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[Pages 317 - 390 (cont'd)]

Torah, Trade and Crafts in Sokoly (cont'd)

A Jewish Mayor in Sokoly

Alter Makovsky, or, as he was known, “Little Alterke,” was a trader of hides before World War I. He had energy and initiative. Pesach Brill would say of him that he deserved to be the minister of trade and industry because of his talents, but unfortunately, he did not get an education.

Even though he did not know other languages, Alterke wished to climb up to the “high windows.” He had access to the heads of the local and area administrations, in the Polish, Russian and even German governments. During World War I, under all circumstances, Little Alterke was the representative and spokesman for all Jewish matters in Sokoly. He applied to the authorities for anyone who needed their assistance, or for the entire community.

Alterke was not accustomed to refuse to fulfill a mission. The heads of the administration trusted him completely as an intelligent and honest Jew. Of course, he did not forget to present an appropriate gift, to the satisfaction of his honored shepherds and the members of their families. Therefore it is no wonder that he was welcomed and met with sympathy by them.

Thanks to Alterke's initiative, the old central bet medrash was rebuilt and modernized with the comforts of the times.

Immediately after World War I, Alterke became the mayor of Sokoly during the German occupation. This was the first and only time that a Jew held the high position of mayor.

As the secretary-general of the town, Alterke chose Yona Czentkovsky, Tuvia Kolkin's son-in-law. Yona was an educated man of the older generation. He was familiar with Tanach [all the books of the Masoretic text] and Hebrew grammar and knew the Polish and Russian languages, as well as a bit of German. For a time, Yona worked as a Hebrew language and religion teacher. After that, he became a writer of appeals, a type of marginal lawyer, until he competed with another marginal lawyer – Lifnovitz.

Both of them were not permitted to defend in the courts, but they sufficed with writing appeals and documents in criminal, inheritance and income tax cases. Lifnowitz had experience after working for a licensed lawyer, compared to Yona, who used judicial books and texts as examples.

Even though Yona was educated and took interest in articles in the daily newspapers, in his home he led a strictly religious life. He prayed in the first minyan three times a day. After the morning prayers, he was accustomed to learn the daily page of gemara for an hour. In the evenings, he spent a few hours in the bet medrash, teaching a page of gemara to the Shas study group.

On the Sabbath, Yona did not speak of daily affairs. If he was asked, he would answer in Hebrew or with a movement of his hands. He would lengthen his Shmone Esrei prayer even longer than the Rabbi himself. He competed with his brother-in-law, Mordechai Aharon Shustak, who owned a fabric store, who was also Tovia's son-in-law. Mordechai Aharon took care to observe the commandments and laws, all according to the Shulchan Aruch and Chayei Adam. He spent a few hours every day in the bet medrash. He set himself a permanent daily schedule to learn a chapter of mishna and page of gemara. He was accustomed to stand half an hour in the Shmone Esrei prayer. This was the competition of the brothers-in-law. One time one of them would finish first, and another time, the other.

Yona had four sons and two daughters.The sons never learned in a school or with private teachers. In their childhood, their father taught them Chumash with Rashi [famous exegesis of the Bible], Tanach and a bit of Hebrew. His oldest son, Itze, crossed the Polish-Lithuanian border and lived for a few years in Kovno.

Suddenly it became known in Sokoly that Itze Czentkovsky had succeeded in acquiring a matriculation certificate in two years and had registered at the university. At that time, he was accepted as a teacher in a high school and as a permanent worker at a Hebrew newspaper. He wrote poetry and publicity articles.

When Yona was asked how it was possible that his son had succeeded in all these things in such a short time, and he wasn't known that way in Sokoly? Yona answered that his son had always known everything, but it had been hidden from everyone.

Yona's second son, Berel, learned the material for matriculation from booklets for external students in the Russian language. He also was outstanding in his education and knowledge of languages. He learned French and English, and at that time he translated Bialik's poem “To the Bird” from Hebrew into Yiddish, while putting the words to a pleasant tune.

After World War I, Alterke received a license from the Polish authorities to manage a guest house and restaurant. In 1929, his large place of business was burned down in the huge fire that raged in Sokoly. Alterke put up a long, wide shed with a large number of rooms, where he reestablished his restaurant. Over time, he succeeded in building a tall, modern and attractive three-story house, with the help of bank loans, thanks to the broad “protectzia” [influence] he had everywhere. He sold the long shed to Berel Krushevsky.

Merchants in Sokoly

In the field of trade, the young men of Sokoly succeeded in making something out of nothing – and in rising to a not insignificant level. In general, Sokoly was a trade town and it had no “unsuccessfuls.” In matters of trade, one surpassed the other in achievements, almost fulfilling the proverb “We all are wise, we all are clever.” A few of the merchants of Sokoly acquired a name all over Poland.

A few years before the outbreak of World War II, not a few merchants moved to Bialystok, where they established their businesses on quite a firm foundation.

The children of David Borowitz did not lag behind. They were five sons: Moshe, Shalom, Abba, Avrahamel and Nachum, and three daughters: Alta, Chaya and Nacha. The most successful of them was Moshe Borowitz.

Moshe traded in crops on a wide scale and was regarded as one of the outstanding merchants in this branch of trade, not only in Sokoly, but even in Bialystok. He had energy and initiative. Because of his business, he reached faraway places in Russia, such as Logoysk and Chervyen, and also places in the Far East and Manchuria. From time to time, he would travel to Germany on business. Moshe bought a nice house in Bialystok.

Moshe's oldest son, Yankel Borowitz, owned a large flour storehouse, which he managed in partnership with his brother-in-law. Moshe's two other sons, Nachum and Shalom, also dealt in the flour trade and “moved worlds.” Nachum moved to Bialystok, but there he did not achieve any special success. The son Shalom emigrated with his family to America.

Abba Borowitz was not especially outstanding in business. He was very religious and learned three or four hours every day in the bet medrash. Nevertheless, he managed an organized home. His business was in kerosene, which he supplied to retailers. For a while, Abba was the owner of a grocery and sewing supplies store. His two sons, Shmuelke and Tzalka, helped their parents with their work. Shmuelke was also active in a Zionist youth organization. The two brothers emigrated to America. Abba Borowitz' two daughters, Rachel and Malka, were attractive and cultured. Abba passed away in 1940, in the middle of the War.

