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[Page 247]

The Narew in Tykocin

Simcha Shulman

Translated by Henry Tobias

When our ancestors settled permanently hundreds of years ago on the banks of the River Narew, they took into account the benefit to be gained from the river that played an important role in the lives of the residents of Tykocin.

In the past the Narew was a main artery for transport in the entire area. The river passed through Tykocin and enabled the residents of the area to send their wares to those states (countries) with access to the sea. Loggers sent logs down river via the River Vistula to Danzig. The river thus provided a living for many Jews, both loggers and traders.

The crystal clear water of the Narew provided water for the town. The water carriers 'Wasser Tragaras' carried the water in two buckets attached to a wooden pole across their shoulders. Day and night they went back and forth from the river to the town, earning only a few pennies. Eventually a cart with a large container appeared in Tykocin, similar to those in 'Eretz Israel' that were used to distribute heating and cooking oil. This reduced the work of the water carriers and speeded up the distribution of water to the homes.


Another source of income was fishing. The fish were known for their quality, particularly the Sterlet, a small sturgeon known as the 'Water Wolf' by the locals. The fishermen sold their catch to the Jewish merchants, who sold them to the residents of Tykocin and even nearby Bialystok. When the festival of Succoth approached the fisherman bought boatloads of reeds from the banks of the Narew for the Jews to cover the Succoth (booths) and branches from the dense willow trees, to fulfill the mitzvah of Hoshana-Rabba. (When five willow branches are beaten five times on the ground.)

In the winter when the river was frozen, ice was cut into large blocks and stored in special basements, and kept until the summer when they were used to keep food and drink cold. 'Linat tzedek' [shelter for the needy] kept a supply for those sick residents who needed ice. The ice was broken into small pieces and a daily supply was wrapped in a special rubber container (bag) and given to the sick.

In the heat of the summer the river was used for bathing especially on the eve of Shabbat when young and old bathed to honor Shabbat. All the youth of Tykocin were excellent swimmers and the most daring swam as far as the barrier which was dangerous because of the deep water. On Shabbat it was customary for families with their children and young men and women of Tykocin to walk on the bridges over the winding river.

The children were particularly attracted to the river. In the winter they skated on the river and in the summer swam and fished in the river. They made themselves fishing rods and scratched in the black earth for worms to use as bait, and sometimes managed to take home a nice catch of fish.

The river sometimes caused problems. When the snow and ice melted the melting ice sometimes blocked the narrow parts of the river and the banks overflowed, flooding large parts of the town, flowing into the houses and causing damage to property. Eventually this problem was overcome by breaking up the ice with special tools or blasting with explosives, which allowed the Narew to flow peacefully as usual along it's course.

[Page 248]

Some Memories of Childhood

Kolya Burstein

Translated by Henry Tobias

The events recounted here occurred at the end of World War I, when I was a little girl about six or seven years old. Our town consisted mainly of small wooden houses with slate roofs that offered no protection from the bullets and shrapnel, so most of the residents took shelter in the beautiful old shul.

However, my mother took my little brother and me, to my grandfather's house. My father was in America to where he had emigrated when I was about two years old. My grandfather lived in a two storey solid stone house, situated opposite the shul.

When the battlefront approached the town, the bullets and artillery shells were flying over the town, all the members of the household took shelter in the basement. Some of the youngsters who were more curious went up on the roofs and watched the progress of the battle. The enemy who were by now on the other side of the Narew river, spotted them and started to fire artillery shells at our house and the adjacent shul. A double miracle occurred, which made a lasting impression on those who witnessed this event. The shell aimed at the shul hit the thick Eastern wall of the shul adjacent to the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark), but did not penetrate the thick wall. From the blast the large chandelier in the center of the shul started to shake and sway back and forth nearly coming loose from the mounting in the ceiling and falling on the men, women and children sheltering in the shul. Miraculously it did not fall and break and only caused few jangled nerves.

Another shell penetrated our house and landed in the stairwell without hurting anyone. My elderly grandfather who was close to a hundred at the time got a fright and fainted, but soon recovered.

On another occasion the bravery of my aunt on my father's side (?) Sheina Golda may she rest in peace, was evident. When the Cossacks invaded the town she gathered us all in the house and locked the door from the outside. The Cossacks surrounded the house and attempted to get in through the back door but my aunt stood behind it and prevented them entering. This aunt of mine, although she was not killed directly by Hitler she was still, indirectly, a victim of this demon. She was in America when she heard the story of the terrible fate of her only son Nachman Lipshitz, may his death be revenged, who died tragically with his family in Volozhin. This caused her early death.

The residents of Tykocin tell about my great grandfather, the grandfather of this aunt, who during the cholera plague was one of the many victims. In his last moments he asked for water to wash his hands, draped himself in his talith and prayed fervently that his death be the last of the plague. Shortly after his death the plague ended.

