To the Memory of Boaz Patt

We Remember Jewish Suprasl!

 
The Fire Brigade in front of the Cytron factory

LIFE AND DEATH
IN SHADOW OF THE
FOREST

The Story of Suprasl -

A Shtetl in Eastern Poland

 

Published with the assistance of "Amos Fund" Jack and Genia Liberman.
(c) All Rights reserved by the Author Printed in Israel by "Murag"

Dedicated with love to:
Haya, Boaz and Hanna, Galit, Maor and Vered, Batia and Avi, Orli-Zehava and Corey-Pinchas

...For man is a tree of the field... its branches grow according to its roots...

The Author Jaacov Patt

CONTENTS

On the Banks of the Suprasl River ................................................ 15

The Birth of a Jewish Community........................................................ 17

The Jewish Community between the Two World Wars........................ 20

Industrial and Economic Development................................................. 22

The Bitter End of the Cytron Family.................................................... 24

The Cytrons - The Story of a Jewish Dynasty............................... 26


Jakob Pat and the well in 1989, last remain from the "Jewish Street"

On The Banks of the Suprasl River

(An Historical Survey)

The town of Suprasl is located sixteen kilometers from Bialystok on the banks of the Suprasl River, which flows to the east of the town into the Narev river. The town is surrounded by the virgin forests of the plains of Knishynska and Krinska. The forests contain forty-meter high pine trees, fresh water springs, animals, and rich vegetation.

The Suprasl river flows through a valley situated at a height of 120 meters above sea level, and the town itself lies at a height of about 150 meters above sea level. The name "Suprasl" appears in documents belonging to the priest Mazovietsky from the fourteenth century as a border town between Mazowshe and Lithuania.

As far back as 1498 a Lithuanian general, by the name of Hodkevitz, acquired fields, mansions and villages in the area. At this time there was a misunderstanding between the general and the Basiline Order, and as a result the monks built a large wooden cross with candle's and placed it in the Suprasl river. When the cross stopped at Suprasl the monks decided to settle in the town. In 1511, They built a church and a monastery in the Byzantine-Gothic style, which remains the most important historic building in the region to this day.

In 1695 the first printing works was established in Suprasl which served, not only the town, but the entire district. The printing works was built on land owned by Leon Kishka, with the help of Kshishtof Hodkevitz, and with its establishment, the area began to develop rapidly and soon became the publishing center of Podlashe. In 1711 the first paper factory was established and the printing press, under the name of Ofizina Podlaska, began to specialize in publishing in several languages, including Polish and Latin.

At the end of the seventeenth century the Italian Renaissance-style Opatov Palace was built. At the end of the eighteenth century a town gate with bells was built, similar to the Branizky Gate at Bialystok. The gardens around the Opatov Palace are reminiscent of northern Versailles and are based on a French style. In 1807, with the third partition of Poland, the administration of Suprasl passed to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm the Third who asked the Pope to recognize the Basiline Order in Suprasl.

Several years before the Polish "Listopad" uprising in 1830, the area came under Csarist Russian rule. The Russian authorities demolished the building which belonged to the Catholic order and in their place settled Protestants, who remained there until 1914.

The Russians punished the Poles for the "Listopad" uprising by imposing restrictions on the Polish-Russian border. Artisans and factory owners from Lodz and the surrounding region took advantage of the situation and moved their businesses to the area around Bialystok in order to capture new markets. At this time Suprasl was annexed to the Bialystok district which, in turn, was under Russian control.

In 1833 Wilhelm Zachart arrived in Suprasl and rented a large estate from the Russians. He brought with him machines and professional workers of German origin and began producing cloth and fabrics. Zachart was followed in 1837 by Reich and Bucholtz, and in 1857 Oert arrived bringing the number of spinneries to seven.

Despite the rapid expansion of the area the first urban laws were not made until 1861. By the end of the nineteenth century the area was heavily industrialized, and in the early twentieth century a Jew by the name of Cytron acquired the cloth factory from Bucholtz and the Jews began to set the tone in local industry and commerce. The Suprasl workforce at this time was greatly exploited and the first workers union was established.

In 1933 there were violent clashes between the local police and workers from the Cytron and other factories which were on strike, and there was a demonstration in the main street in which two workers, Ulman and Botkevitz, were killed and two others wounded. In 1915 construction work on the sawmills began with the timber being supplied by the extensive local forests and transportation facilitated by the Suprasl river.

During the Second World War, Suprasl was first under Russian rule (until June 22nd 1941) and then controlled by the Nazis until the Jews were transferred, on November 21st 1942, to Treblinka where they perished in the gas chambers. On their retreat the Germans blew up the monastery, the Great Synagogue, and the Cytron factory which had employed one thousand workers. At this time there were about six hundred Jews in Suprasl (fifteen per cent of whom were refugees from other regions), almost all of whom were murdered by the Nazis.

During the war, groups of partisans were established whose members included many Jews from the Bialystok region, who fled from the ghetto and fought tenaciously against the Germans.

Suprasl was freed by the Russian Third Army on July 24 1944. A furniture factory was built on the site of the Cytron factory, which had been blown up by the Nazis. Most of the residents of Suprasl worked in Bialystok, and in the summer ran holiday camps for the entire region.

