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Jewish Biale in Recent Generations
(general overview)

by M.Y. Feigenbaum

Translated by Libby Raichman

1. Until the First World War

We will reconstruct a picture here of a specific period of time, based on witness testimonies and personal memories. It begins after the last Polish revolt against the Russian regime in 1863 and ends in 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War. We will divide this period into three time–sectors, that are connected to the changes that took place in the general political situation, and had an effect on Jewish life in particular. We will deal with the life and destruction of the Jewish population under Nazi rule in a separate chapter.

During the Polish rebellion against the Russian regime in 1863, the Biale Jewish population happily received with honour, the rebel division of Raginski (leader of the division). The Rabbi, under instructions from Raginski and his officers, delivered a fiery prayer in the synagogue and read the manifesto of the national government.

In 1866, approximately 3456 Jews lived In Biale. This constituted 64.9% of the general population. The town found itself under Russian rule, and although the Jews were in the majority in the town, they had no influence on the administration of the town, which was in Christian hands.

Almost until the end of the 19th century the Jews lived as if in a closed–off ghetto, of their own free will. Jewish life was centred around the Rabbi's courtyard, in the small prayer houses of the Chassidim and in other prayer houses. They never came into contact with the outside world.

In 1927 our fellow–citizen, Advocate A. M. Hartglas, writes about this period:

“Forty years ago Biale was a town purely of Chassidim, two to three Litvaks [Lithuanians] and the rest, that means, almost the whole 100% – a backward Chassidic mass, without any modern concepts, or any cultural needs; far, not only from modern culture but also from European culture in general. Their whole world was locked into the Rabbi's courtyard and trading–businesses with the surrounding landowners. They had no feelings of their own personal self–worth in their relationships with the “non–Jews”. And this was the time, when only 40 verst [Russian measure of distance – each verst equal to 2/3 of an English mile] from Biale there was a town with a healthy national, and cultured Jewish community – Brisk D'lita.

The Jewish population of Biale had no interest at all in any general education. There was a government high school – but I was the only local Jew among the students. Jews did not read Polish newspapers – the only Jewish newspaper at the time, the Hebrew “Ha'tsefirah”[“The Dawn”] was forbidden particularly amongst the Chassidim” (“Podlassia Life”, number 6/2 of 11.2.1927, “Times are changing”).

The rigid observance of this Chassidic mass impacted on Jewish life. They fought against the slightest deviation of accepted traditions. When noticing the smallest divergence from the customs of that time, one immediately heard the cry “help! it's burning!”, this was a means of informing that one must “rescue”. And in order to “rescue” they did not stop at the borders of the “ghetto”, they also harnessed the help of the Tsarist regime–

You could hear the “help! it's burning” when a young man was seen with a pair of polished boots; a young man with a cravat; someone carrying something on the Sabbath when the Eruv was in disrepair.

And also someone talking about a parcel that was packed that was “not fit, and flawed” like, for example, Avraham Mapu's book “Love of Zion”.

Resonating from that period, we find correspondence in the Hebrew newspaper “Ha'melitz” “The Advocate” [first Hebrew newspaper in Russia, founded 1860], number 5 of 1884, where we are told:

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“From Biale (district of Shedletz) [Siedlce]Mr Avraham Kushtsitz notified that a few of the young men of the town got together and formed a group – to read books of enlightenment. When the Chasidim heard about this, they gave permission to a few of the masses to attack the enlightened youth. They came to the synagogue and beat the young men heavy blows with their fists and one of them fell ill. When the matter came to the attention of the commissioner of the town, he ordered that the attackers be punished, to heal the sick youth and pay a fine of 100 rouble”.

One cannot say that in those days there were no rebels, although one could count them on your fingers. It is a known fact that on the High Holy days, Israel Mulyer (the father of the brothers Alter, Baruch and Isaiah Vineberg) publicly expressed his disapproval, that the Rabbi allows the people praying in the synagogue, to wait so long for him to arrive. Whoever was familiar with the authority of the Biale Rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Leib, of holy descent, would agree that this was a very daring act.

The matters of the community were dealt with by religious personalities, scholars and respected home and business owners of the town. They would gather at the home of the Rabbi and make decisions on every important matter (according to the beliefs of that time). They also elected the wardens, who were later confirmed by the Russian regime.

The wardens that are remembered from approximately 1890 until the First World War were:

Moshe Bergshtein, Isaiah David (called: a pole), Moshe Vishnitzer (apparently from Vishnitz), Moshe Cohen, David Shachor (called David Reb Isaacs), Chaim Yoshke Kashtnbaum, Chaim Levi Rubinshtein, Kalman Sheinberg, Zalman of holy descent, Advocate Kalman Hartglas and Moshe Lebenberg. Naturally, all these wardens came from the wealthy classes.

The poorer classes in general were afraid to say a bad word about the wardens. And as they did not pay any community taxes, they also had no say. The rich people were also unhappy with the wardens, because they had to pay community taxes and this alone was already grounds for dissatisfaction with the trustees of the town.

The wardens would make a list of the tax payers with the amounts due, and hand over the information to the magistrate who would collect the community taxes in the same way as the municipal taxes.

Of the community money that was collected, the wardens would renovate the synagogue, the house of study, the ritual bathhouse, pay support to the clergy and allocate certain assistance to those suffering and in need. The community taxes also covered the expenses of Biale Jews in hospital, away from home, on the basis of them having a note from the wardens. Later the community also paid the so–called hospital tax, according to the list of the wardens.

The masses never received accounts from the wardens about their activities, and only the government used to receive activity reports.

Until the First World War the community did not even have an office. The wardens dealt with all the matters on the street, or in their own homes. Typical of the activities of the community leaders, is that no records remained of their activities, no document has ever been seen. Even regarding the founding of the community and the liberation of Poland, not the least sign of archival material was found and there was nothing to transfer from the wardens.

Until the First world War the community even had an internal coin, the so–called “prutah”. This small coin was cut out of parchment and on it was stamped “P B G” that stood for: “Prutah Biala G'dola”, “coin of the great Biala”. This coin was distributed by the wardens and three coins were equal in value to one groshen. The prutah served the paupers who used to wander from house to house. The day of the paupers was Tuesday or Thursday. If a pauper from another place came into town, he would buy a certain number of prutot in order to be able to give change from a groshen or from a larger coin. When they left town they would exchange the prutot that remained with them.

There were houses where even a prutah was too large a coin; there they would give such a pauper a piece of sugar, that amounted to a very small part of a groshen.

A few years before the First World War, the parchment prutot disappeared and prutot made of thin brass plate took their place.

Of the societies that existed in those times, the following must be mentioned – the Chevrah Kaddisha, the Food Kitchen, Visiting the Sick, Hostel for the poor. A few years before the outbreak of the First World War, the “Achiezer” was established whose members were active in distributing medicinal necessities to the community.

The Jewish community occupied themselves in direct trade, labour and as middlemen in trade. The standard of living was low and we will illustrate this with a few examples.

Most of the community sustained themselves with bread and potatoes. In most Jewish houses, fish, meat and challot would only be seen on the Sabbath and festivals. If someone took ill then they would arrive at the home of a wealthy man in the town with a little pot and ask for a little gravy. Once, when the price of a loaf of bread rose by half a groshen, the people were called to the synagogue to say psalms.

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Clothes were of very cheap quality. The men wore clothes made mostly of fabric that was as stiff as sheet metal. The women wore calico clothes. The shoes they wore were made of thick cartilage, and more attention was paid to the strength of the shoe than to its beauty. It was a normal sight to see patched clothing and shoes.

The living conditions in those times were also not ideal. You only heard of people living in an alcove, that means, in a small room that often did not have a window; they had a shared kitchen, that all the occupants of the alcoves used. The kitchen was a small room, where there was a built–in oven made of brick and added to it was the kitchen for cooking. However, seldom did one use such a kitchen, which in those days was actually regarded as a luxury. In such a kitchen a metal tripod was set up and under it – a few pieces of wood. A pot was placed on the tripod and this is how they cooked. The alcove furnishings consisted of two wooden beds, a small table, two stools and a trunk on wheels, in which their whole wardrobe and the valuables belonging to the family, could be found. Very often at night this trunk served as a sleeping place.

A so–called “koyke” was affixed to a hook in the ceiling. The “koyke” (an open flat basket in the shape of wide circle, plaited with tree branches) served as a child's crib.

Therefore in those times, the idea of saving was widespread in the community. No one suggested the idea but it was almost self–understood. Even those who earned a little, also managed to save. They saved to have a dowry for a daughter, but mainly in the hope that they would be able to acquire a little piece of land, like buying a quarter of a house. This explains how many tradesmen in the town who, although they led a poor life, were owners of houses, or parts of houses. One might also encounter tradesmen who passed as poor in the town, whose names appeared on mortgage documents of houses, as money–lenders.

The community was not heavily taxed by the town council or the government. The shop and workshop owners would buy up a patent every new–year, from which the authorities would cash in almost all the taxes. That the taxes were minimal, is demonstrated by the fact, that when a Jew did not pay his taxes, the sequestrator Kshimovski would appear purposely on a Friday or on the eve of a Jewish festival, and remove the person's prayer shawl or the brass candlesticks.

Contact between the Jewish and Christian communities took place only in matters of trade or labour. Their mutual regard was cordial and as the Christian saw himself as the leader, in charge of out–of–town areas and the villages, so the Jew saw himself as the leader in the town. On the Sabbath and on Jewish festivals, the stores were all closed and the Christians already knew, that there was no point in coming into town, because there would be nothing for them to buy. When peace in the town was disturbed on occasion, and Jews were being beaten, the Christian perpetrators, who were strangers to the town, would arrive in autumn as recruits to the local regiment. Jews already knew that after the festival of Sukkot they needed to prepare themselves for recruit–unrest and be able to stand up to the hooligans. In later years, when the “Bund” was active in the town, the resistance was organised and the recruits were given a good beating.

Attending events that were organised by Christians, like various artistic evenings, that happened later in liberated Poland. Of that there was no question at all.

The Jewish community hardly came into contact with the local officials, unless in court. Mostly, the leaders of the community dealt with them and they were obligated to pay taxes in favour of the magistrate. These officials were mostly open to bribery and already had their Jews, that helped them in their work. These Jewish intermediaries used to manage to appeal to the officials to repeal a minor decree or buy back a Jewish child from Christian hands, during conscription.

Jews and Christians alike, took no part in political life. On a few occasions there were elections to the Russian parliament, but the elections in the town occurred without any disturbance for the Jewish community.

These were not elections in the modern sense, but delegates were sent from Biale to the Russian provinces. Those who had the right to vote for delegates, were owners of substantial immovable property, who paid taxes etc. Once, the following candidates from the Jewish community were presented for election as delegates to the provinces, Bernard Raabe, Idl Shvartz and Advocate Kalman Hartglas. It also happened once, that at the time of these elections to the Russian parliament, a small skirmish took place on a Jewish street.

