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Economic Life of the Jews of Sanok (cont.)

Commerce, Banking and Agencies

We find hints and signs of an awakening of commercial life in Sanok during the first decade of the 1900s. We can surmise that the causes for this awakening were, on the one hand, the development of industry in the city and the region even though it was only in its early phases; and on the other hand, the growth of both the Jewish and gentile population in the city, which of course meant the growth of marketplace demand.

We find clear signs and hints in support of commerce in Sanok in the newspapers of that era, both daily and periodical. This is particularly clear in the Sanok weekly Folksfreund, where we find commercial advertisements and announcements; for example of the Galicia firm, which was a large wholesaling enterprise, apparently of large scope and with a large staff, which began by selling bone meal, phosphates, etc – that is the manufacture of fertilizer products for agriculture. There were also advertisements about the sale of sewing machines, bicycles, records, and even typewriters![1]


[Page 228]


In every edition of this newspaper, we encounter advertisements regarding the search for agents to distribute merchandise and products from this firm.

Here, as we discuss commerce, we will make note of a bakery that during the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, rather than being merely a workplace and business enterprise, was noted in that its owner Elimelech Rosenblatt was the provider of bread for hundreds of Austrian soldiers of Kaiser Franz Josef who were stationed in the military camp of Sanok. Elimelech Rosenblatt was a scholar and Zionist activist. His name is mentioned among the members of Yeshurun, the first religious Zionist organization of Sanok, which was founded during the time of the leadership of Dr. Herzl. In the minutes of the founding meeting of Yeshurun, brought down in the book “The History of Zionism in Galicia” by Dr. N. M. Gelber, it is noted that Elimelech Rosenblatt was given the responsibility for the library[2].

In this era, we see an awakening in the banking sector. In the February, 1, 1912 edition of Folksfreund, we read an announcement in the weekly “chronica” section about the founding of banking institutions. These are in the form of objective announcements rather than advertisements, and there is no doubt about their authenticity. One is called “Credit and Handelsperein”, directed by Nachum Rosenberg, Avraham Hochdorf, and Hirsch Weiner, with the members of the audit committee listed as Dr. Sala Landau as chairman and Leon Hasenlauf as his vice. The second financial institution about which we read in the chronicles section of this newspaper was founded by the partners Shimon Reich, Shimon Scheiner, Dr. Ornstein and others. These were Jews who are known to us from the commercial and communal arenas of our city at that time and later.

Here is a different type of commercial announcement, from a later period, in Hamitzpeh, the Hebrew weekly published in Krakow. An advertisement appears signed by Doberish Rosenfeld, who is known to all of us as the owner of the monopoly store for cigarettes and tobacco (trafik). The following is the text of the advertisement[3]


san228.gif [4 KB] - Advertisement
 
Let the modest ones eat and be satiated!
I hereby inform that I have opened up an inn and tavern in Sanok
In the center of the city (opposite the Romelrowka)
The furnishings, the rooms and the food are all arranged in the finest manner possible.
There are also daily newspapers and a special telephone for guests.
With great honor
Doberish Rosenfeld



[Page 229]


If we are to derive positive conclusions about the economic situation from the various advertisements that illustrate a firmly based cultural life – we note an advertisement in the Sanok Folksfreund by Shmerel Bergenbaum, known to all of us as a Poale Zion activist in Sanok, about his shop for the sale of pieces of art by various artists; or the advertisement for the “worldwide matchmaker” in Sanok, David Schechter, who serves the community in four languages: Yiddish, German, Polish and Russian…

*

The First World War brought all sectors of commercial life to a halt. However, immediately during the first years following the end of the war, there was already a broad-based economic revival. The movement to restore and renovate ruins from the war increased demand and purchasing power. A large independent Poland arose and new, broad scale industrial regions came to the fore. New business enterprises were founded. Businesses and warehouses full of merchandise and new products that were attractive to customers were reestablished with improvements and modernization. The textile and fine goods businesses were expanded and merged. New sources of imports were developed, and previously unknown export markets were revealed. The building business was expanded for the purpose of restoration and re-erecting the ruins of the war. Alongside this, the branches of business relating to the building industry, such as building materials, equipment, and carpentry, also increased. We see a significant rise in the textile and clothing industries. We note the development of the egg exporting business, which was represented by Ephraim Kramer and Mordechai Bross.


