|…as long as my heart beats,
As long as I know how and why
I will not forget,
I will not want to forget!...
[Pages 42-50 Yiddish] [Pages 35-41 Hebrew]
by Shimon Kanc
Translated by Tina Lunson
In pre-Christian times the area of Tarnogrod was covered with thick forests, surrounded with valleys, rivers and swamps. In later times wanderers from Mazowsze (Mazovia), Kujawa and Pomorze (Pomerania) settled in those same areas. The Slavs drew upon the abundance of animal life and the fruitful earth. Over time, Jews from Silesia and Poland also settled there.
Jews in Tarnogrod are mentioned for the first time in a document from the year 1455. The reports from that era are vague. We learn from the Lublin and Krakow pinkus [Jewish community record of important events] books that there were periods when Tarnogrod Jews went off to Lublin. In the year 1555 the borders of the Jewish quarter of Lublin were enlarged significantly. King Zygmunt August confirmed the gift-decree of the Krakow voivode [local ruler or govenor] and Lublin starosta [royal official], Stanisław Tęczyński, for about three places that were given to the Lublin Jewish community. Two years later the same starosta gave as a gift to the well-known Lublin doctor, Yitzhak Maj, a place with a lake and the right to construct a building there. The gift decree was approved by the king in 1566 and on that place was built the MaHaRaSHaL [Solomon Luria (1510 1574)] Synagogue, the yeshiva and other structures. Among those who prayed in that shul was a Tarnogrod Jew by the name of Azriel.
Thanks to the rights that Jews had received in those years, the Jewish quarter in Lublin was enlarged at a rapid pace. Individual families arrived from settlements near and far, and among them were Jews from Tarnogrod.
Lublin occupied an important place in Polish trade even in the 15th century, when the city was a central point in the intersection of the trade routes that led from the west to the north and southeast. In hindsight, its importance was no less than that of Lvov and it is no wonder that the famous fairs in the era of their blossoming (in the 16th century until the middle of the 17th century) were a meeting place for the Jewish merchants of all the towns and trade centers in the Poland of that time, among whom could be found Tarnogrod Jews who bought imported goods at the Lublin fairs and brought to them woven fabric of their own production and also furs.
In the second half of the 15th century, the Poles in the city began a war against Jewish trade. Krakow which had in 1485, through extortion, already forced the head of the Jewish community to sign an agreement that restricted Jewish trade to a selected list of families and certain Jewish workshops in tailoring and hat-making gave the signal. The Krakow merchant's slogan was soon picked up by their Polish comrades in Posen, Kuzmir, Plotsk, Lublin, and by 1521 there was effectively a tight bond among the larger Polish cities in a war against Jewish trade. On the 30th of December 1521 the King issued a decree in the parliament in Pietrokov (Piotrków Trybunalski) that forbade Jewish shopkeepers from buying the grain that the peasants brought into town. That prohibition also brought a series of limitations for the Tarnogrod Jews, limitations whose goal was to liquidate Jewish retail trade. The unraveling economic situation of the community stopped the further influx of Jews.
In the stormy period from 1648 to 1660, Tarnogrod was turned over from one government to another. Merchants and craftsmen were impoverished, the trade routes were erased. In 1672 the misfortune of the Tatar invasion was visited upon Tarnogrod and the town was completely destroyed.
Over a short period of time it was built up anew, and then, it seems, the war against the Jews was quieted. Besides trade, the Tarnogrod Jews occupied themselves with artisanry. Old historical sources mention Jewish tailors, a baker, a butcher, a shoemaker, a leather strap maker, a barber-surgeon, and a blacksmith. In those times, artisanry was tied to trade and the Jewish artisans were thus also occupied in selling the products of their labor. The population then did not hate the Jews and in a certain sense the atmosphere was comfortable for the Jews. The Jews also lived in the nearby villages. The main livelihood of the village Jews was inn keeping, estate managing and brokering for those who owned farmlands. There were also shop-keepers, from whom the village population bought the products that they could not make themselves, such as salt, fuel oil, an axe, a plow blade and so on. No doubt that the Jewish livelihoods in the towns were not much different from the livelihoods in the villages.
We have no systematic material regarding the Jewish population and occupations in Tarnogrod and their economic role in relation to the Christians. But there are clear indications that the Tarnogrod Jews dealt with Krakow and Lublin, and in several villages some Jewish families were engaged in agriculture.
The geographic situation gave the town some economic advantages that strengthened the competitive capability with Bilgoraj, which in those days was independent from Tarnogrod. But the development of the town did not go on for long because of the heavy taxation.
From the documents of the Vaad Arba Aratzot [Council of the Four Lands], the central governing institution of Polish Jewry, from the end of first century one can draw the conclusion that the Tarnogrod Jews helped in the fight that the leaders of Polish Jewry conducted against their persecutors.
These documents also deal with the running payments to the Vaad Arba Aratzot that concentrated in their hands the payments from all the Jewish communities. Their significance does not consist of their showing the exact calculation of the sum, because not even the yearly norm that the Tarnogrod community had to pay to the Vaad can be determined from the documents something that would help to determine the relative size of the community. Their importance consists in that they present a clear indication that Tarnogrod paid the taxes directly to the Vaad Arba Aratzot and not through the intermediary of a larger community. From that one can make the inference that Tarnogord was an erstwhile town at the time, with its own competence that could even take smaller Jewish communities, like Bilgoraj and others, under its protection.
Disregarding the fact that we do not have any details about the process that Tarnogrod went through until it arrived at that position, one could learn much from it about the development of the Jewish communities in Poland a development that in that time was almost unique in the land.
