The Bialystoker Memorial Book - Der Bialystoker
Yizkor Buch, the Bialystoker Center, New York 1982
(c) Copyright by the Bialystoker Center
On the Eve of the Holocaust
|Table of Contents||
|Y. H. Kancypolski||Under Polish Jurisdiction 1919-1939||
The Community Before the War
The Scope of the Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok; Jewish Economic Life in Bialystok; The Jewish Press in Bialystok
|Zwi Klementynowski||The Last Kehillah in Bialystok||
|Dr. Jacob Sokol||Remembering the Jewish Hospital||
|B. Tabaczynski||The School and Education||
|Jewish Printers Association||
|Dowid Klementynowski||A Historical Calendar||
Maxim Litvinov - Our Landsman
An Interview with Litvinov's Brother in Bialystok
Y. H. KANCYPOLSKI
UNDER POLISH JURISDICTION
1919 — 1939
Following the defeats suffered by the German armies in France at the end of 1918, a revolution erupted in Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm fled to Holland, while an armistice was concluded among the belligerents.
Bialystok, which was then a key railroad center and far from the war front, served the Germans as a depot for unloading and maintaining arms, ammunition, food and clothing for their army. As soon as the revolution broke out against the German regime, its commandant in Bialystok, a celebrated general, shot himself, unable to bear the humiliation of defeat.
Poland, until then divided into three sections for one hundred years among Germany, Austria and Russia — enslaved and oppressed, almost as if responding on cue — immediately threw off its shackles and stood in opposition against its conquerors.
Many Poles set fire to the German warehouses, looting guns, clothing and food. Young Polish boys brandished rifles over their shoulders, organizing themselves into legions to expel the German occupiers. Wherever they found a German soldier they threw him to the ground, pulled off his coat and shoes and chased him back on his way to Germany.
Ultimately, however, many Jews suffered from this resurgent Polish nationalism. For several months, at a railroad station between Warsaw and Bialystok, Jews were pulled off the trains ostensibly to be searched. In fact they were brutally beaten and robbed and had their beards sheared off against their will.
Later on things quieted down. Bialystok began manufacturing uniforms and blankets for the Polish Army. Poland fought against Russia for two years and Bialystok had more than enough work for its factories. Finally, after peace was concluded in 1920, many Bialystoker merchants and manufacturers returned from Russia, where they had gone in 1915 to join the Czarist armies.
They returned to factories and machines that had been severely neglected. Everything was gradually put into good working order. For three years business boomed, since commodities had been scarce for the Polish population during the war.
Bialystok fared well. In 1924 the Polish government established a sound currency. Business in Poland returned to normal and conditions stabilized. Bialystok did, however, miss its German and Russian markets. The rest of Poland could do with only three months worth of supplies manufactured in Bialystok. Under the early Polish jurisdiction, factories remained idle in Bialystok for seven to eight months per year. Workers received no unemployment benefits from the government.
A mass migration of Jewish merchants, factory owners and workers from Bialystok began. They went to Rumania, Yugoslavia, and even to Australia. But the majority went to Israel and the Americas.
Because of the chronic depression that plagued Bialystok’s industry, a delegation of manufacturers appealed to the Polish government to ease the tax burden on Jewish merchants and factory owners and to encourage the Polish army to place orders with them. The government answered that it did not care whether Bialystok’s industry collapsed altogether. Poland could live without Bialystok. As for taxes, the government’s minister claimed that the Jews would find an answer. After all, they supposedly had rich relatives in America who would not abandon them.
With the exception of the years 1931-35, when Bialystok was able to export its products to India, China and Spain, the decade of the thirties was a crisis period for industry.
* * *
With the establishment of the new Polish regime, a different system was instituted within the Bialystok city administration. All cities in Poland were to acquire a Polish character, meaning that Jews lost control over the economy in their towns. Voting districts were gerrymandered; Bialystok was tacked on to smaller towns nearby. Jews became a minority, dropping from 55 to 47 percent. Appeals for voters to register as well as platform explanations and slates of candidates were printed only in Polish, which the majority of Jews in 1924 did not understand.
As a result, they decided to boycott the elections, thus ensuring that the newly chosen city administration consisted entirely of Poles. The latter even claimed it was a great honor for them that the Jews had such unquestioning confidence in their ability to oversee the economy of the proud city of Bialystok.
Soon the Polish citizens realized they could not do without Jews in positions of authority. The city’s economy deteriorated sharply. The Polish-dominated administration was set aside and new elections were called. Now the shoe was on the other foot. The Polish citizens refused to vote and the Jews participated fully in the voting. As a consequence, although Jews were in the minority within the gerrymandered districts, they became a majority in the city government. In order not to alienate the Poles, however, Jews in Bialystok voted for a Polish city president and for a Jew as vice-president.
In 1927 Jews gained control of Bialystok’s economy. They restructured the tax system and revised the budget so that many Jewish institutions — the hospital, the old age home, orphanages, trade schools, talmud torahs and public schools — received large subsidies from the city administration. Bialystok also elected several Jewish representatives to the Polish parliament in Warsaw.
Bialystok’s streets grew more beautiful in the years prior to World War II. Electric cables were laid under the ground, streets were widened, avenues were lined with trees, and a new sewer system was installed. Large new apartment buildings and four-family homes were constructed.
THE COMMUNITY BEFORE THE WAR
During the second Polish census, which was taken on December 19, 1932, Bialystok’s population was 91,325, of which 39,165 were Jews. According to a private census conducted April 1, 1936, the general population was 99,722, Jews constituting 43 percent, or 42,880. It was estimated in July 1939, there were 50,000 Jews; the general population, according to the local Bureau of Statistics, was 108,063.
