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[Pages 3-16]

The History of Sierpc (Sheps)

By I.M. Sidroni

Translated by Alex Weingarten

Since there is little information available on the history of Sierpc, and especially its Jewish community, we cannot claim to be writing the complete chronicles of our birthplace, or of its Jewish community. What year was the town founded, and when did Jews first settle in it? What was its population in various eras, and what was the number of Jews who lived there? What was the town like, culturally, commercially, and in general? And how secure was the position of the Jews there, both by law and in their relations with their neighbors? Who were the rabbis that served their worshippers, and who were the community leaders and benefactors? We have only a few answers to these questions and to similar ones. We never thought about these things in our youth, and we did not search for the answers. Even when we were older, and studied the ways of the world, we did not think to learn of the ways of Sierpc.

When we began preparing material for this “Yizkor” book for the martyrs of our town, we started to search and explore various sources, and look for relevant materials in books and newspapers. And we validated at least in part, the saying of our ancient sages: “you toiled and you found it, and then believe it”. We toiled, and we found a little, and a little was found and discovered by our friends and acquaintances from the town. And so we present this for our townspeople and for all our readers.

This chapter was prepared using the following books:

  1. “Staroztyna Polska” (“Ancient Poland”) by Balinski and Lipinski, published in Warsaw in the year 1843.
  2. “Slownik Geograficany Krolestwa Polskiego” (“Geographic Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland”) by Sulimarski, Chlabovsky, and Balavsky, published in Warsaw in ninth decade of the eighteenth century.
  3. “Ibreisca Encyklopedia” (“The Jewish Encyclopedia”), Chief Editor: Dr. I.L. Katznelson Published in Petersburg (Leningrad) in the years 1910-1918.
  4. “Registry of the Council of Four Nations” Chief Organizer and Interpreter Israel Halpern, published in Jerusalem in the year 5705 (1944).

A. The Chronicles of Sierpc

Sierpc is an ancient town. An old palace in Sierpc is mentioned in a document from King Boleslaw in the year 1155. Apparently, the palace was used by the governors of Mazovia [1], and this was the beginning of the settlement.

Our town was not always called by its present name Sierpc. In different documents at various times, the town is mentioned with slight changes of name:

In a Document
from the Year:
The Town
was Called:
1165 Seprch
1322 Sieprz
1385 Sczeprcz
1389 Seprcz
1509 Syeprcz

We do not know when the town started being called by its present name, but we find the name Sierpc in a document from 1771.

The Russians, when they governed Poland, called it Serpec. The Germans, when they occupied Poland during World War 2, called it Sichelberg (according to the Hebrew newspaper “Davar”, in Palestine, 16 November, 1941).

And as we know, the Jews called the town Sheps.

*

Sierpc is a provincial town, and part of the Warsaw Region (“Wiabudotvo”). Until 1867, when it was declared to be the Sierpc District (“Poviat”), it was part of the Mlava District. From then to the First World War, it was part of the Plotzk Province (“Guvarnia”). Sierpc is 360 meters above sea level, and is situated in a wide valley on the Sierpienica River, not far from where it joins the Skrawa River. Sierpc is about 45 kilometers from Plotzk, 70 kilometers from Mlava, and 140 kilometers from Warsaw.

One of the above books states, “The town is composed of a number of sections, and each section has its own name: the Old Town, the New Town, Lorait, Chaplin (the Jewish Section), and “Ostrov”. The first two names apparently refer to the old market and its neighborhood and the new market with its neighborhood [2]. Unfortunately, we do not know which parts of the town are referred to by the last three names.

Further on in the book, we read: “The city covers 2480 morgs (1 morg is about 5 dunams or 1.2 acres). There is an estate near the town called ‘Vloki Mala’ (Small Vloki), and ‘Vloki Piaski’ (Sandy Vloki) which is part of the village of Burkova. The estate covers 642 morgs, and has a water mill.”

The town, during the eighteen-eighties, had 3 elementary schools, a district court, provincial offices, a post and telegraph office, a town hall, a (Polish) old peoples' home, and a (Jewish) guest house.

