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[Page 43 - Hebrew] [Page 65 - Yiddish]

Jews in Serock from the End
of the 19th Century Until the Outbreak of WWII

By Khanokh Vardi, Ramat Gan

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

Forward

Until the year 1856, Serock belonged to the district of Plotsk, and after that to the district (duchy or state system “vojvudstvo”) of Warsaw, of the Pultusk circle.

By the end of the 19th century, in the year 1897 - according to the statistics, the numbers of the Serock population were as follows:

General numbers: Jews: Poles:
3,916 souls 2,054 (52.5%) (47.5%) 1862

(“Yevreiskaya Encyklopedia” in Russian, Volume 14, page 174)

 

Chapter One

From the Beginning of the 20th Century
Until the Outbreak of WWI in the Year 1914

The general life of the Jewish community is saturated with its traditional ways: the center of life was the Beis HaMedrash, education was exclusively in kheder and in yeshivos (religious schools), and the principal leader was - the city's Rav (rabbinic leader).

Economic life was in ruins, partly because of little capacity to earn wages, and life was discreetly supported through charity.

Events that occurred in the outside world and in the general Jewish world, such as wars, revolutions, strikes, unrests, the Zionist and socialist awakenings, etc., reached the town in only pale resonances. From time to time, a Zionist speaker would come to town, and they would listen thirstily to his speech. From mouth to ear, they would talk about a familiar person that spread forbidden invitations to the farmers in the surrounding areas, and how the gendarmes (police) would be looking for him in all corners.

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After the revolution in 1905, the Czarist Russian powers strengthened the attacks against the Jews even in the places - such as Serock - where until now they had not felt it.

Several Jewish revolutionaries - Ahare'le the revolutionary and others - ran away to North America, and some, through many different means, came to Israel.

In the year 1912, anti-Semitism worsened at the hands of the Poles, because on account of the Jewish voices, a representative of the Polish socialists, Jagiello[1],1 was elected to the Duma (Russian representative assembly), and the representative of the Endekes (Polish Nationalist and Anti-Semitic Party), Jan Kucharzewski, suffered a total loss.

The Polish anti-Semites declared an economic boycott against the Jews, from which the Jews in the small towns suffered in particular, and among these small towns was Serock.

In the situation of a half-dormant society and an economic standstill, and in the voice of sharp national conflict and poisonous anti-Semitic propaganda, along with unknown expectations for the future, WWI erupted in August 1914, for which the Jews in all parts of Poland were unprepared.

 

Chapter Two

From the Outbreak of WWI until the Establishment of the
State of Poland on November 17, 1918

Soon after the beginning of the war, the oppression of the Serock Jews began. The representatives of the community were immediately arrested and after a long time, they had to pay a high fine. All males fifteen years and older were forced to dig security ditches and to protect the telephone and telegraph lines from the insurgents.

Every minute, the Cossacks broke into Jewish homes “searching for arms,” but in fact they stole everything they possibly could, and paid with violence and curses.

As the final retreat by the Russians, the city of Serock was bombed by the Germans, and a large portion of the houses was ruined

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The Jews were hiding in the cellars. But during the final moments of the retreat, the Cossacks even attacked those in the cellars, searched for arms, and stole anything worthwhile.

In one cellar, the brave and daring Khaim-Isser, may his memory be blessed, physically stood up to the Cossacks, and in this uneven contest, died from a revolver shot.

The last bomb fell in a courtyard and killed fourteen Jews, among them the well known rich man Khaim Hillel Ubogi, of blessed memory.

In the spring of 1915, the town was taken over by the Germans, and this was received by the Jews with mixed feelings.

The war and the German invasion caused fundamental changes to Jewish life: the social dormancy disappeared, the traditional walls were broken, and many barriers fell away, and the earlier community leaders began to fall away from the arena.

The German occupants blocked up the wells of earning a livelihood, and all means were cut off through the many prohibitions. In order to survive, many Jews were forced to smuggle foodstuffs from the villages into the towns, and from here to Warsaw.

New life flowed into the town, and the bearers of this new life were the youth that was looking for a way out of this difficult situation. The youth, as the parents, remained completely unemployed.

Zionist, Zionist-socialists, and Communist organizations sprouted, along with cultural organizations, etc. The Beis Hamedrash began to empty out.

In the time of the German invasion, several families immigrated to America.

By the end of the German invasion, anti-Semitism increased within the Polish population, such that on the day that the establishment of an interim Polish Republic was proclaimed (November 11, 1918), for all the Jews - and in particular the Jews in the small towns, that became a day of unrest and fear.

A few days after the establishment of the Polish Republic, the military of General Haller made a pogrom on the Jews of Lemberg. As a protest against …

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… the pogrom, the leaders of the Polish Jewry decided to proclaim December 1, 1918, as a day of general mourning.

The Jewish youth in Serock, that concentrated itself around Zionist organizations and the “Progress” library, organized the protest day in the large shul in the city, in which the Ark (where the Torah scrolls are kept) was draped in black. All Jewish stores closed at a designated time, and the masses marched to the designated place. The large shul was packed tight and the youth and their pickets were found in all corners of the town in order to offset any chance of anti-Semitic activity.

The Polish security organizations knew of all this and tried to convince the storekeepers to remain open, but they were not successful.

The day of protest against the Lemberg pogrom was well organized and ended without incident, thanks to the brazen youth that had thrown off their sleepiness and were now searching for some relief of their needs.

 

Chapter Three

Jewish Institutions between the Two World Wars 1914-1939

A. The Zionist Movement:

By the end of the year 1916, two Zionist organizations had been established:

  1. Kadima” for men, and at the head was Aharon Krongold, Zvi Kleinman, of blessed memory, and others.

  2. Bnos Tziyon” for women, and at the head were the Krongold sisters of blessed memory, Esther Leah Shljakhtus and Devora Granjewicz.
    The abovementioned organizations, which evoked a great opposition amongst the religious elders, did not remain in existence for long because the majority of their members left the town.

