Soon after the end of World War II, we set up a relief committee. We discovered the tragic fact that there was hardly anybody left whom we could help. No one will ever know exactly, but according to all reports, it is believed that all Jewish families in Kamenetz-Litvosk and its vicinity were put to death.
We could not rest, however. If it was not given to us to give material help, we decided to start a movement amongst our fellow-townsmen in America and in Israel to perpetuate the memory of the martyrs of Kamenetz-Litovsk by means of a Memorial Book.
Though there exists a synagogue in New-York, bearing the name of our town, and there are a number of "Landsmanschaft" organizations, unfortunately no initiative was taken to organize Memorial Assemblies or other meetings of similar character.
But this could not continue in such a manner and we, a closely-knit group of several fellow townsmen, took it upon ourselves to initiate the creation of a Committee for the Perpetuation of the Memory of the Martyrs of our town. Several attempts failed, but at the end of December 1960, when I was sent as delegate to the 25th Zionist Congress, I had a meeting with an active group of fellow-townsmen in the State of Israel.
During the reception which they organized in my honor, upon my arrival, and later on, at the Memorial Assembly to the memory of the Martyrs of our town, we talked over and elaborated the plan to publish a Memorial Book by the townsmen of Kamentz-Litovsk, which should consist of various memoirs, descriptions and pictures, reflecting the Jewish life in Kamenetz-Litovsk in the past and its destruction, and thus serving as a spiritual monument to our hallowed martyrs.
The above mentioned plan was brought to America and the first meeting of the Memorial Book Committee took place at my home. An executive committee was formed. At the first meeting there participated: Mrs. Sarah Horowitz, Secretary of the Committee, with many years of active work amongst the townsmen of Kamenetz-Litovsk behind her and her children Mr. and Mrs. Iser Goldberg; Mr. and Mrs. Haim Mendelson; Mr. and Mrs. Chatzkel Kagan; Mr. and Mrs. Itzhak Schoenfeld; Mr. Haim Rubin; Mr. and Mrs. Velvel Kustin; Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gers; Mr. and Mrs. Leizer Lifshitz; Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Post; Mr. and Mrs. Meyer Wisotzky; Mr. J. Jaffe; Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Tendler; Mr. and Mrs. David Schudroff; Mr. and Mrs. Morris Siegel; Mr. and Mrs. Eli Chait; Mr. and Mrs. Golomb; Mr. and Mrs. Louis Horowitz; Mr. Alex Schudroff and Mr. M. Morgan.
In connection with the Memorial Book, I met together with the following fellow-townsmen in Israel: Y. Rimon, Simha Dubiner, Pinhas Rabi, Hayka Cracovsky, Mr. and Mrs. Alony, Yehudith Kostakevich, Pinhas Rabid-Rudnitsky and others.
We wish to note with great pride the fact that the fellow-townsmen in America responded very warmly to our undertaking. It was my lot to become the Chairman of the Kamenetz-Litovsk Memorial Committee, and to accomplish the project of creating the Memorial Book, together withmy faithful collaborators, and in cooperation with all Kamenetz-Litovsk organizations that raised the financial contribution for this purpose.
We also introduced the custom of arranging, on the 27th day of Nisan, a yearly Commemorative Assembly to the memory of the hallowed martyrs of Kamenetz-Litovsk, with the participation of well known rabbis, writers and people active in community affairs. A touching Memorial Meeting takes place, six candles to commemorate six million hallowed martyrs are kindled. All present recite publicly "Kaddish" Prayer for the Dead.
All of us should feel proud of having fulfilled our duty and of having erected a spiritual monument to our dearest and beloved, the Jewish men, women and children of the historic Jewish Community of Kamenetz-Litovsk, near Brest-Litovsk. I thank the Almighty God for having given me the physical and spiritual strength to build the bridge which united our fellow-townsmen in America and Israel and to publish this Memorial Book.
May our children and our children's children not forget the memory of the hallowed martyrs.
Blessed be their memory!
President and Initiator of
Committee in America
|The White Tower||The Wooden Synagogue|
|Kamenets synagogue, 1921|
|Street scene in Kamenetz|
My Pure Sisters the Hallowed Martyrs Shifra, Rivka and Brakha.
Who were put to death by the abominable murderers.
God will avenge their blood.
I walked on the roads of the places which will be mentioned later on; I was in the villages whose history will be told. I grew up in the town of Kamenetz. I was brought up there and I brought up others. Therefore everything, is so close to my heart and so heart-breaking.
