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[Col. 291]

B. Before and between the two World Wars

 

The past forty years

Yehezkel Berlzon

There were no earth-shaking events in the social and economic life of the Jews in Suwalk between the beginning of the 20th century and the First World War. Many young Jews were inspired by libertarian ideas – but their way of life remained the same. Class consciousness developed among some workers and a sense of Jewish nationalism among some intellectuals – but community life was not revolutionized.

 

Jewish economic life

The same was true in the economic sphere. Jewish economic life proceeded normally, although Christian competition was becoming sharper. Between 1909-1911 many non-Jewish firms were established which competed with Jewish merchants and artisans. In 1909, the Poles opened a large colonial business[1] as well as cooperatives for tailors and cobblers. They also set up a modern bakery. The Jewish bakers suffered as well from other competitors: a number of Turkish bakers set up shop at that time and cut their prices drastically.[a]

The Lithuanians also became active in the economy. They started many cooperatives in the Suwalk area. Mariampol became the centre of the Lithuanian cooperative society “Zagare”, which had more than ten branches. Its competitive strength is evident in the fact that in 1910-1911, its capital reached 3.5 million rubles.[b]

However, before 1914, these newly arisen forces were not yet able to undermine the Jewish positions in Suwalk and environs. The most important export – lumber – was still in Jewish hands. Trade in grain, poultry and horses were also dominated by Jews. In 1913, the export of lumber from the Suwalk area to Germany, reached 2,212,323 Marks – almost all earned by Jews.[c] Jews also dominated inter-city bus transportation.

One can get a specially detailed view of the structure and extent of Jewish economic activity in Suwalk from 1900 to 1914 through advertisements in a Russian-German brochure published in Suwalk in 1910. (Date is approximate because the title page is torn). The following names show the dominant role of Jews in business in the province.

  M.Brinman: paper-lamps and photographic equipment.
  S.Trotski: haberdashery business on St. Petersburg Str. Founded in 1877.
  Mendl Mushkat: iron
  Y.D. Butkovski: iron, founded in 1876.
  M.A.Rubintshik: paper business and printing.
  E.Broynrat: printing-bindery-stationery. Founded in 1870.
  S.Rozntal: stationery
  S.Levinavski: books and stationery
  Naftali Fridlender: Ber Rubinshtayn: steam-run sawmill
  Shmuel Smalenski: lessee of General Gamatski's water and steam mills

[Col. 293-294]

  S.Roznberg: warehouse for pharmaceuticals and soda water factory
  L.Rabinovitsh: warehouse for pharmaceuticals-electric equipment-soda water factory
  M.Aronovski: warehouse for pharmaceuticals-photographic equipment-electrical equipment-soda water factory.
  Benkovski: warehouse for pharmaceuticals
  Kusnerzshitski: pharmaceuticals-crockery and samovars
  L.Leypuner: factory
  Naftali Margolis: factory
  Shlomo Perlov: factory
  Kaplan: large haberdashery
  Vaysberg: largest firm of auto-communication {?}
  Shtern: mechanical locksmith
  M.Kamenietski: wholesale musical instruments with branches in Warsaw, Odessa, Bialystok, Lodz, etc. (Suwalk agent: G.B. Liberman)
  Fin: musical instruments
  Avraham Polnitski: haberdashery
  Kaplan: large haberdashery
  Pruzsjanski: wholesale and retail colonial (?) goods-warehouse for kerosene
  L.Rokhman: large wine and delicatessen business
  K.Vin: large wine business
  Vager: watchmaker-clock business
  Eliahu Rozntal: wholesale business for oil-paint-cement-alabaster
  Glikshtayn: bank
  Rayngevirts & Openhaym: knitwear factory
  Avraham Glozhendler: furrier-hatter
  Glikson: exporter

The relations between Jews and non-Jews were quite good. Sometimes, on a market day, there might be a scuffle between a Jew and a gentile – a bit of a fuss - and that was the end of it. One also found a way to get along with the authorities. There was no great love of Jews, but anti-Semitism was not yet so fierce that it could not be dampened down by the means which Jews have used through the ages.

