In addition to the Cossacks' abuse mentioned above, the war claimed many victims and caused extensive property damage. Especially affected were the towns that were on the front line for many months. The massing of refugees [in towns], in Rovno, for example, there were 4,000, in Lutsk, 4,300 led to the outbreak of epidemics, especially typhus. The KOPE organization and the Kiev branch of the Jewish Organization to Aid Victims of the War attempted to deal with the problems of the needy refugees through local committees that were set up. In the beginning of 1917 the Kiev OZE branch sent a mobile unit to the Lutsk-Dubno area. Isaac Gitterman was in Lutsk from the summer of 1916 as the authorized agent of KOPE to Volhyn. He arranged the opening of a chain of children's homes, infirmaries, soup kitchens etc. After the February 1917 Revolution, Gitterman was appointed to be a member of the regional governmental presidium to aid refugees. Between the wars, Gitterman served as the head of the Joint [American Joint Distribution Committee] in Poland.
The situation of the Jews in western Volhyn, which was conquered by the armies of Austria and Germany, was different. Restrictions and limitations on movement brought trade, as well as commerce in commodities and merchandise to a halt. To fill this void and in spite of the great dangers it involved, smuggling developed. The conquering rulers required all men of working age to do forced labor and anti-Semitic governors forced Jews to work both on Sabbaths and holidays. On the other hand, many Jews were appointed to government positions, with some serving as mayors and deputy mayors. Jews were accepted into militias and some were even under their command. During this time, Jewish elementary schools were opened where the language of instruction was in German, Yiddish or Hebrew while in some all three were utilized.
Jews in this area did not share in the excitement that came in the wake of the February 1917 Revolution in Russia. After the Austro-German army withdrew at the end of 1918, they lived through the civil war that raged in Ukraine.
The February 1917 Revolution brought complete equal rights to the Jews of Russia resulting in a great deal of enthusiasm. This was manifested in joyous mass demonstrations where the national Jewish flag was also carried. Likewise Zionist activity as well as that of the Bund revived. Schools opened. The Tarbut Organization taught in Hebrew, while other schools taught in Yiddish. Many Jewish activists joined in the administration of cities and towns.
With the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in the beginning of November 1917, Ukraine began to separate from Russia. On 7 November 1917 the Ukrainian government declared individual autonomy for all minorities. As a result, preparation began for a founding conference of all of its Jews. In the beginning of 1918, in the shadow of the civil war, democratic elections were held in Volhyn with the following results:
More than 70% of the eligible voters cast their ballots for the Zionists. The temporary Jewish Conference met in November 1918. On 2 December 1917 the law for democratic elections in the Jewish communities was adopted. According to this law, elections were held during 1918 in a several communities but only in Volhyn: Aleksandria, Dombrovitz, Dubno, Koretz and others but events of the civil war interfered. The election law was again published in 11 July 1919 but was not carried out because of the pogroms and the rapid changes taking place on the front.
With the 1917 Revolution, unrest increased in Volhyn. Deserters and discharged soldiers on their way home from the front pillaged Jewish homes and stores. The first wave of pogroms hit Volhyn in the months November-December 1917. For the most part they were marked by plunder but some lives were lost. The perpetrators were Ukrainian army units and local bands of farmers. In November Jews in the communities of Olyka, Ostrog and Warkowicze were attacked; in December it was Dubno, Kremnitz and Wyzgrodek. In the beginning of 1918, there were scattered pogroms; in March followers of the Hetman Osykalk carried out a pogrom in Dubno, during which eighteen young Jews were robbed and murdered; in May Bolshevik units invaded Ostrog stealing from houses. The pogroms came to an end only after the German army captured Ukraine. However, they resumed in the last days of 1918 and continued into the first half of 1919. During this time, the Bolsheviks attacked and Petlura's (Ukrainian) forces retreated westward. Dombrovitz, for example, changed hands between 29 December 1918 and 13 January 1919, with both Petlura's Cossack units and the Bolsheviks pillaging and murdering ten Jews. The wave of pogroms perpetrated by units of Petlura's army and local armed bands spread over most of Volhyn's communities. In some cases the Red Army launched these attacks. Ten took place in the Rovno district with one in the city of Rovno between 14 and 19 May 1919. Dozens of Jews lost their lives in these pogroms.
In most of the settlements, Jews were able to establish self-defense units arming themselves with weapons left behind by the disintegrated German and Russian armies. Sometimes the civil defense units organized by the municipalities assisted these groups in obtaining weapons. Besides this, local militias aided them. In general the Jewish self-defense units were able to hold their own against local bands of marauders but not against Petlura's forces or the Red Army. Jews who were members of the self-defense units were the first to fall in battle.
