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[Page 146]

Under Renewed Polish Reign

(May 1919 to September 1939)

 

General Overview

By Dov Rabin

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

 

The Beginning Of Polish Rule

In the first few years after the Poles occupied Krinki and the surrounding area, in the spring of 1919 it was considered as an occupied territory, within the so-called Curzon line, the fate of which was to be decided later by a plebiscite. As a number of Polish laws, for example compulsory military service, did not apply to this territory for the time being, the Poles were interested in winning public support for their state in the region. In Krinki where the majority of the inhabitants were Jews and most members of the town administration were also Jewish, the starosta (the governor of the district) convened a special meeting of the town council. He hoped that the population would express their wish to belong to Poland on this meeting.

“Following the provisional decree of the Polish county administration the seat of which was in Vilnius,” relates Sheyme Kaplan, “each ethnic group of the area had the right to express themselves in their own language in official places. Therefore, we declared in Yiddish that we had received a mandate from the population to administer the municipal economy of the shtetl [although] we had no legal power to represent it in political matters. The 'solemn meeting' ended with this, and the starosta and his whole retinue, which had come to the meeting with pomp and circumstance, had to leave like mourners, with empty hands….”

The “Eastern counties” were, by law, incorporated into Poland after the Polish-Soviet war in the summer of 1920. From that time until the destruction of the community the fate of the Jews of Krinki was tied to the fate of our brethren the sons of Israel in Poland.

 

Jews and Christians in Krinki

According to the Polish census of 1921, the Jewish population of Krinki numbered 3,495 souls, 67.1 percent of the 5,206 inhabitants of the shtetl. Of the rest 904 were Eastern Orthodox and 922 Catholic, many of them Catholicized Belorussians who had settled in the town when the territory was under Polish papal rule. The ethnographic structure of the Christian population of Krinki corresponded in fact to the ethnic-geographic position of the shtetl on the frontier of Polish and Belorussian territory.

The Gentiles usually lived in the outskirts of Krinki close to their agricultural or semi-agricultural property, while the Jews were concentrated in the center. The Jews lived in topographic compactness and made up the majority of the town council, so they considered themselves – and to a certain extent rightly so – the owners of the shtetl, and indeed it was a thoroughly Jewish settlement in its character and way of life.

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In Krinki the relationship of the Jews and Christians, among them the Poles who were now the ruling and privileged state-forming ethnic group, was usually fair until the Nazi period, and it was not affected by the open and even official anti-Semitic agitation, which intensified especially during the 1930s.

Locally the Jews were a visible political force. In the elections to the Sejm in November 1930 the Jewish parties and blocks received 1,193 votes in Krinki, while the Christians collected only 940 votes. The Jews constituted a majority both in the town council and the town administration, although they elected a Christian as town president -- for an understandable reason. In the interwar period the vice-president, however, was always a Jew– sometimes Bendet Nisht from the Tsairei Tsion, [Zionist Socialist] (the first from among our brethren, the sons of Israel, to fill such a post in Poland), sometimes Dovid Gotlib from the Bund or Meylekh Zalkin (in 1939) from the Poalei Tsion [Youths of Zion].

The Jewish councilors and “aldermen” were fairly active in the municipality and thanks to this they also managed to protect Jewish rights and interests, in particular the town subsidies to the Jewish school system and the institutions for social help.

 

kry147.jpg - 1920 - the Krinki Relief Committee
1920 – the Krinki Relief Committee

 

The active Jewish community leaders (with the delegate from America, Lewis Sheyn-Leybke Noskes) Sitting row from right to left: Yisroel Stolarski, Yankl Levi, Lewis Sheyn, A. Eynshteyn, Barukh Stolarski, Avrom Rubinshteyn. Standing row from right to left: Dovid Gotlib, Danevitser, Nakhum Bliakher, Barkan, V. Veyner, Ephraim Afrimzon, B. Nisht, Yitzkhak Yosem, Moyshe Shmuelevits, unknown, Sh. Feyvl Nisht.

 

Economic Discrimination

In terms of its economy, Krinki was cut off forever from its wide unlimited Russian market where it had sold its leather products, and this ruined the economic basis of the shtetl for many years.

In the first years of Polish rule a high inflation raged in the country and the masses of people who had already become impoverished in the world war became even poorer and this resulted in the shrinking of the internal market as well. The sources of the supply of raw skin became also very meager. “The leather production which gave half the shtetl their living came to an almost complete halt”, reported Giterman the representative of the Joint when he visited Krinki in 1926. He left 200 dollars, which were to be distributed to those who were left without a job.

Craft and trade and other branches of industry that lived off the factories and off the people who made their living in the factories were also affected. Moreover, the traditional Jewish occupations fell victim to serious state discrimination and destruction, which were continuously showered on the Jews.

Under the pretext of progress for example, compulsory rest was introduced on Sunday and on non-Jewish holidays, as well as on Polish national and public holidays. This meant that Jewish shopkeepers, craftsmen and even manufacturers had to be content with an average of four and a half working days per week. At the same time the government distributed various concessions on cigar stores (where cigarettes, soft drinks, chocolate, etc. could be sold on rest days as well) among all kinds of “proper” Christians (the widows of policemen for example).

