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Krynki, the tannery town,
in creativity and struggle

Translated by Eszter Andor


The tannery center in ferment

Krynki – a town with a name

Mordechai V. Bernstein

Among the annihilated settlements well known in the world, Krynki was famous for its leather industry, while among the Jewish public it was famous for its prominent rabbis, and it had a place of honor in the Jewish labor movement of czarist Russia. One of the first historic strikes of hundreds of Jewish proletarians, around which a sizeable literature grew up and which was considered a milestone in the history of the Jewish labor movement in Russia, took place in Krynki.

Krynki was one of the most important towns in the famous Tannery Workers' Union. In the 1905 revolution Krynki became well known all over the world. The telegraphic agency sent around the news that workers' councils were set up in Petersburg and Krynki.

It is an interesting story how such a wide tanning industry developed in Krynki, a remote shtetl far from any train station. Chemists are believed to have found that Krynki water was rich in certain important salts essential for the tanning process which helped the good tanning of the skin, and the leather that came out from the Krynki water was better and the production more precise.


The tannery

Shmuel Geler

Leather tanning requires much initiative, professionalism, knowledge and persistence – 'articles' with which Krynki was abundantly supplied – and, most importantly, unlimited water supply. Who would not remember the Krynki springs, especially the artesian wells, which flow with water all year long, summer and winter alike.

The process of tanning raw horse skin takes weeks. The skins 'go' from tanks (tubs) to tanks, from hand to hand, soak in various waters, swamps, slack lime and 'oak' (oak bark). They absorb all kinds of extracts and chemicals and are softened with fat. Many professionals worked hard and shared the work until the skin became the well-known Krynki leather.

The 'wet tannery' workers scraped the skin with sharp scythes to remove the hair and the meat from it. The so-called folders folded, smoothed, and compared the skins. The 'dry tannery' workers bleached, cut into strips, curled and rolled, colored and polished, spread out and stretched the skins on frames. The song “The hands be healthy with callus / The sweat running down the forehead!” was in the hearts of all the tannery workers. For them this was daily prose.

The 'wet tannery' workers were constantly soaked in slack lime during their work. The long leather aprons and boots could not protect them from the constant humidity around them. Their hands were always covered with wounds burnt by slack lime and their nails were yellow and green.

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They were enveloped in a strong smell that they absorbed through long years of working in the tannery. The 'wet tannery' workers liked taking a drink from time to time. The alcohol would warm their limbs and drive the bitterness of slack lime out of their mouth and the everyday bitterness out of their hearts.

The work of the 'dry tannery' workers who specialized in various trades was somewhat easier. The main advantage was that they worked mostly in a dry place and they often sneezed, especially in the winter, because of the heat and smoke coming from the nearby drying rooms.

'Fulling' was a trade in itself. The fullers used to make 'uppers' (tongues). The main art of fulling lay in making the 'uppers' strong and soft and making their little tongue protrude. The Krynki 'tongues' adorned thousands of peasant boots.

Folding was an 'aristocratic' trade. It took years to become a good folder, to acquire nimbleness in the fingers and a light professional mobility with the sharp folds. The folders received much higher wages. They taught the trade to their children and close family members in order to pass it on as a dowry to their future sons-in-law.


The strike epoch

The condition of the Jewish tannery workers

Mordechai V. Bernstein

Krynki had a high tanning production already in the 1890s, distributing tanned leather to all the corners of the Russian Empire. The Krynki Hamburg type 'cowhide' and boot legs were sent even to the most distant places as well. Before one entered the shtetl, from the direction of Sokolke or Brestovitz, one could already smell the odor of slack lime, the fleshy side of skin, and dry oak coming from the tanning tanks.

The exploitation of the tannery workers had no limits. They worked long hours in the stuffy tanneries and their wages were miserable. They toiled in stinking crowded workshops. They dragged first the wet skins into the tanks of slack lime and oak and then the dry skin in the 'dry section' to the folders and fullers. And still they could not make ends meet.

In the eyes of the Jewish public the tannery worker was inferior even compared to a simple worker – he was accompanied by the smell of skin, blood and slack lime in which the skin soaked. The manufacturers, these 'respectable Jews', did not even want to pray in the same shul [synagogue] as their workers, so the tannery workers built their own bes-medresh.


The beginning of the strike movement

H. Weinberg (Hershl Pinkes)

It was the winter of 1896-97. Some workers started to go around with strange secrets that they confided to only a few select people, as well as to me. Thanks to the agitation of Chaim Leyser Yonah the carpenter who had worked in Grodno and came to Krynki from there, a few workers looked around themselves and understood what a great

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injustice was committed against the toilers. They organized themselves into small groups, hoping that these groups will multiply in due course. However, the movement advanced very slowly and it almost died at the beginning of the following summer.

Tzolke Dretzhiner, a tanner from Krynki, then came from Bialystok where he had stayed for some time when the weavers went on strike there. He brought with him a complete plan on how to carry out similar strikes in Krynki. At first he chose only a few trustworthy workers and called them together to a secret meeting to which I was also invited although I was younger than they were. We swore an oath that we would be devoted to the work and would not betray each other. We discussed various plans on how to prepare a strike. Our demands were the following: working from seven in the morning to seven in the evening, and getting paid directly by the manufacturer. Our numbers grew from day to day. Soon some good speakers rose from among the masses. It soon became impossible to keep the larger meetings secret very often. In the course of a few weeks the majority of the workers of Krynki joined the movement.


Before and during of the strike

Yosl Kohn

There were few 'enlightened' people in Krynki at that time. The Jews were firmly rooted in the Jewish ways and customs and what the agitators told them and wanted them to do meant rebellion and upset their lives and beliefs. The tannery workers who were being agitated through intimate chats during walks, and later through meetings in the forest, were no steady elements. The agitators had two objectives: to strengthen labor unity and to make sure that the manufacturers and the master craftsmen did not learn about their preparations too early. The younger ones who were already enlightened knew some of the 'brothers and sisters' songs but all these things were still foreign to the 'masses'.

When the first big meeting was organized in the Razboynikov woods, about 5 versts from the shtetl, the leaders, with the help of the 'steady elements', put on a real show. When the tannery workers sat down in a half circle, a voice started talking suddenly. It depicted the hard life and slavish conditions under which the manufacturers and the master craftsmen held the tannery workers. The fact that the face of the preacher could not be seen created a mood of mystery and great curiosity – an impression as if the scene when God revealed himself to Moses, our teacher, through a voice in the desert had been repeated - only the Burning Bush was missing. When the voice fell silent, everybody was asked to get up and form a circle. The voice started speaking once again: “Brothers, is all I have told you true?” “Yes”, answered the crowd. “Will you unite yourselves?” “We will”, responded the crowd. “Will you stand up all for one and one for all?” “We will”, they cried out. “Will you keep all you have heard in secret and not let the manufacturers and the master craftsmen know?” “We will.”

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“If so, swear an oath.” A member appeared as soon as this was heard with a sacred book and phylacteries. He lifted the book high up in the air and the crowd, repeated after the voice, the oath of unity and secrecy. After the ceremony, people took each other by the hand and the 'enlightened' started to sing:

“Brothers and sisters, comrades in work and need
Come together all who are scattered and dispersed
The flag is waiting for us
It is burning with rage and from blood is it red
We swear an oath of life and death.”

As the 'unity' movement started to expand, the agitators who had been sent to Krynki returned to Bialystok. It was left to the local 'enlightened' to instruct the tannery workers. The main leaders were Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, Itshke Grodner, and my uncle Moishe Berl. My other uncle, Chaim Shloyme, was also active.

The oath that the workers swore on the sacred book and the phylacteries was held sacred. The strike broke out by accident. A master craftsman from Hershl Grosman's factory slapped a worker in the face and that was the signal to which workers in all factories rose in rage. A meeting was held with the participation of all the tannery workers and it was decided that no one would go to work the next day. At first the manufacturers and the master craftsmen thought it was a joke. They played jokes on the strikers and laughed at them: “Ah”, they said, “they will soon be hungry and they will come back and take up their work.” As this wish did not come true, one of the influential proprietors Eizik Krushenianer, my grandfather Chaim Asher's cousin, said: “As far as I can see, we will not get anywhere with them; it seems that this was prearranged by the association.” The proprietors became restless and sent messengers to the workers to find out why they did not come to work. The workers gave them the following answer they had agreed on: “We demand the dismissal of the master craftsmen, weekly wages paid directly by the manufacturers, and a twelve-hour working day.”

