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[Page 9]

Historical Introduction

by Abba Gordin

Translated by Ron Arons

Edited by Jerrold Landau

Smorgon, like the district of Vilna, was considered to belong to Lithuania, without precise consideration of the geographical location.

 

1. Beginning

Already in the year 1388, we find a considerable Jewish community in Brisk (or Brest Litovsk) that received a bill of rights similar to the bill of rights that had already been granted to the Jews of Lwow. The bill of rights of Lwow was given by the Grand Duke Witold (Vytautas).

One of the rights the Jews received exempts them from the duty to harbor Christians in their houses.

In 1389, we find a Jewish community in Grodno as well. The community has a cemetery and a synagogue. On June 18, 1389, the Jews of Grodno received the same rights that the Jews of Brisk enjoyed. They are as follows: freedom to engage in business and trades, to work the land, to make and sell alcoholic drinks, to perform shechita (ritual slaughter) on cattle, and to sell meat wholesale.

The Jews of Grodno used the rights that were given to them. They dealt in agriculture and engaged in all kinds of craftwork and artisanry as detailed in the bill of rights.

In 1399, Witold brought prisoners of war, amongst them Jews, from southern Russia and the Crimean Peninsula. Karaites taken as prisoners of war were separated from the other Jews and settled them in Trakai, which, after a while, became the spiritual center of Karaism.

In 1441, the Jews of Trakai were granted a bill of rights. They received full autonomy in accordance with the Magdeburg charter.[1]

In April 1495, the Jews of Lithuania were expelled, and their property was confiscated. However, after eight years transpired, in 1503, the Jews returned to their places in Lithuania. The Jews of Brisk, Grodno and Trakai returned and re–established their communities according to their previously received bill of rights.

In 1506, three years after the cancellation of the expulsion edict, a community was formed in Pinsk. Jews received the same rights that the community of Brisk enjoyed.

The Jews of Grodno established two more communities in 1522 – one in Tykocin and one in Nowydwor.

In 1525, the Grand Duke granted the wealthy Jew, Michael Josepowicz of Brisk. {Editor's note: there is a gap in the original here.}

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They wanted to recognize a leader that was foisted on them by the government of the land.[2] They yearned for independence in terms of community affairs.

In 1529, there were communities in Pinsk, Grodno, Brisk, Trakai, Tykocin, Nowydwor, Kobrin, Kletzk, and Ludmir.

Brisk, the first and oldest of the communities, became the center of Torah from which G–d's word went forth to all of the cities of Lithuania. A Jewish printing house was established, and the Chumash was published in 1546. Around 1550, approximately four years after the Chumash was released, a kind of Yeshiva was formed in the town.

In that year, 1550, the number of Jews in Lithuania grew to about 10,000.

In 1551, we find communities in Slonim, Mstibovo, and Kremenetz. That same year, permission was granted to two wealthy Jews from Krakow to rent stores and houses in Vilna and to conduct business there as guest businessmen, but not to reside there. The right to live in Vilna and build a community was not granted to the Jews because of Vilna's importance as a capital city. The same difficulties and obstacles were met by Jews in Kovno.

After a while, Jews were permitted to come and settle in the city on condition that they would live in houses that were purchased by members of the Duke's Council, because the citizens and guild members did not want to give the Jews the opportunity to freely set foot wherever they wanted in their rich city.

The Jews of Pinsk founded the community of Kletzk.

The Jewish communities of Lithuania paid about a quarter of the total taxes collected from all of the cities of Lithuania.

In 1555, we find Jews in Zaselye. In 1556, Jews were permitted to reside only on one street that was reserved for them in the city of Kowel. This street belonged completely to the Jews and the Christian citizens were not allowed to build houses there.

In 1560, there were three streets in Grodno that were designated for the settling of Jews: Street of the Jews, Street of the Synagogue, and Narrow Street of the Jews. The Jews were concentrated onto a specific street in Nowogrodek as well.

In 1563, the communities of Usterkhi, Dvoretz, Lachowitz, and Turets were founded.

In 1563 a special tax was levied on the Lithuanian Jews – 4,000 groszy. The taxes were divided among the Jews of Lithuania as follows: Usterkhi – 600; Stroja – 600; Luck – 550; Ludmir – 500; Trakai – 376; Brisk – 264; Grodno – 200; Kremenets – 140; Tykocin – 100; Dvorets – 60; Nowogrodek – 30; Lachowitz – 30; Kletzk – 15.

In 1564 an epidemic erupted in Vilna. Everybody ran away, including the ruler.

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Before he ran away for his life, the Duke's representative elected two de facto rulers. One was a Jew by the name of Shmuel Ben–Israel of Lachowitz.

In 1566, we count in Brisk 85 homeowners, in Grodno – 60, Luck – 56, Kremenits –48, Tykocin – 37, Ludmir – 30; Pinsk – 24, Kobrin – 22, Novydwor – 12, and in Kletzk – 4.

In the census conducted in 1566 in Brisk, a printer named Yaakov is mentioned; and the son–in–law of Reb Shmuel Wohl, was listed as Dovid Druker.

In the same year, taxes were levied on the Jews of Lithuania in the amount of 6,000 shok groszy. Of the sum, the communities were ordered to pay 3,670 shok, divided as follows: Brisk – 1,300; Luck – 500; Usterkhi – 500; Ludmir – 300, Trakai – 300; Grodno – 200; Tykocin – 170; Kremenets – 150; the Jews of Nowogrodek, Slonim, Lachowitz, Kletzk, Turets, Chochora and the Vilna and Kovno tax lessees– altogether – 250.

 

Exports of the Lithuanian Jews

Merchandise was shipped by boat down three rivers – the Bug, the Wisla, and the Neman. Through Kovno, primarily grains were sent to Konigsberg, which was called Krolewiec at the time, and salt was imported from there. The well–known merchants from Lithuania at that time were Michael Josepowicz and Yitzchak Borodawka from Brisk, and Ephraim son of Yerachmiel from Mohilev.

Lithuanian Jews maintained business connections with Germany and Poland. Lithuanian merchants would go to Leipzig, Wroclaw (currently Breslau) in Silesia, Poznan, Krakow, etc. They conducted business with Turkey, Moldavia, and Wallachia. They would import bulls, spices, and various other merchandise from those places. They also tried to penetrate the Duchy of Moscow, but all of their efforts were for naught, because Ivan the Terrible was afraid of the “bad” influence of the Jewish Lithuanian businessman on his subjects, lest they lead his subjects away from their Greek Orthodox faith. He even denied with much anger Zygmunt August's request.[3] The fear of “Judaizers” (Jews that try and convert others to Judaism) fell on Ivan because rumors were spreading that several members of that “sect” ran away to Lithuania and were circumcised and turned into Jews.

In 1573, a synagogue was established in Vilna. The building was purchased from a nobleman and was outside the jurisdiction of the municipality.

Stefan Batory was chosen as king (1575–1586). He ascended the throne with the help of the Jewish merchant, Shlomo Ashkenazi.

