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The Economy and Institutions


Making a Living in Ciechanowiec

by Ephraim Eliyahu Ribak z”l

Translated to English by Beate Schützmann–Krebs

Donated by Dr. Miroslaw Reczko,
Chancellor of Bialystok University of Technology

Edited by Judy Baston and Susan Kaplan Stone

The textile industry played a major role in the economic life of Ciechanowiec. Regarding the start of manufacturing in Russia, the following is said: A Russian Tsar or a Tsarina desired to have manufacturing in the country. As a result, German skilled workers were hired and those who received special privileges with the order introduced the textile industry in Russia and Poland.

These Germans came to Lodz, where they opened factories to produce linen and cotton. In the towns around Lodz - Zgierz, Tomaszów and others – high quality types of fabric were made. In Bialystok and the surrounding area, the materials were of lesser quality. In our shtetl such experts arrived, who found the place suitable for the task of producing woolen fabrics.

During my lifetime one could still point out some Germans, who were said to be the ones who laid the foundation for the industry in our shtetl. Actually, they were the children of those Germans, although they, too, were old people already.

Jews, who were banned from farming by the government, soon found that the new industry offered them great opportunities, especially since they were able to communicate better with the German textile masters. Indeed, Jews got involved in large numbers in manufacturing, be it as workers, weavers, etc. or as merchants to get the raw materials such as wool and others. Among them were commission-based agents who brought the materials to the storekeepers. Some Jews even became manufacturers themselves.

The majority of the Jews and Germans at that time were rather conservative and worked harmoniously with one another. Lodz and Bialystok cooperated to a large extent with the aim of modernizing the trade and optimizing the machines in such a way that better fabrics could be produced. However, Ciechanowiec

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remained old-fashioned. Our machines and dye-works were only able to process pure wool, no blended yarns with cotton content or “shade” (old, revamped wool). Ciechanowiec revised cloth, “kastyor” (plant fiber or silk fabric) and “burke” in firm colors, but without a prefabricated pattern. In fact, it wasn't particularly attractive to look at, but on the other hand, it was very long lasting.

If one relined a fur with our kastyor, the cloth material would survive the fur. An overcoat made of cloth from our factories would actually last a lifetime. Even if your father had originally made it, you could still use it to make clothes for a child.

Jews and Germans had very close business ties and to some extent, even close social ties. There was no case of active, widespread hatred. Real anti-Semitism did not show up at all, although the younger Germans may have read anti-Semitic books and newspapers in the German language.

In fact, at that time in the 19th century local weaving mills did not treat Jewish workers differently. And it was the same with the German workers who were employed by Jewish employers.

In certain situations, there may have been partial disharmony, for example, because Jewish workers did not work on Saturday, but did on Sunday when the German employer was resting. It turns out, however, that this had never disturbed the general life of the Germans with the Jews. Retrospectively, it was a little curious to see how Jewish weavers who were pieceworkers went to work before it got light. At dawn they put on their prayer shawls and tefillin to start praying in the factory.

Also, small factories were established with between 3 and 10 hand-looms and other necessary utensils such as winding wheels and large tables for selecting the wool, spreading the fabrics, and sorting out the waste. There were also long, low stoves, “lezshankes” (extension of a brick stove, also used as a bed), which were heated with thick stumps of wood and ensured both warmth and drying of the wool and pieces of fabric. There, the balebos (owner) and his family used to toil, together with the weavers and the “shpularkes” (in German “Spuler”), people who work with the bobbins to keep them from being overloaded).

Rarely had there been people of other nationalities among the workers, except Jews and Germans. In the weaving mills, a German traditional song used to mix with a Jewish folk song or a piece of sketchy poetry by Schiller, Goethe or Heine was heard together with the singing of liturgical poetry: “naaritsokh venakhdishokh” ( we will revere thee).

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Most owners worked hard, even harder and longer than the workers. In addition, each of them owned a piece of field, a garden, a horse, and a few cows. But the situation of the workers had not been the best. One worked 14 hours a day, six days a week, and earned three rubles a week. Weavers were pieceworkers, earning between six and eight rubles a week, depending on how fast they were. But they were not aware of their situation. There was no friction between workers and “balebatem” (owners). The word “strike” had not yet come to mind. Workers and manufacturers, Jews and Germans, lived together in peace.

The factories also provided the livelihood for the “balegoles” (wagoneers). Each of them had a “drangaven vogn”, which was the cheapest team of horses there was. In the majority, the horse was very old and sick. The cart moved on four simple wheels with two long poles and had 4 pegs on the sides with a sack of fodder for an old horse without teeth. The latter improved the “kalyaske” (open carriage). In a pinch, the owners themselves became “izvashtshikes” (coachmen), that is “balegoles”.

Since we had no load carriers, they had to manage the transports. They brought the long “tshikhes” (pillowcases) with wool to the manufacturers, delivered and picked up the materials to and from the factories , brought the flour from the “melshenkers” (flour keepers) to the bakers, and transported salt bags and barrels with pegs and the like.

In a district of the shtetl, which was on the Polish side, spread out and apart from the usual Jewish sources of income such as small business, taverns, and every kind of special handicraft business, there was large-scale trade in cattle and poultry. Also well-marked was the trade in sheep, which was driven in large herds to Warsaw and other large cities, even abroad. Eggs were transported in boxes and baskets that were padded with chopped straw so that the goods would not break.

