Secondly, the geographic location of the city caused it to become a commercial and industrial center and, as a result, a city of workers. Not only was industry and commerce predominantly in the hands of Jews, but the workers were Jewish, as well (at least in those factories under Jewish ownership). These factors contributed to the fact that despite the incitement against Jews no pogroms were attempted in Pinsk. In 1883 mobs of peasants from the surrounding area were forced to flee by the city's Jewish butchers, coachmen and porters. During the years 1903 - 1906 no one dared start pogroms. Jewish self-confidence was high. Social life was active, and all shades of thought and all political parties represented in the Jewish world were enthusiastically welcomed. It is possible that this enthusiasm was in the tradition of the Karlin Hasidism, and the concern for public welfare may be a legacy of the days when Pinsk was one of the foremost Jewish communities in Lithuania.
The political situation in the city was, of course, no different from that of the Jews elsewhere in the Pale of Settlement. City government was not in the hands of Jews, though they were the majority of the population. Jewish participation in the municipality gradually decreased until two Jewish members remained. These resigned in 1905 and from that time until World War I there were no Jewish members in the municipality. A Jewish community organization did not exist since the KahaI was disbanded by the authorities. The Jewish community was defined as an Obshchestva (Society), having communal property, such as cemeteries, synagogues and bath houses, but with no right to levy taxes. Representatives of the synagogues were recognized as having the right to maintain these institutions. For a time the 0bshchestvenny Rabin existed in addition to the Kazyonny Rabin. The Korobka tax was contracted out by the district authorities and the contract fee was divided among Jewish welfare and educational institutions by the authorities together with several of the Jewish elders. Part of this money was allocated to the Uchonnyyevre ("learned Jew") of the district governor in Minsk.
Particularly distressing was the numerus clausus (quota system) which was begun in 1887 and under which no more than 10% of the students admitted to the city's "Real" School could be Jews, though the number of non-Jewish pupils was small. Even more oppressive was conscription into the military for a period of four years. The family of anyone not reporting for military service was fined 300 rubles.
Much suffering was also caused as a result of the "Temporary Laws" of May 1882 to those Jews living in the villages. For the most part the Jews were evicted from the villages in the years 1910 - 1912.
At the beginning of the period under review there was a serious economic crisis in the city. The commerce in grain and fats ceased. Trade in these products were the mainstay of the city's merchants and many agents were employed throughout the Ukraine and Volhynia in their sale. In addition, many people in the city itself were employed in this trade. The decline was due to the rise in importance of the railroads in place of the water-routes along the Dnieper, Pripet and Pina Rivers and the canals leading to the Bug Visla and Nieman. The grain and fats were transported from then on from their sources in the Ukraine and Volhynia directly to the ports in Northwestern Russia. However, the city became industrialized before very long. The Jews played an important part in this development, both as entrepreneurs and industrialists, and as workers.
The first factory was the Stiarin Candle Factory, established by non-Jews and purchased in 1872 by Elisasberg, Rabinovich and Sheinfinkel. Workshops for building railroad cars were erected near the railway station, and near the Pina a ship repair yard was erected by Dr. Lasy. In both these places the workers were not Jewish. Most important for the Jewish population was the transition Moshe Lourié made from commerce to industry. He built a large flour mill run by a steam motor, a wooden nail factory and later, in the early 1890's his sons Leopold and Alexander established a plywood factory. These factories were the first of their kind in the whole of Russia. During the same period Yosef Halpern established a match factory. Until the end of the last century many more factories were established. In 1898 there were 27 factories in the city employing 1.375 workers. From sources dated 1902 we learn that there were 54 factories in Pinsk, though most of them were small. The total number of employees was approximately 4,000. Half of this number were non-Jews who were employed primarily in the railroad workshops and De Lasy's Shipyard, and half were Jews who worked in those factories under Jewish ownership. The one business that remained connected with the waterways was the lumber industry. Up till World War I the rafts along the Pina in the spring stretched for kilometers.
A great change also took place in financial affairs. Private money-lenders were displaced by the banks, whose numbers were continually on the increase. At the end of the period under review there were at least six banks in the town.
Approximately 2,000 people almost all of them Jews were engaged in skilled crafts. The crafts grew and became diversified, particularly in ladies' dressmaking and carpentry; the latter developed, in part, into highly skilled cabinet making for furniture. By the 1860's there were over twenty skilled crafts in the hands of Jews: those of the tailors, shoemakers, furriers, milliners, carpenters, blacksmiths, masons and woodworkers, tinsmiths, silversmiths, saddlers, upholsterers, painters, glaziers, watchmakers, barrel makers, tile makers, bakers and chimney-sweeps. In addition there were butchers, and laborers, unskilled workers such as coachmen and porters. During this period the number of book-binders, printers and typesetters increased. There were Jewish paper hangers, a new trade. There were now Jewish farmers, as well, who raised vegetables in large fields near the city.
A new intelligentsia arose, made up of clerks and managers in the large factories and banks, as well as Jewish teachers who taught in the Russian-Jewish schools and the Heder Methukan or privately. The number of pharmacies increased. Along with the quacks, trained doctors began practicing, Jews among them, and along with the klezerim, professional musicians began performing in concerts, cinemas and theatres.
A sign of the times was the entry of women into new occupations and professions. Not only did women form a large part of the work-force in the large factories (which dealt mainly in ladies' garment making), but they also entered the teaching profession as piano teachers and as teachers in the girls' schools.
