“Jeziory” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VIII
(Ozëry, Belarus)

53°43', 24°11'

Translation of
“Jeziory” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem


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Acknowledgments

 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 364-367, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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[Page 364]

Jeziory

Region of Grodno, District of Bialystok

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Year Population Jews
1847 - 522
1878 1,013 508
1897 3,283 1,392
1921 1,755 867

 

Jeziory is situated between the Neman River and two large lakes, approximately 25 kilometers east of Grodno, in an area of thick forests. It was included in Czarist Russia with the third partition of Poland in 1795. It was under German occupation for approximately three years (1915-1918) during the First World War, and was then incorporated into independent Poland. On September 17, 1939, several days after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Soviets entered Jeziory, and it was conquered by the Germans at the end of June 1941. The Nazis destroyed many of the houses of the town and murdered many of its gentile residents. The area was liberated by the Soviet Army in the summer of 1944.

 

The Jews Until the End of the First World War

The first Jews apparently settled in Jeziory at the end of the 17th century. A synagogue is already mentioned during the 18th century, as a testimony to the existence of a Jewish community. Hundreds of new Jews settled in Jeziory in 1931,

[Page 365]

mainly tradesmen (tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, smiths, glass makers, tanners, saddlers, bakers, and butchers), or small-scale merchants and peddlers. The peddlers and tradesmen made the rounds to the villages all week, and only returned to town for the Sabbath. Several wealthy Jews were occupied in the wholesaling of lumber and agricultural products. With the passage of time, several Jewish tradesmen set up small tanneries and two large carpentry workshops. The local lumber merchants along with merchants from Vilna and Warsaw who received rights to cut trees in the thick forests around Jeziory developed the lumber sector, and employed local Jews as workers, and in related jobs. A large sawmill was set up at the edge of the town during the latter part of the 19th century. It was a partnership of several Jewish merchants from Jeziory and Vilna, and employed primarily Jews. With the development of the lumber sector, Jews also became wagon drivers, transporting the lumber from the forest to the sawmill, and the boards to the local railway station. The train brought foreign lumber merchants as well as vacationers to Jeziory, and the hospitality industry developed. Some of the Jews opened hotels and restaurants, and were successful at their endeavors.

Even though Jews were partners in the momentum of development in Jeziory, many arned their livelihood with difficulty – in particular as hired workers and small-scale tradesmen. Levitanberg, a Jew from Grodno (see entry), founded a factory for cardboard and cigarette boxes in 1920, which employed 12-year-old children who worked 14 hours a day for starvation wages. A representative of the Bund in Grodno came to Jeziory and organized a strike of the children, demanding a raise in wages and a reduction in the hours of the workday. However, many parents sent their children back to work, due to Levitanberg's threats to close the enterprise. The strike at the enterprise resumed in 1905 under the rubric of a general strike that broke out in Jeziory. It was only then that Levitanberg shortened the workday by two hours.

Jewish immigration to the American continent increased during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. No small number of youths immigrated from Jeziory as well.

The Jews of Jeziory were pious in their observance of the commandments. During the evening, the Beis Midrash was full of Jews from al strata who came to study a page of Gemara or a chapter of Mishnah. In 1826, a siddur [prayer book] was printed in Jeziory through the Rom printing house of Vilna {see entry). The boys of the community studied in cheder. With the spread of the Haskalah [enlightenment], Russian, Hebrew, Tanach [Bible], and several general subjects were taught.

Jews were also drafted to the Czarist army at the outbreak of the First World War. Local commerce was paralyzed, and many people were wanting of a loaf of bread. Jeziory was conquered by the Germans at the end of 1915 after heavy battles. The conquerors confiscated most of the agricultural products for the needs of the army, and they sent a portion to Germany. Want and hunger pervaded in the town. Many of the residents, both Jews and gentiles, were drafted to forced labor in the sawmill and other places. Planks that were finished in the sawmill were sent to Germany, and were used for the building of ships. In 1916, the Germans placed a generator in the sawmill that provided electricity to the town. During the occupation, a German school for all children of the city was opened in Jeziory. Two hours per week were designated for religious studies and Hebrew for the Jewish children. The Germans eased the restrictions in various areas of communal life that were imposed by the Czarist regime, and permitted political activity and cultural life. The Balfour Declaration, proclaimed at the end of 1917, caused an arousal of Zionist activity in Jeziory.

 

The Jews Between the Two World Wars

At the end of the war, the area went through an era of military and political instability. Economic activity in Jeziory was renewed when the government of independent Poland stabilized. Jews returned and opened shops, workshops, carpentry workshops, and tanneries. The large sawmill renewed its production, and farmers from the villagers returned to work their land. Jews bought agricultural products from them and sold them in Grodno, Bialystok (see entry), and especially in the resort town of Druskeniki (see entry). Tourists from Bialystok and Grodno returned to spend vacations in Jeziory. Despite all this, the economic situation of the Jews declined from that of former years. At the end of the 1920s and during the 1930s, the Polish government issued new economic edicts frequently, and many Jews lost their sources of livelihood. The large sawmill in Jeziory was nationalized in 1929, and the Jewish workers were fired. Unemployment and poverty increased among the Jews. Increasing anti-Semitism and incitement to an anti-Jewish economic boycott were added to the mix in the late 1930s. Despite this, it is necessary to note that many residents did not heed the call to boycott, and did not change their relationship with the Jews.

