Motel owned a lumber yard in Czyzew.
Motel had the first
Motel had many
friends in town.
He was born in Ostrow Mazowiecka,
moved to Codlewo-Cudosze at age 10, and then to Czyzew
when he was 17.
Bright and Dark Days
By Mordchai (Motel) Szczupakiewicz
Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
This happened in 1938, a year
after the famous unrest in the shtetl.
Czyzewo was once again
peaceful. The Jews were trying to keep body and soul together,
trying to make a living in commerce or as laborers. The youth
dreamed of going to Israel and their parents had worried faces
and bowed shoulders. In the hunt for any odd job nobody had time
for serious thought. Nobody paid attention to the sea of enemies
that abounded around us.
I have to admit I was one of
those who did want to think about the anti-Semitism that became
more threatening every day. I did business with Christians in
the area, became rich and behaved the same towards Jews and
Christians. Business was not bad and therefore clouded my
An evening’s entertainment had
been planned for officers returning from maneuvers. I was
invited and could not refuse to attend. The evening’s
entertainment took place in the “Rolnik Hall”.
The mood was joyous, like a
holiday. Everyone forgot about the crisis, danced and was
happy. The tall officers in their stiff jackets bowed and were
very polite to the Czyzewers and appeared cordial. One of the
officers, who was slightly tipsy, embraced me and talked to me
very sincerely about the difficult problems facing Poland. The
most difficult problem is how to free the country from Jews…
The officer did not realize
that he was a little drunk. He was steady on his feet and spoke
fluently, elegantly. However, my legs were wobbly. I suddenly
felt all alone, like a stable in the field open to all the
The officer noticed the change
in me and tried to end the conversation. He actually ended our
talk by saying that the Jews are very bright and there was even
a period, a long time ago, when they brought much needed
knowledge to the country…but today times are hard. The people
are needy and hungry and the Jews are living well on the backs
of the Polish people.
Now he spoke more soberly and
cruelly. “Three million Jews live in Poland, busy with parasitic
businesses. Three million hungry Poles could take their places
and restore the country.”
I became angry which paralyzed
my tongue. The words stuck in my throat. At that moment I
decided that it was time to leave Poland. The words of this
“polite” officer persecuted and whipped me. They spit in my
Was this then the only time
that it was made clear to me that there was no place for Jews in
There were worse situations
and more painful, but the deliberate manner in which the officer
spoke that happy evening surpassed in vicious truth every slap
I left the officer standing
there with his fancy boots and went home through the sleeping
Czyzewo streets thinking back on my entire life in the shtetl. I
think of how the Christian population benefited from us and
instead of gratitude I saw the bared teeth of an animal that
waits for the moment when the country will be “freed” from the
Jews and allow them to go on a spree with Jewish property, with
I remember a dawn in 1926. A
red flag was hanging at Lubelczyk’s house. This brought the
police and terrible troubles. The police took out their anger
on the Jews in the shtetl. At first light somebody knocked on my
door. Two policemen came in and carried out a search. They knew
they would not find anything in my home. Still they searched
with such intensity as if they would find an arsenal of weapons
in my house.
When they stopped the search
everything was upside down as if there had been an earthquake.
One of the policemen said that they were searching for Communist
literature in my home.
He said this with a straight
face, but his thoughts were viciously mocking me: we know that
you are rich and have nothing to do with those who want to
overturn the government and think you are their enemy. But you
are a Jew and therefore we will stick you with everything
The policeman said: “We have
an order to bring you to the precinct in Ostrowa.”
It was clear he was trying to
provoke me and I did not say a word. The policeman felt
uncomfortable and asked: “Do you want to go by train or by bus?”
The entire day in Ostrowa I
was questioned about my connection with hanging the red flag and
the Communist party.
After bothering me for a day
and a night they finally let me go home. It was already
Friday afternoon when I arrived back in the shtetl. The Jews
stopped me and peppered me with questions. My arrest
seemed a bizarre event to them. They saw this as an omen of difficult times
Kowalski, the shtetl Chief of
Police was in the street. He knew me very well. But now he had
a serious face and yelled: “Why are you people gathering in the
street? What kind of illegal meeting is being organized in the
The Jews stood there for a
minute staring, then frightened turned and went on their way.
I stood there alone, not
saying a word to the Chief of Police who had more than once
received fat bribes from me and now it seemed that he absolutely
did not want to remember.
The sky was getting dark and
the flames of the Shabes candles could be seen in Jewish
windows. The entire shtetl fell into a holy quiet. I
immediately forgot the disturbing and insulting experience.
Jews dressed for Shabes
in silk and satin kapotes [long, black coat worn by
Orthodox Jews] were going into the synagogue with the young boys
lead by the hand or following behind, dressed for Shabes.
It warmed by heart.
No, in those days I did not
think about leaving the shtetl.
The Mob a Wild Animal
As the years passed more and
more young people thought about leaving. Halutzim
[pioneers to work collective farms in Israel] left for Israel
and others went to America. Houses that had stood here for
generations were now deserted. Deserted by fathers, a man or a
grown son. The youth organizations carried on heated
discussions, disputes, hearing ones fill about parties, ideology
and programs. But all of them already carried deep in their
hearts this yearning to be a part of the world at large, to
re-build their lives on new foundations.
