“Krzemieniec” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume V
(Kremenets', Ukraine)

49°54' N, 25°45' E

Translation of “Krzemieniec” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem Published in Jerusalem


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Kremenets District Research Group

 

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume V, pages 179-186,
edited by Shmuel Spector, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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[Page 179]

Krzemieniec

A city in south Volhynia

by Avraham Kleban

Translated by Thia Persoff

 

Population

Year General
Population
Jews Notes
1765 ? 649  
1847 ? 3,791  
1864 8,553 4,261  
1897 17,704 6,339  
1921 416,068 6,616  
1931 19,877 7,256  
1942 ? 9.340 In the ghetto, including Jews
brought in from villages

Kremenets is a very ancient settlement. It was built near the trade routes between Galicia and Lithuania and between Poland and Kiev. The earliest information about it dates from 1064. It was passed from hand to hand among the princes of Kiev Russia and was burned and rebuilt a few times. Clear information about the place (from the Optayev chronicles) is available from 1226, when the Hungarian king tried to conquer the city. In 1240, the Tatars tried to conquer the city but failed to penetrate its fort. From the early 14th century, the city was within the domain of the Lithuanian principality, and on May 9, 1438, Prince Svidrigaillo gifted it with the privileges of a Magdeburg city. After the Lublin Confederation of 1569, the city was under the Polish crown's domain, as a regional city of Volhynia.

Even though the Jews are mentioned in Svidrigaillo's 1438 charter of privileges, it is doubtful if it pertained to a permanent Jewish settlement. Very likely, the prince wished to attract Jews there. If there were Jews in Kremenets in the second half of the 15th century, they were no doubt expelled along with the Lithuanian Jews and returned in 1503. From that date on, the Jewish settlement began to develop, and in 1536 there were quite a few Jews there. In that year, King Sigismund I gave Kremenets to his Queen Bona and again gifted the citizens with the Magdeburg privileges. At the same time, he limited the Jews' freedom and prohibited them from interfering in Christians' business. This document points to the Jews' economic power and the stand the Christian citizens took against it.

[Page 180]

The number of Jews in the second half of the 16th century can be seen in the census of the royal estates taken then:

Year Jewish
Houses
Jews % Jews in
Population
1552 48 240 10.6
1563 63 315 -
1629 169 849 15

When the head tax was imposed on the Jews in 1578, the Jews paid 100 guldens, a sum that shows that the number of Jews had reached a few hundred (about 500 persons). The number of Kremenets Jews continued to increase until the period of “the decrees” in the mid-17th century.

The 1563 census also mentions two synagogues, a poorhouse, and a Jewish cemetery. The Jews made their living mainly from business and various tenancies. The salt trade, in which the Jews played a large part, occupied an important place among the varied businesses. Another important branch of trade was the importation and fattening of bulls from Wallachia. The Kremenets Jews had business connections with greater Poland: According to a 1544 document registered in the Posen council books, the brothers Yitschak, Yosef, and Avigdor of Kremenets received a two-year protection document. Also, the many complaints by the Christian townspeople show that Jewish businesses and crafts were developing. As for tenancy, according to information from 1554 and 1557, Kremenets Jews leased taverns, and in the 1560s they leased the job of collecting some taxes (for businesses, stores, livestock fairs, etc.) in partnership with the Jews of Ludmir. Jews outside Kremenets leased taverns, mills, and breweries. One leaseholder mentioned is Yakov, son of Feliks of Vilna, who in 1563 paid a yearly sum of 750 shuk (Lithuanian currency), a very high price at that time. Among Jewish craftsmen in Kremenets, we know about the butchers: the Christian butchers complained that the Jewish ones refused to join their guild and pay the fee. Because of that, they had to pay the fee directly into the royal treasury.

In 1569, after the Lublin Confederation, Volhynia was annexed to Poland. Governor Alexander Chartorisky demanded the right to rule the Jews, and on August 6, 1569, it was granted. But because the king's clerks were found to be taking unfair advantage, King Stephan Batory—as a result of solicitation efforts by Volhynia community leaders—issued a written document on December 1, 1576, declaring (among other things), “The governors' deputies should not judge anywhere in the future unless two of the local synagogue's leaders also participate.”

