Translation of Zabłudów chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
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Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 331-335, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Translated by Jerrold Landau
The town of Zabłudów is situated on the Rudna River, 19 kilometers southeast of Białystok. It was established in the 16th century. In 1695, it received the rights of a city in accordance with the Magdeburg charter. A Catholic Church, an Orthodox Church, a hospital, a school, and in 1567 a printing house were set up in it. During the 16th and 17th century, Jews and Scots settled in it, developed business and trades, and set up tradesmen's guilds. With the third partition of Poland in 1795, Zabłudów was annexed to Prussia. It was included in the Russian empire in 1807. Six annual fairs of cattle merchants were set up in the town. In the second half of the 19th century, a large sewing and weaving enterprise was set up in Zabłudów. It was closed during the textile depression at the end of the century. Leather manufacturing took the place of textile manufacturing. After the First World War, the
economic growth of Zabłudów resumed, the tanning and commercial sectors were rehabilitated, and two textile factories were set up. During the time of the Second World War, the Germans burnt about half the houses of the town, completely destroyed its manufacturing, and murdered more than half of its gentile residents.
The Jews Until the End of the First World War
The first Jews settled in Zabłudów at the end of the 16th century, when it transferred to the Radziwiłł princes, and their numbers increased quickly. Prince Janusz Radziwiłł granted them a privilege that included the permission to purchase lots for the building of their houses, to own stores and stalls in the market, and to conduct retail business and various trades. In the population census of 1764, 831 Jewish residents of Zabłudów were enumerated. The Jews filled a role in the development of business and labor. Jewish merchants exported merchandise to the cities of Poland and Russia, especially hops for the brewing of beer, and they imported textiles to the town. The largest textile importer in the town was the merchant Yudka Moszkowicz. Jewish smallscale merchants, shopkeepers, stallowners in the market, and many tradesmen appeared alongside the large merchants. The Christian citizens regarded the Jews as competitors, and in the years 16811688 they complained about them repeatedly to the town owners, claiming that they were bankrupting them in business and trades, opening taverns, and living outside the street designated for their residence. In the year 1696, a blood libel took place in Zabłudów, known as the Gavrila Libel . A Jewish butcher of Zabłudów was accused of murdering a Christian child from Białystok named Gavrila. The libel was proven wrong in the investigation that took place, but the hatred of Jews in Zabłudów only increased.
In 1757, there were two Jewish trade guilds in Zabłudów, those of the tailors and those of the furriers. Jews continued to work in commerce and trade even in the 19th century. The most firmly based of them traded in lumber, grain, flax, wool, and hides. Most of the merchants, however, were smallscale shopkeepers and peddlers who made the rounds to the villages in wagons or on foot, carrying sacks of merchandise on their shoulders.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Jews played a central role in the development of local industry. At first, they established an enterprise for sewing and weaving and later founded an enterprise for the working of hides, as well as several other textile enterprises that employed Jews and Christians side by side. The Jewish workers became involved in sewing and weaving. Many youths joined that branch of trade as apprentices, paying tuition fees. After several years of training, they were accepted for work in the status of weavers. Women worked in sewing in the factories alongside the men who worked in weaving. Their salary was low, and the weavers lorded over them, imposing on them duties and tasks such as fetching water, lighting the oven, cleaning work, etc. The first strike in Zabłudów was of the textile workers. The employers and weavers threatened to fire them, and even their parents did not support them. However, the young women were resolute in their struggle, and they finally achieved a small raise in salary and the cancellation of the duty of providing service to the weavers. After some time, an additional strike broke out in the Jewish textile factory, with a demand for a shorter work day and a raise in salary. The strikers received modest financial support from the union of Jewish textile workers in Białystok (see entry). The owner of the enterprise drafted strike busters from the villages. At the end, however, a compromise was reached, and the salary of the workers rose slightly.
The economic development was accompanied by rapid demographic growth. At the end of the 19th century, the community reached its pinnacle of 2,621 individuals (68% of the general population of the town) During those years, textile manufacturing suffered a recession, and most of the factories in that branch of business closed. During the years 19001913, hide manufacturing took the place of textile manufacturing. That branch was also primarily in Jewish hands. Seven Jewish families owned factories for boots, purses, and other leather goods. Together they employed about 200 workers. Most of the export was to markets in Russia. The leather industry also suffered from a recession on the eve of the First World War. Several factories closed, and their owners immigrated overseas.
