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[Page 37]

Under Polish Jurisdiction 1919-1939

by Y.H. Kancypolski

Following the defeats suffered by the German armies in France at the end of 1918, a revolution erupted in Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm fled to Holland while an armistice was concluded among the belligerents.

Bialystok, which was then a key railroad centre and far from the war front, served the Germans as a depot for unloading and maintaining arms, ammunition, food and clothing for their army. As soon as the revolution broke out against the German regime, its commandant in Bialystok, a celebrated general, shot himself unable to bear the humiliation of defeat.

Poland, until then divided into three sections for one hundred years among Germany, Austria and Russia, enslaved and oppressed almost as if responding on cue – immediately threw off its shackles and stood in opposition against its conquerors.

Many Poles set fire to German warehouses, looting guns, clothing and food. Young Polish boys brandished rifles over their shoulders, organizing themselves into legions to expel the German occupiers. Wherever they found a German soldier, they threw him to the ground, pulled off his coat and shoes and chased him back on his way to Germany.

Ultimately, however, many Jews suffered from this resurgent Polish nationalism. For several months, at a railroad station between Warsaw and Bialystok, Jews were pulled off the trains ostensibly to be searched. In fact they were brutally beaten and robbed and had their beards sheared off against their will.

Later on things quieted down. Bialystok began manufacturing uniforms and blankets for the Polish Army. Poland fought against Russia for two years and Bialystok had more than enough work for its factories. Finally, after peace was concluded in 1920, many Bialystoker merchants and manufacturers returned from Russia where they had gone in 1915 to join the Czarist armies.

They returned to factories and machines that had been severely neglected. Everything was gradually put into good working order. For three years, business boomed since commodities had been scarce for the Polish population during the war.

Bialystok fared well. In 1924 the Polish government established a sound currency. Business in Poland returned to normal and conditions stabilized. Bialystok did, however, miss its German and Russian markets. The rest of Poland could do with only three months' worth of supplies manufactured in Bialystok. Under the early Polish jurisdiction, factories remained idled in Bialystok for seven to eight months per year. Workers received no unemployment benefits from the government.

A mass migration of Jewish merchants, factory owners and workers from Bialystok began. They went to Rumania, Yugoslavia and even to Australia. But the majority went to Israel and the Americas.

Because of the chronic depression that plagued Bialystok's industry, a delegation of manufacturers appealed to the Polish government to ease the tax burden on Jewish merchants and factory owners and to encourage the Polish army to place orders with them. The government answered that it did not care whether Bialystok's industry collapsed altogether. Poland could live with Bialystok. As for taxes, the government's minister claimed that the Jews would find an answer. After all, they supposedly had rich relatives in America who would not abandon them.

With the exception of the years 1931-1935, when Bialystok was able to export its products to India, China and Spain, the decade of the thirties was a crisis period for industry.

* * * *

With the establishment of the new Polish regime, a different system was instituted within the Bialystok city administration. All cities in Poland were to acquire a Polish character, meaning that Jews lost control over the economy in their towns. Voting districts were gerrymandered; Bialystok was tacked on to smaller towns nearby. Jews became a minority, dropping from 55 to 47%. Appeals for voters to register as well as platform explanations and slates of candidates were printed only in Polish which the majority of Jews in 1924 did not understand.

As a result, they decided to boycott the elections thus ensuring that the newly chosen city administration consisted entirely of Poles. The latter even claimed it was a great honour for them that the Jews had such unquestioning confidence in their ability to oversee the economy of the proud city of Bialystok.

Soon the Polish citizens realized they could not do without Jews in positions of authority. The city's economy deteriorated sharply. The Polish-dominated administration was set aside and new elections were called. Now the shoe was on the other foot. The Polish citizens refused to vote and the Jews participated fully in the voting. As a consequence, although Jews were in the minority within the gerrymandered districts, they became a majority in the city government. In order not to alienate the Poles, however, Jews in Bialystok voted for a Polish city president and for a Jew as vice-president.

In 1927 Jews gained control of Bialystok's economy. They restructured the tax system and revised the

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Budget so that many Jewish institutions – the hospital, the old age home, orphanages, trade schools, Talmud torahs and public schools – received large subsidies from the city administration. Bialystok also elected several Jewish representatives to the Polish parliament in Warsaw.

Bialystok's streets grew more beautiful in the years prior to World War II. Electric cables were laid under the ground, streets were widened, avenues were line with trees and a new sewer system was installed. Large new apartment buildings and four-family homes were constructed.


The Community before the War

by Dowid Klementynowski

During the second Polish census which was taken on December 19, 1932, Bialystok's population was 91,325 of which 39,165 were Jews. According to a private census conducted on April 1, 1936, the general population was 99,722 – 43% of which were constituted of Jews or 42,880. It was estimated in July 1939 that there were 50,000 Jews; the general population according to the local Bureau of Statistics was 108,063.

But in October 1939, when the city was already occupied by the Red Army, the overall population in Bialystok was estimated at 200,000 of whom about half were refugees who had fled to the town from Nazi-occupied areas in Poland. At that time the Jews constituted about 70% or 140,000 since most of the refugees were Jews.

The year 1939 was the twentieth anniversary of many Jewish social and cultural institutions in Bialystok. At the end of 1918 while still under German occupation and particularly after February 19, 1919 when the city of Bialystok was incorporated as part of the Polish Republic, the Jewish community entered a new period of creativity on all fronts.

