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[Page 21 - Hebrew] [Page 30 - Yiddish]

Jews in Old-Time Serock

Dr. Yakov Goldberg (Jerusalem)

Translated by Pamela Russ

When the Jews settled in Serock in the 18th century, the town had already existed for a long time. Because of the opportune situations that the merging of the rivers Narew and Bug presented, there was already a settlement there in the early Middle Ages, and in the 12th century, there was already a princely fortress built there. In the first half of the 15th century, in this area, there was an intense surge of establishing settlements, and a buildup of manual labor and business, which resulted in the establishment of a row of new cities that in turn established a population group that occupied itself with manual labor and business. From the new towns that rose up in the 15th century in Mazowsze (Mazovia), 75% of them were concentrated in the area southeast and north of the Vistula River. Serock belongs to the northern group that surrounded Zakroczym, Nowe Miasto, Makow, and Janow. When in 1417 Serock received its civic rights, it was already, from an economic standpoint, a developed settlement. The neighboring town of Nasielsk, was given civil rights even earlier, that is in the year 1386, and the neighboring town of Pultusk – one of the oldest cities in Poland, had the civic privileges in 1257.

In approximately the first 150 years of the existence of the city of Serock, it established the fundamental properties of an urbanized settlement, introducing with that the necessary manpower potential of all sorts of professions of that population.

The greatest rise in Serock coincides with the period of prosperity for the Polish feudal states during the Renaissance era, that is in the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. In 1564, there were 264 houses in Serock in which there were approximately 2,000 residents. According to the standards of those times, this was no small number. What is relevant of the population number, is that Serock was almost always…

[Page 31]

…behind the parallel, upcoming city of Zakroczym, where, in the same year, there were already 371 houses. For the benefit of Serock, as fact has it, there were already 57 different types of manual laborers; that means, there was no small percent of competent residents. The great communication artery that went from Mazowsze for the length of the river Bug all the way to Russia, and went through Pomjakhovek, Serock, Wiskow, Brok, Nowy Kaweczyn, and Bransk, was opportune for the local development of business and manual labor. Here went the transports of materials, and contact with many other merchants, making it easy to market the articles that were produced by Serocker laborers.

During the blossoming of the Renaissance, Serock was the center of manufacturing products. There was a factory for manufacturing there that was used by the local weavers who had to be paid to use it. The money from these payments was designated for the expenses of taking care of the city's fortification walls. Aside from the laborers and weavers, there already existed in 16th century Serock a significant professional group of fishermen who also lived there in the later centuries. In 1564 they totaled 30 people. In other small cities, a part of the population occupied itself with agriculture, particularly when the city made available large areas of land. In 1417, city privileges awarded Serock approximately 900 hectares of land, which later came under the ownership of several residents.

For half of the 17th century, Serock underwent an economic crisis which later became more accentuated because of the destructions of war. In the fifties of that same century, even though they didn't keep accurate statistical facts about the losses, it is known fact that in the year 1660, approximately 88% of the city's land remained fallow because there was no one there to work the soil. This indicates the great destruction and emigration from the city. The rebuilding of the city came about very slowly, and it never really came back to the original position that it held in the 16th century…

[Page 32]

…but in this detail Serock was not an exception because most of the similar cities found themselves in a depressed situation at that time and the process of long years of rebuilding did not return them back to the level they existed in during the Renaissance era. Also, later on, Serock divided the lots from the largest portion of the Polish state settlements that were always being destroyed through wars and internal strife in the first half of the 18th century. Without looking at the trials of building up the city or of the generally favorable circumstances that governed the second half of the 18th century, Serock acquired a different economic profile than it had earlier. In the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries, the number of residents declined. In 1777, there were 57 houses, meaning 21.5% of the total number of houses built in 1564. And in 1797, the number of houses rose to 77. But this present number that was given does not bring with it a description of all the changes that took place, because in the 18th century, the small town manner of building Serock brought with it a village-like character, and without any memory of the houses of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.

