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The Quiet Times


Jews in Zwolin

by Berl Kahn

Historical Short Survey


The exact date of Jewish beginnings in Zwolin is not known. However, on the basis of certain statistics and events, we can calculate the approximate date of Jewish settlement in the town.

The site was originally a village until 1443, when it was granted the Magdeburg right of township and also the name of Zwolin. From then on, it developed gradually. Trade was established between Zwolin, Kozinec and Radom. In 1488 the annual Fair was instituted.

The earliest mention of Jews was in 1554, when the names of two Jews – Isaac and Israel – were recorded. Ten years later, in 1564, there is reference to several Jewish butcher shops, 11 butchers, 7 wheelwrights, 2 Jewish mills, 1 Jewish caretaker of the Bath. In 1570 Gentile and Jewish businesses were separated. In 1579 King Stefan Batory granted Zwolin Jews the privilege of living in the town proper. In 1591 King

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Zygmunt III handed down an edict prohibiting Jews from occupying more than 10 houses, and in 15 93 from buying fur before the Gentile population had a full supply to fill its needs. Gentile cap–makers objected to Jewish cap–makers working in the same trade, and the Christian Workers Guild took a stand against Jewish labor.

Statistics indicate that after the 1550's the economic situation of the Zwolin Jews began to gain strength. Many decades passed before Jews were in a position to compete with Gentiles both as merchants and artisans.

Therefore we can assume that Jews started to settle in Zwolin in the last few decades of the first half of the 16th century.

We have sparse information about the spiritual and organizational life of these Jews. There is no reference anywhere to a synagogue or a Rabbi, although it is difficult to imagine that a town with several Minyanim (groups of 10), 11 butchers, etc. should not have a religious and spiritual leader.

In the 17th & 18th centuries Zwolin Jews further expanded their economic positions. In 1616 they transported grain, wool and fur to various places in their own 12 carts.

The number of Jewish artisans increased. In 1789 there were added to those mentioned above 4 tailors, 25 Shoemakers, 2 carpenters, 5 linen–weavers, 6 saddle–makers, 4 wheelwrights, 1 blacksmith.

Jewish trade so intensified that Gentile merchants accused the Starosta (the town's highest official, appointed by the government) of taking away their livelihood by helping Jews.

Jews were also involved in distilling whisky. The Gentiles protested, and in 1767 King Stanislaw Poniatowski ordered Jews to discontinue this enterprise. In that year there were

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8 Jewish storekeepers in the town. The records of 1765 give the names of 2 Jews who were engaged in transport: Hersh Berkovich and Yankl Shmulevitch.

The expansion of the Jewish population of Zwolin was not in equal proportion with its economic growth. The main obstacles were the frequent fires and the opposition of local gentiles to the acquiring of new sites, and construction of new dwellings for Jews. Another hindrance were the prohibitive edicts handed down by the authorities; and the wars, such as the one in 1679, when the Swedish army passed through Zwolin, plundering Jewish businesses and homes. However, it must be noted that the increase in the Polish population of Zwolin was also hindered by war and fires. One census of Zwolin inhabitants reveal that in 1662 Zwolin had 543 Poles and 102 Jews; in 1673 – 319 Poles and 75 Jews. The figures 102 & 75 refer to Jews who paid head tax; therefore we can assume that in reality there were 48 and 300 Jewish souls at that time. In other words: over a period of 170–180 years (over 4 generations) the number of Jews in Zwolin reached only 408 in 1662, and dropped to 300 in 1673.

Politically, Zwolin became part of Austria after the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. After 1815 it became part of Central Poland.

The first reference to a synagogue and house of study (Talmud Torah) in Zwolin is made in 1820, but it is not accurate. As we shall see later on, there already was a Rabbi in the town 200 years before, and one cannot have a Rabbi without a synagogue.

In 1908 a huge fire destroyed most of Zwolin.

After 1815 we have accurate statistics about Jewish population in Zwolin:

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1827 629 Jews 33%
1856 1,350 Jews 49%
1897 3,242 Jews 55%
1921 3,787 Jews 51%

There were an additional 96 Jews in the village of Zwolin–Wojtowsk.

In the ‘30’s there were 5,000 Jews in town – about 50% of the total population. This rose to 11,000 in 1942, after the Nazis herded into Zwolin Jews from other towns: Janovice, Polichne, Pionek, Gniwishow, Garbatke and others. Together with the Jews of Zwolin, they were all deported to the death camps at the end of October, 1942.


Jewish Religious Leaders of Zwolin

It was not possible to formulate a clear chronological table of the Rabbis of Zwolin. There are scanty details even about those Rabbis whom we did find. Very often the name is the evidence of their tenure in the town.