Stefan Batory was well–disposed to the Jews. He defended the Lithuanian Jews against the blood libels that their enemies and haters would spread about them. In 1576, he allowed the Jews to conduct business, and to buy and sell with no obstacles, even on Christian holidays. He ruled that

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anyone who killed a Jew would be punished with the death penalty, just like the murderer of a Christian. He placed complete responsibility on the municipal leadership any damage by mass incitement to synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish deceased. Whomever perpetrates incidents against Jews or steals their belongings would pay a penalty of 10,000 Polish Marks, and an equal penalty would be paid by the Polish authorities for neglecting their job and failing to defend the Jews living under their jurisdiction. A fear of his authority prevented anti–Jewish incitement.

During the rule of this benevolent king, the Jews founded a community in Minsk and received a bill of rights. However, when the city dwellers of Mohilev, which sits on the river Dnieper, requested from the king to disallow Jews from living in their city, he fulfilled their request in 1585.

One of the important administrators of the community in Minsk was Rabbi Shaul Ben–Yehuda (Wahl Katzenelboign). Rabbi Ben–Yehuda was a learned and extremely wealthy Jew, a tax lessee and received the title of King's Servant in 1589.

Legend has it that Shaul (Ben–Yehuda) Wahl was chosen as the king of Poland after the death of Stefan Batory, and fulfilled the role for one night.

In 1590 Rabbi Mordechai Yaffa (1530–1612), Rabbi of Lublin, signed, along with 30 other Rabbis of Poland and Lithuania, an agreement that prohibited a rabbi from receiving any money or gifts or loans for the role of rabbi, either directly or to themselves or to other people.

In 1592, the Jews were permitted a legal Yeshiva in the city of Vilna. In the bill of additional rights, they were explicitly permitted to establish public amenities, such as cemeteries, slaughterhouses, stores, bathhouses, etc.

In Grodno, however, the anti–Semites had the upper hand and the Jews were forbidden from conducting business in grains, salt, and salted fish.

The large Jewish communities spread their influence and authority on the smaller Jewish settlements in their neighborhood. This pattern is how the regions were established: Brisk and its region, Grodno and its region, Vilna and its region, etc. Occasionally a dispute would break out as to which larger Jewish community a smaller settlement belonged to.

The major communities, i.e. Brisk, Pinsk, Grodno, and Pinsk, established the Council of the State of Lithuania. Belonging to it were – “the heads of the state”, and the rabbis of these three communities. The council dealt with all of the common matters of the communities and Jews of Lithuania, and their relationships to each other on matters of economy, culture, and custom: communal elections, institutions, economy, leasing, education, religion and morals, charity, settling of the Land Israel, and many other things.

 

The Council of Four Lands

During the reign of Sigismund III (1532–1587), the Jews of Poland established an institution that had no historical precedent in the Diaspora, which bestowed on certain designated communities autonomy and power, as well as importance both internally and

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externally. Up to this point this function was carried out informally. During the period when rabbis and Yeshiva heads would gather together with their students at large fairs in Poland, they would deal with various important issues, adjudicate disputes, deliberate over conflicts, and agree on general decisions. These original gatherings brought a great deal of benefit in the private and communal lives of the Jews. It was under their influence that the idea was hatched to convene formal periodic gatherings of the leaders of the major communities, with the aim of reaching decisions and issuing directives to all the communities in the country, which they would be obligated to follow. Apparently, the communal administrators were in an atmosphere of peace at that time, and they agreed to meet, cooperate, organize, and create some sort of cohesive unit from the independent communities. At the outset, the communities of countries of Lesser Poland, Greater Poland, and Reisen (White Russia) merged to form a permanent council that would meet regularly.

The government decided on the total amount of taxes that would be imposed upon the Jews, and they used the council as a tool to apportion and collect the taxes. Most of the meetings were held in small towns in order to get away from the sphere of influence of the leading communities. The council worked on remaining issues in a free environment, where they could make decisions and judgments about private people and communities without surrendering to pressure and interest groups. That way, the council was able to judge clearly and truthfully, without playing favorites, when disputes between large communities and their dependent communities were brought before them.

The primary communities sent wise men as representatives. The representatives elected a chairman to preside over the deliberations of the issues at hand. He would record in a book the minutes along with the decisions that were reached during the meetings. Conflicts between communities were resolved. Anything that made life for Jews difficult were deliberated, such as issues of imposition and collection of taxes, religious and moral enactments, procedures and means of keeping danger away from the communities. Financial aid was allocated for people suffering from want. The leadership of the council also conducted an audit. It issued permits to print and distribute important books. They also censored other books that were considered to be detrimental and bad influences upon the Jews by not allowing such books to be printed or distributed.

Later, when Lithuania was annexed to these countries, the council was called the Council of Four Lands.

The council concerned itself with enactments regarding daily life and morals. It prohibited borrowing money from Christian clergy, military personnel, and even from students without the knowledge and approval of the community. This was because many problems arose with such loans.

“And he who enslaves his wife and children to non–Jewish is cast away from two worlds.”[4]

From this clear ruling ,we learn that there were incidents where heads of families would put their family members on the line as collateral for the loans. From the ban in the enactments, we learn what sort of activities would take place. Nobody prohibits an act that does not cross an individual's mind.

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In 1623, the Lithuanian council separated from the general council and its first rulings date from the month of Elul 1623.

The first ruling of the Council of Four Lands is from November. 22, 1580.

The Council of Lithuanian Jews carried on until 1764 and then was annulled.

Prior to the Tribulations of Ta'ch[5], the Council would convene a convention of the major communities approximately once every two years. Between the years 1662 and 1700, they would convene once every three years.

Rabbi Mordechai Yaffa (1530–1612), who occupied the rabbinical seat of Lublin, was apparently the founder of the Council of Four Lands. Following him, the chairman was Rabbi Yehoshua Falik Hacohen, the author of the book “Pnei Yehoshua” and the head of the Yeshiva in Lwow (1592–1616).

In 1619 the Jews in Grodno received permission to build a synagogue, with the restrictions that it could neither be taller than any of the other buildings nor similar in outside appearance to the beautiful churches.

The community of Vitebsk was founded and received a bill of rights.

In Vilna and in other cities, there were forms of ghettos under the pretext of providing safety for the Jews against the murderousness and burglary of fanatics who were in the cities populated by believers in Jesus.

Between the years of 1633 and 1648, there was a very strong conflict between the Jewish artisans and the organized guilds of the Christians.

In Vilna, Jewish tailors were only allowed to make clothes for Jews so as to keep them out of competition.

The sons of Rabbi Nathan Shapira, head of the rabbinical court of Krakow and author of Migalei Amukot, published their father's books three years after his death in 1636. His son, Rabbi Moshe Shapira, was the son–in–law of Rabbi Eliezer Katzin, one of the heads of the community. He lent money to publish the Talmud in Lublin. Along with his brother, he made efforts and received permits from the issuers of rights to the Jews of Lithuania and Vilna.

