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[Columns 98/99]

From the History of Ludmir
8th– 9th Centuries

Moshe Margalit, Ramat Hasharon

Translated by Esther Snyder

The Geographic Location of the Town of Ludmir

In Eastern Europe, east of the river Bug whose waters lead into thef101Visla, lays the district of Volhyn. In the north, this region borders on Polcia and is covered with swamps and forests; in its central and southern areas, there are plains and wide hills with fertile lands that yield plentiful crops and fruit. In the western part of this region, 12 kilometers east of the Bug, on the right bank of the Lug River, the town of Ludmir is located.

Paved roads and train tracks connect the town with other towns in the area: to the east with Luzak at a distance of 70 km, to the north-east with the town of Kobel 54 km away and to the west with the towns of Poland across the Bug. The train tracks lead in the north to Kobel and in the south to Sokol-Lvov.

 

The Town at the beginning of the Second Millenium, C.E.

As the successors of Mohammed expanded their rule on the shores of the Mediterranean, and north of the Caucasian Mountains on the banks of the Don and the Volga, and the Khazars expanded their dominion, the areas around Ludmir were settled by the Slavo-Voliniam tribe.

At the beginning of the 10th century the Prince of Kiev succeeded, by use of force, to establish the Kievian principality and then quickly conquered the Khazari kingdom in the south and the Volinaim tribe in the west.

After the prince of Kiev, Saviatoslav, gained control of this region where an ancient road led from Western Europe to Kiev and Constantinople, he laid the foundations of the town of Vladimir named after one of his sons (the Jews colloquially called it Ludmir).

In chronicles from the Kievian principality, the name Ludmir is first mentioned in the year 988 as a town having a large fortress. The town's buildings were surrounded by a very high artificial hill that served to protect it from the Polish kingdom that was gaining strength in the west.

 

The City until the Tatar Conquest

In 1054, a separate Volhyn principality was established in the area of Volhyn with Ludmir as its center.

In the 12th century, the town grows, expands and becomes a commercial center between east and west. Merchants of various nationalities from all over Europe meet there. Beautiful buildings and churches are constructed and craftsmen are brought in from all the surrounding towns. A remnant from this era is the Ospanski Church that was built during the years 1147-1161 by the prince Mitzislav Izislavitz (and called the Cathedral) and is preserved until this day.

At this time, due to the crusades and pogroms against the Jews of Western Europe, the first waves of Jews began to move east. Because Ludmir was an important commercial center, the first group of Jews settled there (and perhaps there already were Jewish merchants there from Kiev and other places?).f101The earliest record mentioning the existence of a Jewish settlement in Ludmir indicates that in 1171 there was a Jewish merchant named Benjamin Handis (the origin of the word Handis is, in my opinion, from the Slavic word “handlez” meaning a merchant).

When the Ludmirian prince took control of the Galician principality (in 1199), the importance of the city increased. It maintained economic ties with Western Europe and the Byzantine and became the strongest economic and cultural center of the Russian principality.

In the year 1240, the Tatars conquer Ludmir and destroy it. Most of its buildings are left in ruins. It can be assumed that most of the Jewish inhabitants escaped to Poland.

 

The City from the 14th Century (until the end of the 18th Century)

With the disintegration of the Tatar rule and the increase of persecution in Western Europe, the Jews returned to Ludmir. Records indicate that in the 14th century there existed a large Jewish community in Ludmir and Lutzk. At that time, Ludmir is under Lithuanian rule. When the agreement between Poland and Lithuania is signed in Ludmir in 1569, the region of Volhyn is included within the territory of the Polish kingdom. Ludmir, which is located on an important international artery, flourished again. After the Arab takeover of the maritime routes and the subsequent danger of commercial ties between Genoa and Venice, in Italy, and the villages along the shores of the Black Sea, the road leading from Ludmir to the East becomes especially important. The city was full of Jewish merchants who transported goods from Silesia to the Far East and back. Even in the mid-15th century, Jews from Turkey, Italy and Kiev could be found in the marketplace. With the fall of Kushta (14”3) the economic importance of Ludmir strengthens and Jewish merchants purchase merchandise that the Christians transport to the Orient and to Turkey, bringing back from there silk, spices and weapons.

