The Period of final glory
Translated by Shimon Joffe
The two and a half decades preceding the First World War saw a period of recovery and even a high tide in the life of Grodno and its Jewish population. The city industries, especially the tobacco industry and the sawing of timber, opened and developed. They grew with the development of mechanization, and with agricultural produce from the widespread close and distant districts created an imposing empire. The wide ranging trade with the rest of the country reached its peak with the junction of railway lines nearby, including international branches from central and western Europe, running through Warsaw to St. Petersburg and passing through Grodno. The Neman River also continued to act as a conduit for rafts and freighters, carrying exports from the local jetties flax and pig bristles, and especially timber and timber products to the north, to Prussia and even to England. River passenger traffic was lively too, the Jews being active in this business (the Brothers Ashkenazi) transporting to the nearby famous healing spa, Druskininkai in the lower reaches of the Neman River, as well as to the port towns in the upper reaches of the river system.
The lively trade resulted in the flourishing of banks and among them the Jewish private banks. The new formidable and impregnable military fort, in the years before the War, provided work and income to the expending population including the Jews, The growing administrative and military center led to an influx of immigrants from other parts of the country and expanded the opportunity for earnings.
Nevertheless, Grodno suffered badly, in the Jewish part, within the period dealt with, from a huge conflagration in 1899 which again hit the area densely occupied by the Jews in the city, Troitze and the Shulhoif. In this fire a few hundred houses were burnt and 15 prayer halls, including the great synagogue which had the name of the ‘Levush inscribed on it.’
In 1897 Grodno counted, in the population census, (which it seems also included the army units posted there), 22,684 Jews, 73% of the total permanent population, excluding the military. In 1904, it had, according to the municipal records, 27,874 Jews, constituting 64.1% of the population of 43,457 residents. It must be considered that in that year, while the war was being fought between Russia and Japan, many Jews emigrated or left the city, as well as the mobilized men, from all other sections of the population. In 1912, Grodno counted, according to the statistical office of the province, 34,461 Jews, about 60% of the population of 57,949. The number of Jews in Grodno in 19131914 reached a peak when they were estimated to number over 63,000, approximately two thirds of the total city population.
In the period under discussion, Jewish life in Grodno, politically and legally, did not differ from that of the Jews within the Russian sphere. The restrictions, the provocations, the discrimination and persecutions were equally visited upon them, although, in retrospect, they enjoyed better personal security. The anti Jewish pogroms repeated throughout Russia at the beginning of the century passed by the community. Even when a bloody pogrom took place in Bialystok in 1906, a close neighbor Grodno was flooded by refugees, many Jews believed that their ‘goyim’ who incidentally were not all of the same ilk the Russians and the Poles clashed among themselves were mostly quiet and had among them more decent people than in other places. Also, Grodno was the home of the authoress Elisa Orzeszko (18421910), a humanist and friend to all the oppressed including the Jews. The local Jewish youths read and knew her stories of Jewish life, depicting characters from the city with Nechamke among them. It was known that she had learned Yiddish and Hebrew and it was believed that she was even conversant with the writings of the Rambam. A local tradition among the Jews had it that the spirit of the righteous Rabbi Nechamke protected her. He blessed the community before his death, saying that it will not be ruled by the evil of the goyim.
Nevertheless, during the years 19031907 the fear of pogroms was prevalent in the Grodno community and Jewish self defense was organized.
In the first decade of the 20th century Jewish public life in Grodno already contained the streams and currents prevalent among the Jews in Russia in all its diversity, including parties and many revolutionary factions, which, depending on their ideology, organization and spirit, were active either openly or underground, in the struggle of the Jews against the oppressive and dictatorial Tsarist regime.
As a major city in the province, Grodno was a center in the elections to the State Duma a body which was supposed to advise the Tsar's government. It was in the elections to the first Duma in 1906 that the Jews of the province had the opportunity to elect representatives of their own Moshe Ben Ya'akov Ostrogorski, a jurist born in Grodno and Benyamin (Vladimir) Yakobson, a jurist as well. Yakobson was a Zionist and belonged to the faction Trudovikkim in the Duma (laborers expounded popular Socialism according to the Socialist Revolutionary ideology). Ostrogorski, on the other hand, while not belonging to any faction, generally voted with the ‘Kadets’, a bourgeois party, which postulated a legal democratic regime.
