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SECTION 1

Old Kozienice

 

Towards a History of the Jews in Kozienice

by Dr. Nakhman Blumenthal, Jerusalem

In 1966, Poland celebrated one thousand years of nationhood. These same thousand years correspond to the period of Jewish settlement there, although some few Jews had come to Poland earlier than the records indicate. Throughout the whole of our time in Poland, we were treated as strangers. “The Jews are a wandering people, here today and gone tomorrow. The Jews, “or so it was claimed,” are a people with no feeling for the land. They are strangers; they feel like strangers, shut themselves off from their surroundings and separate themselves from the society in which they live. It is not surprising that the local population sees them as foreigners, distrusting them and treating them accordingly.”

Was it any wonder, then, that the Jews were not recognized as fully–fledged citizens? Even when we received equal rights (on paper, at any rate) immediately after the nation's rise, we had occasion until the last minute – and this is free Poland – to h ear the constant cry, more than once accompanied by physical force, “Zydi do Palestini,” “Jews to Palestine”.

The people's street–cries were politely echoed by Polish diplomats. They said that there were too many Jews in Poland, that not only the Jews, but also the poorer strata of the Poles themselves had no opportunity to make a satisfactory living. If Polish peasants were seeking a livelihood in foreign countries, would it not be fairer for the Jews to leave Poland in an organized fashion – not, God forbid, in a stampede – and for their own sake? The Polish government was even prepared to give the Jews the counsel and diplomatic aid necessary to help them settle in Madagascar. Jews wouldn't care, they said. It was all the same to them, wherever they were! They were strangers of their own volition: Was there ever such a thing as a Jewish patriot?

Theoreticians who had “proven” that the Jews had lost any national attachments over the course of their lengthy exile could also be found among the Jews themselves. Today, after the holocaust, one sees that all their theories were incorrect, as hundreds and hundreds of landsmanschaft books prove. These books are devoted not only to our great misfortune in Poland, but also to memoirs and pictures of the Poland of days gone by: not only to the Jews, but to good Polish neighbours, too (and, it goes without saying, to the bad ones); to the beautiful Polish countryside and the beauty of our settlements. Even today, Jews who now live far from Poland, driven thence by the atrocities of the Second World War, boast of the beauty of Warsaw and of Cracow, of the Vistula, and the goodness of the local nobility, and the beauty of the forest and rivers where they would bathe on Shabbes afternoon. And with what love is this told!

Another thing which is not to be forgotten: the Polish–Jewish landsmanschaften came into being in America, especially in New York, at the end of the nineteenth century, half a century before the holocaust was upon

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us. The landsmanschaften did not limit themselves to organizing clubs where members could get together and talk about the old country (though this is, of course, the psychological reason for their formation), nor did they restrict themselves to organizing help for their impoverished homeland. How many songs and poems in praise of the old settlement had been written even then! No town in Poland went unhymned by a Jewish poet – how many Polish writers did the same? The number of emigrants who have lived and are still living outside the boundaries of Poland is considerably greater than that of the emigrant Jews. Have they, the Poles, formed many landsmanschaften? Have they published many landsmanschaften books? So it was before the holocaust, and so it has remained until today.

Today, the landsmanschaften books have assumed another character. They have become tombstones for the annihilated Jewish Poland. But how much love, love mixed with sorrow and pain, appears in the very fact of their existence! In the best times we were treated as strangers, harassed and driven out; in bad times we were murdered and raped.

Today, years later, when we are in our ancestral home and striking roots in a new reality, we return from time to time, more than we would like and more than needs be, to the old country in which our parents, our great–great–grandparents lived and suffered. Among the many feelings which flood into our minds, mention must be made of our love for the place, for the land which was neither mother nor stepmother, which often betrayed us cruelly and gave us into the hands of the Nazi executioners.

A wonderful people, indeed, the people of Israel! It cannot rid itself of its past, bitter as it was. On the contrary, the bitterness receives the longest and most frequent commemoration.

 

The History of the City of Kozienitz

The name is taken from the root koza, kozice, a goat, wild goat or stag. The town was established in the depths of the great forests in which many animals, mainly goats, lived. Dukes and kings used to hunt there, among them King Zygmunt August (16th century), whose residence was in Cracow, then the capital of Poland. The town took its name from the goats Ÿ Kozienice, or in Yiddish, Kozienitz.

Mordekhai Donnerstein recalls a story about the town's name from school: Once, King Zygmunt August took his wife, Barbara, hunting. The queen was renowned for her beauty and goodness, and when the king shot at and hit a she–goat, she fainted out of pity for the animal. Wishing to comfort her, the king told her that the goat had not been hurt, in Polish Kozięnic. The place, which was later to develop into a large settlement, thus took on the name of Kozienice. People tent to interpret place–names of whose origins they are ignorant by means of such false etymologies.

Another version of the legend is found in the first Polish encyclopedia, published by the Jew, Shmuel Orgelbrand (Warsaw, 1864), according to which the king shot and missed. His retainers cried out, “Kozie–nic,” in other words, “You missed”.

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In fact, a village called Kozienice was already in existence at that time. It is known that King Wladislaw Jagello bought the village from on order of Wemen in 1390, and that in 1409 he ordered a wooden bridge, built on rafts, to be set up on the Vistula thee. Later, the completed bridge was floated down the Vistula to Czerwinsk, where the Polish army crossed over it to struggle against the Crusaders and win the great victory of Grunewald (Tannenberg) in 1410. The fact that the bridge was built in Kozienice proves that there were craftsmen living there, and that the settlement was occupied with something other than agriculture.

In 1466, King Kazimiez, in company with his wife, Elzbieta, stopped in Kozienice while fleeing from Cracow on account of the “bad air”, or plague, which was raging there. The queen felt birth pains in Kozienice, and the court was forced to stop. She went into labour on January 1, 1467 and gave birth to a son who received the name Zygmunt. He later became king of Poland, and reigned from 1506–1549 as Zygmunt the First, also known as Zygmunt the Old, having died at the age of 83.

After the death of King Zygmunt the Old, an obelisk twenty metres high and with inscriptions in Latin was set up in front of the church which he had earlier built, and it has remained there to this day. The column was renovated at the beginning of the 18th century.

Zygmunt August (1549–1572), son of Zygmunt the First, was an enthusiastic hunter who often used to come to Kozienice, where he built himself a palace. In 1549, he gave the lord of the village, Pyotr Firlei, the governor, the right to found a city with all the rights appertaining to one, such as self–management and jurisdiction and the right to organize fairs. Over the course of fifteen years, the king also freed the town's citizens from certain taxes, thus enabling them to build brick houses. Because the king was the city's real founder, folk memory considers him the founder of the entire settlement.

Kozienice attained a certain importance due to its location between the capital, Cracow, and Lithuania. Its function as a stopover allowed the area to develop. Industry arose – a brewery, brickworks, tannery, etc. Moreover, the Vistula served as a good means of communication at the time.

Later kings were also in the habit of coming to Kozienice, where they built themselves a beautiful palace with a large garden. In fact, the town acquired a reputation for its beautiful gardens. At the time of King Zygmunt August it had 177 houses and 194 gardens, an unusual phenomenon. The last king, Stanislaw Poniatowski, also used to hunt there, and he rebuilt the wooden palace with bricks.

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The Town's Growth

The following figures bear witness to the town's growth:
Year No. of Houses
1574 177
1827 243
1860 246
1880 272
1895 508

According to the 1931 census, there were 653 houses for a population of 7,793, that is, an average of 12 persons per house. At the time, the town's area was 14.2 square kilometers, while the town of Zwolen, which belonged to the same administrative district, was much larger, having 991 houses and a population of 8757.