The name of the Jewish merchant, Yitzhak from Ludmir, is known from the 14th century. The Jews at this time also traded in cattle and especially horses that were brought from Hungary and sold to the Polish army. The growth of a large Jewish settlement in the town attracted tradesmen especially in the Jewish occupations such as butchers, bakers and tailors.

The Lublin Treaty, signed between Poland and Lithuania, improved the legal status of the Jews in the town. Whereas previously they had been subjected to the mercy of the Strosta (mayor), now they were under the rule of King Zigmund Augustus (1548-1572) with a status equal to the other Jews of Volhyn and the Lithuanian communities.

At the start of the 17th century, the community in Ludmir was growing and expanding. The community was autonomous from 1460 and not directly subject to the Volhyn District. It should be noted that Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller from Bavaria, who served as a rabbi in his later years, was the head of the Jewish community for a short time. He was reknowned for his commentary on the Mishneh called “Tosafet Yom Tov.”

At that time, many Jews in Volhyn worked in the profession of leasing property. They leased bars and flourmills, fishponds and fruit orchards (and sometimes entire villages). However, the majority remained in their previous professions – commerce and trade.

The outbreak of the Kossak rebellion in the Ukraine caused a decrease in the Jewish community in Ludmir due to the fear of an imminent incursion of the Milnitzki armies into the Volhyn District. In 1648, the Jewish and Polish residents fled the town.

However, when the rebellion is suppressed, the Jews return to the town but now there is much poverty. Most of the Jews live meagerly in reduced circumstances. Many others move to the surrounding villages in search of employment.

In 1764, the Polish government conducts a census of its Jewish population and this is the first time that we have information on the number of Jews in Ludmir. According to their account, there were 1327 adults and 74 children, totaling 1401 persons. This was the second largest community in all of Volhyn (after Lutzk). Since the census was conducted in order to levy heavy taxes on the Jews, it is likely that some Jews avoided being counted and therefore the exact number is probably greater.

We have information that in 1782, the Jews of Ludmir dealt in horse trading with the Polish army and neighboring armies as well as establishing Jewish factories that produced items to be sold to the armies.

The third partition of Poland in 1795 and its loss of independence brought the Jews of Ludmir under Russian rule.f101As all the other Jews of the Ukraine and Russia, they were subject to the rules of the “pale of settlement.” An onerous burden of taxation weighed heavily upon them and they were further oppressed by the Czar's government.

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Parna Street
General Zionists clubroom and National Fund Institutes on the 3rd floor


[Column 101]

Ludmir After the 1880s

by Mendl Bavyode

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In the 1880s, when the bathhouse–fire took place that began in the women's immersion bath that was connected to the large house of prayer and the entire Jewish city burned, the muddy roads remained because highways were not known then, but on the sides of the roads ditches would be dug so that the water from the roads would have something through which to flow from the city. Covers for the ditches would be made of wood, a sort of bridge. The horses and wagons that had to drive through would pull along the small bridges; mainly the heavy moving roads were “springboards.” The greatest movement from the city to the village always was on Lutsker Street. There were 30 springboards there and people would jump over the road from one side to the other.

Because of the heavy traffic, the Lutsker road was always muddy no matter how many horses pulled wagons. Wagons always remained stuck in the mud until Rosh Khodesh Tammuz [the start of the month of Tammuz – June] when all of the mud dried up. Then the wagons could be dug out of the mud.

 

Reb Shmuel the Blond

Shmuel the blond, the Ludmir businessman held in esteem by the gentiles and noblemen, had an apartment on another corner of the small Kowler Street.f101The city council then consisted of five people: two aldermen were the executive agents of the city council and would always sit on the city council. Reb Shmuel the blond always stood at the main door of the city council and when the aldermen wanted tobacco to sniff or to smoke, [the aldermen] would ask Reb Shmuel to provide it for them. Understand that Reb Shmuel was the most trustworthy person to the city council and when something needed to be taken care of at the city council, it was through Reb Shmuel.