*

The land in Sierpc, over the years, belonged to different institutions and landlords:
In 1322 Sierpc belonged, in part, to the Duke of Mazovia-Vatzlav, and in part to the Bishop of Plotzk (from Florian). In later years, various parts of the town were passed to other landlords:

The brothers Sharfski divided the town into two equal parts in the middle of the sixteenth century. After the daughters of the two brothers were married, one half of the town passed into the hands of the Potolitzki family, and the other half, to the Fibo family. Zofia Potolitzki, who inherited half the town, built a convent for Benedictine nuns that were brought from Chelmno. In 1625 Zofia and her daughter Anna entered the convent, and she willed her inheritance to it.

In 1771, Sierpc belonged to a man named Adam Bromirski. A document from 1771 by King Stanislaw August says: “We are responding to the request of the Khurunzhi (a military title) Mr. Adam Bromirski of Plotzk concerning a permit to move the fairs from his town Sierpc to the new town called ‘Vloki’”.

Around the year 1800, during the Prussian regime, half the town belonged to a landlord named Braminski (or Draminski), and the other half was imperial property.

*

Until Sierpc became part of “Congressional Poland”, it underwent a number of the conquests and transitions that affected the country. After the liquidation of independent Poland in 1795 and its division by its neighbors Russia, Prussia, and Austria, Sierpc found itself in the domain of Prussia. Sierpc was under the control of Prussia until 1807. In that year, Napoleon, after his European victories, established the Principality of Warsaw, and Sierpc was part of the Principality. After Napoleon's defeat in 1813, the Principality of Warsaw was nullified, and in accordance with the decision of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, central Poland (“Congressional Poland”), including Sierpc, was turned over to Russia. Sierpc remained part of the Russian Empire until the First World War.

On February 11, 1915, in the seventh month of World War 1, the Germans conquered Sierpc, and remained there until the end of the conflict, November 11, 1918. After that, Sierpc was part of an independent Poland.

During Poland's war with Bolshevik Russia, the Bolsheviks occupied Sierpc on August 12, 1920, and stayed there for 10 days.

On the eighth day of the Second World War, September 8, 1939, the Germans occupied Sierpc, and remained until they were pushed out by the Red Army in January, 1945.

*

The population statistics of Sierpc, from the books we mentioned previously, are as follows:

Year Number
of Houses
% Increase [3] Population % Increase [4]
1800 62 --- 970 ---
1827 272 67 2583 166
1856 --- --- 4645 80
1858 320 [5] 18 5015 8
1871 --- --- 6389 27
1880 301 [6] 6 [7] 6726 5
1897 --- --- 7000 [8] 4
1921 [9] --- --- 6722 4
1938 --- --- 10051 [10] 49

The customs and development of towns in Poland were influenced by two factors: the regional church and market days and fairs. A village or town where a regional church or fixed market days and fairs were established would quickly grow and develop. It would be settled by both Jews and non-Jews, businesses and workshops would open, commerce would increase, and more work would be available, and in a short time, the village would become a town, and the town would become a city.

These two factors were present in Sierpc. Sierpc had a regional church since medieval times, and had hosted market days and fairs for hundreds of years. We find the following information on these factors in the above the above books:

  1. Churches the only ancient buildings in Sierpc were three churches and a convent.
  2. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were 4084 Catholics in Sierpc. The Evangelical Church served about 2000 souls, who were German colonists.

  3. Market Days and Fairs

The market days and fairs were, as we mentioned, important to the culture and development of the town, and we find accounts of them in the above mentioned books: “Pyotr Potolitzki, the regional minister from Plotzk, the heir of one of the Sharfski brothers, together with Anna Fibova, the heiress of the other brother, renewed, in 1577, the town ordinances that were lost during the fire, and declared that market days would be every Tuesday, and fairs would be held before the following holidays: Saint Lucia, Saint Vita, and the Holy Cross.”

According to this, Sierpc had three fairs every year, but we see from the document quoted below that there were six annual fairs in later years, and each one of them lasted for three days. A “New Town” or new district was put up by the town, a suburb that is known as “Vloki” (“Vlikes”) where the fairs were held an indication that over time the town and its surroundings developed, the population grew, and commerce increased.

An ordinance issued in 1771 by King Stanislaw August says: “We are responding to the request of the Khurunzhi (a military title) Mr. Adam Bromirski of Plotzk concerning a permit to move the fairs from his town Sierpc to the new town called ‘Vloki’, and declare that they will be held on January 17, the last day of February, the last day of April, May 27, August 21, and November 27. Each fair will last for three days.”