The Polish invasion of Volhyn began in the second half of 1919. Soldiers of General [Jozef] Haller persecuted the Jews in towns and even executed individual Jews on the charge that they were Bolsheviks. Between the months of August-September 1920, units of the White Russian army under the command of General Bulak-Balachovitz, which fought with the Polish army against the Bolsheviks, carried out pogroms in the area between Sarny and Ratno. They murdered 120 Jews in Kamien Koszyrski, sixty-eight in Krymno and individual Jews in the area's villages.
|Nationality||1921 Census||1931 Census|
Jews comprised the third largest ethnic group after the Ukrainians and Poles. This picture did not change until September 1939. In 1931, some 60% of Volhyn's Jews lived in what were defined as urban settlements and 40% lived in villages. Some of these were actually small towns, but their municipal classification was as village councils.
Even when the economy of Volhyn recovered, the occupations of the Jews did not change a great deal. The economic basis of their work remained forestry and agricultural produce. Volhyn contained about 10% of Poland's forests. Oak, the most dominant tree, constituted 27% of the available lumber. It was used for making railroad ties, parquet flooring, furniture and other items. Until the end of the 1920s most of the timber was exported unprocessed to Holland, England and Germany. From the mid 1930s, the majority was exported processed, as boards, plywood and other objects. In the early 1930s the government, the owner of the forests, initiated limitations on Jews who worked in this area, thus making it very difficult for them to acquire portions of woodland to exploit for commercial purposes.
By the middle of the 1930s, Volhyn had fifty-nine sawmills along with three plywood factories, one factory producing wooden shingles and several furniture workshops, as well as pitch and turpentine processing plants. While only a portion of the sawmills were Jewish owned, Jewish manufacturers did own most of the other plants.
Volhyn made up about 6% of the area of Poland but it grew 9% of her agricultural produce and nearly two thirds of her hops. Volhyn had 794 flourmills some of which were large and driven by steam engines. In 1937, they milled nearly 15% of Poland's flour, a quantity of which was shipped to central Poland and westward. Volhyn had twelve beer breweries and a portion of the hops grown was sent to other Polish breweries. Jews owned a large percentage of both the flourmills and breweries. There were four sugar mills in Volhyn and many small plants utilizing the crops to make oil, grits, coarse cloth, tan hides, etc. There were plants exploiting local quarries: 212 brickyards, a cement factory, nineteen stone quarries, fifteen chalk quarries and two kaolin quarries. Only a part were owned by Jews and most of them were small operations with few Jewish workers. The following chart shows the distribution of Jewish employment in Volhyn in 1931:
|Sphere of Employment||Percentage|
|Commerce and Insurance||44.3||79.5|
|Mining and Industry Including workshops||40.5||40.7|
|Communication & Transport||4.0||24.1|
|Education & Culture||2.8||25.7|
|Medicine & Sanitation||2.7||41.4|
|Not gainfully employed||2.3||19.7|
|Religious & Community Service, Organizations||1.9||7.8|
|Gardening, Forestry, Fishing||0.3||5.5|
The vast majority, approximately 85% of Volhyn's Jews were involved in commerce or artisan workshops. Forty four percent were involved in business in contrast to Poland where more Jews were artisans. Most of those engaged in commerce either ran small shops or peddled, while those in villages supplemented their incomes by raising cash crops. Jewish merchants obtained 14,526 of the 19,743 business permits issued in Volhyn in 1933, which was 73.5% of the total.
According to estimates, in 1937 Volhyn had 26,000 registered workshops and 4,000 unregistered workshops with more than 75,000 workers. Some were self-employed, others were hired workers and besides them there were also some marginal workers. Of the total number, 56,000 of these workers were Jews.
In 1931, 10,689 Jews earned their living by farming, making up about 5% of the gainfully employed Jews and 0.6% of the total involved in agriculture. Of Volhyn's 304,487 farms, 1,652 were Jewish owned, making up 0.5% and they totaled about 35,000 hectares. This number does not include the many small family plots in villages whose owners were not classified as farmers and whose total area was small.
