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A History of the Jews in Siedlce
The Origins of Jews in Siedlce

by Yitzkhak Kaspi

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

 

Sources and Literature

Scant are the sources for the history of the Jews in Siedlce. In the archives of the town are few documents about the almost four hundred years of Jewish life in Siedlce. Although Jewish life in this capital city of Podolia was rich in historical events, until the Second World War, no Jewish historian undertook to study the life of the Jews of Siedlce. Not a single book gives any idea about how a Jewish settlement developed in this area.

Understandably, the Poles had a different attitude toward studying the history of their city. First of all, there is a group of Polish historians who deal with the history of all of Poland, including, naturally, Siedlce. So, for example, Belinski and Lipinski treat the city in their co–written work “The History of Poland.” In “The Slavic Geographical Kingdom of Poland,” there is interesting information about the city. Siedlce is also mentioned in a group of encyclopedias, such as “Powszechna,” “Podreczna,” “Nelson,” and “Britannica,” from which I have taken information for the present work. All of this information is related to the earlier history of Siedlce.

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In the thirties of the twentieth century a special journal appeared in Warsaw dedicated to the study of the history of Podlesie. Siedlce, as the capital of the area, there received appropriate treatment. But the Jewish settlement in the city was intentionally overlooked. Polish historians, as we see, in the following years written widely about Siedlce. There is, indeed, a long bibliography of historical works about the city.

The first work about Siedlce was a brochure in Russian by the editor of “Gubernskiya Vyedomosti” [Regional Government News], in which he showed a tendency to be rather colorful. He says little about the Jews[1].

A. Khozonovkski, in a number of issues of the “Podolia Gazette,” published sections of this brochure as if it were part of a monograph from Shtrumpf, which confiscated by the press authorities in Warsaw, who said it was because Subotkin, the current governor, was angry because he had not been shown the brochure. Shtrumpf was actually the son of the converted book dealer in Siedlce Shtrumpf[2].

In 1912 a second book about Siedlce appeared in Russian, “Historical Statistical Survey.” The authors were S. D. Koshinski and H.T. Tilinski. This book provided much statistical information about Siedlce that appears in our work.

Tadeusz Monyevvski published, under the name “Siedlce,” a guidebook to the city, which appeared in 1929 through the Podolia Museum, which was named after M. Aslanovitsch. We have used the general information in “Siedlce” in the first chapters of our monograph.

We have also used the material from the following historical publications: “Ksiega Pamiatkowa Siedlcam 1844–1905,” written from a definitely Polish–Christian perspective; “Kalendarz diecezji podlaskie czyli Siedleckiej1929” (“Calendar of the Podlaskie Diocese, for Siedlce, 1929), which contains chapters on Christian life; V. Lapinski's work, “Wolka Wyklady religii w dzienniku polskim w gimnazjoch Siedleckim I Bielskim” (“Lectures on religion in the Polish Daily News on secondary education in Siedlce and Bielski”).

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In all of these works there is no mention at all of Jews. First in the purely statistical publications about Poland do we find information about Jews, which we have used. Such information is in “Rocznik statystyczny kvolestina polskiego” (“Statistical yearbook of the Polish Kingdom”) of Wladislaw Granski, which appeared before the First World War, from Gebetner and Wolf Publishing, and in the publications of the Polish Office of Statistics, which was published in independent Poland.

Also Antoni Winter, in his work, “Patshantki Shedlitz” (Siedlce, 1939), mentions Jews. This same little book handles in an interesting and condensed form older Siedlce up to the end of the eighteenth century. Winter does not mention in his work that Chmielnitzki destroyed the town.

About Jews, the writer states, in Koczinski and Tilinski's names, that the Countess Oginska sold the Jews of Siedlce twenty–eight stores that she had built in the old city hall[3], which had real significance for the development of Jewish life in Siedlce.

A significant contributor to the history of Siedlce was made by the local Polish press: “Tygodnik Podloski,” (“Polish Weekly”) published 1905–06; “Szitshe Padlyasha”–1924–25; “Platzyavka”–1926–29, as well as the aforementioned journal Podlyasha published in Warsaw in 1927–28. All of these newspapers at different times published valuable articles and notes about the history of Siedlce. We have used these articles.

These materials involve the communal development of non–Jewish Siedlce on whose canvas was superimposed the Jewish life of the city.

Jewish Siedlce belonged, unfortunately, among the not overly popular towns in Poland. It is not even mentioned in the rich Responsa literature. Also old record books were not preserved. Possibly they were destroyed in some of the conflagrations with which Siedlce was blessed. There are four exceptions, record books that existed until the final destruction of Siedlce's Jews, namely: the record book of “Bikkur Kholim Hakhadashah,” of the “Mishneh Fellowship,” of the “Shas ]Talmud] Fellowship,” and the record book of the “Pirchei Shoshanim” [Lily Flowers]. The first of these had already at the time

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at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War covered ninety–six years. From this record book we have quoted the petitions (translated into Yiddish) that provide a picture of Jewish community life from that time. When we note the sources of the history of Jewish Siedlce, we remember with awe the chronicler of the Jewish community, the holy R. Yitzchak Nachum Veintroib, who lived in Siedlce for over sixty years, and his investigations into the history of Jewish Siedlce extend back a further hundred years.

Veintroib would every day about the actual events in Jewish life in Siedlce. He was active in the life of the community. He knew it well, which enriched his huge archive, which he looked after until the Nazi dominion. At the beginning of the Second World War, the archive was buried, together with his relatives, under the ruins of his house. R. Y.N. Veintroib, already an older man of eighty years, continued his writing in the ghetto, until the critical day when, together with the remnant of the Siedlce ghetto, he was, on Chanukah of 1943, taken away to the death camp of Treblinka and was there tortured. Veintroib had published in the “Siedlce Wochenblatt” a small part of his archive. Thus a small part of his valuable work about Jewish life in Siedlce was preserved.

His recollections of the pogrom he published in the “Siedlce Wochenblatt” in 1923. In 1939 he published new sections about that bloodbath. Veintroib is a trustworthy source for the history of that tragic chapter, because he himself survived the pogrom. As a member of the community council, he served as a protector for the Jewish victims of the pogrom. He therefore could say in his recollections, “I am the man who has known afflictions under the rod of His wrath” (Lamentation 3:1). Using his chronicles of Siedlce's rabbis, rebbes, and cantors, we have reconstructed the appearance of Jewish Siedlce in the nineteenth century.

Because of the scarcity of source material for the Jewish history of Siedlce, we were forced to use a variety of chronicles that were that were published in their time in the Siedlce Jewish press.

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For the history of the workers' movement in Siedlce, we used the work of Yehoshua Goldberg that he published in the “Siedlce Wochenblatt” under the title “Spring in Siedlce.” Goldberg wrote his work on the basis of the testimony of the participants in the workers' movement at that time. The testimony belonged to these people: A. Veinapple, Kh. Goldenberg, and M. Yedvob.

We should also recall the editor of the “Siedlce Wochenblatt,” Asher Liverant, who deserves thanks for having put out a book about Siedlce that provides a historical reflection of Jewish life in the city in the past. In his editorial office, in a large closet, along with the back files of the newspaper he kept a compilation of materials and documents of historical Jewish life in Siedlce. Liverant hoped that a day would come when he could rework those materials and publish a book. His untimely death negated his plans. His collected materials disappeared, along with the Jewish life of Siedlce.

Editor Liverant also worked to assure that the “Siedlce Wochenblatt” would give space to historical articles. He urged people to record their memories. He never let go of an article or an episode that had relevance to Siedlce's past–even if it was not the Jewish past. Later on, in 1910, he gathered together the materials which had interested Dr. M Shteyn, who later converted. These materials Liverant sent to the editor of the “Yevreskiya Starina” in Petersburg. On the basis of this material, Sh. Goldshteyn published in his fourth volume his interesting work about Siedlce, which we have used for our monograph. From that work we have cited the privileges that the Countess Oginska gave to Siedlce's Jews. The original documents stating the privileges were destroyed together with the Jewish community, and the only written evidence of the documents is found in Goldshteyn's work.