 

Social and community life

The Zionists of all parties were very involved in practical work for the Yishuv in Palestine. There were a number of communal workers in Suwalk and environs who did a great deal. Some of the men involved in fundraising for Palestine and other Zionist ventures between 1900 and 1914 were: Yehuda Leyb Lipski, Yitshak Hurvits, Tsevi Bernshtayn, the teacher Vishinski, Uri Mariampolski, the teacher D.Openhaym, Raygrodsky, Eliezer Berman, Avraham Shmuel Lizevski, Gavriel Smalinski, Yaakov Varanovski, Elhana Sutshavolski, A.Levitanski, Shvartsman, Moshe Zeev Vaynshtayn, Eliezer Epshtayn, Zshelkevits, Roznfeld, Yablinevski, Sidarski, Hayim Raybman, Efrayim Yelinevski and Misses Lurie, Lelinitski and others. The delegate at that time was Eliahu Cohen. In Filipowe; M.H. Radzilavski. In Baklarowe; Moshe Yitshak Zilberman. In Psersole; Y.Peltin, H.Rozntal.[d]

The Zionist and the Bundist actively propagated their ideas. Besides the small groups and walks outside the city[2], there were evenings of lively and fiery debates where each party's speaker tried to prove to the audience that his view of the world was the correct one. When leaders of the parties came from headquarters, special debates were scheduled.

There was a club for speakers of Hebrew and at the international Hebraist conference in 1907; Suwalk was represented by its delegate, Yosef Bergman.[e]

In 1908 a private Hebrew gymnasia {secondary school} was founded by Dr. Shvartsman, modelled after Kagan's gymnasia in Vilne. This was one of the first Hebrew high schools. The gymnasia, which had only four grades, lasted for only a few years.[f]

A second modern Jewish educational institution was created in 1909: the Yiddish folk shule. The performances put on by its students were famous and always attracted a large audience.[g]

[Col. 295-296]

First World War

With the outbreak of the First World War, everything changed radically. Some Jews fled because of the encroaching battlefront, and some were recruited into the Russian army. The Jewish economy was disrupted and poverty was widespread. There were rumours that Jews were hoarding food which led to a minor pogrom in Suwalk. There were also the usual libels that the Jews were spies, etc., and in 1915, many Jews were expelled from Suwalk for that reason.

At first, conditions were difficult under the German occupation – new masters -, a military regime, and forced labour. When the front moved on, and a German civil administration took over, living conditions were gradually stabilized. The Germans of Kaiser Wilhelm were not like Hitler's Germans. They found a common language with the Jewish population in particular. They not only exploited the people, they also made a constructive contribution. In 1916, the German forces opened a large factory for the manufacture of buckets, which employed many workers, among whom were quite a few Jews. They also set up a number of match factories. There were also a few leather factories in town which employed about 1200 people. The German occupation forces saw to it that raw materials were available because Germany badly needed leather products.

As in every war, there were some people who profited from wartime conditions, but not everyone could adjust. Cold and hunger were frequent visitors in many homes in Suwalk at that time. There were also many Jewish refugees from the surrounding countryside who had come in the first frightful days of the war and had stayed on.

The Suwalk community council was very busy providing for these refugees and other poor people. It received money, food and clothing from the “Joint”, {Joint Distribution Committee} and distributed them to the needy in town. A special regional committee was set up to distribute American aid to the Jews in neighbouring villages. Its chairman was Rabbi Yehudah Khashesman, former rabbi of Baklerowe. It served Ratzk, Filipowe, Wizshan, Punsk, Vishtinets, Psherosle, Yelinowe, Krasnopole, and for a short time, Sapatkin and Koptsheve.

