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[p. 31]

Dov Rabin: The History of the Jews in Krynki up to the 1890's

(From the history of the Jews in Krinki)

Translated by Danny Rubinoff

From the distant past in Krynki (From the distant past)

Krynki (Krynyk, Krynek) was founded at the White Russian–Polish crossroads, approximately forty-nine kilometers south of Grodno. Like other settlements in the area, Krynki inherited its name from a tributary which flows near the town and deposits its water into the nearby Svisloc River, itself a tributary of the Neman River. Krynki is situated in a hilly and fertile area. Not far from Krynki from toward the west is found the ancient Krynki “Puszcza” Forest. This forest reaches until Chern-vietch on the Bialistock-Grodno railroad line and until the town of Supras'l.

Krynki is first mentioned in historical documents in the year 1434. In March of that year a summit took place between the Polish King Valdislav Yagella and the Lithuanian Nobleman Zigmunt Kestitovich. Yagella, while participating in a hunt in the Balavisher Forest, accepted an invitation by Kestitovich to meet with him in Krynki. It was in the town of Krynki that they renewed the alliance between the Polish Crown and Lithuania, (known as the “Unia”) and worked on improving relations between the two countries.

The village of Krusheniani remains in the vicinity of Krynki as a memorial to an earlier epoch – to the time of the Tartar invasion into the area in the 13th Century. This was the largest Tartar settlement in the entire area of the Grodno region (of which Krynki was part).

Krynki first appears in the second third of the 16th Century as one of the estates of Queen Bona Sortza, wife of King Zigmunt the First in the “Ekonomiya” – the register of the Grodno region. On the 22nd of November, 1569, the King of Poland, Zigmunt August granted self-rule to Krynki, in the fashion of the Magdeburg Law. This law was imported to Poland and Lithuania by the Germans who were invited to settle in the Polish cities. The Magdeburg Law freed the area on which it fell from the rule of king and nobleman to whom it belonged previously.

For the “mitchzanim” (burghers) – the citizens of the towns, this law granted the right to elect a town council and city magistrate effectively enabling them to control their own affairs. According to the Magdeburg Law, all lands that had already been granted and surveyed remained in the citizen's hands. The exceptions to the rule were fish ponds and village meadows which were already designated as city plots and those lands which belonged to the Krynki estate.

In the Second Swedish-Polish War, King Karl the 12 th encamped in Krynki on the cold winter day of January 12, 1706.This was in the middle of his retreat with his defeated forces northward from the Second Army which was hotly pursuing them.

“The Writ of Privilege” (The description of the emergence of the community)

The earliest archival document concerning the Jews of Krynki is the “Writ of Privilege” which King Kazmir granted to the Jews on January 12, 1662. This “privilege” was later renewed by King Zigmunt the Third, Vladimir the Fourth, Johan the Third and by August the Third.

The “Writ of Privilege” granted the Jews of Krynki the very same rights that were granted to other Jewish communities in the Lithuanian grand duchy. These rights consisted of the following: the right to acquire inheritable property in the market or in any street in the town; e.g. houses, garden plots, meadows, plowing areas, and to keep these properties and act toward them in a fashion of ownership. The right to build and establish synagogues, inns and new homes according to their own will. The right to repair old buildings, to produce whiskey and to brew mead and beer and to sell them in retail or wholesale trade in their own houses or rented houses.

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The right to engage in various types of businesses: to open stores in the market or in their homes. The right to engage in various trades: to establish and build butcher shops and to repair old ones, to buy animals in the market place and to trade them without having to pay taxes and levies. The Jews are permitted to rebuild a synagogue in the event that it burns down and to rebuild it in its original locale or in a new location. They are allowed to repair old synagogues. They are similarly allowed to have their own cemeteries and to even build the necessary buildings on the cemetery grounds. They are allowed to build bathhouses. The plots on which the synagogue and cemeteries are built are free from property taxes. All property taxes, levies on pubs and inns along with head taxes are to be paid solely to the treasury of the King in Krynki. It is permissible for the Jews and the “mitzchanim,” non-Jewish citizens of the towns, to make use of the town meadows and to use the forest grove at the entrance to town. Additionally, the King formally transfers the official market day from Saturday to Thursday. He also gives permission to the town dwellers, the Jews and other groups—wagon drivers, small tradesmen, and butchers to come to the market from out-of-town with assorted merchandise for sale, purchase and exchange and to engage in trade in a free manner.

