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[Page 151]

Market and Fair days

by Sarah Kaleko–Vardi

Market days were a centrepiece for the Jewish community and were the source of its sustenance for the entire week.

Market days were held in our town on Thursdays; however the movement towards it began earlier, on Wednesdays. Petty traders would bring in their merchandise the evening before, and would stake out their place in the market and stay there for many hours for fear of being displaced or robbed. Not only the traders, but also the locals would similarly set up their stalls ahead of time.

The night before market days was for us a long night. Father was a hatter; he would work all week and not manage to sew the buttons on the hats that were to be sold. He would arouse the family in the middle of the night to come and help him complete the task. We were happy to do this work so as not to shirk our responsibility. By the early morning my brothers and sisters would bring the hats to the market and arrange them on the stall.

On market days Suchowola would adorn the form of a busy trading city. From the early morning the peasants would throng to the township, those on vehicles and those on foot, carrying vegetables, fruit, livestock and poultry. With the money they earned from their produce they would buy essential goods from the shops and stalls of the Jews, and with any spare change they would eye a drink and fill the taverns to bursting point. Stores also did a brisk trade. However the centre of activity was the stalls in the market square. I loved to stroll there on such days. Bashke' Galanti's stall left a particularly strong impression, and at times my heart would take pity on that woman's fate.

Though market days were pleasant during the summer months, during the winters these were hard to bear. Bones shivered in the cold and it was difficult to recognise anyone who was covered in Barashkava hittel [Yiddish: sheepskin hats] with flaps over their ears, wrapped in red–skin fur, gloves and warm boots; the women would also keep warm by the Fuertop [Yiddish: hot pot]. Besides market days (for which preparations would take place over the week) there were also the fairs that would take place in Suchowola once or twice a year. Preparations for these would take many months, and a day at the fair was similar to that of a market day, but on a larger scale.

Fairs in Suchowola were known far and wide and there were merchants that came from great distances to participate. Suchowola fairs were no small matter.

[Page 155]

The divide between the “Berg” (Hill)
and the “Morad” (Dale)

by Unknown

The grandfather of Avraham Golov – Yukhke'h Der Toker [Yiddish: the Engraver] would say of his own grandfather: In those days before the Prussians came to our provinces, the Hill was covered in forest, and the Jews who lived in the square opposite the Synagogue (“Shule”) did not dream that the Hill would one day become inhabited.

In the days of the Prussians (1797 – 1807) the warehouse was built, known as the “Magazine”, on the sands (oifen gelen berg). The Germans held merchandise in it, and so the name stuck. The Prussians also began building brick structures on the Hill, and also built the wall of the Beis Midrash. Then, in fact, the centre was erected on the Hill. Wealthy Jews from the Morad began moving up to the Hill and left the poorer Jews in the Morad. And so relations between the two came into sharp relief, and from then the problem of the Hill vs. the Morad was created, and we were witness to it in our times as well.

In those days there was not yet a Church in Suchowola. The surrounding peasants had an interest in establishing one in Suchowola to serve communities both near and far. The Jews also welcomed it in the hope this would enhance their livelihood and so participated in funding the wooden structure of the Church (the “Kushtchal”) that was built about 150 years ago, in approximately 1806. The brick structure of the Church was erected in approximately 1890.

The Great Trial (di Groise Sproveh)

by Unknown

Of the great Trial the old ones told the following: Trade relations between the Jews and the Prussians continued even after the latter's withdrawal. But this trade was outlawed during the days of the Czar. This illegal trade was called “Kontraband”, the smuggled goods were known as “Pekk'l (“bundled” ) Goods” and the border guards were called “obieshtchikes”.

One time the border guards intercepted some smuggled goods in the hands of a non–Jew. He tried to bribe the guards, but when this did not succeed, he then murdered one of the guards.

The whole town suffered from this crime as “all Israelites are guarantors for one another”. So all of the males, including the town Rabbi, were thrown into jail. This incident occurred in 1842, the same day that Yukhke'h the Engraver was born, and his family often told of the Bris Milah [ritual circumcision] ceremony, when a quorum of ten Jews was released from prison.

To the Great Court Case came a “Kommisia” from Saint Petersburg. Great dread descended upon the township. Do you think a “judgement“ of the “Kommisia” is something of no consequence?

It was then that a miracle occurred. The emissary of the king, a non–Jew who sat on the roof of the Church and watched the burial of the murdered border guard, had an epileptic fit during the trial. The authorities released the Jews but imposed a hefty “contribution”, and it took many years to pay the fine that was imposed on them.