The Jewish community of Zabłudów arose at the end of the 16th century, when the Jews obtained privileges from prince Radziwiłł. They built a synagogue and a hospital at that time, and the prince allotted them land for a cemetery. At the beginning of the 17th century, there was already a Jewish community present with all its institutions. The Council of the State of Lithuania affiliated it with the community of Tiktin (Tykocin), but the Jews of Zabłudów, who had already become entrenched and had organized their own community, refused and conducted a protracted battle for independence. On the other hand, the communities of Tiktin and Grodno (see entry) fought between themselves over the hegemony of the community of Zabłudów. In the arbitrations of 1621, the Council of the State decided in favor of the community of Tiktin; but since Zabłudów already had at that time a synagogue, a cemetery, and a Chevra Kadisha [burial society], and that the community already paid for a shochet [ritual slaughterer] and cantor, the council exempted it from tax payments to the central community and only obligated it to participate in the expenses of the chief rabbinate and high Beis Din [court of religious law] in Grodno. The community of Grodno was not content with this decision and did not conduct itself in accordance with it. The Council of the State issued a warning to that community and threatened to confiscate the merchandise that its merchants would bring to the Lublin fair. From its side, the community of Zabłudów preferred to accept the authority of the rabbi of Grodno, so in 1622, the council of Tiktin threatened it with censure and a ban. The dispute was judged several more times before the Council of the State. We find a letter in the ledgers of the community of Zabłudów from the administrators (parnasim) of the community of Grodno to the community of Zabłudów, as follows:
Since the community of Tiktin threatens you with confiscations, even though it is not your superior… and we always protect you from their confiscations because of our strong leadership, we inform you that you should not pay attention to their words because they are just creating turmoil to frighten you, thus their leadership…
On two occasions, in 1664 and 1667, the Council of the State of Lithuania convened in Zabłudów. During the era of the Council, the community used to enumerate fathers of orphans local Jews who were obligated to concern themselves with Jewish orphans in the State. During the 1780s, in reaction to the blood libel of Gavrila and the increasing antiSemitism (see above), the council introduced several enactments in accordance with the needs of the time. For example, in 1684, Jewish householders were forbidden from the holy community of Zabłudów, to sell to an uncircumcised person [i.e. a gentile] … on the other streets and of course on the Street of the Jews, as well as in the market, without informing the high Beis Din of the holy community of Horodno… An enactment of 1750 obligated new Jewish residents of Zabłudów to pay maintenance fees to the council of the sum of 2 reds, and only after ten years would they have the rights to be registered in the communal ledger, to participate in elections for the leadership, and to be appointed to communal roles and service. The new Jews were also forbidden from renting stalls from the town hall.
The first synagogue in Zabłudów was built through the permission of the privilege that the Jews had received from Prince Radziwiłł. From the records of the communal ledger, we see that a women's gallery was built in 1646. This synagogue was famous throughout the kingdom of PolandLithuania for its unique structure. Its walls were decorated with spectacular drawings and verses of prayer. Valuable holy objects were guarded therein, including a silver shield from 1652 with the insignia of the Renaissance. In 1695, the community built a hospital under the auspices of Prince Krzysztof Radziwiłł. The synagogue was renovated in 1765, and the Great Beis Midrash was built alongside it in 1894, through a donation of a wealthy local Jewess. At the end of the 19th century, there were four Beis Midrashes in the city (one of them of the weavers), in which men gathered at the end of the workday for prayer and study. The Jews of Zabłudów were all Misnagdim [nonHassidim].
The first rabbi of the community was apparently Rabbi Yisrael Za'K (prior to 1720). His soninlaw Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Broda served in Zabłudów after him (until 1728). The rabbis of the 19th and 20th centuries that are known to us include Rabb Elazar Kallir, the author of Or Chadash; Rabbi Zeev Wolf, the son of Yehuda HaLevi, the author of the book Emek Halacha (formerly the rabbi of Zdzięcioł, see entry); Rabbi Yehoshua Szapira, the author of Arba Shitot and Chidushei Mahar'I Szapira; Rabbi Chanoch Henech, the son of Rabbi Yehuda the son of Eliezer Safra VeDayana (Yso'd) the famous wealthy man of Vilna (see entry); Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, the author of Kedushat Yom Tov; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Kac; Rabbi Yosef the son of Rabbi Asher HaKohen Zabludower (from 1956 until his death in 1886), who was loved by all the residents of Zabłudów, Jews and gentiles equally; Rabbi Moshe the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager; Rabbi Akiva Avraham Sowotnik (died in 1925), who established the Talmud Torah in Zabłudów in 1925.
