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[Page 33]

Jewish Banks

by Yoysef Durman

Translated by Yael Chaver

When writing an overview of Gorlice, the picture would not be complete without mentioning its Jewish banks. This is because the Jewish banks of Gorlice were the vital economic nerve system of commerce and industry in Gorlice, most of which was owned by Jews. At the same time, the bank balances reflected the economic situation of the Jewish population, showing the amount of savings that were made during the balance year, etc.

The reports also show the number of protested promissory notes each year, because, unfortunately, there were always people who were unable to gather the small amount of cash needed to cover their notes, and, as a last recourse, they were handed over to the protest process.

It should also be stated that, besides their primary role in the economic life of Jews, the banks were also very important institutions – I might say, citadels – of Jewish social life. They contributed greatly to strengthening and solidifying Jewish cultural and national consciousness among the masses.

The managers and clerks of the Jewish banks were all simple Jews, folksy people. Almost all of them were rooted in various areas of Jewish social life, and represented all the Jewish movements and trends. On coming into a Jewish bank, one heard the strong sounds of a rich Yiddish. The atmosphere was intimate, Jewish, familiar, and warm. There was no sense of any official, stiff, cold, or bureaucratic atmosphere.

 

“Social Bank”

There was a very special feeling about the “social bank,” or, as it was termed, Reb Eliezer Landoy's bank. Upon entering the bank, one was surrounded by a very intimate atmosphere. During official hours, one could always meet a large group of waiting Jews; it was always lively and agitated. There stands a Jew, complaining why he wasn't granted a loan. After all, he has two good guarantors… Another Jew complains loudly: why was his promissory note protested?... Similar and other complaints and arguments were directed towards the bank director, Eliezer Landoy, whose desk was not in a separate office; he sat with all the other clerks.

Reb Eliezer Landoy was a son of the Bolechow rabbi, and a son-in-law of the Gorlice Landoys. As a youth, he had studied a broad range of Jewish and secular subjects.

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Besides being a bank director, Reb Eliezer Landoy was a member of the community council, councilor of the city council, and chairman of the local Zionist organization. It was therefore quite “natural” that some impatient Jews approached him for a favor in community affairs, or influence at City Hall , as well as concerning immigration “certificates” for Palestine.[1] Reb Eliezer was irascible and bad-tempered by nature – at first he would be grumpy towards the peritioner, but at the end each person achieved his goal…

The chief clerk of the bank was Reb Yekhezkel Herbstman. He was a kind of Jewish aristocrat. You might say – a member of the Gorlice elite.

 

“Artisans' Bank” (“Rêkodzielnikowo”)

When writing about the “Rêkdz Bank,” or, as it was later known, the “Przemyslowo Kupiecky Bank” (“Industry and Mercantile Bank”) its founders should be mentioned. The name “Rêkodzielnikowo” (“artisans”) speaks for itself. The original founders were in fact the Jewish artisans of Gorlice, members of “Agudas Yisroel.”[2] The activity of this organization was very important. It made efforts to create pleasant surroundings for Jewish artisans and laborers, in which they could live observantly and sociably. Towards this end, they organized their own minyan[3] and later also built their own beautiful synagogue (mentioned in our section on synagogues). The organization was also active in mutual aid and philanthropy, helping and supporting poor artisans by anonymous gifts of cash.

These “Agudas Yisroel” folks understood, years ago (I don't know the date), how important it was to establish a bank of their own, which received the name “Rêkdz Bank” – “Artisans' Bank.”

The bank slowly developed well, and gradually freed itself from the guardianship of its founders. Over time, the bank's management realized that the term “Artisans' Bank” was no longer appropriate. The general meeting that followed was especially heated and stormy. As usual, some were in favor of the change and some against it. The old-timers of “Agudas Yisroel” protested “gevald” against the name change, arguing that they were being deprived of their hard work and efforts. But all these arguments were useless. The bank's management succeeded in putting through its decision to change the bank's name. From then on, it was known as the “Przemyslowo Kupiecky Bank.”

As compensation, “Agudas Yisroel” was promised a larger ongoing yearly subsidy. This was the end of the stormy dispute.

