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Preface

by Daniel Leibel

Translated by Jerrold Landau


A community such as Dembitz,which was small in population and far removed from the centers of activity and influence of the country, never had the ability to produce its own independent history. It always lived its life without fanfare. Its voice was never heard when earth shattering decisions were to be made. However, Heaven forbid that we should say that it was separate from the Jewish people and the lot of the rest of the nation. Whatever was the lot of the Jews of the country at large was the lot also of the Jews of Dembitz, what exalted them exalted her, and what lowered them lowered her as well. At one point or another, whatever befell the Jews of the neighboring areas, be it for good or for bad, also came upon Dembitz.

A community such as this, which only had small villages in its immediate vicinity, villages which only had very few Jewish families amongst great numbers of gentiles, always looked toward the larger communities that were farther afield – from their came forth Torah, from their came good tidings, and also, Heaven forbid, bad tidings.

When a large community is beset with difficulties, whether due to natural causes or to decrees of the gentile government, – the leaders would gather together to figure out means to overcome the problems. Wise men and men of action would take counsel together to figure out methods of salvation expert and experienced emissaries [1] would be sent to the government to negotiate in favor of the persecuted Jews, and to attempt to soften the evil decree through bribery, or simply to make their protests known. If the problem was too difficult for a single community to handle, emissaries would be dispatched to other communities, both near and far, to enlist their help in overcoming the problems, whether through influence of through monetary assistance.

A small community could not function in such a manner, since its connection with the larger cities and governing authorities would be more tenuous. Its own resources would be very limited, it was far away from the centers of activity, and it had to deal with difficulties, both large and small, on its own. These difficulties would often result in oppression, plunder, and murder.

Who can describe all of the woe of such an isolated community throughout the centuries, from the darkness of the middle ages which lasted for the Jews until the end of the 18th century – and who can describe all the strength and splendor of such a community as it stood up as a lamb among wolves, whose honor is in its inner life: to the outside word they were despised, suspect, and persecuted, but to themselves they were proud in their isolation, full with the meaning of “You have chosen us”[2]; clad in humility toward the outside world and the physical strength that comes from it, yet full of pride in the inner chambers of the heart with the noble legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which brings with it the gifts of intellectual understanding and a merciful heart, love of Torah, family purity [3], and many other fine traits which our brethren the Jewish people have in contradistinction to the nations of the world, amongst whom they find themselves dispersed.

These Jews did not write down their chronicles, and if one from among them decided to write down the events of his time, the people who came after him did not have the wherewithal to preserve the documents, due to the manifold evil decrees, persecutions, and fires. The also did not preserve their record ledgers, which were written for the purposes of the Poretz [4], the king, or the church. These record ledgers were for the most part written in Latin, which was referred to as “Galachit” [5], or in the local vernacular, which they generally could not read very well. In any case, the chronicles of the Jewish people would have been of little interest to those who forced them to keep these record books.

Thus, the history of hundreds of small Jewish communities throughout the centuries is lost without a trace, unless an event took place which was of such significance that it was recorded in the ledgers of the large communities, or in the ledgers of the “Vaad Arba Aratzot”[6]. Even of those records only a small portion survived.

The luck of our community Dembitz was both good and bad. The good luck was that no earth shattering events took place that would have required the assistance of the larger communities of Poland. The bad luck was that is that no written records, whether from secular or Jewish communal sources, were preserved at all until the end of the 17th century. Therefore we, who come to preserve a monument to the life of the community that was cut off by the enemy, are only able to include the history of our town with the history of all of the rest of the Jews of Poland, in all its regions. Whatever befell Jacob befell Joseph [7], and whatever events, whether for life or for death, that befell Krakow, to the west of Dembitz, Lublin to the north, Przemysl and Lwow to the east, also befell Dembitz, the younger sister that was on the Wisloka River. Woe unto us, whose knowledge of the history of the destruction of the community is far greater than our knowledge of the history of the community in its growth and glory. G-d forbid that our dearth of knowledge of the beginnings of the community, and our minimal knowledge of other periods of its history should prevent us from salvaging what we can of the history of our life. A very important overview of the history of the community of Dembitz is presented here. It is a first class research essay, the fruit of the pen of the eminent historian of Galician Jewry, Dr. N. M. Gelber. We owe to him a great debt of gratitude. Oh how wonderful it would be if we could write a great book on the Jews of Poland, in all its detail and minutiae, and if we could uncover further archives and concealed books that would shed light on our community. We could then shed further light onto the history of this community, which even though little is known of its beginnings, was certainly blessed with the crown of a good name amongst Jewish Poland. May its memory last forever.

Daniel Leibel


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{photo – The Synagogue in the New Town after the Destruction.}


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Dr. N. M. Gelber


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The History of the Jews of Dembitz

Translated by Jerrold Landau


There was already a settlement in Dembitz from the first half of the 14th century. The Church of Dembitz is mentioned three times between the years 1326 and 1328 in the account books of tithes and the letters of St. Peter that are kept in the Vatican archives in Rome. The area is described in those books as a settlement surrounded by forests – Decanatus de silvis sede Dambitia [8]. It is evident that in those days the area had a very sparse population.

It was in the year 1358, more than 600 years ago, that King Kazimierz the Great granted to a man by the name of Sziontoslaw, the owner of the area, the rights to establish a city on his estate in accordance with the German statute that was in force in the city of Sroda [9] that was in western Poland (prawo sredzkie). Sziontoslaw was appointed as mayor (advocatus, wojt) of the city, and was given the authority of justice over the population. Seven advisors (lawnicy) were appointed to help him. At that time Dembitz was given the right to hold a weekly market day, which took place on Wednesdays. This is a definite sign of the beginnings of civic life.

