by M. Y. Feigenboim
Translated by Libby Raichman
We had noticed earlier, that until the beginning of this century, almost no sign of cultural activity was evident in our town. The Enlightenment movement that blossomed in Brisk, barely 40 kilometers from Biale, did not even find the slightest resonance in town. The Rabbinic order and the Chassidic movement that were strongly rooted in the town, determined the essential tone of Jewish life, that was based on strong religious traditions. Every deviation from accepted lifestyles, was truly considered as heresy and in the struggle against it, every method was kosher.
Yet, notwithstanding the rigid religious regime, there were a few attempts at enlightenment in those days.
Until the First World War
In 1884, there was turmoil in the town concerning Christian images that might be discovered in the house of prayer. What it amounted to, was a matter regarding a small Hebrew arithmetic book Tsofnat Pa'anach (meaning revealer of secrets), that was found in the possession of one of the religious young men who studied in the House of Prayer. In the conventional signs in this book, real Christian images were seen…
In the years 1890 to 1893, a group of young people organized a library. At a gathering in the Lamoz forest, they collected amongst themselves 10 to 15 Ruble. With this money they bought Yiddish books from Warsaw novels by Solomon Rabinovich (ShmR)), Bloshtein and others. Each member paid 3 5 koppikes a week, and after a while, when they had collected about 30 Ruble, they bought Hebrew books from Warsaw. The librarian was Avrom Urmacher. The Biale Rabbi came to know about the secret library and managed to remove the Hebrew books that he burned at his home. The Yiddish books were divided amongst the members, and in this way avoided the same fate.
At the end of the 19th century, a group of Zionists established a Young Men's Society with the aim of studying Chumash (Pentateuch), Rashi, Shulchan Aruch, and also secretly promoting Zionistic ideas. The group would gather in the private school of A. Urmacher. Young tradesmen who were religiously inclined, belonged to this Young Men's Society.
After the discovery of the previously mentioned secret library, the group moved out of Urmacher's school on the orders of the Rabbi, and moved into a unit on Proste Street, but the Zionists continued to be in contact with them. On Purim, when the young men of the group were reading the Megillah, the two Zionists, Asher Hoffer and Mendl Pizshitz, brought to the attention of the congregation that it was not appropriate in a holy place, to bang with sticks and bars, at the mention of Haman's name. And they actually did not bang. This incident was referred to the Rabbi, and he ordered the young men not to have any dealings with the Young Men's Society.
In the years 1890 to 1893, in Biale there also existed a secret circle of young men that studied Hebrew and Russian. This group also arranged to receive books from Mezritsh. In the publication Podlassier Life number 19, of 19th May 1934, it says: the book Ahavat Tzion (Lovers of Zion) by Avraham Mapu, that played a pioneering role in the Enlightenment movement in Russia, was lost on its way from Mezritsh to Biale. The book is passed from hand to hand and is read in secret places. Finally, one young man was caught in the act, with the forbidden book in his hand.
The catcher, a zealous Chassid became so excited with his discovery that he ran out into the street with the book and began to rant wildly: Help! It's burning! The Jewish faith is in danger and the fire must be extinguished!.
In that period, one must include the activity of a society named Antifanaticism. From the name itself,
it is already clear what the aim of this society was. All we know about the activity of this society, is that it published 3 editions of a newspaper named Antifanaticism, written by hand.
Time, however, does what it wants. Even in the darkness of the BIale ghetto, signs of the rise of culture in Jewish life, began to penetrate. The religious circle continued their stubborn resistance, but the assailants became stronger and stronger.
Without doubt, the high school students who came from Russia to study in the Biale government high school (gymnasium), played a great part in the rise of culture amongst the Jewish population in Biale. They made contact with the Jewish youth and influenced them to engage in a worldly education. The Biale fanatics were powerless against these students because they could not throw the parents out of the Chassidic small prayer houses. The Biale religious Jews regarded the students at the high school as half Jews.
The decline of the Biale rabbinate after the death of Reb Yitzchak Rabinovicz, was an important reason for the weakening of the authority of the religious circle in the town.
