Dov Bear Monasz’ printing press in Krotoshin

Krotoszyn (Krotoschin) was founded in the late ‘30s and ‘40s of the 15th century. Most likely the Jewish community was established here at the end of the 16th century, since the presence of Krotoszyn Jews at the Council of Four Lands (1580–1764) dates back to about that time. During the Swedish – Polish war in the years 1655–1659, the Krotoszynian Jewish community was almost completely wiped out by the Polish army – of the 400 or so Jewish families living there before the war, in the 1660 only 50 reminded. Only in the 18th century the Jewish community experienced a revival, thanks to, among other factors, Jewish merchants, who were trading with cities like Wroclaw, Frankfurt and Leipzig. There were 2 327 Jews living in Krotoszyn in the year 1849, which made about thirty percent of the town’s population. In the 19th century Krotoszyn became a major center of Jewish printing.

Dov Bear Monasz was born in 1801 in the family of a local teacher, Leibush. He was a weak and sickly child, and his parents had hoped that one day he would be a rabbi. The young Dov Bear, however, showed no special interest in this direction. He was interested, though, in the bookbinding work, as his father ran a small bookbinding shop to improve his family’s budget. Given his knack for the craft, his father sent him at age 15 to Milicz, to become an apprentice at a local bookbinder. Dov Bear was a very clever and apt pupil, but soon it became obvious, that the Monasz family simply couldn’t afford son’s education and he had to return home. He then persuaded his father to invest in the development of their modest bookbinding shop and to purchase new tools so that he could greatly enrich the repertoire of bindings that was done there. Even before reaching the age of majority, Dov Bear became a known and respected bookbinder in the Krotoszyn area.

In 1823 Dov Bear married one of the local Jewish girls and in his in-laws’ house, which the wife brought in a dowry to their relationship the couple opened a spice shop, as it was hard to earn a living just from the bookbinding. Unfortunately, several years after their marriage (in 1827), a fire destroyed most of Krotoszyn, including the home of the young couple. They were able to rescue from the fire only a small part of the workshop’s equipment. Over a year later the Monasz family moved to their new house and reopened the bookbinding shop. To ensure additional revenue, Dov Bear soon opened a small lithography printing press, for which he hired his brother. A big order from the local garrison enabled him to repay part of the debt incurred to build the house. In 1833 Dov Bear was licensed for printing books; lack of funds, however, resulted in that he was able to equip his new workshop in just one old printing press and a few sets of used fonts. He also hired a typesetter from Brzeg Dolny (Dyhernfurth). The first two publications to come out of Dov Bear Monasz’ printing press were brochures in German, which financially proved to be a complete flop. Soon, however, Dov Bear received his first order for the printing of Hebrew books, which resulted in the need to purchase a set of Hebrew fonts. The first three books in Hebrew were printed using fonts purchased in Wroclaw from a previous owner of a printing house in Brzeg.

In 1835 Dov Bear began preparing to print the Pentateuch (Chumash) together with a translation by Joseph Johlsohn. Because the fonts he had been using so far were old and worn, he bought from the company “Dressler & Rostfingerlin” located in Frankfurt am Mein, new dies, from which he was able to cast new fonts in Wroclaw. Not having the needed capital, he started a subscription for the Pentateuch – each subscriber had to pay a small advance on the ordered work. This action was a big success – over 1200 people signed for the Chumash from the Krotoszynian printing house. Soon after there were four printing presses working in the shop, with a total of over 30 workers employed there. Throughout all this time, Dov Bear was still actively working at the shop, personally participating in all stages of creating a book. One day, during heating some oil to prepare ink, he severely burned his right hand, which never regained its former skill.