Geese and ducks were driven on foot in masses of tens of thousands. The flocks trekked all day long, driven by shepherds with whips made of long boots with strips of fabric. Those geese that were left behind being unable to walk anymore, were led onto a special cart. It was a wonderful spectacle to watch! Every species protested in its own language. When the herds marched past, they made a lot of noise on the paths and streets. Fattening such large numbers of animals was a real pain, but ultimately they brought good profits.

Jews from Ciechanowiec's 'New-Town' acquired part of their sustenance from the large yarid (fair for selling goods) and the “Voytsekh Fair”, which usually took place around “'khalemoyd” (chol hamoed, the intermediate 4 days in the middle of the beginning and end of Passover).


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it was a horse market. “Konyukhes” (horse dealers) came from near and far, partly to trade, partly to consider a trade, or just to give their expert opinion. They looked at its teeth to know the age of the horse, looked under its tail to assess the health of the animal, examined its eyes to check eyesight, and raised the horse's feet to check its speed, gentleness, or possible stubbornness.

However, “blate khevrelayt” (members of criminal gangs) used to come to the fair, as well as gypsies and pickpockets, who tricked the seller during the haggling. The haggling started with a loud clapping, like applauding. The gang members were extremely skillful. They quickly removed a five-ruble piece while adding a “dreier” (coin of little value ). Another trick was to swap a coin just at the last minute, which was checked by a buyer and found to be acceptable, an eagle against an old, half-blind poodle.

Actually, the “Voytsekh Fair” took place on both sides of the shtetl, but officially it was on the Polish side. In fact, every house there became an inn, a tavern, or a kitchen. Barns or stables were rented for the 'upper-class' horses, with washed and combed manes. They were draped with braids, colored bows, and hair bands.

Strange people showed up there including Jews with massive necks and puffed up bellies who spoke a distorted Yiddish: “Yakh, hets, vues”. In doing so, they uttered “drey-gorndike” (three-storied fierce) curses and “yakerdike” (vigorous) swearwords from their mouths.

In addition to the horse dealers, hundreds of other merchants and retailers of all kinds came to the fair to sell and buy. There were stands with cheap Warsaw haberdashery and odds and ends from the “nalevkes” (Jewish section of Warsaw, former Nalewki Street, today the 'Bohaterow Getta' / 'Heroes of the Ghetto') with toys, knives, combs, and purses.

The gypsies and the “katerintshikes” (organ grinders) also showed their skills. They showed “lucky fate” boxes from which canary birds or white mice pulled the 'right' notes. There were also fun makers, artists, and acrobats who showed their expertise on the open road.

And after the performance, a beautiful woman in a lion-colored costume or even a monkey, came and went around with a plate, like - “lehavdil” (to make a larger distinction) - a “pyekhotner” (itinerant preacher on foot ) in the Beit HaMidrash (House of Study). The fair was the biggest event in the shtetl.

Another important (indirect) source of income was the “post”, which was on the Polish side. Hershel the postman was an agile Jew and carried out the mail in an energetic way. Russian lords and officials were very annoyed. After all, this was a clear violation of the “kromye yewrey

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gezets” (Law on the Exclusion of Jews). However, since Hershel was such a capable person who was able to decipher the incomprehensible handwritings and did not even accept the salary, but left it to the post office workers, he held the position. Anyway, he got his salary by the balebatem (owners, householders), but never took anything from poor people. The journal readers, who couldn't wait until Hershel finally brought them the paper, went to the post office themselves to find out what had happened in the world. Nevertheless, they gave him his wages. When he showed up on the street, the Jews ran to meet him to get their letters. But Hershel comforted them with a smile: “It's still being written but God willing, it will arrive soon!” Even when the mail was moved to the Russian side, Hershel still kept his position.

The fact that our shtetl was 18 kilometers away from the nearest train station was the basis for the development of an important business: the “balegoles” (wagoneers, coachmen)! R 'Jacob Smoliar, the balegole, drove regularly to Bielsk. Although he was a wagoneer, he was almost an advocate as well, who always knew “where, when, who, and why” one had to come to the “natshalstvo” (high official, commander).

To Siemiatycze used to drive a special balegole, as well. But in order to get to any places, where no coachmen went, one had to hire a farmer. It goes without saying that the most popular route was to the train station in Czyzew. This connection was reliable and on time.

The Minister of Transport was R' Chaim-Feivl Kalamash, who had 12-15 covered wagons as well as carts for loads. He himself, a noble Jew, wasn't a “shmayser” (wagon driver). Rather, he was a ben-toyre (Jewish scholar), a bal-shakres (prayer leader during morning prayers) and a bal-koyre (prayer leader in the synagogue). His task was to do the merchant's accounts, while both his children and his hired wagon drivers did the work of transportation.

He even had his own “haganah” (security), a bodyguard of goyim (non-Jews), which was supposed to protect passengers from raids by farmers. In the event that the goyim from the village went wild and induced a pogrom, his few dozens of wagon drivers used to move along with his “haganah” equipped with “dakslen” (wagon tongues) and poles. They were joined by the “katsovim” (butchers) with their knives, the weavers with their sticks, and the blacksmiths with their hammers and stakes. And they gave the attackers a lesson to remember. A few minutes later, there were gaping wounds on heads and bleeding noses. The goyim fled in panic. For a while they didn't dare to attack the Jews, not for anything in the world.

On Kowalski Street, which got its name because there were a number of forges, Jews produced carts. Everything was done there, from the wooden frame to the ironwork. The Jews made other types

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of carts there, including carts for farm work and horse-drawn carriages. Also, “shetskarnyes” (machines that cut straw) were built there and English scales, which showed 10 pounds instead of 1 pound (1 Russian ôóíò = about 0.9 pounds).

