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Translation of Kamieniec Litewski chapter from
Translation of Kamieniec Litewski chapter from
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume V, pages 312-315,
edited by Shmuel Spector, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(A town in the district of Brisk, northwest Pulsia)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The town of Kamieniec Litewski was founded by the Volhynian Chronicle in 1276. It was founded by Prince Ludmir, Vladimir Vasilkovich, who was nicknamed the philosopher. In 1375, 1378, and 1379, the settlement suffered from attacks from the knights of the Teutonic Order from eastern Prussia, until they were defeated in 1410 by the Lithuanian-Polish-Russian Army under the command of King Władysław Jagiełło. The kings of Poland, who also ruled over Lithuania, turned Kamieniec Litewski into a mid-way stop on their travels from Vilna to Kraków. Its proximity to the large Białowieza Forest turned it into a departure point for hunting expeditions. During the time of the Polish kingdom, Kamieniec Litewski was included in the district and region of Brisk. During the time of the Russian regime, it was included in the district of Grodno.
We can surmise that individual Jews settled in Kamieniec Litewski from the time they returned to Lithuania after the deportation of 1503. Several years later, the settlement received the Magdeburg city rights. A document from February 26, 1525, notes that Jews were lessees of the taverns in the town. An organized Jewish community definitely existed from the beginning of the 17th century, for on 9 Elul 5383 (1623), the Council of the State of Lithuania determined that the community of Kamieniec Litewski was dependent on the main community of Brisk . On December 11, 1635, a Jew from the town received a special permit from King Władysław IV, but the details are not known, aside from the section that imposes a fine on the citizens of the city who disturb the Jews from working in commerce, tavern keeping and trades or those who take ownership of estates and fields in the city. After Kamieniec Litewski was destroyed in 1661 by the Cossacks, the Polish Sejm exempted the citizens and the Jews from paying taxes for four years.
On June 16, 1661, King Jan Kazimierz recertified the rights that were given, and even added an additional weekly market day (on Tuesdays) over and above the market day that took place on Saturdays up to this point and in which the Jews refrained from doing business. The king also permitted the Jews to build a Beis Midrash, a synagogue, a bathhouse, and a cemetery. At the end of the letter of privileges, the king repeats all the general rights granted to the Jews of Lithuania and commands that they be kept. On May 10, 1670, this writ of privileges was certified by King Michał Wiśniowiecki, and a point was added threatening a fine of 5,000 zloty for anyone who harasses a Jew. In 1684, King Jan Sobieski certified the Magdeburg city rights and made the Jews dependent on the city council from an administrative and cooperative perspective. Furthermore, he obligated them to fulfil all duties imposed on the citizens. A complaint from 1693 put forward by 40 citizens of Kamieniec Litewski states that the Jews leased the czopowe (liquor excise tax) in the town, whereas the treasury minister of Lithuania, Prince Sapieha, had leased the tax of the town to Izak the son of Nachum and Yeshaya the son of Yaakov.
The decline of the community of Kamieniec began at the beginning of the 18th century, for it stopped being the residence of the district ruler (the Starosta). In 1705, the Jews of that place paid 250 zloty of head tax, from which we can derive that the population was approximately 300 Jews. During that era, the persecutions, and especially the blood libels, increased. On June 17, 1718, the Jewesses Chaika and Yosef were arrested and accused of acts of witchcraft. King August II responded to the complaints of the citizens and forbade the Jews from expanding their homes, even within their own yards.
In addition, they were forbidden from doing business in liquor. Their commerce was restricted to stores only. The community of Kamieniec Litewski dominated over the Jews who lived in the estates of the noblemen and in the surrounding villages and collected taxes from them, including the head tax. The number of payers of the head tax was 866 in 1766, implying that the number of individuals was close to 1,000. Near the time of the partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century, the district government weakened, and chaos pervaded in the area. On account of this, the Jews of the area (in the estates and the villages) stopped paying their taxes to the community of Kamieniec Litewski. Therefore, the community complained at the time that a government inspection (the lustracja) took place in 1784.
