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Translation of Plock chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Plock chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Project Coordinator and Translator
Morris Gradel z"l
Project Coordinator and Translator
Morris Gradel z"l
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume IV, pages 358 - 372, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
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Plotsk(P) was one of the oldest urban settlements in Mazowia and in the whole of Poland. Archaeological excavations on the spot revealed remnants of a pagan ritual centre of Slav tribes from the the centuries preceding the adoption of Christianity and its expansion in Poland from the year 966 onwards. In the 11th century P was the seat of the castellan (the district governor for the king of united Poland); the town was then also the capital of the district of Mazowia. In 1075 it was the see of a bishop. In the years 1079-1102 Prince Wladislaw Harman ruled areas of Poland from his centre in P. He was even buried in P, and also buried there was the Polish King Boleslaw Crooked Mouth. From 1138 P was the capital of one of the principalities of divided Poland - Mazowia.
The development of P as a political and economic centre took place in the 12th century. In 1237 the town was granted a charter which set out the rights of its inhabitants. P was conquered by the Pomeranians in 1243 and by the Lithuanians in 1260 and 1286. The invaders destroyed much of the town, which was built mainly of wood. In 1353 the Polish king Wladislaw Lukeitik conquered the town, and he too destroyed many of its houses. In 1351-1370 the district of Mazowia passed under the tutelage of the Polish king Casimir the Great, who restored P and built a fortress; in 1361 P was granted the status of a town and its citizens given considerable privileges. After Casimir's death P again came under the protection of the princes of Mazowia until the union of the region with Crown Poland in 1495. In the 16th century P was the most important town in the kingdom after the capital Cracow. The development of the town was dependent on the trade of the towns of the kingdom with Danzig that took place along the Vistula, and thus passed through P. A quarrel then broke out among the merchants and tradesmen of the town ( weavers, brewers, brandy distillers, etc.) who organised themselves in guilds. Towards the end of the 16th century the decline of P began, mainly because it could not compete with Warsaw, which had become the capital of Poland instead of Cracow.
The crisis that afflcted P grew worse during the wars with the Swedes. In the middle of the 17th century, after the destruction that these brought with them, there were in 1661 only 40 houses intact. Neither did the wars with Sweden at the beginning of the 18th century spare P, and they left behind many marks of destruction. With the second division of Poland in 1793 P was incorporated into the Prussian area. From 1807 P was the seat of the Governor of the Woiwoda (County) in the principality of Warsaw. From 1815 P was the chief town of the Woiwoda (after 1837 of the province or Gubernia) of the Kingdom of Poland.With the restoration of Polish sovereignty in 1918 the town was designated the district capital. During the German occupation of 1939-45 it was incorporated into the Third Reich.
The earliest mention of the Jews in P was from the year 1237. In the charter granted to the town in that year by Conrad, Prince of Mazovia, the Jewish well is recorded among the landmarks of the town boundaries. It may be presumed therefore that at that time there was a Jewish population concentrated in one area. Documents from the 15th century mention this quarter as the Jewish town. It was situated at that time near the town wall to the north and spread across the market square. The quarter contained two streets known until the period between the two world wars by names reminiscent of Jews. One bore the name Jeruszolimiska (Jerusalem), in Jewish mouths called de gyldene gass (the golden street), and the other was Synagogolna (Synagogue Street).
The existence of the Jewish settlement in P, one of the first in Mazovia and the whole of Poland, originated mainly in the role played by the town as the capital of Mazowia and as the most important town on the banks of the Vistula, it being the centre of international trade from the south to the Baltic and westwards, to Novgorod in the north and south to Kiev in Russia Jews from Moravia, and more especially from Germany, participated in this trade and some of them settled in the district. In the 13th century there were signs of the existence of some other permanent Jewish settlements along the Vistula or near P, such as in Gneisenau, Poznan, Kalisch - and in the south, in Cracow.
This development stagnated in the 14th century, at the time of the conflicts between Mazowia and the Teutonic-Crusader Order that ruled over the area bordering the Vistula, East Prussia and the port of Danzig. The insecurity that permeated the area made trade impossible. However, the Jews faced another obstacle, namely the decree issued by the Head of the Order in 1309, whereby the Jews were forbidden to enter its territory. This situation also had a negative effect on the Jewish settlement in P. The Jews there changed from trade to small-scale loan activity. For about 150 years documents mentioned but few Jews in P. Only towards the end of the Middle Ages, after an agreement in 1466 between the Order and the Kingdom of Poland was signed in Turin, were the trade routes to Danzig resumed, and the Jews of P returned to their former activity, trade; but there is talk here of a mere handful of families. As late as 1483 only two Jewish families from P paid tax to the Prince's treasury. The same period carries mention of the Prince's personal physician, the Jew Eliahu of P.