The chief clerks of the bank were Simon Ulman and V. Virthaymer. The bank manager was Dr. Ya'akov Blekh, who is now living here.[4]

 

“Bank of Commerce and Industry” (“Bank dla Handlu I Przemyslu”)

This bank was also called “Elyakum Vays's bank.” The bank manager, Mr. Elyakum Vays, was from the famous Vays family of Gorlice. Their ancestor was Reb Yitzkhok Vays, the father-in-law of the Rabbi of Pressburg, author of the religious work “Ksav Sofer.”[5] The Vays family produced many rabbinical and scholarly personages. Mr. Elyakum Vays himself was not an Orthodox type, but in social-political affairs he trended towards the ultra-Orthodox, and even spoke as their representative. In his last years he was active in community affairs on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox. I think he was the last chairman of the Gorlice Community Council. His bank was a member of the body supervising the Agudas-Yisroel banks of Warsaw. The religious, almost Hasidic, component was very clear in Vays's bank. The bank's chief clerk was Shakhne Firer.

Shakhne Firer embodied a rare synthesis of Bobov Hasidism[6] and secular education. However, though his Hasidic side completely dominated his secular side, it was expressed only when necessary and useful. Naturally, Shakhne, as chief clerk, set the tone in the bank. The other clerks usually made efforts to fit into the atmosphere that he created. Another noteworthy bank clerk was Yehoshua Dar.

Besides these banks, there was the “National Bank,” (“Ludowy Bank”) founded by Yoysef Kneller and Borekh Fesl. This bank served only Polish village people, and had almost no Jewish members. The writer of this entry worked for this bank for a time.

Finally, I would like to devote a few lines to the so-called “Childrens' Bank.” Actually, this bank no longer existed in our time, that is, the years following World War One. However, it continued to exist in the memories of many. Older people often spoke of it. The name “Childrens' Bank” is also very interesting. I do not know any precise details about it. I can only report that among the bank's founders were Reb Eliezer Fesl, Reb Avrom Moshe Vayl, Reb Mordechai Yitzkhok Shubin, and Reb Dovid Rieger.

 

Interest-Free Loan Society (“Gmiles Hasodim”)

The interest-free loan society fund held an important position among the town's philanthropical and self-help institutions, and was one of the most popular of these institutions. The goal of this fund was to make interest-free loans to middle-class people. The fund was an important source of support for the small merchants and artisans, who really struggled to earn their livelihood.

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This was a place where they could receive significant interest-free loans, to be repaid in small monthly installments. The borrower's situation was often such that the loan enabled him to be self-sufficient.

I don't know when the Society was established, but it was considered one of the oldest institutions in the community.

The fund was not active during World War One, and all its property was lost.

In the first decades after the war, a group of community activists proposed to reestablish the Society. Noteworthy among these were Rabbi Moshe Miller and Reb Moshe Gertner, who was the secretary of the organizing committee, as well as of the fund itself for a time. The project needed to be set up from the very beginning, that is, creating sufficient capital for making loans. A fund-raising campaign for the Society was announced, and the community responded enthusiastically with sizeable sums, each person according to his abilities. Some people even contributed very large amounts. Noteworthy among these, as far as I can remember, were Yekhiel Hollander and Yoysef Tzimet. People also contributed at various happy events, as well as during aliyahs.[7] Our townspeople in America also sent a large sum.

As far as I can remember, the founding capital of the Society amounted to 25,000 zlotys.[8] The Society was a member of, and controlled by, the Warsaw branch of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The Joint also invested in it, as a loan, a sum equal to half the capital.

The Society carried out wide-ranging activities and gave loans to all comers. The maximum loan amount was 300 zlotys.

For many years, the Society's only clerk in the Society was Reb Pinkhes Rebhan.

 

Besht Interest-Free Loan Society Fund[9]

Among the important community institutions was also the “Besht Interest-Free Loan Society Fund.” This fund belonged to the “Society of the Faithful and Charitable.” This was the official name of the organization that owned the “Besht Synagogue” (also mentioned in the article on houses of worship). The building comprised several apartments, occupied by tenants. The income from these apartments was the property of the Besht Fund.

During World War One, the Fund stopped its activity. A few years after the war a group of community leaders decided to revive and organize the Fund's activity. Reb Moshe Kopita, Yudl Raker and Moshe David Druter were noteworthy. They spared no effort to organize it appropriately. The most active among these was A. M. Kopita, who was also the Fund's secretary and accountant for a number of years. A fund-raising campaign was initiated, to which the community responded warmly. As far as I can remember, the first large contributions were made by Reb Akiva Shwimmer, Shimon Shel, Shmuel Leyb Tenenboym, Leybish Zisvayn, etc. etc. The chain of donations continued unbroken over years, up to the outbreak of World War Two.

