"Radzyn" - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VII
51°47' / 22°37'
Translation of "Radzyn" chapter
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
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This is a translation from:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities,
Poland, Volume VII, pages 543 - 547, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(pages 543 - 547)
(District: Lublin; Province: Radzyn)
At the beginning of the15th Century, Radzyn was a village owned by the family of the nobleman Pototzki. It was then called Cozi-Rinc. In 1468 it was recognized as a city, and the name was changed to Radzyn. In the 17th Century, it was one of the centers for Protestantism in Poland. In the middle of that century, it was seriously damaged in the Swedish invasion of Poland.
At the beginning of the 18th Century Radzyn was rehabilitated from the damage caused by the Swedes. Its economy and demography were revived, to a great extent by the market days and fairs held there that attracted visitors from the whole region. In the last partition of Poland in 1795, Radzyn became part of Austria, and in 1815 it was included in the Monarchy of Poland that arose under the auspices of Russia.
In the course of the 19th Century, light industries were established in Radzyn, including flourmills, tanneries and breweries.
A few Jewish merchants are mentioned for the first time in the 16th Century. The Jewish community grew slowly during the 17th and 18th, despite both the Swedish War and the invasion by the Cossacks. In records from that time, a few Jews are mentioned as lessees of distilleries. Most of the others were craftsmen. During the Austrian rule and afterwards, during the government of 'Congress Poland', the number of Jews in Radzyn grew steadily, despite the limitations on their residence in the border areas imposed by the Russian authorities in1823-1862. In 1857 they comprised more than half the population remaining at that level until the end of the First World War.
In the middle of the 19th Century, the Jews constituted an important factor in the economy of the city that had developed as a center of trade and crafts for the agricultural periphery. Most of them engaged in petty trade (storekeepers, market stall owners and peddlers) while some were craftsmen (tailors, shoe makers, butchers, etc.) others made their livelihood from collecting customs fees and inn keeping. In Radzyn, as well as in many other places, the market days and the annual fairs were one of the main sources of income for the Jews. Toward the end of the 19th Century, when development of small industry and manufacturing took place in Radzyn, the local Jews founded two metal goods factories, a sawmill and a flourmill.
In the 17th Century, there already was an organized Jewish community in Radzyn which had a leading position among the Jewish communities of the district. It had representatives on the 'Council of the Four Lands' mentioned in the records of the discussions in that council. In 1752 Jews from some of the surrounding villages were incorporated into the Radzyn Jewish Community.
In the 19th Century, Radzyn became famous among the Jews of Poland as a center of Torah learning thanks to Reb Yaakov Leiner the author of 'Beth Yaakov' (The House of Jacob). He had inherited the leadership of the Izbitzeh Chassidic Dynasty from its founder his father Reb Mordecai Yosef Leiner (d.1854). Reb Yaakov settled in Radzyn in 1867. His son, Gershon Henich Leiner, who replaced his father in 1878 wrote the tractate to the Seder 'Kdoshim' (a division of the Mishnah) and had it set up in print in the format of the traditional tractates of the six books of the Mishnah, thereby calling down on him the wrath of a number of rabbis. He is most famous for having renewed the use of the tchelet (blue dye), for the tzitziot (ritual fringes), which he extracted from the blood of a snail that he found on the shores of the Mediterranean in Italy .Only his Chasidim (followers) and those of Breslav adopted his method. He was also the Town Rabbi. After his death (1891) he was succeeded by his son Reb Mordecai Yosef Eliezer Leiner, the author of 'Tiferet Yaakov' (The Glory of Jacob). During the First World War he moved to Warsaw. However his son, Reb Shmuel Shlomo, returned to Radzyn and founded a yeshiva called 'Sod Hayesharim' (The Secret of the Righteous) after the title of one of his father's books. He was the only Chassidic Rabbi who urged his followers to flee into the forests and not to cooperate with the Germans. He perished in the Holocaust.
The existence of a large chassidic center in Radzyn served as an important stimulus for the local economy and for the growth of the Jewish population. The Chassidim who crowded into the Rabbi's court needed lodging and places to eat. The shops and workshops, too, enjoyed a brisk trade. Not only the economy was influenced by the presence of the Chassidim. It affected the character of the Jewish community itself which maintained its extreme religious orientation. Secular Jewish life developed much later. It was not until the eve of World War I, that a group of Jewish workers formed a credit union that could be seen as a precursor of 'Bundist' (Bund=Jewish Workers Socialist Party) activity. Only then did the core of the Zionist Idea, especially in its 'Mizrachi' (Religious Zionist) interpretation first penetrate to some of the students of the 'Beth Midrash' (study hall) of the Rabbi's followers.
