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Translation of Krasnystaw chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Morris Gradel z"l
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This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 515-518, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Krasnystaw District, Lublin Province)
Krasnystaw(K), one of the oldest towns to be settled in Poland, served in the 12th century as the district governor's place of residence - governing on behalf of the king (the Castellan) and the Catholic bishop. In 1394 it was granted the status of town together with a wide range of economic advantages, including the right to set up a weekly market, and three fairs a year. Rapid growth was due mainly to trade connections with Danzig (Gdansk), which took place over the River Wieprz; this flows through the town and spills into the Wisla: K served as an intermediate station for barges loaded with grain, wood and other commercial goods that sailed the river. By 1569 there were 339 houses in the town, most of them built of wood.
This period of prosperity was cut short, however, by Sweden's invasion of Poland in the second half of the 17th century. The Swedes brought utter devastation to the town and the loss of its economic importance. At the beginning of the 18th century and the second Swedish invasion there remained but 40 houses. Up to the third partition of Poland in 1795 the town had not recovered from the ravages of war; and in that year it came under the sovereignty of Prussia. In 1815 the town was included in the Kingdom of Congress Poland. In the 19th century the population of K increased rapidly and became one of the largest towns in the region. The town's economy now flourished: trade expanded and industrial plants were founded. During the years 1915-1918 K was under Austrian occupation.
From the earliest documentation of the Jews of K, from the 15th century, the name of a Jewish trader is mentioned, and this tells us that Jewish merchants were frequent visitors to the town, and would even spend a few days there; this at a time when they were barred from residing in the town. In 1554 the king had granted the town the 'privilege' De non tolerandis Judaeis (order banning Jewish residence), which was renewed a couple of times, and latterly in 1765. It would seem that in spite of this 'privilege' a few Jewish families did manage to settle in the town. However, after a while they were forced to leave under pressure from the town dwellers, and at the beginning of the 17th century no Jews remained. On market and fair days, however, the Jewish merchants continued to visit the town, as the order banning Jewish residence did not apply to commercial visits.
The Austrian government, which governed K at the end of the 18th century, cancelled the previous 'privileges' which had been granted to various towns in the days of the Kingdom of Poland, including the one banning Jews from settling in K, and Jews soon began settling there. However, during the period of Congress Poland under the protection of the Russian Czar, the ban on settling in the town, which bordered Russia, was renewed, and only a very few Jewish families managed to settle there. Up to the time when the 'privilege' was finally cancelled throughout the Kingdom of Poland in 1862, there were some efforts made to set up a separate Jewish quarter in K, but this never came into being because the Jews were opposed to the idea and expressed their opposition to the central authorities in Warsaw. In those times Jews were forbidden to acquire real estate.
In the first half of the 19th century there were among the Jews highly skilled craftsmen in the clothing and metal industries (sheet metal workers); there were also entrepreneurs who founded a leather tanning plant, as well as textile, candle and soap factories. A large number of Jews were involved in the industrialization of the town, and trade conducted with nearby villages was developing well. However, at the beginning of the 20th century there were increased attacks on Jewish hawkers visiting nearby villages with their wares, and competition from the small business Polish cooperatives severely hurt Jewish earnings.
By the end of the 18th century the Jews of K had founded their first public and religious institutions. At first they prayed in a rented house in the market square and in 1799 built a synagogue. In about 1870 a new synagogue was inaugurated and a cemetery opened. In 1860 Rabbi Josef Malowertov became the rabbi of K.
During the First World War, the Austrian occupying authorities permitted (formally forbidden) overt political activities. During this period the Jews of K initiated cultural institutions and set up branches of Jewish parties, and a Jewish library was opened together with a reading hall where lectures and cultural performances took place. In 1917 a drama circle was formed but later split into two groups, one affiliated with the Bund organization and the other with the Zionists.
In this period the Jewish community concentrated its efforts on aiding the needy: many members of the community suffered deprivation and even hunger. The community raised funds from outside sources, mainly from the 'Joint' (for this and other terms, see notes at end of this translation), and opened a soup kitchen.
Towards the end of the First World War anti-Semitic soldiers from General Haller's unit entered the town, and, under the pretence of searching for arms, broke into Jewish homes (and into the Beth Midrash), pillaged and plundered possessions and properties and beat up Jews.
In the village of Borowica, near K, Szmuel Zygielbaum was born in 1895. He was one of the Bund leaders and representative of the Polish government in exile in London during World War Two. His suicide in 1943 shook public opinion throughout the world.
In spite of the increasing economic hardships, this period between the two world wars excelled in lively political activities. The leading Zionist party in K was Poalei Zion, and with the establishment of the 'League For A Labour Israel' it became the central power within this organization. This party usually won an outright majority in elections to the Zionist Congress. Second in place in power and influence in the town were branches of Mizrachi and General Zionists. In 1926 a branch of the Revisionists was set up and in 1929 a branch of its youth movement, Beitar. In 1928 a division of Hechalutz was established, and in that same year set up a training farm and a branch of Hashomer Hatsair youth movement which soon played a central role in Zionist activities in the town. However, one year after its establishment there was a split in its ranks, the dissenters setting up Hashomer Haleumi, which organization also acquired status and influence in K. In 1929 the Young Mizrachi movement also set up a training farm for its members in preparation for their 'aliya' to the Land of Israel.