The railroad, which at first brought about an economic crisis, in time turned into a blessing. New wholesale houses for manufactured goods and foodstuffs were opened for the storekeepers of Pinsk and the surrounding townlets: its manufactured goods, the products of its craftsmen, agricultural produce and fish were exported by way of the railroads.
Pinsk was one of the best-established cities economically. The percentage of its poor in need of public support was much lower than that of other cities in the Pale of Settlement.
In the late 1890's small groups were formed among the Jewish workers for the purpose of reading illegal literature. With the increase of the revolutionary unrest Jewish youths joined the Russian Revolutionary Parties, the Social Democratic Party (S.D.) and the Social Revolutionary Party (S.R.). For the most part the Jewish youth was attracted to the "Brothers and Sisters", i.e. the Bund, which had followers as early as 1899. On May 1st, 1900, some 100 workers wearing red neckties gathered in one of the town's forests. They raised a red flag on which slogans were written demanding an eight-hour work day and political freedom. However, the Bund's activities only began to be felt in 1901; in 1905 it became a decisive force in the city.
Pinsk served as fertile ground for the Bund's activities at least until 1903, since the city was almost entirely Jewish. The few policemen that were in the city could be bribed; and since the great majority of the factory workers were young men and women with low salaries and poor working conditions they soon found themselves engaged in revolutionary activity. It should be noted, however, that the Bund movement did not grow of its own accord but largely because of propagandists and organizers from the outside who succeeded in rousing enthusiasm for the idea of "a new life" in the hearts of the working youth who until then had felt neglected and inferior.
The first strike of Jewish workers in the city was apparently in 1899. In 1901 there were several strikes in workshops and in the match factory. As a result several workshops shortened the work-day to 10-12 hours. In the same year the first arrests of Bund activists were carried out. Pinsk emigrants from New York sent 100 dollars to save those arrested from expulsion to Siberia. As a result of these arrests an organization was established in New York which called itself the "Radical Men of Pinsk" (Pinsker Radikaler) whose main goal was to aid the Bund in the old home town. In the autumn of 1901 M. Lieber, one of the leaders of the Bund, came to Pinsk for the purpose of drawing the intelligentsia of the youth into the movement, a task at which he succeeded up to a point.
In 1902 the organizational framework of the Bund in Pinsk was set up. A committee was established and the members of the Bund were organized into groups of 20, according to their intellectual qualification. Each group was led by a member of the committee. In this manner all members of the Bund were placed under the supervision of the committee, which delegated to itself the authority to organize strikes. The committee from time to time organized meetings of workers in a particular occupation and supplied speakers. From the autumn of that year the city experienced rising tension. A strike which broke out in a shoe-making shop caused the arrest of 12 workers, and brought about terrorist actions in revenge. Workers poured acid on the shop owner, badly burning his eyes.
A breach soon became evident between the Bundists and those who had gone over to the Minsk type of Poalei Zion, leading to an ideological conflict. Bundist propaganda attacked Zionism and religion. In the spring of 1903 Kolya Teper arrived in Pinsk, where Zionism had taken root. Teper had previously been a Zionist and one of Achad Haam's followers. After joining the Bund he became one of their most gifted propagandists. An illegal public debate was held between him and Chaim Weizmann and Rubenchik, who was one of Poalei Zion's spokesmen. Later a mass meeting was held in one of the forests near the city and his speech there drew a large audience. His arrest, along with others, as a result of this meeting, gave Pinsk youths a chance to show their strength. They broke through the door of the jail near the police station and released Teper and the others (April 18, 1903). Further arrests followed. Eleven persons were tried and six were subsequently sentenced to various terms in prison. Yet the movement grew. The strikes in the workshops increased and a strike was held in the candle factory. The Russian authorities found it necessary to infiltrate an agent provocateur named Arnadsky into the directorate of the Bund. He was one of the agent provocateurs most dangerous in the entire Bund movement and was instrumental in the arrest of many of the city's Bund members. On October 18, 1903 he was bludgeoned to death in a back alley by three youths. This brought about the detention of many people who were brutally beaten and then transferred to the prison in Minsk. Three of them were sentenced to long prison terms and the others were placed under police surveillance.
As a result of the Arnadsky affair the city's Bund movement began to decline. Active members fled. The fear of planted agents was so great that Bundist Aharon David Parokhodnik was murdered without any evidence against him. May 1, 1904 in Pinsk passed without any strikes or protest marches, though workers in many other cities did strike. Interest in the Bund was renewed in the summer of 1904 with the rise of revolutionary activity all over Russia as a result of the War with Japan. At the end of 1904 a new organizer from Bund headquarters gave renewed impetus to the organization in Pinsk. At the same time youngsters below the age of 15 organized themselves into the Young Bund.
In addition to the tensions between workers and their employers, revolutionaries and supporters of the existing regime, there arose a new factor -- the demand of the Bund to be the sole spokesman for the Jewish workers as against the Poalei Z ion and later the Zionist Socialist Party (S.S.).
