Translation of Szumsk chapter from
Translation of Szumsk chapter from
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Kremenets Shtetl CO-OP, an activity of the
Kremenets District Research Group
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A small town in Kremenets district
by Avraham Kleban
Translated by Thia Persoff
Shumsk was a settlement in royal Kiev Russia and the Volhynia-Halych principality. At the beginning of the 13th century, Shumsk was a separate principality, which was completely destroyed by the Tatars at mid-century. The locale was later resettled but remained small, lacking the status of a city.
We have no information on when Jews began settling in Shumsk. It is assumed that the first ones settled there in the first half of the 18th century. In 1745, R' Duvid of Shumsk moved his brick factory near the town and built a study hall, a bathhouse, and stores that were rented to Jews. At that time, the building of the Great Synagogue began; it was completed in 1781. From 1866 to 1906, R' Mordekhay Lerner served as rabbi. After him, his son R' Yisrael Dov (Berenir) Lerner served until 1918. In 1890 a second rabbiR' Moshe Halevi Vinokurwas appointed, which caused many disputes in the town.
On the eve of World War I, the economic situation of the Shumsk Jews was stable and solid. A large number of local merchants dealt in grain. Some of this grain was exported to other districts, and some was milled in the two large flourmills owned by Jews and sent to other districts. Jews owned a hard liquor distillery, small plants for cement roof tiles and extraction of oil, four flourmills, and a beer brewery. Among the craftsmen, the tailors stood out; some made ready-to-wear clothes for sale. When a decision was made to hold the market once every three months instead of once a month, the economic damage it caused mainly affected the merchants.
There were five synagogues in town; Olyka and Trisk Hasidim prayed at two of them. In addition to cheders, Shumsk had a Talmud Torah for the children of the poor, although most Jewish children went to the Russian school in the morning hours. Just before World War I, a modern cheder was opened without a permit, and even though it functioned almost in secret, it attracted many pupils.
When World War I began, Shumsk, which was close to the Galicia-Austria border, was a through route for the Russian armies. The Jews did not suffer from this, but many young Jewish men dodged conscription by hiding. Rabbi Yisrael Dov Lerner took care of them and helped them, especially when searches were conducted. During the civil war, the Jews were twice in danger of pogroms; at one time, during Petliura's dictatorship, a pogrom was prevented with the help of the Ukrainian commander, who was a decent man. He supplied weapons to 30 young Jewish men (who had previously been soldiers) and defended the town along with his policemen. Later, Shumsk suffered from the abuse of a local gang that victimized the town and even murdered two Jews and demanded ransom. Rabbi Lerner established a rescue committee, and when the gang members demanded ransom, the committee members would go from house to house and collect the needed sum to prevent the abuse of body and property.
Even the entrance of Polish General Haller's troops was accompanied by beatings and abuse.
In 1915, the second year of the war, Hebrew lessons were already being conducted in town. Later, a certified Jewish teacher came to town with a permit to open a school. Indeed, after the 1917 revolution, on the Safrim family's initiative, a Hebrew Tarbut school opened. Because of the civil war, the school was closed a few times.
Between the Two World Wars
As Polish rule stabilized, the Jewish economy returned to its previous activity level. The business of dealing in lumber was added to dealings in grain; both turned out to be important exports from which many Jews made a living. In the 1930s, the government, which owned the forests, set restrictions on the selling of sections of forests to Jews. As a result, that business shrank a great deal. Most of the manufacturing plants in Jewish hands were small (flourmills, breweries, and others). A large number of breadwinners were craftsmen. They were organized into a professional guild, which made efforts to defend its members from the plotting and scheming of the Polish authorities. Jewish economic activity was aided by the People's Bank (a cooperative) and the fund for the needy.
Shumsk's last two rabbis were R' Yosef Rabin and Rabbi Moshe Halevi Vinokur, both of whom perished in the Holocaust with the members of their community. In 1929, a demand was put on the Shumsk Jews to appoint a community rabbi, and Rabbi Yosef Rabin was chosen for the post. The followers of Rabbi Vinokur did not accept that appointment. They turned to the local governor and demanded to appoint their rabbi as community rabbi, too, but the community council intervened, and with its support, the authorities ratified Rabbi Rabin's appointment.
After receiving a permit from the Polish authorities, the Hebrew school was reopened (on the Safrim family's initiative), and it was annexed to the Tarbut network. From two classes, this institution grew rapidly to seven classes. The school existed until September 1939. Beginning in 1924, a Hebrew kindergarten near the school functioned for some time. At a large library nearby, lectures and discussions were held, assorted clubs met, and an amateur drama club met and rehearsed.
Openly Zionist activities began in Shumsk after the 1917 revolution. Although they were halted by the civil war, they were renewed during the Polish regime. Gradually, chapters of the various Zionist parties were founded, and a few youth movement chapters were established. In 1924, a Pioneer chapter was founded, and later some of its members prepared o leave for a training kibbutz. In early 1930, chapters of the Revisionist party and Betar party were established. During the mid-1930s, the Revisionists established a training camp in town.
