“Różana” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume V
(Ruzhany, Belarus)

5252' / 2453'

Translation of “Różana” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

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 315-318,
edited by Shmuel Spector, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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[Pages 315-318]

Różana

(It is a town in northwestern Pulusia, district of Kosow-Polski)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Population

Year General
Population
Jews
1765 ? 154
1847 ? 1,556
1885/88 2,767 1,805
1897 5,016 3,599
1921 3,622 2.400

 

During the era of the Polish Kingdom, Różana was a private city, under the ownership of the Sapieha family. It was included in the district of Wolkowysk in the region of Novogorodok. The owners of the place built a splendid palace at the edge of the town, which hosted kings. The palace and town were destroyed during the Confederation wars at the end of the 17th century. When the Swedes arrived in 1706, they found a town empty of its residents. The Sapieha family rehabilitated the city and the palace. In 1786, the nobleman who owned the place sold the palace to Jews, who turned it into a textile factory, with part of it being a grain warehouse. At that time, during the middle of the 18th century, the town had several small-scale enterprises: for silk textiles, fabric for damask padding, tablecloths, carriages, and shellac for covering carriages. These enterprises weakened and closed during the 19th century.

Jewish Różana is mentioned for the first time in the year 5383 (1623). That year, it is mentioned in the Ledgers of the State of Lithuania as one of the settlements depending on the main community of Brisk. We can surmise that Jews began to settle there prior to that, perhaps at the end of the 16th century. Some time before Passover of 1657, a body of a Christian child was found on the Jewish street with signs of stabbing. The Jews of Różana were accused of a blood libel. They turned to the owners of the city, the nobleman Sapieha, who prevented the citizens from wreaking judgment upon the Jews. The nobleman protected the Jews for a period of two and a half years, promising the citizens that those guilty of the deed would be brought to royal judgment. However, the Jesuits did everything they could to prevent the Jews from reaching the royal court. In September 1659, the citizens took advantage of the absence of the nobleman and imprisoned two of the town notables. According to one source, the two notables Reb Yisrael the son of Shalom and Reb Tovia the son of Yosef volunteered to be imprisoned. After that, the mass of citizens attacked the Jews during

[Page 316]

services on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The next day, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the trial took place. Two Jews were sentenced to death and were taken out to be killed that day. The son of one of the martyrs, Shimon the son of Yisrael, composed a selicha [a liturgical penitential poem] in memory of the event. Monuments of these two martyrs existed in the old cemetery of Różana and were renovated and rehabilitated in 1875.

We find many echoes of this blood libel in the Ledger of the State of Lithuania. Already in the years 5422-5430 (1662-1670), financial calculations were made between the community of Różana and the council of the state. The council claimed that the Jews of Różana spent large sums on account of the libel. In an entry from the year 5422 (1662) it states: “553. An account with the holy community of Różana, may it be firmly established. Their expenditures in the matter of the blood libel reached a sum of 15,993. To the son of the martyr, 100 zloty. To the widow of the martyr, 50 zloty. Regarding this, the communities showed an account that was given to them to the sum of 3,000 [???] and eight zloty [???][1]. Only, that which they claimed that much of this did not reach them. It is up to them to clarify what has not reached them.” In the year 5427 (1667), they still owed the community of Różana a sum of 7,736 zloty, whereas in the year 5430 (1670), the debt stood at 4,111 zloty. The sum that was taken out was very large, and was spent on bribes to the owners of the place and the officials in the royal court. As was accepted in those days, all the Jews of Lithuania participated in the expenditures through the means of the Council of the State. In the years 5439 (1679) and 5447 (1687), the Council of the State still owed money to the community of Różana, but it was not clear whether the debt was due to that blood libel.

As has been stated, the town was destroyed at the end of the 17th century, and Różana was only rehabilitated by the owner of the place, the nobleman Sapieha, only after the wars with the Swedes ended. At a meeting of the Council of the State in Slutsk in Sivan 5521 (1761), the issue of the division of the head tax among the communities of Lithuania was deliberated. The quote of the tax at that time was 60,000 Polish zloty. The community of Różana was expected to pay 1,112 zloty, a large sum relative to what was imposed on other communities. (In comparison, Brisk, which was a main community, was expected to pay a sum of 3,920 zloty.) The Jewish population in 1765 was 154, as sourced from the census that was conducted by the government for the purpose of direct collection of the head tax. It is almost certain that the number does not reflect the reality, for many evaded it, and children up to the age of one year and members of the clergy were not counted, for they were exempt from the tax.

