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[Page 165]

War 1914

On August 1st, 1914 there appeared mobilization notices on every house in Bransk.

These notices thrust fear into everyone, and most especially into the Jewish population of the town.

A couple of days later, sad scenes play out in town. Women accompany their husbands, mothers cry for their sons and little children stand in stony silence when their fathers bid everyone goodbye before they leave for service. Their hearts tell them that not everyone will return.

Very soon reports begin to arrive from the front, reports about the fallen:

Berl Koze, Meir, Yankl Meir's, Maishe Pesakh the miller's son, Khaim Libetchke's son, Mele Alyiekshener, Pinye Glazer, Anshel the grave–digger's son, Zavl the carpenter's son Khone and many others.

Many wounded arrive from the front: Maishe Gershon Ber's, Mordekhay the barber, Khaye Motelikhe's husband and others. They become aware of many who were captured and their relatives are happy.

The town is overflowing with many homeless Jews who had fled the towns that were near the border.

In Bransk temporary housing is created for these refugees either with acquaintances or with distant relatives and even with Jews who gave up space in their homes.

The Bransk youth sets up a committee for the homeless whose duty it is to supply everything possible for the refugee Jews in town.

In order to raise money for this work, they arrange a show and also readings of works by certain writers.

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The initiators of this undertaking were Ezra's daughter, Nakh Pentman, Leybl Bransky, Lahke the cantor's, Nekhman Goldberg, Levitt, a woman dentist. They did much to help the homeless get settled.

Bransk is filled with Russian military among whom are many Jews, most of them from deep Poland, Jews with beards. A kosher kitchen is established in the Khasidic house–of–prayer and study where Bayle the Malyesherke cooks for forty Jewish soldiers.

The general mood is a constricted one. There is word of false accusatory stories against Jews in other towns that are near the front.

The commandant at that time in Bransk, a true pogrom'tchik (instigator of pogroms) warns the Jewish population about sabotage. He threatens severe punishment.

A provocation occurs. A wagon with homeless Jews was traveling from Ostralenke to Bielsk. The soldiers who were guarding the highway cut the telephone wires and halt the wagon of Jews and accuse them of sabotage. It is almost at the point of a field–trial. They are faced with certain death when Rabbi Shimon Shkop intervenes. He convinces them of the innocence of the detainees. They are released.

A second incident occurs. Hershl Benduger becomes virtually insane, cuts the telephone wires. Dr. Domansky confirms that this person is insane. Even Rabbi Shimon cannot help. He is detained. There are already rumors that Hershl Benduger has been shot. They saw how they had led him to the Christian magistrate. Five years later, Hershl returns to Bransk, released through the revolution. He had left Bransk as a confused person and returned home completely insane.

The population is divided in two camps. A portion agrees with the Germans and is happy with their victories; a second part is for the Russians and are happy with German losses. There are always debates in the synagogue between these

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two camps.

Aron Velvl Beker is thrilled with Russian defeats and Itsl Vartovnik shouts: “You will yet yearn for the Russians.”

Only in the new house–of–prayer and study were there no debates, because Notn Zelvin the Moskver, a true patriot, was there. Mr Notn Zelvin saw to it that the congregation should rise up. He was very happy when he stood up in the “Hanutn Tshueh.” (?) He was pleased when he read in the Novaya Vremya newspaper that the Russians had occupied Lemberg in Galicia. But the Moskver suffered much from the Russian defeats at the Mazure Ozyeres in Tanenberg in Prussia.

Bransk Jews became very familiar with geography, knew of all the important points of the Carpathian Mountains up to the Baltic Sea. They became well–acquainted with the names of all the generals who were heading the commands.

And so time played out in this fashion. Every month there was a new conscription. All of the youth is enrolled in the army. There are those who hide, waiting for the day the Germans would enter Bransk and they would become free people.

More homeless fill the town. In addition, Bransk becomes a military camp. There are soldiers to be found in every house. There can already be seen from afar how the fires light up the sky. The front comes closer to Bransk. Bransk begins to pack up in preparation to fleeing deep into Russia. However, their number is small because there no horses or wagons available. Many flee to Orla. They had convinced themselves that the town of Orla, according to their understanding, was not in danger. Those who come there quickly find out that their understanding was false because Orla is soon bombed. Three Bransk Jews become victims there: Berl the blacksmith's wife and a daughter and Hershl Yudl – Hoyever's wife.

Notn Zelvin the Moskver runs away on foot from Bransk. He has a single ruble with him, throws it into the charity box and sets out without a groshen, with nothing, not to fall into German hands.

Suddenly there is news: Tchekhenovtse is burning. Bransk is filled

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with those fleeing from Tchekhenoftse. Cossacks appear in the streets. They immediately begin to burn Bransk. Rabbi Shimon Shkop collects money and gives it to the Cossacks. One of the Cossack officers notices Rabbi Shimon's watch. Rabbi Shimon Shkop takes it out and gives it to the officer. Bransk is not burnt.

An unanticipated fire breaks out on Mill Street. The bridges burn. The army retreats. The town is left by itself. There are no longer any Russians. Some time later they hear: mazel tov, mazel tov. A woman shouts that she had seen German troops coming. After a few minutes, there appear in the streets of Bransk Germans with murderous eyes and fat red mouths.

