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Pultusk-City Life, an Overview (cont.)


Trades and Crafts General Introduction

Until the beginning of the 18th century the city's official name was Pultuska and it was situated near the main roads to Prussia, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg. The entire area from the crossroads of Warszawska Street, Stare Miasto (“Old Place” Street), and Petersburg Street to the Narev River, all belonged to the church and was isolated by a river tributary that ran down the middle of the city. A raft or a boat was required in order to row to the other side. Located here in addition to the church buildings was the medieval castle, the residence of the bishop, and the priests' seminary.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, according to ecclesiastical edict of the Pultusk priesthood (the owners of Pultusk), Jews were not allowed to be live in town. Lack of any other options forced Jews to live in the surrounding villages. In Poppa, 18 klm from Pultusk, there were quite a few Jews, and the same held true for the village of Popławy, where large tracts of land belonged to Nuta Nutkowitz. He inherited the rights from the Officer Tsvi (Herman) Nutkowitz, a veteran from the ranks of Dombrovski's Corps [10] who excelled in the Napoleonic Wars and received the French Medal of Honor.

After the suppression of the Polish rebellion in 1831, Pultusk was burned all the way to the church (map #39) which was separated from the rest of town by the river drainage. By that time a number of Jewish families had established themselves in the town; mostly, they were craftsmen. In order to speed up the city's restoration, rebuilding after the fire and improving the economic situation, prominent Jewish merchants like Pesach Grynberg and Gedalij Zylbersztejn (son in law of Nuta Nutkowicz) received permission to settle, purchase tracts of land, and build houses (only out of bricks). In time the number of Jews increased and they did quite well economically. For burial the departed were taken to Nasielsk, since it would be sometime before a tract of land was purchased for a cemetery.

In the rich forested environment, Jews developed trade in wood and grain, with the Narev River and its surrounding canals serving as an excellent and convenient means of transportation, all the way to Danzig (German for Gdansk) and on to Germany. The large influx of Jews began in the second half of the 19th century and turned Pultusk into a center for the export of grain. The Polish Rebellion of 1863 stopped this development, and a fire that broke out a few years later destroyed the town and stopped the city's development altogether. Due to Jewish initiative, the town was rapidly rebuilt employing sound architectural principles. The buildings were constructed of stone, giving the city a more modernistic look. The Jews became the owners of 60 percent of the town's property and rebuilt the central shul (synagogue, #2 on map) in a wide spacious area.

As the Russians expanded their newly built rail network, they constructed a train line far from Pultusk. Their reasons were strategic, but the closest station was 22 km away. That was a great blow to the trades and crafts in Pultusk, since only cities the rail line passed through were able to play a major role in the agricultural trade. However, there was a twist. After the 1863 Rebellion the Russian Czarist regime stepped up its military presence in Poland, and Pultusk received two Russian battalions, the command post, and the Chief of the Division Staff; in addition, a regional hospital was established. This greatly improved the Jewish economic situation, since many Jewish families' livelihood came from supplying food and butter to the Russian army, and from other work performed by Jews for the Russians. The Jewish population grew steadily and in 1914 numbered 8,000 individuals. As proof of the improved economic situation, there is no record of Jews leaving Pultusk between those years.

Before we begin a detailed description of the Jewish economic situation in those years, I want to mention the names of various Jewish contractors who, due to their diligence and persistence, were able to achieve wealth and honor, in addition to providing a livelihood for their employees; they also gave generously to Jewish causes and charities.

  1. Yitzchok Markusfeld - He supplied building materials for the Russian army in Pultusk and Modlin; he also was a very learned man who knew the entire Talmud by heart, and had complete command of both the Polish and Russian languages.

  2. Shloymeh Dovid Wajsberg – He supplied animals to the Russian division and to the Alexampolski Battalion that later became the Seventh Battalion. He was the leader of the community and the gabbai [11] of the Chevra Kadisha [12].

  3. Binyomin Galitzer –Supplied the Alexampolski Battalion with wheat and fodder. He moved on to Skernyevits when the battalion relocated there.

  4. Hershel Ben Pinchas Nutkowicz – Supplied food and had a grocery next to the kaskartinim (army barracks). He was by nature a “get it done” type and was chosen as part of the city council.

  5. Ben Zion Yanover – He supplied meat to the army. He was a butcher by trade, in addition to being highly educated.

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  1. Yishayahu Rojzenberg – He supplied trees and coal. His luxurious dwelling was always open for anyone in need. Even though he was very orthodox, he gave his children a broad secular education. His two daughters were doctors; they and their brother perished in the Warsaw ghetto.

Until the First World War, almost all trade in the town was in Jewish hands. As opposed to 150 Jewish-owned stores of all types, only four small groceries belonged to Christians. In the marketplace there were 100 stalls and workshops. There were fish, vegetables, flour, baked goods, haberdashery, cloth, leather, shoes, carpentry, weaving, and gold. The last four trades plus fur, millinery, pottery, book binding, knife sharpening, bicycle repair, and watch making were exclusively in the hands of Jews. About 60 percent of the cobblers, painters, locksmiths, blacksmiths, wheels repairers, oven builders, and stonecutters were Jews. Among the bakers and barbers, the percentage was even higher, 75 percent. There was even an expert building contractor, Shalom Lebowicz.



Among the many vegetable stands, special recognition goes to Khyene/Chiena Zilinska, the “mouskalka” (Moskovite); she was called that because her husband was captured and forced to serve 25 years in the army of Czar Nikolai the First.

Fruit merchant and renter of stands was Wolf Ogrodnick.

Flour, lentils, and grits were sold by Yerakhmieyl the “seminole maker” with his wife, “black Sarah”. She was the salesperson and he was in charge of production. He was an Ashminova Chassid [13], devoutly orthodox.

His neighbor in the adjacent stand was Shmuel Kiejzmacher, a Kotzker Chassid, very sharp-witted.

Among the fish stands, our attention is drawn to the delicate, humble, and short Moshe Safian. His treatment of customers evoked feelings of trust and civility.

Zaindel Berliner was much the same. He was short, with gazing black eyes and a dark beard; his son Leibel was the Torah reader in the shul.

There was another fish salesman, Shlomo Ben Nissan Zinamoy, but the real business person was his wife, the real woman of valor, Sarah, since he was too busy learning Talmud. He was also Gur Chassid and a Torah reader in the Gur Shtibl.

A fish wholesaler was Moshe Zemel (died in Israel). He brought fish to Warsaw and in the winter would import from out of the country.


Description of Specific Trades


Aside from the Christian carpenters who specialized in the construction of coffins, the bulk of the furniture and building trades were in Jewish hands. The first in the city were Dovid Jarzyna and Abraham Kierszenbaum. Later on dozens more joined them, of note was the fine craftsman Alter Jarzyna. The construction of furniture was highly developed, and the finished products were generally designated for delivery in Warsaw. One hundred and fifty families were supported by this trade.


The first tailors in the city were Zalman Włosko and Abraham Brzezinski, and later the brothers Yecheskel and Gershon Włosko (they died in Russia in 1942).

During this period, clothing manufactured according to set sizes became very popular.

I remember a craftsman, Moshe Chojnower, the owner of a women's dress shop who dealt with this type of clothing.


Even though Pultusk had two Christian shoemakers, the Jewish stores owned by Feivel Jablonka, Abraham Ruza, Zelig Goldberg, Abraham Milawski, and Yokhanen Gut were always filled with Christian shoppers. About 75 families made their living in this trade.


The town had 25 families of butchers. Worth noting in particular is Racha the butcher lady, an energetic, honest woman who was always ready to help anyone in their time of need. She chose as son-in-laws for her daughters, very sharp lamdanim (moderately educated), one of them happened to be Yosef Grosbard, my Hebrew teacher.

Wagoneers (Transporters)

About 30 families controlled all the intercity transportation. They also controlled the post. I remember Dovid Bybersztejn, the “tall guy” Niestempower/Nestempower and his wife Khave. Their son Meir-Velvel was an ordained Rabbi.


The first watchmaker in the city was Leibel Szach, his family one of the pioneers who originally settled in Pultusk. His craft was carried on by his son Yitzhak Shammai (author's grandfather). He serviced the clock of the municipality. My father Abraham Sach, who had a watch making factory, worked together with five men, among them Zalman Szperling and son Moshe; they were on duty to maintain the city clock. From my father's factory there were excellent craftsmen, like Yankel Lindberg who was a goldsmith and maintained the clock until the Nazi expulsion. There was also Haim Shlmo Safian (active in Poalei Zion [14]), Fishel Burstyn (died in Israel), Berel Karaś, Weisberg (no given name in original text), Yosef Epstein, Zaindel Rojzenberg, and Alter Kłos.

