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Translation of Tomaszow Lubelski 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 237-241, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(District: Tomaszow; Province: Lublin)
Tomaszow Lubelski (TL) is first mentioned in 1615 as an urban settlement consisting of two villages - Jelitow and Rogozno - belonging to Baron Tomasz Zamojski. The Baron granted its inhabitants exemption from taxes for some years, and TL quickly became a centre of trade and crafts for the surrounding agricultural district. The right to hold weekly markets and annual fairs was confirmed by the Kings Sigismund III (in 1621), Wladislaw IV (in 1634) and Jan Kazimierz (in 1651). In 1653 there were 69 skilled artisans in TL, organised in eight guilds - weavers, tailors, carpenters, tinsmiths, shoemakers, furriers, potters and butchers. Some of the townspeople engaged in the production of strong drinks. TL experienced periods of boom and slump. In 1648 the town was seized by Chmielnicki and his bands, who slaughtered many of its citizens. In 1650 there remained only 25 artisans. Economic and demographic growth revived towards the end of the 17th century, and in 1700 the population consisted of 205 families. In 1795, after the Third Partition of Poland, TL came under Austrian rule; in 1815 it became part of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw; and in 1815 it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Congress Poland. In 1915 TL was occupied by the Austrians and the Germans, who remained there until they withdrew in 1918.
There was early on an organised community, with a wooden synagogue (built in 1594). At the beginning of the 17th century the community grew and consolidated itself, built a new synagogue of bricks, and consecrated a cemetery.
In the time of the Decrees (1648-49) Chmielnicki's gangs wreaked havoc in the community, and few Jews survived. It is estimated that only 18 out of 205 families remained in 1700. However, the community quickly recovered, in 1765 numbered 806 souls, and played an important part in local trade and crafts.
The first rabbi of TL known to us was R. Noach (died in 1644). He was followed by R. Yakov Ber Uri Feivush, who was killed in the disturbances of 1648-49; R. Mordechai Ber Yosef of Vilna; R. Yehuda Ber Nissan, author of Bet Yehuda ; R. Reuven Zelig Ber Yakov (in 1683); R. Pinchas Ber Moshe Katzenelenbogen (burnt to death in 1686 after an act of violence); R. Chaim Ber Mordechai (in 1687); R. Eliezer Lejzor Halperin, later rabbi in Fürth (died 1700); R. Yehoshua (in 1720); R. Moshe Ber Yehuda Goldin (in 1740, moved to Lwow); R. Natan Nute Kahane-Shapira (in 1763); R. Tsvi Hirsz Minc; R. Eliezer Perles.
Of rabbis in the 19th century may be noted R. Efraim Ber Nachum Wein (in 1808); R. Moshe Biszke (in 1816, moved to Brody); R. Shaul Herszfeld (died in 1837); then a Chassidic rabbi, R. Aryeh Leibus Neuhaus, later Admor (in TL from 1851, died in 1860); his son R. Izrael Szmuel Neuhaus (died in 1869 - he also became Admor; his brother, R. Meir, lived in TL for some time); R. Mosze Rojgienfisz (died in 1880); and R. Chaim Aharon Ber Eliezer Szydkowski, who - being a Lithuanian - suffered much from the Chassidim in the town, though much loved by the Jews there in general. (For an explanation of Chassidism and other terms, see Notes at the end of this translation).
With the spread of Chassidism in Poland TL became a Chassidic centre and a seat of Admorim, and a Chassidic Bet Midrash was opened there, in addition to stiebelich (prayer-houses) of the Chassidim of Kock-Gur, Turzysk,Radzin, Belz, Canz(?) and others. Residing there for a time was R. Menachem Mendel Morgensztern, the Rabbi of Kock. The Admor R. Yosef Gryn of Jarczow (died 1839), a pupil of the Seer of Lublin, waged a war to the knife against R. Menachem Mendel until the latter was forced to leave TL and move to Kock. The title of Admor was taken over by R. Yosef Gryn's son, R. Yehoshua Fryszman (died 1906). The latter's grandson and great-grandson of R. Mosze, R. Josef Aryeh Leibus, survived the Holocaust. Later on, R. Nachman Neuhaus, a descendant of R. Aryeh Leibus Neuhaus, made his home in TL. His son, R. Aryeh Leibus succeeded him (he was killed in Russia during the Second World War).
TL achieved a reputation for its scholars. Prominent among them were R. Shmaja, author of Si'ata Deshmaya; R. Jakob Leiner and his son, R. Mordechai Josef (the Admor of Izbica), author of Mei Hashiloach (died in 1854); R. Eliezer Ber Grabowicer, the orator of the Chassidim of Przysucha; R. Tsvi Hirsz Leibel Tomaszower, a true disciple of R. Menachem Mendel of Kock; and R. Meir Abraham Fryszman (died in Buchara in 1942).
