by Arie Avitachi
Translation by Naomi Gal
Volhynia's Rovno on the Ossetia River became a prominent city. Compared to her neighbors, older cities of Volhynia, she was the most outstanding. There is little information about the city before it gained fame; hence, it is not clear when exactly she was founded, or how did a small village become such a populated city. We can only guess that Rovno, like other villages in Volhynia, began (14th-15th century) as a small settlement, and in the mid 17th century (according to Rovno's register by Rabbi Hirsh Heller) was considered a tiny town. An 18th century memorial book for Volhynia states that before turning into a city, Rovno belonged to Austrian dukes, and that around three hundred years ago it became the property of the Polish Princes of the Lyubomirski Dynasty. Thus Rovno was not a Royal City like some other cities (Kremenets and others); its dukes were the ones who determined the rights and the duties of its different citizens.
The meaning of Rovno in Russian and in Polish is honest or precise and indeed Rovno was honest. There is an older legend about the name: Rovno as a village was number hundred on the list of the Lyubomirski Estate, and thus it was said: We now have hundred villages, one hundred precisely.
In the 17th century Rovno is mentioned as a city in the register of the Council of Four Lands, the main Jewish communities in Poland, in a verdict given by a court in Radom in 1729 stating that the Holy Community Austrowa should pay some damage money to three communities: Mezhirichi (next to Korets), Polonnoye and Rovno, to lighten their heavy Jewish Tax burden. Hence Rovno back then was a poor community. The mother-community was Ostroh, and she had to assist the less fortunate community of Rovno.
Another court ruled that each one of the three communities will send one representative to the Council of Four Lands; thus, we learn that by then Rovno was recognized as a community worth being represented, but since she was mentioned only as the third city, she did not attain her renown back then. The city's ascent during the past hundred years was due to several factors, mainly her geographic location, which turned her into a center of population growth, development of commerce and the blossoming of institutions, establishments and movements. The importance of the city was due mainly to its strategic location, connecting different parts of the country.
When the Lyubomirskis sold part of their estate, Rovno belonged for a while to others, but in 1723 she became once again Prince's Stanislaw Lyubomirski's property; he established there his estate, built a beautiful palace, and made sure the city developed into an urban populated place. As the owner and the sovereign of the city the prince was in favor of the Jews who came to settle in Rovno and build their commerce. And indeed the care the city proprietors' took helped its rapid and considerable growth and development. As part of the ancient Polish kingdom, Rovno belonged to the county of Lutsk but eventually became independent and finally was declared as the County Seat.
It is hard to establish when exactly did the Jews settle in Rovno. According to historians there were Jews in Rovno back when the Lithuanians ruled Volhynia, and later, after the Lublin Unification in 1569, when the Volhynia district was cut from Lithuania and annexed to the Polish Kingdom. In the Brokkhouse-Efron encyclopedia there is a mention of a 1566 trial in the city of Zaslav of a Jew named Aaron from Rovno. Thus there were Jews in Rovno when she was still Lithuanian. There is evidence that even when Rovno was merely a village many Jews came to Volhynia from neighboring settlements, as well as from Austria and Germany. They were farmers and handymen who made their home in Rovno and contributed to its prosperity. Thus the first Jewish settlers came during the 15th century or even the 14th century.
A stormy period in Ukraine did not bypass Volhynia. The Ukrainians opposed the Polish rulers (opposing their ideas of regime, status, religion, economy, to name a few). This eventually caused a revolt of the Ukrainian peasants against the Polish Lords. The Jews took the Poles' side and when the rebels poured their wrath on the Poles they took revenge on the Jews as well, with all their Cossack cruelty. In 1648-1648 Bohdan Chmielnicki perpetrated a wave of slaughter against Ukrainian Jews, and did not spare Rovno Jews. They left the city escaping for their lives, but many of them perished on the road and by enemy's sword. As soon as the storm was over ignoring the call of the Council of Four Lands many Jews returned to their homes, to Rovno as well, but there were probably others that stayed in the new places, and it happened in Rovno as well. The Lord of the city assisted the returning Jews and renewed the Jewish life in Rovno insuring stability and comfort. He signed an agreement allocating them a large territory that was nothing but a swamp, on both sides of the Ossetia River, so that they could build houses, shops and public institutions. He granted them pastureland as well and gave permission to dig his lands for clay, sand and stones needed for building. All they had to pay was a meager sum of six hundred rubles a year. The central authorities ratified the agreement and it stayed valid for many years. It was kept in Volhynia's county archives in Zhitomir; this copy was given to Rovno's people that was kept for a long time by Rabbi Yehuda Sinitzer, a prominent member of Rovno's community. It seems as if the community leaders charged the owners of houses and shops in the city, Jews and non-Jews alike, and gave the money to Lyubomirski, but it's possible that Lyubomirski's clerk charged the money according to a legal list. Some of Rovno Jews still have bill of ownership (proof of purchase, as they were called back then) on lands that were registered by Lyubomirski. They state clearly that he who builds on this land has to pay a yearly tax for the lease, or a tax set by Rovno's citizens. Sixty years ago a claim was submitted to the court about the tax due to Prince Lyubomirski and the persecutor had to submit the list of those who had to pay and the court ruled the defendant has to pay the tax.
