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[Columns 287-288]

We Elect a Town Council

by Meir Hofman, Kibbutz Shefayim, Israel

Translated by Yael Chaver

The elections to the first town council came as a surprise to the Jews of Hrubieszow. Until then, the members of the town council had been appointed by the authorities in Lublin. Now, suddenly, the residents themselves would be choosing their leadership. Of course, this news caused public joy. People became interested in the subject, which was now a topic of conversation in the constant circles of people on the streets. The elections also aroused the interest of the political parties and youth activists. They viewed it as a new area of social activity, and a chance to move the masses.

First of all, they wanted to create a spirit of involvement in the elections, and clarify matters for members of all social classes, especially among the common people. Pre-election meetings were not enough; they began making house calls. Members of Po'alei-Tsiyon were especially notable in this respect. They reached all the corners of the town. On the last Shabbes before the election, they organized a large demonstration, reminding the public of the next day's elections.

Participation in the election was great. The forces in the community became evident from the results. Most of the socialist votes went to the right-wing Po'alei-Tsiyon, which elected three delegates to the council. The Bund received less votes, yet elected three council members. The Reds barely elected two members. The General Zionists elected several members, headed by Shmuel Brand and David Tenenboym.[1]

All the elected members participated in the work of the town council. However, one of the Red members was always absent, and the other was not local but a dentist who had moved to the town not long before. He would sit quietly and calmly during the council sessions. His silence seemed to hint of something, and gave rise to various theories.

We should add that the National Democratic members expressed no anti-Semitism, and there were no explicit anti-Semites among them.[2] There was no anti-Semitic speech during the term of the first town council. This might have been due to the first mayor.

He himself came from the common folk, was naturally kind, and was somewhat sympathetic towards the Jews.

One of the Christian council members was the well-known lawyer, Czaikowski, who openly scolded the hooligans who attacked the Hrubieszow Jews. They “rewarded” him handsmnely with their fists, and he barely survived.

Another council member was Shverzhinski, the well-known teacher of mathematics, who represented the Polish People's party, Wyzwolenie. He helped many Jews during the Hitlerite period.[3] Thus, there was no friction between the Jewish and Christian representatives.

It is worth noting that the Jewish socialist factions in the town council could not find common ground. The Red delegate pretended to be a simpleton: he made no demands, had no reactions, and cared about absolutely nothing…

Relations between the Bund faction and Po'alei-Tsiyon were strained. The Bund did not like the Po'alei-Tsiyon brand of Socialism. The frequent mention of the Land of Israel as a destination for Jewish emigration bothered the implacable Yitskhok Shimen Fayfer. As the leader of the Bundist faction, he was incapable of listening to and respecting an idea that did not fit into the Bundist framework. The Bundist faction, led by Yitskhok Shimen Fayfer, was sternly opposed to Po'alei-Tsiyon's receiving a vacant plot from the town council in order to construct a building for the Tel Chai synagogue.

Let us not forget the town's bourgeois Zionists[4]. They were not as stubborn in our town council as they were in other towns. Among them were men with open minds and a talent for action. If they themselves could not act, they helped others whose ideals were akin to theirs. They were not simply obstinate, though it harmed their party.

This was the case for several years, until the winds of Nazism began to blow. Anti-Semitic activists began to appear, headed by Lipnicki's son-in-law; they began a life or death battle with the Jews.

 

Po'alei-Tsiyon Demands Equal Rights for Yiddish

It's been over six months since the new town council took office. However, it cannot boast of its actions for the good of the population. In addition, not all the representatives are as active as they should be. For this reason, the initiative of our council members to revive council activities was very warmly received.

At the recent sessions of the town council, our faction proposed equal rights for the Yiddish language in the town council and in the city hall. We also introduced a number of practical suggestions. The bourgeois majority would not even agree to discuss these proposals; but due to the pressure of our council members and the fear of low popularity on the eve of the Sejm elections, they finally had to distribute 6 wagon-full's of coal to the poor, and hand out 200 pairs of shoes to the poorest children in the Polish schools. The children in our Tel Chai school received 61 pairs of shoes, which enabled them to attend school.

However, our first proposal met with difficulties. In this matter, too, we hope to pass a resolution to publish all city announcements in Yiddish.

We have now proposed an exemption from city taxes for all those who earn less than 200 złoty per month.

Bafrayungs-Arbeter Shtime, January 2, 1928


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Po'alei Tsiyon was a movement of Marxist-Zionist Jewish workers founded in various cities of eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th century. The movement split into left- and right-wing factions in the 1920s. The Bund was a Jewish socialist party formed in the Russian Empire, which was active between 1897 and 1920. “Reds” seems to refer to the Communist party. The right-wing General Zionist party was formed in 1931. Return
  2. The National Democratic party was founded in the late 19th century, and in the 1930s became radically nationalist and anti-Semitic. Return
  3. This probably refers to the period of Nazi German occupation. Return
  4. “Bourgeois” refers to generally right-wing persons. Return


[Columns 289-290]

Commerce Between the World Wars

by Yekhezkel Oder, Melbourne, Australia

Translated by Yael Chaver

 

Yekhezkel Oder

 

Each social class has its own role in the economic structure of a country; it is therefore false to state that the commercial class is an unproductive segment of the population. At the time, conventional thought held that the working class should be the most important one of the economy.

However, in actual fact, commerce and banking were functions crucial to social stability, and were just as productive as the working class, provided their proportion in economic life was not too large.

Commerce in Poland, which was mostly in Jewish hands, surpassed the norm by far. An abnormal situation developed, and the entire commercial class was constricted by unbridled competition. This may have led to the notion that the commercial class was the least productive of all social classes.

The commercial class of Hrubieszow also suffered from overabundance. Too many merchants made a meager livelihood from their occupation, and their capital shrank, as it were, every year, until they were forced to liquidate their businesses.