As indicated in our brief historical survey, Jews were residents of Zwolin by the beginning of the second half of the 16th century, having been granted that privilege in 1579. Several decades later there was a rabbi in Zwolin, about who we know that he died prior to 1719. Therefore we can assume that he was religious leader there about the second half or quarter of the 17th century.

His son was the well–known gaon Rabbi David Lidda, author of a number of important religious books (1650–1697).

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In the 1680's the rabbi was Zvi–Hirsh, son of Jacob.

In 1712–1713 the Rabbi was Moshe Eisenstadt, brother of the renowned gaon Rabbi Meyer Eisenstadt.

Between 1714–1743 the rabbinical seat was occupied by Abraham–Samson, the son of Shloyme, who later settled in Cracow and died there in 1747.

Subsequently Rabbis were: Joseph–David Hacohen (about the middle of the 18th century); Naftoli–Hertz Landau; Samson, a pupil of the “Saintly Jew” (about the end of the 18th century and several decades into the 19th century).

The last Rabbi was Abraham–Chaim Filderbaum. He was born in 1861. In 1906 he became the Rabbi of Zwolin and in 1942 he perished together with the entire Jewish community.


Hassidic Rabbis

Zwolin was better known for its Hassidism than for its Rabbis.

In the last century before the European Holocaust, a new school of thought, a new system, arose in Hassidic circles of Congress Poland. It had its genesis in Kuzmir, developed in Zwolin, and flourished in Modzice.

Its main characteristic was the highlighting and greater emphasis on music of praise and singing in Hassidism. The new method did not regard music merely as a Component of Hassidism. The Rabbis of Ger and Kock, for example, devoted themselves mainly to the study of Torah, with music as a supplement. Chabad and Karlin combined Torah with singing and singing with Torah. But the new system declared that music itself was a very important element of Hassidism.

This school of thought attained its loftiest expression in the

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melodies which its Rabbis composed to various prayers and for special occasions.

The three cities in Poland that were the chief participants, and were related through their rabbinical families, were: Kuzmir, Zwolin, and Modzice.

In Kuzmir it started with the Hassidic Rabbi Ezekiel Taub; in Zwolin it spread under the influence of the Hassidic Rabbi Samuel–Elie, Rabbi Ezekiel's son; and in Modzice it blossomed under the aegis of the Hassidic Rabbi Israel, son of Rabbi Samuel–Elie, and Rabbi Saul Yedidiah Eliezer, son of Rabbi Israel – all from the Taub dynasty.

Rabbi Ezekiel was born in 1806 in Plonsk and died in 1856.

Rabbi Samuel–Elie was the Hassidic Rabbi of Zwolin from 1855 to 1888, when he died.

Rabbi Samuel–Elie had several sons, almost all of whom were Hassidic Rabbis. The most renowned was the abovementioned Rabbi Israel, who was Hassidic Rabbi of Zwolin for one year and then became Hassidic Rabbi in Modzice. He was born in 1849 and died at the beginning of 1921.

Rabbi Saul Yedidiah Eliezer Taub, son of Rabbi Israel, and grandson of Rabbi Samuel–Elie, expanded the melodic trend of Zwolin–Modzice even further. He composed about 500 melodies. He was born in 1882 and died at the beginning of 1948 in Tel Aviv.

Zwolin and Modzice – twin cities. Sons and grandsons of one father. Complementary melodies and competitive motifs, related and alienating melodies – all from one source.

The melodies fused together in the heavens, but on the soil of Poland their traces vanished – forever.

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The Jews of Zwolin During World War I

by Itche Korman, Israel

I remember clearly the first Saturday in August, 1914, when the Jews of Zwolin were ordered to report to the recruiting centers. The Jewish draftees were driven in peasant carts to the mobilization center of the Russian Army. The market–place was crowded with Jews. Tears were flowing – for this might be the last time we would see each other.

I don't know how many Zwolin Jews were mobilized, but almost immediately many women and children were left without food, because their only provider – husband or father – had been conscripted. As soon as World War I broke out there was a shortage of coins, from a ruble to 5 kopecks. Only banknotes – 3, 5, and 10 rubles – were available. People were hording coins – which were made of silver – because silver always had value, but paper money was only paper and nobody, knew what it could eventually be worth.

Every Friday in the past, my father used to give me one ruble – tuition for the Rabbi. But on the Fridays during the war he gave me two 3–ruble notes, and told me to get one 5–ruble note in change; or he gave me one 10–ruble notes, and I should b ring back three 3–ruble notes.

The shortage in coins made buying and selling very difficult and had a crippling effect on trade. At that time I was studying with Nathan–David the Melamed (teacher). We were seven in the class. Each week the class dwindled, and finally we all stopped going to “cheder”, because there was no tuition money for the rabbi.

People, couldn't get bread – they didn't have the money to buy. Peasants seldom ventured into town. They were afraid

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The military would take away their horses and wagons, and give them in payment a piece of paper.