The work that is being published was put together with hard work, with extraordinary exertions. It is

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necessary to thank the national and university library on Har HaTzofim in Jerusalem. Only in such a huge treasure of books could one fine what was needed to tell the history of Jewish life in Siedlce. Between times, I have published my work “Megillas Paros Shedlitz B'Shnas 1906,” along with other smaller works. I have been encouraged to do further work on the history of the Jews in Siedlce.

May this modest work furnish material for the great historical work on exterminated Polish Jewry, which needs yet to be written.

 

Old Siedlce

In order to get an idea about the history of the Jews in Siedlce, it is first necessary to understand the historical development of the city–how it was founded, how it grew, and how it became one of the largest provincial cities in the Polish state.

Old Siedlce was founded as a village. Testimony tells us that the oldest street or quarter on the east side of the city was officially connected to Siedlce on October 31, 1931. The quarter was called Stara–wioska (Old Village). From there they began to build the town, which was given the name of Siedlce. It appears that until the first half of the sixteenth century, Siedlce was divided in two parts: New– and Old–Siedlce. In the seventies of that century, New–Siedlce began to attain the status of a city and Old–Siedlce in time lost the second half of its name, Siedlce, and took on the status of a village. Hence the name Stary–wioska[4].

 

The Origin of the Name

The origin of the name Siedlce (or Shedlitz, in Yiddish) is, according to Brinker's Etymological Dictionary from the Polish language (pp. 491–492), a derivation from the Polish root “siodlo,” which means a settlement.

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There is also a legend that the name was given at the time of a visit to Poland by the Italian queen Vana in 1531. [It is not clear what he is referring to. There was no Italian queen named Vana. The queen of Italy in 1531 was Isabella of Portugal.] Travelling through the area, she rested at the spot where the city of Siedlce now stands and was struck by the beauty of the surroundings, so that the queen exclaimed, “That is a great siedliska [Polish for habitat]][5]. It is difficult to say what pleased the queen, because the whole area around Siedlce is just clayey and wet. This legend has no historical foundation, because the fact is that in documents that come from the time before the queen's visit we already encounter the name of the town as Siedlecz, Siedlce, or Siedlcza. The name Siedlce also belonged to the wealthy man to whom the town belonged–Daniel Siedletzky. He was the owner of the village since 1511[6]. The vacillation concerning whether to call the place a town or a village, as in the case of Siedlce, also marks the history of other places.

 

Hypotheses About the Rise of the City

Also, the date when Siedlce was founded has not been established. Because of the frequent conflagrations that beset the city, archives and documents that might have held confirmation about the founding were destroyed. Dr. St. Wansawski, who researched the history of Siedlce, stated an opinion that has little historical grounding, but it cannot be discounted. He holds that Siedlce was founded at the end of the thirteenth century by inhabitants of three villages––Siedleyen, Sokolow, and Lukow–who were found in the Jendvzejewo area. Due to certain circumstances, the inhabitants of those villages abandoned them and came to the vicinity of Siedlce and there established outposts with the name of their home towns.

The emigration of the Jendvzejewo residents must have come as a result of the wars that King Boleslaw the Bashful led against the Yotvingian tribes who came from the Lithuanian steppes and led plundering raids against Poland from east of the Niemen[7].

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Wansawski's theory, however, conflicts with the historical facts, because Lukow in the Jendvzejewo area is first mentioned only in the sixteenth century and there are references to the Lukow in the neighborhood of Siedlce already from 1244[8]. Wansawski's hypothesis that Siedlce must have been founded in the thirteenth century, although it is not factually grounded, can be combined with the theory of a second Siedlce scholar, Grichowski, who also says that Siedlce must have been founded in the thirteenth century. Grichowski bases his opinion on Jablonowski's work on Podlaskie, which in the thirteenth century definitely began to colonize the left bank of the Bug and Narew Rivers. But Grichowski maintains that the Podlaskie colonization took place mainly through Masurians from the region around Czechonow, Makow, Ostrow, and Livow. Moreover it is possible that the founders of Siedlce were Masurians. But it could also have been emigrants from Little Poland or Greater Poland. This hypothesis Grichowski bases on a list of places that bear the name “Sheldlitz” or “Siedlce.” Mostly one finds these names in the former Krakow and Sandomir voyevodeships. Fewer of the names come from Greater Poland and Mazower regions[9]. But Grichowski's theory is no more than a hypothesis based on factual historical material. Let us therefore deal with the factual documents about the origins of Siedlce as a city.

 

The First Documentary Information About Siedlce

The first information about Siedlce as a city comes from the first half of the fifteenth century and bears the date of 1448. This is an authorization from the Krakow bishop Zbigniew Aleshnitzki giving the priest from the Lukow parish, to which Siedllce then belonged, permission to receive tithes from the village of “Siedlesz”[10]. It seems that Siedlce was then so small that it did not even constitute a parish.

Further information comes from the sixteenth century, from 1503, 1504, 1509, 1510, 1511, 1512, and 1524. From these notices we learn the owner of the village of Siedlce was, as we have already said

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Daniel Siedletzki[11], who was having a boundary dispute with a certain Mikali Zalivski.

In 1531, Siedlce, along with eight other villages, belonged to the Prussian parish. Only in 1532 did it become a parish unto itself. This was not because of the growth of Siedlce, but thanks to the religiosity and influence of the then owner of Siedlcel, Stanislaw Siedletzki, who wrote a letter to the Krakow bishop Piotr Tomitzki, asking that he take into account the difficulties of communication and the frequent floods of the “Rudnik,” a river that later became known as the “Helenka.” After the bishop received a recommendation from a special commission that he had appointed to evaluate Siedletzki's argument, he agreed to recognize the village of Siedlce as an autonomous parish[12].

Soon St. Siedletzki decided to build a church by the name of St. Stanislaw. The place where the church stood remains unknown, because it was completely destroyed in a fire. There are indications that it was built on Stara–wiesh, where in 1848 the city hospital was built. Evidence is: bones and fragments of gravestones which are occasionally unearthed there. (At the beginning of the “New Times” in Poland, graveyards were found near churches.) But there is a version that deserves notice that says that the old church of 1532 was destroyed and a new one was built and a new wooden one was built on Starawiesh, there were later stood the shrine of the Countess Aginska. In the cemetery records is written that the bones of the Alendzki family–the later owners of Siedlce–were later transferred from the old to the new church. Note that the current church by the name of St. Stanislaw, which was built in 1740, is the third one with the same name. The first was built when Siedlce was a parish[13].

The transformation of Siedlce into a church parish had

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a historical outcome. Thanks to that event, the town grew and expanded.

Some years later, in 1557–as it is related–King Sigismund Augustus visited the village and elevated it to the status of a city[14]. By that time Siedlce already figured in the official lists of the Polish kingdom. Thanks to Alendzki, Siedlce received rights of citizenship and a city board of directors.

Accurate information about the size of Siedlce at that time we receive from a “Register of Taxes in 1552.” Siedlce belonged to Stanlislaw Siedletzki and was granted forty–nine economic accommodations for its fifty houses. If we estimate there were six inhabitants per house, then Siedlce had three hundred inhabitants.

In another register, “The Collection of Taxes from Siedlce and its villages in 1580,” it appears that twenty to thirty years after Siedlce became a city, they inhabitants of Siedlce who paid taxes were enumerated: the mayor, twelve bakers, one sword maker, four street merchants, seven beggars, three well diggers, four furriers, ten shoemakers, one locksmith, two smiths, and two weavers. The district's occupied area, according to this source, comprised 25 wloka [an Old Polish measurement that equaled approximately 44 acres]. The oldest part of the village of Starawiesh paid taxes, according to this register, on twelve wloka; outside that area lived–two street merchants and one beggar[15]. From this we can see that at the end of the sixteenth century, Siedlce and Starawiesh existed separately as a city and as a village. Siedlce was one of the youngest and smallest cities in Poland at that time. Warsaw, which in 1596 became the site of the palatial residence, had ten thousand inhabitants.

 

On the Trail of Jewish Life

The first information about Jewish life in Siedlce comes from the fifties of the seventeenth century.

