The History of the Town and Its Jewish Community
by M.S. Geshori
Augustów knew ups and downs. Its beginning - a village. About four hundred years ago, it became a city. At a later period, it is mentioned as the provincial capital town. In 1816 when the Russian government divided Poland into new regions they fixed Augustów as the district capital, with Suwalki and Lomza subordinate to her. Afterwards the wheel turned. Augustów was included in the gubernia (district) of Suwalki. After the First World War the Polish government fixed the seat of the voivodstavo (region) in the city of Bialystok and Augustów, Suwalki and Lomza were removed from its supervision and authority. Since then it is the Regional capital.
The town was established by the Polish King Zygmunt II August in 1561 and named for him. At the time of the partioning of Poland by the powers that encircled it, Augustów fell to Prussia and afterwards to Russia who ruled it until the First World War. Already at the beginning of the war Germany conquered the town and held it until its defeat in 1918. With the rise of independent Poland the city passed to her hands. After about two years Poland the Russians again conquered it (the Bolsheviks) for a short time, and then the Poles returned again and continue to hold it until today. Only three days after the Bolsheviks left, and the Poles barely had time to enter it, the Lithuanians took hold of the city, claiming that from a historical point of view Augustów belonged to them. The name of the town also went through changes; at the time of the Russians it was known as Avgostow or Avgostovo, while the Germans called it Augostowa the Poles Augustów, while the Jewish people called it Yagusto, Yagostov, or Augustov. We found articles in newspapers from Avgostow.
Foundation of the City in the Days of the Polish-Lithuanian Union the Area of the City Until 1386 Forests, Marshes and Rivers Abandoned Territory Turning the Village of Mustaka into the City of Augustów the Year of the Establishment 1561 the Founder Zygmunt II the Granting of the Magdeburg Rights, Fairs and Market Days the Building of a Bridge by the City Additional Rights at the Hands of the Coming Kings the City Boundaries the Burning of Augustów 1658 by the Enemy the Division of Poland.
Augustów was founded in the period of the unification of Poland and Places:Lithuania. The territory of Augustow and the surrounding area was, until 1386, part of the Principality of Greater Lithuania. From that same year it passed to the authority of the Kingdom of
Poland. But the wars between Lithuania and Poland on one side and the Prussians on the other didn't cease not before then and not after. After every war, they would make new agreements, which at the first opportunity were broken by one side or the other. In the Melno Peace Treaty of 1422, it was clearly stated that the territory belonged to Lithuania-Poland. Until the 14th Century, the territory on which were, afterwards, Augustów, Suwalki and the rest of the villages, was covered in primeval virgin forests, large swamps, and many streams.
The conquest of the Visla's exit from the hands of the Teutonic Order preceded the establishment of Augustów. The use of the port of Danzig (Gdańsk) as an exit port from Poland caused an economic revolution for the State.
In 1410, the armed forces of Poland and Lithuania won a significant victory against the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grunwald. But the Poles did not succeed in immediately seizing the opportunities that opened before them after this victory. However, the Order never recovered from the blows it received after the blow that it absorbed in that war, and during the second half of that century Poland succeeded in annexing a considerable part to the area of their domain, from the shores of the Baltic Sea, with the port city of Gdańsk. Poland and Lithuania had large expanses of agricultural land and also a workforce that was large and cheap, which enabled them to become large suppliers of agricultural products to the Western European countries, where there was a great demand for this produce. With the capture of the outlet of the Viszla River, and the opening of the way to the sea, all the obstacles to continental transportation were removed. Commerce, especially commerce in produce, grew to enormous dimensions. The opening of the sea-route elevated the economic importance of all those centers that could establish a direct connection with the port of Danzig via the river. The importance of the waterways will be demonstrated by the fact that the farmlands of the nobility, the main marketers of the agricultural produce, were concentrated first of all along the waterways. Thus, the economic importance of Augustów, which sat at the center of immense agricultural farmlands and adjacent to the waterways that allowed it a direct connection to Danzig, became great.
The number of people living in the area continued to decrease as a result of the incessant wars between Poland, Russia and Prussia. At the end of the 13th century (1280), the local inhabitants disappeared entirely, and all of the surrounding area became one large wilderness. The chronicles of Germany from the 14th century indicate that the area was a desolate wasteland. The entire territory, which was larger than the region of the future Augustów, in a German chronicle was called Sudova in Latin, and in German Suduan. The Great Lithuanian Prince Vitold mentions it one time by the Lithuanian name Terrara Sodarum. In the middle of the 17th century, it was nicknamed by the Poles Krai Zaproczanski (abandoned land) and later on, the entire area became known as the Zaproczanski Tract. According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, Lithuanian criminals, who sought a place where the arm of the law would not reach them, founded the first settlement in that area from which, afterwards, the town Augustów developed. That thickly forested area was an ideal hiding place for those, who for various reasons had fled from their regular homes.
The city was founded on the land of the village of Mostaki in the former Podlasie region, once part of Bielsk on the banks of the Netta river between the three lakes Nitzko, Sajno and Biala, all found within close range to each other. This land belonged in the past to the royal lands of the village of Knyszyn within the economy of Grodno. Sigmund August II the son of Sigmund I and Bona the Queen of the Italian House of Sforza, the second wife of Sigmund the Old became the Grand Duke of Lithuania, while his father was still alive. When his father died, he was chosen as King.