Poland, for more than one hundred years under Russian political and cultural domination, became a free nation. With independence, a new wave of nationalism spread throughout the country which soon deteriorated into a narrow chauvinism. Anti-Semitism increased from day-to-day. Those who not long before had themselves been persecuted began immediately to oppress the Jews particularly in the economic sphere. Jews were systematically edged out of their positions. Employers refused to hire Jewish workers. It was decided that Jewish competition would be defeated by imposing all kinds of unfair taxes. But Jews were determined to resist. They formed professional associations, cooperatives and credit unions, created cultural and social institutions for self-assistance and social welfare, established a fine Jewish press and a solid educational system.

Thanks to the great financial subsidies from American Jewish organizations (“Joint”, Bialystoker Relief Committee and private philanthropists); Jews in Bialystok began to recover slowly. The new democratically run Kehilla gradually reduced its deficit, supporting its existing institutions and launching new ones through increased social and cultural activities. The dynamic Jewish community of Bialystok succeeded in fashioning a modern and greatly expanded cultural milieu.

Thus the year 1939 became an anniversary celebration of twenty years of impressive achievement. It was hoped that even greater strides would be made in the coming years; better times and more encouraging conditions were eagerly anticipated. Although many saw the storm clouds gathering, the Jewish community of Bialystok had, during the three hundred years of its existence, survived so many political crises, wars, revolutions, pogroms, invasions by various armies and periods of profound anxiety that it felt confident it could overcome the critical times that lay ahead.

So the people continued to work and produce until the last moment. No one anticipated that at the end of the celebration year of 1939 Hitler would carry out a bloody campaign to liquidate all of Eastern European Jewry, culminating in the extinction of the Jewish life in Bialystok.

 

The Scope of the Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok

In the years before the Nazi occupation and the destruction of Bialystok, the Kehilla encompassed many agencies and committees that addressed all of the issues affecting the Jewish community. The following branches made up the Kehilla: the rabbinate; the public bath for Jews and non-Jews; Jewish ritual slaughter of chickens; the chevra Kadisha responsible for proper funerals and burial of Jews; A Relief Committee for refugees; the hundred-year-old Jewish hospital; the home for the aged; the home for incurables and the charity foundation that distributed funds to poor couples getting married, women having babies, destitute guests of the town, etc.

The Kehilla also had its representatives on the Municipal Council. It established a library used by scientists, teachers, authors, speakers, researchers and students. The Kehilla also sponsored a Sholem Aleichem Library, a Yehoash Reading Room that contained newspapers and periodicals from many countries and a Zamenhof-Esperanto society.

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On February 27th, 1938, S. Goldman was elected chairman and M. Wisoci, vice-chairman of the Kehilla. Zwi Klementynowski replaced Goldman as chairman in October, 1938 when the authorities disapproved the latter's appointment.

Others who served until July 1939 were: J. Lyfszic, executive secretary; Cwi Kohen, chairman, budget committee; B. Szmit; B. Subotnik; C. Oldak; S. Punianski; J. Indicki; C. Stoljar; M.C. Herszkowicz; B. Fiszer; A. Goldberg; A.H. Joszpe; L.A. Lewin; P. Melnicki; H. Szwec; J. Peciner; M. Kwistowicz; P. Cytron. Members: Director: E. Barasz; Secretary; S. Rawet; Chief Rabbi: Gedalja Rozenman.

Economy: Sukocki and Szyniak; Treasury and Accounting: Grosman and Kamenecki; Law: Warszawski; Librarian: Jeruchem Bachrach.

On July 6, 1939, the new Kehilla administration was unveiled. Executive Board: C. Oldak; J. Goldberg (Zionists): J. Waks; B. Flojmenbojm; Domeracki; P. Fejgin (Bund); B. Farbsztejn (Agudah); P. Melnicki (Craftsmen); J. Rubinsztejn (Merchants); Peciner; Szwec (Labour Zionists) and B. Subotnik (Mizrachi).

The Council: S. Goldman; Szobfisz; Lew; Nowodworski; Melamdowicz; Psachje; Kimche and M. Rubinstejn (Bund); Zwi Kohen; B. Szmid (later H. Grad); Zwi Klementynowski (Zionist); Rabbi B. Halpern (later C. Bogan) (Mizrachi); Dr. Grosfeld; Szuster and Beknsztejn (Labour Zionists); M. Wisocki (Small Businessmen); Goldberg; M.J. Lejzerowicz and Spektor (Craftsmen); P. Weinberg; M. Moszowski (Agudah); Altasowicz (Revisionists); A. Tyktin (later J. Lyfszic) and M. Kurianski (Merchants).

The Rabbinate: Meir Szczedrowicki; Nachman Biszkowicz; Ari Szapiro; Simcha Malin; Mojsze Malin; Pynchos Ajzensztat; Boruch Eli Kaplan; Krupinski and two others.

The Jewish Hospital – renowned in Bialystok and elsewhere. It featured medical, surgical and radiology departments. It trained interns and residents for future general and specialty practice. Director: D. Kaplan; Chief of Surgery, Dr. Rozental; Chief of Medicine, Dr. Fryszman; Attendings in Medicine, Dr. Lukaczewski, Dr. Ajnhorn, Dr. Trejwusz. Ear-Nose-Throat and Eyes: Dr. Szacki; Dr. Gawze. Dermatology: Dr. Krinski.

