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[Pages 52-62]



The political revival of Siedlce Jews occurred in 1915 after the Russian withdrawal. There was not much fighting over the city, yet during the brief battles one house was demolished and seven were damaged. Two farm building were also burned down and three were damaged.1

On 2 August 1915, the Civic Guard of the city of Siedlce was created; its goal was to maintain order and cleanliness. Among the 23 sergeants mentioned are the surnames Berg and Sonnschein (unfortunately, first names were not included on the list), and among the 79 militiamen there are two Międzyrzeckis, Mendel Drachły, Alberg, Bursztyn, Szeflan, Cukier, Merchenlein, Kramarz, Tuchmacher, Eszyk, Goldberg, Aldmann, and Rosenbaum. It is interesting that in the next listing in December 1918, after Poland had regained its independence, all 47 surnames are Polish sounding.2

On 27 January, a municipal “meat monopoly” was introduced, and only eight people were given permission to slaughter and bring live inventory into the city; among these eight were Moszko and Jankiel Jedwab, Icek Sarnowski, Berek Lubelski, and Moszek Włodawski.3

The new occupational forces permitted the activity, albeit controlled, of many Jewish organizations. Because of the large number of refugees in the city, a Jewish Soup Kitchen was set up. Its management consisted of N. Neugoliberg, trustee; J. Turyn, deputy trustee; J. Gutgeld, member; Lejzor Śliwka, member; P. Rubinstein, member; Kiwa Lewartowski, cashier; Sz. Suchatolski, secretary; U. Celnik, inspector; B. Rotenberg, agricultural division; J. Altszuler, agricultural division; and M. M. Landau, auditing committee. In its report for the five-month period from 11 January to 19 June 1916, the Soup Kitchen reported that it had an income of 14,879 rubles, which was spent on meals in the following amounts: local residents were issued 50,054 meals without bread and 5,898 with bread; the homeless from Brześć were issued 11,156 meals without bread and 22,117 with bread; the homeless from Pińsk were issued 2,438 meals without bread and 8,526 meals with bread. Altogether, during the period of the report, 100,189 meals were prepared and issued to 1,054 people. Among individual donors, N. Weintraub, J. Rydel, and Dz. Steinitz distinguished themselves.4

The economic and sanitary conditions in the city were very difficult. Cases of typhus were noted in the spring of 1916. The “List of Beggars Detained Today on 16 I 1917,” prepared by the Municipal Militia, testifies to the difficult material conditions of the residents. The list contains 35 names, of which 13 are of local Jews and 1 of a Jew from Warsaw.5

In 1916, Jewish Art enlivened its activity. The Germans, as the new occupational forces, were received sympathetically by the residents of the city. The society rented a large space at 66 Warszawska Street, where its premises became a real Jewish cultural center. The following divisions operated: literary, dramatic, and musical. Moreover, there was a library and a reading room. Jewish Art had 450 dues-paying members. The German authorities did not obstruct its activity in any way; on the contrary, it facilitated it. “A ticket to some event at Jewish Art was like a pass and allowed one to be out after the curfew.”6 The society also engaged in political activity. Its representatives, Josef Rozenzumen, Abraham Zigielkwas, Abraham Grinszpan, Szaul Zubrowic, Jehiel Jabłoń, and Mosze Mandelman, wearing blue and white armbands bearing a Star of David and the name “Jewish Art,” took part in a patriotic demonstration on 3 May 1916.a The several-thousand strong parade headed by the most distinguished Siedlce activists walked through the city. It stopped in front of the premises of the society, where it sang the song “Boże, coś Polskę”b and a Hazomir march, “Sing, Sing.” As Mandelman recalled, “And indeed, that day was filled with the spirit 'Let's love one another.' Jews and Poles felt united in brotherhood. The 'community of fates' that tied Jews and Poles together on the Polish Land over dozens of years was especially emphasized in speeches.”7

A young participant of those events, Anna Kahan, noted in her Diary:

Wednesday, 3 May 1916.