The manufacturers had not expected such a riot and they held a meeting where they decided to call the rebels to the local rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Lavski, may his memory be blessed. The workers and the poor did not like him very much but the wealthy considered him an influential person and respected him a lot. He was rich and his son Avigdor was one of the biggest manufacturers. The rabbi summoned Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, who was one of the leaders of the strike. When he arrived, Rabbi Baruch, surrounded by the manufacturers, started at once to reprimand him for letting Jewish workers participate in the rebellion.


My argument with the rabbi

H. Weinberg (Hershl Pinkes)

I came to the local rabbi at his invitation and found him sitting, surrounded by well-to-do manufacturers. He turned to me at once and said: “I am very much surprised at you. Tell me, is this a just and Jewish way to settle a dispute? When Jews have a complaint against each other, they go to the rabbi to seek the judgment of the rabbinical court and the rabbi rules who is right.” “Rabbi”, I answered, “You may be surprised at me but I am also surprised at you. One can turn to a rabbinical court

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only in a case when one party has the power and the other party is right. But in this case, as you can see, we have the power and we are also right. So, I am asking you, why would we need a rabbinical court?” “It may be true that you are right and you probably also have the power indeed”, said the rabbi, “but it is the middle of the term; wait until the end of the term and your demands will be fulfilled.” “At least this is what you say, rabbi”, I answered him quickly. “It clearly means, 'the worker returns on the same day', and even in the middle of the hour?”


Terror and arrests

Yosl Kohn

Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, asked the rabbi why he was asking the community all the time to raise his salary. He also reminded the rabbi that his predecessor, the 'old' rabbi (the diligent student Rabbi Avromtshik) was satisfied with little. This 'impertinence' amazed Rabbi Baruch and the manufacturers and the rabbi told Hershl to leave his house.

Seeing the stubbornness and impertinence of the workers, the manufacturers, with the agreement of the rabbi, turned to the governor in Grodno. A large number of gendarmes led by a colonel (regiment commander) arrived in Krynki – this was the first time that the shtetl had so many 'guests'. The gendarmes started at once to terrorize the leaders of the strike. They caught them and struck them down with murderous blows. This only angered the craftsmen all the more and the strike became not only harsher but bloodier as well. The leaders started to hide. Their homes were attacked and people could not sleep in peace in dozens of Jewish homes. The fear that the gendarmes would attack them kept them agitated and vigilant. Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, and dozens of others were arrested and sent to the Grodno prison.


The first victory

Hillel Katzblum

The strike and the meeting before it in the woods were full of dramatic moments that vividly characterized the atmosphere of the strike and the means used in the fights in a Jewish shtetl in the 1890s. While the assembled stood for more than two hours in the rain swearing and singing the 'oath', some of them lay down on the ground and wept with joy or grief – who knows which. A strike meant hunger, suffering and misery.

In order to prevent the striking workers from gathering in the workers' bes-medresh and taking council about the continuation of the strike, the manufacturers persuaded the police to seal the bes-medresh. In return, the workers seized the big bes-medresh where the proprietors of the tanneries used to pray Sabbath morning. The workers sat down by the Mizrach [picture on the Eastern wall] set up a guard to make sure that no employer could enter and distributed 'slips' for leinen [calling up to read from the Torah]. After the prayer, they locked the bes-medresh and took the keys. The manufacturers were forced to turn to the police and ask them to open their bes-medresh. Later the manufacturers tried by all means to persuade the tannery workers to take up work under the old conditions but nothing helped and the workers won in the end. It was accepted that they would work from 7 AM to 7 PM and get paid weekly. They marched on the streets singing and clapping: “From 7 to 7 and money every week”.

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The workers get a taste of their power

Avrom Miller

The manufacturers and the master craftsmen had to give in on all points. The sacred oath that the workers swore on two potatoes (bulbes??) in a bag for phylacteries united them until they returned to work victoriously.

This is how the tale of Krynki strikes started. The tannery workers got a taste of their power, the master craftsmen could no longer look braver than they felt and the manufacturers would strike the workers no more. Even Nachum Anshl's strong hand stopped 'working'.

Shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and other craftsmen followed in the footsteps of the tanners, and started to rebel and come forward with demands until they also won. Krynki was soon becoming a kind of Garden of Eden for workers.


The second strike of the tannery workers

After Succoth 1897, on the eve of the new 'term' the fight of the tannery workers flared up again. The manufacturers summoned a meeting at the rabbi's house and following his advice they agreed to contract with the master craftsmen for three years and employ only those workers who did not participate in the rebellion and agreed to work from 6 AM to 8 PM. The manufacturers agreed to employ peasants if they could not find enough workers. The master craftsmen and the workers did not accept these conditions and went on strike. The manufacturers appealed to the governor to send soldiers into the shtetl. They gave him the names of the rebels. The strangers were sent away from the shtetl and the locals were arrested. The strike breaking peasants were incited to beat up the strikers. This is how a father, an older coachman, who stood up for his son who had been attacked was struck dead.

The red soldiers who came from Grodno attacked the workers on the street and struck them down with murderous blows. The soldiers went into the workers' bes-medresh, threw the sacred books out and used the building as their barracks. The workers then went to the bes-medresh of the rich and did not let them read the Torah. The chief of police arrived with a sergeant, dispersed the workers and, crossing himself, took out the Torah scroll from the Holy Ark. With the aid of the czarist army, the peasants and strikebreakers who went to Krynki from Bialystok, Berdichev and other towns, the workers were defeated. They starved for some time and in the end they were compelled to surrender and work 14 hours a day again.


The prolonged fight of the tannery workers
for a more humane life

Sofia Dubnov-Erlich

On June 18, 1900 the 'dry tannery' workers (300 of them, among them 50 Christians) stopped working and came out with the demand for a twelve-hour working day. After the intervention of the representative of the government who arrived from Grodno the manufacturers persuaded 50 workers to return to the factory but they were too few to start the work again. The manufacturers set out into other towns to find workers but none of the tanners responded to their call because they all knew about the strike. The manufacturers brought in peasants from the surrounding villages and asked the police to take stricter measures against the strikers.

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The police together with the gendarmerie descended upon the tannery workers, carried out house searches at night and arrested some people on the street the following day. The manufacturers also handed over workers directly to the police. The strike was slowed down and many of the workers who found themselves in great need went to the countryside to do seasonal agricultural work for the landowners for 25 kopeks a day. They shared their earnings with the rest of the strikers. The manufacturers urged the police commissary to persuade the landowners not to engage the rebels. After seven weeks of strike the starving workers were forced to go back to work 14 hours a day as before.

When a general strike of the tannery workers broke out in Smorgon at the end of 1901 and the leather manufacturers of the North-Western region were mobilized to help their fellow industrialists, Nachum Anshl Knishinski, the 'leather king' of Krynki, went to Smorgon in person to urge the manufacturers not to surrender. In the strikes of 1903 and 1904 the Krynki tannery workers succeeded in achieving some improvements.

During the revolutionary storm in January 1905 the Krynki tannery workers who had become hardened through long years of violent fight represented the main force that seized power in the town for a few days. That summer the Krynki workers managed finally to achieve the eight-hour working day. But in 1906 when, after a hot spurt, a reactionary period set in and the manufacturers lifted their heads and some towns of the Bialystok district also declared lockouts, an Association of Brothers was founded to support the fight of the workers and a strike took place in Krynki. In the fall of 1907 the Tannery Workers' Union of Krynki disintegrated because of the indifference of the workers and systematic struggle became impossible. The practice of weekly wages was discontinued among the 'wet tannery' workers as well.

