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Translation of Izbica chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Morris Gradel z"l
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This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 72-75, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Krasnystaw District, Lublin Province)
Izbica (I) achieved town status in 1540. For hundreds of years the economy and local population remained static and undeveloped.
During the Swedish invasion of Poland in the middle of the 17th century, and again at the start of the 18th century, I was almost totally wrecked and did not recover until the second half of the 18th century. In 1740, King August III renewed town status and also awarded extensive economic aid to encourage its restoration, and ability to compete with even larger towns. The renewal of town status advanced the prestige of the yearly fairs and weekly market events, which attracted many visitors.
Following the third partition of Poland in 1795, I was incorporated into Austria, and in 1815 became part of Congress Poland. At this time two flourmills were established, a brick kiln, a wine distillery, and a factory producing soft drinks and soda water able to satisfy customers in the whole area. The town now renewed its demographic growth and the population grew from 173 souls at the beginning of the century to 3,000 at its end.
In 1863 a great fire broke out in I and whole quarters of the town were gutted. However, the town quickly recovered and the new houses were now built of brick instead of wood; roofs of tin or tiles, and many two storied houses were also built. The construction of the Warsaw-Lublin railway line in 1852 and the setting up of the customs station greatly benefited the town. I was now a commercial centre, and this fact determined the character of the town for a very long period.
During the First World War, because of its proximity to the front line I was bomb-damaged. In 1915 it was conquered by the Austrians and occupied by them until their withdrawal in 1918.
The first Jewish families to settle in Ibica were already there at the end of the 18th century. The economic development of the 19th century attracted many more Jews and within just a few years Jews became the majority of the population. (Some 90%) I was now 'a Jewish town', nicknamed by the Christian population 'the capital of the Jews'. In I, as in the rest of Poland, most of the Jews earned their livelihood from small trade and crafts, a few dealt in land leasing and inn-keeping. Towards the end of the 19th century Jews owned all the shops in I, and Jewish entrepreneurs established industrial plants. Most of the Jewish craftsmen were tailors and cobblers. A few Jews earned their living transporting people and goods to and from the railway station. On the whole, their earnings were small and their housing conditions poor. In the great fire of 1863 many Jews lost their houses and property.
At the beginning of the 19th century a Jewish congregation was organized and Rabbi Eliezer served as their rabbi (he died in 1835). At that time the town became well known as one of the Chassidic (for an explanation of this and other terms, see notes at end of text) centers in Poland: Rabbi Mordecai Josef Leiner, chose to reside there as did the pupils of Rabbi Jakob Itzhak Rabinowicz ('the Holy Jew from Przysucha'), and also Rabbi Simcha Bunim, the Admor (Chassidic Rabbi) from Przysucha. Rabbi Mordecai Josef established in I his own Rabbi's court and many Chassidim flocked to his side. This influx opened up for the Jews extra sources of income such as services to the Admor's court, accommodation and maintenance for Chassidim visiting the Admor, and such like. A hostel and a restaurant were opened in I, and the number of wagon owners, shopkeepers and craftsmen multiplied. The whole town benefited from this economic upswing - both Jews and non-Jews alike.
Rabbi Mordecai Joseph Leiner died in 1854 and was replaced by his son Rabbi Jakob Leiner, author of 'Beth Yaakov'; he remained head of the court almost up to his death in 1878. Towards the end of his days he transferred the court to Radzyn. In 1909, Rabbi Moshe Baruch Ha-Kohen headed the court Rabbi Ha-Kohen was the rabbi who signed the declaration forbidding the buying of a rabbinic post.
In 1855 a synagogue was inaugurated and some time later a Beth Midrash was built. Both stood in splendour right up the holocaust period.
In the second half of the 19th century the Jews of I began to take an interest in political subjects; during the Polish uprising of 1863 they supported the rebels. At the beginning of the 20th century the first Zionist circles were organized in the town, and a branch of the Bund was also set up. In 1912 the Zionists' intention to open a public library was thwarted by the authorities - they banned the opening. The library was eventually opened three years later in 1915, during the German-Austro occupation. During the First World War there was an upsurge in social and cultural activities among the Jews of I.
In those times, a soup kitchen that provided free meals for the needy, both local and refugees who had arrived from other towns, was set up in I. Other mutual aid organizations that were founded then included 'Linat Tsedek' (Hospice for the Poor), 'Bikur Cholim' (Health Service) and 'Hachnasat Orchim' (Guest-House). In 1916 a union of Jewish merchants was established.
