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Szczuczyn: Volume IV, Pages 445-448
Pinkas Hakehilot. Polin. [Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities. Poland.]

By: D. Dombrovska, Abraham Wein and Aharon Vais; Seven-volume set published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1976-1999

(Szczuczyn Region, Bialystok District)

The first mention of Szczuczyn was in 1466 when it was mentioned in documents as a village that belonged to private owners by the name of Scipin [c pronounced tz]. In 1692 it received the status of a town called Szczuczyn. In 1699, it got permission from Augustus II, the King of Poland, to hold five fairs a year and a weekly market.
Year Total Population Number of Jews %
1808 2,186 675 31%
1827 3,068 1,970 64%
1857 2,996 2,268 76%
1897 5,043 3,336 66%
1921 4,502 2,506 56%

In 1721 a school (collegium) for nuns was established and there were some classes held for foreign languages, history, science and metaphysics. In 1742 a hospital was established, which later became known as one of the best in the country.

The city developed during the period of Prussian rule from 1795-1806 and during the Napoleonic Kingdom in the 19th century. The population grew almost threefold in that century. The economy of the city was based on crafts and commerce. At the end of the 19th century all kinds of small workshops were established, engaging in liquor production, milling and carpet making.

In 1852 there was a big fire that destroyed 186 houses - only 59 were left. During the First World War (1915) the town was captured by the Germans. After the end of the war the city was annexed first to the Region of Grajewo, and in 1936 it became an independent region. Some Jewish families were found in Szczuczyn in the 18th century, and in the 19th century, parallel to the development of the city, the number of Jews increased. Many Jews migrated from the villages around Szczuczyn after they had been deprived of their traditional occupations, such as liquor manufacture and sales.

In 1877 the Jews represented 75% of the total population and their main income was derived from petty trade. Some of them dealt in horse-trading during the fairs. Jews were also involved in crafts, especially in shoe-making and tailoring. Some of them established their own small manufacturing companies and in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Szczuczyn became known in the region as a summer resort and people came even from Warsaw and other big cities. Most of the summer tourists were Jews.

Around 1820 an independent Jewish community was established, followed by a synagogue and a wooden Bet Midrash [House of Study].

In 1858 two buildings were renovated and another house of study was added. The community had its own Rabbis, and of those known to us, the most famous was Rabbi Yehoshua Heshl, and after him, Rabbi Noah Chaim Eisenstadt.

In the 1890's Rabbi Menachem Mendel Astrinski, known for his book "Menachem's Plant" [Tsemach Menachem] was the rabbi of the town. After he died in 1904 there was an argument between supporters of his son, Judah, and those who supported his son-in-law, Gershon. After 2 years the community chose Rabbi Judah Haleib Hassman, who had been a Rabbi in other communities previously. Rabbi Hassman who served for about 20 years, established the Yeshiva which was a branch of the famed Slobodka Yeshiva.

During the First World War most of the students scattered and Rabbi Judah Lieb went to the interior of Russia.

In 1921 Rabbi Judah returned to Szczuczyn but did not start the Yeshiva again. In 1928 Rabbi Judah left Szczuczyn and emigrated to Hebron and became a teacher [Rosh Yeshiva] in the Yeshiva there. In 1929 he moved with the Yeshiva to Jerusalem. He died in 1938.

The first political organizations in the Jewish community arose at the end of the 19th century. The first Zionist group was established in 1898.

Branches of the Bund and Poale Zion were established in the first years of the 20th century. Some of the public institutions which were established at that time included Kupat Gmilut Hasadim [a charitable institution], a public library and a drama group.

Until the end of the 19th century the Jewish children studied in cheders. At the beginning of the 19th century a Hebrew cheder was established, then a state [public] school for Jewish children that comprised two classes and was attended mainly by girls.

During the First World War, in Szczuczyn, as in the other places conquered by the Germans, there was a revitalization of political and social movement within the Jewish community.

In 1916, a Zionist Federation was established, which later had a few hundred members. Also established was a Beth Am, or community center, which had a reading room where some lectures and social events took place. The community opened a public kitchen where some meals were given to the poor. Around the end of the First World War the library was split into two: one section for the Bund, and the other for the Zionists.

Toward the end of the First World War some Jews were injured by General Haller's soldiers. The soldiers searched their houses, confiscating any valuable goods and beating them.

In the Interwar Period

Between the two World Wars most Jews were engaged in various crafts and small scale trade. In addition to the existing industries, there was a factory owned by a Jewish manufacturer engaged in oil production which employed 15 Jewish workers. Another new industry involved the purchase of fish which were bred in the neighboring districts in pools. These fish were then delivered to large towns.