Today the town has a population of 4,200, some of whom earn a living from internal tourism and summer camps, and others work in Bialystok. Owing to the topographical position of Suprasl, as well as the beauty of the forest and river, the town serves as a national and international tourist center.


The house of Rabbi Szlomo Awigdor Rabinowicz who was killed in the first Aktion

The Birth of a Jewish Community

The beginnings of the Jewish settlement in Poland is shrouded in mystery, legends, and fantastic descriptions. The first Jews arrived in Poland via the commercial routes at the start of the second millenium C.E. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the rulers of Poland encouraged the migration of residents of developed West European countries to Poland. The immigrants included many Jews who had experienced financial difficulties in their country of origin. In 1264 Prince Boleslav, the "Hassid from Kalish," granted the Jews of Poland their first official permit of residence. This permit formed the basis of the legastatus of Polish Jewry the next five hundred years.

The Polish Jewish community expanded and developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth cenand absorbed Jews from Diaspora communities, which had been destroyed. Those who settled in royal cities suffered from the rivalry of the provincial cities who were supported by the Catholic church and were stripped of their assets and homes. Some cities obtained privileges which prohibited the settling of Jews within their walls, while other cities limited the number of professions in which Jews could work. Jews who sufferedfrom the animosity between the rand the provincial cities turned to other cities, which were privately owned by nobles. Others leased estates belonging to nobles in various areas of Poland and Lithuania and contributed greatlyto their development and prosperity.

The Jews who settled in Poland'scities and towns clustered a"the Jewish Street" which constituted a sort of Jewish neighborhood. They mostly lived in wooden houses, and in the center of the neighborhood they built a synagogue which was also usually made of wood but occasionally constructed like a fortress near to, or outside the city walls, and which served as a shelter in times of need.

The everyday spoken language was Yiddish, brought from Ashkenaz (Germany) mixed with Hebrew. Hebrew, as the holy language, was used in prayer, and remained the written language of scholars and of the community leaders for the compilation of rules and regulations. The communities were headed by elected leaders and businessmen who held various positions of importance and who were responsible for religion, education, health, and social services.

Community expenses and national taxes were financed by direct and indirect local taxation, which was estimated according to the value of each member's assets and income.

The Jewish community in Poland also dedicated much of its time to Torah studies. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Poland became the most important cultural and spiritual center of world Jewry.

In 1648, during the time around the Chmelnizky uprising, also known as the 1648-49 riots, thousands of Jews were murdered by the Cossaks in a terrible bloodbath, accompanied by looting and thieving, which brought an end to many Jewish communities in eastern Poland, while in the west of the country many Jews were killed in the wars between Poland and foreign armies who invaded her territory.

The events of the time, together with the collapse of the Messianic movement led by Shabtai Zvi, caused further deterioration in the state of Polish Jewry. In the south of Poland, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Hassidic movement arose under the leadership of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (the Basht). Hassidism filled a void left by the Shabtai movement, and consequently many traditional leaders were suspicious of the new movement. Vilna was the center of "the opposition" led by the Gaon Rabbi Elyahu.

The anarchy that overtook Poland in the eighteenth century, its economic ramifications, and the internal strife, made the country easy prey to its neighbors, who divided up Poland's territory between themselves towards the end of the century (1772-95), and Poland ceased to exist as an independent entity. The Jews of Poland found themselves largely living in an area ruled by the Hapsburg Empire and Russia, which remained in control of Poland until the end of the First World War in the fall of 1918.

Historical data shows that the first Jews settled in the district of Bialystok in 1487 at Bielsk. In the sixteenth century Jewish presence expanded to Tikozin, Surash, Bialystok and Knishin. The first large wave of Jews reached the areas of Bialystok and Podlesia in the seventeenth century with communities in Orla, Yeshinovka and Goniands. In the second half of the eighteenth century most of the Jews of the area were centered in Tikozin (Tiktin) and Bialystok, and about another fifty per cent in the surrounding towns and villages.

The first Jews to arrive in the district of Bialystok came from Lithuania and they were followed by refugees from the Chemlnizky uprising and survivors of the 1648-49 riots in the east. The third wave of Jews came from the west with the Germans during and after the period of Prussian rule (1802).

The most popular occupation among Jews in those regions included handicrafts, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, butchers, furriers, commerce, and hostelry. Only at a later stage, in the nineteenth century, Polish Jews began to develop industry and the communities of Bialystok and the outlying region became leaders in weaving and textiles. In the twentieth century, in 1921, there were 1,654 Jewish workshops and factories including the five largest, which belonged to Sokol-Zilberfenig, S. Cytron, A.D. Shapira, B. Pollak, and Y. Marcus.

However, man does not live by bread alone... Together with the rapid development in industry and the economy, the Jews cultivated a cultural and religious way of life. In addition to the large selection of schools, there were, in Bialystok, institutes of Talmudic studies and yeshivas. In 1833, Eliezer Halbershtam, a Jew of German origin, arrived in Bialystok, bringing with him the educational movement "Haskala" which proceeded Zionism, and, after a bitter war between the educational circles and the orthodox-religious, took on a position of respect in the city's cultural life and thence influenced the cities and towns around it. The educational movement encouraged the publication of "secular" books as well as the establishment of libraries. An offshoot of the movement was the national movement "Hovevei Zion" (Lovers of Zion).