After a few years of crisis in the leather industry and a period of depression in the Jewish labor movement in Russia a certain revival was noticeable among the tannery workers. A professional union was set up in Krynki in 1911 and it developed serious activity. In the fall of 1912 the union succeeded in carrying out a fourteen-week strike demanding once again the introduction of an eight-hour working day. Several people were arrested after the strike but even this did not break the determination of the union and it grew into a mighty force.

The union carried out a series of economic improvements, introduced a system of punishing the manufacturers for bad conditions in the factories. The union set up a legal library and fought against the system of mediation which had been fairly widespread among the tannery workers before the reactionary period. The union had to put up with not only the manufacturers and the czarist administration but also with the local anarchists who led a bitter agitation against the union and the strike fund.

In 1914 while a revival could be felt in Krynki and the workers went on strike again, there was apathy and a stifling atmosphere in other towns of the tannery district. The earlier unity vanished. Workers arriving in a strange town were no longer given any work. Only in the more hospitable Krynki where there was a union could they find a bit of a haven. The example of the Krynki tannery workers was soon followed by thousands of workers in five factories of Vilnius who also went on strike.

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Revolutionary activity

The beginning of the revolutionary movement in Krynki

Dov Rabin

Krynki 'lads' in the first rows

Krynki, an important center of the tanning industry and a little toiling shtetl, was a natural ground for social fermentation. When the Jewish Pale of Settlement started to seethe with social and revolutionary fight in the 1890s, the Jewish youth and the workers of Krynki were among the first to start this fight. The hard and slavish conditions in the tanneries led the workers to declare a harsh and prolonged strike movement, while the general political and economic oppression of the people in Russia and the hopeless situation of the discriminated and persecuted Jewish masses triggered revolutionary activity. The Jewish 'lads' (youth) were in the front lines of the fighting parties which put the goal of general political and social liberation, that should also bring salvation to the Jews and free them from the troubles specific to them, on their banner.

According to certain sources, there existed revolutionary Jewish workers' circles in Krynki already at the end of the first half of the 1890s. Some agitators who were members of these circles led propaganda activity, even in Grodno, and tried to organize the carpenters, tailors, shoemakers and, most importantly, the workers of Shereshevski's tobacco factory. It is assumed that the above mentioned circles drew their spiritual nourishment from the industrial Bialystok, the town with which the Jews of Krynki had close ties and which later influenced them for many years, especially on the cultural and spiritual plane. These workers' circles took the initiative and organized, led and carried through the famous strikes of the Krynki tannery workers, among them the 1897 strike, one of the most momentous strikes in the history of the Jewish labor movement in Russia – we have already discussed this in detail above.


Who were the first activists?

The active members of these circles were mostly young 'lads' of 18-22 years of age. In a list of 21 people accused by the czarist government of belonging to a “workers' circle” in Krynki only seven were older than 23 and three of these were 27-30 years old. The 'oldest' was Elijah Senders, a tinsmith, accused also of participating in strikes. The names of the others were as follows (according to A. Buchbinder): Avrom Zalmen Brevde, Michol Avrom Guz, Mordechai Moishe Glazer, Yosl-Eizik Moishe Heilperin (“also participated in a strike”), Yosl Avrom Harkavy (a tailor), Hirsh-Leib Lipman Virshubski, Menachem-Yudl Naftali Zogli, Avrom Mordechai Zalkind, Nachum Avrom Luria, Chaim Moishe Mareine, Leib Hirsh Nisht (a weaver from Horodok who “fled to Switzerland”), Leib Feinhersh, Yosef Avrom Friedman, Meir Hirsh Kviat, Simeon Nachum Kerber, Binyomin (Benye) Rom, Hirsh Yoshuah Reisen, Yisroel Yakov Riman, Isayah Yoshua Shimanski, and Ezekiel Leib Shmid.

In the same police records (from 1898 and 1899) the following persons were accused of participating in the tannery workers' strikes in Krynki: Mendel Zalmen Chanutin

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(participated in the first strike of 1897), Yakov Moishe Mareine (“taken into police custody”), Elijah-Chaim Avrom Neshkes (“he was under special police supervision and immigrated to America”), Hersh Shmuel Polivnik, Avrom-Ichak Tuvie Sholem (under police supervision like the above and also “fled to America”). Two other organizers of the first strike, Menachem Motl and Moishe Berl, “went” abroad (see more about them on p. 202). Shmuel Geler recalls the name of some more revolutionary activists in Krynki: Chaim the tailor, Avrom Yakov Betzalel the baker, Pinkes Shevach Morduhovitz and Meir Epstein (the son of the “rabbi of Kazion”).

In connection with the celebration of May 1, 1901 in Krynki the Bundist paper, the Arbeter Shtime (August 24, 1901) related that 70 tannery workers gathered in the woods, where they held speeches and they stayed there until late at night; they parted singing revolutionary songs. When the police commissary learnt about this, he mobilized the neighboring police forces and they were searching for the 'offenders' for 5 weeks until the seekers got bored.

Police records of the same year also mentioned another three people accused of taking part in 'riots' in Krynki which were initiated by a large number of workers on the wedding of a worker who had refused to participate in the strike of the tannery workers. They were the following: Hirsh-Yisroel Avrom Mazur, Avrom Shmuel-Hirsh Maletz (“who had already been accused in 1898 of participating in the strike of the tannery workers and sentenced to be placed under police supervision for two years”) and Leib Avrom Meister.

At the beginning of 1902 the police started searching for a Krynki 'politician', Hirsh-Yisroel Mordechai Mazor who had been sentenced to six months in prison. At the same time a demonstration took place at the funeral of a worker in Krynki on which revolutionary songs were sung.

Fifty to a hundred workers participated in the May 1 gathering in Krynki in 1904. The same year the Bialystok committee of the Bund represented at the international socialist congress, held in Amsterdam, 2,240 members, of which 250 from Krynki (and 700 from Bialystok itself). At the same time Simeon Avrom Mordechai Mazor was accused of belonging to the Bund (he had been under police supervision earlier) and Simcha Mordechai Dimant, a 'political' who had 'vanished' from police supervision, was sought by the police.


The revolutionary propaganda

Betzalel Patchebutzki (senior)

The secret meetings used to take place outside the shtetl. The scenes of 'sealing the unity' were solemn and impressive, especially the ceremony of taking the oath on the Tanach and the phylacteries. The workers swore to be faithful to the ideals of the fight for the rights and freedom of the workers and against “tyranny and the enslavement of the workers”, and to keep their unity and the meeting in secret and not let their employers know about them. It seems that even the Krynki 'lads' considered belief in God and the sanctity of the Tanach and the phylacteries as among the most sacred values.

The people who took part in these secret meetings used to gather and leave in small groups or one by one. From time to time the agitators went for a walk with a group of lads in the direction of Sokolke or on Shishlevitz Street, or to the Yentes, Shalkes or Razboynikov woods or to Virian's court where they would spell out the situation and the goals of the revolutionary movement. They often held speeches, distributed proclamations, books and pamphlets and sang labor and revolutionary songs.

A well-known song was Edelshtat's

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In Storm and Fight

The melody outlined gloom and sadness; the dreary tune, the heart-breaking words call up to fight:

“My youth faded in storm and fight
I have not known love and luck
Only bitter tears and aching wounds
Weighed down my breast.”

The two oaths were adopted from Bundist songs. One of them included a paragraph “Holy is nature with her dress of freedom”, while the other anthem contained the blazing stanza starting with the words “Brothers and sisters, comrades in work and need” and ending with “We swear an oath of life and death”.


The anarchists' activities

Anarchist credo

The anarchists occupied a special place among the fighters for a new and liberal regime in Krynki. As is well known, they did not accept any social and state rule based on coercion and law. In Krynki just as elsewhere there were various shades and trends within the anarchist movement. There were discussions in town about Proudhon's article Property is Theft and the notions of 'federalism' and 'mutualism' (mutual coexistence) became daily expressions among Krynki youth. There were, of course, adherents to Kropotkin's anarcho-communism and to Bakunin's preaching to destroy the state, the mother of all oppression, through 'spontaneous' terrorist acts. Among the Krynki anarchists one could even find admirers of the German Max Stirner who advocated extreme individualism and instinctive egoism, as well as of the Russian nihilist Nietzhaiev who believed that the use of even the most brutal terrorist methods against the ruling government was justified. There were also 'anarcho-syndicalists' and 'ethical' and 'philosophical' anarchists. The Krynki anarchist group was founded by 'professor' Yankl (the writer Yakov Krepliak). The carpenter Niomke Yonah, Moishe (Rives) and their leader Avrom Ichak of Vilnius were also active in this group.