Many communities had associations of Jewish artisans and businessmen that were branches of the national organizations based in Warsaw. They fought, opposing discrimination against their members, especially in the area of taxes and concerned themselves with providing cheap credit in the form of free-loan associations and cooperative banks. Connected to a national center established by the Joint in Poland and under its supervision, the Joint also provided them with start-up money. Between 1926 and 1936, Volhyn had forty-three free loan societies with assets of 500,000 golden zlotys as well as a few dozen cooperative banks. Some of the banks that provided small low interest loans did not survive the second half of the 1930s and were forced to close. The industrialists and wealthy businessmen could use national or city banks but small businessmen or artisans who needed to borrow modest sums to buy raw materials or merchandise or to pay license fees depended on these Jewish banks. At a 29 September 1926 meeting of representatives from the cooperative banks in Volhyn they decided to establish a central regional bank. This however, did not come to fruition. On 15 June 1930 a meeting of delegates from free-loan societies in the regions of Dubno, Horochow and Kremnitz was held in cooperation with representatives from the Joint in Warsaw. At this meeting the difficulties that these free-loan funds faced were discussed. It can be assumed that similar meetings were held in Volhyn.
Besides these organizations, in the larger cities there were professional groups that acted as fronts for the Bund or the communists, both of which were outlawed. In the 1930s Volhyn had a general organization of physicians with Jews making up more than 75% of the membership. Likewise, Volhyn had organizations of Jewish journalists and authors that also included Polesie.
One can describe the life of Jews in Volhyn as in the shape of a triangle; the largest side represents the Ukrainian majority while the other represents the Polish minority. Relations with the Ukrainians were mostly on the economic level. In the second half of the 1920s the Ukrainian Cooperative Movement moved into direct competition with Jewish commerce. From the mid 1930s Polish organizations fostered anti-Semitic propaganda that among other acts led to breaking shop windows and attacking Jews. In the area of commerce, the Poles came out with the slogan Everyone Sticks up for His Own Kind. It was not enough that the government did nothing about this, but it encouraged unfair competition with Jews in commerce by providing Polish storekeepers with credit on easy terms while increasing the tax burden of Jews.
Little information exists on the participation of Volhyn's Jews in the country's political life. In the Sejm and Senate elections held in March 1928, 68% of Volhyn's eligible voters took part. Two Jews were elected from the District, Vatzlav Vishlitzky, a wealthy entrepreneur from Warsaw to the Sejm and to the Senate the pharmacist Eliezer Dal from Lutsk where he served as the head of the Jewish merchants organization. Both were elected on the Sanacja list of Pilsudski that won 48% of the total vote in Volhyn. Thirteen percent voted for the Minorities Bloc, in which Isaac Gruenbaum was active and a Ukrainian was elected to the Sejm. It later transpired that the Ukrainian elected was an anti-Semite and the Jewish voters did not forgive Gruenbaum for this. Only 0.5% voted for the Jewish Bloc and none of their candidates was elected.
Several Jewish lists from Volhyn competed in the November 1930 elections for the Sejm: the National Economic Bloc; the Zionist Bloc of Isaac Gruenbaum; Poalei-Zion Left and the Bund. No Jewish representatives were elected. Of the sixteen elected to the Sejm, fifteen were from the government list B.B.W.R a non-party bloc pledged to support the government and one from the Ukrainian National Democratic Party (UNDO). There is no record of a Jewish representative from Volhyn in either the Sejm or Senate in the 1930s.
Jewish participation in government on the local level is discussed in the individual articles on the various communities in this volume. In general, it should be stated that despite the fact that Jews made up the majority in many towns, they never got to serve as mayors and at best served as deputy major. Even holding this position became much less common in the second half of the 1930s. Also in city administration (magistrates) Jews were in the minority as well as in the city councils in the 1930s. Jewish participation in local government was important because that was where support of and the amount of the budgetary allocation for Jewish institutions and organizations were decided. However, even after financial support was granted through the pressure of the Jewish elected officials, on occasion the governor of the district or region (the strosta or the Voivodie) would reduce the allocation or cancel it completely.
At the very beginning of its administration, the Polish government granted official recognition to the communal leadership of the Jewish communities that was chosen in the democratic elections of 1918 or to those established by local communal workers. Only on 24 January 1928 did the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Education issue directives for communal elections. Elections in Volhyn took place that same year. Smaller communities were merged with larger ones and in some cases a number of small towns were joined together to form a single entity. Many lists participated in the elections, some political, some of special interest groups and some individual. This widespread splintering interfered with the smooth administration of the communities to the point of even completely immobilizing them. The budgets of the communities were always in arrears as needs outstripped resources. Even the government decree that permitted levying a tax on the members of the community did not help alleviate the perpetual deficit as the Jewish community was becoming increasingly impoverished. In order to reduce or to prevent deficits, area governors took steps to reduce the communities' expenditures. Most of the expenditures went for rabbis' salaries, shochtim [slaughterers of kosher meat], operation of soup kitchens and the upkeep of bathhouses. For this reason only relatively small amounts of money could be allocated for educational institutions and welfare organizations.