But in October 1939, when the city was already occupied by the Red Army, the overall population in Bialystok was estimated at 200,000, of whom about half were refugees who fled to the town from Nazi-occupied areas in Poland. At that time, the Jews constituted about 70 percent, or 140,000, since most of the refugees were Jews.
The year 1939 was the twentieth anniversary of many Jewish social and cultural institutions in Bialystok. At the end of 1918, while still under German occupation and particularly after February 19, 1919, when the city of Bialystok was incorporated as part of the Polish Republic, the Jewish community entered a new period of creativity on all fronts.
Poland, for more than one hundred years under Russian political and cultural domination, became a free nation. With independence, a new wave of nationalism spread throughout the country, which soon deteriorated into a narrow chauvinism. Anti-Semitism increased from day to day. Those who not long before had themselves been persecuted began immediately to oppress the Jews, particularly in the economic sphere. Jews were systematically edged out of their positions. Employers refused to hire Jewish workers. It was decided that Jewish competition would be defeated by imposing all kinds of unfair taxes. But Jews were determined to resist. They formed professional associations, cooperatives and credit unions, created cultural and social institutions for self-assistance and social welfare, established a fine Jewish press and a solid educational system.
Thanks to the great financial subsidies from American Jewish organizations (“Joint,” Bialystoker Relief Committee and private philanthropists), Jews in Bialystok began to recover slowly. The new democratically run Kehilla gradually reduced its deficit, supporting its existing institutions and launching new ones through increased social and cultural activities. The dynamic Jewish community of Bialystok succeeded in fashioning a modern, greatly expanded cultural milieu.
Thus the year 1939 became an anniversary celebration of twenty years of impressive achievement. It was hoped that even greater strides would be made in the coming years; better times and more encouraging conditions were eagerly anticipated. Although many saw the storm clouds gathering, the Jewish community of Bialystok had during the three hundred years of its existence survived so many political crises, wars, revolutions, pogroms, invasions by various armies, and periods of profound anxiety that it felt confident it could overcome the critical times that lay ahead.
So the people continued to work and produce until the last moment. No one anticipated that at the end of the celebration year of 1939, Hitler would carry out a bloody campaign to liquidate all of East European Jewry, culminating in the extinction of Jewish life in Bialystok.
The Scope of the Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok
In the years before the Nazi occupation and destruction of Bialystok, the Kehilla encompassed many agencies and committees that addressed all of the issues affecting the Jewish community. The following branches made up the Kehilla: the rabbinate; the public bath for Jews and non-Jews; Jewish ritual slaughter of chickens, the chevra kadisha, responsible for proper funerals and burial for Jews; a Relief Committee for refugees; the hundred-year-old Jewish hospital; the home for the aged; the home for incurables; and the charity foundation that distributed funds to poor couples getting married, women having babies, destitute guests of the town, etc.
The Kehilla also had its representatives on the Municipal Council. It established a library used by scientists, teachers, authors, speakers, researchers and students. The Kehilla also sponsored a Sholem Aleichem Library, a Yehoash Reading Room that contained newspapers and periodicals from many countries, and a Zamenhof-Esperanto society.
On February 27, 1938, S. Goldman was elected chairman and M. Wisocki vice-chairman of the Kehilla. Zwi Klementynowski replaced Goldman as chairman in October 1938, when the authorities disapproved the latter’s appointment.
Others who served until July 1939 were: J. Lyfszic, executive secretary; Cwi Kohen, chairman, Budget Committee; B. Szmit, B. Subotnik, C. Oldak, S. Punianski, J. Indicki, C. Stoljar, M. C. Herszkowicz, B. Fiszer, A. Goldberg, A.H. Joszpe, L. A. Lewin, P. Melnicki, H. Szwec, J. Peciner, M. Kwiatowicz, P. Cytron, members.
Director: E. Barasz; Secretary: S. Rawet; Chief Rabbi: Gedalja Rozenman.
Economy: Sukocki and Szyniak; Treasury and Accounting: Grosman and Kamenecki; Law: Warszawski; Librarian: Jeruchem Bachrach.
On July 6, 1939, the new Kehilla administration was unveiled. Executive Board: C. Oldak, J. Goldberg, (Zionists); J. Waks, B. Flojmenbojm, Domeracki, P. Fejgin (Bund); B. Farbsztejn (Agudah); P. Melnicki, (Craftsmen); J. Rubinsztejn (Merchants); Peciner, Szwec (Labor Zionists); B. Subotnik (Mizrachi).
The Council: S. Goldman, Szobfisz, Lew, Nowodworski, Melamdowicz, Psachje, Kimche and M. Rubinstejn (Bund); Zwi Kohen, B. Szmid (later H. Grad), Zwi Klementynowski (Zionists); Rabbi B. Halpern [later C. Bogan] (Mizrachi); Dr. Grosfeld, Szuster and Beknsztejn (Labor Zionists); M. Wisocki (Small Businessmen); Goldberg, M. J. Lejzerowicz, and Spektor (Craftsmen); P. Weinberg, M. Moszowski (Agudah); Atlasowicz (Revisionists); A. Tyktin [later J. Lyfszicl, M. Kurianski (Merchants).
The Rabbinate: Meir Szczedrowicki, Nachman Biszkowicz, An Szapiro, Simcha Malin, Mojsze Maim, Pynchos Ajzensztat, Boruch Eli Kaplan, Krupinski and two others.