Terrorist acts

In practice most anarchists justified terrorist acts carried out personally against the czarist executive power and the exploiters. They also justified and carried out appropriations or as they called it in abbreviated form 'approps'. If it was not possible to improve the workers' wages legally and give them back the surplus value of the work which had been taken from them, they argued, these must be wrung from the exploiters through other means.

In Krynki great 'acts' were in fact carried out. The manufacturer Shmuel Wiener, the 'American', was shot. He was called 'American' because he had once been to America. He had a permit to have a revolver on him and he used to boast about it. He even teased the youth pointing out his 'gear'. On the last day of Pesach when Shmuel 'the American' was coming from the prayer service with a group of influential community members he was attacked on Tannery Street. The attackers were 17-19-year-old lads.

The Jewish population of Krynki had not yet calmed down after the Shmuel 'the American' case when rumors about an attack planned to be carried out on a meeting of the manufacturers in the great bes-medresh spread. The attackers were supposed to throw a bomb prepared in Horodok. The Krynki group sent Moshke from Krynki to fetch it.

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On the way to Horodok Moshke was wounded and since he could not get medical help there, he was taken to Shishlevitz (Svislotz in Volkovisk county). The doctor who treated him informed the police about the accident. Moshke was arrested and imprisoned in Grodno.

Later it became known that his trial would be held in Warsaw. His mother Rive left no stone unturned to have the trial transferred to Vilnius. No efforts were spared to hand over the matter to lawyers. But Moshke, faithful to his ideals, decided to admit that he was to take the bomb to Krynki and at the same time made a political declaration against the regime of enslavement and tyranny. He intended to declare that he tried to kill the slaves of autocracy with the bomb. His mother threatened him with killing herself if he did that. In the end the Jewish kid, mummy's boy awakened in him and the revolutionary Moshke pleaded not guilty and was freed. Some time later he was arrested again and sentenced to prison.


Anarchist demonstrations

A few anarchist demonstrations took place in Krynki. The demonstrators went out on the street dressed in black shirts (overcoats), black tassels, black felt boots and black forage caps. They marched to the Polish church singing anarchist songs, the anarchist anthem included. When the quiet, provincial population felt that the demonstrators were becoming 'too merry', the shopkeepers closed their shops, the passers-by locked themselves in their houses and the notabilities of the shtetl, with Nachum Anshl at their head, treated the raging youth calmly.


Niomke (Binyomin) 'the anarchist'

I remember a meeting of the manufacturers in Krynki. It was heavily guarded by armed Cossacks led by a sergeant. Suddenly a shot and the breaking of glass could be heard. The sergeant started to chase the scabby Niomke Hershl and knocked him down. As it turned out, the bomb was thrown by Moishe Siderer. It exploded but no one was injured. Niomke was sentenced to eight years of hard labor by the Slonim court.


kry078.jpg - Niomke Fridman ('the anarchist')
Niomke Fridman
('the anarchist')


On the way from the prison Niomke took out a revolver hidden in a loaf of bread and shot the guard and escaped to Krynki. A few days later he was arrested again and he was taken to the Grodno prison more heavily guarded. When he was taken to the first examination, he snatched the arms of the guards, attacked them and shot at them. Then he barricaded himself at a tailor's in the next house and continued to fire at the police from there. When he saw that he had one last bullet left, he shot himself.

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When the police went into the room, they saw a notice written in blood: “Long live anarchy, you will not get me alive!” (His brother has another version about Niomke's death. See Lipa Friedman, Niomke, the Anarchist, p. 201. [editor's note].)

There were attacks on several Krynki sergeants long after they had moved from the town. The Krynki 'minor' sergeant was shot when he was already living at a hat maker's in Sokolke. The attempt was carried out by Yosl Moishe Afroitshik the shoemaker and Moishe Siderer. Afroitshik was sentenced to the gallows. After some time his sentence was changed to 20 years of hard labor. In 1917 rumor spread in Krynki that he had been seen free in Moscow where he occupied a distinguished position.


The activities of the Krynki anarchists outside their shtetl

There were also cases when Krynki Jewish anarchists perished while carrying out secret and unexpected attacks. This is how Yisroel Isar the shochet and Meir Yankl Bunim died on their way to Bialystok in a horse cab; an explosion was heard and both of them died on the spot.

The activity of Ahron Velvel Yankl Bunim (of Krynki) among the anarchists in Bialystok made a strong impression in town. It was reported that when a group of prisoners had been taken from the prison in Bialystok to the bailiff (district police commander), the guards were attacked and the prisoners were set free. This act was carried out by Ahron Velvel who was at the time a member of the leadership of the Bialystok 'fighting squad' (fighting group). A little later, in 1897, the same Ahron Velvel carried out an attempt on a textile manufacturer named Nachum Kolner and he was sentenced to four years in prison in Irkutzk, Siberia. Ahron Velvel's love went with him in his long wanderings and they married in prison and had children in exile. Later the family came back to Krynki.

The Krynki youth were often called up to help 'make a revolution' in other shtetls. This is how Yankl Tshaine was sent by Yakov Krepliak to help 'make a revolution' in Shishlevitz. They both gave a speech to a large audience. Suddenly a warning was heard that the police was coming. Everybody ran off as fast as they could and Yankl Tshaine came back to Krynki. He was one of the most capable agitators.

In town people were saying that Yankl Tshaine joined the anarchist movement because he was not satisfied with the activities of the Bund, which was too moderate in his eyes. The following incident brought this about. The shochet Yisroel Iser took him to Bialystok and brought him in among the fighters. There was a meeting in Factory Street, and someone approached Yankl and handed him the ABCs of anarchism. Suddenly a commotion was heard. The police attacked the meeting place and shouted to Yankl, “you are one of the Krynki rebels!” and beat him up. Yankl Tshaine tried hard to avenge himself but the Bund was not appropriate for that. So he changed sides and joined the more extreme anarchist movement.

The Krynki anarchists were active in other towns as well. In Sidre (a shtetl in the Sokolke district) Krynki anarchists attacked the post office. One of them,

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the mason Dovid was killed by a postal clerk. In 1905 an anarchist group, in which there were some Krynki youth too, had to carry out an attempt on the mayor of Odessa. The following persons were involved in the preparations: Avrom Ichak from Vilnius, Moshke Rives and Niomke Yonah the carpenter.


The workers seize the power in Krynki in January 1905

Aba Lev/Betzalel Patchebutzki Senior

In January 1905 there was some stirring in our town Krynki when the news got around of the bloody march that had been led by the provoker Priest Gapon to the czarist palace on Sunday January 9. However, the Krynki lads started to assault only when the news about the strike of the railway workers got around.

(B. Patchebutzki)

We received an appeal from the Bialystok committee of the Bund and also from the local branch of the Polish Social Democrats (PSD) to join the open fight of the comrades in Petersburg. We set up a federative committee consisting of the two organizations that decided to stop work in the town on January 17, go out and demonstrate and attack all government figures. In order to declare the political strike, the Bundist organization called together a mass meeting in the synagogue. All Krynki workers, more than 1,500 people, responded to the call and came to the meeting. The two red flags of the Bund and the PSD decorated the bimah.