It seems it was mainly the Jews who built and shaped Rovno, since they were the majority. Their initiative turned her into a prosperous and well-known city.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Tatars invaded Volhynia, they reached Rovno and robbed the whole city. The population was left with nothing, especially the Jews. The many fires that spread across Rovno in different periods of times caused destruction as well. The citizens built the city time and again, quite an endeavor, but Rovno's Jews were used to suffering and re-adaptation, and mastered the art of raising out of the ashes and rebuilding more magnificent wall-houses, shops, businesses, synagogues, schools and other institutions.
Back then Rovno Jews, like all citizens, were legally under the reign of the landowner. The peasants who worked his land were considered his slaves while the city dwellers were under his yolk and paid taxes. But Prince Lyubomirski, the owner of Rovno, did not weigh upon the Jews; he favored them and saw them as a helpful element in the city's development. He was kind to them and flexible when it came to rights of settling in Rovno. Hence the rush of Jews to Rovno and their fast acclimation. Among the different concessions Prince Stanislaw Lyubomirski made for the Jews was his approval of the Hevra Kaddisha's regulations. Accordingly, five members were elected yearly. Each one of them had to pay six Polish gold coins a year and could not demand more than one gold coin from the inheritors. Their rights were kept even if they were absent for three years. The regulations were meant to organize the Jewish Community life similarly to older communities.
Prince Stanislaw's descendants followed their father and Jozef Lyubomirski's son and Kajimizesh, his grandson were in favor of the Jews in general and especially of Rovno's Jews, as they saw them as the developers of the city. Kajimizesh 's wife was close to the Jews throughout her life. In 1892, when she died in Rovno of old age she had an impressive funeral by the Jews who mourned her at their synagogues and treated her like a righteous gentile. The last princes, brothers Adam and Albert Lyubomirski who ruled Rovno during the last generations, kept their father's tradition of treating the Jews well.
In 1880 Mr. Y. Steski wrote a monograph based on archive materials. According to the book in 1786 Prince Jozef Lyubomirski allocated some land for the enlargement of the Jewish cemetery and permitted the building a wooden synagogue with no ornaments on the lot allocated to building a big synagogue, so that the Jews could raise money for a grand brick building. The main synagogue, which still exists, was built in the place of the wooden synagogue. The prince was in charge of appointing rabbis and he determined salaries, taxes and payments the public gave the rabbi. In 1789 Prince Jozef approved all the rights his father Stanislaw gave the Jews in Rovno.
Rovno was expanding, especially under the Russian rule. In the 19th century she was a county city in Volhynia region (in the middle of the 18th century she was considered a village). According to tax records from 1801 there were in Rovno: 1 Christian merchant, 10 Jewish merchants, 5 non-Jewish citizens, and 2137 Jewish citizens.
A referendum from 1756 finds 196 Jewish families in Rovno, 434 of them were men and 456 women. In the 47 villages that were part of Rovno's province there were 58 Jewish families (155 men and 141 women), so that there were 1186 Jews in Rovno.
According to a Russian referendum from 1847 Rovno province included the following Jewish communities: Rovno 3788 citizens; Stepan 1717 citizens; Mazhirichi 1808 citizens; Klevan 1187 citizens; Berezne 1283 citizens; Dabrowica 1910 citizens; Tuczyn 1180; Aleksandrja 278 citizens; Derazne 352 citizens; Goringrod 316 citizens; Ludwipol 286 citizens; Kostopol 153 citizens; Wysock 320 citizens; and Tomaszgrod 69 citizens. Mayer encyclopedia states that in 1885 there were in Rovno 7357 families, half of them Jews, who worked in gardening, fruit-gardens, tobacco industry, and tanning. A referendum done in 1897 found 273 thousand citizens, 44 thousand of them Jews, 24,573 of them lived in Rovno itself, 13,780 of them Jews.