The Jewish Hospital — renowned in Bialystok and elsewhere. It featured medical, surgical and radiology departments. It trained interns and residents for future general and specialty practice. Director: D. Kaplan; Chief of Surgery, Dr. Rozental; Chief of Medicine: Dr. Fryszman; Attendings in Medicine: Dr. Lukaczewski, Dr. Ajnhorn, Dr. Trejwusz; Ear, Nose, Throat, and Eyes: Dr. Szacki, Dr. Gawze; Dermatology: Dr. Krinski.
Younger physicians: Dr. J. Sokol, Dr. Wasylkowski, Dr. Solowejczyk, Dr. Gutman, Dr. Krupnik, Dr. Ajzensztejn, Dr. Fiszer, Dr. Kramarz, Dr. Lewi, Dr. Nowogrudski, Dr. Nochum Klementynowski.
The Old Age Home — Founders: Jechiel Ber Wolkowiski, Jakow Szlojme Barasz, Lejb Jewnin. Founded in 1882. Under the leadership of Fajwel and Binjomin Cytron, its medical services were modernized, with the supervision of Dr. Nochum Klementynowski. Most active supporters: M. D. Fridman and J. Bejrachowicz.
Administration appointed August 3, 1939: Chemowicz, Konel, Wajnsztejn, Grad and Goldberg. Ladies Auxiliary: Chairman, Chinke Grynhojz; Mines. Szwarcman, Pintel, Chemowicz, Wejksman, Sofer, Woldman.
Incurable Home — Founded in 1909 by Ajzik Horodyszcz, Maks Barasz, Merlinski and Treszczanski. Administration appointed August 3, 1939: Bejrachowicz, Bojarski, Psachje, M. Mowszowski and Wajdenbojm.
Municipal Council — On May 21, 1931 the following Jews were elected from three lists (Bund, Zionists, Jewish Bloc): Jakow Waks, Josef Fin, Binjomin Flojmenbojm, Szoul Goldman, Lejzer Szobfisz, Szmuel Fejgin, Mojsze Melamdowicz, Rywka Kustin, Elijohu Domeracki, J. Krejn (Bund); Zwi Klementynowski, Ruwen Nachimowski, Dr. Jakow Grosfeld (Zionists); Dr. Aleksander Rejgrodski, Jakow Lifszic, Bunim Farbsztejn (Jewish Bloc). Hersz Lew succeeded B. Flojmenbojm as a councilman.
Dr. Josef Chazanowicz Library Administration — Pejsach Kaplan, Chairman; Chajkel Oldak, Vice-Chairman; J. Indicki, Secretary; Najdus, Kuricki, B. Epsztejn, A. M. Szajnman, members.
Small Business Association — Founded by Mojsze Wisocki in 1927. M. Kwiatowicz, Chairman; J. Brojnrat, Co-Chairman; Jakow Kohen, Vice-Chairman.
Craftsmen’s Association: Cwi Wider, Chairman; Pejsach Melnicki and J. Plonski, Vice-Chairmen.
Banks — Shareholders Bank, City Credit Society, Commerce and Industry Bank, Homeowners Bank, Colonial Merchants Bank, Cooperative People’s Bank, Interest-Free Loan Fund.
Jewish Economic Life in Biaiystok
Despite difficult economic times before the war, characterized by depression and unemployment, uncertainty and resignation, burdensome income taxes and wholesale anti-Semitic efforts to put Jewish businessmen out of work, the Jews of Bialystok refused to be discouraged. They tried in every way to find solutions to their economic troubles. They created new institutions for mutual assistance and in 1937 formed an umbrella association for all economic organizations. In this way not only did they put an end to the internal competition amongst themselves but also consolidated their economic strength.
The Economic Council consisted of 1,700 artisans, 800 small businessmen and 600 merchants. The various segments of the economy banded into smaller groups, including the industrial “Farband,” the Textile Manufacturers Association, the Merchants Association, the Small Businessmen’s Association, the Artisans Association, and the Butchers Association.
Bialystok contained a number of banks and lending institutions, some of which were founded in 1901. These banks made it possible for the various industries and small businesses to obtain capital at reasonable rates of interest in order to strengthen the city’s economy.
The Jewish Press in Bialystok
The Jewish press in Bialystok, in addition to the well-known daily newspaper, Das Neue Leben-Unzer Leben, developed as follows:
The Volksblatt, a daily newspaper, first appeared in the summer of 1919, published by the Zionist organization. Circulated for two months.
Bialystoker Stimme, a weekly, first appeared in 1924. Existed for a year and a half.
Bialystoker Yiddisher Courier. First a daily, then a weekly. Lasted for a short time.
Bialystoker Telegraph. First published in 1927 on a daily basis. Existed for a few months.
Neue Bialystoker Stimme. A weekly established in 1929. Published more than two hundred editions, then folded.
Bialystoker Handelszeitung, a business paper published every Friday.
Unzer Spiegel a weekly family magazine.
Der Wecker, a weekly publication of the Bundist organization in Bialystok.
Unzer Weg, a weekly published by the Zionist Organization in Bialystok. The two foregoing newspapers were not published on a regular basis.
The only daily newspaper, which overcame all the difficulties during a period of twenty consecutive years, promoting the spiritual evolution of the Jewish community in Bialystok, was Unzer Leben. Its Chief Editor, Pejsach Kaplan, deserved much of the credit for the success of this publication. A. Berezinski, J. Rubinlicht, M. Goldman, Co-Editors; J.L. Szacki, Member, Editorial Board; B. Gutman, Chairman, “Press” Printers; B. Rubin, Administrator; R. Rajzner, Ch. Matinko and W. Rajser, Members, Administrative Board; W. Sulkes, Proofreader.