There was another society set up to help war-stricken Jews in Suwalk and environs – Ezrat Ahim – which distributed the money received from the Suwalk landsmanshaftn in New York. When Rabbi Khashesman and Hirshl Bernshteyn took over the leadership of Ezrat Ahim, they turned it into a free-loan society which gave loans guaranteed by two people. The reason behind this was to prevent Jews from becoming accustomed to charity. Even money sent by Americans to their relatives was distributed via the Ezrat Ahim in the form of loans. There were also visits by delegates from the New York landsmanshaftn.[h]

[Col. 297]

Suwalk in Independent Poland

Right after the war, some of the refugees started returning home. With the help of relatives in America and South Africa, and from international Jewish organizations, they started to rebuild their sources of income; small stores, workshops, etc.

But peace and stability did not return immediately with the end of the war. On the one hand, there loomed the fear of a Bolshevik invasion, and on the other hand, there was Lithuania's demand for possession of Suwalk. For a period of six months, Suwalk was occupied by Lithuanian soldiers. There was national Jewish autonomy in Lithuania with a Jewish minister, and this made a very big impression on the attitude of Suwalk Jews; but history is not made by attitude but by the force of power, and Poland had more power than Lithuania.

The Jews strengthened their economic position. The Jew of Suwalk occupied first rank positions in commerce, industry and crafts. The young Polish government was un-tried and it needed the initiative, mobility, contacts and experience of Jews in business. The government did try to encourage a rising class of Polish merchants and artisans and they, along with the government supported cooperatives, became overwhelming competitors of the Jews.

During the Grabski regime, the competitive strength of the Poles increased even more, but the Jews of Suwalk could have retained their economic positions had not the Hitler Holocaust destroyed everything.

As an illustration of the important role of Jews in Suwalk economic life at the time of Polish independence, here are some of the various business enterprises in town:

  Turetski & son: machines, autos, Singer sewing machines, etc.
  Simhah Festman: large haberdashery
  Binyamin Mints and son-in-law Shmuel Shapira: large factory

[Col. 298]

  M. Rabinovitsh: pharmaceutical warehouse
  Raykh: locksmith
  Moshe Rakovski and Mordekhay Rakovski: fur and hats
  Asher and Yishayahu Kershkovski: fur import/export
  Henekh Glozhendler: fur business
  M.Fin: music business
  Akhran Erdraykh: pharmaceuticals
  Yehoshua Shvartsman: pharmaceuticals
  Proynrot: printer, stationery
  A.Y.Genyo printer
  Sapir: confectionary factory
  Goldshmidt: Cinema Marmor
  Asavietski: Cinema Filma, later called Pan Leyb Kovin & sons Avrham Altshuler, Podliaski, Kravtshinski …
  Max Levin: shoe business
  Eliyahu Leventin: junk business
  Shapira & sons: sweater factory
  Zalmen Altshuler, Levinson, Daniel Lifshits: leather business
  Shlomo Dobkin: factory
  Yehudah Vishnevski: factory
  Aviezer Zshilkevitsh: electric appliances
  Tuviah Sitkovski, Zilberblat: wholesale haberdashery
  Berl & Yaakov Zeligson: wholesale haberdashery
  Meir Yitshak Bromberg: wholesale haberdashery
  Klorfayn: factory
  Shmuel Gradovski: ready-to-wear clothing
  Moshe Iver: ironmonger
  Goldberg & Perets: “Rolo” iron factory
  Mendl Mushkat, Shlomo Holenderski, Leyzer Soloveytshik, Leyb Krutsenitski, Yehudah Butkovaki: large iron businesses

A third of all the Jewish merchants dealt in grain. The biggest grain dealers were: Brothers Hirsh and Leyb Fridman (“Export”). Hayim Borovitsh, Hirsh and Aryeh Leyb Rubinshtayn, Elhanan Sukhovolski, Leyb Ariovitsh, the Fridman brothers, Sukhovolski and Finkelshteyn were partners in the large Kunts (?) brewery. Yehoshua Sinenski had a beer brewery and Perets Solnitski had a beer warehouse.

Moshe Geltshinski, Nahum and Leyzer Vilenski, Sinenski, Naftali Fridlener, Bertshik Rubinshteyn, Yosef Lazman, Moshe Lazman, Hayim Skibelski and children, Yisrael Zavaznitski (now in New York with his family) were forest and lumber merchants and managers of sawmills.