David's fourth son, Avrahamel Borowitz, also was successful in trade. He managed an exemplary grocery and general store, and acquired many customers among the Christian population. He was an intelligent and witty Jew.

[PHOTO: Abba Borowitz, of blessed memory]

[PHOTO: Abba Borowitz and his family]

Avrahamel was regarded by everyone as a well-established Jew, even though his fortune was far removed from that of his brother Moshe. He was able to provide his daughters with respectable dowries. For his oldest daughter, Kencha, he found a bridegroom in Ostrolenka. For his second daughter, Chancha [Chana], he found the bridegroom Yanovitz from Kolno, an educated scholar. Yanovitz was the owner of a shoe store.

Yanovitz was regarded in Sokoly as an intelligent young man. During the time of the ghetto, he was a member of the Judenrat. Avrahamel was accustomed to donate 30 zlotys to the synagogue for maftir Yona [text from the prophet Jonah] on Yom Kippur. This honored aliya to the Torah was his for many years.

David's daughter Chaya got married and emigrated to America with her husband. His daughter Alta was married to a boy from Sokoly, Yankel Shapira. Alta managed a feather business, which she expanded when her sons grew up. Alta's daughter married Abba Lapchinsky, Nissel's son. Abba was a pleasant, cultured young man. After their wedding, he became a crop merchant and managed a nice home.

[PHOTO: Shabtai Lev, z”l, may G-d avenge his blood]

David's daughter Nacha married a known scholar, a student in the Volozhin Yeshiva, Moshe Lipa Shulmeister.

Other people who moved from Sokoly to Bialystok at that time were:

Shabtai Lev, the son of Shmuel Lev the shochet. He later became the son-in-law of Mindel and Kaddish Lachower. He was a pleasant young man, educated and a yeshiva graduate, a successful Torah reader (in the synagogue). In Bialystok, he managed a wholesale leather business. After his wife Etyl Mirel [Esther Miriam] suddenly passed away, Shabtai worked in partnership with his friend from Sokoly, Lemel Sokolowitz, managing a wholesale paper business on Lipowa Street, in the “passage.” Shabtai was known as an honest man and he was given unlimited credit everywhere. He had a reputation as an excellent Torah reader in the “Mishmarbet medrash and in Citron's bet medrash on Polena Street in Bialystok.

Pesach Brill's sons Hershel and Asher also moved to Bialystok, as well as Levi and Aharon, the sons of Yona; Moshe and Raizel Sokolowitz. In Sokoly, the Brill family owned a business for sorting rags that they supplied to be processed at fabric factories. In Bialystok, they succeeded in broadening their business.

Finally, we should remember, among those who moved to Bialystok, Aharche Kaplansky, the tailor, and his family; David Burstein from Kalisz, the bridegroom of Chaya Bruchs.

A number, not insignificant, of merchants from Sokoly set their hearts toward a future in Warsaw and Lodz.

Fabric Merchants

Before World War I, the serious, large fabric merchants in Sokoly were Mendel Bialodvorsky and Mottel Burstein (Moshe Golden's son-in-law).

At the large summer fairs in Anatanka and Malgozheta, dozens of merchants and shop owners from Sokoly would buy goods and sell them second-hand in the area and beyond, and to fabric merchants in Warsaw.

The Bialodvorsky Family

Mendel Bialodvorsky was a tall, handsome man who inspired respect. He was the regular Torah reader in the old bet medrash in Sokoly.

Outside of his business in the fabric trade, he owned properties, among them a number in the villages near Nisky, until the outbreak of World War I, when his property was taken away from him by the Poles.

Both the Jews and Poles in Sokoly respected Mendel, and they came to him for advice in family and business matters. He was an arbitrator in all kinds of disputes.

Mendel was the father of three sons: Abba, Moshe and Melech, and four daughters: Freidel, Tova Rachel, Tzvia and Malka.

The oldest son, Abba, was a brilliant scholar. He learned in the cheder of Leibel Hallels and later in the yeshivot of Rav Avraham Sukachov and also in Slobodka. Abba contended that it was not enough to learn, even industriously, but one should delve deeply into every matter to find the proper approach and extract the essence from it. Such students surpass each other in their expertise, spending all their time only in learning, even if they learn ten years or more.

Abba Bialodvorsky proved himself, delving deeply into the dialectic books by the famous Gaon, Rabbi Avrahamele of Sukachov that were in the hands of the students of the Yeshiva in the form of manuscripts and notes that were made after hearing lectures by the Rabbi himself.

Before World War I, Abba was married and received a respectable dowry. He became a merchant in his wife's town. After his father Mendel passed away, Abba returned to Sokoly, where he sold fabrics far and wide. The couple had two daughters: Kayla and Ginendel.

Over time, the family moved to Warsaw, where they were murdered during the German occupation.

Mendel Bialodvorsky found a bridegroom for his eldest daughter Freidel in Itzke Levin, a teacher from Sokolka. Itzke was an educated man and had seniority in the Hebrew subjects taught in the public school and in various courses. He was active in the Zionist movement and travelled a lot to give lectures and organize Zionist groups, as well as on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. His wife, Freidel, managed the fabric business with wisdom and energy. The couple had three children: Mendel (Menachem), Yehudit and Esther. The eldest, Mendel, was born after his grandfather passed away and was named for him. He learned in the Tachkemoni School in Bialystok and continued his education in a Hebrew gymnasia [high school].

[PHOTOS:         Yitzchak Levin; Freidel Levin]

After he immigrated to the Land of Israel, he became involved and was active in the Etzel underground movement and was taken prisoner by the British. He was imprisoned for a long time in the Acco Fort and in other prisons, but eventually, he completed his education and received a doctorate in chemistry. He was accepted on the faculty of chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

[PHOTO: Yehudit Levin]

At present, Dr. Menachem Levin lives with his family in Jerusalem and manages the Institute for Forest Fibers, which he founded. Dr. Lewin has become famous world-wide for his scientific findings.

