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[Column 457-458]

Jewish shtetlekh in Poland

by Chaim Grade

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Jewish shtetlekh[1] in Poland, were you only of straw and of moss
That the wind could carry you away without a trace?
My poor praise, my holy, ecstatic vigil,
Have you left only the church so that its peal would say Kaddish[2] for you?
The marketplace is full of traders and village wagons,
The fairs still clamor with cheerful bustling.
The village virgins kneel at the stones near Jesus.
As if they want to thank him for there no longer being any Jews.

Jewish shtetlekh in Poland, a talis[3] was woven in the heavens from your prayers,
But your moans caused a tear in the fabric of the quiet melodies;
You lived in a reflection of untold dreams,
As a reflection of day in a well at night
The sadness followed you like a shadow.
The thresholds of your houses hid themselves – demarcations;
You sold herring to the peasants… but the 10 Sinai commandments
Gave light to your shops.

Dreamy fathers, your stringy beards
Are now the autumn spider webs that hang in the air,
They hang like rusted harps at the river's edge in Babylonia…
On deformed willows on Polish earth.
We stopped in the shtetl Czyzewo. The vehicle reached a tavern.
The passengers hungrily, cheerfully besieged the table.
They took a drink of whiskey and their eyes sparkled with joy,
That there no longer were any bearded Jews at the market stands,
The market place is like a peasant's face sprinkled with gold freckles.

[Column 459-460]

And fleshy [female] peasants stand on Jewish thresholds.
A fall of flooding water leaves more signs,
Which were left here by our community.
Only I see the porches of the occupied houses –
A shadow with peyes[4] that shouts into a blowing storm.

Jewish shtetlekh in Poland, you shone in my heart and memory,
Just as the places in the Holy Land shone for me in the Khumash[5].
My childhood crossed my home river barefooted – and it became my Jordan.
Therefore, now the Western Wall is a ruin – my several walls.

Jewish shtetlekh in Poland, your wealth
Which your neighbors robbed – I have already refused.
I have mourned your death with burning tears
But I will constantly follow you, disappeared shadows, and ask
Why did you entrust your holiday to exile,
And Polish shtetlekh , like rich gems woven into the keser[6]
Of the Torah? Why, blinded by faith, did you build
The Temple of Hasidus[7] in opposition to the princely castles?
Why brothers, did you plant the orchard of wisdom
In the void, on squat, green roofs of kloyzn[8]
Why did you, Hasidim, dance ecstatically on gentile meadows –
And ask for the Divine Presence to house you here?

Here calm soyfrim[9] would write mezuzus[10] on parchment
With goose feathers and oak gall ink.
And we would place them on our doors – to protect us from being driven from this land.
The autumn wind roared in our music.
We twisted on the fields like a golden chain,
And towns and crosses on the road also wrapped in the dance circle;
We planted trees for our grandchildren,
As if the land had been our own –
But the neighbors decided: that they should repair the bridge over the river [with the wood from] the wooden synagogue,
And lay a sidewalk from the headstones.

The ancestors firmly established a stone synagogue.
The naked walls decorated with God's name, –
And for hundreds of years we preserved the seats
Of those leaders who led us here

[Column 461-462]

Lived in cellars. – But carved an oaken omed[11] in the small synagogue.
Clad in rags, but velvet and silk for the curtain for the Torah ark.
For generations warmed their bodies, which were without strength from crying, On cold mornings with the songs of Tilim[12]

I search the roads for the talis that I have woven
From shtetl stories, cemetery legends and work songs. If I would only find a piece of my torn talis
Then I would weave it again.

I walk the roads of Poland. The winds murmur
Like groups of Hasidim who are traveling to their rebbe for yom–tov[13].
They sing and dance, they stride in front and back, their arms entwined
And push me forward to live.


