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[Col. 11]

A.    The First Hundred Years


One hundred years of Suwalk and environs[*]

Berl Kahan


“Everything depends on luck” – even the location of a city. If Suwalk had been founded some tens of miles farther north, in Lithuania proper, its role and influence on Jewish affairs would have been immeasurably greater. In Poland, with its millions of people, Suwalk was small. In meagrely populated Lithuania, it would have been very large. In the rapidly growing Jewish communities of Poland, the Jewish community of Suwalk was of little importance; for the many times smaller Jewish communities in Lithuania, Suwalk would have been a spiritual centre[1*]. Moreover, for the Poles, Suwalk was an appendage. They would not give it up but they did not regard it as 100% Polish. The Lithuanians desired it and yet it was always somewhat foreign to them. Because Suwalk and its environs were half-Polish and half-Lithuanian, the Jews lived there in a three-fold Diaspora within the Polish-Diaspora and the Lithuanian-Diaspora.

The half-Polish, half-Lithuanian character of Jewish life in the Suwalk area was especially evident in people's Yiddish pronunciation and their customs; a mixture of Polish and Lithuanian.

[Col. 12]

Suwalk's Jews lived in a border town, and the border put its stamp on them. Border inhabitants hate borders since people who are eye-witnesses to barriers, want to get rid of them more eagerly than those who do not see them. Border inhabitants are less limited. They can see the world beyond their borders. Border dwellers are stronger, more energetic, more pioneering, and the Jews of Suwalk were a tribe of pioneers.

The Jews of Suwalk and environs were pioneers in the Enlightenment and in emigration, in agriculture and in the colonization of Erets Yisrael. Among the first in Hibat Tsiyon {Lovers of Zion}, founders of Yiddish and Hebrew press in America and even the call to start Jewish day-schools in America, came from the Jews of Suwalk – over 80 years ago.

The Jews of Suwalk were a peculiar tribe. During their lifetimes, those near them did not notice this and others did not appreciate it, so let the following lines serve as an act of true charity[2*], a last rite not only for the martyrs of Suwalk and the Jewish settlements around it, but also for the holiness that radiated from them – as it did from every vanished Jewish settlement in Easter Europe – that shone through their lives and needs for the great cultural treasure of the Jewish people.

[Col. 11]

1. How old is Suwalk?

The province of Suwalk occupies 11,005 kilometres.[1] On the west it is bordered by East Prussia and on the north, east and south, by the Meliman and Bobra rivers, the provinces of Kovne {Kaunas}, Vilne {Vilnius} and Grodne {Grodno}.

[Col. 12]

It was only linked to the other parts of the Kingdom of Poland on the southwest, through the district of Shtutshin, province of Lomza.

Until 1386, almost the entire territory was part of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. In that year, it came under the Kingdom of Poland but wars between the Poles and Lithuanians, on the one hand, and the Prussians, on the other, did not cease. After every war, new treaties were signed: (1402, 1413, 1420 etc.), which were abrogated at the slightest opportunity. The Melner peace agreement of 1422, stated unequivocally that the area belonged to Lithuania-Poland.[2]

[Col. 13]

In 1795, at the last division of Poland, Suwalk territory was transferred to Prussia. In 1807, Napoleon I drove the Prussians out and included the Suwalk territory in the Duchy of Warsaw which he had created. Napoleon's rule in the territory and the rest of Poland did not last long. According to the Treaty of Vienna {Congress of Vienna}, of 21st April, 1815, the Duchy of Warsaw was renamed the Kingdom of Poland and Suwalk, as part of it came under Russian sovereignty.

The territory of Suwalk (together with Lomza) province was part of the province of Augustow until 1866. On 19th December, 1866, when the Kingdom of Poland was divided into ten provinces, the province of Suwalk was created. This province was divided into seven districts, each with its own capital: Saini, Augustow, Vilkovishk, Mariampol, Kalvarie, Neustadt-Shaki and Suwalk.

Czarist rule over Suwalk lasted one hundred years. After World War I, three of the districts: Suwalk, Saini and Augustow, became part of independent Poland and the other four districts were included in independent Lithuania.

There were various ethnic groups in the province of Suwalk: Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, Poles, Tartars, Germans and others. The Lithuanians who lived mainly in the northern part of the province were in the majority. They had their own deputy from Suwalk in the Duma – a Lithuanian priest who sharply criticized Polish anti-Lithuanian acts at a session of the Duma.[3] The Russians and Poles lived in the less fertile area of the south. The Jews lived in all of the cities and towns of the province.

Suwalk was the largest and most important city of the province and it was the capital even when it was still part of the province of Augustow. However, it has the shortest history of all of the cities of the region.

The territory where Suwalk and the neighbouring towns would eventually stand was still wild woodland in the 14th century. It had large swamps and many lakes (even at present, the Augustow forestland is known for its huge size).

Because of the unceasing wars between Russia and Prussia, the population decreased at a steady rate. By 1280, there were no more inhabitants. The whole region became a wasteland. In the Chronicles of the German Order from the 14th century, the region is referred to as a wasteland.

The whole territory which was greater than the later province of Suwalk, was called (in the Chronicles of the German Order), Sudovia in Latin and Sudauen in German. The Lithuanian Grand Duke Vitavt, referred to it as Terra Sudorum. During the many wars after it was laid to waste, its name was almost completely forgotten. In the middle of the 17th century, it was called Kraj Zapusczanski.[4]

According to “the Columbia Encyclopaedia”, the first dwellings were built by Lithuanian fugitives from justice and this was the nucleus of the city of Suwalk. It is difficult to confirm this statement. According to historians, this thickly wooded area was an ideal refuge for people who had left their homes for various reasons. These fugitives or refugees included people of various nationalities, particularly Lithuanians. It is certainly evident that Lithuanians were the earliest neighbours of the first settlers of Suwalk and that the name is of Lithuanian origin. The founders of the city, having observed their neighbours' way of life and knowing something of their origins, called it “Susivilkas” which means “refuge”.

[Col. 15]

Later, when it became part of the Kingdom of Poland, the name was polonized to Suvalki. This happened in 1667 and the name was given to it by the monastery of the Kameduln Order in Vigri, which received the place as a gift from Kind Jan Casimir.

The rate of development was slow. In 1667, Suwalk was nothing more than a large village. Only in 1710 was the first church build there.[5]

[Col. 16]

On 1715, the Kameduln[3*] Order, which owned the land, freed the inhabitants from serfdom and assigned 300 places for the building of a town. In 1720, King Zygmunt II gave them Magdeburg rights.[6][4*] In 1797, Suwalk had 214 houses in which 1184 people lived.

[Col. 15]


Suwalk Magistrate
{courthouse? City Hall}


Turme Street
(later Dr. Nanevitsa Street)


Suwalk Marketplace


In the second half of the nineteenth century, Suwalk started growing apace. This growth was encouraged by the building of the great highway from Suwalk to Dvinsk, according to the command of Nicholas I, and the somewhat earlier completion of the Augustow Canal. It is interesting to note that before the Warsaw-Petersburg Railroad line was opened, Suwalk, which was in the middle of the Warsaw Petersburg highway, was often stopover place for the most exalted members of the Russian royal family. A special residence was built to accommodate the nobility. In later years, this building became the Governor's residence.

The rapid growth of the city may be seen in the growth of its population. In 1856, the total population of Suwalk was 10,182.[7]. In 1862 the population had grown to 11,944.[8] In 1865, the population reached 16,533.[9] In 1882 = 18,040.[10] In 1893 = 19,116.[11] In 1897 = 22,000.[12] In 1905 around 23,000.

Almost all the other 9 small towns, about which we are writing here, became cities before Suwalk itself.

Baklerowe grew up around Count Volski's court, called Bakalarovtshizna, which had existed as far back as 1558. It became a small town in 1651. In 1797, it belonged to Count Khlevinski, had 67 houses where 405 people lived.[13] It was called Bakalarzshev in Russian and Bakalarzevo in Lithuanian.

Filipowe grew from a village which had been created in the mid-16th century by Queen Bona Sfortsa and was called Shembeleva. In 1580, it received Magdeburg Rights from King Zygmunt August, who named it Filipowe.

