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Development of the Jewish Credit System in Siedlce
The Siedlce Savings and Loan Society

by B. Mintz

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

The Jewish community credit system in Siedlce began to develop soon after the revolutionary year of 1905. For Jews, and especially for Jews in Siedlce, that was a difficult and bitter time.

The general situation of Jews in Poland in 1906, the year of the most severe persecutions and suppressions directed particularly toward Jews, afflicted the Jewish community with moral, cultural, and economic destruction–and especially Siedlce in its specific situation, with its lack of rights, its depression, its disorientation, and its despair. The year 1906 appeared to the Jews of Siedlce as a true “vale of tears.” The whole of community life felt the burden of having survived the pogrom. The awful images of the pogrom, like dark shadows, clouded over the eyes and filled the hearts with sorrow and pain, with fear and despair.

The young people, out of panicked fear, left their homes in masses and fled to other countries. Whoever could, whoever had the possibility, sooner or later left the city, abandoning their possessions as if they were worthless.

Economic life of the Jews in Siedlce, which had never had a healthy, rational basis, became even worse, more repressive. A fearful

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indifference, apathy, and hopelessness seized the people and paralyzed their initiative. Some wanted to strengthen community life and to restore to health the ruined economic situation

It truly took a great deal of strength, energy and self–sacrifice in order, at that time, to bring to fruition the idea of building in Siedlce and institution devoted to mutual aid built on a foundation of cooperation. The thought of cooperation, the idea of self–help built on economic unity was, at that time, new and not very popular. In the context of Poland at that time (Congress Poland), there were no more than four savings and loan institutions in different cities: Lublin, Radom, Grodna, and Vilna–with small memberships. These institutions had little standing among the Jewish public and had little public support.

It was quite risky to try and establish such an institution in Siedlce. As was well known, Siedlce was always a city where a certain portion Jews with money lived by usury. Since there was no business or manufacturing base and no connection with the industrial centers of he country, Siedlce was always behind in business and manufacturing. It lagged behind a whole array of larger and smaller cities in the Podlosk region. The only homegrown “production” in Siedlce was usury. For a whole layer of Siedlce's Jews, lending money at interest was a stabile source of income and was like a full–time profession passed on as an inheritance from fathers to children.

A particular type of usurer, known as “vochernikes” [means “usurers”] had, for many years, done well in Siedlce, and thanks to there setting up of the savings and loan, they disappeared from the scene. The clients of the “vochernikes” consisted mostly of poor small merchants and workers, particularly when they needed a bigger or smaller loan, for instance to buy a patent or to organize a workshop for their income or in case of a lingering illness. On average, a loan would be for 100 rubles, payable in 50 weekly installments of 2.50 rubles–an interest rate of 50% annually [trans. note: These are. his figures.], which was for the time

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terribly high. The “vochernik” himself would go to the houses and shops to collect the payments–the hard–earned groschen of the Jewish poor. And woe to him who could not fully make the payments. He would become a lifelong Canaanite servant to the “vochernik”. The “vocherniks” were hated not only by the poor people, but also by everyone whom they had “benefited.” They often met with curses. The whole city regarded them as parasites and treated them with a certain contempt.

This, more or less, is how the general classes of people regarded the community and economic life of the Jews in Siedlce in 1906, on the eve of the establishment of the savings and loan, which later was given the name “Shareholder Bank” [“Bank Udszalowi”].

 

The First Pioneers and Leaders of the Credit System

The first pioneers, the first community leaders whom we meet at the founding of the saving and loan were: A. Urszel, Shimri Greenberg, N.D. Glicksberg, N. Weintraub, M. Walawelski, St. Sunderland, M.M. Landau, Matisyahu Mintz, A.Z. Mendziszecki, Sh. Zuker, Dr. M Stein, and A. Shlifke. Some of these who were present at the first founding meeting were elected to the lending section of the organization.

Extract from the czarist powers a legitimization for establishing such a society was no easy thing. Even back in 1904, Mr. N. Weintraub, on his own initiative, tried to do so in Petersburg and, despite the intercession of influential parties, was unsuccessful. The matter was not considered to be a legitimate financial undertaking by the governmental offices according to the “local committee for small banks.” Only in a certain sense, as through a reform–a thing that in czarist times was considered suspect, as reform led to “sedition,” so that a single step was a long way. The request for permission that was subscribed to by all the above mentioned people, was sent by the governor's chancellery

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to the police division for a thorough investigation. And although these men were known as politically pure, or in the language of that time “blagonadioshne,” [politically reliable] the police zealously conducted an inquiry, both into this matter and into the individuals.

 

sie428.jpg
Executives of the credit institution

Seated (from the right): Mendel Liverant, Shmuel Zucker, Y.N. Weintraub, Velvet Bag, Sh. Greenberg, N.D. Glicksberg
Standing (from the right): Asher Eisenberg, Agrist, Herzl, Alberstadt

 

After great exertion and hardship, they received legalization, dated the ninth of February, old style, 1907, number 11, addressed “to the fully–empowered founder of the savings and loan, Mr. Nachum Weintraub.” In the permission it provided that according to the decision of the “Siedlce governing committee for small banking matters,” permission was given to open in Siedlce a society under the name “Siedlce Savings and Loan Society,” with the emblem of the governmental office at the bottom of the decree from the finance minister, dated August 14, 1905.