During the last years before World War II, Jewish commerce in Poland acquired a destructive partner: the Tax Administration, whose goal it was to execute the death sentence for the Jewish commercial class in Poland.

The Hrubieszow region, with its wealthy estates and farmers, supplied grain and other agricultural products. After the Bolshevik invasion, trade in farm products increased considerably.[1] Jews started building large granaries near the railroad station, and bought grain from the farmers in the vicinity. This quickly led to the rise of many grain merchants, who formed the core of the later commercial class in Hrubieszow.

Among the first grain merchants, I remember (besides Shmuel Brand and his brother Itshele Brand, who did business only with landowners and were the only suppliers for the army in Hrubieszow), Yitskhok Kolton, who was partners with Kacakis – whom we all know. Their granary was on Pogusze; they traded on a large scale, and were employees of the renowned Yankl Kahan. They supplied grain to Galitzia, as well as to the eastern borderlands. In short, grain trade gradually became the mirage sought by a town full of Jews.

The grain trade quickly expanded, and soon new traders arrived: Srulkele Sas and Shloyme Itshe Aynhorn. I should emphasize that not all Jews could speak with the landowners. The above-mentioned traders spoke perfect Polish and had access to the great Polish landowners with whom they were connected, even in the later years of the boycott policy.

The small granaries noted above were constructed in three strategic locations, so that every peasant wagon that entered town encountered peddlers and grain traders, who already knew most of the peasants by name.

The first location was on Pogusze. As mentioned, Yitskhok Kolton and the Kacakis had built their granary there. The second location was on Pobrezhany, and the granary was owned by Yekhezkel Druker, Dvoyre'le of the mill, the Cygiel family, and other Jews whose names I have unfortunately forgotten. The third, major, group of grain traders were located alongside the barracks, near the Chelmno bridge. Those traders were: Avrom Bukhtreger, Getsele Valdman, Avrom Holtser, Leyb Halpern and his brother-in-law Dovid, the son of Fishl Kopl (also known as Fishl, the son of Khane Mindal). His granary was in town, across from the Jewish hospital.

More granaries were built in later years, but before I left for Australia the greatest and wealthiest traders were in the third location, near the Chelmno bridge.

 

Ancillary Occupations

The flourishing grain trade led to other opportunities for employment such as for bookkeepers, clerks, agents, shippers, and transportation workers. I would like to mention many friends and acquaintances, bookkeepers from Hrubieszow, with whom I was in close contact for about ten years.

Casualties of the first death march were Itshele Levenfus, the bookkeeper of the Jewish mercantile bank, and his son, Yisro'el Tsukerman (the young, talented bookkeeper who worked for the Marczewski mill), Shmuel-Ele Ayzn, the best of us all, who was killed in Hrubieszow proper. Others were Lozer Ayzn, Azri'el Hokhman, Fayvl from the community, Yankev Leyb Fayfer, Avrom Hokhman, and many others whose names I do not recall.

Among the shippers who loaded the wagons with grain were Moyshe Avi, Berish Finklshteyn, Yankele Nirenberg, and his brother-in-law Azri'el Brand. The agents who sold on the Lemberg exchange and in other cities of Poland included Yitskhokl Noymark and his son Yankele Noymark.

The porters and wagon drivers also had good livelihoods, which continued until the war's outbreak.

 

Competition Creates Partnership

The growth of the grain trade industry and the larger number of granaries caused strong competition and fights among the traders. There were often blows, and the

[Columns 291-292]

acrimony of the fight outside the town would end stormily in the center of the square, at the exchange.

After several years of strife, both strong and weak factions realized that the only winners of their altercations were the peasants, who profited from the competition.. The Hrubieszow Jews expressed this realization with the following phrase: “The peasant fills his sack with gold either way.” There was only one way to improve their situation: partnership in a cooperative.

The first to organize a partnership were the Pogusze traders. The experiment yielded good results. Rivalry ceased and a fair price was established. Interestingly, the peasants did not react to this change. Even though, as we all remember, Christian grain buyers emerged in the last few years, the peasants stayed with the Jewish grain merchants.

It would be incorrect to say that the partnership solved all the problems. There were other issues that led to conflict, but did not harm people's livelihoods. The agreement was followed strictly, with few exceptions.

The traders from the “barracks” site also organized later. Although the partnership did not help with their individual accounts or eliminate animosities, conditions dictated this step. They abandoned the general partnership agreement that linked them all and enabled the calm conduct of business.

When the “barracks” group quieted down and moods grew relaxed, two new traders appeared, who disturbed the “iron ring” of cohesion. The first, who waged uncompromising battle, was a former bricklayer, a strong man named Dovid Lip, along with his son (who was also extremely strong). They were not intimidated by the strong men of the “barracks” group; there was even a fight between him and Getsl Valdman. I believe many Hrubieszow natives remember this incident. However, the battle was decisive, and the group was forced to admit them into the agreement.

The second group that left the “ring” consisted of Yankev Leyb Fayfer, a former bookkeeper for Meytshe Valdman and Yoel Fayl, the son of Hersh Leyb Treger. After several months of negotiations, they joined the partnership as well.

In 1935-36, the Tax Administration began to harass merchants with ridiculously high taxes. Simultaneously, waivers were proposed for traders who kept proper books. Many Jewish merchants seized this proposal as a last resort, in order to stay in business.

The “barracks” faction hired the renowned and beloved professional colleague, Shmuel Ele Ayzn; thanks to him, the partnership continued to hold. This change eased the existence of the grain mercantile branch.

 

The Market

The market for the wood and grain traders was in the center of town. It was the meeting point for sellers, buyers, brokers, and workers. Wagon loads would be sold by pledge. At twilight during the summer, and a bit earlier in the winter, people would meet on the street, have a conversation, drink a glass of seltzer with syrup at Shaul Abeles's booth, hear the latest world news, discuss town politics, community affairs, and later listen to the market prices. They would start to visit the offices at about 9 p.m.

