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At the Bzura

Zvi Cohen of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The lovely area of the Bzura, the corner of tones and colors, is now destroyed. However from the former principality of Lowicz until far beyond the legendary city of Sochaczew, there where the Bzura ascends from the land of the valley until the incline of the hill and winds along further to empty into the Wisla – one can see all of the footprints of the difficult battles that were fought there, and which left destruction and desolation; The principality was half destroyed and the lovely city of Sochaczew is no more. The place of Torah now remains a mound of ashes, obliterated from the earth…

Only by the Bzura remains a small wooden house, which is also half destroyed. However its walls retain some sort of a secret, and they tell a silent, holy secret…

A Jewish fisherman and his family lived in the small house. They were common people, but good, upright, and G-d fearing. The family was not large, consisting of only four people: the father and mother, and two daughters of marriageable age. The older one was Chanale and the younger was Rachele. I can still see the girls as roses. Their beauty was different. Chanale the older one was like a rose that had first opened its calyx, and its blood red, ruddy petals sprouted up… She was a slender blond, twenty-two years old, firmly built, with a refined, charming face and with a constant smile on her lips. Rachele was also like a rose, that had already closed its buds and the leaves had already wrapped around each other, as if they held a secret inside. She was also thin and firmly built, with a delicate face. She was seventeen years old, a prankster and mischievous.

The family lived calmly and peacefully until the war. The father caught fish in the Bzura early every Friday morning, brought them to the city and sold them to the Jews in honor of the Sabbath. On the other days of the week he did business in the village, and thereby supported his family.

Thus did the family live, quietly and idyllically.

Only with the outbreak war did the family encounter a misfortune. Once on a Friday morning, when the father went with the basket of fish to the city, a Cossack patrol encountered him. They were three. One of them grabbed the basket of fish from him, the second thrust his lance into him, and the third searched him, took his money, stripped off his boots, and then tossed him into the ditch. They laughed, and continued on their way…

In the afternoon, the Jews brought the corpse to his small house. A lament broke out there, and the mother and her children sat and wept around the deceased for the entire Sabbath. After nightfall, they buried him, and then sat Shiva[1] for him for the entire week. When the sorrowful week ended, the mother said to her children:

“Children, we have suffered a misfortune. This is what G-d wanted, and we cannot murmur. Help me, and I will continue to do business, catch fish, and we will earn our livelihood…”

The mother caught fish every Friday morning, and the children helped her. However, sorrow overtook the house from then on.

… It took place again on a Friday afternoon. The mother returned from the city and related what she had seen; no woman could be seen in the entire city, she stood alone in the market full of terror, all of the woman hid, fathers and mothers kept their children locked in the shops and enclosed in the cellars. Even women's dresses were cleared out of the dwellings. The previous night, they tore down the doors, took out the windows, and three Jewish girls were unfortunately killed…

Both sisters heard this, and a shiver went through their bodies, the elder more so than the younger.

When night fell, the elder did not get undressed, and remained awake on her bed. She listened to every rustling from outside. She got out of bed a few times to check the lock and bolt, and concern herself with the sounds from afar…

For the entire night, she heard the doors and windows being torn out, and the suppressed cries of woe from the women. She awoke her sister and trembled.

When the morning star came out, she and her sister went out to the river.

They sat down by the bank, and the elder sister took the younger sister's head in her lap, kissed her, and said:

“Beloved sister, you heard what mother told us yesterday about what is happening in the city. What will you do when…”

Rachele answered:

“Sister, do not ask me, it makes me so cold, a chill goes through my heart”.

“And during the night sister, did you hear?”

“Oh, don't remind me, don't remind me…”

The elder continued on: “And so, beloved sister, an ocean of shame will lie upon our faces. We will no longer be able to see our reflection in the Bzura…”

“Quiet, sister!”

“But what will you do when Cossacks break through the windows…”

“Don't talk!…”

“But the Cossacks will indeed come… They murdered our father and they will fall upon us… And then… And then…”

“Sis—ter!”, the younger said with a shiver, as she buried her head deeper in her sister's lap.



“Let us… let us jump into the river, before…”


“They are coming… They will come… And the shame will be so great…”

“But sister, you see, how the Bzura flows so prettily around the hills, and from the hills it goes on so much further, further into the Wisla. The Wisla is so pretty and large, and it flows around Warsaw. Warsaw is a pretty city, with so many gardens, theaters, and young people… It is all so pretty, and you say… Brrrr…”

“But they will come… Remember, after that you will no longer find a place. You will no longer look into the Bzura; you will no longer see your reflection in the Wisla and go to Warsaw… A world of shame will lie around you, remember that!”

“Oh G-d!”

“Be well sister!”

“Are you going?”


“I also, but what about mother?”

“Let us bid her farewell, but not tell her anything.”