Despite the heavy influence of the religiously observant people among the Jews of Jeziory, the years between the two world wars were typified by vibrant Zionist activity. Zionist and other parties and youth groups were organized one after the other, including Poalei Zion, and the non-Zionist, Yiddishist Bund. Apparently, the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement was active in Jeziory. Some of the Jews joined the Communist party, which was illegal in Poland. Hechalutz, the first youth group in Jeziory, was founded in 1922, and had hundreds of members. Hashomer Hatzair was founded later (in 1925), as well as Freiheit (Dror) of the left leaning Poalei Zion. Graduates of the youth movements went out to Hachsharah kibbutzim in Poland, and then made aliya to the Land of Israel. On the eve of the 16th Zionist Congress (1931), there were 23 payers of the Zionist shekel [token of membership in the Zionist party] who had the right to vote.

[Page 366]

The old synagogue of Jeziory
From the photo archives of Yad Vashem

 

The activists of the parties and movements were also involved in cultural activity, and they developed a Jewish educational network. During the 1920s, the Zionists founded a Hebrew Tarbut School, with the status of a private school. Due to the high tuition, primarily the children of wealthy families studied there. No small number of its graduates continued their education in the Tarbut Gymnasja in Grodno. Bund activists founded a Yiddish school of the Tsysho network[1], in which primarily poor people studies. Its teachers were for the most part members of Bund or Communists. Jewish children, especially girls, also studied in the government public school in town. After the regular school day, many children also studied religious studies in the cheders of the melamdim. A youth meeting place with games, newspapers, periodicals, and a Yiddish and Polish library opened under the auspices of the Tsysho school. There were two bands in town: a Jewish string band, and the wind band of the firefighters' organization, whose players were also Jewish. During the early years, the firefighters were Jews, and only the commander was a gentile, but after the war, freed Polish soldiers who lived in Jeziory also joined the organization.

Rabbi David Szwarc was the rabbi of the community during those years. His son was active in the Polish Socialist party, and many of the youths of the community were influenced by him and followed in his footsteps.

 

During the Second World War

On September 1, 1939, the Communist residents of Jeziory and the villages, organized themselves against the Polish Army, and fled as they were about to be arrested. The civic authorities, wishing to take revenge, arrested several members of the community in their stead, headed by Rabbi Szwarc, and sentenced them to death. As they were already standing in front of the shooters, Bozimowsky, the principal of the local Polish school, swore that the accused were innocent, and that the true guilty parties had escaped to the forests. He urged the Polish captain to spare their lives. The captain changed his mind and freed the Jews. Two days after that event, the local Polish authority was dismantled, and the Jews of the town set up a civilian militia to preserve order.

The Red Army entered Jeziory on September 17, 1939. The Soviets reconstituted the local council and included Jews among the members. Sheika Szmiglaski was placed at the head. The Soviets changed the face of the economy. They nationalized the large businesses, closed the private stores, and opened a government cooperative store. Even the tradesmen of various trades were organized into trade cooperatives (Artels). There were no unemployed people in the town during their regime. Everyone worked at their trade. Two Jewish families of means were deported to Siberia. The father of one of those families escaped and hid with a farmer who was his friend. He returned to the town and was murdered during the Nazi regime, whereas his family and the other family were saved in Siberia.

On June 22, 1941, immediately after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, The Soviets retreated in haste. Many Jews, bachelors or those with young families, set out on the journey in their wake, some on bicycles, some on wagons, and some by foot. Most of those walking were captured by the Germans and returned to the town by force. On the first day of the invasion,

[Page 367]

the Germans attacked a train full of Jewish refugees from the areas of Nazi conquest near Jeziory. Tens of them, some wounded, came to Jeziory.

Various decrees and persecutions afflicted the Jews of Jeziory during the period of the Nazi occupation. Their property was confiscated and pillaged, and many were drafted to forced labor. They were transferred to a ghetto in August 1942. On September 2, 1942, they were sent to the Kelbasin bunker camp (see Grodno entry), and the Germans burnt down the Jeziory Ghetto. After a few weeks in Kelbasin, the Jews of Jeziory were sent along with Jews of other towns of the region to the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka death camps, where they were murdered in the gas chambers.


Bibliography

Yad Vashem Archives M1/E/1486, M11/317
Zoher-Rosenstein, A., “Jeziory and its History”, Grodner Publication, number 21-22, Buenos Aires, 1973, pp. 101-104.
Nowyk Kleinbart, T. “The First Factory in Jeziory” ibid. number 12 (1961), pp. 85-86.
Pinkas Krynki, edited by Z. Rabin, Tel Aviv, 1970, number 245..

RG'P

 


Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Tsysho Return

 


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