san229.jpg [26 KB] - Mrs. Rachel Kramer, Ephraim Kramer's wife, next to her house and business - exporting eggs to foreign countries
Mrs. Rachel Kramer, Ephraim Kramer's wife, next to her house and business – exporting eggs to foreign countries
At her side is her son Reb Shlomo Kramer, the owner of a factory for vinegar and spices. He was a Zionist activist, one of the heads of the Mizrachi in Sanok



[Page 230]


This era marks the beginning of the era of mechanization of industry and labor and even agriculture. Alongside this, we see during this era a flourishing of the machine business for all sectors of industry – especially the businesses of Ascher Barber and Chaim Langer.

An electric grid was set up in Sanok in 1928. Connected to this, business opened up for electric needs, machines and parts (Herman Sobel and others).

Alongside the signs of development and flourishing and the potential of further positive development, the economic life of the Jewish population of Poland, especially in the commercial sector, faced difficult tests, which included threats of liquidation and decrees of destruction upon Jewish businesses and industry in Poland. One test was the harsh, cruel, openly anti-Semitic hand of the Grabski government, which imposed unbearably heavy taxes upon the Jews, to the point of choking and strangulation. The second matter was the anti-Semitic spirit that pervaded among the various strata of Christian Poland, especially among the intelligentsia, and which began to place obstacles not only before the development of Jewish commerce in Poland in the near future, but also in the day to day life of Jewish business in Poland. This was done by the establishment of stores and co-operatives, the confiscation of Jewish businesses, and the imposition of boycotts upon Jewish stores – to the point where student guards were placed at the entrance of every Jewish store to prevent customers from purchasing in them.

We will note here that this manifestation of anti-Semitism was not new. It had affected the Jews of Sanok, and not only the Jews of Sanok, from time to time – at times in a similar fashion and at times in a somewhat different fashion. We read the report in Hamitzpeh of A. Siedlisker, the Sanok reporter for several newspapers in Galicia, from January 20 1905, which is more than 20 years prior to the era that we are dealing with here. In the report, several examples of anti-Semitic events in Sanok are described, manifesting themselves in literal anti-Semitic persecution. Siedlisker writes:

“The Jews of our city enjoyed good times prior to being afflicted by the illness of anti-Semitism which took root in the hearts of the Catholic citizens. Now the illness has spread… and the Jews of our city are in a bad state. Eight years ago, a “Tabaat” (Ognywo) society was formed here. The following is written in clear form at the top of its charter: 'A Jew may not remain in the society headquarters for more than five minutes.' Hatred and great animosity against the Jews flowed forth from this society.”… A dormitory was founded for gymnasium students “without differentiation based on religion.” 80% of the money that was collected for this purpose was from Jewish donors, and a Jew was among its founders. When the house was erected, it was decided that “no Jew can dwell in this house.” The writer of this article asks: “Who has ever seen or heard of such things? A house built with Jewish money is closed to Jews, and nobody opens up their mouth in complaint!”

The writer complains further that the anti-Semitic spirit penetrated from “Tabaat” to the city council, where a Jew occupied the position of vice chairman. He was Dr. G. “A good and upright man, a lover of justice, a man of spirit, who has the abilities to work for the benefit of the city. Furthermore, he has dedicated all of his energy toward the benefit of the citizens for the past three years straight, and the entire city was satisfied.” And behold “Christian citizens found fault with the vice chairman of the citizens… and an anti-Semitic gentile was appointed in his stead… From that time, the city advisors were split into two camps, Jew and Christian, arraigned one against the other in a battlefield. If the Jews said yes, the Catholics said no, and the city council was in turmoil for all of its days.”