Among the documents from the Vaad Arba Aratzot there is a document from the year 1665 in which Avraham ben Yitzhak from Tarnogrod is among the participants in the meeting and of those who signed the obligatory note: We acknowledge in this obligatory deed that we have received from our advocate Kazimierz Kawalkowski, Secretary to His Royal Majesty and Signer for the King's Treasury, who has aided us in our most difficult situation, in our need and under pressure from the military, which has in its hands promissory notes to the King's Treasury from us and from the entire Jewish congregation in the Polish kingdom, and who have accepted on account our debt of not only our possessions but also our bodies and our soul. The representative Mr. Kawalkowski, the Secretary to His Royal Majesty, has rescued us, our soul and our possessions, from our most difficult need, having paid for us Jews, who live in the Polish kingdom, from the King's Treasury the sum of 26,000 gilden. Having received such great help we obligate ourselves in our names, in the names of all the leaders and in the names of the entire Jewish society in the Polish Kingdom that we will pay the above-mentioned sum of 26,000 gilden to the representative Mr. Kawalkowski or to him who brings this obligatory deed installments, namely the 12th of May 1667 (18 Iyer 5427) 3,250 gilden. The 12th of May 1668 (2 Sivan 5428) 3,350 gilden, the 12th of May 1669 (11 Oder 5429) 3250 gilden, the 12th of May 1670 (22 5430) 1,250 gilden . If we are not able to meet our commitment to the end and in the stated place the representative Mr. Kawalkowski or he who brings this deed is permitted to rob us, arrest us, capture us and put us in jail, both in public and in private, us and all Jews who are located in the Polish Kingdom. This applies to fairs, markets, on the roads and in our houses. In addition (it would be permissible) to confiscate all of our merchandise in any place, close our shuls [synagogues], take the houses and install Christians or whoever else in them and hold them (the houses) until the debt is paid . This is agreed upon in Yaroslav, the 3rd of January 1666.
Following are the signatures of those who signed, written in the language of Yisrael.
This is the language of the document, and it is worth turning our attention to the announcement from the 16th of November 1663 (16 Cheshvan 5424), in which the Polish king Jan Kazimierz warns the Jews, men and women, that they must pay the head tax that has been assessed on them by the last parliaments. If not, he was permitted to confiscate all their merchandise that is found in the customs houses, on the roads, in the towns and villages and also to arrest Jews themselves, rich and poor, and hold them in jail until the tax is paid (according to the archive in Lvov).
From this document can be drawn a picture of social life against the background of the circumstances of that time, and from that we can see that the Tarnogrod Jews were interested in the protection of their rights exactly as were the residents of the big towns. Those rights ensured the Jews the proper conditions for their existence.
One of the key factors that made possible the enclosure of the Jewish settlement in Tarnogrod in that era was their comfortable position regarding their rights, as expressed also in the comfortable living conditions, more so than in many of the Polish towns. The main document that teachers us about the rights position is the decision from the Vaad Arba Aratzot which requires that the institutional leaders of the Krakow province come to judgment before the Tarnogrod Vaad, which would deal with the unjust conduct of the Krakow leaders, who had to take upon themselves the sentence that the Vaad decreed.
The decision was given in the year 5427 at the Gromnitzer fair, a Christian holiday during which the fair in Lublin also occurred and when the Vaad Arba Aratzot also convened. The fair began on the 2nd of February and lasted for seven days. Jews also called it the Oder fair.
In 1685 during the reign of King Jan Sobieski, the Vaad met in Yaroslav and among the decisions made was the agreement of the rabbonim [rabbi, plural] to publish the book Nakhlat Azriel [Azriel's Legacy] by Rav [Rabbi] Azriel Halevi, who was the head of the beit-din [Rabbinical court] in Tarnogrod. It says:
We are presented with remarkable things from the great and preeminent Rav, our teacher and rabbi, Azriel Halevi, may his holy memory be for a blessing, who was head of the beit-din and leader of the holy congregation of Tarnogrod, may his rock and redeemer protect him, and who wrote new commentaries on the Torah, the Poskim [Rabbinic authorities and literature on questions of Jewish law], Gemara [300 years of rabbis' legal and ethical commentaries on the Mishnah], Perush Rashi [Rashi Commentaries], Tosafot [Supplements and additions 12th to 14th century commentaries on Talmud] which were sweeter than honey; knowing and understanding him as a great Talmud scholar, large in Torah and in good works, spreading Torah among the Jews of several communities; and as soon as the news reached our ears that it was the will of the community leaders to bring his marvels to print to the merit of the community, to the use of his soul and for his good remembrance, and so as the Sages have said: 'What are the achievements of a person Torah and good deeds', those are the generations of that Talmud scholar, for he left no children behind him, and therefore even though there is a statute against the printing of any new treatises we have abolished the statute for the above-mentioned book for the honor of the Rav and for the spiritual pleasure of his pure soul.
Among the rabbonim who gathered at the conference of the Vaad Arba Aratzot and gave his approval for the book was the name of Rav Natan-Nata bar Yakov, the current rav of Tarnogrod, who signed Natan-Nata of Lublin, leader of the holy congregation of Tarnogrod. We assume from this that the Tarnogrod rav took part in the gathering of the Vaad Arba Aratzot.
The document from the year 1717 (2nd of Heshven [October-November] 5478), leaves no doubt that Tarnogrod was already outstanding, that its representatives came from an independent province in the Vaad. The document from the Vaad Arba Aratzot deals with (p. 275) the conflict between the Jewish community in Pshemishl and the local rav, who was afraid of being taken by his debtors and the Vaad ruled: there shall no kind of harm and no kind of persecution befall him from any debtor or from any person in the world and the Jewish institutional leaders shall also swear a firm oath here in the presence of the Vaad Arba Aratzot, that they will implement this and all the previous writings and the court ruling having to do with these debtors
Among the participants in that meeting and those who signed the court ruling was Shlomo, son of Rabbi Shimshon from Tarnogrod and Aizik from the holy congregation of Tarnogrod, whose names are also among the participants in other meetings of the Vaad Arba Aratzot.
It can also be seen that those rabbonim who were great minds of Torah study attended the meetings on the merit of their importance, but this also gives witness to the importance and esteem of the town that was able to invite such Torah greats as these rabbonim.
An even clearer indication, although from a later time, is in a Polish source, in the lists dealing with the Vaad Arba Aratzot and its composition, from which it is clear that the Tarnogrod rabbonim in certain time periods belonged to the Vaad.