Bialystoker Leksikon — began in 1935. Published biographies of leading Bialystoker Jews. Edited by Pejsach Kaplan, J. Szacki, M. Goldman, A. Zbar and A. Berezinski.
Other cultural organizations in Bialystok before World War II included the Jewish Society for Writers and Journalists, whose leading members were: A. Albek, A. Berezinski, M.M. Berch, M. Goldman, J. Warszawski, C. Wider, Ch. Wisocki, M. Wisocki, N. Zabludowski, A. Zbar, A. Tryzanowicz, L. Treszczanski, B. Tabaczynski, S. Lampert, I. Lis, Dr. J. Lukaczewski, S. Lew, D. Sapir, A. Amid, L. Fajans, J. Furje, A. Fejgin, P. Kaplan, L. Rozental, J. Rubinlicht, J. Ruzanski, J.L. Szacki, J.N. Sztejnsapir, J. Szapiro and N. Szejnbrun. In 1939, M. Wadias was chairman. There were also a Jewish Bookstore and a dramatic workshop founded in 1906 by Jakow Tapicer, Ana Horodiszcz, J.A. Bacer, J. Goldszmidt, Sapersztejn, Ana Mirkin, Dora Mowszowicz, and Solowejczyk. The chairman was Dr. Hurwic.
Fine art came into full bloom beginning in 1924. The most popular painter in Bialystok was Ben-Zion Rabinowicz (Benn), who began his work in his father’s attic. His art exhibits in Bialystok, Warsaw and Wilno in the years from 1927 to 1930 brought him much success. In 1930, he left Bialystok for Paris on a stipend from the Bialystok Municipal Government. His first paintings, signed “Benn,” placed him in the forefront of the Parisian artists. During the war years, when the Germans occupied France, Benn hid in a cellar and continued his art work there. After France’s liberation, his popularity increased even more. His painting, “The Megillah” received critical acclaim from French reviewers. In 1960, he completed his “Illustrations of the Psalms,” which made him famous throughout the world. There were a number of other artists from Bialystok who also achieved celebrity.
Bialystok had a chess club. In 1926, the first chess tournaments took place. Aron Zabludowski became the master chess player.
The Jews of Bialystok in the years before World War II established social and relief institutions that were important to large segments of their community. Among them were:
ORT, whose trade schools taught useful vocations to Jewish youth as well as to older people; Oze-Toz, which provided medical care and social services for Jewish children; Linas Hatzedek, whose members stayed with sick people in their homes and helped them in every way possible; Linas Cholim, which offered financial assistance to sick, destitute Jews; Centos which addressed the needs of Jewish orphans; Women’s Protection Association, which gave aid and comfort to Jewish women who were in trouble, provided employment for older women and young girls, offered courses in housework, etc.; Marpei, an organization for disabled Jewish veterans offering medical assistance for them and their families; Gemilus Chasadim, which provided needy Jews with interest-free loans; and Maachal Kasher, an organization that supplied Jewish soldiers and prisoners with kosher food.
THE LAST KEHILLA IN BIALYSTOK
(Editor’s note: Our worthy Bialystoker landsman, Zwi Klementynowski, serving today as a prominent lawyer in Israel, is well known as a leader in Zionist and other circles. He is highly regarded by Bialystoker Jews. One of the tireless leaders of the Irgun Yotzei Bialystok in Israel, he was chairman of the final Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok before the outbreak of World War II. He was also elected a councilman in the last Bialystok Municipal Council, shortly before the war. When the Soviets occupied Bialystok at the beginning of the war, Mr. Klementynowski fled to Lithuania. After a period of wandering and dislocation, he reached Israel in 1941.)
When Poland assumed jurisdiction in Bialystok after World War I, the government granted the Jewish Kehilla religious autonomy. Consequently, the Kehilla became the sole representative of the Jewish population in Bialystok and vicinity. The Kehilla had the right of self-government in religious affairs and was empowered to impose taxes on the Jewish population.
Although the Kehilla, according to law, was supposed to function solely as a religious body, the administration broadened the definition of “religious self-government,” extending its control over all the social, cultural and philanthropic interests of the Jewish community. In fact, it evolved into an important political organ. Whenever an issue arose of interest to the Jews of Bialystok, the Kehilla became involved.
To a great degree, this activity was encouraged by the fact that elections to the Kehilla were democratic — universal, direct and secret. During elections a strong campaign was waged among the various parties representing all the political views of the Jewish populace. At meetings of the Kehilla Council all political issues of concern to Bialystok’s Jews were addressed.
Our Kehilla administration also involved itself with Jewish educational institutions, the libraries, the Jewish Hospital, the charity organizations and other bodies. When a question arose about Jewish rights — such issues frequently came up — or the security of the Jews, the administration intervened. If needed, the Kehilla would send a delegation to the Municipal Council or even to the authorities in Warsaw. The Kehilla concerned itself as well with the interests of Jewish merchants, small businessmen and workers in the city.
All Jews who paid their taxes were entitled to vote in the Kehilla elections, which in practice meant that virtually all Jews voted. The various political parties including the Zionists, Socialists and the religious groups, ran slates of candidates, as did commercial organizations. The campaigns were always lively with many rallies and meetings. The Jewish newspapers conducted debates about the merits of the candidates and platforms. The election for the last Jewish Kehilla in Bialystok took place in 1938. I still remember the disputes I had at the time with candidates of the Bund in the press and at public meetings.
