Following the entry of the Red Army, there was little change in their economic situation. Most of Suprasl's Jews were engaged in productive employment.
The rate of deportment to the heart of Russia was relatively low (two factory owners) and many refugees arrived, mostly from Lodz, none of whom remained. Suprasl's Germans, with the exception of three or four, were traded in an agreement with Russia and transferred to Germany. Meanwhile, war broke out between Russia and Germany. On June 26, 1941, the Germans entered Suprasl. Fear ran high among the town's Jews, most of whom hid behind locked doors and shutters. Four Jews hung themselves. Slowly, the Jews began to go outside. The Germans established a local Polish Council.
Corruption and elimination were not prevalent at first, and in those cases where it did occur, it was for general reasons or in the name of stamping out communists, including one Jew. Later on, an additional six Jews were killed in keeping with that rationale.
On July 29,1941, the Germans killed Jews outright for the first time. They rounded up 40 Jews, including three elderly men, a Rabbi and two others. The Germans separated the three from the group and shot them to death. The others, younger and more able were taken to Kribilan, an airfield near Bialystok. Following efforts by their families and the Bialystok "Judenrat", they were returned to their homes three days later. They were subsequently fined 600 rubles by the local council, a practice common in other places as well.
The Jews of Suprasl turned to "Shohet" Meir Patt and other prominent citizens. The fine was collected immediately and submitted to the authorities. Following this incident, Patt organized the "Judenrat", the body which represented the Jewish population and served as liaison in the confrontation with the authorities. Its activities manifested themselves in defense of basic rights, representation and cancellation of measures through various payments.
The "Judenrat" was subsequently chosen and included Gliksman as its Chairman, Patt as its Secretary and three additional members. Throughout its existence and representation of the Jews of Suprasl, the committee's activities were fair and honest in comparison with similar representative bodies in other places. Committee Chairman Gliksman was the right man in the right place. He was intelligent, took initiatives, knew languages and commanded respect.
Negotiations were conducted with various organizations, from the local council to the SS and the police, requiring a wide range of talent and generally concluding with the spreading around of funds. Gliksman was not a long-term resident of Suprasl, however he shrewdly established a wide range of connections, and even the authorities visited his home. Upon stepping down from the post of Chairman of the "Judenrat", he returned to his job as an engineer and foreman in the painting division at the Cytron factory.
For the time being, life in Suprasl went on and materialistically things weren't bad. There was no ghetto and ties with the Christian population continued, but not in the open. All men aged 16-60 had to do the dirty work in the factories, carpentry shops, and forests. Work measures were also enacted on the women. In January 1942, the "Kirchof" edict, well-known in Bialystok and the surrounding area, was enacted.
The "Amts Commissar" demanded 21 workers for the Kirchof project, which involved the paving of roads, oppression and beatings. Kirchof was known to be a forced labour camp. The Kirchof Edict affected many towns in the region, however the quota for Suprasl's Jews was reduced to five men on a rotating basis following Gliksman's negotiating efforts and the greasing of a few palms. Sleeping accommodations were reasonable (on local farms) as was the food, in comparison to other places.
The relatively tolerable life continued until November 1, 1942, when the active extermination of the Jews began in the province of Bialystok. In Suprasl, people reacted with disbelief and even scorn. Even those who took the rumours seriously were convinced that it could only happen in Suprasl after the destruction of the Bialystok ghetto and not before than.
News of the imminent evacuation of the Jews of Suprasl on November 2, 1942 was brought by a messenger, the chief mechanic in a shoe factory on 9 Kupietzka Street with relatives in Suprasl, sent by Birger. The messenger went to Bialystok and the Jews of Suprasl went to bed as usual, not overly concerned. Only when the messenger returned to Birger's house in Suprasl at 5:00 in the morning did they begin to take things seriously, hurrying to pound on doors and shutters and sound the alarm. All of the town's Jews woke up, prepared packages, and entire families headed for the forest. Of 450 Jews, 270 escaped to the forest that morning. In the morning, it became clear that the evacuation was to take place. It was decreed that all Jews were to report to the marketplace between 7:00-9:00 a.m. Meanwhile, tens of wagons were commandeered from local farmers to transport the Jews toward Bialystok. 180 Jews reported in accordance with the order and were loaded onto the wagons, guarded by German or Polish policeman.
I, my father and my mother and my two sisters, decided to escape to the forest and not to report for evacuation.
My father was manager of the Turpentine Incinerator (Maydan) on the outskirts of Suprasl. The incinerator belonged to a German from Tshernovish. In addition to my father, the guard and the fire tender were also Jews who lived in a small house adjacent to the incinerator. In the middle of the night we departed with other relatives and neighbours, a total of 18 persons, and headed for the Maydan. Upon arrival, my father opened the warm building and we went inside. We had taken with us enough food for a day or two, and planned to weather out the storm.
