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[Page 3]

A Town on the Way to the Forest

M.K Chaika Grossman

How wondrous is the memory. How amazing it is how the duty to commemorate their town, their ruined community, however small it may be, rises up in the hearts of Jews. For years Holocaust survivors kept their silence and refused to tell their children about what they had seen. It was hard for them to fulfill the commandment "and thou shall tell thy sons". Many years had to pass before we understood that we were not helping our children by surpressing our pain at home.

I knew the town of Suprasl during its hey days and during the horrors that passed over it. One only had to cross the railway lines at the end of Sankewitza Street, near to the freight train station in the city of Bialystok, and continue on another sixteen kilometers to reach the holiday resort which nestles between river and forest. During the time of the German occupation the matter was complicated. It was, of course, forbidden for Jews to move freely on the roads and the bridge over the river was guarded by German gendarmes. If, however, one managed to reach and cross the river it was possible to circumnavigate the center of the town and vanish into the adjoining forest. The forest protected you - but not always.

The summers, which I spent in summer holiday camps, almost completely disappeared from my memory, but I remember for a suitable location in the forest for the resistance fighters. I remember the liaison people who went and found the small Jewish community which still existed in Suprasl, an important base from which to organize themselves in the nearby forest. I remember the groups who left Suprasl and Krinki, and regrouped in the forest, because they did not want to follow German orders to report to the market place. In the last months of 1942 the Germans "cleansed" the entire region of Bialystok, except for the Bialystok ghetto itself, of Jews and led them to Treblinka - nearly four hundred thousand Jews.

The Jewish communities of many towns disobeyed the German order to assemble in the market place. Many Jews fled Suprasl, men, women, and children, for the nearby forest.

The last time I was in Suprasl was in July 1944. I remember the town being pounded and bombarded by Russian Katyusha missiles from one direction and by German guns from the other direction, with me in the middle. I fled Bialystok to join the partisan unit at the Klonovsky headquarters to which I belonged. I did not want to get myself killed by a Russian bomb on the verge of being freed.

When Yaacov Patt and Daidush Fine came to me to tell me about the plan to publish the Suprasl Book, I was truthfully amazed by the tenacity of these people in searching for their comrades, former residents of the town, to collaborate in the publishing of this book. The survivors of Suprasl's Jewish community are scattered throughout cities, countries, and even continents. Despite this they have succeeded in putting together "the story of the town" - a single drop in which the entire ocean is reflected.

There were about six to seven hundred Jews in the town including textile workers, small businessmen, established landlords, and enthusiastic youths. The Jews who lived near the forest knew it and its pathways well and could guide the city dwellers through the forest and found the pathways, which were conquered by young, robust Jews.

I will not be doing the publishers of books on the major Jewish communities an injustice by saying that the commemoration of a small community, like Suprasl, only serves to enrich the sweet smell of deep roots.

I think the time has come to stop portraying, stereotypically, the Jews of the Shtetls as weak and ready to surrender without putting up a fight. Its high time to tell the true and varied story of the Jews' struggle and the roots of their fight with all its colorful aspects and anecdotes.

Let this book be an important contribution to the understanding of our great past.

[Page 11]


The Suprasl book, a portrait of an exemplary Jewish community in eastern Poland, was written primarily to tell the story of the Jewish town, to uncover its roots - our roots, to describe the bitter struggle against the Nazi enemy, and to preserve the story in the collective memory of the Jewish nation forever. Nonetheless, the book's most important service is of an educational and research nature - research into the terrible events of those times and to provide the basis for an educational series for the new generation of Jews in Israel and abroad who are seeking their roots and identity.

"'For man is a tree of the field", and just as a tree whose branches grow and develop thanks to its roots, so grows man, especially Jewish man. The roots of the past give life to the branches of the future, and he who denies his past puts his future in jeopardy.

Since the terrible tragedy that passed over our families and over the whole of Polish Jewry, many works of research and books have been written about the Holocaust, including a variety of subjects such as the "Juden-Rat" and the organization of the Jewish resistance. Despite the fact that they waged war against the Nazis, the Great Powers and various international bodies were accused of not taking action to end the destruction of Jews. The strong Jewish community in the United States, too, was accused of not making its voice heard clearly until it was too late. We blamed everyone except ourselves.

The predicament of the Jewish population of the Yishuv in Eretz Israel at that time was difficult with pressure being exerted, on the one hand, by the British Mandatory "White Paper" rule, and, on the other hand, by Arab murderers. Nevertheless, I am bothered by the thought that we too did not do enough from the moment that the first news of the mass destruction began to filter through until the gas chambers had claimed their millions of victims. No! We did not do enough to save our families! Neither through protest nor acts of courage.