In 1637, a fire broke out in Brisk. Hooligans pillaged and robbed Jewish shops and homes during the fire and the great chaos that ensued. The Jews defended themselves and their property. In order to maintain good order from that point on, a guard was formed that was made up of equal numbers of Christians and Jews.

The Vilna community, which was the youngest of all of the major communities, grew very quickly in large steps. It became both a center of Torah and a pillar of wisdom that everyone went to. It surpassed all of the other communities.

In 1622, Shabtai Cohen was born in Vilna (the author of the Sha'ch commentary on Yoreh Deah). He was one of the students of Yehuda Falik Hacohen, known as “Hecharif” (born in Vilna in 1580, and died

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In 1616), head of the Yeshiva of Lwow. The Sha'ch published his book in Krakow in the year 5406 (1646) at the age of 24.

Rabbi Moshe, the son of Yitzchak Yehuda Lima, served as rabbi in Vilna. He was also one of the students of Rabbi Yehuda Charif (“the sharp one”). He wrote the book Chelkat Mechokek, a commentary on the Even HaEzer section of the Code of Jewish Law. The members of the rabbinical court of Vilna in his days were the Sha'ch; Rabbi Ephraim, the son of Aharon and the author of the book Shaar Ephraim; Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Kaidanover; the Maharsha'k (the father of the author of Kav Hayashar, Zvi Hirsch); and Rabbi Hillel, author of Beit Hillel on the Code of Jewish Law.

In 1652 the Vilna community received representation on the Council, however the city did not have equal rights as the more, well–established, older communities.

In Grodno in 1653, the Jewish artisans came to an agreement with the Christian tailors. According to the agreement, they were to pay 6 guilders (gold coins) and 2 liters of gunpowder every year to the guild of Christian tailors. Reciprocally they were allowed to deal freely in tailoring and the fur trade. They were even permitted to employ Christian workers and apprentices.

The palace of Prince Radziwill was located in the suburbs of Vilna . There, Ysh'r (Yosef Shlomo Rofeh) of Candia Delmedigo (1591–1656)[6], served as the doctor in the palace. He was one of the most enlightened and scientific Jews of that time. He studied at a scientific institute in Padua and learned doctrine[7] from the great Galileo (1564–1642), through whom he became familiar with the theories of Copernicus (1473–1543). He became famous in Poland as a great doctor. A large number of young men and people interested in knowledge would gather around him, especially Karaites.

During the Shoah[8] (1654–1655), many great rabbis fled. Among the few that returned was Rabbi Moshe Rivkash, the author of the Be'er Hagolah, the son–in–law of the Vilna Gaon.

In the years 1669–1673, King Jan Sobieski authorized the bill of rights of the Jews and defended them against the citizens who opposed Jewish settlement in the cities. In 1676 he authorized the bill of rights of the Jews of Brisk after the city was rehabilitated. (In 1660, the city had been burned down and completely vandalized by the Russians.) They were granted the rights to pursue trades without belonging to any of the Christian guilds, and they were allowed to conduct business in shops and on the streets.

In 1673 the tinsmiths and needle makers guild in Vilna agreed that there could be four Jewish tinsmiths that would be licensed to work, and those licenses would be inherited. In return, the Jewish artisans agreed to pay the guild 25 guilders annually.

The number of Jews in Lithuania in the years 1673–1677 was about 32,000, and in Poland about 150,000. The head tax that was levied on the Jews in Lithuania was 25,000 guilder and in 1677, the tax was 20,000 guilder, since the number of people dwindled because of the wars and the disturbances perpetrated by the evildoers.

Life in the large cities was difficult for the Jews because the municipal authorities persecuted them, and the Christian guilds opposed Jewish tradesmen. These difficulties were a catalyst to the founding of smaller settlements in remote places, i.e

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the rest of Lithuania.

In the year 1674, Rabbi Gershon Yissachar–Ber decided to build a Talmud Torah (school). This raised the level of the economic and cultural life.

Vilna was marching ahead and fighting for first place among the communities as a center for Torah and wisdom, which would be a blessing to them and to the country. The Jews developed business and artisanships, and they would teach destitute boys, whose parents could not afford to pay tuition to send them to private cheders. Rabbi Gershon committed 2,225 guilders to this holy endeavor. The Council of the state received this amount from the Vilna community and agreed to permanently allocate close to seven guilders every week for the needs of Talmud Torah.

Rabbi Yosef, the son of Mordechai, donated to the studiers of Torah or the Talmud Torah a sum of 675 guilders. From this fund they received 105 guilders every year.

Before his death, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel Charif donated a large sum of money to found a Beis Midrash. His wealthy widow also added a large sum of money and built a tall, luxurious building.

The struggle between the Jewish communities and the municipalities continued unabated. The citizens of Pinsk complained that the Jews were taking over their city and pushing out their Christian neighbors. They complained that the Jews owned only 18 houses in the city in 1633 and yet in 1667, just 34 years later, they owned 600 houses. In 1717, the citizens of Pinsk brought forth a complaint against the Jewish residents, stating that almost all of the Christian houses and lots had passed to Jewish hands, including the houses of the guilds of the tailors, furriers, blacksmiths, butchers, and shoemakers. They complained that all of these were purchased by Jews that were taking advantage of Christians. These were routine exaggerations and complaints made by the haters of Israel that date all the way back to the days of Laban the Aramean: “Jacob took all that was our father's, and all this honor came from our father” (Genesis 31:1).

Jews settled in Kovno from the beginning of the 18th century, as well as in Slobodka, called Wiliampol in those days. In 1761, the Jews were expelled from Kovno, but they found a safe haven in Slobodka.

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2. Smorgon

Jews came to Smorgon during the 17th century. In 1634, Vilna was known as “The community of Vilna and its environs, excluding Smorgon.” In 1637 the community of Smorgon joined Vilna.

In 1651 (5412), Smorgon existed as a separate unit that stood on its own and collected taxes for the Council of the State of Lithuania. The community of Minsk paid 16 shok (one shok equals 60 groszy), and Smorgon paid one shok. This meant that Smorgon was much smaller than its neighbor, Minsk. The head tax paid by Smorgon which, by this time, had already succeeded in establishing and broadening itself and having dependencies in the region, was 40 zloty – (a Polish zloty equaled 30 groszy). Minsk and its environs were paying 120 zloty.

In 1678 (5439), after 27 years, Smorgon was still paying only one zloty. After the war[9], all of the communities became smaller and they did not have the financial ability to pay more. However, after 42 years, the community of Smorgon and its environs was paying a head tax of 1,700. During this period, the community of Minsk and its environs was paying a tax of 5,500.

Rabbi Avraham Konki, who was an emissary from Hebron during the ten years between 1683 and 1694, and was one of the most important emissaries of the late 17th century, visited Smorgon in order to collect money for the community in the Land of Israel. He testified about the cities that he passed through, and among them he mentioned the community of Smorgon, noting and that they “generously gave of everything that they had, from silver to gold.” (Lithuanian Jewry, Professor Y. Rivlin, p. 459.)

