Smorgon Yizkor book
History of Smorgon and Surrounding Communities
The following is a translation (from Yiddish) of one of the first chapters of the Smorgon Yizkor book by Ron Arons
In the year 1388 we find a considerable Jewish community in Brisk (Brest - Litovsk) that was receiving a bill of rights from the Grand Duke of Witthold. The bill of rights received by the Jews of Lvov was a template. One of the rights the Jews received excuses them from the duty to harbor Christians in their house.
In 1389 we find a Jewish community in Grodno also. The community has a cemetery and a synagogue. On the 18th of June, 1389, the Jews of Grodno received the same rights that the Jews of Brisk enjoyed and they are as follows - freedom to own a business and to do trades, to work the land, to make alcoholic drinks and be able to sell them, slaughtering beef and selling meat wholesale.
Jews in Grodno used the rights that were given to them. They dealt in agriculture and all kinds of craftwork, did artisanry (all detailed in the bill of rights).
In 1399, Witthold brought prisoners of war, amongst them were Jews from southern Russia and the Crimea. Karaites that were taken as prisoners of war, he separated from the other Jews and placed them in Troki which, after a while, became the spiritual center of the Karaites.
In 1441 the Jews of Troki also received a bill of rights. According to the Magdaburg laws, they received full autonomy.
In April of 1495, the Jews of Lithuania were expelled and all of their belongings were confiscated. But after 8 years, in 1503, the Jews returned to their places in Lithuania. The Jews of Brisk, Grodno and Troki returned and they re-established their communities according to their previously received bill of rights.
In 1506, three years after the cancellation of the expulsion edict, a community was formed in Pinsk. Jews received the same rights that the community of Brisk enjoyed. The Jews of Grodno established two more communities in 1522 - one in Tiktin and one in Novodvor.
They wanted to recognize a leader that was foisted on them. They yearned for independence in terms of community affairs.
In 1529, there were communities in Pinsk, Grodno, Brisk, Troki, Tiktin, Novodvor, Kobryn, Klodzk, and Ludmir. Brisk, the first and foremost of the communities became the center of Torah from which God's word went out to all of the cities of Lithuania. In Brisk, the Jewish painting house was established and, in 1546, the Chumash was printed. About four years after the Chumash appeared in print, in 1550, a kind of Yeshiva was formed there. In 1550, the number of Jews in Lithuania went up to about 10,000. In 1551, we find communities in Slonim, Mastevov, and Kremenitz. That same year, permission was granted to two rich Jews from Krakow to rent stores and houses in Vilna and to business but not to reside there. The right to live in Vilna and build a community there was not given to the Jews because of its importance as a capital. The same difficulties and obstacles were met by Jews in Kovno.
After awhile, Jews were permitted to come and settle in the city on condition that they would live in houses that were purchased by members of the Duke's Council, because the city dwellers did not want to give the Jews the opportunity to freely set foot wherever they wanted in their rich city.
The Jews of Pinsk founded a community in Klotzk. The Jews of Lithuania paid about a quarter of the total collected from all of the cities. In 1555 we find Jews in Josly. In 1556 Jews were permitted to reside only on one street that was reserved for them in the city of Koval. This street belonged completely to the Jews and the Christian city dwellers were not allowed to build their houses there.
In 1560 there are 3 streets in Grodno that were only for the settling of Jews, and these are their names - Street of the Jews, Street of the Synagogue, and Narrow Street of the Jews. Also in Novogrodok, the Jews were concentrated onto a specific street. In 1563, the communities of Ostroja, Dvoretz, Lachevitz, and Toratz were founded.
In 1563 a special tax was levied on the Lithuanian Jews - 12,000 grushim. Here is the way the taxes were divided among the Jews of Lithuania: On Minsk - 600 grushim; Stroja - 600; Lotzk - 550; Ludmir - 500; Troki - 376; Brisk - 264; Grodno - 200; Kremenitz - 140; Tiktin - 100; Dvoretz - 60; Novogrodok - 30; Lachevitz - 30; Klotzk - 15.
In 1564 an epidemic erupted in Vilna. Everybody ran away, including the ruler.
The Duke's representative, before we ran for his life, elected two defacto rulers. One was a Jew by the name of Shmuel Ben-Israel of Lachevitz.
In 1566 we count in Brisk 85 homeowners, in Grodno - 60, Lutzk - 56, Kremenitz -48, Tiktin - 37, Pinsk - 24, Kobrin - 22, Novodvor - 12, and in Klotzk - 4.
In the census conducted in 1566 in Brisk, two Jews are mentioned: the name of a printer named Yakov and the son-in-law of Reb Shmuel Wohl, Dovid Druker.
In the same year, taxes were levied on the Jews of Lithuania in the amount of 6,000 shuk grushim. The following communities were told to pay 3,760: Brisk - 1300; Lutzk - 500; Ostroja - 500; Ludmir - 300, Troki - 300; Grodno - 200; Tiktin - 170; Kremenitz - 150; the Jews of Novogrodok, Slonim, Lachevitz, Klotzk, Toretz, Chochri, Makas, Vilna and Kovno - altogether - 250.
Exports of the Lithuanian Jews
They would send goods in boats down 3 rivers - The Bug, the Vistula, and the Niman. Through Kovno, mostly grains were sent to Koenigsburg, which was called Krolavatz at the time, and from there salt was brought. The well-known merchants were from Lithuania Michael Yosepovitch and Itzchak Brodavka from Brisk and Ephraim Ben-Rachmiel from Ohilib. Lithuanian Jews had business connections with Germany and Poland. The Lithuanian merchants would go to Leipzig, Bratslev, Poznan, Krakow, etc. The did business with Turkey Moldavia, and Wallachia. They would bring bulls from there and perfumes and other merchandise of all kinds. They also tried to get into the principalities of Moscow, but all of their efforts were for naught, because Ivan the Terrible was afraid of the bad influence of the Jewish Lithuanian businessman on his subjects. So that they wouldn't influence his subjects away from their Orthodox beliefs, Ivan also denied with much anger Zigmund August's request. The fear of conversion fell on him because rumors were spreading that several of that cult ran away to Lithuania and were circumcised and turned into Jews.
