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[Column 1099]

After the Deluge

 

A Look At My Destroyed Shtetl

by Chana Gromadzyn–Gotlib / Haifa

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Czyzewo!

After so many years of separation I return to you, Shtetl [town] of my birth. You are mine!

As the train gets even closer, my senses become more awake and open. Here already is the iron bridge. From here one sees all of Czyzewo as if on the palm of one's hand. The poplars have grown taller, murmuring with a choked cry and bending their thickly leafed branches to me sadly as before, years ago, when the singing of our Yiddish songs echoed here and a wind carried away our quiet whispers.

The leaves whisper quietly, so familiar and close. I think they want to pass on to me the cries of those driven away, who here went on their final road.

The train stops.

I walk the 15–minute road into the Shtetl quickly. The houses begin, Jewish houses without Jews. Strangers stand at the gate, look at me as if at something strange. Their secret whispers reach my ears:

“Look, one of the Gromadzyns has come.”

I pretend I did not hear, walk with my head down like a homeless dog. I recognize every stone here. The beautiful houses that stood across from

[Column 1100]

czy1100.jpg
Yankl Gromadzyn in New York with his class of children at the Yavne [religious Zionist] school

 

the gmina [community or municipal office] are no longer here. In their place stand small, village–type houses.

I run quickly past the market. Strange faces move around me, they tell me something about that day when death trod here. I do not listen to their talk. The screams of the Czyzewo Jewish community that was pushed with rifles and bayonets to the slaughter in Szulborze echo in my ears.

The same houses still stand on the right of the market, orphaned like nests from which the little birds have flown away. Only the tears left by their owners at their departure still remain.

There is a green square with trees in the middle of the market. These were planted by the Soviets who entered in 1939. I looked on all sides and I thought that there still hangs in the air

[Column 1101]

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My parents, Chaim–Ahron and Shayna–Chaya, brothers and sisters

 

the last looks of the Czyzewo Jews when they, the unfortunate ones, said goodbye to their homes for the last time and left for Szulborze, for Zambrów.

I see them young and old, women and children, with bullet holes in their bodies, with hands stretched out to torn–away parents.

Jewish tears fell here on the bridge, their last words that echo now in my heart.

Where are you, my closest and dearest friends and comrades? Is it possible that on one day you were all so brutally murdered?

Now I go alone through the Czyzewo streets. Here are the Zarembskis, the Nurskis. I think that every stone is dripping with blood. People live in all of the houses now as if nothing had happened. Only I still hear the screams that come from each building.

[Column 1102]

I stand at familiar, well–known doors. I want to knock… The doorknobs are red–hot in my fingers…

What am I doing here? I know you are not here anymore, although the house has remained the same. Somewhere in the corners an innocent, childish smile wanders around which once startled a mother's heart.

Here is the house of prayer in the alley where I was born, raised and grew up. I remember melodies that were sung here, the Shabbosim [Sabbaths] that were celebrated here. The holidays and Tisha–B'Av [ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem]; how we sang the Shabbos songs and recited The Book of Lamentations and laments. Now only empty winds remain, ashamed, sad. Who here understands their anguished silence?

The house of prayer, which was transformed into a wheat granary, is dishonored. A peasant stands in the distance and observes me with astonishment; from where have I come here?

I go through the entire alley and my memories of all the past years lay like dust. Here was the Beis–Yakov [school] for religious girls, several houses along - six rooms, and more, and more, such good, dear houses from which remain only ruins.

I run to the cemetery; the eternal resting place is defiled, too. The headstones lie throw around, broken. Peasants dig in the sand…

Woe to the bones that have no rest. Woe to my eyes that see all of this!

 

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[Column 1103]

On the Ruins of Czyzewo

by Dov Saba of Shayka, Tel Aviv

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This was in August 1944.

The division in which I served stopped on the eastern shore of the Vistula [River] and waited for the order to march further ahead.

There still were several Polish soldiers who were from the Czyzewo area in the division. Just like me, they had been far from their homes for three to five years, but with the difference that they still had their families there. And I?...

Yet we spoke together about “jumping” [leaving without permission] to see what was happening.

It was easy to say “jumping.” There was no regular communication in Poland at that time. No trains. No buses. The only connections between city and city were the military vehicles. If they agreed to take someone with them, this was authorized by their captain, who agreed to ignore it when they and the vehicle were missing for two days.

There still remained two “small” matters: a bit of a passport and benzene for the vehicle that could not be obtained. Permission to leave was absolutely necessary because there were Russian control posts every few kilometers.

With a lack of choice they had to connect with me and entrust their secret [intending to “jump”], knowing that I then had the possibility to take care of this matter [getting the necessary benzene].

I already knew then about the great destruction. Yet I could not overcome

[Column 1104]

my desire to see with my own eyes how the shtetl looked.

I learned that my cousin, Rywkale, had survived in neighboring Sterdyń. I demanded that we make a detour and travel through Sokolow, Sterdyń and Czyzewo.

This was a very risky step. Making use of military gasoline for private purposes along with issuing an official travel permit and signing it without the knowledge of the polk [regiment] commander could lead to a war tribunal.

But in view of the great destruction, could I play such a serious role, particularly when the war was then in full fervor and no one could know what would happen tomorrow, if we would survive the war?

Yet I reflected. My wife, my children, who I had left in distant Siberia, appeared before my eyes. Could I take a risk while their agonizing hearts constantly pleaded that I avoid every danger?

But the idea that perhaps this was the last opportunity to see Czyzewo outweighed [this doubt]. I knew how dear a greeting from our home city Czyzewo would be for me wife.

Despite the fact that we escaped at the maximum speed from the military “sweetness,” the trip lasted for 24 hours as we had calculated.

[Column 1105]

We were in Sterdyń.

My memories of the past years in this shtetl attacked me in waves. Now it seems very long ago. We would come here from far and wide for Khol Khamoed [intervening days of a holiday] days. The horse-drawn coach arrived at the market at my grandfather's house and it became so lively in the entire shtetl. Women came out of the shops and spoke loudly among themselves: Look, Ita Minka's grandchildren have come. Eh?

Those who were only close to my mother said:

– Yehudis and her children have come…
Close neighbors came to wish my Bobeshi [grandmother]:
– May you enjoy your guests!

– May you live agreeably! – my grandmother answered, not interrupting her toil preparing for welcoming her guests.

Our grandfather's house was welcoming; it always swarmed with people. Shabbos night, after havdalah [ceremony marking the end of Shabbos], Jewish scholars and simple toilers who lived through physical labor came together for a glass of tea and they grabbed a last friendly conversation before the arrival of a week of toil.

From time to time, Jewish merchants and artisans in the dozen would meet together here and return the interest-free loans that were almost the only capital for their diverse livelihoods.

Family gatherings would take place during the Days of Awe. Sons, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren came. They came in the tens from Czyzewo, Wysokie, Siedlce, Sarnak, Gorowo, Wladowa, Cienchanowiec, Warsaw and other cities. The pilgrimages to the grandfather were a sacred duty for everyone, accompanied by a great deal of pleasure.

[Column 1106]

No one remained, only the small Rywkala, Uncle Zilke's small daughter.

I met her in the same house where all of the survivors of the great destruction, several familiar faces, emaciated, dejected, having just crawled out of the holes, the fields where they had been hidden the entire time, lived.

The people rejoiced with me and tears ran from their eyes. They cried over the exterminated lives and over their own loneliness and hopelessness.

I learned several facts about the deportations of those closest to me. My mother, Yehudis, lived 14 more months here in Sterdyń after the first deportation in Czyzewo.

On the 28th of Av 5701 (August 1941) over 1,700 Jews were taken out of Czyzewo to Szulborze. My father, Yeshayahu, my beautiful sister, Fayga-Faya, and her husband were among them.

My mother and my youngest sister, Surala, crossed the Bug River then for Sterdyń.

Sterdyń had been under Hitlerist occupation the entire time since 1939. A Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] existed there, which was living in difficult conditions of both a ghetto and not a ghetto, in constant fear of the same fate that had occurred in Czyzewo and the other Jewish shtetlekh [towns].

A large deportation took place in Sterdyń two days after Yom Kippur, on the 12th of Tishrei 5703 [23 September 1942]. The Jews were taken to Treblinka, which was located in the area of Sterdyń. A number of members of my family went with them including my dear over 80-year-old grandmother, the small Ita-Minka.

My mother still had a little bit of jewelry. She gave it to a Hitlerlist bandit

[Column 1107]

and asked him to shoot her on the spot.

My dear and bold mother! She perished in the same house in which she had enjoyed so much precious joy and in the same house in which 11 years earlier her father, my great and good grandfather, Shmuel Moshe, had died. She had the honor of coming to her eternal rest near the grave of her father.

