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[Column 695]

The Scroll of Blood
“Davar” number 3584, 12 Adar 5692 (February 23, 1937)

by Gerszon Gur

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It is a town with a history spanning centuries, with communal ledgers and lists of its great people, rabbis, and pious ones. It was always quiet and modest, and good, friendly relations always existed with all the Polish neighbors – the farmers of the villages of the nearby region.

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During the time of Czar Nikolai, the city was graced with something more than all the other towns of the area had – a railway station. When they built the first Petersburg-Warsaw line, this was the only city that was on the border of this line. Therefore, already from the time of the Czar, it was the custom to hold a market day twice a week as well as a

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monthly fair at which the merchants and farmers from all the towns and villages with no railway line gathered in Czyzewo to sell their wares, such a milk, eggs, various grains, etc. – to the Jewish merchants, who brought the merchandise to Warsaw. This continued until the town was afflicted, about a half a year ago, with a new Hitler who came from afar and settled there. From then, the chain of tribulations began. This Hitler began to organize a circle of Nara [a nationalist Polish political party] and would teach them each evening a lesson on boycotts and oppression of the Jews. A group of youths with fists and muscles began to gather around him. They were affiliated with the “Center for Matters of Afflicting the Jews” in Warsaw. From there, they received assistance with a working plan for freeing themselves of Jews in Czyzewo. In addition to the moral help they received from Warsaw, the center provided them on market days with several hundred strong youths with fists and clubs, who received a salary for their “clean” work of providing protection on market days. It has been more than a half a year since these Nara people organized in pairs, with clubs in their hands, in front of the doors of all the Jewish shops and next to the peddlers in the market, preventing any Polish customer from coming into contact with a Jewish seller. They would threaten with clubs and beatings until the simple farmer was forced, against his will, to leave the shop. If there were some who succeeded in evading the eyes of the picketers, they would receive a slap on the face as they left the shop, and in most cases, the merchandise that they purchased was confiscated.

These deeds urged on the police. Once bright day, searched were conducted on two of the leaders of this gang. The searches revealed contacts with Nazi Germany and anti-government activities. The two were arrested. However, the imprisonment increased the severity of the situation. Members of the Nara conducted demonstrations against the imprisonment of their leaders. Beatings of Jews began with these demonstrations.

In the morning of the day of the fair, the farmers of the region streamed in by the thousands in an unusual fashion, but the attention of the Jews was directed to a new type of “arrival” – of thousands of youth in large camps, armed with sticks. The look on their faces indicated that they had not come for business.

In the afternoon, gangs of youths approached a Jewish peddler and overturned his stall with his merchandise. When a policeman arrived to investigate the deed, the members of the gang immediately surrounded him

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and began to beat him. A tumult arose. Many policemen came from all sides. The farmers immediately appeared with sticks and axes in their hands, and began to beat the policeman. Even the district ruler suffered no small amount from blows.

A commotion arose among the Jewish peddlers. They all abandoned their stalls with the merchandise and fled in any direction their feet would take them. The shops were immediately closed. Shutters were pulled down in the residential homes. From between the cracks, people peered at the atrocities perpetrated out the open.

Within a moment, the town turned into a killing field between the members of the Nara and the police. However, as was later clarified, the disturbances were perpetrated in the city in order to draw the government forces from the cattle market behind the city, where most of the Jews were located without defense and protection.

Their plan succeeded.

While the Nara people were fighting with the police, their gangs perpetrated a slaughter of the Jews in the cattle market. They beat all Jews, without differentiating, with iron sticks and knives. Zelig Jelin, the town strongman, died of his wounds in the hospital in Warsaw. His body was full of wounds and knife stabbings. Yisrael Baran, a butcher by trade, was placed on the ground and beaten until they thought he was dead. Currently, he is struggling against death in the hospital in Warsaw. They drove a nail into the belly of a pregnant woman. Many others were injured with serious injuries.

Many Jews escaped from the market and hid in the grove near the town, as well as in the nearby cemeteries. They remained in hiding all that day and the following night, from fear of returning to their homes. The screams and cries of the women waiting for their husbands to return frightened the town.

However, this bloody scroll of Czyzewo had not yet concluded.

Several weeks passed. The town had not yet calmed down, and the fear of that dark day had not yet dissipated. The government banned any gatherings and fairs in the town. The Jews wandered around the town literally like mourners, perishing from hunger.

A quiet, discreet boycott began, which transitioned to disturbances and terrible slaughter, finally leading to general slaughter and death from hunger.