The most important changes were related to the structure of the professions of the residents, and with that, the regular functional maintenance of the town. Serock established her significance as a point on the international trade route, since because of the general depressed state of business in the country, even business lost its former position. The number of manual laborers that lived there declined to a minimum, and the weavers disappeared completely. Some of them left the town or died out in wars or epidemics, giving rise to a pause in maintaining the continuity of the traditional professions of the local residents. The basis of the economic existence became agriculture, and in the economic life of the town, the production of whiskey and beer grew, with which the residents became busy, but the main source was the distillery and the tavern that belonged to the landowner's court. There, they also sold processed alcoholic drinks, such that it was …

[Page 33]

…one of the smaller domains, outside of agriculture, that was able to provide an opportunity for livelihood in the town. Generally, it was known that with the leases of the bars, distilleries, and breweries, the Jews occupied themselves in earlier Poland. Similarly, here the earliest residents occupied themselves with the same thing. Jews arrived here in the first half of the 18th century, but first news of them came only in the year 1765.

Jews lived in Serock and in the suburbs, where the office of the bailiff was located. As was understood, the first families lived in the tavern belonging to the bailiff, for which they did not need consent from the local residents, nor from the magistrate. The bailiff's office set the salary for the bailiff who headed his own committee and passed judicial rulings. In many cities, the landowners took over the offices of the bailiff, such that the members themselves of this office no longer busied themselves with other municipal offices. In Serock, which in 1432 was already a majestic town, the bailiff's office was already in landowners' hands. This was a property that occupied approximately 60 hectares of land. In the bailiff's grounds, there was a tavern that was covered with shingles. The tavern consisted of two rooms and a cellar, and nearby, a horse's stall. This was the type of thing that was called a “passing through” inn that served a purpose similar to a hotel. You can well imagine the tight quarters there, because in those two rooms there was the family of the tavern, the tavern itself, and also place to sleep for the travelers who were passing through. According to the official information, in the year 1765, there were 8 people sleeping in the tavern, other than those family members who were being hidden for tax reasons.

At that time, the tavern was under the lease of Melekh Abramowicz. He lived there with his wife Zirl, their son Mordekhai and his wife Nekha, and their daughter Pesha. Mordekhai did a lot of work there, which was tied up to the running of the inn – work that in other inns was taken up by the servants. In the inn lived Yossel, the brother-in-law of Melekh Abramowicz, with his wife and son whose name was also Mordekhai.

[Page 34]

In Serock, there were two other Jewish families: Itzik Shmulewicz, the lessee of the distillery and the brewery, with his wife Rokhel and his two sons, Leibish and Berek, and a daughter Freide. With them lived the bachelor Yakob, the brother of Itzik Shmulewicz. The second Jewish family was the innkeeper Yisroel and his wife Rokhel and daughter Yite. Other than those noted two Jewish families, there was also the teacher of Jewish children, Shmuel Abramowicz. Interesting to note that most of the teachers in the small towns and villages were unmarried individuals. By the lessee, Itzik Shmulewicz, lived the teacher Shmuel Abramowicz, who, because of his profession, was called the “Inspector.”

The tavern Jews were cordoned off by wires because of the competition with the local priest who also ran a tavern. The innkeepers did not have a large income because of the weakened development of the city. In 1765, the city's administration stated that the city had no date of establishment, and was dragging its feet behind the other cities. Because of that, in the year 1781, there were already no Jewish families there of those who had lived there in 1765. The first to leave was Melekh Abramowicz, and after him, there was already no one who wanted lease the bailiff's inn. So, it remained empty, and in the journals describing the businesses of the bailiff in the year 1773, it is written that “the inn and the horse's stall will not have any fulfillment.”

In 1781, there were 7 Jewish families in Serock, from which 2 earned a living collecting the alcohol tax ([from] the distillery). The lessee of the distillery and the brewery at that time was an elderly man who lived there with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, and a hired Jewish worker. The 5 other families did manual labor and had small businesses.