As stated previously, these two factors the regional church and the market days and fairs brought about the town's development. Another factor in its development was the institution of the Sierpc District, and establishment of district offices in the town in 1867.

*

The commercial life in Sierpc is described by the above sources:

A permit was issued in 1389 by King Vladislav Yagello to settle weavers, apparently German, in Sierpc. Their industry developed in the fifteenth century.

King Zigmund I issued a permit in 1509 to the weavers of the town Syeprcz that belongs to the two Sharfski brothers, because of the weavers' diligence and meticulousness. They were allowed to place the letter “S” above the crown symbol, and a lion underneath it, and sell their goods throughout the kingdom.

The following industrial plants existed in Sierpc in the 1880's:

The “Encyklopedia Handlowa” (“Commercial Encyclopedia”) that was published in Warsaw in 1891, on page 652, contains the following details on industry in Sierpc: “Sierpc a brewery, a vinegar plant, a tannery, and a vegetable oil press.”

In 1858, the houses in Sierpc were insured for 72280 silver Rubles. In that same year, the income of the town treasury was 2204 silver Rubles and 74 Kopeks (100 Kopeks to the Ruble). In 1877, the town's income grew to 11732 silver Rubles, an increase of 432 per cent. Sierpc was a center of the grain trade for all of the surrounding area.

* * *

The above mentioned books also have some information and numbers on the District (Poviat) of Sierpc. The District of Sierpc was established in 1867 from half of the former District of Mlava. Until the First World War (during Russian control), the District of Sierpc was part of the Plotzk Province (“Guvarnia”). Since Polish independence, Sierpc was part of the Warsaw Region (“Wiabudotvo”).

The Sierpc District borders the Mlava District on the north. On the east, it borders both the Mlava District, and the Plonsk District. On the south, it borders the Plonsk and Plotzk Districts, and to the west the Districts of Lipno, Ripin, and Mlava.

The area of the Sierpc District is 1977 square kilometers. The district is a plain, whose middle expanse reaches a height of 400 to 420 feet above sea level (around Zhoromin 588 feet, around Biazhun 420 feet, around Sierpc 360 feet, and around Rachonz 302 feet).

Two rivers flow within the boundaries of the District of Sierpc the Wkra and the Skrawa. They flow in almost a straight line, 14 to 18 kilometers from each other. Both rivers flow into the Visla River.

In addition to these two rivers, the river that is the namesake of the district also flows through it. The river bisects the district town, Sierpc, and is called “Sierpianitza” (or “Sierptzuvka”), and we called it “Zhika” from the Polish word for river, “Zhaka”. The source of the river is in the Plotzk district, east of Bilsk (Balsk). The river flows northward, behind Grazhini, from Ikami. It enters the Sierpc District, turns southwest, and flows behind Zharovo, Grumbiatz, and Burkova, passes through Sierpc, and between Studzianitch and Vimishlini it flows from the left into the Skrawa River. Its length is about 42 kilometers.

Administratively, the District of Sierpc was divided into one town, Sierpc, and 12 communities (Gmini): Bialishavo, Biazhun, Burkova, Gradzanova, Gutkova, Kozabrodi, Kosamin, Lisivo, Rachonz, Rostchishovo, Stavishin, and Zhoromin. Among the communities (Gmini), there were the three smaller towns: Biazhun, Rachonz, and Zhoromin.

*

Below are some population numbers for the Sierpc District over the years:

Year Population % Increase
1867 42073 ---
1880 57024 21
1887 64000 12
1897 68000 6
1931 [11] 83168 23

In 1897, the populations of the district town and of the three other towns of the district were as follows: Sierpc about 7000; Rachonz 4650; Zhoromin 3119; Biazhun 2892.

In 1931, the population of the District of Sierpc was divided among the town and villages as follows:

Population In Towns % In Villages %
83168 19019 21 64149 77

*

In 1883, there were three elementary schools in Sierpc, and 21 more schools in the rest of the district. There were 1638 students in these schools (including 675 girls).

There were four courts: one in Sierpc, for its residents, and three more, in Biazhun, Zhitov, and Rachonz for the residents of the other towns and villages. The district had three post offices: in Sierpc, Rachonz, and Biazhun.

The only credit and banking institutions in the district were the savings and loan funds. In 1886, there were 11 such funds in the 12 communities (Gmini) of the district, and their total capital amounted to 4782 Rubles.

