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Plotsk (Plock) (cont'd)

Between the Two World Wars

The first years of the Polish Restoration were ones of uncertainty for the Jews. This was mainly due to the rabid behaviour of the troops of General Haller when passing through P. They attacked the Jews, insulted them, and humiliated them by shaving off their beards and sidelocks. An air of pogrom reigned in the town after the martyrdom of the local Hassidic sage Rabbi Chaim Shapira. During the battles between the Polish army and the Bolsheviks in 1920 he went out onto the balcony of his house, wearing a talith (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries), to pray for heavenly mercy in a time of crisis. His Gentile neighbours reported that during his prayers he had raised his hand as a signal to the Bolshevik artillery to zoom in on its targets. He was arrested and sentenced to death. His execution was public. In his last moments he asked to put on his talith, and he expired with “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel) and “Our Lord is God” on his lips.

In the wake of this tragic event the town nationalists attempted to incite the rabble to attacks on the Jews, but this was foiled, thanks to the intervention of the local branch of the influential PSP. The Jewish community of P began the new era of Polish independence under the shadow of the economic crisis it suffered during the world war and from which it had not recovered. A sign of this was that the number of Jews decreased despite the increase in the birthrate.

This period also saw the closing of the Russian market to Jewish trade, together with a falling-off of the grain trade with Prussia (Danzig), in which the majority of the established Jewish merchants were engaged. The small merchant broke down under the burden of the taxes imposed by the authorities; and the economic stagnation that permeated independent Poland during almost all the years of its existence until 1939 severely limited the potential market. Many of the smaller merchants were forced to close their businesses (especially during the major crisis of 1929-30) and to move to the larger towns to earn a living. The two agricultural machinery plants under Jewish ownership took on no Jewish workers until almost the end of the period, when one of them engaged a dozen Jewish workers.

The partial census carried out by the “Joint” in 1921 reported that in that year there were in P 396 Jewish workshops (including a few small industries), and two larger plants producing agricultural machinery, employing 1,035 workers. In 224 of the small enterprises only the owners and their families worked; in 172 there were also hired workers (376 Jews and 179 non-Jews). More than half of the businesses (58%) were in the clothing industry, i.e. most of the owners were tailors, furriers, hatters and shoemakers. Also most of the Jewish employees (35%) worked in the clothing branch. Work in most of these workshops was seasonal, which meant that both owners and employees were without earnings for many months of the year.

In view of their difficult situation the Jewish merchants, workshop owners and workers set about strengthening the internal structure of each branch by establishing institutions for credit and mutual assistance. All three groups formed professional and trade unions. Shortly after the First World War the “Loan Bank” was established; at the height of its activity in 1934 it had 400 members. In 1927 the “Merchant Bank” was set up and became the repository of most of the savings of the Jewish population. Its loans, which at times amounted to 10,000 zlotys, benefited mainly the more established and medium-sized merchant firms. In 1933 representatives of the religious Jews set up the “Credit Bank”, which survived, as did the two other banks mentioned here, until 1939. Towards the end of the First World War a wealthy Jew called Rogozin established a bank in his own name - but this institution met with several failures, especially during the severe economic crisis, and was wound up in 1930.

In addition to some small charity funds that were established at the time, a provident fund was set up in 1935 to give loans to needy small Jewish businesses. Its capital came from contributions from almost all of these establishments; but owing to the demand for loans from the majority of its members, whose economy deteriorated from year to year, the fund was quickly emptied and in 1939 teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Among the most prominent trade associations was that of “Ovdei Hamachat” (the Needle Workers), and the association of Transport Workers - each with about 100 members. The former organisation was under the influence of the “Bund”, while the latter moved in 1935 from the aegis of the Bund to that of “Poalei Zion” , though towards the end of the period the “Bund” was again in the ascendant. Both these organisations had loan and welfare funds.

The period between the wars was marked by vigilant and varied activity by the political parties and their youth organisations, whether they stemmed from before or after the First World War.