Young Jewish youths, dressed in civilian clothes who all had thought were no longer alive, make an appearance. Whether it was worthwhile to wish mazel tov when the Germans entered, we will see.

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38 Months of German Occupation in Bransk

On September 14th, at 6 a.m., the Germans enter Bransk. They immediately begin to grab people to build bridges. They behave brutally towards those whom they caught. Two people are forced to carry a heavy log. This is physically impossible and they receive a bad beating.

Horseback riders guard the side positions near Kalnitse. Bransk is filled with German wounded. It immediately becomes a garbage heap.

The following day the Germans begin to bring order into the town. The commandant requisitions the flour from all the flour merchants, as well as all other food articles. A plague breaks out in town. They hide the sick from the Germans because they poison them. They do not offer any medicinal aid.

A gathering is called and a town committee is formed. Who? You guessed it – Yerukhim Goldberg, Elye Gotlieb and Yitskhak Rozenboym become the representatives of the town administration. A militia is organized from the revolutionary elements of the town. A cultural group is organized – a community. The chairman of the community is Ezra's son–in–law, Auerbukh with the nickname Katshinskale.

Bransk Jews feel the taste of the German occupation. It becomes forbidden to be in the street after 7 p.m. They sit in the house in darkness. Lights are not permitted. They grab people from the streets to go to work. They grab them from their homes, from synagogue. You finish the work and

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are going home and then you are caught again. There are beatings at work, there is less food. There is hunger in many homes. There is no work available for anybody. Those who had merchandise to take to other towns are forbidden to travel. There is no raw material. The shopkeepers remain in their empty stores.

They distribute bread cards, flour cards. The flour is mixed with something that gave the bread a bitter taste. People die from eating this bread. Certain deaths – the limping tinsmith's wife – are confirmed by the doctor as having been a result of the bread.

Women organize a demonstration to the magistrate with the bread in hand. The Jewish representatives shout to them: Go home. It appears that they have not eaten the bread. The majority of the Jewish population suffers from the cold. No Christian would bring any wood into town. And nobody had anything with which to make a purchase. There was wood lying on the highway that the Germans were taking to the train, so they would take a chance with their lives and go out at night to get a few pieces of wood so as not to freeze in their homes. This is how Khaim Odesser was shot, while trying to take a couple of pieces of wood.

Typhus showed up in town. The doctor immediately informed the occupying power. The people are removed to the hospital and quickly these patients die. This happened to Binyomke the baker, Avreml the barber and Kutikhe's daughter.

The deaths resulting from hunger, cold and illness were many; old and young.

The winter of 1916 was a terrible one in Bransk. The occupying power demands workers to be sent to the front lines as protective trench diggers. Our representatives at the magistrates and the culture groups make a list of whom to send for work. It is the poor and helpless who are usually chosen for the work. When there are protests the answer is: What

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Is the difference? You work here as well, so you will work there. The first group of workers who were sent to Baranovitch were, for the most part, from boys without families in town. They returned, having run away, with frozen hands and feet, broken. The Dzeshenikels boy, Yisroel Yehuda, did not return. He died somewhere out.

The second part that was sent to Gainofke (Russian) [Hainovka – Polish][1] was also comprised of such poor worker boys. My brother Shloym'ke and I were included in this group. When they needed more, they took those who were married. Then they took women whose husbands were in the army. They gave them twenty marks and sent them away. Those who were once runaways did not receive the twenty marks. Deserters were also called. The more affluent did not go to any work because they were or were declared to be rabbinical students, or they were firemen. Poor people were not accepted as firemen, only the upper class. The firemen were used to help catch workers. Later, it was ordered that the firemen should be used to drive trucks, so the magistrate people invited the poor boys to enroll as firemen. They actually declined this honor to now become firemen.

Because the population of the town was too dense, the administration of the power ordered a portion of the people be sent to the village. Once again, these were people who had dared to protest against the community providers. I remember that Zushe the tailor, Yankl Brezhnitser, Maishe, Shmuelke Slove's, Shnebele and others, were part of those who had been sent out. Others flee. Those who had been sent out are stricken from the bread list. Of these, only the deceased were brought back to Bransk for burial.

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People now went to work. The bitter bread now became sweet. A new means of earning a living develops – smuggling, i.e. bringing either food or merchandise into town. Smuggling was forbidden and yet, smugglers were mostly from the richer that made “protection” possible.

Yoske Leyzer Katsev's was in Bransk. He had strong protection from the Zshandar. He was a small man with an officer's jacket, officer's boots. Rabbi Shimon Shkop used to call him Mr Yosef. This Yoske was actually not a bad sort, a good brother. When Hershl Zager loses a wagonload of flour, Yoske gets it back – really a good brother.

At the beginning of 1917, new winds begin to blow. Political organizations spring up of their own accord: “Bund”, “Zionist.” The organizations are founded in secret so that the Germans should not take notice. The Zionist organization is founded in Yerukhim Vigodski's house, and in Gedalye Kozidovtche's, the “Bund”, – both in secret. Speakers come from Lodz for joint gatherings. The battle between the parties is a lively one. Speaking for the Zionists was Shneyer, Rabbi Shimon Shkop's nephew and for the Bund – Shloym'ke Trus.

