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Translation of "Warta" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of "Warta" chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 89-92, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(pages 89-92 )
Table of Contents
I The Jewish Community until 1918
II. Between the Two World Wars
III. The Holocaust
|Sept 1, 1939||1500-2000||?|
In the years 1507, 1757, 1799, and 1882, many fires erupted in Warta. This kept the town from developing. The Swedes destroyed Warta almost to its foundation during their invasion in 1656. In the 19th and 20th centuries, one of the reasons that Warta did not develop was because it was not connected to the train system.
Jewish settlement started in the first half of the 16th century and it was one of the first in that region. The origins of those first residents were from Moravia and from other towns in Poland. By 1564, the Jews owned six houses and by 1616, they owned 17 houses. During the Swedish War in 1656, most of the houses of the Jews were burned. Some of the Jews died by an epidemic and the rest left the town.
Renewal of the Jewish settlement started in the 1660's. The Jews faced many difficulties. The Christians did not give them freedom of trade. They were not allowed to buy fur, they were not allowed to slaughter meat or to trade in meat. Taxes to the Bernadine monastery and to the treasury of the kingdom were also increased.
The Jews pleaded their case to the king and in 1671, they were given some privileges. This was in conformity with the previous privileges given to the Jews of Warta and included a few more new privileges. Among those were the cancellation of the limitations on the Jewish butchers and traders of meat. Also, Jewish furriers were allowed to make and sell fur hats. Some privileges were given for Jews to improve their homes. Delays in mortgage payments on plots were allowed. The delaying of the payments of debts was very important for the community, as they owed 35,000 zlotys from debts made between 1681-1790, and they had lots of difficulty paying these debts.
In the 18th century, the treasury and the town imposed new taxes on the Jews. In the second half of the 18th century, the people of the town, with the support of the central government tried to stop the Jews from leasing the production and marketing of beer and wine. It is no surprise that the Jewish community, so rescued by the privileges they received, tried to get those privileges granted by the rest of the kings of Poland up until the last king.
The kings' privileges did not always help the Jews. Often, the people in the town managed to limit the income of the Jews and to impose new payments and mortgages on them. Despite these difficulties, the Jewish community continued to grow. In 1791 there were 35 houses owned by Jews, which was 21% of all the houses in Warta. The Jewish population grew to 339. Prussian rule, which began in 1793, was heavy-handed on the Jews in terms of taxes, etc. At that time, several vendors and Jews with workshops left the city.
During the period of Congress Poland, city residents acted to limit the right of the Jews to live in the city and to establish a Jewish quarter. But, they only managed to get an order limiting the right of Jews to buy real estate on the main streets, especially around the market square. This order was valid until 1862. At that time, the residential limitations were cancelled in all of Poland.
The main source of income in the second half of the 18th century was commerce and crafts. In 1793, among the 49 households that were surveyed, 22 were merchants and grocers, and 22 were craftsmen (mainly furriers). Also, there were 2 innkeepers and 2 barbers. During the main period of Congress Poland, the Jews made a few attempts at manufacturing. Joachim Wolsztajn, a Jew, founded a weaving factory, and a Polish resident founded a soap factory. Both factories lasted just a short time. In the 1890's, Jews owned small factories. There were two oil factories, two tanneries, two soap factories, and one sugar factory. There were also ten windmills owned by Christians. In the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century, Ber Munter founded a plant for dying fabrics and two leather plants. He served the farmers in the area, as they could weave in their homes. The main source of income for Jews was from mercantile activity (in low volume) and crafts.
In the center of the town, there were a few orchards and vegetable gardens, and about 15 of their owners became wealthy. At the beginning of World War I, Kozaks raped and killed some Jews, and after a new attack, the Germans reconquered the town. Afterwards, the Jews went through a difficult economic period. Merchandise was confiscated; all business activity was frozen; food shortages existed.
