Translated by Judie Goldstein
Before the Destruction
In a valley of Poland, east of the middle road between Bialystok and Grodno, lies my hometown Krinek, where I spent my youth; a beautiful childhood full of memories - where I can never return
The round market place was the center of the shtetl. During the day it was the place where storekeepers made a living and at night it was the promenade square for couples who filled the evening hours and amused themselves on these dates. So they would endlessly walk around the market place, until it became tiresome and then go to Shishlevitzer Street, as far as Yente's woods and often to the Sholker forest. That's where all the young people met. They would lay a fire and dance and sing around it - each with his group, each group singing its own tune.
I would like to mention episodes that I still remember from childhood. how a group headed by Geler and Chaike Kirpisht went for walks in the forest. The Christian Anisimovitch played the guitar. Comrades sang. How happy and beautiful those evenings were and we youngsters so envied them
Winter evenings were entirely different. How happy the children were when a sled and driver was hired for a ride around and around the market place, while singing songs and the our laughter went up to the heavens. Oh, those beautiful winter evenings that can never be repeated
Everyday living was something else. Everybody worked and everybody had their own anxieties from making a living for the children, to a young woman who had no possibility of marrying as she did not have a dowry and her parents were old and gray.
The shtetl was divided into three parts: rich, poor and middle class. The poor labored long and hard for the little money they earned. The rich lived in luxury. But the shtetl was made up largely of proletarian elements, for the most part tannery workers, also shoemakers, tailors, and so forth. The large factories with the tall chimneys left their mark on the municipality. Five times a day cars came from Bialystok and Grodno and each time the whole shtetl would go to see who was arriving - perhaps a bridegroom? And later they would go find a bench in order to get a good look at the strangers.
The Sabbath was felt by everyone, even those who were not religious. In every house this day ruled as a holiday. Jews felt free in the shtetl. The vice-mayor was Jewish and Jewish city councilors were: Yankel Levi the Klorer [Clearer] and Nachum Klorer, who was a great achiever, were Jewish City Councilors. Because his language was never clear, every strike was led by him: Blind Abraham Shmuel Zutz and many other people as well, went down in the pages of history for their heroic struggle in 1905.
Also in the cultural domain, Krinek was no different from other towns. Besides the Heder HaKlali [public grade school for boys], there was also Tarbut [Zionist Hebrew school] a school run by Bendet Nisht and others, for whom we all had great respect. The Jewish secular school distinguished itself with its good educators and beautiful performances for each holiday that brought so much delight to the parents and the population in general.
Now a little about organizations of all persuasions, like Poali Zion [Zionist Socialists], Bund [Jewish Socialist party, which set up Jewish trade unions, ideology based on the negation of Zionism, the struggle for Jewish working masses and secular culture], HeHalutz [Zionist youth organization to train pioneers for Israel], Frayhayt [Freedom], Tzukunft [Bund youth movement], Skif [Socialist Children Fareyn, a Bund children's organization]. Everyone in the youth organizations felt a strong bond for the other members of the group. Who does not remember the First of May demonstration when all the youth marched in special uniforms and with what self-sacrifice they all prepared and impressively carried it through with pride
In a valley, between flat little mountains lies my hometown Krinik. The round market place was the center of the shtetl. Two rows of stores the source of Jewish retail income were divided by so called gates that united both sides of the market place. People bought and sold there during the day and walked around during the evening until late at night. Endless circuits were made until the couples became tired and marched away to Shishlevitzer Street. Then past the bolnitzes [hospitals] further down the road, often going as far as Shemianitze.
The main employer in the shtetl was the tanning industry. The workers fed the storekeepers, bakers, shoemakers and tailors. Every young boy dreamed of becoming a tanner a man, a wage earner.
It would remain engraved in the memory of every visitor to Krinki, that a shtetl such as this had laid down sidewalks, arranged a municipal electric works with a Jewish engineer, Golinski, and a Jewish technician, David Zack.
Jewish automobile owners in Krinik would drive passengers through the streets of Krinki to Bialystok and Grodno five times a day. This was called the Spulke Ekspres [spool express]. The entire town would go to an automobile every several hours to get a look at who was arriving and to get newspapers.
Later all this was nationalized and the Jewish automobiles were no longer allowed to be used to drive passengers, so Jews waited for the trucks that helped Jewish commerce in the shtetl.
The Pazharnikes (firemen) were the reflection of the town administration. Twenty pazharnikes all Jews; the elder was Vladko Anisimovitch and Vice-Commandant Chemia Meyerovitch. And it was the same at the city council. The majority of councilmen were Jews. There was a Christian Mayor, Pavel Tzarevitch and a Jewish Vice-Mayor. The Christian mayor, Pavel Tzar, as people called him, was a very friendly man, spoke Yiddish well and had a good relationship with the Jews.
