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[Page 70 - Hebrew] [Page 58 - Yididsh]

Memories of the Cultural-Social
and Religious Life in Our Town

by Shloyme Rubinshteyn

Translated by Sara Mages

 

The awakening of the political and cultural-social life of the Jewish population in Łuków came in 1905 during the revolutionary upheaval in Russia. The revival of socialism also reached Łuków. The Jewish workers: tailors, shoemakers, bakers, porters and others got together and started to conduct political activities - outside the economic struggle, to correct the working conditions. Inflaming anti-Semitism and pogroms formed recognition in the Jewish worker and in the public.

The revival of the Jewish labor movement in Russia also arrived to Łuków, to a certain part of the Jewish. Yakov, the son of Moshe Kiwi, the brothers and sisters Luterman and others created the “Bund” organization in Łuków. However, after the Czar's authorities strangled the revolutionary upheaval in all the cities, several leaders of the “Bund” movement left Łuków for fear of the authorities and migrated to America.

Łuków Jewish population was generally poor. The shoemakers and the tailors, especially those who dealt with clothing, sold their products at fairs and in the surrounding towns. Among the Jewish craftsmen and workers were: carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, rope makers and a considerable number of scribes - the writers of Jewish Holy Scriptures. Merchants, who came from Slonim, took the mezuzut, Tefillin and the like, and transferred them to Jewish settlements in Russia. In addition, the products of Łuków's scribes were also sent to America.

In the years 1906-7, there was an economic revival in the city because of the transfer of Gastman's shoe factory from Warsaw to Łuków. This factory employed hundreds of workers. In addition, a smaller shoe factory was opened by Yosef Mendel Hochman. Meir Liberman opened a factory for albums. The two factories employed dozens of workers. The life of the Jewish population has been improved, and with it, also the life of their Polish neighbors.

At that time the Zionist movement started to wake in Łuków. The leader of the Zionist groups was Hershel Eisenberg who gave lessons about Eretz-Yisrael and Zionism. This group also collected books in Yiddish, Hebrew and other languages and established a library in the bookstore of the Burshteyn's daughters. The library wasn't legal. In 1912, the leaders of the library brought Hillel Zeitlin for a public lecture and later Reuben Brainin. These lectures have brought a new social awakening. In 1914, the first public concert, which consisted of recitations and the singing of Jewish folk songs, took place in the “Dom Ludowy” [community center].

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Jews from all sectors of the Jewish population appeared in this performance. There was a plan to establish a legal library but the Czar's authorities refused to give their approval.

*

With the outbreak of the First World War the social and economical life were destroyed in Luków. The small factories were closed, Gastman's shoe factory worked only partially, the scribes had no work and all trading ceased. Most of the Jewish population remained without a source of income.

In 1915, Poland was occupied by the armies of Germany and Austria. At first, Łuków was occupied by the Austrians. The Jewish population, which hid from the Russian Cossacks who carried out the pogroms, breathed a little sigh of relief. Later, the Austrians had left and the Germans came in their place.

With the conquest of the eastern regions the Germans evacuated the residents of Brisk and the surrounding towns under the excuse that the city was a stronghold and a strategic point. They dispersed the Jews throughout the region, like: Biała Podlaska, Mezhirichi and also Łuków. Homeless Jews came to our city with their few belongings.

Young and old volunteered to help the homeless. They set up a roof over their heads and in the early days also cooked their food. Many of the refugees were housed in Batei HaMidrash. A typhus epidemic broke out. A delegation went to the German authorities to ask permission to organize a hospital in the large women's Beit Midrash. The permission was given, and a hospital was organized under the supervision of the German doctor Biderman.

Day and night shifts were organized. Not one young person, man or woman, objected to participate in the rescue work.

This dedication has led to two victims. One of them was eighteen year old Leah Feldman, the successful daughter of Chaim Shlomo Feldman (sister of our beloved Motel Feldman from New-York). She was loved by the local youth and played in the first drama club. The second victim was Hershel Zilberman. He was twenty-two and a scribe by profession. Both of them died of typhus that they contracted during their volunteer work.

The situation slowly leveled off in the city. The residents have become accustomed to the German occupiers. The social activities rose to life again A Jewish library was opened in the “Kultur Farayn” [cultural union]. A kindergarden and also the first year of a primary school were opened in the “Kultur Farayn.” The kindergarden was managed by Miss.Szydlowski and the school by the teacher Kuhn who was brought from Warsaw. Kuhn, who was a very intelligent man, immediately acquired many friends. He was also loved by his students. However, the school didn't exist for a long time due to lack of money.

In 1916, the political parties started to appear. The first was the “Bund” which opened a culture club. The youth “Bund” - “Tsukunft” (future) was active at the club. The “Bund” organized extensive political and cultural activities, such as lectures and debates, with the participation of lecturers from Warsaw. The leaders of the “Bund” were: Motel Brendzil, G. Ferlak (from Łódź), Moshe Huberman, Yedel Agman, Gitel Kertesz, Ben-Zion Skorka and yours truly. Sometime later a general “Fraffarayn” [trade union], which united within it workers from various professions, was organized. The secretary of the “Fraffarayn” was Moshe Huberman.