We decorated the balcony over our store with red-white and blue-white flags in honor of the Polish holiday. We also hung up a blue and white Star of David. All the balconies and windows are decorated with banners and the Polish eagle in a wreath of flowers and leaves. On some balconies there are signs: “God save Poland!” and on others, “Awake!”c
No wonder the joy of the Polish people is great—they have waited 125 years for this holiday.d I wonder whether the Jewish people will ever celebrate their own national holiday.
The Rabbi and all Jewish institutions have been invited to take part in the celebration. There is a large sign over the synagogue on which the Star of David and the Polish eagle are painted below quotations from Jeremiah. It is surrounded by many small white and blue flags.
The streets are lined with people waiting for the parade. Services are held in all churches and synagogues. Itke and I are standing on Hospital [Szpitalna] Street.8 The procession begins with the militia, carrying Polish banners. Then come priests in their vestments, carrying holy pictures and singing. A student's band marches, playing patriotic Polish songs. Delegations from Polish and Jewish organizations follow. The Jews wear white and blue arm-bands and badges in their lapels. Students, wearing tri-cornered capse and multicolored ribbons streaming down their shoulders, pass. They are followed by children from all schools. Firemen are the last in the parade.
Now the civilians fall in behind the procession, a huge crowd marching in perfectorder.
As the procession approaches the Hazomir building,9 a mandolin orchestra on one balcony, and a chorus on another, play and sing.10
Itke proposes we have a look at the arc of flowers and leaves erected on Stodolna Street. It is magnificent. A work of art. A sign above it reads: “For your freedom you shall act!” Close to the ark is a speakers' platform. All the buildings around are decorated with colored silks, flags and flowers.
Barg spotted us from his balcony across the street and he came down to take us up on his balcony where we can watch the rest of the parade. It's certainly something to see! Thousands of people, colorfully dressed, moving, playing, singing. A group of girls dressed in Cracowian costumes are especially attractive.
After the parade passes, we go down to march along with the crowd. I see Tovye running around, taking pictures with his camera. Many German officers are taking pictures, too, from balconies and rooftops.
The lawyer, Hartglas, speaks on a raised platform outside the big synagogue.11 I can hardly hear what he says, I catch broken phrases. Then Rozenbaum takes me to a spot close to the speaker.
Mr. Hartglas greets the Polish people in the name of their Jewish neighbors. He elaborates on the significance of the 3rd of May for the Jewish people, giving all kinds of historical data. At the end, he expresses the hope and wish for a free and friendly life for both nations, living in harmony and peace.
There is applause.
It's hot. I'm tired and I go home. I'm glad I'm off today and will be able to attend school for the first time.
But my hope is shattered. As I stand barefoot, washing my hair, I receive a message that all stores are open and I must come to work.12

In the fall of 1916, elections to the City Council were held for the first time in Siedlce. A united Jewish electoral committee was formed, which chose as its headquarters the building of the society. Here is where the representatives of Zionists, Bundists, Folkists, Orthodox Jews, and Chassidim gathered. The members of the society set out for the city and campaigned. They had one goal: to seat as many representatives of the Jewish community on the City Council as possible. They attained their goal: of 24 council members, 14 Jews were seated.
Jewish Art was experiencing a blossoming. Meetings at which papers were delivered were important events. These often led to heated discussions in which various political and philosophical concepts clashed. So, for example, Sz. I. Stupnicki was sojourning in Siedlce and delivered a series of papers about the Folkists. Mosze Mandelman remembered one of his presentations:

I remember an interesting episode that is worth emphasizing: on Saturday evening, when Szulim Jankiel Stupnicki was speaking with youthful verve to a packed room in Jewish Art about the rights and aspirations on the “Jewish street,” Leo Belmont, a well-known Polish writer, entered. He was in Siedlce at that time and was to speak about the Russian revolution that same evening. He noticed a poster on the street about Stupnicki's paper. Then he said to himself, let's hear how the Jews discuss such matters in Yiddish. For a long time he attentively listened to the paper and the discussants, among whom were Dawid Nojmark (Bund), Dawid Grinfarb (Poalei Zion), Mordechaj Jafe (Zionist), and Jakub Tenenbaum (no party affiliation). After the paper was delivered, Belmont went into the wings and introduced himself to Stupnicki. He warmly shook his hand and announced that he had understood everything and was delighted with the high level and insightful depiction of the problems. He would never have believed that among the common people one could debate socio-political issued in such a civilized fashion “in jargon.”13 He invited Stupnicki and several of our other members to his own paper titled “Tsarism and Revolution” (this was after the outbreak of the revolution in 1917). We accepted the invitation, but his paper did not excite us.14

Philosophical-religious issues were addressed in the papers of, among others, Hiles Cajtlin. Meetings and discussions were a good education for the Jewish activists of Siedlce. The society also expanded its concert activity. U. Kipnis and Z. Zelikfelt organized a series of concerts that included Jewish folk songs. During this period, when literature in Yiddish was just coming into being, this was a novelty. The years 1918–1920 saw the further development of Jewish Art, which took on the building and running of its own secular school. In his “Report on the Political and Social Situation” during this time, the Siedlce county administrator wrote, “The Jewish population, in regards to both its political as well as its social life, significantly surpasses the Polish population.”15

The divisions of the Jewish Art Society expanded significantly. The literature division included Jakub Rodak, Dawid Nojmark, Jakow Fiszman, Jahiel Groman, and Mosze Mandelman. The music division also expanded, comprising a choir (numbering 50 people and the conductor Josef Zonszajn), a string orchestra, a brass band, and a mandolin orchestra—altogether about 120 people. In the summer, these orchestras gave concerts in the city park under the baton of Eliahu Szpilman, and after his death, A. Szpilfidel. The drama division, with Jakub Tenenbaum at its head, grew to 30 people.