Maneusz Maniewski, in his book about Siedlce, provides a short and dry piece of information, without giving a source:

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“In 1650, Siedlce was destroyed by the Tatars, during the revolt of Bogdan Chmielnitzki”[16]. Comparing this date to those of the well–known persecutions of the time, we can see that Maniewski's dates are exact.

In the Jewish sources,, particularly in the book “Yeven Metzulah” (“The Abyss of Despair”) of R. Nathan (Nata) Hanover, the great chronicle of the catastrophe of his time, neither Siedlce nor Starawiesh is mentioned as having suffered from Chmielnitzki's attacks, although in “Yeven Metzulah” there is not a single mention of Lublin and the settlements in the Lublin voivodeship. Only in one chapter, “Persecutions of the Scoundrel”[17] does Hanover speak about three small towns, without mentioning their names, that were destroyed by the Hetman. But a second chronicler of the decrees, R. Shmuel Feivush bar Nosan Feitil of Vienna in his book “Teet Hayeven” (“Clay of the Abyss”)[18], relates about the attacks on the three communities that are spoken about in “Yeven Metzulah” that Chmielnitzki attacked “Weglub,” “Starawiesh,” “Magrub,” and “Patlish.” In the first city, according to “Teet Hayeven”, there were forty heads of households. In the second there were fifty, and in the third and fourth there were a hundred each. The Jews of these communities must have fled to Nachal to find protection.

Contemplating these places, we can identify them as: Weglub–Vengrov; Starawesh–Starawiesh, a village near Siedlce or Siedlce itself; Magrub–seems to be a shtetl that must have been called Makarov; Patlish–is surely Podlashe, the area where the three villages are located. However, in another spot in “Teet Hayeven” he speaks about a settlement called “Podlasze.”

Our assumption about the cities is strengthened because the historian, Dr. Yakov Shatzki, in his critical–historical footnotes to the Yiddish translation of Hanover's book[19] identifies in the same way that we do the aforementioned communities that are mentioned in “Teet Yavan” in connection with the slaughter at Nachal–as with our assumption. But Shatzki does not stress that Starawiesh is the same as Siedlce, which is easy to understand. What is not easy to understand is the distance from our Starawiesh to Nachol, which is quite far, in the vicinity of Podolia. How could the Jews have fled with

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communication conditions as they were then? All we can say is that “Teet Hayeven” is full of exaggerations and ambiguities.

Comparing this information with the chronicles of “Teet Hayeven” shows us that Maniewski's information about Chmielnitzki's attack on Siedlce is confirmed. Maniewski formed his report from Church sources. There is also information that that Jews could be found in Siedlce a hundred years before the persecutions, that is, in 1557, and perhaps even earlier.

Our first definite information about Jews in Siedlce comes from the fifth decade of the sixteenth century. This information comes from the history of the Jewish cemetery in Siedlce, which was investigated by Dr. lM. Shteyn (who later converted to Catholicism). Dr. M. Shteyn in 1910 found a document from the end of the eighteenth century (1798), according to which the Countess Oginska gave the Jews land for a cemetery. Here is the document in Polish:

[The Polish document is presented.]

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And here is a Yiddish translation:

Alexandra, from the Countess Czartoryskich, Oginska, the great Hetman from the great Lithuanian countess.

Taking into account the suggestion and the strong appeals from the community and the entire Jewish township, my residents of Siedlce, I give through this decree an assurance to the community and the township of Siedlce that the place by the Jewish school where in the past there were graves–should remain free from buildings and habitation, with these conditions: first–that no Jews, under any pretext, should be buried there except in authorized graves; second: to prevent uglification of the city, this cemetery should be planted with linden trees; third: in order [at this point the document is damaged]…this place should be surrounded by an attractive and high fence put up by the community and the Siedlce township, and this should for now and always be the order. If the community and the Siedlce township should fail to meet these conditions, which are in the decree, then this decree of mine will be dissolved and invalid. As a token of this, I sign this decree with my own hand, with the usual seal.

Presented in Siedlce on the 22nd of March, 1798.

Alex. Oginska.

Dr. M. Shteyn, on the basis of this document, dealt with the history of the Siedlce cemetery in conjunction with the antiquity of the Jewish presence in Siedlce.

The oldest cemetery in Siedlce was near the one–time horse market, near the city school. When this cemetery came into existence is not known. From old times

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until the Second World War, a monument stood there with an illegible inscription. At least one can date the monument from the year 1630.

In the later suburban cemetery, which was located near the Jewish hospital, near the city market on Ogrodova Street (later, Shenkevitsh Street) there remain several monuments that cover the period 1740–1822, although there can be no doubt that people were buried here before 1740.

The last cemetery, which was located near the road to Warsaw, was purchased by the Jewish township in 1826; the contract of sale was found in the administrative office of the Padlosh voivodeship. The leaders of the Jewish township who purchased the placer were: Yosef Zlotofirski (?), Dovid Grinberg, and Moyshe Nussboym. They paid 420 Polish gulden. The sellers were the Christian Matteus Skolimovski and his daughters. It is interesting that the Jews endorsed the notary's paper in the Polish language, and Skolimovski and his daughters signed with three crosses because they did not know how to write. The oldest inscription on a tombstone from this last cemetery comes from 1827, but in the archives of the Jewish community, among the documents relating to the purchase of a place for a cemetery, papers were found that established the existence of this cemetery before 1807. There can be no doubt that people were buried there before 1826.

On the basis of these cemetery documents, Dr. Shteyn came to this conclusion: the last cemetery existed since 1807. The earlier ran a century before that, that is, since 1707. The first served for a hundred fifty years, that is from 1557[21]. That was 111 years after the first information about Siedlce. Properly said–from its first establishment.

Unfortunately no materials, neither documents nor archives, remain that would have clarified the history of the Jews of that time. It could be that the number of Jews in the city was so small that they played no obvious role in the

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in community life of Polish Jews, but all that already in the second half ot he sixteenth century there was a Jewish settlement in Siedlce.

 

Siedlce in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

In the course of the seventeenth century Siedlce suffered many fires, which destroyed not only the wooden houses–but also their contents and the town documents. It went so far that on the tenth of December in 1635, the Polish king Wladislaw IV, following the request of the Siedlce furrier, gave him a certificate of privilege. Actually it was a renewal of a previous privilege from King Sigmund III, which had been destroyed by one of those fires[22].

At the same time the city of Siedlce was given as a dowry through the owner of the town, Tomas Alendski, whose daughter, Johanna, had married the Volin voivode Count Michael Czartoryski[23].

In 1678, the town owner received from the central power a permit to repeal a road tax of one groschen for every horse and cow that was brought to the Siedlce market. The income was supposed to be used for fixing the roads.

Another fire, the largest in Siedlce's history to that time, completely destroyed the city in 1693. As in the earlier fires, all files and information were lost. Thus we do not know Siedlce was nor how many inhabitants it had[24].

At the same time Count Czartoryski married his daughter Alexandra to Oginski from the Lithuanian aristocracy, and as himself had received the town as a dowry from his father–in–law Alendski, so he gave it as a dowry to his only daughter, who was mentioned in an earlier chapter.

With Siedlce in the hands of Countess Oginska, an epoch began of prosperity and well–being for the city. This energetic and aristocratic woman

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undertook measures to attract inhabitants and colonists and also showed sympathy for the Jews. Her first actions were the building of several large buildings, thanks to which a variety of high–ranking guests who passed through the town could be put up. In these buildings she also set up a variety of administrative offices, and in later years there was also a welcoming kitchen where the needy could get food in bad times. In the period between the two world wars there were in the buildings: the post office and the women's gymnasium, named for Queen Jadwiga, where there was, it seems also in earlier times, a theater.

Among the important guests who then visited Siedlce, was King Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski, who visited in 1783. In honor of the event an immense triumphal arch was built on the border between Siedlce and Starawesh (Old Siedlce). The arch had a main entrance and two smaller aisles, which were called “gloves.” This was one of the most beautiful monuments in Poland, and it stood until 1942, when the Germans destroyed it. They found that the passageway of the arch was too small for the heavy mechanized artillery that they were bringing from Prussia to the Russian front. Thus the German vandals tore down the arch.

