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: A.Olej&K. Kobus:
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 functions.
Ul. Pilsudskiego 5. Atwo-minute walk to the west along one of the streets leading away from the main square.
on the internet
The texts presented here were originally published in the guide Where the Tailor Was a Poet...
, by Adam Dylewski (Pascal).
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 Podlasie.
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: A.Olej&K. Kobus:
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