In order to develop the new city that he had founded, the King agreed to grant rights to its inhabitants, according to instructions which were given by him on 16th May 1561:
The first area of the town was 200 tzamday sadeh, and according to the instruction of June 21, 1564 from the Bielsk Sejm, the King added three additional forest areas whose names are given: Czarnowo, Torovka, and Biernatki. These contained 74 tzemadim of land, and included tree-bark fibers and pasture-land in proximity to the town, mills on the other bank of the Netta on the edges of the Grodno prairie, from the city bridge as far as the Kolnicza stream that emerges from the Kolna Lake and joins the Netta River. A quarter mile of tangled forest across the Netta, opposite the forest, has been set aside for many years as a sheep pasture. All this for the obligation of a regular tax payment and six pennies to the priest, instead of the tithe.
Since the city had built the bridge with its own money, it was given the right to set a bridge tax and to use the income for its own needs. At the end of this order the King commanded that all the villages adjacent to the town were forbidden to manufacture for themselves beer, brandy, honey or to allow them to be brought in from outside, except from the city of Augustów.
The rights mentioned above were approved by the kings of Poland: Stephen Báthory in 1578, Zigmund III in the year 1661, Wladyslaw IV in the year 1638, Michal Korybut in the year 1669, Jan Sobieski III in the year 1677, August II in the year 1702, August III in the year 1744. Finally, Stanislaw August confirmed all the articles and conditions.
In accordance with the stated rights the town limits were set: on the eastern side the State forests beyond the river Netta; on the western side the village of the Noble House of Grabowo and the small Kamenny Brod River; on the north side, the place of the Kosvitza assemblies and Lake Necko; on the south side the villages of Netta, Kolnitza, Yayaziyurka, and Lake Sosnova. Over the course of time these borders were greatly reduced.
The founder of the city, King Sigmund August, rose to the throne of Poland in the year 1548, which is 13 years prior to the establishment of Augustow. He aspired to bring the east close to the west, and encouraged the coming of Jews from the lands west of Poland. From the time of his rule there remain documents that teach about his good relations with the Jews of Lithuania.
Augustów lies a distance of about sixty kilometers to the west of Grodno, which is first mentioned in 1128. Grodno had always been a crossroads and an important strategic point. Already in the 12th century it was known as a capital city of the early Russian princes.
The rise of Stephen Báthory to the throne in 1576 and his choice of Grodno as his beloved Seat
brought a flourishing period not only to the town and its Jewish community but also to the nearby cities in the area, among them Augustów.
At the time of its founding the new city was situated among lakes, primeval forests, and prairie. It was a broad expanse of forest-land that sprawled between the Augustow Canal in the west, the River Bobra on the southern side, the River Niemica on the eastern side, and the water system of the Black Hańcza River on the northern side. On the edges of this flat area stood the cities of Augustów, Lipsk, Sapotskin, and Grodno. Apart from a small number of tiny settlements of asphalt workers, there was no significant population there.
A number of small brooks and rivers led the waters of the forests into the Bóbr and Black Hańcza rivers. The houses were built of wood, and were easily ignited, and the winds in the area helped much in spreading the tongues of fire. The residents were accustomed to the fires, and excelled in their speed in rebuilding their house anew.
In 1658, that is to say less than one hundred years after its foundation, Augustów went up in flames at the hands of the enemy. The King, Jan Kazimierz gave an order (June 15, 1658) to provide trees from the prairies belonging to the Grodno area to rebuild the town and its church.
Like other cities, Augustów also had various misfortunes, attacks and battles, robbery and destruction, as it is possible to see in the documents of government officials, which are found in the city ledger of Wąsosz. Hodkiewicz, the great military commander of the Principality of Lithuania, who prepared for the attacks against Turkey, prepared barracks for the army in Augustów and Goniąndz. His order is recorded in the Land Book of Wąsosz.
In Augustów, in 1621, in the presence of Krzysztof Radziwiłł the village head of Augustów, Jan Karol Hodkiewicz the magnate from Shklow on a mission in Byczów on behalf of the Greater Vilna Voivodeship in the Principality of Lithuania and at the same time as the responsible State military representative dispatched to wage war against the Turkish army, etc., etc.
A second event is reflected in a manifest written in the town of Briańsk:
Whereas Tatar forces went up against Prussia and returning from there robbed Augustów and her suburbs, taken as prisoners about five hundred souls and removed them to Crimea, and set the town on fire, burning various documents, among them an order concerning the Black Forest of the Nobleman Jardowski, documents of rights and other documents.
The document was signed by Maciej Zaskowski, the head of the city of Augostow, by the will and with the support of, the town residents.
Apart from this, the city suffered other burdensome acts. The respected Weiczyk Klimontowski, a citizen of the city of Augustow, protested against the actions of Franczysk Synduk Reimond, the Government Quartermaster of the battalion under the command of Jan Gorzhimaski, burst into the city and its suburb Biernatki and without any justification took 170 gold Polish Rubles in spite of the fact that they had in their possession a receipt proving payment of the debt. In addition to that, he ordered the beating of the head of the city and the town's elders and took much property. Attached to this was a list of the items and their prices (municipal documents of Vansosh number 44 page 229: stalk of oats, wagons of hay, grain, brandy, beer, pork, pepper, oil, salted fish, butter fish, salt, candles, geese, hens, piglets and other articles to the value of 103 gold coins and 18 cents.)