Towards the end of the war, farmers from the area, who came to the market in I, together with the locals, began attacking Jews. They also caused heavy damage to the synagogue and desecrated Torah scrolls. Up to the stabilization of the Polish government in 1919, the Jews suffered acts of violence committed by the Polish General Haller's troops who looted valuable properties and beat up Jews.
In the period following the First World War the 'Joint' aided the Jews of I. In 1924 the 'Joint' founded a Jewish cooperative bank that loaned, at low interest rates to merchants and craftsmen, sums of 150-200 zloty. In 1927 they helped to establish a Kupat Gmelut Chassidim (Provident Fund), which on its establishment numbered 250 members - the membership grew steadily. The most active organizations within the I Jewish community, the merchants' union and the craftsmen's union, founded their own charity fund. Such associations as the Guest-House and Hospice for the Poor reorganized and expanded their activities. All the charities received financial support from America, where an association of ex-Izbica citizens had been active since 1917. Towards winter the community supplied firewood and clothing for the poorest members of the congregation. Following the outbreak of disease in I in 1926, a branch of TAZ, the Polish Jewish Health Organization, took on responsibility for the medical treatment of the children.
In the period between the two world wars there was a wide range of political party and youth movement activities. The longest serving Zionist party in I, Hamizrachi, began its activities during the First World War, though the branch only began to expand and develop after 1925. Together with Mizrachi, branches of the General Zionists, Poalei Zion and the Revisionists were set up in quick succession. Before the elections to the Zionist Congress, active Zionists from all the different branches sold some 250 shekels (voting rights). In 1927 the youth movements Hashomer Hatsair, Hechalutz, Beitar, and Young Mizrachi were established in I. They were engaged mainly in cultural and educational activities, such as Hebrew lessons, topical subjects, and such themes as the Land of Israel, Zionism, and so on. Some movements set up kibbutz training farms.
In 1921 a branch of Agudat Yisrael (anti Zionist) was also founded in I and some 200 heads of families, mainly from Chassidei Gur, were concentrated within the movement. In 1925 a branch of Young Hassidei Gur was set up nearby, and in 1929 Agudat Yisrael established a girls' school, part of the Beth Yaakov chain of schools, where 150 pupils studied.
The Bund also renewed its activities in I at this time, and these reached their peak in the late 30's. The Bund operated within the trade unions, and in Yiddish cultural activities.
Most of the children of the community studied at a Talmud Torah. In 1925, a society, Tarbut (Culture), was founded in I, its aim being to open a Hebrew school. In the end Tarbut did not achieve this, but the authorities realized the need for a Jewish school, and in 1931 a government elementary school was opened for Jewish children. Most of the pupils were girls, as the boys continued to attend the traditional cheder. At that time there were in I a few privately run cheders.
In 1920, Rabbi Izrael Issar Simcha Lando, one of the most prominent rabbis in Poland, served the community. He perished in the Holocaust. During this time a new Chassidim court was established in the town headed by Rabbi Tsvi Rabinowicz, a descendant of the dynasty of 'the Holy Jew from Przysucha'.
Between the years 1922-1928 a religious journal was published, 'Ohel Moed', under the editorship of Pinchas Eliyahu Herbst.
In the elections to the congregation's committee in 1931, the Zionists won the majority vote and 5 of their members were elected; Agudat Yisrael received only 3 seats on the committee. Jews were also active in the local town council; on the whole, about half of the council members were Jews.
In I, as in the rest of the Polish Jewish communities, the 30s were marked by manifestations of anti-Semitism that escalated into violence. Cases of rabble rousing and Jews beaten up by the mob were daily occurrences.
With the return of the Germans these violent attacks on the Jews stopped, but were replaced with new edicts. Now the Jews were obliged to wear an armband showing a Star of David, their freedom of movement was curtailed and kidnapping began. Nearly every day Jews, kidnapped from their homes, the streets or the market square, were abducted for forced labour in the town and surroundings. Billeted in the town together with regular German troops was an SS unit under the command of Blatt and Engels, who imposed on the Jews a cruel regime; Engels quickly acquired notoriety for his cruelty.
From the start of the occupation Jewish refugees from western Poland were already concentrated in I. On 10th December 1939 1,139 Jews were expelled from Kolo, and ten days later another group of 1,900 refugees were expelled from Lodz. Jews in I, including refugees, numbered about 4,700 souls by the end of the year .