There was no more food supplies left in Zwolin. There was no flour, sugar, rice, salt, etc. Wood was a rare commodity. Workers went about idle – there was nobody for whom to work. Buying clothing or shoes was the furthest thing from our minds. When hunger pangs became almost unbearable, we ran to the neigh boring villages, trying to trade goods for food, or buying for cash, but most of the peasants refused to take money.

At the beginning, the stores remained open, but not for long. First of all, they had no customers. Secondly, the Front was coming closer, and thousands of soldiers passed through Zwolin, or stayed a day or two. They formed gangs, plundering and robbing whatever they could get their hands on. The storekeepers hid their goods in cellar and attics and closed down their shops. The worst time was at night. Then the gangs, on the pretext of looking for Germans, came and took everything they could find.

When we complained to a Russian officer, he was indifferent, or at best he told us:

“Show me who robbed you!”

How could we recognize the culprit from among thousands of soldiers? We paid the chief of police for protection, but he was unable to help us, either.

Girls and young women had to hide. The gangs who robbed us were often accompanied by gentile youths and girls, who showed the bandits where the rich Jews lived, and where there were women and young girls.

Very often when the troops stayed in Zwolin overnight, they had to be put up in Jewish homes. When they left they

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took with them our belongings. We kept silent, or else we would be beaten up.

The bakers had to bake for the military. Soldiers stood on guard, and as soon as the bread was done, they took every last loaf. We had to bake our own bread for ourselves, and this created another problem: Where to get flour, salt, wood?

It was especially disastrous for us when the Russians suffered one defeat after the other. Who was to blame? The eternal scapegoat – the Jew: the Jew is an enemy of his country, the Jew is a spy, he speaks German, and divulges secret information to the enemy. The Russians decided to take Jewish hostages and send them to remote areas of Russia, and hold them responsible to prevent the Jews from spying. They took our beloved Rabbi Abraham Chaim Fliderbaum, the Gabbai Zisl Grossman, Solomon Isaac and exiled them (Subsequently they returned).

As the Front drew nearer, we were not allowed to light lamps at night, so the enemy could not see the town. We sat in the dark. But on Friday night we took a chance and lit the Sabbath candles. It was a great risk. I remember how my mother, Kayle Miriam of blessed memory, used to light the Sabbath candles in a corner of the room. She not only covered the windows with sheets, but put noodle boards over them, to keep the light from shining through.

During the first year of World War I the High Holy Days were much sadder and gloomier than ever before. Hunger, want, and plunder, persecution. The Cossacks – the most savage and most dreaded of all – arrived just on Yom Kippur. There were two kinds of Cossacks: Those with red stripes on their trousers, and those with blue stripes. The ones with the blue stripes were not as savage as the red, and fortunately for us, they were the ones who remained.

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After the Russians left, the Germans arrived. Their system of stealing was characteristic of their usual method. They robbed us with the greatest courtesy. They would order the merchants to open their stores ad fill them gradually with the small amount of goods that was left. The Germans come into the store and select what they want. They ask for a bill. They never bargain; they pay the storekeeper in mark bank–notes and ask for change. Since the storekeeper has no marks, the Germans take back their banknotes, with the merchandise, and leave.

The Germans made our situation very difficult. They seized many Jews and conscripted them for forced labor.

The German troops stayed in Zwolin only for several days. Then came Austrian soldiers who were no better. They didn't last too long either, and then the Russians returned; Jews continually looked out through their windows, watchful and listened to every sound. They were fearful that the Russians would accuse them of treason, of cooperating with the Germans and Austrians.

But the Jews of Zwolin were lucky, and things went smoothly, unlike the situation in other towns and villages where Jews were condemned to death, hanged or shot. The reprieve did not last long for us, but it did help us catch our breath.

This was partly because the Russian soldiers only marched through Zwolin. Some of their police officers returned to maintain order. Later, when they began to dig trenches around Zwolin, they hired inhabitants from the surrounding villages: young and old, men and women, and paid them high wages. In this way the peasants earned a great deal of money, and they began to come into town to buy clothing, shoes, and other things. The gentile girls bought perfume, soap, pins and needles, etc. Everyone made money: the peasants and the storekeepers.

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It was a time of prosperity such as the Jews of Zwolin had never known.

Jewish shoemakers, tailors, and other artisans were kept busy. The shopkeepers couldn't keep up with the demand for merchandise. The town revived. Once more the Heders (Jewish elementary schools) were filled with children. I studied with Rebbe Hershl Laybush'es.

When I began to study with the Rebbe (teacher) I was the only pupil. Later I was joined by Eli, the son of Samuel Joseph Bellik, the son–in–law of Moshe Ackerman. Still later Eliezer Rosenberg, Avish the butcher's son, son–in–law of Avremele Taub; and Laybl Schwartzberg, son of Berish, joined the class.

