PRUZHANY YZKOR BOOK
By G. Urinsky
(Ukraine, Germany, Poland) (November 1918/Januray 31, 1919)
November 1918 arrived to Pruzhany news that in Berlin out brake a Revolution . For Germans was a shock, although there was not a notorious discipline rupture between soldiers and its superiors. Immediately in Pruzhany was created a Soldiers Commission that take the power, although in city continued in the "Commandant". News arrived - from near places - that Germans had already evacuated Pruzhany's SW area.
Population was restless and thought of creating an organization to recover power that was in German hands. By mid November an Assembly was summoned in a building of the city, on firemen street (where today is secondary state high school), to discuss the issue of an urban committee. This Assembly was attended by Jews, White Russian, and Poles. After different three groups movements representatives speeches, was reached an agreement with regard to the quantity of representatives each group should delegate to the committee. This would be compound for twenty people: thirteen Jews, four White Russian and three Poles.
Poles and White Russian designated delegates in their Assemblies. The thirteen Jewish representatives were conformed according to ideological base of each organization or group. After long negotiations among ideological groups, decided representatives according to the following conformation: two of ' Bund", two of "United", two of "Specialized Workers Union", two of "Tzeirei Zion" (Zionist young people), two of democrat group, two of economic power group (the bourgeoisie) and one of firemen.
After several days people designated met and decided that this institution will be called "Temporary Urban Committee" and will address urban matters that was in German hands. German Mayor threatened this committee to stop functioning as had been organized without his consent, but threats were not taken seriously. Fear to German power disappeared completely.
Committee President was elected firemen representative M. TABOLITZKY, but he gave up ten days later. His place was occupied by a member of "United" group that is the author of these lines. German power disappeared completely, and their orders were not respected by population.
Some few days after having been committee constituted , outbreak an incident between Committee and Germans. Germans had imposed a fine to a Jew who didn't want to pay it; for these issue German took his cow off him. Committee selected a delegation that went to Soldiers Commission and demanded to liberate the cow.. The discussion was dramatic. German members of Commission and Mayor listened delegation speeches about all abuses made to civil population by Germans during occupation. Discussion was in a very high tone, and at it's end German gave up and returned the cow to its owner.
Some days after Committee's foundation, arrived to Pruzhany an old Christian gentleman (was Commissary Povitov). He went to the Committee and informed he had been designated by Ukrainian Commissary of Brisk Gubernia as their delegate in Pruzhany . A General Assembly of Committee with recently arrived was summoned, where he told again about his appointment, and said: since Pruzhany belongs to Ukraine, according to treaty of peace between Ukrainian and Germans, he was designated Chief of Pruzhany, and had to organize an Ukrainian administration of the city.
A debate was carried out and Committee members said that the city would stay according to the principle of "national self-determination" and meanwhile Ukrainian power would be tolerated as long as it doesn't apply new taxes and supply the city with first needed products from Central Ukraine. The Ukrainian Chief agreed with petition, and proposed the Committee to send a delegation to Brisk, to talk with upper levels and comment on this issue. He would also travel back to Brisk, to receive necessary instructions. The temporary urban committee prepared this trip it and sent Brisk a delegation.
In Brisk still was German power, directed by "Great Soldiers Council" and next to them was Ukrainian Gubernia Commissary whose name was Skorophiz Yoltuchovsky who practically didn't have any power. The delegation was received by Gubernia Commissary who listened declarations in the sense that the city of Pruzhany will be ruled according to self-determination principle. Gubernia Commissary listened our words that were said in Russian and in Ukrainian, and declared that he took in consideration the application of providing first needed products, and at same time said to Committee - in ironic tone - that according to his opinion those demands were influences of oriental winds....
The same day delegation met with the Commissary designated for Pruzhany, and he declared that gives up to occupy the position, because his age... This confused the delegation, and one of its members, KULESHA, was designated Provisory Commissary of Pruzhany. The other two delegation members, confused, traveled immediately to Pruzhany. The new Commissary remained some days in Brest to receive instructions.
"Temporary Urban Committee" began to organize its activity. It decided to create an urban militia integrated by 18 Jews and 6 non Jews according to population's proportion. Jewish members were recommended by "Specialized Workers Union". As militia chief was designated a White Russian called N. Markevitz and assistant a Jew called L. LATZKY. Urban Commission installed an office; and were accepted Jewish, Poles and White Russian officials. All applications sent to Urban Commission could be written in the three languages, they were declared accepted. Official Committee's Bulletins were printed in three languages: Yiddish, Polish and Russian (as a principle had been decided that would be printed in Byelorussian instead of Russian, but due to technical problems - since nobody knew to read Byelorussian - it was printed in Russian). With the objective that all citizens understand different orders, was used Russian..