In 1923 a branch of Agudat Yisrael (anti-Zionist) was established in K, and a few years later set up organizations for orthodox youth and women. In 1925 it established a girls' school, affiliated to the Beth Yaakov chain of girls' schools, which 150 girls attended. At that time, membership of the Bund organization in K had dwindled to a few dozen. Towards the end of the 1920's a group of 'Folkists' were active in the town; however, their influence declined over the years. Jews were also active in the communist party, which was then illegal; Jewish communists were arrested from time to time.
In 1925 a 'Tarbut' (culture) union was founded which devoted itself to cultural activities and supported a library. Most of the parties and youth organizations had their own clubs and small libraries and also supported drama groups and sport. In those days most of the Jewish children studied at the congregation's Cheder and Talmud Torah religious institutions, in addition to their general education at government schools.
The Zionist influence among the Jews of K was overwhelming, and in community committee elections gained the majority votes.
The Jews of K were also active in the town's municipality and usually won one third of the seats on the town council.
In K, as in most other Polish settlements in those times, Jews were subjected to attacks from anti-Semitic groups. In the 30's the anti-Jewish incitement and economic boycott intensified and windows in Jewish homes and synagogues were often smashed.
Immediately on conquering the town on 14th September the Germans hanged 7 Jewish men found hiding in the cellar of one of the houses. On the first days of their arrival they pillaged property from Jewish homes as well as Jewish business premises. On the 18th September, 1939, what was left of the Polish forces resumed fighting in the town and surroundings. The Germans then took 40 Jewish hostages and stood them in the midst of the fields where the exchange of fire was taking place; a few were killed and others wounded. When the Polish army's last stand was eliminated, those Jews who survived were returned home. Altogether 13 K Jews lost their lives during the first days of the occupation. The fighting over, the Germans began grabbing Jewish hostages as forced labourers either to supply various services for the German army stationed there, or for clearing the streets of debris and the damage caused by the fighting. In the local high school building the Germans set up special headquarters for supervising the mobilization of Jewish forced labourers. A local German (a Volksdeutscher) named Gaida helped with this project.
This violence and abuse suffered by the K Jews at the hands of the German soldiers lasted a whole week. On 24th September, 1939, they were forced to leave the town to make room for the Red Army. However, two weeks later the Soviets were obliged to retreat eastward to the border line, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the Germans returned to K. Some of the Jews, mainly youngsters and teenagers, accompanied the retreating Soviets.
At the beginning of 1940 a Judenrat was set up, headed by Lipa Reichman and including Issachar Rozenbojm, Alter Katz and David Zylbercan. Eventually others also joined the Judenrat. The Judenrat was in charge of sending out the Jewish forced labour gangs. Most of the labourers were engaged in building a new bridge over the River Bug and repairing houses destroyed in the early stages of the war. Much criticism was levelled at the Judenrat for allowing men of means to redeem themselves from work obligations by means of bribery. In the spring of 1940 the Germans exacted tribute from the Jewish community; the Judenrat collected from the Jews of K gold jewelry and other valuable possessions. At this time a Jewish constabulary was set up consisting of 10 men, and including Ben-Zion Rozenblat, Moshe Szmaragd, Joseph Zylbercan and Zajnwel Mittelman. Most of the policemen were relatives or close friends of the Judenrat; their headquarters was situated in the home of one of the men, Avigdor Feldman. Their main duties were to escort the group of labourers to work outside the town, and to collect payments as demanded by the Germans.
In August 1940 a ghetto was established in K. At the beginning of 1941 with the arrival of Jewish refugees from nearby towns, the number of ghetto dwellers grew to 1,690 souls. At the same time the Germans began transporting Jews from the ghetto to labour camps in the region of Lublin. In the spring of 1940 60 workers were sent to the work camp at Belzec and were occupied in digging defence trenches for the army. Nearly every member of that group perished because of the prevailing harsh conditions, and the shortage of food. In the winter of 1940/1 another group of Jews was sent from K to the town of Zakrzew.
With the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union K became a transit station for German army units on their way to the front. The German soldiers would attack Jewish ghetto dwellers indiscriminately, plunder their food and belongings and even shoot to death Jews walking in the streets. As well as the German army, units of the SS also passed through K and they kidnapped Jews from the streets to be used as servants. At this time the Germans destroyed the synagogue. In the winter of 1941/2 the situation of the ghetto Jews deteriorated as a result of the influx of refugees expelled from Czechoslovakia and other areas included in the German Reich. The acute shortage of food brought about many deaths in the ghetto, most particularly among the refugees.
On 12th April, 1942, units of auxiliary Ukrainian troops, together with SS soldiers arrived in K. The Jews were ordered to congregate in the market square within half-an-hour. They were allowed to take along small personal items and a little food. About 2,000 Jews who were gathered in the market square were transported to the ghetto of Izbica, which was used as a concentration place for Jews from the region. Most of the Jews of K were transferred from Izbica to the Belzec extermination camp.
The Germans left a small group of working Jews in K who were employed in collecting and sorting through properties left behind by some of the Jewish expellees, and in cleaning the ghetto streets. Just a few days later ten of them were brought to the Jewish K cemetery and shot to death. The remaining Jews were transported to the labour camp at Trawniki.
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