Translation from Hebrew original
Rejowiec - History
Rejowiec - (Rayvits, Rayvitz, Reyovyets, Reyvits)
Chelm District, Lublin Province, Poland
Rejowiec is located about 40 km south of Lublin, close to an intersection of railroads and roads. The village was established in the 16th century by a family of noblemen named Rej, who were active in spreading the Calvinist religion, and established a religious college in the village.
In 1547, Rejowiec received acknowledgement (and privileges) as a city, from King Ziegmund the First (“the old man”), including the right to hold two annual fairs, and an exemption from taxes for 10 years. In the 17th century the owners of Rejowiec changed, a number of times, and the Calvinist College closed. In the 18th century, when the Catholic reaction grew, the remaining Calvinists were repressed.
In the second half of the 19th century, a copper casting factory and two tanneries were established in Rejowiec. The biggest industrial factory in Rejowiec (until 1939) was the glass factory that employed 180 workers. Another large factory, for cement, carried on working even after the world war ended and became one of the biggest cement factories in Poland.
The first Jews settled in Rejowiec in the middle of the 16th century, and at the end of the 17th century, there were nearly 130 Jews. In 1769 the Jews of Rejowiec paid 437 gold coins as head tax. By the middle of the 19th century, the Jews made up the majority of the residents (About 80%).
Most of the Jews of Rejowiec made their living as traders, peddlers, or artisans. In the 19th century and the early 20th century, the Jews also took part in the industrialization of the village and there were some who were employed as laborers in the new factories, but most were employed as clerks. A number of these factories should be mentioned: the copper casting factory, the glass factories, sugar factory, tanneries and sawmills. The cement factory also worked on Shabbat and therefore the Jews did not work there.
There is written evidence of the existence of an organized Jewish community at the end of the 17th century, and the community leaders and shamash are mentioned, but not the rabbi. Possibly the community leaders ruled on day-to-day matters. In the 19th and 20th century, some charitable and mutual aid organizations were active alongside the village committee – “hospitality”, “visiting the sick”, “bridal dowry” and “charity to the poor”.
In the early 20th century, a branch of the “Bund” was established in Rejowiec On the eve of the 1905 revolution, in November 1904, there were outbreaks of anti-Semitic uprisings in the village, but the “Bund” organized self-defense groups of young people, who managed to hold off the rioters.
When the First World War broke out, there were fierce battles in the Rejowiec area. The Russian authorities drove out most of the Jews from the village. There were also Jews who chose to leave of their own accord. The retreating Russians burnt down the synagogue. After the war ended, there was renewed demographic growth in the village and the Jews were once more the majority – about 80 %.
In 1923 the rebuilding of the new synagogue was completed, and it was inaugurated with much joy and celebration. In the period between the two World Wars, the Jews of Rejowiec established Jewish organizations and youth movements. In the local elections to the 20th Zionist Congress (in 1935), 131 of Rejowiec’s Jews, who had bought the Jewish “shekel”, voted. First place was won by “The Israel Workers”, and “The United Zionists” won second place. The longstanding Bund branch continued its activity alongside a large branch of “Agudat Israel” whose members were the majority in the village committee.
In 1924 the rabbi of Rejowiec was Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Yaar, who was still presiding as Chief Rabbi in 1937. The last rabbi of Rejowiec was Rabbi Tchitrinboim (sp?).
In Rejowiec, just as in many other places in Poland, the period of independent Poland began with pogroms against the Jews. In 1917 in Poland, Many Jews were beaten in the village squares, and gangs of rioters ransacked their property. Two years before the start of World War Two, violent riots began again, and led to much economic destruction. Gangs of anti-Semites stood guard outside Jewish businesses and chased away Polish customers.
In June 1938 a building committee arrived in Rejowiec to examine the quality of the buildings. The committee announced that 22 homes of Jews were too dilapidated to live in, and the families who were vacated from their homes were left without a roof over their heads.
During the Second World War.
Rejowiec was conquered by the Germans at the end of September 1939. As soon as they arrived, the Germans began a campaign of oppression and persecution of the Jews, as was done in all of occupied Poland. Jewish property was confiscated, heavy fines were instituted, and hostages were taken. All the Jewish businesses closed, and in effect any means of earning a living was taken from the Jews. Already in the first days of the occupation, Jews were abducted and forced to do humiliating and heavy forced labor. During their work, and also on the way to work and back, Jews were forced to endure humiliation and persecutions. Stealing Jewish property was a common. Soldiers of the German army, policeman and Polish rabble would, from time to time, burst into Jewish homes or stores, and plunder their property.
Sometimes, SS soldiers from Chelm would come to Rejowiec and in the “morning” hours would persecute Jews for their own pleasure, particularly Jews with earlocks and beards.
One Saturday in February 1941, German policemen burst into the prayer house, ordered the worshippers to take the Torah books out into the road, and then burnt them. Worshippers were forced to dance around the fire. Within a few months, the Germans bombed the synagogue and set fire to the prayer house.