In 1611 two houses in Kozienice were owned by Jews, and two more were rented by Jews. Altogether, there were five Jewish homeowners and ten tenants living there. Six of the Jews were butchers, and six were engaged in distilling whisky.

The town was destroyed during the 17th century war with Sweden. In 1782, a great fire left little of the old town standing, and it was rebuilt according to a new plan, this time with two markets. Arms factories, tanneries, a steam–powered mill and a factory producing tin singles were also established.

During the Napoleonic wars, the Polish army, under Prince Josef Poniatowski, took the side of Napoleon, and fought against the Austrians in Kozienice in 1809. The Polish prince remained in Kozienice for a time, and while there, he received from his troops a trophy bearing the inscription, Miles–Imperatori, the army to its commander.

Battles also took place around Kozienice during theKosciuszko rebellion of 1794–5.

After the partition of Poland, the section of the country to which Kozienice belonged fell to the Russians. From 1807 to 1812 (i.e., under Napoleon) Kozienice belonged to the voivode province of Sandomir (the administrative center of which was in Radom) in the Principality of Warsaw. Afterwards, Kozienice went over to Russia until the outbreak of the First World War when the town was occupied by the Austrian army. It remained in Austrian hands until the fall of Austro–Hungary and the defeat of the central powers, Germany and Austria, which led to the rise of independent Poland in November, 1918.

In 1844 the provinces of Kelc and Sandomir were combined to form the province of Radom.[1] In independent Poland, the province was replaced by a state with a governor, with its capital in Kelc.

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The privilege of 1616

With respect to the Jews, we know for a certainty that they were already to be found in Kozienice at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1616 they received a privilege from the king entitling them to live in Kozienice. They fell back upon this privilege in 1616 when threatened with expulsion from the town. At that time there were five Jewish homeowners in Kozienice, besides ten tenant families living in the Jewish houses or in rented quarters in non–Jewish dwellings. Figuring only five persons per family (and this is the minimum), this amounts to a Jewish population of at least 75 persons.

In 1722 the Jews of Kozienice paid 354 zlotys poll–tax, there being at least so many Jews over one year old in the town. In 1726 there were 630 Jews in Kozienice. The significant increase in population is attributable at least in part to the exercise of stricter control than was practiced by the takers of the previous census.

In 1778 the synagogue, study–house, rabbi's house and other Jewish homes burnt down.

The following facts throw some light on the position of the Jews in the country as a whole as well as in Kozienice. During the Kosciuszko rebellion, battles with the Russian army took place near Kozienice. The Russian officers demanded that the Polish authorities and the Jewish community provide them with girls, threatening to burnt he city in the event of refusal.[2] This probably came about as a punishment, as the population sympathized with and aided the Polish rebels. At the same time, the Jews of Kozienice were forced to pay the vast sum of 4,000 zlotys. After the payment had been made, the Russians left a squadron of soldiers in the town, ostensibly for its protection. The soldiers, however, occupied themselves in plundering, and especially in plundering the Jews.

At the same time a woman from Kozienice named Zelda Mordkova (i.e., the wife of Mordekhai) who was then in Warsaw appealed to the Polish government on behalf of her husband, who had been imprisoned for not having a permit to stay in Warsaw, despite the fact that he was employed in the barracks for the needs of the military (he was apparently a craftsman). Moreover, at that time every “foreign” Jew who wished to remain in Warsaw had to pay a tax of three zlotys for 14 days.

Also at that time, two representatives of the Jewish community in Kozienice, Levek Vigdorovich and Moshek Mendelovich, went to the government with the charge that Russian troops had destroyed Jewish houses and sacked Jewish property, not only in the city itself but in the entire area appertaining to the Jewish community of Kozienice.[4]

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After the suppression of the Kosciuszko rebellion, Poland was divided among its three great neighbours, Russia, Prussia and Austria, thus losing its independence for 125 years. Throughout this time, with the exception of the six years between 1806 and 1813 when the so–called Principality of Warsaw arose under the impetus of Napoleon, Kozienice belonged to Russia. It was during this time that Kozienice became famous (and not only among Jews) as the home of the Maggid. The Maggid and his court laid their stamp on the life of the whole town.

 

Demographic Information

The first reliable official source as to the number of Jews in Kozienice dates from the year 1765. In that year, a census of all the Jews in independent Poland was carried out in order to determine how much federal tax they owed. The tax was paid by the head, and was therefore called in Polish poglowna, or poll–tax.[5] Every male and female over one year old was obliged to pay the tax on a yearly basis. In the year in question, the government wished to establish whether all Jews were paying the tax, and it therefore carried out this census. Poles appointed as enumerators went from house to house to register all the Jews, their names, professions, etc. They would be joined by representatives of the community who offered additional information.

Such, at least, was the theory; the practice was often quite different. The enumerators did not visit every dwelling; they noted only those who were at home and neglected to register those who were absent. Sometimes children were completely ignored, and the aged passed off as infants of under one year old. These facts indicate that the numbers of this census, too, must be referred to with reservation; they are not exact, being, in our opinion, too small.

Professor Raphael Mahler[6], who has particularly concerned himself with this question, has established that the numbers of this census must be increased in order to arrive at the real number of Jews who were living there at the time. Firstly, the infants, for whom the law made no provision, must be taken into account. According to Professor Mahler, these amounted to 6/35% of the general Jewish population. To these must also be added the “disclaimed persons” whom the census officials had either ignored completely or the residents deliberately not reported, in order not to pay the poll–tax. Their number would amount to about 20% of the registered Jewish population. Thus, if the census states that 1365 Jews[7] were living in Kozienice and its environs, this sum must be increased by 26.35% in order to arrive at the correct figure of 175 (1365 plus 360) persons, a large enough number, especially for those times.

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We get the following table up to the outbreak of the war in September 1939.

No. of Jews Total Population
Year In Kozienice of Kozienice % of Jews
1765 1365 (1725) –– ––
1827[8] 1185 2008 59
1857 1980 2902 65
1860[9] 1950 3000 65
1893 2561 4742 54
1897 3764 6392 58.9
1909 4702 8633 54.5
1910 3431 5233 65.9
1921[10] 3811 6678 55.4
1931[11] –– 7793 ––
1939[12] 4780 –– ––

Let us now consider the number of Jews in the Kozienice district according to the latest two censuses in Poland and one from Czarist Russia. This will give us a picture of the development of the Jewish population during this period.

Year Population Jews % of Jews
1897 107,964 13,591 12.6
1921 124,527 13,021 10.5
1931[13] 143,100 14,073 9.83

The figures demonstrate that while the non–Jewish population grew–chiefly through natural increase – by 35,036 persons, or 32.7%, between 1897 and 1931, the Jewish population increased by only 492 persons, or 3.54%. The decrease in the number of Jews between 1897 and 1921 is a result of the First World War and of Jewish emigration from the region. If we add that in 1890 the percentage of Jews in the district amounted to 13.4, the decrease will become more marked.

The absolute increase of 482 persons in the region's Jewish population at this time does not even take the natural increase of the Jews of Kozienice into account. In other words, some of the Jews from the city or its surrounding villages left their dwelling places over the course of time and moved to other places, either the larger cities of the area, such as Kelc, Radom and Warsaw, or else to other countries, America in particular. Of the total number of Jews in the area, only 1584 were living in the villages in 1921; the rest lived in the two district centres Kozienice and Zwolen, the latter having 3811 Jews. While Zwolen had fewer Jews than Kozienice, it was in fact a larger town, with more non–Jewish population than in Kozienice.

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The rate of natural increase was lower among Jews than non–Jews; in 1921 it amounted to no more than 12 per thousand for the entire region. For every thousand Jews there were 19.8 births and 8.0 deaths. Their rate of natural increase was thus 11.8 per thousand, while that of the non–Jewish population was almost twice as great. The percentage of Jewish growth in the region amounted to only 5.7% of the general increase, even though Jews comprised 10.5% of the total population. As a result, the Jewish population had a higher proportion of elderly than the non–Jewish. The following chart will make this clear.

