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[Page 167]

Once there was our Krynki


Our Krynki

by Frida Zalkin-Kushnir

Translated by Hadas Eyal

The name Krynki sprouts from the water springs that shaped its industrial character and tanning trade. It was a typical medieval town built around a characteristic market center from which streets branched in all directions.

The Jewish residents - manufacturers and merchants - lived in the city center while most of the Poles were farmers on the outskirts of town and built their homes on the edge of their fields. Among the Polish scholars were a doctor, a judge, a priest and policemen.


Church Lane


It was an industrial town with more than 20 tanneries. During the Russian Czar regime, leather and hide merchants arrived from as far and wide as Crimea and Siberia. The majority of the Jewish population, including the youth, worked in the factories, giving it a proletariat atmosphere. Alongside the manual workers were several shops and craftsmen such as tailors who also worked for the farmers in nearby towns.

The area farmers were mostly illiterate and primitive and it was only after the Polish authorities opened free public elementary schools that the town people began sending their children to study.

For the Jews of Krynki it was always important to develop cultural life. They kept close relations with the large regional cities like Grodno and Bialystok for continuous supply of newspapers and magazines, and Polish and Russian performance artists. The Jews also played significant roles in the local municipality as party representatives and deputies to the mayor.

Especially noteworthy is the political awareness and revolutionary activity of Jewish Krynki youth. Up until the establishment of the general schools, the boys studied mostly in “cheders” [traditional Jewish primary school] and the girls in the Russian elementary school. One of the teachers was Liza Rotbort, the wife of David Tubiyahu, the future first mayor of Beer Sheva in Israel. The Krynki youth was thirsty for knowledge but unfortunately there were no complementary education options in the town itself for many years.

Some of the youth had a deep Zionist spirit. “Tsirei-Tzion” [Zionist Youth] movement laid the foundation for the first Hebrew “Tarbut” [culture] school. At the same time, youth from wealthy families broke away to make Aliya to the land of Israel as Chalutsim [pioneers], some joining Kibbutz Geva in the Jezreel Valley.


A group of Yiddish Elementary School pupils
with their teachers

[Page 168]

The teachers –
Reiss, Gelernter & Tsvigel


Two schools were established simultaneously: The Hebrew School and the Bund Yiddish School. The competition between them for academic achievements and attracting the new generation elevated each school to high standards. The teachers were recruited from Galicia and Congress Poland – cultural people with high degree education such as Dr. Reiss, Gelernter, Tsvigel, and Sarig (later the renowned principal of the teachers' seminary in Kibbutz Givat HaShlosha).

There was a hope to open a Gymnasia [high-school] in Krynki but it was not feasible for lack of students. Children of proletariat parents could not afford to continue their education beyond elementary school. Some were able to travel to larger places such as Grodno or Vilna to study, train, or acquire a practical profession while somehow sustaining themselves in those places. The Krynki youth earned a good reputation for their cultural background and it was paraphrased that: “The law will go forward from Krink” [מקרינק תצא תורה].

Seven days in our town

by Shmuel Geler

Translated by Hadas Eyal

(This section is in Hebrew written by native Yiddish speakers)


Dark grey smoke rising towards the pillar of early twilight from the chimneys of the hunched huts – announces the beginning of a new work day in Krynki: above tripods and cooktops, Jewish mothers prepare breakfast for their husbands, sons and daughters who are early to rise for their day's labor.

The rising day is not rid yet of the night and already the streets of Krynki are busy with tanners marching heavily down the streets and alleyways to the tanneries, fulling mills, and other work places. Quickly they will don their aprons, roll up their sleeves and quietly and gravely approach their hard work. The steam engines will come to life, the gears will hum, the cylinders will roll, the craftsman's instruments will shine. Diligent trained hands create the praised Krynki leather.