Documents from the first half of the sixteenth century show that there was an independent Kehillah in Warta. In 1534, the first synagogue was built and another larger one was built in 1641. The names of the rabbis at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century are unknown. Documents from that time show that the community had a rabbi, and the budget showed that money was assigned for rabbinical purposes. In the second half of the 18th century, one of the rabbis was Szymon, son of Wolf.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Hassidic influence in the community increased, and the rabbi who came to his rabbinical seat in 1824 or 1826 was Moshe Nechemia HaCohen. He was born in 1790 in Warta to Rabbi Beniamin Beinusz, the student of Rabbi Akiva Ejger. Also, he was one of the best students of both the Chozeh from Lublin and Rabbi Simche Bunem of Przysucha. Moshe Nechemia HaCohen conducted a court in Warta during the entire period of his position.
In his conduct, he followed the Hassidic philosophy of Przysucha, and added to it his own idea that the main thing in the service of the creator is joy and the joy of a worshiping the creator. This was the basis of his popular name, the Rabbi of Joy. As the Admor of the common people, he encountered in Warta a lot of resistance from other courts and from Mitnagdim. They fought him regardless of the means and struggled to undermine his right to function in the rabbinate. In order to annoy him, they asked him very dangerous and petty questions that he refused to answer or didn't know how to answer. Things progressed to such a state that a Beit Din [a court] of three rabbis was established. The court decided that the rabbi had to re-apply for his rabbinical ordination. After 13 years as a rabbi, Moshe Nechemia resigned from his position. Rabbi Yehudah Leibush Rothbein (he died in 1862) was the next rabbi in Warta; previously, he was the rabbi in both Grójec and Góra Kalwaria.
From 1851-1891, Josef Gerszon was the rabbi. He was the son of Rabbi Moshe of Działoszyn (author of "Tikunai Shabbat"). Rabbi Josef Gerszon, student of Rabbi Mendel from Kock, led the court and was known as the Admor from Dvart [the Yiddish name for Warta].
After Rabbi Josef Gerszon, in 1892, the rabbi who rose to the post was one of the greatest rabbis of Poland at that time. He was Rabbi Meir Dan Plotzki, born in 1866 or 1867, and the son of Rabbi Chaim Yitzhak Ber Plotzker from Kutno. Rabbis from every part of Poland as well as outside of Poland asked him halachic decisions. He left a lot of articles including the following: "Chemdat Yisrael" (commentaries on the Book of Mitzvot of Rambam), "Klei Chemda" (about the five books of Moses), and "Questions on Peace in Jerusalem" (a critique of the Seder Kedushim that was published in Hungary, which was defined as if it was a Seder of the Jerusalem Talmud). His additional works included "Chemdat Shlomo" (on "Orach Hayim"), "Tochachat Musar" (a collection of his sermons), questions and answers on the four books of the Shulkhan Arukh, and "Chidushai Torah."
In 1918, Rabbi Meir Dan left and became the Rabbi in Ostrow Mazowiecka. In his last days (he died in 1928), he was the head of Yeshiva Mitivta in Warsaw. He was active in Agudat Israel and was the head of Agudat Rabanim in Poland. In the second half of the 19th century, Rabbi Shaul Moshe Zilberman, the rabbi of Wieruszów, founded a Yeshiva. Rabbi Zilberman was supported by his father-in-law. After him, the head of the Yeshivah was Rabbi Jakob Jehudah Kocial.
Pioneers of modern political life of the Jewish community of Warta were Zionist groups that organized in the years 1905-6. In these years the activities of revolutionaries were also noticeable. Two of them, Ajzyk Dobrzynski and Wolf Grabiner, were exiled to Siberia in 1908. During the German occupation of the first World War, the activities of the Zionist groups increased. It was from these groups that the General Zionists and Poalei Zion were established, as well as a library. During this period there was a sports club called "Tornferein," where physical exercises were held. The gentleman who testified to the increase in social activities was the person who established the popular common kitchen. He was dealing with the distribution of food donated by "Joint" immediately after the war. The food was primarily for children and those who suffered from the typhus epidemic. In 1918 a Jewish kindergarten was established in Warta.
