by Asher Plotnik
Translated from the Hebrew by Yocheved Klausner
At the beginning of the twentieth century Luninyets was still very young. The town was built on a large level field, surrounded by forests of pine trees. To the North-West there was an extended marshland, where many birch trees grew, as well as other trees and shrubs that served as burning-wood. In the winter, the peasants would chop the trees and bring them to town on sleighs, during the rest of the year no person would set foot in this marsh area. To the East and to the South, sands and also black fertile soil extended to the horizon, and when the town grew in size and in population these soils were transformed into cultivated fields, growing wheat and potatoes. The place was not blessed with a river or streams; therefore a large settlement has not developed there.
At the beginning, only very few peasant families, poor and destitute, lived there. Only when the railroad tracks were constructed in the vicinity, the town became awake and an enormous movement of construction began.
The most impressive building was the train station, which in time has become famous. It was built of brick and white stone, decorated with cornices and other ornaments, and had tall arched doors and windows. There were special rooms for the director of the station and the various managers, ticket booths and luggage rooms, large waiting halls for first and second classes and a snack bar. The third-class waiting hall was always full of peasants, workers and others, who, while waiting for the train, drank tea that was distributed freely day and night. Many drank vodka from bottles they had bought at the co-operative store next door and of course some of them were drunk, rolling on the floor, snoring or vomiting.
The first and second-class waiting hall was breathtaking. The tall windows were covered with silk curtains. Palm trees grown in pots were placed in the corners. Little tables and upholstered chairs were scattered in the large room; the snack-bar was upgraded and well stocked. The customers were respected merchants and high officials - the simple folk were not allowed to use the facility. In the neighborhood of the station, large apartment houses and administration buildings were erected and telegraph poles and telephone lines were installed. All this called for workers - simple laborers as well as professionals. The simple workers came in masses from the neighboring villages and the professionals from the larger towns and cities. Many Jews found employment in the region: they opened stores, bakeries, restaurants, taverns and small workshops. The forest and grain businesses began to grow, as well as other large enterprises. Many Jewish workers were employed in the train-station buildings.
All these new workers, Christians and Jews, acquired land, which usually was marshland or arid land, but they worked hard and drained the terrain, built houses, planted gardens around their houses and grew pigs, cows and chickens. Wealthy non-Jews came as well, built houses and shops, and rented them to Jews. They planted orchards around the town, with apple trees and pear trees, cherries and plums, and several berry-growing shrubs. All these trees and shrubs gave the town beauty and grandeur, especially in the spring, when the trees blossomed and the fragrance of the flowers filled the air. When the authorities began naming the streets, the main street was called Garden Street. At harvest time, these gardens would provide a livelihood
for many Jews, who were hired to pick the fruits and made a few Rubles. The town gardens served the children as well, either for playing or for mischief. They would climb the tall fence, pick apples before they ripened, jump rope, or unfasten the nails of the fence. Later, when they had the opportunity, at twilight or other time when people would not be around, they would enlarge the opening of the fence, go in and fill their pockets with apples and pears that had fallen to the ground. The Jewish boys were especially fond of apples and pears, and the black-red cherries attracted them as with magic. No Jewish boy, even the most gentle, could pass near a cherry tree and not be tempted to pick some fruit. The chestnuts would serve as playing things.
When the Jews began to settle in the town, they built beautiful houses and nice fences around their courtyards, but few of them planted flowers or fruit trees. Indeed, the Jews have learned many things from the gentile peasants - almost every Jew had a cow and chickens, but not fruit trees and flower gardens.
At that time, typical Gentile rural and agricultural neighborhoods developed as well: low houses with thatched roofs, cattle corrals and courtyards full of manure and junk, and chickens poking around and laying eggs in all corners of the yard; dogs and pigs wandered freely in the streets. Some of the Jews, who could not afford to buy a house in the center, rented land far from the town, built houses and for several years had to cope with the water and the mud, and the distance from the center. Some of them succeeded nevertheless and planted little vegetable and flower gardens.
In twenty-five years, the once abandoned and desolate place turned into a large and flourishing settlement. The majority if its residents were Christians, but also a considerable number of Jews, all in a community that was growing and developing constantly. This mixed population caused sometimes confusion, especially among the street beggars, who could not distinguish between a Jewish and a non-Jewish house
As the Jewish community grew and commerce developed, public and social life began to evolve in Luninyets. In particular, a special political awakening could be observed among the Jewish young people in town. Those were momentous times - the year was 1905, the time of the Russian-Japanese war and the eve of the revolt against the Czar, a time of social upheaval and collapse of the tyrannical regime throughout the country. The events reached our young little town and the flag of the revolution was raised here as well. The first steps were taken secretly and the underground meetings took place in the back rooms of the houses, in a grove or in the forest; but later they were held openly, as the revolt proceeded. Finally, when the great railroad strike began, the entire town seemed to stop living. Many of the town's residents were railroad and telegraph workers, most of them organized in political parties and active in the revolt. The strike brought fear and anxiety to the town. The whistle of the arriving trains, day and night, was not heard any more; the big station was closed, the cars and locomotives stood idle on the tracks; workers walked in the streets with nothing to do. Mounted policemen filled every street and alley, staring angrily in every direction.
