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Translation of Losice chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 280-284, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Siedlce Region, Lublin District)
Translated by David Lederman
Edited by Ada Holtzman
The earliest records of Jewish presence in Losice date from the 16th century. In 1505, Alexander Jagiello, the king of Poland, arrived in Losice to intervene in a violent conflict between some sectors of the population. In 1511, Zygmunt the First built a Catholic church.
The Jewish population appeared in Losice during the 16th century. They received special privileges in the production and marketing of merchandise. During this period, especially at the end of the century, violent conflicts erupted between Jewish and Christian merchants during the annual fairs and also during the weekly markets and between Jewish and Christian shoemakers.
In years 1648 and 1649, due to very severe decrees against the Jews, many arrived in Losice as refugees, increasing the Jewish population of Losice considerably.
In 1690, King Jan the Third granted Jews the privilege of producing alcoholic beverages. Due to competition between Jews and Christians in the production and marketing of alcohol, new conflicts broke out. These received the complete support of the local government. In 1701 King August the Second limited the rights that Jews had obtained in 1690, in order to help their Christian competitors; however, the local government did not follow the king's orders and openly supported the Jewish merchants because they helped to increase tax receipts. In 1756 King August the Third and in 1766 King Stanislaw August again authorized Jews to trade in the alcohol industry. Christian merchants persisted in their demands and the ongoing conflict came before the Warsaw tribunals, but the merchants did not succeed in their demands and their efforts were in vain. Furthermore, in 1792, King Stanislaw August Poniatowski authorized Jewish merchants to export their merchandise to six other towns in the district, not just alcoholic beverages but other merchandise as well.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a few hundred Jewish families started to develop a shoe industry. Almost all the production was sold to Russian Jews, who supplied the Russian Army. Thanks to the business relationship with Russia, some of the businessmen became very rich and expanded their business into the timber industry. At the same time, the Jewish labor force began to organize. During the last years of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, traditional Jewish workers were influenced by proletarian ideology and established modern worker organizations. The first of these unions was that of the saddlers (harness makers); many other handicraft unions were organized later.
During the 1905 revolution, the Jewish workers' struggle intensified, thanks to the influence of the Bund. A few hundred Jewish workers supported the proletarian revolution.
At the beginning of the 19th century a synagogue was build in Losice. Around 1860, a terrible fire destroyed much of the town. After a short time the houses were rebuilt and the synagogue was rehabilitated. In the 1870s the chief rabbi was Zvi Hirsz Goldberg (R. Mordechai Harif), who wrote Nefesh Chaia. He came from Lithuania. After his death they wanted to choose R. Itzhak Raizenberg, also from Lithuania, but the Hasidim were against him and succeeded in transferring the rabbinate to R. Yonathan Eibeszycz from Kock. During the First World War he returned to Kock and the rabbinate passed to R. Itzhak Reisenberg (Shoah victim). Some of the town's Hasidim chose R. Joseph Blaustein, the ritual slaughterer, as the local rabbi and others brought R. Arie Lajb Lipszyc (Shoah victim) from Janow.
During the First World War, Losice was used by the Russian and German army as a route for their soldiers. The economy was almost completely paralyzed, especially because the Russian army confiscated a large number of Jewish businesses for its needs. Many Jews suffered hunger during this period. With the occupation of the German army, the economic situation became more tolerable.
The most important source of income was tailoring. According to the Joint inquiry of 1921, 152 Jews were employed as tailors in 55 tailor shops; there were also 51 tailor shops where only the owners and their families worked. According to this investigation, in Losice there were also 9 workers in the food industry and a very few in the building trades, saddlery, and other handicrafts. A small group worked in the tobacco industry. In 1930 these workers lost their source of income when the government established a monopoly in the tobacco industry.
The Jewish handicraftsmen sold their merchandise in the marketplaces and at fairs that took place in Losice and nearby towns. On many occasions they were victims of violent reactions from their Christian competitors in the marketplaces. In February 1927, three of them were robbed, wounded and hospitalized in Siedlce. The local authorities tried three Polish men, who were found guilty and were punished.
Around 1920 the workers founded unions, which had a great influence on the Bund and the communists. In this year the Jewish Labor Union was founded in Losice. During the Bolshevik revolution many Bund members joined the communist Combund and adopted communist ideology. In 1921, 180 workers belonged to this illegal communist union; the majority of them were Jews. In 1922, during the First of May demonstration, the police detained two Jewish protesters, David Rosen and Motel Krawicz, who were charged with being engaged in communist activities. And in 1925, some Jews were tried for the same reason.