November 1918 arrived. Apolinary Hartglas, who was in Siedlce at the time, recalled the end of the German occupation in the following manner:

On 12 November small groups of legionnaires along with soldiers from General Sikorski's Polnische Wermachte appeared on the streets of Siedlce, and sporadic exchanges of gunfire would take place between them and the German soldiers. In fact, the majority of German soldiers walked around the city unarmed and drunk, wore red ribbons, and cheered the legionnaires. On 13 November the panicked fleeing of the Germans commenced. I happened to witness a genre scene in front of City Hall. Two fat and huge field gendarmes rode up, armed from head to toe, on tall horses. Suddenly a small, maybe ten-year-old, boy ran out of the vestibule of City Hall, ran up to the horses, and ordered the gendarmes, in Polish, to dismount. The two began to laugh, and one of them jokingly threatened the boy with a pistol. The boy then pulled a revolver out of his pocket and aimed it at the gendarme. The gendarmes scratched their heads, dismounted, and handed their weapons and horses to the boy. The boy called over several urchins, no bigger than he, and together they took the weapons and horses to City Hall. A few hours later, I was in court, and suddenly we heard the rattle of wagons and cannons and the clomping of horses. We looked out the windows. It turned out that a large German division was entering the city: over a dozen cannons with an appropriate number of artillerymen and several dozen wagons with baggage and troops. All this was coming from the east . . . When they reached the courthouse, several city militiamen and a couple of boys hopped onto the first cannons and wagons and stopped the horses. The Germans jumped down to the ground and left peacefully, leaving the baggage and weapons in the hands of the militia. In the afternoon, a German soldier came to me and asked on behalf of the Kreischef that I come to him right away. As I approached County Hall, I encountered bank director Urbański and the president of the Agricultural Society, Godlewski, whom, as it turned out, the Kreischef had also sent soldiers to summon. […] When we walked together into County Hall, we found him at the telephone surrounded by several senior county clerks. The Kreischef told us that he had been trying since morning to make telephone contact with Governor-General Beseler in order to receive instructions about what he should do, stay or go, but he could not get a connection. Then when we found out that General von Beseler had fled to Germany the previous day, the Kreischef decided on his own responsibility to depart along with the clerks on the next train, but he did not want to leave everything unprotected, at God's mercy, so he sent for us and asked that we count and take over the cash box, documents, and inventory and give him a receipt. He also asked if we would, if we could, issue him a certificate stating that the population did not file any complaints against him during the time he held his office. Since that was indeed the case, we issued him the appropriate certificate and receipt, all of which the three of us signed, and we called in several militiamen and a sergeant to take charge of the property left behind. Next the Kreischef started to ask us if we would agree, the three of us, to escort him and the clerks to the train station for fear that a crowd might attack them on the way. We answered this request in the negative, assuring him that there was not the least fear, since the population had the best opinion of him and these several clerks. We said our goodbyes, and they left. After our departure, the militiamen on their own initiative took the Germans' sabers, and the Germans went to the train station. No one harassed them along the way or caused them any harm whatsoever.16

Further political, cultural, and social revival took place after 1918 and the strengthening by Poland of independence and democracy. A veritable flowering of civic initiatives took place. By 1919, five Jewish associations had already been registered officially in the city.

The Jewish Musical-Literary Society, with offices at 66 Warszawska Street, took on the objective of supporting music and literary activity. The management board consisted of chairman Abraham Zygielwaks and members Wulf Frydman, Chil Jabłoń, Jakub Tenenbaum, Izaak Alberg, Szyja Goldberg, Jakób Liwerant, Abram Grynszpan, and Ber Czarnobroda. The society had 400 members.

The Office for Aid to Jewish Workers, with offices at 22 Warszawska Street, offered assistance to Jewish workers who were laid off from work. Froim Celnik was the chairman of the management board, and its members were Wulf Fridman, Josek Wiśnia, Srul Tabakman, Pinku Langier, Moszko Altszuler, and Josek Lebensglik.

The Society of Jewish Workers, with offices at 27 Ogrodowa Street, was engaged in cultural and economic activity. Its chairman was Ela Celniker, with members Jankiel Zonszajn, Josef Zonszajn, Naftul Kozienicki, Icko Rosen, Jankiel Liwerant, Moszko Altszuler, and Moszko Grabie. There were 300 people in the society.