The voting results for the various Zionist Congresses were as follows:
For the 16th Congress (1929), 165 persons voted. The General Zionists received 54 votes; Mizrachi28; Revisionists2; Unified Youth Guard38; Labor Zionists43.
For the 18th Congress (1933), 631 persons voted. The General Zionists received 86 votes; Mizrachi52; Revisionists3; Covenant/Revisionists230; Land of Israel Workers' Party249; Union11.
For the 20th Congress (1937), 342 persons voted. The General Zionists received 47 votes; Mizrachi15; Land of Israel Workers' Party280 votes.
During World War II
Shumsk was near the Polish-Soviet border (pre-1939). This border stayed closed, blocking refugees from escaping until about June 1941. When it opened, dozens of Jewish families from Shumsk took advantage and escaped to the east, but only 40 arrived safely in the USSR and stayed there during the war.
The Germans entered Shumsk on July 5, 1941. On July 10, a pogrom was carried out by Ukrainian rioters aided by German soldiers. Jewish property was looted, and a few Jews were killed. This lasted seven days, stopping when German military rule was established in town. Harsh decrees were imposed on the Jewish population, such as forced labor and the order to wear a special Jewish identifying sign. On the Germans' order, a Judenrat was established, headed by Rabbi Yosef Rabin, who was soon replaced by a German-speaking Jewish refugee from Kattowitz. The rabbi continued to be a member of the Judenrat and took care of social problems in the community. A few former activists and the former Tarbut School principal worked with him. Forty young men served in the Jewish police. After the war, the survivors reported positive opinions of the Judenrat and the Jewish police.
During the first days of the German conquest, all valuables were confiscated. In October, furs and warm underwear were confiscated. Jews were sent to work on roads and bridge repairs, in porterage, and in services, and craftsmen were employed in their crafts. The daily ration of bread was 200 grams per person.
On March 3, 1942, an area in town was marked as the Jewish section, and the Jews were ordered to supply and fence it off with lumber and barbed wire. When that was complete, the Jews of Shumsk and nearby villages were shut into that ghetto. The bread portion was cut, and hunger prevailed in the closed ghetto.
The Judenrat opened a kitchen for the many needy, where they distributed soup and a slice of bread three times a day. When a typhus epidemic spread in the ghetto, the Judenrat opened a hospital to combat the disease.
In early May 1942, the Jews were ordered to pay a large ransom in gold and dollars. In early June, another demand for ransom was made, this time in the form of tools and machines: 50 sewing machines, 50 typewriters, 5 trucks, 5,000 light bulbs, and other things. Since the Jews could not supply these, the Germans captured 30 people and murdered them. On July 20, 1942, another ransom demand was made, this time for 200 cubic meters of grain. In August 9, 1942, the ghetto was blockaded. Leaving was forbidden, and the feverish activity of building bunkers and hiding places began in the ghetto. On August 18, 1942, the Jews of Shumsk (1,792, according to the German report) were taken about 2 kilometers outside town in the direction of Krilits village, where pits were dug and all were killed. During the massacre, some of the young showed resistance, hitting the policemen and killing one.
The next day, about 1,000 Ukrainians invaded the ghetto to pillage and rob. They discovered some people who had hidden and handed them over to the Germans. About 150 workers were still alive; the Germans kept 100 of them for the purpose of collecting all Jewish property, and the rest were Jews who had hidden away in various places. On September 9, 1942, the Germans wanted to eliminate the rest, but many tried to escape, and some were shot and killed while trying. This time, the Germans left 15 Jews alive for labor, but most managed to escape the day before they were to be taken to be killed.
The escapees and the hidden found refuge with Ukrainian Baptists and Polish villagers. Some of them joined Soviet partisan units.
On February 28, 1944, the Red Army liberated Shumsk. Very soon afterward, about 100 people returned, mostly from the Soviet Russia. After a short stay in Shumsk, they moved to Kremenets, and from there most went to Poland.
AYVSh, 03/3587, M-1/E-1677, M-1/E-1500.
Government Military Archive, Z-4/231/46/B.
State Archives, 497A.
Shumsk sefer zikaron le-kedoshei Shumsk [Memorial book of the martyrs of Szumsk], Tel Aviv, 1968.
Yalkut Volin [Volhynia anthology], vol. 1, no. 5 (1944). no. 6 (1945), no.7 (1946), nos.16-17 (1952).
Hatsefira [The siren], Warsaw, 6 Tamuz 1911, 14 Av 1911.
Voliner shtime [Volhynia voice], Rovno, 9.14.1928, 10.12.1928, 11.3.1928, 3.15.1929, 9.20.1929, 1.24.1930, 2.28.1930, 4.25.1930, 7.7.1930.
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