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Suwalk History

 

Study of Suwalk Jewry

Shmuel Abramsky

Although considerable material has been accumulated in the present volume as well as in the memorial volume (in Yiddish) published in the United States, the information in our possession is still only partial. The historian will have to refer to documents preserved in Suwalk and sources concealed elsewhere.

Yet, notwithstanding the fragmentary and incomplete nature of the material, it seems to me that several basic characteristics in the history of Jews of Suwalk can be identified.

According to the surviving documents and to the best of our knowledge, Jewish settlement in the area of Suwalk began in the 16th century. We do not know what circumstances brought the Jews at that time to this remote, forgotten and harsh region east of the Baltic Sea. We can suggest reasons for the beginnings of Jewish settlement here – not on the basis of orderly and authentic documents, but by logical-historical analogy.

The unique geographical conditions of this region were a significant factor in its relatively late settlement: thick forests, rivers and lakes, a harsh climate, the lack of proper means of land transportation, etc.

In this specific historical situation, the Jewish community of Suwalk and the surrounding area emerged and grew in the 18th to 20th centuries. The Jews, as usual, engaged here first and foremost in trade, as well as filling those occupations characteristic of the Jewish Diaspora, such as shoemakers and tailors, and perhaps also supplying those crafts needed in agricultural villages: blacksmiths, locksmiths and tinsmiths These “:Jewish” professions seem to have been handed down from generation to generation.

According to the material in our possession, it can be said that relations between Jews and Christians were generally tolerable, from the founding of Suwalk until World War I. There was no continuous tradition of fanatic anti-Semitism. In fact, there were no conflicts of interests between Jews and non-Jews.

It was only in the inter-war period that the Christians began to participate in trade and crafts, but still not to a degree that supplanted the Jews from these occupations. There were no real pogroms in Suwalk or the surrounding area (excepting the 1914 pogrom and the riots of summer 1936), but between the two World wars the hostility of the Christians, and especially of the Poles, towards the Jews increased. In effect, there were no close social (and certainly not friendly) ties between Jews and Poles, or Christians in general, in Suwalk. The non-Jews were, to say the least, not anxious to associate with Jews. Nevertheless, despite periodic provocations, the life of the Jews in Suwalk was generally secure. However, after Hitler came to power and the ensuing close relations between Poland and Germany, the Jews began to sense the growing threat.

In conclusion, it can be said that the anti-Semitism of the Poles in Suwalk – especially among workers, artisans, clerks and merchants – was largely economic in origin: emerging not necessarily because of their own economic straits, but primarily out of jealousy for the successful Jews.

In attempting to define the Jews of Suwalk as belonging to Polish, Lithuanian or German Jewry, we soon come to the conclusion that this was a Jewish community with a unique character. This character cannot, of course be defined precisely, as one city or region cannot be sharply differentiated from another in terms of unique characteristics of the population.

The decisive fact is that the Jewish community in Suwalk, unlike other communities in the area, was established and consolidated in the early 19th century. Hence, many of the spiritual-social processes which affected Pol-

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ish Jewry, and East European Jewry in general, in the 18th and early 19th centuries passed it by: specifically, Hassidism, the struggle between Mitnagdim and Hassidim, the Haskalah (enlightment), and the tension between the enlightened and the traditional Jews.

Thus the Jewish community of Suwalk acquired a special character. To be precise: not a particular type of Jew, but a typical local character, created against a specific historical background.

Suwalk Jews were on the whole traditional, and to a large extent even religious. There were undoubtedly also some who could be defined as ultra-religious. However, even the latter did not oppose secular learning – Hebrew and general education – and did not condemn the behavior of the enlightened Jews, with their religiosity confined to their own strict personal observance of the religious commandments.

This special character affected not only the special prayer forms of the Jews of Suwalk, which are described elsewhere in this volume, but also the atmosphere prevailing in the town, the special Sabbath and holiday atmosphere, the form and content of the Jewish educational institutions from the Talmud Torah through the Hebrew high school, and even the political consciousness of the youth.

It was only natural that the Jews of this town, whose roots lay largely in the German Jewry west of the city, was strongly attracted to Western culture. We can assume that the waves of emigration of Suwalk Jews were prompted not only by socio-economic motives, such as the desire to improve their economic situation or to evade recruitment into the Russian or Polish army. Many of the youth simply felt hemmed in in this provincial frontier town on the German border, modern and cultured though it was and imbued with authentic Jewish charm. When these Suwalk emigrants arrived in the various lands of immigration, they made an active and important contribution to the development of many spheres of activity in their new homes. There were even some who achieved positions of leadership, especially in Israel.

Jewish Suwalk was unalterably obliterated. It is our hope that the next generation of the Suwalk diaspora will take an interest in recalling the history of their forebears in this Polish town. For this was not a narrow ad backward ghetto, but a culturally enlightened and religiously traditional community. A community that should fill the hearts of all those who were born there or stem from there, with deserved pride.


100 Years of the Suwalk Jewish Community

by Berl Kahan

How old is Suwalk?

The territory now known as Suwalk Province comprises about 11,005 square kilometers. In the northeastern corner of modern Poland, its traditional borders included East Prussia to the west and, to the north, east and south, the rivers Niemen and Bobre, alongside the provinces of Kovno, Vilna and Grodno. It was almost entirely a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until 1386, when it became part of Poland. Its border location between Prussia, Lithuania and Poland made it the site of continual warfare, impoverishing the population and leaving the area rather desolate by the 14th century.

The source of the name “Suwalk” is uncertain. The whole territory, much larger than modern Suwalk Province, was called “Sudauen”, “Southern Fields”, by the Germans. The old Polish name for it, “Kraj Zapuszczanski”. “Trakt Zapuszczaski,” means “the territory behind the virgin forest”. The name may also derive from the Lithuanian phrase “Sussi Vilki”, which means “vicious wolves,” after the fauna of the deep forests in the region. Lithuanians who immigrated to the area to escape the impact of the constant wars, made up much of the population when the warfare finally ceased in the 15th century. It was a good refuge from the warring, with its deep forests, lakes and swamplands.

In 1667 King Jan Casimir of Poland gave the region to the Catholic order of the Camaldulians, who built their

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monastery on the peninsula of Lake Wigry, one of the deepest lakes in Poland. For many years, the Camaldulians maintained the vital records of the local population. The town developed gradually: in 1667, about 150 years after the settlement was established. Suwalk was not more than a big village. The first church was not erected until 1710. In 1715, the Camaludian Order freed the Suwalk peasants from serfdom, and assigned 300 lots to build a town. In 1720, King Sigismund II granted Suwalk the governing rights of a municipality. In 1797, Suwalk had 214 houses and almost 1200 people.