Apparently the initial development of the city was very slow, since after less than 14 years, on June 10 1372, Sziontoslaw passed over the leadership of the city to a man by the name of Mikolai, who was previously the mayor of the village of Lipin. He was commissioned to establish the city according to the statute of Magdeburg [10], which was more lenient. Thus Dembitz gained an equal footing with the rest of the cities of Lesser Poland [11]. At this occasion, Sziontoslaw promised to give fields to all the residents without having to pay for seven years. He also freed them from civic service, and from the duty to raise horses for the service of the King, his entourage, and for the needs of the officials who traveled on government business.

Apparently at that time the city began to become firmly established. It became worthwhile to buy the position of mayor for a sum of money, as is testified to by a deed from the year 1441, where Jan Mapodgarodza was required to pay the former mayor Pioter Makonari 300 Grivna [12] to obtain the position of mayor of Dembitz. At that time the surrounding villages of Nagawczywa, Pustinya, Kodokow (Globokowa), Stasiowa and Gumniska were affiliated with Dembitz.

The city expanded further in those years, and its economic connections widened. In 1446, Tomasz Wielski requested from King Wladislaw the Third, the Varnai, an additional privilege: the right to hold special fairs in additional to the weekly fair. The representative of the King, the Kasztlan of Krakow [13] Jan Meziezow, issued a special permit that permitted Dembitz to arrange two additional annual fairs in which merchants from other cities would participate. This was in addition to the regular weekly fair which took place on Saturday in which the local store owners and stall owners participated.

An additional benefit came to the residents of the city in 1470 when the master of the city, Lord Jadwiga issued a proclamation “for eternity” which required his heirs to refrain from drafting and coercing the residents of the city into public service and duty (panszczyzna).

The family which owned the city in the 14th and 15th century was appointed by the Gryfici brigade, which participated in the battle of Grunwald against the Knights of the Cross on July 15, 1410. One member of this family, Mikulai of Dembitz participated that year in the Battle of Koronowa, in which the German Knights of the Cross were inflicted a decisive defeat. Several members of that family rose to important positions in the State, including Zbigniew Kavniezionski, Mikulai Liatuzynski, Stauslaw Langsalza, and others.

Mention is made of Jews in Dembitz for the first time in an agreement which was signed between the Priest Pioter and the master of the city Jan Podgrodzki in 1471, which required all residents of the area, with the exception of the Jews and non-Catholics to pay a tithe to the church. The fact that the master of the city insisted on this indicates that there already were Jews, most probably very few, among the residents of Dembitz before the end of the 15th century. However, apparently all the Jews let the city in the difficult times that came upon the city after that time, since from 1471 to 1690, a period of over than 200 years, no mention is made of any Jews with reference to Dembitz.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Dembitz suffered very greatly from the Tatar invasion, in particular in the year 1502, which brought great destruction in its wake. In addition, a large fire broke out in Dembitz in 1504 which practically destroyed the entire city. The residents were unable to fulfill their financial dues to the city and the state, and this forced the masters of the city, Jan Podgrodzki and Katrina Meliatuszin to release them from all payments for 14 years. In a sitting of the Sejm [14] that took place in Piotrikow in February 1504, the King Alexander freed the residents of Dembitz from all taxes and farming dues for one year, and from all rental payments for six years. On July 26, 1505, the urban residents of Dembitz were again freed from all taxes (ab omnibus ex-actionibus) for four years.

From its beginnings until the 18th century, Dembitz was primarily an agricultural town. Nearly all of the urban residents had control of plots of land that were owned by the masters of the area. After some time, particularly in the latter half of the 17th century, the local artisans began to organize into guilds (cechy). In a privately owned city such as Dembitz, these guilds required only a permit from the masters of the area. If, however, the particular guild took upon itself to meet the standards of a guild of a national city, it would be exempted from any permit. [15]

These heads of these guilds were chosen by the members. These guilds maintained strict disciplines with respect to professional, ecclesiastical, and social affairs. These disciplines were written down in charters which were burnt in the fire of 1660, and they were re-chartered again in the years that followed.


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The shoemaker's guild was re-chartered by the master of the city on November 18th, 1660, the butcher's guild in 1690, and the weaver's guild in 1691. It is very interesting to note that the in the charter of the butcher's guild at that time, the fees that the Jews had to pay for slaughter of each animal (according to the Jews laws of ritual slaughter) were specified. The Jews were forbidden to organize a union for the purpose of ritual slaughter, and they were also forbidden from importing their meat from any other locality. Since these charters were authorized by the masters of the area, they did have the force of law, and were therefore incumbent upon the Jews as well. The importance of these facts is that the mention of Jews and Jewish ritual slaughter helps to establish the earliest definitive date of the establishment of a Jewish community in Dembitz.

The charter of the weaver's guild included an invitation by the masters of the city for members from Germany and Silesia to help develop that trade in the city. The weavers trade had existed in the city for many years by that time. This guild existed until the beginning of the 19th century, but it disbanded with the economic decline of the city at that time.

In 1655, the Swedish army invaded the city and destroyed a significant portion of it. In 1660 another great fire broke out, which left many residents homeless.

This fire caused an important change in the history of the city. Those residents whose residences were destroyed by the fire began to set up houses in the southern portion of the city near the Church of St. Barbara. This area was described in documents prior to 1655 as being outside the city (extra oppidi). This new area was now known as oppidum Nova Debica, and from then on the city was divided into two portions: the old city, and the new city.