After the great bathhouse fire, cabins of a few square arshin [Russian measure of length equal to 28 inches or about 71 centimeters] per cabin began to be erected at the government market. This was a city market for selling salt and resin, grease, horsewhips and oats. The cabins could only be visited during the day and they were open as long as it was daytime. At night this was prevented by the winter darkness. In order for the shtetl to develop, the city council decided to erect

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four glass lanterns so that if someone was looking for where a cabin was located to buy something he would find it.

Reb Shmuel the blond unexpectedly found a small shop for himself and his three sons (one – a beis–hamedrashnik [one who spends time in a house of prayer], the second – a cook for Reb Shmuel's family [he no longer had a wife] and the third – a yeshiva student), and Reb Shmuel took on through his council of noblemen the responsibility for the lamps: to prepare them and to light them every day: it is understood that he wiped the lamp glass and the lanterns every day. This was the work of his son, the cook, and also for the remaining family members. This made Shmuel, who brightened the darkness in the city, even more well–liked as a Ludmir businessman.

In time the city developed and shops were built with windows and shutters. Goods were brought, mainly salt and wagon grease. The salt was brought in lumps from the cities that had train service such as Kowel, Lyubelya and so on. Booths that little by little became shops had shutters; and the shutters opened up onto the street and all of the goods that were to be sold in the shop were displayed on the shutters. They made two round stones, each about half an arshin and one stone was used to rub the other and a small lump of salt that was broken off a large lump was placed between them, which ground it thinly – until it fell through the stones. They earned 3 groshn for a quarter of a liter of grated salt. They worked in the shop the entire day and sold the goods and it fed the entire household. The most difficult time was during the muds; the peasants could not drive into the city, mainly from the bridge from Lutsker Street to Nisen Szmelke's [house]. After all the difficulties, the city was built and they looked for a way to get rid of the heavy muds. They did not speak of a highway, but because there were many forests around the city, they built a crude wooden bridge from Riliwicer Bridge up to Nisen Szmelke's [house]. The project was approved. The only fear was of frequent fires because of the wooden bridge.

The bridge was built over the course of two years and the movement from the Rojstaszter house to the Szmuleks[1] was solved. People thought about what would happen if, God forbid, a city fire ignited the large wooden bridge; if this happened, how could the houses, which were all built of wood, be saved?

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There were no wells, but kettles and casks of water were kept with which to put out a fire. There was only one well with pumps and only for the Cossacks and their horses; only they deserved to use the pump. Therefore it was decided to create a form of well built of bricks with a barrel inside, near the large house of prayer in the very center of the city, so that 20 men could surround it and draw water to put out a fire.

Thanks to the well–pump, the city revived and grew. Summer came quickly and a fire occurred near Yankl Achde's inn. The crowd tried to extinguish it; it succeeded thanks to the new well.

A few years later another fire broke out in the middle of the night (there was a legend that the artisans had set it to create work for themselves). The first broke out at Chaim Shmuel Rajce's [house] and it ignited the neighboring “synagogue” that stood with its entire scaffolding that consisted of poles 28–30 meters [about 92 to 98 feet] tall. The synagogue had stood thus from the 1880s on. The fire, with the speed of wind, took an entire half of the city that lay on the market side; the entire wooden bridge was burned over the course of two hours. An empty spot remained where the bridge had been located and the city undertook to rebuild the bridge with a new design and the houses with bricks and shingle roofs.f101

The city endeavored to build a highway and took steps to pave parts of the city up to one kilometer with cobblestones. There were no cobblestones in streets such as the small Kovel Street, but there were no longer great muddy streets.

The [organized Jewish] community provided a bathhouse and a mikvah [ritual bathhouse] for women. And the city grew, with suburbs on all sides.

A small river called “Smatsh” flows near the city. When Ludmir was a city in the Council of Four Nations, gets [religious divorces] were written: “near the river Smatsh.”[2]

At that time Ludmir was fed with exports and imports from the nearest city, Kovel, 50 kilometers from Ludmir, which already had train connections to all of Russia. Communal institutions were created in the city, as for example:

A People's Bank, an old age home and a hospital and public kitchen. The young people took part in the creation of the institutions.