It is not easy to write the history of Jewish settlement in our town. It is made difficult by the lack of Jewish documentary sources, with the exception of several lines in Dubnov's "Notebook of the Council of Communities in Lithuania". I have not found any document about those distant years. It is a depressing fact that we are cut off from the sources and treasures including also Jewish documents, that can be found in the archives of Brest, Grodno and others, from which we are barred. Therefore, there was no other possibility, but to write the history of the Jewish settlement according to non-Jewish documents, mainly those belonging to Polish State institutions here.
Those documents throw very little light on Jewish life in those distant years. Informations about Jewish settlements in our region appear only at the end of the 14th Century.
As it had already been told, the Jews of Brest were, in 1388, granted a privilege by Witold, the Duke of Lithuania; but it may be assumed that Jewish settlement in Brest had existed earlier too. We have clear information about the region only from the end of the 15th century. But even in this case it is to be assumed that Jewish settlements had existed earlier. Kobryn appears as an organized community at the beginning of the 16th Century. It should be stressed that Jews were expelled from Lithuania in 1495, during the rule of the Lithuanian Duke and Crown Prince Alexander. However, after he had been crowned King of Poland, he allowed them to return in 1503 and returned them their houses and property in exchange for an annual tax.
Thus it can be taken for granted that the Jewish settlement in Kamenetz began very early.
The Jews were for the first time mentioned in a document from the year 1525. We can conjecture that during the process of establishment of towns in backward Lithuania, when the Jews had the possibility not only to deal in trade and money but also to acquire land property and to exercise all professions, they lived in an important town, situated on a highway and close to such a big town as Brest-Litovsk.
In a collection of Lithuanian documents, published by the historian G. Bershadsky, the Kamenetz Jews are described as tavern-keepers. However, the above document is shrouded in obscurity and we do not know whether it referred to a Jewish population center in the town or to a few tavern-keepers. We may therefore assume that some Jews lived there; even if their number was not large, it reached at least ten men the number prescribed for community prayer.
From this follows that there had been Jews in Kamenetz even before that date. The aforementioned document includes the following statement:
"On February 26th 1525 the town Kamenetz received
|1.||One additional market day, except Saturday.|
|2.||Permission to build a synagogue, subject to the condition that it should not be taller and more beautiful than the local Christian churches.|
|3.||Permission to build a ritual bath on a plot belonging to the town.|
|4.||Permission to establish a cemetery in the town or outside it.|
|5.||Permission to engage in commerce and trade without limitations, as well as to buy real estate in the town and to build houses.|
Christian inhabitants of Kamenetz brings to light the sentiments of hatred and jealousy felt by the Gentile townspeople towards the Jews. The Christian inhabitants of Kamenetz were arrogant and contemptuous and led a struggle against both the nobility and the Jews.
Just like in other towns of Poland and Lithuania, so did the Jews of Kamenetz enjoy the support of the nobility.
We had already taken note of the first document from 1525, which decreed that the Jewish taverns be transferred to the Christian inhabitants of the town. Let us pay attention to the sharp tone used by Ladislaus IV in the privilege granted by him in 1635:
"We let it be known by our Starosta in Kamenetz and other municipal offices: we declare that it is our desire to confirm the validity of everything put down in the privilege and we order not to disturb (in Latin: inviolabiter) the freedom of the Jews which had been given to them by us."
The disappearance, in the privilege of Jan Casimir, of the fine-clause, with which the townspeople had been threatened in case they would sabotage the rights of the Jews, bears witness to the sharp struggle of the Christians in the town against the Jews. It ought to be understood that the sentence appearing in the decree of King Michael Wisniowiecki bears witness to the obstacles put by the townspeople in the way of realizing the privilege. They doubtlessly fought with all their strength against the fulfilment of the terms of the privilege.
At the end of the 17th century (1693) a protest, signed by 40 citizens, was lodged by the Kamenetz Town Council, against the Councillor Andrej Piablewicz who had leased the tax on alcoholic drinks to the Jews, without having previously consulted the other Councillor s and the entire town-council. It must be stressed that under the rule of King Jan Sobieski, in the years 1670-1696, the policy of the Central Government supported the Jews just like in the previous years. And so we see the Finance Minister Sapieha lease the taxes in Kamenetz to the Jews Isaac (Ajzyk) Nojgmowicz and Yeshayahu Jakubowicz.
At that time Kamenetz was still a district capital with a customs house to deal with the transit of goods from the Region of Brest to the Region of Podlasie.
Kamenetz was mentioned in the above document among the important towns Brest, Pinsk and Yalovo to which belonged a number of adjoining townlets. One of the townlets subordinate to Kamenetz was Mlitsytch.