Beginning in the 1670s, there was an active yeshiva in Kremenets. It leaders were some famous rabbis: in 1573, the teacher was R' Yitschak HaKohen Shapira, son-in-law of the MHR”M[1] of Lublin. Before 1587, the rabbinical seat was occupied by R' Mordekhay Yafe Ba'al Halevushim, who was also the head of the yeshiva. From 1587 until the end of the 16th century, the rabbinical seat was occupied by R' Shimshon ben Betsalel (the MHR”L of Prague's brother). He and 30 other rabbis are signatories on the regulation initiated by R' Yom-Tov Lipman Heler, which forbids the purchase of the title of rabbi. At the beginning of the 17th century, R' Yehuda son of Naftali held the office of head of the rabbinical court. The last rabbi before the decrees was R' Chayim son of Shmuel Ashkenazi Ish Tsvi. The rabbis of Kremenets were involved in council legislation activities; R' Shimshon son of Betsalel participated in the 1597 Council of Four Lands meetings in Jaroslaw and again signed on to the law about the rabbinate. Also, the year before, 1596, it is mentioned that one of the two judges from the state of Volhynia who participated in the Council of Four Lands meetings was R' Avraham of Kremenets. The Kremenets rabbis represented Volhynia, because at the end of the 16th century the Kremenets community was prominent, next to Ostrog, Ludmir, and Lutsk. Its leaders and rabbis are mentioned as participants in the Volhynia district meetings. For example, the abovementioned R' Chayim Ashkenazi participated in the spring 1635 conference in Vishnevets and the controversy about the Lukatsh rabbi (the one against whom R' Yom-Tov Lipman initiated the law against purchasing a rabbinate). Two sages from Kremenets who were famous even outside Kremenets were the holy R' Yosef the holy, son of R' Moshe, author of the commentary The Great Book of Commandments by R' Moshe of Kotsi, and R' Aharon Shmuel son of R' Moshe Meshulam, author of Man's Soul.

In October 1648, the Cossacks blockaded Kremenets, and after a month and a half of siege, they conquered it. Apparently, many of the Jews managed to escape, but the Jewish chroniclers of the time mention vicious murders of Jewish children. After several years, the Kremenets community had recuperated, and by 1655 the Kremenets representative, R' Yitschak son of Ozer, had signed a verdict issued by the leaders of the Council of Four Lands in Lublin. But in terms of numbers, in comparison with other communities, there was a freeze on the number of Jews in Kremenets (about 800 persons in 1629 and 649 in 1765). Among the causes for this were the Cossack rebellions, the Swedish wars in the early 18th century, the1753 blood libel, and the strong competition with the city's Christians for business and with the noblemen's “private” towns. In 1777 and 1778, the Christian citizens of Kremenets alleged that the Jews had no right to deal in tavern leases. This was brought to the Sejm, and in 1781 the court declared against the Jews, but the city's starosta[2], Prince Sangoszko, prevented the execution of the verdict.

[Page 181]

The citizens continued to complain that, being under the starosta's protection, the Jews refused to pay the business tax, house soldiers, or participate in bridge and road repair, and that they settled in streets that were forbidden to them. The writers of the 1789 lustration who mentioned those disputes said that as a result of those conflicts, many Jews left Kremenets, and the city's economy suffered greatly.

