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Translation of Soły chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Soły chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Amy B. Bentley
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 468-469, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Translated by Micheline Burke
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
The History of the Jews of Soły
Soły is located on the western bank of the river, 16 kilometers north east of Ashmyany and 66 kilometers south east of Vilna on the Minsk-Vilna railroad. With the third division of Poland in 1783, the Vilna County was annexed to the Russian Empire. At the time of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1803, many houses in Soły were burnt and so was a church that was rebuilt in 1849. In the 19th century Soły was a small village that hosted a weekly market day. At the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century Soły was connected to the railroad system and a train station was built there. During WWI Soły was under German rule for about 3 years (1915-18). After that the Vilna County passed from hand to hand and experienced many internal wars until it was annexed to Poland in 1922.
In 1847, 245 Jews inhabited Soły and it is apparent that Jews settled there even earlier. At the end of the 19th century, with the expulsion of the Jews from Russian villages as the result of the May 1882 laws, the number of Jews in Soły increased and they became a majority in town. Most of them made their living from commerce. Many of them were artisans and sales people. At the end of the 19th century, a Beit Midrash was built in Soły.
When WWI erupted Jews were also drafted to serve in the Russian Army. During the battles in Soły and its surroundings, 28 Jewish houses were burnt. Most of the Jews of Soły escaped to neighboring villages and to Russia. Those who returned to the village after the war found it half destroyed. The company Yekopo built 28 new houses for the Jews whose houses were burnt and constructed a community center with one wing for a Jewish school. Yekopo also allocated money for the orphans of the war and in 1926 established a charity fund for small businesses. Individuals also benefited from the help of Yekopo who contributed to restoring their means of income side by side with the help from relatives in foreign countries.
Soon after the war, stores and small factories were reopened and economic activity resumed. Most of the Jews remained in the village, but their economic situation worsened. After the war, Poland suffered a very severe economic low, mostly as a result of the closure of the Russian border to all Polish merchandise. Due to that, the local Polish market shrank and the businesses of the Jewish merchants dwindled further. The lack of activity and new taxes hurt the local economy even more.
A large tax was imposed by the Polish government on small Jewish businessmen. There was also increasing competition with non-Jews who had recently joined the business world after receiving benefits from the government. Many Jewish merchants, storekeepers, peddlers and artisans were pushed out of business as the result of a new "Polish Cooperative" that benefited from government aid and thus was able to sell to the Polish population a wider variety of merchandise at a lower cost. A small group of Jewish grocers, who also wanted to lower their prices, attempted to get organized and to acquire together (cooperatively) a variety of merchandise in large quantities, but failed. The Market place that had been the main source of income for the Jews of Soły became a place where they now had to compete with local merchants. As a result of this competition the earnings of the Jewish merchants dwindled. The Jewish artisans were also economically hurt by the rise of new artisans in the neighboring villages. As the time moved on unemployment among the Jews increased and even those who kept working had to make do with lower income.
After the war the Jewish community reorganized itself; the Beit Midrash was remodeled and in the new Jewish community center, built by the "Yekopo" company, a Hebrew elementary school was opened and joined the "Tarbut" chain. In the academic year 1929-30, 36 students attended this school, while the rest of the children of the Jewish community attended the local school. Most of these students also attended a "cheder" after completing their daily studies in the local public school. The existence of a Hebrew school indicates that there was Zionist activity in Soły even though we have no official documentation.
As WWII erupted a few Jewish youngsters were drafted by the Polish Army. On September 17th 1939, the Red Army entered Soły and for almost two years, Soły was ruled by the Soviets. At the end of June 1941 with the invasion of Russia by the Germans, the small town was conquered by the Wehrmacht [the German army]. As the Germans entered the small town of Soły the Germans executed 12 of the town's citizens, among them a few Jews. Soon after this, the first restrictions were imposed on the Jews the obligation to wear the yellow sign, the mobilization to labor camps, the prohibition to enter the market place and other restrictions. The Jews were ordered to elect a "Judenrat" (a Jewish government) and gave its leadership to Michael Magid. In September 1941, the German governor of the region (Gebietskommissar) who lived in Ashmyany, asked that the Judenrat send 60 young Jewish men to work at the train station in Olkiyeniki. A few days later the Jews of Soły were forced to vacate their houses and were transported to a ghetto on a side street with dilapidated houses. The ghetto was enclosed in a fence with a gate. Exiting the ghetto was forbidden except for work and all the workers who went out to work were guarded by Polish policemen.
In March 1942 the Germans added Ashmyany and other local settlements to the Reichscommissariat Vilna in Lithuania. As a result the Jews feared for their lives because in Lithuania most Jews had already been assassinated. In the summer of 1942 the majority of the young men from the Soły ghetto, iemariai in Lithuania, Kunya, Biala-Waka and other places were expelled from their homes. In August 1942 the German governor of Lithuania ordered the elimination of all the small ghettos in the area and assembled all the Jews in 4 ghettos on the border between Belarus and Lithuania - Ashmyany, Shwientchiani, Mikhalishki, and Soły. The Vilna ruler, Horst Wolf assigned the head of the Judnerat of Vilna, Yaakov Gans the task of organizing the 4 ghettos, following the model of the Vilna Ghetto. Gans did as ordered and imported to the new sites his own staff of policemen and clerks.
In March 1943, the German government forbade the settlement of Jews in a 50 kilometer strip on the Belarus border, thus it was decided to eliminate the four ghettos in the area. A few inhabitants of these ghettos were transferred to Vilna and to camps in the area, while the others were told that they will be placed in the Kovno Ghetto. On April 4th 1943, the Jews of Soły were taken to the local train station and loaded onto freight trains whose windows were covered with barbed wire. Before then, the same train, officially scheduled to go to Kovno, was loaded with the Jews of Ashmyany, Shwientchiani and Mikhalishki. On April 5th the Germans allowed the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto who asked to join their family members in the Kovno Ghetto, to get on the train as well, and when the train reached Vilna hundreds of more Jews got on it. Among them Gans and his staff of Jewish policemen came, to accompany the travelers. During the trip, Gans found out from a Polish train passenger that the real destination of the train was Ponar and he understood that the Germans had tricked him. When the train made a stop on the way to Ponar Gans and his people were taken off the train and were returned to the Vilna Ghetto, and German soldiers and policemen replaced them.
In Ponar the Jews were left on the sealed train the whole night without knowing where they were. When the sun came up the cars were opened and the Jews were escorted to the place of murder and were shot into the trenches of death. On that day 3,800 Jews were murdered in Ponar, among them about 100 Jews from Ghetto Soły.
Up until the liberation of the area by the Soviet army, in the summer of 1944, very few Jews from ghetto Soły survived; most of them young people who escaped from the labor camps and joined partisan units.
Yad Vashem Archives 2745, 03/2332; M3/1148
Arad, Yitzhak. Jewish Vilna in Struggle and Extinction. Jerusalem 1976, pp. 279, 290.
Smorgon, Vilna District: A book of Testimony and Memory. Abba Gordin, ed. Tel Aviv 1965.
"Yekopo" Register, pp. 129, 136, 142, 176, 185-186, 204, 319, 487, 552, 572, 613-615, 637, 638, 697.
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