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Translation of "Wolbórz" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of "Wolbórz" chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia ofJewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 92-93, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Wolbórz is already mentioned in 1136 as a stronghold and a commercial center. From the 12th century Wolbórz was the property of the Bishop of Włocławek; it achieved the status of a town in 1273. During the 17th century the town was demolished many times over. In 1870 Wolbórz lost its town status.
It is not known whether Jews resided in Wolbórz before 1689, but in that year the Bishop of Włocławek granted the town the privilege prohibiting the residence of Jews ['privilegia de non tolerandis Judaeis']. This edict, valid until 1862, officially denied the Jews the right to dwell in that town. In the 18th century the Jews lived in the nearby village of Wesoła. With the Prussian conquest (1793) they began settling in Wolbórz in spite of the prohibition on their residing and purchasing land there.
The Jews derived their income from small-scale commerce and crafts. According to figures from 1840, among 10 family heads whose occupation could be classified, were the following: one merchant, 4 shopkeepers, a tailor, 2 tanners, one baker and a butcher. From the beginning of the 1830's the court of the Admor (Hassidic rabbi) of Wolbórz provided an ample source of income as Hassidim flocked there every festival, from far and wide. Owners of makeshift hostels and restaurants were among the most affluent of the Wolbórz Jews. One such, Menachem Mendel Strausburg, owner of a hostel and restaurant for Hassidim provided a livelihood for the community for many years, up to the First World War.
The first attempt of the Wolbórz community to gain its independence after being subordinate, together with 5 nearby villages, to Piotrków Trybunalski, began in the 1820's. These attempts were influenced by the arrival to Wolbórz of Issachar Dov Ber HaCohen Torenheim who in the course of time achieved the status of Admor, and established the Wolbórz dynasty. He concentrated many Hassidim in his court and also acted, unofficially, as the town's rabbi. In 1831,on his initiative, a Hevra Kadisha (burial society) was set up as well as a society for visiting the sick. In 1839, the authorities in Piotrków Trybunalski granted their request, and permitted the Jews of Wolbórz to hold elections for leaders of the community. The elections took place, however, the elected leaders never got around to fulfilling their obligations to the community, and once again their part dependency on the Piotrków community continued. In 1862, Issachar Dov Ber was officially appointed rabbi of Wolbórz even though the community had still not been granted full independence. It is presumed that at this time the cemetery was consecrated, though it is not known when the synagogue was built. The synagogue, built of wood, was of great artistic value, and stood in all its glory up to 1928, when it burnt to the ground.
The court of Rabbi Issachar Dov Ber was different from most other rabbis' courts. Its uniqueness sprang from the Admor's talents as writer and composer. He founded, together with his Hassidim, a choir and an orchestra that added to both prayers and conversation. His compositions consisted of rhymed hymns and songs for occasions, and he often used acrostics. His 'Divrei Torah' was published as separate articles: 'Avodat Issachar', 'Seder Hazmanim', 'Imrei Noam'. After his death in 1887, his eldest son, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe, also a gifted musician, continued the court traditions. He also bred songbirds, their song adding enjoyment to his Hassidic meetings. After his death in 1918, his son Eliezer ran the court (died in 1929).
The congregation of Wolbórz achieved full autonomy in 1907. Their leaders were elected and a rabbi was officially appointed (independent of the Admor of Wolbórz). Rabbi Haim Baruch Dembinski served the community the first year, and was the son of Bezalel HaLevi Dembinski. Then, a few years later (and before World War I), he left Wolbórz for a position in Tuszyn, and was replaced by his son, Yechiel Simcha Dembinski.
During the period between the two world wars, when finding the means to make a living became increasingly difficult, the Jewish settlement in Wolbórz greatly decreased in size. Young people left the town in search of food and education, for apart from the traditional Heder there were no Jewish schools. They were also seeking friends and a social life, as apart from Histadruth Hechalutz, which had been active in the town for a few years, there was no youth organization. The decline in this small community was hastened also by intensified anti-Semitic activities: in 1927 the cemetery was desecrated, and, over the years, desecrated again and again. In 1935, the anti-Semitic newspaper 'Orendovnik' which appeared in Poznań, published an article claiming that two Jewish residents of Wolbórz spied for the German army in 1915, and brought about the deaths of 4 Poles at the hands of the Germans. In fact, it was well known throughout Wolbórz that that Germans had shot the Poles as a revenge punishment for handing over a German soldier, who was in hiding, to the Russians after they conquered the town. The Jews of Wolbórz sued the paper for slander, however, the tense atmosphere of pogrom continued to threaten the lives of the Jews of Wolbórz.
After the outbreak of World War II, on September 5, 1939, most of the houses in Wolbórz were destroyed in a heavy bombardment. Any person who was able to run away did so; however, when the Germans conquered the town, many Jews returned. Also many refugees and displaced persons came to Wolbórz from surrounding areas, mainly Tuszyn (together with their rabbi, Rabbi Haim Baruch Dembinski, former rabbi of Wolbórz), and also from Łódź. By the end of 1939 and into 1940, 180-190 refugees arrived in the town; this was a very large percentage of the Jewish population, which in 1940-1941 consisted of 424 to 436 souls.
The situation of the Jews in this small town was bearable because the quarter where most of the Jews lived was not closed off, thus contact with the rest of the area was easy and food accessible. The worst hardship the Jews suffered was forced labor in Wolbórz and the surroundings, a constant supply of men for work being one of the main assignments for the Judenrat.
The congregation was liquidated in October 1942. Some 400 Jews were transported to the Piotrków Ghetto, and during the liquidation of this ghetto October 15-21, 1942 were sent to Treblinka. A short time before the liquidation of the Wolbórz congregation the persecution of the Jews increased. There is knowledge of particularly brutal treatment meted out to Rabbi Dembinski, who, as well as other Jews, was forced to jump into freezing water. The rabbi expired from his agonies (first day of Rosh Hashana, t-shg), and was buried in the Wolbórz cemetery.
About 20 Jews, residents of Wolbórz when war broke out, actually survived.
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