by Khaim Babitz, Tel Aviv
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
It is with the deepest respect and with great trepidation, as if I were touching a holy thing, that I approach the history of the Bundist movement in Nowy Dwor. To write about the Bund between the wars is to remember a generation at the height of its bloom, to see its struggles and achievements within the framework of its time, to appreciate a short but epochal period that was the finale of several hundred years of Jewish life in Nowy Dwor.
As I took up this task of writing and remembering, I saw the difficulties posed by the dearth of materials. I asked myself if I, who spent 17 years in prisons and camps, cut off from contact with the community and the comrades of the past, could take on responsibility for such a task.
And yet, despite the difficulties and doubts, I felt an obligation, based on guilt for having by chance remained alive, an obligation to eternalize the memory of all my friends and comrades, young and old, with whom I was connected, body and soul, for more than a decade and a half, all those who led me, and all those whom I led; an obligation not to forgot those who amidst the crooked walls and winding stairs of that well known building at Number 4 Mizkewitsha Streetin poverty formed their dreams of a just world for all people and nationalities, including of course the socially and ethnically oppressed Jewish workers and common folk.
To you, holy, murdered Bundists with your deep beliefs and righteous struggles; to you, the ardent members of Tsukunft [Future Bundist youth organization], models for a new Socialist generation of Jews; to you members of Skif [Socialist Children's Union], students of the Yiddish secular schools, innocently unknowing of your tragic fate to all of you, young and old, workers and common folkI feel an obligation. And to commemorate you I write these words.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish workers in Nowy Dwor had already started to gather around certain specific goals and ideals, and in so doing they laid the foundation for the glorious Jewish workers movement in the town. In their memoirs [in this book] Simkhe Waga, Hershl Himelfarb, Avraham Goldberg and Sam Bronstein tell about that era and the first steps toward an organized workers movement. But even before this group, there were already stirrings of protest against social oppression and national persecution. Thus our esteemed townsman Boaz Yungvits, in his book My Life in the Theater, relates that as early as the end of the 1870's and especially during the 1880's, there were already signs of Jewish selfdefense. As Yungvits relates, in the years after the great pogrom in Warsaw (1884) the wagon drivers from Nowy Dwor and its vicinity, who were constantly attacked on the roads by various antiSemitic and criminal bands, actively resisted their attackers and also offered protection to drivers from other towns. Also, during the attacks in Warsaw,
the Nowy Dwor drivers evinced great heroism in their dispatch center in the courtyard of 17 Bonapart Street.
These are also the first signs of Nowy Dwor's leadership in organizational development, in comparison to other towns in the region, which although larger in size than Nowy Dwor, did not move as quickly to keep up with modern times. It is perhaps this dynamic social development of Nowy Dwor that gave rise to the connection and patriotism our townspeople feel for their town, up until the Holocaust and even more so after it. Their feelings derive from more than just sentiment for one's birthplace or romantic attachment to the past, but from an ardent connection between the individual and the community. Every one of us who participated in any way in the Bundist movement in the two decades prior to the Holocaust is moved by this unique patriotism that ties him to Nowy Dwor and all that is finest in his life.
The development of Nowy Dwor is also a result of its proximity to the capital city of Warsaw; only 30 kilometers separated our town from this bustling center of Jewish life. Nowy Dwor's geographic situation upon two rivers, the Vistula and the Narew, with their strategic locations, their two bridges, and the harbor of the Modlin Fortress several kilometers from Nowy Dwor, also determined the fate and development of the town.
After World War I, Nowy Dwor was in ruins. During 19161917 there began several public works projects in the town and its environs, which employed many workers, including the renowned Bundist activist (Khaim) Rudowski, who worked on the bridge. Around this time there began a renewal, or the second phase, in the development of the Bundist movement in town. The more advanced young people organized around a nonpartisan, or better said, an allparty union for selfeducation (in Lifshteyn's house on Warsaw Street). Among the active participants were Nisn Shteynberg, Mendl Maylekhovitsh, and Mendl Lipski, who remained until his death active in the party of the Independent Socialists, which was then led by Drobner and Dr. Kruf.
From this selfdefense union emerged the first members and activists of the Bund, which was then first forming as a political organization. And that was when the Bund movement began in Nowy Dwor after World War I.
