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Jeff Kaiser's Trip To Northeast Poland

His Palenbaum ancestors from Szczuczyn; His Kowalski ancestors were from Radzilow.

The Places Where My Ancestors Had Lived

Trip to both Radzilow and Szczuczyn

Jeff Kaiser, October 2004

Radzilow Street Scene

       

Many Szczuczyn families have Radzilow connections
(direct ancestry and branches) because geographical limitations affected movement in two directions: W and E: The Prussian border was just to the W/NW, and the huge Biebrza marshlands to the E.

       

On October 15, 2004, my sister JoAnn Byron and I arrived in Warsaw, where we were met by Artur Wiatr, who is a guide at the Biebrzanski National Park, very close to the area we wanted to visit. A very earnest and good man, and a good guide, Artur was a pleasure to be with, and always made us feel comfortable. We had many good conversations on a range of subjects. We were glad that Jose Gutstein had recommended him to us. Our desire was to visit known ancestral towns of ours - Szczuczyn, Radzilow, Wasosz, Grajewo, Konopki-Blonie, Karwowo, Bogusze, Nieckowo, Piatnica and Kaminski. We saw all these Lomza gubernia towns and more.

Treblinka is on the way from Warsaw to Lomza, so we stopped and visited it. It was a cold, clear, windy autumn day, and so quiet you could hear a leaf fall. It was a very moving experience. The symbolism created by the railroad ties, the pit, the main memorial, and most of all, the stones, so many, many of them is chilling. It is not something that can be forgotten once it is visited. It was not until much later, during further family research, that I learned that this place was the final resting place for a number of our relatives.

We stayed at the Hotel Baranowski in Piatnica, which we were very happy with and would definitely recommend to others. Piatnica is just north of Lomza. There are some lovely views looking towards Piatnica from Lomza, across and overlooking the Narew River.

Radzilow: Looking south,
down Piekna Street

       

Our first whole day was spent mainly in Radzilow, the home of our great-grandfather, Mejer Hersz Kowalski. It was a little hillier than I had foreseen, but this shouldn't have been surprising, given the streams nearby. The streets were not empty, but neither were they teeming with people. The town seemed to have its reserve. Artur had arranged for us to meet several local townspeople, but one of them, an elderly man, had just been hospitalized and so was not available. The lady who met with us was very cordial and helpful, and took us for a walking tour around the town. It was an overcast day, and as we walked and reflected on what was and what is, that seemed fitting. One looks south, down Piekna Street and cannot help but recall that it was the route forcibly taken by so many on their way to their fate.

On a somewhat brighter note, our host showed us the house where the Rabbi (presumably Rabbi Zelik Gelgor, and perhaps his predecessor, Rabbi Kiwa Goldberg) had lived, on one of the corners of the town square. We were very moved when shown the ruins of the Kowalski blacksmith shop on Nadstawna Street, and a nearby place right by the Matlak Creek on the west side of town where a butcher's shop once existed; perhaps, I imagined, where one of our ancestors, Izrael Mejerowicz Piechota once worked. We saw on the town square a building that was pointed out to us by our host as the former fabric store of Pesza Gutsztejn nee Zimnowicz, Jose's great-grandmother, right next to the Post Office. After paying our respects at the memorial by the site of the barn burning, we went on to the nearby villages of Karwowo and Konopki-Blonie, where we knew that ancestors had once lived about 175 years ago. These were rather picturesque little settlements. One of the brick homes in Konopki-Blonie had a huge white stork nest on its chimney (not something one sees in Chicago, where we are from).

Radzilow:
Kowalski Family Forge

Ruben M. Palenbaum,
1890s to early 1900's

Kowalski/Mejranowski Family
Zlata Perla (nee Palenbaum) (widow of Mejer Gerszk Kowalski, from Radzilow) Mejranowski and her
five children, 1904

With the time we had left that day, we drove briefly through Szczuczyn for a quick look, and then stopped off in nearby Nieckowo, where our great-grandmother Zlata Perla Palenbaum had lived with her second husband, Abram Mejer Mejranowski. Artur found an older man who had known a few of the local Jews, and we drove back into Szczuczyn with him, where he pointed out the two old Farberowicz mills, one in ruin and one still functional. He also pointed out that the current USC (Civil Registry) office was not the one used previously, and showed us where that older one (now a police station) was. This was of great interest to us, as one of our distant uncles, Rubin Abramowicz Palenbaum had signed as a witness in the old USC office on hundreds and hundreds of birth, marriage and death records, and our great-great grandfather Rubin Mortkowicz Palenbaum acted as witness for many a death record, possibly in that building. We drove back south, through Wasosz, where a number of the Mejranowski family members had lived. It is a smaller town than Szczuczyn, closer in size to Radzilow. There was a pretty mill, an odd pink-colored community building and a rather imposing-looking church here, as well as some lovely old wooden homes (also true of Radzilow).

Artur drove us by the western edge of Biebrzanski National Park. Nearby was the little village of Brzostowo, which we also briefly stopped at. It was right on the water's edge, and we saw a building with a remarkable thatched roof there. One of our distant in-laws was from this picturesque little town.

