My interest in this subject area began after I discovered that two ancestors of mine, Stanisław Szociński, living in Rogowo, and Jan Słomka of Dziekanowice, both in the Poznań province, were listed as tabernator, Latin for innkeeper. I thought this was pretty fascinating as I am, let’s say, pretty familiar with the tavern life – the sights and sounds, the comradery and social aspects, and of course, the drinks. It has been part of my life for a long time. To know that I had some ancestors in the business seemed like life coming full-circle.
Early in the 1990s, I was researching a branch of my Orbik family in Barglów-Kościelny parish who held the occupation strzelec lasów, or forest shooter, which led to a nice article about forestry occupations . While researching that article, I noticed a fair amount of non-farming occupations in this otherwise farming community . I examined baptism records between 1855-1867, primarily to see what other occupations existed and whether some of the farming occupations, like gospodarz, pokątnik or luźniak, changed titles after the emancipation of Polish peasantry in 1862. I went through every baptism record from that time period because the Geneteka database, at that time, only occasionally mentioned an occupation, and then, only of the father. This was a very time-consuming process.
Among many different non-farming occupations, I was fascinated to learn about the network of alcohol production and distribution on the various estates and villages. There were distillers, gorzelny/gorzelnik, beer brewers, piwowar, innkeepers, karczmarz, and taverners/bar tenders, szynkarz, wine distributers, winnik, and liquor merchants/distributers, propinators. There were also a host of supporting occupations such as millers, młynarz, barrel makers, bednarz, and coppersmiths, kotlarz. The alcohol production occupations were located near the largest estate manors, while inns and taverns were spread out among the villages.
One of the things that puzzled me was that everyone involved in alcohol production during those years were Christians. Over the years, as part of my curiosity about my ancestral homeland, I had read many non-fiction historical books about Poland, but also, as many literary works I could find in English. In these novels, the innkeepers were always Jewish. But why was this different in my ancestral parish? In 2012, I contacted the managing indexer for the Barglów-Kościelny parish records for Geneteka, Bartosz Choroszewski, and asked him if he would share a spreadsheet of all the people involved with alcohol production and distribution, which he graciously did. What the data showed was that from 1807 to 1812, Jews were listed as the leaseholders of the inns and taverns. After that, the term leaseholder disappeared, as in arendarz karczmy, and the words karczmarz and szynkarzappeared. I had read that sometime around this time, that Jews were banned by the government from running such establishments, mostly because of the anti-Semitic polemics that Jewish taverners and innkeepers were ruining the polish peasanty by luring them to alcohol abuse and then ruining them financially through trickery and deceit . Satisfied with that explanation, I let the matter go for some time, hoping someday to delve back into the topic.
In the meantime, I read a couple of books about the portrayal of Jews in Polish literature, Stranger in Our Midst: Images of the Jew in Polish Literature, by Harold B. Segel  and The Jewish Tavern Keeper and His Tavern in Nineteenth-century Polish Literature, by Magdalena Opalski . They seemed to confirm the above-mentioned sentiments, with the exception of Jankiel, the tavern-keeper in Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz, who was described as a good, honest, and patriotic Jew . W zeszłym roku nabyłem książkę Yankel’s Tavern: Jewish Liquor & Life in the Kingdom of Poland , by Glenn Dynner. This was a game-changer for me and helped me understand what was happening in much greater depth. Rather than only relying on Non-Jewish, Polish literature, Dynner researched individual petitions for liquor concessions in the treasury documents from the Polish archives, as well as requests for advice on liquor-related matters from Rabbinic archives . Together, they paint a much different picture of what was really happening in the alcohol production and distribution then literature or official Russian government statistics and legislation could show.
I know that this is a complicated and sensitive subject and a full explanation is beyond the scope of this article. What I hope to do is deliver a simplified description of the situation and link it with data I extracted from the civil registry records kept by the parish of Bargłów-Kościelny and surrounding parishes in present day Northeast Poland. For a deeper and more thorough understanding, I highly recommend the book by Dynner.