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Ninety percent of the town's painters were Jewish; of particular note is the exceedingly talented Akiva Bybersztejn. His son Mendel, who inherited the craft from his father, was killed just before the expulsion. The Nazis accused him of burning down a German military vehicle.


Various industrial factories in the town, some large, some small, were founded by Jews and until the outbreak of the Second World War were in Jewish hands.

The factory for agricultural machinery and wood planing were founded in the late 19th century by Mendel Mintz and 150 people worked there, some of them particularly skilled artisans.

The brick factory was started by Akiva Bornstein and afterward taken over by Shleyme Zelnik.

A factory manufacturing tiles for ovens and kitchens was founded by Chaim-Yisrael Lejbman and Shimon Frydland.

The saw mill and the steam mill belonged to I.L. Nowominski.

A steam mill was founded by the brothers Israel and Zelig Rozenberg and Feivel Moncarz.

A steam mill was founded by Shmuel Ring, Yitzhak Frydland, and Abraham Shafran.

A steam mill was built by Yosef Mandel Swagman and Nuta Kaminski.

A wind mill was built by Jankel Staroswetski.

An olive oil press was owned by Chaim Wajnsztejn.

An olive oil press was owned by Berel Obarzanek.

An olive oil press was owned by (given name not in original text) Roza/Ruźza.

In addition to the above, there were ten mills that ground grits and legumes, all owned by Jews.

The drinking soda factory that was established by Mordechai Waseca, and later taken over by his son in law Shmuel Sztucki, was known across the entire region as the manufacturer of a quality product.

A drinking soda factory belonged to Feivel Sochaczewski.

A drinking soda factory belonged to Yaacov Gurman.

A drinking soda factory belonged to Eliezer Kogen.

A drinking soda factory belonged to Menashe and Eliezer Margolit, the sons of Hersh Nuta, Ha Kohen. Margulis/Margolis was the first official Rabbi in Pultusk.

The factory for the production of cotton goods was owned by Markiel Majersdorf.

The factory for the production of vinegar belonged to Yisroel Frenkiel.

The factory for the production of buttons was founded by Eliezer Charka.

Five soap factories, run quite primitively, were managed amongst others by Eliahu Tashimovich, Hersh Golcman, and the brothers Grynberg.

Two candy factories were run by Yitzhag Wygoda and his son Abraham Gershon.




One of the first merchants in Pultusk was Gedalyahu Zylbersztejn. He owned a large store on Świetojańska Street that specialized in steel products, and he retained a special permit to sell fire arms – something very rare for Jews of those times. He also had his own house in the market center, “the House of Steel” as Pultuskers called it. Later on the store transferred ownership to his son Note and his son in law Yechzketl Taub. Taub's grandson, Dr. Zeev Taub, is a noted Israeli surgeon.

At the end of the 19th century, four additional Jewish steel stores were opened in town; one was owned by Mendel Rozshoner Lejbman. It was run by his wife Tserte, the daughter of Yehoshua Majersdorf.

Grain and Export

Among the well known grain exporters from Pultusk were Moshe Lent, who set up a huge grain barn (the roof bore a flag with his initials), Moshe Wassercug (the first Jew in Pultusk who wore a short jacket), Baruch Kronberg, Zekharye Koplovitz, Zekharye Koplovitz, Nachman Wolf Rozenberg, and others who handled trade for internal purposes.

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Food and Food Services


One of the most prosperous wholesale stores belonged to Nachman Ozarow, and afterwards to Betzalel Majersdorf, who demonstrated great ingenuity in the business. He

built a large residence on Kotlarska Street and was the first to introduce running water and sewage pipes into his home. During the Russian period, his house was occupied by the Russian Division. Later on it was the center for the Hadarim, then the Jewish gymnasium, and finally, the Jewish elementary school Betzalel. Majersdorf was an ultra-orthodox Gur Chassid. He was, one could say, fanatically orthodox. He donated large amounts of money for Chassidut Gur (practices – and ostensibly organizations – connected with the group). There were two smaller wholesale stores belonging to Chanoch and Devora Goldstein. They passed on the stores to their son Leibel, and to one of the founders of the Jewish gymnasium, Mendel Goldstein. Aside from these the town had a number of retail groceries.

There was one Jewish liquor and wine store that was founded at the end of the 18th century by Hersch Zylberman. There also were wines homemade by Motel Farbarowicz (who concocted a honey drink), Moshe Yosef Epshtein (son of Reb Simchala), and Baruch Mendl Prager.

In contrast to those alcohol merchants, I want to mention the distributors who used to sell milk in Jewish homes, among them the famous Moshe Yankel Lipniack, who was absurdly ultra-orthodox, and his milk and butter, scrupulously kosher.

Flour merchants

Wholesale flour merchants were Hersh Nutkowicz and Aron Ryng. The latter used to export to Germany and Russia and had a complete command of both the Russian and Polish languages. He was widely accepted in the town as a knowledgeable person to whom even the Christians would turn for advice.

Of all the food purveyors it is worth noting the wholesale store selling yeast that was run by Motel Wolersztejn and the sugar warehouse of Haim Engelman, the son in law of Moshe Szafran.


Moshe Shafran had a large fabrics store in his large residence. The house held 36 establishments of various types. He built a beit midrash (study hall), that later contained the shtibble (small, storefront synagogue) of Radziman Chassidim; aside from all of that, he owned a villa in partnership with his father-in-law the writer Nachum Sokolov. He donated large amounts of money to religious and charitable institutions.

Abraham Kaminski was the owner of a large fabric and haberdashery store that operated out of his home. The house was so large it spanned three streets and contained another twenty-three stores. The fabric store was managed by his wife, the daughter of Yehoshua Majersdorf, and she let her husband, a Varki Chassid cousin, study Talmud and deal with communal matters. Their son Note maintained a wholesale fabric store and was a partner with Mendel Wagman in the ownership of a flour mill.

In the house of Sztucki there was a store selling finished goods that belonged to Yitzchok Włosko. He ran a very religious household; his son was extremely competent at Talmud study and passed the exams for dental school in Warsaw. After he finished his studies, he worked as a dentist there. The store was later run by his son in law Ben-Zion Blum, after turning it over to the Shafran household.

Mendel Osterman, “the man from Lodz,” ran a high quality fabric store with the goods coming from Lodz and Tomashov. He ran the store together with his wife Malka who took over for him during his frequent travels to these cities to get merchandise.

In addition there were the textile merchants Moshe Kronenberg (a Nietzsche Chassid), Zecharia Kuchman (son-in-law of Yehoshua Majersdorf) and his wife Nacha, and Meir England, son-in-law of the real estate tycoon Shimon Rozenovski, a Gur Chassid and great Talmud scholar originally from Sosnowicz (town in Poland). His daughter was one of the first girls who made aliyah (permanent relocation) to Israel.


From the various haberdashery stores I remember Moshe Goldstein, a fine Talmud learner, who was chazzan (cantor) for shacharit [15] in the Gur Shtibbel [16]. Another was Moshe Yermiyahu Levin, the son in law of Yankel Nutkowicz. He was constantly involved in charity work and his store was essentially run by his daughter Hinda and her husband Abraham Nutkowicz. Later on they moved to Warsaw and opened their own wholesale haberdashery. There was also Itzhack Meir Goldstein and his wife Feiga. Later they transferred the store to their daughter Sarah and her husband Shalom Hersh Szmojlowicz. There was another establishment owned by Shmuel Simcha Lichtensztejn and his wife Rachel, an energetic woman who went herself to Warsaw to buy goods. Later, they ran a large textile store.


The leather stores were owned by Moshe Chaim Bornstein and Moshe Leib Elkes.


The glass factories and finished glass products outlet was owned by Abraham Yitzhak Rojzenberg (son-in-law of Gedalyahu Zylberszteyn). The store was in time inherited by his son Alter. The other establishments were owned by Boruch/Butche Wrona,

M. Hazenszpring, and Mendel Manner.

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The Wood Trade

This branch was very well developed in Pultusk with many merchants, the most famous of whom was Reb Shmuel Don, known throughout all of Poland as a great wood exporter. His extensive business dealings were handled right out of his office, located in his luxurious home on May 3rd Street, number 7. Later on his son Motel Don ran the business.

Abraham Moshe Grynbaum was a large-scale merchant. His wood storehouse was in the puszcza (Polish for forest) at the end of Old Town Street. He was a very old man when he perished in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942.