With a grieving heart, I took leave of the people who looked like their own shadows. My 14-year-old Kwinka traveled with me to Czyzewo.

In the meantime, my Polish friend in the vehicle had detected a place for whiskey in Sterdyń. She was very tipsy when we continued the trip.

The distance from Sterdyń to Czyzewo is 28 kilometers [a little over 17 miles]. Over the entire distance she told me about their experiences. Her glance constantly went in the direction of the highway. I noticed how her face had suddenly changed, had a tense expression.

– Here! – she shouted, pointing to a spot where a village house, with stalls and small rooms, surrounded with a wooden fence had stood.

– Here in this barn – she pointed with her eyes to a place that [as we rode by] became smaller and further – after the deportation, when they took your Bobeshi and shot your mother, our family and still others decided to escape. After wandering for a long time, we received, for a high price, a hiding place here in the attic over the barn.

The auto flew at a terrible speed and Rywkala, spoke in one breath, as if she was afraid that she would not have enough time to speak:

[Column 1108]

My father, my mother, my two sisters, Bela and Tushka, a brother, Yankele, and my little sister, Surala, lived there for a long time with the other Jews. The attic was well-hidden, disguised with hay and straw. At night the men would sneak out to obtain something to eat. The front already was nearby. The Russian Army already was at the Bug [River], near Brisk. They counted the weeks; soon they would be liberated… Suddenly, a band of Polish bandits surrounded the entire area, discovered the hiding place and immediately opened fire on them with automatic weapons and rifles, threw grenades into the hay and straw, until everyone perished.

A sharp pain again began to gnaw and oppress. In the month of July 1944 I was among those who crossed the Bug, marched through Lublin, were chased by the Germans up to the Vistula [River]. If this had happened two months earlier, my young sister would still be alive. She aleady was 17 years old when she perished. Would she have recognized me? When I saw her for the last time she was 12 years old.

I shook off the thoughts; Surala is not here, Rywkala's parents are not here, Uncle Zilka and Aunt Chana, her sisters, Bela and Tushka, brother Yankl, their hopes which were just being attained were ended by the Polish murderers.

The murderers were not entirely successful in their work. Rywkala was only wounded and they thought that she was dead. My dear friend, Avraham Sukhe, and his wife, Branka, managed to avoid the bullets and grenades. As well as my close friend, Pinkhus Lerman. They were hidden somewhat more deeply in

[Column 1109]

the straw and later healed Rywkala's wounds.

Our auto was stopped at Ceranów by a Russian military post, badgering us that we wanted to shoot a Russian officer whom we had picked up on the way.

The questioning began about what were we doing on the road, hundreds of kilometers from our military unit; what were civilian girls doing with us?

We spent the night in jail. In the morning we succeeded in clarifying that as sergeants of the food provisioning division we were traveling to procure products for our unit.

Meanwhile, the commandant of the post noticed a golden watch on one our soldiers (also from Trapei). He exchanged it for his own lead watch and we moved further on the road.

Our auto traveled a little more serenely. The old familiar scenery, the green meadows in the villages awoke in me slumbering memories. Here we passed through the shtetl Nur. I remembered the figures of familiar merchants, simple and smart people, with whom I once traded. Now the shtetl looked even smaller, more miniscule than before. No Jewish faces appeared, but was it true that no Jews remained here?

The vehicle sped. Here we were passing Goldowa, a village halfway between Nur and Czyzewo. Once it seemed as if they had grown together, like a part of Czyzewo. Here the large, dry pine forest in the hot summer months would be full of Czyzewo Jews

[Column 1110]

who came here to rest, to catch their breathe.

Here one could meet the Czyzewo Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Dovid Zawladower, a genteel person, refined in education and good deeds. He would come here with the rebbitzin [rabbi's wife]. Both were weak people and the Godlower pine forest was a cure for them.

Chana-Sura Edlsztajn also traveled here for a cure for the health of her son Shimeon's lung disease. Tens and hundreds of faces of friends, acquaintances and comrades were revived before my eyes that moment, walking in those woods. Here was Roszka Edlsztajn and her two children, the same age as my older son and daughter, Yenta Lepak and her two sons, the brothers and their wives.

There emerged the Friday nights when the young people, including me, would travel here with their families to spend the Shabbosim with them. It was familiar in the forest. Someone would read aloud the larger newspaper in honor of Shabbos or a newly published Yiddish book. We celebrated feasts together and, later, strolled, talked, considered problems and worried about the world.

We drew closer to Czyzewo.

Every bit of dirt, every stone was familiar and close to me. Almost nothing had changed in the villages. The houses with the colored shutters, the red spotted cows grazing in the meadows, the jumping horses with the bound feet, which were frightened by the noisy vehicle. Here and there I was made dizzy when passing a skeleton of a burned house, but the calm silence of everything around me brought

[Column 1111]

out an accidental scream, a remainder of the cruel war.

There was no time to dwell on these thoughts. The Russian ZIS [Soviet-made limousine] swallowed the kilometers. Here from the distance emerged the village of Kosk with its familiar wiatrak (windmill). I remember the Kosk miller, Alter, and his many-branched family. A quiet and honest Jew who would rely on God's mercy to provide the wind just when the peasants would bring their wheat to be ground. He earned his livelihood, raised children and led a respectable house. When he came to the city he would give good contributions for charitable purposes. He gave the rabbi a good donation for the redemption of the hametz he sold every erev [eve of] Passover.[1]

It continued in this way until the children grew up. They took over the mill and did not want to rely on the wind. They added a motor driven with kerosene. The entire Okin family consisted of nimble and honest merchants.

Across on the right side of the highway was the Kosk court, a rich, noble feudal estate. The administrator, Organinski, may his name be erased, was a bloody enemy of the Jews, an organizer of pickets at Jewish shops. He was the initiator of moving the fairs from Tuesdays to Shabbos [Sabbath] and led the pogrom during the fair in the shtetl. During this pogrom, the strong man, Zelik Yankl Yelin, died in a murderous way and many others were wounded.

While I was in Wołomin and looked for traces of my sister's daughter, Chanala, I learned that Organinski was shot like a dog by his own worker who served as a spy for many years.

[Column 1112]

Here is the Kosk forest.

We would walk here on Shabbos to breathe fresh air (it was located within tkhum-Shabbos [the distance one may not exceed when walking out of a city or town]). Once, tens of years ago, the Czyzewo boys and girls came together here and rebelled against the Russian tsar, holding gatherings and singing revolutionary songs.

And we already were at the train embankment, which served as a border of the shtetl.

We traveled beyond the train bridge and arrived in an aleje [boulevard] of thick and tall trees. This was the street for strolling by the Hasidic Jews from all kinds of small synagogues and shtiblekh [one-room houses of prayer]. The Hasidic melodies, which the shtibl musicians sang and repeated, echoed here.

Now only the road with its trunks and stumps remained here. The giant poplar trees were cut and taken away by the Germans. My gaze stopped to the right of the highway. On that side of the train route, something strange is noticed, new buildings scattered without any order. Later, I learned that the Jewish ghetto was in this area. The last survivors and escapees from the deportations lived in these houses until the final annihilation. Those driven from the surrounding shtetlekh, Nur, Jeżewo and Zambrow, also lived there. There also were other refugees from more distant shtetlekh and villages.

The house of my Uncle Mosheka stands orphaned. He, his five sons and his wife put a great deal of effort and hardship into building their apartment. They built it with their own hands, were their own bricklayers, their own carpenters. Now someone strange lives there. Who knows if they had a hand in their death?

[Column 1113]

– Where should we take you? – came the question from my traveling companions as we entered the shtetl.
They could not imagine how much pain the question created. I answered:
– Alas, I have no address; let me off in the middle of the market.
They had to drive 10 kilometers [about 6 miles] to Dambrow, on the way to Wysokie. Therefore, we discussed meeting very early the next morning in the same place.

Alone, with my young cousin, I remained standing in the middle of the market.

A strange emptiness enveloped me. The same market and yet so strange, unrecognizable. There was no trace of the two rows of Jewish shops around which it always boiled and hummed. The three brick houses, which once gave the impression of fortresses, were orphaned, separated from the thick labyrinth of small, wooden houses with small shops and moss-covered roofs.

Now there is a square with plants. The evil dream of the Polish anti-Semites, who in previous years had fought to eliminate the Jewish shops from the market and plant a city garden in their place, was accomplished. They demanded it in the name of the urbanistic esthetic and culture. However, even they did not imagine then that with the accomplishment of their dream the Jewish owners would be eliminated from the shops and the houses, all the Jews, who here on a piece of empty field of the Czyzewo noble's estate, would build an effervescent center of trade and craft that

[Column 1114]

served the entire surrounding Polish population with all of the necessary things.

