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Translation of Narewka Mala chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Narewka Mala chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 459-460, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Translated by David Ziants
Narewka Mala is located at the northern outskirts of the Białowieża Forest (Puszcza Białowieska), approximately 40 kilometers northeast of Bielsk [Bielsk Podlaski] and approximately 50 kilometers east of Bialystok. With the third partitioning of Poland in 1795, it was annexed into the Russian Empire and, at the beginning of the 19th century, it became a town, and a market and two Orthodox churches were built. During World War I the Germans invaded Narewka and ruled here between the autumn of 1915 until the end of 1918. After this war, a glass and bottle factory, a turpentine distillery and two flour mills were erected. On 17 September 1939, approximately two weeks after World War II broke out, the Red Army entered Narewka and established Soviet rule. On 23 June 1941 the area was conquered by the Germans. In July 1944, Narewka, together with the whole area, was liberated by the Soviet army.
The first Jews settled in Narewka Mala at the end of the 18th century. During the 19th century the Jewish population increased and in the 1880s grew to 90% of the general population. In 1897 the percentage of Jews to the general population decreased to 79%, but their actual numbers increased. The Narewka Jews made their livelihood mainly from light commerce in their stores and peddling, but also from other types of manual work. The majority of Jews tended to live in the market street.
During the first half of the 19th century, the Jews of Narewka formed a kehilla [Jewish religious and social community] and built a wooden synagogue that included a cheder [religious instruction framework for children] and a mikveh [a special bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion] with an adjoining bathhouse.
The cemetery was outside the town. The Jews of Narewka almost everyone - would be identified as mitnagdim [in opposition to the chassidic movement] and were steadfast in their religious observance. Also the poor knew Torah [Jewish learning] and Gemmarah [early rabbinical commentaries and analysis of the Mishnah - law codes redacted from the oral traditions]. The children attended traditional chadarim [rooms where children obtain religious instruction] or in the Talmud Torah [formal school for religious instruction] of the community. Among the rabbis of the community, whose name we know, is Rabbi Feivel Grinberg (at the beginning of the 20th century).
With the outbreak of WW1 some of the Jewish young men were also enlisted into the czar's army. During the period of the German occupation, the local economy was stymied. The Germans confiscated agricultural produce and food and the citizens suffered from shortage and hunger. Many were enlisted for forced labor on behalf of the Germans. All the children of the town, no matter what religion, were forced to study in the German language, in a school that the occupational government had opened. The Jewish children had classes in religious studies and Hebrew, twice a week.
At the end of this war the Jews revived their businesses, but the economic situation worsened. The main factor were the taxes that the Polish government imposed on the small business merchants and shopkeepers meaning the Jews. Many were forced to close their businesses and so the livelihood of the manual workers also dwindled. Some of the Jews were employed in the local glass and bottle factory, or in the turpentine factory, but many remained unemployed. As the economic hardships grew, so did the emigration of Jews to countries overseas.
During the period between the two world wars, Zionist activity took place in Narewka. There were collections for Zionist funds and branches of the pioneering youth movements HeChalutz and HeChalutz HaTzair were established. During those years, most of the Jewish children studied in the government elementary school in Narewka, and some also learned Hebrew and pursued religious studies in cheder. The last Rabbi of the Community was Rabbi Yehoshua (Szejko).
During the days of World War II, starting from 17th September 1939, Narewka was under Soviet rule. On 22nd June 1941, with the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets retreated eastwards with haste. Already, by the next day, 23rd June 1941, Narewka was conquered by the Germans and within a few days the Germans sent the Jewish men and youth, aged between 14 - 60, to a labor camp as service to the German army, and were given the task to completely burn down, in a number of villages, farmers' houses. After they completed this job they were sent back to Narewka. The day after they returned to the town, which was 15th July 1941, they were taken to the nearby forest and executed. On the exact same day the Germans expelled the women, children and elderly, in wagons and on a train, to Kobryn, Polesie. In November 1941, a ghetto was established in Kobryn and approx. 8,000 local Jews and refugees from Bialowieża, Hajnówka and from Narewka were squashed into a few small houses. The hunger, crowdedness, lack of water and the squalor caused, in the ghetto, the break-out of contagious diseases and the mortality rate was very high. Sometime after the Kobryn ghetto was established, the Germans demanded that the Judenrat [Jewish Council] hand over to them a few hundred people who were mentally ill, but since they did not find such people in the ghetto, they instead handed over elderly, sick and children, the majority taken from the refugees. Hundreds of Jews that were handed over to the Germans were murdered outside the city. At the beginning of 1942, those with in-demand professional skills, as well as their families, were transferred to a separate ghetto, and both ghettos were enclosed with barbed wire fences. Hundreds of youngsters from the Kobryn ghetto worked in paving roads and lived in far-away encampments. Around 500 Jews worked in workshops, one hundred ladies worked in a crocheting factory and additional ladies worked in service industry. In June 1942, a few hundred Jews were transferred to a new labor camp that was established in barracks outside the city.
In July 1942 there was in Kobryn a big Aktion. A group of approximately 3,000 Jews, among them the women and children from Narewka, families of craftsmen, and also the medical team and patients from the Jewish hospital in the ghetto, were brought in trucks to the opening in the forest, at a site that was nicknamed Brona Gora, and were shot dead and buried in pits that were prepared in advance. A few Jews escaped to the Siemiatycze Ghetto, and some individuals from these survived until the end of the war. After this Aktion, youngsters both male and female organised themselves in the Ghetto in Kobryn and set up an underground resistance. On 14th October 1942, another Aktion took place in Kobryn and Jews who were still left in the ghetto were murdered in a pit in the nearby forest. Members of the underground fought with the few weapons that they managed to salvage. A few of them were killed as they were fighting, and many of those who managed to run away, were eventually discovered and were murdered in different circumstances. Those remaining were absorbed into Soviet partisan units. The score or so of craftsman who were still alive in the Kobryn ghetto after the Aktion of October 1942 were executed during December 1942.
AYVSh: (Archives of Yad Vashem) M11/B/187; 03/7377.
Spector Sh. (Editor), Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, Vol 5, Vohlynia & Polesie, Jerusalem, 5750, p 309.
Kehilat Semyatits [Siemiatycze]. Editor A. Tur-Shalom, Tel-Aviv, 1965, pp. 213-214.
Datner, Eksterminacja ludności żydowskiej w okregu białystockim, BŻIH 60 (1966), pp. 9, 15.
Wisniewski, Bożnice Białostocczyzny, pp. l77-179.
Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page Narewka, at KehilaLinks
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Updated 9 Sep 2011 by LA