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[Page 14]

Between the World Wars

The serene shtetl life had been relatively unaffected by World War I, In fact, some Jews welcomed the Germans as liberators from tsarist tyranny. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 took Russia out of the war and the next few years were confusing times as prisoners from both the east and the west travelled through town and the political situation was unstable, When the Germans withdrew from Poland they were first replaced by the Russians who, in turn, were pushed back eastward during the Russo-Polish War of 1920-21. During this period the border fluctuated, but by 1921 Dubrowa, for the first time in 120 years, again lay clearly within Polish territory .Soon afterwards the marketplace was named to honor modern Poland's first President, Joseph Pilsudsky.

The emergence of the new Poland was celebrated by pogroms in 130 places and the Jews now found themselves in the midst of conflicts between the Poles and respectively the Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Bolsheviks. This period was marked by anti-Semitism, looting and rioting and an intensive drive to oust Jews from industry and commerce. Although anti-Semitism was a historic feature of Polish life, it was not official government policy. Nonetheless, policy clearly favored ethnic Poles at the expense of Jewish interests.

The smaller communities were relatively insulated so that traditional interactions between Jews and peasants were still operative; a symbiotic relationship existed based on mutual need rather than affec- tion. Yet, many Dubrowa youth left at this time fearing conscription into the Polish army as well as the possibility of pogroms. The 1921 census recorded 1218 Jews in Dubrowa out of a total of 3014 with about 300 Jewish families. In the town itself Jews constituted about 90% of the population, the census figure including the gentiles of the surrounding villages as well, Passage of America's first immigration laws in 1921

 

dab014.jpg
The weekly Dubrowa Horse Fair, c. 1920s

 

effectively closed “the golden door” and, as a result, emigration during the 1920s and 1930s was much reduced and became oriented toward South America, Cuba and Palestine with only about 10% of Polish Jews now going to the United States.

The social fabric did not begin to unravel substantially until the mid-1930s. At this time there were close to 1500 Jews out of the municipality's total population of 3550. The town contained 82 artisan's shops, 76 other stores, and three tile factories as well as several brick factories in the vicinity.

Abraham Gusewich, born in 1915, found it relatively easy to emi- grate in February 1937 since he was a yeshiva student in Grodno who could apply for further study abroad. He recalls the following:

“In the early 1930s emigration stopped and the population remained fairly stable. It was a period of relative prosperity for Dubrowa and the city underwent a series of improvements. Most of the streets were paved and framed by sidewalks; the main streets were lined by rows of trees. A daily bus service and a delivery truck service were established to Grodno, Sokolka, Augustow, and to Warsaw through Lomza. The municipality built a river embankment to contain floods. There was also an expansion of business activity. Two banks were established, one commercial and the other a savings and loan. The regional market started to meet twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a cattle market was instituted on the outskirts of town. Medical and dental care improved with two physicians and a dentist serving the community. Cultural facilities also expanded. A public library opened with books in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. Various Jewish youth organizations developed .local chapters such as the Young Pjoneers (Ahalutz Atzair) and the Betar. These were Zionist groups

 

dab015.jpg
Painting, c. 1922, by Meyer Cooper made shortly after he immigrated to the United States. The family house is depicted with stable attached to one side, and chickens and windmill.

 

[Page 16]

 

dab016a.jpg
A cheder group in Dubrowa, including teachers, rabbis and students, c. 1930's.

 

but took no extreme positions either religious or socialist (Bund). This Zionist presence was reinforced by the Moshava, a regional branch of the Poaleh Zion, which ran a two-year school to train immigrants to Palestine. It had 25-30 young adults, mainly out-of-towners, from the surrounding areas.”

 

dab016b.jpg
A Dubrowa windmill

 

[Page 17]

Another émigré, Mrs. Rena Schlachter Holstein, born Dubrowa 1915, recalls that the German invasion of Poland broke out as she was sailing to the United States. As a teenager she was active in various Zionist youth organizations so that her morale was relatively good despite the worsening conditions throughout Poland. She witnessed several relatively minor pogroms in 1938 and in February 1939. These were not spontaneous demonstrations but were officially inspired, at- tested to by the fact that the next day business in the market resumed as usual between the town's Jewish and gentile populations. The pogroms were conducted primarily by drunken farmhands from the surrounding countryside who hurled rocks, broke windows, scattered feathers from pillows, tossed furniture .around, and terrorized the people but without causing major damage or killing. Many gentiles expressed sympathy and a few helped by hiding Jewish children during these violent times.

 

dab017.jpg
Mausoleum of Rabbi Menachem Mendel in the Dubrowa Cemetery.

 

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