Radzilow received the status
of a city in the year 1466. Its closeness to the border between Poland and
Latvia made Radzilow strategically important and caused its rapid development
into an important
regional trade center. In the year 1494 there were already 49 families, and the
number grew in the 16th century. In the year 1564, there were 309 houses and
1,864 inhabitants in Radzilow. Radzilow was badly hit by the Swedish invasion in
the middle of the 17th century and as a result, only about 40 houses and 100
families were left. Radzilow was not
re-populated until the end of the 18th century. In the year 1799, 85
houses and 435 inhabitants were counted. Radzilow was redeveloped in the 19th
century. Most of its citizens were farmers. There were iron and ferrite mines in
the vicinity of Radzilow, giving an important employment source for the town's
people. In the end of the 19th century, small industries, like a flour mill, a
brick factory and an oil factory were established in Radzilow. Radzilow was
known for its markets and trade fairs that took place there and attracted many
merchants and customers.
|Number of Jews
A small Jewish community was already in Radzilow in the 17th
century. The number of Jews grew with the years. The main sources of living of
the Radzilow Jews were craftsmanship, trade and selling goods in the nearby
villages. Some Jewish merchants were mediators for wheat and other grains
between farmers and traders in the area's large cities. This type of business
took place mostly during the market and trade fair days.
There was a known tradition among Radzilow Jews that the
synagogue, which was made of wood, was built in the 17th century. This synagogue
stood there until the Holocaust. We only know the names of the Rabbis of
Radzilow starting from the second half of the 19th century:
[Surawicz], who was the town's Rabbi in the year 1877, and
Rabbi Akiva Goldberg,
who was the town's Rabbi in the year 1908.
The beginning of Jewish modern public activity in the areas of
society and culture started around WWI. During the German occupation, in the
year 1916, the first Zionist group was established in Radzilow. A Hebrew school,
which later became part of "Tarbut" network, was established in 1917.
Between the two World Wars most of Radzilow's Jews were
craftsmen, small merchants and village peddlers. Most of them could hardly
support their families. In the year 1926 a Cooperative Bank was established in
Radzilow and about half of the Jewish families enjoyed the loans given out by
that bank. In the year 1929 a Gmiles Chesed fund was established, next to it operated a rural
department; about 100 Jews, inhabitants of small villages in the area, joined
the fund as members. In some urgent cases the Jewish community initiated support
actions. After the fire of 1930 that destroyed about 60 houses, a help
committee was established, to which Jews from neighboring towns and villages
also joined. In this time Rabbi Zelig Gelgor was the Rabbi of Radzilow.
The cultural center of the Jewish community in Radzilow was the
"Tarbut" Hebrew school. Branches of the Zionist parties were active in Radzilow,
and for the Jewish Congresses, 100 seats on the average, were sold in Radzilow.
Branches of youth organizations (Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, Betar) were active
in the town. Heavy activity was also shown by the branches of Agudat Israel and the Bonds.
Acts of anti-Semitism bothered the Jewish community in Radzilow
from the year 1922. The anti-Semitic trend grew stronger, like in the rest of
the Polish cities, during the 1930's. In 1935, on one of the market days, a
Polish farmer teased a young Jew and a brawl started. The Jew beat up the Pole, and when the
story spread out, violence was started by the Polish people against the Jews all
over town. Jews were beaten up, and windows of Jewish homes were shattered. The
Jewish delegates of the Polish Parliament (The "Sejm") complained to the
Minister of the Interior, but he refused to condemn the violent actions. Such
violent action reoccurred in 1938. The police arrested a few hooligans, but all
of them were released after a short investigation.
During World War Two
Radzilow was conquered by the German Army in the beginning of
September 1939. But by the end of the month it was transferred to the Soviets,
according to the agreement of August 23, 1939, between Germany and the
Soviet Union. Many Jews were very enthusiastic of the Soviets entrance, but
shortly afterwards a big disappointment prevailed. The Soviets nationalized all
the sources of living of the Jews, stores, bakeries and flour mills, and banned
the Jews from working as store owners, dealers, etc. Craftsmen could hardly
support their families by working in cooperatives of tailors, shoemakers and
welders. Here, as in many other places under Soviet occupation, there were great
difficulties in getting food. Jews also needed to get used to go to work on
Saturdays and Jewish holidays. The children and youth, on the other hand, were
attracted to the way of life that was introduced and promoted by the new
regime. They were especially attracted by the slogans, the numerous celebrations
and the unlimited studying opportunities.
In March 1941, many men were enlisted for fortification
construction work along the German-Soviet border. Everyone in town could feel
that the war was about to erupt between Germany and the Soviet Union at any
time. In the days of June 19 and 20, 1941 many families of Poles and Jews from
the area were deported to Siberia. Among those were people who were classified
by the regime as "capitalists" and "the enemies of the Soviet Union." The truth
was that among those people were Jewish shop owners, sometimes very small shops,
and also owners of large houses. In some cases an owner of an apartment was
classified as a rich man just for the purpose of taking his apartment for a high-ranking official or army officer.
As a result of the propaganda made by the Polish regime and by
the right-wing Polish parties in September 1939, which identified the Soviets
with the Jews, the local Poles blamed the Jews with all the hardships they had
suffered during the Soviet occupation.
On June 23, 1941, German forces conquered Radzilow again. The
Polish inhabitants built for the Germans a Victory Gate in the town's entrance.
On June 25, 1941, the German soldiers gathered the Jewish men,
most of them old, near the synagogue and ordered them to get all the Torah books
and other sacred books and to bring them to the meadow by the Radzilowka River. There they put
all the books on fire and made the Jews, by beating them, to sing and dance
around the burning books. Later the Germans hustled the Jews to the nearby
swamps and made them roll into the mud. Finally the Germans harnessed the Jews
to the carriages, instead of the horses, and ordered them to pull the carriages
back to town.