Children

Year Total
No. Jews
up to 10 % of
Children
1897 13,790 4,357 31.6
1921 13,013 3,146 24.2

On account of a greater natural increase, the Jewish community of 1897 was younger than that of 1921. In 1897, Jewish children comprised 13.2% of the total number of children under ten years of age in the district; in 1921, only 10%.

Fortunately, the situation changed in later years. The most intelligent sectors of the Jewish population were struck by the fact that the Jews, to put it simply, had begun to have fewer children. It is well known that the urban population tends as a rule, to have fewer children than the rural, and that the Jews – as we know – are primarily city dwellers. It is to this that the greater percentage of elderly among the Jews is to be traced. In the district of Kozienice, the number of Jews of fifty years of age and over was 66.3% higher than those between thirty and forty–nine, among other nationalities. The ratio was different among other peoples: the younger age groups were many times larger than the older, an understandable phenomenon for every normal people living in normal conditions. Such conditions did not apply to Jews in the diaspora.

That Jews must refer to the official census figures only with caution was pointed out by Jewish national circles in Poland immediately after the event. There was reason enough for the census commissioners to be unable to carry their work to perfection. Since the Polish government had an interest in there being more Poles and fewer national minorities in Poland, what difficulty was there for a commissioner to register a Polish speaking Jew as a native speaker of the language? Who would go browsing through the commissioner's papers, even though he was entitled to do so? One's mother tongue had to serve as an indication of membership in the Polish race, as the census forms had no category for nationality.

On the other hand, there were also enough reasons for Jews not to line up for registration. Firstly, there were those who, for religious reasons, neither wanted to be – and could not be – counted. Secondly, there were Jews who, for a number of reasons, had no desire to come into contact with any officials. The most important of these reasons was a lack of trust that the “goy” really meant nothing but statistics. Who knew what, God Forbid, could come out of it all? It was thus more reasonable not to appear on the list.

With respect to the Jews, the statistics are not exact. They must be increased, but by how much? The problem has yet to be solved.

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Census was held in liberated Poland in February, 1946 in order to assess the results of the recently ended war. According to this census, the district of Kozienice had 116,900 persons, a decrease of 26,200 from the census of 1931. In fact, the population was greater, if the natural increase of the Polish people between 1931 and 1946 is taken into consideration. Of course, there was less of an increase during the war, but an increase nevertheless. The wartime losses of the Polish nation are expressed in this population decrease, but hardly to the same extent as the genocide of the Jews, who vanished from the region completely. Today, the natural increase of the Polish people has more than made up for the number of Jews who lived there before the war. The number of Jews no longer figures in Polish population statistics. Other vestiges of them – houses, study–houses, cemeteries – are likewise in the process of disappearing. Any traces of the Jews have been completely covered up.

 

The Dynasty of Kozienice

The founder of the dynasty was Rabbi Yisroel of Kozienice (1740 – 1815), known as the Kozienicer Maggid (i.e., Preacher). Hasidim link his birth to a miracle of the Baal Shem Tov, who blessed the poverty stricken bookbinder, Shabsi of Ostrowca, and his wife, Pearl, with a child in their old age. Tradition has it that the child was called Yisroel because the Baal Shem Tov served as godfather at his bris.

Already as a child, Yisroel was completely devoted to learning. He used to fast and afflict himself. He became thin and sickly, so much so that in his old age he was forced to stay in bed, as walking, or even standing, was painful for him. Despite his weakness, the Maggid went into raptures while praying, and the words came out of his mouth like arrows winging their way towards heaven. “Rabbi Israel was sickly all through life and often on the very of death, but his prayers were so potent that the rows of devotees gazed at that frail form of his as though at a victorious general” (Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, vol. 1, New York, 1947, p. 31).

He studied first with Rav Shmelke Horowitz in Ricziwol. Later on, he was the youngest of the 300 pupils of the Great Maggid, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch. “At the very zenith of his life and work, he still wished to be a disciple” (Buber). After his teacher's death in 1773, he went over to Rabbi Shmelke of Nickolsburg, and after the latter's death to Rebbe Reb Elimelekh of Lizensk, despite the fact that he himself was already grown up and could by then have become a rebbe. It is told that when Rebbe Reb Elimelekh divided his heritage among his best pupils before his death (1786), he gave his eyes to the later Seer of Lublin, Yankev Yitzkhok Horowitz; his mind to the later Rebbe of Rimanov, Rabbi Menakhem–Mendel; and to Rabbi Yisroel, the future Maggid of Kozienice – his heart.

With the exception of the Baal Shem Tov himself, no other Tzaddik is the subject of so many miracle tales as the Kozienicer Maggid. He linked the taking of donations and performance of miracles with the teaching of the Great Maggid. Dov Ber of Mezeritch, who held that the Tzaddik ha–dor (the chief religious man of this generation) is the intermediary between God and men and can, with his good deeds, prayers and devotion to the Lord, destroy evil and bring redemption to the world.

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The Maggid's Teaching

His prayer: “Lord of the world, I beg of you to redeem Israel. And if you do not want to do that, then redeem the goyim.”

Another prayer: “My Lord, I stand before you like a messenger boy, and wait for you to send me wherever you will.”

Concerning his prayers, he said to his son: “Believe me, my son, there was no alien thought that did not come to me while I was praying, and with the help of God I raised them all to their upper source and root, to the place where their tent stood at the beginning.”

He was once visited by a wealthy Hasid who told him how he ate no meat, only bread and water. The rebbe cut him short and commanded him – nothing other than to eat meat and drink wine. When the rich man had left, the rebbe's intimates asked him what he was doing. He answered that if the rich man were able to eat only bread, what would he give his employees and the poor who came to him for donations but stones?

There was darkness in the world. Those were the times of the Napoleonic wars, of the rise of the Principality of Warsaw (1807–13). Afterwards, the war of Gog and Magog broke out: Napoleon versus Russia. The Hasidic world split into two camps, supporters and opponents of Napoleon, even though the tzaddikim usually took pains to keep their distance from the great events of the world. Rumours were circulating among the Hasidim that the end of the world was approaching. They believed that the Messiah was coming and clung to their rebbes. These momentous events drew the Kozienicer Maggid, too, into the web of politics.

In 1808 the Polish principality, under the auspices of Napoleon, instituted compulsory military service for Jews. There was a hue and cry among the Jews: A Jew in the army? Several years' service? Certain apostasy! People ran to the two great tzaddikim in Lublin and Kozienice for help. They prayed, and the decree was rescinded. The law was changed. Instead of sending men to the army, the Jewish community was obligated to pay 70, 000 zlotys ransom money for them. The historian Dubnow observes that apart from the prayers of the tzaddikim, bribery had its effect in this case.

The same government issued a second decree in 1812, forbidding Jews to keep taverns or trade in whisky. And again it was the same story: the tzaddikim helped, and the decree was deferred for two years. In the meantime, Napoleon suffered his great defeat at the Berezina River. The Polish Principality was dissolved, the Russians returned and everything was as before. Sh9mon Dubnow attributes this miracle, too, to the power of bribery.

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The Maggid's name was also known among non–Jews. Eminent Polish lords used to consult him on both private and public or governmental business. It is told that Prince Adam Czartoryski went personally to the Maggid to ask for an heir. The Maggid granted his request, and he besought the Lord in the following words, “You've got plenty of goyim, one more won't hurt.” The prince got his son (Tzvi Meir Horowitz, The Maggid of Kozienice, His Life and Teaching, Tel Aviv, 1944, p. 86).

