by Yerucham HaLeviKopiec of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
There are fruits that ripen in the middle of the summer, and there are fruits that ripen only in the late autumn. There are flowers that blossom in their full beauty during the spring, and there are flowers that display their beauty when the breath of winter can already be felt.
So too the garden of childhood, from which we have already been expelled, opens its gates for us with childhood memories that are always precious to us. Now, they elicit great love from us in our era, the era of the worst atrocities within the history of martyrology of the People of Israel.
We are the children and siblings of those who suffered the tortures of hell and who were murdered with hellish deaths; those forced into ghettos and death camps and who were cast into pits and bushes poisoned with the venom of the snakes of Europe; those into whom the human beasts of the land of Germany the land in which the cradle of culture and spirit stood stuck their monstrous talons.
From the time that news of the annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe began to arrive, the thought arose to set up a memorial monument to both the great ones of the nation and the simple folk; to a Jewish town in which we saw pure
warmhearted people of pure faith people with pious souls, souls that we all know, and with whom we were raised.
In those day, the childhood years we lived in the era of the Garden of Eden. Our childhood cradle stood in the Jewish town before we ate of the Tree of Knowledge and discovered that we were naked, before we knew the stormy sea of life. At that time, did we know to pay attention and understand the life in the small town? During difficult days, childhood memories rooted in a Jewish town float before us. At that time, how great are the rays of light and warmth that penetrate our hearts!
Then, when we were children, our small world was full of content and change. Now, we see those days with their full splendor and glory, with the power to awaken within us deep experiences and strong longing.
The cheder in which we studied, in which we were raised and spent the days of our childhood how many pleasant feelings enter our hearts as we remember it.
The new generation that did not know the cheder, the romanticism in it, and only looks at the external form, the shell rather than the content is astonished with us as we speak of these strange things and express these unusual feelings of our hearts.
If we look at the Jewish family life of the town, we uncover love, dedication, wholesomeness, and the ideal life. Unconsciously, the call bursts forth from your heart: How much light, joy, and festivity exalts the soul.
It is difficult for us to portray on paper the full image of the Jewish town. It is impossible to describe in a plastic manner the town; whose soul was greater than its body and whose content exceeded its externals. The joy of commandments in the town, how much sublime beauty can one find there. When we look into it, we see a broad portrait of local Jewish life. The simple, natural life of the Jewish street had not yet been disrupted by intergenerational battles.
After we survey it and see the special importance and greatness f the Jewish town in various realms of life, we understand that we have exited from one world into another, from the world of the past to the word that is springing forth from the ruins
of the previous world, the world of yesterday. This exit was not due to a rebellion against the former, the old, but rather due to the paths of life that opened before us.
This is like a person who leaves his parental home to go afar. On the porch, he turns around and gives a final glance, a long, focused glance, a glance of longing, a glance suffused with pain and grief over the house inside, in which the memories of early childhood remain, for imprints of life that once was, and is no longer.
By Pinchas Frydman of Ramat Gan
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
It was a pure Jewish town, one of many in the Diaspora of Poland.
Before me pass the days of my youth, the time that I spent among all those noble personalities who placed their stamp upon the character of the town.
I wish to recall two unique individuals who influenced me and others like me. The first is Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda, may Gd avenge his blood.
He was my teacher and guide in the doctrine of Zionism. He was one of the few progressive people in our town and our generation, the final generation of slavery, and the first for redemption. He was a scholarly Jew, a scion of a Hassidic family. He observed the commandments of Gd faithfully, and with a pure heart. He was the first founder and chief spokesman of Mizrachi in our town. He gathered around him Beis Midrash youth who were seeking new horizons, and brought them into the concept of Zionism. He had a strong belief in the justice of his path. He was the living example of an activist with many activities. He was of clean hands and upright heart. He gathered crowds in public and preached to them on the topic of the redemption of the Land. He comported himself in the manner of the early Hassidim who never concerned themselves with their private affairs. He neglected all his private affairs and dedicated himself to communal needs with no thought of receiving remuneration. He was always ready to help and guide, even when he was overly busy. His opponents caused him pain on more than one occasion, and he accepted everything with love. He was revered by his friends who expressed love and appreciation to him. He dreamed all his days of aliya to the Land of Israel, and did not merit… He remained in the vale of murder. May Gd avenge his blood.