Inn vs. Tavern. There is some confusion of the differences between the definitions of karczmarz, innkeeper, and szynkarz, tavernkeeper. An 1874 Polish/English dictionary defined a karczma as an “inn, tavern, public house” and a karczmarz as an “inn-keeper, publican”. It defined szynk as a “retail of liquors, ale-house, tap-house, gin-house” and szynkarz as an “ale-house keeper, tapster” . Family Search defines a szynkarz as a tavenkeeper , but JewishGen defines both karczmarz and szynkarz as an innkeeper . Dynner has a different take and defines karczmarz as innkeepers, and szynkarz as bar-tenders.
Inns in those days were an important enterprise to the country. Located along both highways and smaller roads, it was a place where travelers could stop and get a meal, something to drink, feed and rest their horses, and get a room for the night. They were critical to travelers who had to hold up for a few hours or days when the weather made the roads impassable. They were also places that the local peasantry could drink and commiserate, and catch up on the latest news. But it was also a place to get legal advice, complete transactions, and secure loans for purchasing land, building homes, or paying taxes.
The owners and leaseholders of private and royal estates had a monopoly on the production and sales of alcohol on their estates called propinacja. In effect, this monopoly prevented peasants from making their own liquor or from buying it from a different estate. It was a way for the nobility to recapture any little money that the peasants had and put it back into the estate coffers The nobility relied on the Jewish population to act as managers, middle-men, innkeepers, and other occupations that required both literacy, money management, and investment skills beyond the peasantry’s abilities, and occupations thought to be beneath the dignity of a Christian gentleman . So, despite the relatively large Jewish populations in both the surrounding towns of Augustów and Rajgród, many of whom were merchants and fishermen, every estate and most villages that had an inn, had a small population of Jews who ran these enterprises. These positions were referred to as arendarz, which is someone who holds a lease, or arendarz karczmarz, the lessee of an inn. It was possible that one could be a lessee of a mill, a dairy, or a distillery, but those had different names. Most of the time, when someone was listed solely as an arendarz, it usually meant an innkeeper and prior to 1815, in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, that meant a Jew.
Jews had been leasing taverns and breweries since the 16th Century . Many small villages often had a small contingent of Jews living among them. An example of this is a 1674 inventory of the villages in the Bargłów-Kościelny. This inventory only listed the names of the lords who owned each village and the number of poddanych (peasants) and what they paid in taxes. In two of the villages it also listed Jews. In Tajno, there were 161 peasants paying 161 złoty, and six Jews paying six złoty. In Wozna [today Wożnawieś] there were 50 peasants paying 50 złoty, and seven Jews paying 7 złoty. The Jewish people were most likely innkeepers.
A combination of events including high Prussian tariffs on goods passing through their country to Baltic seaport of Gdańsk (Danzig), which was lost to Prussia in 1793, and the British Corn Laws (1825-1845) drove grain prices down to crisis level. Because of this, alcohol production became more important and profitable enterprise for the private and government owned estates. This happened again later when improvements in steamships and railways allowed for increased wheat and grains from America and Russia to flood into European markets While vodka was typically made from rye, grown on the land attached to the inn’s lease, the development of new distillery technologies such as the Pistorius Still, made alcohol much more profitable for it delivered twelve quarts of liquor from one bushel of potatoes .
One of the unfortunate effects of the inns and alcohol production was rampant alcoholism among the peasantry. This became a large political, social, and religious issue, debated in the local and national political forums as well as the church pulpits. Unfortunately, the Jews often took the brunt of the criticism for this problem, mostly unfairly . They were accused of luring peasants to buy more drinks by offering them drinks on credit, by usury for charging exorbitant interest rates on their loans, foreclosing on the farms of the peasants when they defaulted on their loans, and generally contributing to the moral and social decay of the peasantry.