Proclamations against the occupation make an appearance in town. There are protests against eliminating bread and fat (grease). After a twelve–year silence, the old political parties come to life under the nose of the occupying. power.

The protests gain strength against the town cultural group which sends workers to the Germans for forced labor. The protests work. They no longer send anybody for forced labor. Rumors of a revolution in Russia begin to circulate.

Secret agents come from Bielsk to investigate what is happening in Bransk. Bielsker friends inform us beforehand. The occupation agents receive a warning to leave town within one hour. It works.

The hidden books of the library are brought out. The youth wants to learn. Newspapers arrive from Warsaw with Jewish train officials because the mail delivery did not include newspapers.

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Group of BUND in 1917, under nose of the German might

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The administration of Linat Ha'tsedek organizes a theatre performance – the “Wild Human” by Yankev Gordon. Several town boys and girls perform the roles. In secret there is brought from Bialystok the Jewish theatre group. They are couplets:

The German will give everything
For Shabbos fish and khales.[a]

There are now those giving information to the Germans who want to know the meaning of the song, and orders the artists to leave Bransk.

The Linat Ha'tsedek (? righteous ) and Visiting of the Sick are active. They help with medicines for the sick to aid in their recovery.

Everyone is now aware that the Germans are stuck at the Marne in France. There is a feeling that the Germans will leave very soon.

During the night of November 11, 1918, the Germans pack up and depart the town. They leave behind their belongings. The German occupation has ended.

There are new sufferings for the Bransk Jews under the Polish government.

Footnote (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. The town now on the Polish Belarus border where Rubin Roy Cobb's paternal uncle Shimon Kobylanski lived with his wife Tzvia Stern Kobylanski lived. They had no children and were deported to Auschwitz in January/February 1942. Return
Footnote (Mindle Crystal Gross)
  1. It rhymes in Yiddish Return

[Page 175]

Bransk at the Beginning of the Polish Government

The Germans departed Bransk during the night, and a temporary citizens' committee is organized as well as a citizens' militia. Jews are part of both the committee and the militia.

The citizens' committee takes over the warehouses with various foods and military articles that the Germans in their haste, had left. The militia guards the magazines that were located in the church. Yakh'ke the shopkeeper constantly goes to Alter and warns him: “Alter, be careful with the rifle.”

Once again, the town finds itself in a constricted mood. They already know which power will command. In place of the brutal Germans there will soon arrive fanatics, the legionnaires. They are afraid of the Poles.

The following day, the 12th two drunken Poles ride into town. Kuzshmes a son of Lubyeshtch, and a manager of the Rutker estates around whom the Polish youth congregate. Their speech is brief: “People, we now have our own Poland. Now we will fight the Bolsheviks. Whoever will not follow will go to the gallows.”[1]

They left quickly because there were still Germans who have wandered from Tchekhenovtse to Bielsk.

Doctor Domanski and the Christian pharmacist calm the town, but the Jews are frightened.

The Jewish legionnaire Hershl Sheyne's along with Polish legionnaires

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are caught by the Germans and dragged along to Bielsk where they suffer terrible beatings and are disarmed. The Germans quickly return to Bransk. On the 2nd day of Khannukah, at 1 p.m., a Polish military group arrives, disarm the Germans. The gendarme Lemkin is shot. The Germans are chased out with nothing. The following day Bransk is filled with returning Germans. The battle lasts the entire day. In the evening, Germans once again force their way in. They see their dead comrade, become enraged, murder and burn. There are victims. The miller with the nickname of Tchatche, the son of the Polyeteler shepherd, his wife and partner, a Sokol Jew, are burned when their house is set on fire. The Alientsker shoemaker's brother, who had just returned from the war, is shot. Bransk is burning on all four sides.

Rabbi Shimon Shkop immediately organizes a relief action. He is insulted by the Germans. A German by the name of Herman who had remained in Bransk stands up for the rabbi. Rabbi Shimon Shkop gets away with no more than fright. Then there was an uncertain situation – one day, the Germans and one day, the Poles; in town Germans and outside of town Poles. Jews are caught on the road or in the villages. They are robbed and relieved of their weapons. These captured Jews are taken to Lapy or to the village of Pyetkeve where they are beaten.

This will be corroborated by Sender Chomsky who received 25 blows. Revisions are made. My brother Shloym'ke Trus is arrested for having the Bundist archive. The legionnaire Shtaynman intervenes and for two litres of brandy my brother is freed. Five litres of brandy bought permission to open a Bundist club.

Some modicum of order is restored. There is a magistrate. Khaim Gotlieb is vice–chairman. A couple of Jews become community administration members.

It is not quiet. People are afraid to travel by train. Beards are being cut off. There appear in Bransk the Holyartchikes. Their first act is:

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Yiddish Folk School, some of the Teachers

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upon encountering Binyom'ke the tailor in the street, they begin to cut his beard. However they receive blows because Lipe Portselaynik, Froytche Sane's fight back, and even the Christian Zogar helps them. There is no further attempt to cut Jewish beards in Bransk.

It is very dangerous to ride on the roads behind Bransk. Bransk Jews travel to Shepetove and are attacked, beaten and robbed. The attackers are identified but it does not help.