In spite of the restraints on Kremenets Jews, they maintained their representation on the regional council and the Council of Four Lands, and their representatives were very active there. The abovementioned R' Yitschak son of Ozer continued to represent Volhynia on the Council of Four Lands during 1661, as well as at the 1666 meeting in Przeworsk and in 1687, when the allotment of the tax among the Lands was discussed. At the Volhynia meeting, the Kremenets representatives participated in a manner befitting those from a prominent community. In 1705, R' Leyb son of Menashe and R' Leyzer son of Moshe of Kremenets joined those urging the well-known activist Fishel son of Leyb of Ludmir to agree to take the position of trustee and chairman of the council. In 1720, at the Volhynia meeting held in Kozin, Rabbi Shmuel son of Efraim and R' Moshe son of Menachem Mendel Margaliot (also mentioned as chairman of the region in 1735) of Kremenets added their signatures to the verdict concerning a rabbi's complaints that the leaders of his community were persecuting him. At the1724 meeting of the Council of Four Lands in Jaroslaw, there was a discussion about an old debt that the Council leaders owed the Kremenets community. In 1739, R' Arye Leyb participated as a Volhynia representative to the Council of Four Lands meeting that discussed the tax allotment. He was a wealthy man, and in 1739 he received a privilege document from King August III confirming his position as rabbi in Kremenets and his post as chairman of the Volhynia region and Council of Four Lands trustee. In 1750, during a dispute between the Volhynia region and the Pinsk community concerning Ovruch province, trustee Banir (?) from Kremenets signed a letter of invitation to the Chernobyl community. In 1758, the Volhynia regional council held two meetings: one in March, in Korets, at which the Kremenets community's decision to transfer 18 small settlements to the community of Teofipol (which was under Kremenets authority) was approved. Rabbis Arye Leyb of Kremenets and Shaul of Ludmir protested against the communities of Ostrog and Lutsk, accusing them of creating contention among the prominent communities and even accusing their trustees of embezzling funds and refusing to pay debts. To clear all this up, the council reassembled in August at Rakhmanov (near Kremenets), where the accused were cleared and the debts settled.

After the 1648 and 1649 edicts, R' Nachman son of Meir Katz Rapaport officiated in Kremenets. He had been a judge and presiding head of the court in Lemberg before moving to Kremenets. In 1661, he gave his approbation of the book Gates of Zion to R' Natan Neta Hanover. Apparently, in 1662 he moved to Dubno to officiate. After him, R' Yakov son of Eliezer Temerils of Worms officiated in Kremenets for many years. He was a well-known arbiter, steeped in the Kabbalah, and authored Book of Jacob's Humility, an explanation of the Torah according to the ARI's[3] teaching. In 1671, R' Meir son of Yitschak of Kremenets signed the agreements document at the Council of Four Lands meeting in Jaroslaw. During the 1680s and 1690s, R' Yehoshue Heshil, son of the head of the rabbinical court in Lemberg, was the rabbi in Kremenets. Available are his approbations of several books from 1688 to 1695. Apparently, R' Yakov son of Yitschak served after him. It was he was who gave his approbation to City of Benjamin in 1698 and Book of Horns in 1709. At the 1718 Council of Four Lands meeting in Jaroslaw, R' Shmuel of Ludmir signed the verdict as “resident of the holy community of Kremenets and the district [?].” In 1721, he gave his approbation to the book Living Torah. From 1742, R' Arye Leyb son of Shmuel served as rabbi of Kremenets. He was mentioned before for his involvement in the Council of Four Lands and the regional council. He was involved in the dispute between R' Yakov Emden and R' Yonatan Eybeshuts and gave approbations to several books. He officiated from 1752 to 1775, more than 30 years. After him came R' Arye Leyb of Pinczow, who gave an approbation in 1782, and R' Mordekhay son of Yisrael Heylperin, who came from Zaslav and immigrated to the Land of Israel in his old age. At the end of the 18th century, the famous preacher R' Yakov Yisrael Halevi, lived in Kremenets. He authored A Tribe of Israel, a commentary on the Book of Psalms; Bundle of Hyssop, an commentary on the Five Scrolls; and True Voice, a commentary on Proverbs. Also residing in Kremenets was R' Meshulam Fayvish Halevi Horovits; he authored Teachings of the Sages, on the Six Orders of the Mishna, which was published shortly after his death in Ostrog, in 1796.