On another occasion, Czartoryski came to the Maggid along with another lord who did not believe in the Kozienicer and wished to prove to the prince that his faith in the Maggid was vain. The lord made a show of requesting the recovery of his seriously ill daughter, who was not really sick at all. However, the Maggid interrupted him, and told him to go home immediately if he wished to see his daughter alive. The lord departed right away, but upon his return home his daughter was already dead.

Adam Czartoryski also turned to the Maggid on matters of state. He asked him to pray for his lord Napoleon and the Polish forces. The rebbe prayed, but Napoleon lost the war. It is reported that during the reading of the megillah on Purim, when the words nafol tipol (“he will surely fall”) were read, the Maggid cried out, “ Napoleon tipol” (Napoleon will fall”).

The Prince Poniatowski once visited the Maggid. The Maggid wished to dissuade him from going off to war, because he did not believe that Napoleon would win. The prince was drowned in 1813.

When the great war had ended in the defeat of Napoleon, and still the Messiah had not come, the three great tzaddikim –l the Seer of Lublin, Menakhem–Mendel of Rimanov and the Kozienicer – met at the Maggid's and decided to storm heaven with their prayers and thereby force the Lord to send the Messiah down on Simkhas–Toyre. They later agreed to abolish Tisha–b'Av and remake it as a festival commemorating the coming of the Messiah (David Kandel, ”The Jews in 1812,” in Biblioteka Warszawska, 1912, p. 172).

The heavens were enraged at the three tzaddikim who wished to impose their will on God. The Kozienicer passed away before Sukkos, the Rimanover six months later, and the Lubiner three months after that.

It is reported concerning the latter that after the hakofes on Simkhas–Toyre he retired to his private chambers and bewailed the exile – it had already lasted so long – in a loud voice. Later, the room became quiet. The rebbetzim went in after a moment, but the rebbe was gone – he had fallen out the window and lay in the street unconscious. Thus did heaven avenge itself upon the rebbe for attempting to force the coming of the Messiah. The Hasidim called this nefilah (a falling), and were generally reluctant to discuss it.

The Lubliner lay on his deathbed for the next nine months, finally succumbing on Tisha–b'Av, 1815, the very day which was to have been transformed into a great festival…Thus ended the struggle of the three tzaddikim to bring the Messiah by the power of their prayers.

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The Maggid was a great adept of learning. Great scholars would approach him with questions which he answered in the twinkling of an eye. He was also a bibliophile, and left a vast library of books and manuscripts behind him. Rabbi Shmelke Horowitz of Ricziwol said to him, “This little one is among the very greatest;” and the writer reporting this saying adds that, “He found no rival in any of his predecessors for his erudition, his acuity in the sea of the gemore and his stature as a kabbalist” (Aharon Markus, Hasidism, Tel Aviv, 1954, p. 112/4). Yisroel Mafta, another reliable source, said that both the Kozienicer and his son Moishe were of the class of King David (The Sages of Israel, An Encyclopedia of the Eminent Men of Israel in Recent Generations. Ed. Rabbi David Ha–Lakhmi. Tel Aviv. 1958. P. 244).

At his passing, the Maggid left an only son, Moishe Elyakim, and a daughter, Pearl. Moishe was always in seclusion, and was not highly regarded. The Hasidim did ot wish to elect him rebbe, but instead to appoint him as cantor on account of his fine voice. But the Seer of Lublin came to his aid. While on his deathbed, he interpreted the verse, “And when the ark set out, Moses said, “as follows: after the Maggid had passed away (“when the ark set out”), the time had come for Moses to speak. So Moishe became the rebbe in Kozienice (Markus, p. 192).

Rabbi Moishele of Kozienice was a great scholar. He left many books behind him: The Well of Moses, The Teaching of Moses, The Congregation of Moses, The Understanding of Moses. He included citations from other tzaddikim in his works. Professor Mahler writes that “he did not stir from his father's teaching,” that is, he followed in his father's footsteps in learning just as in accepting donations from his Hasidim. He believed that “the Tzaddik has it in his power to bring about the redemption,” and acted accordingly. He was harsher on free–thinkers than his father, who was tolerant in this matter, had been. He called them “evil men, who think to bring persecutions upon Israel.” He died on the twelfth of Elul, 1828, having been rebbe for fourteen years.

Rabbi Moishe was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Eliezer, a disciple of Rebbe Reb Khaim Halberstam of Sanz. He was succeeded by Rabbi Yekhiel–Yaakev, who was followed in his turn by his son, Yerakhmiel–Moishe, who was brought up by the second Rebbe Asher of Stolin (Raphael Mahler, Hasidim and the Enlightenment, Tel Aviv, 1961, p. 293). Rabbi Yerakhmiel–Moishe died in Chzanov in 1909.

The last rebbe, the fifth from the Maggid, was Rabbi Aharon Yekhiel Hopstein, the son of Rabbi Yerakhmiel–Moishe. He was named for his grandfathers, Aharon of Karlin and Yekhiel–Yaakev of Kozienice. Rabbi Arele was born in Kozienice in 1892. “Rabbi Aharon was a remarkably talented man, astute and profound, always cheerful and of good spirits.” In his eyes could be seen “a superior power of wonder, albeit incomprehensible and inexplicable.” He was a riddle to all, an insoluble riddle, the riddle of a mystery which was revealed neither in his life nor in his death.[14] Like the Maggid, he was distinguished by his love for the Jewish people.

Rabbi Arele was not in Kozienice for long. He moved to Lodz, then to Warsaw and finally settled in Otwock where his Hasidim had bought him a villa. With him, the Kozienice dynasty came to a close.

[Page 13]

The Jews of Kozienice and their Livelihood

It is to be expected that in a town like Kozienice the Jews would live from craftwork and commerce. They were the only representatives of certain trades in the town, either through having their own businesses or else through acting as brokers or managers for others. There were also clergymen: a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer, a beadle, and–to draw a distinction–a bath–house attendant, who was also a barber and a medicine man who used leeches or other primitive methods to help the sick. Of course, Jews were also involved in tavern keeping and renting estates from great lords, and, due to shortages in the banks, they also lent money at interest.

The Jews had to struggle against their Christian competitors, and also to put up with various aggravations on the part of the rabble. For the right to work, a right more than once forcibly abrogated by their Christian townsmen, the Jews had to pay both the civic authorities and the guilds, as well as those who had enough “pull” to demand a payoff. They had no choice but to accede to such demands.

Moreover, there was never any lack of voices crying for the expulsion of the town's Jews, or at least for the revocation of their right to keep taverns. These, it was said, served only to spread drunkenness among the Poles and were corrupting the entire people. The truth of these allegations was never investigated, but many believed this propaganda nonetheless. Such voices were raised even during the so–called “Great Polish Sejm” (1788–92) which concerned itself, among other things, with the Jewish question in Poland.[15]

The Jews of Kozienice performed useful work. A Polish source of 1791 (Dziennik Handlowy) relates that there were active in Kozienice a Jewish stocking factory and a Jewish soap factory.[16] Soap making, like candle making, was in Jewish hands because the Jews were concerned that the products in questions be manufactured from kosher raw materials, and not from lard. However, it is clear that the products were sold to anybody.

The Polish historians have forgotten to add that Jews had established the industry in Kozienice. In the 18th century, the town was known for its royal weapons factory, in which Jews were also working.

It is also known that in those far off times there was a large number of Jews who had no means of support and lived from hand–outs. The town itself was unable to accommodate all its poor, who therefore had to wander about the country, going from door to door. One such “vagabond” was caught in Piotrkow along with his wife and sister, and sent “home” under guard.[17] The same thing happened to another Jew from Kozienice named Itzik Abramowicz, who had wandered with his wife, Leah, as far as Piotrkow.[18]

The establishment of a hasidic “court” in Kozienice brought about an economic revival. Hasidim came from near and far to seek the rebbe's advice or ask his help on ordinary Mondays or Thursdays, and to far–bring (pass some time) with him on holidays and the Days of Awe. The hasidim, who were not necessarily poor, would stay in town a few days, and receive lodging and meals from the local Jews. Jewish wagon drivers brought them to Kozienice and took them away. A few families lived entirely from this.