Since about 1840 the Krotoszynian printer was receiving a lot of orders for Jewish books from Krakow. The trade with the Republic of Krakow was a very profitable venture due to lack of import duties. But the whole point of cost-effectiveness of such a venture was based on the smuggling of such duty-free publications over the border to the Russian Partition and selling them there with high profit. For Monasz the trade with Krakow was very profitable, but to meet the high demand, he was forced to replace part of the equipment in his printing house and so he bought two modern, metal printing presses. In 1843 Dov Bear made his son-in-law a partner in his business, and the printing house itself has grown and developed. Unfortunately, it seems that about the same time the quality of prints leaving Monasz’ house has declined, which could have been due to the very proliferation of the company. The profitable trade with the Free City of Krakow ended abruptly, along with its annexation by the Austrian Empire in 1846 and left Dov Bear with large amounts of unsold books. At the time the printing house’s situation was pretty bad – in addition to overflowing storehouse, the situation was worsened even further by high-interest debts, and the partnership with son-in-law proved to be a bad idea. In attempt to clear the storehouse, Monasz took upon himself book distribution, which meant weeks-long travels. In autumn of 1846 he came to a fair in Frankfurt am Main, however, he was able to sell only a small part of his books there. The fair’s patrons were interested in a slightly different kind of publishing repertoire, than the one prepared for sell in Krakow, or, more precisely, for the (illegal) sell in the Congress Poland.

Therefore, in the next year Dov Bear made another attempt to sell his stock, this time on a trip to Klaipeda and Königsberg (today Kaliningrad). But this time it also did not go well – he managed to sell much of his books, but the price he received for them was far from satisfactory. In short, he gave away his books for a song, but he had decided to take such a step being in a hopeless situation. After returning to Krotoszyn his health declined and the resulting few weeks of treatment caused further deterioration in the print house and Monasz was forced to let go of a number of his employees. He stood before the specter of bankruptcy…

In 1849 Dov Bear Monasz opened an inn at his house being unable to make a living off the printing business alone. Together with his son-in-law he also printed a new edition of Chumash. Both the income from the inn and sales of the new release improved the situation for Dov Bear. The following year he marries his daughter off to a historian Heinrich Graetz. In the same year Dov Bear’s cousin, a man called Moritz from Wroclaw, owning a bookstore there (and possibly also a small lithography printing shop) ordered the printing of a several books – a Siddur for children, a Machzor and he also repaid the most impatient of Monasz’ creditors. In subsequent years the Krotoszynian printing house prints almost exclusively for the orders of the Wroclaw bookseller. They are, however, so great that in 1852 Dov Bear expands his house (in which the inn still operates) to provide sufficient space for printing. The following year Monasz’ financial situation improved so much that he bought a modern letterpress printing machine for his printing house.

In subsequent years, many books came from the press in Krotoszyn. Of special note is the complete edition of the Jerusalem Talmud (1865–1866). The Krotoszyn edition was modeled on previous releases – Venetian and Krakow’s, as noted with some pride on the title pages of individual tractates:

Just as was printed in Venice in 5282 (1522), with a brief commentary on the pages as in the Krakow edition of 6369 (1609), accompanied by notes and sources of citations to each of the tractates in the Jerusalem and Babylonian [Talmud], from Mechilta, Sifra, Sifri, Tosefta and midrashim.
The Krotoszynian edition contained for the first time bibliographical footnotes and a commentary Shar Haayin (alternative name: Mar'eh Makom ve-Haggahot) by Mordechai (Marcus) Weissman-Chajes of Tarnow (1831–1914). Reprint of Krotoszynian edition of Jerusalem Talmud was released in Berlin in 1920 by the Louise Lamm (1871–1943) printing house.