After the second partition of Poland in 1793, Kremenets was annexed to the Russian empire. Now the city was near the Austrian border. Part of the economy was cut off, but proximity to the border created new ways of making a living, mainly smuggling. This line of business caused the governor of Volhynia to demand the removal of the Jews from the border area. In 1812, 1816, and 1821, decisions were made in St. Petersburg to do so. In April 1843, it was decided to move all Jews who lived within about 53 kilometers of the border to the inland districts. This decree was not executed, thanks to the Jews' intervention and their importance to the region's economy. Those edicts stood until 1854, when they were rescinded, and this applied to all the Jews except those who were not registered in the community, of which there were about 2,000 in Kremenets. In 1881, the governor announced a decree ousting those Jews from the border area, although it is questionable whether it was carried out.

In 1799, Kremenets had 24 Jewish merchants (those possessing 500 rubles) and 9 Christian merchants. There were 2,040 Jewish and 1,376 Christian citizens.

[Page 182]

The opening of the Polish Lyceum in the early 19th century made for a bit of an “awakening” in the economy, but in general the situation was difficult. According to the RYB”L's description, some dealt in small business and sales of hard liquor, and some labored in crafts. This condition, coupled with the preaching of R' Yitschak Ber Levinzon (RYB”L, from Kremenets) caused 52 Jewish families from Kremenets to request to leave the city and settle in the Kherson region, but this was not realized. At the end of the 19th century, there were factories producing soap, candles, paper, bricks, and metal casting in Kremenets and nearby, as well as small weaving, leather-processing, and shoemaking plants. Jews owned most of these and most small businesses. About 2,994 people made a living through manual labor: 1,774 were craftsmen, 647 were day laborers for the craftsmen, and 573 were apprentices. The carters, wagoners, and porters were all Jews. From that period until the beginning of World War I, Kremenets had a mutual credit society and a fund that helped the needy though no-interest loans.

During the 1830s, the Great Synagogue of Kremenets was built, and during the 1860s there were eight study halls in addition. In the first half of the century, the rabbis officiating in Kremenets were R' Tsvi Averbakh and R' Tsvi Hirsh Rokeach. At the beginning of the 19th century, Kremenets had a Hasidic rabbi, R' Mordekhay (who passed away in 1817), son of R' Yechiel Mikhel of Zloczow and in-law of R' Nachum of Chernobyl. Beginning in 1878, R' Naftali Herts Bernshteyn (grandson of R' Tsvi Averbakh) officiated, and in 1881, R' Velvele from Zvihil. After his death in 1906, there was a dispute in the community about who should be the city's rabbi, which ended in the city's having two rabbis: R' Yakov Chayim Senderovich (of Piotrkow), and R' Yitschak Heler (of Kurilovtsy), who published two books of Responsa: Isaac Acceded and The Offering of Isaac. Rabbi Heler left Kremenets in 1915 with the wave of refugees (who were mainly wealthy) and settled in Odessa. Rabbi Senderovich, who had served as the community's rabbi since 1907, stayed in the city until his death in 1927.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Tadeus Czacki, who founded the Lyceum in Kremenets, suggested establishing a school for Jewish teachers, but this did not take place.

In 1921, RYB”L returned to Kremenets and lived there until his death in 1860. RYB”L was one of the original Enlightened in Russia and preached in favor of higher education. He fought for reforms in education, the rabbinate, and the community and for the betterment of the Jews' economic conditions, and he tried to talk them into working as farmers. In the area of education, he succeeded in bringing about the establishment of schools for teachers in Vilna and Zhitomir. Using the Czacki library, he acquired knowledge of many languages, including the ancient ones, as well as philosophy and various sciences. In addition to his satirical compositions Words of the Righteous and Refayim Valley, linguistic research, and poetry, RYB”L wrote two books that spread his name throughout the Jewish Diaspora and created converts to the Enlightenment: Testimony in Israel and House of Judah. RYB”L gathered a group of intellectuals around him, including the Landsberg family, L. Etinger, and Hirsh Hirshfeld. During the 1930s, Avraham Ber Gotlober, a leading Enlightenment intellectual, taught in Kremenets. Among their followers were Noach Prilutski and the Yiddish playwright Yeshaye Gutman.