The goal of the society was clear: to provide the opportunity to all levels of the Jewish population to obtain inexpensive credit through accessible means.

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According to its structure, the savings and loan had a restricted field of activity: it had the right to accept deposits and to make loans at a specified level (a maximum of 600 rubles); it could not take part in other banking functions. Because loans were not on promissory notes but only on “reverses,” the society could collect administratively and not go through the court. Supervision over the society and its activities belonged to the inspector of small credit, who from time to time conducted an inspection and examined the financial books. The general meeting of the members was the highest authority of the society.

The founding capital of the society included a thousand rubles in cash, which was given by the “Siedlce Committee to Support Those Affected by the Pogrom in Siedlce.” The committee held funds from a number of cities and towns in Poland and Russia and in foreign countries, from institutions and from individuals, from Jews and from non–0Jews. Thus the founding capital of the credit society was not local, n to just from Siedlce but, so to speak, “universal,” international. This capital was precious, heartfelt, coming from idealistic human feelings, voluntary offerings with one end: to heal, to help, and to build.

April 24, 1907 marked the founding meeting in the hall of the society, in the house of Issachar Levin (5 Proste), with a huge hall full of pledged members. A security committee was elected unanimously: Moyshe Temkin, Shmuel Zucker, Meir Frankel, Moshe Abba Eisenstadt, and Aaron Zelig Mendziszecki; and on the managing committee: Dr. Moritzi Stein, Nachum Weintraub, Shmaryahu Greenberg, Shimon Fidel, and Asher Moshe Gelkenbaum; and on the audit committee: Matisyahu Mintz, Noson Dovid Gliksberg, and Oscar Mintz; as honorary trustee the lawyer Stanislaw Sunderland. Head of the council was Moyshe Temkin, head of the managing committee was Dr. Moritzi Stein.

There maximum loan for a member as set at between 50 and 300 rubles, according to the individual circumstances of the member, with the provision that loans were only for less fortunate people. The maximum payment

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Was determined to be 15 rubles, payable in installments according to the wishes of the particular member.

The society operated expeditiously. Within a few days it would accept new members and accept applications for loans.

The members were a mixed lot: merchants, small businessmen, workers, and members of the intelligentsia. The managing committee held regular meetings and demonstrated a proper devotion to the institution. Their decisions were all appropriately publicized.

As bookkeeper and office leader they engaged Mordechai Meir Landau, a highly educated man with a fine, subtle sensibility and splendid organizational abilities. He regarded the institution not only as a commercial undertaking built on a cooperative basis, but as a source of self–help, humane mutual aid in financial matters that strove to help the weak, the downtrodden individual. He showed wholehearted devotion. M.M. Landau was also interested in the moral life of the members. He wanted to raise them up, make them more worldly, more concerned with the community. He wanted to proclaim the essence and the goal of the cooperative and to impress them with the awareness that the bank was their own, that they, the members, were its only legitimate custodians.

In addition, M.M. Landau was not as concerned with how many loans were given out as with what they were intended for, whether for business or for funding a workshop, and he was careful not to give loans for so–called “consumption goals”–anything that was harmful either for a member or for a cooperative.

The “loan office” was quickly envied not only by the Jewish population of Siedlce but also widely outside the borders of Siedlce. In many cities and towns the Siedlce “loan office” aroused great interest and gave the local leaders the stimulus to follow the example of Siedlce. Sokolow, Wengrow, Radzin, and Mard were the first to make preparations to found such an office. To that end they sent to Siedlce delegates to investigate. The leaders [Page 431]

in Siedlce demonstrated a sincere interest in the development of the new institutions and aided the investigators with words and deeds. For these newly established institutions, the Siedlce “loan office” served as a master institution, as a center to which they came for advice and information and with which they conducted a multifarious correspondence. In addition, the Siedlce society gave material aid to the provincial institutions, extending to them larger and smaller credit, as well as helping them to conduct business properly and to improve their techniques in office conduct and bookkeeping.

The popularity of the Siedlce institution grew quickly and led to the interest of the Petersburg chapter of the Y.K.O.–the Jewish Colonizing Association (the Yiddish Kolonistishe Organizatzia). Instructors from the Y.K.O–Messrs. Segal and Ephroikin, were several times sent to Siedlce in order to familiarize themselves with the work methods and growth of the society. In 1912, the president of the Y.K.O., Mr. Kastelianski, who was interested in the situation of the local shoemakers and sought to unite the local Jewish producers and shoe exporters in a single workers cooperative, visited the society. (Unfortunately, his attempt did n to succeed.). The impression conveyed by the Y.K.O. instructors from their inspections was more than enthusiastic. They expressed their appreciation for the current leadership and accomplishments and promised the support of the Y.K.O., which at that time, aside from its many–branched colonizing activities, also supported small–credit activities which at that time were taking shape in Russia and Poland. In 1909, the Y.K.O. gave the Siedlce loan office a long–term credit of 15,000 rubles at 6% annual interest.