Tarnogrod is also proud of one of the pillars of Hasidism, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, The Berditchever Rov, who on his mother Sosha-Dvora's side, was from the R. Samuel Eliezer ben Judah Levi Edels' family and of the Gaon [honorific title for eminent scholar] Rav Moshe Margoliot, head of the beit din in Tarnogrod
Although the town was never a big Hasidic center, the spiritual situation there was like that of a large city that had a big Hasidic center, with the same enthusiasm for doing mitzvot, for dance and for nigunim [wordless melody; tune. Often used when referring to prayer melody], that occupied an important place in Hasidism. Tarnogrod Jews stayed true to the core principles of Hasidism in the various eras until the horrible destruction of Polish Jewry.
So the Tarnogrod Jews understood the honor and importance of having Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, The Apter Rov, whose name was associated with the Tarnogrod rav, Rav Shimshon, in whom the greatest rabbonim of the time took pride, a son-in-law of Rav Feivish, son of the great Gaon Rav Moshe, head of the beit din and head of the yeshiva of the community of Tarnogrod.
During the 200 years of its existence the influence of the Vaad Arba Aratzot was huge in the whole Diaspora and so the honorable relations that the Vaad had to the Tarnogrod rabbonim, placed the town among the most esteemed communities in Poland.
The unusual times that were to befall Poland in the coming eras left their deep mark on the position of the Tarnogrod community as well and in particular on its future development. The disrupted political situation whose alarm was the partition of Poland and the loss of its political independence, the wars and rebellions that came as a result of the national awakening, all caused the instability and undermining of the previous blossoming, and laid a new yoke on the Jewish community and disallowed its further development. And its position as a trade center for the area was destroyed. In time the surrounding towns developed and began to compete with Tarnogrod and after a while, it seems, pushed Tarnogrod into a corner and Bilgoraj began to take its place.
These changes are the reason that Tarnogrod remained stalled in place, both the town in general and the Jewish community. Yet it must be emphasized that this was not a uniform process, and that the activity of the Tarnogrod Jews showed that the community had not settled for its situation and continued to struggle with new aspirations.
We have assembled a small part of the history of Tarnogrod. There remain many chapters of other eras, for which not so much material has been preserved. But even the modest material gives witness to the important role that Tarnogrod played among the Jewish communities in Poland; but new times came, new events, new circumstances, that did not allow the Jewish community in Tarnogrod to plant its glorious traditions.
by Nachum Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Dedicated to the sacred memory of my parents, Chaim and Khana-Lea, my wife Mindil, and my children
Pesia, Kopl and Malka, who were killed by the Nazi murderers, Cheshvan [October-November], 1942.
The town of Tarnogrod was located in Lublin gubernie [province], in the rayon [district] of Zamosc, near Bilgoraj. Set on a low mountain, the town is at a higher elevation than the nearby towns of Jozefow, Sieniawa, Krzeszow, and the many surrounding villages. Because of this higher elevation the town suffered from a shortage of water. It had no river, and there were few wells, and these wells did not all supply potable water.
The wells that were located on the streets where Jews lived were called by Jewish names, like Avrahamele Kofi's well in Lakhower Street, which in later days, before World War II, was called Shmuel Zeis' well; Matyas Beker's well, with its salty water; Leibish Baritche's well. The well on the rampart past the Christian houses was called shteyn [stone].
Not far from the houses where the butchers lived was a well called Moshe-Hillel's stak [well]. Its water came from the surrounding hills and was very tasty, especially when it was used to make tea. Jews drew water for cooking and drinking from that well day and night.
There were also Jews who earned a living by carrying water to the prosperous households. Among the water carriers were Moshe-Elchanan, Yekl Getz, Moshe Mayfie, and Mendele-Ketsele. Their entire lives they carried on their shoulders a frame from which hung two full pails of water. Before the last war people still paid 10 groschen for two full pails.
Jewish water carriers also drew water from wells owned by Christians. One such well outside the town was called Zhadil. Because it was so far away, Shimon-David Stockman and Mordechai Treger transported the water in a barrel on a horse drawn wagon. Every water carrier had his own customers. They were paid on Friday for the entire week, and also received as a bonus a white bread roll for the Sabbath.
The bakers hired the water carriers by the week. Each baker had a large barrel and the water carrier had to see to it that it was always full. Because the majority of women baked at home on Friday for the entire week, only some bakers baked every day. There were also bakers who baked only for the fairs held every Tuesday and Friday. On those two days the bakers set up their stalls at the marketplace and sold the baked goods from straw baskets.
The Tarnogrod marketplace was ringed by low-rise buildings that housed the Jewish shops. Behind these were the shops of the Jewish butchers. Later, many Polish stores appeared and competition grew. The Christians were supported by the town government, which installed small wooden shops in the middle of the marketplace and rented them to Jews, evicting those who could not pay the rent.
Widows and other women would set up shops which sold various kinds of merchandise, fruits and vegetables. These shops consisted of long wooden benches on which sat shallow woven baskets.
Until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Tarnogrod was under Russian rule. In those days, the Jews there were able to make a living, and Tarnogrod was renowned for having wealthier rich people than other towns in the area. This was because the town was situated close to the Austrian border, where both legal and illegal business was conducted.
On Both Sides of the Border
The border was located past the Lakhower Forest, in the village of Majdan, 7 kilometers from Tarnogrod. On the Russian side, soldiers called obyeshtshikes [mounted patrol officers] guarded the border. On the Austrian side, there were no soldiers, just a few officials who collected payment for goods transported from Tarnogrod to Sieniawa.
Tarnogrod Jews encountered no difficulties in crossing the border. They needed only to obtain a certificate costing one-half Russian ruble from the communal authority. This certificate was valid for a whole month, during which one could cross the border as frequently as one wished. In other towns it was much more difficult to cross the border legally and so people often had to sneak across, risking their lives to do so.
The barracks for the Russian military near Tarnogrod were owned by the Tarnogrod Jew Mendl, Silberzweig who was called Mendele Bishtsher, and he collected rent for them. The colonel and his entire general staff rented quarters in Mordechai Mantl's building in the Bilgoraj City Gate.
There were Jewish contractors who provided goods to the military, such as hay and oats for the army horses. One such contractor was Naftali Wakslicht (Yokter), who lived on the marketplace, near Yosl Rupa (Struzer).