Changes in the political and public life of the Jews of Radzyn came about during World War I. Despite the destruction and hardships, the conquering German authorities removed the strict restrictions on political, labor and similar activities that had been imposed during the Russian regime. 'Mizrachi' and 'Young Mizrachi ' branches were established in Radzyn. In 1917 a branch of the 'Tzeire Zion' (Young Zionists) was established which later formed the basis for the 'Poele Zion ZS' (Zionist Workers) faction. The Zionists established a library that also served as a meeting place for a dramatic group.
The Jews between the two World Wars
In the 20's and 30's the Jewish population of Radzyn remained unchanged. The local Jews continued with their traditional forms of occupational activities but their economic situation became gradually worse. This was due to both the economic crises that struck Poland at that time and the boycott of Jewish crafts, trade and services that the anti-Semites imposed in the late 30's. In addition to all this, a great fire broke out in June of 1929 that consumed many of the Jewish houses and left their tenants homeless.
In an attempt to cope with the situation, the Jews of Radzyn established a number of organizations and institutions of their own. In 1928 they founded the Jewish Merchants Association. At about the same time a Jewish Cooperative bank was established that provided commercial credit, at low interest rates, to Jewish merchants and tradesmen. The 'Gemilat Chesed' (Free Loan Fund) that had been established during the war increased its capital and credit and in 1928 it had some three hundred members. It granted interest free loans to small businessmen and to the needy. The'Kehillah' (Official Jewish Community Organization) also helped the most needy from its treasury. The 'Linat Tzedek' (Care for the Sick Association) added to its traditional activities the financing of medical care for the needy.
In the period between the two World Wars a Zionist rabbi, Reb Chaim Fine, served in the community. With the outbreak of the Second World War he fled to Russia but died on the way.
Even though orthodoxy was dominant in Radzyn for many generations, after World War I, very vigorous Zionist activities flourished. In addition to the branch of the 'Mizrachi' (Religious Zionist Party) that had been established during the war, branches of other Zionist parties and youth movements were founded. These included the 'General Zionists' (The 'On the Watch' and 'Time to Build' factions) 'Hitachdut' ('The Union' in 1929) and the 'Poele Zion Smol' (The Left Wing Young Zionist Workers) the 'Revisionists' and the Youth Movements 'Gordonia', 'Betar', 'Hashomer Hatzair' and 'Hechalutz'. In 1930 'Gordonia' established a pioneer training farm in a village near Radzyn.
For the 21st Zionist Cong(1937) some 400 'Shekalim' (A fee that entitled one to vote in the elections for the Zionist Congress) were sold in Radzyn. The 'Labor Bloc' won a majority among Radzyn Zionists.
Despite the growth of Zionism, the orthodox maintained their power. In 1921 a large and active branch of 'Agudath Yisroel '(ultra-orthodox party) was established. The 'Bund' (General Jewish Workers Socialist Party), which had been founded during the war years, became stronger and expanded its activities. Its members founded labor unions and established branches of its youth movement 'Zukunft' (Future) and its children's organization SKIF. A few local Jews were active in the communist underground but concealed this by focusing their activities on the labor unions.
In the elections to the 'Vaad Hakhillah' (Jewish Community Council) in 1924 and 1929 'Agudath Yisroel' got half of the mandates. But in 1931, it lost power while the combined slate of 'Zionim Klalli'im' (General Zionists) 'Mizrachi' and representatives of the craftsmen won a majority.
The vigorous community and political activities of this period were accompanied by similar lively activity in the areas of culture and Jewish education. The various political parties and youth movements sponsored amateur dramatic clubs, evening classes etc.; some of them maintained libraries. The sports organization 'Hakoach' had a branch in Radzyn (established in 1923).
Many of the children from the community continued learning in the traditional 'Talmud Torah'. In the beginning of the 20's, a school belonging to the 'Tarbut (Culture) Network' was established. However, it closed a few years later. In 1929 'Agudath Yisroel' erected a 'Beis Yisroel' (House of Israel) Girl's School. Some Jewish children, usually girls, studied in the local state run schools especially of the 'Shabasovka' type that were closed both on Saturday and Sunday.