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As said earlier, the voluntary ghetto lasted almost until the end of the 19th century, when changes in Jewish life began to be noticeable. A dispute between a sector of the youth and the religious circle began, caused by various factors like: the Jewish High School students, the “Bund” and Zionism.

As the Biale Jewish community did not take advantage of the possibility of sending their children to the local government High School, so Russian Jews took advantage of this opportunity. They were unable to send their children to their own High Schools because of restricted intake percentages, so Jewish children came from Russia, in order to study in the Biale High School.

This High School made contact with the local youth, and under its influence, part of the youth began to secretly study worldly subjects. Gradually they were drawn into a circle actively involved in the study of Russian literature, and the effect that the Russian literature had on the young minds, is not difficult to imagine.

The youth who were bold enough to savour worldly knowledge had to suffer much hardship. They had to endure persecutions, as well as clashes that took place within their families, but this pioneering trend was not lost. With time parents themselves began to give their children worldly education, naturally, according to the ideas of that era.

The Zionist movement, whose dates reflect a belated appearance on Biale soil, only in 1894, also assisted greatly in an attempt to see that the enlightenment–movement should become a natural part of the lives of the younger generation. It is understandable, that in Chassidic circles Zionism was forbidden, and those that sympathised with this cause were severely persecuted. The weak Zionist movement in Biale attracted mostly, young boys that studied in the small Chassidic study–houses, but they did not reach the masses. These young people had to be very careful about their activities, because at the slightest suspicion they could be thrown out of the Chassidic study–house, that in those days meant actual isolation from the social life of that time. Their activities were concentrated mainly in the field of culture.

Enormous credit must go to the “Bund” for organising, activating and revolutionising wide circles of the Jewish community, and mainly the worker's foundation in Biale. They came to the Jewish masses and mainly to the youth with slogans that captured their ideals. Particularly, as all around them they saw so many fellow fighters that inhabited Russian territory –– people who shared the same views. The battle of the Chassidic circles against “Bund” sympathisers was weaker than their battle against the Zionists, because here they were not involved with any of the students of the Chassidic study–houses. Besides their political activities, the “Bund” was also involved in cultural matters and influenced their friends to take it upon themselves to study worldly subjects and primarily, to begin reading serious work. The “Bund” had the courage to speak out against those, who took upon themselves the right to rule the masses. The “Bund” also fought against the underworld, that terrorised the Jewish community mercilessly. Understandably, all the activities of the “Bund” were illegal.

After the suppression of the revolution in 1905, the Tsarist government organised pogroms against Jews. Such a pogrom took place in 1906 in neighbouring Shedletz.[Siedlce] It appears that Biale was also part of the pogrom plan but by chance Biale Jews were saved from a slaughter.

Every year in summer a great event would take place in Biale called “Shvienti Antoni” [a Christian religious festival called “Antoni”]. From all directions thousands of Christians would come into the town. On this day, it appears, the Tsarist government wanted to use the opportunity to settle scores with the Biale Jews.

In Biale at that time, the chief of police was a Russian, named Koreniov, who would enjoy spending time in certain Jewish homes. This Koreniov let a word slip out in a Jewish shop about the impending actions during the event of “Shvienti Antoni”. News reached Yehoshua Fisher who decided to undertake to employ whatever means possible in order to avoid a pogrom against Jews.

Yehoshua was very close to the circle of the PP”S (Polish Socialist Party) who hardly did anything without his support. He worked together in the conspiracies of PP”S and he was their reporter to the higher courts of judgement. Using his status in this party, Yehoshua Fisher gathered together the leaders of the PP”S and notified them of the news of the impending pogrom. He informed the Poles, that this deals with a provocation that will be implemented by the Tsarist government using the Polish population. He explained that it was in the interest of the party not to allow the Tsarist government to use the help of the Polish population to carry out their political plans.

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The party leaders agreed with Y. Fisher and decided that they would actively resist any anti–Jewish public offensive.

On the day of the event the PP”S deployed its people to all roads leading into the town. Every wagon was searched and anything that could be used as a beating instrument was confiscated, with a promise to return these, on their way home. They also warned the travelling Christians that they should guard against any public action against Jews, because, in retaliation, revenge would be taken and they would burn their cottages and leave them in ruins.

It appears that this worked and the authorities did not manage to provoke the incoming Christian mass, to a public offensive against the Jews. The day passed without incident. On that day however, the Jewish community were not too visible.

No matter how peacefully and monotonously that the lives of the Jews in Biale flowed until the First World War, from time to time their lives were overturned by some kind of occurrence that shook up the community. There was no shortage of disputes amongst the Chassidism in particular. In Biale, there was a known battle against the Chassidim from Radzin for wearing a blue cord in the tassels of their prayer shawls. The Rabbi of Radzin, Rabbi Reb Gershon Hinech, the discoverer of the purple dye, while on a visit to Biale, had to leave the town in a hurry because of a denouncement from the opposing Chassidim.

We will mention here a few events that occurred before the First World War that became ingrained in the memories of the Jewish inhabitants.

In 1892 Cholera raged in Congress–Poland and did not bypass Biale. The Jews who were affected by this shocking illness, were taken to the Jewish school (a Jewish hospital did not yet exist). Medicinal assistance consisted of: 1. rubbing alcohol into the hands and feet 2. placing a piece of blotting paper on the stomach, with a hole cut out for the navel, that remained exposed 3. The paper was soaked in alcohol and thrown on to the person. .

Those who worked with the sick were volunteers from the Jewish community (amongst the rubbers – who used to rub alcohol into the bodies of the sick – were: Mendl Shtritz (nickname), Yossl Gottfried (nickname – Vetshik) and Avigdor Richter from Lomaz). The alcohol and the paper were stored in the women's prayer house under the supervision of Itshe Meir Zishes (Cohen) who truly sacrificed his own life for the sick. The epidemic did not spare the Christian population (children were not affected by the illness). The government arranged to lime–wash the gutters. In the Biale Rabbi's courtyard they forbade all the Chassidim who were from other locations, to come to the Rabbi for the High Holy Days.

The Cholera, that began on the eve of the festivals, lasted for two months in the town, and destroyed many lives.

In the Jewish community, there was the belief that the Cholera was a punishment for Jewish sin. People were afraid to walk in the gutters, because the demons were there– As in many other towns during the epidemic, the community arranged for a couple to marry at the cemetery. The bride was the town's mad woman the “cold Dashe“.

In the chapter “Biale” we told of the liquidation of the market place in what is now called Volnoshtshi Place and transferring it to the new market. The liquidation of the market place in the centre of the town, did not happen so smoothly, and not without a battle on the part of the Jewish community. With regard to this battle the following would be told:

In the town there was a woman Esther Perele, well–known for her glib tongue. Even in recent years a woman with a sharp tongue was called “Esther Perele”.

In approximately 1902/3, Tsar Nikolai passed through Biale on his way to Leshne and Yaneve. When the coach with the tsarist couple appeared in the market place, Esther Perele tore away from the crowd, stepped down on to the pavement, planted herself in the path of the approaching coach and signalling with her hands, she forced the coach–driver to stop the coach. Esther Perele quickly approached the coach and handed a sheet of paper to the Tsar and returned to stand amongst the crowd. This all happened in the blink of an eye so that the police did not even manage to react. The sheet of paper that Esther Perele handed to the Tsar was a request to him that he should issue a command that the stalls and booths should not be removed from the market place. On his return journey, the Tsar actually stopped the decree.

In the town they used to tell about the funeral of a rich local woman that took place in approximately 1904. They demanded a large sum of money from her husband and children in order to build a Jewish hospital in Biale. The funeral only took place on the second day after the sum of 6000 rouble was paid.

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In the year 5666 (1905/6) there was a sudden attack on Jewish traders who were on their way to a fair in Lomaz. A group of robbers held up the caravan of wagons, when they passed by the Lomaz forest and began to shoot, forcing the travellers to stop. The robbers went from wagon to wagon and robbed the traders of their money. During the shooting two Jewish horse–traders from Mord [Mordy](a village in the direction of Shedletz [Siedlce]) were killed.

The incident shook the whole town. Various versions circulated about the robber–murderers who were masked during the attack.

The next afternoon the funerals of the two murdered Jews took place. All the stores in the town were closed and the whole community took part in the funeral. The victims were taken in a normal wagon (because according to the law they had not been purified, but were to be buried as they were found after the murder). In the space in front of the cemetery the funeral procession stopped and the Rabbi Reb Shmuel Leib, of holy descent, announced a ban on the murderers and then the Shofar [ram's horn] was blown beside the bodies of the victims.

At the same time a rumour spread amongst the crowd that one of the murderers was a Jew by the name of Siroki, a well–known thief, who came to Biale “to take a star role as an actor” and is happily lodging in the house of Kravtsov (a Russian Jew) that was situated at the new market place, at the end of Grabanovve street.

When the news reached Reb Aharon Landau, he called out: –– Jews! “in every place that you find a guard against immorality, you find holiness” (Rashi section on holiness). As we are now standing before the holy victims, now is the time to fulfil the precept “and you will remove the evil from your midst”, to “guard against immorality” and perhaps the merits of these holy ones will stand by in the demolition of the house that is a stigma for our town. Let us all go there to find the murderer and destroy the nest of all this evil.

The crowd ran to Kravtsov's house. As they approached the house, a mood of a pogrom arose immediately. Reb Aharon Landau was actually the first one to knock out the window panes and begin to storm the doors. All the entrances and exits were guarded. They began to carry out various valuable possessions. Suddenly there were screams that this Siroki was found under the bedlinen. When he was already half dead from the beatings he received, they took him to the cemetery. After the murderous blows that were inflicted, he confessed to taking part in the murder.

Reb Aharon Landau however did not want to give in and withdraw from the house, so with holy fervour he shouted: “Jews, do not leave until this house is utterly destroyed!”. From every window in the house various pieces of furniture began to fly, pianos, mirrors and bed–linen. They were ordered, for the sake of God, not to take anything, and that everything should be destroyed on the spot. In a matter of a few minutes, the place was filled with feathers and torn bed–linen, with pieces of broken furniture and with torn clothes.

A patrol of soldiers approached led by Koreniov, the chief of police. At the time extraordinary conditions ruled in the land. The patrol released a volley of rifle shots into the air, but Reb Aharon Landau did not move from his place until he finished his work of destruction. Assisting him fervently were: Moshe Adlershtein and Yeshayahu Agress. Reb Aharon was arrested for inciting a pogrom and for resisting the authorities. The next morning, after Reb Shmuel Pizshitz paid the authorities the appropriate bail, Reb Aharon was released.

