Yiddish: Krienek, Krinek
The only 18th-century urban complex preserved in Poland: a hexagonal
market square from which 12 streets lead away; the church of St Anne
from 1907-1913 designed by S. Szyller; the 18th-century belfry gate; the
de Virion manor house park; the 18th-century wooden Orthodox Christian
cemetery church of St Anthony; the Orthodox Christian church of the
Nativity of the Holy Mother (1868).
In Bialystok people say, "At the sight of Krynki crows turn round and fly away".
This is slightly unfair, but you do get the feeling here that you
are visiting the end of the world. This small borderland town, cut off
from the rest of Podlasie by the primeval forests of the Puszcza
Knyszynska, is in fact part of the Grodno region, amost interesting
territory though these days somewhat isolated and forgotten. Amultitude
of tures and languages was one of its greatest attributes. Apart from
Poles and Belarusians, who form amajority in the area (Sokrat Janowicz,
one of the most distinguished Belarusian writers, lives there), Krynki
is also home to Tartars (their village of Kruszyniany is only 10 km to
the south). Until the outbreak of the Second World War Jews were very
much apart of this mosaic.
Jews first came here in the beginning of the 16th century. As in
other towns of Podlasie, their arrival was connected with the wish to
develop trade and handicraft in the area. At the end of the 18th century
the local Jewish community totalled 700 and was more numerous than that
of Bialystok. The town's location at the crossroads of trade routes was
advantageous for its development. In the 19th century the Jews
themselves were the driving force behind the town's growth. In 1827
Józef Giesl set up the first garment workshop, which put Krynki on the
road to becoming acentre for the textile and tanning industries. At the
beginning of the 20th century Jews made up as much as 90% of the local
population. They ran political organisations, chadarim and even
ayeshivah for 80 students. The inter-war period saw the town fall into
an economic decline from which it has never recovered. Jews emigrated en
masse to Palestine and America and the town's population fell by 50%.
In 1939 Krynki was annexed to the Belorussian Soviet Socialist
Republic and deportations to Siberia began. In June 1941 the Soviets
were expelled by the Germans. The inhabitants were enclosed in aghetto,
which was liquidated in January 1943. The Krynki Jews were not passive
and put up resistance, killing 12 Germans. Some of them escaped to the
forest and formed an underground unit led by Moses Slopak whose
pseudonym was Mohryn.
The Jewish quarter stretched over the main square, ul. Garbarska,
some of the northern and all of the western parts of the town. Jozef
Hazekiel Miszkowski was the last rabbi of Krynki.
The Ruins of the Great Synagogue
Ahuge pile of rubble, regular in shape, located by one of the main
streets, is all that remains of the Great Synagogue. In 1944 the Germans
decided to blow it up, but though the roof was destroyed the powerful
building survived. The act of destruction was completed by Communist
Party activists from Bialystok who laid another set of explosives in
1971, this time with greater success. The only parts to survive were the
walls of the main hall, built from glacial erratics and granite.
Ul. Grodzka 5 (on the corner of Zaulek Szkolny), atwo-minute walk from the main square and on the road to Kruszyniany.
The Caucasian Beit Ha Midrash
This beautifully preserved building from 1850 was used by the Krynki
tanners. It is square in shape (16m x16m) with avestibule, aprayer hall
and asection for women. It was burnt down during the Second World War.
In 1955 it was reconstructed and turned into acinema. In the process the
bimah was destroyed and the openings to the women's prayer room as well
as the windows above the former aron ha-kodesh were bricked up. Today
it houses a Community Centre for Sport and Culture.
The Caucasian Beit Ha Midrash, photo
Some of the local inhabitants remember the building's original
purpose and object to its being used for occasions such as weddings,
which is seen as being comparable to the fate of Catholic churches
similarly misused in the former Soviet Union. The building nearby, which
now accommodates the post office, was probably also used for religious
Ul. Pilsudskiego 5. Atwo-minute walk to the west along one of the streets leading away from the main square.
The Slonim Chasidim House of Prayer
Take alook at this building, even though it is now aneglected
storehouse. It is one of the very few Chasidic prayer houses still
existing in Poland. The Chasidim often prayed in kloyzn(private prayer
rooms) but they also used wooden synagogues, which were mostly destroyed
during the Second World War. This building, erected in brick in the
second half of the 19th century, once belonged to an exotic group of
Chasids from Slonim (now in Belarus). It burned down around 1880 but was
then rebuilt. Two floors served as asynagogue and religious school. Its
characteristic semi-circular windows are still there.
Ul. Czysta 10 (off ul. Garbarska between the Great Synagogue and the main square, atwo-minute walk from the square).
The Slonim Chasidim were part of the Lithuanian Chasids, as were
the Chasids from Stolin in the Polesie Region, also present in Krynki
(their house of prayer Chasidim Shtibl Beit Midrash did not survive the
Second World War). In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Chasidism met with
strong resistance from numerous co-believers supported by the authority
of the renowned Elijahu ben Shlomo, the Gaon of Vilna. The Lithuanian
Chasidim whose homes were beyond the post-war eastern borders of Poland
are the most forgotten in the history of Polish Jews. They are worth a
mention, however, as several of their communities exist to this very day
in the USA or Israel. There are the Karliner Chasidim from Karlin near
Pinsk, the oldest Chasidic group in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and
ChaBaD, a particularly interesting community. This name, the
abbreviation deriving from Chochma, Bina, Dea (Wisdom, Reason,
Learning), is still used by the Chasidic group from Lubavitchi. The
Lubavitcher group enjoys the continuity of the Schneerson dynasty
(tzaddik Josef Yitzhak Schneerson survived the war in the Soviet Union)
and has its headquarters in the USA. It is the only Chasidic community
which is increasing in size, mainly through conducting missionary work
amongst Jews in the former Soviet Union.
The local Jewish cemetery is aspacious field (2.25 hectares)
surrounded by astone wall and overgrown withweeds. All you will find in
the long grass are bits of broken gravestones. Only in the middle can
you see complete matzevot placed in rows. The area is wild and forlorn.
Having visited the Jewish cemetery, make sure to go further along
the Zaulek Zagumienny to the Orthodox Christian cemetery which you will
see on the nearby hill. It is one of the most picturesque cemeteries in
It is not difficult to get to the cemetery, though the directions
may seem to be alittle complicated. From the main square take ul.
Legionowa and walk to the spot where it crosses ul. Grodzieńska and ul.
Polna. On the left hand side there is ahouse behind which there is aroad
called Zaułek Zagumienny. You should walk up here as far as the
overground cellars hidden in the bushes, which you will see on your left
hand side. Behind them there is astone wall and behind the wall the
cemetery. Getting here takes aquarter of an hour.
The Jewish cemetery, photo