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Translation of Wysokie Litewskie chapter from
Translation of Wysokie Litewskie chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume V, pages 249-250,
edited by Shmuel Spector, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Village in western Polesie on the road
from Brisk (Brest Litowsk) to Bialystok
Translated by Ite Doktorski
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
We have no information about the beginnings of WL. The earliest information we do have is from 1511. WL was a privately owned village that belonged since the beginnings of the 18th century to the princely Sapieha family. They built in WL a beautiful palace, a monastery, and a hospital. In the first half of the 19th century WL was known for its annual fair which started on the 25th of July and went on for two weeks. There was also extensive trade in horses and cattle in WL. In the period of the Russian rule WL was part of the Brisk district of Grodno Guberniya.
We estimate that Jews lived there from the middle of the 16th century, since the old synagogue, made of bricks, was built in 1607 and renovated in 1827. In 1623 WL is mentioned as being under the jurisdiction of the main Jewish community of Brisk (Brest Litowsk). Three years later, in 1626, a debt owed by the Jewish Council of Lithuania to the community of WL is mentioned, amounting to 24 Lithuanian shock (i.e. 1,460 Lithuanian groszy). In those days this was a considerable sum. During the Sukkot holiday of October 22-25, 1644, criminals broke into the WL synagogue and attacked and wounded the faithful praying there, three of them seriously. They stole the silver crown from the Torah scroll and the women's jewelry, and threatened to kill all the Jews in the village. Several years later, on September 20, 1663, the Catholic priest Andrzej Truzshnitski plotted against three Jews, Eliezer, Yitzhak ben Aharon, and Pesah Ruhatski, and falsely accused them of attacking church officials and setting free the thief they were holding. On February 27, 1651, the Jewish Council of Lithuania held a meeting in WL discussing the collection of funds for the purpose of paying government taxes. A second synagogue, made of bricks, was built in 1657 and renovated in 1850. In 1662 WL is listed among the communities under the jurisdiction of the Jewish community of Brisk (Brest Litowsk) for the payment of government taxes. In 1702 WL paid, together with the neighboring Jewish community of Rasne, the sum of 358 zlotys as poll tax. This was a considerable sum and the second in importance after the sum paid by the Jewish community of Brisk (Brest Litowsk) itself. Three years later, in 1705, WL paid poll tax to the amount of 700 zlotys.
At the end of the 19th century WL still had the community ledger (pinkas) where the first record dated from the year 1710. In the old synagogue they still kept the Torah scroll cover of 1750 and the Torah ark curtain (parokhet) of 1781. In 1757 they built a prayer house. The Burial Society was founded in 1780 when registrations in their ledgers started. In the old cemetery there still were ancient but broken gravestones.
In the 19th century the Jewish population of WL increased and by the second half of that century most of the inhabitants (about 80%) of WL were Jews, and most of the trade activity was conducted by them. In the village there was a brandy steam distillery, a beer brewery, and three flour mills.
In 1853 WL opened a Jewish religious school (Talmud Torah) which had 40 pupils in the 1890s. In 1886 WL opened a public Jewish primary school that had 50 pupils. There was a Jewish hospital in the village. Three big fires that broke out in WL in the years 1884, 1889, and 1904 caused great damage to the inhabitants, especially to the Jews. One of the rabbis appointed to the village in the middle of the 19th century was Rabbi Yehuda Leyb Moshe Halevi, author of a book of responsa entitled Sea'arot Teiman. At the onset of the 20th century a copy of the book still existed in handwritten form.
The Germans occupied WL during WWI in 1915, and held it until 1918. During this period WL founded an orphanage that was supported by an American Jewish committee.
With the establishment of Polish rule WL opened a primary school where the language of instruction was Yiddish, apparently at the beginning of the 1920s. In 1929, since the construction of the school building could not be completed, the school seized part of the neighboring orphanage building. This resulted in a sharp dispute that led to the intervention of the Polish authorities. In 1927 the Jewish members of the town council requested to convert the Talmud Torah into a modern religious school, for which they recruited the support of the local rabbi, Rabbi Yitskhak Aharon Zilberfarb. Fierce competition broke out between this school and the Yiddish school, for pupils and for the council's financial support. In 1928 they didn't receive any support at all and both institutions threatened to close down. An ad hoc council committee with two Jewish members opened in 1929 a general public library that offered Yiddish books and newspapers.
A merchants' union and an artisans' union were active in WL. The Bund and Zionist parties like the General Zionists, the Mizrahi, and the Poalei Zion were active as well.
The results of the elections for the Zionist congresses were as follows:
For the 16th congress held in 1929 General Zionists 71 votes, Poalei Zion 39, Mizrahi 58.
For the 20th congress held in 1937 General Zionists 24 votes, Mizrahi 51, Working Erets Israel 183.
For the 21st congress held in 1939 General Zionists 36 votes, Mizrahi 66, Working Erets Israel 231.
During the Second World War
Because of its close proximity to the Polish border the Germans entered the village already on June 22, 1941. Wysokie Litewskie was annexed to the Bialystok district. From the sparse information we received we conclude that there was a closed ghetto in Wysokie Litewskie. Organized and armed Jewish youth groups were ready to escape to the woods. On November 2, 1942, the Jews of Wysokie Litewskie were liquidated while young people fled to the woods.
Yad Vashem 03/1162
The Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem 55/1801/2, 55/1774
State Ledger or Ledger of the Main Jewish Communities of the State of Lithuania, editor: Shimon Dubnov, Berlin, Hebrew year 5685 (common era: 1925)
Brisker Vokhenblat (Yiddish, Brisk Weekly), Brisk, several issues of the year 1929.
Polesyer Shtime (Yiddish, The Voice of Polesie), Brisk, March 30, 1928.
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