Here in Czyzewo at the Jewish blacksmiths and farriers, tailors, furriers and shoemakers, carpenters, harness-makers, the peasant ordered his plow tools, his wagon and sled, had his garments made, a pair of boots and a fur coat for the winter. They worked, the Jewish artisans, literally for bread and water.

The Czyzewo Jewish merchants were the buyers of wheat, rye, clover and various other products, that the peasants would have had to [otherwise] drag for days to the distant cities and sell them for groshns [pennies]. The Jewish merchants sent all of the wheat to distant places, even to Danzig. and thereby bettered the prices for the peasants.

How much life did these Jews bring to the entire area! The market always was full of them. They stood in groups and conversed, bickered. None of them are here now. Everything is as if emptied, closed, dead.

I tried to brace myself and turned here and there, listened to the echo of my boots on the stone sidewalk. My thoughts tormented me; would I not meet even one familiar face here?

Perhaps, I would knock on the first, best door. See. Ask. Demand?

Some kind of cold strangeness chased me from the houses, from the new sidewalk that was not here before. The strangeness seized my will, my strength.

Several people approached from two corners of the market, looked at me with strange glances. The Polish sergeant with the automatic weapon carried in front [of his body] began to look familiar to them

[Column 1115]

– Several voices suddenly cried out, Boże mój, to przecież Pan Berku (My God. It is after all Mister Berka). Someone grabbed my hand, looked at my face and crossing himself said something, with astonishment, wonder, friendship… and fear.
Some, surprised, wanted to kiss me. I did not give them the opportunity, only extended my hand to everyone and impatiently wanted to know if there were any Jews here.

They pointed me to several small, wooden houses that had belonged to Zindl Lew, to Leibl Watnik's Fraydke.

Stanislaw, who as an official from Rolnik [organization of farmers], earned bakshish (a bribe) from me during my business partnership with Adamski, was very happy with me now and did not leave me alone. He took upon himself to take me to the Jewish houses and tried to speak the mildest words to me.

It was as if my heart had stopped. The moment came that no pen is capable of describing.

Suddenly I was surrounded by Jews, Czyzewo Jews, and so much sincere warmth, familiarity came from them that it took away my breathe and softened my heart for a minute.

Zisha Slucki, Yankl Godliwer and his daughter, Malka Rayzl, Zelik and Rywka Gramadzin, Avrahaml Szwarc's two daughters and Leibush Gridman's oldest daughter, stood before me

Revived, I asked, “Where are the rest? I want to see them. I soon will need to leave.”

Everyone was silent.

[Column 1116]

I did not ask anymore. Their expressions, faces said everything.

I barely absorbed anything from the confusion when they began talking, explaining. The slaughter had begun there. Several steps further, others, a man, a child, were shot. Now, everything was occupied by Poles coming from the surrounding villages. They grabbed everything that they could. All of the Jews lived here together. The door and gate were locked at night.

The tragic foreboding of the great misfortune that came later was in their words, in their voices, of the slaughter that the Poles carried out of these last victims, survivors of the Czyzewo ghetto.

We tried to do something quickly to refresh our hearts and we again went through the empty shtetl. The first thing we saw was the house of prayer, which remained completely undamaged. The Hitlerists turned it into a wheat warehouse. So it remained today. Who is there to be interested in it?

We remained at the old cemetery that was next door to the synagogue. The first founders of the shtetl had come to their eternal rest here, the first Jews who had come here hundreds of years ago. Only distant, foggy legends about them have reached us, which do not create a clear picture about their life, but only provoke a fantasy. Curious boys would jump over the fence of this old cemetery, strolling between the graves and read the inscriptions on the headstones.

The writing on these simple and crooked stones was rubbed off. Somewhere a name was recognized.

[Column 1117]

It remained etched in the memory for a long time. The name was woven into various legends about the wisdom and piety of the great grandfathers of the Czyzewo Jews.

This legend again lives in my memory now; a naïve charm hovers over them. The secretive voice of a boy sounds in the ears, which relates with such certainty that before the arrival of Moshiekh ben Dovid [Redeemer, son of David], the herald, Moshiekh ben Yosef [Redeemer, son of Joseph], will come to Czyzewo and stand with one foot in the old cemetery and the other foot in the new house of prayer and will blow the shofar [ram's horn] acknowledging the arrival of Moshiekh ben Dovid, because the great Jews who rest in Czyzewo have a large part in the redemption.

Now, the boy who repeated it is also now a legend.

The land neighboring the new synagogue, which was burned at the time of the First World War, was considered sacred by the Czyzewo Jews. The land, surrounded by a fence, is now occupied, built on. Strangers live there, perhaps also hostile people.

We moved further from the center, more to the west in the direction of the new cemetery, which was located outside the shtetl. Here, too, the fence was taken apart in pieces. The marble headstones that had shown a certain worth had disappeared. The small, older stones lay spread out, broken. It was difficult to differentiate the graves over which the cows grazed in the field.

We stood silently and looked at this destruction and malicious defilement. My hands and feet shook, heavy thoughts filled my brain.

[Column 1118]

The place at which the ghetto was located was across from the cemetery on the east.

The small houses still stand, chaotic, scattered without a plan, without any order. The haste with which they were built can be seen. The surviving remnant of Jews from Czyzewo, Zambrow, Nur and Jeżewo of the first deportation lived here.

The people who accompanied me spoke quietly. Their words often got stuck in their throats. They lay here for months, fenced in by barbed wire, under a constant guard and afraid of death along with the rest of the Czyzewo Jews.

The stories about the Judenrat, about the Jewish policemen represent places that are etched in the memory: “See the torn wires? Hersh-Leib was murdered here when he tried to escape during a deportation. Hersh-Leib was murdered two steps from there [the wire].”

Names, names, names of close ones, familiar people whom I would once meet every day, knew every detail, event in their lives, rejoiced together and suffered together. Now I listened silently to the history of their death. Which ones were murdered on the spot; which ones were loaded into a wagon to Zambrow to the military barracks from which they were sent to Auschwitz.

The scenes which people described to me were so painfully clear. In reality I now experienced with them that November day of 1942 when the ghetto was surrounded by gendarmes who began shooting and burst into the

[Column 1119]

houses. The old, the sick and the small children were shot on the spot. And those remaining were loaded into the wagons like sheep for the slaughter.

Those who went with me were the lucky ones who succeeded in making use of the pre-dawn darkness and escaped.

– Where did you escape to?

– We did not know then where to escape. We escaped from death not really having a chance to escape from it…

There was no cowardice in the wrestling with death. There was powerful courage, a strength that defeated death.

The day almost was over and I was still walking around like someone sick, and with expressionless eyes I looked at the houses and people who moved around as if under a fog, as spirits going through the streets, as specters from another world.

What was happening here? Czyzewo had ceased to exist. The streets, the houses looked like sick illusions in which lived people whose hands were smeared with the blood of the dead Czyzewo Jews. These were not people. These were shadows of murderers. Night would fall soon. Who knew what dark thoughts still took shape in their heads?

Fear was painted on the faces of those who were accompanying me that I not leave them. The automatic weapon on my arm provided them with security. They would soon return to their disturbing houses, locked with seven bolts, but would it help?

They also looked like shadows, remaining from the innocent dead and tortured Czyzewo Jews.

I walked in the web of shadows – myself a shadow – engrossed in the

[Column 1120]

nightmares I had lived through. I stood near the house of the Szczupakewiczes. So many memories from my young years were connected to this house. The library was located here, the only center of culture and knowledge in the shtetl. Here I experienced my first wrestling with the past, with the Aleksander shtibl [one room house of prayer], searching for new horizons that the books revealed for me.

This house was the forge in which new types of leaders were tempered, communal, party members, people with a great deal of devotion and ardent aspirations for the accomplishment of great ideals.

Motl Szczupakewicz, his brother Chaim and brother-in-law Yisroelke and their families also lived in this house. We had a sincere friendship with Motl that had lasted from our youngest years on. In the later years his house was the meeting place for comrades and friends. Deliberations on various community matters would take place here and often simple, friendly conversations that added so much content and color to our lives.

Motl Szczupakewicz had emigrated to America before the war. His sister and her daughter, Surala, survived in Czyzewo and live now in their own house, in the room that once

czy1120.jpg
Mass graves outside the city

[Column 1121]

served as a washroom. The remaining rooms were all occupied by the Russian military.

I remained standing on the threshold. We looked at each other and immediately recognized each other, although both of us looked very little as we once had. I had changed my military uniform. She was pale, emaciated, a shadow of what she had been. The experience of the fear of every rustle that could bring death with it was still visible on the child's face.