The end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th was marked by an increased emigration of Jews from Germany to Poland, and with it an increase in the number of Jews in P. At the beginning of the 17th century the community in P numbered 400 souls, who lived mainly in two streets - Zydowska (the Jewish) and Szabska (of shoemakers). The other inhabitants did not look upon the presence of Jews in P with favour, and especially not on their activity in trade and crafts. They therefore turned to the King and demanded that these be restricted. They demanded limitations in the sphere of weaving, furs, and bakeries. King Sigismund I acquiesced and in 1521 and 1523 issued decrees forbidding the Jews of P to engage in retail trade and allowing them to engage in wholesale trade only on market days and within the market-place. The Jews, however, did not submit passively, and in 1555 they obtained from King Sigismund August annulment of these restrictions, on condition that they would contribute to the expenses of the municipality. Ten years or so later the number of Jews in P had increased, and in 1565 120 Jews were paying poll tax. The non-Jewish inhabitants now complained that the Jews were not fulfilling their obligations to the municipality, and for a time they made it difficult for the Jews to buy land for a cemetery and building plots in the Jewish streets. In 1576 and 1580 King Stephen Batory restored the Jewish privileges (they were allowed to buy plots and to engage in trade almost without restriction) and in 1658 these were confirmed by King Jan Casimir.
In this period the Jewish community in P was consolidated. Documents showed that in 1522 there was a synagogue. At the end of the 15th century the Archbishop of P names the rabbi of the Jewish community in P, Rabbi Yitzhak (who bought a house from the local apothecary, Piotr). In 1616 the Jews owned about 25 houses. At about the same time we read of some 30 local Jewish merchants in the customs lists. Their activities included the import of textile materials, metal utensils, perfumes and spices, and the export of grain, cattle, trees, hides, etc. Their commercial activities extended as far as Breslau, Leipzig and even Nuremberg in the west, and in the east - to Wallachia. But the closest economic ties were with Danzig. Conversely, Jewish merchants came to P from Lublin, Opatow and Cracow.
Artisans too occupied a considerable place among the Jews of P. Among them were weavers, glaziers, bakers, butchers, shoemakers, furriers, tailors, and even a blacksmith who made swords. Some of the Jews of P contributed to the state and municipal taxes (poll tax, customs, market tax) for the lease of land. The tax lists of 1621 mention two Jews who paid taxes for town fields. Another source from the same period tells of Jews owning flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. During the 16th century six Jewish doctors are mentioned. Their status was shown by the fact that some of them were leaders of the Jewish community. One of them, Joseph, was its leader in 1561. Later he became a Christian and was baptized under the name of Sigismund. Despite the signs of prosperity displayed by the Jews of P, there was no lack of difficulties. Jewish involvement in trade and crafts was ever a thorn in the eyes of their competitors in the town, who lost no opportunity in trying to undermine it. In 1617 the Jews of P were forced to sign an agreement with the municipality, which led to the imposition of a series of restrictions, amongst others a limit on the production and distribution of strong drink and beer, and trading in fish, pickles, oil, sweets and iron. Dealing in fish was completely forbidden for Jews, except for personal consumption. Furriers and shoemakers were forbidden to sell sheepskin and high boots. Purchase was permitted only in the market and that from local tradesmen alone. The agreement also included a ban on market business on Christian Holydays (except for the sale of meat for a few hours within the Jewish quarter). Contrariwise to these restrictions Jews were allowed to do business on Fair Days and to rent shops and storerooms in the market place. Although the Christian artisans tried to undermine the activities of their Jewish counterparts, it seems that the Jews suceeded in circumventing the restrictions, sometimes even helped by local citizens (both merchants and craftsmen) who saw an advantage in cooperating with the Jews. Ignoring the restrictions often involved bribes. The agreement also laid down that any Jew coming to settle in P had to pay money to the town chest - the more well-to-do had to pay a gulden and those deemed poor 15 grosch. In addition, the Jews paid to the fortress half a stone of pepper and a pound of cloves (spices). For a stand in the local market the Jews of P paid 40 gulden a year.
The security situation of the P Jews was little different from that of the other Jewish communities in the Principality of Mazowia. A similar situation prevailed among the Hebrew communities in Greater Poland even after 1495, when Mazowia was incorporated into Crown Poland. As citizens of the Prince (tributaries), the Jews enjoyed his protection and that of his officials, and later of the local representative of the Crown - the Starosta. However, as with other Jewish communities in the same period, there were anti-Jewish riots and sometimes extreme violence by the town rabble. In 1494 the deputy mayor of P, Lomsze, was charged with not reacting energetically against the students (dzekkes) who had assaulted Jews and stolen their property (and thus indirectly had attacked a source of income for the Prince). In 1534 too riots broke out against the Jews of P. They were also shocked in 1556 by the execution in P of two Jews from Sochachew who were accused of desecrating a statue of the cross. The two were hanged outside the town wall, and their bodies were not delivered for burial until January 1557. In P itself the incited mob attacked the Jews in that year. Anti-Jewish violence was also renewed in 1570, 1579 and 1590. In addition to incidents of mob violence there were also dozens of cases of clashes between Jews and Christians. In 20 such cases the Jews are described as having attacked the Christians, and if this is to be believed, it must be presumed that the Jews of P in the 16th century were not prepared to accept meekly the attacks upon them but could stand up for themselves.