Public information that Committee reported in the city, was written in the three languages. The committee was financed by money lent and by money collected by means of taxes for the exit of merchandises from city. Pruzhany became a point of traffic of different merchandises that passed through here. Collection of taxes was made by militiamen that managed themselves without weapons. During all this time, Germans stayed distant of urban matters, since they were afraid of being assaulted by civil population.
Recently designated commissary began to organize administration. Organized an Ukrainian police recruited among rural population of near villages and with military that had returned of Russia. He brought a Police Chief and an assistant (former officials of czarist police). The commissary paid militiamen with money of Ukrainian Republic (this currency was called " karbovantzes " and didn't have circulatory value, because population didn't trust this currency).
During second half December 1918, Commissary KULESHA summoned a meeting to representatives of villages and towns surrounding Pruzhany, in those that Germans were no longer, including Shereshev and Lineve (although in Lineve German still were). Local Committees were created. Arrived to this meetings some dozens delegates, almost all peasants except 5 Pruzhany's and Lineve's Jews. The meeting was carried out in the building where today is high school. It lasted during whole day and discussions were very upset. Ukraine proposal was rejected unanimously and was created an own administration called "Pruzhansky Uyezd", independent of Ukrainian power. In that same meeting, a Commission was chosen to prepare next selection of "Uyezdnaie Zemstvo". executive officials..
At the end of December, German authorities communicated to urban authorities their evacuation, and demanded a compensation for installation of electric power station; if they would not be paid they would explode it. Without having another alternative, and after long negotiations, Committee paid to German power certain not very high amount, and also gave some money to station machinist who continued in his work as official.
Temporary Committee decided to carry out elections in the city, and published electoral calendar. Byelorrusian and Polish representatives demanded that elections were organized by "national district" system, with a quantity of "representatives" for each ethnic group. The reason of the demand was that according to current population's composition, they would receive a smaller "representatives" quantity. They considered that most of non Jewish population was evacuated at war beginning, and since "homeless" could now return from Russia, the quantity of population at this time is smaller than before the evacuation, being this the reason for which their " representatives " will be less. It was also ignored how much time will elected commission function, and for that reason non Jewish population will feel offended if they won't be able to carry out their demands.
The demand was accepted as fair, and after long negotiations were designated the amount of 20 representatives. Of this quantity four were for the Byelorrusian and three for Poles. Jewish population had three lists: the socialist group in which " Bund " was represented, second the "United" representing "Professional Workers Union", non party socialist and bourgeoisie, and third one of Zionist Youth with democrats.
Electoral campaign was operated with great care. Every night meetings were made in Batei Midrashim" (Religious home houses), and in former German cinema. In this meetings discussion were very enthusiastic. Socialist carried out a concert that was first one in the city. Fronts of houses were colored with phrases in favor of socialists. The day of elections was carried out a great meeting in Market Square with participation of firemen band. The result was the following: socialist group received 9 representatives, bourgeoisie received two, Zionist youths together with democrats received two. The following morning the new elected Commission constituted an executive group of six people. The first socialist candidate was the writer of these lines.
The group was integrated by six members: a President, two Vice-presidents (one Byelosrrussian and one socialists), a Secretary (Byelorrusian) and two Undersecretaries (one Pole and another socialist). All applications made in Yiddish or Polish had to be approved by national secretaries. Urban Commission named special commissions to deal with different matters: Presidents of commissions were chosen according to ideological movements.
With German evacuation city was independent and was not dominated by any central power. Ukrainian representative, still having his militiamen, didn't have any power. Town Hall had to organize not only urban economy but also security and "State Affaires". The militiamen received weapons, rifles and revolvers bought to Germans. State jails were also ordered. In this jails were some few thieves A tribunal was designated composed by three people and a businessman, former lawyer. Was created an organization to supply to all citizens wheat and flour at stable prices, and according to a precise rule. For a part of first necessity products, Municipality fixed prices.
Urban Hospital for infectious sick people (on the end of Zamkova St., today Budkievitch) passed to belong to City Hall, and its medical and administrative personnel was designated; in Hospital were a dozen typhus sick men. A home was also opened up for old men and invalids. Popular kitchen gave a quantity of free food. Committee also paid firemen. Electric station worked, but incomes were scarce; for that reason Urban Commission should give economic help.
Mental state in villages was disquieted. In some parts bandits assaulted Jewish population and these began to move to the city. Atmosphere in the city was also disquieted and therefore was founded a self-defense Jewish organization of approximately a hundred members, directed by a committee. A voluntary collection was made among population and bought in Lineve weapons to Germans (a dozen rifles and revolvers).
