“Biecz” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume III
(Poland)

49°44' / 21°15'

Translation of “Biecz” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume III, pages 88-90, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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(pages 88-90)

Biecz, Poland

(Gorlice district, Krakow region)

YearTotal
population
Jewish
population
18802,938206
18903,190461
19003,461554
19213,803647
19393,673632

Biecz, one of the ancient cities of the area, is already mentioned in the 11th century. For many years B' was owned by the church in Krakow. In 1361 it was granted the status of city under the Magdeburg Law[1]. Its convenient location on the trade route with Hungary brought rapid development and growth. In the 16th century B' became the commercial center for the weaving and leather industries, and was one of the most important in the region. In that same century many immigrants from Germany settled in B', who contributed greatly to the prosperity of the commerce and industry. During that same period, B' gained from the king the privilege of trade free of taxes and duties. At the end of the 18th century the status of B' fell to the level of an agricultural village and its development stopped.[2]

From the time when B' was a city owned by the church, Jews were forbidden to settle there. In 1569 the king granted B' the privilege of forbidding the settlement of Jews, and Jews were also forbidden to trade in B' on market days. Nevertheless a few Jewish families were able to get around the prohibitions and to settle in the town before the end of the 18th century. The situation improved after the annexation of the area to Galicia in the framework of the Austrian Empire. The traditional small trade, the peddling in the villages and the crafts served as the economic base for the Jewish population of B'. Some stood out in their economic activities, and were among the founders of flour-mills, factories for the tanning of leather and weaving workshops. Among the local Jewish merchants, some dealt in cattle, iron, leather, agricultural produce and also in naphtha, which was found in wells near the city. A few of the Jewish residents were hired laborers.

The Jewish community in B' experienced expressions of anti-Semitism, and several times suffered pogroms. The rebellion of the local farmers in 1898 was accompanied by attacks on the Jews and the looting of their property. Only the intervention of a Jew who served in the police prevented loss of life. The anti-Semitic spirit found expression in the municipal council, [where] an attempt was made to expel the elected Jewish councilmen. In 1912 the local priest led the anti-Jewish propaganda and called for an economic boycott of them, especially of the bakery and taverns operated by Jews. The priest himself opened a bakery, and announced in church that whoever did not buy bread in the Christian bakery could not come before him to confession.

At its beginning the [Jewish] community of B' was subordinate to the community of Rzeszow, and apparently became independent towards the end of the 18th century. It is told that at that time Rabbi Pinchas Frankel Teumim, son of the Rabbi from Leipnik [Moravia], author of “Baruch Ta'am”[3], settled in B'; he was the first Jew who received an official permit to reside in the city. It is told that he was fluent in the Latin language, and for this the local residents needed him to write their petitions to the authorities. The grandson of this Rabbi Pinchas, Elimelech Goldberg, served as the first Rabbi of B' without receiving a salary, and at his initiative a synagogue was built. This Rabbi's grandson, Yaakov Goldberg, was head of the kahal[4] and vice-mayor of B'. He supported the Zionist movement. In 1902 Aharon Horowitz served as the Rabbi of B'. In 1905 there was a fire in B', which destroyed Jewish homes, including the synagogue and the library[5] which was in it. The synagogue was rebuilt after a few years with the aid of [former] residents of the city [living] in the United States and with the support of nearby communities. The society “Tiferet Bachurim”[6] was then founded in B' with the aim of the restoration of the library. This organization initiated the establishment of the modern Hebrew library [in B'] after the war [WWI]. In 1907 the organization “Meir Yeshanim”[7] was founded, and with it classes in Hebrew. This group served as the seed of the Zionist parties in the town. The group was affiliated to the “Shachar”[8] association of Western Galicia. A branch of the “Mizrachi”[9] was founded in B' in 1911.