Younger physicians: Dr. J. Sokol; Dr. Wasylkowski; Dr. Solowejczyk; Dr. Gutman; Dr. Krupnik; Dr. Ajzensztejn; Dr. Fiszer; Dr. Kramarz; Dr. Lewi; Dr. Nowogrudski and Dr. Nochum Klementynowski.

The Old Age Home: Founders: Jechiel Ber Wolkowiski, Jakow Szlojme Barasz, Lejb Jewnin. Founded in 1882 under the leadership of Fajwel and Binjomin Cytron, its medical services were modernized with the supervision of Dr. Nochum Klementynowski. Most active supporters were: M.D. Fridman and J. Bejrachowicz. Administration appointed on August 3, 1939: Chemowicz; Konel; Wajnsztejn; Grand and Goldberg. Ladies Auxiliary: Chairman: Chinke Grynhojz; Mmes. Szwarcman; Pintel; Chemowicz; Wejksman; Sofer and Woldman.

 

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A group of Bialystoker Intellectuals in 1932

 

Incurable Home: Founded in 1909 by Ajzik Horodyszcz; Maks Barasz; Merlinski and Treszczanski. Administration appointed on August 3, 1939: Bejrachowicz; Bojarski; Psachje; M. Mowszowski and Wajdenbojm.

Municipal Council: On May 21, 1931 the following Jews were elected from three lists (Bund, Zionists and Jewish Bloc): Jakow Waks; Josef Fin; Binjomin Flojmenbojm; Szoul Goldman; Lejzer Szobfisz; Szmuel Fejgin; Mojsze Melamdowicz; Rywka Kustin; Elijohu Domeracki; J. Krejn (Bund); Zwi Klementynowski; Ruwen Nachimowski; Dr. Jakow Grosfed (Zionist); Dr. Aleksander Rejgrodski; Jakow Lifszic; Bunim Farbsztejn (Jewish Block); Hersz Lew succeeded B. Flojmenbojm as a councilman.

Dr. Josef Chazanowicz, Library Administration: Pejsach Kaplan, Chairman; Chajkel Oldak, Vice-Chairman; J. Indicki, Secretary; Najdus, Kuricki, B. Epsztejn and A.M. Szajnman, members.

Small Business Association founded by Mojsze Wisocki in 1927: M. Kwiatowicz, Chairman; J. Brojnrat, Co-Chairman; Jakow Kohen, Vice-Chairman.

Craftsmen's Association: Cwi Wider, Chairman; Pejsach Melnicki and J. Plonski, Vice-Chairmen.

Banks: Shareholders Bank, City Credit Society Commerce and Industry Bank. Homeowners Bank, Colonial Merchants Bank, Cooperative People's Bank and Interest-Free Loan Fund.

 

Jewish Economic Life in Bialystok

Despite difficult economic times before the war characterized by depression and unemployment, uncertainty and resignation, burdensome income taxes and wholesale anti-Semitic efforts to put Jewish businessmen out of work, the Jews of Bialystok refused to be discouraged. They tried in every way to find solutions to their economic troubles. They created new institutions for mutual assistance and in 1937 formed an umbrella association for all economic organizations. In this way not only did they put an end to the internal

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competition amongst themselves but also consolidated their economic strength.

The Economic Council consisted of 1700 artisans, 800 small businessmen and 600 merchants. The various segments of the economy banded into smaller groups including the industrial “Farband”, the Textile Manufacturers Association, the Merchants Association, the Small Businessmen's Association, the Artisans Association and the Butchers Association.

Bialystok contained a number of banks and lending institutions some of which were founded in 1901. These banks made it possible for the various industries and small businesses to obtain capital at reasonable rates of interest in order to strengthen the city's economy.

 

The Jewish Press in Bialystok

The Jewish press in Bialystok, in addition to the well-known daily newspaper “Das Neue Leben-Unzer Leben” developed as follows:

The Volksblatt, a daily newspaper first appeared in the summer of 1919, published by the Zionist organization. It circulated for two months.
The Bialystoker Stimme, a weekly, first appeared in 1924. It existed for a year and a half.
Bialystoker Yiddisher Courrier, first a daily then a weekly. It lasted for a short time.
Bialystoker Telegraph first published in 1927 on a daily basis. It existed for a few months.
Neue Bialystoker Stimme. A weekly that was established in 1929. Published more than two hundred editions and then folded.
Bialystoker Handelszeitung, a business paper published every Friday.
Unzer Spiegel – a weekly family magazine.
Bialystoker Express
Unzer Zeiting
Der Wecker
– a weekly publication of the Bundist organization in Bialystok.
Unzer Weg, a weekly published by the Zionist Organization in Bialystok. The two foregoing newspapers were not published on a regular basis.

The only daily newspaper which overcame all the difficulties during a period of twenty consecutive years promoting the spiritual evolution of the Jewish community in Bialystok was Unzer Leben. Its Chief Editor, Pejsach Kaplan, deserved much of the credit for the success of this publication. A. Berezinski; J. Rubinlicht; M. Goldman; Co-Editors; J.L. Szacki, Member Editorial Board; B. Gutman, Chairman, “Press” Printers; B. Rubin, Administrator; R. Rajzner; Ch; Matinko and W. Rajser, Members Administrative Board; W. Sulkes, Proof-reader.