At the end of the 19th century, the Lovers of Zion movement took hold in Kremenets. At its head stood Tsvi Prilutski (who in later years was the editor of the daily Moment in Warsaw) and Dr. Tovye Hindes. In 1893 Tovye Hindes immigrated to the Land of Israel, and his place was taken by Dr. Arye Leyb Pines (brother of Yechiel Mikhel Pines).

At the beginning of the 20th century, a few Zionist organizations and a Bund chapter were already functioning in Kremenets. At that time, Kremenets had a few modern cheders founded by Hebrew teachers, a Jewish public school (supported by the municipality, with a 1,000-book library), in which 150 pupils studied, but Russian was the language of instruction. There was also a private high school for girls that lasted for a short time, as well as a School for Commerce.

During World War I, in summer 1915, when the Russian army began to retreat, hundreds of Jewish refugees from Galicia arrived in Kremenets. A committee headed by Rabbi Senderovich was formed to take care of the refugees, supplying them with food and seeing to their health and other needs. Very soon, the Russian authorities abandoned the city, and it was left without any authority for some months. To keep order in the community, a civil council was established, consisting of Jews and Christians and headed by the Catholic priest Bilatski and one of his seconds (after the February 1917 revolution, it was headed by a Jew). In addition, a civilian militia headed by a Jewish teacher was established. During Russian General Brusilov's counteroffensive, authority in Kremenets reverted to the Russians.

The 1917 revolution awoke vigorous communal activity in Jewish Kremenets. Chapters of the Young Zionists, Labor Zionists, the Bund, and the Folks Party were organized. The “Left” movements opened youth clubs and a children's home. Two elementary schools were opened, in which Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian were taught, as well as a Hebrew kindergarten. In spring 1917, the first democratic community elections were held, and representatives of all the political parties were chosen. In the same year, city council elections took place. Moshe Landsberg was one of the Jews elected to the council.

With the October 1917 revolution and the beginning of the civil war, Kremenets was under frequently changing authorities. As a result, the Jews were exposed to frequent robbery and looting.

[Page 183]

On December 15, 1917, there was an attempt to carry out a pogrom. As a result, under the initiative of the “Left” movements, a Jewish self-defense organization was established. During Bolshevik rule, Rabbis Senderovich and Yungerleyb were arrested, as was Dr. Bronshteyn; all were later released. When the Polish army entered the city again, a few community leaders were arrested, this time suspected of having ties to the Bolsheviks. Their innocence was soon proven, and they were released.

 

Between the Two World Wars

With the stabilization of the Polish regime, the economy, which had been damaged by the world wars and civil war, recovered for the Kremenets Jews. The years before 1929 were prosperous, and then came economic crisis, accompanied by the levying of high taxes by the authorities. From the mid-1930s, the Jews began to be pushed away from business and crafts, while the authorities encouraged and supported Polish enterprises and cooperatives. In those years, more than 50% of Jews made a living from commerce. Among them was a small group of wealthy persons who owned wholesale businesses and factories, including two steam-operated flourmills, factories producing oil, vinegar, and soft drinks, and two large shoe factories. Near the city, the Jews owned sawmills, peat farms, limekilns, and chalk, tar, and brick factories. Jews were employed in some of those factories and businesses. Jewish wholesalers dealt in the export of agricultural products and lumber and the import of a large variety of merchandise. Most Jewish businesses were small and dealt in all sorts of goods; these businesses included peddlers and market stall owners. About 40% of breadwinners worked in a large variety of crafts, and about half hired laborers, mostly a few. The other 10% made their living as technical professionals, mainly in the city's electrical power plant or as experts in efficient forest utilization. A few worked as clerks or as wagoners and porters. The wealthy and well-to-do merchants were organized into a merchant association, which established the Mercantile Bank. This took the place of the mutual loan society that had existed before World War I. The storeowners and peddlers were organized into the Small Business Association, and in 1925, with the crafts guilds, they established a People's Bank, which was connected to the National Jewish Cooperative for Credit. In addition, beginning in 1926, Kremenets reestablished its charity fund, which had been founded before World War I. A second charity fund was established in the Dubno suburb, which had a large Jewish population.