Reb Moshe Herszman, may Gd avenge his blood.
The Tzadik, the young son of my revered teacher Reb Baruch Melamed, should be remembered eternally. He was a noble young man graced with a progressive spirit. A mysterious spirit covered his face. He went into seclusion, dreamed, and prophesied discretely. He was a Hassid of Kock. His entire essence spoke, Gd is the Lrd, and there is no other than Him.
We worshipped together in the Hassidic House. His preparation for prayers took longer than the entire public prayer service. He would mention the elder Admor of Kock with awe during his conversations. It was as if he stripped off his materialism and fluttered in the
heights. His face was pale even without this. He would become even more pale as he overflowed with Hassidic words. In his opinion, this is what brought the fire to ignite the hidden point in the heart of every Jew, so that he will sense the truth of There is none other than He.
I wanted to know other paths…
I did not add understanding… but I always revered that noble soul from previous generations that dwelled in the pure body of that youth.
By Aharon Jablonka of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
The town of Czyzewo is situated on the railway line from Warsaw to Vilna, 70 kilometers from Białystok, and not far from the vale of murder in Treblinka, the furnace of destruction and annihilation.
As a neighbor of tens of similar towns scattered along the bustling railway line, Czyzewo was also connected to all those who found their paths to the central cities of the country such as faroff Warsaw, Łódź, and Danzig, as well as to the Jewish centers such as Białystok, Baranovich, and Vilna on the other side of the line.
Only two kilometers separated between the houses of the town and the railway station between the quiet, idyllic town and the railway tracks upon which trains led by engines plied the lines day and night, with their echoing, elongated whistles. They frightened the town and left black billows of smoke in the air that could have affected the lungs of the townsfolk, had it not been for the fresh winds that blew them in all directions.
Czyzewo was a small town. Most of its houses were wooden, built in the village style of that day. Most were one story high. Their ample gardens were covered with wooden shingles handmade by the expert in that craft in the town
and the district, Reb Yankel PeshaYutes, or as he was called by others, Yankel the Dreier or Yankel the Rebbe's.
The houses were crowded and paired up next to each other. Their common walls embraced each other. When we would look up to the rows of houses and buildings, it would seem to us that even the few that were built on the streets surrounded by fences with spaces between them were leaning over in order to connect to each other, as if they wanted to move themselves by force, to crowd together more, and to close up the breaches, thereby leaving no empty space between them, to live together in accordance with the adage two are better than one. It was as if they wanted to join forces in the wake of the storms and thunder, to put up a strong stand, so that they will never be uprooted from the world of the living. It was as if the walls felt sensed some sort of mysterious sense of the future of the destruction that would take place.
Several new, modern, two or three story, stone houses stood up straight among the low houses in the center of the city. They stood out as children of giants, as Nephilim. They prided themselves in a haughty manner above all the houses of the town.
The house of Reb Zevulun Grosbard stood at the corner of the railway station (Kalia Gasse) at the end of the row of houses. He ran his coffee house and inn from that house.
The wagon drivers and porters of the town set up their place in it and around it. Reb Zevulun was a quiet, modest man, and a scholar. He was the town administrator, and in the final years before the Holocaust, also the head of the community. He was held in honor and appreciation by all strata of the town population. Fate fell specifically to him to be the one who ran an inn that catered primarily to the wagon drivers and porters. It was specifically him who was forced to listen to the words of their mouths throughout the day until a late hour at night, and to pretend that he was not listening.
Two covered towers in the middle of the marketplace in the center of town formed the business center. The bustle due to an abundance of business was not particularly great. The shopkeepers were free to stand outside alone or in small groups to wait for a customer, or to engage in a brief conversation on some topic between customers on daughters who reached marriageable age and for whom a match must be found, on sons studying in Yeshivos in faroff towns and who have already reached marriageable age. From family matters, they would move on to general world matters, current events of the town, commentary on the days news of the country or of the world to didactic discussions on Torah, Hassidic stories, one of the jokes of Reb Yudel Wapniak with the sense of humor, or, a witticism of Reb Mendel YisraelShlomo's, the wise man of the town. The latter was a professional arbitrator who would straighten out and resolve all the disputes of the townsfolk. However, when a customer appeared from afar, the conversation would end, and the group would immediately disband.