Concerning fees (especially for the needs of the army) placed on the city dwellers, the Jews must pay their portion according to existing rules and decisions of the government officials. The Jews are free (according to the statute of 1600) from paying postal fees.

The Burgher's Attack on Jewish Rights (The bourgeois against the rights of the Jews)

The burghers, town citizens, in Krynki did not look favorably upon the rights granted to the Jews according to the “Writ of Privilege”. They appealed to the government to repeal these rights. The commission established by the King to examine the burghers' claims originally ruled in favor of the burghers. However, the Jews of Krynki complained, explaining how this ruling would damage them. Nevertheless, a final ruling was never accorded and the matter remained undecided. Meanwhile the exorbitant expenses needed to fight the legal battle broke down both sides and in the end the King decreed to keep in force the rights granted to the Jews.

Yet, the burghers did not rest their case and on June 6, 1668 they issued a charge on the entire Jewish community and its leaders. The burghers claimed that according to the stories of the Bishop Godrytz, many items had disappeared and that rumor had it that the Jews were to blame. However, it was clarified that the claim had no basis in reality and only caused the burghers additional expenses unnecessarily. The burghers had to pay a fine and some of their rights granted to them under the Magdeburg Law were repealed.

Having no choice, the burghers came to an agreement with the Jews of the city on February 2, 1669, which was confirmed by King Yan Kazimir. According to this agreement, the burghers were obligated first and foremost to rescind all claims that they had made against the Jews since the year 1662, at which time the “Writ of Privilege” was granted. Similarly, they accepted upon themselves the responsibility in the future to give help to the Jews and to protect them in case of riots and attacks against them. Furthermore, the burghers also allowed the Jews to keep in perpetuity their synagogue “which stands between the houses of Yanova Kotlovayva on one side and Volf the son of Isaac on the other side and whose front faces the brewery and the house of the Jew Aharon…” The same law applied to the Jewish houses in the market and other real estate “which is in their hands and will be for them in the future.”

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The agreement obligated all Christian city dwellers and similarly their descendants who might some time in the future try to break any detail of the agreement by acting against the Jews to pay a fine of 1,000 kop which is the equivalent of 60,000 Lithuanian groschens to the King's treasury and also compensation for any damages and expenses.

Whereas the King on his side added to the injunction and ordered an extra fine of 2,000 kop or 120,000 groschen on any burgher who tried to disturb the tranquility of the Jews through denying their rights granted them by the Polish Kings. Also such an attempt on the part of a burgher would result in the loss of his own rights.

All the above was again confirmed by King August the Third in Warsaw on January 19, 1745. It was registered for the records of the royal court of Justice in Grodno on the seventh of September 1745 by Kopol the son of Todros from Krynki in the name of Mendel the son of Leib, leader of the Jewish community of Krynki.

An Early Glimpse into the Community (The Krynki community, Kehila, at its beginning)

The above cited document together with the “Writ of Privilege” itself not only shed light on the non-friendly and troubled relationship of the burghers to the Jews, (which was even worse in other Jewish communities) but they also show us that by the Sixties of the 17 th Century the Jews of Krynki were already organized into a community structure. They had synagogues, a bathhouse, a cemetery and various property. We also see that they dealt in brewing alcoholic beverages and had taverns for their distribution. The Jews also dealt in trade, crafts and cultivated vegetable gardens in the framework of village agriculture. In addition we see that the Jews knew very well how to stand up for their rights – an attribute which describes the Jews of Krynki also in future generations.

Krynki Jewry was once again mentioned in an official archival document from the year 1680. This was concerning a Head-tax debt which the Jews in the Grodner district owed to the kingdom: of which one hundred and fifty gilden was assessed from Krynki Jewry.