In 1573, a synagogue was established in Vilna. The building was purchased from a nobleman and it was outside the jurisdiction of the municipality. Stefan Battori was chosen as king (1575-1586). He sat on the throne, but not without the help of a Jewish merchant, Shlomo Ashkenazi. Stefan Battori was very generous to the Jews. He defended the Lithuanian Jews against the blood libels that their enemies and haters would spread about them. He allowed the Jews in 1576 to do business, to buy and sell with no obstacles, also on Christian holidays.
He ruled that anyone that kills a Jew would be punished and would be put to death, just like a Christian murder. He put complete responsibility on the municipal leadership for any injury to people, synagogues, and cemeteries; that whomever that steals their belongings would pay a penalty of 10,000 Polish marks and equal penalty would be paid by the Polish authorities because they betrayed their job and did not defend the Jews that were living in their perimeter. A fear of the Duke prevented a lot of hostility towards Jews. During the rule of this benevolent king, the Jews founded a community in Minsk and they received a bill of rights, but when the city dwellers of Mohiliv, which sits on the river Dneiper requested from the king to disallow Jews from living in their city, he fulfilled their request in 1585. One of the influential members of the community in Brisk, Rabbi Shaul Ben-Yehuda (Wahl), a learned and extremely rich Jew received the title of King's Serf. Shaul Wahl, legend goes, was chosen as the king of Poland after the death of Stefan Battori, and fulfilled the role for one full night. In 1590 Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1530-1612) of Lublin, along with 30 other Rabbis of Poland and Lithuania signed an agreement that prohibited a rabbi from receiving any money or gifts or loans for the role of Rabbi, either directly or to themselves or to other people. In 1592, the Jews were permitted a legal yeshiva in Vilna. In the later bills of rights, they were permitted specifically to establish public foundations, such as cemeteries, slaughterhouses, stores, a bathhouse, etc. In Grodno, the haters of Israel had the upper hand and the Jews could not do business in grains, salt or salted fish. The large Jewish communities spread their influence and authority on the smaller Jewish settlements in their neighborhood. This is how the peripheries were established. Occasionally an argument would occur as to which larger Jewish community a smaller settlement belonged. The major communities, i.e. Brisk, Pinsk, Grodno, and Minsk, established a council of Lithuania. Belonging to it were - "the head of the country", the rabbis of these large communities. The council dealt with all of the common matters of culture, elections to institutions, economics, education, religion and morals, tzedaka, and the settling of Eretz Israel. This was called the Council of Four Lands.
During the reign of Sigmond III (1532-1587), the Jews of Poland established an institution that had no predecessor in the history of the Diaspora, which bestowed on certain communities economy and power, and influence and importance both inside and outside.
Up to this point this was done as a matter of fact. During the period when chief rabbis would get together with their adherents and students at large gatherings in Poland, they would deal with various important issues and conflicts would be resolved; general decisions would be made. These original gatherings brought a great deal of positive change in the private and public lives of the Jews. It was under their influence that the idea was born to have these gatherings periodically between leaders of the major communities in order to achieve decisions and give guidelines to all of the communities in the country.
The upper classes in the communities were, at that time, most likely in an atmosphere of peace, and they were willing to cooperate, organize and get together to create from the communities that stood separated, some kind of cohesive unit. In the beginning, the communities of the large countries got together - Small Poland, Large Poland, and Riesen - in order to decide on a permanent council that would meet regularly. The government decided what total amount of taxes would be collected and they used the council as a tool to divide the taxes and to collect them. Most of the meetings were held in small villages in order to get away from the sphere of influence of the large communities. The council worked on remaining issues in a free environment, where they could make decisions and judgments about private people and communities without surrendering to pressure. In order for the council to really judge clearly and truthfully at times when community disputes occurred with their suburbs, the major representatives elected a chairman that presided over the talks and dealt with issues and questions; he would write in a book details of these issues along with the decisions that were reached during the meetings. Here conflicts were resolved between communities - anything that made life for Jews difficult - issues of taxation and correction, religious and moral amendments, the procedures and ways to keep danger away from the communities were thought out. There was financial aid for people who were lacking, and the council created an overseer to print and distribute important books. The also censored other books that were thought to be losses and bad influences; they didn't allow them to be printed or distributed. Later, when Lithuania was annexed to these countries, the council was then called the Council of Four Lands. The council was in charge of day to day procedures and morals of the community. It prohibited borrowing money from Christian priests, from military personnel and even from students without the knowledge and approval of the community. This was because a lot of problems arose with these loans. "And he who enslaves his wife and sons to non-Jewish like cast away from two worlds." From this clear ruling we learn that there were incidents where heads of families would put their sons and families on the line as collateral for the loans. From knowing that there were prohibitions designed we learn what sort of activities did take place. Nobody prohibits an act that does not occur.
In 1623, the Lithuanian council separated from the general council and its first rulings date from the month of Elus 1623. The first ruling of the Council of Four Lands is from Nov. 22, 1580. The Council of Lithuanian Jews carried on until 1764 and then was canceled. The Council of the major communities would get together, on average, once every two years, and then once every three years between 1662 and 1700. Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1530-1612), sat on the chair as the chief Rabbi of Lublin and was most likely the founder of the Council of Four Lands. After him, the chairman was Rabbi Yehoshua Falik Hacohen, the author of the book - Pnai Yehoshua - and the head of the Yeshiva in Lvov (1592-1616).
In 1619, the Jews in Grodno received permission to build a synagogue but there were several restrictions, one being that it wouldn't be taller than any of the other buildings around, and also that it wouldn't be similar in outside appearance to the beautiful churches. The community of Vitebsk was founded and received a bill of rights. In Vilna and in other cities there were sort of ghettos under the pretext of safety for the Jews against the murderousness and burglary of fanatics who were in the cities and who believed in Jesus Christ.
Between the years of 1633 and 1648 there was a very strong conflict between the Jewish artisans and the Czech organized Christian ones. In Vilna, Jewish tailors were only allowed to make clothes for Jews so as to keep them out of competition with their Christian counterparts. The sons of Rabbi Nathan Shapira, A., B., and D., from Krakow who wrote Migalei Amukot, published their father's book in 1636 and three years after his death. His son, Rabbi Moshe Shapira, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Eliezer Katzin, one of the heads of the community. He lent money to publish the Shas in Lublin. Along with his brother, he received assurances regarding the bills of rights of the Jews of Lithuania and Vilna.
