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[Page 38]

Jewish Plotzk During the First World War

by Shlomo Rozen

The author gives a survey of the pattern of life in Plotzk at the outbreak of the first World War. He describes in detail how the local Jewish population tried to maintain good relations with both fighting parties, the Russians and the Germans, in order to survive, but did not always succeed, since each party suspected the Jews of being on their enemy's side.

Another chapter deals with the life of the Jews under German occupation. The Germans permitted the Jews (in 1915) to restore commerce and industry which were ruined in the first year of war. Even cultural activities were permitted by the German authorities and the Jewish youth organized that year a special sports tournament. The generation of that period could not possibly foresee how the next meeting with the Germans (after 25 years) would look like…

The survey's third chapter describes conditions under the Polish regime which was hostile to the Jews and used every possible opportunity to act against them. The author mentions, inter alia, the tragic case of Rabbi Shapiro, who was sentenced to death and executed "for spying in favor of the Bolsheviks". This and other cases did a great deal to convince the Jewish population that they were living among hostile elements and that they would have to leave their "homeland" as soon as they could. Unfortunately, the Jews of Plotzk became fully convinced of that truth only too late…

[Page 40]

The Plotzk Jewish Community between the
Two World – Wars 1918-1939

Community Institutions, Social Work, Economic Life, Neighbourhood Relations

plo194.jpg [25 KB]
Drawing by Yaacov Guterman

The Jewish Kehila (Community) of Plotzk

by Itzhak Ben-Shai (Fuchs)

This article carries the sub-title, "Memories of a Secretary", since its author served for two years as secretary of the Plotzk Kehila. As in other Polish towns, the Kehilawas the representative Jewish body serving the religious, social and cultural needs of the Jewish inhabitants.

The Secretariat of the Kehila housed many records, among them documents of great historical value, since the Plotzk Jewish community had been in existence for no less than 700 years.

When entering office as secretary of the Kehila, the author discovered many of these documents and after perusing them he realized that the Plotzk Jewish community was one of the oldest in Poland. At that time – before the Second World War – he could not possibly imagine that in a few years time this ancient community would cease to exist. Referring to these documents, he describes the Jewish autonomous life before the First World War, during the German occupation – (1915-1918), and after the establishment of the independent Polish state.

Mentioning some names of personalities who played an important role in the community's life during the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century (like Salomon Bromberger, Moshe Lidzbarski, and Benyamin Golde); the author describes the first democratic elections to the Kehilain free Poland. Three blocks took part in those elections Zionists (with "Mizrahi"), the Orthodox groups ("Agudat Yisrael") and the Independents. Two other groups (Zionists-Socialists and "Bund") did not put up lists. The elections-campaign was very stormy. Both the Zionists and the Orthodox devoted all their resources and energies to secure a majority of seats, but neither succeeded. Both attained an equal number of seats and the third group (Independents) turned out to be the strongest by getting more votes than each of the two other groups. The KehilaCommittee was, therefore, composed of a coalition between the Zionists and the Independents. Two prominent Zionists were put in charge of important Kehila departments.

The author reports on the development of the Kehila,its social, religious and cultural activities, not ignoring the conflicts between several groups inside and outside that institution, which at times almost paralyzed the activities of the Jewish autonomous body. The election of a town rabbi always created differences of opinion. The Zionist block was constantly faced by Agudat Yisrael efforts to oust them and the fight for rule of the Kehilatook very often unbecoming forms. A campaign was at one time led by the extreme Orthodox against a Zionist candidate. They informed the government that the candidate was anti-religious and caused "profanation" of religious feelings. Such means of political strife and stride undermined the prestige of the Jewish community and caused anguish to all concerned.

The anti-Zionist workers' party "Bund" denounced Zionism and gained influence among members of the Jewish working class. At that time the Zionist workers' groups had little influence in town.

The author pays special attention to the struggle between several groups and parties for influence in the Jewish community of Plotzk. In many instances the authorities, by law, served as mediators. The Zionists regarded governmental intervention as degrading, in view of the anti-Jewish feelings of many government officials. In the thirties the author went to Eretz Israel but did not severe his contacts with his native town. He reports on the last elections to the Kehila, held in 1939, about half a year before the outbreak of war.

A new consolidated group took then part in the elections-campaign: the "Poalei Zion" (the counterpart of "Mapai" in Poland of that period) and its local leader, the beloved Fishl Fliderblum, was elected the last chairman of the Jewish community.

The author emphasizes that all former members of the Kehila, who were forced during the Nazi regime to cooperate with the invaders had always done their best to help their brethren as much as they could.

