A Town Near Zvhil
Eliayahu Kreinerman, Tel Aviv
Polona, that rests on the Tamir River, is one of the oldest cities in Volhin. Long ago, when it was under Polish rule and associated with the Lozak district, there were about 12,000 Jews. Commerce bloomed there, and matters of the Jewish people were set up. In the decrees of 1648 and 1649, Jews and Poles were besieged and fought with the Cossacks. They couldn't stand up to the enemy, and the city was captured by Chemelnicki. There was a slaughter of people, in which 10,000 Jews were killed, including the Tzadik (Righteous One) Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropoly. According to tradition, 300,000 Jews were gathered with Rabbi Shimshon in the Synagogue. They were covered with kitels and tallises and stood in prayer until the enemy cruelly murdered everyone. Over the years, most of the details of life in those days were lost. In 1864, Princess Lubomirska restored rights to the Jews of Polona, and the city began to rebuild her ruins. In the book BOOK OF THE FOUR NATIONS by Yisrael Halpern, Polona is mentioned several times as having sent representatives to the Council of the Four Nations (along with the cities Rovne and Meziritch). Some excavations in the city show remains of the fortress wall, and a stone in the old cemetery, that according to legends, Cossacks used to sharpen their swords to slaughter the Jews and Poles.
In the division of Poland, when Polona went to the Russians, there were 350 Jews in the city, associated with the Zvhil district. Near Polona was the Kiev-Berditchev-Rovne railroad. This contributed to the development of the city, yet from the administrative side, it was considered to be a village.
Polona is found in a naturally beautiful place and the ground flourishes. Wild fields, pastures and fruit orchards surround it, from which thousands of families get a livelihood. The produce of the farms used to go by the village. For geographical reasons, the railroad went by way of Polona and was used as a passageway for surrounding settlements. Traffic was always heavy. Several paper plants were built, as well as sugar, pottery, beer, tannery, tiles, and more. Along with industry, was commerce, and thousands of workers and clerks (including Jews) found a way to make a living. Three local banks were established before the Revolution.
One of the first printing houses of Volhin was established, where mostly Chasidic literature was printed.
When Chassidut began to spread in Volhin and Podolia, Polona became a center of Chassidut. Students of the Besht - Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Hacohen and Rabbi Yehuda Leib lived there. Both are buried in the cemetery. From the dynasties that came from the village, it's appropriate to mention mainly Netzer Makarov, Trisk, Sadigora. The Chassidim were drawn to the Tzadikim to learn Torah and tunes and when different people visited they felt a deep spiritual awakening. Along with the Chassidim arose in the village learned men and those that sought enlightenment, but their numbers were few. Among those that are remembered: Shmuel Abba Pan, who later moved to Odessa; A.Lodopul, editor of Hatzofeh; Sibirakov, the Russian singer and others. Among the Rabbis in the village were: Rabbi Yehoshukli from the Chernobol people and Rabbi Bruchal Yozpov, a descendant of Rabbi Shmuel of Kaminka. One of the special personalities of the village was Rabbi Nachumchi, a great learner and mysticism student, who spent his days in fasting and only enjoyed life from celebrating Shabbat.
Famous Rabbis lead the Polona community. In the beginning of this century they appointed several Rabbis: Rabbi Yaakov Shimon, grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Shimon of Shepetovka who moved to Israel 150 years ago. He's the grandfather of the current Israeli singer P. Gorin; the distinguished Rabbi Abba, who understood much about engineering and was respected by all merchants and tradesmen. His grandson, Mr. Benzion Argov, was the Treasurer of Tel Aviv and manager of a large bank.
The Jewish children used to occasionally learn in Cheder and Talmud Torah, yet in the last years before the Soviet regime there, three government grammar schools were established, as well as a gymnasium, and school for trade. The Talmud Torah underwent changes and Dr. Kreinman was invited as principal. The connected Cheder that was also established resembled the Cheder of Berditchev.
According to inhabitants of Polona, in 1847 there were 2,647 Jews, and in 1897, 7,910. At the end of WWI, there were 13,000 Jews.
