Translation of Goniądz chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Goniądz 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 195-198, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Translated by Jerrold Landau
The town of Goniądz is situated on the Biebrza River, 60 kilometers northeast of Białystok. It received the rights of a city in 1547. In 1571, it passed from the Radziwiłł family to the Polish King Zygmunt August. In the 16th century, a port on the Biebrza River was set up, through which merchandise was exported to East Prussia, and its economy developed. In 1580, it had seven windmills and several beer breweries. A guild for beer brewers was created. That year, there were 27 fishermen, 16 tradesmen, and many farmers in Goniądz. The era of development and plenty was cut off with the invasion of the Swedes in the middle of the 17th century and again during the war of the north [Great Northern War] at the beginning of the 18th century. Many of the houses of the town were destroyed during these two wars, and the population dwindled greatly. Goniądz was afflicted by an epidemic and large fire in 1710. Many years passed before the town was rehabilitated.
With the third partition of Poland in 1795, the area was annexed to Prussia. In 1870, it transferred to Russian hands through the Tilsit Treaty. A new commercial road between Białystok and Prussia, passing near Goniądz, was paved at the end of the 18th century, and the port on the Biebrza River was reopened. A railway from Brest Litovsk, going through Grajewo and leading to the Osowiéc Fortress, was laid in the 19th century. The economy and demographics of the town grew, thanks to the new means of connection.
Goniądz was conquered by the Germans during the First World War. At the end of three years' occupation (19151918) and another two years of local wars, it was included in independent Poland. During the Second World War, Goniądz was at first under Soviet rule. It was conquered by the Germans at the end of June 1941, causing
massive destruction. The Soviet Army liberated Goniądz in 1944 and freed it from Nazi occupation.
The Jews Until the End of the First World War
Jewish residency in Goniądz was prohibited for a period of centuries, even though the ban was not always strictly observed. The ban was repealed after the war with the Swedes, the Northern War, and the tribulations of 1710, and Jews were even invited to come and settle in the abandoned houses of the town. In 1676, two Jewish payers of head tax were registered, and in the census of 1765, 426 Jews were enumerated there and in the surrounding villages. In 1794, 60 Jews of Goniądz participated in the Polish uprising under the command of Kościuszko. In 1795, the Prussians officially repealed the restrictions on Jewish settlement anywhere in former Poland (however, they simultaneously also canceled some of the special rights granted to them). In 1800, there were already 498 Jews living in Goniądz, approximately 36% of the population. Most of them earned their livelihoods from commerce and trade (the Jewish tradesmen worked in 23 different trades). Some were occupied in liquor distilling, and one gave loans for interest. In the latter half of the 18th century, there is a report on the Jewish merchants of Goniądz who passed through the tax depots of Osowiec and Szczucin (see entry) and other places with their merchandise. The export business was renewed, especially regarding lumber and grain, after the reopening of the port and the paving of the road from Białystok to Eastern Prussia. Lumber was transported on barges and boats during the summer from the port on the Bierbza through the Narew and Bug rivers to Gdansk and ports in Germany. In 1766, there were 11 Jewish exporters in Goniądz who together exported merchandise worth 1,859 zloty. Jews from Goniądz were the first in the district to also export and import textiles, wood products, chemicals, plows, and other merchandise. During the 19th century, Jews of Goniądz leased six large flourmills. A seventh mill and a large sawmill in the city were also under their ownership. The market days and two annual fairs in Goniądz, which attracted grain and cattle merchants from near and far, were an important source of income for the Jews. During the latter half of the 19th century, after the laying of the railway track to the Osowiec fortress, the Russians rebuilt the fortress and employed Jewish builders and other tradesmen for the building effort. The Russian permanent brigade located in the renovated fortress and soldiers from the two nearby army camps created a significant demand for merchandise and services. They made purchases from Jewish shops and camped at their taverns on Sundays.
At the end of the 19th century, Jewish immigration from Goniądz to America began. Some of the immigrants returned to the town after earning money abroad, but most remained in their new places. From the years 1906 to 1911, when many of the Jews lost their houses and businesses in the great fire, they were assisted in their rehabilitation by the natives of Goniądz in America.