The People's Bank consisted of 300 merchant members. Lewitan, a young man [not from Ludmir] came and became director of the bank. Those in the city thought that a young man could not lead the bank. Lewitan became a visionary and ruled as a despot in the city.

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He provided a great deal of credit to several rich men and Christians and the bank became as if it was his property. Among the membership was a majority who wanted the bank to serve all its members. However, they were not permitted to have any influence. Little by little, great opposition arose against the “despots” – until the finance minister had to get involved and answer the charge with a special dispatch that an extraordinary meeting soon would be called of all of the members with equal rights for all.

When the city reached equality with other cities with communal institutions, Jews were reminded that they needed a rabbi, a teacher who understood worldly things. It was decided to hire a rabbi who could succeed Tosafot Yom–Tov.[3] It took time until such a young man could be found with all of the necessary qualities.[4] With the agreement of the regime, it was at first made a rule that cattle would only be slaughtered according to the Jewish rules of kashrus [religious dietary laws] and the cattle had to be checked by a veterinary doctor and along with the city council they designated one ruble per cow for the doctor.

Then the rabbi became involved with social aid; he created “societies,” that is, cooperatives with all of the workers and each branch of work. And the societies began to become equal to all of the entrepreneurs in everything that the city's population consumed. There was a ban on buying all of the needs from outside of the city that now were being produced by the city's artisans themselves. In contrast, simultaneously, very strong opposition arose among the merchants who would bring in finished products from the larger cities. However, they could not endure the competition from their own cooperative, the rabbi's cooperative.

They approached the rabbi asking that he liquidate the “partnership.”

The rabbi was a “foreign citizen,” but he secretly had received a “false” passport with city citizenship with about 60 witnesses who gave an oath that he was born in Ludmir and had lived in Ludmir for the entire time. The rabbi was given the nicest building in the city and the rabbi began to exhibit his good capabilities in all areas, but they began to undermine his prestige among the Jewish scholars and the Christian residents. He himself gave Shabbos [Sabbath] sermons and wanted to lead the merchants on the right path with the strength of his knowledge, drawing from the area of the Torah.

However, finally the 60 [witnesses] who had sworn that the rabbi was born there, [changed their minds].

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The regime took the rabbi and placed him in the Kovel jail and brought him to a large, proper trial. Three hundred families with wives and children sat on the bench for the accused. The congregation [was defended by] all of the greatest Russian lawyers with Kapernikovich at the head. The trial was held behind closed doors, according to Russian

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law of that time, with 12 sworn [jurors] and a prosecutor and the congregation sat on the bench for three days until Sunday. The verdict was issued on Friday: freedom for the entire accused population and the rabbi received a judgment of expulsion from several gubernias [provinces]. On Shabbos the Jews in the small one–room synagogues and houses of prayer fervently discussed this. It truly became [as heated as] a war among them.

Translator's notes:

  1. Szmulek is spelled Szmelke in the paragraph above this one. Return
  2. The text of a religious divorce usually includes the location of where the get is being signed, including the name of the river near which it is located for a more accurate geographical description. Return
  3. Tosafot are Talmudic commentaries. Tosafot Yom Tov is the name of Talmudic commentaries by Yom Tov Lipmann Heller. Those writing Talmudic commentaries are often known by the name of their most famous book. Return
  4. The Rabbi Yakov ben [son of] Yitzhak Shur (Yakov ben Reb Yoal Rapoport 1886) Return


During the Days
of the Russian–Japanese War

by M. Rosenfeld

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This was in the very fervor of the Russian–Japanese War. The news from the battlefield was very bad. The Russian armies kept retreating.

On one of those days, announcements were hung out all over the city that all men who had served in the military and who were not yet 40 should report for a physical medical examination. Those who were found to be physically fit would be taken into the reserve army somewhere outside the city, near the barracks.

This announcement created a very oppressive mood among the Jewish population. There was almost no house in which there was not someone like this, or several who had to report to the mobilization. And all of them were people with families, with wives and children.

