Back Next

Section IV
The Interwar Years 1921-1939

During the interwar years the Polish government became increasingly intolerant of the Jews, placing more and more stringent restrictions on them. In part because of these restrictions and in part because of the world-wide depression, the bulk of Jews living in Poland at this time were members of either the poor lower-middle-class or still poorer working-class.[1] In this environment David-Horodokers tried to make their way, on the brink of destruction.

Under Polish Rule (1921-1939)

Yosef Lipshitz (with additions from Kathy Winston)

The 1920s

  According to the terms of the Treaty of Riga, David-Horodok became part of Poland in 1921. The border between the Soviet Union and Poland passed through the village of Malishav, 12-and-a-half miles to the east of town. The economic situation was very difficult. The town had been pillaged by the Balakovitzes and impoverished by war. Worst of all, David-Horodok had been torn away from the Ukraine, with which it was economically bound. Adding to the troubles, the Poles instituted a severe martial law. No one was allowed on the streets after eight o'clock in the evening and it was forbidden to leave town without having a special permit. Because of the newness of the border, not to mention its nearness, the movements of the people were restricted. The conditions of martial law made it difficult for people to adapt to the new life.

  After about six months the regime became more lenient, and life somewhat easier. People could move more freely and it was easier to get about. The "giant" began its relief activities. Delegates came from America who, among other things, brought help for David-Horodokers from relatives living in America. They also facilitated emigration for those families whose fathers and husbands had preceded them to America.

  A great stream of emigration began. After surviving the horrors of war, many Jews did not want to remain in David-Horodok. At first the emigration stream went to the United States. Afterwards, when it was more difficult to get into the U.S., emigrants went to Canada, Cuba and Argentina. They went wherever they were allowed. A pioneer group was also formed to emigrate to Eretz Israel. However, because of events in Eretz Israel in 1921, aliyah was halted and the group remained in David-Horodok. The problem was that from the spring of 1920 to the spring of 1921, an unprecedented 10,000 Jews had emigrated to Palestine, causing a wave of Arab rioting against the Jews. The British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, a Jew himself, called a temporary halt to immigration. Although the ban was lifted two months later, the granting of visas became more selective after that.[2]

  The economic situation in David-Horodok gradually improved. Almost everyone began business dealings. Shops grew like mushrooms after a rain. Inflation soared and as the Polish mark was devalued, business people started earning "millions." The hyperinflation allowed individuals to pay back the money they had borrowed to start their businesses in ever-cheaper marks, which also permitted a relatively quick recovery from the war. That is the way things were until the Polish currency was stabilized, and the orgy was over.

  At first the government's printing more and more money was a good thing. As long as the mark was heavily depreciated, externally even more so than internally, Polish goods were cheap, exports recovered and from their proceeds foreign loans could be repaid. However, in the second half of 1923, inflation accelerated at such an astronomical rate that the ensuing upheaval made foreign trade almost impossible. At the beginning of 1924, Poland's first attempt at monetary stabilization came, and Poland introduced a new "sound" currency, the zloty. However, the exchange rate from the mark to the zloty had been fixed too high, causing a three-year, severe recession. In 1924 alone industrial production fell nearly 30%.[3]

  In David-Horodok, the Poles would not allow the by-now worthless marks to be exchanged for full-valued zloty, so all the new merchants were forced out of business. It became difficult to earn a groschen [half a penny]. To this was added the onerous tax system of the Prime Minister (also Finance Minister) Wladislaus Grabski, who levied such an impossibly high tax on the Jewish merchants and craftsmen that it impoverished them.

  Grabski's move came in April 1925, as the Polish currency was again sliding and the country had been in recession for 18 months. His tough new budget provided mainly for reevaluating old taxes in the new "hard currency" unit and an increase in existing urban taxation. The tax scheme was strongly condemned by the Jewish community, which considered it to be aimed directly at their pauperization. Waves of protest followed and all contacts between Jewish leaders and the government were severed for a time. As a result of the panic among Jews that followed this budget, the second half of 1925 produced 25,000 Jewish ‚migr‚s from Poland to Israel, a movement that became known as Aliyah Grabski.[4]

Click for fullsize image

Meeting of David-Horodokers in Palestine, 1933

  Although economic life was hard, organizational and political life flourished in David-Horodok. The Jewish townsfolk established political parties, youth movements, cultural societies and charitable institutions. All the Jews, but especially the youth, threw themselves into these tasks with fiery zeal and exceptional devotion. They established a Hebrew Tarbus (culture) public school, which in time became one of the best in Poland. They established banks such as the Public Bank and the Merchants' Bank. They developed an excellent Orphans' Committee, which gave rise to multi-faceted activities. They founded libraries, sports clubs, drama circles, etc. However, it is not necessary to dwell on the institutions here as they will be described in more detail in the second half of this section.

Click for fullsize image Click for fullsize image
Zionist Organization's Committee; David-Horodok, 1922 Committee of the David-Horodok branch of Po'alei Zion (Workers of Zion)

  Unfortunately, within greater Polish society things were not so harmonious. Because of deep social divisions after WWI, a large number of political parties and splinter groups were elected to the Senate and the Seym[5] [the House of Deputies]. So many factions led to frequent changes in government, which caused such political instability that action was almost impossible. Most critical of all was the inability of a majority to agree on major economic questions. Consequently on May 26, 1926, as the state's finances were again tottering, Marshal Josef Pilsudski, the military hero of Poland, staged a successful coup d'etat. With this, Poland's short-lived experiment in democracy was brought to an end.