In 1797, there were 795 residents living in 120 houses. In 1858 and in 1897, two great fires damaged the town.[14]

[Col. 18]

The town of Ratzk bears the name of the Ratzkevitshk family which received permission to buy land there in 1507. In 1748, Ratzk was transferred to Count Mikhael Pats. Ratzk received Magdeburg Rights in 1748 from King Stanislav August. In 1797, it had 776 inhabitants in 165 houses. In 1815, a colony of Scots who had fled from England settled around Ratzk.[15]


Ratzk in 1916


Wizshan was built at the end of the 16th century. In 1599, there were still no inhabitants there. There was only a small village nearby. In 1797 there were 206 houses in Wizshan with 945 inhabitants. In 1827, there were 1346 residents and in 1878, there were 2275.[16]

Psherosle was village belonging to Y. Grodzinski in 1558. In 1576 it was given Magdeburg Rights by King Stefan Batora. In 1638 it was given as a gift by the Warsaw Sejm to Queen Tsetisilia Renata, wife of Vladislav the Fourth. In 1797, there were 1166 inhabitants in 230 houses.[17]

Punsk was a fairly large settlement at the end of the 16th century because, in 1597, there was a church there. In 1797 there were 583 inhabitants in 59 houses.[18]

[Col. 19]

Krasnopole grew as a city around the mid-18th century. In the 1760's it was a strong rival to Saini. In 1797 there were 105 houses with 533 inhabitants. In 1827 there were 1414 people living in 230 houses and in 1820-85 there were 2246 people in 289 houses.[19]

Yelinewe is the youngest of all of these towns. In 1797, it had 346 residents in 69 houses.[20]

The oldest record mentioning Saini is from 1522 when King Zygmunt the Older gave a piece of forest there to Jan Vishnevski. It was on this ground that the Saini court arose and quickly expanded. According to government documents, Saini was a city by 1593 but evidence shows that it had these rights many years before. Prior to the Swedish War, there were a few hundred stone houses, two printing shops and a grand palace of Count Vishnevetski, who owned the city. Saini was almost completely destroyed during the Swedish war. It was rebuilt later. In 1778, there were a few elementary schools in Saini as well as an institution for higher learning. In 1808 the Lyceum of Lomza moved to Saini. In 1835, Saini had a seventh grade gymnasium and a district school.

In 1797, there were 516 people living in Saini in 98 houses; in 1828 there were 3514 inhabitants; in 1838 = 3245; in 1848 = 3902 and in 1856 there were 3274 inhabitants.

People believed that the name Saini came from the Lithuanian word Seni (old) and based on a legend about three old knights who came to that place to spend the last years of their lives. However, from a notice in 1558, it becomes clear that there was once a small stream there name Saina. There were three settlements around this stream and they were all name Saina. Two of these settlements disappeared and nothing is known of them, but the remaining one became the present Saini.

Saini was an important centre for the entire neighbourhood; however, after the construction of the Kovne-Warsaw highway and the railroad line from Petersburg to Warsaw, the city went downhill. In 1910, it had 3348 inhabitants, less than it had almost 100 years before.[21]

[Col. 19]

2. The history of the Jewish settlement

How old is the Jewish settlement in Suwalk? There is no satisfactory answer to this question. In 1715, when the Kameduln Order of the Vigrier Monastery portioned out an area upon which to build the town of Suwalk, a street was marked out where the Jews would live.[22] But, for almost a century after that date, unlike the other towns in the area, there is no trace of Jewish life in Suwalk. At any rate, we have found no such trace. There are two possibilities: The assignment of a specific street for Jews was an incentive for Jews to come and live there in order to develop the commerce of the city as they had done in neighbouring towns. Jews did not accept this invitation for whatever reasons or; Jews did accept the invitation of the Kameduln and did settle in Suwalk, and perhaps they had even dwelt there earlier, but were soon driven out.

[Col. 20]

In 1800, there was not one Jew in Suwalk according to German historian Holshe who lived at that time. Holshe writes that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Suwalk was “Judenrein” and as a result of this, there was “a large market place with nothing to buy” in Suwalk.[23]

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Holshe's description is confirmed by the historian Vashutinski who write that in 1808, there were 44 Jews in Suwalk.[24] This small number of Jews proves that a Jewish settlement had only just begun. It stands to reason that not all of the 44 Jews came there at once but that some had come earlier. Thus, one can date the founding of a Jewish community in Suwalk as not very long before 1800.

The Polish historian Korzon's statement that at the end of the eighteenth century there were three tallit factories in Dubrove and Suwalk seems somewhat contradictory.[25] It is not credible that from the first day they came to Suwalk, the Jewish tallit makers would have started their manufacturing. It is even less credible that Jews would start a tallit factory in a city that did not have even a small nucleus of Jews. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that there was a small Jewish settlement in Suwalk before the end of the eighteenth century. The time differential between all of these sources is rather small, and all agree that Jews actually started to settle in Suwalk no earlier than the end of the eighteenth or the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Thus, we see that Suwalk, the largest and most important town of the entire territory, is yet, the youngest in terms of Jewish settlement of all of the neighbouring Jewish settlements.

For example, in Vilkovishk, one of the seven small district capitals of Suwalk province, there was already a synagogue as far back as 1623 – almost 200 years before Jews came to Suwalk.[26]

In Kalverie, also a district capital in Suwalk province, there was a Jewish settlement in 1714. We encounter the name of R'Aharon Broda as a long time rabbi of Kalverie.[27] In 1764, a certain Shemuel son of R'Eliezer of the community of Kalverie published a book in Koenigsberg.[28] There were already 1055 Jews in Kalverie in 1766.[29]

[Col. 22]

These are only two examples of many towns in Suwalk province. Almost all of the small towns described in this book can boast of similar venerable histories.

Small Wizshan[30], only 28 viorsts from Suwalk, had a Jewish settlement over 300 years ago. The exact date when Jews started settling there is not known. In 1723, Moshe Yefraymovitsh, representative of the Grodne community to which the Jewish congregation of Wizshan belonged, presented the charter of privileges before the Grodne city rules which the Jews of Wizshan had received from Jan the Third. The document is dated 3rd February, 1676, and is a confirmation of the privileges which the Jews of Wizshan had received from King Mikaal on 14th November 1670. The King mentioned that he had received a petition from his jeweller In Grodne, Izak Fayvoshevitsh, in the name of the Jews of Wizshan, regarding their right to dwell there. King Mikhaal promises the Jews of Wizshan that he will guard their rights to their houses, their businesses, synagogues, cemetery and bath house. According to the above-mentioned privileges, the Jews of Wizshan were not under municipal jurisdiction but under local rule with the right to appeal to King Mikhaal. They could not be called before the courts on Sabbaths or holidays. Disputes between Jews were to be handled by the elders of the community, in accordance with Jewish religious law. The Jews also had the right to pasture their cattle on the commons and to use the nearby woods[5*] like all of the residents of Wizshan.[31]

But the Jews had been living in Wizshan even before 1670. It is known that already in 1646 there was a guild of Jewish artisans there.[32] From this one can infer that there was a Jewish settlement there dating back many years earlier, perhaps as early as the beginning of the 17th century.

[Col. 23]

Until around 1700, Jewish dead were brought from Koenigsberg where the Jews did not have the right to a cemetery of their own, to be buried in the cemeteries of Vilkovishk or Wizshan.[33]

Around the middle of the eighteenth century, a cholera epidemic broke out in Wizshan. A large number of Jews from the town fled to Vilkovishk, but they were not allowed to enter and so they stayed in the nearby Vosier Forest where the Jews of Vilkovshk would bring them food and other aid. Many of the Jews of Wizshan died in Vosi and they were buried near a meadow, not far from the forest, where a small cemetery remained until the Holocaust. Great-grandchildren of the Wizshan refugees still lived in Vilkovishk in the time of independent Lithuania.[34] In 1766, there were 306 Jews in Wizshan. In 1856=1130 Jews and 827 Christians. In 1879 = 490 Jews; in 1897 = 312 Jews (1238 Christians).[35] Instead of growing in numbers, the Jews in Wizshan kept decreasing in numbers.

One of the oldest Jewish settlements in the Suwalk area was Baklerowe.The former rabbi of Baklerowe, Rabbi Khashesman – now in Chicago – has written to me that around 1910, he saw a Jewish tombstone in the town cemetery which was some two hundred and thirty-odd years old. This means that in 1675-1680 Baklerowe already had its own Jewish cemetery and that Jews lived there years before that date. The Jews of Baklerowe were very proud of their settlement's antiquity and they would boast that “once upon a time” the Suwalk congregation had belonged to Baklerowe (historically inaccurate).