Fear attacked Ludmir. The Kishinev pogrom was fresh in their memories and so many peasants would enter the city. True, they were accustomed to seeing peasants in Ludmir; this would happen on the 20th of each month at the fair. The city, it can be said, drew its income from the local peasants. However, they were afraid that the peasants would get drunk and begin to shout: “Dirty Jews.” So the shopkeepers would close their shops… It was thought that all the bitterness that the people [the peasants] had at being torn from their land and from their families would find expression on Jewish heads…

A melancholy enveloped everyone. However, it appeared that Tsarism, which already was infested with filth, was not at all interested in new Jewish pogroms that would have been like oil on a fire. The police received a signal that the chief officer would be held for accountable each disorder that occurred.

However, the Jewish population of Ludmir did not want to rely on miracles and they brought a nice gift to the ispravnik (police chief). The police in the entire country had immediately become self–supporting.

The day of the mobilization arrived. Peasant wagons extended on all roads that led to the city and the police on horseback accompanied them on each. They did not allow them to stop in the city; a place was designated for them outside the city, far from the Jewish houses.

Husbands, fathers and relatives in general were then accompanied out. The sobbing and laments split the heavens. However, this all was a relative prelude to that which was done at the assembly spot. It is difficult to describe the heartrending scenes that took place there. Women threw themselves to the ground, many fainted; children clung to their mothers and would not let them go. Their voices reached to the very heavens.

Late in the evening, when the mobilization had ended, the voinskiy nachalnik (military chief) read loudly for the entire group a decree from the tsar that everyone who had been mobilized here today would not be sent to the front: they would remain in the country to maintain order.

A heavy stone fell from their hearts. The group dispersed little by little, each to his home.

 

Election to the Gosudarstvennaya Duma[1]

This occurred on a Friday night, after welcoming Shabbos [Sabbath] in the Stepiner shtibl [small synagogue, usually consisting of one small room].

At the dais stood three students with brass buttons. One of the students

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began to speak in a ringing Russian. Not everyone understood exactly what he said. However, the group did comprehend a few words. These were: “constitution” and “state Duma.” But the meaning of the words was not completely clear.

Then a week later, a special emissary from Petersburg came to the same Stepiner shtibl. He went up to the bimah [elevated platform from which the Torah is read] and gave a speech in Yiddish. The essence of the speech was: “Samoderzhaviya (autocracy) was abolished in Russia, instead the people themselves will make the laws and manage the country through their representatives. A Gosudarstvennaya Duma was being called together for that purpose. All citizens of Russia will have the right to take part in the elections and to choose whomever they want. It is the duty of the citizen to take part in the election and thereby show that we have matured for people's rule. The duty to take part in the elections lies especially on we Jews who have suffered until now as a result of self–rule and to elect our own or friends of the Jews as representatives that will fight for our interests.”

It also was said that the enemies of Israel [the Jews] were looking for every way to make sure that Jews would not send their own representatives. The election regions were cut up so that the Jews would be a minority everywhere.

Such speeches were held in every other shtibl and house of prayer. The city accepted the news very earnestly; a committee was founded to nominate two candidates. Benyamin Waserman and Eliezer Pojzner were nominated.

Messengers also were sent to all of the shtetlekh [towns] in the Ludmir region. They campaigned for all eligible Jewish workers to come to Ludmir on the day of the voting – and said everyone should vote for the same candidates who were designated by the Ludmir committee.

Masses of Jews began to flow toward Ludmir a day before the voting. A problem arose: what do we do with so many people? The inns were packed. It was decided to house the arriving Jews in the shtiblekh. Bread, butter, honey, sugar and samovars to make tea were immediately brought. The young men from the shtiblekh were transformed into waiters. A very fine dinner was prepared for the guests; there also was no lack of whisky. They had a joyful time and wished that Jews would receive equal rights and be redeemed from exile. Bales of straw were brought for beds. We

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spread the straw on the ground and that is how they spent the night.

In the morning everyone using their voting rights had to fill out their ballot, bring it to the city hall and throw it in a ballot box. All of the Jews wrote in the same names: Benyamin Waserman and Eliezer Pojzner.

On the next day, when city hall counted the votes, all of the officials were surprised that the Jews had voted for the same two candidates. Many from the Christian population had not come and of those who did come, one voted for a neighbor, another for a priest, one for a teacher. The result was that the two Jewish candidates won.

