Translated by Martin Jacobs

It is with holy trembling and a feeling of great responsibility that we have come to publish the “Goworowo Memorial Book”, which is to be a Book of Lamentation for our community, so tragically destroyed, and a worthy monument on the unknown graves of our dear martyrs, whose ashes and bones are scattered and spread across the woods and fields of Europe.
We are aware that a book is not sufficient to express the great pain and sorrow of a thriving Jewish community, so tragically annihilated by the German murderers, just as all the desolation of a surviving orphan cannot be engraved on a tombstone. And yet the tombstone must be put in place, and the horrible facts written down as a remembrance for us, for our children, and for future generations.
“Remember what Amalek did to you!”
It is our duty to remember and to carry the deep sorrow in our hearts, and it is also a sacred obligation to bear on one's lips an eternal curse for the Nazis and their assistants, who so brutally slaughtered a third of our people.
The collection and compilation of the material for this book was not so easily accomplished. All the historical sources and archives were destroyed along with the town. Those who died in the ghettos, concentration camps, and in exile can no longer speak. The select few who went through the seven sections of Hell, they too prefer to remain silent and not open the still bleeding, suppurating wounds, even though more than two decades have passed since the Holocaust. Few remain of the survivors who could have revitalized historical events from memory and set them down on paper. Only the feeling and strong belief that we have the sacred task and responsibility to perpetuate the memory of the destroyed town and of the martyrs, just as an orphan has the duty to say kaddish for his slain parents – only this has given us the courage and strength to begin the work, almost without resources and with our own powers.
With enormous effort, much patience, and great diligence we succeeded in procuring material – placing one brick upon another and erecting this monument. We have striven to give an objective reflection of the town – its institutions, parties, and organizations; rabbis, leaders, personages, and public figures; general descriptions, chapters on Holocaust and destruction, embroidering of town life, which strive to express what is specific and unique about Goworowo.
It must be mentioned that the financial means at our disposal to publish this “Yizkor book” were sufficient either to pay a professional editor (and then no money would have been left for paper, plates, printing, and binding, that is, we would not have a book), or to do everything ourselves, though with limited facilities. Of course we chose the latter course, and so it is quite possible that this book has not been edited in accordance with all accepted literary norms. But our goal was to build a monument and perpetuate the town, and this we believe we have accomplished. We therefore ask you not to look upon this book with a critical eye.
Although we have spared neither time nor effort in trying to make this work complete, we ourselves know that we are far from having achieved this. Much documentary material, and pictures of importance to the community, are lacking, as well as more detailed reports on institutions, on some political parties, and on important events. It is altogether possible that in “A walk through the town” and in other descriptions and notes, as also in the list of those who perished, some names were left out, or were inaccurate. It may also be that some dates do not agree with reality. Unfortunately this could not be avoided. There were several reasons for this, several obstacles bringing this about. Chief among these were the weak response to our requests and solicitations and the incomprehensible indifference of our fellow townspeople, who unfortunately did not properly appreciate the importance of this book. You must also not forget that the entire gigantic task of publishing a yizkor book – the editing, to a great extent the writing itself, and even the technical work from beginning to end – was accomplished by just two volunteers, with their best efforts and purest motives. We therefore also cannot rule out the possibility that, as a result of the great burden they bore, errors may have crept in. These errors could perhaps have been avoided with greater teamwork. If anyone is disturbed by this and thinks that we have not been sufficiently objective, we ask pardon.
May this work be a monument to our dear martyrs and an eternal light for their souls, as well as a building block in the great structure of accusation against the world of evil and crime, and also against those who were in a position to provide for the world's welfare, but who looked on quietly and did nothing. May this yizkor book also be a contribution to Holocaust literature and a source for future researchers who will describe this terrible epoch.