Although the Jewish leadership of the Yishuv was occupied with waging the struggle against the British, however important that struggle was, in retrospect I can see that it cannot justify our, and our leadership's, shortcomings in not doing everything possible to warn, shout, and save.

The publication of the Suprasl book about a special community which fought hard, hoping to survive, and was annihilated together with other Jewish communities of Poland, the description of its life, its good deeds, and its commemoration in the collective memory of the Jewish nation, will go some way to atoning for this terrible failure. I hope that the book, and the nature of the events and customs retold in it, will help to expose our roots to the young members of our families, in particular, and to the new generation who are searching for their own roots. And may this be my recompense...

This book joins the mosaic of folklore and commemorative books which have been written about the Jewish communities of Israel which are no more. The book describes the uniqueness of this dear community and the cultural, spiritual, and folklore heritage which it bequeathed to its members, the recognition of the uniqueness of the Jewish way of life, and to safeguard the memory of the travesty which our most terrible of enemies brought upon us. Lest we forget!

The Author

[Page 12]


The committee of former Supraslers take great pleasure in marking the publication of the "Suprasl Book", the tale of the Jewish Suprasl community which exists no more.

Jewish Suprasl was closely tied with the Jewish community of Bialystok and many of the latter spent their summers in Suprasl, as did Jews from other towns in the region. Before the Holocaust the Suprasl community was known for its great hospitality, modern public services and for the tenacity of its efforts to survive during the Holocaust - even taking in refugees from other towns. Before being taken to Treblinka, some courageous Supraslers, under the leadership of Daidush Fine, established a "rebel unit" of fighters and survivors of the ghettos of Bialystok, Krinki, and other nearby settlements, in the Suprasl forests.

These facts, together with the recognition of the importance of telling the "story of the town" to all our families, and to the generations to come, contributed to the decision to produce this book despite the many difficulties we encountered in the process. The idea was first broached by our friend Yaacov Patt at the last memorial service, held on October 11th 1989, fifty years after the outbreak of the Second World War, and it is he who contributed most to implementing the decision. It is thus our pleasant duty to offer him our heartfelt thanks and those of the survivors of Suprasl. Yaacov Patt took upon himself, on a voluntary basis, the job of author and producer of this book.

Our thanks go, too, to the survivors of our community who sent us their recollections of Suprasl and especially to Daidush Fine without whose help and the recording of how he survived the destruction of the Suprasl community, it is doubtful if this book would have come about.

We would also like to thank Shula and Zelig Gottlib and Helena Rabinowitz for translating the historical excerpts from Polish into Hebrew. We greatly appreciate the generous donations sent to us by ex-Supraslers, both in Israel and abroad, including friends from Krinki and Bialystok, which helped to pay for the publishing of this book.

Special thanks go to Jack and Genia Liberman from Melbourne, Australia, former residents of Krinki for their kind contribution towards ensuring the publication of this book

A "Yishar Koach" goes also to Leon and Yvonne Fink, Leon and Minia Lipkies from Melbourne and Jack and Zelda Yazer (Yazernicki) from Sydney, Canada, for their assistance.

Our greetings to you all.

[Page 13]

About the Author

Yaacov Patt[1], a native of the town, emigrated from Suprasl to Israel in March 1939, and since then has held important positions in the pre-State administration, in the establishment and defense of the State, in the Israel Defense Ministry, and as an emissary of national delegations abroad.

He was born in November 1921 in Bialystok to Meir and Batia (B'ashke) Patt, who decided to move to Suprasl in 1927 with Meir's appointment as shochet and cantor of the Suprasl community. Yaacov completed his primary education in Suprasl and Krinki and his secondary studies at the "Tachcemoni Gavoa", with an additional year at the Bialystok yeshiva.

Shortly after his arrival in Israel, he was amongst the founders of the Kewutzat "Alumim" in south Netanya, which later became Kibbutz Saad near Gaza. In the years 1940-43 Yaacov was conscripted as a constable in the Jewish Settlement Police (J.S.P.), at the Kfar Yona mobile guard, and was appointed also as a Hagana area commander for the Hefer Valley region. In this capacity he ran Hagana courses and took part in smuggling Jews into Israel along the beaches between Netanya and Herzliya. In September 1943, after marrying Haya Goldshmid, a native of Jerusalem, Yaacov left the kewutza and moved to Tel Aviv where he continued his Hagana activities until the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948.

The Patts have a son, Boaz, a daughter, Batya, both married and five grandchildren.

The War of Independence found Yaacov amongst the founders of the Seventh Brigade. As a platoon commander he fought at Latrun and in "Operation Hiram" for the liberation of the Galilee.