Perl led me out the courtyard; stopped at a spot and with an overwhelmed voice said:

– See. My brother, Chaim, lays buried here. He tried to escape during the deportation… He wanted to live.
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She bowed her head and sobbed.

I returned to my first hosts, absorbed by grief.

I sat with them until late in the night and listened to their frightful experiences, in which they passed on to me what they had seen. Yankl Goldewer and his daughter, Rywka Gramadzin, both Szwarc sisters, Leibush Fridman's daughters, also were sitting there then. Our eyelids already were heavy, but no one wanted to go to sleep.

Who could imagine that this would be our last conversation!!

A short time later they perished in the bloody pogrom that was carried out by Polish bandits.

Translator's footnote:

  1. The foods that one is not permitted to eat on Passover are called hametz. A Jew “sells” the prohibited foods, usually through a rabbi, to a non-Jew and “buys” them back after the Passover holiday. Return
Czyzewo – Today

On the Vestiges of a Disappeared Jewish Life

by Y. Dawidowicz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

With a heavy heart I walked around the shtetl [town], where a warm Jewish life once pulsed. The soul of the shtetl was taken away. It was extinguished as if it had died. It looks as if it had been thrown back to its ancient state of hundreds of years ago before the Jews arrived and it was only a small peasant settlement.

The Jews in Czyzewo were the majority for dozens of years. Their communal life was a separate one, [with a] narrow

connection to the Polish population, which lived in separate streets and was under the influence of the Endeke [members of the anti-Semitic Polish National Party] agitation against the Jews.

Very few Poles really were friends with their Jewish neighbors. Among the few belonged Makarewicz, a tailor who lived among the Jews, who considered himself as one of them.

When the Soviets occupied Czyzewo, Makarewicz took over some kind of office and was hated by the Polish nationalists in the villages.

[Column 1123]

The partisans in the Polish underground bands caught him in a village where he worked as a tailor and wanted to shoot him. However, the peasants of the village saved him at the last minute when he already had been placed at the wall.

However, the fear of death that he experienced left deep traces in him. He became paralyzed a short time after this event. The illness also took his ability to speak.

This Pole was now the only one in the shtetl who “was able” to speak about the former life of the Jews of Czyzewo.

Alas, when I visited him to learn something about the life and death of the Czyzewo Jews, I quickly had to give up. Sweat actually appeared on Makarewicz's face. He tried so hard to create articulate sounds. I felt his sympathy to the Jews and his deeply felt grief over their death. It was impossible to learn anything more.

His 82-year-old mother lived with him.

There was another Pole in the shtetl who it is true did not do a lot so that he could be counted among the Righteous Among the Nations, but who it is worth remembering because of his positive attitude toward the Jews and his honesty concerning what the Germans had done, often with the help of the Poles.

This Pole, named Barczik, was a left socialist from a group led by Dubja, before the war. A feeling of justice and brotherhood developed in him that was reflected in his condemnation of the anti-Semitism that

[Column 1124]

reigned among the Polish population. He [Barczik] said to me, “I had Jewish friends whom I will never forget because of their honesty and heartfelt humanity.”

Barczik was very closely connected to the Szczupakiewicz family. When he spoke of them, the two brothers, an expression of sincere respect and grief over their great misfortune appeared on his face. Let him speak for himself, with his own language and manner of talking:

“These were capable people, with great initiative and energy. Such people we must esteem when we get to know them well. They were the owners of a mill, a lumber warehouse and a construction enterprise. The shtetl [town] would have benefited from such capable people. Now everything lies in ashes, in ruin.”
Barczik stopped for a while. On his face hovered a smile. He had remembered that one of the Szczupakiewicz [family members], Motl, had survived because he had left for America before the war. “I still remember him, as if it were now. Over 20 years have passed. He was good-looking, sympathetic and the elegant one in the shtetl. He was very successful, even with the Polish girls in the aristocratic sphere. He had luck. His brother and his entire family all perished. Only a sister and her young daughters remain. They hid with peasants in Gedasa.

They had lived in the same village before the war. When the “aktsies” [actions, usually deportations] began, they did not appear. The gendarmes came and on the spot shot the husband, son and a daughter, who were buried in their own courtyard. Only she

[Column 1125]

and two young daughters escaped to neighbors and they succeeded in surviving.

After the arrival of the Russians, Barczik helped to move their grave, on which he planted flowers. He comes from time to time to water the roses that grow, protected by a gentle hand.

[Barczik said:] “She herself, Szczupakiewicz's sister and her young daughters, settled in Czyzewo in the house that once belonged to them, the only multi-story house on the long Mazowiecki Street. But they could not last there long because death lay in wait on all sides.”
The Night of the Long Knives

Kazimierz Barczik rested for a minute. It was a short pause that seemed as if he was looking for the appropriate words for the terrifying [things] that he now was going to describe. His voice was broken as if from a suffocating throat: Our Poles [did] so much cruelty! They saw with their own eyes the worst that not even human fantasy could imagine. They saw how people were transformed into hyenas, into the most horrid animals. Later, they themselves became the same; they surpassed them in their horrible savagery.

This was approximately a half-year after the liberation of Czyzewo from the Hitlerists. Individual Jews began to emerge from the hiding places in the forests, bunkers in barns. In time, their number reached about 20. These were broken people. They all lived together. When night fell they closed themselves in their houses. The fear of death that

[Column 1126]

had accompanied them for years in their hiding places had not disappeared here.

However, the leaders of the Polish underground broke into their houses and murdered everyone. Among the Polish population in Czyzewo, that night was recorded as the “Bartholomew's Night” or “the Night of the Long Knives.”

Were the criminals apprehended? – I asked when Barczik became quiet for a minute.

– No, they are walking around free.

– Is it known in the shtetl who did this?

Barczik hesitated, looked in my eyes questioningly. Finally, he said:
– Yes. There are those who know, but none of them will say anything because… who can know what kind of regime will come to power tomorrow? But even with this regime, anyone who tries to remember and to point at the murderers would not be certain of living.
This is also the reason why no one in Czyzewo knows who waters the roses on the graves of the Spalenieces in the courtyard of the Szczupakewiczes.

Only a few people survived this night: Zisha Slucki, Zelig Gramadzin and his mother, Avrahaml Igla, Gonshar and also Mrs. Spaleniec and her daughter. The house where they lived was occupied by the Russian military. They [Mrs. Spaleniec and her daughter] only had a small room, I think the former washroom. On this night the house became a place of amusement for the military. The bandits were afraid to enter and this saved them.

[Column 1127]

Those who had been saved left the shtetl in the morning.

In the shtetl they looked at Barczik as a Jewish servant. He helped arrange the formalities under the law at the court for Szczupakewicz for the land and house that had belonged to them. No Jew could arrange it because he would not have dared to come to Czyzewo, which had become a shtetl of pogromists.

Holy Stones

Suddenly I felt very lonely. I walked through the dead streets sunken in sad thoughts. The stones, the houses, everything screamed with the shouts of the most frightening death that man could devise. Individual passersby looked at me secretly, strangely. I read the suspicion in their eyes, on their faces: what was he, the stranger, looking for here? Has he not come to settle a grievance that not one of the current residents had on his conscience?

I also looked questioningly in the people's eyes: perhaps a Jew would appear, a close, familiar face twho would tell me the history of all of the horrors that had occurred on this soil. I felt so lonely; I needed to have someone who could shake off the entire horror of those days, help me demand my due, to scream…

I stood on the spot where the old cemetery had once stood. Today this spot is defiled, contaminated by the absolute nonchalance that reigns here, just as if nothing had been here. There is not one trace of generations

[Column 1128]

of holiness with which the Jews in Czyzewo surrounded this spot. Garbage of all kinds is spread among the newly built workshops and houses.

The new cemetery did not have a better fate.

An old Christian woman passing by stopped near me, fixed her gaze on me with her extinguished, dripping eyes. Could she read on my face that I am a Jew? She had felt it from my bent shoulders and downcast head. A voice freed itself from her toothless mouth, as from a sick hen:

– You are alive?

– Then you do not have to cry, Bobeshi [diminutive of grandmother]?

– One must, one must; terrible things happened here – she said, as if to herself.

– Speak, Bobeshi

People lost the fear of God and spilled innocent blood. The blood flowed like rivers. Over there, she pointed with her hand, which she quickly drew back as if she suddenly had felt the blood, the earth did not rest for weeks in Szulborze.

She sighed, moved her hand and began to walk with her little steps. I showed her a reddish stone.

– Everyday they pulled out the headstones…

– Why did they do it?