Various crafts employed about half of the population of the town, mainly shoe making and tailoring. Few families earned their livelihood from home manufacture of flaxen goods. Jews were the majority in other branches of industry as well. Only one of the bakeries in the town was owned by non-Jews. The only smith in town was a Jew and all tinsmiths and barbers were Jews.

The economic position of the Jews in those years was very difficult. During the course of those years their economic condition deteriorated. This deterioration was part of the general economic state of the country as a whole, especially amongst the agricultural population. This meant that the sources of income for Jewish merchants, storekeepers and artisans dried up since their main clientele was the peasantry in the area. Unemployment increased and work provided by the neighboring agricultural areas also diminished. The boycott of Jewish enterprises also helped to worsen the situation of the Jews.

The big fire of 1929 burnt many houses and left many Jewish families without a roof, or homeless. In that period the special charity, Kupat Gmilut Hasadim had to work even harder to try and fulfill the many needs of the Jews.

In 1925 a co-operative bank was formed with the aid of the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] to issue loans under favorable conditions and close to half the Jewish families obtained loans at favorable rates. The Jewish Community [Kahal] continued to engage in welfare activities and assisted the very poorest. Various special events were held to help needy cases such as occurred after the big fire of 1929.

Another charitable institution was formed and joined by the local priest who received help from people in the United States. In 1925 a Committee of Jewish merchants was formed to protect and provide mutual help for themselves. Another Committee was formed in order to try and obtain licenses for the local trades and craftsmen.

Other Kupot Gmilut Hasadim worked to lend their members loans without interest.

There were other charitable organizations, Linat Hatzezek, for example, which helped the community in various ways, including providing medical aid. The "Bikur Holim" [visitation of the sick] and "Hachnasat Orchim" [hospitality] societies accelerated their activities. All these charitable institutions did not, however, manage to prevent the Jews from leaving Szczuczyn. Many of the youngsters left for the bigger towns and this reduced the population between the wars.

The deterioration in the economic conditions in Szczuczyn did not, however, stop the development of the social and cultural life of the community. Soon after the end of the First World War educational establishments were opened by the Jewish community.

In 1921 a "Tarbut" Hebrew school was started and had about 350 pupils. In 1923 another school was established under the name of Y.L. Peretz. In this school Yiddish was the language used for all classes. The headmaster of the school was A. Eliyovitch, who had been a local Yeshiva student. Due to lack of financial resources, the school was closed in 1928 and some of the founders emigrated to South America.

In 1925 Bet Yaacov school for girls was founded under the auspices of Agudat Israel. In Szczuczyn there was also another State-supported school ["Szabasowka"] for Jewish children. Again, most of the students were girls. Between the wars there were also two Jewish libraries. There was also a "Kultur-Ligeh" sponsored by the Bund which included a library and an amateur drama group.

The Maccabi Institution, which was established in the early 1920's, gathered together all the sporting groups in Szczuczyn, but when most of the members left the town in 1927, the Maccabi organization had to close. Maccabi renewed its activities in 1930 in Szczuczyn.

Most of the Jewish parties in Poland were represented in Szczuczyn. Among the Zionists, the strongest party was the Mizrahi party. Associated with the Mizrahi were the Work and Torah Movement and The Religious Guardian Organization. This latter party established a Hachshara Kibbutz [preparing people to become farmers in Palestine] in the town, and also outside the town for religious people from other places. This Kibbutz was a religious one. It was leased from a farmer and it's purpose was to increase the people's knowledge of Judaism. In Szczuczyn there were some branches of the Poale Zion, General Zionists and Zionists-Revisionists. Among the youth movements there was a Hechalutz organization which also had a special training Kibbutz. In the 1930's other youth movements, including Betar and Zionist Youth were established.

In 1922 the youth movement of Agudat Israel, Zeirei Agudat Israel, was founded with 100 members. The Bund established itself in Szczuczyn and activities were mainly concerned with education and culture. The Rabbi of Szczuczyn until 1932 was Rabbi Yechiel Michel Rabinovitch, who replaced Rabbi Judah Leib Hassman. After him came Rabbi Eliyahu Zvi Efron, who remained in post until the beginning of the Second World War. Apart from the study houses and the synagogue, there were in Szczuczyn several Shtiblech [small prayer houses]. The largest one was run by the Gur Hasidim.