At that time suddenly a
pogrom broke out. It started with those picketing during a
Tuesday fair. The young mischief-makers were from the estates
and villages. The majority, led by students, stood at the
Jewish stores and watched so that no peasant would enter.
When the signal was given, a
entire gang, organized and well prepared, with sticks and poles,
set off for the Jewish stores. The air was full of screams.
The fighters were yelling and those beaten were wailing. The
police intervened and captured the hooligans. But the same day a
disturbance broke out in the horse and cattle market. There were
a lot of badly wounded and a dark cloud of need and want hovered
over the shtetl. The final hope of making a living ran out. The
idea of leaving became stronger.
At that time a committee was
sent to Czyzewo from Warsaw in order to determine the cause of
the unrest. They were disguised as peasant and went into the
villages, among the workers, spoke for a long time with them and
wanted to find out why they wanted to throw out the Jews.
Some of them stayed overnight
in our house, secretly. I wanted to know the results of their
inquiry. One of them told me:
“The people! The common man
is not capable of thinking on his own. He is really incapable
of understanding and is worse than an animal. At least an
animal, when sated, does not attack. The common man always turns
out to be the most disgraceful criminal.”
This person who had so
philosophically spoke about the common people was perhaps
ashamed to mention those who incited the people. The great
majority of the newspapers published in Poland sympathized with
these hooligans. Also the Polish intellectuals in our shtetl did
not show any understanding or sympathize with the Jews, but just
the opposite, they were vile, false and hypocrites.
My Departure from
month before the war, in August 1939, the possibility of
travelling to America came about. The famous exhibition was
taking place in New York. I never thought that the war would
break out in approximately a month. Even though the political
situation was strained, nobody thought that the Germans would
actually attack Poland. I had already decided to have a look at
America to see whether it would be possible to stay there and
leave Poland forever.
Motl Szczupakiewicz's Voyage to New York
Motel on far left, others unknown
However I did not take any
money with me. I travelled light. This would prove to be a
After arriving in America I
decided to stay there. I felt like a shipwrecked man who swam to
a strange shore. I had no one to turn to.
The entire first year in
America I worked at night in a bakery. The conditions were
terrible and the work – very hard. But not for one minute did I
lose hope and I waited for the opportunity to use the initiative
that was in me.
After a year I went into
business for myself. Carefully I set up the business for which I
had all the qualifications from the old country where our mill
was known throughout the region.
In the mill business I was a
specialist and I went into the flour business.
I had to overcome a lot of
difficulties that stood in my way. The most difficult of all was
the question of working papers that I did not have.
I put all doubts behind me
and the flour business was not bad. I mainly bought flour for
export to South American countries. Later, I also went into
leather. But that is a whole other story.
I stopped feeling so lonely
and began meeting Czyzewer landsmen. Azriel Belfer, who had left
Czyzewo many years before already had a fine business, a
well-organized meat business belonged to Berkowicz.
Mostly I met them in the
Andrzejewer Synagogue where the Czyzewers prayed every Shabes.
After prayers we talked about
Czyzewo and shared the news about Poland that everyone received
through various means.
Then the idea of bringing the
Czyzewer rabbi to America was brought up. Really we were already
looking for ways to get papers for him. Later we realized what a
naïve idea it was. We had not given any thought to the great
pain the rabbi had gone through with the other Czyzewer Jews in
the ghetto that existed then and was already doomed to
At that time we received the
first news of those Jews who had wandered through various
countries and were searching for a safe haven. We received news
about the Jews who were waiting in Vilna at the consulates of
various countries. In America there was intense activity. From
everywhere men were prepared to help the Jews who were trying to
save themselves from Hitler’s Poland.
Then we thought about the
rabbi’s son-in-law, Rabbi Lewinsohn. This brought a lot of joy.
We got right down to work and began to organized papers that
would allow the rabbi to come to America.
When our work was crowned
with success there was quite a celebration.
Rabbi Lewinsohn arrived in
America from Shanghai at the height of the war. He arrived
together with his wife and son.
The rabbi’s daughter, Fradel
Lewinsohn is today one of the most active among the Czyzewer
women in America.
cannot mourn forever. For a long time we simply did not want to
believe that this could happen. An entire Jewish community
wiped out, murdered in such violent deaths. But it soon became
clear that it was true. We were crushed and shaken up. But soon
we received news about the individuals who were still alive, who
had been saved from the gray hell. And what if people had thrown
up their hands and given in to sorrow?
To start with I sent
packages. Then I had the idea that I must do everything possible
to bring these people to America.
Among those I brought to
America at that time were Zelig Gromadzyn, Jankiel Mankita,
Zysze Slucki, Israelke Fenster and my sister Perl Spaleniec who
brought us the news of the dreadful pogrom that occurred in
Czyzewo. Their faces spoke louder than words, the terror and
fear in their eyes.
Today these people are
installed, working, earning and have re-built their family
nests. But the sorrow that they experienced is buried deep in
their hearts and will never leave them, will always be there as
a reminder and a warning.
And so the deep ties to our
shtetl, that was a ring in the generations long chain of Jewish
life in Poland, cannot be erased.
It was and is no more.
When the axe of Hitler’s
executioners was let loose on the Jewish people in Europe, our
branches also were cut down.
Jewish Czyzewo is no more. A
city with Jews was destroyed in great pain, in inhuman agony.
We will never forget, write
and tell about it …in memory of the people.