This is what small community life looked like in the town of Serock in the 18th century that really had representative characteristics of the other small towns in Poland of that time. In the year 1765, the Jews of Serock were primarily involved in tenant leasing and running taverns. This is exactly how all the other settlements looked, inhabited by only several Jewish families.

[Page 35]

However, in the period of a few years, the situation changed. In 1781, the fathers of the 5 families tried to do something different. The little courtyard that ran a poor life in a poor town put itself under great stress to retain a teacher for the children. In 1765, there were already 10 men there that enabled the men to pray with a quorum.

Nonetheless, in the 18th century, the Jews in Serock were still in numbers too small to establish their own organized community. And because of that, they belonged to the community in Nasielsk, which was managed with the Jewish population of 11 villages and 4 towns from southeast Mazowsze (Nasielsk, Serock, Zakroczym, and Nowe Miasto). Nasielsk was in those times a large Jewish settlement. In the year 1765, there were about 420 Jews living there. Of the Jewish towns that belonged to the community of Nasielsk, Serock was the largest, because in Zakroczym there were only 12 and in Nowe Miasto there were 18. An independent Jewish community was established in Serock in the 20s of the 19th century.

After the third division of Poland – that is in 1795, Serock belonged to the Prussian government, and from the year 1806, it belonged to the Polish duchy established at that time. Around the time of that duchy, there were certain changes set up in the internal relations of the town that suffered terribly on account of Napoleon's battle campaign. On Napoleon's orders, in the year 1810 they started to build military fortifications between the rivers Bug and Narew that were to serve as strategic points according to Napoleon's military plans. Serock was also included in these plans, and the result of this was that it caused a real revitalization in the town, and led to favorable services for the business activity of the Serocker Jews. These accompanying circumstances were written up by a Serocker Jew, Tuvia Levin, who in later years was at the head of the community over there, and we read in his letter to the authorities of the Warsaw duchy, that it was then “a city that is strengthening itself, in which soldiers and workers are busy in the trenches and are also masters in the factories. Everything in large numbers.”

[Page 36]

In spite of this, the economic revitalization, which took place because of such reasons, had a transitional character, when in fact it lasted only two years, during the building of the fortress. Tuvia Levin wrote in 1812: “The work with the fortress in the town of Serock had stopped, and the soldiers, manual laborers and workers moved over to the Modlin fortress.” Because of the construction of the fortress, the residents of Serock also suffered certain damages, because some of their fields, meadows, and gardens were taken away on account of the situation. During Napoleon's brief stay in Serock in the year 1810, the local residents submitted a request in which they asked that he improve the damages by decreasing the taxes. They resubmitted this request in 1812, but the general way of things did not permit this situation to be resolved.

During the time of the construction of the fortress, a military garrison was stationed there. As one can see in Levin's drawings, a group of people came to Serock with stable and varying incomes, and with that increased the volume in the local taverns and the production of whisky and beer. Whisky was also produced through the state's residents, but they had to pay taxes on that. The administration of that time had not yet established a business statute for annulling those taxes, and the tax law applied primarily to the Jews. In 1811, the lessee in Serock was the noted Tuvia Levin, and the intention was that in order to increase his profits from the alcohol tax collection, he would also be able to earn money from the tenant's taxes. The growth in volume also gave rise to the increase in the tax quotas. Levin, who in 1811 was the lessee for three years, had to pay 2,860 zlotys, while his predecessor in 1810 had to pay only 2,400 zlotys. Because he had taken the workers over to Modlin, Levin was not able to keep up the conditions of the leasing agreement, because in the new difficult situation, the income from the whiskey and beer production suddenly decreased.