Even after the “discovery” of the train, Jews, and especially hasidim, persisted in going to the rebbe by wagon. Going by wagon was more “Jewish”; besides, a train goes when it wants to, a Jewish wagon–driver when he is told to. Naturally, there is no comparison between the pleasure of travelling in a wagon with a group of Jews, hearing and telling one's fill of stories, stopping for minkhe–mayrev at a Jewish inn and enjoying the inn–keeper's hospitality, than flying along in some fiendish train. Before you know where you are, you're gone. If you turn aside to rest, good luck knows where you are, but bad luck doesn't rest, especially when it sees Jews going to the rebbe for the Days of Awe.

In the second half of the 19th century the leather working industry arose in Radom, the provincial capital. This naturally led to increased employment in Kozienice: people worked in Radom, or else brought work home and delivered the finished goods to Radom.

The situation remained the same for many years. For the majority of the Jews, aside from the tiny elite, the struggle to make a living was hard at all times.

 

After the Rise of Poland

After the end of the First World War new nations arose from the ruins of the defeated powers. Poland inherited territories from Germany and Austria, as well as provinces which had previously belonged to Russia. Among these latter was the province of Radom, with its county–seat Kozienice, which had been occupied by Germany and Austria during the war. A new world had come into existence. The old borders ceased to exist, and new ones arose in their place.

[Page 15]

The huge export trade which had existed before between Congress Poland and Russia was no more, and Poland had to seek new markets for its manufactured goods. However, before the newly established country could switch over to another, more economically feasible production plan, it had first to discover what was in fact possible for it, and then to decide what was to be done.

The same problems faced the Jews. One had to determine what was owned by three million Jews, former members of three great nations who suddenly found themselves in a new country, what their production strength and economic base were. After examining their situation, it would be possible to devise a plan for constructive work. Such was the approach of the Joint, an American institution set up during the war, which began its rescue work immediately upon the war's end.

In 1921 the Joint carried out an inquiry among the Jews of Poland concerning their industrial undertakings. The results were elaborated and published in several volume with texts in Polish, Yiddish and English under the title, Jewish Industrial Undertakings in Poland According to the Inquiry of 1921, elaborated under the supervision of Eliezer Heller, engineer, Warsaw, 1923.

The inquiry did not embrace every town, but did include Kozienice, which is found in the fourth volume, devoted to the state of Kelc which replaced the earlier province of Radom. This volume is the source of the following table. The inquiry in Kozienice encompassed 224 undertakings, all of which were probably in existence before the war and were, of course, still operating at the time of the inquiry. None was shut down on account of the war. Presumably, there was no other Jewish industry in Kozienice.

A total of 497 people were employed in these undertakings, almost half of whom (224, or 45.1%) were their owners. The rest were employees. Both owners and employees were Jews.

[Page 16]

The figures indicate that the enterprises were small, averaging two workers each. They are divided thus:

Production Class Undertakings Employees Owners Family
Members
Hired
Workers
Metal 6 8 6 1 1
Machinery and the like 2 2 2 0 0
Wood 7 14 7 0 7
Leather, fur 6 7 6 0 1
Clothing and adornment 165 394 165 8 221
(18 women)
Paper 7 15 7 0 8
Nutrition and luxuries 24 48 24 20 4
Construction 4 5 4 0 1
Graphics 1 1 1 0 0
Sanitation 2 3 2 0 1
Total 224 497 224 29 244

The division into classes of production stands in need of some elaboration, as the classes themselves are rather too inclusive.

Appertaining to metal–work are: Blacksmithing, tinsmithing, foundries, keymaking and similar undertakings.

To machinery: Wheelwrights, dental equipment(I), watchmaking (not a terribly successful combination).

To the wood industry: Sawmills, carpentry, frame–making and box–making.

To the leather industry: Tannery, belt–making, shoemaking and purse–and–wallet–making.

[Page 17]

Adornments: Corset–making.

Paper: Bags, wallpaper, bookbinding and notebook making.

Nutrition: Flour mills, cereal mills, matzoh bakeries and slaughterhouses.

Graphics: Printing and photography.

Sanitation: Hairdressing, bathing establishments.

The statistics indicate that the proprietors alone only worked in 88 of 224 enterprises. In the other 136 there worked 136 proprietors, 29 family members and 244 hired workers. It is thus apparent that the proprietors themselves were far from wealthy–not one lived from his profits alone, without himself having to work.

The greatest number of these businesses, 165, or 73.7%, was devoted to tailoring and shoemaking. These employed 394 people, or 90.6% of all those employed. About 500 craftsman and small businessman are handling the shoe industry. Shoes are being shipped to Zaglembia and Galicia and the biggest part of the town lives from it.

Changes came about between 1921 and 1939. Many businesses closed, while few new ones (a candy factory) opened up, both on account of the general economic crisis and the increase in Jewish emigration from Kozienice. With the increase of the general population in a greater proportion, and the Jewish population in a lesser, the total number of craftsmen also increased. Nevertheless, the economic level of the Jews in Kozienice fell chiefly because of the general economic crisis, the great boycott of Jewish businesses (“Don't buy from Jews”, “Support the Polish merchant, the Polish craftsman”) and the anti–Semitic policies of the government (heavy taxes on Jews[19], “protocols” against them and other persecutions). As a result, the poverty and helplessness– of the Polish Jews in general–was growing.

Characteristic of the government's attitude toward the Jews in Kozienice is the fact that, in the last months before the outbreak of World War II, the government succeeded in closing a mill and a sawmill belonging to Jews. The civic authorities refused to receive a delegation of prominent Jews who wished to intervene in the matter (Haynt, May 17, 1939).

The same considerations apply to merchants as to craftsmen. Certainly, their number was not less than that of the craftsmen, but we lack precise details. Nevertheless, an inquiry made by the economic–statistical section of the Jewish Research Institute which embraced 91 towns and villages (including Kozienice), gives us a partial, but correct picture which reflects the situation in this area.

According to this inquiry, there were 126 stores in Kozienice in 1932. Of these 103–81.7%–were owned by Jews, as opposed to 1937; when only 110 of 154 stores–71.4–%–were Jewish owned. Over the course of these five years the number of non–Jewish stores went from 23 to 44 (almost double), while that of Jewish–owned stores increased by only 7. The index of Jewish participation in trade thereby decreased by 13%.

[Page 18]

More or less the same thing took place in the other towns covered by the inquiry.[20] Yankev Leshtshinsky, the reviser of the inquiry, was therefore correct to write, “The decline in the absolute number of Jews employed in all branches of retailing – village trade, market trade, the fair trade and storekeeping – can be established with complete certainty” (see Jewish economics, no. 1, May 1937, p. 7–18).

Such was the outlook until just before the war. In the last two years, 1937–39, conditions certainly did not change in favour of the Jews. An indication of the impoverishment and hopelessness of the Jews in the town is afforded by the fact that its only co–operative bank went out of business in 1937. This piece of news is found in the 1937 report of the Association of Co–operative Banks in Poland, of which the Kozienice bank had been a member.

In the final years, the last estate owner in Kozienice, Graff Larski, employed Jews at physical labour. He was no anti–Semite, and gladly employed Jews in his palace and household.

