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November 20, 2014 / 27 Heshvan, 5775
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Pultusk

         Located just north of Warsaw on the Narew River, Pultusk is a small rural town described as being located on an island in the middle of a river. The most notable event in the town’s history is the battle of Pultusk, between the Napoleonic forces and the Russians on December 26, 1806.

 

         The Battle of Pultusk was fought between 60,000 Russian soldiers, with 120 guns, under General Bennigsen, and 35,000 French soldiers under Marshal Lannes.

 

         Among meteor collectors, Plutusk is also famous as the source of “Pultusk Peas.” On January 30, 1868, at 7:00 p.m., the Pultusk meteorite fell: A large fireball and detonations were followed by a shower of small stones falling over a large area. Tens of thousands of small stones rained down on the land and houses. The vast majority were small, less than 10 grams down to less than half a gram. These “Pultusk Peas” are often found for sale at space and rock conventions.

 

         Plutusk has had a Jewish presence since the 15th century. The last census showing Jews living in the town was in 1936, listing some 6,400 people. Most notable among the many rabbis who served the community were Rabbi Joszua Trunk, Rabbi Jesroel Ber Lowental, and Rabbi Chenoch Zundel Gradzinski.

 

         One of the notable Jews found in the Plutsk Yizkor book was Rabbi Jacob Hirsh Kukva. For many years he worked in the town bakery. Nobody ever called him by his name. He was called the Rebbe, a name that he earned. He was easygoing and respectable; he walked with measured steps, and his patriarchal beard made him appear as a “righteous good Jew.” He had a way of repeating words attributed to rabbis about “good Jews” and, in fact, earnestly attempted to predict the “finding” of hidden objects, for example, the sex of a pregnant woman will have-a boy or girl. Throughout the years he was a dedicated, hardworking laborer (a common, simple baker‑boy as it was called years ago). He was steeped in Yiddishkeit. At the onset of Hitler’s destruction, this devoted and wonderful Jew died.

 

         Yosef Inventash, or Yossel Kovel, as he was known, was the most admirable and excellent blacksmith of all others in the town. His outstanding blacksmith skills brought him widespread fame and prestige among Jewish wagon drivers, the town’s farmers, and even among the greatest and richest landowners from the surrounding area. Jews from Pultusk used to relate that Reb Yossel was truly an artist in his trade. He would design and create iron doors for the houses of landowners and palaces. Aside from his efficiency and skill in his craft, he had a warm Jewish heart. He enjoyed doing favors and he had much respect for a Jewish scholar, a kind‑hearted person. When the Hitler forces took over the town, they tricked and deceived the Jews, and they used Yossel and his skills-until he was murdered.

 

         Then there was Reb David the woodcutter. There is a question whether any of the Pultusker Jews – and this includes his neighbors – knew his real family name. For those who knew him, he was called David Woodcutter, because he cut wood for Jewish bakers in town. Not everyone understood the secrets of this craft. Reb David knew and had a feel for the work and the intimacies of every splinter of wood – and he carefully prepared every piece that would be fed into the baker’s oven. Whether it was a hot summer day or in winter during a frost, Reb David was not deterred from his work.

 

         The Pultusk Jewish cemetery is located at Kolejowa Street. The suburban flat land has no sign or marker. It is reached by turning directly off a public road; access is open with permission. A continuous fence with a locked gate surrounds the cemetery. No gravestones are visible. There are 20 tombstones in Museum Putlusk; one tombstone is at Stoneczna St 40; five tombstones in Archiwum in Pultusk. The sandstone tombstones have Hebrew inscriptions. The cemetery contains no known mass graves.

 

         Shmuel Ben Eliezer can be contacted at jpolin@aol.com

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