The size of Różana can also be seen from its rabbis, starting from the 18th century. Around the year 1704, Rabbi Yechezkel Kacenelenboign, the author of the books Knesset Yechezkel and Mayim Chayim, served in Różana. During that period, Rabbi Moshe Zeev the son of Rabbi Yehuda Idel served, followed by his brother-in-law Rabbi Aharon the son of Nathan HaKohen. [Then came] Rabbi Yehonatan the son of Yosef, who later moved to Frankfurt, where he published a book on astronomy in 1720 called Yeshua Beisrael. During the 1720s, Rabbi Eliezer the son of the parnas [communal administrator] Yissachar Berish served. His daughter was the grandmother of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau of Prague, the author of the book Noda BiYehuda. Aside from them, Rabbi Avigdor HaKohen served in Różana.

At the end of the 18th century, Różana transferred to the authority of the Czar of Russia and was included in the district of Slonim in the region of Grodno. As has been said, the enterprises that operated in the town diminished at the beginning of the 19th century. The manufacture of woven blankets and heavy textiles designated for the use of Russian army uniforms continued. Aproximately 2,000 employees, mainly Jews, worked in that industry. The tanning branch opened in the middle of the 19th century and also employed hundreds of employees, mainly Jews. A large fire broke out on the 12th of Elul 5535 (1875), and most of the houses of the town went up in flames, including the large synagogue, which was about 300 years old. The Jewish hospital and the Talmud Torah building burnt down as well. There was another large fire in 1895, in which 300 of the 360 houses of the place burnt down. Only 20% of the houses were insured against fire. Most of the householders required donations to restore them. Leib Pines came to their assistance. Aside from the houses, three businesses burnt down: the weaving factory, the tannery, and the beer brewery. During the time of the Russian-Turkish War (1877-1878), the workers of Pines' factory went on strike for higher wages. The workers returned to work after about eight weeks without their demands being met, since the other factory owners supported Pines and refused to employ the strikers. At the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the First World War, there was a charitable fund in Różana that supported the economic activities of the small-scale merchants and tradesmen. There was a Jewish hospital in town with two physicians, who also supplied clinical services. The Linat Tzedek organization was founded in 1883.

As has been stated, there was a Talmud Torah for poor children in Różana. Approximately 300 students studied there in 1901. They learned Russian, arithmetic, and Hebrew and Yiddish writing in addition to religious studies. There was a Yeshiva in Różana from the 1840s. Approximately 200 lads studied there in 1893. Rabbi Binyamin Zakheim headed it during the 1870s until 1873, followed by Rabbi Shraga Feivel Berman until 1878. During the latter years of the 19th century, modern cheders were founded in Różana, one of them for girls. In 1902, the cheder teachers [melamdim] set up an organization to arrange the work of the melamdim, collect tuition, and restrict the number of students in each cheder. A spiritual committee made up of the town notables operated under the auspices of the organization, which supervised the level of the studies. During the 1890s, the Tiferet Bachurim organization operated in Różana, which concerned itself with teaching trades to the youths who did not study in Yeshiva. When a two-year Russian high school opened in the city, many Jewish students studied there.

In the 19th century, Rabbi Yisrael Halperin served in the rabbinate. He was the head of the rabbinical court until 1819; Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Chaver (until 1933), who authored the books Beit Yitzchak and Binyan Olam

[Page 317]

Responsa book. Rabbi Chaver fought against the Hassidim of the Baal Shem Tov. He was great in Kabbalah and was known as a miracle worker. Rabbi Efraim Zalman served until 1856, followed by Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Jaffe until 1888. Rabbi Gimpel Jaffe made aliya to the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem and in Yehudia in the Golan. His grandsons Betzalel and Aryeh Leib Jaffe were among the notables of the Jewish community in the Land during the 1930s and 1940s. Rabbi Shabtai Wallach served after Rabbi Jaffe. His nephew was the Soviet Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, there were nine synagogues in the town. One of them was the Great Synagogue, which burnt down in 1875 and was rebuilt. In 1905, there was a suspicion of disturbances. The fire chief Abba Leviatan organized an independent Jewish defense, armed with 15 guns. This prevented this farmers from perpetrating a pogrom. The workers of Pines' weaving enterprise staged a strike in 1910. This time, the strike ended with a victory for the strikers.