In 1795, at the last partition of Poland, Prussia acquired the Suwalk region. In 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had defeated Prussia in his wars of European conquest, ordered its incorporation into the Duchy of Warsaw. After Napoleon's final defeat, the Congress of Vienna made the Warsaw Dukedom part of Poland, and Suwalk was absorbed into the Russian Empire.

Until 1866, the Suwalk and Lomzhe regions were administratively part of Augustowe Province. On 19 December 1866, when the kingdom of Poland was newly divided into ten provinces, Suwalk Province (Gubernia) was created.

People of many national backgrounds lived in the Suwalk region: Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, Poles, Tartars, Germans and others. The Jews lived in towns throughout the province Suwalk was the most important and biggest town in the area, and it was practically the capital even when it was part of Augustowe Province.

From the second half of the 19th century, Suwalk grew at a faster pace, due mainly to construction of a highway between Suwalk and Minsk, and construction of the Augustowe Canal nearby. Before the railroad from Warsaw to Petersburg was built, Suwalk was right in the middle of the highway from Petersburg to Warsaw, and it was a stopping place for traveling nobility of Russia and Poland. In later years the residence of the Governor became a special house for the royal travelers. Census figures from this time document the increase pace of growth: 1856 – 10,182; 1862 – 11,944; 1865 – 16,533; 1882 – 18,040; 193 – 19,116; 1897 – 22,000; 1905 – almost 23,000.

Most of the small towns in the vicinity predate the establishment and growth of Suwalk itself. The first was Baklerowe. By 1558, it had become a town, and by 1797, there were 405 residents in 67 houses. Next came Filipowe, originally founded in the 16th century. It received a grant of municipal governance in 1570. Although great fires almost destroyed the town in 1858, in 1897 there were 7952 residents in 120 houses,

The town of Ratzk received permission to buy the land in 1507. In 1748, it belonged to the Baron Mikhail Patz. In 1797, its population was 800 people in 165 houses.

Wizhan, built at the end of the 16th century had 205 houses and 950 residents by 1797. In 1827, the residents numbered 1,347; in 1878 there were 2,276. Psheroshle was still just a village in 1558. In 1576, King Stefan Batory granted Psheroshle municipal rights. In 1797, there lived in Psheroshle 1160 people in 230 houses. Punsk had a church in 1597; by 1797 there were 600 residents in 59 houses.

Krasnopole developed into a town around the middle of the 18th century. By 1797, there were 105 houses and 533 residents. In 18027, there lived 1,414 residents in 230 houses. Between 1880 and 1885, there were 2,246 residents in 189 houses. Yelinewe, the youngest of the towns around Suwalk, had 346 people in 69 houses in 1797.

The earliest record of Seini dates from 1522. Archives indicate that Seini had obtained municipal rights by at least 1593. It had about two hundred stone houses, two printing presses, and the great castle of Prince Vishnevetzky, to whom the town belonged at that time. Seini was almost destroyed during the Swedish war, but was soon rebuilt. In 1778, there were several public schools and also an institution of higher learning. In 1808, the Lycee of Lomshe moved to Seini. In 1835, Seini had a high school of seven classes and a public school. In1797, Seini's population of 516 lived in 96 houses. After a period of rapid growth early in the 19th century, the population was stable for many years: 1828 – 3,514; 18.38 – 3,245; 1848 – 3,902; 1856 – 3,274. Seini was an important center, but after construction of the highway from Kovno to Warsaw, and the railroad from Petersburg to Warsaw, the town went into a steady decline. In 1910, only 3,348 people lived in Seini, fewer than had lived there a hundred years before.

 

The Jewish Settlement in Suwalk Up to the Year 1905

The exact age of the Jewish settlement in Suwalk is not known. In 1715, when the Camaldulian Order meted out a parcel of land to build the town which became Suwalk, they designated a certain street for Jewish residents, but the surviving records show no sign of Jewish life in Suwalk for almost 100 years after that time, unlike the small towns surrounding it. It is possible that the designation of a separate area in Suwalk was an invitation for Jews from outside to come there to establish commerce in the city, as Jewish residents had done in other towns. But the Jews

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apparently did not accept this invitation, actually it seems that they lived there for a short time but were later expelled. As far as the records show, however, even by 1800 Suwalk had no Jewish residents; the contemporary German historian Holsche wrote that at the beginning of the 19th century Suwalk was “free of Jews.” This would be consistent with historical accounts showing that Jews were generally forbidden to live in larger towns in Poland at that time. This was changed by the Napoleonic conquest, and the Polish historian Waszutynski writes that in 1808 forty–four Jews lived in Suwalk. (There is a little mystery created by the Polish historian Korzon, who wrote that at the end of the 18th century Suwalk had three factories for the manufacture of tallisim (prayer shawls), since we cannot assume that upon first arrival the Jews began to manufacture tallisim there. It is even less reasonable to assume that Jews would establish a factory for that purpose in a city without a Jewish community.

Whichever date is chose, it seems clear that Suwalk, the largest and most important city in the territory, was the youngest of all the surrounding towns in terms of its Jewish history.

The small town of Wizhan, situated 28 miles from Suwalk, also had a Jewish settlement about 300 years earlier. In 1723, Moses Jefremowicz, a representative of the Jewish community of Grodno, while visiting Wizhan saw a charter of rights from King Jan III, dated February 3, 1676, which was an affirmation of privileges which the Jews of Wizhan had received from King Michael in 1670.

One of the oldest Jewish communities near Suwalk was Baklerowe. An old Jewish cemetery in the town had monuments dating back to the late 17th century.

Jews lived in Filipowe from the beginning of the 18th century. About 1730, there was a major controversy between the Jews of Filipowe and the other inhabitants, who demanded that the rights of Jews to live there be revoked. The Polish government sent a special representative to investigate their complaints; the investigation ended in 1741, and the local Jews were permitted to live in Filipowe, but with three limitations: they were not allowed to build new houses of worship; they could not buy any new land; and Gentiles were to be given first priority in purchasing goods in the town market.

In 1768 the Dominican Order in Seini, desiring to stimulate commercial activity there, helped the local Jews to build a house of worship to draw Jews to the town, but monuments in the Jewish cemetery indicate that Jews had lived in Seini before then.

The Jewish community in Ratzk dates to the late 18th century, when there is a record that Rabbi Gershon presided in the local shul.

Most of the towns surrounding Suwalk fell within a border area in which outside Jews were forbidden to settle. Almost immediately after the area of Great Suwalk fell under Prussian rule with the Polish Partition of 1795, the government started to “make order” on the Polish Question. On April 17, 1797, a special Regulation governing the Jews was published. It was in effect for a very short time (due to the conquest by Napoleon and eventual assignment of this region to Russia under the Treaty of 1815) and seems never to have been fully enforced. Nevertheless, its provisions are of historical interest, showing the attitudes of the Gentile government toward Jews at that time.

