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[Page 11]

The History of Kotzk

Transliterated by Sara Mages

(According to the monograph “Historjz miasta Koca” by Jan Majewski and other sources)

 

Kotzk, which lies in the district of Lukow (Lublin Voivodeship), is one of the ancient cities in Poland - more ancient from the capital city of Warsaw. From ancient days, Kotzk served as a fortress for the semi-savage Yotvingian tribes and a sanctuary to the Gods, Kotzko or Cozko, hence the source of the name of the city. In this place the tribes, who lived in the area, buried their warriors who fell in battle. Today, the pagans' cemetery is situated on a sand hill in the village of Ruska Wieś near Kotzk.

With the joint military campaign of King Kazimierz II and the Bishop of Plotzk to the Podlaskie Voivodeship, which was populated by Yotvingians, Kotzk fell as a spoil of war in the hands of the Mazovians as the property of the Bishop of Plotzk. In 1417, King Wladyslaw of Poland granted municipal rights to Kotzk according to the Magdeburg Law, and in this way the settlement in Kotzk became a city. In 1517 the lands and assets in Kotzk and the surrounding estates and farms, were transferred to the hands of King Zygmunt I (in exchange for assets in Raciąż), and since then they have become the property of the king. Then, King Zygmunt gave Kotzk as a gift to Mikołaj Firlej the castellan [governor] of Krakow. At that time, this matter caused dissatisfaction among the representatives who claimed that the king isn't authorized to give land as a gift to individuals. In this manner Kotzk rolled from authority to authority: at first as the property of the church, then - the monarchy, and finally - privately owned. Kotzk become state property only after Poland lost its independence.

The wooden Christian church already existed in Kotzk in the 15th century. When Kotzk was given to Mikołaj Firlej he handed the church to the Calvinism and his son established a school next to it. The school existed until 1648, the year in which it was destroyed by Khmelnytsky's troops who plundered the city and set it on fire (including a rich collection of books that belonged to the Firlej family). According to the inscription, which is engraved on the church's bell, the church was returned to the ownership of the Catholics 1649. In 1779, after the destruction of the church, it was rebuilt by Anna Jabłonowska of the Sapieha family. In 1831 it was restored in a luxurious Italian style.

The assets of Kotzk were transferred from the Firlej family to the hands of Stanislaw Jabonski, and later to Liaon Wielopolski, who was married to King Sobieski's sister-in-law. King Augustus used to visit Kotzk, and in 1782 Prince Pavel also spent a few days there.

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In 1869, Kotzk was sold to the aristocrat Adam Zoltowski. His son, Édouard, moved from Poznañ to Kotzk and made it his residence. Kotzk belonged to his grandson, Joseph Zoltowski, until the Second World War.

The magnificent palace, which was built by the Firlej family, is still standing in Kotzk. Princess Anna Jablonowska planted a beautiful ornamental garden, which is famous for its collection of trees and shrubs, next to the palace. The palace library contains a collection of letters and documents that refer to the actions of Princess Jablonowska. These letters relate to the history of the economy and the administration of the State of Poland in those days.

Zoltowski's beautiful palace served as a background for the filming of the famous story “Before spring,” which was written by the author Zaromski.

Kotzk, as a city which sat on the main road to Warsaw (134km to Warsaw, 50km to Lubling and 20km to Radzin), was once a major city. “In the town of Kotzk, which is situated on the Wieprz River that is suitable for the sailing of ships, “fairs” are held from time immemorial. It was built in an orderly fashion, and therefore, it's worthy the attention of the authorities” - so expressed his opinion the supervisor of the cities in 1820. From the same year remains a survey about the economic enterprises in the city, and according to it there were: 3 tanneries, 7 pottery workshops, 3 smithies, 10 tailors, 19 milliners, 2 leather workers, 3 carpenters, 3 locksmiths, 14 shoemakers, 14 weavers, 2 engravers and one watchmaker (the Polish source doesn't give the nationality of the factory owners, but, there's no doubt that they were Jews).