The first visit, naturally, is to Yitskhokl Naymark's inn. People wait there for phone calls from other towns in Poland, for orders, and information about prices. The local traders want to buy only wheat, and need to know what is happening in the markets of Lemberg, and other cities. One would often hear two parties arguing over an issue, which everyone soon knew about; community attention was soon aroused, and reacted strongly to any perceived injustice. Especially helpful in this respect was the clever Yitskhok Naymark (may he rest in peace) and his son, Yankele Naymark (may he rest in peace), who were well known in the town. The deliberations of the religious court would be carried out properly, the mood was calmer, and people left the office singly and in groups.[2] They then went to the mill offices.

None of the grain merchants derived much pleasure from that stop, because grievances were aired there. Discounts were demanded for a wheat-rye mixture. They especially avoided the office at Avrom Brandt's mill. The cashier was the scholarly Jew Mendele Gelernter; the inspector was Avrom Kats.

Another group of flour suppliers, headed by Motele Grinboym, worked at Marczewski's mill. The large group would purchase the entire supply, and sell it to out-of town buyers in Galitzia as well as in the eastern borderlands.

The steam-powered mill belonged to the Fridlanders, who were people from a different class. This was clear from their style of commerce. They ran large businesses; their only partners were family members. Their business was run according to orderly plan, not in the chaotic fashion common to other mills.

During the last years, a mill was constructed near the train station by Getsl Valdman, Avrom Bukhtreger, and Farshifer. The enterprise was initiated by Farshifer, but he could not complete it, for financial reasons. He therefore brought in the Valdman-Bukhtreger group.

A milling industry of this scope was quite a prize for local grain commerce, and the wheat supply was assured. The mills had to ensure the grain supply. Two shifts worked in all four mills. Demand was for 12,000 meters of wheat every month, in addition to a reserve warehouse.[3]

The Hrubieszow grain merchants were not concerned about selling their wheat, but did not want to deal with local buyers only. Mills in Chelm wanted our wheat, and the Hrubieszow groups were happy to sell to them, thus ensuring a competitive price.

We should add that the mills bought their wheat and rye directly from the peasants, and paid almost the same price as the granary owner.

 

Porters and Wagon-Drivers Organize

The partnership in this field of service led to the fact that these workers also formed several groups.

[Columns 293-294]

The wagon-drivers of Hrubieszow reached an agreement, but only the ones who delivered grain to the train station. They maintained their group for many years, and it should be noted that it was marvelously organized thanks to Motl Toler.

Everyone knew Motl Toler. He would stand in the center of the market, and, like an orchestra conductor, direct the incoming loaded wagons. All the drivers followed his instructions. They respected him greatly, and not only because he was an expert in his field. It resembled a relationship to a friend who was assisting their organization in order to achieve proper compensation for their laborious, hard work. At the same time, the porters organized similarly, to their great benefit.

 

The marketplace on a winter day

 

I leave the question of political influence on these groups to other Hrubieszow natives who address the history of social movements in Hrubieszow.

 

The Tuesday Fair

Every Tuesday, a fair took place in Hrubieszow. Peasant wagons laden with produce of all kinds would arrive by three main roads. Each wagon was topped with an old woman, sitting like a queen on her throne. She would bring her wares, which consisted of vegetables, butter, cheese, eggs, geese, ducks, turkeys, oakum, and canvas. She had full rights to spend the income, on which her clothes and the clothes of her girls depended. The father saw to the needs of the boys.

Rarely, when a peasant came to town in spring or autumn without his old woman, he would bring the children in to buy clothes, and so that they would see “city folks,” meaning the zhids with whom they did business.[4] The peasants would scare their children with zhids. Later, when they were older, it was difficult to reverse that attitude and convince them that Jews were like other people. Sometimes they emphasized that they were the “best” people.

The first townspeople to greet the peasants were the shoppers and women stall-keepers, who were en route at 6 a.m. They would go to the barracks road, waiting mainly for the richer peasants and the colonists.[5]

In recent years, the place became the site of the Polish elementary school. The older stall-keepers could no longer gather there and stationed themselves at the Chelm bridge, which was their boundary. They used to say that the wicked peasant women would soften and become kind by the time they arrived. There was some truth to this. After they had gone through the “hell” of the first row of shops, with its haggling and tumult, the women had to take any price they were offered.

The best stall-keeper was Sarah ‘Cossack’.[6] Her face, her voice, her energetic movements, and especially her “system” of doing business, justified her reputation. Her husband was Khayim Kradnik. He would accompany her, but she wouldn't let him onto the barracks road. He would carry home the produce.

Meeting Sarah ‘Cossack’ on Shabbes morning was very interesting. She radiated a special kindness and gentleness that were absent during the week. It was odd to speak with her then and listen to her quiet, whispering voice; she seemed to want to suppress her hard masculine voice on the sacred, quiet Shabbes. I often thought that we were lucky to have the sacred day, so that Sarah ‘Cossack’ could morph into Sore Bas-Tovim.[7]

As we know, income from the weekly fair was the family's major source of livelihood. Old-clothes dealers and fabric merchants were busy that day, as were boot sellers. They would come home with hands swollen from slapping the hands of peasants who were buying their boots and other leather goods.[8] Ironmongers had many customers on Tuesdays.

Fall and winter were the best seasons, as the peasants' barns were then full of grain. Closer to springtime, business declined. Often, even the larger peasant properties were empty, and grain or money had to be borrowed from the grain traders.

 

Hrubieszow and its Orchards

Summer was a worrisome time for traders. Almost all branches of commerce came to a standstill. The only ones who could benefit from summer were the fruit sellers. There were many orchards in Hrubieszow, which would be leased out in the spring, when they were in bloom. The fruit sellers would live in the orchard until late summer.