Jews were back then over 60% of the population, the communities that had a majority of Jews were:
Aleksandrja 3198 inhabitants, 2154 of them JewsAccording to documents found in Rovno in 1909 there were, except the army, 16,471 urban citizens, and 16,309 inhabitants. 18,631 among them were Jews (7723 men and 10,908 women). In 1910 there were 19,791 Jews living in Rovno. The estimated number of Jews who lived in Rovno in 1914, the break of World War I, is 25,000. During the war the number diminished but in 1918-1919, under the Ukrainian rule, the number increased again because of the refugees flocking to Rovno in the wake of the pogroms in Ukraine. In 1920, when the Poles entered Rovno, there were close to 28 thousand people, 21,702 of them Jews. The Polish referendum that year proved that the Jews were 75% of the population. In 1931 there were 22,737 Jews in Rovno and it is estimated that by 1939 there were 28,000.
Antonowka 647 inhabitants, 620 of them Jews
Berezne 4059 inhabitants, 2765 of them Jews
Wysock - 912 inhabitants, 880 of them Jews
Galinki - 912 inhabitants, 346 of them Jews
Goringrod 1936 inhabitants, 540 of them Jews
Derazne - 1497 inhabitants, 770 of them Jews
Dabrowica 6007 inhabitants, 2868 of them Jews
Klevan - 3739 inhabitants, 2432 of them Jews
Kostopol 1706 inhabitants, 1101 of them Jews
Ludvipol - 1428 inhabitants, 1210 of them Jews
Maczulki 708 inhabitants, 433 of them Jews
Mezhirichi 3131 inhabitants, 2107 of them Jews
Osowa Wyszka 724 inhabitants, 107 of them Jews
Stepan - 5137 inhabitants, 1854 of them Jews
Tomaszgrod 737 inhabitants, 150 of them Jews
Tuczyn - 3753 inhabitants, 2535 of them Jews
by A. A.
Translation by Naomi Gal
If Volhynia Jews are considered special, Rovno Jews are even more so. Indeed the Volhynia Jews were prominent, especially during the last generations. Hundreds of years ago Volhynia Jews were influenced by the Polish culture, and kept close to the spiritual creation of Polish Jewry. But since the last division of Poland the Jews became more Russian, grew away from the Poles, adopted the Russian language and habits and with time became part of Russian Jewry.
In 1920, following the agreement reached after World War I, most of Volhynia passed from Russia to independent Poland. The Jews of the area, including Rovno Jews, became Polish citizens and their relationship with Polish Jewry was renewed and lasted nineteen years, till the beginning of World War II (September 1939), when the region was returned to Russia. During this time Rovno Jews were again influenced by the Polish culture, under the rule of state centers and the Polish national and political institutions. Sociologically and economically Polish Jewry at that time was in the worse shape: Polish nationalists in every town and city acted according to the famous Polish system, embargoing Jewish business and commerce, and openly advocating anti-Jewish propaganda. They drove away national minorities, including the Jews who were influential in the regions annexed to Poland. Jews were expelled from governmental and public offices, restricted in elections to administrative, municipal and state positions. Finally they turned to the old and dependable ways of the Tsar's regime and demonstrated their power with a series of pogroms on the Jews (Brisk, Minsk and others). Jews were expelled from higher education; they were heavily taxed, harassed and economically disowned. In addition the Poles kept inventing decrees that hurt the very essence of Judaism, like abolishing Kosher Shechita, forcing the desecration of the Sabbath, and limiting the power of the communities. All in order to turn the Jews lives impossible and force them to immigrate. Rovno too was part of this treatment and the Jews were fearful and disheartened.