Another wood exporter was Dovid Rubinsztejn, one of the more advanced Jews in town. His daughter was the only Jew from Pultusk who studied in a Christian dormitory in Warsaw. She was the wife of Libishe Don, the owner of the wood and construction materials enterprise and head of the merchants' association.

I have given as detailed a description as I could of the Jewish economic composition of Pultusk, in order to memorialize for generations the Jewish activity, energy, initiative, and drive of our brothers and sisters, whose lives were ended in such a cruel manner.

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Pultusk Economy and Culture
From the Beginning of the 20th Century until 1927

Rafael Moshe Sach

At the outset of the 20th century the National Democratic Party, led by Dembowski, ruled on the Polish streets. The goal was to push Jews out of all Polish economic life, with the slogan: “Don't buy by Jews, just buy from Poles.” Various economic and business cooperatives were formed, and the Polish population fulfilled its obligation and stopped patronizing Jews. Anti-Semitism increased from the beginning of 1912. Bolstered by the Jewish vote in Warsaw, the Socialist candidate Yagealo was elected to the Russian Duma.

Polish farming interests at the time formed an “agricultural syndicate” that supplied steel, agricultural machinery, and exported grain. The Pultusk branch set up two large textile and haberdashery stores and a few groceries. This caused great hardship for local Jews, but it spurred them to organize their own cooperatives of merchants and craftsmen. A semi-charitable savings and loan was established, rapidly gaining the trust of all Jewish social strata in Pultusk. Likewise, a “mutual credit” bank was set up for the town's businesses. These two institutions emerged at the very time the economic situation was at its worst, as the Polish Industrial Bank stopped lending to Jews. That is why they played such a vital role – by supporting Jewish trades and crafts, and granting loans and credit to individuals.

The Beilis (blood libel) trials [17] that went on for two years, from 1911 to 1913, increased anti-Semitic agitation and calls for boycotting the Jews. In Pultusk the Catholic Priest Studziński excelled at divisiveness, and regularly used the Church's podium to spread it. However, thanks to the preaching of the elderly Liberal priest Ganski, who encouraged economic relations between Jews and Poles, the negative propaganda was stopped and friendship encouraged.

Despite the economic boycott, Jewish trade and craftsmanship flourished in the city. Many Jewish businesses were opened and many houses built. In 1913 Yankel Brim and Abraham Joseph Esman constructed a few homes on Traugutta, Telfaraptzna, Gorki, and Ksarkatin Streets, all for the Cossacks. B. Lipiński opened a photographic studio, and the Jewish dentists, Shmuel Brzozowicz and Eizyk Brzeziński, founded two clinics.

When World War I broke out on August 1, 1914, dozens of Jews from Pultusk were forced into the Russian army, as the czar declared a draft over the entire empire. Those who refused to be inducted were court marshaled by military tribunal and sent to remote outposts. Pultusk was situated 70 km from the front line, Chorzele-Mława

As a state of emergency was declared in the city by order from St. Petersburg, a national guard formed under the command of the Pole Stanisław Sniadeski. Jews who volunteered for this militia (an action encouraged by Rabbi Isser Unterman) were divided into two watches per street. A Gentile guard appointed by the Civil Authority was stationed on every third street. The watchmen were just armed with sticks, and on their coat sleeve was a white ribbon that read “volunteer civilian militia" in Russian and Polish. Behind this initiative were David Hirsh Taub, Beryl Dov Zylberman (who was 20 years old), Hirsh Nutkowicz, Isaiah Kuperminc, and Isaiah Brzezinski, the dentist. The patrols ran from 9:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m., and all civilian traffic in the town was forbidden.

At the outset of the war, the town's economic situation was reasonable; the city was filled with army personnel, and as units were constantly moving back and forth to the front, Jews made a living off the soldiers. But a few weeks later, the situation took a turn for the worse; Jewish refugees came pouring in from the front lines: Mława, Chorzele, and Proshnitz, Krasnoshiltz, Róźan, Ostrołeka, Goworowo, Myszyniec, and other places.

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The local Jewish population warmly accepted the refugees. They were housed in private homes, in the synagogues, and Beit Midrash (Torah study halls or libraries). A special committee tried to attend to their need for food and medicine. Members of the committee were Abraham Josek Hechtman, Motel Don, Joseph Mendel Wegman, Abraham Sach, Isaac Frydland, Szlama Celnik, Hersh Zylberman, Shlomo Bornstein, the rabbi's sons Chanoch and Shaynman Unterman, Velvele Bornsztejn, Meir Lipskier, Isaiah Rojzenberg, Dov Hirsh Taub, Mendel Mintz, and others. Mordeci Hechtman worked as volunteer bookkeeper. Generally, the resident Jews gave of themselves to the refugees.

They also cared for the Jewish soldiers who camped in town. Jewish women headed by Roza Don sewed warm undergarments for those in the Russian army, and sent fruit and sweets to the wounded soldiers in the hospitals. For this charitable work, Rabbi Chaim Meshulam Kaufman, and the senior tailor, Abraham Bie¿ański, received a certificate of honor from the Czar's authority.

The Germans conquered Pultusk practically without a battle and were warmly greeted by the Jewish population. Many Jews understood German and served as intermediaries between the conquerors and the local Polish population. In the new civil administration, the following Jews were admitted to the city council: Itsekl Taub, Abraham Kaminsky, Hirsh Nutkowicz, and Motel Joseph Judaszke and, as secretary, Joseph Chanowicz. Into the civil guard entered Mordeci Winograd, Ezekiel Zacharzewski, Isaac Pianko and (no given name in original text) Jaskuła

But the economic situation grew to be increasingly dire day by day. Trade and crafts stopped entirely. The great steel mill established by Mendel Mintz, that at one point employed 150 people, had totally stopped working. It was burned down during a military action. Likewise, the flourmill owned by the partners Joseph Mendel Wegman and Nuta Kaminsky was burned down, with the farmsteads also destroyed. Coupons had to be disbursed among the population to provide food and basic necessities. Their circulation was in Jewish hands. Motel Don, Dovid Hersh Taub, Shimon Frydland, Frimet Ajzenberg, and Neta Kaminsky established warehouses and a large canteen, and distributed necessities all across Pultusk and Makov. They utilized their concessions for the good of the Jewish population and supported various organizations and private individuals at the worst times of hunger and deprivation, when masses went to find employment in the public works sector for minimum wage.

By contrast to the catastrophic economic situation during the German occupation, Jewish cultural and social life flourished. The public library was established and political organizations – Zionist, Young Zionist, Poalei Zion, Mizrachi, and the workers' party, the Bund [18] – established. The drama society produced plays from the modern Jewish repertoire. There were cultural evenings to which lecturers from the capital city were invited to speak and discuss various issues of the day. Some of the visitors were Jacob Zerubavel, H.D.Numberg, Y.M.Ajzenberg, Joel Meisterbaum, Hillel Cejtlin, Dr. Michałowski, Beinish Michalewicz, and Victor Alter.

At that time the entire town was shocked by the arrest of Beryl Zylberman, accused of treason, spying for the Russians. He was sent off to Germany. After a period of about half a year, another Jewish Pultusker was arrested; Isaiah Rojzenberg, a former contractor and wood merchant. No plea was accepted even from the German Governor Von Basler. The arrested remained imprisoned.

Some relief was obtained when, after great effort, the energetic Mendel Mintz secured a travel permit to Germany. He brought back two trucks carrying new machinery and material, and managed to rebuild his burned factory. He was able to give work to many unemployed Jews.

At the end of 1916 most of the Jewish refugees left Pultusk and returned to their homes. Those who stayed in town were faced with great hardships. It was very difficult to eke out a living, and these refugees accepted all kinds of inappropriate and difficult work. Respectable Jews who in their former lives were established merchants, in their new residence became tailors, shoemakers, and even woodchoppers.

The general deprivation was widespread. On a Saturday night in the Gur shtibl, when the rich men gathered for seudah shlishit [19], a group of angry women burst into the room “armed” with rolling pins and demanding food for their starving children. A soup kitchen organized by Isaiah Kupermintz, Simcha Zelnik, and Shlomo Bornstein began to operate in town. In the home of Zelig Rosenberg, Feige Roza Rojzenberg also directed one.

There were charity boxes placed in all the Jewish homes, and a weekly donation was expected for the needy.

Despite all of this activity, the severe economic plight was only somewhat relieved and needy persons were added to the charity list every day. On Chol HaMoed Pesach 1916, at their own initiative, the Gur Chassidim of all the shtibblach gathered together in the large Beit Midrash. This assembly was called by Abraham Chaim Blum, Abraham Birenbaum, Shalom Hersh Lindberg, Israel Frenkiel, Fivel Rotblat, and others.