At the head of the Zionist camp, represented in P by all its factions, stood “Poalei Zion”, established in P in 1926. It formed the mainstay of the umbrella organisation “Haliga lemaan Eretz Israel Haovedet” (League for the Workers of the Land of Israel), with a majority among the Zionist groups. In the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1935 the League obtained two-thirds, or 506, of the proportional vote - while the remaining votes went to “Al Hamishmar” (On Guard) - 76; “Ait Livnot” (A Time to Build) - 53; “Hamizrachi” - 53; the Revisionists - 6; and “Hechalutz Hamerkazi” (Central Pioneers) - 2 only.

“Poalei Zion” in P had its own loan fund, and during its existence granted some 300 interest-free loans. Among the Zionist youth groups in P first place was held by “Hashomer Hatzair”, established, as stated, in 1921, on the basis of the Scout Movement from the time of the First World War. In its heyday the P branch numbered some 300 boys and girls. The first group of veteran members emigrated to Palestine in 1926. In that year was set up “Dror” (Freedom) - a union of the youth movements of Poalei Zion, Socialist Zionists, Hashomer Hatzair, and Hechalutz - and a training farm established at Maladrosze, near P. This training farm, or hachshara, existed until 1937; it contained on the average 25 trainees for six-monthly periods. In P itself a hachshara named after Borochow was started in 1933, and during the three years of its existence 150 trainees in various non-agricultural trades passed through it with a view to emigrating to Palestine. The “Hashomer Haleumi” (the National Watchman) branch of the General Zionists was set up in 1929, followed two years later by that of the religious youth movement “Beitar” - though the majority of the latter's members in 1932 went over to “Akiva”. Akiva flourished in P and at the height of its activity numbered some 200 boys and girls.

Among the non-Zionists considerable influence was exercised by “Agudat Israel” (see Notes at end), whose branch in P was established in 1919, based mainly on the Chasidim of Gur. Most of its activity was concentrated in the Community Committee and in religious education.

The “Bund” in P experienced its ups and downs. The peak of its activities was reached in the years immediately preceding the Second World War. As indicated earlier, its activities were based on the trade unions and on propaganda and educational activity in Yiddish.

An important role among the Jewish workers was played by the clandestine cells of the communists in P. Many of the workers in “needle” and leather belonged to the communists and their youth organisations. Amongst those charged with illegal activities there were at times some 90% Jews. The communists carried out their secret activity under the guise of the legally established library named after Anski and the sports club “Saar” (Storm).

The parties played a significant role in all areas of the Jewish community's public and social life. They were the major factors in elections to the committee, the town council, and the Polish Parliament (Sejm). And it was on their initiative that there were institutions of education and culture in the town.

In the elections to the community's committee in 1931 the “Zionist-Mizrahi” list obtained 6 seats, as did the list of “Agudat Israel-Workshop Owners”. A year later the same result ensued. In 1937 Agudat Israel won 3 seats, the Zionist-Mizrahis 3 seats, and the Workshop Owners 2 seats. The “Bund” took no part in any of these elections; but it did so in 1939, with the suppprt of the communists. Nevertheless, the majority of votes were won by the “Poalei-Zion-Yemin” (i.e the right wing of Poalei Zion). The new leadership, however, had no time to function before the outbreak of the Second World War. Its Chairman, Fishel Fliederbaum, was a member of Poalei-Zion and a town councillor of many years' standing.

In the beginning of the 20s the community set about restoring its welfare institutions. The hospital, which had been sequestered by the German occupiers in 1916, was re-opened in 1926 - with 26 beds, an operating theatre, an outpatients' department, a casualty department, and a maternity ward. Prior to its reopening , and even during the war, the “Ezrat Cholim” (Help to the Ill) had been reconstituted, its object being to give medical treatment to the poor (such as free medicine) and support for their families. A considerable improvement took place in the 20s in the Orphanage (“Ochronka” in Polish) and the number of occupants reached 36. The orphans went to elementary school and thereafter to trade schools, and the brighter ones even to the Gymnasia. There was also a “Talmud Torah” under the tutelage of the community, and also a hospice for the poor. With the aid of voluntary contributions a “Tipat Chalav” (Infant Welfare Centre) was established. So too was a society of “Tomchei Aniim” (Help for the Poor) - to provide the needy with food, clothing and fuel for the winter.