Translator's notes

  1. Towns return
  2. Memorial prayer for the dead. return
  3. Prayer shawl return
  4. Sidecurls return
  5. Five Books of Moses return
  6. Ornamental crown for the Torah scrolls return
  7. Hasidic philosophy return
  8. Small synagogue return
  9. Scribes return
  10. An ornamental box placed on a doorpost containing a parchment on which is written the Shema Yisroel – Hear O Israel – prayer return
  11. Synagogue lectern return
  12. Psalms return
  13. Religious holiday return


[Column 461]

Our Guardians

by Ahron Jablanka

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In quiet rest.
I hear their tremble –
Tortured, they float
And quietly whisper:
“We are your guard
We are your guardian”…

Wrapped in grey clouds,
They float – a communiy.
The sadness of the night in their hands
And they guard in deadly silencE
The walk to the Akedah [1]
In the dark.
And Father Yitzhak cries
For the grandchildren
His dear loss.

[Columns 463-464]

They come from Szulbacz
And come to me.
I hear their murmur:
“The distance is far,
We come from afar to protect you
As the angel protected Yakov.
Our clothing is grey
Sewn from the clouds.
No one prepared shrouds for us,
We float around with the clouds
And become slaves to your trembling
And become your guard, your guardian.”


Translator's note

  1. The Binding of Yitzhak – Isaac – as a sacrifice. return


[Column 465]

They Come and Demand Their Due

by Ahron Jablanka

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

And so night after night
They arrive.
In stillness I hear their pacing
In their hands, the frozen, suppressed sobs,
In their mouths, cold, dark teeth,
[They come] on Auschwitz trains.

They knock on the walls with burned hands,
Their clothes burn like yahrzeit candles.[1]
From the walls they come, dispersed by silence
In a heart that burns
And is not burned.
They come to remind [us] of the vow…

They sing their song of death
As a collective prayer:
Take our task
Take our song
And give it to your son.

[Columns 465-466]

We are the community from your shtetl[2]
Your five brothers are with us.
And your mother
Does not extinguish your pain,
Let it be like a flame
That lights the frozen community.

Make a cloth for him,
The royal figure – Mara de–atra[3]
The tzadek[4] and genius –
Reb Shmuel Dovid Zawladower,
With hands spread.
Enveloped by his talis[5]
He brings to the synagogue his blessing for those praying.

Walking here are the Brainsker wiseman, Ben–Tzion,
Shaul–Hersh the apprehensive one, the sharp mind,
Avrahaml Szwarc, the community worker and philanthropist.
The community comes and like a powerful intercessor
Burns the names on the stars with a burning fire.
They come to demand of us,
They come to remind [us]
From world to world – our cries are heard.
We search for the calm in our hearts.
[It] cools our fire, the day–long fire,
So we will not forget,
So we will not forget.

See our body; it has no grave.
It is naked and night has not welcomed
Each of our limbs into the bosom of the earth,
So we have now come here to you.
Take a shovel of earth of memories and guard [them].
In your heart dig a grave, you will cover it yourself.
A community of fathers and children arrives
Liberated for an eternity from knives and butchers.
The burned community stands at your window
Tortured in life, defiled at death.
Take your talis and spread it over everyone
On your babies and young brides.

[Columns 467-468]

How can a person die who is already dead?
How then can a person live who has no life?
They come and carry death like a hump,
That the murderer gave them in agony,
The martyrs of Czyzewo, of Zaromb and Sambor.
They come to me and demand a grave,
And I kneel in reverence in khtsos[6] at the shtender[7]
And breathe with them with my every limb,
Until the morning begins to dawn
And they will leave for the land of forgetting,
And I will roar like a wounded lion
And feel the pain in my sleeping and eating…

 

czy0069.gif

 


Translator's note

  1. Memorial candle. return
  2. Town. return
  3. Aramaic – “master of the house” – the local authority for rabbinical law. return
  4. Righteous man. return
  5. Prayer shawl. return
  6. Custom of midnight study and prayer in memory of the destruction of the Temples. return
  7. Reading desk. return


[Column 471]

The First Strike

by Dow Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

It was in 1905.