At the beginning of the time of Zionism, there were several its important activists in Różana. Fishel Pines was a delegate to the Chovevei Zion convention that took place in Katowice in 1885 and a delegate to the Zionist convention in Russia that took place in Minsk in 1902. His brother, Yechiel Michel Pines, who was also a member of Chovevei Zion, made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1878, where he was a significant force in the Mizkeret Batya organization. He built new neighborhoods and helped the Biluim acquire the lands in Gedera. He was one of the founders of the national library and helped found the settlements of Petach Tikva, Yesod Hama'alah, and others. His daughter Ita married David Yellin, and both were among the notables of the Jewish community in the first half of the 20th century.

The First World War broke out in August 1914, and the German Army entered Różana prior to Rosh Hashanah 1915. The Russian-German front halted for some time near the town, and two Jews were killed during the exchange of artillery fire between the two sides. A weapons warehouse exploded. A large fire broke out, and a large part of the Fortress Street went up in flames, including two weaving factories. The German government imposed severe restrictions on movement, leading to a cessation of commerce. Hunger pervaded in the town. All the males from age 14 to 60 were obligated to go to forced labor. One day, a group of Jewish youth were sent to the Nudersdorf Camp in Germany. Many later returned sick with tuberculosis. In order to sustain themselves, the Jews of Różana collected mushrooms and wild berries and worked the fields of the farmers who had escaped with the Russian Army. Through the efforts of the dentist Papiermacher, the consumers agricultural organization (Konsum Farein) was set up, which concerned itself with livestock, seeds, working the fields, and selling the produce to the local residents. The organization existed for almost three years, until the situation improved.

The German military ruler built an electric plant in Różana, and the streets of the town lit up. During that period, a Jewish school called Kinderheim opened, which taught in Yiddish and German. The children who studied there received food and clothing. The Hazamir organization set up a choir and drama club, and a library was opened alongside. After some time, the library was divided between the Herzliya Zionist youth movement and the Y.L. Peretz organization. At the end of the period of German rule, a Russian language progymnasium was opened, which was later closed by order of the Polish government. In 1919, gangs of Polish legionnaires perpetrated a pogrom in the town. Its members arrested 12 Jews, beat them harshly, murdered six of them, and wounded three. Members of the gang pillaged and robbed for an entire day, with nobody stopping them.

 

Between the Two World Wars

The closing of the Russian marketplace and burning of the weaving factory led to the decline of the town's economy after the war. Several tanneries were among the enterprises that continued to operate. The vast majority of the Jews of Różana worked in small-scale commerce and trades. Their economic activity was aided by the charitable fund, which renewed its operations in 1928, and the public cooperative bank that was set up during the 1920s through the efforts of Dr. Papiermacher. Those two institutions supported Jewish businesses with small loans, mainly without interest. At times, during the general depression, they prevented bankruptcy.

Several Jewish councilors sat on the town council. Until 1934, the vice mayor of Różana and a council member (Lawnik) were Jews. Matters were tiresome with respect to the rabbinate. After the period of tenure of Rabbi Shabtai Wolf, who filled his role for 15 years, and of his son Rabbi Zalman Weiss who died during the 1920s, a great dispute broke out over the rabbinical seat. Three rabbis served provisionally in Różana until the mid 1930s. Finally, Rabbi Heller remained of all of them. He left Różana in 1937, and we have no information about who followed him.

In 1920, the Yiddishist circles founded a Yiddish public school. Even though Bund members were among its leadership, the institution was not anti-Zionist. At that time, a pair of teachers, Bella and Eliezer Rabinowicz, established a four-grade Hebrew school. This was a modern institution, using progressive teaching methodology. In 1922, a Tarbut Hebrew school opened in its place. It developed and became a large institution, even having high-school grades. The Talmud Torah also renewed its activity but struggled hard for existence. In 1920, Dr. Aharon Chawojnik opened the Jewish hospital and founded a TAZ branch in Różana. Prior to making aliya, he made sure to find a replacement, who was Dr. Yatom, who continued the communal activity in the area of health.