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The “Folkspartei” [׆Jewish People's Party”] Łuków in was under the leadership of Itchah and Chaim Meir Heyblum, Moshe and Natan Tsukerman, Godel Lichtensteyn and Chaim Motel Mandelboim. A group of “Poalei Zion Left” [“Workers of Zion” left wing] was also founded with their own club. Its leaders were: Itchah Kenigsberg, Eliyahu Gestrozwitch, Yedel Burshteyn, and Motel Feldman. There was also an active “Poalei Zion Right” party with its own club and “Hapoel” sports club. The party ran a beautiful educational program and its activists were: Moshe Feldman, Moshe Burshteyn, Yakov Lichtenstein, Moshe Finkelstein and David Gorzer. Also the “General Zionists” conducted activities under the leadership of Migdal, Benderman, Motel Kleinman and Eliyahu Feldman. “Mizrachi,” and its youth movement “Bnei Akiva,” were also founded. Their leaders were: Avraham Zito, Berel Slushny, Gershon Felen and Shmuel Chaim Siroka. In the end I want to mention the work of “Hashomer Hatzair” which gathered the majority of the Jewish youth in their club. The organization ran cultural-educational programs in the Zionist environment. The “Lag BaOmer” march, in a blue and white costume, has left a great impression. “Hashomer Hatzair” also organized lectures with the participation of lecturers from Warsaw. The leaders of “Hashomer Hatzair” were: Hersh Leib and Leah Lichter, Shmuel Huberman and others.

The Jewish community leaders were once the homeowners of the life of the Jews in the city. They made decisions concerning the acceptance of a rabbi, religious education and other matters. The leaders, from time to time, were: Meir Leib Gestrozwitch, Yisrael Birches, Mendel Scheinberg and Zalman Goldfarb. When the Jewish life received a free framework, these religious men formed their own party, “Agudat Yisrael” [Union of Israel], which was also established in Łuków. They opened a school for girls called “Beit Yakov” under the management of Mendel Porisower. Later, the representatives in the municipality were elected by the Jewish population. They were: Meir Leib Gelernter, Moshe Flichtenreich and Hersh Leizer Landau. The representative of the workers was Anshel Menshpizer.

*

On 11 November 1918, Poland became an independent state. The country was devastated after the difficult war years. The population of Łuków also lived in great poverty. The (former) residents of the city in America expressed their desire to send help to Łuków's poor Jews.

The rabbi, Akivah Goldgoict and also Motel Brenzvil received letters from the townspeople in America. They stated that a representative of the “Joint Distribution Committee” will bring money and instructions on how to distribute the money. The people of the “Bund” gathered all the Jewish political parties for a meeting in the Jewish community center. The “Bund” proposed to appoint a bipartisan committee which will distribute the aid among the city's poor population in the form of products. “Agudat Yisrael” was against it. It was of the opinion that the money should be divided individually rather than by a committee. All the political parties, except for “Agudat Yisrael” and the “General Zionists,” supported the “Bund's” proposal.

A few days later, a representative of the “Joint Distribution Committee” arrived and brought 1,000 dollars from the “Łuków relief committee” in New-York. He demanded to form a committee which will receive the money. This time, the meeting took place at the home of Rabbi Shlomo Braun. After an exchange of opinions, the rabbi declared that the majority was in favor of distributing the help in the form of products, and a committee will be elected for that purpose. “Ha'aguda” left the meeting and didn't participate in the committee.

In the same turbulent November days a public meeting of the “PPS” [Polish Socialist Party], “Bund,” “Poalei Zion Left” and the Communists took place.

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Red flags flew. The speeches were given in Polish and Yiddish. It was a striking picture. Everyone believed that a new era of truth and justice for all people has arrived. A workers committee, with the representation of all the Jewish and Polish socialist parties, was established in the following composition: from the PPS - the teacher Krotzik and Z. Yamkowich; from the “Bund” - Motel Brendzil and M. Huberman; from “Poalei Zion Left” - Reichman and Sara Bolkinshteyn; from the Communists - Welchik and David Gotesdiner.

At that time, the working youth didn't have a club of their own (apart from the “Fraffarayn's” small club), so they gathered in the culture club. The leadership of the culture club was against introducing political activity to their club, and banned all the political appearances. The “Bund” and “Poalei Zion Left” have made efforts to get the institution. On this basis there were strong clashes between them and the management of the culture club. The police intervened, dispersed the participants and closed the club. A few weeks later the “Kultur Farayn” rented another club and opened the institution under the name “Yidishe Folks Biblyotek” [“Yiddish Public Library”] which existed until Hitler's massacre.

Life started to level off and with it - the Jewish life. An awakening occurred in the industry and commerce, and also in the social cultural life. The first elections to the city council were held. Of the 24 members of the city council, ten were Jews. The “Bund” received the majority of the votes (5 seats).