I was then a kheder-yingl [religious primary school student]. Because the teacher did not have permission to run a kheder [religious primary school], because his residence did not maintain the sanitary conditions demanded by the police for a school, the teacher had moved his school to the house of prayer. However, on this day there was turmoil and upheaval with a “pogrom” in the house of prayer and the rabbi freed us from learning and sent us home.

It was the Jewish strikers [working] for Shmulke the tailor, who had his tailor shop across from the house of prayer, who created the “pogrom.” He had four sewing machines and hired men. The workers demanded a 12-hour workday and Shmulke did not want by any means to give in. So they entered his shop and broke the machines and the furniture and knocked out the windowpanes and a little blood was spilled. There was a bitter fight because Shmulke's son Iser and his son-in-law resisted.

Dovid Czimbam (Goldberg), a shoemaker by trade, stood at the head of the strikers. Under his leadership were: Meir Karesz, an egg trader, who would buy eggs with his mother on market days, which they took to Warsaw; Faydekhe's son and two daughters who sold fruit that they bought from the orchards and

[Column 472]

took to Warsaw and Bialystok; Yosef Shmerl's [son] (Czeliaczniak), a worker at tsitsis [fringed undergarment worn by pious men] and carpentry, and so on.

They were the leaders of the strike, but the socialist group also included many others. The majority of them were children of esteemed members of the middle class and even of rich men. [They included] the daughters and a son of the Zajfnzider [family], a son of Yosef Szepke, Motl Baliender, Shayve Surowicz, Sura Szczigel, Berl, the daughter of the melamed [religious teacher], Sura-Misha's daughter Altke, Tiktin, Mordekhai Welie's daughter Fraydke and many others.

A similar strike also took place against Yosl Baczan the shoemaker. He lived on Modlin [Street]; this was in a part of the shtetl [town], on the southeast side right near the river. This Yosl Baczan would not agree that his only journeyman should not work more than 12 hours a day. The strikers burst in on a Friday and beat him severely. He later walked around with a bandaged head for a long time. When the police came there were no longer any strikers to be found.

Morozow, an embittered enemy of the Jews, was then at the head of the Czyzewo police. Early in the morning of Shabbos [Sabbath], he encountered Dovid Czimbam at the entrance to the teahouse located in Berish Fridman's house. With

[Column 473]

the help of several policemen, Morozow attacked Dovid and wanted to arrest him as the one responsible for the bit of work at [the workshop of] Yosl Baczan. Dovid did not allow himself to be arrested, holding on to the wooden steps of the entrance. The policemen could not tear him away in any way from the

[Column 474]

spot. Morozow barged in with wild fury and with the sword that he carried at his side. He gave Dovid a blow over his arm and broke the bone. The policemen carried him away in this condition.



[Column 473]

Khederim, Schools, Teachers and Melamdim

by Dow Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

There were many khederim [religious primary schools] in Czyzewo, but for many years only one folkshul [public school] existed with only one Christian teacher. The students then consisted of only Christian children who came from the surrounding villages. The languages of education were Russian and Polish.

The Jews in Czyzewo looked at the school as at an evil plague that causes misery.

According to Russian law, the melamdim [teachers at religious schools] had to send the children to the folkshul every day for at least two hours. Well, what parents or teachers wanted their child to interrupt their Torah study because of some sort of gentile school? In general, the majority of khederim were trayfe [nonkosher, illegal in this sense]; they did not have any permission to run a kheder and, therefore, were afraid of an evil eye from the police. They did everything they could to be able to avoid the school edict.

