In the neighbourhood of the so-called Doorstep-Grzybowski (ulica Boczny, that leads to the village of Grzybowski) is where the poor peasants lived. During the summer they rented out their huts to cottagers and they slept in the barn.
The majority of people, after working hard and lacking fresh air the rest of the year, would come to the Brok forest during the summer to relax and refresh themselves.
The Old Marketplace
By the appearance of the market one knew for certain what day it was; each day of the week had its own look.
On Shabes, a Jewish holy day, the market rests; the businesses are closed. Only a few people are around. The only people walking through are Jews, dressed in velvet and silk, black kapotes, velvet hats; wives in long dresses and Turkish [embroidered] shawls. The women are adorned with heavy gold chains, expensive stones; they move with a quiet step and bright faces in the direction of the botei medrashim and shtiblakh. The market is empty, no merchants, no business - it is the Sabbath. In the air hovers the holiness and calm of Shabes, the joy that makes this day different from all other days of the week.
On Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, the market is full of gentiles, who come back from church to meet acquaintances, have a drink together and a snack with koomes [fermented goat's milk]. They eat long kishkes [sausage] stuffed with grains, sauerkraut and dip challah or bread in whisky or kvas [fermented drink made from rye bread and barley] with gusto.
Half the Jewish stores were open and half were closed. Jews did not linger in the market place on Sunday; for safety's sake they stayed in their homes and businesses.
The church bells wake mournful thoughts, uncanny feelings of fear; Jews knew that trouble and persecutions always happened on Sunday, the day of the gentile Sabbath.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays were grey days, businesses stayed open out of habit and the income was small. People move in the shadows, stand, stay quiet, look at the empty market and go on their way. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were long, boring days at the market.
What a difference from Mondays and Thursdays when the marketplace is full of self-confidence.
Soon, in the morning, it will be crowded here because everybody comes; the market becomes over-full and spills out further into the new market, the second-hand market and also onto the Piaskes.
All morning peasants arrive, in one or two-horse wagons loaded with grain, fruit, vegetables, cabbages, geese, turkeys, hens and eggs, here and there lies a calf on a cart and a horse is tied behind, a
The villagers, who arrive on foot, have straw baskets for their purchases of sweet butter, cheese, a cup of sweet cream in an earthenware pitcher - cherries, strawberries, or a whole chicken; someone is butchering a cow and another is chasing a flock of geese
Everyone is drawn to the market, with a noisy disunity, from all the roads, like a river rushing to a larger body of water.
There is a lot of noise and running about. Calm Jews, quiet people, change on market days - you would not know them. On the whole, they forget themselves; nerves are strained; one runs after the villagers; another the peasant wagons; someone hits a sack of grain; another the eggs; is it fat enough? Another is cutting a whole calf into halves or thirds, another places a hand on a sack of grain, a cow
Brokers, buyers, second-hand dealers, ordinary Jews and housewives push excitedly, there is a tumult around the wagons - with this racket will they earn enough groschen to make a living? Times are becoming difficult.
The main business is grain. One grabs a load of grain and runs with it and the peasant to the storehouse of a large grain merchant. They are paid per sack and run on.
If one is in bad standing with the storehouse one drives their little bit of grain directly to the mill. The mills in town (other than the Mazur mill that belongs to Christians) are Jewish. The flour will be sent to towns and villages in the area as well as others parts of Poland.
The large, steam mill Automat is well known and owned by Kelman Kagan and his partners: the Trejster brothers, Berel Turnowski and Welwel Rekant. On ulica Komorowo is Nutkiewicz's sawmill, (partners: Nutkiewicz, Gabinet & Lewer) the grain-mills of Fiszel Blumenkranc, Motl Wengrow, Eliezer Wengrow and the Margolis family. Jewish millers sell grain through brokers who are paid a commission, as usual by the sack. The large mill Automat bought grain from other towns in Poland, as well as from Canada and Australia.
When business is being carried on in the marketplace, it is full of hundreds of village horses and wagons. On the left over area are the Jewish, and later the gentile craftsmen, with their stalls, booths and tables full of goods and pastry.