In 1765, the community of Smorgon numbered 649 people. But there were also many “evasive ones”, those who were trying to avoid paying taxes.

In 1897 the population was 6,743 Jews and 2,165 Christians.

With the liberation of the vassals in 1861, the town began to develop. At that time, an academy for the training of bears to dance was built.

The area around Smorgon belonged to Prince Radziwill and Counts Potocki ,Tyszkiewicz and other feudal rulers. After the unsuccessful liberation of the areas, the liberated vassals were left bare and without any means, and especially without any land to farm. Worried about the outbreak of a revolt, Potocki came up with the idea that he would turn these unemployed people into bear hunters. The forests around Smorgon were full of bears.

The Radziwillites used to harness bears rather than horses to their wagons and their carriages, and drive down the streets of Smorgon, to the astonishment of the residents.

A small Jewish settlement was established near Smorgon during the days of Nikolai the First (1796–1853). During this time, the government was giving out lands for Jewish settlement (as tenant farmers.)

The settlement was divided into twenty parcels of land. Around the time of World War One,

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there were more than 40 families who farmed the lands, worked in agriculture, and earned their livelihood from the bounty of the land.

Smorgon developed especially as an industrial city, i.e. a center for tanning. There were 54 tanneries and 30 other related workshops. The merchandise was marketed in Russian cities, the Caucasus, Siberia, Manchuria, and even Vladivostok. For a period of time they also sold their goods to Germany.

Aside from factories for leather work, Smorgon also had:

Two tobacco factories, Titon and Makhorka; one for soap; three for wool shearing; two (general) workshops, workshops for knitting socks and muskrat hides; warehouses for kerosene; two tea warehouses; two warehouses for sugar; and 175 shops. Cakes from Smorgon were famous throughout Russia and they were sold at all of the fairs. Since Smorgon was developing as an industrial city, a strong and revolutionary worker movement arose. Most of the Jewish workers were organized with the Bund[10].

In the beginning of the 1890s, a mass movement arose among the Jewish workers in Lithuania to improve the harsh working conditions. The workers, organizing in Vilna and Smorgon, demanded a shorter work day. There were strikes in 1893 and 1894 in Vilna and Smorgon. The government persecuted the strikers and many of them experienced hardships in Siberia. The government supported the employers against the workers.

Already in 1893, the tanners in Smorgon were celebrating May Day. In 1894 the strike fund had 200 members.

In 1895 the “Jargon Council”[11], through the initiative of the writer David Pinsky, founded workers' libraries in several cities, Smorgon among them.

At the end of 1895, 850 workers in Vilna went on strike. This strike led to the organization of 27 professional unions. At about the same time, an equal number of Jewish workers went on strike in Minsk. In the wake of Vilna and Minsk, workers from several other cities, among them Smorgon, joined the strikers.

“1892 through 1895 were the years in which we see the beginning of the workers' movement in in Smorgon.” (A. Tratkower, History of the Jewish Workers' Movement, Volume 1, p. 36, Warsaw, 1929).

“The tanning industry centered in the Vilna District. The center of this manufacturing was in Smorgon, where there were 27 workshops. The methods for working leather in Smorgon were antiquated.

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They would place the leather in pits for soaking, and afterwards they would work them by hand. 461 workers were employed in the tanning workshops, among them 258 Jews.” (Kagedan, History of the Bund, p. 38).

Social Democratic organizations were represented for the first time in the congress in London. The Russian delegation was made up of representatives of nine cities, including Smorgon. In 1896, the 4th International Socialist Congress convened in London. Of the four delegates, one was from Smorgon. This representative was Vera Zasulich.[12] (Kagedan, op. cit., pp .364–365)

The founding meeting of the Bund took place on October 7–9, 1897. The group from Smorgon could not participate in the meeting because of the harsh crackdown by the police, but they immediately announced their joining of the Bund. (Arkady Z. Zamelbuch, 163, Kagedan, Bs. Hmtz. 8, a, p. 366).

The regional organization of tanners started intensive work in 1897 (in both Krinik and Smorgon). Most of the workers were small storeowners whose situation had weakened or who had lost their social standing. The ‘damp workers’ were the ones that suffered the most from being taken advantage of. The working conditions were unbearable. During the winter days, their wet hands would freeze and stick to metal. (Despite the cold, employers refused to supply wood for heat in the tannery.) For the ‘dry workers’ in the drying rooms, the heat was unbearably high. The workers used to work in their underwear and would sweat nonstop from their faces and bodies.

There were 400 Jews among the 600 workers in the tanneries. The level of exploitation continually rose. They were afraid of both the employers and the government. (During visits of inspectors to the factories, the workers being so afraid of the employers, would give incorrect information regarding the length of the workday, etc. They used to hide the underage workers until the inspectors left and the danger passed.)

In 1896 there were ten cases of scurvy in Smorgon. Six of the (ten) ill people died.

These terrible conditions were the impetus for the workers to go to war. In 1896, strikes broke out frequently. During that year, there were 25 strikes in the factories and five in the workshops.

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The workers in Smorgon refused to accept their time cards at work. They were fighting for a 12–hour workday and an increase in salary of one ruble a week. The average salary during that time was four rubles a week.

Every strike brought arrests and crackdowns by the government. As the crackdowns increased, the conviction of the workers for battle grew too. In 1897, there were many arrests in Smorgon.

Because of the many prolonged strikes, the workday was indeed shortened to 12 hours.

The Jewish workers movement formed support groups of its own: strike funds and professional organizations on the one hand, and development and skills workshops on the other hand. The movement had grown beyond being limited to one region or sector. The movement united several cities, with Smorgon taking a respectable place among them. (Kagedan, the Book of Mtz. P. 109).

It was the year 1896. In the forefront of the revolutionary workers movements in Smorgon, we find Liba Ginzburg the daughter of Rabbi Menashe Ginzburg, Sara Mitlicikia, Shmuel Lewin, and Olga Burstein. They were under the influence of Rowanowa and Sinicki, both belonging to grassroots revolutionary movements.

Ivan Franciewicz Sinicki was a resident of Smorgon and a tax collector. Whenever he got ready to inspect the shops, he would warn the shopkeepers in advance to get rid of the “chometz” (illegal stuff) that was in their shop. Under his influence, we find Bila Ginzburg and the sister of Liba (sister–in–law of the poet Abraham Leissin), Dvora Szimszlewicz, Sonia Szpalter, Rivka Daniszewski, and Ida Hajlikman.

Sinicki was a grassroots revolutionary. He did not participate in the workers' movement. Shmuel Lewin, who leaned towards Marxism, invited Abraham Leissin (A. Walt) to a debate to argue against the harmful influence of Sinicki who treated with negativity the workers' movement that was based on the Social Democratic template.

The debate took place in Sinicki's home in the presence of six or seven of the movement's activists. Leissin opened by expounding the Marxist point of view.