 

pol5_00183.jpg
Market Day in Kremenets (from the album Image before My Eyes)

 

In the early years of Polish rule, Kremenets was governed by appointed city councils. For example, in January 1927, of 18 members, 5 Jews were appointed to serve on the city council, even though Jews made up about 40% of the population. For several years, a Jew served as a vice mayor, and a few representatives in the city administration were Jews. In 1929, half of the city council members were Jews. In the 1930s, the number of Jewish representatives was reduced to two of seven. Jewish representation in the city council was important since, among other things, these members struggled to receive a fair share from the budget for their city institutions. Only in 1928 did the Jewish institutions receive half of the budget, which was then 42,000 gulden. The money was apportioned to these institutions:

Jewish Hospital 10,000 g.
ORT School 3,000 g.
Tarbut School 1,000 g.
Orphanage 2,000 g.
Charity Fund 800 g.
Evening classes for craftsmen 1,000 g.
Old-age home 1,600 g.
TOZ 800 g.
Hospitality 200 g.

Two years later (in 1930), the budget was 30,000 gulden, but their share was about a third of the allocations. The sum and share continued to decrease during the 1930s.

Until 1928, the democratic community chosen in 1917 continued with only small changes. In that year, four Zionists and three anti-Zionists were elected to the seven seats. A Zionist was elected head of the community. After his death in 1930, there was an election, and a representative from Pochaev, which was annexed to the Kremenets community, was also elected.

[Page 184]

pol5_00184.jpg
Tarbut Faculty and Students

 

In 1934, there was another election, but the council was dismissed in 1937 by order of the authorities because of internal strife; the authorities appointed a council that functioned until the 1938 elections. The community, which received its income from taxes, mainly payments for slaughter, maintained the rabbinate, the slaughterhouse, and the cemetery, and supported various educational, cultural, and charitable institutions. Kremenets had 13 synagogues. Of them, the Great Synagogue, in which famous cantors prayed, stood out in its splendor. After Rabbi Senderovich passed away (in 1927), R' Yitschak Rapoport served as rabbi. After his death (in 1931), R' Mordekhay Mendiuk (son-in-law of Rabbi Senderovich) was appointed. He was murdered in the Holocaust.

In 1922, a Hebrew high school, which also had preparatory classes, was founded in Kremenets. The high school struggled hard against budget shortages and the scheming of the Polish authorities until it was forced to close in 1928. In its place, a Tarbut Hebrew school opened, functioning until 1939. At its peak years, more than 200 pupils studied there. Since the World War I period, there had been a Hebrew kindergarten in Kremenets. It reopened after the war and functioned beside the school until 1939. The Talmud Torah, where 200 pupils studied, and the small yeshiva next to it continued to function between the two wars. In the early 1920s, an ORT vocational school (named after Y. B. Levinzon) opened. Here boys learned metalsmithing, mechanics, turning, and welding. Girls learned cutting and sewing. The schools organized evening classes in which young people and adults studied Hebrew and other subjects. There were several Jewish public libraries in Kremenets, containing thousands of volumes. The books in the Zionist libraries were mostly in Hebrew, and those in the craftsmen's guild (Bund) libraries were mostly in Yiddish. An amateur drama club and a string orchestra, performed for the public. The composer Jacob Schaeffer (1888-1936) and the violinist Isaac Stern took their first steps in music in Kremenets.

Since 1929 there had been efforts made to publish a newspaper in Kremenets, and on October 2, 1931, the weekly Kremenetser Shtime was founded. In August 1932 another weekly, named Kremenetser Vokhenblat, was established and competed with Kremenetser Shtime.

[Page 185]

After February 1933, the weeklies merged and were renamed Kremenetser Lebn. This continued to be published until September 1939.