At the same time there was an interesting episode. Since there was no shortage of unemployed, the “Fraffarayn” created a committee which sent a letter to Jews with means and asked them to come and participate voluntarily in the unemployed fund. Those who received the letter came and participated, and in this manner a substantial amount of money was collected for the benefit of the unemployed.

In 1923, the Communists received the “Fraffarayn” - because of the split in the “Bund.” The right wing of the “Bund” opened an independent center named “Cultural League,” and conducted their operations there.

In the municipal elections of 1929, the Jewish population only received 8 mandates because suburbs, with a Polish population, were added to Łuków. The following political parties participated in the Jewish side: “Aguda,” craftsmen, “Poalei Zion Right,” ”Fraffarayn” (left wing), “Mizrachi” and “General Zionists.” “Aguda” received 5 mandates, craftsmen 1, Poalei Zion Right” 1, “Fraffarayn”) 1. The members of the city council from the “Aguda” were: Moshe Aharon Weintraub, Yona Nigh, Moshe Flichtenriech, Hersh Leizer Landau and Meir Leib Gelernṭer. These council members were also members of the Jewish community. Moshe Aharon Weintraub was elected “lunik” [member of the executive body] in the municipality. Shmuel Arye took his seat in the city council. The representative of the craftsmen in the municipality was Metes Mendelboum. From the right wing of the “General Zionists” - Yakov Lichtensteyn, from the left wing - Shlomo Zakalik. The last wasn't a council member for a long time. The police arrested him, and after sitting for a year in a Siedlce prison he contracted tuberculosis. He was released, but he was forced to move to Warsaw where he died a short time later.

In 1928, “Zisha” [central organization of Jewish schools] opened a primary school with 4 classes and 4 teachers. The former residents of Łuków in New-York and the central organization of schools in Warsaw helped with the upkeep of the school. The Polish authorities gave permission to open this school. The classrooms were big, clean and comfortable. Children over the age of six were accepted to this school.

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The school opening was impressive. Yakov Pat appeared as a guest lecturer from “Zisha” and a party was held after the musical performance. The evening brought a large sum of money. The townspeople in New-York wrote that will send a monthly sum of money to the school.

In the management sat: from the “Bund” - Moshe Hershman, Ben-Zion Skorka, Shlomo Rubinshteyn, Yerachmiel Landesberg, Aharon Yona Weissman, Pessia Scheniser; from the people's party - Itchah and Chaim Heyblum, Metes Mendelboum ; from Poalei Zion Left” - Motel Feldman, Yedel Burshteyn; from Poalei Zion Right” - Moshe Feldman, Moshe Burshteyn; from the non-partisan - Yosef Pergament, Moshe Eliyahu Gortzman and Yosef Zubrovitsh.

Next to the school was also a drama club under the management of Leibel Kremez. The following members belonged to the drama club: L. Kremez, B.Z. Skorka, A. Heyblum, Wolf Brukshteyn, Motel Feldman, Yedel Burshteyn, Golda Sobelman, Chana Lichtenberg and Rachela Hertman. The school administration organized evenings of dancing and entertainment. From time to time the activities also took place in the street.

At one time the school also received a subsidy from the municipality. The municipality man, Mendelboum, demanded a subsidy of 500 Zhuvim [gold coins] from the municipality. During the vote the proposal was supported by three Jewish council members - Mendelboum, Lichtensteyn and Klic. The council members from PPS and “Aguda” abstained from the vote. It was decided to allocate a subsidy of 150 Zhuvim.

The primary school existed for three years. The school was forced to close because of the cruel treatment of the educational authorities, and also because of lack of money. With this, an important cultural industry was destroyed in the life of Łuków's Jews. Only one institution, which conducted an extensive activity, was left. It was the Jewish public library, “Yidishe Folks Biblyotek.” The library contained original Jewish literature and also translations of world's literature. The library was opened all day. The librarian was Sara Goldsteyn. From time to time lecturers and Jewish theater were brought from Warsaw. The library organized dances and masquerade balls to help with the finance of the institution. A special cultural committee organized talks and debates on literary works. Many attended the cultural evenings which took place every Friday evening.

As stated, the management of the library was composed of people who belonged to different political parties, but politics wasn't mixed in the cultural work. The admission was free and the members paid an annual fee. Next to the library was a reading room with Polish and Jewish newspapers and also periodicals. The reading room was opened every day from 12 noon to 10 in the evening.

The secretary of the public library was Yakov Lichtensteyn. The management consisted of the following members: Itchah and Chaim Heyblum, Yakov Zito, Yosef Pergament, Tzerna Lipa and Shimon Scheinberg. In the cultural committee were: Chaim Moshe Heyblum, Yosef Pergament, Shimon Scheinberg, Shlomo Rubinshteyn, Moshe Eliyahu Gortzer, and Shlomo Feldman. In 1930, the cultural committee published the weekly “Das Lukower Vort.” Reuven Fluman, today a doctor in Israel and then a student, published articles on scientific subjects. In 1937, “Das Lukower Vort” was published again and this time with a new editorial board. The editor in chief was Professor Barek from Bialystok. He was a teacher of religion sciences in the Polish schools and also taught the Jewish students. He was “arodit” [skilful] and published books in the Hebrew language.