The Jews of Radzyn were represented in the City Council almost proportionally. In the elections of 1924 and 1930 they won nine places out of the 18 on the city council. In 1939 they presented a united list ('The Citizens Bloc') but gained only 6 seats.
The virulent anti-Semitism that spread throughout Poland during this period did not fail to hit Radzyn. At the end of 1935 and the beginning of 1936, there were anti-Semitic incidents, which forced the municipality to issue a public condemnation. In 1937 Polish youths ran wild smashing windows of Jewish houses and businesses. Five of the leaders were arrested.
In the period of the World War II
Only in the middle of October 1939 did the Germans conquer Radzyn, after most of the other towns in the district had already fallen into their hands. Their entrance into Radzyn was held up by the fierce resistance of units of the Polish Army commanded by General Kalbers. The Red Army held Radzyn for some time, but when they retreated eastward to the line agreed upon in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, many young Jews accompanied them. Before being conquered by the German Army, the city was bombed heavily by the German Air Force causing many deaths and heavy damage.
In the very first days of the conquest SS personal reached Radzyn and the persecution began. One rainy day, the SS broke into the synagogue and the religious school, ripped up the Torah books and threw them into the mud. They grabbed some religious Jews and tore off their beards ordering the Jews to dance and sing obsequiously with the mud covered and torn Torah Scrolls.
On the 3rd of December1939 a number of wagons loaded with Jews who had been driven out of Lubartov, arrived in Radzyn. They told that all the Jews had been evacuated from their town and were only allowed to take very little baggage with them. On hearing the account of the deportees, a number of young people together with a few families decided to cross the Bug River into the territory that was controlled by the Russian Army.
In November 1939 the Germans imposed on David Lichtenstein, the last head of the 'Kehillah', the task of raising a fund of 30,000 zlotys, meanwhile taking ten Jews as hostages. Lichtenstein, who was 70 at the time and among the richest members of the community, paid 10,000 zlotys from his own pocket and managed to raise the remaining sum, and due to him the lives of the hostages were spared.
On their arrival in Radzyn the Germans began to kidnap Jews for slave labor. The gendarmes and the policemen who guarded the laborers would humiliate, torture and beat them at every opportunity.
On December 6th 1939, most of the Jews were driven out of Radzyn to neighboring Slavatitzeh. Only a few were left in Radzyn. On orders from the Germans, Lichtenstein established a Judenrat of nine members most of whom had been Zionist leaders. The Judenrat made Shimon Kleinboim, who had been an official of 'The Joint' in Poland, responsible for matters of welfare and mutual aid including aid to the Jews in the vicinity. (His son, Mosheh Sneh was a well-known Zionist leader in Poland and in Israel and later a leader of the Israel Communist Party). The Judenrat was also responsible for seeing that the Jews appeared for forced labor. Males between the ages of 15 to 60 were obliged to work one day a week on a rotation basis. Most of them did so in maintenance of the soldiers quarters, chopping wood, cleaning the grounds and sweeping the streets. Along with the Judenrat, a Jewish Police force was set up. At the beginning of 1940 all Jewish property was confiscated "for the good of the Reich".
In April of 1940, most of those who had been banished to Slavatitzah were returned to Radzyn. The main streets had already been cleared of Jews, so they were forced to find places to live in the side streets. Meanwhile additional Jews from Slavatitzah and Miedzyrzec Podlaski (Mezerich) arrived and the number of Jews in Radzyn reached some 2000 souls.
At the end of 1940 the Judenrat was ordered to move all the Jews in Radzyn, both veterans and the newcomers, to three streets in the old Jewish quarter of the town. Up until the fall of 1941 the ghetto was open and its inhabitants were allowed to move freely to other parts of the city.
During that period most of the Jews were employed in agriculture in the vicinity of Radzyn. In July of 1940 some three hundred Jewish males from Radzyn were taken to partially open work camps, where they worked regulating the flow of the Kishnah River. The Germans made the Jewish Police responsible for organizing the draft to the forced labor brigades. The policeman also accompanied the Jews on their way to work and made sure that they did not go through those streets that Jews were forbidden to go into.
On the 1st of January 1941 the Judenrat was ordered to collect up all items made from fur belonging to Jews and turn them in to the Gestapo headquarters. The Judenrat did as it was ordered and collected the furs. However the Germans were not satisfied with the amount that they received. They broke into the Jewish houses, searched them smashing everything in sight, stealing belongings, insulting, beating and torturing the Jews. In addition to the furs, the Judenrat was ordered to give the Germans two kilograms of gold. This time too, they took five Jews hostages whom they shot in order to terrify the Jews.