– This is what I still ask? Why do you do this? It is still a sin before God. Sacred stones and you drag them to grind corn, to sharpen axes, scythes… The bread becomes soaked in blood, innocent human blood. They laughed at me, said that I already am too old, that God had nothing against annihilating the Jews… Even the fence, a fence of

[Column 1129]

red bricks, had been taken apart… They came here from the villages and placed their wagons here. Made a market out of the cemetery. First the priest (the name of the priest is Henrik Becza) called out from the pulpit that they should avoid this place that was sacred to a people with different beliefs.
For a short time the people stopped defiling the spot. But they immediately forgot the words of the priest and again began coming here with the wagons and cattle. The militia later chased them to the old marketplace.

The old one became quiet and I, too, did not reply at all and we got confused with vague thoughts: actually we all forget our dead; “the deceased are forgotten in our heart after 30 days.” The problems of the living cannot bear the constant thought of death, even as terrible as it may be. The choice did not lie in our hands, but here was a case that was different. The holiness of that place was greater and more fearful than a usual cemetery. This was the cemetery of a world that was brutally annihilated. Everything that was a reminder of that world must be held sacred and dear. There are no designations for those who desecrated it so brutally, so inhumanely with bovine obtuseness.

The old woman stood up moaning and spoke with interrupted words: “All of the misfortunes come to us because… Ragajczyk's two children froze. The wind opened the windows at night. In the morning they were pieces of ice. The hand of God. He [Ragajczyk] had shown the Germans the bunker in which Jews were hiding in the forest.

[Column 1130]

She left murmuring something with her face to the ground, as if she wanted to ask for forgiveness for the crimes about which she knew much more than she spoke.

Is there a punishment for these crimes? Can we speak of forgiveness?

Spirits Want to Take Revenge

Later, I entered one of the houses on Mazowiecki Street and knocked on the first, best door, asked for an invented name and carried on a conversation.

Although I had never been in the house before the war, I was sure that Jews lived here then. I had a need to sit in such a house, to absorb the crying of the walls and see how the Pole, the only resident, would react when I mentioned who the previous residents were, who had built this [house] and had perished so tragically… so dreadfully, wretchedly.

There was a couple in their forties in the house. The man, tall with a somewhat bent back, lay stretched out on the furniture, on one of the two dark-brown wooden beds. His wife, who was busy in the kitchen, at first, animatedly answered my question about the invented name. She asked me to sit. Later, he also sat down. When the conversation was lively enough, I threw in the question:

– Is it true that Jews lived here before the war?
They were undisturbed, did not feel any embarrassment.
– Well, true. Who else could live here? It was a Jewish shtetl.
[Column 1131]

– Did no one, not even one survive?

– There were. They were later murdered by ours [the Poles].

I made an effort to speak calmly:
– Our bandits…

– There were bandits, the wife, a stout one, but with a worn-out face, said – many misfortunes had come to the shtetl because of them. There is an epidemic every year or another misfortune. Kaczmirczik mutilated his hand with an unusual nail and it had to be amputated. Is this not a punishment from God? He had stolen a little in the ghetto. Kaczmirczik's bull went insane and trampled his daughter… Who knows how many more misfortunes await us. The horseshoes, which we have placed over our thresholds, do not help. There are angry spirits in the shtetl that want to take revenge.

I looked around the house. The poverty screamed out of every corner. Perhaps their consciences still were tormented…

Growing Fear

Here I was in the house of the Czyzewo village mayor, Bronislaw Szienka.

He served me tea and a snack. When he realized where we were going, he did not wait to be asked. Speaking with him was easier. However, for the entire time my head did not stop banging as if with a hammer: “How much had he benefited from the Jews when they were alive and how much by their death?”

I learned that he was the stationmaster for the Czyzewo post office before the war. Yet, he did not remember the Jews by their family names but actually by their first names, as they would be referred to among the Jews in the shtetl. Every name brought out

[Column 1132]

a wide smile for him. He smiled to himself, to his own memories.

He remembered weddings and circumcisions, arguments and fights. He told a story about a boycott carried out by the Czyzewo Jews of Skarczinski's whiskey refinery because he did not want to sell them the location for a new cemetery. The Jews, God forbid, did not stop drinking and selling whiskey, which they bought in the nearby shtetl, Braki, until Skarczinski had to give up and sell the land.

The voice of the village mayor rang dryly and hoarsely; he sighed:

“Alas, there once were times, people… They will never return, not the times and not the people… Never…
I asked myself: “Does he sincerely have regrets? Or does he not himself understand his words?”

He continued speaking:

– How strange it is; is it not true? To live in such a shtetl where one still feels and every day one sees everything that the people had built with their own hands, had had to leave everything and… there are none, now there are none of them.
Doubt pierced me; were his words coming from his heart or was he only trying to guess my thoughts?

I said:

– I thought the same thing going through the shtetl.
He smoked a cigarette, sat more comfortably in his chair. He was wearing an indoor-vest of the color of tobacco over a white shirt that highlighted his old, wrinkled face that gave me a strange sadness. The small

[Column 1133]

plan of speaking, which I had prepared while walking to him, failed. My host spoke words to me that I had not expected.

– I confess my great sin – he said, offering me a cigarette – that also was the sin of many others. We did not help the Jews during their great misfortune. We watched calmly as they were tortured, as they were taken to be annihilated. Yes, yes – his voice became almost hysterical – we knew that they were being taken to their death and we did nothing but watch, as if they were dogs, not people with whom we had lived together for tens of years…

– Hundreds of years, almost a thousand… [the words] escaped from me.

My host smiled:
– Yes, you are correct. We sinned against the Jews, against God. A fear of the punishment that we could receive attacks me often… True, it can still come, it can.
A rising fear appeared on his face.

The Criminals Cannot Be Bribed

The only restaurant in the shtetl where I went to eat something was called Gospoda Ludowa [People's Inn]. I entered as if with unfamiliar feet, heard half-inebriated talk and laughter around me. In the middle of eating the bad tasting soup, a person with a blond head of hair came over to me and immediately said to me that he knew who I was and that he could help me gather material about the annihilation of the Czyzewo Jews.

I looked at the polite, smiling face of a person over 30-years old and I asked openly:

[Column 1134]

– How do you know who I am and what has happened to me?

“I was a sergeant in the information service of the A.K. (Armia Krajowa – Home Army – underground army during the occupation). There are no secrets for me and you do not have to be afraid of me,” his voice rang solemnly and with squeaking hoarseness.

I must confess that I was somewhat frightened. Was a trap being prepared for me? I reminded myself how I had been warned before leaving Warsaw: “You are traveling into a bandit's cave. Be careful!”

The person with the fair forelock spoke further:

– I am a person who also can arrange everything. If you are staying the night I can give you a room in my house.
This made me smile a little, but I did not know how to extract myself. If I were to tell him that I already have somewhere to sleep he would ask me with whom. It did not appear that it would be very easy to get rid of him. I thought for a minute that I would take on a mysterious tone that would leave him to think and I would not be obliged with anything. However, I immediately realized that this could cost me too much because too many people were walking around there with the heavy baggage of sin and the demand for an accounting could lead them to further crimes.

Therefore, I tried to divert the conversation in another direction, about life today, about earnings and taxes and the agricultural cooperative.

A fog of smoke floated in the long and dark room, from corner to corner and almost hid the face of those

[Column 1135]

who were sitting with their glasses of whisky and holding cigarettes in their mouths.

Suddenly, an accordionist sprouted from among the tables and began to play a joyful jazz melody on the harmonica. Someone rose up from a chair and began to dance alone with a glass in his hand. He created various poses, drunk and lewd. Everyone moved out of the way, clapped their hands and the drunkard spun and hoarsely sang.

Suddenly, the door opened in the middle of the dancing and a wide-shouldered gentile with a blood-sprinkled face entered. The dancing was interrupted and the harmonica stopped playing. Heard was: “Ah, Gandila has come.”

Gandila smiled with pleasure and looked at them with irony and disdain. He immediately called to the accordionist:

– Hey, what are you playing there? Play Rebeka…
The tumult quieted for a minute. The fingers of the accordionist

[Column 1136]

began to wander around the keys. Trembling notes echoed and then became bolder. Gandila wiped his eyes with a handkerchief…

My conversationalist did not take part in the commotion. He bent down to me and quietly said:

– He mourned his own “Rebeka”… A Jewish family had hidden with him in the village; he drove out all of the family, except he left their daughter, a 20-year old young woman. But she did not want to remain and left with [her family]… The Germans shot them all.
I called over a waitress, paid and not saying one word to my conversational partner I went out to the street.

The experiences of an entire day were mixed in a chaos that tortured me terribly. I was tormented by disgust for everything around me and for myself. I had the feeling that I was walking around a terribly contagious filth of crimes and decadence that would not let me buy back [the former Jewish Czyzewo] at any price.