Nevertheless, the salaries paid to rabbis, especially in towns, was poor and not even paid on time. In the beginning of 1932, Rabbi Sorotzkin of Lutsk, a member the executive board of Agudah and the Federation of Polish Rabbis, initiated the creation of a provisional committee of Rabbis of Volhyn.
At the start of Polish rule with the help of the Joint, Jewish schools were renovated and new ones were opened. A regional council of Tarbut was founded at the start of 1926 in Rovno that was headed by the educator and community worker Samuel Rosenhak. Thanks to him and other devotees of the Hebrew language, the network of schools where Hebrew was the language of instruction grew rapidly and in the school year 5686 (1925/1926) there were eighteen elementary schools. The following year, 5687 (1926/1927) Volhyn had twenty-two schools; eleven kindergartens and four new schools were in the process of being set up. In the middle of the 1930s Volhyn had forty Hebrew elementary schools, thirty-one kindergartens and four high schools.
The situation of the Yiddish schools of the Tzisha network was especially precarious. Until the end of 1926 there were twenty Yiddish educational institutions that included schools, children's homes and evening courses. In 1927 the only one still functioning was the school in Boroczyce. Through great efforts in the mid 1930s there were two schools like this. In the 1930s there were two religious elementary schools of the Yavne network, two Jewish high schools where the language of instruction was Polish, twenty-three Talmud Torahs and eight Yeshivot with an unknown number of Hedarim [plural of Heder] that operated for the most part in the afternoon where children who studied in the Polish government schools received their Jewish education. In addition, there were several vocational schools and courses sponsored by ORT as well as a Tarbut agricultural school in Ludmir. It is estimated that there were some 15,000 students in Jewish educational institutions in the 1930s accounting for half of the Jewish school age children in Volhyn. More than two thirds of the children studied in either Tarbut or Yavne Hebrew language schools. Jewish educational accomplishments in Volhyn were among the most outstanding in all of Poland.
Local libraries, found in practically every town, were an important factor in cultural life. Some were established even before World War I. They were developed and nurtured by dedicated local individuals or by branches of political parties and youth movements. Jewish schools, especially those where Hebrew was the language of instruction maintained special children's and youth libraries. Courses as well as lectures and other cultural events were conducted in the reading rooms.
Local activity in the area of theater was rather limited and was conducted for the most part by members of recreational drama clubs, which functioned in many of Volhyn's municipalities. Some were connected to Jewish schools and were utilized as educational tools while also serving the entire community. In the 1930s there were attempts in Rovno and in other localities to establish permanent semi-professional troupes. Even though they had professional directors, these did not last, probably because of financial difficulties. In spite of this, the outstanding professional troupes of the large Polish cities toured Volhyn. Among those that appeared in the years 1929-1930 were the Jewish Troupe from Vilna, Ida Kaminska's troupe, the Ararat Theatre of Lodz, Jonah Turkov and his ensemble, the Warsaw Operetta, the Medikat Doll Theatre, the artists Julius Adler, Lydia Pototzka, the child-dancer Miriam Daiches from Vilna and others.
Residents of Volhyn, who read the main Jewish newspapers, published newspapers that reflected what was going on in their region. The most important press center for Jewish newspapers was Rovno. As early as 1922, the first daily newspaper Volhyner Tagblatt [Volhyn Daily Newspaper] edited by Gottlieb and Faigel began to appear. The majority of the newspaper consisted of advertisements. It ceased publication in the beginning of 1924 with each of its previous editors producing their own weekly: Gottlieb published Di Yiddishe Voch [The Jewish Week], which in June 1924 changed its name to Volhyner Leben [Volhyn Life]. This newspaper appeared twice a week. In the beginning of 1931 its name was changed to Volhyner Zeitung [Volhyn Newspaper] and in 1934 there was another name change to Volhyner Nayes [Volhyn News] that appeared until September 1939. The second editor, Faigel, published a weekly called Volhyner Woch [Volhyn Week]. In 1927 its name was changed to Volhyner Stimme [Volhyn Voice] and from 1930 it was known as Dos Naye Wort [The New Word]. It ceased publication in 1933. There was an attempt in 1932 to publish a Hebrew bi-weekly Volhynia Haivrit [The Hebrew Volhyn] but the newspaper only appeared until the end of that year.