  After the Pilsudski upheaval, conditions began to stabilize. The Jews led a more or less quiet existence. They could earn a livelihood from commerce and handicrafts.

  However, life was monotonous and uninteresting.


Anti-Semitism Increases

  Although Hitler's coming to power in Germany in 1933 intensified anti-Semitism in Poland, the situation got out of hand with the death of Marshal Pilsudski in May 1935. For the majority of Polish Jews, Pilsudski's death was a shock, for they believed that his quasi-dictatorial rule had been the only restraint on Poland's deeply ingrained anti-Semitism. They were probably right, for Poland's drift toward the fascist right sped up after Pilsudski's death.

  In September 1934, the signing of a ten-year non-aggression pact with Germany caused the Polish government to renounce its obligations toward minority rights, obligations that had been imposed on it by the Allies when the country was created at Versailles in 1919. Then in July 1935, a new electoral law was passed that restricted the ability of the minority nationalities to nominate their candidates to the Seym freely. With this, a stream of anti-Semitic propaganda appeared from the Catholic Church. One of the most famous examples was a pastoral letter issued by the new Primate of Poland, Cardinal August Hlond (considered a moderate!) which was read out in most churches in Poland. Among other things the letter said: "One does well to prefer his own kind in commercial dealings and to avoid Jewish stores and Jewish stalls in the market, but it is not permissible to demolish Jewish businesses." Then the letter made accusations that the Jews were atheists and Bolsheviks, had a fatal influence on morals, spread pornography, and were embezzlers, usurers and white-slave traffickers. However, in case anyone might think that the Primate of Poland was not impartial, the letter included a sentence toward the end: "Not all the Jews are, however, like that."[6]

  Pilsudski's death encouraged the hopes of the fascist right and the whole anti-Semitic movement. Extremist nationalist youth became much bolder and staged excesses in the months following Pilsudski's death that could not have happened in his day. In June 1935, the first fascist pogrom against the Jews since 1920 took place in Grodno, and five months later another was staged in Odrzywol. Then came Przytyk, Minsk-Mazowiecki, and Brest-Litovsk. Altogether there were hundreds of violent attacks on the Jews in the second half of 1935. The right concentrated especially on the universities, for these had been the sites of anti-Jewish riots in the past, and began beating Jewish students.[7]

  The infamous owszem[8] or economic boycott politics began in June 1936, after being suggested in the inaugural speech of the new Prime Minister of Poland, General F. Slawoy-Skladkowski.[9] This policy encouraged Polish customers to boycott Jewish businessmen, shops, handicraftsmen, and factories. Actively implemented by the nationalist extremists, the policy consisted of more than propaganda. It involved picketing Jewish stores and threatening Poles who dared enter, smashing store windows, overturning stalls and pushcarts, destroying merchandise, and knifing and beating Jewish owners.[10]

  To encourage "Polonization" of the economy, i.e. to drive out the Jews, Polish authorities began to subsidize, through low-interest credits obtained from state banks, the transfer of Polish merchants from the western to the eastern provinces in order to replace Jewish merchants. In David-Horodok several Poles were imported to open up shops to compete with the Jews. Fortunately for the Jews, the policy was a disaster due to differing conditions in western and eastern Poland. The Poles from the west did not understand the economic situation in the east and therefore could not compete with entrenched shopkeepers. Because Jewish prices continued to be significantly cheaper than Christian, the economic boycott as well as Polonization of trade failed almost completely in the shtetls. Peasants simply took more notice of comparative prices than crude anti-Jewish slogans.

  Although the air was saturated with primitive anti-Semitism, this anti-Semitism was not expressed in as vivid a form in David-Horodok as in other Polish towns. This is explained by the fact that the Poles constituted only 5-10% of the population in David-Horodok, while the remaining 90-95% were the Jews and Horodtchukas, who also felt abused by Polish authority.

  In addition, the peasants surrounding David-Horodok were unimpressed with the virulent anti-Semitism that was blaming all of Poland's problems on the Jews. Guided by common sense, they knew very well that their plight was not due to the Jews but to the policies that oppressed them. Anti-Semitism was so much less a part of the countryside than the cities that in the summer of peasant strikes in 1937, no Jew was harmed. However, despite the calm in David-Horodok the Jews still felt quite alarmed.

  The conditions of the youth seemed particularly hopeless. Those who could took every possible way out of town. Most of those who left made aliyah to Eretz Israel, but the majority of the town's youth could not make aliyah because of immigration restrictions, and saw no way to get themselves out. The Jews waited for better times, not knowing and not believing they would ever come. David-Horodok Jews were embittered and full of hate for the anti-Semitic Polish authority.

  Meanwhile, as the danger of a Polish-German war approached with giant steps, Hitler succeeded in diverting the attention of the Poles away from their true problem. For some time, Germany and Poland had been informal allies. The ten-year non-aggression pact Hitler had concluded with Poland in 1934 had lulled Poland into a false sense of security. Then his racial theories had poisoned the atmosphere in Poland with the spirit of anti-Semitism, which both countries used as a bridge to span the abyss of historical enmity between them. Finally, Hitler made a friendship gesture to Poland by splitting Czechoslovakian territory with them, leading to Poland's annexation of the border area of Teschen (Zaolzie) on October 1, 1938.[11] This was greeted enthusiastically by most Poles. However barely a month later, on October 24, 1938, the Polish ambassador to Germany was presented with German demands to annex Danzig and a Polish "corridor" that would allow Germans access to the city. Although nothing was disclosed to the people, intuitively they became aware of the danger of war.[12]

  War came closer to being a reality day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute. German demands for Polish land were repeated in January 1939, and finally rejected by Poland three weeks later. The Jews felt like they were living under a black cloud. They forgot their previous score with the Poles. On March 21, Poland ordered a partial mobilization. The Jews put themselves in the service of the Polish government, willing to fight hand-in-hand against a common enemy.

