Translated by Sara Mages
|Wolomin, a town near Warsaw, the big city left its impression on it, in a blend of a Jewish town with all its simplicity and diversity. Hasidim and men of good deeds lived in the same place with Mitnagdim [opponents] and modern intellectuals, merchants with working men, learners with craftsmen, and so life flowed slowly in the town for decades. When people tell the life story of the community of Wolomin and about its innocent and honest Jews, simple and humble folks, wise with deep thought, immersed within the confines of Halacha and live in the atmosphere of the world to come; about people of education and science, broad-minded and visionary; about young Yeshiva students and young people who sacrifice themselves for the ideas of Tikkun olam, repairing humanity; about men of passion and revolution, rebellion and aspiration; about all those who have walked through the streets of this town, situated in rigid mode of life, customs and habits, which cast their rule on Jewish life and determined the behavior of the Jew, every day, morning to evening. And when we talk about the town, it is impossible to skip the Hassidim and the God-fearing, who drew from the ancient springs of the nation and conducted pure family life; Torah scholars who spent all their time in the study of the Gemara and their most favorite song was: Purify our Hearts to Serve You in Truth.
Told by Dr. Sara Mandelberg,
Mrs. Chava Rubinstein and Mr. Kopel Berman
Translated by Sara Mages
The town of Wolomin is 19 kilometers northeast of Warsaw, in Radzymin District. In 1939, it numbered about 3,000 Jews, and in 1921 - 3079 out of a total population of 6248 people.
It was a young community. In the 1880s Wolomin was still just a rural point with a little more than a hundred residents, amongst them a few Jews. The completion of the construction of the railroad line Warsaw-Petersburg (1861), that Wolomin was its first stop after Warsaw, created the conditions for the development of the settlement, first as a resort for summer vacationers from Warsaw and, in the course of time, an industrial center that included metal plants (agricultural machinery, iron beds), glass, tanneries and flour mills. Until the First World War there was also a cane industry for the Russian market.
It seems that, from the outset, Jewish initiative played an important role in the development of the place. At the end of the last century there was already a Jewish community in Wolomin with two rabbis who competed for the rabbinate there.
Around 1900, Beit Midrash was established. Around 1900, a cemetery was dedicated.
Rabbi Ze'v-Wolf Bergazin (appointed 1904) played an important role in the development of the community.
The Admor, R' Efraim Taub of Kuzmir, lived in Wolomin until the First World War, then he moved to Warsaw.
The livelihood of the Jews of Wolomin was mostly in commerce and crafts, but they also had a share in industry (the factories owned by Jews: a glass factory, two bed factories, a leather factory and a foundry).
There was also a considerable source of work in the place. Several branches of labor were all Jewish, such as porterage, painting, baking, etc.
About 300 Jews worked in the factories, most of them in administrative and service positions, but also in professional jobs.
The Cooperative Bank played an important role in the economic life of Wolomin's Jews. It was affiliated with the Cooperative Center in Warsaw and Kupat Gemilut Hasadim (founded in 1935).
At the head of the community stood an elected committee of eight members and its party composition was as follows: a Zionist chairman, four Agudah members and three unaffiliated. The community's personnel included: a rabbi, three ritual slaughterers (one of them a cantor), shamash [synagogue beadle] and a secretary.
In the municipal government the Jews were represented by eight council members (out of twenty four), and one, out of three, in the management ("Magistrate").
Only one Jewish woman worked as a clerk in the town's administration.
In addition to Beit HaMidrash and the cemetery, the community had a bathhouse, a synagogue and Talmud Torah (with a special building). In 1935, the community budget has reached the total of 38,000 zloty.
Houses of Worship: the houses of the Hasidim of Gur, Amshinov, Aleksander, Wyskow and Wolomin, and also the Minyan of the Zionist Organization, Schools: 5-6 Hadarim, Heder Metukan (established in 1934 with Hebrew as the language of instruction), Beit Yakov with four classes (established in 1930).
In addition, the children studied general studies in accordance with the education law of the Polish State School for Jews.
