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[Page 19 - 23]

The Social-Economic Structure

by A. S.

Translated from the Yiddish by Eugene Sucov

Part A

The social and economic structure of Horodetz was varied. In her were represented various businesses and trades. And, while Horodetz was situated on the way between two well known cities, Brest and Pinsk, Horodetz was still one of the old time pass through towns which joined Poland to White Russia through a highway. Later on, Horodetz also connected to the afore mentioned cities through a canal.

Back in the olden times in 1563, without knowing whether there already was a Jewish community in Horodetz, we know that Horodetz was owned by an important land settler. In the beginning of the 17th century, Horodetz was a business town in which there were already 8 taverns, proof that many merchants traveled thought Horodetz and that many of them stayed the night. It was very fortunate that these temporary guests also did business in Horodetz. And there, where there was already a commercial center, there were also traveling salesmen. This we can see from the regulations, which the Council of the Four Lands established concerning travelers in Horodetz.

From the pieces of millstones and several houses which still remained, one can see that Horodetz at one time contained horse driven mills in which were ground meal and flour for Horodetz and its surroundings. From the ruins of a distillery, which were left behind in Horodetz, one can learn that, in past time, Horodetz had a still which produced whiskey.

There also had been, in Horodetz, an “oil press”, in which was made oil. The only thing that remains in Horodetz is the family Allman, which took its name from “oil man”, the grandfather of Old Sheppes (Allman), who had an oil press in Horodetz.

On the topic of industry was Horodetz backward. About 50 years ago, i.e. around 1900, an attempt was made by R. Yitzkhak Aharon to produce bricks, but it didn't succeed. Another brick maker who was located closer to the railroad station did indeed exist for several years until the First World War. At that time the brick maker employed 10 Jewish workers.

About 1907 Aharon Karlinski opened a clothing factory in Horodetz. He imported from Poland 2 tailors who taught the Horodetz girls how to do the work. However, the factory didn't have any longevity.


Alter, the Levi
(drawn by Israel Zussman)
  A smithy


Part B

With the opening of the canal from the Dnieper to the Bug Rivers, which connected Pinsk to Brest by water, new perspectives opened up for Horodetz commerce. From Pinsk and vicinity would be sent lumber to Danzig by way of the Horodetz canal. Thanks to the lumber, the wood merchants or their employees would stay over in Horodetz. They would buy food from the Jews for the gentiles who transported the lumber.

Horodetz also contained wood merchants like little Isaac (Israel), Khayim Nissel's grandson, who would, at the end of the summer store logs by the side of the river. In the spring we would assemble them and send them to Germany. From this came the nickname “Horodetzer with the logs”.

Other Horodetz Jews dealt with rafts which would bring goods such as pottery, bark, linen, and other products and sell them to the large world.

The canal created another income for Horodetz Jews, namely the fish business, which became a very handsome source of livelihood. Another entire, special income did the canal bring to the Jewish world of Horodetz. This was the divorce decree (get) which was written in Horodetz because none of the surrounding villages had a river and traditional Jewish law required that a “get” could not be written without a river.

Horodetz was not only a center for writing divorce decrees, but also it was a center for marriages. How healthy Horodetz was as a central point, was a factor, since many rich marriages were performed there. The parents would outdo themselves and bring in the best musicians and entertainers such as Elikum Tsunzer and others.

The railroad, which was built in 1882 1864, brought the Horodetz Jew new opportunities for making a living, such as loading and unloading goods which were shipped to Horodetz, Antopol and surroundings. This created the bureaucratic “expeditor”, who occupied much visible space in Russia and Poland.

As the train would stop a few times a day in the station, and people wanted to have a bite to eat or a drink, the wives would take a basket in hand, fill it with fruit, sausage, bagel, bottled soda water and go to the train to sell. The train selling became a permanent part of the station and Horodetz fell in love with this kind of business.

