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[Column 613 Yiddish] [Column 174 Hebrew]

Dubno Eighty Years Ago

by Yitzkhok Aizik Feffer

Translated by Pamela Russ

In the year 1880, when I was eighteen years old, after my marriage to Khaya Laya Rinzberg, I left my hometown Olyk, not far from Dubno, and settled in Dubno proper.

Unlike the regular life of the youth in that period, who for years used to eat kest [regular meals as part of the dowry] at their father…in…law's home, and who spent regular time at the Beis Medrash [Study Hall] and in the kloizen [small Chassidic circles or courts], I went to work in trade, being certain that I would earn a living from that.

At that time, the main business for the Jews of Dubno was stores and shops. Rent for one such store was generally about six ruble a year, and the value of an average shop was between eight and ten ruble. If there was about twenty ruble worth of material in a shop, the merchant was considered to be a wholesaler. Taxes did not bother the merchants and shopkeepers. They paid government tax (“promislovi nalog”; “guaranteed taxes”) of about 30 kopeks a year, according to the number of candles the women used to light and bless on Friday night. The taxes were not paid directly to the government, but to the collectors (“zborschtchik”), such as Reb Moti Waldman

[Column 614]

who would collect the leasing taxes from the government, collecting the debts with the help of other collectors, all of them our Jewish brothers.

The Russian authorities in the city were represented by few officials, the highest of which was the chief of police, along with his two helpers, inspectors, and 2…3 policemen (“desyatnikes”; “of ten men” sergeants), who maintained order. Among these, I remember the old policeman Kuzma.

This is how the local authorities were, and their relationship with the people was very good.

There was a prison in town called “dvoryanskaya turma” [“the nobleman's prison”], a large room where they detained criminal citizens by day, and then they went home at night to sleep in their own beds…

In the year 1880, the southwest train was already working, which at Radziwill cut across the Austrian border and from there went to Brody and beyond … to Lemberg. During the summer, in town, people rode in kibitka [Russian carriages] and in the winter … in peasant sleds.

The population in Dubno a hundred years ago, as the old people would recount, was … a small Jewish settlement. They would

[Column 615]

describe the place as “Dubno near Murawiez” in the 80s of the former century … about 5,000 souls, and they earned a living as shoemakers, smithies, harness makers, tailoring, carpentry, and masonry. As Jewish workers, there were chimneysweeps, limestone workers, dyers, folk doctors [barber surgeon], haircutters and shavers, and those who did drawing of blood, leeching and cupping. Jews also worked as furriers, porters, transporters, and watercarriers from the river. On the other hand, the peasants (“Poleshukes”; [Poleshchuki, is the name given to the people who populated the swamps of Polesia] in the area did the wood chopping, as they were “rented” by Jewish homes to chop wood for the winter. They would do this in the summertime and store the wood in the ovens by the houses.

There were no roads or sidewalks in town, so they put boards from one house to the next on rainy days. In the marketplace, in the center of town, was the City Council building, and in their yard was residents' garbage and waste. The city owned two mills. One … the watermill of Shloss (Shlossmill), and the other … of the Princess Szubalowa and her daughters. Jews earned a substantial living and comfort from both mills.

Once a year, there was a horse fair under the name of “Kontrakten.”

There were thick forests in the area, such as the Smyg, on the road to Kreminyc [Krzemieniec], and Jewish forest merchants of Dubno employed hunters, and they chopped down the pine trees, the oak trees, and the fir trees to export out of the country. At that time, Reb Aron Aronstajn was well known. He employed four hunters. His sons…in…law were Reb Nissel Wajnberg and Reb Shmuel Halevi Horowyc, descendants of the Shelah Hakadosh [Isaiah ben Abraham Horowitz, c. 1555[1][2] … March 24, 1630, also known as the Shelah Hakadosh, after the title of his best…known work; was a prominent rabbi and mystic].

The family Bratz (the son of Reb Tzadok) and the family Marszalkowyc belonged to the higher class of people in Dubno, who were blessed with wealth and fine character. The Bratz family was wealthy and they were generous spenders with an open

[Column 616]

hand. The largest textile business of in town belonged to them. They built up a beautiful kloiz for relatives and Torah scholars.


In the 80s, only traces of the Berlin Haskalah [Enlightenment] were still evident. But Chassidus also made roots in town, even though not everyone embraced it. In Dubno, there were shtiebelech [plural of shtiebel, small informal synagogue] of the Karliner and Ruzhiner chassidim, of the Ostrower, Olyker, Kotzker, Trisk…Stoliner, and Trisker, whose rabbis were descendants of Reb Motele Czernobyler [of the Czernobyler dynasty].