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They organized the Orthodox “Association of the Faithful”. After it was established, all the ultra-Orthodox of the city assembled at the large house of Betzalel Majersdorf. Yudl Pejaskowicz, the melamed (learned one), was particularly active in this endeavor. Due to his untiring work, the chedarim (religious schools) moved to more comfortable quarters and the students began to study in more modern hygienic conditions – as the German authorities demanded. At the same time, a German primary school geared to Jewish students and run by Isaac Gutman opened. The teachers were Herman Stutsky, Isaac Yurkovitz, and Miss Buchman.

On the initiative of Isaiah Kupermintz, a committee established a Jewish gymnasium (high school) in Pultusk. The following members also served on the board: Isaac Zelnik, Shlomo Bornstein, Mendel Goldstein, Abraham Rosa, Isaac Frydland, Dov Hirsh Taub, Hersh Zylberman, Ezekiel Wołoszka, Samuel Yismach, and Isaiah Bezeziński. Due to their dedicated efforts, a Jewish high school with four classes opened in the city. Abraham Lipman, a refugee from Pinsk, was appointed principal. The opening of the school made a great impression on the Jews of Pultusk. Many mothers of Chassidic families sent their daughters to this gymnasium so they would get a broad secular education and not desecrate the Shabbat by attending Gentile schools.

In 1917 Joseph Mendel Wegman suggested to the Pultusk municipality that the town be connected to the electric power grid. The council approved, and the new system emerged from a generator at the flourmill on Old Town Street. Ninety percent of those who worked on the grid were Jews.

As the independent Polish government took hold in Lublin and the Polish currency came back into circulation, a great amount of confusion shook the economy. The black market flourished. The German military and civil administration tried to stem its use by creating a special office to confiscate goods and level heavy fines on the middlemen. Even honest merchants frequently were caught in the web of extortions and lies. This situation gave rise to unions of merchants and craftsmen. Their purpose was to protect members from needless harassment, deal with the German government's taxes, establish fair value prices for materials and products and, in general, represent labor and trade unionists in various issues.

In the spring of 1916 Pilsudski's [20] legionnaires – the First Regiment – and an artillery battery, came to Pultusk. Among them were Jews. The generals included Slavoj Składkowski, a doctor in the Pultusk epidemic hospital, who in time became the prime minister and minister of the interior of Poland. In addition, there was also Captain Marian Zyndram-Kościałkowski, who later served as prime minister (October 1935-May 1936).

The Jews participated with the local Poles in the German conquest of the town. During October 1917 the POW (an underground Polish army) attacked a German guard and assassinated two German gendarmes, armed military police. A Polish patriot named Chaplinski was also killed. His funeral turned into a popular demonstration against the German conquest. There was Jewish representation in this opposition, led by Rabbi Unterman. Two of the local Jewish councilmen, Hersh Nutkowicz and Simcha Zelnik, and the secretary, Josef Hanovitz, were voting with the Polish delegation on matters concerning various local and national problems. Participation of Jewish gymnasium students even was found with regard to German disarmament.

Despite wavering loyalties to the new Polish government, the Jews did not surrender their ethnic/national pride. When, in December 1918, a blood libel took place in Lemberg, the Jews of Pultusk responded by a organizing a massive protest in their town's Beit Midrash, where they waved black flags and lit candles. The rabbi eulogized the dead and expressed the anguish of the assembled. The speakers, Yaakov Haspel and Samuel Yismach, urged the Jewish national council headed by Isaac Grynbaum to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the new (temporary) Polish government.

At the end of 1918, as Poland gained independence, it called for its first mass draft. The names of conscripts were based on the 1898 census. The induction and swearing in ceremony took place in the synagogue, with the presence of the Rabbi, representatives of the army, and the civil administration. Six classes of recruits were conscripted into the Polish army and fought in the Russian-Polish skirmish. Among the Pultusk Jews who died were David Ushchega, Lejbowicz, and Szynberg [21]. At that time (April 1920), the Seventh Battalion also came to town. It was organized by General Haler in France, under the command of French officers, and well known for its anti-Semitism. The “Halers” used to throw Jews off trains, cut their beards, etc., however Pultusk was relatively quiet since the French commander assigned there was Jewish and did not permit this anti-Semitic abuse.

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After the Polish army was expelled from Kiev – and as the Red army entered Poland and approached Pultusk – the Polish soldiers in retreat began looting the city. They arrested a number of Jews, such as Dovid Zylbersztejn and Ben Zion Bloom, and sent them to detention camp in Yablona.

The Red army occupied Pultusk for eight days. Two Polish battalions, the Fifteenth and the Twenty-second, took it back. The Polish authority immediately began grabbing Jews – young and old and even children – to work and clean up the town. (I, R. Sach, was 13 at the time). They had to remove the rubble from the prison where, even after a number of days, dozens of Jews were interred on the accusation that they conspired with the Bolsheviks. Among them was the elderly Hirsh Nutkowitz, who died shortly after being freed as a result of the beatings he had received. Major Zakrzewski of the Polish army excelled in cruelty to Jewish inmates. The Thirteenth Battalion that was organized in town conscripted Jews into military service and conducted their training on the streets, with the Jews dressed in civilian clothing and wearing just army hats. All the while low-ranking officers were singing anti-Semitic songs.

After the Soviet-Polish treaty of 1920, the Jewish emigration from Pultusk overseas and to Israel began. Hechalutz [22] of Pultusk was founded in 1921 by Mordecai Zylberman, Gershke Bornsztejn, Judah Leib Piekarz, Moshe Ring, J.Rojzenberg, and others. Together, they signed an agreement with the landowners Pfefer and Sharshevski to lease an agricultural farmstead on their estate in Villoshvo for the purpose of hachshara aliyah [23]. The estate was located about 35 miles from Pultusk.

Polish political and social life began to settle along with the stability of the new Polish government. In Pultusk there were various Jewish political societies such as Poalei Zion, the pioneer youth movements, and the Bund. There was even an illegal communist party. Simcha Don, Aaron Domb, and Mordeci Zylberman established a popular university that brought in lecturers on the humanities and the sciences. Classes were held in the theatre built by Natan Nutkowicz. There was also a drama club. The various political parties and youth groups worked hard to publicize and explain their agendas to the public.

In 1926 Jozef Pilsudski dissolved the Polish Sejm (parliament) and created an unaffiliated “Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government” (Bezpartyjny Blok Współpracy z Rządem, or BBWR, in Polish). He took over power and fought against the anti-Semitic party Narodowa Demokracja-Endecja, making life much easier for the Jews. But with Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Polish anti-Semitism also grew. The government quietly supported commerce and trades of the Christian sector alone. As the Polish-German non-aggression treaty was signed, sympathies leaned toward National Socialism, including the “Final Solution.” [24]

In Pultusk anti-Semitic aggression had begun earlier. During Purim eve 1927, the Pole Cheslik for no reason killed the gentle and delicate Jewish cobbler Cheslik, near his stand in the market. This murder made such a negative impression that masses of Jews participated in the funeral. To the amazement of all, the murderer received a light sentence of just three years' imprisonment.

The shocking murder and rabid anti-Semitism of the local population that got worse day by day was just child's play for what was to come later, with the bloody tragedy of Jewish Pultusk and all of Jewish Poland.


To our readers and genealogical researchers: Throughout the original text, we discovered that any given proper name could be spelled variously. There was no totally accurate way to negotiate these differences. Instead, we chose consistency, utilizing accepted research sources for Jewish given and surnames; Dr. Alexander Beider's “A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia”, “The Given Names Databases” by Professor G.L. Esterson, Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, and the “1929 Polish Business Directory” for the City of Pultusk. Also, note that except for universally-understood terms (Torah, Talmud, etc.), Yiddish or Hebrew words are italicized; those of Polish origin appear in standard font, with parenthetical statements identifying them.