Parties and organizations
The Zionist Organization, Mizrachi, Agudah, Organization of Craftsmen. The labor circles were mostly under the influence of Poalei Zion and the Bund whose open activity was mainly in the cultural area and centered at Peretz Library. There was a drama club and a sports group named Maccabi.
A parallel cultural activity concentrated in the Zionist club with evening classes for Hebrew and a sports group Maccabi.
The Jewish Wolomin community also included about 100 people who were scattered the nearby villages: Czarna, Lipny, Lesniakowizna, Reczaje, Poswietna, Kobylka, and Duczki.
In the 1930s, with the rise of anti-Semitism, these Jews left the villages and moved to the town.
by Shimon Kantz
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
The Jewish community in Wolomin is one of the youngest communities in Poland. Trying now to provide a historical overview of the annihilated Jewish settlement in Wolomin, we must start with regrets, since the condition of sources is such that it requires giving a pragmatic and by no means exhaustive historical picture of the past of the Wolomin settlement. The historian's job is in large part like the work of a mosaicist, who has to put together bits and pieces to create a full picture.
We lack sources that could establish when the Jewish community in Wolomin was founded and when it developed. From its name we could argue that it was a village in earlier times, in an area of fertile fields where oxen grazed, surrounding which were thick forests, in which were found many wolves, so that the grazing was accompanied by great dangers. The name Wol-amin signifies in Poland a warning to avoid this place and to beware of the dangers that threatened man and beast.
It is true that in very, very old times there was a tiny settlement, and in the surrounding woods the kings, dukes, and similar rulers went around hunting. However, in those days, hunting often had political overtones, with entanglements of court intrigues and power politics. The beginnings or ends of secret agreements. For the most part, the story of Wolomin is quite poor. There were episodes that were reflected in Warsaw and were tied to Wolomin by political rumors, and from time to time entwined with them are Jewish people or events of varying character.
First Contact Between Jews and Wolomin
Over ninety years ago appeared The Story of Mazovia by the Polish historian Vitshak Dzitski. He writes about the decree that in the eighteenth century freed the Jews in the Duchy of Warsaw from active military service and forbade the blood duty on paper money. Five months later the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte crossed the Niemen River. That started the second Polish war with Russia.
From the standpoint of historical development, a French invasion of Russia was progressive, in proportion to how much Napoleon's Codex compares to the Russian Svad Zakonov. Of course, the Polish orientation was based on this foundation. The Jews thus found themselves in a difficult situation. Jewish politics in 1812 had as its highest goal to declaim and maneuver in order to avoid the traps of both sides.
In Warsaw, the atmosphere was decidedly anti-Russian. Three days after Napoleon crossed his fatal Rubicon, the river Niemen, in Poland a general confederation of Poland was declared, with the aim of restoring the Polish Republic on its historical basis. This confederation was actually nothing more than a decorative agreement with Napoleon's war.
War fever seized Warsaw. Volunteers swarmed to the army. Among them were Jews. Although the decree of January 29, 1812, had exempted the Jews and forbidden exemption payments, many Jews remained in the army. A number of volunteers were raised to officer ranks, a number disappeared with the hundred thousand others in the waters of the Berezina, frozen to death on the broad and cold Russian fields.
The evidence of these sacrifices was lost in those stormy times, just as the Jewish individual soldier was diluted in the regiments and divisions.
It was almost impossible for the community heads in Warsaw to define this political orientation. Individual Jews belonged to separate camps. From the east, huge armies marched through the city, representing many peoples and languages. The soldiers, mostly foreigners, treated Warsaw like every other territory. Particularly the Westphalian soldiers [that is, Germans] excelled. They served Napoleon's brother Jerome, the king of the little kingdom of Westphalia. Their anger at having to serve under a foreign leader moved them to compensate by plundering both Jews and non-Jews, raping women, and even killing for booty.
Jewish musicians, who used to entertain the soldiers with songs and music in the soldiers' taverns, were found in the streets, murdered and robbed.