Naturally, we wanted to know what was happening in Suprasl and so we split into three groups. I took the largest group with me to the depths of the forest. My mother and my little sister remained at Maydan, and my father and my other sister went with others to find out what had become of the Jews of Suprasl. We decided that my father's group would meet us in the forest later and we would decide what to do next.
We waited for them impatiently in the forest until sunrise, but they didn't come. I decided to return to Maydan to find out what happened. With a pounding heart and a bad feeling I reached Maydan. Everything was deathly still, and the silence increased my fears. I entered the fire tender's house and no one was there, not my mother nor my sister. I called out their names and was heard by some peasants who had come to work. They told me the following story: Two SS men from Tshernovish had arrived at 6:00 a.m. to take the Jewish fire tender, who was from Tshernovish himself. When they entered the house they found my mother and my sister. Soon thereafter my father arrived with the group from Suprasl. Some of the farmers tried to signal him not to enter the house, but he did not pay attention to them knowing his wife and daughter were inside. A few minutes later, the entire group came outside and was escorted by the Germans to an unknown destination. After my father realized the severity of the situation and understood that he had led the group into a trap, he signaled to my older sister to escape to the forest. She took advantage of a moment when the Germans were not looking and ran away. The farmers told me that she ran off in the direction of the village of Studianek on the way to the town of Vashilkov. At that moment I comprehended that I had lost both my parents and my sister, and many other friends who had gathered together to escape to the forest. My only hope was for my sister and I decided to do everything possible to locate her. I went to Studianek and entered the house of a farmer who had been close to our family. His wife was surprised to see me and crossed herself in fear. Oh g-d! You are still here? She exclaimed. She put a bowl of hot soup on the table and I began to ask her about my sister. Yes, your sister was here yesterday and left in the direction of Vashilkov, she said. I suggest that you don't go there today because there too they are gathering up the Jews and the roads are swarming with policeman and German gendarmes. I left her and entered other houses. My father knew many of Studianek's farmers and had done much for them. In each house I felt the same reaction. Quite, apologetic, willing to give you some food for the road, but don't stay because it is too dangerous for us all... Others added, you know, we wouldn't mind if you stayed on a bit, but the neighbours... and the threats of the Germans... I decided to return to the forest where my group was waiting impatiently.
Meanwhile, the group in the forest had increased to 22 persons. Three days had passed and the food had run out. The cold began to sink into our bones and our fears for the future increased. We shared all that we had, clothing, food and paid special attention to the women and children among us. In order to obtain food and news, we decided to send 6 men into Suprasl, myself included. We entered the town in the evening so as to avoid discovery. From conversations with friendly Poles, it became clear that the Jews of Suprasl and nearby towns had been transported to the camp of the 10th Brigade in Bialystok. Nothing more was known of their fate. They also told us that many Jews have been coming out of their hiding places, including the forest, and turning themselves in to the Germans, who were not punishing them but merely sending them to the 10th Brigade. Some of the Poles suggested we do the same, other suggested we wait.
We decided to continue to hide for the time being, and having gathered food, even including provisions we had stolen from the homes of Jews which had been left open, we returned to the group in the forest. The food lasted until the end of the week, and with the increasing cold, the hunger became increasingly difficult, especially for those families with children. Meanwhile, there were increasing reports of Jews in other parts of the forest who had returned to town and turned themselves in to the German gendarmes. The doubts among our group began to grow. In the end we will either freeze to death or die of hunger! Complained the mothers of young children. Let's go to the camp in Bialystok. At least we won't die of cold and hunger. Serious disputes broke out between those who were in favor of going back and those who wished to remain in the forest, the majority of whom were young and without families. In the end, we had to accept the departure of families and the parting scenes were very emotional. For me, it was particularly hard to see my young friend Patt, strong, healthy and full of life, leave for the camp with his family.
Eight men remained. Our hearts were bitter and we were lonely. Yet we felt a sense of relief that the families with young children were no longer our burden. We hoped to meet up with a group of partisans and fight with them against the Germans. Meanwhile, the winter grew harsher and we decided to build a "Zamlianka" an underground cave. At night we went to one of the farmers and claimed that we needed to bury a dead child, thus obtaining the needed tools. We constructed an underground dwelling two meters deep within 8 hours. We later managed to build a heater, which although it smoked a bit, was tolerable.
At night, we returned to Suprasl to gather food. We were able to obtain a good amount, which lasted for two more days, during which time the first snows fell. We were confronted with a new problem. In order to obtain food, we had to walk outside, and the tracks in the snow would divulge our whereabouts, and we didn't even have any arms with which to defend ourselves.
We reached the conclusion that we could not go on this way. One possibility was to search for a group of partisans in the direction of Bialoviesh. However, we had no idea where to look and the forest was vast and dense. The only way to obtain any information on the situation was to go to Bialystok. And so we decided to go to Bialystok. Several hours later we were there, and entered the ghetto via the first Kominat fence, 22 days after the commencement of the elimination of Jews in the province of Bialystok.