At times, in some forges more than 20 smiths were employed. They were laborers with callused and strong hands. They moved the long poles of the bellows to create an air flow until the coals were fanned, glowing silver and golden from fire. In this way, the iron bars heated up and became soft enough to be shaped. Under others, they fabricated plows there, small scythes, some parts for spinning and weaving mills, articles for manufacture, as well as house articles like candlesticks, trays, and machine parts made of brass. Coopers were based there, who not only worked on things related to house and furniture, but also worked on manufacturing machines.

A small part of the production was made to order. But mostly, one worked on his own initiative and only after the production, looked for a buyer. Among the usual cobblers and tailors, there were also “tandetnikes” (poor tailors, also dealers with old clothes), who sold ready-made shoes and clothes for men and women.

There was a type of shoes called “kreytsakes” (sandals), little green shoes for children, slippers, and boots for very cold weather conditions. They were made from remnants of fabric and various cloth materials, which were torn off in narrow tapes from the panel of fabric.

Those who manufactured small articles and a number of storekeepers of haberdashery, leather and iron, who were not content with their income or didn't earn enough, used to leave their environment in order to sell their products at the fairs and markets.

This was a hard way to make a living, because they had to drag themselves through the rain and cold, through snowstorms and frost, through the great summer heat, while always being on their small, open wagons. The muddy ways and the wagons that shook the bones were really no pleasure. But the hope that one would do good business at the fair compensated for the difficulties.

This was how Ciechanowiec Jews lived at the end of the 19th century.

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The Economy of Our Shtetl

by Yitzhak Steinberg

Translated to English by Zvika Zmora

In Ciechanowiec there were five large factories which were run with steam power. Four of those were owned by Germans who were local residents. The two first carried the names Shultz and Freimark. These were factories for spinning and weaving. The other two were called Liamfricht and Meyer, and they did the finishing process and dyeing of textiles.

The fifth large factory manufactured various fabrics and was called “The Jewish Steam Factory” because its owner was a Jew called Meir-Yitzchak Scheinberg.

Wood was used to generate the machines because electricity was unavailable in Ciechanowiec in the beginning of the 20th century. Coal had to be imported, whereas wood was plentiful and cheap in the area of the town.

In addition to these five large factories, many Jews manufactured textile products using looms in their own homes. The owners of these “mini industries” were Fishel, Rozen, Alter Lifszyc, Hershel Strakstein and the Rozenblum family. Each one of these families owned ten to fifteen looms. This industry was passed on as an inheritance to their children and their sons-in-law Yitzhak Farber, Yitzhak Rozen, Moshe Rozen and others. Because of the many factories, Ciechanowiec was then named “Little Bialystok”.

Commerce was very prevalent in our town. Most of the commerce was wool products. This trade was mainly in the hands of Simcha Konopiaty and Fishel Rozen, whose wool trade was renowned all over the country and in the neighboring countries. They would buy the wool from the landowners (Poritzim), while it was still on the sheep. The quantity of wool was so large that the advance payments would be many thousands of rubles.

Many people found their livelihood in this trade, mainly middlemen and coachmen who transported the merchandise to and from the railroad station (Ciechanowiec did not have its own train station. The closest station was in Czyzew, about 18 km from Ciechanowiec). The firm Konopiaty & Roszn would transport thousands of wool bales to the factory owners in Biaystok. They were the tycoons of the town. Their fortune was estimated at 200-300 thousand rubles, an immense fortune in those days. There was a popular saying in those days that a Warsaw tycoon has half of what is estimated by others, whereas a Ciechanowiec tycoon has double of what is estimated by others.

There were also rich wheat merchants in Ciechanowiec who exported many wheat containers out of the country. Among the “whales” were Yaakov Botchke, Sender Plonsky and Berl Chazan. There were also small time merchants who would buy the wheat from the farmers in the market for the great merchants.

There was a fair in the town every Monday and Thursday. On these market days, farmers from neighboring villages would congregate in Ciechanowiec. It was so crowded that although there were spacious squares both in the “Alt Stadt” and the “Nei Stadt” markets, they filled many yards with their wagons and blocked the streets. Before the Christian holidays, the farmers would bring wagons filled with goods of all kind. The Gentile women would bring a variety of animals – chickens, ducklings, turkeys, geese, and eggs. The farmers did not take the money, which they earned by selling their goods, to their villages. The money returned to the Jewish hands, to the merchants of textiles, merchants of haberdashery, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, etc.

In addition to the regular weekly market days, there were six or seven large fairs a year in Ciechanowiec. The largest was The “Wojeczech Fair”, which began in the spring season and lasted five to six weeks. This fair was mainly focused on buying and selling of horses. Many foreign horse dealers, especially from Germany, would come to this fair. Many horses were brought from the far ends of Russia. Many homeowners had large yards in which they built large stables, especially for this fair, in which they could hold up to 100 horses. The owners of the large estates would come to the “Wojeczech Fair” earlier and rent the yards, together with the stables.

In Ciechanowiec there were many stores for textile goods. The most renowned was that of Shmuel Jaskolka (or as he was called “Shmuelke Chaizes”). These stores sold textiles of excellent quality mainly for men. The prices were set.

Another store belonged to Israel Mishkes (Kaplansky), in which they sold mostly textiles for women. A third store belonged to Malka Nencies . She ran the business because her husband Reuven Lubowicz was a Torah scholar. When he came to Ciechanowiec, he devoted himself to studying Torah and was removed from worldly matters.

After a time, the store was inherited by their children, the daughter Chayale and her husband Ben Zion Nabozny.