Moshe Ostrogorski (18541917), was the son of a Grodno intellectual, a teacher and the proprietor of a school, as mentioned above. He, too, was unconnected with Jewish national affairs and even opposed the creation of a Jewish faction in the Duma. After graduating from the St. Petersburg faculty of law he served in the government legal department, but with the growth of the reaction in Russia, he left for Paris. In France he earned a respected name among the intellectuals through his essays which became known in other countries as well. ‘Women's rights seen from a political point of view’. (Translated into English, German and Polish), and in particular ‘Democracy and the organization of political parties’. In the above book the author argues, that in a democracy the individual has not yet achieved moral independence and the ability to think and act according to his own will, because of the party organization. Ostrogorski further wrote a book on ‘Democracy and the system of parties in the United States’, as well as a text book on history. He also published the Russian Annual Law Calendar.
Incidentally, his sister, the medical doctor Anna Malchina of the Ostrogorski family, (born in Grodno 1863), served as an editor of books for the young and of popular education in Russia; his brother, Alexander (18861908), was a wellknown pedagogue and author in education, editor of the journal ‘Obrazovania’, (Education), among the best of that kind. He took the step over the barrier and converted his religion.
It seemed appropriate that the Grodno Jewish ‘selectors’ for the Duma (the body actually selecting the representatives) should be jurists and doctors distant from any national Jewish movement, excepting one the Zionist Dr. Haim Hurwitz. This was true of the ‘selectors’ of the city to the first Duma, and the succeeding second, third and the fourth, the last.
In the two years before the First World War, anti Semitic activity was felt in Grodno, on the part of anti Semitic groups. Once they began an economic boycott against the Jews by means of the Orthodox Church's ‘Friendly Societies’. These founded Russian cooperatives and other economic bodies, with the intention of forcing the Jews out of trade and other economic positions. Anti Jewish hatred was fostered at the same time and publicized by various means. The sign at the entrance to the Orthodox cemetery was typical of the times ‘Entrance to Jews and dogs is forbidden’.
The Jew hate reached its nadir in 1913. During the period of the Beilis court case (the blood libel) the Black Hundred the vicious anti Semites proceeded to publish a newspaper in Grodno filled with anti Jewish agitation. In order to counter this, the Jews published a newspaper of their own in Russian, Nasha Utra, (our morning). It served as the first of the local Jewish newspapers and appeared later in Yiddish.
Grodno also saw much active opposition to that despicable libel, and before the court case 11 persons were arrested and sentenced to prison, accused of participating in a secret meeting and publishing leaflets calling upon the workers to strike in protest against the blood libel. The strike though, initiated by the Bund in 17 cities, took place as planned, on September 25, 1913, in Grodno as well.
A period of fear and anxiety, of irrepressible rioting, as mentioned above, filled Grodno Jewry.
In the days of the slaughter in Kishinev in the spring of 1903, an atmosphere of pogrom about to take place was felt in the city of Rabbi Nechamke. Leaflets were handed out among the lowest social and ignorant strata, in particular among the peasants coming in from the surroundings on market and Christian festival days, bearing the slogan ‘Beat the Jews’. There were peasants who entered Jewish shops and pointed at merchandise and said ‘tomorrow this will be ours’.
Close to the Jewish New Year, a rumor circulated that anti Jewish riots would take place on Yom Kippur day. The reason for this was seen in the supposed news spread among the Christians that the Jews were preparing to attack them and take revenge for the Jewish blood spilled in Kishinev. Self defense units were immediately organized by the Bund and Poalei Zion. According to a Bund source the authorities were embarrassed once they heard of the self defense organization, and the chief of police and the provincial governor met with the ‘city fathers’ to calm them and requested them to hold back their youths. The Yom Hakippurim day passed quietly.
Israel Shochat was appointed leader of the Poalei Zion self defense unit in Grodno. In the days to come, he was one of the founders of the ‘Hashomer’ and its leader in Eretz Yisrael. Later, he helped to lay the foundation for the Haganah and was one of its leaders. Alongside Shochat stood his collaborator Rivkah Pozniak (Cossack), an active member of the party, in the past a member of the Bund, and her homesewing workshop became, at her initiative, the center of Jewish defense in Grodno, as well as for the vicinity. Shochat's brother, Eliezer Shochat, was also among the defense activists as well as Hannah Maisel and Avraham Krinitzki, who worked together with I. Shochat to organize, the ‘Jewish Hands’, the butchers, porters and carters. Youths who did not look Jewish, were sent to check out the churches during the Christian festivals and to report on the mood among the faithful.
