50°50' / 23°34'
Translation of Grabowiec 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 122-124, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Region: Hrubieszow; Province: Lublin)
Grabowiec (G) is first mentioned in the second half of the 13th century as a fortified settlement owned by the Princes of Reysen. At the beginning of the 14th century it passed into the hands of the Princes of Lithuania. In 1366 King Kazimir the Great annexed it to the Kingdom of Poland. In 1447 it was granted urban status and the right to hold weekly markets and annual fairs. In 1498-1500 the Tatars invaded the town, and most of the houses, which were of wood, went up in flames.
The Polish king Jan Olbrecht tried to revive and develop the town. In 1501 he exempted its citizens from taxes for six years, and King Sigismund I confirmed this measure in 1511. In the first half of the 16th century G was a centre of crafts for the area. In 1625 King Sigismund III granted the artisans the right to form guilds, and this privilege was repeated in 1633.
In the middle of the 17th century G suffered greatly from the Swedish invasion.
After the Third Division of Poland in 1795, G came under Austrian sovereignty. In 1807 it was incorporated into the Principality of Warsaw, and in 1815 until the First World War was part of Congress Poland. In the second half of the 19th century G was under the patronage of the nobleman Roman Taszewski, who did much for its progress and development.
In 1861 the town contained 310 houses, and G again became the local centre for trade, crafts and agriculture. Weekly market days were held, as well as six fairs a year. In 1915 G was occupied by the German and Austrian armies until their withdrawal in 1918.
On September 20th, 1939, a unit of the Red Army entered the town, but withdrew after a fortnight and was replaced by German troops, in accordance with the Soviet-German agreement.
Jewish inhabitants of G are mentioned in the first half of the 17th century, and they played an important part in the development of local trade. The book of rabbinical responsa Masaot Yosef , (for explanation of this and other terms, see notes at the end of this translation) by R. Yosef Meyersohn, who officiated in the town of Freibniz near Leipzig, notes that a case of religious dispute between Eliezer Markowicz from G and his partner Moshe Brodowka from Zamosc had been submitted for judgment to the rabbinical court of Leipzig before the Dayan R. Eliezer.
In the years of decrees (1648-49), when the troops of Chmielnicki besieged the town, many of the Jews took part in its defence.
A document from 1767, preserved in the records of the Council of the Four Lands, talks of the community of G in connection with repayment of a debt to the royal treasury.
In the middle of the 18th century the community grew steadily, and in the same century a synagogue and Bet Midrash were established and a cemetery consecrated. Most of the Jews of G were engaged in trade or crafts; a few families dealt in grain or leased orchards.
At the end of the 18th century the rabbi of G was R. Chaim Hochgelernter. Rabbis mentioned in the 19th and 20th centuries include R. Menachem Mendel, a leading pupil of the renowned Chassid R. Mendele of Kock; R. Shalom Josef of Jozefow; R. Eliezer Shor; and R. Shalom Tsvi Goldbaum, author of the book of responsa Birkat Shalom (1889). In 1909 R. Gabriel Ze'ev Esselke became rabbi of G - he moved afterwards to Mogielnica. The last rabbi of G was R. Aharon Jsosef ben Eliezer Shor (died in 1938).
G. was a decidedly Chassidic townlet. There were stiebelech of the Chassidim of Husiatin, Kock, Belz, Radzyn, and other courts. A prominent local figure was R. Eliezer Ber, a pupil of R. Simcha Bonem of Przysucha. R. Eliezer Ber was renowned as a brilliant preacher. Also noteworthy was R. Hirsz Ber, the local leader of the Kock Chassidim.
The Jewish children attended the traditional cheders and Talmud Torah, and some of the boys went on to the Bet Midrash.
The outbreak of the First World War brought with it a period of much distress and suffering for the Jews of G. The Russian authorities accused them of aiding the Germans, and many of them were forced to leave their homes and move to towns within Russia. During the German and Austrian occupation (1915-18) the old restrictions on Jewish public life were removed. A local committee was set up to help the needy. An association of young supporters of Zionism, called Hatikvah (Hope) was established - as well as a branch of the Bund. In 1917 the Zionists of G opened a public library.
After the war the Jews of G continued to occupy themselves with petty trading and crafts. Most of their activity was on market days. Craftsmen were organised in a union. On the initiative of the Jewish merchants and craftsmen a Provident Fund and a Cooperative Bank were established in 1927.
In the inter-war period G was still dominated by the traditional religious way of life, but Zionist influence was in the ascendant. It was a period that saw the establishment of branches of Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion) , Tseirei Zion (Zionist Youth), Hamizrachi (Religious Zionists), Hapoel Hamizrachi (Religious Zionist Workers), and Hechalutz (The Pioneer - from 1930). Parallel to these were the Zionist youth movements: Dror (Freiheit - Freedom), Beitar (Revisionist Youth) - and the Jewish Scouts, who had 120 members. Some of the young Zionists went to training farms, and afterwards emigrated to Palestine (the first group went in the 1920s). For the Zionist Congress in 1939 there were 392 votes from G.