It is 7 am and the streets and alleys of Krynki are bustling with life. Loud calls and youthful laughter erupts from all directions – the children are marching to school. Satchels on their shoulders, bags in their hands, this one in new trousers, that one in patched trousers – all eyes shining, all faces happy. The class rooms quickly fill up - in elementary schools, in the general cheder: a new learning day begins for torah and haskalah. The joyful voices of youngsters can be heard.

Once the women send their wage earners and children from the house – they turn to their daily tasks: shining the floors, washing the clothes, mending underwear and clothes, going to the grocery store, the baker and the butcher. When lucky they pay cash, other times defer payment. Laden with baskets they return home to prepare afternoon fare. Flames are lit in ovens and cooktops. In cauldrons and cast iron pots they will cook either meat feasts, dairy meals or meager broth stews.

The streets fill again: Factory workers leave for their daily meal; youngsters return home from school with much ruckus and commotion. When it rains they will slosh through the puddles. In the winter they will proudly ice skate on self-constructed blades tossing snow balls at each other. Not lacking of appetite, it is unsure whether the scant food at home will satisfy it.

The hour ends, the adults go back to work, the students do their homework and impatiently look forward to moments of joy when they will be free for play and mischief outdoors. Housewives, like hard working bees, each persevere with what needs to be done. Does the stream of our mothers' work ever dry?

In the market center, summer and winter, women vendors sprawl next to their fruit and vegetable baskets and crates. Heat, cold, rain or snow – they will never desert their post. Rambunctious bickering over shoppers and mutual juicy profanity frequently rise to the heavens. The struggle for every morsel of income is not easy.

At the height of the day, groups of unemployed and plain bums of which there also were in Krynki hang around the market arguing about world affairs and town gossip. Some set this as a meeting point with the postman, in case he has a letter from America in his satchel with a dollar in it. Others seek any kind of work, any bit of livelihood. Everyone waits impatiently for the fifth day of the week, market day.

[Page 169]

Market Day

The morning of the longed for market day. By the crack of dawn, the square is already set and ready to greet its guests. Dozens of tents are pitched here, stalls, counters, tables, truly full of all good. What can you not find here? Women hat-makers with colorful heads and shiny black foreheads; leather shoe parts such as “tongues”, lining and soles cut to size; cattle accessories; horse harnesses, reins and straps that stink the air with tar; artisanal spindles; heaped shelves of dark chiffon and white flour bread loaves, bagels, buns, cakes and plenty of other mouth-watering appetite-provoking baked goods; a splendid display of sweets and candies; and various cooking and household utensils arranged everywhere you look.

And the taverns, they are full of sausages, herrings, alcohol, soda water, kvass and beer.


Krynki Market


On farm carts and by foot, farmers flow into town from towns near and far. Neshot Chayil Bnot Yaakov [diligent Jewish women] in charge of budget savings are already waiting for them on the outskirts looking for findings at half price at least. In broken Goyish-language seasoned with Yiddish they haggle with the town folk, grope the chicken buttocks and blow into their feathers to check how plump they are. Experienced negotiators will eventually succeed in the difficult task of exhausting the farmer and striking a deal on a good chicken for Shabbat, eggs, a butter portion wrapped in coarse farmers' cloth or a wide leaf. Satisfied with their “winnings” they now trudge back to prepare meals.

Meanwhile, market day reaches its peak and is busy, crowded and noisy. Jews squeeze between the carts, rummage in sacks, check bundles and use all their talents to bargain until they settle their squabble with a hand shake and a friendly pat on the shoulder. The farmers' purses fill up and their carts empty out. Kosher butchers buy cows, calves, sheep. Horse merchants check the animals' teeth, assess their age, and test their fitness and tolerance amid the combined commotion of neighing animals and haggling people.

[Page 170]

The stores, chicken pens, and stalls brim with people buying utensils and supplies for their farms and homes. The women farmers buy cotton dresses, the younger among them also get colorful polka-dotted scarves and pearl-glass necklaces. The piles of bread loaves and other foods dwindle.