My Rebbe was a scholar. He knew a great deal and understood even more. He behaved like a simple and modest man. He talked calmly and quietly. He didn't rely on a whip or on shouting, but on love and kindness.

My Rebbe's wife was called Dvoyre the kettle–lady, because she had two big kettles in which she boiled tea all day long, and which she sold for a few kopecks a glass. The best customers for tea were, of course, the peasants who came to the market every Thursday. During the war Dvoyre did good business.

But our prosperity did not last forever. Winter and spring came and went, and in the middle of summer a catastrophe changed our lives.

The Russians began to suffer one defeat after another on the battlefield. They were fleeing, and the Germans couldn't catch up with them.

As usual, the Jews were the scapegoats. The Russian military Command issued an edict that all Jews residing near the war fronts be deported into remote parts of Russia.

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When we learned that the inhabitants of Zwolin would be the victims of this cruel decree, we immediately began to make preparations for our exile. Since we couldn't take our belongings, we buried many things in cellars. We hid many boxes of Holy Books and all the Torah Scrolls in the Bet–Medrash and Shul.

My father and several other families had relatives in Radom. We hired horses and wagons, loaded them with household goods and set out. On the way we were stopped by patrols that wouldn't let us go on. All our pleading, tears, even offers of money, were to no avail. We had to turn around and return to Zwolin.

Jews ran around from village to village buying horses and wagons. Some went by themselves, some with partners, ad some reserved places in the wagons. Jews, who had never even known what a horse was, suddenly became drivers.

The sad day of exile from Zwolin arrived on July 8, 1915. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Carts stood in front of Jewish homes, people were packing: taking just a little clothing, bed linen, a few pots and pans – and their precious children. What else was there to take? The wagons were loaded at last, and the tearful, tragic march begins, slow and dragging. What was the point of hurrying? There is o inn anywhere to spend the night. Where are we going? Nobody knows. Going – from Zwolin. The wagon will be our bed and the dark night our cover.

The exodus from Egypt. We've been through it before. It's time to eat something, and the horses are hungry, too. It is not manna from heaven, but troubles falling on our heads. Our mothers unpack the bundles of food. People and horses need water, and we run to the nearest village, looking for Miriam's well.

The sun begins to set and we have no Joshua ben Nun to command it to stand still. The pillar of fire is extinguished,

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and the pillar of clouds remains, enveloping us in darkness. A new desert–generation, new wanderers, but without miracles, without Moses, Miriam, Joshua. Woe to us, when the world leaders are mad dogs.

We finally arrived at Konska–Wolia, and a day later in Kariw. Sanitary facilities were very poor, and there was danger of an epidemic. My parents decided to go to Warsaw, where we had relatives. Our partner, Hershl Privis, w ho had left Zwolin together with us, had no money. The driver, Weitzman the cigarette–maker, refused to take us further. My father, rather my mother, took the reins. After many stops and much terror and troubles, we arrived at the home of our Warsaw relatives. We were put up in the cellar of a factory which was no longer being used, situated in the courtyard of our relatives' house.

Thank God, at least we had a roof over our heads, a piece of bread and a potato. Weeks later the Germans occupied Warsaw, and with a German permit we dragged ourselves back to Zwolin. We were among the first to return. Our home and our store were almost completely destroyed. We had to harness our remaining strength and begin from the beginning.

Exile and wandering are the eternal fate of the Jew.

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Zwolin Between the Two World Wars

by Chaim Sharit-Shlufman (New York)


Zwolin had approximately 10,000 inhabitants, almost equally divided between Jews and Poles, with a very light sprinkling of Ukrainians and Germans, who were later called Volksdeutch by the Nazis.

Zwolin was located almost in the very center of Poland, 30 kilometers west of the industrial city of Radom, known for its leather factories and its tanneries. 25 kilometers to the east was the town of Pulawy, renowned as the birthplace of the heroic Polish general Kazimierz Pulaski, who gave his life for the independence of the United States during the Revolutionary War.

Still further East was the old Polish city of Lublin, which twice served as the capital of Poland. Lublin was famous all over the Jewish world for its great Yeshiva. The site on which it stood was donated by Shmuel Eichenbaum, a native of Zwolin.

Even by the early 1920's Zwolin was still bogged down in the 19th century. No efforts were made to develop the town and improve the living conditions of its populace. Only the two main roads, Szosa Redomska to Szosa Pulawski, connecting at the town square (Rynek), were paved. Even the square itself, which was the heart of the town, was not properly paved. Sometime in 1924 or 1925 the City Council decided to pave all the town streets. Most of this project was done by two Jews, already advanced in age. Their backs were almost bent double from their hard labor.

Zwolin was at a great disadvantage compared with many

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other towns of similar size. It had neither a railroad junction nor a waterway. As a result, it had to resort to the slow, archaic method of transportation: the horse and buggy. In the 1920's, more than 30 families depended on the horse and wagon for their livelihood.

