Translated by Sara Mages
Dubno, one of the most famous ancient cities in the province of Wolyn Russia since the beginning of the second millennium AD, is tied with many strings to the history of the Ukrainian Jewry. Jewish refugees from the German principalities, who sought refuge in the nearby countries including Wolyn and its ancient cities Ostroh, Dubno, Lutsk and others, settled there in the 10th century.
The name Dubno, or Greater Dubno as the Jews called it in the distant past, evokes many memories, good and gloomy, about the living conditions in the Diaspora for more than nine hundred years. During this period, the Jews of Dubno saw a lot of darkness and little light, and went through great sufferings and little peace. They suffered from persecutions, oppressions and annihilations in time of wars and libels; exchange of occupiers, rulers and leaders; the decrees of 5408 and 5409 [1648/49]; the oppression of the Russian Czarist authorities; the hostility of the Polish government; and last Hitler's terrible Holocaust which brought the destruction and the annihilation of all the European Jewry including more than ten thousand Jewish residents of Dubno, and with them many thousands of Jews, men, women and children, from the surroundings that were brought to Dubno Ghetto by the Nazis and found their death there.
It can be said, without exaggeration, that the Jews had a large and important part in the building and the development of Dubno. The Jews have shaped its public and economic image, despite the difficulties and the limitations from which they suffered at different times. The adaptability of Dubno's Jewish residents and their talents helped them at all time. They were able to initiate, create and perform many enterprises that benefited the city's residents, including the Jews.
Since Dubno was close to the Austrian border it developed commercial ties across the border and served as a window to the west for Russia and Poland. At the end of the 18th century, its geographical situation and developed trade attracted major fairs and the well known contracts that took place there for nearly a century. Vaad Arba Aratzot [Council of the Four Lands] discovered that Dubno was a worthy place for its meetings and conventions in which they revised regulations, set instructions and made decisions for all the Jews. The city grew and flourished and its name was known in faraway places. Many flocked to Dubno from near and far, and it became a center for the towns and cities across Wolyn.
Already in the earlier days, the community of Dubno was organized like all the other Jewish communities in Wolyn, and had Torah, charity, and benevolence institutions which were common in Jewish communities. Throughout Dictionar Throughout the generations the community of Dubno appointed community leaders, public activists, Torah sages, scholars and leaders. The community was rich with synagogues and Beti-Midrash. Many genius Rabbis and famous scholars sat there and never stopped studying the Torah.
Dubno is the city of Shelah ha-Kadosh [the holy Shelah - Rabbi Yasaiah Horowitz], the Dubner Maggid and Avrom Ber Gotlober. Dubno is the city of the first Jewish press in Poland-Russia. Dubno is the city where loyal Zionist activists excelled during the last generations, starting with R' Zalman Ashkenazi who carried the nation's vision since his youth and infected many like Mordechai Blat, David Horowitz, the Perl brothers and others. Thousands of teenagers, who were educated in the spirit of the Hebrew language in the city's Hebrew School, were members of pioneer youth movements - Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair, HeHalutz and others, and many of them immigrated to Israel and were among its builders and defenders.
Dubno's name, a metropolis with a rich and glorious past in the Wolyn Diaspora, will remain forever in the history of the Jewish communities.
Translated by Sara Mages
Dubno, the province city, sits on the left bank of the Ikva River, which draws its water away from the city to a distance of 5.6 kilometers until it spills into the Styr River near the town of Targowica [Torgovitsa]. Dubno is close to the central rail station of the Zdolbuniv-Radyvyliv railway, on the junction of the main line Brisk-Kiev. This central station is located in the village of Straklov, a distance of 12.7 kilometers (6 Russian versts) from the city, between Ozeryany and Rodnia stations.
Dubno is built on the edge of the Galician-Wolyn ridge, which turns its shoulder here to the east. It is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Ikva River, which block the access to the castle and to the city, and serve as a natural barrier against attackers. In addition, the right bank of the Ikva River is lower than the left bank, and the riverbed is swampy. Extensive swamps and deep water lakes, which extend over large areas, prevent the access to the riverbed, and therefore Dubno was well protected from enemies in ancient times.
At the edge of the ridge, above the left bank, where the Ikva is flowing in a semicircle, rising a red-brick castle whose enormous walls stand vertically above the river and serve as a shield against attackers, while two tall towers fill that role from the south and the west. On the western side, a wide deep moat separates the castle from the city; at time of emergency the moat was flooded with water from the river, so the castle was completely cut off from the city and stood like a fortress in the heart of the river. In ancient times, a portable bridge linked the castle to the city, and when necessary, it was raised with chains to the castle. In recent generations it was replaced by a permanent wooden bridge.