Tarnogrod Jews traded with Germany and Austria in flax, linen, grain and various other products. This business was legal, but there was also a black market, which smuggled horses, fabric, and various alcoholic drinks. Most of the illegal business was conducted by Christians, but Jews participated as well. Many smugglers paid for it with their lives.
The peasants from nearby villages brought their agricultural products to sell to the Jews and later used the proceeds to buy various goods in the Jewish shops. The fairs held on Tuesday were renowned throughout the region and Jews from surrounding towns would come to Tarnogrod to sell their goods and to buy agricultural products from the peasants.
Among the great merchants in Tarnogrod were Yosef Moynis and Moshe Yoynes (Feingold) wholesalers of raw goods, who brought from smaller-scale merchants what they had accumulated during the week. Among the great grain merchants were Israel-Avraham Itches (Krumpenholz). There were also big flour warehouses in Tarnogrod.
In those days Jews in Tarnogrod did not have to endure a heavy tax burden, as they did later under Polish rule.
Jews lived in almost all the villages around Tarnogrod. These village Jews excelled in the practice of hakhnasat-orchim [providing hospitality and shelter to guests, especially the poor or strangers]. They did not distinguish between rich and poor, but treated everyone equally with the same hearty warmth, providing food and drink and a bed to sleep in. The townspeople who came to the villages to buy raw materials, like the tailors who sewed fur winter coats for the Christians, always stayed over as guests of the Jewish villagers, who never asked for money for room and board.
The life of the village Jews was similar to that of the [Christian] peasants. They owned fields, horses, and cows and worked the land along with the peasants, plowing, sowing and reaping.
There were also Jewish villagers who did not own any land, possessed only one or two cows, and made their living from small shops where women did the selling. They lived all week on dairy foods made from the milk of their own cows, eating meat only on the Sabbath. Shochets [ritual slaughters] would come from town on Thursday to slaughter poultry or a calf or sheep. If the road was in bad condition and the shochet didn't come, the village Jew had to do without meat and observe the Sabbath with a dairy meal.
Very few village Jews could read religious texts or write a letter. They would hire teachers to instruct their children in the village. There weren't any baal-tefillot [leaders of prayers]. Each man prayed alone and on Sabbath they would gather in a minyan [quorum] at one of the respectable homes that had a sufficiently large room where they could pray together. They borrowed a Torah scroll from a besmedresh [house of study, also used for worship] in town. For the High Holy Days they came to town to pray. In the last years before world War II they would hire a baal-tefillah from town and pray in their own minyans in the village.
Many of the large agricultural estates, called heyf [literally courtyards] around Tarnogrod were occupied by Jews who held them on arende [lease], granted by the poritz [Polish landowner]. The estate at Razhnits was ruled by the Jewish poritz Reb [respectful term of address] Elyele Shochets, a pious Jew and very learned man, son of a shochet.
At Zamosc, the arende was held by Nachmiele, who was also considered a great scholar and upstanding man. Sobol held the estate at Absher and Arish Weintraub the estate at Fils.
By the last years before the Second World War, only one Jewish poritz remained, in the village of Shariuvke, Yakov Ritzer, who was called Yankl Shariavker.
People would also talk about other Jewish leaseholders, telling various stories about their wealth, their industriousness, and their piety. I didn't know all of them and many of their names are gone from my memory. But I do remember Shmuel Weltcher, from Lipen; his son Avraham Weltcher from the Patiker estate; Avremele Nutels (Fabrikant) from the Lakhover estate. The latter also held the lease on the Lakhover forest, where bakers and other townspeople bought wood for fuel.
The Jewish estate holders gave a lot of money to the town's poor and institutions. Before a holiday they would send to town wagons full of potatoes and other agricultural products. Avremele Fabrikant would send enough wood to heat the besmedresh for an entire winter. Other wagons brought free wood for the poor. Shmuel Weltcher and his son sent potatoes and straw to the poor for Passover.
Both Jewish and Christian landholders had Jewish agents and merchants who bought grain from them and made a living from selling it. They also engaged Jewish tenant farmers who would collect milk from the estates. They were often given a house to live in, with a cellar where they could keep the milk so it wouldn't spoil. They were also allowed to pasture their horses or cows on the estate fields.
The tenant farmers, as well as orchardists from town, also rented fruit orchards from the estate. But they never neglected to bring milk, butter and cheese in their own horse and wagon to town, where each one had his own concession and always took the same spot in the marketplace. The tenant farmers sold the milk by the quarter in tin containers. The butter was prepared in nicely shaped wooden molds, and sold by the quarter or half-quarter.
The wives of the tenant farmers drove into town with them to help sell the dairy products, which they kept on the wagon where they sat, measuring and doling out the requested amounts.
There were days, especially the nine days at the end of the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple [Tisha b'Av] during the summer, when it was forbidden to eat meat, and dairy foods were in short supply. On those days, Jews would get up very early and go to the marketplace with pots and bowls to buy the only permitted food.
After World War I, when Tarnogrod belonged to Poland, there were very few Jewish estate holders, and Christians took over the dairy trade.
The Economic Conditions of Tarnogrod Jews Before World War I
The 700 Jewish families that lived in Tarnogrod fell into three economic categories: 40% considered themselves wealthy by small-town standards; 50% middle class; and 10% poor, but not, God forbid, so poor they had to rely on charity. They were poor because it was so hard to eke out a living. Aside from the merchants, the retailers, and the small-scale dealers in agricultural products, there were also artisans who sold their wares in the marketplace tailors who sewed cheap, ready to wear clothing, weavers who made their own linen cloth, and bakers and cobblers. There were also people who dealt in kroples [alcoholic drink], an illegal trade. The consumers were Christian peasants. The main supplier was Avraham Kagan (Rosenfeld).
The Tarnogrod Jews excelled in the practice of hakhnasat-orchim. Poor people, wanderers, would come to Tarnogrod from towns near and far. On the Sabbath, each home hosted a guest or two at the Sabbath meal. In many homes the poor were also invited to sleep over.