In 1637, a fire broke out in Brisk. During the fire and the great chaos that it caused, the shops and houses of Jews were robbed by gentiles. The Jews defended themselves and their property and, in order to maintain good order from that point on, a guard was formed that was made up of equal numbers of Christians and Jews. The Vilna community, which was the youngest of all of the major communities, grew very very quickly. Vilna became the center for Torah, and a pillar of wisdom that everyone went to. She left all of the other communities behind in that respect. In 1622, Shabta Cohen was born in Vilna (author of Yoreh Dea). He was one of Yehuda Falik Hacohen's students, and was one of the head rabbis in Lvov. He printed his book in Krakow in 1646 at the age of 24.
In Vilna, the chief rabbi was Moshe Ben-Yitzchak Yehuda Lima. He was also one of the Rabbi Yehuda ("the sharp one")'s students. He wrote the book of Kalkat Mechoket, on the Shulkhan Aruch's Ebn Ezer. The members of the Beit Din in Vilna in his days were Rabbi Ephraim Ben Aharon, the author of the book Shaar Ephraim, and Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Kaidnover, the father of the author of Kav Hayashar, Zvi Hirsch, and Rabbi Hillel, author of Beit Hillel, on the Shulchan Aruch.
In 1652, the Vilna community received representation on the Council, however not equal in its rights as the more, well-established large communities in those years.
In Grodno in 1653, the Jewish artisans came to an agreement with the Christian tailors and, according to it, they were to pay 6 zehavim and 2 litraot in gunpowder every year to the Christian tailors, and reciprocally they were allowed to deal in tailoring and fur trade freely. They were also allowed to employ Christian workers. In the suburbs of Vilna, Makendia Delmadiggo (1591-1656), served as the doctor to the Duke Radziwil. He was one of the most enlightened and scientific Jews of that time. He studied at a scientific institute in Padua and learned Torah from the great Galili (1564-1642). With Galili, Delmadiggo learned the theories of Copernicus (1473-1543). He became famous in Poland as a great doctor. A large number of young men and people interested in knowledge would gather around him, especially Karaites.
During the Shoah (1654-1655), many great rabbis fled. Among the very few that returned was Rabbi Moshe Rabakash, the author of the Eir Hagolah, the son-in-law of the Vilna Gaon. In the years 1669-1673, Jan Sobiesky, the king, authorized the bill of rights of the Jews and defended them against the city dwellers that were against Jews settling in their cities. In 1676 he reauthorized the bill of rights of the Jews of Brisk after the city rearose. (In 1660, the city was burned down and completely vandalized by the Russians.) They were allowed to pursue professions without belonging to any of the Christian guilds, and they were allowed to conduct business in shops and on the streets. In 1673 the tinsmith's guild and the guild for needle makers in Vilna agreed that there would be four Jewish tinsmiths that would be licensed to work, and those licenses would be inherited. In return, the Jewish artisans agreed to pay the guild 25 zehuvim.
The number of Jews in Lithuania in the years 1673-1677 was about 32,000, and in Poland 150,000. Head tax that was levied on the Jews in Lithuania was 25,000 and in 1677, 20,000 because, in the meantime, the number of people dwindled because of the wars and the skirmishes that occurred because of evil men. Life in the large cities was hard for the Jews because the municipal authorities made life difficult for them and the Christian guilds did not want them working there. These difficulties were a catalyst to the founding of smaller villages in far away places, i.e. - the rest of Lithuania. In the year 1674, Rabbi Gershon Yissachar-Bar decided to build a Talmud Torah, in order to raise the level of the economy and culture.
Vilna was marching ahead and fighting for first place among the communities as a center for Torah and wisdom, that brings affluence to all the communities. The Jews developed business and artisanship and they would teach destitute boys, whose parents could not afford to teach them; they should send them to chederim for private tutoring. Rabbi Gershon committed to this holy endeavor 2225 zehuvim. The Council received this amount from the Vilna community and agreed to dedicate 7 zehuvim every week for the needs of Talmud Torah. Rabbi Yosef Ben-Mordechai donated to the learners of the Talmud Torah 675 zehuvim. From this fund they received five zehuvimk every year. Before his death, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel (the sharp one) donated a large sum of money to found a Beit Midrash. His rich widow added a large sum of money and built a high and luxurious building.
The struggle between the Jewish community and the municipality of Vilna continued and was very difficult. In 1712, the Jews were prohibited from dealing in gold. The Jewish tailors and furriers were prohibited from working with Christian servants. The Jewish wholesalers were prohibited from purchasing food goods from Christians in order to sell before 9:00 A.M. They were also not allowed to go to the small villages to buy anything directly from the farmers.
In 1715, the Jews of Calvaria, just outside of Grodno, received a bill of rights and were allowed to conduct business and artisanry without the need of any authorization from the Christian guilds. The conflict between the communities and the municipalities continued without a break. The Pinsk city dwellers complained that the Jews were taking over their city and pushing them out. They complained that, in the year 1633, the Jews owned only 18 houses in the city and now, after only 34 years (in 1667), the Jews had 600 houses. In 1717 the city dwellers brought forth a complaint in Pinsk against the Jewish residents, saying that into the hands of the Jews almost all of the Christian houses and lots were passed, including the houses of the guilds of the tailors, furriers, blacksmiths, butchers, and the shoemakers. They complained that all of these were purchased by Jews that were taking advantage of Christians.
These were routine exaggerations and complaints made by the haters of Israel that date all the way back to the days of Lavan the Aramaic. (A quote from the Bible.) In Kovno, Jews resided from the beginning of the 18th century and also in Slavodka (called Williampol in those days). In 1761 the Jews were thrown out of Kovno, but they found a safe haven in Slavodka.