The Siedlce Jewish Savings and Loan Society, with offices at 20 Długa Street, engaged in economic activity consistent with its name. Kliman became its chairman, while Lejzor Śliwka, Mendel Liwerant, and Lejbko Szapiro became members. In addition, there was a council comprising chairman Gliksberg and members Tejwel Grinszpan, Herc Halbersztadt, and Szmuel Cukier. The society brought together 3,000 people.

The Siedlce Commercial Society for Mutual Credit, with offices at 62 Warszawska Street, engaged in extending loans to its members for industrial-commercial goals. Its chairman was Nachum Weintraub, with members Moszko Landau, Dr. Maurycy Stein, and Mojżesz Wołonicki. The council comprised a chairman, who was Apolinary Hartglas, the deputy chairman, in the person of Stanisław Teigenbaum, and members Srul Gutgeld, Icko Rotgold, Mosze Abe Ajzenstadt, Wolf Barg, Kiwa Lewartowski, Munysz Sukiennik, and Abram Judel Rosen. The society had 328 members.17

In this year, as police records indicate, the Union of Jewish Workers in the Trades, led by Abram Figowy, was also active and had 250 members. The Siedlce Merchants Club, in turn, had about 200 members, headed by Samuel Cejtlinek. This club functioned as a social organization. The Zionist charitable organization, which was yet to be registered officially, was the “Ezra” (Aid, Support) Auxiliary Union of Jewish Women, which had 700 members and was headed by Tyla Głowiczower.18 The Zionist Committee, under the aegis of Apolinary Hartglas, had slightly fewer members, at 600. There were also two organizations that brought together young people: “Hashomer Hatzair” Youth Association, which had 140 members under the direction of Berł Rejman, and the “Tzeirei Mizrachi” Orthodox Youth Association under the direction of Nachman Rubinstein.19 There were also the “Workers' Center” Jewish Association, with 476 members headed by Jakób Groman, and the Central Bureau of Labor Unions Affiliated with the “Workers' Center,” with 500 members and Srul Tabakman as chairman.20

In 1919, two of the four printing houses in the city were Jewish: Wiktoria, at 31 Kiliński Street, whose owners were Haskiel and Gdala Goldberg; and Artystyczna, at 27 Kiliński Street, whose owner was Szyja Lichtenpacht. There were several dozen bakeries, most of which were Jewish. There were nine registered goldsmithing-jewelry stores, all of them Jewish. The city had nine bookstores, five of which were Jewish: Szyja Celnik's, Icek Gotfarb's, Mozes Miodownik's, and Abram Szeflan's [author lists only these four—trans.]. They were located either on Warszawska Street or on Kiliński Street.

The city was divided in 1919 into eight police districts.21 There were seven gastronomic enterprises in the fourth district, two of which were Jewish: Liberman's restaurant on Floriańska Street, and Hersz Grynwald's restaurant on Kiliński Street. There were also seven gastronomic enterprises in the sixth district, and they were all Jewish. Jankiel Tomkin was the owner of a restaurant at 28 Warszawska Street; Meje Frydman, a restaurant at 17 Długa Street; Pinkus Ajzensztejn, a beer house at 35 Długa Street; Matys Zylbersztejn, a tea house at 30 Długa Street; Hersz Sztejnberg, a restaurant at 34 Długa Street; Benjamin Naterman, a restaurant at 36 Długa Street; and Jankiel Goldsztejn, a tea house at 21 Prospektowa Street. Of the six gastronomic enterprises, one belonged to Ida Rotfarb, a cafeteria at 13 Roskosz Street. Three of the seven enterprises in district three were Jewish: Leja Międzyrzecka ran a restaurant at 19 Piękna Street, Mendel Cukierman had a restaurant at 5 Piękna Street, and Szmul Wajsman had a beer house at 8 Floriańska Street. There were eleven enterprises in the first district, and they were all run by Jews.

Metal warehouses were run by Mejer Modnykamień at 8 Mała Street, Icko Duła at 35 Piękna Street, Icko Asman at 25 Piękna Street, Szaja Bomblat at 25 Warszawska Street, Jankiel Cukierman at 21 Warszawska Street, Mejer Nusym Frydman at 19 Warszawska Street, Icko Kulicki at 15 Warszawska Street, Lejb Szyfer at 11 Warszawska Street, Tobja Szyfer at 14 Piękna Street, Lejbko Asman at 8 Przyjazd Street, Jankiel Goldberg at 8 Przyjazd Street, and Dawid Kucharski at 11 Przyjazd Street.