Matters developed rapidly. One event followed another, as follows (according to the Gregorian calendar):
|22 nd of January||an unsuccessful strike, arrests.|
|February 7||strike at the match factory and a strike of tanners. Several days later strikes at all the workshops.|
|March 26||Bund attack on Poalei Zion. 4 members of this organization wounded by gunshot.|
|April 9||Large demonstration -- 5 shot and wounded.|
(On the anniversary of the Kishinev Pogrom)
(May 1st by the Western Calendar)
|Tense atmosphere, fear of disturbances, self-defense organized. General strike.|
|April 19||Strike at the Lourié factories, and later at the match factory and various workshops. The strike at the Lourié factories lasted 10 weeks.|
|June||Fear of Pogroms.|
|July 24||Bloody encounters with the police and Cossacks. Hershl Stern murdered. Many wounded.|
|August 2||Melekh Dolinko (a member of the Social Revolutionary Party) blown up by a bomb held in his hand with which he meant to kill Zakharoy, the Police Chief. Arrests.|
|End of August||Increased incitement to Pogroms. Defense organizations on alert.|
|Murder by gunshot of the sadistic policeman Polishchuk.|
Several days later the policeman Tariko, who murdered Hershl Stern, is shot and killed.
|September 22||Chief of Police Zakharov demands that the heads of the Jewish community calm down the youth or else he will make an end of the Jews.|
|Beginning of October||Strike of railroad workshop workers. Cessation of rail movement, post and telegraph services and strike in industrial plants. Anarchists-Communists" engage in expropriation.|
|October 17 and the days following||The Czar's manifesto is published regarding freedom of speech and assembly and the authority of the Duma. Joyous meetings. News of disturbances in various cities. A large meeting in Pinsk is dispersed for fear of the Kuban Cossacks. Defense organization again on alert. The Bund conducts propaganda against participation in elections for the Duma.|
|November 26||Two Zionist-Socialist members shot and wounded by a policeman.|
|December 11 19||General strike in the town and at the railroad workshops. A United Revolutionary Committee is created including the Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries and representatives of the railroad workers. The request of the Zionist Socialists to be included in the Committee is turned down.|
|December 16||An outdoor meeting in the marketplace at KarIin passes without incident.|
In this eventful year the workers made great gains. The workday was shortened, generally, to nine hours, and wages were apparently increased. However, even after December 18th (the day the armed uprisings in Moscow were put down) it was clear that the revolution had failed and all achievements would come to naught. It can be said that one of the results of this year of revolution was the further decline of the poorer classes and stagnation of the industrial development of the city.
Despite the great tensions during this year the Zionists continued their work. As the Seventh Zionist Congress approached, a propaganda campaign was waged in the city and its surroundings against the Uganda proposal and territorialism. For this purpose Ber Borochov was invited to the city. The city's Zionei Zion sold 600 shekalim; Poalei Zion, who were in favor of the Uganda proposal, sold 400 shekalim. Delegates from Pinsk went to the Zionist Conference in Minsk and later to the Congress. Hatehiyah -- a group of Zionist Socialist youth -- was organized in the city. 1905 was of special significance for Pinsk. It marked the end of the "quiet revolution" within Jewish society. The rich aristocracy lost its standing. Several of Lourié's sons even left the town. The year 1905 strengthened the secularization process which had begun in the previous generation. It can be said that the character of the city had become stabilized. It contained two camps -- the religious and the secular -- which reached a modus vivendi.
Despite this oppressive and reactionary regime there was quite an active public life. Major influence in the city passed to the Zionists. Zionists were elected as arbitrators in the Duma. At their initiative a girls' school was opened in 1908 called the "Leah Feigeles Schule", which was the first modern Jewish school in the city. As a result of the Zionist activity the threat of expulsion to Archangelsk hung over twenty-two Zionist leaders in 1911, but through strenuous efforts in Petersburg they were saved from this fate. In 1906 the Zionist youth movement "Hatehiyah" evolved its Zionist-Socialist program and even held a secret convention with representatives from many places. However, shortly thereafter the movement disintegrated. As World War I approached, Hebrew-speaking youth groups organized and youths immigrated to Israel to study at the Herzliyah Gymnasium and the agricultural school in Pelach Tikvah. A branch of Poalei Zion, founded by Ber Borochov, was organized in the town. In 1910 it had 50 members and its ranks grew rapidly. A branch of the Zionist Socialist Party (S.S.) continued to exist, though its membership dwindled. The Bund almost entirely disappeared, though its branch in Pinsk was one of the six Bund branches in the whole of Russia during the years 1909 - 10.
The workers lost almost all their gains of the revolutionary year. However, in the years approaching World War I their position improved. In almost all fields of occupation the work day was fixed at nine hours. In 1912 workers' insurance for sick days was established by law and the employers were required to participate in payments to this fund.
As of the l870's the number of Jewish students attending secular schools increased. There were two such schools -- the Primary School, whose principal was Horovitz and later Dronzik, and the "Real" School. During the l880's there were three boarding schools for girls, one under the directorship of Mrs. Waller, for Jewish girls, and two others, directed by non-Jews, which Jewish girls also attended. In the early 1890's a girls' high-school was opened under the direction of the Lubzninsky sisters.
A major change was evident in the direction of modernization in education leading to the introduction of secular subjects in the Talmudei Torah as well. The Russian language was taught in addition to mathematics, Bible, Hebrew language and literature.
At the initiative of the Zionists and with the active participation of Chaim Weizmann a Heder Methukan was opened in 1895. This school was revolutionary when compared with the traditional Heder with regard to teaching methods, subject matter and hygienic conditions. This Heder Methukan not only influenced the other Heders in the city, but was an example for the establishment of Hadarim Methukanim in many other places. It was strongly opposed by orthodox members of the community and for good reason. In 1900 a Heder Methukan of the "Hebrew through Hebrew" (Ivrith B'Ivrith) method was established which also had great influence on communities far from Pinsk. As mentioned above, in 1908 the girls' school founded by the Zionists was opened. It was aided by the "Society for the Promotion of the Enlightenment among the Jews in Russia". This school was nationalist in spirit. Hebrew subjects were taught 8 hours a week, whereas in schools of this kind in other cities such subjects were taught from 2-6 hours a week.
