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Translation of "Wierzbnik" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Our appreciation to Sandy Zimmerman, who allowed us to publish
the translations which were done by Shalom Bronstein for her private use.
This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, page 167, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Subdistrict of Ilza, Kielce District)
Wierzbnik-Starachowice was founded in 1624 as a result of the privilege granted by King Sigismund III to Prince Radoshevski, the secretary of the Kingdom and the Cardinal of Kiev. The majority of the residents were from the nearby town of Kamiena. The Privilege recognizes Wierzbnik-Starachowice as a city according to the Magdeburg Laws and it was allowed to have weekly market days and annual fairs. In 1674 Wierzbnik-Starachowice had 167 people who paid the head tax. In the second half of the 19th century, iron deposits were discovered in the vicinity and they began to be mined. From that time, the city grew and developed. Foundries were built in Starachowice and in the beginning of the 20th century the Tsarist government built factories to supply materiel to the army.
Until 1862, Jews were not permitted to reside in Wierzbnik-Starachowice. However, even before the decree was cancelled in the middle of the 19th century, there was already a Jewish community located there. They earned their living by petty trade, peddling and skilled work. Around this time, the iron deposits were discovered. Especially after the limitations on Jewish residence were annulled, they played an important role in the development of local industry. The Rottwand family established one of the first foundries and Jews also developed the lumber industry. Merchants from Germany and Russia came to Wierzbnik-Starachowice to purchase the products of the plywood factory founded by the Lichtenstein family. This factory operated until World War II.
With the outbreak of World War I, the Russians relocated the town's inhabitants to the town of Ilza (cf.), but after two months, they were permitted to return to their homes. Between the wars, the Jews of Wierzbnik-Starachowice continued their traditional occupations - commerce and skilled crafts. Three Jewish banks were established in the town, among them "The Bank for Labor." Among the self-help organizations of the community, were the Free Loan Society, the Hakhnasat Orchim (providing lodging for wayfarers) and the Bikur Holim (Society for Visiting the Ill).
During this time, vibrant Zionist activity developed among the Jews of Wierzbnik-Starachowice. Most of the parties and Zionist youth groups opened branches in the town. In 1929, the Hehalutz branch opened and three of its members began training as pioneers. In 1933, the members of Gordonia started the League for Working Eretz Yisrael that included all of the activists of the Zionist labor parties. The members ran cultural evenings and daytime seminars on Zionist topics, the history of the Jewish people and other similar themes. The Revisionists, who also opened a branch in Wierzbnik-Starachowice in the late 1920s, soon became the largest Zionist group in the area. Its youth movement, Betar, was also active in the town. We can learn about the relative strength of the various parties from the results of the elections to the Zionist Congresses.
|14th (1925)||16th (1929)||21st (1939)|
|Working Eretz Yisrael Bloc||--||9||105|
In March 1923, there was a fundraising evening event for the Keren Hayesod and twenty million (inflationary) marks were raised. Pinchas Lichtenstein, one of the wealthiest men in the city and the owner of the plywood factory, pledged about 10% of this amount. In 1930, the Keren Hayesod raised 1,061 zloty in Wierzbnik-Starachowice.
The 20s and 30s were also characterized as a time of flourishing cultural life among the Jews. The "Tarbut" Hebrew language school started a branch and the Beth Jacob Girls' School of Agudath Israel opened in 1932. It began with only seven enrolled students, but by the time of the war, their number grew to about 40. Three public libraries were opened during this time - the laborer's organization, the Zionist movement and Agudath Israel. Two sporting groups were also established - the Zionist Maccabi and Shtern [Star] of the Bund. They had football and bicycle riding teams. In 1935 athletes from Wierzbnik-Starachowice went to Eretz Yisrael to participate in the Maccabi Games. Some of them remained in the Land of Israel.
The control over the leadership of the Jewish community was for many years in the hands of Agudath Israel. The results of the elections in 1931 for the council of the Jewish community were, Agudath Israel won 5 places, workers won 4 places and the Zionists 2. The elected head of the community, Gelbtuch, was a Zionist. However, between the factions a dispute arose over the allocation of assignments. Agudath Israel went to the government that ruled that new elections were to be held. The new leadership of the community was made up of representatives of the Zionists and of the laborers.
In the fall of 1938, when the Nazis expelled from [Germany] Jews with Polish citizenship to the border town of Zbonschon (?), the community held a general meeting in the synagogue during which 700 zloty was raised for the refugees.