On the banking scene, there were the well-known banks of Burak, the Jewish merchants' bank; (Director Mendl Solomyanski), the Folksbank (Director Moshe David Zshilkevitsh), the Free Loan (Secretary Moshtsezshnitski and Director Mikhnovski).

Yosef Adleson had a steam mill and Gavriel Smolinski and Shlomo Gutman had windmills.

The largest wholesalers of codfish (?) were: R'Hayim Raybman and his brother-in-law, Shlomo: Meir Hirsh Sererski and Pakrayski.

Khone Avkevitsh was one of the most important flour merchants, and Mordekhay Vaysberg was one of the most important sugar merchants.

The oldest bakery belonged to Barukh Zilbershtyen and his son, Moshe David. The bakery was 100 years old and was handed down from father to son. Other bakers were: the Yogel family, Mordekhay and his son Fayvl Oyeran; Lis; Shaul Kaver and Leyzer Soloveytshik.

Large poultry suppliers, {may mean simply purveyors} especially for the army were: Hayim Koyfman, Kitkovski, Rokovitski (son of the well-known Rabbi in Grodno, R'Yosele): Sakhanitski; Yitshak Teper.

[Col. 300]

Among the largest poultry merchants was Yitshak Sherman, who had a canned food factory in Germany.

Elkanah Gladshtayn, Trotski and Radzinskranski, had large gold businesses.

The hotel restaurants of Mratshkiovski; Kelerman; T.Frank (Komerts) and Ukrainski, were the largest in town.

Suwalk was alive with cultural activities. There was a Hebrew gymnasia, {secondary school} directed by Engineer Binyamin Efron. The teachers were: Miller; Strarazshinski; Rotnberg; Shimanovitsh; Shapira; Dr. Perlman (son of rabbi of Horodz and grandson of the great Rabbi of Minsk), and others.

The girl's school, Tarbuth, was also well established. For many years, the principal was Dubrovski and the teachers were: Moah Perski; Misan Zar (now in Johannesburg, South Africa); Bella Smolinski; Nehama Tiles-Shney; Rivka Solomianski (Israel); Rahel Vaynshteyn-Starazshinski.

The young men and women had a great yearning for more Jewish education than provided by the institutions of learning. Most, if not all of the students of the Yiddish and Hebrew schools, subscribed to the Jewish libraries in town.

Yiddish folk shule

 

[Col. 301]

There were young people who went to Vilna to expand their Jewish knowledge. Some young men were research students at the Yiddish Visentshaftlekhn Institute in Vilna[3]. One of them, Sergius Glikson, published an article in YIVO Bleter (vol.10.n°1-2) entitled

[Col. 302]

“Provincial young Jews in Vilne”. Eliezer Kaletski and H.Garbavitsh

[Col. 303]

From Suwalk and Y.Kaminski from Baklerow, collected Jewish folklore and sent it to YIVO in Vilna.

The Orthodox groups were also involved politically and socially. They gave most of their attention to the hadorim {elementary Hebrew schools), Talmud torahs and yeshivas in the neighbourhood. From the earliest years of the twentieth century, many Orthodox Jews and most of the rabbis of the Suwalk area were involved in work for Erets Yisrael.

[Col. 301]

ORT School. Carpentry shop under the direction of Maftali Kramarsk

 

Locksmith workshop of ORT school, directed by Moshe Raykh

 

Leaders of ORT in Suwalk
From right to left, sitting: Yaakov Zeligson; Dr.L. Vaysman; Apothecary Roznberg; Engineer Efron; H.Sherman; H.Matsman.
From right to left: standing. H.Adelson; H.Slavatitski; H.Butkovski; Dr.Praysman; H.Holanderski; Engineer Shvergold

 

[Col. 304]

ORT School
From right to left: Moshe Raykh; Matsman, Director; Naftali Kramarski, instructor

 

[Col. 303]

