by Matisyahu Prawda
Translated by Chana Pollack and Myra Mniewski
In my memory, Czyzewo remains a shtetl of hasidic shtiblekh (small prayer houses) and Zionist organizations. The youth were brought up with a life purpose, with ideas to campaign for a better tomorrow for the Jewish nation.
The youth organization, which after 1929 was extremely active, was not created with ease, because most of the Jews of Czyzewo were hasidim and simple religious folk, who held that one had to wait for the arrival of the Moshiach before emigrating to Eretz Yisroel. Yet, the Zionist cause was nonetheless being instilled in many young Jewish minds and partly amongst the older generation as well.
My father, Yekhiel Asher Prawda, from the Aleksander hasidic sect, was one of the first to create the religious Zionist party Mizrakhi. By doing this he induced the wrath of the hasidim. Their anger was so strong that he was forced to stop praying
in the Aleksander shtibl. This was harsh punishment for my father, similar to a kheyrem [being shunned]. Yet, all of this did not scare him away from his Zionist activism. With even greater fervor, he delved into the work of proponing the Zionist cause to religious youth.
The greatest satisfaction of his work was his opponents' slow transformation into the Mizrakhi camp. He saw this as a manifestation of recognition and comprehension of the Zionist cause, which was the purpose of his life.
When it came to the Sejm [parliamentary elections], he was tirelessly active. On shabes, in the big besmedresh, before the Torah reading, he got up and delivered a sermon in which he attacked the Agudas Yisroel for supporting Pilsudski's list # 1.
He and the Zionist Berl Gozshaltshany, a merchant, stubbornly fought the tendency of endorsing the government party.
The Rabbi held with the Agudas Yisroel, who also called upon the Czyzewo Jews to vote for the Pilsudiski slate. The Rabbi was against the idea of religious Jews going against the government. On that same shabes, someone reported to the police commissioner that my father spoke against the government.
In the midst of the heated fight, the commissioner entered the besmedresh searching for my father. The Jews standing near my father, threw a talis (prayer shawl) over him so the commissioner wouldn't find him.
Afterwards, he was forced to go into hiding for an entire week
because the commissioner threatened him with severe punishment. We were very frightened then, knowing that the commissioner was a very strict and brutal man. Once, during a wild holiday celebration, he cut someone's hand off with his sword.
The following week when his wrath calmed he ceased searching for my father, who again delved into his work of proponing Zionist ideology to young and old.
In 1933, the youth organization Hashomer Hadati was created in Czyzewo. In 1938, as a member of the Hashomer Hadati, I made aliya to Israel. The words of Zalman Belfer, Hold a plowshare in one hand and a gun in the other; fight for your own country, accompanied me.
First row: Meltser, Rabinowitch, Radtshkowski, 2 brothers, Chaim Grade, Vollmer, Grosbard, Belfar.
2nd row: Eybishets, Eliahu Gura, Eliahu Zilberstein, Yisroel Yitzhak Lev, Avrom Berl Lyubeltshik, Balender, Kitai.
3rd row: Tselniker, unknown, Balyender, Starkowski, Kitai, Zusman.
Last row: Kahan, Moltsman, Belfar, and a boy fun Staker shoemaker
by Gershon Gura
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I think Agudas Yisroel [Union of Israel] was the first organization in Czyzewo because until its founding there were no communal organizations with as much of a scope as it later developed.
There were all kinds of Hasidic shtiblekh [small, one-room prayer houses] with the Gerer and Aleksanderer [Hasidim] at the head. In addition to the Khevra Mishnius [group that studies Talmudic commentaries], there also were communal groupings such as Bikur Holim [society for visiting the sick], Gmiles Khesedim [interest-free loan] funds and so on.
The young people were divided into two strata: the religious, who were concentrated with their parents at the various Hasidic shtiblekh, and those who were called progressive. They were found under the influence of the wave of the Enlightenment, which also reached Czyzewo.
The original founding of Agudas Yisroel in our shtetl [town] took place during the time of the First World War when Poland was occupied by the Germans. The actual date of the founding of Agudas Yisroel in Poland was 1914 when the first conference took place in Katowice, but the actual organizing of the Orthodox Jews in Poland first took place in 1918-19.