Click for fullsize image

David-Horodok's first-string soccer team, 1937.

  On September 1, 1939, on a Friday morning, Hitler's troops invaded Poland. The Jewish people of Poland, among them the Jews of David-Horodok, stood and fought the Nazi enemy. But the sad ending of the Jewish community in David-Horodok nevertheless approached.

Memories of Itzhak Leib Zager, a Community Leader of the Interwar Period

I. Lipshitz and S. Zazik

  There stands in front of my eyes the small studyhouse on the Shulhav [Synagogue Court] in which I. L. Zager was raised and lived. A loving warmth permeated you when you entered this little house. His simple parents received you with a permanent smile on their lips. The peacefulness, quiet and cleanliness, the love of these people made you forget that you were in a small lowly house. You got a feeling of spaciousness.

  Zager's father, a blacksmith, was a scholar like many other laborers in David-Horodok, and he sent his only son to the yeshiva. His son became instilled with the Zionist ideal along with his fellow yeshiva students such as P. Nuvak, S. Reznick and others. When they organized the first group of the Ze'irei Zion movement in David-Horodok, I. L. Zager proceeded to join them. His boundless devotion and enthusiastic activities soon put him at the head of the movement, which he led until the last day of his life.

  I. L. Zager's activities in town were not limited only to the idealistic Ze'irei Zion movement and later the Po'alei Zion party. There was hardly a social institution in the town in which he was not an active leader. In such manner he devoted much time and energy to the public library named after I. L. Peretz, of which he was a founder. The Keren Kayemes [Jewish National Fund], the charity boxes and especially the Orphans Committees were able to exist until the last moment thanks to his ties with America and the trust they had in him.

  I. L. Zager did his communal work with no expectation of reward. His honesty was renowned throughout the town. Characteristically, all the institutions in which he was active gave him the office of treasurer. Everyone had complete trust in his notebook where he would inscribe with tiny Rashi[13] script the revenues and debits of those institutions.

   I. L. Zager knew everyone in town, and everyone knew him. People would confide in him and would come to ask him for help. He managed the free loan funds and was always ready to help when he was convinced the individual involved was in a critical situation. He always knew who was really needy and who was not. He was not a talker but a doer.

  When in 1938 there was a local election in town, the natural candidate for community leader was I. L. Zager. The Po'alei Zion party and the artisans went to the polls with a joint list [slate of candidates] at the top of which was I. L. Zager. His popularity in town ensured the victory of that list in the balloting. Everyone wanted to see him become head of the community. Unfortunately certain circles paid off the proper people and the list was invalidated on the basis of the infamous paragraph 20, with the resultant embitterment and displeasure of the great majority of the Jewish population.[14]

  In the last years he worked on steamships as an agent for his brother-in-law in America. Even here he was the treasurer to the great satisfaction of the partners.

  He died at his work. He drowned while swimming near Nirtcha on Shabbes, August 1, 1939. His death caused great sadness throughout the town. Immediately a funeral committee was organized by all the political parties and communal institutions. The funeral took place the next day—Sunday, August 2—with a large procession composed of the entire Jewish population of the town. At the Shulhav [Synagogue Court], eulogies were given by representatives of all the parties and communal institutions. His grave was in the same section as all the departed greats of that generation in our town.

Click for fullsize image

Funeral of Itzhak-Leib Zager, David-Horodok - 1939

  The Organizational Funeral Committee selected three people to devise a plan to perpetuate his name. They proposed erecting, in his name, a building for the Orphans' Committee and the I. L. Peretz Public Library. At the end of the thirty-day mourning period, on September 2, 1939, they announced the campaign to accomplish this goal. Unfortunately the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939 nullified all their plans, and they were not even able to erect a stone over his grave.

  Perhaps it is symbolic that such a pure, honest soul was not contaminated by the murderous Nazis and local criminal hands.

David-Horodok Organizes

Yosef Lipshitz

Civic Institutions

The Municipal Government

  From the time the czars took over David-Horodok in 1793, its populace had the status of miatchonas [town citizens], with more political rights than the typical peasant had. The people would vote every three years for a town council consisting of three people: the starosta [elder] and two assistants. One of the assistants was always a Jew; the other two council members had to be Christians. This proportion was maintained regardless of the number of Jews and Christians in town. The election took place as follows: each street voted for a representative, and the street representatives then voted for the elder and his two assistants.

  This election process was far from democratic, and those who wanted to be elected took advantage of family ties, neighbors, and good friends. With the Christians, a little whiskey helped. That was the way things were until the revolution of February 1917, when the town council was enlarged. However, because of the stormy revolutionary times and the frequent changeover of ruling powers, these elections were also not very democratic. When the Bolsheviks appeared in town, they appointed a Revkom  [revolutionary committee], and when the Poles appeared, they appointed a town council. During the entire period that the Poles appointed the town council, the Jewish representatives were always the same: Moshe Lochovski, Moshe Yehude Lipshitz, and Shlomo Katzman. The appointed town council managed the town until 1928. In that year elections for town councils were held throughout Poland, so naturally they were also held in David-Horodok.