May we have the strength to succeed and fulfill our plans for the future.
After the mass expulsion of the Jews of Warsaw to Treblinka between July and September 1942, many Jews used to chant a tragic tune:
TreblinkaYes, indeed, in Treblinka three hundred and twenty thousand Jews from Warsaw perished, and five hundred and thirty thousand more Jews from other parts of Poland, and from other countries also met their deaths. The Treblinka death camp was built in July 1942. Here there was no process of selection in which some were killed immediately while others worked for a while.
A graveyard for all the Jews
Whoever comes stays
Here is the end
Here, as part of the "final solution" all were sentenced to the gas chambers. At first the Germans tried various means to trick the expelled Jews into believing that they were entering a labor camp. There were several signs at the camp entrance and elsewhere giving the impression that Treblinka was only a transit camp, but the camp's true identity was soon revealed. News of what was happening in Treblinka came to light in August 1942 when Jews who had escaped from the concentration camp reached Warsaw and told of its horrors. The Jewish underground printed bulletins, which were stuck to houses in the ghetto calling Jews not to go to Treblinka as no work awaited them there, only death, not as the Germans announced.
There is no doubt that the Jews followed the underground's advice. Although the Germans' "Coarseness" was well known, it was inconceivable that they were killing hundreds of thousands in their gas chambers.
In the martyr literature much is written about Treblinka and its terrible conditions. However, it seems that the uprising in the death camp has not been adequately described. Whoever discusses the topic must be knowledgeable about the special conditions, which existed in the death camp, which left no hope at all for the rebels, most of whom were Jews.
In summer 1943 the mass transportation of Jews temporarily ceased, either due to the fact that the Jewish communities of Poland, had being directed to Auschwitz. The Jews who remained to perform various services did not delude themselves that the Germans would leave them alone, and knew that their time would come sooner or later. The preparations for the uprising were, of course, made in the utmost secrecy and the sign to put the plans into operation was given on August 2nd 1943. The rebels succeeded in killing S.S. guards and Ukrainian policemen and breached the barbed wire fences, reaching the forest, which were located many kilometers away. Out of the eight hundred and fifty inmates about one hundred managed to escape. Some fell on the way or were killed by anti-Semitic partisans - and there were not a few of them - but others survived to this very day.
After the uprising, the Germans began to destroy Treblinka. The camp operated for just over one year, about four hundred days, and its terrible "yield" reached eight hundred thousand victims - about two thousand a day. If the Allies had dropped one small bomb on this murder factory, after its existence had become known, it is reasonable to assume that the "industry" would have ceased. But, to our great misfortune, nothing was done. The uprising of August 2nd 1943 forced the murderers to destroy the camp.
Today the site of Treblinka is strewn with thousands of sharp-edged stones of different types, which comprise disorganized monuments, which scream out for revenge. A small portion of the stones are engraved with the names of cities while the rest cry out in their nakedness. The Poles operate the site and many people of all creeds make pilgrimages to it. Documents show that Treblinka was the place in which Hitler planned to carry out his final solution to the "Jewish problem". Although he succeeded in destroying six million Jews he and his philosophy have vanished from the face of the earth together with his murdering accomplices. But the People of Israel live on! And the State of Israel has risen and gathers to it its sons and daughters.
* The document carries the official stamp of Marsik-Tamarof (M.T) Archive no.137. The original was transferred to Bronia Vinitzka, now Klibanska.
The document was found among the Bialystok Ghetto papers which were hidden in 2 crates underground and were discovered after the holocaust. Return
|22.6.1941||Germany attacks East Poland and Russia.|
|22.6.1941||The Germans enter Bialystok and Suprasl.|
|29.7.1941||The Synagogue is destroyed by fire and explosion.
Rabbi Shlomo Avigdor Rabinovitz and five other prominent citizens are murdered.
|25.9.1941||The establishment of the "Yudenrat", initially under the leadership of Meir Patt and then Engineer Gliksman. Other members include Saul Goldshmid, Joseph Goldshmid, and a physician from Warsaw who resided in Suprasl.|
|5.1.1942||"Operation Kirchof" begins with forced labour.|
|1.11.1942||The annihilation of all the Jews from the Bialystok region begins.