Standing from (on) the left Moshe Grodski, secretary
The Sabbath Guardians (an Orthodox group) had a little bit of work, but only Friday afternoons. It is before lighting and blessing the candles a disturbance, running: it is already late, it's the Sabbath! The doors and shutters of the stores are closed, Ben-Tzion Donde calls out over the entire market place: Jews, go to shul [synagogue]! Young boys yelled after him: Go to shul!
Friday night the Society of Sinners (a secular group) shaved themselves. The Sabbath Guardians carried out a violent war against them.
Several people from Krinki community life honor their memory:
Velvel Weiner (the carpenter), who gave up a large part of his life to activities in the municipal government, Heder HaKlali [Public Boys' Grade School], and Orphans' Committee.
Meilech Zalkin was an important social worker in the Tarbut [Zionist Hebrew School] School, the Jewish Community Council, the Folks-Bank and in the Poali Zion [Zionist party] political party. The Nazis burned him in Treblinka.
Yankel Levi, der Klorer [the clearer], a man who gave his great energy to community activities in the bank, the Jewish secular school organization, in the Bund, a councilman in the municipal government and alderman to the city council. Murdered in Auschwitz, January 1943.
Abraham Shmuel Zutz, Zishe the eternal light, became blind while in one of the Tzar's prisons and held a position in the brand new Jewish library, always active in the secular school organization, in the Bund and with youngsters. Perished together with his sisters Itke and Mulinke.
Nachum Bliaher Secretary of the Tanners' Union, a strike could not be taken care of without him. During the ghetto period, at his house there was a working, illegal radio and people could listen to foreign news broadcasts. This news would later be spread throughout the entire ghetto. He gave up his soul in Treblinka.
And so that is the line-up of the very public figures in Krinki Jewish life.
Krinki Institutions and their accomplishments
The mainstay of the Jewish economy in the shtetl was the local Folksbank. Its money would be loaned to small storekeepers and artisans those always hard-pressed to make a living. The major figures in the bank were Jacob Chaim Grinshchinski, Yankele Shafir and Kaganovitch (the Ardent).
Linat Hazedek [medical assistance society] provided the entire Jewish population with a doctor and a pharmacist. The poor would receive free medical help, according to a receipt, stamped by the secretary Mordchai-Shimon Grodski. Also a lodovna [ice cellar] was built a real public treasure, because to get a piece of ice for a patient during the summer was not a small thing. Every Purim there was a special campaign for the good of providing ice.
A beautiful activity was the development of the Jewish Home for Orphans with half-board [day home] for several dozen small children. During the time it was active, a tailor school under the direction of Blumke Zakheim was established and from then on dozens of orphans ended up with a trade.
At the GmilesKhosdim [loans without interest] fund, a Jew could get a loan, with a promissory note, without government taxes (free of the stamp tax) and without interest.
Rachke Caplan, Beylke Korngold, Shmuel Levski, Itshke Shishlitzian, Rishke Mendelevitch, Wolf Weiner, Shprintze Shnayder, Boruch Garber, Falia Lev, Hashke Shuster.
Dear, kind Moshe Ekshtein (Pintl) was the technical secretary there.
From my first years in heder [boys' grade school] I remember how in school, at the right side of the ante-chamber (foyer), we would fight against knowledge from Israel the melamed (a teacher called the tin beard). Others related that they would often receive their small share of wet towels and even a day standing in prison. Later a public Heder was created a modern heder where boys from the surrounding towns - Amdur, Brestovitch, Yalovke and Horodok - would come to study.
About fifty young men sat in the Chai Adom besmedresh [meeting place of study] and studied with determination the eternally beautiful gemore [a section of the Talmud ] pages, and their tunes, that came from deep in their hearts, would never frighten the Christians passing by.
Young men with ear-locks wound around their ears would spend their eating days at dozens of Krinki families. Step by step, a large and good yeshiva became active in the shtetl. The head gabe [manager] Reb Naftali was in charge of recruiting yeshiva students from the entire area. But dialects from a lot of Galicianers and Polish young men, who came to study in the Krinki yeshiva, could also be heard. The yeshiva was considered one of the best and graduated several rabbis.
Dark gray smoke, in the early morning, rising from the houses into the still half-dark sky, announces that in Krinik a new workday has begun.
Jewish mothers put out three legged stools and plates then prepared breakfast for their husbands and children who are about to leave for work.
The night had still not managed to depart with the coming of day and Krinik streets were already lively. Alone and in groups the leather workers walk with heavy steps up Garbarska Street, Gmina Street and other streets to the leather works, mills and other work places.
They quickly put on their work aprons and roll up their sleeves. They quietly get down to work. The steam is already puffing, the transmitter buzzes, the drums are turning, the utensils are shiny. Diligently the tradesmen's hands work to create the famous Krinik leather.