[Column 1135]

“Czyzewo Jews? Where Are They?”

A Visit with the Czyzewo Priest in the Year 1960

by I. Dawidowicz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I heard a great deal from various people, Poles and Jews, about the Czyzewo proboszcz [parish priest], the priest, Henrikh Bestas. The surviving Jews in Lomza, where he had lived previously and was known as a friend of the Jews, spoke about him especially warmly. His name, as one of the pious and good people among the non-Jews, is connected with individual

[Column 1136]

humane moments in post-war Czyzewo.

I decided to meet with this good example of a Catholic priest who tried to maintain the Jewish holy places in Czyzewo.

On a dreary Czyzewo night I again went through the half-dead alleys. With all of my senses

[Column 1137]

alert and open, I listened to each scrape. Perhaps somewhere a trace remained of that ebullent and warm Jewish life. I heard voices, laughter, crying from closed windows. But all of this came from distant, strange and cold people. I had a strange feeling that they, the Poles, still could not accustom themselves to living on the ground, in the houses. After everything, they rummaged like shadows on the edge of life. The feeling of guilt toward the people whom they robbed, whose houses they inherited.

The priest received me warmly. I told him that I wanted to express the gratitude of the surviving Czyzewo Jews for his courteous deeds.

He sat on the other side of the desk and looked at me astonished.

– Czyzewo Jews? There are such? Where are they?
I told him about individual Czyzewo families who live in Israel, in America. They cherish the memory of their shtetl. Now they were preparing to publish a yizkor book that would be a monument to the innocent, annihilated Jewish life.

I added:

– Your noble character will also be immortalized in this book as an example of humane, courteous goodness.
A deep quiet reigned in the house, although a housekeeper moved around there, a pretty woman of middle age. Yet each corner was permeated with strong smells of hermits and recluses.

Finally the priest began to speak:

– Is there an essential difference between people because of their belief? Is Christianity not a continuation of Judaism?
[Column 1138]

His voice became a little stronger:

– I record each person and his belief. People who perished because of their beliefs and their origin are sacred. Their memory is sacred. It is a sin not to protect their holiness. Our duty is to protect people from sin – the Czyzewo population – I have said - is very sinful in relation to the Jews
His eyes blazed with a very hot glance reflected from the ascetic face of a 70 year-old man. He said:
– It is true that there was a pogrom somewhere. The war made the people wild and brutal. I regret that I did not come here sooner. Perhaps I would have succeeded in protecting them from the great crimes.
We were quiet for a short time. The clock on the glass cabinet chimed the hour with a thin musicality.
– I must also say to you – he responded – underlining the word I – that I saw enough bad not only in Czyzewo. The people in Lomza were not better. There were daily murders. Human life lost its sanctity. Millions perished in the battles, rotted in the trenches in the concentration camps. Jails. Yes, yes, war thirsty people made of the world one giant wild animal. Closed the hearts to every feeling of compassion.
His voice became more like a fiery voice from the pulpit with each second. His words, ignited with humane love, were moving and inspired.

The door opened noiselessly, as if letting a shadow pass through. A woman entered.

[Column 1139]

The same woman who had earlier collected a donation from me. She walked somewhat bent over, had a delicate countenance, young, but her hair was interwoven with silver threads.

He moved his hand toward her indicating that she sit down and shielding me from her said:

– We speak about those difficult and sorrowful days when human life did not have any value.
The faces of both were sadly in thought. I knew that they risked their own lives at that time in order to save Jews. In the village of Jablonna, where the priest lived during the war, he had 11 Jews whom he saved in various ways under his protection in a dark chamber in a masked bed in a tree in the forest to whom he himself brought food. Among them was a child whom he gave to a trusted Christian woman. Later he gave it to a kibbutz [collective community] in Lodz. Today [the child] is certainly in Israel.

I knew about all of this, which had been told to me by Jews and Poles before I had come here. I now remembered it in my conversation with him. However, the image of the Czyzewo streets did not cease to press on my heart. The horrible desolation. In my ears still rang the quiet cry of the annihilated Jews, which soaked every stone here. I felt the need to share my pain; full of embitterment, I said:

– If the Poles, Christians who willingly go to church on Sunday had not helped the Hitlerists, many tens of thousands
[Column 1140]
of Jews would have been saved; if they had not shown each hiding place, had not helped to identify the Jew and give him into the hands of the enemy, perhaps it would not also be so mournful in Czyzewo.

– Why do you talk this way; were there not believing Christians with good, genteel hearts in Poland? Is this not so … Chanale, a shame she is not now here… in 1941 we found her on a frosty morning sitting on our threshold. “What is your name?” I asked her. She looked with such sorrowful eyes and answered: “Chanale!” I understood everything and did not ask her anything more. A Jewish child already was with me and I gave her to one of my friends. She wanted to convert her, but her husband did not permit this. Perhaps her parents would survive the war and come for her. She remained Jewish and today she writes letters to them from Israel. She married…

I wanted them to understand me better and, therefore, I answered in the same tone:
– Do not think that we have forgotten all of the facts. We recorded them in our books about that horrible time. However we also ask that you not forget that there were not many such facts. Hitler had a great deal of help from the Christian population in Poland, who actively helped to murder hundreds of thousands of Jews. Yet, this was not an accident. It was the result of a generations long attitude in relation to the Jews, with whom they had lived together for 1,000 years and now…
[Column 1141]

I stopped, seeing that the priest had lifted his head in a pose as if he wanted to say something.

As a preface, he began – in my lectures I try to correct the great injustice that was done to the Jews. I was told that even before the war in Lomza, Jewish and Christian children fought. Everyone thought of me as his priest. I also do what I can now. It is not true that Christianity is the cause of hate. Christianity bars everyhatred. It often happens that a foreign influence sneaks in from other domains, from chasing after power. You saw the same with the Communists… And where was all of world culture? However, Jews, those who survive, need not

[Column 1142]

lose their belief and pride. You now have your own land, a small one, a poor one, but from it came the prophets, the holy ones who elevated themselves to the Godly light…

The clock struck nine when I took leave of the genteel man. The hostess quietly, like a shadow, went into the other room and immediately returned with a small pack of letters. There were Israeli stamps on them. “These letters are from my children,” she said.

I went through the dark Czyzewo streets and had not yet returned to reality. I thought: do they belong to the tzadekim [righteous ones] thanks to whom the world exists? However, is this enough? Where are the others?

 


[Columns 1141-1142]

We Will Guard Your Holy Memory in Our Hearts

by Dov Gorzalczany

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Speech of Dov Gorzalczany, on the yohrzeit [memorial] day of the destruction of Czyzewo, 28 Menakhem Av 5720 – [21 August] 1960, at the unveiling of the memorial headstone for the annihilated Czyzewo Jews on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

Of steel and iron, cold and hard and quiet
Forge a heart, you man – and come!
Come, go to the city of slaughter; you should see it with your own eyes,
Touch with your own hands,
The fences, posts, gateways and walls.
The dark, dried blood with the brains
Of your brothers' heads and throats
On the stones of the streets, on all of the blocks of wood.
Honored gathered survivors of the Czyzewo Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community]!

We have come here together today on Mount Zion in Jerusalem to honor the memory of our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, who perished through all kinds of unnatural deaths, were shot, suffocated and buried alive in mass graves in the village of Szulborze. This happened 19 years ago, on that Thursday, the 28th of Av in the year 5701 [26th of July 1941].

We also honor the sacred memory of all of our dearest who were driven from Czyzewo to Zembrów, where a number of them

[Columns 1143-1144]
died of hunger. The others were tormented and tortured and taken to Auschwitz in horrible conditions, where they perished in the crematoria.

This happened on the 4th of Sh'vat 5703 [1st of February 1941].

We have gathered here on Mount Zion and join with the souls of everyone who lived through the Seven Gates of Hell and returned to the shtetl [town] after the liberation and there were cold-bloodily murdered on the ruins of their homes by the Poles.

This happened 15 years ago on the night of Tuesday, the 10th of Nisan 5705 [24th of March 1945]. May we honor their sacred memory with a minute of silence.

These three dates, which are engraved in this Jerusalem granite, will remain eternally etched in our hearts and minds.

These three dates will always tell us and the future generations about the three waves of enmity and hate, about the three phases of fury and murder, of the bestial savagery on innocent people, on children, women and old people, of the horrid and calculated murder to which there is no equal in the history of humanity.

The first wave came suddenly, in the first weeks of Hitlerist occupation. With the illusion that they were being sent out to work, the Jews assembled at the market from which they were led under a hail of murderous blows and gunfire straight to a giant mass grave that previously had been prepared in the village of Szulborze.