After the meeting the enthusiastic crowd went out onto the street singing the Marseilles. The 'fighting squad' (fighting group) with revolvers in hand was marching at the head of the procession [a wet snow was falling and the flags were fluttering in the wind – B. Patchebutzki]. The crowd set off towards the center of town. The police vanished. The police commissary and a few village policemen ran away into the Yentes woods. Singing and shouting, the demonstrators went on to the post office in Shishlevitz Street. The gate was shut, so the demonstrators broke it in. We went into the office, broke the telegraph into pieces, tore and destroyed the books and burnt the stamps. No one touched the cash desk, which had 18,000 rubles in it, although the manager of the post office offered us the keys. We only took the sword and started out to the police station and the Jewish 'borough council'. There was no one at the police station, so we played havoc with all we found there: tore, destroyed and burnt the portraits of the emperors, books, papers, photographs of 'suspicious persons' and the like. We inspected the Jewish 'borough council' as thoroughly as the police station. We took several hundred passport blanks and passport booklets with stamps. This 'robbery' came in very useful for the revolutionary movement later, especially when the mass escapes from Siberia started. Dozens of arrested people who escaped were provided with passports from these Krynki blanks and thanks to them they arrived in peace wherever they had to get to. From the Jewish 'borough council' we enthusiastically went on to the district (village district) office and wreaked havoc there just like in the two other places.

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We found about 600 rubles in the cash desk of the district office. The anarchists took most of this (we allowed ourselves to take government money) and 80 rubles were taken by other workers who gave it at once to the organization.

In closed lines, singing and shouting, we went on to the 'Monopolka'. The vendor shut the door and when we broke it in, he started shooting from a revolver. We answered him in the same vein, taking his weapon from him and he fled at once. The store received the very same day a huge consignment of liquor. We put a group of young boys and girls around this government liquor store and they destroyed it to the last bit; they spent the whole day breaking bottle after bottle and pouring out the alcohol so that no one could use it.

We first went into the apartment of the local gendarme but we only found a medal and a sword there, so we took them. Only one inspector (a police superintendent who was in charge of certain 'offenders') remained in town. He was ill in bed and could not run off. We ordered him to hand us over his revolver and sword and he obeyed immediately. Krynki was 'clean' and we had complete control over it. The police commissary and some village policemen ran off to the Yentes woods. We also managed to organize a demonstration and destroy the 'Monopolka' in Krusheniani, a village where many workers had their family.

In the meantime the soldiers coming from the direction of Sokolke were getting nearer and nearer. It turned out that the police commissary had fled to Sokolke and alerted the governor from there and asked for help. The latter sent out the soldiers and we met them on Sokolke Street. The youth stood on one side, armed with revolvers and all kinds of iron bars and axes; the girls were also there armed with stones. The officers started to negotiate with us, and promised not to shoot and injure anybody if we were ready to disperse. We were gathering the whole day until the soldiers dispersed us without shooting at us. The governor himself arrived at once. Krynki was flooded with soldiers – infantrymen and cavalrymen, among them the Tsherkes who lodged in the Yentes bes-medresh.

(A. Lev)

The state of emergency was proclaimed and two hundred participants of the uprising were arrested. Put in chains, many of them were taken to the Grodno prison and many of them were locked up in one-person cells. They were liberated after the October Manifesto of 1905. A few people like Yankl Tshaine, Leibke Naskes, etc., who had organized the Bund in Krynki, escaped from the town (Niomke Friedman and the scabby Hershl were also among the leaders of the revolt). The state of emergency had its innocent victim – the baker Yankl Tzalel. He went out to fetch wood early in the morning and did not hear it when he was ordered to stop, and he was shot on the spot. The Krynki revolt ended and the town became calm and quiet again.

(B. Patchebutzki)

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A. Sh. Zutz renews the Bund

Nachum Bliacher/M. Fridman

During the uprising in Krynki in 1905 when the Cossack punitive expedition arrived in town and the state of emergency was proclaimed, up to 300 people were arrested and taken away and this led to the disintegration of the local organization of the Bund.


Avrom-Shmuel Zutz
('continual light')


In 1906 the organization was already under reconstruction. This was led by Avrom-Shmuel Zutz, together with the comrades Baruch-Mordechai Bliacher, Yudl Kolter's son and Avrom Gordon (Yankl Tzales' son).

Born in 1887 in a poor family in Krynki (his father was a butcher), Avrom-Shmuel Zutz tasted work at a young age in the tannery, first as a leaflet maker and later as a laborer in the fullery. Although he received no elementary schooling he started to ponder over the illegal books of the Bundist literature in his early youth. In the stormy year of 1905 he became an active member of the local Bund and the small rooms in his house and stable served primarily as a meeting place for the leaders and a hiding place for illegal literature.

In April 1907 Avrom-Shmuel was arrested for possessing illegal literature and he was sent to the Grodno prison. He was badly beaten up there several times and once a soldier hit him on the head with a rifle butt. He became ill in the eyes and a few years later he went completely blind. When he was freed he returned home. By 1909 the revolutionary movement was fast declining. The intelligentsia fled. A reactionary spirit reigned among the disappointed workers. They became frequent visitors in the inns and playing cards became their spiritual food. Avrom-Shmuel picked up his courage to activate the remnants of the movement and they accepted him as their teacher and guide, and things gradually started moving by 1911.

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Culture and Society
Krynki – A Center of Torah

by Moshe Tzniowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Rabbi Zalman Sender Shapira and his Yeshiva 1

Rabbi Zalman Sender Kahana Shapira was born in the year 5611 [1851] in Nieśwież, Minsk District, to his father Rabbi Yaakov, son of Rabbi Moshe HaKohen, son-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim, founder of the well-known Volozhin Yeshiva. Rabbi Zalman Sender was already known as a genius from his youth. He was sent to Volozhin to benefit from the Torah and learning style of his relative Rabbi Yosef-Dov Soloveitchik. There he became known as an expert Talmudist, with a sharp intellect and skill in innovative ideas.

In the year 5645 [1885], Rabbi Zalman Sender was appointed as head of the rabbinical court of the small town of Malech [Maltsh] in the district of Pruzhany near the Pulsia marshes. Rabbi Zalman Sender lived in that city, involved in his studies, acting in rabbinical matters, and discussing issues of the Torah with the rabbis and scholars of the area.

In the year 5657 [1897], with the founding of the Knesset Beit Yitzchak Yeshiva in Slobodka, Rabbi Zalman Sender was invited by the founders and supervisors to serve as Yeshiva head. However, it seems that the people of Malech urged him to not leave them, and that he acceded and remained with them on the condition that they agree that he start a Yeshiva in their city, to which he could dedicate some of his time. Indeed, the community of Malech willingly accepted this condition. Even though there were already splendid Yeshivas in Lithuania and Zamot at that time. The new Yeshiva of Malech, founded in 5658 [1898], took an important place in the tents of Torah. Within a few years, it grew from the ten students at its opening to 120. Even older Yeshiva students, who had previously spent time in large Yeshivas, preferred to now study in the Yeshiva of Malech with Rabbi Zalman Sender.

During his regular Talmud classes in the Yeshiva, his full spiritual stature and power of scholarship, without forgetting anything. was revealed. His classes developed the students' ability to innovate, to grasp any issue and Talmud subject, and to delve deeply into the roots. Rabbi Zalman Sender also concerned himself with the physical situation and spiritual support of the Yeshiva students. His home was open wide to them. He even attempted to raise their honor and value in the eyes of people, and he warned the householders of the town to not treat lightly their relations with the young scholars. He even asked that they be called “Yeshiva men” rather than “Yeshiva lads” as was customary – a nickname that had some sort of hint of disparagement. Rabbi Zalman Sender was also strict with his students that their clothing and manners be pleasant, so they would find favor with people.

Rabbi Zalman Sender did not take any salary from the Yeshiva coffers. He got enough money with the paltry salary that he received from the townsfolk. Aside from this, he supported a rabbinical judge to deal with questions and rabbinic adjudication, for he, like his relative the Gaon Rabbi Chaim of Brisk was loathe to make rabbinic decisions.

From among the students of the Yeshiva of Malech of that era, we must especially note the one who lives with us today in blessed fashion, the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman.