Bialystoker Leksikon began in 1935. Published biographies of leading Bialystoker Jews. It was edited by Pejsach Kaplan, J. Szacki, M. Goldman, A. Zbar and A. Berezinski.

Other cultural organizations in Bialystok before World War II included the Jewish Society for Writers and Journalists whose leading members were: A. Albek, A. Berezinski, M.M. Berch, M. Goldman, J. Warszawski, C. Wider, CH. Wisocki, M. Wisocki, N. Zabludowski, A. Zbar, A. Tryzanowicz, L. Treszczanski, B. Tabaczynski, S. Lampert, J. Lis, Dr. J. Lukaczewski, S. Lew, D. Sapir, A. Amiel, L. Fajans, J. Furje, A. Fejgin, P. Kaplan, L . Rozental, J. Rubinlicht, J. Ruzanski, J.L. Szacki, J.N. Sztejnsapir, J. Szapiro and N. Szejnbrun. In 1939, M. Wadias was chairman.

There were also a Jewish Bookstore and a dramatic workshop founded in 1906 by Jakow Tapicer, Ana Horodiszcz, J.A. Bacer, J. Goldszmidt, Saperstejn, Ana Mirkin, Dora Mowszowicz and Solowejczyk. The chairman was Dr. Hurwic.

Fine art came into full bloom beginning 1924. The most popular painter in Bialystok was Ben-Zion Rabinowicz (Benn), who began his work in his father's attic. His art exhibits in Bialystok, Warsaw and Wilno in the years 1927-1930 brought him such success. In 1930 he left Bialystok for Paris on a stipend from the Bialystok Municipal Government. His first paintings, signed “Benn” placed him in the forefront of the Parisian artists. During the war years, when the Germans occupied France, Benn hid in a cellar and continued his art work. After France's liberation, his popularity increased even further. His painting: “The Megillah” received critical acclaim from French reviewers. In 1960 he completed his “illustrations of the Psalms” which made him famous throughout the world. There were a number of other artists from Bialystok who also achieved celebrity.

Bialystok had a chess club. In 1926, the first chess tournaments took place. Aron Zabludowski became the master chess player.

The Jews of Bialystok in the years before World War II established social and relief institutions that were important to large segments of their community. Among them were:

ORT, whose trade schools taught useful vocations to Jewish youth as well as to older people; Oze-Toz, which provided medical care and social services for Jewish children; Linas Hatzedek whose members stayed with sick people in their homes and helped them in every way possible; Linas Cholim which offered financial assistance to sick, destitute Jews; Centos which addressed the needs of Jewish orphans; Women's Protection Association which gave aid and comfort to Jewish women who were in trouble, provided employment for older women and young girls, offered courses in housework, etc. Marpei, an organization for disabled Jewish veterans, offering medical assistance for them and their families; Gemilus Chasadim which provided needy Jews with interest-free loans; and Maachal Kasher, an organization that supplied Jewish soldiers and prisoners with kosher food.


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The Last Kehilla in Bialystok

by Zwi Klementynowski

(Editor's note: Our worthy Bialystoker landsman, Zwi Klementynowski, serving today as a prominent lawyer in Israel, is well known as a leader in Zionist and other circles. He is highly regarded by Bialystoker Jews. One of the tireless leaders of the Irgun Yotzei Bialystok in Israel, he was chairman of the final Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok before the outbreak of World War II. He was also elected a councilman in the last Bialystok Municipal Council shortly before the war. When the Soviets occupied Bialystok at the start of the war, Mr. Klementynowski fled to Lithuania. After a period of wandering and dislocation, he reached Israel in 1941).

When Poland assumed jurisdiction in Bialystok after World War I, the government granted the Jewish Kehilla religious autonomy. Consequently, the Kehilla became the sole representative of the Jewish population in Bialystok and vicinity. The Kehilla had the right of self-government in religious affairs and was empowered to impose taxes on the Jewish population.

Although the Kehilla, according to law, was supposed to function solely as a religious body, the administration broadened the definition of 'religious self-government' extending its control over all the social, cultural and philanthropic interests of the Jewish community. In fact, it evolved into an important political organ. Whenever an issue arose of interest to the Jews of Bialystok, the Kehilla became involved.

To a great degree, this activity was encouraged by the fact that elections to the Kehilla were encouraged by the fact that elections to the Kehilla were democratic – universal, direct and secret. During elections, a strong campaign was waged among the various parties representing all the political views of the Jewish populace. At meetings of the Kehilla Council, all political issues of concern to Bialystok's Jews were addressed.

Our Kehilla administration also involved itself with Jewish educational institutions, the libraries, the Jewish Hospital, the charity organizations and other bodies. When a question arose about Jewish rights, such issues frequently came up, or the security of the Jews, the administration intervened. If needed, the Kehilla would send a delegation to the Municipal Council or even to the authorities in Warsaw. The Kehilla concerned itself as well with the interests of Jewish merchants, small businessmen and workers in the city.

All Jews who paid their taxes were entitled to vote in the Kehilla elections which, in practice, meant that virtually all Jews voted. The various political parties including the Zionists, Socialists and the religious groups, ran slates of candidates, as did commercial organizations. The campaigns were always lively with many rallies and meetings. The Jewish newspapers conducted debates about the merits of the candidates and platforms. The election for the last Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok took place in 1938. I still remember the disputes I had at the time with candidates of the Bund in the press and at public meetings.

