The History of the Mir Community Before the Holocaust
The Jews of Mir at the Beginning of the 20th Century
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jews of Mir lived in a vibrant community of Torah learning, Zionism and pioneering, political parties and youth movements. Mir boasted a large library containing Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian volumes, as well as a drama circle that produced plays penned by Jewish playwrights. Charities and goodwill organizations flourished in the town, as well as Zionist organizations.
After the Kishniev Pogrom (1903), a Jewish self-defense organization was established in Mir, joined by the sons of homeowners, workers, wagon-drivers, horse-traders and butchers. With money collected from members of the community, the organizations' members bought clubs, whips and even pistols. During the Russian-Japanese war (1905), soldiers that had gathered in the town in advance of their recruitment to the Russian army became drunk and began to harass Jews. Members of the Jewish self-defense organization faced them off, wounded a few and drove them out of the town.
The First World War
With the outbreak of war, Cossack brigades from the Russian army were stationed in Mir. In 1915, the Cossacks retreated from the Germans and harassed the Jews.
From the fall of 1915 until the end of 1918, Mir was under German occupation. The local economy was paralyzed. Residents suffered from shortages and hunger, and many of them were conscripted for forced labor. However, the Germans lightened the restrictions that Tzarist Russia had imposed on political and public activities. The Zionists and the "Bund" renewed their activities, and alongside the veteran "Poalei Zion" branch a division of "Tzeirei Zion" was established. During the hostilities, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, the Head of the Mir Yeshiva, moved the yeshiva to Poltava, but it returned to Mir after the war.
The Jews of Mir celebrated the Russian Revolution of February 1917 with parades and gatherings, flying blue and white flags. At the front marched "Poalei Zion," "Tzeirei Zion" and members of the "Bund". But the expectations of the revolution were soon dashed; immediately following the end of WWI, Bolshevik soldiers entered Mir, carried out pogroms against the Jews, murdered some of them and looted their property. The Polish ranks that drove the Bolsheviks out of Mir also abused the Jews, looted them, beat them and plucked out their beards.
Tzvia Packer describes her childhood wartime experiences:
"The Poles returned to our neighborhood and the district was annexed to Poland. During the retreat, the soldiers took out all their anger on the Jews: they looted them and beat them, but miraculously there were no victims… my mother and I and many other Jews found refuge with a farmer in a fruit orchard. The Polish soldiers came and threatened to kill us all if we didn't give them a certain amount of money within half an hour... After a half hour they appeared again, and with no money to give them they lined us up against a wall and aimed their pistols at us. My mother stood up… and cried, "Jews, why are we silent? Let us call out to the Almighty!" She immediately began to call out, and we all sang together after her, "Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One!" The soldiers were petrified, and ran away." Tzvia Pecker, “Beayarati Mir” (My Home Town Mir),”Mir”, p. 185
The First World War, the Soviet-Polish War that immediately followed, and the military and national revolutions – all left the Jews of Mir depleted and impoverished. Many emigrated to western Europe and across the ocean to the US, South America, Eretz Israel, South Africa and other places. At the beginning of the 20th century, Mir had 3,319 Jews; by 1921 only 2,074 Jews remained.