His parents, Itzke and Freidel, moved to the city of Lodz before World War II. At the time of the Nazi occupation, they became completely impoverished and in February of 1940 they fled to Szydlowiec In 1942, their two daughters, Yehudit, aged 14 and Esther, aged 12, were deported to a work camp. Yehudit died in the Skarzysko-Kamienna Camp, but Esther was saved. She arrived in the Land of Israel in 1946. There, she married Ephraim Hertsberg, who had spent the War with Russian partisans before coming on aliya to the Land of Israel.

Itzke and Freidel were murdered in Lodz after the Jews were driven out of the Ghetto by the Germans on Yom Kippur, 1942.

Mendel Bialodvorsky's second daughter, Tova Rachel, married Yitzchak, the son of Yona Czentkovsky, who had moved to Lithuania in 1920. After he obtained his matriculation certificate in Kovno, he worked as a teacher in the gymnasia in Memel [Klaipeda, Lithuania] and also taught literature. As far as is known, Yitzchak was murdered at the time of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.

[PHOTO: Yechezkel Chervonitz and his wife Malka]

Tzvia, Mendel Bialodvorsky's third daughter, married a young man from Wysokie Mazowieckie. The couple had two daughters. One of the daughters, Esther, was talented. In school, she appeared in recitations of the great Polish poets: Adam Mickiewicz, Jan Kochanowski, Juliusz Slowacki, and others. She had a wonderful memory and in the eyes of everyone was regarded as a “wonder child.” Tzvia and her daughters were murdered in the Holocaust. Her husband stayed in America, where, tragically, he died in a drowning accident.

The fourth daughter, Malka, married Yechezkel, the son of Yosef Chervonitz, a teacher of religion in the public school in Sokoly. He, his wife and their children, his mother-in-law Chaya Leah, and Melech Bialodvorsky, were murdered in the Holocaust.

Of the entire Bialodvorsky family, the only ones who were saved were Mendel's son Moshe, who emigrated with his wife Mirche and their children to America before the War, and the grandson Menachem Levin, who lives in Jerusalem, as mentioned above.

Another fabric merchant in Sokoly should be mentioned. He was Bezalel Malach, the son-in-law of Yaakov Leib Perlowitz. His wife Ucha bore him a daughter, Sarah Esther. Ucha died young and Bezalel married for a second time, to Hinda Leah, the daughter of Yaakov Leibel Goldstein. She bore him a son, Leibele. She also died a short time after her marriage. Bezalel then married a third time, to a young woman from Tiktin [Tykocin]. She gave birth to three daughters.

Bezalel was an energetic and talented man. He came from a respectable family. His father was learned; one of his brothers served as a rabbi and the other, as the head of a yeshiva.

Moshe Berel Goldstein was one of those who expressed opinion in community matters. He was an alert Jew and one of the regular participants in the “Daf Yomi” [page-a-day] study group.

[PHOTO: Moshe Dvorkin (Bialodvorkin) with his wife Mirche and their sons:
Mendel, Dov, Chaim Eliezer]

During the life of his father, Yaakov Leibel Goldstein, the community rabbi, his son Moshe Berel served as his secretary and the recorder of birth certificates. He was the father of two sons, Aharon and Yitzchak.Yitzchak was the head of a group in the Hashomer Haleumi Zionist movement in Sokoly and a writer. He was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, as one of the organizers of the rebel movement.

[PHOTO: Yitzchak Goldstein,z”l, may G-d avenge his blood.
He fell as a courageous fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto]

Moshe Berel was married for a second time to a woman from Warsaw. After his wife's father passed away, Moshe Berel, his wife and daughter moved to Warsaw. The wealthy father left a large apartment house to his daughter, and Moshe Berel served as the administrator. At the beginning of the War, the house was destroyed by a bomb and its owners were buried under the ruins.

Moshe Berel's oldest brother, Felek Goldstein, was very active in public affairs in Sokoly. He established a bank for small businesses and was its manager. He served as the head of the community and as a representative of the Jews to the authorities. All the community matters connected with finance, both civil and religious, were in Felek Goldstein's hands.

The mayor of the town, Dr. Volstovsky, his two secretaries and the members of the municipality, were very important in Felek's opinion. He had a “minister's head;” he understood diplomacy and was an outstanding organizer.

During the Soviet occupation, Felek was arrested and sent to the prison in Bialystok. After a number of months, he was sent to far-off Siberia, and since then, there has been no trace of him. One of his sons, Osip, was a well-known soccer player in Bialystok. His second son, Bolek (from his second wife) worked during the Soviet occupation as a clerk and inspector. He was regarded by them as an expert in his profession (spatz). All the members of Felek Goldstein's family were murdered in the Holocaust.

Owners of Fabric Shops

Yaakov Kaplansky was among the owners of the largest fabric shops in Sokoly. In his youth, Kaplansky was a Hebrew teacher. He was educated and a linguist. He was fluent in Hebrew, Russian, Polish, German, French, and, of course, Yiddish. He was an excellent speaker. He was a very talented man, intelligent and enterprising. With his children, Rachele and Avrahamele, Yaakov spoke only Hebrew, which was their mother tongue.

Yaakov Kaplansky's wife, Masha, was also educated and wise. When Rachele was still a little girl, she appeared at recitations in Hebrew and Polish at children's parties in school, or at the end of the school year. Outside her general studies, she also learned the languages Hebrew, Polish, Russian and English.

Avrahamel Kaplansky showed intellectual talents and was very familiar with social and state problems. He was a counselor in one of the youth organizations. At the end of 1939, Avrahamel and his father went to Vilna for the purpose of crossing the border between Poland and Lithuania, so as to try to somehow reach the Land of Israel from there. Meanwhile, the Russians conquered Lithuania, and the borders were locked closed.

Avraham did not accept fate and was active in the underground. He was the editor of the bulletin Migov Rikavon [translation: “From the Height of Decay”].

In December of 1941, when the Nazi armies flooded into the lands of Russia and the Baltic countries, Avraham, his mother and sister succeeded in illegally reaching Bialystok. In the ghetto there, Avraham continued his cultural activities. After exhausting days of work, the young people gathered in a narrow room on Kopitzka Street, where Avraham lectured to them on subjects of Hebrew literature, Bible and history. His activities were not limited only to cultural areas.