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The workers in the paper were: Yitzchak Tsukerman, Chaim Meir Heyblum, Shimon Scheinberg, Moshe Eliyahu Gortzer, Ben-Zion Skorka, Motel Feldman, Shlomo Rubinshteyn who signed S.R.N. “Das Lukower Vort” appeared for a long time.

*

The city of Łuków was a center of religious life and Hassidut. There were synagogues, Batei-Midrash and various societies like: “Chevrat Tehillim,” “Chevrat Mishnayot,” “Chevrat Mikra,” craftsmen's guilds and “Chevrat Tiferet Bachurim.” There were also shtiblach of Hassidim from various rabbis, and of course, “hadarim”, a Yeshiva and Talmud Torah. The tune of Torah study was always carried from all these places.

In the last years of the 18th century Łuków's rabbi was R' Meir'l from Krakow, a known scholar who was very strict in matters of Judaism. He didn't allow any conflict between the Hassidim and their opponents. He was also able to slap the face of a person who didn't obey to him. Later, the city leaders appointed the rabbi from Wola as the city's rabbi. The new rabbi was mostly active in the opening of a Yeshiva in the Great Beit Midrash.Young men, from near and far, studied there. They received food and a place to sleep from various homeowners.

After several years the rabbi from Wola left Łuków because it was difficult for him to get along with the community leaders. At that time, the homeowners made efforts to bring Rabbi Shmuel Shlomo Braun from Belchatow. R' Shmuel Shlomo Braun, who was Łuków's rabbi until his death, was a young man with a goodwill smile on his face. He quickly acquired the admiration of all the walks of life and was also an excellent speaker.

R' Shmuel Shlomo Braun, who was ill during his last years, died in 1934. In 1920, when the lerzekim attacked the Jews of Łuków, the rabbi turned to the “Starosta” and asked him to do something for his community. When he returned he received a hard blow to his head from a lerzik and as a result he became paralyzed. Despite his condition he continued to manage the rabbinate with the help of the teacher R' Yisrael Finkelshteyn, and later, with the help of his son-in-law Pesach Rosen.

In 1936, the community convened for a special meeting to address the issue of obtaining a new rabbi. The representatives of “Mizrachi” and the craftsmen suggested to appoint R' Aharon Nuta Freiberg, son-in-law of Rabbi Eliezer Waxman, who was ordained by the leading rabbis of Poland. The members of the city council from “Aguda” objected: first, because his father-in-law wasn't an “Aguda” man, and second, they claimed that in Łuków's rabbinate chair always sat rabbis who have received it as an inheritance. R' Aharon Nuta was born in Parczew, studied with the rabbi of Parczew and always remained his Hassid.

The war in the matter lasted for a whole year. A public meeting, whose task was to decide who will be the next rabbi, was called on Sabbath Parashat Shoftim [judges] in the Great Beth Midrash. During the reading of the Torah the audience heard the speeches of both sides and decided to accept R' Aharon Nuta as their rabbi.

*

Łuków also had two Hassidic courts - apart from the shtiblach of other Hassidim, such as the followers of Gur, Kotzk, Radziyn, Aleksander and others. One of them was the court of R' Akivah Meir who was called the “Miechower rabbi” [the rabbi from Miechow]. He was small and shriveled, sat day and night and studied and fasted on Ta'aniot more than he ate. His Hassidim were Jewish homeowners and craftsmen. The rabbi had a small Beit Midrash and women came there to pour their bitter heart and give “kvitlach” [notes].

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Mizrachi” School in Łuków

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Young people also sat in the rabbi's Beit Midrash and studied. After the death of R' Akivah Meir his grandson, who followed his grandfather's footsteps, received his rabbinate.

The second rabbi in Łuków was R' Hershale Morgenstern the son of the rabbi from Kotzk. Before he became a rabbi, R' Hershale was a wealthy man. He had a large wine store and also a small factory for lighting. After the death of R' Hershale most of his Hassidim elected his son, R' Mendel, to fill his place. R' Mendel Morgenstern didn't live for a long time in Łuków. He moved to Wlodowa and became the city's rabbi. It needs to be mentioned, that when the Germans sent hundreds of children from Wlodowa to Sobibor, R' Mendel Morgenstern accompanied them and was exterminated together with the children of his community.

There was a Great Synagogue in Łuków which contained hundreds of worshipers. The synagogue was the splendor of the city. It was painted by the best painters of the city - Hersh Liber and Chaim Metes Mendelboum. A small Beit Midrash, in which simple Jews such as carters, butchers and craftsmen prayed, stood next to the synagogue. They were also called “Chevra Mikra.” Every evening between Mincha and Maariv, and on Saturday afternoon, they studied the Chumash with R' Aharon Mikra-rabbi. Also in the Great Synagogue a group of Jews sat every evening around a long table and studied with R' Efraim Lichtenberg. Several hundred poor children studied in Talmud Torah which was supported by the community.