Liba Ginzburg gave free private lessons to Smorgon workers. The students/workers who would gather in the house of Binyamin Szimszlewicz included Gershon Feldman, Yudel Krimer, Vilefka Minkus, and Bintsha Milkovski. Liba taught them Russian. After the lesson, she would conduct a propaganda session on Marxist Socialism, especially the ideas of class struggle. Shmuel Lewin, who was a private tutor in Smorgon, founded an aid fund and administered a study group for general education among the workers. This study group in natural sciences and sociology had 20–30 members.

The workers who had a class awareness would celebrate Mayday in the forests of Licznik (Litchnik) that was near Smorgon.

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As the movement grew and expanded, two provocateurs (informers in the secret intelligence service), Gorski and Sztrashinski, infiltrated it.

Lewin left Smorgon in the year 1896. That year, the first strike occurred. With the help of the informer Gorski, the police discovered the ledger of the Aid Association (Kupat Ezra) with all names of the membership payers. Yudel Krimer and Eliakim Malkis, the treasurer of the fund, were arrested and exiled.

(A Jew named) Minka from the “Karke” (outlying area of Smorgon where the tenant farmers worked the land), Nechama Ginzburg the daughter of Yitzchak Tabacznik (tobacco salesman and industrialist), and Aharon Szimszlewicz organized the youth among the tanners in their workshops.

Approximately 400 workers participated in the demonstrations in the forest during the year 1897. In 1898, demonstrations were already taking place in the streets of Smorgon. In the years 1899–1900, workers organized funeral demonstrations in honor of the fighters who died in prison or shortly after their liberation; their deaths caused by long imprisonment that damaged their health. In Smorgon, a funeral demonstration of this nature also took place.

In the year 1901, political consciousness grew among Jewish workers. It was almost impossible for propagandists to provide for the workers' need for illegal literature (of socialist nature). Not only did the tanners organize an economic battle to improve their working conditions, but they also demonstrated for political reasons. (Kagedan ibid, p.170). That same year, workshop employees in Smorgon organized a general strike. Their workday was 15 hours, from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The strikers demanded a workday of 12 hours. The strike succeeded. The employers were willing to agree to the workers' demands. Nevertheless, in 1901 on Shmini Atzeret, on the last day of the Sukkot festival, a Cossack band of 100 individuals entered Smorgon. Thirty to forty of the striking workers were arrested. They were imprisoned in the Antokolsky Prison. The workers in Smorgon were not subdued. On the contrary, they overcame and organized a general strike of employees in all the factories and workshops in the city.

The factory inspector conceded that the workers' demand for a 12–hour workday was justified since, according to the laws of Catherina (1729–1796) who ruled from 1762–1796, it was prohibited to employ factory workers for more than ten hours a day. The mayor of Vilna had publicized this law in 1892. However, changing the workday was delayed because the workers were not content with merely economic demands, but also demanded political rights, the liberation of political prisoners, the right to free gathering, the right to a free press, and a constitutional assembly for all Russia. The strike continued from October 12th to 27th. The police subdued the strike. All 120 activists were arrested. Gershon Feldman was sentenced to two years in prison and deported to the Irkutsk district. He returned to Smorgon in the year 1903. Despite all the persecution and decrees, the workers achieved a shorter workday of 12 hours.

Pan Wahl, governor of the Vilna district, visited the prison where the Smorgon strikers were imprisoned.

[Page 22]

He attacked them with insult and curses and prohibited them from having interviews or visits from relatives.

At the same time, a group of Jewish workers was also brought into the prison in Vilna, which was packed with all types of political prisoners. They were tanners from nearby towns –– Smorgon among them –– and their crime was striking for higher salaries and improvement of their living conditions. Pan Wahl himself honored them with his visit to the prison cells. He came to speak with them. As he entered, he issued degrading commands not once but twice: Zhidi Wofrijad! But they didn't budge from their positions...

He ordered that the strikers be flogged on May 1, but Hirsh Likert shot him, and he (Hirsh) was hung by the Czar's hangmen (A. Sh. Stein. Comrade Arthur, p. 48, 5713 – 1953, Tel Aviv).

The police chief of Smorgon would arrest the workers for every conflict that occurred between the workers and their employers. He arrested the worker activists as if they were revolutionaries and sent them to prison in Vilna. The prisoners were forced to walk the whole way while the Cossacks beat them with deathblows. Even those who escorted them were beaten without mercy (Kagedan, ibid, p. 215).

Almost all the revolutionary political activists in Smorgon paid with their lives for their actions. They died untimely deaths. Liba Ginzburg died on August 18th, 1912. Sara Miatlickaja escaped to London and returned to Minsk. She was smuggled from Minsk to the United States by her friends. She became sick and committed suicide in the hospital. Nechama Ginzburg (daughter of Yitzchak the tobacco man), who organized a strike of the sewers, escaped to the United States, and returned to Kiev where she died suddenly. The famous student of Shmuel Lewin, Yitzchak Mayer Diwniszewski, was killed in 1919 by the Polish Legionnaires in Vilna. Lewin came to the United States., graduated from medical school, and died suddenly from stomach ailment. This list was compiled by Bela Ginzburg in the year 1937. She too committed suicide a few years after her brother–in–law Abraham Leissin died.

In 1904, the Bund chapters conducted propaganda (agitation) against the draft. One of the active branches was in Smorgon. These activities led to conflicts with police, with subsequent arrests, and exile to Siberia (Lithuanian Jewry, p. 557).

 

3. Smorgon and Immigration to the Land of Israel

There were residents of Smorgon among the early pioneers who immigrated to the Land of Israel.

From among the students of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, who had a strong influence on generations to come, Rabbi Joseph Charif must be noted. He died in Jerusalem in 5600 (1861). He was the son of Rabbi Aharon Steinhardt of Smorgon. A regular visitor of Rabbi Chaim from Volozhin, who was supported at his table, Rabbi Charif was full of the virtues of his teacher and rabbi and (in turn) strongly influenced Rabbi Hirsh

[Page 23]

Michel Shapira, of blessed memory. one of the unique individuals of morality and Torah. He established a special school in Jerusalem, which was continued by Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap. (Lithuanian Jewry, Prof. Y. Y. Rivlin, The Jews in Lithuania and the Land of Israel, p. 471).

There also was a Smorgon resident among the Biluim: Shlomo Zalman Cukerman (Avinoam), was born in Smorgon, Vilna District, in 5627 (1867). He was educated in traditional and general schools. He joined the assembly of the “Dispersed of Israel” in Minsk and was transferred to the Land (Israel) by the association. He made aliya on the 3rd of Shevat, 5644 (1884), at the age of 17. He was accepted as a member of the Bilu (Beit Yaakov Lechu Venelcha – Sons of Jacob, Arise, and Let us Go), worked in Mikve Yisrael, and settled in Hadera at the time it was established. In 5665–6 (1905–1906), he participated in a delegation to America, together with Dov Leibovitch (Ariel) to distribute wines from the Land. He died in Gedera, on Iyar 19th 5687 (1927), at the age of 60. He left an extensive family. His sons Yoav and Asahel were among the redeemers of the lands of the Negev. (Arieh Tzantzifer, Footsteps of Redemption, p. 52, fig. 102, 177. Lithuanian Jewry, p. 498).

