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[Page 92]

Eighteen Synagogues

Yonatan Kucher (Tel Aviv)

English Translation by David Dubin and Thia Persoff

These I shall remember, and for them my soul shall be desolate: the synagogues and study halls in our town, Kremenets, where the voice of prayer never ceased, whether on a Sabbath, a holiday, or a simple weekday; with the destruction of the community, they are now destroyed and desolate.

I said that I would erect a monument to them – that I would inscribe in a book the synagogues that existed in our town in the last few years before the Holocaust. They numbered 18:

The synagogue in the Vishnevets suburb, in Fayvel Feldman's home.
Yisrael'ikl (Lerner)'s Synagogue in Moshe Kapuzer's home.
Mendil Rokhel's Synagogue on Slovatski Street.
The New Study Hall (Kazatske Study Hall) on Sheroka Street.
Yankele's Kloyz on Kladkova Street.
Bedrik's Kloyz on Kravatska Street.
The Tailors' Synagogue (Shnayder Shulkhel) on Kravatska Street.
The House of Prayer on Kladkova Street.
The Old Study Hall on Sheroka Street.
The Butchers' Synagogue (Katsavim Shtibel) on Butcher Shop Street.
The Synagogue of the Rozin Hasidim (Nishvitser Shulkhel) in Yitschak Bat's home.
The Hasidic Synagogue (Chasidish Shulkhel).
The Magid's Synagogue (Magid Shulkhel) in the courtyard of the Great Synagogue.
The Great Synagogue.
The Community Synagogue (Kahal Shulkhel) next to the Great Synagogue.
The Tailors' Synagogue (Shnayder Shulkhel) next to the Great Synagogue.
The Synagogue of the Dubna suburb.
Moshke'le's Synagogue.

The list is arranged by street, from one end of town to the other, and includes semiprivate places of prayer.

 

The Economic Situation between the Two World Wars

Leon Hokhberg and Zev Shumski

English Translation by David Dubin and Thia Persoff

With the end of World War I, after the era of Petliura and Soviet rule, the town of Kremenets fell under Polish governance. The Jewish population, which had been devastated during the war, entered a new stage in its economic life. The economic framework of the Jewish population in the Czarist era – with the majority occupied in commerce, a substantial minority in crafts or manufacturing, and a minority in free professions – did not change much at the beginning of Polish rule. Small businesses and wholesalers' warehouses reopened, as did the craftsmen's workshops. Some factories reopened, and new ones were begun.

[Page 93]

In 1919–1925, there was a great demand for merchandise. The Jews of Kremenets were the main suppliers then, so they directed the economic life of the area. They also imported goods from the western regions of Poland and exported agricultural products. The inflation of Polish currency caused a brisk turnover of merchandise; it could be said that this was a period of prosperity for the Jews of Kremenets. But it did not last long.

In 1922, Polish currency began to stabilize, which brought stability in commerce, too. The business cycle normalized, and the need for financial credit grew. At that time, two Jewish-owned banks opened in Kremenets: (1) the Bank of Mutual Credit, under the direction of Ruven Goldenberg, which drew its resources from the deposits of its members, membership dues, and loans from the Warsaw Central Bank of Mutual Credit, and (2) an interest-free loan fund (Benevolent Fund) for those who needed credit assistance. This fund was also supported by the center in Warsaw and money from the Joint, though even those two organizations could not supply enough credit for the business cycle.

In spite of the difficulty adjusting to the new conditions, the period of 1919–1925 seems to have been the most normal economywise for Polish Jews, Kremenets included. The Jews of the town and the surrounding area drew closer to the land and merchandised its products. During the Czar's reign, Jews were not permitted to own land or live in villages. Now that this edict had been rescinded, some Kremenets Jews (such as the Blit brothers and others) purchased farms, and some leased them. The grain business, for local sale and export, was entirely in the hands of the Jews until 1933, when Polish cooperatives were established to sell agricultural products and most of the grain-selling business went to them. Jews were involved in utilizing the natural resources of the forests. Most forests in the area belonged to the Lyceum, which employed many Jews as experts, business managers, and lumber salesmen. The same was true of privately owned forests; there, too, many Jews were involved in utilizing parts of the forests and as owners or leasers of lumber mills (a large and well-known lumber mill in Verba was owned by Jews and was used for a long time as a base for Kibbutz Pioneer in Verba). Most of the leather and linen business was in Jewish hands, as were the industrial plants, most of which employed Jewish laborers: the flour mills in the area were leased by Jews, including the two in town (owned by Ovadis and by Brodski), the plant for peat production, Chayim Grinberg's chalk factory, Vaysman's brick factory, Frishberg's and Grinberg's two large shoe-manufacturing plants, a confection factory, printing presses, etc. Some of the factories employed dozens of workers. Quite a few were building contractors, some very large and prominent. Most crafts were in Jewish hands: carpentry, metalsmithing, tinsmithing, tailoring, shoe repairs, teamsters, barbers, and confectioners. Those businesses, too, hired employees. Most hotels were in Jewish hands, as was transportation in all its modes in the town and between towns: porters, teamsters, drivers, porters, and water-carriers, as it used to be in the old days. As a result of the increased numbers of laborers and hired workers in industry, crafts, and commerce, craft guilds were formed, as was a municipal committee that developed a range of professional and cultural activities and even established its own sports club. The craft guilds were mostly under the influence of the Communist Party, but Pioneer also, tried to establish influence over them. Later, under Niunye Shtern's initiative and management, the carpentry shops (dozens of them with hundreds of workers) organized into a cooperative for the purpose of buying raw materials and selling finished products, mainly furniture.

[Translation Editor's Note: The Pioneer movement (in Hebrew, Hechaluts) was aimed at training Jews and bringing them to Israel.]