To appreciate the development of the Jewish workers movement in Nowy Dwor at that time it is necessary to look at how things stood for Polish workers. In contrast to the wellorganized Jewish workers, with their dynamic political and trade union activities, the Polish workers were hardly organized at all. Many attempts were made over 20 years to establish Polish Socialist Party and Communist Party organizations, but they were shortlived and weren't able to mobilize a steady membership. Insofar as there were joint actions by Jewish and Polish workers, they were initiated and carried out by the Bundist organization and especially by (Khaim) Rudowski, who was in personal contact with the small
organized groups of Polish workers and their leaders.
Here are some of the Polish activists who were in contact with the Jewish workers movement:
Pshibishevski, a member of the Polish Socialist Party, an ordinary worker with a limited amount of knowledge, but with, as they say, a silver tongue, especially after his mood had been lifted by a glass of whiskey; the Polish Socialist Party alderman Domanski, who became popular in the late 1920's and until then had worked as a pharmacist in the local clinic.
Among the Polish Communists I want to mention the shoeworker Lukoshewski, a likeable fellow with an ideological foundation. He was one of the members of the town council, elected by the Socialist bloc of Jewish and Polish workers in the supplementary elections in 1923. Budzinski was an older Polish metal worker whose physical appearance immediately evoked respect. It was thanks to him that the joint May First demonstration came to pass in 1926. (We will discuss its tragic outcome later.) The Nowy Dworers who encountered Budzinski during and after the Nazi occupation said that he did not disappoint them. The same can be said about Belek Kowalski, who was an active young Communist during the 1930's. The abovementioned were the activists among the Polish workers with who we had contact in our communal activities in the course of 20 years.
From right to left: Hershl Kirshteyn, Khaim Babitz, Ahron Maylekhovitsh, Shloyme Wronski, Hertsl Dubnikov, Ahron Gartsovitsh, Sore Rozenman, Takhne Kronenberg, Unknown, Pesakh Hershfang, Moyshe Rudavski, Binyomen Mosak
After the Bund had strengthened its political organization, it expanded its activity to union organizing to improve working conditions. What did that mean in those days? How did the workers earn their living? What were the occupations of Nowy Dwor Jews after World War I?
Only a few families were wealthy. They were involved in commerce, owned houses and businesses, and as entrepreneurs had access to the Modlin Fortress.
Hundreds of Jewish families traded goods on the roads from Zakrotshin or Pomiechow. They would buy a half pud [pud=about 16 kilograms] of flour or barley and try to sell it in Warsaw. Barefoot, these buyers and sellers slogged along the roads. Others besieged the local bakeries, bought hot fourpound breads straight from the oven, loaded 12 of them in a rucksack and set out in the predawn darkness over the dangerous roads, in snow and freezing cold, in order to get them to Warsaw, where people were especially fond of Zakariah's Bread from Katsovitsh's bakery, which was famous there.
These were the livelihoods of several hundreds of Nowy Dwor's Jewish families in those sad years at the end of World War I. Later, these travelling salesmen gave up this trade and returned to the trades and occupations they had worked at previously.
Our town had a substantial skilled workforce in various trades, often filling orders from the big cities. The purchasers of our clothing manufacture were the well known Warsaw firms Tselmayster and Shniadovitsh, who relied mostly on Nowy Dwor for their goods. That explains why the first labor union in Nowy Dwor was the clothing workers union, which was also the best organized and largest in membership.
In addition to men and women who worked at sewing, the clothing workers' union included embroiderers. In the 1920's this trade employed many women in Nowy Dwor, also working to supply out of town purchasers. These workers included 10 to 12 year old children, who along with the adults sewed and embroidered designs on underwear. At certain times, the number of people employed in this work exceeded 700. Many people were also employed at picking up the work in Warsaw and distributing it to the workers in Nowy Dwor. Others ran workshops in their homes.
The clothing workers union became active right after the PolishBolshevik War. The struggle to improve working conditions and to gain union recognition as the lawful representative of the workers was difficult and long. The employers couldn't accept the idea of a union: Why a union? Is Rudowski going to tell me who I can hire, how many hours they work, and how much I pay them? So there were many years of struggle, actions and strikes before the clothing union achieved, in addition to wage increases, the right to have a say over working conditions in the trade.