The Jewish young boys and girls in town were very active in the general revolution
movement. Among the Jewish revolutionary groups they were called The Democrats or The Sisters and Brothers. The underground meetings would take place in the forest outside the town, the young people carrying guns under their clothes. The head of the Sisters and Brothers was Leibel the son of the rabbi, who had left his home and the traditional upbringing and joined the rebels. Fear and panic was great among the Jews in town. The young men would paste on the town bulletin boards proclamations in Russian and Yiddish, received from the central leadership of the revolution, which called for the overthrow of the Czar. Intense propaganda for a new revolutionary regime in the country was conducted. In our house they recited slogans against the Czar and against the Bourgeoisie, and sang the Marseillaise, symbol of the revolution, and other revolutionary songs with either patriotic or sad, heartbreaking melodies. Our parents, out of fear for their own and for their children's fate, could do nothing but listen and worry. Sometimes they did express their anger against the hooligans who honestly believed that they could destroy the Czar Nikolai; contrary to the young people, the older generation was doubtful: Yente and Sara of the 'democrats' don't like the Czar Nikolai - they would grumble - so they are taking action . the days of the Mashiyah [Messiah] must already be here, since it is clearly written that when the Mashiyah will come, the 'chutzpa' [insolence] will reign supreme . The Sisters and Brothers, however, took their activity seriously: they began acting as arbitrators in labor disputes and as judges in civil and criminal trials; they declared strikes, took construction workers off the scaffolding if they worked more than eight hours a day, and threatened the contractors with punishment if they would not obey their instructions and carry out their verdicts. Indeed, the revolutionary spirits were high and the revolutionary democrats ruled the Jewish street, until a terrible event occurred, which inflicted fear on the Jewish community: the head of the town's police, Kowalski, was murdered. A great number of policemen arrived to the scene of the murder, searched the streets and the houses and made arrests, among Jews and Christians alike. The panic among the Jews was great and they feared a pogrom. Even the Cossacks came, but thanks to the good relations between all parts of the population, the matter ended in arrests and trials only and finally the town calmed down. Some of the Jewish young men were sentenced to prison in Siberia, and returned home only at the time of the great revolution, in 1917, their spirits broken and their bodies hurting. Others fled the country and found refuge in the United States. The revolution was crushed with brutal force. Many accepted the situation in despair, especially the Jews, who tried to return to a quiet and peaceful life. The laborers and craftsmen continued to earn their living with difficulty, as before, however deep in their hearts the rebel spark was still alive. It was expressed in various ways, as, for example, in the charity institutions and other constructive projects that were initiated in our town.
As the revolt was crushed throughout the entire country, our town calmed down as well. The horrible nightmare was over. Commerce flourished again and work was available. The Jews - men, women and children - could again take their regular walks on Sabbath afternoon, between the afternoon and the evening prayers, through the park or the beautifully paved square near the train station, to hear and see the train arrive. It would enter the station with pomp and great noise, and the people would enjoy the sight of the spacious and well-lit train-cars, especially the restaurant car, occupied by important and honorable people, elegantly dressed. For some time, life would again run its regular course.
by Chaim Rubinraut
Translated from the Hebrew by Yocheved Klausner
In the war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks, the town was occupied by the Poles, who held it until the beginning of the Second World War, in 1939. During the Polish rule Luninyets developed and flourished. Streets have been paved and sidewalks constructed, and trees planted along the sidewalks. Even the old synagogue-lane changed its looks. Many public institutions were built at the time: a Polish elementary school, a folk-theater, a government high-school, as well as buildings for the administration and the military and a movie theater. Eight medical doctors worked in town, four of them Jews. The three dental clinics were run by Jewish dentists. The population grew to 10 thousand - 5,000 Russians, 3,000 Jews and 2,000 Poles. A new Town Council of 16 members was elected, five of them were Jews.
The Jewish communal life changed as well: elected members of political parties and economic organizations became the leaders of the community, instead of the various lobbyists and managers. The Zionist parties were reorganized and workers unions were established - craftsmen, merchants, butchers etc. Two banks were opened: the co-operative bank and the bank of commerce.
All the Jewish youngsters were part of the Zionist movement, as members of the various parties. The Bund and the Agudat Israel were not represented in Luninyets at all. The most important Zionist organization was The League for the Working Eretz Israel, which had the largest membership.
Every family took part in the activities for the benefit of the JNF [Jewish National Fund] and the youngsters were thoroughly dedicated to their work in support of Eretz Israel. The enthusiasm for Aliya was great, and despite the severe limitations imposed by the British the number of emigrants from our little town was considerable. Young pioneer men and women went to the various Zionist training camps in Poland, to get ready for Aliya. Among the first illegal immigrants to Eretz Israel, many were from Luninyets. Some of the great leaders of the Zionist movement visited our town: Berl Locker, Baruch Zukerman, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Yosef Baratz, Yitzhak Schieffer and others.