In May of 1942, there were 2,071 in the Radzyn ghetto. A clandestine youth group, composed of members of the 'Hashomer Hatzair' and other Zionist organizations was operating in the ghetto. They were very active in various cultural activities but their main purpose was to arrange for Jews to flee to the forests and to set up fighting units. Among those who supported the flight to the forests and active resistance, was the Hassidic Rabbi Shmuel Shlomo Leiner. In June of 1942, the Gestapo learned of this through informers. When the Gestapo came to his house to arrest him he came out wrapped in his prayer shawl and with a prayer on his lips. Accompanied by his weeping followers he was led to square in front of the synagogue and executed there. The poet Yitzchak Katznelson commemorated this event in his poem 'The Song About The Radzyner'.
On the 22nd of September 1942 the Gestapo arrested 200 Jews, marched them out of town and shot them.
In the beginning of October 1942, the commander of the SS ordered all the Jews to gather in the open space between the synagogue and the study hall for a roll call. The members of the Judenrat were ordered to explain to the crowd that this was necessary to disprove the rumor that Jews from other ghettoes had infiltrated and found asylum in Radzyn without registering with the Judenrat. This was an act of deception that was intended to prevent Jews from fleeing. On that day 800 residents of the ghetto were deported to Treblinka. This 'aktzia' was followed by additional 'aktzias'. On the 14th of October a group of German gendarmes, SS members and Gestapo officers came to the Radzyn ghetto accompanied by Polish policemen. The Jewish police were ordered to lead them to possible hiding places. Those Jews who were caught were rounded up and held in an empty lot. By the 16th of the month, some 1000 of these hidden Jews, men, women and children were captured and deported to the ghetto at Miedzyrzec. On the 27th of October they together with Jews from other ghettoes in the vicinity were sent to Treblinka. Some Jews died along the way from overcrowding and thirst. When the train reached Treblinka some 10 to 15 dead were found in each railroad car. Many of the deportees tried to escape by jumping from the train, some of whom died in the attempt, while many others were captured by Poles and handed over to the Germans. A few escaped successfully and joined the Partisan groups or found shelter with peasants.
After this expulsion Radzyn was declared 'Judenrein' (purged of Jews). The Gestapo employed a small group of Jews from Radzyn in well-guarded labor camps.
The Jewish partisans from Radzyn, who fled to the forests, organized themselves into a number of groups. One group lead by Yitzchak Kleinman hid in two bunkers, fifteen fighters in each bunker which they erected in the forest that extended in the direction of Kotzk. A peasant from one of the nearby villages promised to get them arms in return for a substantial payment. At first he promised them 15 rifles. A group of fighters went far away to get the promised weapons. When they returned to the bunker they did not find any of their comrades among the living. It turned out that some informers turned them over to the Germans, who blew up the bunker and its inhabitants. The Germans captured, tortured, and executed two of those who had returned. The survivors from this group, fifteen young people led by Yitzchak Kleinman, organized partisan activities. In their first action in February 1943, they liquidated two Gestapo officers who were outstandingly cruel. Latter they eliminated a 'Folksdeutsche' (A German living in Poland), an anti-Semitic owner of a dairy in the village of Stare Viyesh, who had denounced to the Gestapo every Jew that he met. They loaded the products of his dairy onto wagons and hauled it to their bunkers in the forest. They continued liquidating informers and ambushed a German vehicle carrying three Nazi officers, killed them and took their weapons and uniforms. Unfortunately, Yitzchak Kleinman took sick with typhus and there was no choice but to hospitalize him in the Miedzyrzec Ghetto where he was killed in his hospital bed by the Germans.during one of the last 'aktzias' that took place in that ghetto.
Another partisan group of Radzyners led by Leib and Laizer Pantshak operated in the forests between Radzyn and Vishnitzeh. Together with other Jewish partisan groups from the vicinity, they carried out a number of daring operations. However in the summer of 1944, a short time before the Red Army liberated the area, this group of partisans was liquidated by a group of Polish partisans belonging to the 'Armya Krajowa' (the Polish Underground connected with the Polish Government in Exile in London).
A number of additional Radzyn residents were spread out among different partisan units. Among them was Dinah Rosewald who fought in the forest of Vilna, and Yaakov Pantshak, Moshe Agmon and a number of others.
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