The Editors

[pp. 16-23]
A Chapter of History

Translated by Martin Jacobs

Goworowo, an entirely Jewish shtetl in Congress Poland[1], with a population of close to 500 families, lay on the Warsaw-Łomża Railroad Line, between the towns of Ostrow-Mazowiecki and Ostrołęka. Goworowo belonged to the district (powiat) of Ostrołęka, and for many years to the province of Białystok, and just a few years before the last World War the Polish Ministry of the Interior annexed the shtetl to Warsaw.
No official materials are available to us which would enable us to investigate how long the shtetl existed and since when Jews have lived there. The only historical source is a Polish geographic publication from 1881, Slownik Geograficzny Krolewstwa Polskiego I Innych Krajow Slowianskich*, which states that Goworowo was already in existence in the 16th century. It says, among other things:
“Goworowo, a village on the Hirsh River (Polish name: Orz), Ostrołęka District, Municipality (gmina) and Parish of Goworowo, a distance of 20 verst[2] from Ostrołęka. Possesses a wooden church with a masonry chapel, which probably dates from the 16th century. It was renovated by the Bishop of Plock, Andrzej Stanislaw Zalewski, in 1729. The journal “Inżynierja i Budownictwo”, April 15, 1881, provides information about a plan of development. Here were an elementary school, a municipal office, and a brewery. In 1827 there were 40 houses and 196 residents in Goworowo; there now are 101 houses and 1485 residents. The Parish of Goworowo, which previously belonged to Malawa and now to Ostrołęka, has 8100 residents. The Municipality of Goworowo has 4747 residents. The local court of the third district is in Czerwin, a distance of 12 ½ verst[3]. The following localities belonged to the Municipality of Goworowo: Goworowo settlement, and the villages of Brizhner-Vulke (Brzeziñska Wólka), Guri (Góry), Grodzhisk (Grodzisk), Yemyeliste (Jemieliste), Yuzefova (Józefowo), Kotshko (Kaczka), Kobilin (Kobylin), Groys-Ponikve (Ponikiew-duża), Kleyn-Ponikve (Ponikiew-mała), Pakshevnitse (Pokrzywnica), Rembis (Rębisze or Rembisze), and also Govoruvek (Goworówek), Lipyanki (Lipianka), and Zabin (Żabin)[4].”
As can be seen, the Goworowo population figures in several periods are overall counts. No mention at all is made of Jews, although our parents and grandparents were already living in the shtetl in the last period, and there already was a lively Jewish life in the town.
According to oral tradition, Jews were among the co-founders of the shtetl. Older Jews could tell of a visit to the town of the Vilna Rabbi Abraham Danzig (1748-1820, author of “Haye Adam” and “Hokhmat Adam”, as well as of “Tephila zaka”). It has also been determined that the famous rabbi of Posen (Poznan), Rabbi Akiva Eger (1761-1837), visited Goworowo on his way to Łomża at the end of the 18th century.
At the time of the Polish uprising of 1794 a Jewish rebel, Shmuel Tot, was well known in Goworowo. Old Jews reported that he became an informer, out of a great sense of Polish patriotism, and brought much trouble to the Jewish population. He had a sad end: the Russian government found him out and buried him alive.
We must assume that a large part of the Jewish population at that time lived in Wulki (Wólka), a little village on the other side of the River Hirsh from Goworowo. This fact is confirmed on its title page by an old manuscript of “Sepher Musar Haskel”; the book was published in Warsaw in 1857. Among other things, “Wulki-Govorovo” is explicitly written there. The fact that the cemetery was located not far from Wulki is evidence that there were many Jews.
At the time of the second Polish uprising, in 1863, the Jews of Goworowo contributed much to its success and fought side by side with the Polish patriots against the czarist satraps. It is said that after the suppression of the uprising the Jews hid the Polish rebels in their houses, dressed them in Hasidic garb, with talis and tefilin, and so rescued them from the Russian soldiers, who were searching for them throughout the area.