These are happy days in the eateries of Poliak & Snarski, Haykel & Lieder and pubs like them. With pockets full of cash, groups sit together, chatting loudly and taking rounds buying drinks, herring, sausages, bacon and sauerkraut. The more glasses they empty, the higher their spirits, the rosier their cheeks, the waterier their eyes. Some of them hug and kiss their buddy friends. One will begin singing, the others will drunkenly join in. When someone drops a coin into an automatic music box the audience will enjoy an energetic mighty march tune. Suddenly one of the celebrators remembers a past injustice…a bottle is thrown towards the offender, chaos erupts, tables shake, bottles and bowls shatter, and liquid splashes on the assembled…

Market day is over, it slowly empties. The grocers count their proceeds: G-d willing, there will be enough to make a tuition payment, return a debt, buy raisin-wine for Kiddush and Havdalah [orthodox Jewish rituals before and after the Shabbat].

Krynki welcomes the Shabbat

Translated by Hadas Eyal

Krynki began bustling in preparation for Shabbat from the early hours of Fridays. Cooking fragrances rose from the homes of Israel of baked challah, cooked fish and other Shabbat fare. The women of Israel, busy bees, clean, scrub, launder and iron. Storekeepers, laborers and craftsmen ready themselves for the day of Shabbat-Kodesh [Holy-Shabbat].

Most joyous was the children's anticipation for the end of the school week. With grand commotion and glee, they hurry out. Each preparing in their own way for Shabbat.

One of the greatest mitzvahs [a commandment] from youth to old age was to bathe in honor the happy day [Yom haSimha]. The children fulfilled the mitzvah in the stream on the slope of the Tanners' Garbarska Street near the grazing meadow where the water was shallow and did not rise above the ankles. The youngsters would crawl on all fours splashing marsh water on each other with sheer delight.

The pond down Mill Street near the flour mill was deep enough for youth to swim in the water, or mud, hard to tell. Those who ventured further from the town washed behind the “new” flour mill where it was possible to bath in fresh water and emerge perfectly clean.

The true taste of bathing however could be found in the river. Carters would hitch their horses and transport those who had enough money for the return journey. The Krynki teenagers would march the 6 kilometers in groups or alone to the serene river that flowed among fields and grass. The river was full of people. Here you had to know how to swim. The brave flaunted their abilities – diving, stroking to the deep waters, frog leaping. The water was clear and cold. The swimmers felt all their senses and after the soak would roll naked in the cool fragrant grass (in my youth, Krynki has not yet heard of bathing suits).

The women conducted themselves separately, at a distance from the men. Among the men who swam well were some who quietly made their way to “sneak” a peak at the half naked daughters of Eve.

Refreshed, light and relaxed everyone returned cheerfully back to the town; becoming tired and covered again in dust but returning home in good spirits.

The local bathhouse was also full on Shabbat evening. The reigning king here is Aharonchik the attendant. He generously provides large jars for water and twigs with which to scrub. In the first washroom people lathered soap and rinsed. But the proper Shabbat pleasure [Oneg Shabbat] was felt in the steam room. On wood benches laborers, craftsmen, landlords sat and reclined – everyone is equal here.

The group is enjoying the heat. Every once in a while they cheer: Steam! More steam! A few jars of cool water onto the scalding stones in the furnace send new waves of hot steam into the sweat room. It is not easy to see each other and breathing is difficult but soon they resume: Steam! Give us more Steam! The twigs are used to rub the skin clean and the men treat each other to a back scrub. This is the only place where a common person can beat the back of a rich landlord and it will even be considered a mitzvah…With glowing and flushed faces, everyone returns home.

[Page 171]

Meanwhile, the mothers already sent the cholent pots [traditional Jewish stew] to the bakers' ovens. Now they wash the children's hair with pails and water basins. Howling and crying, the toddlers attempt to flee their mother's hands, the soap suds bitter in their mouths and burning their eyes. Thick combs will go through the infants' hair – something might be found there…

Quietly and in moderation, the daughters of Israel will wash and arrange their own hair (rain water is known to bolster growth). Mothers lovingly braid it. The homes are shining clean. Old and young – everyone is ready to welcome the Shabbat.