According to the Regulation, all Jews who were temporary residents were to be expelled from the area. Every Jew aged ten or older had to carry identification documents; the penalty for not having the paper was very severe. Jews had to adopt family names (surnames). Jews were forbidden to marry before age 25 and could not marry other Jews who were not permanent residents of the area. Jews had to have a fixed residence, and were restricted to living in the cities. Jews in the villages remained there only temporarily, with many conditions attached. The number of Jewish merchants in the cities was reduced. A Jewish merchant discovered for the third time lacking a permit would be expelled from his residence, could not take up any other business or means of livelihood, and was not allowed to peddle merchandise in the villages. The number of schools was limited, and teachers were required to speak in German or Polish.

While the Jewish communities in the smaller towns surrounding Suwalk had stagnated and in some cases lost population during the 19th century, the opposite happened to Suwalk, where the community quickly grew to become dominant in both population and influence. The growing influence of Suwalk is exemplified by the fact that already in 1809, when the community consisted only of a few minyanim of Jews, they sent a representative to a Jewish Assembly in Warsaw, convened to appeal to the government for a reduction in the ritual slaughter tax imposed upon Jewish communities by order of the Finance Minister.

The Jewish community in Suwalk grew, although from 1823 to 1862 there were restrictions on the presence of Jews in many parts of the city. In 1827, the community numbered 1,209; in 1856, 6,407; in 1857, 6,587; and in 1862, 7.165. There is some debate about the accuracy of

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these figures, which are based on official census records.

Dr. Friedman hypothesizes that some of this growth resulted from the great business in smuggling human refugees that went on there, due to the close proximity of the East Prussian–German border, just 26 miles away. Leshcinski, on the other hand, thinks that the local Jewish population grew thanks to immigration from Lithuania and White Russia inspired by institution of the Czarist military draft in 1827. (Poland did not institute a military service requirement for Jews until 1843.)

During the period 1845–1865, Jewish settlement in Augustowe Province grew about 41% (although the proportionate growth in Suwalk was not so great), but from 1865, the growth of the Jewish community in Suwalk practically stopped. The Polish uprising, the famine years of 1868–69, and steady, growing Jewish immigration away from that area all contributed to the stagnation. During the Polish Uprising, the Jews suffered, as always, at the hands of both sides: the Cossacks, who suppressed them, and the Revolutionaries, who demanded money from the Jewish communities. In 1863, the Jewish leaders in Suwalk reluctantly imposed a contribution tax of 6,000 rubles which had been demanded by the revolutionary forces; when the government discovered this, the community leaders were arrested and detained for a considerable period of time.

This period of turmoil stifled the community's growth for thirty years; the census figures from 1862 to 1897 show virtually no growth and perhaps a small decline. Proportionately, the ratio of Jewish to Gentile inhabitants of Suwalk fell during those years. In 1893, there were 7,483 Jews, out of a population of 19,116, roughly 31%, where 31 years earlier Jews made up 63%. From the 1890's through the first decade of the 20th century, there was a new increase in the Jewish population, and by 1908, the census takers counted 13,002 Jews.

 

The Economic Situation

There is still no easy access to the surviving records documenting the economic life of the Jews residing in Suwalk and the vicinity at the beginning of the 19th century, but we can surmise much from newspapers and books of the period. The town was not economically developed, the opportunities for material advances for the Jews were few, and we can assume that they were not particularly well off.

If the situation around 1800 was poor, it was even worse in the 1830's. Confusion and uncertainty, generated by the first Polish Uprising (1830–31), badly shook the fragile economy of the town. Historian E.N. Frank writes that the situation of Suwalk area Jews at that time was extremely bad: they were subject to many oppressive government decrees and expulsions, as well as the pressures of a warlike situation.

Several natural disasters during that period had also a negative impact on the economic situation of Suwalker Jews. In 1847, there was a terrible famine. In 1853, there was a great cholera epidemic, and many Jews in the area died. Rabbi Moshe Aaron, then the rabbi in Ratsk, wrote in his memoirs about the fearful situation that befell Jews in Suwalk, Seini and Ratsk when the epidemic broke out, and how many people, men and women, were its victims.

When one speaks of the 20th century Suwalk remembered by survivors from World War II, one speaks of tanners and brush makers, forgetting that over a hundred years before, the social structure of the Jewish community was to a much greater extent employed in crafts and trades. Adding the surprisingly large number engaged in agriculture, the economic structure of the Jewish community in Suwalk and vicinity is unique among Jewish communities of that time and part of the world.

The structure changed over time, however. By the middle of the 19th century, we come across names of Jewish merchants already assuming importance in the local economy. In an Augustowe Governor's Report of 1865, we read that the Jews played a dominant role in foreign commerce, and that imports valued at 38.5 million rubles and exports valued at 21.5 million rubles had passed through Suwalk warehouses (mostly Jewish–owned and operated) during that year.

In 1867, there were 12 Jewish–owned factories in the Suwalk area, employing 54 Jewish workers. The completion of a highway cutting through Suwalk which linked Warsaw to Petersburg, the completion of a huge railroad line between those two main cities of the Russian Empire, and the completion of the Augustowe Canal which linked the Baltic Sea to some of the main rivers of Poland, greatly enhanced Suwalk's commercial life and the material wealth of its Jewish merchant community.

As Suwalk grew to be an important commercial center and travel through the city increased, the hotel business became important, and several hotels in Suwalk were owned by Jewish entrepreneurs. Their progress can be sketched from advertisements in Ha–Maggid, a local newspaper. In 1858, there was an advertisement (printed in German, Hebrew and Yiddish) by Moshe Epstein, pro–

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prietor of the Hotel Krakowski, extolling his superb accommodations (ten rooms, nice furniture and beds, kosher meals) to the merchants of Poland and Russia who might pass through Suwalk on their business, and guaranteeing their comfort and satisfaction. Certainly, this hotel was well established prior to the appearance of the ad. A few years later, we find a similar advertisement for the Hotel Ukrainski, Yosel Zeigermacher, Proprietor. That hotel, which was already in operation in 1861, advertised in Ha–Maggid in 1876 an expansion and enlargement (and included the unlikely claim that the hotel was then in its eightieth year of operation).

From all surviving records, the period from the mid–1850's until the late 1860's was a time of economic growth and prosperity for many Suwalk Jews, as well as a time of significant population growth. If not for the prior years of famine and epidemic, the growth of the population would have been much greater. A letter from Moshe Meyer Kahane in the newspaper Ha–Melitz in 1863 described the Jewish community in Suwalk as being “blessed with treasures and richness.”