There is historical proof of the arrival of Jews in Suprasl in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, together with the Germans, who later established the first cloth and fabrics factories. Most of the Jews came from Lodz, Piotrekov, and from the nearby regions of Bialystok and Krinki.

In 1837 there were two hundred and twenty seven Jewish residents in Suprasl. Twenty years later the number had reached 538 out of a population of 3,091. Jews and gentiles worked side by side in the factories. Most of the commercial enterprises such as shops, workshops, bakeries and flourmills, which later arose, were owned by Jews. At the beginning of the twentieth century Shmuel Cytron bought Bucholtz's weaving factory and greatly expanded it until it employed almost one thousand workers. Other factories at the time belonged to Krinsky, Eizenstadt, Hirshorn, as well as two saw mills owned by Zvi Hazan, and Danzik Gottlib and Semiatizky.

The first synagogue was, established by N. Dolmatov in the late eighteenth century and was made of wood. After the first donation of five hundred rubles had been made by Bucholtz in 1901, a brick synagogue was built. It was a magnificent construction with a tiled roof, stained glass windows, a separate entrance for women, and a main boulevard lined with poplar trees. Nearby was a bath house, school, and a house for the rabbi and shochet.

The synagogue had a splendid altar and holy ark with richly-decorated Torah scrolls. The upper walls bore paintings of various subjects, including the twelve tribes, and special psalms. There were two furnaces paved with ceramic floor tiles, which gave heat throughout the harsh winters and attracted Talmudic scholars and classes in Mishnayot.

Although there were already over five hundred Jews in Suprasl at the end of the nineteenth century, they were only officially granted the right to settle there in 1903.

As has already been mentioned, in the early twentieth century the Bucholtz weaving factory passed into the ownership of Shmuel Cytron, who also owned an important textile factory in Bialystok. With the Cytron acquisition the influence of the Jews, who already comprised twenty per cent of the local population, grew in the town. The factories employed Jewish professionals alongside German managers, and Jewish weavers with gentile manual workers... though the Jewish presence in commerce and artisanship was particularly significant.

As for relations between the Jewish community and the majority made of Protestants, Catholicsand Germans, they were still proper, despite the anti-Semitism which existed all around and led to the pogrin Bialystok and the outlying area in the early twentieth century.


The biggest but neglected "Tatark" (saw mill) of Gotlieb, Suprasl 1989

The Jewish Community between the Two World Wars*

At the end of the World War I, after more than a hundred years of servitude, the Polish State returned to life. The population of thirty-two million was comprised of Poles (sixty-five per cent), and of the rest the Jews madup the second largest group of threeand a half million. The Jews accounted for over ten percent of the entire population and mostly lived in cities, where they sometimes comprised thirty per cent of the residents, and in towns, where they occasionally made up the majority. Polish Jewry became the largest Jewish community in Europe anthe most active in the world, undergoing rapid modernization a variety of fields.

One of tmain pwith which multi-national independent Poland had to contend was the claims of minorities to recognize their right to full citizenship and national identity. The Jews of Poland were among the leaders of the struggle, supported by Jews the world over and by international public opinion. They demanded equality with other citizens of Poland as well as improvements in the internal organization of the country, and reforms in culture and education. They also asked for the recognition of Yiddish and Hebrew as national languages.

The political struggle took place both on a national and local level. Jewish representatives in the national parliament (Saim and Senate), who had been elected by Jewish voters of the various Jewish political parties fought on the national level. In addition, Jews were elected to municipal councils and safeguarded Jewish interests on a regional level. Thus both Bialystok and Suprasl had Jewish councilors - Goldshmid represented the Suprasl Jewish community.

Throughout Poland, and in the region around Bialystok in particular, a great number of Jewish parties were active between the two world wars, including Agudat Israel, General Zionists, Labour Zionists, Mizrahi, Revisionists, and the Bundists, and even the communist party which had many Jewish members. The "Jewish Street" was dominated by their youth movements. The link with Eretz Israel was strengthened by the wide variety of activities designed to realize the Zionist dream.

The Pioneer movement, which trained thousands of youths for Aliyah, is particularly worthy of mention, together with its offshoots, the religious-Zionist youth movements such as Hashomer Hadati and Bnei Akiva. On the other hand, Agudat Israel, which represented many orthodox Jews, opposed "modern" trends, secularism and Zionism. The Bund, the party of the Jewish proletariat, fought for Jewish workers' rights while denouncing Zionism as reactionary utopia.

Suprasl, and the surrounding villages, acted as a center of Zionist activity with movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Zionist Youth, Hechalutz and Hashomer Hadati. The main aim was to train groups to take their place on kibbutzim in Israel and to adjust to life in Eretz Israel. Places such as Ignatky, Novosiolky, and Chilichanka, were but a few of the sites at which training schemes took place that summer. The pace of activity increased in the 1930s and exacerbated the difficulty of obtaining "certificates" for immigration into Eretz Israel which the British allocated in small numbers. Some of the training "colonies" contained "gospodarkas" (agricultural farms) with cows, horses, goats, fowl, land and houses.