When the Jewish rebellion movement was organized in Bialystok, Avraham was the one who linked this movement with the Revisionists. He was a member of the leadership of the movement and worked with the officer in charge of the Bialystok Ghetto uprising – Mordechai Tanenbaum. Avraham participated in the secret meetings of the organization and was among the planners of the revolt.

A few days before the liberation, Avraham was murdered by the Germans. The young man had arrived at the house of a farmer by the name of Truskolsky, who had known his parents before the War. He asked the farmer to give him some bread for his mother, his sister and himself, who were living in starvation. Truskolsky promised to give him bread, but requested to come visit him the next day, on the excuse that all the bread in his house had been finished and that he would willingly bake a respectable amount for him. In his innocence, Avrahamel believed the man, and came back to his house with good expectations. But as soon as he opened the door, Poles, who lived in the town of Lachy, attacked him. Instead of preparing bread for him, the Polish “friend” Truskolsky prepared a trap. In advance, he had invited a few of the notables of the village, including the soltys. Avraham pulled out an axe from under his clothing and began to struggle with them.

[PHOTOS: (right) Avraham Kaplansky, z”l, may G-d avenge his blood
(left) Yaakov Kaplansky, z”l, may G-d avenge his blood]

He stood, one against many, with the axe in his hand, hitting to the right and to the left. In the end, the Polish devils overcame him. They tied him up and put him in a farmer's wagon. In the middle of the night they brought him to Sokoly. On the way, Avraham threatened his captors and said, “You have won over me, but my comrades the Partisans will take revenge upon you.”

The German gendarmes accepted the sacrifice and threw him into the jail. By then, Avraham was completely worn out and broken. He recovered a bit when he saw that the guard watching him was a woman, whom he recognized. She had formerly been a laundress in his parents' house. He told her the history of his capture and pointed out with satisfaction that he had succeeded in wounding several of the Poles who had attacked him in Truskolsky's house.

When he saw that there were no other guards, he asked her to untie him and let him escape, in exchange for a sum of money, which was hidden in the forest. The old goya was afraid of putting herself in danger, and she did not agree to his request. She brought him coffee and bread, and washed his wounds. In the beginning, Avraham refused to touch the food. She begged him. Then he decided to eat in order to strengthen himself, and perhaps he would be able to escape from the Germans. In the morning, the gendarmes appeared and asked him to reveal where the Partisans, whom he had mentioned to his Polish captors, were hiding. They put him on a wagon, surrounded by German and Polish guards, and he led them to a thick forest, ten kilometers away from the hiding place of his family. He had previously hidden in this forest with a group of Jews during the winter months. Here, Avraham now found his death. The Pole, owner of the wagon, later told that Avraham spoke in the German language. He spoke with pride. Part of what he said was, “My end is very near, but your end will also come. I will not see your downfall, but you villains will pay for everything.”

A volley of shots split the air and extinguished Avraham's young life. He found his rest in the Kobylin-Borzymy Forest, during the first days of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, August 1944, six weeks before the liberation.

These events were told to Avraham's sister Rachel by the woman guard at the jail, who spoke to her after the liberation.

Avraham's father, Yaakov Kaplansky, was murdered in Lithuania during the Holocaust in the town of Pilviskiai. His mother Masha and sister Rachel survived and emigrated to Israel. Rachel married a teacher in the Mevo'ot Yam School by the name of Shmuel Kalisher. Their son was born in 1958, and was named for his grandfather Yaakov. Masha Kaplansky lived out her life at Kibbutz Lochamei HaGetaot, near Nahariya. She passed away in August of 1960.

[PHOTO: The Kalisher Family]

Another owner of a fabric store was Shmuel Hirsh Kravitz, Yudel Golden's son-in-law. After World War I, he was one of the wealthiest Jews in Sokoly. He built a beautiful wooden house and shop in the town square. His three sons: Shaul David, Meir and Yosef, lived in Lodz. Shaul got married in Lodz and owned a large manufacturing business. Meir was a clerk and earned a good salary. Yosef also came into business at a later date. Shmuel Hirsh had four lovely daughters. Two of them, the two eldest, got married, and the two younger ones were still in school. The family was murdered in the Holocaust and only two of the daughters, Chana and Rachel, reached the Land of Israel.

Mordechai Aharon Shustak was also a fabric merchant. He was the brother-in-law of Yona Czentkovsky. He built a new house (in the Bremlech row) in the trade center of the town. He was a religious Jew and one of the “ten idlers” of Sokoly, who could always be found in the old bet medrash. Every weekday morning, he stayed in the bet medrash until the last minyan. On the Sabbath and holidays, he had a special order of learning Torah and he was exacting in his manners and his way of eating. Every day, he learned Chumash with the Malbim's commentary, a chapter of Mishna and a page of Gemara. The business was managed by his wife and children, who always honored their father.

Mordechai Aharon Shostak's eldest son, Felek, learned in a yeshiva and wanted to serve in the rabbinate. He became ill with a serious disease and passed away at a young age. Mordechai Aharon's daughter, a seamstress by profession, also passed away in her youth. His second son, Avrahamel, skillfully managed his parents' business. Avrahamel was an expert Torah reader on the Sabbaths in the large bet medrash. He had a pleasant voice and took care to keep the precise tune, observing all the rules and restrictions. A year before the War broke out, he was married in Lomza, where he became known as a pleasant cantor.

Mordechai Aharon's second daughter was married the same year. All the members of the family were murdered in the Holocaust.

Mordechai Aharon had a sister in Sokoly, whose name was Perla. She was a scholar and read the prayers and supplications for the women in the women's section. She collected donations for the needy. She was a talented fabric merchant. Her husband, Iztke Meir, the son of Bezalel David, was very religious. He was deaf and because of this people had to shout at him. He was accustomed to spend many hours learning and praying in the synagogue.

[PHOTOS: (Right) Moshe Pikarsky; (Left) Rivka Chervonitz]

The iron trader, Moshe Pikarsky, was known in Sokoly to be a wise man. He was given the nickname “Moshe Hershele” because he was so short. He found good husbands, who were scholars, for his daughters. His son Yechielke emigrated to the U.S. at a young age. His lovely daughter Itka died in her youth. She was a close friend of Alta Okune and Masha Goldwasser, Avraham's daughter. The three of them were known as the “beautiful trio.”