Then we find the only trace from that time of contact between Jews and the village of Wolomin.
In the memoirs of the German Baron of Lehsiten, In the Court of King Jerome, which was published in Berlin in 1905, he tells of two Jewish musicians who were found murdered in the village of Wolomin. Through this fact, the Baron wants to show that the peasants of this village were pro-Russian and that they therefore killed the Jewish musicians who entertained the Westphalian soldiers with songs and music.
In all truth, the musicians were sacrifices of the soldiers who took out their hard feelings on them and released their murderous instincts.
This truth is confirmed in the writing of the German historian A. Kleinschmidt in his History of the Kingdom of Westphalia, which was published in 1893. He discusses there the alarm that engulfed the Jewish population, the Jewish merchants, over the German-speaking soldiers. Also the Polish writer Antony Megera in his book The Image of Warsaw at the End of the Eighteenth Century describes the comic scenes when Jewish merchants try to understand the German-speaking soldiers, intending to do business with them but instead receiving blows.
This historical fact tells us that the Warsaw Jews knew of the existence of the village of Wolomin and perhaps that there were other contacts with the village that were later obliterated because of the hatred of the village folk for the pro-French element, among whom they also reckoned the Jews.
Trade and Murder
When Napoleon came to Warsaw after his defeat in Russia, on December 10, 1812 and then left the city after several days, people knew the war was over and that an end had come to the duchy of Warsaw.
On 18 February 1813, a deputation from the city greeted the triumphant entry of the Russian general Baron von Karf. Most of the Jews looked with trepidation to their future. The bitter facts of life did not give them much hope.
In the appendix to the constitution, promulgated at the end of 1815, it was said that whoever is not a citizen of the land cannot enjoy political rights. Since Jews were not citizens, they had none of the rights of citizens. This decree overturned the daily life of the Jews in Warsaw, forced them from their jobs, and forced them seek other means of earning a livelihood. It seems that Jews sought contact with the village, came to the peasants with their merchandise, and thereby also became victims.
It is worth mentioning again the village of Wolomin as remembered by the Polish writer Kajetan Kasimian, who blamed the obnoxious behavior of the Polish village on the Jewish merchants. As an example, he cites the fact that someone had found in the woods near Wolomin, ten kilometers from Warsaw a murdered Jewish merchant, and that had encouraged other Jews to seek out other villages in that area.
During the years 1815-1830, Congress Poland became truly powerful. People had that to thank for opening a demand for goods in the Russian Empire. In 1819 they removed the trade barriers between Russia and Poland. Three years later they were restored because people suspected that Poland did not produce all the merchandise but only finished up merchandise imported from Prussia. When people decided this was not proper, in 1822 they reestablished trade barriers.
Polish industry immediately found a route to the east. The cotton industry had begun to develop in the country, but Jews did not play a large part in it. On the contrary, it was important that Jews entered the business with raw materials. Also in the grain business, which in those years accounted for twenty-seven percent of total exports, the entrance of the Jews was significant.
In the vicinity of Warsaw, Jews participated in the manufacturing of cloth. In 1820, the government opened a cloth factory at the corner of Smatcha and Gencha, which had, in 1822, fifty-four looms and one hundred eighty workers. In 1824, the banker Samuel Leopold Frankel and two Germans bought the factory. The factory later employed six hundred workers, among whom were scores of Jews.
It was therefore a good time for working class Jews in Warsaw. There were also many Jewish merchants, who could not have succeeded without the village. The village population also began to have somewhat better lives, some of them coming into the town to buy goods, which enriched their economy.
The village of Wolomin, it appears, was among the poorest, because it is hardly mentioned in the various publications about the development of the economy at that time. Only once the Polish historian Wladisloaw Richmanski mentions the suit that a Jewish merchant brought against a landowner, Sachtchanski of Wolomin, for not paying a bill for cloth.
That was in 1827. In that year the Jews played a large role in Warsaw business. There were larger and smaller Jewish businesses. Also a union of Jewish trade workers, which over time developed into a large union that lasted until 1939.