First of all, until 1910, Jewish children, particularly girls, learned to write in Yiddish and Russian with the two Jewish teachers, also illegal, Yankl the lerer [teacher] and Zorekh Starkowski, whom we called the writer because he would write administrative requests and petitions and applications for the Jews to the various government

[Column 474]

institutions, even to the highest court and to the tsarist tribunal. Later, he was only involved with travel matters, was in contact with the German travel bureaus and, because of this, actually was arrested at the outbreak of the First World War. He was threatened with exile. From jail he sent out a declaration to the Warsaw governor who ordered that he be freed. He died in America years later.

The two teachers also would write letters for Amerikankes. That is what we called the women whose husbands were in America. For 10 kopekes [coin of small denomination] they wrote a short letter that spoke to the heart and could move even a stone.

Another teacher, Chaim-Shaya, arrived in 1910. In a short time he remained the only teacher in the shtetl because the two previous [teachers] were involved with something else. Boys and girls studied together with Chaim-Shaya. They learned Russian, Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew with the Ashkenazi dialect.

[The children] studied in all of the khederim, beginning with the teacher of the youngest children and ending with a teacher of the Gemara [Talmud], from Shabbos Bereishis [the first Torah portion of the yearly reading cycle] and through the entire winter, from seven in the morning until around nine o'clock at night with a break for the lunch hour.

[Column 475]

Diligent Gemara students [boys] then went to a Hasid's shtibl [one room house of prayer] after eating at night and studied until late [at night].

On the first Sunday after Sukkos [The Feast of Tabernacles, which takes place in September or October], the teacher reminded the children as they left for lunch:

– Do not forget to bring a kopeke for kerosene.
There was no electrical lighting then in Czyzewo.

When I visited Czyzewo in 1935, the shtetl already was lit by electricity, which was provided by the “Parowa Mill,” which belonged to Yosl-Borukh Lepak and partners.

All of the houses and, as a matter of course, also the khederim were lit by kerosene. Each kheder boy had to contribute to the cost of kerosene in the amount of one kopeke a week.

The nighttime study in the kheder evoked very great interest among the kheder boys, not because of studying Gemara, but because of the art of creating paper lanterns in various forms, size and color.

A strong competition in creating the lanterns among the kheder boys continued for the entire winter. Each boy tried to out-do the other. The lantern was smeared with oil so the light from the tallow candle would clearly shine. There also were tin lanterns, but only the rich boys were able to have one of those.

Coming home at night after studying with the lantern with flowered paper one had created himself

[Column 476]

[gave the boy] the feeling of childish pride. However, the lantern often would meet an ein-hora [evil eye, something bad] and always, of course, the prettiest one and as soon as one left the kheder the lantern caught fire as if by a magical hand and… in one blink of the eye, all of the toil was transformed into smoke and a bit of ash that the wind immediately dissipated everywhere.

No more lantern. No longer a privileged person! As if done deliberately!

Regret over the burned lantern did not last long. As soon as the boy crossed the threshold he went to the usual, prepared material and in the morning he came to the kheder with a brand new and modern lantern that would cause wonder and envy among his friends.

A childish fantasy could not imagine a greater pleasure.

Coming from kheder with a round, beautiful lantern that illuminated the trodden paths in the deep snow that meandered up to the home where the mother's mild eyes and lips were waiting, the boy felt pride in his own work.

I was a fortunate one; my mother greeted me, her successful young son and a good student whose small face was reddened by the cold and childish joy. She did not cease dreaming that perhaps her efforts, her exertions to help her young son with the best teachers, not sparing the money needed for tuition, saving more than she could from the money his father sent on which they were to live in order to be able to educate her small son to send him on the path

[Column 477]

of righteousness. Perhaps God would help and he would grow up to be a rabbi or just a great scholar and he would be good to God and to people. Mothers would be envious. She, therefore, was fortunate, extremely happy.

Every Shabbos [Sabbath] afternoon, one prepared to be questioned [examined] to see how far along he was in his studies.