The largest and best-known orchard, which was very popular among the locals, was the priest's orchard. It occupied half a square kilometer, and was located on the most beautiful street, not far from the center of town. Another few dozen orchards were around the town and supplied many Hrubieszow families with a livelihood.

In 1935-36, when the Swój do Swójego movement spread in Poland, affecting business in Hrubieszow as well, several cooperatives were formed.[9] They purchased grain from the peasants in the vicinity and sold them various necessities. In spite of the animosity towards Jewish merchants, most of the peasant population continued its relations with local Jewish merchants and did not leave them.

The peasants around Hrubieszow turned over many Jews to the German beasts. We were never so naïve as to expect better thanks from our Ukrainian neighbors for centuries of commercial service.


[Columns 295-296]

Po'alei-Tsiyon Demands Firewood and Clothing for the Poor

The new town council has been fully installed. The right-wing majority, with a plurality of two, has the majority vote in the committees, with the support of our own Jewish National Democrats. This prevents the presence of even a single representative of the Jewish workers.

Our council member, Mr. Vaksman, protested the decision on behalf of our faction, and instigated a strong fight against the resolutions that required two-thirds of the plenary session in certain cases. He then presented the following urgent demands.

1 – Distribute coal and firewood for winter to the needy; 2 – provide shoes and clothes for poor children in the government schools, including our Tel-Chai school; 3 – grant equal rights to Yiddish in the meetings and announcements of the town council.

Bafrayungs-arbeter Shtime, November 11, 1927.

 

A Plot for the Brenner Library is Designated

As we know, the mayor of Hrubieszow canceled subsidies for many Jewish institutions, including the Tel-Chai school and the workers' library. At the town council's meeting on Saturday, July 20, our members strongly criticized the actions of the administration, and demanded that an appeal be made to the governor of the province. Even the Jewish council members understood their duty and supported the demand for an appeal.

Only the Bundist council members were so shameless as to vote against the demand, out of animosity towards the activities of the other labor groups. The resolution passed, against the votes of the Bund and a few anti-Semites. The Bund also “distinguished” itself in another matter. The Y. H. Brenner Library, which comprises several thousand books and serves several hundred readers, requested a plot in order to build its own structure. Once again, the Bund opposed this request, along with the anti-Semitic council members. The anti-Semites claimed that this was no less than an attempt to bring Palestine to Hrubieszow.[10]

After a fierce battle, the town council denied the demand of the Bund council members, and by a majority vote designated a plot for the Library. Characteristically, the Bund members – wanting to please the religious establishment – claimed, behind the scenes, that the proposed structure would obstruct the windows of a minor rabbi. They are now scurrying around and talking to the rabbi's family about collecting signatures for a protest against the resolution.

Bafrayungs-arbeter Shtime, July 26, 1927

 

Po'alei-Tsiyon Battles for Equal Rights

The elections for our town council were lively and very interesting. Most of the residents were drawn into the election campaign. Previously, the council – the de facto head of the town's administration – would customarily be appointed by a quiet deal between the leaders of the Jewish and Christian communities. Thus, the leadership was handed over to well-known community activists.

Only now, in the recent elections, have over eighty percent of the residents placed their vote cards in the designated urns, thanks to the widespread election activism of the left-wing parties that brought the campaign to the streets. True, after all the educational work of the socialist groups, the mayor won by a majority and holds his position rightfully. But we are not blaming the Jewish masses, as they actually voted for the socialists more than for bourgeois representatives. However, the Christian residents amassed a larger number of right-wing delegates.

In fact, the latter (together with the Jewish bourgeois delegates) set the tone in city hall. The left-wingers, who did not achieve proportional representation in the executive offices and committees, were all compelled to function as the opposition; they did not want to assume any responsibility for the actions of the right-wing majority.

The Po'alei-Tsiyon faction can, however, point to some demands that were met thanks to its efforts; the right-wing majority was forced to vote for them out of necessity. Had they opposed it, their true colors would have been evident, which would have damaged them. These demands included supplying shoes to needy children in the government schools, and handing out coal to poor families in winter.

Two hundred złoty were earmarked for the Tel-Chai school, and each family received 1.5 meters of coal.[11]

However, when it came to the pressing demand of the Po'alei-Tsiyon faction to grant the Yiddish language equal rights in council meetings and announcements, our bourgeois providers for the nation thought it necessary to vote in opposition. Later attempts to place these on the agenda again were thwarted, and the matter was never reconsidered.

In addition, when there was concern several months ago over the protocols describing the filth in the streets, the Po'alei-Tsiyon delegates protested that protocols alone would not solve the problem in the poorer neighborhoods.

[Columns 297-298][12]

There, where residents live under crowded conditions, and the streets are unpaved, the housing shortage must be given first priority.

We should also make sure that the town crews will not clean only the streets in the richer neighborhoods, as is the case now, but the streets of the poor as well. Boxes should be set up to collect the garbage.

When the Jew-hating bandit Dubszta came to our town on tour, the town council responded to the proposal of the Po'alei-Tsiyon delegates and protested against such lectures, which incite one part of the population against another.[13]

Thanks to the active support of our faction, it was finally possible to adopt the proposal that Yiddish be the designated language in municipal classes for Jewish workers.

The poorer Jewish residents finally realized who their true representatives are. It is therefore not surprising that people constantly turn to the Po'alei-Tsiyon faction for intervention with the mayor on various topics, even though it has no aldermen like the other factions.

This is the best expression of the trust the Jewish working population has for its representatives.

Unzer Vort, No. 11, Hrubieszow April 4, 1928

 

The Town Council Subsidizes Jewish Institutions

The town council witnessed very agitated discussions over the 1928 budget. There were especially strong divisions over popular education. Some of the Jewish bourgeois representatives presented themselves as the true speakers for the community and supported all Jewish positions, from the Talmud-toyre to the Organization of Jewish Schools.[14] Obviously, for the Jewish socialist council members, who were very familiar with the “educational work” of the Talmud-toyre, this demand was unacceptable The right-wing council members then proposed a vote on all the demands together.