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kry148.jpg - 1920 - A public kitchen (set up by the Joint) right after the First World War
A public kitchen (set up by the Joint) right after the First World War

 

At first a “patent” was imposed on the various trades and occupations in order to extract heavy fees from the pockets of the impoverished Jews. Then an evil decree was introduced according to which Jewish craftsmen had to get a special permit to own a workshop and employ apprentices and they could only get it if they passed an “official exam” in Polish for which they had to pay a high sum. Volf Ekshteyn, who was a member of the management of the Union of Jewish Craftsmen in Krinki until 1925, describes the situation as follows:

“Our task was to fight as far as possible against all evil decrees that the anti-Semitic Polish government of the time showered on the Jews. We were in contact with the central committee of the Union of Jewish Craftsmen that was in Warsaw. But one day we received a letter that said that the Polish government would issue its new guild laws that aimed at completely stifling Jewish craftsmen. My father Khayim the carpenter, an elderly man, who had been working in his trade from the age of 15 had to defer to a Polish Gentile lad who was an apprentice in our workshop, to be recognized as a craftsman. My father was a good artisan and he could not endure this and he chose to leave Poland.”

But the worst affliction were the heavy taxes and fees, like the poll tax, apartment tax, town tax, marriage tax, property tax, house tax, and all kinds of other taxes that the Polish anti-Semites could invent in order to shatter the last miserable opportunity of Jewish existence. And there was something worse than this system of pressure; it was the merciless method of admonition in practice – which went as far as confiscating and selling out the last bag and baggage and bedding of the impoverished and hungry households.

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Krinki – An “Economic Ruin”

“Krinki had once been a town where people could easily make a living”, wrote Reb Khezkie Mishkovski, the last rabbi of the shtetl, in 5689 [1929] to his compatriots from Krinki living in Chicago, USA. “Now it is completely ruined, unemployment is high, the masses have become disheartened and the town is devoid of all signs of life: the factories became abandoned ruins, memorials to bygone years. Clouds of deep worry furrowed everybody's countenance, as it is said in the Book of Lamentation [Hebrew citation].

“The tanneries are closed in our town. The families of the workers have long been suffering from hunger because of the unemployment”, describes a report on Krinki in the Bundist weekly Grodno Echo, on March 7, 1930. “Last week several hundred unemployed people demonstrated on the street, and they went to the city hall to demand aid.”

 

Dynamism And Mutual Aid Initiatives

The energetic Jews of Krinki who were usually full of initiative and were veterans of social fighting were not watching idly their painful distress and the harsh persecutions.

The tanners studied and examined the tastes and the demands of the internal market in Poland and started to produce a new, more elegant, thicker and whiter type of leather from calfskin to increase production and sale. The Craftsmen's Union started to prepare its members for the “master exam”, which was required of those who wanted to remain in their trade.

The coachmen demonstrated particular dynamism when they were in arrears and had nothing to drive their coaches with. They started to work as chauffeurs, founded two bus “spools” (companies) and established a modern travel connection with Sokolke, the nearest railway station to Krinki. Instead of bouncing in a cart or a stagecoach for long hours, often in rain or snow, one could “jump” those 22 kilometers from Krinki to the railway station quite comfortably. And later when the Poles were “smart” enough to “monopolize” the bus service (that is, they drove the Jews out of it), the former coachmen coped well with this, too: they took up trucks and developed a new trade in Krinki.

The “shopkeepers” established a mutual aid society to help each other in times of trouble, especially with a little credit to make sure that those who were hard up could breathe a little easier again. The tannery workers, who were the veterans of the professional militant movement in Krinki, maintained their association to ensure that it would support them in hard times – help them to avoid or delay dismissal from work, to find a new workplace, to protect the better working conditions that had been won in hard struggles, and to further improve the working conditions when the opportunity presented itself.

In the most bitter times the Jews of Krinki, just like our brethren the sons of Israel in Poland in general, took the initiative in creating societies and institutions of mutual aid the most important function of which was to provide credit and charity. The Jewish cooperative, the “People's Bank”, or the so-called little bank, which had been founded in Krinki back in 1912 by the social activist of the time, Yakov Leyb Zaleski, carried out an especially important activity. With its modest loans granted on accessible conditions, it saved from downfall many Jews from the common strata, shopkeepers, artisans, and other oppressed toilers.

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The charity offices developed a prime rescue activity – literally the rescue of souls – in the shtetl by giving small loans without interest, without the fee for an official stamp, which people could get anew any time after they paid up their previous debt.

In the 1920s two workers' production cooperatives were founded with the help of the Yiko society, one for tannery workers and the other for fullers. In 1919 there was also a workers' and artisans' consumer cooperative.

 

kry150.jpg - The Charity Committee
The Charity Committee, its activists and personnel:

Herb Mishkovski, Matus Tarlovski, Sh. Feyvl Nisht, Lipa Kviat, Hanukh Yaglom, Eyzik Neyman,
Epfraim Eli Rodi, Meylekh Likhtshteyn, Meylekh Zalkin, Orke Shimer, Moyshe Ekshteyn

[Page 151]

The Jewish Public Life

Social Competition

Vigilance and Activity

The daily social life of the Jews of Krinki reached its full bloom during the interwar period. The representatives of the basic trends and parties of the Jewish public in Krinki were active in local politics, in the town council, and in Jewish communal matters, namely in the community council, which had a say first of all in the affairs and needs of the religious institutions and had a significant influence in financial matters, and in education and social help as well.

As to religious life – and we will talk about it more in detail on the coming pages – the rabbinical seat of Krinki was occupied by a rabbi who was a great Torah scholar and a prominent personality. Reb Khezkie Yosef Mishkovski, may the memory of the tsadik be blessed, was a passionate Palestinophile (i.e. supporter of Jewish emigration to Eretz Israel) and a tried and tested activist in public, whose reputation went far beyond his rabbinical seat.

Krinki also had a well-respected yeshiva, the “Beyt Yosef,” for the youth, and there were a number of study groups for grownups and young people. Later the younger strata organized a Tiferet Bakhurim society for studying the Tanakh, “Eyn-Yakov” and the like. Religious education was completed and modernized by the creation of the so-called cheder haklali (regular cheder) and there was also a “Beys-Yakov” school for girls.