  3. After the establishment of the new Polish state, in 1919, through the members Shmuel Dunner (now in the U.S.), Zvi Kleinman, of blessed memory, Borukh Krystal, of blessed memory, and Yehoshua-Dovid Babek, of blessed memory, there was established …

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… in the house of Reb Yakov Rosenberg, of blessed memory, on May Third Street, the Algemeine Tzionistishe (General Zionist) organization where those who had left the Beis HaMedrash got together. In this organization there was an active library in three languages: Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish. In the 1930s, the head of this library was Yekhiel Meyer Werdiman (Warshawski) - today living in Israel, and after him, there was Dr. Inwentarz, of blessed memory, and Aharon Chesner (today in Israel). The last chairman was Khaim Aharon Faskowicz, of blessed memory.
In the lap of the organization, all the Zionist and Zionist socialist youth organizations were organized, along with societies for mutual help and labor unions.
  1. Hashomer Hatzair” was established in the late 1920s by the Warsaw “shomeres” (“guard”) Lonka Goldman (today a pediatrician in Hedera, Israel) and Yekhezkel Friedman, of blessed memory. Two hundred children from all the working classes belonged to Hashomer Hatzair, boys and girls aged eleven to seventeen.
    The Hashomer Hatzair strengthened the youth, new songs were sung in every corner, and the flows of people leaving the town brought important changes for the young children. Khanokh Werdi (Warshawski) was the leader of this group until his Aliyah to Israel in the year 1934, and after him, until the outbreak of WWII, the leadership was held by: Elkhonon Rosenberg, Yehuda Kronenberg (both now in Israel), and Grinboim, of blessed memory.

  2. Histadrut Hekhalutz founded in the mid 1920s, and at her head was Raphael Freedman (today in Israel).

  3. Hanoar Hatzioni founded at the end of the 1920s by Avrohom Rosenberg of blessed memory, and at her head was Shakhna Freedman, of blessed memory.

  4. Beitar was founded at the beginning of the 1930s by Yosef Pnjewski (today in Israel) in the mill of Berl Itzkowicz, of blessed memory, and Motl Melnik, of blessed memory, and they took in hundreds of children from all the working classes. In the final years, until the outbreak of WWII, Avrohom Shpilke the teacher, of blessed memory, was at her head.

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  1. Histadrut Hamizrachi was founded in the 1920s by Yeshayohu Hofman, of blessed memory, and Moishe Fogelman, of blessed memory, in the house of the abovementioned Reb Yakov Rosenberg, of blessed memory. The members here were Beis Hamedrash learners, religious craftsmen, and also those who had distanced themselves from the Khassidic little stiebelech (small synagogues). The place of the Histadrut Hamizrachi also served as a modern kheder under the direction of Reb Yehuda Leyb Gutkowski, of blessed memory, and also served as a place for a minyan (quorum) for prayer.

Within the framework of this organization, the following religious Zionist youth organizations were established:

  1. Hashomer Hadati to which the children of the Mizrachi group belonged. At the head of this organization until its end was Borukh Levinson, of blessed memory.
  2. Hekhalutz Hamizrachi to which religious young men belonged, candidates for making Aliyah to Israel. At the head of this organization, until his move to Israel in 1933, was Borukh Gurman, and after him Yehuda Salyarzh, of blessed memory.
  3. Kibbutz Hakhshara from Hekhalutz Hamizrachi. At the beginning of the 1930s, a commune called Hakhshara was established from Hekhalutz Hamizrachi. It was located in a house in a courtyard opposite the city's large shul. There were dozens of boys and girls there that worked at various jobs in town such as in the flour mills, the grain mills, wood chopping, and in various jobs in the home. The organizer and patron of this Kibbutz Hakhshara was the abovementioned Borukh Gurman.

 

B. Agudas Yisroel

Agudas Yisroel was founded in 1919 by Reb Yitzkhok Swarc, of blessed memory, Reb Khaim Rosenberg, of blessed memory, Reb Yitzkhok Meyer Kuperboim, of blessed memory, and Reb Dovid Warshawski, of blessed memory. Membership consisted of the Ger and Radzymin khassidim, with the majority being teachers and religious business people.

Until the mid 1920s, the Agudah was the only ruling voice in the lives of the community, but after that she had to step down and share her influence with the new, rising power in the city - the Zionist movement, and all her offshoots, and the …

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… camp of the extreme left that gathered around the “Yiddish People's Education League.” Within the framework of the Agudah, the following organizations were established:

  1. Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel to which the young students in the Beis Hamedrash belonged, along with a few of the young boys from the Agudah groups. At the beginning, the journalist and writer Nute Berliner of blessed memory was at her head, along with Shloime Marcus, of blessed memory. The last chairman was Meyer Salyarzh, of blessed memory.
  2. Poalei Agudas Yisroel to which religious workers belonged, Khassidic children, and at the head of the organization until his Aliyah to Israel in 1932, was Gershon Prag.

 

C. The “Progress” Library:

The “Progress“ library was established at the end of the year 1915 (at the time of the German invasion) by Shmerl Anshmill (he died in Argentina), Esther Leah Shlyakhtus, of blessed memory, and Aharon Krongold, of blessed memory. The first building of the library was on the Warsaw highway, a little outside of the city.

The youth that was thirsty for knowledge thronged to the library, and the demands for reading material was enormous. Friday nights there were recitations and “Kestel-oventn” [evenings with a variety of speakers and writers presenting their ideas, designed for people with little education], and also collective singing. The staunchly religious parents put forth a strong opposition to the library, but none of these battles made the slightest difference because the youth was its protector. The library also had an active drama circle.

At approximately this time, the library settled into a large place, in a house in the city's marketplace, and there it evolved, for many years, into a center for the enthusiastic youth.

In the time of the Polish-Russian war (1920), the library's main hall was confiscated for military needs. After the war, the Polish powers did not want to renew the library's permit, and the fruitful activity of the cultural institution was brutally destroyed.