Rabbis in neighbouring towns

During this period, the rabbi of Saini was Rabbi Hayim Fishl, son of R'David Shlomo Epshteyn, born in {5}364 {1873 or 1874}. From {5}658{1897 or 1898} he was the rabbi of Hrozove near Slutsk. In {5}668{1908}, he became the Rabbi of Saini. Rabbi Epshteyn was later Rabbi of Dorpat (Estonia) and Libau, (Latvia). Then, he came to America where he was a rabbi in Bayonne, N.J., Cleveland, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, and served as chief rabbi in St.Louis for 12 years where he died in {5}703{1942 or 1943}. Rabbi Epshteyn achieved fame as a great rabbi. His books are world famous: “Teshuvah Shelemah” (on “Halakha, Responsa”) – part one published in Petrokow in 1913 and re-published in Chicago in 1948. Part two (on “Even ha-Ezer and Hoshen Mishpat”), was published in St.Louis in 1941. His other book was “Midrash Hayim”.

The rabbi after him was Rabbi Vayntroyb, and after him came Rabbi Eliyahu David Nahman Koloditski. Later, he was rabbi in Alite, Lithuania where he died at age 45 on 23 Tevet, {5}686{1926}. His son, Rabbi Yitshak, author of Minhat Eliyahu (Jerusalem, {5}715{1954 or 1955} is now Dean of Heshivat HaDarom in Rehovot, Israel.

After Rabbi Koloditski came Rabbi Yitshak Raytser who had been the rabbi of Filipowe. From Saini, he went to Zshetl where he was killed by the Nazis, may God avenge his blood.

The last Rabbi of Saini was Rabbi Mordekhay Rogov, son-in-law of Rabbi Eliyahu Garber, head of the religious court in Horodok. Rabbi Rogov was born in Lipnishok. Before coming to Saini, he served in Telekhan (near Pinsk).

[Col. 304]

At the beginning of World War II, he escaped to Shanghai. At present, he is one of the deans of Bet ha-Midrash le-Torah in Chicago.

In Filipowe, the rabbis were: Rabbi Raytser, Rabbi Shlomo Tsevi Kolir (who was later in Sukhovolye where he was killed by the Nazis), and Rabbi Borukhovits. The last rabbi of Filipowe was Rabbi Yosef, son of R'Yom Tov Lipman Vert, who was killed in the Lublin Ghetto, may God avenge his blood.

The following served as rabbis in Yelinewe: Rabbi Goldenson (who was later in Chicago where he died); Rabbi Vilentsik (later in Port Elizabeth, South Africa); Rabbi Tsimerman (later head of the Suwalk Talmud Torah and Yeshiva, who was killed with his family in the Lublin Ghetto, may God avenge their blood). The last rabbi of Yeliewe was Rabbi Meir Liberman who left for the United States at the beginning of World War II and is now a rabbi in Richmond, Virginia.

In Wizshan, from 1904-1914, the rabbi was Rabbi Moshe Pinhas Mendl Vizshanski. The last rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Lederman was martyred along with his family, may God avenge their blood.

At the beginning of the century, the rabbi of Psherosle was Rabbi Eliezer Shlosberg (after Rabbi Ben Tsiyon Zaks). After him came: Rabbi Zsevi Senderovits, Rabbi Avraham Moshe Abavitsh, Rabbi Yehudah Dov Lasavski,

[Col. 305]

Rabbi Moshe Shlomo Shapira (later rabbi in Boro Park, Brooklyn, where he died).

The last rabbi of Psherosle was Rabbi Dov Kavalski, martyred along with his family in Grodno Ghetto, may God avenge their blood.

The rabbis of Ratzk during this period were: Rabbi Kushelevits, Rabbi Simha Zilbershteyn and Rabbi Isak Leby Stolyar.

The last rabbi of Ratzk was Rabbi Shmuel Srebravitsh, son of R'Hayim and Eydel in Tshekhanovtse. He studied in Radin, Kovne and Grodno and later with the famous Rabbi Hayim Heller in Berlin, may he live for many long good days, Amen. His first position was in Astravets near Vilne. In 1931, he came to Ratsk, which then had about 150 Jewish families. At the beginning of the war, most of the Jews, including the rabbi, fled from the town. Later, he and his wife were sent to Siberia where they were made to chop down trees in 55°cold. {not sure C or F}

[Col. 306]

Since he would not eat non-kosher food, he became very weak. He died of malnutrition on Shemini Atseret, {5}702{1941} in Valsk. His widow, Tsila, managed to get back to Poland and then to Germany (after many trials and tribulations), and from there, she immigrated to Israel.

