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by Mark Halpern



I never knew my paternal grandparents. They both passed on before I was born. My maternal grandfather, David PERLIS, never adapted to life in the US. He left Bialystok in 1921 only because he was convinced that his family would live better in the US, where siblings of his had lived for 20 years. His dislike of the US affected his relationship with his grandchildren, with whom he had very little interaction.


But Grandma Chana was the grandmother everyone would love. She was crippled from Rheumatoid Arthritis and the “cure” she tried crippled her more. My family lived downstairs from Grandma Chana until I was 6 years old. Then, until she died when I was 10, we spent every weekend with her. In spite of her constant pain, her life was spent making everyone around her comfortable. She was a beautiful person. 



Fast forward 40 years. I was in Warsaw on business and decided to visit Bialystok just to see where my mother, my uncles, and my grandfather were born. I saw what was left of Jewish Bialystok and my guide asked me about my family history. What did I know? Turns out not much. I returned home, logged on to the Internet, found JewishGen and, six years later, here I am. I have traced my paternal lines back to about 1800 in Eastern Galicia. I have traced my maternal grandfather David’s family back to about 1760 in Tykocin and Bialystok. But, where is the history of Grandma Chana’s family?  

Memorial to Destruction of Great Synagogue Memorial to Bialystok Ghetto Martyrs
Former Site of Hebrew Gymnasium No Bialys, but New York Bagels


I had two documents to help me. One was a Polish birth certificate of my mother that was issued in Bialystok for Educational purposes. This identified Chana’s father as Szamshel GIRSZOWICZ. The second document was a Polish passport issued to Chana for her and the children’s 1923 immigration to the US. The passport showed Chana’s town of birth as Pieszczaniki.  


Polish [For Education Only] Birth Certificate 

of Necha Perlis

Click for Larger Image

Polish Passport of Chana Perlis issued 1922

Click for Larger Image and other pages


I may have been 40 years late, but I found the Cemetery in New Jersey where, in 1956, Chana was buried. On the tombstone it said Chana bat Shamai HaLevi, the name of my great-grandfather. A few years later I located Chana’s naturalization papers and, more importantly, Chana’s death certificate. Here, Grandpa David, as the informant, listed Shamai GERSHOWITZ and Judith CITRON as Chana’s parents. On her naturalization documents was her birthplace, Piesczanik.  I was able to make contact with the family of Chana’s sister in Tel Aviv. We in the US knew of Chana’s sister, Fania.  Fania’s family knew of Chana. But nobody knew any more  -- a dead end. All attempts to locate vital records for Pieszczaniki were futile. It appears that, if they exist, they are located at the Grodno, Belarus State Archives that has not been friendly to genealogical inquiries. A native son of Grodno, who became a friend when I lived in Los Angeles, could not obtain information.  


I am a very active volunteer with Jewish Records Indexing – Poland and a member of the Board of Directors. It was in this capacity that I visited Poland in October 2001. There was not much time for personal research as appointments with Polish Archives, Jewish Cemeteries, and Historical Societies/Museums in many cities were scheduled weeks in advance. But the schedule did provide two open days, which were just after visiting the Archives in Bialystok. This was my opportunity to research Pieszczaniki.


Before I left for the trip I researched as much as I could. My research led me to assume that the Grodek Jewish community must have been the one that included Pieszczaniki in its sphere. I also found out that a CYTRON family was a prominent textile manufacturer in Michalowo, a nearby town with a significant Jewish presence. I had already known that many family members were in the textile business, including Grandpa David a silk weaver both in Bialystok and later in Paterson, New Jersey.  

Pieszczaniki, 28 KM East of Bialystok 

Click for larger image

Chana PERLIS US Naturalization

Born in Piesczanik

Click for larger image


I had hired Piotr Rytka, a young Jewish man from Warsaw, to be my guide. He was familiar with genealogical research and with Jewish Bialystok. He worked on behalf of the Jewish Community of Warsaw filing restitution claims for Jewish historical sites in Poland. We started out early in the morning one very overcast day in October. It was our good fortune that we passed on the first Taxi in the queue as we saw the driver smoking inside. The second Taxi driver was born in Michalowo and knew the area very well.