Cultural life at this time was both rich and varied. Although there was only one school in Suprasl (Tarbut), which had previously been a Heder, a wide selection of cultural activities took place in and around it and in the local Jewish community. There was also a large library, named after Y.L.Peretz, and a theater company which put on plays, such as -"The Wandering Jew", "The Last Hope", and "Amha", in which many community members participated and which took place in general at Hannuka, Purim, and on other festivals. Sports were not neglected with soccer, table tennis, and cycling enjoying popularity.

Community life in the town was well developed in the years after the First World War. The collapse of the Csarist rule in Russia, and of the German Kaiser, the socialist revolutions, the destruction which the war left in its wake, and the resurrection of independent Poland all left a significant effect on Polish Jewry, and especially on its youth. As a result of the ruin and penury which followed the First World War, as well as the loss of the Russian market to local industry, the younger generation was confronted with the question: Where to?

Although the orthodox Jews in Suprasl dominated religious and social life, the young Jews of the town, with time on their hands due to the shortage of employment opportunities, began to search for a new way of life. The Russian revolution and the Balfour Declaration awakened a strong desire for freedom in the youth. Their effect was such that they changed the social and community lives of the youth and caused them to consider emigration. Many followed relatives and friends to the United States and, after the U.S. imposed restrictions on immigration, to Australia and South America. Zionist-oriented youth left for Eretz Israel.

And thus, between World War I and the 1930s, Suprasl was witness to the establishment of cultural and organizational youth centers, which guided youth in the planning of their future. The ideological, organizational, and political struggle between the various youth movements was not only felt during elections and at the time of other public events, but was seen by the youth as a challenge to their very fate. Membership of movements such as "The Pioneer" and "Young Pioneer" constituted the realization of the Zionist ideology - Aliyah to Eretz Israel. In addition, "The Religious Hashomer", on the one hand, and "Zionist Youth", on the other hand, supported the Zionist dream, in contrast with the "Bund" and "Aguda" from the other two extremes. Party differences, as with differences of opinion between Hassidic movements, are apparently Jewish nature. How else can one explain the fact that there were many parties in the small Jewish community of Suprasl, including communists, some of whom were imprisoned for a time. Nonetheless, the majority of Jews in Suprasl supported Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. Unfortunately only a few of Suprasl's Jews left in time - most stayed on until the bitter end.

__________

* The historical data was taken from "A Journey to Poland", the Nahum Goldman Diaspora Museum, from the Bialystok Book, and from research by Tomash Vishnievsky on the Jewish communities in the Bialystok region.


Old photograph of Suprasl more than 100 years ago

Industrial and Economic Development

Marek Hirshorn*

The 1860s and 1870s, when Russian peasantry was emancipated from its servitude of the land, were a turning point in local industrialization. The Csarist government gave its patronage to the economic system and to the winds of industrial reform blowing from Europe. Even at the start of the nineteenth century, following the third partition of Poland and the advent of the Prussian administration in Bialystok, Germans began to immigrate to Suprasl and with their arrival the area started to become industrialized.

In 1833 Wilhelm Zachart arrived in the town with equipment, machines, as well as professional weavers and textile workers. He was followed by Bucholtz, Reich, Alt, and Onert, and in the second half of the century there were seven spinneries in Suprasl. Towards the end of the 1800s Suprasl changed from being an agricultural village to an industrial town following the passing of Suprasl's municipal laws in 1861 which gave the town the status of an independent local council authority.

At the turn of the twentieth century, with the Jews of Bialystok becoming dominant in textile industries, Jewish involvement in the industrial development of Suprasl began. The Cytron family acquired Buch's weaving factory and turneit into the largest factory in the area, employing at its height between seven and thirteen hundred workers, and the Hirshorn brothers established a fafor fabrics and blankets with departments for spinning, weaving, finishing and dying. The Hirshorns specialized in the manufacture of thick artificial wool for blankets and coats. The factory was powered by its own generator, which also supplied electricity to the municipality, and employed 120 workers. Another factory was built by the Krinsky brotherwho specialized in finishing adying, and employed seventy five workers.

In Hirschberg's book on Jewish industry in the region of Bialystok, which was published in New York, the Hirshorns and Krynskis are mentioned together with the Cytron family among the founders of the local textile industry. Later, between 1912 and 1915, a timber industry was set up with saw mills (tartak) utilizing the vast local foand river transportation. The Gottleib, D, and Semiatitizky families ran a saw mill the north of Suprasl near the German Catholic cemetery, and the Hazan family operated an additional mill in the south, with a flour mill owned by the Fine family.

The massive pine trees which grew in the Suprasl forests supplied the sawmills with raw materials and were particularly suitable for the manufacture of ships' masts. The Suprasl river offered an efficient and cheap means of transport along which flowed rafts and tree trunks via the Visla tributary to the Baltic ports of Gadinia and Danzig. At this time Jews were employed various professions such as tailoring, baking, carpentry, shoe making, tanning, tinsmithing and blacksmithery. In commerce Jews were active in grocery stores, haberdasheries, butcher's shops, tobacconists, and milkbars.