I was elected to the Kehilla Council, and then a second campaign began for Chairman. I was supported by the Zionist leaders for this position, as well as by representatives of economic organizations and the Poale Zion, and I won, thus accepting a tremendous responsibility. I intervened often with the Polish authorities, fighting for Jewish rights, protesting adverse edicts, demanding justice for our interests, as did every Jewish leader in prewar Poland.
At that time, in addition to my posts as Councilman and Chairman of the Jewish Council in Bialystok, I served as the Chairman of the Zionist Organization. During the last winter of the Kehilla’s existence in 1938-39, elections for the Bialystok Municipal Council were held. I was elected, together with the late Ruwen Nachumowski, to the Municipal Council. We also had to fight for Jewish rights there. In the Council, two Jewish factions competed, the Zionists and the Bund.
The last Kehilla in Bialystok made a major contribution to the Jewish community, fighting on many fronts for the benefit of its constituents within the town and in the surrounding communities. No one at that time dreamed that the horrific Holocaust was approaching — a deluge of blood, tears and annihilation, which brought upon our people unspeakable devastation. The existence of our Kehilla, unfortunately, did not last long. World War II erupted, destroying everything in its wake. As the representative of the Kehilla I had many difficulties as the war began, particularly when the Red Army marched into Bialystok in September 1939.
RABBI GEDALJA ROZENMAN
Chief Rabbi of Bialystok from 1920 to 1943; scholar and author of an important scientific book on shechitah (ritual slaughtering);
perished with all the Jews of the ghetto in 1943.
DR. JACOB SOKOL
REMEMBERING THE JEWISH HOSPITAL
The Jewish Hospital in Bialystok was a vital institution in the history of the town’s Jewish community. Its archives, had they been preserved, could have told many wondrous stories, not only about Bialystok itself but about its humanitarian efforts, which gained the recognition of places far away.
The Jewish Hospital had achieved such a remarkable reputation that the highest government officials, even bitter enemies of the Jewish people, went there for medical treatment.
The hospital administration consisted of: A. Kniazew, Director; Poznanski, Secretary. Its medical and surgical departments were well organized. Many hundreds of patients used its ambulatory services on a daily basis, a large percentage of whom were treated gratis by its doctors, top specialists in every branch of medical science.
The Jewish Hospital was more than a place for curing disease. For the young Jewish doctor it was an extension of medical school, a golden opportunity to expand his theoretical and practical knowledge.
Each week the hospital conducted seminars, arranged by the medical society, rendering it a citadel of medical knowledge, where doctors and nurses studied with great diligence. Moreover, practical clinical lectures were offered there. That is why many young doctors and medical students became affiliated with this institution.
Patients were sent to the Jewish Hospital in Bialystok from neighboring communities because of its excellent reputation as a center for diagnosis and treatment. Those young doctors who interned there were required to go through a difficult apprenticeship before they were approved for clinical practice.
It was extremely tough in those prewar years for Jewish young people to enter the Polish universities and continue their education. Only a small number who had the financial capability left Poland for Western European universities, which did tend to accept them. Unfortunately many had to give up their dreams of higher education because of monetary problems.
The nurses and doctors of the Jewish Hospital, founded in 1840.
When a student completed medical school he had a year of internship at a hospital. This was certainly no easy experience.
For a Jewish student to intern at a general hospital was practically impossible. Therefore, it was necessary to apply to the Jewish Hospital. Not all the students, however, were accepted there.
During the Nazi occupation, young Jewish doctors doing their internship at the Bialystok Jewish Hospital, together with their older colleagues, remained at their medical posts until the last moment. Many of the hospital’s doctors including Dr. Rejgrodski, Dr. Triling, Dr. Forszteter, Dr. Epsztejn, Dr. Iserson, Dr. Ziman, Dr. Jakobson, Dr. Kagan, Dr. Wolf, Dr. Fejgin and others were exterminated together with their patients, whom they treated for almost fifty years. May their memories be blessed.
Mojsze Wisocki — co-founder of Unzer Leben, daily newspaper. Journalist, publicist, lecturer; Asz. Amiel — Essayist; Mendl Goldman — poet and journalist, known for his concise, subtle articles for Unzer Leben; J.L. Szacki — impassioned raconteur; Lejbl Fajans — Yiddish language specialist. Later a member of the Academy for the Hebrew language in Israel; Furje and Jehuda Lis — poets; Dowid Sapir — novelist and skit writer. He wrote a three part Yiddish novel, The Weak Generation; S. Lampert — journalist and sculptor; Chaim Wisocki — Master short story writer of romantic themes; Aron Brzezinski — his favorite subject was the bleak, declining Lithuanian-Polish shtetl; J.G. Sztejnsapir — humorist and founder of a weekly Yiddish publication; Oszer Czanowicz and Josef Rubinlicht — The former originally wrote for the Warsaw Express. The latter was a folk humorist; Jakow Waks and Cwi Wider — Freelance writers on labor issues for Unzer Leben; Mordechaj Zabludowski and Dr. Cwi Lukaczewski — specialists on engineering and medicine, respectively, whose articles appeared in the Friday Unzer Leben; Nojach Zabludowski — known for his meticulous use of language; A.S. Herszberg — historian of Jewish life in Bialystok; Awrom Tyktin —scientist, publicist and philosopher. Many of the above improved their writing style under Pejsach Kaplan’s tutelage.
THE SCHOOL AND EDUCATION
Jewish Bialystok, which was an attempt to translate idealism into practice, to transform dreams of social justice into fact, demonstrated unusual self-sacrifice and offered fierce resistance during the most difficult days of pain and anguish brought on by the Nazi occupation.
