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[p. 146]

Under Renewed Polish Reign

(May 1919 to September 1939)

General Overview

By Dovid Rabin

Translated by Eszter Andor and finished by Judie Goldstein

The Beginning Of Polish Rule

In the first few years after the Poles occupied Krinki and the surrounding area, in the spring of 1919 it was considered as an occupied territory, within the so-called Curzon line, the fate of which was to be decided later by a plebiscite. As a number of Polish laws, for example compulsory military service, did not apply to this territory for the time being, the Poles were interested in winning public support for their state in the region. In Krinki where the majority of the inhabitants were Jews and most members of the town administration were also Jewish, the starosta (the governor of the district) convened a special meeting of the town council. He hoped that the population would express their wish to belong to Poland on this meeting.

“Following the provisional decree of the Polish county administration the seat of which was in Vilnius,” relates Sheyme Kaplan, “each ethnic group of the area had the right to express themselves in their own language in official places. Therefore, we declared in Yiddish that we had received a mandate from the population to administer the municipal economy of the shtetl [although] we had no legal power to represent it in political matters. The 'solemn meeting' ended with this, and the starosta and his whole retinue, which had come to the meeting with pomp and circumstance, had to leave like mourners, with empty hands….”

The “Eastern counties” were, by law, incorporated into Poland after the Polish-Soviet war in the summer of 1920. From that time until the destruction of the community the fate of the Jews of Krinki was tied to the fate of our brethren the sons of Israel in Poland.

Jews and Christians in Krinki

According to the Polish census of 1921, the Jewish population of Krinki numbered 3,495 souls, 67.1 percent of the 5,206 inhabitants of the shtetl. Of the rest 904 were Eastern Orthodox and 922 Catholic, many of them Catholicized Belorussians who had settled in the town when the territory was under Polish papal rule. The ethnographic structure of the Christian population of Krinki corresponded in fact to the ethnic-geographic position of the shtetl on the frontier of Polish and Belorussian territory.

The Gentiles usually lived in the outskirts of Krinki close to their agricultural or semi-agricultural property, while the Jews were concentrated in the center. The Jews lived in topographic compactness and made up the majority of the town council, so they considered themselves – and to a certain extent rightly so – the owners of the shtetl, and indeed it was a thoroughly Jewish settlement in its character and way of life.

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In Krinki the relationship of the Jews and Christians, among them the Poles who were now the ruling and privileged state-forming ethnic group, was usually fair until the Nazi period, and it was not affected by the open and even official anti-Semitic agitation, which intensified especially during the 1930s.

Locally the Jews were a visible political force. In the elections to the Sejm in November 1930 the Jewish parties and blocks received 1,193 votes in Krinki, while the Christians collected only 940 votes. The Jews constituted a majority both in the town council and the town administration, although they elected a Christian as town president -- for an understandable reason. In the interwar period the vice-president, however, was always a Jew– sometimes Bendet Nisht from the Tsairei Tsion, [Zionist Socialist] (the first from among our brethren, the sons of Israel, to fill such a post in Poland), sometimes Dovid Gotlib from the Bund or Meylekh Zalkin (in 1939) from the Poalei Tsion [Youths of Zion].

The Jewish councilors and “aldermen” were fairly active in the municipality and thanks to this they also managed to protect Jewish rights and interests, in particular the town subsidies to the Jewish school system and the institutions for social help.

kry147.jpg - 1920 - the Krinki Relief Committee
1920 – the Krinki Relief Committee

The active Jewish community leaders (with the delegate from America, Lewis Sheyn-Leybke Noskes) Sitting row from right to left: Yisroel Stolarski, Yankl Levi, Lewis Sheyn, A. Eynshteyn, Barukh Stolarski, Avrom Rubinshteyn. Standing row from right to left: Dovid Gotlib, Danevitser, Nakhum Bliakher, Barkan, V. Veyner, Ephraim Afrimzon, B. Nisht, Yitzkhak Yosem, Moyshe Shmuelevits, unknown, Sh. Feyvl Nisht.

Economic Discrimination

In terms of its economy, Krinki was cut off forever from its wide unlimited Russian market where it had sold its leather products, and this ruined the economic basis of the shtetl for many years.

In the first years of Polish rule a high inflation raged in the country and the masses of people who had already become impoverished in the world war became even poorer and this resulted in the shrinking of the internal market as well. The sources of the supply of raw skin became also very meager. “The leather production which gave half the shtetl their living came to an almost complete halt”, reported Giterman the representative of the Joint when he visited Krinki in 1926. He left 200 dollars, which were to be distributed to those who were left without a job.

Craft and trade and other branches of industry that lived off the factories and off the people who made their living in the factories were also affected. Moreover, the traditional Jewish occupations fell victim to serious state discrimination and destruction, which were continuously showered on the Jews.

Under the pretext of progress for example, compulsory rest was introduced on Sunday and on non-Jewish holidays, as well as on Polish national and public holidays. This meant that Jewish shopkeepers, craftsmen and even manufacturers had to be content with an average of four and a half working days per week. At the same time the government distributed various concessions on cigar stores (where cigarettes, soft drinks, chocolate, etc. could be sold on rest days as well) among all kinds of “proper” Christians (the widows of policemen for example).

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kry148.jpg - 1920 - A public kitchen (set up by the Joint) right after the First World War
A public kitchen (set up by the Joint) right after the First World War

At first a “patent” was imposed on the various trades and occupations in order to extract heavy fees from the pockets of the impoverished Jews. Then an evil decree was introduced according to which Jewish craftsmen had to get a special permit to own a workshop and employ apprentices and they could only get it if they passed an “official exam” in Polish for which they had to pay a high sum. Volf Ekshteyn, who was a member of the management of the Union of Jewish Craftsmen in Krinki until 1925, describes the situation as follows:

“Our task was to fight as far as possible against all evil decrees that the anti-Semitic Polish government of the time showered on the Jews. We were in contact with the central committee of the Union of Jewish Craftsmen that was in Warsaw. But one day we received a letter that said that the Polish government would issue its new guild laws that aimed at completely stifling Jewish craftsmen. My father Khayim the carpenter, an elderly man, who had been working in his trade from the age of 15 had to defer to a Polish Gentile lad who was an apprentice in our workshop, to be recognized as a craftsman. My father was a good artisan and he could not endure this and he chose to leave Poland.”

But the worst affliction were the heavy taxes and fees, like the poll tax, apartment tax, town tax, marriage tax, property tax, house tax, and all kinds of other taxes that the Polish anti-Semites could invent in order to shatter the last miserable opportunity of Jewish existence. And there was something worse than this system of pressure; it was the merciless method of admonition in practice – which went as far as confiscating and selling out the last bag and baggage and bedding of the impoverished and hungry households.

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