They called their mother, fell upon her neck, and kissed her.

“Be well, mother… We are going away… We are going before they come here. We are going to preserve our honor… The world will afterwards be full of shame!”

The mother silently shed tears and said:

“Where are you going, children?”

One after the other, they slipped away from her hands, went to the river – and jumped in.

When the mother realized what had happened, that she remained alone, she looked around and said:

“And I? Where shall I remain?… Children!…”

“I will also jump in…”

Immediately, there was a voice from heaven:

“The joyous mother of children, Halleluya!”[2]


  1. The seven day mourning period of immediate relatives following a death. Return
  2. The last half verse of Psalm 113. This story of suicide in order to avoid violation is known from Jewish history. The most obvious example is the Massada story. Another instance of such a story is recorded in the elegies of Tisha Beov morning (Zechor Asher Asah, page 111 in the Authorized Kinot of Tisha Beov, Translated and annotated by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld), which records the Midrashic story of boatloads of youths, male and female, being transported to Rome after the destruction of the second temple. Realizing that they were being taken for purposes of immorality, the girls decided to jump overboard into the sea. The boys, realizing that the immorality being planned for the girls was at least natural, but the immorality planned for them was unnatural, then followed suit and jumped overboard as well. Return


From My Experiences

by Machla Lewin-Boteler

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The meeting of the Hatechiya School lasted until 2:00 p.m. Machla Grynberg and I sat cuddled up next to each other. We were hungry, and we did not know what was going on with us. When the meeting established the school budget and the chairman announced that the meeting was over, we went home together. On the way home, she told me that she has nothing to eat at home. “Come to me”, I said, “What I have we will both eat.”

Seeing us both, my mother cast an angry glance at me. My mother restrained herself when she saw Machla. My mother put out the bit of food, which we greedily ate, and remained hungry. We wanted to eat more and more, and to drink something hot, but there was no more…

We both went to Simcha Grundwag to see how his child was doing. (Manya Nachum's was then ill with typhus.)

It was dark and cold on the street. There was a blizzard. The mood was quite oppressive at Simcha Grundwag's. His child was very ill. Nobody noticed Machla and I. We sat in a corner and were silent.

The elder Skotnicki entered and examined the child. He told Moshe Szwarcer and us that there was no change in the illness of the child.

Machla and I picked ourselves up and left. Nobody noticed our leaving.

I heard the loud speaking of Bracha Wolkowicz near out house. Machla and I took leave of her without saying a word, and feeling that the tears were choking her throat.

It was warm in our house. There was an iron oven in the middle of the room. Around it sat Bracha Wolkowicz, Perl Wolkowicz, Yossel Munaj and Menashe Knot. All of them wanted to hear something about the child's situation from me.

My mother passed around the potatoes that she had roasted on the iron oven, and we drank a bit of chicory water. My mother no longer looked at me angrily. She was happy that it was warm in the house, and that she had something to give to the guests.

{Photo page 375: From left to right: Aharon Frydman, Eliezer-Meir Libert, and Nachum Grundwag.}


Moshe Festman

by Yaakov Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 376: Moshe Festman}


Moshe Festman was a Jewish teacher who took it upon himself to teach the Jewish children – the Yiddish of a letter writer. The Orthodox segment of the city immediately announced that Festman will bring all the children to apostasy, and they waged war with him. Those who understood him did not pay attention to this, and sent their children to study in his house.

Moshe Festman always dressed cleanly, as was appropriate for a cultured man. He believed that his students should also learn esthetics from him. Thus did he teach hundreds of Jewish children to read and write.

Aside from instilling the Jewish word in Jewish children, Moshe Festman had another ideal – the Land of Israel. He was a Zionist with his heart and soul, and had an influence upon the younger generation.

His difficult material life eventually broke him. After he was severely attacked by ambush by the Hassidim, who were opponents of Zionism, he took ill. He did not rise up from bed for almost 15 years. The family became greatly impoverished, and this also affected the lives of his children.

{Photo page 377: His son, Naftali Festman}

The young Chalutzim (pioneers) of Sochaczew, who obtained their education thanks to Festman, did not forget their teacher. When they set out for the Land of Israel, they went to take leave of their teacher.

It was a winter morning:

Festman lay still and melancholy in his sick bed. The Chalutzim entered his home, approached his bed, took hold of his ice-cold hand in their young hands and wished him: “Remain healthy, friend, you will yet get stronger and gain new strengths. We will see you with us there in the Land of Israel.”

The sick man lay on his side, breathed with difficulty, exerted himself, and said:

“Travel in good health! Remember your task! Bring life to the Land of Israel! With your young blood and young lives, live off the land – our land – the Land of Israel. With your sweat you will moisten the thirsty soil – that it shall become fruitful… Remember on occasion, during your holy work, your old friend who struggled and toiled for you.”