Jews in Suwalk were becoming more involved in commercial activities and incipient domestic industries. In 1861, Yitchak P:eltin and his brother–in–law Israel Epstein announced in Ha–Maggid that they opened in Suwalk a factory to produce lace, rope, suspenders and similar goods. The newspaper Karmel in 1865, announces the opening of “

a new factory in Suwalk to produce all kinds of straw hats”.

A new great famine which fell upon the west Russian provinces in 1868–69 halted the growth and economic progress in Suwalk. Hunger brought many diseases, and some people simply fell in the streets. Even when the famine subsided, the underlying damage to the city's economy persisted, as evidenced by an 1870 letter from a Suwalker bemoaning the continued hard times in the city.

During the second half of the 19th century, many Jews in the surrounding towns near the Prussian border earned their livelihood smuggling merchandise and Jews to East Prussia at considerable profit. It bears explaining that for much of that time, the smuggling of Jews over the border was truly a mitzvah, since these Jews were frequently fleeing from oppressive decrees and persecutions in Russia. In this manner, many Jews escaped from poverty, idleness, and compulsory service for 25 years in the Russian army.

There was also ongoing smuggling of contraband literature, which Russian emigre revolutionary groups sent back into Russia. Jews had no small part in this activity, in part from idealistic motives.

In 1843, there was a government ukase that “all Jews who live in the radius of 50 miles from the Prussia/Austrian border must quickly leave their homes and move deeper into Russia.” Jews naturally did not remain passive, and sought ways to avert the edict. On the border of Prussia, the first to fight against it were the Jewish communities in the Suwalk area.

Although the edict was never practically enforced, the gradually sharper efforts of the government against border smuggling were generally successful, and from then on this means of livelihood was of less importance to Suwalk area Jews.

An important new rail line between Petersburg and Warsaw, passing through Suwalk was completed in 1899, but bypassed many of these small towns, thus depriving them of the commercial traffic which had previously passed through their streets. The result was a sharp halt to their economic growth.

Suwalk, on the other hand, raised itself by its boot–straps. The Jewish community quickly stood up on their own feet and recovered well, even with a little bit of affluence. Indeed, Suwalkers were prosperous enough to raise significant funds to assist emigration to Palestine. One of the first propagators to this end was the famous “Lover of Zion” (Member of the “Lovers of Zion” – “Hovevey Zion” movement) E.M. Altshuler, and the first Suwalk citizens who actually bought land in Palestine and emigrated there, were Y.D. Butkovsky and E. Goldenberg.

By that time, famous Suwalk merchants like the Rosenthals and Lipskys were conducting business through a wide area in Russia and Poland. As an example of the broadening reach of Suwalk commerce, we find in a Jewish publication of the time an advertisement from the principal musical instrument store of E. M. Kaminetsky in Suwalk, announcing the establishment in 1899 of branches in such cities as Warsaw, Odessa, Lodz, Bialystock, Rovno, etc.

Another element affecting economic development in that part of the world was fire, colloquially known as “The Red Rooster.” Not a summer passed during which there were not large or even tremendous fires, when whole towns were wiped off the face of the earth. At that time, the system of fire insurance was unknown in Eastern Europe, and it was not unusual for prosperous Jewish families to be ruined overnight by fires.

Emigration overseas, which grew rapidly in the 1880's made a very important impression on the economic development of Suwalk and the area. Correspondence in Hebrew newspapers during those years frequently men–

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tions poverty attributable to the outflow of residents.

However, Suwalk remained somewhat better off in this regard than Jewish settlements in some of the other Polish provinces during the 1890's. The best measure of Jewish poverty is the number of Jews who needed charity. Available statistics for the years 1894 and 1898 from all Russian–governed provinces show that Suwalk Province had the smallest number of charity cases.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, agriculture was an important part of the economy of the Suwalk Province, and the unique role of Suwalk area Jews in agriculture will be commented upon in the next section.

Jews also played a significant role in milling, tanning, distilling and brewing. But the main economic role of the Jews was in trade and commerce, especially small business. The most important export product was wood, transported on the Augustowe Canal, and this business was entirely in Jewish hands. In addition, a small factory industry in which Jews played a pioneering role began to develop in Suwalk Province during the first decade of the 20th century. Jews also were pioneers in introducing the automobile to this area, the first auto dealer being M. Weisberg of Suwalk. Indeed, it would no be an exaggeration to state that the Jews of Suwalk constituted the vital pulse of the region's economic life.

 

Jewish Agriculturists

One of the distinguishing features of Suwalker Province's Jews (compared to their brethren in other Jewish communities in Russia and Poland) is the large percentage who drew their livelihood from the soil. According to E.N. Frank, the only province in Poland which exceeded Suwalker in this respect was Plotsk. Frank states that 19.7% of the Jews in the Augustowe Province in 1843 (mainly Suwalker) lived in farming villages. If one adds the Jews who lived in the small towns and in Suwalk proper and drew their livelihood (all or part) from the soil, the percentage would be even higher. A table compiled by Leshchinsky shows that almost 30% of Suwalker Jews lived in villages.

Another Jewish historian, Prof. Brutzkus, wrote that the largest percentage of Jewish landowners are found in the province of Suwalk. As early as the 1840's, Jews made up the entire population of some farming villages in the region, and maintained houses for Torah study in these villages.

Thus, Jews in the Suwalker area occupied themselves with agriculture and already had established Jewish farming villages prior to the reign of Prince Paskevich, the Russian plenipotentiary in Poland who devised his own plan to attract Jews to agricultural work. In his article called “To the History of Jewish Colonization in Royal Poland,” Dr. Schatzky states that late in 1841, Prince Paskevich told a Jewish delegation about his plan of agricultural settlement of the Jews (who were then largely resident in towns and cities). In February 1843 he created a committee which was instructed to work on a project to settle Jews on the soil. There was also a series of conferences of representatives of the Jewish communities in Poland to create a great fund in support of this project.

In later years, when Jews in Suwalk Province had embraced commerce as their main livelihood, there still were many Jewish landowners. Census figures show that in 1854, the area around Seini had 44 Jewish landowners, who together with their families and employees numbered almost 300 people. These numbers gradually increased over the next decade, and by 1865 there were 196 landowners in the area comprising an agricultural community of over 1200 persons.

In 1881, Menachem Mendel Bramson bought one of the largest estates in the province for 150,000 rubles, and enormous sum for that time. The estate, known as Lasewitz, was under Jewish ownership many decades prior to Bramson's purchase, and it employed a resident teacher for their children. Menachem Mendel Bramson, the estate owner, was an author of books published in Warsaw, and he is one of the few, and maybe the only one among Jewish authors in the last century, who identifies himself in the preface to his works as a villager.