At the same time Polish Jews were waking up to self-determination and the stir of national and social was growing among them. The World War that changed the world brought a change to Jews as well. Lots of Jewish refugees were reaching Rovno from near and far away, even beyond the Russian-Ukrainian border. The occupied territories, Rovno included, were given special treatment, special rules and regulations. The central government did not trust Rovno, a province inhabited by Jews and Ukrainians, and kept a close watch on the city's citizens. It was, for a while, under military rule, and some of its rulings were kept later by the Polish conquerors. Indeed the whole region was seething with rebellious activity. In and around Rovno communism filtering from the near-by border was budding, and the Poles suspected everyone, most of all Jews. They kept close watch on the Jewish youth, its organizations and national, sports and educational activities. The traditional Diaspora way of life was renewed, combined with a poisonous national extremism that was spreading among people and countries, Nazi Germany included.
The Zionist Movement, that was the spearhead of national freedom and revival, served as the last resort and hope for a multitude of Jews in Poland and primarily to the Jewish youth, suffocating in the poisonous atmosphere. These youngsters were raised on Hebrew culture and were training in pioneer's camps for immigration to the Land of Israel. It can be said that Rovno Jews had a healthy national instinct and they prepared their youth for a future in the homeland, lots of them later followed their sons and joined them in building Israel.
by Zeev Widriker
Translation by Naomi Gal
Rovno did not possess ancient grace and its community did not excel among Volhynia communities, still it was rapidly developing during the last hundred years, especially since the beginning of the 20th century.
What did the city look like in the 19th century?
A crowded city, no trees nor grass, except Prince Lyubomirski Park and the railroad garden. Most of its streets and alleys were squalid, except the main roads that were paved with stones, and the pavements that were covered with bleached wood or old bricks. Lights at night were sparse; there were gas-lamps only on the main streets corners but no light on the side streets. Parts of the city were connected by wooden bridges, under which the Ostroh Creek slowly run into the swamp on both sides of the city. Water plants grew there, vermin and lots of garbage thrown from houses and workshops. A flourmill activated by water stood next to the bridge in Larger-Minsk Street, and there were several blacksmiths' workshops on the creek's edge. Most houses were one-story, old, shapeless and peeling. It looked like a rundown, glum town.
The city's Jews, who were the majority, were poor. Their public-religious organizations were run by community and religious leaders, as was the custom in every town and city back then. The Hassidic ruled, and every sign of education or progress was nipped at the bud. The charity institutions, as well as the many synagogues, replaced any public organization, a traditional and religious center, and although these institutions were beneficial and helped improve conditions, they had more disadvantages than advantages due to the unprofessional management, personal ambition and lack of understanding of the times, or individual needs. This was mainly hurting the very need for help most of the city Jews were lacking so badly. Still there were some among the managers that dealt with public affairs with faith, integrity and honesty, and even left their own estate for good causes and public benefits. They deserve public recognition although, in the eyes of our contemporaries, they might seem like good-doers who seek praise, or like Jewish extremists with Diaspora's views long forgotten.
The municipality was the only Jewish establishment in the city that could develop a new spirit and make a difference. But it was a local institution and its possibilities and power were limited, especially since it had to cooperate with the authorities and discriminate against the Jews. Novelties and reformation were of no interest to the city council, it had general authority, for all citizens; its directors were appointed by the authorities and named: Gorodskia Operave. The mayor, who was appointed by the district minister, and all the elected members were Christians. According to Russian law Jews had no right to vote. But in 1906 the district minister appointed two Jews to the municipality: Mr. Pinkas Galperson and Mr. Herz-Meir Fisyok. For lack of monetary resources the municipality had no initiative for great endeavors that could benefit the city and its citizens.
Mayor Bohovitz brought some change to the city. He was a progressive Russian who initiated paving roads and lighting them. The peak of his term was the water-authority providing water from an artisan well. This enabled at least some of Rovno's citizens to have access to clean water, which was transported in barrels from the water authority to all parts of the city. During his office they begun dreaming about installing electricity and phones, but it did not happen Lavzdiabski became mayor after Bohovitz, and he did not do much for the city.
Jews' status enabled them to vote for an councilman. According to the law he had to be Christian, but his deputy did not have this limitation, and so a Jewish deputy was in charge. Isaac Nyman, a Rovno born notable, who was well liked in town was the deputy during that time. The Christian councilman was in the shadow, hardly noticeable, he trusted his deputy who issued passports, represented the municipality, and collected municipal taxes, including the special candles-tax collected from Jews for the maintenance of synagogues and certified charities. Nyman also handled the Kosher meat tax (Korovka). He was well connected to the religious authorities: the managers who ran the synagogues and were certified by the district minister. There were other religious institutions and charities that were not recognized by the authorities; they were run by local managers, funded by donations, estates and fixed payments. They were in charge of Jewish affairs, on their own account, as was the custom in ancient days. There were always righteous women who gave generously, hoping to have a place in Haolam Haba, the Next World.