Rabbi Zalman Sender was accepted as the head of the rabbinical court of Krynki in Iyar 5663 [1903], after the death of Rabbi Baruch Lawski, and in accordance with his recommendation prior to his death. Rabbi Zalman Sender set a firm condition to his agreement of serving as the head of the rabbinical court of Krynki. And that a portion of his Yeshiva would move there from Malech, and he would continue to serve as the Yeshiva head. Indeed, the communal administrators agreed unanimously to this. Students from the areas, Horodno, Białystok, Łomża, and other places1 – began to swarm to the Yeshiva of Krynki, which was now also called Anaf Eitz Chaim. Rabbi Zalman Sender's classes and Torah short stories found their paths to other famous Yeshivas, both orally as well as in various booklets and digests.

Numbered among his excellent students in the Yeshiva of Krynki were several Torah personalities who later became renowned. Among them we will note Rabbi Leib Goelman from the town of Jedwabne, who became known as a Hebrew linguist and Torah educator. Later

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Rabbi Leib arrived in Krynki as a war refugee in 5675 [1914]. On the recommendation of Rabbi Zalman Sender, he opened up a public cheder organized by age for the higher grades, which became known throughout the entire region.


Rabbi Zalman Sender as a Person

In Krynki, as in Malech, Rabbi Zalman Sender conducted his rabbinate at a high level with respect to rabbinical matters. With this, he was revered in the town, even amongst the masses and the laborers. He also became known as a rabbi who could provide salvation and as a worker of portents, and people came to him for blessings. As a grandson of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, he himself was against portents, and he demonstrated to his students that everything he said or advised to those who turned to him with their bitterness, were things that were logical. Rabbi Zalman Sender would tell of things that people regarded portents, but through logic were not miraculous at all.

Rabbi Zalman Sender would apply his authority upon the sick and weak people, and decree that they must eat on Yom Kippur. He would even send a physician to examine them, and if the physician determined that a person would have difficulty fasting, Rabbi Zalman Sender would force him to eat. There were times where he would bring the person to his home so he could eat in his presence in accordance with the advice of the physician.

Rabbi Zalman Sender would conduct the Passover Seder in Krynki with great splendor, as he did in Malech, and just as was done in the Volozhin Yeshiva in its time. Rabbi Zalman Sender was an enthusiastic fan of music, and he even composed tunes. On festivals, when the joy was complete in the Yeshiva or the rabbi's house, he would sing songs and hymns that he or others had composed. Thus, Rabbi Zalman Sender's heartwarming composition of the hymn “Charming dove, why do you weep, your Messiah will come to you, come and go, for I will be your savior and redeemer for whom you are waiting” spread through all the Yeshivas of Lithuania. Similarly, on public holidays, he would sing the conclusion of the hymn attributed to Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol “Consumed and bereaved, why do you weep, has your heart given up regarding he for whom you are waiting?” These melodies attained renown throughout all the Yeshivas and would be repeated on holidays, especially at the Simchat Beit Shoeiva [Sukkot night festivities and on Simchat Torah. The writer of this article still recalls that they would use the special melody of Rabbi Zalman Sender for “May Your Name always overlook transgression”2 in several of these Yeshivas.

In the year 5675 [1915] as the battlefront neared Krynki Rabbi Zalman Sender wandered through the depths of Russia with a group of his students, and remained in the city of Tula for a number of years. After the war, he did not return to Krynki, which was now part of Poland, but rather made aliya to the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem, where he spent his final years. He died there on 29 Shvat 5683 [1923].

A small number of the anthologized Torah works of Rabbi Zalman Sender were preserved in part in Yeshiva circles, as well as in the book of other authors of his generation. First and foremost, an anthology of his Torah novellae (short stories) are included in the large work of his son Rabbi Avraham Kahana Shapira, Dvar Avraham. Rabbi Avraham Dov Kahana was the head of the rabbinical court of Smilovich in the Minsk district, and later in Kovno. He was the final general rabbi of the Jews of Lithuania. The aforementioned novellae of Rabbi Zalman Sender demonstrate the character of his sharpness and intellect, and his brightness in the understanding of Torah. We also find his novellae, small in quantity but high in content, in the book Zecher Yitzchak by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinovitch of Ponovich.

Rabbi Zalman Sender's two young sons, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Chaim, stood with their father in the founding of the Yeshiva of Malech, and were together with him for several years in Krynki, helping him establish his Yeshiva. Rabbi Chaim later served as the head of the rabbinical court in Kozienice, and from 5678 [1918], as rabbi as the Slobodka suburb of Horodno, where he died of an accident in the year 5685 [1925].

Two of the grandchildren of Rabbi Zalman Sender, sons of his son Rabbi Avraham Dov, will be noted here. One, Rabbi Chaim Nachman Shapira, readied himself for some time in the light of his grandfather in Krynki. He was an expert scholar, the author of books in the research of modern Hebrew literature, and a professor of Hebrew and eastern languages at the university of Kovno, where he perished in the Holocaust in 1943 along with the rest of the members of that community.

The second grandson, Dr. Noach Shapira, studied with his grandfather Rabbi Zalman Sender in Krynki during his youth. He was taken by the Haskalah. He studied chemistry and was a docent at the university of Kovno. He made aliya to the Land of Israel in 5695 [1935]. He was a professor of chemistry at Bar Ilan University, and the editor of the general encyclopedia in Hebrew published by Jezreel in Tel Aviv. He died there in 5724 [1964].

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: It should be noted that lads and young men came to Krynki to study Torah in a group [kibbutz] already years before this. Among the others was Aryeh Leib Siemiatycki, a native of Sokol in the district of Łomża, who later became a well-known Hebrew linguist, a member of the “Committee for the Hebrew Language” in the Land of Israel, and one of the prominent editors of Hebrew literature for youth (he was the editor of the Amanot publication) – the editor. Return
  2. From the Yom Kippur service. Return

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Zionist Activity
The Beginning
of the Zionist Movement in Krynki

by D. Rabin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Zionist movement, which maintained connection with the Zionist Center for Correspondence in Kishinev, was already established in Krynki in 1898. Shmuel Nisht (father of Baruch-Bendet Niv) was one of its founders. Chovevei Zion was active in the town before this. We should recall that already from 5646 (1886), Tzvi Hirsch Orlanski (Hershele of Dąbrowa) served in Krynki as the Maggid who preached the love of Zion and the settlement of the Land of Israel. He gained many enthusiastic followers from among the masses. The tradition of many generations of people, who were meticulous in keeping the mitzvot, and of making aliya to the Holy Land in their old age, of course did not pass over Krynki. Two such people, Yechiel-Tzvi and Freda-Rivka are known for receiving help in Jerusalem in 1890 from the “General Committee for Ashkenazi Kollels.”

A correspondent from Krynki in Hatzefira (issue 236, 4 Cheshvan 5661 – 1900, written by Sh. H.) relates that “The Zionist idea awakened movement and great feeling among our townsfolk. The local Zionist organization founded a Tiferet Bachurim organization. The purpose of which was to disseminate knowledge of the Holy Language and the study of Bible among the masses of youth. It also founded an organization for reading of Haskalah books and other such books.

“However, in place of the original enthusiasm, now a sense of iciness and cold grew between the Zionists, certainly because of people of means did not support the issue, or more accurately – because of the persecution by the zealots who were hostile to the Zionist activists. Therefore, the groups disbanded, their activities ceased, and it was as if they never existed. Only a few people remained in the Zionist organizations, among them the pharmacist Yatom and Kniszinski, who tried with all their might to arouse the members to purchase the shekels [tokens of membership in the Zionist organization] and the like. However, these few special individuals were unable to do big things for the benefit of the public, or to improve the level of education, which was in the hands of the zealots who were among the haters and persecutors of Zionism.”

With all this, the Zionist idea continued to strike roots among the people in Krynki. In 1903, we find that Agudat Zion in the town gave its donation to the Odessa Committee – the legal center of Chovevei Zion, which was active in the arena of settlement and education in the Land of Israel. Furthermore, at the beginning of that year, a Young Zion organization was founded in the town, the members of which were “primarily workers.”

The Zionist Movement in Krynki
at the Beginning of the Century

by Baruch (Bendet) Niv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Zionist activities already took place in Krynki from the outset of the movement. The adult Zionists gathered around one of the first ones, the pharmacy owner Yatom, an honorable man with higher education, and a warm, enthusiastic Jew. He educated his children toward Zionist actualization, and they even made aliya to the Land.