We found information about the size of the Jewish population in Goworowo at the end of the 19th century in the Yevreyskaya Entsiklopedya, vol. 12. It is stated there that the total number of inhabitants of the shtetl was 2139, of whom 1844 were Jews. These figures were confirmed by the German language encyclopedia published by “Eshkol”, vol. 7, which adds that in 1921 the total population reached 5299 residents but with only 1228 Jews.
In the first World War the shtetl suffered greatly from the retreating Russian army. Goworowo was the first town to be accused of espionage by the Russians, because of the so-called “eyruvim-telegraph”[5]. Because of this slander the last rabbi of Goworowo, Rabbi Burshtin, was arrested, along with several respected citizens of the shtetl. When others strongly intervened they were freed pending court appearance. The rabbi used this freedom to go to Rabbi Rubinstein in Vilna, whose efforts led to the annulment by special royal decree from St. Petersburg of the senseless slander. Nevertheless, before retreating from the shtetl on Shabos Nakhamu 1915, the Russians burnt the shtetl, and the entire Jewish population scattered to the neighboring towns and shtetlekh and some even fled deep into Russia.
After the occupation by the German army, some of the Jews who had fled Goworowo returned to the shtet and began to rebuild the ruins. The local German administration did not disturb them in this task. At the same time many sources of income opened up for the Jewish residents. With the end of the first World War, in 1918, those Jews of the town who had gone deep into Russia also returned, and a lively Jewish life again developed. It seemed that at last an era of peace and tranquility had arrived, but then new troubles started, from the new “masters”, the Bolsheviks, and from the sadly famous “Hallerczyki” of the Polish Army of Awakening[6]. A flood of hostile decrees and persecutions were unleashed upon the shtetl, which were accompanied by levies, mishaps, beard shavings, incidents of Jews being thrown from trains, and attacks in general.
At that time the Bolsheviks arrested the Christian parish priest Goszczicki, nephew of Cardinal Kokowski of Warsaw. The leaders of the Poles turned to Rabbi Burshtin to intervene with the Jewish Bolshevik commissar on the priest's behalf. The intervention helped and the priest was freed. As an expression of thanks the priest sent the Rabbi a cordial letter with an solemn promise never to forget this deed. A short time later the priest was again arrested and the Poles turned once more to the rabbi for his intervention. This time however the rabbi had himself been arrested and sent with the prisoner convoy to Rozan fortress. The accusation carried with it the death penalty. As the rabbi sat in sadness in the detention center, reciting psalms in a loud voice, a Jewish officer came and said to him: Rabbi, we are quite a large group of Jewish soldiers and we will lie down under the horses if they try to take the rabbi from here to be shot. That same evening the door of the detention center opened and a quiet voice whispered from without: Rabbi, door and gate are open, flee! And in this way the rabbi was saved from certain death.
When the Polish forces took power there were pogroms against the Jews throughout the region. In Goworowo too the peasants gathered in the market place and armed themselves with axes and sticks. Then the parish priest appeared before the masses in his holy garments and said to the peasants, “Brothers! No Jew will be beaten in this town.” The crowd dispersed and thus a pogrom against the Jews was averted in Goworowo.
During Polish rule and up to the outbreak of the last war life in the shtetl was relatively peaceful. There was no noticeable public antisemitism. Only with the latest “Owszem” policy[7] of the Polish government, when it officially called for suppression of Jewish commerce and businesses, was a quiet boycott and picketing of Jewish shops called. The friendly relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors, long dear to the hearts of both, did much to weaken the boycott plans. Most of the antisemitic agitators came from outside the town. They looked resentfully at the peaceful relations between the Jewish and Christian populations.
Goworowo was considered a business town and had a greater economic base than neighboring shtetlekh of the same size. The middle class, consisting of merchants and craftsmen, provided the surrounding Christian villages with merchandise. These villages were thickly populated and relied greatly on the Goworowo merchants and craftsmen.
Among the Goworowo craftsmen, the cobblers, tailors, and hatters stood out. They exhibited their wares in fairs in the most distant towns and shtetlekh. These craftsmen of the fairs, the so called “tandeyters” (bunglers), produced rough goods, used only by the peasants. But there were also good craftsmen in the shtetl, who produced for the Jews of the shtetl and for a great many Christians of the surrounding area and who thought of themselves as more aristocratic than the “tandeyters”.