The Duchy of Warsaw forbade Jews from tavernkeeping in 1812, but Napoleon’s defeat in Russia and at Leipzig in 1813 slowed down the implementation of this law. Ultimately an edict was issued in 1814 forbidding Jews from engaging in any activity involving the production, sale, or transport of alcohol . Official documentation from the Russian government in Warsaw indicates that there was a dramatic drop off in the number of Jewish innkeepers in the years following the ban. But Dynner’s research asserts that the implementation of this law was widely ignored among the nobility, who depended on the Jewish innkeepers to handle business and keep making profits for them. He suggests that one way that Jewish innkeepers stayed in business was by hiring Christian peasants to act as fronts for their businesses In fact, after another total ban on Jewish innkeepers in 1844, “Jews were still allowed to lease land on state owned properties that contained over 10 peasant households and to produce and sell liquor providing they used Christian fronts…” .
Between 1818 and 1863, there was a kind of cat and mouse game between the Jewish leaseholders, with the support of their lords, and the Russian government. Whenever the political situation was unstable, such as during the 1830 Polish insurrection and the 1848 revolutions, the Russian government loosened the restrictions on Jewish innkeepers in order to court their favor. When the political situations stabilized, the restrictions were tightened again. But even the government treasury department argued to loosen restrictions because the lease concessions charged to Jewish leaseholders, which was significant, increased the treasury revenue significantly, “Liquor sales accounted for over 40% of revenue of royal properties by 1789.” .
Similar legislation to curtail Jewish innkeeping also occurred in the Austrian and Prussian partitions, but were also relaxed, repealed, or ignored by the noble landowners and local officials alike .
There was also a bit of gamesmanship between the innkeepers and segments of the Jewish religious community. Some elements of the later condemned the leaseholders for keeping their inns open during the sabbath and on Jewish holidays. The leaseholders got around this by subleasing their inns to Christians during those times so the inns and taverns could remain open and continue to make money. The Jewish leadership were also afraid that the leaseholders and their families, because of the close dealings with Christian landowners and peasants, plus their isolation from larger Jewish communities, might induce them into conversion to Christianity Dynner points out that relations between Christian peasants and the Jewish Innkeepers were not as negative as is often portrayed in Polish literature. In fact, there was a “… pragmatic interethnic solidarity against a meddling absolutist state” Some information from the parish records supports this. Not only did Polish noblemen appear as witnesses on Jewish metrical records, but peasants did as well. For example, in the village of Tajno in 1812, on the birth record of Aaron Abramowicz, son of Abram Lejbowicz and Itka Judkowicz, arendarz karczemny from Tajno, the witnesses were Idzko Smerkowicz, arendarz karczemny from Kamionka and Michał Kruza, a gospodarz from Polkowo . Apparently Christians and Jews in the countryside were on better terms with each other than the literature suggested.
One of the primary goals of my research was to connect the assertions made by Dynner that Christians were just fronts for Jewish lessees by using metrical records. One excellent tool for examining civil and church records of this region is by using the search engine Geneo created and maintained by the indexing group, JZI or Jamiński Zespół Indeksacyjny (Jaminy Indexing Group) . JZI was founded in 2011 by a small group of Poles and one Polish-American (me) with an interest in indexing the parish metrical books of Jaminy parish, located south of Augustów. We had found that most of these books were never filmed by LDS and no copies existed anywhere else. The group obtained permission to photograph all of these records by the pastor. Prior to indexing them, they decided to collect all of data from the records rather than only the names and dates. This data includes the parents’ names, occupations, ages, and home villages of witnesses, who signed the documents, etc. Over the course of a few years they published a three-volume set of books, one on births, marriages, and deaths. Concurrently, as more members joined the project, new parishes in the area were added and parishes already indexed by Geneteka are being re-indexed to include all of this data. While Jaminy parish is complete, the rest are a work in progress and new indexers are always welcome. The group recently changed its name to Augustów Suwałki Historycznie i Genealogicznie and has a Facebook presence. .
While the basic search interface allows for searches on surnames and first names, the advanced search function allows one to narrow the search to a particular parish or town, as well as a keyword search, which is quite valuable. Using this search, I was able to look for records involving the keywords, karczmarz, szynkarz, arendarz, winnik, gorzelny, propinator, and other terms associated with the liquor industry. By using the keyword, podpis (signature), I could search for anyone who signed the documents besides the priest. This search engine proved invaluable to my research.