The town owners also planted a walking garden of twenty–three acres with many useful facilities, and near the garden they put the well–known palace, built in Renaissance style.

To the Countess Oginska is also attributed the building of the city hall, known as the “old city hall.” Many people also called the building “Jozek” or “Lesser Jozek.” This was an original three–story building in the old style with an octagonal tower, two thirds of which was made of brick, and higher up of wood. On the top of the tower was a life size figure of a man. He bore on his shoulders a huge globe made of copper. The statue was made to resemble the faithful valet who was called “wozek” or “Jozek,” so that is what people called the tower.

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sie019.jpg
The “Jozek” building

 

In the years 1875–1887, the wooden part of the tower was freshly renovated. In the copper globe a document was found, written in Latin on parchment. It said that after the fire, the town was rebuilt in 1784, thanks to the special efforts of the Countess Oginska. To prevent fires that could be caused by lightning, Adam Kukel, the chief “engineer” of Countess Oginska, installed a lightning rod. The celebration of its completion came on September 4, 1784. The testimony of many witnesses is attested in the document by signatures. The chief poet of Countess Oginska, Franciszek Karpinski, composed a special poem for this momentous occasion.

But not five years after finding the document, on February 2, 1887, another fire broke out in Siedlce. The city hall

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was completely burned. Jozef Zenkowich rebuilt it and installed a new lightning protector. The costs were again borne by Countess Oginska[25].

 

The Beginning of the Organized Jewish Community

In 1765, Siedlce numbered 631 Jews[26]. The rabbinic chair of the Siedlce community was occupied by the famous R. Meir, the author of the “Netiv Meir”–notes on the Talmud. He went to his eternal rest in the cemetery next to the Jewish school. As Dr. Yakov Shatzki[27] explains, in the eighties of the eighteenth century there were rabbis from Siedlce in Warsaw. Jews earned their living in business and lease–holding, and things went well for them. As far as we can guess, there were a few very wealthy people in the town. One of them was R. Chaim Greenberg, who, in 1790, left a will in Hebrew, to divide up his inheritance. The will can be found in the Siedlce mortgage bureau[28].

In the Podlasie museum, which was located in Siedlce, there is a typical document in which we read that on the first of January in 1797, Countess Oginska sold to a certain Itzkavitch, for 2,700 Polish guilder, a building holding several stores, that she had had built. Information that we have from other sources tells us that the same countess, in order to find financing for renovating the city hall, ten years earlier, on the first of April, 1787, sold to the Jews twenty–eight buildings. The price for each building was between 300 and 2,500 Polish guilder[29].

It is hard to determine when an organized Jewish community life began in Siedlce, due to the lack of documents. One must assume that the Siedlce community existed in an organized form in the second half of the eighteenth century. A later document informs us that in 1794, the community was required to build a house with a dwelling place for the rabbi and a room set aside as a yeshiva. The earlier document about a place for the Siedlce Jewish cemetery, which the Countess Oginska had approved, speaks specifically about the Jewish community, to whom the land was given over.

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All of this shows that in the nineties of the eighteenth century, the Siedlce Jewish community was a regularly acknowledged institution. Such rights could not be established in a single decade. One must therefore assume that the Siedlce community existed long before it was required to build a house and establish a cemetery and before it received the right to represent the Jewish population before the Countess Oginska.

The document of 1794 that gives the community the right to build a house with a dwelling for the rabbi and a yeshiva has the following text:

sie021.jpg

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Here is the Yiddish translation:

“Alexandra, from the Countess Czartoryski, Oginska, the great leader of the Lithuanian territory, the heir to the court of Siedlce.

Because the Jews, my citizens of Siedlce, those of the community and the fellowship, will, for the beautification of the town, construct a house, one side to be paid for by the collection of funds from the community for a dwelling for the rabbi; the other half of this house at the expense of the fellowship for a school (for learning); in order to avoid any misunderstandings in the future, I set down now and forever these conditions: because the fellowship alone provides the funds to build a school, therefore in the future no one will have the right to occupy this school or the benches therein. Only the aforementioned fellowship and its administrator grant free access to uphold it. Other entities, like the tailors and such other Jewish fellowships in my city of Siedlce because they have their own schools, should go there and be obliged to observe the old statutes. As evidence that these conditions should be for now and forever, I have signed and sealed this with my own hand. Issued in Siedlce, the 28th day of January, 1794, Alex. Oginsaka.”

As can be seen in this document, the Jewish settlement in Siedlce had, in 1794, not only had an organized and legally recognized community, but also fellowships and guilds. The fellowship that would, according to the document, open a school–one must assume that this meant either a cheder or a yeshiva–was surely the Talmud Torah fellowship.

 

The Jewish Settlement of Siedlce after the Division Of Poland

In 1793, the collapse of the Kosciuszko Rebellion was followed by the second division of Poland. The country was divided among Russia, Austria, and Germany. In 1796, Siedlce was in the hands of the Austrians,

[Page 23]

who set up headquarters there. Three years later, Countess Oginska died. After her death, the town reverted to the Czartoryskis. Soon negotiations began between the Austrian power and the old–new landlords. In July of 1804, Count Adam Czartoryski exchanged Siedlce for other territories.

According to the demographic study of Prof. Y. Mikulski published in installments in “Szitshe Podlaskie” in 1934, Siedlce grew quickly, especially at the end of the eighteenth century, thanks to being located at a crossroads

“The first of these roads,” writes Mikulski, “went between the settlements: Liv, Wengrow, Lukow, Lublin, or along the length of the Bug River southward; from Wengrow, the dirt road went north as far as Danzig (there is still a reminder in the Wengrow marketplace–the so–called “Gdansk Stone Building”); the second path united Warsaw with Lithuania and simultaneously led through Liv, Wengrow, Sokolow. As time passed, after the construction of the rail lines from Warsaw to Vilna and from Warsaw to Brisk, Wengrow gradually lost its good fortune as the junction point to Siedlce.”

Siedlce was not long attached to Austria. Two years later, after Napoleon had created the duchy of Warsaw, after the outbreak of the Austrian War in 1809, one of the fiercest battles was fought in the area of Siedlce. Siedlce itself was liberated by the Polish army, which was under the command of Josef Dembrowski. After the peace treaty, when Podlaskie was united with the duchy as a new department, Siedlce became the capital of the new quarter and an important city in the department.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 it was decided to create from the existing Duchy of Warsaw the so–called Kingdom of Poland. A pact was created with Russia, and the Siedlce Department was converted into a Podlaskie Voivodeship with Siedlce as its capital. It remained such until 1840, until the liquidation of the Podlaskie Voivodeship and the creation of the Siedlce Gubernia.

From this tumultuous epoch, from the second division

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of Poland until the liquidation of the Podlaskie Voivodeship, in 1840, very few documents about Jewish life in Siedlce survive from which to learn how Jews lived From one document that turned up from 1812 from R. Noson Dovid Gliksberg, we see something about the license to charge for kosher meat in Siedlce, which was, it appears, a very good business, since for a single year the licensee paid twenty–seven thousand Polish zlotys to succeed an earlier licensee who lived in a different city. The go–between for this transaction was the later R. Bunim of Peshischa. The contract was written in Hebrew. The translation from Hebrew to Polish was made by the then official translator, who lived in Warsaw. We provide a Yiddish translation of the Polish copy of the contract:

“The undersigned declare that an agreement has been decided between us, the undersigned from one side and the Jews Avraham ben Dovid, Kalman ben Moyshe, and Yakov ben Yitzkhak, about the license to charge for kosher meat in the city of Siedlce for the period of one year, that is, from March 1, 1812 until the end of February in 1813. This agreement was decided on today among us, for which the above–named licensees have committed to pay for charging for kosher meat for the city of Siedlce for this year the sum of twenty–seven thousand Polish guilder. And in accord with this agreement the licensees have deposited a sum proportional to this sum for two months, and also for another month, the sum of six thousand, seven hundred and fifty Polish guilder. The rest of the amount two will be paid in two installments. (It appears that another contract was written in which all of these details were spelled out.) Thus, there are among us clear terms, that is, between the undersigned and the licensees, if, God forbid, an enemy should enter the country (as in 1812 there was the historic war between Russia and France), the price of the contract for the licensee of 27,000 guilder for the year

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will be null and void without blame. The licensees will owe nothing more than 20,000 guilder, and the deposit and the monthly sum will be reckoned according to 20,000 guilder per year.