1897 census figures showed Jewish landowners in the province of Suwalk occupying 33,000 hectares of land either outright or as tenants. However, we have to take into consideration that not a few Jews were afraid to state at the time of that census the means of the occupation as landowner. “In the area of Suwalk there was a large group of Jewish landowners which had in its hand tens of thousands of hectares of land: the Franks, the Zimans, the Frieds, the Adels, and other families.” “In the beginning of this century,” wrote a Hebrew author, “in the Suwalker Province, there live Jewish peasants in the villages and they themselves till the earth and from the products of their fields they bring in their own bread.”

 

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The Emigration from Suwalk

Decades before the onset of major Jewish overseas emigration from Eastern Europe, Suwalk area Jews were already heading away in all directions, although this emigration did not necessarily have the massive character of later years. Suwalk Jews were among the first from Eastern Europe to set foot on American soil, and of course were well represented among the earliest participants in the mass immigration later in the 19th century.

The closeness of the Prussian border was one of the main factors of this phenomenon. Jews from Suwalk first came to the United States in the 1840's with the first groups of Polish immigrants. The great famine of 1847 probably stimulated the desire to emigrate, and thus a certain number of Suwalk Jews left for North America and other places. Early American Jewish archives contain evidence of their presence in America. Among founders of the Jewish kehillah of Russian-Polish Jews in New York in 1852 there were Jews from Ratsk and Filipowe. Nachman Baer Etlson, born in Suwalk, was already established in Chicago by 1851. Where he published articles in the American-Hebrew newspapers.

By the end of the 1950's, Reuben Isaacs, a Suwalker, played a large role in export and import in California. In 1871, Rabbi M. J. Ish Litai from Lithuania issued a call to establish “separate schools for Jewish children” to avert the tragedy of the new generation in New York growing up without Jewish culture, and many of those responding as initiators of the day school movement were Jews from the Suwalk area, including Rabbi Shmuel Hillel Isaacs from Ratzk, Rabbi Shlomo-Zalman Lianes, the head of the “Israeli People of Ratsk,” and Rabbi Moshe-Lipa Abrahams, head of the Chevra Observers of Sabbath and Sons of Suwalk.

In the famine years of 1868-69, emigration from Suwalk to the United States increased greatly, and the Suwalk presence in New York grew to such an extent that they found it possible to support their own Beth Midrash. In 18570 there was founded the first Suwalker synagogue in America by the name of Mishkan Israel Le-Ashey Suwak at 5 East Broadway.

The Suwalker “Lover of Zion”, E.M. Alshuler, writes in a letter of December 15, 1881, from Suwalk to I.D. Leventin in the United States, among other things: “The emigration to the United States, has grown perceptibly in the last decades. There is no family in our area which does not have a brother, an uncle or a friend in America who have made great progress and growth there.” In 1885, Samuel Yehuda Markson from Suwalk wrote about a great Jewish exodus from the city. In 1886, an anonymous correspondent from Suwalk reported in the newspaper that every week Jews were leaving the city and this stream of emigration kept up for a long while. In 1892 there was seldom a week when twenty to thirty Jewish families were not leaving Suwalk and the surrounding areas and emigrating to the U.S. There was such a rush to leave that the prices of houses in Suwalk were very depressed.

The writer J.S. Weiss tells us that there is no big city in America or Africa, where you couldn't find Jews from Suwalk.

America was not the sole destination of immigration from Suwalk in the mid-19th century. Suwalk's border location meant frequent trips to other European areas for business, weddings, and other purposes, which stimulated emigration. Also, Suwalk area Jews travelling overseas frequently had to wait in European port cities to arrange their transportation and some remained in those cities, forming immigration societies to assist the Suwalkers who were passing through.

Small groups of Jews from the Suwalk area also moved southward, establishing themselves in Moldavia, Walachia, and Hungary. As with the American experience, the presence of these settlers can be traced through contemporary newspaper announcements seeking to locate missing relatives in various areas of the Slavic provinces.

A considerable center of Suwalker landsleit was in Warsaw. On the 1870's, the then-famous teacher and writer J.L. Paradistal, who was an inhabitant of Suwalk for many years, was actively pursuing literary work in Warsaw. The noted Warsaw intellectual and writer, J. Siebenberg, was probably an inhabitant of Suwalk for many years. At the end of the 1950's, Abele Markson, a well-known Suwalker printer and publisher, was already active in Warsaw. The Rosenthals of Suwalk, who were spread out over many cities in Russia and Poland, also had “representatives” in Warsaw.

Evidence of Suwalkers in other European cities is plentiful: in Odessa, Lodz, Petersburg, Berlin, Riga, Latvia.

A colony of Jewish immigrants from Suwalk and the surrounding area existed in Hamburg beginning in the 1870's. As Hamburg was a major point of debarkation for America, this colony probably derived from emigrants who had decided to stay in Europe.

Before this time, there already existed in Paris a colony of Suwalker emigres. Leon Hollandersky, who had a large family in Suwalk, lived in Paris by 1843. Hollander-

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sky was an active leader of the Polish Revolutionaries in the Suwalk area in 1831.

The first association of Jews in the French capital in 1856 was created by Suwalker (The Mutual Aid Society of Polish Jews Under Rabbinic Law), and had its own synagogue, “The Little Suwalker Synagogue.”

In the 1850's the Suwalker family Nowoshelsky arrived in Paris. Abram Nowoshelsky was the secretary of the first Jewish Furriers Union which was organized in Paris in 1879. Among the leaders of the French labor movement was Jan Javerkovsky, whose family came there in 1868. Among the founders of the Jewish Labor Syndicate in Paris in 1896 were Jacob Matulsky, born in Suwalk in 1859, who married a Suwalk woman Leah Goldman, and Isaac Shumsky, also born in Suwalk.

There was a colony of emigrants from Suwalk and vicinity in the decade 1830-1840 in England, and by 1872, the Suwalker in England were a prominent emigre presence and were sending considerable monetary assistance back to Suwalk.

In 1884 Jews from Suwalk already had their own synagogue in London. Moshe-Haim Haimson from Suwalk was the head of the Rabbinic Court of London during the 1890's. In 1894, there already existed in London the association “Suwalkers Circle of Justice,” a charitable organization, with their own permanent preacher. In 1896, they celebrated the dedication of their new synagogue and marked the occasion with the publication of a short book of songs in Hebrew and English. In the 1890's the Suwalker even published a Jewish newspaper in London.

The recruitment for service in the Russian army appeared to be a main stimulus for immigration. This created considerable problems for the Jewish leaders.