Nevertheless, documents of the period also tell of good neighbourly relations between Jews and Christians. There were times when Jews sat at a festive table together with their Christian neighbours and enjoyed a drink. Jews and non-Jews attended family celebrations, and so forth. It was the church authorities who were opposed to this phenomenon: they insisted on a rigid separation of Christians and Jews by isolating the latter in a ghetto. There were also cases where an ecclesiastical court put on trial Christians suspected of leaning towards Jewish (obeying the commandments, circumcision, and keeping the sabbath). These charges against not a few Christians, both townspeople and the country gentry, were not indicative of conversion, but were rather a symptom of a Christian sect diluting the principles of the Church and assuming some principles of Judaisation.
As for the internal organisation of the Jewish community in P, it is necessary to distinguish between the period of the Mazovia Principality (until 1495) and that of the incorporation of the area into Crown Poland. During the reign of the princes the authority of the Jewish community was limited, compared to that of Jewish communities in Crown Poland. The Prince was the judge in disputes between Jews and Jews, even when the proceedings were according to Jewish law. Apparently the judge (the Prince or his representative) was counselled by an expert on Jewish law. The Jews were forbidden to appeal against such judgments before rabbinical courts outside the country, and violation of this rule involved a fine of 20 gulden. It would appear that after the area passed under Crown-Polish rule the status of the P community was made that of the Jewish communities in the Kingdom of Poland as a whole.
From 1519 the community in P came under Greater Poland, together with some other communities in Mazovia and Kujawy , such as Plonsk, Sochaczew, Inowroclaw, and others. The seat of the State Council of Jews was in Invoroclav, but the community of P held a respected place in it, and played a prominent part in the discussions on the distribution of the poll-tax among the communities, and other matters. The first representative of the P community in the State Jewish Council was Avraham de Plotsky (i.e. Avraham from Plotsk), leader of the community in the first half of the sixteenth century. The importance of the P community at that time may be gauged from the fact that the delegation of the communities of Greater Poland which addressed King Stefan Batory in 1582 and obtained from him favourable concessions for the Jews - was composed of representatives from the community of P.
The development and prosperity of the community was hampered for some time during the Swedish wars in the middle of the 17th century. The town was almost completely destroyed, The streets of the Jews were set on fire, and what was left was plundered by the rioting soldiery. In 1656 the soldiers of the Polish hetman Stefan Czarnicki attacked the Jews, killing many of them: few indeed managed to escape with their lives.
After the storm of battle had subsided, the Jews of P set about rebuilding their community. King Jan Casimir granted their request, and in 1657 a decree was issued whereby they were permitted to build new houses to replace those destroyed. They were likewise given permission to trade and open shops and butcher shops in all towns without restriction. These rights were afterwards confirmed by all the kings of Poland up to and including the last of them, Stanislaw August Poniatowski. However, before they managed to recover, the Jews were beset by natural catastrophes: in 1688 a fire broke out that destroyed almost the whole Jewish quarter. In its wake came an epidemic that claimed many victims. The work of rehabilitation demanded the giving of much credit. The P community borrowed large sums of money from the nobility and from the clergy. These loans were usurious, and the Jews had to repay not only the capital but also compound interest. In the middle of the 18th century there were some 140 Jewish families in P, and their debt to the Jesuits of the town alone amounted to 50,000 gulden.
In the 18th century the situation of the Jews of P worsened, mainly because of the growth of Catholic reaction in Poland as a whole and in the bishopric of P in particular. Among other things, the regional synod decided in 1733 to inflict heavy punishment on noblemen who leased inns to Jews. A pastoral letter from Bishop Lenbern in 1752 accused the Jews of P of fraudulent dealings. In 1775 the bishop's aide summoned the leaders of the community and rebuked them for building new prayer-houses without permission from the bishopric. The Jews were ordered to close off the exit from their quarter during church processions in order that they would not commit sacrilege in the eyes of the Christians. In the footsteps of the clergy followed the nobility of the impoverished class, who at the regional assembly of the nobility (the seimik) in 1788 adopted a resolution to annul all the leases and renting of inns to Jews. The Jews of P, in keeping with all the Jewish communities of Mazowia, were in the 1770s and 1780s threatened with expulsion. This decree was, however, not implemented, but the threat was sufficient to cause unrest among the Jews of the area.
Moreover, the P community did not escape accusations of blood libel. In 1754 a child in a nearby village died immediately after birth. The rumour at once spread that that the child had been murdered by Jews for ritual purposes. The regional governor (the starosta), Tomasz Dambowski, who was himself among the rumour-mongers, ordered the arrest of the town's innkeeper, a Jew by the name of David. After cruel torture he died in prison. The tumult did not abate, and the Jews of P had to pay to Dambowski extortion money to the tune of 2,400 gulden, and promised to pay a similar sum to him in the course of the next three years (800 gulden each year). After the community had redeemed this debt, the governor wanted to turn this bribe into a permanent contribution of 800 gulden in the years to come. The leaders of the community, however, refused, and the governor then threw them into prison and even ordered them to be flogged; but they stood firm in their refusal, in the knowledge that the community was unable to bear such a financial burden.