On his release from the I.D.F., at the end of 1949, he was appointed district manager of absorption of the Jewish Agency. He organized the settlement of new immigrants in Majdal-Gad (Ashkelon of today) and old Beer Sheva.

On May 1st 1951 he was appointed Director of the Immigration Department of the General Security Services (Shabak), and later transferred to the personnel department of the Ministry of Defense. In 1960 the Minister of Defense, David Ben-Gurion, appointed him chairman of the Official Authority for the employment of disabled veterans and as Chief Pensions Officer. After the Six-Day War in 1967 he travelled to Australia to visit rehabilitation centers for war veterans in Melbourne and in the State of Victoria. On meeting the Jewish community there he founded the "Keren Mishpachot Hagiborim" I.D.F. veterans, which still exists today.

In May 1968 the foundation stone of "Bet Halohem" (Fighters House) in Afeka was laid.

Yaacov, in his capacity as Chief Compensation Officer, helped lay the foundation stone of a sports and rehabilitation center for I.D.F. disabled veterans unparalleled throughout the world. As head of the Claims and Compensation Unit, he was also responsible for the families of the war victims. Following a meeting with a Belgian diamond merchant, Charles Knobloch, Yaacov established a summer vacation scheme for war orphans at the "Emitie Club" summer camp at Ostend in Belgium. In July 1969, he accompanied the first group of children to Belgium as representative of the then Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan. The scheme proved extremely successful and takes place every summer in Belgium.

Yaacov was among the founding members of the "Raffi" party, which was established under the leadership of Shimon Peres following David Ben-Gurion's struggle in the 1960s.

In September 1970, Yaacov Patt was appointed head of the Aliya Center for the Mid-West of the United States, in Chicago. During Yaacov's term of office there, 3,000 Americans immigrated to Israel in what is known as the "golden age" of American aliya. Those who immigrated included a large number of aeronautics engineers, who were at loose ends following the termination of the Apollo space project, and were absorbed by Israel Aircraft Industries. Yaacov also worked for the Bonds and the Magbit in fundraising for Israel. He returned to Israel in September 1973 shortly before the country was plunged into the trauma of the Yom Kippur War on October 6th 1973.

In June 1975 Yaacov was chosen to serve as emissary of a United Israel Appeal mission to Melbourne, Australia, which was particularly successful, and was promoted to the post of Executive Director of U.I.A. for all of Australia.

On his return to Israel in early 1980, he was appointed to the position of Deputy Managing Director of the Rehabilitation Department at the Defense Ministry. In 1982 the Lebanese War broke out and the rehabilitation services were traumatized once again, before they had managed to rehabilitate the wounded veterans of the Yom Kippur War. He continued in this position until March 1984 when, at the request of the World Chairman of the Keren Kayemet, Moshe Rivlm, he left for South Africa as J.N.F. Representative. Yaacov was stationed in Johannesburg and established "Galil South Africa" in Israel's north. When he returned to Israel in April 1986, he retired from the Defense Ministry.

Since his retirement, Yaacov Patt has continued to contribute from his skills and experience; He is chairman of Friends of "Amal" for the advancement of technological education in Israel, and is active in public affairs.

Yaacov occasionally puts pen to paper. His "writing career" began in his youth, in the years 1935-40, when he kept a diary and wrote poems, most of which survived, and later continued with makamas, reviews, reports, articles, and editing journals at different times. He edited the Amal international conference brochure and various information bulletins.

Yaacov Patt saw it as his sacred duty to contribute to the commemoration of the Suprasl community and to the publication of the "Suprasl Book" as a mark of respect to his parents, his family, and to the members of a model Jewish community from which Yaacov received his educational base, high moral values, and faithfulness to the Jewish nation and to Israel.

[Page 15]

On The Banks of the Suprasl River

(An Historical Survey)

The town of Suprasl is located sixteen kilometers from Bialystok on the banks of the Suprasl River, which flows to the east of the town into the Narev river. The town is surrounded by the virgin forests of the plains of Knishynska and Krinska. The forests contain forty-meter high pine trees, fresh water springs, animals, and rich vegetation.

The Suprasl river flows through a valley situated at a height of 120 meters above sea level, and the town itself lies at a height of about 150 meters above sea level. The name "Suprasl" appears in documents belonging to the priest Mazovietsky from the fourteenth century as a border town between Mazowshe and Lithuania.

As far back as 1498 a Lithuanian general, by the name of Hodkevitz, acquired fields, mansions and villages in the area. At this time there was a misunderstanding between the general and the Basiline Order, and as a result the monks built a large wooden cross with candle's and placed it in the Suprasl river. When the cross stopped at Suprasl the monks decided to settle in the town. In 1511, They built a church and a monastery in the Byzantine-Gothic style, which remains the most important historic building in the region to this day.