Those accused of the murder escaped to America and their brick house was confiscated. The Jews purchased this structure and converted it to a Beis Midrash (known as the “Homa” [heb: Wall] Beis Midrash). Up to that point there was only one other Beis Midrash in the Morad, so that the “old” (as termed in our day) Beis Midrash on the Hill was built in approximately 1843.

The above story has been passed down by word of mouth, and its details may not be accurate.

[Page 157]

The Riots in Suchowola in 1920

by Kh. Sh.

Riots erupted in Suchowola in 1920 and are well remembered by all of its inhabitants. The riots began immediately following the withdrawal of the Red Army. When the Polish soldiers conquered our area and entered the town, they were incited by the wife of the Christian pharmacist who was executed during the “Bolshevik” rule. From that point on the lives and the property of the Jews of Suchowola were open game.

The Polish soldiers tore down doors, burst demonically into the houses and began abusing the Jews and plundering their possessions. They asked Itamar Nisselkovsky for some water to drink. One of the soldiers sat on Mendel's (Itamar's son in law's) back and “rode” him to the well.

They were particularly cruel to bearded Jews. The vicious “Hellertzikim” (soldiers of the Heller division) cut the beards of Motti the Glassier (Tikotsky) and Moshe'ke Grimtchansky with a sword; in spite of these excesses Reb Motti consoled Moshe'ke: “Don't cry my friend, they will never be worthy of beards like ours….”

On the day of the “Black Sabbath” the soldiers corralled most of the residents of the town and abused them. They cut off half the beard of Rabbi Israel. The soldiers abused the others gathered there as well.

Panic spread throughout the town, a palpable fear of death gripped everyone. Parents hid their sons and daughters at the homes of their non–Jewish friends until the rage subsided. The soldiers looted but the Polish citizens also took advantage of the lawlessness. There were also fair and righteous Christians who helped to save the possessions of their Jewish neighbours.

Shoshana Shpecht told us of her Uncle's property, Yudel Kroutsel, that was saved with the help of a non–Jewish woman, their neighbour, who pretended to be one of the looters, and Shoshana, dressed as a Christian girl, helped her to save items from the hands of the looters.

Particularly remembered is the terrible murder of three innocent victims: Khaim–Leizer Liverant, Yuch'ke Liverant and Moshe'ke Kroutsel. They were abducted by the murderous soldiers and after many tortures were executed close to Sovlak [Suwalki?]. The entire town was shocked at hearing of this tragic murder.

Decades have not managed to erase the memories of those terrifying events. Yuch'ke, the pretty youngster, worked for the “Rokom” (town council) during the Soviet rule. As the riots began she had a bad feeling of what was to come. She became ill, but the soldiers forced her from her bed. Her father, Khaim (Dolistaver), was not at home at that time, so the soldiers abducted Khaim–Leizer the Miller whose surname was also Liverant. Khaim–Leizer, a mild and modest man, who was taken by force from his family and never returned.

The third victim, Moshe'ke Kroutsel, the devoted son of Nakhman–Khatskel and Mirke', Fania's husband, was a humble community man innocent of all crime.

22 years later the fate of all the other residents of Suchowola met the same fate as these victims. In the light of the Holocaust, the events of 1920 seem as a drop in the ocean of the bloody massacre of 1942.

[Page 159]

The Riots of the eve of Yom Kippur

by Hadassa Khevin – Goldberg

The eve of that Yom Kippur fell on a Sunday, a festive day for the Christian residents. Towards evening, while all of the Jews were hurrying to the Synagogue, Yasske the Sandler wandered the street, drunk, and stumbling over his feet and his mouth full of incitement, invective and curses against the Jews. Some of the bold youth were not prepared to absorb this diatribe from such a lowly and boorish “goy” and began to reply with taunts of their own. Their actions stirred up his Christian friends who came to his aid. They entered the fray and began to throw stones at passers–by and into dwellings. The confrontation stirred up the anti–Jewish hatred amongst the Christians that then grew and spread to a full pogrom. All the Jews barricaded themselves in their houses, their doors and windows shut tight, and we sat inside fearful and startled by every sound.

On this same evening, as usual, I boarded at the house of Shash'ke Karo, a lone neighbour. Her large and impressive house was the last property on the riverside and was surrounded by two streets of the “Goyim”. Shash'ke loved her home that she inherited, and did not wish to move to another location. On that same night we refrained from speaking about the riots and tried to distract our minds from it. But the fear that the goyim might appear at any moment to smash windows and riot filled us with dread. Our fears were unjustified, however, and the tensions subsided the next day.