  1928 saw the very first democratic election for town council in the history of David-Horodok. The Jews took an active part in the election, and it was a vigorously fought campaign. Eight Jews were elected, representing 40% of the town council. They were Dr. Shalkver, Moshe Yehude Lipshitz, K. Lochovski, I. Yudovitch, R. Mishalov, S. Reznick, H. Tsipin and Yosef Lipshitz.

  However, the Jews' hope that they could use the town treasury to support Jewish institutions was quickly shattered. Every proposal suggested by the Jews to give financial aid to the Tarbus school, the Jewish libraries, or even the Orphans' Committee, was rejected by the Christian representatives and the one Pole, who was the chief representative. The only Jewish-operated institution that received a subsidy from the town council was the fire department. This was because it served the Christian populace as well. The town council did finance the town's Polish public schools, pave the main road, and build a power station in 1929, which provided light for the houses until 12:00 midnight.

  When the term of office ended for the town council, new elections were not held. The reactionary movement had strengthened in Poland and the government was not interested in new elections. The result was that an agreement was reached without an election and a new town council took office with only six Jews: Dr. Shalkver, I. Yudovitch, M. Kviatni, D. Rimar, Moshe Lochovski and S. Mishalov. By then the town council had no power because the actual town authority was the district administrator in Stolin.

  During the scant two years [September 1939 to June 1941] of Soviet rule in David-Horodok, there was no elected town council. Appointed Bolsheviks sent by the Communist Party ran the town.

The Kehilla

 Unfortunately we have no reference sources on the activities of the Jewish kehilla in David-Horodok. There are no remaining books or documents, either from the past or from the last years before the Holocaust.

  In historical times there was an organized kehilla in David-Horodok just as in all Polish-Lithuanian cities and towns. Until the last partition of Poland, the David-Horodok kehilla was linked to the Pinsk Great Kehilla, and paid taxes to Pinsk. However, we do not know how the kehilla was organized or when it became independent under czarist authority. It existed until the First World War.

  All we know about the David-Horodok kehilla is certain sources of its revenue. For example: the korobke [a special tax on kosher meat],[15] the selling of yeast which the kehilla gave as a exclusive concession to the rabbis, and the hevra kadisha [burial society] which was supervised by the kehilla. The hevra kadisha was a well-organized, closed institution in which membership passed by inheritance from father to son.

  During the First World War everything was abolished and the various kehilla affairs were taken over haphazardly by individuals. One would take care of the bathhouse and mikve [ritual bath], another the poorhouse, and still another the cemetery.

  The old cemetery lay at the edge of the Horin River and the water often washed away parts of its land. Every year the hevra kadisha had to spend money to repair the holy ground. This group, which had its own special revenue sources, covered the expenses.

  There was no official town rabbi in David-Horodok. Instead there were several rabbis, about four or five in number, each supported by his own circle, which had given him his rabbinical chair. From time to time there were conflicts between the various sides, especially when it came to dividing the rabbinical funds that flowed in from general sources.

  In 1917 after the Kerensky Revolution, at the initiative of the Zionist organizations, David-Horodok held its first democratic election among Jews for the kehilla. However, this kehilla did not have time to accomplish anything because of the Bolshevik revolution several months later and the disruptive transfer of the town from power to power during the wars.

  During the first years of Polish rule in David-Horodok after 1921, there was no Jewish kehilla in town. This was due to Polish fears of the Jews becoming a separate nation within Polish borders. The appointed town council representatives from among the Jews served as the semi-official agents of the kehilla. These men were Moshe Lochovski, Shlomo Katzman, and Moshe Yehude Lipshitz. After the coup d'etat in 1926, however, Pilsudski reinstated the kehillot to satisfy his Jewish supporters, especially the Orthodox. On October 14, 1927, the government finally enacted a law on "Jewish Religious Self-Governing Authorities in Poland." The law clearly emphasized the religious nature of the organizations; no political autonomy for Jews within Poland was being granted.

  As a result of this law, elections were held for the kehilla community executive board in David-Horodok in 1928. However, the election rules were quite reactionary. Only males over the age of 24 had voting rights, while women had no voice at all. The law severely restricted the jurisdiction of the kehillot, with responsibilities limited to religious affairs, philanthropic activity (including the establishment of interest-free loan societies), and social work. Other secular-cultural and political activities were not allowed.Supervision of the kehillot by the central government extended to such matters as the approval of rabbis, electoral procedures and community budgets (and from 1930 onwards even of individual budgetary items.)[16] In David-Horodok the kehilla's responsibilities became rabbinical matters, the bathhouse and the cemetery

  David-Horodok had a relatively large number of rabbis, which provoked great controversies over the kehilla elections, to the point of mutual denunciations. The denunciations resulted in the voiding of individual votes and even entire lists. These elections were no credit to the David-Horodoker Jewish population. The meetings of the kehilla were also a place for quarreling. There was a particularly severe quarrel over the choosing of a chief rabbi for the town. There were two kehilla elections during the period of Polish rule: the first in 1928 with the election of Meir Moravtchik as its head and the second in 1936 with the election of Koplinski as its head.