Szczuczyn: Kilinskiego Street
[Top]: West Side
[Bottom]: East Side

       

Another sullen, windswept day awaited us, but again, it seemed to fit with the pensive nature of our visit. On the way to Szczuczyn, we stopped in Jedwabne. The big church at the town square was quite impressive to look at. The memorial at the edge of Jedwabne and the adjacent remains of the Jewish cemetery are bleak, but very evocative reminders of past history. Standing out in the open, at that memorial, one can see a long ways off, and one can hear the church bells from the town square. To do this, and to read the particular El Moleh Rachamim prayer carved onto the memorial stone, it is not possible to maintain one's composure... We drove on to Szczuczyn, first taking a short side visit to the tiny village of Kaminski. The muddy, reddish-brown dirt road in this little farming village helped us visualize what it might have been like almost 190 years ago, when our ancestor Rubin Herszkowicz lived there.

Szczuczyn: Where Krzywa
and Kilinskiego Streets meet

       

We spent a few hours walking around Szczuczyn. Some of the neighborhood areas are very old, and others much newer. The area of the former World War II ghetto on Krzywa Street must have been quite small, as the street only runs a short distance. It was a bit of a disappointment walking north down the currently named Kilinskiego Street. There were very few older homes here, in the area where our gr-gr-gr-gr grandfather Abram Herszkowicz (Palenbaum) had once lived, when the street was called Nowy Miescie (New Town). In these towns, fires were not uncommon, and a number of the wooden structures burned down long ago. One can look at the old Post Office, which stands near where the large synagogue had been, but one cannot get any kind of sense of what had been here, because this Post Office and the immediate environment have been worked over and "modernized" considerably. It is understandable, but from our perspective, disappointing.

Artur took us to Grajewo, where a local friend of his, Janusz, gave us a walking tour of the old Jewish area. Grajewo is larger than Szczuczyn now, but that wasn't always the case. The railroad line made the difference, bypassing Szczuczyn. Among the things I will most remember are an overall view of what had been a marshland that is now a park area in the middle of town. From this view, looking down into the park and across it, one can see a tall church steeple, a big old synagogue building (now a movie theater), and some other buildings that up close proved to be from the part of town that became the ghetto during World War II. We also saw what had once been a Jewish bath-house. Janusz and Artur took us to the village of Bogusze, where there had once been a transit camp/concentration camp where at least one of our relatives, Szejna Bejla Kuberska had perished. We also knew, from an 1819 marriage record, that our gr-gr-gr-grandmother Syma Joszkowna had been from this little town. Janusz showed us that Bogusze had literally been right on the Prussian border at one time, immediately adjacent to the then Prussian town of Prostki.

Jeff and JoAnn poring
over registers at the
Lomza Archives

       

I spent much of the next day in the Lomza Branch of the Polish State Archives. It was a very exciting experience to be able to pore over old birth, marriage and death registers. Although I was disappointed in not being able to locate any records pertaining to my grandmother Sora Rifka Kowalska or her father, Mejer Hersz, I was able to find a number of family-related records. The small staff there was helpful and efficient. My sister was able to utilize this time to visit the remains of a local Jewish cemetery in Lomza. Late in the afternoon, Artur drove us to Tykocin. Although this was not an ancestral town of ours, the chance to see the synagogue there made the trip worthwhile. Unfortunately, it was closed that day, but we were able to admire it from the outside, and we also saw the old Jewish area of Tykocin known as Kaczorowo. This town seemed markedly different in appearance from Szczuczyn, Radzilow and Wasosz. It's closer to Bialystok than the others, but I don't know if that would explain differences in layout and appearance.

We took this trip to see where some of our ancestors had lived. It had been an experience just learning, over the course of several years exactly where those ancestors had lived. The help of Jose, and cousin Saul Marks added greatly to the research we had undertaken. After spending so much time looking at paper records of birth, marriage and death, it was good to be able to actually see these places. This, despite and because of all that has happened.

More of Jeff Kaiser's Szczuczyn trip photos


Nadstawna Street

Old buildings on south side
of Town Square

Street scene

Farberowicz mill

Town Square

Old civil records office,
looking towards site of former ghetto

Fire station

View from the Church towards the SE

Ozerowicz house on left;
Church in background
Nowe Miasto

Old Side Street

Bakery on Gumienna St

Street Scene

Street Scene

More of Jeff Kaiser's Radzilow trip photos


North side of Town Square
Gutsztejn- Zimnowicz house
and fabrics store at far left

Gutsztejn-Zimnowicz house
and fabrics store
Read about the store
[Opens in separate window]

The Finkielsztejn mill, at forefront on right. On Lomzynska Street, west of Town Square
Read about the Finkielsztejn family
[Opens in separate window]

Rabbi Gelgor's former home
Behind is Nadstawna Street
Read about Rabbi Gelgor
[Opens in separate window]

Rabbi Gelgor's former home
on a corner of town square,
Koscielna and Karwowska Streets

East side of Town Square

View to east on Karwowska

Looking towards east on Karwowska

Lomzynska, very near to where the
old synagogue was located

Looking WSW on Lomzynska

Near Cheder, towards old flour mill

Near Cheder

Matlak Creek

View of Matlak from Lomzynska

From Nadstawna towards Matlak Creek
Additional Material:
Kowalski Forge - Blacksmith shop run by the Kowalski family in Radzilow

Written by Jeff Kaiser, 2006.
Edited by: Jose Gutstein. Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets].
Copyright 2006 by Jeff Kaiser and Jose Gutstein.
All rights reserved to the material and the photos.
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