Under these conditions, the Po'alei-Tsiyon faction refused to participate in the vote. The complementary statement by council-member Vaksman led to a resolution to vote for each motion separately. At that point, the “folk-democrat” council-member Blanes spoke up and proposed striking the motions concerning all Jewish cultural institutions.[15]

Despite this scandalous behavior by a Jewish right-wing council-member, the council resolved to subsidize the Tel-Chai school by 4,001 złoty, the Talmud-toyre by 2,001 złoty, and the Bundist school by 1,001 złoty annually.[16]

The proposal of the Bundist member, to designate 750 złoty for the Bund's Peretz library and 250 złoty for the other libraries, instead of 400 złoty each for the Brenner library and the Peretz library, and 200 złoty for HaShomer, was denied.[17] This pointless stance made a bad impression.

Unzer Vort, No. 2. Hrubieszow, May 24, 1928

 

A Year of Battle and Work in the Town Council

It has been nearly a year since the Hrubieszow town council was elected. Yet the local residents have not had the pleasure of hearing a report of activities from their council members. This is not surprising. Most of the council members, mainly the right-wingers, simply have nothing to report to their electors. They apparently think that keeping silent about their activities is better than reporting anything.

However, our faction in the town council has decided to bring the matter of the town council's work out in public, for the working masses, in order to tell them what the right-wing council members have done, and might yet do, in the town council.

Not long ago, a meeting was held in the town square, to report on the past year's work of the council. Members Vaksman and Hofman gave an accurate description of the clash between the right-wing and socialist council members. The right-wing majority, consisting of only two votes more than the socialist faction, refused to vote for proportional voting to educate the committees, and the socialist members were forced to abstain from the vote.

The newly elected mayor uses every opportunity to ease the tax burden on the right-wing segment of the population, and place it squarely on the poorer residents. Vaksman's presentation of the tax list caused great uproar. According to this list, the tax levies for the “big fish” residents were laughably small, and the small fry – laborers, artisans, market-stall owners, and poor people – were proportionally taxed the same.

Our members also pointed out the scandalous fact that the Bundist member was joining the right-wing majority, like a little lamb, and he had never protested against the majority or posed a question in the plenary session. The large crowd at the meeting was glad to hear the words of Comrade Hofman, who had planned the motions that were carried thanks to our initiative, or with our active assistance. For example, providing shoes for the poor children of the government schools, as well as the children of the Tel Chai school; giving six wagon loads of coal to those who were not well-to-do; confirming the budgets for the Tel Chai school (4000 złoty), for the Bundist school (1000 złoty), and for the two workers' libraries (Peretz and Brenner) (400 złoty each). The meeting finally ended with an expression of confidence in the Po'alei-Tsiyon faction, and a call to the socialist council members to continue their common work and, in the future, to fight together against the right wing.

Bafrayung Arbeter-Shtime, August 3, 1928.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The writer uses the specific term “invasion.” Return
  2. Jews preferred to settle their disputes by the traditional method of arbitration in front of a recognized Beis Din (Jewish court), in accordance with Jewish law. This dispute might relate to any commercial or personal matter which would normally be adjudicated in a court of law Return
  3. The term “meters of wheat” apparently refers to square meters of planted wheat. Return
  4. Zhid is a pejorative Slavic term for Jew. Return
  5. “Colonist” may refer to non-ethnic Russians. Return
  6. The nickname probably refers to her brusque, harsh manner. Jews feared Cossacks, who figure largely in Jewish folklore as brutal enemies. Return
  7. Sore (Sarah) Bas-tovim was a devout 18th-century Jewish woman about whom little is known. She is the author of two books of Tkhines (Supplications) - prayers used chiefly by women. Return
  8. Hand-slapping might have symbolized the closing of a sale. Return
  9. The name of the movement translates as “Patronize Your Own.” Return
  10. Yosef Khayim Brenner (usually abbreviated as Y. H. Brenner) (1881-1921) was a major Hebrew writer and ideologue of the Zionist Labor movement. “Palestine” refers to the area so designated by the British Mandate authorities, in which Zionists were settling. Return
  11. The number may refer to cubic meters. Return
  12. Columns 297-298 are divided into top, middle, and bottom sections. Return
  13. I could not identify the person referred to, and have transliterated the name as Dubszta. Return
  14. This school organization may have been part of Tsysho the Central Yiddish School Organization, founded in Warsaw in 1921. It sought to create a network of secular, socialist-leaning Jewish schools. The phrase “from Talmud-Toyre to the Organization of Jewish Schools” thus indicates the range of issues discussed: the Talmud-toyre was a traditional religious elementary school for boys. Return
  15. “Folk-democrat” may refer to a member of the National Democracy party. Return
  16. The numeral 1 at the end of each sum is a typo and should be a zero; see next article. Return
  17. HaShomer may refer to the HaShomer HaTza'ir Zionist socialist Zionist youth movement. Return


[Columns 299-300]

The Association of Merchants

by Yoysef Shvarts, Tel Aviv

Translated by Yael Chaver

 

Yoysef Shvarts, Tel Aviv, Israel

 

After World War I, and at the end of many years of national oppression, Poland gained its independence once again. Of course, the economy of the new state was in total ruin, and we Jews were the first to feel the heavy burden of taxes. It was a terrible crisis; expenses were very high, and currency value sank. Thousand-mark banknotes were superseded by million-mark notes, and there was no end in sight. Who was to blame for all the problems?

Polish government officials declared, “The Jew is the only one responsible!” They were well aware that the economic crisis was due to the decline in the value of Polish currency, which was not backed by gold reserves, but why not harass the Jews if they could? And who knows, perhaps they might also get rid of a few Polish Jews? The Polish government therefore created an office devoted to fighting against speculation.