On April 27, 1908, the first general meeting of members occurred. From the report of 1907, that was published in a beautiful volume in three languages–Hebrew, Polish, and Russian–we see that for the full year the society had 540 members with a declared capital of 8.019 rubles; 576 loans had been

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made for a total; pf 56.916 rubles; borrowers owed the society 20,155 rubles; the balance for the year was closed out with a surplus of 292 rubles.

The continuing development of the loan office moved quickly and soon after its first year of activity it assumed a conspicuous position and earned the fullest trust of all levels of the population.

The location at 5 Proste was not big enough, and in 1908 the office moved to a bigger location–in the house of Shlomo Kahana (17 First of May Street). In 1912, the office of the society moved to a gorgeous six–room building, the house of Ch.D. Lichtenfacht (20 First of May Street). (That was the name of the street before the Second World War.). The yearly balances of the society, from 1908 until 1913, are not known. Consequently we cannot see the gradual development of the society and its growth during this period.

The report for 1913 illustrates this growth through the following figures: number of members–2,542; capital–31,667 rubles; ground and reserve capital–15,055 rubles; outstanding loans, remainder–205,188 rubles; payments––211,501 rubles.

From the profits for this year we can see that the society prospered, even though the interest rate of the distributed loans had been pushed down from 10.3 to 9.3, and then in 1911 to 8%.

The fiscal year of 1908 closed with a surplus of 3,001 rubles, 1909 with 4,062 rubles, 1910 with 4,086 rubles, and 1913 with 4,148 rubles.

In 1912 the society decided to open other branches of the cooperative. To this end, a special fund was created from the yearly profits to purchase food products and heating materials for resale to the members. At the end of 1913, this fund had accumulated 551 rubles. In addition, the following special funds were created: a fund for life insurance for members and a fund for buying a building for the society, for which a percentage of the yearly profits was set aside. These funds showed

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on January 1, 1913, significant sums. In this way, the loan office assumed an important position not only as a credit cooperative but also expanded its activities in other cooperative enterprises.

The culmination of its development was reached in 1914, which saw the strengthening of the financial situation and a growth in the number of loans being given. However, the second half of 1914 stands under the marks of the world war, which had a catastrophic effect on the continuing development of the loan office.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the office had 2,760 members and a capital of 36,000 rubles, with a reserve capital of 20,000 rubles; borrowers owed the office–217,167 rubles.

 

Community Struggles in the Credit–Society

In order to receive a full picture of he first open, legal, Jewish institution in Siedlce, which was characteristic of other Jewish cities and towns of that tie–it is appropriate to describe the forms of community struggles that erupted in the credit society.

The general meeting of the society were stormy. Siedlce before the war was a backwards community. The savings and loan was the first place where community passions could be played out. For most people it was strange to consider economic questions in a social–community forum. Aside from this, the mass of members lacked the aptitude to know how to approach cooperative problems that were new to them that were new to them, and they had a weak grasp of them. Instead of being quiet and patient with the handling of the details of the agenda, instead of objectively evaluating the activities of the managing group for the coming year and commenting on the working plans for the coming year, such matters came up at the general meetings that were irrelevant to the activities of the society and to cooperation as a community movement.

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The general meetings turned into an arena, into a battlefield for all kinds of private antagonisms and personal ambitions, breaking out in conflicts, Jewish community reckonings, and clannish intrigues. It became as tumultuous as a carnival. One person outshouted another and both ganged up on a third. The atmosphere became strained and heated. The chaos and confusion reached the highest level. Everything was topsy–turvy, with screams and cries, with anger and fury.

The writer of these lines remembers this picture:

In the Folk House, where the general meetings were usually held–stands a member of the council and reads a financial report about the activities of the society. One attendee grabs him tight by the shoulder of his jacket and cries out in a loud voice: “Get out! Get out! I don't want to hear this!” No arguments or shouting help, no intervention helps, whether from the stage or from the audience–the speaker was forced to leave the scene and the report was never completed.

This picture of the general meetings would not be complete if we did not recall the backing and endorsing for offices men who lacked the necessary qualifications, the elementary education and skills, either because they had no income or they were distinguished and belonged to one or another organization, to this or that study house.

For years the ordinary and exceptional general meetings went on in this way with passionate battles over certain people–candidates for positions in the loan society. Usually the meeting divided over two opposing sides, and each side used all possible and impossible methods of promoting its candidate. Ger Chasidim fought for their candidate and Rodzin Chasidim for a different candidate. Eventually both sides succeeded and their candidates took their plates in the society.

We will. Now give a short overview of a few general meetings of the savings and loan and their major decisions.