Yossel Chervonitz, Moshe Hershel's son-in-law, owned a large fabric store with a huge selection and many customers. He was energetic and had a good relationship with the customers who came to buy in his store.

Yossel was the father of four sons and four daughters. His son Yechielke married the Marstein girl, a teacher in the Sokoly elementary school. They emigrated to the U.S. The second son married Malka, the daughter of Mendel Bialodvorsky. The third son, Mottel, moved to Bialystok, where he married the daughter of Avrahamel Chasid's brother-in-law. The fourth son, Yaakov Leizer, remained single.

The daughter Ettel emigrated to Israel, where she was married. Yossel died at a young age, in his forties. His father-in-law, Moshe Hershel, died suddenly on his way to the mikva [ritual baths].

Gedalia Slodky was Moshe Hershel's second son-in-law and was taken into his iron business. Gedalia succeeded in increasing the business. He was a Jew of the bet medrash, and loved to occupy himself in public affairs. For a time he served as the gabbai [sexton] of the large bet medrash and the burial society. Gedalia was the permanent cantor at the morning prayers on the Sabbath and holidays. He was the father of three sons: Elimelech, Michael and Moshe, and a daughter, Beila.

[PHOTO: Taken at the bar mitzvah party of Gedalia Slodky's grandson, December 1961]
Sitting, left to right: Rachel and Avraham Yitzchak Lev; Gedalia Slodky, Alter Schneider, Esther Schneider, Edla Kenigsberg
Standing, left to right: Elimelech Slodky, Zvi Kenigsberg, Mottel Chervonitz, Sarah Maik, Moshe Slodky, Moshe Maik, Beila Ginsberg, Ida and Zeev Sweitzer]

During the Soviet occupation, Gedalia and his family were sent to Russia. Everyone in Sokoly mourned their fate, but in light of the events during the German occupation, everyone was jealous of them, because they had succeeded in distancing themselves from the Holocaust.

Gedalia and the members of his family succeeded in reaching the Land of Israel. His wife passed away during their journey. There, he re-established his household, but he passed away a short time later.

Leather Traders

Mendel Pachiner was a respected Jew in Sokoly. He was a Gerrer Chasid, a G-d-fearing scholar. He traded in leather on a large scale. Mendel would travel on business to most of the cities in Poland and Lithuania. He did not take part in public affairs. He was generous to everyone. He educated his children in the spirit of religion. They were talented Torah geniuses. His son, Yitzchak Meir, who was known as “Rabbi ben Menachem,” became famous as a sharp, brilliant scholar. His brother Avrahamche was the same. Mendel's son Shmuel was intelligent and active in the Zionist movement; he was a good speaker.

Feivel Novena was one of the veteran leather traders. He was a quiet, G-d fearing Jew, who never had a dispute with anyone. He prayed in the synagogue three times a day. Besides the prayers, he was accustomed to read the daily selections of chapters of Psalms. He lived quietly and died quietly in the prime of his life. He did not merit to see even one of his children married.

He was destined to cause commotion in the town only once, following an unusual event in his house. One Sabbath eve, robbers took a large crate from his house containing household goods, including money, jewelry, clothing and underwear. A large crowd gathered immediately around his house, including women and children. All spoke of the quick work of the robbers, who had not aroused the attention of the people in the house. They thought that the robbers succeeded in putting their victims to sleep.

Feivel had four daughters and a son. The son emigrated to America in his youth. Over time, he established himself nicely and brought his young sister over to him. After that, he also brought over his brother-in-law, Wiczekewicz, his oldest sister's husband.

One fine day, Wiczekewicz' uncle arrived in Sokoly from America. He gave a donation of several hundred dollars to repair the bet medrash. A dedication was made in one of the corners of the bet medrash to the donor, Yisrael Wiczekewicz. Avraham Wiczekewicz was already the father of grown children when he left for America. After he established himself there, he brought his wife and children over.

Feivel Novena's second daughter Rachel Leah married David Zeltser from Czyzewo. She managed her business with great enthusiasm and was very active. She enjoyed travelling occasionally to Bialystok, Warsaw and the various villages. She got her first taste of business at the age of 15-16, and from then on, she didn't rest. She travelled around every day of the week except the Sabbath. The couple did not have any children. Rachel Leah bought a lot from her neighbors and on it she built a large wooden house. She increased her property when she bought a kiosk and the lot where it stood from Zerach Maik, in order to combine it with the wooden house, and she added a second floor to the kiosk. David and Rachel Leah were sent to be murdered in the gas chambers in Treblinka.

Owners of Groceries and Notions Stores

Yaakov Petrushka was respected in Sokoly and was a known leader of the prayers in the old bet medrash. It was a pleasure to hear his sweet voice, especially during the High Holiday prayers.

During the Czarist period, Yaakov owned a nice general store, where he sold food, notions, writing materials, and other things. My grandfather told me that Yaakov Petrushka was one of the first to be rescued from the Army, for the sum of 400 rubles. This was legal, but in order to find such a sum of money, it was necessary to storm worlds. Only a woman of valor, like Yaakov's mother, was able to do so.

Fifty years ago, a great fire broke out in Sokoly. Petrushka's store, with all its merchandise, was burnt down, along with many houses. It appeared that it was impossible to reestablish the store. Thanks to the energies of the members of his family, mainly Yaakov's daughters, the grocery store was remodeled satisfactorily. Two of his sons and his daughters all married well. The oldest daughter married a man in Zelva, where she was busy with community affairs and activities for the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva, and a kitchen for the children.

Yaakov's two sons, in those good and quiet days, had fatal accidents. The oldest son, Chena, married the widow Bashka the storekeeper, Mendel's daughter, who already was the mother of two grown lads, Zeidka and Berel. Bashka bore two more sons to Chena.

One morning Chena rented a wagon to bring juices and soda water from Wysokie Mazowieckie to his store, in anticipation of the fair. It was a very hot day, and as Chena drove the wagon over a bridge, he decided to swim in the river. He did what he decided. He undressed and jumped into the cool water. Unfortunately, he jumped into a whirlpool and drowned on the spot.