Our town appeared as a small, grey community during the six weekdays. However, in truth, a special feeling could be felt, of tradition and piety along with alertness to what was taking pace in the study halls. In later years, the worshippers of the Hassidic prayer halls also opened a large window in the heavy, rusty iron gates that closed them off. They carefully followed the national struggle that was taking place and had conquered thousands of Jewish communities throughout Poland in its storm. Many of their sons later became the builders and actualizers within the young, national camp that arose within this bustling Jewry. Despite the constant dispute between the Hassidim and Misgagdim [opponents of Hassidism], as well as internal struggles within Hassidism, the residents lived
under one roof, with one city rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel David Zabludower, whose influential personality intervened and solved every dispute and struggle.
The Jews of the community of Czyzewo forged a wellrooted Jewish way of life for themselves. Aside from the study of Torah, they occupied themselves in benevolent deeds, giving of charity in a discrete fashion, and especially in tending to guests.
Tens of poor guests from the scattered towns always appeared at the Beis Midrash and Hassidic houses of worship on Sabbath eves. They would stand silently around the porcelain ovens or lean against the western wall, with thoughts about their family members whom they were forced to leave behind, for they did not have enough money to buy them even a dry morsel of bread. They were wondering if they would be invited to a Sabbath meal. In the end, however, these suspicions were for naught, for the gabbaim [trustees] concerned themselves with this matter while it was still day. While there was still time, they recorded the number of guests in the Beis Midrashes and shtibels. This endeavor was a full partnership, natural and devoid of any anger. It broke down the barriers between Hassidim and misnagdim, and between Hassidim of Gur, Aleksander, and others. A single, unified spirit pulsated in the hearts of everybody.
The service of welcoming of the Sabbath concluded, and the worshippers would return to their houses. The Jews of Czyzewo strolled peacefully though the quiet streets of the town, with their children and guests accompanying them at their side. Almost every householder was accompanied by a guest. They appeared as children of angels, as literal angels for this day is honored about all days, for the Rock of the Worlds rested on it.
The two dear, sublime images of Reb Zanwil Edelsztajn and Reb Berish Frydman, may their memories be a blessing, stood out above them all. They were always the last to exit from the house of worship after the Sabbath eve service. This was due to the concern lest a guest be forgotten and left behind without being invited to a Sabbath meal. Then, they would be prepared to host them in addition to their other guests. The number of guests was no issue at all. It was as if the walls of the houses expanded themselves at the beginning of the Sabbath to enable the hosting of any number of guests. It was as if the walls were making efforts to take part in the commandment of hosting guests, thereby exalting the Sabbath Queen.
Apparently, Czyzewo was a town like hundreds of other such towns in the country, devoid of horizons and depth. It did not have a Yeshiva or a gymnasja [high school]. Therefore, many of the youth left and wandered to distant places of Torah, whereas those who remained were forced to acquire knowledge through their own initiative through various groups and correspondence. Despite the lack of conditions and means for organized education, the town was blessed with youth of natural, rooted intelligence.
This youth, educated in the Beis Midrashes and Yeshivos for the most part, without recognized degrees or external crowns, had been forged through the internal, glowing flame, and were graced with a constant desire for spiritual elevation.
They left the Beis Midrash and the shtibel due to the storms of the years, however, they did not abandon the Hassidic spark. It was carried inside of them and accompanied them on all their paths.
Wherever they wandered, the always carried the memory of their youth and connection to their hometown on the tablet of their hearts. Even with a distance of thousands of kilometers and after several decades, and especially after the terrible destruction, the town still stands before their eyes as in previous times.
These are not just blurred memories, but living memories of the childhood landscape. They arise anew from beneath the threshold of our daily lives, and shine before our eyes with their colors. Decades have already passed, and the hidden source of memories, experiences, and childhood and youthful impressions that have been hidden as if forever open to us. Excavations, excavations, each of which raises pages of love and disappointment, wounds that healed and were forgotten, and once again… we feel their pain.
The town of Czyzewo stands out among tens of medium size villages surrounding it on all sides. Since it was close to the railway line, it served in a natural fashion as a center of marking the produce of the villages, and provided them with all their needs. The business connections and friendly relations between the Jews of the town and their gentile neighbors were conducted for many generations in simplicity, as if the matter was established from the six days of creation. It never entered the mind of any of them that this ancient order would ever change.