The following Jewish mills were located on the territory of the city in 1919: Berek Jakubowicz's at 9 Brzeska Street, Moszek Feder's at 33 Floriańska Street, and Jankiel Uberman's at 69 Ogrodowa Street.

Mozes Szmidt and Szymon Goldberg were dentists of Jewish descent who practiced their profession during this time.

Bohdan Korzeniewski remembered the critical period of the founding of the Polish Republic in Siedlce.g He characterized it in the following way:

Siedlce was a city with a population at that time of probably 40 thousand. It was completely lacking any industry and was surrounded by rich villages. The wealthy peasantry belonged to right-wing peasant unions, supporting Witos. This period, as I remember it today, was quite instructive. One could draw the conclusion that society develops best, most vigorously, when it is given complete freedom. The government, in the initial period of its existence, gave people the initiative, and they instantly organized themselves. I remember vividly the disarming of the Germans, which took place as if some secret order were at work. We don't know why the legionnaires who had been hiding up to that point and former soldiers from various armies, mostly the Russian, suddenly came out onto the street and in a moment appeared with weapons, carrying three, four rifles. They took them from the Germans calmly, with a smile. This took place without one shot being fired, without any defense. The German would hand over his rifle, shake hands, and ask where the train station was. The city was mostly National Democratic. There were many followers of this party, or of the right-wing branch of the peasant party. But there were also poorer, or more enlightened, peasants who joined left-wing peasant parties. Wici immediately started to develop very nicely.h They engaged in educational campaigns, and peasants went to school. Siedlce was the only educational center in Podlasie, along with Biała Podlaska. It had at that time, starting immediately in 1918, two state secondary schools: the Hetman Żółkiewski Secondary School (mathematics and natural sciences) for boys, to which I was admitted; and another, the Prus Secondary School for the humanities. There was also a private secondary school run by a director whose name was Szwec (we called it the “Swedish” secondary school),i where Jacek Woszczerowicz's father, old Woszczerowicz,j taught Latin surrounded by grim respect. There were also two schools for girls, a public one and a private one, and also an agricultural vocational school. No industry, a little trade in the hands of Jews—and this was Siedlce. That is why all of life was concentrated around the school, which had excellent teachers. Today I wistfully recall the culture, tactfulness, and wisdom of these people. My principal was Mieczysław Asłanowicz, of Armenian descent. A natural scientist, he was a man of immeasurable kindness, wisdom, and determination at the same time. He was the one who reared us. The school was filled with peasant children: in my entering class of 40, only 5 or 6 were from the intelligentsia.

[….] It was probably the spring of 1918 that we returned to Siedlce. We found our wooden house (a kind of manor house) unchanged, as though we had just left on an outing. We returned to the same apartment, to the same furniture, but to completely changed circumstances. My father did not return to his job in the court but worked at first in the bank as a bank clerk, but very quickly he started to be a social activist. First, in 1920, he was elected mayor of Węgrów, where he stayed for a short time, during the Bolshevik invasion (that is where he rescued Jews from looters). After his return he was mayor of Siedlce for a while, briefly. I remember that a very elegant two-horse chaise would drive up to pick up my father. He soon had to resign, however, because he, like [Gabriel] Narutowicz, was elected by left-wing forces and national minorities.

Mostly it was Jews who voted for my father. He had many friends among them, and hence our affectionate memories are tied to this community. My father was invited to weddings, to almost all the Jewish ceremonies, and often he would take us with him. Siedlce was almost half Jewish; all commerce was in their hands. At the same time, these were Jews who were Polish patriots, tied to the ideals of the January Uprising, to such a degree that they Polonized their last names. Sometimes this led to some amusing things, such as a signboard would display the name Różany Kwiat [Rose Flower] instead of Rosenblum. Very few stores were Polish, but the coffee house was Polish. We went there every Sunday. My father drank coffee and bought us, I remember, two vanilla cupcakes each.22

The period of the city's dynamic growth ended with the arrival of the Bolsheviks. On 11 August 1920, the Red Army occupied Siedlce for a period of eight days. The detachments marching in via Brzeska Street were greeted enthusiastically by a group of Communists, among whom was a fairly large Jewish delegation. A welcome gateway was even set up. “Authority was handed to the people by Feliks Dzierżyński himself, who came to Siedlce on 14 August 1920. It was received by Stanisław Krasuski, a former employee of the Agricultural Syndicate and Municipal Council, who had re-emigrated from Russia. Józef Lewandowski, a worker and member of the PPS, was made military commissar, representing the interests of the Red Army. And a certain Alperowicz was made chairman of the Revolutionary Committee in Siedlce.”23 As we see, Feliks Dzierżyński, the creator of the Chrezvychaika—the Extraordinary Commission for Fighting Counterrevolution and Sabotage—felt a certain sentiment for the city in which he had spent almost two years: he spent time in the local prison from March 1900 to January 1902. The tsarist authorities determined at that time that he was dangerous for society. The Revolutionary Committee (Revkom) appointed by him contained 22 Communist activists. Some Jewish activists supported him, some from Poalei Zion stalled for time, while some decided to wait things out. These were positions that were characteristic for the whole Jewish population of occupied Poland. One of the activists of Poalei Zion described those days as follows: “Seeing that one used rolls of paper with numbers on them to pay, people slowly started to hide goods and more important items. Panic broke out in the city. The Polish militia, wanting to show how Communist it was, constantly caught Jews with hidden goods. The Revkom demanded workers, carpenters, locksmiths, and bakers, but these only hid and did not want to go to work.”24