During the 17th century, Jews came to Smorgon, and in 1634 the community of Vilna and its peripheries excluded Smorgon. In 1637 it included Smorgon. In 1651 Smorgon existed as a separate unit that stood on its own and, as such, collected taxes for the council of Lithuania. Minsk paid 16 shook (one shook equals 60 grushim). Smorgon paid one shook. This meant that Smorgon was much smaller than Minsk, her neighbor. Head tax paid by Smorgon which, by this time, was already walled and broadened and had annexed and taken into itself one Gallil into its periphery, was 40 zahovim - (Polish zahovim equaled 30 grush). Minsk and its periphery were paying 120 zahov.
In 1678, after 27 years, Smorgon was still paying only one zahov. After the war, all of the communities became smaller and their financial ability to pay more was not there. However, after 42 years, Smorgon was paying a head tax of over 1700. During this period, Minsk was paying a tax of over 5500.
Rabbi Avraham Kineki, who was a shaliach from Hebron, in the ten years between 1683 and 1694, and was one of the most important emissaries of the late 17th century, was visiting Smorgon in order to collect money for settling the land of Israel. He witnessed and wrote about the cities that he passed through, and amongst them he mentions the community of and that they generously gave of everything that they had from their money and their gold.
In 1765 Smorgon had 649 people. But there were also many "disappeared ones", those that were trying to avoid paying taxes. In 1897 there were 6743 Jews and 2165 Christians. In 1861 an area was released which allowed the community of Smorgon to develop, even so that an academy for the training of bears to teach them how to dance was built. The area around Smorgon belonged to Prince Radziwil and Dukes Pototski Tishkewitz and other feudal rulers. After the unsuccessful liberation of the areas, they were left bare and without any means, and especially without any land to farm. Worried about a mutiny, he figured out this idea - he is going to take all of the unemployed and turn them into bear hunters. The forests around Smorgon were full of bears. They used to harness to their wagons and their carriages bears instead of horses, and drive down the streets of the town to the curiosity of all the residents. Near Smorgon, a small Jewish community was established during the days of Nicolai the First (1796-1853), during which time, the ruling governments gave out lands to Jews, in order to settle them. (Tenant farmerships.) Tenant farmerships were divided into ten parcels of land. After World War I there were more than 40 families that worked and farmed the lands.
Smorgon developed especially as an industrial city, i.e. a center for leatherwork. There were 54 factories for leather and 34 other small workshops. The merchandise was distributed in Russian cities, the Carpathians, Siberia, Manchuria and even Vladivostok. For a certain period of time they also sold their goods to Germany. Aside from factories for leather work, there were also two tobacco factories, Titon and Makorka, one factory for soap, three for wool shearing, two for knitting socks, and warehouses for kerosene, two tea warehouses, two warehouses for sugar and 175 shops. Cakes from Smorgon were famous throughout Russia and they were sold in all of the fairs. Since Smorgon was developing as an industrial city, a strong and revolutionary workers movement arose. Most of the Jewish workers were organized with the BUND. Among the Lithuanian workers there arose, in the beginning of the 1890s, a mass movement to better the harsh working conditions. In Vilna and in Smorgon, the workers began organizing and demanding shorter work days. There were strikes in 1893 and 1894 in Smorgon; the government persecuted the strikers and a lot of them experienced hardships in Siberia. The government supported the employers against the workers. Already in 1893, the stockbrokers in Smorgon were celebrating Mayday. In 1894 the fund for strikes had 200 members. In 1895 the Smorgonian Council founded, through the initiative of the writer David Pinsky, workers' libraries in several cities. Among them was also Smorgon. At the end of 1895, 850 workers in Vilna struck. This strike brought about the organization of 27 professional unions. At about the same time an equal number of Jewish workers were striking in Minsk. Workers from several other cities, among them Smorgon, joined the strikers (after Vilna and Minsk). 1892 through 1895 are the years in which we began to see workers' movements in Smorgon. The industry of leather existed also in Smorgon and consisted of 27 workshops. The methods for working leather in Smorgon were old and antiquated.
They would place the leather in soaking holes and afterwards they would work them by hand. In the leathershops, 461 workers were employed, among them 258 Jews.
In London, Congress Social Democratic organizations were represented for the first time. The group that represented Russia was made up of representatives of nine cities, among them Smorgon. In 1896 the 4th International Socialist Congress in London was happening. Of the four representatives that were sent, one of them was from Smorgon. This representative was a woman, Vera Sozolitz. The founding meeting of the BUND took place in 1897, between the 7th and 9th of October. The group from Smorgon could not participate in the meeting because of the harsh crackdown by the police, but even so, they announced their joining the BUND. The regional organization of stockbrokers started intensive work in 1897. Most of the workers were small storeowners that became bankrupt or social elements that lost their standing. The "damp workers" (in the leather workshops) were the ones that suffered the most from being taken advantage of. The working conditions were unbearable. During the winter days, their hands would freeze and stick to metal. (Despite the cold, employers refused to supply wood for heat.) For the "dry workers" in the drying rooms, the heat was unbearably high. The workers used to work in their underwear and they would sweat nonstop. In the workshops there were 400 Jews among 600 workers. The exploitation went up and up. They were afraid of the government. (During visiting times of inspectors to the factories, the workers being so afraid of the employers, would give erroneous and incorrect information regarding the length of the workday, etc. They used to hide the underage workers until the inspectors left. In 1896 there were ten cases of a certain disease that swept through Smorgon. Six of the ill died. These terrible conditions were the impetus for the workers to go to war. In 1896 strikes broke out many times. During that year there were 25 strikes in the factories and five in the workshops.