In 1844-46, there were 156 Jewish families in Balkerowe, (590 souls) and in 1859-1861 = 152 Jewish families (776 souls). In 1897 = 370 Jewish souls (604 Christians).[36]

There were Jews living in Filipowe at the beginning of the 18th century. Around the end of the 1730's, a sharp quarrel broke out between the local Jews and the other residents of the town who challenged the right of Jews to live there.

[Col. 24]

A special emissary was sent to investigate the matter. The investigation was completed in 1741. The local Jews were permitted to live in Filipowe but with a number of limitations. They were not allowed to build new synagogues nor buy new plots. They could not purchase merchandise in the market place until after the Christians had finished, and so on.

In 1765, there were 274 Jews in Filipowe; in 1856 = 853 Jews; in 1861 = 812 Jews; in 1897 = 548 Jews (1476 Christians).[37]

In 1768, the Dominicans monks in Saini helped build a synagogue in town in order to attract Jews.[38] Jews lived in Saini before that date which could be seen from the old tombstones in the town cemetery.

In 1828, there were 2036 Jews in Saini; in 1838 = 2030 Jews; in 1848 = 2110 Jews; in 1856 = 2378 Jews; in 1897 = 1918 Jews (1860 Christians).[39] In 1885, the Jews of Saini built a nice synagogue which cost over 12,000 rubbles.[40]


The Synagogue in Ratzk


Jews already lived in Ratzk in the seventies and eighties of the 17th century, because, about that time, there was a rabbi named R'Gershon. In 1765, there were 472 Jews; in 1856 = 1739 Jews; in 1897 = 1116 Jews (810 Christians).[41]

[Col. 25]

Jews actually lived in Krasnopole in the middle of the 18th century because an invitation by the Dominican order, in 1767, to the Jews for them to come to Saini, was considered a way of drawing Jews away from Krasnopole. In 1897 there were 576 Jews living among 1252 Christians.[42]

In 1766 there were 207 Jews living in Psherosle; in 1856 = 672; in 1897 = 340 Jews (1350 Christians).[43]

In Punsk, there were 312 Jews in 1897 (407 Christians) and in Yelinewe, 214 Jews (384 Christians).


Market place in Ratzk


Most of these small towns were less than 21 viorsts from the border so Jews who did not come from the area were forbidden to settle there.

Almost as soon as Suwalk came under Prussian rule, the Prussians began to “bring order” to the Jewish question. On April 17, 1797, they promulgated a special Jew regulation. Although all of these rules and regulations in the new provinces East Prussia made by the Prussian regime, only remained on paper because its rule came to naught in 1815. It is worth reviewing some of these regulations. According to the rules, all Jews who were temporary residents had to leave. Every Jew over the age of ten had to receive a “schutzbriv”[6*]. If someone did not have his “schutzbriv” on his person, he would be severely punished. Jews were required to have family names. Marriages were limited. A Jew under 25 could not marry. Local Jews were not allowed to marry Jews from other areas. Jews had only limited rights of residence. They could live only in the town limits. Jews who lived in villages could only be temporary residents and with many restrictions. The number of Jewish merchants in town was limited. A Jewish merchant who did business without a permit and if caught doing this three times, could be driven out of his residence with his residence permit taken away.

[Col. 26]

He would not be allowed to enter any other employment. He was not permitted to peddle his merchandise in the villages. Jews could lend money to Christians only via the courts. If a Jew charged too high interest, he could be driven out of the region. The number of synagogues was limited. Rabbis had to know German or Polish. Jewish schools could be founded only by the government. If no Jewish teachers could be found, Christians would be sent in to teach in these schools. Textbooks had to be in German. Jews were not drafted into the armed forces, therefore, they were required to pay higher taxes. Jews aged 14-60 paid a special “recruit tax”.[44]

Looking at the above statistics of the development of Jewish settlements around Suwalk, one comes to the conclusion that there was no progress from the 1850's onwards, but, on the contrary, retrogression. Exactly the opposite occurred in Suwalk. There, the Jewish settlement began to grow fast and had soon surpassed all of the Jewish settlements in the region, both in numbers and influence. In 1809, when there were only a few score Jews in Suwalk, it was already sending a representative to a Jewish assembly in Warsaw. This was a gathering of Jewish communities in Poland, who were attempting to get the kosher slaughtering tax decreased, and annul the instructions of the Finance Minister of 31st May, 1809. Some of the memoranda of the communities are preserved in the Warsaw archives, among them, one from the province of Lomza, dated 3rd August, 1809. In the last memorandum, there appears the signatures of four representatives of Lomza communities and one of the four, is that of Aba Polinevitsh of Suwalk. On 21st August, these four representatives came to Warsaw where they placed their request before the government council which had on its agenda, the problem of kosher slaughtering tax.[45]

[Col. 27]

The Jewish community in Suwalk grew, even though from 1823 to 1862, not all Jews were allowed to live in all the streets of the city. In 1827, there were 1209 Jews in Suwalk.[46] In 1856 = 6407.[47] In 1857 = 6587.[48] In 1862 = 7165.

These numbers must be regarded as approximations. Y. Lestachinsky is correct in his opinion that only the census of 1897 can be considered reliable. Quite often, the statistics in one source do not agree with those given in another source. In Suwalk in 1862 the 7165 figure does not agree with those given by Dr. Y. Schipper, who for the same year quotes 7525.[49]

Dr. Friedman believes that the rapid growth of the Jewish settlement in Suwalk was a result of the great amount of smuggling of goods and people which was on-going at the time on the Prussian border from which Suwalk was only 26 viorsts away.[50]

Lestschinsky believes that the Jewish population grew rapidly as a result of Jews immigrating from Lithuania and White Russia.

The main reason for this immigration was the fact that in Poland, recruitment of Jews for military service began many years later (in 1843) than it did in Russia (1827). Since Jews were already fleeing from military service, many of them were attracted to places such as the province of Augustow that were close to a border in the event of further danger. The influx of Russian Jews into this province was so great that the Governor wrote to the Internal Affairs Committee in Warsaw on 28th July 1851, to request advice on what to do with the incoming Jews. Even though the reply from Warsaw was to send them back, most of them did manage to remain in their new homes.[51] Thus, too, did the Ukase of 1843 remain on paper only i.e. that Russian Jews who lived in a 50 viorst radius of the Prussian-Austrian border should be driven out of their homes.

[Col. 28]

From 1845-1865, the Jewish population in the province of Augustow increased by 41%, which included Suwalk but not by such a high percentage. From 1864-1865, the growth in Suwalk came to a halt. This was caused by the Polish uprising, the famine of 1868-1869 and the resulting emigration. At the time of the Polish uprising, the Jews suffered, as always, from both sides; from the Cossacks who were the oppressors and from the rebels. The latter demanded money from the Jewish communities. Thus, for example, it is known that in 1863, the heads of the community of Suwalk required a contribution of 6,000 rubbles from the Jews (and it was certainly not voluntary). Upon the list of the 231 Jews who paid this sum, was the seal of the community. Someone informed on them to the government and they were faced with a new danger. The heads of the community were arrested and later released.[52][7*]

Because of all of these reasons, the Jewish community in Suwalk did not increase at all for thirty years. In 1862, there were 7500 Jews in Suwalk and in the census of 1897, thirty five years later, their number was no more than 7458.[53]

Compared to non-Jews, the percentage of Jews fell drastically during this period. In 1893, there were 7483 Jews in Suwalk[54] in a general population of 19,116, which is 31%, while 31 years before, the Jews were 63% of the population in the city.[55]

At the end of the 19th century and in the first decade of this century, there was again a large increase in the Jewish community in Suwalk. In 1905, the closing date of this article[8*], Suwalk had a community of about 10,000 Jews and in 1908, there were some 13,002 Jews in Suwalk.[56]

[Col. 29]

The Economic situation

What was the economic situation of the Jews in Suwalk and nearby towns during the nineteenth century? Without access to archival material, no accurate or detailed response can be given, but based on newspapers and books; we can arrive at a picture of Jewish economic life at that time, Jewish occupations, and the like.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Suwalk was not distinguished for its industry or its commerce. We have no statistics for Jewish economic conditions during the first decades of their settling there. Where the economy is not developed, there is little opportunity for Jews to make material gains. We can imagine that Jews did not live well during their first years of settlement in Suwalk. E.N. Frank, the historian, is of the opinion that their situation was very bad.[57]

This was even worse during the 1830's. The years of chaos and upheaval during the first Polish rebellion (1830-31) had a very unsettling effect on the not yet solidly established economic status of Suwalk's Jews. E.N. Frank writes that the economic condition was dreadful. There were edicts upon edicts and even expulsions, and Jews suffered from oppression and want.