While Dov Bear Monasz was printing his edition of the Talmud, printing of the same work was about to be completed in Zhitomir, in the printing house of Arye Leib Szapiro, one of the heirs of the famous Slawuta printing house. It is quite unlikely for the printer from Krotoszyn to be unaware of that fact, but in spite of that he had decided to print his own edition. What motives guided him? Was it Monasz’ ambition, magnum opus of his publishing career? It was probably very difficult to compete with the Zhitomir edition in the area of Congress Poland and Galicia, where, therefore, did he see a market for his edition? Unfortunately, to these, and many other questions, I do not have answers…

In the spring of 1868 Dov Bear married off his last daughter. His son-in-law was a typesetter from Gdansk named Goldschmidt. Dov Bear gave the publishing house to his daughter in dowry. From now on till 1901 it would operate as “Dov Bear Monasz and Partners”. Since the year 1871 Dov Bear was not actively involved in the Krotoszynian printing business (he supported himself with money sent to him by his children from Melbourne) and since 1869 there was a noticeable change in the repertoire of printed materials – it was the year when Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums begun to be regularly printed (there were 17 volumes printed in total until 1888) and printing of traditional Jewish texts was almost completely stopped. The year 1870 saw the publication of one of the very few (if not the only one) materials in Polish - Ordynacja dla miasta Krotoszyna z dnia 1 lutego 1870 r. Rozporządzenie policyjne. (Ordination for the town of Krotoszyn of 1 February 1870. Police regulation).

Among the many publications printed in Krotoszyn by Dov Bear Monasz also worth mentioning are: the five-volume edition of Chumash with commentary by Onkelos, Rashi, with haftorahs and with the German translation by Josef Johlson and later the edition of the whole Bible, Machzor Mincha Chadasha, Menorat Hamaor by Itzhak Aboab with the German translation by Yaakov Rafael Fuerstenthal and Ben Zion Behrend, two volumes of Sefer Emmuna Yeshara, the philosophical work by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaliszer, Zivchei Ratzon by Rabbi Shraga Feibush Frenkel – a collection of instructions dealing with the ritual slaughter (shechita).

The printer of Krotoszyn used a few different names throughout his life. In traditional Jewish publications printed in Hebrew language we can see the name Dov Bear son of Leibush (בר'' ל) Monasz signed as the printer. On the other hand, in the publications in non-Jewish languages (most commonly of course in German) he generally signed the name B. L. Monasch, which probably stood for Bar Loebel (the son of Leibush?) Monasch – a Germanized version of his name. What is interesting, even in his Hebrew correspondence he signed his name in the Latin alphabet as “B.L. Monasch”. It is almost certain, that this was the form he used on a daily basis, and the Hebrew form was reserved only for the traditional texts published at home, intended for the orthodox client who might have distrusted a printer named “B.L. Monasch”.

Dov Bear (Bar Loebel) died on March 13, 1879 and was buried at the local Jewish cemetery. On his grave was placed a bilingual (Hebrew – German) tombstone. Like the cemetery itself, it did not survive to our times.

Dov Bear Monasz is the author of memoir titled Lebenserinnerungen (published in Polish in 2004, see the Bibliography). Grandson of Dov Bear was the Australian general John Monash.

1. Rafał Witkowski, Żydowscy mieszkańcy Krotoszyna w XIX i XX w./Jewish inhabitans of Krotoszyn (Krotoschin) in the 19 th and 20 th century, Wydawnictwo Bograf, Poznań 2004
2. Bar Loebel Monasch, Lebenserinnerungen. Memoirs. Pamiętnik, wstęp i opracowanie: Rafał Witkowski, Towarzystwo Miłośników i Badaczy Ziemi Krotoszyńskiej, Poznań 2004
3. Helena Kasperska, Daniel Szczepaniak, Wybitni Polacy, Niemcy i Żydzi Ziemi Krotoszyńskiej. Ludzie nauki, kultury i sztuki / Hervorragende Polen, Deutsche und Juden des Krotoschiner Landes. Menschen aus Wissenschaft, Kultur und Kunst, Muzeum Regionalne im. Hieronima Ławniczaka, Krotoszyn 2002
4. Wein, Abraham, ed. Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Poland: Poznań and Pomerania Districts; Gdansk (Vol. VI). Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1999.

Translated from Polish by Rochel Joanna Czopnik

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