During the retreat of the Red Army, some of the Siedlce Communist activists evacuated with it. After Polish troops entered, provost courts dealt with the Revkom sympathizers and collaborators who had remained in the city. The French officer Charles de Gaulle was a witness to these events:

We marched into Siedlce on the heels of the victors. The city was in turmoil. The Bolsheviks had set up a Soviet in it with the aid of local Jews (more than half the population in fact). Currently the citizens of Siedlce want the Jews who were on the side of the enemy to be punished; there are constant arrests accompanied by the howls of huge crowds. That morning, many Jews were executed by firing squad because here they do not delay in carrying out executions. Surrounding the wagon containing those sentenced to death, their family and friends walked at a certain distance, echoing their laments. Then the Jewish community took the bodies and, in conformity with Jewish tradition, quickly buried them. It is said that when a Jew dies his body must be placed in the earth before a church bell tolls. If this is not done, an evil spirit will torture the unfortunate deceased and bring much woe to the bereaved.25 Yet these poor fellows have enough troubles in their lives, ever filled with disquiet in fear of failures and with their passion for trade.26

The Mobile Court of the Command of the Warsaw General District, sitting during 23 and 27 August, condemned to death by firing squad ten former soldiers of Jewish descent and two civilians, Abraham Grynszpan and Nusek Piła, “for the crime of desertion and treason.”k The sentence was carried out. The execution of Abraham Grynszpan—who had served as secretary of the Revkom for two days before he was dismissed because he was deemed to be a “bourgeois and Zionist”—had especial repercussions within the Jewish community. His father had hidden a wounded Polish officer in his apartment during the entire period of the Bolshevik occupation.27

The courts additionally sentenced ten people to from five to ten years of hard labor. There were also instances of lynching. In the Golice Woods, 20 massacred bodies of Jews were found. The reports of representatives Hartglas and Farbstein describe exactly what took place in the city.28 Instances of beatings, looting, and rapes are cited.

The opinion that Jews supported only the Bolsheviks during the Polish–Bolshevik War predominated among some politicians of the interwar period. When Wincenty Witos came to Siedlce in August 1920 and saw Jews in the civic guard with white-and-red armbands, this immediately seemed both strange and suspicious:

In Siedlce it struck me at the very outset as strange that the responsibilities of the civil guard were being carried out almost exclusively by Jews. They wore white-and-red armband and bowed low to everyone they met on the street. The city was rather a sorry sight. The streets were completely littered with trash, the houses were shabby, and stores were closed. Jews timidly looked out of their apartments, starting to gather in small groups. All the Jewish houses were heavily decorated with Polish flags. This did not prevent red Bolshevik banners from having waved on these very same houses but a few days ago. […] The Polish military authorities, after entering the city, imprisoned a large number of Jews in Siedlce and had them indicted. Several sentences were passed and executed, but many Jews escaped justice because the courts, supposedly at the request of Mr. Piłsudski, conducted lengthy investigations, and an international commission arrived before these were concluded, leading to their discontinuation. And so the Jewish culprits went free. […] Further on, around Przygoda [Suchożebry Township—author's note], we met a division of volunteers numbering about 150 people. They were all from Poznań. They remained under the command of a former Prussian cavalry sergeant, who still spoke Polish poorly. […] The soldiers were resting after a two-day forced march, having their fun with a Jew, supposedly a spy, whom they had met on the road. They were very surprised when I reprimanded them for this, recommending that they let the Jew go.29

The Jewish population in its majority behaved passively, taking a wait-and-see approach. Such an approach during times of historical turning points did not save the Jews; on the contrary, it often led to pogroms. They took place during the Polish–Ukrainian War, in Lwów, for example, where pogroms were carried out by both Poles and Ukrainians.

