“Deblin-Irena” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VII

51°34' / 21°50'

Translation of “Deblin-Irena” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 139-143, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

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(in Jewish usage: Modzhitz)
(Pulawy district, Lublin province)

Translated by Joel A. Linsider

Population Figures


The Town of Deblin-Irena was referred to by the Jews as Modzhitz, and under that name, became renowned at the end of the nineteenth century as one of the centers of Hasidism in Poland. In 1889, R. Israel Taub settled there; he was the son of the Admor [1] R. Samuel Elijah Taub of Zvolen and the grandson of R. Ezekiel of Kozmir. In Deblin-Irena, R. Israel established the court of a separate dynasty of admorim, the Modzhitz dynasty, which became famous for its Hasidic melodies and its emphasis on melody as the basis for prayer and worship. R. Israel died in 1921, and though his son, R. Saul Yedidiah Elazar continued the dynasty, he moved to Otwock.

Deblin-Irena flourished during the first half of the nineteenth century, when it became an important summer resort. The town was not far from Modlin, where a fortress was built during the 1830s. Many Jews earned their living by supplying the troops garrisoned at the fortress, and additional Jews accordingly came to live in Deblin-Irena. The developing Hasidic center also contributed to the rapid growth of Jewish settlement in the town.

The Jewish economy in Deblin-Irena was based on commercial and craft services provided to the residents of the town and the adjacent villages, especially during the weekly market days and during the fairs held six times a year. Many of the local Jews found their living in metal working, as blacksmiths, locksmiths, carpenters, or workers in a small ironworks shop established in 1837 by a Jew named Henrick Limansky. Between 1861 and 1873, Jews established additional ironworks factories. Many Jews were numbered as well among the craftsmen in Deblin-Irena—tailors, cobblers, and leather-workers, who used the output of the local tanneries. With the development of Deblin-Irena as a summer resort, some Jews began to earn a living by providing services to the vacationers.

Jews participated in the Town's communal life and supported the Polish rebellion in 1863. In the municipal council elections of 1861, two Jews were elected to the twelve-member council.

The Hasidic way of life dominated in Deblin-Irena, and Jewish life was centered on the Admor's court and the shtieblakh of the Hasidim, especially those of Gur. Of the rabbis who served in Deblin-Irena we know by name R. Yakir, who was chief judge of the Jewish court around 1880; R. Jacob b. R. Ze'ev Orner, who served the community from 1891 to 1906, and R. Jacob's successor, R. Samuel Jacob Koppel ha-Kohen.

For many years, Deblin-Irena lacked a Jewish cemetery, and its dead were buried in the nearby village of Dombrovka, where some Jews resided. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a local cemetery was opened.

In contrast to other communities in the region, Deblin-Irena did not see the establishment of political organizations or modern cultural institutions—such as schools, clubs, and libraries—until 1918.

During World War I, the city was conquered by the Austrians, and many Jews abandoned it. Among them was the Admor of Modzhitz, who moved to Otwock and set up court there; he remained there after the war.

The Jews Between the Two World Wars

In November 1918, the forces of the anti-Semitic General Haller entered Deblin-Irena, and for many months the Jews had not a moment's peace. Men and even women were beaten, and soldiers cut the Jews' beards and confiscated their property. The atmosphere in town was suffused with hatred for the Jews, and in 1919, there was a fatal incident. Four children of the Rubenstein family disappeared, and, before long, their bodies were found near the city. The Jewish deputies in the Sejm complained to the Government in Warsaw and an investigation was begun, but the investigators failed to solve the mystery of the murder. The Jewish community had no doubt that the children had been murdered by anti-Semites living in the city or nearby.

Between the two world wars, the occupations of the Jews of Deblin-Irena were little changed. Their principal sources of income remained small business, crafts, and peddling in the villages. Most of the Jewish craftsmen were tailors, cobblers, and leather-workers. There were a Jewish-owned saw-mill, flour mill, and brewery, two Jewish physicians, and one Jewish dentist. Most of the Jews were in poor economic straits, and many were unemployed. During the late twenties, a free loan fund and free hostel society were founded, a Jewish cooperative bank was established, and the community augmented its welfare activities.

After World War I, chapters of the General Zionists, Po`alei Ziyyon, and Mizrahi were established in Deblin-Irena. During the thirties, a chapter of the Revisionist Zionists was also established. In 1928, a branch of the He-Halutz movement was organized, and, in 1932, branches of Betar and Zionist Youth were formed. In anticipation of the Zionist congresses, nearly 100 shekalim were usually sold in Deblin-Irena. In the elections for the twentieth Zionist Congress (1937), most of the local Zionists supported the General Zionists (the Al ha-Mishmar faction); the runner-up was the Land of Israel Labor (Erez Yisra'el ha-Ovedet) list.

In 1922, a branch of Agudat Yisra'el was established in Deblin-Irena. The Bund likewise was active in the city, and though it had few members, it had its own club, a venue for cultural activities.

During the early years following World War I, the community council was headed by a member of Agudat Yisra'el, but by the end of the thirties, a Zionist representative had been elected to that job.