A picture is drawn before my eyes containing my father and brother Yaakov of blessed memory, and at times even my elder brothers, may they live, Botsha and Yisrael. They would be meeting a landowner or farmer with a farm on Friday afternoon, whom would be treated with delicacies for the Sabbath, and especially with a respectable glass of liquor after the gefilte fish prepared by our late mother of blessed memory, the diligent and dedicated wife. They warmed up so much that their stuffed faces reddened from great pleasure, as their mouths did not cease to utter words of praise for the taste and aroma of the Jewish Sabbath delicacies.
From this perspective, our house was not alone, but rather one of the many who acted in such a fashion.
The rainbow of livelihood of the Jews of Czyzewo was variegated. There were merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, smallscale industrialists, wagon drivers, porters, and laborers simple people of dark toil who served each other to the extent of their ability and talents, in accordance with their trades and employers. Most of them inherited their trades from grandfather to father, and from father to son.
They would often go out to the villages of the area and even farther afield for commerce or labor. They would often remain in the villages for the entire week. On Fridays, one could meet tradesmen returning home, resting at the side of the road or in a field after a week of backbreaking work and a journey by foot of tens of kilometers with their thick knapsack (a gift from the farmer, his employer) on his bent back.
The two regular market days, Tuesday and Friday, served for the merchants who went outside the town for livelihood as a sort of early meeting place with the farmers. The farmers would come to the town market with their produce. Immediately after exchanging good morning greetings with the farmer, the Jew would be invited up to the wagon, and the business would be conducted as they traveled. If they did not succeed in concluding the business before they arrived at the edge of the town, the Jew would not leave the farmer, but would accompany him to the market as they discussed business.
The merchants of the town, especially the smallscale ones, were never wealthy. They struggled hard for their daytoday existence. Most of them only managed thanks to the charity and the loans that they received from friends, acquaintances, or the town bank. They always struggled to obtain the sums to pay back loans or to pay for necessary purchases.
Those who were more firmly based tended to their livelihoods by anticipating what was to come. They conducted themselves as merchants with a developed sense, who understood the need to invest a long time with a perspective requiring patience.
As in all aspects of life, the adage cast your bread upon the waters applied in commerce.
Different eras passed over the Jews of Czyzewo in their difficult struggle for existence for their staff of bread. However, the final period before the Second World War, from 19361939, was more severe than the previous eras. The antiSemitism that spread throughout Poland at that time, and was supported overtly or covertly by the authorities throughout the entire country and in all aspects of life; the persecutions; the general boycott; and the deliberate displacement of Jews from their sources of livelihood none of this, of course, passed over Czyzewo. The evil winds of hatred and disparagement toward the Jews of the town began to blow among the gentiles both among those in town and the farmers of the region. The boycott and terror increased constantly. Guards were placed outside Jewish businesses and shops to prevent the gentiles from having any business contact with Jews.
In response to the appeal of the Jewish Sejm representatives to the interior minister of Poland, the minster declared loudly to all the elected officials:
To physically strike, no; to boycott, of course.
Thus, the boycott in Poland received public affirmation from the elected officials of the state.
This declaration, to boycott, of course, spread as quickly as lightening and ripened the seeds of poison that had found fertile ground on the soil of Poland. The Jews of Czyzewo felt its stringent meaning on their skin and flesh.
The transition from this declaration to actual violence did not take long. An attack against the Jews broke out on the market day of January 5, 1937. The results were one casualty and many injuries. Hillel Zelig Yellin, may Gd avenge his blood, fell on that day.
He was one of the powerful men of the town. He was the first victim in the town during the era before the outbreak of the Second World War before the approach of the terrible, bloody storm.
In effect, this was a hint to the nearby western neighbor. A clear hint with an obvious echo:
The soil of Poland is a sure ground for your Satanic plans!
Indeed, the enemy, may their names be blotted out, understood the call correctly. After the conquest of 1939, it chose the soil of Poland as the comfortable stage to carry out its plans as the central place for the death camps, the crematoria, and the burning of the bodies of its victims.
