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[Page 633]


Editor’s Introduction

Translated by Ita Shedletzky


35 years have passed since the destruction of our community, but its memory and the terror of those fightful days will never faint and are still alive in the hearts of all the Jews from this town.

This is testified by this book we publish today.

Six thousand Jews lived in our town – six thousand among the six million victims of the most horrible catastrophe that ever came over our people.

Only a few of us escaped death; they live now dispersed all over the world, and some of them live here in Israel.

We, the bemourners of the holocaust, feel the great need to put up a monument for all those who were not buried according to the Jewish rites.

This holy duty we fulfill now with the publication of this book, although it contains only a Small part of the life and the creative work, of the suffering and the destruction of our community, which lived in the shadow of the great Jewish community of Warsaw. All we can present here are only remnants rescued from the fire. Many deeds and happenings have been forgotten and lost, lost together with those who were killed in the holocaust or died since then.

But it was hard work to collect even the little we could and rescue it from being forgotten. Only with enormous effort we managed to put together all those things in the book now lying in front of us.

This book is a public Kaddish in memory of our community and all its people.

It shall remain the heritage of every one of us, forever and for eternity, for the sake of our children, that they may remember their origin, learn from the experience of their parents' fate and continue the eternal succession of generations.


*

The history of our town reaches several hundred years back. At least during half of this time a Jewish community existed there.

In 1971 Minsk celebrated 550 years since the family-village of Minska received urban status from the count for Mazowsze Jan Starszy in 1421. A few decades later – in 1465 – it got permission to have a bath, a weekly market and three fairs a year, as well as the right to exact bridge-taxes The estates in the neighborhood belonged to the Minski brothers. Later an the estates became the possession of several families of the Polish nobility and were finally in the hands of the Dernalowicz family.

One of the oldest historical monuments is the church in the center of the town, opposite the market place. This church had been built of wood in the second year of the town's existence – in 1422. Only in the 16th century – after a fire – it was reconstructed in brick and in this form the church has been preserved to this day, including the ancient paintings in the interior.

During the Swedish Invasion into Poland Minsk suffered a lot and was partially burnt down. The town began flourishing at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century with the construction of the highway Warsaw – Brest. In 1867 the name of the town was officially changed from Minsk into Novo-Minsk in order to distinguish it from Minsk in Bielorussia. When Poland became independent after the First World War the name was changed again into Minsk-Mazowiecki. In the old Jewish sources the town is mentioned under various names: Mintsk, Novo-Mintsk, New Mintsk or Little Mintsk.

Since when have Jews been living in Minsk?

According to various historical sources (among others the Pinkas, which is now prepared at Yad Vashem but has not yet appeared in print), there was Jewish life in Minsk already 300 years ago. In any case during 200 years a Jewish community existed there including all the institutions like a Rabbi, a cemetery etc.

According to the "Encyclopedia Judaica", in 1827 at the time of the general census there lived in Minsk 260 Jews in a general population of 770, while in 1864 they numbered 620 or 46,3% of the total Population.

The “Geographical Lexicon of the Polish Kingdom” (Warsaw 1885) states, that in 1861 there were in Minsk 125 houses and 1338 inhabitants, among them 692 Jews.

The geographical Situation of the area (550-600 meters above the level of the Wisla river), and the fast that it was surrounded by pine woods, the closeness to Warsaw and to the railway track and the central highway to the east, all this brought about a quick development of the place which became – together with Otwock and Mrozy – an important holiday-resort for the growing population of Warsaw. Industry, commerce and crafts also began to develop and Jews took a more and more – important Part in these last two branches.

There are only very few documents concerning the first Jews in Minsk, they have all been destroyed together with old gravestones. But even without written documents we all know about at least several hundred years of Jewish life in our town.

Thus, we know that the Jewish community began to flourish with the construction of the above-mentioned highway from Warsaw to Brest and farther on to Moscow. At that time a great number of Jewish craftsmen came to Minsk from other towns and older communities. They changed the character of the Jewish population, which up to then had mainly existed of villagers. Part of those Jews who came to Minsk worked in trades that were rather rare among Jews like road-builders and stonecutters.

Among the Jews who came to Minsk at the end of the 18th century there was the almost legendary figure of R. Ezra Bernstein. He was called Ezra the Undertaker because he was among the entrepreneurs of the road building.

In the second half of the 19th century the Jewish community of Minsk prospered. A proof for this is the fact that the Chassidic rabbi R. Yankele founded a Chassidic court in the town and a year later (1874) the well-known rabbi Yechiel Michael Rabinowitz became the rabbi of the town.

We know about two rabbis in Minsk before Rabbi Rabinowitz: R. Israel-Yankel and R. Menashe. During a certain time the rabbinate of Minsk was in association with the communities of Kaluszyn and especially Siennica (7 kilometers from Minsk) where Jews lived according to a such older tradition.

In 1897 – according to official statistics – the number of Jews in the town was 3445, 55,6% of the total population.

In the years of the vast emigration after the pogroms in Russia and the events of 1905, which were especially violent in Minsk – the Jewish population decreased. Many Jews emigrated, so that the census of 1908 a stagnation in the number of Jews: 3344 in a general population of 5441. In spite of his the percentage of Jews increased to 61,4%.

In the years of World War I Jews started emigrating to bigger cities – mainly Warsaw – where life was more secure than in the small towns.

After the war – in 1921 – the census shows a Jewish population of 4130 out of 10518 inhabitants (39,3%). An additional number of 376 Jews lived in 35 villages in the neighborhood – like Jakubow, Glinianka and Deby-Wielkie.

In the years between the two world wars an intensive political and social life developed among the Jews in Minsk. They erected various institutions, schools, libraries, trade unions, a cooperative and a commercial bank.

The community council consisted of 12 members: nine from Agudat Israel, two heads of the craftsmen's union and one Zionist. In 1931 there were seven from Agudat Israel, four craftsmen and one from the right wing of Poale Zion.

The municipal council, consisting of 24 members, included eight Jews in 1924: three craftsmen leaders, four of Agudat Israel, two Zionists and one member of Poale Zion (right).

The Zionist organizations were usually not much involved in internal political affairs. But they were represented by craftsmen leaders, which explains their small representation in the town council as well as in the community administration.

In the thirties the Jewish representation in the local government decreased as a result of an election reform, which was carried through for this very purpose. This in spite of the fact that the Jewish population was never less than 30%. In the last municipal elections there were only three Jewish representatives.

The economic boycott in the thirties ruined the economic life to a great extent. The pogrom in the summer of 1936 and the ceaseless persecutions afterwards caused renewed emigration. Many Jews left legally or Regally – for France; part of the Jews came to Palestine with the illegal immigration.


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