In 1938 a branch of “ORT” (see Notes at end) was active in organising courses in knitting and shoemaking. The community's budget in 1939 amounted to 125,000 zlotys; and its property that year consisted of the “Little” Synagogue, the “Great” Synagogue, a Bet Midrash, an orphanage, an old-age home, a Talmud Torah, a Mikveh (ritual bathhouse), a Bet Tehara (a Room of Purification for preparing the dead for burial), and two cemeteries (the old and the new).

Every year the committee organised a “flour for Pesach” campaign, and hundreds of poor families received matzot and other food. Similarly, in Pesach a kosher kitchen was set up for Jewish soldiers serving in the local garrison.

From 1927 until the outbreak of war in 1939 the rabbi of P was Mordechai Eidelberg. At the onset of the Nazi occupation he escaped from P (but perished later in the Holocaust in a town in eastern Poland). The community also employed 3 ritual slaughterers, a cantor, 4 teachers, and 2 gravediggers. The teaching staff of the “Talmud Torah” numbered 7, and their salaries too were paid by the community.

In the inter-war period the Jews of P maintained a comprehensive network of educational institutions. Apart from the “Talmud Torah” and the cheders, where the Jewish children continued their studies (mainly in the afternoons), most of them attended state elementary schools for Jewish children only. These were called “Szabasowka”, since they were closed on the sabbath and on Jewish Holydays. The curriculum consisted of general subjects, but also of some hours each week of religious instruction.

The remaining Jewish children went to the “Mizrachi” school (that existed from 1915 to 1939) and to the schools of “Agudat Israel - Yesodei Hatorah” (Basics of the Torah) and “Bet Yaakov” (which commenced activity in the late 20s). In the early years of the 30s a school was established by a central organisation with Yiddish as the language of instruction. Some of the cheders within the “Cheder Metukan” system also continued to exist in this period. Hebrew courses were organised by the “Hazamir” Library and by nearly all the clubs of the Zionist groups and their youth movements. The dual-language Jewish Gymnasium mentioned earlier continued its activity and in 1926 achieved state approval, i.e. its diplomas were officially recognized. The Gymnasium was likewise given permission to hold recognized matriculation examinations, enabling its graduates to apply for institutions of higher learning in Poland. As a result of economic difficulties in the 30s (due to the inability of many parents to pay school fees) the Gymnasium suffered a crisis in 1935/36, when the number of its pupils dropped to around 30, compared to a figure of 300 in 1923.

During this whole period - in the clubs and Jewish youth organisations, and in particular in the “Hazamir” library - there were lectures on topical subjects, popular science, and general culture, as well as performances by amateur drama societies and orchestras. Resident members of the free professions and teachers participated in these cultural events, as well as guests from among leaders of the Jewish political parties in Poland, such as Y. Grünbaum. Discussion and debate, sometimes stormy, continued long after the official programmes had ended.

In the realm of Jewish sport the aforementioned “Maccabi” club continued to lead the field. The public appearances of its various sections (football, handball, swimming, hockey, light athletics, boxing, etc.) were often festive occasions that attracted hundreds of Jewish youth from P and its environs. Other Jewish sports organisations were also active, albeit for briefer periods - namely “Hapoel” (Poalei Zions sports club), and “Stern” (Star) and “Morgenstern” (Morning Star), associated with the “Bund”, and embracing also communists of various shades.

The 30s also revealed in P, as for other Jewish communities in Poland, growing signs of anti-semitism. Anti-Jewish propaganda and incitement were spread on the spot by the anti-semitic “Andak” and its youth organisations, and in the local paper, “Glos Masowsa” (Voice of Mazovia). Also printed and distributed locally were libellous anti-semitic tracts in the style of the Nazi “Streimer”. They contained such incitements as “how to purge Poland of the Jews”. In the course of time pickets were placed near Jewish shops. As early as September 1930 thugs assaulted a 10-year-old Jewish boy, Moshe Lenkin, and inflicted serious injuries on him. The following years saw repeated riots and attacks on the Jews. In 1935-1937 some 90 new Polish businesses and shops opened up in P, accompanied by anti-semitic propaganda and calls to boycott Jewish trade and workshops. The anti-Jewish organisations drew up “blacklists” of Poles who “dared” to buy from Jews and exerted strong pressure on them to “alter their evil ways”. The boycott and the pickets led to the closing of many Jewish businesses, while others went bankrupt.