 

Political and Community Life

With the rise of independent Poland, Jews within and outside of the country took a positive attitude toward it, hoping to receive that which they had never obtained in Czarist Russia: civil and national rights. Jews received the right to organize a kehilla (congregation, community), although not in the fashion wished for by Jewish nationalist circles. According to Polish law, the kehilla was an institution for religious matters and social welfare, and not an all–embracing institution of Jewish autonomy. Almost all the Jewish parties, with the exception of the religious groups on the extreme right, fought against this, but without success.

Little by little, the political situation in Poland also changed. Step by step, Poland went from democracy to fascism. A clearer indication: the new constitution of 1934, as well as the official abrogation throughout Poland of the treaty concerning the rights of national minorities. It was primarily the Jews who suffered from this. The government disrupted the work of the Jewish parties, closed their meeting halls and prevented campaigning during the elections.

This was the passing of the Russian order, which recognized no kehilla but an appointed “crown” rabbi, who had no need of rabbinic ordination, no need to know anything of the religion. The new kehilla system in Kozienice led to the unfolding of a droll but true story.

[Page 19]

In 1896 the governor of Radom decreed that the birth registry was to be kept in Russian, and not as heretofore in Yiddish. The rav at that time, who was the Maggid's grandson, did not know a single word of Russian, so the community sought out a bright young man by the name of Yankev Hersch Weinberg who knew Russian and could also “learn” a little. The governor appointed him “Kozienicer Rabbiner”, with a salary of 2000 rubles a year. So Weinberg kept the birth records of Kozienice, Zwolen and Gniewoszow, but the real rav, with all the attributes belonging to him as far as the Jews were concerned, remained the same as before, although the government recognized only Weinberg.

Things continued in this fashion until the outbreak of World War I. When the Austrians captured Kozienice in 1914, Yankev Hersch Weinberg ceased to be a “rabbi”, and opened a printing shop and bookstore. The officials stopped paying him his stipend. Weinberg took matters into his own hands and charged those who came to him for civil documents a fee.

After the rise of independent Poland, the new kehilla administration did not insert his stipend into their budget of 1921, as he was not really a rabbi and according to Jewish law had o right to be paid for rabbinical duties. Weinberg appealed to the Governor of Kelc, who in 1925 decided that Weinberg deserved a pension because he was a rabbi. The kehilla administration appealed to the ministry. How was it that a governor should decide who is and is not a rabbi? Weinberg had no rabbinical qualifications, and had also received no pension in the past eleven years. The kehilla also took this opportunity to request that the registry books be taken from Weinberg and handed over to them.

The ministry did not corroborate the governor's edict. Weinberg appealed for an annulment of the ministry's decision to the highest administrative tribunal. The tribunal referred the matter back to the governor and everything began all over again.

The matter went to the supreme court three times, until it finally came before the Kelc district court, because Weinberg was not satisfied with the pension of 523 zlotys a year granted by order of the tribunal. He demanded 2000 zlotys a year. He also complained that he was called “crown”, and not “town” rabbi.

The litigation went on for six years (and the entire matter for eleven) until finally an expert appeared before the court – Rabbi Kestenberg, the rav of Radom, who was likewise conducting a fight against the Radomer kehilla with the government's help. The court assigned “Rabbi” Weinberg a pension of 2400 zlotys a year from 1925. He received nothing for the earlier years (1914–25) because he did not submit his demands until 1921.

This was a great expense for the budget of the kehilla, considering that it was struggling with financial difficulties. The government had not given it a subsidy, and the Jewish population had been impoverished because of the government's economic policies (heavy taxes, the revoking of concessions from Jews, the closing of Jewish trade and industrial enterprises for “sanitary” or security reasons, and so forth).

[Page 20]

Party Life Prospers

Despite persecutions on the part of the government, an economic boycott on the part of the Polish anti–Semitic parties, and criminal attacks on Jews by the Hitlerized youth, Jewish party–life went on as normal. The vitality of the Jewish people is indicated by the fact that, regardless of the war looming between Poland and Germany, the material straits of the Polish Jews and their internal divisions, the Jewish parties carried on their party and cultural work until the eleventh hour, bringing about a spiritual revival of the Jews, who were already on the verge of destruction.

This is also to be seen clearly in Jewish Kozienice. At its January 1927 general meeting, the Zionist organization decided to re–open its library and name it after Elimelekh Neudorf, one of the founders of the organization (Haynt, January 23, 1927).

In June 1927, the Kozienice Revisionist organization celebrated the showing of its colours. A delegation of important guests came from Warsaw, and a “lecture of great significance” was given in shul on Saturday morning. There was a celebration, followed by entertainment, in the evening, and in the morning the guests were taken to the train, marching through the streets with the flag flying (Haynt, July 2, 1928).

A branch of Tarbut was also founded on this occasion, as well as a committee to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the centre–Zionist daily newspaper, The Haynt.

On the other side, the Bundist organizations convened evenings, lectures, etc. In the elections for the third Sejm (1928), the Bundist organization in Kozienice received 344 votes (Neue Volkszeitung, March 12, 1928). At that time, however, there were no Jewish Seim representatives from the whole Kozienice district.

On the 20th and 21st of January 1934, the future hero and martyr Artur Zigelbaum visited Kozienice and lectured on the “The Labour Movement at the Crossroads” and “Kasrilevke and Menakhem–Mendel”.

The Kozienice correspondent of the Warsaw Haynt was A. Bornstein.

From the election results of the eighteenth Zionist congress, held in Kozienice in July 1939 (Haynt, July 26, 1939), we get a picture of what was taking place among the Zionists immediately before the war. The division of votes was as follows:

1. The General Zionist Organization 54
2. Et Livnot 2
3. Mizrahi 15
4. The Judenstadt Party 1
5. The Front for Labour in Eretz Yisrael 47
6. Left Poale Zion 14
7. Zionist Youth, members of no. 1 31
  164

[Page 21]

It goes without saying that the two larger parties in Kozienice, Agudas Yisroel and the Bund, took no part in these elections. The latter still had its representative (Councilman Opatowski) in the second last civic government. He was elected in 1934 by a coalition of the Left Poale Zion and the Communists. This common ticket pulled in a large number of votes: 500 (Neue Volkszeitung, June 2, 3, 1934).

The Jews had no representatives in the last civic elections in Kozienice in 1939 because there was but one Polish uniform ticket on the ballots, that of Ozon (“The Camp of Polish National Unity” of the ruling reactionary party), and it won every seat (Haynt, May 17, 1939). The Jews were left without any representation in the administration of the city and, as a Jewish paper expressed it at the time, the Kozienice city hall was Judenrein, anticipating that the whole town would very shortly be the same.

[Page 22]

The Bank of Kozienice

In the 1926 statistical report of the Association of Jewish Co–operative Banks in Poland, the bank of Kozienice is not yet mentioned. In the 1937 report, it is mentioned as being in liquidation. The bank, then, had a brief existence of less than ten years. It is possible that the bank existed somewhat earlier, but was not a member of the Association. Nevertheless, the fact that it went under at a time when poverty made such an institution necessary, and while the Central interest–free Credit Union (Cekabe – Centralna Kasa Bezprocentowa) was giving interest–free loans to the smaller banks and doing everything in its power to keep them going, indicates how bad economic conditions were for the Jews of Poland.

The following information about the bank of Kozienice is presented according to the Statistical Reports published yearly by the main office of the Co–operative Banks. The following figures refer to 1931, and are divided into two parts: one for the first half–year, one for the second. The figures for the second half–year are printed under those of the first, so that the differences may be seen at a glance.