The members of Poalei Zion organized special and energetic activities for selfdefense and specialization in appropriate weapons (Noah Bass, who will be discussed later, was involved in this), he was among the Jewish soldiers who were stationed in Grodno and its outskirts by the thousands. Fear of rioting seized the Jewish population of Grodno in the spring of 1905, before the first of May. Rumors were heard that on the first day of Easter the Jews would blow up the Orthodox Church and the Catholic cathedral as revenge for the rioting in Kishinev and Homel. Jewish self defense was organized by the Bund, armed with cold weapons and firearms, bought with money collected from the wealthy Jews.
At the end of October 1905, while widespread rioting took place throughout Russia, what was actually the spring of the first revolution, leaflets appeared in the Grodno streets addressed to the ‘Orthodox Brethren’ calling upon them to come out in a pogrom against the Jews. The Bund called a mass meeting in the great synagogue, with the participation of over four thousand persons, including Russians and Poles. The crowd was asked to organize itself for self defense. A few groups were indeed founded for this purpose with each party having its own self defense unit. The provincial governor stated, in a printed announcement, that he would not allow violence and disorder in the city and they would be forcefully put down. The patriotic demonstration of the Jew haters took place in the city streets, but without any undue incidents.
One of the activists in the self defense and a moving spirit in Grodno in those days was the young Hebrew writer Aaron A. Kabak. He had resided in the city in the past when he studied in Kvutzot (groups) formed to train teachers, under the auspices of ‘Mefitzei Haskala Bisrael’. (More on this subject later). On this occasion, as related by the Hebrew writer and essayist the late Yehoshua Obsi (born 1883, died in Ramat Gan in 1957), who too was a member of one of the self defense groups in Grodno, Kabak, the dynamic and courageous, rushed from a peaceful nest in a nearby town, where he had settled, to the stubborn and conservative city, slumbering in its calm, as soon as he heard of the events in Grodno. Here, though he often went hungry, and only occasionally enjoyed an ample meal, and that was when his other ‘foreign’ compatriots would have a ‘bread party’ in one of the Turkish bakeries he devoted himself entirely to the business of defense and became one its the major actors.
In his novel, Daniel Shaframov, he leaves us a description of the preparations for defense in Grodno in those days: the rich provided money, and the parties armed themselves with knives, handguns, iron bars and fine nagaikes (whips). Young girls attended secret lessons in first aid and were enrolled in the defense army, many families vacated rooms for the stations and crowded themselves into a side room. Sitting rooms and luxurious halls were turned, within a day, into barracks to hold the defender squads.
|Noah Bass, Joseph Sprinzak, and the Hebrew writer A.A. Kabak, Grodno 1905.|
In spite of the above, he continues, the railway station was packed, anyone with money available decamped the city and business to save his soul. The remaining residents fixed iron shutters and iron bars on their windows and hid their valuables. Kabak also describes the atmosphere in the defender squads in Grodno, of the Anarchists and the Social Revolutionaries, in the concentrations of the butchers in the synagogues and in the Yuzrika huts. Among others, he tells of a poor Jewish carpenter who brought his daughter to the defense lines and presented his son, when the later reached Bar Mitzvah, with Tefillin and a handgun in the same prayer bag, and he added ‘as of today, my son, you are a full Jew in your own right and stand in need of both’.
Obsi recounts that the organizing of the defense was most difficult not only because of its novelty, but also because every action had to be conducted with the utmost secrecy, as, often, youths going about their innocent business were arrested because the top of the cane seemed too large in the eyes of the police and thus was suitable for use in defense. The members were consequently organized in small groups, and spent day and night in secret hideaways. Special scouts wandered about the streets in order to bring to their friends news of suspicious activities in the vicinity.
One day, continues Obsi, a scout announced that riots had broken out in one of the suburbs, ‘Kabak's eyes filled with blood’. Excited, and in an uproar with unbridled fury, he immediately grabbed his weapon (arms were mainly clubs, whips and such like), and rushed to the place of danger, drawing the remaining comrades behind him, to demonstrate the slogan ‘Our blood shed will not be forgiven’, with which phrase he completed an article he had written for Hamelitz from Grodno in those very days.