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The general meeting of April 27, 1908, was presided over by the lawyer St. Sunderland. At this meeting it was decided to raise the membership fee from 15 to 50 rubles, payable over ten years.

At the general meeting of March 25, 1909, presided over by the lawyer A. Hartglass, it was decided to set aside 300 rubles for the benefit of the community “G'milas–Chesed” [charity fund]. Mr. A. Hartglass was elected to the council.

At the general meeting of March 16, 1910, Mr. A. Shlifka presided and the minutes were taken by the lawyer A. Hartglass. Dr. M. Stein resigned from his position and he was replaced as head of the managing committee by Shemaryahu Greenberg.

The general meeting of March 10, 1911, under the leadership of Mr. A.D. Tchotchkes, decided to set aside 100 rubles “for payments to Petersburg with the aim of making efforts to bring a governmental train workshop to Siedlce.” It was also decided to set aside 50 rubles for the benefit of poor students in the school of Miss Jadwiga Bartszewska. Other bequests were made years for an array of community institutions: the Talmud Torah, G'milas–Chesed, Bikur–Cholim, and also for poor people at Passover.

Less than three months later, on June 5, 1911, a second general meeting was called, this time an extraordinary meeting presided over by…the Russian inspector Tchaplinski, who had ordered the society to call an extraordinary meeting and to invite himself to preside? The recording secretary is not clear about this. Reading between the lines, it is clear that the meeting was not peaceful, and even the doctrine of respect for the government di don't help. The Jews were not impressed by “the Lord High Inspector” nor by his attempts to quiet them. They fussed and stormed, and they succeeded. They confused the inspector. Over every little point, every detail, they demanded a secret ballot, and Inspector Tchaplinski, a typical czarist bureaucrat, had to follow these legal demands, so that the meeting lasted until dawn, and poor Inspector Tchaplinski

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could not utter a single Russian curse. He had to remain silent. When people spoke, Tchaplinski very prettily said, “Quiet, bearded barons” (or “bearded Jews”!). Over this “verse” the Jews, you understand, did not demand a secret ballot.

The growth in the number of members, nearly 3 thousand, made it impossible to call everyone to a general meeting, which would have resulted in chaos and confusion. –This convinced the management to inaugurate ion 1910 a system of representation. Every hundred members had to elect from among themselves eight representatives who had the duty to represent the bulk of members at the general meetings and to express their wishes. To this end, election meetings were held in the society hall and a hundred representatives were elected as well as twenty alternates.

This system did not work out in actuality, because Inspector Tchaplinski found fault with the election process and he would not recognize the results.

 

The Credit Institution During the First World War and in Independent Poland

The bloody hurricane which roared over the Polish fields in July of 1914 threw the whole country into a deep cataclysm. The populace descended on the credit institutions to withdraw their savings. There was a chaotic “run” on the banks.

This “run,” which was a catastrophe for many banks, did not spare the Siedlce loan society. It shared the same fate as the other financial institutions in the country. It required superhuman effort to control the situation and systematically to distribute the funds all at one time when all sources of money were stopped up and the payments on loans sputtered.

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A mob of account holders daily stormed the society and demanded payment on the spot of their “contributions.” There were many moving and tragic scenes. The account holders often threatened the society and its representatives.

The steering committee, despite its best intentions, you understand, was unable to meet all of these demands at once. First they paid out the “contributions” of the reservists who were in the army and their families. Then came the savings of the poorer population and of the middle class. Later they began to make normal payments without such distinctions.

In this way the steering committee operated, paying out over time “contributions” of more than 200,000 rubles in installments of 15,000 because the depositors did not demand the full amount.

It is not necessary to say that during the First World War the pulse of the society became weaker and weaker and its activities consisted largely of paying the depositors and not conducting other business. The staff became smaller. Remaining in the leadership were: A. Slifke, A.A. Kviatek, and Y.M. Saltzman. Things were at a standstill until 1918.

The general meetings during the war years, you understand, lost their whole meaning and attracted little interest in the city. They were poorly attended and several times were not held at all. The members lacked togetherness and contact with the institution. There was one time of election fever, of irritation, of the usual quarrels and arguments: the fight over the custodianship.

In 1918 attempts were made to revive the society, which even received credit in the Siedlce branch of the “Business and Industrial Bank,” but because of the uncertain economic situation in the country, each attempt at righting things was bound to fail. Thus

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at a great mass meeting there was no talk of taking such action.

Only at the beginning of 1922, when community life began to return to normal, did the question arise of reconstructing the society. This was after the change in the Polish law against cooperatives. The society, on January 25, 1922, once again was registered under the name “Siedlce Cooperative Savings and Loan Society, with Limited Responsibility in Siedlce” and took steps to attract members. The recruitment efforts were led by the steering committee, that consisted of M. Greenfarb, Y. Lichtenfacht, and A. A. Kviatek.