Self-defense group were organized by dozens, and was a leader for each ten individuals who reported to the committee. A regulation was elaborated and each member should fulfill his duty. Most of members of self-defense group were conformed by workers and some radical people
In Pruzhany the organization was called "Oyezdnoye Zemstvo"; were chosen an executive committee and a president . The commission was integrated by a representative of each important village and two representatives Pruzhany self-defense group. Headquarters of " Zemstvo" was in City Hall district building. Executive board was in contact with Committees from Pruzhany surrounding villages .
To avoid peasants cut the forests, "Zemstvo" ordered each one that brought wood for sale to show a permission of his village Committee. If he did not have it, wood was confiscated by urban militia.
Zemstvo began to organize militiamen circle and prepared ten armed - with rifles and revolvers - horsemen. Money was obtained from Pruzhany self elected Commission. During this Commission's rule, was forbidden alcohol sale. Other alcoholic drinks that were in town were confiscated and transported outside District limits.
Some days after being new city Commission elected, outbreak a serious conflict between Commission and German military conduction in Lineve. In Pruzhany a humorous night show was represented. German commandant in Lineve and his assistant arrived in a sled thrown by two horses to see the show. They left it in a well-known people's stable. When they had to return they found that horses were stolen. They had to rent a sled to return home. Following day they sent a note to urban Commission saying that horses were stolen in Pruzhany territory, and they demanded a compensation of 5000 marks; if it were not paid , they will enter the city and would arrest the Presidium taking them as guarantee.
The answer was "we are not responsible for stolen horses", rejecting the demand. This answer was sent through special messengers that also transmitted that "they could allow them - together with our militiamen - to search in every house". Arrived to the city several German, armed with shotguns, revolvers and grenades. They inspected several houses in the city, and also traveled to Shereshev without any result. Germans returned to Lineve and after some days they sent a second note to Urban Commission in which repeated the same thing, and included a threat: if in the term of one week the order was not satisfied, they would declare a city blockade and they would not allow inhabitants of Pruzhany enter Lineve's train station. . Were sent messengers to manage negotiation, and meanwhile gain some time.
Administrative bureaucracy and institutions demanded great expenses. Some income was obtained by collection of "city merchandise exit tax". It served to cover only a small part of expenditures. Therefore, Urban Commission decided to apply to rich people of the city a one single time war emergency tax. .
Urban Commission Finance Department sent a warning to taxpayers, in the sense that they should pay the tax until a certain date. The answer was negative and for that reason the Executive Council sent some people to collect a part of the tax to richest people, to cover future expenses. The Commission could collect only small amounts that were drained in a few days. Financial situation was very serious. Militiamen sent a delegation to Council Presidium, presenting an ultimatum demanding that their salary had to be paid, otherwise they would strike. Urban Commission decided unanimously that "war emergency" tax is collected under threat that those who doesn't pay it, would be imprisoned. The great majority of taxpayers paid, and those that didn't were imprisoned. Some rich people escaped from town.
At the same time a conflict outbreak with Ukrainian commissary. He applied tax to merchants: ordered them trading patents payment. Merchants went to Urban Commission asking what should be done, obtaining as an answer of not paying the tax. The Commissary ordered to close business, and Urban Commission Urban ordered militiamen to pull down strips from business, which reopened again. The same day arrived to the Urban Commission President (the writer of this lines), a delegation of Ukrainian police, saying they are aware of the conflict between Ukrainian Power and Urban Commission, and declared they are not against Urban power, and they were willing to arrest the Commissary and bring him to us.
Rechazamos su sugerencia y declaramos que mientras tanto el conflicto no era tan serio como para tomar medidas tan drásticas. Cuando se necesite su ayuda, les sería informado. La Comisión Urbana decidió enviar una delegación al Comisario del Distrito en Brest para aclarar este asunto. La delegación se presento ante el comisario del Distrito (SKAROPIS YOLTUCHOVSKY), y manifestamos el punto de vista de que el no había cumplido con su palabra. Aún no abasteció la ciudad con los productos de primera necesidad al mismo tiempo que exige impuestos de la población, y no espera hasta que se efectúen los cómputos en relación a la pertenencia estatal de la ciudad y sus alrededores....
We rejected their suggestion and declared that meanwhile the conflict was not as serious as to take drastic behavior. When their help will be needed, it would be informed them. Urban Commission decided send a delegation to Brest District Commissary, to clarify this issue. The delegation presented to District Commissary (SKAROPIS YOLTUCHOVSKY), and said our viewpoint that they not fulfilled their commitment. They didn't still supply the city with first needed products and instead they demand population's taxes. And still they doesn't wait until is clear which state owns the city and it's surroundings....
He listened our complaints and answered in Ukrainian. It was difficult for us to understand him. He said that Pruzhany Urban Commission was rebellious in relation to authorities and their leaders, and would have punished for it.. On the issue of first needed products supply, he indicated we had to talk with his assistant, called DONETZ. We left at once to DONETZ office, and received us a wide and high back youth of rural aspect. He repeated commissary's same words and threatened us that would happen in Pruzhany same thing as in Berdichev. We had already listened of Berdichev's pogrom. One of our delegates (A. POMERANIETZ) asked astonished: how is it possible that he, a representative of a Popular Republic - it was after Herman Skoropadsky fell - threaten with producing pogroms?. He answered that in Berdichev was not a pogrom but a punishment expedition"...