Each craft has its own look. The tailors' stalls look like houses with linen walls, with suits of clothes hanging from all sides. Chuna the old-clothesman has been here for many years and after his stall are many others. Near the tailors are the cap makers' stalls, always in the same order and in the same place. Their stalls are smaller, packed full of caps for gentiles, with all sorts of lacquered brims. Further along shoes and boots are hanging from poles. Loaves of bread, white rolls, sugar beets, kvass, pails and bottles of soda water with syrup, sour pickles and herring are laid out on tables; only dishes and glasses are displayed on the ground.
All the Jewish businesses and stalls are crowded with peasants who come to the city to buy. One tries a scythe, others a pair of boots, a suite of clothes, a hat; the gentiles carry kerosene, salt, herring, bleached head scarves, white linens, beads; street organs play, a magician swallows fire, swallows knives
When a gentile has money, he gets a desire to drink whisky, after the first sip comes another and another; the mood changes, he speaks louder, fists are clenched, soon blood pours from heads, from noses and screams and voices fly in the air. There was never a market day without blows and bloodshed.
In the meantime, business continues until late in the afternoon. The gentiles take each other apart, and the workmen take apart the stalls. Tired, they drag their heavy feet home until the next market day. The marketplace is empty and all that remains is the manure from the animals.
On fair days, there is noise and clamour, only more of it: more village gentiles and more Jewish merchants, because a lot of people also come from Warszawa for the Ostrowa month fair.
On weekdays, the marketplace is quiet. One could sit, lie down or sleep in the middle of the marketplace and not be in the way. The marketplace is half-empty and sluggish. Bored, the Jews pace with a stick in their hands and a piece of straw in their mouths; there is nothing to do; Jews walk around the marketplace to meet people, hear a story, have a chat. On every corner one meets people, Jewish merchants sit in open stores, yawning with wide-open mouths.
From Mosze Waser-Makher's [water maker's] window the sound of a cantorial piece (inspired by Szmulke Ryba) being practiced, before praying in the besmedresh carries and the entire city stands below in the street to listen to the beautiful singing.
The porters stand near Nachum Lewartowicz's store, with piles of dirty rope, looking for a little work. The porter Benjamin Icze with the black beard, a Jew, a strong man. By the door a water pitcher sits permanently, the already old Welwel Iworejkes, with a white beard like an old Ostrowni general sits near the store and does nothing; his son, deaf Lejbl, makes a living driving flour wagons.
The train arrives from Warszawa in the morning. The market becomes cozy. Everyone gathers near Jankiel Margolis' house on Brokowska Street waiting for the newspapers to be brought from the train any minute now. Everyone waits impatiently as if the paper will be able to change their lives. They all wait to read about miracles, salvation, consolation and good news.
Besides the stores, the big fashion goods wholesalers were also located on the marketplace. They supplied, in Ostrowa and vicinity, the businesses of: Aron Jasiński, Szmuel Nejman, Alter Markus, Abram Luzym, Aba Pajus, his son-in-law Moszczański, Ajzyk Cohen, Synai Kac, Bubinow and others. The large iron business: Bendet Lichtensztejn, Mendel Zindel's son. It was said that during the First World War he drove to the Petrograd State Bank to deposit 150,000 rubles in gold. At the end of the war this money was discovered - lost. In 1920 when the Bolsheviks began to return to the city, they asked him: - Reb Mendel how are things? He answered, only the rich care. Lichtensztejn's iron business was one of the largest in the entire region. There were also smaller businesses owned by the Warszawer family, Fajwel Kielewicz (later his son-in-law Sztycberg), Hirszel Lokiecz, Jehusza Dawid Frydman, Mordchai Lach, the Gutmer family, etc.
who are standing in the doorway
Abram Elkes, Izrael Skórnik, Majzlisz and later his son-in-law Mosze Rozencwajg were leather merchants. The haberdashers were Jakob Szwarc, Jozef Kielewicz, Jenta Szulc, Fajcze Kupiec, Jozef Kahan, Mendel Goldkorn, Pinchus Graniewicz and Warszawski. Shoe stores: Lejbl Wejlach, Hirsz Jankiel Fajnzylber, Jakow Goldberg, Rozen; Food products: Nachum Lewartowicz, Berel Tejtel, Mosze Jozef Surawicz partner of Icek Zurach Orlański and Szmul Watenberg, the Nyska brothers, Lejzor Hirsz Nyska, Majer Leszcz, Flatau, Judel Szulc and Dawid Lichtensztejn; Wine merchants: Tewel Kielewicz, Jona Austriak.