There was also a new Beit Midrash which was called Beit HaMidrash of Chaya Sara, in the name of the righteous Chaya Sara. The rich Jews who prayed there also maintained the building. These Jews were: R' Moshe Lichtensteyn, R' Moshe Burshteyn, Terkeltoib, R' Eliezer Waxman and other rich homeowners. Young men also sat there and studied for themselves. By the way, our townsman, the writer Nachtomy (Mendel Fiksh) who lives today in Israel, studied in the same Beit Midrash.

*

The cold winds, which started to blow from Hitler's Germany, reached Poland. The anti-Semitic politics, in the form of economic blockade on the Jews and the ban on kosher slaughtering, began. Łuków's Jews, along with other Jews, held a protest meeting which was attended by Jews from all streams. The shops were closed and the work in the workshops and factories ceased. The Jews in the city resisted the siege operations of the Polish hooligans. Butchers and Jewish workers chased away the blockade guards which stood next to the Jewish shops and prevented the Polish shoppers from entering them. One Thursday, market day, large groups of hooligans stood next to the Jewish shops. The Jewish working youth gathered in the barbershop of Moshe Pesla. Moshe Pesla came out to see what was happening and by his cue the strong boys, the brothers Luft, came out and gave the hooligans such a beating that they no longer showed themselves.

The small traders and the craftsmen, who lived from their journeys to markets in the nearby towns, suffered severely from the economic blockade and anti-Semitism. Their situation became critical. Several leaders - the activists of the societies in the city- called for a meeting to address the matter and establish a charitable fund. A request was sent to the townspeople in America, and as a result 500 dollars were sent immediately to Motel Feldman's address (this matter is mentioned in details in another section of the book).

 


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Łuków, a Religious City

by Shimen Siruke

Translated by Sara Mages

 

A. Houses of worship

Our city Łuków was a typical religious city. In the past, all the city residents were religious so it was only natural that all the public life concentrated around the synagogues and the houses of worship.

In the period that I remember there were three types of houses of worship in Łuków. The synagogue (de shul), old Beit HaMidrash and several houses of prayer were located in shul-hoyf [synagogue courtyard]. In these houses of worship, which have been around since the founding of the city, the worshipers prayed in the Ashkenazi version (the opponents). The city's elders who continued the chain of generations, and also many of the townspeople who followed their ancestors ways, concentrated there. The shul and old Beit HaMidrash were also a place of worship for the city's rabbis whose names came to fame. In the women's gallery of these synagogues were the “shtedt” (permanent seats) for all the grandmothers and the city's honorable women because the small houses of worship didn't have a women's gallery.

A second type of a house of worship was the Hassidim houses which, in comparison to the shul-hoyf, were a lot younger. The Hassidim's shtiblach were established in the past century. With the penetration of this movement to the towns of Congress Poland the Hassidim houses of the various Admorim were established one after the other, and their Hassidim joined them from time to time. In the course of time, students, important merchants, men of means and fine young men who ate “kest,” meaning, that they were supported by their in-laws so they can devote themselves to study the Torah, concentrated in these shtiblach. Also groups of young men, who studied the Torah and dealt with Hassidut, gathered there. The Hassidic houses of the courts of Gur, Kotzk, Alexander, Porisov, Modzitz. Radzin, Sochatchov, Lublin and others also existed in Łuków. Every holiday hundreds of townspeople left the city for the Admorim's courts to gather around their rabbi and hear his sermon.

For a certain period of time there was also an Admor in our city who was a descendant of the rabbi of Kotzk. He ran his court aggressively and was known as the “Łukówer Rabbi.” With the passing of the Admor R' Hershale zt”l, his son and his replacement, the Admor R' Moshe Baruch zt”l, moved to Włodawa where he was accepted as the city's rabbi.

In the last years before the war, in the period that I remember our city, the court of the Admor of Michów, who continued the dynasty of his grandfather's z”l, stood to glory.

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He gathered around him many fine young men and Yeshiva students, who were deeply attached to him, and also a lot of people from all walks of life.

A third type of a house of worship belonged to the craftsmen who concentrated in several places, and to some extent, by profession. Our city was blessed with many craftsmen like tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths and more. Most of them were innocent and honest Jews, even though they weren't great scholars.

 

Shimen Siruke

 

I didn't mean to give an accurate and detailed review of all the houses of worship in our city. I just mentioned the type of the houses of worship and those who prayed in them, because, in the end, the city with almost all of its inhabitants was connected through the synagogues to the God of Israel and his 613 mitzvot.

 

B. Religious and social institutions

It's clear that in a city, with such a religious tradition, there were religious, educational and social institutions which provided services to the religious population.

First and foremost we remember Talmud Torah which was located in a building adjacent to the Great Synagogue. Jewish children, mostly those whose parents weren't able to pay tuition to private teachers, studied there. A special Gabbaim committee dealt with collecting funds to pay the salaries of the teachers of these young students.