Seven o'clock in the morning and already the Krinik street and alleys are even more lively. Loud shouts, the sound of youngsters' laughing rings from everywhere. Krinik's Mosheles and Shlomoles, Chanales and Racheles are on their way to school. With knapsacks on their shoulders, binders in their hands, some with patched pants, others with newer pants, all of them with sparkling eyes and mischievous looks they hurry into the public school and heder. There are a lot of schoolrooms: in the Tarbut [Zionist Hebrew school] School, Jewish secular school and Public Heder. A new school day begins. With curiosity and thirst the children soak up general and Jewish knowledge. The sound of their voices singing Jewish and Hebrew children's songs rises up from the small schoolrooms and spreads throughout the nearby area. In secular and religious schools, in Yiddish and Hebrew, Krinik children study the Torah and wisdom.
Now that the husbands and children have been dispatched from the house, the wives attend to their daily work. They clean house, do the laundry, mend shirts and clothes. They go to the food store, the baker and butcher. The fortunate ones use money, the others buy on credit. Loaded with baskets and bags, the wives return home to cook lunch. The fire is started in the oven. In cast iron pots they cook meat or dairy lunches. Some of the wives are ashamed of their daily fare. They cook with nothing no meat and no dairy, only with water.
The Krinik streets become livelier still. The factory workers are eating lunch, children return home from school filling the streets with mischievous shouts, trying to outdo each other with their childish pranks. It is raining and everyone is wearing rubber galoshes. During the winter people slide on runners, a local product (a cut piece of wood with a wire underneath), allowing people to slide on the ice and use sniezhkes
Men, women and children went about their work, children doing their lessons, waiting impatiently for the time when they could run off into the streets to play and have fun. Wives, like busy bees, were working at home. How were our mothers able to get all that work done?
On a market day
Its only morning and the Krinik market is already lively. Food and flour stores, dry goods and iron stores all waiting for customers. A whole week to realize a sale. Rich merchants are financially secure with their business. The small, poor ones run around fainting trying to find a loan, a loan without interest: the need to pay a promissory note, in order to settle the revenue duties.. If not, the bailiff will seize what little he has.
In the middle of the market place, opposite the gate sits, during summer and winter, the market women surrounded by loaded baskets and wooden boxes of vegetables and fruit. In the heat, cold and rain, they never leave their work places. During the summer people bake in the sun; during the winter, they warm up at the chafing pan. Loud quarrels between merchants break out over perspective clients, but they speak softly to their customers. It is a hard struggle to make a living.
At the end of the day there are constantly groups of unemployed, ordinary idlers - and such - wandering around the market place discussing world politics and town news. Some are waiting for the distributor, perhaps a letter with a couple of dollars will arrive for them from America; others search for a little work, looking to earn a living. They all wait impatiently at the market place on Thursday. And here it is, and already before daylight there are dozens of booths, market stalls and tables, large and small put up on the market place with a variety of hats with shiny peaks in a variety of colors. Leather merchants laid out their goods: tongues, uppers, soles. Harness makers hung out horse collars, reins, and breeching, which had a strong odor of lime and tar. Turners put out foot wheels, on the ground, to make flax threads. Bakers prepared loaves of soft white bread and rye bread, stacks of bagels, round breads, cakes, stritzlelkh and all kinds of baked goods.
Small tables with all kinds of candy, caramels and sweet things, with various articles for the house - were put out everywhere. The beer halls and restaurants were loaded with sausage, all kinds of herring, liquor, lemonade and small bottles of beer. Everything was ready and geared up for the market.
On loaded peasant wagons and on foot, in groups and alone, streamed the peasants to the market, from Poretch, Lapitch, Nietupe, Makaritze, Spodvil and a lot of other villages near and far. Clever housewives wait for the peasants beyond the shtetl in order to purchase something at a bargain. They felt the fowl and blew under the feathers to see if a hen was fat. The women worked hard at haggling. They talked to the peasants using half Yiddish and a kind of gentile language until they managed to buy a fowl for the Sabbath, a few dozen eggs, a piece of fresh butter wrapped in a piece of white peasant linen or in a green sheet of paper. Loaded down with good things, the Jewish housewives returned home.
Meanwhile at the market place there is already a tumult, a commotion, Jews walk around among the densely placed wagons. They rummage in the sacks, look at the peasants' packs and they haggle. They slap the gentiles' hands, a sign that they have come to an agreement. The peasants' wallets and pockets will be full, the wagons empty. Jewish butchers buy a cow, calves and sheep. Horse dealers try out the horses. They look at the horses' teeth. Their neighing and the mooing of the cows mix with the shouts of the buyers and sellers.
Surrounded on all sides by a mass of villagers, a young gentile stands up on a wagon and calls out at the top of his voice about his merchandise and bargains. For only one zloty he offers a spoon, fork, small comb and a mirror. But this is still not enough, so he also adds for the same zloty a needle with a spool of thread. And he yells more he also throws in a pair of buttons and a ribbon. The peasant women move toward the gentile and grab the bargains.