A charge of criminal action of a very serious nature was brought against Reb Aharon Landau and a few others who were complicit in the attack on the house. Reb Aharon Landau was exposed as the main culprit. In this way Kravtsov hoped to receive money for the damage that he suffered. After a long investigation, the proceedings took place over three days in the circle–court, which at that time was housed in the home of Urmacher, on Mezritsh street.

The defence consisted of four advocates, under the leadership of the well–known advocate Henrik Ettinger from Warsaw. Among the other advocates was the young advocate, a fellow–citizen, Apolinari Hartglas, who at that time began his advocate practice in Shedletz [Sieldce] with Advocate Zunderland.

The form of Advocate Hartglas's defence was characteristic. At the time when the other advocates were occupied with the legal side of the accusations, Hartglas described a Jewish upbringing that began with elementary school. He brought out the aversion that every Jewish child absorbs from his earliest childhood against murder and prostitution, presenting to the three Russian judges a picture of the prevailing Jewish world.

The result was that all the accused were released.

On a summer evening in 1907 or 1908, three Russian policemen were shot near “Shpringer's” (a nickname) house. One of them died on the spot.

At that time people said that this occurrence

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almost caused a pogrom against the Jewish community, because the shooting took place in a purely Jewish area. They were protected from a pogrom by the captain of the Kaluzshesk regiment who was on duty at the time.

The men of the Tsharni family (nickname “Stoppes”) were arrested as suspects in carrying out the attempted assassination of the policemen. According to a rumour that circulated in the town, the “Stoppes” were arrested on the grounds of anonymous information that was passed on to the authorities.

After a series of trials that stretched over years, Urtshe Motl and Shlayme and his son Ya'akov, were given life sentences of hard labour in Siberia, where they were in fact sent. Hershl and Binyomin were allowed to go free.

Urtshe Motl died while in exile in Siberia. Shlayme and his son Ya'akov returned to Biale after the Bolshevik Revolution.

On a second occasion when a policeman was shot on the Volye, again a young Jewish boy paid with his life.

The boy, an orphan, worked for a shoemaker on the Volye. At the time of the arrest, after the shooting of the policeman, the boy fell into the hands of the Gendarmerie.

They began to parade those who were arrested before the dying policeman who was lying in the hospital run by the nuns. As the orphan was from the Volye, he was the first to be brought before the dying policeman who was asked if he recognised him. The policeman nodded and with that it ended.

On these grounds, the boy was sentenced to ten years in jail. After a short period of languishing in the Warsaw Citadel, the innocent boy exhaled his last breath there.

In Biale, in the last 70 – 80 years, only two Biale Jews were known to have served in the Tsarist army for the entire 25 years. They were: Hodessl Chantshes husband and Ziskind. The latter worked at the trains as a porter; he received this work as a privilege.

This is what Advocate Apolinari Hartglas writes about the Jewish porters at the trains in his unpublished memoirs:

“The porters at the trains were, without exception, all Jews. Still today I remember one of them, the old Aharon, with the long white beard, dressed in uniform with his blue shirt and official hat, with the big brass number on his chest. The Jewish porters who worked for the Polish administration for approximately 20 years, were removed without mercy. In their place came a band of porters from Russia”.

During this period, that we mention here, there were about four cases of conversion, and those mainly by women.

Particularly dramatic was the case of one called Raizele, who was very pretty and who fell in love with a Russian Colonel. The officer and his group of soldiers besieged the house on Yaneve Street where Raizele lived, and Raizele left with him.

Raizele's parents left for America in shame. According to what was later heard, Raizele and her children returned to her mother, in America.

In the monotonous life of the Biale Jewish community, the day of celebration in 1911 when the Jewish hospital was opened, must be mentioned in particular. It was no minor effort for such a community to build such a hospital that was splendid for those times. For the opening the governor and his retinue came down specially from Shedletz[Siedlce].

In ending this article about perceptions of events in the period before the First World War, it is worth mentioning a case of blood–libel against the Jews of Biale, that took place far from Biale and about which the Biale Jews never had any idea.

In 1881, a Brisk resident Reb Chaim Cohen received information from his employee in his petroleum store in Vienna that in the Austrian anti–semitic newspaper “Faterland” [“Fatherland”], one called Pinchas Meir published a notice, in which he tells that after Purim and before Passover in 1881, he witnessed a Biale Ashkenazi Jew, a Rabbi in Biale, near Brisk, kill a Christian boy and use his blood for making matzah.

This information also reached the Warsaw community which then delegated Y.L. Peretz to go to Brisk and find out details about this matter.

A few Brisk communal workers became interested in the matter and after certain investigations they succeeded in discovering this information:

The writer of the notice originated from Terespol and was a nephew of the Biale rabbi (apparently they meant Rabbi Reb Shmuel Leib, of holy descent – M.Y. Feigenbaum). This Pinchas Meir studied in the Biale house of study for some time and did not conduct himself appropriately. Being

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a relative of the Rabbi, they did not remove him from the house of study. One Sabbath night he hanged himself on a light fitting in the house of study and the beadle noticed it and rescued him from the hanging. After this incident he was driven away from the house of study and he left Biale.

The communal workers learned that from 10th March to 10th September 1881, Pinchas Meir was arrested and jailed in the Brisk jail. They succeeded in extracting an official confirmation of his arrest in this period, relating to his false accusation.

The confirmation was sent to Dr. Bloch, the editor of the “Estreichisher Vochenshrift” [Austrian Weekly”] who took action against the slanderer. The tribunal sentenced Pinchas Meir to six years in a fortress. (“Blood–libel by Ben Tzion Nymark, “Brisk–D'Lita” – Encyclopaedia of the Diasporas).

Until 1905 emigration had hardly been heard of in Biale. There were a few cases of emigration in Biale after the pogroms in Russia in 1881, when the emigration of Russian Jews dragged a few Biale residents with them. There were also a few cases of emigration due to military service.

It was only after 1905, after the strangling of the revolution by the Tsarist government that there was a large emigration from Biale to America and a small percentage –– to England. The emigration was not for economic reasons. People left the old home due to the failure of the revolution, on which the workers placed great hope, and the failure brought with it a state of depression. The atmosphere became stifling for these people and some of them , who were active revolutionaries, had to escape in any case, from the Tsarist guard. This was an emigration almost entirely of workers and reached a number as high as 400 people.

In 1897 the Jewish population of Biale, that already in reached 6382 souls, little more than 55% of the general population, thought little of emigration. Those that emigrated did not bring their families great honour, and the last ones, did not even confess that they had family in America. It was assumed that in America people worked on the Sabbath and became like non–Jews, and who wants a non–Jew in the family? – Many of the emigrants left mostly in secret and did not say goodbye to anyone. An expression went around the town: “went out to close the shutters and left for America”.

But the outbreak of the First world War interrupted this small emigration stream.

 

2. The First World War

Although the front lines were far from Biale at the time of the outbreak of war in 1914, the mood of war was strongly felt in the town. Firstly the Jews were mobilised into the army and in some families the only bread–winner was enlisted. The constant military transports, that passed through the town, cast a fear over the population and a concern for tomorrow. Despite this there was an upturn in the economic situation due to the greater presence of a military garrison in the town.

Six months after the war began, it became clear to the Biale population that the Russians would evacuate the town. Some Biale residents considered leaving the town and going to Russia. With this aim in mind they sent part of their household possessions to Russia and with the approach of the German army to Biale, these Jews left for Russia.

Amongst the Biale Jews that evacuated to Russia were some, who had business connections with the Russian army and they went to Russia to continue their trading. It is however, difficult to understand what motivated simple Jews to leave the town and to migrate. The Russian regime was hated by the Jews because of its persecutions, so why would they want to go there? Did they then, at that time, have grounds to fear the approaching German army? Perhaps their fleeing was connected to the thought of being as far as possible, away from the front–line.

The oppression that the Jews of Congress–Poland endured at the hands of the Russians during the war and when they were evacuating from the territory, was known. Fortunately Biale Jewry did not know about these problems. When the Russian army left at the end of summer 1915, there were only a few incidents of robbery that could be attributed to it.

There was a short round of night–time, artillery–fire on the town by the German army, that did not cause any damage. In the morning we could already see the town in German hands. They moved around with such confidence and wherever they went it seemed as if they had already been in charge, for a long time.

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The Jews did not find it difficult to understand them because of the similarity of German to the Yiddish language.

The German occupation brought complete upheaval to the way of life of the Biale Jewish population.

The Biale district was declared a war–zone and was hermetically sealed from the surrounding areas. All economic matters in which Biale was involved, were interrupted. People began to feel what war meant and how German occupation could affect them.

The German regime conducted requisitions of all merchandise, and after a short time the town was emptied of all its stock–reserves. People began to experience the shortage of new articles. A strict rationing of food items was introduced. The German regime did not care at all about the allocation of clothes and footwear. Guard posts were erected on the highways to guard that no food items be brought from the villages into the town. Contingent deliveries were imposed on all agricultural products. For not delivering the assigned contingent at the proper time, the agricultural suppliers were severely punished and often even chased off their land. The German regime used to conduct precise inventories of everything that the agriculturalists owned and produced. They implemented systems of control, like putting numbered rings on the ears of pigs, receiving information about how many eggs a hen lays etc.

The products that the people received were rationed and they were issued with ration cards by the magistrate. And as they wanted to receive as many cards as possible, the Jews found a solution: they registered a single birth as a twin, and did not inform the authorities in cases of death– .

The main foods were black bread and potatoes but even these were restricted. In many houses they did not even possess the amount required to buy the most meagre ration. In every house people baked their own bread with flour that they received, and in order to increase the amount of bread to be baked, they would kneed grated potato into the dough.

And when trade diminished, the merchants had nothing to do. The once important merchants and a large portion of the middle class became impoverished, even selling everything in their homes to maintain their existence. The Jewish tradesmen were also hard hit. The work of the tailors and shoemakers consisted of renovating old clothes and patching footwear. The building tradesmen and labourers went to work for the German authorities for a pittance.

In such an abnormal situation, people in the town were suffering from hunger yet in the nearby village there were was the possibility of buying food, that was impossible to bring into the town. As a result there developed a smuggling of food products from the village to the town. Although the Germans guarded the streets the smugglers still managed, by various means to smuggle in some products. More than once the smugglers fell into the hands of the Germans and paid dearly for the risks they took to avoid complying with the decree of the occupiers.

In many work places, Jewish workers worked together with Russian prisoners of war, who would steal various articles from the warehouses and sell them to the Jews. Later when the Jews developed closer associations with the German soldiers, the latter would also bring a variety of items to sell in Jewish houses.

As a result of the malnutrition in the Jewish community, the typhus epidemic was a frequent guest in Jewish homes.