Beginning in October 1926, the weekly Volhyn began to appear in Lutsk. After a short interruption, it was published on a regular basis from 1928 until September 1939 under the name of Volhyner Presse [Volhyn Press]. The Volhyner Gedank [Volhyn Memorial] first appeared in the middle of 1927 but ceased publication by the end of the 1920s. In Kovel, the following publications appeared: from the end of 1927 until September 1939 the Koveler Stimme [Kovel Voice]; from September 1936 Unzer Leben [Our Life] and Koveler Vochenblatt [Kovel Weekly]. For a short time in 1929 a monthly Dubner Leben [Dubno Life] appeared in Dubno. In Ludmir both Unzer Leben [Our Life] and Unzer Zeitung [Our Newspaper] came out briefly. In Kremnitz, the Kremnitzer Stimme [Voice of Kremnitz] started in October 1931 along with the Kremnitzer Vochenblatt [Kremnitz Weekly], which began in August 1932. They merged after February 1933 and appeared as the weekly Kremnitzer Leben [Kremnitz Life] until September 1939.
[Photograph on page 14 - Newspapers in Volhyn the Jewish Press that Was, shows mastheads of various Jewish publications in Yiddish and Russian.]
The first conference of Jewish authors and journalists of Volhyn and Polesie took place on 2 February 1931. It was determined to establish an organization, a printing press and to publish a daily newspaper. As a result the anthology Eigens, which appeared only once, was published in May 1931. In 1934 a special issue of Unzer Veg [Our Path] came out.
Relief activities were conducted for the most part on a local level although some were coordinated and sponsored by national organizations. This was true for the care of the large number of orphans resulting from World War I and the Civil War. In Volhyn there were about 1,000 orphans and the Joint [Distribution Committee] cared for them only for a limited time. In 1923 responsibility for their care passed to local committees, which operated under guidance of regional orphans' committees. They were associated with the TZENTUM (the Center for the Care of Orphans) in Warsaw. The regional committee took care of obtaining government grants and pressured the local authorities to contribute to this cause. TAZ, another welfare organization headquartered in Warsaw whose regional directorship was in Rovno, cared for the health of the poor. It had branches in most of the towns of Volhyn where it maintained infirmaries and provided medical care especially for chronic diseases like tuberculosis, trachoma, psoriasis etc. Concentrating its efforts on students enrolled in Jewish schools, it provided meals for needy children, therapy and maintained summer day camps. In the summer of 1927, 719 children from Volhyn attended TAZ summer camps. They made up 10% of the total number of children in summer camps throughout Poland that year. The budget of the organization in 1931 for Volhyn was 42,290 gold zlotys of which 24,000 came from the central office, the central and local government; the remaining balance came from local sources in the various communities.
During the Civil War and the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks, most of the Zionist organizations disbanded. They resumed functioning once Polish rule was established. Between 5-6 January 1920 a preliminary Zionist conference took place in Rovno with representatives from Antonowka, Dabrowica (Dambrovits), Klesow, Koretz, Kostopol, Kovel, Lutsk, Rovno and Sarny. They resolved to hold a Zionist Convention in the month of Adar of that same year with participants from eighty communities. It did not take place at that time but was later held in July 1921 when delegates from Volhyn were elected to attend the Fifth National Congress. From then on, the regional Zionist center was in Rovno including the Eretz Yisrael office as well as those of the Jewish National Fund and the Keren Hayesod.
Most Zionist activity was carried out within the framework of the Zionist parties and the youth movements. Among the prominent parties were the two factions of General Zionists, Al Hamishmar, Eit Livnot, and in the 1930s the Revisionists, Mizrachi, the Torah v'Avoda movement and the Poalei Zion. From the middle of the 1930s the Eretz Yisrael Ha'ovedet list received most of the votes for the Zionist Congresses. The most active youth movements in the towns were Hashomer Hatzair, which in the 1930s had sixty-eight clubs in the towns and thousands of members and Betar, which had fifty-four branches with thousands of participants. Dror-Hehalutz Hatzair had some 4,000 members and Gordonia had a few dozen affiliated clubs. These organizations maintained pioneer training camps. The most important one was the Kibbutz Hotzvei Avanim [Stonecutters' Kibbutz] in Klosova (Klisov) established in 1924 that served as the central pioneer training base of Hehalutz for all of Poland. Betar at the end of the 1930s established a branch of the Etzel [Irgun Zvai Le'umi - the National Military Organization], and a weapons training camp that operated with the approval and help from the Polish army.
Maximum participation in voting for the Congresses was reached in the first half of the 1930s when some 17% of Volhyn's Jews purchased Zionist Shekels. The decline in numbers until 1939 was caused by the resignation of the Revisionists from the Zionist Organization, the unrest in Eretz Yisrael and the economic crisis.
