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[Page 9]

First Part:

Once, once…



Nakhman Rapp (Wroclaw)

Translated by Tina Lunson

The doors are closed and the shutters chained,
I am alone in my dark room,
I see my fracture as in a dark mirror –
I perform an empty, decimated seyder.

I pour no ash on my head, like my granddad,
I tear no kries*, like my father –
Too heavy the pain, too enormous the loss
That I could patch it with kries.*

But now at midnight in my lonely room,
I don't shy from friends or from enemies now,
The night may hear my curse, my oath,
The night can drink the lament from my face.

O, who damned the hours, the moments,
When they flung my brothers into the pits?
O, who lamented, when over the shores
The bloody flood drowned out all flesh?

The prayers of our fathers and mothers,
O, who heard in their last gasp:
Master of the universe, avert, don't delay,
Jealous and avenging – you God of revenge…

I search my conscience for a peg, a splinter,
I search in people's eyes for only a spark
At least to remind in a sacred shiver
Of kindness and pity, a little flame, just a wink …

With thousands of hands I cover my wounds,
So the sun will not see them, no friend would know,
And I keep them bound before the foe,
Because his appearance would tear up my heart.

Only now in the dark sadness of the room,
I don't shy from friends or from enemies now,
The night may hear my curse, my oath,
The night can drink the lament from my face.

*kries: tear in clothing for mourning

[Page 11]

Grayeve from the Past

Historical Notes

By Sh. Y. Fishbeyn

Translated by Tina Lunson

Grayeve, in Lomzhe [Łomża] province, is located four viorsts [a viorst is approximately 0.6 mile/1 kilometer] from the German border, near the eastern Prussian town of Prostken [Prostki].

The river Lenk (which we called “Kosherove”), along which Grayeve was built, runs from the lakes in southern Prussia to the old Polish fortress Osovyets [Osowiec].

The fortunate geographic position and other factors give us sufficient grounds to suppose that Grayeve has a long history of hundreds of years behind it. There are also signs of an old Jewish settlement in Grayeve. But apparently, the Jews never imagined that we would ever have to publish “Yizker-bikher about the hundreds of Jewish towns and villages of Poland. . . there are very few remaining birth certificates and letters of pedigree from our annihilated settlements. We try now to restore their old historical footsteps; receive the echo of their development and the reflections of their past.


How Old is Grayeve?

Chroniclers usually attend to events of a general character or events of historical significance in connection with given places and towns. As regards to smaller towns or villages, their history is considered according to official documents and unofficial information as well as in relationship to the events in the surrounding towns.

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According to the Polish encyclopedia “Slownik Geograficzni, Krulewstwa Polska,” the towns of Shtutzin [Szczuczyn] and Lomzhe were mentioned in the years 1326 and 1340, respectively. The village Raigrod [Rajgród] was mentioned as early as the 12 th century. The towns were usually mentioned in their earliest period through the activities of the Catholic religion or because of the building of a church. In the later periods events of a general character were recorded.

It is implied that Grayeve is as old as the towns around it, such as Lomzhe and Shtutzin in the north and Raigrod in the south.

The first time that Grayeve is mentioned in Slownik Polski [Polish Dictionary] is in connection with a wooden church that was built in Grayeve in 1497. Grayeve is mentioned later in 1725, when a brick church was built.

Until the construction of the king's postal highway in 1800 that extended from Kovne [Kaunas] to Varshe [Warsaw], Grayeve was insignificant in comparison to Shtutzin and Raigrod. Provisions such as oil, salt and so on were driven along a sand road to Bogushe [Bogusze] or Shtutzin. With the construction of the postal highway Grayeve became a pass-through center for freight transport from Ogustove [Augustów] and Raigrod through Grayeve to Lomzhe and Warsaw.

From as far away as Ogustove, in the agricultural hinterland of the country, merchants drove around and bought up products from the villages. The products were loaded in big covered wagons (wagons with linen stretched over them). The caravans of covered wagons were pulled by three pairs of horses – through Grayeve and on to Lomzhe for unloading at the big market. Inns and resting places were created in Grayeve, as mostly people rested and changed horses there. The number of merchants, purveyors and artisans multiplied. Grayeve came even with and rose above the neighboring towns.


The Jewish Community in Grayeve

The Encyclopedia Judaica reports that in 1856 there was a population of two thousand people in Grayeve, 1,457 Jews and 551 Poles. One can also deduce that the Grayeve Jewish settlement was as old as the surrounding settlements and that its Jewish institutions like bote-medroshim [Houses of Study] had existed in Grayeve for the last several

[Page 13]

hundred years. It was reported that the old beys-medresh was already a very old building 75 years ago. People who were in Grayeve when the old shul was pulled down in 1899 believe that the old shul – judging from the heavy, massive stones of its construction – had existed for at least a hundred years.