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The building of the fortress on Serock also created job potential for the Jews who worked in the wood business. For that type of business, Serock was a convenient spot because it was between two rivers that carried transport, enabling the wood to be moved. At the beginning of 1807, Elijahu Meyer organized the river transports and executed the job in large volume. So much so, that by the year 1820, he owed the city hall the significant amount of 250 zlotys in taxes for transporting across the Narew. For sailing across the waters, it was primarily Serocker residents whose business this was, and they were already doing this for a while, so that by the year 1870, there were already 17 qualified raftsmen there.

From the year 1815, Serock belonged to the Polish kingdom. Over the next years, this town had the opportunity to develop itself a little. The Jewish population increased, and the internal business structure changed. Out of the 16 professions with which the population of Serock occupied itself in the first half of the 19th century, the Jews were only involved with 7. In those times, the Jews worked as potters, smiths, millers, raftsmen, fishermen, carpenters, locksmiths, and shoemakers. The majority of the Jews were in the tailoring business, which in the 18th century was already a widespread profession. In neighboring Nasielsk, in the beginning of the 18th century, there was already a Jewish tailor's guild that grouped together the handworkers of the garments line at the request of the Nasielsk community at that time. In Serock, the majority of the bakers were Jewish, who were also in the commodity business.

[Page 38]

The professional structure of the population in Serock

In the year 1830

Profession #
Jews
#
Non-
Jews
Total
Baker 4 1 5
Butcher 1 6 5
Stone mason 3 1 4
Miller   3 3
Fisherman  12 12
Tailor 6 2 8
Shoemaker   4 4
Tanner 1   1
Milliner 1   5
Locksmith   1 1
Blacksmith   2 2
Tinsmith   4 4
Carpenter   1 1
Potter   3 3
Raftsman   17 17
Storekeeper 12   12
Total 28
(33%)
57
(67%)
85

 

Some of the Serocker residents earned their living from producing and selling beer and whiskey. In 1873, there were 23 residents of Serock that were in this business, of which 15 were Jews, and amongst those were bakers and merchants. The income from the alcohol tax collection significantly complemented their house expenses. Just as in earlier years, the lessee of the alcohol tax collection was also in the hands of the local Jews. According to the written journals, one could only lease through an auction, so that the one who put forth the largest sum was the one who got it, and he himself had to be content with only a small percent. This happened in the following way:

[Page 39]

The magistrate presented the issues and terms of the forthcoming auction, and they also presented this information in the town synagogues, and the informants had to sign a document confirming that they had informed the Jews about this. The auctions had a certain characteristic course, and the Jews played a prominent role in this. In one of these auctions, in the year 1819, there was one such participating Jew, the innkeeper Eliezer Hersh, who heroically rivaled three landowners. There was only a small difference in the sums they put forward, because the landowner Ignazi Dmokhovski offered 23 zlotys, and the noted Jew 24 zlotys.

In the later years, at these auctions, there was serious competition amongst the Jews because being a lessee for the alcohol tax was one of the few opportunities for some easier earnings. In the year 1847, the lessee in Serock incidentally became Hersh Igelberg. Against him, stepped up Pesach Mjodovnik who wrote a letter about this to the commission of internal affairs in Warsaw, in which one reads: “As a stable resident of Serock at the time of being informed about the auction to collect the income from the alcohol tax, and not being at home at that time, but being on my way home, it was made known to me that the Jew Hersh Igelberg received the above mentioned lease for 330 silver rubles. I declare the sum of 375 silver rubles, with the request that the esteemed government commission should grant that between me and him there should be a repeated competition auction, or that they should organize with me directly a signed contract.” This was not the only attempt to take away the lessee's right from Igelberg. At the same time, another Serocker Jew, Berek Rosental, offered 400 rubles for the same thing, that is even more than Mjodovnik. Nonetheless, Igelberg remained as lessee, even though he was always attacked for this by the Jews. The behavior of Mjodovnik and Rosental indicate that the interactions amongst the Jews in Serock in the half of the 19th century already did not have the character of the small settlements with the small number of families, because only there did the togetherness support good neighborly behavior. On that account, there were already several Jewish societies in Serock …

[Page 40]

…which naturally, came to rivalry and competition for more lucrative income sources.