 

Ideologies and Political Currents

All major movements of contemporary Jewry were active and competed with each other on the social scene of the town. On one end of the ideological spectrum were those who considered the “keeping of the mitsvot” (commandments) the main constituent and essence of Jewish life. They believed and hoped that the worship of God would protect the Jewish people from trouble and from the evil decrees and bring about the coming of the redeemer, even if he tarries. On the other end of the spectrum there were those, among them some workers and youth, who believed in a radical upheaval, in the style of the Bolsheviks and the Yevsektsiye (the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party), which would bring complete salvation to all the working people, including the Jews.

Those who believed in “eternal galuth”(exile), at least in those areas of the Eastern European Slavic countries where there was a large concentration of Jews, stood on the basis of the “here and now”dogma. This was close to the beliefs of the communists but it was the social-democratic version of the communist's ideals of the salvation of the working classes and it also incorporated certain elements of the Jewish national cultural autonomy movement.

The activity of the young and enthusiastic Zionist pioneers who stood on the opposite end of the spectrum from the above-mentioned ideologies and their adherents became more and more perceptible and efficient in the interwar period. They were ready to realize in body and spirit the ideal of redeeming the Jewish people and the Jewish individual in his homeland, Eretz Israel.

 

The Competition Of Social Forces

Even the incomplete data at our disposal concerning the results of the elections to the town council, and to the council of the Jewish community in 1928, allow us to get an insight into the power relations of the Jewish society of Krinki in the 1920s and 1930s.

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Of the eight members of the community council four came from the Orthodox list, one from the Hassidic list, one from the Zionists, and two from the Bund. The Poale Tsion [Youths of Zion].would have needed one more vote to get a mandate. The results of the elections to the Krinki town council were as follows:

In 1919, there were 4 Polish, 4 Belorussian and 16 Jewish members; of the latter 4 Orthodox, 4 Zionists, 4 Tsairei Tsion [Zionist Socialist] members, 2 Bundists, and 2 artisans. The town council chose Bendet Nisht (from the Tsairei Tsion) as the vice mayor and vice president of the magistrate (town administration).

In 1927, there were 8 Polish and Belorussian and 16 Jewish members; of the latter 5 Bundists, 4 artisans, one Zionist, one Orthodox and one merchant, 3 Poale Tsion members and one from a personal list. Dovid Gotlib from the Bund was chosen as vice mayor.

In 1934, there were 10 Christian and 6 Jewish members. Of the latter there were 3 Bundists, 2 unaffiliated and one Poale Tsion member. Sixty votes were cast for the communists and, as it was rumored in town, several communists had been elected to the Bundist list.

In 1939, there were 8 Christian and 8 Jewish members. Of the Jewish members, the Poale Tsion received 6 and the Bund 2. Meylekh Zalkin from the Poale Tsion was chosen as vice mayor.

 

The Bund

We had already dwelt in a number of essays on the resolute fight that the Jewish industrial proletariat of Krinki pursued since the 1890s for the rights of the workers and for the safeguarding of their significant achievements. The Bund had a dominant role in these fights. In those days, when the Jewish factory workers were truly firmly established in the tanneries of Krinki, the town became a fortress of the Bund.

 

kry152.jpg - May 1 manifestation (Bund, Tsukunft, Skif [the scout group of the Bund])
May 1 manifestation (Bund, Tsukunft, Skif [the scout group of the Bund])

 

The late Mordekhai V. Bernshteyn, a Bundist man of letters and historian, says the following about the Bund: “The Bundists of Krinki renewed the old Jewish revolutionary traditions of the shtetl. They maintained various cultural institutions, a Jewish elementary school and professional unions. A Bundist youth came into existence through the Tsukunft and the Skif organizations. The head of the Krinki Bundist organization was Dovid Gotlib, a renowned person in interwar Poland. And the “stars” of the Bundist public representatives included among others Yankl Levi ('the sane'), alderman in the town council; Tevl Kuntsevitski, member of the town council; Yankl Temkin, warden of the synagogue; Nakhum Bliakher, secretary of the Tannery Workers' Union; Rakhel Shuster, the 'mother' of the Bund; and Ephraim Petritser, the leader of the Tsukunft.”

“And the shining star that excelled all was the Bundist pioneer, the former tanner and fuller, Avrom Shmuel Zuts, 'the blind eternal light' who was the light of the tannery town despite his blindness. He got the nickname 'the blind eternal light' and he entered Bundist literature under this name. He was the librarian of the big library which he had founded in Krinki” [until the Bolsheviks destroyed Avrom Shmuel's oeuvre, the library, when they occupied the town in 1939].”

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The Communists

The once vehement, rebellious anarchists were no longer heard of in Krinki and in the surrounding area. The government started to seriously persecute instead the illegal communist party. The party was especially active in the 1920s, when the economic crisis reached its peak in Poland in general, and in Krinki in particular, and better times did not seem to be in sight, and the morning star of the Soviet Union shone still with its full radiance as the savior of humanity and the liberator of enslaved nations, among them the Jewish people. Jewish workers and youth were often arrested in Krinki and in the surrounding area and condemned as standard-bearers of the Bolsheviks. The Reds cooperated with the Bundists in internal Jewish affairs, such as secular education in Yiddish. In certain cases, as was shown above, they also voted for the Bundist list in elections in which the communist party could not put out its own candidates due to police persecutions.

On the other hand -- as we have already alluded to -- the Zionist movement, especially its labor and socialist trends, were becoming an increasingly significant force in the Jewish public of Krinki. – We will return to this later. In 1933, the religious Jews of Krinki, headed by Rabbi Mishkovski, organized a local branch of the Agudat Israel of Poland and in 1934 a local branch of the Tsairei Agudat Israel of Poland came into being.