And as the licensee will reckon on twenty thousand guilders, the licensor will accept that for the year without more payment.

All of the above details in the contract, aside from the price of the license, remain in effect without regret. And neither side can make any claim on the other.

However, if the country remains peaceful and no enemy invades, the contract for 27,000 guilder will remain in effect.

On the basis of this contract, which will be sealed by a notary, every claim or exception is settled, and the licensor has to right to confirm it with a notary even without our instruction, and as a token I sign under this agreement, in Siedlce on the 28th of February, 1812.

Simcha Bunim of Voidislow

(as representative of H. Eisenberg)

I, the undersigned, accept, together with the others, this agreement, which my representative as decided, upon which I attach my name.

Yakov Eisenberg.

I confirm that this accords with the Hebrew original. In Warsaw, the second day of October, 1812.

M. Bochner (official translator from the tribunal of the judiciary)”

At the same time, in 1816, there was a blood libel trial. The community of Warsaw intervened on behalf of Siedlce[30]. In 1831, in the well–known November uprising, Siedlce was known for the Igan Battle (two or three kilometers from the city). The headquarters of General Diebitsch were in Siedlce. For a certain time, the Grand Duke Constantin was also there. He was the brother of the czar and chief of the Russian army. And

[Page 26]

at the same time, in the Igan Woods, there played out the great battle under the command of the generals Bem and Franzinski.

Fifteen years later, long after the rebellion had been put down, the neighborhood of Siedlce experienced the battles of Potocki. He was captured by the Russians together with a group of rebels and they were hanged in the center of the city. Also active in the rebellion against the Russians was the merchant Yizchak Greenberg, who was consequently known as “Khrabie [brave?] Potocki.”

In 1841, the Russians proceeded to build a prison. The work lasted three years. The prison was built especially for political prisoners, and at first it was not so large. Over time, other buildings were added until it became one of the most severe central prisons in independent Poland. Between the two world wars it overflowed with political prisoners, mostly communists.

After the unification of the Siedlce gubernia with the Lublin gubernia, according to an order of August 9, 1844, Siedlce was reduced to a county seat, and it remained so until 1866, when the gubernia was renewed and Siedlce again was raised to the status of a regional capital.

 

Czarist Russification and Polish Anti–Semitism

After the second unsuccessful Polish rebellion, in 1863, the then governor Gorki, with help from the trustee Aputin, began intensive activities to Russify Siedlce. The government did everything, even changing the city's external appearance in an effort to eliminate anything Polish.

A writer from that time, Swietochowski, published his feelings. He provides a clear picture of Siedlce at that time, though he is not stingy with anti–Semitic venom. He writes (on page 9):

“A mix of national uniforms hostile to us on military men and civil officials. These ignorant, drunken types, raised in the spirit of eastern culture, speak a foreign language, which

[Page 27]

strikes us with violence. For a relatively few inhabitants of the city, there are a large number of institutions, bureaus, centers, barracks for the army; everywhere one sees many Russians. Poles have been totally ejected from government posts. The Russians have begun massively to bring in Jews from the thankless east. The unfortunate small number of Polish citizens live in terrible poverty, relying on agriculture and small businesses, from renting out small rooms on their ground floors to the families of Russian officials”[31].

From a chronicle that appeared in “Novoratshniki Siedlce” in 1873, we see characteristic details about Siedlce at that time. Understandably, the description does not lack anti–Semitism:

“Behind the gubernia building (later the bishop's palace, in front of the city park) a square with benches was laid out. In the square, arrangements were made for a new campus. This campus will have a cannon, which will be fired to let the populace know when it is noon. The city hall in 1873 should be renovated, on all its levels, because they are threatening to collapse, so they must be torn down and totally rebuilt.

“A little while back, drozhkies used to go there. It is unfortunate that the concourse is open to Jews, who can be recognized by their disorder, which they have brought even here.”

Further on comes the following characterization of community life:

“A scornful emptiness, a frightful nothingness. Looking over the nauseating sleepiness, over the miserable powerlessness, it is difficult even to think that a part of these people are educated, know the responsibilities of the community which they will not carry out. These people are significant. They would like to know how to direct others. That which should come from their own initiative they seize upon and then….play cards, they spend time with Molly or with Esther (names of Siedlce's

[Page 28]

bar girls from that time), or they go to worse places. The reason is the solitariness and the smallness of their way of life. There are family areas, but there are no community areas. Our daughters don't read, aside from Dumas' romances. They are partial to no other language aside from the language of love.

“We have no other entertainment aside from dance, which perhaps pleases the women and the fervent young dancers; but it leaves the older men with an aftertaste of nausea. If a couple go off together, which seldom happens, they trudge through the city mud for half an hour, drink tea for a quarter of an hour, and the other twenty minutes are spent in gossip. The aristocrats promote for ladies the card game ‘Bezhik’ and for men ‘Preference.’

“I should now present a panorama with gifts of the growing light or a magic–bird that will soon cover the whole world and is made of various layers in order to delight and sanctify a well–known charlatan. People from the world of work lose to the dishonest lotteries and hope to win a month's wages in an hour. There are, too, provincial towns that stand near Siedlce. In Lukow there are evenings when the whole town and its surroundings come together. Frivolities and entertainments are arranged that we don't even want to think about. In Siedlce there are about 500 houses, but who knows ? Maybe half of them are taverns adorned with Esther and Molly, Wolf and Kamp. So, too, with the taverns that are behind the Szczal Gate.

“In Podlaskie there is no industry. The only business is shop keeping, which lies in the hands of those who are hostile to us. Either the citizens are poor because they can barely feed themselves or they are the most backward capitalists in the world. The towns are inhabited almost entirely by clerks. Three quarters of them are clutched in the hands of the Jews.”

From these descriptions, colored with anti–Semitism, we get an idea of Jewish life in Siedlce at the time: the number of Jews grew. Most of the Jews came from the east.

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They were later branded as “Litvaks.” Jews struggled to accommodate themselves to the new conditions, dealing with Russian clerks, entering new professions, and occupying themselves with the usual Jewish occupations in the Polish shtetls: running taverns, beer halls, and so on.

 

Siedlce's Jews in the Nineteenth Century

The number of Jews in Siedlce in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and their percentage in the larger population was thus:

Year Jews Christians Others Percentage
Of Jews
1827 2,908 1,508 25 65

As can be seen, the Jews comprised almost two–thirds of the city's population. but even in 1827 they did not have undue weight in the city, and their influence waned in the course of the nineteenth century, as later tabulations will show.

From 1827 on, the figures and statistics regarding Jews are precise and detailed, because in the 30's of the nineteenth century there were already rules requiring the registration of newborns. Births were recorded in the gubernia city of Siedlce by the civil service, on the basis of the civil law of the Polish kingdom from 1825[32].

From a list of births in 1837 that the Siedlce managing committee published a hundred years later, we find the names of Jews who lived in the city in the eighteenth century and whose families later grew in size.

 

Synagogues and Beis–Medreshes

For the ten years beginning in 1851, Siedlce was under constraints to build a shul. The old shul,

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which had been made of wood, burned down in the great fire of Hoshanah Rabbah night. In 1851, Siedlce had been without a shul for five years. A new shul–this time made of brick–was begun in 1856. In 1870[33], a fire broke out again and destroyed the roof and the aron–kodesh. The work continued for several years and was completed in 1876. This shul was huge and beautiful, in the style of those shuls that had been built in Poland in the eighteenth century. Externally the building looked magnificent. First of all, it was the tallest building in the area at that time–four stories high. On the east and west sides were two windows, close to the roof, in the form of the two tablets of the law. The entrance was furnished with a large anteroom, which led to the right–to a small prayer room, known as “the tailors' shul.” To the left was the entrance to the women's section, which formed part of the ground floor on the north and south sides and part of the second story of the shul. From the right and left of the anteroom, steps led to a balcony one floor up.