The workers in Smorgon refused to accept their time cards at work. They were fighting to a workday of 12 hours, and an increase in their salary of one ruble a week. The average salary during that time was four rubles a week. Every strike brought arrests and crackdowns by the government. As the crackdowns increased, the conviction of the workers grew too. In 1897 there were many arrests in Smorgon. As a result of all the strikes, the workday was indeed shortened to 12 hours a day. The Jewish workers movement formed support groups of its own; strike funds and professional organizations on the one hand, and development and skills workshops on the other hand. The movement had grown beyond being limited to one region or sector. The movement united several cities, among them, Smorgon. In the forefront of the revolutionary workers movements in Smorgon, we see Liba Ginzburg, the daughter of Rabbi Menashe Ginzburg, Sara Mitlitzkia, Shmuel Levine, and Olga Borstein. They were under the influence of Rovanova and Sinitzky, both belonging to grassroots revolutionary movements. Ivan Franciewitz Sinitzky was a resident of Smorgon, and a tax collector. Whenever he got ready to inspect the shops he would warn the shopkeepers in advance to get rid of the "chametz" (illegal stuff) that was in their shop. Under his influence we find Bila Ginzburg and the sister of Liba, Dvora Shimshlevitz, Sonia Shpalter and Rivka Danishevsky and Ida Haylekman. Sinitzky was a grassroots revolutionary. He didn't participate in the workers movement. Shmuel Levine, who leaned towards Marxism, invited Abraham Lissin to a debate in order to work against the harmful influence of Sinitzky, who treated negatively the workers movement that was based on the Social Democratic template. The debate took place in Sinitzky's home in the presence of six or seven of the movement's activists. Lissin expounded from the Marxist point of view. Liba Ginzburg gave free private lessons to Smorgon workers. The students/workers would show up in the house. Gershon, Yudel Cramer, Vilefka Minkus, and Bonsha Milkovsky. Liba taught them Russian and, after the lesson, she would conduct a propaganda session in favor of the Socialist Marxists, especially the ideas of class struggle. Shmuel Levine, who was a private tutor in Smorgon, founded the help fund and administered a study group for general education among the workers. This study group in general sciences and sociology had 20-30 members. The workers who had a class awareness would celebrate Mayday in the forests of Licznik that was near Smorgon.
As the movement grew and expanded, two provocateurs (informers in the secret intelligence service) Gorsky and Shtrashinsky intruded and infiltrated it. Levine left Smorgon in the year 1896, during the same year the first strike occurred. With the help of the informer Gorsky, the police discovered the book of the Aid Association (Kupat Ezra) with all names of tax-payers. Yudl Krimer and Eliakim Malkis, the treasurer, were arrested and sent to prison (exile). Minka from the "Karka", Nachman Ginzburg, Itzchak Tabetschnic's (tobacco salesman and industrialist) daughter and Aharon Shimshilevitch organized the youth among the tanners in their workshops. In the demonstrations in the forest during the year 1897, 400 workers participated. In 1898, demonstrations were already taking place in Smorgon's streets. In the years 1899-1900, workers used to organize funeral demonstrations in honor of the fighters who died in prison or shortly after their liberation; their deaths caused by long imprisonment that damaged their health. In Smorgon, a funeral demonstration also took place. In the year 1901, political consciousness grew among Jewish workers. It was almost impossible for propagandists to provide for their need for illegal literature. The tanning workers organized not only an economic war to improve their working conditions, but also demonstrated for political reasons. (KdS's ibid, p.170). In the same year workshop employees in Smorgon organized a general strike. Their work day lasted from 5:00 to 20:00 into the evening, or 15 hours. The strikers demanded to work for only twelve hours per day. The strike succeeded. The employers responded positively to the workers' demands. Nevertheless on Shmini Atseret, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukhot) 1901, a Cossack company of one hundred entered Smorgon. 30-40 workers among the strikers were arrested. They were imprisoned in the Antokolsky prison. The workers in Smorgon did not retaliate. In fact, they overcame and organized a general strike of employees in all the factories and workshops in the city. The factory inspector conceded that the workers demand to work twelve hours per day was justified since, according to Katerina (1729-1796) who ruled from 1762-1796, it was prohibited to employ factory workers for more than ten hours a day. The mayor of Vilna had publicized this law in 1892. However, the workers were not content with only economic demands, but required political rights and justice as well. Their demands included the liberation of political prisoners, the right to free gathering, the right to a free press, and a constitutional assembly for all Russia. The strike continued from October 12th to 27th. The police oppressed the strike. All 120 activists were arrested. Gershon Feldman was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison and was transferred to the Irkutsk district. He returned to Smorgon in the year 1903. In spite of all the pogroms, persecution, and repressive laws, the workers achieved a shorter work day of twelve hours. Fun Wall, governor of the Vilna district, visited the prison where the Smorgon strikers were imprisoned. He attacked them with insult and blasphemy, and prohibited them from having interviews or visits from relatives. At the same time, a group of Jewish workers was also brought into the prison in Vilna, which was congested with all types of political prisoners. Tanners from nearby towns - Smorgon among them - and their crime - striking for higher salaries and improvement of their life conditions. Fun Wall himself honored them with his visit to the prison cells. He came to speak with them and, during his entrance, he ordered them not once but twice, and threatened them with a contempt order. But they didn't budge from their positions. He ordered the May 1st strikers flogged, but Hirsh Likert shot him and he was hung by the Tzar's hangmen (A, Sh. Shtein. cammarade Arthur, p. 48 1953, Tel Aviv). The Pristavu in Smorgon arrested the workers, for every conflict that occurred between the workers and their employers. He arrested the worker activists, as if they were (revolutionaries) and sentenced them to prison in Vilna.
The prisoners walked the whole way, and were guided by Cossacks that beat them to death. Even those who escorted them were beaten without mercy (Kaz'dan, ibid, p. 215). Almost all of the political activists and revolutionaries in Smorgon died for their activity. Liba Ginzburg died on August 18th, 1912. Sarah Miatliskaya escaped to London, returned to Minsk, and from Minsk she was smuggled by her friends to the United States, became sick and committed suicide in the hospital. Nacham Ginzburg (daughter of Itzchak the tobacco man), who organized a strike of the dressmakers, escaped to the United States, returned to Kiev and died suddenly. The famous student of Shmuel Levine, Issac Mayer Divnishevsky, was killed in 1919 by the Polish Legionnaires in Vilna. Levine came to the U.S., graduated from medical school, and died all of a sudden from stomach disease. This list was compiled by Bela Ginzburg in the year 1937; she also committed suicide a few years after her brother-in-law Abraham Lissin did. During the year the "BUND's" branches conducted propaganda against the recruitment (draft). One of the active branches was in Smorgon. These activities led to conflicts with police, arrests, and exile to Siberia (Lithuania Jewry, p. 557).