This was the first lesson of democracy in Ludmir.

 

The Miracle of the Cathedral

There was an old abandoned cathedral in Ludmir. No church services were performed there. No one remembered for how long the old church had stood abandoned. And while no one would come there, the larger courtyard that surrounded the church was transformed into a place to which the city population would come to perform their human [biological] needs.

Suddenly a rumor spread among the Christian population that the glow of a light had been noticed there [in the church] on a certain night, a sign that God had appeared there…

The rumor so agitated the Christian population that it could not be calmed until the leaders of the city wrote to the Synod in Petersburg about this. It did not take long and the Synod allocated a great sum of money to rebuild the old cathedral.

Great architects came to Ludmir on a beautiful day. They measured and drew and the work began. A number of artisans came to Ludmir (kastapes [pejorative word for] Russians). First they began to tear down the old buildings; this took a considerable time. Then they began the main work, slowly, not rushing, as everything that was done in old Russia.

The work thus took its course over a few years until the building finally was finished and they began to prepare the dedication. The news arrived that a delegation from the Holy Synod, the Kiev Governor General would be coming to the dedication and above all they would be bringing

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the most holy icon of the [Kiev] Pechersk Lavra[2] [Kiev Monastery of the Caves], the Ludmir isprovnik [district chief of police] (police chief) and the golowa [mayor].

When it was learned what kind of guests intended to come to the city, they first of all went to the Jewish population. Everyone who had a house had to whitewash the house and repair the roof. They were given monetary penalties or placed in jail for not carrying out the work fast enough. The city began to decorate itself. They repaired the roads; a triumphal gate was erected on Kowler Road. The entire city was topsy–turvy.

Naturally, this did not happen without fear, although the shopkeepers anticipated earning money. However, the Jewish population was in fear. Who knew what could, God forbid, happen if the non–Jews ran wild. This could yet, God forbid, be vented on Jewish heads…

It was learned that the police also wanted to be certain that the holiday would not be disturbed. An order was issued that all of the monopolies[3] that sold whisky should be closed for the duration of the celebration.

The designated day arrived. It was a Friday, when everything awaited the guests. And Friday night the “Pechersk Aunt” [icon of Mary] arrived. Masses of male and female peasants made the pilgrimage from Pecharew to Ludmir. The holiday lasted several days.

Little by little the guests departed. The fear of the Jewish population had been without cause. It turned out that the costs were only a little excessive or a few days of arrest. Little by little everyone calmed down and the city returned to its normal condition.

 

The Shabbos Rest is Disturbed

In Ludmir there was a Dominican spire, a belfry as it was called in Ludmir. This was a building of four or five stories, the highest in the city. At the top of the building was a gallery and in the middle was a booth in which the town constable (a policeman) stood. He guarded the city from fire; he would sound the bugle. This served as a signal for the poczarner komande (firemen). The firemen would immediately go out to the location of the fire with their equipment and half the city would run after them. There were such people for whom no

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crying and pleas from their family members helped. As soon as a fire broke out, they would immediately run to the location of the fire. There was a strange relationship in general to fires in Ludmir. On one hand there was a terrible fear, on the other [a fire] drew one near like a magnet.

Once on a summer Shabbos day, after napping, the rest of Shabbos flowed over the entire city. All of the shops were closed. The kol–Torah [voice of Torah] was heard from the open windows. One studied a page of the Gemara [Talmudic commentaries], another a chapter of the Mishnah [oral Torah] and another a chapter of Psalms. The old women were reading the Yiddish translation of the Torah. Women were seated on the earthen benches in front of the houses and they gossiped a little… And in the center of the city, on Nevski Street, Shabbos had a bit of another face. The dressed up young men and girls walked together. From the broken off conversations one could catch the words, “Sanin, Artsybashev, revolutionary, socialism.”[4]

The sound of a trumpet suddenly was heard. The impression was of thunder from a clear sky. The crew of firemen left with its tools, passed the steeple and from above the constable pointed his finger to the eastern side. The firemen began to pull toward the eastern side and the entire city went after them. Nevski [Street] was emptied in a minute. Open Gemares [copies of Talmudic commentary], open Mishnayos [copies of the Oral Torah] and Talmudum [copies of the Talmud] remained open in the shtiblekh [small synagogue, usually consisting of one small room] and in the houses of prayer. Everyone went to the fire. They ran up to the barracks, the firemen in front and the entire city following. Arriving at the barracks, the entire crowd stopped. No one knew what was burning. After standing for a time, the entire city returned to the city. Then the mystery was clarified.