During the Second World War

P was bombed on the very first day of the war, September 1st 1939, at 6 o'clock in the morning. Normal life ceased immediately and the inhabitants were seized with panic. The more well-to-do Jews fled to the other side of the River Vistula on the second and third day of the war; some fled to warsaw. On the fourth day the government institutions and their functionaries abandoned the town, as did many of its citizens. The refugees, many of them Jews, travelled in the direction of Warsaw or the towns of Gostynin and Gombin. At the same time many hundreds of Jews from the small towns in the border area sought refuge in the chaos of P. In the congestion that reigned on board the boats and ferries carrying the refugees across the river many were trampled to death - among them Halbeler Karash, reputed to be the first victim of the Holocaust period in P. Many Jews who had sought asylum in Gombin were killed when the Luftwaffe also bombed that town. After the occupation of Gostinin its Jews and those who had fled from P experienced a first taste of Nazi rule - they were iforced to carry out hard and debasing labour.

P itself was occupied by the Germans on September 8th. After a while the Jewish refugees began to return to the town. Several hundred Jewish men on their way to P were stopped by the Germans at the approaches to the town, beaten, and deprived of their various personal possessions. Only some days later were they allowed to continue to P itself.

A month later, on October 8th, on the orders of Hitler, P was incorporated into the Reich as part of West Prussia (“Gau-West-Preussen”), and its name changed to Schertetburg. The transfer of administration from the military to the civil authorities and the Gestapo heralded the beginning of the Germans' portentous policy towards the Jews. On October 15th 10 leading members of the Jewish community were summoned to the Landesrat (District Governor), and instructed, as representatives of the Jewish population, to guarantee the payment to the Germans of the sum of a million zlotys. Three of these Jews were imprisoned as hostages. They were beaten, starved, humiliated, and subjected to the most brutal treatment. The enormous sum demanded was to be paid within a few hours - and when this was not forthcoming additional hostages were taken and tortured. Finally, the Germans agreed to the payment of 180,000 zlotys in cash and 20,000 in valuables. An additional half-a-million zlotys were pledged in the form of promissory notes from the three Jewish banks. Only after the money (mainly collected from among more established members of the community) had been paid were the hostages released.

The Jews of P now experienced daily terror. On a November night the Germans broke into houses in the Jewish streets. German soldiers, gendarmes, and Volksdeutscher (Poles of German origin) plundered Jewish property and herded hundreds of naked and barefooted men into the courtyard of the “Hotel d'Angleterre”, where they were tormented the whole night through before being released. On another occasion some Jews were taken by the Nazis to the village of Jadzjowia, where they buried up to the neck and abandoned. Local peasants, however, saved their lives.

Immediately following the occupation the Jews were forbidden to practise religious observance. The rabbi was forced to leave the town as a result of daily recrimination.

The Great Synagogue was turned into a garage, after several dozen of the adjacent houses had been destroyed and the interior of the synagogue dismantled. The Little Synagogue (whose centenary had been marked a few years earlier) was totally destroyed. Only the Bet Midrash in Seroka Street was left, but services in it were forbidden. Public prayer with private minyanim (quora) took place secretly (disclosure could mean death).

At the end of October a decree expropriated all the Jewish industries, businesses and workshops in P., and consequently the “ORT” school was closed and all its machinery impounded. All these enterprises were put into the hands of German and Polish “treuhänder” (trustee directors and owners). The Jewish flour mill was set on fire by the Germans, who accused its owners of arson.

The economic situation, worsening from day to day, led to an increased flight of Jews to Warsaw and the Russian-occupied areas of Poland. At the end of November the Jews of P were forced to wear yellow patches on the front and back of their coats.

