Memories from the Hachsharah Kibbutz in Czyzewo

By Aryeh Porat of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Holy and blessed is your memory, my town of Czyzewo, regarding your Jewish residents who perished at the hands of the murderers, may G-d avenge their blood; and regarding those, may they live long, who found refuge in all lands of the earth, especially those who are living with us today in our Land.

Czyzewo is the second town in the annals of my life that my soul became attached to with bonds of blood and love, and that became an inseparable part of me.

I arrived in Czyzewo in 1934 and was appointed as the director of one of the Hachsharah depots that had already existed there for about a year previously. I stood at the helm of this Hachsharah kibbutz for two years. It consisted of approximately 40 boys and girls, who regarded themselves as strangers in the exile of Poland. Their entire desire, longing and purpose was to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. As was needed in the previous era, they had to become used to a difficult life and to hard work in particular – pioneering work.

During this period of time, I was able to get to know a significant portion of the residents of the town. Their memories from that time are etched in my heart, and I remember them with love.

Prior to my arrival in Czyzewo, I imagined that town as a place of manufacturing and industry that was short of working hands, and I thought that the hands of these “kibbutzniks” would be a blessing for the residents, and that the large amount of work in the town would be a blessing to the kibbutz, that would enable it to maintain itself in an honorable fashion. How great was my disappointment when I saw before me a remote town, like all other forlorn towns in Poland prior to the war, infused with the exilic reality that prevailed at the time. Then, I feared greatly for the future and continuation of the Hachsharah Kibbutz in such a place such as that were there was a dearth of work. However, when I got to know the Jews of Czyzewo from close up, the fear dissipated. A new feeling replaced the disappointment, a feeling that I still carry with me as a duty until this day. That is: the Jewish objective.

Immediately upon my arrival, the Committee of Friends of the Kibbutz was founded, which called itself “Patront”. It took upon itself the task of concerning itself with places of work to create something from nothing for the Kibbutz, so that it would not know hunger and want.

The members of this Patront were of varying ideologies. However, this “Jewish objective” united all of them – and they were one. The following are the names of the people who were members of the Patront: Shalom Grynberg, Berish Grade, Yehoshua Lepak, and Noach Edelsztejn of blessed memory. Dov Gozlancki, and Mottel Szczopkiwicz, may they live long.

We had permanent and temporary workplaces. There were those people of means who were able to permit themselves to give set places of work. These included Dov Gozlancki, who provided work in loading and unloading fertilizer, chemicals, naphtha, and other such tasks. There were others who, even though they did not have an excess of work, nevertheless took the duty upon themselves to give permanent work to the members of the Kibbutz.
This is in praise of those dedicated people who provided work, such as: “Mendel the Aliar”. He was the owner of an oil refinery. This Mendel was old, tall, thin, and hard of hearing, with a constant smile on his face. He employed two members of the Kibbutz on a permanent basis. On days when there was a dearth of work, or when he did not have anything with which to keep them busy, he would sit with them and tell them stories of the past. He did not reduce their pay.

Yitzchak Wasercug. He was a handsome Jew. It was said that he was wealthy. However, the wheel of fortune turned away from him, and his fortunes declined. However, the good, warm Jewish heart remained with him forever. He employed a few of us to change the water in the city mikva (ritual bath). He would say, “indeed we may or may not need the mikva for today, but you certainly need work. 'If there is no grain, there is no Torah'. Work and receive your payment.”

Saneh Stocinski. He was a member of Aguda. He was not so taken with “Zionism”. He waited day by day for the footsteps of the Messiah to be heard on the streets of Czyzewo. Nevertheless, he was a splendid Jew, and he relations with us were good and dedicated. During the time that we worked in preparing the crates for packing the fruit, he would warn us: “Workers, protect your shoulders from the gusts of wind, so that the nails will not twist you!”
Shimon the tailor. He had thick, black eyebrows. He was approximately fifty years old, and he had some white hair. He had a thick, rough voice, but a warm, soft heart. He would say: “Send one of you to me to work, send him, it does not matter, so long as he knows how to at least sew a button. Why should my lot be wanting in providing work for the Kibbutz members?”

Noach Edelsztejn. His yard was full of twigs organized lengthwise and widthwise. He would purchase more on a daily basis. He would call over the woodchoppers from the Kibbutz to come to work, and treat us casually. He would say. “Sing children, for 'work is our life, and will save us from all tribulation'!”