I was elected to the Kehilla Council and then a second campaign began for Chairman. I was supported by the Zionist leaders for this position as well as by representatives of economic organizations and the Poale Zion, and I won, thus accepting a tremendous responsibility. I intervened often with the Polish authorities, fighting for Jewish rights, protesting adverse edicts, demanding justice for our interests, as did every Jewish leader in pre-war Poland.

At that time, in addition to my posts as Councilman and Chairman of the Jewish Council in Bialystok, I served as the Chairman of the Zionist Organization. During the last winter of the Kehilla's existence in 1938-39, elections for the Bialystok Municipal Council were held. I was elected together with the late Ruwen Nachumowski to the Municipal Council. We also had to fight for Jewish rights here. In the Council, two Jewish factions competed – the Zionists and the Bund.

The last Kehilla in Bialystok made a major contribution to the Jewish community, fighting on many fronts for the benefit of its constituents within the town and in the surrounding communities. No one at that time dreamed that the horrific Holocaust was approaching – a deluge of blood, tears and annihilation which brought upon our people unspeakable devastation. The existence of our Kehilla unfortunately did not last long. World War II erupted, destroying everything in its wake. As the representative of the Kehilla, I had many difficulties as the war began, particularly when the Red Army marched into Bialystok in September, 1939.

 

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Rabbi Gedalja Rozenman
Chief Rabbi of Bialystok from 1920-1943. A scholar and author of an important scientific book on shechitah. He perished with all the Jews of the ghetto in 1943

 


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Remembering the Jewish Hospital

by Dr. Jacob Sokol

The Jewish Hospital in Bialystok was a vital institution in the history of the town's Jewish community. Its archives, had they been preserved, could have told many wondrous stories, not only about Bialystok itself but about its humanitarian efforts which gained the recognition of places far away.

The Jewish Hospital had achieved such a remarkable reputation that the highest government officials, even bitter enemies of the Jewish people, went there for medical treatment.

The hospital administration consisted of: A. Kniazew, Director; Poznanski, Secretary. Its medical and surgical departments were well organized. Many hundreds of patients used its ambulatory services on a daily basis, a large percentage of whom were treated gratis by its doctors, top specialists in every branch of medical science.

 

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The nurses and doctors of the Jewish Hospital founded in 1840

 

The Jewish Hospital was more than a place for curing disease. For the young Jewish doctor it was an extension of medical school – a golden opportunity to expand his theoretical and practical knowledge.

Each week the hospital conducted seminars arranged by the medical society, rendering it a citadel of medical knowledge where doctors and nurses studied with great diligence. Moreover, practical clinical lectures were offered there. That is why many young doctors and medical students became affiliated with this institution.

Patients were sent to the Jewish Hospital in Bialystok from neighbouring communities because of its excellent reputation as a centre for diagnosis and treatment. Those young doctors who interned there were required to go through a difficult apprenticeship before they were approved for clinical practice.

It was extremely tough in those pre-war years for Jewish young people to enter the Polish universities and continue their education. Only a small number who had the financial capability left Poland for Western European universities which did tend to accept them. Unfortunately, many had to give up their dreams of higher education because of monetary problems.

When a student completed medical school he had a year of internship at a hospital. This was certainly no easy experience.

For a Jewish student to intern at a general hospital was practically impossible. Therefore, it was necessary to apply to the Jewish Hospital. Not all the students, however, were accepted there.

During the Nazi occupation, young Jewish doctors doing their internship at the Bialystok Jewish Hospital together with their older colleagues remained at their medical posts until the last moment. Many of the hospital doctors including Dr. Rejgrodski, Dr. Triling, and Dr. Forszteter, Dr. Epsztejn, Dr. Iserson, Dr. Ziman, Dr. Jakobson, Dr. Kagan, Dr. Wolf, Dr. Fejgin and others were exterminated together with their patients whom they had treated for almost fifty years. May their memories be blessed.

 

Jewish Journalists

Mojsze Wisocki the co-founder of Unzer Leben, a daily newspaper, journalist, publicist, lecturer. Asz. Amiel, Essayist; Mendl Goldman, poet and journalist known for his concise and subtle articles for Unzer Leben; J.L. Szacki, impassioned raconteur and Lejbi Fajans, Yiddish language specialist, later, a member of the Academy for the Hebrew language in Israel; Furje and Jehuda Lis, poets; Dowid Sapir, novelist and skit writer. He wrote a three-part Yiddish novel, 'The Weak Generation'; S. Lampert, journalist and sculptor; Chaim Wisocki, Master short story writer of romantic themes; Aron Brzezinski – his favourite subject was the bleak and declining Lithuanian-Polish shtetl; J.G. Sztejnsapir, humourist and founder of a weekly Yiddish publication; Oszer Czanowicz and Josef Rubinlicht – the former originally wrote for the Warsaw Express. The latter was a folk humourist; Jakow Waks and Czi Wider, freelance writers on labour issues for Unzer Leben; Mordechaj Zabludowski and Dr. Czi Lukaczewski, specialists on engineering and medicine, respectively, whose articles appeared in the Friday Unzer Leben; Nojach Zabludowski known for his meticulous use of language; A.S. Herszberg, historian of Jewish life in Bialystok; Awrom Tyktin, scientist, publicist and philosopher. Many of the above improved their writing style under Pejsach Kaplan's tutelage.