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More than once the Gabbaim's stormy meetings took place at the home of my grandfather. Usually, they didn't have a penny in their pocket, but the study of the Torah always took place and the teachers never declared a strike because their salary was delayed…and everyone was careful with the sons of the poor who will be the spiritual leaders.

The municipal Yeshiva was located in “Hok,” Beit HaMidrash, which was named after “Hok Leisrael,” and students from all the sectors of the population studied there every day. Among them were those who completed their studies in Talmud Torah and those who were wealthy and previously studied with private teachers. All the urban youth passed through the teachers R' Velvil, R' Ben-Zion and others who have taught at the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva's spiritual leader was R' Getzil Lempiter (Menishes) who imposed his authority on all of us.

Chevra Kadisha grasped a special place in our city. The most distinguished persons were members of this society, and the greatest honor was to be elected as its annual leader. I remember the special preparations for the annual meal, which was held on 7 Adar, the day after the fasting day of the society's members. In this meal, which was known in those days as the feast of King Solomon, elections were held for the Gabbaim and the leaders of Chevra Kadisha for an entire year, and there were many struggles towards this respectable election.

In our city also existed the societies of “Bikur Cholim” [visiting the sick] and “Leḥem La'aniyim” [bread for the poor], which collected donations in various ways and also carried out volunteer activities in these areas. Of course, apart from these “formal” societies the Jewish heart was always open to help others, and there was not a person who felt himself lonely at time of joy or, God forbid, at time of trouble. The whole town was like one family and partner in joy or, God forbid, in the distress of a city resident.

 

C. “Agudat Yisrael” in the period of rage and impulse

In the previous lines I described Łuków as a serene city which sat on still waters and accepted its God. Indeed, that's how it was 60-70 years ago (as I've heard from my grandfather z”l,) but it's known that from that period strong ideological storms started to frequent the serenity of the city and shook its foundations as it happened to the Jewish communities in all the cities of Poland.

There was great poverty and shortage, the oppressors of the evil kingdom of the Russian Czar were difficult, and there's no wonder that most of the youth was caught in various socialist and left-wing ideas.

The national-Zionist movement also spread among a section of the youth who were caught in the idealism of the youth movements that were in fashion at that time. Many of our city's youth left the benches of Beit HaMidrash and the way of life of their parents, which were based on Torah and mitzvot, and devoted themselves, with their youthful passion, to the different idealism that infiltrated the Jewish street. I want to point here, that I was born and raised in Łuków, lived there in the years between the two world wars and in the last years before the Second World War. I was also active in the city (even though I was very young). In spite of everything, Łuków has remained a city that most of its Jewish population remained religious, and continued the way of life of their ancestors.

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After the First World War “Agudat Yisrael” movement, which represented the orthodox circles, was founded in the city. The Hassidim were especially active in it, and it represented them in the elections to the municipality and to the Jewish community.

The representation of “Agudat Yisrael” in the municipality constituted the majority of the Jewish representation and it was headed by - R' Moshe Aharon Weintraub, Yona Nigh, R' Shuel'ke Arye and others. The first two also served as members of the municipality executive board (lavnikim).

Agudat Yisrael” faction was the largest in the Jewish community, and except for short periods of time it ruled it and its representatives were the community leaders. At the head of this representation stood: R' Hersh Leizer Lender who was the community leader (he was murdered during his heroic stand before the Nazi beasts), R' Mendel Fridman (Lendener), R' Efraim Godlman, R' Zechariah Zita and for a certain period also R' Moshe Aharon Weintraub.

The driving force in “Agudat Yisrael” was, of course, the youth federation, “TzeireiAgudat Yisrael,” in which were organized young men and Yeshiva students who were the living spirit in all the activities that were put on the agenda. The writer of these lines was an active member of the federation in the last years before the war.

During the elections, when the city's alleyways were abuzz from the endless meetings and arguments, the young men passed throughout the night and pasted posters (and sometimes removed those of the other side). But not just that, the beautiful “Melaveh Malkah” parties, the moral and ideological talks of Yona Nigh or Hershel Lerman, the spiritual leaders of the young men, were etched in my memory.

Over time “Agudat Yisrael” built its own building in Łuków. It was located next to Beit HaMidrash “Hok Leisrael” and meetings, lessons to the young and a youth library took place there.

Agudat Yisrael” also established a school, “Beit Yaakov,” and brought a special teacher from “Beit Yaakov Seminary” in Krakow. It was an innovation in those days. “Agudat Yisrael” also established “Yesoiday HaTorah School” with modern educational methods that didn't change the curriculum.

The desire and the aspiration to immigrate to Israel were great, and many members of “Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael” traveled to Hachshara [pioneer training] kibbutzim that were established in various locations in Poland by “Agudat Yisrael.” However, only a small number of them reached our Holy Land. The gates to the country were closed and those who received an “immigration certificate” were happy as if they have won the lottery…

Also “HaMizrachi,” “Tzeirei Mizrachi” and “Hashomer Hadati” were organized in Łuków. They had a good representation in the Jewish community and their leaders were: R' Gershon Plug, and my father R' Shmuel Chaim Siruke z”l. They also established a Hachshara kibbutz in the city and a large number of religious Halutzim and activists of “Hapoel HaMizrachi” passed through it.