The bank's official name was Bank Spoldzielczy Creditow. Its situation on July 8 and December 31, 1931 was as follows:

[Page 23]

The State of the Kozhenitz Bank in 1931

Receipts Rents Notes & Loans Cashed Notes Other Credits  
130 2234 22,440 14,000 49,735  
507 1065 20,890 20,000 44,862  
Movable Properties Various Accounts Administrative
Organizational Expenses
Paid–Up
Interest and Provisions
Loss from Previous Year  
1865 22,382 10,549 5,120 2,904  
1865 11,567 17,538 7,830 ––  
Documents for Collection Net Balance Member Contributions Reserve Fund Deposits, Current Accounts  
148,170 256,929 9,778 117 53,506  
113,592 221,176 8,198 34 43,532  
Debts in Central Bank Recashed Notes Other Debts Interest Handling on Loans Provisions from
Other Operations
Various Collections
10,000 –– 4,504 4,530 6,750 167,738
10,000 4,190 5,4041 7,649 12,835 129,337

The amounts are in Polish zlotys.

Loans given out:
Number Sum (Global) Average (per loan)    
134 41,450 115    
223 74,100 232    
Cashing:
Number of Documents Sum      
1,500 42,950      
3,950 265,943      
Documents for Collection:
Number Sum      
6856 42,739      
826,795 1,427,258      
Members of the Bank:
Manual Labourers Retailers Merchants Various Total
102 106 3 12 223
104 107 4 12 227

A member contribution amounted to about forty zlotys.

What can be learned from the differences between the two tables?

[Page 24]

First, that the number of borrowers increased from 134 to 223, the amount of the loans growing equivalently from 41,150 zlotys to 74,100, while deposits fell from 53,560 to 43,532 zlotys. The number of cashed documents also increased significantly, from 1 500 to 3950, the sum going from 42,950 to 256,943 zlotys.

The combined facts point to an impoverishment of the Jewish population. The bank's loss for the first half–year – 2904 zlotys – likewise resulted from this: there was no money with which to return loans or buy up notes. Not only did this cause the bank to suffer, it may also have led to its ruin.

[Page 25]


Footnotes:
  1. There were seven districts or counties in the province of Radom, among them that of Kozienice. Return
  2. See Dr. E. Ringelblum, Zydzi w powstaniu kosciuszkowskim, Warszawa, 1938, p.89. Return
  3. ibid., p. 109.
  4. ibid., p. 146. Return
  5. In the records of the Council of the Four Lands this tax was called gilgul. Return
  6. In his work Yidn in amolikn poylin likht fun tzifern, Warsaw, 1958. Return
  7. J. Kleczynski, Liczba glow zydowskich w Koronie z taryf r. 1765, p. 9. Return
  8. Bohdan Wasiutynski, Zydzi w Krolestwie Polskim, p. 56 for the years 1827, 1857, 1893, 1909, 1910. Return
  9. Encyklopedia Judaica, Kozienice, for the years 1860 1897. Return
  10. Bohdan Wasiutynski, Ludnosc zydowska w Polsce na przelomie wieku XIX i XX. Return
  11. Statistiches Gemeindeverzeichnis des bisherigen polnischen Staates, a German publication (Berlin) from 1939. Return
  12. According to the materials from the Joint in Poland. Compare A. Rutkowski, “Martyrologia, walka I zaglada ludnosci zydowskiej w dystrykcie radomskim podczas okupacji hiterlwskiej,” Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Polsce, 15–6 (1955) p. 167, table IX. Return
  13. It is worth adding that there was a large number of Germans – 2498, or 1.74% of the general population, according to native tongue – in the Kozienice district. Return
  14. Eleh Ezkerah, Osef Toldot K'doshei TaSh–TaShHe, edited by Yitzchok Levine, volume 3, New York (1959), p. 78/81. Return
  15. Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, Projekty I proby przewarstwowienia Zydow w okresie stanislawowskim, Warszawa, 1938, p. 11. Return
  16. ibid., p. 43. Return
  17. ibid., p. 53. Return
  18. ibid., p. 26. Return
  19. Even the club of Jewish representatives in the Polish Sejm, which was part of the Jewish National Council, intervened over this issue. (See the report of the club's activities printed under the editorship of representative Yitzkhok Greenbaum, Warsaw, 1923. After that “golden age” for the Jews in Poland, things took a great turn for the worse). Return
  20. The material concerning Kozienice was provided by Kozienice resident and correspondent for the Economic–Statistical section, Sholem Fish. Return


[Page 26]

Kozienice and its Jewish Settlement

by Abraham Tennenbaum, Warsaw

The town is enclosed by the Vistula on the northeast, by the evergreen and deciduous woods of the well–known Kozienice forests on the southwest. The ancient name of the town testified that she–goats and deer lived in its forests.

In the beginning, the residents of Kozienice were the nuns of the Norbertian convent. Later, in 1390, it came into the hands of King Jagello. In 1409 he ordered a bridge built over the Vistula this enabling his forces to cross over during the attacks of the crusaders.

In 1466 King Kazimiez the Fourth sought refuge in Kozienice from the plague, and in 1467 King Zygmunt the First was born there.

 

Proclaimed a City in 1549

A privilege from King Zygmunt August in 1549 empowered the governor of Rias, Pyotr Pirlei, and the chief of the district of Radom to declare that section of the village lying close by the royal palace a city. At the same time, the king ordered some of the woods cut down and converted to fields and gardens.

The new city was endowed with the rights of German cities, the so–called Rights of Magdeburg, and its residents were freed from various tolls and taxes.

In the 167 houses of the entire district of Kozienice there lived: 10 distillers, 11 butchers, 20 cobblers, 4 smiths, 2 locksmiths, 2 leeches, 2 fur tailors, 6 pitch makers, 4 carpenters, 2 cabinetmakers, 2 coopers, 7 tailors and 4 bakers. There were two Jewish houses with five families living in them.

 

20 Houses Left after the War with Sweden

Commander Stefan Czarnecki, the castellan of Kiev, destroyed the Swedish army under General Torskild at Kozienice. All six Swedish divisions were wiped out in these battles, which took place in 1656. The town was ravaged to the extent that a census of 1660 found only twenty houses left. The Swedes destroyed the town again in 1704.

King August the Third was a frequent visitor to Kozienice, being in the habit of going there to hunt.

[Page 27]

King Stanislaw August also used to come often to Kozienice. He rebuilt the wooden palace as a brick one, and planted a large garden–– still to be found there today.

Kozienice burned down in 1782. After the fire, the residents began to build brick houses, and they built a market in the centre of town.

At about the same time, crafts began to develop in Kozienice. Craftsmen came, an ammunition factory was founded with qualified workers from Germany and Belgium. An industrial region was being formed.

In 1809 General Zajonczek fought against the Austrians near Kozienice.

There is a monument near the palace, dedicated to King Zygmunt the Third. Its inscription tells of King Zygmunt the First's victory in the war with the Tatars and Wallachians. Historians deduce from this that the monument was erected toward the end of Zygmunt's reign in Poland.

 

Jews in Kozienice

Jews were already living in Kozienice at the time of King Zygmunt August in the second half of the sixteenth century. Restrictions against them were probably in existence at that time. We learn this from the fact that at that time there were only two Jewish houses with five owners in Kozienice. I claim therefore that there were only five Jewish families in all Kozienice.

Attitudes toward the Jews grew more liberal with time. This is to be deduced from the fact that 1365 Jews in Kozienice and its environs paid the poll–tax of 1765. If we consider that children of under one year were not paid for, we will arrive at the conviction that the Jewish population at that time numbered far more than 1365 persons.

Many factories were established in Kozienice in the nineteenth century. According to the documents, factories for sheet zinc, iron and brass, tanneries, pitcheries and a brewery were founded. This industrial development brought about a large increase in population, particularly in the Jewish population.

Jews in Kozienice

Year 1827 1857 1860 1897 1921 1931
Total 2005 2902 3000 6368 6878 7808
Jewish Population 1185 1980 1960 3764 3811 4550
%Jews 58.0 68.8 65.3 58.9 55.4 58.8

 

Jews in the Kozienice District

Year 1897 1921
Jewish Population 13,591 13,021
%Jews 12.6 10

According to Russian sources, 6882 persons lived in Kozienice in 1897, among them 3700 Jews, a figure which also includes eight Karaites.

