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Translation of Kolonja Izaaka chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Kolonja Izaaka chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Ada Holtzman zl
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VIII Districts Vilna, Bialystok, Nowogrodek. Editor Shmuel Spector, co-editor Bracha Freundlich,
pages 544-546. Published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 2005
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Translated by Irwin Keller
A Jewish agricultural settlement near Odelsk, 17 km east of Sokółka and around 60 km NE of Białystok. It was established in 1849 on forestlands that were allocated by the state for Jewish agricultural settlement. The first settlers were 26 poor Jewish families from adjacent Odelsk (see entry). The state set aside 16.4 hectares of land per family, and in total allotted to the Jews 422.4 hectares of agricultural and grazing land. Water had to be brought by the Jews from Odelsk, and for this reason, and because of the low quality of the sandy soil, 12 families hurried to leave Kolonja Izaaka and only 18 families remained. They built themselves houses and adjacent farm buildings and they worked a portion of their lands; the remainder they rented out to farmers. In the 1860s the settlers' situation improved. In addition to the field crops, they planted fruit orchards and began raising cattle for meat and as beasts of burden. In time they ceased to rent land to farmers and began to cultivate all the land on their own. Until 1867 the Jewish settlers were exempt from the payment of taxes on the land and until 1874 they were exempt from military service as well. Later those exemptions were lifted. Slowly the families grew and established themselves, and at the request of the residents, the authorities allotted another 7.5 divisions of land to Kolonja Izaaka, however at that time there were 8 Christian families living on the newly allocated land. Between them and the veteran Jewish families good neighborly relations and mutual aid developed. At the end of the 19th Century, the JCA (Jewish Colonization Association) supported the Jewish agriculturalists at Kolonja Izaaka by providing agricultural equipment, funds and advice. The organizational instructors recommended that Kolonja Izaaka cultivate rye, barley, oats and peas. In 1899 the JCA reported that in Kolonja Izaaka there were 29 Jewish families living (221 souls) and they possessed 475.6 hectares of land averaging 12.01 per family about one quarter less than the territory that was allotted per family in the middle of the century. Most of the Jews cultivated their land by means of hired farmers and in the meantime they and their adult children worked in the textile industry in Białystok (see entry). A small number of their children emigrated to the United States.
The Jewish settlers in Kolonja Izaaka organized themselves into a congregation and established a prayer house and secured a melamed (teacher) for their children. No rabbi served Kolonja Izaaka, so its Jews were dependent on the rabbi in Odelsk, where they also buried their dead. In the case of internal conflicts, they turned to the rabbinical court there.
In the days of the First World War, the Jewish textile workers in Białystok returned to farm their lands in Kolonja Izaaka. The men who were drafted into the Russian Army and those who emigrated to the Russian interior returned to their homes. Thanks to their agricultural labor, the residents of Kolonja Izaaka did not know hunger like in other places.
In a survey carried out by the Polish authorities in 1928 on agricultural settlements on state lands, Kolonja Izaaka was described as a flourishing settlement, bathed in green. The wooden houses of the residents and the farm buildings resided under the same roof. Only the head of the village (the sołtys), a well-to-do Jew who owned a whiskey distillery, lived in a stone house. The health of the residents was good, with the exception of one family where there were those sick with tuberculosis, a widespread disease in those times. According to the survey, the soil of Kolonja Izaaka was divided into two types fertile clay soil and sandy soil and the types of cultivation undertaken by their owners since the time of the JCA's recommendations were each found on the most suitable type of soil. In this period, the fields on Kolonja Izaaka were already in the hands of the second and third generation, who recognized the importance of professional training and who completed coursework in chemistry, botany and the rest of the applied sciences, through courses offered by the JCA and ORT and through completing coursework with the Polish Office of Agriculture. The Jews maintained the integrity of their land and didn't subdivide the land among several offspring. They themselves lived together with the inheriting son, and the rest of the sons went out to find their livelihoods elsewhere. The daughters received a dowry and went to live with their husbands. The Christian farmers, in contrast, had the practice of dividing their fields among all the sons who remained in the settlement. The resulting diminished parcel size made modern methods of cultivation and agricultural mechanization impossible. Plowing was done by old wooden ploughs, and so was the rest of the work also. In the wintertime, when the fieldwork lessened, the Jews engaged in occupations such as sewing, carpentry, plumbing, and commerce. The non-Jewish neighbors imposed on them to sell their produce as well since they trusted their skills as merchants. The nearest railroad station was in Kuźnica (see entry), a distance of 14 km from Kolonja Izaaka, and from there the products were sent to market in Sokółka (see entry), a distance of 17 km from Kolonja Izaaka, or they were sold in Kuźnica, Indura (see entry) [Amdur], and Krynki (see entry). The most affluent Jew in the settlement was the owner of a factory making bricks, tile and cooking pots from the local clay. The Jewish women worked exclusively in the fields belonging to their houses, and the wives of the gentile farmers worked in spinning and weaving, and they sold their handicrafts.
After the War [WWI] the Jewish agriculturalists carried a large tax burden, and their profits dwindled. At first they received credit from ORT and JCA but in 1932, a period of prolonged economic crisis in Poland, they amassed a large debt and JCA ceased giving loans.
The Jews of Kolonja Izaaka, who were pious shomrei mitzvoth [religious orthodox Jews] all their days, continued after the War [WWI] to contribute to yeshivoth [Talmudic colleges] in Eretz Israel, engaged in Zionist activity, and in local elections they participated in a religious Zionist party. Many longed to make aliyah [emigration to Eretz Israel] and to work there as agriculturists, but only several in fact did. The Jews of the Kolonja attached great importance to the education of their children. Almost all the settlers of the first generation knew how to read and write Yiddish. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Jewish children studied in the general public school in Odelsk, and a local melamed taught them Hebrew and religious studies, and infused them with love for the Land of Israel. Upon their graduation from elementary school at age 13, most of the youth worked in the family fields, and a minority of them went out to learn a profession or to study in yeshivoth.
After the arrival of the Soviets to Kolonja Izaaka in September 1939, the Jews continued their agricultural work as they'd always done. At the beginning of the Nazi conquest in the end of June 1941, different restrictions and abuses befell the Jews. At the beginning of November 1942, the Jews of Kolonja Izaaka were deported along with the Jews of Odelsk to the Kielbasin transit camp near Grodno (see entry). After some weeks some were deported to the death camp at Auschwitz and were killed (see Odelsk entry).
Sefer Sokółka, The Encyclopedia of the Diaspora, Jerusalem 1968
Salit S., Kolonja Izaaka, Warsaw 1934.
Encyclopedia entry written by Rachel Grossbaum-Pasternak.
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