SIEMIATYCZE


SIEMIATYCZE, town in Bialystok province, E. Poland. Up to the 19th century Siemiatycze was the private property of Polish nobles; from 1807 until 1915 it was ruled by Russia. Jews are first mentioned as customs and tax farmers in Siemiatycze in a document of 1582. In 1700 R. Gedaliah of Siemiatycze and his brother Moses joined the movement of *Judah Ḥasid ha-Levi advocating the return of the Jews to Ereẓ Israel. Their journey was described by R. Gedaliah in a pamphlet entitled Sha'alu Shelom Yerushalayim (published in Reshummot, 2 (1922), with a foreword by Zalman Rubashov Shazar). Siemiatycze, one of the most prominent communities in the Council of the Four Lands, grew and developed economically in the first half of the 18th century becoming independent of the Tykocin (Tiktin) community in matters of taxation. When the ruling duchess, Anna Jablonowska (1728–1800), built a road through the Jewish cemetery, which was very close to her palace, the community protested; this long caused resentment, and she sought to pacify the Jews by building a beautiful synagogue (1755; still standing in 1971) near the former site. At the end of the 18th century a copper mill was founded under Jewish direction. There were 1,015 Jews in Siemiatycze in 1765; 3,382 in 1847; 4,638 (75.4% of the total population) in 1897; and 3,718 (65.3%) in 1921. Some earned their livelihood in crafts and industry, but the majority engaged in trade, particularly in forest products and grain. At the end of the 18th century, Jewish merchants from Siemiatycze traded as far as Leipzig and Frankfurt. From the 1860s Jewish merchants and contractors developed the local weaving industry. Between the two world wars Jewish industrialists set up a factory producing glazed brick tiles which employed a work force that was 50% Jewish. Jewish craftsmen worked in clothing, leather, lumber, metal, building, glazing, and coach-building. The Jewish economy was also supplemented by vegetable growing in the period of economic depression between the two world wars. It was also assisted by the Jewish Cooperative Peoples' Bank and by Gemilut Ḥasadim societies in the city.

In 1905 czarist police attacked Jewish youngsters strolling in the forest on Rosh Ha-Shanah, wounding ten of them and killing one. The next day young Jewish revolutionaries organized themselves into "fighting units," disarmed the police, and controlled the town for three weeks. Jewish *self-defense units were set up in Siemiatycze. They also showed their strength when Siemiatycze reverted to Poland after World War I and they prevented attacks by pogromists. At the beginning of the 20th century the revolutionary movements, with the *Bund in the forefront, won support among the Jewish workers' and craftsmen's unions. Between the two world wars undercover Communist groups were also influential in the town. A Zionist society, *Ẓe'irei Zion, was founded in 1902 and opened a library. The various Zionist parties were all active there in the interwar period. Between the two world wars there were in the town a primary yeshivah and later a Beit Yosef yeshivah; a Yiddish elementary school (up to 1924); a Hebrew *Tarbut and a Yavneh school. The last rabbi of Siemiatycze was Ḥayyim Baruch Gerstein, a leader of the Mizrachi movement in Poland who perished in the Holocaust.

[Dov Rabin]

Holocaust Period

In 1939 there were over 7,000 Jews in Siemiatycze, 2,000 of them refugees from western Poland. The Soviet authorities, who controlled the city from 1939 to 1941, forced Jewish merchants and manufacturers to move to nearby towns on the pretext that they were security risks to the city, which lay in a border area. In the summer of 1940 most of the refugees were exiled to the Soviet interior. On June 23, 1941, German forces entered. They immediately organized a Polish police force which set about attacking the Jews. The Germans set up a Judenrat, headed by J. Rosenzweig, and a ghetto in the area "across the bridge" (Aug. 1, 1941). About 6,000 Jews were imprisoned within the ghetto, including Jews from Drohiczyn, Mielnik, and other towns. In deportations carried out on Nov. 2–9, 1942, the Jews were dispatched to *Treblinka. A second chairman was appointed for the Judenrat, Meir Shereshevski. Following the first deportation, the ghetto inmates met to discuss self-defense and planned to set the ghetto on fire should the Germans initiate another Aktion to liquidate the inhabitants. Shamai Plotnicki was sent to outlying villages to acquire arms. The resistance plan could not be carried out because the dates of deportations were moved forward to November 1942, when all the inhabitants were sent to their death. Some of the ghetto inmates tried to escape deportation by breaking through the walls; 150 of them were shot in the attempt. Of the 200 persons who managed to reach the forest, a number of them were forced back for lack of food and shelter. During this period groups of Jewish partisans were organized, one of which was headed by Hershl Shabbes. Clashes broke out between the Jewish partisans in the Brzezinski forests and the Polish underground AK (Armia Krajowa). When Siemiatycze was retaken by Soviet forces in May 1944, only about 80 Jews were left, but the Polish AK units continued to attack Jews. After the war the Jewish community of Siemiatycze was not reconstituted, but a society of former Jewish residents of Siemiatycze was formed and functioned in Israel and the U.S.

[Aharon Weiss]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Halpern, Pinkas, index; R. Mahler, Yidn in Amolikn Poyln in Likht fun Tsifern (1958), index; J. Berger, Księżna Pani na Kocku i Siemiatyczach (1936), passim; E. Ringelblum, Projekty przewarstwowienia Żydów w epoce stanisławowskiej (1935), 55; Z. Auerbach, in: Yevreyskaya Starina, 4 (1911), 563; B. Wasiutyński, Ludność żydowska w Polsce w wiekach XIX i XX (1930), 83; Kehillat Semiatich (Heb. and Yid., 1965).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.