After Poland regained her independence, following World War I, a serious economic crisis set in, because the country lacked the natural resources which could ensure healthy economy. A marked inflationary trend gave rise to a flight from the Polish Zloty. And who should be blamed for this ruinous state of affairs if not the Jews.
The government, anxious to divert the wrath of the people from itself, proceeded to enact a series of measures against "currency speculators". Heavy fines were levied on Jewish merchants all over the country.
In our town, Hrubieszow, a group of merchants gathered in the small Beth-Hamidrash to decide on the best means for fighting this evil. They were particularly inspired by the late David Tanenbaum's clarion-call for unity and solidarity; he likened the situation to the classical bundle of sticks. And thus the Jewish Merchants' Association in Hrubieszow was founded.
The first important measure was instituting a unit price-list for all commodities. As the exchange-rate of Polish currency fluctuated, the price-list was amended accordingly. Thus no charge of "speculation" could be laid at the door of any particular merchant. But soon the gentile merchants complained that the Jews were conducting an unfair competition against them by under-cutting prices. Many of the members took fright, and the association petered out, and its place was taken by a "proletarian" body, named association of small Jewish retailers.
The association, under the able guidance of its founder, Abraham Schein, did good work. When Schein left town, David Tanenbaum was elected in his stead. Tanenbaum established close relation with the central body of Jewish merchants in Warsaw and with the chamber of commerce in Lublin. He was specially successful in joining forces with a prominent estate-owner and a number of Christian merchants and bringing about the downfall of a virulent anti-Semitic official who, in the guise of a super-patriot, was found guilty of taking bribes right and left.
But the relief afforded by removal of this official was not long duration. Innate anti-Semitism was sparked by the rise of Nazism. Boycott of Jewish goods and services and the cry: "Down with the Jews!" became the order of the day. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II a desperate attempt was made to soften the hostile attitude of the authorities. But this representation proved of no avail, and the situation steadily deteriorated.