Bialystok was a collective hero, combining sacredness with might, struggling with the Nazi beasts in its own way for longer than other cities.
The Jews of Bialystok were able to show this defiance in large measure because many in the ghetto were the teachers and students of the Jewish schools, as well as the social activists. In those nightmarish days, all of them were heroes.
The women's athletic group Morgensteren of the Youth
Organization Tzukunft, 1927.
The history of the Bialystok school system was, to a large degree, the story of the workers and the plain people. Its supporters were Jewish workers’ in the main, some Bundists and, to a lesser extent, the Jewish intelligentsia. The schools sprang up in the poor sections, where those without means lived. The language of these unfortunates was Yiddish, tying them together with other elements of Jewish society in Bialystok.
At the beginning of World War I, when the political shackles that bound the Jewish working masses had slackened, these hungry people responded to the call of the Bund, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Labor Zionists to establish living institutions — schools and cultural organizations — that would inculcate into the upcoming generation a sense of Jewish pride and nationalism in addition to providing a basic education. Some of these schools were subsidized by the Kehilla in Bialystok. Among these schools were: Groser School, Mendele School, Peretz School, J. Chmurner (Youth Association) School, and the Kindergarten School. Many creative and imaginative teachers motivated the students, leaving a lasting imprint for the remainder of their lives that they passed on to later generations.
The following served on the Board of Jewish Education: Binjomin Tabaczynski, Ruwen Chajet, Pinje Fejgin, Zejdl Nowiski, Psachje, Mordechaj Zabludowski, Luba Kanel, Zalmen, Ruwin, A. Domeracki, Fiszl Kacenelenbojgn.
They are no longer here. Words cannot comfort the pain of Bialystoker Jews. Their world was destroyed. It is difficult to tolerate the profound grief when remembering what was. Even the graves of the departed are unknown, but they live on in the memories of their survivors.
Indeed, their legacy will be perpetuated by future generations.
JEWISH PRINTERS ASSOCIATION
Before the Nazi occupation, Bialystok had ten Jewish publishing houses that employed about 100 printers and organized a local of the Warsaw Printers Union. The local gave economic and moral support to its members, calling several strikes when necessary, which ended to the members’ advantage. The printers’ major focus was newspapers and, secondarily, books and magazines.
Among Jewish printers who perished in the early part of the Holocaust in Bialystok were: Josef Zeligson. Ruwen Skljut, Isroel Bernacki, Motl Frydman, J. Chaskel, Naftoli Feldman, the Sokolski brothers, Zejdl, Portnoj, and others. On June 22, the Soviet army drafted the following printers: Izaak Rybalowski, Efrajim Portnoj, Jankel Zalcman, Tejman and others.
The following continued as printers in the Bialystok ghetto: Herszl Kozak, Chaim Motinko, Binjomin Gutman, Izchok Zakczewski, Nochum Zakczewski, Meir Kruglewicki, Mojsze Kozak.
Printers killed in the 1943 liquidation actions were: Awrom Bron, Szlojme Kozak, Szlojme Dajcz, Meir Kruglewicki, Mojsze Gold, Welwel Yuchnowecki, Jerachmiel Rybalowski. Mojsze Kaplan, Herszl Noszko, Mordechaj Farber, Heszl Dlugacz, J. Trunkowski, Szlojme Zylbersztejn, Munje Zeligzon, Welwel Rajser and many others.
The following printers survived: Herszl Kozak, Refoel Rajzner and Jechiel Plac.
A HISTORICAL CALENDAR
The village of Bialystok is founded by the Lithuanian Count Gedimin.
|Bialystok becomes the private fiefdom of Polish King Zygmunt.||-||1542|
|The first Jews arrive in Bialystok, according to the records of Tyktin.||-||1558|
|The Bialystok community becomes a part of the Tyktin jurisdiction.||-||1659|
|The Tyktin Council returns Bialystok to Jakow, son of Mojsze Sigl, and to Izchok, son of Mojsze, for one hundred gulden.||-||1661|
|Count Bronicki builds his wooden palace in Bialystok.||-||1703|
|The old bet hamidrash is constructed in the synagogue square and the Ner Tamid Society is established to maintain it.||-||1718|
|Bialystok is elevated to the status of a city by Jan Klemens Bronicki II.||-||1742|
|Jews in Bialystok are given the same rights as other citizens.||-||1745|
|The tower with eighty shops is constructed and given to the Jews.||-||1745|
|Virtually the entire town is destroyed by a great fire. Later buildings of stone and brick are built to replace the fire-consumed edifices.||-||1750|
|The city tower with the town clock is constructed.||-||1763|
|761 Jews live in Bialystok.||-||1765|
|The Bialystok Jewish community becomes independent of the Tyktin jurisdiction.||-||1777|
|Bialystok becomes a part of Prussia until 1805.||-||1779|
|Bialystok becomes a central city surrounded by ten smaller satellite communities.||-||1800|
|The first Jewish printing press in Bialystok is opened.||-||1804|
|After a short period during which Bialystok is occupied by Napoleon’s armies, it becomes Russian territory.||-||1807|
|Bialystok has 6,000 inhabitants, 4,000 of whom are Jews.||-||1807|
|Bialystok is declared the capital city of its region.||-||1808|
|Bialystok reverts to French hegemony.||-||1812|
|Bialystok returns to Russian jurisdiction.||-||1815|
|The Chevra Kadisha is formed.||-||1821|
|The Bikur Cholim is established.||-||1826|
|The Gemillus Chasadim is established, later to become the Linas Hatzedek.||-||1828|
|The Home for Incurables is founded.||-||1830|
|Eliezer Halbersztam, founder of the Haskalah movement in Bialystok, settles there. He dies in 1899.||-||1833|
|The Jewish Hospital in Bialystok is founded by Sender Bloch.||-||1840|
|Nochum Mine and Sender Bloch establish the first silk factories in Bialystok.||-||1850|
|The first Yiddish-Russian schools are established by Kasriel Kaplan and Gewirtz.||-||1855|
|Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, is born in Bialystok. He dies in Warsaw in 1917.||-||1859|
|The Tzedakah Gedolah (the Committee for Charity) is founded in Bialystok.||-||1869|
|Meir Walach is born in Bialystok, later known as Maxim Litwinow, the foreign minister of the Soviet Union.||-||1876|
|Jewish wagon drivers strike against new police regulations.||-||1876|
|The cornerstone of the Old Age Home in Bialystok is laid.||-||1881|
|The first weavers’ strike occurs in Bialystok.||-||1882|
|A pogrom is threatened in Bialystok.
