by M. R.
Translated by Libby Raichman
Until the First World War, open trade, i.e. trade in shops, was concentrated at the market place, as the square with the market orchard in the middle was called, or Volnoshtshi Place after that time, it included parts of Warsaw, Brisker, Yannever and Yaske streets, that bordered on the market place. Here one could find the more representative businesses, organized, socalled metropolitan and also smaller shops.
Of the larger businesses, the following should be noted:
In the beginning, a very small number of the small traders moved to the NewMarket. Most of them moved to the courtyard of Chaim Levi Rubinshtein, that was a thoroughfare to three streets. For the first time in Biale, fireprotected grain storehouses were built in this courtyard, with ceilings of brick and metal, and metal doors. Later, various wholesale and retail businesses, opened in these same granaries. In 1912, a Jewish family from Kyeltz established an egg export business, that used to buy, pack and export eggs to Germany.
The greater volume of trade in produce and wood etc. that was mainly tied to export, was conducted from the homes of the big merchants, like Shualke Cohen and others like him. There was already one room in the dwelling, that was set up as a writingroom that more or less, resembled an office, where clients were received. These merchants already had a person, i.e. a clerk, that did the bookkeeping, the correspondence etc.
Wholesale trade was carried out mainly in the food line. The biggest wholesaler of food and groceries was Motl Mintz. He conducted his trading from the granaries and from his own house on Yannnever Street. Pelte (Paltiel) Oppenheim had his wholesale business on Brisker Street. There were also wholesalers that confined themselves to specific articles only, like: Berele Kozzes, Zissele Rivkah daughter of Akivah herring and salt; Yehoshua Pyess, Nachum Liebman (Montsharzsh) flour; Chaim Hofman (Naftsharzsh) oil/petrol.
On the Sabbath or a Jewish festival, trade came to a complete standstill. It was as if the Jewish divine presence had spread its wings over the streets. All the businesses were closed and locked. The couple of Christian pork shops, pharmacies, Klimetzkes grocery and bookshop, looked as if they were abandoned. You would now meet the Jews who could be seen in the shops or workshops six days a week, going to pray or returning from praying, with prayer shawls
in their hands; or Chassidim, who do not carry anything on the Sabbath in the streets wearing their prayer shawls under their coats. Only in 1911 1912, one Jewish business whose clients consisted mainly of officials and officers in the town, opened at first half a door, and later the whole door, on a Sabbath morning.
In contrast, on a Sunday, one could sense the revival of trade. In the morning hours the noblemen would arrive in the town from the surrounding palaces. Their covered wagons would concentrate on the north side of the market, from the council building to the Paviat (a district in Poland). They would visit the Jewish merchants who would take their produce from them, lend them money to reap their harvest and carry out other similar transactions with them.
On a Sunday, farmers from the surrounding villages would arrive with farm wagons and gather in the town. At first, the wagons would remain at the market place. Later, when the market was moved to the Newmarket, the wagons were left in the courtyard around the market. These farmers supported the small traders. On such a Sunday in the town, the farmer would buy everything that he needed for the whole week and would also sell his products.
This trade, big and small, would almost wind down before noon. After a visit to the Catholic church and after ending their prayers there, they would return to their places in the afternoon: the noblemen to their palaces and the farmers to their villages.
Such a Sunday was also the main day of trade for the restaurants and taverns. During the time that the nobleman was busy with his Jewish merchant, with whom he conducted his business, and had somewhere to go and enjoy the few hours, the farmers who came in their masses, mostly not connected to any particular stall, would go from shop to shop, to find out where they could buy something for one groshen cheaper this was evident from the restaurants and taverns. There they could enjoy their few free hours and also have a drink. One would actually meet, drunken famers in the late afternoons.
During the week, Jewish small trade was done mostly, amongst themselves. Every shopkeeper had his own clients. The larger businesses lived mostly from the custom of the officers, from the troops who were stationed in the town, and from the Russian officials.
