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[Page 301]

Between the Two World Wars


Jewish Kremenets

by Y. Otiker (Na'an)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The following survey of social and economic life in Kremenets before 1931 is, in fact, characteristic of almost the entire period between the two world wars.


From Kremenitser Shtime[1], 22 Tevet 5692

Economic Circumstances

The Jewish population's economic circumstances, difficult as they were, continued deteriorating year after year. A large segment of the population was completely ruined and was forced to look for new ways to make a living. Many respected merchants and formerly well-to-do families became quite penniless. Some even became dependent on charitable institutions and would ask their support or beg for a loan of 60 zloty… including some people who had donated large sums to charity in the past.

The situation was even worse for small businesses. Most kept their shops closed week after week because profits were so scarce. A significant number liquidated their businesses altogether and, as I said before, began looking for other means of making a living. For every job advertised by an institution, enterprise, etc., there were dozens of applicants, including many respected former homeowners. The incomes of the rest of the population sank as well; farmers became impoverished, and office employees' salaries fell drastically.

Craftsmen also experienced a very difficult year. Many crafts died out entirely, and many workers remained without work. A very few were given some work by surrounding estate owners or the few Jews who weren't strongly affected by the crisis.

Also, Jewish teachers, office workers, and the like, whom small businessmen have always envied as “people with a secure living,” have suffered greatly this year. Pensions and regular pay fell considerably.

The laborer's situation was no better. Unemployment and very low pay have brought hunger and need.

Other segments of the population shared the same difficult circumstances. Only a very few were able to hold onto their jobs. Unfortunately, many of them didn't fulfill their duty toward their impoverished brothers, as required by the hard times.

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Another factor in the difficult circumstances is the tax rate, which hasn't been lowered in spite of the crisis-on the contrary, taxes have been raised. This was a fatal blow to masses of merchants. Lack of credit added to the difficulty. The banks rejected requests for loans, and people kept their capital at home, afraid to trust even their best friends.

Due to the difficult circumstances in America, support from relatives or townspeople in the U.S., to individuals as well as institutions, has become limited. The Jewish population now depends on self-support, which is limited as well.


The Town Administration

Last year, the town administration also experienced financial difficulties, and regular financial assistance to Jewish institutions arrived irregularly.

By the end of the year, the City Council had allotted 2,000 zloty for shoes for needy children in the schools.


The Community

Only now has the community begun to emerge from the “verge of death.” It is about to prepare next year's preliminary budget and is finally beginning to return to normal functioning.

There is almost nothing of note to say about last year's activities, except for the unsuccessful attempt to take possession of the cemetery, the establishment of the slaughterhouse (quite far from the town), the hiring of ritual slaughterers (a source of arguments, as usual), etc. Recently, the community took over management of the Home for the Aged.

Social institutions had a difficult year as well.


Panoramic View of Kremenets


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ORT Society

ORT's circumstances were very sad indeed. Support from the central offices ceased almost entirely, and the school was in danger of closing. It was only thanks to the activity of a few devoted people and to ORT representative B. Eysurovitsh's participation that a rescue operation for the school began. A serious educational campaign was launched, and members of the Jewish community responded almost beyond their means. In a short time, $400 was collected, a sum that not even the activists themselves had expected. The school's situation was somewhat alleviated.

In general, during the past year, the women's wear workshop has expanded and now includes 40 students. The locksmith workshop numbers 35 students.


Tarbut Organization

This year, the Tarbut School opened all seven grades and is doing well. It has about 200 students, compared to 63 (in three grades) in 1928. Of the 200 students, 52 are entirely exempt from tuition, 46 pay tuition of less than 5 zloty a month, and 75 receive a reduction of 25-75%.

The Tarbut School curriculum is as follows: all general studies follow the state school curriculum-Polish studies in Polish and general studies in Hebrew; in addition, Hebrew and Jewish classes are offered to a great extent: Hebrew language and literature, Jewish history, Bible, Torah with Rashi's commentary, Mishna, prayers, and the geography of the Land of Israel.

The Tarbut School gives students not only instruction but also education. The children absorb the spirit and importance of work and independence. They have organized committees in each grade, and in the higher grades, the committees are self-governing, with their own institutions. The main body is the Head Committee and the Peers' Judicial Committee. This self-governing society has so far put the following institutions into place: a Jewish National Fund committee, a cooperative, and a mutual aid society. The society has organized several study groups-recently, for example, it instituted a research circle for old Kremenets. It also issued a periodical, Kehilatenu[2], and decided to hold a get-together every Sabbath.

This year, the first nine students will graduate from the Tarbut School.

The social standing of the students' parents is as follows: small businessmen-30%, laborers-11%, craftsmen-20%, orphans-12%, clerks-7%, working intelligentsia-7%, and merchants 3%. Forty percent to 50% of the laborers, craftsmen, and clerks are unemployed.

The children receive breakfast at school every day.

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Charity Fund

This loan fund was very important for impoverished small businessmen, craftsmen, and even formerly important merchants. The fund expanded over time and numbered 700 contributing members.

At a time when obtaining even the smallest loan in town was very difficult, this charitable fund was able to meet its members' needs and offer interest-free loans. Last year, the fund distributed 150 loans for a total of nearly 70,000 zloty. Loan amounts were 50-100 zloty. Before New Year's, merchants received a sum of 4,500 zloty.

