Wyszkow, Poland Yizkor Book

SEFER WYSZKOW, ed. D. Shtokfish, 1964 Tel Aviv.

Pages 22-26
Translation by:  Edward Jaffe
Translation donated by:  Rona G. Finkelstein
Put on the Web by:  Michael R. Tobin


Max Chekhanov, New York

I left Vishkov in 1913 on the way to America.  At that time statistics showed that the town's Jewish population consisted of about 1500 families.  It was calculated as follows: the large synagogue had 800 worshipers and the new synagogue - about 200, the Gerer Hasidim prayer house - 200; Alexander Hasidim - 200; Amshenover Hasidim - 50.  And the same number of worshipers were in the Otvosk and Radziminer prayer houses.  In the Dan synagogue (also called the "German synagogue" because there were some who wore "short dresses") worshipped about 100 persons.  At that time there were a few private worshipping groups consisting of a few rich people and other pious Jews.  At that time that was the population composition in town.  Lets assume out of respect of the martyred that their statistics were correct.


At the beginning of the 20th century the Vishkov Jewish population could be divided into two groups: Mitnagdim and Hasidim.  Two third of the population were Mitnagdim and one third Hasidim.  Both the Mitnagdim and the Hasidim were very pious Jews.  It appears to me that the difference between the two Vishkov groups was that the former prayed in the Ashkinazi style, and the latter in the Sfardi style.
As far as I remember, according to their income Vishkov's Jews fell into the following categories: shop keepers, money lenders, small business people, quite a few wood merchants and their workers, butchers, fish sellers, deliverers by horse and buggy, carriers, tailors, shoemakers, smiths, leather makers, horseshoe makers, tinmen, glass installers, pot makers, bakers, carpenters, turners, embroiderers, watch repairmen, rope makers, coppersmiths, goldsmiths, painters, and others.  Then come the rabbis, beadles, bible teachers, ritual slaughterers, matchmakers, minstrels and musicians.  There was also one Jewish doctor, a Jewish pharmacist, a Jewish female dentist and two paramedics.  We also had three carbonated drinks factories, three ice cream factories, a scale factory, and a wicker chairs workshop.  To that must be added the poor beggars, and those seeking alms from house to house.  I believe, I cited all income earners of Vishkov at that time.  The general economic condition of Vishkov's Jewish population can be detailed in the following manner: 1% rich people, 9% well to do, 40% middle class that had plenty to eat, 40% lower middle class that had just enough to eat, and 10% poor and indigent.


For as long as I lived in Vishkov I posed this question many times to the older town's people, but never obtained a satisfactory answer.  I am not delving into the non-Jewish sources about the history of our town.  As I remember there was no written record about our community in years past.  All I know about the age of the Jewish community in our town is summarized below.  When I was 11 years old, my late father took me once to visit the family plot at the Vishkov cemetery.  My father pointed out the graves of four generations of our ancestors: the grave of his father, the grave of his grandfather, the grave of his great grandfather, and the grave of his grandfather's grandfather.  When I asked my father whether other earlier members of our family are buried here, he responded in the affirmative.  But he did not know where-their graves are located.

Is there a trace left of you, dear holy graves?


During my childhood there was a rabbi and a spiritual teacher in Vishkov.  I knew the rabbi well because he lived adjacent to the same yard (the synagogue yard).  As a child I frequently visited the rabbi's house and played with his grandchildren.  I remember that the rabbi was a real pleasant person.  A real lover of the Jewish people and all living creatures.  He always had a smile on his gentle face.  If he had to call somebody from the synagogue he asked me to do it.  Although I was a small child, he knew me well and used to ask me gently "be so good" or "excuse me", "don't be insulted, please call so and so from the synagogue".  The spiritual teacher I knew only by his appearance.  Beyond that I knew nothing of him.  Once there was an argument between the rabbi and the spiritual teacher.  The argument was so intense that it caused a fight between their respective followers.  The town's youths resorted to strange name calling of the two sides.  The rabbi's supporters were called "bombers" and the spiritual teacher's were called "turtles".  There were also those who were "neutral' and called "trulelus".  I did not understand the meaning of these strange names.