In 1926, 28 of these drivers (Balagoles) joined together and bought a truck – for the first time – to transport goods to Warsaw. They shipped mostly dairy and live fowl – eggs, butter, chickens, grease, etc. Their vehicle didn't have rubber wheels, and had to be cranked each time it stopped. The driver was a Pole named Jerecki, whose salary was 600 Zlotys, considered high by Polish standards. He was well-respected and treated like a doctor. The highest speed the truck could reach was 20 kilometers an hour. This enterprise was managed by two Jews: Yacov Yosef and Hershl Margol.

In time, newer and more modern trucks were used in Zwolin. At the same time, modern passenger transportation was initiated in Zwolin.

In the late 1920's another major change propelled Zwolin still further into modernization – this was electricity. A Lithuanian Jew, by the name of Cechstein, arrived in Zwolin. A very ambitious man, he immediately noticed that a modern lighting system was lacking in town. Instead of electricity, Zwolin was using kerosene lamps. He installed a generator, but it did not have the capacity to provide electric power for all the households of Zwolin. A few years later he decided to build a separate power station. He made legal arrangements with the Town Council to guarantee his investments, but a short time later the city fathers decided to build a modern slaughter-house, a new power station with a new generator all under one roof. Cecstein was very disgruntled, but did not give up. He remained a resident in our town, and brought in a matzoh-making

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machine for Passover. His main source of income, however, was the bottling of soft drinks.

At this same time, the town decided to build modern cement sidewalks. With electricity, new sidewalks and the motorized wheel, Zwolin became a much livelier, modern town. In addition, the economic lot of most of its inhabitants improved. Commerce flourished because of closer and easier contact with the neighboring towns and villages.


The Years Before World War II

Major Events in Town

One of the major events in Zwolin was the elections – both local and national. There were many political parties, and at election time each party tried to put its candidates into office. Sometimes Jewish groups combined forces and ran as a bloc. Each party fought for broader representation in the Town Hall (city elections), or in the Polish Parliament (Seim). The election rules and procedures were formulated for the purpose of limiting Jewish representation. There were Jewish members in the city Council who represented the Jewish population. Zwolin, a town with a 505 Jewish population, never had a Jewish mayor. There was not a single Jew employed in the Municipal Building, the Post Office, or the Police Department. Not one of the town's street-cleaners was a Jew, although the bulk of city taxes were collected from the Jews.

Next in importance to the town elections were the elections to the Kehillah (Board of Jewish Religion and Welfare). All Jewish organizations participated in this event. A substantial representation in the Kehillah brought with it not only prestige,

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but influence with religious leaders, such as the Rabbi, Moreh Horoe and even brought economic advantages.

In the Thirties, despite all hardships, the Jews of Zwolin enjoyed a rich political and varied cultural life. The Jewish audience had access to numerous artistic events of high caliber, as for example, performances by visiting Yiddish theatrical troupes from Warsaw, Radom, and other big cities. The interests of the Jews of Zwolin were not limited only to economic and social problems. There was an active community life, dominated by various Jewish political and religious factions.

At the end of the 1920's, new organizations sprang up, and old ones were revived. The most active groups were the Hashomer Hatzair and Betar. Both these parties sponsored clubs and small libraries. There were also a Hachalutz and the General Zionist organization which played a major role in Jewish life in Zwolin. In the middle of the 1930's thee arose a new organization – Brit Hachayal, a Revisionist group. Its main purpose -- besides Aliyah to Palestine – was self-defense against anti-Jewish riots.

Most of the Jewish Youth Organizations participated in athletics, especially soccer.

Most of the major Jewish organizations and political parties sponsored Kestl-Ovntn (Question & Answer programs). Members of the audience could ask any question they wished, and members of a special committee would answer. These evenings were very popular.

In the years before World War II the situation of Polish Jewry deteriorated day by day, and Zwolin was not an exception.

The Polish National Party initiated its persecution by boycotting several Jewish shopkeepers: it placed posters on their

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storefronts with the slogan: “Don't buy from a Jew.” New stores owned by Poles were opened, and they gradually pushed the already hard-pressed Jewish merchants out of business, robbing them of their meager livelihood.

Only two Jewish storekeepers remained unaffected. These were Zelik Schwarzberg and Levi Boymlgryn. They were known throughout the neighborhood, had years of experience as wholesalers of general merchandise, and were able to compete with anyone.

In all other fields of business, especially among small retailers, the pressure increased from day to day. The Polish peasantry, the mainstay and source of mutual business relationships with the Jewish populace, was shaken to its foundations. Scare-tactics, plus constant appeals to this national pride and patriotic feelings, prevailed on the Polish peasant and farmer to shun Jewish merchants.