This year, the fund experienced some difficulties due to the Joint's withdrawal of credit. In general, however, it managed to overcome these difficulties, and it became one of the most well liked and respected institutions in town.


TOZ Society

The local TOZ Society numbered about 120 members. Children in private schools, cheder, and Talmud Torah, as well as an additional 60 children, are under doctors' supervision. Last summer, a “summer colony” for 115 children was organized. In winter, free cod-liver oil was distributed to needy children.

The material circumstances of other Jewish institutions-the Talmud Torah, the Home for the Aged, and the like-are difficult today, due to the crisis and reduced support from the population.


TOZ Management Committee

Sitting, from right to left: Duvid Bakimer, (2. Gornfeld Malye, (3) …, (4) Mosheke Margalit. Standing: (1) Kapuzer, (2) Chayim Fishman, (3) Yosef Kroyt, (4) Nasi Shnayder, (5) Avraham Bitker.


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Orphan Aid Society

Last year, thanks to the devoted work of several active members, the orphanage was completed, and 22 children now live there. The Orphan Aid Society supervises 88 additional orphans who live in town.

The Circle of Independent Orphans has made progress as well: it runs a cultural center and drama group. Many of the older orphans are now independent, have learned a trade, and are working.


Jewish Hospital

Last year, the Jewish Hospital cared for 541 patients, including 95 with contagious diseases. Ambulatory cases numbered 10,031 patients last year.

The distribution of hospital patients was as follows: 120 through the town administration, 85 through TOZ, 49 free of charge, 287 paid.

The members' fee, collected more or less regularly, was significant, and it was important for the hospital budget's management and security.


Active Members of the Zionist Youth Movement, 1920

First row, right to left: (1) Pinchas Lemberg (Kfar Vitkin), (2) Avraham Biberman (Jerusalem), (3) Yente Verthaym (Tel Aviv), (4) Pesach Litvak (Tel Aviv).
Second row: (1) Shlome Giterman, (2) Feyge Biberman (USSR), (3) Chane Fridman (perished in Kremenets), (4) Bunim Lemberg, (5) Risye Fishman, (6) Sime Raykhman (perished in Kremenets), (7) Chanokh Rokhel (Tel Yosef).


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Group of Community Activists, 1924

Seated, from right: (1) Aleksander Frishberg, (2) Dr. M. Litvak, (3) Yisrael Landsberg.
Standing, row 1: (1) Eliyahu Shtern, (2) Azriel Kremenitski, (3) Dr. Zalman Sheynberg, (4) Moshe Gershteyn. Row 2: (1) Shmuel Feldman, (2) Chayim Suchodolg, (3) Mikhael Shumski, (4) Aharon Fridman, (5) Meir Goldring, (6) Ruven Goldenberg.
Row 3: Moshe Eydis, (2) Yitschak Poltorek, (3) Avraham Vaynberg, (4) Arye Hindes, (5) Moshe Eydelman, (6) Zeydi Perlmuter, (7) Fishel Perlmuter, (8) Chayim Ovadies


Zionist Movement

In the General Zionist party, for several years the custom was for the Central Committee to do the day-to-day work. Members would participate in the General Assembly once a year, go to Simchas Torah prayers, and the like.

However, it was different in the Zionist youth movements. In the years when immigration to the Land of Israel wasn't possible, the youth organizations underwent an internal consolidation. Pioneer and the other organizations run a regular cultural program. It should also be noted that Zionist organizations continued to expand last year, and the establishment of a revisionist faction attracted many members, mostly young people.

However, the Working Land of Israel parties, which obtained the most votes in the elections to the Zionist Congresses, held first place among the Zionist groups.

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Jewish National Fund Income

Last year, the income of this important fund fell as well. The reason is, again, the population's difficult circumstances. Last Chanukah, the JNF held its yearly bazaar, but this year it wasn't possible.

United Israel Appeal's goal, on the other hand, was to reach the same number of donors this year as last year.


Professional Organizations

Last year, the professional unions ran a campaign to organize all the workers, and in most cases they succeeded. Cultural activity among members was noteworthy: the workers had their own sports club, Morningstar; their own library, which included several hundred books; a drama group; etc. The club has become a real home for members, who dropped in almost every evening.


Cultural Situation

The Zionist Organization library holds 3,000 books in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian, and 250 registered readers. It should be noted that many people canceled their registration due to the difficult times.

The greater Warsaw press has fewer readers today as well. Haynt [Today] has no more than 150 readers, and Moment, 120. On the other hand, cheaper newsletters and “tabloids” are selling better. People aren't buying books outside the library these days.

It should be noted that even now, during these hard times, a new weekly, Kremenitser Shtime, was founded, while similar attempts in better times didn't succeed.

In the first three months of its existence, Kremenitser Shtime aroused widespread interest, and it is being read by all sectors of the population.


Anti-Semitic Incidents

The wave of anti-Semitic disturbances that engulfed the whole country last October and November didn't spare our town. On Sunday, November 22, high school students tried to attack Jews in the street, smash windows, and do other “good deeds.” Only thanks to the brave reaction of Jewish youth and local police intervention were the riots stopped immediately. The authorities haven't allowed anti-Jewish activities since.


Births, Weddings, and Deaths

During the year, we had 121 births, 65 weddings, and 57 deaths.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Kremenitser Shtime means Kremenets Voice. The date corresponds to December 19, 1931. Return
  2. Kehilatenu means Our Community. Return

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