter's (Butter's) store with its primitive scale made from two pieces of board and a rope, with stones that served as weights. His capote, (caftan) the table, everything was soaked in butter. In the adjoining house was the bakery of Greenberg who was a tall thin man whom I remember as the head of the Cohanim (High priests) at the prayers in the synagogue. Itsche Levenstein's Tsheineh (teahouse) was located in the same building. Here people stood in line with their kettles to get tea on Sabbath morning or noon. It is worth mentioning his son, Israel, who was one of the strongest athletes in town.
From there we reach the bank which was a large central two-story building opposite the churches. Milson the Christian's pharmacy and Bonk's pork shop were on the first floor. Shimon Kleinboim, the father of Moshe Sneh, occupied the apartment on the second floor. He was an ardent Zionist who served as chairman of the Zionist Organization in the city. He was also a member of the city council and was very devoted to serving the community. The bank, which was located on the same floor, but in the second wing of the building, also served as center for community and Zionist activities. I remember its director Simcha Goldwasser (who succeeded the above mentioned Yaakov Kantor) who was a Zionist activist and a leader of the Hitachdut. I also remember Rachel Richter, Menachem Appleboim, Simcha Reichenberg and others. Across the street behind Reshke's house were Kevelboim's bakery, Hershel Yiskar's barbershop and the alley that led to Kozia St.. Here I would like to mention the Goldwasser house with Mattiyahu the Zionist activist and his two sisters Nechama and Freideh who were both seamstresses, and Hershel Tikatchinsky the newspaper distributor. Not far from there stood a number of two-story stone houses with Motel Wineapple's barbershop. Here a number of a certain type of well to do adolescents gathered for a friendly chat and entertainment thanks to the barber shop owner who, as noted, had a strong connection, to the stage. There was a posh non-Jewish restaurant there too, and next to that was Natan Turkeltoib the rich lumber merchant's house. Yakel Nussboim, who was a partner in flourmill, lived on the second story. There was also Nachum Fullman's gas station and the non-Jewish store belonging to the two Letz old maids as well as the grocery store on the corner that belonged to Zalmen Mechel. Then I remember the lane leading to Kozia St. with two butcher shops and the textile shop belonging to Yeshiyah'le Zilberberg and Nathan Turkeltoib. The wine and beer store belonging to Fishke Turkeltoib was located in that same building and further along that row of buildings was the haberdashery store belonging to the fat one-armed man whose son Yechiel Hoftman went to Palestine but later immigrated to America. Then there was Henya'le Bracha's store and Mordechai Kokosh's (Neiman) barber shop that was followed by the shop of Shimon and Elka Kupitz, and Diamant's hat shop. Behind that stood the glassware shop belonging to Zabidovitz and at the end Yeke'le Blumenkop's bicycle rental shop with the big clock in the window.
This clock, together with the pulse of the whole Jewish town, was silenced forever in the light of day by the evil bloody hand.
The life in my shtetl was suffused with family-like warmth. Everyone knew what was cooking in his neighbor's pot. We knew each family through and through and knew all the details, all the gossip.
We called everyone by his own name followed by that of his father or mother. Otherwise, it was impossible to know exactly who was being referred to: Reb Itshe Meir of Reb Azshes, Bear's Reb Moishe Laizer, Chaim Eidel's Zalmen Mecheles, Reb Laizer the Watchmaker, Yisroel Dzabak (The Frog) etc.
Radzyn was one of the most appealing of the Jewish Shtetls because together with its small townishness it was also was big townish. First, it stood on a high cultural plane. Life was not fanatically religious or limited, as was the case in many other shtetls. Its leaders were wise and cultured people: for example Shimon Kleinboim, Shaul-Henich Rosenwald, Chaim Yitzchak Gelerman, Yisroel Vinderboim, Yishaya Zilberberg, etc. Therefore, there were relatively few public quarrels.
The Radzyn Chassidim were different from the Chassidim of the surrounding Shtetls. They were happy, well groomed and liked a song and a dance. Utilizing every opportunity to down a glass, they would slap each other on the back wishing each other Le'chaim and thereby driving out all anxiety and melancholy.