The examination was prepared earlier by the melamed. Rarely was the

[Column 478]

melamed at the examination. The examiners were almost always Yoske Szapira's son Borukh, Berish Fridman, Yisroel-Yona Raczkowski, Moshe Yankl the Winszenker and others.

The boys later notified the rabbi, the father or the mother of their success at the examination and in return they received good sweets.

“Oh that my head were water and my eyes a spring of tears, that I might weep all day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”
Jeremiah 9:1



[Column 477]

A Ray of Light from Past Years

Dow Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Imparting my memories of life in Czyzewo, I have the feeling that I am uttering laments over my birthplace in which I spent some 20 plus years of my childhood and youth, years of dreams and aspirations. I still feel bound to it and to my close relatives, comrades and friends, years after leaving the shtetl, with its small wooden houses, covered with shingle roofs, with the large market and its two rows of shops. There were three two-story houses found here, with brick walls. Only Shimeon-Nusan the melamed's [religious elementary school teacher] two-story house was wooden. A little farther, where Zembrower Road began, right near the Brak River, stood the Catholic Church with its two

[Column 478]

large tower windows looking out on the city market, from which the three main street spread out – Szmidisze Street on the west side, Kalje Street from the east side and Ciechanowiecer or Nurer Road on the south side.

Everything I describe is only perhaps a thousandth of the many generations of Jewish life in Czyzewo that was so mercilessly destroyed, just as in hundreds of other Jewish cities and shtetlekh [towns] where our savage enemy did not leave any scent of Jewish life.

 

The Time of Transition

I begin in 1913 because this year was a time of transition in my life.

[Column 479]

I left the yeshiva [religious school] and remained standing at the crossroads, without a definite direction for my future, a period that was so characteristic for Jewish young people at that time.

It is clear to me that in my descriptions I will also weave in episodes and events that I experienced in my earlier childhood years or I will retell stories from my parents and other people. I will not avoid them. Let it remain a memorial and enrich the picture of Jewish life in Czyzewo before the Holocaust.

For such young men as I at that time, Czyzewo was a place to come together to spend time. We established certain places where we would meet for a conversation. Such meeting points were the brush factories, one of them belonging to Sholem, Miriam's son, who was at first called Czelianagura and later Grynberg. The second brush factory belonged to Yitzhak-Benimin's son, Moshel Blejwajs. They were brothers-in-law years later.

At this opportunity I want to mention that just as in other shtetlekh, in Czyzewo it was not customary to call someone by their family name. Everyone had his nickname, particularly when there were many people with the same name, such as for example, Itshes, of which there were very many in Czyzewo. Therefore, I will also call these people about whom I will speak by the names with which they were known in Czyzewo because there are many people there whose family names are not known even today. These people carried their nicknames with the greatest naturalness. No one made an effort to find out the origin of the nickname.

[Column 480]

The young men who would come to these “small factories” would include those whose concerns centered around earning money for cigarettes, or for buying a young girl chocolates and soda water, fruits in Fladeszczike's orchard, or only for a quiet stroll in a splendid moonlit night.

It should be understood that the category “fardiner” [one who earns much money] could not be applied to the “working class.” There were not yet any parties then in Czyzewo. However, there were sympathizers toward various parties that existed then in Poland. There also existed class differences in Czyzewo, such as, for example: wagon drivers and porters, on one side and retailers, wealthy children, half and entirely idle on the other side. There were also sharp differences between Hasidim and misnagdim [opponents of Hasidism].

There were also two Alters among my friends who entered the small factories, Aizik Baran's Alter and Fayge-Brukha's Alter, to whom I was strongly attached and because we were always seen together, we were called “the triplets.” They had a great influence on the course of my life. We took the initiative upon ourselves to found the “people's library.” Others later also helped in running it, my brother, Mordekhai, may he rest in peace, among them.