In the war in the north, the Augustów region was trampled on by various regiments. The agreement between August II and Peter the Great to attack Sweden incited Sweden to invade Kurland, Lithuania, and Poland. At the beginning of 1702 Karl the 12th conquered Zamut, Kovno, Vilna and all of Lithuania and from there he turned to Poland and captured Warsaw and Krakow. The Swedes laid heavy victory taxes on the conquered towns. In 1705 Peter the Great conquered Kurland, Vilna, Grodno and the surrounding area and he, too, laid heavy taxes on the population, especially on the Jews. About a year later, Karl forced the Russians to retreat eastwards. During the battles the civilians suffered greatly and the cup of tribulation even passed over Augustów. In 1707 the Russian armies passed through Lithuania and the following year Karl XII returned from Saxony to Poland and Lithuania and after he was beaten at Poltava the Moscow armies returned to Poland and Lithuania, Augustus II was returned to his post. These years were years of great suffering to the nation, years of hunger and plagues, that greatly diminished the entire population, especially that of the Jews.
In the days of the last king of Poland and Lithuania, Stanisław August Poniatowski (1764-1795), efforts were made to correct the rotten State regime in the nation, to disseminate Enlightenment, to develop industry and to be freed of intervention by the neighboring great powers. The attempts were not crowned with success; the fate of the nation was decided by her neighbors, who sparked disagreement, bribed, and did in the state as they did in their own. In 1772, they split up the country, dividing the spoils among themselves. Russia annexed for itself the eastern part of Lithuania and more. In the years 1788-1792 an attempt was made, with the help of Prussia by the united nations, Poland and Lithuania, to effect corrections and be freed, with the help of Prussia, from Russian interference. However, that attempt also did not succeed. In the year 1793, Russia and Prussia again divided up between themselves significant tracts of the nation. The Polish and Lithuanian patriots under the leadership of Kościuszko and Jasiński raised the banner of the rebellion and liberated Vilna and Warsaw. It was the final kindling of the conflagration, which was quickly extinguished. Russia and Prussia suppressed the revolt and conquered the entire nation and together with Austria finally divided the country between them. Russia annexed for itself most of Lithuania; Prussia took for itself the Lithuanian territories that were west of the River Niemen, and in them Augustów and Suwalki. The State of Poland ceased to exist.
Rivers and streams The waterway junctions The Augustow Canal The connection between the Visla and the Niemen Digging the canal 1824-1839 Dams and Bridges on the canal The Administrative Office in Augustów the Loss of Importance With the Building of the Railway Line.
Augustów flowing with rivers and streams, surrounded by lakes and marshes. The founding of the town alongside vast stretches of water did not come about by chance but was premeditated. Then, at the time of the founding of the city, before there were in the country paved roads or railroads, mail transport throughout the country by horseback was customary for hundreds of years. This transport was mostly in the hands of Jews who knew how to supply excellent horses that could gallop fast, and who saw to it that the roads were maintained. Even transport on the rivers was mainly in the hands of the Jews. By way of rafts and boats they would transport loads of wood and various produce
to the ports of the Baltic Sea by way of the city of Danzig and from there to other commercial centers that were in Prussia, Russia and the Baltic countries.
The town of Augustów served as an important crossroads of water distribution on the rivers and also mail distribution by horses. However, the water route was significantly more expensive than that of the land routes for transporting merchandise, especially since the vast primeval forests covered the town on all sides.
Let's describe the rivers and their lines of transportation that brought benefit to the town as distribution routes.
A. The Netta River
This river emerges from Lake Necko on the northwest side of the city, and constitutes part of the Augustow Canal. Past Dębowo, it falls on its right bank into the Biebrza. Between Falkiv and Dębowo a second river channel splits off on the southwestern side, which flows by the name of Kofitovka behind Kofitkov, arriving at Szczuczyn province and falling into the Bobra about five viorsts lower on the south side of the main stream. From its right bank, it gathers into itself the waters of the Turówka, Węgrów, Barilovka, and Tończa; on the left bank the Siovnicza, the Kolniczanka and the Olszanka. The Netta flows for its entire course through marshy ground.
B. Lake Biala
This lake is situated in the northeast of the city. Its length from west to east is about 5.5 viorsts and its width between 300 yards and 800 yards,* its area 600 millimeters, or 3.8 square viorsts, and its depth up to 70 feet. At its western end, it merges with Lake Necko while its eastern boundary merges with Lake Studzieniczne and all of it is included as part of the Augustow Canal system. The water is soft, and colored white. The fish present in the lake are: carp, pike, akunas, avduma, whitefish, and more.
C. Lake Augustów or Knyszyn 
The lake is situated in the County of Bialystok, south-east of Knyszyn, and is also called by the name Czikovizna. Its digging is attributed to prisoners of war in the time of Zigmund August. According to accepted local legend Twardowski dug it overnight with the assistance of evil spirits.
D. Lake Necko
The lake is situated a distance of one viorst northwest of the city. It lies among the plains dotted with hillocks ranging from 420-450 feet above sea-level. Its banks are high and covered with reeds. The Augustow Canal crosses this lake and connects it with Lake Biala and Studzieniczne. There are no villages on the banks of this lake except for one small village by the name of Shlipesk.
E. River Biebrza (Bobra, Bóbr)
The importance of this small stream is that it is an important factor in the network of transportation between the River Niemen
and the Visla (the Augustow Canal exits from the Niemen River). As a result of preparing the River Netta for shipping it joins with the Biebrza. From there it continues by way of the Biebrza, which falls into the Narew, which grew bigger and wider as a result of the addition of the waters of the Bug and other smaller rivers, and falls into the Visla near the Novoyavorivsk Fortress (Modlin). The head of the Biebrza is in the marshlands called Yotlitza, which are found in the district of Augustów close to the (former) Imperial Tsarist Russian border; it follows the border for its whole length until it falls into the Narew, the border between the Kingdom of Poland and the Russian Empire. At its head, it flows from the north side to the south side. At a distance of 2 viorsts from its source it returns to the western side. From Osovitz it tends more and more to the south and it continues to flow in that direction until the village of Okrasin, which sits on the border of the districts of Augustów and Lomza. Near the village Ruś it falls into the Narew River. At the times when the water is high, it floods the villages that sit along its banks. The waters are mostly frozen in December; the average thickness of the ice is about two feet. The ice melts in March or April.