Arriving in the shul's interior, one encountered a great hall, in which were table and benches for 800 people. In the middle was a reading platform that was reached by four or five steps. The eastern wall, with the aron–kodesh, was adorned with musical instruments made out of copper. The aron–kodesh , which was itself a work of art, was built into the wall itself. In front there were two lions, with various scenes from the Tanakh painted around. It is hard to know who the architect of the shul was. The aron–kodesh was made by one Y. Zwibak and his two sons. At the time of the fire of 1870, the aron–kodesh was partially damaged. The part that could be salvaged was later used for the reconstructed shul[34].

This shul also served as the official representative of the community. Honored guests of the community were taken there–both Jews and non–Jews. Official community celebrations were held there, as were celebrations of national holidays.

The city shul was destroyed by the German murderers during the Second World War on Christmas night,

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the 25th of December, 1939. The Germans set fire to the shul while refugees from other cities who had nowhere else to go were inside. In the morning, the Germans forced the Jews to confess that they themselves had set fire to the shul[35].

Also the city beis–medresh, which was located near the shul, was there at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as was the Mishneh Havurah that shared the building.

Aside from the general prayer houses, there were in Siedlce also from older times “workmen's shuls” like the “tailor's shul” and the “butcher's beis medresh.” Workmen's prayer houses were created on the basis of craft specialties as counterparts to the organized Polish guilds that then existed in Poland.

Each of these prayer houses had its own record book, which served, first of all, as a rule book and a way of remembering important events that took place during the existence of the havurah. We know that in the record book of the Mishneh Havurah there was a ruling: The record book had to be in the hands of the “arbitrator,” who would be elected every erev Shavuos. The “arbitrator” was chosen by a secret ballot, and he chose a secretary, whose job was, if a member of the Mishneh Havurah passed away, to send notices to all the members who were enrolled in the record book letting them know that they were required to study a chapter of the Mishneh “for the raising up of the soul.”

In 1878, the idea arose to establish privately a beis–medresh. This was the idea of the Siedlce big shot and patron, R. Yisroel ben Yehiel Greenberg, who twenty–five years later also built a Talmud Torah. The beis–medresh was known in the city as “Yisroel Yehiel's beis–medresh.” Yisroel Greenberg had purchased a place at the corner of Dluga (later: First of May Street) and Pusta Street. The czarist governor was opposed to establishing the building, especially right on the street. The government committee did not approve of the site. R. Yisroel Greenberg was forced to put up in front a door, ostensibly for a restaurant. Later the door was made over into a window. Eventually permission for the beis–medresh was granted.

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The beis–medresh cost 6,000 czarist rubles and opened in 1879. Greenberg was moved to create the beis–medresh because he was a fierce misnagid; as a big shot, he did not care to pray in the city beis–medresh, and he did not want to pray in one of the many Chassidic prayer houses that then existed in Siedlce–so he established with his own money a misnagid prayer house[36].

 

War Between the Chassidim and Misnagdim

Beginning in 1750 and for a hundred and fifty years after, a war played out between Chassidim and Misnagdim. We know of several zealots on both sides who established their interesting characters. The Misnagid R. Meir Nisn, the progenitor of the many–branched Nussbaum family (he died in 1810), was a great scholar and a learned man. He translated into Polish the book “Bekhinas–Olam.” In his time he conducted a polemical argument with the Peshischa Rabbi R. Simcha Bunim. It is also known that at the same time he conducted disputes with another of his opponents–R. Kalman Chassid. Already known as “Chassid,” R. Kalman was a scholar, a religious Jew and Talmudic genius[37].

Apparently R. Simcha Bunim of Peshischa had in Siedlce passionate adherents. Such we know was R. Zisha of Siedlce, who was chosen by a secret gathering of Chassidim to travel to the wedding of the grandchild of the rabbi of Apt, Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel, which was to take place in Astilla. This mission was connected with rumors that had been spread that the rabbi of Apt was about to declare an excommunication on R. Simcha Bunim because a group of rabbis, led by R. Yakov Shimon Deutsch (who later lived in Zhelekhow), found that Peshischa branch of Chassidism was in violation of Jewish law. This group had decided to send five students from Peshischah who would be able to debate with their opponents. The delegation was comprised of the following: a wise man, a Talmud scholar, a Chassid, a wealthy man, and an eloquent person; R. Zisha of Siedlce was chosen as the wise man; the other four delegates were–

[Page 33]

R. Feivele Gritzer, an elderly Chassid who used to travel on contracts from Lublin; R. Yissachar Hurwitz as the rich man, a son–in–law of the then well–known Warsaw dowager Frau Temerl; as spokesman, R. Eliezer Ber of Grachawitz; and as Talmud scholar the then well–known Warsaw genius and later rabbi of Ger, R. Itsch Meir[38]. So R. Zisha of Siedlce was among such a group of people and was trusted for such a mission, which shows that he was renowned in the Chassidic world of the nineteenth century.

In the nineteenth century the Misnagdim had the upper hand in controlling the Siedlce community. The rabbis were all from the Misnagid side. And aside from the rabbis, the town preacher was an influential person in Jewish Siedlce. The preacher would often study a lesson with the public and deliver a sermon. After the preacher there was the town cantor, whose influence on the public hung on his cantorial abilities. If the cantor was a good prayer leader, with a sweet voice, his influence could be large. Understandably, the choice of a cantor was the cause of much debate for the community. Often it was tied up with arguments and dissatisfaction on one side or the other. One side held that the cantor should be a God–fearing man and a scholar. The other side held rather that the cantor should be a fine singer with sweet voice. For decades the cantors in Siedlce were the subjects of argument.

Thus it happened that from 1818 on the cantor in Siedlce who were Misnagdim, opponents of Chassidism. Such a one was R. Shmuel Dovid Semyotitscher (who died in 1861). After him came his successor, R. Reuven Kantor. The cantor R. Yakov Zalman Rubinshteyn of Slutzk was also a Misnagid. When he was left without a pulpit–as people said–because the city's shul burned down in 1874, he left Siedlce and went to Lithuania, because he could not stomach Poland because of its Chassidim. He remained there for a year, until the shul was repaired. When he returned, he brought with him the Lithuanian Misnagid spirit, because

[Page 34]

a dispute had broken out in the city . R. Yakov Zalman, lacking the strength to fight, abandoned Siedlce.

The preachers, too, were for many decades Lithuanian Misnagdim. Since in the nineteenth century Chassidism had also penetrated into Siedlce, there was also a great deal of conflict in the preaching of both sides.

A fervent Misnagid was the preacher R. Manis. His salary was a few score groshen a week, all told, which even in those times only lasted him for a couple of days in the week. On the other days he fasted. He wrote a book of insights on the Torah. He must have died in 1835[39].

He was succeeded as preacher by R. Yisroel, who was known by the name R. Yisroelke the Preacher. The Chassidim truly hated him. The Chassidim went after him so much that on Hoshanah Rabbah evening in 1851 he fled from the city.

At the same time, the rabbinical chair in Siedlce was occupied by a Misnagid rabbi, R. vi Hersh Weingarten, who was persecuted by the Chassidim. R. Zvi Hersh died in 1818. He wrote a number of books, which were burned up in the fire, except for “Maram Zvi,” which was published posthumously in 1900 in Zhitomir.

His sons and grandsons were great rabbis: R. Mordechai Menkes, the author of the book “Ma'amar Mordechai,” on the tractates Pesachim, Bezah, Megillah, Baba Kama, Baba Mezia, Shavuos, Hulin, Pirkei Avos, with his insights (Zhitomir, 1900)–was a great–grandchild of R. Zvi Hersh. A son of R. Mordechai –R. Duber–was proud of his great–great–grandfather. In his book of responsa, “Anaf Avos,” on the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch (Zhitomir, 1900), he writes of his pedigree: “Unworthy that I am, the son of the righteous Rabbi, Our Teacher, Mordechai, may his memory be a blessing in the life of the world to come, the author of the book ‘The Light of Mordechair’, on the Talmud and its commentators, the grandson and son of the faithful gaon, famous in his generation , Our Teacher Zvi Hersh, may his memory be a blessing in the life of the world to come, the head of the Beis Din in the holy congregation of Siedlce in Poland[41].