Many towns in Volhyn had Jewish sports clubs, whose members were mostly involved with football [soccer] and light athletics. In the cities other areas of athletic activity were introduced such as ping-pong, boxing and cycling. In the 1930s the Hashmonai clubs of Lutsk and Rovno participated in the Primary League of the Volhyn Voivodies. A Maccabiah was held in Rovno in July 1936 with the participation of the Maccabi-Warsaw, Hashmonai-Lwow, Hashmonai-Lutsk and Hashmonai-Rovno football teams. The championship was won by Hashmonai-Rovno.
The masses of refugees brought with them reports of war atrocities and the residents of Volhyn quickly began to experience their bitter taste. The German air force bombed Rovno, Kremnitz, Lutsk and other towns resulting in loss of life. Advance units of the German army crossed the Bug River entering Lubomyl, Ludmir and Ostila (Ustilug/Uscilug). War panic overtook in particular the Jews of western Volhyn and they joined the stream of refugees fleeing eastward. On the morning of 17 September the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov announce that the Soviet army crossed the Polish border. Its forces advanced slowly westward avoiding engaging the Polish army. On 21 September they reached the Bug River and on the 23rd entered a few isolated settlements. Polish authority disintegrated. In some areas during this interim period there were attempts to attack Jews but they were curbed.
The Jews of Volhyn took the entry of the Soviet army into the region with a sense of relief. They saw it as a salvation from Nazi occupation and reasoned that in this way the threat of war and of their becoming refugees was over. The communists, including the Jews among them, quickly joined the local civil militia to set up a provisional local government. However, the Jews were not part of the government for long. In November 1939, officials and police from the east began to arrive and most of the Jews were excluded from all responsible tasks.
On 22 October 1939 elections took place to choose a National Assembly of Western Ukraine to legalize the annexation of the areas. The assembly was held in Lwow between October 26-28 where it was decided to request the Supreme Soviet to unite the region with the Soviet Ukrainian Republic and to confiscate the estates, church property, banks, mines and factories. The Supreme Soviet approved the request on 1 November and the Ukrainian Soviet approved it on the 15th of the same month. An edict granting Soviet citizenship to the western Ukraine and Byelorussia was published on 23 November.
As the names of the delegates were not published, it is hard to determine how many Jews were among the representatives of Volhyn at the Assembly in Lwow. By calculating their ratio to the population, their number must have been seventeen out of the 1,500. From the sources in our hands we know for sure of only two - one from Lutsk and the other, a woman representing Rokitno and the region. One Jew was elected to the Ukrainian Soviet. There was also an attempt to propose a Jewish candidate to the Supreme Soviet, a Zionist who headed the Tarbut high school in Kovel, but his candidacy was canceled before the election. On 4 December 1939 the Voivodie of Volhyn was divided into two Oblasts almost identical in size: the Rovno District in the east and Volhyn District, with Lutsk as its capital, in the west. Each district was divided into regions (Rayons).
As was stated, Volhyn was inundated with many refugees. For the most part they concentrated in large towns in western Volhyn that were on the rail lines coming from Poland. The flow continued until 28 September when the Bug River was established as the German-Soviet border. Afterwards, a decreasing light stream continued until the end of 1939. Already in the early days of the establishment of Soviet rule refugees began moving from the west towards the east, from cities to the larger towns and villages, northward past Bialystok and Vilna, southwards towards Lwow and especially Poles westward, returning home. In the months of November and December 1939, the refugees along with local residents were called upon to volunteer to work in the coalmines located in the Don and Donvas River basins in the east. Laborers, skilled workers, doctors and pharmacists found livelihoods in far away cities that lacked such experienced workers. Others had to change professions or search wherever they could to earn a living. However, authors, actors, university lecturers gravitated to the larger cities Bialystok, Vilna and Lwow. Also, Jewish communal leaders who arrived in Volhyn did not remain and most of them made their way to Vilna.
The Soviet Citizenship Law published on 29 November granted citizenship to all who resided in the areas on the day that they officially became part of the Soviet Union, that is 1 November 1939. In wake of the law the Interior Ministry, the NKVD, distributed identity cards (passports in Russian) that all citizens of the Soviet Union were required to carry. Many refugees felt that the acquisition of Soviet citizenship would be an impediment for them to return to their homes in Poland in the future and registered to return. Distribution of the identity cards began in April 1940 and in June the NKVD began arresting tens of thousands of refugees in order to banish them to the interior of the Soviet Union.