The larger businesses sold wholesale in the surrounding cities and villages; The smaller ones sold to local inhabitants.
Jews and Christians also earned a living from the military stationed in the city or from the peasants who drove to the market and fairs - monthly and yearly. Also, various businesses were located on Warszawska and 3go Maja streets.
One could make a better living from the markets, but Jews on the other streets had time to study a page of gemore, look into a book; be a political leader, occupy themselves with community matters, with political parties and municipal affairs.
Their businesses already ran themselves. Making a living comes from G-d. Why trouble themselves with initiative, statistics, or calculations. Why make an effort to run the business when they believed that everything was due them. The majority became merchants by chance: an arranged marriage, an inheritance. For them, running their businesses was not important - their wives could do it.
In calm times the conditions justified a philosophy of life that was expressed in the words earning a living comes from G-d. But it became very difficult, even impossible when times changed and the Poles started businesses and cooperatives. Pickets in front of the doors of Jewish businesses did not allow any gentiles in to buy. Business traditions, that had been in place for generations were shaken, as well as a Jewish existence rooted in custom.
Jewish life was concentrated on the narrow, back streets. Located here are the botei medrashim, Hasidic shtiblakh, hederim, Talmud Torah, the yeshiva, and the mikveh. Here comes a Jew praying, studying a page of gemore, a chapter of mishnah, Ein Yankev, listening to a magid pour out his heart with a chapter from Psalms. Here every individual becomes transformed into a member of the community. Selling or exercising one's craft can be done alone, but praying, studying, saying Psalms, is more powerful when done together with other Jews. Jews from the market, stores and workshops come here to this place, in order to find warmth, to find comfort, to feel secure and protected but mainly to be together.
All day the old besmedresh on ulica Komorowo is full of men praying, people reciting Psalms, preachers, interpreters and then with scholars who stay entire nights. The artisans start the day early in the morning saying morning prayers at dawn. After that the prayer minyonim, one after another, continue to arrive until late in the day. The yeshiva students are in their places, sitting at long tables or standing at lecterns with an open gemore and studying.
Guests and poor alike warm themselves near the ovens. Near here, at the entrance, the Wengrower's goods are displayed on tables. A couple of times a year he comes here with his bundles of sidurim, machzorim, taleysim, tsitses, tefilln, mezuzes and various storybooks. The students from the Yeshiva Beit Josef also study in the old besmedresh. The yeshiva was named for the Noworediker founder and director Jozef Hurwiec. A large number of yeshiva students studying here are supported by donations collected in the city, but mainly with help from America.
In the evening artisans sit and study along with ordinary, simple Jews who are not able to study alone; they listen as one or another teaches. Between mincha and maariv a magid gives a speech[sermon]. After maariv when the people leave, only the yeshiva students stay and sometimes study all night.
Official government or Polish national celebrations also took place in the old besmedresh. Jews gathered for the rabbi's speech during a visit by a government representative and the cantor would make a mishebeirakh and the choir would sing the National Anthem for the well being of the Tsar.
Jewish scholars, outspoken enlightened Jews and Misnagdim many of them official Zionist leaders, prayed in the new besmedresh on ulica Brokowska. In the years following the First World War, the besmedresh opened its doors for Zionist meetings at which emissaries from the Zionist institutions, Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod, appeared and spoke.
Zionist work and propaganda took place in the besmedresh such as the memorial service for the 25th anniversary of the death of the Zionist leader Herzl in 1929.
Besides the two botei medrashim, there were prayer houses, minyonim and shtiblakh. The Mizrahi prayer house had a substantial number of worshippers, members who carried out their work for Israel there. The second prayer house, Sharei Zion, belonged to the General Zionists. The minyon had united with Zionist Organization headquarters and therefore often used it for various meetings. The Zionists and worldly Jews, who had been banished from the Hasidic shtiblakh, prayed there.
There were also minyonim at the headquarters of several social institutions, such as: the yeshiva, Linat Hazedek, Khahnases Orhim, etc. At these minyonim, the majority of those praying were active in these same institutions. The funds collected from the worshippers were definitely used by the institutions. The committee meetings and gatherings - dedicated institution affairs also took place here.