In 1926 the Popular Bank was founded in Losice; it granted loans to Jewish handicrafters and workers. This service was expanded and in 1929 already had 3,000 zlotys. In 1935 the merchants tried to establish an independent bank, but without success.
Zionist organizations started to flourish in Losice after World War I. Young Jewish people, influenced by the Balfour Declaration, founded a Zionist group called Herzlia. During Lag B'Omer 1920, the time of the First Congress, a demonstration took place in the streets of Losice. In addition, a public library was inaugurated in the 20s, where many lectures and theater performances took place.
The first youth movement was called Tzeirei Zion (Young Zionists). After that, other local Zionist nuclei like Freheit and Hashomer Hatzair appeared. On October 29, 1929, during the intermediate days of Succoth, the congress of Freiheit took place in Losice with the participation of 100 delegates from Siedlce, Miedzyrzec Podalski, and other towns; the principal discussion there related to aliyah, immigration to Eretz Israel. The first hachshara (preparatory pioneering settlement) was organized, with emphasis on agricultural training in order to be able to work on the land of Israel on their arrival, in what then was called Palestine. There were a few juvenile groups, such as Mizrachi, Hashomer Hatzair and Agudath Israel.
During this period there were two batei midrash (houses of Torah study). One was big and the other small, Chayei Adam. There were also shtibelekh (small synagogues) from the Hasidim and from the tailors. The last year of the 20s, three rabbis served the kehila (community); the most important was Rabbi Josef Yozepa Blusztein.
During the 1931 elections of the kehilla, five [Zionist] delegates were elected (out of a total of eight): the Zionist Union and Mizrachi each received two, and the Reshima Hamalakha (also Zionist) received one seat. Of the other three delegates, two were on an apolitical list and one was from Agudath Israel [anti-Zionist].
From 1930 to 1940, the Jewish economic situation deteriorated badly, because of strong Polish competition and the monopoly they imposed.
The Second World War In September 1939 the Luftwaffe bombarded the town of Losice, and many houses and the synagogue were destroyed. On September 12th German tanks invaded Losice and the town was occupied for a short time. Many refugees began to come to Losice, and they reported that the Red Army was approaching from the east and would soon be in Losice. On September 29th the Russians occupied the town. They organized a militia that was supposed to control and establish order in the town. They chose a municipal committee, and all the shops opened their doors again and commerce was renewed. The Russians stayed in Losice only a short time. Three days before they left, there were already rumors that Russian soldiers would abandon the town. Many Jews decided to leave the town with them and live in Soviet-occupied territories. A few days later the Germans entered for the second time.
The first period of German occupation was characterized by robbery of Jewish possessions, not only at the hands of the Germans but also by local Polish police and inhabitants. The Jews were limited in their freedom of movement and the food supply was severely diminished. After a few days, these acts of terror and barbarism were prohibited by the Germans, but that did not influence local Polish inhabitants, who continued the disturbances. The Torah scrolls were removed from the synagogues, desecrated, and destroyed. On November 29th seven Jews were taken out of their homes at night and taken to the outskirts of Losice, where they were executed. Why did they do it? We do not know. Perhaps the reason was that they had not obeyed the Germans' orders.
In 1940 many refugees entered Losice from other regions of Poland. In March, 960 Jews arrived from Kalisz, Aleksandrow, Lodz, Poznan and Pomerania. There were about 4,000 Jews at the end of the year. In 1941 and 1942, more refugees arrived in Losice and in May 1942 there were already 6,000 living in Losice. They lived in cellars and warehouses.
At the beginning of 1940 the Germans named a Judenrat of 10 members. The chief representative was Gershon Lewin and with him Yehoszua Rosencwajg and Elihau Rewiczer. They were instructed to send 200 Jews to the labor camp in Siedlce in order to build the train station. Later, more Jews were sent to the same labor camp. According to the testimony of survivors, Gershon Lewin did everything in his power, without regard for his own security and his life, to convince the German authorities to reduce the suffering of the Jewish population. Probably in December of that year, the ghetto was established. Some Jews could still leave the town in order to get food from other places.