The above-mentioned secretary of the Fund knew how to use various means in order to attract new donors. One of these methods was the weekly publication, in all the synagogues, of all donors that week. Apparently, this was an effective technique, because other societies imitated it; every week, they would publish lists of donors. In my opinion (and I was the accountant for the Society of the Faithful and Charitable for many years, up to World War Two), the Fund's equity capital amounted to about 12,000 zlotys.

According to the Society's statutes, the only members should have been those who prayed in the Besht Synagogue. But everyone knew that there was no quota in this matter. No one was turned away; loans were made to anyone in need, regardless of whether he was a “Beshter” or a “Rudniker.”[10] The loans made were as high as 250 zloty. Reb Akiva Schwimmer was the Fund's chairman. The management included several of the above-mentioned activists and donors. I should also add Reb Yisroel Nebentsal and Reb Shlomo Ashkenazi. All of them were murdered during the Holocaust. May their devoted work for the public good serve to elevate their souls; may they be a model for the remnants of our community.


[Page 36]

Gorlice Jewish Artisans' Organization
(“Khevres Poyelim”)

by Pinkhes Arnberg (Holon)

Translated by Yael Chaver

My contribution about the Jewish artisans of Gorlice refers, obviously, to the period starting with the beginning of my work in that organization, that is, from 1922. Initially, I was a Torah reader at their synagogue. But gradually, as I began to be knowledgeable about their affairs, that is, their needs and requirements, I rose to become secretary as well as honorary member of the board of directors. I might go so far as to say that I became their manager. Because they were convinced that I really wanted the best for them, they consulted me about the slightest thing (such as how to buy an esreg[11]) as well as the weightiest matters (such as reorganization of the artisans' bank, and tackling the construction of their own building). Believe me, I am not trying to boast, but they never regretted following my advice. I can also say that, thanks to my instructions, the situation of the Gorlice Jewish Artisans' Association became a model for other cities in Galicia, so much so that other towns sent delegations to the Gorlice organization, to learn about their work.

 

Creating a “Support Fund”

What did this exemplary work consist of? Imagine the following:

At the beginning of the 1920s, that is, after the great shock to Jewish life in Galicia in general and in Gorlice in particular, people realized that the situation of Jewish artisans was truly catastrophic. People started thinking of different ways in which Jewish artisans could be helped to regain some independence. Membership dues, pledges and donations were like a drop in the bucket as far as real help was concerned. In addition, at that time the Artisans' Bank was incapable of offering loans. On the contrary, the bank itself needed help to create the capital necessary to reorganize. At my initiative, a special support fund was created. The entire board was mobilized to that end. It didn't matter how the money would be collected: donations, loans, calls for assistance from our Gorlice brothers in America, and other such means to achieve this goal were considered kosher: creating a large amount of capital. Important property-owners in town who were not artisans also helped greatly to achieve this goal. Thus, in a short time the society had a lot of money at its disposal. They started making loans to individual artisans, so that they could repair their workshops or stores, and slowly repay the loans. Meanwhile, the Artisans' Bank also gradually built itself up and was able to offer some help. The organization's fund was now in good shape, and the artisans were also doing not too badly.
While this was happening, Grabski's era began, and the situation of the artisans worsened again.[12] However, this time people were on guard, and did their best to prevent the collapse of the Jewish artisans. After this, thank God, the Gorlice economy prospered once again. The Jewish banks developed well and made fine loans to merchants as well as to artisans. Both free loan funds functioned with considerable capital and gave long-term loans to retailers and artisans.

 

Construction

Once the Jewish Artisans' Association owned a good amount of capital, they started thinking about building their own house as well as a fine synagogue. This synagogue was a real model in our town and for other towns in Galicia.

All this was created in only a few years. During this time, the association's board of directors – including myself – worked with dedication.

 

Worthy People

Let me now describe the board members. At the time, I may not have been aware of all their good traits and characteristics. Only now do I realize that people such as some of our Gorlice artisans are rare today, even among the elite of the association. Naturally, we can still be proud of the fact that such people were in our group. I will start with the chairmen, and proceed from there.

 

1) Reb Yoysef (Yosl) Aynhorn, of blessed memory

A person who worked hard in his workshop, along with his apprentices, he was always smeared and dirty from work, but generous in the extreme. Whenever anyone came to him asking for help that he could grant, he would leave everything at work, would quickly change clothes, and hurry off.