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Artisans and Workers

by Simcha Pasternak (America)

Translated to English by Beate Schützmann–Krebs

Donated by Dr. Miroslaw Reczko,
Chancellor of Bialystok University of Technology

Edited by Judy Baston and Susan Kaplan Stone

At the beginning of the 20th century, the craftsmen and workers in Ciechanowiec were very enslaved. When the first signs of the dawning day showed in the deep darkness of the night, the workers quickly prayed the Shakharit morning prayer before locking themselves away in tight, dirty workshops to work every day almost until midnight.

In winter, when the sun rose later in the sky than in summer, the working day started at 7 a.m. and continued until 10 p.m. During summer in the violent heat when it was so stuffy in the workshops that it was simply impossible to breathe, the workers only worked until 8:00 in the evening. They used to rest on Friday evening, and this was the only free evening of the week.

On Sabbath, as soon as the first stars appeared in the sky, the “poyalim” (workshop's workers) prayed the Maariv evening prayer. Shortly afterwards, they went away to the workshop, and in the dark light of a kerosene lamp, they worked late into the night.

In order to dispel melancholy and boredom, they quietly grumbled a melody from the Sabbath prayers and told stories that were about “tsadikim” (righteous persons).

The situation of the youth workers was even sadder. It was customary to give away one's boy or girl, so that they should complete a two-year apprenticeship. But the children didn't get a bit of salary for it. In the early days of the apprenticeship, they were forced to work with their “balebos” (bosses) as assistants and servants.

But the worst thing about it was that after such hard work, the workers didn't even have enough for a minimal living.

Their wives had to support them how and with only what they could. But that wasn't always enough either. Then, they needed Ciechanowiec's social assistance, which was strongly developed in our place. My mother Bobe donated a lot of time for such social purposes, as well. She mainly dedicated her work to the daughters of poor workers who were able to marry but could not provide a dowry. In these cases, she did not rest until the poor girl was able to build a “family nest” together with her chosen one.

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The Jewish Community After World War I

by Joseph Pasternak

First there was the tragedy of 1915 and then, after the war, the new Polish government instituted new programs and regulations. With all that happened, our town started somehow to rebuild. Our Jewish community built synagogues, religious schools, a hospital, in the name of Ahavat Achim. We organized an orphan committee and arranged welfare institutions. But funds were scarce and all the organizations suffered severe deficits. It was a very difficult time and these necessary communal programs fought for their very existence.

The work was accomplished by volunteers under the supervision of Rabbi Schneerson, may his memory be blessed. Each institution functioned independently. In 1928 the Polish authorities ordered that every Jewish community democratically appoint representatives who would be responsible to the government. The order was carried out in Ciechanowiec and the entire Jewish population participated. A representative group was formed consisting of four lists: Orthodox, Zionist, merchants, and labor. The following were elected as delegates:

President - Shabbtai Kaplansky
Orthodox - Alter Sackno and Yechiel Yablonka
Zionist - David Heller and Lewin the dentist
Merchants - Yosef Schweider and Meir Lavendesh
Labor - Chaim Rosenberg
All of these representatives devoted their energies to the job and diligently worked for the community. However, from the very beginning disaster befell us with the death of Rabbi Zalman Schneerson, the head of our shtetl. It was not easy to find another rabbi, or even a knowledgeable leader who did not have that title. Funds were short, and we had responsibilities towards Rabbi Schneerson's family.

The community was indeed in a dire predicament. Before World War I, we had maintained a “hospitality house.” But that was destroyed in the big fire and was never rebuilt despite the great need for one. Now, when poor Jews would visit Ciechanowiec, there was no place for them. They had to sleep in the synagogue. Visualize the scene; in the morning people would come to the synagogue to pray and there on the benches were sprawled these poor strangers who had no other place for shelter. Sometimes they'd be joined by poor local Jews. And that was not the end of the picture. The problem concerned the dead as well as the living. When a Jew from the outlying area died, he was brought into town for a proper Jewish burial. The body was housed in the synagogue until the funeral. Previously, it would have been brought to the ritual bathhouse, but the government had claimed it was unsanitary and forced its closure. To meet the government's regulations would require 3,000 zloty, money we did not have.

We also needed to build a concrete wall around the cemetery. Anti-Semitism was getting more virulent each day. The bigoted Poles had usually been concerned only with the living but now even dead Jews were anathema to them. They abused our dead by breaking the monuments and other dastardly actions.

Our yeshiva was also in a critical situation. Young men, mostly from Russia, would come long distances to study. They were without parents and away from family and needed sustenance. It took money to clothe and feed them, money we did not have. Funds for all our institutions were dried up; all suffered from the shortage of money. And the townspeople could not help as they were burdened by ever-increasing taxes. This was the situation of the Jewish community of Ciechanowiec in the 1920s. Surely we would have collapsed under that burden were it not for the help we received from the Ciechanowiec Relief Committee in New York. Our landsmen from across the waters answered our appeals and helped us with whatever was possible.

And with all they gave, they answered again when Rabbi Schneerson made an urgent appeal in 1921. He wrote about our poor children and the need for their education. Our American brothers raised still more funds, and we were able to finish the other side of the synagogue which was turned into a Hebrew school. The community house, which had resembled a dilapidated barn, was rebuilt thanks to their help. The building served dual purposes. One part was reserved for living quarters for Rabbi Schneerson and his family. The other part was for Jewish community meetings. It was there that vital issues were discussed and decisions reached.

The Relief Committee continued helping us as the situation became more and more perilous. It was their generosity that enabled us to function in a more or less normal way throughout this period.