Most of the Poles in Zwolin established new commodity co-operatives to which the Polish farmer could now sell his products, instead of to his old friend the Jewish merchant, with whom he had dealt for many years. The Polish cooperatives were also involved in other enterprises. They sold chemical fertilizers and farm machinery on a large scale, and gained full control over the Polish farmer by making him completely dependent on the cooperatives.

There were a substantial number of Jews in Zwolin who earned their livelihood from “village-walking.” Every day, early in the morning, they flung sacks over their shoulders and walked to a nearby village to buy produce from the farmers, and returned to town late in the afternoon. Sometimes they would carry a live calf on their shoulders, or lead home a cow.

Late in 1938, many of the village-walkers stopped going

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to the farmers because they were afraid of walking alone on the road. In 1938 the first fatality of the intensified hate-program occurred. The victim was the Tinminicer, who was robbed and murdered on his way home from a neighboring village.

Despite their hardships, the Jews of Zwolin went about their daily business as usual, in fact with even more vigor and determination, because the struggle for survival had grown more demanding. They were facing a great challenge.

All this is gone now – vanished without a trace, as is the rest of Polish Jewry, with its treasure trove of cultural and artistic riches.

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The Economic Structure

by Leibush Flumenbaum (New York)

I. Tailoring

The Jewish craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, boot makers, carpenters, and cap-makers, occupied a significant place in the Jewish economy of Zwolin.

Hershel Treiman and his sons Yankl, Chone and Israel were well-known and very skilled tailors. (Israel Treiman was active in the Zwolin society in New York. He died several years ago in Lancaster, Penn.) Pesach Shneider and his sons Moshe and Itche Breintuch were also noted for their fine craftsmanship.

The ladies' tailors were: Samuel Bartmanovitch and his son Chone; Noah Kirshenblatt and his sons Motl and Mates; Yidl Kirshenblatt and his brother Alter. There were several tailors w ho specialized in the sewing of Hassidic apparel.

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Prior to World War II there was not a single gentile tailor in Zwolin. Even the priests ordered their clothing from the Jewish tailor David Strom, who specialized in this.

All the above mentioned were custom tailors only, for Jews as well as for well-to-do gentiles. Mass production of clothing was in the hands of second-class tailors, who employed their own children, and sometimes also outside help. The second-class tailors were supplied with finished articles by tailors who worked at home.

Second class tailors were: Chaim-Ber Flumenbaum and his brothers Ephraim, Moshe, Hershl, and his step-brother Mendl Sherman; Zisl Grossman, Yekl Ilman, Chaim-Leib Mandelman, Israel Flumenbaum (not related to Chaim-Ber).

The Zwolin second class tailors also sold their merchandise at the fairs in Pilev, Lipsk, Gaivishev, Drildz and Skariszev.

The Jewish tailors of Zwolin supplied clothing for many workers for the big Polish military factory in Piontek, which was located several kilometers from our town. This factory did not employ Jewish workers, and no Jew was allowed to set foot inside. The only exception was the father of Chaim and Hershl Shlufman, who delivered meat every day to the factory kitchen.

Zwolin artisans were members of the Central Craftsmen's Guild in Warsaw. They had their own “Minyan” in Zisl Grossman's house.

On market day and at the fairs the craftsmen would display their goods in a specifically prepared area. The other days of the week they sold their wares out of their homes.

There were many seamstresses, too, who sewed linen for men and women, and dresses only for women. Chaya-Tsirl Kirshenblatt deserves special mention. The entire apartment consisted of one large room with two beds, a cutting table and a kitchen.

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Under the single window stood two sewing machines. She was assisted by her four children: Yudl, Serl, Elie and Alter, and 8-10 girls who were learning the trade.

Chaye-Tsirl was kept busy with her work. She sewed for the gentile elite and for well-to-do Jewish women. She was proud of her skill, and of the diploma on her wall from a trade school in Warsaw. She trained many girls who became excellent seamstresses, including Malke Mandelman-Breintuch (now in Buenos Aires); Manya Boymlgrin Finkelstein (now in Toronto), and others.

II. Shoemakers

The shoemakers were the second largest group of Jewish artisans. Among them: the family Gelblatt, Moshe Ackerman, Nehemiah Sherman. They were small manufacturers who employed Jewish and gentile shoemakers who worked at home. They sold their shoes in Zwolin and in other towns. The shoe manufacturer later moved to Sosnowce, and his son moved to Lemberg.

Like the second class tailors, many shoemakers sold their goods at fairs. So did the cap-makers, like the families Zaltsman, Weisband and the carpenters.

III. Other Occupations

The best furniture was custom-made in the workshop of Hershl (Sonis) Greenbaum and his partner Abraham… husband of Pesse.

Light construction was in the hands of gentile firms.

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IV. Trade

Jews dominated all the trades in the town. Wholesale food suppliers were Levi Boymlgreen and Zelik Schwartzberg.