The only order issued by that office was to create records of Jewish merchants, and levy large penalties against them for supposed speculation. The moment two government officials with their files appeared around the Jewish shops, the town took on a pre-pogrom look. Doors were slammed, display windows were closed up, and the Jewish market was as quiet as a cemetery. People knew that anyone whom the devils visited would receive a ticket, and a high penalty for speculation.

The situation was such that all the Jewish merchants gathered in the small bes-medresh, and sounded the alarm: “Help, Jews, what can we do? We are all lost! We must organize and save ourselves. If we don't do this, a complete collapse awaits us.”

I remember the powerful speech by Dovid Tenenbaum (may his memory be for a blessing): “Fellow Jews! I want you to know and to understand what this means: we are all in this together. If you take a broom that has hundreds of bristles, and try to break it, you won't be able to. But breaking each bristle separately is easy. We merchants of Hrubieszow must organize as one for the fight against the severe decrees. If we do that, our enemies will treat us differently.” The crowd shouted, “Yes! Yes! We're setting up an association of merchants!!”

And so the first Association of Jewish Merchants in Hrubieszow came into being.

The major achievement of the Association was setting a uniform price list, based on the accounts of all the merchants. This weakened the effect of the records held by the office against speculation. But as prices swiftly changed, new price lists were constantly being drawn up. The financial survival of the Association of Merchants was based on income from the price list. This made it possible to rent a nice location from Yoysef Leb Sher, with a fine secretary, such as Avrom Ayzn. The Association was considered a vital institution, as long as the decrees existed.

A few years later, economic conditions had normalized, and the Jews were no longer blamed for price increases. The Polish populace believed that the Jewish merchants were competing with the Christians and were lowering prices. Uniform price lists were no longer on the agenda, and Jews could carry on their businesses without fear. The merchants began to think of the Association as no longer relevant. “We can manage without an Association,” each thought. The Association was faced with a financial crisis, and could no longer supply the secretary with an apartment.

That was when Avrom Shayn established a new association, named “Union of Jewish Retailers”; in other words, “proletarian” merchants. Many shopkeepers considered membership in this association more practical as far as taxes were concerned. The public stance of Avrom Shayn made a great impression. Incidentally, he was a member of the assessment committee; he declared that his main battle was in defense of the poor merchant. He broadened his activity in the taxation office, and impressed our merchants; as a result, the existence of the “old” Association of Merchants was no longer felt to be justified.

The Union became known as “Shayn's association of merchants” and was active in all areas. Shayn left our town, for personal reasons, and Dovid Tenenboym was elected chairman. At that time, Tenenboym had the exclusive right to sell electrical equipment, thanks to the town mayor. As far as his community work was concerned, he was able to attract all classes of merchants to the Union of Retailers, large and small businessmen alike. His first step was to create a firm connection with the central organization in Warsaw, and appoint professionals of each branch to the taxation office, as well as a delegate to the Lublin Chamber of Commerce.

Tenenboym also challenged Chief Officer M., a very ambitious, outspoken anti-Semite and a careerist. He took on the richest landowners, who had good relations with the authorities. He wanted to be known as a good organizer, who could collect more taxes than all his predecessors. The landowner Krzanowski, from the Maraczin estate, also suffered from the assessments made by this officer.[1] This fact enabled the Jewish association of merchants to seek a way to be rid of the officer who sought to ruin the Jewish merchants.

Tenenboym organized a joint meeting with the association of Christian retailers. They decided to initiate action

[Columns 301-302]

to remove the anti-Semitic officer. The landowner Krzanowski headed the initiative. The effort succeeded: the illegal activities of this hyper-patriotic Polish officer came to light. The authorities were now convinced that he was obviously corrupt: any citizen who greased his palm paid less tax, and those who did not apply the grease paid higher taxes. The efforts paid off. It was not long before the “wonderful” officer was removed from Hrubieszow; actually, it came about thanks to Krzanowski the landowner. The Jewish retailers breathed more freely, now that they were rid of this Haman.[2] The Jewish retailers, who were aware of Tenenboym's plan, congratulated him whole-heartedly.

One problem was over, but the next one quickly came along. The Nazi mindset had taken root among the Polish officials. The Polish public adopted indirect action. Calls for boycotts were sounded daily. All the roads and community buildings bore posters with huge lettering: Nie kupować u Żydow (“Don't buy from Jews!”). All the government offices were steeped in anti-Semitism. Jewish community activists were afraid to enter into open battle with the Polish authorities, in reaction to the wrongs against the Jewish community, as it might threaten their material existence.

One incident was that of the Jewish textile merchant Moyshele Shtekher, who was then a member of the assessment committee. Shtekher strongly objected to the heavy taxation of Jewish merchants, and made great efforts to help the merchants. Well, they started to persecute this honest Jewish delegate so badly that they almost ruined him.

While this was happening, Tenenboym and his family departed for the Land of Israel; it was difficult to find the right person for the position of chairman of the retailers' association.

One evening, I was invited to an emergency meeting of the retailers' association, at which Tenenboym announced that the party had decided that I should be the association's chairman. I wasn't bold enough to oppose the party's decision, and went to work.

Each of us was afraid, especially those who were at the forefront of the action. Every Jewish community leader was well aware of what he could expect from the Polish authorities; but at least the voice of the Jews would be heard.

In 1938, five of us, eminent Jewish merchants of Hrubieszow, went as a delegation to the chairman of the taxation office. We were all anxious, and so worried about our mission, that we did not speak to each other on the way. Our journey passed in silence. I remember the officer's polite response: “It's too bad that Mr. Shtekher is not part of your delegation.” It was a hint at his relationship with the Jewish delegate, who had been ruined. It was a quiet nudge from the authorities to sever ties with large-scale Jewish merchants, and to start dealing with those in small towns. The merchants from the large town would then fall into line as well.