As a result of the numerus clausus which was put into effect in 1887 and by which only 10% of students admitted to the high-schools should be Jewish, many parents were forced to send their children to study in high schools -- mainly commercial schools --- in other cities. As a result an attempt was made to establish a commercial high-school, which by law would be able to accept Jewish students up to 40% of its student body. However, for some reason this school existed only a short time.
There was great activity in the field of vocational education, as well. Gad-Asher Levin was a pioneer in this field in the 1870's. In 1885 a trade school was opened as part of the Talmud Torahs of Karlin and Pinsk. In time this school became one of the outstanding trade schools, particularly after the purchase of a two-story building to house it. In 1900 a girls' trade school was opened to teach sewing.
Much was done in the field of adult education too. Along with the traditional study societies such as the Talmud and Mishnah Societies, etc., groups for broadening one's educational, spiritual and political horizons were organized in the 1890's, as well as classes in basic subjects of Jewish or general character. Upon the division of the Jewish community into various streams of thought and political parties the field of adult education became an instrument for influencing people ideologically. The various trends and parties devoted much effort to this education. During the period of reaction they reverted to secret meetings in private homes. In any event, there was an atmosphere of studiousness in the city.
The first sign which heralded a change in the way of life was the dropping of the traditional barriers between the sexes. Young men and women spending their free time together became a normal and frequent sight in the late 1890's. Girls left home -- some looking for better conditions because of financial problems, and some for purpose of study. Though an atmosphere of holiness pervaded the Sabbath, and the day was still ushered in by a blast on the siren in Lourié's factory, the left-oriented young men and women, or those who were more educated, were indifferent to religion and rejected it. It goes without saying that they did not observe the Sabbath on their Friday evening outings to the forests for their meetings. Those who studied in the "Real" High-School even wrote on the Sabbath, though no doubt some did so with great reluctance. The number of worshippers in the synagogues decreased. The synagogue ceased to be the center of public life. The new social groups erected their own club houses.
The process of Russification increased rapidly between 1905, the year of the Revolution, and the First World War. Interest in Russian literature and the Russian press was much greater than interest in Hebrew or Yiddish literature or in the Yiddish newspaper (a Hebrew newspaper had already ceased to exist in Russia). Entertainment became an integral part of life. Ballrooms were opened, a theater and many cinemas were built. Balls and parties were held. The place of the "Maggid" (preacher) was taken over by lecturers. Of course, not all the younger generation of the town joined this trend. There was still a large group of workers and craftsmen who clung to tradition, in addition to landlords and employers who kept the Torah's teachings and precepts.
Charity organizations which gave loans at no interest were established in Karlin in 1872 by the House of Lourié and related families, and in Pinsk, in the Linishches section, in 1882. Another such charity was established in 1887. In 1875 the Somekh NofeIim Veyofedoth Society was established giving aid to craftsmen and merchants who became poor, as well as to pregnant women. The Tomekh Aniyim, Aguddath Ahim, and Maskil el DaI Societies were established and anonymously aided the poor.
There were two Old Age homes in the city: one in Karlin, which was founded by Hayyah Lourié in the 1860's, and one in Pinsk, which was founded in the 1870's. An inn for poor travelers (Beth Hakhnassath Orhim was established in 1885, so that they would not be obliged to stay in the synagogues. In 1891, a cheap kitchen for poor was established.
In 1900 two large public societies were organized which aimed at amalgamating and consolidating the various welfare activities and institutions. One was the Jewish Charitable Society and the other was the Jewish Women's Charity Society. Thus women entered organized welfare activity. The women's society aided poor pregnant women and the sick and needy and established the Girls' Vocational School mentioned above.
Other societies were organized whose aim was not necessarily giving charity, but rather mutual aid. In 1892, the Fire Brigade was established, whose membership included non-Jews as well. Trade Unions were organized for specific trades. We know of the Shoemakers' Society, which aided old and weak shoemakers; Aguddath Ahim, which aided boat owners in time of need; Society for Business Assistants; and a Teachers' Society. These societies were the forerunners of the Trade Unions which were formed after the Manifest of October 17, 1905.
The allocation from the tax on meat (korobka) was one of the sources of income of the charity organizations.
The War began to be felt particularly when, in the summer of 1915, trains filled with thousands of wounded men arrived and thousands of refugees evacuated from the front lines began to flood the city. Young men and women volunteered to care for the wounded and the Jewish community authorities were concerned with caring for the refugees. Terror struck the city's Jews when government institutions began evacuating Pinsk. There was great fear that the Cossacks would set fire to the whole city. These fears were well founded, for in the wake of their retreat the Russian Army pillaged and plundered Jewish homes, burned the oil storage tanks, the alcohol factory, the railroad workshops and other places.
The German advance guard entered the city on the eve of Yom Kippur, 5676 (1915). To the city's great misfortune and the misfortune of the entire area, the German advance was halted and the front was re-established along the Pina River and its tributaries -- the Styr and Strumen south and south-east of the city -- and the outlet of the Yaselda into the Pina and the Oginski Canal. In this way Pinsk was surrounded on almost three sides by positions of the Russian Army. The Germans treated the city and all the area west of it as military territory. The city was fenced in by barbed-wire and a curfew was enforced. Their treatment of the inhabitants was practically that of prisoners of war. However, their treatment of the Jews was slightly better than that meted out to the city's Russian inhabitants and the Polishuks in the surrounding villages. The Russians and Polishuks were regarded as hostile elements, while the Jews were not. The Pravoslavs were expelled from the city during the first weeks after its capture. The churches were desecrated and pictures of the saints were thrown into the cowsheds and stables, while, generally, the synagogues were not touched.
