Fragments of Being (Formation)
The feeling on mutual
help was very developed among the Jewish population of the town. There is a
doubt if elsewhere in another town was such a nearness and mutual help as it
was in Sopotkin.
Hospice (Hostel) for the Poor
From all the institutions engaged in mutual help, we must mention first of
all "Linas Hatsedek" (hostel for the poor). Sitting and watching a sick
person during the night was a holy obligation of this very noble
institution. A committee was formed which regulated the work of the
members of "Linas Hatsedek". When a person was very sick, the
members of "Linas Hatsedek" used to sit at the bed of the sick
during the long and cold winter nights, letting the family have a resting
break. In the new synagogue was a special room where different medical
tools and instruments were kept for the need of those who were sick.
The Storehouse for Ice
In the courtyard of the synagogue was a special storehouse for ice for the
needs of the town. Everyone volunteered a few working days
and in winter they used to travel to the Augustov canal, cut pieces of ice, and
stored them in the storehouse.
The common Baking of Matzos
An excellent example of common help was the baking of matzos for Passover.
Families got together in groups and together baked matzos for each family
large or small. The people worked hard until their work was finished to
In case a misfortune happened to a family that became poor without a source
of making a living, immediate help was organized. Everyone donated as much
as he could. There were not hungry Jews in town. If a family needed help, the
Rebetsin (the Rabbi's wife) saw to it that the family should get the financial
help secretly. We call this kind of act "Matan b'seter".
On the Shabbat days between the afternoon service ("Mincha") and evening
service ("Maariv"), preachers ("Magidim") used to
preach. Some of them were talented speakers, some not so. The
purpose of their appearance was to collect some money as dowry for their
daughters. Volunteers walked from house to house and collected donations
for the preachers. This was a very important and positive commandment.
In the days of the month Elul (last month on the Jewish calendar, before
the High Holidays), Sopotkin, which was famous for giving charity
("Tsedaka"), was crowded with poor Jews.
Gemilut Chasidim (acts of kindness, benevolence)
The storekeepers, the merchants and the peddlers were organized in a group
of common help. The members of this group used to help each other by doing
acts of kindness. It was a wonderful society of borrowers and lenders.
This way they helped each other.
Small National Bank (Gemilut Charadim Bank)
With the end of World War I the Sopotkin Jews returned to their town from deep
Russia. They were very poor and the main question was: how to make a living?
Most of them became small storekeepers or craftsmen. The main problem was:
where and how to get some credit for their business?
For this purpose a small bank (Gemilut Charadim) was established. The operating
capital of the small national bank consisted of three sources:
Every member of the bank was eligible to get a loan without interest for a
certain period of time. Instead of interest the members used to
pay monthly dues to cover the expenditure of the bank.
- Help from the United States
- Help from the territorial organization of "Gemilut
Charadim" Bank in Poland.
The National Bank
Parallel with the "Gemilut Chasadim" small bank, was
founded a real national bank based on exact banking rules. The base of
the bank was a sufficient sum of money that the bank in Sopotkin
received from the territorial organization of national banks in
Poland, from stocks that every member had to purchase and from
deposits that gave interest (%). Everyone in good standing could
receive a much bigger loan than from the "Gemilut Chasadim"
|The management of Gemilut Chasadim (small bank)
|Sitting (from right to left):
1. David Eliyahu Gotkovski, 2. Rabbi Menachem Mendl Rabinovitch, 3. Nachum
Standing (from right to left):
1. Simon Dunski, 2. Moshe Yechezkiel Samborski, 3. Ben-Zion Zarl Shadzunski,
4. Joseph Kramlat, 5. Samuel Kovnianski, 6. Chim Ozer Pozat, 7. Fayvl Mashkots
Common Responsibility and Self-Defense
In the period of the First World War appeared in town some horse thieves.
To one of the thieves was known that the Germans accumulated
in one of the houses a big amount of Russian money which they took away from
the Russians. He broke into that house and stole the money.
When the theft was discovered, the Germans arrested ten Jews and told them
if the money was not returned in a few hours, they would be executed.
The arrested Jews knew, more or less, who stole the money,
but nobody wanted to betray the horse thief. The Jews were taken outside
the town to be killed. Only because of the special endeavor of Nina Zelkin,
who was the owner of the tavern in town, were the Jews spared from death.
And another incident happened. Two Jews from the village of Rudovki came
to the town and stole horses from the German army. They brought the horses
to Grodno and kept them there. The Germans arrested a number of Jews and
demanded the return of the horses immediately, otherwise they all would
be killed. The town Jews knew who the thieves were, but did not give
them over to the German authority and were ready to die. After endeavor
and supplications the Jews were saved from death.
Groups of Self Defense
With the end of the First World War, Sopotkin became a Polish town.
The Poles began to attack the Jewish houses and robbed their
possessions. The brave Jewish youth organized defense groups which
patrolled the town from end to end. They watched over the safety of the
Jews. The young and brave people used to hide outside the town and
attacked the robbers, inflicting on them heavy losses. Fear fell upon
the attackers and the riots came to an end.
Pages 91, 92
The population of Sopotkin was divided in two parts. In the center of
the town lived Jews and in the ends of the town lived Poles. The town
was surrounded with villages.
In the last years before World War II, Polish anti-Semitism found its
way in the town at large.
Almost week after week, after the traditional market day in the town
during which many of the peasants were drunk, riots against the Jews began.
In deed, the Jews of Sopotkin knew very well how to defend themselves.
The Jews of Sopotkin were brave, healthy in body and spirit, and always
ready to defend the Jewish honor.
The brave young people of the town knew how to convince the rioters
that the Jew was not a stray and anyone who plans to hurt him must
pay a very high price.
The Volunteer Fire Brigade
At the head of the firefighter-volunteers stood Anoch, the Baker. He
organized the fire fighters brigade and was their leader. This was
his darling baby.
His face was shining from happiness when he was wearing his brass
hat. His co-worker and co-leader was Yankl Tuviyah.
The fire fighters underwent all kinds of training and exercises.
They had a band, the only one in town. They appeared at different
celebrations, parties and performances. Among the fire fighters
were also Poles.
The big fire in the town broke out during the last years. The new
cinema served a short time. It was a wooden building at the end
of Teolin Street opposite the public bath. It went in flames,
burned down to the ground, just before the first movie was shown.
The Pole, Netka, decorated with medals and marks of distinction
from the period of Polish Legionaries, set fire to the new cinema
building. He did not have patience to wait and immediately began
thinking about fire insurance, before he showed the first film.
He himself called the fire fighters. The fire fighters of Sopotkin
could not put out the spreading fire themselves and fire fighters
from Grodno were called in. At the end the fire was extinguished.
Together with the movie building, burned down two Jewish homes and
the public bath.
|Sopotkins Fire Fighter Brigade
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