In the 19th century, the boys of the community studied in the cheders of the melamdim [religious teachers]. Many lads continued their studies in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Eliezer Kallir, which gained fame in Lithuania and Poland. With the spread of the Haskalah during the latter part of the 19th century, many members of the community were already reading Hebrew books and newspapers. Toward the end of the century, a government school for Jewish students opened, in which mainly girls studied. They also began to teach Russian and several general subjects in the cheders. The teacher of the public school for Jewish children, who subscribed to Russian periodicals, would lecture the children and update them on world news.
During the 1880s, a Chovevei Zion chapter operated in Zabłudów, and chapters of Poalei Zion, Mizrachi, and Bund were established later. After the suppression of the 1905 revolution, the activists of the parties were persecuted by the police. Some of them emigrated. In 1911, a local coffeehouse provided newspapers and periodicals to its customers. Later, a library was opened there. Twenty youths each donated one ruble to purchase books, and the library quickly attained 300 books. A drama club operated alongside the library, the income of which was dedicated to the purchase of books. At first, the library was located in the coffee house, and it moved to private houses after its owners emigrated.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Jewish youths were also drafted to the Russian Army. The Cossack soldiers who camped in Zabłudów harassed the Jews, pillaged their property, and destroyed the library books. During the time of the German occupation, from the autumn of 1915 until the end of 1918, the economic situation in the town deteriorated, and many of the residents were drafted to forced labor. Along with this, the bans and restrictions imposed by the Russian government on communal and political activity were repealed. The Germans obligated the Jews to elect a new communal council that would also be responsible for running the town. The new council attempted to restore the remnants of the library and opened a meeting place for youths. At the end of a day of backbreaking work, the youths would gather there for their group meetings and to read newspapers. The drama club was also renewed and conducted its activities in the meeting place. Representatives of the German government of the town would attend its performances. The Poalei Zion, Mizrachi, and Bund Jewish parties conducted their activities in the meeting place.
The Jews Between the Two World Wars
At the end of the war, Jews began to renew their businesses, with the aid of the American JOINT, the Yekopo , and relatives from the United States. Zabłudów natives in the United States also donated
for the building of a new bathhouse in the town. During the 1920s, a branch of the Public Bank cooperative was opened in Zabłudów, which helped merchants and tradesmen through loans with favorable terms. Despite the broad level of help, the economic situation of the Jews in those years declined relative to that of the prewar period. The local tanning industry, which was in decline on the eve of the war, tottered due to being cut off from the large Russian markets, which in the past took in most of their merchandise. Even the small shoemaking workshops were negatively affected, and many did not open at all. The rest of the tradesmen and owners of shops for groceries, linens, haberdashery, etc., as well as the grain and cattle merchants, the traders and peddlers renewed their activities. The market days were restarted and once again captured their place as the center of economic life in Zabłudów. A Jewish physician, Aharon Hirsch, lived in Zabłudów between the wars. He tended to Jews and gentiles and was also elected to the city council.
It quickly became clear that the Polish government adopted an economic policy of discrimination and preference for Poles. Jewish small business owners were bent under the exaggerated tax burden imposed on them. Elder tradesmen were forced to take government certification exams that required proficiency in Polish, and many lost their permits. Poverty and unemployment increased among the Jews. As the 1920s turned into the 1930s, there was a small improvement in the economic situation of the Jews of Zabłudów, and the tax burden improved somewhat. However, antiSemitism increased in Poland in 1936, and incitement for an antiJewish boycott took place in Zabłudów.
Jewish emigration took place continuously from the beginning of the 20th century. For the entire time, the economic situation was the decisive factor in emigration. There was also aliya to the Land of Israel for Zionist reasons. The United States and many other countries closed the gates of immigration, and Jews had difficulty emigrating from Poland. In 1938, several youths and families made aliya from Zabłudów to the Land of Israel, and several Jews immigrated to Argentina and Chile.