In the first part of the article the author mentions his grandfather Reb Tuvia Plotzker, who is considered the first immigrant from Plotzk to the Holy Land. He came to Palestine in 1875, died in Jerusalem and was buried on the Mount of Olives. His grandson visited his grave in the years before the establishment of the State of Israel, when access to that cemetery was still possible.

plo207.jpg [22 KB]
Drawing by Yaacov Guterman

[Pages 41-42]

The Jewish Hospital

by Abraham Shmueli (Plutzer)

The Jewish Hospital was founded in the seventies of the 19th century with a donation by the Fogel family. It was confiscated by the Germans during the first World War, but later on – in 1926 – reopened by the Jews of Plotzk.

The Hospital contained 35 beds, a surgery, an out-patients' clinic, etc, and was held in high esteem by both the Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of Plotzk.

The hospital's food was strictly Kosher, and it therefore enjoyed great popularity among the orthodox Jewish population. The hospital contributed a great deal to the state of health in town and even Christian patients did their utmost to be hospitalized there in case of need.

The Nazis liquidated the hospital's Jewish staff and converted it into a station for infectious diseases. Jewish doctors and nurses continued to help patients and even hid some leaders of the community, who were sought by the. Nazis, within the hospital confines.

The building was finally closed in 1940 and its patients transferred to the Old People Asylum at Dobrzynska Street.

[Page 42]

Ezrat Holim

"Ezrat Holim" (help for the sick) – was a voluntary philanthropic organization, whose members were a group of socially-minded Jews who regarded it as their religious duty to extend assistance to sick people in their homes, as well as in hospital.

They regularly visited the sick, helped them financially, encouraged and treated them. Shows and other festivities were organized in order to collect a budget for their activities. "Their attention did sometimes more to heal the sick than the medical care of the physicians" – wrote one of the then famous journalists about the members (of "Ezrat Holim" who came from all parts of the community: Orthodox, European-clad, rich and poor Jews. The idea which united them was to help their sick fellow-Jews.

[Page 42]

The Jewish Orphanage (“Ochronka”)

by Gustav Puk

The author, who was a pupil of the above institute, describes its activities since the first years after World War I. He mentions with great appreciation and affection several ladies who headed the orphanage, which housed 32-36 children and was financed by "Joint", and "Toz". In spite of its limited resources, the children were always kept clean and enjoyed summer vacations. After they completed their elementary studies there, everything was done to enable them to study in vocational and high schools.
The author specially mentions Mrs. Paulina Altberg, who devoted her life to the well-being of the children and symbolized by her activities and devotion the real Jewish mother.

Only five ex-pupils of the orphanage survived, three of them live in Israel, one in Poland and one in Russia.
The author of this article, was an officer of the Polish army, was one of the liberators of Plotzk.

[Page 43]

Cooperative Banks and Trade Unions

by I. G. Chanachowicz (Kent)

Three cooperative banks existed in Plotzk until the outbreak of the war in 1939: a general bank, a commercial bank and a credit bank.

The first one was established after World War I when the economic position of many citizens became very difficult. The bank assisted small merchants and artisans with long-term loans to reestablish themselves after the war years. Its activities expanded owing to the financial help of the "Joint" organization, which invested considerable funds in the bank.

The Commercial Bank was established in 1927 and enjoyed the confidence of both Jews and non-Jews in Plotzk and surroundings. Its saving plans became popular and many Jews deposited their savings "for a rainy day" in it. Unfortunately that day came sooner than they imagined. The Nazis invaded Plotzk and confiscated the bank's funds and property.

The Credit Bank – was active among orthodox Jews. It is worth mentioning that all its officials wore orthodox garments. This bank cooperated with the Commercial Bank.

Several smaller financial institutions also existed in Plotzk, one of them was the "Rogozik Bank", founded by Rogozik, who was called the "Plotzk Rothschild". A "Gmilut Hessed" fund (an institution granting interest free loans) helped merchants and artisans to overcome many crises. This institution was managed for many years by Abraham Levin.

Most of Plotzk's Jewish workers were organized in trade unions, such as the Tailors, Transport workers (coachmen and porters), Clerks, Shop attendants and other unions.

They persuaded the employers to agree to an 8 hour working-day and other social demands. Special Jewish trade unions were a necessity under the circumstances, as the Polish unions were notoriously reluctant to accept Jewish members.

Several strikes were proclaimed by the unions in the years preceding the Second World War, as a result of which the working class established itself as a factor in the town's economic life.

The Jewish trade unions also contributed a lot to the cultural life of Jewish workers, who were deprived of education because of poverty, through evening-courses, etc. They comprised workers of all parties, of whom "Bund" was the strongest one. Later on, the "Poalei Zion" faction organized the coachmen, and gained considerable influence.

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