From our vantage point, a table in Frank's work is of great interest. It shows Jewish occupations in the ten provinces of the Kingdom of Poland in 1843.[58]

[Col. 30]

According to this table, the Jews of Suwalk (as part of the province of Augustow) were the most proletarian of all Jews in all of the Polish provinces.

The number of Jewish storekeepers and merchants in the province of Augustow was the smallest of all the provinces in the Kingdom of Poland = 392, while their number in the province of Kalish, for example, was 873.

On the other hand, the number of Jewish artisans in the province of Augustow was greater than in the other provinces. Let me offer a few examples: The province of Augustow had the most cobblers = 576; the most wheelwrights = 109; even the most Jewish blacksmiths = 297. When you compare the number of blacksmiths in other provinces, you see the magnitude of the number: In Mazavietska = 8; Sandomir = 12; in Kielce = 6, etc.

The number of Jewish pitch-makers[9*] was largest in Augustow = 39; in Mazavietska = 6 and in Kielce = 18. This can be compared with the number of Jewish masons – the largest number 48; in Polotsk = 9; in Kalish = 11; etc). Augustow also had the largest number of Jewish locksmiths.

Augustow (along with a few other provinces) also had the greatest number of Jewish textile workers before the second half of the nineteenth century.[59]

When one speaks of Suwalk, the occupations of tanning and brush making come immediately to mind. One tends to forget that the Jewish population of Suwalk was mostly made up of working classes. If we add the number of Jews in farming (about whom we will write in the next article), we will grasp the uniqueness of the socio-economic make-up of the Jewish community of Suwalk.

This socio-economic structure changed dramatically with the passage of time. At the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century, and even more as the years go by, we find names of Jewish merchants of importance in the local commerce. Jews began to occupy such an important place in economic life, that the Governor of Augustow warned the government not to introduce military duty for Jews because it could bring economic ruin to the area.[60]


In a report from the Governor of Augustow in 1865, it is stated that Jews play a dominant role in foreign trade in the province.[61] We must remember that Suwalk merchants handled imports for Russia valued at 38.5 million rubbles, and exports worth 21.5 million rubbles that year.[62]

In 1867, there were 12 Jewish-owned factories in Suwalk where 54 Jewish workers were employed.[63] The value of the goods they produced was, however, very small (16,583 rubbles). This looks very meagre compared to the value of goods Jews produced in other provinces. Thus, for example, that same year, the value of goods produced by Jews in the province of Lomza, was 567,000 rubbles and in Kalish, close to a million rubbles.[64]

Commerce was greatly increased in Suwalk and in nearby towns with the completion of the highway from Warsaw to Peterburg, which cut through Suwalk and, with the building of the giant railroad between these two chief centres of Russia of the past, and with the completion of the Augustow canal.[65-66]

[Col. 32]

Some natural disasters had a bad effect on Jewish economic life. In 1847, there was a dreadful famine in the area. In 1853, there was a great cholera epidemic. Rabbi Moshe b”M Aharon, who was a rabbi and teacher in Ratzk, tells in his book, mate Moshe[67], that “[68][10*]: “naturally, such an epidemic which slew masses of people, had to have had a bad effect on the economic condition in the province, and even more, on the local Jews.

When Suwalk grew into an important centre of transportation and the movement of people increased, the hotel business grew as well. Most of the hotels seem to have been run by Jews. In an advertisement published about 100 years ago (Hamagid 1858, n°16), worth quoting here because of its trilingual text of Yiddish-German-Hebrew, we read: “ R'Moshe Epshteyn, owner of Hotel Krakovski of the province city of Suwalk, makes known to all of the merchants of Poland and Russia that, from the first Lipits 1858, he plans to open 10 rooms in his hotel for merchants, with very nice furniture and beds, kosher meals, very well ordered and attended[11*] at the same price for everybody, and invites all merchants to come to him, and they will be pleased”.[12*] From this announcement, one can see that Epshteyn's hotel must have already been in existence some years earlier.

Some years later, we find an advertisement with a similar German-Hebrew-Yiddish style from “Elhanan Ukrainiski, at the home of R'Yosl Zeygermakher”.[69] This hotel had been in existence in Suwalk in 1861. It seemed to have done good business for in 1876, (“Hamagid”, n°41), there is an announcement of its enlargement. It lasted 80 years. For many years, “Kosher meals” were served at “Hotel Ukrainski” to hundreds of Jewish soldiers stationed in the Suwalk garrison. The hotel was destroyed in the Holocaust.

[Col. 33]

In 1871, we find a notice of a newly built hotel in Suwalk called “English House” by R. Bernshteyn.[70]

There was an economic renaissance of Suwalk's Jews from the mid-fifties through to the end of the sixties of the previous century. This is also the period of Jewish urban population growth (one can imagine that, were it not for the famine and epidemics, this growth would have been greater).

Moshe Meir Kahana, writing in “Hamelits” of 1863 n°38, reports that the Jews of Suwalk are “blessed with property and wealth”.

The Jews of Suwalk became strongly rooted in its economic life. There are traces of small home industries. Thus, for example, we find in “Hamagid” of 1861 n°19, an advertisement by Yitshak Peltin and his brother-in-law, Yisrael Epshteyn, that they have opened a factory of all kinds of “strings, shoelaces and suspenders”, etc. In “Hakarmel” of 1865 n°19, there is this notice: “We hereby notify the public that there is, in Suwalk, a factory of straw hats, ladies' fastarekh {bonnets?} and men's and boy's nightcaps. They are good and very beautiful, and of the latest fashions. Shaul David Tsukerzis and Natan Erdraykh”.

The famine which enveloped the West-Russian provinces in 1868-69, halted the growing economic progress of the Jews of Suwalk and environs. Famine brings many sicknesses in its wake, and people simply fell dead in the streets.

The “Committee in Memel to Help the Brothers in West-Russia Provinces” issued a call which described the dreadful condition of the Jews in the famine plagued provinces.[71] Letters from cities on the East Prussian side, such as Memel and Tilsit, described the gruesome situation in heart-rending language.[72]“Hamagid” published in Lyck, a town not far from Suwalk province particularly active in raising the alarm about the famine.

[Col. 34]

A special “Hamagid” committee sent 100 rubbles for the suffering Jews. Not only were the neighbouring cities alarmed, but the whole Jewish world was made aware of the need, and attempted to send immediate assistance to those in need.

Adolphe Cremieux, leader of “Kol Yisrael Haverim”[13*] described the famine in one of his appeals as follows:

“In the streets, synagogues, and study-houses, hundreds of people drag themselves around, bent over, exhausted from hunger, dead on their feet. There are people who have become like shadows, begging for an end to their lives. The students die in classrooms before the eyes of their parents, and girls weep and mourn for their teachers.”.[73][14*]

It is clear that such a famine shook the foundations of the still young Jewish economy in Suwalk. In a correspondence during the famine period, a writer in Suwalk complains about the great poverty in his town.[74]

Naturally, once the famine was over, the problems that had been created in its wake were not so quickly solved. Thus, for example, in 1870, a correspondent from Suwalk wrote of the difficult economic situation of householders.[75]

The famine was a natural disaster for the Jewish economy, added to blows from human hands. Until the beginning of the second half of the 19th century, and for many years later, some Jews in the towns of Suwalk area, near the Prussian border, earned their living through smuggling their brethren across the border to Prussia. There was also a large-scale enterprise of smuggling merchandise across the border in which Jews were well represented. In the course of years, this became an important branch of the economy for many Jews. It should be added that smuggling Jews across the border, had its “doing a good deed” component – that of rescuing a fellow Jew from various punishments inflicted upon him;

[Col. 35]