Two-thirds of Suprasl's Jews (300) defy the German order and escape with their families to the forest.
|2.11.1942||One-third of Suprasl's Jews (150), those who did not escape, were taken to the 10th army camp in Bialystok.|
|11.1942||The majority of the Jews who had been held in most terrible conditions (as well as others who left the forest because of hunger and cold) were loaded on trains and taken to Treblinka where they were executed in the gas chambers. The only exceptions were a few who managed to sneak into the Bialystok Ghetto or jumped out of the trains.|
|1.3.1943||First group of ghetto fighters leaves Bialystok for Suprasl forest, where they join the nucleus of the partisans.|
|16.8.1943||Outbreak of Bialystok Ghetto Rebellion under the leadership of Mordechai Tenenbaum.|
|20.4.1944||Arrival of the first Russian partisans in Suprasl forest.|
|24.7.1944||Liberation of Suprasl by the third division of the Red Army.|
If Vilna was once nicknamed "the Jerusalem of Lithuania", then Bialystok during its golden days of Jewry and Zionism was worthy of the name "the Jerusalem of Poland". Bialystok had many reasons to call itself thus: it was the city of Rabbi Mohliver, the founder of "the Lovers of Zion", and the home of "Habima" Nahum Zemah, the Hebrew high school Tarbut was located there as was an entire network of primary and high schools, yeshivas, cultural and charity organizations, rabbis, Torah scholars, writers and extensive community activities which included all parties and movements from the "Bund", Workers of Zion, Hashomer Hatza'ir, the Pioneer, Young Zionists, Hamizrahi, Hashomer Hadati, and Aguda. Moreover, Bialystok had the highest number of Hebrew speakers among all of Poland's cities in the 1930s.
Bialystok was also the inspiration for the Jewish community of Suprasl. Bialystok greatly influenced scores of other towns in the region and their youth attended high and vocational schools there. Suprasl was particularly attached to the great city of Bialystok and the distance between them (sixteen kilometers) was similar to the distance between a modern city and its suburbs. While throughout the year Suprasl looked to Bialystok for inspiration the situation was reversed in the summer when hundreds of families left the city to spend their vacation in the pleasant holiday resort of Suprasl, enjoying the air, scenery, forest and river. This internal tourism, championed largely by the Jews, was an important factor in the prosperity of the town of Suprasl.
Slosartzik, who served as Suprasl's mayor from 1930 to 1939, exploited the town's tourist industry well and invested in the development of the beach on the banks of the river and constructed a pavilion at the town's edge as an entertainment center for the summer months.
Jewish Bialystok no longer exists and only a few signs scattered here and there testify to the fact that there was once a central synagogue which was burned down by the Nazis, with two thousand Jews inside. Another sign bearing the name of Malmed, a hero of the ghetto uprising, stands at number twenty nine (formerly) Kupyezka Street, and a signpost by the old Hebrew high school and several more in the neglected Jewish cemetery are the only remains of the once flourishing local Jewish community of sixty thousand which no longer exists.
Suprasl is situated between Bialystok and Krinki - sixteen kilometers from the former and twenty-nine kilometers from the latter. Today the main road to Krinki passes Suprasl forest, via the river, through part of the Suprasl forest, via the village of Sokolka to Krinki. The road ends at Krinki, as five kilometers further east, after the local factories and tanneries, lies the border with Russia. Until 1939 the main route to Krinki went via Sokolka which could be reached by bus a trip of 60 kms from Bialystok, thence to Grodno (which today lies on Russian soil), and from there a further 30 kms on the internal road to Krinki. Those who wanted to use a shortcut in those days made the trip by horse-drawn carriage through the forest with stops. The trip took all day. Today the journey can be made by car, on a road built in the 1970's in 20 minutes.
The Jewish community in Krinki was six times larger (approximately 3000) than that of Suprasl. There was a strong connection between the Jewish communities in the two towns, mainly based on family ties. The first Jewish settlers in Suprasl arrived in the eighteenth century from Krinki and Bialystok. Jewish girls from Suprasl were much in demand in Krinki, as Suprasl was considered a clean town due to the influence of the large number of Germans there. However, when it came to match-making, the direction was reversed as Krinki was a wealthier town, and its fifteen tanneries not only produced pollution but brought large amounts of money to their mostly Jewish owners. The families included the Kaplans, Weiners, Lipskis, Patts and others from Suprasl who had ties with the Finks, Formans, Yellins, Pruzanskis and others from Krinki.
In 1943-44 groups of partisans were established in the forests of Suprasl which included fighters and survivors of the Bialystok and Krinki ghettos as well as a group which escaped from Suprasl to the forest at the end of 1942.
The group were named "Maksim" and "Kadima" (Farois - Period). The Maksim group, led by Moshe "Slapak" from Krinki, was established in December 1942, and was based at Lipovi-Most, about 15 kms east of Krinki. During its short existence the group, in complete isolation, conducted several daring campaigns; attacking a number of police stations in the region and destroyed several German positions, seizing arms in the process.
At the end of January 1943 the Maksim group was attacked by a company of German soldiers who, despite their superiority in numbers and arms were forced to retreat carrying 6 dead and a similar number of wounded. "Maksim" also suffered casualties, including Slapak who was badly wounded and avoided becoming a liability to the group or falling into German hands by shooting himself in the head.
The "Kadima" group was established in the Suprasl forest, in summer 1943, from where a unit from Suprasl operated from November 1942 - including young men from Suprasl who had escaped together with three-quarters of the Jewish population to forest on 1.11.42 and stayed on despite the terrible plight of the families who eventually left forest after 2 weeks and were sent to Treblinka with all the Jews of the nearby towns.