Jewish administrative affairs had already been conducted by the Jewish community council for a long time. Every year around Peysakh [Passover] time representatives assembled delegates from each beys-medresh or Hasidic prayer room, for the goal of choosing a manager for the council. The right to choose the delegates belonged only to those who had businesses or property; craftsmen or laborers who did not have any property were not entitled to take part in the voting for delegates.

The representatives of all the bote-medroshim selected “guardians” and trustees who, together with the rov [“rabbi”] and dayan [Jewish judge], constituted the administration of the council. The town council was maintained by a tax that was imposed on the purchase of meat. The tax was called “koropke” [tax]. The taxes were imposed on the entire Jewish community, although the general community did not have voting rights.

Unfortunately the Grayeve record book was not saved, so the facts about council administration in the very early time are not known. But it is known by the information of evidence about that time, that in 1885 the guardians were Meylekh Vaks, Avrom Yankl Zshmievski, Leybl Levit, Yesokher Podbelski, Tutelman.

The community built the bathhouse in 1888. The first bathhouse attendant was Shleyme the bather; after him was Borekh Mordkhe and later his son-in-law Mayer.

When the old shul was torn down in 1899, work began on building the new shul. In addition to the community administration, a special committee for building the shul was created. The committee was headed by Elye Vierzshblovski.   Certain facts about a few families from an earlier period are also known. So it is known that in 1837, a Grayeve Jew was active as a “doctor,” who was called Yisrolke the rofe [doctor], Meylekh Vaks' father-in-law.

[Page 14]

Mayir Orushe's Fishbeyn, born
in Grayeve in 1798, died in 1898


Already in the previous century there were several tanneries in Grayeve that produced fine leather. As early as 1840 the family Mayir Fishbeyn – Orushe's son-in-law – operated tanneries that employed many workers. Mayir Orushe's sold leather in Danzig into his 70's.

In addition to trade, the Jews in Grayeve were an integral part of the general economy of the area. Jewish artisans worked and served the villages as well as the town. Jewish blacksmiths made plows, forged wagons, made harrows and scythes and shoed the horses; wheelwrights made wagons, barrels, wheels. Shoemaking, tailoring, carpentry, cap making, bakeries and saw-making were entirely Jewish pursuits in Grayeve. The same went for millers, barbers and wagon drivers. The latter served as transporters. Thus Grayeve was a very constructive, productive society.


Grayeve in the Polish Rebellion

After the illegal partition of Poland in 1795, especially after the Vienna Congress of the then great powers Russia, Germany and Austria, a part of Poland became known as Russian Poland.

In the great rebellion of Poles' struggle for Polish liberation in 1831, a Polish resistance army was concentrated around the large forest on the way from Grayeve to Raigrod under the leadership of Polish patriot Dombrowski.

To counter the rebels of the Grayeve area, the Russian government sent an army of 8,000 infantrymen, 2,000 artillerymen and thousands of cavalry soldiers. This was a large army for that time, which indicates the seriousness of the rebellion.

[Page 15]

It is also known that two Grayeve Jews were punished by the tsarist government for their participation and aid to the rebels. They were Leyzer Hepner and Dovid Kolko.

In the History of the Jews in Poland and Russia, Professor Dubnow [Shimen Dubnow 1860-1941] writes that in 1825 the Grand Duke Pawlowicz, who was appointed by Alexander the First to govern over Poland, issued a decree that Jews were forbidden to locate in an area within 50 viorsts of the western border unless the Jew had immoveable property. The Jews defended themselves against this brutal decree with every possible way and although it is not known how many Jews were driven out of the border towns by the decree, it is certain that the normal life and growth of the Jewish settlements in the border towns, including Grayeve, was much disturbed. That cruel law was only repealed in 1862 under the rule of Alexander the Second.

The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that in 1862, Jews in Poland were forbidden to be estate managers and to settle in Grayeve. That shows while the decree to drive Jews out of Grayeve and other border towns had been repealed, new Jewish immigrants were still prohibited from settling in Grayeve.


Grayeve, a trade center

The laying of the train line Brisk-Litovsk-Grayeve was finished around 1874. Grayeve then emerged on the map as an important trade town. Direct connections between Russia and Germany opened through Grayeve. Raw materials from Russia and industrial products from Germany passed through and were delivered to Grayeve.