The German tyranny made itself felt. One had to remove one's hat when meeting an officer and get out of his way. Disobedience to these rules brought with it arrest and whip-lashings. On the other hand, Jews were permitted to pray on religious holidays even after the curfew hour, to carry on studies in schools and to organize evening classes, lectures and celebrations (of course, not at night). There were even occasions when the Army Orchestra gave concerts for the civilian -- meaning the Jewish population.
As a result of the city's isolation from the world commercial life was almost at a standstill. Savings dwindled rapidly. The price of food skyrocketed because the Germans confiscated all the food supplies immediately upon their invasion, and in the succeeding years they took over the grain fields belonging to the landed gentry. They also forced the farmers to turn over part of their crop to them. All the produce which the Germans accumulated was sent to Germany. The city's inhabitants were given rations of flour or bread -- about 100 grams a day, potatoes, and several other products. In this respect, as in others; they dealt with Pinsk and the towns in the neighborhood on principle as did the Nazis with the Jews in the ghettoes during the Second World War. The allocations given were not enough to subsist on. In addition one was forbidden to acquire grain -- if it could be acquired -- from the area's farmers. Only at great risk did a few daring and enterprising souls slip some grains of rye and the like into the city. It goes without saying that under such conditions black marketeering was rampant. As a result families had to make do with their rations and in order to overcome their hunger baked their bread with various combinations: with potatoes, potato peels, or livestock feed. They ate all grass that was edible. The situation was especially difficult in the winter and spring seasons, due to the lack of fire-wood. During the summers and autumns the situation was slightly alleviated. People who owned empty lots turned them into vegetable gardens. The German authorities encouraged this by supplying seeds. There were even those who received a plot of land near the city for growing potatoes. It can be said that only the blackmarketeers and those who were able to buy on the black market despite the high prices did not suffer hunger. At first those who were acquainted with German soldiers did not suffer hunger either, since the soldiers supplied them with bread and marmalade from their canteens.
As early as 1915 - 16 there were people who could not survive due to malnutrition, and this was reflected in the increased death rate during the winter of 1916 - 17. From 7 - 12 persons died each day out of a Jewish population which numbered about 9,000 at that time. The situation could have been much worse had the Germans not evacuated over 9,000 people from February to May to the interior of Poland, and had the opportunity not been given the following year to those who so wished, to move to the towns and villages west of Pinsk, where there were many houses abandoned by owners who had fled to Russia on the eve of the German occupation. It should be noted that while those sent to the Polish interior were subjected to great suffering, no less than of people remaining in Pinsk, those who moved to the surroundings of Pinsk found a refuge. There is no doubt that the city would have been emptied of its Jewish inhabitants were the Germans not interested in them as a work force. As early as the first weeks of the occupation the German authorities began to force the town's young men to work in the town itself cleaning the streets and repairing the highways. But it was not long before all males between the ages of 17 - 43 were required to work and, in actual fact, even males who were younger or older were made to work. The work force was utilized for the German war effort, clearing forests whose trees were used in building trenches or being sent to some destination in Germany. There were those employed in rendering services to officers and soldiers. Builders, carpenters, locksmiths and the like were employed in the Engineering Corps. During the harvest season young men and women were put to work in the fields. Girls were mercilessly taken for weeks on end to the farms to pick potatoes. The townspeople resented this but their protests were of no avail. The salaries paid by the Germans were meager, fluctuating between 80 pfenning and 1.80 mark a day. However, under the conditions prevailing in the city even this salary, and more important, the bread, food and wood given the workers in the forests to take home with them, was a measure of relief.
The Germans confiscated all metal objects, leather (both processed and unprocessed), paper, woven material, and gold coins which they acquired in return for permits to leave the city, or other concessions. They established a civilian framework in the form of a Citizens' Committee and a civilian police force, through which they could carry out all their orders and plans. The Citizens' Committee was responsible for the distribution of the "starvation rations" and in charge of the evacuation of the population and forced labor. The police had to carry out their orders either on their own or in collaboration with the German command. It should be pointed out that the police in Pinsk were of a low moral standard, even though they were not required to put themselves into life and death situations and were never placed in the position of the police and the "Judenraten" in the ghettoes, for example.
The people walking the streets of the city on empty stomachs became indifferent to the suffering of others, and conscience was soon stilled. Bread blackmarketeers acquired fortunes. There were girls who gave themselves to the German soldiers. On the other hand an exemplary idealism was revealed in the youth, particularly the Zionist youth. They did not allow themselves to sink into the ugliness of life. They organized evening classes and lectures on the Sabbath, celebrations, etc. There were also women who occupied themselves in service to the poor and who established a "Society for Aid to the Sick and Needy."
Despite the fact that the city was often bombarded by Russian cannon and people were killed or wounded, the primary concern was for the children's education, even though studies could obviously not be orderly or organized. In the Girls' School, called the Leah Feigeles Schule", classes were held during the entire period. Scholars and teachers, both men and women, from time to time, opened Heders or schools. Not all of them lasted for any length of time, and there were periods when children roamed the streets with no school to go to. Rabbi Aharon Begun is remembered as having gathered together a group of young boys and taught them Talmud. Some of the leading public figures in Pinsk established a Children's Home (Kinder Heim) for poor children in 1916 and were responsible for their feeding, clothing and education. This home was supported in part by the Citizens' Committee. The Committee also supported the Leah Feigeles School and the Talmud Torah of Pinsk. The Citizens' Committee had a certain income from the direct tax which was levied by the German authorities almost from the beginning of the occupation, as well as other income which carne close to 30,000 mark a month. With this income it managed the city's affairs, supported hospitals, several educational institutions, an old age home, public kitchens, and paid the salaries of the clerks employed by the Committee as well as the salaries of the police, fire brigade and others. It goes without saying that its aid to welfare and educational institutions was negligible even though half its budget went to these causes.