All the stores, booths and stalls are besieged. The peasants buy various utensils and articles that are needed for the home and housekeeping. Peasant women buy calico clothes and the girls colored pieces of cloth and strings of beads. The piles of breads, rolls and various baked goods become smaller and smaller. Wealthy villagers are able to eat, even during the week, white bread and wheat rolls.
In the restaurant owned by the Pole Snarski, at Chaikl's, at Lieder's and in many other eating houses, treats and beer are consumed with joy.
Peasants sit with companions, treating themselves to vodka. They snack on herring and sausage. They talk loudly. With each glass emptied, their voices rise. Their faces are already red, their eyes half closed from drunkenness. Some embrace and kiss. One of them starts humming a melody, and half-drunk voices join in. From Chaikl's restaurant a loud noise is heard from the automatic street organ. A peasant puts ten groschen in and out comes a march in all its detail.
Suddenly a cry for help, a tumult, a peasant treated his drinking buddy to a bottle over the head, having remembered an old loss.
Little by little people are leaving the market place. Long lines of wagons stretch from the shtetl to the roads to the dozens of surrounding villages.
Jewish storekeepers add up the cash: thank God, there will be enough to repay the loans, money for tuition and enough to make the Sabbath.
The market place looks like the aftermath of a battle, the entire, large area, that not two minutes ago shone with various colorful articles, lively and noisy is wrapped in silence, the market place quickly caught its breath and rests.
The dear Sabbath comes
Friday all morning, the Sabbath can already be felt in Krinki. From Jewish houses the smells of fresh baked challah [bread made with eggs and braided, served on the Sabbath], cooked fish and other Sabbath foods drift in the air. Jewish housewives, like busy bees, cleaned the house, polished the floors, cleaned and ironed the Sabbath garments. Artisans, storekeepers, workers and manufacturers everyone prepared for the Holy Sabbath.
The greatest joy belonged to the children. They would wait impatiently for school to end. With a great rush and happiness, like free birds, the children would leave the schools. Each in his own way prepared for the Sabbath.
One of the great commandments for young and old was to bathe in honor of the Sabbath. Children fulfilled the commandment in the river off Garbarska Street at the nashielnitza, at Vigon. The water there reaches a little higher than the heel of a foot. They would crawl on all fours and get sprayed. There is great joy here.
Off of Mill Street, in the pond at the mill, the water is somewhat deeper. There they can swim a little in water as well as mud. It was difficult to stand here because of the mud. Some of the youngsters would go to bathe outside the shtetl at the new mill, in Slusker-mill. There was real water, where one could come out of the water clean!
The real bathing was in the Lishker River. The wagon drivers loaded their wagons and drove there. Only some could afford to pay an entire zloty to drive there and back. Friday afternoon, alone and in groups, the Krinki youth went the six kilometers to the winding, calm flowing river, among fields and grass.
The deep river is full of people. There one must know how to swim. The swimmers do all kinds of tricks: they dive, some can only swim a single stroke, others swim like frogs. The water there is clear and cool and everyone feels in seventh heaven. After bathing everyone rolled naked in the cool, fragrant grass (when I was young, nobody in Krinki knew about bathing suits!).
The women go elsewhere, further than the men. Some youngsters, good swimmers, would quietly steal away and go near the women, to catch a glimpse of a half-naked daughter of Eve.
Fresh and rested, everyone would go sprightly back to the shtetl. On the way they would become covered with dust, tired out - yet they came home happy. The feel of swimming, the cool, clean water stayed in their bones.
The night before the Sabbath the shtetl bathhouse was also full. Aronchik, the attendant, ruled there. He treated them to a good bucket and a small broom to hit themselves with. In the first room they would wash with soap and rinse off. But the true pleasure of the Sabbath was felt in the steam bath. Workmen, artisans and manufacturers sat or lay on long wooden steps. There everybody was equal. Once in a while a shout was heard steam, steam! and several pails of cold water would be thrown onto the stones in the oven and steam billowed up, filling the steam bath, refreshing them with the heat, even though they could hardly catch their breath. And they shout again: steam, steam!. Sitting on the stairs, they rub themselves and beat themselves with the little brooms. One treats the other with an invigorating rub down.
That is the only place where a common person can beat a bossor a rich man and still earn merit. With beaming, red faces, everyone returns home.
The mothers have already sent the cholent [a slow cooking stew made for Sabbath lunch, kept warm overnight at the bakery] to the baker's oven. Now they are washing the children's hair in the wash tub. The child wriggles out from the mother's hands. They scream and cry, their eyes burning from the lather. Thick combs are used on the children's hair always one can find there
Calmly and leisurely Jewish daughters wash their hair. (A remedy for the hair is rainwater.) The mothers braid their daughters' hair with love. In the houses it is sparkling clean. Old and young everyone is ready to welcome the Sabbath.
One after another the Sabbath candles are lit in the houses, in some there are silver candlesticks, in others brass and some are only a pair of potatoes!
Mothers with scarves and shawls on their heads bless the Sabbath candles and whisper a quiet prayer. With a tremor in the heart, with a tear in the eye, they accompany the men and children to the botei medroshim [houses of study].