Only the last rabbi of Punsk is known to us – Rabbi Hayim Natan, son of Aryeh Lubovsky. Born in Suwalk, he studied in the Slobodka Yeshiva. When the Germans chased the Jews out of Punsk, he and some others escaped to Kalvarie but later, he and his family were killed by the Nazis, may God avenge their blood.

In the last years, there were no rabbi in Paklerowe; only a Shohet {ritual slaughterer}, R'Yisakher Kaminski, martyred, may God avenge his blood.

A photograph of a class of pupils, their teachers and the principal of the Suwalk Talmud Torah in 1925
First row, from right to left: Moshe Leventin, Yosl Yakub, Shimon Kabrinski, Velvl Sandovski, Eliyahu Filitovski, Berl Shtsupatski, Yankl Levenshteyn.
Second row: Barukh Albert, Educator Bergshteyn, Principal Roznberg, Teacher Lizshevski, Lubliner, Betsalel Stolnitski, Hirshl Mishkunski;
Third row, standing: Hayim Vartelski, unknown, Karmin, Moshe Osfovat, Kravtsinski, Yehudah Zametski, Leyzer Shereshevski, Avraham Rubinshteyn, Ezra Kintsevski, Yaakov Leventin, Simha Gutman, Shlomo Riman.
Fifth {sic!} row standing: Avraham Vorobeytshik, Zalmen Plaskovski, Hirsh Gelbord, unknown, Shtaynberg.

 

[Col. 307-308]

Suwalk Talmud Torah

In Suwalk itself, the pious communal leaders, headed by the rabbis, exerted all their energies towards supporting and expanding the local Talmud Torah and Yeshiva “Ohel Yitshak” founded in {5}609{1848 or 1849}

By Rabbi Yitshak Izak Hever {or Heber}, may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing. It was the central educational institution for boys for decades, especially after World War I, when the private hadorim {one room elementary schools} had all closed. A number of deans, supervisors, principals and lay people were very supportive of it.

Children of Talmud Torah and Yeshiva Ohel Yitshak at breakfast.
In the centre are the school doctor Maftali Starapolski, Principal Shmuel Ivri and teacher Kuklinski

 

[Col. 307]

At the beginning of the century, Rabbi Avraham Moshe Abavitsh, former rabbi of Psherosle, was among its first deans, along with the Head Dean, Rabbi Hirshl Slonimer. He and his wife died from smoke inhalation.

He was followed by Rabbi Moshe Ha-Levi Shterman, born 1864 in Kobrin. He was ordained by Rabbi Hayim Ozer Grudzenski. At age 25, he came to Verzshbelove, where he lived for seven years. He then served as rabbi of Kibart, Lithuania. When the former Verzshbelover rabbi, Rabbi David Tebele Katsenelenboygn was Chief Rabbi of Suwalk, he recommended Rabbi Shterman for the position of Dean of the Suwalk Talmud Torah and Yeshiva. His recommendation was accepted.

In 1906, he came to America where he was a supervisor in a New York slaughter house, then Rabbi in the Yeshiva of Harlem which he helped found. Later, he substituted for the rabbi of Congregation Oheb Zedek, where he died suddenly during Sabbath services on 16 Kislev, {5}699{1938}.