Agricultural products from the entire area around Grayeve as well as from Ukraine and Russia were directed through Grayeve. Grayeve merchants traveled to Russia to buy horses, geese, grain, flax and so on and exported them through Grayeve to Germany. A Russian train went into Germany twice a day and twice a day a German train came into Grayeve. Big warehouses were built. Trade was expanded, a

[Page 16]

chamber of commerce was established and a duty house. Shipping bureaus were established, offices, and Grayeve became a central point in trade between Russia and Germany.

With the rise in foreign trade big Jewish offices developed, with shipping houses and banks. Well known among the among the prominent Grayeve Jews were the business houses of Yezsherski, Vierzshblovski, Olshvanger, Zilbershteyn, Levin, Beynish Kolko, Bialystotski, Markus, Tutelman, Knorozovski and others.

In 1892, some of the mentioned wealthy men decided that praying in the old beys-medresh with all the craftsmen, paupers and wagon drivers did not suit them. And since the shul was not heated and moreover no one could pray there in the summer, the clerks and upcoming rich men decided to build a beys-medresh for themselves. That is how the new beys-medresh came to be built.

The Slownik Geograficzni, Krulewstwa Polska, edited in 1881, reports that in 1876 the exports through the Grayeve commercial center amounted to eight and a half million rubles and the imports, thirteen and a half million rubles, for a total of 22 million rubles worth going through Grayeve in one year; and the trade grew from year to year.

Grayeve had a large factory for rubber and suspenders, which was taken over by Hepner in 1896. In the production of suspenders the factory at one time employed 50 Jews in a combined total of 200 workers.

Grayeve also had a factory for the production of chemical fertilizer and glue for carpenters. The factory was called “the bone factory,” because the bones of cattle were used in the production of the chemical fertilizer.

A factor contributing to trade in the town was the garrison for cavalry soldiers quartered in Grayeve in 1890, and consisting of eight squadrons totaling 1,200 people. Jewish merchants arranged provisions for the soldiers. The general providing for the soldiers increased the prosperity of the town.

There was also a big, modern schnapps factory in Grayeve. The factory belonged to the local gentry Jegelski and the manager was a Jew by the name of Khaym Bernzon.

[Page 17]

In Grayeve there was a glove factory too, which belonged to Kolken and in which Jewish women worked. The gloves were sent to be sold in the larger cities.

In the area of education there were, besides khedarim [Jewish religious schools] also a town school under the direction of Khenine Gron. In 1882 the school functioned under Gron and also had as teachers Feltin and Rotshild. Later the school was taken over by the teacher Shatski.

In 1890 the Grayeve area saw large military maneuvers of the regiments of the whole region. General Graf Szuwalow came from Warsaw to lead the maneuvers. Three delegations went out from the city to receive the elevated guests. The delegations were made up of the Russian, Polish and Jewish populations. The Jewish delegation consisted of elected proprietors from town led by Rov Eliahu Aron Milikovski. As was the custom, the delegation carried bread and salt on a silver tray. When they arrived at the reception the Jewish delegation was not allowed in. The wealthy Grayeve Jews Yezsherski and Vierzshbalovski reported the incident to the German press and the Berlin Tageblatt [German newspaper published in Berlin, 1872-1939] wrote very critically about it. Some time later Szuwalow called for the Grayeve council, by way of the Lomzhe governor, to send him the silver tray.

With the growth of commerce, industry and artisanry, the population of Grayeve grew as well. The Slownik reports that in 1880 there was already a population of 5,000 people in Grayeve, and in 1897 the population had grown to a total of 4,336 Jews and 3,315 Poles – a town of 8,000 people.

The physical appearance of the town changed with the construction of the train line. The neighborhood of the train station and the warehouses had previously been swamps. The entire quadrant was dried out and in place of the swamps a lovely market and a duty house were built besides the warehouses and train station. New streets were laid out and the town bloomed, so that by the end of the 19 th century Grayeve had become an eminent, productive and commercial town.

[Page 18]


  1. History of the Jews in Poland and Russia, Professor Dubnow
  2. Slownik Geograficzni, Krulewstwa Polska
  3. Encyclopedia Judaica
  4. Facts collected from private individuals:
    1. Mr. Maks Vaks
    2. Leon Beylis in Mount Vernon
    3. Mrs. Sore Rivke Fishbeyn

A part of the Grayeve cemetery and the little lake, looking from River Street
Drawing by A. D. Fishbeyn


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