It slowly becomes a little quieter. There is the beginning of some kind of normal life. Once again, political parties spring to life and there are gatherings, the library opens, there are many newspapers. Every couple of days there are presentations by various parties with their own talents. Decorations are painted by Avreml Bransky.

They organize a folk–school with good teachers: Khaim Tsvi Bransky and Avreml Branski as head teacher and Shvartz from Trestine. Children from all parties study in these schools, even from Mizrakhi[2] because the school administration is comprised of representatives from all parties.

A Mizrakhi[3] cooperative store becomes active in Bransk, managed by Yerukhim Goldberg, Leybl Vayner and Motl Shuster. Food was sold there only to a member of the cooperative.

In 1919 there is a gathering of all Jewish communities. This gathering takes place in Bialystok. The Bransk community has to elect a delegation. A big election battle takes place in regard to this gathering, and five parties are chosen. The “Bund” wins.

Later on administration members from various parties are elected. Elected are: Ratmener Epshteyn, Hershl Bransky from the Bund, Khaim Kestin and Yenkl Pribut from the Poale Tsiyon, ** Khaim Hershl Bransky, Yosl Mishurek from the Zionists, Maishe Smurzik and Berish Kagan from Mizrakhi, a Communist, Katchmarsky becomes the arbitrator (?). Later he runs away to Russian with the Soviets.

The magistrate decides to designate May 1st as a workers' holiday. In general, all the parties had representatives, responsible people. They worked together in all town matters.

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Yosl Mishurek
Murdered near Vishkov
Khaim–Hersh Branski
taken when 25 years old
Died in New York in 1947


The year 1920 sees the beginning of mobilizations. The war between Poland and Russia is in full swing. The youth as well as older people are called to military service. A movement is created that argues that Bransk does not belong to Poland and therefore, does not have to participate in military service. There are others, whoever, who are against this movement.

There are no proper records listing Bransk Jews. The magistrate with the aid of Christians say: Itchka Mordka are the same age as my Stazhek and therefore, do military service.

The war comes closer to us. Poland has already fled Kiev. Pilsudski's war plans fall through. Bransk is now filled with Polish military. Jews are grabbed for the trenches. Everything around Bransk is burning – the danger increases. Shooting can now be heard. The Polish military leaves Bransk. A folk–militia is organized. Jews are a part of this militia. On July 26th, 1920, all the Poles flee, and now unfamiliar soldiers arrive and rob the town. Screams are heard from

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Jewish houses, from the helpless Jewish women. Jewish daughters are raped. The Poznatchikes and Halyartchikes do their work. There is no protection.

On July 27th there is a battle between the Polish and Russian military. Mordekhay Fuhrman is lightly wounded when he goes out for water. The Poles flee, leaving their captured comrades in the Bransk streets. They pay a second visit which fails. The first Red Army soldiers make an appearance in the streets of Bransk. The following day, July 28th, 1920 it was finally quiet.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Tali – another word for gallows. Return
  2. Religious Zionists Return
  3. Workers of Zion (Labour Party) Return

[Page 181]

Polish–Soviet War
(20 days of the Soviet Power in Bransk)

New troubles begin. The shops are empty, the merchandise robbed. That which remained the Soviet soldiers bought out with their Soviet money that was worthless. There was no way to earn a living, no work.

The first Soviet commissar of the workers' military revolutionary committee makes an appearance in town. His name is Tsiganov. It doesn't take very long before Bransk figures out that Tsiganov is a Jew who comes from the Poltaver region. Tsiganov was a jolly person, full of Jewish jokes and songs. By trade he was an actor with the Jewish drama group in Odessa.

He arranges gatherings. He makes speeches. He answers questions, almost always with a joke.

A Poplover Christian asks a serious question at a gathering. “Good,” says the Christian, “we will sell our bread and our products to the power. The money is worthless. There is nothing for us to buy. There is no merchandise here.” Tsiganov answers him in Russian: “This will lead to difficult trouble too.” Whether the Poplover Christian was satisfied, I do not know.

Two Bransk Jewish girls also ask a question: “We do not have a cow and the rich peasants have two cows. Is this justice?” Tsiganov asked the girls: “Did you ever have a cow?” “No,” the girls answer. Tsiganov says: “So then you will continue to not have a cow.” They

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had plenty of jokes, but in truth, there was nothing.

Jews take positions in the militia. Epstein becomes the manager of the militia, Khaim Kestin chairman of the community. Alter Trus receives the post in Kalnitser courtyard as community leader, and other such work.

Various clubs are founded in Bransk; Yevsekishe[1], Poale Tsiyon and Bund. The Soviet power is now in effect in Bransk.

Now came the Tsherzvitshaayke spies. They stab through everybody with their piercing eyes. Arrests begin. Jews and Christians are arrested.

The Tsherzvitshaayke find documents in the cellar of Avrume Shkop's brick house. These spies find many items that people had hidden there. Among these were lists of Zionist leaders. They arrested Yosl Mishurek and Yisroel Shapira, 2 prominent Zionists. The front continued on further to Poland, and these two were dragged along to Vishkov. Later, when the Russians returned, they were found in Vishkov near Warsaw – murdered.

