Pinkas HaKehillot Polin

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Porozow in Pinkas HaKehillot Polin

An article about Porozow appeared in Volume VIII of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities - Poland, which covers the Vilna, Białystok and Nowogródek districts. Edited by Shmuel Spector and Bracha Freundlich and published in 2005, the book contains articles on many individual towns. The Porozow entry is reproduced here by permission of Yad Vashem Publications. The excellent translation is a joint venture, courtesy of Levi and Ziva Rosenhand, to whom I am especially grateful.

English Translation

 

Porozow is located on the Rosia River, about 25 km. south of Volkovysk. At the end of the 16th century, Porozow gained status as a town. Its citizens made a living from agriculture and pottery. In 1793, with the second partition of Poland, the country was incorporated into the Russian Czardom. During World War I, Porozow was under occupation for approximately three years (1915-1918) and afterward was integrated into an independent Poland. During World War II, Porozow was under Soviet authority from September 1939 and under German conquest from the end of June [1940]; it was partially destroyed.

Original Hebrew

 

According to local tradition, Jews settled in Porozow in the 16th century; however, there are no written documents to support this. In 1847, the census recorded 379 Jews, most of them living off agriculture from leased lands. After the reforms of Czar Alexander II in 1862 they purchased the land from the farmers and estate owners. They lived on four main streets and a few alleys that branched off from them. Their numbers grew steadily and in 1897 they were enumerated as 931 souls -- 46% of the population -- and in addition to farmers they were merchants, store owners, peddlers and a few craftsmen.


Most of the farmers' sons left the family properties that were inherited by only one son in order to prevent splitting the fields, and they took up occupations like trading and crafts. Jews and non-Jews in Porozow and its surroundings lived in harmony amongst themselves and with their neighbors, including the Belorussian farmers.


The Jews of Porozow had strong ties with the Jews of Volkovysk. They traded amongst themselves and Porozow’s youth continued their studies in Volkovysk. When needed, they shared rabbis with Volkovysk. Up to World War I, we know of Rabbi Yitzhak Hever, his son Rabbi Yosev Hever, Rabbi Baruch Avraham Mirski (1872), Rabbi Shlomo Ha Levi Feinzilber and Rabbi Aharon David Kosofski (1906). The children in the community studied in a traditional cheder. At the end of the 19th century, two Beitei Midrash -- houses of religious study -- and one bath house were built.


With the outbreak of World War I, Jews were drafted into the Czar's army and families were left without providers. In the fall of 1915, Germany conquered Porozow and controlled it until the end of 1918. The Germans drafted many citizens for forced labor, e.g., for road and base construction and other hard work. The dispossessed suffered from hunger and want, since the local economy was paralyzed. All the town’s children, without regard to nationality or religion, were forced to study in the German school and in the German language. For the Jewish children, two hours per week were allotted for Hebrew and religious studies.


At the end of the war, the Jews returned and rebuilt their businesses. Initially, life in Porozow returned to normal. But very soon all realized that their economic status had worsened in comparison to what it had been before the war. Poland faced an economic crisis with the loss of important export markets in Russia after the border with the Soviet Union was closed. The Jews were hurt also because of the economic policies of the Minister of the Treasury, Gravsky.
 

After the war, most of the tax burden was placed on the independent business sector - i.e., the Jewish mercantile sector. At the same time, Jews were sidelined from the market at the hands of Polish cooperatives established with government support and given favorable financial conditions. Jewish craftsmen lost clients to these cooperatives and to craftsmen who appeared in the villages after the war, and those Jews who weren't conversant in Polish had difficulties and were disadvantaged when the government imposed many regulations on them. Due to the economic distress and dispossession, emigration overseas increased and the community dwindled in size.


Also, between both World Wars, as in previous years, Porozow maintained its religious character and community life centered around the synagogue and the Beitei Midrash, the religious study institutions. The community rabbi in 1929 was Rabbi Eliezer Harkavy. The young generation, in contrast to the adults, abandoned religion and embraced Zionism. In the mid 1920s, a Halutz branch was founded and young people left for communal training. A few emigrated to the land of Israel.


After the start of World War II in September, 1939, the Red Army entered Porozow and imposed Soviet rule. Life in the town changed dramatically. Small businesses closed and larger and medium-sized enterprises were seized by the government. In their place, government cooperatives were opened. Craftsmen worked under government cooperatives ("artal") and only farmers continued as before. For the Jews and others expelled from their businesses, new work was found and unemployment vanished from the town. There were no rich Jewish people in Porozow and we have no information about expulsions to Siberia.