On 1 September 1939, the Germans bombed Wierzbnik-Starachowice, especially the industrial and foundry areas. Many residents, Jews and Poles alike, fled to nearby villages. The Polish army built a strong defensive fortification around the munitions factories and for a few days managed to stop the German advance, but on 9 September 1939, the town fell. The day after the capture the maltreatment of Jews began. First, 15 Jews were seized and brought to the prison in Kielce (cf.); they were freed two weeks later. In the town, Jews were seized for forced labor - mostly in clearing the streets of damage caused by the bombing. Polish residents forced Jews from the lines waiting for the distribution of bread, and in some cases, the stores and stalls of Jews in the marketplace were confiscated. In September 1939, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Germans broke into the synagogue and while beating the Jews forced them out to the street. Some worshippers were pulled by their beards, and the group of Amishov Hasidim, who prayed in their own shtibel [prayer house] were singled out for special cruelty. After this, the synagogue was set ablaze. In the beginning of 1940 a Polish collaborator was murdered by the Poles, and in reaction hundreds of the town's residents were arrested. Among them were 22 Jews. For a month, they were held in the Radom (cf.) jail. In the first months of the war, some 500 refugees from Lodz and hundreds from Pomerania in Western Poland arrived in Wierzbnik-Starachowice. By February the number of Jews in Wierzbnik-Starachowice had grown to 3,156 and in May 1941 to some 3,600.
On 23 November 1939, a Judenrat was established in Wierzbnik-Starachowice. It was based on the membership of the former community council with the active community leaders Mintzberg and Yarenzweig at its head. Along with the Judenrat, a Jewish police force of 15 was formed to keep order. Immediately thereafter, the Judenrat was required to raise 100,000 zloty and provide forced laborers to the Germans. Every day, between 300 and 400 Jews left for labor in the town and in the surrounding villages. In the beginning of 1940, the Jews of Wierzbnik-Starachowice were required to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David.
The Jews of Wierzbnik-Starachowice were put in a ghetto on 2 April 1940. It included a part of the city square and led to the Jewish cemetery. Although it was not walled, Jews were not allowed to leave, but Poles were permitted to enter. This enabled the Jews to buy food from them. The Judenrat opened a public kitchen that provided 600 meals daily to those in need - mostly soup and bread. Funds for operating the kitchen came from the ISS (Jewish Self Help Organization) in Krakow.
In the spring of 1941, Jewish males to the age of 45 were required to be registered and counted in order to go out to work. The Germans freed [from this requirement] those with 5 children or more. All the rest were sent to forced labor camps in the area of Lublin. Through great efforts and through bribes, the Judenrat succeeded in returning many of them to Wierzbnik-Starachowice.
The great Aktzia [deportation] in the ghetto of Wierzbnik-Starachowice took place on 27 October 1942. At dawn, German police, along with Ukrainian guards invaded the ghetto under the command of Walter Batzker of the SS. With the help of the Jewish police, the 4,000 Jews found in the ghetto were herded to the market square. Some 2,000 men fit for work were separated during the 'selection,' and sent to area work camps. The remaining Jews, mostly women, children and the elderly, were taken to the Death Camp Treblinka. Twelve [Jews] who were caught hiding were shot on the spot. A small group of 30 Jews remained in the ghetto and were required to gather and inventory the property of those deported and to clean the area.
In October 1942, the Germans established two large work camps near the munitions factories in Starachowice. There were more than 3,000 workers including most of the Jews from Wierzbnik-Starachowice who were chosen for forced labor. One of the camps was in operation until June 1943 and the other until July 1944. In March 1943, 140 Jews who had lost their ability to work, were murdered in the Starachowice camp. A large 'selection' took place at the end of the summer of 1943 after which more than 100 sick Jews were murdered in the adjacent forest. In July 1944, with the advance of the Red Army to the area, the Germans decided to abandon the camps. At the time of the evacuation, the prisoners rebelled, and 100 succeeded in fleeing to the forests. The Germans chased after them and many of the escapees were captured and killed.
At the end of the war, a few of the survivors returned to Wierzbnik-Starachowice. In May 1945, Polish members of the anti-Semitic Krayova Army, broke into the house of Leibush Brodbeker, and murdered him and several members of his family and beat other Jews. In the wake of these events, the last Jews left the place and moved to Lodz.
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