At the end of December 1939 the Germans established the Judenrat (Jewish Committee) in P. and an auxiliary Jewish police force with 20 policemen. The Judenrat was ordered to supply daily 150 Jewish women aged 16 to 60 for forced labour, and a quota of men demanded by the Germans at their whim. These quotas did not - contrary to the expectations of the Jews and the Judenrat - prevent the Germans from “impromptu” rounding up of Jews for hard and demeaning labour at any time. Particularly horrible was the situation of Jews who worked for the SS and the Gendarmerie - they were constantly beaten and even tortured. The Judenrat organised workshop cooperatives, whose produce was destined mainly for the Germans. The employees received wages below the subsistence level.

Apart from problems of livelihood and security, the Jews of P also had to tackle housing problems during the first months of the German occupation. Many houses were destroyed and others, particularly the better and more spacious ones, were expropriated and given to Germans and Poles. At this time too waves of Jews expelled from Dobszin, Rifin, Szejrpets, Raczjanow, and other places, streamed into P. They were at first pressed into the “Jewish quarter” (a few streets already crowded with people), and in September the P ghetto was established. Into this were pushed 7,600 Jews from P and 3,000 refugees. The crowding was terrible - sometimes as many as 10 people living in one room.

At the same time, or shortly before, the Nazis had brutally expelled the 42 residents of the “Plato” Old Age Home. These old people, apart from 12 who managed to escape with their lives, were taken to the concentration camp at Djialdowo, and there murdered. Shortly after this event the Judenrat was ordered to draw up lists of mentally ill persons, invalids, the incurably ill, and people with tuberculosis. All these, and others picked up at random, were removed by the Germans and all trace of them afterwards lost.

The P ghetto existed only a short time (about 6 months), and was terminated in February 1941. While it existed the Judenrat did its best to ameliorate the life of the inhabitants, and to this end a bakery, shops for food (with ration cards), and heating fuel, were established. Instead of the hospital, which had been closed, a clinic was opened to give treatment to the sick with the few medicaments at hand. A people's kitchen provided food for the destitute. The sanitary committee of the Judenrat did its best to ensure hygiene and cleanliness in the ghetto. The cooperatives, especially those of the tailors, shoemakers and barbers, which had existed before the ghetto was established, continued their activities in it.

In January 1941 the Gestapo boke into Jewish houses and arrested, first 39 men and later some 120 women. These were beaten and tormented. They remained in prison until the deportation of the Jews from P (see below), when the men were shot and ther women sent off with the other deportees. The Judenrat took the children of the prisoners temporarily under its wing. Some weeks later the Germans ordered the Judenrat to supply them with a list of active Ziionists. The Judenrat complied, but included names of deceased persons or of persons who had fled to the Soviet zone. In reprisal the Germans arrested 5 Jewish hotel workers; one was shot dead on the spot and the others were sent to a labour camp. A few days later the Germans seized 30 members of the barbers' cooperative; some were killed in prison, and the others sent to the concentration camp at Dzialdow.

Acts of terror against individuals and groups of Jews were intended to intimidate the Jews as a whole and to pave the way for the final deportation of the Jews of P planned for Fbruary 20th, 1941. A few days before this date and without any explanation 25 men, chosen at random, were arrested, taken to the boundary between the two towns of Imielnice and Podolszitce, and shot in the head.

The Jews of P were informed of their deportation on the day it was to take place. Early on that day the13th battalion of the SS (specialists in Jewish deportation) arrived in P. The Jewish policemen were summoned to the local Gestapo headquarters, and on the way beaten with truncheons. At 4 a.m. on February 21st SS soldiers broke into the ghetto clinic, and ordered the inmates - ailing old people and derelicts - to leave within 5 minutes. The shocked patients broke down weeping. The reaction of the SS was to lay about them and beat to death nearly half the patients. All the Jews of P were ordered to appear at dawn at the assembly point in Seroka Street. Even before the Jews had awoken from their sleep the voices of the Germans could be heard shouting “Jews - outside”. The evacuation went ahead methodically, house by house at breakneck speed. Anyone hesitating was thrown down the stairs and hurried to the assembly place with the help of blows from iron bars, rifle butts, and truncheons. At the place the Jews were lined up in rows of five and kept standing there until noon without food or drink. They were forbidden to sit down or leave their places for natural reasons. Acts of brutality were widespread, many Jews were severely injured, and some died under the rain of blows. Children were trampled to death in the uproar, women and ill people fainted, and some suffered strokes.