During World War II

Szczuczyn was 3 kilometers from the border of Poland and East Prussia. On the first day of the Second World War many people fled the town, including some Jews, but after a few days most of them returned. Between September 8 and 23, Szczuczyn was controlled by the German army. During that period the Germans sent 350 men, mainly Jews, for forced labor in Germany. After 5 months there were only 30 survivors from this group who returned to Szczuczyn. The Germans burnt the synagogue and two of the study houses. They beat Jews and stole everything they could. According to the Ribbentrop - Molotov agreement of August 23, 1939, Szczuczyn was annexed to the Russians and some Red Army units entered the town on September 27, 1939, the eve of the Sukkot holiday. Some local groups of Communists, among whom Jews were prominently represented, gave a warm welcome to these Russian units. The new regime took over some of the bigger properties around Szczuczyn and arrested wealthy peasants, merchants, millers and storekeepers, among whom there were many Jews. These arrests were in fact recommended by some of the local Communists. Some 20 Jewish families who were thought to be untrustworthy were deported some kilometers from Szczuczyn into other Russian controlled towns, to Wasosz and Radzilow. On June 21, 1941, they were sent to Siberia. On the eve of the war between Germany and Russia on June 22, 1941, some of the Jews tried to flee the town but only a few succeeded. Approximately 2,000 Jews were left in Szczuczyn. On June 22, 1941, some of the German units passed through Szczuczyn on their way east. For about two weeks there was no governing authority in the town. On the evening before June 28, groups of Poles attacked Jews in four areas in the town; in the market, in Lomzinska Street, the new town, and in the suburb of Pawelki. The rioters, who were armed with axes, knives and agricultural tools entered the Jewish houses and cruelly killed many families, especially some the most influential, and affluent Jewish families, and those of the intelligentsia. As day dawned the hooligans carried away more than 300 dead men, women and children on carts and put them into large anti-tank ditches. The murderers then announced that their intention was to kill every single Jew in the town. On Saturday June 28, 1941, some women representatives of the Jewish community (for men it was too dangerous to walk in the streets) went to ask for help from the priests and the educated Poles of the town. However they all refused to go and help the Jews. On that day some German soldiers arrived. The women approached the officers and asked them for protection for the Jewish community. They also gave the officers some presents. Some German units then proceeded to patrol the city and for a while the pogroms stopped.

Apparently, on July 24, 1941, some gangs of youth gathered all the Jews in the old Jewish cemetery. Representatives of the Polish police selected 100 of these Jews and sent the rest home. The ones that were left were cruelly murdered by those Polish policemen. They were then buried in a mass grave in the cemetery. On August 8, 1941, the Gestapo approached Szczuczyn. On their orders, the Polish police gathered all the Jews in the Market Square and divided them into four groups: old people, young men, young women (including girls of 13 and 14) and mothers with babies. The first three groups were put into buildings by the Polish police in Beblowski's courtyard. The women with babies were left to stand for a whole day in the heat without food or water. That day the Polish police established a Ghetto by putting a fence around Keshiva Betil [Krimma Gus/Crooked Street]. Women with children and some young men were brought into the Ghetto, as were craftsmen, 15 members of the Judenrat who had been selected by the Germans, and four Jewish policemen.

On the day the Ghetto was established, which was August 8, 1941, all the Jewish patients from the public hospital were taken to the cemetery and cruelly murdered. During the next five days all the Jews who were gathered in the courtyard of Beblowski were taken out group by group and killed. Most of them (600) were killed in the Jewish cemetery. It is assumed that the murderers were Germans, together with some Poles who joined them. Among those killed was the local rabbi: Rabbi Efron. During this time in the Ghetto the Jews were living in very crowded conditions, 15-25 people in each room with very little in the way of food, clothes or domestic utensils, and without wood to heat the houses. Many of them became ill and never recovered.

On November 2, 1942, the Ghetto was liquidated. About 200 Jews were taken the Transfer Camp in Bogusze and from there they were sent, in December 1942 and in January 1943, to the death camps at Treblinka and Auschwitz.

From then on there is no more trace of Jews in Szczuczyn.

Yad Vashem Archives 03/3702.
AMTI 2154 [Archion Merkazi leToldot Israel, or Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People,  Jerusalem]
Welfare Fund of Szczuczyn, Biala Sztacki. Report of the Financial Situation of the Szczuczyn Welfare Fund, January-July, 1930.
Grajewo Yizkor Book (New York, 1950), pp. 220-221, 223-224.
The Destruction of the Szczuczyn [Jewish] Community (Tel Aviv, 1954).
Memorial Book to the Communities of Szczuczyn, Vasilishok. Ostrik, Nowy Dwor, Rozanka (Tel Aviv, 1966) pp. 25-114.
"Heint" [Today - Warsaw Yiddish Newspaper] October 17, 1926; April 29, 1930; May 14, 1930; February 14, 1932; March 17, 1932; November 10, 1935; September 9, 1937.

Pinkas Hakehilot. Polin. [Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities. Poland.]
By: D. Dombrovska, Abraham Wein and Aharon Vais
Seven-volume set published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1976-1999.

Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets].
(Parentheses) in the translation appear here as they appeared in the original text.

Translated from Hebrew by: Zvi Gitelman. Edited by Jose Gutstein.

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