Once the German hordes came to town, I intervened – as chairman of the retailer's association – in various forms of harassment, but I realized that there was no longer a place for me in the town. I left Hrubieszow with a heavy heart; however, thanks to that, I am now able to describe parts of our life in the town.

 

Yoysef Soyfer Gathers Evidence that He Is Not a Property-Owner

A man named Soyfer, an artisan, owner of a 12-room house, comes before the taxation committee. His taxes are set at 120 złoty.

When the statement arrives, the poor artisan runs to the taxation office and shouts, “How can this be? Was I ever rich enough to buy a house, let alone one so big?”

But the taxation office is not impressed, and they show him a printed affirmation that the son of Akiva Soyfer owns a twelve-room house.

The Jew shouts, “Absolutely not!” but it's useless. They order him to bring a certificate from the mayor showing that he does not own a house.

The Jew runs to the mayor's office. He goes into all the offices, makes requests, demands, and weeps–and he receives a certificate stating that he does not own a house in Hrubieszow proper. But the mayor's office cannot attest to the situation in the vicinity.

The taxation official discovers a significant mistake in the certificate. It's possible that our Yoysef, the son of Shimen Soyfer, does in fact own a house in the vicinity.

The taxation official advises him to go to all the towns, villages, and communities, to obtain evidence that he does not own any property there.

Yoysef Soyfer has no choice. He scampers from one village to the next, from one community to the next, and asks for certificates attesting that he is not a property-owner.

He has been traveling for several days, wanting only to return with the documents before the executor comes to sell his paltry property

We wish him the best of luck!

Hrubieszower Lebn, No. 49, December 1930


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. As Jews were not permitted to own large estates, the landowner mentioned here must have been a Christian. Return
  2. Haman is the persecutor of the Jews in the biblical Book of Esther, whose plot was foiled. In Jewish tradition the name denotes an archetype of evil directed against Jews. Return


[Columns 303-304][1]

The Jews of Hrubieszow Are Being
Ruined By the Tax Burden

Translated by Yael Chaver

 

The Rozenfeld Company Lives in the Bath-House

On the docket: the “Rozenfeld Manufacturing Company” – a resounding name. The Committee members are not personally familiar with the owner of the company, but his fine name speaks for itself: they assess his income tax as 366 złoty.

Some time passes. They search for the company high and low, until they catch the owner in the bath-house, literally.[2] Plain and simple, the company's owner lives in the bath-house. Why? Because the guy is warm there, and sleeps “on the top bench.” It seems that long ago the poor man had taken some wares to the village, and was therefore inscribed into the tax ledgers as “Rozenfeld, owner of a manufacturing company.”

Even the village magistrate finds it comical that this barefoot, indigent, bath-house dweller was ordered to pay 366 złoty within fourteen days; but the law is the law.

However, in order not to give the unfortunate penniless man the bad news, the magistrate says, “There's some money for you at the government bank – possibly something sent from America…” The guy takes this seriously, and hurries, barefoot, with the magistrate to the tax office and instructs them to pay the tax immediately. He was successful, but the “master” gave him 1 złoty out of compassion.

“How wonderful!” says he, satisfied…

Hrubieszower Lebn, No. 47.

 

The “Industrialist” Goes Barefoot[3]

The “industrialist” N. N. – a well-known long-time taxpayer – receives a penalty of 100 złoty for not appearing on the date set to respond to the tax authority's queries regarding his income.

However, the penalty is lifted when he proves incontrovertibly that he was unable to report on the date: it was very cold and raining heavily that day and he, a sickly person, could not take the risk of walking in such weather wearing torn shoes–and all his shoes are torn.

Hrubieszower Lebn, No. 47.

 

A Poor Merchant with an Imaginary Eight-Room House

A. K., a poor rag-seller, receives a tax bill of 102 złoty for his gałgan business (in other words, rags) and his eight-room house.[4] He cries out,

“ Do I have a house? I never even dreamed of owning a house. I live in an alcove of four by four feet; and what kind of income, as it were, can I have from the gałgans, I mean rags? Let my enemies have such an income,” shouts the Jew. “And anyway, is it even possible for Jews in Hrubieszow to make a living from rags? After all, this town is rich in this type of merchandise. You see rags everywhere: rags from City Hall, from the Bundist kheyder, and black rags everywhere in the Jewish community.

“So how can I pay taxes on rags and imaginary rooms?” argues the Jew, and laughs ironically.

However, as it turns out, the committee rendered a “divine” verdict. As there was already a house-owner with the initials A. K. (now deceased), who had owned three houses and would have had an annual income of 1,200 złoty, this penniless A. K. might also have had an income of about 1,200 złoty. The committee combined both incomes, infused the body of the poor rag merchant with the soul of the dead property owner, and created a single person with a substantial income. They were judged together as one, and a solid taxpayer emerged, just as we find in the Midrash, “The lame one is placed on the back of the blind one.”[5]

Hrubieszower Lebn, No. 51

 

A Jew Needs to Make A Living

Before the World War, our town had a savings and loan bank, named “Savings Bank.” Almost all the residents usually borrowed money from this bank. A few years ago, the Ministry ordered [the bank to call in all the] debts from the borrowers.[6]

However, the chairman of the bank, Mr. Charkovski, realized that the local residents, who

had also suffered greatly from the moratorium, were in no condition to pay their prewar debts, and the matter was left unresolved.

Recently, a person came to our town, who had dealt with such issues all his life. As he needed to make a living, he revived the matter of the bank's liquidation. All the preparations have been made, and soon the residents will all receive demands to pay their debts; and that is when the real wailing will begin.

Hrubieszower Lebn, No. 51, December, 1930.

 

A Tax Official at the Ritual Slaughterhouse

Like other institutions, the Jewish community must set aside a certain percent for the pensions of its personnel; these sums must be brought to the tax office. Over the last few years, the tax office has not demanded these payments, and the community has not paid them.

