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Urke Nachalnik (Icek/Yitzchok Farberowicz) - Born in Wizna, 1897

Written By: Wojcech Chmielewski, for Nowe Panstwo; Copyright Permission Granted

Preface: In Urke Nachalnik we have an original Wizner who turned his life from Yeshiva boy (born to a wealthy Wizna family), to a criminal, and then, to a self-made author who was famous in his time and made a good living at it. And finally, to his heroic end, as an almost single-handed underground movement against the Germans, in Otwock. His books and stories were published in several languages, and made into theater plays and newspaper serial stories. Likewise, numerous books and articles about Polish gangsters have included sections about Urke. Most of the photos here are shown in public for the first time ever. Special thanks to Mordechai and Rami Ackerman, Urke's nephews, for making that possible (the markings being necessary to prevent their unauthorized use).

Gangsters From Krochmalna Street

By: Wojciech Chmielewski

Pre-war Jewish Warsaw was a vibrant world with numerous theatres, cinemas and cabarets. This world was inhabited by scholars, writers, and artists, but also by mobsters, thieves, and prostitutes - Jewish outskirts of society. Places: Za Zelazna Brama, Kercelak, Krochmalna, Chlodna, Dzika, Smocza and Nalewki... Warsaw of that time is gone forever and will never come back.

Urke Nachalnik's Story

There are always people among the mobsters whose life become myths and legends. One of them was a thief Urke Nachalnik (Icek Farberowicz). Nachalnik described his long career in two autobiographical books (Zyciorys Wlasny Przestepcy - Biography of a Criminal (Read Excerpts); Zywe Grobowce - Living Graves), both in Polish - one in prison and the other soon after leaving it. From these books we can learn a lot about life in the Jewish outskirts of society.

The two autobiographical books
by Urke Nachalnik


Icek Farberowicz,
aka Urke Nachalnik


Icek Farberowicz was born in Wizna, in June 1897 and is completely forgotten today like many of his fellow gangsters. He spent 15 years and three months in prisons - Russian, German and Polish - although at the beginning of his life there was no indication that this spoilt son of a wealthy [grain] miller would choose this path. Icek's parents had ambitious plans: Icek went to cheder, then to yeshiva and was supposed to become a Rabbi. Soon, however, he gave up his studies - his mother had died, father remarried [a young lass] and Icek revolted against him. Icek's first theft was soon followed by leaving the parental home.

"I assure you: only through my fame and quick wits have I gained this nickname" - wrote Nachalnik although in fact his life was not so successful. He lived in Vilnius, and during the WW I, even in Berlin, where he was caught in 1916 and put in the infamous Moabit prison, from which he escaped [with the help of a prostitute friend].

Soon after he moved to Warsaw and found his place in the world of Krochmalna, Walicow, Dzika and Smocza Streets [the center of the Jewish criminal underground]. Urke Nachalnik had many contacts among other thieves and local prostitutes. He stole, robbed and spent his money on having a good time in the capital then called the "Paris of East." From Warsaw he moved on to another path - Nachalnik joined a group of people who stole horses. Frania, a beautiful woman, became his lover [he had stolen another gang chief's lover]. Urke came back to Warsaw together with his companion "Szofer" in chains [It was the custom to chain prisoners in pairs. Urke was paired with his partner called "Szofer" - in Polish meaning "driver" from the French Chauffer.]

Urke Nachalnik in Otwock, 1935


Written to his sister Bracha in Wizna, in very poetic language: "It may be that the road I will take in life will lead me toward greatness, fame and gold. It may be that I will never reach anything, I will die in poverty and that life will not be kind to me. Nevertheless, whatever the future holds for me, I do not want to celebrate my future successes or to weep in advance. I desire only one thing forever: to love you my sister, to love you, to love you to the end of my days." I. Farberowicz


In prison Nachalnik, aged 22, learned to speak and write in Polish. An ardent reader, he became interested especially in books by Sienkiewicz [Polish Nobel prize winner], Conrad-Korzeniowski, London and Gorki. Also he then tried his hand at writing - he began by inscribing poems on his cell's walls. Late in the 1920's, when he was again in prison sentenced for robbery on a merchant Markiel Furman and his daughter Bella, Nachalnik got in touch with Melchior Wankowicz [well-known writer and journalist], founder of the publishing house "Roj." That is how Urke's adventure with literature began. At the age of 35 he left prison and decided to write.

In the 1930's Nachalnik published two autobiographies, many short stories and two spy novels. He wrote also in Yiddish and published in Jewish newspapers in America, which enabled him to improve his situation. Nachalnik married and turned into a well-respected citizen of Otwock [near Warsaw].

He was murdered by the Nazi's on November 11, 1939. With two other Jews, he was accused of having a gun [There is much more to this story, involving underground resistance against the Nazi's; he was caught derailing trains]. There is also another story about his death - Urke Nachalnik was supposed to have died while trying to take the Torah scroll from the burning synagogue of Otwock. Every epoch needs its heroes and legends.

Editor's Note: Urke's sister Bracha Farberowicz remained in Wizna before leaving for Palestine/Israel in 1928/29. Urke did return to Wizna on occasion to visit his siblings. The Farberowicz family was very large, with many cousins living in both Wizna and Szczuczyn. Bracha returned to Poland around 1936/37 with her first-born son, Mordechai, to visit her family in Wizna, and also met up with Urke in Otwock. [See photo of Bracha and Mordechai on the boat, below]

Urke's wife Liza was a nurse in the Jewish hospital in Vilnius. Her father was a linen trader, and a synagogue "gabai" [manager of synagogue affairs]. Urke and Liza had one son, named Shmuel, born in 1933. Liza and Shmuel were last seen in the Warsaw Ghetto. [See Urke, Liza and Shmuel in photos, below]

Original article: Copyright 2004  

Original article for Nowe-Panstwo is entitled "Nozownicy z Krochmalnej" [Knife-wielding Bandits (Gangsters) from Krochmalna Street] and included sections on other Jewish underworld personalities in Warsaw, Poland. A few facts present in a second article which Mr. Chmielewski wrote, for the publication Znak, entitled "Zydowski polswiatek Warszawy" [The Jewish Criminal Underworld in Warsaw], were added to the Nowe-Panstwo translation above, in brackets.

Original photos: Copyright by Mordechai and Rami Ackerman. All rights reserved, and unauthorized use without the expressed written permission of Mordechai and Rami Ackerman is strictly prohibited.

Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets], along with a few additional phrases included in the second article.
(Parentheses) in the translation appear here as they appeared in the original text.

Text translated from Polish by: Barbara Krawcowicz. Photo caption and additional text help by: Norman Pieniazek.
Edited by: Jose Gutstein.

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