Although on this occasion the danger missed the Jews of Grodno, but the disposition to stand firm was yet strengthened and found its expression in the collecting of fire arms on the one hand and the agitation among the people on the other. In December 1905, the police discovered a secret weapons store of the Bund, it included 250 handguns, cold steel and other weapons, illegal literature and secret type. In the same month the opening pages of a secret pamphlet was found in a courtyard, entitled ‘The Odessa Pogrom and Self Defense’, published by the Central Western Committee of the Poalei Zion defense organization and later the typesetter himself was found in the printingshop of the Lapin Brothers. Arrests were made of a number of workers of the printing shop.
The Grodno underground also served as a source of weapons for the defense of Bialystok Jewry, before it suffered a blood letting in June 1906. A deputation representing the Bialystok Poalei Zion came to Grodno to confer with the all the party defense groups of the Bialystok district. Its commander was Rivkah Pozniak. The meetings were held in her home. The Bialystok group was given a few dozen handguns and bullets by the Grodno defenders.
After the riots in Bialystok, there arose the danger of violence in Grodno as well, and plans were laid to counter this possibility. The Jewish self defense prepared itself in good order, and secret agitation continued among the Jewish soldiers, especially in the artillery brigade. Letters were sent to the authorities warning them that if riots should occur, the soldiers would turn the cannon barrels to point at the homes of the officials and the town citizens. Once again, Grodno Jewry escaped their terrors without mishap.
It is impossible to talk about the agitation among the Jewish soldiers in Grodno, without mentioning the name of Rivka Pozniak, who took such an active part in it, in her workshop for undergarments, added the witness. Soldiers came there and heard words of consolation, encouragement and friendship, as if spoken by an elder sister. They received a hot cup of tea, and more important, agitational material issued by Poalei Zion and books for reading. She had a manly voice, but warm and appealing. In the ‘self defense’ she took the most dangerous tasks upon herself obtaining weapons and their distribution among the members, determining places of concealment etc. All this she did successfully. If she was warned to be more careful, she would reply I am more concerned for you, soldiers, for whom the danger is greater. These words, warmly spoken came from the heart and instilled a spirit of attachment and sacrifice added the witness.
Israel Shohat recounts that Rivkah Pozniak was like an oak, tall and straight, strong and supple and exuded an air of refinement. She was elected as delegate to the seventh Zionist congress.
Among the Jewish self defense activists in Grodno at that time was Naftali Herz Dreier (born in Orla, Grodno province in 1875 died in the Shoah in 1942). A worshiper in the Kloyz , an enthusiast and hot tempered, whose house also served to store weapons. In his youth , he was a member of the S.R. Party (Social Revolutionaries), and among his deeds, he participated in the saving of the life of a Russian soldier in Grodno, who had been sentenced to death for mutiny against his officer and his protests at the officers anti Semitic lectures. The soldier was spirited out of the prison and smuggled across the border.
|Naftali Herz Dreier|
In September 1906, on the first day of the Jewish New year, three months after the pogrom in Bialystok, the independent Jewish self defense of Grodno, avenged the Jewish blood which had been shed there, by assassinating the chief of Bialystok detectives Griebuodov, one of the organizers and instigators of the riots, also famous for his ill treatment of Jewish workers. He was shot and killed by a Russian laborer near the Catholic Fori pharmacy, facing the square , known as the Boulevard, (later renamed Batory Square). N. H. Dreier, who was nearby during the event, rushed immediately by train to Bialystok to announce that revenge has been exacted.
Abraham Krinitzi, the present mayor of Ramat Gan, was in Grodno, his birthplace, in those days, and was among the chief activists in the Jewish Self Defense organization in that period. He recounts in his book, ‘Bekoach Hama'aseh’ ,(4th edition, Tel Aviv, pages 2832), that in view of the tension prevailing in Grodno as a result of the revenge taken at Grieboudov, the Self Defense units were forced to participate in the funeral in order to obviate rioting against the Jews. He further tells of the unity permeating the Jewish defense in Grodno, after the meeting to coordinate collaboration in defense by the representatives of all the Zionist parties. the Bund and the PP'S, which took place in the city (in the offices of the Hakupah Lemilveh Uchisachon), with the participation of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. In this meeting, the parties did not keep secret from the others, as was their practice, as to their defense methods. The defense, it was declared, was popular, and the defenders, carters and butchers, went about with knives hidden in their top boots, prepared for action. Money too was needed. There were many rich Jews in the city who willingly donated, but there were also shirkers. But ‘those were taxed whatever we taxed them and we extracted the money from them in our own way’ adds Krinitzi.