Barely waiting for the end of the Sabbath dinner, the Krinki youth stream in from all corners of the shtetl to the market place. In couples and in groups they walk around - make a half turn at the watchman's house and from Chaikl's brick house return to the watchman's house. There is loud talking, yelling and laughter. The market place bubbled with happiness. At the edge of the sidewalk stand speakers. They direct discussions. All of them defend their positions with fervor
Little by little the people at the market place scatter. Couples and groups go off to Mill Street in Viryian's courtyard, some go off on the side streets and on balconies. Most of them walk down Shishlevitzer Street, through Chestnut Tree Alley at the hospital, past the povshekhneh. They are already at Yente's woods that is as large as a yawn, but dear and is embedded in the hearts of every Krinker.
Songs resound from everywhere in the woods. Who is able to sing as beautifully as the Krinker youth? Krinkers sang with zest and feeling. Somebody started a melody a second joined in and took the second part. And here comes a third, a fourth to sing and the harmony echoes around:
Sings Krinker revolutionary youth about their belief in a new, free world
The red tomorrow in front of us, the young guard of the proletariat sings a group from Tzukunft the youth from the Bund From Warsaw to Paris From London to Canton Moscow has sent out a red flag
From a corner of the woods is heard a beautiful, tender girl's voice singing a Hebrew song that was interrupted by a stormy hora [Zionist folk dance, danced in a circle], danced by the young Krinki pioneer youth.
Bundists, Communists, Zionists were singing. Different songs and lyrics, but they were all united as a wonderful tribe of Krinki youth who fought for and believed in a better tomorrow in a more beautiful world
Protected by the dark night, couples cuddle together weaving dreams. The trees in Yente's woods imbibed a lot of sweet secrets.
Late at night, tired and with happy faces, they return home. They steal quietly in the house, not to wake up their sleeping parents.
A Sabbath quietness spreads over the shtetl.
(The prominent journalist and noted leader of the Jewish Workers Movement, first in Russia (in the Zionist Socialists, then in the Bund) and later in America B. Vladek (Baruch Nachman Charney) once sat in prison together with the Krinker Eternal Light (Abraham Shmuel Zutz). They became very good comrades there. Visiting Poland in August 1936, Vladek traveled to Krynki, with his brother the poet Daniel Charney, especially to visit his one time prison mate.)
In the morning the entire Krynki Bund gathered at the library with the Eternal Light and waited and waited until they decided to go to the highway to meet us. In front were two young women from the public school with two large bouquets of flowers from the Krinki Bund and from the library. Between the young women was blind Abraham Shmuel. Behind them marched the entire Bund from the shtetl, large and small.
That Sunday was a fair day in Krynki with all the Jewish population outside. When the people saw the curious procession, lead by the blind Eternal Light with two young women carrying bouquets, all the idlers in the shtetl began joining the procession and the highway was soon black with people
When the peasants at the market place saw that among the Zhids a large movement was taking place, they immediately began to harness their horses to the wagons and quickly left the shtetl. The market place emptied in a matter of minutes. Then the storekeepers and traders also closed their businesses and went to meet the famous American (Vladek).
When our machine was a couple of kilometers from Krynki, the highway was already besieged with people. We were surrounded on all sides by the Krynki welcoming committee, but not one of them knew Vladek personally besides the totally blind Abraham Shmuel Zutz.
But Vladek recognized him and after the representative of the Krynki Bund had managed to start his welcoming speech, Vladek threw himself on Abraham Shmuel and both embraced and kissed for a long time until they began to cry.
This meeting in the middle of the highway touched us deeply and nobody's eyes were dry.
I was deeply moved by the moment when Abraham Shmuel used his finger to see by moving it all around Vladek's face, as if he wanted to see how much Vladek had aged during the several dozen years they had not seen each other.
Later, after the official welcome in the only hotel in Krynki, we went to take a look at the library where Abraham Shmuel blindly filled the position of librarian.
That Sunday the library was full of young people who came to borrow books. In truth they only wanted to have a look at the guest from America
It was really marvelous how blind Abraham Shmuel quickly got hold of the right book that he had been asked for, by using his finger. He ran it over the spine of the books, like a proficient musician over a piano keyboard.
Here is Peretz's Popular History, here Sholem Ash's Shtetl, here Sholom Aleichem's Tevye the Dairyman, here is Maxim Gorki's Mother and here is Dostoeyevsky's Crime and Punishment.
During the time we spent in the children's library, Abraham Shmuel did not make any mistakes getting a book. He read the depressed letters and numbers with his finger from the spines of the books, like a sighted person.