The two main organizers of Agudas Yisroel in Germany, Dr. Pinkhas Kahn and Dr. Karlbach, may his memory be a blessing, whose appearance created an animated stir among the religious masses, then came to Warsaw.
The central [office] of Agudas Shlomi Emuni Yisroel [Union of the Faithful in Israel] was then created in Warsaw. This change in name was made especially for Poland. This central [office] encompassed more than 600 cities and shtetlekh [towns] to which directives about the creation of divisions of the Orthodox organization, Shlomi Emuni Yisroel, were sent.
We can assert with complete certainty that our shtetl was one of the first to accept with great enthusiasm the proposal to found an organization of Orthodox Jews. Over a short time, the organization, Shlomi Emuni Yisroel, was an actual fact in Czyzewo.
During the later years members of this organization left who became leaders of the various Zionist, Mizrakhi and even leftist parties.
Belonging to the leadership and active workers of this organization of Orthodox Jews were:
Yisroel Yona Raczkowski, Natanal (Sana) Stuczinki, Motl-Chaim, Yisroel Yona's son-in-law, Shaul Hersh Blajwajs, Zebulin Grosbard, Avraham Scwarc, Berish Fridman and his son, Leibush.
Yehoshua Katliarek, Hershl Zilberman, Chaim-Leib Kazlowski belonged to the leaders of the young.
Czyzewo in time became a stronghold of Agudas Yisroel. Every action that was undertaken by the central office of Agudas Yisroel in Warsaw had a warm echo in Czyzewo.
The most esteemed scholars in the shtetl were members of Agudas Yisroel and gave the organization importance and authority.
|A group of Tseiri Agudas Yisroel [Agudas Yisroel Youth]
Among others: Gershon Gura, Yehoshua Katlarek, Eli Welwl Kerdan, Akiva Stucjuski, Yeshai Winograd and Chaim the rabbi's son)
The first office of Agudas Yisroel was in [the home of] Natanal Stuczinski, a Gerer Hasid and wood merchant.
At that time Reb Shlomo Tsalka lived in Czyzewo. He was a son-in-law of Reb Yitzhak-Hersh, the melamed [religious school teacher]. [He] was short in stature with a long black beard and constant smile on his genteel face. He, in time, became the person at Agudas who was relied upon and busied himself with organizational work with much enthusiasm, not sparing any effort or energy for the growth of the organization.
Reb Yisroel-Yona Raczkowski and Reb Shaul Hersh Blajwajs were Gerer Hasidim. Almost all of the young people at the Gerer shtibl [small one-room synagogue] were members of Agudas Yisroel. Other shtiblekh and the house of prayer also were represented in the leadership of Agudas Yisroel.
The older young men such as Chaim-Borukh, the son of Shmuelka the tailor, Ayzyk Kristol, Eliezer, the son of the bricklayer (today in Israel), both brothers, Yeshaya and Moshe, the tsitsis [fringed undergarment worn by pious men] makers were in the main ranks of the young.
The first activity of the Agudas in Czyzewo was the founding of Jewish educational institutions. This brought with it the first crisis in the structure of religious education of that time. All of the old khederim [primary religious schools] were liquidated and were replaced by a universal Talmud-Torah [primary school usually for poor boys] that carried the name Yesodei-haTorah [The Foundations of the Torah]. There were six grades there in which teaching was from the alef-bet [alphabet] to the Gemara [talmud] with commentary.
The creation of Yesodei-haTorah was a great event in the shtetl. The new manner of teaching and education astounded everyone.
|A group from Tseiri Agudas Yisroel
In the center Wisenrad, Gershon Gura, Yehoshaya Katlarek
News about the Beis-Yakov schools [religious primary and secondary schools for girls], which had been founded in various cities and shtetlekh [towns], began to arrive in the shtetl at that time. The name of the founder, Mrs. Sarah Schenirer, became well-known everywhere. This idea also received supporters in Czyzewo and the leader of Agudas wrote a request to Mrs. Sarah Schenirer, who lived in Krakow, asking that she come to Czyzewo to organize the founding of a Bais Yaakov school.