Despite the Jewish preference for commerce and crafts, there were many who worked in factories as weavers, dyers, foremen, and "maisters".

World War II, which brought with it Russian occupation followed by Nazi destruction, curtailed the process of industrialization in Suprasl which had brought the town's population to four thousand, approximately fifteen percent of whom were Jews. Today it is possible to examine Suprasl and retrospectively evaluate the contribution of the Jews to the industrial and commercial development of the town. The Cytron factory lies mostly ruined with only a small section renovated and operating as a furniture factory. The factories of the Hirschorn and Krynski families no longer exist, and the former saw mill is now a cooperative. Most of the present residents of Suprasl commute to work in Bialystok, and others who "inherited" houses which formerly belonged to Jews renovated the houses and work in the town's tourist industry which has suffered from the economic problems which beset the entire country. The tall factory chimneys which tower up among the church spires serve as reminders of the contribution of the Jews to Suprasl's economy which was violently cut short.

___________

*The son of the late Shmuel Hirschorn, who today lives with his wife Bella and family in Melbourne, Australia. Marek Hirschorn is Federal Chairman of J.N.F. (Jewish National Fund) of Australia.

The Bitter End of the Cytron Family

The information for this article was kindly supplied by Ina Winberg, the daughter of Alex Cytron, who was one of the few survivors of the Cytron family. Ina was exiled to Cazahstan with her mother, grandmother, and aunt by the Russians. Only she and her aunt survived and were repatriated to Poland in 1946. Years later Ina graduated in chemistry from the Warsaw Technion and emigrated to Israel in 1958.

"Cytron" and "Suprasl" were synonymous, and it was hard to imagine the town without thinking of the factory, which supplied employment to most of the town's workforce. Samuel Cytron, who bought the factory from the Bucholtz family in 1903, was the head of a dynasty and the owner of a textile factory in Bialystok - one of the five largest of its kind at the time.

The factory in Suprasl, which mainly produced blankets and fabrics, was without doubt one of the major forces behind the development of the town, which expanded from a village to a town with a local municipal authority. The Cytron factory employed approximately one thousand workers. Samuel Cytron had four sons - Benjamin, Samion, Alex, and Haim - and three daughters - Rosa, Yoheved, and Sonya. He had only one grandson - Benjamin's son Arcadia - and three granddaughters - Benjamin's Viara, Rosa's daughter, and Alex's daughter Ina. After World War I, the factory was managed by Haim and Arcadia who had completed his textile studies at the Brussels Technion. Samuel's other three sons held managerial and marketing positions at the firm's head office at 35, Kupyezka Street, Bialystok.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Haim, Samion, Yoheved, Arcadia, and Viara, together with her husband Cuba Shapiro, all managed to escape to Vilna. However, their plans to continue to the United States were thwarted. Viara and her husband reached India and, following the war, made their way to Argentina where all trace of them disappeared. Haim, Samion, Yoheved, and Arcadia moved to Stockholm and in 1947 moved on to the United States and Canada. Two other brothers, Benjamin and Alex, did not want to escape and, after the Russian takeover and the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement, were arrested by the Russians. Their whereabouts thereafter remain unknown.

Samuel's wife Chava, "Grandma Cytron", the wives of Benjamin and Alex, and Alex's only daughter Ina, were sent by the Russians to Cazahstan. There they suffered terribly from severe cold, hunger, and inhuman conditions. Grandma Cytron died in 1942 and Ina's mother (Sofia) died in 1945. The young orphaned Ina stayed with her aunt, Benjamin's wife, and they were repatriated to Poland in 1946. Ina studied chemistry at the Warsaw Technion and wrote her thesis paper at the medical academy, which was housed in the Brenizky Palace in Bialystok. During this time she visited Suprasl and saw the Cytron factory, partly damaged and closed down.

In 1958, Ina made Aliyah to Israel. She now lives in Tel Aviv and works for the Kupat Holim. In 1971, she visited the United States and discovered that Haim Cytron was no longer alive. Haim's brother Samion died in New York in the same year; Arcadia passed away later on. As the two brothers died childless it appears that the "Cytron dynasty" has come to a sad end - an active family whose name was synonymous with the industrial development of Bialystok and Suprasl As for Suprasl, the Cytron factory was the major source of employment and the main force behind the town's development, and was the pride of the local Jewish community.

 

The Cytrons - The Story of a Jewish Dynasty

The remains of the Cytron factory which was burnt down by the Nazis in 1942

Dr. Tuvia Cytron

1. A Son Is Born

When, in 1840, the first son of Rabbi Shmuel-Hirsh Cytron, rabbi of the town of Botshki near Bialystok in east Poland, was born there was great rejoining in the town and everyone felt they had a part in the happy event. Rabbi Shmuel-Hirsh, a learned Torah scholar and former disciple of the Gaon Rabbi Shneer-Zalman, after Shmuel-Hirsh's beloved rabbi was greeted with great satisfaction and everyone hoped that the Cytron's first-born boy would, like his namesake grow up to be an important rabbi.