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Charitable Institutions of Ciechanowiec

by Yitzhak Steinberg z”l

Social Help

Until 1904 there were no charitable institutions in Ciechanowiec despite the fact that large numbers of poor Jewish beggars would pass through the town. Whole families - men, women, and children - would come each day, spreading out across the town. They would stay for a few days, or even a few weeks, living off whatever they could beg from their fellow Jews. Ciechanowiec was known as a very charitable place and nobody ever went away empty handed. The poor strangers would get double donations. First they would go to the stores to collect what the merchants could spare from their stock. Then they would go house to house.

Thursday was the market day and large numbers of people would converge on Ciechanowiec. The stores were filled with people, among them many Gentiles, who came to sell their goods and purchase for their own needs. The beggars knew that the large numbers of people meant a greater chance for handouts. The merchants also knew that the beggars might come and distract customers. So special people were hired to stand at the entrances to the stores and dispense charity to the poor so that business would not be interrupted. Refusing to help the beggars entailed risk. They were very persistent, and if someone refused to help, they would loudly disparage the person. It was not pleasant to be degraded before all your fellow townsfolk.

To alleviate this most undesirable scene, the Jewish community decided to find other measures to help the poor. A Charity Fund was organized and everyone was obligated to donate monthly. The smallest donation was 30 kopeks and some gave as much as a ruble or two, but each gave according to his ability. Two trustees were appointed to supervise the Charity Fund. One was Berl Ita-Brochas, a learned, honest Jew who assisted the Rabbi in judging difficult questions of Jewish law. The Rabbi would also review cases with him before rendering decisions. Berl was an excellent Torah reader in the Old Synagogue. He was paid by the congregation and since his duties were now expanded, his salary was increased by a couple of rubles a month. He was appointed Chairman of “Social Help”. He would go around with a ledger book to collect the donations the members had pledged. The second trustee was Benjamin Lazarus who was an aide to R' Berl and also insured that those receiving money would not go begging.

In the synagogue yard stood the large Community House. It was remodeled to serve as an open house for poor people. It was there that the needy would congregate to meet with R' Berl. He would distribute to them all - some more, some less. Berl Ita-Brochas had a keen eye and excellent judgment. He recognized the poor and how much help each needed. He discerned between the truly needy and those who begged as a way of life. He knew those who were disrespectful and who would never be satisfied with the aid they received from the Relief Committee. That type would later resume begging from door to door. R' Berl gave less to that kind. It was painful to see such behavior from these ungrateful souls. They would spread out over the town to beg, despite their promises to the Committee. Benjamin Lazarus kept an eye out for these types. It was his aim to catch them and force them to stop begging. He was the bane of the beggars and they would flee as soon as they would spy him. But Benjamin was already up in years and had a handicap that prevented him from running. In most cases the beggars were successful in escaping. Those that were caught were to return the money that they received from the Committee. In practice, the money was rarely recovered, but the rule-breaker was forced to leave town immediately.


The Anonymous Donors and the Orphanage

Another charitable institution of Ciechanowiec was of the type characterized by “giving in secrecy.” Gittel Lazarus took upon herself that responsibility. Who did not know Gittel Lazarus in Ciechanowiec? Why everyone knew her - everyone in the Old City, everyone in the New City, all the young and all the old.

I first became acquainted with Gittel when she was already 50 years old. She looked much older. Her wrinkled face was the face of a much older woman and her back was as curved as the shape of the Hebrew letter - a final kof. She was so bent over you couldn't see her face. But you could see it when she asked for a charitable donation. Then she would straighten up and you would be confronted by a woman of medium height with a wrinkled but very refined visage that would say, “Please give something, as I need it for a very important cause.”

And the “very important causes” were many, such as help for widows or orphans. Gittel knew everyone's problems and tried to provide aid for them all. A girl promised as a bride to a young man was short in her dowry. The prospective groom balked at marrying her. Gittel knew about it beforehand and helped augment the dowry so that the wedding could be held. Or on Thursdays she would arrange to meet two girls from among the poor people. She would give each a sack and she herself carried a wide apron. She would take the girls to the bakeries and collect challahs so that the poor could have a more complete Shabbos. The bakers knew Gittel and donated the challahs with pleasure.

On Fridays Gittel would go to various homes to collect food which she would bring to the Community House, or as it was nicknamed in Ciechanowiec, the Holy Place. The food may have been enough for Shabbat, but these poor people needed food for a whole week. Gittel would provide the food anonymously and did so well into her old age.

In addition to the Community House for the poor and lonely, the Jews of Ciechanowiec cared for the orphans and the homeless. The warmth and concern that were shown the hapless children was characteristic of the fine spirit within the Ciechanowiec Jewish community. Women and men of all classes considered it a holy obligation to care for the children so they would not feel abandoned. The Jewish community wanted the children to feel that the orphanage was a true home and that there were many people who were loving and caring, who would make their life in the orphanage easier.

R' Rosenberg, Chairman of the Orphanage Committee, was crowned “Father of the Orphans.” His devotion to these children was unexcelled. Another who worked tirelessly for this cause was the secretary of the committee, Sima Gittel Pasternak. She cared for the orphans with a deep maternal feeling, and the children responded to her love, considering her a devoted mother. Because of people like this, many children were saved from lives of despair. They developed into healthy and well-adjusted human beings, graduated schools, learned trades, and became independent adults.


The First Free Loan Sociery

This fund was organized by a woman named Chaya Wolf. Her husband, R' Shmuel Wolf, was a successful wood and timber merchant. He was a prominent man in town who gave charity with all his heart to the Jewish institutions.