At the outbreak of the first World War in 1914 many of the Jews of B' left the town. B' suffered greatly in this war, many houses were destroyed, the economic situation worsened and sources of livelihood were limited. Business and trade were frozen, and there were serious shortages of food and basic manufactured goods. A civil committee was set up, which worked with the Jewish community council to care for the poor of the town.

Between the two World Wars

World War I was barely over when attacks on the Jews began. General Haller's soldiers conquered the area, looted their stores, cut the beards and ear-locks of religious Jews in the streets and generally attacked the Jews. They [the soldiers] carried out searches of Jewish homes and of the house of study. At that time there was a severe shortage of food in the city. At the initiative of the community Rabbi, Rabbi Dov Halperin, export of food from the city to other places was banned. The process of impoverishment of the Jewish merchants and craftsmen continued during the 1920's due to the establishment of competing Polish co-operatives. Local anti-Semites and hoodlums attacked Jewish peddlers, preventing them from making a living selling their wares in the district. In the 1930's shifts of NDs[10] were stationed by Jewish-owned stores, who prevented the entrance of Polish customers. Jews were often beaten by the thugs of the ND and by the mobs. In 1933 a fire broke out in the city, and Jewish homes, a candle factory, a drugstore and Jewish-owned stores were destroyed. The Popular Co-operative Bank, founded in 1928 with the support of the Joint, came to the aid of the merchants and craftsmen. The Joint also supported the “Gemilut-Chassidim”[11] fund, which was an important source of aid to many of the residents, providing them with interest-free loans. In 1929 the fund approved loans to 76 applicants, to the sum of 15, 242 zloty. A kitchen for the poor and a “Committee of Aid for the Children of the Poor” were founded in the city in 1931.

Despite the difficult economic conditions, the Jews of B' took an active part in public life. A Talmud-Torah was built in 1924 and next to it a house of study. The Hebrew school, founded in 1920, had in 1923 75 boys and 69 girls studying in 3 classes. A popular library with a reading room was founded in 1922.

The associations and political parties which had been formed in B' renewed their activities towards the end of WWI and after the war. The “General Zionists”, the “Mizrachi”, the “Hitachdut”[12], and the Revisionists all organized branches. The women's Zionist organization WIZO was active [in B'] in 1933. There were also branches of the youth organizations “Akiva”[13] and “Hashomer Hatzair”[14] (founded in 1933). At the head of the Zionist organizations stood the “General Zionists”, who won the elections to the Zionist Congresses by an overwhelming majority (for the elections to the 19th Zionist Congress in 1935 there were 138 voters in B'; the “General Zionists” got 113 votes, “Hitachdut” – 22 votes and “Mizrachi” – 2 votes. “Ezra”[15] for the pioneers was established in the city in 1920.

Parallel to the strengthening of the Zionist movement was the growing influence of the “Agudat Yisrael”[16]. Alongside “Agudat Yisrael” operated the youth movements, “Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael” and “Pirchei Agudat Yisrael”[17] and a branch of “Poalei Agudat Yisrael”[18]

At the end of the 19th century and during the first years of the twentieth century Rabbi Moses Leib Shapira, of the Shapira dynasty of Chassidic Rabbis of Munkac, served as Rabbi and Admor[19] in B'. After him for many years Rabbi Aharon Horowitz, of the Chassidic houses of Dzikow and Sanz, held the position of Rabbi and Admor; [he was] the son of the author of “Imrei Noam” (Rabbi Meir Horowitz of Dzikow) and the son-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam author of “Divrei Chaim”. He left B' in 1927 and settled in Czechoslovakia. He was replaced in B' by his son-in-law Rabbi Yissachar Dov Halperin, who served until the outbreak of WWII, when he immigrated to the US.

The influence of Jews in the Municipal Council was significant. Generally about a third of the Council members were Jewish.

During WWII

B' was conquered by the German army on September 7, 1939. Some of the local Jews left town and went eastward, but most were forced to return due to the rapid advance of the German army. Even those who reached the area that was annexed to Russia returned to their families in B' in 1940 – 1941 (it should be noted that in January 1942 those Jews who returned to B' after June 1941 were ordered to move to eastern Galicia).