In 1695 the first printing works was established in Suprasl which served, not only the town, but the entire district. The printing works was built on land owned by Leon Kishka, with the help of Kshishtof Hodkevitz, and with its establishment, the area began to develop rapidly and soon became the publishing center of Podlashe. In 1711 the first paper factory was established and the printing press, under the name of Ofizina Podlaska, began to specialize in publishing in several languages, including Polish and Latin.

At the end of the seventeenth century the Italian Renaissance-style Opatov Palace was built. At the end of the eighteenth century a town gate with bells was built, similar to the Branizky Gate at Bialystok. The gardens around the Opatov Palace are reminiscent of northern Versailles and are based on a French style. In 1807, with the third partition of Poland, the administration of Suprasl passed to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm the Third who asked the Pope to recognize the Basiline Order in Suprasl.

Several years before the Polish "Listopad" uprising in 1830, the area came under Csarist Russian rule. The Russian authorities demolished the building which belonged to the Catholic order and in their place settled Protestants, who remained there until 1914.

The Russians punished the Poles for the "Listopad" uprising by imposing restrictions on the Polish-Russian border. Artisans and factory owners from Lodz and the surrounding region took advantage of the situation and moved their businesses to the area around Bialystok in order to capture new markets. At this time Suprasl was annexed to the Bialystok district which, in turn, was under Russian control.

In 1833 Wilhelm Zachart arrived in Suprasl and rented a large estate from the Russians. He brought with him machines and professional workers of German origin and began producing cloth and fabrics. Zachart was followed in 1837 by Reich and Bucholtz, and in 1857 Oert arrived bringing the number of spinneries to seven.

Despite the rapid expansion of the area the first urban laws were not made until 1861. By the end of the nineteenth century the area was heavily industrialized, and in the early twentieth century a Jew by the name of Cytron acquired the cloth factory from Bucholtz and the Jews began to set the tone in local industry and commerce. The Suprasl workforce at this time was greatly exploited and the first workers union was established.

In 1933 there were violent clashes between the local police and workers from the Cytron and other factories which were on strike, and there was a demonstration in the main street in which two workers, Ulman and Botkevitz, were killed and two others wounded. In 1915 construction work on the sawmills began with the timber being supplied by the extensive local forests and transportation facilitated by the Suprasl river.

During the Second World War, Suprasl was first under Russian rule (until June 22nd 1941) and then controlled by the Nazis until the Jews were transferred, on November 21st 1942, to Treblinka where they perished in the gas chambers. On their retreat the Germans blew up the monastery, the Great Synagogue, and the Cytron factory which had employed one thousand workers. At this time there were about six hundred Jews in Suprasl (fifteen per cent of whom were refugees from other regions), almost all of whom were murdered by the Nazis.

During the war, groups of partisans were established whose members included many Jews from the Bialystok region, who fled from the ghetto and fought tenaciously against the Germans.

Suprasl was freed by the Russian Third Army on July 24 1944. A furniture factory was built on the site of the Cytron factory, which had been blown up by the Nazis. Most of the residents of Suprasl worked in Bialystok, and in the summer ran holiday camps for the entire region.

Today the town has a population of 4,200, some of whom earn a living from internal tourism and summer camps, and others work in Bialystok. Owing to the topographical position of Suprasl, as well as the beauty of the forest and river, the town serves as a national and international tourist center.

[Page 17]

The Birth of a Jewish Community

The beginnings of the Jewish settlement in Poland is shrouded in mystery, legends, and fantastic descriptions. The first Jews arrived in Poland via the commercial routes at the start of the second millenium C.E. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the rulers of Poland encouraged the migration of residents of developed West European countries to Poland. The immigrants included many Jews who had experienced financial difficulties in their country of origin. In 1264 Prince Boleslav, the "Hassid from Kalish," granted the Jews of Poland their first official permit of residence. This permit formed the basis of the legal status of Polish Jewry for the next five hundred years.

The Polish Jewish community expanded and developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and absorbed Jews from Diaspora communities, which had been destroyed. Those who settled in royal cities suffered from the rivalry of the provincial cities who were supported by the Catholic church and were stripped of their assets and homes. Some cities obtained privileges which prohibited the settling of Jews within their walls, while other cities limited the number of professions in which Jews could work. Jews who suffered from the animosity between the royal and the provincial cities turned to other cities, which were privately owned by nobles. Others leased estates belonging to nobles in various areas of Poland and Lithuania and contributed greatly to their development and prosperity.