 

Education And Culture

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

The Secular School In Yiddish

It was in the field of children's education that the Jews of Krinki carried out the most exemplary work in the period under study, devoting a lot of efforts and hard work to it. We have already discussed their achievements in the field of religious education with the creation of the cheder haklaki in Krinki. In the field of a more or explicitly secular Jewish education there was a rivalry between the Hebrew educational system and the secular Yiddish elementary school, which was established in 1919.

 

kry153.jpg - The administration of the secular Yiddish school
The administration of the secular Yiddish school with the guest from America, Lewis Sheyn (“Leybke Naskes”)

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“In the dark and bitter times when people were swollen with hunger, the Jewish workers of Krinki thought of founding an elementary school”, wrote Issakhar Fink. “The school constantly struggled for its survival because it had very little money and it had to work in an atmosphere characterized by a lack of understanding on the part of the Jewish public of the town. But many children from Jewish worker and artisan families finished the school year after year with a significant amount of knowledge and erudition, which helped them to push their way through in life.”

By the beginning of 1920, the school had 138 pupils and another 93 students followed evening classes. The school was regularly harassed by the government, which closed it for some time at the beginning of the 1923/24 school year. The school, which was named after the Warsaw center of the Tsisho, had an exceptionally devoted teaching staff. The school was influenced by the Bund, and the Bundist scout group (the Skif) recruited many of its members from among the pupils of the Yiddish school. Krinki compatriots recall the school with pleasure especially because of the nice performances and celebrations, which were organized a few times a year.

 

kry154.jpg - The leadership, the teachers and the activists of the Yiddish elementary school in 1928
The leadership, the teachers and the activists of the Yiddish elementary school in 1928

 

The Hebrew School

As we have already described, the Hebrew co-educational elementary school was founded during the German occupation at the end of the First World War with the assets of the Tsairei Tsion without almost any outside help.

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“A few 'evenings' were organized for the benefit of the planned school. Comrades contributed their last penny to the cause and all this was used to repair an abandoned apartment where the school could be set up”, relates Ephraim Ben Ephraim (Efrimzon). “This is how we acquired desks and tools. We had no teaching experience but we were determined to carry out the work. The shtetl was impoverished because of the war but our young teachers approached this task as divine service and spared no efforts to perfect themselves.”

 

kry155a.jpg - 'Liliput' dance at a children's performance in the Yiddish elementary school
“Liliput” dance at a children's performance
in the Yiddish elementary school

 

“Orthodox circles incited against us saying that we 'heretics' led the children off the Jewish way and that parents should not send their children to our school. But many cheders were closed so the children transferred to our school and we soon had 300 pupils. The Yiddishist circles also plotted against us. But we were not scared and we soon introduced a tuition fee to ensure at least the survival of the institution, and to avoid begging. Thus already in the first one and a half years, we had an income amounting to 30 to 40 percent of our budget.”

 

kry155b.jpg - The drama circle, 1930
The drama circle, 1930

 

“We lived through a horrible time when the town was occupied by the Red Army in the summer of 1920 and the Bolsheviks started to uproot the national Hebrew education completely. But we resisted by all means at our disposal. When the Poles returned to the town, they set upon our school and tried to discover some shortcomings, which would allow them to get rid of it and have the Jewish children transfer into the Polish state school. We had to start fighting again but in the end we won and managed to legalize our school as well.”

“The senior class graduated in 1922 and we also opened a Hebrew high school. Our enthusiastic supporter and Hebrew educational activist, Avrom Yehuda Eynshteyn, harnessed himself and tracked down and brought us graduate teachers all the way from Galicia.

 

kry155c.jpg - The administration and pedagogical council of the Hebrew elementary school, 1928
The administration and pedagogical council
of the Hebrew elementary school, 1928

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Unfortunately a huge inflation raged in Poland in those days and despite the devotion of the teachers and the goodwill of the parents of the pupils, we could not maintain the high school for more than two years.”

 

kry156a.jpg - A class in the Hebrew elementary school
A class in the Hebrew elementary school

 

The elementary school, however, continued to develop. A canteen was set up for the pupils and as well as a Hebrew children's library, named after Mendele Moykher Sforim. Already in 1926 it possessed 500 volumes. There was a drama circle, which regularly organized successful performances. By the 10th jubilee of the first graduating class in 1931, already 300 pupils had finished the school and the number of graduates continued to grow.

 

kry156b.jpg - Historical studies circle in the Hebrew elementary school
Historical studies circle in the Hebrew elementary school

 

For the post-WWI generation of Jews in Krinki, the Hebrew elementary school was a primary source of educational and ideological inspiration in the spirit of the pioneers. It was like a stock farm that turned out Zionist-socialist youth. The history of the Hekhalutz in Krinki was closely linked with Hebrew education, thinks Zeev Tsur (Velvel Shteyn), a former graduate of the school, who was a leading figure in the Israeli Labor Party, member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), and deputy minister in one of the former Israeli governments. “The whole atmosphere in and around the school in the various social events and 'circles,'” adds Z. Tsur, “aimed at ingraining in the pupils the love of manual work, agriculture, simplicity, in short, pioneerism, aliya to Eretz Israel and self-realization.”

 

Libraries

The above-mentioned rivalry of the two educational institutions in Krinki came to light in the field of culture, namely in the libraries, as well. The Bundists had their so-called “big library”, and the Tsaire Tsion also established a library in 1920 named after Heshl Sapirshteyn, one of the pioneers of the Hebrew school. By the end of the decade it had 2,000 books in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish, 200 subscribers, and it was the largest library of the town.

The “big library”, directed by “Eternal Light” collected primarily Yiddish books and the most recent Yiddish newspapers. The collection included mostly literature, poetry, social sciences, political economy and socialism. It was supported by party members who were originally from Krinki but were by then living in America. The library had two main supporters: Leybke Sheyn (Noskes), who often sent newspapers and journals, and Khatskl Miller.