The German traveler H. Haring, who visited Warsaw in 1830, describes Franciskaner Street with Jewish businesses on both sides that were full of good things. In the Jewish businesses, people find whatever their hearts desire, the finest and the best. Shopping there are military men and rich property owners who encourage the Jews to come to their villages. The Jews, however, do not show a lot of enthusiasm because of the hatred of the servile peasants who see the Jews as offspring of the devil and are full of superstitions.
In the same book we find a description of the mood that in 1830 suffused Poland. It tells of a hard winter with heavy frosts, but it felt the heat of the revolt against Russia which lasted some days, not because of the achievements of the Polish rebels but because Petersburg did not hurry to do anything. It was thought that Czar Nicholas I waited for the revolt to burn out on its own, like piles of straw. Then the czar's troops would put an end to the activity and restore order.
In Petersburg they knew that the Polish ringleaders were deeply divided. The older generation, especially the landowners who worried particularly about their own privileges, were drawn into the revolt against their wills, but they did not want to go too far. To the bitter end also belonged Jewish youth who swore to serve in the ranks of the rebels and even walk into fire…
This description is supplemented in Alexander Nowitzki's Pictures of Polish Villages, 1830-1931 There we read about the fervent and abject pleas of Stanislaw Vernish, a student in the rabbinical seminary in Warsaw, to the commander General Chaptizki, that they should finally recognize Jewish patriotism, that Jewish patriots would gladly sacrifice their lives for Poland. Stanislaw Vernish was the son of a Jewish merchant on Franciskaner Street. When his father heard the news that the Polish freedom fighters had attacked and robbed Jewish merchants, he fled from the revolt to the village of Zotczenki, about five kilometers north of Wolomin, where he took refuge in the home of the wealthy Kunaczarski, who had lived in Warsaw and who opened his house to the Jewish merchant. The village peasants attacked the Jew one evening as he took a walk and killed him.
This, however, did not deter his son from writing fiery patriotic songs and the above-mentioned letter to the Polish general.
The Jewish Legion
From that comes the claim that Wolomin, just like the other villages around Warsaw, had not at that time admitted any Jews nor tolerated them, greeting with hatred any Jew who wanted to approach. In that tense atmosphere, Jews made an effort to mobilize a Jewish legion. In January of 1839, Jews started to enroll in the National Guard, provided that they appeared European and were shaved. Only a small number of Jews dared to accept this condition, and the leadership of the Jewish community in Warsaw adopted the idea of a Jewish Guard, in which were religious Jews who excelled in the camps with their bravado.
In 1831, the Russian commander Ivan Paskovitch came to Warsaw and some of the militant Jewish youth left the city…General Ostrovsky, the commander of the National Guard in Warsaw, later wrote that he met in the woods near Wolomin with groups of Jewish youth who had fled Warsaw but had no place to settle and who made a pitiful sight.
History does not tell us what happened to those Jews. Whether they returned to Warsaw, whether they were captured and sent to Siberia, or whether they remained scattered in various villages. The fact is that in later years there were reports from Russian and Polish officers about Jewish young men in the woods around Warsaw and other places. We can cite Wolomin as well as Zanszczenki and Chlarniki, villages that later disappeared from the map, having become urban settlements or having merged with Warsaw suburbs. The Russian traveler Venstrov mentions in his 1835 travel book a Jewish farmer between Zanszczenki and Wolomin.
The Conversion Plague
In Poland in those years a conversion plague raged. Not only among the wealthy, enlightened, assimilated folk but also among the simpler people. Missionaries from England worked among the poor to capture Jewish souls, handing out money, food, and clothing and promising good fortune. The rich converts intended through conversion to make their careers and sought to become high officials. There were also simple Jewish youth, some journeymen, some apprentices, who lacked employment or who loved Christian women.
In the Responsa of the Kaldiner rabbi, R. Shmuel-Leib Epsteyn, the Olat Shmuel, with the Warsaw community rabbi R. Shlomo-Zalmen Lifshitz, author of Khemdas Shlomo, we read about the great grief caused by the conversion plague which, God help us, engulfed many Jewish youth, kneeling before the cross, holding on to a piece of wood, which had less substance than straw.