The marshes of Biebrza are the largest and widest in Poland. They start in the area of Lipsk, which sits on the edge of dry land. They are made up of a sort of peninsula surrounded on three sides by muddy marshes. The extent of the marsh on occasion reaches about 18 viorsts and the area of the biggest marsh extends between Augustów, Suchowola, Goniądz and Rajgród. These marshes spread over a large area measuring about 28 viorsts from west to east and 15 viorsts from the north side to the south side. The Augustow Canal did much to dry the marshes by bringing their waters into the canal. These rivers and lakes were naturally created in the days of creation.
F. The Augustow Canal
The digging of the canal which is called by the name of the town Augustow came to establish a direct connection link between the rivers Visla and Niemen for the purpose of protecting the trade of the Kingdom from obstacles and restrictions which were expected from the Prussian customs authorities. The causes of the implementation of the creation of the canal mentioned in the Handbook of Standards of the canal management are: the protection of the export-trade of the Kingdom of Poland from the influence of foreign States; the freeing of the kingdom's agricultural and industrial produce from burdensome transfer-taxes imposed by the Prussian authorities; the easing of the trade connections between the northern regions of Tsarist Russia via the network of the artificial waterways connecting the port of Windau with the Niemen and the Visla; and lastly the reduction of internal trading life. The digging of the canal began by the directive of the Viceroy Konstantin the Great on July 27, 1824.
The Augustow Canal was not the first of its kind. It came as the continuation of the aspiration for improvements by the Polish government that began in the reign of the last king, Stanislaw Poniatowski and continued especially energetically after the First Partition of Poland. Members of the nobility lent their hands in improving the lot of the farmers, the development of the country by founding industries, and by advancing trade with improvements in transportation. Then they began paving roads, and digging connecting canals between different rivers. The Oginski Canal was dug, which connected the Dneiper and Niemen rivers and a second canal, which connected the Bug and the Pripyat Rivers.
Then the digging of the Augustow Canal was put on the agenda, which was needed to serve as a connection between the two great rivers: the Visla, which was the largest river in Poland, and the Niemen. Since the whole area
was abundant with forests, the Augustow Canal served as an excellent waterway for barge and raft transport. The logs, which were bound together, were floated along the water by way of the Augustow Canal to the Niemen and from there to the Baltic Sea.
According to the original plan, the cost of establishing this undertaking should have been 7,681,587 Polish Gulden. All the expenditures that were made for this need by the authority of the War Ministry up until the year 1830 reached 10,121,990 Polish Gulden, without taking into account the value of the timber given without cost by the government forestry agency, 19,513,325 Polish Gulden, and without taking into account the wages and daily sustenance of the Engineers' Battalion under the primary command of General Malletski.
The water level of the canal was much higher than the waters of the rivers. For that reason, twenty-one locks were constructed along the Canal: Dembovo Lock, Sosnova Lock, Borki Lock, Bialovzhigi Lock, Augustów Lock, Przewięź Lock, Svoboda Lock, Gorczyca Lock, Panievo Lock, Perkutz Lock, Mikaszówka Lock, Sosónwek Lock, Tartak Lock, Kudrynki Lock, Kurzyniec Lock, Wołkuszek Lock, Dombrovka Lock, and Niemnowo Lock. There is a double lock at Gorczyca and a triple one at the Niemnowo. The length of each lock is 150 feet and the width 20 feet. The office of the canal is located in Augustów.
Despite all that, the digging of the canal did not fulfill the hopes pinned on it. After the laying of the railroad line it began to lose its importance and continued to be used for internal commerce, which was very weak, since the lack of water made it impossible for bigger ships to traverse it, and to move at the required speed.
The Beginning of the Jewish Settlement in Augustów The Relationship of the Founder of the City to the Jews 18 Tzemdas of Land to a Jew in the City as a Gratuity for his Efforts Two Daring Jews in the City - Fishing in the Lakes and Rivers The Jewish Census in 1765.
The Jews of Lithuania and included in it the Jews of Augustów were not persecuted much, and not restricted as in other parts of Europe. The Jewish Laws, the restrictions and decrees that operated in Lithuania according to the Polish model, were lighter here, in effect, than in Poland. The Jews of Lithuania were expelled only once, in 1495, about seventy years before the founding of Augustów. By means of this expulsion the Nobility and the government itself wanted, since they owed much money to Jewish lenders, to be freed from payment of debts. This expulsion only lasted eighty years. In 1503, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Lithuania and their homes, as well as their synagogues and cemeteries, were returned to them. From then, and until the middle of the years of the reign of Zigmund III, (1587-1682), there were no extraordinary bad decrees made on the Jews of Lithuania. In the days of his son, Władysław IV (1632-1648) and also in the days of the kings Jan Kazimierz (1648-1668), Michał Wiśniewski (1660-1673) and Jan Sobieski (1674-1696), the situation of the Lithuanian Jewish people even improved.
In the days of Zigmund-August, the Jewish communities in Lithuania continued to develop. The Jews also penetrated the Capital, where their settlement had been forbidden by Zigmund the Elder. In the important communities, neighborhoods of Jews were built with beautiful synagogues, public institutions, hospitals and so on. In Grodno, we find in 1560 three streets of Jewish homes: the street of the Jews, the street of the synagogue
and the lane of the Jews. In the days of Zigmund August the joint representative of all the communities of Lithuania was organized. It was called the The Lithuanian State Committee. Appointees from all the communities chose nine heads of state and three Rabbis to oversee the interests of the Lithuanian Jewish people.