The Suprasl group who persisted in the forest included Daidush Fine, Meir Sear, Hershel Gershuni, Haim Gamzu, Isaac Sikora and Shlomo Ottenstein. In summer 1943 youth and fighters from the Bialystok ghetto arrived at the Suprasl forest, and under the command of Shasha Sohashevsky's, the Jewish brigade of "Kadima" was established. Sohashevsky's second-in-command was Rivka Schinder-Viskovska from Krinki who was one of the leaders of the Bialystok ghetto uprising.
In skirmishes with the German army, the regiment suffered heavy losses including the death of Sohashevsky and the wounding of Schinder-Viskovska. Despite the casualties, Kadima mounted important attacks on the German rearguard, including the blowing up of the electricity power station at Krinki led by Avraham Kruchevsky, a native of Krinki.
A significant group of Krinki refugees survived after they were sent to Siberia when the Russians entered Poland in 1939-40 and were set free in 1945-46. Some emigrated to Israel and other made their way to Melbourne, Australia - including the Finks, Libermans, Garkawes, Pruzanskys and Lipkies - who today hold key positions in the local economic life and are active in fundraising for Israel.
Who is Tomash Wishniewsky?
Tomash Wishniewsky was born in 1958 and resides with his family in the Bialystok region. Although he has completed studies in Polish language delineation at the University of Warsaw, he chose to pursue advanced studies in history. He recently submitted his doctoral dissertation on British Missionary activities (Barbican Missions) whereby the Protestant church sent former proselytes into Jewish communities, with their activities centralized in Bialystok (in the years immediately following World War I).
Since 1979-1980, Tomash has been working at the "Scientific Company" in Bialystok, publishing their quarterly journal. He is a member of the Solidarite Party, and has served time in prison.
Why the interest in the Jewish Community?
Having been born after the war, he was not acquainted with the Jews of the Bialystok region, however he heard a great deal about them and their extermination, and his curiosity was aroused.
Initially, he began to read the classic Jewish literature - Shalom Aleichem, Peretz, Singer, and others. For the past ten years, he has meticulously collected vast quantities of material on the region's Jewish community, an effort which prompted him to write his book.
It has been six years since he began to document the Jewish cemeteries in the region, in cooperation with the "Regional Authority for the Preservation of Historical Sites." He has also conducted an active struggle, through the local press, against local authorities' violations of laws regarding the preservation of cemeteries. More than once he has encountered hostility from his countrymen because of his activities.
His documentation of the cemeteries has been quite thorough - including mapping of sections, plots and gravestones. Photographs have been taken of each gravestone and they have been deciphered, a task which required him to learn enough Hebrew to enable him decipher the name and year of burial. The regional preservation society is making efforts to thoroughly document all of the area's cemeteries and preserve their remains.
Tomash has published 100 lists and articles on the subject of the Jewish community in Bialystok, the cemeteries, and the Holocaust, including a book about Dr. Zamenhof and his activities (formerly a native of Bialystok), and a history of photography in Bialystok (with few exceptions all of the photographers were Jewish!)
During his visit to Israel in 1990, Tomash took steps toward the publication of his book on the history of the Jewish communities of Bialystok in Hebrew.
What motivates this young Pole to invest so much time and energy to such a Jewish subject remains a mystery to us, nonetheless his efforts are greatly appreciated.
The rendez-vous took place on July 12th 1989 with the intention of hiring a car and driving to Bialystok, Krinki and Suprasl - our childhood haunts - and paying a visit to Tikozin (Tiktin) and Treblinka. This was my first visit there for fifty years, when I took my leave on March 12th, 1939 from all my family and friends, and after which I never saw them again. The visit was an extremely emotional experience for all three of us.
Before we arrived in Bialystok we met up with Tomash Vishnevsky, the young Pole who took it upon himself to research the history of the Jewish communities in the region of Bialystok. I had been in contact with him during the months prior to the visit and the informative material on the region with which he supplied me contributed greatly to this book. We met Vishnevsky by the town clock, which was a landmark of Jewish Bialystok, and in place of the small Jewish stores which had once clustered around the clock there are now municipal offices and the city museum.
Bialystok, post-Holocaust, without its Jews (except for the seven who remained) is a different city. The war ravaged Bialystok three or four times and left much of it in ruins. The city was rebuilt with tall buildings and new roads and except for the old center which includes Sankevitscha, Lipova, and Rinek-Kostushky Streets in which some of the houses have been restored, it is hard to recognize the city and the Jewish streets who, in 1939, comprised over half the local population.