Even before the first banks were founded in the town like: the Savings Bank, the Vzayemni Credit, and later also the Bank Dlaya Handlv e Pshemislav, that was a branch of this bank in Shedletz, it already engaged in wellestablished banking activity. Although this activity was conducted in quite a primitive way, yet it discharged the tasks of the branch in the economic life of the town in those days. The very big merchants had direct ties with banks or banking houses (Dom Bankovi) in Warsaw. The smaller merchants, and the middle class however, had to approach a middleman to fulfil their most minimal banking needs.
In the area of money transactions, the office of Yechezkel (Haskel) Erlich, was active. The office was not an official banking house, with official permission from the government, but quite a homely business, in his house on Brisker Street. This office was connected to the BankingHouse SoloveitchikMorgenshtern in Warsaw, and I think, also in Brisk. Merchants who had to send money to Warsaw or Brisk for merchandise that they had bought there, would purchase a draft from Yechezkel Erlich, for his correspondents in the two towns.
The drafts would be written in Russian, because the official bankhouses kept their books in this language. Yechezkel Erlich was not proficient in the Russian language so a Russianspeaking employee would manage the paperwork. Yosef Nachum Shteitelman, a Chassidic Jew, worked from early in the morning into the night, and even on Saturday night after Havdalah, for a reward of 3 ruble a week.
A second source of money transfer was the shipping agents (commissioners), who, besides the purchase of merchandise ordered, would also accept cash money in Biale and transfer it to the appropriate addressees in Warsaw.
Besides the money transfers, the merchants also needed credit. In this area, the middlemen came to their aid, like: Velvele Itshes and Yehuda Yakov, who were mobile banks. The two men acted as intermediaries between merchants, who needed
credit, and between those who possessed a few hundred rubles, or even greater sums, and kept it, as it was then called, on percentage i.e. on interest. The money was sourced mainly from young couples, who boarded with their parents, from maidservants, who gathered coin upon coin for a dowry, and from those who managed to save something from their work etc.
Bigger merchants would take this kind of money on fixed terms. The accepted interest was between 10 and 12 percent annually. The smaller shopkeeper would have to pay 18 percent. The interest was paid weekly. Velvele Itshes and Yehuda Yakov would gather the interest from the borrowers every weekend and deliver it to the lenders. In this way the lenders saw their normal weekly income, every week before their eyes.
by M. Y. Feigenbaum
Translated by Libby Raichman
Before the first World war, trade in Biale lay exclusively in Jewish hands, as in many other towns in CongressPoland. It was not at all necessary for Jews to compete with someone who had the same branch of income, because he was entirely free and not restricted. The Christian population avoided being traders, as they regarded it, as not very honourable work. In Biale, before the First World War, the number of Christian shops could actually be counted on one's fingers. In 1910 or 1912, the first Polish ConsumerCooperative Spollem opened this was an expression of open and organized boycott of Jewish trade.
The Christian population did not willingly go to Christian shops, because between the Christian merchant and Christian client there was an abyss; in the Christian shops, the purchaser had to remove his hat, not come near to any article, but allow himself to be served by the staff, take what he is given, and pay whatever price was required, without bargaining. The Christian customer could not bear the tension created by the Christian merchant, who again could not understand the psychology of the purchaser, with whom one had to bargain and beat down the price. The merchant could not suddenly load the wagon with too much merchandise and then remove it again the Christian customer looked with suspicion at the reality of the situation.
In Jewish stores, the Christian felt free, could choose the articles, test them, bargain and beat the price down and borrow for the purchase, and generally have a chat with the Jewish merchant, who was not aloof. The Jewish merchants understood the habits of their Christian clients well and knew how to approach them. The Jewish shopkeepers were also the buyers of the products that the farmers brought into the town, therefore the farmer felt more attached to the Jewish shopkeeper than to the Christian. The officials and the military personnel in the town, were the clients of the Jewish merchants and there they enjoyed good customer service and credit.