At the beginning of 1940 a Judenrat (Jewish council) was set up and Szymon Szwarc put in charge. In I, as in other places, the Judenrat, together with a kind of Jewish police force which had been set up at the same time, were expected to supply manpower for forced labouring in accordance with German demands. In the summer of 1940 a group of forced labourers from I were sent to a labour camp in Ruda-Opalin. With the help of their families the Judenrat managed to deliver to the prisoners food and clothing. About six weeks later the prisoners were returned home. In March 1941 the Germans established in Zmudz a workshop for the use of the Air Force, and the Judenrat in I was ordered to supply 300 Jewish slave workers.
The large numbers of refugees increased the hardships then prevailing. With funds supplied by the Joint, transferred though the YS'S organization (Independent Jewish Aid), the Judenrat established in 1940 a hospital for contagious diseases, and a small public clinic. In December 1940 a soup kitchen was opened and distributed some 600 meals every day to needy refugees. The Joint financed these efforts on behalf of the refugees to the sum of about 21,000 zloty. Most of the cash was intended for the acquisition of food. In March 1941 another 100 refugees arrived from Lublin. In the spring of 1941 an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out; it continued for some weeks and caused many deaths. During this period Jews from Lublin and other towns in the province were barred from entering I.
In the spring of 1942 the stream of refugees into I was resumed. In March two transports of Jews expelled from Czechoslovakia arrived, and a month later came three batches of Jews banished from Germany. In April 1942 600 more Jews arrived; the number of Jews in the town was now about 6,500.
In I no ghetto was established. Thousands of I Jews and refugees were now crammed into the houses where the Jews had once lived.
On 24th March 1942 began the expulsion of I Jews to extermination camps. A unit of Ukrainians under the command of the local SS, concentrated about 2,200 Jews in the market square, and on the same day dispatched them to the extermination camp in Belzec. On 1st May 1942 another 500 local Jews were sent to Sobibor.
Following the first wave of expulsions the Germans began concentrating into I ('the Jewish town') the Jewish population of the district. In October 1942 thousands of Jews were brought from Zamosc, Krasnystaw, Gorzkow, Turobin, Zolkiewka and other smaller places. By the end of October there were about 8,000 Jews in I, most of them from Zamosc. Thousands of refugees for whom no accommodation could be found wandered about the streets or huddled in hallways. German and Ukrainian guards working in shifts surrounded the Jewish quarter and made sure that no one escaped.
On October 22nd the second wave of expulsions began. The Jews were concentrated on a large plot near the cinema from where they were taken to the railway station, loaded onto wagons and transported to Sobibor. Up to 30th October 1942, 5,000 Jews were deported to death camps via I. The commander of the local SS unit, Engels, was wont to ride on horseback between them, and to shoot the old and sick who had difficulty walking to the place of assembly. In the week of the expulsion to Sobibor about 500 Jews were murdered in I.
The day following the end of the large deportation, a company of Polish firemen arrived in I and began searching the Jewish houses, seeking out those who were hiding. Jews caught in hiding places were brought in groups of 40 to the Jewish cemetery, and there murdered. On 2nd November 1942, the Germans fetched another 1,750 Jews to I who were also sent to Sobibor.
After the deportations there remained about 1,000 Jews in I who were all concentrated in one street, and employed in collecting and organizing the property left behind by the Jews who had been sent to the death camps. During this time some young Jews who had managed to hide in nearby forests returned to I; they believed that the Germans would not harm the last remaining Jews in the town, but would exploit them for work. In January 1943 about 750 of the remaining Jews were sent to Sobibor, and the rest, some 300 souls, were sent to Sobibor in April 1943.
Chassidism / Has(s)idism: the Jewish revivalist movement originating in eastern Europe in the late 16th century. It maintains many of the characteristics of the time, such as its dress. Diverse sects of Chassidism hail from different towns and follow different leaders or 'rebbes'.
Bikur Cholim: literally 'Visiting the Sick'. but also health service, or even hospital.
Bund: A political organization of Jews formed in Vilna in 1897 to promote labour causes, Jewish nationalism and Yiddish in eastern Europe; opposed to Zionism.
Joint: Joint Distribution Committee, an American Jewish organisation founded in 1914 to provide relief to European Jews during the First World War, later expanded to
service Jewish communities worldwide.
Judenrat: Committee of Jews ordered by the Germans to represent the Jews. Its main task was to provide the Germans with slave labour.
Linat Zedek: basically a hospice for the poor and homeless, it also carried out a number of other welfare tasks.
Mizrachi: the Orthodox Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.
Poalei Zion: 'Workers of Zion', a Marxist Jewish party founded in 1906. Its ideological 'father' was Dov Ber Borochov.
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