There was almost no religious fanaticism in town. Tolerance and understanding of the modern times were the rule. The synagogues were open for public meetings of adults and young people, men and women. The four synagogues in town were the center of the religious life, and only lately a Talmud Torah and the Yeshiva Bet Israel were built - large and beautiful buildings, which also served as meeting places for the Zionists. The Luninyets Jews supported the Yeshiva students and donated money to the other Yeshivas as well, through the emissaries [shaliach] who visited the town for that purpose and sometimes gave a sermon encouraging the Torah learning. The majority of the Luninyets Jews were Hasidim of the Stolin and Karlin dynasties, and smaller groups were Horodok and Brazna Hasidim. The yearly visits of the Hasidic Rebbes brought to the town a festive atmosphere, and the youngsters would take part in the celebrations as well.
R'Alter-Yehuda Zolyar of blessed memory, the first and last rabbi of Luninyets, was
the head of the Jewish community during more than four decades, until his last day. He was admired and respected by the entire population.
During the last 25 years, great changes in the field of education took place in our town. Less and less children were sent to learn in the Heder; the parents preferring the Jewish Tarbut schools. About 50 children went to the Heder and Talmud Torah and the yeshiva had 80 students, most of them from other towns. Our young adolescents chose high-school and university education - many of them went to high-school in the larger cities: Pinsk and Baranowitz. After they graduated from their high-schools they went to the universities of Warsaw, Vilna or Lemberg. The Tel-Chai Jewish library contained about 2,500 books in the Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish languages, and Yiddish and Polish periodicals. The library hosted lectures and discussions on literary and political subjects, and sometimes held literary courts. A drama group was established and they often presented plays to the community audience.
The economic existence of the Jewish merchants, craftsmen and laborers was in close relationship with the train workers and the administration officials in town. The connections with the gentile villages in the neighborhood also had a positive effect on the Jewish commerce matters. The Jewish population provided a good market for the agricultural produce of the villagers: grains, fruits and vegetables, hay and wood. The peasant usually possessed cash and served as an important factor in the general commerce and labor relationship with the Jews. The mutual rapport between the two parts of the population was based on fairness and trust, and during the first years of the Polish rule the economic life was conducted smoothly and efficiently.
However, these days did not last long. Great economic and political changes took place in Poland, affecting Luninyets as well. First was the official economic boycott on the Jews, openly imposed by the authorities. The Polish government decided to remove from Jewish hands the small businesses and workshops, in order to help the Christian population take over these fields of trade. Polish shops and workshops and Polish co-operative department stores opened, and financial support from the government enabled them to compete easily with the Jews. Jewish shops were forced to close and Jews began a difficult struggle to earn a living. This situation intensified the desire to leave the Diaspora and its troubles, and indeed the young men and women began to flow to the Hehalutz training camps and prepare for Aliya.
With the outbreak of the Second World War by the end of 1939, when there was great fear that the town would be occupied by Hitler's army, the victorious entrance of the Red army was considered a hope fulfilled. However, as the Soviet rule was set up, the national and cultural activities in town were brought to a stop. The Jewish community life and its cultural and educational organizations and activities were paralyzed. The Tarbut schools and the other educational institutions and libraries were closed, and
the books that did not conform to the communist doctrine were destroyed. The rich and extensive Jewish press disappeared. Instead, small Jewish communist newsletters were published, containing soviet official news. The Jewish holdings in the banks were confiscated, as was the merchandise in the stores. The Jewish population, merchants and laborers, formerly busy with the struggle to maintain their businesses and develop, was now having one simple and basic worry: how to bring home a piece of bread for the children. The fear of hunger was becoming very real.
The Soviet rule in Luninyets ended in June 1941. The deadly events that occurred in Eastern Europe and the wild storm that swept the area reached Luninyets as well. Hitler's cruel soldiers broke into town and began murdering systematically the Jewish population. The first massacre was in the Jewish month of Av 1941. Almost all the men over 14 years of age were murdered and the women and children were imprisoned in the ghetto.
The second massacre occurred in Elul 1942. All the inhabitants of the ghetto were killed - shot and thrown into a mass-grave. All their property and possessions were robbed and stolen by the gentile population.
That was the bitter end of the Jewish holy community of Luninyets.
Luninyets was surrounded by smaller villages. 150 Jewish families lived in these villages, most of them craftsmen. Some had small shops, some were peddlers or owned flour-mills. In matters of religion and kosher slaughtering these village Jews were connected with the Luninyets community. On festive occasions, as weddings or circumcisions, they were helped by the Luninyets rabbi or Mohel. Their dead were buried in the Luninyets Jewish cemetery.
The Jews in the villages Lunin, Tzotzwitz, Bostin and Dyatlowitz had their own Torah Scroll and held Sabbath prayers. For the High Holidays they would invite a cantor from Luninyets.
We cannot list the names of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. We mention below the names of the villages and the number of families that had lived in each of them.
|Wolka 1, near Lunin||3|
|Wolka 2, near Kozhanhorodok||10|
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