“Jozefow” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VII
(Poland)

50°38' / 21°26'

Translation of “Jozefow” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem
 


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Morris Gradel z"l

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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 256-258, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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Jozefow
(Bilgoraj District, Lublin Province)

Translated by Corinne Appleton

Population Figures

YearTotal
Population
Jews
1778-392
18271,069692
1867973656
19211,3441,056

Up to 1725 Jozefow (J) was the property of a noble family, Zamojski. In that year J attained the status of town together with the right to hold markets and fairs – from then on the town rapidly expanded. In 1772, following the first partition of Poland, it was included in the Russian territory and lost its town status. In the 19th century, in the period of the Kingdom of Congress Poland, the J population decreased. Most engaged in small trade and crafts. In 1869 a sugar factory and warehouses were set up.

At the end of the 17th century there was already a small Jewish community in J. With Jewish initiative, the business of trading in wood developed in the town, and this eventually became an important source of income for the local Jewish population. In 1835 a group of J Jews sought to establish an agricultural settlement in the surrounding area of the town; they received parcels of land from the landlords, but in the end were unable to realize the project. In the 19th century the production of alcoholic drinks, as well as the marketing of beer and wine, was concentrated in the hands of the Jews. In 1886 a Jew from J, Izrael Frankel, founded a glass plant. Some of the Jewish craftsmen were famous throughout the whole area for their skills as tailors, hatters, shoemakers, and so on.

In the 19th century J was the centre for the printing of Jewish books. At the beginning of the century, probably 1824, Dawid Saadia and Szaja Waks founded a Hebrew printing press, which soon gained ground. They produced many books, and also provided employment and income for Jews who worked as typesetters, printers, proofreaders, bookbinders, and such like. Waks' printing house functioned for 35 years. In 1865 another printing house was set up in J by the brothers Baruch and Szlomo Zecer, this proving even more successful than the first. (Later, they became the owners of the first house too.) About this time Moshe and Mendel Sznajdmesser from J established two printing houses in Lublin.

By the end of 17th century the Jewish community of J was well established and had set up community and religious institutions. In the beginning prayer attendance was in a rented house in the market square. In 1735 a synagogue was built with help from the “Council of the Four Lands” (for this and other terms, see notes at the end of this translation) which provided a loan for this purpose. The Council even agreed to spread the payments over a number of years, to lighten the community's burden. Up to the beginning of the 19th century there was no Jewish cemetery in J and the deceased were brought to burial in the Bilgoraj cemetery.

The J Jewish community is mentioned several times in the discussions of the “Council of the Four Lands”, and it seems that this was one of the most important communities in the area. The rabbinic chair held great prestige and many famous rabbis filled the post. For some years Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, also known as the Preacher from Brody (died 1869), served the community. According to tradition, the Preacher from Brody is said to have written 375 books, counted according to the geometric numbering presented by the letters of his name, Shlomo. He probably served the community from 1815-1821. Afterwards the name of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Waks, author of the book “Living Soul”, is mentioned. In later life he became the rabbi of Kalisz. In 1725 Rabbi Yakov Yitzhak Halevi Horowicz, the Seer from Lublin, was born in J.

Among the rabbis who served the community: R. Tsvi Hirsz Minz, R. Ze'ev Yitzhak, students of the Seer from Lublin and the Preacher from Brody, R. Nechemia, R. Tsvi Hirsz Ben Yakov, R. Nathan (in 1885), Rabbi Yechiel Yeshayahu Minzberg and his son Rabbi Avraham Eliezer, who emigrated to the Land of Israel (died in 1924). At the end of the 19th, century, R. Shalom Josef Hercsztark who was famous throughout Poland served the Jozefow community, (died in 1924). The last rabbi to serve, Rabbi Shimon Prancewski, the son-in-law of Rabbi Hercsztark, perished in the Holocaust.

During the First World War, the first Jewish political organizations were set up in Jozefow: branches of the Zionist Federation and Hamizrachi.

Between the Two World Wars

During the period between the two world wars, there were no great changes in the professional make up of the Jews of J. Their main sources of income continued to be small trading and crafts, and hawking in the villages, markets and fairs. The craftsmen were mainly tailors, hatters and shoemakers. A few families made a living leasing orchards in the villages and nearby estates. Some Jews cultivated fruit and vegetables, and a very few traded in wood. At that time Jews owned a brewery and a plant producing alcoholic drinks.

Most of the Jews suffered economic hardship, and at the end of the war a soup kitchen financed by the 'Joint' was set up for those in need. In 1927 a Provident Fund was opened with a basic capital of 2,000 zloty, and in 1929 a Jewish cooperative bank, named “The Traders' Fund” was established. The Association of Expatriates of Bilgoraj and District in the United States supported the town's indigent Jews, but in spite of all the help it was often necessary to hold fund-raising events in nearby towns to ensure the survival of the town's aid institutions.

Most of the Jozefow Jews were practising religious Jews and public activities were concentrated to a large extent in the 'stiebelech' (prayer rooms) of the Alexander, Warki and Amishow Chassidim. The largest, most influential Chassidim were the Gur Chassidim. Because of the traditional religious character of the community, modern political and social organizations were established later than in other communities. It was only towards the end of the 1920's that branches of Hechalutz (for younger members), and 'The Worker' (for adults), were set up. Other organizations active in Jozefow during those years were Hamizrachi and Poalei Zion. Towards elections to the Zionist Congress in 1930 about 100 'shekels'(voting rights) were sold in Jozefow. Active too were non-Zionist organizations such as Agudat Yisrael and the Bund, the latter with but a few members, though in their clubhouse extensive cultural activities took place. The leadership of the J Jewish congregation was in the hands of Agudat Yisrael.