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The Zionist Movement

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

 

Trends Within the Movement and What They Supported

In the interwar period the most important activities of the Zionists in Krinki were to prepare the youth for aliya to Eretz Israel, educate children in a national-Hebrew spirit, and win people over to the Zionist idea and its realization. At the same time the Zionists were also ready to tackle the various needs of the Jews in Krinki.

The most important elements of the Zionist movement in Krinki were the groupings called “For the Labouring Eretz Israel,” especially the Tsairei Tsion, which later united with the rightist Poalei Tsion. They pursued a wide variety of activities. They attracted the Zionist-socialist and pioneer youth and devoted themselves to Hebrew education in the shtetl. Beside this, they carried out a vigorous general Zionist activity in the Keren Hayesod, the Jewish national fund, the so-called Shekel campaigns, the Hebrew Tarbut societies, and so on.

 

kry157a.jpg - The leadership of the Hashomer Hatzair organization
The leadership of the Hashomer Hatzair organization
 

The elected representatives of the Tsairei Tsion were active in the town council as well as in the council of the Jewish community since the first democratic council elections, which had been carried out at the end of the First World War. “Despite the fact that many of our comrades in the Tsairei Tsion had no franchise because they were too young, and not only could they not be elected but they could not even vote in the elections to the town council, we had a great success thanks to the popularity of our leaders in the various domains of social life of the shtetl, especially in education”, writes Bendet Nisht about the leaders of the above-mentioned trend.

The Tsairei Tsion founded the Hekhalutz movement by 1919 in Krinki. They provided Hebrew evening classes for the workers who were preparing to make aliya to Eretz Israel and in 1921 they arranged locksmith courses for the olim (the new immigrants). In the same year -- similarly to other areas in Poland -- they carried out a successful collection of tools and money to buy tools for the workers in Eretz Israel in Krinki and the neighboring shtetls.

 

kry157b.jpg - The council of the the Poalei Tsion with the drama circle and the leadership of the Hebrew elementary school
The council of the the Poalei Tsion with the drama circle
and the leadership of the Hebrew elementary school

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kry158.jpg - Committee of Poalei Tsion [Youths of Zion] - Krynki 1929
Committee of Poalei Tsion [Youths of Zion] – Krynki 1929

 

In the same year they also opened general evening courses on Jewish history, geography, natural sciences, political economy, Yiddish and Hebrew.

By the beginning of 1926, the Poalei Tsion Union had already set up a youth organization with 100 members and 80 adults. “Our comrades”, describes a report from Krinki, “participate actively in various social institutions, like the People's Bank, the orphans' committee, and so on, and they have a great influence on the life of the local society.”

In 1934, 500 workers, common Jews and young people from the Poalei Party, the Hekhalutz, the Ha-Oved (The Worker), the Freedom Party and the Ha-Poel sports club and the Hekhalutz Hatsair kibbutz, participated in the solemn First of May demonstration organized by the League for the Laboring Eretz Israel.

But the movement flourished and reached its greatest influence in the last year before the outbreak of the Second World War. That year the Freedom-Hekhalutz Hatsair movement had 200 members and the Ha-Poel 50 in Krinki. And in the elections to the 21st Zionist Congress, the League for the Laboring Eretz Israel received 406 out of the 449 votes in Krinki.

The Poalei Tsion Party entered the elections to the Krinki town council with the slogan “for or against Israel now” at a time when the English government had just published its White Book against Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel and its colonization by the Jews. [The party] won 6 seats out of the 8 seats accorded to Jewish deputies (the other two seats were won by the Bund). The Jewish public of Krinki identified with the “for Israel” slogan.

 

The Hekhalutz Aliya To Eretz Israel

As mentioned before, a Hekhalutz union was founded in Krinki in 1919. And it started immediately to prepare its members for manual work and communal life. They leased a huge garden near the bath-house and a group of young boys and girls started to “learn agriculture” there and to get as much practice in it as possible until the gates of Eretz Israel would be open to aliya again. In 1919-20, Krinki was a transit point for pioneers who arrived in the shtetl from the surrounding area in order to go on a hakhsharah and then make aliya to Eretz Israel. This is how Sheyme Kaplan describes this phenomenon:

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kry159.jpg - Pioneers at work in the hakhsharah-kibbutz in Krinki, 1935
Pioneers at work in the hakhsharah-kibbutz in Krinki, 1935

 

“At that time Krinki was within the so-called Curzon line, which was considered a territory occupied by Poland where a number of Polish laws, such as compulsory military service, did not apply. 'Hares,' that is, young boys from the territories that were already annexed by Poland by law, used to come to our town. The young people arrived with a recommendation letter from their local Zionist organization in which we were kindly asked to help the bearer of the letter, pioneer candidates for aliya to Eretz Israel. The idea was that we would provide these boys with documents proving that they were residents in Krinki (that is, that they were not liable to military service) so that they could get a passport and an English visa to Eretz Israel.”

“First of all we memorized with each of them street names in Krinki and the names of some local residents so that the boys would be able to argue and “prove” to the authorities if necessary that they were really locals. At the same time, we invited the chairman of the town council to a feast at Heykl Olian's and made the “gentleman” rather drunk with liquor. And [Hebrew quotation] we would have him sign the appropriate certificates on the basis of which the pioneers who arrived in our town could get the necessary documents and make aliya to Eretz Israel.”

In 1919 Bendet Nisht participated in the first conference of the Hekhalutz of Lithuania (strictly speaking, of the Grodno-Vilnius district), which assembled in Grodno, as the delegate from Krinki. He also represented Krinki on the national Hekhalutz conference organized in Warsaw a year later and he was elected to be a member of the central committee of the movement.