Among those assembled there were many whose parents did not even merit being buried in that grave. Tired, tortured, they could not continue to keep up with the marchers in the pouring rain and were shot on the spot. Their bodies were strewn around the villages of Rusz, Celinów and along the way that led from Czyzewo to Sember.

The first ones who planned the slaughter in Czyzewo were our Polish neighbors who had lived with us for hundreds of years. They turned to the Nazis asking to be freed from their Jewish neighbors and proposed their most far-reaching help, particularly in searching for hidden Jews to make sure they did not escape.

They did it with characteristic brutality and when the devilish work was done, they were paid with permission to loot the Jewish houses.

Very few people succeeded in surviving on that dark night. [Those who escaped] were helped by the pouring rain.

There also were those who succeeded in hiding and did not appear at the market. These miraculous survivors represent the nucleus of the second wave of annihilation.

[Columns 1145-1146]
The second wave of annihilation was well planned, exacting in the smallest details. This was the wave of murder, accompanied by superhuman pain. This was the “Zembrów Exile.”

The Jews from the entire region were exiled to Zembrów. Words cannot describe the conditions in which our parents and brothers were squeezed together. Epidemics and illnesses broke out without even the most minimal medical help. There were conditions of hunger and terror. Hundreds fell [dead] every day.

There was heavy frost in Poland during the winter of 1941-42. At that time the Jews were taken in torn clothing to the train from which the transports to their last road left for the Auschwitz crematoria, to the gas chambers where they were bestially murdered. A negligible percent survived that time.

I will remember only an allusion of those frightful events. How pale they appear compared to the phrases from [Hayim Nahman] Bialik's famous Shita Shtot [City of Slaughter].[1]

His eyes beheld these things; and with his web he can
A tale unfold horrific to the ear of man:  
A tale of cloven belly, feather-filled;
Of nostrils nailed, of skull-bones bashed and spilled;    
Of murdered men who from the beams were hung,    
And of a babe beside its mother flung,     
Its mother speared, the poor chick finding rest    
Upon its mother's cold and milkless breast;
Of how a dagger halved an infant's word,    
Its ma was heard, its mama never heard.

There the small heads of children were banged on stones, on electric and telephone poles.

The Third Wave

The final and savage phase of annihilating the Czyzewo Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] was prepared by the Poles themselves, without the help of the Hitlerist rulers. The liberated Poles could not bear the presence of the surviving Jews and on the night of the 10th of Nisan they came and murdered those whom Hitlerism could not defeat.

They murdered all of those who escaped from the meticulous German annihilation machine. They murdered both sisters in the Szwarc family, the daughters of the Fridmans, of the Gramadzins, the daughter [and] the grandchild of old Yankl Gadlewer and many others.

[Columns 1147-1148]

Human understanding is not capable of grasping the great destruction; there are no words for the misfortune. How can we be in a position to record the facts that have reached us?

Here the dates are etched in granite. We have written about the course of the entire destruction in the Czyzewo Yizkor Book that will be published soon.

Here in the “cellar of death” were gathered the ashes of millions of Jews from all corners of the world who perished in the death camps. Among them are the ashes of the Czyzewo Jews.

In the moment, we feel the spirit of the hovering souls. We take their rage in their last moments of their lives against the murderers, against all of those who nonchalantly watched the bestial murders and were silent.

We, survivors, feel the duty to do everything so that their memory will never be forgotten. We will be a memorial stone and record their memory by telling the history of their lives and tragic death in [this yizkor] book.

Dear souls, we part with you and promise you to dearly preserve your sacred memory in our hearts. We will never cease to demand revenge, as Bialik says:

What do they ask? Why do they stick out their hands?
Where is a fist? Where is the great thunder,
That will take revenge for all generations?
And move heaven and earth, tear the heavens.
Turn over My chair, My divine throne.

 



Translator's Footnote:
  1. This excerpt of Bialik's poem is taken from Complete Poetic Works of Hayim Nahman Bialik, edited by Israel Efros, vol.1, pages 129-43. return

 


[Column 1147]

Czyzewo Benevolent Association

by Itsl Kirszenbaum/New York

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Czyzewo Aid Union was founded on the 15th September in New York, registered as a legal organization in 1904 under the above mentioned name according to the laws of New York State.

At that time the majority of the landsleit [people from the same town] were in New York. Therefore, they founded their own synagogue, where the Czyzewer came together every Shabbos [Sabbath] and holiday. They felt welcome there, in their own atmosphere. Their own khevre–kadishe [burial society] also was founded then and meetings were held every year in the Czyzewo manner.

The purpose of the organization was to help out the needy members and newly arrived immigrants. Therefore, a loan fund was founded to make it possible for the newly arrived to bring over their families [from Czyzewo].

In 1920s, right after the First World War, the Czyzewer in New York did not forget their landsleit in the old home. They

[Column 1148]

collected money in various ways and sent help to Czyzewo.

The landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same town] gave $1,500 to the United Joint Appeal (United Fund Raising]. The Czyzewo loan fund in Tel Aviv, named for the Czyzewo martyrs, received 500 dollars. Six thousand dollars also was invested in Israel Bonds.

The synagogue had to be given up when the Czyzewer moved to other areas and three Torah scrolls were given to Israel and one Torah scroll was received by the Czyzewo landsleit in Tel Aviv.

There also was a union in the 1920s that was only involved with supporting its own members in New York. When the flow of new immigrants brought young people who knew what the situation in the old home looked like,

[Column 1149]

the Young Friends and Ladies Auxiliary was founded, which collected money at various opportunities and sent aid directly to Czyzewo. This began in 1937. Today, the Ladies Auxiliary is busy only with supporting the needy.

List of the leaders of the Ladies Auxiliary:

Fradl Levinson
Sonya Kaufman
Gitl Chedrof
Itsl Kirszenbaum
S. N. Selcer

Today [1961] the Society is led by the following:

Izidor Berkowicz
Israel Lobelczik Antshel Kawarla
Itsl Kirszenbaum
Joe Kandel
Lou Eides.

[Column 1150]

Charter members: presidents beginning in 1904:

Max Cohen, may his memory be for a blessing
Abraham Silverstein, may his memory be for a blessing
Chaim Silverstein, may his memory be for a blessing
Abraham Spalanski, may his memory be for a blessing
Morris Goldman
Harry Birnberg, may his memory be for a blessing
Simon Silverstein
Joe Bernstein, may his memory be for a blessing
Benny Gordan, may his memory be for a blessing
David Schwartz, may his memory be for a blessing
Nathan Berkowicz, may his memory be for a blessing
Max Kasper, may his memory be for a blessing
Max Schapiro, may his memory be for a blessing
Itshe Mankuto
Abraham Kronenberg
Ezrial Blefer
Abraham Berkowicz, may his memory be for a blessing
Izidor Berkowicz.

 


[Column 1149]

Activities of the Czyzewo Landsmanschaft in Israel

by D. Aba Yitzhaki

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The beginning is dated 1944. But the history of the Irgun Yotzei Czyzewo [Organization of Former Residents of Czyzewo] also has its pre–history. As is told, a protest meeting was called after the pogrom in Czyzewo in 1937 with the purpose of alerting the Jewish organizations in Eretz–Yisroel.

The almost spontaneous meeting took place in the cellar home of landsman [man from the same town] and activist, Comrade Elisha Rubinowicz. There were protest speeches from the comrades Ayzyk Kristal–Bedolah of Jerusalem, Avraham Cukrowicz–Cur and Yitzhak Szlosli, then in Rishon LeZion.

The participation in the protest meeting was very large. Almost all of the landsleit [people from the same town] who lived in Israel came. The necessity of founding a permanent union of Czyzewer and other things were spoken about at this first, large meeting. In the mean time, the Second World War broke out. The economic conditions in the country worsened. Some activists left for the Jewish Brigade. All of this paralyzed the idea of creating a Czyzewo Union.

Not until the end of 1944, after receiving clear information from the survivors (those saved from death) about the destruction and death of Czyzewo, the comrades, Dov Brukasz, Shimeon Zisman, Elisha Rubinowicz and Comrade Yissakher Akun held the first meeting, which took place in the residence of Comrade Akun,

[Column 1150]

at which it was decided to call the first “memorial gathering.”

The first memorial evening took place at the residence of Comrade Ruchl Part. A detailed letter about the great destruction and death of the Czyzewo kehile [organized Jewish community] was read at the gathering in which all of the Czyzewer took part. The letter was written by Dov Gorzalczany about his visit to Czyzewo after the destruction. A khazan [cantor] recited the traditional El Malei Rakhamim [“God of Mercy” – prayer for the dead] and at the end the men said Kaddish [mourner's prayer].