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D. The Professional Union for Unskilled Laborers:

The union was founded by Communist circles at the beginning of the year 1922 in the house of Baile Merker (today in Argentina), on May Third Street. The union was the gathering place for both the working youth that worked in the city as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, stitchers, and also for those working in Warsaw who would come home every Shabbos. At the union's location there was an active, large library. In the year 1925, two members of the union were arrested - Hershel Mendzelewski, of blessed memory, and Simkha Esterowicz (today in Paris), during the distribution of illegal Communist notices during a market day among the farmers wagons.

After the arrest, the power organizations shut down the Professional Union.

 

E. Jewish People's Education League:

The circles that participated in the now closed Professional Union for Unskilled Laborers, received a new permit in a very short time to open a club by the name of “The Jewish People's Education League.“

The one responsible for developing the regulations was the Polish Parliament deputy of the Jewish People's Party, Noakh Prilutski, of blessed memory.

At the head of the “League” at the beginning were Khaim Kopetch (today in Argentina), Yosel Feinboim (today in the US), and Shloime Ostrowski, of blessed memory.

The League evolved into multi-pronged activities, such as: a multilingual library (Yiddish, Polish, etc.), readings, self-education circles, a drama circle (under the leadership of Shloime Ostrowski, of blessed memory), and a football team.

Around the League, there gathered a large number of the Jewish working and general youth of the extreme left orientation.

In the later years, at the head of the League, until its demise at the hands of the Polish powers in 1937, were: Avrohom Gutkowski, …

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… of blessed memory, Hersh Zaltsman, of blessed memory, Avrohom Jaszombek, of blessed memory (one of the best actors in the drama circle), and Bunim Fogelman (today in Israel).

 

F. The Wind Orchestra:

In the year 1926, a wind orchestra was established by the master carpenter, Hershel Borenshtayn, of blessed memory, who was also the director. The conductor himself played in a military wind orchestra in the Czar's times, and he himself was a passionate music lover. All the performances were held in the director's (carpenter's) workshop. There, there were all types of musical instruments as well. Practically all the musicians were carpenters. The orchestra participated in all open, general, and Jewish events, and brought some joy and cheer into the gray and difficult lives.

 

G. The Handworkers' Union:

In 1926, the union was established by the tinsmith Reb Meyer Pshikorski, of blessed memory, and the tailor Reb Aharon Leyb Grinboim, of blessed memory. The union's business was to acquire raw materials for reduced prices and represent the handworkers in their tax evaluation in front of the finance office in the Jewish community.

 

H. Financial Institutions:

  1. The People's Bank (Bank Ludovi):

    The Polish-Russian war in 1920 impoverished the Jews in Serock. Many of those who occupied themselves with work, merchants and vendors in the villages, were forced to borrow capital with low interest just to keep going. The People's Bank filled this need. The initiator and organizer of this was the young man Avrohom Maimon (today in Israel) - a recent newcomer to Serock. In the beginning, he collected from those closest to him a few hundred zlotys, and distributed them, according to the traditional ways, to the needy workers, small businessmen, etc., as a donation without interest, but with set amounts for paying back. It is worth noting that Avrohom …

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… had the hard work, such as: collecting the money, calculating the pledges and doing the bookkeeping - and he did it all voluntarily, without any recognition.

Meanwhile, the needs grew. The financial help that had existed until now was not appropriate for the new situation, and so there was the need to find a way to extend these services.

To the fruitful activities of Avrohom Maimon, there was also Reb Yeshayahu Hofman, of blessed memory. Both of these men, by the end of 1922, moved to the “Union of the Jewish Cooperative Businesses” in Warsaw with a request to help them and permit them to establish an offshoot of the Union in Serock. The directors of the Union, the revered Dr. Khaim Shoshkes, of blessed memory, M. Shmoish, of blessed memory, and Dr. Alexander Birkenheim, of blessed memory, were very positively inclined to these requests, and also put forth to the “Joint” head office to decide about the accreditation of the new Serock offshoot.

By the end of 1923, and with the strong organizations, the regulations for the Serock People's Bank were established as an offshoot of the Union in Warsaw. A Jewish resident offered half a room without rent to the deposition of the People's Bank, and the new work began from the onset of the new laws.

The Joint organization put up a credit of 10,000 zlotys towards this new department, and the Serock Jews brought in as a one time contribution a few thousand zlotys that immediately enabled the increase of dispensed funds. The bank began working according to the laws, taking a certain percent, and the profit grew, and they began depositing funds in this department as well.

In a short time, the number of members grew to 500. Because of this extension, there was now a special location in the market, just opposite the grain mill of Reb Menakhem Novogrodski, of blessed memory. Avrohom Maimon was officially elected as bookkeeper and secretary, and Yehuda Zimerman, of blessed memory, as treasurer.

The first general meeting of all People's Bank members took place at the end of 1924, in the large Gerer khassidic shul.

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The financial status of the bank at that time was:

Capital Activity 10,000 zlotys
Income from Joint 20,000 zlotys
Deposits 100,000 zlotys

In the General Annual Assembly meeting, all the members participated, and in the first election, the following were elected: Reb Yitzkhok Swarc, of blessed memory; Reb Yeshayohu Hofman, of blessed memory; Reb Khaim Rosenberg, of blessed memory; Reb Yitzkhok Meyer Kuperboim, of blessed memory; Reb Dovid Warshawski, of blessed memory (they replaced the merchants); and Reb Meyer Pshikorski, of blessed memory (representatives of the Handworkers Union). Aside from the election, there was a council of nine people elected as a revisions committee.

The responsibilities of the elected were: deciding on grants and budgets, and remaining alert as to how to receive distributions from the Joint and from other charitable institutions.

The People's Bank was transformed into an economical place of the first class, and the main advisory and influential aspects came from the people of the Agudas Yisroel, representatives of the merchants.