Smorgon and the Immigration to Palestine
Of the pioneers that immigrated to Palestine, some were residents of Smorgon. Among the students of Rabbi Chaim from Vollozhin, who had a strong influence on generations to come, Rabbi Joseph Charif must be noted. He died in Jerusalem in 1861. He was the son of our great teacher Aharon Shteinhardt from Smorgon. A regular visitor of Rabbi Chaim from Villozhin, Rabbi Charif was full of the virtues of his teacher and rabbi...and strongly influenced Rabbi Hirsh Michal Shapira, of blessed memory. One of the very unique institutions he established was a special school in Jerusalem, which Rabbi Jacob Moses continued (Lithuanian Jewry, Prof. I/I/Rivlin, The Jews in Lithuania and Erez Israel, p. 471). Among the Biluim there were also Smorgon residents. Shlomo Zalman Tzuckerman (Avinoam), was born in Smorgon, Vilna district, in 1867. He was educated in traditional and general schools. He joined the assembly of the "Tribe of Israel" Association, in Minsk, and was transferred to Palestine by the association. He immigrated to Palestine on the 3rd of Shevat, 1884, when he was 17. He was accepted as a member of the 'BILU' (Beit Yaa'cov Nelchu Venelcha - Sons of Israel Let's Go), worked in Mikve, Israel and settled in Hedera when the village was established. In 1905-1906 he participated in a delegation to America, together with Dov Leibovitch (Ariel) in order to distribute wines from Palestine. He died in Gedera, Iyar 19th, 1927, when he was 60 years old. He left an extensive family, his sons - Yoav and Asahel - from the saviors of the Negev country. (Arie Tzantzifer, Steps of Salvation, p. 52, fig 102, 177. Lithuanian Jewry, p. 498). Here is a paragraph from the rules of BILU (A interior rules, the goal of BILU): 1. To settle and return the people of Israel to this ancestral land. 5. Those who joined BILU and became part of its very important ideas must decide to abstain from all other desires. 18. Only young men could join - not older than 25 years - single man, free of burden of women and children. 19. The member should not carry or be the owner of any property or capital. It is prohibited to make the effort to achieve this goal; all his resources, power and strength will be sacrificed to the benefit of the association. 20. It is prohibited to marry a woman during this period, until...he becomes a land owner himself. 21. Nobody may own anything by himself; this includes his articles of clothing and whatever he brings from his home or gets by transport from there, will be the property of the association. The center of correspondence in Kishinev, correspond with 11 associations, among them was Smorgon (Lithuanian Jewry, p. 511). Dr. Tchelnov could not continue to handle affairs on behalf of the association from Moscow, because of the attitude of the regime. However, the diligent activist G. Veinstein continued from Smorgon, (Lithuanian Jewry, p. 526). In the Zionist conference of the Vilna district in 1900, the delegate Meir Vernick from Smorgon took part (Tzentzifer ibid, p.142, figure 394). In the second conference of Russian Zionists in Minsk in 1902, delegates from Smorgon participated as well. Halperin wrote to Dr. Hertzl during his visit in Vilna in 1903 and said, "The workers in Smorgon do not believe in Zionism." Answered Hertzl, "Go and tell to Smorgon's workers that Zionism will be realized." In 1905 in Smorgon, an S.S. Association (Socialist Zionists) was founded, their members were mostly tailors and commerce assistants. In 1908 Wollfson returned from St. Petersburg, accompanied by Sokolow. He was delayed one day in Vilna. Many delegations came to his reception; one of them arrived from Smorgon. In the delegation were Shimshelevitch and another messenger and they greeted Wollfson (Lithuanian Jewry, p.521). The district committee organized a Zionist conference in the districts. In that way, a conference of the associations in Vilna district took place in Smorgon, in Adar Bet (Second Adar y.o-k) 1909. (ibid, p.525). Dr. Ben Zion Momson visited Smorgon and lectured in 1909. A group of Zionists took pictures with the guest. (Arie Tzentzifer, ibid, p.151, figure 438).
In year 1915, World War I was continuing with extreme momentum. Smorgon had achieved industrial and commercial climax when, unexpectedly, a disaster and ruin came upon it. In the Vilna district, 20 towns and cities suffered great damage, among them Smorgon, which became a heal of ruins. Since the beginning of 1915, the city was included in the battle zone. Struggles between Christians and Jews concerned land, shortage of money, expropriation of land, and a plot by speculators. On August 7th, Cossacks entered the city and soldiers agitated the Jews. Several troops of the German Cavalry broke through the front line and surrounded from three directions the Russian Corps near Smorgon. On September 2nd, the Germans entered Smorgon. They searched for leather, money, valuable articles and confiscated them. The German commander captured Jewish hostages. The withdrawal of the Germans from Smorgon brought happiness among the whole population. However, joy did not last for long; the Cossacks reentered Smorgon following the withdrawal of the German soldiers. The Christian population informed on the Jews, saying they helped the Germans. On the night of the 8th of that month, Jewish property was robbed again and local Christians took part. Many Jews escaped through the forests on the way to Minsk. The soldiers broke into houses of Jews, with the excuse of searching for Germans, murdered and raped. A group of Jewish soldiers (around 40) organized to protect the Jewish population. The group fought against the Cossacks in the front yard of the synagogue's entrance, in the place where the Cossacks raped Jewish women that hid there. When the Jewish soldiers broke into the synagogue, a horrible sight appeared before them; the Cossacks were in the process of ruining ritual articles and tearing Torah scrolls. On the floor lay women's corpses that were raped and died of torture, and near one of the young girl's corpse lay her father's corpse. In the battle between the Jewish soldiers and the Cossacks, two of the defenders died and many were injured. The Cossacks were injured as well. A deportation command was added to the pogroms and, with the deportation, there was robbery, arrests and even killing and the burning of houses. Whoever did not escape or was not well hidden enough, died in the fire. Fugitives were injured in the forests and on the roads by soldiers and peasants (Lithuanian Jewry, The History of the Jews in Lithuania, by Israel Kloizner, pp.120-121). On September 11, the Jews of Smorgon were ordered to be exiled. The command was ordered by junior officials/ functionaries themselves. To the house of Abraham Sobol entered the Cossacks officer and commanded him to hurry up and to leave the city. One of the sons, Leib Sobol, answered that he could not abandon his dying father in bed. The officer asked him to show him the sick man and when the son fulfilled his order, he took out his gun and shot the sick father, killed him in front of his son's eyes, and told him - "Now you can leave the city, since you have no one to take care of in his sickness." He deported the whole family and did not let them bury their father.