Persecution of the Jews began in the earliest days of the German occupation. They were severely beaten and there were incidents of the cutting of beards and ear-locks. There were kidnappings to forced labor, mainly by men of the German army. Every day there were searches of Jewish homes, and property in them was stolen. The Jews were forced to pay monetary fines. The government confiscated two houses of study; they were emptied of their holy articles, one became a warehouse and the other a movie theater.

In the winter of 1939 – 1940, 500 Jewish refugees from Lodz and its vicinity were brought to town and the Jewish population of B' grew to 1,300 people.

In the middle of February 1940 the Jews aged 12 and over were ordered to wear a white band with a blue Star of David on it, but at first the Jews didn't strictly obey this order.

At the start of 1940 the Germans appointed a Judenrat, and put at its head the merchant Mordechai Peler. His assistant was Solomon Getz. The Judenrat was subordinate to the district Judenrat in Jaslo. While its main purpose was to fulfill all of the demands of the Germans, it must in justice be noted that the Judenrat in B' tried to defend the local Jews in times of danger. Thus, for example, when rumors spread of a coming aktzia, members of the Judenrat would collect valuables in order to bribe the Germans. There are those who believe that the bribes given by the Judenrat prevented the shipment of the Jews of B' to labor camps. According to an order from the Arbeitsamt (the German Labor Office) in Gorlice, the Judenrat [in B'] supplied each day 30 men for forced labor, thus each man had to work only one day a week. In May 1942, when it became apparent that the end of the Jews was nearing, and the only hope was their employment, the Judenrat organized a workshop to manufacture brushes and shoes for the German army, and this workshop employed older men [who otherwise would have been deported]. About 40 men were employed by the German company “Bakers-Ulreich” in drainage works in the area.

In the beginning the Jews were allowed to leave the city if given a special authorization. But closer to the time of the establishment of the ghetto in October 1941 they were forbidden to leave the city. At first there was movement between the ghetto and the rest of the city. A closed ghetto was established in March – April 1942, and only the three members of the Judenrat were permitted to leave the ghetto and the city as part of their duties. The side-streets around the market square were included in the bounds of the ghetto. The prisoners of the ghetto had no source of employment, and the poorer classes, especially the refugees, suffered hunger.

There was no Gestapo or German police station in B', but there was a Polish police station. On January 3, 1942, men of the Gestapo and the German police from Jaslo and Gorlice arrived in B'. Every Jew who they happened to meet was murdered on the spot. That day they killed 18 people. On February 17 the Gestapo shot 14 Jews, members of three families. On February 19 the Polish police arrested 71 Jews, and on February 21 the the Gestapo held a selektzia: 40 people were released and 31 were shot and their property was stolen. On April 28 the Gestapo arrived again, arrested 14 Jews, so-called “Communists”, and killed them. On July 25, five Jews belonging to two families were shot; they were accused of “illegally” appealing to the German authorities.

In July 1942 the Germans brought all the Jews of the area into the ghetto. The number of residents reached 1700. On July 22 all men between the ages of 18 – 35 were assembled in the market square. 170 men were sent to the labor camp in Plaszow. Men who stated that they were craftsmen were left in town. At the beginning of August 1942 the German authorities ordered the Jews to pay all taxes, including those from before the war. The Judenrat was even ordered to pay the taxes of Jews who had left B'.

On August 14, 1942 at 3AM, the Germans and the Ukrainian police surrounded the town. The Jews were ordered to assemble in the market square at 7AM. Those who were sick or old (120 – 180) were shot on the spot, and their bodies were buried in the Jewish cemetery. All the other Jews, numbering about 1,000, were moved to huts near the municipal court-house and remained there, in very crowded conditions and without food or water, for four days. Meanwhile the local Polish police and the fire department searched for Jews who were hiding. On August 17 they were all taken to the death-camp at Belzec. The chairman of the Judenrat and his assistant were forced to gather all the remaining Jewish property and transfer it to Gorlice, where they were both murdered in the Jewish cemetery.