I also remember that the quarrel led the "neutral" group to steal a Torah on the Jewish holiday of Hoshana-Raba which they took to a known Jew in the nearby village by the name of Vigoda.  There they celebrated Shmini-Etzeret and Simcha-Torah.  In the morning of the same Shmini-Etzeret a high ranking official with police and artillery soldiers arrived in Vishkov from the provincial town of Pultusk, and chased all worshippers away from the large synagogue.

The end result of this quarrel led to the arrest of the spiritual teacher.  The incident made a lasting impression, many of the older people remember it to this day.  Whatever happened to the spiritual teacher I do not know.  I only know that the Vishkov Jews quieted down after this incident.

Many years later when the rabbi died, Vishkov's Jews selected as a religious authority a prestigious person from a rabbinical family.  With the new rabbi I had a difficult and unpleasant incident that I remember to this day.

At that time I already had a bookstore in Vishkov where I sold Warsaw Jewish newspapers.  As soon as the new rabbi arrived in town, he sent for me to come and see him.  My late father, whom I appreciated and loved dearly, insisted that I comply with the rabbi's request.  I did it because of my father's request.

When I came to see the rabbi, I greeted him and wished him much luck.  I asked him why he called me.  He immediately began reproaching me and asking why I decided to make a living by selling books and newspapers.  I in turn asked ther rabbi why his friend,a pious so and so,can sell books and I cannot?  It was true that the pious Jew did not sell newspapers.  Instead of an answer the rabbi began shouting at me and in an angry voice stated that "I would rather see you sell pork than books".  I responded to the rabbi by telling him that this type of advice he ought give his friend that sells books, and I promptly left.  My late father later approved of my response.  He too was not particularly happy that I dealt in books and newspapers.  Nevertheless, he told me that the rabbi had no right to tell me to deal in pork.

Years later, the rabbi and I reconciled our differences.  After World War I when I moved to America, the rabbi forgave me.  He sent me a heartfelt letter in which he also thanked me for my participation in the Vishkov aid society in New York.  Regretfully the rabbi, who later became the chief rabbi, together with his whole family was murdered by the Nazis.


As far as I remember, in my time in Vishkov about 15 Jews were considered to be wealthy.  It is no exaggeration to doubt that any one of them was worth more than 100,000 rubles.  Nevertheless, they were considered to be rich.

The Vishkov Jews did not excel in their generosity, with the exception of one who could be considered a very charitable man.  But at the same time he behaved like a real dictator.  He was involved in an unpleasant incident, when in the year 1912 the well known writer and philosopher, the famous late Hilel Zeitlin, could not come to a literary evening arranged by the town's youths in Vishkov.  The gathering took place without Zeitlin's participation, whereupon the late writer B. Yaushzon described the incident in a brochure under the title "The Rabbi was Dragged to a Concert".

It was said about another of Vishkov's rich that his daughter sympathized with the town's workers and taught some of them how to read and write, In the period of 1905-6 when the revolution was being suppressed by Czar Nicholas the second.  The word circulating in town was that she did it because her father became non-observant.


Besides the rich we also had in Vishkov an elite.  There were Jews claiming various progenitors.  Some of them claimed the Amshinover rabbi as a relative.  Others were proud to be associated with the Yabloner rabbi, the first Hasidic leader who left Poland for the land of Israel.  He personally participated in the building of the town of Bnei-Brak.  There were also Jews who prided themselves as relatives of Moishe-Tuvie Stanislaver (the great personality described in the "Day-Morning Journal" by the well known writer I. I. Troonk).

Others were proud for entirely different reasons.  There were some that always claimed that Nochum Sokolov belonged to their family.  Others I knew claimed to be related to the Warsaw Jewish book publisher B. Simin.  There were others, the type you could meet in any Jewish town, who could demonstrate in writing that they are descendants of King David or even Maimonidis.  Who could disprove it?  There were others who prided themselves with personal achievements.  In short we had in Vishkov a varied elite.


I don't remember whether in my time there were too many real old people.  Nevertheless, a few of them are deeply imbedded in my memory.  One of the old people was said to be about 90 years of age.  Others thought he was over 100 years old.  I was too young to estimate his age.  An interesting thing happened to him at his advanced age: he became a widower and then married for the second time a young and beautiful girl.  A rumor circulated in town that the old groom was carried to the wedding canopy.