In the first order of 16th May 1561, which served as the basis for turning the village of Mostka into the city of Augustów, and granted various rights that enabled the city to develop, (the Magdeburg Rights, various revenues, Market and Fair days and the right to fish in Lake Necko), the Jews were not mentioned. The second order, that of 21st June 1564, on behalf of the Sejm of Bielsk, extended the borders of the town and contained important information. It stated that one Jewish resident had been granted 18 portions of land as a reward for activities on behalf of the King, without mentioning his name.
Later information tells of two Jews who dared to ignore an order of the town's bylaws. This crime served as a reason for a complaint that was brought to King Jan III in accordance with the request of the head of the city, Marcin Pulchaski, dated June 27, 1683.
What were the causes that drew the Jews to settle in Augustów? It was truly not easy to dwell in broad expanses of empty unsettled areas that provided none of their needs, but in Augustów there were not insignificant sources of existence and financial support. Since its founding, the immense forests that spread over large areas were a main source of livelihood for its residents. Lumbering continued during the entire winter period, and the Jews were engaged in transporting the lumber by raft and boat to the port of Danzig.
The land surrounding the forests was distinguished in its fertility, because of its being bisected by rivers and springs that ran all around it. The aspiration to settle on rivers and streams was what brought the Jews to settle in Augustów.
Augustów earned a brief description on the book of Gauguin in a description he wrote: The town is new and all the houses are built of wood. It is in a process of broad expansion. It was founded by King Zigmund-August and it carries his name. It is 20 miles from Bielsk.
During the rule of Stephan Báthory, an ordinance permitted the creation of associations of professional Christian artisans; these were called guilds. This was among other ordinances for the improvement of the economic situation of artisans, such as fair competition, over-charging, mutual assistance, professional knowledge, and so on. There was also a decree that it was forbidden to accept non-Christian craftspeople into the guild. They could not, actually, forbid Jews from engaging in their profession; therefore, they decreed that a Jew could practice his profession only among Jews, but they would pay taxes to the Christian guild of 6 gulden a year and supply one barrel of gun-powder or brandy, and a specific amount of wax to manufacture candles for the Christian church. In Augustów there was just one guild of fishermen, while the tailors and shoemakers were not organized, because these trades were in the hands of the Jews. This, apparently, seems to be the source of the proverb: Shoemakers and tailors are not within the category of humans because they are Jews.
Throughout the 17th Century, which was distinguished by the The Council of Four Lands, Augustów is mentioned only a few times in connection to payments.
In the 18th Century, a Jewish community existed in Augustów and the Jews of the surrounding area were subject to it. No details of the community's origins in the early days are preserved. No ledgers from the city's congregation or from the first societies remain. Apparently, the many fires in the city destroyed
the ledgers. The heads of the community were elected each year during the intermediate days of Pesach by a small group of scholars and town worthies belonging to the association of Rabbis, Chazzanim and Dayanim. The Kahal administered all community matters, represented the Jewish community before the government, collected and paid the taxes to the government, attended to cleanliness in the Jewish quarter and the health of the Jewish population, supported the poor, took care of the orphaned, education and the like, erected a synagogue, Beit Midrash, cemetery and bathhouse. The maintenance of these community institutions and those who served it (rabbi, shochet, chazzan and clerks), required considerable financial resources. The more the number of people bearing the load increased, the easier it became to sustain them, and improve the services. A large community could allow itself to engage a famous Rabbi who would officiate elegantly. And if a community was small and poor, it would have to make do with a less famous rabbi or join with another community.
The Council of the Four Lands was the central Jewish institution of autonomous governance in Poland and Lithuania. It began to operate in the middle of the 16th century and its authority was cancelled by the authorities in 1764. At first the Council of Lands was established in Poland, and later was the State Council of the Lithuanian communities. It is understood that the laws and customs that were discussed, determined, and made into the law which may not be transgressed in Jewish settlements their power also applied in the Augustów community. From the Ledger of the Council of The Four Lands we learn that the Community of Augustów participated in it. The Lithuanian State Council was established in a meeting that took place on 9 Elul 5383 (September 4, 1623) in Brisk of Lithuania. However, Augustów did not join the Lithuanian council, but continued to maintain its connection with the Council of Poland. In the Ledger mentioned above the name Augustów is mentioned only a few times. We will bring a source from there, since not many sources about the community remain for us.
Augustów, the Year (5)434 :
In Article 342 comes an account of the Holy Community of Tykocin here in Warsaw in 5434 and there is mentioned as follows: (without indicating the day or month) It seems that the account is made between April 20 and June 9 (14 Nissan 5 Sivan 1674), with the sitting of the Polish Sejm for the election of the King and also those appointed to the Council of the Lands came to Warsaw to pursue Jewish matters. Among the account totals are mentioned: thirty gulden to Gershon of Siemiatycze for services in the synagogue and graves of Augusti.*
Augustów, the Year (5)450 :
In the article numbered 456: The officials and leaders in the Holy Community of Tykocin raised a considerable cry of resistance at being forced by the Four Lands to expand the building for the amount of 3,100 Gulden of the above Holy Community of Jarosław in 5447 (1687) after it had been rebuilt after the fire in 5445 (1685) and the trustworthy officials collected from the above-mentioned sum 1,000 gulden to be shared among the Four Lands insisting they owed only 333 gulden. Well, what is past is past and in the matter of the money that is owed for the above-mentioned renovation, the 24 leaders paid the 333 gulden on Tuesday 24 Tishrei 5450.