Upon the failure of the attack launched by the Kerensky government and after the German invasion of the Ukraine the situation in the city was somewhat alleviated and the fear of bombardment faded. Trade with Poland picked up and with the renewal of rail travel to the Ukraine trade resumed with this part of the country as well. However, after two months all importing and exporting was banned in Pinsk. Only the daring succeeded in doing business or in fleeing the city to the Ukraine, for example to Kiev. Forced labor continued until November 1918, up to the revolution in Germany and the Armistice that came in its wake. The Germans stepped up the clearing of forests and the transfer of the wood to Germany and continued to starve the civilian population with the food rations they gave while transferring most of the crops grown in the region to Germany. The problem of nutrition was somewhat alleviated since the city now was not sealed off as tightly as it had been before. However, only a small number of people had the means with which to buy food on the black market. The problem of hunger and poverty grew when, in the autumn of 1918, those who had been expelled from the city in 1916 began returning. They returned because of Polish pressure and were entirely without possessions and means. It seems that they did not receive bread ration-books from the German command because the Germans wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility for feeding the civilian population. They claimed that this was the Ukrainian government's responsibility, since Pinsk belonged to the Ukraine, according to the Peace Agreement signed in Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. However, when a delegation from the Citizens' Committee to the Ukrainian government in Kiev did not succeed in settling this matter the Germans had no choice but to continue with issuing the food rations. In order to decrease the number of people they had to feed, the German command devised a new scheme. They began to take back the ration books from those families with members who had evaded forced labor. There were many who had slipped away and fled to the Ukraine.
Hopes for a new life were raised with the Armistice in November 1918. Forced labor ceased. The curfew was lifted. Public and political life burst forth anew with great spirit. Cooperatives for the purchase of foodstuffs were organized. With the permission of the Ukrainians the General Zionists and the Zeirei Zion opened a Meeting Hall (Beth Haam). There was great interest in the activities of the political parties. The Balfour Declaration on the one hand and the Bolshevik Revolution on the other raised hopes among the youth of a "world which would be entirely good". Travel to and from the city was unimpeded. People with initiative carried out business dealings with the Germans. The Germans brought rail cars full or goods from the Ukraine and since the Poles blocked their way to Germany they sold them cheaply.
On December 5, 1918 authority in the city passed from the hands of the German Command to the Ukrainians. By agreement between the two sides the Germans were allowed to remain in the city with certain rights. The condominium between the Germans and the Ukrainians lasted about six weeks. On January 22, 1919 the Red Army began to attack the city and took it three days later. The dreams of a new world beating in the hearts of the young while they worked in the forests for the Germans seemed to be becoming a reality. The left wing parties greeted the Red Army with joyous demonstrations at which red flags were waved on high. Even the Zeirei Zion party joined the parade, though alongside the red flag they waved the Jewish national flag. The Communist government did not manage to consolidate its rule in the city. Commissars changed frequently. Immediately upon the capture of the city a Revolutionary Committee was established (Revcom). Later authority by councils was established and another Revcom was established. It seems as though several Jews were members of the local institutions of authority. But it should be noted that their number was small and about an equal number of members were Poles. Important changes did not occur, but economic life was again disrupted, the price of bread jumped again, rations were not distributed for several months and it seems that the lot of the poor worsened. In order to alleviate the suffering from hunger a low-priced kitchen was opened.
On March 5, 1919 the city fell to the Poles. The new rulers were outright anti-Semites and from the moment of their invasion they began robbing and murdering. Even according to the report given by the mother of the Catholic priest Bukraba the Polish soldiers allowed themselves a "great deal" on the first night. The anti-Semites added another argument in their treatment of the Jews: that the Jews were Bolsheviks. And again, to the great misfortune of the city's Jews, the Polish advance was halted not far from Pinsk. Robberies and abuses continued for weeks. There was fear of going out of the houses into the street since many times the Poles stripped those they encountered of their clothes and shoes with the excuse that these were the clothes of the Germans and all German property belonged to the Poles. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that Barukh Zuckerman, who came to the city at the beginning of April 1919 as a representative of Joint, was shocked at the sight of the poverty, hunger and suffering of many of the city's inhabitants. However, during the second half of February that same year shipments of flour that the U.S.A. donated to Poland began arriving in Pinsk. It seems, though, that only several Jewish educational institutions received this flour. Under order of the Polish command the management of the city was set up under 8 Poles, 2 Russians and 2 Jews, despite the fact that the Jews constituted the great majority of its population. It goes without saying that such a municipality was more concerned with the welfare of the Poles in the city than with anyone else.
A faint glimmer of hope was raised with the arrival of aid from the U.S.A. This aid came through the services of Rikwert, the emissary of the Zionist Organization in Warsaw, and through the services of Barukh Zuckerman, the emissary of the Joint. But this glimmer faded with the murderous act carried our by the military command on Saturday evening the 5th of Nissan, April 5, 1919.