  1. The Pultusk map may be viewed on page 1 of the Yizkor Book. Return
  2. Tzizit means fringes or tassels. Wearing a four-corned, fringed garment is a mitzvah, or commandment. Tzizit thus appear on tallitot, ritual prayer shawls.
    The reference above is slightly different, but related. Here, tzizit refers to a garment-- typically a wool or cotton rectangle-- with fringes on each corner. A hole in the middle enables it to be slipped over the wearer's head. The fringes extend neatly to the hips. A shirt and pants cover all.
    Today, only observant Jews wear tzizit, as this kind of undergarment. Some Chasidim, however, sport them on top of their shirts.
    Because of the similar but miniaturized design, tzizit also bear the name tallit kattan (small tallit). They fulfill the same mitzvah. Finally, it should be noted the placement of the fringes at ends of the tallit or tzizit symbolizes the four corners of the globe. Return
  3. Not to be confused with the original Rynek Market, on the island between #28 and #41. Return
  4. Daven means to pray. There are three daily services: morning (shacharit), afternoon (mincha), and evening (ma'ariv). Return
  5. A minyan is a prayer quorum. According to tradition, at least 10 adult Jewish males must be present for community prayer. During the late 20th century, many liberal Jewish minyanim began to include-- and embrace-- women in their “quorums.” Return
  6. May 3rd Street refers to the date of the Polish Constitution. The street also was known as St. Petersburg Street. Return
  7. If local folklore is to be believed, the following verses were inscribed in marble by a Biblically-knowledgeable Jew, who had spent many days in a monastery known as the “Collegiate”-- before finally converting to Christianity.
    Pultusk was an important Catholic religious and cultural center throughout the generations. A priest named Wujek, who translated the Old Testament from the Latin Vulgata (Vulgate) to Polish, preached at the Collegiate, where elder Canonic priests once gathered. Another preacher was the renowned anti-Semite, Piotr Skarga.
    The Collegiate still has a plaque with verses inscribed in Hebrew. This “School” has become quite famous outside Pultusk and was the alma mater of well-known leaders in Poland and abroad. Among graduates was the Great Crown Chancellor of Poland, Jerzy Ossoliniski (1595-1650), reputed in Europe for his daring political plans. Return
  8. The first verse comes from the Song of Songs, one of the five megillot (scrolls) in the Hebrew Bible, and also known as the Song of Solomon, Solomon's Song of Songs, or as Canticles, the latter from the shortened and Anglicized version of the Catholic Vulgate.
    It is erotic poetry, with legend acclaiming as its author the 10th century Hebrew King Solomon. Royal authority notwithstanding, Solomon probably was an expert on the subject: he is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines!
    The Vulgate is an early 5th century Latin version of the Bible, primarily attributed to Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to revise the old Latin translations. By the 13th century his work became known as the versio vulgata, that is, the “commonly used translation”, and ultimately became the definitive and officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church. Hence, Canticum Canticorum equates to Song of Songs Return
  9. See Isaiah 45:15. The prophet lived in the second half of the 8th century BCE and, according to some Christian readings; his work predicts the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. Return
  10. General Jan-Henryk Dombrowski, Polish Corps Commander of Napoleon's Army. Return
  11. The gabbai is a person who assists in the running of the synagogue, particularly its rituals. Return
  12. Next to synagogues, the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) was-- and perhaps remains-- the most identifiable institution within a Jewish community. Any city claiming a sizable Jewish population operates one and, in less densely settled areas, they may be organized regionally.
    The Chevra Kadisha consists of volunteers: men and women who see to it that the bodies of Jews are prepared for burial according to halacha (Jewish law) and are protected from desecration, willful or not, until burial. Two of the main requirements are the showing of proper respect for the corpse, and the ritual cleansing of the body and subsequent dressing for burial.
    The task of the Chevra Kadisha is considered a laudable one, as tending to the dead remains a favor that the recipient cannot return, making it devoid of ulterior motives. The society's work is therefore referred to as a chesed shel emet (a good deed of trust), paraphrased from Genesis 47:29 (where Joseph promises his father to bury him in the Land of Israel).
    At the heart of the society's function is the ritual of tahara, or purification. The body is first thoroughly cleansed of dirt, body fluids and solids, and anything else that may be on the skin. Tahara may refer to either the entire process, or to the ritual purification. Once the body is purified, the body is dressed in tachrichim, or shrouds, white garments which are identical for each Jew and which symbolically recall the garments worn by the High Priest. Once the body is dressed, the casket is sealed.
    The society may also provide shomrim, or watchers, to guard the body from death until burial (although in some communities this is done by people close to the departed). At one time, the danger of theft of the body was very real, now it has become a way of honoring the deceased.
    A specific task for the burial society is tending to the dead who have no immediate next-of-kin. These are termed a “met mitzvah” (a mitzvah corpse), as tending to a met mitzvah overrides virtually any other positive Torah law. (NOTE: With the exception of the first paragraph, source material is taken from Wikipedia-- and reviewed for accuracy. Also, refer to Weisser, Michael R., A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landsmanshaftn in the New World, Cornell University Press, 1985). Return
  13. The names of various Chassidic groups (Gur, Kotzker, etc.) generally refer to the towns of their origin. Although families moved, they often followed the same Chassidic dynasties for generations. Return
  14. The Jewish Social Democratic Labor Party, or Poalei Zion, was a Zionist socialist political party in the Jewish Pale of Settlement (part of the Russian Empire to which Jews were confined during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Founded in 1906 as part of the international Poalei Zion movement, it remained illegal until 1917. The organization suffered a damaging split several years later, when a large faction merged into the Communist Party and changed its name accordingly. This branch was dissolved in 1928. However, Poalei Zion survived in Israel and the West, eventually joining with the Labor Party and the World Zionist Organization, respectively. Return
  15. Also, see endnote 4. Shacharit's root comes from shachar, or morning, commemorating the tamid shel shachar sacrifice offered in the Holy Temple every morning Return
  16. A shtibbel is a very small, storefront house of worship, of lesser physical size than a shul or synagogue. Return
  17. Blood libels were based on bizarre accusations by Christians that Jews had killed Christian babies or young children, and used their blood for ritual purposes (winemaking, etc.).The Beilis trial was one of the most notorious, but other cases proceeded in less “orderly” forums, often manifesting themselves in executions, pogroms, and mob rampages. Return
  18. The Socialist Zionist group, Poalei Zion, has been introduced elsewhere. By contrast, the Bund referred to here was a Jewish branch of a secular international (or, at least, regional) workers' movement. Mizrachi existed on a different plane. Founded in 1902 as the religious faction of the World Zionist Organization, it employed the motto: “The Land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel”. Return
  19. Literally translated as the “third meal”. In traditional Jewish life, Friday night dinner was a freshly-prepared feast, lavish by the standards of the time. Saturday lunch – following services and, ostensibly, a healthy walk – was substantial, too. Because of strictures against cooking on Shabbat, this midday meal tended toward some long-simmering stew; think cholent. Coming between mincha and maariv prayers (and after considerable indulgence), the Saturday evening repast was light by comparison.
    The custom of seudah shlishit continues today, during scholar-in-residence or other Shabbat afternoon study programs. It assumes form as a relatively low-calorie – and low-cost – community supper. Return
  20. Jozef Klimens Pilsudski (1867-1935) was a Polish patriot and statesman. Though generally left of center, his politics at their core could be summarized as vehemently anti-Russian. Pilsudski created the First Legion and aligned it with the Central Powers during World War I; his underlying goal was to weaken Russia and, at the same time, stir rebellion in Polish cities. Largely due to his efforts, Poland regained its independence in 1918 – after 123 years of foreign occupation. Pilsudski went into and out of power several times, but he maintained internal authority from 1926 until his death and remained Poland's most recognizable leader on the international front. Return
  21. As in some of the instances here, given names were not always listed in the original text. Return
  22. The Eastern European Jewish movement to emigrate, especially to Palestine (Israel). In Hebrew, hehalutz indicates “the pioneer”, the sort of hardy individual needed to settle an uncultivated land. Return
  23. Aliyah, when used in its most direct form, means to go up – or ascend. When someone is given an aliyah (honor) during the Torah service at synagogue, s/he rises to the bimah (podium). Hachshara aliyah, however, means to prepare for permanent relocation to Israel. Not only does it imply a more definite or longer-term commitment than Hehalutz (see immediately above), but it often has a religious connotation. Again, the contrast between political and religious Zionists gives substance to these terms. Return
  24. This was Germany's murderous master plan, first, to rid its country – and, eventually, its empire (perceived to be the world) – of the Jewish people. Return

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Cultural Status and Communal Lifestyle
in the Years 1905-1925

Eliezer Tzvi Śniadowski

Translated by Yael Chaver

In order to conceive the cultural status and communal lifestyle in Pultusk, in my opinion you need to describe the period up to 1914. I nevertheless want to emphasize that the phrase “communal lifestyle” was at the time merely theoretical, because no such thing actually existed. There was no communal system, nor a community secretary. The office and all the material were located at the house of one of the synagogue managers. The community's leadership was not elected democratically. Three dudzars (managers) were chosen by certain distinguished men in the city who alone had that right. I do not recall the qualifications and responsibilities of the men allowed to vote. I just remember that, as a boy, I was once present at such an election ceremony.