The Jews were deported and their houses were burned. The Cossacks and their officers passed from house to house and burned them. Other Jews hid themselves in cellars, but the fire and the smoke forced them to go out and escape with their lives. Vilentchic was captured when he left the bathhouse. Because he evaded the banishment edict, he was sentenced to hanging, but he saved himself when he gave 1500 rubles ransom to the officer. Veinstein, who was paralyzed, asked to be pushed into the Lubavitche Shtible, and there he was burned. Kalman Razovsky was injured. Many Jews were burned alive. Among the pogromists, the Ukrainian Cossacks were noted for their cruelty and wildness. Those who escaped were arrested on their way by the Russian soldiers and were injured, robbed and beaten to death. The peasants, as well, assaulted the refugees with batons. The Charkes told the peasants that the Jews are licentious and they allowed them to cut off their heads, without being punished. The soldiers prohibited the few good peasants from giving night lodging to the refugees of Smorgon in their houses. Many children died along the way; pregnant women miscarried. The number of refugees that escaped to Minsk was only 8000 (Chapter from: The Scroll of Ruin). "During several hours, the Jews of Smorgon were forced to leave the city in great haste..the picture was horrible and terrible. Men and women, toddlers and babies in their arms, bunches of underwear and pillows on their shoulders, marched tens of miles. More accurately, they ran in order to arrive at the train station going to Minsk, in the cold and rain. Hungry and very tired, they ran away from the sword." (Mendel Sudersky, pp.1549-1550).
The exiled Smorgonians first dispersed all over Russia. Some of them arrived in Harbin and some even arrived in the United States of America. Afterward, they started to converge, and then they had better days. When they had some relief they congregated and established industrial centers for tanning and tailors from Smorgon were invited to come. The same was done in Kharkov on the Don River. During the years of the war, a strong shortage of processed leather was felt, and the Smorgonians organized and returned to their work. They continued to work in tanning and the connection between the Smorgon employee and his employer did not end (A. Rafls Zamelbuch, Smorgon, 1937.) In 1921, after their exile years, Smorgonians returned to their home town. The rehabilitation work started in full drive and strong momentum. The assistance committees (Yikofu) and their equivalents in the U.S. helped those who returned, by organizing the welfare relief. The German forces flooded large areas in the Pale. "Under the whip of difficult orders, cruel deportations were carried out by enemies of Israel, Nicolai son of Nicolai (Uncle of the King Nicolai the Second), the chief commander of Russian troops and his chief of staff the General Yanushkevitts. Millions of Jews had a difficult time, and a wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees and homeless spilled into Central Russia and the Ukraine; as always in hard times and distress, the Jewish heart was excited and restless. During the year of the war 1919, the Vilna 'Yikofu' was established by the gathering of delegates of the communities and Aid Committees of the Vilna district and Novogrodnik. Under its roof were included: juridical and legal aid, and also the rehabilitation of the ruined towns, the economic situation of the refugees and returnees, the war orphans, immigration, cultural work and cooperation, and other branches of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and welfare. (A.I. Grodzansky, Vilna in the Past and Present, ibid, p.109.) On February 2nd, 1921, a Smorgon representative participated in a Yikofu conference in Vilna. The first refugees settled temporarily in cellars, until their houses were completed. They barely made a living. Every week a market day took place and peasants from the surroundings came and brought their produce and land crop. The refugees bought from them vegetables, butter, cheese and eggs and carried the goods to Vilna. Transportation of the merchandise by train was difficult because of the malicious behavior of the wagon drivers. With a payoff they often softened their rigidity. The returnees showed their motivation and confidence, and their creative initiative by their attempts to remove the logs from the foxholes on the front, and reusing them as building material. In this way, the first buildings in Smorgon were built. In agriculture, the returnees managed more easily. They planted potatoes and vegetables, and ate their own produce.
5. Monetary Report - 'Yikofu'
To Smorgon, 257,876 Polish Marks (pm) were sent for building materials and reconstruction of the wreckage. 20 pm had the value of 1 dollar. On May 5th, 1921, 55 Jews returned and 15 houses were built for them. On October 22nd, simultaneously, 600 returnees were counted and 30 houses built. On December 5th, 37 houses, October 31st, 1922, 91 houses built; at the end of 1922, 60 more houses were built and 105 houses were in the process. -- Report on the budget that was received from "Relief Smorgon" in New York -- David Brunda brought more than 8000 dollars. 15,000 PM (Polish Marks) were given out as loans. Expended were 5000 PM on the building of the elementary school. The fence around the cemetery cost 4000 PM. They established a refugee building...10' x 21', that cost 3000 PM. The college building "Karka" cost 15,000 PM. The bathhouse 1000 PM, the hospital 1000 PM, the library 1000 PM, salary for teachers in the elementary school 1000 PM, refugees 50 PM, Benevolent Society without interest 500 PM. During 1922, 233 men returned to Smorgon, 247 women, 268 children; altogether 738 people returned. On March 12, 1922 a general meeting of the Jews in Smorgon took place, and a new executive committee of 14 members was elected; the chairman Dr. Jacob Provozsky and the secretary Gershon Veinshtein. These are the names of the members of the executive committee: Moshe Yehuda Krayns, Joseph Pravozsky, Jacob Boaz Horvitz, David Miller Baruch Danishevsky (from the 'Karka'), Ephraim Gross (Karka), Yona Stritzensky, Chaim Gorland, Moses Shapira, Abraham Katz, Neta Kubersky, Zusman Yetes, David Magides.