During the years 1867-1880, Rabbi Yehoshua HaKohen Blumenthal served as the rabbi of Kamieniec Litewski. Following him, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Rabinowicz served for 30 years. Then Rabbi Blumenthal's son, Rabbi Reuven David Bursztejn, served. He authored a two-volume book called Divrei Rada'k, dealing with halacha [Jewish law] and exegesis. Rabbi Bursztejn perished in the Holocaust along with the members of his community. The well-known personalities born in Kamieniec Litewski include: Rabbi Chaim Zundel, known as the Maggid of Kamieniec (1857-1916), who preached for nine years and set up organizations for the settlement of the Land of Israel; Reb Menachem Mendel of Kamieniec (1800-1873) who made aliya to Tzfat in 1933, where he survived the earthquake. When he came to Vilna in 1840 to collect donations for the Land of Israel, he published his book Korot HaItim there, describing the destruction of Tzfat during the earthquake. He settled in Jerusalem in 1842 and opened an inn. His son turned the inn into a hotel, the well-known Kamenetz Hotel; Reb Yisrael Ashkenazy, one of the first settlers of Yeshod Hama'alah. The author of memoirs Yechiel Kotek, his son the author and journalist Avraham-Hirsch, the journalist Moshe Eliahu Z'ak, and the teacher and writer Falik Zolf were all born in Kamieniec Litewski.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a Talmud Torah, a junior Yeshiva, and a community library in the town. At the time of the First World War, during the summer of 1915, the front approached Kamieniec Litovsk. The retreating Russian brigades tormented the Jews and pillaged their property. The town was conquered by the Austrian Army. Hungarian brigades who fought in that army also engaged in the pillage of the population. After several months, a German military government was set up in the town, which imposed stringent restrictions of movement upon the residents and sent them to forced labor. Hunger pervaded in Kamieniec Litewski on account of the restrictions. In order to overcome it, the government permitted the Jews to gather the harvest of the fields of the farmers who had escaped with the Russian Army. Later, the Jews worked the fields. Gangs of thieves and deserters began to wander around the nearby Białowieza forests, imposing their fear upon the residents of the area. At that time, a cholera epidemic broke out, claiming many victims from amongst the Jews of the town.
During the era of German military rule, a Jewish school opened, with the language of instruction being German and Hebrew. A Hebrew kindergarten also operated for some time. In 1916, Zionist circles attempted to open a school that taught only in Hebrew, but they met the opposition of the Orthodox circles. During that time, the communal library was the center of cultural activities. An amateur drama club operated alongside it.
Between the Two World Wars
The German military rule ended at the end of 1917, but it took some time for the Polish government to establish itself. Rehabilitation efforts began in 1918. The JOINT sent money for assistance through the local aid committee. In 1918, a group of teachers established a school with the language of instruction being Hebrew and Russian. The institution was helped by the money from the JOINT. Nevertheless, the institution was quickly closed due to opposition from the Polish authorities.
Approximately 60% of the Jews of Kamieniec Litewski were occupied in business, especially small-scale business. Approximately 30% worked in trades. The rest of the Jews earned their livelihoods from home-based agriculture. The economic activities were helped by the national bank and the charitable fund. The town council of Kamieniec Litewski was primarily Jewish. For example, in the elections of September 21, 130, 11 Jewish representatives were elected out of 12 council members. The vice mayor and secretary of the city leadership were Jews. At the end of 1930, the Polish mayor was fired, and was replaced by his Jewish deputy. A Jew served as secretary throughout the entire period of Polish rule.