For various reasons and probably because there representatives of the merchants among the representatives, the premises of the society became in the afternoon and evening hours transformed into a temporary merchants' club–a place for meeting and support for a group of Siedlce's merchants. This meeting spot witnessed many comic curiosities. It happened that a member came for a loan and was enlisted as a fourth hand for a card came, On the other hand, if someone came to read a newspaper, he would be dragged in as an over the payment of a promissory note. Eventually the merchants were forced to abandon their free meeting spot, and the premises remained devoted to the exclusive disposition of the loan society.

In 1922, with the help of the society, was founded the “Union of Jewish Cooperative Societies in Poland,” centered in Warsaw. With its inclusion in the Union, a “new era” began for the society. It was a recognized member of the cooperative family and had a prominent position in the movement which had to be formed in liberated Poland.

At the end of 1922, the society had 1,500 declared members and conducted normal activities in the area of giving loans. This form of credit (long–term loans), due to circumstances became undesirable, and so a new form was found: giving advances for short–term collection.

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The aforementioned union of Jewish cooperatives was in a stage of organizing. Their chief job was the reconstruction of already existing financial institutions and helping to build new cooperatives, for which the Jewish populace had shown a strong desire. To this end, it was first necessary to create a central credit institution in order to be able to finance the cooperatives and in this way to incorporate them into the union.

The then–existing K.S.K. (“Kassa Spoldzielczego Kredytu”). 1922–1924, which had at its disposal the funds of the Joint and the Y.K.A,, both of which were known for their constructive work in Poland, also played a role in financing the banks and working on instructing them.

The Siedlce savings society was several times visited by the instructors from the K.K.S. [sic], Messrs. S. Galde and A. Shmush, who from time to time conducted audits and showed interest in the pace of activities. Thanks to the efforts of the instructors, and based on their recommendations, in 1923 the society held from the K.K.S. [sic] ten million marks and later–even greater amounts.

The K.K.S. [sic], however, whose duties did not include cooperative work on broader matters, was a rickety creation and had scant influence on the path and development of the cooperative movement in Poland, and in 1924 it considered its activities finished and done with. In 1923, the “Union” received a good audit and it moved toward a narrower affiliation with the Joint and the Y.K.A. The goal that brought together these separate administrative bodies was the necessity of establishing a central credit institution which had to exist under the auspices of the “Union.” The existence of a bank called the “Jewish Construction Bank” (Zydowski Bank Odbudowa). The fledgling government of the time, led by Paderewski, promised to legalize it , perhaps out of fear that the Jews would compete in the rebuilding of Poland…The “Joint” then bought out the Russian–Polish Bank (Bank Rusko–Polski) with all of its assets and changed its name to “Bank for Cooperatives.” In this way

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was realized the decision to establish a central bank in Warsaw. At the end of 1923, the savings society had to endure a difficult time. There was constant devaluation and inflation of the mark. From day to day the money became more worthless, and the society was bereft of all its capital and therefore again had to suspend its operations.

The situation created by inflation caused a tumult in the young cooperative movement, and at the beginning of 1924 the “Revised Union” organized a conference of the most prominent cooperative activists in the county with the goal of enlisting members in order to maintain the status that had been established and to work out a plan to actualize the transition to the zloty.

In February of 1924, members were required to make their regular payments in zlotys. These payments in zlotys, along with the 1210 zloty ration cards that had shortly before been obtained by the director, Mr. Malin, now had to serve as the main capital of the society.

Despite all these difficult circumstances, hesitations, and shocks that at that time drove many stronger banks to ruin and liquidation, the society was not harmed and again took up its normal activities.

 

The Shareholders Bank (Bank Udszalowi)

According to the decision of the general meeting, on July 18, 1925, the name of the society was changed to “Bank Udszalowi,” Cooperative with Legal Responsibility in SIedlce.”

According to the rules, the bank could conduct all sorts of banking operations, such as loans, discounts, collections of promissory notes, checking, shipping, and so on. The bank also handled deposits and savings in zlotys and in dollars.

The following chart will illustrate the development of the “Bank Udszalowi” and its expansion beginning in January 1925 until the first of January in 1932:

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Year Capital Reserve
Capital
Deposits Loans Surplus Members
1925 10,212 6,713 9,190 37,960 3,503 715
1926 24,002 10,329 37,960 77,632 2,248 1211
1927 52,202 12,577 218,175 341,659 10,403 1469
1928 81,105 22,981 304,733 499,603 10,130 1506
1929 100,163 33,111 356,887 592,796 2,023 1577
1930 101,113 27,117 237,624 491,891 2,151 1540
1931 105,226 29,432 433,452 571,501 2,261 1614
1932 104.745 29,432 368,945 530,345 not avail. 1622

 

Census of the Members According to Professions

Small
merchants
Artisans Merchants
& Industry
Professionals Agriculture Others
593 527 252 132 12 106

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In January of 1926 the “Union” asked the director of the Siedlce Bank, Mr. Malin, to organize a regional conference of all cooperatives in the Lublin Voivodeship with the goal of considering the then current question of whether to decentralize from the movement and especially to run candidates in a group of regional elections.