Of the 13 people with the title of leaseholder of an inn, arendarz karczemny between 1810 and 1819, 12 were Jewish. Only Jan Wysocki in Borsuki was a Christian. All of them were literate. Five of the 13 leaseholders of inns were from the village of Kamionka. After 1815, the term karczma began being used in records and by 1819, the term arendarz karczemny fell from use. Of the 14 karczmarz listed between 1815-1860, all were Christian, but only three were literate. From 1808 to 1899, there were 61 people listed as szynkarz. The first three, from 1808 to 1813 were Jewish and literate. Out of the remaining 58, who were Christian, only 11 were literate. Four distillers, gorzelny/gorzelnik were mentioned between 1844 and 1853, two were literate and two were not. There were two brewers, piwowar, mentioned and both were literate. There were five wine merchants, winnik, mentioned between 1811 and 1819. All five were Jewish and all of them were literate. After 1819, no more wine merchants were mentioned in this parish. Finally, between 1809 and 1825, there were five liquor merchants, propinator, mentioned. Of these, two were from Rajgród and were Jewish, both in 1825, and the other three were Christian, one in Kamionka and one from Jeziorki in 1809, and one from Jaminy in 1842. For a list of the names of these people, see www.orbikfamily.com/orbik/alcohol.html. Similar results were found in the surrounding parishes.
From 1808 to 1825, the Catholic Church was responsible as the civil registrar for all events in its parish . In 1826, Jewish entries fell off of the parish metrical records. This is because in 1826 different religious groups were required to maintain their own metrical records. Examining the civil registers from Bargłów-Kościelny and surrounding parishes, it appears that this is what happened.
At this point I should mention something about literacy. Civil and church records did not indicate who was or wasn’t literate. Most peasants in the early 19th century and earlier were in fact illiterate . The fact that at the end of records in the Napoleonic format, included the phase “This record was read aloud to those present who could not read” seems to support this. But there were periodic signatures on those records. Often it was the signatures of nobles, whom one might expect to be able to read and write. But this was not always the case. While examining those people who signed the records from my ancestral village of Tajno, I discovered quite a variety of people who were literate, as indicated by their ability to sign their names . For example, there were professionals like teachers, organists, village and community leaders; tradesmen such as carpenters and blacksmiths; military, such as reserve soldiers and boarder guards; farmers, both landed and farmhands, and in one case, a pokątnik, someone living in the corner of someone else’s house. Between 1810 and 1900, there were 52 different peasants who signed a parish metrical document from the village of Tajno.
Unfortunately, whether signatures were required or allowed, was fairly inconstant across time and parish, depending possibly, on either the whims of the pastor and/or the requirements of the diocese. From the professions noted above, it appears that education was available for all people in the area, as some people were listed as teachers, teachers in the parish school, private teachers (tutors), and teachers in Hebrew schools for the Jewish population in the area. Another concern about generalizing about literacy based upon signatures is that those who did sign documents were fairly inconstant in doing so. On one end of the spectrum was Franciszek Michniewicz, a gospodarz from Tajno, who signed more than 12 documents as the father on baptism and death records and more than 15 times as a witness between the 1850s-1860s. He was also listed several more times without signing. On the other end of the spectrum was Adam Orbik, who had 11 opportunities to sign but only signed once. It is possible that some peasants who were literate simply did not sign at all.
In Rajgród parish, starting in 1825, witnesses were recorded with their names written in besides three letter Xs, . These were not in fact their signatures, but the names simply written in by the civil registrar. The handwriting of the names besides the xxx are the same. This method was often used in civil documents found in notary and other official documents where those involved were illiterate.