This was later and I will return to it because this is an interesting chapter in the life of Czyzewo. Alter Baran played an important role here. Alas, he died in 1917 at the age of 21. Fayge-Brukha's Alter Szerszyn died in Petah Tikvah in 1938 at the

[Column 481]

age of 42.

There was another place where young people would meet. This was the barbershop of Avraham Josef Itsl, the son of the klezmer [musician] (Rithalc) where young men[1] and young men already married, who found it difficult to part with the life of an unmarried young man, would come. A “dramatic section,” as well as an orchestra, was founded in this barbershop through the initiative and leadership of Avraham Josef.

At all of these meeting places only young men would come together. Young women would meet separately in a residence of either this or that friend. If there was a brother there, young men would visit briefly. They said that they were coming to see the brother and if the parents were not in the home, there were found circumspect young men who danced a waltz, a polka, a sherele, a fadisfan or a Krakowiak (dances popular at the time) with the young women. The dances were done according to the cadence of the songs that were sung by the dancers themselves.

Fantn-shpiel [guessing games] were also included in the entertainments. And also “rumors” during which anonymous complimentary letters were sent with trusting young men and young women specifically chosen for this purpose. The best letters were later given a prize by a jury. For the fantn-spiel, a committee presented riddles to each participant and those who could not answer would be punished by the jury and after carrying out the verdict they would get back their fant (deposit). The most severe punishment was to kiss a young woman…

During the summertime we came together in the orchards and forests around the city and on

[Column 482]

the roads outside the shtetl. Mostly we would stroll on Zembower Road where meadows with wide many-branched trees stretched on both sides and we could rest. The road was full of people strolling. Here could be seen young men arm in arm with young women, couples in love. There were no automobiles parking then and because it was Shabbos [Sabbath] it was rare to see a peasant wagon…

 

The Torn Out Poplars

A beloved stroll was also on Ciechanowiecer Road with its tall and thick poplar trees that stretched like a beautiful boulevard to the train station. In 1907, 49 poplars were torn out by the roots and in their place stood deep holes.

This happened on the day when a pogrom was being prepared against the Jews in Czyzewo. Several days before Yosef's-hoga [the holiday of Jesus – Easter], the police learned about it and called for reinforcements from the powiat [county]. A company of soldiers also arrived. No Jews were seen outside. Everything was closed and they sat with beating hearts even in the special hiding places. But when a giant procession accompanied by echoing bell-ringing began, everyone experienced suffocating breathing. All of the streets were packed with peasant wagons, ready to be loaded with the possession of the Zydes [derogatory Polish word for Jews] that would need to be taken after the slaughter and murder.

Suddenly the sky became very cloudy and a downpour began. There was thunder and lightning. A fearful gale tore trees

[Column 483]

and roofs. Fear and great turmoil engulfed the peasants everywhere.

Then, the 49 poplars on Ciechanowiecer Road fell. Four such poplars stood not far from the Jewish cemetery near the furrier Moshe-Khatskl's garden. Two

[Column 484]

fell and two were broken in half. The two remaining tree trunks were used by the tsitsis [fringe found on a talis or prayer shawl; fringed garment worn under clothing by Orthodox Jewish males] makers during the summer to stretch the tsitsis threads for drying.

The fear of the non-Jews after these events lasted for a very long time. The Jews saw in this a miracle from heaven.


Translator's notes

  1. The Yiddish word bokhur - bokhurim in the plural - is used for unmarried young men. return


[Column 483]

New Winds

by Dow Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 new winds began to blow among the Czyzewo young. Groups were formed that carried on fervent political discussions. The meetings in the brush factories and in Avraham Yosef's barbershop were still more heated with discussion of world question. The young showed a strong drive to read books, newspapers. But we had to refrain from opening a library because of the dangers that lurked for every Jew as a result of the Russian defeats at the front.

Old Khanina Szerszin had a few of his own books and lent them out among the thirsty young who contributed with a small payment so the money could be used to buy new books. All of the discussions were fiery and took place in the middle of the market and drew larger groups of people who would scatter when a Russian policeman appeared.