Here is a paragraph from the charter of Bilu. A. internal rules, the goal of the Bilu organization:

1. To settle and return the people of Israel to this ancestral land.
5. Those who join Bilu and become part of its society intend to give of all their energy and their time for the benefit of this organization and abstain from all their desires.
18. Only young men could join the organization: not older than 25 years, single, and free of burden of wives and children.
19. The member should not be the owner of any personal property. It is prohibited to make the effort to achieve this goal. Rather, all his resources, power and strength will be devoted to the benefit of the society.
20. It is prohibited for him to marry a woman during this period, until he becomes a land owner himself.
21. The entire society will have one treasury. Nobody may own any private property. Even his clothing and whatever he brings from his home or receives by shipment will be the property of the association.

The center of correspondence in Kishinev corresponded with 11 associations, Smorgon among them. (Lithuanian Jewry, p. 511).

Dr. Y. Czelnov could not continue to carry out the activity for the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) from Moscow, and he continued in Smorgon, Vilna district., (Lithuanian Jewry, p. 52). The delegate Meir Wernick from Smorgon took part in the Zionist conference of the Vilna district in the year 5660 (1900). (Tzantzifer ibid, p.142, figure 394).

Delegates from Smorgon also participated in the second conference of Russian Zionists in Minsk in 1902.

[Page 24]

Halperin approached Dr. Herzl during his visit in Vilna in 1903 and said: “The workers in Smorgon do not believe in Zionism.”

Herzl responded: “Go and tell the workers of Smorgon that Zionism will be realized.”

In 1905 in Smorgon, an S.S. Association (Socialist Zionists) was founded, their members were mostly tailors and commerce assistants.

In 1908, Wolfson returned from Petersburg, accompanied by Sokolow. He stayed in Vilna for one day. Many delegations came to his reception; one of them from Smorgon. In the delegation were Szimszelewicz and another delegate. They greeted Wolfson (Lithuanian Jewry, p. 521).

The district committee organized conferences (‘weddings’) in the districts. In that way, a conference of the associations in Vilna district took place in Smorgon, in Adar II 5679 – 1909. (ibid, p.525).

Dr. Ben Zion Momson visited Smorgon and lectured in 1909. A group of Zionists took pictures with the guest speaker. (Arie Tzantzifer, ibid, p.151, figure 438).

Smorgon continued to develop. It grew in population, industry, and trade. “Unemployed young people from the surrounding towns came to Smorgon and found work there.” (B. Tz. Wolf, I Visited Smorgon Three times, p. 1272 in the book Lithuania edited by Dr. M. Sudarsky).

There were 25,000 Jews and 4,00 gentiles in Smorgon at the beginning of 1941. It had two splendid Beis Midrashes (Study Halls); seven kloizes, including the shtibels of Chabad Hassidim, Koidanov, and others; one Talmud Torah, three elementary Yeshivas; one old age home; one “Beit Lechem” (House of Bread) that supported the poor of the city, providing bread as well as firewood during the winter; one hospital; one charitable fund; one place for the housing of wayfarers; and a lodging house for poor from other cities who were passing through the city and stayed for a while; one “Linat Tzedek” organization whose members stayed overnight with sick people who had no family, supporting them on their sickbeds.

Among the honorable householders who built the aforementioned institutions, we must mention especially: Zalman and Gedalia Rothstein, Yaakov Piribozski; Yisrael Suczkower, Zalman Bickowski, Gedalia Solodochi, Yehuda Cukerman, and Yaakov Kowarski.

 

4. Smorgon in its Ruins and Partial Rehabilitation

In year 1915, World War I was in full force. Smorgon had achieved industrial and commercial climax when, unexpectedly, disaster and ruin came upon it.

In the Vilna district, 20 towns and cities suffered great damage, among them Smorgon, which became a heap of ruins.

Already by the beginning of 1915, the city had become part of the battle zone.

[Page 25]

Struggles between Christians and Jews concerned land, shortage of currency, and plots by speculators.

On August 7th, Cossacks entered the city. The gendarmes stirred them up against the Jews.

Several brigades of the German Cavalry broke through the front line and surrounded the Russian Corps near Smorgon from three sides.

On September 2nd, the Germans entered Smorgon. They conducted searches and confiscated leather, money, and items of value. The German commander captured Jewish hostages. The withdrawal of the Germans from Smorgon brought happiness among the whole population. However, joy did not last for long; the Cossacks reentered Smorgon in the wake of the retreating German soldiers. The Christian population informed on the Jews, saying they helped the Germans.

On the night of the 8th of that month, Jewish property was pillaged once again, and local Christians took part. Many Jews escaped through the forests on the way to Minsk. The tribulations continued and worsened. The soldiers broke into houses of Jews with the pretext of searching for Germans. They murdered and raped. A group of about 40 Jewish soldiers organized to protect the Jewish population. The group fought against the Cossacks in the front yard of the synagogue entrance, in the place where the Cossacks raped Jewish women who hid there. When the Jewish soldiers broke into the synagogue, a horrible sight appeared before them; the Cossacks were in the process of destroying ritual articles and tearing Torah scrolls. The corpses of women who had been raped and died of torture lay on the floor. Near one young girl's corpse lay her father's corpse. In the battle between the Jewish soldiers and the Cossacks, two of the defenders died and many were injured. The Cossacks were injured as well. A deportation command was added to the pogrom and, with the deportation, there was robbery, arrests and even killing. The burning of houses began. Whoever did not succeed in escaping or hiding, died in the fire. Fugitives were injured in the forests and on the roads by soldiers and peasants (Lithuanian Jewry, The History of the Jews in Lithuania, by Dr. Israel Kloizner, pp.120–121).

On September 11, the Jews of Smorgon were ordered to be exiled. The command was issued by junior officials on their own.

The Cossack captain entered the house of Avraham Sobol and ordered the family to hurry and leave the city. One of the sons, Leib Sobol, responded that he could not abandon his elderly father in his sickbed. The captain asked him to show him the sick man. When the son did so, the captain took out his gun and shot the sick father, killing him in front of his son's eyes, and told him – “Now you can leave the city, since you have no sick person to take care of.” He deported the whole family and did not let them bury their father.

The Jews were deported, and their houses were burned. The Cossacks and their captains passed

[Page 26]

from house to house, setting the homes on fire. Some Jews hid in cellars, but the fire and smoke forced them to go out and run for their lives.

(One Jew) Wilenczyk was captured as he left the bathhouse. He was sentenced to hanging for evading the deportation, but he saved himself by giving a ransom of 1,500 rubles to the captain.

Weinstein, who was paralyzed, asked to be pushed into the Lubavitcher Shtibel, where he was burned. Kalman Razowski was injured. Many Jews were burned alive. Among the pogromists, the Ukrainian Cossacks were noted for their cruelty and wildness.