Chaya recognized that there were businessmen in Ciechanowiec who were less fortunate than her husband, who with a little help and the right opportunity could improve their positions immensely. The problem was that they were always short of rubles. If only they had the funds to take advantage of an opportunity to buy merchandise at a cheap price, they might make a decent profit from their efforts. Mrs. Wolf pondered over their problem and decided to organize a “borrowing fund” in Ciechanowiec.

The first action she took was to “tax” herself 200 rubles for the fund. She then convinced Meir Yitzhak Sheinberg's wife and the wives of Fishel Rosen and Simcha Konopiaty to tax themselves 100 rubles each. Almost immediately, the fund had a total of 500 rubles. Then other wealthy women contributed, some 50 rubles, some 25. In a few weeks over 1,000 rubles was collected. Each day the fund grew. The women organized into a formal committee and selected Chaya as the Chairwoman. Itzel Rosen's wife kept the books. The woman were all volunteers and worked hard and continuously to insure that the funds were safe and would continue to grow.

The first rule that was adopted stated that the goal was a fund of at least 2,000 rubles. Until that was reached, no loan could exceed 50 rubles. Once the goal was reached, loans could be as high as 100 rubles. At the beginning, borrowers would put up some collateral to guarantee the loan. But as the Loan Society expanded, there just was insufficient room to house all the collateral. An alternative procedure was established whereby the borrower had to have a co-signer.

The petty merchants and small shopkeepers had it much easier once the fund was established. On market days they would go to Chaya Wolf's house. They would borrow 50 or 100 rubles from the cash box. Merchandise would be purchased, prepared, and resold. Once the money was back in hand, the loan was repaid.

The Free Loan Society of Ciechanowiec is an historic example of the communal spirit of help that existed in the old Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe. It was a symptom of the love and devotion that marked the relationships between Jews in those small communities.


The Loan and Savings Association

The Director of the bank was Michel Kalamarz, or as they called him, Michel Chaim Faivelis. The bookkeeper and effective leader was Yitzhak (Itzel) Shapiro. The bank had government authorization and operated efficiently. It was the only Jewish-owned bank in the whole region. All the Jewish merchants passed their money through that bank, or the “bankele” as they preferred to call it. Every bride's dowry money was deposited in the bank. They would say, “We must put our money in Michel's bankele.” They were right because their money was safe with Michel. He was a man of wealth, purported to have 100,000 rubles, and it was deposited in his own bank. Michel Chaim Faivelis was a fellow Jew and was sympathetic to Jewish needs.

He really did not need to keep his money in the bank. He conducted another flourishing business. He acted as an agent for “hendikes” (“turkies”), Jews who wanted to leave Eastern Europe for America, Africa, and other destinations. To emigrate from Russia was forbidden. It was necessary to apply for a passport which was very expensive. Even then, it wasn't granted to everyone; perhaps a rich merchant who conducted foreign business and could pay or a sick person who had a doctor's authorization to seek medical treatment in another country. But just to get up and leave was impossible. Despite the impediments to travel, millions sought immigration to America. Around the turn of the century and until World War I, America's gates were open and immigrants were welcomed into the land of the free.

Every Jew in Ciechanowiec who desired to leave Russian controlled territory went to see Michel Chaim Faivelis. They paid him 100 rubles and he arranged all the details for transportation to America. He had two partners in the business, Fishel ben Meir Yoel and his nephew Michel Mendel. They would receive 20 rubles per head for accompanying the immigrant at the start of his journey. Business was so brisk that they would take crowds to the border, arrange for bribes to the guards, and see their landsmen off to a new life. The immigrant did not have to know a thing about the process. The “Catherine” that he paid Michel Chaim was his best charm. It was an amulet that allowed him to leave Russia/Poland. The 100-ruble note was called a Catherine because her picture was printed on it. Some were afraid of engaging in illegal border bribery. For another 10 rubles, Michel Chaim arranged for legal train travel across the border.

With the outbreak of World War I, all the banks closed, including Michel's. The old and the young, mature women and prospective brides - whoever had money in the bank surrounded it and cried out. But the bank was closed and the funds were unrecoverable. Michel Chaim Faivelis and Itzel Shapiro disappeared. So ended the operation of our savings and loan association.

[Page 238]

Medicine and Sanitation
(Doctors, Medics, Midwives, & Druggists)

by Dr. Avraham Spielman, Jerusalem, Israel

When I first came to Ciechanowiec in 1916, there were no medical institutions, facilities, or hospitals. Medical help was administered at the doctor's house or at the home of the ill person. The local doctor would consult with the older and more experienced doctor from Sterdyn in complicated cases. These consultations were seldom held. Even rarer were consultations with an eminent professor of medicine from Warsaw. Serious surgical cases were sent to Warsaw where prominent specialists such as Drs. Soloveitchik, Mishursky, et al would tend the sick person. Or those in dire need of attention were brought to the Jewish Hospital on Tshisto Street.

The establishment of an independent Poland after the end of World War I brought the repatriation of many Ciechanowiec citizens. They had been forcibly evacuated by the Tsarist regime in 1915 during their retreat before the invading Germans. Among those who returned was the so-called Brainsker Doctor. His name was Dr. Sorotchinsky and from the day he returned to Ciechanowiec, he lived near Antonina Court. The dentist Dr. Lewin, a son-in-law of the Horowitz family, also returned. And then there were two non-Jewish midwives. One was formerly Zozhetzka-Fishibalawsko, now known as Lyodzye. The Russians had called her Uradnitschke.