After the Polish–Bolshevik War, peace and order were maintained in the city, attempting to prevent disturbances and riots from taking place. Especially those planned “from the outside.” A note from a police agent of 14 July 1921 to the commissioner of police testifies to this fact: “I am reporting that on the 13th of this month in the evening I was in the Summer Theater in the Park, where there were about 12 Upper Silesian insurgents with whom I struck up a conversation on the subject of the Kingdom of Poland; in the process I found out from them that on Saturday and Sunday there was to be a party in the Park for the benefit of the Upper Silesian insurgents, but they unanimously said that after the party in the Park they would have a party with the Jews, whom they must eradicate in Poland, just like they did the Krauts in Upper Silesia, even though there is only one battalion of them in Siedlce, but they must accomplish their task and once and for all take care of the Jews in Poland because there are too many of them here, and they firmly promised themselves to have a little uprising with the Jews in Siedlce on Saturday and Sunday.”30 In the light of extant sources, no anti-Semitic incidents took place on those days. However, in April 1922, there were incidents of cutting off the beards of Jews by conscripts from Poznań who were passing through the city.31

Translator's Notes, Chapter 4

  1. 3 May—Patriotic celebration of the Constitution of 3 May, adopted by the Great Sejm of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth on 3 May 1791; the document's adoption led to the second and third partitions of Poland among the neighboring absolute monarchies due to its very democratic (for the times) content; called the “first constitution of its type in Europe'' by British historian Norman Davies, it is the world's second oldest codified national constitution after that of the United States (4 March 1789). This day acquired great significance during the 123 years of Poland's nonexistence as a state as a symbol of a high point in the country's political and national aspirations. Although its celebration was banned during the Communist period, it has retained its significance to this day. Return
  2. “Boże, coś Polskę”—patriotic song in the form of a prayer, loosely translated as “God Save Poland.” For a further explanation of the history and significance of this song, see http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/repertoi/boze.html. Return
  3. Czuwaj!—Polish scout greeting, meaning “On guard!” or “Be vigilant!” being a Polish adaptation of Baden-Powell's “Be prepared”; the Polish greeting harkens back to that used by medieval Polish knights and castle/city watchmen. Return
  4. Waited for this day for 125 years—Strictly speaking, this should be 123 years, i.e., since the third partition in 1795 that deprived Poland of its statehood. The two previous partitions were in 1772 and 1793. Return
  5. Tri-cornered caps—in Polish rogatywka, usually a four-cornered cap used in the Polish military in some form since the 14th century; also adopted as part of boys' school uniforms; considered by many even today to be a Polish national head covering. Return
  6. Polnische Wehrmacht—also called Polska Siła Zbrojna [Polish Armed Forces], originally a World War I military formation created as part of the German Army. Poles became combatants in the armies of all three partitioning countries, although Russia withdrew before the end of the war. The group that was formed by Józef Piłsudski as part of the Austro-Hungarian army was called the Polish Legions (Legiony Polskie). General Władysław Sikorski (1881–1943) was one of the commanders of the Legions. Both the Polnische Wehrmacht and the Polish Legions formed the backbone of the Polish Army formed in 1918. Should not be confused with the World War II Polnische Wehrmacht, which was a unit of Polish volunteers formed in 1944 within the German army as an anti-Soviet espionage and guerrilla force. Return
  7. Bohdan Korzeniewski (1905–1992)—Siedlce native; Polish director, theater historian and critic, translator from Russian and French, writer, and teacher. Return
  8. Wici—Name of what would become the Union of Rural Youth [Związek Młodzierzy Wiejskiej, ZMW], which focused in this period on furthering the education of rural youth and on inculcating a spirit of social responsibility and patriotism in them. Return
  9. A pun on the similarity in pronunciation between szwedzki, “Swedish,” and szwecki, an adjective formed from the nonexistent noun “szwec.” The correct Polish form for Szwec's, however, would be Szweca (possessive of the name/noun “Szwec”), not szwecki. Return
  10. Marian Jacek Woszczerowicz — Siedlce native (1904–1970); famous theatre and film actor. Return
  11. Mobile Court (Sąd Lotny)—a team of military judges that followed the front lines of the Polish Army in 1920 and punished Polish citizens for cooperation with the enemy, maily treason, desertion, and other offenses. Its goal was maintainance of discipline within the army and on the front lines. Return