The first school in the town was founded by Avrom Urmacher in the previous century. The school was situated in Yatke Street. Later, other schools were established by: Yakov Shteinman, Gedaliah Kravyetz, (who was called the Mezritsh teacher), Michael Fireman, Volf Nuchovitsh, Avrom Yakov Krideshtein and Avrom Kramarzsh.
When we mention here, the word ‘schools’, it should not be understood in the literal sense of the word. These were not schools at all, even for those times. All these schools were arranged in a very primitive way, were situated in only one room already equipped with school furniture, and mostly in the home of the teacher. Not one of the listed teachers had any teaching qualifications and were all selftaught. The schools used to have approximately 30 students, girls and boys, who came separately and studied separately. They studied a little Yiddish, Russian and Arithmetic. Yakov Shteinman was the only teacher who also taught Hebrew and Bible. His school bore the popular name at that time, Modernised Religious School.
As mentioned, the girls and boys studied separately, because no teacher would then have risked teaching boys and girls together. The boys were recruited from traditional religious schools, who were already studying with Gemarra teachers and whose parents wanted them to be able to write. These boys only came to the socalled school for a short time, an hour or two, when they were free from their religious schools. Their instruction was unusual, and the teacher used to sit and wait for his students. The reward was also minimal.
The teachers who established schools, also gave lectures in the wealthier homes. At the same time, they had a number of rivals in the town. These were the socalled writers, who used to come to people's houses and teach the residents to write a letter in Yiddish with a gentile address. Some teachers from religious schools also took eagerly to this work and taught people to write letters using a handbook of sample letters.
Of the teachers who gave lectures in people's homes, one named Sholem Ratshin, the soninlaw of a Biale resident, was particularly outstanding. This Sholem Ratshin, who was an active Zionist, was already giving lectures in Hebrew.
In the religious schools of the Gemarra teachers, teachers used to come in and teach the students to write. Some teachers were Christian and amongst them was the teacher Baranovsky, who was particularly wellknown.
Before the First World war, a few Biale Jewish children were studying in the local high school, and in the socalled, Government boarding school for girls.
At that time, Dr. G. Zita and his wife Bieyelinke, a dentist, and Advocate Kalman Hartglas, organized evening courses for the Biale Jewish youth, where among other subjects, they also learned the Polish language.
The attempts to establish libraries was partially successful, but Yiddish literature was then still too poor, and books in other languages were read very little, by the Jewish youth.
A group of young people organized a secret library in the home of the teacher Yakov Shteinman. Over time a space was also created there for readings by the Jewish high school students who studied in the local gymnasium.
A second illegal library was established by the Bund, that also had revolutionary literature.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, private libraries existed at the shops
that sold textbooks such as: Avrom Urmacher, Munish Zaltzman. For a certain fee, one could borrow books to read.
The first distributors of newspapers in the town were Binyamin Kavve and his wife Chavah. They used to receive the newspaper Frined (Friends) from Petersburg, and Hatzfirah (one of the first Hebrew newspapers) from Warsaw and distributed these newspapers to their subscribers. Later, they were already operating from the street, next to Chaim Yaske Kashtenvoim's house, and sold items from the Warsaw Yiddish press like: Hinte, (Today), Moment, and various Jewish periodicals and newspapers in other languages.
We also know about the theatre activity of the Biale youth, in the time preceding the First World War. Amongst others, a performance of Y. Gordon's Hashe the Orphan was presented that made a lasting impression on the visitors. It is interesting to note, that the religious circle did not react to this.
From time to time, wandering Jewish troupes would find their way into Biale and give performances in Chaim Yoske's hall. We also know about an impressive Sholem Aleichem evening that took place in Biale, whose proceeds were intended to buy up Sholem Aleichem's work from the publishers. Such a campaign was organized throughout Poland at that time and it appears that our town also contributed its share to this undertaking. Noach Prilutzky came from Warsaw for this evening.
The Bund and the Zionists used to organize public readings on literary and cultural themes, and also distribute various brochures amongst the population.
During the First World War
The flare up in the cultural realm, however, came during the years of the First World War, under the German occupation. Precisely then, when the Biale population was suffering from hunger, need and cold, precisely in those wartime years, the Biale youth craved education and knowledge, with the intensity of those who thirst for water.
In the first place, the Zionist group advanced in their daring feat to organize a Hebrew school. It founded the Hebrew school Yavne, that had numerous male and female students between its walls. For the first time in the history of Jewish Biale, the town had a school of which it could truly, be proud.