The Firefighters

  One of the most useful institutions in town was the fire department, which was 99% Jewish. David-Horodok, like all small towns in Belarus, was composed of houses built out of wood, most with thatched roofs. These often fell prey to fires. Fire, the unbidden and undesired guest, would pay a visit almost every summer and cause considerable distress. Homes were burned as a result of a variety of mishaps: carelessness with fires, setting out a hot pressing iron, going out at night to the stable with a torch, throwing away cigarettes that were still burning, children playing with fire, and arson.

  Fire was a nightmare for the masses. Summer was both the most beautiful and the most interesting time in the life of the town. However, it was often spoiled by frequent fires. In many homes the residents would pack up their valuables in summer and carry them away to one of the town's few brick houses, which were fireproof. An alternative was to keep the valuables at home in packs which would be easy to remove in case of fire.

  In order to fight this plague, even in former times a Firefighters Brigade was established. The town administration then built a large station to hold the equipment and water buckets. The town administrator levied a special chimney tax to finance the building of the station. The insurance companies also helped pay the expense.

  Almost all the Jewish youth enrolled in the Firefighters Brigade. They considered it a civic obligation to belong to the firefighters. Even though the Christian populace was in the greatest danger because of their thatched-roof houses, only three or four were enrolled as firefighters.[17]

  In the summertime the firefighters would periodically hold drills. In the olden days this was quite an event in the life of the town. Masai, the station watchman, went around all the streets with a special bugle to signal that the firefighters should come out to the drill. The firefighters put on their special uniforms and gathered at the station, which was in the center of the town. After a few calisthenics, one of them would be secretly sent into the streets to pick out a house which was supposedly burning. He then gave a signal and the firefighters would begin "extinguishing" the house. The firefighters always picked the house of someone they bore a grudge against. After the drill, they all had a beer.

  After World War I, the Firefighters Brigade expanded. The town council allocated more money to enlarge the inventory of equipment, and to teach the firefighters better techniques for extinguishing fires, especially containing their spread. However when a fire broke out in a stiff wind or in the vicinity of thatched roofs, the firefighters were unable to localize it. That is what happened in 1936 when a fire broke out mid-day in the Raditch, the Christian part of town. One third of the town, including the Eastern Orthodox church on the hill, burned down.
Click to see fullsize image Click for fullsize image
The Church on the Hill is Burning The big fire of 1936 in David-Horodok

  In the last years before World War II, the town administration directed the firefighters. Management remained in the hands of the Jews. The most active managers were I. Yudovitch and M. Rimar.

Political Organizations

Introduction from Joseph Marcus's book, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, pp. 261-2

  "Surely in no other country in the world are there so many political parties and associations as in Poland." This is the opening sentence of an important study of Poland's political parties published in 1925. But the Jews, proportionally, had even more parties than the Poles.

  Precisely how many, it is difficult to say. The answer depends firstly on how one defines a political party and secondly on which year one considers. For although most of the parties were founded before 1914, within the next twenty years, many new parties were founded and dissolved, some lasting only a few days, while others split or merged. Splits became increasingly common as the economic situation deteriorated, and political youth organizations became even more numerous than the parties to which they were attached.

  Why were there so many parties? Their number reflected the exceptional variety of opinions and the intensity with which Jews supported their political beliefs ... The variety of political opinions among the Jews was caused, above all, by the fact that parties representing class or economic interests were also sub-divided along nationalist and cultural lines. Thus a Jewish socialist might be Zionist, non-Zionist, or anti-Zionist, with a preference for Hebrew, Yiddish or Polish culture ...

  Because many Jewish parties had no class character, they included among their members people with divergent social views and were, therefore, prone to internal conflicts and splits. In addition, most Jewish parties, unlike those of other peoples, cut across international frontiers, so that global differences, as well as domestic ones, had to be reconciled.

  Finally, the extraordinary intensity of Jewish politics often led party members into dogmatism, an inability or unwillingness to accept the majority view, and hence to the formation of minute parties.

  This also partly explains the proliferation of youth movements, although the younger generation showed, in general, more political common sense than the older one. The variety of youth organizations reflected not merely divisions between the parties and the search for new paths, but also the hopeless prospects of finding employment in Poland. Many young men and women with political ideals and a talent for leadership took to organizing groups of youths for no other reason than lack of occupation. If successful, this effort offered a prospect of gainful work. Thus, there was a disproportionate number of political leaders who were physicians or engineers (professions, in general, poorly represented in politics), for the same reason that, as regards Jews, medicine and engineering were over-manned.

  In the early post-1918 years, orthodox Jews were more numerous in politics than any other Jewish group. But the Zionists were more important. Their strength was based not so much on the size of their membership as on a comparatively well functioning organization, which pre-dated Poland's independence. Above all, their strength came from the sympathy of many non-Zionist Jews, who by religion and tradition were as much attached to Eretz Israel, the land of their ancestors, as the Zionists. The latter also controlled most of the Jewish daily newspapers, which together had about half-a-million circulation in 1929, and also enjoyed the prestige of being a worldwide movement.

The Zionist Movement in David-Horodok

  David-Horodok was pro-Zionist from the times of the Hoveve Zion [Lovers of Zion]. As mentioned previously, the town was under the influence of Lithuanian Jewry. The Haskalah [Enlightenment] movement came to David-Horodok from Lithuania at the end of the 19th century. The Zionist movement also came from there.