[Page 160]

In the days of the First World War

by Shoshana Luninsky

Immediately after the breakout of war, all young men were enlisted into the Russian army. At first our town was far from the front, then suddenly the war came to us, and the soldiers dug in on both sides of the river between Suchowola and Karpovitch [Karpowicze, Poland, about 5km west of Suchowola]. An order was given for all citizens to leave their homes, which caused panic and confusion. People collected their belongings, loaded them up onto peasant carts and fled to the countryside. Grandfather had a friend in the village of Olshenki [Olzsanka? About 9 km east of Suchowola], a good and wise goy, who hurried to us in his wagon to carry us and our belongings to his house.

We organised ourselves in the peasant's house, mother guarded the children while father looked after the chest of jewellery that she had inherited as an only child. The chest had its own history: Father never left the chest for a moment, and yet the peasants managed to steal it nevertheless. It happened one evening when the Cossacks retreated via Olshenka and in their flight managed to burn down the village. We ran for our lives and salvaged only a few possessions including the horse and cart that grandfather had managed to save only with considerable effort. We sat in the field and around us houses were on fire like dry kindling; destitute and distraught from sorrow and helplessness we made our way slowly back to the town. The first person to overcome his sorrow was Grandfather Leibel who encouraged my father by exclaiming: “Cheer up son, have the heavens descended upon the earth? See, the house is still standing; let's make the stove that the soldiers cooked on kosher again. The main thing is, we are in one piece and all healthy. G–d will no doubt help us, and the main thing is – we must put our trust in Him.”

The Germans welcomed us into the town, elated as they were by their victory, and they offered us rusks. Relatives who had arrived earlier comforted us and assisted us, as did many of our neighbours and friends.

[Page 161]

The Great Fire of 1926

by Esther Krutsel–Pazi

It happened during the days of the month of Tammuz [approx. July], in the year 1926. Summer is at its height, the children are free of their schooling and looking to spend their time in the forest between the tall pine trees.

I stood outside to complete my preparations and for my mates to come and call me. Everything was ready and packed and I am loaded up with packages and I run outside.

My foot had only just crossed the threshold when I began shaking all over and my eyes darkened. Opposite our house, on the other end of the market plaza a large column of black smoke covered the sky, followed immediately by huge flames.

Fire! Sparks fell on Moshe'ke the Baker's loft into a mound of hay which immediately caught alight, and flames burst out.

Panic arose in the market, people ran around as madmen, clapping hands and shouting “Fire! Fire!”. The flames spread. Moshe'ke the Baker's house is now engulfed by the flames. Sparks fell on the roof and the flax caught alight too. A wind whipped up and carried bits of burning flax to all parts of the town. Houses on Karpovitch and Yanova Streets began to burn as well, and now our house as well.

The panic spread, there is no way to overcome the flames that increase in spite of the best efforts of the fire brigade. People hurried to remove anything they could from their houses. Mounds and mounds of belongings sprang up beside the brick wall of the Church in the centre of the market. As the inferno increased, people began thinking about saving their lives and left their belongings.

Mother commanded me to take my year–old sister to one of the houses close to the river. From sheer panic I nearly dropped her. I made it safely to my destination, and immediately was surrounded by others cut off from the upper part of the town that no–one dared to approach for fear of their lives.

The sun began to set and it became twilight. I imagine that for as long as I live I will never forget the sight I witnessed on my return: Glowing embers throughout the market, some houses still standing, people began collecting whatever was left, the goyim exploited their opportunity to “load” anything they could find, but no one cared about their losses. It was a long night in the town, no one slept from sheer excitement and also the fear of the fire starting anew. Only the children, emotional and exhausted, fell asleep in their parent's arms. The night passed, the dawn broke. People began clearing away the rubble.

[Page 163]

The Storm in Suchowola

by Shoshana Shpecht

Many years have passed since this event, a rare event, and the elderly told that this had happened only once in their lives. And this is how it happened:

It was a normal summer's day, a day of light and sunshine. Suddenly the skies darkened and heavy, black clouds, as if containing stones and slabs of rock in their wings, and darkness as black as can be outside.

We had barely managed to take in the sight and wonder about the atmospheric change when suddenly a terrible sand storm whipped up, as if from the desert that sent up a huge dust cloud into the air as a host of demons from the legends of old. The storm took everything in its path. A ear–shattering noise filled the air and belongings were caught in a vortex: Window shutters, barn doors and unclosed paddocks banged and were torn off their hinges, beams fell down noisily from the rooves, thatch flew in the air as feathers. Windows were smashed, torrential rain fell to the earth, as if all of the wellsprings of the heavens had opened, fear of immense magnitude filled every heart. People were so astounded they were unable to utter a sound or move a limb, as if petrified.