The train station was close to Horodetz, and thanks to this fact, the letters which were sent to Antopol came first to Horodetz. From there the letters were trans-shipped to Antopol. This was called “holding the gossip”, That is, the government would pay a certain amount of money to those people who would transfer the mail.

The letters which came to Horodetz were carried there by a Jewish mailman and his daughter. The charge was: 1 postcard, 1 kopek; a sealed letter, 3 kopeks; and a money order, 10 kopeks. From carrying the mail he didn't make a living, so he had to come up with a second livelihood which was similar to carrying the mail. This turned out to be bringing merchandise to the merchants from the larger cities such as Kobrin or Brest (Brisk). These Jews were called “stage coaches”. The “stage coaches” would carry a package of products which the merchant needed or which private people would order and he would bring it quickly. He would take a certain fee for his labor.

In the 1890s was stationed in Horodetz a battalion of soldiers. In the summer they were in the fields, but in the winter they stayed in town, and they were quartered in Jewish houses. This staying of the soldiers generated a fine income for the Horodetz Jews. Some added wood and foods, others would buy from the soldiers various products. That's the way the soldiers fulfilled an important function in the economy of Horodetz.


gor023.jpg - Alter the blacksmith
Alter the blacksmith


Part C

Horodetz was encircled by fields and gardens, which belonged to the landowners and the priests. Jews would buy trees from either the tree owners or the priests. Afterwards, in the beginning of spring, they would buy whole orchards or fields and depend on God's blessing. Buying orchards was a nice way of making a living for Horodetz men who were knowledgeable, but who wants to wait a whole year to sell the fruit?

Other Jews would buy land full of hay from the tree landowners. In the winter they would sell the hay to the homeowners for their cows or horses. Other men would buy from the tree owner a portion of the forest. They would hire gentiles to cut down the trees and later would sell to the Jews a few sticks or a bundle of wood to heat their homes during the wintry months.

Milk products, or as we used to call it, “pakhterai”, used to be an outstanding livelihood, which high class men took up. The “pakhter” would, in the beginning, rent from the tree owner, the pasture; later on he rented also the cow, and the right to milk the cow, to make butter and Swiss cheese and to send it to Warsaw. Cheese production would cause the large pakhter to become an important person, a specialist in making Swiss cheese, a trade which bordered on needing expertise, and which was completely in Jewish hands.

The dairy products business or taking on lease an estate was bound up with investing lots of money. Not every one was able to get into it without a loan. From this was created the shady business of usury. The usurer would loan money to be paid back every week with high interest. Also the little shopkeeper or the peddler would very often approach the loan shark, who didn't have a nice reputation. More than one song or sarcastic anecdote was sung or told about the accounts of the loan shark.

The peddler, in contrast, was a sympathetic person, selling on the installment plan, calculating an extra profit. The peddler would fill his sack with various thing the women wanted, such as perfume, table cloths, shawls, needles, thread, buttons, crocheting needles and so on. And with the pack on his shoulders he would start his journey. That's how he would go from town to town, from gentile woman to gentile woman, and sometimes from one city to the next. And on Shabbat he would come home. Other peddlers would be on the road a whole month. And if God helped and he was lucky, the peddler laid down his pack and opened a shop, like Itshe the peddler (Jacob Poliak's father) and become a Horodetzer merchant.

But not every shopkeeper became rich. There was no livelihood for him in the village since in every house was either one shop or two. Some left the village. They traveled to America to work in the golden land. They would send their wives one US dollar; in Horodetz this was worth two rubles. These women who stayed behind created a special class which we called Americanikess. Thanks to these Americanikess there was prosperity in the village since they ate better, dressed better. Their standard of living was higher than that of those who stayed behind in Horodetz.