[Col. 308]

Other deans were: Rabbi Yehudah Vayl, who later went to America where he was supervisor for many years at Yeshivat Rabenu Yitshak Elhonon; Rabbi Hurvits, son-in-law of Rabbi David Tebele Katsenelenboygn. In 1913, Rabbi Aharon Reuven Tsharni (now rabbi in Bayonne, N.J.); Rabbi Shlomo Tevi Kolir (for five years until 1921); Rabbi Hayim Kobriner. Until 1924, Rabbi Yaakov Maymon. Later he was dean in Lida and is now dean in Or Yisrael {Yeshiva} in Petah Tikva: Rabbi Hilel (later rabbi in Yalovke); Rabbi Yaakov Pruzanski; Rabbi Meir Fetsiner (later dean in Grodno Yeshiva then rabbi in Orlove where he was killed by the Nazis). Rabbi Anshle of Vizne; Rabbi Aharon Kaltmon (born in Vladove, son-in-law of Shustersk Rabbi); Rabbi Yehudah Yaakov Tsimerman (former rabbi of Yelinewe).

[Col. 309-310]

Talmud Torah School

 

The last two named rabbis served as deans until the day the Germans closed the Yeshiva, and they both died in the Lublin Ghetto, may God avenge their blood.

Supervisors[4] were: R'Khone Izak Zshilkovitsh: R'Levi Yitshak Gelbart: Rabbi Shimon Bergshteyn (who was later in America and then in Erets Yisrael where he died): R'Hayin Leyb Bakhrakh (who left for Jerusalem in {5}695{1934 or 1935} where he died Tevet {5}697{1937}): the last supervisor was R'Avraham Katsher (born in Malkin, son-in-law of R'Binyamin Magentsa, died with his wife and daughter in Lukov near Lublin).

For a few years, the principal of the Talmud Torah was Shmuel Ivri, born in Bialystok, escaped to Shanghai and now in Baltimore. The late principal was R'Avraham Levin, born in Olkenin, studied in Telz Yeshiva, killed with his family near Lublin, may God avenge their blood. The last rabbis and teachers were: Yisrael Igelski: Yitshak Tsimerman; Yaakov Levin; Yaakov Dubleman; Vinograd; Krinski; Kuklinski, et.al.

The Talmud-Torah flourished under the leadership of Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing. Thanks to his untiring efforts, the numbers of pupils rose to such an extent that they overcrowded the old building.

 

Bet ha-Va'ad {Council House} of Talmud Torah

A new two-story building was planned. The first and largest contribution was given by the well-known philanthropist, R.Binyamin Mints.

Thanks to the devoted efforts of Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh and of the warden of the Pet Ha-Midrash – R'Yitshak Fayans – the building was quickly completed. On Hanukkah, {5}694{1933}, the new building was dedicated with great ceremony and a new era began for the Talmud Torah. Children of all social classes – rich and poor – studied there. This educational institution was beloved and famed; not only in the town, but also in the villages all around, from which many pupils came.

[Col. 310]

The school's budget was covered by the tuition paid by the wealthier pupils; an annual subsidy from the Va'ad Ha-Kehila {Town Council} (with annual increments), and half of the profits made by the Hevra Kadisha {burial society}. In addition, the Talmud Torah received the funds raised through the annual appeals in all the synagogues for the support of poor children made during the Sabbath of Parshat Ba-Midbar {numbers usually at the end of May}. At every joyous occasion, wedding, berit {circumcision} or bar mitzvah, funds were collected for the Talmud Torah.

In {5}696{1936}, a larger yeshiva was established through the efforts of Suwalk's last rabbi, Rabbi David Lifshits. Its dean was Rabbi Yaakov Skopski.

[Col. 311]

The yeshiva had its quarters in the Hevra Medrash kloyz {small synagogue} where the students studied with great diligence. Until the last Elul {5}699{1939}, the yeshiva became well known and attracted boys from all over the province. The students dispersed because of the war, and the voice of Torah was stilled.

[Col. 312]

In 1931, an attempt was made to publish a Yiddish newspaper to focus on the problems of the local community. The first number of the four-page weekly, Suvalker Vokhnblat, edited by Moshe Gutkavski, was published on 24th of Av that year (7th September, 1931). Although it declared itself non-partisan, it was obviously Revisionist Zionist in tendency.


[Col. 311]

The Suvalker Vokhnblad had a very brief existence. We have seen only three issues.[i]

Among the contributors to the newspaper, in addition to the editor, were: Y.Yurbarski; Yehezkel Henigson; Yehudah Zilkvits; Dr.Naftali Tropolski and A.B.Tsimerman.