[Column 699]

There Once Was a Shtetl
With Beloved Jews

by Yitzhak Bursztajn, Uruguay

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I left Czyzewo for Uruguay in the middle of the summer of 1930.

I had a premonition that I would not see the shtetl [town] again. Alas, this premonition was certified with brutal thoroughness. I had the opportunity to be in Europe twice after the Second World War and it did not come to mind to go to my “city of birth.”

What do I have to see there, for what do I have to search there, besides the grave of my father, of blessed memory, if the murderers have not disturbed it?

The graves of all of our beloved and dear were surely not in Czyzewo. The enemy had chased them earlier, tortured them until they were annihilated with the other saintly martyrs of the unfortunate European Jewry.

Of course, it would have been worthwhile to be there, to visit my parents' graves, to leave a tear at a grave of a relative, or just for the Czyzewo Jews who had been dead before [the Germans came] and had to watch the gruesome picture of how the Czyzewo Jews, so unpretentious and sincere, were annihilated. Because of this I had to be there, to look at the destruction,

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to cry my heart out and to say with a holy, God-fearing tremble:

Yitgadal v'yitkadash… [1]

I remember Czyzewo. The shtetl with its people is so fresh and clear

 

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My mother, sisters and brother

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before my eyes, not as it was 30 years ago, but as if I had just seen it last night. I see the large house of prayer, walled in bricks, full of Jews. I hear the quiet steps of the tall, stately rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Zawlodower, as he would enter on Shabbos [Sabbath] accompanied by the small Ahron the shamas [sexton] and all of the Jews spontaneously stood at their arrival…

This was the Misnagdim [Orthodox opponents of Hadism] house of prayer and behind it in a wooden building were located several Hasidic shtiblekh [small, one-room synagogues]. The Gerer [Hasidim] were in one and the Aleksander Hasidim were in another and above on the second story the Sokolower [Hasidim] prayed with several Amshinower [Hasidim]…

The Hasidic shtiblekh did not have women's sections. The wives of the Hasidim had to pray at the women's synagogue of the large house of prayer or of the Khevra Mishnius [group which studies Talmudic commentaries].

The tall, slightly bent-over Avraham Chaim was the boss in the small house of prayer of the Khevra Mishnius.

 

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Fayge-Malka, wife of Reb Shlomo Pakczarski

 

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This was a rare Jew, with unusual behaviors. He would wake up from sleep right after midnight and at one o'clock he already was at the house of prayer. In the winter he himself lit the oven and said Psalms.

When the clock struck three, he would start going through the streets to wake Jews for prayer.

I remember well how Avraham Chaim would knock on our shutters to wake up my father, Reb Shlomo, and it happened many times that my father had already woken up and was sitting at the window studying Mishnius by heart.

My father dedicated a part of his life to learning the “Six Orders of the Mishnah [Talmudic commentaries] by heart. He achieved his ambition and therefore was acquainted with the learned circles not only in Czyzewo but also in several rabbinical “courts.”

Avraham Chaim was a little deaf in his last years. Therefore, he would knock loudly on the shutters so that his “clients” would hear him. He would not move from the spot until he was convinced that his knocking had been successful. One had to give him a sign, shout, “Yes, Avraham Chaim, I hear. I am getting up.”

It was then that he continued on his route with heavy steps.

Avraham Chaim's fights with packs of dogs that attacked him were often heard in the stillness of the night. He had with him for this purpose a good stick just in case and the stick was a good remedy for not being deterred by dogs in his holy service.

Avraham Chaim was the ruler of

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a small house of prayer of the Khevra Mishnius. He did not dislike being at the lectern. As much as I remember, he read the prayers only for the first prayers of the morning service and perhaps sometimes Shakhris [morning prayers] as well.

Reb Borukh Szapiro, or as we called him Borukh Yoska's [probably indicating that Borukh was Yoska's son], who had a shop at the market, studied a page of Mishnius with the group. He was a Jew, a scholar. In addition, he was a good interpreter [of Mishnius]. Although his voice was a little hoarse, he had a strong eloquence and everyone around the table, from one end to the other, heard him well. Reb Shlomo had studied with the group before my father. But when he moved to the Sokolower shtibl to pray, he stopped studying with the group. However, he continued to study alone every day at the Khevra Mishnius.