With Hitler coming to power in 1933, throughout all of Poland there was a heavy Fascist cloud. The Jewish population was very disturbed and every day brought new extremes. The circumstances made it necessary to stand up and oppose the hooligans. All the youth were mobilized in due course and the time came when even the young children were organized. Krynki also created a Skif [Socialist Children's Union]. The first members were older students in the secular Jewish school and Bundist children. The first speakers in the circles of Skif were Tanya Gotlieb, Sorala Gabeh and the teacher Rosenberg. They lectured on the history of the Bund, the 1905 Revolution and the romantic heroic story of Hirsch Lekert, the favorite theme in all the circles. The Skif idea also intruded among the students in the Public Heder and the Yeshiva.
The members of the Skif committee were quickly taught so they could lead the circles on their own and take on the job of enlightening poor children. The young activists first searched in the library for the necessary material and then the themes were properly presented at the circles. Very often living newspapers were arranged, written and read by the participants, as well as academicians and lecturers. Discussion evenings were held with opponents from the youth organizations Freiheit [Poalei Youth Organization] and when Merikz [center] youth held discussion evenings, our speakers took part.
More youth and children joined the ranks of Skif after the pogrom in Pshitik, especially after the protest strike against the Polish anti-Semitic pro-fascist government, a strike that was proclaimed throughout Poland on Tuesday the 17th of May 1936 by the central committee of the Bund and the trade unions. I remember that Monday the 16th, in the evening, the order arrived from the central committee in Warsaw to call the general strike and to mobilize everyone, Jews as well as sympathizing Christians, in a mass demonstration. An urgent meeting was called by the Krynki Bund committee at Abraham Shmuel Zitz's room, together with the delegates from Tzukunft and Skif and very quickly, in the space of several hours, everything was organized.
The next day, early in the morning the Skifists were the first ones at the market place stores and booths to tell everyone they must stay closed. There was a complete strike and it encouraged the Jews to fight for their rights as citizens and to stand up against the anti-Semitic hooligans.
The Krynki Skifists all took part in the Bundist press days by distributing the party's central organ, the New People's Newspaper. The Skifist strikers even received a mention in Dubnov-Erlichs book Der Garber un Bershter Bund [The Tanner and Brush Bund].
The Sholker forest during the summer became the property of the Skif. With singing in nature's lap, we would spend from morning until night there eating, singing and laughing among comrades. Later we would stand in rows, well disciplined, and after shouting Khavershaft! [comradeship!] - we would march back home.
The bloody Nazis did away with them and their dreams along with all our brothers.
In 1924 the Krinki Hakhalutz [Zionist pioneer movement, part of Poalei Zion, supporters of socialist education] already numbered over one hundred comrades. Some of them went to Hakhshore [preparatory training for prospective agricultural emigrants to Israel] and some learned an appropriate trade for Israel. At that time this was not an easy thing: parents were strict on no account would they consent to this. They would not allow their sons and daughters to make aliyah [immigrate to Israel] to Israel to be day laborers or artisans. But the comrades overcame all the obstacles, not paying any attention to their parents. Some received slaps from their fathers and were literally from the house for wanting to leave their parents and for going to Hakhshore without their consent.
At that time we were scratching our heads, trying to find other ways to increase the revenue of the Hakhalutz fund in Poland, besides through our own helpers and carrying out endless Bliml-Teg [fund-raising days], which we ordered in the shtetl, for the good of the fund. Therefore we began sawing wood for local households and then also took it on as an enterprise for the town electric works. For us this was quite a transformation to do such physical work that previously only village gentiles would do for Jewish orders. You should have seen the welcome our parents gave us when we returned home from doing such work!
Just before Passover we sent our comrades to work in the warehouses (matzah contracts) and dedicated the entire income to the Hakhalutz fund. And the same in 1925 when we undertook to arrange a new enterprise; to kosher utensils for Passover. We even received a special permit from the town rabbi, Rabbi Khezekiah Mishkovski who even honored us with a blessing for prosperity.
That year Hakhalutz opened a carpentry shop, overcoming the disturbances and hindrances on the part of the parents and local carpenters. The carpentry shop developed very quickly and well. We established a large clientele, among them Rabbi Mishkovski who was interested in our achievement and believed in our work and our courage.
That was how the Krinki Hakhalutz literally carried out its activities in the coming years, especially in the 1930's. One after the other comrades went to the Hakhshore kibbutzim [large collective farms] to be trained in agriculture and immigrated to Israel to build and restore it by themselves and to defend and to bring into existence the land of Israel as an independent country for generations. And today the number of Krinki families in our country is two hundred and fifty, so may they increase!
From the second half of the 19th century
Translated by Hadas Eyal
Rabbi David Moreni A Landlord from Those Days
Rabbi David Moreni was the soninlaw of Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the Musar (Ethical) Movement. Rabbi David was a powerful landlord and schnapps dealer, a smart diligent Jewish scholar but hottempered. Hashem protect us from his anger! If he felt someone offended his honor he would attack the person with mighty insults. That said, he was also easy to appease and when he forgave, he hugged and kissed.