At that time a debate broke out between the church and the master of the city Kazimierz Glinski, who accepted loans from the Canonicus Mikulai Meludzki in order to set up the plots of land in the new city, but did not fulfill his obligations. The priest, who was not sympathetic to the populace, wished to gain control of the land and the houses. In 1701 a compromise was worked out, and the plots of land in the new city were exempted from the church tax (koscielne), and remained under the control of the master of the city. The hospital that was next door to the Church of St. Barbara also remained under the control of the master of the city.

Just as the internal dispute was being forgotten, the Swedes invaded Dembitz for a second and third time in 1702 and 1705. Under the command of the Swedish General Steimbok, they ignited and burnt the monastery and the estates of the Priest Mikulai Meludzki, and the houses of the masters of the city Winiarski and Glinski.

We will now begin to tell the story of the establishment of a permanent Jewish settlement in Dembitz.

Due to the lack of evidence and documentation, it is hard to establish exactly when the era of Jewish settlement began. As mentioned earlier, from a document signed in the year 1471, it is possible to conjecture that individual Jews resided in Dembitz already in the 15th century. A more or less organized Jewish community did not exist until the latter half of the 16th century. Since Dembitz is located in the district of Sandomierz, we can conjecture the Jewish settlement date of Dembitz from the settlement dates of other cities in the district. The oldest Jewish community in the Sandomierz area was in the city of Sandomierz itself (1367), and the next community was Tarnow (1445). Other communities in the district were founded between 1501-1581. It would make sense to conjecture that an established Jewish community was founded in this time frame as well, even though the first document that provides concrete evidence as to the existence of an organized Jewish community was from the 17th century. This document was the aforementioned charter of the butcher's guild of 1690, which specified the regulations on Jewish slaughter. Until the end of the 17th century, the Jews in Dembitz were concentrated in the old city. After the fire of 1660, when the settlement of the new city began, the Jews also began to settle there. They founded their own community with their own synagogue and Parnas [16], who was called Senior Synagogae novi oppidi Dembica (the head of the Jewish community of the new city of Dembitz). The two communities of Dembitz were organized along the same lines as all other Jewish communities in Poland, who were headed by Parnasses and trustees. The head of the community in the new city in 1712 was Reb Levi the son of Yitzchak, who was called Lewek Isakowicz in Polish. The head of the community in the old city at that time was Reb Hershel (Herszko).

These two names were recorded in a document that was unique to that time period.

The expanding Jewish community in the new city began to arouse suspicion and ill-will in church circles at that time, in particular due to the controversy between the Priest Meludzki and the master of the city Glinski. Since the masters of the city permitted the Jews to settle in the new city, and, as has been mentioned, the church disputed the masters' ownership of the land there, the Priest Meludzki found a pretext to exert pressure upon the owner of the land by bringing up the issue of the expanding number of Jews to the church authorities.

The Cardinal of Krakow, Prince Kazimierz Lubienski ordered an inquiry into the status of the Jewish communities of the old and the new city, and sent a special delegation there to carry out this investigation. They were to inquire into the legal status of the new city in particular, where, according to the complaint, the community was founded and established in contravention to the laws of the state and the synod, and also in contravention to the decision of the supreme court. The delegation decided that the synagogue (house of study?) in the new city should be dismantled, and that it should not be rebuilt in the future.

The Jews of Dembitz did not accept this decree. In the presence of the head of the community Reb Levi the son of Yitzchak, the community issued testimony under oath to the Cardinal of Krakow that the house under discussion is not a synagogue at all. Rather they claimed that this house was set up with the knowledge of the Episcopate of Krakow as a private house for the communal offices and for study (i.e. as a study hall), without any opposition from the local Catholics and the local church – in a separate area from the residential area of the Catholics, outside the old city, and with letters of permission from the kings and the masters of the city. The large community which settled in the area was separate from the residential areas of the Catholics, and should be tolerated since, just as in the old city, the community paid all customary taxes and fees to the church and the priests. Therefore, they feel justified in requesting that their synagogue can also be housed in that building.


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Reb Hershel, the head of the community of the old city, was also present at the meeting, and requested permission to maintain his community separate from the community of the new city.

The matter was brought again before the committee, which included the nobleman Jan Nowakowski, and Dr. Albert Olszowski. After much deliberation, the committee decided against the request of the Jews. They decided that the Jews of the old city and the new city were required to gather in one building, and if they would not abide by this decision, they would be required to pay a fine of 50 talents [17] to help rebuild the monastery that was destroyed by the Swedish invasion.

The committee also noted that the Jewish population was increasing and the Catholic population was decreasing, and that the Jews were taking over all property and business that should have been in the hands of the Christians. Therefore, the committee decreed that the Jews must close their houses and not appear in the streets during the times of church processions, that they must not pour drinks on Sundays [18], and that they must not employ Christian maids in their homes. All of this was under the penalty of severe fines.

Apparently, however, the study hall (Beis Medrash) was not destroyed.

Until 1730, the community of Dembitz was affiliated with the district of Rzeszow. From the documents that describe the head tax paid by the Jews of that district at that time, it can be established that Dembitz was considered part of that district, and paid its taxes along with that district. Dembitz paid 500 gold coins toward the general sum of 10,930 gold coins that was imposed on Rzeszow and area.