The non-Zionist parties included the orthodox Agudat Israel, and the Bund - most of whose members were artisans. A few Jewish youths were members of the Communist Party, which operated clandestinely.
In 1933 the local Zionists set up a Hebrew elementary school called Tel-Chaim (Hill of Life - after Chaim Arlosoroff). In 1938 another school - Yavneh - was opened by Hamizrachi. The Hebrew schools also held evening classes in Hebrew and Bible Studies for working youth.Two public libraries, affiliated to Poalei Zion and the Bund, and embracing drama and literary activities, were opened in the town. The Bund library was closed by the authorities for alleged distribution of Communist propaganda.
At the beginning of October 1939 some 200 Jews attached themselves to the Red Army units withdrawing to the Soviet Zone. Immediately afterwards the Germans entered G. Jews were quickly and violently rounded up for slave labour. After a while the Germans evicted the Jews from their houses and concentrated them in a ghetto. Some 2,000 Jews were crowded into a few streets, a few families to each apartment. The ghetto was not fenced in, and its inmates were able to leave it and obtain food from the local peasants in exchange for the few belongings still in their possession.
The Germans set up a labour camp some 10 kilometres from G and employed workers from G and nearby townlets. They appointed a Judenrat in the town, whose task it was to provide Jews for slave labour and to obey German orders.
In March 1941 there were 1,435 Jews in G. Crowding in the ghetto grew even worse when Jewish refugees from other places were brought there. In November 1941 50 Jews from Krakow arrived. During the autumn of 1941 the situation deteriorated even more when the ghetto was fenced in and exit from it forbidden. In May 1942 600 Jews from nearby towns were crammed into the ghetto and its inmates then numbered 2,026.
On June 8th, 1942, in the early morning, S.S. troops , aided by Polish police, dragged the Jews from their houses and assembled them in the market square. Old people, women and children were piled onto carts requisitioned from Polish peasants for this purpose, while the men marched on foot. All of them were taken to the station at Miaczyn, some 10 kilometres away, where they were sorted. Some scores of ill people were killed on the spot; about 800 Jews fit for work were sent back to G at the request of their German employers; while the remainder - some 1,200 souls - were despatched in goods wagons to the extermination camp at Sobibor. In October 1942 the remaining Jews in G were likewise sent to their deaths there.
Owing to the hostile attitude of the non-Jewish population, flight to the woods and the organisation of an uprising offered little possibility. Nevertheless, there were isolated examples of resistance to the Germans. In 1942-44 groups of youngsters who had fled in the autumn of 1939 to eastern Poland joined partisan units operating in the area. Among the combatants from G were Dawid Ehrlich, his uncle, Chana and Szyfra Szysler, Malka Rub, and Simcha Estik(Astyk?). Most of the Jews who had fled to the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1939 survived.
Masaot Yosef: The Travels of Joseph.
Council of the Four Lands: the Jewish self-governing body in Russia-Poland originating in the 16th century. Named for the four regions of Major Poland, Minor Poland, Red Russia and Lithuania, it was called in Hebrew 'Va'ad Arba Artzot'.
Bet Midrash: 'school', usually attached to a synagogue, giving religious instruction mainly to adult males.
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'.
Stieblich: Yiddish for 'small rooms' - Chassidic prayer-houses.
Cheder (pl. cheders, chadarim): religious Jewish elementary school; also Sunday School.
Talmud Torah: a 'High School' with emphasis on Torah and Talmud, often preparatory to a yeshiva (higher studies and rabbinical seminary).
The Bund: Jewish political organisation formed in Vilna in 1907 to promote labour causes and Jewish nationalism (but opposed to Zionism).
Poalei Zion: 'Workers of Zion': a Marxist jewish party founded in 1906. Its ideological 'father' was Dov Ber Borochov.
Tseirei Zion: 'Zionist Youth'
Hamizrachi: the Orthodox Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.
Hapoel Hamizrachi: Hamizrachi's 'labour' wing.
Hechalutz: 'The Pioneer', an organisation to train youth for immigration to Israel/ Palestine, primarily to a kibbutz.
Beitar: right-wing youth movement, formed in 1923, and named after the Jewish fortress that held out against the Romans. Later associated with the Israeli party 'Cherut'.
Agudat Israel: the Orthodox jewish (anti-Zionist) political movement organised in 1912 in Europe, seeking to sustain the values of traditional eastern European Jewry.
The above notes were compiled by the translator/editor. Many of the definitions were taken from The Timetables of Jewish History, by Judah Gribetz with Edwrad L. Greenstein and Regina S. Stein (Simon and Schuster, 1993).
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