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Translation of "Poddebice" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of "Poddebice" chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 184 - 186, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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- The Jewish Population Until the Second World War
- The Holocaust
In the 1770s, Jews settled in Poddebice (approximately nine families). The town owner provided them with aid and loans to establish their households, commerce, or open workshops. A large group of Jews settled in the town in an attempt to develop industry. In 1821 the town owner brought a number of German weavers, and he made an agreement with them. This agreement restricted the settling rights of the Jews, but allowed them to buy property and live in only two streets. However, these restrictions did not stop the flow of Jewish population to the town, and among them were weaving contractors who cooperated with local weavers, as well as various artisans. But, after 1831, the weaving industry in town started to decline, and even the status of a town was taken away from it (1870). Nevertheless, the number of Jews in the town increased as well as their percentage in the general population. The closure of the weaving industry took away the livelihood of the Jews involved in weaving contracting, and consequently most of them moved into commerce of agricultural produce and weaving products from industrial centers in the area. In 1879, the Jewish population was harmed by a big fire that burned nearly all the Jewish homes on Dluga and Warszawska Streets.
At the end of the 18th century, Rabbi Yehuda Frenkel, son of Yitzhak Frenkel, held the seat of the Rabbinate. In the 1850s, Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldshlag [Goldszlag], son of Abraham Goldshlag [Goldszlag], served as the rabbi of Poddebice. He left behind after his death some unpublished writings. After him Rabbi Yaakov Kaufman rose to the Rabbinate. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Blum held the seat of the Rabbinate from the beginning of the 20th century until 1926. The town's last rabbi was Rabbi Y. Y. Rothfeld [Rotfeld].
The Jews of Poddebice personally experienced the results of the First World War. Many of them traded in beef, grain, and flour, and their trade involved travelling in that dangerous era. Three Jewish beef traders were murdered in one of the villages in the winter of 1915. Unfortunately the livelihood of the Jews of Poddebice was reduced due to food allocation and the prohibition of the free trade of flour. The militia that the Germans founded treated very harshly the Jews who illegally traded in flour.
At the end of the war the Youth Aid Association (Yunger Untershtitzung Ferein) did a lot in the field of culture by organizing lectures in addition to its socialist activities.
During the period between the wars there was not a marked change in the professional profile of the Jews of Poddebice, apart from the increase of the group of transport contractors and coachmen who made a living from the removal of goods and driving passengers on the Lodz-Poddebice line. At the beginning of the 1930s, some of them sold the horses and bought buses which traveled the same route. But, in 1936, the authorities cancelled the concession of the small companies. The Jews of Poddebice who dealt with mechanized transport had to return to horse and coach driving. In addition the economic ban on Jews increased gradually.
The following political parties were active in the town in that period: General Zionists (Tzionim Klaliim), Workers of Zion, Po'alei Zion Left and Right, Mizrachi, Agudat Israel and Agudat Israel Workers. In the elections for the leadership of the community in 1931, the General Zionists and Agudat Israel each won two mandates. Also, all of the following received 1 mandate apiece: Po'alei Zion Left, the list of artisans and the nonpoliticals. In the election for the Sejm (Parliament) in 1922, nearly all the Jewish votes in Poddebice (667 votes) were given to the National Jewish Bloc.
From an initiative of HaMizrachi and Agudat Israel Workers, a Heder Metukan was established in Poddebice. Also, from Agudat Israel's initiative, Beit Ya'akov, a girls' school was founded. There were three Jewish libraries in town: one from Histadrut Ha'tzionim, the second from Po'alei Zion Left, and the third from Agudath Israel Workers. Also drama courses were held next to the libraries.
