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[Page 232]

How I Remember the Shtetl Ciechanow

Yes, there once was in Poland wonderful shtetlach where the Jews were in the majority.

There was a shoemaker who sang as he worked, a tailor with his threads would sing away. Melodies dating back for generations still ring in my ears. But the Jews, the shoemakers and tailors, are no longer with us.

How does one put down on paper the memories of our shtetl, Ciechanow? How does none talk about a shtetl that no longer exists, a shtetl in which our dear ones were brutally murdered?

All of us lived there, breathed its air, the same sky that was over the heads of old and young is still there as though nothing had happened. The sun shines there, as before, and the fields are green as ever, and for us is left the memory of Rosa Robota's last word: “Revenge.”

This is how I remember you, Ciechanow. A town of thirty thousand inhabitants, of whom approximately eight thousand were Jews.

The Jewish streets were situated around the marketplace. And from there, streets branched out.

On Market Street, were the magistrature, stores, workshops, the center of economic life. On Tuesdays and Fridays, market days, until sundown, there came tens and hundreds of peasants and farmers from the town and villages to sell their products. From sunrise, all the tables and stalls were in place, each one with the owner's goods on display -- clothing, butter, eggs, religious objects and necessities that were strange to us.

On a regular day the marketplace turned into a center of Jewish life. Everyone came there to carry on their business, discussing the stock market, politics, communal affairs, civic matters. The world came alive at these encounters. People came out of their homes and joined the crowd. People came and went but the discussions continued.

In the marketplace street, near one of the houses, down in the cellar there was the premises of Hashomeir Hatzair.

Amongst the many interesting gatherings that we had, Hashomeir Hatzair held a special place in our hearts. This organization started with scouting and dreams around campfires and ended with the building of the Jewish nation in its homeland.

Why were hundreds attracted to this organization? What did the boys and girls find appealing in this cellar, together with their leaders?

There was a deep feeling of Jewishness in our shtetl. There were communal associations that went beyond politics. People knew with their whole soul how to value the Jewish basis of their life. We didn't have any millionaires amongst us. I remember every inch of Ciechanow. though there was much poverty, even the more wealthy Jews lived modestly. No sins of the fathers shamed the youth. They behaved according to prophetic justice.

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A Lag B'Omer Parade of Hashomeir Hatzair
A Lag B'Omer Parade of Hashomeir Hatzair

Picture Index

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The youth organization did not while away its time. There was a purpose to their life as they looked ahead. No longer were we like the Jews in Mendele Mkhov Sforim's tales “like a worm in the horseradish” (a Jewish proverb).

In the evenings we used to gather and sing Hebrew songs, with words full of longing for the land full of sunshine! And the marketplace -- in our minds is all Jewish, all ours.

Varshavsky Street -- the pride of the city, named after Poland's capital, the main street on which to stroll on Shabbat. That's where the daily newspaper first arrived, and there everyone waited to learn the news from around the world. On that street one could see the coachmen bringing distinguished people to the railway station Here one could watch the holiday parades of the non-Jews and (let us make the proper distinction) the parading of Jewish youth setting out on their hikes outside of the shtetl. On this street there was the large Jewish cinema.

Were there any large show-windows? This I don't remember. But I do remember those who came to draw water at the shtetl's water source. Here many people gathered, water carriers with buckets which they carried on a yoke on their feeble shoulders. In the summer, plenty of water flowed, but in the winter -- it was all ice! How difficult it was to get some water, and how many tears were shed instead until we reached home safely, with pails holding a bit of water for the family's needs for the day.

But the Yiddishe street -- Yoselvich -- that street is engraved on my heart. That was the spiritual center, the heart of the shtetl, yiddishkeit throughout. The shul and the bais hamedresh from where the call of the shofar could be heard during the High Holidays. From there the Shamesh (beadle) would go out to call people to Slichot and to knock on Jewish windows to arise for worship.

And Truleh Kozo Berdl who doesn't remember? He was the Rebbe who taught children the aleph-bais. And the Kometz-aleph who remembers? Hebrew letters and the prayers for Shabbat and Yomtovim. Only by him did we learn these. And how many slaps did we get from his ruler on our knuckles! How many times did we repeat the same lines from the siddur, old and yellowed from generations who had held this! All this after we had run errands for his wife and fulfilled all his requests!

Till this day his voice rings in my ears. “Shikses, shchotzim.” But to his credit must be said that thanks to him we learned the lessons of the aleph-bais and from him we learned the meaning of the song, Oifn Pripichik Brent a Feierl, and if those letters enable me today to write my memories here, may the memory of my Rebbe and teacher, Truleh ,be blessed.