In the beginning of the Zionist movement, several people of Polona gave their hand to it. They collected money toward the settlement of Palestine. In 1912, a secret Zionist council was established. Though Jandarmeriah the Russian discovered this and sought the people from it, nobody was imprisoned. Different parties appeared in Polona: Poalei, Zion, Bund, although, most of the youth went to the Zionists. In the Democratic community of 1918-1919, the Zionists were abundant, and some of them participated in the Zionist Congress in Zvhil in 1919. One of the families very active was the Family Marmer. Tzvi Marmer was head of the Zionists in Polona, and Yehuda German (now known as Gur Aryeh in Kiryat Anavin) was treasurer.
S. An-ski paid several visits to Polona and collected historical material, as well as Jewish folklore, and wrote down many of the legends of the town. In the years 1914-15, when refugees of war from the front line areas came to Polona, the Jews of the city discovered their dedication and worry for their brethren in danger. After the war, Polona's Jews had their own pogroms. They organized self-defense in those terrible days and the Gentiles of the city stood by and helped to defend the Jews.
According to the rule of the Ukrainian government, 25 young Jews of Polona were sent to Zvhil for army service. But, it was later known in the village that all of these enlisted were murdered. In 1919, when Zvhil men were to be enlisted, the young men fled to the nearby forests and towns and the Polona Jews took care of those that hid there.
In the autumn of 1919, an army camp of Ukrainians that had led a pogrom against the Jews of Proskrov came to Polona - headed by Commander Katamia. In a battle this group had near the town of Romnov, the Russians captured Golova, a relative of Katamia. When he heard this, he imprisoned eight Jews of the town as hostages and ordered the Jews to send a delegation to the Russians to free Golova. He threatened to let his men do a pogrom in Polona like that of Proskrov if his relative was not freed. It was a serious situation, and without a choice three Jews were sent to cross the border to speak to the Russians. Despite a letter from Katamia, the border guards would not let them cross, and they returned to Polona. Katamia wasn't satisfied, and sent others to go by way of the forests, including the writer of this article. He ordered them not to come back without Golova. The Jews were very afraid and turned to their neighbors in the town. They found an influential man that sent a telegram to a top army officer describing the absurd commands of Katamia. Apparently, his words helped and an urgent command came to Katamia to move his camp to another border. Thus, the danger was lifted from the town.
On Passover Eve of 1919, the Red Army captured Polona. That night, Ukrainian soldiers managed to run through the streets and murdered eight Jews. Their bodies were found the next day at the train station. At the funeral, the Red Army's band participated. On the first day of Chol Hamoed (intermediate days of Passover), the Red Army retreated from the town. Many Jews followed them from fear of the Ukrainians. The picture of those fleeing, and the long lines of refugees, was remembered in a painting by Hirshenberg called Galut (Diaspora). The Cossacks found the town empty of Jews and didn't follow orders to gather plunder. The Gentile neighbors and some Jews that were left were protecting property and houses. After one week, the Red Army came back and reconquered the town, returning with all the Jews who had left.
Things were quiet for awhile, but after six months, on the holiday of Shmini Azeret and Simchat Torah (end of Succos holiday), a Russian pogrom took place that ruined stores and houses and forty Jews were murdered. It was later known that some of the attacking soldiers were brought to a military court and sentenced to hard punishment - even death - for their actions in Polona. It is not surprising that after these events and looking at the troubled future, that a longing and desire grew to leave Polona. Many left for America and Israel. When the border was set between Poland and Russia, Polona fell on the Russian side. Life changed there, though not a lot is known about what happened between that time and the Nazi invasion.
Jews of Polona suffered from the Germans in 1941-1942, much like their brethren in other places, until they were killed by Nazis and helping Ukrainians. After the war, 13 Jews returned to Polona - these were the ones that had fled with the Red Army. They found the town desolate and burnt, with no living Jew.
Woe to us, that from our community of 13,000 Jews, only 13 souls survived!
See also Polonnoye's Yizkor Book
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