Part D

The immigration to America created a source of income for the agent. He was tied into the larger agent in Brest and in the border towns through which were smuggled immigrants. There were many kinds of immigrants, including gentiles and Jews who didn't want to or weren't able to get a passport. The agent would give advice on how to cross the border. But at the same time he would also take them across himself. Not just once was he caught with his living merchandise. Then it would cost him dearly in health and in money until he and his merchandise were too frightened to continue this trade. With the outbreak of World War I the agent's business died since the borders were shut tight. Also many other types of business closed down because of the war.

Another major source of income for the Horodetz Jews was the monthly fair which took place on the first day of each Russian month (and if it fell on Shabbat or other Jewish holiday, it was postponed). All of Horodetz, as well as the peasants from the entire surroundings would anticipate the fair days. The peasants would bring cows, horses, eggs, etc. and the Jews would buy them for resale. In addition to the monthly fair days were 2 larger market days; one in mid-summer when all the shopkeepers and tradesmen would , with anticipation, wait for the peasants to come to Horodetz.

Also the tavern keepers would wait for the market days. When the people had already had enough from the market day, the gentile would open his “kalitkeh” (purse) and say to his wife or his neighbor “paidim zapiti” (let's have a drink). And the gentile would drink until he lost a few rubles in the tavern. The “pivnieh” (beer hall) also gave a nice livelihood to the Jews of Horodetz. But this income was not so agreeable; they would have to deal with drunken men and women, not one of whom was not disgusting. But what won't a Jew do to make a living?

Between the shopkeepers, small dealers and workmen was another class which could not be counted among the above-mentioned groups. This class was the doers of holy work which included the Rav, the cantor, the beadle, the ritual slaughterer and elementary and advanced teachers, who were, in the modern idiom called “holy proletariat”. This proletariat was a very useful element in Jewish life. Without them the religious community couldn't function. But their livelihood was not so easy. For their income they had to approach the more prosperous Jews who themselves were not so rich. Sometimes someone would leave a few rubles for the religious elders. That's how they passed the years, sometimes with more and sometimes with less.

We can't say that Horodetz didn't have any poor folk. There were in Horodetz also, destitute, needy Jews, who would appear at the butcher, but not in public. They did not go to the rich Horodetz houses asking for money. We sent them gifts in secret. And if one of them did not have the money for a wedding, we would make a wedding for a daughter. And it was not with what, or liking that, he would go out into the world with his pack. And when he had recovered the necessary amounts, he would return to Horodetz and become again a respectable homeowner, as before. In general, the Horodetz poor folk didn't go to the houses, not by themselves in the city and not to the stranger. And when they needed to approach people, they did this in a very discrete way.

Part E

With the coming of the Polish regime (after World War I, in 1920) the old ways of making a living went under and new ways rose up in Horodetz. With the new highway which the Polish built, from Kobrin to Horodetz, also came a new source of income, that is, driving an autobus from Horodetz to Kobrin and back. The bus carried passengers as well as packages. The autobus company was in the hands of Shammai Rabinsky who hired special people to drive and occasionally repair the autobus.

In the times of the Polish regime was also a large steam mill which belonged to Todres Dubin and which gave livelihood to him and his family. With the growth of the Jewish community in Horodetz, also grew their income.

In Horodetz there were shoemakers, tailors, dressmakers, carpenters, drillers, smiths, butchers, wagon drivers and bricklayers. The shoemaker and the tailor worked alone or with 2-3 helpers. The same also for the smiths and the carpenters. But the drillers and the bricklayers would take on work and shared the work in a cooperative way, even though they didn't know the word.

The condition of the drillers was totally different from that of the other tradesmen. Their work started with sunrise and ended in sunset, summer and winter. The other tradesmen worked in their homes, alone or with workers in their workshops or forges. The work of the drillers would be mostly among strangers in the surrounding villages or large towns where they were more likely to find work. Occasionally one would need to overhaul a whole village or town. Mostly the drillers would work the tree canal where they would repair and overhaul the sluices and the “bodkes” (residences for the clerks and watchmen).