Jewish butchers, wagon and coach drivers repel the
|Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) party is founded in Bialystok, the precursor of the Zionist movement.||-||1882|
|The Old Age Home is opened.||-||1882|
|Rav Szmuel Mohilewer becomes Rabbi in Bialystok.||-||1883|
|The Maachal Kosher is established for Jewish soldiers.||-||1883|
|The Linas Hatzedek is founded.||-||1885|
|The first spinning wheel is brought to Bialystok.||-||1890|
|Jakow Pat, writer and leader of the Bund, is born in Bialystok.||-||1890|
|The Mishmeret Cholim, later known as the Linas Cholim, is founded.||-||1893|
|A wildcat strike by weavers breaks out in Bialystok.||-||1895|
|Bialystok contains 41,905 Jews (the general population is 67,000). The financial status of the city is good.||-||1897|
|The Bund party is established in Bialystok.||-||1897|
Dr. Chazanowicz and his colleagues travel to the first Zionist Congress in Basel as the Bialystoker delegates.
|Rabbi Szmuel Mohilewer dies. The funeral is the most impressive Bialystok has ever had.||-||1898|
|The first strike fund is established by the Bund.||-||1898|
|The Voluntary Firemen’s League is formed, ninety percent Jewish.||-||1899|
|A united front of political parties in Bialystok is formed to resist the Czarist regime. The committee declares a general strike.||-||1905|
|August 12: The tragic Shabbos Nachamu. A military pogrom takes place in which 36 Jews are murdered.||-||1905|
|October 18: The Bialystok working masses and revolutionary youth demonstrate, storming the city prison in order to free political prisoners. Police and soldiers fire their rifles. Some Jews are killed and many are wounded.||-||1905|
|The Bund organizes professional unions for tanners, weavers, tailors, cobblers, needle and tobacco workers.||-||1905|
|June 1-3: The military pogrom in Bialystok, arranged and carried out by agents of the Czarist government. 110 are shot and murdered. Jewish self-defense groups organized by the Bund, Poale Zion, anarchists and other parties offer resistance.||-||1906|
|The public library is opened in Bialystok.||-||1907|
|The first kindergarden is opened by the Haskala party. In 1914 it is converted into a home for the children||-||1912|
|The Habimah Theater is opened by Nochum Cemach with the play Shma Yisroel by Ossip Dymow, translated into Yiddish by Pejsach Kaplan.||-||1913|
|The first daily newspaper Bialystoker Tageblatt appears, edited by A.S. Herszberg. David Sohn is the American correspondent.||-||1913|
|August: Beginning of World War I. Bialystok is in a state of siege.||-||1914|
|Bialystok calls for assistance from the landsleit in America by telegram to David Sohn.||-||1914|
|The library and reading room of the Youth Organization is established. In 1919, it becomes the Sholem Aleichem Library.||-||1916|
|December: The city of Bialystok is taken over by the Poles.||-||1918|
|February 19: Beginning of publication of Das Neue Leben, an independent democratic newspaper, under the editorship of Pejsach Kaplan. From 1931 it is known as Unzer Leben.||-||1919|
|May 13: The Sholem Aleichem Library is opened on the third yahrzeit of Sholem Aleichem.||-||1919|
|The Bialystok Kehilla receives relief funds from the Bialystoker Center in New York.||-||1919|
|The first delegates of the Bialystoker Relief Commitee in New York arrive in Bialystok.||-||1920|
|July 20: The Russians take over the city.||-||1920|
|August 22: The city is once again under the jurisdiction of the Poles.||-||1920|
David Sohn arrives in Bialystok at the time of the Bolshevik invasion, bringing $140,000
from the Bialystoker Relief Committee in New York.
The first Polish census in the city of Bialystok contains 76,792 residents, of whom 39,603
|The Jewish Literary Society is established.||-||1921|
|The first bus in Bialystok goes into service.||-||1925|
|The Gilah Rinah Repertory Company is founded.||-||1926|
|December 19: The second Polish census in the city counts 91,000 residents, of whom 39,000 are Jews.||-||1932|
|The anti-Hitler Boycott Committee is established. The boycott is carried out with iron discipline.||-||1933|
|September: World War II erupts. The Germans occupy Bialystok for a short time. Later it is taken over by Soviet Russia.||-||1939|
MAXIM LITVINOV – OUR LANDSMAN
Meir Walach, born in Bialystok to a Chasidic family, became, as Maxim Litvinov, the foreign minister of the Soviet Union.