The writer further complains about the anti-Semites persecuting the Jews in the areas of commerce by opening up communal stores for this purpose. The writer writes, “The hand of the Jews is disparaged in the center, for when


[Page 231]


the anti-Semites were unable to find any place for their merchandise, a Jew “who owned a fine house” had mercy upon them and rented his house to them for six years.”

The writer continues: “What do the heads of the community do against all of these many tribulations? They have their own unique politics… They still ride on the donkey of assimilationism, and kiss the hand of any Pole who smacks their face saying 'good gentile!' They speak only Polish at all of their meetings. Fifteen of the sixteen communal advisors understand only Yiddish, and nevertheless, they use the Polish language amongst themselves.”

The spirit of the Jewish population did not fall. The Jews continued in their struggle for life and continued existence. They attempted to utilize acceptable means of fighting and various methods of battle, such as: unifying the economic forces, forging commercial and financial entities for ensuring their protection and ability to maintain their stance in the face of the torrent of boycotts and economic persecution by the representatives of the Polish government. During these times of tribulation, we see, for example, signs of development and flourishing of the wheat and flour trade by firms that were founded in the wake of the cartel cooperatives. We see other unified entities, such as the “Produkt” cartel for wheat and flour, and others (Tzvi Trachman and sons). To continue and ensure the effectiveness of this struggle, and to give organizational and administrative assistance to the Jewish merchant, a union of Jewish merchants was founded and operated through the efforts of several merchants of the city, including Tzvi-Herman Sobel, Avraham and Yitzchok Gurfeinn and others. Throughout the duration of its existence, its purpose changed to the direction of the centralization of the cultural and social lives of the Jewish merchants of the city.

*

There is no doubt that the struggle for economic existence of the Jewish population would have continued on, and might even had been finally crowned with success, were it not for… the waves of deep-seated hatred and enmity by the entire Polish population that grew – until they became caught up in the international conflagration of the Second World War, which burnt and destroyed themselves as well.


san231.jpg [26 KB] - 'Produkt'
“Produkt”
From right to left, seated: Mordechai Gold, Yehuda Najes, ? Yosef Pessel. Standing: Naftali Gershon, ?, ?, Meier Tzvi Zilberman, Yisrael Grossman



san232.gif [56 KB] - 'Commercial' agreements (for the sale of chometz, 66 years ago'
“Commercial” agreements (for the sale of chometz[4], 66 years ago
Elimelech Rosenblatt sells his bakery and flour and wheat warehouses to Wojciech Baran. Shmuel Charas sells his store, along with all of its merchandise and baking equipment, to Baran

(See Addendum)



[Page 239]

The Tomchei Aniyim Charitable Fund

by Chaya Reiser (Fennig)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The porters congregated mainly around the Ocyca Theater. Prior to that, they sat in the display windows of the Weiner and Ozenloif stores on Jagielonski and Kosciuszko Streets that had already been broken from the time of the First World War.

Every porter had his own nickname. “Leizer Motshki”, “Efraim Potias”, “Avraham Avinu”, “Shmuel Hanavi”. Their shoes were always without laces. Their shirts were open to their belt. The odor of sweat and liquor coming from them could be smelled from afar. Thus did they sit for long hours, tired or without work. On their way home, they would make the rounds to the doors of the shops to collect donations, as was their usual custom... As if the merchants were required to make up for their losses every day.

Their wives would also beg. They were almost always pregnant, with babies in their arms and their older children around them. They would go from door to door and make the rounds to the offices endlessly. Therefore, the following sign was prominently displayed in many hallways and house entrances: “Entrance is forbidden to peddlers and beggars.” It was already hard enough to tolerate the “schleppers”[5], where each additional child would ask separately “and for me?”

For this reason, in a special meeting of the Merchants Union in 1928, we deliberated about the organization “Kupat Tomchei Aniyim” (The Fund for the Support of the Poor).

Three merchants with stores near to each other were chosen: Reb Feivel Mann as the secretary, Reb Zusia Fennig as the cashier, and Mr. Herman Wenig as the advisor. They compiled lists of residents who would donate generously as a form of monthly tax, and lists of needy people who would receive 3 zloty each week based on the decision of the committee.

