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Szczuczyn entry from Beth Hatfusoth

Szczuczyn
A town in the district of Bialistok, northeastern Poland

Szczuczyn, which lies 96 kilometers northwest of Bialistok, is on record as from the 14th century, but it was granted the status of a town, together with the right to hold five yearly fairs and a weekly market day, only at the end of the 17th century. In 1742 a hospital was established in the town. A few Jewish families lived in Szczuczyn in the 18th century and their number increased in the 19th century, mostly in consequence of the movement of Jews from the villages to the towns.

In 1808 the number of the Jews in the town was 675, being 31% of the total population. In 1897 their number increased to 3,336 - 66% of the total.

The Jewish community of Szczuczyn had a big synagogue, built in the 18th century, two study-houses and a number of small shtiebels (prayer and study places). At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the community's spiritual leader was Rabbi Yosele, famous in the Jewish world as a great scholar of the Torah and the Halakhah and as an outstanding yet modest person. He was honoured as a holy man also by the Christians, and Polish farmers used to ask him to bless their fields. When he died in 1931, large number of people attended his funeral, among them rabbis from all over Poland. The last rabbi of Szczuczyn was Rabbi Eliahu Zvi Ephron.

Three heders, a talmud-torah school and a yeshiva were supported by the community and the town's council. At the end of the 19th century a heder metukkan (reformed heder) was established, where secular subjects were also taught, as well as a Hebrew school. At the beginning of the 20th century a Hebrew heder was formed and also two classes of a state school, mostly for girls. After World War I there were also Jewish teachers in the Polish state school and the headmaster was Jewish. The talmud-torah school had six classes and one yeshiva class. The graduates of the local schools continued their studies at the gymnasium of the neighbouring town Grajewo, 14 kilometers north-east of Szczuczyn, at the yeshiva of Grajewo or at yeshivot of other towns. Generally, the community of Szczuczyn was culturally in close contact with the community of Grajewo. Two libraries held thousands of books in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish.

Agudat Israel founded in 1925 a school for girls of the "Bet Yaacov" network. That year a state elementary school for the Jewish community was also founded, in which too most of the pupils were girls.

The community had a number of charitable institutions which came to the aid of the needy in bad times. Towards the end of World War I the Jews of Szczuczyn suffered from the hands of the soldiers of the Polish general Haller, who was a proclaimed antisemite. The soldiers beat Jews and looted goods and valuables. The charity funds helped to rehabilitate the victims.

The first Jews to settle in Szczuczyn engaged in trade and crafts. There were tailors, shoemakers and tinsmiths. A few Jewish families made a living from home weaving of flax. In due course of time, most of the shops in the town were held by Jews. Brisk trade markets also the weekly market days and the annual fairs.

Small industries, among them distilleries, flour mills and a carpet factory, were set up at the end of the 19th century. In the period between the two world wars, Szczuczyn had a soap factory, an oil factory, and a grinding mill.

In 1925 unions of the Jewish tradesmen and the Jewish craftsmen were formed, which ran charitable funds and societies. That year Jews established also a cooperative bank, which had 350 members.

"Bnei Zion", the first zionist organization in Szczuczyn, was formed in 1898. It had a library and a reading-room in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. It also held evening classes for adults for Hebrew and Hebrew literature, history of the Jewish people, geography of Eretz Israel and English. A branch of the zionist organization was established in 1916, and gradually also local branches of the zionist parties. From 1920 branches of their youth movements were also set up. In 1925 "Be-Halutz" operated in the town a training kibbutz, to prepare pioneers for settling in Eretz Israel. Additional training kibbutzim were operated by the youth movements "Betar" and "Poalei Agudat Israel".

Apart from the zionist organizations, "Agudat Israel" and the "Bund" were also active in the town. The "Bund" had a library and a drama circle. A few Jews were members of the Communist party.

The sport activities of the community were organized by "Maccabi". There was also a drama group which performed plays, and proceeds went to the various charitable organizations.

The Jews of Szczuczyn were suitably represented in the town's council - out of 24 councilors, 16 were Jewish.

At the beginning of the 1930's, during the economic crisis, the Jews suffered from an economic boycott and from injuries to their person and property by members of the N.D. (Narodowa Demokracja - a Polish political party with a declared antisemitic program).

On the eve of World War II close to 3,000 Jews were living in Szczuczyn, 55% of the town's total population.

 

The Holocaust Period

When World War II broke out (September 1, 1939), Jews from Szczuczyn escaped to Bialistok and Lomza. The German army entered the town on the 7th of September. Already on the following day Jews were stopped on the streets and taken away for forced labour. On the 9th of September Jewish males of the ages 16 - 50 were ordered to report for registration. About 350 men were concentrated in the old synagogue and sent to Germany for forced labour.

On the 12th of September the Germans set fire to all the synagogues and the scrolls of the Torah. On the 23rd of September the Germans withdrew from the area in accordance with their agreement with the U.S.S.R. (based on the Ribbentrop - Molotov pact of August 1939) and the Soviets took over. The town was annexed to the U.S.S.R., and the life of the Jews continued under that regime. Communist Jews were integrated into the local authorities but some Jews were held up in apprehensions of rich people and owners of property. A number of wealthy Jewish families were deported to Russia.

In January 1940 the Germans took the Jewish men of Szczuczyn, who had previously been taken away for forced labour, into a wood near Sobibor. With them were also Jews from other places, 650 men in all. There they were shot by the Germans and left to die. Those who survived and were able to move tried to cross the border into the Soviet territory, some were caught and deported to camps in Siberia and only a few managed to return to their home town.

When the Germans attacked the U.S.S.R. (22 June 1941), Szczuczyn was bombed from the air and a whole street went up in flames. A few Jews managed to escape from the town before it fell to the Germans. Some 2,000 Jews remained in Szczuczyn. When the Soviet troops retreated, the Germans kept forcing their way eastward and the town was left practically under no authority. On the 28th of June, Polish bands forced into Jewish homes and murdered whole families. 300 corpses of men, women and children were thrown into anti-tank ditches near the town. Jewish women appealed to Polish dignitaries and German officers who had come to the town. Only patrols of German troops stopped the riots. On the 24th of July, Polish policemen again murdered some 100 Jews in the town's Jewish cemetery.

On the 8th of August 1941 Gestapo men came to Szczuczyn. On their orders, the Jews were concentrated in the market place and divided into a number of groups. Meanwhile, one of the streets was fenced off by barbed wire and set to be the Jewish ghetto. Women, children and young males were taken into the ghetto, 15 members of a Judenrat were appointed, as well as 4 Jewish policemen. The groups which were not taken to the ghetto, comprising old men, young girls and some of the young men, were murdered in the Jewish cemetery. Among them was the community's rabbi, Rabbi Ephron.

Those who were crowded in the ghetto suffered hunger and deprivation. Many became sick and died.

On the 2nd of November 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. All who were still there were sent to the transit camp of Bogusza, and from there, in December, to the extermination camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Szczuczyn was liberated by the Red Army on the 26th of January 1945.

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