He exerted himself to sit up, resolutely took their hands, and continued on: “Friends, greet the Land of Israel, greet our brethren in the Land of Israel. I want to live… and be with you in the Land of Israel.”

{Photo page 378: Berl Leifer}

“Our… hope… has… not been lost…” [1].

He fell back upon his pillow, and tears like pearls welled up in his eyes.

That tragic scene took place in my presence, and remains etched in my memory.


  1. The translation of four Hebrew words from the Israeli National Anthem, Hatikva. Return


The Zionist Minyan at the Home of Reb Shmuel Nelson

by Yaakov Frydman

Dedicated to the Memory of:

Bernice Phyllis (Mann) Knee (nee Mittleman)
Beloved Sister of Sandra Mittleman Robinson,
Granddaughter of Sochotzover Society Member Charles Miller

Translated by Jerrold Landau

As soon as Dr. Herzl had proclaimed his political Zionism, a small group of people from our town of Sochacew became dedicated to the new way.

As far as I remember, these included: Yechiel Meir Grundwag and his son Simcha Grundwag, the teacher Moshe Festman, the coal dealer Meir Nasielewicz, the tailor Simcha Wymaslowski, the painter Lozer Rozenfeld, Katriel the stocking maker and Reb Shmuel Nelson.

With full ardor and great honor toward Dr. Herzl, they became involved in the new, Zionist way. The soon found strong opposition at each and every step, and they had to battle for the Zionist idea. Each one of the aforementioned people used all of their energy to bring Zionism in to each Jewish home and each Jewish heart. The Zionist fighters took upon themselves no easy job.

The idea of forming a Zionist minyan was hatched. Each Sabbath at services, they would be able to talk about Zionism without being hindered. These people were the founders. Everybody liked the idea, and they began to look for a room for the minyan. They were not able to find one house in the city that was willing to rent a room to the “Treif minyan”. They also refused to give a Torah scroll to read from, lest it become invalidated…

When everyone had almost despaired of actualizing the lovely idea, suddenly Reb Shmuel Nelson announced at a meeting that he would permit a minyan to be held in his house, and he would see to it that it is not impeded. The question of a Torah scroll was also discussed. The Zionists decided to write a Torah. Thus the minyan was born, and a Torah was acquired.

{Photo page 380: Reb Shmuel Nelson.}

The festive mood that prevailed with the Zionists celebrated the conclusion of the writing of the Torah is well remembered. Even the greatest opponents came, for they could not resist the temptation of refusing to purchase a letter of the scroll, despite the fact that it was for a Zionist minyan.

Many Orthodox Jews and even Hassidim went to the house of Shmuel Nelson, where the celebration took place. With trembling hands, they inscribed their purchased letters. They drank a good toast and took a bite of cake, and then quickly went home so nobody would know where they had been.

I still remember as now how my father came home at night. I was not yet asleep. He took a paper from his pocket and asked me what it was. I told him that it was a Zionist shekel [1]. He told me how he and Grandfather Hersh Frydman had gone to purchase a letter in the Torah scroll that was written by the Zionists. They had seen that, as venerable Jews were inscribing their letter, someone put the shekel in their pockets.

Through such means did the Zionist idea penetrate into the households of our town. Reb Shmuel Nelson did not occupy himself with any other communal maters. He ignited the Zionist fire and let it glow. When he saw that there was someone to guard it, he occupied himself with his livelihood in his store.

After the First World War, his son came from America for a visit to his parents. This was at Chanuka time. There was already a wide-branched Zionist youth organization in Sochaczew under the name of Hashomer Hatzair. I invited him for a visit to the premises of the Hatechiya School, and I discussed the idea of a youth organization with him. He thanked me for the honor, and Reb Shmuel Nelson invited me to his home in his name. Over a good glass of tea, the guest gave a certain sum of money for cultural purposes, and a small library was created with this money.

After some time, the entire Nelson family immigrated to America. The news reached us that his second son, Herman Nelson, occupied himself with assistance work toward his fellow natives in America, as well as for new immigrants to Israel. He was the force behind the Sochaczew “Relief” in New York. Were it not for him, the Relief would not have existed for long. It was his warm dedication and initiative that made possible the great assistance for our organization of Sochaczew Émigrés in Israel.

In America, they continued on the Zionist work, following the path of their parents – from the father's work until the founding of the State of Israel, to the son's work in America to help save his fellow natives, the refugees of Hitler's hell. Through their dedication to Israel, the father enabled the existence of a Zionist minyan several decades ago, and the son helped the State of Israel by settling new refugee immigrants who came from the camps.

Reb Shmuel Nelson died in America.