According to the limited information that we have, the first Jews arrived to Kotzk at the 17th century. One source testifies, that in 1639 the Jews received the right of permanent residency in the city,

 

koc012.jpg
The Ancient Synagogue in Kotzk

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and enjoyed the rights and duties of the rest of the residents. In the 18th century, the Jewish community of the village of Lysobyki was annexed to Kotzk. In the period between 1718- 1739 the tax rate, which was imposed on the Jews of Kotzk reached 80 Golden. In 1765, the community numbered 793 people (including Lysobyki) from which 62 families lived in their own houses. According to the same sources, half of the Jewish residents engaged in craft (tailors, milliners, shoemakers, etc.) - and half in small trade.

Starting from the 19th century we already have numbers about the Jewish and Christian population in Kotzk, and also about the scope of the construction in the city.

The Jews in Kotzk's population

Year Number
of
Christian
residents
Number
of
Jews
1765 -- 793
1827 1788 --
1856 2882 1612
1861 2870 1653
1883 3788 1694
1897 4724 3014
1921 3903 2092
1927 3738 2529
1939   3000
1941   3200

As clearly reflected in the above table, there was a weakening in the development of the cit,y or as Pasalski, the mayor of the city expressed in 1820 “The city isn't going up and isn't going down.” The reason lies in its distance from the train station[1] and from large urban centers. This fact set the delay in the development of the city, in the number of its inhabitants and its buildings. Here we find, for example, that in 1861 there were 273 houses in Kotzk (of which only 17 stone building); in 1883 - 327 houses (only the market's buildings were made of stone); in 1927 - 542 buildings.

This slow development further weakened after the main road was moved far away from the city, and the urban transportation (at first by wagons and later by buses) totally bypassed it. The trade movement was reduced and the city's growth almost came to a halt. This is the reason why the Jewish population in Kotzk, which constituted close to 58% of the city's population in 1883 and about 50% in 1921, declined in 1927 to about 41%.

[Page 14]

A partial revival of the city's life began after the First World War when a bus line opened between Kotzk and the big cities. However, the great fire, which broke out a short time later, put an end to the buds of this short recovery. Most of the houses in the city, which were built of wood (and covered with thatched roofs), went up in flames and their inhabitants were left homeless.

In the 1930s - after the fire - Kotzk was rebuilt. Two-story stone buildings were built in place of the wooden buildings. The market square and the streets around it (there were 25 streets in Kotzk), were built according to a special plan, a spectacle that wasn't common in towns of this type in Poland. Electric lighting was also installed, roads were paved to the immediate environment (to Serokomla and Talsin), and a bridge was built over the Tysmienica (a tributary of the Wieprz River). During those years, Kotzk served as the center for the local, provincial and governmental institutions.

The sources of income of Kotzk's Jews were the usual - commerce, small craft and buds of industry (brick factory, sawmill, flour mill and more). In 1928 there were in Kotzk - 13 bakeries, 9 smithies, 10 butcher shops, about 70 cobblers, 42 tailors (for men), 4 milliners, 5 tinsmiths, 2 loaders, 91 carpenters, etc. There were also about 124 shops, and there were also those who engaged in exporting the local products (timber, grain).

It's obvious that all the public institutions, which were customary in the Jewry of Poland, also found a place in the community of Kotzk. From among the economic institutions of the Jews of Kotzk we'll mention the “The Craftsmen Cooperative” which was established in 1920, the “The Credit Cooperative” (1922) and also the “Merchants Bank” (1925).

*

As stated, Kotzk was granted the status of a city already in the 15th century according to the Magdeburg Law. In 1871, Kotzk was lowered by the Russians from a status of a city to a rank of a village (“Osada”). In 1915, when Kotzk was conquered by the Germans, its status and rights were returned to her. During that period, the occupying power appointed a local council (which included three Jews: Noah Greinheim, Yoel Kraitzman and David Weinberg). Later, this council has become a charitable institution and its value was cancelled. After that, the Germans appointed a temporary local council, but in 1918, after the departure of the Germans and the establishment independent Poland, all these institutions were closed and a city council was established by the order of the Polish authorities. Five Jews were appointed to the first council (Motel Friendlich, Yoel Kraitzman, Leizer Smeiatitzky, Shlomo Topel and Moshe David Weiberg) by party lists (Zionists, Mizrachi, merchants, craftsmen, etc.), and four non-Jews. In 1919, additional members were added to this council (among them: Yosef Szczecinarz and Baruch Tzubak). In 1919, a new city council, which included 12 Jews (Gershon Bornstein, Avraham Tasharni, Shaul Hendlsman, Yakov Hertz, Yitzchak Kraitzman, Leizer Smeiatitzky, Moshe Weiberg, Meir Warum, Avraham Zeklik, Haim Yehusua Zaltzman and Yona Zigelman), was elected.