It took place at the synagogue in Belmar, in the presence of a Russian policeman who called certain men's names and invited them to vote. But as I mentioned, only select people had that right and, as usual, only “good Jews” and wealthy men were elected. I remember merely three dudzars: Shlomo Koplowicz, Shimon Ryzynowski, and Ephraim Celnick. The tasks of these managers were very restricted. They weren't involved in cultural or social issues, solely overseeing the community's assets. (The term “dudzar” is derived from the Russian “publican dudzar”, manager in a house of prayer, as the authorities called the religious Jewish representatives). Accordingly, they would approve of and provide for the municipal rabbi.

Cultural life was conducted in a similar fashion. Until the year 1914 there was almost no concept of Jewish culture. The Jewish population was intensely religious and composed of three classes: the followers of a Chassidic sect, Torah scholars, and the common masses, that is to say working class Jews (trades people, etc). The last group felt inferior to the “good Jews”, like the community leaders who sat on the eastern wall of the synagogue facing the congregation. Success for the simple Jew meant getting a lamdan (educated person) to marry his daughter. This was a huge honor and was the ultimate aspiration of every Jew in the city. Every father also aspired that his son would be among the Torah scholars and belong to the class of “good Jews”.

During that time all the young men from the study hall and the mechuzakim (youth particularly elevated by Torah study) belonged to their own social class. They were far from the universal literary world and felt no need for it. On the contrary, when a young man began to engage in a bit of secular learning or read newspapers, he was considered an apikores.

Educating a son meant the following: Sending the four-year-old boy to Cheder (religious school), where he would embark on Chumash, Rashi, and Talmud until the age 13 or 14 – when he would continue his learning in the study hall or in the Gur shtibbel. There were parents who sent their sons to yeshiva until they married.

The public/government-run educational system was almost nonexistent. For political reasons the authorities preferred general analphabetism (illiteracy). Though there were primary schools and even Russian gymnasiums, they were designated only for Christian students and, even then, it was not required that all children finish. A very small percentage of the Jewish population sent their children to public schools. These were the “progressive” parents who had nothing to do with Judaism; however, they mainly sent their girls there. At that time it was very difficult to sever a boy from his Judaic studies. The gymnasium was only opened to the privileged: like the children of officers, senior clerks, and those in powerful positions. It was very difficult to get accepted there, and almost entirely denied not only to Jews, but to ordinary Christians.

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After the revolution of 1905, the authorities introduced changes and began to require that Jewish children attend school. The Jews accepted this as a harsh decree. They called an assembly of the Chassidic elders and Torah scholars and decided to lobby. And that is why the law directed at providing Jewish children with a secular education remained only a law in theory.

I remember when I went to cheder, our teacher sent us to school for only one hour, just to fulfill the requirements. The studies were worthless. The most we learned was to write Russian letters. There was only one class for all the children of the cheder, with no distinction of age, yearly exams, or certificates.

The education of a daughter proceeded in similar fashion. When young, she attended a girls' Cheder or a woman was hired at home to teach her to pray (the latter occurred mainly in distinguished homes; most parents most would concede this private tutorial option). Afterward, when she knew her way around the prayer book, she stayed home to help her mother mothers with ritual activities and household chores. By the time she was ready for marriage, she had learned to write a bit of Yiddish. A few friends would get together and hire a teacher “by the hour”. It is worthwhile mentioning here the teacher Veilkebroda (Long Beard), who would give lessons to groups of girls in his home, particularly instructing them to write letters in Yiddish. They called him “Moshe the Blind” because he saw with only one eye. The nickname Veilkebroda suited him because he had a long beautiful beard; he belonged to the Gur Chassidic sect, was a community go-getter, and stood at the head of the “lodging charity” company.

Sometimes, the girls would hire a teacher for Russian, Polish, and mathematics – but only in wealthy families. The parents nevertheless were displeased. Many times these “lessons” caused severe family “incidents”, sometimes ending with a romance or actual wedding (as happened in a Chassidic family from Pultusk, leaving a strong impression on the city and even receiving coverage in the newspapers).

Newspapers still were considered impure. When the First World War broke out and any information from the front was coveted, Jews would grab the paper from each other. Despite the fact that these journals had no connection to anything cultural, we, the young men, didn't dare open it in the small shtibbel. When the awaited newspaper arrived, we read it in the attic of the Gur Chassidic shtibbel.

I remember how the first signs of cultural life in the city sprouted, and who were among the first (or actually the first) pacesetters to nurture modern youth culture. Yeshayahu Kuperminc's bookshop was a hub. The proprietor hailed from Ostrołeka, opened a bookstore and, next to it, a Hebrew and Yiddish library. In return for a small monthly fee, he lent reading books. He was a newspaper agent at the same time. As a result, his shop contained newspapers and assorted journals. He thus became one of the first to spread the light in Pultusk. His business also served as a meeting place for young people who held discussions on cultural topics that were at the “top of the world”.

In 1914 when the war broke out, communal and cultural life was disrupted until the German occupation. A new era then began. The German authorities started ingratiating themselves to the Polish people and gave them certain autonomous rights, including civil order and municipal elections. The Jews also received communal standing, based on democratic foundations. The community was established with Avraham Chaim Bloom (later, Yitzhak Meir Baumgarten) acting as chair, Yaacov Jabłonka as secretary, and Mendel Rojzner as treasurer.

Different organizations were founded, like the Zionist movement and all its branches, and a library. Likewise, the Jewish gymnasium. With the invasion of Poland by the German army, came two military rabbis, Dr. Pinchas Kohen and Dr. Joseph Tzvi Carlebach, who laid the foundations of the Agudat Yisrael party and with the support of the German authorities, successfully spread the idea among Orthodox groups.

I remember: As a frequent visitor in the rabbi's home, I was present when he received a letter from the German regional ruler requesting that he establish to a branch of the “Aguda” in Pultusk. The preliminary meeting was then held in the Beit Midrash, and Zindl Rojzenberg was the key speaker.

In Warsaw the daily newspaper Der Yud (“The Jew) began to appear with rich literary works, and advocating for Agudat Yisrael. German Orthodox journalists worked there and the German authorities financed the paper. Agudat Yisrael Youth also was founded, and it yielded a library of Orthodox literature and different journals of the same type. Night classes were opened; the instructor would teach a page of Talmud every night.

This is a short summary of the cultural status and communal lifestyle during that time, in Jewish Pultusk which no longer exists. Community relations were conducted by German authorities, within a Polish framework.

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On the Communal Lifestyle until 1914

Excerpted from T. Makower in the Ostrów Mazowiecka Memorial (Yizkor) Book, p. 194.

Translated by Yael Chaver

Up until the year 1914, the Jewish community had no independence. The board members or managers, dudzars, were rather like beadles in the Russian towns. Only they had the right to vote, and the elections were not democratic. They also were responsible for choosing a rabbi. This task involved putting together a list of candidates and estimating how much each person must pay, however, the payment was collected by the municipality. The dudzars also decided “who blessed” in the study hall during a galobka (royal family birthday).

During this ceremony, the rabbis and dudzars had to be present. The rabbi read a chapter of Psalms and the cantor, together with the choir, sang “He Who Gives Salvation to Kings” and the Russian national anthem, “God Save the Czar.” An official representative (the local or regional governor) also was present. Sometimes the district governor, himself, arrived.

The municipality, not the dudzars, leased the bathhouse – with the mikvah (ritual bath). The community would pay the rent directly to the municipality, which would use this income to subsidize part of the rabbi's salary. The rest of it came from the butchers, in connection with ritual slaughter. The dudzars had the right to select a rabbi, but were forbidden from using the money for charity. The aid institutions had difficulty surviving independently (that is to say, collecting donations from individuals). Of course, under these impoverished circumstances everything was neglected.

Only in the year 1924 did Pilsudski's order appear about Jewish communal elections and the selection of rabbis. In the larger communities, an administrative body as well as a 12-person council was chosen, and the council then picked eight board members. A council member was not allowed to be a board member. The community's administration had completely different functions. One of its tasks was to put together a budget for all religious needs; to sustain the rabbis, kosher butchers, rabbinical judges, trustees, ritual baths, places of Torah study, guarantees, religious schools, etc.; and, likewise, support the charity and aid institutions.

[Page 79]

Pultusk, Economy and Culture

Refoyl Moyshe Shakh

Translated by Yael Chaver

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the predominant political party in Poland was the National Democratic Party (“Endecja”), headed by Dmowski. Their major goal was to force the Jews out of economic activity in Poland. The slogan “Don't buy from Jews, buy only from your own kind, from Poles” became popular. Various cooperatives and economic enterprises were created, and the Polish population felt it was its “patriotic duty” to refrain from buying from Jews. Anti–Semitism and reactionary trends grew more powerful from 1912 on, when the socialist candidate Jagiello was elected to the Fourth Russian Duma, in part thanks to the votes of the Jews of Warsaw.