The Kotzker chassidim, loyal followers of the Rebbe [spiritual leader] Reb Mendele, were small in number. They followed their Rebbe, and studied Gemara [Talmud], Peirushim [rabbinic elucidations], and Tosafos [classic commentaries on the Talmud], prayed at later times, and did not travel to their Rebbe, but regularly sent monies [as a token, redemption] every year. The four main pillars of the Kozker chassidus in Dubno were: Reb Berish Shmarye's (Roitman) outstanding scholarship. His parents settled in Dubno at the beginning of the 18th century; Reb Beryl Yekhiel's, originally from Poland; Reb Leybish Teumim and Reb Berish Avigdor's, from the residents of Dubno.

There was no organized life in Dubno during that period. The city did not have a decent hospital, other than the “hekdesh” [disorderly designated area], and also did not have a place for care of the elderly. In the large synagogue, there was a small room that was called the “community room” in which two tax collectors sat, whose job was to collect money for the most urgent expenses, such as: for the baths, cemeteries, and so on. They also were busy with community issues. The Kazioner Rav was Reb Meyer Pessye's, who would write out birth and death certificates. Reb Pinkhas Pessye's, author of the book “The City of Dubno and Her Rabbis” was a grandson of Reb Meyer and earned a living as a shopkeeper. After Reb Meyer, the next Kazioner Rebbe was Reb Khaim Zalman Margolioz, and he also

[Column 617]

investigated the history of the city, even though he was not a native born Volyner, but came from Lithuania.


There were six shokhtim [ritual slaughterers] in town at that time. Among them were: Reb Meyer son of Yosef the shokhet and bodek [examiner of the meat] and a specialist at sharpening the knives; Reb Sender son of Lippe, an expert on sircha [any adhesions on the lungs which may render the meat non…kosher]; and Reb Yakov Shub, son of a simple harness maker, but a God…fearing man and a great Torah scholar, and of the Zinkower chassidim. The tax…farmer was Reb Borukh Cohen. The head of the Jewish court was Rev Dovid Tzvi Auerbakh, frail because of his old age.

Dubno had many houses of worship, kloizen [private study halls], and study halls.

The sexton in the large synagogue was the wealthy man Reb Meyer Szumski, an influential man appreciated by the aristocracy. Businessmen prayed there along with the ordinary people. This was a house with thick, tall walls, strong walls, and domed windows, and inside were wide, strong columns. Close to the synagogue, there was a small patch of earth, walled in, marking the bride and groom who were slaughtered under their canopy by Chmelnytsky's animals in the year 1648. The Holy Ark was a work of art made by wood carvers, and years later it was completely covered with pure gold. Precious curtain covers [of the Holy Ark], woven with gold and silver and handicraft, were often found in synagogues and on Simkhas Torah night [last day of Sukos holiday, celebrating with Torah scrolls], they put a white satin cover sewn with pearls over the Holy Ark.

Other than the large synagogue, there were kloizen of Trisk, Olyk, and Stolin chassidim, and also of the hat makers. Day and night, you could hear the voices of Reb Avrohom Mordekhai and of Reb Aron and the sons of great rabbis learning Torah and reciting prayers. There was no yeshiva [religious school] in Dubno, but there were many students of Talmud and small schools for young and old, with teachers for the very young. Whoever wanted to study Jewish law and Mishna [Talmud] … always studied in the Beis Medrash [Study Hall]. One warmly remembers

[Column 618]

the teachers of the young: Reb Fishel, Reb Yoel, and Reb Leizer Poliak; the teachers of Chumash [Five Books of Torah] and Rashi [primary commentary] … Reb Naftoli and Reb Leizer Berish'es; the Talmud teachers : Reb Itzik Leyb, the blind one Reb Avremele, and Reb Yosi Gutman.


In the Dubno region there used to be many trade fairs. On the 20th of every month there was a market day in Olyk; on the 15th of every month … in Mlinow; on the 10th … in Merwycz; and on the 20th … in Berestecko.

Traveling to these types of fairs was physically and mentally challenging. All of the roads were twisted, muddy, with ditches and hills. You would leave at dawn and get back in the middle of the night … everything for a livelihood.

Another source of livelihood for many families in town, left behind from the Polish rule, were the inns and temporary [“drop in”] houses.