The second son, Shmuelke, was a graduate of a teachers' seminary in Grodno, where he was married. The couple had several children. During World War I, Shmuelka dealt in the kerosene trade.

One evening, he was drawing kerosene from a barrel. Suddenly, the barrel burst into flames and Shmuelke was burned alive.

Shmuelke's young daughter, Perl, married a yeshiva student named Yismach, the son of a shochet from Zambrow. Yismach was a scholar. His oldest brother was a rabbi. For a few years, he lived in his father-in-law's house. Ten years before World War II, his father-in-law Yaakov passed away after a short illness, and Yismach inherited his store.

In telling about Yismach, I remember that once he was imprisoned in the jail in Lomza. The reason for that was no crime, G-d forbid, such as stealing or smuggling, but simply because of a tragedy. Yismach lived with his family in a small attic apartment. Behind the building, there was a porch surrounded by a rotted wooden railing. A gentile laundress who worked in Yismach's house climbed on the railing to pour out the laundry water. The wood of the railing cracked and broke, and the poor woman fell down to the ground and was killed on the spot. The court sentenced Yismach to eight months in jail.

Zerach Maik

Zerach Maik owned a grocery store in Sokoly. Thanks to his energetic wife, Taiba, the daughter of the blacksmith Mordechai Leib, Zerach bought three houses. Taiba was talented and intelligent. People would come to her for advice and guidance in various matters. She defended herself in her cases in the courts and never hired a lawyer. She was an expert in everything, and even was a talented speaker.

Taiba had golden hands. Everyone was amazed at how she managed the many customers on market or fair days. With wonderful agility, she would weigh, measure and pack the purchased goods, make out a bill, receive money, return change and record details in a ledger of the customers who bought on credit.

She knew the Christian customers from the villages in the area, and knew what was done and happening in their private lives. She always knew how to speak words of encouragement, good advice and comfort to the needy. Taiba was an industrious housewife and did everything in her house herself, without needing help. She laundered, cooked, cleaned the rooms, educated her children and took care of them with great devotion. Her life was not easy. The store was in the market and her home was on a distant street. The store was small, and the great amount of merchandise was spread out in several places. She had to run back and forth from the house to the store and from the store to the house. Taiba worked hard for 18 hours a day.

[PHOTO: Zerach Maik with his wife Chava, his son Yisrael and
his grandchildren Shmuel and Tova]

Taiba was a devoted mother to her five children: Michael, Yisrael, Natale [Natalie], Sarache [Sarah] and Leahche [Leah]. Two of the children died in their childhood. Natale died at the age of two from diphtheria, and Sarache passed away when she was 16. She suffered from a heart disease for six years. She was a pretty and smart girl, and her days on earth were very short.

Taiba passed away in the prime of her life, at the age of 42. As quickly as she worked, so quickly and suddenly death came to her, so much so that they weren't able to call for a doctor in time. She left a year-old infant, Leahche Maik, who now lives in the Land of Israel.

[PHOTO: Leah and Shlomo Maik with their children Zerach, Yona Yisrael and Adi]

Zerach Maik was a quiet man, religious and honest. He was educated in the Lomza and Ostrolenka Yeshivot. Zerach would spend a number of hours every day in the bet medrash, in his regular learning, in order, of Gemara, Mishnayot and in prayer. During his later years he was the gabbai in the large bet medrash and also the gabbai of the burial society. He passed away on the 7th of the Hebrew month of Tevet, 5694 (Dec. 25, 1933), at the age of 76.

The Lev Family

Among the veteran grocers in Sokoly was Baruch Lev, who was known as “Baruch Yarmrek” because of his energy and agility. He was always busy and occupied with his business, his store and running around in the local villages. Baruch had four sons: Zalman, Alter, and the twins, Yechielke and Feivel.

The oldest son, Zalman, was an industrious trader. He was married to Chaya Perel, the daughter of the blacksmith Leibel. He had a grocery store and later emigrated to America, where he became a peddler. In a relatively short time, he learned the English language and was able to compete with his colleagues, who had been in the business for a long time.

Zalman stayed in America for only three years. He returned to Sokoly, to his religious wife, who refused to emigrate to America, the land of freedom.

After he came home in 1915, Zalman bought a house in Wysokie where he opened a warehouse for metal goods and a grocery store.

[PHOTO: Baruch Yitzchak Lev, z”l, of blessed memory]

In 1926, he emigrated to Australia, where he became the owner of a business selling manufactured goods. After five years, he brought his eldest son, Leibel, to him, and later brought his entire family. Zalman was the father of five sons: Leibel, Aharon, Herschel, Chaim and Baruch.

Zalman's brother Feivel Lev inherited the store from his father Baruch. Feivel had a terrible accident in his childhood. He once was walking, holding a bottle of vinegar. He tripped, and the vinegar spilled on his face. As a result, one of his eyes was injured, and he lost his sight in that eye.

Feivel was an intelligent boy who worked quickly. His honesty, preciseness and generous attitude brought him many customers among both Jews and Christians. From day to day, he succeeded in increasing his business. After he married Rivka, the daughter of the teacher from Jedwabne, she began to help him in his business. At the same time, his parents distanced themselves completely from the matters of the store. Feivel and his wife took good care of their parents, and they returned affection and total faith in the young couple.

[PHOTOS: (left) Chaya Perel Lev; (right) Zalman Lev]

As a result of the mutual good relationships between them, Baruch registered his house and store in the name of his son Feivel. Feivel had good will in the town as an honest man who kept his word. People would lend an ear to the opinions and advice that he gave them.

[PHOTO: Feivel Lev with his wife Rivka and their sons Yisrael Yeshaya and Baruch]

For a few years, Feivel was the gabbai of the large bet medrash. He passed away at the age of 48. About a year before he passed away, he had a stroke and was partially paralyzed. He had three sons: Yaakov Hirsh, Yisrael Yeshaya and Baruch. All of them were intelligent and talented. Yaakov Hirsh emigrated to the Land of Israel a few years before the War broke out. Feivel's wife Rivka and their two remaining sons were murdered in the Holocaust. may G-d avenge their blood.