The Zionists were most important in their numbers and influence. On the eve of the elections for the Zionist Congress, almost 300 shekels were sold. In the election for Congress in 1937, they voted the following way: 108 for the General Zionists, 70 for Mizrachi, and 128 for the League for the Workers of Israel (Labor).
Among the prominent youth groups were Gordonia (established in 1931), Hechalutz (established in the 1920's), Kibbutz Hachshara (started in 1932), and Mizrachi Youth, (established in 1932). The Zionists had a drama club. Income from their frequent shows was used for public purposes. Agudat Israel also developed activities, usually held on the eve of elections for the leadership of the community and of the town. In the first years after World War I, Agudat Israel established a girls club called B'not Yaakov, and a school called Beit Yaakov. The Bund had only a few members. They were mainly involved in culture, the library, and the music band.
In the elections for the community leadership in 1931,
1) The General Zionists won a majority of two mandates.
2) Mizrachi got one mandate
3) No party under the influence of the Zionists got 1 mandate
4) Agudat Israel got 3 mandates.
The head of the community was Lejb Lajzer Lenczycki. He was a Sochaczew Chassid supported by the Zionists. Between the two World Wars, starting in 1920, the rabbi was Eliahu Laskowski (born in 1886). He was previously the Rabbi of Głowno. He learned in the court of the Admor of Sochaczew, joined the dynasty and pursued his friendship with the last of the Admors of Sochaczew, Rabbi David Bornsztajn. He spoke fluent Polish and therefore was for many years a member of the education committee of the town of Warta.
Aside from the traditional self-help institutions such as visiting the sick and performing charity, etc., there were also two banks that were active between the two World Wars. They lent money to merchants and artisans at low interest rates. Surprisingly, it was the Chevra Kadisha of Warta who took care of the mental hospital.
During the first days of the occupation, the Germans gathered the Jews in the market place. They beat them and cut their hair. In the following weeks, Jews were kidnapped in the streets and their beards were pulled out. This was the fate of the Rabbi Eliahu Laskowski. The kidnapped Jews were also sent to forced labor. The Judenrat appointed by the Germans was forced to supply working crews daily and to pay high penalty taxes. In November or December of 1939, the Jews were ordered to evacuate the town. The town had been annexed to the Reich and the Jews were forbidden to reside in the town. The Jews were allowed to take 100 kilograms of luggage per person.
An announcement was made that the Jews would be relocated to the Lublin area where they would be given apartments and decent conditions. The same announcement was made to the Poles. Despite the intention of the authorities to start the deportation the day after this announcement, it took the Judenrat a few days to organize the first transport. The Germans directed the people to the train station. They kept them there all night and then ordered them to return to town. It is not known why the deportation was not carried out at that time, Maybe, the deportation didn't occur because of the lack of trains. When the Jews returned, they discovered that their houses had been robbed again.
In February of 1940, the ghetto was established in a neighborhood populated almost entirely by Jews in an area near the Beit Hamidrash. There were no fences around the ghetto. Within the ghetto a few Polish families were allowed to continue to live. The Jews were formally forbidden to leave the ghetto. However, the ghetto was guarded only by Jewish policemen; so it was easy to get out of the ghetto and it was even easier for the Poles to get into the ghetto. The Germans allowed the Jewish craftsman to pursue their craft on condition that they first serve the needs of the German authorities. The Judenrat requested that the many Jewish craftsmen in the ghetto were kept busy, especially the tailors. The shoemakers, furriers, advised the mayor to establish workshops. Part of the income would be used to rehabilitate the destroyed town. The mayor agreed and by his order, a group of 250 Jewish tailors and furriers executed orders from the German army.
It is not known whether the workshops were active inside the ghetto or the Jews left the ghetto to work outside. The mayor employed a large number of Jewish youth in agriculture on farms that had previously belonged to Jews. He treated these workers well. However the main source of income from the Jews in the ghetto came from private orders from the population in the surrounding area. The Poles would arrive in the ghetto. They bought the products of the craftsmen and the Jews bought food stuff.