The Jewish community in Goniądz is first mentioned in 1765, when it was still dependent on the community of Tiktin (Tykocin). With time, a synagogue, Beis Midrash, and mikva (ritual bath) were set up, and a Chevra Kadisha (burial society), Linat Tzedek (guesthouse for wayfarers), a charitable fund, and other charitable and benevolent institutions were founded. A Yeshiva was opened. There was a Hassidic minority in the town, who worshiped separately in their own shtibel. Disputes took place between them and the misnagdim.
From among the first rabbis of the community, we know of Rabbi Pinchas Leib the son of Rabbi Tuvia Kameniecki; his son Rabbi Gedalia HaKohen Kameniecki (died in 1907); and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Wolf (until 1924).
In the final quarter of the 19th century, many of the youth of Goniądz became attached to the Haskalah (enlightenment), including also Yeshiva lads and students of the Beis Midrash. A Chovevei Zion operated in Goniądz during the 1880s, and 21 youths made aliya to the Land of Israel. (Most of them settled in Petach Tikva.) Several additional Jews made aliya at the beginning of the 20th century.
During the time of the 1905 revolution, Young Zion, Poalei Zion, and the Bund functioned in Goniądz. Members of the Bund organized the workers in the local enterprise to process pork bristles to fight for a shorter work day. There was no substantial manufacturing in the town and there was also no great proletariat. The few Bund activists dedicated most of their energy to cultural work. A small group of Jewish enlightened, socialist youth, The Circle of Twenty, which was active in the Osowiec fortress broke up after the oppression of the revolution because of police persecution. Many of its members emigrated abroad due to fear of imprisonment.
Jewish education in town was based on traditional cheders. During the final decades of the 19th century, some of the children also studied languages and general subjects from private teachers. In 1901, a modern cheder was opened in Goniądz, which taught Hebrew, Bible, arithmetic and Russian; as well as a Jewish library that had over 4,000 books in 1904. A drama club functioned alongside it. In 1911, the library transferred to oversight of the Zionists.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the Germans bombarded Goniądz and the fortress. Many houses went up in flames, and the Jewish library was damaged. Most of the Jews fled to villages, and Russian soldiers pillaged the property that they left behind in their homes. When they returned to town, the soldiers chased them to Białystok (see entry), to other nearby towns, and even to Russia. In the autumn of 1915, with the entry of the Germans to Goniądz, most of the deportees returned to their homes. The Germans confiscated stockpiles of food, cattle and other property, and drafted the local men to forced labor, including strengthening the fortifications in the fortress and repairing roads. At the end of 1915, during
the German occupation, a Hebrew elementary school was opened in Goniądz. The parents themselves obtained the furniture and textbooks. One of the founders, Moshe Levin, authored Hebrew textbooks for nature and geography that were published by the Tsentral in Warsaw. During the first year, 80 students in three grades studied in the Hebrew school in Goniądz. After a year, an additional class was opened, and the number of students rose to 120.
Jews Between the Two World Wars
After the war, only about half of the Jewish population who had lived there at the end of the 19th century remained in Goniądz. Emigration continued. In the summer of 1920, Goniądz was conquered for some time by the Bolsheviks. When they retreated to the Soviet Union, several Jews of Goniądz accompanied them. Jewish emigration from Goniądz renewed in the 1920s and 1930s, especially as a result of the economic depression and increasing antiSemitism. Jewish natives of Goniądz in the United States assisted their family members who remained in the town during those years.
After the war, most of the Jews of Goniądz continued in their traditional occupations smallscale commerce, peddling, and trades such as carpentry, blacksmithing and shoemaking. There were also bakers who owned bakeries, flourmill owners, lessees of fruit orchards, and others. A Jewish bank, which supported the business sector, opened during the 1920s. Nevertheless, the economic situation in the town worsened with respect to the prewar era. The livelihood of the Jews was especially damaged. The weekly market day was the central point of economic activity in the town.