David Yoel Shuster and his son Yeshayahu Leib were especially known for their hospitality. They prepared special beds for their guests and tried to make them comfortable. After David Yoel's death his son continued with this mitzvah [commandment or good deed].
It is the tragedy of Jewish fate that the garden of these fine, generous people, which served as a place of respite for the poor and for strangers, was turned by the Nazis into a mass grave for hundreds of Jewish families.
Shortly after the First World War Moshe Walfish, brother of Shaye-Leib, came from America to visit Tarnogrod. Before he left, he gave his brother money to build a new house with a separate room where poor people could lodge overnight. Shaye-Leib built a larger house, devoting the largest room for guests, whom he also provided with comfortable beds and new straw mattresses and blankets.
Tarnogrod Jews lived in low wooden houses. There were only two stone houses in the town, one owned by Mordechai Mantl and the other by Leib Shimshon (Weintraub). After World War I, a two-story stone building housing the post office was built by Yosl Sprung, Wolwish Melamed's son in law, on Lakhover Street. Several stone buildings were also built around the marketplace. After a fire occurred, the Polish authorities no longer permitted the construction of wooden buildings.
Streets and lanes led to and from the marketplace Lakhover, Royshnitser, the Bilgoraj city gate, Patiker and Karkhever. Many streets were called by the Jewish names of the people who lived there. Lakhover Street was long, extending to the Shiniaver Road at the Austrian border. Jews lived on this street as far as Moshe Kalikstein's house. On Royzhnitser Street, Jews lived as far as Leibush Kovel's house. The side streets and lanes, as well as the city gates, were inhabited solely by Jews. They were very crowded and so fights often broke out. A dispute over a bit of space would be brought to rabbinical and civil courts.
Most Jews owned their own small houses, but there were some who rented. The living conditions were generally difficult. Even a rich person would have only one all-purpose room and an alcove. Only the rare, very rich people had several rooms. The poor water carriers and flour porters and poor tradesmen lived in single rooms which held beds arranged in the form of the [Hebrew letter] daled, [i.e. at a ninety degree angle] and a bench-bed [bench that converted to a bed] for the children. The cradle stood by the mother's bed. If it was a big family with a lot of children -- like those of Yekl Potshter (Wertman); Itsik-Leib; Naftali Mindeshes (Ringler); and others -- four children slept on the bench-bed, two at the head and two at the foot, and the other children slept on a plank. The children slept covered by the father's overcoat and the mother's shawl.
The children were fed all week on kasha [porridge] and beans, or millet and honey. At the end of the week, when the bread had grown stale, the mother would buy two or three bagels from Berish the Yakhlekhe, or hot chickpeas from Matish Beker.
Tarnogrod Jews had large families. When a boy turned three, his father brought him to heder [religious school for young children] wrapped in a prayer shawl, and distributed sweets to the pupils.
Women gave birth at home. For 8 days after the birth, until the bris [circumcision], the mother and the newborn lay behind a sheet hung like a curtain. Attached to the sheet and the walls were copies of the shir hamayles [Psalm 121] to drive away evil spirits.
If the newborn was a boy, the youngest children from the heder were brought to the home by the belfer [teacher's assistant] to recite the Sh'ma Yisroel prayer every evening until the bris. The day before the bris, the mohel [who performs the circumcision] came to see if the child was healthy and he would leave behind the circumcision knife as a charm against demons.
The bris took place in the synagogue, even in the coldest weather. In the synagogue there stood a throne-like chair that was called the kise shel eliyohu, [throne of the Prophet Elijah], which it was meant to resemble. On this chair sat the sandek [one who holds the child during the circumcision]. Near the chair stood a footstool.
When the child was brought in, the hazzen [cantor] or the shammes [synagogue caretaker] called out Welcome. He took the child from the kvatar [godfather] while reciting several verses from the Torah, then handed the child to the sandek, the rabbi Reb Leibele Teicher. The mohel Reb Yeshayahule Khona Pinkhases or ChaimYechiel Shochet or Moshele dem Rebs carried out the mitzvah with great concentration.
In the last years before World War II, the brises were no longer performed in the synagogue, but at home. The mohel then was Moshele Shochet (Kenigsberg) who lives today in Israel.
Heders and Melameds [teachers]
A Jewish boy began heder when he turned three. The education of girls was not considered important; they only needed to learn to pray. But a boy attended heder daily from morning to night.
If a melamed lived in a house that had an alcove in addition to the one all-purpose room, the beds stood in the alcove and the heder was conducted in the one room. If he had only one room without an alcove, the beds were lined up against the wall, concealed by a hanging sheet. At the window stood a big table with long benches.
Every melamed who taught the youngest children had two belfers one a senior assistant, a grown youth, the second an under-assistant. Each day they came to the children's homes, washed and dressed them, and led them in reciting the moyde-ani [prayer said upon waking], then brought them to heder. In winter, when there was a lot of snow or deep mud, the belfers would carry the children to school on their backs.
Not all the children could fit on the benches and some sat on the floor playing with buttons or other playthings.
The under-assistant spent his time bringing the children food from their homes. The senior belfer helped with teaching, using a special pointer to indicate the big letters in the prayer books, the pages of which were yellowed with age and with the tears of children.
The melamed had a hard life. A father would complain that his child knew nothing. He wanted the child to have learned the Torah by heart in a few days. The melamed took out his anger on the children. A whip with 7 leather straps was always on the table. Fear of the whip destroyed any desire to go to school and the belfer often had to forcibly drag a child. All the way to school, the child would scream and cry and struggle to escape.
In school, the boys especially dreaded the terrible punishment called a pak. The sinning child would have his face blackened with soot and be forced to wear an old, wrinkled hat. He had to hold a broom and stand in a corner near the kitchen. For an entire hour the children would shout at him, Moshele, or Shloymele or whatever his name might be, Vivat [hurrah]! If the melamed wanted to, he would lower the child's pants and beat him with the whip. A child who underwent such punishment would no longer dare to rebel.
