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[Page 16 - Hebrew]

Part One

Prosperity and Fall

 

[Page 19 - Hebrew] [Page 333 - Yiddish] [Page 9 - English]

Jews in Rachov-Annopol

The Beginning and End of the Jewish Community

by Shmuel Nitzan

On the right bank of the Wisla, which rises in the snow-covered Carpathian mountains in southern Poland and courses to the Baltic Sea to the north, phosphorus miners unearthed, in 1927–8, ancient graves and remnants of human skeletons. Based on these and other excavations, archaeologists concluded that these were the remains of a human settlement on the spot dating back to the Neolithic age (4,500 BCE)[1]. But this is not what holds interest for us. Chroniclers who will come here to seek traces of settlements in gone – by periods will also find many legends and tales of what had taken place on this site, known in the 12th or 13th Century as Rachov (later Annopol[2]). Our own interest is in the “Rachovites”, the Jews of Rachov.

We want to know who were the first Jews to arrive there and establish a thriving community of merchants and craftsmen, gaining their livelihood honorably, raising children and coming to their final resting place in the “old” or the “new” cemetery, until the advent of the Messiah. As early as the end of the 19th Century some young men left the town to seek their fortune in the big cities or across the sea; they had simply outgrown the town. Yet they remained attached to their birthplace and to those whom they left behind, the living and the departed. They didn't forget those years of their youth, and they longed for the fields and forests they once knew so well. Those who could afford it later came back to visit the town and meet former friends and companions.

Fixing a date for the inception of the Rachov Jewish community is no easy matter. A variety of versions place it between the 16th and 18th Centuries. What is certain and proven is that Jews constituted 80% of the town's overall population and contributed significantly to its economic and social development [3], to the point that their endeavors earned the praise and recognition of the authorities.

A turn for the worse came about already in the First World War. Although the town was distant from any border, its strategic position drew it into the orbit of international conflict. In the war years, 1914–1918, the front lines ran right through the
town.[4] The inhabitants were evacuated and the town was almost completely destroyed.

In the aftermath of the war, Poland gained its independence, but with it came a new wave of anti-Semitism. The Jews of Rachov became impoverished. They knew that no respite was in sight. Many of the young people began looking for a way out. In the 1920's they organized “Hashomer Hatzair” and “Hechalutz” groups, intending to leave Poland and head for Eretz-Israel, but, with few exceptions, they lost courage. A second wave of “young pioneers” appeared in the 1930's. They were more successful, but they were too few and too late. Still, many did make it. Coming to Eretz-Israel, they quickly found their places there – in the kibbutz, the village, the town, and they were privileged to be among the builders and defenders of the Jewish State. After the Holocaust, they were joined by some of the survivors; the others found a haven for their families overseas.

Can we ever forget the hundreds of our brothers and sisters who could have been here with us? Only their images remain in our memory. Rachov, the bustling Jewish town, with its fervent youth, is no more. With the Nazi occupation, our Christian neighbors, in the town and around it, took a hand in the slaughter of the Jews, robbing and pillaging whatever the Jews had accumulated over the generations. No trace of Rachov-Annopol has been left. One of our townspeople, returning from a visit to the area in the 1960's, described it:

“Blocks of large, modern buildings. Electric lights and paved streets. On the site of the fire-fighting station – a fine movie and theatre building. Phosphorus is being mined with modern technology. There's even a vocational school in the town. But nowhere is the melody of the Talmud to be heard, chanted by yeshiva boys in their ringlet earlocks. Where the clubs societies of young people once stood, there is only silence. There are no Jews in Rachov any
more”
[5].

We are attempting here to reconstruct the life of Rachov's Jews – for us and especially for the generations to come, so that they may know their origins and the way of life their grandparents and ancestors called their own. Page by page the memories group themselves together, through records, testimonies and taped stories by Rachovites from all over the world.

