Translation of Izabelin chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Izabelin chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 123-124, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(District of Wołkowysk, Białystok Region)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Donated by Roberta Solit
Izabelin was founded in the 18th century. It is situated on the route to Slonim, about 10 kilometers southeast of Wołkowysk. It was annexed to the Russian Empire at the third partition of Poland, and remained within its bounds until the First World War. It was conquered by the Germans in 1915, and became part of independent Poland after the war. The economy of Izabelin developed somewhat between the two world wars. A large sugar factory was established alongside the old iron foundry. The Red Army entered Izabelin on September 17, 1939, and established the Soviet regime. It was under German occupation from June 1941. The Soviet Army liberated Izabelin and its area in the summer of 1944.
The nobleman Jan Ploming, the founder of Izabelin, invited Jews to settle in it and to develop its economy. The first Jews purchased or leased land. They grew tobacco or earned their livelihood from tobacco processing and marketing. A local Jew founded a small textile factory in the 19th century, which employed 12 Jewish employees. The Jewish population reached its pinnacle in 1878 487 individuals, forming 84.4% of the population. The situation reversed, however, at the end of the 19th century: the number of Jews continually declined in the wake of movement to larger cities and immigration overseas, whereas the gentile population almost doubled.
During the 18th century, the Jews of Izabelin affiliated with the community of Wołkowysk (see entry), and strong business connections were formed with its Jews. They maintained their connection with Wołkowysk even after they already had two Beis Midrashes and other communal institutions. Wołkowysk was destroyed by Napoleon's armies in 1812, and many of its Jews who were left without a roof over their heads came to Izabelin temporarily. The Jews of Izabelin were pious and observant during the 19th and 20th centuries as well, and the atmosphere in the town was
imbued with a Jewish ambience. Several famous rabbis served there, first and foremost Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Specktor, who later became the famous rabbi of Kovno, and the rabbinical decisor of all Lithuanian Jewry. Even Rabbi Yaakov David of Slutsk (the Ridba'z) served in Izabelin for some time. Aside from them, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu Rabinowitz, the author of Ner Lamaor (Warsaw 5649), Torat Mordechai, and others, also served as rabbi. Rabbi Yaakov Meir Krawczinski-gold served from 1897. (His grandson, Zeev Gold, was a member of the executive of the Jewish Agency). Jewish education was based on the teachers [melamdim] of the cheders. At the end of the 19th century, with the spread of the haskala [enlightenment], several children of wealthy families continued their studies in the high schools of Wołkowysk, and brought back the enlightenment to their small town.
With the outbreak of the First World War, some Jews were drafted into the Czar's army. Many others fled in the direction of Russia. The Germans conquered Izabelin in 1915, and held it until the end of 1918. When they arrived, they expropriated agricultural products and created a situation of want in the town. Economic activity went into a deep depression. The small domestic farms that the Jews maintained in their yards remained virtually the only sources of livelihood. Many of the residents were drafted into forced labor, such as setting up fortresses and repairing roads. The Germans opened an elementary school in which German was the language of instruction. Jewish children were also obligated to attend, however the community received permission to conduct religious and Hebrew studies in the school twice a week.
At the end of the war, the Jewish merchants and tradesmen returned to their businesses. With the assistance of the Jewish benevolent organizations and charitable funds that were founded in Izabelin, shops, stalls and workshops opened in and around the market. The Jewish farmers returned to work in their farms and fields, with the support of the ICA [Jewish Colonization Association] and ORT organizations, which provided loans and guidance. The economic depression in Poland, just like the government politics, was based on preference for Poles, and higher taxes on private businesses. This significantly affected the Jewish owners of small businesses. Incomes declined significantly. Many Jewish businesses failed, and unemployment increased. Some of the unemployed found jobs at Naftali Meisner's sugar factory, and others transferred to agriculture with the support of ORT and its loans. In 1929, the Polish government nationalized the tobacco industry, one of the primary sources of livelihood of the Jews of Izabelin. ORT assisted additional families to transition to agriculture. In 1932, several new private and joint Jewish farms were set up in an area consisting of 145 hectares. Jews purchased part of the lands with the assistance of loans from ORT, and leased the rest. They transitioned from growing tobacco to growing vegetables, and learned new methodologies from the ORT guides.
The community was reconstituted after the war. Communal institutions were rehabilitated and renovated. Rabbi Shraga Feivel Rabinowicz ascended the rabbinical seat of Izabelin in 1929. Afterward, his son-in-law Rabbi Pesach Shimshon Stolnicz served for some time. (He died in 1980 in Israel.) After the war, the number of students at the cheder dwindled greatly. Most of the children studied at the Polish public school in Izabelin. Some of them also studied Hebrew and religious studies from private teachers.
The Red Army entered Izabelin in September 1939. Private business was liquidated. The tradesmen were organized into cooperatives. Only the Jewish farmers continued with their work as previously. Both the tradesmen and the farmers earned their livelihoods honorably. Former shopkeepers and the unemployed were trained for new positions, primarily serving as officials. There were no Jews of Izabelin who had a great deal of property, and nobody was imprisoned or deported to Siberia.
At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa at the end of June 1941, about half the houses of Wołkowysk were destroyed by German bombardment. The vast majority of the Jewish quarter was destroyed. Many of the Jews of Wołkowysk who remained without a roof over their heads came to Izabelin. The Nazis set up a work camp for young Jews or the region in Izabelin, and employed them digging peat.
On November 2, 1942, the Jews of Izabelin and refugees from Wołkowysk were sent via the bunker camps in Wołkowysk to the Auschwitz death camp, where they were murdered.
Yad Vashem Archives 03/3716, 7013, 7221.
Wołkowysk Yizkor Book, New York 1941, page 41.
Pinkas Białystok, 1949-1950
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