The day after, the German Unit left Radzilow. The Polish
residents created a temporary committee of their own in which, among others, the
Radzilow Priest was a member. At that time local Polish hoodlums started to
break into the homes of Jews; they used to beat up viciously the home owners and
their tenants, regardless of their sex or age. They would rob or destroy any
thing they could put a hand on. Polish neighbors started to harass the Jews with
their repeated visits and by demanding to get their belongings. There was an
atmosphere of a pogrom in the air. The Jews pleaded for help from the town's
priest, the town's doctor, the town's secretary, and even with the local
nationalistic party leaders, but they all refused to do any thing. Finally they
decided to ask help from the local crime lords, who were ready to help for a
large sum of money. The Jews started to gather valuables, expensive clothing, shoes and linen at
the house of Wolf Szlapak, a Zionist activist.
On June 6, 1941 a rumor spread that hoodlums from Wasosz, who
the day before had murdered the Jews of their town, were on their way to
Radzilow. The scared Jews of Radzilow fled their houses and spent the night
hiding in the fields. In the morning, after they realized that the hoodlums from
Wasosz had left, the Jews returned to their homes. Only then did they realized
that during the night the Polish hoodlums from Wasosz had murdered the Jewish
person Perkal [a surname] and buried him and his 16-year-old daughter. The
daughter was in shock but still alive when she was buried.
On the same day, July 7, 1941, there arrived in Radzilow four
vehicles with Gestapo in them. Groups of Poles, under the leadership of a
Gestapo man. spread out in the shtetl and drove most of the Jews from their
According to the instructions given by the Germans, the Poles
were supposed to assemble
in the town's market square only Jews aged 14 to 60, but the Poles, in their
eagerness to excel, rounded up almost all the Jews. The square was surrounded by few rows of Polish
policeman and behind them stood most of Radzilow Polish inhabitants who came to
watch the "show." When one of the Jews succeeded to break out the human circle
through the line of the Policeman, the Polish women, and even the Polish
children, stopped him and made him return to the center of the market square.
The Germans and their helpers had fun torturing the Jews. With some of them,
they cut off parts of their beards and peyot [long curled side-locks]. They hung a huge stone on the neck of one of the
Jews who had been a policeman in the days of Soviet rule, and when the man fell
down they stepped on him and beat him. Also, they pretended to execute a group
of Jews. Poles with sticks and whips walked among the Jews and hit people
indiscriminately. The Germans even bothered to photograph the events. Finally
the Gestapo distributed weapons to the hoodlums, gave them a free hand to "get
rid of the Jews" in three days, and left town. Before the Germans left, the
Polish hoodlums made the Jews sing the Russian song "My Moscow." Then the Polish
mob hassled all the Jews, 500 to 800 people, from the market square to a big
barn which belonged to the farmer Szitkowski [Sutkowski, according to the
Radzilow Primary School account], located at the end of town. The Poles pushed all of them
into the barn, locked the gates and nailed them shut with nails. They poured
gasoline on the barn and set it on fire. Two young lads, one of them was David
Smolenski, managed to break out of the burning barn but the Poles captured them
and murdered them with sticks. Throughout town Polish lads were running around
searching for hidden Jews and abandoned children. Whoever was found and captured
was brought to the burning barn where they made them climb up a ladder to the
roof of the barn and jump into the flames. Those who hesitated were pushed into
the fire with bayonets. Among the captured was Rachel Wasersztejn, a 19-year-old, with
an 8-day-old baby in her arms. She stood on the ladder and pled to her neighbors
to save her baby. One of the Poles grabbed the baby and threw him into the fire.
The hunt for the Jews continued for two days. All who were
captured - most of them small children - were brought to the barnyard and were
murdered there viciously. Others were burned alive. Others were beaten to death
by shovels and axes. Heads of babies were smashed by stones.
The Gestapo returned to Radzilow on July 10, as planned, and put
a halt to the savage murder. Only about 20 Jews had survived. They were brought
to a house on Koscielna street and were forced to work for the Germans. A few
months later some of them were accused for an alleged underground activity and
disappeared. The rest were transferred on November 2, 1942, to a camp in
Of all Radzilow Jews who lived there (about 800 to 1000 people) at the
beginning of the Nazi occupation only one family of 6 souls, the family of
Israel Finkielsztejn, the owner of the flour mill, had survived. They were
hiding in farms in the nearby villages. Moshe Pesach Dorogoy and his son Akiva,
who were hiding in one of the villages [Slucz], managed to survive until the day
of liberation, but a few days later were murdered by the local Poles.
ABL"G 4583, 16/1084, M-1325.
AYV"SH 0016/4163, M-11/36, M-11/B-72, M-11/B/86, M11/B-257, 03/3033.
Eyyva EDR"P 49.
ATZ"M S-5/1747, Z-4/3568 IV.
A. Feldman, "Di Alteste Yedios Vegen Yiddin in Polnishe Stodt in 14-16 Y.H."
Blatter fun Geshichte 3, 1934.
Grajewo Yizkor Book, New York, 1950, pp 220, 228-234.
Sz. Datner, Eksterminacja ludnosci zydowskiej w okregu Bialostockim, in BZIH, No
60, Warszawa, 1966 p7, 41.
"Heint" [Today - Warsaw Yiddish Newspaper] 9.6.1930, 31.7.1930, 5.3.1931, 24.3.1933, 26.4.1935, 2.6.1935,
1.12.1935, 6.1.1937, 1.9.1937, 3.3.1938.