Shneer-Zalman's mother, ne Caplan, was of course very happy, but had other plans for her son. She was the daughter of a textile industrialist, Rabbi Nahman Caplan from Michalova, a nearby town. Rabbi Nahman was known in the area as "Grandpa Nahman" and the marriage of his daughter to Rabbi Shmuel-Hirsh was a matter of distinction and money - a well-known custom in those days. Once every few years there would be an assembly of the Jewish elite at the "Conference of Four Countries" which served as the leading body of Polish Jewry and of the Jews of the neighboring countries.

The conference was attended by the leading members of the various Jewish communities and marriages of honor were arranged, and connections made with people "in high places". In such a wathe marriage of Rabbi Nahman Cap's daughter and the newly ordained Rabbi Shmuel-Hirsh Cytron, who had become known as a gifted disciple of the Gaon Shneer-Zalman of Liadi, was arranged.

The Rebbetzen, ShmuelHirsh's wife, despite her admiration of her husband, had plans for her son to become an industrialist like her father, and not to follow a rabbinical career. She was, after all, "infected" by the education she received in her childhood in Michalova where she learned to play the piano, to read, studied poems by HeinriHeine, as well learning French aGerman. At that time there were strong winds of progress blowing from the large city of Bialystok. When the women of Botshky wished for her that her son would follow in his father's footsteps, she of course thanked them and added that she was young and hoped to have other sons who would become rabbis. She planned to send her son, after completing histudies in heder and yeshiva, to her father in Michalova to learn the art of commerce.


Chaim Cytron z"l

2. The Michalova Period of the Cytron Company

The years passed quicklyand the young Shneer-Zalman reached theage of Bar-Mitzand after completing the following school year, he was sent to his grandfather, Rabbi Nahman Caplan, in Michalova to learn the textile trade. There were no vocational schools in those days and the system was based on the German approach of apprenticeship. Shneer-Zalman was bright and quickly acquired the rudiments of the trade, and at the age of sixteen, began to accompany his grandfather to trade fairs and to Russia to sell their wares.

At that time there was no motorized transport system in Russia and the only way to get around was in horse-drawn coaches escorted by an armed guard as protection against robbers and murderers. They usually left, after reciting the traveller's prayer, after Passover, returning before the Jewish New Year to the great joy of their families who anxiously awaited them. They visited fairs in Corsk, Oriol Varonish and the largest of all, Nizni-Navagrod. The Jewish travellers preferred the trip to Odessa as the route passed through Jewish villages with synagogues and kosher food. They also visited Kiev, Harcov, and Nicoliev where there were large trade fairs.

At the age of seventeen Shneer-Zalman embarked on an independent career for the first time in Michalova, opening up a weaving factory, which employed twenty-three workers. Shneer-Zalman married at an early age, to the daughter of the Haffner family and relation of the well-known Zaks family. The match also connected Shneer-Zalman with the famous Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger who was greatly admired by the communities of Prague, Poznan, and other communities throughout world Jewry. When his wife died, Shneer-Zalman married her sister Elca in order to preserve the unity and honor of the family. Another sister, Tanya, who was considered the most beautiful girl in Bialystok, married a rabbi of the Gordon family, a wealthy wool merchant family, and thus the distinguished bond between the Haffner and Gordon families, and between Michalova and Bialystok was strengthened.

3. The Suprasl Period of the Cytron Company

Shneer-Zalman's first son was born in 1858 and was named after his grandfather Shmuel Hirsh. The boy grew up, studied Torah, learned about commerce, and even got married at the appropriate age. He married Hava-Perrel Amdursky, the daughter of a family of industrialists from Horodok, and thus marriage bonds were established between the families of Cronenberg, Rafalsky, Nimzovitz and Lunsky of Horodok. The young Shmuel-Hirsh preferred to leave making trips to trade fairs to his father and himself worked in the factory.

In the 1890s Shmuel-Hirsh was already considered a man of means and his wealth continued to grow. When his father, Rabbi Shneer-Zalman reached old age Shmuel-Hirsh "pensioned him off", paid him a handsome monthly stipend and suggested that he devote his time to public services. Shmuel-Hirsh's brothers Leib, Moshe and Daniel, all managed on their own, while the youngest brother, Faivel Cytron, was appointed manager of the Cytron factory in Suprasl which Shmuel-Hirsh had acquired from the well-known German Bucholtz in 1903. Faivel successfully completed a course at a special school for textile studies in Bern, Switzerland. The factory in Suprasl was in a state of neglect when Shmuel-Hirsh bought it and "Mulke", as he was known by his friends, introduced new machines and added a third floor with storerooms for raw materials, a dyeing department for wool and fabrics.

When he sold the factory Bucholtz was an old man and had decided to leave the difficult profession of manufacturing. In addition, his daughter married Sheibler, one of the most important industrialists from Lodz and the owner of "Sheibler and Gromen" which, at its height, employed twelve thousand workers and was thought to be one of the largest concerns in Europe.