 


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The School and Education

by B. Tabaczynski

Jewish Bialystok, which was an attempt to translate idealism into practice, to transform dreams of social justice into fact, demonstrated unusual self-sacrifice and offered fierce resistance during the most difficult days of pain and anguish brought on by the Nazi occupation.

Bialystok was a collective hero combining sacredness with might and struggling with the Nazi beasts in its own way for longer than other cities.

The Jews of Bialystok were able to show this defiance in large measure because many in the ghetto were the teachers and students of the Jewish schools as well as the social activists. In those nightmarish days, all of them were heroes.

 

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The women's athletic group Morgensteren of the Youth Organization Tzukunft, 1927

 

The history of the Bialystok school system was, to a large degree, the story of the workers and the plain people. Its supporters were Jewish workers in the main, some Bundist and, to a lesser extent, the Jewish intelligentsia. The schools sprang up in the poor sections where those without means lived. The language of these unfortunates was Yiddish tying them together with other elements of Jewish society in Bialystok.

At the beginning of World War I when the political shackles that bound the Jewish working masses had slackened, these hungry people responded to the call of the Bund, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Labour Zionists to establish living institutions – schools and cultural organizations – that would inculcate into the upcoming generation a sense of Jewish pride and nationalism in addition to providing a basic education. Some of these schools were subsidized by the Kehilla in Bialystok. Among these schools were: Groser School, Mendele School, Peretz School, J. Chmurner (Youth Association) School and the Kindergarten School. Many creative and imaginative teachers motivated the students leaving a last imprint for the remainder of their lives which they passed on to later generations.

The following served on the Board of Jewish Education: Injomin Tabaczynski, Ruwen Chajet, Pinje Fejgin, Zejdl Nowiski, Psachje, Mordechaj Zabludowski, Luba Kanel, Zalmen, Ruwin, A. Domeracki and Fiszl Kacenelenbojgn.

They are no longer here. Words cannot comfort the pain of Bialystoker Jews. Their world was destroyed. It is difficult to tolerate the profound grief when remembering what was. Even the graves of the departed are unknown but they live on in the memories of their survivors.

Indeed, their legacy will be perpetuated by future generations.

 

Jewish Printers Association

Before the Nazi occupation, Bialystok had ten Jewish publishing houses that employed about 100 printers and organized a local of the Warsaw Printers Union. The local gave economic and moral support to its members, calling several strikes when necessary, which ended to the members' advantage. The printers' major focus was newspapers and secondarily, books and magazines.

Among Jewish printers who perished in the early part of the Holocaust in Bialystok were: Josef Zeligson, Ruwen Skljut, Isroel Bernacki, Motl Frydman, J. Chaskel, Naftoli Feldman, the Sokolski brothers, Zejdl, Portnoj and others. On June 22, the Soviet army drafter the following printers: Izaak Rybalowski, Efrjim Portnoj, Jankel Zalcman, Tejman and others.

The following continued as printers in the Bialystok ghetto: Herszl Kozak, Chaim Motinko, Binjomin Gutman, Izchok Zakczewski, Nochum Zakczewski, Meir Kruglewicki and Mojsze Kozak.

Printers killed in the 1943 liquidation actions were: Awrom Bron, Szlojme Kozak, Szlojme Dajcz, Meir Kruglewicki, Mojsze Gold, Welwel Yuchnowecki, Jerachmiel Rybalowski, Mojsze Kaplan, Herszl Noszko, Mordechaj Farber, Heszl Dlugacz, J. Trunkowski, Szlojme Zylbersztejn, Munje Zeligzon, Welwel Rajser and many others.

The following printers survived: Herszl Kozak, Refoel Rajzner and Jechiel Plac.

 