[Page 37]

I myself witnessed this more than once. He went through different periods, of economic prosperity as well as economic hardship. But where charity was concerned, he didn't check whether the person asking for help was doing well economically or not – he gave generously. He would even worry and make sure that he was giving that person enough.

 

gor037a.JPG
Leibish Zuswein,
Honorable citizen, member of the Worker's Bank
and Industrial Bank committees

 

2) Reb Mordechai (Motl) Blech, of blessed memory

He was the moving spirit, not only of the Workers' Association, but also of the entire Jewish population of the town. He was extremely interested in the situation of each artisan. He demanded money from those in better situations, as much as possible, in order to help those with lesser means. People were usually very fond of him because of his good traits, and did not oppose his demands. But if someone opposed him and didn't donate as much as he had demanded, he would curse the other person and actually threaten him, until that reluctant person was forced to agree to his demands. He worked long and tirelessly to raise the standards of the Jewish Artisans' Association. As far as the Association's building was concerned, he was both engineer and manual laborer.

As he was well-known, he was prominent in other community affairs. He was concerned with the sick, and very often accompanied sick persons to Cracow and even to Vienna, to ease their suffering. He always made sure that prayers in the Artisans' Society synagogue were carried out properly, according to the letter of the religious law. You were unlucky if you uttered a word during prayer! He would scold you: “You don't need to say all the prayers in the prayer-book. I myself don't say all the prayers either, but speaking in the midst of prayers and disturbing others – God forbid!”

On the other hand, he had high respect for the dignity of others. Most of my work in the Workers' Union was with him, and he took pains that no one should disrespect me. I was less sensitive about my own dignity than he was.

 

gor037b.JPG
Moshe David Dkacz,
The only Jewish carpenter in the city

 

3) Reb Mordechai (Max) Gebel, of blessed memory

He was a very calm, gentle person. I don't recall a single case when he quarreled with someone, or curse someone – this happened with many other people. On the contrary: when others quarreled, he was the peace-maker—this is a measure of his attachment to the Association and the well-being of its artisan members.

[Page 38]

He himself was one of the better off, and supported many others from his own purse. He also constantly thought about how to beautify the synagogue. Often, when he thought the synagogue walls were not clean, he would say to Reb Yisroel Feldmesser, or to his own brother-in-law, “Come with me one day and let's paint the synagogue so it will look beautiful.”

I remember him once having a housewarming party in his own home, with all the artisans present. He was so delighted that he expressed the wish to live to see all Jewish artisans build their own homes. He said this whole-heartedly, without the slightest ulterior motive.

 

4) Reb Yisroel Feldmesser, of blessed memory

He was the smartest of all, not only among the artisans, but all the Jews in town. Everyone considered him very intelligent; you could consult him on various topics and his advice was always very sensible. The artisans, in particular, always took his advice seriously. Although he didn't pray regularly at the Workers' Synagogue, he was a board member. His wisdom contributed greatly to the revival of the association.

He was also a person who not ashamed of his occupation. On the contrary, he would also proudly say, “I am an artisan.” He also persuaded other artisans to become proud of their work and support themselves, rather than depending on the help of the rich townsmen. But he was always vigilant to make sure that the town's property-owners employed and supported Jewish artisans, and not, God forbid, non-Jews, as was often the case. I don't envy anyone who employed a non-Jews and was found out by Reb Yisroel Feldmesser. He had no respect for anyone who did this, even if they met in the middle of the marketplace with all the people around. He was also perceived as the most intelligent of the artisans, both in speech and in writing.

 

5) Reb Yehuda Leyb Ulman, of blessed memory

He, of course, was the richest man in the association. Not only in the association – he was also prominent among other rich persons in the town. The artisans had great respect for him, because he was concerned not only to advise the artisans for their well-being, but himself was generous with donations and, primarily, with loans. He was also the “diplomat” of the Jewish artisans and spoke for them in the community, the city government, the banks, etc. He was also the treasurer and trustee of the association, and had the right to authorize payment of any sum.

Naturally, as Secretary, I had much in common with him, and had to visit him at home several times a week. I felt uncomfortable about this, because he was a working man and a very busy person; this meant I had to bother him at work. However, he made it clear to me that I should not worry about this. He was ready to grant all my requests at any time, because he placed the interests of the Association above those of his own tannery. He trusted in me, personally. When the community held elections, I was his trusted assistant; he took my advice into account.