Click for fullsize image

The first pioneers from David-Horodok

  Peretz Smolenskin's Wander Through Life and Abraham Mapu's Love of Zion and The Guilt of Samaria adorned the shelves of David-Horodoker households alongside the Talmud.

  People read the Hebrew press in David-Horodok. Some collected and bound The Dawn. Nahum Sokolov's Friday evening articles were not only read but also studied. Attempts were also made to educate the younger generation in the spirit of Zionism. For that purpose, the best teachers were brought to David-Horodok; they introduced classes where Hebrew was taught by speaking Hebrew. After World War I, youth circles were formed in which Hebrew was spoken exclusively. In 1915, the youth of David-Horodok took the initiative and arranged an illegal memorial service for Dr. Hertzl.

  Keren Kayemes [Jewish National Fund] stamps were sold at David-Horodok weddings as soon as they came out. Shimon Laichtman and Shlomo Razman would come to every wedding and sell these stamps.

  The eve of Yom Kippur, Zionists would sit in every synagogue with a collection plate for the National Fund. Whoever donated 25 kopecks had his/her name inscribed in a special book. The Slonimer Rov used to donate a ruble.

  Because of the czarist regime and later the war, it was difficult to develop diversified Zionist activities. However, under various pretexts, David-Horodokers held assemblies and celebrations on a variety of Zionist themes.

  Vigorous Zionist activity began after the Kerensky revolution in February 1917. It was as if the people had been in a lethargic sleep of latent energy, and they wanted to make up for the lost years of inactivity by throwing themselves into Zionist activities with wholehearted zeal and energy, filled with the hope and belief in the great possibilities that the Russian revolution promised for the Jewish people. The entire population of the town became involved in organizational and political activity. It was a disgrace not to be associated with a party. It was as if the Jews forgot their worries about livelihood and existence in their preoccupation with party work. With all their zeal they threw themselves into the election campaign for the Duma [constituent assembly] that was taking place in Russia. They set up the Jewish communal organization, opened a large Hebrew school, founded a library, established cooperatives, and were active in every realm of town and community life.

   Organizational life quieted down after the Bolsheviks seized power. However, as soon as the Germans entered David-Horodok, Zionist activities resumed. At that time news arrived of the Balfour Declaration which encouraged Zionist activities even more. The Balfour Declaration had been issued by the British in November 1917 to rally Jewish support to the Allied war cause. The Declaration addressed a long-held Zionist goal, declaring: "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.[18] However, the Zionist activity did not last long. The Germans retreated; the Bolsheviks re-entered and once again all Zionist work came to a halt.

  Following the stormy period of the Russo-Polish War and after a civil government was installed, there was renewed intensification of Zionist activities. The first visit from the Keren Hayesod [Foundation Fund of the Zionist Organization] representative Dr. Haimzun in 1923, was transformed into a magnificent demonstration for Zionism. The campaign for the Keren Hayesod was conducted by the entire Jewish population of David-Horodok. There was not a single Jewish family, even the poorest, which did not support the Keren Hayesod.

  The visit by the Keren Kayemes representative Y. Manuch from Degania made an even stronger impression. A complete holiday atmosphere ruled the town. No small thing, a delegate from Israel! People were curious to have a look at him. They wanted to see what a real Jewish farmer looked like. An extraordinary enthusiasm had seized the inhabitants of the town. The Jews in David-Horodok were then simply breathing in the air of Israel. The visit of Y. Manuch had strengthened the Jewish spirit and consciousness. This was the first direct contact with a Jewish farmer from Israel and it gave feelings of courage, national pride and self-worth to the Jews of David-Horodok.

  Through the visit of Y. Manuch, a "troop" of Keren Kayemes was organized in town. It existed until the outbreak of World War II, and conducted widely ramified activities for the parent organization of Keren Kayemes. The troop gathered Zionists from all directions, young and old.

Click for fullsize image

Second "troop" for the Jewish National Fund (KKL) in David-Horodok

  At that time, many Zionists had begun making aliyah to Israel. The pioneers that left David-Horodok included entire families of such men as A. Y. Shafer, Noah Granadier, A. Turkenitch, A. Shostokovski, L. Dushnik, D. Rimar, A. Lochovski, S. Mastair, Z. Pyne and others.

Click for fullsize image
The Aharon-Yonah Shafer family beside the ship in Konstanza, on their way to immigrate to Eretz Israel - 1925.

  With the onset of normal organizational life in David-Horodok after the Russo-Polish War, the political parties became active once again in the town. The first to renew their activity were the General Zionists and Ze'irei Zion [Young Zionists]. These were the principal parties in town during the entire span between the two wars. They were the most influential, had the largest membership and were the most active.

Click for fullsize image
The "General-Zionist Pioneer" group in David-Horodok.

  When the General Zionists renewed their activity, they zealously threw themselves into multi-faceted enlightenment activities. They worked for the Keren Hayesod and the Keren Kayemes. They opened a new library, which was not used during the Polish-Bolshevik War [or Russo-Polish War]. They held frequent meetings and lectures. They assisted in the rise of the Tarbus schools in David-Horodok and later also founded the youth movement Hashomer Hale'umi [National Watchman], later called Hano'ar Hazioni [The Zionist Youth].