One house after the other, Shabbat candles are lit. For some in silver candlesticks, for others brass, and yet others in a couple of potatoes… Head-covered mothers in kerchiefs and scarves whisper their prayers. With quivering hearts and teary eyes, they will accompany their husbands and children to the prayer houses.

Shabbat evening

Translated by Hadas Eyal

As Shabbat dinner is drawing to an end, the Krynki youth begin to flow from all corners of the town to the market. In couples and groups, they will roam around between the houses of Vacht and Hykel. Blaring conversations, loud calls, laughter, the market buzzes with adolescent joy. Groups congregate on sidewalks in passionate debate, defending opinions and supporting rabbis.

Bit by bit the audience dwindles and couples or circles of friends will turn down the street towards Viryon Estate and to side alleys. The main strolling wave will descend Shishlevitz Street, through the chestnut trees near the “Bolnitze” (the Goyim/Christian hospital) adjacent to the government elementary school. They shortly arrive at “Yente” woods which is actually the size of a little finger but is loved and precious, engraved deep in the heart of every Krynkian.

Throughout the woods singing can be heard. Who can sing better than Krynki youth? We sang with elegance and emotion. One will break into song and right away his friend will assist with a “seconda”, the third and fourth will join in harmony:

“Facing the dawn of the day we stand,
The new young guard of the proletariat…”

[translated from the Hebrew translation of the Yiddish]

Sings a group of “Tsukunft” [Future in Yiddish] of the “Bund” youth:
“From Warsaw to Paris
From London to Canton
Moskow launched a red flag!

[translated from the Hebrew translation of the Yiddish]

The crooning revolutionary youth demonstrate their belief in a new liberated world.

And from the edge of the woods the pleasant delicate voice of a young girl is heard:

“You promised me you would come,
You promised and you did not,
I looked for you all night in the alleys,
And yesterday so it was, so beautiful and delightful,
So desiring-passionate the hearts!...”

[translated from the Hebrew translation of the Yiddish]

Singing about “Nights of Canaan”, “Sea of Galilee”, and the “Jezreel Valley” ends with energetic hora dancing. Bunds, communists, Zionists sing different versions but all share the throbbing spirit of the wonderful Krynki youth tribe.

Under the cover of the dark night couples embrace tightly and share their dreams. The trees of “Yente” woods soak many sweet secrets. Tired and exhilarated, the youth return to their homes at late hours, sneaking in quietly.

Shabbat calmness rests upon the town.

[Page 172]

In the atmosphere of Judaism and Zionism

by Yehudah Eckstein

Translated by Hadas Eyal


Hebrew Public School Class of 1928


Krynki my town – some things of the time I sat an entire day on the study bench in the “cheder” [traditional Jewish primary school] and “talmud torah” [traditional Jewish elementary school] I will never forget.

Late in the evening, in the winter; we jovial students return from our studies holding candle-torches. Who of us will not remember our melamed, “Rabbi” Bezalel z”l, whose cheder was on Cherkovna Street?

And here the school of “Tarbut” [Culture] on Garbarska Street and the big library next to it. The course of study – to Zion, to pioneering, fulfillment and implementation. Its dedicated principal Asher Gendel, the trips and excursions with fire torches to Yente woods or farther to Schalker forest on Lag ba'Omer, on Kaf beTamuz and other holidays.

And our “Young Halutz” [Young Pioneer] youth movement, the cultural-educational activities it provided and the summer-winter seminars all towards Erez-Israel, towards Aliyah [immigrating to Israel].

And the Shabbat in Krynki. Following six work days, the Shabbat-ness [“shabbatdikyt”] that prevailed everywhere; and after the mincha-meal on Shishlevitch Street the entire town from infant to elderly strolled around.


