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[Page 35]


The community

Shlomo Zandweis (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Rokitno was not a community by itself. It originally belonged to the Sarny Community, which included several villages and towns in the area. The Jewish population there numbered 17-18, 000 people, among them 3,500 in Rokitno. In accordance with the electoral laws, which were published in the official gazette of the Polish government (Dziennik Ustaw) of 1924, the right to vote was granted to all males over 25 (women were not allowed to vote). When elections were announced a council of 14 was chosen, headed by Moshe Tartakovsky. In addition, there were sub-committees in the communities which were part of Sarny. The first elections were held in the fall of 1927.

The president was Mendel Kercher from Rokitno. He also served for many years as a member of the Administrative Committee of Rokitno. He was a dedicated community worker. He was even active in Slichetz-Lodiopol. He was a bright Jew who defended Jewish interests and knew how to reply to accuser and prosecutor alike. All this was done with wisdom and wit. The alternate head was Noah Perlstein from Sarny. The Chairman of the Council was Moshe Pikman and the Rabbi of the community was Nahum Pechnik from Dombrovitz. The secretary was Moshe Gotlieb from Dombrovitz.

Until 1932 there was almost no activity in the community. The Rabbi opened an office for the registration of marriages, births and deaths. The community, including the Rabbinate, had its headquarters in the home of the widow of the late Rabbi Yosef Pechnik.

As of 1932 the position of secretary was that of yours truly, the author of this article. From that year on, the community council began various activities. The government demanded that the community control all matters of slaughtering, synagogues, ritual baths and other public buildings. After 4 years, the term of office of the first council ended and new elections were announced.

All Zionist organizations participated in the election committee. The Chairman was Shmarayahu Gershonok. Lists of candidates were drawn from all the towns and all levels of society. The public participated eagerly. The following Rokitners were elected to the second council - Mendel Kercher, the teacher Mordecai Gendelman and Yehoshua Gitelman. The chairman of the Executive Committee was Yakov Liberson and his alternate was Shmaryahu Gershonok. The chairman of the council was David Birg and his alternate was Binyamin Kanterowich. According to the regulations of the community, the Rabbi was a member of the administration. The Rabbi was a Zionist and even the extremists among the Hassidim never objected to any proposals regarding any funds, aliyah or any other Zionist purposes.

A budget of about 30,000 zloty was approved (in 1938-39 the budget reached 80,000 zloty). The funds and the supervision of expenses and income were in trustworthy hands. The treasurer was Avraham Binder, an honest man and devoted community worker. He watched over every penny of public money and presented the ledgers in an orderly manner. The collector and supervisor was Motl Levin who fulfilled his task loyally. The teacher Mordecai Gendelman, a cultured man, conducted all public business with honesty and integrity.

In matters that required the seal of approval of the majority of the citizens, e.g. -community taxes, charitable distributions to the needy, etc. - the representatives of the council invited the important property owners and community workers of Rokitno. Among them were Rabbi Damata, Moshe Lifshitz, Shimon Zaltzbuch, Moshe Freierman, Avraham Golod, Avraham Levin, Hershel Shteinman, Moshe-Zelig Shulman, the pharmacist brothers Noah and Yakov Soltzman, Betzalel Kokel, Shimon Gendelman, Leibel Gitelman, Leivik Rotman, Yosef-Haim Baum (representative of the tradesmen union) and others.

The income was produced, mainly, from ritual slaughtering. The community received 20% and the Shohet the remaining 80%. In Rokitno, the ritual slaughterers were Yoel Shwartzberg and Issachar Trigun. There were other non-official slaughterers, who were not recognized by the Rabbinate for good reasons.

Even in Rokitno the slaughterers had a competitor - an illegal one. He was Rabbi Asher Eisenberg, from Blezhov. He claimed that most of the Jews from Blezhov and Brezov had moved to Rokitno and he lost his means of earning a living. The Rabbinate, other slaughterers and the community representatives did not recognize him. There were many heated discussions, but in the long run, nothing was done to him because the other slaughterers did not wish to hurt him. Who among us does not remember Rabbi Issachar Trigun, a bright, intelligent Jew? He had a noble spirit. He was a scholar and an honest man. He was pious and spoke beautifully. It was always a delight to be with him and to listen to his words of wisdom.