His grandfather, Rabbi Szabsaj Walach, served as the spiritual leader of Rozenoj, a small town near Slonim. His father, Mojsze, was also a Talmudic scholar but worked as a controller in a Bialystok bank. An uncle, Awrom Jakow, was a prominent textile manufacturer in Lodz.
Young Meir went to cheder and studied Talmud, but preferred reading revolutionary books by socialist and communist authors. His father, realizing that Meir would never become a religious scholar, engaged a Russian tutor to provide him with a well-rounded secular education emphasizing Russian language. This exempted the boy from military conscription in the remote Soviet interior and permitted him to remain near his parents in Bialystok as an enlisted man. In time, Meir distinguished himself as a language specialist.
As a young man, he conspired with other revolutionaries against the Czarist regime. He was often imprisoned, and his father had to pay huge sums to bail him out. But harsh punishments failed to deter Meir from his seditious activities.
In later years Meir Walach became a close intimate of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, extorting funds to support the Bolshevik movement.
Wandering around the world to avoid Czarist agents, he spent time in London, where he married Ivy Love, daughter of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Britain.
Miss Love’s ancestors emigrated from Hungary to England following the unsuccessful 1848 revolution. Her father, Walter Love, was a prominent writer, a close friend of H.G. Wells. In fact, they enjoyed frequent exchanges, Love espousing the Jewish point of view, and Wells a secular philosophy. Ivy Litvinov, prior to marriage, made a name for herself in literature and education. She wrote a number of literary works that won critical acclaim.
Litvinov served as Soviet Foreign Minister from 1921 to 1939. During that era, he conducted extensive negotiations with the German government and represented his government in the League of Nations and international conferences. From 1941 to 1943 he was Soviet Ambassador to the United States. Following that assignment, little was heard from him until his death in December 1951.
During Litvinov’s stint in Washington, the Bialystoker Center in New York prepared a reception for him. Because of a sudden diplomatic mission, Litvinov was unable to attend. Upon receiving his telegram to that effect, a committee consisting of Philip Novick, Samuel Kassel and David Sohn visited him on his ship prior to his departure. Litvinov warmly greeted his Bialystoker Iandsleit, inquired about many of his childhood friends, and particularly about one of his rabbis, Wolf Rubin, who lived in New York at that time. During the conversation, Ambassador Litvinov spoke in Yiddish.
The delegation requested that the ambassador persuade the Soviet authorities to place orders with manufacturers in Bialystok in order to stimulate its depressed economy. Litvinov promised to give this matter his serious attention. The next day the Bialystoker Center received a cable from the ambassador stating he was honored by the committee’s visit. As it turned out, the Russian government did increase its commercial transactions with Bialystok factories, reactivating some firms that earlier had come to a virtual standstill.
An Interview with Litvinov’s Brother in Bialystok
At the end of 1938, when Maxim Litvinov was at the height of his influence in the Soviet foreign ministry, a Polish journalist conducted an interview with his brother, Rabbi Jakow Walach.
The Polish correspondent arrived in Bialystok, looking for Litvinov’s relatives. He came upon a drugstore owned by the Walachs, entered and began a conversation with Litvinov’s aunt and brother:
Rabbi Walach, the Foreign Minister’s older brother, appeared in the modest quarters belonging to his family, dressed in a long black robe, with a white, patriarchal beard, wearing a fur hat (shtreimel) on his head.
“Are you the brother of Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov?” he was asked.
“Unfortunately I am,” he answered.
“Because he is the leader of an atheistic regime,” the elderly Jew replied.
“Do you wish to share with us some memories of your brother?”
“Only on condition that my remarks will not be interpreted as a criticism, because I still love my brother.”
“Does your brother ever help you out?”
“No, absolutely not! Once, when I was quite ill, I wrote to him pleading for some money. His secretary replied that Soviet law does not permit exporting Russian currency abroad. And Foreign Minister Litvinov has no intention of violating the law.”
“When was the last time you saw your brother?”
“A couple of years ago. I was in Bialystok at the time and learned that an express train would be passing through, carrying my brother to Geneva. I stood on the platform of the railroad station to see him. The police and his bodyguards would not permit me to enter the train. Suddenly I began shouting, ‘Meir, Meir!’
“My brother peered out the window of his parlor car, recognized me and emerged onto the platform. We spoke for several minutes. He gave me an expensive cigar and told me about his life as a Soviet official. When I started chiding him for losing his faith in God, he replied, ‘What do you know?’ and quickly reentered the train.”
“Tell me something of Litvinov’s life.”
“I can describe how a good, pious Jewish boy turned into a Bolshevik. At the time Czar Alexander was assassinated, a telegram from St. Petersburg arrived in Bialystok, ordering the arrest of a man named Walach. Our father, a devout Jew, had as much to do with socialism as I. Nonetheless, the police arrested my father by mistake. This made a terrible impression on young Meir. He heard that his father was jailed for socialist activities and demanded to know what socialism was. When our father was released a short time later, he enrolled Meir in a Russian school. There he read the outlawed socialist books. Still he was very religious, going to synagogue every day. Later he was drafted into the Russian army and sent away to serve in the Caucasus Mountains. The unit was later renamed, ‘Comrade Litvinov’s Brigade.’
“Thereafter he went to Kiev and worked in a factory. His contact with the workers drew him closer to socialism.
“In later years, he was influenced by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. He spent the rest of his life as a loyal communist.”
The story of Maxim Litvinov, born Meir Walach, a Jewish boy from Bialystok, can only arouse mixed feelings among his landsleit. We admire the high position of authority that he attained, but, at the same time, we cannot help regret his estrangement from his own people’s faith and culture.
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Last updated July 15th, 2005