His office was always bustling with people and you would find all the Krynki bartenders there, as well as Jews from distant villages. Not far from Krynki was a large schnapps brewery that also belonged to a Jew. The mover and shaker there was his wife Yente a typical ‘Eshet Chail’ (i.e., capable woman, woman of valor), beautiful and very smart, whose husband served as a fifth wheel to her wagon. Nobody knew him and the factory ran under her name. Some didn't even know she was married. The husband was not at all a simple person, he was educated and knowledgeable but she was the one who wore the pants. Even when he sat in the office, no one spoke to him about business.
Yente held many leased properties which she managed, including two schnapps breweries. She was forced to sell her merchandise wholesale because the bartenders preferred to trade with Moreni, who had integrity and was loyal to his word. He never changed the price even if the market value increased or decreased. Although people were often burned by his hasty scorching tongue followed soon after by a plead to be forgiven, his integrity was a magnetic gravitational force. Even bartenders who were thrown out of his office for unpaid debt and went to buy directly from Yente, eventually returned to him.
I also bought from him. One day an incident between us sent him on an attack, publicly shaming and scorning me, with Gd help us from such insults. I left before Rabbi David had time to catch and placate me as he usually did. I was saddened by the event, especially because I needed to buy from Yente whose schnapps was lower quality and more expensive.
Many in town told me Rabbi David's heart is heavy for insulting me the way he did and that he yearns to make amends to the extent of announcing a fair money reward to whomever succeeds in bringing me there so he could apologize. After some consideration I decided to write him a letter in Hebrew (my weapon those days) which I carried with me ready for the right moment. When I happened to drive my carriage past Rabbi David's office and saw him talking with someone at the gate, I waved the letter at him from afar. He ran to me, took the letter, opened it, began reading, became emotional to the point of tearfully hugging and kissing me begging my forgiveness. I forgave him. By and by he pulled my horse through the gate leading me himself to his office for all to see how he is reconciling with me.
And so it was. He ordered a bottle of old schnapps, pastry and cookies, and with a L'Chaim! we kissed. Since then we fell in love and connected in a true friendship.
My teacher and grandfather Rabbi Yossef known as Rabbi Yossaleh HaTsadik, may he rest in peace, was a rabbi in Krynki. On his grave site was a tent into which people came to insert wishnotes. Many tales and stories about him were told in our family and in town.
So it was also told that in his wartime youth, it happened that a Cossack attacked several Jewish Krynki women who ran for refuge in the ezratnashim (women's section) on the second floor of the beitmidrash. There appeared, heaven sent, the young prodigy Yossef who saved them from the impure criminal hands: with the full power of his momentum he threw the Cossack through the top floor window onto the sidewalk below. The thug dropped, crashed and died.
Although he clearly saved the women's life and honor (‘pikuachnefesh’), Rabbi Yossef declared a selfimposed punishment of daily cleansing ‘tvilah’ ritual in the town stream, winter and summer. And so he persisted in the heat and cold until suffering a paralysis from which he did not recover the rest of his holy life.
Y. G. Steinsapir
Kopel Zalkin, the first tanning industrialist in Krynki as well as in Bialystok and its surroundings, was born in the early 1840s in Yanova near Sokolka where his father Shaymeh (Shamai) tanned sheep skin in the primitive method that was customary in those days a pit dug in a small shed. Shaymeh manufactured leather called sapian,ß earning him the nickname Shaymeh sapianik which was passed on to the young Kopel.
Kopel settled in Krynki and married a local girl. He began using the same primitive tanning methods on cattle skin (instead of the sheep skin) to make villagers' shoe soles. When he heard that German craftsmen developed excellent new methods to manufacture top quality products, he set out yonder, returning with the German expert Gustav Moerman.
Blessed with energy and initiative, Kopel set out to improve his tannery and expand the variety of products. His father and extended family moved to Krynki to unite forces. Kopel learned the secrets of processing Hamburgian skin (also known as Spiegel skin) and began, for the first time in this region, to manufacture this merchandise which was immeasurably more profitable.
Every week Zalkin's horseled carriages would leave Krynki loaded with his goods on route to Bialystok and from there worldwide. This is how Kopel Zalkin began in Krynki, continued later on a much bigger scale in Bialystok, and became very rich.
In Bialystok he became absorbed with the idea of Zionism (ChibatZion) and joined a group of wealthy Jews who dreamt of Aliya to Eretz Israel and settling there. Zalkin decided to move his factory and craftsmen to Israel. At the end of the 1880s he and his wife travelled there, combed the country far and wide for nine months but eventually returned, disappointed. ‘There is no customer in EretzIsrael at this time for whom to manufacture leather, because the Arabs walk barefoot and do not need shoes’ is what Zalkin explained to those who wondered about his return to the diaspora.
Moshe Weinberg (Pinkas)
I knew two blind people during my childhood in Krynki: Itche and my grandfather Yankel whom I would like to write about. A carpenterbuilder, he fell from a scaffold, sustained a head injury and became blind. He sold his house which was close to the beitmidrash to Michl the tailor under the condition that he be given a room in which to live for the rest of his life so he could walk independently to the beitmidrash.