There was also in the shtetl a class of wealthier Jews who managed businesses and engaged in commerce with a broad scope. To this class belonged the brothers Neta and Iser Ritz, owners of the big steam mill and electric works of the shtetl; the brothers-in-law Isaac Kosowsky and Matisyohu Rosen (for many years also the latter's son-in-law David Segal), who used to deal in wood on a large scale and also held the lease on the saw mill from Glinka, the Christian owner of the estate. They cut the timber there and exported most of it. Later they were also in the business of the construction of wooden houses and they also dealt in building materials. Meir Wolf Tehillim was the owner of cement construction material businesses at the Pasheki (Pasieki) railroad station and of coal warehouses. To the wealthy class also belonged the merchants of manufactured and agricultural products, as well as the grain and meat dealers.
However, most of the residents were retailers, brokers, shipping agents, and craftsmen, who eked out their livelihood with difficulty. The support which relatives and fellow-townspeople sent from America contributed much to this class.
The banks contributed greatly to the economic development of the shtetl. The Merchants' Bank, “Bank Kredytowy”, the “Artisans and Retailers Bank” and the Free Loan Society were active there.
The economic situation was relatively good and this was reflected in the spiritual and cultural development of the shtetl. In this field too Goworowo was an example for all other shetlekh in the area. In outward appearance alone the residents of Goworowo had already made an impression with their feeling for aesthetic purity and their pleasing sense of dress, their homes with uncrowded, beautiful furnishings, and their pretensions to elegance.
Many of the townspeople were well known for their philanthropy and hospitality. For many years the shtetl supported, at its own expense, a yeshiva with many students from the surrounding communities.
Goworowe selected as rabbis great scholars who could have had rabbinical chairs in the greatest cities in the country. Our generation well remembers the last three rabbis: the Gaon Rabbi Aaron Klepfish, author of “Bet Aharon”, a brother of the last Senior President of the Warsaw rabbinical court Rabbi Samuel Zeinwel Klepfish; the Gaon Rabbi Jacob Judah Cahana-Batshan, author of “VeShab HaKohen”, a distinguished scholar, day and night engaged in Torah study and prayer; and the last rabbi, the Gaon and Martyr Rabbi Alter Moshe Mordechai Burshtin, who was one of the leading Torah scholars of the last generation. His astuteness and sagacity were renowned. He commanded respect and was a successful leader of his congregation. The Rabbi was martyred in the Treblinka death camp in the month of Ab 5703[8].
All communal and charitable institutions were active in Goworowo, as in all Jewish towns in Poland: a community administration with a president of many years, the Martyr Moshe Tennenbaum, and after him the Martyr Neta Ritz, and then the last one, the Martyr Moses Kosher; the burial society, having as its trustees Matisyohu Rosen, Isaia Eisenberg and Meir Romaner; a network of religious elementary schools, some under communal supervision; a “Yavne” school for the children of parents with Zionist inclinations, a religious “Beys Yakov” school, a “Tsish”o” for Bundists and Yiddishists, and a state elementary school where Jewish and Christian children studied together, which had two Jewish women teachers.
Preeminent among the charitable institutions were Linas Hatsedeq, which distributed medical aid to the ill; “Hakhneses Orhim”, for poor people traveling through the town; a Free Loan Society, “Hakhneses Kala”[9] and “Biqur-Holim”[10]. For several years starting immediately after the First World War the American “Joint” conducted its rescue work in the shtetl.
After the burning of the town in the First World War a temporary wooden prayer house (beys-medresh) was constructed; it could hardly hold the town's worshipers. After several years a splendid masonry synagogue, higher than all the houses in the shtetl, was built, on the initiative of the last rabbi, Rabbi Burshtin, with the active assistance of a Goworowo townsman (landsman) in America, Mr. Klass, and his wife Sore-Gitl.