Mrs. Sarah Schenirer responded to this request and came to the shtetl. She stayed with Reb Natanal Stuczinski.
A meeting of women was called at which Sarah Schenirer
presented the idea and purpose of the Beis-Yakov schools. An organizing committee was created on the spot.
The resolve and effort with which the activists on the committee worked must be underlined. In
|A group of Bais Yaakov girls|
a short time, a female teacher named Troyba was brought to the shtetl.
The first Bais Yaakov school was located in a rented location at Szmidisher Street. Later it moved into its own building.
This school brought warm life into the shtetl. Even Mizrakhi [religious Zionists] and Zionist parents sent their children here.
It opened new worlds for the religious girls. It widened their horizons in Jewish thought and Jewish knowledge, about which they then did not have any idea. The Bais Yaakov school brought the young Jewish girls
|A group of girls from the Bais-Yaakov School|
to the sources of Yidishkeit [Jewish way of life], to Tanakh [Hebrew Bible], to the Jewish laws, to understand the essence of the Jewish prayers. The female teachers made an effort to insure that the meaning and the beauty of every word were absorbed into the children's hearts.
The first teachers were: Troyba, Krawiec and Ritenberg (the last two live in Israel now). At the same time, the Batya Farband [association] was founded in our shtetl [town] to which the adult, female students belonged. The Bais-Yaakov teachers, who led the activities of the students in the association, always were at the head of the Batya Farband. Gatherings were arranged from time to time, which had a great success
|A group of Bnos Agudas Yisroel [girls division of Tseiri Agudas Yisroel Agudas Yisroel Youth] with Miss Ritenberg in the center|
with the orthodox women in the shtetl. It is a fact that this movement was very beloved by all strata of the Jewish population.
The Agudas circle in the shtetl systematically widened. The adult generation created a strong youth organization, Tseiri Agudas Yisroel.
The activities of Agudas grew more lively and creative with each day. It began to publish an orthodox daily newspaper, Der Yid [The Jew], a monthly Hebrew journal, Digleinu [Our Banner], Orthodokishe Yungt Bleter [Orthodox Youth Newspaper] and Beis-Yakov Zurnal [Bais-Yaakov Journal] in Yiddish. The newspapers made the activities of Agudas in the shtetl more colorful, effervescent, infused with the religious idea and aroused and encouraged the fight for a religious, Jewish life.
The sad destruction of Polish Jewry arrived. Czyzewo, our shtetl, was entirely destroyed and the most beautiful and clean flower that was called Agudas Yisroel was erased in Czyzewo and along with it the heroic and romance of that effervescent time.
by Gerszon Gora / Czyzewo
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
…And all went. In that gray dawn, everyone got up, sneaked on foot, step after step, with only one thought - to accompany the first emigrant sent out from the shtetl [town] to Eretz-Yisroel.
Jews with great silver beards went who had soaked Eretz-Yisroel with their tears for dozens of years and were transformed into an eternal source of longing. Middle-aged Jews, preoccupied Jews, apprehensive Jews went whose every bite of bread was dunked in tears. Every day for them was a day to create the world. In the very
early dawn, they also sneaked onto the highway that led to the train station with beating Eretz-Yisroel hearts, accompanying their first son, their first pioneer to Eretz-Yisroel. And the young went, stormed, those who had waited for such a long time with beaming faces in the moment, those who always had a very spirited ardor and fervor for Eretz-Yisroel, had to hide in the deepest recesses, not even being able to dream, to quiet their thirst, they had to watch how others who craved Eretz-Yisroel emigrated in groups, hordes. They also stood at the train station.
All, all came along, giving their last respects, their fervent feelings, with the first [migration of the] swallow, with the first Orthodox emigrant who had the honor of going with the flag of the Torah in his hand to their deeply beloved Eretz-Yisroel.