The question of what prompted the correspondence between the two rabbis concerned a young man who settled, after his conversion, in Wolomin, where he married a village girl, lived with her for some months, and then returned to Warsaw, approaching the rabbi with the request that he b e allowed to return to Judaism. This involved the question of divorcing his Christian wife, but from that arose a great tragedy for the young man's family. His father, an everyday worker, a carpenter, could not stand the disgrace and died of heartache. His mother remained along and her converted son was her only source of income.
The Warsaw rabbi sought a way to be lenient with the young man and reabsorb him in the Jewish community after he divorced his Christian wife, who stayed in Wolomin.
Jewish Amusements Around Wolomin
The chief rabbi of in Warsaw, R. Shlomoo-Leib Lifshitz, was a great scholar. He was born in Pozen, and together with R. Akiva Eiger and R. Yakov of Lissa, author of Chos Da'as, he represented the great trio of rabbinical authorities in Poland. After becoming the rabbi in Nasielsk (1804), in 1819 he came to Praga and from there to Warsaw.
In his classic work Khemdas Shlomo, he spoke with pain about the plague of dance-and-frivolity that had spread among the Jewish youth in Warsaw. He even went to the municipal authorities seeking help. The rabbi complained that the Jewish youth were desecrating Shabbos and Festivals. They waste their time with empty things, like dance and frivolity, parks and pubs, and we seldom see them on Shabbos in the shuls and minyans. One who thus transgresses the laws of his faith cannot be a true citizen. Therefore the civil authorities must help the rabbinate stop this lawlessness.
The magistrate agreed, and until the outbreak of the revolution n 1830, people in Warsaw saw police raids on Jewish young people who went to the parks to dance on Shabbos and Festivals.
Be assured that this action did nothing to discourage the young people The Jewish boys and girls simply had to go further afield, outside of the cityin summer, to the woods near the cityin the direction of Atvask and also toward Wolomin. The Khemdas Shlomo laments a particular case, the complaint of parents whose son was disobedient and came to the woods near Wolomin. Others, he said, sailed on the Vistula. He says that Satan has his people who make a pretense of liking Jews in order to get them to become Christians. Truly their intention is to demoralize Jewish youth and lead them to apostasy.
As evidence he cites the old Polish author Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, who in his novel Leib and Sarah, the first novel with a Haskalah theme in Polish literature, calls on Jews to interact socially with Poles. But ten years earlier, the same author had composed an anti-Semitic utopia about how Warsaw would appear in 3333. The city would be called Moszkopolitz and the Moska dynasty would rule Poland.
From these snapshots we can see that the village of Wolomin was known to the Jewish inhabitants of Warsaw even at the beginning of the nineteenth century, though the Jews had no access to the city, except for a few.
But these are not the only facts. Actually we can find more facts in other sources, which confirm that there was no Jewish life there. It is characteristic of Poland that regardless of their proximity to Warsaw, villagers regarded the Jews as a specter, a devil, an enemy of Christ.
Consequently they accepted a converted Jew with open arms. Missionary propaganda at that time was devious, not only toward Jews but also among Poles, in the city and in the village, that they should accept converted Jews. The Polish aristocracy in Warsaw was not stingy with money for gifts for the new converts, who were even deemed worthy to have godfathers from the Polish nobility. Polish landowners invited Jewish merchants into their palaces, in hopes of converting them.
The same thing was true among the simple peasants. As soon as a Jew converted, people treated him like a brother. Mixed marriages, however, took place mainly among the wealthy and less seldom among everyday people. Consequently, we find fewer Jewish converts in the villages. Wolomin was no exception. Even the occasional convert did not stay there long.