In addition to the town's beys medrash there were other prayer houses and Hasidic shtiblekh, like the Alexander shtibl, the Gerer shtibl, Vurker-Atvatsker shtibl, the Mizrahi-minyen, the so-called “Smooth” minyen (where young men without beards prayed), etc. In almost every beys-medrash there were special study groups, such as the Talmud group, the Mishna group, the Psalms study group, the Torah study group, and others.
Organizations affiliated with all political parties in the country without exception were active in the shtetl. With their intensive activity, the organizations made an enormous impression on the party headquarters in Warsaw and therefore the latter had a very respectful relationship with them. Here were: the General Zionist Organization HaTehiya with its library; Po'ale-Tsion (right wing), Frayhayt, their dramatic circle and the Brenner library; Revisionists, Betar and their library; Mizrahi, HeHaluts-HaMizrahi, HaShomer-HaDati; Po'ale-Tsion (left wing); HaShomer HaTsa'ir; HeHaluts, and Ha'Oved. These parties together carried on the work of the communal benevolent fund (Qeren-Qayemes) and the Palestine foundation fund (Qeren-HaYesod) in the shtetl. In addition there were Agudas-Yisroel, Tse'irey Agudas-Yisroel, Bnos-Agudas-Yisroel and their Beys-Ya'akov school. The Bund organization had one of its biggest divisions in Goworowo, along with its youth organizations Tsukunft and Ski”f and the Perets library. There was also an illegal Communist party. All the above mentioned parties conducted lively cultural and social activities. At least once a week each organization arranged a lecture, a discussion evening[11], an athletic competition, entertainment, or a performance by its drama circle. From time to time the drama circles used to perform in the surrounding areas. The party headquarters used to send Goworowo the best speakers, well known personalities and instructors with many years of service in the party. The political and non-political press sold well, including “HaSfira”, “Haynt”, “Moment”, “Togblat”, “Folkstsaytung”, and all the other newspapers.
Despite the above mentioned parties, some of which openly claimed to be “free thinking”, the shtetl was in general deeply religious, and the beys-medrash was always filled with people praying and studying. In the evening hours the toiling masses sat down around the long wooden tables and listened to Rabbi Betsalel-Yusl teaching Psalms with Alshikh's commentary, with his sweetly haunting melody. Even ordinary people who understood no Torah shyly listened to the sounds of the Torah's holy words.
At the right side of the beys-medrash, at the windows which looked out on the river Hirsh, the “beautiful people” sat and studied the daily Gemara page together.
Around the two great tile ovens the “Holkhey-Nemishes” always gathered. Between a “qadish” and a “borkhu” they discussed the latest political news of the world. The coming of a preacher speaking of consolation and punishment drew much attention in the shtetl. People listened to him with baited breath.
Goworowo also had a reputation as a comfortable and peaceful town, where good relations among people reigned. This was especially evident at celebrations. If a Jew of the town made a wedding for his child, everyone felt like a relative; every woman considered it a necessity to come to the house of the celebrant. Some were occupied in baking and roasting, some helped dress the bride, and some simply gave their opinion. Marriages for the most part took place in the synagogue courtyard, and leading the bride and groom to and from the khupe used to turn into a real triumphal march through the town, with music, torches, fireworks, and dancing.
On Sabbaths and holidays, especially Sukos and Simhas-Tora, the town threw off all cares and joy was felt in every corner. The large yearly banquet of the Khevre-Kadishe was conducted with solemnity. It took place on the eve of the month of Shvat after a day of fasting and penitential prayers. At the banquet the community record book, in which were inscribed the important events of the year, was opened,. There too were noted the names of townspeople who had done good or ill, so that this day in the khevre-kadishe was a day of judgment for sinners, especially those who sinned against their fellow man.