A change occurred in this matter in 1730. That year, the community of Rzeszow and its environs, along with Jaroslaw, and for a time also Dowromil split off from the Przemysl district. The community of Dembitz seized that opportunity to split off from Rzeszow, and began to pay its taxes independently. This split took place with the assistance of the master of the city, and was to a large part precipitated by the embezzlement and extortion of tax funds by the heads of the community of Rzeszow. In the head tax accounts of 1734, the community of Rzeszow and its environs (z partykularzami) is registered for the sum of 7,500 gold coins, and the Jews of Dembitz are registered separately for the sum of 500 gold coins. This is the same sum that Dembitz had originally paid on its own. In 1736 and 1737, Rzeszow is registered for 7,560 gold coins, and Dembitz separately for 500 gold coins. This split did not last for long, for in 1738 Dembitz again is registered together with Rzeszow for a total sum of 8,034 gold coins, of which Dembitz was responsible for 500 gold coins. However, this arrangement also was not long lived. In the following year, 1739, Dembitz appears again as an independent community and not as a dependency of Rzeszow. In that year, Rzeszow was required to pay 8,164 gold coins, and Dembitz 500 gold coins.

From 1739 and onward Dembitz is registered as an independent community. In 1753, Dembitz paid a head tax of 500 gold coins, and the Jews of Rzeszow 7,693 gold coins. In 1756 Dembitz does not appear on the list, and Rzeszow appears alone registered for a sum of 6,753 gold coins. From the registers of the community of Rzeszow of that year, it is possible to verify that Dembitz was again included in the district of Rzeszow.

In the latter half of the 18th century Dembitz was affiliated for administrative purposes with the area of Pilzno, which was included in the district of Sandomierz. In the first Polish census, which took place in the year 1764, after the disbanding of the Council of the Four Lands,
Dembitz is listed as having 911 Jews. In reality there were many more Jews, since a large number of Jews avoided the enumeration, due to a fear of harm to either themselves or the community. The census of the Jewish community was carried out by a census committee consisting of the Rabbi, a monthly Parnas [19] and the sexton. The committee would go from house to house enumerating all Jewish individuals, even those who were not present in their homes at the time. The Jews of the outlying villages were required to present themselves in the cities to register the number of people in their households. The lists were signed by all the members of the committee. In national cities they were signed by the Starosta [20], and in private cities such as Dembitz, they were signed by the masters of the city. Then the lists were brought by the officials to the capital of the district, where they were required to take an oath as to their accuracy. The oath ceremony for the Jewish census committees took place in a synagogue. In some cases the lists were written in Hebrew and then translated into Polish afterward, since the Jewish officials often did not know how to write in the Polish language.

Of the 911 Jews who were enumerated in Dembitz, 573 resided in the city and 338 resided in the outlying villages that were affiliated with Dembitz. In the city of Dembitz, 135 heads of families were registered (33% [21]). Of this, only 33 worked for a living at a trade: 1 retailer, 3 hat makers, 1 rope maker, 7 tailors, 1 goldsmith, 5 bakers, 7 butchers, 1 engraver, 1 barber, 1 musician, 4 teachers, and 1 cantor.

Only 24.4% of the families had a head of the household who was employed, 1 retailer – 0.7%; 25 laborers – 18.5%; 7 in independent trades – 5.2%. (These numbers are from the book “Yidn in Amoiken Poiln in Licht Fun Tzipern” by Dr. Rafael Mahler [22].)

We can also learn about the professions of the Jews of Dembitz from the head tax registry of 1764, in which is listed: 1 grain dealer, 1 cantor, 4 teachers, 1 musician, 1
rope maker, 7 tailors (of which only one retained an apprentice), 3 hat makers, 1 smith, 7 butchers, 5 bakers, 1 engraver, 1 medic.

Without doubt, the number of employed and professionals was significantly higher. However, the enumerators intentionally did not list such occupations as merchants, store owners, middlemen, glass blowers, etc., due to “the fear of the evil eye”. [23] The registries certainly do not give an accurate picture of the total number of Jews in the city. The complete numbers were not registered, due to fear of persecution and oppression, and it is impossible for us at this point to paint an accurate picture. The Jews of Dembitz, having learned from experience of previous years, attempted as much as possible to keep the authorities from knowing the complete and accurate account of their numbers and professional activities.

In 1773, an event took place which shook the community to its foundations: on April 12, the Jewess Sofia, Yaakov Meirek (Meir) and his wife Rachel, and one other girl who was the daughter of the owner of the tavern of Nagawczywa, all together converted to Christianity at the Catholic church under the supervision of the priest Mikolai Wieczchovski. The owner of the tavern of Nagawczywa himself remained Jewish. His daughter took the name Antonina-Francesca-Teresa. The patrons [24] of the baptism were: the Canonicus, Prince Antony Mikolai Rodziwil, the noblewoman Teresa Stoyowska, Judge Josef Jordon Stiowski, and Francesca Wlodok, the wife of Horaunt Wlodok.


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One can only imagine the dismay of the Jews of Dembitz at that time.

A recognizable improvement in the development of the city took place in the 1730s, due to the efforts of the master of the city Frantisek Biolinski and his wife Dorota Henrietta, who granted the residents various benefits and incentives in order to encourage them to build houses in the empty plots of land that were given to them.

In 1768, the ownership of Dembitz was passed to Prince Mikolai Rodziwil. In a special oath taking ceremony that took place in the house of the owner of the city, the mayor, his advisors, the noblemen of the area and the mayors of the neighboring towns were gathered together and took an oath to fulfill their duties in good faith. In that year the city suffered from the traversal of the Russian army, which passed through Poland in order to support the Pact of the Nobles (the Confederation) that was set up in Radom in opposition to the Pact of the Patriots that was set up in the city of Bar [25]. Several of the noblemen from the area of Dembitz and the surrounding towns were party to the Pact of the Patriots. The war between the two sides continued until 1772, and fierce battles were fought in the vicinity of Dembitz, in particular in a valley that was known as Za Okopem – “The Rear of the Ramparts”.