The transport workers union was the second largest in membership. But its activity was more difficult and complicated for the first years after it was established. Many Jews in Nowy Dwor did not have the resources to practice a trade and had to take whatever job turned up to make a day's wages. There were always more job seekers than jobs and that led to
Khaim Rudavski of the Nowy Dwor Bund is the speaker
competition and disputes with those who were more skilled or who had a hazoke [right to do a certain job; license or concession]. Bloody battles often broke out over the right to carry a bag of flour from a wagon, or to unload a wagon of coal at the train station, until the affiliated political and cultural organizations not only took up the fight for better working conditions but also to raise the workers consciousness and instill humanistic values and socialist ideals.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the names of at least some of the exemplary individuals among our transport workers who were instilled with knowledge and culture by the union. The simple, good hearted Yisroel Bernshteyn; the very oppressed and then uplifted Dovid Mosak; the talented and modest Arye Tukhband; and their longtime treasurer Hershl Kirshteyn all these were drawn from the darkness to the light.
In the further years of its activity the transport workers union was a model for collective work and comradeship. Its largest section was the porters who worked on the street serving the shops by loading and unloading merchandise onto and off wagons. According to the union rules, they could not accept payment on the spot. The shopkeepers paid all the wages for an entire week to the treasurer of the porters section and on Saturday morning the accounts were settled and each porter received his weekly wages.
The next largest section of the transport union
In the center of the first row is the Bundist leader Emanuel Novogrodski
consisted of those who worked outside the town, mainly at the train stations, where they unloaded railroad cars. Pursuant to union rules, this group also worked as a collective, sharing their wages. There were also transport workers who worked in designated workplaces, like sawmills, grain mills, and the like.
In various trade union and political actions the transport union stood out not only for its organizational efforts but for the physical appearance of its members, many of whom were elderly and who lent an air of respectability to the occasion.
Nowy Dwor also had smaller trade unions of lumber workers, leather workers and bakers. The leather and bakers unions also had Polish members. We should mention in this regard Shloyme Tsuker of the Right Poalei Tsion [Workers of Zion, a Zionist group], who was a longtime activist in the bakers union.
Of course the struggle to improve working conditions was much different in the smaller unions, but with the help of the entire organized workforce even the smaller unions were successful in bettering conditions in their trades.
All of the bosses big and smallgradually came to feel our power, the power of the trade union movement, which stood guard over the workers' interests. It suffices to mention one episode in the struggle for an 8hour workday. The boss Yitshak Hopazh, whose small decrepit workshop was located in Maylekhovitsh's courtyard, threatened the union members who visited him to check up on working hours, that he would hit them with an axe. When we arrived, however, his face bore the bitter smile of a powerless person. That's how all the Nowy Dworers felt; they respected the power of the unions, in whose central council Comrade Rudowski participated.
Forty years have elapsed since the day when I, a 15 year old boy, participated for the first time in a meeting of the Bundist youth organization Tsukunft in Nowy Dwor. If this article was about me and my path in the movement, I would say that that day determined my entire world view and way in life.
The Tsukunft organization in Nowy Dwor began its work after the social upheavals (World War I, the October Revolution and the PolishBolshevik War), that destroyed the possibility for normal primary education. Almost all the young people were raised in the streets. The only educator was the little teacher who went around giving private lessons in reading and writing. But not every household could afford to pay for such lessons and illiteracy grew among the young people of the working class and the poor. Immediately after its founding in 1919, Tsukunft took upon itself the task of education, assuming the responsibility normally fulfilled by parents for their children and the state for its future citizens.
This was a rootless group of young people who were starving at home and
aimlessly hung around the streets. Some of them looked for work and barely managed to earn a few cents carrying sacks of sand from Piaskower Street for housewives to scatter on the floor before the Sabbath.
When the Tsukunft organizers explained the goals of the youth organization to the young people, they also told them that in order to live one also had to learn how to live, and first of all, one had to learn the alphabet. And it was there that we in fact started: evening classes were formed to teach reading and writing. Gradually we began to instill in them the basic principles of humanistic education and culture, and each one was taught a trade, in order to become productive.