Those who became citizens and received documentation found that their social status was recorded. The wealthy and long-standing businessmen were recorded as Paragraph 11 and as such various restrictions were imposed on them, among them the prohibition of living close to the border or in the district capital cities of Lutsk and Rovno. They were also subject to arrest and exile. There were those among them who relocated to small towns where no one knew them or moved to Lwow were they merged with the masses. In this way many Volhyn Jews managed to escape Soviet exile. From seven out of twenty-seven towns, some of them large, no one was exiled. Of the other twenty towns, a total of some five hundred comprising 0.2% of the Jews of Volhyn were exiled.
After the conquest of Volhyn, Sovietization of the economy began which was carried out in two stages. The first period can be seen as transitional and lasted until January 1940. The second period followed, where the economic arrangements were already Sovietized with the exception of most of the private farming that was not collectivized. In the first stage, factories along with large farms and buildings were nationalized. Confiscation of apartments, the liquidation of private business and the establishment of government services were all done in stages.
The seventeen days of war between Germany and Poland disrupted the smooth functioning of factories and in the end forced all of them to close. Work was resumed in the factories after the establishment of Soviet rule, this time under the supervision of professional and expert local managers. The proprietors of smaller factories were called on to resume their normal operation. By the end of 1939, district and regional industrial offices were established and in a parallel development senior administrators and workers came from the east to run the factories and to introduce Soviet methods. Since the factories already depended on local supplies of raw materials they had no difficulty in acquiring them. The fate of the Jewish factory owners was not identical. Some were exiled while others were forced to relocate to other towns. Owners of small operations were sometimes permitted to remain and run them as paid employees.
The groups most severely affected by the new system were the merchants and storekeepers. All commerce was nationalized including the wholesale warehouses and retail merchants were ordered to liquidate their businesses by the end of 1939. They were required to sell their stock at the old prices and accept payment in Polish currency, whose value was determined at an unrealistic exchange rate. One zloty was equivalent to one ruble. The money they received was taken from them during 1940 by means of heavy taxes levied on them. This affected 44%, a large segment of the Jewish population. Young people among them underwent retraining and, for the most part, took positions in the bureaucracy, while the older people had more difficulty in adjusting to the new economic order.
Workshops were not nationalized but underwent reorganization in order to fit into the Soviet system. The artisans were organized according to skills into cooperatives (artel) that were in reality subservient to various ministerial branches or to the service departments of local government. By the end of January 1940 Lutsk had thirty different artels. The monthly salary of a member of an artel was then 400-500 rubles. Since most artisans in Volhyn just barely eked out a living and were affected by the fluctuations in the economy, membership in an artel provided them with job security. The monthly salary provided them various social benefits such as low monthly rental for housing, free medical care and schooling and the right to acquire goods at government warehouses at low prices.
The expanded public services and the state bureaucracy engaged many Jews from the free professions. Health services grew in scope, absorbing physicians and pharmacists as well as refugees who all became salaried employees. Lawyers were required to undergo professional retraining to qualify as teachers or clerks. Jewish teachers continued in their professions in both the Yiddish and public schools. Areas of employment previously closed to Jews such as railroads, mail and police were now open to them.
In contrast, there was no great change in agriculture except for those Jews who owned large estates and whose holdings were nationalized in the first days of Soviet occupation. The government attempted to persuade farmers to join collectives (kholkozes) by placing high taxes on those who hesitated to do so. In some localities, such as Miedzyrec and Malinuv, unemployed Jews attempted to join the kholkoz established on confiscated estates. From the beginning of 1940 the economy of Volhyn operated on the Soviet pattern and workers received their salaries from the government treasury.
Another area where Sovietization had severe negative repercussions was in Jewish education. In place of the former Jewish schools, which were set apart by their traditional Jewish and Hebrew content, new schools were opened where although the language of instruction was Yiddish, their focus and content of study were Soviet. Except for the Yiddish language and literature with some selections from classic Jewish authors such as Mendele Mocher Seforim and Sholom Aleichem, the balance of the studies were identical to that which was taught in Ukrainian or Russian schools. The number of Yiddish schools was less than the number of Jewish schools before September 1939. In the first academic year, 1939/1940, approximately 8,000 students studied in Jewish schools, slightly more than one half of the number that studied in them in the 1930s. In the second academic year the number decreased since it is known that seven institutions changed their language of instruction to Ukrainian or Russian. The veteran teachers and administrators had great difficulty adjusting to the new reality. Especially hard was having the Soviet educational program forced upon them by the appointment of communist administrators and supervisors who came from the east. Equally problematic was that they were required to follow the orders of the heads of the Komsomol, the communist youth movement. The veteran teachers found themselves between a hammer and an anvil. This was seen in the contrast between those things that the Soviet administrators and supervisors demanded and the insistence of the students to listen to positive expressions in favor of Jewish nationalism and Zionism that they were accustomed to hear.