The Radzyner Rebbe was definitely different from the rabbis of the neighboring chassidic dynasties. He was more cultured, worldlier, and more humane. It was a well-known fact that Reb Gershon Chanoch (The Radzyner Rabbi), in addition to being a genius in Jewish studies, was also well versed in science as well as in medicine. I remember my grandfather telling me that the Rabbi would write prescriptions that the non-Jewish pharmacist would accept. The Rabbi could also play on a number of musical instruments.
Radzyn produced a number of famous people, journalists, actors, painters and political leaders.
Radzyn was proud of the fact that in later years it sent the best of its young people to Israel to help build the land. Despite the very difficult conditions they faced there, with a few exceptions, almost none of them returned.
In later years, before WWII, heavy clouds covered the quiet life of our Shtetl. With fear in their eyes, the Jews faced the impending future. The Polish Government instituted a policy of extermination aimed at the Jewish population. Their situation became unbearable. The activities of the Jewish Communities were severely curtailed. The government would eliminate from the communities' budget any sums intended for Jewish cultural activities. The social welfare needs grew rapidly. Jews began to consider seriously how they might liquidate everything and go to Israel. The horrible events arrived suddenly and devastated the last hopes of the Jewish Shtetl. They extinguished forever all hopes for an attractive Jewish life at home.
May the mute curses of the annihilated communities and of the unlived lives descend forever like a tempest onto the heads of the executioners of our people and our shtetl.
On the general demographic map, our town was a tiny and unimportant dot. However on the web of the diverse Jewish life in the Zionist Pioneer movement it played an important role.
Even in the traditional Polish-Jewish world of numerous 'rabbinical courts' and 'shtibles' of the different rabbis, our town was famous for very special Radzyn Chassidim and for their unique 'blue thread'. I remember when we were still boys how we stole on to the Rabbi's garden and into the hut that stood there. We went in and watched how Reb Yehoshua Keitelgisser tended this 'blue' and dyed the threads for the prayer shawls with it.
In my childhood I heard many stories about the life style and customs of the various Chassidic types who came from afar to live in the town so as to be close to the Rebbe and enjoy his words of wisdom. Our house served as a lodging place for these Chassidim. About one of them, Yehoshua Meir from Piotrokov I heard the following story. He was a wealthy Jew who in his old age handed over all of his affairs to his sons and went to sit far away from his family to be near the Rabbi. A special room with a big bookcase was allocated to him. He was awake most of the night studying and looking into the books. Toward morning he would go to the synagogue, spend some time with the Rebbe and then go back home. Then he would doze off for a while, wake up and continue studying and learning.
When I recall those times in the Twenties after the end of WWI, I see myself with a group of friends sitting in the house of Reb Mendel Hersh Lipe's and studying the Torah. The room was small and the sun's rays rarely penetrated its darkness. We would sit there from morning to evening. Only once a week did we leave for a couple of hours. That was on Wednesday. That day was market day in the town. Our teacher's wife had a stall where she sold manufactured goods and on that day he would go out to help her watch over it so that no one would steal anything. Therefore, those hours were a real holiday for us when we would close our books, go out and loll around, and make as much mischief as we wanted.
When did the Rabbi delight in his pupils? When he would be invited to come to one of their houses and there repeat everything that we had recently learned. If the pupil from that house passed the test and could answer all the questions and solve all the problems, the Rabbi was happy because he knew that the student's parents might reward him with a coin. However, if the student did not pass the test the Rabbi would remain angry with him for a long time.
Not far from the cheder of Reb Mendel Hersh Lipe's, there was a school known as Dovid Fishel's School which fascinated us boys very much. We also got news about the existence of youth movements in the town about which we knew very little. I remember that one winter evening Chaim Shlimek, whose brother was also a student in the Cheder, came and told us about the existence of such youth movements and invited us to join. The Rebbe wanted to prevent our leaving but could not do so because of the fervor of our craving to do so. One day we threw off the bonds of the Cheder and went to study in Dovid Fishel's School.
Our town existed and developed despite the disappointing and hostile regimes that began with the Endeka (National Democratic Party- an anti-Semitic party) and continued on during the reign of Pilsudski and the Senatziah and up until the pogroms in Brisk and Pshitik. All these were stations in the unending social and economic struggle of the Jews of Poland who did not have factories or warehouses that could employ large numbers of workers and clerks. Most of the Jews were small, independent merchants or craftsmen and a small number were day laborers. The occupations that could be acquired were limited to tailoring, shoemaking, hat making and carpentry. It did not take long before reality and ideological considerations led to the conclusion, as it did in most of the Polish towns, especially among the young people, that there was no future in the small towns.