Some time ago, the community received a demand for 4,000 złoty, covering the past four years. The community, of course, could not respond to this demand and pay the entire sum, or even a part of it. The officials required the amounts already set aside as pension contributions; and it is, of course, impossible to give the tax office the future pensions. After all, the rabbi, the ritual slaughterer, and other community officials, must live.

On a fine recent Wednesday, a tax official came to the ritual slaughterhouse, sat down at the cash register, and methodically took the money for all the purchases.

Knowing that they would get no money from the tax office for Shabbes preparations, the slaughterers refused to slaughter. As the decree referred only to cattle, they began slaughtering chickens. The butchers, however, were offended, and refused to allow the slaughterers to work with chickens. It nearly became an open scandal, but luckily, the chairman of the community went to the town elder, who rescinded the tax office's demand.

Hrubieszower Lebn, No. 48, November 1930.

[Columns 305-306]

Hru305a.jpg
 
Hru305b.jpg

 

Concerning Institutions in Hrubieszow

For an entire year, Hrubieszow fought with Ostro because of Rabbi Verthaym, who had been the rabbi of that town for several years, and the Hrubieszow community prevailed: Rabbi Verthaym is now rabbi of Hrubieszow, and the entire community is dancing with pride.[7]

The Hrubieszow community certainly needed such a rabbi, because only someone like him, with such wit and Jewish intelligence, could elevate the Hrubieszow community, with its 1,000 families, out of the pits and up to the peak.[8] Hrubieszow had eight slaughterers, yet the entire town consumed meat that had been slaughtered elsewhere. “Rabishoyv,” someone tells me, “means rabey shov, in other words, many slaughterers and examiners.”[9]

Slaughtering in Hrubieszow has already been the downfall of many slaughterers.

A slaughterer who comes from the Belz camp causes an outcry from the Kuzmir and the Trisk camps, and they discover that he uses an axe as his slaughtering knife.[10] If a slick character comes from the Trisk camp, the other camps make ready for battle, and he is ceremoniously sent on his way.

The rumor is now that slaughtering will be put in order.

There is also an issue with preachers.[11] Hrubieszow is short of one preacher. The “democratic” community must have a preacher of its own, and there is a great uproar. The town says, of the preachers who come to speak, “Don't speak.”

The HaTikva school is in good shape, with about eighty students (including fourteen children from the orphanage).

The orphanage is also still alive. For a long time now, it has received no support from the DDK[12]; but thanks to Mr. Tenenboym, the orphanage supervisor, the city has granted a subsidy of 11.2 złoty per day for each child.

Thanks to Mr. Tenenboym, Hebrew classes have been instituted in the town schools.

The town also has a lively cooperative bank. I emphasize “lively,” because of all the banks I have visited in Poland, it is the only one that enjoys the deep trust of the town and is very successful in its work. Helpless Jews come to it as they would come to a mother, and the bank does all it can to ease their need. It should also be noted that it received no help from the Center during the most difficult time, or may not have demanded help; yet it did not slacken its activity.

Finally - the mud in Hrubieszow. All the mud has been removed from the town. The new mayor cleared it all away. The streets have been paved and lined with sidewalks. The city no longer trembles with fear every time storm clouds gather. And the Jews ask, “And what's happening with the community's muck?”

Shlyame

Nayer Haynt, No. 215, September 4, 1924.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Columns 303-304 comprises 3 vertical columns. Return
  2. The Yiddish phrase “take someone to the bath-house” means “to deceive.” The top bench in the bath-house was the warmest. Return
  3. This is a variation on a well-known Yiddish phrase, “the shoemaker goes barefoot.” Return
  4. Gałgan is a Polish word for rag. Return
  5. The reference is to a midrash on Leviticus 4, 2 (“If a soul shall sin through ignorance”): “Rabbi Ishmael taught a parable of a king who had an orchard and in it had lovely first fruits. The king placed upon it guards, one lame and one blind. He said to them: 'Take care of these beautiful first fruits.' After some days, the lame one said to the blind one, 'I see beautiful first fruits in the orchard.' The blind one said to him, 'Bring them, and we will eat!' The lame one said to the blind one, '[I would] were I able to walk!' The blind one said, '[I would] were I able to see!' The lame one rode upon the back of the blind one, and they ate the first fruits, and they went and returned each man in his own place. After some days, the king entered that orchard. He said to them, 'Where are the beautiful first fruits?' The blind one said to him, 'My lord king, [I would] were I able to see!' That king understood what they had done. He placed the lame one on the back of the blind one and they began to walk.” (VaYikra Rabbah, 4, 5). Return
  6. Line 7 of this paragraph is missing; line 2 of the following paragraph was apparently inserted instead. The context indicates that there was a demand that the borrowers pay all their debts. I have placed this emendation in square brackets. Return
  7. I was not able to identify the town of Astra/Astro/Ostro/Ostra. Return
  8. The writer inverts the Talmudic phrase (Hagiga 5,2) “from the high summit to the deep pit” which is interpreted as “from the peak to the pits.” Return
  9. This type of wordplay is fairly common among Jews who are familiar with rabbinic tradition. Here, Rabishoyv is a distortion of Hrubieszow, explained as the Hebrew acronym rabey shov, unpacked as “many ritual slaughterers and examiners.” Meat that is ritually slaughtered must be examined for defects that make it not kosher. The slaughterer usually carries out the examination. Return
  10. This refers to the occasional intense rivalry between Hasidic groups. The Belz Hasidic dynasty was founded in the early 19th century in the Ukrainian town of that name. Kuzmir Hasidism was also founded in the early 19th century in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland. Trisk Hasidism, a branch of the Chernobyl dynasty, originated in Turiisk, Ukraine. Ritual slaughtering is done only with a specially honed knife (khalef) that is dedicated to that purposes. Return
  11. These were itinerant preachers. Return
  12. Editor note: Translation of the abbreviation DDK is uncertain. Return

 

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