by Ben-Zion Lapp
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
On a hill, near the ., stood the old and large synagogue. In the summer you could see through the open windows of the synagogue, Fishl the tailor, standing and holding a Gemara in his hand and singing such beautiful and melodious tunes. You could also see Moishe the Blacksmith asking a question to the Rabbi Israel Bratanitski and he shows him with his finger in the Gemara, while deep in thought, looking at the stars and stroking his beard.
Because of Podbrodz's beautiful and rich nature, it became a very well known summer vacation spot in Poland. In the summertime (before the first World War), thousands of summer residents arrived here, even from St. Petersburg and Riga. In and around the nearby woods, beautiful and modern pensions were built. Amongst those of the providers were the blacksmiths, the bakers, the fishermen, the haberdasheries, and others.
Besides this, there were other summer homes built in the woods, which were rented out either for a month or a week. The revenue alone from these summer homes(Dachas) would provide income in addition to all products which had to be provided. These summer rentals would provide a very good income for the shtetl folk. Butchers would deliver meat to these summer homes, Bakers-breads and other baked goods, storekeepers-others necessary articles, peasants-fruit and vegetables, handworkers would come to repair clothes, shoes and other things. Shopkeepers would bring eggs and poultry, butter and cheese, .Many families earned a living from this.
In the summer evenings you could hear music, singing and other sounds coming from these summer homes.
Most important, the coffee-house of Shapira was packed, where you would eat Marozhina (ice cream).
The summer residents would often make outings to the green and yellow lake, which was located several kilometers from the shtetl. There they would spend their leisure time fishing. Even from these excursions, many Jews earned a living.
A second and noteworthy way of earning a living, came from the Military Barracks that encircled the shtetl. About 8 kilometers from the shtetl was a large Military fortification, which until 1914 was named: Alexanderovitch fortification. Everyone came from near and far, as this was the largest Military fortification in Russia.
A lot of Jews did business there, stalls made from wooden boards, food stores, restaurants and other things. Also, the handworkers from the shtetl came to the fortification: like watchmakers, shoemakers, barbers, and others.
This produced great envy amongst the non- Jewish population and an order was given forbidding the Jews to provide any kind of service to the Military. The shtetl Jews immediately found an answer to this disaster. They sought out friendly Christians and immediately resumed their business using their names.
After the first World War a military base still remained there and the Jews were still the main suppliers of meat and bread.
Before the first World War The Bund in our town played an important role about the political and way of life.
Quite often speakers would come to meet in our shtetl in someone's home, in the summertime they would conduct these meeting in the nearby woods.
In those days there was also a Jewish library in our shtetl, many books were scattered throughout the homes of our shtetl.
When pogroms against the Jews broke out in Russia, this also had an impact on the Gentile population of our shtetl and in Podbrodz the atmosphere was also hostile. The Jewish youth found out about this and organized a counter attack. They immediately raised money and bought revolvers, iron capsules with explosives, and placed them all around the Jewish streets of the shtetl. The entire Jewish youth banded together and waited for a signal, in order to prevent an attack on the Jewish folk.
At that time I was still a very young boy, but I remember to this day how Mendke Katz, fired a shot in the air, as a warning to those who were preparing to attack us, that Jews were prepared to arm themselves and this would be a warning not to bother with us.
This had a great impact on the Christian population and as a result the program in Podbrodz did not take place.
This was the effect The Bund had after the first World War and was organized in our shtetl. Later many left for the larger towns, others immigrated to America
Congress-volunteers in July 23, 1933
Ben-Zion Sklarovitch, ___, Shalom Sklarovitch,______, Aharon Bavarski, Aharon Trachtenberg
and the numbers of the Bund were depleted.
The Zionist calling beckoned the Jewish youth and most of them dreamed that they would meet in Eretz Yisroel and end their days there. Only Aharon Engelson and his wife Chaia Surel, until the very last hour of their lives, were Bundists, and met their end by the Lithuanian and German bandits.
After the first world war, a large Halutz movement took place: we went to Hakhshara (pioneer training camps), raised funds for Keren Kayemet, and helped found the Tarbut-Schul and other things. The most important Jewish institution in the shtetl was the public library with its own building, its guiding light was Rabbi Chaim Lonefski, the director, who was devoted to this institution.