On the second day of Rosh Hashana 1907, a Jewish revolutionary worker, Hershel Nimanski, assassinated the chief of police in Bialystok, General Bugayesevski, who was involved in the organization of the pogrom there and its perpetration. The Jewish avenger only managed to injure the chief rioter. Nimanski was arrested and imprisoned in the infamous Petropavlovski fortress, where he breathed his last.
It should be noted that this was not the first assassination attempt by Jewish revolutionaries against this chief rioter, nor the other attempt at the beginning of March 1907, in Bialystok, in which two anarchists threw a bomb at him (which did no harm), brave Moshe Shpindler, the Grodner, as he was known, participated in that attempt.
3. Sources of Income
The census of 1897 established that, among the Jews in Grodno, there were 61 classed as peasants, 409 merchants, and all the reminder in the category of city dwellers. 16.7% of the Grodno Jews, some 3563 souls (together with the families of the income producers), made a living in clothing, 2408 dealt in agricultural produce, 1170 were in the building trade, 1320 in the services and occasional laborers, 1170 in the timber industry, 1148 in transport, and 1658, including 790 females, in the tobacco industry. Juxtaposed to the above, only 109 residents, (48 men), worked in weaving in Grodno, and most of the other Jews in Grodno worked as sundry agents or middlemen.
Industrial undertakings belonging to Jews in Grodno, which existed in the years before the First World War, excluding the tobacco factories, mention of most of which is to be found listed in the archives at the Jewish Scientific Institute (YIVO) in New York, and these are as follows:
A factory for machines and an iron foundry, belonging to the H. Feingold Company, employed 59 workers. A large mechanical metal workshop belonging to M. Dunski and Yarmolovski.
The Nimanskaia factory for working leather and art book binding owned by Langbord, with 206 employees. Another smaller plant doing the same work, called Union, employed 53 workers. At the beginning of the century, there was a large similar plant owned by Harin, who was a partner to Langbord but he relocated later to Warsaw.
A printing and lithograph works of S. Lapin and Sons, (96 employees), where secret printing took place of the Shkalim for the Russian Zionists.
A famous workshop of long standing for graphics, owned by L. Meilechovitz (36 employees), and a series of smaller printing works.
A large workshop producing carton packaging belonging to Lutenberg (83 employees, male and female), a number of plants for the production of cigarette casings.
3 timber yards on the banks of the Neman River. one of them belonging to Landoi and Rusota (36 employees), and one belonging to Arkin and Frucht, (30 employees). A factory for cement products owned by Klempner, 5 brickyards (2 belonging to Klempner, 2 belonging to Adilaks, and one owned by Arkin). All together they employed 239 workers, with only a few dozen Jews among them.
An old established soap factory, belonging to Hirschhorn, founded in 1854, as well as tanning plants.
3 beer breweries 2 belonging to the Anders family and Yoffe. Another, the earliest in Grodno, owned by Slutzki. They employed Jews mainly in the offices and in the transport and sale of the products. An old established winery for Passover wine, belonging to the Yoffe family, wellknown throughout the Jewish areas. A candy making factory, Gloria, owned by Sofer. A small distillery for the production of vinegar from alcohol, owned by Haim Rosen, a steam powered flour mill in the city outskirts, mainly in Lusosna. Small plants for the production of Soda water and light drinks.
At the beginning of the century, Grodno had a factory for the production of corks, belonging to A. Raps, (it also existed in the 90's of the previous century).
The tobacco industry was the major artery in industrial production in Grodno, and more so among the Jews for many generations. In time, it was taken out of Jewish hands. Central in the industry was the factory of Shereshevski and Company. A factory in the full meaning of the word, a grand place for the production of tobacco, and of Makhorka (loose cheap tobacco of scraps of leaves). Around it, ancillary plants and various other businesses opened.