The town had a well which supplied adequate water. And at that time, a well-equipped Jewish medical facility was established, known as Ahavat Achim (Brotherly Love). Another organization was called Linat Hatzedek (Hostel for the Poor). These organizations proposed to provide medical help at cheaper rates than were otherwise available. In the case of Ahavat Achim, members paid fixed monthly dues. If a member needed medical attention, he would come to the society to get a note authorizing treatment. The note would allow the patient to see the doctor or medical technician at 30-40 percent reduction in the regular price of a visit. Ahavat Achim also provided ancillary medical tools such as thermometers, hot water bags, ice bags, or portable bathtubs. In addition, members were assigned to sit vigil at the bedside of critically sick people. Throughout the day and night the unfortunate patients would be watched.

Ahavat Achim was maintained through collection of membership dues and was augmented by contributions of landsleit living in America. It operated in the Old City beginning with the conclusion of the war. Later, a chapter was established in the New City, but the two were totally independent of one another.

Medical care was very limited during the German occupation. The need was enormous but there were only Dr. Novrotzki and myself. With the rise of the Polish government and the Bolshevik invasion, Ahavat Achim along with other Jewish residents intensified efforts to bring another doctor to Ciechanowiec. They succeeded in bringing Dr. Brenner.

At the same time, the Christians attempted to bring in medical personnel to the town. They enticed a Dr. Harnyewicz, a tall, materialistic, Lithuanian who was not friendly towards Jews. After a few years, Harnyewicz left and was replaced by young Dr. Olshewski, a Gentile from a neighboring village. Olshewski was very anti-Semitic.

Through the efforts of the two Christian doctors, the magistrate in Ciechanowiec was able to open a small hospital. It was housed in the former Polish public school and had ten beds. Jews avoided that hospital. I can't remember a single case of a Jew being treated there.

At about the same time the Polish government forced all citizens, Jews included, to pay dues for the establishment of a new medical institution in Ciechanowiec. Dr. Olshewski was appointed Director. The Jews would sarcastically refer to the institution as “Kronkase” (sickness). Olshewski gave the Jews a lot of trouble. Jewish business owners were forced to support his organization and were taxed doubly because they had to pay membership dues for their laborers, most of whom were Polish. If a Jewish homemaker hired a Polish woman as household help, she was required to register her in the medical institution and pay her dues. Olshewski had his spies everywhere and knew who was doing any hiring. The Jews of Ciechanowiec despised the medical institution and those associated with it. Medical care was considered inferior, and even dangerous, because it was administered under the aegis of Dr. Olshewski for whom no one had any trust.

Olshewski gave the Jews a lot of trouble when he was appointed Sanitary Inspector. He would periodically tour the Jewish neighborhoods, inspecting restaurants, food stores, soda water stands, and any other business that would attract him. He would peer into people's yards and wrote reports wherever he went. The reports resulted in summons to the Jews. Whenever the town magistrate needed money, he sent Olshewski out on an inspection tour. Accompanied by policemen, he would head straight for the Jewish quarters and, of course, raised the required funds. The yards of the Gentiles that were so filthy that you would sink in the mud and dirt were never inspected. This Dr. Olshewski is still alive and still working in Ciechanowiec, but now there are no Jews to fine for imaginary infractions.

Subsequent to Dr. Brenner, there were three Jewish doctors in Ciechanowiec. First came Dr. Klotzkin from Warsaw. He was the son-in-law of a rich grain merchant from Zambrow. Dr Klotzkin was a young, decent fellow, and very popular with the Jews of Ciechanowiec. After a few years in the New City, he left for OstrowMazowiecka. Later he went to Bialystok when it was under the domination of the Communists. After Hitler reneged on his treaty with the Reds, Bialystok was quickly overrun and Dr. Klotzkin was killed by the Nazi beasts together with his wife and two wonderful children.

After Dr. Klotzkin left, Dr. Shapiro of Vilna took his place. He quit his practice after a short time and left town. Next came Dr. Faktor, a young native of Bialystok. He returned to Bialystok in 1939 and perished in the Holocaust. Dr. Shapiro had married a dentist from Warsaw and then came back to Ciechanowiec. Both he and his wife were declared victims of the Shoah in Treblinka. But rumors persist that Dr. Shapiro and his wife Basha Zmiyevska committed suicide before reaching Treblinka.

There were also two Jewish dentists in Ciechanowiec. There was the previously mentioned Dr. Lewin and later Mrs. Lyuba Vasilsko-Berkowitz. Dr. Lewin had a well-deserved excellent reputation. His many patients included Jew and Gentile alike. Although he was a Zionist he spent little time in communal work. He lived in his own newly built home in the Old City.

The second dentist, Vasilsko-Berkowitz was another type of person. She was very much a Jewish nationalist. She came from Vitebsk and married a young man from Krynki, Yitzhak Vasilsky. He was a teacher by training but through working with his wife he became an excellent dental mechanic. His work was secondary to his Zionist activities. Their home was the center of the Zionist movement in the New City. Shortly before the advent of World War II, they left Ciechanowiec for Grodno. There they died at the hands of the Nazis.

During the German occupation in World War I, there was only one midwife in Ciechanowiec, the young, diplomatic lady Shayna Feldman (later to become my wife). She was brilliant and was very effective in her work. Nevertheless, the women of the town missed Pshibilowska-Zazshetska, popularly called Ladzya, who had served previously. They constantly spoke of her. When she returned from Russia after the war, the women ran out in the street to hug and kiss her. Ladzya was a native of Ciechanowiec, who had a great deal of experience as a midwife. Already in her sixties, she did not employ newer methods and scarcely had any idea of modern hygiene.