The Jewish ghetto, with Kupietzka Street in its center, was destroyed and burned down except for one wooden house, number twenty-nine, which survived as a museum piece. The new houses on Kupietzka Street are bigger and different from their predecessors, though the old architectural style of large yards at the backs of the houses has been preserved. Today the street is named after the courageous Jewish fighter Isaac Maimed who blinded an S.S. officer by pouring acid in his face and in the ensuing commotion another German was killed. Isaac Malmed sacrified his life to stop the wholesale reprisal murder of Jews by Germans and was hung in the very same street. In addition to the street sign Malmed's name appears on the wall of one of the street's houses.
Whilst roaming through the former Jewish streets, which once throbbed with Yiddish and Hebrew culture, I came across a narrow alleyway called Biala Street by the shallow Biala River, which flows through the city, by the bridge on the Sankevitsha Street. It was in this street, on the bank of the river, that I was born and my family lived here until 1927 when we moved to Suprasl. The small, old house still stood there, and next to it a three-story building had been constructed. The large house with round marble pillars, however, which once stood on the corner of Sankevitsha and Rinek-Koshtzuske Streets no longer exists. It was here that my grandparents, Eli and Esther Patt, lived and there was a men's clothing store on the ground floor with the living quarters upstairs. The building was my home from 1934 throughout my studies at the Tahkemoni High School in Shlachecka Street. In its place a new building now stands.
Today Bialystok is a sad city, not only for us Jews, but also for the Polish population.
Krinki, on the other hand, contracts starkly with the countryside - it is gray and drab. The town without its Jews, who breathed life into local commerce and industry, today resembles an oversized village. Out of the twenty renowned tanneries which belonged to Jews and whose leather products found their way not only throughout Poland but also to other European countries, including Russia and Germany, only one tannery remains, operating as a cooperative, along with a number of workshops. The marketplace which once buzzed with life no longer exists. The square, which was the heart of the entire quarter, had become a neglected park, which deceives the eye of the visitor seeking the old marketplace. When we found what was once Gerbraska Street (the street of the tanneries) we parked the car and went off for a walking tour. The locals looked at us and at the unusual sight of the large Mercedes car from their windows and yards and soon a number of them gathered round to chat with us.
Aryeh Fink walked towards house number eleven which had been rebuilt on the site of his late parents' house, Gershon and Zlatke Fink, where his older sister Sonya, who perished in the Holocaust, was born. His brother Yaacov, who lives in Israel, and Aryeh himself - were also born there. When they saw us examining the house and neighborhood, the local inhabitants invited us in and the head of the house said that he remembered the Finks who were one of the leading families in the town's tanning industry. We enjoyed a modest but pleasant reception and a souvenir photograph was taken. The house at number seven, in which my maternal grandmother Maya Fink had lived, and where I lived while I attended the "Heder", and on my occasional visits, no longer exists.
Opposite the two-story house in which my mother's sister's family lived - Rachel and Baruch Tobolsky and their children Fanya and Leibel - still stands. The entire Tobolsky family died in the Holocaust. Later we saw the foundation stone of the Great Synagogue, which remained, and the Caucasian Synagogue, which has survived in its entirety and serves as a cinema. "Yenta's Synagogue" also survived and stands on its original site, locked. Throughout our tour through the town's streets with Tomash Vishnievsky some locals approached us and talked to us while others drew their curtains and blinds and avoided us. Maybe they are afraid that the survivors of the Jewish families will return to reclaim their property.
We continued from Gerbraska Street to the "Paulinka" district, which consists of a residential area, which still becomes a mud field after a rainfall, and in its eastern part, is populated by ruined factories. Leon Lipkies, who speaks good Polish, looked for a gentile who was a friend of Tevel Pruzansky who was born in Krinki and today lives in Melbourne, Australia. Leon had brought with him a gift for this person from Tevel but failed to find him. We carried on from there to the area of the tanneries, which stood ruined. The moist pungent smell of leather, which had been so characteristic of Krinki in the past, no longer filled the air and this was testimony to the disappearance of the tanning industry together with the Jews. We also found the forsaken ruins of the Fink family tannery, but nothing else.
Before we left the industrial area "Tevel's gentile" came running towards us with a strong smell of vodka issuing from his mouth. He embraced Leon and Aryeh and insisted that we come to him for supper. Leon apologized and gave him the present (a hundred "greenbanks") which was the equivalent of six average monthly salaries in Poland... and from there we returned to the marketplace to search for the Lipkies residence. After walking around the area several times Leon identified the street and the house, but for some reason the upper story had been removed. The present occupants were relatively young and knew nothing about the war... Our last stop was the cemetery to which Tomash Vishnievsky brought us. The place was overgrown, unfenced and neglected. The ground was strewn with the manure of the cows, goats and sheep, which grazed there. The remaining tombstones are all of simple with the legends worn away. The marble tombstones must have been taken away for private use.
In early 1937 Leon's mother, Leah Lipkies (nee Fink), who was my mother's sister died after an operation. She was buried in this cemetery and her tombstone was a hewn tree trunk fashioned from marble, which symbolized her early death, at the age of thirty-three. After a long search we found the stone lying on its side on the ground. There were indentations on it where the letters had been engraved but had been eaten away by the weather. Leon recited "Kadish" over his mother's ruined tombstone and we left under a cloud of depression.