[Col. 312]

Six years earlier, on 15th October, 1926, there had been a one-time publication of a six-page Suwalker Shtime. The editor was L.Vaysman and it was published by the local Zionist organization. We have not seen it, but saw the listing in Kiryat Sefer[5] (IV.p.109).

Facsimile of page one of first issue of Suvalker Vokhnblat

 

[Col. 313]

This same Vaysman, was for many years, head of the Suwalk community. He was a famous doctor and chairman of the Zionist organization and for many years, was active in local community life.

During the democratic period of newly independent Poland, political activity was lively. Any election campaign, whether for the community council or the Polish parliament or the Zionist Congress, aroused a ferment. This was true of all towns and cities in Poland at that time. These elections were not just for political power, but for economic power – as in the community council and the parliament – and for ideologies (as in the Zionist congresses and the community council). These forces were behind the fierce agitation of the elections.

[Col. 313-314]

Suwalk “Hahaluts” in 1920

 

Yiddish Folkshul in Suwalk

 

The election campaigns for community council were so fierce because the council influenced all aspects of Jewish life. For example, in 1925, with a population of 7,500 Jews, the budget was 165,921 zlotys. In 1926, it was 177,253 zlotys and in 1927, 188,022 zlotys.[j]

There was a fine group of intellectuals, doctors, students, teachers and Yeshiva people well-grounded in current affairs as well as in Torah.

The Hakhshara Kibutsim[6] located in and around the city, was responsible for a renaissance of Jewish life. They became local youth centres. In 1923, the halutsim {pioneers} rented some land for two gardens, each one an acre in area, which they cultivated during the summer. Five men and sixteen women worked there. Later, their numbers increased. Moshe Orlavski was the delegate from Suwalk to the third national conference of Hehaluts in Poland, held in Warsaw, 13-17th June, 1923.[k]

A fairly large number of emigrants left Suwalk for Palestine between the two world wars, including single people and entire families. Because of the difficult economic situation, many Jews emigrated to America, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and a small number went to South Africa. This constant stream of emigrants depleted the local community. While in 1913 there had been about 13,000 Jews in Suwalk, there were only 10,000 left at the eve of the Holocaust. Thanks to this emigration, thousands of Suwalk Jews were saved from extinction in the Nazi death camps.

 


Footnotes

  1. Hed ha-zeman, Vilna, 1909. N°101 Return
  2. “L'état Lithuanien et le gouvernement de Suvalkai”. Dr. Bartuska. Lausanne 1918.p.13. Return
  3. In 1909, around 25% of the area of Suwalk province was heavily wooded. Return
  4. “Heshbon ha-nedavot be-'arim shonot…le-kinyan adamah be-Erets Yisrael” {accounts of contributions in various cities for the purchase of land in Palestine} (Odessa. {5}668-72 {1908-1912}. Return
  5. Ha-konferentsia ha-Hagit, Krakow {5}609 {1908 or 1909} Return
  6. Be-ma”agalot ha-hinukh {in the cycles of education} Alexander H.Levin. Johannesburg {5}714{1953 or 1954} p.112 Return
  7. In volume 4 “Yidn” of the Yid.Entsiklopedie, there are pictures of a performance (p.413) Return
  8. details in chapter “Forty years of Suwalk relief” Return
  9. In New York YIVO Return
  10. “Fun yor tsu yor”, edited by M.SHalit. Warsaw 1926 P.38: 1928, p.19-20. 1929.p.111 Return
  11. Hehaluts, n°2-4, Warsaw, 5 683 1923. Return

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. “Colonial” may refer to sale of goods brought in from outlying farms. Return
  2. Illegal and revolutionary groups of various kinds often met under the guise of picnics and strolls in the woods. Return
  3. Now YIVO in New York Return
  4. A supervisor in a yeshiva is something like a master in a British public school, looking after students' morals Return
  5. Kiryat Sefer, published in Israel, notes all publications of Jewish interest, as far as possible Return
  6. Communal groups planning to settle on the land in Palestine Return

 

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