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[p. 175]

Our Shtetl Krinek

Translated by Judie Goldstein

Beilke Shuster-Greenstein: Before the Destruction

From My Childhood

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.

kry175.jpg - On a sled in the Krinki marketplace
On a sled in the Krinki marketplace

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.

[p. 176]

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.

kry176a.jpg - The Dramatic 'Circle' 1926
The Dramatic “Circle” 1926

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.

kry176b.jpg -  String Orchestra and the Hebrew Public School
String Orchestra and the Hebrew Public School

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…

kry176c.jpg -  'Skif' marches in the First of May Demonstration 1937
“Skif” marches in the First of May Demonstration 1937

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