[Page 94]

kre014.jpg
Figure 14. Reception for Pilsudski
at the Great Synagogue, 1922

Jews could not penetrate into the bureaucracies of the town or national governments. The Polish authorities prevented Jews from obtaining those positions. The only exception was the electric power station, because Jews had previously owned it, and when it was taken over by the town government, its workers went with it.

In 1925, signs pointed toward currency deflation in Poland. The government began to confiscate the means of circulation from the population's hands by levying heavy taxes on goods and property, and particularly on businesses, as they were mostly in the hands of Jews. Nothing was easier than loading a wagon with the merchandise of a grocer who was delinquent in paying his taxes (and in many cases it filled only one carriage) so the rest of the storeowners would see and beware. That time was known as Gravski's Era. Most Kremenets Jews, who made their living from commerce, were ruined. Even our banks could not help, in spite of the assistance they received from their centers in Warsaw. The resources of the Polish bank in Kremenets were much greater, but it did not deal much with Jewish residents.

This was the situation when the Polish authorities began an open war against Jewish businesses. The authorities supported the establishment of Polish cooperatives in the villages and cities as a means of confiscating all trade from the Jews. This move to cleanse their commerce of Jews began in 1933 and strengthened greatly from 1936 until World War II. The craftsmen were affected, too, as they were part of that population.

[Page 95]

Because of the economic depression, many among the town's Jews could not earn a living. The nutrition level of their food declined, and with this came a decline in the health of the population. Despair increased, as did pressure on the community's social institutions, but they could not give sufficient help to all the needy. Many were helped by relatives in America, and even public institutions were in need of this support. The extent of impoverishment in those years is evident from the fact that when the monthly help from the landsmanschaft in America arrived (generally a minute sum: $100–$120 a month), it was typically announced it in the local newspaper, along with the amounts given to each institution: $5 to this one, $10 to the other one, and so on.

This was the economic situation of most of the Jewish population in Kremenets at the start of World War II.

****

 

The Jewish Banks

Moshe Shnayder (Rechovot)

English Translation by Thia Persoff

After World War I, economic conditions among the Jewish population of Kremenets were very poor: unemployment was high, many had no means of earning a living, and the income of others was very low. With the stabilization of the political situation in this area, which was annexed to Poland, signs of economic recovery were seen. Business contacts with villages were renewed; the area abounded with a variety of agricultural products for local consumption and for export. It was natural, then, that this development increased the need for bank credit. There was a branch of the Bank of Poland in town, but its main dealings were with the estate owners; it had only very scant dealings with Jewish merchants and craftsmen.

At that time, two Jewish banks were established in Kremenets: a merchants' bank, headed by Ruven Goldenberg (the director of the Society of Mutual Credit that had existed before the war), and the Povshekhni Bank (People's Bank), headed by Shimon Gendler. Both were enterprising and responsible, knowledgeable about banking, and practical in their economic activities. Knowledgeable volunteers were found in the community, and they formed the management boards and examiner boards. Very soon, those cooperative institutions earned the trust of the public. Many new members joined, and the two banks developed into large, modern, well-organized banks. They had an influence on economic life; merchants and craftsmen received the credit they needed. Stores and workshops were reestablished, and new enterprises were added. The new, relative economic prosperity brought on an increase in building; new houses were built, and old ones were renovated. The town wore a new look. New factories and grocery stores were opened, as some of the clerks who had previously worked for the merchants Moshe Rokhel, the Bakimer brothers, the Landsberg brothers, and others opened their own stores, established a position, and even exploited their previous employers. The grain merchants and the wholesalers, who always needed a great deal of credit for their large businesses and could not get help from the Bank of Poland, benefited from the Jewish banks. In this way, these two banks held most of the businesses, small factories, and craft shops in their hands and boosted the economic status of the town's Jews.

[Page 96]

kre015.jpg
Figure 15. Managing Committee of the Small Business Association (1934)

Sitting (right to left): (1) …, (2) Shaul Brodski, (3) Fayvish Rozenblit, (4) Krivin.
Standing (from left to right): (1) …, (2) …, (3) Yakov Tsmokun, (4) …

[The Yiddish handwriting on the photo reads: “Central Management of the Small Business Association in Kremenets Patl. Blushteyn – 25 November 1934”]

These banks also maintained high standards in their relationship with the public. As cooperatives, they held a yearly general meeting, which members would attend; they listened to the reports and took an active part in the discussions. Sometimes they would voice strong criticism, and in some instances it was not free of personal reasons. Nevertheless, the members proved savvy in the banking business, were concerned about keeping the banks functioning, and chose the management wisely, from the most capable people in town, those who had proved themselves by volunteering for public activities with great dedication. More than once, walking on Sheroka Street late at night, I saw lights in the windows of the two banks; members of the management boards or of the boards of examiners were still dealing with matters that the community had entrusted to them.

Among the active members of the Merchants' Bank, the names of Avraham Vaynberg; Perlmuter, a cloth merchant; and Olshnitski are worth mentioning. Active members of the People's Bank of note were Yone Zeyger; Shmuel Gendelman; the executive secretary; and Buts; head of accounting.

Both banks were connected to national associations: one bank to the Jewish Merchants of Poland, and the second to the Jewish Credit Cooperatives Association of Poland.

Besides those banks, our town had a Benevolent Fund managed by Gershteyn and Shtern, which developed a wide range of activities among the community's middle class. There is more about this institution in another article.

With the destruction of the Kremenets Jewish community came the end of those two fine enterprises, which served as an expression of the Jewish creative force in the field of the economy. Let us remember with appreciation all those who are not with us anymore, who worked and labored to bring about and strengthen those two enterprises, which evidenced Jewish wisdom and strength as well as a stubborn struggle for existence and mutual aid.


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