Those who escaped were arrested on their way by the Russian soldiers and were injured, robbed and beaten with deathblows. The peasants also assaulted the refugees with batons. The Circassians told the peasants that the Jews are open for all (punishment with impunity), and they were allowed to cut off their heads without fear of punishment.

The soldiers prohibited the few good peasants from giving lodging to the refugees of Smorgon in their houses.

Many children died along the way; pregnant women miscarried.

The number of refugees that escaped to Minsk alone reached 8,000 (Chapter from: The Scroll of Destruction).

“During the course of several hours, the Jews of Smorgon were forced to leave the city in great haste. The scene was terrible. Men and women, with toddlers and babies in their arms and bunches of underwear and pillows on their shoulders, marched tens of verst[13]. More accurately, they ran in the cold and rain to arrive at the train station going to Minsk. Hungry and very tired, they ran away from the sword.” (Mendel Sudarsky, Lithuania, Through the Towns, pp.1549–1550).

The exiled Smorgonians first dispersed all over Russia. Some arrived in Harbin and some even went to the United States. Afterward, they started to converge, and later had better days. When they had some relief, they congregated and established industrial centers for tanning.

They moved the factories to Bogorodsk, and invited tanners and tailors from Smorgon to come. The same was done in Kharkov and Rostov on the Don River.

During the war years, a severe shortage of processed leather was felt, and the Smorgonians organized and returned to their work. They continued to work in tanning and the connection between the Smorgon employee and his employer was not severed.” (A. Rafels, Zamelbuch, Smorgon, 1937.)

In 1921, after their exile years, Smorgoners started to return to their home town. The rehabilitation work started in full drive and strong momentum. The assistance committees (Yekofo) and their equivalents in the U.S. (Relief) came to the assistance of those who returned, by organizing the welfare relief.

The German forces flooded large areas in the Pale of Settlement.

“Under the whip of difficult decrees and cruel deportations perpetrated by enemies of Israel, Nikolai son of Nikolai (uncle of the King Nikolai II), the chief commander

[Page 27]

of the Russian troops and his chief of staff the General Yanushkevich, millions of Jews suffered. A wave of hundreds of thousands of homeless refugees spilled into Central Russia and Ukraine. As always in hard times and distress, the Jewish heart was pulsating and restless.”

“The Aid committee (The Jewish Committee for Assistance – Yekofo is the acronym) was founded with wondrous haste, with its new style.” (Yosef Chernichow – Danieli, A Page of Memories, “Heint” Jubilee number 1908–1928, p. 186).

“During the war year of 1919, the Vilna Yekofo was established by the gathering of delegates of the communities and Aid Committees of the districts of Vilna and Nowogrodek. Included in its scope of activity were: juridical and legal aid, the rehabilitation of ruined towns, the economic situation of the refugees and returnees, the war orphans, immigration, cultural work and cooperation, and other branches of rehabilitation and welfare.” (A.I. Grodzinsky, Vilna in the Past and Present, ibid, p.109.)

On February 2nd, 1921, a Smorgon representative participated in a Yekofo conference in Vilna.

The first returnees settled temporarily in cellars until their houses were completed. They barely made a living. A weekly market day took place, and peasants from the surroundings came and brought their produce and crops. The refugees bought from them vegetables, butter, cheese and eggs, and carried the goods to Vilna. Transportation of the merchandise by wagon and train was difficult because of the malicious behavior of the wagon drivers. With a payoff they often softened their rigidity.

The returnees showed their motivation, confidence, and independent initiative. First attempts were made to remove the logs from the foxholes on the front and reusing them as building material. In this way, the first houses in Smorgon were built.

In agriculture, the returnees managed more easily. They planted potatoes and vegetables, and ate their own produce. They ate of the fruits of their labor on their land.

 

5. Monetary Report – “Yekofo”

257,876 Polish Marks were allocated to Smorgon for building materials and reconstruction of the wreckage. 20 Polish Marks had the value of one dollar. On May 5th, 1921, 55 Jews returned, and 15 houses were built for them. On October 22nd, there were already 600 returnees, and 30 houses were built. On December 5th, 37 houses had been built. October 31st, 1922, 91 houses were built. At the end of 1922, 60 more houses were built, and 105 houses were under construction.

On 3/31/1922, a report on the budget was received from “Smorgon Relief” in New York.

David Brunda brought more than 8,000 dollars. From this pool of money, 15,000 Marks were given out as loans,

[Page 28]

5,000 Marks were expended on the building of the elementary school. The fence around the cemetery cost 4,000 Marks. They established a refugee building with the dimensions of 10' x 21', which cost 3,000 Marks. The building of the “Karka”ף Beis Midrash cost 15,000 Marks. The building of the bathhouse cost 1,000 Marks; the hospital was 1,000 Marks; the library was 1,000 Marks; salary for teachers in the elementary school was 1,000 Marks; refugees received 50 Marks. The interest free Benevolent Society received 500 Marks.

During 1922, 233 men, 247 women, and 268 children retuned to Smorgon. Altogether 738 people returned.

On March 12, 1922 a general meeting of the Jews in Smorgon took place, and a new executive committee of 14 members was elected. The chairman was Dr. Yaakov Provozski and the secretary, Gershon Weinstein. The following are the names of the members of the executive committee: Moshe Yehuda Kreines, Yosef Provozski, Yaakov Boaz Horowitz, David Miller, Baruch Daniszewski (from the Karka), Ephraim Gross (from the Karka), Yona Stricenski, Chaim Gorland, Moshe Szapira, Avraham Kac, Nota Kuborski, Zusman Jetes, and David Magids.

The supervision of the children who returned with their parents was handled diligently by a special physician. In August 1922, 211 children were examined. The buildings for the children were also to be finished that week. Negotiations were conducted with the Internat (an orphanage for children). They prepared furniture, beds, mattresses, sheets and blankets. A library for the children was to be established. The Internat would start to function in about two weeks.

In October 1922, teenagers between 14–18 who wanted to study arts in Smorgon, stood at 56 boys and 57 girls.

The returnees to Smorgon were delayed in Baranovichi and Stavich for about 2 to 3 months. They were forced to stay there until the authorities agreed to return them to their place of residence. When they arrived, they received first aid and especially constructional relief in the form of loans to rebuild their ruined houses.

In November 1922, 126 people were already residing in the public buildings. The winter led to cutbacks in building work, and the workers suffered from unemployment.

The Yekofo report stated that all the returnees were settled in dwellings. Nobody was homeless. Yekofo expended a total of 8,267,393 Marks, 4,070 of that on clothing shoes and food.

On March 31, 1922, 180 families received food, clothes, shoes, and, of course, medical care. In case of emergency, sick people were moved to a rest home for the ill in Vilna. A bakery was opened. Tailors and sewers purchased sewing machines. The carpenters, shoemakers and blacksmiths received support in order to enable them to buy tools for work. Health stations were established and supported a small pharmacy with a paramedic, with the help of EZA.