In this way we carried out a structured cultural and educational development program on one hand, and provided practical ways to protect their economic interests on the other hand. This was the way in which we formed the youth sections of our trade unions. The Tsukunft organization became a second home for some the only home for the young workers and apprentices, many of whom were alone and without family. Our premises were always crowded. People came to lectures, selfeducation groups, readings, singing groups, recitations, and to the library (later named for Leon Grabman) which became the source of knowledge for the young people.
No one today would believe the conditions under which the Leon Grabman library operated and grew. It was a dark room without air or light and with a few thousand books on its meager shelves. In the heat and humidity of summer or in the damp and cold of winter, the librarians sat there in the evening, after a long day's work, and over the years served the thirsty readers.
Let us name these librarians, though not in the chronological order of their service.
Sore Katovitsh (later the wife of Shloyme Wronski,) held the post of librarian for many years, carrying out her job with good humor and self effacement. At a very young age, she entered the Tsukunft organization, where she studied and developed. She was for a time secretary of Tsukunft and also of the Bund's central committee. When the German bombs fell on Nowy Dwor, Sore KatovisthWronski was in the hospital, having just given birth. She had to leave the hospital, her child in her arms, and set off on the road. She hid out with relatives in Demblin and she died there, along with her father and child.
The librarian Khane Zakhaym Gortsovitsh
became active in the movement under the influence of her uncle, Hertsl Dubnikow. She was the sister of Khashke Novodworska (now in Argentina). Her brother Shulek was for some time a member of the central committee of Tsukunft and Morgnshtern [Morning Star,a Jewish sports club]. Khane Zakhaym came to us from a cultured background and she got along well with the group that served the library's readers. She and her two children died in the ghetto.
Also active in the library were Yitshak Alman (now in Paris), Yisroel Roytman (now in New York), my brother Moyshe Babitz (now in Montevideo), Rukhtshe MarokoKlaynbard (now in Los Angeles). The library's intellectual leader was Hertsl Dubnikow.
Many hundreds of young people were connected with our organization over the course of 20 years and it is no exaggeration to say that the best of the town's working class youth were raised in our ranks. Whoever knew the Tsukunft organization in its later years was amazed by its ideological development, the heights and breadth of its achievements.
It isn't possible to talk about that era and about the history of the Bundist youth movement without mentioning the Maroko family or, as they were called, the Marokes. There were seven of them: Sheyndl, Rukhtshe, Perl, Ete, Moyshe, Basye and the Bobeshi [Grandma]. They were also called the orphans. At the end of World War I, the oldest, Sheyndl (later the wife of Yankl Roznblum, died in Paris), was 15 years old. A that time, they left Peltsivizne, a suburb of Warsaw) to join their relatives, the family of Meyer Magid (Meyerl Senders) in Nowy Dwor, and they immediately began to live a hard life, working 810 hours a day at embroidery and other trades. The oldest, themselves inexperienced children, became the bread winners for the younger ones. These proletarian women then joined the union and also Tsukunft, where Rukhtshe became especially active. She became a member of the leadership of the clothing workers union, secretary of Tsukunft, and a librarian, and the whole Maroko family, big and small, followed in her footsteps.
Many of us would spend our free time in their home, reading books and newspapers together, learning new songs, holding discussions, preparing a lecture. And we were all thrilled when little Basye got a bit older and one evening, raised up in the arms of the union comrades, recited [the first lines of] I.L. Perets' poem [Monish]: The world is an ocean…; we are the fish.
I have often thought about the Marokos how would their lives have played out if not for the Tsukunft organization? These orphans found in Tsukunft love, tenderness and the kind of care provided by a good family.
Later, every few years we would accompany one of the Marokos as they left Nowy Dwor to go overseas. It got lonelier, and we missed them as we would a brother or sister. I especially remember Rukhtshe's departure for America in 1925. The train station was packed with people who had come to see her off, and anyone who could traveled with her all the way to the Wiener Station in Warsaw.
Thirty five years have passed since that leavetaking. Letters and visitors from America have brought greetings from Rukhtshe, whose name now is Klaynbard, and everyone speaks about her and her social activism with love and admiration. By chance, a photograph from the old days survived, which depicts the executive committee of YouthBund Tsukunft in Nowy Dwor. By a miracle, everyone in the photograph survived and they are scattered over many lands: Roytman in New York, Rukhtshe in Los Angeles, Moyshe Babitz in Montevideo, Yitshak Alman in Paris, and this writer in Tel Aviv. This picture portrays not just the group which
was then the moving force of Tsukunft, but also a time when our youth movement grew larger and we felt our own true strength. We were no longer satisfied with being under the control of the older members and we formed an educational circle of young speakers and activists, led by Hertsl Dubnikow.