 

The Jews of Rachov: Demographic Data

We shall use the figures set forth in the tables compiled in the work by the historian Prof. Raphael Mahler, based on the population census of Poland's Jews carried out at the end of 1764 and early 1765[6]. Dr. Mahler regards this census as being of prime importance for several reasons, mainly because it was taken a few years before the partition of Poland. The partition, in addition to affecting the political situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe, also took place when the old feudal economic system disintegrated and gave way to modern capitalism. The census provides a picture of East European Jewry, at the end of an era in Jewish history. This was the period of the emergence of Hasidism in full bloom – a clear indication of the decline of the hierarchic community life system, along with the breakdown of feudalism in the kingdom.

The Mahler study is of importance to the history of Rachov because of the conclusions that may be drawn from it:

The table “The Growth of the Jewish Population” (compared with the number of the town's general population) is taken from the article in WSW[10] and from the material made available to us by “Yad Vashem”. [table is in the Yiddish/Hebrew section.]


Notes
  1. In one place two coffins of the dead were found; one also contained an axe fashioned out of stone (WSF, 30). Back
  2. Ibid., according to the introduction in the “Geographical Lexicon”, vol. 15. During the reign of Poland's King Boleslav Shmiali, a woman named Anna Rachova divided her land between her two sons, who were in contention with each other. After she had erected a church on the spot. in honor of her patroness, St. Anna, the community was given the name Annopol. See the seal of the town. Back
  3. For this, see the excellent monograph by L. Goldner. Back
  4. See further the diary of a Yuzefov resident. Back
  5. “The Last Road”. Back
  6. Raphael Mahler, “Jews in Old Poland in the Light of Numbers”, Warsaw, 1958. Back
  7. Among other motives mentioned are a) the desire to spare the lower income groups (since the purpose of the census was to serve the collection of the head-tax); b) the inexactness in reporting the ages of the infants, and c) the desire to conceal the names of the young men eligible for army service. Back
  8. See L. Goldner, “The Important Role of Old Rachov”, which bolsters the assumption that Jews had been living there much
    earlier. Back
  9. WSF, 110-111. Translated from Polish by Fella Priwess. Back
  10. See page Back
  11. Ibid., 104. The division, according to age and sex: 8 grandfathers, 26 married men, and widowers, 31 boys, total men - 67; 2 great-grandmothers, 29 grandmothers, 29 married women and widows, 29 girls, total women - 69; 37 Jews in the surrounding villages. Total (one year and older) - in the year 1764 - 173.
    During the period of Russian rule of Poland, from early in the 19th Century to the First World War, Rachov was close to the Austrian border, which explains why the authorities forbade outside Jews to settle in Rachov (1823-1862). Before 1925 the number of Jews dropped, but during 1850-1856 there was an increase. Despite the restrictions, Jews constituted 80% of the population even in those days.
    Along with the growth of the Jewish population, there was an increase - almost proportional - of the other inhabitants.


[Page 22 - Hebrew] [Page 380 - Yiddish] [Page 12 - English]

The “Rachov” Farm – A Jewish Estate

(According to W.S. Flishinski)

“Rachov” was the name of a large farming community, which took in the villages of Rachov and Jacobovitze and the Lang farm (on the left bank of the Wisla). In the 19th Century, the Rachov farm was considered one of the largest and finest in the Lublin district. In the course of time the farmland was divided among the local peasants.

Legends in Polish literature say that Rachov was in existence in olden times, passing from hand-to-hand among members of the nobility and the reigning family. One of these noble families, which had accepted the Catholic faith, erected in a neighboring town, early in the 18th Century, a church named for St. Anna. This may well be behind the change in the name of the place from Rachov to Annopol (Anna's town). [A proper translation is “Anna's Field”.]

