The Cooperative Bank

Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In 1925/26 after the inflation, when economic life in Poland had become more stable, commercial enterprises needed credit and confidence. Long-term loans were an important part of business. There were not any banks in Czyzewo. The large banks were not interested in opening branches in such a small provincial village.

In Ostrów Mazowiecka there was a “Bank Ludowy” (Populist Bank) and a branch was opened in Czyzewo, but the anti-Semitic wind that blew from this institution and a difficult bureaucracy and in addition the next to incapable Mr. Beker made it impossible to do business with the Bank Ludowy. Therefore a group of Jewish merchants came together: Jeshaja Gorzalczany, Fiszel Lubelczyk, Lejbisz Frydman, Eli Rubin Malcman, Zebulon Grosbard, Dan Knorpel, Jehiel'ke Gorszalczany, Alter Wolmer, Lepak, Czczupakiewicz and others and they decided to create a Jewish cooperative “People's Fund” in Czyzewo.

The first committee was made up of: J. Gorzalczany, Israel Jona Ratczkowski and Knorpel (an Aleksander, a Ger and a Zionist).

The bank's board had six people: Grosbard, Frydman, Malcman, Gorde, Wolmer, Szauel Hersz Blajwajs (three Ger and three Aleksander Hasidim). The staff was made up of three people: Hebel – secretary, Serko – cashier and a messenger – Chaim Szapiro.

The committee, board and personnel were all either Ger or Aleksander Hasidim. The youth and the Zionists were contemptuously ignored – not one representative.

And so this went on for many years.

The main activity of the bank was to make loans up to three hundred zlotys. These were to be paid back over the period of one year with an interest rate permitted by law. For larger merchants the bank made loans up to 1,200 zlotys and also dealt with currency exchange. The large wholesalers benefited from the banks with loans based on their inventory.

All those who were active in the bank were shareholders and every member had to invest up to 10% of his credit. They invested the money long term at the central.

The main clients were the small stores and artisans who were desperately in need of help.

At the beginning of the 1930's, Knorpel liquidated his wholesale liquor business, left Czyzewo and returned to his hometown of Ostrowa. There were also changes on the committee. Jeszaja left his position and it was taken over by Jehiel'ke Gorzalczany. Knorpel's position was taken by a Gerer, Lejbisz Frydman.

There was an economic crisis and our shtetl was not exempt.

Storekeepers and artisans had trouble meeting their payments. Some of the largest merchants had a down turn in their businesses and could not honor their obligations. There was also a psychological crisis. The bank had lost its good repuation. It was no longer a bank. It had become a “homey informal club”.

The anxiety level had dropped. “Who should I be afraid of? What, the committee will harm me? They should only try and people would stop reading in the shtibl on Shabes!!”

Afterwards Jechiel'ke Gorzalczany was the head of the committee and when he took over there was a majority with two Gerer – and so theytook over the affairs of the bank.

People were afraid of Knorpel and Jechiel Gorzalczany. The threat of shutting down the reading in shtibl on Shabes did not have any effect on them, especially since Jechiel'ke prayed in the Aleksander shtibl. But just as the committee was free of the impartial members, the affairs of the bank went down hill.

Really, Israel Jona Raczkowski was a strong man, but he was not able to take the pressure. Then there arrived an even more important negative factor, the bookkeeper was a “specialist” at his trade, a “clever writer”. His handwriting was exact and he was a smart man, but very slow. As is usual when an institution stops growing, it loses momentum and the work increases. There are extra letters, extra messages to debtors and in the end the secretary could not handle the work and a mountain with old, unbearable matters. To the incomplete balances of several years, neglected in the bookkeeping was also added the malevolent unpaid balances. The central, through its controls, was alerted and in the end concluded it had to shut down the line of credit.

About getting help for the bookkeeper, there was no question about it. There was not a Ger Hasid who was an accountant. The only Ger Hasid they could find had already left Czyzewo and was in Israel busy establishing cooperative banks for Poali-Agudas-Israel.

Among the Zionists there were accountants. They even offered to help without pay, but they were suspected of wanting to get a foot in the door of the bank, learning the inner workings and then would rebel against the leaders.

To everybody it was clear that fresh, young strength was needed in order to save the bank. But the Hasidic committee was waiting for a miracle that in the end did not happen. It became more and more difficult. So, at the end of 1936 bank activity had reached the point of stagnation. It was virtually closed. First Israel Jona began negotiations with the Zionists.

A meeting was called to elect a new committee and a board. Two representatives for the young people together with Pinie Zysman were elected.

The new committee had to present itself before the central in Warszawa and this would affect the necessary line of credit. Confidence in the town grew, the economy picked up and money began to flow in. Debtors began to pay. There was a complete turn around.

At the annual meeting in 1938 a workable report was presented. The accountant had put things right. The bookkeeper was put on probation – either he carried out the work or somebody from the committee would do it. There were two people who had the capabilities

A young committee member gave the report. The Zionists' appetite had grown with eating. Having two representatives they wanted more. And if in 1938 they did not manage to do better, then it was sure to happen in 1939. But the bloody bandits of the Nazi beast had settled all the accounts, all the conflicts between the old and new world – were liquidated.