During those years an “agricultural syndicate” was formed by a group of Polish landowners and major farmers, to provide metals, agricultural machines, and to export grain. Two large manufacturing and haberdashery businesses were established, and several groceries. While this had a negative effect on Jewish commerce and crafts, it also stimulated Jewish merchants and artisans to get organized. A mutual aid fund was established, which quickly gained the confidence of all strata of Pultusk Jewish society as well as that of the Wzajemnie Kredit (“mutual credit”) bank, which served the town merchants exclusively. Both institutions were set up at a time when the Jews' economic circumstances deteriorated, and the only Polish bank in town (the Industry Bank) stopped making loans to Jews. Both Jewish institutions played a great role in supporting Jewish

[Page 80]

commerce and crafts by giving loans and suitable credit to their members. The Beilis trial (blood libel), which lasted for two and a half years (from the spring of 1911 to the autumn of 1913) bolstered anti–Semitic agitation in Poland, and gave rise to calls for a boycott.[1] In Pultusk, the priest Shredzhinski notably used the pulpit to encourage anti–Semitism. However, thanks to the elderly liberal prelate, Gensti, who had economic connections with the Jewish population, the incitement in the churches ceased. In his sermons, the prelate himself called for friendship among people.[2]

In spite of the economic boycott, Jewish commerce and crafts developed, aiding the general progress of the town. Large Jewish businesses were established, and many new homes were built. In 1913, Yankel Brim and Avrom Yoysef Asman built several large structures on a large plot of land on Traugutta, Telegraficzna, and Gorky streets, as well as military barracks for Cossacks. A photography business was established by B. Lipnitsky, and two Jewish dentists began to practice: Shmuel Bzhozhovitch and Yeshaye Bzhezhinski.

When the First World War broke out, on August 1, 1914, general mobilization was decreed throughout Russia and several dozens of Pultusk's Jews were drafted into the Russian army. Others, who had been sentenced earlier by the Czarist courts, were exiled into the depths of Russia. Pultusk lay 70 kilometers away from the main front line of Chorzele – Mlawe (Zalde) –Dzialdowo.

When a state of emergency was proclaimed in the town, a volunteer citizens' militia was organized by order of St. Petersburg, and led by the Polish pharmacist Stanislaw Szniegocki. The Jews, who responded to the call of Rabbi Oterman, were divided into two–man watches per street. A city–appointed Christian night–watchman was stationed on every third street. Their only weapons were sticks; they wore white armbands with the city symbol and inscription “Volunteer Citizens' Militia” in Polish and in Russian. The chief organizers of the citizens' militia were Dovid–Hirsh Taub, Berl (Dov) Zilberman – then 20 years old ––, Yeshaye Kupermintz, and the dentist, Yeshaye Bzhezhinski. These watches were active between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Civilians were forbidden to move about the city during those hours.

At first, economic conditions in the town were fine. Many military units were continually moving to the front and back to Pultusk. Jews made their living thanks to the soldiers. However, the situation deteriorated several weeks later, when the town received Jewish refugees from locations near the front: Mlawe, Chorzele, Przanysz, Krasnosielc, Rozan, Ostroleka,Goworowo, Misziniec, and others. They were received very cordially by the residents of Pultusk. Exiles and refugees were quartered in private homes, in the synagogue, and the bes medresh. A special committee was set up to provide food and medical aid for the homeless. The population shared everything with them.

Members of the committee were Avrom Yoysef Hausman, Motl Don, Yoysef Mendl Vagman, Avrom Shakh, Yitzchok Fridland, Simkhe Tselnik, Hersh Zilberman, Shloyme Bargshteyn; the rabbi's sons, Henikh and Sheynman Oterman; Velvl Barnshteyn; Meyer Lipsker; Yeshaye Rozenberg; Dovid Hirsh Taub; Mendl Mintz; and others. Mordkhe Hausman volunteered as bookkeeper.

Jewish soldiers stationed in the town were also taken care of. The Jewish women, headed by Ruzha Don, sewed warm winter underclothes for the Russian army, and sent sweets and fruit to the wounded soldiers in hospitals. Rabbi Khayim Meshullan Kaufman Oterman and the old military tailor Avrom Bzhezhinski were honored by the Czarist regime for this volunteer work.

The Germans took Pultusk with hardly a battle, and were warmly received by the Jewish population.

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The Jews, who could communicate with the German military command, served as go–betweens to the Polish population. The newly created town administration included the following as council members and aldermen: Yekhezkel Taub, Avrom Kaminski, Hirsh Noukevich, Motl Don, Yoysef Shtutzki; Yoysef Henovitch was appointed secretary. Mordkhe Vinograd, Yekhezkel Sokhatchevski, Yitzchok Pianko, Yaskulka, and others were members of the town's militia.

However, economic conditions in the town steadily worsened. Commercial and crafts activity ceased completely. Mendl Mintz's large foundry, which employed 150 people, was burned down during the war, as was the mill jointly owned by Yoysef Mendl Vagman and Note Kaminski. The peasant farmsteads were destroyed. Coupons for food and other necessities were introduced, and handled by Jews. Motl Don, Dovid Hirsh Taub, Shimen Fridland, Frimet Ayzenberg and Note Kaminski started a large canteen, with storerooms and warehouses; they distributed and supplied necessities for the entire Pultusk and Makowa region. They utilized their concession for the benefit of the Jewish population, supported various communal organizations and individuals at a time of grave need and hunger, when masses of people were employed by public works for minimum wage.

However, in contrast to the catastrophic economic situation of Pultusk's Jews, cultural and social life flourished under the German occupation. A Jewish community library was established and political organizations emerged: Zionists, Tse'irey–Tsiyon, Poaley–Tziyon, Mizrachi, and the workers' Bund party.[3] The dramatic club, led by Avrom Kutner, staged plays from the modern Jewish repertoire. Cultural evenings were held, in which speakers from the capital addressed and clarified various issues that concerned the audience. Among the visitors were Yankev Zrubovl, H. D. Nomberg, I. M. Vaysenberg, Yoel Mastboym, Hillel Tseytlin, Dr. Milikovsky, Beynish Mikhalevich, Viktor Alter.[4]

At this time the town was jolted by the arrest of Berl Zilberman, who was accused of spying for Russia and sent to Germany. Six months later, another Jew from Pultusk was arrested: Yeshaye Rozenberg, a former contractor and timber merchant. Intercessions proved useless, even that of the German governor Von Baseler. The prisoners were not released.

Some relief occurred when the energetic Mendl Mintz obtained papers for travel to Germany, where he purchased two trucks full of new machines and materials to repair his burned–out factory. He re–opened the factory, and supplied many unemployed Jews with work.

By the end of 1916, most refugees had left Pultusk and returned home. Those who stayed in the town constantly struggled to make a living. They did the hardest and most unsuitable jobs. Prosperous Jews, who in their previous homes had been well–established merchants, now became tailors, cobblers, or even wood–choppers…[5]

Dire poverty was rampant. One Saturday night, when rich Ger hassids gathered in their shtibl for the “third meal,” a group of women burst in and threatened them with rolling pins, demanding food and help for their starving children.[6] The Bet–Lekhem (“house of bread”) organization, founded by Yeshaye Kupermintz, Simkhe Tzelnik, Shloyme Bornshteyn, and others, was very active: they delivered charity collection boxes to all Jewish homes, and set up weekly voluntary donations for the needy. Zelig Rozenberg's home was the site of a soup kitchen, run by Mrs. Royze Rozenberg. However, the difficult circumstances in many Jewish homes were only slightly eased by this philanthropic activity, and new requests for help arrived daily

[Page 82]

During the week of Passover 1916, the Ger hassidim called a meeting of the congregations of all the hassidic shtibls. Avrom Khayim Blum, Avrom Birnboym, Sholem Hersh Lindberg, Yisroel Frenkel, Fayvl Rotblat, and others called to create an organization of ultra–orthodox Jews, “Association of Faithful Jews.” Once the association was established, it housed all the cheders of the town in the spacious home of Betzalel Mayersdorf.[7] The melamed Yehuda Itzl Paskovich helped bring this about. Thanks to his tireless efforts, the cheders were relocated in comfortable rooms, and the students began to study in modern and hygienic surroundings, as required by the German authorities. A German volksschule was also opened for Jewish students, directed by Yitzchok Gutman.[8] The teachers were Motl Don, Herman Shtutski, Yitzchok Yudkevich, and Miss Bukhman.