The supervising of the returned children and their parents was handled with motivation by a special physician. In August, 1922, 211 children were examined. The buildings for the children were to be checked this week. Negotiation with the Internat was taking place. They prepared furniture, beds, mattresses, sheets and blankets, and library for the children was to be established soon. In about two weeks from then, the Internat would start to function. In October 1922, teenagers between 14-18, who wanted to study art in Smorgon, stood at 56 boys and 57 girls. The returnees to Smorgon were delayed in Brenovitch and Stoivitch for about 2-3 months. They were forced to stay there until the officials agreed to return them to their place of residence. When they arrived, the received first aid, especially constructive support, and the means loans to rebuild their ruined houses. In November, 1922, in the public buildings, 126 people are already residing. The winter caused cutbacks in building work, and the workers were unemployed. From the report of Yikofu, all of the returnees were settled in dwellings. There were no homeless. Yikofu expended a total of 8,267,393 PM, 4070 of that on clothing shoes and food. On March 31, 1922, families received food, clothes, shoes, and, of course, health care. In case of emergency, sick men were moved to a 'rest home' in Vilna. A bakery was opened, tailors and sewers brought sewing machines. The carpenters, shoe makers and blacksmiths received support in order to enable them to buy tools for work. Health stations were established and opened with a paramedic and small pharmacy, with the help of EZA. The returnees suffered from lack of permanent ID cards, and they could not move out of the city. In the year 1920, Yikofu built the first houses of two rooms for the returnees: 12' x 10'. In the year 1921, 60 people lived in this (type of) house, and they were being used for the same purpose in 1922. In the beginning of 1922, when the wave of many returnees occurred, the problem of dwelling became more serious, so they fixed the first story of the college (Beit Midrash), and prepared it to be used as an apartment house. They prepared and fixed the cellar of Ch. Greenhoiz in order to also be used as an apartment house. Both houses started to function by September 1922; 60 people lived there. In March of the same year, a public building was founded near the cemetery. It measured 26' x 10', and was divided into two rooms. In that house lived 70 people or more. This house functioned as dwelling to the returnees until the end of 1922. During the months of June and July of that year, two buildings of Magides were built. They were rented as dwellings/dormitories to the returnees. In total, 500 people passed through those buildings, until their private houses were ready to be settled in. On June 15, 1923, all of those buildings were evacuated since it became too dangerous to live inside. Those people, whose private houses were not yet complete, moved to private houses. For the new arrivals that kept on coming, they fixed an old abattoir. Medical care was arranged by physicians that came from Vilna for visits.
211 children of the ages 1-16 were checked. All of them were anemic, 11 had opthalmia, 3 had ear infections, 1 laryngitis, 112 had internal problems, 31 were blind, 11 had orthopedic problems, 6 had mental and stress illnesses. Of all the children who were checked, 8 were orphans, 37 half orphans, and 123 were children of the poor; 18 were children of problematic situations. Internat (an orphanage for children) was opened. Thirty-six children, orphans and half orphans, lived there. They were children of the families that dwelled in public housing. (During that time a new building was built for 100 children.) A kitchen was established for the children capable of preparing meals to 150 children. Meanwhile, the main kitchen gave out 130 meals a day. In the spring of 1923, a 2-story building was built for Internat. Meanwhile, the Internat used lodgings in six cottages. One cottage was a dormitory for 32 children. The dining room for 130 children was in a second cottage. In the third were study rooms. In the fourth, reading and entertainment rooms. The fifth and sixth were dormitories for personnel. The old abattoir was renovated and functioned until spring as an entertainment cottage for sick children. Public housing near the cemetery was renovated and became the elementary school. Expenses came from Yikofu and the local community equally. They started to repair one building for carpentry for child returnees. In 1923, they added to the cottage one big room that was used as an entertainment room. The children established a sports club, a court of justice for themselves, an executive committee, etc. Lectures in geography and history were given. The image and physical condition of the children improved. From the kitchen the children got 3 meals a day; the weak and sick children got meals twice a day, according to the advice of the physicians.
The committee supported 140 people that received medical aid, extra high nutritional food, and rent support. In the elementary school, teaching and learning carried on as usual. All the repairs in the carpentry shop were done this month. Out of 12 families that lived in wet cellars, five were moved to private houses and four will find a place this month. Starting in March, 1923, general assistance stopped. It was given only for construction. In April, 1923, the carpentry shop was opened by Yikofu and ORT. Fifteen returnee children studied there. The workshop will work during the coming one and a half to two years; ORT will manage the institution and will provide all of its economical and educational needs. For this goal, the Yikofu will provide ORT with the building for awhile, and Yikofu's part of the budget will be 75%. This amount per year will be paid in advance and it will be raised to 2,000,000 PM. A two-story building was completed with 14 rooms. The Internat will stay in it. On the first floor there is one bedroom with 30 beds, 2 bedrooms with 35 beds, 3 for personnel, 4 apartments of 2 rooms and a kitchen for the manager, five for clothes storage, a cellar, food storage, wood storage, and a roofed toilet. The building has the shape of a T. Sixty children of the poor of the city live there as well as some of the orphans. The Internat owns the carpentry building and the elementary school. Out of 815 war orphans, 57 came to Smorgon.
Smorgon developed itself and expanded. It expanded its population, industry, and commerce. "Unemployed young men in towns surrounding Smorgon, entered the city and here they found work." (B.T.Z. Goldberg, Three months tell about Smorgon, p.1272 in the book Lithuania edited by Dr. M Dudersky.) In the beginning of the year 1941, the city of Smorgon had a population of 25,000 Jews and 4000 non-Jews. It boasted the following: two fancy colleges, 7 high schools/yeshivas, among them the shtiblech of Chabad and the Koidenev Chasidim, and others as well; one school/Talmud Torah, three small yeshivot, 1 home for the aged, 1 almshouse and a public kitchen which supported the poor of the city, fed them with bread, and, during the winter, supplied fire wood also; 1 hospital, 1 Benevolent society, a guesthouse for visitors from outside the city; 1 association which took care of the lonely people, slept with the needy and sick people and cared for them when they were sick. Among the wealthy and honored people in the town who founded the institutions mentioned above, there are some who should be specially distinguished: Zalman and Gedaliah Rotshtein, Yaa'cov Pirivozsky, Israel Sutskever, Zalman Bitchkovsky, Gedaliah Solodochi, Abraham Yehuda Tzukerman, and Yaa'cov Kubersky.
A short time later, the Holocaust came upon Smorgon as well as other towns and cities. Jewish Smorgon was ruined to its foundations during World War II.