The returnees suffered from lack of ID cards, and they could not move out of the city.

[Page 29]

In 1920, Yekofo built the first house for the returnees. It was two rooms, 12' x 10'.

In the year 1921, sixty people lived in it. It served this purpose until 1922.

In the beginning of 1922, when the wave of returnees increased, the problem of dwelling became more serious. Therefore, they repaired the first story of the Beis Midrash, and prepared it to be used as an apartment house. They prepared and fixed the cellar of Ch. Greenhaus in a similar fashion and set it up to be used as an apartment house. Both houses served their purpose until September 1922. Sixty people lived in them.

In March of that year, a public building was erected near the cemetery. It measured 26' x 10', and was divided into two rooms. More than 70 people lived there. This house functioned as a dwelling for the returnees until the end of 1922. During the months of June and July of that year, two buildings of Magides were built. They were rented as dwellings for the returnees. In total, 500 people passed through those buildings until their private houses were built and ready to be settled.

On June 15, 1923, all those communal buildings were evacuated since it became too dangerous for the residents. People whose houses were not yet complete moved to private houses. For the new arrivals that kept on coming, they fixed an old abattoir.

Medical care was arranged by physicians that came from Vilna for visits.

 

Care for the Children

211 children of the ages 1 thru 16 were examined. All of them were anemic, 11 had ophthalmia, 3 had ear infections, 1 had a nasal and throat illness, 112 had internal illnesses, 31 were blind, 11 had orthopedic problems, 6 had mental and nervous illnesses.

Of all the children who were checked, 8 were orphans, 37 half orphans, 123 were children of the poor, and 18 were children of middle class parents.

The Internat opened. 36 children, orphans and non–orphans, from the children of families who resided in the communal houses, lived there. (With time, a new building was built for 100 children.) A kitchen was established for the children, with a capacity of preparing meals for 150 children. At this point, 130 meals were distributed once per day.

A two–story building was built by the Internat. The building was finished in the spring of 1923. Meanwhile, the Internat was resided in six wooden houses rented for that purpose. One house served a dormitory for 32 children. A dining room for 130 children was in a second house. Classrooms were in the third one. In the fourth, there reading and play rooms. The fifth and sixth were dormitories for personnel.

The former abattoir was renovated and functioned until spring as an entertainment place for sick children.

The public house near the cemetery was renovated and became the elementary school.

[Page 30]

Expenses for the renovations came equally from Yekofo and the local community.

The renovations started with one building for carpentry for child returnees.

In January 1923, there were 42 children at the Internat. They added one large room to the building as an additional playroom.

The children established a sports club, a court of justice for themselves, an executive committee, etc.

Lectures in geography and history were given.

143 meals were distributed by the kitchen once a day. The weak or sick ones received their meals twice a day, in accordance with the advice of the physicians.

All the children were under the supervision of the educators, who also supervised hygiene and clothing. The older children also participated in performances.

 

General Assistance

The committee supported 140 people who received medical aid, extra high nutritional food, and rent support.

In the elementary school, studies were already carried on in a normal fashion.

All the repairs in the carpentry shop were completed that month.

Out of 12 families who lived in damp cellars, five were moved to communal houses, three were moved to private houses, and four will find a place within a month.

General assistance was stopped in March 1923. It was given only for construction.

In April 1923, the carpentry shop was opened by Yekofo and ORT. Fifteen returnee children studied there. The workshop operated during the next 1 ½ to 2 years. ORT will manage the institution and provide all its economic and educational needs. For this goal, the Yekofo provided ORT with the building for that duration, and was responsible for 75% of the budget. This annual amount of 2,000,000 Marks was paid in advance.

A two–story building was built with 14 rooms which housed the Internat.

On the first floor there was one bedroom with 30 beds; two bedrooms with 35 beds; for personnel: a two–room apartment and kitchen for the director; a room for clothes storage; a cellar; a room for food storage; a room for wood storage, a heated toilet; facilities, etc.

The building was built in the shape of the letter T. Sixty children of the poor of the city lived there. Some were orphans or half orphans. The Internat owned the carpentry building and the elementary school.

Out of 815 war orphans, 57 came to Smorgon.

It was not long before the Holocaust came upon Smorgon along with other towns and cities that drank from the cup of poison against their will. Jewish Smorgon was destroyed to its foundations during World War II.


Editor's Notes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdeburg_rights Return
  2. The editor suspects the negative is missing in the original as there is a gap and thus the Jews did not want a leader that was foisted upon them. Return
  3. Zygmunt August was a Polish King and presumably made a request to Ivan to allow Jews to trade. Return
  4. A reference to punishment in this world (i.e. by the community), as well as in the World To Come (by G–d). Return
  5. A reference to the tribulations related to the Chmielnicki uprising of 1648–1649. Return
  6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Solomon_Delmedigo Return
  7. Interestingly, the word used here is Torah, but it must refer to scientific doctrine. Return
  8. Not referring to the Holocaust, although it is fascinating that the term Shoah is used. Likely referring to the outbreak of the Russo–Polish war (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russo–Polish_War_(1654%E2%80%931667) Return
  9. There is a footnote in the text as follows: “In my verses, I woke people up for Selichot” – thus writes Winchevsky himself about the character of his literary activity 35 years ago, when the writer of these lines first met him… When his young guest was mentioning to him that they are waking up for Selichot in Vilna, Minsk and Smorgon as well due to his call, he was filled with world–changing enthusiasm.” (A. Leisin, Memories and Experiences, p. 75, am Oved, 5703 (1943), Tel Aviv, Translated by A. Kariv). (Editor's note: Selichot are the penitential prayers recited early in the morning during the High Holy Day Season. Here it is seemingly alluding to a call to a new world order. For Winchevsky, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_Winchevsky) Return
  10. “After the war” may reference the Polish–Ottoman War (1672–76) or Lubomirski's Rebellion. Return
  11. Jargon is at times used as a term for Yiddish. Return
  12. There is a footnote in the text as follows; Vera Zasulich (1851–1919), the daughter of a noble family, was born in the village of Mikhaylovka, Smolensk Governorate. In 1868, G. Nechayev convened (a gathering) in Smolensk. She was imprisoned in 1869, and spent two years in jail. She joined the group of modernists in Kiev. She came to Peterburg in 1877. She went to Switzerland in 1878. She returned to Russia in 1879, and stood at the head of the “Black Division” together with Plekhanov. She was also among the founders of the “Freedom of work” Marxist organization. She translated Engel's book “The Development of Socialism, From Utopia to Science,” and Marx's book “The Poverty of Philosophy” into Russian. She was a member of the editorial board of “Hanitzutz” (Iskra) and of Hashchar (Zaria). Vera took the side of Plekhanov during the schism between Lenin and Plekhanov. The Bolsheviks denigrated her as a traitor due to her opposition to the October revolution (Editor's note: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vera_Zasulich) Return
  13. An old Russian unit of length, about .66 mile. Return

 

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