In 1846 the Russian authorities forbad Jewish settlement in TL because of its proximity to the Austrian border. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th many of the Jews of TL worked in local small industries. About half of the 18 plants in TL belonged to Jews, and many others were employed in them and in local crafts - mainly in producing cloth, weaving and dyeing, clothing manufacture, producing brushes from pig bristles, and in foundries. Some workshops producing crates employed children aged 8 to 14. A few Jews worked at supplying the Russian forces stationed on the outskirts of the town with various goods and services.
In the 19th and 20th centuries the Jews comprised more than half the population of TL, and their number grew constantly. In the course of a hundred years - from 1827 to 1931 - the Jewish population increased fivefold. Most of them earned a living, but there were also many without means, who stood in need of temporary or permanent help from the Jewish charitable and welfare institutions. In addition to the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) there were traditional bodies - such as Bikur Cholim , which in 1880 opened a small hospital with 15 beds; Lechem Aniim ; and a Provident Fund (established in 1884), that gave small merchants and craftsmen interest-free loans. In 1909 a branch of Bank Amami was opened. It was one of the first Jewish credit institutions in Poland.
For hundreds of years the community had been traditional and Chassidic in character. At the beginning of the 20th century the winds of the Enlightenment and of Zionism began to blow in TL, mainly among the younger generation. The Zionists started the Hazamir Choir (in 1911) and a gymnastics club. Some time before the outbreak of the First World War there were also branches of Poalei Zion and of the Bund, with bases in the growing proletariat in the town.
On the eve of World War I the majority of Jewish boys still attended private cheders and a Talmud Torah for the sons of the poor (some 400 pupils). In 1913 a modern Jewish school for boys was opened in the town.
In the summer of 1914 fierce battles raged around TL and a fire broke out there, destroying many houses. In the summer of 1915 the area was conquered by the Austrians and the Germans. The new authorities appointed a new Town Council under the leadership of a Jew, Yehoshua Fiszelson. The inhabitants bore a heavy tax burden, the authorities confiscated some of their property, and there was hunger in the town. The Jewish charitable institutions resumed their activities, and opened a public kitchen for the most needy.
It was in fact during this war that Jews were first able to be publicly and politically active. The branches of Poalei Zion and the Bund resumed their activities in 1916 and a branch of Tseirei Zion was also established. In 1916 too a reformed cheder was opened with secular subjects and Hebrew, as well as a yeshiva attended by about a hundred youths. This yeshiva, however, only existed for a short time, as the fire that broke out in 1918 destroyed the Bet Midrash and a 130 Jewish houses - and 325 families were left homeless. A joint committee of Poles and Jews was formed to help them.
With the advent of normal Polish administration the Jews of TL began to rebuild their businesses. They continued, as before, with their normal occupations - petty trading and crafts. A few of the artisans were employees in small plants and workshops. In order to encourage economic activity the Jews established several instiutions for mutual help and credit. The merchants formed an Association, and the artisans set up their various trade organisations, such as those of the needleworkers (in 1922), leather workers, timber workers, and transport workers.
In 1922 the needleworkers organised a strike, and in 1924 the leather workers brought production to a standstill, in efforts to reduce their daily hours of work from 12 to 8. In 1926 the Needleworkers' Association had 140 members, and the Leatherworkers' Association a 100. In 1926 a Jewish Merchant and Craft Bank was opened in TL; and the People's Bank of 1909 resumed its activities. In 1927 the capital fund of the latter stood at 50,000 zloty and it had 375 clients. The Provident Fund, also established before the war, helped the needy with small, interest-free loans. In 1928 its capital fund was 3,000 zloty. During the economic crisis of 1928-36, when many members of the community were reduced to penury, the number of persons helped by these institutions increased considerably.
The inter-war period saw a continuation of religious observance by many of those Jews of TL who had played a dominant role in the community for generations. Yet at the same time the influence of the Zionists and the political Left had made itself increasingly felt since the beginning of the century. The 1920s and 30s were marked by vigorous Zionist activity. Branches of most of the Zionist parties and youth movements made their appearance in the town - Poalei Zion, General Zionists, Hamizrachi, Revisionists, Hechalutz (1924) and Hechalutz Hamizrachi . The youth movements included Hechalutz Hatsair, Hashomer Hatsair, Freiheit (Dror), Tseirei Hamizrachi, Hashomer Hadati, Beitar, and Bruria. Many of the members of Hechalutz Hadati received training at a local carpenter's shop, and in 1925 this movement set up an agricultural training farm near TL to serve all its members in the area. In 1925-27 regional conferences of Hechalutz Hamizrachi were held in TL. In 1933-34, the period of the Fourth Aliya, many young people from TL emigrated to Palestine.