 

sie442.jpg
The building in which the Loan Society was located

 

The conference, in which 54 delegates from 35 credit cooperatives participated, took place in February, 1926, in Lublin, presided over by Mr. Malin, and they took a number of important resolutions regarding those questions.

The value and popularity of the bank also quite properly influenced the direction taken by the “Bank Polski.” The “Siedlce Savings Bank” was the first Jewish cooperative bank in Poland that at the beginning of 1926 received a significantly discounted credit in the “Siedlce Branch of the Bank Polski,” from which it profits to this very day.

The bank was also one of the few Jewish credit cooperatives that in 1928 and 1929 profited from the discount credit of the P.K.O. (“Polsko Kasa Oszczendnoszczi” [Polish Economic Bank]).

The growth of the bank in this era and the full–bodied trust in its good reputation among the population are owed in large part to Mr. V. Barb. The head officer of the directorship.

In September of 1925 the bank experienced a new

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shock because of the sudden collapse of the Polish zloty. The dollar went from a head spinning high of 5 zlotys 16 groschen to 13 zlotys, and again the specter of devaluation appeared and presaged a currency catastrophe. The directorship then demonstrated a special agility in handling the crisis, thanks to which the bank emerged from this situation with almost no damage, even though the bank had had large obligations in dollars.

 

Struggle between the Artisans and the Small Merchants

Parallel with the growth of the bank and its influence over the economic life of the Jewish populace was the quarrel between different classes and groups over representation in the people's organization.

Two economic groups, that is, the artisans and the small merchants, for a long while made a great effort to enlist the bank in their interests and to take over the management through their representatives.

The conflict was more about ambition and show than about practicality and principle. It was more about whether the bank should bear the imprint of the artisan union or of the small merchants thank it was about substantive issues that would benefit either party. The open territory of the bank as a pure economic institution was hidden by the interests of the artisans and of the small merchants. Both sides needed credit, cheap credit, and both sides needed to be interested in creating a calm atmosphere in the bank along with normal operations.

This conflict found its greatest expression at the yearly general meetings of the bank. Already the election meetings had foretold a significant struggle that would break out between the small merchants and the artisans in order to gain control of the bank and to elect their representatives.

That detail–elections–is the central point of the meetings, around which struggle the two election lists: one for artisans

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and one for merchants. The struggle is not equal. The artisans of Siedlce, like a well–organized group, more mature and more oriented toward economic issues, led a broad action in the city and came to the meeting united, as one. On the other hand, the small merchants and commercial people, who always had a limited understanding of organization and who lacked a feeling for community, did not engage their people to stand by them in their struggle with the artisans. The artisans therefore always had the upper hand over the merchants and it was easy for them to seat their people in the most important posts.

But later the situation was quite different, when because of circumstances, more tactical and local that principled, a division appeared in the ranks of the artisans. Twi separate groups of artisans developed with opposing interests, so that two separate artisan unions were formed. Thus the division was between two equal foes, between two well–organized groups, and this split appeared on the grounds of the bank, as an institution for which both unions had the most ambitious aspirations.

As fate would have it, at the head of the bank were two representatives of the artisans from the different unions who considered themselves to be “political enemies.” Thus the harmony, the cooperative efforts and the unity of the bank that the members required were destroyed. Each faction of the artisans sought to win for its own representative and one way or another to influence the running of the bank.

So this happened: one person told another in secret, whispering, that promissory notes would be set aside without protest and protests would not be considered and that in the making of loans there were often times when other factors were taken into account. It went without saying that at the same time that certain individuals were favored, dissatisfaction grew in the ranks of the artisans, who suddenly felt

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abused by one representative or another of the bank. If “Reuben” saw, or if it appeared to him, that people were opposed to “Shimon,” he would feel himself abused. And this dissatisfaction was not confined to the four walls of the bank. It overflowed to the streets, where it found a broad field for exaggerated rumors. Total untruths, simple fantastic legends, coursed through the city about “terrible” debts owed to the bank by certain artisan representatives, about “stacks” of protests that were lodged. Every detail was exaggerated ten– or a hundredfold.

The “street,” which was ravenous for exaggerations and sensationalism, latched on to these versions and immediately spread them over the whole city. It was an open secret that something in the bank was rotten, that it had suffered losses, that the steering committee could not make up the debts, and so on.

 

The New “Run” on the Bank

At the same time, there came, in the life of the bank, an event that nearly ruined its wholeness and security.

In February of 1929 there was a “run” on the bank, mass withdrawals from accounts and from savings. One wintry morning the aroused account depositors came to the bank and demanded to withdraw their savings. All of Siedlce needed money: one to fill out his daughter's dowry or the groom would leave; another had made a splendid deal and needed the money; a third suddenly had to go to Warsaw on business and certainly had to buy things…

Each one hid his true reason. On the contrary, with a flattering smile on his lips–“Excuse me, Mr. Barg, but what do you think? We have the greatest trust in you and in the bank; we just need the money today. Twenty–four hours from now will be too late. We feel really sorry about that.”

