Gentle Souls and Kind Hearts
of My Little Town Czyzewo

By Chaikeh Cikrovich (Prawda)

Translated by Chana Pollack and Myra Mniewski

How precious your name sounds to me like the best symphonic music, a symphony of memories of happy childhood and youth. Who could have imagined that I would lose my dear ones and not even know what became of their remains? But the horrific storm perpetrated by the German murderers, with help from the pious Poles who attacked and murdered you, resulted in the most ghastly reality.
Everything I experienced there is etched in my mind's eye and I'll never forget it: Our textile shop, which my Grandfather Reb Moishe Prawda, z”l inherited from his father and afterwards left to my father Reb Shloymke Prawda. Later, we inherited the textile shop which was located between the two strips of stores that divided the big marketplace in Czyzewo into two parts.

Today, no remnant remains of these shops or their owners.
When spring came and the surrounding orchards began to bloom their fragrance wafted through the shtetl. We children, enchanted by the strong fragrance of lilacs in the priest's garden couldn't stop ourselves from plucking them. But alas we weren't always successful because of the angry dog and even angrier caretaker who dwelt there.

So instead we went to the field in search of flowers. But they were very scarce so we lumbered over to the river to bathe. Little imps that we were, we bathed and caught fish, which were actually not fish at all, but little frogs.
It was so good for our young little souls to run around while our brothers sat and studied, the younger ones in the kheyder and the older ones in the small hasidic shtiblekh.
We even had a Jewish doctor, indeed a real Jew, who spoke Yiddish, but with a Warsaw accent.

Soon after his arrival in Czyzewo we all fell ill. First my sister Rivka got sick, then my second sister Sheyne-Perl, and soon enough I was also struck – all with typhus. The Jewish doctor healed us. We were his first patients.
A short time later his wife arrived, a very beautiful woman of average height. She was a daughter of the Rabbi of Radom, z”l. She opened a school and we were among her students.

There was also a Christian school which one had to attend on shabes and the young hoodlums threw stones at us preventing us from playing with the Christian girls. That is why Jewish children didn't go there.

Our joy was beyond description because our thirst for learning was so strong but not every Czyzewo father could afford the luxury of sending his children to school. The school was nonetheless very crowded to the point of having to take on another teacher. That was Alte Blayvays, the kheyder teacher, Shaul Hersh's daughter.

Our studies were however quickly interrupted due to the outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik war.

As soon as the Russians entered Czyzewo Mrs. Gelboym began teaching us Russian, but before we even managed to learn the Russian alphabet, the Poles were again in charge and arrested our teacher accusing her of being a spy and Russian collaborator.

The horrible news that our teacher was going to be executed spread quickly. Her husband Dr. Gelboym was abroad completing his studies. He knew nothing of the tragedy awaiting his wife. We children cried day and night. Our parents fasted and the boys prayed and at the last minute right before the shooting a decree came down to, “Cease! Release.”
The tragedy actually occurred a few years later when Dr. Gelboym had a successful practice in another city. The doctor's wife died of cancer, leaving behind two daughters. May her memory be a blessing. It was then said that the cancer was from the stress she endured during her arrest.
My father, Reb Shloyme Yishay Prawda, z”l, was also a victim of the Poles.

When the Polish army returned after ousting the Bolsheviks, the first thing they did was set out to get even with the Jews in the shtetl. They proceeded to incessantly torture Jews by conscripting them into forced labor such as herding animals from one city to another. One day they seized my father as he was going to pray with his talis and tfilin under his arm.

He was assigned to a group who herded animals to the front but he couldn't keep up with the march, so the soldier in charge, the only one who was armed, beat my father to the point of his not being able to herd the animals. He was put on a wagon and taken to Zembrowa. There, at his request, his brothers, Khilke and Velvl Prawda, paid a large sum of money to free him from the hands of the murderers. My father then returned the money to his brothers. He later developed a tumor in his head from the beating and died in his late thirties.

We honor your memory!

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Center, Chaikeh and her husband Simcha

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A group of school children

I will now return to the time when our teacher was freed from imprisonment.

The years passed quickly.

We grew up; the teacher came and left; those of us between the ages of 12-15 got together to create a youth library. We raised money, bought various books, recruited members and before we knew it had several hundred books.
The founders were: Fayge-Feye Gozshaltshany, Sheyne-Perl Prawda, Rokhl-Leye Litmans, Leye-Gitl Lyubeltshick, all of whom were murdured, may God avenge their deaths. The following survived: Peshe Lepak; Khantshe Gozshaltshany Freedman; Yosfe Kandel, in Israel; Chaikeh Prawda, in Mexico; Sluvke Kimovits, Israel.

When classes resumed, we brought the books to school where they remained with the teacher. Our goal was to found an independent youth library by creating a drama group that would present performances of which the income would go to purchase books. The youth library later became a general library with over 2000 books by the best authors, Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew.

I remember: A stormy winter night, my head on my mother's lap, my father engrossed in a holy book. I hear my mother telling my father that someone is stealing wood and coals from the shed. The wood and coal is being depleted. She can't understand who the thief could be? Only after my father's death was the secret revealed: My pious father was discreetly distributing money, wood and coal to poor women and families.

When my mother learned of this she upheld my father's deeds. Every Friday she prepared a package and sent me to deliver it to a poor family saying to me, “Chaikeleh, bring this there, but make sure that no one sees you delivering anything. Give it to the woman and leave immediately. Don't say who you are or who sent you and don't tell anyone, not even your best friend. One must help the poor but take heed they not be shamed.”

My poor unfortunate parents, your good deeds will accompany me forever.

Blessed be your memory!