More scenes of brutality unfolded themselves as the deportees were hustled onto the lorries. Those who had difficulty in clambering onto them, including the old, the weak and the sick, were beaten unmercifully. Many were killed or suffocated (up to 200 souls were jammed into each lorry). On each lorry there was an armed SS soldier, and acts of violence continued to take place during the journey.

On that day some 4,000 Jews were deported from P to the camp at Dzialdowa. The remainder, including the Judenrat, who had been held hostage to ensure that all the Jews turned up at the assembly point, were ordered to return home.

The second and final deportation took place on the evenong of March 1st, 1941. On the previous day, February 28th, the members of the Judenrat had been arrested. Again there were scenes of brutality as with the first deportation. This time the deportees were forced to wait for almost 24 hours in the cold and without food. Note should be made here, however, of the fact that local Poles voluntarily brought warm food to the deportees; and Poles from the villages and small towns threw loaves and other food onto the trucks as they passed on their way to Dzialdowa. Nevertheless, tens of people perished on the tortuous four-hour journey - or were left behind dead in Seroka Street.

At the camp in Dzialdowa the Germans continued their brutality towards the deportees; their inventiveness in finding new ways to torture them (exercise accompanied by blows, forced running, etc.) knew no bounds. The last remaining possessions of the Jews, and even their clothes, were stolen from them in the camp, which was a living hell. Many perished - while others prayed that their sufferings be quickly brought to an end.

The two deportations to Dzialdowa involved some 7,000 Jews from P. After a stay of a week or two there they were sent on to other places, apart from a group (according to different sources, consisting of tens or hundreds) of men. These were kept under strict guard, behind barbed wire. Then they were taken to a nearby spot, where they dug a common grave for themselves before being shot.
The first batch of Jews from P were taken to the Radom District and placed in various small camps in Chmielnik, Bodzentyn, Suchedniow, Wieszewnik, Bialeszew, Starachowice, Czestochowa, and other places. One group was sent to Potok Zloty.

Most of the Jews of P were, however, sent to the Kielce area. As early as February 25th 990 of them arrived at Busko - all of them without possessions or means of existence. 400 of them went on to Chmielnik, 150 to Wislica, and 150 to Szydlow; whilst groups of 50 were sent to Olesznice and other small towns.

Of the second batch, which arrived at Kielce on March 3rd, 1941, 300 continued to Suchedniow, 300 to Daleszyce, and 300 to Bodzentyn. On March 6th some hundred deportees were directed to Skarzysko, and on the 12th a 1000 or so to Kielce, and from there to Slupia Nowa. On March 11th some 1,500 deportees from P arrived at Tomaszow Mazowiecki, and from there distributed to Przysucha, Bialeszew, Gielnow, Szarnub and Paradyz. To this latter place some 750 were sent.

The Jews of P shared the fate of the Jews in the areas to which they were sent. When the mass transport of the Jews of Poland to the extermination camp at Treblinka took place the Jews of P also went on their last journey. It will be recalled that about a thousand Jews from P fled to Warsaw, where they perished with the other Jews in Poland's largest ghetto.

Many of the Jews of P were active in the resistance movements in the areas to which they were sent, among them - to name but a few - the following: Simcha Guterman fell during the rising in the ghetto of Czestechowa; Rivka Glantz, member of the hachshara kibbutz in P, perished in the same riots; Roszka Kortczak was active in the Jewish underground and later as a partisan in the “Nekama” (Revenge) unit in the forests of Rodniki; Tova Baatus was an active member of “Hashomer Hatsair” in the underground movement near Chmielnik, and there died in one of the clashes with the Germans.