For many decades, through many generations, the Jews of the town forged a modest way of life with a populist bent. They were always whole in their body and calm in spirit, until the troops of Hitler arrived and destroyed everything with the wipe of a murderous hand.
Czyzewo my town, they washed the stones of your roads with rivers of pure blood.
The traditional friendship and business relations that existed with their gentile neighbors for many generations did not stand up for the Jews of Czyzewo on the day of trial and test, just as they did not stand for all the Jews in the hundreds and thousands of other communities of Poland and in the other lands of Nazi occupied Europe. Our town was wiped off the face of the earth without any remnant and memorial of what was. It was destroyed and uprooted completely. It was destroyed to its foundation, along with all its multicolored, lovely, and bustling life. It once was…
It was the 8th of Av, 5701 (1941).
That night, shortly after midnight, the Jews of the town were summoned together with their elderly, women, and children. They were hauled and beaten, as they were accompanied by tens of armed S.S. men to the central market square. Rabbi David Zabludower, may Gd avenge his blood, the rabbi of the community, was among them, paralyzed and bedridden. Approximately 1,800 Jews stood in the square, subdued and in despair. They stood and waited, forlorn, for their final moments, until they were hauled by the murderers to the communal pit of death that had been prepared from them along the road from Czyzewo to Zromow in the village of Szulborze.
The communal death pit in the village of Szulborze on the main CzyzewoZromow road swallowed up everything. It is not possible for us to come to supplicate over this mass grave and to pour out our bitter words.
Indeed, there is no stone or marble monument over you, the martyrs of Czyzewo. It is not stone or marble that will perpetuate
the holy memory of our parents, siblings, relatives and friends that are dear to us. The pages of this memorial book are dedicated to all of you as a community and to each of you as individuals, as limbs of a family of a single family that unified its life together and gave up its soul in holiness and purity.
Let the pages of this Yizkor Book serve as a monument and memorial candle burning in the Holocaust chamber in our hearts. It will be a monument and eternal flame for many generations to lament over the small, wonderful community that was and is no more.
By Eliahu Gora of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
Twenty years ago, we both stood on the bridge and took photographs for the eternal memory of us and those that will come after. This was the last time that we walked upon it.
I recall our house, the last and the first in the town, that stood next to the bridge over the small, clear river that wound over several kilometers and poured into the large Bug River.
For the small handful of Jews who lived in Czyzewo, our town was a small fortress in the midst of a large forest of many villages populated by PolishChristian farmers. The bridge was the boundary.
The bridge reminds me of many fine, pleasant memories, as well as difficult, gloomy memories.
I recall before Passover, when the rabbi of blessed memory went out with the communal notables in the evening to draw water for the matzo shmura for Passover. How lovely and pleasant was this ceremony, which was an honor to all of us. I will never forget the splendid procession on Rosh Hashanah for Tashlich. The entire town, from young to old, women and children, walked with machzorim [festival prayer books] in their hands to pour out their prayers to Gd, that He forgive their sins and grant them a good, fortunate year.
I recall how the entire neighborhood went every day with their kitchen utensils and pots in their hands to wash and clean the dishes. They also went to the river with their laundry. Everyone would choose a stone for themselves to beat the laundry with a wooden handle.
I recall how groups of children and adults went in the summer to bathe in the river via the bridge and the fields
far from the town so that they would be safe from the gentiles who would attack us from time to time.
I will never forget the groups of children and women who would gather the sorrels (szczaw) in the fields. Who can describe the beautiful evenings and nights when the older youth would stroll in groups or couples over the bridge between the two rows of trees, to the road to the grove leading to the house of the landowner of our area. They called it: the valley of kisses… The intimate conversations on lovely moonlight nights while sitting on the roots of tree stumps. The murmur of conversation was swallowed in the sound of the trees surrounding us.
We will not forget the classes that we studied over a long period: Spinoza's Ethics. The clear, fresh air around us helped. We absorbed many secrets amongst the avenues and trees behind the bridge along the route that led to the house of the landowner. It was life, grace, joy, happiness, love, and disappointment. All this was uprooted by the cruel hand of the Nazi enemy with the assistance of Polish antiSemites. All this was erased forever.
How can I not recall the songs that we sang in groups and pairs songs of love, songs of the homeland, Polish songs, in Hebrew and Yiddish. Their echoes could be hard afar, and blended with the nature and the songs of the birds around.
