Stories from our Ancestral Homes

Recollections from the Shtetl
by Grace Ittleman



y mother told us how she and my father met. My father, one of six children, had five sisters. He had gotten a job as sort of a traveling salesman. He sold grain. He would buy wheat from the local peasants and have it milled. Remember that his mother and father had a bakery and did the baking. He used to buy the wheat, and then he would travel to places like Warsaw and Bialystok and sell it. My mother worked in a place where they would sell bread, rolls, cheese and eggs for people who wanted something to eat for breakfast. Next door to the store where my mother used to work was a bed-and-breakfast. My father happened to be staying overnight at the bed-and-breakfast. The woman who owned the bed-and-breakfast came running into my mother's store and said, "I'm in a hurry. I have a guest here and I need bread, and I need cheese, and I need butter and eggs."  My mother said, "What's your hurry?" And the woman from the bed-and-breakfast said, "Well, there's this nice young man staying here." My mother said, "Really? Can I meet him?" And that's how they met. I think they got married in Czyzewo in 1922. My father's name was Sam--it was Yankel Shlomo. In the old country his name was spelled Hurwitz. My mother's name was Rose or Raizel. I even have a copy of their tenoyim, which is an official and legal contract, like the marriage ketubah, except that it was signed by couples when they got engaged.

Yankel and Raizel Hurwitz

Yankel's Mother and his Five Sisters
cir 1933-6


My mother, my sister and I left Czyzewo in 1930 when I was only seven years old. My father had already left and came to the States in 1925. Most of my mother's family had already immigrated by the early 1930s. My maternal grandmother had already immigrated to Palestine in 1911. She was very religious, and even though she was still young, she wanted to be buried there. My grandfather came here to the States because he already had two sons and his sister here.


My great grandparents were still alive at the time we left there and they were living in Czyzewo. I remember them so vividly. All of my father's family perished during the massacre in Czyzewo that occurred on August 21, 1941 when all the Jews were marched into the forest of Szulborze and forced to dig their own graves. My cousin was the only one to survive. He fell on the bodies and pretended that he was dead. After the war, he told my father not to bother to look for any survivors because there weren't any. He was the eyewitness and told my parents that all the relatives were killed.


 My sister and I both have vivid memories. My grandparents had a bakery in Czyzewo. There were two floors in the building. The bottom floor was the bakery, and there was another floor over the bakery where they lived. They had wooden stairs in front of the bakery. My sister and I used to sit there on Sunday morning when the Christians were going to church. My grandmother used to say, "Now you have to be very quiet and sit very still so that you don't show any disrespect for these Gentiles that are going to church." Imagine that.


My sister keeps telling me about our great grandparents. My bubbe--my great grandmother--she was very short and had no teeth. When someone would give my sister and I candy, our bubbe would come along and take the candy away from us, because she loved candy. My sister and I, to this day, still talk about that!

Read more about the Hurwitz family


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