The townspeople did not rest and, throughout the entire reign of Sobieski, they sought all conceivable pretexts to act against the privilege given to the Jews of the town. In 1684, the chief town official requests that the privilege granted to Kamenetz by King Jan III (Sobieski) be registered in the Book of Documents in Vilna, upon the request of the town-Council. In this document the King confirms the rights which the town has received from Alexander, Sigismund I (Zygmunt), Sigismund III and others. In the document notice is taken, too, of the accusation levelled by the Kamenetz Christians against the Wojewoda (Provincial Governor) Ostap Tyszkiewicz, owner of the villages Klepiez and Pasieki. The accusation had already been dealt with in 1631 and was concerned with privileges which had been granted long ago. Jan III confirms the rights of the town-council and orders the Jews to accept its authority and jurisdiction. In this decree, Sobieski compels the Jews to obey the municipal instances and fulfil all duties imposed upon every citizen of the town.
All this should not mislead us. From the lines of the aforementioned documents we learn about good relations between the Jews and their neighbours. The Jews lived in Kamenetz and its vicinity and presumably also in the villages. In documents from 1733 we read about Jews from the villages Holoborek as well as about a Jew dwelling in a church estate.
From the wills included among the documents deposited in the archives of the Kamenetz municipality we learn about commercial relations and negotiations between Christians and Jews.
Landlords and estate-owners from the surrounding area traded mainly with the Jews and there were no limits to the transactions. The Christians townsmen could not bear it.
At the beginning of the 18th century, during the rule of August II, King of Saxony, we already perceive a change in the conditions. The importance of Kamenetz decreases. Another "Starostwo" (administrative unit) exists beside it; it is located at Klacze, which was Tyskiewicz's property, and its authority extends over the entire region adjoining the Bialowieza Forest.
Hard times arrived for the Jews of Poland and Lithuania.
Blood-libels and other concocted charges became a frequent occurrence. The political reaction, headed by the clergy, spread all kinds of prejudices among the people who became afraid of Jewish witches who allegedly had made a pact with evil spirits. Anti-Jewish persecutions became a daily occurrence. Simple people were frightened by stories about the Jews casting an "evil eye" on crops in the fields. An echo of this period reaches us from Kamenetz too. A document from June 17th, 1718, tells us the following story: "Two Jewesses charged with witchcraft were arrested at Kamenetz. Hayka Shmulikha concealed in garbage a pot with strange objects, for example: flour, moon, eggs, oats etc. Hayka claimed she had done it upon the request of another Jewess Yospa. Yospa declared that she had hidden the objects in order to heal her daughter. The same Yospa, a musician's wife, cried and said she had visited a wise woman who had ordered her to prepare the mixture and hide it in order to protect it from an evil eye and the view of wicked people. Both of them were taken under guard to the fortress.
We know the end of the story of the two Jewesses, but this libel conforms to the false accusations spread about the Jews in Brest and its vicinity, who were flooded with blood libels and charged with having aided the Swedes in 1703 during their invasion.
Finally the struggle led by the townspeople against the Jews achieved its aim. The townspeople complain to King August II that in addition to the privilege from 1670 the Kamenetz Jews live comfortably, sell spirits, honey, beer and other drinks, trade quite freely, open shops in the market and in the town itself, buy and sell houses and property belonging to the nobility and the church, sell textile-wares at retail and at wholesale as well as haberdashery of various kinds, dump merchandise in the Old Town, cut down the prices of the houses, and with all this cause suffering to the citizens of Kamenetz".
King August II of Saxony replies to these accusations by an order which forbids the Jews to build flats in the courtyards, and to deal in alcoholic drinks. He also orders the "Starosta" to impose limitations upon the Jewish trade and shops. The above complaint of the townspeople is based on the privilege which the town received from Michael Wisniowiecki the same king who had confirmed the old rights of the Kamenetz Jews and added to them new ones. We have already noted that in 1684 the townspeople lodged a complaint against giving the Jews priority rights, and they did so on the basis of the privilege granted to the town inhabitants.
The whole thing is somewhat puzzling. But the problem looks different when we investigate the manner in which the Jews in Lithuania received privileges from the Polish kings. The Jews used to obtain the privileges with great efforts and large amounts of money. Therefore they used to be called at that time: "hens that lay golden eggs", since every confirmation of a privilege or granting of a new one was connected with a delivery of "golden eggs" to the king, to his chancellery, to the provincial (voyvodship) authority and others.