The ghetto, built in Poddebice in November 1940, was at first an open ghetto. It was in the most neglected part of town; even the mayor emphasized that the houses that were to be used by Jews were ramshackle and neglected and should be demolished. 1,500 Jews were squeezed into these flats, among them nearly 150 refugees from other places. Despite the horrific conditions, during the first quarter of 1941, the Germans squeezed nearly 600 refugees into the ghetto. Thus, the ghetto population increased remarkably up to 2,000 people. In the ghetto there were no sources of livelihood, even for the artisans. Due to this, people went hungry. This situation caused demonstrations in 1941, which protested against the Judenrat (led by Sosnowski). The Judenrat tried to ease the hardship of the poor by activating public aid. The Aid Committee in the ghetto included among its activities in the winter of 1941 the distribution of heating materials: 10 kg of peat and 5 kg of wood per family for a week.
In October 1941, a German crew from Poznan showed a film in a German club in town. In the evening two members of the crew came to the ghetto drunk, in order to entertain themselves at the expense of the Jews. They lit with a match the beard of a Jew that happened to be in their way. At night they demanded from the chairman of the Judenrat that he provide them with women, apparently to work in Germany. They chose two young women from those who were brought to them, and they locked up the rest at the Judenrat building. They took the two women to their home and tried to rape them. The young women resisted stubbornly, and the Germans released them and ordered them to keep quiet. Nevertheless the matter was brought to the knowledge of the local authorities, and the Germans were tried in a special court in Lodz, and were found guilty of overusing their authority and attempting to "desecrate the (Aryan) race." One was rebuked and the other received a year and a half in prison.
The Nazi terror worsened in 1942, a short while before the demolition of the ghetto. On Tuesday, March 19, 1942, the Germans hanged five Jews in the town's market in front of the Jewish population. The Jewish policemen were executed. The chairman of the Judenrat was forced to give a speech which explained the verdict. The town's school pupils were also brought to the place in order to witness the event. The victims were buried in mass graves.
After the hanging, the ghetto residents became horrified. Some of the young men volunteered to be sent to the labor camps, as they assumed that the work would save them from being killed. Among others, 90 young men from Poddebice arrived at the Jewish labor camp in Konin as volunteers during March 21-27, 1942. It was then brought to the knowledge of the Jews of Poddebice by neighboring Poles that Jews from the districts of Kolo and Kutno were sent to the death camp at Chelmno.
The extermination of the Jewish population in Poddebice began on a Friday during Pesach (Passover) (April 10, 1942). The Jewish population of 1800 was squeezed inside the local church and was locked in without water or food. Only a few days after being locked in, the Judenrat gave a large bribe. As a result, they were able to provide a little water, bread and margarine. Horrible scenes took place in the church: more than ten people died, others lost their minds, and two women gave birth. According to one version, the Jews were taken out of the church in small groups and were sent to a death camp. According to another version, a few days after being locked in the church, everyone was taken out together, a segregation took place, and some of the Jews, especially the elderly, the ill, and the children were killed by the Germans on the spot. The group of artisans as well as men and women who were able to work were probably taken to the Lodz ghetto or sent to labor camps. The rest of the Jews were sent to Chelmno. According to other evidence, the authorities ordered all the Jews before gathering them in the church on that Friday - to parade toward the road that lead to Leczyca. The sick and weak were brought there in wagons, and the rest walked. From there everyone was brought to the military training area, and they were arranged in rows. The parade was conducted by the mayor and German policemen, who took the opportunity to hit the Jews. Later, everyone was chased back to town to the mocking of some of the Polish population. It was only afterwards that all the Jews were gathered in the church.
Among those who were locked in church, only three Jews were saved from expulsion. They hid in the attic, the belfry and under piles of tiles and rubbish. The rabbi of Uniejow, who was also in the church, encouraged them to escape. (Since the escape of Rabbi Rothfeld [Rotfeld], the last rabbi of Poddebice on behalf of the General Government, the rabbi of Uniejow chaired as the rabbi of Poddebice.) The rabbi encouraged the escapees so that they would stay alive to give evidence of the crime. He gave them reference letters to the rabbis from the vicinity. Those who hid heard the sound of the events that took place outside the church. Then the Germans searched the building, found one of those who hid and shot him. They did not discover the other two. After the Germans left, the two Jews left their hiding place, broke a window, and lowered themselves to the ground by using belts. Both of them were later found among the few Jews of Poddebice who survived the war.
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