West of the castle stretches a spacious square plaza, it is the main market. In the middle stands the Council House (Rathaus), a large square building with a central courtyard that four arched open gates lead to it from the market. Muzzles of old cannons protruded from both sides of the gates, and their barrels were embedded vertically in the pavement by the doorposts. Many shops surrounded the Council House on all sides, and also the square around the Council House.
Straight streets opened from the market to all sides of the city. They were divided at right angles by side streets: Aleksandrowicz Street, formally called Grodski, a main promenade which wasn't very long; Machenskyi Street, named after the conqueror of the city during the Polish invasion; Castle Street (Zamkova); Szeroka Street that led to the suburb of Zabramye, two additional streets branched off it: Parna Street and Panienska Street.
In the center of town, north of Aleksandrowicz Street, the Catholic Church, named after John Nepomucena, closed the passage with a wide white façade and a Latin inscription in large letters was fixed on it: Gloria Tibi Domine (Glory to Thee, O Lord). The priests of the Catholic religion, which ruled many towns in the environment, settled here. Behind the church there is a spacious garden surrounded by a white wall. Inside it is a green lawn and many barren trees: linden, chestnut, and white poplar.
Aleksandrowicz Street ended in the crossing corner of Machinski Street. From here it sloped to the Ikva River and to the ancient Jewish street.The Great Synagogue, which was built between the years 5543-5554 (1782-1794), stood close to the river.
It is told about the synagogue:
The synagogue in the city of Dubno is a very beautiful stone building, its height is about thirty cubits (21 meters), and its dome rests on sixteen pillars that were built in four rows. Its construction lasted approximately twelve years, from 5543 to 5554, when as it written in the community ledger - they started to pray there. Its builders worked hard to find the large sums of money they needed to spend on it, and without the aid of Prince Michael Lubomirski, the city's leaders couldn't carry out their good ideas and all their hard work were in vain if this good master hadn't come to their aid. He sent his peasants' servants to work in this building for very small wages, and for the stones,
bricks, sand, raw material and the lime that they bought from him for this building, he only took half of the asking price. He helped them every day with everything that he could, and directed them with his advice. Twenty five years have passed since a reliable man, an old man of about seventy years, told me that he had heard in his youth from his father, who was eighty years old at that time that he was there when the cornerstone was laid for the synagogue's building. He saw with his own eyes how the townspeople, their chiefs and notable persons sat around the tables, which were made of wooden planks that were placed on top of empty wine and brandy barrels, and glass of brandy and honey cakes before them, and in their company was also this prince, a great respected minister of the Polish Kingdom and one of the military leaders, who drank a glass with them after he told them a few things and after he blessed them: 'That they'll finish successfully what they have started to build, and they'll pray in this synagogue to God who created the heavens and the earth, and all living things upon the earth.
And in memory of the good thing that this nobleman has done, the masters of the city, together with our brothers, placed a gilded iron plate over the entrance to the synagogue, and on it the coat of arms of this respected noble family and the initials of the name of the prince, Michael Lubomirski, and under the sign the verse: 'To the house of God we will go in the lightning, thunder, rain and snow' 5554.
Aron HaKodesh [the Holy Ark] in this synagogue is a work of art and very beautiful, on it, on its doors and on the pillars on its sides, there are gilded wood carvings, buds and flowers, seraphs, cherubs and grape vines, which attract the eyes of those who look at them. But over the years, this Holy Ark started to brake down, and a few toys [ornaments] that were on it fell and decreased, and its gold fell and darkened, until the former Gabai of this synagogue, the chief philanthropist, our teacher and rabbi Shmuel Horowitz May God protect and preserve him, didn't rest until they fixed it and regilded it and now it is more decorated than before, this repair cost more than two thousand Rubles. Also the thick oak floor, that the builders of the synagogue made, rotted over the years and it was difficult and dangerous to walk on it, HaRav S. Horowitz removed it and replaced it with a solid limestone tile floor, beautiful and comfortable for those who walk on it.
About sixty Torah scrolls, big and small, stand in Aron HaKodesh, and most of them are proper to read. Sacred vessels of silver, crowns, Etzi Hayim, fringes, Yadin , lamps, bowls and jugs that the Cohanim will use to wash their hands with next to the pulpit, also Parochot andKaporot, and a lot of expensive covers, the work of artists, are to be found in the synagogue.