The Handworkers' Union, at whose head were Reb Aron Leyb Grinboim, of blessed memory, Reb Yosef Oryl, of blessed memory, and Reb Yehoshua Dovid Babek, of blessed memory, with all its strength, in about one year's time, together with other opponents from the acting committee, tried to increase its influence, but it was never successful.

In the General Assembly meetings that took place in the final years, which because of the large number of members took place in the city's large theater hall “Yuchenko,” representatives of the “Union” in Warsaw participated and always took active participation in the ongoing proceedings and set the way for future activities.

And because the Handworkers' Union and other opponents from the bank's acting committee were not successful in extending their influence, they established their own bank, a “mutual bank” (Bank Udzhalove [the Interest Bank]), that was run by Reb Gershon Prag (today in Israel), Reb Yakov Dovid Milshtayn (also known as the “Moyreh Hoyra'ah” [the rabbi who decides matters of rabbinical law]), and Reb Shloime Krimkowicz, of blessed memory …

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… (the son of Reb Meyer Ailmakher, of blessed memory), but after a short time, the competing bank closed down.

In the year 1929, in all the Jewish cooperative banks, among which was the Serock affiliate, a difficult and lengthy crisis erupted.

The large Polish anti-Semitic party (Endekes) strengthened their economic discrimination against all the Jews, and in particular against the small shopkeepers, by opening cooperatives for the consumers and by picketing in front of the Jewish stores. The picketers did not allow the Polish farmers to make their purchases by the Jewish merchants nor to make any orders by the Jewish craftsmen.

This paralyzed Jewish business and Jewish work, and the clients from the Jewish cooperative bank were unable to pay off their debts on time. The bank began to suffer from losses of the capital turnover against their debtors, and because of that, according to the regulations, the bank had to stiffen measures against the debtors. The bank also lost the members' trust because the bank could not pay off in the designated time the deposits that were being reclaimed.

After that, there were the occasional rises and falls, the Union intervened, and Joint helped, but the bank could already not save itself completely from the fierce anti-Semitic scourge.

At the end of 1929, Avrohom Maimon left the bank, because the central bank moved him out as a controller of land measuring (surveyor). His replacement as secretary and main bookkeeper was elected, Yehuda Cymerman, of blessed memory.

In the last bank election, the following were elected: Reb Dovid Warshawski, of blessed memory, Reb Yitzkhok Meyer Kuperboim, of blessed memory, Reb Yitzkhok Meyer Solyarzh, of blessed memory, and Reb Meyer Pshikorski, of blessed memory.

The bank administrator was Reb Avrom Broin, of blessed memory.

  1. The Community Charity Fund (gemillas khasodim fund):

    The fund was established in the year 1926 and her first …

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… elected president was the active Reb Yekhiel Rosenberg, of blessed memory, who was devoted to his post until he moved to Jablonna Legionowa.

The mandate of the fund was: distribute small loans from 50 to 200 zlotys without interest to small business men, villagers, handworkers, etc., and also to ensure from time to time allotted sums of money to the needy that had lost every source of income.

The fund's capital was collected from membership and from Joint subsidies.

In the last election, the following were voted in: Yehoshua Dovid Babek, of blessed memory, Moyshe Fogelman, of blessed memory, Alter Zakharek, of blessed memory, and Yosef Oryl, of blessed memory (all representatives from the Handworker's Union).

The last secretary was Elimelekh Pjenik, of blessed memory.

G. Societies for Mutual Aid:

  1. Women's Union The Women's Union was established in 1926 by the woman Khana Uldak, of blessed memory, the daughter of the old geldsher (person with some money in his pocket for quick assistance?), Reb Yisroel Juskowicz, of blessed memory. The responsibilities of the Women's Union were: mutual help, social gatherings, donating charity discreetly, and giving courses in baking and cosmetics.
    In the management of the Union were - other than the woman Uldak, of blessed memory, this was a place (like a drop-in center) for women who were suffering, and for women with family conflicts.
    In the management were - aside from the woman Uldak, of blessed memory, the social activists and devoted women - Fraydel Warshawski, of blessed memory, and Khaya Nowogrodski, of blessed memory.

  2. The committee for overnight help No one knows when this group was established. It existed from the first day that the community existed. The members were ordinary, kind people with a compassionate heart. The responsibilities of the group were: to stay overnight with those who were very sick; to give free medical help (such as doctors, prescriptions, etc.) to the poor, and to lend medical instruments against a pledge (i.e., promise to be returned) to anyone that needed.
    In the services that were provided to fill the need for open socialized medical help - such as medical insurance, hospitalization, available pharmaceuticals - the members of this organization filled that need and their work …

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… had an ethical, community service delivery of the highest caliber. This strong and invaluable assistance was provided by the “overnight assistance” group on a voluntary basis, not gaining in any way any personal profit.

  1. The group to help brides prepare for marriage (Hakhnosas Kalah). This is an age old institution in which only its members change from time to time; an institution that is run single-handedly, without election, without bookkeeping, where only the devotion of those committed who work discreetly give life to all the activities. The responsibilities of the “Hakhnosas Kalah” institution were: discreet help for poor Jewish “daughters” to help them build their homes (nests).
    Lastly, the heavy burden was carried by the remarkable, simple Jew, the smith Reb Avrohom-Yekel Pnjewski, of blessed memory, whose heart was filled with compassion. In his role, Reb Avrohom-Yekel, of blessed memory, spoke very little. As he crossed over the threshold of a house, his mouth clearly but quietly said: “hakhnosas kalah,” and he stretched out his right hand. A heart touches a heart - and everyone gave him according to their means.

 

Chapter Four

The Jewish Community and Her Activities

The Jewish community presented itself as a corporate (legal) body in harmony with the special law that was established in the Polish Sejm (lower house of parliament), and her mandate was: to satisfy the religious needs of the Jewish community. Each Jew was obliged to pay an annual community tax. The Polish Sejm worried about not giving this institution just any status of nationalist autonomy.

The community institutions were:

a) the Rabbinate; b) the ritual slaughter; c) the synagogues; d) religious education; e) the burial society; f) the cemeteries; g) the mikva (ritual baths); h) the charity organizations.