When education became prevalent and influenced Rovno as well, progress could be seen in different areas: liberal professionals who lived in the city and youngsters who acquired education in big cities and came back to Rovno as well as educated merchants and activists who made Rovno their home at that time, contributed their outlook and knowledge to society and made an impact. The revolutionary movements began their activities and the Jews started sending their sons and daughters to public schools and Modified Heders; the standard of living became higher, new houses were being built and old ones restored. The wooden bridges gave way to iron ones, the swamps were slowly dried and the city expanded and was separated into three sections.
Interactions between Jews and non-Jews in Rovno at that time were mostly neutral, but toward the end of 1912 evil winds blew from Warsaw and affected the few Poles in Rovno and around her, and so they were devising ways to impose a boycott on Jews. On February 3, 1913 a gathering of Poles decided to found a cooperative shop of cloths and fabrics for Poles.
In 1912 the city was lit by electricity. Prince Lyubomirski built an electric plant. But when he was about to install electric spots in the city's streets, the municipality prevented him and he had to pass the electric cable on top of the houses. The municipality was founding its own electric plant and the two were competing. A network of telephones was installed. Then came two movie-houses on top of Zafran Theatre. Commerce, that was doing well beforehand, was beginning to blossom and give the city respectability. Big firms from Russian commercial centers, Moscow, Lodz, Kharkov, Warsaw and others opened branches in Rovno. Banks were founded and the city was bustling with businesses. Its heartbeat grew stronger. And then World War I broke out and put an end to the prosperity.
by Shmuel Yizraeli
Translation by Naomi Gal
In 1906, Tsar Nikolai the Second ordered the dispersion of the first Duma, the parliament, and declared elections for the second Duma. The winds of the new era, that were felt by all people in Russia, including Jews, urged the heads of the Jewish communities to enlist in the election campaign, despite economical and political restrictions. The national-political situation demanded alertness and there was a strong support to include Jews representatives in the Duma. This was especially true in regions of dense Jewish population. Volhynia region was one of those places and at a convention held in the town of Miropol the Zionists decided to run Zeev Jabotinsky as a candidate for Rovno's region.
And Jabotinsky relates:
In the summer of 1906 we convened in Isaac Goldberg's camp near Vilnius and during three days and nights we devised the plan that was later called Helsingforce Plan. On the third day we heard the stunning news: the Tsar dispersed the first Duma and in a few months elections would be held for a second Duma.
On October I will turn 25 and thus I can elect and be elected. I became a candidate. I visited the town of Volhynia, sometimes by trains, more often by sledges. It was more complicated this time than it was during the first elections, since the left parties changed their positions. The Bund participated as well in the campaign and nominated candidates. On one of November nights I convened in Miropol, a tiny village, the delegates of the Zionists organizations of the region, and under the Zionist flag they endorsed the plan and chose me as their Volhynia Region's candidate.
At the crack of dawn I traveled to Helsingforce to the sixth convention of Russia Zionists, and from there I rushed back to Rovno, Volhynia.
The Zionists run a special platform for the election Tahat Diglnu (Under our Flag) alongside other Jewish and assimilated platforms.
Rovno Zionists enlisted with all their might to campaign's endeavor as instructed by the Zionist Center. The Zionist spokesmen came often to town and conducted a strong propaganda, meetings were held, and speeches delivered in synagogues. The activists went on visits to the neighboring villages, and indeed there was a hope for victory. Jabotinsky himself, back then young and vibrant, took part in all these activities and sometimes led them, his public appearances capturing hearts.
During the campaign it became clear that according to the law, a candidate has to own real estate in his election district. A solution was found: to write Jabotinsky's name on an asset in a nearby village and certify him as a local veteran. This was successfully done. One day Rabbi Benjamin Melamed went to Alexandria, near Rovno. He was a native of the village, which he knew well and had there friends and relatives. Young Jabotinsky went with him. The same day they managed to legally register the house of Zvi Sundelson (a wheat merchant, related to Melamed), across the Horin River, on Vladimir Jabotinsky's name. The office of Prince Lyubomirski, who was the owner of the estate, certified that the house indeed belonged to Jabothinsky and that he was a veteran of the village. Thus the candidate became kosher to run the election and the preparations went on enthusiastically. That same day a meeting was held in the old synagogue in Alexandria, Jabotinsky took the podium and spoke to a packed house, including the women up in the gallery. His speech was in Russian and was heart wrenching. At the end he declared: I am not saying goodbye now, but see you again in the Land of Israel.