As soon as the German authorities became aware of a case of typhus, they would take the affected person to the hospital for infectious diseases, on the Warsaw Highway (later – the place of the 34th regiment). The German army took possession of the Jewish hospital. The house of the infected person was thoroughly disinfected and no member of the family was allowed to come close to the invalid. Word went around the town that patients in the hospital were poisoned. Understandably, this did not occur in reality; it can be assumed however, that proper care was not taken of the sick. Because of these rumours people were reluctant to report cases of typhus to the authorities, and taking an invalid to the hospital was truly a tragedy for the family.

The German authorities were not much concerned about supplying food and clothing for the people. However, they had in mind to employ the population in forced labour. Using various strategies they deceived the people about work, promising a variety of opportunities. Finding themselves in difficult economic circumstances, many Jews allowed themselves to be taken in by these promises and put themselves in the hands of the German authorities. These people were sent to different places where they were employed in very hard labour without reward. The Jews returned from this forced labour, broken and sick.

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In order to have control over the male population, to determine whether every man was actually employed, there would be a compulsory gathering for all the men in the courtyard of the Gerrer Chassidim house of study every Sunday and there they checked each one's documents and certificates.

Entire lives were governed by iron constraints, that did not really allow the people to breathe freely. In the same way, throughout the period of German occupation they were bound by a curfew. During the summer they would hear the trumpet–call of the Commander some time before sunset, that announced that they needed to lock themselves in their homes. They always had to carry with them a parcel of documents, so–called certificates like: “permit certificate”, “discharge papers”, “work papers”, “personal documents” etc. in order to be able to legitimise themselves with all these papers.

The houses were inspected endlessly. They searched constantly for illegal goods. And what was indeed legal in the eye of the occupier? Two German military figures were particularly zealous in these searches: the “little beard” (so–called by the Jews because of the pointed little beard that he sported) and the “white breeches” also a nickname given by the Jews because of the white trousers that he always wore). The appearance of the “little beard” in the street cast a fear over the Jewish community. With time however, the Jews found a solution to the searches by organising good hiding places and concealing everything that might appeal to the “little beard”.

The German authorities emptied the town of almost every bit of copper and brass. Anything that had any connection to these metals had to be handed in to the authorities. Even brass latches were removed from the doors. They also dragged out heavy brass chandeliers from the synagogue and house of study.

Besides the taxes that the community had to pay the magistrate, the ruling powers added a separate tax, the so–called “head tax”.

It is remarkable that the community was not in a state of depression. The economy was in ruin and the Jewish masses were impoverished, yet, despite this, in these same years there was an upturn in the town in cultural, political and social aspects.

We know of similar cases in this period in other towns too, but when the specific conditions in Biale are taken into account, where the religious forces ruled with an iron hand, the phenomenon was indeed a wonder.

The collective social energy that poured out from the youth and the adults did not waver throughout this time and was now released with great impetus and scope. One can boldly say, that in the realm of cultural–achievement, this was the most beautiful period in the lives of Biale Jews.

How did it happen that all the disturbances by the powerful members of the community [Chassidim] suddenly disappeared? How did the alarm “help! it's burning!” disappear?

A number of religious Jews who were most prominent in their battle with those who sought freedom, migrated to Russia. Those who remained in the town became economically impoverished and therefore lost their enthusiasm for the battle. The ground for the social and cultural work mentioned previously, had already been stimulated earlier by the activities of the Zionists and Bundists. All this forced the remaining religious fighters to stay on the defensive.

A few refugees, mainly from Brisk–D'Lita who turned up in Biale during the war, made a significant contribution to invigorating cultural life.

Under the energetic leadership of their chairman Moshe Rubinshtein who was the most popular personality in the town, the Zionists displayed outstanding zeal. Overnight the Zionists grew into an organisation with a large membership, and with a well–functioning operation. They established institutions that were the pride of the town and influenced large sections of the youth for their entire lives.

The crown of all the institutions in the town, was without doubt, the Hebrew “Yavneh”–school that was founded by the Zionists.

It is difficult to describe today, the revolutionary steps that were taken in those times, to establish a Hebrew school that in our times would be a normal occurrence. Whoever remembers Jewish life in Biale before the First World War, would understand the daring of such an act.

In founding a school of this nature, one did not have to solve the problems of staffing and curriculum only, but at a time when they were cut off from the world, they still had to worry about a budget. The main concern however was, where would they find students. Would the Biale parents suddenly discontinue sending their children to the Cheder [religious elementary school] and send them to a school? The word “school” itself smells of non–Jewishness. And when we read the chapter about the Children's –Home, we see what kind of measures

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we had to take then to solve the problem of students for the school.

How much festivity the school brought into difficult Jewish lives! What a superb youth the school raised! Even opponents of the Zionist party had to admit that the establishment of the “Yavneh”–School was a beautiful page in the activity of this party, in the town.

“Bet–Am” was a popular venue in the town that was initially used for gatherings where political meetings and discussion–evenings took place and was later changed to the seat of the local Zionist party. The building housed a library and held rehearsals of the dramatic circle and the choir, and presented performances of the Zionist organisation. Readings and debates took place there. In the same place Maccabi held gymnastic events and later the wind–orchestra practised there.

An entirely new phenomenon on the Jewish street was Maccabi, that was established by the Zionist organisation. For the first time Biale residents witnessed Jewish youth devoting themselves to cultivating their physical strength and this was also something new for the Christian population. At the end of the war Maccabi managed to purchase a complete set of wind–instruments from the Germans and the Maccabi orchestra came into existence. In those times, it was the only civilian orchestra in the town.

It must be mentioned that a few Jewish military personnel, that were followers of the Zionist organisation in Germany, came to assist Biale Zionists with advice and practical aid.

From this Zionist organisation, the “Mizrachi” came about in Biale, established by a few religious Zionists who could not tolerate the free atmosphere that prevailed in “Bet–Am”.

The “Bund” concentrated on cultural activities like: organising a library, a dramatic circle, and various social and discussion evenings that were held in their premises.

The political activism of the “Bund” was established before the war to counter Russian oppression . Understandably, in the course of time their activities were minimised as there was no actual struggle against Russian oppression. The “Bund's” activity in the realm of organising the workers' union in its battle with employers, was limited because there were almost no private employers; there was one employer – the German.

In the area of social activity, two very important institutions were established: the Children's Home and the Folk–Kitchen.

The Children's Home that was established by the Zionist organisation, played an enormously important role during the war. And once again it must be said that the Children's Home was a jewel in the town. There was never a social institution established in the town that did such wonderful work.

The Folk–Kitchen was located on Brisk Street next to the church. Here they cooked midday meals and distributed them to the poorer members of the Jewish community. The Kitchen benefited from the support of the German authorities, thanks to the assistance of the Field–Rabbi (non–orthodox) at the time, Dr.Tentser. The Kitchen was managed by representatives of every existing party in the town.

 

bia135.jpg
Hebrew: Program of support for the Folk–Kitchen for Passover
Yiddish: Passover aid campaign for the Folk–Kitchen (1918)
In the middle of the star: Support your poor brothers
Top point: Flour for Passover
Bottom point: Matzah baking
Out of the star – top: Campaign to provide aid for Passover 1918
Out of the star –bottom: By the Jewish FolK–Kitchen Biale

 

The Kitchen was not just an institution where they distributed hundreds of midday meals daily but also a place where many of the youth gathered to enjoy cultural activities. Reading and discussion groups took place there. A dramatic circle was also organised there, that presented performances for the benefit of the Folk–Kitchen. The selling of flowers was also organised, as well as the sale of money–orders for the benefit of the Kitchen.

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Many times it seemed that the German occupation would never end but after three years of keeping the Biale community in restrictive circumstances, the mighty German war–machine collapsed and it was evident that the end of German rule was near. Who would be the next ruler, was not yet clear. One felt however that the approach of a public–spring, a period of freedom for every citizen, that would not differentiate between nationality or religion, was imminent.

The first sign that the Germans were leaving the town, was the sale of the contents of their stores to the civilian population. The period of transition between the time that the Germans left the town and the arrival of a new power, lasted a few months. At the time when the German administration ceased to function, a few people from the Jewish underworld used the opportunity to rob Jews. These members of the underworld would dress themselves in German clothing and in the evenings they would attack Jewish houses and steal money and jewellery.

The Jewish community organised a militia, that obtained a few revolvers from the German authorities. The militia would wander the streets at night, to guard the Jewish houses from attack. On one of these evenings, they came across two underworld figures from the gang and began to persecute them. After a short chase, both were shot by the militia in a courtyard on Yatke Street.

On a November day in 1918, the last German soldier left Biale and a Polish military mounted unit, entered the town.

 

3. Under the Polish Government

Already the first days of the new reign were signed with Jewish blood. Polish soldiers went into the home of Moshe Richter in the Volye looking for arms and during the inspection they beat the Richters murderously and a few days later, he died. Very often the soldiers would grab Jews for various work, during which the Jews endured all sorts of torture. Gradually the situation began to normalise. Proper officials took lodgings in the town, and the population, including the Jews, began to rebuild everything that was disturbed and interrupted during the war.

The Jewish population was terribly impoverished and exhausted. Here the American “Joint” came to their aid, and sent large quantities of food and clothing to Biale. A committee of representatives of all parties was established and engaged in distributing items to the needy people. A kitchen for children was organised where lunches were sent home for the poor residents.

Allowing the existence of political parties, made it possible for Jewish parties in Biale to implement their activities amongst the masses. On their agenda were various parties like: “Bund” and “Poalei Tzion” [workers for Zion] and now an additional party “Agudah” [Association] the party of the orthodox Jews, that although it only recently took its first steps on the political arena, already had behind it, the largest section of the older generation. In that time there was also a cluster of nationalists.

The main competition took place between the “Bund” and the Zionists. The “Bund”, whose followers were mostly workers, excelled particularly in stirring up fervour and very often would break into Zionist meetings and try to disrupt them. At times, this led to violent scuffles.

In 1918 the Zionists in Biale took action to send delegates to Warsaw for the co–ordinating–conference of their national council.

The elections to the constitution–committee stirred up Jewish spirit in the town. This event brought prominent party–leaders to participate in the mass–gathering. In Biale voting circles, the Zionists scored a victory by electing as a deputy, fellow–townsman Advocate Polinari Maximillian Hartglas.

In 1919, for the first time, voting took place in the town for election to the town council, in which the Jewish population also participated. In these elections the “Bund” scored a victory and from the 15 elected Jewish councillors, six were on the “Bund's” list.