Some thought: Has the world, G–d forbid, returned to primordial chaos? Those moments seemed to last forever.

After the storm there arose a wondrous silence, and the air became soft and pleasant. The rain swept clean all of the dust. Little by little people recovered from the shock that had gripped them and a raised and festive mood filled their hearts, as if we were witness to the act of Creation.

Genuine happiness leaped upon the children. Puddles and rivulets had formed along the sides of the road. We removed our shoes, with or without our mother's permission, and we strolled through the puddles. We looked all around. Trees had been uprooted. On the corner of the “Karapovitcher Gass”, in the field by the house of Moshe–Aaron the Glassier stood a large ancient and venerable tree. A lo and behold it had been uprooted from its place and was lying on its side.

Once the storm had passed, the Sheppard came and called his flock that had dispersed in all directions out of fear, and its owner had to go search and collect the herd.

So it has remained in our memories, the “well known storm” in our town.

[Page 177]

A Portrait of the town

by Avraham Shapira

The township of Suchowola is before me: It's centre being the market square and the surrounding streets, mostly populated by Jews, the “long” road and the side alleys, the towns gardens, its fields and lands that spread out far out to the horizon. At the edge of the town a river that flowed lazily throughout the year and which overflowed its banks with the snow thaws between Purim and Passover, and the flour mill on its bank. The township was adorned with pine forest on all sides, which were a source of relaxation during the hot summer months for surrounding settlements as well.

The township with its traditional lifestyle, its batey Midrash and its Torah scholars rich in pleasantness and generosity and a proud bearing of humility borne of many generations. With its vibrant youth who with their movements and organisations brought a new spirit and new life into the peaceful and conservative atmosphere of the town. And all this was subjected to the executioner; the town was destroyed by wild animals and is no more.

And today, others live in our houses and tend to our gardens, to strangers has our inheritance been given.

In this terrible saga of the general I remember with minute detail those were who close to me, and a burning hatred arises and boils within me with unbearable pain, a silent flame of vengeance twists its way into me. But what is the point of such feelings? They will not raise the holy and sanctified ones from their graves. I do believe that the blood of the holy and pure ones murdered with such inhuman cruelty will be avenged in time.

The burden has been placed on us, those remnants of the town, to erect a monument to their memory that will never leave our midst. Generation upon generation will speak of it…. we will tell them of the harmony and the completeness of their lives, of the traditions of generations that were expressed in every aspect of their lives, weekdays and festivals , of the feeling of the “additional soul” that would descend upon the entire town during Sabbaths and Festivals, the peace and the spiritual , restful , rarefied and gentle tranquillity.

We will pass on this hidden treasure that was the lives of our fathers to our children, so they should acknowledge and appreciate their memory, and their source.

[Page 179]

Stones of the wall will cry out

by Gedalyahu Grimtchansky–Gil'ad

And it will come to pass that your son will ask you, “What was the town like? And if he will not ask but rather mock the inhabitants of the small townships, that you will tell and explain to him, the “Tzabar”[Israeli prickly pear, allusion to native Israeli's], how the town operated without budgets and bureaucrats, yet life was orderly: Every hungry person was fed, every naked person was clothed; without noise or fanfare, no speeches were heard, the press did not praise and the deeds were not written in any books. In the Torah it says “And if your fellow becomes poor and their means fail with you, then you shall strengthen your fellow”[Leviticus 25, v. 35]. This they read and it was for them the inalienable law, from the founders of the town down to the last resident, from time immemorial, from well before the times of Daniel the wealthy philanthropist, and before Reb Leizer and Reb Abrham'tsche, the rabbis of the town.

In those days, on the eve of the Sabbath, the women would rush from door to door collecting loaves of bread for the poor; these righteous ladies went amongst the small dwellings of earthen flooring, and quick–smart would bring the loaves and place them in the houses of the destitute, in a form of anonymous charity. Is it possible to contemplate a Jew in Suchowola blessing the Sabbath on wafers? Such a thing is unthinkable and cannot be allowed to happen, it would be no less than a desecration of the Sabbath! And if a destitute visitor should come to the town and rest besides the first dwelling the housewife should honour and welcome him with a generous smile and say: “ Please come in, reb Jew”, and immediately would bring the best of her food to the table.

If a town Jew became destitute, neighbours would not be long in providing assistance, for there was always someone who would place some chiffon on his cart, potatoes and other foods , and after sundown, at twilight, would pass by and throw the bundle into the poor person's house.