The war between the two sides ended with the first partition of Poland.

Poland was divided amongst the three neighboring powers: Russia, Austria, and Germany. The section of Poland that was given to Austria, which included Dembitz and its environs, was known from then on as Galicia [26]. On December 29, 1773, the residents of the city gathered for the oath of allegiance to the Empress Maria Teresa, which took place in the presence of the Austrian governors, the heads of the city, a representative of the new city, and the secretary of the city. From this time on the Jews of Dembitz shared the same lot as the Jews in all of Galicia. At first the city was part of the district of Myslenice [27], later part of the district of Rzeszow [28], and finally part of the district of Tarnow. The Jews of Dembitz, along with all the Jews of Galicia, benefited from a general improvement in the economic status of the country. However, they also suffered from many machinations[29] of the Austrian regime, who spared no effort to “civilize” them, and to make them into enlightened citizens of the Hapsburg monarchy.

In 1785, the national organization of Jewish communities, which was established by a decree of Maria Teresa in 1776, was disbanded. A national organization was never re-established after that time. The local communal functionaries did retain their positions, however. With the exception of the communities of Lwow and Brody, which had seven Parnasim at their helm, all the rest of the communities, Dembitz included, had only three Parnasim each. The job of the Parnasim was to represent the community before the governing authorities, to look after communal matters in conjunction with the Rabbi, to maintain the birth, marriage, and death registries, and to collect the communal tax and the “Jewish tax”. These Parnasim were affiliated with the local government, who looked upon them only as a means of enacting their will upon the community. Aside from these Parnasim, the community also chose synagogue trustees, charity trustees, assessors, and bookkeepers. The community of Dembitz did not have a Rabbi, but rather a teacher who served as a judge of Jewish law who drew a salary of 20 Florin, and a cantor who drew a salary of 15 Florin. The burden of taxation upon the Jews was very heavy: a personal tax (Toleranzsteuer) upon each individual, income and property taxes that depended upon one's income, a candle tax [30], a marriage tax, a title tax (i.e. if one bore a special title such as “Moreinu” – our teacher). All this in addition to the communal tax (Krowka) that was also controlled by the governing authorities.

From time to time new taxes were imposed, such as the lodging tax (Quartiersteuer), in lieu of providing lodging for army captains, the field tax (Rustikalsteuer) in addition to the house tax, the consumption tax, and income tax. The taxation burden increased greatly, and after the upgrading that took place in 1789, the government taxes upon the Jews were raised even further.

The marriage tax in particular caused much suffering for the Jews. An event took place in Dembitz with regard to this tax which preoccupied the government for several years, and served as a precedent for the future.

In October 1778, a Jew from Tarnow named Zindel was to marry a girl from Dembitz by the name of Chana. The bride paid the sum of 20 Florin for the marriage tax, and the groom died shortly before the wedding. The bride asked the government to return the money she paid, or to hold it on account for her until she would eventually marry. After much deliberation, the authorities in Vienna decided to give her the option of having the money returned, or having it kept on account for her until she would eventually marry.

At that time, there were many “makers of plans” [31] among the Jews of Galicia, who would propose all sorts of economic and financial ideas to the government. The aim of these plan makers was to gain an opportunity to go to Vienna on the pretext of presenting their plans to the officers of the central government. One of these “plan makers”, Reb Moshe Wien lived in Dembitz at the time. In 1878 he proposed to the Vienna government that the government should set up a monopoly for the candle wax trade. This proposal would have wreaked havoc on a significant number of Jewish businessmen and merchants. To their good fortune, this proposal was rejected by the government.

Dembitz had its share of informers who would report unregistered marriages to the government, and would then request payment from the government for this information [32]. These informers were persecuted by the community, and they would then turn to the government and request that they be permitted to flee to Vienna to escape their persecutors. On one occasion, a Jew by the name of Yisrael Kissel was permitted to leave for Vienna. When he arrived, he request financial support from the government in compensation for the persecution he suffered on account of the duty he performed for the government.

In 1787 a decree was issued that the Jews of Galicia were required to take on German family names, starting from January 1789. From that time on the surname “Dembitzer” became very well known in Galicia itself, and also in the lands that Dembitz natives immigrated to. (It is quite probable that the ancestors of the famous supreme court judge of the U.S.A., Louis Brandeis-Dembitz, originally had their roots in Dembitz, and from there settled in Bohemia, from where one of them eventually immigrated to America.) The German names were intended by the government to promote the process of Germanization and assimilation of the Jews of Galicia. For the same reason, communities and businesses were required to keep their ledgers and accounts in German only. They were forbidden to use Hebrew or Yiddish for this purpose, and they were even forbidden to use the Hebrew alphabet.

In an effort to promote these plans, in 1787 the government authorities in Galicia set up 51 German schools for the Jews of Galicia, according to the counsel of the Maskil Hertz Homburg. One such German-Jewish school was set up in Dembitz. Meir Kuch was appointed as teacher, and he was given an annual salary of 200 Florin, which was 10 times the salary of the Rabbi of the city.


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We do not know if this school continued functioning all the way until 1806, when this entire school system was disbanded. There is no hint of this fact in the archives that we have available.

