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 Chaiken Family of Nezhin
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This photograph is what we believe to be the old Fajn textile factory. It was taken by Tomasz Wisniewski, a photographer from Bialystok...1995
Click here to see an ariel view of Bialystok
Click here to see diary excerpts from our visit to Bialystok.
Click here to learn more about the Holocaust in Bialystok.
Click here to learn more about our visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp.
#1...The heart of the Jewish Quarter in Bialystok, 1920, with a view of the famous clock tower

Old Bialystok
The earliest Fajn ancestor that we have traced was born in 1797 in Bialystok. This was my 3rd great grandfather, Oswiej Fajn. At this time, Bialystok was ruled by Prussia, but shortly after it came under Russian jurisdiction. In 1800, Bialystok became a central city surrounded by ten smaller satellite communities. Even though Bialystok was the central city, it retained the feeling of a small shtetl through 1880. The town consisted mostly of small wooden and a few shingled dwellings.

Fences partitioned these modest residences. There was no running water and people depended upon water carriers. No electric lighting existed at the time. Social life was almost entirely interwoven with the religious. The Torah ignoramus received no respect whatsoever. Only a laborer who knew how to study the Torah was honored. The Talmud Torah and the yeshiva were located in four wooden houses built at the beginning of the Russian administration. In these buildings, 450 pupils (275 Bialystokers and 175 from surrounding towns) studied in cramped quarters, Everyone knew everyone else's business. Gossip was never lacking. Yet the main topics of conversation were political. The large manufacturers of Bialystok were German. The Jews were the small factory owners.

The Lottery
Around 1860, the lottery tickets, which had been popular among Jews in Lithuania, came into vogue. Bialystoker Jews were enchanted by this novel temptation. They borrowed money, pawning all they had to purchase these tickets. Some were wiped out as a result. For a long time, Bialystoker Jews gained very little from these lottery tickets. In 1870 though, one Bialystoker Jew received a telegram informing him that his ticket had won 450,000 German marks, a fortune. The money was later divided among several poor families and created an upheaval in the city. The newly rich managed to arrange high class marriage matches with the finest families because of their recently acquired wealth from the lottery. For many years the town talked about "the big win".

Jewish Life
In the last twenty years of the 19th century, Jewish merchants and factory owners began to develop markets in other countries. They did not feel comfortable with their "small town" status. Never again would the modest wooden dwellings be adequate. At the first opportunity, and sometimes even without the necessary funds, people began building three and four-story houses with every modern innovation known at the time. New apartment houses sprang up out of nowhere.

People built homes for themselves or rented them to others. After several decades, Bialystok burgeoned with buildings and the vacant spaces virtually vanished. No longer was there any room for fences between homes. New streets opened; new neighborhoods formed. Jews created a village from a hamlet, and later a city from a town. If this construction surge had continued, Bialystok would have grown to a truly large city through Jewish initiative, but the process was interrupted by the industrial crisis of 1900.

Construction depended on easy and cheap credit, and on the premise that there would always be a booming textile industry. That rosy outlook, however, changed dramatically. From that time on, Bialystok grew no more. It remained more or less the same size it was in 1900, even after the economic crisis passed and the population increased. A housing shortage developed and rents soared to an all time high. The situation continued until the end of World War I.

The Freedom Movement of 1903-1906 put its stamp on Jewish life in Russia and Poland. In Bialystok, that revolutionary fervor left an even deeper imprint. Waves of change hit the city with great force, and when the tide began to ebb, a complete transformation had been effected. Both the labor movement and the young student organizations brought about alterations in Bialystok's life style. Jews did not seem to be interested in studying the Torah any longer. It became fashionable among the more educated and the well-to-do to be anti-religious. No one thought of teaching their children how to pray and the young began to work on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

The Pogrom
For three whole days, June 1-3, 1906, Czarist murderers ravaged the people and property of the defenseless Jewish community in Bialystok. The sound of gunfire echoed throughout the city. Armed soldiers and police went shooting into the streets and houses while bandits broke into and robbed the stores and committed brutal murders in many Jewish homes. Worst of all was when these vicious criminals gouged people's eyes out with their nails or stuffed their cut open abdomens with feathers. Some of the victims included small children, whose heads and organs were removed. Several Jewish leaders risked their lives by appealing to the authorities, pleading with them to stop the killing and looting, but to no avail. One of these leaders did manage, however, to get out of Bialystok, and from a neighboring town he sent a telegram to the Duma, the Russian parliament in St. Petersburg.

This cable, revealing the pogrom in Bialystok, generated a storm of protest in the Duma, which immediately sent a delegation of three deputies to Bialystok. They arrived on Saturday June 3rd, the third day of the pogrom. As soon as they appeared on the scene, the bloodshed ended and the police unsuccessfully attempted to erase the grisly signs of the slaughter. Eighty dead bodies lay outside on the hospital grounds and more than two hundred wounded were treated in the hospital, nineteen of whom later died of their wounds. All the victims of this pogrom were buried in a mass grave, in a prestigious place within the old Jewish cemetery in Bialystok. Above this grave, a tall monument was erected, inscribed with a special epitaph, in Hebrew by the well-known poet Zalman Sznejur. This monument stood for decades in the Bagnowke Jewish Cemetery in Bialystok. It reminded many of the three horrible days of the pogrom. After World War II, the Poles vandalized this monument and discarded it near the outskirts of the cemetery.

#2...Old Jewish Quarter of Bialystok...1995
#3...Bialystok in the 1800s
#4...Bialystok about 1895
#5...My great uncle, Aron Fajn with his wife and children along with his sister-in-law and two nephews, in Bialystok 1920s. All were killed in the Holocaust.
#6...Bialystok 1995. See below for more present day info and photos.
#7...Holocaust monument in the park near the former Jewish ghetto.
#7A...What used to be a synagogue in the former ghetto area. Today it is an art gallery with a plaque commemorating the former synagogue.
#8...A postcard depicting life in the old Jewish Quarter in Bialystok
#9...The old Jewish Cemetery in Bialystok
#10...Tombstone found lying on the ground in two parts for our ancestor Itzak Fajn. The stone was in two parts in 1995.
#11...Monument in the forest in Bialystok memorializing the spot where many were shot during the Holocaust.
#12...Former Jewish Synagogue in Bialystok
Wooden houses of early Bialystok