Standing: Name unknown, Itshe Sherman (Itshe Genzeles), Chaye Rozenboim and Fyvel (surname unknown)
During the war years, a girl's school started, run by Perl Shuvak (Moshe Tocker's daughter), and Perl Fishman (Shlayme Fishman's daughter). This school that was housed in the home of Rottenberg, on Reformatzke Street, had a high level of education. There, the language of instruction was Polish. In the first years after the First World War, the school was closed.
The activities of the Parties brought fruitful results. The Zionist Party founded the BetAm, in premises that housed a library, a reading hall, a dramatic circle and Maccabi with its orchestra. From time to time, various productions took place in BetAm such as: theatre productions, concerts, touring events by Maccabi, and a variety of lectures.
The Bund legalized its small library with the occupying regime and established a drama circle. In 1915, a few members of the Bund founded a literarydramatic society. The military nonorthodox Rabbi at that time, Dr. Tenser, also helped with the legalization of this society with the German regime, and thanks to his efforts, the society received a 2storey locale on Garntsarske Street, as well as a piano and furniture.
This society was of a nonpolitical nature and was occupied solely with cultural activities. The musician Shimon Blanklider (the fat one) organized a choir, and a dramatic circle emerged under the direction of Gedalyahu Braverman. Various lectures and artistic evenings would often take place in the premises of the society.
With time, a buffet was organized in these premises, where the visitors could purchase sugared tea with bread, for low prices. In those bitter war years, when hunger was a frequent visitor in Jewish homes, the possibility of receiving a glass of sweet tea and bread at a minimal price, was a great achievement.
The society was managed by a committee consisting of: Fulle (Refael) Lederman, Gedalyahu Braverman, Mordechai Hochman, Shimon Blanklider (the fat one), Moshe Rodzinek, Tzalke Voksin (a refugee from Brisk) and others.
Quite often, performances of the dramatic circles and the mandolin orchestra took place in the town, in the hall of Chaim Yoske Kashtenboim, and Kyavske, and in the seminar where the Germans procured a small theatre hall.
The Jewish Social circle received great support for their cultural activities, from the Jewish military personnel in the German army.
At the end of the war, the party Po'alei Tzion (Workers for Zion) emerged and there too, a library was established.
In this way, during the entire period of occupation in the town, a vibrant cultural activity existed, in the most difficult economic circumstances.
In the Renewed Poland
With the rise of the Polish regime in 1918, changes came about in the cultural life of the town.
Firstly, the town lost its Yavne school and was never again privileged to have a Jewish school.
It is difficult to find someone from Biale, who would be able to clarify how, and why, suddenly, overnight, the Yavne school was converted to a FolkSchool. Although the teachers were then still the same, yet, the standard of education dropped. Hebrew continued to be the language of instruction, but some subjects were already being taught in Polish. The school continued to remain under the influence of the Zionist organization but constantly struggled for its survival, until 1923, when it closed completely.
At the time when the Yavneh school was suddenly converted to a FolkSchool, a private school arose in the town, under the direction of Nachman Shivak, that advanced successfully. The school, however, could not withstand the competition from the free state FolkSchools, and after a few years, it closed.
After the liquidation of these schools, attempts were made to establish new schools, but these remained unsuccessful. Attempts to create a school, were made both by the Zionists and by those in the Yiddish circles, who were advocates for the Yiddish language. Even Tarbut schools were active and the Jewish Schools Organization, but these were only intermediary and after a short time, ceased to exist.
At that time, Jewish children filled the state schools. The two state high schools in the town, were no longer boycotted by the Jews, as they once were in Tsarist times; however now, on the contrary, the administrators of the high schools restricted access to Jews, citing a shortage of places.
In the premises of the liquidated FolkSchool, a state school was established for Jewish girls, who were freed from studying on the Sabbath; but with time the school ceased to exist, and the Jewish girls of this school were transferred to another school where they had to attend the school on the Sabbath, just as the rest of the Jewish children in all the state schools. In the beginning the frequenting of the schools on the Sabbath by
the Jewish children evoked a reaction from the religious parents, but later, in hindsight, no protest was noticeable, even in very religious circles.