In 1785, when thousands of Jewish families were left without livelihood due to the behavior of the Jewish technocrats, Kaiser Josef II issued a decree on August 16, 1785 that Jews should immediately begin to settle in agricultural settlements. Dembitz was required to provide 8 families toward the quota of 1400 Jewish families required. They would receive 4 plots of land, 4 cow sheds and huts, horses, oxen and cows. In investigations that were conducted in 1796 and 1804, it was found that in contradistinction to the rest of the communities of Galicia, not one family from Dembitz had actually taken up settlement. The community was again requested to provide 8 families, but once again, the community did not respond to the request. We do not know the reasons why.

In 1790, the nobleman Tyowski was arrested for illegally leasing a portion of his estate to a Jew from Dembitz. The governing authorities of the Tarnow region fined the nobleman 100 Florin for breaking the law (gestzwidrige Judenpacht). The Jew was sentenced to a flogging of 10 lashes with a staff. The nobleman petitioned his punishment, and it was reduced to 50 Florin. However, the punishment of the Jew was not reduced.

On March 18, 1788, the Vienna government decreed a draft of Jews into the army, together with the rest of the population. However, in 1790, it became possible for Jews to be freed from the draft by a payment of 30 Florin by each recruit. This situation lasted until 1804, when it again became obligatory for Jews to enlist together with the Christians. In 1797, the Jews of the district of Myslenice, which included Dembitz at that time, were granted an exemption from all army service, through the intercession of Shlomo Kofler, the lessee of the candle tax at that time. In return for the exemption, the Jews would have to pay 200 kantar of silver [33], or the sum of a million Florin of silver utensils, plus 5,000 Florin in cash.

The offices of the district informed the Rabbi of Dembitz, Rabbi Natan Landau, about this exemption. Rabbi Landau served in Dembitz between 1797 and 1809. However, the government of Vienna refused to negotiate with Kofler about this matter, since the Jews tried to get out of the draft before they paid the required sum.

In 1788, there was a census of the Jews in the areas of Galicia. To our dismay, the census lists of the Rzeszow region make no mention at all of Dembitz – they only show the totals of the entire region.

Already from the time of Polish rule, the Jews had ownership rights to houses and plots within the city, due to the privileges of the private cities. After the Austrian conquest, Jews were forbidden to purchase government and public houses. They were, permitted to purchase houses and plots only within the Jewish quarter. This prohibition was entrenched in the city charter. When the government wished to improve the state of the buildings in Galicia by demanding that the houses of the Jews must be of stone, a decree was issued on March 28 1805 that changed the status quo of the Jews for the worse. Jews were forbidden to purchase any house or plot that had not previously been in the possession of a Jew. Even a home that had previously been owned by a Jew but was later sold to a Christian, could not be purchased by a Jew, even if the Christian would make a profit in the sale. Nevertheless, despite these decrees, the Jews of Dembitz were able to purchase houses and plots from Christians in recognizable numbers. In 1824, the community approached the government with a request to authorize their ownership over their houses and fields as a one time gesture. This petition reached the commissioners in Lwow, the capital of Galicia [34], who in turn sent the request to the Ministry of Lands in Vienna. This petition was answered positively, with the caveat that this was an exceptional situation. Incidentally, at that time, the Chasidic leaders opposed the ownership of homes by Jews. The Chasidic Master, Reb Mendel of Rymanow viewed the permission by the government of Jews to own their own homes as a pretext to insure that the Jews would become comfortable in their exile, and to promote assimilation (Menachem Zion, pages 56-57).

The city grew and flourished economically under Austrian rule, and the Jews benefited as well from this state of affairs. Business contacts were established with many provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Already from the first half of the 19th century many new enterprises and workshops were established, primarily by Jews. These included flour mills, lumber mills, a match factory, a soap factory, a glass blowing plant, and a liquor distillery. The population made their living from industry, commerce, and labor, primarily from enterprises owned by Jews.

The ownership of Dembitz passed from the Radzibilim family to the hands of the Baron Rozinski, who built his palace in the village of Zawada, four kilometers from Dembitz.

In 1831, a cholera epidemic broke out in Dembitz, which caused great suffering for the population, both Christians and Jews.

In the 1840s, the Poles of Dembitz began to become involved in the Polish movement for the liberation of Galicia. Often, noblemen who were involved in this movement would pass through Dembitz for secret meetings, in particular since the organizer of the 1846 insurrection, Jan Tyosowski lived in Dembitz with his family. He was later declared as the Dictator of the Republic of Krakow.

At the time of the outbreak of the 1846 insurrection in Krakow, an uprising of the farmers took place against the noblemen with the encouragement of the Austrians under the leadership of the farmer Jakob Shela. This was a time of great trepidation and fear for the Jews of Dembitz due to the massacres of noblemen that took place in Jaslo, Sanok and Tarnow, even though nothing happened in Dembitz itself. The Jews of the city were waiting in fear: on the one hand the noblemen who owned the lands would be tempted to take revenge on them on account that a Jew, Lewek Stern was the right hand man of Shela, the leader of the uprising; and on the other hand for the fear that the farmers may have a complaint against them because they supported the noblemen in the oppression of the farmers. The power of the owners of the surrounding property was diminished due to these events. A farmer, Kazimierz Walczak, was chosen to represent Dembitz in the first Austrian parliament, that was set up in Vienna after the 1848 uprisings.

In spite of this, the Polish insurrection left very little effect on the city by 1863, even though the nationalist organizations of western Galicia made great effort to influence the youth of Dembitz to support the revolts.