An elderly participant cried enthusiastically: Dai Bodja! - with God's help!
Obviously there were those who objected to Jabotinsky, the nominated Zionist candidate, and they campaigned for other candidates.
Jabotinsky writes about the campaign:
In a godforsaken village near Rovno I bought a one-story house with three windows alongside the house, and thus I purchased the right to elect and be elected.There is another vignette connected to Jabotinsky, Alexandria and the elections to the Duma: one day a police inspector from Rovno came to Alexandria to investigate if Jabotinsky was indeed a citizen of the village (it seems as if someone who wanted to disqualify his candidature informed the authorities about the house registered under his name). When Rovno's Zionists heard about it they immediately prepared two witnesses who were trusted by the authorities: one was Gad Gorodzer, who testified unshakably that he was Volodia Jabotinsky's childhood playmate, and that they used to swim in the Rohin River and went together to the Heder. The second was Basil, a Ukrainian who worked in the Lyubomirski flourmill and he said he too knew Jabothinsky for many years. The inspector wrote down these testimonies as truthful and reliable, took a small bribe and left
Elections were held in two stages. Against Jabotinsky ran another Jewish candidate, Rattner, who was nominated together with the Ukrainian representative Maxim Slavinsky (the same Slavinsky that thirteen years later was nominated as a minister in Petliura's cabinet and signed an agreement with Jabotinsky. (A famous pact that created a buzz in the Jewish communities world-wise). But Jabotinsky's nomination failed. Rattner and Slavinsky went to Zhytomyr, where the Duma delegates were being elected. The authorities in Zhytomyr made sure they failed progressive and Jewish candidates. The results were that the blacks from Volhynia Region won, and their people were elected to the second Duma.
by A. Avi-Menachem
Translation by Naomi Gal
The last days of February 1917. The rumbling of cannons and explosions from the Russian-Austrian front reached Rovno, the armies were still marching back and forth through battlefields; the Tsar representatives were walking the streets in their uniforms controlling the city as usual, and bits of information about the events taking place in the capital, the discussions in the Royal Duma about Tsar Nikolai the II giving up the throne, about the approaching changes, reports about the war and the revolution taking place found their way from Kiev,
Every day brought more rumors, each one more powerful and exciting than the last one, and the community, at first suspicious, began to believe that indeed tyranny is about to end. The Jews believed with all their might that once the Tsar is dethroned persecutions and limitations will be over in Russia. Then came the official document about the revolution, clearly announcing the establishment of a new regime by a temporary democratic government. The Kiev newspapers published two special editions per day, and every news-item invigorated the community further. Special orders were given to the Russian army, as well. The army cooperated with the new regime and stood by its orders. Men of power, the appointed officials, were confused - they could not believe their eyes and ears. Policemen disappeared from the streets. The changes in the country were taking shape and life goes on with anticipation
That's how Rovno got the news about the February 1917 revolution, reports that were received with enthusiasm but with some apprehension, too. All freedom lovers, Jews included, were excited by this huge turn of events that would dramatically change life by bringing freedom, fraternity and equality to all people, to all citizens, the termination of all the limitations and discriminations on Jews. But those who were loyal to the old regime did not want to accept the revolution and doubted the new regime, believing that everything will go back again to the old ways. They kept silent and waited.
A mass procession in the streets of Rovno commemorating
the Russian Revolution, 10 March 1917
(Page 31 in the Hebrew text)
There were quite a few Jews that due to inferiority complex and typical Diaspora apprehension were hesitant and kept their distance, fearing that Jews are again going to run into trouble. These doubts soon evaporated when the masses went demonstrating in the streets, crying and announcing their support of the new movement and regime.
The biggest public demonstration took place on March 10, 1917, went on for a whole day and was very impressive. It seemed as if all the citizens, of all ages, participated. The Jewish left was prominent in these celebrations. The heads of the Bund in Rovno saw themselves as first in-laws in those parties, and they dragged to their rows everyone they could. The Zionist flag was blowing in this big demonstration, carried by the youngsters of Zion Youth.
