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[Page 157]

“Centos” – The Organization
That Helped Jewish Children

By Dow Abu-Szmuel

Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In the last several years before the outbreak of the Second World War the economic crisis among the Jewish population in our shtetl became worse. The poverty of the Jewish masses had gone so far that even the shortsighted could see and feel it. It was sharply reflected in the faces of the Jewish children, which were emaciated by the poverty that ruled in their homes. In the morning hungry young boys would run to heder (boys grade school). The girls went to school with smoothly combed heads and nicely twisted braids, but their faces were yellow, pale and without a youthful bloom on them.

There were several reasons for the crisis. First of all it was the direct result of the prevailing crisis in the entire country. The colonels who were then standing at the government helm in Sanacja Poland were occupied with “humanitarian” problems so as to better the conditions for the animals. The Polish gentry were worried that ritual slaughter was inhumane to the animals. Others organized hunts for Hitler's ministers.

There were also boycotts in Czyzewo that were organized in Poland and they were persistent. Pickets stood in front of Jewish businesses and workshops on a daily basis and did not allow any customers to enter. The market days and fairs were now taking place on Shabes.

In Jewish homes the hardship became greater with every passing day and it showed on the children's faces.

Then some young, energetic and devoted people created a group that initiated an earnest relief effort.

There already existed a gmiles-khesed-fund and also other funds that lent certain sums without interest to make it possible for artisans and small businesses to get back on their feet. But under the circumstances it was like a weak injection. What was needed was food.

In these conditions “Centos” was created.

At that time the “Joint” (Joint Distribution Committee) was very active in Poland. Their help was immensely significant. One of its institutions was “Centos” whose task was to work at bettering the physical health of Jewish children in Poland.

The group was put in touch with the Bialystok district committee and they sent us a representative and a committee was formed, headed by Jechusza Lepak hy”d[1] and the writer of this article.

The women who were active participants on the committee were Chana'cze Gorzalczany, Rasza Edelsztejn-Bolender, Chmiel (the wife of the Jewish teacher), Dwojra'ke Raczkowski, Szewa Surowicz, Dwojra Raczkowski-Ber.

These women's lives all ended tragically when the Hitlerites murdered them.

The other members of the committee were Rachel Zusman (today in Cleveland), Batszewa Gorzalczany-Lubelczyk, Malka Malinowicz, etc. They all worked with great devotion.

A people's kitchen was created where every Jewish child, without exception, received a warm glass of milk and a roll every morning.

Bwe were lucky, Chaia'ke, the widow of Chaim the tailor with two small children, organized the kitchen and began work as the cook.

czy157a.jpg [23 KB]
A group of children having breakfast

czy157b.jpg [20 KB]
A summer day when the children ate lunch outdoors

The people's kitchen was organized on the premises we rented from Lejbisz Frydman. Later it moved to Mosze-Lejb Igla's building. The premises were nicely arranged with new tables and benches.

We were very careful to ensure that the lunch would be tasty and also healthy. People gave soup, meat and bread.

All the children in the shtetl came for breakfast and lunch. There were children whose parents were making a living and some were even rich and had the means to feed their children. But we did this in order not to create differences between the children. We did not want the children to be ashamed or think that they were charity cases. Those parents who had the means paid the full value of the meals.

All the work around the institution, except the cooking, was on a voluntary basis by the members of the committee. They helped in the kitchen, purchasing food, serving up food and bringing it to the table.

A lot of work was also done for the health of the children.

The active Endekes (National Anti-Semitic Party) in Czyzewo never allowed us any Jewish doctors. The Jewish community made great efforts many times in that direction. But every Jewish doctor who came to the shtetl sooner or later had to leave due to anti-Semitism.

And so it was at that time, when the boycott raged and the pickets preached hatred. The only doctor was the old Pole Dombrowski who took care of everyone's illnesses, but we did not have faith in his medical capabilities. And his loyalty was suspect. We were afraid for our children's lives. That forced us to create the “AZA” division of “Centos”.

All Jewish children, without exception, we given medical examinations.

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Children at lunch

czy157d.jpg [13 KB]
The beloved Dr. Krau from Sokoly, the “Angel of Salvation” for the Czyzewer Jewish children

[article continued on next page]

  1. Abbreviation used after the name of anyone murdered in the Holocaust. In Hebrew, HaShem Yinkom Domo, meaning May G_D take revenge for them. return

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