Vibrant communal activity existed in Goniądz during the 1920s and 1930s. Zionist activity was at its peak. The largest Zionist party in town was the General Zionists. Several parties and movements of pioneering youth functioned alongside it. The Hebrew school that was opened in Goniądz during the First World War (its final director was Aryeh Akselrod) joined the Tarbut network and supported Zionist activity. Its graduates formed a chapter of Hechalutz, one of the first in Poland. At the end of 1920s, two of its members were delegates to the regional Hechalutz convention. At the beginning of 1924, a chapter of Hechalutz Hatzair [Young Hechalutz] was formed. A regional convention of Hechalutz Hatzair took place in Goniądz on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the movement. All members of the community participated in the festivities. Members of Hechalutz and Hechalutz Hatzair went out to Hachsharah kibbutzim, and several groups of youths from Goniądz made aliya to the Land of Israel during the late 1930s. Cultural activity expanded. The old library was reopened and was named for Y. Ch. Brenner . A Bible study club was set up alongside the old drama club, the income of which was designated for the purchase of new books. The Bund, which had been active in Goniądz prior to and during the First World War, was strengthened thereafter. In 1921, members of the Bund founded a Yiddish school named for Y. L. Peretz, as part of the TSYSHO network . It also housed a library. Some of the Jews were active in the Communist Party, which was illegal in Poland during those years.
The small Yeshiva in Goniądz continued to exist during the interwar period. The final rabbi of the community, Rabbi Yisrael Szlomowicz, the author of Beis Yisrael, served from 1925 until the time of the Holocaust.
During the Second World War
Goniądz was conquered by the Germans at the beginning of September 1939. Immediately after their arrival, they bombarded the synagogue and set it on fire. The Germans retreated on September 17 and vacated the place in favor of the Red Army, in accordance with the RibbentropMolotov agreement. During their regime, until the end of June 1941, the Jewish school in Goniądz were closed, and all the children of the town were obligated to study in government schools following the Soviet curriculum. Private businesses were closed and replaced with a large government store. Jews who were pushed out of their former businesses were employed by the store, the town council, communal institutions, the Soviet apparatus, and other jobs. Tradesmen of various trades organized into trade cooperatives (Artels). Many of the youth of the town were sent to high schools and trade studies in large cities.
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they bombarded Goniądz and the fortress of Osowiec. The bombardment and shooting stopped after four days, and the masses of residents who left their houses and shelters pillaged food and other goods from the warehouses abandoned by the Soviets. Goniądz fell to German hands the next day. The Polish residents greeted them with obvious joy. The military governor established new local government institutions staffed by Poles. Young antiSemites, who had previously incited against the Jews, volunteered for the new police force. At the command of the Germans, the new mayor sent policemen to arrest Jews who were accused of collaborating with the Soviets, according to a list prepared by officials of the town hall. The prisoners were brought to the town hall, beaten, and then freed to go home. On June 29, the police returned and arrested 30 Jews. They freed them again after torturing them. The Jews of Goniądz, about 900 in total, were obligated by command of the mayor to present themselves at the town hall to register three times a day, from which some were drafted to forced labor. On July 4, 1941, the Jews were gathered in the market square, men and women separately. Two Jewish barbers were commanded to shave the Jews with beards and cut the hair of the rest. Opposite stood
masses of Poles armed with sticks and clubs. The Wehrmacht captain and two of his assistants came to inspect the Jews in the square. The captain directed the Poles to point to the Communists among them. At first, they responded that all the Jews were Communists, but after the captain insisted, they took people out from the rows and seriously beat them. When the captain and his assistants left the place, the Poles forced the suspicious Jews into the Beis Midrash, and piled straw in it with the intention of setting it on fire. However, they sufficed themselves with imprisoning the Jews in the cellar due to the pressure of the Christian neighbors who were concerned that the fire might spread to their houses as well. The rest of the men were transferred from the town square to the barn, from where they were taken daily to forced labor. The Jewish women were hunted in the streets and forced to carry pictures of Soviet leaders and sing Russian songs. Deeds of torture became daily occurrences. The Germans appointed a Judenrat and demanded a high ransom of silver and valuables in return for the freedom of the prisoners of the cellar, who were at risk of their lives. They, as well as the men who were held in the barn, were freed to go to their homes after about a week. On July 15, 1941, the Wehrmacht men left Goniądz. By the time they left, 17 of the 33 Jews held in the cellar had been murdered.