A few years before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Agudah Circle founded a Bet Yakov school whose activity continued until the war. The school was housed in a room in Tille's home, at the marketplace.
It should be mentioned that the teacher Luba VinetroibTuchshneider ran a preschool, almost without interruption, that was even active during the Second World War.
From time to time, a private school run by Volf Nuchovicz, was active.
In the first years after the rise of the Polish state, the sisters Varshavsky, teachers from Warsaw, were involved particularly with preparing male and female students in the town, for the examinations in the two state high schools.
In the town, a few years before the war
there was a man named Aronsky from Volin who was active as a Hebrew teacher and successful in his work.
Evening courses were frequently organized, where for a minimal payment, young people learnt Hebrew. The first courses that offered other subjects besides Hebrew, were organized by Hashomer Ha'tza'ir. Later Hashomer Ha'tza'ir established evening classes for Hebrew only, that was taught in the Folk School by the teacher M. M.Gelenberg. When the courses organized by Hashomer Ha'tza'ir ceased to exist, the teacher Gelenberg suggested offering the courses himself, at first in the home of Golda Vineberg (Alter Vineberg's wife) and later in the house of the Friedmans, on Kshivver Street. Gelenberg managed to attract several learners in the town. Hebrew courses were later managed by Moshe Smoliar and the aforementioned teacher, Aronsky.
M. M. Gelenberg was one of the initiators and founders of the Esperanto courses in the town, that were implemented by A. Urmacher.
When the war broke out in 1939, there were 2 libraries in the town: one at the Tarbut organization and one at the Culture League. Both were completely destroyed during the Nazi rule.
The dramatic circles displayed an intensive activity, often performing the works of Y.Gordon, Peretz Hirshbine, Sholem Aleichem, Mendele Mocher Sforim and others. The dramatic circle that grouped around Bet Am was directed by Motl (Mordechai) Pyekarsky. The other dramatic circles were mostly led by the director Gedalyahu Braverman.
Thanks to M. M. Gelenberg's initiative, a dramatic circle was formed, named Y. L. Peretz, that presented Molier's The Miser on stage, under the direction of Berel Manperl from Mezritsh.
From time to time artistic troupes from Warsaw and individual artists would visit the town, and appear on stage with their own programs, such as poetic recitalists, singers and humourists.
The Blanklider musical family, with their artistic activity, enriched Jewish cultural life in Biale and earned well. They brought a musical atmosphere to every cultural presentation, wherever it was necessary. A part of this family was involved as organizers and conductors of orchestras and choirs, and Shimon Blanklider excelled particularly (he was called the thin one, to differentiate between the second Shimon who was fat). This Shimon Blanklider displayed great organizational talent and as such, he was the founder and director of the Maccabi orchestra. He organized many choirs and mandolin orchestras in the town, with which he would often give concerts. If a gymnastic teacher was needed at the Yavne school, Shimon Blanklider was called, and he was trusted with the position in which he excelled greatly. The Blankliders also gave private music lessons. It is worth noting that in those times, when antisemitism was at its worst, the Christian community had to approach the Blankliders if they wanted to enjoy good music.
Almost until 1930, Maccabi was very active in the realm of sport, and also possessed a fine windorchestra. The general apathy and resignation that descended upon the Jewish population of Biale, also brought about the downfall of Maccabi. The Bund also had a sport club for a certain time, called Morgenshtern (Morning Star).
At the beginning of the 1920's, attempts were made to release a weekly newspaper, but they were not successful. Only a few numbers of the Biale Echo were published that were distributed by the Zionist organization in Biale. This was a strong militant newspaper against the Biale clergy, with the Rabbi at its head. In the same year, a literary edition was also published under the editorship of the teacher M.Gelenberg.
In 1926, the weekly newspaper Podlassier Life began to be published. It was edited by M.M. Gelenberg, thanks to whose efforts the newspaper developed and was published for a few years.
From 1932, the following weekly newspapers were published with breaks: Podlassier Life, an independent social weekly; Biale Weekly, a national social weekly for Biale and the surrounding areas; Podlassier Voice, an independent social periodical. From a number of copies that we managed to receive, it is evident, that in the year 1938, the Biale Weekly was still being published in the town under the editorship of Chaim M'yodek.