Similarly, I recall the time when I saw together with my friends, as we read books and debated about entire worlds and sublime ideas, about how to step out to greet the life of the future.
By Yerachmiel Eliasz of Moshav Chibat Zion
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
A monument to my late sister Esther of blessed memory As I recall my small town of Czyzewo, with it streets and alleyways, the Zionist youth, and especially the fathers of the youths with warm Jewish hearts, happy to hear any greeting from the Land. And who did not have at least one family member in the Land?
My heart pines inside of me, in which today only a memory of all that was good and precious remains. I further recall when Esther of blessed memory became connected with the Zionist youth chapter of Czyzewo despite the opposition of Uncle YaakovPinchas, despite his promise that he would send her soon to the Beis Yaakov teachers' seminary in Krakow. Despite the charm of this promise, it was not attractive to her, and she chose something actual. The connection with this Hashomer Haleumi youth movement stemmed from the Zionist idea. This concept existed with all the youth, including Esther.
The principal activists among the General Zionist youth movement at that time were: Dov Gozlachni, Yitzchak Szlaski, and Aryeh Gozlachni (all in Israel). The best of the youth of the town were gathered in this movement. The counselors gave the best of their time during the days and nights. They also did not spare their money, especially to maintain the headquarters where the people would gather every evening to learn and teach.
During the evenings, when I went out to the street and heard the rejoicing and song bursting forth from the headquarters, I would find myself inadvertently standing next to the windows, peering in and being jealous of those who merited to be inside that building. I followed in Esther's footsteps not long after she joined the movement. I joined the Zionist youth movement.
Thus, I too merited to be guided, and, within a brief period, to be a counsellor.
As a member of the Zionist youth, I was faithful to the movement. The opposition was very so strong that it did not make sense. However, honoring our parents remained our chief concern. Every younger or older youth with selfrespect would be very careful to avoid angering and vexing their parents. This was especially expressed by going to the Beis Midrash on the Sabbath and festivals. All the youth from all factions would fill the synagogues and shtibels only out of concern for the honor of their mothers and fathers. After the festive Sabbath meal, the youth would go out to the streets bedecked in their shiny uniforms each movement with its own colors.
It is too much to describe today.
My great dedication to the youth movement can be seen from the following story:
One day, the Hashomer Hadati chapter of Czyzewo set itself up. Out of fear that the new chapter would attract members from our ranks, we decided to perform a brazen act: to steal the flags of Hashomer Hadati. This is what happened:
All the members of Beitar were invited to a large celebration organized by the chapter of Hashomer Hadati, but the members of Hanoar Hatzioni were not invited. We knew that the main point of this celebration was the inauguration of the flags of the groups. We decided to steal the flags and destroy them, so that there will not be much value to the celebrations (or so I thought in my naivete). One night, Hershel Belfer of blessed memory, Alter Landau, and I broke into the chapter and carried out the activity fully. At that time, I felt that I had performed a daring and patriotic act.
My sister Esther of blessed memory made aliya to the Land shortly after I did. We remained faithful to our Zionist and pioneering education that we received in the chapter of Hanoar Hatzioni in Czyzewo. We spent our first years on a Kibbutz. This was a time of disturbances in the Land. A difficult life of toil and defense activities were the lot of every lad in the Yishuv. We too went through all this with strength and pride, thanks to the nationalist ideals that we absorbed into out blood there in our small town of Czyzewo… Honor to its memory.
By Dalia Schneiderman of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
It was the warm hours of the afternoon. The sun was in the center of the sky, beating down with heat. Nobody was seen on the streets, aside from the postman. He brought me a large, brown envelope that was sent to me, as it was to all the natives of Czyzewo, and seemed somewhat strange. It contained the request to write a composition on a specific topic about the town in which I lived many years ago, until I made aliya to the Land.
Suddenly, I forgot where I was. I forgot that was I was in my residence. Everything seemed dim, grey, stormy, and unclear. I was no longer in a room of my house, but rather in a small town somewhere in the expanse of Poland: I was a young girl, smiling and joyous, and strolling leisurely on the streets of our town Czyzewo. Oh, how I loved it. Everything was bustling and quaking, enthusiastic and vibrant. I know; indeed I know that my ancestors who lived there experienced disturbances and pogroms. However, this did not stop them from continuing with their lives, the life of the Jewish people in the Diaspora with its experiences and common way of living.