From this street there rang out the prayer: B'shana Ha-baah B'Yerushalim, and also Naseh Vnishma Chazak, Chazak Vamatz

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It happened on the yahrzeit of Herzl, the twentieth day in the Hebrew month of Tamuz, that everyone gathered to pay respect to the memory of Herzl. An emissary would come from the Land of Israel to bring us the message that “If you wish it, it is not a legend” -- the words of Herzl.

As a pledge we promised to do everything in our power to bring Herzl's words to fruition. Line after line, we paraded singing a Hebrew song. At this time there was no division, no separation between father and son, between the most pious of the shul and the secular enlightened ones, of the youth who belonged to Hashomeir Hatzair. Everyone was united here -- the ordinary folk and the head of the congregation, the Rov and the Chazzan. All were united under the blue and white flag.

In those days we knew the connection between the blue box of the Land, Land of our ancestors and the forests of Mishmar Ha-Emek for which we collected penny after penny to redeem the Land.

And we had many other streets, streets through which Jewish children made their way to school. What a long way hundreds of children walked each day. I'll never understand why the schools were so far from the center of the shtetl The Jews to whom the Torah was given lived in the center of the shtetl, but to get to the place of study was far!

All the streets appear before my eyes. Their memories are very dear to me because that's where our parents, brothers and sisters and all our dear ones died. Jews of the week round and Shabbat Jews, simple folk and tzadikim, great spiritual souls.

May their memory be bound up with the living ones here.

May we be deserving of the memory of our ancestors and may our children learn and know about the shtetl where we grew up.

Dvora Newman

The Shomer Hatzair Movement

I joined one of the groups of Hashomeir Hatzair when I was a young girl. The leader of our group at the beginning was Dinah Eisenberg and afterwards my sister Ludzia. If I want to recall the good days I go back in my memory to those days, the period that influenced my life up to the present day.

The meeting place was a granary with wooden pillars in the center, with damp, wet walls. It was a warehouse that we turned into a palace. It was the place where my friends and I spent the happiest years of our lives. No pouring rain, no cold or snow, no amount of homework from school could prevent us from gathering there every evening. There all our worries left us. The best evenings there were Friday and Shabbat. On those evenings we would enjoy ourselves, dancing, singing, reading, listening to lectures on various subjects, and playing games. On holidays we used to arrange parties. The program at the parties was singing, reading from the newspaper that we published by ourselves. As in a dream I recall a poem that I wrote for Chanukah. “Come, brothers, to play with the sovivon (top). The song had several verses.

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We had lovely parties for important people. In my ears there ring the wonderful words of the Ir Hashchitah of Bialik, recited by my sister Ludzia.

Great were the preparations for these parties. I remember my friend, Dinah Rosenberg Z”L, who prepared, with her mother's help, orange peels covered with sugar. We used to go on hikes. On Lag B'omer, at dawn, we used to go out to the small forest singing, culminating with bugles and drums, which added much excitement. Much to my regret, my sisters and I were forbidden by my father Z”L, to go out with our group because of worry and fear that the shchotzim would beat us and throw stones at us because at that hour they were free from school and work. This restraint stole a lot from us, the pleasure that we would have had of going on such a hike. We used to go out by ourselves at ten o'clock in order to join the group in the forest.

For the performances we devoted much time and energy. It was easy to worry about the planning. We had the good fortune o having amongst us dramatists such as Tusia and her sister, whose voices made a great contribution to the success of the evenings.

I recall when I was a young girl, a schoolgirl, awaiting anxiously and running in the direction of the river to the Club -- the warehouse-palace. Reality is much worse, however. Just last year our friend, Zvi Finklestein, went to his eternal rest -- one of the first organizers of the Shomeir Hatzair in Ciechanow. From amongst the members of our group a very few are here in Israel. I often get together with them and know them well. They are honest women, sensible ones, thoughtful, good citizens and good people. They remained faithful to the education they received in the warehouse-palace.

Riva Gonska Leshed, Kfar Masarik

Zionist Activity in Ciechanow

Gleaned from the Correspondence in the Jewish and Hebrew Press in Poland

The Tzirei Tzion Movement

Regarding the Tzirei Tzion movement in Ciechanow during 1917-1918, the Hebrew paper, Hatzfira, wrote:

At the founding meeting of Tzirei Tzion Farband, that was at that time legalized by the (at that time) occupying force of Germany, in Ciechanow, a committee of the following people was elected: N. Garfinkle, M. Vinditsky, Kviat, Rekhtman, Templehof, I. Gotfried, Rivka Kahane.