 

Education and the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment (“Haskalah”), the spiritual force which sought “the beauty of Japhet in the tents of Shem,” began relatively early to affect Suwalk area Jews. Its towns boasted enlightened people (“Maskilim”) at a time when such persons were rare in the Pales of Settlement. They played an important role in communal life, and by the 1850', the enlightenment had already taken on certain organizational forms.

As evidence of the enlightened approach of the Jewish communities in this area, one has only to look at the rabbis selected for them. All, almost without exception, were far from the type which enlightened people of those times referred to as “dark ones,” and this could be said of those from the surrounding communities as well as from the city itself. When Suwalk or the surrounding towns were searching for a new rabbi, the elders of the community first tried to determine whether a prospective rabbi understood “the spirit of the times.” The degree of influence the Suwalk area rabbis wielded with the educated Jews class is a good indicator of their openness to modern culture.

Dr. Nahum Sloushchm a famous Hebrew historian commented in his account of the Jews of the Suwalk area that although they were on the whole religious, there was no “fanatical religiosity” of the type that characterized many areas in the Pale. The main reason cited for this phenomenon was the border character of that area: because of the proximity of the Prussian border, enlightened disciples of the German Enlightenment scholar Moses Mendelssohn had spread themselves to Suwalk Province. J.S. Weiss, of Suwalk descent, relates that the Suwalk Jews were very strongly influenced by Mendelssohn's writing. Also, many Suwalker involved in commercial activity visited other towns in the Pale and outside, and for many of them exposure to newer thinking made a lasting impression.

By 1860's, wealthy Suwalk Jews were employing in their homes teachers from Germany who taught the Bible in German translation. Even earlier, in the first decades of the 19th century, there were correspondents for Jewish German periodicals in Suwalk. In the middle of the 1840's, a young man from Suwalk, Moshe Rubowitz, emigrated to Marseilles to study painting. In 1861, Asher Margolis from Psheroshli, in partnership with Reb Berkman from Wilkowisk, printed Moses Mendelssohn's book “Phaedon”.

From an early time, the Jewish community in Suwalk showed great concern for the education of Jewish youth. In 1862, Rabbi Yehuda Leb Paradistal founded the Suwalk School for the Children of Jeshurun, where the curriculum included study in grammar, Polish, and German as well as the traditional Hebrew and Talmud studies. The records show that wealthy merchants (the Erdreichs and the Rosenthals) were among those who gave financial support to this school. Moshe Meyer Kahane, a newspaper correspondent, wrote that along with the Chumash and Rashi the curriculum of Paradistal's school included studies in mathematics and history. He reported that the local rabbi of Suwalk, the well-regarded Shmuel Mohilever, visited the school to examine the students and had great praise for Paradistal and his work.

At the end of 1867, Aaron Shmuel Lieberman, later the famous editor of the first Jewish socialist Hebrew newspa-

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per, Hol-Emes (The Truth), arrived in Suwalk. Lieberman was appointed on March 15, 1868, to be the “second teacher” in the local Russian-Jewish government school.

In 1867, a Russian private school was started in Suwalk by Shlomo Seligman, with Russian as the official language. Seligman became a rabbinical employee for the Imperial government in 1894, acquiring the duties of Crown inspector of all Jewish schools and heders of the town of Suwalk.

In 1869, Zev Doniger Ha-Cohen, who later played a very important role in education in Suwalk, founded another private school. The school was Hebrew, but with parallel Russian language studies. The school existed for about 25 years.

Suwalk was also unusual in the provisions made for formal education of Jewish girls. About a year after the founding of a boys' school in Suwalk, a Jewish girl, Miriam Bat-Shimen Verzhbolovsky, agitated for the establishment of a school for girls, but such a school was only established in 1886. Even then, this was most unusual in the towns of the Pale. In addition, there was another small school in Suwalk, over which a woman principal presided, where instruction was conducted in Hebrew, Polish and German.

J.S. Weiss wrote that throughout Suwalk Province Jewish girls studied Torah and Hebrew; he also wrote that this tradition of education for Jewish women continued in America among the immigrants from Suwalk. Avrom-Eli (Abraham-Elija) Sandler, a teacher from Verzhbolove, mentioned in a series of articles that only in the Lomzhe and Suwalk Provinces were there many Jewish schools for girls. Some of these schools had coeducational programs for boys and girls. There were also several Jewish girls who attended the government high school in the beginning of the 1860s.

In 1893, a group of Suwalk “Lovers of Zion” brought Shmuel Leib Citron, a distinguished Hebrew literary figure, from Augustove to start a new Hebrew school, which existed until 1897.

The oldest and most important educational institution in Suwalk was the Talmud Torah (named “Ohel Yithak” – “Tent of Isaac”), founded in 1851 by the then-Suwalker rabbi, Yitz'hak Isaac Chaver. The Talmud Torah and yeshiva was the longest existing institution in Suwalk, continuing in operation until it was destroyed in 1939.

Rabbi Zebulon Leib Barit, the rabbi of Filipowe, noted in 1872 that there was eight teachers, including several known as enlightenment disciples as well as being learned in Talmud. He also reported that the Talmud Torah offered instruction in grammar and foreign languages in 1872. In fact, the Suwalk Talmud Torah provided such instruction even before it was required by government decree.

Among other major Jewish educational institutions in the Province was the Hebrew School in Seini, founded and led by the well-known enlightenment writer Tovyah Pinhas Shapiro. The curriculum of the school included Tanach, Gemara, Hebrew, Russian, arithmetic and Russian geography among its many subjects. Shapiro's school, which was prominently supported by the enlightenment movement in Seini, came upon many difficulties and did not last for a long time.

A clear indication of the “worldliness” of Jews of Suwalk and the vicinity is the attendance of young Jewish boys and girls at the government high schools. Even in the 1870's there are records that Jewish young men and women were leaving to study in the universities of Russia and foreign countries. In 1867 we find a significant number of Jewish children in the Crown Gymnasium of Suwalk, which was unusual for that time.

In the middle of the 1880's, the number of Jewish students at the Suwalker Russian High School who were making extra money tutoring their Christian schoolmates was so large that the principal conducted a special survey of the Jewish students, to learn which of them gave paid lessons to the non-Jewish students. The aim of that survey was to ban such fraternization and help.

In 1887, seven Jewish students graduated from the Russian High School in Suwalk, and four of them were accepted to attend Warsaw University.

With such a large number of enlightened persons in Suwalk, the demand for modern Hebrew books was great. The first known permit to open a Jewish library was issued in 1867.