Our proximity to the capital placed its stamp on the youth of Nowy Dwor. We lived to a Warsaw rhythm, a big city tempo , and lived the social life of the metropolis with all its good features and faults.
Almost simultaneously, two organizations that were affiliated with Tsukunft were established in Nowy Dwor: Morgenshtern and Skif [acronym for Sotsialistishe Kinder Farband Socialist Childrens Union]. Mororgnshtern was the first workers' sports organization in our town and among its outstanding soccer players were the two Leybkes Leybke Lubelski, who was also called Leybke Mazik [the wiz] (deceased) and Leybek Loketsh (lives in New York). The dedicated instructors were Motl Rozenshteyn (died recently in Australia) and Dovid Papier (died in the ghetto).
The Socialist children's organization Skif consisted of children younger than 15. Many of them had been drawn into the movement in the workshops where they had been forced by necessity to go to work. Others were workers' children from the povshekhne [public] school. Those involved in the leadership and educational programs of Skif had themselves only in the previous few years taken their first steps in organizational work. We must mention first of all our comrade Ester Stavski, who died so young. Later on, a whole group took over Ete Maroko, Shloyme Wronski, Yakhes Altshteyn and several teachers from the Yiddish secular school.
Tsukunft ran the two younger organizations. Morgenshtern and Skif became the movement of the newly grown up generation the reservoir for the Bund and the trade unions in Nowy Dwor. Our youth movement became popular beyond the borders of the town and the central headquarters in Warsaw displayed great interest and sympathy for us, because we
didn't limit ourselves to working locally, but also participated in party and youth activities in Warsaw in demonstrations, cultural events, election campaigns, sports competitions, trips, tournaments run by the Warsaw Morgenshtern, and excursions to the Mladzhiner Forest, not to mention all the national conferences in which we always participated.
We were in contact not only with Warsaw but with all the organizations along the Vistula as far as Wlotslovek and along the train line as far as Mlave. We arranged reciprocal visits. We were the first workers' youth organization in Nowy Dwor to organize excursions and take young people out of town to see other landscapes, towns, and people. On the Sabbath we would leave town by train, on foot, or by bicycle, and would venture forth singing
Even if it rains or storms
We travel on new roads
So we visited Plotsk, Wishegrod, Wlatslovek, Nashelsk, Tshebanov, Mlave, Lominek, Mlotshin, Kuzmir; forests, fields, mountains, and rivers. I especially remember the rainy night we returned from a hike in Nashelsk.
In 1932 we were invited to participate in a regional conference of Tsukunft in Tshekhanov, where there was a group of Communists. This was a time of intense interparty conflict. The program for the conference included a march through the streets of the town and we had to protect ourselves against an attack by the Communists. For this reason we were accompanied by our wellorganized and experienced youth militia, who guarded the procession along with local comrades. At a certain point we were attacked and a fight broke out. But we quickly prevailed and continued our march. The most interesting thing is that the organizer of the attack was a government provocateur who several years later appeared as a witness for the police in the trial of his Communist comrades.
The painful experience in Tshekhanov aroused in us a desire for revenge and to rehabilitate our organization's good name. We were able to do this in 1933 on the eve of Shavous, when we hosted a youth convention in Nowy Dwor. The streets of town were full of cheerful strolling young people wearing blue shirts and red neckerchiefs our guests from about 20 towns in the Warsaw region, about 1000 participants in the convention. The opening session was held early in the morning on the sports field. The participants engaged in song, games and sports competitions. In Junker's movie house there was later a ceremony in which the hosts conducted a very successful program. A torchlit procession through the streets of Nowy Dwor made an unforgettable impression the torches illuminated the woods and the young marchers sang with conviction: We are young, the world is open before us.
And if the world was then not so open, the song of the courageous young generation could open the world, breaking through borders, gates and locks.
by Moyshe Babitz, Montevideo
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
In 1927, in Nowy Dwor as in all towns in Poland, the Bund participated for the first time in elections to the kehile. The Bundist candidates for positions in the kehile were Rudowski, Papier, and Berekh Kelervays, a shoestitcher.