Young workers and students from the Russian school and the private Hebrew schools were numbered among the Zionist youth. The adults distributed shekels, turned their attention to the sale of Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] stamps by the youths, subscribed to Hatzefira and Hatzofeh, gathered for prayer services in the Zionist minyan, exchanged ideas, and debated issues of the day at the Zionist Congress regarding the relationship to Herzl and the Uganda Plan, and other such ideas in the realm of Zionism in those days.

There were also youths who made aliya to the Land of Israel: The Hebrew teacher Malka Grosman and Hershel Fajnberg, who later went back because he could not withstand the malaria that afflicted him. On the other hand, there was the Poalei Zion member Yisrael Korngold, one of the first of the Hashomer organization in the Land, and who fell on the line of duty while standing guard in the year 5669 [1909].

Almost all of us, the students of the Russian school, were members of Pirchei Zion. We would distribute stamps of the Jewish National Fund, and gather to listen to speeches about Zionism and the land of Israel. They were arranged every Sabbath eve in the home of Fajnberg on the Street of the Tanners, after he returned from the Land of Israel. The Zionist movement in Russia was run in an illegal, clandestine fashion. We students of the government school, were forbidden for belonging to any movement, and most certainly not to a Zionist one.

One Sabbath eve, when I was going to one of the meetings in Fajnberg's home, I ran into the teacher Einsztein, who was leaving the courtyard. He called to me to also disappear very quickly. We both started to run, each in a different direction, to avoid the danger of being arrested. After approximately a half an hour, I saw that the police were arresting about 20 students from my school.

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By chance, the rest of the guests had not succeeded in reaching the gathering point at that time.

The entire town was in an uproar. The children were arrested, and the school authorities announced that all those who gathered at the aforementioned meeting would be expelled. The heads of the city became involved and exerted personal pressure. With the help of money, they were all freed after about two days, with a stringent warning that they must not continue to be involved in “forbidden” activities. However, despite all this, including the warning, we were of course not afraid from continuing our activities, albeit with taking precautions.

In Education and Culture
With the Changing Times

by D. R.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the beginning of the present [i.e. 20th] century until the German occupation during the First World War, Krynki also felt, as did the Jewish Pale of Settlement throughout Russia, an influence of the spirit of culture and essence of the Russian nation, especially among significant circles of the youth. Aside from the general national factors and gossip among the Jews in town, the Russian schools set up in the town worked toward that end, and not in a negligible fashion. The boys, and especially the girls, who studied in the gymnasjas of Grodna and Białystok would bring back Russian culture, and especially the language and social style of these schools. Speaking in Russian, and especially singing Russian songs with much enjoyment, were “typical” in Krynki as well, especially amongst the intelligentsia and the upper class. Bigger than these was the penetrating influence of the rich Russian literature, broad in scope and seeking liberty, causing the hearts of its readers to throb.

In 1897 the public government school, which opened in Krynki supported by the budget from the Jewish Korovka tax (on kosher meat and wine, candles, yeast, and the like), was already bustling with students from Jewish homes. On the other hand, an article in Hatzefira from 1900 states that “Approximately 70 youths are imprisoned in the Talmud Torah building from morning to night, but without any order in their education. The teachers are lacking in life experience and the ways of the world, and they lord over their unfortunate students as in years of yore.” They do not teach them any language, and they also do not teach Bible appropriately. And “Aside from this, the school building is cramped, and stifling air pervades there.”

However, within a few years, Hebrew education in Krynki changed for the better: two young Hebrew women from nearby Brzostowica opened the first Hebrew school for girls, and a modern Hebrew cheder also arose in 1905. The Hebrew teacher Einstein was already able to note in his article in Hatzefira from 14 Elul 5669 that the education of boys in Krynki is “in a good state. Students of the schools receive Hebrew and national education, and their influence has spread to the cheders. The melamdim [cheder teachers] have also begun to introduce various improvements in their teaching, and have set aside a special place for Hebrew, its grammar and literature, and Jewish history.” However, “There are few lads of age 13 who are studying Talmud. Most of them move over to general studies when they reach that age.”

He writes that regarding the situation of reading, the intelligentsia have their hearts fixed on Russian books; The liberal newspaper Sobramnoya Slovo and the inexpensive newspaper Gazeta Kopayka were the main Russian newspapers that were read. The Yiddish dailies included Heint, Unzer Lebn, and Freund. The Hebrew newspaper Hed Hazman [Echo of the Times], the Hashiloach monthly, and the weekly Hapoel Hatzair [The Young Worker] from the Land of Israel were also received in Krynki. Einstein adds that there were more people in Krynki who understood Hebrew than could read it, and there were only a few who purchased Hebrew books. However, the demand has increased of late, and the owners of the library were planning to expand the Hebrew division.


Jewish Students in the Civic School

In the “civic” Russian high school, the Gorodskoya Ochilishcha, which was founded in its time through the efforts of Yaakov Leib Zalski,

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a quota system was in place for the acceptance of Jewish students, as was the case in all Russian government schools. The number was restricted to approximately 10% of the students. It was my lot to study in that school together with one other of our fellow townsfolk in Israel, Shamai Kaplan.

In our town, where the vast majority of the population was Jewish, and the school was established through their funds, it was impossible to have a Jewish student accepted unless there were nine Christians to make up the quota. These would be gathered from the villages of the area. With the transportation situation in those days, these villagers would arrive daily for their studies on foot, from a distance of 8-10 kilometers, and they would also return to their homes in that manner. Most of them were Pravoslavic Byelorussian children, and the minority were Catholics. The classes opened with Christian morning prayers in the presence of all the students, including the Jews. Classes took place also on the Sabbath, with the day of rest being Sunday.


A Jewish “Incident”

Jewish students were exempt from writing on the Sabbath, at the request of their parents. This included drawing. For them, this was a main principle in expressing their Jewishness, even though not all of them came from religiously observant homes.

Art classes took place twice a week on weekdays. The teacher was an elderly gentile, somewhat feebleminded, goodhearted, and boring. He depended on the students to somehow fill the curriculum. The students, without difference between religion and nationality, recognized the weakness of their teachers, and had fun during the classes, but not without limit.

It took place during one of the recesses between classes, when the students used to doodle on the blackboard, erase the “drawings” and “compositions” with a wet cloth, and repeat this over and over again. The mischief increased to the point of a rampage. The “knocking” of one another turned into a storm, and the entire classroom was filled with chalk dust, to the point when one could no longer tell what was happening there. It then happened that the dirty cloth hit the face of the teacher as he was entering the classroom. After he was hit, he reacted with a loud scream, and ran from the class as quickly as he could. The students were astonished, and the “transgressors” who were caught in the act quickly went to sit silently at their desks.

The door opened quickly, and the principal himself appeared along with the inspector (supervisor) and the victim teacher, who began to shout out loudly that he could no longer bear this and “an appropriate punishment must be administered.” Due to the great confusion, they did not know who to punish. The principal then began a speech about manners and politeness, etc. He suddenly turned to the Jewish students, “I am primarily turning to you! On the Sabbath, you do not draw, but in the only class during the week in which you participate, you behave in in such a disgraceful manner!”

His baseless attack on us Jews, in anti-Semitic fashion, angered me, and I responded that there is no art class at all on the Sabbath. My reminder angered him, and he dismissed me in anger, “Go home, Jew, and do not come back here!” I hesitated for a moment, gathered my books, and turned toward the door as a protest. The entire class was astonished and astounded from the outburst of the director. He realized that he had overstepped the bounds, and added on, “Don't come – without your Father!”

I was informed later that after I left, the principal turned to the students in anger, “How was that one so brazen against me?!” The Jewish students burst out crying. Then, the heart of the principal softened, and he attempted to calm them, saying, “Oh, enough. I got upset with him a bit. You don't have to blame me. Tell him that I forgive him – he can return to class tomorrow as usual.”

Our art teacher gained a bit from this incident, for from that time, the mischief in the classroom decreased during his classes.