KRYNKI – A Community Member of the Council of Lithuania (Krinki a community in Lithuania)

Krynki is mentioned in a Jewish source in the year 1679 in the “Pinkas” – record book of the Council of Lithuania, which will be discussed later. The chronicles of the Krynki community itself have not come down to us or were not preserved. The fate of “Chevra Kadisha” – burial society records, “Chevros Limud” – Torah learning societies records and registers of various other social and charity related societies were similar. None have been preserved. [1]

In the “Pinkas” of the Council of Lithuania, (the central organization for Jewish self-rule in the area of the grand duchy of Lithuania in the 16 th and greater part of the 17 th Centuries) Krynki is mentioned for the first time in a decree of 1679. This “takana” or decree concerned certain debts which the council owed to a number of creditors from whom it had borrowed money to pay for its operating expenses. Amongst these creditors is mentioned the “Captain, the Rav R' Leib from Krynki”, who was owed 62.5 gilden. It is not clear whether R' Leib was the Rabbi in Krynki at that time. In any case, the use of the word “Aluf” – captain which is a general title of honor used for leaders of the Jewish community gives testimony to his elevated stature. It appears that he was also wealthy because he is mentioned two more times in the very same decree in connection with debts owed to him by the Council many more times the size of the above mentioned debt!

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The “Vaad HaMedina” (Council of Lithuania) and its Session in Krynki (The government assembly and its meeting in Krinki)

In the year 1687, the Krynki Jewish community had the honor of hosting the “Vaad Hamedina” the Council of Lithuania. This was one of the Council's thirty-seven sessions during its century and a half of existence. In those times, a session of the “Vaad Hamedina” was considered a very honorable occasion in the internal affairs of the Jewish community. What exactly was the “Vaad Hamedina”?

As earlier mentioned, the Council was the highest representative organization of the Jews of that time in Lithuania. The “Vaad” was established right after the Polish Parliament had regulated a universal general head tax for the Jews of Poland, and for the Jews of Lithuania in particular. This was in place of the earlier system of tax assessment according to the number of Jews and taken directly from them. The Council of Lithuania was thus founded as the central Jewish representative body whose most important function was the composition and distribution of head-tax burdens and other special taxes upon the various local Jewish communities of the country. Another parallel function of the Council was the levying of internal taxes on the Jewish populace in order to support the organizational functioning of the Council itself and for the support of local Jewish communities.

The “Vaad” was composed of the representatives of three major communities (later from still more communities), amongst them, the community of Grodno, to whose region belonged the town of Krynki. Based on its above-mentioned official status, the “Vaad” also would liaison with the highest government officials concerning the lessening of the tax burden on the Jews and guaranteeing that Jewish rights and privileges were preserved. Thereby, it became the highest Jewish political organ in the land and often would consult with the Council of Poland - the “Council of the Four Lands” about matters which concerned Jewry as a whole; matters such as defense against libels and making efforts and bringing to bear various means in order to elude, repeal or mitigate anti-Semitic decrees.

Having the possibilities, due to its official capacity, to actually put its decisions into law, the Council became the most authoritative voice concerning general internal matters of the Jews in the economic, educational and religious spheres. For example, the Council, in order to protect certain traditionally Jewish businesses and trades, declared a prohibition of infringing and encroaching on the rights of businesses and established laws protecting rights of possession in businesses and trades. It enacted various rulings in the Jew's internal jurisdiction; problems of personal conduct, education, the strengthening of Torah study and also in the areas of “Tsedaka” – charity and social assistance. Besides all this, the Council organized regular support for its Jewish Brethren who had settled in the Holy Land – in “Eretz Yisroel”.

In order to adhere to its large financial obligations, the Council, as shown earlier, was forced to take on loans from individuals and from other sources. This was needed especially in order to distribute bribes and hush money to notables in the Polish Parliament and in other offices. Large sums were also needed in order to save Jewish children from forced conversion by the unrestrained Jesuit Clergy and for ransom money. One of the creditors of the council was the above-mentioned “Rabbi from Krynki” R' Leib.