In the first years of Polish rule, there was one Zionist Organization in Kremenets. In 1922 divisions began to appear, and chapters of the General Zionists, the Labor Zionists, Mizrachi, the Revisionists, the Women's International Zionist Organization, and others were established. In addition, youth movement clubs were established: in 1922 for Youth Guard, in 1923 for Young Pioneer, and then for National Guard, Religious Guard, Betar, and others. From the early 1920s, a Pioneer chapter was active in Kremenets, and its members went through training, mainly at the Jewish-owned sawmill in nearby Verba village. In 1932-1933, the Pioneer center in Kremenets had 40 members who worked in the flourmills, as lumbermen, and at other jobs. In 1933, the chapter had 300 members. The first 12 pioneers immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1921, and immigration continued until World War II began.

The election results for the various Zionist congresses were as follows:

For the 16th Zionist Congress (1929), 306 persons voted. The General Zionists received 163 votes; Mizrachi—22; Revisionists—4; Youth Guard—84; Labor Zionists—33.
For the 18th Zionist Congress (1933), 758 persons voted. The General Zionists received 136 votes; Mizrachi—22; Revisionists—1; Covenant/Revisionists—119; Land of Israel Workers' Party—433; Union—47.
For the 20th Zionist Congress (1937), 630 persons voted. The General Zionists received 256 votes; Mizrachi—28; Land of Israel Workers' Party—346.
For the 21st Zionist Congress (1939), 471 persons voted. The General Zionists received 126 votes; Mizrachi—41; Land of Israel Workers' Party—303; State Party—1.
Besides the Zionist movements, the Bund movement was functioning, too, mainly among the professional guilds of day laborers and craftsmen. Some young people were active in the Communist underground, and many were arrested and tried toward the end of the 1930s.

 

During World War I

In early September 1939, German airplanes bombed Kremenets. Jews were among the 40 dead. Very rapidly, the city was filled with thousands of refugees. This flow increased when the country's president and members of the Polish government arrived from Warsaw and settled in the city's high school buildings. On September 22, the Soviet army entered Kremenets. At first, the city had a Jewish mayor, and the top city officials were Jews—all of them local Communists—but soon Ukrainians who arrived from the east replaced them. Jewish commerce and work went through a process of Sovietization (nationalization and establishment of governmental cooperatives). Institutions and political parties were abolished, and the Hebrew school became a Soviet school, with Yiddish as the language of instruction.

On July 1, 1941, a short time after the German-Soviet war began, the German army entered Kremenets. The next day, the looting of Jewish property began; the Ukrainian militia kidnapped hundreds of Jews and arrested them. They were beaten cruelly on the way to prison, and when they arrived, they were ordered—while being severely beaten—to dig pits, where they found Ukrainian prisoners, apparently murdered by the retreating Soviet NKVD. The Germans accused the Jews of the murders, and as retribution they gave the Ukrainian police permission to kill the 800 Jews they had kidnapped. This was the severest blood pogrom in Volhynia, and it was done under the framework of “reprisal actions”; this was done in Lemberg, too. This slaughter, robbing, and looting were halted the next day by order of the local military commander.

In early August 1941, a decree was issued that Jews were to wear a special identification sign in the form of a white sleeve ribbon with a blue Star of David on it. After two months, it was changed to yellow patches worn on the chest and back. A Judenrat made up of past community leaders was established. The Judenrat was ordered to take charge of supplying people for forced labor, collecting ransom, distributing the meager food rations, and preparing a list of persons of assorted professions to be sent to work. These people, who included most of the Jewish intelligentsia, were taken out of town and murdered. This fact was not revealed to their families, who for a long time continued to bring food packages for their loved ones. . . . When the chairman of the Judenrat, Dr. Ben-Tsion Katz, was ordered to prepare another list, he refused, so the Germans murdered him. Yonye Grinberg (an active Bund member) took his place, but he, too, could not last long and suffered a nervous breakdown. In his place, a refugee from Lodz was appointed. The survivors' opinion of him is very negative.

