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Translation of Ryki chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 550-553, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Ryki was founded in the fifteenth century as a private village of Polish noblemen. In 1553, it encompassed 20 wooden houses, and its population numbered some 260 souls. In 1782, it was granted the privileges of a city, but in 1794, most of its houses were destroyed in a large fire, and its restoration took many years. In 1795, with the third partition of Poland, Ryki was transferred to Prussia; in 1807, it became part of the Duchy of Warsaw established by Napoleon; and from 1815 until the end of the First World War, it was included in the Congress Kingdom of Poland. With the outbreak of World War I, Ryki became a battle site, and many of its residents left.
A late-sixteenth-century document mentions a Jewish merchant residing in Ryki, and it is assumed that the first Jews settled in the area at that time. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, references are made to several Jews who leased a whiskey distillery. In 1764, seventeen Jewish families resided in Ryki. Most of the Jewish breadwinners were craftsmen (bakers, tailors, and cobblers). In that period, the townsfolk contrived to impose many burdens on Jews trying to settle in Ryki, and they sought to limit the ability of the Jewish lessees to earn a living. Jews whose houses were in the market place or the nearby streets were required to sell them, and the rental to Jews of houses in the center of town was forbidden. Gradually, however, the town granted the Jews some privileges, including the right to purchase inexpensive lots on a new street and to acquire construction lumber gratis.
The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a rapid growth of the Jewish settlement in Ryki. Even the limitations placed by the Russian authorities on Jewish settlement in Ryki, because it was near the border, failed to curtail that trend, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the Jews formed a clear majorityabout 90%of the local population. That ratio prevailed until the First World War.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Ryki was a center of commerce and crafts for the surrounding agricultural region, and that position influenced the manner in which the local Jews earned their livings. Most were merchants or craftsmen; some were innkeepers or barmen. Many Jewish craftsmen were tailors and butchers, but they practiced various other trades as well. Among those involved in commerce were four wealthy merchants, sixteen shopkeepers, and fifty-four peddlers and operators of market stalls. In Ryki as elsewhere, the weekly markets and annual fairs were a central source of livelihood for the local Jews. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Jews of Ryki also established several small industrial enterprises, including a leather works and a lace factory.
At first, the Jews of Ryki were affiliated with the nearby Garwolin (q.v.) community. In 1842, they obtained the status of an independent community, built a stone synagogue and a study-house, and dedicated a cemetery. Later, Hasidic shtieblakh (small prayer houses) appeared, and the town became known as a center of Hasidism.
The first rabbi of the Ryki community, Rabbi Barukh b. Me'irthe Maggid of Rykiheld an important place in the Hasidic world as well. During his 30 years of service in Ryki, R. Barukh became known as an energetic public figure. At his initiative, several Jewish welfare agencies were foundeda free loan fund and societies to care for the sick and provide free hospitality to indigent wayfarers. His successors known by name include R. Zevi Hirsch Ashkenazi (who in his old age immigrated to the Land of Israel); R. Elijah Hayyim Zuckerkop; R. Issachar (d. 1900); R. Natan Neta Romer and his son, R. Jacob Romer; R. Joseph b. R. Moses Pinhas (in 1910); R. Asher Elimelekh Hofstein (the last Admor of Kozeniece, d. 1935); and R. Judah Pfeiffer, the son-in-law of R. Jacob Romer and the community's last rabbi. He died during the period of Nazi rule but was brought to burial.
In 1904, the first Zionist club was organized in Ryki, and, after a few years, branches of Mizrahi and Po`alei Zion were founded as well.
Three months after the outbreak of World War I, the Russian authorities expelled the Jews from Ryki, alleging they were German sympathizers and therefore suspected to be spies. The expellees from Ryki were dispersed throughout the area, but with the conquest of Ryki by the Germans in 1915, most of them returned to their homes. The period of German conquest also was a harsh one for the residents of the town. The city suffered heavy damage from shelling and fires during the course of the battles, and the local economy was paralyzed as well. Merchandise was confiscated from shops; men fit to work were drafted for forced labor; and the freezing of commerce and trade subjected the residents to severe shortages of food and other basic necessities. Many Jews were left with no livelihood, and a communal kitchen that supplied 150 hot meals daily to the needy was opened on their behalf.
But despite the harsh economic straits, the war years were a time of cultural and political awakening. The Jews of Ryki established all manner of cultural and social enterprises, training programs for youth, dramatic and sporting clubs, and the like. The 1918 elections for the community council in Ryki saw a sharp battle between Zionists and Hasidim, and the Zionists prevailed. At the end of 1916, the Jews won six mandates on the municipal councilone-half of the total.
Most of the Jewish townsfolk earned meager livings, and some needed assistance from the community or from the established charities, including the free-loan fund (Quppat Gemilut Hasadim) that renewed its activity in 1922. In 1937, its assets were 32,000 zloty, and it made about 800 loans during the years 1932-1937. In 1926, a Jewish cooperative bank was founded in the town; it developed well and even earned a profit. A society to care for the ill (Biqqur Holim), transferred in 1936 to the free hostel society (Linat Zedeq), assisted those needing payment for medical treatment.
In addition to the Mizrahi and Po`alei Ziyyon movements already established in Ryki and their respective youth groups, this period saw the founding of new parties and movementsthe General Zionists and their youth group and, later, a branch of the Revisionist Zionists and a cell of the Betar movement. Beginning in 1930, the members of Ha-Po`el ha-Mizrahi, among the most active in town, ran an aliyyah (emigration to the Land of Israel)-preparation group at the local sawmill for in-town youth and those from other cities.