There was also a large-scale smuggling of prohibited literature which various Russian revolutionary emigrants sent from abroad to Russia. Jews had a substantial role in this project, mostly of purely idealistic motives. We should mention here the interesting fact that the Socialist “Haemet” made its way to Petrograd, Moscow, Odessa and other Russian centres via Suwalk border towns. Aaron Samuel Liebermann, editor of “Haemet” and something of a Suwalk landsman, used to send his periodical to Baklerowe and from there, it was delivered to Suwalk, home of the elderly father of the editor of “Haemet”, R'Eliezer-Dov Libermann, and he would take care of forwarding it on.[76]

The Czarist regime promulgated decrees, especially aimed against the Jews, against smuggling. They were limited in their scope until the ukase of 1843 which ordered all Jews living within a radius of 50 miles from the border, to leave their homes and move deeper into Russia. This was a frightful decree which touched hundreds of thousands of Jews, among whom were thousands of Jews from the Suwalk area. The Jews did not accept this passively but looked for ways to cancel the decree. The first ones to fight against the decree were the Jewish communities in the Suwalk area on the Prussian border. On the other side of the border, the initiative came from the Jews of Koenigsberg. Some of the Jews of Koenigsberg were connected through business and family to Jews of the Suwalk towns. Yohan Yakobi, one of the chief fighters against the decree among the Koenigsberg Jews, was closely connected to the Suwalk province town of Nayshtat, where his father was born in 1759.

[Col. 36]

The Russian consul in Koenigsberg at the time was Yakab von Adlson, who came from the Suwalk town of Yurburg, and even though he was a convert to Christianity, he was not indifferent to the new decree against the Jews in his area and helped his friend Yohan Yakobi with information.[77]

Although the decree of 1843 was never actually implemented, the many years of increasingly sharper government opposition to smuggling eventually led to its becoming much less of an important occupational branch for Suwalk's Jews.

The towns in Suwalk province suffered not only from famine but from additional misery. When the railroad line between Peterburg and Warsaw was completed in 1860, many towns remained outside this immensely important income producer. This was quickly reflected in their economic development and some of them simply ceased to develop at all.

Suwalk, itself a provincial capital and thus an important centre, did not suffer very much from being removed from the railroad line. But other towns in the district were deeply affected.

The most dramatic example of this is Saini. This was one of the oldest and most culturally developed towns in the entire province. It played an important role in the economic development of the area. But a short time after the building of Warsaw-Peterburg railroad line, which was three miles away from Saini, the town's economy began to die. In “Hatsefira” of 1874, n°14, the correspondent from Saini complains about the hard times in town; “because of the decrease in commerce and the bad impact of its location and the times”.

Suwalk, however, recovered from the bad years. The Jews in town recovered economically and some even became rich. The following fact can provide an illustration of the well- being of most of the Jews in Suwalk (except for the poor who are always present).

[Col. 37]

The famous Lover of Zion from Suwalk, R'A.M. Altshuler, write to Z.D. Levontin in Krementchug in 1881: “…we have allocated (for each member who wants to go to Erets Yisrael B.K.) two thousand rubbles…..until the present, we have thirty people in our group….and most of them have five, eight, ten thousand rubbles”.[78] In a short time, there were 130 members – and each one had to invest 2000 rubbles (before departure) – and they still had some money left in their pockets! Such a class of wealthy (and they were only a part of the rich Jews in town) in a community of six-seven thousand people, is evidence of the good economic conditions of Suwalk's Jews at that time.

A class of Jewish merchants arose in Suwalk reaching all the centres of commerce in the giant Russian empire, such as the Rozntals, the Lipskis and others. Thus we find a booklet from Suwalk with the advertisement for “Glavni sklad instrument ov mizitsnikh” from E.M. Kamenietski in Suwalk, which mentions that it was founded in 1889 and has branches in Warsaw, Odessa, Lodz, Bialystok, Rovne and other cities.

As in all of Russia, the “Red Rooster”[15*] also did great damage. No summer passed without its conflagrations, some worse than others. Sometimes, whole towns were wiped off the map. Since the system of fire insurance was at that time almost unknown in the towns of Russia, it could happen that a wealthy family could be reduced to poverty overnight. In “Hatsefira” of 1885, n°17, Eliyahu Vistinetski tells how on 13th of Iyar {5}645 (1885), a fire broke out in Suwalk. Around thirty houses were destroyed and one Jewish woman burned to death. Damage reached some 400,000 rubbles.

The previous year, a smaller fire had broken out in the synagogue of the wealthy Rozntal family. Thirteen houses had burned down.[79]

In “Hatsefirah” of 1890 (23rd August), A. Bernshteyn tells of a fire in Suwalk which caused 25,000 rubbles of damage.

Such fires slowed down the economic progress of Jews in Suwalk. But Suwalk did not suffer the kind of conflagration which swept towns away with their smoke. Perhaps it was because Suwalk already had a few hundred houses made of stone.

[Col. 38]

The emigration board, which increased dramatically from the eighties onward, had its effect on the economic development of Suwalk and environs. Starting with this period, we find more correspondence in the Hebrew periodicals on poverty in Suwalk.

An anonymous correspondent write in 1886,[80] that poverty is increasing because there are people leaving the country every week. He mentions that “the well-known rich man” Poznanski of Lodz, had supplied 30 comforters for the local orphanage. This shows that the general economic condition of the town, and, naturally, of its Jewish community, was negatively affected by emigration.

Several years later, there is correspondence from Suwalk[81] that there are very few ways of making a living and that competition is fierce, etc.

Another correspondent writes that because of mass emigration from Suwalk, the prices of houses had fallen drastically and that if someone did find a buyer for his house, he had to practically give it away.[82]

In spite of economic recession in the Jewish settlements of Suwalk province, their condition did not reach the bankruptcy prevalent in most of the other provinces in the nineties. The best estimate of the numbers of Jews in need in those years is based on the numbers who came for Maot Hitim {food for Passover for the poor}. Statistics from all of the Russian provinces in 1894-1898 show that the smallest number of Jewish families in need of Maot Hitim came from Suwalk province.[83] Thus, a correspondent wrote in 1895, that there was no poverty in Suwalk (he was, of course, exaggerating).

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the basis for Suwalk's economy was agriculture. We shall write further on about the Jewish role in agriculture. Jews had a prominent role in fruit commerce and in horse trading. They were much less important in the selling of peat, which was mainly in gentile hands. Jewish participation in mills, tanning, brandy works and beer brewing was considerable.

[Col. 39]

But the main economic role of Jews in Suwalk area was in commerce, especially in retail merchandizing. The important export from the province, lumber, via the Augustow canal, lay entirely in Jewish hands.

[Col. 40]

In the first decade of this century, a small factory industry began to develop in Suwalk province. Jews played a pioneering role in this. They were also pioneers in the building of a widespread and modern communications system {does he mean transportation} via automobiles. This revived the economy of the entire region. The first firm in this area was M. Vaysberg in Suwalk.

A local Russian-German information brochure stated that the Jews in Suwalk province were the pulse of the entire economic life and this is no exaggeration.

[Col. 39]

4. Jews in agricultural settlements

One of the main characteristics which differentiated the Jews of the province of Suwalk from the Jews of most of the settlements of Russia-Poland, was their high percentage of farmers. For this reason, we are devoting a special chapter to this branch of the economy of Suwalk's Jews.

According to E.N. Frenk, of all the provinces in the Kingdom of Poland, only the province of Plotzk surpassed the province of Suwalk in its percentage of Jews in agriculture. Frenk reports that in 1843, 19.7% of the Jews in the province of Augustow (mostly in the Suwalk portion) lived in villages.[84] If we add to them those Jews that lived in cities and towns, and made their living (wholly or in part) from farming, the percentage would even be greater.

According to a table by Lestschintsky[85], 29.49% of the Jews in the province of Suwalk, that is almost one-third of the entire Jewish population, lived in villages.