*

A few more details on the commercial life of the District of Sierpc, on its agriculture and industry: The main agricultural products of the district were grain and potatoes. In terms of agricultural production, the District of Sierpc was in the next to last place in Plotzk Province (the last was the District of Mlava). The dearth of paved roads, and the distance to railroads and waterways hampered the development of agriculture and industry.

*

There were no large factories in the district. In 1880, the following types of industries existed in the District of Sierpc:

Type of
Industry
Number
of Plants
Number
of Workers
Annual
Revenue
(in silver Rubles)
Breweries 4 10 13814
Vinegar 2 -- 650
Tanneries 7 10 3540
Brickworks 5 20 15909
Glassworks 1 11 18000

In addition, there were about 50 windmills and a few water mills in the District of Sierpc.

B. The Chronicles of Sheps

We have already stated that we have very little information on the history of Sierpc in general, and Jewish Sheps in particular. The little knowledge that we have does not give us a clear picture of the lives of the first Jew of Sheps, but it is all we have.

The earliest information that we have on Jews in Sheps is from 1739, in the book “Slownik Geograficany Krolestwa Polskiego” (“Geographic Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland”). The heading “Sierpc” (Volume 10, page 594) states, in part: “There is a brick pillar in the center of the town that was built by Jews, on the authority of a decision of Pyotrekov in the year 1739, because of sacrilege that they committed. The Jews were obliged to maintain this pillar until the year 1850.”

This excerpt tells us that there were already Jews in Sierpc then, and that they suffered from the various slanders heaped upon them by their Polish neighbors, and were punished by them in various ways. Unfortunately, we have not been able to determine what “sacrilege” was committed by the Jews of Sheps. Similarly, we do know anything about the pillar mentioned in the excerpt, or where it was located.

The same volume of that book tells us that the town of Sheps consisted of a number of sections, and that each section had its own name. The phrase “Jewish Section” appears in parentheses next to the name of one of these sections, “Chaplin”. Unfortunately, we do not know where this section of town was. However, there was a street in Sheps called “Chalpin” (the letters “p” and “l” are interchanged), but this was a small street, almost an alley, barely populated and at the edge of the town, far from the “Jewish Section”, and near the church. It does not seem reasonable that this street was then the “Jewish Section” of the town. It is more likely that the “Jewish Street” of our time (“Ulica Warszawska”) was the “Jewish Section” of town in the old days, at the beginning of the Jewish settlement of the town. There are two pieces of evidence for this: a) the popular street name, called by both Jews and Gentiles “Ulica Zydowska” (“the Jewish street”), and b) the fact that all the Jewish institutions were on this street. And possibly the previous name of the street was “Chaplin”?

*

An important piece of information about the Jews of Sheps appears in 1766 in the book “Registry of the Council of Four Nations”. Page 445, paragraph 840, of the “Registry” says “An announcement of the Debt Resolution Committee [12] from April 22, 1766 (13 Iyar 5526) states that 3 gold coins per head must be collected from the Jews to settle the debts of the Councils, and the times and places of payment have been established. The creditors are mainly the fortresses of Cracow, Lwow, and Kalish, various institutions in Russia, Poland, and private citizens.”

Page 449, Paragraph 843: “An announcement of the Debt Resolution Committee from 21 March 1767 (20 Adar B 5527) on the instructions and demands that were made in the announcement of April 22, 1766 (13 Iyar 5526) and have not been met until now, and the debts of the Jews have increased because they have not been paid off, by the addition of interest and fines. “One variant of the announcement, a four page printed pamphlet, is in the National Library at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Collection of Miscellaneous Items No. 568, and I present it in full in the Section of Foreign Language Documents at the end of this book.”

At the end of the book [“Registry of the Council of Four Nations”], Document No. 83 on page LXXIX (of Paragraph 843) is written in Polish, and lists the communities in various parts of Poland whose Jews must pay the debts of the councils, and the amount every “head” must pay. The community of Sheps is listed among the communities of Greater Poland, where Jews must pay 15 copper “Grush” per head.

This document tells us that in the year 5526 (1766) there was already a Jewish community in Sheps that participated in the public life of the Jews of Poland. It was affiliated to the Council of Greater Poland Communities through the “Council of Four Nations”.