Slowly but surely the lot of the Jews of Dembitz began to improve, since the Jews of Austria were granted equal rights in the second half of the 19th century. The special laws designed to prevent their increase, and to push them out of economic life were repealed.


{Page 14}


A great factor in the improvement of the economic situation was the construction of the Karel Ludwig railway line, which traversed the entire northern region of the Hapsburg Monarchy from Vienna to Lwow, with Dembitz being one of its stops.

The Jewish population, which numbered 500 souls in 1840 had grown a thousandfold [35] by 1865. In the census of 1880 it numbered about 2,385 people, which was 73.2% of the general population of the city. However, the cultural and societal development was much slower, since the decisive majority of the community in the city were Chasidim, or were wary of starting a conflict with the Chasidim [36].

In the second half of the 19th century, the Chasidic group who were followers of Rab Naftali Tzvi of Ropczyce (1760-1827) [37]. The city eventually became a Chasidic center. After a controversy over the Rabbinate of Dembitz, the grandson of Reb Naftali, Reb Reuven Horowitz, became the Rabbi of Dembitz.

We do not know anything about the Rabbinate in Dembitz until the second half of the eighteenth century. The first Rabbis of Dembitz about whom we have records were Rabbi Shmuel and Rabbi Eliezer of the Horowitz family, who served in the latter part of the 18th century. The were members of the renowned Horowitz Rabbinic family, but they are not to be mixed up with family members of the Chasidic leader Reb Naftali of Ropczyce, who took on the name Horowitz at a later date. When Rabbi Eliezer Horowitz passed away in 1790, Rabbi Natan Landau the Kohen became the Rabbi. He served as Rabbi until 1809. After him, Rabbi Shmuel Henech Gewirtz served as Rabbi until 1820, and he was succeeded by his son the Rabbinic Judge Rabbi Eliahu Gewirtz. After his passing the Rabbinic seat was empty for several years, and only in 1872 did it become possible for Rabbi Reuven Horowitz to settle in Dembitz. He fulfilled the two roles of Rabbi and Admor [38] simultaneously.

The Haskala movement did not have a great influence among the Jews of Dembitz, who generally lived a very traditional lifestyle [39]. The Jews of Dembitz only began to modernize culturally at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, some families were brazen enough to send their children to the Polish public schools, and also the Gymnasia [40]. In 1907 there were 27 Jews among the 406 students of the Gymnasia. Some of them were from outside the city, however.

A decree was issued by the Ministry of Religion and Education in Vienna that as of April 2, 1891, the community of Dembitz would be an independent community within the administrative district of Ropshitz [41]. The community would have its own communal council. However this communal council only occupied itself with religious matters, and did not come up with any new ideas to improve the economic and cultural state of the burgeoning Jewish population. The economic and cultural situation was degenerating, and many Jews were forced to leave the city due to the lack of a livelihood.

In 1890, before the establishment of the new communal framework, an organization for the assistance of the poor was set up. This organization provided 6 acre plots of land, and loans of 3,000 Guilders [42].

The final communal council before the First World War included: Reb Mendel Mahler as head, Yisrael Shtarch as deputy, and Yaakov Taub, Yona Geshvind, Hersch Shuldenfrei, Yaakov Lishe, Chaim Alster, Moshe Sommer, Avraham Kus as members. The communal secretary was Yehuda Tewel. The teacher of Jewish religion in the public school, who drew a salary from the community, was Moshe Wallach. The communal budget for 1914 was 13,000 Crowns.

A Jewish burial society (Chevra Kadisha), and an organization for visiting the sick (Bikur Cholim) functioned under the auspices of the communal council. Yaakov Taub served as head. Their was also an endowment fund for the poor.

The first sparks of Zionism began to appear in Dembitz in the 1890s, when the movement was beginning to take root in Galicia. However, the movement only began to conduct its activities on a widespread activities from the year 1907, with the excitement that was generated among the Jews of Galicia on account of the controversies that surrounded the elections to the Austrian parliament. At this time the Zionist representatives were elected for the first time in the general elections.

Dembitz is remembered in the Zionist annals of Galicia as the location of the founding of the student's organization “Hashachar”, which was founded at a convention that took place on the intermediate days of Passover 5668 (1898) in the Bornstein Hotel.


{Page 15}


Dr. N. M. Gelber

THE JEWS OF DEMBITZ

{Yiddish text – pp 15-24. A direct translation of Hebrew text of pp 9-14.}

{photo page 19 top – The bath house.}

{photo page 21 center – the court house in the old town.}

{photo page 24 bottom – Government High-School.}


Table of Contents Next Page »