There was widespread trade in grain and flour. Zwolin merchants bought grain from farmers throughout the territory, sent it to the mills in Radom and Lublin and brought back the flour. The largest flour merchant was Joseph Kirshenbaum, also Yankl Hoffman (died in 1979 in Haifa), and Meyer Birenbaum (Toronto).

Merchants of manufactured goods were Alter Flumenbaum, Henech Eichenbaum, Yankl Diment, Mendl Sharfhartz.

There was extensive trade in raw hides and cured leather. It was exclusively in Jewish hands: Lozer Flumen and his sons Motl and Betzalel, the Waserstrom family and others.

Zwolin supplied large quantities of fowl, eggs, and butter to Warsaw. Every day about 2 dozen trucks brought these products there.

Avromtche Engel, Shmuel-Elye Kaplan and others owned iron works.

Joshua Boymigrin had a salt concession; Anshl Boymlgrin and his son Yankl – gasoline and oil.

The lumber business was in Jewish hands: Jonah Rosenberg and his son Chaim, Lozer (Zeyentskiver) Sankiewicz, Pesach Koychen and others.

The workshops of the boot-makers, who supplied both Jewish and gentile shoemakers, were in their homes. The largest was the workshop of Moshe Mandelbaum and his sons Shloyme & Mendel; Sholem Weintraub and his sons Mendl, Chaim and Meyer; Toyvyeh Rosenblatt, Fishele Stern, etc.

[English Page 25]

There were several blacksmiths; Isser Koval and Motl Minski and their sons; one of whom was called Simche, the other slips my memory.

Leather goods manufacturing of harnesses laid in Jewish hands – the Zweigenberg (Flarkis) family and for a time Tovtche Diamant and his children, who emigrated to Porto Allegro, brazil, in the early 30's.

Many Zwolin Jews earned their living as bakers, butchers and tinsmiths, hard workers for many generations.

Jewish clock-makers were: Simche Wolman and his sons Elyahu and Zelig; Mendl Dzezbicki and his 2 sons and Chaim Yechezkel's Weinberg.

Until about 1935 there were 3 hairdressers in Zwolin – all Jews: Gimpl and Moshe Shlaferman, and Itche Tanachovitch. Later a Polish barber opened a shop.

Water-carrying was a purely Jewish profession. They were wonderful types: “poor as mice, but honest”. Who can forget Motl Eisenberg (“Skap”), Moshele the Water Carrier, Velvl the Water Carrier, etc.

There were two mills in Zwolin. The largest belonged to Moshe Jacob Goldfarb.

There were two Jewish cereal mills that manufactured oil. One belonged to Laybele Flumen.

In the Thirties Leibush Peisach Eichenbaum set up a saw mill to cut trees into lumber.

V. Tanneries

Zwolin had several tanneries, run by the families: Eichenbaum, Goldfarb, Rotfarb, Cooperman, who were kinsmen. There were other tanneries besides, owned by Hanover and others.

[English Page 26]

Prior to World War I the tanneries were a major factor in the economic life of Zwolin Jews. Many Jews worked in the tanneries, or supplied them with raw hides and other material.

Between World War I and World War Ii this economic position was greatly weakened by the strong competition of the big tanneries in neighboring Radom. The few Jewish soakers who remained occupied themselves mainly with producing soft leather for local consumption. After World War I Samuel Eichenbaum, the noted Lublin philanthropist and native of Zwolin, hired a number of Zwolin workers for his Lublin tannery.

VI. Transportation

Trade and transportation go hand in hand. Without the Jewish driver, Jewish trade in Zwolin would have been at a great disadvantage. For generations the driver plodded along highways and byways with his horse and wagon to bring in or take out goods and produce.

Every Sabbath the drivers had their own “Minyan” in the home of Abish Mandelman. After prayers they made a “l'chayim” and poured out their bitter hearts about the trouble they had endured during the past week.

Simche Wasserman used to jest that his horses don't look human. The reason was – he would explain – that since he had no money to buy oats for them, they had lost their human visage.

Simche remained a driver until the end, even when all the others organized and began to use automobiles instead of horse-and-wagon. These former drivers organized into groups, bought several trucks, and established rapid and regular routes to Radom, Lodz, Warsaw, Lublin, and other cities. At first the chauffeurs were Poles, but later the Jews learned to drive a

[English Page 27]

car: Abish Mandelman and his son Yekl; Mordecai Wegman and his son Meyer (now in Los Angeles); Chaim-Jonah Mandelman, and others. The truck owners hired Leibl Boymlgrin to supervise the entire operation and to avoid competition among the various groups.

Jews also pioneered daily passenger transportation: Moshe-Mendl Eidler; Eliezer Fuchs; Israel-Moshe Brown and family; Tovye Greenberg; Abraham Zaltsman (Palki).