It was then decided to honor the memory of the Czyzewo martyrs through the creation of an initiative for charitable purposes and a gemiles–khesed fund [interest–free loan fund] that still carries the name:

“Charitable Society in the Name of the Fallen of Czyzewo.”

Okun, Brukasz, Zilbersztajn, Zisman and Rubinowicz were elected to the managing committee at the first committee meeting.

The danger for Eretz–Yisroel was now far way, but the war had not yet ended. Therefore, the work of the Czyzewo Irgun could still not show any great activity.

[Column 1151]

The main work then consisted of social aid, help for sick comrades. The committee prevailed on other Landsmanschaftn to take part in distributing help the neighboring families, as for example, Czyzewer [aid] to those from Wysoka or to those from Sokolow. The work of the Czyzewo committee was always crowned with success. Czyzewo communal workers always looked after each other and before the official founding of the Union, when a young Czyzewo woman was left a widow with three small children, without the means for continued existence, the above–mentioned comrades did everything they could to at least partly help the orphaned family. They had already thought about founding an aid union, but they increased their activity at the end of the cruel war.

In addition to the annual memorial evenings, which were devotedly observed and were arranged for the day of the first expulsion on 28th of Menakhem Av [the Comforting [month of] Av], other communal gatherings took place, customarily on Chanukah and so on. The committee made attempts to connect with landsleit [people from the same town] outside the country. Letters were sent to America, Uruguay, Mexico and so on. The Irgun began to occupy a place in the life of every Czyzewo family in Israel. Paging through the minutes book of that time, we find: “Comrade Zisman and his wife spent a certain sum of money in honor of their 'silver anniversary' for the Irgun fund instead of an evening of entertainment.” The managing committee also charged itself with a “peace– making mission.” They made peace between landsleit and neighbors for whom conflicts, arguments arose as a result of living in common.

The work of the managing committee was divided into various branches,

  1. dispensing small loans to needy comrades;
  2. dispensing help to the unemployed or sick;
  3. visits to the sick, with participation mainly by the women: Dwoyra Brukasz, Nemi Brand–Stolowicz and Shoshana (Royzka) Kszinwanogo. They visited the sick Czyzewer in the hospital.
The only source of income was the levies from the landsleit. The collection was made personally by the comrades of the managing committee in the old manner. They went from house to house and asked and the comrades gave as much as they could. The following were engaged in this work:

Zisman and Szliaski, Brukasz and Zilbersztajn, Yafa Raucher–Gramadzin and Rywka Cohen–Kanet, Ruchl Part–Garda and Malka Szajman, Yitzhak Hersh Gura and Eliasha Rubinowicz.

[Column 1152]

At a meeting that took place on the 1st of October 1946, we created a project to call for the collection of memoirs about Czyzewo, to revise the memoirs, to publish this in a brochure and to distribute it to the landsleit. This decision can be considered as the “forefather” of the later creation of the present yizkor book.

The Czyzewo Union in Israel did not only look for landsleit abroad who could help, but mainly tried to make contact with the “survivors” saved from the fire that spread over the entire world. The Irgun looked to support the Czyzewo refugees in Shanghai, the Soviet Union and Cyprus and so on with money and food packages and, as always, tried to be a someone “who was meritorious and brought merit to the many,” that is, to have a direct influence on the relatives of the refugees in Cyprus that they also fulfill their obligations, to give addresses to the rescue committee of Rabbi Kuk, may he memory be blessed, and others through which matzos were sent for Passover and other food packages all the way to the exiled Czyzewo families in distant Siberia.

1947, the managing committee was busy preparing a welcome for the first homeless family that came to Israel. Earlier, the attention of the managing committee had been to distribute help in various forms to individual refugees who had come during the war years through Anders' Army, through Shanghai, Teheran and so on.

1948, a great misfortune occurred to a Czyzewo family in Israel. The committee organized serious aid work of a greater scope. In the meantime, contact was made with the New York Czyzewo Landsmanschaft.

The American landsleit, with a will to help those in need, turned to the Czyzewo survivors, who were then in Lodz, Poland, with a proposal that they would take on the material support. Those in Lodz diverted the proposed help to Israel where a fund would be created for constructive help for the landsleit. Thus arrived the first 100 dollars from the New Yorkers for the gemiles–khesed–kasa [interest–free loan fund].

Contact with the Czyzewo organization overseas grew stronger after the rise of the State of Israel. The activity of the Y.F. [Young Friends] and Ladies Auxiliary increased and we received the first direct support of 200 dollars sent with the first Czyzewo tourist. Organizations of Czyzewer, which are in other cities in America such as Detroit, Kansas City and Cleveland, responded. In Cleveland,

[Column 1153]

Mr. Herman, a newly arrived landsman [man from the same town], distinguished himself.

The comrades Berl Gorzalczany and Ahron Jablanka, new activists, were drawn to the work. The loans given became bigger. New immigrants arrived. Comrades from the managing committee went to the [different areas] to visit needy landsleit, to learn their economic conditions. The newly arrived were provided with loans.

The memorial services were organized along with the Zaromber landsleit in Israel because of [our] common fate and identical yohrzeit [anniversary of a death] day; this continued for several years.

1949, the managing committee tried to help the Fridman family save their child from gentile hands (the current Rebbitzen [rabbi's wife] Marina).

Because the Israeli pound was devalued, the activity of the Irgun was weakened a bit. A loan of 25 or even 50 pounds lost its worth and was incapable of serving as an alleviation of need. But the work did not cease completely. Aid collections were organized in the previous way. A booklet was created; comrades taxed themselves with regular monthly payments for the chronically ill members of the union.

The result of the Irgun activity was very high morally. But the work of the gemiles–khesed–kasa was very modest during the years 1945–1951. Seventeen loans were distributed for a sum of 580 pounds. Stabilization of the Israeli currency began to happen in 1952–3. The monetary support we received from the foreign unions now was worth more. In 1954–1955, 28 loans were made worth the sum of 3,220 Israeli pounds.

At that time the committee did a great thing. It made possible for a member to move from a tomb–like apartment to a respectable, human one–room apartment with all of the comforts of living. It made super–human efforts then, but it had no other choice. The union was in a dilemma, but the comrade would lose his health in the inhuman apartment. However, the fund atrophied for a short time.

Beginning in 1955, tourists began to visit Israel. They became acquainted with the

[Column 1154]

activities of the fund, listening to reports about the needy among the landsleit in Israel. Leaving their personal troubles and returning home, they prevailed in having the support for the Israeli loan fund increased. The results were noticed immediately.

The number of loans in 1955 reached 17 with a sum of 4,500 Israel pounds.

In 1956 the idea began to mature of memorializing the memory of the Czyzewo martyrs in the form of a yizkor [memorial] book. Shimkha Prawda heard about this on his visit to Israel, carrying the idea back to the landsleit in America and as a result we received the first 450 dollars collected from eight families as their first support for the project of publishing a yizkor book. This action encouraged the Israeli Landsmanschaft and the committee began the work with the hope that the dream of publishing such a book could be accomplished.

All of the preparations for publishing the yizkor book were made and it appears that the fear that, God forbid, as a result, the work of the gemiles–khesed–kasa would be weakened was unfounded. The work for the publication of the book went hand in hand with the general Irgun work. Contact strengthened among all of the landsleit in Israel. A yearly taxation for the Irgun from all of the landsleit was adopted. Comrades abided by it and answered every call with postal or bank checks. The former system of personal visits was no longer necessary. The activity of the gemiles–khesed– kasa also strengthened. The results in numbers were:

In the years 1958–1961, 58 loans worth 12,000 pounds were given out.

In the meantime, a headstone was erected on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, along with those of hundreds of other Jewish kehilus [organized Jewish communities].

A very large number of comrades in Israel, and particularly, the landsleit [people from the same town] around the world, became active thanks to the work of publishing the yizkor book. In addition to those in New York, there were responses from Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Detroit, Cleveland and others with thanks and recognition of our work.

You, beloved and dear Czyzewo Jews all over the world, have the results of the great undertaking here before your eyes.

 


[Column 1155]

Dedicated to the Anonymous Donor

[In Hebrew and Yiddish]

by The Editorial Board

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This modest page is dedicated to our modest landsman [person from the same town] and devoted friend, who doubled the contents of our gmiles-khesed fund [interest-free loan fund] with his large financial contribution and also created a fund for founding a house in Israel in the name of the Czyzewer martyrs.

We wanted to portray this wonderful person in this book, in which understanding, feeling and deeds exists together harmoniously.

However, this noble man, who excels with his extraordinary modesty and avoidance of honor, categorically forbid us to publish his name.

The contributions of this anonymous landsman is really of a higher quality and is permeated with the feeling of a fraternal relationship to the surviving Czyzewo Jews who take pride in this magnificent personality from our shtetl [town].

 

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