We are familiar with the situation which arose in this manner. General and particular privileges were granted in addition to previous ones, given to the townspeople by the king and the principal aim of which was to restrict Jewish activity of a competitive character. Both sides would often reach agreement. The townsmen, however, could not abide by the terms of the agreement, for the life reality proved to be more powerful and so they used to apply for intervention of the authorities; and the Jews, in exchange for money, would procure new privileges. We learn from the above complaint that Kamenetz was divided into two parts the Old Town and the New Town. It is easy to understand that the western part constituted the Old Town which included the Litevska Street and its neighbourhood. The Jewish Quarter was located in the center of Kamenetz and comprised all the lanes around the Great Synagogue, besides Leszno with the religious school (Talmud-Torah), and the ritual bath.
The Municipality of Kamenetz was a powerful and active institution which displayed remarkable arrogance, refused even to receive orders from the provincial governor(Wojwoda) and often appealed directly to the king. This explains the hard struggle for existence led by the Kamenetz Jews. It is easy to understand that the citizens fought against the Jews and Jewish peddlers who hawked in the villages, estates and in Kamentez itself without permission.
The taverns which were a source of livelihood for the Jews, galled the Christian inhabitants. The aforementioned documents re-echo the accusations brought forth by Polish anti-Semites, such as the well-known Jew baiter Stanislaw Macinski and others.
The Jewish population in Kamenetz reached the number of several hundred souls. We learn this from a document dated 1705:
"The Treasurer of the Synagogue, Shimon from the Community of Brest delivered a budget of the head-tax imposed upon the Jewish Communities and townlets in the region of Brest. At the meeting the sum of 11084 Zlotys was imposed on Brest, on Kobryn 315 Zlotys, on Pruzhany 485 Zlotys, on Kamenetz 50 Zlotys, on Meltsch 100 Zlotys etc.
At the beginning of the 18th century, during the period of the Central Jewish Autonomy, the Lithuanian Jews paid an annual head-tax amounting to 60.000 Zlotys. But after the autonomy had been abolished in 1764 the communities had to pay 2 Zlotys head-tax for every Jew over one year old.
Therefore it may be taken for granted that during the period of the counting the tax amounted to one Zloty per person. The Lithuanian Jews paid 60.000 Zlotys at that time. Hence, we shall not make an error if we estimate the number of Jews in Kamenetz, at the beginning of 18th century at 200 persons whose age exceeded one year. It follows that Kamenetz was a small Jewish center, but according to the standards of those times such a center was considered important.
The history of Jews in Kamenetz has not yet been written. As it had already been told the documents concerning the internal life of the community, its cultural life, its economic struggle, its rabbis and sages learned in the Law, were not in possession of the writer of this outline. But even these few lines expose to view a Jewish Community in its historic struggle for existence.
Translation of the Royal Privilege granted in 1661 by Jan Kazimierz, King of Poland, to the Jews of Kamenetz Sixteen hundred and sixty years after the birth of Christ, the twentieth day in January, in the office of the Court of the Town of Brest, before the standard-bearer and under-Starosta Hieronim Casimir Olenski, with those who represent the Jews of Brest, Berek and Barukla, the heads of the Jews in Kamenetz. The Letter of His Grace Royal Excellency.
Letter of His Grace the Royal Excellency which is a privilege written on parchment in the Little Chancellery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and which is given to the Jews in Kamenetz and is being copied in the books of the town of Brest, and this is its worded content:
Jan Kazimierz, King of Poland, with God's Grace etc. We announce in this letter: In order to bolster up and increase the prosperity and welfare of our subjects, we are concerned that our towns should have control not only over population but also over ramified trade. For this purpose markets have been set up in the towns.
Therefore we take the advice of our officials in the Royal Court who are together with us, and who have advised us that in conformity with the needs of people of religious and secular status, and also in conformity with the needs of our Jewish subjects who live in Kamenetz, we declare: In addition to the market-day which in our town Kamenetz, falls on every Saturday, every Tuesday in every week will be a market day, too, so that henceforth two market-days will be held in our town Kamenetz and so it will remain forever, without causing any damage to the adjoining towns.
Desiring to show our royal favour to the Jews in Kamenetz, and following the example of other towns and townlets in our Kingdom, we permit them to construct a synagogue and a Jewish religious School on the plot belonging to the Jew Baruch Szporzakowicz which is situated near the plot belonging to the citizen Chrustkowski, or in a different place, owned by a different man, but it should not equal in height and splendour the churches and mosques in town.
We also permit them to build a bath on a municipal plot of land, which has already been acquired by Jacob Kushnir whose name is famous and praiseworthy.
They are also entitled to establish a cemetery within or outside the town-limits. And finally, we grant them all freedoms to open shops, taverns and to engage in every trade and to acquire property and plots of land in the town.