On Friday nights in summer the melamed and the belfers brought the boys to kabale shabes [ceremony to welcome the Sabbath] in the synagogue. The children repeated the Sabbath blessing after the cantor and the shammes would gave them sweet raisin wine. On Saturday morning the belfers brought the children to synagogue where their shrill voices resounded. Each belfer sat with his pupils at a designated place on the synagogue's long benches.
The melameds also suffered persecution by the Russian government. The police would inspect the heders, draw up official reports, and send the children home. The teachers would alert each other about the police raids. As soon as a policeman showed up, the pupil knew that he had to run to the next heder and tell the teacher, They're after us! The melamed knew what that meant and he would send the children away.
The boys eagerly awaited such days, when they would run off to various places to play. When these police raids began to become more frequent, the teachers decided that something had to be done and they began to pay regular bribes to the police.
Before World War I the melameds who taught the youngest children were Chaim Tsibalkerles (Kreitner), Shmuel Zeis, Leibush Barishtsh (Grosman), Leibush Melamed (Fefer). There were many others who taught the more advanced classes.
In those days, the streets had no lighting. In winter the teachers did not have time to complete their lessons while it was still light. They sent the children who were still beginners home before dark. The older, more advanced students stayed after dark, until the teacher returned from evening and night prayers. Each child had a lantern lit by a candle to see his way home at night. Some boys decorated their lanterns with colored glass. The streets would be covered in mud, so the boys had to wear heavy boots.
Fathers would send their sons to various heders until they turned 13. Later, when a boy already knew how to study the Talmud, he would continue his religious studies in the besmedresh on his own, until he became a learned man.
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Reb Koppel Likover and the Tzadik of Krzeszow
Jews of the older generation used to tell stories that they had heard from their parents about the olden days in Tarnogrod, about remarkable people who once lived there and who were buried in the Tarnogrod cemetery.
In my day, Tarnogrod belonged to the district of Bilgoraj, and the town of Bilgoraj was the district capital. But things were different many years ago, when Tarnogrod was the district capital and Bilgoraj, along with the other towns in the area, belonged to the Tarnogrod district.
The cemetery was located about 300 meters outside the town on the left side of the Rozhenistser Road. There were two societies responsible for carrying out the burials: the khevre kedushe [burial society], which prepared the body, and the khevre noysim [pallbearers], who carried the body to the cemetery on a mita [bier] borne on their shoulders. Hearses were not used to transport the body.
The members of the khevre kedushe were the more prosperous Jews, Hasidim. Their last gabbai [administrator] was Shmuelke Stockman. The members of the khevre noysim were tradesmen shoemakers and tailors. Their last gabbai was Avraham Lipeles (Schwetzer). Once a year the two societies would get together on Sabbath for Kiddush [blessing over wine] and drink together.
Tarnogrod produced brilliant religious scholars like Reb Chaim Sanzer [Chaim Halberstam, 1797-1876], the author of Divrei Chaim [book of commentary]. He was born and raised and studied in Tarnogrod. After he was married, he became the first Sanzer Rabbi and his dynasty extends to the present day.
Buried in the Tarnogrod cemetery is the mekubl [mystic, Kabbalist] Reb Koppel Likover, who lived in the village of Lukowa, 14 kilometers from Tarnogrod. When Tarnogrod Jews visited the village they would proudly point out the place where Reb Koppel Likover's inn once stood. They would tell how he had been a great miracle worker. On holidays he would leave Lukowa for Tarnogrod with his family. Once, before Passover, when he wanted to (temporarily) sell his tavern and liquor to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday, all the Christians got together and refused to buy it, so that the liquor would belong to no one, and the peasants could steal it.
Having no choice, Reb Koppel abandoned the tavern and travelled to Tarnogrod. On the night of Passover, the peasants took sacks and baskets and set off to loot the tavern. As soon as they entered and reached for the bottles, their arms froze in the air and stayed there as if petrified. They began to cry and scream, as an invisible hand beat them about their heads and shoulders. Bloodied, they fled the inn and as long as they lived never found out who had beaten them. When Reb Koppel returned home after Passover, he found the tavern's doors and windows open, but nothing was missing.
Since that time 200 years have passed and the stories about him and about the Kabbalistic works he wrote continued until recent years. Once of his grandchildren was the Chozeh [Seer] of Lublin [Hasidic Rabbi Yakov Yitshak Horowitz, cir.1745-1815]. The last rabbi of Tarnogrod, Reb Leibele Teicher, also considered himself a grandson of Reb Koppel Likover.
People also recounted that 100 years ago when they had finished building the Great Synagogue in Tarnogrod, there lived another grandson, the Kreshover Tzadik, who was rabbi there for many years and is buried there. It was the custom in Tarnogrod, on Tish b'Av, after the saying of Lamentations, to go to the cemetery and scatter garlic on the graves of family and friends. Everyone would also scatter garlic on the grave of Reb Koppel Likover. His tombstone was large, with a deep and wide inscription that had been eroded by time. Around the tombstone were rotted pieces of wood, probably all that remained of a wooden ohel [monument built over a grave].
In the ohel of the Kreshover Tzadik lights were always burning. There was also a receptacle to collect money for charity. The Kreshover Tzadik had one son, Reb Saul, who did not become a rabbi. He lived on Razhenitser Street, near the garden of Shlomele Marshalek.
The Religious Way of Life
The Jews of Tarnogrod distinguished themselves with their piety. They also produced great religious scholars. Morning and night, men gathered in the besmedresh to pray and study the Talmud. People wore long hasidic clothing kaftans during the week and silk cloaks on the Sabbath and holidays. On the Sabbath they exchanged their black cloth caps for silk or velvet ones. The rabbi wore a shtrayml or a spodek [large fur hat].
The young unmarried men didn't cut or shave their beards. People got married young. An unmarried boy or girl over 20 was considered old. By the time a young man entered the army at the age of 21, he already had a wife and a child or two.
Right after the wedding they would cut off the bride's hair. All married women covered their heads with wigs or scarves and observed the mitzvot [religious obligations] of khale-nemen [challah-taking burning or discarding a portion of dough when baking, as symbolic offering to God], lighting the Sabbath candles, and immersing themselves in the mikveh [ritual bath.]