At the time of the Confederation of Bar (a union of nobles against Russian domination of the Polish Kingdom), and in the wake of the battles that took place near P in1768, a fire broke out in the town, also damaging Jewish property. During the episode of the confederation one of the conspiratory noblemen pursued by the Russians sought refuge among the Jews. They hid him in the mikveh building, Hakadesh, and afterwards helped him to escape disguised as a carter.
During the anarchy that reigned in Poland in the last two decades of the 18th century the arbitrary nature of the administration also had repercussions for the Jews. At the end of the 80s a rabbi named Joachim was chosen, with the approval of the regional governor. In 1792 the new governor demanded of the leaders of the community the sum of 800 gulden. These leaders presented to the governor the letter of privileges granted to them by King Stephan Batory, whereby they were to pay to the governor's treasury only 60 gulden a year. The governor, however, was not convinced, and ordered the leaders and the rabbi imprisoned and flogged. After a time they were released, but at once a bailiff's crew was sent to the Jewish quarter and collected the sum demanded. A year later a new era began for the Jewish community of P: in 1793, in the second division of Poland, the town was incorporated into the Prussian sphere.
We possess no detailed information on the internal affairs of the P community in the 17th and 18th centuries. Known are some names of rabbis in that period. In the second half of the 17th century the office was occupied by Zwi Hirsch Monek, son of Feitel Monek, who was a rabbi in Vienna. In 1684 the rabbi was the saintly Menachem ben Hakadosh Israel. Among other rabbis in the 18th century may be noted Shmuel ben Israel and Chaim Ginzburg. The latter was rabbi in P and for the whole district of Mazowia in 1777. Until 1783 his place was taken by Issachar ben Yehuda Leib, who afterwards was appointed rabbi in Slotsk.
A native of P was also Zelig Margolit ben Yitschak Eizik (Aviezri), author of the books Kesef Nivchar (Selected Silver), Chidushei Shas (New Aspects of the Mishna), and Chiburei Likutim (Selected Essays). In the last essay of the latter work Rabbi Margolit paints a negative picture of the general situation at the time in Poland and also of the internal situation of the Jewish communities. From the 1670s to the 1690s Rabbi Margolit was a preacher in Kalisz. Later he occupied a similar office in Prague, and from 1703 he served as rabbi in Kläuz in Halberstadt, Germany.
During the period of the Prussian occupation (1793-1807) the Jewish population of P more than doubled, compared to 1793 (in 1803 there were 1,783 souls). This increase was mainly at the expense of the Jews of the nearby villages, but there were also indications of an immigration of Jews from East Prussia to P (among the new settlers were persons with names typical of Prussian Jewish families). On the one hand, the Prussian authorities abrogated some of the restrictions on Jewish dwellings, and the Jews were not limited to settling only in the former Jewish enclave (Street of the Jews and Street of the Shoemakers). On the other hand, the Prussian authorities attempted to make the Jews more effective by forcing them away from their traditional occupations, such as the production and distribution of strong drink, innkeeping, and peddling. These efforts, together with an increased tax burden on the Jews, reduced many of them to poverty. The records of the time tell of an increase in the number of Jewish building workers employed by Jewish contractors (one of them, Moshe Wasserzug. who had come from Prussia, built a number of houses which remained almost to the present day) - but the majority of Jewish artisans continued to work in their trades, despite the pressure and threats of the authorities.
Preserved from this period is the chronicle of the Jewish Company of Tailors in P (the earliest date entered is 1798, though the record is apparently a continuation of earlier chronicles from the last decades of the 17th century). The chronicle tells of the company's independence of the community leaders and its dependence on the Christian tsek (guild). The Jewish tailors and furriers had to pay dues to the tsek, without enjoying any member benefits. The Jewish guild embraced dozens of Jewish craftsmen, with a directorate of 11 members (3 beadles, 3 trustees, and 5 accountants). Among the immigrants of this period were the first intimations of the Haskala (see Notes at end), as expounded by Moses Mendelssohn. They are principally evident among the financiers with connections to German businessmen, who adopted the external characteristics (in European dress and knowledge of German) that would facilitate their contacts with the non-Jewish world. It should be noted here that the Jews were obliged to fill out their documents in German.
Typical of this period was Yitzhak Eizik ben Shmuel Hacohen (Itzikel of Plotsk), a wealthy merchant with connections in Danzig and Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. He represented the community of P at the gathering of heads of communities in the new districts of Prussia, that took place in Klatszbo in 1797. The purpose of this assembly was to find a common stance against the new law (the Jewish ordinance) governing Jews resident in the areas of Prussia formerly belonging to Poland. Itzikel of Plotsk was already conversant with worldly affairs, and in the course of his business had had frequent contact with his co-delegates at theatre performances, a rarity among the Jews of P at that time.