Jews took to trading, because as a means of earning an income, it was relatively not difficult. Jews had no access to government and communal work places. One had to learn for many years to do a trade, and in addition, for Jews, trades in those years had very little status. A shop however, could be opened very quickly, because for that, no qualifications were required, and not even a great outlay of capital. When a child married, the couple would use the dowry that they received, to open a shop. As the number of shops increased, so did the competition between the Jewish shopkeepers.
Trade was concentrated mainly, in the market place and in Ch. L. Rubinshtein's courtyard, that was bordered by Brisker, Grabanover and Yaske Streets. Single shops could be found on almost every other street and there were also shops in people's houses. In the last years before the Second World War, a great percentage of Jewish traders moved into booths and stalls in the NewMarket.
A large proportion of the shops were small in size, arranged and managed in a very primitive way. Many shops did not even have a glass door, and in the winter, in the days of the greatest frost, people would stand in open shops and warm their frozen hands at a firepot. The shops would remain open until late into the night and each shopkeeper would look to see if another had closed his shop. There were however, also shops that were well appointed and were managed in great style. In Biale many women were involved in trade, making it possible for their men to study Torah.
Merchandise was brought in from Warsaw and Brisk
in wagons, before World War 1, and by cars, after the war.
In the town there were also Jews who were involved in big business. They used to buy forests from the noblemen, cut down the trees, some of which were left in their raw state and some were sent to the sawmills to be modified, and exported abroad.
During the Russian rule, the merchants would have to buy a tradepatent and pay a very small tax.
The First World War ruined normal trade. Some of the merchants were impoverished and left the area of trade altogether. Their place was taken by yesterday's poor, who were successful in just this abnormal time.
With the rise of the Polish state in 1918, trade resumed on its normal track, except for Jewish traders; for them, a new chapter began, a chapter full of suffering, that was intended to lead to the decline of Jewish trade.
The fight against Jewish trade, ceased to be contained by the written and spoken word, and was replaced by actions that became much stronger for the Jewish traders. The Jewish traders felt as if the exterminationnoose that was cast around their necks, was becoming more and more restrictive.
Firstly, excessively high taxes were imposed on Jewish shopkeepers, that they were not in a position to pay. They were only allowed 1 year during which they were unable to pay the taxes, and then the backlog of taxes grew at such a pace, that they could not extricate themselves. The tax office did not keep quiet, removed the merchandise from the stores, and the shopkeeper remained sitting in an empty store.
The observance of Sunday as a day of rest was forced on the Jewish population by the Polish government. This resulted in loss of income and brought hardship to the Jewish shopkeeper, who could not afford to rest, 2 days a week. So, they used to sell from the back door, and whoever did not have such a door would stand outside and cautiously admit the purchaser into the locked store. In this way, shopkeepers used to stand on guard outside their shops all Sunday, even in winter in the greatest frost. The police however, used to persecute the Jewish shopkeepers severely, and put together official reports to their detriment, that carried heavy monetary fines.
In Biale, the downfall of the Jewish merchants was conspicuous, and was caused in the first place, by the tax office. Prominent merchants liquidated their shops and opened booths at the new market; some did not even manage to open such a booth and stood there with small tables; still others became travelers to the fairs.
The reciprocal competition was an added cause of the impoverishment of Jewish traders. In this struggle, they forgot to include the taxes in their price calculations, and were later really not in the financial position to pay these taxes. The following example can serve to illustrate the calculation of prices of the Jewish shopkeepers: there were certain articles for which the shopkeepers could receive a bonus after one year, up to a specific percentage, that depended on the volume of trade that he did with this particular article. Taking this bonus into consideration, the Biale merchants would sell the bonus article at a lower price, that they themselves would pay. In the town they used to say, that the merchants also calculated into their prices, their walk to the train station (the train station was situated 1½ kilometers behind the town, and the merchants who needed to travel to buy merchandise, begrudged themselves a ride to the station in a horsedrawn cab).