Although I was a little girl I suffered the evil of the Diaspora. The gentile children called us bad names. In my young heart I dreamed of living in freedom in the “land of our fathers”. Then came the happiest day of my life. I was eleven years old when our salvation came. My father who had in the meantime joined Jabotinsky's volunteer battalion asked us to join him in 'The Land of Israel'.

When we reached the outskirts of the town, I, accompanied by my two best friends, I burst into bitter tears that I could not stop. At the time I could not understand why this should happen on the happiest day of my life when I went from 'slavery to freedom'. I could not help from bursting into tears and from heartache and anguish I vented my feelings. Today, after the terrible Holocaust and the atrocities of Hitler that brought about the destruction of Jewish Tykocin, I know my reactions were instinctive of the imminent devastation.

May the memory of the righteous of Tykocin be bound together with the souls of all the righteous of Israel.

[Page 255]

Mutual assistance Tykocin

Israel Meir Cohen

Translated by Henry Tobias

I was eight years old, the eldest of four children, when my father, of blessed memory, died in 1917. The burden of raising and providing for four small children fell on my mother's shoulders. This would have been a great burden for a woman on her own, looking after four small children, if not for the help of friends and neighbors, actually the whole of Tykocin, without whom it is doubtful whether my mother would have been able to manage. In recording this I wish to show my gratitude to this day, to all those dear people, most of them are no longer with us.

My late father was one of the respected members of the town, love and admired by the all its inhabitants. He passed away in the prime of his life and his death shocked the whole town. Immediately the brotherly love of the people of Tykocin was shown and they never left us alone for a moment. Acquaintances and neighbors came to our home offering help and looking after us with great dedication and treated us like we were family.

Particularly etched in my heart is the first Seder night after my father passed away. My mother turned down the many invitations she received, because she didn't want to spoil the atmosphere of the festival in another home with the presence of a widow and four sad orphans. I, as the eldest son was charged with leading the Seder. There was silence in the room when I rose to say 'kiddush'. I held the cup in my small shaking hand and lifted my eyes to look at my mother. When our eyes met I could no longer contain myself and I burst into tears, followed by the whole family. Immediately neighbors and acquaintances came inside. They had gathered at the door to our house as they foresaw what would happen and stayed with us all that night.

Mother ran the store and had to make many business trips out of Tykocin. We were well cared for by loving neighbors and acquaintances, in her absence. As orphans we were spoiled, and I can say it was good to be an orphan in Tykocin.

I remember Rabbi Samuel, the ritual slaughterer, who sent the children from the 'cheder' to collect money in the town for charity. He often sent me out of turn and more often, because the people of Tykocin felt close to me and wanted to make me happy. They always gave me twice as much as they did others.

In the 'Beit Midrash' I also received special treatment. During our break we would play in the 'Beit Midrash' and disturb those studying, who would rebuke us and chase us out, but no one ever touched me.

Three years after the death of my father in 1920 the conquering Bolsheviks took our remaining possessions and we were totally ruined. Once again the brotherly love of the people of Tykocin was expressed. Representatives of the organizations of the town and individuals came to our home to offer help. When the time came to pay our debts rich and poor alike came to help my mother redeem the promissory notes.

A short time later my mother sent me to Yeshiva. Unlike other students I didn't eat with nearby families, so my mother sent me money for my living expenses. In 1924, when I was studying at the Stolbatz Yeshiva my mother became ill with typhus. The doctors had given up hope that she would live. However, when they were about to phone me to call me home, the crisis ended and she started to recover. During the two months of her illness our friends nursed her with dedication and took care of my young siblings who were at home.

I remember one occasion that showed the special attention our orphaned family received. A resident of Tykocin who wanted to go to Bialystok would usually do so on a wagon that left at night. The mayor, Zeev Gold would rent out a special comfortable wagon when he was able to. He once promised Israel Cohen that he could take the cart to Bialystok. The mayor's sister, Tzvia Sorowitz, surprisingly came to him and said that Mindel Cohen(my mother) wanted to travel to Bialystok. Immediately he notified Israel Cohen that he couldn't take the wagon and he took my mother instead.

Many showed kindness in our town of Tykocin. I only mention a small number of the good deeds that kindhearted people did to help our family. This is a record of the deep-rooted love of his fellow man that was in the hearts of the people of our town. It should be a guide to us all.

[Page 257]

Fragments of Memories

Eliezer Paritz

Translated by Henry Tobias

From my childhood, memories have been etched of teachers whose teachings live on in my heart. They are Rabbi Yaakov David Schwartz and Rabbi Israel Buber, well-known sages of Tykocin.

In the 'cheder' of Yaakov David Schwartz I received the basis of Judaism, learned in childhood and will never forget. He explained in depth and with thoroughness the chapters of the 'chumash' (Five books of the Torah). With dedication he made sure of the development of each and every one of his pupils. He persevered to nurture in our young hearts the love of torah and the love of Israel. There are not many talented teachers and few as beloved as he was.