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President of the meeting was Natan Garfinkle. Regarding the aims of the Tzirei Tzion Farband there spoke: Kviat, Templehof, Z. Burshtein and Kellin from Mlawa. With the singing of Hatikvah the meeting ended.


The twentieth day of the Hebrew month Adar, 1917, the Tzirei Tzion organization of Ciechanow organized a memorial service for the shloshim (thirty days after the death) of Dr. Tchlenov. The memorial, attended by hundreds of people, and by the students of the Hebrew schools, was conducted by the cantor and choir at 12 o'clock noon.

The president of the Tzirei Tzion, Natan Garfinkle, gave the eulogy. About the life and achievements of Yechiel Tchlenov and the great loss that his death was for the Jewish people, there spoke: the member of the Kehillah board, Yaacov Misher, the Hebrew teacher of the Zionist school Flatzer and H. Vinditsky. Finally, the president, Garfinkle, called upon those gathered to build up the fund that was established in the name of Yekhiel Tchlenov.


On the twenty-second day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the well-known chaver Mileykovsky spoke to hundreds of people in the shul. His speech about Judaism, Zionism and the settlement of the Land of Israel, made a great impression upon everyone.


The Tzirei Tzion organization developed a broad range of activities. A library was opened. Readings in Hebrew on matters of national interest often took place.

Chaver Flatzer spoke about the various aims of the Jewish youth and chaver Flata, about the development in the religious sphere in various periods.


In the year 1918, the Tzirei Tzion movement took firm root inCiechanow's Jewish life. The organization had its own shul. On the eve of Yom Kippur a considerable sum was collected for the settlement of Eretz Yisroel.

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In general, the organization was very active in collecting money for the J.N.F. The students also gathered money for this purpose. The Tzirei Tzion organization planted five trees in Israel in the name of the grandfather of Yiddish literature, Mendele Mkhov Sforim. During the shekl campaign three hundred more were sold. Last year only two hundred were sold.


In 1918, a group of Jewish scouts visited Ciechanow from Mlawa, one hundred in all. The young Zionists received the guests at the railway station with flowers and greetings. From the train to the premises of the Tzirei Tzion the crowd marched in a parade, decorated with flags, and sang Zionist songs. The guests wee put up at the premises of the Tzirei Tzion.

That same day there took place a literary musical evening that brought in 1,300 marks. The following day the scouts marched in a parade to the shul and there they all davened. Afterwards they all sang national songs.

During meals that were arranged for the guests, leaders of Ciechanow gave speeches. In the evening the guests returned home. They were accompanied by a crowd of fifteen hundred people. The visit of the young scouts made an outstanding impression on the Ciechanow Jews.


A reorganization of the Jewish Women's organization “Miryam” took place. Chaver Flatzer gave a lecture at this women's organization under the title, “The Undertaking of the Jewish Woman at This Time.”

During the elections to the Kehillah, the Zionists had a large majority. From the block Zionists, orthodox and trades people, the representatives who were elected were: Vise, Misher (Zionists), Skurnik (Mizrahi), Rakovsky (Agudat Yisroel).

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All complaints against the Kehillah elections were negated. The government (German occupiers at the time of World War II) confirmed the outcome. The first job of the new officers was to open the chevra Linat Hatzedek that served the sick and the Folks Kitchen that serves around three hundred meals free for the poor Jewish population. *

*Footnote: During the German occupation at the time of WWI all food was rationed and could only be obtained with cards. The Jewish population received a ration of sugar that was sold to the population. The earnings from its sale went, it seems, for the Free Kitchen for the Poor

Editor's note: At the third Zionist Conference, the participants were: the Ciechanow delegates Natan Garfinkle and Yaacov Misher.


The Events in Eretz Yisroel in the Year 1921 and Their Echo in Ciechanow

The tragic news that came from Jaffa (the attacks on the Arabs on Jews) received the necessary response also amongst the Ciechanow Jews.

Shabbat (Perek Kdushim) 1921, a large meeting took place in the shul. The Rov Reb Chaim Mordecai Bronrot made a great speech woven throughout with quotes from rabbinic writings and Tanakh. With a broken heart he expressed his great sorrow at the killings of the Jews who lost their lives in the streets of Jaffa. The Rov told everyone not to fear, and to do everything for the settlement of the Land of Israel in order to make it possible for a new aliyah of chalutzim.

Rov Bronrot, in his speech, sharply criticized the ultra-orthodox who campaign against gathering funds for the Yishuv -- against Zionism. The Rov called this a great desecration of God's name that can do harm to the whole Yishuv.

The words of Rov Bronrot, that came from the depths of his heart, made an outstanding impression on the crowd. Suitable resolutions were accepted.