The Modern Cheder

During a heatwave in the summer of 1904, a fire broke out in the Kavkaz alleyways, and spread until half of Krynki went up in flames. The cheders were closed, and many parents sent their children to relatives in nearby towns to study with melamdim there.

About a year later, a number of Zionist parents decided to open in the city a Hebrew school or cheder metukan [modern cheder], as it was called in those days. They would teach “Hebrew in Hebrew” according to the natural style, without translation into Yiddish.

At first, young children of ages 6-8 were accepted into the cheder, and one expert teacher was hired (Cirkl). The school developed, and a second teacher (Kulik) was hired for the third year. The number of students was small, however, because the cheder did not find favor with the masses of

[Page 88]

traditionalists who regarded it as a “heretical” school, in which they only teach the Hebrew languages, song and gymnastics…

After several years, the curriculum was expanded, and another teacher (Farber) was brought in from Wolkowysk. Later, another teacher, who was a graduate of the pedagogic courses in Grodna was hired. Now, they taught all subjects, at high school level, only in Hebrew. They also taught Gemara, as required in those days.

The modern cheder lasted for about four years, until the teacher Farber left Krynki. At that time, the level of studies in the advanced class reached the level of six gymnasja grades.

In the interim, however, several Hebrew teachers came to Krynki and settled there, Avraham Einstein among them. They taught Hebrew to students privately or in groups, and most of the students of the cheder continued their studies with them.


The first girls' school, 1903: The teachers – the sisters Sima and Malka Grosman.
Between them, the student Hindka Nisht.


Di Hebrayishe Lehrehrkes - The Hebrew Teachers

Translated by Hadassah Goldberg

“Di Hebrayishe Lehrehrkes” - “Hamorot HaIvriot” - This was how the sisters Malka and Sima Grossman were known, two young women who came to Krynki from the next town, Brestovitse, and founded the first Hebrew school for girls at the beginning of the current (20th) century.

[Page 89]

Prior to their arrival, there was the girls' teacher, Novik, and the modern cheder of the teachers Cirkl, Kulik, and Farber. However, it was at the hands of the two sisters that almost all of the girls in town between the ages of five and eight were enrolled into their institute.

Sima, the elder of the two sisters, taught the older girls, and Malka, the younger ones. My teacher was Malka, and we loved her very much. In our eyes she was the epitome of beauty, a thread of gentleness and nobility was drawn through her. And both women together were graced with the highest virtues.

They taught us Hebrew in Hebrew, using pictures in a big book, I believe “Learning the Language of Ever” was the name of the book. Each of the many pictures in the book was like an entire story. If, in the first one a table was pictured, all of us learned and repeated in unison: “This is a table, this is a table.” “What is this?”, they asked us and all of us responded “This is a table”. And again, “The table is on the floor, the chair is near the table, the girl is near the chair, the girl is under the table”, and this time, as a concrete example, one of us was placed under the table. And so, after three months, we were already able to say the words and even speak in Hebrew.

Even the system of learning to read was modern: no more “alef, beit, gimel”, “kamatz, aleph, oh”, “patach, veit, va” and so on, but with the consonants beit, gimel, daled, and the vowels, kamatz alef, patach alef, patach beit, and so on. To write, we were taught that every letter in the alphabet shall be simply, pleasingly and precisely written.

But, what can be like the first stories told from the bible - on the creation of the world and on the sin of the first man, actually of Chava, our ancestor with whom we were so angry for she craved a taste of the apple from the tree of knowledge and thus deprived humankind of eternal life!

In three whole years - with holidays during the days of Pesach and Sukkot - we progressed beautifully. We wrote without errors, we knew grammar, we learned Tanach up to the book of Isaiah. Even when we finished the phase of Hebrew studies and moved to the Russian state school, we continued evening studies with the teachers Avrash and Rozpinsky We read the books of the latter Prophets and Hebrew literature - and all this before the First World War.

In those years, our teacher, Malka Grossman made Aliyah to the Land of Israel. And we, her students, who meantime had grown up a little, accompanied her to her departure. We wrote her many letters and received many from her. She didn't succeed in setting roots in the land (of Israel) and she returned from there. She brought us news of the Herzliya Hebrew High School. The dream then was to leave the Russian high school and to continue in the Land of Israel. The longing for Israel was awakened in us with the study of Hebrew. But the outbreak of the world war stopped us from this path.

Credit goes to the two teachers “Di Hebreyishe Lehrehrkes”, Sima and Malka Grossman, whose path in teaching Hebrew was continued by their students in the Hebrew School in Krynki established during the (first) world war for the children of refugees and also for local people. Girls aged 13 - 14 were teachers to the younger children during that time, and they were known for their good reputation in the “Tarbut” - an educational movement - that was established after the war. They were: Leah Vine hy”d, Ester Terkl z”l, her sister Brynatbl'a, now a citizen of the state of Israel (she is a member of Kibbutz Yagur), Hindke Nisht (Aida Avidov) Leah'che (Za”k in Kibbutz Geva) and others.


From the Cultural and Social Life

Krynki A Center of Torah

Translator's note: This Yiddish article is equivalent with the Hebrew article on pages 83-84.

[Page 91]

Education and Culture

Translator's note: This Yiddish article is equivalent with the Hebrew article on pages 86-87.


Founders of the first library in Krynki,
1907/1908 Libka and Ahrchik Lew

[Page 92]

The Modern Cheder

by Bendet Nisht (B. Niv)

Translator's note: This Yiddish article is equivalent with the Hebrew article on pages 87-88.

[Page 93]

The First World War

Mutual Aid to the Refugees

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 led to a draft of the youths and reserves. This created a chance for a boom in leather manufacturing in Krynki, as the demand for footwear for the vast army increased greatly. However, when the Czarist army began to suffer defeats in East Prussia in 1915, leading to retreats to their own areas, the Russians liquidated and transferred the majority of the factories of Krynki eastward to the interior of the country. At this point, the anti-Semites in the Kingdom of Russia required a scapegoat upon which to blame the retreat. As usual, they easily found it: the Jewish people! Rumors spread and grew that this treasonous nation was helping the enemy in various ways including espionage, for they hoped to benefit in the event of a victory.

An edict was quickly issued by the commander in chief of the Czarist army, a member of the family of the wicked Archduke Nikolai Nikolaev, to deport the Jews from the area of the battles, and the adjacent area. The roads and paths were filled with caravans of wagons laden with homeless Jewish refugees. They were fleeing to wherever they could, with the aim of finding a new shelter for themselves and their family. Some of them stopped in Krynki and established their lives there.

An “Aid Committee” was quickly set up to deal with housing, food, and clothing for the refugees. A special committee called “The Vaad” was created to deal with their children, especially with their education. It was headed by Sonia Pel, Yaakov Kirszner, Bender Nisht, and Pinchas and Menashe Garber. They were assisted by several teachers, enthusiastic and idealistic young girls: Leah Nisht, Esther and Breina Terkel, and others. The committee succeeded in opening a public school with three grades for the children of the refugees and the poor local children. It was not long before the echoes of their tender voices began to burst forth from the walls of the school, to the great satisfaction of the teachers and educational activists, who spared no effort for these unfortunate children.

Days of fear and danger approached and overtook the Jews of Krynki after the German army conquered the Osowiec fortress on the Biebrza River, opening up for them to the Białystok-Sokółka district west and southwest of Krynki. The news and the arriving refugees from the towns near the front told of atrocities and deeds of revenge perpetrated by the retreating Czarist troops, who executed judgments against the Jews and their property.

The local wicked people were diligent. They began to go around the market near the Jewish shops, and the yards of the wealthy Jews, ”sniffing around”, plotting and discussing openly who of them will inherit this bounty in the upcoming days.

However, providence was good to the Jews of Krynki, for the evil people, in their great haste, did not have the chance to carry out their plans before the armies of “Reb Velvel” (as Kaiser Wilhelm was nicknamed by the Jews) entered the town, and a new chapter of life began in the entire district.

According to Baruch Niv (B. Nisht) and other sources.


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