Its beginnings in 1862, was in a modest workshop in a corner of the courtyard in Dominikanska street. A few workers were employed there. The owners did not greatly benefit from it, until in 1873 it passed into the hands of Yosef (Yusha) Ben Rabbi AriehLeyb Shereshevski. Yusha Shereshevski , (born 1839, died 1926), the great future magnate was not born to wealth or industry when he entered the business. Until then, his business consisted of crushing tobacco in a mortar, as well as owning a wine cellar. That too, belonged to his father in law, Rabbi Hirsh Yehude Chazan. The street behind the factory, Monastirski or Klashturna Street, was popularly known as Hirsh Yehudas Gesl (Hirsh Y. lane) I. Shereshevsski took in a partner by the name of S.P. Rusotta, (born 1838, died 1914), in later days, he was known for his open handed charity. According to one who recorded the events in the city, both the entrepreneurs, were indigent when laying the foundations for their factory, impoverished, and later turned into millionaires. The stories about their rise to riches did not flatter them, both were religiously observant, with but a slight acquaintance of holy writ, sympathetic to and admiring students of the Torah.
|Shereshevski Tobacco factory|
The development of the factory can be seen from the fact that in 1885 it employed 700 adult workers, (among them only 253 males), as well as 147 children, in 1897 1594 workers, and for the years 19001905, the number of workers is given as close to 2000.
In addition to those employed in the factory, at that time, he had others working for him in a workshop for cigarette casings, (these were added to mouth pieces made of cardboard), for containers, printing shops, with hundreds of families engaged in hand work. All the above, in addition to porters, carters, salesmen, etc, who made a living within earshot of the factory, and most of these were, generally, Jews. We should not see great exaggeration in the estimates given of the number of people in Grodno who lived off the Shereshevski industries, these are estimated as being as much as twenty thousand.
The factory itself, without the store rooms, was in a large three story building, built by the owners in the hub of the city, and bordered on three streets and lanes. Once the mechanical equipment was installed, it contained all the ancillary departments needed for the production of packing materials, power and light, etc, which made the factory totally independent, excluding the printing press which under the Tzarist regime, fell under separate rules and laws.
The factory received the latest modern machinery for the crushing of tobacco leaves, milling, cleaning and filling of the paper casings. A special department in the factory dealt with the production of Machorka, with the milling of tobacco for snuff, and preparation of cigarette canisters. Giant rolls of fine paper were swallowed by rotary machines which expelled completed products.
The filling of boxes with cigarettes and their wrapping was still done by human hands on an assembly belt and the distribution of tasks on the American Taylor system. The woman's hand in this sphere, proved that it is more efficient than a machine, and one worker could pack 80,000 cigarettes in a day.
This factory, at its full development, became one of the biggest, most perfect and efficient of its kind in the whole of Russia, and was known as the only one in Russia and Poland employing large numbers of Jews from the watchman and cleaner up to the foreman and the chief clerks. Saturdays and festivals were observed as non workdays, including the intervening festival days, and special bonuses were paid to the workers during the festivals of the month of Tishrei and the Passover. A modern school established by the plant, functioned alongside the factory, for the workers children.
|Yurzike In winter|
The Shereshevski factory was one of the factors which determined, more or less, life in Grodno and its character. The city, seemed to live in the shadow of the factory. In the opinion of a correspondent, the factory whistle, heard at a distance at the appropriate hours, seemingly acted as a clock, according to which the masses of workers busy in Yurzike, in Troytze and in the Shulhoyf, and in the poor city districts, ordered their daily activities. They awoke and dressed quickly and rushed in their masses to the daily toil, and in line with the finishing whistle, the house wives, when not themselves employed at the plant, awaited the return of their tired and exhausted breadwinner.
This wealthy plant also served as the cradle and base of the Jewish workers movement in Grodno, particularly the Bund. All the party theorists and agitators among their members used the factory as an example, (actually the only one of its kind), in order to demolish the ZionistSocialist contention that Jewish industrial undertakings were on a very small scale.
The work conditions in this case, were in many respects, though better than those enjoyed in small industrial firms and especially in workshops, were none the less according to the accepted norm in those days. Long and bitter battles were needed with the industrialists to convince them to improve the work conditions. The struggle began over shortening the working day of 13 hours and against arbitrary firings, and moved onto the improvement of the unsanitary conditions which were endangering the workers' health in the factory and the raising of the pitiable wages, etc.