There is a noticeable dissatisfaction with the new Soviet rulers, even among the sympathizers, most especially with the military communists who were very strict during wartime. In addition at that time there crept into the main committees unwanted elements. Some of them used to check the ovens to see if the bakers had used them, others searched for no particular reason on the off–chance that they would find something or someone breaking the law, making themselves into big–shots. They would not have lasted long.

Suddenly there appear in Bransk large military divisions. Panic erupts. The Russians retreat.

Whoever can flee, does, and not only the officials but any Jews. Everybody runs. They already knew what this was about. The Poles (in Yiddish Polaks) are returning to Bransk. The front up to Warsaw has been broken. The Poles called it the “divorce” at the Vaysl. To this very day, many of those who had fled remained

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in Russia: Shloym'ke Trus, Avrum'tsye Kritz, Hershl Bransky, Avruml Bransky, Itche Albayter, Tsolke Shrait, Nomke Blayman, Berl the Beder's, Itche Gorokhovsky, Khaye–Dina and her husband and others. Others returned to Bransk later on.

On August 18th, the Poles come to Bransk. There are no longer any Soviets present. The Poles now begin to take Jews for forced labour. They chase all the young and old to build the bridge, throw people into the lake. The rabbi, Rabbi Itskhak Ziv, is assigned to drag heavy logs and other difficult work. Sholem Krotz is tied to a horse and dragged through the streets. They do the same thing to Maishe Elye Dovid's. They steal whatever they find. They catch Jews to herd horses and cows.

Tchekhenover[2] Jews, brothers with the name London, are murdered by the Poles, as well as their sister's groom.

An unknown Jew is also murdered. To this very day, no one knows who he was.

The war did not last long. Peace is arranged in accordance with the Riga Tractate. A little bit of normal life begins in Bransk, filled with renewed hopes for better times. Poland becomes a free country.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. A leftist East European political organization Return
  2. After the fall of the Tsar in October 1917, a secret political police force is established called the Cheka. Return

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Bransk in the New Poland

At the beginning of 1921 they began to believe that finally, a normal way of life would take hold. Bransk Jews make an attempt to rebuild the destroyed economic life. This was very difficult. The houses had no windows, the stores had no merchandise, because during the war years, everything had been burned or stolen. Workers have no work. There is no new material. Everyone's clothes are patched.

The first aid comes from America from the Bransk Relief of New York, from relatives, from friends. This mostly is used to begin building. Shopkeepers stock their stores with merchandise. Workers have work and there is raw material, dry goods, wood, iron and even thread that can now be obtained as long as there is money.

There are still many bandits remaining from the war years. They are in the woods, rob and steal. In the month of March, a group of merchants from Shepetove, while traveling is attacked by a masked band in the Vilyener forest and are robbed. Murdered are Itskhak Mordekhay Vaser, Maishe Zilbeshteyn, Leybl Furman's son, Hershl and Ayzik Hurvitz, Beznazik's son and others. Yoske Bransky's son pretended to be dead and thus, was saved. Traveling by train was terrible. People were thrown out as it was moving. Little by little, it calmed down. Many Branskers left for America or other areas. Others did not have to whom to go to nor did they have the means with which to go.

Bransk slowly rebuilt, enlarged the businesses

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and adding many new stores. Workers of various trades worked for the markets and fairs. Others worked for the home front. There were new producers of kvass who take their brew to fairs in other areas. They are dubbed “zakazne.”[1] Wheelwright and blacksmith businesses strongly developed while other trades, such as painting went under. The most important fairs were in Bielsk, Gainovke (Hanovka), Visoki, Mazavyetski, Sokole, Lapy, Tchizhev and Tchekhenovtse.

There were many Jews who were village–travelers. They sold various small articles. There were also a large number of women village–travelers. However, later on, they ceased to be. There were many “table–merchants” who exhibited their wares on small tables in the market. Like in days gone by there was Gotshekhe Malke. They were called “the sitters” and there is no longer even a remnant of them. However, in their memory, there is one who still carries on this same business, like Notshikhe. (?) This is Yenkl Treger's wife, an aged woman. She sells apples, cherries, pears, red and black berries, beets and gooseberries in the street. I noticed her and her little table in the market in 1938. It reminded me of my childhood years when I sometimes would get a groshen from my mother. I would run to the table to buy the fresh berries, go home and make a shehekheyanu (thanking God). My mother and father would be so proud, wiping their damp eyes and wishing to live another year. I remember that I loved to buy from Malke the sitter. She would give a full spoonful of berries and then add five more. First she would ask me whose little boy I was – Sheyne Yente's son? So come here, a few more berries. Gotshekhe never gave away anything for nothing. She put the berries in a little paper, never giving any extra. She was a “berye” – (a woman capable of doing everything), a good businesswoman. I still remember the “krokhmales”[2], sort of little dolls, arms and legs outstretched, painted red and blue. These would be purchased by the Christian girls on their way home from church on Sunday.

From today's table–merchants – they were called “straganes”, one could buy manufactured items: men and women's

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underwear, such as from Khanele's daughter and Perl's Ariel's and the candy–maker. The tin smith sat with her lanterns, graters, funnels and bunyes (?). The Poplover's table was covered with all kinds of combs, pins, laces, needles and thread. Khaye Esther specialized in selling paint. Shinke Bloyshteyn, Khanah, Shloyme Itche Yoske's and Dovid Litvak's wife had various items displayed. Slowly business grew. The Jewish artisans also had the means of earning a living. This is how it was until 1923.