After the world war, when life had just begun to return to normal, it was interrupted because of the war between Poland and Soviet Russia. As long as the war–operations were taking place on Russian soil, or far east of Biale, there were fairly weak repercussions in the town; but with the breakdown of

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the Polish offensive and the retreat of the Polish army, the town began to tremble for fear of war. The military forces that were sent to the front lines and passed through the town, made their presence strongly felt by the Jewish community with their hooliganism. The soldiers of General Haller's army (“hallertshikkes”) and from the Poizner side (“Poznantshikkes”) were excessive in their murderous beating of Jews, cutting beards and robbing shops and houses. The Jewish community lived in fear and there was no one to intervene. The whole Jewish community was regarded as Bolsheviks and in any case, they were allowed to treat them as their heart's desired– .

In the summer of 1920 the fighting front came closer to Biale. The Polish defence lines were constantly breaking down. A few months before the Polish army left the town, a grabbing of Jews began. They were sent east to dig trenches. For this work they grabbed Jews exclusively; Christians did not participate at all in the digging of trenches.

Close to the Polish army's evacuation of the town, prominent Bundists were arrested and they were sent away to the Dombye internment Camp.

At the beginning of August 1920 the town was occupied by the Red Army. Before the new regime managed to take its first step, it had to leave again in a hurry because the Bolshevik offensive failed at the Vistula. The Poles began to persecute the retreating Red Army, at a rapid pace.

Panic broke out in the town with the news that the Bolsheviks were leaving town. This frame of mind was not due to sympathy with the new regime, that barely lasted eight days, but simply out of fear for the approaching Polish army. With the Bolshevik regime in the town, Jews and Christians worked together, although the Christians occupied more leading roles, and the Jews – more secondary positions. Yet the Poles saw this Jewish collaboration as a hostile act towards Poland whereas they saw the collaboration of the Christians, as their own understanding of doing good for the Fatherland.

A number of Jewish men ran eastwards together with the Red Army for fear of revenge on the Jewish community, by the Poles. But as the retreat of the Russian Army was sudden and turned into a panic–run, the civilian population who ran with them were an encumbrance, so the army compelled them not to allow the civilians to run with them. Most of the Biale runners remained stuck on the way, and after a few weeks almost all of them dragged themselves back to Biale. A few managed to reach Russia itself (amongst them was Shayme Sheinberg, who, with time, became an eminent military personality).

As much as the retreat of the Polish army during the breakdown of the Polish offensive in Russia, was marked with Jewish blood, suffering and pain, the advance now meant more brutality for the Jewish population. The Polish army murdered and beat Jews under the pretext that they were Bolsheviks. Robberies were a normal phenomenon and the people from the villages would come into the town every day with sacks, in order to take home the spoils, that were stolen from Jews with the help of the soldiers.

We will present here a translation of the interpretation of our fellow–townsman, Advocate A.M. Hartglas, a parliamentary representative, that he took to the Polish government in those days. The document gives a detailed picture of our town in those days in 1920.

“Even before the invasion, people, both Jews and Christians, were taken into forced labour. The latter however, were freed immediately. The Jews were beaten over their heads with rifle butts and they were robbed of their money. This was done mostly by the Poznantshikkes [people from Poznan]. One could only walk about until 10 in the evening but people worked until later than that. Before escorting a Jew to his home they extorted 100 – 500 marks per head. Accusations and intervention by local leaders did not help, because the officer in charge of the mobile–unit who was responsible for this work, was not interested. Violence and more severe robberies did not take place; only the Poznantshikkes were plundering. On the last day, the Poznantshikkes shot Jews in the streets, broke into Jewish homes and stole and in doing so, they wounded a Jewish woman. Before leaving the town the Polish military, on the grounds of a judicial order, shot four spies, amongst them – a Jew. A few days before the Bolsheviks came in, a slaughter took place beyond Grabanov (a village near Biale – M.Y. Feigenbaum). During this slaughter, Biale Jews earned praise from the local headquarters for their diligence in providing help for the wounded and cooked food for the fighting soldiers.

The Bolsheviks that had entered greeted a member

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of the citizen militia, a Pole (who fled together with the Bolsheviks). In the beginning the Jewish population kept a distance. They drew nearer only after the meeting at the market place. The Bolsheviks were respectably restrained and they committed only one robbery in the house of Mrs. Hartglas. The reason for this was that they found implements belonging to her son, a soldier in the Polish army. The local Christian Communists remained in order. The Jewish Communists who betrayed the opponents of the Bolshevism were worse. In the concerts that were organised by the Bolsheviks, the number of Jewish youth participating outweighed the number of other participants (Biale Jews made up 75% of the population).

The ”Revkom” (revolutionary committee – M.Y.Feigenbaum) consisted of a soldier – a Russian, Yulyev, a Pole and a Jew (both – local). Candidates for Revkom membership were Jews. At the head of the division there were also non–Communists from among the residents of the town. The Agricultural division was taken over by a local Pole, Provisions –– a Christian, a Communist (who ran away with the Bolsheviks), Education –– a Christian, a Communist (fled), Health – a local Jew. The militia consisted mainly of the unemployed, and was made up mostly of Jews. The head of the militia was a non–Communist. Mainly Christians took up official placements in Communist positions, who were not necessarily Communists. Jews were mostly in the police force and secretaries in offices. They were not Communists in the main but were afraid of the consequences – so they fled (with the Bolsheviks – M.Y.Feigenbaum).

The Zionist, Rubinshtein, did not care about the repeated threats and refused to accept a position with the Bolsheviks, not even as an overseer of the Jewish school system.

When the Polish soldiers re–entered, they immediately shot two Jews who happened to be passing by in the suburb of Volye and robbed them. Later, without any motive, they arrested Fisher the Zionist, and the councillor and warden Lebenberg, and one, a contractor, (of whom they first enquired if he was a Jew) and then stood them up against the wall with the intention of shooting them. Thanks to the fact that a few local Christians intervened on their behalf – they were freed.

The local residents were not happy with the fisherman Akiva (Kivve) Kamyen, who at the command of the magistrate, guarded the ponds of Chrabye Vielopolski and did not allow them to catch fish there. They pointed him out to the soldiers who wanted to shoot Kamyen. The intervention of the Christian community saved him. Six more Jews were murdered that were encountered behind the town. The Bolsheviks took Eliezer Wasserman to work with his horse–and–cart. On his return, with a Polish identity document, the soldiers stopped him on the road between Yaneve and Biale, confiscated his horse–and–cart, removed his clothes, tore the identity card and forced him into a pit, intending to shoot him. One soldier however, took pity on him and they let him go. Six viorst from Biale he met other soldiers who beat him mercilessly, forced him into the river and ordered him to lie on the river bed. An officer ran up, reprimanded the soldiers and rescued him.

The robberies lasted almost without interruption and on a grand scale, although without excessive cruelty. Jews locked their stores. The robberies appeared to be normal acts of vandalism. Like: the items and books that were stolen from Rozenshine were piled up in a heap and set alight. The local Christian community and those from surrounding areas spoke to the soldiers, the thieves, and suddenly appeared with sacks in order to take the spoils. A few Jews on military duty and deserters fled Biale with the Bolsheviks. The town administration decided on a vote of confidence applicable to all those who worked with the Bolsheviks. They recognised that this was unavoidable, in order not to give the Bolsheviks the opportunity to introduce their decrees exclusively, and broaden their power. Until now, there have been no records of persecutions against those who worked with the Bolshevik forces who were almost exclusively, pure Poles. The boycott–agitation continued on its way. The citizens took a kind of decision, that was being considered by the magistrate, that refused to pay salaries to Jewish officials, and would not share with them, the flour that was left by the Bolsheviks and that was divided amongst all the officials.

Only Jews were grabbed from the streets for labour, regardless of age. Soldiers attacked Jews in the streets and beat them. They also went through the houses confiscating belongings. When they entered they asked who the occupants were: a Jew or a Christian. If a Jew, they confiscated and if a Christian – they left. Mainly those of Yavorske's voluntary cavalry, indulged in this activity.

The local management only came into existence in the afternoon of the 26th August. The leader at the time, Porutshnik Zalevski, gave the impression of being a man of good will, decidedly against any kind of cruelty or victimisation of Jews. One could therefore expect an improvement in relationships. I went to him

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bringing a victim. He immediately took up the matter keenly and warmly.

He immediately sent out patrols. Regarding forced–labour, he turned to the Polish police with a request that it should communicate with the magistrate about providing him directly with the necessary number of workers. His senior, Captain Stokolski and others believed that one of the reasons for the victimisation, is the closing of the stores. I explained that the stores were closed because of the earlier arrests by the Polish soldiers”.

A few weeks after the victory of the Polish army at Warsaw, the then head of state, Jozef Pilsudski, travelled through Biale. Information was given that his train carriage would stop at the Biale train station, and that he would receive delegations. He asked the members of the Jewish delegation who presented themselves to him, about the fate of the Jewish population during the war. The delegation began to tell him in a very delicate way, about the suffering that the Jewish community had to endure at the hands of the Polish soldiers. Pilsudski interrupted them and said: “my dear sirs, you must be making a mistake and mean the Bolsheviks”. Understandably, the delegation had nothing more to say.

After the invasion the Jewish community experienced a very painful Sabbath when all around it was already quiet and order ruled. This was the Sabbath when the court–martial of Zalmenke, a Jew from Konstantin, took place. He was accused of spying for the Bolsheviks. Jews stood around Mevyuse's house, where the court proceedings were held and waited anxiously for the verdict. In the afternoon the Jew was led out and taken in the direction of the jail, which was also the direction of the cemetery. Nobody knew the verdict and they followed the Jew who was being escorted. When it was apparent that he was not being taken to the jail and was being taken further, it became clear that the Jew was sentenced to death. They took him to the cemetery and there he was shot.

The war was also over and the wounds that were caused by the war, started to heal slowly. The economic situation rose again to normal levels, the factories became active and the stores again displayed merchandise as before the war. The intensive building activity that developed in the town created employment for Jewish tradesmen and workers.

Many Biale residents were part of the mass–emigration that began from Poland to America immediately after the war. Information about the good life in America, in contrast to the situation in which Polish Jewry lived at that time, both political and economic, intensified the scale of emigration from Biale to America. Whoever had the possibility to do so – emigrated. Those who emigrated were mainly workers and women with children who were travelling to their husbands and parents, who had emigrated there even before the war.

It was now no longer a disgrace to emigrate to America. With the dollars that people received, there was certainly nothing to be ashamed of; on the contrary, they even brought the recipients some importance in the town.

The emigration drew out considerable productive strength from Biale. Also Warsaw, as the capital, lured and attracted the youth. The war–refugees left the town. As a result, this emigration had a negative effect on many aspects of social life. This was most conspicuous in the “Yavne”–School and in the Children's Home. The “Yavne”–School lost its reputation for excellence and was converted to a school under the name of “Folk school”. The Children's' home was soon closed.