The first group of pioneers from Krinki made aliya to Eretz Israel in the summer of 1920. Among them Sheyme Zak and Zvi Rotbart (Carmeli), may he rest in peace, Eyzik Ostrinski, and Avrom Neyman, Yofe Furman (a farmer today) and her brother Motke.

They spent the first few years in Eretz Israel working in a group with the pioneers from Grodno on the forestation of Mount Carmel and in Atlit and in the citrus plantations in Petakh Tikva, and later in construction in Rishon LeTsion, Ramlah, Jerusalem and Motza. Then a part of them went into agriculture with the Geva Group in Jezereel valley where they were joined by Lea Nisht (Zak) and Lize Rotbart (who is now the wife of Dovid Tubiu, the first mayor of the reconstructed Beer Sheva and its builders).

The first pioneers, including the young Krinki pioneers, laid the foundations for the subsequent wider aliya to Eretz Israel, which built a country for the Jewish people that would be independent until the end of time.

 

The Life Pulse Of Krinki

By Shmuel Geler

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

 

The Economic Life of the Jews

When the First World War ended, new frontiers and new countries appeared on the map of Europe. Independent Poland came into being. Life started gradually to return to normal. Although there was still great poverty, the first buds of renewed, creative and constructive work appeared here and there. The aftereffects of the war could long be felt in Krinki. The financial assistance of the Joint [international Jewish relief organization] and former Krinki compatriots now living in America helped Krinki Jews a lot to make it through the difficulties of the transition period.

[Page 160]

In the first years of Polish independence, most of the manufacturers that had evacuated their enterprise to Russia during the war returned to the town. The shtetl slowly started to come to life again. The closed tanneries opened their gates that had been locked for so long. The leather workers rolled up their sleeves; and after a long interruption the tanners gave out a sharp smell of wet skin, slaked lime and oak once again.

Disregarding the differentiation between the various tannery trades, all leather workers were united by their common fate and fight. The tannery owners experienced good periods of prosperity as well as bad periods of crisis. The leather workers never had any good times. They could hardly make ends meet even in the better periods when there was plenty of work. And their situation was much worse in the frequently recurring years of crisis. The Krinki leather workers knew well what it was like to be unemployed for long months on end, when poverty reigned in their homes and the shopkeepers and bakers gave no more food on credit. The children of the workers looked yearningly on a piece of rosy bread. The unemployment benefit distributed by the state was hardly enough to buy water to make porridge.

But the leather workers did not crack. The suffering and the constant fight made them harder and tougher. They were all organized in their professional unions and it was impossible for someone who was not a member of the Union of Leather Workers to get seasonal work even for a day. Krinki was always famous for being a stronghold of the Bund, which had many members and sympathizers among the tannery workers. The Bundists were in a majority in the leadership of the Union of Leather Workers. Their leader Nakhum Bliakher was the secretary of the Union for many years. The communists also had a visible influence among the tannery workers. They were represented by Zeydl Zaleski in the leadership of the Union for a long time. Although there were a lot of Zionists among the tannery workers, they had no influence in the Union of Leather Workers. The Zionist tannery workers preferred to indulge themselves in the “Merkaz” (the Center) rather than in their professional union.

The cramped union hall was always crowded. The workers came here to talk about all that was weighing on their minds, to ask for protection and work. Many of them had no stable work place. The Union made great efforts to secure work for all its members but it was not always successful. Sometimes the manufacturers did not want to employ a newly sent worker, and sometimes the permanent workers of the factory would also object to a new worker.

Although the leather workers and the manufacturer prayed in the same beys medresh [synagogue] and went around with the same Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah, they did not have an idyllic relationship. The shtetl was small but the class conflicts were great. The town saw frequent work conflicts and strikes, which lasted for days and sometimes for long weeks. And there was no strikebreaker among the Krinki workers. The leather workers displayed a lot of persistence and class-consciousness in the strikes. True to their revolutionary tradition, they fought hard for their rights.

If we disregard their daily worries, the leather workers lived an intensive political and spiritual life. One of their main concerns was the education of the younger generations. The majority of the leather workers' children studied in the Yiddish elementary school where they received a secular education. The parents displayed a lot of love and devotion in maintaining the Yiddish Tsisho school.

[Page 161]

kry161.jpg - A group of elementary school children and their teachers
A group of elementary school children and their teachers

 

They often gave their last zloty to help cover the ever-growing costs and debts of the school. The leather workers could not afford to give more than an elementary education to their children. None of their children studied in gymnasium and only a few chosen ones continued their studies in a teacher training college or in a trade school.

The Krinki leather workers were interested in reading Yiddish books, daily newspapers and followed with great interest what was going on in the wider world. The trial of Sacco-Venzetti, the civil war in Spain and the notorious trials in Moscow were all echoed among the workers in Krinki. They felt sympathy for the freedom fighter and condemned the show trials staged in Moscow.

The tannery industry in Krinki experienced a certain degree of prosperity in the last few years before the Second World War. The tanneries increased their production; beside the “traditional” leather products such as sole, "distressed leather," bootleg and tongue, a new product came out: a soft, thick “piece sewed under” which functioned as uppers, especially for leather fancy goods.

A considerable number of local Christians and peasants from the surrounding area made a living from the leather industry. The Christians worked mostly as wet tannery workers and in other simpler trades. The number of leather workers continued to grow on the eve of the Second World War.

[Page 162]

Technology reached Krinki as well. Machines appeared in the Krinki factories. The majority of the manufacturers had their own steam engine and electric power and finally high wind turbines also appeared. The workers no longer had to turn the drums by hand for long hours. As one was driving along the highway from Krinki to Grodno or Sokolke, one could see the tall smoking chimneys of the factories and the wind turbines – it was like a “little Manchester.” The shtetl was working; an intensive economic life was pulsing in the city. Jewish initiative and capital, the efforts and hard work of Jewish professionals created an economic value, which was beneficial for the whole shtetl. Shopkeepers, commissioners, packers, artisans and coachmen all made a livelihood from the ramifying leather industry.