[Page 446]

What had happened to make the account owners feel they had suddenly to withdraw their savings? Was this a result of unhealthy politics that swirled in and around the bank, or were there other motives, or was it, perhaps, just pure coincidence? It is hard to pin down the circumstances around the “run.” Over all it is better not to try to establish a concrete cause. At that moment it was the psychosis of the crowd rather than something that had been thought through or worked out logically.

How did the steering committee react to this “run” on the “accounts”?

They reacted in a most primitive way, as would be done broadly in cooperative banks. Namely, they brought out great sums of money and satisfied every demand. They paid out accounts that were due and that were not due, large sums and small. They paid out day in and day out, from early in the morning until into the night.

The bank personnel made the greatest effort to satisfy the account owners and so paid out over a short time the hazardous sum of nearly 250,000 zlotys.

Luckily this ebbing of the accounts did not cause the bank any essential damage and did not harm the interests of the members. True, the bank continued its activities in a smaller way and continued to honor loans and credit as much as possible.

After this shock there came a time to take a breath, to calm the spirit, even though it was near the time for the annual general meeting, and those meetings always brought with them an anxious and feverish atmosphere.

At that general meeting in 1929, Mr. Shmaryahu Greenberg was elected chair, and he was later elected as executive officer.

After taking the position as executive officer of the council, Greenberg earnestly committed himself to cleaning up the inner workings of the bank and making an end to favoritism toward any faction, toward any group.

[Page 447]

In this environment of peace, free of worry and committed to methodical work, the bank was headed in a good direction, without distractions and friction. The predicament in which the bank had found itself because of the outflow of accounts became less, as the accounts flowed back in, confidence increased, and the internal strengths of the bank came to the fore.

To conclude, we will recall the people who in their time demonstrated great devotion and trust in the institution. These were the members of the supervisory committee: A.D. Milberg, A.Y. Korniczky, Sh. Wurman, Ch.M. Shapiro, W. Tuchklapper. No one can argue that these men were free of worries about their own jobs, but serving in their offices was for them a community obligation. More than one of them had to put up with all seven stages of crisis, and then how keenly, with what devotion, these men responded to their duty.

What was the “Bank Udszalowi” to Siedlce?

Half of Jewish Siedlce used it: the large merchant, the craftsman, the poor shopkeeper, the woman with a market stall who needed a few score zlotys to buy a bit of merchandise, the worker, the employee, and even not–well–off homeowners–none of them left the bank empty–handed. One with a loan, the second with a discount, the third with an advance of ready cash–it went through the whole city, it was productive and creative.

* *
*

Aside from he “Bank Udszalowi” which existed for almost 30 years, there were in Siedlce another 3 cooperative banks and a charity fund from the Jewish community organization.

The Merchants Bank was founded in 1924 at the home of Y.N. Weintraub on Pilsudski Street. The founders were: Asher Urszel, Y.N. Weintraub, Yisroel Gutgelt, Dovid Rubenstein, Berish Yom–Tov. In its first active years, the bank developed quickly. As long as it was small, it was in Weintraub's home. In 1927, the bank moved

[Page 448]

To the home of Mendel Cohen. The director was Asher Urszel. Then the director was Avraham Asher Kwiatek. This credit institution served the large merchants and the few industries that were in Siedlce and that belonged to the finest cooperative bank in Poland.

In 1929 and 1930, when the crisis erupted in Poland, it greatly affected the activities of the bank, because in the good years it had extended large amounts of credit, up to 20,000 zlotys and often even more, and because of the crisis it could not collect payments on time–so the bank struggled with its existence. In 1933 it was liquidated.

The “Credit Bank” was founded through the initiative of Monish Ridel (who can now be found in Israel), Mordechai Alfisher, Yisroel Rinecki, Moyshe Mendel Friedman, Yisroel Tsenki, and Eliyahu Tenenbaum. The bank took as its mission to help the small merchants with credit. Monish Ridel was the director of the bank until 1936.

With the growth of the credit institution and then the liquidation of the “Bank Urdszlowi” in 1936, the “Credit Bank” became the only finance institution for all of Siedlce's Jews. Head of its council was Dr. Belfour, vice–chair Yehoshua Ackerman, director after Monish Ridel was Shimon Lieberman. On the central council of the cooperative banks were Yehoshua Ackerman and Shimon Lieberman.

In 1939, when the war broke out, the “Credit Bank” gave up its hall to the Jewish community organization.

The third bank was the “Discount Bank,” founded by members of the Agudah: Tuviah Shiffer, Yehudah Aryeh Zucker, Moyshe Zakan, and others.

When the Merchants Bank was liquidated, the Agudah Bank changed it name to Merchants Bank and took over its premises in the house of Mendel Cohen, Chair of its council was Kalman Friedman.

As we have already mentioned, aside from the bank there was also a charity fund in the Jewish community, where an artisan and a small merchant could get a loan without interest for as much as 250 zlotys.