We left the city of Bialystok, and after only a 20-30 minute drive, arrived in Pieszczaniki, which still had the feel of the early 20th Century. Pieszczaniki is a small, sleepy village with no paved roads and no houses that appeared to date to after WW2. We drove around a short time until we found a resident. Mr. Grzes Arkadiusz, who was born in Pieszczaniki about 1933 and had lived there all his life, told us that no Jews had lived in town but a Jewish family lived just outside of town and operated a textile factory. Grzes told stories of his friendship with the son, Lutek, and his father’s role delivering fabric for sale in Bialystok.  

Sign upon entry to Town The Village of Pieszczaniki
Grzes Arkadiusz and Piotr Rytka on site of Textile Factory Supports for Boiler -- Last Remnant of AMDURSKI  Factory


Grzes led us to two older residents, Stefania Germanska and his cousin, Grzes Aleksander. Stefania worked at the factory as a teenager. I was disappointed to hear that the factory was owned by the AMDURSKI family and these residents had never heard the names GIRSZOWICZ or CYTRON. However, I wrote down all  I heard about Feiwel AMDURSKI, his sons Abram and Max, and their families. It was interesting to note that the children and wives lived in Pieszczaniki only in summer, spending the rest of the year in Bialystok. The original factory was built of wood in 1914. It was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt of brick in 1928. When the Nazis occupied this area, they shut down the factory and used the bricks for construction material. After the war, the Soviets used the remaining bricks to fix a church in nearby Grodek. The only remnant of the factory is eight steel rods sticking up from the ground in the middle of a field – the support for the factory’s boiler.  

Grzes Aleksander & Stefania Germanska


Grandma Chana was born here in 1883 or 1884. By 1905, she was married to my Grandfather and living in Bialystok. Before leaving the village, we were told that before the large AMDURSKI factory was built, smaller textile factories dotted the main road East from Bialystok. I can only assume that one of these factories was where Shamai GIRSZOWICZ made his living. I left Pieszczaniki with the question of how the AMDURSKI family was connected to my GIRSZOWICZ and CYTRON families.  


Our next stop was the town of Grodek, which is also the seat of Grodek Gmina (County). We contacted the local civil records office (Urzad Stanu Cywilnego – USC), where we were told there were no Jewish records. Piotr and I were welcomed at the Grodek Cultural Society. Two delightful women searched through the archives of the Society’s quarterly publication. This publication includes articles about the three ethnic heritages of the area; Russian Orthodox, Polish Catholic, and Jewish. They provided two copies of all the publications with articles on Jewish history – one for personal use and the other as a gift to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Only one article referred to the AMDURSKI factory saying it was a good place to work.


I left Grodek with some disappointment. Although all the people we met were very kind and helpful, with no sense of anti-Semitic attitudes that the press associates with Poland, this stop provided no information about my family. The only remaining Jewish landmark in Grodek is the Cemetery on the outskirts of town. Most of the tombstones had been removed and none of the remaining Matzevot could be read.   

Mark Halpern with women 

from Grodek Cultural Society\

Grodek Jewish Cemetery

April 1998 Publication 

of Grodek Cultural Society

Click for larger image

Article about Synagogues of Grodek 

by Tomasz Wisniewski 

Click for larger image


The town of Michalowo is the county seat of the neighboring Gmina. Our first stop was the Gmina civil records office (USC), where the woman we questioned told us, as we suspected, that there were no Jewish records. However, this woman’s mother had worked at the CYTRON factory before it burned down. She directed us to the house of the widow of the late town Historian, Dr. Leszek Nos. We purchased his book, published before his death in 1996. In the book was a reference to Lipa CYTRON, who owned a textile factory in Michalowo until 1928, when it was destroyed by fire. Was it a coincidence that the AMDURSKI factory, only 7 miles away, was built in 1928 and the CYTRON factory was not rebuilt?


Piotr and I then walked to the old Jewish market square. Much looked like it did before WW2. We then attempted to find the oldest person in the neighborhood. After talking with a few people we found Aleksander Kardasz, a very young and spry 90 year old man.


Aleksander’s memory was first rate. He was able to tell me the names of Jewish students who attended school with him – Lichtfeld, Izbodsky, Krugman, Epstein, Gerszuny, and Polashinsky. His memory was vivid about the CYTRON factory. He said that there was also a CYTRON factory in Suprasl and that descendants of the owners still lived abroad.


