Education and culture between two World Wars

During 1924-1925 a dispute broke out between the Jewish community and the city authorities regarding the education of Jewish children. Aiming to increase the Polishization in education and reduce the extent of Jewish education, some of the schools has fired the Jewish teachers from their jobs and replaced them with Poles. These were state schools (“Sbasovska”) where studies were held five days a week (shutting down on Saturday and Sunday), and attended mostly by Jews. Following these events the Hebrew school of “Tarbut” network was established in Siedlce in 1926. 70 students had enrolled for the first school year, and four years later it has been visited by 216 students in 7 classes and was the focus of cultural life in the city. In the evenings courses for adults were carried out in the school building, and in 1939 it already had 10 classes. A Hebrew kindergarten named “Herzliya” was operating next to the School.

Besides these a school of Yiddish, founded at the end of the First World War, also operated in the city. After the war it came under management of the culture company “Yiddishe Kunst” and was reorganized. In 1926-1927 parents supporting “Bund” and “Poaley Zion” demanded that teaching will be done in Yiddish. The institution was added to “CIS’A” network, but lasted only a few years and closed in 1933. The Yiddish lovers also operated two kindergartens in Siedlce; one conducted by “Bund” supporters and the other –by “Folkists” supporters.

Religious educational institutions included several “Cheiders” and Talmud Torah, some of them “Metukanim”. In the early 20s “Zeirey HaMizrachi” opened soup-kitchens for “Cheiders” students, in which 1,000 children received hot meals. There was a small “HaMizrachi” religious kindergarten named after Rabbi Reines.

In 1934-1935 the situation of the Jewish educational system in Siedlce worsened. By orders from the Polish Ministry of Education five state “Sbasovska” schools closed down. Jewish elementary schools, considered private, received no government financial support, and many Jewish children got expelled from school due to high tuition fees.

During this period the company “Yiddishe Kunst” and its public library took a major role in the cultural life of the Jews of Siedlce. In 1924, the library included 7,213 books, 2,158 of them in Yiddish, 1,441 Hebrew, 1,424 Russian, 2,111 Polish and 72 German. On the eve of World War II, the number of books has reached approximately 12,000. Another library, founded by Jewish students from the General gymnasium was added in the early 30s to “Tarbut” school. This library had 4,000 books. In 1932 “Tarbut” has established a library for the benefit of its students, called “United Students Library”. The library consisted of 6,000 books in Yiddish and Hebrew. The municipal library of Siedlce had about 800 books in Yiddish and Hebrew as well. There were also libraries belonging to the Jewish parties: “Bund” library includes 1,200 books, “Poalei Zion” – 1,000 books, and there were also libraries of “Agudat Israel” and “HeHalutz”. All Jewish libraries combined had about 23,000 books.

Between the two world wars several Jewish periodicals were published in Siedlce. The Yiddish Zionist magazine, “Sadlatzar and Oacanblat”, appeared in 1922-1939 and was the main publication of the community. “Agudat Israel” issued its own magazine, “Undzer Weg”, which appeared irregularly between the years 1924 and 1930. In 1926/7 the “Folkists” has issued the magazine “Das Wort”, the “Bund” published in 1930 in the journal “Sadlatzar Tribune” and “Poaley Zion” issued the publication “Sadlatzar Leben” between 1935 and 1938. The city hosted several writers and publicists Jews, including Israeli author Haiim Aizenberg, author of the play “Hordus and Meriam” and edited the literary journal “Vortzlan” (Rroots) which appeared in Siedlce, and Yiddish poet Yehoshua Goldberg, who edited for a while the “Sadlatzar and Oacanblat”.

The community’s Rabbi since 1908 was Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Ginzborg. After his death in 1930, an intense debate broke out concerning the appointment of a new Rabbi. The candidacy of the Rabbi’s son, Rabbi Altar Eliezer Ginzborg, was unacceptable to the ultra-Orthodox circles who requested to appoint Rabbi Shlomo Eichenstein of Chodorow, who was a fierce opponent of Zionism. He had the support of city authorities, but was accused of bribing his way to the position and 162 rabbis have imposed a ban (Herem) on him. Only on July 1939, did the long dispute come to an end and he was appointed Rabbi of the community. During the Holocaust, Rabbi Eichenstein fled to Russia, and probably died or have been killed on the way.

The head of the Great Yeshiva in the city was Rabbi Shaul Zeev Bergstein, one of the founders of the ultra-Orthodox educational network for girls – “Beit Yaakov”. In 1932 he said goodbye to the community and immigrated to Eretz-Israel with his family. The Yeshiva was led by Rabbi Isdal Drgotz’inr. Among the city’s Dayanim were Rabbi Moshe Hirsh, Rabbi Israel Kozmir and Rabbi Natan Lev.

In the late 30s, anti-Semitism has increased in Siedlce. In 1936, ten graves were desecrated at the Jewish cemetery. In an incident in 1937, Polish thugs ambushed Jews in a city garden, attacked them with sticks and iron bars and injured several people. Muggings have become increasingly common, until Jews were afraid to leave their homes after dark. Even Jewish merchants and peddlers in the municipal market experienced manifestations of bullying and violence, and propaganda for boycotting Jewish businesses took place throughout the entire city.

Written by Yitzhak Caspi in the book: “Ancestors Tell Siedlce”.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.