The Al Hamishmar party of the General Zionists was among the most active parties. Its members concerned themselves with a Hebrew School and were active in the Jewish National Fund and other organizations. There were also chapters of

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Mizrachi and Revisionist activists in town. The Bund conducted restricted activity, and there was a small group of Communists, which shrunk further after the wave of arrests that took place in 1934. A Hechalutz club organized in 1920, which occupied itself with Zionist publicity and the study of Hebrew. A chapter of Hechalutz opened in 1924, under the auspices of which a group of pioneering seamstresses worked, three of whom made aliya to the Land of Israel. Later, a Hachsharah Kibbutz operated in the nearby village of Michlin. The crisis in the fourth aliya weakened the activities, which were renewed during the 1930s.

A Hashomer Hatzair chapter was founded in 1924 in the scouting style. However, it disbanded after some time. The chapter arose again in 1926. Its members occupied themselves with the study of Hebrew and activities on behalf of the Zionist funds. During the 1930s, Hashomer Hatzair was the largest youth movement in Różana. A Beitar chapter was founded in 1920. One of its founders was the lad Yitzchak Jaziernicky – later Shamir – a leader of Lehi and currently the prime minister of Israel.

 

During the Second World War

During the period of Soviet rule, three Jewish families, whose heads were factory owners, were deported to the interior of Russia. One of the local Jews was sent as a delegate to the Supreme Soviet of Byelorussia in Minsk. The Hebrew and Yiddish schools were closed. Private business was liquidated ,and the employees joined the cooperatives (Artels).

The Germany Army entered Różana on one of the last days of June 1941. The obligation to wear the yellow patch was immediately imposed upon the Jews, and a Judenrat and Jewish police force were set up. The Jews were ordered to go to forced labor in repairing and paving roads, gardening, and cleaning. There were several incidents of mass torture of Jews: they were commanded to gather in the market square, where water was poured upon them, they were beaten, and ordered to dance. Apparently on July 14, approximately 1,000 men gathered. Of them, 15 men were removed, taken outside the city, and murdered. The Judenrat and their families were told that it was possible to redeem them. The Jews gathered a large sum of gold and silver and gave it over to the Germans, but the Germans did not stand by their word. On June 24, 1941, several Jews were arrested, including the Jewish delegate to the Byelorussian Soviet. The Germans accused them of being Communists and took them out to be killed. On several occasions, the Jews were ordered to pay ransom to the Germans and to provide them with household utensils, furniture, and clothing. Several times, the Jews were chased out of their homes, and the Germans pillaged their property in their absence.

Różana was annexed to the Bezirk (District) of Bialystock, which was annexed to East Prussia, the fiefdom of Erich Koch. At the beginning of August 1941, the Jews were ordered to crowd into a small number of houses in the area of the synagogue. The ghetto was not gated. Food was brought by the farmers or Jews from the agricultural settlements around Różana – Pawlowo and Konstantinowo.

In the spring of 1942, several youths hatched the idea of organizing and escaping to the forests. Two youths who arrived from Slonim said that they were in the forests where they ran into Russian deserters who were going about naked and hungry and who attacked passers-by and robbed them.

On the morning of November 2, 1942, the ghetto was surrounded. At dawn, the Judenrat was informed that everyone must gather in the meadow at the edge of the town and bring their money and clothing with them. A group of eight armed youths escaped to the forests, but they quickly returned and joined the Jews who were gathered. After all of them arrived at the meadow, they were marched to Wolkowysk, a distance of 45 kilometers. The children and packages were transported by wagon. Along the way, the Germans who accompanied them shot those lagging behind. Anyone who wished to drink water or to escape was also shot. Approximately 500 people were shot to death during the two-day march, including many children. In Wolkowysk, the Jews of Różana were placed in the bunker camp under very difficult conditions of crowding, filth, and heavy hunger. Approximately 20,000 Jews from Wolkowysk itself and nearby towns were held there under such conditions.

The Jews of Różana were loaded on a train on November 28, 1942 and sent to Treblinka, where they were all murdered. The number of survivors was tiny, only three. Aside from them, those who enlisted in the Red Army prior to June 1941 also survived.

Sources

Ledgers of the Community or Ledgers of the Principal Communities in the State of Lithuania (edited by Sh. Dubnow), Berlin, 5685 (1924).
Ruzhany, Yizkor Book for the Community of Ruzhany and the area, Tel Aviv, 5717 (1957).
Pruzhaner Life, Pruzhana, March 26, 1937, April 16, 1937.
Translator's Footnotes
  1. Some of the abbreviations in this quote from the document were not obvious: shin,he,vav; and chaf, chet, gimel. Return


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