The collection was given over to the hands of a sickly, weak widower who was the father of four children. This occupation supplemented his livelihood.

It was decided to grant from 3 to 5 zloty to beggars from outside of Sanok, according to their identity cards. The protocols of the “Kupat Tomchei Aniyim” were publicized widely. Many beggars accepted this willingly, for they would no longer have to waste time begging.

The most difficult task was that of Reb Feivel Mann, since for the most part the poor people from outside were equipped with forged identity cards. They would change their clothes and act deceptively in order to obtain money outside of the lineup and over and above what was due to them in accordance with the protocols.

Once an “elegant” vagabond, who presented himself as a merchant who had lost his livelihood, acted stubbornly and asked for a larger sum. When he did not succeed, he asked to speak to a member of the “black” committee (by coincidence, the three activists had red beards). The listeners burst out in laughter. The vagabond made scandals in the store and on the sidewalk. Threats of calling the police did not even help. In order to solve this complicated problem with this difficult “client”, the one-time urgent assistance of the black-bearded Mr. Yacov Gerber was solicited. He checked the vagabond's suitcase and removed several travel cards, which showed that this “downtrodden merchant” had been in several places in the region that day. As a punishment for his trickery, he was prohibited from appearing in the city for an entire year... (instead of three months)... This matter was publicized to everyone, and people learned a lesson from it. From that time, nobody disturbed the work anymore.

Much good was done in secrecy through messengers and protectors for the bashful poor and for those who had lost their means. The members of the committee suffered great suffering from this, for the visits of the beggars to their stores, and the negotiations with them took a long time. However, their dedication to the acts of charity and kindness overcame the suffering.

The following took place on a bright summer day in 1934. Several women dressed festively entered the Mr. Zusia Fennig's bookstore shouting “Woe”. These were the women from the “Jewish Street”

[Page 240]

who received regular weekly support. They shouted, “Reb Zusia! Reb Zusia! Fennig, Fennig! You must come with us. Otherwise, help with dollars.” I understood that my uncle Zusia Fennig knew about the matter. However, it was not pleasant for him, and he had no desire to go the Barak Joselewicz Street (This was the official name of the Street that was called “The Jewish Street” by everyone). Having no option, Mr. Fennig and Mr. Mann went with the women, and I was given the task of urgently summoning them back... I had no time to even think, and they had already returned, with high spirits and full of impressions and “experiences”. All of the families in need of financial help had gathered in the clean, orderly room of Itshele the Porter. The visitor from America, who was a relative of the owner of the room, decided to give the money over only to a “responsible organization” in accordance with the directions of the donors from America. Therefore, they called the men of “Tomchei Aniyim”. When the “leaders” arrived, they distributed the donations according to the list that they had made themselves; that is, only the communal workers signed with the “Tomchei Aniyim” of Sanok -- and that was all. The cleanliness that pervaded on the Jewish street was the main thing. It was hard to believe that suddenly all of the green puddles of sewage water, and the piles of feces and waste in front of the door of every house had suddenly disappeared. The “Kupat Tomchei Aniyim” organization had been the cause of the cleanup in the houses of the poor and on the Jewish Street. For when the women had stopped begging from door to door, they began to concern themselves with cooking and housekeeping. This also caused the porters, several of whom had died after difficult operations, to stop getting drunk. The children and youth gathered in the Moadon Peretz or in the Poale Zion movement, and the life of begging and alms collecting began to change for the better.

Photograph
Reb Zusia Fennig next to his shop, which served as the treasury and cash office of the “Tomchei Aniyim” and “Bikur Cholim” of Sanok

___________

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The exclamation mark is included in the original text. return
  2. There is a footnote in the text here: “See the addendum”. return
  3. There is a footnote in the text here: Hamitzpeh, January 9, 1914. return
  4. The sale of leavened products to gentiles prior to Passover. return
  5. Roughly -- bums or vagabonds. return

 

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