The drillers would very often renovate the station or overhaul the “bodkes” from Kobrin to Hitshin. And that's how things went. A “podrat” (project manager) from Pinsk or Brisk (Brest) would be authorized by the government to take over all the work. Parts of it he would let out for the drillers who would need to compete for a share of it. The oldest among them, by many years, was Shmerl the driller. Shmerl was a wise Jew and a good craftsmen. For a long time he was the chief of the Horodetz drillers. In later years Yossl Bantshuk became the chief. Yossl Bantshuk was a tall man, with a red beard, and was a specialist in his occupation.

The greatest income for the bricklayers was in repairing and rebuilding military barracks. But from time to time they would build an entire house or a palace for the landowner. The Horodetz bricklayer would work for a long time on the landowner's property and after finishing his palace and nearby houses, they would also work in helping to beautify the railroad station.

The Horodetz woodcutters would also work with the felt makers. Their work was to throw heavy blocks of wood on top of the fire. From dawn to dusk they would drag the saw through the wood. Alter, the Levite, Stone was above and Mattes was below. Year in and year out both of them made their living with the saw. And even though the work was very hard, Alter the Levite lived till he was 90.

The workday of the craftsmen in the summer would start about 8 in the morning after prayers and would continue the entire day till late afternoon prayers. After these prayers he would use the short time till evening prayers by going to the study hall or to the Chassidic synagogue where he would occasionally hear an itinerant preacher or he would learn some Torah. After evening prayers he would go home.

Also in the winter his workday started at 8 in the morning and continued till the evening prayers. After evening prayers he would sometimes go to the study hall. He would return to his work till 10 p. m. or 11 at night, especially before the Jewish or Christian holidays when there was much work.

Horodetz also contained a house painter, Aaron Leib, he was called. No work was for him too difficult. Summer he would join himself to the painters. Mostly he worked by the canal or the railroad, where he would paint the posts which marked off the versts (2/3 of a mile). The poles were pained in whiter and black stripes and had to be continually repainted. The work was assigned to a Horodetzer manager, either Khayim Berl or Isaacl Matyes. The manager would hand the work to Aaron Leib, so Aaron Leib and his 2 sons, Isaac and Noah, and his brother, Abraham, would paint the poles. They would also paint the tin roofs of the Horodetz and neighboring churches. The Tsarist regime didn't deny money to the churches, so every few years their roofs were painted.

On top of the roofs of the churches, Aaron Leib and his helpers didn't forget that they were Jews. It was very amusing to see, standing on the point of the church over the “kalakalnia” (attic in which were hung the bells for ringing) or over the cupola where a great cross stood, these Jewish painters with their yarmulkes and small tallis with the fringes showing painting the cross and singing Jewish songs. Winter, when no painters were around, Aaron Leib would take his sewing machine and his cutting machine and associate himself with the bookbinders. He would also repair galoshes. For Pesakh he would hang wallpaper in the houses.

The railroad and the river gave a livelihood to the Horodetz wagon drivers. In addition to carrying passengers from the train station and to the train station, they would also transport goods. They would sometimes travel with work bosses into nearby towns to get workers, or travel to supervise the transporting of the logs that would swim (float) in the canal.

The Horodetz craftsmen didn't visit any saloons as did the gentile population. Therefore, they were able to save from their outside earnings for a house, a garden, and 1 or 2 cows.

The cultural level of the Jewish craftsmen was also totally not that bad. They could study a chapter of the Mishnah, a bit of “the well spring of Jacob” and a few even understood a piece of Gemara. Several craftsmen also had quite nice voices and, during the High Holy Days, they would act as prayer leaders in Horodetz or in nearby towns. A few of them, who came to America, became full cantors. Some of them who stayed behind were considered as scholars.

With pride we can say: they did not bring shame to their village, Horodetz. Let us hope that their children will establish the traditions of their parents and their parent's parents.

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