In the 80s, in Dubno, there were a few leftovers of the Enlightenment generation, among them … Reb Avrohom…Ber Gotlober, the publisher of the magazine “Haboker Ohr” [“The Morning Light”]. There were no schools in Dubno at that time, therefore, when a Jew needed to write something in the province [government], or just to compile an address in Russian, he turned to Yossi the writer, who, with a professional handwriting, put everything on paper. Also, the young Pinkhasowyc knew how to put together requests with a nice Russian handwriting. There was one more like that in town, Khaim the writer, a man of the Enlightenment, who would always [write] satirically about the mud and dirt of the Jews that would always be removed on the eve of Passover. He used to say: “Wait, dear Jews! Wait! When the Messiah will arrive, all the holidays will be nullified, and then you will sink in dirt until over your heads, and all year round….”

In town, there was a whole institution by

[Column 619]

the name of “Potcht” [“mail”] … Leyb Silsker, with his horse and buggy. When letters were amassed, he took them from the town to the train station and from there … beyond…

In the year 1882, Dubno was boiling as a kettle: Czar Alexander III was coming to visit the town!

The homeowners took to beautifying their houses, they whitewashed the walls, cleaned up the garbage

[Column 620]

and washed the roads. The Czar really did come to town with great pomp, and with his successor Nikolai. Near Reb Avrohom's kloiz the community elders gathered, rabbis, and those who worked in the religious Jewish world, with decorated Torah scrolls in hand. But the Czar and his escorts only drove by the town and only visited the old castle. No one even glanced at the Jewish delegation…

[Column 619]

Dubno between the World Wars

Translated by Pamela Russ

In Dubno, which had three mainland entrances and exits, there were three suburbs: Surmicze, Zabramye, and Pantalye. In these suburbs, there lived primarily Ukrainians and a few Jews, but in the city proper, the majority of residents were Jewish. In general, the city of Dubno was a Jewish one. In the surrounding villages, the population was a mixture of several peoples: a large part was Ukrainian, Czech, and a few Germans and Poles. These Ukrainians always took part in all the pogroms, most of them against the Jews. The Jewish resistance was weak. Jews would hide in their houses and the Ukrainians would, undisturbed, do their work as part of the pogrom – murder and looting.

Between one pogrom and another, the Jews sat quietly in the town, li69ved with their worries about a livelihood, guarded all the mitzvos [religious commands from the Torah], and decrees and laws of the country. The majority earned their piece of bread in an honorable manner, and there were also many social statuses: the intelligentsia (intellectuals and academics), merchants, craftsmen, laborers, wagon–drivers, and porters.

The economic life in town was divided into a few sectors: industrial, handwork, laborers, those without income, and so on. In the trade sector, there were grain merchants, who bought wheat and corn from the farmers, and sold him the milled [ground products]: hops merchants who bought this item from the Czechs

[Column 620]

in the surrounding villages, dried and sorted it, in order to be able to sell it to the beer brewers in the country. A significant part of the material was also exported to Germany, Austria, suburbs, and so on.

Another section was comprised of shops, wholesale and retail merchants of food, clothing, manufactured items, confection, haberdashery, and so on. The majority of them earned a living from the non–Jewish population that used to come into town from the surrounding villages, would sell their agriculture products, and buy whatever they needed in the Jewish stores.

There were also the booth owners in the city market (toltczok) and around the market, they used to sell manufactured items, haberdashery, and food. The peasants would also bring their fare here and would sell them through arrangements with the market, or in the market directly.

Industry in the city was small and primitive. The main work was – with the hops projects. It was primarily women who worked there, but few were Jewish. Maybe ten percent. The workers there were specialists, the management, and supervisors – all Jews. The work was seasonal.

A significant portion of the Jewish population in town was employed in handwork. The vocations: tailoring, hat making, seamstresses, shoemakers, carpenters, smithies, wood turners, locksmiths. All of these

[Column 621]

activities employed workers, organized from the professional unions. A significant number belonged to the Communist party. The other salaried workers who were employed as trade employees, were not organized.

There was also a sector that lived from its own labor: wagon drivers, porters, [horse] cab drivers, water carriers, and water drivers. These worked hard in the summer and winter, but provided for their families in a most respectable manner.

The intelligentsia lived nicely and comfortably: doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and others.

There were a number of season workers, such as those who were matzo bakers [for Passover]. The matzos, baked in Dubno, had a reputation because of their high quality and were sent to other cities in the country. The season of matzo export began right after Channuka and stretched until Purim. It was only after Purim that they started baking matzos for the local residents and for the others in the area.

Among the unemployed, there were Jewish youths who also did not have an opportunity for education. It was difficult to find work. Not all of them wanted to take on any type of job. A large portion was actually embarrassed to go to work, the majority – girls, and they became a burden to their impoverished parents.