The Jewish situation progressively worsened as the Jews were deported to the labor camps in the Poznan area: Lenzingen-Junikowo, Leszno and elsewhere. By the end of 1940, the authorities started to draft Jewish youth to the labor camps. In the beginning there were many volunteers because the Germans promised comfortable living conditions, lots of food and permission to send home their pay. In January of 1941, the first transport left with 80 to 100 youth. A short time later, letters arrived in Warta from the volunteers describing the terrible conditions of the town and their begging for food and clothing.
The boys stopped volunteering and the Germans instituted forced drafting of the Jews. They drafted young men first, then young women, followed by older men. Craftsmen and workers employed by the Germans were exempt. After the forced deportation to the camps, the Jewish population in Warta fell to approximately 1,300 in 1941 and about 1,000 in the summer of 1942. The Judenrat and the families of those deported to labor camps requested permission to send food packages and clothing to their family members, but the authorities set severe restrictions: half a kilogram of bread per person every 2-3 weeks. Because they were allowed to send clothing more often, the Jews would hide slices of bread in those packages. When the Germans discovered the deceit, they arrested a number of Jews. The Judenrat had to obtain their release by paying 35,000 marks, which they collected from the population.
On Lag Ba'omer 1942, the Germans conducted a public hanging of 10 or 12 Jews. Among the condemned were the chairman of the Judenrat, London; Rabbi Eliahu Laskowski and his son; Szmuel Jerozolimski (leader of the General Zionists); Motel Rotsztein (chairman of Agudat Israel). Also condemned were Feiwusz Meirowicz (former farm owner near Warta), Ezra Rozenwald, Moshe Shimon Klinowski, Landsberg and presumably 2 or 3 more Jews. Some of the deceased Jews were members of the Judenrat. According to one version, Rabbi Laskowski and his son were hanged because he appealed to the head of the county and asked forgiveness upon hearing that ten Jews were condemned to be hanged.
The Jews were forced to build the scaffold on the plot where the synagogue stood. On the day of the execution, the Germans ordered the Jewish policemen to bring the entire Jewish population to the premises and to forbid them by threat of death, any cries of desperation or despair. The Poles also came in large numbers to witness the horrible site. The Jewish policemen were ordered to bring the condemned and perform the sentence. The brother of one of the policemen was among the condemned and it was only by chance that he didn't have to hang his own brother. Before the execution, the Germans announced to the public (those present) that a death sentence was given in retribution for the illegal sending of bread to the labor camps and among the condemned was Ezra Rozenwald who organized the sending of the bread.
Witnesses mentioned the heroic behavior of Rabbi Laskowski who, before the hanging, encouraged all of the condemned, and urged them to accept the sentence with pride as befitting the sons of the eternal people. He spoke about the salvation of Israel. He said confession at the top of his voice and told the Jews to revenge the vengeance of the killings in the kingdom. Then he asked to be buried in his clothing as the law requires. The rest of the condemned withstood bravely this last ordeal. After the hanging the Jews were dispersed. They were allowed to take the bodies down, only the day after, and were forbidden to bury them according to Jewish law.
The ghetto was destroyed two or three months later, on August 24-25, 1942. Most of the Jews in Warta amounting to about 1000 were deported to the Chelmno extermination camp. A number of strong young Jewish men who were chosen by selection were sent to the Łódź ghetto. Among them were some of the agricultural workers of the surrounding area, mentioned earlier. A group of sick people, mostly those in hospitals, were shot on the spot by German policemen.
At the outbreak of the War, there were about 50-200 people in Warta. The majority of these Jews were imprisoned in Nazi camps. Of those Jews who were able to escape the Warta ghetto and to hide while it was evacuated, only one lived until the day of liberation. After the war, a group of 25 Jews from the DP [Displaced Persons] camps spent a short time in Warta. But, they quickly left the town out of fear after the killing of Jews after the War increased.
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