Zionist activity in Zabłudów reached its pinnacle at the end of the war. New youth groups Hechalutz, Hechalutz Hatzair (in 1925), Hechalutz Hamizrachi, Hashomer Hadati, the Revisionists, Beitar (in 1931), and Brit Hachayil arose alongside the veteran Hapoalei Zion and Mizrachi. 123 shekels  were sold in Zabłudów as the 11th Zionist Congress approached. The Bund also continued its activities, and several Jews joined the Polish Socialist Party.
The Zionists and nonZionists in Zabłudów engaged in vibrant cultural activity. Hebrew lessons, lectures on Jewish history and Zionism, and other activities took place during the evening hours. The library was reopened, new books were purchased, the readership community grew, and it moved to the building of the meeting place. The drama club continued its activities there as well. The Jewish theater of Białystok appeared in town from time to time. Concerts, cultural evenings, and various art shows took place in the meeting place. Leib Cesler, a Jewish musician from Zabłudów, became famous and earned recognition.
During the interwar years, the Tachkemoni Hebrew School, a private Hebrew school founded by the teacher Yerucham Bachrach, and the Szabtowka public school for children, which was attended mainly by girls, all operated. Children from Orthodox families studied in Beis Yitzchak for the most part. Several aid and benevolent organizations operated in the community Linat Tzedek [provision of lodging for wayfarers], Hachnasat Kalla [providing for poor brides], and Ezrat Nashim, which primarily assisted poor women at childbirth. The final rabbi of the community was Rabbi Yochanan Mirsky (perished in the Holocaust).
During the Second World War
At the beginning of September 1939, the German Wehrmacht forces invaded Zabłudów. Before their arrival, a small group of Jewish youth escaped in the direction of the Soviet Union. After several days, the Wehrmacht soldiers suddenly appeared in town. In the interregime days, they perpetrated disturbances and pillaging. Poles and Jews set up a joint militia that acted to restore order and prevented pillage, disturbances, and pogroms.
On September 17, 1939, the Soviet armed forces entered Zabłudów. The Jews greeted them with joy. Manufacturing enterprises and several large private shops were nationalized under Soviet rule, and the rest were closed within a brief period. Government cooperatives took their place. The tradesmen were ordered to organize themselves into trade cooperatives by sector. The Soviets turned the large Beis Midrashes into wheat and food storehouses. The small ones were left as they were. The Polish public school in Zabłudów was expanded and modified to meet the Soviet requirements. Teachers were brought in from the Soviet Union to augment the teaching staff. Various opportunities for study in the large cities opened up for the youth. Large numbers of Jewish refugees from the area of Nazi occupation in Poland streamed in to Zabłudów.
On June 24, 1941, two days after the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans bombarded and shelled Zabłudów itself and the roads leading to it. Many buildings, including the Beis Midrash and the communal bathhouse were burnt or destroyed. Roads were damaged, and residents were killed, including five Jews. Jews escaped to the fields from their burning houses. The roads leading eastward were filled with refugees. Many Jews of Zabłudów also attempted to reach the Soviet Union with improvised vehicles or even on foot, but most of them were caught at the Nazi checkpoints and forced to return.
On June 27, 1941, the Germans returned and conquered Zabłudów. Local nationalist residents welcomed them with obvious joy and declared their readiness to collaborate with them. Immediately after their arrival, the Germans set on fire the old synagogue, one Beis Midrash, and residences on the Jewish street that had survived the bombardment. German soldiers broke into the house of Rabbi Yochanan Mirsky, dragged him out to the street, and beat him. Several Christians mixed in and, with great effort, managed to extricate the rabbi while he was still alive. Two other Jews were shot to death. That same day, the Jews were hauled to the market square, ordered to dismantle Stalin's statue, to cut off the head of the statue, and to bury the shards in the Jewish cemetery with a mock funeral. Members of the Gestapo abused those performing the work, accused them of trying to evade the fulfillment of the command due to their Communist outlook, and beat them. Many Jews fled from Zabłudów to Białystok and other towns in the wake of these disturbances.