I remembered my late father who, according to his letter from 1940, had been appointed by the Russians authorities to manage the old age home. From there we continued on to what had once been a marketplace and now operated as the central bus station.
The splendorous Bucholtz Palace still stands near the square although it is no longer surrounded by the stone wall separated it from the townsfolk. The palace today houses an institute for plastic arts. May 1st Street (formerly May 3rd Street) which leads from the square to the Catholic church, has not changed much and is still paved with hewn stones, just like the streets in Bialystok. The Jewish houses in the street remain but have been considerably renovated; including the elongated buildings in which lived the Vinograd, Kornansky, Gershuny, and Shotlender families. The late Rabbi Michal Lev's house also survived. Vishnievsky reminded us that the house next to Rabbi Lev's once lived the uncle of Yitzhak Shamir (Yazernizky) - the present prime minister of Israel - whose children emigrated to Canada... and higher up the street, in the direction of the Catholic church, lived the Goldshmid, Shturmak, Gershuny, Sear, Glazer, Butensky, Sikura and Shpinner families and others. There are no other remnants of the Jewish residents of the street and those who remember the Jews are becoming fewer in number.
The "Posterunkova" alleyway, via which Jews walked to the synagogue, has been widened to a one-way street... The Fine family house still stands but the home of Meiram Segal the tailor Isbeen destroyed. The new, impressive tower near the alley belongs to the fire station.
A big shock was in store for me when I reached Varinskego Street, formerly Eleventh of Listopad, the Jewish high street, which had changed out of all recognition. Nothing remains of the beautiful Great Synagogue, the old school, the bathhouse, or of the homes of the rabbi and shochet. Except for a few old houses the street is occupied by double-story villas and large households. Apparently the street was designated as part of a "build your own home" area. The large households are located on land, which once belonged to the synagogue and my family's yard. The houses are locked and fenced off with guard dogs preventing any trespassing.
When I stopped a local inhabitant, who was coming out of one the houses, and asked him if he recalled the Jewish "Synagogua" here, he replied that he'd arrived in the area only twenty years earlier and, at the time, there was no "Synagogua" or Jews.
The last historical remnant was the well and water pump situated opposite Posterunkova Alley. Although the water pump ("pompa") had been replaced by a modern water system in all the houses, the well with a wheel and handle for lowering the buckets still exists and looks like a museum exhibit. If the well could speak it could tell the story of the decline and demise of Suprasl's Jewry, but it keeps its silence and there is no one to reveal a few drops of the terrible events that passed over the Jews and which began fifty years ago.
Another trip through Chilichnaska Street and Novi-Shviat Streets revealed that the town is developing into a tourist center for the Bialystok region with apartments to let, the forest, clean air for asthmatics, and scenic walks through the area. Wherever there is progress the signs of the past disappear, and here, first and foremost, all trace of the Jews was vanishing. I asked Tomash Vishnievsky if it was possible to ask the local authorities to set up a monument on the site of the synagogue testifying to the existence of the Jewish community in Suprasl which contributed so much to the town's industrial and commercial development until it was destroyed by the Nazis in November 1942. We tried talking to a municipal employee but the offices were already shut. Vishnievsky believes that it is possible to obtain permission to build the monument and has undertaken to bring the matter to the attention of the local authorities.
On our way back to Bialystok we stopped by the sawmill (tartak) which had belonged to the Gottlieb, Danzig and Semiatitzky families. Here too was great neglect, but the office clerk confirmed the existence of the modern co-operative. A few hundred meters past the sawmill Vishnievsky pointed at the spot where, according to the local authorities, Rabbi Shlomo Avigdor Rabinowitz had been murdered and where another ten Jews were buried in a communal grave. We stopped to have a look but there was nothing to indicate the passing of the events, which had occurred there. The spot was close to the forest and was full of wild flowers and brambles with red flowers peeping out between them. As I stood there I recalled the verse from the story of Cain in Genesis:
"The voice of your brother's blood cries out to you from the earth..."
I remember that my father had two brothers. Shlomo, the father of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, was murdered by a Ukrainian seeking shelter from the Nazis. Yankel, whose son Harold (Gdalie) lives in Miami Beach, Florida, died in the Holocaust as did the remainder of the Yazernicki family in Eastern Poland.
Before World War I, my mother's brother Morris (Moses Spinner), left Suprasl and went to Montreal, Canada. He, in turn, brought over their sister Rebecca (Rivka Spinner), and moved on to Sydney, Nova Scotia.
After my mother died in 1919, my Aunt Becky and Uncle Morris sent for my sister Fannie (Fagele); my brother Mendle arrived in Canada in 1926. In the early 1930s my father remarried and moved to Bialystok. He perished in the Bialystok Ghetto together with his second wife and a young son.