Jewish Peasants in Wolomin
Event followed eventmutinies, rebellions, upheavals. These events and shocks in France, Prussia, and Austria resounded far and wide and spread to Russia and Poland. Mainly the Jews watched and hoped that things would get easier. Jews in Warsaw began to play a larger role in the economic development of the city. Industry grew, especially sugar, paper, and agricultural machinery. Advanced Jews played a pioneering role in this environment. Slowly a Jewish bourgeoisie developed from the rich Warsaw Jews. A few Jews received permits to buy goods and houses.
At that time the Warsaw leader Eizik Goldshteyn bought scores of dunams [1 dunam=900 square meters] of land from the Wolomin landowner Wladislaw Kaczytzki, but nothing came of it because the government had attached a provision that a Jewish landholder had to settle on his estate twenty-five Jewish families, in order to move Jews so that they would undertake agricultural work. This was not a simple thing, since Jews who had gladly decided to work the land did not know how to handle the vexations of their Christian surroundings and therefore often failed because of their neighbors. They therefore did not last long even on land that Jews had paid for.
Jewish Rebels in Wolomin
The years 1861-62 are called the moral overturning, because they brought a peace between the Jews and the Poles in Warsaw. People overlooked the tragic events of 1859 and the battle between the conservative Poles and the assimilated Jewish youth. Jews took part in street demonstrations and in assorted political activities.
It was now 1863. In schools and beis-medrashes in Warsaw, people read in Yiddish and in Hebrew the announcements that the underground Polish region had distributed to Jews. Many Jewish young people snuck away from their homes and in naively enthusiastic letters explained to their parents why they would sacrifice themselves for Poland. Lawrence Oliphant, who was then a correspondent for an English newspaper in Warsaw, wrote about the Jew's great sympathy for the rebellion. He also told how the Russian police had seized in Wolomin an arms cache that was guarded by a group of young Jewish rebels. Three of them escaped. Two were badly wounded in a battle with the Russian militia and later were hanged on Muranow Street in Warsaw.
At the end of 1864 the revolt was completely subdued. The destruction among Warsaw's Jews was devastating. The Jewish historian Dr. Y Shatzky estimates that in Warsaw alone over a thousand Jews took part in the revolt. He goes on to say that scores of Jews around Warsaw were active in the fighting, though he does not give the names of the Jewish settlements. But the Polish rebel Gustav Warinski, who was sent to Siberia, writes about his acquaintanceship with Jewish exiles from Warsaw and other shtetls, among which he cites Wolomin.
This is the only historical evidence that already by that time Jews lived in Wolomin and that the settlement was more like a city.
What the Jew's professions were and how many Jews there were is now hard to determine. It is not impossible that more information exists in Warsaw's archives, but our inquiries have never been answered.
It is symbolic that the same Gustav Warinski writes about his return from Siberia to Warsaw in 1881, on a day when a pogrom took place in Warsaw. After all he had been through, the battles side by side with Jewish rebels and later his friendships in Siberia, he saw everywhere the bestiality of his people toward the Jews, for whom he had brought warm greetings from their brothers and sons, who languished far away in Siberia.
It is a fact that the years 1861-63 had a great effect on the growth of the Jewish community in Warsaw. There were profound changes in the Polish-Jewish relationship. This was a result f the new orientation that began with the destruction of the romantic world outlook and gave new attention to political reality. Thus began the movement of Polish positivism, in which the Jews played a large role.
Consequently Jews from other cities and from Russia began to come to Warsaw. The local and central authorities began to fear that Warsaw would become a Jewish city. Efforts were actually made that the official Jewish quarter should not be dissolved and in the non-Jewish streets some Jews were permitted to live, those who were already Europeanized; but the Jewish movement toward Warsaw was strong and the government sought to confine the Jews to the villages and shtetls around Warsaw.
Jews Start to Build Houses in Wolomin
Jan Rabski in his book The Evolution of Warsaw says that the city's management wanted to order the elimination of the long kaftan on Warsaw streets, but the central Russian authority did not agree, as he took the side of Polish patriots, who after the revolution had remained in their offices in great numbers. The Polish historian of the city of Warsaw regrets that the decree was not carried out, and he shows that the Jews took it as a given and started settling in neighboring areas not far from Warsaw. Among these areas was Wolomin, Asalitze, Wodowlina, and others, and in a poisonous tone he adds: Their long kaftans will surely not help to dry up the mud puddles, but such places are more appropriate for them than our beautiful Warsaw streets.