Gelenberg was also the founder of a literary circle that used to organize literary judgements and brought noted lecturers from Warsaw, almost every sabbath.
The Jewish Citizen Club (Club Avivatelsky),
that could be found in the home of the dentist Yoel Zilberberg, would arrange lectures/readings, mostly in the Polish language.
When war broke out, there were three Jewish newspaper kiosks: Chavah Kavve (at the end of Volnoshtshi Place, at the entrance to Yaneve Street); Chaim Kavve (in Volnoshtshi Place, near Chaim Yoske's house) and Ahron Riebak (the end of Volnoshtshi Place at the porter's intersection).
At the end of this overview, the Biale teachers and socalled writers should be mentioned, who made the effort to bring knowledge and culture to the Jewish population in the last 70 80 years of Jewish life in Biale. The list is almost comprehensive.
Asher Avrom Kodnyers
Yishayahu Eliezer (Shya Leizer, not Muzshinek, the writer of petitions).
Meir Dovid Goldberg (writer from Brisk).
Nechama Shriber (a nickname).
Dos Cozzakl (a nickname).
Avrom Yakov Krideshtein.
Elchanan (sent out from Kovno Lithuania).
Michael Fireman (North America).
Yonah Shteinman (North America).
Matityahu KLigsberg (Israel).
Chaim Barlas (Israel).
Yitzchak Leib Mizel.
Kanalboim (student from Warsaw).
Tuvia Binshtok (North America)
Rafael Myerzon (Belgium).
Feldman (daughter of the upholsterer).
Shimon Blanklider (the thin one).
Yishayahu Idl Lemberger.
Menachem M. Gelenberg.
Yakov Nordman (Israel).
Yitzchak Lerer (Israel).
Moshe Smoliar (Israel).
Renya GoldshteinSuknov (Australia).
by M. Raboun/Tel Aviv
Translated by Marc Zell
The first modern, national Hebrew school in Biala known as the Yavne Hebrew School, was established around Passover time in 1916 during the German occupation in the First World War.
The organizers and founders of the school were Moshe Rubenstein, Yehoshua Fisher and Yaakov Steinman. The physician, Dr. A. Meller from Altona outside of Hamburg (Germany), assisted in realizing the idea for the school. He was a Zionist who found himself at that time in Biala as a German military doctor.
The founders of the school had thought for years about establishing a Hebrewlanguage school in the town. But the idea could not be realized because the Czarist authorities refused to grant permission to open such a school. Besides, the organizers were doubtful whether the school would have any pupils, because they did not believe that the religious groups in town would tolerate the existence of a modern school.
During the early days of the German occupation these same persons wanted to commence public Zionist activity in town by organizing evening classes in Hebrew. As they first set about realizing their plan they changed direction and decided instead to create a modern, nationalistic, coeducational Hebrewlanguage school.
In order to ensure that they would have enough students, just before the school was to open, the organizers were inspired to create a children's home to prepare the vanguard class of pupils for the school.
The requisite permission to open the school was obtained from the German occupation authorities by Mrs. Hanna Miriam Mintz with the help of the Military Rabbi Dr. Tenzer.
The school was located in an annex off the courtyard of Chaim Levy Rubenstein's house and later at the end of its existence in the home of Motel from Weiness [?] on Grabanower Street.
At first only two classes were opened but shortly afterwards there were four classes in operation.
The board of trustees for the school consisted of: Mrs. Hanna Miriam Mintz, Moshe Rubenstein, Yehoshua Fisher, Yaakov Steinman and Yonah Steinman.
The faculty was comprised of: Yaakov Steinman, Yonah Steinman, Shlomo Eisenberg, Shimon Blankleider, Yeshayahu Idel Lemberger, Abraham Gewirtzman (a refugee from BrestLitovsk), Chaim Barlas (refugee from BrestLitovsk), Yitzhak Leib Meisel (refugee from Pinsk), Matityahu Kligsberg. Later the following teachers joined: Michael Feierman, Wolf Nuchowicz, Gedalyahu Krawiec, Moshe Kramarz, the Warszawski sisters (from Warsaw) and the female college student Kanalbojm (from Warsaw).