Despite her popularity, Ladzya had some competition in the New City from Shayna Wrona, the wife of a poultry merchant. Shayna, while still single, was a nurse in the hospital of Dr. Harnyewicz. After her marriage, she went to Warsaw and studied midwifery. She returned after one year to set up practice.

There were two drugstores in Ciechanowiec, one on either side of the river, in the Old City and the New City. They were originally owned by Gentiles but were sold to Jewish pharmacists. The Old City drugstore was sold to R' Rabinow from Vilna. His wife was from Mogilev. R' Rabinow was very ill and died in 1940 with the Old City still under control of the Russians. His wife and daughter were murdered at Treblinka.

The New City drugstore was bought by a young Jewish couple. She was a master pharmacist, having studied in Vilna. She was daughter of Officer Beigel, a Jew serving in the Polish army. This young lady was estranged from Judaism as she had received only secular education. Beigel also had two sons, both in the army. One was a captain and the other a lieutenant. The captain owned a drugstore in the shtetl of Boczkii and remained in that region until the end. He died fighting with the partisans. After the death of the elder Beigel, his daughter married a young Jew named Bok from Vilna. He had returned from South Africa with a considerable sum of money. With the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, the Red Army took over Ciechanowiec. They immediately nationalized both drugstores. The former owners were forced to exchange positions. R' Rabinow, formerly of the Old City, was sent to live in the New City. The Boks were assigned to run the Old City store.

When the Nazis occupied Ciechanowiec, they set up a Jewish ghetto but both drugstores remained outside its boundary. The previous owners returned to operate their original stores. My wife Shayna and daughter Tzipke then worked in Rabinow's store. Until the liquidation, Shayna was a cashier and Tzipke was a clerk. The Pharmacist Marisha Bok had been reared in an assimilated Austrian atmosphere and spoke German as well as any native. She was able to pass as a Christian. But the Germans wanted her to divorce her husband. When she refused, they shot her on the spot together with her eight-year-old daughter. The husband escaped into the woods and encamped with some unsavory characters. These men of the underworld discovered that Bok had some gold with him. They robbed him of his last piece. Totally distraught with his own situation and the loss of his family, he threw himself in a well and drowned.

There were in Ciechanowiec a couple of drug warehouses which were illegal. These warehouses operated like the real drugstores, filling doctors' and medics' prescriptions, dispensing medicines and chemicals, and maintaining complete stocks of patent and ready-made formulas. The warehouses presented severe competition to the legitimate drugstores and were reviled by R' Rabinow and Mrs. Bok. Yet, there were plenty of sick people and they all made a good living.

One of the drug warehouses had been around well before World War II. It was modern and well equipped. The owner was R' Sendik, a short man who worked in a very brisk manner with rapid motions. His frenetic pace seemed clownish and he appeared to be a joker. But, in truth, he was an excellent worker who presented real competition to the drug stores. His wife was tall and lanky in complete contrast to his short stature. People would see them walking through town and say, “There go Mutt and Jeff.” (The Yiddish expression is “There are Short Friday and Shabbat Hagadol.”)

Sendik was one of the first victims of the Nazis. He happened to be in Bialystok when the Germans swept into that city. The first job of the barbarians was to catch every Jew they could find and pack them into the large synagogue. Sendik was one of these unfortunates. When the synagogue was full, the doors were barricaded and kerosene and benzene poured around the foundation. Then it was set afire. The blaze engulfed the building. Those who tried to escape by jumping through windows were immediately shot. Three thousand innocent Jews died in that conflagration.

The second drug warehouse was even older. It even predated World War I. It was entirely different from Sendik's modern facility. In those old days, the owner was very difficult to find. His warehouse was a large area with an entrance in the Old City market. Inside were rows of shelves with a myriad of bottles, boxes, and jars. Each contained an inscription in Latin. You could find almost any potion there: herbs, pills, powders, chemicals, and medicines. Also stocked were various soda waters, bitter salt, English salt, castor oil, rock candy, sucking drops, thermometers, cold and hot water bags, plasters, cotton, gauze, bandages, etc. A wooden table and bench were set up in the middle of the floor. On one side of the table was a pharmacist's scale. On the other side were stacks of religious books. A man of about sixty with a long white beard and his head covered with a yarmulke would almost always be sitting on the bench studying from one of the holy books or praying. This patriarchal figure would only pause from his learning to satisfy a customer's needs.

This was R' Avraham Yaacov Shapiro z”l. We were dear friends from my arrival in Ciechanowiec. His warehouse resembled a grocery store more than a pharmacy. But no customer ever left empty handed. They would bargain with Avraham Yaacov, and he would let the merchandise go for whatever price they were willing to pay. He was beloved by his customers, and they always left with a smile, totally satisfied. Avraham Yaacov filled every prescription to the best of his ability. If some ingredient were missing, he would tell the customer to return in an hour. Meanwhile, he would contact the doctor or medic to discuss what changes could be made in the prescription. The doctors had great respect for Avraham Yaacov and would work with him to the benefit of the patient or customer. He used a special antique bowl and spoon to mix the powders and was proud of his technique. He would tell me that his ways were better than those of the modern pharmacists. He was a wonderful person who lived to a very old age before perishing at the hands of the Nazis.

In 1948 I returned to Ciechanowiec for a visit. All medical supplies were then in the possession of Olshewski, the anti-Semite. He was the only doctor left in town. The Old City drugstore was given to Olshewski's brother. The New City drugstore had been destroyed. That is the sad conclusion of another chapter in the history of Ciechanowiec.


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