The Ludmir landowner had bought a new automobile in Warsaw. Entering the city, the chauffeur had begun to honk so that people would clear the way. When the man in the steeple heard it, he became very frightened. He later confessed that it was an insult to him that he had not been the first one to sound the trumpet so that when he had been asked where the fire was, out of fear he had pointed to the eastern side…

Thus, the Shabbos rest was disturbed by the first automobile in Ludmir.

 

A Fair in Ludmir

It was very early, still dark; many Jews went to the shtiblekh and houses of prayer – grain traders, shopkeepers, old clothes sellers and wholesalers.

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They were hurrying to pray early because of that day's fair. And just as there was a little light from the east, they put on their talis and tefilin [prayer shawl and phylacteries] and began to pray. Some went home to “eat” something; others left their talis and tefilin with the shamas [sexton] and each ran to his business.

The further one went from the city, the more beautiful was God's world. On both sides of the road as far as the eye could grasp were fresh cut fields and meadows. Bundles of grain still stood like soldiers in several fields. On the right, a pine forest was silhouetted as the sun was rising in a corner in the east. A peasant with a full wagon appeared and a Jew with a yellow beard walked near him. He held one hand on the handrail. This was a sign that no one else should approach and ruin his business.

– The Jew asked, “Good morning, owner, what do you have to sell?”

– The peasant answered, “Good morning, good year. I have nothing to sell!” The Jew did not lose heart and began to speak quickly, rapidly: “The price for grain has greatly declined. It was as high as 80 kopekes a pood [more than 16 kilos or 36 pounds]; now they are paying not more than 71–72, the most 73 kopekes. What kind of grain?” The peasant interrupted, “Why are you pestering me? I have wheat.” The Jew ignored him, &

#147;Surely wheat. Why do you have to drag yourself around the city so that you will be swindled? Wheat is 95 kopekes. I will give you 97–98, a ruble. What? You do not want a ruble either? Enter the city, already.” He (the peasant) refused

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and he (the Jew) left. When the peasant saw that the Jew had left, he called him back: “Hey, kupiec [merchant].” This was a sign that the merchant had made a deal. The peasant and the Jew headed for the city and I with them.

We paid our first visit to the “Crown” Market. The entire market as well as the surrounding streets, where there was still a bit of empty space, were fully packed with horses and wagons and peasants. And Jewish buyers were walking around among them and were buying eggs, chickens, flax, pig bristles. Consequently, bargaining took place, they fought and they made up. There was a tumult, shouting, pushing on all sides.

And pushing, one remained standing at a hat stall. The hat maker called out loudly: “Caps, hats, for big and small!” He grabbed

 

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From the right, the City Market

 

a hat and spun it so artfully, quickly on his finger. A peasant approached with two small gentile boys. The hat maker began to measure them for the various hats and finally he found two hats for them that reached over their ears. Bargaining began. This lasted a considerable time, until finally they agreed and the deal was closed.

Suddenly, there was a tumult and shouting: “Catch him, block his way.” A pig that had been lying tied up to a wagon had broken loose and began to run. Running, he turned over two stalls with fruit. The tumult increased; they stood cursing. We left there with great difficulty and we returned to the small street, a narrow and congested one. May God protect and save us.

[Column 113]

Suddenly there was a shout and a cry: “My money, my poor money.” “What is it Reb Yid [Mr. Jew, a polite form of address]?” It turned out that this was a dorfs–geyer [one who goes from village to village buying and sells good] who had come to the market to buy [goods]. He had caught someone stealing his money purse from his pocket, everything he possessed. A few people immediately went among the shopkeepers and they collected a few rubles. The Jew took the money and thanked them and left. We began to take our final stroll through the smaller “streets” to the “bargains” markets.