{Photo page 382: A relic from the cemetery.}


Yosef Wolkowicz

by Yaakov Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Yosef Wolkowicz stemmed from an old Hassidic family. He was a parnas (communal administrator) the son of a parnas. His father, Reb Chaim Mordechai Wolkowicz was the first of the Gerrer Hassidim of the Sfas Emes, and sat at the table of the old Socaczewer, Reb Avrahamele.

He was a forestry merchant and a communal head in Sochaczew. He conducted a strong struggle against the Zionists and led the community with strength.

His son Yosef Wolkowicz was elected as the parnas by the Aguda. Despite the fact that the town did not greatly approve of him, he continued to be elected each time.

He dedicated himself to communal matters with love and life. However, he did everything according to his own will and judgement. It is interesting that the battle against him was begun by the youth of his own party, the Aguda. It was they who succeeded in making him an ex communal representative, and also an ex communal head.

He was murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis.


Yechiel Meir Telman

by Yaakov Frydman

Dedicated to the Memory of:

Bernice Phyllis (Mann) Knee (nee Mittleman)
Beloved Sister of Sandra Mittleman Robinson,
Granddaughter of Sochotzover Society Member Charles Miller

Translated by Jerrold Landau

He stemmed from one of the oldest families in the city – and it is entirely possible that he from one of the first Jewish families in Sochaczew. He was known as being quite frugal. He himself believed that his riches came from economizing. He was an influential person, who did not desist from telling anyone the truth– each in accordance with his view. He was not afraid of doing so to Jews, and also not to gentiles. He was a representative in the city council for a certain time. If he had to attend a meeting on the night of the Sabbath, he would come dressed in a Sabbath housecoat. The gentiles resented this type of impudence from a Jew.

Despite the fact that he was known as being stingy, if a poor bride was getting married, Reb Yechiel Meir had the custom, aside from the monetary expenditure, of purchasing the tallis for the groom. It was bad when someone wanted to remove this custom from him.

With his capital, he founded a bank for the benefit of the middle class of the city. He dedicated all of his energy to this endeavor. If someone were in need of a loan, they would come to him, especially the small-scale businessmen.

He traveled to the Aleksandrow Rebbe a few times a year as his Hassid.

He was murdered by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto.


  1. A token of membership of the Zionist movement. Return


The Murder of the Regional Official Baragow

Yaakov Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

This took place on an oppressively hot Tisha Beov [1] day in the year 1905. People had languid faces from fasting. Some people went about in stockings, others in flimsy shoes. Some people were on their way to services, others returning from services, as they gave a pat on their empty stomachs holding that the day will pass quickly.

They requested that my father Mendel Frejdman come to the Woyat [2] in the village of Chodakow, to discuss a matter with him. When he noticed his neighbor, who was also a representative of the Woyat, with a wagon, he decided to go with him so that he would be able to return quickly on Wednesday.

When they were a few kilometers away from the city, they suddenly heard shots coming from the ditch at the side of the street. They both sprung out of the wagon in great terror and looked at each other. At that moment a young man came out from the ditch with a revolver in his hand. He jumped into the wagon, called both of them to him, took the reins and drove the horses very fast. In great fear, my father was left standing petrified at the place, and saw what that the official's small carriage was standing at the side of the road where the shooting had taken place. As he remained standing and thinking, a second person came out of the ditch with a revolver in his hands, ran immediately to Mendel Frejdman, pointed a revolver to his mouth and asked him: “Dokad moj Spolny Uciekal?” “To where has my partner fled?” He could not speak due to his great terror, so he only showed him with his hands the direction in which the wagon had traveled. The second man began to run in that direction.

He calmed down after several minutes, and he went toward the small carriage. He saw the head of the guard Denczyk dead as a wall [3]. He asked with fear who shot him and where did they flee. Then he calmed him down, both of them went over to the ditch on the road and saw how the official Baragow was lying shot. His dog was licking up his blood and barking strongly. The guard jumped into the small carriage and set out toward the city at full speed.

Months later, father was summoned to an inquiry. It was evident that they suspected him of involvement in the murder.

Thanks to the guard who claimed that he was not there at the time of the deed, but only arrived after the shooting; and the gentile who accompanied my father who claimed that both arrived after the shooting had taken place; and also to the two terrorists who opened up their testimony and thereby saved father by stating that if there would have been another bullet in the revolver, they would have also shot the Jew, in order to ensure that no witnesses to the deed would remain and be able to present evidence that contradicted them…

Thus was father saved from death.

The Jewish population indeed mourned for the official for his good relations in the city. The Poles rejoiced, and stated with joy that: They murdered the friend of the Jews.


  1. The mid-summer somber fast day that marks the destruction of the First and Second temples, and other tragedies that befell the Jewish people through the ages. There are other prohibitions on the day, including the wearing of leather shoes. Return
  2. A regional office. Return
  3. From the remainder of the story, it is clear that he was not dead. I believe this is a euphemism for “frozen stiff from fear”. Return

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