As if the screws of the taxes that pressured the Jewish merchants, were not difficult enough, the authorities began to bring Christians from the western areas, into Biale, and opened businesses for them. These newly elevated Christian merchants were issued with government credits, that the Jewish merchants never had. All the orders placed by the aircraft factory, by the government and communal officials, as well as by the military, were granted to the Christian merchants.
The aircraft factory on the Volye, that was originally in private hands, was built with nothing less than Jewish money. The Jews were the providers of material and Jewish tradesmen helped with their hands, to build the factory. Very often, Jewish merchants and tradesmen would receive promissory notes instead of money, for quite large sums, that were not paid, and it was permissible to protest. If these promissory notes were in Christian hands, who knows if they would have been able to complete the building of this factory, at all. The Christians would have immediately declared that the venture was bankrupt. The Jewish merchants and tradesmen however, had the patience to carry themselves around for months with protested red promissory notes (red promissory notes were made out only for sums of 1000 zlottes) and allowed themselves to be cheated by the promises that they received from the builders of the factory. They promised them that they would be eternally remembered and thanked for the huge
credit that they provided while the factory was being built. All the promises were later forgotten. All these people who helped to erect this enormous factory, were later not permitted to cross over its threshold, even when their tenders were much cheaper than those of the Christians.
The courts of the landowners in the surrounding areas, who had for generations been buyers from the Jewish merchants, and from whom they enjoyed considerable credit, now deserted their Jewish merchants, who had thick books that recorded the credit given to them. They took their orders to the Christian merchants.
The imported Christian traders from western Poland, later thanked the Polish population, in particular the Polish intellectuals in the town, that brought them to take over the trade from Jewish hands. In the Hitler period these Christian merchants became the socalled folkGermans, who loyally served the Nazis. They helped to destroy a large number of the Polish city intellectuals.
In this period, there were a few Jewish businesses that could be called wellestablished, where the antiSemitic attacks had not yet reached the source. Of these once great produce merchants, no trace remained, and the current produce merchants were called sackJews, because their trade consisted of buying a sack of produce, and no more.
A few Jewish families still clung to the once rich branch, of trade in timber. The economic crisis of 1930 caused the bankruptcy of a few timber merchants in the town, and the results of these bankruptcies were felt for many years.
The decline of Jewish trade in Biale also characterized its organizational framework. In Biale, in the first years after the rise of Poland, a merchant association existed, that used to take up various issues raised by its members. With the increased rate of restriction against Jewish trade, the merchant association ceased to exist, and in its place came the small business association, to which almost all local merchants belonged. This coherence of almost all traders to the small business association was a clear indication that there were no longer any substantially large merchants in the town.
What the Polish regime, with its extermination policy against Jewish trade, did not manage to do, the Germans did, immediately after their occupation of Biale in 1939. A few weeks after occupying the town with the aid of the brownshirt murderers, Jewish trade ceased to exist altogether.
At the end of this article, we will calculate the branches of trade in which the local Jews were represented.
The agents in Biale, would travel to Warsaw on Sundays with pouches filled with orders from the merchants. On Fridays they would return home, bringing the main orders with them. During the week they would hand over the goods that were ordered to their families at home, and their families would deliver them to the merchants. The Biale agents were very familiar with Warsaw, they knew every little corner there and did not need any addresses of the merchants, from whom they needed to purchase the goods ordered. They, the agents, mostly paid lower prices than the merchants themselves. The agents worked very hard and they were genuinely responsible people who could be relied upon.
In the difficult years for Jewish trade in Biale, at a time when many Christian traders emerged, the Jewish agents in Biale remained without clients. There was no Christian who could, or wanted to compete with agents, and even the antiSemitic Christian merchants had to approach the Jewish agents.
As agents, the following families were active: Pretter, Sheinberg, Rieback (Yakov and his son Aharon), Hayblum, Novomiast, Kamlet, etc.
Local Jews were also pioneers in the organization of intertown automobilecommunication. Jewish owned trucks travelled from Biale to Warsaw and Brisk, from where they brought various merchandise. The pioneers were the agents consisting mainly the following families: Sheinberg, Rieback and Kamlet.