The quarrels ended, as I said, after a hundred and fifty years, because other winds began to blow on the Jewish street–the arriving Haskalah movement–and slowly extinguished the flickering fires between the

[Page 35]

Chassidim and Misnagdim. The opposing sides recognized that the Haskalah was the hateful to both of them.

A certain play about the battle between the Chassidim and the Misnagdim comes to us in the description by the famous writer Heinrich Heine, who visited Poland in 1822. He came to Siedlce after visiting Mezrich. It appears that during his visit he stopped in no other city. He does not call Siedlce by its name. He just refers to it as a city near Mezrich. We know that the writer came from Warsaw. At that time there was no train that went around the city, so he must have gone through Siedlce. There can be no doubt that the city he speak about is Siedlce.

Heinrich Heine was not terribly enthusiastic about the outward appearance of the Jews of Siedlce, with their dirty caps, beards, and their “jargon.” Therefore he speaks with appreciation about the spiritual life of Polish Jews. In describing the Jews of Siedlce–he describes Polish Jews in general. About this interesting characterization by Heinrich Heine of Siedlce Jews, and therefore Polish Jews, the historian Graetz paused to emphasize the spiritual physiognomy of the Polish Jews, or, more precisely, of the Misnagdim.

Since 1858–1867, the rabbinical chair in Siedlce was occupied by a Misnagid rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Meisels, a son of the famous Warsaw rabbi and Polish patriot Rabbi Duberish Meisels. While in Siedlce, Rabbi Meisels busied himself and published an important book of responsa–“Tiferes Zvi.” After his father's death, in 1870 he produced the “Sefer Hamitzvos” of Rambam with his father's commentary under the title “Be–urei Ha–Radom.” (Radom is an acronym for Rabbi Dov Verish Meisels.) After leaving Siedlce, Rabbi Yisroel Meisels went to Warsaw, and then because of his father's concerns he went to Krakow, where he became a rabbinical judge[42].

R. Yisroel Meisels died in 1876. In Krakow a large beis–medresh was established in his name, and on his grave was placed a monument, on the right side of which was inscribed the following text. The text contains an acrostic

[Page 36]

on the name Yisroel Meisels. Each line ends with the word Yisroel–the rabbi's name.

The monument reads like this: [the text is in Hebrew]

Zion, for the soul of our father the rabbi, the gaon, the faithful, the righteous, the famous, the holy, Yisroel, head of the Beth Din of Siedlce, The rabbi, the gaon, the renowned in all corners of the land Duberish Meisels, may his memory be a blessing.

Let wailing be heard in the borders of Israel
Lament, our brothers, the house of Israel
The rabbi and hero fell today in Israel
Alas! for the rest of days will flicker the light of Israel
We are left to sigh for the shepherd of the rock of Israel
His works are known throughout the diaspora of Istael
Day and night he labored in the Torah of the law of Israel
He sat in Midian and judged Israel
His sun shone there to light up for the children of Israel
His spirit died for God and found the honor of Israel
The secret will dwell on high with all the holiness of Israel.

The day his pure soul left, the fourth of Marcheshvan Israel mourns heavily[43]

Also the later rabbi, R. Baruch Lifshutz, author of the book “B'ris Yakov,” was a Misnagid. Alter Droyanow, in his big collection of jokes, tells that one time a famous Chassidic rebbe came to Siedlce; as was common, the Chassidim brought offerings to him to get blessings and to get his advice. In the morning, R. Baruch Mordechai came to the rebbe. The rebbe, seeing that he had such an important guest, went to the rabbi and asked:

“What has troubled you to come to me?”

R. Mordechai answered him, “I wanted to see with my own eyes how a religious person can take something for nothing.”[44]

 

The Haskalah Movement

Unfortunately, because of a lack of source materials, we have no information about the effects of the Haskalah in Siedlce.

[Page 37]

From an anonymous pamphlet attributed to a certain Radominski[45], it seems that in Siedlce, already in 1819 there were in the local elementary school twenty–six Jewish students, among whom several excelled and received awards. From another source[46], we are made aware about a group of female students who finished an elementary trade school. Among them was one named Hinde Greenberg, who also received an award for scholarship.

From these facts we can see that in Siedlce there were Jewish parents who sent their children to study in school together with Christian children. If we consider the strongly conservative conditions that ruled the Jewish family in a provincial Polish town like Siedlce, we must realize that in Siedlce there lived at that time enlightened people [Maskilim] who were interested in the broader education of their children.

More indication about Maskilim and the Haskalah are available from the later years of the nineteenth century, which we speak of later.

 

The Development of the Jewish Hospital System

A Jewish hospital on a very low level, but a hospital nevertheless, existed in Siedlce in the early years, even before the nineteenth century. It was located in the area where later, in 1890, the Jewish hospital was built–between the second cemetery and Pienkne Street on one side and the city market and garden, which bordered the so–called “alleys” on the other. In a letter from August 29, 1844, the supervisory council of Siedlce addressed the synagogue council with a letter that had been sent to the community head of the month.

According to the existing ordinance, the Jewish community is allowed to form a committee of several persons respected in the city. Each person should have served in turn for a month. Consequently such a person was called the “community head of the month.” The exchange of letters took place between the “community head of the month” (also called the “dozor”) and the government. The government carried out its correspondence with the “dozor” through the mediation of the Siedlce administration. The letter says[47]:

“Whereas the council has already met and whereas the order of 3/2 1842 gives him the supervisory power over the poor folk of the Jewish faith, therefore should the dozor provide an account of all the funds for the Jewish hospital.”

The response of the dozor to this message, written in October of 1844. is respectful; in the answer he says:

“Responding to the reminder concerning the funds, I state: The Jewish community of Siedlce has long intended to build a hospital for Jews. The necessary arrangements for it have been made, and we need a suitable spot and enough funds. A spot is available, but the funds, thanks to the last dozor, were squandered and are now insufficient. Previous dozors did not commit to build the hospital but were satisfied with the longtime overcrowded hospital, but it is now fitting to undertake the project.”

This copy of the document is not signed, and it is not possible to determine who were the dozors who signed the letter.

In the correspondence there are also details about a certain Leibtsche Lichtenberg, who is praised for his private underwriting the building in which the Jewish hospital was located, without which it would have fallen on the community.

This giving away without obligation the building with the “foul” place–as it was reported–did not find favor with the government. In another letter from the dozor to the government, which was written on July 13, 1846, the dozor writes a report to the magistrate in which he speaks about an auction to lease the garden near the hospital. The conditions on which the garden can be leased (which was spoken about at this point as a foul place) were thus:

“It will be leased for one ruble and fifty kopeks per year. The auction must bring in half the sum, 75 kopeks

[Page 39]

as a deposit. From this deposit the auctioneer can take nothing. The fee must be paid in half–yearly installments. Free entry and passage through the place to the hospital and the cemetery. If during this time it is decided not to build a new hospital, this contract will be annulled.”

Under these conditions it is signed–“representing everyone: Sh. Wishniaw,” who was then the secretary of the community.

As can be seen from this correspondence, a kind of hospital already existed. Means were gathered to build a better one, And in the auction, too, we can see hints about building a new hospital on the spot. The old so–called hospital was in fact a wreck, Its status as a hospital was later officially suspended. On December 30, 1868 the Siedlce magistrate informed the dozor that the house near the cemetery would remain in the estate of Yudel Lichtenberg for ten rubles and ninety kopeks. There he speaks of a house and not a hospital.

The history of the later and new Jewish hospital began in 1869. In connection with Russian government orders, which bore the name: “Statute on the conduct and dress and separation of the Jews and their wives.” Dated July 19, 1851 and first published on March 3, 1871, , the police chief Modroch sent a copy to the dozor to proclaim it three times in the shul. According to the order of the government committee, the dozor had to influence the Jews to cut off their sidelocks and to wear their hair in the Christian style. The wives should remove their wigs and by March 10, 1871 should appear neatly and by March 15 should exchange their clothes for clothing prescribed in the order. Otherwise they would be held responsible. The order was not supposed to affect rabbis.