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A Historical Calendar

1320 The village of Bialystok is founded by the Lithuanian Count Gedimin.   1850 Nochum Mine and Sender Block establish the first silk factories in Bialystock.
1542 Bialystok becomes the private fiefdom of Polish King Zygmunt.   1855 The first Yiddish-Russian schools are established by Kasriel Kaplan and Gewirtz
1558 The first Jews arrive in Bialystok, according to the records of Tyktin.   1859 Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was born in Bialystok. He died in Warsaw in 1917.
1659 The Bialystok community becomes a part of the Tyktin jurisdiction.   1869 The Tzedakah Gedolah (the Committee for Charity) is founded in Bialystok.
1661 The Tyktin Council returns Bialystok to Jakow, son of Mojsze Sigl and to Izchok, son of Mojsze for one hundred gulden.   1876 Meir Walach was born in Bialystok, later known as Maxim Litwinow, the foreign Minister of the Soviet Union.
1703 Count Bronicki builds his wooden palace in Bialystok.   1876 Jewish wagon drivers' strike against new police regulations.
1718 The old bet hamidrash is constructed in the synagogue square and the Ner Tamid Society is established to maintain it.   1881 The cornerstone of the Old Age Home in Bialystok is laid.
1742 Bialystok is elevated to the status of a city by Jan Klemens Bronicki II.   1882 The first weavers' strike occurs in Bialystok.
1745 Jews in Bialystok are given the same rights as other citizens.   1882 A pogrom is threatened in Bialystok. Jewish butchers, wagon and coach drivers repel the attackers.
1745 The tower with eighty shops is constructed and given to the Jews.   1882 Chovevei Zion 'Lovers of Zion' party is founded in Bialystok, the precursor of the Zionist movement.
1750 Virtually the entire town is destroyed by a great fire. Later, buildings of stone and brick are built to replace the fire-consumed edifices.   1882 The Old Age Home is opened.
1763 The city tower with the town clock is constructed.   1883 Rav Szmuel Mohilewer becomes Rabbi in Bialystok.
1765 761 Jews live in Bialystok.   1883 The Maachai Kosher is established for Jewish soldiers.
1777 The Bialystok Jewish community becomes independent of the Tyktin jurisdiction.   1885 The Linas Hatzedek is founded.
  1890 The first spinning wheel is brought to Bialystok.
1779 Bialystok becomes a part of Prussia until 1805.   1890 Jakow Pat, writer and leader of the Bund and was born in Bialystok.
1800 Bialystok becomes a central city surrounded by ten smaller satellite communities.   1893 The Mishmeret Cholim, later known as The Linas Cholim, is founded.
1804 The first Jewish printing press in Bialystok is opened.   1895 A wildcat strike by weavers breaks out in Bialystok.
1807 After a short period during which Bialystok is occupied by Napoleon's army, it becomes Russian territory.   1897 Bialystok contains 41,905 Jews (the general population is 67,000). The financial status of the city is good.
1807 Bialystok has 6,000 inhabitants of which 4,000 are Jews.   1897 The Bund party is established in Bialystok.
1808 Bialystok is declared the capital city of its region.   1897 Dr. Chazanowicz and his colleagues travel to the first Zionist Congress in Basel as the Bialystoker delegates.
1812 Bialystok reverts to French hegemony.   1898 Rabbi Szmuel Mohilewer dies. The funeral is the most impressive had ever had.
1815 Bialystok returns to Russian jurisdiction.
1821 The Chevra Kadisha is formed.
1826 The Bikur Cholim is established.   1898 The first strike fund is established by the Bund.
1828 The Gemillus Chasadim is established, later to become the Linas Hatzedek.   1899 The Voluntary Firemen's League is formed, ninety percent Jewish.
1830 The Home for Incurables is founded.
1833 Eliezer Halbersztam, founder of the Haskalah movement in Bialystok, settles there. He dies In 1899.   1905 A united front of political parties in Bialystok is formed to resist the Czarist Regime. The committee declares a general strike.
1840 The Jewish Hospital in Bialystok is founded by Sender Bloch.   1905 August 12: The tragic Shabbas Nachamu a military pogrom takes place in which 36 Jews are murdered.
[Page 45]

1905 October 18: The Bialystok working masses and revolutionary youth demonstrate, storming the city prison in order to free political prisoners. Police and soldiers fire their rifles. Some Jews are killed and many are wounded.   1919 February 19: Publication of Das Neue Leben begins; an independent democratic newspaper under the editorship of Pejsach Kaplan. From 1931 it is known as Unzer Leben.
1905 The Bund organizes professional unions for tanners, weavers, tailors, cobblers, needle and tobacco workers.   1919 May 13: The Sholem Aleichem Library is opened on the third yahrzeit of Sholem Aleichem.
1906 June 1-3: The military pogrom in Bialystok arranged and carried out by agents of the Czarist government. 110 are shot and murdered. Jewish self-defence groups organized by the Bund, Poale Zion, anarchists and other parties offer resistance.   1919 The Bialystok Kehilla receives relief funds from Bialystoker Centre in New York.
  1920 The first delegates of the Bialystoker Relief Committee in New York arrive in Bialystok.
1907 The public library is opened in Bialystok.   1920 August 22: The city is once again under the jurisdiction of the Poles.
1912 The first kindergarten is opened by the Haskalah party. In 1914 it is converted into a home for children.   1920 David Sohn arrives in Bialystok at the time of the Bolshevik invasion, bringing $140,000 from the Bialystoker Relief Committee in New York.
1913 The Habimah Theatre is opened by Nochum Cemach with the play 'Shma Yisroel' by Ossip Dymow, translated into Yiddish by Pejsach Kaplan.   1921 The first Polish census in the city of Bialystok contains 76,792 residents of whom 39,603 are Jews.
1913 The first daily newspaper Bialystoker Tageblatt appears, edited by A.S. Herszberg. David Sohn is the American correspondent.   1921 The Jewish Literary Society is established.
  1925 The first bus in Bialystok goes into service.
1914 August: Start of World War I. Bialystok is in a state of siege.   1926 The Gilah Rinah Repertory Company is founded.
1914 Bialystok calls for assistance from the landsleit in America by telegram to David Sohn.   1932 December 19: The second Polish census in the city counts 91,000 residents, of which 39,000 are Jews.
1916 The library and reading room of the Youth Organization is established. In 1919, it becomes the Sholem Aleichem Library.   1933 The anti-Hitler Boycott Committee is established. The boycott is carried out with iron discipline.
1918 December: The city of Bialystok is taken over by the Poles.   1939 September: World War II erupts. The Germans occupy Bialystok for a short time. Later, it is taken over by Soviet Russia.

 


[Page 45]

Maxim Litvinov – Our Landsman

by Dowid Klementynowski

Meir Walach, born in Bialystok to a Chasidic family, became, as Maxim Litvinov, the foreign minister of the Soviet Union.

His grandfather, Rabbi Szabsaj Walach, served as the spiritual leader of Rozenoj, a small town near Slovenim. His father, Mojsze was also a Talmudic scholar but worked as a controller in a Bialystok bank. An uncle, Awrom Jakow, was a prominent textile manufacturer in Lodz.