He made a living from watchmaking and photography, but he often left his work because of his love for the library. Entire nights he would spend there, in order to organize these books, to number them and to catalogue them, post events, go to Vilna to buy books, to bring lecturers and other things.
During the Nazi occupation, Chaim Lonefski, was one of the first to fall into those murderous hands.
Below sitting: Krol, Golda Kraftshinski, Rebecca Shapira, Ben-Zion Lapp, a teacher, Krol
Standing: Neme Mirski, Rebecca Blazman, Raya Silber, Meir Eingelson, Pina Krol
On top: Mina Mirski, Zvi Aronovitch, Narodski, Sura Ring
From the Pinchas of Lita Yekapo, 1931
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
In the 1930's the folk of the Podbrodz region was comprised of 30,000 souls, of which there were no more than 900 Jewish souls.
Over forty percent of the Jewish population was involved in shop keeping and small trade. Thirty percent were artisans, and the remaining thirty percent didn't earn a living.
The economic situation worsened in the last few years. The important market day, which took place every Monday, grew smaller than in former years. As in all the other shtetls, markets were opened all over. Only the peasants of the neighbouring hamlets came to Podbrodz.
Strangers also frequented the market, set up their stalls and undercut prices. They brought cheaper merchandise of inferior quality and our economic livelihood grew smaller. The Jewish merchants couldn't compete.
The main crisis for the Jewish shopkeepers was when the large Christian cooperative was opened, the Rolnik, rich in merchandise, attracted the entire peasant population.
The cooperative was well connected to the Christian FolkBank (People's Bank), which was rich in capital and gave credit at low prices.
The bank had over 1000 members. Each person had to have credit of 50 zlotes in the bank and also buy for the same amount in the cooperative. This way he was obliged to buy everything he needed in the cooperative.
This cooperative Rolnik, added another crisis to our situation. Speakers came and started agitations amongst the Christian folk, to buy only from Christian shops.
The cooperative also gave them merchandise on a credit at very preferential rates. All transactions were settled through the bank. The cooperative therefore never lost money, as the Christian FolkBank always rescued the cooperative if the need arose.
It is no wonder the Jewish shopkeepers were helpless in such circumstances.
To add to their economic problem, many cooperatives as well as Christian shops opened in the larger towns. It resulted in a loss of trade for the Jewish shops and Innkeepers.
In addition, the surrounding area was sandy and not prone to cultivating fruit. The peasants ability to buy anything was limited, therefore not having means to purchase goods. They spread false rumors that the Jews are sucking the economy with antiSemitic slurs, Svai do svego. The peasants soon believed this and stopped frequenting the Jewish shops.
The result is clear, eighty percent of the Jewish shopkeepers have a very small income. We can say if the loss in earnings of a shopkeeper is 2530 zlotes a week and his wage is 300 zlotes a week, it is hard to live on this. Added to this are the taxes which are very high and definitely affects the bottom line.
After the taxes and other deductions, the shopkeeper is left with 15 zlotes a week. It is a pittance and result in a catastrophe for the Jewish shopkeeper.
One can imagine if the situation is so diminished for the shopkeeper, how the smaller tradesmen and artisans are faring. In the last years before the War, many Christian blacksmiths, shoemakers and tailors arrived in our small villages. Everyone's earning suffered and there was not enough money to buy a piece of bread. All lived in poverty and need.
Most of the Jewish folk took to gardening and working from their homes. Each one grew potatoes and vegetables which saved them from starvation. Very few Jews had money to buy a cow or chickens, so milk and meat were scarce.
Podbrodz was known for its beautiful scenery, for its summerhomes and beautiful forests. In dachaseason the economic situation improved. About 300 vacationers arrive in the area, and all the residents prepare to sell their various products. The income increased from prior days.
The dachaseason also brought a joyful atmosphere to the region. Our hearts were happier and more joyful. The big heartache is the dachaseason doesn't last more than 3 months, and when the students begin their studies, the shtetl become quiet and sad again.
The Polish military added to the economy in Podbrodz, stationed not far from town. We made a living from these soldiers even though they had their own military shops.
The bakeries also pay heavy taxes and we cannot envy them.
How can we survive in such a manner? The answer is quite simple. Most of the help comes from America.
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