The Riga peace–treaty between Poland and Russia had already been sealed a long time before, but the incitement against Jews, who were decried as Bolsheviks, still did not stop. The land was flooded daily with a spate of Jew baiting literature from the so–called ”Rozvoy”. This was an organisation that proposed the familiar Endek economic boycott against Jews [an anti–semitic organisation]. This organisation was also active in Biale. At its head stood Pietshitzki who used to utter inciting speeches against Biale Jews at mass–meetings. Later he was succeeded by the teacher Novotarski. Tensions between the Jewish and Christian communities grew but the Jews did not allow themselves to be provoked and did not give the Christian community an opportunity to unload their wrath.

As careful and guarded as the Jewish community was in this regard, yet an incident did occur, whose consequences could have been very tragic for the Jewish community:

On Lag Ba'omer in 1922, the Jewish youth of Hashomer Hatza–ir,

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went on their annual march in the forest on the Volye. At the head of the line was the Maccabi orchestra. While they were marching near the Krashevski–Highschool, Christian students threw inkstands from the windows on to the heads of those who were marching. In the evening when the youth marched from the forest back into the town, a few Christian youth on the Volye started fighting with the marching youth. Alongside the marching youth were a few strong young Jewish men who scolded the Christians severely.

Pietshitski, the leader of “Rozvoy” heard about this incident and decided to use this opportunity to get even with the Jews. Rumours began to circulate in the town that there were plans for a pogrom for the Jews. In this connection “Rozvoy” announced that a mass–gathering would take place on one of the approaching Sundays.

A delegation from the Jewish community went to the Governor of the province, Rudnitzki, and informed him about the rumours, requesting that he take proper preventative measures. His answer avoided the issue. A day later the community received a letter from the Governor, in which he informed them, that due to the aggressive behaviour of the Jewish youth, he could not take responsibility for the consequences of the incident on the Volye. The Zionist Societies immediately informed the National Council in Warsaw. A few days later the Governor turned to the community and asked them to return his letter to him. The community fulfilled his request.

One Sunday a mass–gathering took place, called by the “Rozvoy” at which Pietshitzki, who has already been mentioned, delivered an anti–semitic speech. After the gathering, a line formed that reached the building of the Governor. There a few resolutions were read out, and the mass quietly dispersed.

The tension and the irritation however, continued for days. Ambushes of Jews took place during which the authorities and the police in particular, behaved in a completely passive way. The police avoided intervening even when cases of ambushing Jews, occurred in front of their eyes, like, for example, during the ambush of Matityahu Adlershtein. The events of these days resounded in the presentation that the Jewish deputation delivered to the parliament.

In general, the relationship between the Jewish and Christian communities was peaceful and there were no clashes unless they were fired up from above. There were however, single cases when Christian youths attacked Jews and beat them. Such incidents increased in the years leading up to the Second World War.

When we talk about relationships between the Jewish and Christian populations, one must note, that in this domain great changes took place in comparison to the period before the First World War. Jews used to participate in events that were arranged by Christians like: theatre performances, concerts, balls, dance evenings, lectures etc. where they enjoyed themselves undisturbed. Christians again, used to come and enjoy themselves at Jewish balls and dance evenings. The fact that Jewish children were studying in government schools also brought them closer. Jewish students used to visit their Christian friends and vice versa.

In the town's volunteer fire service Jews and Christians worked together in harmony for many years. In “Podlaska Life” of 5. 1. 1934, number 1/177, we read that the regime decorated these Jewish firemen for excellence and long service: Lieutenant Ya'akov Hershberg – 35 years of service; Avrom Orlansky and Antshul Beckerman – 25 years of service; Avrom Brovarek, Ya'akov Goldreich, Yosef Rozenberg and Berel Hershberg –– 10 years of service. We can see from this list that the participation of the Jews in the fire service was very significant and would certainly have been impossible, if the relationships between Jews and Christians were strained.

In the league of air–defence, a Jewish division was created, led by Michash Hoffer. Thanks to his achievements in this field, Michash Hoffer was honoured by the government and awarded a “Cross for distinguished service”.

It was entirely unnecessary to have a pogrom to shake up Jewish life, because the extermination–policy in the economic domain regarding Polish Jewry, also reached Biale, and the consequences of this policy began to have a catastrophic effect on the Biale Jewish community. This happened after a relatively short time. The Jewish community in Biale that was never noted for a large number of wealthy residents and most people belonged to the middle or working classes, managed to tear itself away from the voluntary ghetto in which it found itself until the First World War.

The Jewish way of life was completely changed

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in all respects. The reign of the religious fanatics disappeared, although their numbers in the town were quite marked. The excommunication of the Biale Zionists, proclaimed by the Biale Rabbi, serves to reveal the extent of the influence of these religious fanatics on Jewish life in the town. A chassid [a follower of a Jewish religious movement] handed the Rabbi part of a journal “El Al”, a publication of Hashomer Hatza–ir, in which the chassid discovered a “terrible heresy”, a poem by D. Shimonowicz–Shimoni. The Rabbi did not think for long and on a certain day, sent Yoel, the beadle of the synagogue, to knock on the doors of the Jewish houses with a hammer and call the people to the synagogue. To a synagogue packed with religious Jews and ordinary curious people, they turned on the lights and after a short sermon from the Rabbi, in which he banned the Biale Zionists, the beadle, at the Rabbi's command, blew the shofar and with that the banning ceremony ended.

Whoever was familiar with the former Biale, can imagine what such a banning act by the Biale Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Leib, of holy memory, would mean in the period before the First World War. Now however, the banning ceremony resounded quite weakly with the community.

The Jewish parties carried out their activities legally and each, in its own way, stimulated those in its circle of influence. Each party established a library and there was an enormous number of readers in the town who enjoyed the libraries. Dramatic circles existed in the town that often gave quite successful performances. The numbers of informed youth grew, that actively participated in all political fields and pursued education and knowledge.

The standard of living rose. Alcove–living disappeared and almost every family had its separate dwelling. In order to marry a child, one had to first prepare a decent dwelling and proper furniture, not to mention a decent dowry. The cloth and calico clothing and the Hambursk boots disappeared completely. They were replaced with elegant suits and dresses and the income of the people improved no end. In most houses meat and pastry made from white flour was prepared daily. Going to the home of a rich man with a little pot to ask for gravy for a sick person, also stopped. The Jewish worker and tradesman ceased to labour from sunrise to sunset.

It was therefore, really very painful to see how the extermination–policy of the Polish government against the Jewish population, forced a continuous lowering of living standards. The economic noose became tighter around the Jewish throat. The first signs of this campaign against the Jews, was the Grabski–policy that began to empty the Jewish houses of their belongings.

Many Biale residents were carried away with the stream of emigration that increased then in Poland, and again mainly the youth. This time the doors to the United States were already closed to immigrants and the emigration went to the countries of South America, France, Belgium, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. A large percentage of Biale emigrants went to the Land of Israel.

Besides the emigration overseas, there was a flow people from Biale to Warsaw and other big cities where it was easier to find work. Those who were active in all the parties also left and the result was a decline in the social life if the town.

After the Pilsudski–upheaval, in May 1926, there was a little relief in the economic situation of the Jewish population, but this was only a pause to catch one's breath. The general economic crisis of 1930 that affected Poland, did not exclude Biale. A couple of large local wood merchants went bankrupt and dragged many families with them into abysmal poverty and brought about the liquidation of as much as two credit–institutions in the town.

The Polish Fascist government called “Senatzia”, imposed a repression policy against Jews that ensured that the Jewish population would not recover from this economic crisis. Together with all Polish Jewry, Biale Jewry was also submerged in an economic abyss, that almost paralysed Jewish social life in the town. The Jewish population embraced apathy and resignation.

The Jewish shopkeepers lost their Christian custom, the Jewish tradesman did against Jews not receive work from the Christians, and they were not able to make a living from the Jews. In order to hasten the pauperisation process of the Jewish masses, the tax office added high taxes to Jewish enterprises and in this way, one enterprise after another was systematically liquidated.

In these years people would remember with longing, the tax burdens that the Jews had to bear during the Czarist regime. They would recall that the extent of the taxes in those times, was worth the value of a tallit or a pair of candlesticks that the sequestrator Kshimovski, would confiscate in the case of not paying the taxes. Now this seemed quite comical. Now, when the Polish tax officials would take

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entire households, the Jew would still remain in debt to the tax office.

The Jewish youth found themselves in a hopeless situation: the working youth did not have stable employment, and if they did work, their earnings were minimal. The youth who were studying were not allowed into the High schools. So the town actually had an army of “street–surveyors” as the unemployed youth were then called.

In this pathetic economic situation, the Jewish community was not in a position to maintain its institutions on its own. A few social institutions were active in the town that in a very limited way, helped the poorer classes in the community.

The Jewish hospital, the pride of the Jewish community, was more closed than open because there were no means to maintain it. When they received a few hundred dollars from their fellow townsmen in America, they opened the hospital and when the overseas support was exhausted, the hospital was closed.

Many families became “clients” of the “Food Kitchens” where every Friday evening challot that had been collected from the community were distributed and many Jewish children benefited from the help from the society “Toz”.[ Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia (Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population; TOZ)]

Some of the Jewish youth, embittered by their circumstances found their way to the Communist movement.

In his article about the Biale circle, the author B. Gurni (former vice Governor in Biale) says that Jews made up 39.34% of the general number of members of the Communist party in the circle. It is apparent that the author does not take the slightest trouble to analyse the reason for this fact. For him it is sufficient that he can brand the Jews as an incubator for Communists. Because of the lack of proper material we will not contest the number that the writer provides, we merely want to state that the economic termination–policy and the anti–Semitic course of Polish rule, were the main causes for the large number of communistically disposed Jews.

From the Communist side, they conducted a propaganda that presented a Soviet–federation as a paradise for the Jewish population, that knows no boundaries, where people live free and with equal rights like all other Russian citizens.

Regarding the relationship of the Magistrate to the Jewish population, we will cite a few facts.

The town authorities of Biale, where the Jews made up nearly 40% population in 1938, knew only one thing: Jews had to fill the town's treasury, but they should not receive any compensation from the town's budget.

The contribution of the Jewish population that should have made up 40% of the budget income, yet it was much larger than the contribution of the remaining 60% of the Christian population. In addition, the Jewish population who were mostly shopkeepers and tradesmen also paid, besides the direct taxes to the town authorities, indirect taxes to the state treasury. This was in the form of supplements in favour of the town authorities when purchasing trade and work patents. When it came to employing Jews in council positions, the town authorities granted permission to employ two Jewish officials (one of whom was later removed) and two to three tax collectors but only after long battles with the Jewish council members.