It is interesting that on the records that included Jewish participants, their names were spelled in the Polish patronym format (-owicz) but the signatures were in the Hebrew format (ben). For example, a marriage occurred between Sandel Jankielowicz and Siejna Joskowicz in 1810, the witnesses were listed as: Eliasz Moszkowicz, Moszko Morthajowicz, Szmojło Berkowicz, and Idzko Smerkowicz. But the signatures in Hebrew read Sandl ben Yakov (Sandl Jankielowicz, the groom), Eliezer ben Moshe (Eliasz Moszkowicz), Moshe ben Mordechai (Moszko Morthajowicz), Shmuel ben Dov (Szmojło Berkowicz), and Yitzchak, ben Shmarya, (Idzko Szmerkowicz) .
Whether or not someone in the alcohol business was illiterate is significant in that it supports Dynner’s assertion that Christian innkeepers were often just fronts for Jews, who continued to run their inns and other alcohol-related occupations as before, undercover, with full knowledge and support of the Lords. “Landowners who experimented with Christian peasants as tavernkeepers often found they could not cope with the record-keeping and reinvestment involved in running a profitable tavern, while minor gentry proved too quarrelsome and demanding” .
Despite the social stigma of being an innkeeper, there were two noblemen in Rajgród parish who were listed as karczmarz. One was Szymon Martinowski in the village of Kroszowo in 1824, and the other was Tadeusz Grodicki, in Kuliga in 1825, but neither signed the documents. Literate peasants may have been able to run a business but how could an illiterate person account for the names of people who bought drinks on credit, let alone do the book-keeping and investment of funds, necessary work to engage successfully in this business?
There is evidence that some Jewish families actually resorted to conversion to Christianity in order to continue as leaseholders of inns and taverns, as a way around the ban on Jewish innkeepers One such case occurred in 1846 in the village of Tajenko in Bargłów-Kościelny where the conversion of a whole family, from Judaism to Catholicism occurred. The baptisms were presided over by the “The most honorable pastor of the Augustów Diocese” and all of the Godparents were nobility. The father, Perce Morthajowicz Bremer, son of Mortajm Bremer and Ester Feywlow took the name, Kazimierz Dobrowolski. The mother Perszka, daughter of Jankiel Wolowicz and Maryaszy took the name Marianna. Their daughter Hajka, 18, took the name Jozefata, son Fayba, 15, took Wiktor, son Meyer, 11, took Hippolit, daughter Hanka, 9, took Anna, daughter Dwerka, 6, took Rozalia, and daughter Stawka, 3, took Emelia.
I had known about this conversion for some time, but Dynner’s assertions inspired me to look a little deeper. Indeed by 1851, Kazimierz Dobrowolski was listed as a gorzelnik in of the village Jastrzębna, in the parish of Krasnybor, east of Bargłów-Kościelny. In 1853 he was listed as a szynkarz in Jastrzębna. In 1863, Kazimeirz Dobrowolski’s son, Wiktor, was also listed as a syznkarz in Jastrzębna. By 1885 Wiktor was listed as a propinator in the parish village of Bargłów- Kościelny. On his second marriage in 1895 to Agnieszka Gulan, Wiktor was listed as a szynkarz there. His birthplace was listed as the village of Osowy Grąd in Augustów parish. During the 1840s and 50s, Maciej Sobolewski was the szynkarz in Tajenko and he was illiterate. It is possible that he was a Christian front for this family when they lived in Tajenko.
Considering the high percentage of Christian illiterate peasants listed as a szynkarz in Bargłów and the surrounding parishes, it may very well be the case that those listed as such, may have just been bartenders, serving drinks in establishments still under control of Jewish leaseholders, sometimes in the open, most of the time undercover. It appears that Dynner’s definition of szynkarz as a bartender is justified.
Despite the manner in which Jewish innkeepers were negatively portrayed in most Polish literature, and despite Russian statistics suggesting that Jewish innkeeping was largely curtailed as a result of their bans, it appears that Jewish-Christian relations in rural Christian villages were much better than previous research suggests. Their symbiotic relationship with their Polish Lords and peasants allowed them to operate undercover for quite some time.