*

The Journal “HaTkufa” (“The Era”) No. 14-15, that was published in Warsaw in the year 5682 (1922) has a research article by A. N. Frank “History of the Jews in Poland”. Page 373 contains a discussion of the purchase of land and houses by Jews in the Principality of Poland and Congressional Poland. The following paragraphs paraphrase parts of this article:

According to the Order of the Day of March 16, 1809, only Jews who met the following requirements were permitted to purchase land and houses in towns: 1) Shaved their beards and sideburns; 2) Wore Gentile clothes; 3) Could read and write; 4) Sent their sons to school. Of course, very few Jews were found worthy of these permits.

During the years when disorder increased in the land, the years that Poland was at war with Russia (1812-1813) and in the years between the liquidation of the “Principality of Warsaw” and establishment of the “Kingdom of Poland” under Russian hegemony (1813-1815), Jews purchased houses from Christians in a few towns. The notaries registered the contracts of sale and purchase, despite the fact that the Jews did not have any special permits.

Before the fate of the “Kingdom of Poland” was known, and before the constitution of this Kingdom was written, the Polish authorities started to interfere with the sale of houses to Jews. They also started investigating the purchase of houses that Jews bought without permits in the years of disorder. It turned out that Jews in the Department of Plotzk purchased 373 houses without permits, of which five were in Sheps (page 383).

*

There is more information on the Jews of Sheps in the “Ibreisca Encyklopedia” (“Jewish Encyclopedia”). The entry on “Sarpach” (Volume 14, page 174) states: “Despite the fact that Sarpach had no special restrictions on the rights of Jews to settle, but because Jews in fact were not allowed to settle there, a government committee resolved in 1830 that only Jews who owned or leased their houses would remain there. The others would be expelled from the town. The ban was lifted in 1862.”

It is apparent from this entry that it was once forbidden for Jews to settle in Sheps, even if this restriction was illegal. The restriction was forgotten over the years, or the authorities ignored it because of its illegality, and Jews settled in the town. In 1830, a government committee decided, in a compromise between the illegal restriction and reality, to banish those Jews who were not property owners from the town. The restriction was cancelled in 1862, and we apologize again how little knowledge we have about the history of Jew in our town. We do not know when the restriction on Jewish settlement in Sheps began; we also do not know if the government decision of 1830 for the partial expulsion of the Jews of Sheps was implemented.

*

The above mentioned books contain a few numbers on the Jews of Sheps over the years:

Year Population % Increase [13] Number
of Jews
% Increase [14] % of Total
Population
1800 970 --- 649 --- 67
1856 4645 379 2604 301 56
1858 5015 [15] 8 2571 -1 51
1897 7000 [16] 39 2935 14 42
1921 [17] 6722 -4 2861 [18] -2.5 42.5
1938 [19] 1051 [20] 49 3077 8 30.5

This table shows that in 1800, the Jews were a large majority of the population of Sheps: two-thirds of the population was Jewish! Apparently Sheps was a center of industry and commerce; the inhabitants of the surrounding villages must have visited the town often, either because of market days, or because of the churches. Many Jews therefore settled in Sheps, opened stores and workshops, and developed the town. But this majority did not last very long. The majority diminished slowly and became a minority, and the same table indicates that the Jews were already a minority in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In the year before the start of the Second World War and the Holocaust, the Jews were only 30 per cent of the population.

* * *

The above books present the following statistics on the Jews in the District of Sheps:

Year Population % Increase [21] Number
of Jews
% Decrease [22] % of Total
Population
1880 57024 [23] --- 9936 --- 17
1897 68000 19 7695 29 12
1931 [24] 83168 22 7574 5 9

* * *

The previous table shows a continuing decrease in the Jewish population of the district of Sheps, both in percentages and in absolute numbers. The probable cause is emigration to various countries, especially the United States, which grew following the pogroms of the Jews in the 1880's.

The distribution of the Jewish population in the District of Sheps in 1931 between town dwellers and villagers was as follows:

1931 Total
Number
In
Towns
% % In
Villages
% %
Population 83168 19019 23 --- 64149 77 ---
Non-Jews 75594 12378 16 65 [25] 63156 84 98.5 [26]
Jews 7574 6641 87 35 [27] 993 13 1.5 [28]

The mother tongues of the Jewish population in that same year were as follows:

Total
Number
Yiddish % Hebrew % Polish %
7574 6513 86 1009 13.33 52 0.67

C. “Kolhekot”

An important incident in the lives of the Jews of Sheps was the “Kolhekot” affair. This year, the Jewish year 5719 (1958-1959) is the centennial of the start of the great controversy in the community of Sheps. This dispute caused a rift in the community, and a group of Mitnagdim-Maskilim [29] (“Enlightened Mitnagdim”) founded a separate congregation, with its own Rabbi and Shochet (Kosher slaughterer), that was called “Kolhekot”.