The Hasidim were elsewhere they prayed in the shtiblakh, studied and discussed legal matters in relationship to Hasidism, good Jews. They also discussed municipal and political matters. They celebrated the yahrzeit of rabbis with small meals. After prayers everybody had a little whisky with cake, and wished each other mazel tov and l'chaim.
On Sabbath evenings, for the third meal, they sit in the shtibl together at the table set with challah and herring, they sing melodies, a melody full of longing and fascinating ecstasy. Shadows blur the edges from person to person at the table - the shtibl becomes one. A religious Jew dragged himself away from the entire world, put aside all his worries, escaped from his own home to be in the shtibl, at this table that looks like a holy altar. Here he pours out his heart and longing and sorrow at the departure of the Sabbath Queen. Hasidim do not want to part with Shabes. It is already very dark outside. When the Hasidim have made Havdalah, the city sinks into ordinary weekdays. Only Havdalah requires preparation - to usher out the Queen.
The shtibl is home to the Hasidim. There were a lot of Hasidic shtiblakh in the city: Amszynower, Warker, Strykower, Sokolower, Radzyminer. The largest shtiblakh were the Gerer and Aleksander. Both shtiblakh - fire and water, and fate wanted them to be located not far from each other. The Gerer shtibl was located on Pułtuska Street and behind it on Rożańska Street - was the Aleksander shtibl.
The togetherness of the Hasidim in the shtiblakh was a strong bond and their friendship societies were extremely important. There they took an interest in one another and helped each other overcome whatever problems arose, an illness in the family, a needed dowry.
In the Gerer shtibl learning was emphasized, in accordance with their leader. The wealthy and powerful prayed there on Shabes between shakhris and musaf. The Gerer Hasidim were the most fanatical and cheerful, like the Aleksanders. Their goal was to control all the community institutions and they ruled the city with an iron fist.
The path of the Aleksander Hasidim was simpler than the Gerer. The Gerer put a stop to pride, the Aleksanders - were more moderate and more lenient.
The city had become crowded. Hasidism no longer had the same influence. There were new residents who came from the surrounding region. The young people were going out into the world - in order to earn a living or to study. In middle-class circles, the Zionist movement was gaining momentum and thriving.
Young Hasidic men were collectors for Israel in the shtiblakh. Hasidim break ceramic plates erev Yonkiper, rend tiny bank notes and yet they will not help. The only activity of the Hovevei Zion is to collect money. This does not make an impression on the Hasidim. Important events occurred in the years 1895 and 1896. From Hatsfira and Hamelitz, people found out about Herzel's Jewish State. At that time the ideas of the First Zionist Congress have an affect on Hovevei Zion. Individuals buy Zionist shares in the Colonial Bank [Zionist bank created by Herzl], Zionist speakers begin to visit the city and Zionist activities are on the increase.
Tents from Torah
Small children started on the road to a Jewish way of life with a dedicated teacher. Big alphabet blackboards lie on the tables and the teacher goes over them with a wooden ruler: kometz a - o, kometz bey bo, bey, gey: a wallet with money; learn, learn children with diligence, then the wallet with money will fall from heaven - says the teacher with a song. Eyes shine for a groschen [penny] one can buy egg cracknel at Jenta Szyfra's. At Lipa's a piece of cheese, and at Raszke's a measure of cooked peas. The first days in heder are happy, good days. groschen fall from heaven all the time. As they grow up, the lessons become more difficult. Letters put together to form words, then one learns the blessings, enters into praying. One feels nothing, as one becomes at once a Jew who must not skip a word, must not eat before praying or forget the tsitses kanfes. All at once heavy burdens lie on these young shoulders the burdens of good deeds and sins, a life full of fear.
At night the youngsters are afraid to go home alone in the dark. They all leave the school together, each with curled papers and bathed in the light of a tin lantern filled with kerosene that they carry. You can hear the boys being called, in succession: - So already Mosze? Where are you? On the stairs? By the door? At once answers Mosze, and the escort continues delivering the boys one after the other.