The idea of leaving the small towns, to move to the big cities or travel abroad to build a better future began to penetrate. The young people who were members of the 'pioneer youth movements' looked for places on the world map to which they could immigrate.
At the head of the movements in the town that offered a clear choice to the youth stood 'Hashomer Hatzair' ('The Young Guards') which attracted the best of the 'pioneering youth'. The unusual combination of sporting and social activities, together with education and preparation for a life of labor on a kibbutz in the Land of Israel was what drew the young people to join this group. On hot summer's when I went out to get a breath of fresh air outside the town I would meet many groups in a corner of a field a meadow or in the woods sitting and discussing the movement and its activities. This movement stood at the forefront of activities for the community. Members of this movement were among the first immigrants to 'The Land of Israel' in the 1920's and later were the leaders of the increased waves of immigration in the 1930's.
Among the other parties it is worth mentioning the 'Bund' (Jewish Socialist Workers Party), that carried on political activities, had a clubhouse and maintained a very good library.
Most of the middle class citizens were members of economic and mutual aid organizations such as The Merchants Association, Craftsmen's Association, etc. In the center of the economic life of these organizations was The Jewish People's Bank. It served all segments of the Jewish community, responded to all requests for financial help and was a democratic institution in every sense of the word.
Was our town different from the hundreds of other Jewish towns in Poland? Yes, our town was different from the others beginning with the revolutionary change that the Radzyn Chassidim introduced and which stirred up the whole Chassidic world against them. It was different because all the public social and personal forces that were hidden in it bust forth from time to time into the general public sphere. It was also very different in its restlessness and its refusal to conform to the routine and accepted ways and its view of the cruel reality and its constant attempts to change it. It was also very different and superior in the way in which the Zionist Pioneer organizations contributed to it numerically and qualitatively. These were its principal characteristics.
May we who grew up and were educated in its reality, which has since faded and disappeared, know how to preserve its sparks that so stimulated our desire for life and creativity.
The Cultural Organization, which was founded in 1916, made a very strong impact on the town. It was then housed in the beautiful house of Molly-Chavah. Actually this organization was founded by the Bund but attracted wider circles. It's activists were then Yisroel-Meir Tannenbaum, Avraham Shuchmacher, Moshe Rotshtein and others.
The Radzyn Library was also under its aegis, and its name was changed to Shalom Aleichem the same as that of the cultural organization. Actually the library was founded in 1902 by an altogether different group of people that included Yehoshua Lichtenstein, Akiva Rubinstein and others.
The young people of Radzyn saw the library as a well of knowledge and drank deeply from it.
In the early years of WWI, the town advanced in a number of unusual areas thanks to the initiative of David Lichtenstein and others. These areas created a flow of energy and enthusiasm. The first of them was electric lighting. The transition from the dimness of kerosene lamps, in both the houses and on the streets, to the bright electric illumination pushed the town forward. People got together more often, social life improved and people began to see life in a much brighter light.
Of no lesser significance was the establishment of the first modern Jewish school. Jewish children studied and knew not only the Bible with Rashi's (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchak 1040-1105) Commentaries but other subjects and languages. They began learning the Hebrew language and were the first children in the town who spoke the Holy Tongue. .
The schoolteachers were those who introduced modern and progressive education not only for the children but also for the adults. The first one to do this was 1) Yaakov Blachovitz a former student of the yeshiva in Wolozneh who was very well versed in the Talmud. He was the first one to who began to educate the younger generations in the spirit of Zionism and Hebrew. 2) Yehoshua Freedman who was a typical modern schoolteacher who taught the Bible and other Jewish subjects. 3) Leon Rochles who came from Rovno and turned up in Radzyn and for many years taught Polish and German as well as other general subjects. He also was a social activist and for many years contributed to the development of the Jewish youth. In the early years the school was supported by Benzion Lichtenstein and his sister Yehudit Zakalik (both in Israel today) children of the late Yehoshua Lichtenstein the well known cultural activist.