And the train station had a new appearance. The first time in the shtetl, such solemnity, such a crowd. So the young celebrate, demonstrate and the older ones stand calmly, hiding their joy inside; everyone together clings to their only one from whom they need to separate within a few minutes.
And I confess in full that never, never would I have known that such a hidden thirst of the soul for Eretz-Yisroel had nested in all of the assembled escorts in the train station as I saw and felt in the last minutes before my parting from them, from my birthplace on the road to Eretz-Yisroel.
An old ancient Hasid, the most respected one in the shtetl, stood next to me. He pressed my hand at the last minute before my departure. However, he quietly whispered with his dried up lips and two streams of tears flowed from his mild eyes - his last parting words:
- Remember! Eretz-Yisroel is holiness; you have to accept the idea of becoming a worker in Palestine - remember, it should, God forbid, not be the opposite. One who sins in the king's palace is not equal to one who sins from afar.
He immediately became quiet. However, he continued to firmly press my hand. And in the noise of the over-crowded train station I heard the beating of his heart. Here [also] stood near me a young man who for all his life
had engaged in prayer, in Hasidism. He pressed my hand firmly and asked me like a child:
- For the sake of God, you should mention me at all of the graves of the righteous, give kvitlekh [notes to Hasidic rebbes asking for Godly intervention] for me and give charity for me.
Thus they said goodbye to me one after the other, heart after heart, soul after soul and each one of them a flowing spring of love and longing. Joy bubbled in each heart that they had lived to send the first comrade from their shtetl to the Holy Land, to Eretz-Yisroel.
The chairman of the young men, who had gone through all of the birth pangs of the organization and had been able to see its intense blossoming and the joyful harvest, drew near to me. He also pressed my hand. He also said goodbye to me sincerely. He also had something to remind me and tell me:
- Remember! You are traveling to our holy land, to build, to create. Remember to build up the ruin of the Jewish spirit, to create more of a paradise there and Vineyards of the Law, increase the ranks of the young and, mainly with self-sacrifice for our idea, to strengthen the faction of workers.
And the emotion in my heart bubbled up like an ocean.
These were the last minutes of my parting with such a warm incandescent environment. Now, I needed to become a community spokesman for my comrades, carry with me all of their requests and strivings, begin to fulfill my task, my mission as the first one from the entire shtetl who had the honor to emigrate.
I am weighed down with feelings. All of the parting words of the best ones in the shtetl always swim in my memory. Remember, Eretz-Yisroel is holiness; you have to accept the idea of becoming a worker… One who sins in the king's palace is not equal to one who sins from afar… With self sacrifice for our idea…
I was overburdened; how difficult it was to leave all of the dozens, dozens of stormy hearts and alone, alone take their requests and fill them! How difficult it was to part with all of those who were warm, closest and in a minute leave them.
However, time does not know of sentiments. The large railroad clock struck the dawn hour:
In minutes the engine will pull you, [shoot] a slingshot for hundreds of miles.
Spontaneously, an echoing song tore out of everyone's throat.
Hand on shoulder with Purify Our Hearts ringing as in the most solemn days of the shtetl.
The train stopped for only two minutes.
We were still dancing.
Tears immediately started to flow from dozens of eyes: that enthusiastic young Hasidic man cried; every old, grey Hasid cried. All of the escorts, young and old, cried and, there at the train-wagon window, hot tears also trickled. Fathers, mothers and sons cried.
The train was already on its way. However, the last words of the old, grey Hasid still rang in my ears:
Remember, Eretz-Yisroel is holiness; you have to accept the idea of becoming a worker.
by Yitzhak Gora/Tel Aviv
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
This was at the end of 1918. At that time a change occurred in my life that marked the beginning of a new road: together with other Hasidic young men of the Gerer shtibl [one room synagogue], I joined the Paolei-Zion [Workers of Zion a Marxist Zionist political party] that began to organize in Czyzewo a year before.
In the leadership were then found: Dovid Jabka, Nisl Ratman (Rimacz), Itshe-Meir Kszeckower, Avraham-Hershl, the son of the furrier, who the Poles later shot because of the ostensible accusation that he had deserted from the front.