Another legend, quoted in the Dictionary of Geography, has it that, back in the days of King Boleslav Shmiali (the Daring) in the 12th Century, the owner of the estate, a woman by the name of Anna Rachova, built a church in honor of St. Anna, around which grew the community eventually known as Annopol-Rachov. Flishinski states, in his work:

“It is difficult to speak about Annopol without adding the popular name 'Rachov'. After the First World War, the authorities tried to get the inhabitants used to the name 'Annopol' without success. Rachov remained 'Rachov'(not only among the Jews); peasants came from far and wide to the 'Rachov fairs'. The villagers came to the community offices in Rachov to settle their administrative matters. School children and their parents elsewhere knew about the Rachov schools. In independent Poland the name 'Annopol' became more firmly entrenched; 'Rachov' was used in reference to the village – actually the small street leading to the Rachov farm, plus the farm itself. One may therefore call it Rachov-Annopol or Annopol–Rachov “ (pp. 5 – 6).
For two hundred years, in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the lands in the area belonged to the Morstein family. This family, of German origin, owned many banks and buildings in Cracow, having dispossessed their previous owners – debtors who had gone into bankruptcy. The Morsteins exploited the favorable location of the site – close to the Wisla River and the intersection of the north-south and east-west highways. They helped develop the locality until it became a town, under autonomous urban rule.

In 1792, all these estates were acquired by Duke Yosef Grabowski of Posnan. He deeded them to his daughter Aniela, who inherited the properties on the death of her father. Aniela was very proud of her noble extraction, and kept aloof from the plain folk.

When the nobleman's daughter decided to marry, she discussed it with her adviser, the milkman Baruch Friestier. He found no match for her in the vicinity, and was thereupon sent to Lithuania to find a likely candidate from the nobility. After an exchange of love letters with Duke Tishkevich, the two decided to meet somewhere abroad. “Lady boss” Aniela sold her farm to the son of the Rabbi of Ozerov, who in turn sold it to the same Baruch Friestier. Soon afterwards, in 1906, Baruch Friestier was murdered in the garden of his home by unidentified assassins. Later his sons sold the estate to Yaacov-Leib Rosenberg.



[Page 27 - Hebrew] [Page 335 - Yiddish] [Page 13 - English]

The Important Role of Rachov's Jews

by Elazar Goldner

Historical evidence indicates that, as of the beginning of the 19th Century, the Jews of our town played an important role in the cultural and social life of the general community. They helped found the school for the entire population, regardless of the nationality of its pupils. Jewish children attended general schools, where they learned the Polish and Russian tongues, as well as the heder.

The rabbi and the head of education activities in the Jewish Community Council conducted an extensive religious program among the Jews. The Council received certain privileges from the authorities.

 

Broadened Economic Base Leads to Founding of School

The merchants were engaged in the management of public enterprises, as well as of private business. Shopkeepers did a brisk trade. The artisans were busy in shoemaking, tailoring and other crafts.

It should be mentioned that, at that time, Rachov-Annopol was a city, with a mayor – not the small town that it was between the two World Wars. In a report by the chairman of the Municipal Council, we find the following:

“In connection with the instructions of His Excellency the Governor No. 2632–1816, I have the honor of requesting that a new order be published and issued to the Mayor of Annopol, that the citizens be compelled to sign a protocol regarding the maintenance of a school and teachers, which 76 Jews have agreed to sign. On the other hand, 20 Christians, whose names appear herein, have refused to sign. Since Rachov and Annopol are a single entity, one school is likely to serve the children in our area, as well. Only cooperation with Rachov will guarantee its existence – (Lublin Province Archives, 31.1.1816,
No. 1391–40).

The document explicitly points to the consistency of the Jews in their desire to promote learning. At a general assembly of Rachov's citizenry, Chairman Tziran appreciatively told his audience that the 76 Jewish signatures attested to the wisdom and understanding of the “Old Testament” people of Annopol, as the Jews were respectfully called. Secretary Mazurkewich praised the Jews for their faithful devotion to the development of the city on the mercantile side, in shopkeeping, craftsmanship, construction and farming, as well as for their contribution to culture.

The Jewish businessmen expanded the town's commercial horizons, as they did elsewhere in the district. Jewish brains were good for commerce. Contacts were maintained with estate owners, religious institutions, brewers, taverns, foresters, quarries, and the like.

The Ulshevski family owned a tavern and an attached brewery. Poor business conditions forced the family to suspend operations. There was no choice but to lease the tavern and brewery to someone capable of turning the property into a tax–paying and profitable undertaking.