In the winter evenings when streets are lit with candles, every pale flame attends a small Jew on the road home from school, where he is guided into the Jewish way of life. The heder prepares Jewish children to become patient Jews, able to receive blows, carry burdens, whatever is necessary.
From Pejsach melamed one progresses to the Andrzejewer, to the Sokolower, Mosze Icchok, Mendel Zarember and Mosze Lejb. Rich children study with tutors at home and poor children go to Talmud Torah. There are various types of melamdim. By way of punishment, one grabs the ear, another pinches, or hits with a whip, with a leather strap or with a stick, even a broom from the house.
The melamdim worked hard all week, and lived in want and poverty. On Shabes they would go to their students' homes and listen to them recite. With a pounding heart the melamed would listen to the student whose heart was also racing. If the student did not recite well, the teacher would be guilty and the student would not be sent to him for a second term. The teachers made every effort to open the minds of their students. Torah would enter with ease or with threats
Later the melamdim Jakob Dawid Kagan and Filar, who taught Hebrew and grammar, opened a Heder Mitukin where Hebrew grammar was taught. Naturally, they were persecuted and driven out of the city.
After the First World War a group of parents from the National Zionist organization founded the Hebrew school Tarbut. Later the Mizrahi founded the Yawneh School. These parents therefore were thrown out of the shtiblakh, dispatched to the insolent camp, embittering their lives and tearing them from their societies and friends.
The progression from the heder metukin in Poland were the many Hebrew and Yiddish elementary and middle schools. From grade school through all the levels of school, they were Jewish fortresses - supported by Jews. Their programs and subjects were set for Jews. The gentile government had nothing to do with the school curriculum. The schools that the government founded for Jewish children were not Jewish in their content or teaching program. In Ostrowa there existed, for many years, two government public schools for children of Mosze's conviction [Jews] under the leadership of Mosze Raf (in latter years A. Christ). At the start, there were only Jewish teachers, later - also Christians. Subjects were taught in Polish.
The narrow streets presented the image of Jewish life in the city. Every courtyard, every house is painted, showing its own cozy lifestyle. The building engineers did not go to any trouble when they built the streets and houses. Every owner placed a house anywhere he wanted to and had it built to suit his own tastes. This resulted in small crooked streets without any style. Two-story wooden houses adorned with oil paint of all colours, green and blue, yellow and green, according to the taste of the people they were built for. Like the owners themselves, each house was different from the next, but all were small, modest and told of a quiet, pious existence. It was not easy to convince the inhabitants of the wooden houses to move to large brick houses, where everything was strange and cold.
Porches, wooden stairs answer every step with a groan, with a creak; cozy, small windows; dim alcoves full of heavy, solid furniture; kitchens with wide sleep-benches [beds], copper pots and shelves on the walls. The houses merged with their inhabitants through long years of use and were a part of their existence.
Here is a courtyard without a gate, there hangs a half gate on heavy hinges and wild grass grows between the stones. And another courtyard is unlocked, where only a small door opens, but not all the way. Somewhere in mid-city - a well and people around it drawing water, going through from street to street, crooked doors hang from narrow entrances, or you find yourself behind small, glass doors, which open with thin iron doorknobs - some are locked, others are chained, others open
The Lubiejewska Railroad Station
Approximately sixty years ago, the Russian government built the strategically located railroad line Siedlce-Łomża, which immediately benefitted the civilian population. The line is three kilometers from the city (called Lubiejewska ) This line facilitated communication with the rest of the world and helped develop the city's industry and commerce. Previously, one had to travel to Warszawa by way of the Malkinia Station - fifteen kilometers from the city, on the railroad line Warszawa Białystok, the stations: Malkinia, Zeleniec, Lochów, Tłuszcz, Wolomin, Warszawa, which when put together in Rashi vocabulary makes Mzl Tov. People used to travel to Malkinia in large canvas-covered wagons that carried scores of passengers, driven by Motl Fokle, Jankiel Nianik and others.
Later when the station opened at Lubiejewska and created competition, drivers exchanged the freight-wagons for enclosed coaches with leather. The trips with the coaches arrived at night. The trains from Białystok arrived at dawn and from Warszawa at noon.