We will relate here how this division developed, the reason for the rift, the significance of the term “Kolhekot”, and how long the congregation existed.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Hasidic movement was still young, and it had little influence in Poland, so that the Mitnagdim had the upper hand in the community of Sheps. However, the Rabbi of Sheps at the time, Rabbi Meirel Dabash, was a Hasid. He was not only a Hasid, but he was also a Rebbe of Hasidim [30]. This is puzzling to us, and we cannot explain it. But later, conditions changed, and a Hasidic Rabbi was accepted as the Rabbi of Sierpc in the second decade of the nineteenth century. This was at the recommendation of a “well known scholar from the town of Makova” (the recommendation was required because “the town is a town of Mitnagdim”). The Rabbi, Rebbe Schrage Fivel Danziger, was forced to leave the town after a short time, because of the enmity of the Mitnagdim.

We do not have any clear knowledge about Rabbi Avrahamel Charif, who followed Reb Schrage Fivel as the Rabbi of Sheps in the next decade the nineteenth century, whether he was a Hasid or a Mitnaged. It stands to reason that if the community of Sierpc agreed to accept him as their Rabbi, and he agreed to serve (after the expulsion of the previous Hasidic Rabbi), he was a Mitnaged. The Rabbi who served in Sheps in the 1830's, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg, was a Mitnaged as well. Rabbi Mordecai Greenbaum (the grandfather of Yitzhak Greenbaum, the outstanding Polish-Jewish activist prior to World War 2), who served as Rabbi of Sheps in the 1840's and 1850's was also a Mitnaged.

However, during those years, the power of the Hasidim increased, and Rabbi Mordecai Greenbaum suffered greatly because of the Hasidim. In the introduction to Part 1 of the book “The Ears of Yehoshua (Questions and Answers)” by Rabbi Yehoshua Segal (grandson of Rabbi Mordecai Greenbaum, and also a Rabbi of Sheps), that was published in Jerusalem in the year 5674 (1913) [31], he states:

“He [32] later was accepted as the Rabbi of the town of Sheps in the Province of Plotzk, and there were disputes and strife between him and the Hasidim of the town. But during that time, his student Rabbi Leibl [33] fled from his father and became a Hasid of the Great Rabbi in Lublin. When the Hasidim bothered Rabbi Mordecai too much, he informed his student Rabbi Leibl, who wrote to the Tzadik (Saintly Hasidic Rabbi) of Kotzk, of saintly blessed memory, and he ordered all his Hasidim to honor Rabbi Mordecai, so then they all calmed down, and respected Rabbi Mordecai.”

Rabbi Mordecai Greenbaum passed away on the 16th of the month of Heshvon, 5619 (the latter part of October, 1858). Of course the Mitnagdim wanted his successor to be a Mitnaged, but they apparently realized that the times had changed, and their wishes would not be supported by the community. What they did was to try and create a fait accompli, and on the third day following the Rabbi's death appointed his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, the Rabbi of Kidrobarg (Kodzhburg, a village in the Mlava District), who was a Mitnaged. They felt (so we understand their actions) that two factors would make the community accept the new Rabbi. a) The de facto appointment of a new Rabbi, and b) that the new Rabbi was the son-in-law of the late Rabbi. But the congregation refused to consent to the appointment of the Mitnagdim and appointed Rabbi Gedalia of Zhoromin as the official Rabbi of Sheps.

The appointment of Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal caused a lot of disagreement, and a rift in the community. A new congregation of Mitnagdim was founded, and called “Kolhekot”. Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal was the Rabbi of the Kolhekot, and they also had a separate Shochet (Kosher Slaughterer).

The book “Ears of Yehoshua” mentioned above, states: “When Rabbi Mordecai died, his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal was accepted in his place by the group of Mitnagdim. But the Hasidim of Sheps [34] took Rabbi Gedalia of Zhoromin as their Rabbi. At first there was a dispute between them, but later the two Rabbis reconciled, and served together in peace.”