Up to 1924 R. Shalom Josef Hercsztark occupied the rabbinic chair; after his death R. Shimon Prancewski was elected to the post, and he served until the start of the Second World War. The community supported a Talmud Torah, and there was also a Yeshiva in Jozefow where about 50 students, some of them from other towns, studied. In 1926 the Mizrachi movement opened a primary school of the 'Yavneh' chain of schools, and in 1928 Agudat Yisrael established a girls' school of the Beth Yaakov network.

During the Second World War

At the beginning of September J was bombed by German planes and most of the houses burned down. The majority of the Jews as well as other residents left the town and found shelter in nearby villages; after about a week they returned. The Jews settled in the few houses that had survived the bombing raids. The Germans conquered the town in the middle of September but withdrew after only eight days, and were replaced by Soviet troops. During the short period of the German conquest Jews were kidnapped into forced labour gangs for work within the town, mainly to remove the ruins and clear the streets of debris caused by the bombings. The Soviets remained in Jozefow just three days and left when the border between the German and Soviet zones of Poland was finally drawn. Some 300 Jews accompanied the Red Army on their exit, and moved to a Soviet area of conquest. The Germans immediately returned to Jozefow. They placed the Polish police in charge of running the town's affairs.

At the end of 1939 the Germans set up in J a Jewish labour camp. At first, groups of Jews were brought in from Opole and were engaged in digging draining ditches close to the River Wisla. These labourers exchanged tasks every six weeks. In 1940 the work camp was extended and more Jews were now brought in from Warsaw and other towns. In August 1940 the head of the Judenrat in J, Adam Tchernichow, was ordered to send equipment for 500 workers who had been dispatched from Warsaw to the J camp. The inmates laboured in the nearby quarries. Living conditions were harsh and many died of starvation, lack of medicine and medical care.

A ghetto was never established in J. In March 1941 Jews banished from Kazimierz Dolny and from Konin arrived in J, and together with J Jews numbered approximately 1,300. In April 1941 German police executed, by shooting, about 90 Jews. In October 1941 another 180 Jews were murdered.

In July 1942 there remained in the camp some 1,800 Jews. At the beginning of the month a 'selection' took place in Jozefow: 200-400 men, fit for work, were sent to a labor camp in the area of Lublin. It would appear that the original intention was to send them to Majdanek. However, the fate of these men is not known.

On 13th July, 1942, 1,200 of the J Jews were murdered by reserves of the battalion 101 of the German police. Prior to this action two units of the battalion were brought to J from Bilgoraj and Frampol where they were stationed, and attached to the unit in J. On the evening of the 12th of July the battalion commanding officer, Major Trap, assembled the officers of the battalion and informed them of the mission assigned to them: the murder of all the Jews of Jozefow. The men were told that the action, to be discharged the following day, should be 'very interesting'. They were ordered to be ready to leave at midnight, the 13th of July, 1942. In the briefing received by the police unit before the action, the murder of the Jews was justified as revenge for the bombing of German towns by the allies, and as punishment for the fact that many Jews supported the partisan units active in the area. Major Trap was willing to exempt those who did not wish to participate in this action. At first no one requested this, but later ten policemen asked to be released. Although one of the officers threatened to punish those who asked for release (apparently he demanded they be executed), in fact no proceedings were taken against those who refused to participate in this murderous exercise.

Members of the battalion were divided into three groups. One group brought the Jews out of the houses and into the market square; the second guarded those already concentrated in the square, and the third group went into the nearby forest where they were to commit the actual murders. The sick, the old and children who could not walk to the assembly point were murdered in their homes. The Jews arrived at the square carrying parcels and suitcases, but were ordered to leave them there. Groups of 30 and 40 men were pushed into trucks and transported to the nearby forest, ordered to lie on the ground and then shot in the back of the neck. No trenches had been dug for burying the bodies, so the murder site was changed from time to time, and murders took place in different parts of the forest. This murder assignment took over eight hours to accomplish, and was completed towards evening of July 13th, 1942. About 70 Jews now remained in the town, and these were ordered to collect and sort through the belongings of the murdered Jews. On 21st September, 1942, this group was also murdered.


Notes:

Council of the Four Lands: the Jewish self-governing body in Russia-Poland originating in the 16th century. Named for the four regions of Major Poland, Minor Poland, Red Russia and Lithuania, it was called in Hebrew 'Va'ad Arba Artzot'.
Chassidism / Has(s)idism: the Jewish revivalist movement originating in eastern Europe in the late 16th century. It maintains many of the characteristics of the time, such as its dress. Diverse sects of Chassidism hail from different towns and follow different leaders or 'rebbes'.
Bikur Cholim: literally 'Visiting the Sick'. but also health service, or even hospital.
Linat Zedek: basically a hospice for the poor and homeless, it also carried out a number of other welfare tasks.
Joint: Joint Distribution Committee, an American Jewish organisation founded in 1914 to provide relief to European Jews during the First World War, later expanded to service Jewish communities worldwide.
Mizrachi: the Orthodox Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.
Poalei Zion: 'Workers of Zion', a Marxist Jewish party founded in 1906. Its ideological 'father' was Dov Ber Borochov.
Agudat Israel: the Orthodox Jewish (anti-Zionist) political movement organised in 1912 in Europe, seeking to sustain the values of traditional eastern European Jewry.
Judenrat: Committee of Jews ordered by the Germans to represent the Jews. Its main task was to provide the Germans with slave labour.


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