The Second World War, which broke out unexpectedly, and the bloody German occupation destroyed everything that the Jews had built up over many decades. Jewish manufacturers and workers, the poor and the rich, all had the same fate: Treblinka, Auschwitz and death.

 

Religious Life

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

 

Torah and Traditional Devotion in Krynki

“In previous generations,” wrote Henoch Suraski. “Krynki was known as an aristocratic shtetl with a proud tradition of rabbis and righteous torah scholars and of a community of Jews occupied with religion and Torah knowledge – that lived to the end in religious law and good deeds.

“In the old city cemetery there were gravestones on the graves of the Krynki great men, among them Rabbi Reb Yosef – Reb Yosele the Righteous and Reb Chaim Tsvi, a Slonimer Hasid who decided on rabbinical law and who was also a miracle worker. The writing on the gravestone says a lot about the changes in the community and the world.

“As known, there existed in Krynki before the First World War a great yeshiva “Anaf Eitz Chaim” [The Branch of the Tree of Life] where there were many students from the entire region.

“But later a new yeshiva existed in Krynki for young men, 'Beit Yosef' – a branch of the Navaredok [Novogrudek] muser [morals and ethics] yeshiva that was founded by Reb Yosef Yusel Hurvits. The yeshiva was in 'Chai-Odem' on Garbarska Street.”

“There, in the synagogue, writes Abraham Soifer, “sat fifty youngsters who studied diligently the beautiful pages of gemore [part of the Talmud]. The songs, coming from deep in their hearts, never frightened Christians passing by.

“Young men with ear locks wound around their ears would eat with dozens of Krynki families. It was considered a great and good yeshiva. The head trustee, Reb Naftali was mainly busy with recruiting yeshiva students from the entire area. But dialects from a lot Galitzianer and Polish youngster were also heard. They came to study in the Krynki yeshiva because it was considered one of the best and also graduated several rabbis.”

“In the Krynki streets,” finishes Henoch Suraski, “the voice of Torah was heard, G-d's living words – by Jews whose lives were intertwined and thoroughly imbued with divine service, prayer and good deeds. 'It used to be…'”

[Page 163]

Rabbi Reb Khizkiyahu Yosef Mishkovski

David Mishkovski

After the First World War and until the outbreak of the second, the prominent Reb Khizkihau Yosef Mishkovski sat in the rabbi's chair in Krynki. He was the last rabbi in the shtetl. He was a great Torah scholar, a dedicated social worker and a lover of Israel, heart and soul. He was born in 1885 in Stavisk, Lomza District, to a religious rabbinical family.

He studied in a number of yeshivas such as Maltch, Radun and Navaredok and was already described as a genius while he was studying. In 1904 at the age of twenty, he immigrated with his father-in-law to Israel and settled in Jerusalem where he studied at the “Ets Chaim” yeshiva. He published his father-in-law's book “Pri Yitzhak” [Fruit of Yitzhak] as well as his own work.

Reb Khizkiyahu also took part in community work in Jerusalem and was a member of the first “Vaad-ha'ir leYehudi Yerushalayim” (community council).

In 1914 he returned to Poland where he was invited to be the rabbi in Zsheludok. In 1922 he became the rabbi in Krinik (after Reb Zelman Sender who left during the First World War and later went to Israel, and after Rabbi Weintraub who was the rabbi in Krinik a short time during the German occupation. Because of a betrayal he had to leave the shtetl).

After the First World War Krinik experienced a difficult economic situation. Rabbi Mishkovski was committed to helping the many needy and expended a lot of effort on the Jewish community institutions especially in the field of religious education. He founded the “Heder HaKlali” [the Public grade school for boys] from what used to be the Talmud Torah [free grade school for poor boys] and it became a model of a well-organized school for Jews and also secular education.

Rabbi Mishkovski was also busy caring for “Linat HaZedek” [a society whose volunteers stayed overnight with patients so their families could get some rest, provided doctors and medicine for the poor] and gemiles khesed [loans without interest]. (He initiated the founding of such funds with the help of the “Joint” [Joint Distribution Committee of the USA, charity to help poor European Jews] in all the large cities of Poland). He was also active in the orphanage, in the “Women's Committee” and wherever help was needed.

The activities of Rabbi Mishkovski surpassed by far the limits of Krynki. When the prohibition against Jewish ritual slaughter started in Poland, Rabbi Mishkovski – then vice-president of the “Agudas HaRabonim” [Federation of Rabbis] in the country – he stood at the head of the struggle against the evil decree.

With the outbreak of the World War in 1939, he traveled to Vilna where he was invited to be the chairman of the Union of Refugee Rabbis from Poland and with the initiative of the “Joint” developed a broad relief and rescue operation that also crossed over the border. In the spring of 1941 he went to Israel where he was invited to become the director of the “Vaad HaYeshivas” [the Council of the yeshivas] in the country.

kry163.jpg - A class in'Heder HaKlal' 1934
A class in “Heder HaKlali” 1934

[Page 164]

kry164.jpg - Society for the Sake of Orphans, with the support of School for Tailors/Seamsters and its teachers and its students
Society for the Sake of Orphans, with the support of School for Tailors/Seamsters and its teachers and its students

But basically he gave himself body and soul to saving Jewish refugees and especially those wandering far from home deep in Russia.

He searched for addresses, especially of Krinkers, and moved heaven and earth to contact them so that they would send packages to save the unfortunate refugees from hunger and cold and to give them courage during this perilous time.