And in order that they should not thereby sustain hardship and damages (praeditiones in Latin) at the hand of our townspeople, we impose a fine, in accordance with the letter of our brother, Wladyslaw IV whose memory we hallow, of the eleventh of December sixteen hundred and thirty five of our era. We declare and stress it again with all our strength and notify about it our citizen the Starosta, now and in the future; we also notify the town authorities and order them to protect the freedoms which we had conferred upon the abovementioned Jews and the rights of the Jews of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, without any disturbance whatsoever.
Given in Warsaw in elected Crown Sejm (Parliament) on the sixteenth day in the
month of June, in the year sixteen hundred and sixty-one, in the thirteenth
year of the reign of our Polish and Swedish Lord King Jan Kazimierz.
|Signed with my own hand|
The Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania brought this letter to be recorded in the books of the town Brest.
|The historical "White Tower" of Kamenetz, erected in 13th Century.|
We, the last generation of its Jewish inhabitants, dispersed all over the world, know very little about its past. We remember the old dilapidated little houses, the long rows of miserable looking shops, but are unaware of the resplendent past, when kings and princes used to shape the town's history.
Kamenetz lies near Brest-Litovsk, which has always been an important crossroads. Roads joining all regions of the united Polish-Lithuanian monarchy met there. Merchants and other travellers used to stop there.
Kamentez-Litovsk was situated on the main highway which led from Vilno to Lvov and already in the Middle Ages was one of the most important routes.
According to the Chronicles, Kamenetz was established in 1276 by the Volhynian Prince Vladimir Vasilevich. He was motivated by his desire to protect Brest-Litovsk against the Tartars and Kamenetz was to serve as a fortified outpost.
A fortress was built on the banks of the Lesna river on elevated ground and its remnants can still be seen today. The fortress was called the White Tower (Biala Wieza in Polish) and gave its name to the adjoining gigantic forest (Puszcza Bialowieska).
Because of its important location Kamenetz was a bone of contention between the Princes of Little Russia, Lithuania and Masovia; at the beginning of the 14th century it came under the rule of Lithuanian Princes. At that time it was the central town of a large region (Starostwo) stretching as far as Kobryn, Siemiatycze and Pruzhany.
Later on Kamenetz was attacked by the Teutonic Knights but though they caused heavy damages their occupation was of short duration.
Janusz the Prince of Masovia captured Kamenetz, but the future Polish-Lithuanian King Jagiello recaptured it after a successful siege. From that time onwards Kamenetz belonged to Lithuania; hence its name Litovsk. Polish kings were frequent guests at Kamenetz. They came there to attend joint councils of the United Kingdom and to hunt in the adjoining forests. Some of the rulers resided at Kamenetz for shorter or longer periods; one of the reasons why they chose Kamenetz was its location which made it an ideal meeting place between the Polish and Lithuanian "Szlachta" (nobility). The "Starostwo" was considered as royal property.
In 1525 new Privileges were conferred upon the town, it possessed its own municipal-council headed by a burgomaster, and its own municipal courts headed by a "Woft". Its jurisdiction extended over the neighbouring localities.
Some of the famous noble families, which left their imprint upon the history of Poland, lived in the vicinity of or were connected with Kamenetz. They include the influential families Tyszkiewicz. Paczewicz, Radziwill and Sapieha. One of the local families belonging to lower nobility became very famous in the 18th century. It was the Kosciuszko family whose most important representative Tadeusz fought in the American Revolutionary War and later on led the unsuccessful Polish uprising of 1794.
From the documents collected by the Vilna Historical Commission we know about the bitter competition between the powerful nobility and the townspeople of Kamenetz.
The royal decrees and privileges had freed the town from various obligations and it enjoyed a large measure of independence as well as the rights to fell timber in the adjoining forests. No wonder that it gave rise to constant friction with the powerful "Szlachta" which considered itself as the ruling class. The above mentioned documents bring to light the numerous conflicts between the litigants the townspeople supported by the royal decrees and the nobility jealously guarding its privileges.
In the 17th century, during the Cossack and Swedish wars, the town suffered considerable damages. Therefore, it was exempted from paying certain taxes for the period of 4 years. The Jews, too, were exempted. Customs duties and taxes on the sale of alcoholic drinks, however, which were the main source of the state revenue, were not included in the decree. It may be noted that the rights to collect the taxes were leased to the Jews.
In the 18th century the glorious period of Kamenetz ended. It loses its royal status and becomes the possession of a magnate, Wielhorski. Many noblemen sold their property and left Kamenetz. Its importance decreased after the partitions of Poland and it became a typical little town. In 1878 there were 6885 inhabitants in Kamenetz and the adjoining villages; 5900 (90%) of them were Jews.
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