In some homes, the husband would stay at home and study and the wife would be the breadwinner. She joyfully accepted her fate to serve as footstool to her pious husband in heaven.
The Sabbath before the wedding, the groom's parents and in-laws would lead him to the synagogue for the aufruf ceremony [pre-wedding service]. He was given the aliyah mafter [privilege of reading the last part of the Torah portion] and when the prayers were concluded, everyone accompanied the groom at the Kiddush. At the same time, the bride held a pre-wedding celebration for her girlfriends. Weddings were never held on Sunday or Monday. The reason for this is not known.
There were no klezmorim [musicians] in Tarnogrod; they had to be brought in from Bilgoraj. Gimpel and his band were well known, as was the badkhan [wedding jester/ master of ceremonies] who was called Shlomele Marshalek. There was no such thing as a quiet wedding. Music was mandatory. The wedding ceremony was always held outdoors, outside the synagogue. The cantor Itsik-Yeshaya sang the blessings and the rabbi conducted the ceremony. After the ceremony the klezmorim played as they accompanied the newlyweds home.
After the wedding feast the in-laws danced the traditional mitzvah-dance with the bride, taking turns at leading her by a handkerchief in a circle. The last one to lead the bride was the groom and as he did so, the others joined in and led the couple to a separate room to sleep.
In those days it was considered a grave sin for a boy and girl to take a stroll together, and if they were discovered, there would be serious consequences. In later years, after World War I, the stricter religious practice gradually faded. One often saw boys and girls walking together and young people would form romantic friendships that led to marriage. Their walks took place in the fields along the road to Bartshashik's mill, and at the well at the suburb of Plusy. It was said of this well that its waters could heal illnesses of the eye. In any case, it provided good drinking water and it refreshed the lovesick couples on hot days.
The main place where people took their strolls was the Bilgoraj city gate on the Bishtsher road, which led to three wells outside the (non-Jewish) cemetery. These were shallow wells from which you could scoop us water with your hands. Just before World War I they erected a brick cross with a small opening through which the water constantly flowed.
The Place of the Mass Execution
Outside the (non-Jewish) cemetery, to the left of the mountain, was the second mass grave of our Tarnogrod martyrs. In the month of Tammuz [June-July], 1945, I stood for hours at this grave, unable to suppress my weeping over the horrific deaths of my family and friends. A Polish village magistrate told me how the murders were carried out. There lay Moshele the Rabbi's son (Teicher) with his extended family of nearly 100 souls. There too lay Khaneke Shtruzer and her child, members of my own family.
Magistrate Skare told me how he stood and watched the Germans shoot the victims, who fell directly into a huge grave. When I asked him how he could stand to watch this horrifying scene, he said that as magistrate he was forced by the Germans to attend the mass execution. He added that he hoped to be of help to the surviving Jews who would return here after the war, by being able to show them where the bodies of their loved ones were buried.
There was no train line running through Tarnogrod. When people wanted to travel to Warsaw they had to first travel the long distance to the train station in Lublin by wagon, which took two days and nights. There were several Jewish wagon drivers in Tarnogrod. Usually, wagons carrying passengers and merchandise left for Lublin Saturday night or Sunday morning, and would return on Friday at midday.
On the way to Lublin you had to drive through several towns Bilgoraj, Zwierzyniec, Szczebrzeszyn, Zamosc, Izbica, Krasnystaw and Piasek. The road was not entirely paved. In winter, the wagons coming back on Fridays would sometimes get stuck several kilometers outside town. Twilight would approach and there was no possibility of arriving in time for Sabbath. In order not to violate the Sabbath, they would remain in the middle of the road the entire Sabbath. The wagon drivers were strict Sabbath observers and for the entire time they would stay by their wagons loaded with goods, for which they were responsible.
The Synagogue, the Besmedresh and the two Hasidic Shtibls [small house of prayer]
In addition to the synagogue and besmedresh there were also two Hasidic shtibls, one for the Belzer [sect] and the other for the Shiniaver sect. All these places of worship were on the east side of town. The besmedresh stood at the beginning of Razhinitser Street, near the market place. To the right of the entrance to the besmedresh there was the tailors little synagogue, where tailors and other artisans prayed on Sabbath and holidays. The gabbai of the little synagogue was Reb Yoel Schneider (Magram). Opposite the tailors' synagogue, on the left side, there was a hidden exit, which looked like a small room, where they kept wood to heat the oven in the besmedresh in winter. Inside, right at the entrance, on the left side, was a basin for washing hands before praying. Nearby stood the oven for heating, and a long bench where the older men sat and warmed their backs.
To the right of the door there was a niche where an eternal flame burned. Near the door, where there was a long towel for drying one's hands, there was a wide table with a top that opened, in which the shames [beadle] kept the tablecloths and towels. On the south side stood two long tables with long benches where young men sat and studied by the light of kerosene lamps that hung by wires from the ceiling.
In the middle of the eastern wall, at the top of several steps, stood the Holy Ark that held the Torah scrolls. Nearby stood the pulpit where the bal tfile [rabbi, cantor or other prayer leader] recited the prayers. In the very center of the besmedresh stood the crooked lectern from which the Torah was read. Along the sides were benches for sitting.
The women's section had a separate entrance and was at the top of a flight of stairs. On winter nights Moshe Shames would sell cookies and herring to supplement his wages. After his death, Kalmen Shames [Lerner] took over his position.
The walls were lined with shelves packed with religious books, old and new, dusty and yellowed or well kept, with leather bindings. Every Friday afternoon, one of the boys who studied in the besmedresh would circulate among the worshippers and collect money for repairing the books.
From Reb Itsik to Reb Yentche Melamed
In addition to the permanent students who sat in the besmedresh entire days and nights, there were others who studied in groups. One study group, Ein Yaakov, was led by Yokl Shmetsh (Bas). Itsik Melamed led a group that met every Sabbath in the little synagogue to study the Bible along with Rashi's commentary. When Itsik Melamed and his wife left for Eretz Yisroel, where he died in Safad, others took on this role, the last of whom was Yentche Melamed. A group studying Mishnah [part of Talmud] was led by Volvish Melamed (Blitman). There was also a group that studied psalms.