I was 16 when I
was drawn into political activity for the first time. We rented a room for our premises from Yisroelik Milner for the Paolei-Zion organization where we were located for two whole years.
Those years have materials to fill a many-paged volume. For me, as for dozens of other Hasidic young men, new worlds, new needs and new dreams were opened. The greatest dream was to travel to Eretz-Yisroel.
At the same time, we were fully aware of the need to personally arrange our own futures. I traveled to Warsaw where I found work in a chocolate factory. I did not have the chance to become a great craftsman, so the earnings were small and finally I let a cousin who wrote from Eretz-Yisroel convince me that this was a bad trade there and I succeeded in learning the building trade. I then threw myself into carpentry.
Forty years have passed since I traveled a long, difficult road. I have been in many countries, met thousands of people, lived through painful and joyful times. When I remember my past, my life, my work, I come to the painful conclusion that I have forgotten many important moments. It is as if an invisible power has covered everything with an impenetrable veil. However, the encounter with the communist leader Amsterdam has been preserved in my memory. He possessed a wonderful power to convince and transport the youth of that time who yearned for action to mutiny and revolt.
It seemed that we were joining a new era an era of active revolutionary struggle that would solve the Jewish problem in anti-Semitic Poland. There awoke in me the will to struggle for respect and the Jewish national rights of the Jewish people on one side and for the victory of socialism on the other.
I became a communist.
In the beginning of 1923 I traveled back to Czyzewo.
Dovid Jabka was then the only person with whom I spoke and I told him about my communist beliefs. Dovid Jabka was already an intelligent young man and understood that the worker needed to struggle for his interests. However, he did not want to give up his Zionist ideals to which all of the Czyzewo young clung.
I poured out everything I had heard and I heard a lot from Amsterdam and from other leaders in the then communist movement. I described for him the great scope of the movement that would conquer the world and solve the Jewish question, just as it was being solved in the Soviet Union, where Jews were in the regime and all over, as equals.
This had the effect of captivating and intriguing him. The illegality, the daring impressed us and Dovid was persuaded and began to help me stir up others.
The Jewish youth in Czyzewo then had an inclination to theorizing; they were open-minded in their ideological opinions and had a wide choice
in setting off in the direction of Zionism and socialism. The Zionist organizations were splintered and, therefore, over the course of two months, it was easy for us to organize 120 young people and convince them about the truth of the communist idea.
We came with something new that resonated with the storms of the wider world and it showed that we understood them better than others. However, the conspiracy, the danger stirred up everyone, which gave us the halo of martyrs for a great thing.
I stayed in contact with Warsaw and Bialystok and received the illegal literature, appeals, brochures and circulars that were sent from the central committee of the party.
The 120 young people among whom also were found Hasidic young men and daughters from esteemed members of the middleclass were organized into 12 circles, secret, conspiratorial.
In the circles we would read the illegal brochures about the concentration of capital that accelerated our own death, about the tax system and the development of technology. The boys and girls understood very little of this, but in spite of this, they listened with anticipation and swallowed the words and concepts, which took root in their brains.
Moshe-Leib Blajwajs and Ahron Weter belonged then to the lively activists. However, there was a shortage of leadership elements.
How We Celebrated the First of May
A great demonstration took place earlier in the forest. The mood was earnest,
a holiday [mood]. There were discussions and songs were sung. It was our first celebration of the 1st of May.
Later, one by one, we went to the market, moved among the peasant wagons and unnoticed laid the cigarette paper appeals and brochures among the sacks. The peasants could not understand very much from those papers. Yet, among them there were those who were impressed by the rise of the young in the struggle against injustice. They also were embittered by poverty and this was expressed through us. It grew. However, later others came and made use of the same bitterness against us, against the Jews in the shtetl. The result was that later the famous pogrom came.
I sobered up a lot earlier. I was infected by Trotskyism, felt Stalin's pettiness and saw signs of anti-Semitism in the party. At a meeting in the forest I gave a speech in which I said that I was disconnecting myself from a communist movement that lets itself be led by Stalin. I urged sympathy for Trotsky.