We drove outside of town to the Jewish Cemetery. The ninety year old Aleksander led the thirty something Piotr and the fifty something Mark up the hill to the Cemetery without even exerting himself. There in a beautiful hilltop forest were a good number of headstones, many of them worn and falling over. In the distance, one Matzevah stood out – it was straight and the Hebrew was readable. It was the grave of Yallev CYTRON, daughter of Abraham Itzchak HaCohen and wife of Shmuel (or Shneur) Zalman. Was this a relative? 

Michalowo USC Office

Monografia Gminy Michalowo  

by Leszek Nos

Site of Former Cytron Factory 

in Michalowo

90 Year Old Aleksander Kardasz

with Mark Halpern

Remains of Cytron factory in Suprasl

 burnt down by the Nazis in 1942

Courtesy of Zchor.org

Jewish Cemetery in Michalowo
Matzevot in Michalowo Jewish Cemetery

Matzevah of Yallev CYTRON

Click for Larger Image

On my second day in Bialystok, I wanted to walk where once my ancestors walked. From Passenger List entries I had the addresses of my grandparents home in 1923 as well as my grandmother’s sister’s home and another cousin’s home. My grandparent’s home address was Polna 27. I had learned that this street’s name was changed from Polna to Warynskiego after the War. It turns out that this street was near the center of what became the Bialystok Ghetto. There were many old wooden houses of early 20th Century vintage, but where #27 should have been was a very typical Soviet era apartment complex. However, right across the street at #24A Warynskiego was the building that once housed the CYTRON Synagogue. I later found out that this Synagogue was built in the 1930s in honor of Szmuel and Chawa CYTRON by their four sons, Benjamin, Aleksander, Szymon, and Jefim. I wonder whether the site of the CYTRON Synagogue and Grandma Chana’s house were just a coincidence?


Site of Former Residence at Polna 27 

CYTRON Synagogue Building at Polna 24A


With this new information and many more questions, I returned to Warsaw. We had meetings with several people at the Jewish Historical Institute. One of these appointments was with the head of The Ronald S. Lauder Genealogy Project, Yale Reisner. Yale was interested in my search for Grandma Chana’s family. He provided a copy of an article on the Bialystok CYTRON family, written by Tomasz Wisniewski, a journalist and well known historian of Jewish Bialystok. He also provided copies of pages from a 1922 Polish Book of Addresses for Industry, Trade, and Finance.


The Wisniewski article talks about Samuel/Szmuel CYTRON and his family having 3 textile factories in Suprasl and the extended family living in Bialystok as well as Suprasl, nearby Michalowo and Grodek, and Zabludow. He also mentions a connection to Rene Aron CITROEN, who moved to France in 1908 to build automobiles. I have talked to two distant cousins with CYTRON connections. Both mentioned a connection to the French CITROEN automobile company.  


Article by Tomasz Wisniewski 

about Cytron Family 

1919 CITROEN Automobile

Cover of 1922 Industry Address Book

Cytron Suprasl Entry under 

Manufacturers of Woolen Goods

Click for Larger Image


The listings in the 1922 Industry Address Book included ones for Fajwel CYTRON, a wholesaler of cloth in Bialystok, Fajwel AMDURSKI, a dyer and finisher of fabric in Bialystok, CYTRON, L. & Sons, a fabric manufacturer in Michalowo, and Sz. CYTRON, a dress manufacturer in Suprasl. In the Suprasl entry one of the Directors is listed as L. AMDURSKI. Is this the proof of a connection of the Pieszczaniki AMDURSKI family to Samuel CYTRON, the benefactor of the CYTRON Synagogue?


After only a few days in Poland, I had much more evidence that Grandma Chana’s CYTRON family was connected to the large CYTRON family in Bialystok and that the connection of all the families was the textile industry.


I returned home and searched through the Jewish Records Indexing -Poland indices of Bialystok vital records covering the period 1835-1899. To my surprise, I found the 1881 marriage of Szebsel AMDURSKI, son of Abram, to Szejna Itka PENZUCH. Szejna Itka was a first cousin of David PERLIS, Grandma Chana’s husband.


I left the US with very little information and returned with a great deal of circumstantial evidence that connects Grandma Chana to the AMDURSKI family of Pieszczaniki, to the CYTRON family of Bialystok and Michalowo, and possibly to the CITROEN family of France. As usual with genealogical pursuit, more evidence is needed. On the trail again.  



  ShtetLinks   JRI-Poland


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Last Updated on 18 March 2005.