[Page 28]

We see from the table that, beginning with the first half of the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Kozienice was larger than the non–Jewish.

In 1897, number of Jews living in the neighbouring towns was as follows:

Kozienice 1961
Glowaczow 1109
Gniewaszow 1536
Zwolen 3442
Magnuszew 771
Ricziwol 492
Cieciechow 125

In the twenties of the nineteenth century, a large part of the Jewish population of Ricziwol and Cieciechow moved to the larger cities of Poland.

 

The Livelihood of the Jews of Kozienice in the 19th Century

In the area of employment, we have very few sources or reports. We learn From Russian sources of information that in the nineties of the nineteenth century, the pattern of Jewish employment was as follows:

In State Administration 1 Jew
In the Military 26 Jews
Rabbis 4
In Community Institutions 24
Melamdim and Teachers 11
From House Revenue and Capital 31
Bank Employees 5
Landworkers 48
Textile Workers 4
Butchers 13
Carpenters and Builders 18
Tinsmiths 12
Ceramic Workers 9
In Mills 7
Printers 7
Watchmakers 3
Workers in Religious Ritual 8
Tailors and Fur Workers 25
Shoemakers and Leather Industry 38
Construction Workers 10
Hotel and Restaurant Employees 13
In Trade 128
Various Occupations 87
TOTAL 532 Jews

[Page 29]

The Number of Jews at the Time of the Nazi Occupation

Year 1939 1940 1941
Jewish Population 4870 4208 4335

 

March 1942 April 1942 September 1942
4500 4756 13,000

 

The Growth of the Jewish Population is due to the transfer of Jews from the Surrounding Towns.

Businessmen 34 persons
Retailers 3,170
Landworkers 283
Of indefinite employment 303

The last day of the Jewish settlement in Kozienice was September 27, 1942. On that day all Jews from Kozienice and its environs were transported to the death camp of Treblinka.


[Page 30]

An Evil Wind Has Torn Up the Root

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

Our town lay in the district of Radom, almost four miles from the Vistula, and was surrounded by woods, and water, villages and towns such as Zwolen, Gniewaszow, Glowaczow, Magnuszew, Mniszow, Ricziwol, Cieciechow, Iedlnia, Garbatka and other, smaller Jewish settlements.

Before World War II, the Kozienice region with all the towns listed numbered some 15,000 Jewish souls.

Jews had been living in Kozienice for a great many years, and enjoyed many rights. The first document concerning Jews in Kozienice is an illustration record from 1611 in which it is indicated that there were two Jewish–owned houses there and two rented to Jews, in all of which there lived five landlords and ten tenants. There were six butchers and six distillers among them. They had already received the right to build a synagogue and a cemetery.

The Jews of Kozienice were slaughterers, ran small whisky and stocking factories, and traded with the neighbouring villages and landowners.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the settlement was growing. In 1765, the Jews of Kozienice, together with those of the neighbouring villages who belonged to the Kozienice kehilla, paid the poll–tax for 1365 people.

At the same time, the Kozienicer rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hopstein, revealed himself there. He was the son of Shahsi, a simple bookbinder, and was born, as the legend states, in Kozienice in the year 1737 and passed on in 1815. He was one of the pioneers of Hasidism in Poland, and his name lent itself to many tales and legends.

In 1856, there were 2885 people in Kozienice, 1961 of them Jews. In 1897, there were 3700 Jews there, out of a total population of 6882.

These, in brief, are a few details taken from historical sources. The Jewish community of Kozienice existed scarcely four hundred years. Established in 1611, it played a significant part in the economic as well as the religious, cultural and political life of Polish Jewry. An evil stormwind tore it all up by the roots.


[Page 31]

The City of Kozienice in 1895

by A. Weber

With Ricziwol behind me, I proceed to Kozienice, a city high in the estimation of our countrymen who extol the saints. The glory of the holy Maggid, his son, grandson and great–grandson resides there, and the town has remained a cradle of Hasidism to this day. Three holy shepherds, the descendants of the great men, are living there even now, and the banner of the Maggid's court, in which his household implements, his bed, his table and his chair are still preserved, will wave higher than the monument to the birth of King Zygmunt the First which likewise stands in Kozienice.

I could tarry but a few hours in the city, and did not have the opportunity to visit very many of our brethren who dwell there. I contented myself with a general view of the appearance of the city, which has been cleansed of the filth and dirt which its rulers had poured upon its streets and courtyards in days gone by, and investigated only the material condition of our brethren and the source of their livelihood. And behold! I found that trade –– that is, the grain and produce markets –– was slow, and that while individual merchants were making a good living due to the stationing of a division of troops in the city, the majority still complained of their situation, and the number of poor among them was great.

I turned aside to see the dwellings of the Jewish craftsmen and artisans of the town, and found, to my sorrow, that their number was small and the types of their work, aside from tailoring and cobblery, but two:

1) Pounding groats, an occupation practiced by certain individuals from days of yore. Its profits yield a meagre living, as the work is done entirely by hand, there being no machines for the workers aside from hand–turned millstones.

2) Machine sewing of shoes. I thought to myself that those employed in this profession would provide me with a great deal of material for my report, for they worked at the occupation which had so recently given birth to the Enlightenment. I considered that I would be able to learn the principles of the Enlightenment, which had found such inroads in this holy city, from them. “Let me go see how goodly and pleasant it is,” in one of the low–lying streets called by the citizens Witestwa, after the bishopric which is located there.

This section of the city is like a village. In a house close to the farthest reaches of the town, a young man sits at his workbench by the machines for sewing shoes. There are three of these in the large room of his store which looks out to the street, and three youths helping him in his work. I approached the house, and the young man recognized me as a stranger and wished me good day. I returned his greeting, and began to question him about his work and occupation.

[Page 32]

“How many workshops of this type are there in the city?” “Mine is the only one,” he replied.

“If so, your work must bring you a fair income, for you have as many customers as the city has residents, over 3000 people.” He replied that the situation was otherwise: “I don't earn much on account of the cut–throat competition from the shoe sewers in Radom.”

“How can Radom offer any competition when you live in a small town in which the finished product costs less than a workman is paid in a big city like Radom? Your prices are not forced up by as many extra costs as theirs are, and your rent is less than it would be in Radom. So how, then, can they compete with you and rob you of your livelihood?”

“It's a riddle to you and me both, but that's how it is. The competition is too heavy for me to bear.”

“And if you should try to undersell the merchandise which they supply to the stores, would you make anything?”

“Nothing,“ he answered. “I'll lose not only the cost of my workman, but also some of the money to pay for the material which I buy for my work. My capital is too small to let me compete with them even for a month.”

No sign of Enlightenment was discernible in this young man; he would never be able to solve this riddle. It would undoubtedly solve itself for me with ease after I had seen what went on among his brother craftsmen in Radom. And so I prepared myself for the trip, wished the man good–bye, and set off for Radom.

Ha–Tsfira, 1895


[Page 33]

Jews in Kozienice

by Kazimiez Mruz[1]

The earliest information about Jews in Kozienice dates from 1616. On June 13 of that year King Zygmunt the Third permitted the Jews, by means of a special Privilege, to inhabit twelve houses. In the beginning, Jews lived in two out of 167 houses, that is, 1.2% of the total.

In 1629, Jews inhabited eight houses 4.5% of the total.

In 1718, 42% of all dwellings were Jewish, 49.5% in 1729.

In 1825, Jews owned 30.7% of all dwellings.


Footnote:
  1. Polish teachers in Kozienice from 1928–1945. Taken from his book Schools in Kozienice. Return

 

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