Chaim Szczopkiwicz owned a building materials warehouse. This was our permanent workplace. It was a place of refuge for us. He would say: “If one of you remains without a day of work, send him to me, and I will keep him busy with something.”

Yankel and Rishka Kitaj were not specifically among those who gave work, but were numbered among the Kibbutz members. They actively participated with us, both in our joys and our worries. In one word, we prepared ourselves and bound ourselves together. Yankel's pockets were always filled with sweets, and each of us knew about this. He did not give, but whoever wished any would have to place his hands in his pockets and take out “whatever came onto the fork”. During such a “pickpocketing” effort, it was evident from Yankel's face that he was deriving a great deal of pleasure. When a Kibbutz member would take ill and have to remain in bed, we knew for certain that the merciful hand of Rishka, Yankel Kitaj's wife, would take care of him and assist him with all his needs, including giving medicine on time or a glass of tea.

Oh, Would It Be That I Were Able!

I will never forget the words of Leizerke the son of Yankel and Rishka on the day that I packed my suitcases on the eve of my making aliyah to the Land, and it is as if I can hear them still today. He turned to me and said: “Throw out all of these shmates in your suitcases and take me in their place…” Oh, how I wish I could have… Similarly, I remember one boy whose name was Kocmacher, who came to us at the Kibbutz. He was the son of poor people, and his entire desire was to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. However, he was lacking the necessary means in order to actualize this desire. His many pleas and requests for me to help him cut through my heart. I stood before him helplessly and thought: “I desire with my heart to help you, but… Oh would it be that I were able.”

How can I conclude without mentioning Moshele Gromdzyn? He owned a grocery store on the Street of the Smiths (Szmydisza Gasse). He gave us an open credit for anything we need from his merchandise. He never came to us with requests and demands for payment.

How can I forget and not mention Chanale the milker, the “mother of the Kibbutz” whose route to distribute milk took her first of all to the Kibbutz. During her free time, she would come to teach the girls the manners of “the woman of the house” regarding cooking, laundry, and other housework. If someone took ill, she would immediately wish to summon the (Christian) doctor. This doctor would come even at midnight, and if we tried to pay him for his services, he would literally become offended. May his memory also be blessed.

Thus did the Kibbutz intermingle with the life in the town, and become a unified family among all the families. Among other things, it participated in the cultural life of the town with various performances and celebrations. It also as counted among the local dramatic circle, whose members included Plocker, and David Munkarsz, as well as, may she live Mrs. Sheva Gozlancki and others.
Finally, I will eulogize with a few lines my father-in-law Reb Alter Berish Grade of blessed memory and my mother-in-law.

I loved this man even prior to giving the official imprimatur upon the regarding the relations between the bride and groom. We would spend hour upon hour engaged in mutual conversation. He was an Orthodox man with a Hassidic outlook on the one hand, and with a realistic outlook upon life on the other hand. With enthusiastic words, he would awaken and encourage the endless struggle for an independent state in the homeland. He would say: “It is better to stand in fear next to a drawn knife of an Arab than to stand daily before the insults and denigration of the exile”. He would add: “You desire something ideal – you have a purpose in life, but we here are like 'sheep to the bountiful slaughter'…” I did not understand then how right he was. Our first concern was, how would the train rest in a Jewish state on the Sabbath?

It is most unfortunate, regarding him and the many others like him, that they did not merit to see with their own eyes that the Israeli train does rest on the Sabbath in the State of Israel. It is most unfortunate for those who have been lost and will never be forgotten!…

I also engaged in private teaching along with my task of running the Kibbutz. That is to say, I gave lessons. My students included children from Orthodox homes, whose parents opposed from the outset any secular learning, or that their children should study along with the children of the gentiles. However, slowly but surely, their eyes became opened to see in the footsteps of the catastrophic situation that prevailed in Poland at the time, that there is no other choice. The day would come when their children would have to uproot themselves from their homes and wander to different countries. Then they would encourage them to rectify what they had rejected.

When I remember my students now, I wish to make note of two of them whose talents and excellence in studies astounded me. One was the grandson of Reb Yisrael Yonah Raczkowski. His accomplishments in his studies, especially in mathematics, were so great that in a short period he accomplished what would have taken others twice as long. The second is Berele Lubelczyk. How astonished was I at his phenomenal memory. He had a quick grasp, and the understanding of an elder, settled man. It is too bad! How unfortunate is it that such talented people with fine memories were cut off without mercy in an untimely fashion.
May their memories be blessed forever!