A second old man, I recall, belonged to a Mishna study group and was a respected citizen.  The study group held an annual feast.  It so happened that two members of the group brought their disagreements for resolution at such a feast.  The whole group selected the old man to adjudicate the disagreement.  Even though he was not a great Torah scholar, all followed his reasoning and as soon as he rendered a verdict, it was accepted by all.  The Mishna study group in our town was generally known for the respect they paid to the town's old-people.


Vishkov had it's heroes who showed real courage when Jews had to be protected.  From my earliest childhood, I recall how two Vishkov Jews dispersed a market full of farmers.  The reason for this incident I do not remember.  I only know that both were honest and pious Jews.  Apparently the market place was generating a potential danger to the town's Jews.

I also remember a Vishkov young Jewish man, who served in the Czar's guard, who upon returning home on leave settled a dispute with a policeman, actually a "senior police officer".  On Sabbath at midday, an arrested Jew was brought to Vishkov's market place by horse and buggy while being guarded by an out of town policeman.  Upon arrival he screamed asking to be rescued from desecration of the Sabbath.  Soon a large number of people gathered, including the Vishkov rabbi.  The arrested was then transferred to the charge of the 'senior police officer'.  The rabbi asked the officer to transfer the arrested Jew to his care until the Sabbath passes.  The officer turned down the rabbi's request.  Then our guardsman became embroiled and offered to assume responsibility for the Jew, until after the candles are lit.  The policeman refused.  Our Viskov young man became very upset and both began quarreling.  After exchanging some words, our guardsman picked up the "senior officer" by a leg, lifted him above his head and turned him around three times, as if he was performing the ritual of "kaporot".  The gathered crowd liked what they saw and gave the Jewish hero a loud cheer.  After this incident the "senior police officer" escaped from Vishkov and the town got rid of a Jew hater.

I also remember when one November evening, newly recruited soldiers arrived in town.  They became inebriated and began to beat Jews.  Panic set in.  Jewish storekeepers closed their businesses.  I myself locked up my father's store (I was then about 11 years old).  Soon thereafter two Jewish young man came out into the street and started beating the drunken Poles.  The hooligans -beat a hasty retreat and escaped as far as they possibly could go.

Once in the year 1907, a rumor spread that at the upcoming market day that the Poles will start a pogrom against the Jews.  That was during the time when a bloody wave of pogroms swept through the Jewish towns and villages.  Our Vishkov had a strong Jewish youth who organized a self defense force.  As the market day neared the tension grew.  But the self defense group was ready for any eventuality.  As soon as the drunken Poles raised havoc, a Jew, actually one from a different town, engaged the hooligans and handily dispersed them.  The town was spared a pogrom.  As a consequence, the organized Vishkov.defense group was left with little to do.


In the stormy year of 1905, in Vishkov as well as in other towns and villages of erstwhile Russia, the spirit of revolution against the czar was rising.  I remember a group of Jews together with Poles leading a demonstration with banners proclaiming the czar's misdeeds.  Later, a few participants in the demonstration were arrested and expelled.  Among Viskov's Polish revolutionaries were also anti-Semites.  A few such young Poles who belonged to the intellectual class (at least that is what they pretended) and claimed to be "revolutionary patriots" one sunny Sabbath afternoon attacked a group of Jewish boys and girls who were peacefully walking across the wooden bridge over the river Bug.  The Poles berated the Jewish boys and girls with expressions and words as well as deeds that cannot be repeated or discussed.

The town also had revolutionary fools.  A Jewish worker told a joke about current affairs to a group of other Jewish workers who did not like one of the expressions.  Therefore the "proletariat " beat up the poor Jewish worker.  He was lucky to escape alive.

Another difficult incident is engraved in my memory.  There was a tailor of woman's clothing in town.  A worker like any other of his kind.  He did not excel at anything.  This tailor was shot and the murderers were not caught.  During my time it was the only murder in Vishkov.  Word got around that he had something to do with the stormy incidents at that time.


There were only a few guards in town but they gave us plenty of trouble.  Mostly it had to do with the existing czar's regime.  Our Vishkov guards were no exception.