Another Jew from P, Daniel Landau, a large-scale army contractor, was the only Jewish member of the P region's chamber of commerce. In the period of the Principality of Warsaw Landau represented the communities of the P region at a meeting of all the communities of the principality.
Under Prussian sovereignty the holder of the rabbinical office was Yehuda Leib Margolit, who was regarded as one of the pioneers of the Haskala. He had served previously with communities in Galicia (he was born in Zaborow in that province) - Sochstew and Kopiczince - and from there moved to Bodzanow and Szczebrzeszyn in the district of Lublin, and from there again to P. From P he went on to Inowroclaw and Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. In addition to various responsa and halachic innovations, he published some essays on natural science, philosophy, and ethics. His essay Or Olam (Light of the World) enjoyed much popularity. In his work Bet Hamidot (The Mansion), devoted to ethical and social subjects, he criticised sharply the then leaders of the Jewish communities, their spiritual leaders (the rabbis), and the corruption prevalent in Jewish social life at the time. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Margolit was a rationalist in the spirit of his time; but he saw no conflict between science and faith. In his view, science reinforced faith, which had to be upheld without compromise or concession.
With the coming of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, the P region was included in its boundaries. The situation of the Jews deteriorated even more than in the previous period.The burden of new taxes weighed heavily upon them. Among these were the tax on kosher meat and the recruiting tax (implemented in 1812 as a substitute for military service by Jews). The Jews of P were obliged to pay tens of thousands of gulden (6 grosch for each pound of meat), even if they were prepared to eat kosher meat only on sabbaths and festivals. The state decree of October 1812 forbad the Jews of the principality to engage in the production and distribution of strong drink. In fact, after representations to the Ministry of the Interior and the Treasury, the ordinance was postponed until 1815; but the prefect (governor) of P hastened to implement it at once. Only after further approaches by Jewish representatives (among whom was the member of the P community, Yosef Frankel) to the Ministry of the Interior was the decree annulled.
In 1810 a fire broke out in P, involving 90 houses - most of them in the Jewish quarter, in Synagogue Street. Yet even before the persons affected had had time to repair the damage, and when they were still living in temporary accommodation in other parts of the town, a proposal was put to the ruler of the Duchy of Warsaw, the Saxon King Friedrich August, to establish a revir (i.e. a special quarter or ghetto) for the Jews of P. The motive for this proposal was that if such a quarter were not established the Jews would not hurry to restore their fire-damaged houses. The proposal also mentioned the dishonest competition of the Jews in trade and business. Another reason was that collections of Jews in all parts of the city would lead to fires and to plague and the pollution of the whole town, since their tendency to dirt was well-known. However, Friedrich August did not accept the proposal, explaining that the Jews of P should be left alone, as they had recently suffered a natural catastrophe - but the Ministry of the Interior would not relent and reiterated the proposal, which was finally accepted in November 1811. From then on a Jewish quarter in P was made compulsory: Jews were only permitted to live in 8 streets - and this quarter existed in P until 1862.
During the period of the Duchy of Warsaw and for some time thereafter the rabbi of P was Aryeh Leib bar Moshe Zunz (or Zilz), known as Rabbi Leibush Harif (the Sharp One). From P Rabbi Aryeh Leib moved to Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, and afterwards settled in Warsaw itself, where he died in 1833. Rabbi Leib was considered the prodigy of his generation and his pen produced 17 works. One of his pupils was Rabbi Avraham Landau, known as the rabbi from Czechanow. He was head of the yeshiva in P when Aryeh Leib was head of the Beth Din (the rabbinical court). Another pupil of Aryeh Leib was the last rabbi of all Warsaw, Ya'akov Gesundheit. Rabbi Aryeh Leib was followed in P by Rabbi Uziel Yehuda bar Yerucham Fischel; he died in P in 1825.
In the first half of the 19th century (until 1862) there existed the revir (Jewish quarter) in P, and there were restrictions on Jewish settlement in the town. Jews were not free to choose their place of residence. Nevertheless, the district capital excercised a strong pull on them, and they managed - legally and illegally - to settle there and earn some sort of a living. Eager to enter were the Jews of the surrounding villages, the small towns, such as Nasielsk, Makow, Wyszogrod and others - and from the beginning of the century, as already mentioned, also from Prussia. Up to 1860 the number of Jews in P increased sevenfold, compared to their numbers in 1808.
This increase was not, however, the result of economic growth - in production, trade, and crafts. The trade routes to Prussia did not pass through the town, which was also far from the railways begun in Poland in the middle of the century. The town was swamped with cheap goods from Prussia (most of them smuggled) and also with goods from Warsaw, and there was thus no room for industrial development in P. Only the hotel and other service banches, such as restaurants and taverns, experienced expansion. These served mainly the administrative personnel and the noble landowners, who came into town to settle their affairs with the authorities, the courts, or the schools attended by their children.