I remember a solemn celebration of a siyim [the completion of the daily study of the Talmudic texts] that would take place at the Khevra Mishnius. Such an event of finishing a sequence of Mishnius was celebrated with a lavish banquet. The honored guest always was the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Dovid Zawlodower, who sat at the very head [of the table], with Reb Borukh Szapira on one side and my father, Reb Shlomo, on the other.

Avraham Chaim was extremely happy at such holidays. He made sure that the oven would be heated better than usual, that the lamps would actually shine with light. All participants at the siyim felt as if they were at a family celebration, cheerful and elevated.

So in my imagination I see at the table Noske the oil presser, a fine Jew, a learned man, as well as endowed with a good nature and a great deal of humor. In the early years I still remember him when he was the baal-koreh [member of congregation who reads from the Torah] at the Khevra Mishnius. Later he became ill. He suffered from a kind of paralysis. His hands constantly

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shook and because of his illness, he no longer was the same Noske.

Eidl the carpenter, a Jew, a golden artisan, particularly in building wooden houses, took his place as baal-koreh. During my time, he already was an old man. He would work very slowly and did not want to take on any larger work [projects], but the house that he did build was as if turned on a lathe.

His grandson would help him with the work. I think his name was Yosl, the son of Khona Yudl's son-in-law. This Khona – his family name was Treblinski – was a very interesting type who drew special attention to himself even in Czyzewo, with his appearance and with his specific behavior.

He was a harness-maker by trade, but he also was an Uman Hasid, one of the “dead Hasidim” – as they were called. [2]

His piety was limitless; he would put all of his feelings into praying. His beloved place, which he had chosen himself, was behind the oven. However, his voice reached into all corners of the house of prayer.

He would pray with enthusiasm, with fervor, clap his hands and make strange faces. It was rare that one would see Khona's face while he was praying because he would always pull his talis [prayer shawl] over his head. When he read the Torah, he also stood at his place behind the oven. However, he lowered the talis to his shoulders so he could hear the baal-koreh, who was his father-in-law, Eidl the carpenter, an honest, toiling man of the people. Although he was not a scholar, he knew portions of the Khumesh [Torah] with their Rashi commentaries and also was not unfamiliar with chapters of Mishnius [Talmudic commentaries].

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In the Large House of Prayer

Czy0705.jpg
The Czyzewo Beis-Medrash haGodl [Large House of Prayer] erected after the First World War

 

Hundreds of worshippers prayed in the large house of prayer. All of them were misnagdim [opponents of Hasidism]. They began their prayers there with Psalm [30] [invoking] a song of dedication to the House.

I still remember as a young boy when they finished building the house of prayer. The first Minkhah-Maariv [afternoon and evening] prayers remain engraved in my mind. There was not yet a roof on the building. The celebration in the shtetl for the new, beautiful house of prayer was enormous. I also remember they took this opportunity to collect donations to finish the last stage of construction. The contributions were made according to the number of bricks; one donated 100, another 200 and so on.

The same night they also were busy with a list of Jews who were interested in buying shtet [reserved seat locations in the synagogue]. It should be understood that each row had its price. The first row near the eastern wall cost more and the back one less. The ark was not excessively luxurious. [It was] simple but finished very beautifully. When the carpenters finished with the communal reading desks that were divided into individual seats and finished all of the other facilities,

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the reading desk from which the Torah was read, the large, long tables and chairs at each side and two ceramic tile ovens, the house of prayer had a very fine appearance.

Years later, when Eli the blacksmith became gabbai [sexton], painters were brought from Bialystok, true artists, and they decorated the new house of prayer with beautiful paintings. The most beautiful pictures, which represented various musical instruments with a fiddle at the head, were on the ceiling and between the ark and the Torah reader's desk. There were other pictures, several of animals, a deer, a leopard, a lion and others. The pictures did not have any signatures. However, it was easy to see that the artists had in mind with every picture something symbolic, suited to a house of prayer. The music was supposed to bring to mind the Temple [in Jerusalem]; the animals, the [verse] “Be bold as a leopard, and light as an eagle, fast as a deer and strong as a lion.” 

After the new renovation, the house of prayer achieved a truly majestic appearance.

From early dawn to midnight, the house of prayer was open for worshippers, learners, those reciting Psalms and the remaining Jews who just wanted to take pleasure from the hot oven during a cold, frosty day and to tell stories. On a weekday they prayed there collectively several times. A late minyon [10 men required for prayer] could even be found at around 10 o'clock in the morning.