The Family of Yaakov Ginsberg

The owner of the largest wholesale grocery store was Yaakov Ginsberg, the son of Moshe Avraham. He married his cousin Chana Rivka, the daughter of Herzel Gutman. Yaakov was an energetic trader. In his store, other than groceries, he had notions, cosmetics, textbooks and writing materials.

Yaakov's oldest son Shmuel died in his youth after World War I. His younger son, Yona, married a teacher named Selina who taught in the government school. Yaakov's daughter, Rachel, married Moshe, the son of Shlomo Olsha, an educated and industrious man.

Yaakov Ginsberg's brother, Shammai, lived in Warsaw, where he managed a soap factory for the well-known company Omega.

The third brother, Motti, emigrated to Holland, where he was employed in the diamond trade. Their fourth brother, Alter, married Ida, the dentist, and managed a leather business in Sokoly. During World War II, Alter served as the head of the Judenrat. He is mentioned in the prior chapters of this book.

[PHOTO: (sitting, left to right) Yona Ginsberg, Pella Olsha, Chana Rivka,
Shusha Gutman, Shammai Gutman, Selina

(standing, left to right) Rachel Olsha, Alter Ginzberg and his wife Ida, Monik Roseman]

Moshe Avraham's oldest daughter married Moshe Hershel Segal. They had a daughter, Chanale [Chana], who was regarded as a prodigy. After a time, the family moved from Sokoly to Grodno. Moshe Avraham's younger daughter, Breina, married a bookkeeper from Warsaw named Shapira, the brother of the famed grammarian A. Y. Shapira.

The Raczkowski Family

Alter Raczkowski was the owner of a notions and writing materials store. He supplied goods to retailers and peddlers in the villages. He was one of those who learned in the new bet medrash. Alter was the father of two sons and two daughters. The sons, Zeidel and Chaim Zvi, were excellent public speakers. During the Nazi occupation, Zeidel was a member of the Judenrat. His oldest daughter married a man from Warsaw. The second daughter remained single. Alter was the son-in-law of Sara Tilka and Shmuelke the tailor.

Shmuelke lived in America for some years in order to find proper bridegrooms for his two daughters, Hinda and Esther Rachel. He worked very hard there, all for the good of his daughters.

For his daughter Hinda, Shmuelke picked Alter Raczkowski as a son-in-law, and he gave him a nice dowry so that he would be able to open a store. From time to time, he gave him additional, not insignificant, funds for expanding his business. The mother, Sara Tilka, worked hard with self-sacrifice, all for her daughters. The younger daughter, Esther Rachel, married a scholar, Reb Shimon David from Zambrow, who became very ill immediately after their wedding, reaching such proportions that he had to arrange a conditional divorce. At that same time, they gave the sick man the additional name Chaim, and from then on, he was called by his triple name, Chaim Shimon David.

When Chaim Shimon David recovered from his illness, he received the position of head of the Proskurov Yeshiva. After the progroms against the Jews of Proskurov [Kamenets-Podolski], the family emigrated to America. There, their sons acquired a higher education. The son Avraham became a lawyer and was drafted into the American army. He rose to the rank of major and was active in the World Jewish Congress. Chaim Shimon David's daughter finished college and married a scientist.

Chaim Pajus and His Family

Chaim Pajus was one of the scholars who learned in the new bet medrash. He was near-sighted, but in spite of this fact, he did not wear eyeglasses and was accustomed to bringing the books he read close to his eyes. Chaim was a humorist and loved to tell jokes. He, and his only son Alter, managed a notions store. Alter was blessed with the talent of an actor, and he was excellent in comic roles. Before the War in 1939, Alter was married to Feigel, the daughter of Kadish Lachower.

[PHOTOS: (left) Alter Pajus, z”l, may G-d avenge his blood
(right) Taibe Lachower and her husband Leon, z”l, may G-d avenge their blood]

The couple went to live in Bialystok, where they opened a notions store. When the Germans invaded Bialystok, Alter was taken away one Sabbath with a large group of Jews, supposedly to do forced labor. They were sent to an unknown location, and not a single one of them ever returned. Many people from Sokoly were in that group, among them: Alter Pajus's two brothers-in-law, Niska Lachower and Leon, Taibe's husband; Shlomo Greenberg; Yitzchak Morashkevitz, and more.

Chaim Pajus' daughter Malka married a man in Szwietowo [Zhivatov, Ukraine?] who had a transport company. Both of them were murdered in the Holocaust. They left an only daughter, who now lives in the U.S.

The Yanovsky Family

Eliyahu Leib Yanovsky was the son-in-law of the blacksmith Avraham Itzkovsky. He was one of the leaders of the prayers in the new bet medrash on the High Holidays. He was a strong and handsome man, the father of five sons and two daughters. One of his sons, Kalman, emigrated at a young age to America. His son Yosef managed a textile factory in the city of Grodek [Horodok]; his son Chaim Itze established himself nicely in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg, during the period of the czars when the Jews were forced to live in the Pale of Settlement and it was difficult to get permission to live in St. Petersburg or other cities outside the Pale. Chaim Itze obtained such a permit and succeeded in opening a store selling manufactured goods in the center of the city. Before that, he had worked as a weaver in Bialystok. After a number of years, a large fire broke out in the quarter where he lived and all his possessions were burnt. Chaim Itze received a reasonable sum from his insurance company, and this time he opened a food business. He was an important supplier of these products, and his goods were even supplied to the czar's court. Chaim Itze Yanovsky brought his two brothers, Yaakov and Alexander, to St. Petersburg. Yaakov was a pharmacist and Chaim Itze found him work in a pharmacy there.

[PHOTO: Mordechai Surowicz]

His brother Alexander learned bookkeeping and found a good position in his profession. He married a young woman who had completed her studies and had a medical degree. The Yanovsky brothers prospered in everything until the Bolshevik Revolution.

Their father, Eliyahu Leib, died suddenly in Sokoly at an age not much older than 50 years. His oldest daughter married a man who was well established in Grajewo. His second daughter, Rivel, married Yaakov Golden, the son of Yeshka Dinhas, who was regarded as a wealthy man. He, along with the two Kolodzansky brothers, Yankel and Chananya, and Mordechai Surowicz, opened a textile factory in Bialystok after World War I, and they all became wealthy. Each of them bought himself a large, nice house.