These service and accommodation activities provided a living for very few of the local Jews; the majority suffered hardship, and sometimes hunger. This misery forced them to seek manual work on the land or in road building and the like. In 1823 the wealthy Zalman Pozner (i.e. from Poznan) opened on his property at Kuchary, near P, a clothing factory and many Jews were employed there. In 1840 this same Pozner proposed to the authorities the setting up of a Jewish agricultural settlement at Kuchary - to be followed after three years by settlements in Kodlowowice and Idzikowice. This initiative was favourably received, and as early as 1841 the first 15 Jewish families settled in Kuchary. They received land on permanent lease and also farm implements. They were also exempted from the tax on kosher meat, and from 1845 also from military service. All in all some 170 Jewish families settled in the three places between 1844 and 1850. A report to the Governor in 1850 stated that the settlers are seriously engaged in working the land. News of the venture spread to the surrounding area and had considerable effect on the Jews of P. However, in the second half of the century most of the settlers left their land.
A severe crisis hit the Jews of P during the Polish revolt of 1830-1831. A number of young Jews joined the National Guard (auxiliary military units of the rebels) and after the rebellion had been crushed some were sentenced to prison or deported to Siberia. Nevertheless, some Jews (also in P) were accused of spying for the Russians, and there were even executions of Jews, among them two from the Jewish community in P.
In 1831 there was an outbreak of cholera in P, which also claimed many victims among the Jews. In 1840 the Kingdom of Poland introduced conscription. This was particularly hard for the Jews of P. They had, like others, to serve 15 years, to abandon their traditional way of life (eating non-kosher food, forbidden to pray, etc), and in addition had to suffer seeing the young Jews of P and the surroundings part from their families, since P was the mobilisation centre.
The clothing decree of 1846 also affected the Jews of P., in particular the Chasidim , who objected to giving up their traditional costume (long coats, fur hats - streimels, etc.) in favour of Russian town dress, as demanded by the royal ordinance. Until 1850, however, Jews were permitted to wear their traditional dress against payment of 3 to 50 roubles, according to their means. Many poor Chasidim spent their last grosch in order to continue dressing in the fashion of their forefathers.
In this same period there arose a sharp schism in the community between the two factions - the Chasidim and the kolkotnikim (the exact meaning of this word is unknown), traditionalist Jews, apparently mitnagdim, but who were inclined to dress in European style, i.e. shorter coats and styled to ensure greater cleanliness for shirts and boots. The conflict did not, however, limit itself to dress, but included also methods and syllabus of learning. At the head of the kolkotnikim stood Z. Pozner and his circle. The group of pupils in the Bet Midrash at Kuchary were known as the little community. Its students had moved away from pilpul and were more open to secular subjects. But though they engaged in research, they tended to revert to conservative methods of learning, in sharp opposition to Chasidism. From these groups came, among others, Avraham Goldschmidt, who preached at the Neurim Synagogue in Warsaw; Chaim Raygroder, known as a man of learning and an opponent of chasidism; the rabbi of Sierpc, Mordechai Hacohen Grünbaum, the grandfather of Yitschak Grünbaum - and many others. The Chasidim in the P community regarded the kolotnikim with enmity and considered them out-and-out heretics. Zalman Pozner was regarded by them as leader of the sect of Shabtai Zwi.
Among the local rabbis of this period mention may be made of Eliezer Cohen (he served in P from 1856-1862), who revived study of the Radak (Rabbi David Kimhi of the 13th century). In his youth Nahum Sokolow studied at Eliezer Cohen's Bet Midrash. On the fringes of the kulturkampf between the Chasidim and the kolkotnikim there was in P a small group of educated persons of the school of Moses Mendelsohn. These went so far as to ask the authorities not to authorise the opening of Chasidic prayer houses, as a result of which none were allowed until 1823. The P representatives of the Jewish Committee, set up on government orders in 1823 as an advisory body on reform of Jewish life in the Kingdom of Poland, were the intellectuals Daniel Landau and Yosef Frankel. They too were against the establishment of Chasidic houses of prayer and for the eradication of superstition among the Jews. They demanded, for instance, that rabbis be obliged to acquire a knowledge of spoken and written Polish, and that they should not be appointed by the leaders of the community, as this constituted discrimination of the poor, who did not have the right to vote.
Resident in P from 1815 to 1840 was Dr. Philip (Feivel) Lubelski. He had served in Napoleon's army and been wounded at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, and at the time of the Polish revolt in 1830 was a military doctor with the insurgents. During the cholera epidemic in P of 1831 he was active in tending the sick. Dr. Lubelski was highly decorated by the rebel government, and in later life was awarded a pension by the French government. Another learned Jew, Dr. Sigmunt Farkal, was a doctor in P in the 1830s, and served as chairman of the regional medical association. Another name worthy of note was that of Yitshak Hacohen Neschelseker, renowned for his knowledge of philosophy and European languages. The years 1861-1862 were marked by pride in Polish nationalism, which, among other things, was reflected by the existence in Warsaw of the Fraternity of Poles and Jews. In P also there were signs of a rapprochement between Jews and Poles, the proponents of such a fraternity being the educated members of the community; and in this period the Jewish merchants were accepted as members of the Christian Chamber of Commerce.