The Suprasl factory started a new production line of woolen blankets and blankets made from a mixed fabric which became known as Jakart, and besides producing for the home market, exported to Russia, China, South America and even Australia. The commercial secret of success of the Cytron product was the fastness of its whiteness while other manufacturers produced white blankets which, after a while, faded to yellow or gray. The author recalls how foreign companies, including the Japanese, tried unsuccessfully to buy the secret of the product's success from Faivel and from other sources.

Faivel Cytron left the Suprasl factory in 1917 and established his own business in Bialystok. The Suprasl factory continued to flourish after the end of the First World War and the reestablishment of the State of Poland. Despite Poland's poor economic state after the war, the Cytron factory, thanks to its international contacts, maintained and even increased its level of production. In the 1920s the Cytron Company acquired an old factory in Suprasl from a German called Onert, one of the first factories which were built in Suprasl, in 1838, also bought the fabrics factory which belonged to Wolf Frank, the father of Dr. Herman Frank who later became the editor of the "Zukunft" newspaper in New York. In addition, a number of plots near the factory were bought with a view to expanding the factory at a later date.

The next manager of the Suprasl factory was Haim Cytron, Shmuel-Hirsh's son. The other three sons, Benjamin, Alex, and Samion, worked at the company's head office at 35, Copyezka Street, Bialystok. In 1932 the company took over the Amiel Colycovsky sewing and weaving factory in Bialystok. The company then became "The S.H.Cytron-Suprasl Public Company" and employed more than two thousand workers in Suprasl and Bialystok. In the 1930s the company expanded its business interests to Mexico and India and opened a special agency in London. The offices and storerooms were modernized and English, French and Spanish were heard in the company's offices and agencies. The firm's export trade increased significantly in 1936-38 and a third shift was introduced to satisfy production requirements. Haim Cytron established a fully-equipped fire service with special fire fighting equipment as well as an independent orchestra. The fire service operated in Suprasl and in the nearby towns.

With the increase in the size of the workforce and the introduction of a shift system, the workers began to organize themselves in order to improve their working conditions. Indeed, the firm's management set up a worker's loan and social benefit foundation but the workers demanded a pay increase and improved working conditions.

Thus, in 1933 the workers went on strike, making threats and wielding banners. The strikers threatened to storm and burn the factory and, without intending to create such a situation, tempers flared and the police fired guns in an attempt to disperse the crowd. As a result, two strikers were killed and two more wounded. The unfortunate incident occurred in the presence of the town's mayor, Slosarizik, but on a day when none of the company's management were in Suprasl. Through the intervention of the mayor, a settlement was reached whereby tmanagement agreed to compensate thvictims' families with money and housing but the incident left its mark. As a result, Haim Cytron decided to resign and pass the reins of management over to his brother , and Mayor Slosarzik also left town shortly afterwards.

It is worthy of mention that Slorsarzik was considered to be a talented mayor and a good friend of the Jews. During his term of office he promoted local tourism, as well as sport, in Suprasl and Bialystok. He was the first to reathe potential of Suprasl as a cof internal tourism thanks to its climate and topographical situation. Only now are the Polish authorities beginning to develop the town's tourist industry.

In 1939, the Cytron Company was at its peak. When the Second World War broke out, on September 1st 1939, the Germans entered the Bialystok region and during their ten day s, emptied the local factories of most of their raw materials. Despite this, the Russians were able to later continue production for a full year.

4. The Nationalization of the Factories and the Annihilation of the Cytron Family

When the Russians entered the Biaregion, followinthe Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, on September 12th 1939, they arrested Benjamin and Alex Cytron and sent them to a gulag in Inner Russia and they were never heard of again. The brothers Haim and Samion, their sister Yaha (Yoheved) and her husband Herman Marein, as well as Benjamin's son Arcadia, all managed to escape to Sweden, via Vilna, where they struggled to survive as their entire wealth was invested in their factories.

After the war they reached New York. and Yaha and her husband moved to Canada. Viara, Benjamin Cytron's daughter, and her husband Cuba Shapira spent the war years in India and later reached Argentina. Alex's daughter Ina, together with her mother and aunt, were expelled to Inner Russia, where Ina managed to survive, and returned to Poland in 1946. Ina's mother and aunt died in Russia. Ina herself reached Israel in 1958 and works at the Kupat Holim as a bacteriologist. Leib and Daniel Cytron and their families perished in the Holocaust (Moshe died earlier). The author's father Faivel died in 1940 in Bialystok during the time of the Russian rule. Haim and Samion died in New York in 1971 and Arcadia passed away a few years later. None of them left children.

The factory in Suprasl was the first operated by the Russians who even appointed a manager of their own. Work at the factory progressed slowly and ceased entirely with the German occupation. The Germans only operated part of the factory and, before retreating in 1944, they burnt and destroyed the Suprasl factory. The Polish authorities of today have not restored the factory and only a small section of it operated as a furniture factory. The factories of Hirshorn, Krinsky, Eizenstadt, and Zimmerman no longer exist.