Those who were poor and those completely without any means were not a small number in the city. They did not have enough bread to eat each day. Businessmen would borrow for them, and each week they would run around to collect some products and money for the needy families so that they would not be without challos [braided bread especially for Sabbath], bread, fish, and meat for Shabbos [Sabbath]; and for Passover, they should not be without matzo and other essential items. The businessmen also collected for the needy families for the other holidays. This work was conducted very discreetly, so that no one should know who were the needy ones.

As winter approached, a panic befell those families who did not have the means for daily life.

[Column 622]

The concerns to acquire the following were great:

  1. heating
  2. warm clothing and shoes for the household
  3. the necessary products for the winter
Community activists also took care of these needs. They distributed wood for heating, although not much, collected warm clothes for the needy, and so on.

All these districts lived their lives economically, each at his own level. Also, the synagogues, Batei Midrashim [Study Halls], shtiebelech [small, informal places of prayer], were divided into various categories. There were Study Halls for almost every vocation: tailors, shoemakers, hat makers, shoemakers, wagon drivers, and so on. There were also shuls [synagogues] and chassidic shtiebelech: Olik, Stolin, Bresslau, and Trisk [names of various chassidic groups]. Here there were people of all classes and districts. Each shtiebel and its chassidim [followers of that chassidic group] were loyal to each other in general and in their private lives, in joys and in pain, but during a Kiddush on Shabbos [festive event following morning Sabbath prayers], during Shalosh Seudos [the evening meal on Sabbath day], Melave Malka [festive meal following the end of Sabbath], on the Jewish holidays, and especially on Simchas Torah [last celebratory day of Sukkos holiday], everyone celebrated as one family – young and old. Also, the children and the youth that would come every Shabbos to the Beis Medrash, became connected through games (with nuts) during the pauses while reading the Torah, and other games around the Beis Medrash.

There were general synagogues in town that had no connection to workers, vocations, or living quarters. From these came the large shul which was attended by the lovers of cantors and choirs. The beadles of the large shul always tried to have a famous cantor, excellent director, and first–class choir. Because of that, they would come to the large shul from all districts and all corners of the city, just to hear the singing.


Education and Training

In the city, there was a whole collection of learning institutions, starting from cheder [very young boys], to Talmud Torah [older boys], teachers in the homes, yeshivos [religious schools for boys], government public schools (“powszekhne”), the Hebrew school “Tarbut,” the Polish–Jewish gymnasium [high school], and the Polish government gymnasium. At the beginning of 1920, there was also a Russian gymnasium and a Hebrew–Russian school.

[Column 623]

Articles from “Dubno Life” Newspaper

First article title: Real Work Is More Important than Politics
Second article title: From Here and There (Reflections)
Third article title: Report of the Activities of the Dubno Magistrate for the Year 1928


[Column 624]

Children aged four began their learning in the cheder. The children of the rabbis also went to school here until they began studying Gemara [Talmud], and then they went into higher level cheders, where they labored with Gemara and Tosefos [commentaries]. Some of these boys later studied in the yeshiva of Reb Avrom Mordkhe's school, founded by HaRav Gutman, of blessed memory. In this Talmud Torah, that had its own house, children studied free of charge. It was HaRav Rozenfeld, of blessed memory, the founder of the Talmud Torah, who supported them.

A large number of young girls and boys did not attend the government public schools (“powszekhne”), because the traditionally religious parents did not want to send their children to a school that had classes on Shabbos and on religious holidays.

The wealthier Jews sent their children to the Hebrew “Tarbut” school. Not everyone could afford to send their children there. So, some studied in the cheders, in yeshivas, and had private classes at home with a tutor. This was less expensive.

This system also existed for the private Jewish gymnasium, where the school fee was steep. Therefore, many youths, even capable ones, could not afford any form of education.

In the Polish government gymnasium they accepted hardly any Jews. In order to get in there, you needed exceptional skills, means, and connections. But even with all these in place, many Jewish students were refused simply because they were Jewish. The percentage of Jewish students there reached only 3%.

In spite of all these difficulties that I have described, the Jewish youth was not illiterate. A fine youth evolved, a Zionist youth, a party youth, a pioneering youth [for Israel], with ideals to achieve the Zionist dream and immigrate to the Land of Israel. Sadly, very few of them merited this.


Parties and Organizations

In the city, there were many parties and organizations, from the extreme right to the extreme left: Beitar, Gordonya, Tzeirei Mizrachi, Hachalutz, Hachalutz Hatzair, HaShomer Hatzair, general Zionists, “Bundists” and communists.