After the abrogation of restrictions on Jewish residence by the Tsar's decree of June 1862 Jews also participated in the municipal elections of that year. Two Jews - Shmuel Hirsch Levinson and Shmaryahu Olshwitz - were elected, and under them were 5 Jewish assistants.
During the revolt of 1863 the insurgents failed to occupy P and the Russian garrison wreaked its revenge on the inhabitants of the town. The soldiers broke into houses, arrested and beat up people and even resorted to pillage. Many Jews were attacked. Some Jewish youths who had taken part in the revolt, or who had aided the rebels, were put on trial and imprisoned, while others were sent to Siberia.
The second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th witnessed an increase in the Jewish population of P, despite the fact that in the 1890s some hundreds of Jewish families left for overseas.
The attraction of P for Jewish settlers was due to the fact that it was a central point in the grain trade with Danzig, in which 30% of the Jewish merchants in P were engaged. The same branch provided employment for various brokers, servants and day-labourers. In the 1880s, however, there was a recession, mainly because of the customs war between Prussia and Russia. Another negative consequence was the attempt of the credit institution of the Polish landowners to oust the Jews from the grain trade. This organisation displayed great activity in the period under review. To fight the crisis and the resulting hardship, the Jewish merchants took the initiative in setting up two institutions in common with the Poles. One was the Zgora (of the cooperative for food distribution and credit) established in 1870; and the second was the Urban Credit Institution of Plotsk. The majority of members and leaders of these organisations were Jews.
According to the census of 1897 656 Jewish families earned their living from trade - 196 of them from agricultural produce, 101 from weaving and clothing, while the remainder were food retailers, ironmongers and haberdashers. Most of them dealt in whatever came to hand - they were market stallholders or took their wares to the surrounding villages. 294 Jewish earners were described as house owners or capitalists. 660 owners of firms or workshops and 393 servants and day-labourers lived from crafts or small industry. Two factories for agricultural machinery established in P belonged to the Jews Margolit and Sarneh. 36 Jews were engaged in transport (carters, porters, and the like).
In addition to the various production activities in P there were 33 religious functions, 52 teachers, 16 doctors and healers, and 3 government clerks. 19 heads of families defined themselves as farmers (apparently having kitchen gardens or orchards, and among them perhaps some who had returned to P from the settlement at Kuchary). The category poor consisted of 288 families (25 of whom obtained money from charity, and 263 who were unemployed, miscellaneous workers, and others).
The economic and social position of the Jews of P at the end of the 19th century may be gauged from the list of taxpayers to the Jewish community. For example, in 1901 the number of families registered with the community was 1,338. Of these 438 were completely exempt from tax, as they were unable to contribute anything at all; 521 families paid a mere average of 1.67 roubles a year; while 225 families paid an average of 8 roubles a year, and 35 families together paid 3,474 roubles out of a total of 8,761 roubles, which was the sum required by the community in that year.
We may conclude from these figures that a third of the Jewish inhabitants of P were destitute; another 40% paid minimal taxes only, and were thus ineligible to vote in elections to the community institutions, i.e. did not possess the minimum capital required. This fact was clearly reflected in election to the community's governing body from among the small circle of persons of standing.
It should at the same time be noted that the more affluent members were active in community affairs and contributed to the setting up of public and social welfare institutions. In 1866 construction was begun on the new synagogue (called the Great), which was completed some years later, thanks to such contributions. In 1870 the corner-stone was laid for a modern hospital, which received patients two years later. The old-age home was opened in 1891, as was a shelter for poor young girls. Together with all these institutions the charity organisations continued to function, again thanks to philanhropic contributions.
In 1863 Azriel Aryeh Leib Rakowski was appointed rabbi of the community. He was a mitnaged and, moreover, had a modern education, and was therefore harrassed by the Chasidim - to such an extent that in 1867 he was obliged to abandon office. A year later, however, he was invited to return, and he then continued in office until 1880. From 1892 to 1909 the rabbinate was occupied by Yehezkiel Lifschits. After the First World War Rabbi Lifschits was elected chairman of the Rabbinical Association of Poland. Towards the end of the century and the beginning of the next the number of Chasidim in P increased; they were concentrated mainly around the prayer-houses of Gora, Aleksandrow, Starikow, etc. Yet at the same time modern education and culture began to gain ground. Before 1865 only 10 Jewish pupils (from well-to-do families) attended the Christian school in the town; the majority of Jewish children went to cheder, or had private teachers. In 1865, upon the recommendation of the authorities, the first secular Jewish school was opened in P. The curriculum included not only Jewish religious subjects but also foreign languages, arithmetic and handwriting. Owing to the small number of pupils the school was closed in 1871. However, in 1888, at the behest of the authorities and financed by the Jewish community, an elementary school of one class was opened for the Jewish children. Their education lasted 3 years; there were 3 teachers; and about a 100 pupils. In 1868 a Talmud Torah had been opened, and under the influence of persons with a modern education, secular subjects were introduced at the end of the 90s, and even handicrafts (mechanics, etc.) were added. In 1903 a reformed cheder was opened, where Hebrew lessons were conducted in Hebrew.