After the First World War, the small community resumed its activities. In the month of Elul, 1926, the Yeshiva Knesset Beit Yitzchak moved to Kamieniec Litewski from the Lukishok suburb of Vilna. This Yeshiva was founded in 1897 in Slobodka near Kovno through the initiative of Rabbi Hirsch Rabinowicz, the son of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan. During the First World War, the Yeshiva transferred from Minsk to Kremenchug, and it returned to Vilna in 1897. The Yeshiva grew quickly, with hundreds of students from various countries in Europe studying there. The Rosh Yeshiva was Rabbi Baruch-Dov Leibovich until his death in 1940. The Yeshiva obtained its own building in Chanukah 1937. After the Soviets entered the city in 1939, the Yeshiva transplanted to Vilna, where its students scattered. There was a synagogue, five Beis Midrashes, and an old age home in Kamieniec Litewski.
There was no school other than the Talmud Torah in Kamieniec Litewski. Hebrew was taught by private teachers. There were two public libraries in the town, named for Sholom Aleichem and Y. L. Peretz. There was also a children's library. These libraries served as centers for Jewish cultural activity.
Young Zion was active in Kamieniec Litewski from the beginning of the Polish regime. For the elections for the 13th Zionist Congress in 1925, 122 people voted; both factions of the General Zionists received all the votes. A Poalei Zion chapter was established in 1925, and Freiheit and Gordonia chapters were founded in 1926. The latter maintained a hall with a Hebrew Corner
that promoted the Hebrew Language. A chapter of Beitar was established in 1930, and a chapter of Hashomer Hatzair a short time later.
|The laying of the cornerstone of the Yeshiva of Kamieniec-Litewski
From the Kamieniec Litewski Yizkor book
During the Second World War
The German Army entered Kamieniec Litewski on Rosh Hashanah in September, 1939. The Germans remained in the town for eight days, until they retreated from the Red Army. Kamieniec Litewski joined the Byelorussian Soviet Republic. During the first days, Jewish Communists took over the government service positions in the town, but they were quickly replaced by Soviet officials. The large Yeshiva was expropriated and turned into a hall and movie theater.
The German Army entered Kamieniec Litewski at 6:00 p.m. on June 22. The snatchings, torments, and pillaging of Jewish property began the next day. Within a few days, 100 Jewish youths were arrested and accused of being Communists. They were taken outside the city and murdered. The German authorities imposed the obligation of wearing the yellow patch upon the Jews and ordered the establishment of a Judenrat consisting of 7 members and a police force consisting of 9. The Jews were obligated to pay a ransom of 3 kilograms of gold. A great deal of Jewish property was expropriated.
The town was included in the General-Bezirk (district) of Bialystok, which was headed by Erich Koch. At the end of 1941, about a third of the Jews of Kamieniec Litewski were transferred to the Pruzhana Ghetto. Those left behind were mainly professionals and their families. The ghetto was established on January 1, 1942. It was open a first, and only closed on April 1942. Approximately 100 men were sent to the Wolkowysk Labor Camp, whereas the Jews from Zastava and the Jewish agricultural settlements of Abramowo, Sroba and Lutowa were brought to the ghetto in the town. The number of families in the ghetto reached 450, and they lived in conditions of crowding and hunger, despite the efforts of the Judenrat to obtain larger rations of food, whether by forging the quantities of the German rations or through barter.
On November 9, 1942, the Jews of Kamieniec Litewski were taken by wagons to the railway station in Wysokie Litewski, from where they were transported to the Treblinka death camp. The Jews of Kamieniec Litewski who were deported to the Pruzhana Ghetto were sent to Auschwitz at the beginning of February, 1943. Of them, three survived.
Yad Vashem Archives M-1/Q-221.[Page 315]
Yizkor Book of the community of Kamieniec Litewski, Zastava and the Colonies, Tel Aviv, 5730 (1970).
Ledgers of the State or Ledgers of the Chief Communal Councils of the State of Lithuania (edited by Sh. Dubnow), Berlin 5685 (1925).
Brisker Wachenblatt, Brisk, 14.8.1925, 23.11.1928, 15.2.1929Translator's Footnotes
Pulesier Shtime, Brisk , 30.3.1928, 10.5.1929, 1.10,1930, 7.11.1930
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