I remember the bitter and impetuous day, Thursday 24 Elul 5699 [8 September, 1939], a week inside the war, when group of “Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael” stood and argued incessantly about the political and the warlike situation - and suddenly someone remarked: we're being bombed again. The planes came again and dropped the bombs before the sirens were activated. The Nazis, may their names be blotted out, sowed destruction and havoc in the city where we were born and raised. We immediately take cover, and from a distance I see my brother and my friend running in the direction of the fields across the river which passes behind Browarna Street. At the end of the bombing different sections of the city went up in flames and there were many victims.

[Page 82]

I will never forget the picture of that evening, how hundreds of local residents - public leaders, Hassidim, men of action, laborers and youth from all the sectors - labored for many hours to save lives, clear the rubble and put out the fires around the Great Synagogue (shul-hoyf). And then, in that evening, almost all of the townspeople left for the nearby villages for fear of additional bombing. At the end of the battles almost everyone returned for years of suffering and extermination. The writer of these lines never saw our beloved city again. He went through hardships and obstacles during the days of the war until 5702 (1942), when he arrived at the height of the bitter and difficult days to our country and our holy homeland.

 

Beit Yaakov” School in Łuków

 


[Page 88 - Hebrew] [Page 83 - Yididsh]

Jewish Łuków

by Yekhiel Rozenblum

Translated by Sara Mages

 

When I traveled to Israel at the beginning of the 1930s Łuków celebrated its 700 hundred years of existence. Łuków, which is one of the ancient cities in Poland, was established in 1230. Several Jews lived there in the early years and a Jewish community was established a few years later. As we know, when Łuków was burnt a short time later (in the Tatars' attack) also the small synagogue went up in flames. I don't know if there're any documents about the life of Łuków's Jews from the 14th century to the 19th century - but from numbers and dates, which were collected by the instructors of “Hashomer Hatzair” together with Ester Serberni?, we know that a census was conducted in Łuków in 1820. On that year, 1259 Jews lived in Łuków as opposed to 1200 Poles and there was also an old cemetery. The population has grown in the next century. In 1910, 8070 Jews lived in Łuków and 3700 Poles. However, during the war many Jews left Łuków for other cities or migrated. The mortality also increased. In 1921, there were only 6250 Jews in Łuków as opposed to 6400 Christians.

How the Jews of Łuków earned their living? Where did they work? There weren't any large factories in the city and Jews weren't accepted for government jobs. The numbers that we took from the municipality can give some kind of explanation to that (the list is from 1930). Even though the numbers belong to the entire population, we can assume that most of the trade was in Jewish hands.

At that time the city had: 41 small factories and workshops (including a mill and sawmill), 6 hotels and furnished rooms for rent, 43 restaurants and tea houses, 137 food shops, 31 butcher shops, 19 kiosks for soda and fruit, 36 shops of sausage and pork, 36 shops for milk and eggs, 4 storehouses for wood and coal, 19 tobacco shops, 6 notions shops, 53 shoe shops, 21 clothing shops, 25 tailor shops,
9 shops of tools and glass, 13 shops for iron objects, 8 shops for books and writing instruments, 6 pharmacies and medication storerooms, 8 shops for kerosene, oil and oil products, 10 storehouses for agricultural machinery, sewing machines, furniture and paintings, 5 storehouses for construction machinery.

It's clear that the city also had businesses in shacks or private homes that weren't registered. Also shops, which sold homemade products (like milliners, bakers and shoemakers) aren't found in the list. Out of the large number of trading businesses it's possible to get the impression that the entire Jewish community lived from trade, but it was not so. We can see that from the numbers that are related to crafts and work (we took them from the 1930 list).

[Page 89]

These professionals were in Łuków at that time: 150 shoemakers, 120 tailors, 25 leather shoes manufacturers, 8 horse harnesses makers, 4 furriers, 4 milliners, 33 carpenters, 12 builders of wood buildings, 4 cart builders, 2 engravers, 4 manufacturers of wooden barrels, 17 locksmiths, 25 blacksmiths, 8 tinsmiths, 8 watchmakers, 3 jewelers, 2 welders, 30 bakers, 5 cake bakers, 23 construction workers, 2 oven makers, 8 glaziers, 3 upholsterers, 11 barbers' 3 bookbinders, 2 photographers, 2 dog catchers and a chimney sweeper. It's clear, that 75% of these professionals were Jews. Naturally, there were professions that were only in the hands of Christians like dog catchers and chimney sweepers. To this, we have to add a substantial percentage of those who weren't registered as craftsmen or laborers because it was a shame to be a laborer… It should be noted that Łuków had a large number of scribes, the writers of mezuzut. tefillin, Torah scrolls and similar holy objects. Their products were also sent abroad (by the way, I knew several communists who also engaged in this work). From the aforementioned numbers, which aren't accurate, we can see that at least thirty percent of Łuków's Jews were laborers. The city wasn't a city of wealthy people. The Jews often struggled to get a little income. I remember the song that I heard repeatedly in my childhood: “How, how can we bring back the Russian period when it was possible to live on one Kopeck.” It's a fact that between the years 1914-1930 the Jewish population was reduced by 30%. As we remember, the only topic of conversation was travel and immigration and those who were able to break out of Łuków were envied.