Selected as a member of the Israeli Relief Committee by the Jewish Agency, Rabbi Mishkovski left for Europe (in poor health) to help save the surviving Jewish souls, especially Jewish children who had been hidden in monasteries and to bring them to Israel. He was a fervent leader of the Relief Committee in Europe and in the United States.

He returned to Israel on the eve of the Jewish New Year in 1947, a man broken by the great sorrow for our murdered people. But his weak heart could go on no longer. The day following Rosh Hashanah he died. Over ten thousand people attended his funeral and he was laid to rest in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.

 

Krynki Melamdim [religious teachers]

By Betzalel (Alter) Patshebutski

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

Two Reb Shmuels

Reb Shmuel Tentser the melamed had a heder [religious grade school for boys] where once hundreds of young boys studied. He had several assistants.

The Heder – a huge room with a clay floor, three large wooden tables set up in a “U” shape. On both sides there were long benches so that the students sat face to face. The rebbe [teacher] sat across the table..

The assistants would stand around the table or go around among the children and make sure that they stayed quiet and listened to the rebbe.

In the second room – where the rebbe lived – it was dark and squalid. The walls were soaked with dampness. The damp and steam from the cooking pots poured down them. There were no windows.

The teacher's wife, Paya, was, the poor thing, blind in one eye and it ran all the time. She would yell and curse and would invade the heder. She was dirty and the seams of her blouse were split. With a loud voice she would let out her bitterness to her husband. Shmuel Tentser would not even move. He did not even turn his head to her and would continue with “kometz alef oh, kometz bes, bo.”

There was a special punishment corner – a “prison” that was closed with a door as high as a child's head. The sinner would have to hold in one hand a poker and in the other a broom. The child would stand and yell: “beh, beh, a busha!” [beh, beh, a shame!]. After a couple of minutes he would go back to studying. The duration of the punishment was decided by the melamed.

[Page 165]

Reb Shmuel “ der rebetsin's”

Reb Shmuel “der rebetsin's” was a “secular” rebbe. He was famous not only for his knowledge, intelligence and for his ability to teacher grammar, but first of all for this; several weeks before Passover he would produce wine. The heder boys were glad to help, at the expense of studying less.

The wine “production” was an interesting trade. It was necessary to pay very careful attention to the small boys so as not to arouse the wrath of the rebbe's wife who was worse than the rabbi's ethics lessons.

In the dark evenings the students would go back to the heder with lanterns in hand and snow creaking under the feet. One frozen hand holds the holy books and the other the lantern, rocking in the wind. Behind it sways the figure of the student – the Jewish zealot.

Shmuel “der rebetsin's” did not beat the students – as he had physically weak children. He had a blackjack, but did not use it. The parents of his students were more or less sure that their children were in no great danger that Shmuel “der rebetsin'sheder would beat them.

 

Reb Shmuel Glembutski

Yishie Drayzi

We, all the Krynkers, who have since spread through out the world, while still in our hometown went through and studied in heder. It was in Rabbi Reb Shmuel son of Yosef haTzadik [the righteous man] Glembutski, or as he was called, Reb Shmuel “der rebetsin'sheder where we studied.

 

kry164.jpg - Reb Shmuel 'der Rebetsin's'
Reb Shmuel “der Rebetsin's

 

With him we wandered the paths of this great and dear asset. There were Jewish teachings and ethics, based on the most beautiful and glorious principles of the Torah, the rich baggage of light and knowledge, of virtue, the deep spirit of Jewish traditions, morals and honesty.

My great uncle, Reb Shmuel “der rebetsin's” did not use the torah as a “spade with which to dig” – he kept the rule of “love work, hate domination.” Therefore he dedicated his entire virtuous life, body and soul, to educate generations of Jews, taught them the way of knowledge and anonymity, to plant religion in the hearts of his young students.

Reb Shmuel's heder was in its category the highest in Krinik and grown up boys from the best families studied there. They had already gone though other heders of “khumesh” [Pentateuch] and the books of the prophets – the degrees. Reb Shmuel taught the students traditional scholarship, such as gemore [the part of the Talmud that comments on the Mishnah] with toysefes [critical glosses on the Talmud], the way of ha-p'shat [a literal translation of the Torah] and cabala. It was an honor for parents and pride for the children to study with him. And we who sat for many years on the benches around his table soaked up Torah and wisdom from him as well as his love of Judaism and belief in the triumph of Israel.

[Page 166]

The model, clean, virtuous life of the rabbi served as an example for all his students. Reb Shmuel “der rebetsin's” (Reb Yosele's son and spiritual heir) was a good-natured man, of stately appearance and great scholar and at home in secular knowledge. People came to him from all walks of life to ask his advice, to charm away an evil eye and to pour out their heavy hearts. And everyone, when they left, had more faith. Reb Shmuel was respected and loved in the city.

Reb Shmuel prayed in the “Kavkaz”synagogue. His place was at the Holy Ark. The cantor always waited to start the “main” Shmona Esrah [the eighteen benedictions, a daily prayer] until Rabbi Shmuel had finished the silent prayer. The respect for him was immense.

How dear and since Reb Shmuel was to people – so strict with his pupils. Every minute was precious and holy. One had to exert all his sense in order to follow what he said. The students truly thought of him as the pillar of fire. He not only instilled in his pupils a love of learning and the love of Judaism, but also a sense of Hebraisism that has stayed with each of them.

Thursday might Reb Shmuel prepared for the Sabbath. He paid careful attention to everything so that it would be done according to religious law, in honor of the Sabbath Queen and prepared the snuff himself.

When he was finished his work, he would pay the first tithe to the Odelsker rabbi who then lived in Krinik and to other scholars. And I had the privilege of carrying out the “holy” mission of carrying the little boxes of tobacco to them.

 

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