Jewish contractors (suppliers) were active in the town. Until the First World War Shmuel Pizshitz, Shimon Krideshtein and Chaim Levi Rubinshtein, were wellknown. They would supply the military and the government with various items, and also take on major works with the government.
In the 1880's, Shimon Krideshtein erected his military barracks on Yannever street that stretched until the ends of Garntzarske and Sitnitzke streets.
Ten years later, after Shmuel Pizshitz erected his barracks on Artileriske street, the military left the barracks of Shimon Kriedshtein and moved into the barracks of Sh. Pizshitz. Because of this, there was an ongoing battle in the town between Krideshtein and Pizshitz.
Later Shmuel Pizshitz built wooden barracks on the Brisk highway and in 1901 he built barracks of bricks alongside them.
After the rise of Poland, Wolf Weitzman and Shmelke Shvartz were active suppliers to the military in the town. With the dismissal of the Ovshempolitic in the area of economics, they too were distanced from this source of income.
Unfortunately, we have no statistical material about Jewish trade in Biale. The former townelder in Biale, B.Gurny, in his monograph of the Biale Circle, provides figures for the whole district. What is apparent to us however, is that they could also be reliable numbers for the town of Biale. This is what he writes: In 1938, 80% (1640 licenses) for trade in the district, lay in Jewish hands. The Jews were represented mostly in the trades of: haberdashery (84%), leather (78%), food (75%).
In 1939, almost the same number of Jews lived in the Biale district as in the town of Biale itself, close to 7500 souls. If we should accept that both in the Biale district and in the town of Biale there were the same number of people in trade, then it means that in Biale 820 families were involved in trade.
It can be assumed that in those years, 7080 years ago, Biale was no exception to other towns, where a trade was not considered to be an overly honourable occupation and was not much of an attribute for a family. In those
years, the merchant took pride of place in Biale Jewish life. Most of the merchants were Chassidim and they prayed in the small Chassidicprayer houses using the rite of prayer that was inspired by Sephardic liturgy. The tradesmen were concentrated in the synagogue and the study houses and prayed in the Ashkenazi style of liturgy. Even before the 1st World War, there was a positive change in the attitude towards a trade, as a profession.
Biale did not distinguish itself in conducting any form of massproduction, which was the case in neighbouring Mezritsh, with the pighair line of business. There were hundreds of workshops in the town and most of them were located in the homes of the tradesmen themselves. It is understandable that the housewife would involve young apprentices in doing the housework, and in their first years they would also at times, assist the tradesmen with his work.
Work would begin in the very early hours of the morning in the summer, from sunrise to sunset, and in winter, work would begin when it was still dark by the light of an oillamp and they would work until 8 or 9 at night again by an oillamp. There were occasions when in workshops where articles had to be completed for transport, every week on a Friday, they also worked through the night on a Thursday. Most craftsmen stood in the workshops and worked together with their workers.
On Fridays the workers were paid their salary. The apprentices were not paid, except on the festivals when they received a few groshen (small coins) for a haircut.
The work was hard because no mechanical power was used, and work was done in a very primitive manner.
Under the influence of the organized workers' agency, the difficult work conditions changed even before the 1st World war. The workers began to push their employers for various changes and in the first place, they demanded a shorter number of working hours. The expectation of improved social conditions never came into consideration. In the later years, under Polish rule, some workers were insured in a health insurance fund and their employers had to pay a certain fee. In almost all workplaces in this period, the 8hour work day was already observed.
In the Russian period, the Jewish tradesman did not know about taxes at all, but in the Polish period (19181939), he became a debtor of the Polish treasury. The Jewish tradesmen were encumbered with such high taxes, that most were not in a position to pay. So, the tax officials actually emptied their homes of every piece of furniture. That was the time, when the idea of a cupboard, built into the wall, was developed so that the taxofficials would not be able to remove their possessions. Many tailors would obtain a receipt from their clients, confirming that the material belonged to them, to avoid a requisition from the taxofficials.
