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The Jewish Community

Menachem Kazimierski

Translated by Sara Mages

For many generations the Jews lived in the Diaspora within their organizational frameworks. They developed intensive community life, cared for the religious needs of its members, established different charitable organizations to help the poor, and engaged in actions that were caused by time.

In ancient Poland, the community councils were composed from the “best in the city”, its scholars and its rich, and they decided and determined who deserves to lead the community. The supreme organization of the communities was in the hands of “Va'ad Arba' Aratzot” [The Council of Four Lands], which was divided into state councils and into a more limited framework – the region councils. The community of Wislica belonged to the “Szyd³ów” region and to the “Kraków-Sandomierz” state council.

This organizational framework was abolished in 1772 with the first partition of Poland, but the communities continued to act independently without an organizational connection between them.

On 1.1.1822, the Russian Tsar issued an order that also abolished the organizational framework of the community, and in its place he allowed the organization of “The Synagogue Committee" which was led by Dozór Bóżniczy. Despite the change in status, the community continued with its regular activities, and was also given the right to impose a community tax – “Skaldka Bóżniczy”.

After the First World War, with the establishment of independent Poland, the authorities recognized the communities as free religious associations headed by elected officials. This situation was reflected in a special law – one of the first in independent renewed Poland – in the matter of community organization. Already in 2.7.1919, that is, less than a year since the establishment of the country, the Jewish communities' law was published. Later on, in 1927, the Polish government gave the Jewish communities the right to impose tax, care for the education and social aid.

The community election law was adapted to the social situation that prevailed at that time in the Jewish street. According to that law, only men over the age of 25 had the right to vote (not women), and the right to be elected from the age of 30. The elections were secret and proportional and were held once every five years.

The control on the organized community activities was in the hands of the “Staroste” (appointed by the district government). The government policy toward the organization of the community life gave them the possibility to manage the communities independently and enabled them to provide religious, national and cultural needs. Great prospects were opened before the communities for a widespread independent action

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in all spheres of life, mainly in the field of education, but the development was different. The difficult economic situation, the impoverishment of the Jews, the severe disappointment from life in the Diaspora, etc., influenced to such an extant that the expectations didn't meet the community development and its work was limited - especially in the small towns – almost exclusively to ensure its existence, and the fulfillment of services and religious needs, sort of a frame of protection against influences from the outside.

But the community also had a great social importance. The elected community leaders represented us not only internally but also externally, and negotiated with the authorities about their various demands and claims. There was a great public awakening before the election to the community council. But, if at the beginning the organization was by local interests or the various rabbinical courts, later the elections were done according to party division as it was reflected in the Jewish street, or by economic organizations like the merchants association, or the craftsmen. The election war was very lively and sometimes brought serious attacks between the community members, and quarrels that left their marks for a long period of time. As we see, the community activity concentrated mostly in providing and maintaining religious services. Also the official name of the community points to this purpose, the community name was “Gmina Wyznaniowa Zydowska” (the religious Jewish community). All the villages in the area, where Jews lived, were affiliated with Wislica's Jewish community. The official name of the community's geographical region was – Wiślicki Okręg Bóżniczy (the region of Wislica's synagogues). This is also a proof that defines the character of the community in the treatment of religious matters. Although the community work was limited to providing religious services, it was still divers in its activities. All the legal matters - the various types of Jewish registry - birth, death, marriage, divorce etc. were registered in the community offices. The marriage registry books were in the hands of the town's Rabbi who was recognized by the authorities. Only after entering all the details in the community's books according to an authorized confirmation, the details were registered in the town's offices. Among the other duties of the community were the maintenance of the synagogues, the purchase of Torah scrolls and Holy Scriptures, and the proper maintenance of the cemetery. The community council paid the salaries of the rabbis, slaughterers, inspectors, cantors, the beadles and their staff. Supervision of the slaughter was in the hands of the community, and most of its revenue came from the slaughter of cattle in the slaughterhouse and poultry by the slaughterers. It should be noted, that only kosher slaughter was done in Wislica, so, also the gentiles ate kosher meat. There was a gentile kosher butcher shop that the majority of its customers were Jewish. Apart from the community income from slaughter, a yearly tax, which was called “Rozklad”, was imposed on the Jewish population by the community council. The community council prepared an annual budget to fund its programs, and it had to be balanced and approved in advance by the “Staroste” in the district

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city of Piñczów. What we remember and know is, that the community leader before and during the First World War, was R' Yotze Schwager, one of the town's rich dignitaries.

The first community council, after the establishing of Poland, was appointed by the authorities. In 1926, the first democratic elections, according to the new Polish constitution, took place. HaRav R' Chaim Shlomo HaCohen Schwartz was elected as the community leader. His deputy was R' Yosef Topf.

In the elections of 1931, R' Wolf Bornstein was elected as the community leader, and in the elections of 1936 Yoske Flaum. In 1939, the Germans dispersed the community and established a “Jewish Council” – “Judenrat” in its place. Yoske Flaum was placed as its leader, and fulfilled this tragic duty until the expulsion of Wislica's Jews.

With all the deficiencies in its activities, as they are seen now in the perspective of time, it is possible to say that the Jewish community in the Diaspora was like an autonomous state, which provided needs and services as they were understood at that period of time. With the extinction of the Jewish communities in Poland also the community of Wislica was annihilated with its beloved Jews.

 

wis109.jpg
Zisel Kleinplatz, Shimon Silberstein,
Mindel Borenstien, Matel Fridman

 

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