There were wagon drivers who went out to the barn to feed their healthy and lively horses, but instead found only a lifeless corpse. Then would the entire town shake from anguish, both the “Morad” and the “Hill”. “So, the poor wagon driver has been left without his bread of sustenance!” Pairs of women would pass swiftly from house to house; “Contribute, merciful Jews sons of the merciful, let us save the family, have pity on their children”. And the Jews of Suchowola would reply positively, they would donate a substitute horse to the barn, and the happiness would return to the house of the wagon driver.

A Jew in Suchowola had many beautiful girls to choose from, who shone as from the heavens – but here lay the trouble, for when they came of age there were no grooms to be found. The father is worried, the mother's sleep is troubled, she cries and sighs “If only the special one would appear and take her? And when the right one came and there was not a sufficient dowry, whispers went from house to house “Save a house of Israel from embarrassment!” “Give for the bride's wedding!”. In only a short time the Chuppah [heb: canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony. It consists of a cloth or sheet, sometimes a tallit, stretched or supported over four poles, or sometimes manually held up by attendants to the ceremony] is standing and the wedding takes place in best of tradition to the delight of the entire town: A Jew has married off his daughter!

A beggar comes knocking on the doors of the town will not go hungry, G–d forbid. Reb Khatskel would take care of it, he would furnish the person with a note to take to one of the established residents for provision of all three Sabbath meals, and it was unheard of that such a person would come away empty–handed. In Suchowola they would bless each other that G–d should invite for them a guest for the Sabbath.

Suchowola, as everyone knew, had no hospital; so when someone became ill the members of the household became overwhelmingly tired: A full day's work followed by nights of watching the ill person; The “Linat Tzedek” Society would then come to the aid of the family; pairs would go and tend to the ill without any reward, to fulfil the commandment “then you shall strengthen your fellow“ to support those in need.

If a fire were to occur in a neighbouring town, venerable men would come to collect funds for the “burnt”. Are not the Jews guarantors for one another?

Such was the town of Suchowola, so can you, my child, understand my anguish at its destruction?

Some years after the Shoah [Holocaust], on the eve of Yom Kippur, at sunset. All is quiet around the “Hill” Beit Midrash. No Jews are to be found, and inside there is no lack of space. The Torah scrolls that were on both sides of the cantor have gone; the bowls besides the doors have disappeared. All around is quiet and deathly.

From the distance is heard the sounds of Goyim who have sold their wares in the market and are on their way home. Even their voices die down and total silence surrounds everything. The sun sets and the shadows lengthen. At this time you can hear the deep moaning and quiet sobbing. These are the cries of the stones in the walls. Of the exile of the holy presence, of the holiness that has left us, and so we begin to tell of our memories.

“I remember” says one stone, Mordechai Yossel, who began the “Hineni” prayer, and when reaching the phrase “And gore the Satan” would sigh and say “Oy Tate” (Oy Father). And his prayer would open all of the gates of Mercy”.

Another stone said “And reb Nissel? He who was the pride of the lions, his “Hush the Prosecutor” would make the columns of the synagogue tremble. What prosecutor could possibly stand against this prayer and supplication? Now that was a Cantor!

Another stone told not of the cantors and the high holy days, but rather of the children that would noisily gather to do the “Hakafot” (On the festival of Simkhat Torah), with lots of childish mischief.

The stones of the western wall of the synagogue would all speak of our mothers that would ask for mercy in simple Yiddish for themselves, their children and their husbands.

Above the holy ark a voice was heard in the tune of “Forgive the sins of your nation” – forgive this nation? Which nation? They are no more! For the sins of this nation? Who sinned? The babes in arms, the toddlers who knew nothing of good nor evil?

If the Attribute of Mercy has left us, the Attribute of Judgement shall appear. But will there be a fair trial! – Who exactly has sinned? Is it not commanded in your Torah “And whether it be cow or ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day” [Leviticus 22 v28]?

A distraught, exhausted mother, a babe in her arms, arrives to the gates of Hell. And the murderous Nazi wrenches the baby from her hands and kills the babe in front of her eyes, and the mother sees, and splits the heavens screaming – “and you watched from the heavens and did nothing?”. And you did not gore the sun, and to the lights of the Satan you did not descend to destroy it as with Sodom. To whom have you given the butcher's knife, to slaughter my only son and your only Isaac, to these drunkards? Are these innocent of all crime, have they not sinned, have they not stolen, have they not murdered? They are walking around whole and healthy, with arrogance. I demand Justice! There will be Justice!

By the “Berg Beis Midrash”, at midnight on Yom haKippurim, there is silence. There are no elderly Jews sitting and chanting psalms of David. But there are deep sighs and whispered crying. These are the stones of the wall crying to the sound of the wind, a whispered voice rises, calls out and says: We demand Justice. There will be Justice!!!


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