In addition to these educational institutions P also possessed a few private elementary schools. Their language of instruction was Russian, but they also provided some lessons in Judaism. To facilitate the admission of Jewish pupils to the three gymnasia in P the community committee gave an annual grant. Thus in 1891 there were 40 Jewish pupils at the Reali Gymnasium; while at the Gymnasium for girls there was but one pupil. In 1878/79 the local Gymnasium for Humaniora had 13 Jewish pupils (mainly from the rural towns; one of the pupils was Yitschak Grünbaum). Shortly before the First World War a Yeshiva was opened in P; it soon became well-known, and pupils streamed to it even from distant places.
The first Jewish Public Library in P was established in 1896, on the initiative of members of the Zionist organisation Mazkeret Shmuel (In Memory of Samuel). The moving spirit was Y. Grünbaum, who also presented the library with books from his private collection and from the library Hochma Utoshiya (Wisdom and Understanding), founded by his father some years previously. In 1907, when the Hazamir (NIghtingale) organisation (to further music and knowledge of music) was formed, it took upon itself the administration of the library, which thereafter assumed the name of the Hazamir Library. Its considerable collection of books was preserved until the Second World War.
Widespread cultural activity was shown by the Tikvat Yisrael Society, established in 1900. It gave courses in Jewish history and Hebrew literature. The period under review was marked by an awakened political consciousness among the Jews of P. In 1891 the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) Society was founded and embraced some 200 members (most of them former pupils of the Bet Midrash, graduates of the Gymnasia, and young people from the first wave of maskilim (see Notes at end) in P). From Hovevei Zion emerged too the organisation Mazkeret Shmuel, mentioned above. In 1904 the local branch of Socialist Zionists (SZ) was established, following the advent in 1900 of a branch of the Bund. These two bodies organised the demonstrations and strikes that took place at the time of the revolutionary events of 1905; and prominent among the participants were several P. Jews who were members of the Polish Socialist Party (PSP). Foremost among them was Yosef Kwiatek, known throughout Poland as one of the leaders of the Polish socialist movement. Kwiatek moved from his birthplace to Warsaw, where he played a leading role in the mass demonstration of workers in Gazibowski Square in 1904. In this demonstration. following bloodshed, the Tsarist police were forced to withdraw. For his revolutionary activity Kwiatek was arrested by the Tsarist police on numerous occasions and even exiled to Siberia. After the schism in the PSP in 1906, he joined the nationalist faction of Josef Pilsudski, aiding him in Cracow in the organisation of the legions that played an important part in the restoration of Polish independence in 1918. During the two world wars a street in P was named after Kwiatek.
Among natives or long-time residents of P worthy of note were two names already mentioned here, namely Nahum Sokolow, who studied in P in his youth, and Yitshak Grünbaum, whose Zionist activities continued for some 20 years. The writer, educator and literary critic, Avraham Yaakov Papyrne, taught Judaism at the State gymnasium, and for a time was head of the Talmud Torah and Government Inspector of the cheders. Papirne wrote schoolbooks on Hebrew, Hebrew Grammar, and Russian. He left P in 1915 and went first to Bobroysk and from there to Odessa, where he died in 1918. At the end of the 19th century, a native of P, Aharon ben Moshe Kanstam, was a known educationalist and a pioneer of modern Jewish pedagogics. He continued his activities in Lodz and Peterburg, and in Grodno, where he was head of the Hebrew Teachers' Training College.
In the wake of the German conquest of P in 1915 the Jewish community experienced a period of development in public, social and cultural affairs. The branches of the political parties that had had a semi-legal status under the Tsarist regime were now accorded legal status by the German authorities. The Zionist bodies increased their organisational and information activity. In 1915 came the Agudat Hatsofim (Scouts Association), from which Hashomer Hatsair (The Young Watchman) emerged in 1919.
The local branch of the Bund also emerged from the underground and opened the Zukunft (Future) Club, which included a drama group. Active locally and after the war also in the national movement was the writer Pinchas Schwartz (Krok). In 1917, on the initiative of the Zionists and of the town's rabbi, Yona Mordechai Zlotnik, a Jewish Gymnasium was opened with 7 classes and even pre-gymnasial classes. The language of instruction was Polish for general subjects and Hebrew for Jewish ones (Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish History). At about the same time a Hebrew kindergarten was started and survived until 1921, when it closed due to budgetary problems.During the First World War members of the Mizrahi in P established a few cheders on the pattern of the Cheder Metukan , one of which continued to exist until 1939. In 1915 the Zionist Society inaugurated Hebrew lessons in the Hazamir Library, and in the same year the Maccabi Sports Club was established, with sections for sport and gymnastics. From the beginning the club attracted dozens of Jewish youth. Party members were active in setting up peoples' kitchens, providing food and heating for the poor, whose suffering was accentuated by the war.
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