With the departures of the soldiers, the Poles perpetrated a pogrom and murdered 20 Jews, men, women and children. A group of Jewish youth attempted to resist them with stones, knives, and sticks. The pogroms and murders continued throughout the coming days as well.
Many of the Jews worked in the Osowiec fortress. The commander of the fortress promised that nothing bad would happen to them if they worked well, because their work was vital to the Germans. Soviet prisoners worked alongside them in the fortress. The prisoners did not receive any salary or any food at all, and the Jews used to share with them the food that they brought from their homes. On June 22, 1941, the commander of the fortress sent four gendarmes to Goniądz to investigate complaints against the Poles made by young Jewish women who worked for him. Pillaged property was found during a search of their homes, and the gendarmes arrested seven Poles. Six were shot, not for the crime of damaging Jews, but rather for pillaging Reich property. Persecution of the Jews in Goniądz continued, and Polish policemen arrested 15 additional Jews on the pretext that they were Communists. They were brought to the fortress, but the commander of the fortress ordered their freedom.
The Judenrat, set up at the beginning of July 1941 with three members, doubled in size by the end of the month. The Jews were commanded to sew a yellow Star of David on their clothes. On September 12, the Polish police arrested 11 Jews on the pretext that they were Communists, and transferred them to prison in Białystok. The Gestapo men of Białystok came to Goniądz and searched for more Communists. Another 15 men were arrested during the searches in Jewish homes and were brought on a truck to the Gestapo command in Białystok. One of the prisoners escaped at the beginning of the transport. As retaliation, the Gestapo men arrested five more Jews and brought them to prison in Knyszyn (see entry). One lad from among them was freed, and the fate of the rest is unknown.
When autumn came, the Germans demanded 200 furs from the Judenrat. Poles libelously claimed that the Jews were hiding their good furs and only giving over their old, inferior furs. The Germans issued a command that the Jews also give over to the command headquarters the furs that were given over to farmers to guard. Several Jews who were suspected of hiding furs were beaten, and a few were taken out to be killed. The Germans and Poles murdered 217 Jews of Goniądz by November 2, 1942.
On October 30, 1942, the heads of the villages in the area of Goniądz were ordered to provide 200 wagons. On November 2, the Jewish workers of the fortress were arrested on their way to work. The rest of the Jews were summoned to present themselves at the market square. A Gestapo captain informed them that they would be sent to work somewhere far away. They were given a half an hour to go to their homes, pack their belongings, and return to the square. Most of the Jews who heard the command returned and presented themselves at the square with their belongings, and caravans of wagons set out in the direction of Grajewo. There were several attempts of escape during the journey, but all the escapees were shot by the guards who were accompanying them. The Gestapo men and Poles searched for anyone who was hiding in Goniądz. After a threehour journey, the Jews of Goniądz arrived at the Bogusza transit camp, on the border with Prussia, three kilometers from Grajewo, in which approximately 7,000 Jews from eight towns of the district were concentrated. They were not given any food for the first four days, and after that, they were given watery soup and 100 grams of bread a day. Many died of hunger. On November 22, 1942, the first transport left Bogusza for the Treblinka death camp with approximately 3,000 Jews. The rest were sent to Treblinka on January 3, 1943. Many jumped off the train on the way to Treblinka, but only a few were saved. Some of the survivors reached the Białystok Ghetto after tribulations and torment.
Only 40 Jews of Goniądz survived until the end of the war.
Yad Vashem Archives 03/1846, 6512, 11304.
Goniądz Yizkor Book, Tel Aviv, 1960
Leszczyński, Żydzi ziemi bielskiej, pp. 4245
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