The Chanukah Menorah, that they also light candles in every Friday night and on holidays, is of pure silver, big and heavy, and was gloriously made with a double headed silver eagle on top. Two small silver plaques are attached to the menorah and these things are written on one of them: 'This menorah was refurbished by the Barkeepers Society who added a lot of silver to it 5576 (1816)', and written on the second: 'In everlasting memory of the Barkeepers' treasurer and the members of the Society, in the year 5597 (1827) the pure menorah, that they donated to the synagogue, was stolen and found missing, and with their kindness they repaired it again, beautiful and pure, it was ready on Hoshana Rabbah 5598 (1838) and it will exist for eternity until the arrival of the Messiah'.
It is told: this menorah was stolen by Herel who put out the candles on Friday nights, after he broke it he put its shafts and its parts in a sack and brought it to one of his associates to sell, and there was one man there who saw it, and from him it became known to the people of the community, the thief was sent to prison and the menorah was returned to the synagogue.
As we said, there are many Parochot and Kaporot and covers in the synagogue, and they are always replaced on the Sabbath, festivals, and the Days of Awe. On Friday night the Ark is covered with a light blue Kaporet and Parochet. Stitched the Kaporet in silver letters: 'Donated by our teacher Yosef son of our teacher Avraham May God protect and preserve him, in the year 5500 (1740) by the abbreviated era'. The entire Sabbath Kiddush is stitched on the Parochet and above it is says: 'Donated by our teacher and rabbi R' Tzvi Hirsh son of our teacher and rabbi R' Eliyahu May God protect and preserve him and his wife Mrs. Gitel'. And above: The year 5527 (1767) by the abbreviated era'.
On Shabbat Mevarchim they'll put on the Ark a Parochet and a Kaporet with the blessings of the month in silver letters, and at the bottom of the Parochet 5510 by the abbreviated era (1750). On a Friday, when there is Brit Milah in the city, and also on a weekday and on the Sabbath, they'll cover the Ark with a Parochet and a Kaporet with the blessings that are recited during the circumcision. On Leil Yom Tov [Friday night] they'll cover the Ark with an expensive red Parochet on which all the entire Yom Tov Kiddush is stitched in silver letters and the inscription: Donated by the modest noble woman Mrs. Hinda Chaya daughter of the late preacher our teacher Yermiyah HaLevi of blessed memory'. There is also a silver bowl from her with the inscription: 'Donated by the modest Mrs. Hinda daughter of our rabbi our teacher and rabbi R' Yermiyah Segal'. Written on another Yom Tov Kaporet: 'I have set the Lord always before me', donated by our teacher Eliezer son of our teacher Yosef for his son the boy Eliyahu, May God raise him to the Torah and to good deeds Amen Selha'. And written on another Kaporet: 'Donated by the chief, our teacher David son of our teacher R' Nisan of blessed memory in the year 5537 (1777) by the abbreviated era'. Written on a beautiful expensive Turkish, Parochet: 'Donated by the important noble woman Mrs. Ester May she lives, daughter of the prominent scholar our teacher and rabbi Yoel, May the memory of the righteous be of a blessing'. But on most of the Kaporot and the Parochot there aren't any inscriptions and dedications. During the Musaf on the seventh day of Passover, and on Shemini Atzeret, they'll hang on the Ark an ornate expensive Parochet, the work of artists,
and embroidered on it with threads of silver and gold, large pillars and grape vines in various beautiful colors, and in the middle there is a pattern of a horned bull standing next to a water well, and on this Parochet it is written: 'The year 5487 (1727) by the abbreviated era. By the worker who deals with the work of holy garments Yakev (Yakov) son of HaRav R' Yehudah Leib of blessed memory, and by the worker who deals with the work of holy garments Tzvi Hersh son of HaRav R' Yehudah Leib of blessed memory'.
All the vessels and holy garments are stored in the cellar under a door and iron bars that were made by the Gabai of that time, the late R' Meir Shumski of blessed memory, whose heart and soul always benefited the House of God, and so was his late son, R' Chaim Hirtz of blessed memory, who was the synagogue's Gabai after him. All these valuable objects were donated by people who lived in recent centuries.
There are four women galleries in the synagogue that span to north and to the south, two of them upstairs and two of them downstairs. At the entrance to the synagogue, on both sides, there are four small houses of prayer, two downstairs and two upstairs. Most of the population and the tradesmen prayed there except for the High Holidays when everyone prayed in the synagogue.