The children of the community studied in the local general schools and in heders. In 1922, a Hebrew school opened in Deblin-Irena; it functioned for several years. In 1925, the Zionists and the Bund jointly founded a library. Before long, the library split in two; most of the books were retained by the Zionist library, now named for Hayyim Nahman Bialik. A sports club was established in association with the library.

The community's last rabbi was R. Immanuel Gershon Rabinowitz, who perished in the Holocaust.

During the thirties, with the rise of anti-Semitic activity in Poland, many shops owned by Poles were opened in competition with the Jews' small shops and with the village peddlers. In 1936-1937, incidents of anti-Semitic violence were not infrequent; Jewish market stalls were destroyed, and Jewish peddlers were attacked.

During the Second World War

On the first day of the war, 1 September 1939, Deblin-Irena had already been bombed by German aircraft. A Polish military airfield was near the city, as were arms warehouses, a military supply dump, and a bridge over the Vistula—all of them targets of German bombing. Because of the area's strategic importance, the heavy bombing continued for a full week. On 8 September 1939, the Polish army retreated from its positions in the city and abandoned the nearby airfield as well. There remained only a small garrison to guard the large ammunition dump nearby. On 11 September, the Polish soldiers set fire to the ammunition and military supplies, and they, too, retreated from the region.

The heavy bombing caused great damage in the city, including large fires that consumed houses and entire streets. During the first days of the war, there was a confused flight of residents. Many Jews sought refuge from the bombing in the synagogue, while others abandoned their homes and possessions and left for nearby settlements such as Ryki, Pulawy, and Zelechow (q.v.) or small villages in the area.

On 20 September 1939, the Germans conquered Deblin-Irena. During the first three weeks following the conquest, many residents, Jews and Poles alike, returned to the city. In Zelechow, to which many Jews had fled, the Germans assembled the refugees in the market square and instructed them to return to their homes.

As soon as the Germans entered Deblin-Irena, the Jews were called to assemble in the city square, where the German commander delivered a speech filled with hatred and threats. During those first days, the Jews were assessed an initial contribution of 20,000 zloty; at the same time, the Germans began snatching Jews on the streets and from their homes for forced labor. Most of those taken were assigned to cleaning the rubble from the streets and removing the carcasses of animals killed during the bombings. Some were sent to repair the bombing damage at the airfield.

Early in 1940, the Jews were required to don a distinctive mark—an armband with a Jewish star. Most Jews continued to live in their homes, with the exception of several established families who lived in large houses confiscated for the Germans. Public buildings such as the synagogue and communal offices also were confiscated.

During this period, the first Judenrat was established in Deblin-Irena. It had twelve members and was led by Lazer Teichman, a merchant who owned an electrical and household appliance shop and a prominent activist in the pre-war community. Other members of the Judenrat included Isaac Zelechowsky, who served as treasurer, and Moses Kamein and Joseph Kanariyenfogel, who were in charge of organizing and drafting manpower for forced labor. At the beginning of 1940, the Judenrat had already sent out to work groups numbering from 20 to 50 men. During the summer of 1940, about 400 Jewish forced laborers worked on rebuilding the airfield adjoining the city. The Judenrat established its seat in Bankova Street; next to it was established the Jewish civil police, whose principal role was to receive the forced laborers each morning and escort them to their workplaces.

In November 1940, a ghetto was set up in Deblin-Irena, in the area of Bankova, Okolna, Santurska, Wiatraczna, Neidbale, and Pashkudna Streets. The ghetto was open, with no walls or gates, but Jews—other than the groups of laborers—were forbidden to leave it. Okolna and Santurska Streets bordered on the market square, so it was relatively easy for the Jews to purchase food from the Polish farmers. A bakery in Okolna Street continued to function and supply the ghetto a portion of the bread it needed. In October 1940, Poles who owned a grocery and food warehouse received authority to continue to employ Jewish workers, and the bakery employees were able to smuggle various foods, especially vegetables, into the ghetto. Their smuggling of food into the ghetto continued until it was finally stopped in October 1942.

Soon after the conquest, at the initiative of a Jewish teacher, Ida Tziterbaum, private school rooms were established for Jewish children, who had been expelled from the schools by order of the Germans. The children studied for two hours a day, in groups of ten or twelve. The study groups continued even after the ghetto was set up and encompassed about 100 children in all, who stayed at the study-sites from eight in the morning until the afternoon. The program of study encompassed most of the subjects taught in the general schools in pre-war Deblin-Irena. The children did not study such subjects as Hebrew or Jewish history.

In the winter of 1941-42, the Germans directed the Jews of Deblin-Irena, as part of an operation carried out throughout occupied Poland, to turn over to them all of their furs and winter overcoats.

At the same time, a camp for Soviet prisoners of war was established in the fortress near the city. These prisoners suffered scarcity and famine, and the conditions of their imprisonment were harsh. Before long, a typhoid epidemic broke out among them and spread to the ghetto. With the approval of the Germans, two hospitals were established in Deblin-Irena—one for the Polish population, situated in the school building on Sochatsky Street, and one for the Jews, within the ghetto. The Jewish hospital suffered a constant shortage of medicines, but the Polish doctors transferred to it some medicines and other supplies that came from Warsaw. The typhoid epidemic in the ghetto subsided in May 1942.