As people say: “ Where there's money, there's also wisdom ” R. Aharon Levkovitz, an important merchant known for his resourceful ideas, undertook to rescue the business from possible bankruptcy (Document No. 40/92, 7):

“A sacred contract between Vincenti and Katazhina Ushevski, party of the first part, and Aharon Levkovitz, party of the second part. The members of the Ushevski family do hereby agree to lease their tavern and brewery, located not far from the Wisla, to a resident of Annopol, Aharon Levkovitz, for a period of one year, with an option to extend the contract each year by payment beforehand of 450 Polish zlotys in silver coin. All the taxes will be paid by him to the Treasury. Aharon Levkovitz is to sell a flagon of spirits and a flagon of beer, at cost, to the owners, as well as to the members of the Annopol Council members, whenever they should so desire. Aharon Levkovitz agrees not to make loans to people who are tenants of others. This contract is to be in force as of June 19, 1811”
Signed: Ulshevski-Levkovitz.

R. Aharon went to work at once. First he transferred the tavern to the center of the market place, not far from the Wurzenbergs. In the beginning he charged low prices for the liquor. He refurbished the brewery, and bought up the hops from the Duke of Rachov. Levkovitz became known for the good quality of his beverages.

 

Establishment of a Jewish Hospital

Among the affluent merchants and shopkeepers, who were also active in community affairs, were Leib Frishteier, Manis Wurzenberg, Moishe Bornstein, Manis Brafman and Rahel Wagman. They were among the founders of the Jewish hospital in Annopol.

The entire population attended the dedication ceremonies. The Mayor and the town dignitaries praised the Jews for their initiative, enterprise and resourcefulness. Rabbi Nahman Rubinstein blessed the founders, who had “erected in the town a Jewish Hospital, as did the wise Jews in the big cities – Warsaw, Lodz and Cracow”. “May this hospital always be empty”, the Rabbi said. “May the Jews always be strong and healthy! May the Jews multiply, Amen!” His blessing ran true for quite
a long time.

 

Weddings, Births and Infant Registry

Statistics on weddings and births in our town show, that as of 1826 and the middle of the century, Annopol had two weddings a month. The affluent used to marry their children off at a young age – young men at the age of 18 and young ladies at 16.
The artisans lagged behind, due, no doubt, to matters of dowry, and they married their children off at a riper age. At times,
a prosperous widower already in the prime of life would marry a Jewish farm girl or a young and pretty daughter of a small business family which had known better days. This was one way of bringing good fortune to a poor orphaned girl:

On June 28, 1830, there appeared before the City Council the Rabbi of the Old Testament Nahman Rubinstein, together with Yitzhak Tauber, 68 (parents Abraham and Miriam, deceased, owned a tavern). At the same time there came two witnesses: David Mackler, teacher, and Abraham Korenfeld, deacon. Immediately after them came Rahela Wagn, 17 (parents deceased, dealt in calves), an orphan from the village of Opochka. The two witnesses testified that yesterday at 9 o'clock
a wedding canopy was put up and Yitzhak Tauber consecrated the maiden Rahela Wagn” (Wedding Certificate No. 23).

On September 1, 1830, there appeared before the City Council at 9 in the morning, Rabbi Nahman Rubinstein and Yenkel Brafman, 58, a widower. Parents Leibush and Bluma dealt in flour (mother deceased). Also Freida Luksenteil, 16, daughter of Yitzhak and Mitl (father is deceased). Witnesses Yosef Gaston, sexton, and David Goldreich, testified that yesterday, at
3 o'clock in the afternoon, Yenkel Brafman consecrated the maiden Freidel Luksenteil “ Signed: Rubinstein, Gaston, Goldreich, Brafman, Luksenteil. (Archives, Document No. 54).

Apparently Rabbi Rubinstein's blessing for fruitfulness and multiplication was pronounced at an opportune time.