  1. The Rabbinate

    The first city rabbi of the Serock community was Rav Yosef Lewinshtayn, of blessed memory, author of the famous bibliographic work “Dor ve'dor…

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… ve'dorshov” (generations, and generations, and his generations), one of the greatest in his generation in Polish Jewry in the last eras in Torah and in khasidic knowledge.
Rav Lewinshtayn, of blessed memory held his position of city rabbi of Serock for about 55 years, from 1870-1924.
He died in his old age, on a Wednesday, 26 days in the month of Nissan, 1924. He was 84 years old.
The second and last city rabbi was Rav Yisroel-Yitzkhok Morgenshtern, of blessed memory, son of the Wyszkow city rabbi, a great intellect and khasid. Rav Yisroel-Yitzkhok Morgenshtern, of blessed memory, held his position of city rabbi of Serock from 1924 until the destruction of the community.

  1. The ritual slaughter

    The community took care of the kashrus of the meat (making sure the meat was kosher), and was also responsible for sanitation responsibilities of the Jewish section in the general slaughter-house.
    The ritual slaughterers (shokhtim) and butchers of that time were:

    1. Shokhtim: Reb Eliyahu Stelang, of blessed memory; Reb Refoel Lewinson, of blessed memory, Reb Menakhem Mendel Frenkel, of blessed memory; and Reb Khaim Shloime, of blessed memory.
    2. Butchers: Reb Menakhem Mendel Markowicz, of blessed memory; Reb Gimpel and Reb Moyshe Zilbershtayn, of blessed memory; Reb Khaim Nosson Winogura, of blessed memory; and Reb Avrohom Pshikorski, of blessed memory (he died in Israel).

    The income from the slaughter payments was divided up evenly for the city magistrate and the Jewish community.

  2. The synagogues

    At the beginning of the 20th century, a large synagogue was built from wood with the initiative of Reb Dovid Rosenberg, of blessed memory, the president of the community at that time.
    One section of the synagogue served as the Beis Hamedrash, where they studied and prayed every day.
    In the large Beis Hamedrash, every evening after minkha (evening prayers), the working Jews would sit at a long table and on one side they would listen to a study of Ein Yaakov, delivered by Reb Berish Solyarzh, …

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… of blessed memory (he was called “Berish the speaker”), and on the other side of the table, there was a study of the Talmud delivered by the intellectual, Reb Yitzkhok Blakhman, of blessed memory.
The smith Reb Avrohom-Yakov Pnjewski, of blessed memory, a remarkable Jew and individual, took care of the large bookcase of religious books (seforim) and the large Beis Hamedrash.
Also, the khasidic shteibelekh (small shuls) of the Gerer and Radzimin khasidim, served as places of prayer and of studying Torah.
The place of prayer (minyan) in the house of Rav Lewinshtayn, of blessed memory, continued to exist even after his passing, until the destruction, thanks to the devotion of the esteemed Jew, the tinsmith Reb Meyer Pshikorski, of blessed memory.

  1. Religious Education

    1. Private schools (under the supervision of the community)

      1. Children aged five to six began their learning with the teacher Reb Avrohom Leib, of blessed memory, a short man with a shining face. His school was on Kosciuszko Street. Almost all of the young children learned the Alef Beis with him over the last thirty years, along with how to pray, and the beginnings of Torah studies (khumash). They studied with him about a year or two and then they moved on to the school with the teacher Reb Khaim Yoine Sempf, of blessed memory.

      2. For many years, the school of Reb Khaim Yoine Sempf, of blessed memory, was located in large cellar area that was also the living quarters for his large family, on Kosciuszko Street in Kuzhnicki's house. Around a large table, there sat up to forty boys who studied khumash and started to learn the Talmud (gemara) with the Rashi commentary only [author of comprehensive commentary on the entire Tanakh and Talmud]. Reb Khaim Yoine Sempf, of blessed memory, was a short man with a heavy white beard, an enthusiastic khasid of the Gerer Rebbe, and a master of dreams. His students liked him very much because of his wondrous stories which he would tell during the break time between one subject and the next. Studies began very early in the morning and continued until seven or eight in the evening, with a lunch break. The dear mothers would bring breakfast to the school.

      3. The children studied in this school for two or three years and after that they went over to another school at a higher level - they were now ten or eleven years old - and studied with Reb Shimon Sempf, of blessed memory. Reb Yosef Soljarzh, of blessed memory (called Yosef the speaker) …

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… and Reb Yisroel Zelig, of blessed memory. There they learned the Torah portion of the week with Rashi commentary (parshas hashevua), Talmud with commentaries and super-commentaries (gemara with tosefos and meforshim), and also shulkahn arukh (book of laws for conducting daily life).

Here they learned for two or three years, until the students reached the level where they could study independently. Some progressed in their studies by attending yeshivos that were close by or far away.

  1. In the school of Reb Dovid Itzik, of blessed memory, and Reb Efraim Sandler, of blessed memory, the children who studied there were mainly those whose parents who decided to have their children work and become apprentices at a young age with different workers, etc.
    In these schools, they learned the Alef Beis, prayers, Jewish law, up until the point where they knew a portion of khumash and could read the portion themselves.

    Yesoidei Hatorah school (a communal institution under the supervision of the community itself)

    In order to avoid a conflict with the Polish government law that required each child without exception, from religious to nationalist, except those who attended private or community schools established by the Polish education ministry, to attend a public government people's school, where for the Jewish children there were only two hours per week of religious classes - and all of it in the Polish language - the Agudas Yisroel in Serock established a school called “Yesoidei Hatorah” whose regulations and program were defined by the Polish education ministry.
    The school was established at the beginning of the 1920s, and was located in an especially beautiful building with a pretty garden around it on the street that ran from the market to the wells (zdroi [health]). The furnishings there were like those in a modern school.
    There were ten grades in the school, and only for two hours per week did the teacher Khaim Jurkowicz (today in the U.S.), director of the public government people's school (powszechna) for Jewish children in Serock - teach the higher grades the following subjects: Polish, math, geography, and history (all in the Polish language).