 

pol5_00185.jpg
Final Elimination of the Jews of Kremenets

The message reads: “For the action on 20/08/1942 in the city Kremenets altogether 1,210 Jews (848 women and children and 362 men) were given the special treatment”

 

[Page 186]

At the end of August 1941, the Jews of Kremenets received a demand to pay a ransom of 11 kilograms of gold. One night, the Germans blew up the Great Synagogue and then forced the Jews to clear up the wreckage. They also burned the Jewish library, destroyed the cemetery, and used the gravestones for building purposes.

On March 1, 1942, the Kremenets Jews were herded into a ghetto, which was contained in three streets in the northwest part of the city. According to a municipal source, 9,340 persons were crowded in. The congestion was great; several families had to share a single apartment. The food ration per person was minute, about 100 grams of bread a day. In spite of efforts by the Judenrat to keep the place clean and supply nourishment to the needy in a kitchen they had opened, the death toll was great: 10-12 people died each day. Attempts to escape were generally unsuccessful, as the Ukrainian police who guarded the fences and the gates was very alert, and anyone who was caught was generally killed. Professional craftsmen in the ghetto were organized into “professional cooperatives.”

On the night of August 9, 1942, German and Ukrainian policemen surrounded the ghetto. About 1,500 workers, including the Judenrat personnel, the Jewish policemen, and their families, were removed to Belokrinitsa. On the next day, August 10, began the evacuation of the ghetto Jews from Kremenets into defense tunnels left from World War I, where all of them were murdered. The main evacuation of the ghetto took two days. Later many people were discovered, taken out of their hiding places, and killed. On August 18, everyone who had been removed to Belokrinitsa was annihilated. Thus came the final end of the Kremenets Jewish community.

An underground group was active in the ghetto. With the help of some Poles, it was equipped with weapons and false documents; their goal was to break out of the ghetto, go into the forests, and continue the struggle from there. The annihilation action on August 10 surprised the members during their preparation, so they began an impromptu battle, and during the two days of elimination, they killed a few German and Ukrainian policemen and ignited the ghetto houses, which burned for a whole week. There was some talk that young men from Kremenets were active partisans in the city neighborhoods, but apparently they did not survive.

The Red Army liberated Kremenets on March 19, 1944. About 20 Jews, mainly those who were hidden, survived.


Sources

AYV”Sh, JM/3204, E-645, E-646, 016/2162, 016/2152, 016/1393, 016/2891, M-1/E-1179, E/1099, E/759, JH/3204, 03/2037, 03/2219,
Government Military Archive, Z-3-866, Z-4/231/46-B, Z-4-3605-2, S-5/1773, Z-4-2023-1.
ChF”N, section 1, 01204,
Yalkut Volin [Volhynia anthology], vol. 1, no. 1 (1944), no. 2 (1944), no. 3 (1945).
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L. Shnayder (Artek), Like a Hunted Animal, Tel Aviv, 1977.
Voliner vokh [Volhynia weekly], Rovno, 22.9.1926, 9.10.1926, 15.10.1926, 22.10.1926, 12.11.1926, 14.1.1927, 21.1.1927, 18.2.1927.
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Voliner shtime [Volhynia voice], Rovno, 20.4.1928, 4.5.1928, 6.7.1928, 15.11.1929, 20.12.1929, 14.2.1930, 29.8.1930.
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Footnotes
  1. MHR”M is an abbreviation for “our teacher the rabbi, R' Meir.” Ba'al Halevushim literally means “master of the clothing,” after R' Yafe's compendium of Jewish law, Royal Garments (Levush Malkhut). MHR”L is an abbreviation for “our teacher the rabbi, R' Liva.” [Translation Editor] Return
  2. Starosta, which means “elder,” is a term used for various positions of leadership throughout Russian and Polish history. [Translation Editor] Return
  3. ARI is an abbreviation for the name of Rabbi Yitschak Luria. [Translator] Return


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