More complicated was the matter of infant registry. After the brith performance the father, midwife and the newborn babe had to appear at the Municipality to obtain a birth certificate:

“On December 17, 1832 there appeared at the Municipality a member of the Old Testament faith Leib Sheps, tailor, 36, of Annopol, with two witnesses, Moishe Bader and Moishe Fishman. Leib Sheps brought with him a circumcised infant (male), born here in Annopol on December 4, 1832, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The mother, Pessia, is from the Gottlieb family. The child is named David” Signed by those in attendance at the Municipality (Archives, Document No. 111).

On August 18, 1850, there appeared at the Municipality Manis Brafman, a shopkeeper in Annopol, 30, and witnesses David Meckler and Hillel Goldreich. Manis Braftnan presented a circumcised boy born on August 8, 1850, at 9 o'clock in the evening, here in Annopol. The mother, Hodes, comes from the Tauber family. The boy was given the name Moses (Archives, Document No. 214). Signed by those in attendance at the Municipality.

 

Strong Opposition and Protests Against Decrees

At the same time, the history of our community is studded with events of other kinds. Every period produced its own evil decrees against the Jews, designed to disrupt their orderly way of life. Every new decree brought despair, disillusion and hardships. The authorities issued an edict forbidding Jews to wear their national attire. Beards and earlocks were to be shorn off. What harm were the Jews doing by wearing their distinctive attire and observing happy events and holidays in public? There was no mistaking the anti-Semitic venom in these decrees. Here is an example of such a public edict:

“The Commission for Interior Affairs is notifying the Jewish population that, by virtue of By-law No. 13,119, dated July 19, 1848, it is forbidden to wear clothes that are outwardly distinctive from those of the general population in the land. This By-law does not apply to the councilors and clergymen of the Old Testament.

It is forbidden to wear silk cloaks, long coats, fur hats, long cloaks, Jewish hats, skullcaps, short-waisted trousers, shoes, beards, earlocks and long hair covering the temple. Young men are not to grow ringlet earlocks. Instead of their ancient costumes, the Jews are to wear the same clothes that do the others in the Polish Kingdom, according to the Russian cut, the long coat worn by the Russian traders.

Jewish women are forbidden to wear turbans, bow knots, dresses cut according to the Jewish design, colored shoes, expensive embroidered dresses, and ornaments. Rabbis and religious magistrates are hereby obligated not to allow the hair of the bride to be cut off for the wedding ceremony. If the Jewish women do not wish to expose their heads, they may wear kerchiefs drawn down to the forehead, as well as wigs, in cases of skin disease. Jewish women may be inspected (by the local authorities) to ascertain obedience. Anyone not conforming with this law shall be liable to the following punishments:

  1. Isolated detention in the House of Moral Correction up to two years;
  2. Army service; if not suited for army service, to be detained in the House of Moral
Correction or be sent to the Penal Battalions for a period of 10 to 12 years.
(Archives, Document “Government Directive”).

This proclamation, in several copies, was pasted on the walls of the large buildings.

The Commissar's report to the District Representative on the Interior Commission (No. 3/8/11) describes in detail how this edict was consummated and the measures taken by the police to its enforce it:

“When the edict was made public, the towns were seized with consternation. The police are on the watch in the noon hours. When the religious young men return from the house of prayer, the policemen dart forth from their hiding places and catch the recalcitrants, and cut off their earlocks, which they brandish aloft, to intimidate the others. The teachers have to go to the homes of the pupils, behind lock and key. In the streets one already sees Jews dressed in clothes of Russian cut; their earlocks they hide behind their ears. The women help the men as if they were lame, so as to keep the police away. No weddings or any other happy occasions are held. People come together secretly in the evening. The Jewish mothers wrap the heads and necks of their children with towels or put kerchiefs on their faces, as if they were suffering from toothache. Of course, the trained policemen expose everything in time.”