[Page 82]

In this school there were also some of the teachers from the abovementioned private schools.
The first director of this school was a khasidic Jew from Warsaw, Reb Shloime Gavriel, of blessed memory, a good organizer, an understanding person, and someone beloved by the students.
At the head of the management were: Reb Yitzkhok Swarc, of blessed memory, Reb Dovid Warshawski, of blessed memory, Reb Yakov Moyshe Zlotogurski, of blessed memory, and Reb Nute Berliner, of blessed memory.
(In all of the abovementioned religious educational institutions the parents themselves paid the tuition.)

  1. Elementary school

    Many attempts were made by Reb Kalman Winekrantz, of blessed memory, to organize an elementary school in Serock and to set it on strong grounds.
    All efforts were in vain, and after a short time, the school was closed because it was impossible to assemble even the most minimal number of maintenance days (where there would be food) for the yeshiva boys.

  2. Talmud Torah

    The Talmud Torah school was at the cost to the community and was located in a room opposite the big shul. In this school, there were orphans, those children of the very poor, and those who did not fit in to the other schools.
    The last Talmud Torah teacher was Reb Yitzkhok Meyer, of blessed memory.

  3. Private modern school (partially under the supervision of the community)

    1. In the room of the Mizrakhi organization in the house of Reb Yakov Rosenberg, of blessed memory, Reb Yehuda Leyb Gutkowski, of blessed memory, a longtime teacher in the Lithuanian yeshivos and a great scholar of Hebrew, ran a proper school in which there were thirty children, particularly from the Mizrakhi followers. There were two classes in this school: a beginner's class, ages six to eight, proceeding to the next level, ages nine to twelve. Other than the traditional religious studies …

[Page 83]

…the following were also studied: Hebrew and Hebrew grammar, math, geography, a bit of history, and the Polish language.

  1. Reb Zwi Hersh Efraim Boguslawski, of blessed memory, an enlightened Lithuanian yeshiva boy, ran a proper school in his private house on Kosciuszko Street. There were twenty students with him, children from craftsmen. The primary studies were: Torah studies, Hebrew (language and grammar), Talmud, and the Polish language.

  2. Reb Yitzkhok Meyer Apelboim, of blessed memory, a former Ger khasidtishzitzer” [someone who participated at the Rebbe's gatherings] and a great scholar, ran a proper school in his house on the market street (in the house of Hilel Katzav, of blessed memory). In this school, there were boys and girls together. Other than the traditional religious studies, they also learned Torah studies, Hebrew (language and grammar), and the new Hebrew literature.
    This school was closed in 1929.

  3. Reb Eliyahu Aron Rosental, of blessed memory, a great scholar, and a deeply religious man and an enlightened man, tried to set up a school with a few classes, where they would study religious studies as well as secular studies according to a detailed, thought out plan. The original achievements of the school were the music and song lectures. Because of financial difficulties, the school closed down.

  1. The Burial Society (Khevra Kadisha)

    The members of the burial society were individuals with an internal sense of obligation to fulfill the final will of the person, the one that had died. The entire work, from busying oneself with the body until the actual burial, was done voluntarily. At the head of this organization for many years (until the destruction) was Reb Menakhem Kronenberg, of blessed memory, who always used his free time for holy work and for good things for the community. This organization was under the supervision of the community. But its daily tasks were based on an independent set of activities and regulations. On the group's day, the seventh day of Adar, there was a general meeting and a special meal, and at the end they would elect a new gabay (the person who helped run the shul).

[Page 84]

  1. The cemeteries

    The old and new cemeteries were located three kilometers outside of the city, on the road to Pultusk (past the large sawmill) and in the glow of the clear river Narew. The area belonged to the community, but the administration belonged in the hands of the Burial Society.
    In the cemeteries, the bones of our dearest ancestors from approximately 150 years ago were buried. At the time when the community was destroyed (December 1939), the German vandals destroyed the graves and used the tombstones to build highways.
    The cemetery was dug up, and they planted grass there, and shepherds tended to their flocks there. The cemetery is erased, without any trace at all.

  2. The bathhouse (mikveh)

    The bathhouse was located on a side road, not far from the elder Rav's house, may his memory be blessed, in a large stone building.
    In those times of non-sanitary activities in the town, the bathhouse protected the Jews from many illnesses and diseases.
    The bath attendant, who was hired for the baths by the community, received a designated payment from each visitor.
    Among the Jewish children in the town, there were many frightening tales about the attendants, and so they were afraid to go there at night.

  3. Charity

    The principle of “everyone being responsible for the other” has always been the foundation and the driving force of the activities of the Jewish communities for all generations.

    1. Food for the poor (ma'os khitin)

      Before each Passover, with the community's initiative, there was a special project called ma'os khitin, and with the monies collected they would purchase products for Passover (such as matzo, meat, potatoes, etc.) and they would distribute these to the needy.

[Page 85]

Those active with this mitzvah were: Reb Yekhiel Winekrantz, of blessed memory, and Reb Yosef Dorn, of blessed memory (the last president of the community).

  1. Discreet charity (matan be'seiser)

    From time to time there were special activities for the good of the Jews who had become poor suddenly, and who had been left with nothing. Those active in this mitzvah were: Reb Yosef Jagoda, of blessed memory, and Reb Yisroel Isser Hiller, of blessed memory.

  2. Winter project

    Shortly after the holiday of Sukos, the winter activities for the needy went into action. Using the collected funds, they bought coal and wood for heating and potatoes, and distributed them amongst the needy. Those active in this mitzvah were: Reb Moyshe Granjewicz, of blessed memory, and Reb Moyshe Rosenberg, of blessed memory.

 

Chapter Five

The Last Community Election

There had been no election for many years, and in those times, at the head of the community were: Reb Aron Yoel Granjewicz, of blessed memory, Reb Feivel Rosenberg, of blessed memory, and after him his son Reb Dovid Rosenberg, of blessed memory. This last one held his office for many years as head of the community until 1928.