Another famous Jewish researcher, Professor B. Brutskus, goes even further, claiming that the highest per cent of Jewish farmers were in Suwalk province. He writes that “there were many Jews settled on the soil and Jewish farm labourers in Suwalk province”.[86]

[Col. 40]

As far back as 125 years ago, there were wholly Jewish villages with their own synagogues.[87]

E.N. Frenk writes about Jewish villages in the early thirties of 19th century: “The most important colonies at that time (1833) were founded near the village of Kaleti in the Saini district, province of Augustow. The village belonged to the government and two Jews who lived there, Meir and Yosl, received land in perpetual tshinsh[16*] on condition that it be settled by Jews who would work the soil themselves and not hire Christians. This piece of land was called “Przshi-Kaleti”. By 1840, there were already eight peasant courtyards and a population of 77 men and 55 women – Jews who were employed exclusively in the village economy.[88]

Thus, we see that the Jews of Suwalk province (at that time, a part of the province of Augustow) were involved in agriculture and even had wholly Jewish villages years before Count Paskevitsh, the Russian namestnik in Poland thought up his plan of attracting Polish Jews to the soil.[89]

In his article “On the history of the Jewish colonization in the Kingdom of Poland”,[90] Dr. J. Shatzky writes that at the end of 1841, Count Paskevitsh explained his plan to a delegation of Jews. In February of 1843, he organized a committee whose purpose it was to work out a project for settling Jews on the land.

[Col. 41]

There were also a series of conferences of representatives from the Jewish communities in the Kingdom of Poland on the subject of raising funds to implement the project. Dr. Shatzky quotes a very interesting letter to the head of the Kahal in Suwalk in which the author writes of the necessity of raising these funds as quickly as possible. A copy of a letter to the heads of the Kahal, found in the Dubnow Archives dated march 1843, is an almost word-for-word repetition of the letter quoted by Dr. Shatzky.[91] The only difference between the two are: 1) Shatzky's letter is addressed to the head of the Kahal, Hayim Lipski, while the Dubnow {Archives} letter is to the elders of the Suwalk community headed by Yehezkel Lipski; 2) Shatzky's letter is written by an anonymous maskil[17*] in Yedvobne while the letter in the Dubnow Archives comes from Warsaw. Since both letters are almost exactly alike in content, E. Tcherikower has concluded,[92] that both letters were sent by the same person; once from Yedvobne and a second time from Warsaw. As to the difference in forenames of the head of the Suwalk Kahal, E. Tcherikower surmises that he probably had two names – Hayyim Yehzkel.[93]

Here is the complete translation[18*] of this very interesting letter:

[Col. 42]

Warsaw, Monday {of the reading of the portion} Vayakhel {March/April {5}650{1890}: “To my friend the famous and noble Yehezkel Lipski and to the outstanding leaders of the congregation of Suwalk:

We hear that the project for working the land which the gracious Count has entrusted to a committee will soon be realized. Therefore, I am writing this letter to urge you to speed up the preparation of the declarations for the province of Augustow to raise the charitable contributions so that the poor among us may be settled on the soil so that when the announcement is published, the emissaries from the province of Augustow will have their declarations in hand.

I have also written about this today to the other provinces and to the esteemed Rabbi Mendl Shadaver and to the wealthy R'Matis Mintz, that they should be prepared. There is no other news at this time.

After writing the above letter, since I missed the Monday post, I received a report from people coming from your province that you had not completed sending out the declarations and that you had not yet established a fund to support the poor from among our people, and even heard people say that the heads of the Kahal had become negligent in this matter, and that everyone was busy with his own affairs and not concerned about this important subject. When I heard this, I shuddered: Where is it heard that people as clever and understanding as you are, should not know the terrible consequences, God forbid, and I did not want to utter such thoughts, for, as our sages have taught: “do not open your mouth to Satan”. I simply cannot understand what you have in mind especially since this is the law of our holy Torah and the will of our gracious Count in whose protection and by whose grace, the grace of our exalted majesty the Czar, we live. How is it possible that you do not think of the terrible consequences, God forbid, if you do not pay heed and you stubbornly refuse to benefit from the goodness of the Count and do not take to working the soil which is now the greatest good fortune for everybody, besides helping the poor to settle on a piece of land and thus lessen the number of unemployed idlers? Woe to us what terrible things could come to pass, how my heart shrinks – the awful scandal that could be spread about our Jews – and the troubles that will befall the hard-hearted and stubborn ones.

[Col. 43]

I do not know of what you can, God forbid, suspect me. I can find a way out even without fields or inns or shops (at this point he hints that if we do not fulfil the will of the Count and of the exalted majesty, our properties would be taken from us – postscript of Suwalk heads of Kahal). But, whoever is conscious of God burns like a fire when he sees how our Jews continue to decline and when their condition is expected to worsen, I cannot rest in myself and I must arouse the conscience of my brothers, the children of Israel. My friends, I am not a leader or a ruler, not a rabbi or a judge, but I have expressed myself in this way in order to assuage my anger and bitterness and have fulfilled my duty. I beg forgiveness for my harsh words, which bear witness to my great concern and anguish in this matter – and, I shall write no more. I have written this letter at the home of Rabbi Zalman Pozner and was quite brief; for the above named wealthy rabbi told me to write more bad tidings (we have translated this letter word for word).
(signed) Avraham Rozntal
Yehezkel Lipski
Moshe Epshteyn.

This letter to the Suwalk community, expressed the disappointment of Jewish communal workers in the lack of interest by wealthy men in the plan to settle Polish Jews on the soil. The first proclamation in December 1841, did not bring the hoped for results, and in December 1843, a new proclamation came out under the caption: “To the children of our faith” on the same subject. It is interesting that one of the new signers of this proclamation is “Yehuda Bakhrakh, Head of the Religious Court of Saini[94-95]. Saini was given this honour because there were already some Jewish villages in that district and also because of the fame of its rabbi.

Years later, when the Jews of Suwalk province became more involved in commerce, there were still many Jewish farmers. In 1854, in Saini district, there were 44 Jewish farmers – 293 if we include their families. In 1855 = 49 Jewish farmers – 401 people; in 1856 = 64 Jewish farmers – 390 people with their families; in 1859 = 179 – 985 with their families, and in 1865, there were 196 Jewish farmers making 1208 people on the soil if we include their families.[96]

[Col. 44]

At the time of the great fire in 1879 in Lazdai, Suwalk province, the following farmers sent immediate assistance: Shevah Ziman from the estate Kirsne, 15 pud bread and his brother Z'ev from the estate Abelnik, 25 pud rye.[97]

In 1881, Reb Mendel Bramson of Suwalk, bought one of the largest estates in Suwalk province. The price he paid shows how wealthy he was – 150,000 rubbles. The name of the estate was Losovitz, and it was in Jewish hands for decades. At the end of the nineties, the writer and teacher, Y.S. Vays (Yehosham Halivni) worked there as a tutor.

This Reb Menahem Mendel Bramson was the author of novellas on the tractate Yuma (“Torat Menahem”, Warsaw {5}667{1907}. He was one of the few, and perhaps the only Jewish scholar, who proclaimed his rural origins on the title page: “by the village author, son of Rahti and owner of the estate Losovitz in the province of Suwalk”.

Bramson was not only a Jewish “nobleman” who kept estates for commercial purposes. From his youth, he had despised buying and selling and preferred to live in his village close to the soil he loved. In the introduction to his book, “and I hereby give thanks that I have been one of those who repelled petty trade as a youth for the cultivation of my land; nevertheless, this farmer too is among the scholarly authors”.

The well-known writer in his time, A.Y. Goldshmidt, served as a tutor at the Bramson and this is how he describes the family:

“The home of the Bramson family owners of Losevitz was unique. The older Bramson, R'Menahem Mendel, a good-hearted person and properly Orthodox, sat day and night studying Torah, and had authored a book: “Torat Menahem” on the tractate Yuma. His wife, Sheynah Iseah, was of the old sort of Jewish housewives about whom poets have written. Their older son, Alexander, behaved like a Polish nobleman, but the younger one, Volf, who private tutor I was, was an exceptionally outstanding, hard worker, who managed all the affairs with great talent – both the estate and the brewery”.

[Col. 45]

The estate was in the hands of the Jews for four generations. “….the old father would subscribe to the best books of the Talmudic literature. The old mother would subscribe to religious reading matter; and for the whole household, there would arrive all of the daily, weekly and monthly periodicals in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish and German… There was a grand library full of remarkable and rare volumes”.

“….The retreating army (Russian, at the time of the First World War) plundered and burned Losevitsh; the Germans chopped down 60,000 trees of the Bramson forest and took over whatever there remained of the estate. The old Bramsons and Alexander died, and Volf …. was driven out of his ancestral heritage”.. “In Dark and Angry Times” by A.Y. Goldshmidt. Vilne 1930, p.198.