Taxes now make an appearance. There are taxes for both the present and past years. If one could not pay the taxes their belongings would be sold at auction. One cannot realize much from an auction, so once again, they owe taxes. The houses are now empty, everything has been taken and taxes still have to be paid.

Jews notice that the poorer shopkeepers or artisans pay higher taxes than the rich merchants resulting in scandals. They come to synagogue on Shabbos and they don't permit prayer. Why should this be? They did not have those representatives who could properly evaluate the worth of their businesses. The prominent merchants of the town were those who did the evaluation. One who had an income of 5,000 zlotys a year was valued at 100,000 zlotys. The tax collector comes to town on Monday and he does not know that prayer on Shabbos had not been permitted. He auctions and removes the property in his wagon. This was called Grobski's wagon.

This led to the creation of unions, a merchants' union and an artisans' union. These unions represented the interests of their members, and in the main, made sure that the taxes were completely just.

As a result, there arose many various and important organizations and institutions, credit–establishments under the new Polish government. We will describe them in further articles.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Prohibition Return
  2. Starch Return

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Merchants' and Artisans' Fareynm (Union)[1]

On a rainy day at the beginning of the summer of 1923, a gathering of all Bransk merchants took place in the third house of prayer and study. The merchants' union is founded under the leadership of Khaim Gotlieb, Elye Nosn Glazer, Motke Golde, Hershl Zagel, Havol, Leyzer Rubin[2], *Avrume Yentchman and Shloyme Lazer.

The big merchants, such as: Elye Gotlieb, Khash'ke Menukhe's and others kept their distance. It is possible that they did not see any worth in such an institution. They could fend for themselves.

An office is set up in Rubin's brick house. Two writers are hired – Berish Kagan and Itskhak Finkelshteyn. However, there was no great harmony in the union. To a certain extent they did good work. They created certain branches that had good representatives. They were: manufacturing, men's wear, wood merchants, iron, shopkeepers, traveling merchants and others.

The artisans were also members of the merchants' union.

The tax issue, which was the most important and affected everyone, could not be resolved easily and all at once to the satisfaction of everyone, and so the poor had to pay higher amounts. This created dissatisfaction. There were complaints that the interests of the poor merchants are not being properly represented, and to a certain degree, this was true.

[Page 188]

Eventually, this led to the formation of the small merchants' union, led by Bentsiyon the Zarember's. Berish Kagan was the secretary of both unions. The merchants' union is disbanded and Berish Kagan carries on with the work from his home. Prices for merchandise are set. They buy the licenses for the members. They write various requests for them because individuals are not permitted to write requests relating to any business matters.

In general, the merchants had where to go for advice, but no longer to the merchants' union, rather to Berish Kagan.

The union had no particular meaning in Bransk Jewish life due to the jealous character of certain members. In addition, each was concerned with his own business, with the usual daily worries. Polish competition became stronger and shopkeepers are finally forced to close. Trayne Yankev Meir's store closes, as well as Perl Shafran's, Yosef Batslalikhe's, Akiva Skornik's[3], Khantche Galise's, Yakhe Vayns, Pinye Kruks, Khaye Khazn's, Heni Esther Maishe Khaim's.

And thus, slowly, little–by–little, various small and large establishments folded. They were unable to sustain business in the face of the fierce competition of the Christians and the high taxes. The ability to receive credit was strongly regulated, so they were forced to shut their doors.


The Artisans' Union Bransk

It was a Shabbos evening in 1923, prior to the first slikhos[4], at Gedalye Aynemer's home that there was established the Bransk artisans' union.

The first members were the following: Gedalye Aynemer, Khone Kashtan, Sholem Kukofke, Berl Sussin, Hershl Platrat, Alter Okras, Sholem Krotz, Khaim Patiker, Khaim Rypke, Maishe Mendl Toker's, Alter Trus, Tsolke Yosl Stolyer's, Mordekhay Oskart, Hershl Shpak, Avrum'ke

[Page 189]

Sussin. Mendel Toker, Berl Bobele's, Iitche–Meir Piekucki[5], Zelig and Antchel, Alter Radishover and others.

They create their statute. They choose a presidium of five: Gedalye Aynemer, Sholem Kukofske, Alter Trus, Berl Sussin and Khone Kashtan.

The first important work has to be or is to take care of the dues of the members, and to see that they be just. This meant there should be a good representation in the evaluation committee.

Gedalye Aynemer was chosen to represent everyone. He was unable to carry out this activity. He was not familiar with all the trades and their special needs. The number of workshops was then 315. Regardless of his best efforts, he still was unable to represent the various trades. Naturally, there immediately developed dissatisfaction among the members.

It is then decided that the representatives at the evaluation committee should be only those from their own trade. In this way, carpenters would not represent tailors or the other way around. Only those of the same trade who knew about their own business would evaluate the tax and the activities of their fellow workers. This satisfied all the members.