The growing strength of the Zionists in TL may be gauged from the following data. Prior to the Zionist Congressof 1931 the Jews of TL acquired a mere 160 shekels, while on the eve of the 1939 Congress this number had risen to 587. At the 1937 Congress the list of the Workers of Israel achieved a majority, with 197 votes. The other votes were as follows:Hamizrachi - 129; Al Hamishmar - 52; and Eyt Livnot - 2.
The non-Zionists in the town belonged on the one hand to Agudat Israel and Tseirei Agudat Israel, whose members came from the many Chassidim in the town - and on the other to the Bund and its youth movement Zukunft (Future), based mainly on wage-earning craftsmen. A few young people were active Communists, even though this party was illegal.
In the elections to the community council in 1924 five candidates of Agudat Israel were elected, three from the Artisans' List, and one each from the General Zionists, Mizrachi, the Bund, and the Chassidim of Belz - 12 in all. These delegates elected the final eight members of the Council: its Chairman was Szmuel Szyflingier of the Artisans' List, a veteran member of the Council. The last Chairman before the war was Josef Lerer of Mizrachi.
Twelve Jews were elected to the Town Council in 1927: five from the National Jewish List (General Zionists, Mizrachi and Poalei Zion); three from the Bund; two from Agudat Israel; and two from the Artisans' List.
These political movements were accompanied by vigorous cultural and educational activity. Members of Freiheit had their club, and Maccabi had a sports club in the town. The Jewish Public Library, opened in 1919, had two departments: one of the Zionists and one of the Bund. Both ran various cultural projects, mainly with literary and drama circles. The Bund Library was closed by the authorities in 1938, on the grounds that it served as a meeting-place for communists and for the diffusion of communist propaganda. Five hundred of its books were confiscated and one of its directors, Mordechai Weisberg, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment.
From 1918 to 1931 a Yiddish Weekly, called Tomaszawer Wochblatt, edited by B. Kurc and N. Goldkranc, was published in TL. In 1936 to 1938 it was replaced by Tomaszawer Wort, similarly edited by B. Kurc.
In this period an elementary school of the Mizrachi's Yavneh network was opened in TL. It also held evening courses in Hebrew, Bible and Talmud for working youth. The Bet Yakov school for girls (Agudat Israel) was also launched; while courses in spinning were held under the auspices of ORT . Many Jewish children attended the Polish public elementary school, and a few of them continued their studies at the local Polish Gymnasium.
In the early years of the 20s the rabbinate of TL was occupied by R. Yerachmiel Mordechai Weinberg (died in 1939). Other names known to us from the inter-war period were: R. Israel Gorzyczanski; R. Mosze Chaim Blum; R. Ze'ev Halevi Sztarkhammer; R. and Admor Aryeh Leibus Rubin, and his son, R. Meir; and R. Shalom Yecheskiel Szraga, who survived the Holocaust in Poland.
In the autumn of 1936 a dispute arose between the community of TL and the Association of Rabbis in Warsaw, who demanded the replacement of the local shochtim (ritual slaughterers). The Community Council in TL refused to dismiss their veteran shochtim, and one of its members, the teacher Chaim Brytszman, succumbed to the pressures put upon him in this matter, and committed suicide. There is no record of how this dispute ended.
In the 30s TL experienced, as did most of the Jews in Poland, an escalation of anti-Semitism and violence. In April 1932 the Andaks burst into the stiebl of the Canz(?) Chassidim and desecrated Holy Books. Jewish pedlars at the 1933 Fair in nearby Grodek were beaten up by the peasants. In the summer of 1936 the Andaks held a regional conference in TL, attended by 200 delegates, and decided on an anti-Jewish economic boycott. As he had done in the 20s, the priest Julian Bogatek once again rose up in defence of the Jews. He died a few weeks later, in the autumn of 1936. The Agrarian Party, which opposed the Andaks, held a mass demonstration of some 7,000 people in July 1936 to protest against the Andaks and Hitlerism.
There were now about 3,500 Jews left in the town. With the return of the Germans the pressganging for work and the acts of violence were resumed. On a day in December 1939 the Germans forced crippled and mentally-disturbed Jews and others into a cellar and filled it with water until all were dead. At the end of 1939 all Jews of 12 and over were ordered to wear a yellow armband with a Star of David on it.
Shortly after their arrival the Germans appointed a Judenrat and placed at its head Yehoshua Fiszelson. The Judenrat was ordered to mobilise Jews aged 12 to 50 for slave labour and to collect contributions and valuables on demand. At once came the first ultimatum - a contribution of 300,000 marks. Not only did the Judenrat comply with this order, but also took upon itself welfare tasks, including the opening of a soup kitchen for the needy.