Translator's Footnotes
  1. The Hebrew here is “Shiluchei Mitzva” – Emissaries to carry out a mitzva act. Return
  2. A reference to the Jewish laws of family purity, which include separation of spouses during menstrual cycles, and immersion in a ritual bath (Mikva) that follows the period of separation. Return
  3. The Hebrew / Yiddish word Poretz refers to the landowner upon whose land the Jews lived. Here the word Poretz is actually used, but in other places in this document, the word "master of the city" is used to describe such a landowner.  Return
  4. Galach is a Christian priest in Hebrew / Yiddish. Literally, it means clean-shaven, in contradistinction to Rabbis, who for the most part would have worn beards. Galachit would mean "The language of the priests". Return
  5. Literally "The Council of Four Lands", which was the central Jewish organization of the Jewish communities of the four lands of Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, the province of Lemberg (Lvov or Lwow), and Volhynia. Return
  6. A Midrashic reference that the events of Joseph's life (including having being hated by his brothers, and being separated from the family, etc.) parallel the events of his father Jacob's life. Return
  7. This phrase is apparently the Latin quote from the book. There are several words and phrases in this article that appear in parentheses, and appear to be Polish and / or Latin words for various concepts. I include these phrase as is in parentheses. Note that all these words or phrases, except for this current one are in parentheses in the main text. Return
  8. There is a city called Sroda in modern Poland south-east of Poznan. Return
  9. A city in the eastern part of Germany between Berlin and the former East German / West German
    border. Return
  10. Greater Poland was an independent area of Poland that was centered in northwestern Poland around Poznan (Posen). This area was known as Wielkopolska during its independence. Lesser Poland is a term that is often used for outlying areas of Poland, especially Galicia. Return
  11. A Ukrainian monetary unit. The modern day country of Ukraine uses the Grivna as its unit of currency. Return
  12. Kasztlan is a Polish title for head of a city or area. Return
  13. Sejm is the name of the Polish parliament, still in use in modern Poland. Return
  14. Apparently, there were two types of cities at the time: privately owned ones such as Dembitz, and national cities, under the control of the King. Return
  15. Parnas, from a Hebrew word meaning to sustain, is the name of a Jewish community administrator. Return
  16. The monetary term here is 'Tinofot'. I have checked with a Polish native, and it is not a recognizable form of currency in Poland. It also has no Hebrew connotation of any currency unit that I am aware of. I am not sure of the exact meaning. Return
  17. The reference is presumably to alcoholic drinks. Return
  18. Evidently, the role of Parnas was filled by some sort of a rotation system. Return
  19. A Russian / Slavic word for the mayor of a city. Return
  20. It is not clear to what this 33% applies, as 33% of 573 is 191. Perhaps it is a very rough approximation. Return
  21. The English translation of this Yiddish title is "Jews in Old Poland in a Statistical Light". The footnote that appears at the bottom of page 11 indicates that this book was published in Warsaw in 1958, and the page references are 91, 119, 124, tables 11 and 43. Return
  22. Evil Eye is "Ayin Harah" in Hebrew and Yiddish, referring to a various superstitious beliefs that certain deeds or innuendoes would bring evil influences upon people. Return
  23. The Hebrew word used here is 'Sandek', which generally means (rather ironically given the context of the use in this story) the man who holds the baby upon his lap during a circumcision ceremony. Here the word refers to godfather, sponsor or patron. Return
  24. There is a town called Bar in Ukraine. It is not within the borders of pre WWII Poland. Perhaps this is the Bar that is referred
    to here. Return
  25. The German portion was known as Silesia. Return
  26. A city south of Krakow. Return
  27. Rzeszow is a city to the east of Dembitz, and Tarnow to the west. Return
  28. The Hebrew words used here are in quotes, "Patnatim" and "Dakartim". The meaning is unclear and these may be referring to Polish or German words, however the implication of "machinations" is very evident from the context. Return
  29. A form of church tax. Return
  30. The Hebrew term used here "Baale Hatzaot" indicates some sort of mischievous or non straightforward intention. Return
  31. Apparently, unregistered marriages were common among the Jews of Galicia at the time, as they attempted to avoid the hefty marriage tax. The magnitude of the marriage tax can be seen from the text above, where it is described that the Rabbi's annual stipend was 20 Florin, the same amount as the marriage tax. Return
  32. A kantar is a measure equivalent to 288 kilograms. The required sum of silver was 57,600 kilograms. Return
  33. Lwow (or Lvov), now in Ukraine, was known as Lemberg during the period of Austrian rule. Return
  34. The number 'a thousandfold' may be somewhat of an exaggeration, since the growth from 500 to 2,384 represents just under a 500 fold growth. Return
  35. The Chasidim, in that time as in modern times, would be very wary of embracing modern cultural mores. Return
  36. Reb Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz was a reasonably well known Chasidic leader at that time. The Polish spelling of the town would be Ropczyce, but the Yiddish transliteration into English would be Ropshitz. In English literature, the Ropshitz version would commonly be used. Throughout this translation, I have generally tended to use the Polish spellings of Polish cities, towns and names (except for Dembitz, where I did not use the modern Polish version of Debica). This should facilitate the identification of these places on modern maps, for those who would be interested. In the vast majority of cases, I was able to find the cities and towns on the maps in the National Geographic Atlas, or by looking them up on the shtetl index available on the Jewishgen website. In a few cases, I was not able to identify the towns. I also generally tried to use the Polish spelling for names: thus Vladislav is Wladislaw, and Casimir would be Kazimierz, etc. Return
  37. Admor is the Hebrew acronym for Adoneinu, Moreinu, veRabbeinu, which means our master, our teacher and our rabbi. It is the title used for a Chasidic leader. Return
  38. The Haskala movement was the movement of Jewish 'enlightenment' which was prevalent in Europe at that time, when Jews were beginning to loosen themselves from the traditional bounds of shtetl orthodoxy, and to become more acculturated to the world at large. A person affiliated with the Haskala movement was known as a Maskil. Return
  39. Gymnasia is a Polish / Russian term for a high school. Return
  40. I use the Germanic spelling here, since the Hebrew text has this town name spelled differently than it is in all other occurrences in this text, probably to indicate that this is the German name for the administrative district. Return
  41. Clearly, this organization was involved in helping people set up their own means of livelihood, rather than in providing the destitute with their immediate needs. Return
  42. Many communities of Poland were only settled in the 18th or 19th centuries. From the previous essay, it is evident that Dembitz was settled much earlier. Return

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