It happened that Tsolke Yosl Stolyer's opened his mouth to one of his competitors, and they pulled him out of the committee. During my time in the evaluation committee, the artisans breathed a sigh of relief. It happened many times that the tax collectors sold their items, as in the case of Maishe Susel, when they sold his sewing machine. They sold Motl the Rimher's possessions, Leybl Stelmakh's wood – all for the purpose of tax revenue. Now all of this came to an end. The taxes were established according to the abilities of the members. There was no political involvement with these people. This naturally, led to the artisans' fareyn becoming the most popular folks–organization for everyone. The gatherings

[Page 190]

were interesting.

Hershl Platrat always told jokes, the Bielsker tinsmith always made a little soda, Maishe Susel wants to make long speeches. However, he stutters, and yet wants to complete his speech.

At these meetings, the tradesmen were able to talk about what bothered them. They complain about the unpleasant atmosphere at work: at the smithy's – the axes, at the carpenters – the wood is always wet. The custom tailors complain about their situation regarding Barebare and Tchekhenoftser Mikalay fairs change place on the same day. The same is true of the Sakoler and Tchizhever fairs taking place on the same day. 'Go dance at two weddings at the same time.' To the barbers they would say wild man, and to the rimers – it smells from. The ladies' tailor would talk about bridal clothes.

The artisans' union broadens its activities, establishing the folks' bank and a no interest loan bank. When the time came for the town elections, the artisans' union puts forth its own list of candidates and wins.

In 1927, the law of artisans is accepted in industry. This leads to all workers needing to have either diplomas or artisans' cards. We all take exams, we long–time apprentice boys. The Bransk artisans' union is led so well that we receive the right from the government to examine workers and issue cards and diplomas to those workers who took the exams. We appoint for every trade special tradesmen to oversee the exams:

Tailors – Sholem Kratz and Khone Kashtan;

Hatmakers – Alter Truss and Itskhak Krinski;

Carpenters– Hershl Rutsky, Maishe Mann and Tsolke Tchakhnovetsky;

Wheelwrights – Maishe Matus Tshikhtlyer, Simkha Oyshpeter;

Butchers – Yankev Yentchman and Avrum Sassin;

Bakers – Yekhiel Leyb Piekucki[6], Berl Rozen and Fishl Kaplan;

[Page 191]

Shoemakers – Hershl Platrat, Mordekhay Ayzik Perlman and Shaye Zabludafski;

Quilters – Avrum Verpikhovsky and Leybl Vainer;

Turners – Mendl Toker and Avrum Abba Toker;

Blacksmiths – Antshl Rozen and Alter Lievartafski.

The artisans' fareyn joins the general central union of Jewish artisans. Nisl Levitch becomes the secretary. His house turns into a club where there are always people coming for information. Nisl Levitch's work is recognized by the government for his masterful activity on behalf of the artisans' union and he receives a medal for this from the government.

Every year – until the First World War – the union held a lively celebration.

The five–year celebration takes place at the first slikhos in Nisl Levitche's home. There was a holiday mood. The Polish flag and the Jewish flag fluttered on high, and between them flew the flag of the union upon which were inscribed the words of the artisans union. “Labour ? because ? how good is your lot!”

The firemen's orchestra played the Polish national anthem and the “Hatikva”. The funeral march is played in memory of the deceased members. The gathering is opened with greetings from Burmish and Khaim Gotlieb. Khaim Leyb Lyev and Rabbi Avrum Yankev Sekerevitch represent the community. Greetings arrive from all parties. There are speeches given by several members. Many cry from happiness. The heart says – who knows? May this not be ruined. Representative from Bielsk and Tchekhenoftser artisans' unions also came.

The tables were full, the audience celebrated until daylight. No one was in a hurry to leave. The time for slikhos approached and little–by–little, each left for his synagogue to attend slikhos.

The artisans' union becomes a bona–fide folks institution. Old khasidim and Communists – there is no party, just a nice folk movement.

[Page 192]

The cultural status rose through the culture group of the union. There were theatre performances, one of which presented the play “The Rumanian Wedding.” Dobtche Melamed and Riebtche Pietlak performed in the major roles. There are weekly presentations and lectures. They receive newspapers and books. The youth division is led by Itche Lievin, Shmuelke Beker's son, Aryeh Kratz and Yankev Kashtan, Khone's son. No longer are there any young apprentice boys.

There are attempts to establish a Bundishen artisans' union but their efforts are unsuccessful. The existing union is beloved by everyone. There is no way they can be dissuaded from the Bransk artisans' union.

The union functioned in secret during the Soviet power and in the ghetto.

Of the 315 members of the artisans' union there remained three living members: I (Alter Truss) in Russia and Hershl Shpak and Yokheved Golde in the partisans' division in the forest.

On September 7th, 1939, as Bransk was burning, the result of the German fire–bombs, the artisans' locale with its entire archive burns as well.

And so ends the existence of beautiful and true folks–institution that had dedicated itself to the needs and desires of the Bransk people – the artisans' union of Bransk.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Fareyn Return
  2. Related to Rubin Roy Cobb's paternal grandmother, Gelie Rokhel Rubin–Kobylanski. Return
  3. Maternal grandfather of Rubin Roy Cobb Return
  4. One of the morning prayers recited before and during the High Holydays and fast days Return
  5. Maternal great uncle of Rubin Roy Cobb – abbreviated name to Peck when came to Johannesburg, South Africa in late 1920s. Return
  6. Maternal relative of Rubin Roy Cobb Return

[Page 193]

The People's–Bank[1] in Bransk

Bransk was in need of a financial institution or bank. Trade and the growing need for raw material for the artisans, material that has to be purchased from other larger Polish towns, were bought on credit. Bransk merchants and artisans easily received this credit because the reputation of Bransk small and large tradesmen was good.