In 1891, about seventy literary enthusiasts in Suwalk started an organization called “Clear Language” with the aim of propagating understanding and use of the Hebrew language. It created its own library that year, supported by a generous donation from the wealthy Mr. Markson. They carried on an active work: every member had to speak with other members in Hebrew. Every Saturday night they used to gather in a synagogue to hear Hebrew lectures or transact other business in Hebrew. In the same year, they staged a drama in five acts. “Return to Zion”, by M.L. Lilienblum, which was translated into Hebrew from the original Russian by the local teacher Zev Doniger. In that show also participated the just-created orchestra.

Another project of the Suwalk educated class was the

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Establishment of adult education classes for the long cold winter evenings. In 1899, for example, there were classes in Russian and mathematics, taught by Wisheiski, Alexandrovicz and Meydad.

 

The movement “Hibbath Zion” (“Love of Zion”)

It is no exaggeration to state that in Suwalk were among the first in Eastern Europe to take upon themselves the goal of settling in Israel. Abraham Eliahu Sandler wrote in Ha-Melitz, the Jewish newspaper, that “many saw in the Suwalk Society for purchasing land in Palestine a solid foundation on which our entire national home can be built.” And David Gordon, editor of Ha-Maggid, wrote to the Suwalkers Altshuler and Briman: “You are the first of all the dispersed Jews who come not to ask charity for Eretz Yisrael, but rather to go yourself and realize the idea.” A leading researcher of the Hibbat Zion movement, A. Druyanow, writes that the Suwalk “Yissud Hama'ala” Society was among the first created for the purpose of settling Eretz Yisrael, and Yitzchak Brides n his account conference, numbers Suwalk among the first seven Hibbath Zion communities.

But Suwalk Jews were already in Israel much earlier, possibly in the late 1840's. By 1856, there was in Jerusalem a Suwalk (and Lomzha) Centre (“Kotel”) which maintained an active Chevra Kadisha, and which was incorporated by 1866 in the general committee of “Halukka” (distribution of donations). From inscriptions on cemetery monuments in old Jerusalem collected by Asher Leib Brisk, we see evidence that there were Suwalker living there in the 1860's and 1870's.

By 1881, Suwalkers had formed their first important Zionist organization: Yissud Hama'ala. The principal founder and intellectual leader of the group was Eliezer Mordechai Altschuler, and his leading assistants in that work were Zev Kahn Doniger, Yitchak Dov Briman and Joshua Ze'ev Briman. The aim of Yissud Hama'ala was to organize Aliyah for interested Suwalkers. That aim quickly took a very concrete form, as Altschuler and his helpers organized a group of thirty distinguished businessmen, each of whom pledged to pay at least 30 rubles towards the 2,000 rubles deemed necessary to purchase a sufficient parcel of land for settlement. The membership grew rapidly from this initial group, and came to include members from surrounding and even some distant towns as the reputation of the organization grew through press reports and word-of-mouth.

In 1882, the members of Yissud Hama'ala decided to send two emissaries to Israel, Altschuler and Yitchak Dov Briman. The expenses for the trip were to be covered by the members of the group. Their assignment was to bring back “clear information about the climate of the land, life in the cities and the villages, about produce and fruit, cattle and sheep. Clear information about the necessary sum for a family to settle there. Clear information about the security of life and property on the part of the government and the inhabitants there.”

Altschuler wrote many sentimental letters about his arrival to the shores of the Holy Land. About his journey overland to Jerusalem he writes, “I descended from my wagon many times and fell to the ground and embraced it and kissed the stones with burning lips.” In Jerusalem, the Suwalker emissaries encountered unforeseen difficulties. It seems that their Jerusalem correspondent, Mr. Pines, with whom they lodged, had a bad relationship with other Suwalker Jews living in Jerusalem, and the uninformed Suwalk emissaries found themselves in the middle of this controversy. They were even warned by one of the zealots, Arye Slowaticki, that if they did not disassociate themselves from Pines they would be shunned by the other Suwalkers. The other Jerusalem Suwalkers, led by the brilliant Joshua Leib Diskin, even had a special meeting to discuss “excommunicating the guests from Suwalk,” but they decided against tis extreme move. But this group wrote to their contacts back in Suwalk, warning them not to believe anything the emissaries said upon their return since they had “associated themselves with bad people and liars.”

Altschuler and Briman remained in Palestine about four months. Fearing that their mission would be deemed a failure if they returned empty-handed, they placed a deposit on a plot of land, but the purchase never materialized and the deposit was lost. The report of the Suwalker emissaries upon their return to Suwalk was not encouraging. In a report to Yissud Hama'ala and in a letter to Rabbi Mohilover, they outlined the many difficulties. The word spread widely, even to Russian state officials, and in Ha-Melitz in 1885 Altschuler published a denial about some of the worst features of the bad news, but a terrible impression was created. The Jewish Russian writer, Levanda, wrote to F. Dinar: “It struck us like thunder in the middle of a clear day, the letter that Altschuler has sent, in which he pictures in detail the situation which he saw in the Holy Land during the five months he stayed there, in which he pictures all the affairs of the settlement there in very black colors without a touch of light.” The Suwalker

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emissaries told the members about all the difficulties on the way to settle in Eretz Israel, but their conclusion was: “We can and we must go there.” Altschuler's report was truly a strategic speech whose gist meant, “We must be halutzim. After us there will come others who will continue our work.”

In spite of the negative report of the delegation, Yissud Hama'ala developed its membership which grew to 156. All the original founders accepted the conclusion of Altschuler and Briman and a second delegation of three people was sent: Mendel Burak, as an expert on land; Boruch Rosenberg, who knew French, which was necessary to communicate with Turkish government agencies; and a third man was from Brisk whose name is not recorded. This time, the delegates were authorized to buy a piece of land measuring 10,000 dunam. During their journey, the delegation sent back a telegram containing information that the Turkish government would not permit Jewish immigration to the land of Israel, although the government was willing to allow Jewish colonies to be formed in neighboring Syria. The delegates requested instructions on whether they should follow up with regard to Syria. An emergency meeting of Yissud Hama'ala decided to instruct their representatives to “go and see,” but later almost all its members responded to a special survey against settling in Syria. The Suwalker emissaries thus found themselves in a difficult situation, they lost heart, and returned to Suwalk.

Altschuler returned to Palestine for a second time in 1904 to make a new attempt to create a basis for a Suwalk settlement on the land, but was again unsuccessful.

Yissud Hama'ala quickly became famous. The news that rich and important Jewish businessmen were planning to liquidate their businesses in order to go to Palestine made a great impression on the Jews of the Pale, and the Jewish-Russian newspapers made frequent reports on its activities, citing it as an example to others.