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A committee was formed for the Keren Hayesod in which all levels of Ciechanow's Jewish population was represented. The Shloimai Amunai Yisroel were also invited to the founding meeting, but their representatives did not come. Their leaders gave the excuse that they did not get notice from the leaders.

The committee for Keren Hayesod was established without representatives of Shlomai Amunai Yisroel.


Representatives of Ciechanow in the Committee “for the Kibbutz Grukhov”

In the committee “For the Kibbutz Grukhov” formed in 1934 to aid the chalutzim kibbutz in Grukhov and the Zionist leaders of Ciechanow who were represented were: Rosen, Barabash, Korn, Lerman and Apel.

The committee decided to build a house for the kibbutz. The newspaper Heint (Today) that wrote about this committee, gave Ciechanow as an example from which others should learn and in the same way take an interest in the kvutz of the chalutzim.


J.N.F. Bazaar (Keren Kayemet)

At the beginning of 1936, the J.N.F. committee in Ciechanow organized a bazaar that awakened great interest amongst the Jewish population. Hundreds of people, including city couples of the intelligentsia, attended the bazaar.

The participants in the opening of the bazaar were: I. Bialopolsky, as a representative of the J.N.F. headquarters in Warsaw, and the chaverim Dovid Vise, I. Korn, and Dr. N. Tov. The bazaar culminated with a banquet honoring the worthy Zionist women: Leah Vise, Soreh Misher, Rokhl Honickman and Rivka Newmark.


An Evening in Memory of Mendele Mokher Sforim's 100th Birthday

In 1936, and evening took place in memory of Mendele Mokher Sforim's birthday. Those who spoke about the classics of Yiddish and Hebrew literature were: the president of the Ciechanow Zionist organization -- Shimon Shtern, and Kh. Stolnitz.

On September 5, 1936 elections took place for the Ciechanow Kehillah that resulted in the following:

Mizrachi -- 2 mandates; Hand-workers -- 2 mandates; Zionists -- 1, Revisionists -- 1; Poele Agudat Yisroel -- 1; and Bund -- 1.


At the annual General Meeting of the Jewish Society for the Protection of Children, chaver Leon Yovel, director of the Jewish State School, gave a report of the important work for children that the above-mentioned society was doing.

According to the report, there were three hundred children who were fed; one hundred and twenty got footwear and clothing; sixteen were sent to the summer camp Tzentag. More than half of the expenses were covered by the Society. The school children also receive free medical care.

Chaver Leon Yovel presented facts in his report that there are cases of children fainting in class because of hunger.

The gathering unanimously gave a vote of thanks to the outgoing committee, and in the newly elected committee women were also elected: Ruth Tov, Roselya Buland, Layidya Yovel, Salomeya Fried, Chava Hokhman, and the chaverim Leon Yovel, Shimon Shtern, Isadore, Mundshtein and Eliezer Hendel.

At the first meeting of the committee, Leon Yovel was elected as president of the Society for the Protection of Children, and vice-president -- Ruth Tov.

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Meyer Gotliber

The Workmens Club of Bund and Poele Tzion

(Facts Gathered by M. Tzinovich From Various Essays of Hatzfira)

During World War I a Workmen's Club was organized in Ciechanow of Bundists and Poele Tzion. But there was no peace there and they split up. Only then was the Bundist organization organized and there I was active until I left Ciechanow. The Grauser Library was established, named after the deceased Bundist leader, Branislov Grauser.

The Bund organized professional unions. Tailors and shoemakers went on strike and gained better working conditions. The Bund organized self-learning where political economics was studied. These activities took place under German occupation during World War I.

I remember a very interesting experience from that time. It was on a Thursday at a very important meeting of the leadership of the Bund, where it was decided to go to Warsaw and bring back proclamations. Though it was very risky at that time to travel with such things because the passengers wee inspected at the station. Still, it was decided to send me to Warsaw and meet a certain chaver, Karl, there on Novelipia Street, to bring a pack of proclamations.

I had to leave the very same evening. The following day, Friday, I met Karl. He introduced me to a lovely young lady whose father was a Rov. After eleven o'clock in the evening she took me to her parents' house. Everyone was sleep. From beneath the oven the girl pulled out the pack of proclamations and handed them to me.

That same Friday evening I was already in Ciechanow and the proclamations were distributed and distributed amongst the people, who pasted them on the walls of the houses. Immediately, on Saturday at dawn, a group of us were arrested. The German gendarmes questioned us, kept us in prison for one day, and then released us.

I still remember the words of the German commandant, who said to us during the investigation: “For these dogs it's a shame to waste kugel” (in German of course).

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