Other tobacco factories also opened from time to time in Grodno, in addition to the Shereshevski plant, but they were of a modest size compared to the Shereshevski one. One of these, called Rochno Trud (hand work), opened its gates some two or three years before the First World War. The Shereshevski plant had completed the final stage of mechanization and hundreds of workers suddenly found themselves without employment. The Grodno citizens refused to accept this catastrophe, as is related in an article about the city, and raised a protest heard throughout the diaspora.. Eventually, a company was formed which opened the above plant for the processing of tobacco using hand work. According to the above article, it employed 38 workers as against 1265 who worked at that time in the Shereshevski factory.
A Grodno Jew, a worker in the Shereshevski factory, laid the foundation of the cigarette industry in Sweden as related by David Rubin, originally from Grodno, and a resident of that country, and one of the active Zionists there. He recounts that the Jew wandered into Sweden in the eighties of the nineteenth century, while on his way to America. After his travel plans underwent a change, he began to search for income and discovered that Sweden hadn't a factory for the production of cigarettes. He began to produce them himself, and in time brought over Jewish female workers from Grodno from the Shereshevski factory. He began, in 1903, the hand production of cigarettes, on a large scale and succeeded. He thus laid the foundation of this industry in his new country.
During this period, and despite the economic recovery the general Jewish population was in the same economically distressed condition as in other regions and the emigration wave, particularly of the young, was in that respect a daily occurrence.
Argentine was added, in 1894, to the list of desirable countries abroad for immigration. The first group of immigrants from Lithuania settled in the colony Kiryat Moshe (Mozesville) in the Argentine. Among the Grodno settlers was Rabbi Mordechai Reuben Hacohen Sinai (born in Augustov, Suwalki district, died in 1917 in Buenos Aires) an intellectual scholar, granted rabbinical ordination by Rabbi Itzchak Spector, himself active in the Chovevei Zion movement in ‘Across the River Neman’, (a suburb of Grodno), and Rabbi Leyb Yoffe, his teacher. He was appointed rabbi and spiritual guide in the newly founded colony. Rabbi Reuben Sinai left for the new country together with his family, urged to leave his home not only by the wounds afflicted on the Jews in czarist Russia but also by the desire to see his sons work the land and be creative.
Rabbi Reuben, a public activist, wrote a great deal in the Hebrew press, (using different pseudonyms in ‘Hakol’, edited by Mikhal Halevi Rudkindon, in the Hamagid and Hatsfira, etc). Rabbi Reuben had to struggle against the arbitrary decisions taken by the IKA officials affecting some of the settlers, and, having failed, left the colony and settled in Buenos Aires. Here, he participated in the Jewish press, published two works in Hebrew, and wrote an essay ‘Korot Hayehudim B'Argentina’. He founded a Zionist Religious League Zichron Shmuel, (named for the Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever), and struggled to exclude the ‘Tmeyim’ from the Jewish institutions. His son, Michael Hacohen Sinai, (born in 1877 in Grodno, died 1958 in Buenos Aires), who had immigrated to Mozesville together with his father, became one of the first Hebrew teachers there, and after moving to Buenos Aires, laid the basis of the Jewish press in the city (the publication Der Viderkol which appeared in 1898 he wrote by hand, and because of the lack of Hebrew print, the copy was lithographed). He was also active in cultural and Zionist matters , as well as being the Argentinian correspondent for the Vilna publication ‘Hazman’. He published stories in two pamphlets and edited at the time, in addition, the weekly ‘Der Kolonist’; in the years 1948 1956, he was the chief editor of dozens of the first papers of Yiddish compilations under the name of ‘Grodner Opklangen’ published by the Buenos Aires Association of Grodno Immigrants.
A past resident of Grodno, the Agronomist Yehoshua Ben Rabbi Ya'acov Lapin, was also one of the officials representing IKA dealing with Jewish settlement in the Argentine, and one of the colonies is named after him. His father, Ya'acov, of Grodno, was an estate owner, and one of the two sons of Rabbi Fishel Lapin, remained in Grodno and did not emigrate to Eretz Yisrael.
Leyb Yoffe recounts in his memoirs, that when the first group for the Argentine moved out of the station, terrible screams and cries broke out from the coaches, ‘we feared’, he wrote, ‘that these Jews will forever be lost to the Jewish nation’. Another source of those days, tells that during the wedding festivity in Grodno of a member of the above group, donations were made for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, and a holy oath was sworn ‘if I should forget thee, oh Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning’.
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