Many applauded when I finished speaking. Sixty young men stood up and announced that they were going with me.
At that time I did not let myself be carried away. The disappointments cooled my revolutionary enthusiasm and, therefore, I did not rush to run carelessly on the ice of the illegal work. I looked for the goal and saw that it was still far away and, meanwhile, it was being used by charlatans. In my
respect for the honest revolutionaries, however, I saw how they were tools in the hands of those who aspired to power and a career.
The other communists who went with me also understood it this way and little by little sobered up until we finally became active members of the halutz [pioneers preparing for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] movement in all its
shades, with more effort and faith that here we would complete our down payment. We saw everything more clearly, what was happening in the world, looked at the Jewish wounds and felt the new responsibility for our people.
Later, the sobered up communists gave a great deal of youthful energy and youthful fervor to various Zionist organizations.
by Dow Gorzalczany
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
No one remains among us of the former communists in Czyzewo who could feel able to write the history of this movement in our shtetl [town]. Although we struggled against this movement and many of us suffered physically at the hands of the communists when the Soviet regime arrived, which did not cease persecuting every active Zionist, we will not close our eyes in this yizkor book [memorial book] to the communist activity among the young Jews in Czyzewo. We will describe with great objectivity everything we can extract from memory about every corner of communal life in our shtetl.
The reverberation from the October Revolution in Russia also reached the young in our shtetl. It was the time of sturm un drang [storm and drive or stress] and it also found several intelligent boys and girls in Czyzewo who
took the new belief in the redemption of humanity and took upon themselves the mission of creating an organizational framework for their revolutionary activity. They saw redemption of the Jewish problem in the ascending communist idea. In my memory has remained as the most active communist workers the names:
Dovid Jabka, Yitzhak Gura, Blejwajz, Wisznia and Rywka Prawda.
Their entire work consisted of meeting in secret circles of the young and teaching them the principles of historical materialism, the doctrine of MarxistLeninism. We did not know who the secretary was. However, we heard about presentations and lectures on political themes, which they organized. Our discussions with them would extend until late at night.
We also knew that they collected money on behalf of the illegal International Red Aid Fund, which helped the victims of the reactionary Polish regime.
There were times when the activities of the communists were really felt. The number of their followers grew and they did everything to infiltrate the apolitical Jewish youth organizations, the FolksBibliotek [People's Library], the dramatic circle. They arrived with much fervor and fanaticism. True, they spoke a great deal about the ideals of equality and brotherhood, about love of the oppressed person and the fight for his liberation. But more than anything, their spirits flared up when it came to the question of EretzYisroel and Zionism, to the problems of Jewish tradition and the Hebrew language. The communists saw in all of this the manifestation of dark reaction and capitalism. Everything that was national was backward for them and led to dulling the minds of the Jewish masses and drew them away from the struggle against the capitalist enemy.
Thanks to this enemy, in 19256 the communists precipitated the crushing of the Jewish FolksBibliotek, which had been created with so much effort in Czyzewo and was the only progressive cultural institution in the shtetl.
The Jewish FolksBibliotek was a thoroughly progressive institution. Young people from every political organization benefitted from it and not only the Jewish ones, but also the Christian population began to come there to read books and to borrow them to take home.
The red flag was hung in Czyzewo for the first time in 1926.
The entire shtetl became agitated on a beautiful morning. A red flag was seen fluttering on a telegraph pole and everyone knew that this was the work of the communists. However, until today, no one knows if this was done by Czyzewo communists or special emissaries from somewhere else who had been designated [to do so] by the central committee.
Great turmoil arose among the regime publications in the shtetl. This little piece of red linen had simply been brought out by the people just as if they had carried out a giant conspiracy in secrecy.
A series of arrests began that underlined even more the panic of the police. The guilty and the innocent who had never had any connection to the communists were arrested. Among those arrested was Motl Szczupakewicz, who was quickly freed because of lack of proof…
On the contrary, Yabka, Gura, Blajwajz, and Rywka Prawda remained in jail for many years.