 

When the Front Neared

The Warsaw–Petersburg (which was called Petrograd during the war and now Leningrad) train line ran through Czyzewo. The passing military [troops]

[Column 484]

would stop in Czyzewo for a short time. The soldiers were quartered in private houses. Several small incidents of theft and robbery took place. However, in general, they brought in a revival in retail [commerce]. Simultaneously, Czyzewo Jews began to provide military boots, uniforms and military great coats as well as meat and bread.

Life became more difficult when the front neared Czyzewo. Great masses of the military that began to give a difficult time to the Jewish population arrived. During the last two days of Russian rule, Cossack murderers began to rampage.

At night, the sky was red from the flames that approached from the villages that the Russians had burned during their withdrawal. Along with the heavy cannon fire, desperate screaming was heard moving from among the shops, to the market, to the neighboring alley that the soldiers had begun to loot. An individual case was when an officer drove away a band of soldiers who had looted the shop of Yoske (Grinberg), the son of Nisle.

[Column 485]

On the last day in the afternoon all of the Jews in the shtetl went out onto the field in front of the slaughterhouse, near the new cemetery. It was announced from the [Russian] military headquarters that the shtetl would soon be set on fire. A small number of the population withdrew to the cellars of the Zawl Eidlszten's and Pesakh Surowicz's brick houses.

Suddenly we saw from the distance that the wings had begun to turn on one of the four windmills that were located on Kalja Road. This curdled everyone's blood from fear. This could only mean a sealed death sentence, not only for the owner of the mill but also for the entire shtetl. The Russians could see secret signals in this that the Jews were giving to the Germans. Such rumors had been going around for a long time.

It did not take long and the soldiers began to search for Simkha Glina, the son of Mendl–Yisroel Shlomo. Someone pointed him out and he was taken away. I do not know what happened and Simkha returned a few hours later. Several minutes later all four windmills were in flames, which engulfed the surrounding houses.

The shooting became thicker. Bullets and shrapnel passed over our heads. The Germans shelled the train station. Shrapnel exploded in the middle of the city and the sad news immediately was carried that Berl–Dovid's wife, Chaya, was killed. Right after her, the wheelwright, Yitzhak. Avrahaml, Sura Malka's son–in–law, was wounded. These were the first victims. Later, there were others.

The shooting got even heavier at night. Frightening shouts of hoorah were heard.

[Column 486]

The Russians had attacked; everyone in the field was seized by a horrible fear. People ran to the cemetery in great confusion, hid behind the fence, behind the headstones. Others ran into the brick building of the slaughterhouse. They ran back and forth under the hail of bullets. The child of Hersh Welwl's daughter–in–law, whom she was holding in her arms, was shot. We hid under the wagons that were fully packed with furniture and bedding. Avrahaml Moshe, the bookbinder's son, lay near me shoulder to shoulder.

Suddenly it became still. The Germans withdrew to the river. The Russians chased them. Cossacks ran past us with wild, distorted faces and outstretched rifles with sparkling bayonets. An infuriated Cossack bent to our side and stuck the bayonet into Avrahaml's heart. He was still alive. I helped carry him into the slaughterhouse. He looked at me with sad eyes and asked me to sit near him. We could not help him at all and he quietly breathed out his soul.

Meanwhile, another young man was stabbed in the same manner outside. We did not know him. He came running here from Januszkowo, thinking that it was quiet here and found death here. Josl Katliarek's wife began birth pains at the same time and gave birth to a boy who died during his childhood.

When night fell, it suddenly became light from the flames that engulfed the entire shtetl. We did not

[Column 487]

see any Russian or German military. Everyone left on foot, running on the Ciechanowiecer road, on the road to Russia. A large number had wagons. It lasted several days until we arrived on the Russian side of Ciechanowiec in the forest. We were seized there by Germans, who told us to return to Czyzewo.