The Jews who settled in Poland's cities and towns clustered around "the Jewish Street" which constituted a sort of Jewish neighborhood. They mostly lived in wooden houses, and in the center of the neighborhood they built a synagogue which was also usually made of wood but occasionally constructed like a fortress near to, or outside the city walls, and which served as a shelter in times of need.

The everyday spoken language was Yiddish, brought from Ashkenaz (Germany) mixed with Hebrew. Hebrew, as the holy language, was used in prayer, and remained the written language of scholars and of the community leaders for the compilation of rules and regulations. The communities were headed by elected leaders and businessmen who held various positions of importance and who were responsible for religion, education, health, and social services.

Community expenses and national taxes were financed by direct and indirect local taxation, which was estimated according to the value of each member's assets and income.

The Jewish community in Poland also dedicated much of its time to Torah studies. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Poland became the most important cultural and spiritual center of world Jewry.

In 1648, during the time around the Chmelnizky uprising, also known as the 1648-49 riots, thousands of Jews were murdered by the Cossaks in a terrible bloodbath, accompanied by looting and thieving, which brought an end to many Jewish communities in eastern Poland, while in the west of the country many Jews were killed in the wars between Poland and foreign armies who invaded her territory.

The events of the time, together with the collapse of the Messianic movement led by Shabtai Zvi, caused further deterioration in the state of Polish Jewry. In the south of Poland, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Hassidic movement arose under the leadership of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (the Basht). Hassidism filled a void left by the Shabtai movement, and consequently many traditional leaders were suspicious of the new movement. Vilna was the center of "the opposition" led by the Gaon Rabbi Elyahu.

The anarchy that overtook Poland in the eighteenth century, its economic ramifications, and the internal strife, made the country easy prey to its neighbors, who divided up Poland's territory between themselves towards the end of the century (1772-95), and Poland ceased to exist as an independent entity. The Jews of Poland found themselves largely living in an area ruled by the Hapsburg Empire and Russia, which remained in control of Poland until the end of the First World War in the fall of 1918.

Historical data shows that the first Jews settled in the district of Bialystok in 1487 at Bielsk. In the sixteenth century Jewish presence expanded to Tikozin, Surash, Bialystok and Knishin. The first large wave of Jews reached the areas of Bialystok and Podlesia in the seventeenth century with communities in Orla, Yeshinovka and Goniands. In the second half of the eighteenth century most of the Jews of the area were centered in Tikozin (Tiktin) and Bialystok, and about another fifty per cent in the surrounding towns and villages.

The first Jews to arrive in the district of Bialystok came from Lithuania and they were followed by refugees from the Chemlnizky uprising and survivors of the 1648-49 riots in the east. The third wave of Jews came from the west with the Germans during and after the period of Prussian rule (1802).

The most popular occupation among Jews in those regions included handicrafts, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, butchers, furriers, commerce, and hostelry. Only at a later stage, in the nineteenth century, Polish Jews began to develop industry and the communities of Bialystok and the outlying region became leaders in weaving and textiles. In the twentieth century, in 1921, there were 1,654 Jewish workshops and factories including the five largest, which belonged to Sokol-Zilberfenig, S. Cytron, A.D. Shapira, B. Pollak, and Y. Marcus.

However, man does not live by bread alone... Together with the rapid development in industry and the economy, the Jews cultivated a cultural and religious way of life. In addition to the large selection of schools, there were, in Bialystok, institutes of Talmudic studies and yeshivas. In 1833, Eliezer Halbershtam, a Jew of German origin, arrived in Bialystok, bringing with him the educational movement "Haskala" which proceeded Zionism, and, after a bitter war between the educational circles and the orthodox-religious, took on a position of respect in the city's cultural life and thence influenced the cities and towns around it. The educational movement encouraged the publication of "secular" books as well as the establishment of libraries. An offshoot of the movement was the national movement "Hovevei Zion" (Lovers of Zion).

There is historical proof of the arrival of Jews in Suprasl in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, together with the Germans, who later established the first cloth and fabrics factories. Most of the Jews came from Lodz, Piotrekov, and from the nearby regions of Bialystok and Krinki.

In 1837 there were two hundred and twenty seven Jewish residents in Suprasl. Twenty years later the number had reached 538 out of a population of 3,091. Jews and gentiles worked side by side in the factories. Most of the commercial enterprises such as shops, workshops, bakeries and flourmills, which later arose, were owned by Jews. At the beginning of the twentieth century Shmuel Cytron bought Bucholtz's weaving factory and greatly expanded it until it employed almost one thousand workers. Other factories at the time belonged to Krinsky, Eizenstadt, Hirshorn, as well as two saw mills owned by Zvi Hazan, and Danzik Gottlib and Semiatizky.