The Serocker Jews struggled in many ways to lease the alcohol profits, even those who did not spend the necessary capital. Part of this last group, was the noted Tuvia Levin, who in 1811, was not able to put in the required capital. The vice-prefect of the Pultusk Commons later determined that not only was it difficult for Levin to put forward the funds, but he was so poor that in times of money losses, he would not even be able to cover that. It is worth remembering that in the year 1820, Levin – together with another lessee – Eliezer Hersh, were the forerunners of the town's community.

In 1822, Eliezer Cohen was the collector for the alcohol tax, but because he did not possess his own money, he had to pass on the job to sub-collectors. The go between was Moshe Goldberg from Makow, bringing in the collector Pesach Kupchik. The last one always gave over the collecting to other Jews. In this fashion, there was always a standing row of sub-collectors, who did not dispense the necessary money and had to give the collection to other Jews. Only by always giving over the collection to other colleagues, did they have the opportunity to earn small sums of money. Applying this method [of earning money] was also tied in to the general life situation of the Jewish population of Serock at that time, where the economic conditions allowed only for singular professions and for small businesses, because it was only individuals themselves who took business initiative in other areas.

However, even in these conditions, over the years, occasionally, more Jews bought established estates. It is worthwhile noting that in this area, there were no limitations imposed on the Jewish population in Serock, as was done in the larger, more developed settlements. Because of that, in the first years of the 19th century, some of the Serocker Jews lived in their own homes. Understandably, these were not large, city houses, but…

[Page 41]

… small, wooden houses. In the year 1809, Chaim Itzkowicz bought one such house from Jan Polakowicz. And according to the official documents, this was a building: “From 2 houses – an alcove with a chamber, a barn with a feeder (for animals and not pigs) in the town of Serock, on the rebitve.(?) The new owners were obliged to pay 12 zlotys a year, and for the building, he paid the large sum of 4,360. That means, twice the amount that it cost for the payment of the annual leasing of the alcohol tax in Serock.

In the second half of the 19th century, a large portion of the Jews had their own established estates. And in the year 1864, there were already 197 Jewish families there – 50 families, 25.4% living in their own wooden houses, because at that time, there was only one brick house. The ratios for this amongst the non-Jews in Serock presented differently: 65% of the non-Jews lived in their own houses, but they were mainly land workers, bath owners, and had businesses of buildings and apartments. A small number of Jews, primarily innkeepers, took up gardening, and in the year 1825, 8 Jews had their own gardens.

The business structure in Serock of the 19th century created a business basis for only a limited number of residents. The administration of the Polish monarchy and the occupying powers did nothing to industrialize the town. So, Serock remained a small settlement that had groups of manual laborers, small businesses, and land workers, a part of whom also took on other types of work.

Growth in Population in Houses in Serock

Year Population #
houses
Avg.
residents
per house
1827 1008 100 11
1862 1979 140 14
1864 2116 142 15
1885
(approx)
2500 200 12+

 

[Page 42]

Already in 1864, there were 197 Jewish families living in Serock. In general, there were 1164 Jews, who comprised 55% of the general population. This indicates the level of development in the Jewish population in early Serock. A group of a few families who settled there in the first half of the 18th century, and who supported itself by managing an inn, a distillery, or a brewery, in the fifties of the 19th century, was transformed into a large circle, spreading out in their professions and fortunes, constituting the majority of the residents of the town.

Sources:

Archiwum Skarbu Koronneo, oddzial LVI, Nr. 22, k. 42-44.

Zakroczymskie Grodszkie Relacje, Nr.67, k. 376-377, 274, 277.

Zakroczymskie Grodzkie Relacje, Nr. 76, k. 278, 816-874 v.

Konisja Rzadowa Spraw Wewnetrznych I Duchownych, Nr. 4673, 4674, 4675, 4676, 4678, 4680.

 

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