When a large group of Jews from Białystok were deported to the Prużana Ghetto in the Pulsia district (see Białystok entry) at the end of 1941, there were Jews from Zabłudów in the group of deportees.
The Jews who remained in Zabłudów were all crowded into the few homes that survived in the Jewish residential area. Some of them were housed in Rabbi Mirsky's home, in the one Beis Midrash that survived the bombardment, and several abandoned factories. The Germans set up a police force in Zabłudów and manned it with antiSemitic nationalist Poles. The new decrees imposed upon the Jews included the obligation to wear the yellow patch, a ban on walking on sidewalks, a ban on contact with gentiles, confiscation of property and enlistment to forced labor. The Germans also confiscated the horses and wagons of the Jews. Due to the want and hunger, women went out to gather potatoes in the fields. The forced laborers who went out to work outside of Zabłudów were able to obtain at times a bit of food through barter with the farmers. Food smugglers who were caught at the entrance to Zabłudów were beaten and arrested. Acts of violence, torment, and pillage of property became the way of life in Zabłudów. Several Jews were even murdered.
In January 1942, several structures of the dismantled factory whose former owner was Jewish were transferred by the Jews to the ghetto. A Judenrat was appointed, headed by Shimon Wysocki. The crowding and hunger led to the spread of epidemics in the ghetto, with a high death rate. The Judenrat was responsible for the enlistment to forced labor, mainly for the paving and repair of roads. One group worked in the repaving of the BiałystokWołkowysk road with the German Kirchhoff company. The work was backbreaking, and the supervisors were cruel to the Jewish workers. In March 1942, many additional Jews were transferred from Zabłudów to the Prużana Ghetto, and the area of the local ghetto was shrunk.
At the end of October 1942, S.S. and Gestapo men came to Zabłudów from Białystok. The ghetto guard was fortified, and the farmers were standing ready with their wagons. The youth in the ghetto, who maintained constant contact with the Białystok Ghetto underground, realized the meaning of the preparations and began preparing plans for escape and locating hiding places. On the evening of November 2, the Zabłudów Ghetto was surrounded by S.S. and Gestapo men, German gendarmes, and local policemen. At dawn, they spread out to the houses in the ghetto and ordered the Jews to pack a hand suitcase and present themselves at the gate, apparently to be sent to a labor camp. From the yard of the gate, Jews were transported in wagons toward Białystok under heavy guard. When the caravan set out, the Germans and their Polish and Ukrainian assistant guards conducted searches in the abandoned ghetto. All Jews found in their houses or any hiding places were taken out to be killed. Jews who attempted to escape along the way were shot by the guards, and only a few succeeded in escaping.
The Jews of Zabłudów were brought to the Ornian barracks near Białystok, in which Jews from the towns of the area were concentrated in preparation for their deportation to death camps. Those who lived in the camp were housed in abandoned stables. In the Ornian camp, the Jews of Zabłudów met several townsfolk who had escaped previously to other towns of the area. On November 21, 1942, the residents of the camp were sent by cattle car to the Treblinka death camp. Escape attempts continued along the route to Treblinka. Several youths succeeded in escaping. They found refuge with farmers and survived until the end of the war. Aside from them, survivors included several Jews who had spent the war in the Soviet Union, as well as one of the deportees to Treblinka who participated in a death march toward Germany.
Yad Vashem Archives M11/B/199
Heilpern, Ledgers of the Council of Four Lands, pp. 3, 3039, 8485, 106.
Zabłudów: pages from the Yizkor Book, Kfar Chabad, 1987.
Datner, Eksterminacja Judnoścni żydowskiej w okręgu białostockim, BŻIH 60 (1966), pp. 911, 19.
Szkice do studiów nad dziejami żydowskiego rucho partyzanckiego w okręgu białostockim (19411944), BŻIH 7376 (1970) p. 18.
Leszczyński, Żydzi ziemi bielskiej od polowy XVII w. do 1795 r., pp. 20, 119, 124, 130, 167, 176, 1830.
Struktura spoleczna ludności żydowskiej miast I miasteczek dawnego obwodu białostocckiego w latach 18641914, BŻIH 34 (131132) Warsaw 1984.
Wisńiewski, Bóżnice Bialostocczyzny, pp. 204207
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