Over the white snow with creaks and groans, the iron runners played such nice music and made their customary impression. Often people would get out of the coach and run alongside, just to warm up a little. The trips with the coaches were interesting and marvelous. In summer the entire road through the forests with good fresh air, was truly a delight. But in winter, people were a little frozen.
The driver Motl Fokle never sat on the buckboard, only stood on the runners and yelled to the horses, Giddy-up, giddy-up! Jankiel Nianik used to sit on the buckboard and complain about the horses - Why must they only eat oats, which are so expensive? He would groan and say The horses must eat, the daughters must get married and there's no money coming in.!
In the old days, people would travel to Warszawa with the freight-wagons, driven by Abraham'cze Kohn and Boruch Haim Joske's with his son Jankiel-Dawid. The trip there and back took the entire week because they would drive loads to and from Warszawa. On the road were many krechmas [inns] where they would stop to refresh the horses as well as the passengers who could relax a little and have a bite to eat. There was never a lack of food in these krechmas - first a drink, then a chat with other Jews.
The connections between the city and the other localities lay in Jewish hands. At the end of every Shabes evening drivers loaded the wagons with products for Warszawa, Wyszków and Łomża. At the end of the week they returned with other products, other people
For many years, Abraham'cze Kon and Boruch Haim Joske's drove products to and from Warszawa. The Wolmarks - Judel and his sons - to Łomża; Abraham Szmulke Becyl's - later his son Mojsze Aron - to Wyszków; also for the neighbouring villages such as Rożan, Goworowo, Brok, Długosiodło, Nur, Sterdyń, Wąsewer, Poręba, Zaręby, Czyzew, special draymen were used to transport goods. This is how the drivers spent their years - on distant and nearby dirt roads. They drove cargo and took good care of it, drove relatives to appointments and to marriages. Each driver had his own clients.
There were also freight forwarders who would pool goods together, small orders needed quickly from Warszawa or businesses that had to provide a product needed in the city. To drive all that way for one small order did not pay, so the freight forwarders drove to Warszawa twice a week, would run around buying products, get an IOU, deliver a letter, a to z. The first were Icl Kelman, Arja's son and Mendel Kon. For many years they drove week in and week out trying to make a living; later came Naftali Palgon, Fajwel Rozen, Abraham Jozef Kahan and others.
In the old marketplace, next to Abraham Jakubowicz's tavern, stood the hansom cabs which went to the Lubiejewska station, also to Komorowo where the military was located (during the Polish era, also the Non-Commissioned Officer's School). Almost all the hansom cab drivers were Jewish. Only in later years were there Christian drivers.
Of all the drivers, it was those with hansom cabs who, so to speak, were elegant. The government made sure that the drivers, cabs and horses had an outstanding appearance. They were the first to welcome visitors at the station. The ultimate was a driver who could speak several languages.
With driving various products to and from the railroad, the special drivers were busy: Berel Zalcberg's (Smolar) family and the Wolmarks, and many others. The products were driven in groups from the railroad: wheat and corn to the mills; ice, coal, cement, mortar, herring, sugar, rice and tanks of kerosene; smaller transports: fashions, leather and food products. To the railroad
Stand with his hands together is Mendl Nyska
in 1935 before leaving for Israel
station broad beans, lentils, herbs, hemp and other products were sent by the company owned by Mordchai Ber Turnowski, Izrael Potasz and Jozef Welwel Rekant; flour wagons were sent throughout Poland from the three Jewish mills in the city. Various lumber products for construction, boards, pegs and firewood that were cut at the two Jewish sawmills were sent to Warszawa and other cities. At the time of the First World War the station was referred to as Little Danzig [today, Gdansk] because every day hundreds of wagons of firewood, etc. were being shipped to Warszawa and Germany. Around the railroad station were scores of workers and porters to load and unload wagons, mainly for the flour and sawmills.
Freight forwarders and railroad managers worked closely together and were familiar with the regulations for shipping and loading products in convoys. Jechusze Cukier zl, who died in Russia, was the expediter until the First World War. During the First World War the expediters were: Zurach Zarecki zl who died in Israel, Tuwia Siedlecki hyd - killed by the Nazis, and - the writer of this article who remained with the railroad until 1935 when he made aliyah to Israel. Then Jechiel Kronenberg until 1939 when the Second World War broke out. He was killed in the holocaust with his wife and six children hyd.
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