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Translation of Jasionówka chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Jasionówka chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 372-374, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Translated by Jerrold Landau
The town of Jasionówka, located approximately 30 kilometers north of Bialystock, is first mentioned in a document from 1553 regarding a church that was built there. Over the years, its owners changed several times. In 1642, King Wladyslaw IV granted it the privilege of a city, that was recertified in 1647 and 1670. In 1774, four annual fairs took place there. Jasionówka was annexed to Prussia at the third partition of Poland in 1795, and it was included in Czarist Russia from 1807. Its rights of a city were annulled in 1863 as a punishment for its residents participating in the Polish uprising.
The majority of the residents of Jasionówka were occupied in small-scale trade and labor, and some of them in agriculture. There was a depot for the exchange of postal horses. A workshop for sewing and weaving was established in the town during second half of the 19th century, and a large hide tanning enterprise was established before the First World War.
Jasionówka was under German occupation for three years (1915-1918) during the First World War. After an additional period of military and political instability, it was included in independent Poland. During the Second World War, it was under Soviet rule from September 1939, and under Nazi German occupation from June 1941 until the summer of 1944. The Soviet Army liberated Jasionówka and its surrounding area in the summer of 1944.
The first Jews of Jasionówka belonged to the community of Tykocin and buried their dead in its cemetery. The first synagogue, made of wood, was built in the 17th century, and their own small cemetery was opened. In 1731, the bishop of Vilna permitted them to open a new cemetery at the entrance to the town, and after some time, they purchased the ground of the cemetery. In 1750, when there was no room left, they opened another new cemetery. With the growth and entrenchment of the community at the latter part of the 18th century, a brick synagogue was built in Jasionówka. It was dismantled in 1864, and in its place a new, large synagogue was built out of wood, with a ritual bath (mikva) beside it. The building was funded primarily through the donations of the following wealthy people: Avraham Kripnianski, Feivel Rozenblum, and Shmuel Frytman. The community of Jasionówka became independent in the middle of the 18th center. Alongside the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), new charitable institutions such as Linat Tzedek (providing of lodging for wayfarers), Bikur Cholim (tending to the sick), and a charitable fund were founded. At the end of the 18th century, a Jewish women's organization was founded as well as a branch of The Organization of the History and Literature of the Nation of Israel. The Jews of Jasionówka were misnagdim. The sole Hassid, Baruch Zeidenberg, was liked by everybody. The children of the community studied in the cheder, and some of them continued their studies in Yeshivas. With time, several modern cheders, in the spirit of the haskalah, were opened in Jasionówka, including a cheder for girls. Hebrew, Russian and arithmetic were taught in these modern cheders. From the rabbis of the 18th century, we know of Rabbi Tanchum Gershon Bilicki and the neo-Orthodox Rabbi Hirsch. Zionism was active in Jasionówka prior to the First World War, and a Mizrachi chapter was founded.
There was vibrant Zionist activity in Jasionówka. The Left leaning Poale Zion and other parties operated alongside the veteran Mizrachi organization. The most prominent youth movements were Hechalutz, Hechalutz Hatzair, and Hashomer Hatzair. The youth went out to Hachsharah kibbutzim and some of them made aliya to the Land of Israel. On the eve of the 17th Zionist Congress (1931) the Jews of Jasionówka obtained 45 shekalim. Some of the youth belonged to the non-Zionist Bund or were active in the Polish Communist Party, despite the fact that it was illegal.
Both the Zionists and non-Zionists of Jasionówka engaged in vibrant cultural activity and developed Jewish education. After the war, a Yiddish public school of the Tzisha stream was founded, as well as a Tachkemoni religious Hebrew School under the auspices of Mizrachi. Both of them were private schools whose budget was met by tuition fees. Some of the children, particularly those from families of meager means, studied in the Polish public school, where there was no tuition fee.
During the 1920s, the Jews made up approximately 70% of the population. They lived in peace and with good neighborly relations with the gentiles in the town and the area. However, anti-Semitism spread in Jasionówka during the late 1930s.
The Soviets retreated eastward with the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Many houses burnt down due to the German bombardment. The Germans captured Jasionówka on June 27 and
a pogrom broke out that day. The German soldiers, with the help of the local anti-Semites, burnt down four streets and murdered 74 Jews. The Germans set up a militia in Jasionówka with which the local anti-Semites collaborated, and demanded from them a list of Jews who had collaborated with the Soviet rulers. Based on this list, 42 young people were arrested and transferred to prison in Bialystock. Two or three of them succeeded in escaping, and the rest were tortured and murdered.