 

Commissar Andjei Konicki

The true nature of that cruel edict and the police terrorism, directed mainly against the pious, can be gathered from a document of protest which the Jews drew up; ignoring the danger involved, and determined that no edict should overcome them, they sent a petition to the supreme authorities of the land (Archives, Document No. 3841/22, dated April 22, 1849 and addressed to the Chairman of the State Council). Their main presentation was against the brutality of the police, which were deliberately misinterpreting the edict to impose upon the Jews a denial of their religious heritage. The petition, requesting that a stop be put to the evil decree, was signed by

  1. Esther Weinberg, shopkeeper, and
  2. Yitzhak Meir Goldreich, assistant worker in the soap industry. The very signing of the document bespoke of great courage and daring on the part of the signers, and it symbolized the firm stand of the Jews in the face of mortal danger.
Another protocol dating to that era (No. 15, dated December 10, 1849) tells that, following the protest lodged with the supreme governmental authorities, a high official of the Commission of the Interior arrived in Annopol and held a meeting with Jewish representatives.

“Today,” announced Annopol's Mayor Jan Belchnik, “on December 10, 1849, we had the pleasure of honoring the Omnipotent Adviser to the supreme state instances, Stanislav Beyernatzki and his secretary, Ludovic Shlivinski. At the Adviser's request, a delegation of the members of the Old Testament presented itself before him, consisting of the following:

  1. Rabbi Nachmon Rubinstein,
  2. the shochtim Shmuel Sheinman and Hirsh Zilber,
  3. the religious magistrate Adelberg,
  4. Nahmon Foigl,
  5. Moishe Borenstein,
  6. Moishe Fishman,
  7. Yitzhok Meir Goldreich,
  8. Aharon Lefkovitz,
  9. Esther Weinberg,
  10. Abraham Teitelman,
  11. Manis Brafman,
  12. Shloime Brick,
  13. David Freishteier,
  14. Eliyohu Kleinman.
The Adviser took pains to explain that he had come in order to clarify the situation relevant to the incorrect interpretation given to the state edict by the Jews. The purpose of the edict, he said, was to effect progress and advancement, to adapt the outward dress of the Old Testament people to the European style. He couldn't understand the stubbornness of the Jews and their insistence on maintaining their secretive traditions. “Is this edict,” he asked, “which forbids Jews to wear fur–trimmed hats (shtreimels) and to cut off a bride's hair before the wedding, contrary to the laws of the Testament? If it is not, why make such an ado about its enforcement? Every edict promulgated by the regime must be carried out; this is the discipline required of each and every citizen of the state.”

The Adviser went on to ask that the signatories to the petition to the District Regime stand up and identify themselves. Esther Weinberg and Yitzhok Meir Goldreich did so. Esther Weinberg further stated;

“Honorable Representative of the Authorities!”

“First I wish to say that it is not we Jews who are working against the government; whatever is done is against us, the Jews. You, noble sir, are well aware that I and Yitzhok Goldreich signed the complaint against the local police. We stated our grievance, in the name of Jews of Annopol. Tell me, O noble representative of the government, are we Jews guilty of such high crimes that we should be threatened with confinement in Moral Correction houses for years on end? Is such harsh punishment to be directed against a handful of Jews for refusing to abandon their people's traditions, such as wearing the shtreimel or other attire? Whenever a new edict is issued, we Jews are fair target. We cannot seek protection anywhere. You cannot imagine, sir, what we have to undergo. Mothers spend days on end weeping for their young children. They wait with aching hearts for their children to return, without signs of blows and bruises, with their earlocks still there in place. Some Jews do wear long trousers. Not every Jew wears a shtreimel. Not every Jewish bride has her hair shorn before the wedding. Does the regime have to enact such edicts against a part of the Jewish people, to whom tradition is so important, no less than the blue-visored caps are for the non-Jews? Is it human to force the pious to give up the way of life, which they inherited, from generations and generations?”

“Hundreds of years ago the Jews in Spain were forced to deny their faith. They were subjected to treatment of the harshest kind, the hell of the Inquisition, such as being burnt at the stake. Their flesh was pierced with hot spears. Children were thrown into the furnaces, in full view of their parents. All this did not break the spirit of the tortured and tormented Jews. The survivors lived in underground caves and there they prayed to their God. In the Roman ghetto the Jews suffered all kinds of cruelty and still clung to their faith. That was our heroism. “

Kleinman, the man who had drawn up the petition, had this to say:

“Honorable Representative of the Authorities!”