In Article 457, we find a copy of the distributions of Royal Head Tax of Lvov (that is to say the Lvov in Ignishka) which began on January 21, 1688 - 19th Shvat 5448, and a Royal Head Tax of 21 gulden was imposed on the community of Tykocin according to their wish not to impose
anything, only 60 gulden on the Lvov region. And among the rest it is written: The Royal tax in Augustów was 1,659 gulden.
In a second place in the same section is written: a distribution of the Head Tax of Augusti Yaroslav.
In Section 870, number 83, page 81 Augustow is mentioned in a land* list regarding Fairs taking place in Tykocin. From this it is proven that Augustów participated in various payments of the Council of the Four Lands, without there being found there the name of any representative who would speak on behalf of its community in meetings that generally took place once every two years. At these council meetings representatives from all the lands participated: rabbis, writers and synagogue sextons, and in the periods between the meetings there were lobbyists (who had the power to stand in the hall of the king and officers), representing the communities before the central powers in Warsaw, defending their interests before the tribunal and the leadership tribunals and avert the evil of the decrees by means of gifts and prayer.
The Jews of the community of Augustów paid all the general taxes that every Jew was obligated to pay. First among them was the head-tax that was levied on the Jews at the Polish Sejm sitting of 1581, in addition to the Communal Tax (korovka), Right of Settlement in the town tax (povrotani), the Drinks Tax (tzofuba) and others.
From time to time in the Kingdom of Poland there were censuses (lustratziot). According to the Census of the year 1765 there were counted in Augustów and the surrounding area 279 Jewish people (excluding children under the age of one year), and there were in the city 218 houses. To the treasury of the Starosta, there were deposited 3,003 groschen.
The taxes levied upon the Jews tended to impoverish them. According to a decision of the Sejm from the year 1764, central and regional Jewish autonomy was nullified and only the local community autonomy remained. The Jews were obligated to pay a head tax of 2 gulden per annum for each soul above the age of one year, and in place of a total of 220,000 gulden paid by the Jewish population of all Poland from 1717, they were obliged to pay nearly 860,000 gulden. In the year 1775, the head-tax on the Jews was again increased to three gulden for each soul and yet again in 1789 the Sejm decided to increase it by 50%.
The Third Partition in 1795 Jews are not wanted Assembly of Rabbis and Community Activists in Kaliczeva Napoleon's Conquest of Poland Augustów in the Principality of Warsaw Augustów under Russian Rule.
The difficult events suffered by Poland at the time of its partition left a deep impression also on the status of Augustów and its Jewish population. The war and revolutions that came following
an awakening of Nationalism produced disquiet that undermined the stability and also laid a heavy financial burden on the community. Nevertheless, growth and development continued.
The First Partition of the Kingdom of Poland (1772) left Augustów within the borders of Poland. After the First Partition, the country was quiet for twenty years. During that period, cultural and economic change occurred in the country.
In the summer of 1792, Russian armies invaded the State. Prussia did not come to its aid, and the Polish armies, under the leadership of Tadeusz Kościuszko were unable to withstand the invader. Within half a year, at the beginning of 1793, Russia and Prussia divided between them additional parts of Lithuania and Poland.
The leaders of the revolution laid a heavy burden of taxes on the Jews, as on all the population, and the communities were forced to participate with large sums to equip the army of the revolution. The community of Augustów was not exempt from this. The Jews participated with loans and communal and private donations, with money and goods. The Kościuszko rebellion ended in defeat; the final revolt of Poland was drowned in rivers of blood. On the third of January 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria signed the Third Partition of Poland, dividing between them the last surviving portions that still remained of the Lithuanian-Polish state, which had already been cut up twice. Russia annexed most of the Lithuanian territory east of the Niemen River and southwards as far as Brisk, while Prussia took for itself the district of Suwalk west of the Niemen, including Augustów.
The Prussian regime over the conquered territory lasted for twelve years (1795-1807). As soon as they entered the area, they began a reorganization of the entire country. Over the course of about two years, an administrative infrastructure of a sovereign nature with a large staff of clerks was in operation. Indeed, during this period the Prussians worked hard to develop the country both culturally and economically; even a special newspaper was founded in Bialystok called The New East-Prussian Intelligence Paper in German and Polish. They even printed Instructions on how to govern the population in general with special instructions regarding the Jews. It was a document entitled An Extract of Laws and Instructions for the New South-Eastern Prussia in 1795-1808.
The Prussians improved the transport of the mail. In 1796, the post operated twice weekly in both directions: Bialystok-Warsaw, and Bialystok-Poltosk via Augustów and Suwalk. Letters intended for abroad were sent from Poltosk to Berlin. The Medical-Sanitary Office attended to the health of the population.
The Prussians also improved fire-extinguishing in the entire area. They created a special fire-watch. Every citizen was obliged to immediately report any outbreak of fire to the fire-watch and the fire-watch would announce the fire to the public by means of bellringing, trumpets, and the beating of drums.
At the same time the Prussians began to reorganize the schools and distance them from the Polish language. The level of learning rose. The Prussians were insistent about cleanliness in the homes, the streets, and all public places.
However, the Prussians' evil was great in their relationship towards the Jews. The head-tax was a significant source of income in Poland, and the Prussians doubled it. Among the other taxes there was a special tax on the Jewish trade ledgers. These taxes provoked extreme anger. Regarding the Jews, the Prussians were not satisfied
with extorting various taxes, but also restricted their rights. In order to crush the spirit of the Jews, Friedrich-Wilhelm II* enacted an order in Berlin on April 17, 1797, General Orders for the Jews of New South-East Prussia which was printed in Breslau, which came to serve as a guide on how to behave with unwanted Jews. In the introduction to the Order of Laws to the Jews it said:
Since it is known to us that the number of Jews in the conquered territory is greater than their numbers in other Christian states and they bring damage to our faithful Christian citizens in trade with interest, and negotiation accompanied by deception and corruption we find it fitting and good to determine and instruct, according to these regulations, how to act towards them and relate to them.