[Column 625]

Dubno between World Wars

The first Olim [immigrants to Israel] from Dubno who came to Israel at the beginning of the 1920s came from Hechalutz [Zionist youth movement in Eastern Europe]. In their club, there were lectures on cultural and educational themes about Israel. At the same time, they created the Hachshara, training program for Israel life. Other than these evenings where the lectures were given, the youth gathered together at the center for friendly get–togethers, discussions, talks about the situation in the Hachshara, and how life looked in the Land of Israel. Also, trips were organized to the Hachshara points and colonies. The Hechalutz was a very large movement.

In the Youth Hechalutz, which was under the direction of the Hechalutz, there was education for the youth up to eighteen years old. After that, they moved up to the Hechalutz. Young boys from all areas were members. This was a lively, energetic youth who wanted to work, learn, and preparing for Aliyah to Israel.

Gordinia [Zionist youth movement based on Aaron David Gordon] did not have a large number of members. They would assemble in a small center. But it was not dull there. Everything bubbled with life and efforts to fulfill the dream of A.D. Gordon – to make Aliyah and build the land of Israel.

The Shomer Hatzair [Guardians of the Youth] was a large, strong organization to which the “better” youth belonged, the majority gymnasium students, matriculated ones. In their club, there was multi–branched political, cultural, and educational work for the Hachshara and Aliyah. There was also a library with fine books – Hebrew and Yiddish. The youth was drawn there to enjoy the treasury of books.

Every summer the Shomer Hatzair organized colonies in a cultural and beautiful fashion.

In the Tzeirei Mizrachi, there were only a few tens of youths, without a fixed location. With time, they joined other youth organizations in town. It was A. Blass who directed the Tzeirei Mizrachi.

Beitar went on as a proper organization, because of their uniforms and slogans that said to conquer with gun and sword, the entire Israel, on both sides of the Jordan. They had small groups for the Hachshara and few of them went on Aliyah.

[Column 626]

Top: list of family names and some sort of set of numbers to match
2nd from top: expenses – inventory
3rd from top – report of wood export
2nd from bottom –The Dubno Maggid, article in the “Dubno Life” [great Rabbi in Dubno, 1741–1804]
Bottom: “Life in Dubno” – article

[Columns 627-628]

Page 627 – continuation of article: – “Life in Dubno” author's name L. Lerner
Page 627–8 bottom article: “A Letter in the Report” editor's and publisher's signature on left, Yitzchok Sh. Rubenshtein
Page 628 bottom, articles by Dawid Kagan, dentist

[Column 629]

The words on the banner say
“Matura” [secondary school certificate] and “Prywat” [Private] on one side,
“Gymnasium w Dubne” on the right.
The inked date at the top is 1926.


The general Zionists were active in the Zionist regions. Prominent businessmen of the city were connected to the Zionist movement, participated in the congresses in other countries, were active in Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod, and helped the poor Olim to fulfill their dream of immigrating to Israel.

In Dubno, there was also a large, beautiful sports club that included all the areas of Jewish youth “Hakoach” (formerly “Maccabi”). The majority of those who belonged to the club were the youth of various Zionist organizations. Other than the sports activities, Hakoach also had a first class wind orchestra, a good football team, and sections for other sports activities. The great hall in the center of the city attracted many

[Column 630]

adult and young lovers of sport. The events during the national holidays and the activities in the beautiful clothing, orderliness, and with the orchestra, evoked great enthusiasm from everyone.

All the organizations, even those with opposing principles, on the day of Lag be'Omer [33rd day of counting the Omer in the spring after Passover; celebratory event in memory of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai], were all united. Each movement, under its flag and banner, was present in the close by village of Palestinis, in order to celebrate this holiday, in the fields and forests.

When the “White Book” of the British Mandate was published, in which it locked the gates against Jewish Aliyah, all the above mentioned Zionist organizations protested as one – in the streets

[Columns 631-632]


Graduates of the Russian gymnasium (1920)


Elections for the 19th Congress

[Columns 633-634]

“TOZ” [Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia – Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jews] employees in Dubno


The Jewish hospital in Dubno

[Column 625]

in their centers – against the proclamation, or against other anti–Jewish proclamations in Poland and around the world.


The city of Dubno, with its Jewish streets, synagogues, learning centers,

[Column 626]

parties, organizations , and institutions, with its lively Jewish life, – was erased in the years of the Second World War, all turned to dust.


Employees of Linat Hatzedek [Society for Needy] – Dubno
Name of photographer on bottom of photo: Anshel Bitelman


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