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Poland And WWI

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

     Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

 

      Traveling around Poland, I would come across signs saying that a battle took place here or there. In some cemeteries there is a section for soldiers killed during WWI, from both sides, but facts are lacking.

 

     I recently came across a book called, The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I, by S. Ansky, which describes the situation of the Jews living in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia and Poland in great detail. S. Ansky, (1863-1920) whose real name was, Shloyme Zanvel ben Aaron Rappaport, was a Russian Yiddish, historian, journalist and writer, best known for the play, The Dybuk. Ansky started out life rejecting Judaism and the Yiddish language but in 1905 he became a champion of Yiddish culture.

 

       The early 20th century was a time of chaos for the Jewish community in the Pale of Settlement, Poland and Galicia. The pogroms, especially in Kishenov, were brutal with many Jews emigrating to try to escape rampant anti-Semitism. Ansky set out to preserve what he could of Jewish and Yiddish culture. He undertook an expedition throughout the Pale and Galicia in 1911, where he gathered books, manuscripts and varied artifacts of Judaica that were deposited in the Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg.

 

     At the start of WWI, Ansky took up the cause of the Jews that he had gotten to know so well during his trips. He traveled from town-to-town – shtetl-to-shtetl setting up relief committees distributing money and recording everything he saw.

 

     He described the atrocities he witnessed as the worst afflicted against the Jewish people since the destruction of the Second Bait HaMikdash.He writes about whole towns being burnt to the ground, with only the chimneys remaining.

 

     In Galicia that had been under Austrian-Hungarian rule for over a hundred years the Cossacks were especially brutal. They accused the Jewish population of being spies, using telephone signals, fires and other means of passing information to the enemy.

 

       Dressed as a Russian officer Ansky was able to travel in areas that were closed to civilians and often heard remarks not intended for Jewish ears. “Everyone knows all Jews are spies,” was the refrain he heard over and over again. Wherever he could he would adamantly deny these accusations and would at times come between the marauding Cossacks and their victims.

 

    Starting in St. Petersburg, Ansky traveled to Brody, then to the frontlines at Tarnow, then to Lvov, Preszmyl, and Sokol. He mentions trips to Rawa, Ruska, Bukovina, Kaminetzand Sadegura, where the Russian Revolution caught up with the Russian Army.

 

     The Russians attacked the Jewish population and they stole, beat up, and burned whatever they could find. While Ansky was not religious he shows compassion to the plight of the religious community. He would seek out the rabbi of each town he visited and would often report about the status of the synagogue. Passover food was one of his special concerns and he was even influential in getting matzah to frontline troops as well as a furlough for troops in the rear.

 

           In Sadegura he described the Rebbe’s court in great detail. “There was a 24-piece band that played at every meal and his carriage was drawn by six horses. His home and synagogue were like palaces and the Rebbe himself was a miracle worker.”

 

      The Rebbe’s home as well as the synagogue were used as field hospitals but when he entered the synagogue he found that someone had put a Christian icon in the Aron HaKodesh. He also discovered that the cemetery had been desecrated and the grave of the Rizhiner Rebbe had been dug up and the bones stolen.

 

      Just 25 years before the Holocaust, the Russians exiled approximately 600,000 Jews and over 100,000 were killed in a three-year time frame.

 

    In The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War, Ansky gives a detailed first-hand report of all that happened to the Jews during WWI. The details are quite fascinating. The notes on every person he met, every town he visited, his personal reflections, small tidbits of history, along with his tremendous fervor to bring to light the subject of Jewish victims of WWI, are not found in any other book.

Poland And WWI

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

     Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

 

      Traveling around Poland, I would come across signs saying that a battle took place here or there. In some cemeteries there is a section for soldiers killed during WWI, from both sides, but facts are lacking.

 

     I recently came across a book called, The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I, by S. Ansky, which describes the situation of the Jews living in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia and Poland in great detail. S. Ansky, (1863-1920) whose real name was, Shloyme Zanvel ben Aaron Rappaport, was a Russian Yiddish, historian, journalist and writer, best known for the play, The Dybuk. Ansky started out life rejecting Judaism and the Yiddish language but in 1905 he became a champion of Yiddish culture.

 

       The early 20th century was a time of chaos for the Jewish community in the Pale of Settlement, Poland and Galicia. The pogroms, especially in Kishenov, were brutal with many Jews emigrating to try to escape rampant anti-Semitism. Ansky set out to preserve what he could of Jewish and Yiddish culture. He undertook an expedition throughout the Pale and Galicia in 1911, where he gathered books, manuscripts and varied artifacts of Judaica that were deposited in the Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg.

 

     At the start of WWI, Ansky took up the cause of the Jews that he had gotten to know so well during his trips. He traveled from town-to-town – shtetl-to-shtetl setting up relief committees distributing money and recording everything he saw.

 

     He described the atrocities he witnessed as the worst afflicted against the Jewish people since the destruction of the Second Bait HaMikdash.He writes about whole towns being burnt to the ground, with only the chimneys remaining.

 

     In Galicia that had been under Austrian-Hungarian rule for over a hundred years the Cossacks were especially brutal. They accused the Jewish population of being spies, using telephone signals, fires and other means of passing information to the enemy.

 

       Dressed as a Russian officer Ansky was able to travel in areas that were closed to civilians and often heard remarks not intended for Jewish ears. “Everyone knows all Jews are spies,” was the refrain he heard over and over again. Wherever he could he would adamantly deny these accusations and would at times come between the marauding Cossacks and their victims.