The first synagogue was, established by N. Dolmatov in the late eighteenth century and was made of wood. After the first donation of five hundred rubles had been made by Bucholtz in 1901, a brick synagogue was built. It was a magnificent construction with a tiled roof, stained glass windows, a separate entrance for women, and a main boulevard lined with poplar trees. Nearby was a bath house, school, and a house for the rabbi and shochet.

The synagogue had a splendid altar and holy ark with richly-decorated Torah scrolls. The upper walls bore paintings of various subjects, including the twelve tribes, and special psalms. There were two furnaces paved with ceramic floor tiles, which gave heat throughout the harsh winters and attracted Talmudic scholars and classes in Mishnayot.

Although there were already over five hundred Jews in Suprasl at the end of the nineteenth century, they were only officially granted the right to settle there in 1903.

As has already been mentioned, in the early twentieth century the Bucholtz weaving factory passed into the ownership of Shmuel Cytron, who also owned an important textile factory in Bialystok. With the Cytron acquisition the influence of the Jews, who already comprised twenty per cent of the local population, grew in the town. The factories employed Jewish professionals alongside German managers, and Jewish weavers with gentile manual workers... though the Jewish presence in commerce and artisanship was particularly significant.

As for relations between the Jewish community and the majority made up of Protestants, Catholics and Germans, they were still proper, despite the anti-Semitism which existed all around and led to the pogroms in Bialystok and the outlying area in the early twentieth century.

[Page 20]

The Jewish Community between the Two World Wars[2]

At the end of the World War I, after more than a hundred years of servitude, the Polish State returned to life. The population of thirty-two million was comprised of Poles (sixty-five per cent), and of the rest the Jews made up the second largest group of three and a half million. The Jews accounted for over ten percent of the entire population and mostly lived in cities, where they sometimes comprised thirty per cent of the residents, and in towns, where they occasionally made up the majority. Polish Jewry became the largest Jewish community in Europe and the most active in the world, undergoing rapid modernization in a variety of fields.

One of the main problems with which multi-national independent Poland had to contend was the claims of minorities to recognize their right to full citizenship and national identity. The Jews of Poland were among the leaders of the struggle, supported by Jews the world over and by international public opinion. They demanded equality with other citizens of Poland as well as improvements in the internal organization of the country, and reforms in culture and education. They also asked for the recognition of Yiddish and Hebrew as national languages.

The political struggle took place both on a national and local level. Jewish representatives in the national parliament (Saim and Senate), who had been elected by Jewish voters of the various Jewish political parties fought on the national level. In addition, Jews were elected to municipal councils and safeguarded Jewish interests on a regional level. Thus both Bialystok and Suprasl had Jewish councilors - Goldshmid represented the Suprasl Jewish community.

Throughout Poland, and in the region around Bialystok in particular, a great number of Jewish parties were active between the two world wars, including Agudat Israel, General Zionists, Labour Zionists, Mizrahi, Revisionists, and the Bundists, and even the communist party which had many Jewish members. The "Jewish Street" was dominated by their youth movements. The link with Eretz Israel was strengthened by the wide variety of activities designed to realize the Zionist dream.

The Pioneer movement, which trained thousands of youths for Aliyah, is particularly worthy of mention, together with its offshoots, the religious-Zionist youth movements such as Hashomer Hadati and Bnei Akiva. On the other hand, Agudat Israel, which represented many orthodox Jews, opposed "modern" trends, secularism and Zionism. The Bund, the party of the Jewish proletariat, fought for Jewish workers' rights while denouncing Zionism as reactionary utopia.

Suprasl, and the surrounding villages, acted as a center of Zionist activity with movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Zionist Youth, Hechalutz and Hashomer Hadati. The main aim was to train groups to take their place on kibbutzim in Israel and to adjust to life in Eretz Israel. Places such as Ignatky, Novosiolky, and Chilichanka, were but a few of the sites at which training schemes took place that summer. The pace of activity increased in the 1930s and exacerbated the difficulty of obtaining "certificates" for immigration into Eretz Israel which the British allocated in small numbers. Some of the training "colonies" contained "gospodarkas" (agricultural farms) with cows, horses, goats, fowl, land and houses.

Cultural life at this time was both rich and varied. Although there was only one school in Suprasl (Tarbut), which had previously been a Heder, a wide selection of cultural activities took place in and around it and in the local Jewish community. There was also a large library, named after Y.L.Peretz, and a theater company which put on plays, such as -"The Wandering Jew", "The Last Hope", and "Amha", in which many community members participated and which took place in general at Hannuka, Purim, and on other festivals. Sports were not neglected with soccer, table tennis, and cycling enjoying popularity.