In addition to the harm to Jewish education, Jewish cultural life suffered since the schools also served as cultural centers. Even under Soviet rule amateur local ensembles performed. Their repertoire was limited to reflecting the Soviet attitude, infused with propaganda, as was customary in the Soviet Union. The attempts to perform outside of their home areas, especially during the 'Cultural Olympics,' were barred by local educational administrators. The school and youth movement libraries of the past were closed and sealed with the fate of the books unknown. In some cases loyal members of youth movements succeeded in hiding some of the books and established 'underground' libraries. The Jewish sports clubs were also shut down with their equipment confiscated and turned over to Soviet clubs.
The Soviet regime did not interfere with synagogues nor did it harass the worshippers. In those cases where local communists sought to confiscate synagogues, they were forced to return them after the worshippers appealed to the government and complained about it. On the other hand, the government carried out anti-religious propaganda, but it did not have much influence on the Jewish population. Along with this, the new conditions of life presented difficulties for those who wanted to fulfill religious requirements (mitzvot). It was difficult to procure kosher meat, matzot for Pesach and to observe Shabbat or the holidays. Sunday was established as the day of rest and people were required to work on Saturday. This was especially difficult for rabbis and religious functionaries. With the abolition of the Kehillah [organized Jewish community] their salaries ceased and they were left with no way to earn a living.
Jewish relief organizations - hospitals, old-age homes and orphanages - were nationalized and became state institutions. Some were shut down with their property confiscated. The peoples' banks and the free loan associations were closed and their funds seized. Charitable organizations ceased to function immediately after the Soviet takeover and their assets were either confiscated or liquidated.
Aware of the malevolent Soviet attitude towards Zionism and the Bund, the Zionist parties and youth movements immediately ceased their activities. This troubled the youth some of whom wanted to continue their activities secretly. These activities spread across various towns of Volhyn and continued until June 1941. In the first few months the main focus of these secret activities was to organize the escape of its members northward to Vilna or southward to Romania. The assumption was that from there [Romania] they could get to Eretz Yisrael. This continued until June 1940 that is as long as Vilna was within the borders of independent Lithuania. Although the northern route was more successful, most of the youth movement members were trapped in Vilna and later perished in the Holocaust.
The Hashomer Hatzair underground was centered on a group of members, its national leadership and members of Kibbutz B'Hazit [Kibbutz on the Front] who arrived in Rovno from Radom and were absorbed into Kibbutz B'minhara [Kibbutz in the Tunnel] located there. A conference of the top leadership took place in Rovno in October 1939 with the participation of Joseph Kaplan and Tusia Altman who both later returned to Warsaw where they were active participants in the Jewish uprising. After a short while the national leadership relocated to Lwow while the Volhyn regional leadership remaining in Rovno. With the help of couriers, both male and female, links between various segments of the underground were maintained including the distribution of the clandestine periodical Mima'makim [From Out of the Depths]. Forged documents were prepared for those who needed them and packages with food and other items were sent to those members who had been arrested. It is known that there were underground groups in Kovel, Lutsk, Miedzyrzecz, Ostrog, Rokitno and Rovno. It is more than likely that there were underground groups in other communities as well.
The underground of Dror-Hehalutz and at a later date Gordonia developed on the initiative of leaders of the movements that came to Volhyn. They were Isaac Zuckerman (Antek), Tzvia Lubetkin, Samuel Broder, Adek Golovner and the emissary from Eretz Yisrael, Judah Helman. The underground center was established in Kovel at the end of October 1939; Zuckerman coordinated the educational and other activities of the organization, while the rest of the group concentrated on smuggling people across the border. Also joining this underground center were Ziporah Feldman and David Printznatel (Pritel), as representatives of Gordonia in Volhyn, along with representatives of Akiva (Hanoar Hatzioni/Zionist Youth). When the Soviet secret service was on the tracks of the center, they first moved to Lutsk and then to Lwow in the beginning of 1940. The regional leadership headed by Printznatel remained in Lutsk and operated until May 1941 when he was arrested. The center published a periodical titled Dror [Freedom] but not even a single copy of it has survived.
In contrast to the groups mentioned above, an underground center of the Betar movement was not established, since its leadership did not come to Volhyn. The initiative for underground activity rested with the various local branches and they worked on organizing the escape of their fellow members and in educational activities.
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