A new regime of liberated Russia was born in Rovno. The temporary government ordered a civil patrol (militia). Special trains arrived at the railroad station carrying speakers and artists, who gave speeches about the revolution and the new regime and concerts were performed. The railway tracks crossed the city, so the masses waited enthusiastically alongside the rails to listen to the speakers and the artists. Daily chores were interrupted and there was an overall feeling of festivity. This was felt in schools as well and the crowds, intoxicated without drinking by their eagerness for the revolution streamed to the demonstrations and the meetings that were held in the city. During one of the first days of March a big car adorned with red flags cruised the streets, calling the citizens to donate their valuables and jewelry to the revolution. Passers-by took off their jewelry and gladly gave golden or silver cigarette boxes, rings, watches, etc
As a result the Jewish life in the city awoke and so did the wish for improvements and changes in the community. Discussions and meetings galore were held in the different circles, and the leftists as well as the Zionist were sizzling with activity, to the dismay of the traditional synagogues' administrators. Unknown speakers appeared on the public stage, power-hungry, supported by their parties. Soon the city authority was established, headed by Dr. Goldberg.
On March 21, 1917 the temporary government ordered the cancellation of all national and religious restrictions, and the Jews, as all other peoples, were granted equal rights. But the order did not solve the national problems of the Jews, as it didn't solve the national problems of other peoples inhabiting great Russia. Different peoples started to claim their national independence (Ukrainians, Latvians, Estonians, Caucasians etc.) Yearnings for national freedom in Zion awoke in the hearts of the Jews, citizens of freed Russia. In this ambiance financial organizations for actions in the Land of Israel were founded in Russia and the idea of the Halutz (pioneer), immigration to Israel, came to be.
The revolution in Russia created huge excitement all over the world. But soon came the second stage of the revolution: the turn of November 1917, when the democratic rule was shattered and the Bolsheviks grasped power. This shock was hardly felt in Rovno.
by Dr. Yaakov Yardeni-Berman
Translation by Naomi Gal
The Russian army changed dramatically after the February 1917 revolution. By that time there were around four hundred thousand Jews serving in this army. Soon confusion spread throughout the country and when the political intoxication faded, the Jews were disillusioned by the promise of the slogans about fraternity, equality and freedom to all peoples with no racial or religious discrimination. The blurry situation, that did not carry any rosy promises, urged the Jewish leaders and the conscious Jewish soldiers to raise their voice as Jewish fighters. News and rumors spread from different sources, reporting about harm done to Jews, as was done during the old Tsar days, involving some of the soldiers from the crumbling army, or soldiers under the command of Russian generals who tried to restore the old regime. The democratic regime was helpless and did nothing to prevent the ordeal. At the same time, came the calling from Zionist circles to enlist in the Hebrew battalions in Gallipoli, and many of the Jewish soldiers responded. This movement entailed a Russian newspaper entitled The Voice of the Jewish Soldier and the idea grew to convene the Jewish soldiers for a conference in the hope that this conference will help the general Jewish problem. The conference was scheduled to take place in Kiev, and several soldiers' conventions were held in different places in Russia and Ukraine, representatives were elected and some decisions passed.
Jewish soldiers in Rovno, August 1917
Back then the special army camp (the Thirteen Camp) was stationed in Volhynia. Yona Gogol, the leader of the Jewish soldiers movement, was in touch with some of the leading soldiers in this camp, among them Zionist activists, who according to the plan, asked to convene the soldiers in Rovno. The wish was granted and an order given to allow the conference in August 1917.
The news spread quickly among the units and all the Jewish soldiers wanted to participate. Around five hundred soldiers in uniform, different age groups, one Jewish heart beating in their chest, convened in Zafran Theatre in Rovno under the blue-and-white flag, united by the wish to found their organization and take charge of their people's fate. The hosting Rovno community devoted a lot of resources to the conference and participated as well.
It was a lovely sight, one that Jewish Rovno never saw before, when soldiers, officers and doctors of different ranks came all together. Not one of the participants will ever forget the outstanding national atmosphere of this conference. Among the speakers were Dr. Feldman, Dr. Peker, Dr. Berman-Yardeni and others. The need to create an organization of Jewish soldiers that will defend Jewish lives, honor and property was stressed as well as joining forces with those who were about to free the Land of Israel. The ambience of the conference was Zionist, and interestingly, the non-Zionists did not pose any opposition. The atmosphere was one of unity and complete understanding for the subjects discussed.