Community life in the town was well developed in the years after the First World War. The collapse of the Csarist rule in Russia, and of the German Kaiser, the socialist revolutions, the destruction which the war left in its wake, and the resurrection of independent Poland all left a significant effect on Polish Jewry, and especially on its youth. As a result of the ruin and penury which followed the First World War, as well as the loss of the Russian market to local industry, the younger generation was confronted with the question: Where to?

Although the orthodox Jews in Suprasl dominated religious and social life, the young Jews of the town, with time on their hands due to the shortage of employment opportunities, began to search for a new way of life. The Russian revolution and the Balfour Declaration awakened a strong desire for freedom in the youth. Their effect was such that they changed the social and community lives of the youth and caused them to consider emigration. Many followed relatives and friends to the United States and, after the U.S. imposed restrictions on immigration, to Australia and South America. Zionist-oriented youth left for Eretz Israel.

And thus, between World War I and the 1930s, Suprasl was witness to the establishment of cultural and organizational youth centers, which guided youth in the planning of their future. The ideological, organizational, and political struggle between the various youth movements was not only felt during elections and at the time of other public events, but was seen by the youth as a challenge to their very fate. Membership of movements such as "The Pioneer" and "Young Pioneer" constituted the realization of the Zionist ideology - Aliyah to Eretz Israel. In addition, "The Religious Hashomer", on the one hand, and "Zionist Youth", on the other hand, supported the Zionist dream, in contrast with the "Bund" and "Aguda" from the other two extremes. Party differences, as with differences of opinion between Hassidic movements, are apparently Jewish nature. How else can one explain the fact that there were many parties in the small Jewish community of Suprasl, including communists, some of whom were imprisoned for a time. Nonetheless, the majority of Jews in Suprasl supported Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. Unfortunately only a few of Suprasl's Jews left in time - most stayed on until the bitter end.

[Page 22]

Industrial and Economic Development

Marek Hirshorn[3]

The 1860s and 1870s, when Russian peasantry was emancipated from its servitude of the land, were a turning point in local industrialization. The Csarist government gave its patronage to the economic system and to the winds of industrial reform blowing from Europe. Even at the start of the nineteenth century, following the third partition of Poland and the advent of the Prussian administration in Bialystok, Germans began to immigrate to Suprasl and with their arrival the area started to become industrialized.

In 1833 Wilhelm Zachart arrived in the town with equipment, machines, as well as professional weavers and textile workers. He was followed by Bucholtz, Reich, Alt, and Onert, and in the second half of the century there were seven spinneries in Suprasl. Towards the end of the 1800s Suprasl changed from being an agricultural village to an industrial town following the passing of Suprasl's municipal laws in 1861 which gave the town the status of an independent local council authority.

At the turn of the twentieth century, with the Jews of Bialystok becoming dominant in textile industries, Jewish involvement in the industrial development of Suprasl began. The Cytron family acquired Bucholtz's weaving factory and turned it into the largest factory in the area, employing at its height between seven and thirteen hundred workers, and the Hirshorn brothers established a factory for fabrics and blankets with departments for spinning, weaving, finishing and dying. The Hirshorns specialized in the manufacture of thick artificial wool for blankets and coats. The factory was powered by its own generator, which also supplied electricity to the municipality, and employed 120 workers. Another factory was built by the Krinsky brothers who specialized in finishing and dying, and employed seventy five workers.

In Hirschberg's book on Jewish industry in the region of Bialystok, which was published in New York, the Hirshorns and Krynskis are mentioned together with the Cytron family among the founders of the local textile industry. Later, between 1912 and 1915, a timber industry was set up with saw mills (tartak) utilizing the vast local forests and river transportation. The Gottleib, Danzig, and Semiatitizky families ran a large saw mill in the north of Suprasl near the German Catholic cemetery, and the Hazan family operated an additional mill in the south, with a flour mill owned by the Fine family.

The massive pine trees which grew in the Suprasl forests supplied the sawmills with raw materials and were particularly suitable for the manufacture of ships' masts. The Suprasl river offered an efficient and cheap means of transport along which flowed rafts and tree trunks via the Visla tributary to the Baltic ports of Gadinia and Danzig. At this time Jews were employed various professions such as tailoring, baking, carpentry, shoe making, tanning, tinsmithing and blacksmithery. In commerce Jews were active in grocery stores, haberdasheries, butcher's shops, tobacconists, and milkbars.

Despite the Jewish preference for commerce and crafts, there were many who worked in factories as weavers, dyers, foremen, and "maisters".