Agudat Yisra'el also was active in Ryki, as was the Bund, founded before the First World War and numbering now several tens of members. A few Jews also belonged to the Communist underground, and two of them were arrested during the thirties.
Throughout the twenties and thirties, Agudat Yisra'el dominated the communal leadership, and one of its representatives chaired the community. The Hasidim likewise were represented on the council. The Zionists generally won two or three seats on the council and the Bund, one. On the municipal council, the Jews held on average eight of eighteen seats, and a Jewish representative served as vice-mayor.
During this period, many children in the community continued to attend private heders. In 1927, an elementary school for girls, affiliated with the Beit Ya`aqov movement, was founded; between 70 and 80 girls studied there. After a few years, Agudat Yisra'el also organized a school for boys, Yesodei Torah. In 1930, the Zionists attempted to open a Tarbut Hebrew school in town, but their plan was not carried out.
The twenties and thirties came under a cloud of increasing anti-Semitism, in Ryki as in most parts of Poland. In 1922, the landowners in the area organized to confiscate the Jewish lessees. On a market day in 1937, a farmer provoked a Jew and a fight broke out; the Jew prevailed. When word got out, the anti-Semites opened a campaign of incitement and planned to take revenge on the Jews at the next market day. The young Jews of Ryki foiled their plan, however; on the market day, they took to the streets armed with everything that came to hand, forcing the hoodlums to back off.
On the day after the conquest, the Jews were ordered to assemble in the market square. The Germans selected 400 young people and sent them to work in Deblin. They were lodged in a Polish army camp and assigned to work in supply warehouses. After a few days, the workers were returned to Ryki. A curfew was imposed on Ryki and the residents were forbidden to leave their houses between 6:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. During the first days of the conquest, the Germans would snatch Jews from their homes and from the streets for forced labor, assigning them primarily to clearing out wreckage, repairing bombing damage, and performing various services. Chaos prevailed in the town during the weeks following the conquest, and attacks on Jews and their property by Germans and Polish anti-Semites became a common practice. Early in October 1939, a small unit of German soldiers was stationed in Ryki, and order was restored. In the middle of October, a Judenrat was established, headed by Samuel Gutweiser and encompassing a Jewish police force numbering ten officers. One of its supervisors was Jacob Mandelbaum. Upon its establishment, the Judenrat conducted a census of the Jews of Ryki in anticipation of forced labor conscription.
At the start of 1940, the Germans increased the forced labor levy, and the Judenrat was required to provide several hundred laborers each day. In June 1940, the German in charge of forced labor in the province, one Kovalsky, directed that 100 laborers be sent from Ryki to the labor camp in Janishuv, to work on excavation and drainage of the Vistula River. The Judenrat was in touch with the workers in the labor camps and sent them packages of food and clothing from their families. In 1941, the Germans demanded additional laborers. At the beginning of the year, 90 workers were taken to the labor camp in Pulawy (q.v.), about twelve km. from Ryki. In the summer, on the eve of invading the Soviet Union, the Germans demanded another 200 laborers, but lobbying by Gutweiser, the head of the Judenrat, persuaded them to be satisfied with only 45. These laborers were sent to work on fortifications in the Belzhats region. At the outbreak of hostilities with the Soviet Union, another 200 forced laborers were taken from the Ryki ghetto to work at munitions dumps in Stawi and other sites.
The Judenrat found it difficult to deal with the rising stream of refugees. They were lodged in public buildings such as the study hall and the shtieblakh, which no longer functioned as prayer houses. At the end of 1940, a ghetto of very limited area was set up in Ryki, into which 1,800 Jews were tightly packed. The Judenrat made great efforts to provide the necessities of life to the ghetto's residents. At the beginning of 1941, the J.S.S. (Independent Jewish Assistance) organization in Krakow sent the Judenrat a sum of money, used to open a communal kitchen and an infirmary. The infirmary occupied the study hall building and was run by a physician, Dr. Kestenbaum. In the winter of 1941, a typhoid epidemic broke out in the ghetto and claimed about 50 lives, but the medical staff managed to contain the epidemic. The ghetto also contained a small communal library, which served as a meeting place for young people.
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, living conditions in the ghetto deteriorated. Hunger prevailed, and the Germans absolutely prohibited leaving the ghetto except for work-related purposes, thereby preventing the Jews from continuing to obtain food supplies from Polish residents.
On 6 May 1942, Polish police came to the Judenrat building and imprisoned its members in the local jail. That same night, the ghetto was surrounded by S.S. men from Deblin. The S.S. men, along with the Polish police, removed the Jews from their houses. The Jews were permitted to pack a ten-kg. bag of food and personal belongings and were then led to the market square. The elderly and ill who had difficulty keeping up with the others were shot on the spot. At the market square, the Jews were divested of their valuable possessions and money. On the morning of 7 May, the Jews were marched to Deblin, about fifteen km. from Ryki, under heavy German guard. Those who had difficulty walkingthe elderly, ill, children, and otherswere shot to death and their bodies left spread on the road. At the Deblin railroad station, women and children were separated from men. A group of 200 young people were transferred to the labor camp in Deblin, at the German air force base. The others, numbering about 3,000Jews from Ryki, refugees, and Jews from Deblinwere transported in freight cars to the Sobibor extermination camp.
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