Thanks to the initiative of Yeshaye Kupermintz, a committee was formed in order to establish a Jewish gymnazya in the town.[9] In addition to Kupermintz, the committee consisted of Yitzchok Tselnik, Shloyme Bornshteyn, Mendl Goldshteyn, Avrom Ruzha, Yitzchok Fridland, Dovid–Hersh Taub, Hersh Zilberman, Yekhezkel Vloska, Shmuel Yismakh, and Yeshaye Bzhezhinski. Their efforts led to the creation of a Jewish middle school, consisting of four grades. Avrom Lipman, a refugee from Pinsk, was appointed principal. Opening the Jewish gymnazya greatly impressed the Jews of Pultusk. With the tacit approval of their husbands, many hassidic mothers sent their daughters to the gymnazya to get a general education, “suitable for modern times,” and not have to desecrate the Sabbath in a non–Jewish school.

In 1917, Yoysef Mendl Vagman approached the municipal authorities, proposing an electrical lighting system. The council agreed, and an electrical grid was set up, powered by Vagman's mill in the old town. 90% of the workers involved in building the power grid were Jews.

Once the first Polish independent government was established in Lublin and Polish currency was issued, chaos overtook the economy and a black market ran rampant. The German military and civil administrations tried to stem speculation through creating a special office that confiscated goods and levied heavy fines on speculators. Honest merchants often suffered due to informers and blackmail. This led to the creation of merchant and craftsmen unions. Both associations aimed to protect their members against false accusations, deal with the taxes decreed by the German administration, normalize prices of goods and crafts, and intervene with the authorities on various issues. Leybush Don was elected chairman of the merchants' association. Yekhezkel Vlaska, Alter Yashizna, Moyshe Shperling, Fayvl Melnik, Moyshe Dronzhek, and Yoysef Blumshteyn were on the board of the craftsmen's association; the board was headed by Avrom Ruzhe.

Pilsudski's forces entered Pultusk in the spring of 1916: the Fifth People's Legion, and an artillery battery. Jews were among the fighters. Officers included Slavoj–Skladkowski, later the Premier and Minister of the Interior, who served as physician in the epidemic hospital, and Captain Koszcielkowski, later premier of one of the Polish governments.

During the German occupation, Jews collaborated with the Polish population of the town. In October 1917 a secret Polish military organization attacked a German position and killed two guards. The Polish patriot Czaplicki was killed in this operation; a Jewish delegation, headed by Rabbi Oterman, participated in his funeral (which turned into a popular demonstration against the German occupation).

[Page 83]

The two Jewish council members, Hirsh Nutkevich and Simkhe Tselnik, as well as Secretary Yoysef Henovich, voted with the non–Jewish representatives on various local and national issues. Jewish gymnazya students also participated in the German capitulation on November 11, 1918.

However, in spite of the Jewish population's loyalty towards the first independent Polish state, the Jews did not renounce their Jewish values and national pride. When a bloody pogrom took place in Lemberg in December 1918, the Pultusk Jews reacted with a mass protest in the bes–medresh, with black banners and burning candles.[10] The rabbi eulogized the fallen martyrs and expressed the grief of those gathered. The speakers, Yankev Hausshpigel and Shmuel Yismakh, called for solidarity with the Jewish members of the national council of the temporary Polish government, headed by Yitzkhok Grinboym, and support in their struggle for Jewish rights.

At the end of 1918, the first draft in independent Poland was announced, calling up those born in 1898. The conscripts took their oath of allegiance to Polish authorities in the synagogue, in the presence of the rabbi as well as military and civil authority representatives. During the Polish–Soviet war, the draft was extended to include those born in six additional years.[11] The following members of the Pultusk Jewish community fell in this war: Dovid Oshtzhega, Leybovich, and Shenberg. The 7th regiment of Haller's army arrived in town in 1920; they had been organized in France, and were headed by French officers.[12] This military unit was notorious for its anti–Semitism. The “Hallerists” threw Jews off the trains, cut off beards, etc. The situation in Pultusk, however, was relatively calm, because the colonel commanding the 7th regiment was a French Jew who did not allow any excesses.

Once the Polish army was driven out of Kiev during the Bolshevik invasion of Poland, and the Red Army drew near Pultusk, the Polish soldiers leaving the town began to plunder Jewish businesses. Several Jews were arrested, including Dovid Zilbershteyn and Ben–Tsiyen Blum; they were taken to the Jablonna military detention camp.

Pultusk was under Soviet control for eight days, and then reoccupied by the 15th and 18th Polish infantry regiments. The Polish military authorities immediately began to conscript Jews for labor, young and old alike (the present writer was among them, then aged 13). Among other tasks, they had to clean out the refuse from the tower. Two days later, dozens of Jews were incarcerated in this tower, on charge of collaborating with the Bolsheviks. Among them was the elderly Hersh Nutkevich; the beatings he suffered there caused his death shortly after his release. Captain Zakrzewski was especially sadistic towards the Jewish detainees. The 13th regiment, which was organized in the town, conscripted Jews and paraded them through the streets for military exercises, wearing civilian clothes and military hats. They were commanded by low–ranking Polish officers, and accompanied by anti–Semitic songs.

After the Soviet–Polish treaty, at the end of 1920, Jewish emigration abroad increased, including emigration to Palestine. The Pultusk branch of He–Halutz, which was established in 1921 by Mordkhe Zilberman, Hertske Burshteyn, Yehuda–Leyb Piekazh, Moyshe Ring, I. Rozenberg, and others, reached an agreement with the landowners Fefer and Shereshevsky, to establish an agricultural training farm on their property in Wieliszew, 35 km from Pultusk.[13]

After the government of independent Poland was established and fully organized, the development of Jewish political and social life accelerated. In Pultusk, the Zionist organizations Po'ale Zion and youth organizations, as well as the Bund were active; there was also an illegal Communist party. A popular university was established by Simkhe Don, Aharon Domb and Mordkhe Zilberman; it offered lectures on various scientific and cultural topics.

[Page 84]

These were held in the new cinema hall, built by Nosn Nutkevich. A drama club was also active. The various political parties and youth organizations held cultural and scientific events, as well as other educational activities.

After Pilsudski dissolved the Polish parliament in 1926, created an unaffiliated “Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government” (BBWR), and took over power, he fought against the anti–Semitic “Endecja”; this improved life for the Jews. However, when Hitler rose to power in Germany, anti–Semitism in Poland increased. The government provided economic support to Polish commerce and crafts. Once the non–aggression pact with Germany was signed, Polish society as well as leaders grew more sympathetic toward National Socialism, primarily as related to the solution it offered to the Jewish problem.

Anti–Semitic hatred in Pultusk already had its adherents. On the eve of Purim, 1927, the Pole Czeslak murdered the gentle and modest cobbler, Fayvl Melnik at his market stall, for no reason. This murder shocked the Jewish population, which participated in the funeral en masse. The Jews were later stunned to hear that the murderer had been sentenced to only a three–year prison term…[14]

However, this gruesome murder and the widespread and increasingly harsh anti–Semitism among Poles was only a prelude to the bloody tragedy of the Jews of Pultusk and the entire Jewish population of Poland during the Second World War.

Translator's Notes:
  1. Menachem Beilis was accused of murdering a Christian child for ritual purposes in Kiev, and eventually acquitted. In 1912–1914 there was a boycott of Jewish businesses in Poland. Return
  2. Except for the Bund, all these parties were Zionist in varying degrees. Return
  3. Except for the Bund, all these parties were Zionist in varying degrees. Return
  4. Most of these are well known: Zrubovl was a Labor Zionist leader; Nomberg, Vaysenberg, Mastboym and Tseytlin were Yiddish writers; Milikovsky was a Zionist activist, later the grandfather of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Return
  5. Ellipsis in the original. Return
  6. A shtibl is usually smaller than a synagogue, and is a place of worship associated with hassidic groups. The “third meal” on Saturday night concludes the traditional Shabbes meals, which begin with the Friday night dinner. Return
  7. The cheder was roughly equivalent to elementary school. Return
  8. Gymnazya is a middle, or high school. Return
  9. Gymnazya is a middle, or high school. Return
  10. The German name of Lwow. Return
  11. The war took place in 1919–1921. The Yiddish original is rather confusing, but this seems to be the meaning. Return
  12. A Polish military force during the First World War, led by General Jozef Haller, and comprising Polish volunteers who fought with the Allies in France and were later transferred to Poland. Return
  13. He–Halutz was the main European Zionist movement espousing and supporting emigration for agricultural settlement of Palestine. Return
  14. Ellipsis in the original. Return


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