However, there was one difficulty that had to be overcome. Normally, this type of credit would only be extended when a note was signed by the purchaser. This note required a place such as a bank where the payments could be made. Bransk did not have such a bank. Bielsk[2] did have a bank like this. This meant that Bransk merchants and artisans had to travel to Bielsk and pay the note in the local bank there. This was a difficult matter. Many times they simply did not have the time to travel to Bielsk, or they had to lose too much time. Most of these merchants need to work themselves in their workshops, and so it was a great loss for them.

The artisans' union, having become a peoples' –institution, recognized the difficulty of their members and decided to do something to improve the situation, and in general, make the members more credit capable. They decided to organize a peoples' –bank in Bransk.

In March, 1924, at a gathering at the artisans' union at the artisans' locale at Nisl Lavitch's,

[Page 194]

the bank was established. The rules and regulations of the institution are put in place.

An administration is elected: Alter Trus, President, Avrum Verpikhovsky, Vice–President, Gedalye Aynemer, Treasurer, Khone Kashstan, Itskhak Meir Piekucki[3] and Antchl Rozen.

An oversight committee is chosen: Mordekhay Oskart as President, Maishe Susel, Motele Konopyate, Avrum Pulshansky and Itskhak Finklshteyn as bookkeeper.

Everything is ready for a bank, but there is still one small item missing – capital.

We now begin the work of raising the capital for the bank, because a bank without capital is something that cannot survive too long.

We take subscriptions (pledges). The first to step up to the plate is Motye Abba Trus, followed by many others who brought in their pledges. Then Mordekhay Oskart brings $500.00 without interest. This influenced others to bring in capital and the bank began to function, issuing small amounts of credit at the beginning.

The bank grows from day–to–day. Branskers bring their savings into the bank. The Peoples' –Bank becomes a true cooperative community. The central bank in Warsaw extend credit to the Bransk bank. The capital reaches the sum of 70,000 zlotys.

There is a significant improvement among the small merchants and artisans. The bank does not recall any notes. They already know who has had a bad market day and they had to wait a little longer [for payment].

The bank satisfies the needs of the population. Bransk receives a good name in the business world. Very few notes are contested.

The bank is run in a true peoples' character – there is no political favouritism, only the credit capabilities are evaluated.

Little by little, party battles develop in the bank. Various parties seek to control the peoples' –institution, but their effort is

[Page 195]

unsuccessful. The greater majority is in favour of the impartial character of the bank.

After five years, the leadership falls into party hands: Bundists, Zionists, Mizrakhi, Agudanikes and artisan merchants. Credit is given not to the credit–capable but instead, to the sponsoring party people. Each party had its own sponsors who received large amounts of credit.

The year 1930 brings a crisis. The leadership does not take the times into consideration and does not reduce the credit of its sponsors – their good brothers. The result of this was that no one paid. Those people who had their savings in the bank demand their money be returned. The Peoples' –Bank is no longer capable of extending credit.

Financiers such as Alter Vilk are drawn in to help make the bank healthy again, but instead of curing the situation, they act for their own benefit. Itskhak Finklshteyn, Alter Aynemer and Alter Vilk are speculators. They profit if the value goes up. If there are losses, the bank loses. They deal with flour and for bank money, they take away Rekhl Zagen's mill. They carry on personal business and they think that no one knows. However, Bransk does know what is going on with their money. There is a run on the bank to withdraw their savings.

There is a group that warns that the party people must give up their control. In 1936, a bookkeeper arrives from Warsaw. Finklshteyn is sent away. Trust is renewed.

The Peoples' –Bank now has competitors from the gmilas khesadim bank that lends money without interest. Yet, in 1939, the bank holdings were intact.

On October 22nd, 1939, the Soviet power enters and nationalizes the Peoples' –Bank. Regrettably, the poor suffer because it was the poor small artisans who banked money that was nationalized.

They begged the bookkeeper Pyetrovski to cover

[Page 196]

their money with notes which they would little by little most likely have repaid. Pyetrovski refused to do this.

And, so ended another nice peoples' institution that had served the Bransk population for 15 years.

It ended on April 4th, 1940 through the Soviet power in Bransk.

[Page 197]


The Folks–Bank in Bransk
Standing from the right: Itskhak Finklshteyn, Antshel Royzen, Pesakh Yerosalimsky, Itche Meir Piekucki, Alter Kokalikhe's and Shloyme Vaser the errand boy
Second row seated from the right: Avrum Verpikhovsky, Khaim Laznik, Alter Trus, Mordekhay Oskart, Sholem Kukafker, Velvl Rosencrantz, Motl Kanopyate and Hersh Awol


Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)
  1. The Folks Bank. Return
  2. Birthplace of Rubin Roy Cobb's father, Henry [Lapidut Khlawne Kobylanski (Cobb)] some 16 miles east of Bransk. The County capital. Return
  3. Maternal great–uncle of Rubin Roy Cobb Return


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