Article published in East European Genealogist, Vol. 28, #3, 2020
- Orbik, Jay M. Forest Guards in Podlasia and Mazuria, East European Genealogist, Journal of the Eastern European Genealogical Society, Inc., Winter, 2010, 6-23.
- Orbik, Jay M. Non-Farming Occupations in a Farming Community, Pathways and Passages, Journal of the Polish Genealogy Society of Connecticut and the Northeast, Summer 2010-Winter 2011, 26-32.
- Chełmoński, Józef. “Przed karczmą – Pejzaż jesienny”, 1882, olej na płótnie, 70,8 x 130,6 cm, Muzeum Okręgowe, Bydgoszcz
- Słomka, Jan and William F. Hoffman From Serfdom to Self-government: Memoirs of a Peasant from Serfdom to the Present Day. Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America., 2019, 124-125, 275, 382.
- Segel, Harold B. Stranger in Our Midst: Images of the Jew in Polish Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.
- Opalski, Magdalena. The Jewish Tavern Keeper and His Tavern in Nineteenth-century Polish Literature. Jerusalem: The Zalman Shazar Center; The Center for Research on the History and Culture of Polish Jews, 1986.
- Mickiewicz, Adam, and Kenneth R. Mackenzie. Pan Tadeusz. 1st American ed. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1992, 164-166.
- Dynner, Glenn. Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor, and Life in the Kingdom of Poland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, 9-13.
- Kieniewicz, Stefan. n.d. The emancipation of the Polish peasantry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969, 92.
- A good example of this is the novel. The Doll, by Bolesław Prus. The protagonist in this novel was an impoverished nobleman who took up trade and merchandising in Warsaw, and although making him rich and successful, he was rejected by his aristocratic love interest because of this occupation.
- Goldberg, Jacob, Tavernkeeping, translated from Polish by Christina Manetti, available on the website of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, online edition, at: https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Tavernkeeping, accessed on 2 February, 2020
- Powiat Tykocin, Parafia Barglowska, 1674, Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych [AGAD], ASK 70, 919-920.
- Dynner, Glenn. Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor, and Life in the Kingdom of Poland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, 45, 139.
- Ibid. p. 26.
- “Pistorius’ Still for the Distillation of Alcohol.” W Encyclopædia of Chemistry, Theoretical, Practical, and Analytical, as Applied to the Arts and Manufacturers, Vol. I. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/v405s944q
- Dynner argues that the amount of peasant alcoholism was not any different than in places where the inns and taverns were owned and run by Christians,175. Also, Kiniewicz, Emancipation of the Polish Peasantry, 92.
- Dynner, Yankel’s Tavern, p. 56.
- Ibid., 62, 74.
- Ibid., 74.
- Ibid., 25.
- Ibid., 53-55.
- Ibid., 69.
- Ibid., 79.
- Kościół rzymsko-katolicki. Parafja Bargłów Kościelny (Augustów). 1972. Register booksSalt Lake City, Utah: Mikrofilmowało The Genealogical Society of Utah [LDS]. Baptism record,1812 record #151.
- Available online at http://search.jzi.org.pl/geneo/
- Available online at http://jzi.org.pl.
- Augustów Suwałki Historycznie i Genealogicznie, available on Facebook by that name at https://www.facebook.com/groups/augustow.suwalki/
- LDS, Parafja Bargłów Kościelny, death record, 1815 # 39.
- Russian Poland Civil Registration, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Russian_Poland_Civil_Registration, accessed 30 January, 2020.
- World Congress for Central and East European Studies, and Judith Pallot. 1998. Transforming peasants: society, state and the peasantry, 1861-1930: selected papers from the Fifth World Congress of Central and East European Studies. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
- Orbik, Jay. The Orbiks of Tajno, unpublished manuscript, 2020.
- Hebrew translation by Leah Cohen, on Facebook Page, Genealogical Translations27 January, 2020.
- LDS, Parafja Bargłów Kościelny, marriage record 1810, # 17.
- Dynner, Yankel’s Tavern, p.6.
- Ibid., 69-70.