The Family Villages


It is generally accepted that the family roots go back to eastern Europe to little village which received its charter from the Russian Queen Bona in either 1545 or 1562, under the rule of Czar Zigmund August. This is the only place of origin known to our family, and it is where the known oral history of our family begins. This family village in which most of the immigrant members of our family were born was usually referred to by them as YALUFKA, YALUFKIE, or ELORFKI. Although there were several towns by this name, our family emigrated from a shtetl in Poland, 54 kilometers southeast of Bialystok and about 5 miles from the current (1981) Russian border. About the time Jalowka received its charter, a church was also established. Most of the inhabitants were artisans or involved in trades or agriculture. Carpentry was also an active occupation because of the local timber gathered in the forest of the surrounding area. The population of Jalowka was very small, but Jews played a significant role in the economy of what we would consider a tiny rural town. In 1847 there were 372 Jews. In 1878 the total population was 1,091 of which 668 were Jews. In a larger census taken in 1897 there were 1,311 inhabitants of which 783 were Jews. The next available census data was in 1921, at which time the number of inhabitants was placed at 1,211.

Although many relatives interviewed during 1977 were able to relate stories about the area, there are no known photographs, documents, or written histories of this shtetl which had been under the flag of Poland and Russia several times even before the most recent partition after World War I, when it again fell within the Polish borders. The proximity of Jalowka to Swislocz is about 10 kilometers—but across the Russian border. There is a great deal known about Swislocz, which is the village to which the author's Uncle (AVRAM HERSHEL TZEMNIK) returned to be with his wife and children prior to World War II, after having come to America.

Our last family contact with the area was made by MAURICE G. SHANBERG (Descendants of Nissen, IV.B.) during a visit in about 1972.


I made a deal with an individual to drive me from Warsaw to Jalowka. You won't find Jalowka on the map. It's a very small town.

We drove into the town, this gentleman friend and myself, and, as we approached the town, we saw a very old church. It was a small town which was possibly three blocks north and south and three blocks east and west. That's about the size of the town. Very small, little town. We drove around the town a little bit. We couldn't find anybody who could speak English, or Jewish, for that matter, so I decided to knock on the door of the church, and sure enough, the pastor, or priest, came out. I told him I was an America citizen, that I was born in Jalowka, that I came back and I would like to see the town. He was very affable. He invited us into the church, which was very old. The church must have been 75 years or older but was in good condition. It was of stone construction and stucco. I asked him whether- told him I'd like to go to the cemetery and he said 'We don't have a cemetery anymore.' I asked what happened, and he said that the Nazis had plowed it under—that it is a park now. I asked if he would mind taking us there, that I'd like to see the park. He spoke English fairly well and we communicated very easlly. We walked to the cemetery and it was actually level. It was graded down to a park and I asked 'Isn't there any part of the cemetery left?' 'None of it,' he said. I asked about the cemetery for his own people and he said that they went to Bialystok or other surrounding towns.

We walked through the town and there were small, little cottages, frame wooden cottages, the Colonial wooden type house which, in America would probably sell for, in former years, maybe $10-$15,000 apiece. It's a clean little town, the streets are cobblestone and I walked where my forefathers walked, but didn't know where they lived or anything. It was sort of nostalgic but that's about the size of it.

I asked him 'Are there any Jewish families?' He said 'No,' and I asked what had happened. He was a little bit reluctant in talking about it and wanted to leave the impression with me that they hadn't done anything, that it was the Nazis.

There was a road sign as we drove from Biaylstok that said "JaIowka". The roads were good and there were service vehicles to help make repairs when the car's water pump broke down. It was a free service and they had the parts to fix the pump.

The following entry was translated from a pre-World War I edition of Slownik Geograficzny, at page 388:

The town of JaIowka is located in a hilly area in the county of Wotkowisk, about 12 wiorst from Swislocz and 82 wiorst from the City of Grodno. The town has: 2 churches, a population of 1091, out of which 668 are Jews, most of the population is employed in carpentry. In 1766 the town belonged to Jan and Minka Horajnow. However, in the year 1773, by the decree of the national assembly (Sejm), the town was endowed to Michal Bulharyn, writer, with the provision that he will pay 15000 zl. in two installments to the treasury of Latwia for the period of 50 years.


Located approximately 10 kilometers from Jalowka, this shtetl of our ancestors, SWISLOCZ (in Polish, is also known as SISLLEVITSH in Yiddish or SVISLOC (Polish on some modern maps). This was a close neighboring town also located in the Gubernia (district) of Russia—the Bialystok district of Poland.

From A sense of history: the descendants of Nissen Shanberg and related families, 1985.