Author's Notes, Chapter 4

  1. APS, County National Police Department in Siedlce (KPPPS), sig. 105, „Wykaz nieruchomości miejskich m. Siedlce uszkodzonych lub zrujnowanych podczas działań wojennych w sierpniu 1915 r.,” fol. 21. Return
  2. APS, KPPPS 1915–1933, sig. 1. Return
  3. APS, KPPPS 1915–1933, sig. 2, fol. 62, 149–150. Return
  4. APS, KPPPS, “Sprawozdanie żydowskiej taniej kuchni z 5-miesięcznej działalności od 11 stycznia do 19 czerwca 1916 roku,” sig. 105, fol. 2–5. Return
  5. APS, KPPPS, sig. 2, fol. 136–137. Return
  6. Mosze Mandelman, “The Library and the 'Jewish Art' Society,” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, p. 510. Return
  7. Ibid., p. 510. Return
  8. The parade route led from the new church (cathedral) on Długa Street (currently Bishop I. Świrski Street), then along Szpitalna Street (currently Kochanowski Steet), Warszawska Street (currently Piłsudski Street), and Świętojańska Street, up to Stodolna Street, which on that day was renamed 3 May Street. Return
  9. Hazomir—the cultural center of the Jewish Art Society, whose offices were at that time at 66 Warszawska Street. [Hazomir (also Hazamir, from Heb. zemer, song)—a common name for Jewish choral societies, which of course were central to Jewish Arts centers.—ed.] Return
  10. The choir sang “Boże coś Polskę” and the Hebrew hymn of Hazomir, “Zamru” (Sing). Return
  11. Apolinary (Maksymilian) Hartglas (1883–1953)—a lawyer, Jewish politician, journalist, member of parliament (Sejm, 1919–1930) representing the Universal Zionist Party, close co-worker of Izaak Grünbaum. In Israel a high official in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Born in Biała Podlaska, he practiced law in Siedlce between 1907 and 1919, taking an active part in the social life of the city. In his memoirs, Na pograniczu dwóch światów [On the border of two worlds] (Warsaw, 1996), Hartglas gives an account of this event and includes a brief summary of his speech (pp. 173–174). Return
  12. Anna Kahan, The Diary of Anne Kahan: Siedlce, Poland, 1914–1916 (New York: YIVO, 1983), pp. 141–371. The original was written in Yiddish and translated into English by the author and in that version published in the bulletin YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science, vol. 18 (1983) [reprinted here—trans.]. The cited fragment was translated into Polish by Michael Halber. Return
  13. That is, in Yiddish. [The Yiddish language had a low reputation ever since the time of the German-Jewish Enlightenment, when it was considered nothing more than a bastardized form of German. One of the main goals of the Yiddish literary revival from the 1860s onward was to dispel this negative prejudice.—ed.] Return
  14. Mandelman, “The Library and the 'Jewish Art' Society,” pp. 512–513. Return
  15. APS, SPwS, sig. 2, p. 3. Return
  16. A. Hartglas, Na pograniczu dwóch światów (Warsaw, 1996), pp. 179–180. Return
  17. APS, KPPPS, „Spis stowarzyszeń działających w Siedlcach w 1919 r.,” sig. 105, fol. 27. Return
  18. The name of the union referred to the tradition connected with the return of the Jews to their homeland. Ezra was the leader of the group of exiles that returned in 458 BCE from the Babylonian captivity. Return
  19. Tzeirei—literally means “young people” [from Hebrew tzeir (young)—trans.]. Return
  20. APS, KPPPS, sig. 116. Return
  21. Their exact division and borders are described in Grzegorz Welik, “Akta siedleckiej policji w AP Siedlce jako źródło do dziejów miasta,” in Prace Archiwalno-Konserwatorskie na Terenie Województwa Siedleckiego, issue 10 (1997): 168–169. Return
  22. B. Korzeniewski, „Było, minęło, nie wróci. Wspomnienie mówione,” part 2, in Znak, no. 403 (1988): 38–39; no. 404 (1989): 59. Return
  23. Tygodnik Siedlecki, no. 3 (1988), J. Garbaczawski's letter to the editor. Return
  24. I. Tabakman, „The Activity of Poalei Zion in Siedlce,” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, p. 391. Return
  25. A folk superstition having nothing to do with the religion of Moses, which requires that the deceased be buried as soon as possible, preferably on the same day. Return
  26. Ch. De Gaulle, „Bitwa o Wisłę. Dziennik działań wojennych oficera francuskiego,” in Zeszyty Historyczne, no. 9 (Paris, 1971), p. 15. Return
  27. M. Dauksza, „Siedlczanie w obliczu bolszewickiej inwazji 1920 r.,” in Prace Archiwalno-Konserwatorskie na Terenie Województwa Siedleckiego, issue 10 (1997): 103–134. Return
  28. Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe w Warszawie (CAW), I 440, 12/6–7. Return
  29. W. Witos, Moje wspomnienia (Warsaw, 1990), pt. 2, pp. 115-116. Return
  30. APS, KPPPS, sig. 58, fol. 21. Return
  31. APS, KPPPS, sig. 59, fol. 15. Return


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