Eliezer Mordekhai Altschuler, who was the life spirit of the Yissud Hama'ala in Suwalk, was born in Mariamople on February 2, 1844. At 15, he married and at 18 he moved to Suwalk where he was engaged as a businessman for the rest of his life. He was well educated, a Talmud scholar and an enlightened man.

The two unsuccessful missions to Israel led Yissud Hama'ala to lose many members. But six years after its founding, a new official group was started the “Suwalk Lovers of Zion,” in November 1887, with high school students taking a leading role. It incorporated most of the Yissud Hama'ala members. They were motivated to act quickly, and by 1889 they had designated Yehuda David Butkowski to travel to Eretz Yisroel and purchase land for their settlement. Local rabbis in the surrounding towns who supported this effort inspired their townsmen to join as well, stimulating membership from Baklerove, Psheroshli and Filipowe. But as the leading members made aliyah, the “Lovers of Zion” organization grew weaker in the early 1890's. Indeed, by 1895, Suwalk, previously a leader in sending funds to support Jewish settlements in Israel, failed to make the list of the top thirty cities of the Pale providing such support. This, however, does not give a complete picture of support for Israel, because Suwalk was sending its young people to be pioneers in significant numbers. Y.S. Weiss, who well knew the business of Suwalk, writes: “From the city of Suwalk, where I lived, and from its surrounding areas, in the 1890's alone, 30 young men have emigrated to Eretz Yisrael. Some of them died of malaria in the first year of their arrival there. In the year 1891, there came a boat of newcomers to the shores of Jaffa; they were denied permission to land, and all of them had to be given return tickets. Among those were people from Suwalk and from Ratsk.” In 1893, we find in the newspaper Ha-Melitz a long letter from a halutz, Reuben Goldenberg, to his father in Suwalk. He writes from Hadera in Palestine that Suwalker were the first among the founders. And in spite of the difficulties and arguments about buying 30,000 dunam of land, he denied that there were any rifts among those who brought that colony to settle and to work. At the end, he gave a description of the day to day work in the colony, from morning to night, where there was greet satisfaction with the new life in the new land.


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The Chief Rabbis of Suwalk

by Berl Kahan

The Jewish community in Suwalk had reached a size of between four and five thousand people by the middle of the 1840's, and the sketchy records from that time shown that by then the community employed a chief rabbi. Avraham-Abele ben Mordche, who passed away in 1842.

The second Suwalk Rabbi was named Avraham-Abele ben Boruch; he presided as rabbi in Suwalk for seven or eight years and passed away in 1850.

After Rabbi Avraham-Abele passed away, Rabbi Yitzchak-Isaac Chaver, one of the great geniuses of his time, became the chief rabbi. He was a great kabbalist and wrote many books. He was the founder of the Talmud-Torah school in Suwalk. He was born in Grodno in 1789, the son of a noted scholar and author, and passed away in Suwalk in 1853.

The fourth man to occupy the chief rabbinate in Suwalk was Yehiel Heller, a man of reputation in the rabbinical world at that time. He was born in 1814 in Kaidan. Heller was rabbi in Suwalk for five or six years.

The next Suwalk rabbi was Rabbi Shmuel Mohilover, widely acknowledged as one of the leading rabbinical figures of his time. He came to Suwalk from the town of Shaki. Rabbi Y.L. Fishman noted in his memoirs that only in Suwalk did rabbi Mohilover's fame as a genius and a great scholar begin. He was appointed Chief Rabbi in Suwalk in 1860.

Rabbi Mohilover went through difficult times while a rabbi in Suwalk. There was the second Polish uprising against the Russian oppressors and also the beginning of the great famine in 1868. At the time of the Polish uprising, there were many Jews who sympathized with the Polish revolutionaries, and there were many Jews who actually took part in the revolution.

Rabbi Mohilover's frequent intervention with the authorities on behalf of Jews caught up in the uprising shows the significant involvement in the uprising by members of the Suwalk community.

The sixth rabbi in Suwalk, Rabbi Eliezer-Simcha Rabinowitz, was appointed at the end of 1868 or beginning of 1869. He was born in Kovno in 1839, of a line of rabbis going back thirty generations. Rabbi Eliezer-Simcha was a typical Suwalker rabbi: a scholar, a genius, and well versed in worldly affairs. He knew Russian well and had much secular knowledge.

After he left, there was much argument in town about the kind of rabbi Suwalk should take as his successor. While this argument continued, Suwalk was without a chief rabbi for a period of about two years. In the beginning of 1876, the town took a new rabbi, Rabbi Hillel Arye-Leib Libshitz.

Reb Libshitz was well known in the rabbinical world before he came to Suwalk, where he was rabbi for 17 years, which happened to be one of the stormiest periods in Jewish life: There were pogroms, mass immigration, the “Love of Zion” movement.

Reb Libshitz was a great supporter of this movement – the predecessor of modern Zionism.

After Rabbi Libshitz left Suwalk, about a year and a half passed before at the end of 1894 Rabbi David Teveleh Katzenellenbogen was engaged. He was born in 1850 in Tavrik.

Reb David-Teveleh was not a great believer in the idea of Zionism, although he was not one of those who were against it.

In 1907, he was invited to Petersburg and he became the chief rabbi of that city. He did much for the Jews there, and for the Jews of Russia during the First World War.

Rabbi David-Teveleh passed away in Leningrad (formerly Petersburg) in 1930, after living for thirteen years under Communist rule. He left many published books.

The next rabbi was Rabbi Moshe Betzalel Lurie. He wrote many books, and passed away in Suwalk in 1914. Suwalk was without a chief rabbi for seven years, but there were two acting rabbis during this period: Rabbi Benjamin Magentza and Rabbi Moshe Altman.

In 1921, Suwalk finally engaged a new chief rabbi, Rabbi Aaron Badsht, who was born in 1867 in Evyeh. He was rabbi in Suwalk for only four years. In 1925, he became rabbi in Lomzhe.

The next rabbi was Rabbi Joseph Yoselevitch. He became rabbi in Suwalk in 1926.

He was one of the leading rabbinical personalities in Poland, a great orator, who used to keep his audience spellbound with his beautiful speeches and deep thinking. He was a member of the Committee of the Rabbis' As-

[Page 22]

sociation in Poland.

The next rabbi, David Lifshitz, was also the last. He is the rabbi who went through all the hardships of the first period of the Second World War. In 1933, he married Rabbi Yoselevitch's daughter, and became chief rabbi of Suwalk in 1935 upon Rabbi Yoselevitch's death.

Just one night before the Germans were about to take him as a hostage for the Jewish community, Rabbi Lifshitz escaped to Lithuania After many wanderings, Rabbi Lifshitz came through Japan to America in 1941, where he was accepted by the landsmen of Suwalk, who continue to consider him their rabbi to this day.

 

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