There was also a society for providing housing for the indigent and a society for visiting and caring for the sick. The gabbai Leibish Margulies (Klein), the bath attendant at the town baths, belonged to both societies. In later years there was also a society founded by Chava Galis (Zeis) and other women that visited the homes of the prosperous on Friday night to collect challot and bread to distribute to poor families. There were also women who took responsibility for providing poor brides with a trousseau.
The Festive Sabbath Dinners in the Little Synagogue of the Weavers
Behind the besmedresh was the synagogue. To the right, off the anteroom, was a little synagogue which was called the shkotsher [weavers] little synagogue, where the hand weavers sometimes prayed. In the old days, approximately 40% of the Jews in Tarnogrod were employed in producing canvas for sacks, which they sold in Lublin or Warsaw to the big agricultural estates. On Saturday, in this little synagogue they would hold festive dinners for the third Sabbath meal at twilight. These were paid for by Matish Beker (Arbesfeld) --and later by his son, Moshe --who had the exclusive right to perform this mitzvah. He did it even in later times, before World War II, when he had already become quite impoverished and actually went hungry himself.
The synagogue had two large gates that were locked when it wasn't being used for worship. The shames Nachum Trib held the keys. Over the gate to the anteroom an inscription in large letters read How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven. [Genesis 28:17]
To get to the synagogue one had to go up several steps.
In the middle of the synagogue stood four thick stone pillars. The walls were like those in a fortress. Each wall had four long rectangular windows and the upper panes were of stained glass. The ceiling was round and vaulted and from it hung very bright oil lamps and chandeliers with dozens of brass tubes where candles would be inserted. Along the walls were long benches and lecterns where the prosperous men purchased their places. The prayers were recited in the Ashkenazic manner.
Two sets of stairs led to the balemer [raised desk from which Torah is read] that stood in the middle of the synagogue, one on the north and one on the south. Along the walls near the lectern were benches where the gabbais sat. By the railings across from the lectern was a long bench where people sat with the Torah scrolls before they were returned to the Holy Ark, which was built into the Eastern wall, at the top of a long staircase. Over the Ark were two carved golden lions and over the lions a metal eagle hung by ropes.
The lectern, which stood to the right, was made of plain wood. The shevisi [inscription from Psalms 16:8, I place God in front of me always.] glittered over the brass candleholder. On the table to the right of the lectern was a large brass menorah.
Reb Leibele's Unforgettable Yom Kippur
In the mid-18th century Reb Leibele Rozenfeld was cantor in Tarnogrod. People told a story about the time when he became very sick after Rosh Hashanah, and another cantor was hired to replace him for Yom Kippur. But at the last minute, just before Kol Nidre, Reb Leibele ordered them to wait for him before starting to pray. The choir members dressed him in his robe and prayer shawl, carried him in a chair to the synagogue and set him down in front of the cantor's pulpit. From there he led the entire Yom Kippur service until late at night, when they carried him back home and put him to bed. The same thing happened the next day. He glowed like fire and his praying was more fervent and heartfelt than ever before.
My father's father, Reb Benyamin Krymerkopf, was a member of Reb Leibele's choir for many years. When they brought the cantor home after services and put him to bed, he asked the cantor, Tell me the truth; how did you manage to pray and sing more forcefully today than ever before?
Reb Leibele looked around the room and having assured himself no one could hear him, he answered: I swear to you on my life, Benyamin, but you must tell no one the secret I am about to tell you. You know how sick I am. I couldn't even get out of bed. But when I said the evening prayer before Yom Kippur in my bed the Prophet Elijah appeared to me and ordered me to lead the prayers from my pulpit, telling me he would give me the strength to conduct the services. So I prayed the entire service with the strength of Elijah.
Reb Leibele died in the winter of that same year. After his death Benyamin told everyone the big secret. Reb Leibele's grave is by the wall of the Kreshever Tzadik's ohel.
The Blessing of Reb Itsik-Yeshaya by the Old Trisker Magid [itinerant preacher]
After Reb Leibele died, his son Yisraelish served as cantor for several years. Reb Leibele left behind a large extended family, most of who were killed by the Nazis. One great-grandson, Avraham Kagan, lives now in Israel.
Before World War I, Itsik-Yeshaya served as cantor for a long time. With his extraordinarily strong voice and beautiful way of chanting the prayers, he enchanted his listeners and brought down the house. Chaim Trib, a man of 96 who now lives in America, told me that a man named Goldman came to Tarnogrod and wanted to pay Itsik-Yeshaya $5000 to come to America just one time to lead the High Holy Day prayers. Itsik-Yeshaya turned him down. He didn't want to abandon Tarnogrod and leave the Jews there without a cantor for the High Holy Days. It was his habit to lead the prayers in the synagogue on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. He would recite the Musaf prayer in the besmedresh while the rabbi led the Musaf prayer in the synagogue. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah they switched places. On Yom Kippur, Itsik Yeshaya sang Kol Nidre and Musaf in the synagogue and the rabbi in the besmedresh.
Itsik-Yeshaya never became hoarse. When he was over 70, his voice was as strong as in his youth and he chanted with the same fervor that thrilled his congregation. The Jews of Tarnogrod said that the Magid of Trisk had given him a blessing, so that his voice would remain young and would never become hoarse.
The night of Kol Nidre is deeply engraved in my memory. The synagogue was packed with worshippers, dressed in white kitls [long robes] with black sashes, their prayer shawls covering their heads, and holding their prayer books and reciting the tefillah zaka [prayer of confession]. Some wept silently, others aloud. From the women's section came a lamentation that broke your heart. Everyone was shoeless, their feet in socks only. The floor was spread with hay, which the children would pile up under the tables and benches and burrow into.
After the tefillah zaka Itsik-Yeshaya and his choir sang Kol Nidre. There were Christians who would come to the synagogue just to hear his wonderful melodies. After prayers were over, many people remained in the synagogue the entire night, not sleeping, chanting various hymns and prayers.
The interior walls of the synagogue were not painted or whitewashed, because the rabbi forbade that, saying that the walls had absorbed so many tears and so many prayers that they should remain bare.
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