After a certain time, Jews who lived in good houses were vacated from their homes, particularly in the center of the city, and were forced to live in the suburbs. Because of this, a ghetto was formed in the village, which existed until October 1942. The ghetto was open, and people could enter it and leave it freely. After about 1300 deportees from Lublin and Krakow was transported to the ghetto, the overcrowding increased and so too did the hunger, and lack of heating during the winter of 1941-1942. Poor sanitation conditions lead to outbreaks of disease. Many of the inhabitants of the ghetto died of hunger and disease.
Using funds from the Jewish self-help organization in Krakow, a public soup kitchen was opened for penniless Jews. By the end of 1941, there were 2,380 Jews in the ghetto. 717 of them were registered as needing meals from the soup kitchen but, the soup kitchen could feed only 350 people.
Transports of Jews from Rejowiec to the death camps began in April 1942. SS men surrounded the ghetto and ordered the inhabitants to congregate within 15 minutes in the market square. Some of the Jews tried to hide but most of them were found by the Germans, or handed over by the Poles. The Jews who were found, along with the elderly and the sick who did not have the strength to present themselves at the collection place were murdered on the spot.
About 2000 of the ghetto residents were marched on foot to the strain station, a distance of about 4 km from the village. On the way they were persecuted and even killed by the soldiers. When they arrived at the station, the Jews were packed in a terrible crush into rail cars and transported to the Sobibor death camp.
After the big Aktion in April, there were about 500 young Jews left in Rejowiec They were housed in the one remaining prayer house, under heavy guard. At night many of them tried to escape through the windows, and a few succeeded, however most of the escapees were shot by the guards. Those that were left, about 300 people, were transported to the work camp at Krikov (a branch of the Sobibor Camp) and were employed in digging and drainage work.
The work was exhausting and the persecution endless. About 30 people tried to organize an escape from the camp but their plan was discovered due to an informant. The guardsmen beat the rebels with cruel blows and increased the guard, but even so, after a while people in the group managed to break through the fence and escape. During the escape 7 of them were shot and killed by the guards.
A few of the escapees reached a Soviet Partisan unit. One of them was killed by a Soviet partisan over a minor quarrel, and the rest spread out all over the place. During the escape one of the girls was captured by the Germans. While she was being cross-examined, she threw sand in the faces of the Gestapo and ran for her life. She tried to find refuge with a forester, after which she wanted to join a Soviet partisan unit by the name of Taras Bolva, but the partisans tried to kill her. She managed to escape from them and was finally absorbed into a group of Jewish partisans. After the war, this girl told her story to the members of the Jewish History Committee.
In April and May of 1942, about 3,000 Jews from Slovakia and Protcatores (Czech Republic) were brought to the ghetto in place of the Jews deported from Rejowiec In October of that year the ghetto was shut down and its residents were sent to Maidanek, except for a small group of workers who were employed by the sugar factory.
In time, other Jews who had escaped during the deportations from Rejowiec and the surrounding areas joined them. In the beginning the Germans did not harm them as their entering the ghetto saved the Germans from having to round them up from the villages and forests. However, after a while they began to hunt down these “illegals”, lead them in groups to the forest, and there executed them by shooting them.
A few dozen Jews also continued to work at the cement factory, as prisoners of war. With the help of a Polish teacher they were able to get firearms and after a shooting battle with the guards, during which some of them were killed, some of them managed to escape to the forests in the vicinity of Zamoshtz. Some of them managed, after many hardships, to get to Hungary.
On the 7th of April 1943, the Germans began to deport group after group of the Jews from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who were living in the Rejowiec ghetto, to Maidanek. Some of them were sent from Maidanek to Auschwitz. The last group was deported to Maidanek on the 2nd July 1943. Only 16 Jews were left in Rejowiec and were employed as laborers in the local Gestapo headquarters.
In July 1944, when the Polish army began to free the Lublin province and neared Rejowiec one of the SS people murdered these Jews. In 1945, this SS man was caught and stood trial in Chelm. At his trial some of the surviving Jews from Rejowiec gave evidence.
Young Jewish men and women who joined the Partisans, showed great bravery in battle, and after the war the new Polish Authorities awarded them citations for bravery.
After the War, many dozens of Jews, who had survived the camps, passed through Rejowiec. Local Poles who, during the Nazi occupation had collaborated with the Nazis, looted Jewish belongings or took control of Jewish property and threatened them with their lives when they returned. Because of the hostile reception and the threats they received, the survivors left the place.
And then there were no Jews left in Rejowiec.
Written by Tova, from material taken from the following sources:
- Shmuel Dreilikhman from a book written in Bergen Belzen, 1947
- Yizkor Book, Tel Aviv 1956
This page was last updated on 30/01/04 By Baruch Krotman
דף זה עודכן לאחרונה 30/01/04 ע"י ברוך קרוטמן