This makes it clear that at that time there were already Jews in Wolomin, indeed religious Jews, who, despite their influx into Wolomin, did not want to toss away their long kaftans and Europeanize.
One has to say that those Jews in Wolomin displayed their energy and initiative no less than those who had chosen to stay in Warsaw. They busied themselves not only with agriculture and other trades but also with business and building houses.
Already to Dr. Y. Slatzki the tempo of Jewish movement was so quick that there was no possibility for the Polish patriots to organize anti-Jewish groups. From year to year the number of houses built by Jews increased. The Polish landlords did not want to sell their establishments, because their incomes were large. Thus it was not only in Warsaw but in the surrounding area, and of course in Wolomin, where there were no affordable apartments and the incoming Jews were forced to build their own.
The great changes that were occurring in the whole country also had a great influence on the development of the Jewish community in Warsaw. It was the time of Ludwig Nathanson's control in the community, which lasted for twenty-five years. From a small provincial community it developed into an institution of great stature. It was responsible for creating a variety of religious, economic, and cultural organizations; it introduced the community tax, though not every Jew could pay it, which was another reason for a poor Jew to seek a dwelling outside of Warsaw, where expenses were somewhat less than in the big city.
In 1870, the winds of Jew-hatred again began to blow in Poland. Polish journalists began to accuse economic liberalism of being a Jewish movement. They no longer saw the end to the Jewish question coming through assimilation and they began to write that Jews had set their hands on Polish culture. The well-known Polish anti-Semite Jan Jelenski began a propaganda campaign to expel Jews from business and industry and put them into Polish hands. In 1881, pogroms broke out in Warsaw. They lasted three days and covered more than fifty streets, from the poorest to the wealthiest. Many Jews were killed or injured. Property damage was later estimated at a million rubles.
Many of the victimized Jews had to leave Warsaw and find a roof over their heads nearby. They found them in, among other places, Wolomin, where the Jews with long kaftans welcomed them with brotherly warmth.
Nathanson, the head of the Warsaw community, issued a declaration that the only cure for the plague of anti-Semitism was to seek rapprochement with the Polish neighbors, to stop speaking Yiddish, and to discard Jewish clothing, all the external signs of difference between Jew and non-Jew. Immediately the Jew realized that this cure was false. Polish patriots were afraid of Jewish assimilation so they could defend Polish culture. Rather they thought it better to provoke the Jews with the long kaftans who lived in isolated groups. Many were drawn to the small Jewish settlements near Warsaw, among which Wolomin had begun to play a prominent role.
First Active Zionists
In the 1890's, the radical nationalists began to turn their attention to the peasants, getting closer to the people, countering the propaganda of the Russian regime, which accused the Poles of being exploitative lords, barons, and arrogant nobles, who treated the peasants like slaves. The Polish nationalists in their propaganda used anti-Semitism to turn the peasants against Jewish merchants. Again this affected the Jews in Wolomin, who had begun to show initiative for developing the town. The mistrust that the Polish nationalists cultivated in the villages hampered the development of the town.
Traditional anti-Semitism, as formulated by Stanislaw Stashitz and Jan Jelenski, took on a sharper edge in later years. In 1909, Roman Dmowski, the leader of the Polish National Democracy, asserted that the Jews would impose their ideas and goals on Polish society and that there was no alternative except to assimilate the Jews among the Poles. In the Jewish streets, the ideas of the Zionists and of the Bund gained strength. By the side of the older world, a new generation began to emerge with a vision of a new world that would promote new opportunities.
This was mirrored in the Jewish shtetls, but Wolomin appears in hindsight to have stood still. There, traditional Jewish life proceeded until the outbreak of the First World War, when the first active Zionists were seen, and they undertook the development of the first phase of this worldwide movement.
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