When the Rabbi of the “Kolhekot”, Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal died, his son, Rabbi Yehoshua, succeeded him. Rabbi Yehoshua Segal [35] was also a Mitnaged, and suffered from persecution by the Hasidim and left Sheps for America.

The above mentioned book, “Ears of Yehoshua”, also states: “When his father died, he [36] took his place as the Rabbi of Sheps. But since he was a Mitnaged, he also suffered from the ill-treatment by the Hasidim. In spite of the warnings of the Gaon Mahari of Kitna, of saintly blessed memory [37] not to show him any lack of respect, he at last could not take all the suffering any more, left Poland with his whole family, and came to New York in about the year 5644 (1884).” After Rabbi Yehoshua Segal left Sierpc, the separate congregation “Kolhekot” was disbanded and the community of Sheps became united again, a community to which all the Jews of the town belonged, and could find shelter in.

*

Now we would like to make some clarifications and comments to the “Kolhekot” affair.

What is the meaning of the word “Kolhekot”? When we were children we heard that “Kolhekot” meant “Kahala K'tata”, a divided community. Another interpretation of the word can be found in the book “David Ben-Gurion and His Generation” by Bracha Habas, that was published in Tel-Aviv in the year 5712 (1951). The following paragraph appears on page 18.

“Under the influence of an enlightened village, Kuchari, a society was established in Plonsk with the name “Kahal Katan” (Small Society). Its purpose was to propagate learning among the simple people. The members of the society, which had the characteristics of “going to the people”, took it upon themselves to teach Torah in the “Beit HaMidrash” (House of Prayer and Learning) to the tailor and the shoemaker and the carter. The Hasidim, of course, would not support such Enlightenment ideas. They mocked it and dismissed it, and they called the society, in a derisive manner, ‘Kolikotnikes’ (‘members of a small society’).” It is possible that the “Kolikotnikes” in Sheps were also a small group (“Kahal Kat Kolhekot).

*

Our definition above (in connection with the appointment of a new Rabbi, and the rift in the community) of “Mitnagdim” is not precise enough. Only some of the Mitnagdim, mainly the more learned and enlightened ones, who afterwards were worshippers in the new “Beit HaMidrash” (House of Prayer) were members of the “Kolhekot”. The worshippers in the old House of Prayer were from both sides, some were members of the greater community, and others were from the ”Kolhekot”.

*

This is a summary of the “Kolhekot” affair:

The “Kolhekot”, a separate congregation of “Enlightened Mitnagdim”, lasted for 26 years, from the year 5619 (1858-59) until the year 5644 (1884). The “Kolhekot” congregation was served by the Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, and after his death, his son Rabbi Yehoshua. The Shochatim (ritual slaughterers) were, initially someone whose name is not known, and after him, Avraham Shochet (Burgand).

The group of “Enlightened Mitnagdim” of the “Kolhekot” prayed as a special “Minyan” in the “Kamnitza” (“Great Walled House”) on the Jewish Street. After the new Beit HaMidrash was built (in the year 5646 [1886], two years after the Rabbi of the “Kolhekot”, Rabbi Yehoshua Segal, left Sheps), the remaining members of the “Kolhekot” worshipped there.

The leaders of the group of “Enlightened Mitnagdim” were Yisrael Yitzhak Badan, Yakov Hirsh Kirsch (at the beginning of the rift), Eliezer Vasolak, Ephraim Yosel Valuka, and Haim Nahum Tunbol.