Young Meir went to cheder and studied Talmud but preferred reading revolutionary books by socialist and communist authors. His father, realizing that Meir would never become a religious scholar, engaged a Russian tutor to provide him with a well-rounded secular education emphasizing on the Russian language. This exempted the boy from military conscription in the remote Soviet interior and permitted him to remain near his parents in Bialystok as an enlisted man. In time, Meir distinguished himself as a language specialist.

As a young man, he conspired with other revolutionaries against the Czarist regime. He was often imprisoned and his father had to pay huge sums to bail him out. But harsh punishments failed to deter Meir from his seditious activities.

In later years, Meir Walach became a close intimate of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, extorting funds to support the Bolshevik movement.

Wandering around the world to avoid Czarist agents, he spent time in London where he married Ivy Love, daughter of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Britain.

Miss Love's ancestors emigrated from Hungary to England following the unsuccessful 1848 revolution. Her father, Walter Love, was a prominent writer and a close friend of H.G. Wells. In fact, they enjoyed frequent exchanges – Love espousing the Jewish point of

[Page 46]

view and Wells, a secular philosophy. Ivy Litvinov, prior to marriage, made a name for herself in literature and education. She wrote a number of literary works that won critical acclaim.

Litvinov served as Soviet Foreign Minister from 1924 to 1939. During that era, he conducted extensive negotiations with the German government and represented his government in the League of Nations and at international conferences. From 1941 to 1943 he was Soviet Ambassador to the United States. Following that assignment little was heard of him until his death in December 1951.

During Litvinov's stint in Washington, the Bialystoker Centre in New York prepared a reception for him. Because of a sudden diplomatic mission, Litvinov was unable to attend. Upon receiving his telegram to that effect, a committee consisting of Philip Novick, Samuel Kassel and David Sohn visited him on his ship prior to his departure. Litvinov warmly greeted his Bialystoker landsleit, inquired about many of his childhood friends and particularly about one of his rabbis – Wolf Rubin who lived in New York at that time. During the conversation, Ambassador Litvinov spoke in Yiddish.

The delegation requested that the ambassador persuade the Soviet authorities to place orders with manufacturers in Bialystok in order to stimulate its depressed economy. Litvinov promised to give the matter his serious attention. The next day, the Bialystoker Centre received a cable from the ambassador stating he was honoured by the committee's visit. As it turned out, the Russian government did increase its commercial transactions with Bialystoker factories, reactivating some firms that had earlier come to a standstill.

 

An interview with Litvinov's Brother in Bialystok

At the end of 1938 when Maxim Litvinov was at the height of his influence in the Soviet foreign ministry, a Polish journalist conducted an interview with his brother, Rabbi Jakow Walach.

The Polish correspondent arrived in Bialystok looking for Litvinov's relatives. He came upon a drugstore owned by the Walachs, entered and began a conversation with Litvinov's aunt and brother.

Rabbi Walach, the Foreign Minister's older brother appeared in the modest quarters belonging to his family, dressed in a long black robe with a white patriarchal beard and wearing a fur hat (shtreimel) on his head.

“Are you the brother of Soviet Minister Litvinov?” he was asked. “Unfortunately I am”, he answered. “Why unfortunately?” “Because he is the leader of an atheistic regime”, the elderly Jew replied. ”Do you wish to share with us some memories of your brother?” “Only on condition that my remarks will not be interpreted as a criticism because I still love my brother”.

“Does your brother ever help you out?” “No, absolutely not! Once, when I was quite ill, I wrote to him pleading for some money. His secretary replied that Soviet law does not permit exporting Russian currency abroad and Foreign Minister Litvinov has no intention of violating the law”.

“When was the last time you saw your brother?”

“A couple of years ago. I was in Bialystok at the time and learned that an express train would be passing through carrying my brother to Geneva. I stood on the platform of the railroad station to see him. The police and his bodyguards would not permit me to enter the train. Suddenly I began to shout: 'Meir, Meir!”

“My brother peered out the window of his parlour car, recognized me and emerged onto the platform. We spoke for several minutes. He gave me an expensive cigar and told me about his life as Soviet official. When I started chiding him for losing his faith in God, he replied: “What do you know?” and quickly re-entered the train.

“Tell me something of Litvinov's life”. “I can describe how a good, pious Jewish boy turned into a Bolshevik. At the time Czar Alexander was assassinated, a telegram from St. Petersburg arrived in Bialystok ordering the arrest of a man named Walach. Our father, a devout Jew, had as much to do with socialism as I. Nonetheless, the police arrested my father by mistake. This made a terrible impression on young Meir. He heard that his father was jailed for socialist activities and demanded to know what socialism was. When our father was released a short time later, he enrolled Meir in a Russian school. There he read the outlawed socialist books. He was still very religious, going to synagogue every day. He later was drafted into the Russian army and sent away to serve in the Caucasus Mountains. The unit was later renamed: “Comrade Litvinov's Brigade”.

“Thereafter he went to Kiev and worked in a factory. His contact with the workers drew him closer to socialism. In later years, he was influenced by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. He spent the rest of his life as a loyal communist”.

The story of Maxim Litvinov, born Meir Walach, a Jewish boy from Bialystok, can only arouse mixed feelings among his landsleit. We admire the high position of authority that he attained but, at the same time, we cannot help regret his estrangement from his own people's faith and culture.

 

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