When the war ended, and the Jewish parties began their political activities, Radzyn became the center of all the surrounding shtetls. In 1919 there were a number of important political parties in Radzyn. There was the Bund that numbered hundreds of members and was the largest party at that time. Then Tzeire Zion (Young Zionists) and the Poele Zion (Workers of Zion) with their youth movements began to take the lead. This was the beginning of party discussions, big election meetings and mass meetings. Every party tried to attract people to it and every Jew was a member of some party. The General Zionists', the Mizrachi (Religious Zionists) and Agudath Yisroel (Ultra Orthodox) Party too, were established. It was freilich (merry) in the town….
The 'Hashomer Hatzair' (Young Guards) movement played an especially important role and had great influence on the youth. At the head of the movement was Dovid Rosenbaum (now: Hanegbi), Yitzchak Zeligman, Motke Gottesdiner, Chaim Shlimak, Shmuel Danilak, Yaakov Rosenfeld and others. The young people were educated to Zionism and pioneering and most of them found their way to Eretz Yisroel.
The Poele Zion S.Z. (Workers of Zion- Socialist Zionists) had a great success with both the youth and the adults many of whom immigrated to Israel. It also carried on great political-cultural activities. At its head stood Gershon Henich Pontshak and others.
One cannot write about Radzyn without devoting a few lines to the Radzyner Rabbi, Reb Chaim Fine. He was a clever Jew, full of Torah and wisdom, who also had a European education and was very refined. He never discouraged or insulted anyone and did not meddle into the affairs of others.
I remember standing in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah after the morning prayer when a number of 'respectable Jews' went up to the Rabbi and asked him to say a few words of morality to the young people. He did not think very long and said Nu and what about my son Yankel? They did not reply because they knew very well about his son's behavior, when he came back home from Eretz Yisroel (The Land of Israel) on a Saturday morning.
Loser devised the brilliant two whips system, one for meat and one for dairy. This is how it worked .The boy who was called up by him to be whipped would have to declare what he had eaten that day. If he had eaten dairy he would be whipped with the dairy whip. If he had eaten meat he would be whipped with the meat whip.
'Pinchasl Melamed' had an idea that in addition to whipping he would announce that a slap was on the way .The one who got the slap was usually the one who least expected it. Among us boys it was also told that Itshe Kines grabs the pupil by the ears and lifts him up to the ceiling and performs other such 'pleasurable' acts.
My only desire at that time was that my father would take me out of the Cheder and send me to 'The School'. But there was no possibility for this to happen. My father believed that 'The School' led to apostasy. 'Yes a little knowledge of reading and writing is useful but can be learnt in a few hours in the evening '
When the Sabbath arrived there was a great desire to go to the 'New Bridge' on the highway to Vishnitz or on the ramp by the castle. However that was the time when we had to go to the Bais Hamedrash (study house) to learn together with Shmuel Bear and Avraham Pinkus. There was an agreement between our three fathers that every Saturday one of them had to teach the three of us in the Bais Hamedrash. This was not so terrible in the winter, even though it meant that we could not go skating which we enjoyed very much. However, during the summer Sabbaths it was very difficult for us to go to learn. The streets were deserted and quiet with not a soul in sight. Our parents were having their after Cholent (a traditional Sabbath afternoon dish) nap. The young people did not nap. Not far behind the town near the ramp by the castle, behind the tall thick trees, the Jewish youth of Radzyn sat absorbed in newspapers and books. Groups of Jewish youth sat hidden, so that they could not be seen, and learnt new subjects very different from those learnt in the Bais Hamedrash.
In the evening, when the sun began to set in the west, the whole group of young people began making their way back and began their stroll on Ostrowiecka Street. At that time the women dragged out the chairs and benches in front of the houses to observe and discuss everyone. Opinions were expressed as to whether this boy is suitable for that girl etc., will anything come out of this or that match or are they just 'dragging' around together without any purpose, and other such important questions. The older generation appeared, little by little, on their way home from the Batai medrash and Shtibles to perform the Havdalah Ceremony (that marks the change from the Sabbath to weekdays). However the young people did not want to return to the weekdays so they strolled in the streets and continued their discussions late into the night.
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