Click for fullsize image Click for fullsize image
Nest of the "National Watchman" in David-Horodok Nest of the "Zionist Youth" in David-Horodok

  The General Zionists took an active part in the various campaigns in town, such as election for the Seym, town council election, Jewish community council election, Zionist congress election, etc. For a short period of time there was a training kibbutz of the Hano'ar Hazioni in the town. This was run by a youth group from outside David-Horodok. This training kibbutz did not last long, scarcely the one year of 1934, because of a job shortage in the town. The youth from this kibbutz went away to train in kibbutzim in other towns, and there they waited for approval to make aliyah.

Click for fullsize image
"Preparation Kibbutz"--The Zionist Youth for Kibbutzim in David-Horodok, 1934

  The General Zionists recruited mainly the well-to-do homeowners. The artisans, handicraftsmen, laborers and especially the youth constituted the bulk of the Ze'irei Zion party. The Ze'irei Zion, just as the General Zionists, renewed their activities and regained their feet once normal living conditions were established after the Russo-Polish War. The Ze'irei Zion was a party of youth right from the onset, i.e. in its activities as well as its general membership, which consisted of all young people between 18 and 25 years of age. This gave their work a dynamism, which was felt in every campaign.

  Full of youthful zeal and temperament, full of self-confidence and youthful idealism, they threw themselves into party work, and strove to encompass ever widening circles, not allowing any realm of organizational life to pass without their influence and involvement. Lectures, assemblies, elections, night classes, Keren Kayemes work, conferences, etc.—were their daily bread. The local was filled every evening with members who were ready to do any sort of work they were given. The Ze'irei Zion really developed a nice diversified group for all realms of organizational life.

  The Ze'irei Zion had great success in conducting a "tool" campaign in David-Horodok. This was the first great demonstration on behalf of the workers of Israel, and all gladly gave tools for the laborers of Israel. An especially selected commission of Ze‘irei Zion took on the task of helping the pioneers who came out of the Soviet Union. Through the initiative of the Ze'irei Zion the activities of the Orphans Committee were renewed. In 1923 the Ze'irei Zion founded the Hahalutz [Pioneers], and in 1924 they established a training kibbutz in Lisovitch.

Click for fullsize image

Preparation group in Lisovitch 1931

  In 1925 the Po'alei Zion [Zionist workers] established a library named after I. L. Peretz, which developed very well both in number of worthwhile books and in number of readers. In the last few years before World War II, it was the only active library in the town.

Click for fullsize image

The management of the I.L. Peretz Public Library in David-Horodok.
Photo is taken in front of the library building.

The youth organization of the Po'alei Zion was Freiheit [Freedom]. It was established by the party in 1926 and it developed a nice educational function for the youth, helping to teach vocational trades. At the same time it brought many of the youth aliyah. In 1931 the party organized the town handicraftsmen into a group called Ha'oved [The Workers]. Many members of Ha'oved made aliyah to Israel.
Click for fullsize image Click for fullsize image
First committee of the youth organization Freiheit in David-Horodok, 1926 First assembly of Freiheit from Pinsk county, in David-Horodok, 1928

  Unfortunately the activities of the Po'alei Zion were sharply curtailed in the few years before the onset of World War II because of the then current reactionary fascist government. As an example, in the last Kehilla election in 1937, the list [slate] of Po'alei Zion candidates was canceled.

Click for fullsize image

Group from the Po'alei Zion Party (Workers of Zion) in David-Horodok, 1928

  The most important Zionist work among the religious people of David-Horodok was done through the Mizrachi (or Merkaz Ruhani or Spiritual Center) and the Hapo'el Hamizrachi [Workers of the Spiritual Center].

Click for fullsize image

Branch of the "Hechalutz-Hamizrachi" in David-Horodok.

  In 1925 the Hapo'el Hamizrachi founded a training kibbutz in Dabrin and most of the members made aliyah to Israel. Mizrachi and Hapo'el Hamizrachi took an active part in working for the Keren Kayemes and the Keren Hayesod.

Click for fullsize image Click for fullsize image
Group of lumberjacks in the Preparation-Kibbutz Hapo'el Hamizrachi in David-Horodok, 1933 Agricultural-Preparation Group of the Hechalutz Hamizrachi from David-Horodok, Dabrin, 1924

  In 1935 a party called Hitachdus [The Union] was established in David-Horodok. However, with the aliyah of its founding fathers to Israel the group ceased to exist.

Click for fullsize image

The Hitachdus organization (The Union, or literally, "Organization H") branch in David-Horodok

  Besides the above mentioned youth movements of Freiheit and Hano'ar Hazioni, there were two other active Zionist youth movements in David-Horodok: Hashomer Hatzair [Young Watchmen] and Betar [abbreviation for Berit Trumpeldor or Covenant of Trumpeldor, the Revisionist Youth Movement].

Click for fullsize image Click for fullsize image
The Betar nest in David-Horodok Nest of the Hashomer Hatzair in David-Horodok, 1932

  The Hashomer Hatzair was established in the town in 1927. They did a good job of educating the youth of the town. At the same time they were active in all aspects of Keren Kayemes work. They were involved in the League of Workers for Eretz Israel and they took part in all of its activities. The Hashomer Hatzair sent many members for training and most of them succeeded in making aliyah.

Click for fullsize image

League of Workers for Eretz Israel

  Betar was founded in David-Horodok in 1929. They also sent their members for training and most of them succeeded in making aliyah.