Of the general expenses sum of 270,000 zlottes from the preliminary budget of the town council for the year 1933/4, only 10,550 zlottes were allocated for Jewish purposes, that means 3.9% of the general expenditure (6500 zlottes for the Aged Home; 100 zlottes for the “Tarbut” library; 100 zlottes for the “Cultural” library; 500 zlottes for the Benevolent Society; 300 zlottes for “Toz”; 50 zlottes for Yivo; 1000 zlottes to cover expenses for the sick in the Jewish hospital). And even this minimal amount was not paid out easily by the town authorities. Each time there were difficulties in extracting one of the sums from the council treasury on the account of these subsidies.

While mentioning the magistrate, we will name the Jewish council members.

The Jewish representation in the first elected town council consisted of the following council members: Moshe Rubinshtein and Moshe Kavve (Zionists); Gedalyahu Braverman, Moshe Rodzinik, Nachum Vorek, M. Hochman, Chaim Brodatsh and Geltman (Bund); Yonah Shteinman and Yosef Zinger (Po'alei Tzion); Yisroel Bialer, Moshe Chaim Vizenfeld, Zushe Rozen and Moshe Meilech Zilberberg (“Agudah”); Moshe Lebnberg (non–party member).

Even though the Jews were a majority in the town council, they did not manage to elect even a deputy mayor and had to be satisfied with two Jewish aldermen. This probably happened because of the attitude of the Bund council members, who refused to co–operate with the other

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Jewish council members. It is however a question whether the authorities would have confirmed the election of a Jewish deputy–mayor.

In the elections for the second town council in 1923, 13 Jewish council members were elected:

Ya'akov Aharon Rozenboim, Yoel Zilberberg and Yisroel Cohen (Zionists); Baruch Vinograd and Menashe Tzeshinsky (Handworkers Union); Eliezer Tselnikker and Moshe Kramarzsh (Tenants Union); Isaac Sheinberg, Yisroel Bialer, Zushe Rozen, Dovid Viseman, Chaim Levi Rubinshtein and Yitzchak Levi (“Agudah”).

In the second town elections too, which also had a greater number of Jews, no Jew was chosen as deputy mayor and the Jewish representation to the office of alderman, was assigned to the council member Yisroel Cohen. Today it is difficult to say whether the Jewish representatives tried to appoint a Jewish candidate for election as deputy mayor or whether they abandoned this idea, knowing in advance, that the government would not confirm the election of a Jewish deputy mayor. Also during the term of office of this council, as in the first council, the Jewish representatives were not able to reach any positive outcomes, except for the insignificant sums that they received as subsidies for a few Jewish institutions in the town.

In the third council that was elected in 1927, the number of Jewish representatives was reduced to seven councillors. The government bodies already tried to change the voting statutes, so that the council would no longer have a Jewish majority. Aiding the decrease of the number of Jewish representatives, was the division of the Jewish streets.

 

bia143.jpg
Members of the town council that were elected in 1927 [Hebrew]
The members of the town council that were elected in 1927 [Yiddish]

Seated from left: first –– Mayor Zakshevski
Standing: second –– Avrom Stricher, fourth – Yisroel Goldshtein, sixth – Boruch Vinograd
Eighth – Volvish Veitzman, after him – Chaim Levi Rubinshtein, Dovid Veisman
Second from right: Emil Vineberger

 

At that time the following were elected: Yisroel Goldshtein (Zionists); Boruch Vinograd and Avrom Stricher (Handworker's Union); Dovid Veisman and Volf Veitzman (Small–trader's Union); Chaim Levi Rubinshtein (“Agudah”); Yitzchak Pizshitz (Merchant's Union).

In this town council there was one more Jewish councillor, one named Eppelbaum, who did not represent Jewish interests, because he was elected from the Communist list. Understandably, he did not have anything in common with the other Jewish council members. After a short time he emigrated overseas and a Christian took his place on the town council.

Due to the Christian majority in the town council, also this time, the Jews were grudgingly granted the position of an alderman that was filled by Emil Vineberger (originally from Galicia).

In 1934 elections took place for the fourth town council. Again the Jewish representation was reduced. This was caused by the various new changes to the voting statutes, like attaching village regions to the town, that formerly belonged to the village electorate and also granting voting rights to professional military personnel in the town.

This time five Jewish representatives were elected: Boruch Vinograd and Avrom Stricher (Hanworker's Union); Yitzchok Levi and Dovid Viseman (Small–trader's Union); Chaim Levi Rubinshtein (Gerrer Chassidim).

It is worth mentioning , that the Jewish parties that participated in the elections, did not achieve one mandate. Almost every elected Jewish councillor represented the interests of the Jewish social organisations in the town. This demonstrates that the Jewish community saw themselves compelled foremost, to defend its economic needs.

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In 1938 the last town council elections took place before the Second World War. The Jewish community showed complete indifference to these elections. The Hand worker's Union and the Small–trader's Union presented a joint list of candidates of whom only three councillors were elected:

Avrom Stricher, Moshe Rodzinek and Advocate L. Goldfarb.

The decline in numbers of the Jewish representation from the first elected town council until the last, amounts to a full 80%, at a time when the decline of the Jewish population compared to the Christian population in the same period, amounted to only 16%. We see clearly how far the government bodies went, in their efforts to reduce the Jewish representation in the town council, at a time when the community was large in number yet her influence over the management of the town's interests, was minimal.

They not only wanted to remove whatever Jewish influence there was in the town's economy but also endeavoured, in the area of representation in the town, to remove even the least Jewish participation.

 

The Community

The first elected community authorities (council and management) in Biale, took place in 1924. The Jewish population voted publicly for its representatives in the community. In these elections, and also in later elections in the town, the political parties and the economic organisations took part. The worker's parties never participated in the elections of the community.

Unfortunately we do not possess the proper archival material to cast light upon this chapter of the Biale community. We will therefore endeavour to create a picture of its activities, according to details that remained in our memories based on clarification from the former community secretary, Baruch Vinograd (in Israel) and articles gathered from that time that appeared in the town's press.

The law regarding the communities, that was issued by the Polish government, stipulated, that the activities of the community should not extend beyond the framework of a religious institution. With proper harmonious co–operation amongst the wardens of the synagogues, the community could still manage to accomplish something substantial in many areas of Jewish life.

Amongst the Biale community authorities in positions of power, the relationship between the representatives of the religious and the other authorities, was always equal. The wardens of the religious wings used to try to ensure that in the preliminary budget, the needs of the religious should be satisfied first. To assist them they had the community law and it was not necessary to enter into any conflict. These wardens were not interested in large municipal taxes, and did not want their voters to bear any resentment because of high municipal tax payments. The income from the slaughter of animals and whatever was received from municipal taxes, was sufficient to cover the expenses for the needs of the religious sector.

The main sources of income for the community were from municipal taxes and the slaughtering of animals but in both cases the income was less than they actually should have been. There were wardens who took the trouble to see that their relatives, acquaintances and clients should not, God forbid, “be wronged” by the municipal assessments. So actually the rich paid insignificant sums, and even this they did grudgingly.

We present here a list of municipal tax payers, as we found in the “Biale Weekly News” number 29, of 23. 7. 1937:

  Number of Municipal tax–payers Sum from the annual municipal tax – zlottes
  159 5
  130 10
  41 15
  62 20
  28 25
  30 30
  2 35
  20 40
  28 50
  12 60
  25 75
  13 100
  10 125
  11 150
  1 175
  1 200
  1 225
  3 250
  4 300
  2 350
  1 600
Total 584 18465

From the above list of municipal tax–payers, it must be stressed that it does not include all those who should have paid the tax. It is difficult to imagine that of a population of more than 7000 people, that there should not

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be more than 584 tax–payers, that amounts to not more than 8.3% of the general number of the Jewish population. If we accept that on average there were 5 persons per family, it means that there were approximately 1400 families in the town, and of this number, more than 60% did not pay tax. One can assume that the community never had a precise register of the Jewish population.

We see also that starting from 100 zlottes a year and higher, the number of tax–payers is an insignificant minimum. Even in difficult economic circumstances in the town, a much larger number of Jews could be found who were able to pay a higher tax than 100 zlottes. This justifies our assertions that the rich got off with paying insignificant sums in favour of the community.

The management chairmen, Binyamin Klieger and Pinchas Nortman, waged a difficult battle to introduce a proper tax register for the community and for implementing a true budget that would satisfy other areas of Jewish life and not just the needs of the religious. They did not however, manage to win a majority vote for their proposals.

For a long time the Zionist and hand–workers factions waged a bitter battle in the community to take over control of the slaughtering of animals. The slaughterers did not want to release such a lucrative undertaking from their hands and the wardens of the “Agudah” came to their aid. And when slaughter finally came under the auspices of the community, the slaughterers waged an endless sabotage.

This is what appeared in the town's press:

“The slaughterers slaughtered without a note of consent from the community. The community did not want to provide these notes because they did not want to add to the income of the slaughterers. The Rabbi agreed to a decision by the community council and management committee to suspend the slaughterer Y. from his activities for 2 months without pay. In protest the slaughterers organised a strike one day, but after a warning from the Rabbi, they discontinued the strike.” (“Podlassier Life”, number 6 of 31. 12. 1926).

“Next, the slaughterer F. was fined 100 zlottes for slaughtering fowls without tabs from the community” (Podlassier Life”, number 29/145 of 27. 7. 1934).

These punishments however, did not help much because the slaughterers maintained that slaughtering was their private enterprise, and that no one has the right to interfere in their matters.

In 1932 a slaughterer received a weekly salary from the community of 75 zlottes. In addition they received free meat for a whole week. When one takes into consideration, that a qualified worker earned 30 zlottes a week in those days, one can comprehend to what extent the slaughterers were “wronged” by the community.

The community economy was managed negligently and the community was immersed in debt. We read in “Podlassier Life”, number 19/51 of 23. 9. 1932, that the inventory of the community was auctioned for an amount of 70 zlottes for a debt of 1200 zlottes, that the community owed to a government institution for insurance for employees. (“Zupo”).

We will present here a few figures from the community budgets, that we found in the town's press.

In 1927 the Rabbi receives a salary of 600 zlottes a month, and 500 zlottes a year for his rent (“Podlassier Life”, number 23, of 16.9. 1927).

The preliminary budget of 1933 amounted to 75,000 zlottes. The income was estimated from the following sources: for uncollected municipal taxes for 1932 – 8500 zlottes, from the cemetery – 3500 zlottes, from the community houses – 7000 zlottes, for taxes for 1933 – 16,000 zlottes and from slaughter – 40,000 zlottes.

Among the expenditure entries, there appear: For the hospital – 10,000 zlottes, for the Benevolent Society funds – 600 zlottes, for “Toz” – 500 zlottes, for the library of “Tarbut” and the “Culture League” – 200 zlottes, for the Talmud Torah – 5500 zlottes, for the Jewish National Fund and Keren Ha'yesod – 200 zlottes (Podlassier Life”, number 5/70 of 3. 2.1933).