The hanging of the red flag and the chain of arrests actually were transformed into a great event in the shtetl. It was talked about for a long time in all houses. It also was said that the entire story of the flag smelled like a provocation; there was a provocateur in the ranks of the party who provided secrets to the police and did things that were instigated by the Polish secret police.
In 1927 an all encompassing communist trial took place in Lomza that echoed through the entire nation and very strongly in the nearby shtetlekh [towns], among which was Czyzewo. This brought new discussions.
At that time Yitzhak Gura, who had broken with the Communist Party before the incident with the red flag, was freed and began to move closer to the SocialistZionists.
Yabka, Blajwajs and Prawda were sentenced to long years in prison. Several years passed until their appeals took place, which freed them after serving a shortened sentence.
Dovid Yabka left jail a sick person with severe stomach problems and could not arrange any work for himself. He also could not find his place in the community because his closest comrades already had left the shtetl, some to EretzYisroel, some to Argentina. Despondent and resigned [to his fate], he committed suicide.
Dovid Yabka was an interesting person; he possessed a deep analytic sense and stubborn belief in justice, in man. He read a great deal and studied and was prepared to sacrifice for his ideals.
Yitzhak Gura has lived among us in Israel and is active in our landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same town] and is beloved by everyone who comes in contact with him.
Blajwajs lives in Argentina, isolated from the Czyzewo landsleit [people from the same town], and we do not know if he still
has the same beliefs he had or if he has sobered up from his young inebriation.
Rywka Prawda, who [found] disappointment in the ideals in which she had so strongly believed, died with the thousands of Czyzewo Jews. She possessed a great deal of enthusiasm for the fight to which she gave herself with the entire fervor of her exalted soul. She believed straight forwardly in the illusion of communist freedom, even at the time when the staged trials against the leaders of the Russian Revolution took place in Moscow. She fervidly defended the Moscow line. Her na´ve belief in Stalin had in her the piety of her grandfather. In addition, she was smart and intelligent enough to find the logically strong arguments with which she defended the zigzagging ways of Soviet communism during discussions which were carried out among the young in the shtetl. She had in herself the way of a romantically ennobled figure.
Another but tragic fate remained for Mr. Wisznia, who had traveled to America before the war. He had traveled to his girlfriend, but he became a young widower and remained so lonely that to this day he lives separated from his former landsleit [people from the same town].
A number of other communists from Czyzewo emigrated to Argentina and Uraguay where they remain today. All of our attempts to contact them have not succeeded. We do not know the reason for the embittered separation: are they embittered because of the disappearance of their dream
of a free community without difference between people and nations?
A teacher named Klar lived in Czyzewo for a time. He came from the Galicianer shtetl of Zaleszcziki [Zalishchyky, Ukraine] and he taught in the Czyzewo FolksShul [public school] until the [Second World] war. He was a fanatical communist.
In October 1939, when the Soviet Army occupied Czyzewo, this Klar was a frequent visitor of the Russian commissar and worked with the NKVD [Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs] to turn over into their hands all of their political opponents, among whom were people who were his close friends. His stubborn cruelty, his hypocrisy evoked a horrible disgust. He betrayed the Jews with whom he had spent long hours in conversation, eating at their Shabbos [Sabbath] table and at holiday meals.
After the Hitlerists marched in, he was one of their first victims.
Such behavior characterized several other communists in our
shtetl, in contrast with honest communists, such as Rywka Prawda, her husband, Benyamin Plocker, and so on, who, immediately upon meeting the complicated dream face to face, saw the great lie and were deeply shocked, not wanting to discount their actions, but remained standing from afar.
During the same frightening time, others, those narrowminded communists, undertook becoming the leaders of the burned and destroyed shtetl. They wanted to make a career at the expense of their early political opponents. They frolicked in a wild devil's dance, denounced and sentenced the best people to jail and exile.