The Shohet and Bodek Rabbi Yoel Shwartzberg was an honest and wonderful person. There was no one better. He never caused any unhappiness to another human being and, as it is said, would not even hurt a fly. And last, but not least, the late Rabbi Aharon Shames. He was a spiritual leader not only in Rokitno but also in the surrounding area. He was known as a patient and kind man, a lover of and pursuer of peace. Would these kind Jews hurt another Jew? This is why the slaughterer from Blezhov was able to continue his work and the community was not shamed.

Other income came from the registration of marriages, divorces, births and deaths, sales of cemetery plots and gravestones. The expenses for payments for guards were covered by the community.

Another source of income towards the community budget was membership dues - or as it was called “Kehila etat” - dues established by the state, as it were. The income was used, except for administrative expenses, for the following purposes:
  1. All Rabbis (in addition to the community Rabbi, who received a monthly salary) were given an annual assistance of 600 zloty. They were also reimbursed for the birth registration books, which they had to hand in. The Rabbis were: Kunda Vahman from Sarny, Nahum Pechnik and Yakov Zalcman from Dombrovitz, Aharon Shames from Rokitno, Moshe Naidich and Bakun from Brezhnitz.
  2. In the winter, all the schools, religious yeshivas, Ort and other educational institutions were given food and warm milk in addition to the regular monetary subsidy. Weak and needy children were also given fish oil as prescribed by the doctor.
  3. All charitable organizations, as for example, “Bread for the Poor”, “Orphans Home”, etc. were given funds.
  4. Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod were allotted annual amounts.
  5. A specific sum was set aside for the pioneers who were to make aliyah and who needed assistance to cover their expenses. Officially the funds were designated as help for immigrants.
  6. Twice a year, on specific holidays, the community opened soup kitchens for the Jewish soldiers in the local army units. When it came to religious matters, the community was in contact with the Chief Army Rabbi of the Lublin district - Captain Raab. He visited Sarny once or twice a year and conducted a service for the soldiers in the Great Synagogue. He also sent copies of all regulations regarding religion, Shabbat and other holidays.

The community had a special fund for needy families who did not want to contact “Bread for the Poor”, sick people who had to be transported to Warsaw. Those who had tuberculosis were taken to Otvortzek or to sanatoriums in other locations. All the expenses were carefully supervised by a committee. All the members of the council and the administration were well-known community workers who volunteered their service.

Usually, all matters were handled in an orderly, responsible, and cooperative manner. At times, difficulties would arise which would cause discussions and lively meetings. In Dombrovitza, for instance, there was a debate about a resident who was an illegal slaughterer. On the other hand, Rokitno did not cause any difficulties and everything ran smoothly. The reason for this was that the economic situation of the majority of the Jews of Rokitno was satisfactory. There were no really wealthy people, but everyone made a living because there were good opportunities locally.

So continued the life of the Rokitno community in peace and quiet and with great respect, love of Israel and a love of fellow human beings, until the beasts who pretended to be humans came - the German Nazis, may they be obliterated. They desecrated our Temple and trampled on the honor of human beings. They looted our homes and on that terrible day, 14 Elul 1942, men, women and children were massacred and buried in place. May G-d avenge their deaths and may they be remembered forever.

[Page 38]

The economy of Rokitno

Natan Gendelman - Tel Aviv

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Rokitno was a city well situated. There were no millionaires, but everyone made a living. The main reason for this was the fact that there were many villages in the area and they had economic ties with Rokitno. Many villagers came to market in Rokitno and also bought their necessities there. This afforded an income to many Jewish families.

As in many other towns and villages, commerce in Rokitno was extremely important. Storeowners left an indelible stamp on the economy of the town. There were many different stores and they supplied all needs.

Among the stores and businesses that I remember are: the dry goods store of Leibel Gitelman and Avraham Grinshpan in partnership with Haikel Kleinman, grocery stores of Moshe Lifshitz, Motel Kremer, Levi Grinshpan and others.