As mentioned, a session of the Council was held in the Town of Krynki in the month of Elul in the year 1687. It was a period in Lithuania when the Jewish communities had not yet fully recuperated from the destruction and ravages of the Cossack raids under Chmelnitzky, and from later Russian persecution during the Polish-Moscow war. Additionally, heavy tributes were demanded of the communities during the time of the Swedish Invasion. Due to these conditions, the Council chose a smaller and more out of the way location for its gathering, and it convened in the town of Zablodova, then a very inconspicuous town, and later the “mother” of the Jewish community of Bialistok.

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It turned out, because of a frame-up against the local leadership and Rabbis, the delegates to the Council were forced to leave Zablodova and convene in Krynki, which was one of the most important communities in the Grodno area and the most responsible concerning tax matters in its “neighborhood” –from among the smaller neighboring Jewish settlements and poor surrounding villages.

In the course of its twenty-second session held in Krynki, the Council completed the disrupted deliberations about the distribution of tax quotas and other rulings and finalized its decisions. Amongst its rulings, it was decided to strengthen the Talmud Torahs and to support Yeshivos in a number of communities. The Council additionally made decisions about rights of possessions and leases on properties and taverns. It also strictly enforced laws about falsifying weights and measures and even in dealings with non-Jews.

As a result of the structure of the Council, the smaller communities became dependent on the nearby larger community. This was true concerning tax assessment as well as religious matters such as appointments of Rabbis in their communities. The larger communities used their power in the “regional council” to cast onto the smaller communities a disproportionate and unjust percentage of the tax burden.

The Krynki Community Rebels (The Krinki people revolt)

In the beginning of the 18 th Century, together with a number of smaller communities in the Grodno District, Krynki rebelled against discrimination in the assessment of the head tax, which Grodno had so unfairly placed on the outlying towns. Krynki declared herself an independent region with the town of Amdur at its head. (The Amdur Jewish community was a more established one and is mentioned in the Pinkas of Lithuania as early as the year 1623.) However, the Lithuanian treasurer who was opposed to the revolt of these particular communities, intervened in the year 1720, and re-established the previous authority of Grodno on the communities who had desired liberation from her rule.

In the year 1761, the Polish parliament decided to change the head tax policy from a centralized, mass sum to a direct tax made on each family head. With this policy change, the Council of Lithuania lost its raison d'être in the eyes of the government and at the end of the year 1761 dissolved together with its district organs of self-government.

Coinciding with the initiation of the Jews' payment of taxes not on a mass sum basis, the Polish government ran a census of the Jews in every community from the end of the year 1764 until 1766. Children under the age of one were exempt from taxes and were not counted in the numbers of Jews for each local community. Besides this, the Jews made every attempt (because of monetary reasons) not to be counted in the census. In Krynki with its surrounding areas, 1,285 Jews were counted. And this was at a time when13,815 Jews were tallied in the entire Grodno district. According to Dr. Yitschak Shiffer there were 2,555 Jews in Grodno itself. And according to other sources there were only 2,418 Jews in Grodno, including immediate surrounding areas. In Amdur there were 505 Jews. In Kosnitza (whose community was mentioned in the Pinkas of Lithuania already in the year 1623) 434 Jewish tax payers were counted. In the town of Sekelka, with its surrounding areas, there were 5,222 Jews.

The Jews of Krynki in the 19 th Century (Krinki Jews in the 19 th century)

We have very meager historical sources concerning the Jews of Krynki in the first half of the 19 th Century. A few contradictory sources exist concerning Krynki Jewry's involvement in the French-Russian War of 1812. Reuven Gamber, a Jew from Krynki received a citation for bravery when he endangered his own life in order to save the life of a Russian officer during the retreat before Napoleon's forces. On the other hand it is reported that Jews from Krynki were active in supplying provisions for the French forces, encamped behind the Bug River in the Polish area.

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The situation of Krynki Jewry together with the Jews of Amdur and of Volyn in the year 1823, is described in a government announcement issued by the governor of Grodno. According to this announcement, the Jews were in such dire straits that a number of them died of hunger. Accordingly, it was impossible for the authorities to reclaim their taxes via confiscations and fines. The governor, who had his doubts about the true picture in the towns, sent a delegate from the judiciary of Grodno to investigate. The delegate confirmed that quite a number of Jews in Amdur had died of hunger and sickness, while in Krynki the situation was better due to the presence of a local doctor who took care of the sick often at his own expense!