The Golden Family

The members of the Golden family were among the oldest families in Sokoly. The eldest, the richest and nicest of all them was Leibel Dinhas Golden. Most of the houses in the town, the forest and the fields, were his property. His noble and handsome appearance stood out from everyone in the entire area. He was of the type [mentioned in the Bible] “from his shoulders and higher than the nation” and “he stands before kings.”

His face was radiant, and aroused great respect. He was so charismatic that whoever came before him was struck with the feeling that he stood before a king. When Leibel walked through the bet medrash among the congregants during the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei [18 benedictions] or to the Torah reading, looks of respect accompanied him.

Leibel Dinhas' son Yisraelke lived in St. Petersburg. I saw him only once when he came to Sokoly after his father passed away in order to arrange the matters of the inheritance. At that time, he sold the Sokoly court building, which belonged to his father. He also was of handsome appearance. I do not remember details, because this happened over 70 years ago and I was then but a young lad.

Another type of person in this family was Leishke Dinhas, Leibel's brother. He was a simple Jew. In his youth, he owned a tavern and he had a permanent quorum in his house on Sabbaths and holidays. On Simchat Torah, he would hold a celebration for the entire day, and when the celebrants became drunk, they would lift their gabbai, Leishke, on their shoulders, calling out, “Long live the gabbai!” This custom was accepted also in other places.

In his old age, Leishke began to smoke thick cigars, and he was almost never without one. His hobby was to lead the prayers. He also bought huge quantities of lottery tickets.

Leishke was the father of three sons and a daughter. His oldest son Yeshayahu was a business manager in Bialystok; the second son learned in a yeshiva and died at a young age prior to his army service. The third son Yaakov became wealthy, and was one of the four partners in the textile factory in Bialystok mentioned above.

The rest of Leibel's brothers were not called by their mother's name, “Dinhas”, but rather carried the family name, “Golden”.

Berel Golden was a G-d-fearing, honest man who guarded his tongue. His only son, Alter, was an energetic trader; he was Yechezkel Morashkevitz' son-in-law. Alter sprinkled his conversations with quotations and proverbs. Berel's daughter Alta was married to a boy from Warsaw named Yehoshua Wolf Meizler, a sermonizer and lecturer. He travelled through the cities of Poland, fascinating crowds everywhere with the words from his lips which sprouted gems. He became famous in all the cities of Lithuania as “the Maggid [lecturer] from Sokoly.”

Berel's brother, Moshe Golden, owned a house in partnership with Barish the shochet. Moshe worked outside the town and came to Sokoly once every few weeks for the Sabbath. One of his sons married a woman from Zambrow, and the second son emigrated to America. His daughter, Raizel, married Mottel Burstein, and they opened a fabric store although they also had a grocery. The couple had three daughters and a son. The son emigrated to America. One of the daughters married Moshe Levis, the second married the young Weiner from Lapy, and the third, Stira, married Zundel Sokolowitz, Alter's son. Zundel completed his studies at the Gymnasia in Vilna and later received a medical degree in Prague, the capitol of Czechoslovakia. After he married Stira, the couple emigrated to America. Zundel had an excellent rhetorical talent. When he was only 15, he amazed his listeners with his rhetoric.

It is worth pointing out that the name Stira was given to his wife after her Aunt Stira, who was the wife of Rabbi Baruch Fridenberg from Moscow, passed away. The entire family prided itself on her righteousness and good deeds for the community.

The third brother, Yudel Golden, was a quiet and modest man. He had two wonderful sons-in-law: Zelig Kolodzhansky and Shmuel Hirsh Kravitz.

Other than the above-mentioned Golden family, there was another family named Golden in Sokoly. The two families were not related to each other. I refer to Berche Golden. Berche was a quiet, modest and religious man, who lived in the marketplace next to the old bet medrash, opposite the water pump.

Berche's son Michael was a Hebrew teacher in Warsaw and worked under the auspices of Rafael Gutman in the Jewish Community School. He was married in Warsaw. The couple had a daughter, who died at a young age.

Berche's second son, Alter, married a woman from Trestiny [Trzcianne]. They had a son named Chaim. Alter lived with his parents. He managed an oil press and also dealt in trade in the market. His wife, Mushale, died before the Jews were expelled from Sokoly. All the rest of the family were murdered in the Holocaust.

Apart from the four wealthy men mentioned above, there were a significant number of young men in Sokoly who achieved financial success and established careers for themselves after World War I. I will recount a few of them:

Yitzchak Meir Lachower owned a bank in Bialystok. Shlomke Olsha's son opened a commercial firm in Bialystok selling paints and chemical products.

[PHOTO: Yitzchak Meir Lachower, z”l, of blessed memory]

Berel, the son of Yona Czentkovsky, surprisingly became wealthy. He gave his sister the sum of several thousand zlotys as a dowry and built a house for his father.

Neta Zolty, Berke's son, was a quiet young man and not at all a trader type. He was one of the group of yeshiva students who learned in Bransk and Lida. Among this group were also Reuven Lev, the son of the shochet Shmuel Lev, and also Yisrael Elgrod.

Neta Zolty also learned and was educated at the yeshivot where he studied. He emigrated to the Land of Israel after World War I, where he changed his name to Natan Zahavi. Also in his group of immigrants were Nachum Yachnes, several of his brothers, the children of Hertzel Gutman and a number of other young people. Even though Neta was not familiar with trade, he succeeded in business more than his companions and revealed serious commercial initiative. In a relatively short time, Neta became a large trader of building materials and coal in Haifa. Neta brought his parents and sisters to Israel and settled them nicely from an economic standpoint. His father Berke lived to the age of 90.

Yitzchak Morashkevitz, the son of Yechezkel, the iron trader, also opened an iron business in Sokoly where he sold iron products, tools and building materials. Immediately upon the invasion of the Germans in Sokoly, Yitzchak was expelled together with Alter Pajus. Where they were taken and what happened to them is unknown, but not difficult to imagine.

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