Building supplies stores belonged to Shimon Gendelman and Avraham Sliep and the glass store was owned by Betzalel Kokel. The stationery stores were run by Avraham Schwartz and Lipa Shpilman. Bakeries were those of Leivik Rotman, Eidelman and Garber.

Storekeeping was only one branch of the economy of Rokitno. The geological make-up of the soil of Rokitno and the surrounding area allowed for the development of several manufacturing plants. The soil in Ostoki was rich in clay - good for the production of building bricks. The Jews took advantage of these natural resources and built plants for the production of bricks. This raw material was mixed with other ingredients. The work was primitive and the machines were powered by horses. The largest brick factory in Ostoki was owned by Klein. The general manager was Haim Torok. There were 200 workers, mostly Poles. The second largest brick factory was owned by Shimon Gendelman and Shpilman.

These factories helped many Jews in Ostoki and Rokitno to earn a living. Payment was made with coupons, which were traded for needed items at the stores. There were always outsiders working there as laborers, clerks, traders and wagon drivers and this created the hotel and restaurant industry in Ostoki and Rokitno.

Our area was rich in stone quarries. The best-known quarry was in Mochilenka, owned by Taras Borovitz. During the German occupation, he led in the destruction of the Jews in Rokitno and the surrounding area. However, during the times before the slaughterers came on the scene, he was quite friendly with the Jews and dealt with them in business. He bought drills, bits for the drills, and blasting materials from the Jewish stores in Rokitno.

Market Day

The quarry owners in the area were mostly Jews from Warsaw. One was owned by Frantz, a Jew from Rokitno. The foreman was Berkman. They looked after transport, ordered railway cars for the stones and supervised the loading.

This was an important source of livelihood for many Jews. However, there were no quarry laborers among the Jews.

The transport of the goods from the trains to the stores was, in general, in the hands of “Volksdeutsch”(German Poles), but there was among them one Jewish wagon driver, called Moshe Shaintuh. He worked hard for his wages.

The sawmills contributed greatly to the economy of the Jews of Rokitno. There was a large sawmill near the railway. Its managers were Jews, among them the three Golubovitz brothers. Many Jews worked there in all stages of production. Among them were experts in lumber. There was another sawmill in Rokitno owned by Persitz. In Ostoki, there was also a large sawmill owned by Berezovsky and many Jews worked there. When the preparatory kibbutz was founded in Rokitno, many of its pioneers worked in those sawmills.

There was also a large agricultural settlement in Rokitno, owned by Shulman. The work was primitive. The wheat was thrashed with sticks, as in biblical times of Gideon. Eventually, machinery replaced the sticks as industrialization reached Rokitno.

There were two factories for soda and lemonade. One was owned by Strelovsky. Rokitno was, to an extent, an “international” town, as businessmen from many European countries came there for lumber. Also, many firms had agencies in town. The hotel industry developed. There were two large hotels in Rokitno. One belonged to Aharon Litvak and the other to Moshe Katz on Kostushko Street. The first inn was owned by Sheftel Levin. These hotels served as a meeting place for lumber traders and some important business deals took place there. This helped in the economic development of the town.

Even the two cinemas in town were owned by Jews. At first, there was a cinema in the area near the glass factory. Later, a new cinema named “Apollo” was built. The concessionaire was a goy and he sold it to Moshe Freierman.

There was a Jewish partnership in the large flourmill, which also included a textile mill that produced coarse cloth for the villagers. An important source of income was market day, which occurred twice a month- on the 5th and on the 18th.

There were Jews whose sole source of income came from market day. They bargained over their goods, which contained farm tools, clothes and building supplies.

On market days many villagers would gather to spend their considerable income. The farmer who had money in his pocket on that day would “invest” in liquor, which he would down in large quantities. He would also buy clothes and shoes for himself and his family. However, the market day also served as a day of hatred and fear - a day when the Jews were attacked. Near the market square there was a restaurant for the Polish porters, who were infamous hooligans. When they drank, their hidden hatred of Jews would be revealed and they would attack.

In the last years before the Holocaust the economic situation of the Jews in Rokitno worsened. Poles opened stores and anti-Semitic propaganda, rampant among the non-Jews, was successful in stopping them from trading with Jews. This boycott caused the Jews to lose their means of earning a living.

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