5. Personalities between the Workers of Suprasl at the Time of the Factory

The Cytron textile concern in Suprasl lies in ruins but the souls of about one hundred Jewish workers, weavers, storeroom keepers, bookkeepers, foremen, managers, wagoners and others seem to hover above the demolished factory... One of those souls belongs to "Mendel Der Bader" who also worked as the factory's night watchman and second usher at the synagogue. He had twelve children and "much work with little recompense". Mulke Cytron liked Mendel, and at every circumcision or other family event would give him some money to help him get by.

Avramsky, the bookkeeper, was a great comic and even sent jokes to the "Moment" newspaper in Warsaw. For every Joke printed he'd receive the sum of three rubles. Haike, the milk deliver, was a special character who took great pains to ensure that the milk was kosher - even for the "treyfnik" managers. Meiram (Segal), the tailor, used to make uniforms for the factory's firemen. As the uniforms were not made-to-measure Meiram would look at the poorly clad firemen with great glee. He'd say that they looked like scarecrows. On the other hand, he was of the opinion that the made-to-measure uniforms he sewed for the army officers looked like they'd been molded on. And there was Shmulke the black bearded weaver who, despite his long hours of work, never missed any of the three daily prayers (Shaharit, Minha, and Maariv).

They, and scores of others characters who comprised the town's Jewish folklore are no longer alive. They perished in the ghettos, the camps, forests, and gas chambers. All of Poland, especially Treblinka, is their graveyard.

6. The Cytron as Businessman and Philanthropist

Besides their business interests the Cytrons were publicly active and made generous donations to different causes. When he was in Michalova, Shneer-Zalman founded the rebuilding of the local synagogue to the tune of three thousand rubles which was considered a handsome contribution at that time. Shneer-Zalman's wife ran a free kitchen for the poor and the unemployed.

Shmuel-Hirsh's brother Faivel was famous for his philanthropy and public deeds. He was also known as a brave fighter for equal rights for Jews, not only as citizens, but also as textile workers to whom some trades were closed. Once he was even wounded by a gentile employee who refused to allow a Jew to work in his department. Faivel Cytron served as leader of the Jewish community in Bialystok for ten years and during his term of office refurbished the old age home and "Hekdesh". He also donated to various charity organizations. Shmuel-Hirsh, and his sons Samion and Haim were also active in charity and public work.

It is sad that the Cytron family, along with its factories and agencies, disappeared. A dynasty which filled such an important role in the industrialization of Poland and in the Polish Jewish community was destroyed by evil. The apparent conclusion to be drawn is that Jewish property acquired in the Diaspora does not survive for more than three to four generations.

I recall my youth in Suprasl when my mother would take me and my sister for walks along the banks of the Suprasl River. When we returned we'd sit in the living room and my mother would play Russian, Polish, and even Hebrew tunes on the piano. One of the Hebrew songs was about the tall cedars of the Holyland which touched the clouds... about the blue skies and the Jordan River. After she'd finished playing the piano she'd turn to us and say: "Listen my children. Our true river is the Jordan River, not the Suprasl River". Today, after the Holocaust, the ghettos, and the gas chambers, we know how right she was.

 

Dr. Tuvia Cytron - Author of the Article

Dr. Tuvia Cytron, the son of Feivel, was born in Bialystok in 1909. Dr. Cytron spent his childhood in Suprasl where his father was the manager of the Suprasl Cytron factory, which belonged to his brother Shmuel-Hirsh Cytron. After completing his studies at the Suprasl "Heder" and the high school in Bialystok he was accepted, in 1928, as a student of medicine at the Karl University in Prague. Seven years later he graduated as a doctor and began his specialization in the surgical department. In 1938 he was appointed the surgeon of the Jewish hospital in Bialystok by the Russians, left for Moscow to undertake a special course in surgery, returning to Bialystok in June 1941, just prior to the German takeover. He survived the rigors of two labor camps and the Bialystok ghetto. During the last days of the ghetto Dr. Cytron was appointed the doctor and surgeon of the underground hospital. Hundreds of fighters and partisans owe him their lives.

In 1945 he was freed by the Russians and, despite being sick and suffering from malnutrition, he worked with the massive organization of medical personnel in eight hospitals set up to treat concentration and labor camp survivors. In 1946 he was put in charge of a medical center for the prevention of tuberculosis among Jewish children, supported by the "Taz" organization. During the three and a half years in which he was head of the center hundreds of children were healed and inoculated. His late wife Margalit, who was a nurse by profession, stood by his side and greatly contributed to saving Jewish children.

In 1949, Dr. Tuvia Margalit Cytron and their two childreemigrated to Israel. In Israel Dr. Cytron worked in the rehabilitation of wounded I.D.F. soldiers, especially those who were wounded in the War of Indepe, the Sinai Campaign, and the Six-Day War. Dr. Cytron acted as the head surgeon at the Hadassa Hospital in Tel Aviv for twenty-five years and now, after his retirement, works privately. His wife Margalit, who stood by his side throughout, passed away in 1989. Dr. Cytron has a son, a well-known urologist at BeilinsoHospital, a daughter who works as anX-ray specialist, and a son-in-law who is also a surgeon at Tel Hashomer Hospital.

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