In 1897, Jewish farmers in the province of Suwalk, owned or leased 33,000 desyats[19*] of land. It should be added that many Jews feared to list their occupation as farmers in the 1897 census.

“In the province of Suwalk, there were a large group of Jewish farmers who owned tens of hectares of land. Franks, Zimans, Freyds, Eydelses and other families had for many generations concentrated in their lands, estates measuring thousands of hectares”.[98a]

At the start of this century, a Hebrew writer wrote that: “in the province of Suwalk, Jewish farmers are settled on the soil in villages and work the soil themselves and bring in their bread from their own grain”.[99]

Jewish agriculture in Suwalk province had already reached a high level of achievement at the end of the last century. Not only the large estates, but also the small ones used machinery, artificial fertilizer, etc. Jews owned estates run by modern methods. A large number of such estates were found in the districts of Kalverie, Vilkovishk, Mariampol and Nayshtat (Vladislavov), not included in this work.

Only a short time before the Holocaust, there was still a village in the Suwalk area named “Panasishok-Zshidkaymis”.[100]



* Until 1905, the name Suwalk was spelled many different ways. In the Hebrew alphabet, it was written as Suvalk but on the title pages of old books and in old correspondence, etc., it can be found spelt as Suvalk, Sylk, Svalkm. In a bill of divorce, it was spelled Syvalk (with three vavs) [Translator's note: obviously this note makes no sense since he is showing different Hebrew spellings of the word]

1. According to the Brockhaus Lexicon, Leipzig 1895, the figure is 12,551 sq.km. Return
2. Sudovos Suvalkojos Istorija. Jonas Totoraitis. Kaunas 1938. Return
3. V. Grosnam “Lite”. New York 1951, p.1254. Return
4. Suduvos Suvalkijos Istorija. Jonas Totoraitis. Kaunas 1938 Return
5. Ibid. p.584 Return
6. In a list of churches in this area, according to the Acts of the Vilna Synod, Suwalk is not mentioned. However, the name Suwalk appears in a second list from the same source in 1717. (Totoraitis 359). Return
7. Yev. Entsiklopedia, v.13 Return
8. Jurtzenca 1862, p.106 Return
9. Erets Rusya u-meloah. Yehoshua Levinzohn. Vilne 1868 p.89. Return
10. Keneset Yisrael. Varsha 646{1886}. Return
11. Brackhaus Lexikon. Leipzig 1895 p.525. Return
12. Yev. Entsiklopedia v.14. According to the same source, there were 92,910 people in Suwalk district, among them, 10,472 Jews. Return
13. Totoraitis, p.231,241,579. Uznemune po Prusais, Augustinas Janulaitis. Kaunas 1928 p.191. Return
14. Slovnik Geografitshni Krolevstvo Polskieg p.388 ; Janulaitis p.191 ; Totoraitis p.195,202,578. Return
15. Totoraitis, p.579 : Janulaitis p.192 ; Erets Rusya U-meloah, p.39 Return
16. Janulaitis p.191 ; Totoraitis p.199,243 ; Slovnik Geografitshni. Return
17. Totoraitis, p.199,292,578; Janulaitis p.191; Slovnik Geografitshni. Return
18. Totoraitis, p.219; Janulaitis p.191. Return
19.Slovnik Geografitshni p.636; Janulaitis p.191. Return
20. Janulaitis, p.191. Return
21.Totoraitis. P.186; Janulaitis p.191; A german-Russian brochure published in Suwalk around 1910 (title page missing). Return
22. Slovnik Geografitshni; Totoraitis p.584. Return
23. Holshe's book was unattainable so we quote from an article written by Dr. P.Friedman: “Virtshaftlikhe umshikhtungs protsese.. in der Polnishn Yudenshaft 1870-1800” published in “Jewish Studies in Memory of G. Kohut”. New York 1935. The same appears in Slovnik Geografitshni; in Janulaitis p.191; Totoraitis p.496, and in Lietuva. A.Bendorius. Brooklyn 1952 p.168. Return
24. See note 23.The same quotation from Holshe about the Suwalk market place also appears in Y.Yakobson's work: “Die Stellung Der Juden in den 1793 und 1795 von Preussen Erworbenen Polnischen Provinzen zur Zeit der Besitznahme” (Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums”, 64. Jahrgang, Heft 10-12 S.292). Return
25. P. Friedman. Op.cit. pp.217,234. Return
26. Legend has it that the Vilkovishk synagogue was built of materials donated by the wife of the starosta of Pren, Count Stefan Pata. Return
27. “Mishpahat Broda”. Azriel Meir Broda. Warsaw {5}698{1938}. Return
28. ”Darkhe Noamé. Has, by the way, an approbation from the Vilna Gaon. Return
29. Enziklopedia Judaika v.9, p.848. Return
30. Also Vizshayni, Vizshani but not Vizshuni, as the Enziklopedia Judaika mentions in error. Vizshuni or Vizshun is a town in Lithuania. Return
31. Yev. Entsiklopedia 5, p.544. Jewish Encyclopaedia 12, p.445. Return
32. Article by M. Wischnitzer in “Lite” v.1. New York 1951, p.974. Return
33. “Di Yidishe velt”. Vilkovishk 1935, p.13. Return
34. Ibid. Return
35. Yev. Entsiklopedia 5, p.544. Slovnik Geograitshni, p.697. In Jewish Encyclopaedia there is an egregious error: the number of inhabitants of Wizshan in 1897 is given as 2274, of which the majority were Jews – clearly a misprint. Return
36. Yev. Entsikl. 3, p.694. Return
37. Slovnik Geografitshni, p.1812. Yev. Entsikl. 15, p.240. Return
38. Totoraitis, p.518. See also: Kurland und Litauen Ost-preussens Nachbaren, Johnnes Wronka. Freiburg 1917, p.139. Return
39. Yev. Entsikl. 14, p.114. Slovnik Geografitshni. Return
40. “Judishes Foks-blat”. Peterburg 1885, n°14. Return
41. Yev. Entsikl.13, p.336. Return
42. Ibid. 14, p.114 and v.9, p.821. Return
43. Ibid.12, p.911. Slovnik, p.176. Return
44. Janulaitis, p.216. Return
45. ”Bleter far Geshikhte”.. Warsaw 1934, n°3, p.44. A similar gathering took place in Warsaw in July 1810. At that time, one of the delegates from Lomza province was Avraham Simon of Saini. (Ibid. 1938, article by M. Keremer). Return
46. Yev. Entsikl. M 14, p.604. Return
47. “Dos Yidishe folk in tsifern”. Y. Leshtsinski. Berlin 1922. Return
48. According to Slovnik Geografitshni – 7016. Return
49. Dzieje Handlu Zydowskiego na Ziemiach Polskich. Ignaz Schipper. Warszawa 1937, p.462. Dr. Schipper says, by the way, that in 1862, Jews of Suwalk made up 63% of the town's population. Return
50. In the article quoted, p.216. Return
51. Neuate Wirtschaftsegeschichte, Der Juden in Russland und Polen. S.B. Weinryb. Breslau 1934 p.14. Return
52. Ibid p.22. Return
53. Pervaya Perepisi Namelenya Rasiskaia Imperiya. Suvalskaya Gebernia. 1897. Peterburg 1904. Return
54. Brockhaus-Lexikon p.525. Return
55. The “Hatsefirah” of 1892,n°79, quotes the Polish “Viek” as stating that in 1891, Jews made up 60% of all of the inhabitants of Suwalk. In the “Hayom” of Peterburg 1886, n°102, an anonymous correspondent writes from Suwalk that the number of Jews there is greater than the number of Christians. In “Hamelits” of 1893 n°5, there is a report from a Suwalk correspondent, that there are around 10,000 Jews in town. Return
56. In the previously cited book by Lestschinsky, p.77, the figure of over 12,000 Jews in Suwalk in 1913 is given by Vlad. V. Kaplun-Kagan in his “Die Jüdische Sprach un Kulturgemeinschaft in Polen. Berlin-Wien 1917, S.3.
It is worth mentioning here that in most of the larger cities of Suwalk province, Jews were an absolute majority: Shaki=88%; Vilkovishk=86.1%; Kalvarie=80%; Vladislavove=79.2%; Mariampol=78.7%. In Saini the percentage was smaller but still over 60% (according to “Entsiklopedia Pavshekhna”. Warsaw 1903 v.14). Return
57. “Bleter far demografie, statistic un ekonomik” (leaves, or pages for demography, statistics and economics). Berlin 1923-25. N°5 p.17. Return
58. Ibid. p.188. Return
59. In an already cited article by Dr. Friedman, p.240. Return
60. In an already cited book by B. Weinryb, p.44. Return
61. In 1860, in many places in the province of Augustow, there was a “House for peasants” established where the villagers could sell their produce and also get loans. This competition with Jewish commerce did not last long. Return
62. Dr. Y. Schipper in his cited Polish book, p.170. Return
63. One wax candle factory with three Jewish workers; one tallit factory= five Jewish workers; one kerchief factory=26 Jewish workers; five starch factories=7; three vinegar factories=3; one straw hat factory=10 Jewish workers. (“Economic writings, YIVO v.2 p.45). Return
64. B. Weinryb, ibid p.75. Return
65. The Augustow canal connects the Nieman to the Visle. The canal was begun in 1825 under {the supervision} of Polish military engineers. In 1838 it was completed. It cost 16.5 million rubbles beside the lumber which the government supplied from its huge neighbouring forests. Return
66. In “Hatsefirah” n°35, 1899, Ben Amar writes from Suwalk that the newly built railroad line through Alite and Augustow to Vilne and Grodne had a good effect on the Augustow area.
67. Jerusalem {5}638{1878] p.58. About the writer, see further on. Return
68. “…and my daughter, the very talented and modest Lea-Nehamah, died in Saini the first day of Rosh Hashanah {5}613 {1853} of cholera…..and tens of thousands of men and women perished”. Return
69. “Hamagid” 1866 n°25 and 35. The name “Ukrainski Hotel” did not lead even one gentile to think that it was 100% genuinely gentile: Ukrainian. Return
70. “Hamagid” 1871, n°31.32. Return
71. “Israelit” 1869, n°10. Return
72. Ibid. n°13. Return
73. “Halevanon” 1869 n°36. The “Koenigsberger Hoypt-Grenets-Komitet” {The Koenigsberg Chief-Border-Committee (?)} had , as one of its activities, the sending of Jewish orphans to German cities to be educated and taught a trade. In a list of such orphans in the city of Aachen, there is the name of a boy from Suwalk, Shelomoh Fraydkovski. (Bericht Der Alliance Israélite Universelle. 1877, semester II, S.43). Return
74. “Halevanon” 1869, n°36. Return
75. Ibid. 1870 n°21. Return
76. A.S. Liberman, in a letter dated May 7th, 1877 writes that: “now an agent has shown up who will take a large number of copies across the border, in a manner he knows well and distribute them to the subscribers of various cities. He himself is a writer and a merchant”. K. Marmor, editor {publisher?] of “Aharon Liberman's Letters” (New York 1951, p.174), mentions in passing, that the writer-merchant is YTehudah Vistinetski from Baklerowe. Return
77. “Festschrift Zu Dubnows Siebzigsten Geburtstag”. Berlin S;237.241. Return
78. Ketavim le-toldot hibat Tsiyon ve-yishuv “Y {writings on the history of the Love of Zion and the settlement of the Land of Israel}. Editor. A. Druyanow. Tel-Aviv 1932 v.3 p.323 n°1115. Return
79. “Hamelits” 1884 n°5. Return
80. Peterberg “Hayom” n°102. Return
81. ”Hamelits” 1884 n°122. Return
82. Ibid 1895 n°54. Return
83. Yev.Entsek 10 p.541. Return
84. ”Bleter far demografie, statistik un ekonomik”. Berlin 1923-25 n°5 p.185. Return
85. ”Dos Yidishe folk in tsifern”. {The Jewish people in numbers}, table 11. Return
86. “Landvirtshaft in Mizrah-Eyropa”. {Agriculture in Eastern Europe}. Berlin 1926 p.38. Return
87. Y. Raseyn in “Lite”. New York 1951 p.997. Return
88. “Bleter far demografie….” N°5 p.18. See also article by Dr. Y. Shatzki in “YIVO Bleter” 1924 v.6 p.215. Return
89. In 1775 the Polish Sejm passed a resolution to allow Jews to settle on the land but, it made no great impression on the Jews of Poland. Return
90. “YIVO Bleter” 1934 n°2. See also “Historishe shrift” v.2 p.600. Return
91. “Historishe shrift” v.4 p.601. Return
92. Ibid. Return
93. There is no doubt that the head of the community of Suwalk at that time was Yehezkel Lipski. We have found this name on lists of subscribers, signers of letters, etc. We have never seen the name Hayim-Yehezkel. If Yehezkel Lipski had a second {fore} name, why did he not use it in his signatures – something not done by Jews at that time. We think that the maskil of Yedvobne was simply mistaken. Only once did we find a statistic (“Hamagid 1858 n°10) written by a man from Suwalk named Mordekhay bRY”H Lipski, and those initials could stand for b”R {son of Rabbi} Yehezkel Hayim but could also stand for a different name and, therefore, do not prove anything. Return
94. Note: while there is a footnote 94-95 in the text, there is no 94 at foot of page
95. “Bleter far demografie..” n°5. Return
96. Die Neuste Wirtsschaftsgeschichte Der Juden. O.S. Weinryb. Breslau 1934 S;188/3. {translator's note: Dr. Sucher Bernard Dov Weinryb, who died last year, is quoted by Kagan with a number of different first initials}. Return
97. “Hamelits” 1879 n°37. The Ziman family is mentioned among the well-known agricultural families in the already cited book “Lite” p.999. Return
98. “Tiltule Derekh. {Journeys, or wanderings}. Yehoshem Halvini. Tel-Aviv 1931 p.123. Return
98a. Dr. L. Verzshbovits in “To revival through work”. Kaunas 1935, p.22. Return
99. “Hizayon al ha-Tsiyonim umitnagdehem” {a vision of the Zionists and their opponents} Y. Vaysberg. Warsaw {5}662{1902} p.26. Return
100. Y. Rasayn in “Lite” v.1, p.1001. – Zshidkaymis means Jewish village in Lithuanian. Return