2. A Long Journey from Suprasl, Poland, to Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
I left Suprasl in 1928, at the age of 14. I remember travelling to Gdansk, where I boarded the "Baltera," a boat which took me to Liverpool, England. I then transferred to the "Empress of France" for the trip to Quebec City. Once in Canada, I took a train to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where my Aunt Becky (Rebecca) met me. All this travelling on my own - quite a feat for a boy of 14. I had no knowledge of the English language, except for two words - "can't speak." Since my Aunt Becky had left Poland many years earlier, I did not remember her. I was quite shy and unsure of myself with this "stranger," however, my aunt, a loving, kind and motherly woman, soon put me at ease, and I was welcomed into a loving home. Several weeks after my arrival in Sydney, I was enrolled in an elementary school. I found it very difficult to fit into a classroom of 6-year-olds, and after about two weeks I left school and began to work. I found a job with a wholesale food and vegetable distributor, where I worked indoors, and also worked as a truck driver's helper. I earned $6.00 a week, and paid $5.00 a week for room and board. With the remaining 1.00 I went to the movies - they were silent, with English sub-titles, and in this way I learned to read and speak English.
As soon as I knew a little English, I began to peddle in the country. I travelled on foot, carrying a pack on my back containing an assortment of clothing to sell to the people in rural areas. The following year, I bought a horse and wagon - this was much easier than carrying the pack. I never made any money, as I spent two dollars for each dollar that I earned. In the wintertime I worked in two men's wear stores, and this, together with the peddling endeavors, initiated my knowledge into the men's wear business.
In 1930, my brother, Mendle, opened a men's wear store in Sydney Mines, a small coal mining town a few miles from Sydney. In 1934, he took me into the business as a partner, and for this I shall always be grateful. The store was known as Yazer Brothers Limited, and still bears this name, even though the business has changed hands. The store became the most popular business on Cape Breton Island, along with another that was opened in Sydney in 1946.I was in charge of the Sydney store.
A few years later we became involved in the real estate business in Sydney on a small-scale basis, with a fair degree of success.
In 1976, we sold the two stores and I became more involved in community work.
3. A Return to Suprasl
When I heard about the United Israel Appeal Mission that would travel to Poland for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and then on to Israel for Israel Independence Day, my wife Zelda and I decided that we would go. I especially wanted to visit my hometown, Suprasl, which I had left 62 years earlier.
On March 1, 1989, I saw a letter in the Canadian Jewish News, asking that Canadian immigrants who had been born in the Bialystok area contact Tomasz Wisniewski. I wrote to him, telling him that I was from Suprasl. He replied giving me the name of Yaacov Patt, with whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Tel Aviv on May 12, 1990. This meeting with Patt provided me with a great deal of information regarding my family in Suprasl. We discussed my visit to Suprasl - how I found the place where the Countess hid me and my family from the soldiers, taking us through a basement and out into a park, hidden by trees. I found the school, which has been replaced by a newer building, and also the Cytron factory where cloth was manufactured. I could not find my house or the synagogue - our driver drove up and down one street after another, as I tried to find familiar landmarks. I remembered the river, where we had gone to water the horses, and also the field where the soldiers slaughtered horses for food. This field was also used as a marketplace for the trading of horses and cattle.
4. The March of the Living
Participation in the March of the Living was a very moving experience, one which we shall never forget. At the Auschwitz Museum, we walked from one building to another, viewing the remnants of the prisoner's belongings valises (with names printed upon them), all kinds of brushes, eyeglasses, and human hair which was used to make cloth (known as human hair cloth). We stood in the gas chambers, and beside the ovens, and viewed the ashes in a glass urn, and wondered how many and which of our families' remains were there. I later found out that Jews from the Bialystok area had been taken to Treblinka.
The March of the Living took place on April 22, 1990, Holocaust Memorial Day, and covered the route from Auschwitz to Birkenau. We were 4,000 or more, walking arm in arm, along the road that had been used by the prisoners of the camps. At least 3,500 students, young teenagers, were in the group. They came from Canada, the United States, Israel, Brazil, France and other countries. Elie Wiesel led the procession together with Rabbi Lau of Israel. The walk concluded at a broken, platform-like rock at Birkenau, where a ceremony took place a memorial tribute to those had perished during those terrible days. As one rabbi described it the inhumanity of humanity.
It must never happen again for our children and our grandchildren's sakes. Each of us came away from those camps with devastatingly horrible memories, and left a part of our hearts there lest we forget.
My personal story reflects the story of the Jewish people and its existence. After generations of being dispersed and persecuted throughout the world, the Jews remember their past and do not deny their faith and their religious beliefs. It is more than symbolic that after all the atrocities of the Holocaust a Jew from a small town like Suprasl, where all of the Jews were wiped out by the Nazis, survives and suddenly appears in the March of the Living, announcing to the world: I am here! I am alive! Am Yisrael Chai!
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