The following subjects were taught in the school: languages Hebrew (language of instruction), German and Polish; arithmetic, history, Bible, geography and natural science, singing, drawing, handcrafts and physical education. After the lectures they would learn Chumash [five books of Moses] with Rashi. At the beginning of the school's operation Talmud was also studied. Early in the school day before classes began they would hold public prayers and after the school day mincha. Characteristically, when the girl pupils who were exempt from prayers did not want to be excluded from the class and used to spend the whole time praying, not out of piety, but more because they did not want to be seen to agree to and recognize that there were any differences between them and the boys.
The school was not part of any school district and operated independently. The curriculum was developed at the school itself using its own staff.
Textbooks, school supplies and books for the school library were brought in from Warsaw. Later on books were ordered from Germany.
Studies were conducted at a very high level and was quite intensive. The pupils made good progress in their studies, especially in Hebrew. The pupils were well developed in social skills. The Rabbi Dr. Sh. Pozanski wanted to accept several of the Yavneh pupils into his teachers' seminar in Warsaw even without examination (as related by Chaim Rozmarin). Those pupils who had decided to continue their education in the municipal public high school (gymnasium) had no difficulty passing the entrance examinations. They proved to be more advanced in general studies than their Christian classmates.
At the founding of the school there were approximately 100 pupils within its walls,, which later grew to about 200 pupils. Sadly, due to the lack of space more pupils could not be accepted.
Most of the students paid tuition and only a small percentage was exempt from paying.
The school's budget was covered principally by tuition. There was also income from different events such as artists night, flower sales. Wood for heating the school in wintertime was usually obtained from the German Civil Administration. When the Polish state was established, they used to get a subsidy from the Joint.
In its early days the school did not have paid administrative personnel, except for the custodian, Yosef, a refugee from BrestLitovsk.
The town's Jewish community had a positive and respectful relationship with the school. Even in the religious community there was no tension or persecution. The school had among its students a significant number of religious homes.
The school used to put one traditional Hanukka and Purim events, various types of other events, Lag B'Omer and Tu B'Av outings, etc. These events used to take place far from away from the school area and were transformed into grandiose productions of the Zionist movement for the national idea. These events used make a strong impression on the population for a long time.
The annual memorial for the Zionist leader, Dr. T. Herzl, was a major new development in town. The event took place in the Yavneh School.
This memorial with its ceremonial presentation was particularly etched in the pupils' memories. A giant portrait of Herzl (painted by the artist, Yeshaya Idel Lemberger) in a black frame was hung on the wall illuminated by two kindled candles. The evening used to begin with the prayer El Maleh Rachamim chanted by Pintche Liebman accompanied by the school choir. This was followed by lectures on the life and work of the founder of the Zionist Organization. Many members and supporters of the town's Zionist Organization also used to attend the memorial evening.
Relations between teachers and pupils were very warm and full of respect from the pupils towards their educators. Near the end of its existence a female teacher, a college student and a Bundist from Warsaw arrived at the school. She tried to influence some of the students in the upper class against Bible studies. Following an intimate discussion by the principal with the students, the lady was completely discharged.
When the Polish State was established, there was confusion among some of the teachers, the level of learning had fallen aggravating the financial situation of the school. It is impossible for me to remember the circumstances under which the name Yavneh for the school disappeared and it started to be called the Volkschul [LMZ: Public School].
Translated by Libby Raichman
The school was founded in 1919 by Nachman Sziwak, who came from a village near Mezritch. At first the school was located in the home of Yeshayahu Reizwasser, the tailor, on the first floor on Prosta Street. There was only a single class in which some 10 pupils between the ages of 10 to 14 learned. The educational level of the pupils was not the same for all. Nachman Sziwak was the sole teacher and used to study the following subjects with the pupils: Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and arithmetic. There were no school facilities to speak of.
Sometime later the school was transferred to the home of Alte Cohen on Prosta Street. There three classes were set up.
The following teachers were active in the school: Nachman Sziwak (Polish and arithmetic); Tuvia Binstock (Hebrew); Falic Meyerson (Yiddish and geography); Mordechai Goldberg (Bible); Lyube Weintraub (Polish and arithmetic in the lower grades).
The school was privately owned and was maintained by student tuition (about 100 students) and was well liked in the town.
The school was shut down after several years of operation, because the students went to study at the mandatory governmentrun school.
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