Once on an ordinary winter evening in the year 1908, 1 was at the Vishkov railroad station awaiting the daily package of Jewish newspapers from Warsaw.  Suddenly a "senior guard" approached me and asked that I follow him.  He took me to an empty field.  Looking around and seeing that nobody was there he told me the following: "I know that your bookstore is kosher, you had controllers and inspectors who convinced themselves that you sell only approved books.  You should, however, know that there are pious Jews who asked me to make trouble for you.  And you should also know that there are preparations afoot to raid your bookstore and destroy your books.  Therefore, I ask you that every first day of the month, according to the Russian calendar, you meet me at this very place, and bring me three rubles.  In other words, I want from you three rubles a month in order to protect you.  And I also want something else: your father deals in Jewish lottery tickets which are illegal.  Therefore, I demand that you bring with you a lottery ticket for every drawing, and I will leave your father alone".

For a moment I thought about the possibility of a raid on the bookstore.  But I decided that it is not worth doubting his word, and I accepted all his proposals.  Thus, I paid the "senior guard" three rubles per month until I left Vishkov.

I had another incident in my bookstore.  One evening a group of boys were learning Hebrew literature in the store.  We used to spend time as a group twice a week.  We were taught by an older well-read and able colleague.  Suddenly, two guards came in with a pretext of having to make a search for people holding an allegedly secret meeting to "depose the czar".  I began to explain what we were doing, and in the meantime my friends stepped outside.  One of the guards pursued them.  Outside the door my friends played a trick, causing one of the guards in his haste to fall into a pit full of whiting that was prepared for a new building.  Ultimately the guard came to me and demanded two rubles in order to cleanse the whiting from his soiled clothing.  He excused himself for having disturbed us in the innocent study of Hebrew literature and promised never to disturb us again.  However, he demanded for himself and his friend, the second guard, six rubles for not disturbing us in the future nor report the owner of the building for leaving an open whiting pit.  I handed them the demanded sum and both guards from that time on developed a friendly attitude toward me.

I also remember another incident.  Once on a beautiful and warm day, I went for a walk with a girl (actually my current wife).  We passed the bridge and went onto the Lahav road.  We were young, our feet were strong and the natural surroundings were beautiful, it was a real pleasure.  On one side of the road flowed the river Bug and on the other side the eye was delighted with the blossoming spring trees of the famous Skisiver forest in our area.  We walked deeper into the forest.  Suddenly, from a hiding place jumped out two strange, unknown to us guards, with whips in their hands.  One of them hit me with his whip across my shoulder.  Instead of escaping, I came closer to the guard and asked why they are doing it to me.  We are only friendly wanderers.  One of them said they will stop hitting me and added that he sees for the first time a whipped Jew that does not run away.  The guards wanted us to give them some coins and cigarettes to smoke.  I took out a pack of cigarettes and they lit up.  I put two other cigarettes behind their ears for later use.  I also gave them the coins they requested.  They "thanked" us and told us to return to town because they are looking for somebody that may cause a shoot out, and therefore it is best for us to go forth.


I remember other things about our town that no longer exists.  I remember Vishkov's groups of time past.  The Burial Society, Mishna Study Group, a Shas Group, an Eyen Yakov Group, a Human Life Group, a Tilim study Group, a Dowry Group, a Visiting the Sick Group, a Money Lending Group, the Righteous Group, and a Secret Help Group.

I remember when a train passed through Vishkov for the first time and my parents carried me to view the new wonder.

I remember when Vishkov's people ran after the first car that passed through town.

I remember when gas light lamps were installed in Vishkov to provide light in the streets.

I remember when the first telephone line connecting Vishkov with Warsaw was installed.

I remember when Vishkov's Jews won several times the great Rabbis Lottery (that of Gerer and Alexander).

I remember when we sold in Vishkov under my direction 75 copies of Jewish newspapers, 60 of the Warsaw "Moment" and 15 of the Warsaw "Day".

I also had in my bookstore about 120 readers of Jewish and Hebrew books.  There were also in Vishkov two subscribers of the Hebrew publication "Hazman" ("The Time"), two for the "Hatzfirah" ("The Dawn"), and one for "Hatzofeh" ("The Scout").

All of them appear alive in my memory, the devoted readers of Jewish and Hebrew works, and the loyal friends of the great national Jewish and Hebrew Journals.  I remember them and others from our town where I spent 22 years of my life from 1891 till 1913.  Where I was known as Abraham Mordekhi Chechenoviecki (now somewhat shortened to Max Chekhanov).

My town Vishkov -an interrupted song of a vanished Jewish life.

Michael Tobin
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