After the great incitement at the time of the conquest of the city, all of the Jews of Jasionówka were crowded into several houses that had remained standing. The local residents, armed with sticks and axes, would break into their houses for the purpose of plunder, and would beat the Jews in the process. However, Father Lazowski, who had been freed from prison during the time of Soviet rule due to Jewish intercession, girded himself to defend the Jews and dispersed the ruffians by force with the assistance of his people.
By edict of the Nazis, the Jews were obligated to tie a yellow Star of David patch on their clothing, and a Judenrat was set up. A ghetto was not set up in Jasionówka because, in any case, the Jews lived together in the few remaining houses. The meager food rations were distributed by the Judenrat. A bit of food was also obtained through barter with the farmers, but those who engaged in this activity did so at the risk of their lives. The Judenrat was ordered to provide a set quantity of forced laborers to the Germans. The workers were put to work in the tanneries that had been expropriated by the German work office, in paving roads, and in the mine at Knyszyn (see entry), a distance of 14 kilometers from Jasionówka. The workers in Knyszyn were forced to awaken while it was still night. They were liable to be attacked by the armed guards on the way to and from work. They received their food from the communal kitchen that the Judenrat had set up in Knyszyn, but their nutrition was meager. Later, many Jews were put to work in building a large house for the German ruler of Jasionówka. Even 14-year-old children were enlisted for work in the fishing ponds and in clearing ruins. A typhus epidemic broke out among the Jews as a result of the hunger and overcrowding.
At the end of 1941, many of the Jews of Jasionówka, especially the refugees, were evacuated to Suchowola (see entry), and the Germans replaced the first Judenrat, which did not satisfy them. The head of the new Judenrat, Dr. Stolar from Augustowo, was fluent in German and other languages. The Poles also utilized him as a translator. In the spring or summer of 1942, the Poles slandered him, claiming that he had collected money for the establishment of a Jewish underground. Stolar was imprisoned and interrogated with torture by the Gestapo. The Germans threatened to take him out to be killed, and demanded a ransom. The impoverished Jews of Jasionówka collected the high ransom with supreme effort, but the Germans did not fulfill their promise, and nobody saw Stolar again.
On January 25, 1943, the Germans and local police surrounded the houses of the Jews of Jasionówka, sealed off the escape routes, and summoned the Jews to assemble in the market square. The few who attempted to escape were shot by the guards. A few days prior to this, a large group of youths had escaped to the Bialystock Ghetto, and only 1,600 people assembled in the square. The Gestapo men and the police began feverish searches for people who were hiding. The farmers with their wagons transported the Jews from the square to the train station in Kynyszyn, but the Jews were forced to descend and push the wagons, as the horses had difficulty moving due to the cold. About 400 of them seized the opportunity and escaped. The Nazis shot without discrimination this time as well, but only a few were hit. However, the escapees could not survive in the deep cold under the protection of the sky, for the residents of the of the area locked their houses and shut their windows. Many gave up and returned to the train station of Kynyszyn. The rest attempted to reach the Bialystock Ghetto. At the Kynyszyn train station, the Jews were crowded onto cattle cars and transported to the Treblinka Death Camp. Some of them died along the way in the crowded wagons. A youth from Jasionówka, Mordechai Shuster, encouraged his friends to jump from the train, and approximately 300 youths jumped from the windows and cracks in the wagons. Many of them were shot, but 58 of them succeeded in escaping.
From among the 400 Jew who fled along the route to Kynyszyn, only 71 survived until liberation. Another 100 youths who had escaped prior to this hid in the forests, with farmers, and in the Bialystock Ghetto. Some of them joined Soviet partisan units under the command of Kapustin.
After the war, the survivors of the Jews of Jasionówka were attacked by the nationalist Poles from units of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) that operated there.
AYUSh (Archives of Yad Vashem) M11B/83, 98, 104, 150, 159, 197; M1Q/597, 2388; 03/3675, 3718.
Datner, Eksterminacja ludności żydowskiej w okręgu bialostockim, BZIH 60; Warsaw 1966, pp 9-29.
Leszczyński, Żydzi ziemi bielskiej od polowy XVII w. do 1795 r., pp. 6/236.
Wiśniewski, Bóżnice Bialostocczyzny, pp. 158-160
Wołkowysk Yizkor Book, New York, 1949.
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