Most immigrated to America. Those who haven't received a permit to travel to America traveled to France, Belgium and other European countries. If there weren't any possibilities to immigrate they traveled to Warsaw, and Jewish Warsaw received everyone.

 

The market in Łuków; Drawing - Zadok

 

[Page 90]

The Youth

I spent my youth in Łuków and was active in the Jewish youth. I still can't understand how the Jewish youth had so much energy and from where they drew such strength for social and cultural work. After all, they didn't have much of a chance to exist. Anti-Semitism was on the way. The city population was composed of 50% Jews, but the Jews paid 60% of the total amount of taxes. The Jews had only one school out of the four existing schools. There were two high schools in the city, for boys and for girls, but it was possible to count the Jewish high school students on the fingers - first, because of the high tuition and secondly, because of the anti-Semitic discrimination. For example, I remember a high school student, Reuven Fluman. His father had a shoe store and he has done everything so that his son, a boy with a “flaming head” will become a “man.” He was badly abused at school and had to sit in the same class for two years, and after he was severely beaten he had to stop his studies there. But Fluman didn't despair - he submitted the exam in the province city of Lublin and there received a matriculation certificate with a high score (today he is famous doctor).

It was not a simple matter to “study a profession.” What was it possible to study in Łuków? - Tailoring and shoemaking. To study one of these professions they had to commit for several years, and I think that it was necessary to pay the shop owner. The situation was worse for the girls because they weren't able to learn anything other than sewing. The situation of the girls, who came from poor “good homes,” was bitter because they didn't have a profession or a “dowry.” If they had relatives abroad it was as good as a “dowry.” The young men were willing to marry them to obtain a travel option…

Because of this situation young men and women left for Warsaw to look for a job. Quite often they wandered around hungry and were ashamed to return home. Some returned to the city for the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot dressed in suits and new shoes (who knows how many meals have paid for them). They wandered around with sticks in their hands while cracking seeds. The girls were crazy about the “Warshaim” who spoke “Warshait” with “Yach.” They bragged about the cinemas, theaters, and the restaurants where they ate, but they weren't able to tell the truth that two of them slept in one bed and at times they didn't have money to buy food.

The youth didn't despair and conducted political, social and cultural work despite the difficult economic situation.

Friday evening was full of activities. There were always lectures in the library on scientific or literary subjects. There were debates in the “Fraffarayn” [trade union] about Russia and the labor movement, and speeches were given in the Zionist organization about Zionism and the Land of Israel.

In “Hashomer Hatzair” the members sat to the late hours of the night. The graduates prepared work for the youngsters and sometimes left for a night trip to a nearby city - Radzin of Siedlce. “HeHalutz” organized “tea evenings” and the proceeds were given to the Hakhshara or to someone who needed money for his immigration. Sometimes, a battalion of “Hashomer Hatzair” left for the night to a forest. They set up tents from blankets and the director told them about life in a kibbutz, or about the devotion of the brave guards who gave their lives protecting the settlement.

[Page 91]

Another Zionist movement gathered in “Beitar” where Yitzchak Lust spoke with fire. “We should take the Land of Israel with force and blood!” The young people listened with bated breath. Their eyes looked at the picture of Ze'ev Jabotinsky as if they sought his help. “Hashomer Hadati” met in another location. There, the girls sat a bit far from the boys. There they spoke more quietly - about the receipt of Israel in the Torah and the speaker was Mendel Lust.

The Communist youth (most of them Jewish) gathered in secret, in the summer - in the forest, in the winter - in a private home. The young men and women were ready to sacrifice themselves, to go to prison, only to bring the revolution and with it - a solution to the Jewish problem. But, on the next day, on Sabbath morning, when the adults went to pray in the synagogues and the shtiblach, many, including the young communists, went with their fathers. They have done it out of fear - a little from their father and a little from God…

Shabbat was a day of activities not only for the youth but also for the adults, the important homeowners. Of course, these activities were held in the synagogues, Batei HaMidrash and the shtiblach.

The elections to the Sejm, the municipality, the community and the new rabbi were especially “lively.” Łuków was the stronghold of “Agudat Yisrael.'” In the municipal elections of 1928, “Agudat Yisrael'” received, together with the orthodox, more than 60% of the Jews' votes. By the way, in this election the Jews had 11 lists against 2 of the Poles. From this we can learn about the “different outlooks” of Łuków's Jews…

 

Hashomer Hatzair” in Łuków

 

Kadima” group
14 Heshvan, 5680 (7 November, 1919)

 

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