Nevertheless the governor quickly dispatched a group of tax enforcers into the communities (at their own expense) whose job it was to requisite by force all the taxes that had not been paid to the government coffers (the so-called “Kozna”) for the last year and a half.

During the Polish Rebillion of 1863 (During the Polish uprising in 1863)

During the Polish Rebellion in the year 1863, it is related that a number of neighboring Polish nobles (“Peritzim”), tried to influence the Jews of Krynki in direct and also in indirect contacts, to support the Polish revolt. But these attempts to influence the Jews and their accompanying promises of a golden future for them “after the victory” if only the Jews would support the Polish side, did not meet with success.

Krynki Produces Textiles

An important new development in the economic and social life of Krynki Jewry was the establishment in the late 1820's of the first industrial enterprise – a small textile producing plant. In the year 1827, the lessee, Yosel Geles established this small textile operation in his own house. By 1828, there were already five Jewish workers working on four weaving looms producing peasant clothing. This development coincided with textile industrialization taking place at the time in a number of Jewish towns of the Grodno district.

Although we do not have any additional information about the above mentioned loom industry in Krynki, it is known however, that in the sixties of the previous century there were already a number of busy textile businesses active in the town. In the 1820's, the Russian authorities made efforts to expel the Jewish population from the villages in the Grodno district. This edict was a definite factor in the growth of Krynki's Jewish population. The constant growth in population caused a need for more industry and jobs. These factors together with the excellent water quality of Krynki contributed to the development of Krynki as an industrial entity. Abraham Miller relates details about Krynki's contemporary textile industry in his memoirs, which will be quoted later in the Yizkor book. He notes amongst other facts, that practically the entire populace of the shtetel “from young to old, men and women” was plunged into cloth production, which developed very nicely. Wealthy Jews erected a number of factories powered by steam engines, “and the noise from the machinery created an impression of a rich industrial city.”

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Krynki, however manufactured an inferior type of fabric and could not keep up with the economic competition and consumer demands for superior quality merchandise produced by the Bialistock and Lodz textile conglomerates. Krynki factories remained behind the times and their businesses quickly failed never to recover again. The looms and spinneries closed down and the various craftsmen left the shtetel and moved to the upcoming new industrial centers nearby. Other assorted workers who made their livings indirectly from the factories also left the town.

“The town” writes Miller, “was as empty as a cemetery. Because of the poor economic situation in town, the Jews began to buy up all saleable merchandise from the neighboring Gentiles with the hope to peddle it later in order to eke out at least a minimal living.”

Fire Disasters (Chapter on the fires)

As if this was not enough, Krynki also became subjected to a plague of ruinous fires. Three such fires devastated the town. The first fire broke out in the year 1879. The second fire took place on May 19 th 1882 and the third approximately in 1887. On a hot summer day the Synagogue, the Great Bais Medrash, The “Chayay Adam” Synagogue and the shtiebel of the Slonimer Chasidim were destroyed by fire. The damage was so extensive that nothing was left of the many deserted textile factories that had still been standing until the fire.

As usual, the Jews, of the neighboring towns, merciful by nature quickly came to help Krynki in its time of need. First of all, they sent bread for the hungry and clothing for those left only with the shirt on their backs. After a while, when the Jews of Krynki had recovered, they generously returned the aid and sent immediate relief to neighboring shtetels and cities, when they in turn were hit by fires.

Meanwhile, the town had previously adapted a new income-producing industry – that of the tannery business. Thenceforth this became the mainstay of the town economy. It also played a major role in the general and social life of the community, eventually enabling Krynki to recover and to replace her burned down wooden homes with modern brick structures.

kry037.jpg - Yaakov Zalman Levin from Horodok
Yaakov Zalman Levin from Horodok
- supplied bread from Horodok
to the victims of Krynki fire disasters.


Footnotes

  1. According to the testimony of Krynki survivors, shortly before the liquidation of the Jewish community, the Krynki communal register (pinkas) was entrusted to one of the local priests. No one knows the fate of the register! Return

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