“Ask the mayor of our town. Let him tell you how we, the Jews, have been taking part with the other citizens in vital activities in all spheres. Everything that exists here, and all around us, we have a share in it. What is more, Jewish soldiers and officers have given their lives for our country's independence, just as the Christians have. Jewish fighting men came here in devious ways from abroad to help overcome the forces of imperialism, which robbed the Polish people of their freedom. Who knows? Theirs may have been the same spirit, which Prince Poniatovski showed when he said, before drowning in the depths of the Alster, 'God has placed in our hands the preservation of our people's honor, and to Him only shall we return our honor.”

“I ask you, noble sir, and you ask those above you: Why this ingratitude that is shown to us, the Jews?”

Nothing came of this meeting. The development of political struggles of the Polish patriots against the oppressiveness of the Czar led to terrorism, accompanied by a wave of anti-Semitic outbursts. The Church took a hand in closing down the schools with a mixed Jewish-Christian enrollment. In Annopol the Jewish hospital was also closed down. The Church opened a hospital of its own in Godchiradov.

According to Document 16/19, an edict was issued to separate Annopol from Rachov and to set up the formal community in Annopol.

Jewish children were taught reading and writing Yiddish in hiding. But some Jews – the teacher Aharon Burstein among them, defied danger and petitioned the authorities in Russian to allow the Jewish children to be taught in their own tongue.


[Page 36 - Hebrew] [Page 381 - Yiddish] [Page 19 - English]

Community Life and Institutions

by Shmuel Nitzan

Annopol-Rachov was a typical Jewish town; for hundreds of years, since its inception, about 80% of its inhabitants were Jews. Located 76 kilometers southwest of Lublin, its nearest access to a railway station was in the town of Krashnik, 28 kilometers away, on this route. On the same line, in the opposite direction across the Wisla River, was the town of Opatov.

 

Annopol-Rachov Down the Generations

As far as we know, this was a small but high-spirited community; in earlier times it was also affluent. It prospered under a democratic regimen, and its leaders were elected directly by the Jewish population. The community was recognized by the authorities as an autonomous representative of the local Jewish population, as well as of those residing in the surrounding villages. The town's leaders and dignitaries saw to all its needs, serving the community in perfect faith and at no recompense. They knew how to stand their ground, and they repulsed all efforts on the part of governmental instances to harass the Jewish community.

Only faint echoes of this prosperous town were still in evidence at the end of the First World War. After the war many of our townspeople, try as hard as they could, were not able to remain on their feet. Many families, up to the war comfortable and prosperous, were stricken with impoverishment – although outwardly they appeared quite the same. By having each member of the family do his share, they managed to feed themselves and to send their children to the heder and yeshiva, and later to other schools. Only a few were in the position to give their children a high school education, in nearby Krashnik.

Part of the impoverishment was due to the devastation wrought by the hostilities during the First World War (our town was on the front line, near the Wisla). More of it was engendered by the imbedded hatred for the Jew in independent Poland. In our town, as in many other localities, Polish artisan guilds and cooperative stores were opened; these naturally encroached on the livelihood of the Jewish craftsmen and shopkeepers, whose sole subsistence came from what they earned on market days when the farmers came from neighboring villages to buy their needs. The Government's anti-Semitic policy shut its eyes to the Endek anti-Jewish propaganda among the villagers. Also, the heavy tax burden, “the wagon of Treasury Minister Grabski”, hurt the small merchant and the artisan. Rachov was hard hit indeed.

The community as a whole maintained its poise, living on hope for better days. An outsider would have seen no change, either in the individual behavior or in public affairs. The homes of the once “prosperous” showed nothing different in the manner of the household or in clothes or in the custom of “Sabbath hospitality”, when strangers invited to these homes basked in the glow of the candles and the light of the crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. The members of the family “pinched their cheeks to keep them rosy”, as the saying goes. For what the Jews lacked in material comforts was well concealed by their self-respect.