The giant square was fully packed. Horses, cattle, sheep and pigs were sold here. In addition to the shouting and lamenting was added the mooing of cows and the neighs of the horses; hands were slapped in agreement and they haggled [over prices].

And when the deal was completed, they went to the nearby monopol [monopoly – a tavern, the right to sell whiskey was a monopoly granted to Jews by the Polish landowners.]; many peasants were assembled there. They banged their bottles on their palms. The corks flew out with a bang and they made a toast. Some could barely stand on their feet. Another began to play a button accordion; a few peasants began a joyful dance. It was lively here.

After the fair. It was night. Several arrestees with large brooms cleaned away the dirt from the main streets. The peasants had already left. The Jews went to the shtiblekh [small one–room houses of prayer] for Minkhah–Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. Between Minkhah and Maariv they discussed their impressions of the day. Praise the Lord. One said, “I made a few rubles.” “On the contrary,” another complained, “everything for me has gone badly.” Speaking thusly, someone banged on the table and began: “Nevertheless, He, the Merciful One, is forgiving of iniquity and does not destroy…”

 

Before the First World War

Ludmir was a typical Jewish city, equal to all other cities and shtetlekh [towns] in Poland. Income was drawn from small shops or they circulated around the peasants who would come to the city to buy what they needed. The fairs, which took place on the 20th of each month, brought great abundance to the city. The military, which was stationed in Ludmir, also helped them in earning their livelihood.

There also were several large businesses such as the manufacturing stores, sewing notions stores and so on. There were several mills in Ludmir as well as forest merchants and lumber merchants.

There also was a strata of artisans, such as carpenters, wheelwrights, shoemakers, tailors, hat makers, tinsmiths. A separate place was occupied by those who repaired old clothing. These were the artisans who would prepare

[Column 114]

the cheap clothing for the market. There also were two printers in Ludmir who provided the city with printed material.

The communal life was concentrated mainly around the shtiblekh and the houses of study. This was in addition to the houses of prayer, also gathering places for communal activities and quarrels. The quarrels occurred mostly because of [the choices of] rabbis, religious judges, ritual slaughterers and the like.

There also was an interest–free loan fund in Ludmir from which small shopkeepers, artisans and poor people received small loans without interest. There also was a very beautiful Jewish hospital in the city where the not well–to–do received medical help without cost.

The Russian liberation movement also had repercussions in Ludmir. Divisions of the Bund and Socialist–Zionist parties arose in Ludmir. Political leaders who would have to leave Russia would come to Ludmir from time to time because of its proximity to the Galician border. Meanwhile, before they crossed the border they held conferences, discussions. Many political arrestees were sent to Siberia through the Ludmir jail.

The majority of the Ludmir young people sat in the shtiblekh and studied. There also was a yeshiva [religious secondary school] for local young men and for those who came [to Ludmir]. A small number of young people went to the Jewish school that grew as a result of the Enlightenment movement in order to educate the Jewish population and was supported by the Tsarist government, naturally through Jewish money.

The more enlightened among the young made an attempt to create a library. This attempt was pushed against by opposition on the part of the police on one hand and by the Hasidim who held this as a heresy, on the other hand.

With this, my memory of Ludmir up to the First World War runs out.

The years between the First and Second World Wars, under Polish rule, were years when Polish anti–Semitism, with the help of a murderous boycott, worked to disturb the life of the Jewish population by taking their little bit of food from their mouths.

These also were the years of expansion in the area of the social and cultural fabric. All of Poland became the well of Jewish idealism, Jewish culture and Jewish stubbornness. And, God forbid, our Ludmir did not lag behind all of the other large cities in Poland. We can say that at the outbreak of the Second World War, Ludmir was a Jewish community of cultural importance.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. State Duma – lower house of Russian parliament. Return
  2. They meant the Pechersk Lavra. Return
  3. Propinacja – monopolies for producing and selling alcohol belonged to the landowners who leased the taverns and breweries to the Jews. Return
  4. Sanin is a novel written by the Russian writer Mikhail Artsybashev. The book deals with sexuality and was banned by the Russian government as pornography. Return

 

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