At the Beth Haam a meeting was being held with the approval of the authorities. Some 50 people were forcibly removed from this meeting while being beaten and on the way other people were caught and added to this group. They were led to a wall near the Catholic Church and there 34 of them were shot (one had been shot previously) and the rest were thrown into prison where they were beaten with utmost cruelty -- even the women among them. They, too, were destined to be shot. They were led to the grave of the 34 and were ordered to open it, recite the "confession" and to be prepared but they were saved at the last moment. This murder was a shock to the Jewish community and the Jewish and non-Jewish leadership in Western Europe and particularly the U.S.A. The event became a symbol of the position of the Jews in Poland, the country that was reborn. Protest meetings were held in New York and other cities in the U.S.A. and England. The Jewish press in Poland, England and America cried out against it. Questions regarding this situation were asked in the British Parliament and letters were sent to the Secretary of State in Washington. Jewish leaders, both Zionist and non-Zionist, dedicated themselves to widespread political activity and pressed their governments to bring about an end to the pogroms in Poland. Various commissions were sent to inspect the situation (the Morgenthau Commission, the Samuel Commission and the International-Socialist Commission).
The serious situation in the city continued until the end of the summer. By then the Polish authorities could not disregard Western European and American public opinion and particularly the intervention of these governments on whose good graces Poland was dependent for the fixing of her borders, her acceptance into the League of Nations and for material aid. In July of 1919 the Polish advance into the Ukraine began and with the war front being pushed away from Pinsk abuse of the Jews by the Polish soldiers ceased. In July the Joint resumed its aid to the city and money began to flow in from relatives in the U.S.A. Pinsk emigrants in New York organized the Pinsker Joint People's Relief, and emissaries were sent to Pinsk for the purpose of transferring money and moving families from Pinsk to America. The economy began to pick up. Educational and welfare institutions were rehabilitated and new ones were established. However, this trend towards rehabilitation was halted by the second invasion of the Red Army on July 26, 1920. This time the Communist authorities established themselves with full speed and vigor. The Bolsheviks hoped that their rule would not be transitory as the last time. They attacked Warsaw and were certain that the Communist revolution would spread to all of Europe. The revolutionary spirit took hold among the city's youth, both those who were members of the left-wing parties and those who were not. There were those who aided in the building of the revolutionary world as clerks, militia members and the like, though they had no ideas as to what the nature of this new world would be. However, the Bund members were not trusted by the Commissars and were not given the opportunity to hold positions in the new regime. It goes without saying that there was great disorder in economic life, trade ceased, merchandise was confiscated, including foodstuffs. Houses and furniture were confiscated. The introduction of the new Ruble led to a rise in the price of bread. Vicious propaganda was waged against the bourgeoisie, religion, Zionism and the Hebrew language.
Hardly two months had passed before new violence broke out. On Sukkoth Eve, September 27, 1920, the city fell to the Balakhovich soldiery, the White Russians who helped the Poles. The night of Sukkoth was one of great terror in the city. Cries for help were heard from every direction. The Balakhovich Army looted, killed 11 peop1e and raped many women. There was almost no house which the pogrom did not hit. It lasted three days, and only the day after it ended did the Polish Army enter the city. The acts of murder that the Balakhovich bands committed near the city, in the surrounding towns and villages make one's hair stand on end. According to estimates some 1,000 persons were murdered with great brutality. Those who remained fled to the city and were in a state of severe shock following the horrors they had witnessed. The city's leaders were now faced with the task of saving those remnants of the population who were hiding in the forests and swamps and bringing them to the city so as not to let them die of starvation and illness, even though the city's Jews themselves had suffered from looting and were in need of help from the outside. One of the city's finest men, the teacher Avraham Asher Feinstein, described and immortalized this tragic period in his book Megillath Puranuyoth". Aid again arrived from the Joint. Part of the money allocated by the Joint was used for the refugees whose numbers reached 2,000. A regional orphanage was established for those children who were orphaned, in addition to the two orphanages previously established for the city's orphans. By March 1921 all the refugees had been returned to their homes through the aid of the Joint.
The aid was channeled in an orderly fashion mainly to educational and welfare institutions. In February of 1921 Yosef Brin, an emissary of the Chicago Pinsk emigrants arrived in Pinsk, bringing with him more than $ 150,000 sent by relatives in America, as well a some $ 12,000 sent for community needs. On July I, 1921 the Joint decreased its support of the city's institutions and aid was forthcoming only to the orphanages and health institutions. 0rt and Ica undertook the support of the two trade schools -- one the Trade School for Boys which re-opened under the name Technical School and was under the auspices of the General Zionists, and the other the Girls' Trade School, which was under the auspices of the Bund.
The Jewish community of Pinsk now had to conduct its own affairs. The large-scale aid received by private people and public officials from America made this possible. This aid reached, according to estimates, the sum of 3/4 million dollars from April 1919 to July 1, 1921. Former Pinsk residents in U.S.A. could justly paraphrase the words of Joseph to his brothers and apply them to their people in the home-town: "For God did send me before you to America to preserve life.