The above–mentioned expenses amounted to 17000 zlottes. What kind of expenses took precedence over the remaining sum that amounted to a whole 58,000 zlottes? The greatest part of this sum was swallowed up to maintain ecclesiastical positions and an insignificant amount was used to pay the salaries of the office staff, that was very small: it consisted of: Boruch Vinograd – secretary, Shlomo Hochberg and Yechiel Hayblum – officials.

From the budget figures presented we see however, that the community assigned 0.27% for cultural purposes; for social purposes – 14.80% but for ecclesiastical positions and for the Talmud Torah, that were of a very low level, added to this the small expense required to maintain the community office, all amounted to 84.66% of the preliminary budget.

Regarding this, it must be noted that the preliminary expenses for the ecclesiastical positions were always paid out according to the preliminary budget but in contrast, the subsidiaries were almost never paid according to the budget stipulations – they were always paid less. The best proof of this is the miserable circumstances of the Jewish hospital, that was more often

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closed than in use, because it never received the amount allotted in the preliminary budget.

Just these few figures that appear in the community budget for 1933, present a picture of the activities of the community. It is therefore no wonder that the community did not have any influence and authority, even in matters that were within its jurisdiction. In these circumstances, in 1927, the butchers, in complete agreement with one another, arbitrarily raised the price of kosher meat: 3 zlottes for a kg. veal and 3.50 zlottes for a kg. beef. Only with the intervention of the government, were the prices of kosher meat set at: 1.80 zlottes for a kg. veal and 2.40 zlottes for a kg. beef (Podlassier Life”, number 10 of 11.3. 1927).

In the last years before the Second World War, the community became a battle ground due to the employment of a town Rabbi in place of Rabbi Shmuel Leib, of holy descent, who passed away. For years the town was reluctant to take a new Rabbi and his role as teacher was filled by Moshe Utshtein. With time the teacher fell into disfavour with the “Agudah” and it began to put strong pressure on the community regarding the employment of a new Rabbi. The Zionistic wardens continually dragged their heels about employing a new Rabbi, but the religious wing, took to the matter energetically. Various rabbinic candidates presented themselves. A Rabbi from Yavorshzne, Rabbi Tzvi Hirshhorn was elected.

Many positive measures were accomplished by the community authorities during their activities.

In the town there were communal buildings, that appeared in the official books as having private owners. There were also so–called “legacies”. The income from these assets were designated for specific social purposes.

The transfer of the buildings and “legacies” mentioned in the name of the community was no easy matter. It was a difficult legal procedure involving great expense and constant vigilance of the issues, in order to lead them to a conclusion.

These were the assets that were legally transferred into the power of the community:

The Jewish hospital, study houses and synagogues (also the Volye synagogue), Talmud Torah, receiving guests, the ritual bath–house, Tille's house on the market place where the finance bank was situated, the house of the “Garden of Eden” (a nickname) at number 6 Briske Street (where the community was located), three shops in the market place, three shops at number 3 Briske Street and one shop on Yatke Street.

The income from the cemetery was taken away from the Chevrah Kaddishah. Clearly, this was not accepted lightly, because previously the cemetery was the property of the Chevrah Kaddishah.

The Jewish hospital had existed as a separate institution, that received a subsidy from the community. Thanks to the efforts of the chairman of the management committee Binyamin Klieger and the community secretary Baruch Vinograd, the hospital was changed to a community institution. The hospital budget was included in the preliminary budget of the community. The greatest concern for the community authorities was to ensure, as far as possible, the continued existence of the hospital.

The community carried out capital renovations to the synagogue and the study house. To paint the synagogue and the study house, artistic painters were invited from the town and from other areas. The community made a great effort to bring order to the arrangements for receiving communal guests and to the synagogue courtyard itself [where guests were usually housed]. The premises that were set aside for this hospitality were occupied by the poor who were not locals, as well as by poor people who were sick and had nowhere to go. The sanitary conditions in the house were shocking. After extensive efforts and great expense, the house again became a place for hospitality. The synagogue courtyard was neglected and unclean. Bringing order and permitting the authorities to maintain hygiene conditions there, took a lot of energy and was very expensive. These achievements and improvements robbed the community authorities of time to attend to other issues. Every change brought about battles, struggles and protracted negotiations with opposing sides, that were actually not interested in any reforms in those areas that they represented.

After the liquidation of “Achi–ezer” the medical appliances were transferred to the community office. Until the last day of community activity, these appliances were being lent to the Jewish population. The community used to distribute permits to poor pregnant women. On the grounds of these permits, the woman was accepted, without payment, to the gynaecological section of the Jewish hospital.

The community office would write requests for assistance for the poor in the community, without payment, to all

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offices. There they would also distribute various permits.

Of the notices in “Podlassier Life” that we managed to obtain, we see, that in the years 1926 to 1933, these were the following management and council chairmen in the community: Ya'akov Aharon Rozenbaum, Binyamin Klieger, Pinchas Nortman, Binyamin Cohen, Arke (Aharon) Viseman, Yitzchak Levy, Moshe Kavve, Shamai Kalichshtein.

We come across the names of the following wardens:

Motl Aydelsberg, Zishhe Rozen, Leibl Goldshtein, Yisroel Cohen, Eliezer Tselnikker, Moshe Kramarzsh, Avrom Stricher, Fyvl Sitner, Tzvi Halperin, Natan Rammes, Yitzchak Berman, Velvl Isenshtat, Moshe Meilech Zilberberg, Isaac Shineberg, Chanina Kashemacher, Yitzchak Petterburg, Mordechai Pyekarsky, Chaim Levi Rubinshtein, Mordechai Yosef Goldshtein, Yoel Shtromvasser, Shual Batshko, Alter Suknov, Iddel Aydelshtein, Avigdor Fyerman, Eliezer Eppelbaum, Yitzchak Cohen, Shimon Lichtenshtein and Yehoshua Aydelshtein.


At the end of this chapter, a tragic event that shook the town, must be mentioned. It will be ingrained in the memory of the Jewish population for a long time. We refer here to the fire of the printing office in the courtyard of Reb Aharon Landau.

“One evening on the 4th September 1927, a fire broke out on Narotovitshe Street number 5 (previously Kshivve Street), in the courtyard of Reb Aharon Landau. There in the wooden printing office 5 people were burnt to death: 1. Yitzchak Rubinshtein (a scribe, aged 60); 2. Esther, his wife (aged 58); 3. Yisroel, their son (aged 21); 4. Yocheved, their granddaughter (aged 3), and 5. Yitzchak Rubinshtein (aged 46), from Lubartov, a proof reader in a printing firm, who happened to be sleeping over at the home of the scribe. He left behind in his home, a wife and three children. Three Torah scrolls that were in the scribe's possession, were also burnt. The next day, on the day of the funeral, the Rabbi declared a day of fasting and asked that the shops be closed until after the funeral. After the funeral, hundreds of people went to the prayer houses to say psalms. It was assumed that the fire was the result of arson and that the victims were killed and robbed by murderers and then set alight. One can also assume that the victims were asleep and were asphyxiated by the fumes”. (Podlassier Life, number 22, of 9. 9. 1927).

Many years later, a Jewish water–carrier lay seriously ill in a Christian hospital, and before he died he admitted participating in the robbery of the scribe and in setting the printing office alight.

We will present here a few figures, that refer to the numbers of the Jewish population in Biale, from the beginning of the 19th century until 1939.

Year Jews Percentage of the whole population
1827 1,091 54.8
1841 2,220 61.8
1857 2,564 66.1
1897 6,382 55.2
1921 6,874 52.9
1931 6,923 39.5
1939 7,493 36.9

The numbers presented indicate, that from 1857 until 1897, the Jewish population increased by 148.9%. How can this growth be explained? – it can be assumed that the figures of the previous years were not exact and in 1897, during the great census ordered by the Russian regime, the registration included, more or less, the entire population. That the figures of the previous count were not correct, can also be seen by the numbers of the Christian population, that according to these numbers grew in this period, from 1857 to 1897 as much as 400% (!). One must also take into consideration, that even in the great census of 1897, not all Jews registered, because they were afraid of the decrees – .

From the above figures it can be seen that from 1921 to 1931, that the natural growth of the Jewish population concealed the drain, that occurred due to emigration. In the last eight years, from 1931 to 1939, the increase in the Jewish population amounted to 570 people that occurred because of the cessation of emigration. The figures also show us, that until 1921 the Jewish population formed the majority in the town. The reasons for the large increase in the numbers of the Christian population in contrast to the Jewish population are, that large branches of industry existed in the town at that time, that brought employment to many workers and only of Christian descent. Workers were brought from all over Poland to work in the aeroplane factory. Besides this, as we mentioned earlier, for election purposes,

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purely Christian populations, that were previously attached to village communities were now attached to the town

In such a situation as we described earlier, Biale Jewry entered the fateful year 1939. Even in these fateful months before the collapse of the Polish state, the pressure of extermination of the Jewish population was unrelenting and it continued until the last breath drawn by the Polish state.

For 21 years Biale Jews lived under renewed Polish rule that arose, as from the dead, after a 150–year enslavement. With the rise of the Polish state, the Jews of Biale, together with the entire Jewish population of Poland, dreamed the beautiful dream of equal rights, that seemed, in the national spring after the First World War, as self–evident. Disappointment however, came quickly and they were convinced that the oppressor of the past, very soon forgot the recent past and quickly became the oppressor again. The Jewish battle for equal rights in the last years of Polish existence, changed into a despondent struggle for naked existence.

The war therefore, found the Biale Jewish population in a state of despair, dominated by apathy and without prospects. This situation was the reason that, of the entire Jewish population, that sat close to the new border between Germany and Russia, only an insignificant number crossed over into Russia. The majority remained sitting and waiting for the arrival of the murdering hordes. Everywhere one could hear one response: –– why should we run? What will Hitler do to us? How can our situation become worse? – .

Sources

  1. “Podlassier Life” independent communal weekly, Biale. A number of examples from the years 1926/7 and 1932/4.
  2. Testimonies by Alter Vineberg, Asher Hoffer, Moshe Ravon – Tel–Aviv, Gedalyahu Braverman – Petach–Tikvah, Baruch Vinograd – Ramat–Gan, Ya'akov Aronovicz – Argentina, Rabbi Shmuel Ya'akov Rubinshtein – Paris.
  3. Janush Urbach: “The participation of the Jews in the Polish war of Independence”, 1938.
  4. B. Gorny: “A monograph of the province of Bialsk”.
  5. Bogdan Varshatinski: “The Jewish population of Poland in the 19th and 20th century”. Warsaw 1930. Chapter: Jews in cities.
  6. National club of the Jewish members of the Lower House in the Polish parliament, at the temporary Jewish advisory bureau: “The involvement of the Jews in the Bolshevik invasion”. A Collection of Documents, number 1, Warsaw 1921.

 

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