 

6) Reb Moshe Raykh, of blessed memory

He was the paradigm of innocence and humbleness, and a hard worker all his life. He lived only on his own earnings. But though he had to look after himself and his family, he was always concerned for others. He was not, God fobid, poor, but certainly far from rich. But he conducted himself like a rich man, in that he never complained about his situation. He was always happy. His clothing style was also that of a rich man, tidy and elegant. Thanks to these traits he won great respect. He was intimately connected with the Workers' Association, in thought and deed, always thinking and giving advice on the best way to improve the lot of the Jewish worker. He would always be first in the Association to make contributions. At the same time, thanks to him, richer people had to exceed his donations.

 

7) Reb Shmuel Bruder, of blessed memory

He was the youngest of the board members, but was very sensible. First of all, he respected the honor of others. Thanks to this quality, he was entrusted with becoming the gabbay of the Association and the synagogue.[13] And indeed, his great talent for organization became evident: he watched over the distribution of the aliyes so that none of the worshippers would complain that someone else received a better reading portion.[14]

[Page 39]

This was a problem, as each weekly segment of the Torah contains various sections, some more prestigious than others. So he kept count: if a person received the sixth portion one time, he received the fourth portion the next time, and so on… He was also strict about keeping things orderly and respectful during prayers. Anyone who didn't follow this rule was immediately scolded. He was adamant that the synagogue should maintain high standards, be a model for the town, and be at least as good as other synagogues.

If I had more time, I would also describe the following important property-owners: Reb Berl Bergman, Reb Pinkhes Fentster, Reb Shmuel Brav, Reb Shimen Karzhenik, Reb Elie Bergman, Reb Yitzkhok (Itche) Birn, Reb Shmerl Zilber, Reb Avraham Yehoshua Miller, all of blessed memory. The last-named person was the entertainer and musician of the Association. He added much humor and joy. Regrettably, I must be satisfied with descriptions of the board members.

Finally, I would like to present some of the important resolutions made by the Association; they are worthy of publication.

  1. Along with the regulation by the gabbay Reb Shmuel Bruder concerning the aliyes for Torah reading, the board added a resolution forbidding any discrimination among Association members.
  2. Association members who do not pray regularly in the Association's synagogue must come to pray there at least 2-3 times a year.
  3. For morning prayers each Saturday, a prayer leader from among the town's prayer-leaders should be invited; the rest of the prayers should be divided among the Association synagogue's members.
  4. One of the most important resolutions was that the workers' representative in the community present a report at least once a month, detailing his activity for the benefit of the workers.
  5. Another very important resolution was that if an Association member passed away, the Association was obligated to show interest in the situation of the widow and the whole family, and give them every possible assistance.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. During the 1930s, the British Mandate government of Palestine instituted quotas on Jewish immigration to Palestine. Immigration permits ("certificates") were granted only to those who met certain rigorous conditions, such as sufficient funds as determined by the British authorities. return
  2. In this context a self-help organization of artisans. return
  3. The group of ten men required for communal prayer. return
  4. I.e., in Israel (where the Yizkor Book was published). return
  5. The author of the "Ksav Sofer" commentary on the Torah was the Hungarian Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyomin, in the mid-19th century. return
  6. A Hasidic sect that originated in Galicia. return
  7. Calling a member of the congregation to read a segment of the Torah. This was considered an honor, which people acknowledged by making a donation to the synagogue. return
  8. Polish currency. return
  9. The acronym "Besht" was the conventional way of referring to Yisroel Ba'al Shem Tov (ca. 1700-1760)., the founder of Hasidism. return
  10. Rudnik was a nearby town with its own traditions of religious worship. These traditions may have been carried on in Gorlitz in a "Rudnik" synagogue. return
  11. Esreg is the Hebrew term for the citron fruit, which plays a role in the Succot holiday ceremony. return
  12. Władysław Grabski was a right-wing Polish politician who became Treasury Minister of Poland, and served as Prime Minister in 1920 and from 19231925. The currency reform and taxation policies he instituted had an strongly adverse effect on Jewish merchants and small manufacturers. return
  13. Gabbay synagogue official. return
  14. Plural of aliya (ascent): calling up a member of the congregation to read a portion of the Torah; considered an honor. return

 

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