World War II, which brought with it Russian occupation followed by Nazi destruction, curtailed the process of industrialization in Suprasl which had brought the town's population to four thousand, approximately fifteen percent of whom were Jews. Today it is possible to examine Suprasl and retrospectively evaluate the contribution of the Jews to the industrial and commercial development of the town. The Cytron factory lies mostly ruined with only a small section renovated and operating as a furniture factory. The factories of the Hirschorn and Krynski families no longer exist, and the former saw mill is now a cooperative. Most of the present residents of Suprasl commute to work in Bialystok, and others who "inherited" houses which formerly belonged to Jews renovated the houses and work in the town's tourist industry which has suffered from the economic problems which beset the entire country. The tall factory chimneys which tower up among the church spires serve as reminders of the contribution of the Jews to Suprasl's economy which was violently cut short.

[Page 24]

The Bitter End of the Cytron Family

The information for this article was kindly supplied by Ina Winberg, the daughter of Alex Cytron, who was one of the few survivors of the Cytron family. Ina was exiled to Cazahstan with her mother, grandmother, and aunt by the Russians. Only she and her aunt survived and were repatriated to Poland in 1946. Years later Ina graduated in chemistry from the Warsaw Technion and emigrated to Israel in 1958.

"Cytron" and "Suprasl" were synonymous, and it was hard to imagine the town without thinking of the factory, which supplied employment to most of the town's workforce. Samuel Cytron, who bought the factory from the Bucholtz family in 1903, was the head of a dynasty and the owner of a textile factory in Bialystok - one of the five largest of its kind at the time.

The factory in Suprasl, which mainly produced blankets and fabrics, was without doubt one of the major forces behind the development of the town, which expanded from a village to a town with a local municipal authority. The Cytron factory employed approximately one thousand workers. Samuel Cytron had four sons - Benjamin, Samion, Alex, and Haim - and three daughters - Rosa, Yoheved, and Sonya. He had only one grandson - Benjamin's son Arcadia - and three granddaughters - Benjamin's Viara, Rosa's daughter, and Alex's daughter Ina. After World War I, the factory was managed by Haim and Arcadia who had completed his textile studies at the Brussels Technion. Samuel's other three sons held managerial and marketing positions at the firm's head office at 35, Kupyezka Street, Bialystok.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Haim, Samion, Yoheved, Arcadia, and Viara, together with her husband Cuba Shapiro, all managed to escape to Vilna. However, their plans to continue to the United States were thwarted. Viara and her husband reached India and, following the war, made their way to Argentina where all trace of them disappeared. Haim, Samion, Yoheved, and Arcadia moved to Stockholm and in 1947 moved on to the United States and Canada. Two other brothers, Benjamin and Alex, did not want to escape and, after the Russian takeover and the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement, were arrested by the Russians. Their whereabouts thereafter remain unknown.

Samuel's wife Chava, "Grandma Cytron", the wives of Benjamin and Alex, and Alex's only daughter Ina, were sent by the Russians to Cazahstan. There they suffered terribly from severe cold, hunger, and inhuman conditions. Grandma Cytron died in 1942 and Ina's mother (Sofia) died in 1945. The young orphaned Ina stayed with her aunt, Benjamin's wife, and they were repatriated to Poland in 1946. Ina studied chemistry at the Warsaw Technion and wrote her thesis paper at the medical academy, which was housed in the Brenizky Palace in Bialystok. During this time she visited Suprasl and saw the Cytron factory, partly damaged and closed down.

In 1958, Ina made Aliyah to Israel. She now lives in Tel Aviv and works for the Kupat Holim. In 1971, she visited the United States and discovered that Haim Cytron was no longer alive. Haim's brother Samion died in New York in the same year; Arcadia passed away later on. As the two brothers died childless it appears that the "Cytron dynasty" has come to a sad end - an active family whose name was synonymous with the industrial development of Bialystok and Suprasl As for Suprasl, the Cytron factory was the major source of employment and the main force behind the town's development, and was the pride of the local Jewish community.

  1. Mr. Patt died November 18, 2003, Heshvan 23, 5764. He was born in Bialystok and in 1927 his parents moved to Suprasl.

    Ada Holtzman wrote about him:

    “Yaacov Patt had an exceptional personality. He immediately gave permission to post the book in JewishGen, understanding the importance of the Internet media although he belonged to another generation.

    He was a noble person, wise, modest, patient, lover of the people… Blessed be his memory and his legacy will not be forgotten.” Return

  2. The historical data was taken from "A Journey to Poland", the Nahum Goldman Diaspora Museum, from the Bialystok Book, and from research by Tomash Vishnievsky on the Jewish communities in the Bialystok region. Return
  3. The son of the late Shmuel Hirschorn, who today lives with his wife Bella and family in Melbourne, Australia. Marek Hirschorn is Federal Chairman of J.N.F. (Jewish National Fund) of Australia. Return

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