Therefore, between the former Regulations of the Organization of Jewish Communities and the Prussian legislation for Jews, there was a great difference. The Prussian legislature was saturated with the poison of hatred and contempt for the Jews and their national and religious institutions, and recognized the Christian population as the sole lords and masters of the state. The Jews were thought of as foreigners, harmful parasites, and fundamentally exploitive, whose activities in trade and in the land should be restricted. According to the legislation, the Jews should be driven from the villages to the cities, forbidden to peddle in the villages, forbidden to buy land from farmers, and even forbidden to trade with them in the barter of products.
In essence, this Prussian legislation cut, as if with a scalpel, the living flesh the primary artery of the lives of the Jews in the Diaspora, destroying in one fell swoop all the Jewish communal organization that had developed and become entrenched in Poland over the course of centuries. Jewish communal organization in Poland gave the Jews the possibility of withstanding all the terrible persecutions. The Jewish Community was their fortress, which defended them from destruction and assimilation. The satanic Prussian legislation came to completely destroy the independent community by handing over the communal, religious, judicial, and school functions to the control of the municipalities and Christian churches.
This Jewish legislation awoke fear and mourning among all the Jews of East Prussia. They could see it as a collection of evil decrees harking back to the Middle-ages, whose purpose was to bring ruin and destruction on Jewish economic life.
All the great rabbis and community leaders gathered for a meeting on 8 Elul, 5557 (August 30, 1797), in the city of Kaliczeva for the purpose of searching for means to defend themselves against the new restrictive laws that affected the fate of a Jewish population of more than 160,000 souls.
The edicts concerning trade hurt the Jews because in the entire area, trade and artisanry were in Jewish hands. The purchase of raw materials was entirely in Jewish hands; the Jew who was a peddler, a shoemaker and the Jewish tailor would take their work to the door of the farmer and their wages would mostly be in the form of produce of the land. The tenant would also pander to the estate owner. The Prussian legislation, that came to uproot the Jews from the village, blocked the main source of Jewish income.
The assembly in Kaliczeva found that the legislation was likely to destroy the economic and religious existence
of the Jews in two new areas. It destroys the old communal organization, removes from the hands of the Jews the right to debate and judge, made it a goal to abolish the study of the Talmud and in addition to all that, levied heavy taxes on trade. The Kaliczeva assembly decided to turn with a request to the King, that his advisors would conduct an inquiry into the Jewish issues, and it hopes that the King's advisors will spread their wings of graciousness that the pillars of the faith of the Jews would remain on their foundations and that the source of their sustenance not be blocked.
The plea of the Jews to cancel the evil of the decree found a sympathetic ear among the German officials and even among the citizens and against the will of the King Friedrich-Wilhelm. The assembly levied a head-tax on all the communities to cover the required expenses, especially for undetermined expenses.
The Ministry's reply, signed by a senior minister, was pleasing. For the Jews of the new South and East Prussia there were dispensations that greatly weakened and lightened the severities that were in the legislation, especially in the area of the peddlers' trade. Little by little the harsh decrees were cancelled, and also the decree on the Rabbinate and the Shamashim requiring them to know how to write and speak in Polish was nullified.
The Prussians did not long enjoy their authority over the newly acquired territories. In 1807 Napoleon conquered Prussia, and hope arose in Augustów. Various rumors spread. From the Jewish mail (thus one by the name of Sikorsky wrote in those days), it was made known that French battalions were approaching. Suddenly, the Prussian army began leaving the area and the French, who were received with great joy by all the residents, came after them. In the Tilsit Agreement it was agreed to establish, from Polish territory that had been in Prussian control, The Duchy of Poland. The Duchy was divided according to the French style, into six departments. The Saxon King Friedrich-August was placed at the head of the Duchy. Augustów was one of these departments. The population happily received Napoleon's army and welcomed and applauded the principal official of the Department Lassutzky, Napoleon's appointee. According to Napoleon's decree of June 22, 1807, the rights of all citizens were made equal the Jews among them.
The French army quickly crossed the Russian border, and began a massive and daring attack. In the area were seen the faces of the victorious French Generals and army officers, advancing on Moscow. But all this continued for only a few months. Napoleon's strength was broken and his army hastily retreated. Augustów suffered from the war of 1812, in spite of being far from the battlefield. The French inflicted much damage everywhere, confiscating all kinds of merchandise, without passing over the Jews. According to the Vienna Agreement of April 21, 1815, the Duchy of Poland, including Augustów, was annexed by Russia.
In the year 1815, a new chapter was opened in the history of the town. The King of Russia, Alexander I, was liberal. It is possible that out of intentions to divide and conquer, he extended kindness also to the Jews, and did not always pay attention to the suggestions of the Kingdom of Poland. Tsarist Russia ruled over Augustów about one hundred years, until the First World War in 1914.
On March 2, 1816, the High Commissioner of the Kingdom of Poland, General Zajączek promulgated an order to support foreign artisans and traders wishing to take root in Poland in order to rehabilitate her towns and to awaken her desolate areas. These traders and artisans were freed of taxes for six years and they were also not drafted into military service.
Elevation of Augustów to Regional Capital The Population According to Race and Religion Transfer of Capital from Augustów to Suwalki and Lomza - Agriculture and the Production of Food in the Region.