Remembered here must also be some of the manifestations of passive resistance revealed by the Jews of P. From the end of 1940 and until the deportations there was in the ghetto of P an illegal “aid committee”, consisting of veteran public figures and former members of the town council. This committee assisted with money and food the most needy of the Jews. There were also “house committees”, on the model of those active in the Warsaw ghetto. From the “Hazamir” Library 500 books were smuggled out and were passed from hand to hand, giving spiritual encouragement to their readers. In the attic of the Bet Midrash were hidden 12 Sifrei Torah and some 200 sacred books. As mentioned, after the ban on worship prayer was carried on in private gatherings at great risk. The presence of such worshippers was sometimes divulged to the Nazis, who forced them to walk through the streets in prayer shawls and tefillin. They were beaten and their beards and sidelocks cut off before the eyes of the jubilant rabble. Nevertheless, such prayer meetings did not cease. Some of the pious Jews risked their lives by burying in the cemetery Sifrei Torah that had been desecrated by the Nazis. After the deportations the Nazis eradicated the cemetery and the gravestones were used to pave streets. The cemetery area was turned into a grazing ground.

The Refugee Remnants in P after its Liberation

Shortly after P was liberated and a few months before the end of the war (May 9th, 1945) the surviving Jews of P began to return to the town. Some came back from exile in the Soviet Union; others emerged from forests and bunkers; and yet others were saved by the humanitarian acts of Poles. All in all some 300 Jews assembled in P. This small group was active in all spheres of social and public life - until virtually no Jews were left in P. Already in 1945 a community committee was reestablished, as were some 20 workshops (of tailors, furriers, etc.) on a cooperative basis. In 1946 a shelter for orphans and children with one parent was opened. A people's kitchen began to serve good and kosher food to the needy for a symbolic sum. Branches of “Taz” (medical treatment) were established, as was a mother and child centre and a loan fund. The library was reopened, and with it a reading room; and a drama group and a choir began to function.

However, all attempts to revive the Jewish community in P were to no avail. The waves of emigration to the West, and especially to Israel, drained P of its Jewish remnant. There was a desire to be reunited with family and other Jews. An additional factor was the anti-semitism that emerged once more in the area and in Poland as a whole. In October 1948 there were only 100 Jews in P; in May 1957 there were 28 families, but these too left in the wave of immigration to Israel in 1957-58. In 1959 there remained in P - only 3 Jews.



The Jewish religious revivalist movement originating in eastern Europe in the late 18th century. It maintains many characteristics of Polish life of that period, including its dress. Diverse sects of Chasidism hail from different towns and follow different leaders or “rebbes”. The leading rebbe of a Chasidic sect (also known as the Tsaddik) is often held to possess wondrous mediatory powers with the divine.

Mitnaged (pl. mitnagdim):
“Opponents” of the emerging Chasidic movement, formed after Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, placed the Chasidim under ban (cherem - excommunication from the Jewish community imposed occasionally in the Middle Ages). The division into Chasidic and Mitnagdic camps persists among ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The Gaon, or eminent one, was the head or dean of a rabbinical academy in Babylonia from the 6th to the 11th centuries. After the Talmud was edited the various geonim decided questions of Jewish law based on its traditions.

European Jewish “enlightenment”, which introduced Jews to modern ways of expression and thought from about 1750 to about 1880. Its disciples were “maskilim”.

Bet Midrash:
A traditional house of study.

The dialectical mode of talmudic argument; its detractors regard it as hairsplitting casuistry.

Shabtai Zwi:
A false “messiah” of the 17th century.

A school for training younger students in traditional Jewish sources and older students in Talmud to prepare them as rabbis.

The Bund:
A political organisation of Jews formed in Vilna in 1897 to promote labour causes, Jewish nationalism, and Yiddish in eastern Europe.

Orthodox Zionist movement founded in Vilna in 1902.

Agudat Israel:
Non-Zionist Orthodox Jewish political movement organised in 1912 in Europe.

The “Joint”
Joint Distribution Committee, founded in USA in 1914 to help Jewish communities worldwide.

Poalei Zion:
Workers of Zion - a Marxist Jewish party founded in 1906.

Followers of the radically nationalist Zionist movement led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky; youth movement Beitar.

Organisation for Rehabilitation and Training - Jewish organisation founded in 1880 to develop skilled job training. It sets up vocational schools and programmes.

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