In 1941-1942, the Germans established five labor camps in Deblin-Irena and its environs—two in the vicinity of the airfield, one on the road to the Village of Mierzwiaczka, one near the baggage terminal at the railroad station, and one, established in 1942, in the city itself on Lipova Street. About 1,000 forced laborers worked at the camps near the airfield, most of them Jews from Deblin-Irena and nearby towns; about 300 Polish and Jewish laborers worked in each of the other camps. The smallest of the five camps was the on Lipova Street; about 200 forced laborers worked there.

At the end of 1941 (or early in 1942), the Germans terminated the first Judenrat in Deblin-Irena. Lazer Teichman and his associates were imprisoned and transferred to the Town of Wawolnica (q.v.) and murdered there by the Germans. In his place, Wolf Solmon was appointed head of the Judenrat.

During the night of 5/6 May 1942, the Judenrat was commanded to notify a group of Jews, identified on a previously prepared list, that they were to assemble that morning at the market square for the purpose of being removed from the city. On the morning of 6 May, the Jews named on the list gathered at the designated assembly point. The ghetto was surrounded by German police officers, joined by a supporting unit of Ukrainians and officers of the Police “blue police.” The deportation was supervised by Johannes Peterson, a “Volksdeutshche” put in charge of the local German police. While the Jews were being gathered, 62 of them were murdered as they attempted to flee or as they were found after hiding. The Jews were kept in the square from 9:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the afternoon. At 2:00 p.m., a selection was conducted, following which the patients in the Jewish hospital marked for deportation were also brought to the assembly point. Those gathered in the square, numbering about 2,500, were led via Warshavska Street to the railroad station and sent to the Sobibor extermination camp. Among the deportees was Wolf Solmon, the head of the second Judenrat. After the deportation, the remaining Jews of Deblin-Irena were returned to their homes. At the conclusion of the action, the new Judenrat was directed to gather up the corpses of those who had been murdered, which were strewn about the streets of the ghetto. The corpses were first brought to the synagogue and were transferred for burial to the Jewish cemetery in the nearby Town of Bobrowniki (q.v.). Following the deportation to Sobibor, about 1,000 Jews remained in the ghetto.

On 7 May 1942, the day following the first deportation, Jewish refugees who had been expelled from Ryki (q.v.) reached Deblin-Irena, and, twelve days later, some 2,200 Jews from Slovakia were brought to the ghetto. They were quartered in the homes of the Jews who had been sent to the extermination camp. These Jews, many of them educated and professionally trained, suffered hunger and hardship and had difficulty accommodating themselves to the harsh labor regime imposed by the Germans in the ghetto following the deportation. A new Judenrat was set up in the ghetto, headed by Israel Weinberg, previously a merchant. After the initial deportation, the ghetto was transformed into a labor camp; all its residents were required to labor each day in the city or in the labor camp at the nearby airfield.

On 15 October 1942, the Deblin-Irena ghetto was liquidated. The remaining local Jews, along with those who had taken refuge there—some 2,500 people in all—were gathered outside their homes by the German criminal police (Kripo). In the course of the assembly and deportation, the German police murdered more than 100 Jews. The deportees were taken to the local train station and shipped to Treblinka.

Small groups of laborers were separated from the expellees and transferred, together with their families, to the labor camp at the airfield. They were housed in a few barracks, 250 to 300 people in each. More than 1,000 laborers were in the camp, including about 280 women; there also were 100 children. The laborers were assigned to construction, to paving airplane runways, to the sawmill that operated in the camp, and to various service tasks. Living conditions were not so harsh as in other labor camps, for this one was under the charge of the German army.

At the end of 1943, however, living conditions in the camp worsened, rations were reduced, and, in some cases, forced laborers were executed after being accused of indolence or of sabotaging equipment or structures. In charge of the laborers at the camp was one Vishinsky, a Volksdeutsche from the region of Silesia. Heading the Jews in the camp was Hermann Wenkrat, a Jew of German origin. Wenkrat got the camp authorities to approve the exemption of several Jewish women from labor responsibilities so they might care for the children, many of whom were ill. The women even organized the children into study groups, in which they learned Jewish history and celebrated Jewish holidays.

In September 1943, the labor camp near the train station was liquidated, and its occupants were transferred to the Poniatowa camp in the Lublin region. The labor camp at the airfield continued to function until 22 July 1944. With the approach of the Red Army to Deblin-Irena, the laborers were transferred to a labor camp near Czestochowa (q.v.), which belonged to the “Hesag” industrial concern. They were sent in two transports; the first encompassed primarily the men, while the second included mainly the women and children who remained in the camp. The camp guards separated some of the children from the second group, most of them ill or very young, brought them to the Jewish cemetery in Deblin-Irena, and murdered them.

Translator's Footnotes

1. Admor (pl. admorim), a Hebrew acronym for “our lord, master, and teacher”, is an honorific applied to prominent Hasidic rebbes. Return

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