From the way of life

by Ashe Golob

Translated by Hadas Eyal

Like the other field towns in Poland, Krynki lived the typical Jewish way of life. The parents attempted to pass their religious traditions to their children.

But our town was blessed with various other types who provided much entertainment material and pranks. The Krynki clowns knew how to play practical jokes. And above and beyond, Krynki was blessed with an abundance of rumors about ghosts and spirits.

[Page 173]

Countless tales and jokes spun over generations around the “groisse schul” and the “schulhoff” (the grand synagogue and its grounds). These tales of demons and the dead that spread among the people would cast fear on the majority. I will recount one of the episodes here.

There was a Jew in Krynki named Herschel the “snob” or the “distinguished” who one fine day passed away – a natural ordinary incident, but the rumor was that Herschel returned home, spoke, turned and disappeared. Others said he appeared to them in a dream and asked to be re-buried because he rolled over onto his stomach and needs help rolling back. The emotional flurry among the town people grew and grew.

At the same time – so I heard directly from the storyteller – two pigeons were stolen from the Goy on New Street. The thieves' trail led to the path near the cemetery. When the Goy passed the cemetery in search of the pigeons and he saw a white figure walking around who turned out to be Herschel the distinguished snob. To the Goy's question what he was doing there, Herschel responded that he lost something. Frightened, the Uncircumcised almost fainted and quickly left.

That evening, as always, I was at the “Center” (the common name of the Zionist Movement Center in the town) on Garbarska Street meeting my friends who arrived from Heschel Library or the drama club at Alter's the painter z”l and I told them the entire story as I heard it from the Goy. An argument ensued. Some accepted the story as something that happened, others laughed at the expense of the Uncircumcised.

Finally, Shimon Rudi our famous hero rose and said he was willing to place a bet that he isn't afraid of anything. He will go alone, now, in the evening, to the cemetery, and stand there on the fence. We are to come later and see if it's so. We agreed. It was a dark night. Shimon left.

At the scheduled time we rose, a group of friends, to check whether the guy passed the test. As we approached we saw a figure standing on the fence. According to Rudi he yelled out loud that we were cowards and that he ran full of confidence and on purpose into the cemetery.

But coincidentally, in the burial plot of one of the saints, a group of communists were preparing flags and illegal printed material for their activities. They heard the commotion, thought law enforcement caught up with them, opened the gate and ran as fast as they could.

We too did not catch at that moment what was going on and we too ran for our lives. The next day, when the story spread, the clowns had an abundance of material to work with.

A story about an informer

by Efraim Ben-Efraim

Translated by Hadas Eyal

As I was walking one day in 1922 on Swislocz Street with Nyumka Terkel who was one of the radical leftists in Krynki at the time, he abruptly stepped away, went over to the young Yankel Kopel the “Oziranchik” (meaning from nearby Oziranie) and slapped his face. When Nyumka returned and I asked him why, he responded that the young man is a “moser” (a snitch) involved with the hostile Secret Police and a harmful Informer.

At first it seemed that the young man simply got caught up in hoodlum mischief but it soon became apparent that he was a regular guest of the Secret Police and associated himself with the detectives.

Because Duvke Lev - a young attractive maiden whom this Kopel tried to woo with love letters - did not accept him, he snitched on her that she is an active communist until the young woman was jailed in Grodno Prison as the Polish regime routinely did to anyone suspected of contact with that movement.

The people of Krynki from all factions attempted to prove there was no basis for the accusation imposed upon the young woman and even used the love letters from the “Oziranchik” as proof, but the Grodno Secret Police that took him under their patronage crushed the attempts in her favor.

The Informer continued to spin false accusations. He would secretly infiltrate assemblies of the Left, throw provocative notes, then invite the police to “find” them and make arrests. Things got to the point that the promenade in Krynki, that in normal times was full of adolescent cheerfulness, was almost silent that summer. Many of the youth even left the town for fear of the snitching and provocations.