Yitzhak Ahron, who was a collector [3] of “Borukh hu avuorekh shemo” [Blessed is He and blessed is His name] and “amens,” would run from the Gerer shtibl [small one-room synagogue] to the house of prayer to grab an amen…

The house of prayer was full of Jew during Minkhah-Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. A preacher who gave a sermon came often. It was packed there from corner to corner on Shabbos [Sabbath] and holidays; even the women's section was full, as well as the kehile-shtibl [the one-room synagogue of the organized Jewish community],

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which was in the same building, where Zorekh Starkowski taught Ein-Yakov [ethical and inspirational section of the Talmud] to a group of worshipers also was always full during the week and on holidays.

Ahron the shamas [rabbi's assistant], a short Jew, but an energetic one, had a small room on the bottom of this same building, where he lived with his wife who was very similar to him in height. The functions of the shamas were many and responsible. First of all he had to help clean the house of prayer and we must confess in praise of him that he was very tidy. The house of prayer always was cleanly swept and the floors were washed. The lime ovens radiated heat in the winter so one could not touch them, so there was a dear warmness throughout the large house of prayer even during great frosts. Ahron the shamas was not stingy with [heating the ovens and] during the great frosts he constantly placed large pieces of coal so that it would be warm enough.

Friday night, Ahron the shamas would go through the streets calling out, “In shul areyn [go to the synagogue].” This was the official signal that it was time for Shabbos to start. The women immediately began to light and bless the Shabbos candles.

Ahron the shamas was the gravedigger if there was a death; first he would appear at the house of the deceased with a long twig torn from a tree at the cemetery to take a measurement for a grave. He would dig the grave himself (during the last years he had a helper for this purpose and to clean the synagogue) and when the deceased was brought to the cemetery, Ahron the shamas first jumped into the grave, took the deceased and laid the body down appropriately. He began calling out the names of those present who had asked for “forgiveness” and laid shards on the eyes of the deceased

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as was the custom in the old home.

Ahron the shamas also had a part in Czyzewo celebrations. He would bring the khupah [wedding canopy; can also refer to the wedding ceremony], which was in his possession to weddings. He would place it in the designated spot, mainly outside, near the house of prayer.

In Czyzewo, weddings would always take place under the open sky. There was never a lack of an eager crowd at a wedding ceremony; [they] immediately surrounded Ahron and grasped at the polls of the khupah to have a better view of the groom and bride and the in-laws on both sides.

For many years Reb Yosef Shlomo the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] (he was called the Szniadower shoykhet) was the experienced master at officiating at a religious marriage ceremony and also was the only mohel [circumcizer] in the city. He was the first one to go under and behind the khupah to arrange the ketubah [written prenuptial agreement], which he later would have to read. Ahron ran in between to bring the rabbi (the rabbi was at important weddings). Ahron held a carafe of wine and a glass in his oofor the groom to break with his foot. After the khupah, when Itsl the klezmer [musician] on his fiddle accompanied by a young man, who was called Markl (he was a bricklayer by trade) with a tamborine, played a freylekhs [a song accompanied by a circle dance], the fathers-in-law kissed, the mothers-in-law gave each other good wishes and cried. Ahron the shamas put together the four “poles,” pushing through and hurrying home, looked into the house of prayer to see what was happening, a trifle, so many lamps, yahrzeit [memorial] candles, lights at the lectern, heated the oven which needed to be closed or to open the oven slide bolt.

Ahron's functions also included always accompanying the rabbi. The rabbi never went alone. If he had

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to go somewhere or travel, the shamas came to take him.

The Czyzewo Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Dovid Zawlodower, was tall with an impressive figure. His face was round, like the moon when it is full, and his gentleness poured over his face. He also possessed a very pleasant, gentle voice, soft and velvety. His speech had a lyrical, gentle tone.

And who sold the aliyahs [honor of being called up for a Torah reading] on Shabbos if not Ahron the Shamas? At the same time, he also called those for a sefer [possibly a reference to the honor of hagbah, the lifting of the Sefer Torah after the reading]. Was there anyone else who could do this better, more capably, more charmingly than him? When Shimkhas-Torah [holiday in the fall celebrating the conclusion of the yearly Torah reading and the start of the new year's readings] and the hakafos [honor of carrying the Torah scrolls in a circular procession in a synagogue] arrived, one could see Ahron's capability more clearly. He showed what a true psychologist he was with much intuition for his complicated task. He would stand like an orchestra conductor at the Torah reading table near the ark and distribute hakafos. He included everyone; he did not forget anyone. He weighed and measured who should be chosen earlier and who later with an experienced eye, like a tradesman of many years. He called upon the rich Jews who sat at the eastern wall immediately at the start along with the rabbi. Then he went further and further down until the door, not forgetting one of the artisans who sat off on a side, at the very end near the door where the “ritual washstand” was encased in bricks. There were complaints against him; why he remembered [someone] so late. However, Ahron knew what he was doing and was not lost. He made use of the oyzer dalim [assistance to the poor] several times to placate such people. One such Jew, who had a shtet on a back seat, was very impatient on one Simkhas Torah because he had not yet heard his name called out; he