Besides the synagogue and the four houses of prayer at the entrance to this building, there are additional seventeen houses of prayer and Midrashim in the city, because in the city of Dubno, like in all the cities in Lita, Poland and Rusyn [Ruthenia], each association, each Hassidic sect, and all the tradesmen had a special house of prayer that carried the name of its founder, the name of the association, the Hassidic sect or the tradesmen who prayed there.
Close to the Great Synagogue stood in all of its gloom the ancient Bath-House, not far from it the Hekdesh a shelter and hostel for poor passers-by, and also the home of the president of the rabbinical court, and the Chief Rabbi.
Near the Great Synagogue was also the end of Zydowska Street a long meager shapeless street, which started somewhere in the suburb of Zabramye on the bank of the murky Ikva River, that reeds, thorns and weeds grew in its neglected yards.
Before the First World War the city of Dubno was paved and clean. Policemen and inspectors were strict about cleanliness, and homeowners
were given fines or even thrown in jail if the street near their houses was dirty. Therefore, you would have found each morning, when you passed through the streets, many important homeowners holding a twigs' broom with a long stick, cleaning the sidewalk near their house and half of the adjacent road, while the neighbor across the street was cleaning the second half of the road. The roads were paved with red bricks and not with stone slabs. The curbs were high and upright, and puddles ran along the sidewalk because the city didn't have a sewage system. Many of the large buildings were not plastered and whitewashed because they were only built with red bricks, and for that reason they were the pride of their owners. There were many homeowners in the city because it was considered to be demeaning to live as a neighbor with someone. There were few apartment buildings; most of the buildings were of one storey with an attic; two-storey buildings were only in the market. The city's homes were lit by kerosene lamps, but the lighting in the streets was poor and meager. Kerosene lamps hung on special posts and city employees, the Lampers, lit them every evening. In the years 1910-1912, the kerosene lamps were replaced by Lucas lamps on the main streets. They were raised to the top of the posts with steel cables, and since the Lucas lamps were the height of progress in Dubno, masses of idle youth gathered every evening to watch how the Lamper lights the Lucas lamp, and shout Hurray! when a blinding white light penetrated from the modern lamp.
In Dubno they drank water from the Ikva River. Every morning the water-drawers went down in horse drawn barrel-carts to the shallow places on the shore of the Ikva, drew murky water with a long handed ladle, and poured it into the barrels through a wide funnel. They transported the water from the river to the houses, and sold it with a measuring cup. One day, Kazapim, who knew how to drill, were brought to Dubno. An artesian well was dug in the heart of the market and its pristine water flowed in abundance from open taps. The municipal council built a shelter over the taps to protect them from damage and from freezing in the winter. Indeed, even then the water didn't flow through pipes to the houses, but the water-drawers no longer treated the homeowners with muddy water full of filth, but provided them with clear drinking water.
In the description of the city we can't forget the suburbs: Zabramye to the west, by the Russian Orthodox Church; Surmicze to the east, with three bridges over the Ikva's tributaries and the mighty dam; and Pantaliya to the north. Semi-rural life flowed in these
suburbs: Jewish blacksmiths flattened iron, Jewish carpenters planed beams, Jewish chimney sweepers walked blackened and jolly from house to house, and gentile farmers harvested the produce of their fields.
There were many boulevards, which were planted with ornamental trees, in the city like: Paninska Boulevard, which is planted with shady linden trees, and Pantaliya Boulevard that passes over the Ikva River, with a vast marshy prairie on both sides, to the modest pleasant Pantaliya grove. Also the slope of Gorbachina Street, west of the city, served as a place for a stroll. On one side of the street stood the walls of the church and the state prison, and on the other side was a wide green plateau, which was lost in the vast horizon. A few kilometers out of the city, on the Zabramye's side, there was an elegant wide green park, Palastini. Inside stood the monument of Czar Alexander III, which commemorated his visit to the city in 1890, during his tour of the southwest region of his kingdom that bordered with Austria.
There were hardly any antiquities in Dubno there weren't any special buildings, there weren't any monuments or ancient water wells like those that are found in western cities; only the Russian Orthodox Church and the monasteries with the onion domes that gave the city an Eastern Slavic color, and the Baroque Polish Catholic Church of Saint John.
Most of the city's 19th century buildings were wooden structures, but due to the frequent fires in the city and the primitive fire fighting conditions (they were forced to bring water from the river), the city council forced to build stone houses in the main streets and cover their roofs with tin or tiles.
One and only was the Polish castle, which was called by the Jews Der Schloss (the castle), it stood in the heart of city and reminded the horror of the past. During the Russian rule military barracks were built in the castle's courtyards.
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Updated 8 Aug 2011 by LA