At the same time, Rywka Prawda and her husband, Benyamin Plocker, and other former honest communists helped; they warned everyone they knew that there was a threat of arrest. They risked their own lives; they thus remained honest defenders of the free person until they perished with all of the Jews of Czyzewo.
by Dow Gorzalczany
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The great majority of the young Jews in Czyzewo, were permeated with the ideals of Zion and Jewish revival in EretzYisroel. They did not see any future for themselves living their lives in the land where they were born, not in their home cities, not in the nearer and more distant cities and shtetlekhl [towns], where need would often drive them away. Therefore, the ideals of both the Bund and of the communists did not
have any wide reverberation among the Jewish young in Czyzewo, who expressed their strivings to Shives Tsion [return of the Jews to Zion] in all kinds of organizations.
Yet there were several young people in the shtetl who considered themselves Bundists. They were readers of the Bundist FolksZeitung [People's Newspaper], which was published in Warsaw. The reading of the FolksZeitung actually
was the main sign according to which one was considered a Bundist.
It was not always a certain sign, because there were also communists who would rather have read a Bundist newspaper than a Zionist one, because according to their interpretation, it [the Bundist newspaper] represented the interests of the working class.
Socialist ideas invaded Czyzewo during the years 19045. In contrast with the large cities and the enthusiasm for [the ideas in the cities], it was clearly theoretical, with a na´ve, simple provinciality. It could not be a question of any broadly led fight and awakened classconsciousness because the differences between the artisans and the employers were negligible. Both, equally, worked very hard for a livelihood.
Yet the revolutionary winds, which blew across the cities and countries under the former tsarist rule, also left traces in our shtetl.
The young ones who believed in the revolution were idealists. Among them were found middle class boys and girls. Individual BeisMedrash [house of study] young men and students were drawn in.
They came together in secret, organized illegal gatherings and discussed the principles of social democracy. The gatherings took place in the forest where guards stood, who protected against intrusions by the gendarmes. They sang revolutionary songs and spoke about great strikes and giant demonstrations that were taking place in the wide world in the struggle
against tsarism and his rotten, despotic government.
Contact with the centers of revolutionary activity was very weak in Czyzewo and did not find any expression in daily life. Therefore, revolutionary enthusiasm was quickly extinguished.
There were those who emigrated to America and remained socialists their entire lives, despite the fact that they became rich from the exploitation of their workers. However, this did not hinder their continued membership in the Bund and their speaking about social justice and brotherhood.
Sympathizers of the Bund also remained in Czyzewo, but they were not organized, they did not carry on any political or cultural activity, even during the times when the Bund was legal. No one understood what its beliefs were; it appeared that their only purpose consisted of hatred of Zionism and intolerance of the Hebrew language, to which the Czyzewo young people showed a great deal of love.
During my childhood years I heard that Shmuel Rozenberg (the football player) was a Bundist and during the First World War created a cooperative store which existed for a time on Nurer Street in the house of Chaim Shmuel, the ritual slaughterer.
Faywl Zigelbaun also was considered a Bundist for a time, but he later joined the League for Working EretzYisroel. Angry tongues in the shtetl
saw in this step a calculation to become a parnes [elected head of the community] at the kehile [organized Jewish community]. He actually did become one.
Shmuel Rozenberg, who went from being a Bundist to a sympathizer of Agudas Yisroel [Union of Israel ultra Orthodox religious party], went further. On the other hand, his career consisted only in that he became the gabbai [assistant to the rabbi] at a house of prayer.
Another active Bundist from Czyzewo emigrated to EretzYisroel and lives today in Jerusalem as a very pious Jew. He
belonged to the very extreme Orthodox who verged on [being] Neturei Karta [Aramaic term, Guardians of the City an Orthodox Jewish sect that rejects Zionism]. Did his ideological transformation come through a type of ideological struggle by a repentant sinner? What were the reasons that persuaded him to break with his past and from being an atheist to become a fervid believer in Providence? This is not known; every attempt to communicate with him has been met with his categorical refusal. He lives separated and does not want to talk with anyone about those romantic times.
|1st row: Yisroel Yitzhak Celniker, Eli Welwl Berdan, Nuska Szajnman, Moshele Zilbersztajn and Moshele Jablonka
2nd row from the right: Yeshayu Winograd, Berl Jablonka, Ahron Melcer, Gershon Gura and Ahron Jablonka
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