Every morning before leaving for prayer he would leave a bowl of milk for the cat who regularly visited him. In the same way my grandfather never forgot to bless hamotsi on his bread, never did he forget to whisper and his mercy over all his works as he poured the milk into the cat's bowl. He could recite the entire Mishna correctly engraved in his brain and I was to follow him with the script for his fear of omitting or changing any detail.
I also fondly remember Yodel Bratchkobs who regularly read the Hebrewlanguage weekly newspaper HaTfirah. He told my grandfather that surgeons in Petersburg perform operations to restore the eyesight of blind people. Yodel suggested that my grandfather write his two daughters in America to send him money for such surgery. To this my grandfather replied, No, Yodel, I have no wish to reopen my eyes and sin again!
And so he continued his Godfearing life. He made Aliya in 1903, as a blind person, to the holyland, where he passed away and was buried in Jerusalem.
A few words about Rabbi Michl Belarcher, who was killed by the preying Nazi teeth with all Krynki kdoshim (holy ones). He was a kindhearted Jew, remorseful each time he was forced to slightly slap the cheek of an unruly student. He would beg his wife who couldn't hold her tongue: In faith RachelLeah, why do you curse others? You'd be better off blessing yourself!. Indeed, he was often successful in calming his wife.
Pinchas the Builder
Pinchas the builder was an exceptional expert. His craft in laying building foundations of unhewn rough stone was excellent quality and amazingly beautiful. The vaulted basements he installed had a good reputation throughout the entire Krynki region and no fire blaze could destroy them.
Once when Pinchas was plastering the front of the great synagogue, he fell off the scaffolding and remained standing on his feet. On winter days he visited Jewish communities as a messenger from Israel dressed as a Chassidic leader with a Streimel (a festive fur hat). He was a truly handsome Jew without blemish.
Rabbi Shmuel Tentser
Rabbi Shmuel Tentser was my first teacher (‘melamed’). While people sipped drinks and sang zmirot (Jewish hymns) around Shabbat and holiday meal tables, Rabbi Shmuel ran between the town homes in the worst weather and deepest mud to insure that every poor person had a Shabbat and holiday meal. Only after he took care of all those in need would he turn to set his own home table. He was also an excellent melamed of young children who loved him and carry his memory deep in their hearts.
Devoted his life to the poor and the distressed
Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua, the potter, studied day and night. He also taught Torah in study groups. Despite being a poor Jew in a town of rich industrialists, he held all of Krynki's money for safekeeping because everyone trusted him.
His wife was the breadwinner, selling pots in the market. The only time Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua would leave the beitmidrash was to help his wife sell pots on market day. When a farmer would haggle excessively, offering a price too low, he would answer: You mean you don't want the pot? That's fine!
When he passed away, Velvel the Cavasnik (who fermented the Cavas beverage) and Bezalel the tailor took over teaching the study groups. Bezalel studied very little in his youth and didn't know much but, like Rabbi Akiva, he devoted himself to years of torah study.
Pan Rajchkovski was the doctor in Krynki of the days I remember. He was a tall Christian with a thick Polish mustache under a thick pink nose. No one knew his age. The elderly Jews considered him an expert but hoped they would never need him. The PanDoctor did not know the meaning of haste and was always slow.
On Shabbat, he would stroll the Jews' alleys to visit patients. The boys would welcome him with a proper Shabbat tova removing their hats in respect. He would wish them Shabbat shalom and amicably ruffle their hair. For a house call he was paid 30 cents but he would not ask it of them if he saw a patient who could not pay even that amount. Moreover, there were cheerful tales of chicken and wine that he gifted the poor women who just delivered babies. The husbands would salivate at these stories convinced the PanDoctor is a righteous Gentile that is destined for an honorable place in heaven.
Actually, the Krynki community paid him 100 Rubles a year for his ‘free’ visits to the poor. If at the end of the year the public committee claimed they had no money for the doctor, trouble began. The poor banged for hours on the doctor's locked door; the women would yell and cry that their daughters are in labor and must be saved. Unmoved, the doctor sent them to the public committee for payment of the debt. Some ran to the Rabbi, others to public officials. When all else failed everyone reverted to the most efficient Jewish ammunition over generations: delaying the Shabbat prayer and Torah reading by standingput on the Bimah until the Rabbi and landlords promised to settle the balance with the PanDoctor.
This type of mayhem would usually erupt on wintery days when the dampness and mildew already spread in the tiny dismal shacks of the poor and some of their ailments could no longer be cured. The evening after delaying the prayer, the PanDoctor resumed his visits to the poor, serenely humming a polish song, his galoshes slushing in the mud.
Doctor Pan Rajchkovski was not seen in town after he was drafted in World War I. It is told that he died in Russia, lonely and derelict. Whether he indeed found a place in heaven, remains unknown.
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