After listening delegates memorandum, Urban Council decided to strengthen militiamen watch in city ends, for some eventual attack of Ukrainian, and to oppose some resistance. After some days was known that Ukrainian Commissary had a list of some members of " Uprave" and of militia chief, and they would be shot.
In Lineve station German had enormous camps and great quantity of technical instruments. Pruzhany merchants bought them, introduced them into the city, and sold them to Ukraine. They sent materials to Lineve by railroad again. Urban Commission received the tax and authorized exit from city. Cart drivers, some hundred people, formed an Union requesting the payment corresponding them It was approved by Urban Commission. At the same time came a Bolshevik emissary claiming why Urban Commission allows exit this materials from city. We rejected their complaints. Members of communist organization with help of other people, had the intention of retaining carts when exiting the city, but they failed.
Urban Commission decided in an Assembly to settle down in the city the eight hours labor day.. In city streets posters were hung about this issue, in three languages (Russian, Yiddish and Polish). The non fulfillment of this claim, implied a big fine payment.. An inspection was carried out by militiamen. Was also decided economic help for unemployed. A Labor Cooperative was founded by Workers Union, and was subsidized by Urban Commission.
City hardly had schools. Urban Commission summoned a consultation to Ukrainian , Jews and Polish communities representatives, to found three schools in Yiddish, Polish and Byelorussian. They would be completely subsidized by Urban Commission, and they would be non paid. In that consultation a Commission was designated under direction of a member of " Uprave ", to consent school organization.
German sent again a note to Urban Commission, repeating the demand for compensation of stolen horses, giving a some days term to fulfill request In case if would not be fulfilled,. threatened to shoot canyons on the city.
Financial situation of Urban Commission worsened. The war emergency tax was paid only by a part of taxpayers. It was not of help arrest those that refused to pay. Therefore was decided the prison régime, not allowing detainees to receive homemade food neither bed clothes. They only had for consumption prison food called " paiok " (it was quite clean and satisfactory). Other taxpayers that had not paid were arrested .
Meanwhile a group of taxpayers was organized. They decided assault the jail and liberate detainees. A dozen of them made a test, and assaulted the house of writer of these lines, but militiamen arrived and dispersed them. Rebels went to Urban Commission building and in the way they met with a Town Hall member (SEGAL). He was jail supervisor. He was offended and rebels tried to stick him. When they arrived to Town Hall, were informed that three representatives should be chosen whom with this issue would be negotiated.. They made it this way and were connected with Urban Commission Presidium. The delegation instead communicating their complaints, used offensive and threatening words. Some of them also carried weapons and threatened to assault jail and liberate arrested. Presidium decided immediately arrest two delegation members.
This attitude woke up a conflict with "Zemstv " Presidium. They listened about the tumult in front of Town Hall and sent ten militiamen on horses . We protested because they had sent them on our territory... without our consent. We demand them move back immediately , because we felt quite strong. "Zemstvo" Presidium suggested us to maintain severe behavior with " rebels " as shooting them or set on fire their houses... We rejected their advice.
"Oprave" group called an extraordinary meeting with Urban Council, to decide on the issue of those arrested. Same day arrived Ukrainian Commissary's report saying that since Urban Commission was in conflict, Ukrainian abandon Pruzhany together with all their officials, and Urban Commission was responsible for all goods that were in the city, as well as small Pruzhany - Lineve train that they bought to Germans for 8.000.000 "kabovantzes"
Urban Commission in its extraordinary Assembly, decided that two rebel leaders follow detained, naming a Commission to investigate this issue and report to the tribunal that should give its verdict in three days. With regard to Ukrainian commissary's report they decided to send another time a delegation to Brest District Commissary. The ultimatum sent by Germans with the threat of shooting the city was annulled after three days. Therefore they decided to renew negotiation.
Same night (January 31st, 1919) Pruzhany was occupied by a group of Polish partisans directed by mayor DOMBROWSKY, that came from Wilna via Slonim and Rozhinoi. The same night arrived from Kobrin to Lineve station a dozen of Ukrainian soldiers directed by an official. They came to destroy Pruzhany and to behead all Jews and " kromolnikes ". They spent night in Lineve and aimed arriving following day to Pruzhany. In Lineve they found out that Pruzhany had been occupied by the Poles, and in consequence they moved back.
Urban " Oprave " worked some weeks, until Germans abandoned first Lineve, later Brisk and Pruzhany stepped to Warsaw Polish power.