The middle class and religious Jews were fuming. What does the Bund have to do with the kehile? What do those heretics have to do with the religious community? Angriest of all was Der Geler [The Redhead] Mendl (Rozental). The porters and wagon drivers were always stationed in front of his door on Warsaw Street near the market, and he would complain to them: What? Mates the Fresser [glutton], Mates Kolbas [lit.sausage, name for nonobservant Jew who eats non kosher food] wants to be a dozor [official in the kehile]? May he drop dead before that happens. To this, Mendl Trotsky replied: Grumble all you like. You'll see, Mates will really become a dozor. At Mendl Trotsky's response, Geler Mendl became even angrier and at the pleas of his wife and daughter withdrew from the quarrel and entered his shop.
The Bund at that time held the biggest meetings in town, with the participation of important speakers like Artur Zieglebaum, Berl Ambaras, Sh.Galinski and Hershl Himelfarb. Ambaras had great appeal, with his humorous tone, and Hershl Himelfarb was one of ours, a Nowy Dworer even though he lived in Warsaw now.
Rabbi Neufeld, the Rabbi of Nowy Dwor, also got involved in the furor over the elections, even though he had promised the Bund that he would not interfere and would defer to the Jews of Nowy Dwor to elect as dozors anyone they wanted. Rabbi Neufeld let it be known that there would be a meeting in the besmedresh [house of study, also used for worship], which all the Hasidim should attend. The Rabbi couldn't rely on the congregants of the besmedresh itself, because they were more favorably inclined to the Bund.
What do you do when the rabbi gets involved? On Saturday morning, I was awakened by a young man whistling under my window, calling me to a conference. I and my brother Khaim hurried to a meeting [of Bundists] where it was decided that our members should attend the meeting in the besmedresh, and we immediately dispatched messengers to summon them.
The besmedresh was packed. The rabbi banged on the table and began to speak: Jews of Nowy Dwor! The Bund is appealing to you to vote for them. I ask you, what does the Bund have to do with the kehile? If you need a kehile and a rabbi, I tell you, you may vote for whomever you wish, but not for the Bund. Then the rabbi addressed the issue of the day: Today, the Bund has brought in its big gun, Hershl Himelfarb. I tell you that no one here should go hear him speak. Let him speak only to his comrades.
Hertsl Dubnikov, who was standing near me, couldn't contain himself and shouted, I demand that the Bund be heard. Another person began to challenge the rabbi for not having kept his promise to the Bund not to get involved in the elections. A commotion broke out and it came to blows. The rabbi grew pale, and people all around him were shouting: Rabbi of Nowy Dwor, you are responsible for what has happened here. The police soon arrived and arrested several people.
That day, there was a meeting at which Hershl Himelfarb spoke. So many people
came to hear him, that they had to move the meeting to Junker's hall. Everyone was joking that this was the rabbi's doing.
In the election, the Bund elected three council members, which no one had expected. The rabbi was offended and didn't come to the besmedresh to pray for several weeks. He said, Why should I go there? To see the Bundists? Let them go to Rudowski's and pray with him. He was talking about the congregants of the besmedresh who had voted for the Bund. Of course, his anger didn't last long, and he later apologized.
The big wheels of the kehile couldn't reconcile themselves to the Bund's victory and didn't want to allow the Bund to have a representative on the presidium [governing board]. Because of this, the rabbi, who was chairman of the kehile, did not call the constituting meeting and this led to further conflicts.
One Sunday, the longadjourned meeting was suddenly called and the majority tried to take advantage of the absence of the Bund councilman Borekh the shoestitcher to hold a vote without him. They didn't count on Rudowski's request to wait until evening, when Borekh Kelervays would return from his job in Warsaw. The leaders of the majority were hoping to hold a vote to exclude the Bund from the presidium. Rudowski tore up the ballots and for that was jailed in Warsaw's Poviak prison.
Rudowski was facing five years in prison, but thanks to the efforts of the Bund's Central committee, and the lawyers Ivinska and Honigvil, he was released after several weeks. Rudowski's arrest was the finale to the kehile elections. Rudowski never got scared away when it was necessary to defend the rights of the Jews of Nowy Dwor.
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