Until October 1942 there remained in B' a group of 40 Jews who worked, as mentioned, for “Bakers-Ulreich”. They were sent to the labor-camp at Przemisl, and vanished there.

It should be noted that the relations between the Poles and the Jews in B' until June 1941 were good, but after the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia the mood became clouded. As stated, the Polish police collaborated with the Germans in persecuting the Jews. After the liberation the court in Gorlice convicted in 1947 one of the policemen, named Yantorowsky, of murdering Jews. He was sentenced to death, and the sentence was carried out.

In January 1945 several Jews returned to B'; some were saved by hiding in the nearby villages, others survived the concentration camps, and others spent the war in the USSR. Their attempts to reconstruct Jewish life in B' were unsuccessful. Immediately after the liberation, three local Jews, holocaust survivors, were murdered in B'. Two synagogues were not returned to Jewish hands, in one there was a school and in the other a movie-house. Those who returned home restored the cemetery and built a monument to the martyrs. After a short time they left the city; mostly to the US and to Israel.

[Words in brackets are additions or clarifications by the translator.]

Sources

Yad Va'shem Archive, Jerusalem: JM/1573; 03/1695; 016/1649; 033/42.
Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem: HM/7921.
Central Zionist Archive, Jerusalem; S-6/2181; Z-3/179; Z-3/820; Z-4/226-24 B, Z-4/234 B, Z-4/2997-II, Z-4/3732.
Hashomer Hatzair Archive, Givat Haviva: (3)83.
AJDC Archives: Countries-Poland, Cult. Rel. 344a.
Biecz Yizkor Book, Ramat-Gan, 1950.
A. Madurowicz, A. Podraza, Regiony gospodarcze Malopolski Zachodniej w drugiej polowie XVIII wieku, Wroclaw, 1958, pp. 96, 134.
“Hamagid” 23.6.1898; “Hamitzpe” 3.2.1908; 2.11.1908; “De Yidishe Shtime” 23.6.1898, 6.12.1928, 19.2.1929; “Tagblatt” 27.11.1912; “Nowy Dziennik” 1919-1924, 1927, 1933, 1938; “Wschod” 15.11.1907.

  1. A body of German civil laws established during the Middle Ages granting cities certain rights, including the institution of elected municipal authorities, establishment of courts of law, land ownership within the town limits, rules and regulations set up for trade, crafts, taxes, guilds, etc. These municipal laws generally didn't apply to the Jews, whose rights came directly from the king. Return

  2. After a series of plagues, fires and floods, in 1721 a great plague devastated the town, killing most of the population. Return

  3. Rabbi Baruch Frankel Teumim [1760 1828], father-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz. Return

  4. Typically, a Jewish community (kehila) governed its own internal affairs. The interactions with the outside society, such as tax collection and enforcement of various restrictions and compulsions imposed on the community, were arranged by an internal governing board (kahal) - Wikipedia. Return

  5. “Otzar Ha'sefarim” literally the Treasure of Books Return

  6. “Glory of the Young Men” Return

  7. “Awakening the Sleepers” Return

  8. “The Dawn” Return

  9. Religious Zionist movement Return

  10. Narodowa Demokracja (National Democracy), called Endecja from abbreviaton (ND) of its Polish name, was a Polish right-wing nationalist anti-semitic political movement Return

  11. Free loan fund Return

  12. “Union” a socialist-Zionist party. Return

  13. Religious Zionist Return

  14. secular socialist-Zionist Return

  15. An organization aiding the pioneers in Palestine Return

  16. Orthodox political party founded in Poland in 1912. Return

  17. Divided by age group Return

  18. Religious workers' party Return

  19. Admor abbreviation of “adoneinu, moreinu v'rabeinu” [our master, teacher and rabbi] title of a Chassidic Rabbi, who was often not the official rabbi of the town. Return


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