On the 22nd of June, 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and two days later they arrived in Porozow. The bombardment caused a great fire that destroyed the synagogue, two Beitei Midrash, the community center and many homes. On June 26, the Germans captured the town and immediately murdered a large Jewish family and four young Jews as revenge for losses they had suffered on the battlefield. The German commander placed himself and his command center in a Jewish home and from there publicized the first anti-Jewish orders: wearing a white band with a Star oif David on the arm (later a yellow patch in the shape of Star of David on the coat), conscripting of manpower for forced labor, forbidding interaction between Jews and non-Jews and imposing constraints on certain types of movements.


Many Jews worked on paving the road to Volkovysk and were tortured by their taskmasters. A new Polish municipal center was established and the new mayor, Radjivinsky, was placed in command of the Jews, among his other duties.


In July of 1941, the Jews were commanded to establish a Judenrat. No one volunteered for this position, but under German pressure, those chosen were forced to rule [over the Jewish community]. The baker Lev was appointed head of the Judenrat and his deputy was Avigdor Tropp. In October 1941, a German gendarmerie post was established in Porozow and the gendarmes immediately started gathering intelligence on the Jews with the help of collaborators. On November 1, 1941, a new civilian governor was appointed, a senior S.S. officer who usurped the authority of the Polish mayor and took on jurisdiction over the Jewish community. Through bribes given to the gendarmerie and the new governor, the Judenrat was able to forestall decrees against, and egregious persecution of, the Jewish community, and this silent agreement guaranteed relative quiet.


Things took a turn for the worse in the summer of 1942 when the civilian governor of Porozow was replaced by another S.S. officer. The new officer, like his predecessor, also took bribes, but this didn't stop him from harming the Jews. For example, with the help of the Polish police, he instigated surprise searches of the homes of Jews, and during these raids the homes were pillaged and individuals beaten up. Two weeks after he was appointed, the new governor summoned the Jews to the city's market square in the middle of the night and, under the pretext of looking for partisans, he sent his people to search their homes for valuables. The Jews were held the entire night; they were beaten, humiliated and two of them were murdered by the gendarmes. In the morning, after a night without sleep, the Jewish day laborers were forced to work as usual. Several days later, the governor commanded the arrest of all Jewish youth. For an entire week they were confined under heavy guard, and only with a large bribe and tremendous effort on the part of the head of the Judenrat were they released.


In the autumn of 1942, the Jews were evacuated from their houses in the center of Porozow to a ghetto in two small alleys that had tiny, run-down houses. They were joined by other Jews from the surrounding communities. The crowded conditions, the hunger and the cessation of trade with the farmers caused disease and an outbreak of typhus. The Judenrat opened a small hospital, which employed the only Jewish doctor in Porozow.


On October 30, 1942, the Germans drafted farmers from adjacent villages and commandeered their their wagons and on November 2 the order was given: the head of the Judenrat, the community rabbi and the doctor were called to the German headquarters and told that the Jews of Porozow would be sent to a labor camp in the east. There they were to work in improved conditions. The head of the Judenrat was given an hour to gather all the inhabitants of the ghetto into the market square with all their belongings, enough food for two days, a change of clothes, two blankets and all their valuables. In the freezing November cold, 600 souls from the ghetto -- from Porozow and neighboring communities -- were driven out to the infamous bunker camp near Volkovysk. There they were joined by members of other Jewish communities from the region before being sent to the death camps. Mothers and young children traveled in wagons, and the rest walked. After a long, hard 28-kilometer trek, they arrived at the camp at 10 p.m. Together with other women and children who had arrived earlier, they were placed in one bunker. Approximately 220 elderly and ill individuals did not join them, but were shot by the gendarmes outside the city. Another approximately 50 elderly and infirm people were allowed to stay in the ghetto for a few more days and then 30 of them were sent to the bunker camp and the rest were murdered. On November 6, the Jews of Porozow and neighboring towns were expelled from the bunker camp and sent to the Treblinka death camp.


Two youngsters from Porozow hid when transports to Auschwitz departed and they were safe for a time. However, on January 26, 1943 they were placed on the last transport to Auschwitz. A few other youngsters from Porozow escaped into the forest while en route to the bunker camp and later joined the partisans. Most of those who escaped survived until the liberation of the region in the summer of 1944.

© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011  Scott D. Seligman