The Russians specifically took favorable notice of Augustów, which since the time of its founding had remained a small town, when they came to elevate it and turn it into a primary city in the civil and governmental administration. During the years 1815-1830, Congress Poland was under Russian domination as an autonomous sub-district with a national administration under the Sejm legislature. The State was divided at that time into five voivodstavo (provinces). From the year 1816 Augustów was the capital city of the Augustów voivodstavo, until 1837 when Russia changed the names of the voivodstavo to guberniyas. From then and until 1866 Augustów remained the capital of the Augustów guberniya. To the Augustow voivodstavo (or department in Russian), belonged a few Polish cities and also towns that previously belonged to Lithuania.
Augustów District (voivodstavo) was one of the five districts according to which the previous Kingdom of Poland was divided. Its borders: on the north and east side the Kovno, Vilna and Grodno districts; on the west side Prussia and from the south side Plock district. The area of the Augustów Department was 341.91 square miles.
For administrative purposes this district was divided into five regions: Mariampol, Kalvaria, Sejny, Augustów and Lomza. In general, this district consisted of a plain which on its northern side was flat and beyond that, on the south side, hillocked. The type of soil changes and is mostly sandy. Nevertheless, here and there were areas of dark rich fertile earth, with a foundation that is a mixture of sand and stones, clay, and quicksand.
In the lakes and rivers of the entire area there are various kinds of fish: pike, eels, bream, carp, dory, and others.
The surroundings of Augustów were rich in forests that were divided into three regions. Most are evergreens, but there are also poplars, firs, oak, elms, and others.
The amount of wildlife in the forests continued to decrease. There remained rabbits, and also deer. Occasionally one might encounter stags, wild boar or fallow deer. Among the predators are found wolves, foxes, martens, and badgers; game birds found locally - wild fowl and partridge.
The climate of the region was temperate but colder than other regions in the country. In general, the climate was more temperate in the Lomza district and the southern part of the Augustów region, than in the other part of the Augustów district and districts of Sejny, Kalvaria and Mariampol, in which the winter begins in the middle of November and, more than once, continued though the end of March. The temperature can drop to -32deg;. In the summer the maximum temperature rarely rises above 27deg;. Strong winds only rarely blow here, but the northwest winds, when they blow in September, are often liable to damage crops and trees.
There are 44 cities in the Augustów district, among them: 9 national cities, 4 privately-owned ones; in Lomza
5 national cities, 6 privately owned, in Kalvaria: 7 national towns, in Mariampol: 6 national and 3 private towns, in Sejny 4 national towns. In three towns, the population numbered from 500 to 1000 souls: 20 towns counted a population from 1,000 to 2,000 souls, 10 towns are populated by 2,000 to 3,000 souls and 4 from 3,000 to 4,000. Only three towns were populated by more than 8,000 souls.
The total population of the district was 624,061, giving a population density of 1,825 souls per square mile. The distribution of the population in 1860 was as follows: Men 303,502, women -320,559. By ethnicity: Slavs - 275,790; Lithuanians -213,310; Germans 13,751; Jews 102,955; Tatars 168; Gypsies -19. Apart from that there were some tens of English and French people. The Slavs were divided into Poles, Rusinis and Kurpie. The Rusinis were divided by their religion into Pravoslavs, Roman Catholic, Members of the Covenant or Pilifones, united with the Pravoslavic Church and lacking priests, or members of the old faith. The Poles, Germans and Jews settled throughout the entire district while the Rusinis settled in Sejny, Augustów and Lomza regions; the Kurpie in Lomza, the Lithuanians in Mariampol. Only a few tens of them were found in Augustów.
The Augustów region spread over 85 square miles, of which the designated agricultural use was as follows: wheat 165 tzemed, cereal 3328, barley 498, oats 1410, peas 324, buckwheat 228, potatoes 1025, flax - 78, cannabis 25 and some smaller areas for sowing of millet and more. The total population of the region in the year 1860 was 127,304 souls of whom there were 62,565 men and 62,539 women; their ethnic background was as follows: Slavs 99,657, Lithuanians 97, Germans 4051, Jews 24,481, Tatars 6 and a few English and French. By religion: Roman Catholic 10,919, Pravoslavis 81, Greek Uniate -7,412, Pilifones 1,354, Augsburg Evangelists 4.042, Reform Evangelists 9, Jews 24,481, Moslems 8. 40,082 dwelt in the cities while 88,222 dwelt in villages. In Augustów: Poles and Russians 4,500, Germans 133, Jews 3,686.
According to the new partition of Congress Poland in the year 1866, which came after Poland's failed second revolt against Tsarist Russia and also as a form of punishment of the Polish people, the Augustów district was dismantled and in its place, two districts were created: Suwalki and Lomza. Until the year 1866 they had both been part of the district of Augustów.
The Augustów district was not generally considered for its agricultural land-usage or advanced in other aspects.
Industry in Augustów was found at that time at a low level. In addition to a brandy distillery and brewery that existed in Sztabin there was a foundry for forging agricultural equipment. Handcrafting was limited to the local supply of very simple needs. The farmers engaged in weaving and the production of tar. Commerce was centered in Augustów.
From the point of view of trade, the town was distinguished by several advantages. Besides the paved road between Warsaw and Petersburg via Augustów, the town nestled between the borders of Prussia and Russia at a distance of 28 viorst from Suwalki and 238 viorst from Warsaw. From Augustów to Sopotkin was 49 viorst and from there to Grodno 21 viorst. Commerce was in the hands of the Jews, who used every opportunity to their advantage.
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