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koc015.jpg
Map of Kotzk and the surrounding area

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In 1926, there were eight Jews (Aba Tzovik, Michael Goldfinger, Shaul Hendlsman, Mordechai Shlefichovski, Yisrael Baruch Shulstein, Moshe David Weiberg and Yona Zigelman) in the city council.

*

Kotzk developed a reputation in the Jewish world (and to some extent also in the Polish public) for two things: for R' Menachem Mendel Morgenstern from Tomashov, the founder of the “Kotzk Hassidic Dynasty” who established his home there. Thanks to him, masses of Jews streamed to Kotzk from all corners of Poland, and even beyond its borders. The image of R' Mendele (whose descendants, members of the Morgenstern family, lived near Kotzk, Sokolow, Puławy and more) was described in detail by the author Joseph Opatoshu in his book “In the forests of Poland.” A chapter of this book is called “Kotzk.” His original personally and doctrine kept many poets, writers and researchers busy.

Kotzk also became famous because of the grave of Berek Joselewicz, the commander of the Jewish Cavalry Regiment. A monument in the form of a lump of rock was erected on his grave, and the place is called by the locals “Berek's hill.” The heroism of the Jewish Polkóvnik [colonel] has won numerous enthusiastic descriptions from the pens of writers and historians (mainly Poles), and many painters depicted his image. This event, which was unique in the Polish Jewry of those generations, hasn't lost its actuality even before the outbreak of the Second World War. There was also an attempt to film various episodes of his life, especially about the battle in which he heroically fell within Kotzk (according to the legend).

In fact, Berek Joselewicz's name was mostly widespread among the Poles[2]. The Jews of Kotzk, like all the Jews of Poland, whose civil status hasn't changed after his heroic deeds, showed apathy mixed with suspicion towards the extraordinary hero who was buried in the center of their city. Only in recent years there was a turn in the appreciation of Berek Joselewicz by the Jewish youth and the Jewish public. In the memorial processions to his grave, which were organized by the Jewish federations, the heroism of the Jewish hero was also mentioned. There was an indirect answer in it to the anti-Semites's claim that the Jews have no part in Poland's war for its wholeness and independence. In 1927, a “civic committee for the establishment of schools (vocational and elementry) in the name of Berek Joselewicz” was established in Kotzk. The committee, which was composed of senators and high ranking officers, was under the patronage of Piłsudski. Jewish members of the city council and other public activists also joined this committee (the Jewish members from Kotzk, besides Maximilian Meir Apolinary Hartglas the representative to the Polish Sejm, were: Moshe Goldbend, R' Yosef Morgenstern - the city's rabbi, Moshe David Weiberg and Yona Zigelman).

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The committee published a comprehensive monograph about Berek Joselewicz (in Polish), and the construction of the school began. The construction was halted with the outbreak of the Second World War, and was only completed at the end of the war when there wasn't a single Jew in Kotzk. The knowledge, that in today's Poland the name of Berek Joselewicz isn't posted on the school building for fear of anti-Semitic outburst is ringing as a bitter irony…


Footnotes

  1. For many years the transportation was conducted from Kotzk to other cities through nearby Radin (20km) by carts and horses, and from there it was additional 7km to the train station. Return
  2. In 1920, during the Russian-Polish war, “fortune tellers” from the villages around Kotzk predicted that the Bolsheviks, which took over Poland, will be defeated next to Berek Joselewicz's grave and the war will end. In fact, the war didn't end, but it's strange that the Poles opened their counterattack from this place and from here began the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks… Return

 

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