In 1931, the community held elections in which 90% of the people voted.

The following heads were elected:

  1. Yosef Dorn, of blessed memory, represented the butchers
  2. Aron Leyb Grinboim, of blessed memory, Handworkers' Union
  3. Moyshe Botshan, of blessed memory, Handworkers' Union
  4. Menakhem Kronenberg, of blessed memory, Burial Society
  5. Yosef Jagoda, of blessed memory
  6. Yakov Moyshe Zlotogurski, of blessed memory, Agudas Yisroel
  7. Eliezer Oryl, of blessed memory, private list

As the leader of the community, Reb Yosef Dorn, of blessed memory, was elected, and as treasurer - Reb Aron Leyb Grinboim, of blessed memory.

As the community secretary, from 1929 until the end of 1935, Khaim Ber (now in Israel) held the office, and after him, M. Borenshtayn, of blessed memory, assumed the office.

[Page 86]

(2) On the 20th of Elul, 5696, or September 7, 1936, the last elections in the Serock community were held.

The results of the election, in which there were only three candidate lists, gave rise to a significant change in the social makeup of those elected. They are as follows:

Name of the list:

  1. Gemillas khassodim fund (money for the poor), to which the Handworkers and Butchers Unions belonged:
    1. Reb Aron Leyb Grinboim, of blessed memory
    2. Reb Yehoshua Dovid Babek, of blessed memory
    3. Reb Yosef Dorn, of blessed memory

  2. The Khevra Kadisha (Burial Society)
    1. Reb Menakhem Kronenberg, of blessed memory
    2. Reb Yosef Jagoda, of blessed memory
    3. Reb Motel Melnik, of blessed memory
    4. Reb Yakov Moyshe Zlotogurski, of blessed memory

  3. Zionist organizations.
    1. Reb Zwi Kleinman, of blessed memory

As the head of the community, Reb Yosef Dorn, of blessed memory, was elected again.

[Page 87]

(3) Numbers about income sources, expenditures, budget, community tax payments, number of families - of the Jewish community of Serock.

In the years 1932-1939

Income sources:
  1. community tax
  2. money for shkhita (ritual slaughter)
  3. bathhouse attendant from the baths
  4. donations and gifts

Obligatory expenses:

A. Monthly expense for:

  1. the city rabbi
  2. the rabbi's shamash (assistant)
  3. secretary for the community
  4. the shokhtim (ritual slaughterers)
  5. the shamash of the shul (takes care of the synagogue)
  6. the caretaker of the cemeteries

B. Other expenses:

Renovations for:

  1. the shul
  2. the bathhouse
  3. the cemeteries
  4. subsidies for the needy
  5. unforeseeable expenses

The community properties:

  1. the large city shul
  2. the community house
  3. the mikve
  4. the cemeteries

Average annual budget: 300,000 - 350,000 zlotys
Number of Jewish families: 600-640
Number of community tax payers: 450 heads of households

[Page 88]


Lag be'Omer outing of school children in Serock with their teacher Reb Shimon Sempf

 

[Page 89]

Chapter Six

The Secular Education

  1. Until the end of World War One, almost all of the Jewish children were raised in religious schools (kheder) and yeshivos, and only very few studied in schools in town or in other cities. At the beginning of the 1920s, in accordance with the special laws of the Polish government, public schools (powszechna) for the Jews were opened, whose program was identical to the program of the Polish children, but with the addition of several weekly classes about the Jewish religion. The official language of all the connected schools was Polish.
    Such a school was opened for the Jewish children at the beginning of the 1920s, and the teacher and director was Khaim Jurkewicz from Pultusk (today in the U.S.).
    It was obligatory to attend the abovementioned school, except for those children who studied in private or community schools accredited by the Education Department.
    In the beginning, this school was completely Jewish (both students and teachers), but when it was built up by the beginning of the 1930s - this large, new school building on the road to Pultusk - according to a ruling by the Polish Education Department, it had to merge with the existing school for Polish children. The director of this united school was the Pole Jan Sokalnicki. The hope with this ruling for the merge was to extinguish even the most minimal Jewish "color" in the general state school. In the end, there were several hundred Jewish boys and girls in the school. This peculiarity shook up the Jewish cultural phenomenon.

  2. The Hebrew People's School. Close to the establishment of the new Polish Republic in 1918, a few Zionist parents established a modern Hebrew People's school - under the supervision of the teacher Halperin (today in the U.S.).

[Page 90]


The Jewish (“powszechna”) school

 


Male and female students in the Jewish
(“powszechna”) school with the teacher Ring

 

[Page 91]

The school was free, and the boys went with their heads uncovered. This phenomenon created strong anger in the religious circles.
The school existed for only two years, and then it closed because the director Halperin left for America.

 

Chapter Seven

Society's Last Struggles

In the fall of 1938, there were elections in the whole of Poland for all municipal institutions. The Jews of Serock, despite their depressed state and oppression by the Polish powers, elected two councilmen into the city council.