Click for fullsize image Click for fullsize image
The Commanders of "Betar", probably 1935 Betar's nest, David-Horodok, Oct 26, 1935

  As already mentioned, David-Horodok was an absolutely Zionist town. There was no Bund [General Jewish Workers Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia] in the town during the period between the two wars.

Click for fullsize image

Committee of the Zionist Organization in David-Horodok, 1936

  As a result of the reactionary and anti-Semitic policies of the Polish regime and the bad economic and helpless situation of the Jewish youth, there developed a small group of communists in David-Horodok. Their number probably never reached ten. They had no influence in town. The group was completely dissolved after a few of them were arrested. Some of those who were freed from jail later went to Eretz Israel. The others remained in David-Horodok but refrained completely from Communist activities. When the Soviets first came into David-Horodok in 1939, they became involved again as Communist activists and caused considerable trouble for the Zionist concerns. As a result of their denunciations to the NKGB, many of the town Zionists were arrested.

The Socialist Movement in David-Horodok in 1905

Much of this material is repeated from Section III, "Revolution  of 1905," since it belongs in two places.

  Unfortunately we have no material to enlighten us about the year 1905 in David-Horodok. We have no alternative but to draw on the memories of people who did not even take an active part in the happenings of that stormy epoch. From these memories we learn that in 1905 a small group of the Bund was organized in David-Horodok under the leadership of the well-known A. Litvak, a Bundist who was rumored to have been banished to David-Horodok.

  There was also a group of Socialist Territorialists. Concerning this group, we even have an historical reference. In the American Forvairts [The Jewish Daily Forward], a picture was printed of 20 members of the David-Horodoker Socialist Territorialists. The Po'alei Zion party also existed in David-Horodok at that time.

Click for fullsize image

The Socialist-Territorialist group of David-Horodok in 1905

  According to the stories all of these socialist movements were embraced by a great number of the youth. For a certain period they were the rulers of the town. They had developed a self-defense organization and had weapons. They demanded a twelve-hour workday. The laborers themselves did not want that "little" work, but the revolutionaries would come and force them away from their work. There were cases where the children revolutionaries would come to their employer parents and take away the last workers. Aside from this, the revolutionaries were occupied with education and self-instruction.

  With the downfall of the revolution all these organizations dissipated in David-Horodok. Some individuals were arrested and sent away. Many fled to America. The remainder left town during the period of danger.

  In reference to this it should be noted that after the Kerensky revolution of 1917, left-over members of Po'alei Zion re-established their organization. All the old revolutionaries again became very active and devotedly participated in the work. They tried to organize all the workers and sympathizers and they were very active. Their activity was widely diversified: organizing readings, night classes, drama circles, a library, cooperatives and managing the professional movement.

  In those days the town was divided in two—the General Zionists and the Po'alei Zion. At the election of the constituent assembly in Russia [summer 1917], the General Zionists received 120 more votes than the Po'alei Zion, 740 to 620.

  With the turnover of David-Horodok to the Bolsheviks, the situation changed. A few of the Po'alei Zion leaders joined the Bolsheviks. The great majority of the leaders along with the entire membership did not follow them. They died off politically. From the entire powerful Po'alei Zion organization of the pre-Civil War days there remained only memories.


[1] Weinryb, Bernard D., "Poland," in The Jews in the Soviet Satellites, p. 214

[2] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, p. 395

[3] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 101

[4] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 223

[5] Also spelled Sejm. The "j" in Polish is pronounced like a "y."

[6] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 363

[7] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 355

[8] Owszem is the Polish word for "economic struggle," and in this case refers to an economic boycott policy against the Jews. The expression was used in the Prime Minister's speech.

[9] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 366

[10] Heller, Celia S., On the Edge of Destruction, p. 116

[11] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 413

[12] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 413

[13] Rashi was a Biblical commentator who invented his own Hebrew script.

[14] This was typical. Although the Polish authorities had allowed free local elections to take place, they refused to accept the verdict when it went against them. In the few towns where Jews gained a majority of councilors, they were exposed to severe pressure and denied control. Perhaps I.L. Zager considered himself lucky to have been disqualified. Dr. Leon Feiner, a Bundist who was elected in Cracow was sent to the Bereza Concentration Camp by the Poles for his victory. See Joseph Marcus' Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, pp. 383-84

[15] While I could find no description of the tax for David-Horodok, this description for the village of Swislocz, Poland was supplied by Abraham Ain on pp. 91-92. It seems probable that the tax worked similarly in David-Horodok:

The budget for charitable activities came from a tax on kosher meat in our parts known as korobke. The korobke was usually leased by one person or by several partners, called the tax lessee. The shokhtim (ritual slaughterers) could not slaughter an animal or a fowl without a permit from the tax lessee. The permit for a chicken cost 3 kopecks. It was somewhat higher for a duck, goose and turkey. The permit for a calf was 60 kopecks. For slaughtering a cow or an ox there was a certain tax and an additional tax was levied on the meat, exclusive of the lungs, liver, the head and the legs. To guard against the importation of meat from nearby towns, the rabbis prohibited the sale and consumption of such meat. In cases where this prohibition proved ineffective, recourse was had to the police, who confiscated the meat.

[16] Marcus, Joseph, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, p. 331

[17] The Jews in general were wealthier than the Christians in David-Horodok and wealthier people had wood shingle roofs.

[18] Sanders, Ronald, Shores of Refuge, p. 299

Previous Page Acknowledgments
and the Small Print
Updated 9 Feb 2001
Table of
Next Page