[Page 174]

Those of us who were members of political parties and had mutual friendships between us, heard one day that the Communist Youth Underground “is organizing something” against the “Oziranchik”. And indeed on the evening after Shavuot [a Jewish holiday] as we left a municipality management meeting, we suddenly heard alarm cries: Fire! It was indeed a fire… in the apartment where the Informer lived with his father on the outskirts at the end of Pochtova Street. We assumed it was an act of arson and we didn't go there.

The next morning, we learned of the details directly from the Communist Youth: they scattered two bundles of hay on both sides of the “Oziranchik's” apartment, poured kerosene on it and lit it that night. Armed with hand guns, two young inexperienced youth were situated to ambush the Informer when he tried to escape. The Informer, who knew he was sentenced to death by the underground Resistance Movement, came out with guns drawn in both hands. The terrified youngsters fled. The Informer summoned the police who searched homes and arrested four young men: Herschel Oberstein the son of the female roofer, Pinya Tavel the son of the female mikveh attendant, David Lev, and Itche Ahun the son of Heshil the servant.

The police opened an investigation. It was found that Itche's clothes smelled of kerosene. When asked about it he said he bought a bottle of kerosene and on his way home he tripped and fell, the kerosene spilling on his clothes. As a witness he named the grocer Beyla-Rachel the daughter of Alter-Meir Abbes. But she denied selling him kerosene, contradicting his claim. Still, the four suspects were able to secure an alibi and the people of the town who invested efforts towards acquittal saw the matter as trivial, assuming the police was harassing them as they frequently did in those days.

Actually, that was not the chain of events as the matter was moved to military court. The prosecutor, having found no grounds for the accusations, was interested in postponing the verdict by holding the prisoners and transferring deliberations to a civil court. He asked the defense to support his suggestion reminding them what was known to all – that a verdict by a military court could not be appealed. The defense, confident the defendants will be acquitted, asked that the court release them immediately for lack of grounds for the accusation. The verdict however was guilty as charged.

The lawyers, all well-known, were barely able to save them from being executed and they were sentenced to life in prison with forced labor. The people of Krynki were shocked. The families, especially the mothers cried out and with David Lev's mother leading them, they marched to the municipality building screaming to the heavens: Libel! Alilah [Hebrew/Yiddish word for libel]!

The Holy Arks in prayer houses were swung open. Weeping and rage were heard throughout the town, boiling, storming. A defense committee was formed. Letters were sent to the Bnei-Krynki Organization in the United States and money arrived from there. Lawyers were hired without any expected result because only the Polish Parliament (the Sejm) itself was authorized to decide on conducting a new trial. For that to happen it was necessary to prove that the verdict was based on false testimony while the witnesses in this case were the “Oziranchik” and his father who threatened terror if anyone dare go against them.

Eventually - a miracle happened. The Informer fell out of favor with the Secret Police who looked for an excuse to get rid of him. He used the time meanwhile to snitch in Grodno causing many arrests, trials and harsh sentences. Once dispensable, the Secret Police provided the “Oziranchik” a travel-passport and money, and ordered him to disappear from Poland. Awakened, anyone who had damaging proof against him brought it before Parliament and after a thorough investigation it ordered annulling the verdict of the four. Great credit to Valvel Weiner, Alter Ayan, David Gotlieb and several other Krynki activists.

Yankel Kopel the “Oziranchik” fled to Argentina. It is told that some time before, the young Krynkian Menashke Bieber, who served in the Polish Army in Grodno, happened to see the “Oziranchik” crossing the Neman River bridge in Grodno and assaulted him in an attempt to throw the Informer from the height of the bridge into the water. But Bieber failed and was forced to desert the Army and escape from Poland, settling in Argentina. When he heard the “Oziranchik” also arrived in Argentina he set out to find him. It is told that it was there and then that the death verdict of the Communist Youth Underground was fulfilled.


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