[Page 449]

Activities of “Toz” [Jewish Healthcare]
and “Women's Circle” For Child Welfare

by Dr. M. Shlaycher, Haifa

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In 1923, under the initiative of the writer of these lines, a branch of the TOZ society (Society to Care for the Health of Jews) was established in Siedlce. It had the following duties: 1) to battle ringworm and fungal illnesses, and 2) to battle tuberculosis. Both illnesses had spread especially among children. In the battle against ringworm, the society organized a statistical control over all the children in the schools: Tarbus, the Jewish Folk School, the Talmud Torah, and the Polish-Jewish vocational school. The examinations in the schools were conducted by Dr. Fau. She decided which children needed X-rays for detecting the disease. The X-rays were done at the X-Ray Institute in Siedlce under the direction of Dr. Fau. In severe cases, the children were sent to Warsaw under the auspices of “TOZ” in Siedlce.

The “TOZ” Society in Siedlce influenced the doctors in the Polish schools to take similar measures with the Polish children. When “TOZ” began its activities, approximately 30% of children suffered from these conditions. After three years, the conditions had almost disappeared.

A large number of children were also afflicted

[Page 450]

with tuberculosis, having been infected by their parents or other family members. In this case, “TOZ” also carried out practical labors. A file was established for each tuberculosis-infected child. During every winter month, 10 or 12 tubercular children were sent to the “TOZ” and “Health” sanatorium. In addition, lectures were provided for the parents of affected children on how to prevent infection.

 

sie450.jpg
The “TOZ” summer colony

 

Summer colonies also played a big part in the fight against childhood tuberculosis. Every year during the summer break in the schools, hundreds of children participated in summer colonies in the woods and fields. The doctors, along with the Jewish community in Siedlce, were persuaded that organizing these colonies for the schoolchildren was one of the most effective ways of fighting tuberculosis and of insuring the health of the younger generation. Until that time, only the children of the wealthy could enjoy the sun, the air, the woods, and the fields. The needy child spent the hot summer days in narrow rooms or on dusty streets. After their summer breaks, they would return to school weaker

[Page 451]

than they had been before. Also during those summer months many illnesses spread among the poor children.

So “TOZ” created the summer colonies for these children. The colonies brought happiness to the children. The athletic activities for the children out in nature improved their b bodies. Their color improved in the sun that shone upon them. In their colonies the children also learned about cleanliness, about washing with soap, brushing their teeth, and so on.

 

sie451.jpg
Athletic activities for the children in the “TOZ” colony

 

The colony also taught the children how to live in a community with other children and how to behave in a friendly fashion together. “Half colonies” were also organized for children for whom there was no room in the colonies outside of the city.

From 1925 until the disaster, approximately 1000 children received food in their schools—a second breakfast consisting of a roll and a glass of cocoa. To this end, a “Women's Circle”

[Page 452]

was formed to help finance the program. The “Women's Circle” supplied about 30% of the budget and was also responsible for seeing that the breakfast was distributed among all the children without exception.

The “Women's Circle” consisted of the following: Dr. Shlaykher, chair; members Esther Salzman, Felia Urszel, Puah Rabinowicz, Las, Tabakman, and others. In addition, each year the Women's Circle sent to the sanatorium several ailing children, the money having been raised through a variety of social events that they organized.

In 1932, the “TOZ” took over the operation of the Jewish hospital and brought to this healing center the most modern hospital arrangements. A special gynecological section was created under the direction of Dr. Lebel. This section was quite popular among women. Every woman who was about to give birth, whether she was poor or wealthy, wanted to be admitted to the hospital. The good reputation of this department was also known outside of Siedlce. Pregnant women from surrounding towns came to give birth in the Jewish hospital. The division of internal medicine was directed by Dr. Glazowsk. There was also an infirmary made up of specialists.

The budget for the hospital was furnished 40% by “TOZ” and 30% each by the Jewish community organization and the magistrate.

“TOZ” also conducted a prophylactic program among the Jewish populace, teaching disease prevention, how to maintain household cleanliness. Lectures by local doctors were organized and some came from Warsaw: Dr. Walman, Dr. Levin, and others.

The foundation of the “TOZ” budget came from membership dues of about 800 members as well as from admission fees to social events, subsidies from the Jewish community organization and from the central headquarters in Warsaw.

“TOZ” was led by the following people: Chair, Del M. Shlaykher; members, Yehoshua Eckerman, S. Halberstam, Dr. Lebel, Yosef Alberg, Dr. Fau-Halberstam,

[Page 453]

A. Marttzki, Las, Menashe Czarnabrode, Modl, and others; Secretary A. Englander.

It should also be noted that Dr. Fau industriously led the medical practice in the ghetto. She provided medical help to all the ailing and occupied herself with those ill with typhus even though there were none of the necessary means of disinfection.

sie453.jpg
The coordinating committee for the health group “TOZ,” with Dr. Shlaykher at the top

 

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