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stood up agitated and waited for Ahron to see him, but when this did not help he gave an angry shout: “Ahron, do you not see me? [Can you not see?]”

His [Ahron's] pay resulted from the “concession” he was given by the kehile [organized Jewish community] to go to every house on Friday. So he went around collecting his support for his life. Some gave 10; some gave 20 groshn and some nothing. But it must be said that his going through the city by no means had the character of asking for a donation. On the contrary, the coins that he would be offered were given to him with honor and respect, thinking of it as a form of receiving his legitimately earned wages. Where would we find such an honest, idealistic member of the clergy as Ahron the Shamas of the Czyzewo large house of prayer today?

 

Questions and Rabbinical Courts

Without doubt, the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Dovid Zawlodower, was the main figure in the city. Although there was no lack of great scholars and learned men in the city, the rabbi was the central spiritual figure. He was respected in all circles of misnagdim [opponents of Hasidism] and Hasidim. Scholars in the city would come to the rabbi's house (he lived on the upper floor of Zelig Leibl the shoemaker's building) to speak and to study. It was a true beis vaad lakhokhmim [house in which learned men gather]. The rabbi would ask both sides to sit with an arbitrator for difficult matters. My father, may he rest in peace, was present for many Din-Torahs [rabbinical courts]. One such rabbinical court remains in my memory. There was a conflict between Kalman the cap maker and his neighbor Motl. The decision of the court, whose arbitrator was my father, went to Motl.

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Motl was satisfied. However, Kalman was angry with my father for many years. My father was exasperated because they knew each other from when they had both prayed at the Khevre Mishnius.

In addition to Din-Torahs, there was also a series of questions.

There were women who picked over and searched a chicken for a long time [to make sure it was kosher and suitable to cook] or looked at an egg until they had some sort of question. A woman, Sura Leah, and her daughter, Chana Giska, lived next to us. Her husband was in America. Whatever she touched immediately brought a question. Once, she came to our house on the eve of a holiday and asked my uncle, Reb Shlomo, to give her a holy promise. She said, “You know that it is difficult to cook tsimmes [stew usually made with dried fruits, carrots and additional root vegetables]; it burns easily. So I took an oath not to make tsimmes anymore. Now, however, on the eve of the holiday, I want a spoon of tsimmes.” My uncle smiled and said, “According to Jewish law, it is permitted. You can cook tsimmes and

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go in health.” Sura Leah left a happy person.

There were three shoykhetim [ritual slaugtherers] in Czyzewo. They were all older men when I knew them, Reb Chaim Shmuel, Reb Yosef Shlomo and Reb Moshe Hersh. In his last years, Reb Yosef Shlomo taught shita [the laws and methods of religious slaughter] to his son, Sholem Feywl, who lived with his wife and children and had a small shop in Matisyahu the tailor's building. His livelihood was very meager. His situation improved when he earned a little from slaughtering animals.

The bale-tfiles [leaders of prayers] during the Days of Awe were the Hasidim. This Reb Layzer Bitner, an Aleksander Hasid, a good baal-tfile and musically talented, was often the baal-Musaf [reciter of additional prayers on the Sabbath and holidays] in the large house of prayer. Reb Yosef Shlomo, the Sniadower shoykhet, also recited the Musaf prayers there. Sura Misha's son-in-law was baal-Tekeye [one who blows the shofar or ram's horn] and also a Hasidic Jew, who owned the iron shop. He possessed the [honor] of blowing the shofar in the large house of prayer every year.

 

czy711.jpg

 


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Kaddish – the mourner's prayer. “Exalted and sanctified be God's great name…” return
  2. The Breslover Hasidim, which were founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Rebbe Breslov died without naming a successor and the Brelover Hasidim do not have a rebbe. Therefore, they are referred to as the “dead Hasidim.” return
  3. He went from prayer house to prayer house participating in services. return

 

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