Noah Lipsman and Aaron-Leib Boymlgrin are to be thanked for organizing the entire trucking enterprise in Zwolin.

VII. Jewish Workers

There were no large factories in Zwolin. Since the government enterprises did not hire Jews, a Jewish young man who had to discontinue his school studies, was forced to go into the same trade as his father, learn another skill, or even look for work in other cities.

There were a handful of weavers who worked in Lodz. A number of Hassidic young men worked in Warsaw at knitwear, which was seasonal, and return to Zwolin to stay with their parents in the off season. Other workers, who did not have full time employment in the neighboring towns, were in the same position.

Some Zwolin Jews worked in the tanneries, some in the mills, and some in the big wholesale businesses.

Although Jewish craftsmen usually hired their own children and relatives first, they also employed many outside workers. Thus most Jews of Zwolin worked for the artisans, mainly: tailors, shoemakers, boot-makers, carpenters, bakers, house painters.

Nahum Grossman was the only Jew who worked in City Hall.

[English Page 28]

Several attempts were made to form a professional union in Zwolin to protect the interests of the Jewish workers. At first the requests were denied by the Polish government, but in 1920 it granted official permission.

Some of the union organizers are today living in Paris: Chone Greenbaum, Meyer Gelblatt, Chaim-Elye Fuchs; and Shimen Lipsman, who lives in Los Angeles. They were the pioneers who established and developed the union.

They acquired a union local, opened a library, and conducted cultural activities. Their main goal was to achieve decent working conditions and adequate wages for the Jewish worker.

Much was accomplished, but within a short time the constant persecution by the government forced the union to close its headquarters, and with it – all public activity.

However, their efforts continued – but not so openly.

Jewish workers of all trades were members of the union.

VII. Professionals

There were several Jewish barber-surgeons in town who had originally been hairdressers, too: Koyfl Rapaport and his brother-in-law Yekl Bressler. Later Tanachovitch also took up this profession.

The first Jewish doctor in Zwolin – Belfor -- set up practice in the twenties. He was also a community activist. He opened the first Jewish bank and became its director. Subsequently he left Zwolin and became Administrator of the hospital in Siedlec.

He followed by the Jewish doctors Fried, Rozenzweig, and Krongold. There was also a dentist – Dr. Kazdan – and his wife.

[English Page 29]

A Plain Jewish Woman

by Meyer-Sholem Goldstein (Paris)


In our old shtetlech (towns) in Eastern Europe, it was the custom that every Friday, on the eve of the Sabbath, Jews brought their “tcholnt” (a dish of meat, potatoes and beans, eaten on the Sabbath and kept warm from the day before) to the baker to put in his oven. Long before it was time to bless the candles, my mother would prepare the stone pot containing the “tcholnt” and the “kugl” (kind of pudding). Since I was the youngest in the family, it was my obligation to bring it to the baker every Friday night and take it back on the Sabbath after prayers.

We used to bring our “tcholnt” to Itche the baker.

One Sabbath, when I came for my “tcholnt,” as usual – it could not be found. All the others had been taken from the oven, but ours was not there.

Sheve-Liebe, the baker's wife, searched everywhere, and finally found our stone pot in a corner on the floor. They had forgotten to put it in the oven.

When my mother found out, she wrung her hands. “Oh, God, what will my little ones eat on the Sabbath? There's nothing in the house but a piece of black bread!” As my mother stood there sobbing, Sheve-Liebe entered, carrying a big pot, and said:

“I know this Sabbath will be a sad one for you, so I brought you half of our own “tcholnt.”

My mother wept again – but this time tears of joy.

* * *

[English Page 30]

Besides the bakery, Sheve-Liebe also ran a grocery store, where my mother was a steady customer. We were not rich, and my mother often bought on credit, which the storekeeper entered “in the book.”

My mother also kept a record of the purchase for herself.

When the debt in my mother's book had grown to 12 rubles – a huge sum for a laborer's family in those days – my mother stopped buying from Sheve-Liebe. When Sheve-Liebe realized that my mother was staying away from her store, she came to our house and said:

“Itke, what's the matter? I haven't seen you for several days.”

My mother was embarrassed and replied:

“I already owe you 12 rubles. I don't think I'll be able to pay back such a large sum.”

“I didn't come for money, God forbid,” said Sheve-Liebe. “You shouldn't be ashamed. Come into the store and take what you need, and don't let your children go hungry. With God's help, when things will be easier for you, you'll pay me back a couple of rubles. But in the meantime don't let that stop you from taking bread for your children.”

It was then that my mother really cried – and I am crying now as I write these lines.

This was how many Jewish families managed to get along – and some even under worse conditions.

Such simple women – women of the people – like the baker's wife, with their kind Jewish hearts, very often sustained a poor Jewish family with their generosity.


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