The conference lasted two days, and it was a celebration for the participants and all of Rovno citizens. Jewish soldiers were elected as representatives for the convention that was going to be held in Kiev. One of the resolutions was to organize self-defense in Rovno. A committee was designed with right to add outside participants as well and they begun the work at once. They hired a room for activities and begun collecting arms from army veterans and from other sources; they made a list of volunteers, raised funds and more. The Jews of Rovno valued the importance of self-defense and the Jewish soldiers organizations fully supported them.
Among the heads of the defense were: Moshe Peperman (an ex Bund member), Dr. Yaakov Berman (a Zionist representative) and some veterans, all of them took full charge. But the organization, for independent reasons, operated only for a few months, incapable to fulfill its crucial role, and was obviously powerless when dark days arrived
In October 12, 1917 the convention of Jewish soldiers took place in Kiev, with the participation of Yosef Trumpeldor. Yona Gogol invested lots of energy in organizing the convention, where a national organization of Jewish soldiers was founded. But due to the general situation in Russia and Ukraine at the time, the budding organization was dissolved before it was able to implement most of the resolutions.
by Dr. Gur-Arieh Tralo
Translation by Naomi Gal
The 1917 revolution found me in the town of Rostov, on the Don River, where I was studying law. Studies were interrupted in academia due to the political change and the students were sent all over Russia to conduct political campaigns to help the revolution. As a Jew I was sent to work among my people in Kuban in the Caucasus region, and after this special task amid Jews and non-Jews I went back to Rovno.
The new regime had quite an influence on Rovno Jewish public life. I found many contending parties and vibrant youth, different organizations and a strong national heartbeat. I met many new and very eager young people. There was an active Zionist committee that included all the local Zionist movements: plain-Zionists, Zionists Youth, Hamizrahi and the Students' Federation. Back then the disagreements were not deep and all the different sections saw themselves as branches of the same tree the United Zionist Histadrut. The representatives of the different sections worked in harmony, including during the traditional Zionist Minyan the Zionists used to organize every Simchat Torah. The celebration brought together all the different sections and they all sang songs of Zion. It was evident that despite the general enthusiasm for the revolution, Rovno Jews were more inclined to Zionism, which enlisted many into its movement when the Tsar reign was over.
When I renewed my activity in the Zionist movement in Rovno I was assigned different organizational duties. In addition, one had to participate in non-Jewish activities that the Zionists favored in the electrifying atmosphere of those days. Thus, for instance, we were enlisted to the Rovno's municipal campaign and created a National Jewish Front, including the Zionists, the Commerce Association, landlords and artisans. Our rival was the Bund' that was strong and cooperated with the Social Democrats. We included the representatives of the synagogues and our power increased considerably. The combat was not easy: our opponents were energetic and they had amongst them some intellectuals who were devoted to the socialist cause. They delivered ardent speeches to the masses, promising better conditions and welfare. They were hard competition to the Zionists, but they lacked understanding of our Jewish soul and therefore of our national ambitions.
The most important action we performed back then was joining the forces in Rovno as well as the near and far regions. During several months we gave it our best and managed to unite the whole province of Rovno till Novohrad-Volynski on one side and as far as Pinsk on the other. Thus the work branched out while Rovno was the center of the Zionist Movement of the whole region.
By the end of 1917 I went back to Rostov to continue my studies, but I followed from afar the developments of public life and the Zionist activity in Rovno that was prospering despite the hardships of the times. When I returned in 1919, I found an organized community, active public organizations, active Zionist Histadrut in all areas of life, and a dense network of Jewish educational institutions. From the small and modest kindergarten we established in 1917 Rovno had become a real Hebrew City with kindergartens, primary schools and a Hebrew Gymnasium (high school), not bilingual. One could not feel at the different schools the divisions amongst the Zionists, which like any other liberation movement aimed to be independent. However all were cooperating when it came to education, raising funds for the Zionists, welfare and the productivity of the population. Most of all everyone was united at the front of the war against anti-Semitism that was rearing its head and brought forth the horrible bloodshed during Petliura's reign, and later during the Holocaust.
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