The ghetto was limited to a few streets in the center of Losice. Later, when more refugees arrived, the Germans added another street. According to Polish claims, the central square was excluded from the ghetto in order to prevent the Jews from continuing to sell their merchandise. The ghetto was not closed, but nobody could leave without the Germans' permission. The Judenrat established some order and social services for the needy, and a post office was opened. The Jews who worked outside the ghetto received a special certificate with which they were able to leave, a document that was precious for them because they could bring back some food to the ghetto. As you can imagine, conditions in the ghetto were awful and very hard, and worsened much more when the new refugees arrived at the end of 1941. It was natural, given the excessive density of the population, which was confined to only a few streets, that many diseases appeared, especially typhoid fever and other infectious diseases.
In the winter of 1941, the Germans confiscated all the furs that Jews had in their possession. Jews preferred to burn their furs rather than give them to the Germans. Of course they were killed on the spot.
During the spring of 1942, when the deportation of Jews began in Lublin and deportations to the concentration camps started, refugees arrived in Losice who had escaped from other towns during this period. The Jewish policemen who let the refugees into the ghetto were sent to the labor camp in Siedlce. The Germans searched the ghetto and all the refugees they found were killed. In July 1942, rumors that all the Jews from Losice would also be deported intensified the need to get certificates to leave the town. They thought that in this way they would not be deported. A few weeks before the deportation, the Germans demanded a contribution of 600,000 zlotys. The Judenrat was obliged to collect this sum. Germans thought that in this way the rumors of deportation would be considered a false alarm.
On Saturday August 22,1942, the S.S. and the Ukrainian police sealed the ghetto. They were assembled in the central square of Losice, near the municipality building, and from there continued walking in the direction of the town of Mordy. On the outskirts of Losice, the German soldiers started to shoot, murdering especially women and children, about 200 in total. The deported continued to walk in rows in the direction of the train station of Siedlce. During this terrible journey the Germans killed another 800. Fifty-five hundred Jews arrived in Siedlce, from where they were transported by train to the death camp of Treblinka.
After the deportation from Losice, the Germans reduced the ghetto's scope to a small ghetto where 200 hidden Jews still remained during the Aktion. In November 1942, the number grew to 300.
The Germans did not take any new measures against them, but advised that all hidden Jews should return to the ghetto until September 1st 1942, and assured them that they would not be harmed. Many believed them and came back from the forest to the ghetto. They lived in improvised wooden shacks and worked at different labors, especially the assembling of all the possession left behind by their fellow Jews. On November 27th 1942, the "Small Ghetto" was destroyed. The last Jews of Losice were deported to Siedlce and from there to Treblinka on November 30.
2) Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem: MI/E/2183; 03/2723; 3423.
3) The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem: HM/703-2.
4) Brustin-Bernstein a) "Bleter far Geshichte Warszawa" vol 3 (1950) nr 1-2.
b) "Dos Buch fon Lublin Paris 1952, pages 346-353.
5) Y. Zigelman (Editor), Sefer Radzyn, Tel Aviv 1957, page 249.
6) Losice, Lezecher un Umgebrochter Kehila ["Losice in Memory of a Jewish Community, Exterminates by Nazi Murderers"], Tel Aviv 1963.
7) Sefer Yizkor LeKehilat Sarnaki [Yizkor Book of the community of Sarnaki], Haifa 1968, pages 169-174.
8) Oscar Pinkus: Ud mutsal [The House of Ashes], Tel Aviv 1957 (Hebrew).
9) Gejler L. and Gabara E., Kronika ruchu robotniczego i zwiazkowego w srodowisku zydowiskim w latach 1920-1922 , BZIH (Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Warszawa) (1969) nr. 70.
10) Horn, M., Regesty dokumentow z metryki koronnej do historii Zydow w Polsce (1697-1795), BZIH (Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Warszawa), (1980-1987).
11) Moskowicz B., Wajsbrot J., Kronika ruchu robotniczego I zwiazkowego w srodowisku zydowskim w lipcu-grudniu 1924 r., BZIH (Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Warszawa) (1971), no. 3.
12) Baderech ["On the way"] no. 9, 5.3.1937.
13) Dos Yiddishe Tagblat, 15.8.1938; 10.11.1935
14) Haint, 31.10.1916; 27.4.1920; 28.5.1920; 25.5.1931; 1.3.1938.
15) Naie Falkszeigung 11.8.1938.
16) Shedletzer Wochenblat, 15.2.1929; 5.4.1929; 1.11.1929; 22.11.1929; 25.4.1930; 25.7.1930; 12.9.1930; 1.5.1935.
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