The next stage in our development was the 'cheder' of Israel Buber, where all the studies were directed to instill in us a love of Zion, as he himself absorbed a deep and strong love of Zion. In his cheder the first seeds of Zionism were planted in our hearts, from which the Zionist movement of Tykocin grew and which involved nearly all of the youth of the town. I remember how on Lag B'omer we would stand in rows of threes and march to the “Shloss Barg” (Barg Castle?) as we waved the flag of the Zionist Federation and sing songs of Zion. Israel Buber told us many stories of what was being done in the 'Land of Israel' and explained to us events that occurred on the frontlines of the subjugation of the land. With his radiant personality and catching enthusiasm he would sweep us with him until we could actually see in our imagination the plentiful settlements in the Land of Israel, Trumpeldor the hero of Tel-Hai. The grand vision would be realized in front of us. In the cheder of Israel Buber we absorbed strength, encouragement, and courage that gave us the spirit to get through the bad times that we later endured.

From my activity in the community and movement I want to enhance the character of Rabbi Alter Lipschitz. His personality was immersed in Torah and wisdom. This man was overflowing with the wisdom of life, an increasing font of legend and memories. He took on many public duties, as well as being the secretary of the community, the manager of the peoples bank, a member of the town council and for a short time its leader. He was the nerve center of the town and no event occurred in Tykocin in which he did not take part.

The yearning for redemption was strong due to the hard life in Tykocin. It was most evident on Tisha B'Av. At sunset, and after sweeping the floor, the benches were covered with paper and transformed. The heads of households gathered and filled the Great Beit Midrash completely. I could then feel the great sadness that filled every soul. A mournful silence prevailed. Only a sigh of anguish or the sound of crying was heard from time to time. It was as if Tykocin itself had suffered the destruction of the Temple. On the steps of the Holy Ark sat Rabbi Samuel, the ritual slaughterer, his white beard flowing and in his hand he held a glowing candle, and in a sad, soft voice, read Migilat Micha and the lamentations of Tisha B'Av. The children would make 'shishkas', a bundle of sharp thorns that they would throw at the mourners. One of the 'shishkas' hit the beard of Rabbi Samuel and got stuck in it. The book of Lamentations fell out of his hand, his bowed head lowered a little further and a deep sigh came from his heart, his body and heart seemed broken.

[Page 277]

Childhood Memories

Miriam Adelstein

Translated by Henry Tobias

It is no surprise that when I remember the name of Tykocyn, my heart is flooded by memories. The town of Tykocin where I was born and was for a time my whole world is etched deep in my memory, and now when I try to put these memories on paper they are like a well, fresh and clear.

My former home, school, the crowded market, the goyim coming to sell their wares, the Narew river in which we splashed and played, I can see clearly as my pen glides over the paper.

My two storey house stood on Pilsudski Street. It is summertime. I am standing next to the window and looking out over the wide river with cool, clear blue water, where we spend most of the day. We swam, sailed, fished and washed household utensils, (which we turned into a sort of competitive game.)

During the very cold winter the river turned into a skating rink and was a frozen surface for the children wearing skates.

When we were sent to fetch water from the river we had to chop the ice with some force. A few minutes later the hole froze over again.

The river was a place for adventure both in summer and winter.

Not far from the river the houses were covered in white. A cloak of thick snow under which lay trees, houses roads and railway lines. Only after much effort could the way be cleared for traffic. Above, the gloomy gray clouds covered the bright sky. (The sky is always bright in Israel).

When I look back, I see my home, I see the big bookcase and the figure of my father, Rabbi Bezalel Adelstein, who was a watchmaker, bent over the table, fixing watches.

When the time for prayers came he would leave his work and hurry to the large shul to pray and study torah. He would immerse himself in solving some intricate problem or discuss some point of the torah with the learned men.

I was a fervent Zionist and my ambition was to go to the Land of Israel, the birthplace of the Jewish people, the only land where Jews could live in peace and security. For this many gave contributions, coins, jewelry or money to plant trees in the homeland.

My father was charitable and he was well respected. Many times he collected contributions for the needy (charity) and many times allowed the ill to stay in our home, allowing them to recuperate. My father did good deeds and g-d forbid, not for the honour.

In the other room of our apartment my brothers and sisters, nine in all, would play: David Shlomo; Moshe; Arieh Leib; Hannah Bella; Miriam; Malka; Masha; Rivka and Ida, who are no longer with us as they were murdered in the Bialystok ghetto.

In the corner of the room my mother Mrs. Sarah Adelstein, may she rest in peace, was busy stoking the fire. She was an unassuming, god fearing woman who prayed and blessed the Lord.

Always working, cooking, baking and knitting for the family for which she, and not my father, was praised. My mother immigrated to the Land of Israel where she lived for about seventeen years. She lived to get pleasure (nachas) from her daughters and grandchildren. When she reached old age her soul was returned to her Maker. She died righteously on the Sabbath eve, and is buried overlooking the Holy land.


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