On the way, the German soldiers distributed bread, jams and chocolate to us. It was worse in the shtetl. German soldiers came into Yakov–Arya's [shop] to buy sugar. It was Shabbos and Sima–Leah led them into the shop; in several minutes they stole everything, left it empty shelved and escaped.

My partner Shmulke, Malka the baker's adopted son, and I left on foot for Ostrowa. There we bought cigarettes, cigars and matches and returned to Czyzewo with full sacks on our backs. We did very well on the transport and again returned to Ostrowa. Returning loaded with full sacks, we were very close to the shtetl. We met German soldiers who asked us to give them cigarettes, cigars. We quickly emptied our sacks. We considered it good luck – [they] quickly took the goods; the soldiers immediately were back in their wagons and without a word quickly departed. We thus lost all of our possessions [and] foreign money. We no longer had anything with which to trade.

Life began to become normal again little by little. The German commandant put together a militia and I was

[Column 488]

appointed as an interpreter at the headquarters. The Jews, local and foreign benefited from many favors. The Christian population tried to agitate with the German commandant against the Jews, denounced the Jews as smugglers of city wheat, kerosene, horses and other things. I was successful everywhere – with the help of Itshe Mankuta – at influencing the commandant on behalf of the Jews.

 

My Activity in the Library

At that time the provisional committee to found a library came together. All of the very young men and girls from Czyzewo were invited to the meeting where on the agenda were the questions:

  1. Approve the founding of a library,
  2. Determine the level of the enrollment cost and member's dues,
  3. Elect a managing committee and a review committee,
  4. Discussion, questions and answers.
Signing the invitation were: Baran, Brukasz and Szerszin.

At first the library was in the residence of the Flocker family, a brother–in–law of Itshe Mankuta, who voluntarily provided a place where books brought by Alter Szerszin were distributed. A short time later, an apartment of two rooms was rented from Leibl Benyimin Senders where the first founding meeting took place.

The following people were elected to the managing committee: Baran, Brukacz, Dr.

[Column 489]

Gelbaum, Yablonka Butsza, Szachnerowicz and Mordekhai Brukacz as librarian.

The library received the name “Jewish Folks [People's] Library in Czyzewo.” The premises were fully packed every evening. A division for chess and checkers also was created under the leadership of Dr. Gelbaum. Readings on various themes were given by Dr. Gelbaum, Dentist Szachnerowicz.

A stir began in the shtetl. The Hasidic parents learned that their children were going to the “Jewish kosciol [Catholic house of worship]” (that is how they referred to the library) and reading the secular books there. They began to demand of Leibl that he throw out the unclean books. Otherwise, they threatened to not permit him to offer the priestly blessing on the holidays (he was a kohan). Leibl was actually very frightened and put a lock on the door of the library.

The German commandant (he was Jew with the name Rozenbaum) sent two soldiers to rip off the lock. When Leibl tried to resist, they served him with several blows. This made an even stronger impression than the threat about the priestly blessing. In addition,

[Column 490]

we gave him an increase in rent money. The incident ended with this.

At the demand of the then Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Dovid Zablodower, may the name of a righteous man be blessed, we gave him our word of honor that the library would be closed from Friday at night to Shabbos after havdalah [the concluding Shabbos prayers]. The pious group did not stop making a fuss, until finally they became accustomed [to the library]. Their children contrived to take book from the library.

My activity in the library lasted until 1918. I became ill and was operated on in the Warsaw Hospital. Immediately afterwards I was mobilized into the Polish military. Therefore, I had to give up all communal work.

Returning after several months of active military service, I still helped to liquidate the cooperative store that was founded in 1917 with the help of Lev Yitzhak Rubinsztajn, Szachnerowicz and me. There were various unsuccessful attempts to strengthen the cooperative. However, it could not be supported in any way and it had to be liquidated against our will.

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