In the city there were some Jews who would not abandon their traditional clothing. Therefore they were punished by the government with a fine.

[Page 40]

The money from the fines the government placed in the Polish Bank. In 1869, it amounted to 11,551 rubles. The Jewish township, with the dozor Yisroel Ber Liverant, took the step that the accumulated money from the fines should be given to the community for the purpose of building a hospital. These efforts lasted more than twenty years until the request was fulfilled. The correspondence between the Jewish community and the central governmental organization in Petersburg, through the mediation of the Siedlce magistrate, paints an interesting picture of how Jewish community life appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Jewish community in its letters revealed a building plan and showed that it had chosen a spot for the hospital near the city market at Pienke corner. They laid out a plan to build a structure that would hold twelve beds, with the possibility of expansion to fifteen.

The government committee responded to the letter as follows: the architect of the government committee, Modziewski, has estimated that the proposed hospital should have at least twenty rooms as well as auxiliary facilities, such as: a kitchen, washrooms, stables, and so on. The main building should cost 14,000 rubles and the auxiliary facilities–2,500 rubles. Installation, linens, furniture, dishes, and instruments–1200 rubles. Altogether 17,700 rubles. The government also determined that the chosen spot was too small and was not suitable for such an institution because it was in the center of town and near the market. The township was instructed to buy another site.

Four years passed until the Jewish township again raised the issue of the hospital. It was the 23rd of August in 1877. The dozors H. Zivula and Sh. Greenberg asked the magistrate to renew the efforts toward a Jewish hospital and made the same proposal as earlier, but the response from Petersburg was no less negative than before.

In a letter of 31 August, it was said that the project was already considered earlier and the governmental body asked the dozor to show exactly what was required to realize the project, but nonetheless they

[Page 41]

repeated the same thing to the dozor. In the letter there was also a “gift” for the township secretary Shoyme Vishnye, because he had allowed the township to proceed in the same way, for which he received a strong rebuke. The dozors at the same time decided to put forward another candidate for the post of secretary.

On August 18, 1873, then later on December 6, 1877, the magistrate, in the name of the Petersburg government, demanded that the dozor should set forth the intentions of the Jewish organization about a permanent fee for the hospital under the “personal responsibility of the dozors and the secretary.”

The next development in the hospital affair was this: the magistrate, at the beginning of 1880, proposed to foreclose the horse market in front of the shul and move it to Pienke Street (later Market), and also to take the community's spot in order to enlarge the proposed market. This proposition called forth strong dissatisfaction in the Jewish population, because in that era, community life revolved around the market. Many Jews had their houses and shops there.

On April 16, 1880, the dozor was again asked to show when the cemetery would be shut down, for that was a necessary consideration for the hospital project. The hope to be able finally to build a Jewish hospital was real and the Jewish leaders became more active. The dozor presented the authorities, together with an application to build a hospital, a resolution with 233 signatures from the Jewish township that recognized the necessity of the hospital and committed to pay 1445 rubles annually. This time the project was forwarded to Petersburg, to the Minister of the Interior for approval.

It was four years later, on April 3, 1884, that the project was returned with a note from the Governor General saying that the technical committee had found in the plan technical flaws and that the sum of 1445 rubles would only be a portion of the total expense, and the rules for such institutions required that the whole cost be covered, so that the sum was too small. Signed:––Gorka.

The project, with the governor's addendum, was on April 22, 1884 forwarded to the dozor by the magistrate, who called attention to the fact that the site chosen by the township was not suitable for a hospital because it was in the center of the town next to the projected market, bordering that site: exchange the site, which was needed for the market, for the estate of a certain Boyelski. (On this site later on stood the military hospital, and then in independent Poland the military recruiting office [PKO]).

On January 31, 1885, Yisroel Ber and Binyamin Liverant committed themselves to underwrite the hospital on the township's site for a sum of 125, 104 rubles, which they guaranteed with their houses and possessions.

The changes in the building plan because of the technical difficulties, as well as the technical cost estimates, ended the earlier project. Consequently, things dragged out for another four years, and only in 1888 were all the necessary documents and permissions gathered together in order to obtain the final permit. These documents included:

  1. technical improvements with a statement that, because of a shortage of resources, they would begin by building one structure. (The earlier plan had envisioned two buildings.) The new project was approved by the government engineer Morzhewski on March 10, 1888.
  2. a certificate witnessed by 279 signatures of donors headed by the dozors: A. Kaminski, Y.M. Lubelski, B. Kahana, and the current rabbi, Rabbi Graubard, about building only a single building with ten beds (the earlier plan had projected 50 beds), as well as a commitment to pay 2,147 rubles and 50 kopeks to maintain the hospital.
  3. a signature from the dozor A. Kaminski from July 1, 1888, representing the entire Jewish population, that it does not desire and will not desire in the future to approach the government with any request for a subsidy or for underwriting the hospital. This time the plan was successful. The plan was well worked out.
One more time the magistrate tried to impede the carrying out

[Page 43]

of the plan. His reason was the same–the place was too small and not appropriate for a hospital. On February 28, 1890 the dozor was ordered to call a meeting in the morning at the rabbi's, with the participation of the leading citizens, to consider the question of changing the location chosen for the hospital, because the site was technically and hygienically not suitable for a health facility, and in connection with that, what would be involved in buying a different building, a more suitable one.

From the minutes of this meeting, we see that twenty–three citizens met: Yudel Arzhel, Mordechai Heinsdorf, Sender Baxenboim, Moyshe Goldhtern, Neteh Zilberzweig, Yisroel–Ber Liverant, Fishl Frenkl, Shmuel Brukarzh, Neteh Rubinshteyn, Yakov Slushni, Moyshe Kelmeson, Yisroel Richter, Yosef Zayantz, Gedaliah Shapiro, Avigdor Solnitza, Binyamin Liverant, H.D. Lichtenfacht, Meir Yonah Rozenzweig, Yakov Greenshpan, Wolf Oppenheim, Zalman Kamyenne, Kalman Yabkiob, No report of the meeting remains. It appears that the meeting rejected the magistrate's proposal, because they were ready to build.

 

sie043.jpg
Berl Kahane

[Page 44]

Quite characteristic is the application from the Jewish township to the governor on December 18, 1890. In the application, the township asks: whereas the Jewish hospital is ready to open, they should invite a doctor of the “Jewish faith,” who would be able to speak Yiddish to the patients. Justifying the rightness of this request, the community suggested Dr. Rosenthal, who was popular in the town because of his industriousness, his optimism, and because he had treated the Jewish poor everywhere. Their request was fulfilled, but characteristic were the arguments that the Jews used so that they could have a doctor in the hospital who could speak Yiddish to the patients.

The hospital was completed at the end of 1890. On September 5, 1891, the governor, by means of the magistrate, told the dozor–whereas the hospital would soon open, the governor requested that five candidates–citizens familiar with hospital matters–should be nominated so that one of them could be made the curator. The magistrate suggested the following candidates: Mordechai Heinsdorf, Itzl Arzhel, Yisroel–Ber Liverant, Noson Zilberzweig, and Avraham Kaminski. The dozor, however, preferred other candidates: M. Heinsdorf, Binyamin Liverant, N. Zilberzweig, Hershke Zelnik, and Itzl Arzhel. On October 4, 1891 the magistrate announced the curator for three years would be Alter Slushni. Such was the protectorship over Jewish affairs: ask for and receive their suggestions and then do whatever they wanted anyhow. The second curator, Avraham Kaminski, was then appointed by the community itself. From 1902 until 1926, the post of curator was held by Y. N. Weintroib. In order to secure the income of the hospital, fifteen stores were opened.

In 1892, a cholera epidemic broke out in Siedlce. The hospital was turned into an epidemic health center. On December 31, 1892, Dr. Rosenthal announced that from the first of January in 1893 the hospital would return to normal function.

 

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