Another law was added regarding Sunday as a day of rest that made it possible for every policeman to harass the Jewish tradesmen. Although the overwhelming majority of the Jewish workshops were situated in the courtyards and not in front, on the streets, yet the policemen would come and issues warrants for desecrating the Sunday.
The three statistical tables presented here belong to the year 1921, developed under the direction of the engineer Heller, Warsaw 1923, on the basis of a poll about Jewish industrial enterprise in Poland.
What is relevant to Biale, are the tables concerning mainly the artisanworkshops, because, besides Ra'abbes factory, two sawmills and two mills and the vinery, there was at that time in Biale, no other Jewish industrial enterprise.
It can be assumed, that the figures in the tables are not comprehensive. We see from them, that in 1921, there were 402 Jewish work enterprises (of them 26 not active), with a sum of 861 workers, of whom 758 were Jews.
|Stone, clay, glass*||1.1||9.2||19.9|
|No of active
|Active||NonActive||Total employed||Owners||Family Member||Salaried Workers|
|Stone, earth etc Ind.||4||2||2||||79||2||2.5||||||2||2.5||2||||||75||95||75|||
|Machine and Technical Ind.||7||1||6||||11||7||63.6||3||27.3||1||9.1||||||1|||||||||
|Leather skins & similar Ind.||9||4||5||||24||12||50||1||4.2||11||45.8||9||||2|||||||||
|Clothing and fur Ind.||186||88||92||6||377||183||48.5||30||8||163||43.2||77||30||56||1||0.3||||1|
|Nutrition & enjoyment facilities||68||12||51||5||160||61||38.1||60||37.5||32||20||26||6||||7||4.4||7|||
2. Employed persons
In the later years, before the 2nd World War, Biale possessed the following Jewish tradesmen:
Carpenters, bricklayers, painters, cabinet makers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, metal workers, turners, electrical technicians, radio technicians, shingle makers, sawmill workers.
Tailors, seamstresses, shoemakers, hat makers, milliners, furriers, Kushmers, cutters and stitchers of shoe leather, knitwear producers, makers of wadding, wool combers, knitters, lace makers, embroiderers, corset makers, sock makers.
Watchmakers, goldsmiths, printers, book binders, photographers, grease makers.
Bakers, butchers, vintners, paraffin makers, gruel/porridge makers, gardeners, confectioners, fleecers, fishermen, pitch makers.
barbers, wig makers.
Despite the sweeping policy of the Polish regime to transfer trade and work to the local Poles, there were, until the 2nd World War, trades in Biale that lay entirely, 100%, in Jewish hands, like: hat making, glass making, metal work, woodlathing, printing, book binding, etc. All attempts to introduce Christian tradesmen in these areas, remained unsuccessful. Even in the aircraft factory, where later, they did not allow any Jewish tradesmen, they were forced to employ the Jewish glazier, Feigenboim, and the Jewish metal worker, Yisroel Felman.
The aforementioned once vicegovernor of Biale, B. Gurny, in his monograph of the Biale Circle, states that Jews in the Biale Circle controlled
56.5% of the entire handwork in the Circle. According to him, until 1939, 1286 handworkers' cards were issued to the Jewish tradesmen. If we should also accept, as we did with trade, that the Jews in the Circle, whose numbers were the same as the number of Jews in Biale, were represented percentage wise to the same degree as the Biale Jews, that would mean, that Biale officially possessed close to 643 Jewish tradesmen. We say official, because in fact, there were many Jewish tradesmen who worked without handworkers' cards, particularly in the province.
In the monograph mentioned here, it states, that the Jews in the Circle were educated in: tailoring 80%, painting 90%, hatmaking 100%, shoemaking 78%, hairdressing and barber 75%, metalwork !00%.
The participation of the Jews in the Circle, in the free professions, is classified at 25%.
Jews in the town were active in the following free professions: doctors (1 3), dentists (1 2), advocates (1 4), midwives, dental technicians, bookkeepers, clerks, forestry experts and business employees.
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