However, despite the poor economic situation people kept themselves going, even during the great crises of 1924 - 26 and 1930 - 35. Many families lived a life of poverty, but there were no deaths from starvation. A combination of several factors enabled the minimal existence of poor families and impoverished property owners. Money was sent from relatives in America. Volunteers came forward who were willing to work for the public good, some of whom had administrative ability. This organized mutual aid actively involved a large part of the city's population. The impetus came from the Joint. Through its financial aid a Mutual Credit Bank for small merchants and craftsmen was established in 1922. Thus people who had no capital of their own could operate their businesses and workshops. During the Crisis of 1924 - 26 the merchants formed a Mercantile and Industrial Bank with capital collected from outside sources with the help of Bernhard Halpern. The activities of the Beth GemiIuth Hasadim were renewed and another such institution was established. These institutions gave interest free loans and helped many of the needy -- storekeepers and craftsmen. The Linath Tsedek Society which gave medical aid to its members, was reinstituted. A branch of the Toz Society was opened which was responsible for the children's health and at times gave meals to poor children in the schools. Toz also established a Baby Clinic which cared for the health of infants. However, this clinic was not maintained by the local people. It was supported by the Warsaw branch of Toz, just as the Orphans' Home was supported from other places and just as the two trade schools for boys and girls were supported by Ica. The hospitals were reorganized. As the Second World War approached they were merged into one large hospital by the Jewish community, which was officially established in 1928. Two Old Age homes also existed. There were people in the city who were active in community aid voluntarily and with devotion. New faces were seen among the community's leadership. Among these were young people who had spent the years of the German occupation in forced labor in the forests, and people who came from outside Pinsk and worked as doctors, teachers and lawyers. The women's role in community activity grew. They were mainly responsible for the Orphanage and active in the organization of balls whose proceeds went to welfare institutions. During the years of the great crisis 1930 - 35 the city government supported the unemployed, the Orphanage and the Old Age Homes.
The political situation was greatly alleviated when compared to the years of the Czarist regime. The Jews became full citizens of Poland with equal rights, at least according to the Constitution. Poland even promised the League of Nations to recognize the rights of her national minority groups. However the chauvinist anti-Semitic policies of the government deprived the Jews of their rights to a great extent. This discrimination was strongly felt in Pinsk. Despite the fact that it was a Jewish city for the most part, the city's mayor was a Pole and, until 1927, the city was run by an administrative body appointed by the Polish authorities. The city council included only two Jews and they, too, were appointed by the Polish authorities. When the City Council was democratically elected, and the Jews became the large majority of its members (20 out of 25), they still did not have a decisive influence in the management of the city. The Polish authorities prevented this in every way. Moreover, the Polish authorities devised schemes by which to reduce the number of Jews on the Council, until finally, in 1939, it had only five Jewish members.
The only right in which the Jews enjoyed complete freedom was the right to form trade unions and political parties (excluding the Communists who were mercilessly persecuted). Political life in the city was very active, particularly during elections, whether they were for the Sejm (Parliament), the municipality or the Jewish community. The city's political parties ran the whole spectrum of Jewish political thought -- General Zionists, Revisionists (as of 1929), Zeirei Zion (and after their merger with the rightist Poalei Zion, Poalei Zion -- Z.S.), leftists Poalei Zion, the Bund, the Communists, who were active as an underground movement, and the religious parties Mizrahi and Agudath Yisrael. And this was not all. Pinsk became the center of all the parties in the Polesia region. The conventions held by the various parties in Polesia took place in Pinsk and it was from this city that the directives for the parties went out to all the surrounding towns. The Zionist and Zionist Socialist youth movements were particularly active: Hashomer Hatsair, Hanoar Haleumi, ISAI (Jewish Socialist Labor Youth), Beithar, and Hehaluts which was divided into the General Hehaluts, under the auspices of Poalei Zion (Z.S.), Central Hehaluts, with the General Zionist ideology, and Religious Hehaluts. From the early 1930's there were also Hakhsharah farms, where youths were trained in agriculture, manual labor and collective living in preparation for their emigration to Palestine. Alongside these youth organizations were the youth groups of the Bund (Zukunft) and the Borokhov youth of the leftist Poalei Zion Party. But they were few in number and their activities were on a small scale. It seems that despite the fact that these two parties were very strong in Pinsk the children of their members did not adopt the parents' ideology and did not see it as a solution to the question of their future. There were those among the leadership of the youth movements who went on to hold important positions in the leadership of their movements in Poland and Palestine. Some of these were Hershl Pinski (who died in an accident in 1935), who was one of the central spokesmen for the Mapai Party (Israel Labor Party) and Hayyim Gevati and Moshe Kol, who are Ministers in the Government of Israel. Those members of the Zionist Socialist youth movements of Pinsk who immigrated to Israel established a project which was not equaled by immigrants from any other city. They established a kevutsah, Gevath, in 1926, as a memorial to the thirty-five who were killed by the Polish brutes on April 5. 1919.
Despite the poor economic situation Pinsk's educational institutions were exemplary. The educational institutions followed the various ideological streams since each party found it necessary to maintain at least one school of its own, though they did not always have the means to do so. However, the extraordinary idealism of the teachers and educators overcame all material obstacles. Poor children found a ray of happiness in the schools and the orphanages. Education's crowning glory was the Hebrew High-School, Tarbuth, which was established by the General Zionists. It seems that this school was the best among the seven Hebrew High-Schools which existed in the whole of Poland. The vocational schools for boys and girls were of a high standard. Evening classes, courses, lectures, sport organizations existed in the city during the entire period. At various times there even existed a People's University". In 1927 a weekly called the Pinsker Shtyme began to be published and later two more weeklies appeared -- the Pinsker Zeitung (originally called Pinsker Vokh) and the Pinsker Vort. All this in a Jewish community which numbered slightly more than 20,000.
From the middle 1930's anti-Semitism in Poland increased. In Pinsk, too, the Poles attempted to establish Polish businesses in order to push the Jews out of the city's economic life. Anti-Semitic students who came from outside the city plotted attacks against the Jews. However neither of these attempts succeeded. The Polish businesses could not compete with the Jewish ones and the Jewish youth knew how to silence the Polish hooligans and caused them to flee the city.
In the midst of this struggle for survival the Jews of Pinsk came face to face with the tragedy of the Holocaust.
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