At some time or another the Jews were ordered to move to an area of two streets in the town. Thousands of Jews were crowded into the few houses left after the bombardments, a few families to each flat. This was an open ghetto, and the Jews were allowed to leave it for work and to buy food from the peasants - on a barter basis, as they had little money left.
In the spring of 1942, with the arrival of the Gestapo Officer Walter Anzer, preparations began for the annihilation of the Jews. The chairman of the Judenrat, Fiszelson, who refused to supply the Germans with a list of Jews to be deported, was arrested and executed together with his wife and son. In March 1942 the Germans sent all the Jews aged 32 and above to the extermination camp at Belzec, via Cieszanow. On May 22nd, during Shavuot, a second action took place. Men, women and children were lined up in the market square and then taken in lorries to Belzec. A few who resisted were shot on the spot.
On October 27th the last of the Jews of TL were murdered. The Gestapo and an auxiliary force of Poles surrounded the houses of the Jews, rounded them up and despatched them to Belzec. Some succeeded in escaping to the woods, but most of them were caught by Polish collaborators and delivered to the Germans. A mere handful of the survivors managed to organise resistance. Some youths who had fled in May formed a fighting unit and even managed to get hold of a few weapons. One of them, Mendel Heller, fell in battle, and two of his comrades, Szymon Goldsztein and Meir Kalechmacher, were killed by Polish anti-Semites.
Despite the fact that the Polish populace in the area was known for its anti-Semitic attitude, there were some Poles who helped the Jews. Elzbieta Warzna from the village of Rogozno hid Chana Szpizajzen for two years until liberation. After the war she was honoured as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. Most of the Jews who in the autumn of 1939 had fled to the Soviet occupation zone and from there to Russia iself - survived. In 1945-46 most of them returned to Poland, and of these the majority emigrated to Israel.
Notes (in order of appearance in the text):
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 Chassidim hail from different towns and follow different leaders or 'rebbes'.
Admor: title given to a learned Chassidic rabbi - Hebrew abbreviation of 'Our Master and Teacher.
Bet Midrash: a school, usually attached to the synagogue, giving religious instruction mainly to adults.
Bikur Cholim: literally 'Visiting the Sick', but also health service, or even hospital.
Bank Amami: Popular or People's Bank.
Enlightenment (Haskalah): European Jewish movement, which introduced Jews to modern ways of expression and thought from about 1750 to about 1880. (Maskil - a supporter of the Haskalah; also used in modern Hebrew for any educated person.)
Poalei Zion: Workers of Zion, a Marxist Jewish party founded in 1906. Its ideological 'father' was Dov Ber Borochov.
Bund: The Bund - Jewish political organisation formed in Vilna in 1897 to promote Labour causes and Jewish nationalism - but opposed to Zionism.
Cheder (pl. cheders / chadarim): religious Jewish elementary school (also 'Sunday School' in West).
Yeshiva: a school for training younger students in traditional Jewish sources, and an academy for older students to prepare them as rabbis.
(Ha)Mizrachi: the Orthodox Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.
Revisionists: followers of the radically nationalist Zionist movement led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
Hechalutz: The Pioneer, an organisation to train youth for immigration to Israel / Palestine, primarily to a kibbutz. Hechalutz Hamizrachi: The Mizrachi Pioneer.
Hechalutz Hatsair: The Young Pioneer.
Hashomer Hatsair: The Young Watchman, a left-wing youth movement.
Dror: a moderate, but later left-wing, short-lived youth movement.
Tseirei Hamizrachi: Mizrachi Youth.
Hashomer Hadati: The Religious Watchman.
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 'Cherut' party.
Bruria: movement for religious girls.
Shekel: a symbolic coin, denoting a membership fee to the Zionist Organisation, with the right to vote or delegate a vote at its Congress.
Al-Hamishmar: left-wing movement, later name of an Israeli newspaper.
Agudat Israel: the Orthodox Jewish (anti-Zionist) political movement organised in 1912 in Europe, seeking to sustain the values of traditional eastern European Jewry.
Tseirei Agudat Israel: youth branch of Agudat Israel.
Tomaszawer Wochblatt: Tomaszow Weekly. (Yiddish)
Tomaszawer Wort: Tomaszow Word. (Yiddish)
ORT: Jewish 'Organisation for Rehabilitation and Training', founded in St. Petersburg in 1880 to develop skilled job training.
Andaks: a Polish anti-Semitic organisation.
Shavuot: The Feast of Weeks or First Fruits; also commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
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 Edward L. Greenstein and Regina S. Stein (Simon and Schuster, 1993).
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