The same reciprocity could be seen at sad events. If anyone in the town became ill countless people came to visit him and at night they divided into groups to watch over the patient. When there was (Heaven protect us) a funeral, everyone closed his business and considered it his duty to accompany the deceased at least across the bridge which led to the cemetery.
The cemetery was over a kilometer from the town. It was well tended, with trees and greenery, and surrounded by a masonry wall. Many of the grave stones were unreadable; due to their age the name and date of death of the deceased could not be determined.
Goworowo was a beautiful, peaceful, cordial town, full of life and Jewish charm. Strong invisible threads of love and respect tied the Jews of Goworowo to the town of their birth. Even those whom fate has driven abroad, across seas and wildernesses, have not cut the threads and have not been able to erase from their memories the place where their cradles stood, where they took the first steps in their lives.
The Goworowo associations and active landsmanshaft committees are spread across the world, from Canada and America to Israel They see as their sacred goal maintaining a mutual fraternal contact and honoring with love and reverence the memory of their destroyed birth place, Goworowo.

* Edited by Filip Sulimierski, Bronisława Chlebowski, and Władisław Waleski; Warsaw 1881, vol. 2. Return
A Chapter of History - Translator's notes

  1. In the late 18th century Poland was partitioned among Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and ceased to exist as an independent country. “In 1815 the Congress of Vienna . . . reassembled Europe after nearly a quarter century of warfare but did not see fit to restore Poland . . . . . The only change of importance was the curious creation of the Congress Kingdom of Poland. . . . this fragment of historic Poland was given a separate administration under Russian rule and allowed a considerable measure of autonomy. . . . The ruler of the Congress Kingdom was the Russian tsar who locally was deemed the king of Poland.”
    From The History of Polandby M. B. Biskupski. Return
  2. 13.3 miles or 21.2 km Return
  3. 8.3 miles or 13.3 km Return
  4. For Polish names see the Słownik Geograficzny and maps of the area on the web site www.pilot.pl. Return
  5. During the First World War, the occupying Russians thought the “erub” was a secret telephone line for communicating with the enemy. See the English introduction to this book, pp. x-xi. (Although the matter is a bit more complicated than this, you can get some idea what an erub or eruv is from this definition in Weinreich's dictionary: “wire strung on the circumference of a town to classify it as enclosed private property in which objects may be carried on the Sabbath according to Jewish law”.) Return
  6. The Hallerczyki were the followers of Józef Haller, the first head of the Polish army after independence at the end of World War I. Return
  7. “The infamous owszem or economic boycott politics began in June 1936, after being suggested in the inaugural speech of the new Prime Minister of Poland, General F. Slawoy-Skladkowski. This policy encouraged Polish customers to boycott Jewish businessmen, shops, handicraftsmen, and factories. Actively implemented by the nationalist extremists, the policy consisted of more than propaganda. It involved picketing Jewish stores and threatening Poles who dared enter, smashing store windows, overturning stalls and pushcarts, destroying merchandise, and knifing and beating Jewish owners. ” See http://davidhorodok.tripod.com/4a.html.

“As the Polish economy deteriorated during the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler and the collapse of the League of Nations in the 1930s underscored the fragility of Polish security, Polish society became increasingly concerned about unity and safety. Thus the Jewish situation deteriorated , especially after Piłsudski's death in 1935. Although Poland never passed anti-Semitic legislation, discrimination against Jews was widespread in administrative practice, including restriction to institutions of higher learning. Public outbursts of anti-Semitism, including economic boycotts and occasional street violence, were quite frequent in the late 1930s. It was a sad last chapter in the ancient tradition of Polish-Jewish cohabitation in the lands of the old Commonwealth.”
From The History of Polandby M. B. Biskupski. Return

  1. 1943 Return
  2. Philanthropic provision for the marriage of poor and orphaned girls. Return
  3. Society for visiting the sick. Return
  4. kestl-ovnt. I am indebted to Shane Baker for the meaning of this word. To paraphrase his remarks (Forverts Sho, 15 February 2003): several questions of current interest are written down and then selected for discussion by those present. Return