We Remember What Would Have Been!…

On Beginning of the 20th century in Bialystok lived more Jews than in Palestine…

How Would Bialystok Look Had There Not Been the Holocaust?

By Tomasz Wisniewski

Translated Ewa Zak with help Michael Traison

In 1937 Jews made up 0.8 percent of world population, in Europe - 2%, and in Poland almost 10% of the total population. Before WWII.

Poland had the greatest concentration of Jews in Europe: 21.9% of Jewish world population. In Bialystok in 1937,  Jews made up 45% of the city population. In 1939, immediately prior to the beginning of the Holocaust, 84% of the Jewish world population either lived on Polish land or descended from the Jews who used to live there. At the outbreak of WWII, from among cities above 100.00 inhabitants, Bialystok had one of the highest percentages of Jewish population in the world.

Today in the Bialystok region, where there were once 300,000 Jews, there are now only a handful left. One can count Jewish shadows; one can find traces of torn off mezuzahs, little boxes nailed on the front doorstep which contained parchment scroll of the Shema prayer.

How would Bialystok look had there not been the Holocaust?

For sure the Jewish population would be more assimilated in the Christian community. Kowalska would marry Rozencwajg, and Rapport would take Nowak for a husband. On Lipowa street and at the market square probably three quarters  of all shops, one way or the other, would be in Jewish hands, or maybe after half a century the differences become so obliterated that we would need the detectives to prove it. The most difficult area to navigate would be Suraska: here around the main synagogue, among the jungle of little streets, the conservator of monuments would never permit demolition unless the investor would commit himself to rebuilding in conformity with the old designs. I wonder if Hasidic quarters would survive, so we could recognize the Hasidic Jews with long beards, side curls, black hats and capotes with black-ringed eyes from nightly prayers.

In the local government the Jews would have their own representation just like they used to have their own vice-president before WWII. (Dr. Aleksander Rajgrodzki). Perhaps member of the Mosaic faith would act as the city treasurer. In banking it might be different, but learning from experience, we would locate our savings in Jewish hands. The holidays would multiply. Before going to the Catholic Easter procession, we would eat matzoth with gusto for Jewish Pesach, then eastern-orthodox holidays would follow. Bialystok would celebrate all year around - just like in heaven.

One can not imagine Bialystok without its Jewish Theater; its fans wouldn't have to travel to theaters in Warsaw. We would notice increasing competition in the newspaper market; next to Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Gypsy newspapers there would be many titles in Yiddish. At the local stadium we could watch "Jagiellonia" and "Makkabi" teams playing soccer games. National holidays would be celebrated in synagogues, catholic and orthodox churches, everybody would prey in harmony for the well being of the Republic. 

There would be advantages and pluses as well as problems and conflicts. Some people would swear at the Jews, others would refer to the polish tradition of tolerance. Some priests would curse from their pulpits, others would have nightly chat with a rabbi and an orthodox priest. And they would drink holy and kosher wine at the same time. And they would drink together had there not been the Holocaust.

Photographs courtesy of Tomasz Wisniewski
Design graphic composition was done by Mariola Łotysz

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Last Updated May 17th, 2003


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