 

    Starting in St. Petersburg, Ansky traveled to Brody, then to the frontlines at Tarnow, then to Lvov, Preszmyl, and Sokol. He mentions trips to Rawa, Ruska, Bukovina, Kaminetzand Sadegura, where the Russian Revolution caught up with the Russian Army.

 

     The Russians attacked the Jewish population and they stole, beat up, and burned whatever they could find. While Ansky was not religious he shows compassion to the plight of the religious community. He would seek out the rabbi of each town he visited and would often report about the status of the synagogue. Passover food was one of his special concerns and he was even influential in getting matzah to frontline troops as well as a furlough for troops in the rear.

 

           In Sadegura he described the Rebbe’s court in great detail. “There was a 24-piece band that played at every meal and his carriage was drawn by six horses. His home and synagogue were like palaces and the Rebbe himself was a miracle worker.”

 

      The Rebbe’s home as well as the synagogue were used as field hospitals but when he entered the synagogue he found that someone had put a Christian icon in the Aron HaKodesh. He also discovered that the cemetery had been desecrated and the grave of the Rizhiner Rebbe had been dug up and the bones stolen.

 

      Just 25 years before the Holocaust, the Russians exiled approximately 600,000 Jews and over 100,000 were killed in a three-year time frame.

 

    In The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War, Ansky gives a detailed first-hand report of all that happened to the Jews during WWI. The details are quite fascinating. The notes on every person he met, every town he visited, his personal reflections, small tidbits of history, along with his tremendous fervor to bring to light the subject of Jewish victims of WWI, are not found in any other book.

The Old Shtetl Lipno

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

There is evidence of Jewish presence in Lipno as early as the 18th century. The beginning of the 19th century saw the rise of an organized Jewish community; it was then that a synagogue was built and the Jews were allotted land for a cemetery. A decree dated May 25, 1824, limited Jewish residence to a specific quarter of the city, but not an enclosed ghetto.


Prior to 1913, the majority of Jews made their living on minor trade and craftsmanship. A few Jews made their living fishing. The Jewish bakeries and kitchen houses were owned and staffed by Jews. During the second half of the 19th century, the Jews of Lipno erected a second synagogue, called Ha’gadol (The Great), and several shtiblach were built for various groups of chasidim. The new synagogue could accommodate several hundred worshippers. The town also supported a chevra kadisha (burial services), a hospitality charity, and a charity that provided firewood. A bikur cholim group was established in 1889, and in 1903 a gemilut chasadim charity was established.


Among the first Lipno known rabbis is Rabbi Michael Berlin, who served the town throughout the mid-19th century. In 1877 Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schwartzberg was appointed as the municipal rabbi, eventually to be replaced in 1895 by Rabbi Shlomo Wingate. Wingate, in turn, was replaced by Rabbi Shmuel HaLevy Bradt. The latter served Lipno until 1928, when he was elected rabbi of Tomaszow Mazowiecky.


Up until WWI, most Jewish children studied in cheders. About sixty Jewish children studied in the Russian public school for Jews, which only had two classes. When WWI broke out, the Lipno Jewish community dwindled, as many Lipno Jews fled to Warsaw, never to return.


In the first years following the war, the Joint assisted with the rehabilitation of the Lipno Jewish community. In 1921 a soup kitchen for kids was established with assistance from the Joint. The kitchen served hot meals to 250 Jewish children. Many Lipno Jews had difficulty finding work in the first years after the establishment of independent Poland, and were assisted by the Joint. In 1929 the Joint contributed 200 dollars to the gemilut chasadim charity, allowing them to significantly increase the size of loans that were given to the needy.


In the period after WWI, almost all Zionist organizations operating within Poland had offices in Lipno. The first Zionist organization offices were established early in the 20th century. In 1920, the Aguda Ha’Zionit (the Zionist Company) renewed its operation. In the following years, offices were established by the General Zionists, the Workers of Zion, the Mizrachi, and in 1933 the Tzahar. During that time, several Zionist youth groups set up chapters in Lipno, such as Ha’Shomer Ha’Leumi, Ha’Shomer Ha’tzair and Beitar.


During the period between the two World Wars, Lipno Jewry developed education for Jewish children. Most Jewish children continued to learn in cheders, but modern educational institutions were established as well. The Ha’Shomer Ha’Leumi youth group held evening classes in Hebrew throughout the 30′s. There was a library that housed books in Hebrew and Yiddish. During the 20′s a Maccabi sports collective was established.


In the years prior to the outbreak of WWII, the Lipno Jews suffered from continuous anti-Semitic propaganda. In 1938 the local anti-Semites set up watch outside Jewish stores to support a boycott of Jewish businesses. The income of Jewish storekeepers was damaged significantly and many had to turn to charity and public assistance.


As WWII broke out and divisions of the German army approached Lipno, many Jews fled the city and escaped to the East. The flight continued even after the Germans occupied the city. Many of Lipno’s Jews escaped to Warsaw. In November of 1939 the German army banished the remaining Jews to the major cities, particularly Warsaw. The fate of Lipno’s exiles was the same as that of all Jews in those places. Today there are no Jews left in Lipno; any remaining survivors of this once thriving Jewish community are scattered around the world. (www.zchor.org/lipno/lipno.htm)





Shmuel Ben Eliezer can be reached at jpolin2@aol.com


Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/the-old-shtetl-lipno/2006/03/22/

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