 

Community Agencies and Services

For as long as I can remember, the community agencies suffered from inertia. The most important services were rendered by employees whose salaries, paid by the community, were hardly enough to keep body and soul together. They did their work without a hand to guide them, doing things just as a matter of habit. Community-owned property was not kept up properly. The “dignitaries” and their coterie (no one knew how or when they were elected) were detached from reality, when it came to the genuine needs of the community. Their main function revealed itself on the town's festive occasions, when, dressed in their Sabbath best, they would crop up alongside the authorities, on the dais.

This was how things went along for years. In the mid-1920's a strong Zionist influence was felt in the town. Together with the craftsmen, the Zionists made up the progressive segment of the Jewish population. This was reflected in the community elections in 1931, which elected five Zionists to the community council. However, the process of consolidation was slowed down by the severe economic situation of most Rachov Jews. Much of the community work was done by volunteers, in management as well as services.

A genuine revival occurred in the mid-1930's. Two young, energetic persons were responsible: Bunim (Binche) Mandelker and Rabbi Shmaryahu Finzterbush, the newly selected rabbi of Rachov. The two knew how to attract young and old, people of goodwill ready to ease life for others, despite the critical situation. Under the leadership of the two, much was accomplished in all sectors of community life.

 

Welfare Activities

Of the once affluent Rachov-Annopol community, bustling and vigorous three generations earlier, only a faint shadow remained. After the First World War many of our townspeople couldn't make a go of it any more, although they tried hard. Many families in respectable circumstances before the war became impoverished, even though outwardly they maintained their former mode of living. The entire family joined in the effort to earn a livelihood and send the children to school or a yeshiva. Only a few could afford to enroll their children in the high school (in neighboring Krashnik).

To the poverty created by the hardships of war (our town was on the front line, at the Wisla) there was added, in Poland, the inbred hostility towards the Jew. In Rachov, as elsewhere, the Poles established workmen's guilds and cooperative stores for Poles. This naturally undermined the Jewish shopkeepers and artisans, whose entire livelihood depended on the business done on market days, when the peasants came to do their buying. In the mid-1920's, under the rule of Poland's Finance Minister Grabski, the tax burden, too, was exceedingly oppressive. The Jews were simply pushed out of the economy. The open boycott program organized by the Endek hoodlums worsened an already intolerable situation.

Many homes were unable to keep going and were reduced to alms. The few who still hung on developed a program of welfare work. There was mattan beseter, the highest form of charity, wherein neither the giver nor the recipient was aware of each other's identity. There were also so-called “loans” to families on the brink of collapse; the funds were made available by several people, and repayment was on the basis of “when you can afford it”. Volunteer women went about town, collecting food for the needy. Also helpful were the cooperative bank, a respected financial institution, well organized (see further), and a Free Loan Fund.

As the need grew, the local Jewish community could no longer bear the burden alone nor provide even the minimum, and repeated pleas were dispatched to the townspeople who had immigrated to the United States and Canada. These Rachovites across the sea never abandoned their impoverished townspeople. From time to time, particularly at the advent of the holidays, they sent parcels or a few dollars. Now, in the late 1930's, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, when poverty had stricken everyone, an effort was made to channel all the funds coming from overseas to an establishment framework (Free Loan Fund). But there were also sporadic activities, in emergency cases, of rescuing people from total disintegration.

These activities, such as mattan beseter and the “Festival Fund”, continued coming from overseas all year around, but what led to the establishment of the Fund was the feeling of loss of self-respect and human self-esteem, even on the part of people in dire circumstances. They were determined to manage welfare aid efficiently, and that the manner of distribution should become more respectable.

The extensive information about these efforts, constantly sent abroad by the heads of the community (the chairman of the Community Council and the Rabbi, as well as party and cultural leaders) was not always attentively received abroad. The people there still clung to the traditional forms of charity; also, they were influenced by the diatribes sent to them against the “innovations” introduced into the welfare work.

 

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