I then left my house. The sun peeked out of the clouds with a mischievous smile and melted the white snow that covered the roofs. The flowers and trees began to blossom, and their green color beautified the streets. I continued to stroll leisurely and arrived at the synagogue. The elders of the city could be seen through the window sitting in ne of the corners, bent
over thick volumes of Gemara, as their white, splendid beards swayed with the swaying of their head. In another corner one could see the young lads, bent over books as the rebbe warns them to study and not occupy themselves with meaningless pursuits.
|A winter day. The home of Reb Avraham Szwarc|
I continued along my way and arrived the town market. Here we see the female hawkers shouting to the heavens, debating, bargaining, and announcing their merchandise with great noise. In the houses, the housewives were sitting, cleaning, washing, fixing, and polishing the old silver vessels that they had inherited from their grandmothers.
In the evening, when everyone was washed, clean, and calm after a day of work, the youth began to meet here, in the center of town, for discussion about the problems of the world. Since our youth was progressive, gaining world culture along with their own culture, with all its storms, battles, and spiritual and economic upheavals; they would arrange social gatherings and performances in the evenings. They would organize their lives on the fine side, lives of experiences, interesting culture, and contentment.
Then the Sabbath arrived. Oh! This was the wonderful day for everybody, the day when everything was clean, shiny, and sparkling. The marketplace was clean, and the sounds of the hawkers were no longer heard. The booming voice of the rebbe with his young students was no longer heard in the cheder. Everyone was joyous, happy, and content on the day of rest. This was a day that was full of splendor and holy grace. Even the trees laughed, and it was as if the color of the flowers became more beautiful, festive, and joyous.
The entire town participated in weddings. Everyone rejoiced with the joy of the bride who was wearing the traditional white gown given to her by her mother, for she too got married in the same dress. Everyone was happy when the bride became betrothed under the chupa. The entire town came to rejoice in her grace, for everyone was brethren, brethren in heart and soul to one nation, one religion, one town, and a common aspiration for the homeland.
This was what life was like in our town, the life of traditional Jews rooted in the land for generation after generation, a life of happiness and joy at times interrupted with sorrow and weeping.
Despite all this, everyone aspired to leave, to leave the place where generation after generation had lived, for the Jewish spark was never quenched, and the hope to return from the Diaspora to the Holy Land continued to burn. Indeed, many left the town. Then, the terrible enemy came, murdering women, children, and men without mercy, and without leaving a survivor. These people fell
upon the altar of their nation without any fault on their part. These were people whose full desire was to make aliya to the Land of their fathers, and they did not merit to do so good, upright people whose place of burial we do not even know people who had warm, pure, Jewish hearts.
Again, the same silly, grey, stormy, nonunderstandable vision returned to me. I again found myself in my room sitting next to the table, writing the musings of my heart, memories, thoughts and wonderful pictures that seemed to me as literally from a dream about the wonderful days that we had during our childhood in the small town somewhere in the expanse of Poland, a place that will never rise up again. These wonderful childhood days will never return.
By Rachel Wengosz (Gorzalchani) of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
This took place on a day in October 1944. Snow, shiny in its whiteness, already covered the fields of Siberia. Our family consisted of three people. We lived in an old, creaky, train wagon that stood on a side railway track. My father was a political prisoner somewhere. It had already been two years since we last heard from him, and our hope of seeing him again was dwindling.
A strong wind blew outside. I was busy with housework. Suddenly, we heard the whistle of an approaching train. The children outside raised a great tumult. As would any curious 12yearold girl, I too went outside and joined the groups of noisy children. The train stopped, and we spread out over the platform as we peppered the travelers with hundreds of questions, hoping to receive something from them.
Suddenly a bearded man wearing worn out clothing exited from one of the cars. He stopped the children one after the other and asked them if they knew where the Gozlachni family lived. I pointed to the wagon in which we lived and returned to the group of children on the platform. Something pushed me to return and look at this man. When I turned backward, I saw the beard, and noticed that he had wrinkles under his forehead. Suddenly he stretched out his arms to me and asked in a choked voice: My daughter, do you not recognize your father?
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