All the Zionist organizations in Serock took active participation in the elections of the 21st Zionist Congress, which took place in the month of July, 1939 (several weeks before the outbreak of WWII), and the results were as follows:

List #1 - the general Zionist organizations - 38 votes
List #2 - “Eit Livnot - 11 votes
List #3 - Mizrakhi - 10 votes
List #4 - Block for workers in Israel - 34 votes
List #5 - Hanoar Hazioni - 20 votes

(“Haynt,” issue 170 from July 25, 1939)

[Page 92]

Chapter Eight

Tables of Statistics

Table I

The Professional Make-Up of the Jews in Serock before the Outbreak of WWII (1939)

Consecutive Numbers Professions Numbers of
Oldest in Family
1 storekeepers 200
2 restaurateurs 4
3 - TRANSPORT: passenger transports 5
  cargo (merchandise) drivers 25
4 orchard managers (lessees) 20
5 glaziers 5
6 watchmakers 4
7 bakers (bakeries) 7
8 tailors (workshops) 6
9 carpenters (workshops) 6
10 shoemakers (workshops) 18
11 shoe stitchers (workshops) 4
12 package carriers 12
13 knitter (workshops of scrap, sweaters) 3
14 tinsmiths (workshops) 5
15 rope makers 3
16 smiths (workshops) 4
17 grain merchants 20
18 village peddlers 9
19 fishermen and merchants 2
20 fish traders 5
21 wood merchants 2
22 water carriers (drinking water from the wells) 5
23 seamstresses 10
24 - MILL OWNERS: flour 2
  kasha 1
25 meat markets (butchers, animal merchants 8
27 feather pluckers 10
26 kishke makers 2
28 milk merchants 4
29 oil pressers 2
30 hairdresser 4
31- OFFICIALS: bookkeepers 4
  secretaries, treasurers 3
  teachers 2
32 - RELIGIOUS POSITIONS: rabbi 1
  Shokhet (Kosher slaughterer) 4
  menakrim * 3
  mohel ** 1
  shamesh 2
  religious teachers 15
  khazen (cantor) 1
33 doctor's assistant 2
34 medical doctor 1
35 midwife 1
36 dentist 1
37 lawyer 1
  TOTAL: 459

* Menaker: the person who removes forbidden fat and veins from meat
** Mohel: the person who performs the circumcisions

[Page 93]

Comments to Table 1:

Most likely, that aside from eldest supporters in the 459 families, the unemployed youth was occupied as apprentices (or as associates) and they helped with business in the city and outside of the city, as:

  1. loan workers and associates in carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking, etc. 70-80 young people
  2. in business (they helped in their parents' stores and in handling merchandise) 50-60 young people
  3. servant girls - 10 young girls

Year General
Population
Number of Jews % of Jews
1808 1,277 270 (1) 21.1
1827 985 375 (1) 38.1
1856 1,602 901 (2) 56.2
1857 1,637 920 (1) 56.2
1884 2,536 1,821 (3) 71.8
1897 3,916 2,054 (2) 52.4
1908 4,352 2,290 (4) 52.6
1921 4,694 2,295 (5) 48.9
1931 5,413 2,641 (6) 48.8
1939   3,150 (7) *

Sources for Table #2

[Page 94]

Summary

The economic situation of the Jews in Serock at the beginning of the 1920s - after the distress of WWI, the German invasion, the establishment of new Polish republic, the Russo-Polish war - was completely upset, the means of earning a living were stopped up, and poverty was spread into all corners.

In those times, American Jewry came to help the community. “Joint” opened a soup kitchen, distributed clothing, handworkers received raw materials, loans were given without interest, and for the children there were special food products.

This invaluable help actually only slowed the process of the community losing their footing, and even this help could not fulfill all the needs.

In those years, emigration of the Jews in Serock began in large numbers as they left for the U.S. and Argentina, and in smaller groups, also to France, England, and Israel.

The inner political organizations, and all its facets, with the responsibilities of the newly established Polish republic and its aggressive anti-Semitism, strengthened the Jews of Serock and their will for independence against discrimination, and also resulted in a change in leadership in the community.

The Jews in Serock searched for opportunities to live, not only in the countries overseas, but also in countries around them. At the end of the 1920s, and in the beginning of the 1930s, many families settled in the nearby city of Jablonna Legionowo, 15 kilometers south of Serock, with the hope to be able to earn a living there.

This new city was called a division of the Serock community.

The population:

The Jewish population did not grow in the years 1908-1921, because the First World War and the German invasion, and times even until after the Russo-Polish war .

[Page 95]

. resulted in a large number of deaths, a diminished size, and many leaving the city.

In the years 1921-1931, many emigrated overseas or moved to other places nearby.

The number of Jewish souls grew only by 350, even with a decrease in the number of deaths and an increase in size (see Table #2), and in proportion to the Polish population, there was no increase.

In the year 1939, there were approximately 3150 Jews, 620-640 families (see Table #2). Among the young adults and the youth, there was little income and high unemployment.

From among the 640 eldest in the families [primary supporters], only 459 had a source of income (71%), and 181 families were without income (see Table #1). The situation among those youths of working age and those youths who would be occupied with business was even more difficult.

The Jewish youth of working age were about 650, and those among them that were working were about 120-150 (23%). (See comment 13 of Table #1.)

In addition to the difficult economical situation, anti-Semitism was boiling in the streets.

A small number of youths, despite the shut doors, went to Israel illegally.

In a situation where there was no way out, the Jewish youth passed the time with dancing and all sorts of recreation.

The Nazi shadow spread over Poland. In the last few months prior to the war, some of the Polish population drew closer to the Jews. On April 25, 1939, the Jewish community of Serock received an official invitation to participate in promoting the national loan for the security of the country.

The Serock Jews, along with all of Polish Jewry, were isolated in their heroic struggle against the steel wall of hatred and indifference.

No one could have imagined the magnitude of the approaching disaster.

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. Eugeniusz Jagiello was a Polish socialist politician, elected deputy to the Fourth Duma from the city of Warsaw. The elections to the Warsaw electoral college had been won by Jewish parties, who mustered 46 electoral votes while the non-Jewish bloc gathered 34. However the Jewish bloc decided to elect a Polish Duma member in an attempt not to inflame anti-Semitic feelings towards the Jewish community. Initially the Jewish bloc had approached Kucharzewski, but he declined the nomination. Thus the Jewish bloc had turned to Jagiello, electing him as the deputy from Warsaw. Once in the Duma, the Bolsheviks strongly objected to his admission to the Social-Democratic group because he was elected with the support of the bourgeoisie and the electoral bloc consisting of the Polish Socialist Party - Left and the Bund. Under the pressure of Bolshevik deputies his rights in the group were restricted: on all internal Party matters he had a voice but no vote. (Wikipedia: Eugeniusz Jagiello) Return

 

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