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[p. 149]

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.

[p. 150]

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.

[p. 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.

[p. 152]

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].”

[p. 153]

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.

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