Translator's Footnotes

1*. Literally, a city and a mother Return
2*. Kahan uses the phrase: “hesed shel emet” which means the last act of kindness one does for a dead person, that is, watch, wash and bury the corpse in a Jewish grave Return
3*. Kameduln Order. I looked all over for something that sounded or looked like this. The closest I could find was in the Catholic Encyclopaedia. The Camaldolese Order, an Italian order, had one monastery in Bielany, Poland. Return
4*. “When Otto the Great wished to grant a subsidy to the newly built church at Magdeburg, he made it a present of the revenue he derived from 'the Jews and other merchants'”. Graetz v.3 p.243 Return
Dubnow, Simon, History of Jews in Russian and Poland. JPS 1916, v.1 p.44, gives a better explanation of this Magdeburg Law or is teutonicum, Das Magdeburger Recht, a collection of laws based on the famous Sachsenspiegel which composed early in the 13th century in Saxony. One of its main provisions was the administrative and judicial independence of municipalities.Return
5*. To gather wood for fuel? Return
6*. Letter of protection Return
7*. This sentence is not quite clear in text but this is how I understand it Return
8*. Kagan uses word “arbet”=work which I have translated as “article” because that is what I have inferred from his context. He may be referring to something else Return
9*. Word used was Smoliar from smole; pitch. Not clear what a smoliar does Return
10*. Hebrew text translated into Yiddish in footnote 68 which I translated into English from Yiddish Return
11*. Not clear whether this means waiters Return
12*. Obviously my translation cannot reflect the archaic rendering of the ad, which Kagan found so charming Return
13*. Alliance Israélite Universelle Return
14*. This is translated from the French, so I do not know how it appeared in the original, but since French is also highly inflected, it is obvious that the words for students – talmidim – are masculine in both languages, and the words for teachers, for whom the girls mourn, are feminine in both languages Return
15*. Nickname for fires Return
16*. Ownership? Return
17*. Enlightened Jew Return
18*. From Hebrew into Yiddish Return
19*. A measure of land. I could not find this word anywhere Return


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