D. Dates and Numbers

1153 The first mention of Sierpc
1739 The first mention of Jews in Sierpc
1795 Sierpc comes under Prussian rule
1807 Sierpc becomes part of the Principality of Warsaw
1815 Sierpc comes under Russian rule
1867 The District of Sierpc is established (Sierpc is the main District town)
1859 to 1884 The years of the separate “Kolhekot” congregation
1886 The new Beit HaMidrash (House of Prayer) was built
1895 The synagogue was built
11 Feb 1915 The occupation of Sierpc by the Germans in World War I
11 Nov 1918 The Germans leave Sierpc (Armistice Day)
12 Aug 1820 The occupation of Sierpc by the Bolsheviks during the Russian-Polish war
1 Sep 1939 Start of World War II
4 Sep 1939 Sierpc is bombed from the air, and the first Jewish victim falls Arie Zhitalni
8 Sep 1939 The Germans enter Sierpc
28 Sep 1939 The first day of Sukkoth in the year 5700 the expulsion of more than fifty young men to the Russian zone
29 Sep 1939 The second night of Sukkoth in the year 5700 the burning of the synagogue. The second Jewish victim falls Pinchas (Pinia) Valtsman
8 Nov 1939 26 of Heshvon, 5700 the expulsion of the Jews from Sierpc (the day each year that is the memorial day of the martyrs of Sierpc)
March or April 1940 A Ghetto was put up in Sierpc (for the Jews that remained or returned)
6 Jan 1942 17 of Tevet, 5702 the expulsion of the residents of the Ghetto to the Ghetto of Stezhogovo
24 Nov 1942 15 Kislev, 5703 The transport of the last residents of the Ghetto of Stezhogovo to Auschwitz

First and Last Population Numbers of Sierpc


1800 Population: 970; number of Jews: 649, 67% of the total population
1938 Population: 10051; number of Jews: 3077, 30.5% of the total population

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Sierpc was in the region called “Mazovia” Return
  2. Perhaps the intent is to the “Vloki” (“Vlikes”) that were called “New Town” in a document from 1771. Return
  3. From previous year Return
  4. From previous year Return
  5. Six of which were large buildings Return
  6. Two of which were large buildings Return
  7. It is possible that the decrease was caused by a fire Return
  8. Approximate Return
  9. According to the Polish population census of 30 September 1921 Return
  10. According to the report of the “Joint” (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) on the state of the Jews in Sierpc Return
  11. According to the Polish Census of that year Return
  12. The Debt Resolution Committee of the Kingdom Treasury that dealt with the decision of the Polish “Sejm” (Parliament) on the dissolution of the “Council of Four Nations” and of the councils of each of the member countries. Return
  13. Increase over previous year Return
  14. Increase over previous year Return
  15. Including 235 Germans Return
  16. Approximate Return
  17. From the Polish Census of September 30, 1921 Return
  18. 2766 Jews, 96.7% of the Jewish population, are of the Jewish religion and Jewish nationality; 95 Jews, 3.3% of the Jewish population, are of the Jewish religion and Polish nationality. Return
  19. According to the “Joint” [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] report on the state of the Jews of Sheps. Return
  20. This large increase in the population of Sheps, almost all of it in the Polish population, is an artificial increase. The increase is a result of the annexation the “Vloki” (“Vlikes”) a suburb with a large Polish population. The suburb was attached to the town, but administratively was part of the village of Burkova about three kilometers away. The authorities annexed the suburb between the first municipal council election (1919) and the second election (1923), to purposely limit the number of Jewish council members. Return
  21. Increase over previous year Return
  22. Decrease over previous year Return
  23. Including 133 Russians and 1091 Germans Return
  24. From the Polish Census of that year Return
  25. Per cent of non-Jews in towns with respect to the total population of towns Return
  26. Per cent of non-Jews in villages with respect to the total population of villages Return
  27. Per cent of Jews in towns with respect to the total population of towns Return
  28. Per cent of Jews in villages with respect to the total population of villages Return
  29. [Translator's Note: “Mitnagdim” (literally in Hebrew Opponents, singular “Mitnaged”) were Jews opposed to the Hasidic movement that began in the late eighteenth century in Eastern Europe; Maskilim (literally in Hebrew the Enlightened), a Jewish movement that called for more openness to outside influences, that started in Europe at about the same time.] Return
  30. See more in the chapter in this Yizkor book, “The History of the Rabbinate in Sierpc” Return
  31. The book was published after the death of its author, and the introduction was written by the “conveyer to the printer” Rabbi Israel Zev Halevy Izsh Horowitz. Return
  32. Rabbi Mordecai Greenbaum Return
  33. Rabbi Leibl Iger, the grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Akiva Iger, was a student of Rabbi Mordecai Greenbaum in his youth. Return
  34. The intention is to the greater community. After the rift, the Hasidim were a large majority. Return
  35. According to reliable sources, Rabbi Yehoshua was called “A Teacher of Meaning” in Sheps. Return
  36. Rabbi Yehoshua Segal Return
  37. Moreinu (Our Teacher) Rabbi Yehoshua of Kitna, of saintly blessed memory. Return

 

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