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Translation of "Wloszczowa" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Our appreciation to Sandy Zimmerman, who allowed us to publish
the translations which were done by Shalom Bronstein for her private use.
This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 180-183, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Subdistrict of Wloszczowa, Kielce District)
Wloszczowa received the rights of a city and permission to hold two annual fairs in 1539. In a few years time, three more fairs were added. In 1648-1649, bands of Cossacks under the leadership of Chmielnicki invaded causing death and destruction among the population and its possessions. Immediately afterwards in 1656, came the Swedes who sowed devastation and ruin. For the next 150 years, the city remained partially in ruins and only in the beginning of the 19th century did growth in the economy and population resume. During the time of the Kingdom of Congress Poland, new houses were built in Wloszczowa and some small industry was established - two flourmills, a sawmill, and an oil press. After the suppression of the Polish uprising in 1863, the Russian government kept a military garrison in Wloszczowa. The need to supply the army with increased goods and services helped greatly to stimulate local economic growth. In World War I in 1915, the Germans captured Wloszczowa remaining until their withdrawal in 1918.
Jews are first mentioned in a document dealing with the rental of the local whisky distillery from the beginning of the 17th century. We do not know if they were permanent residents of the city. Only in the 19th century did the Jewish community of Wloszczowa really develop and by the middle of the century, Jews made up some two thirds of the population. Their sources of income were petty trade and skilled crafts, especially on market days and fair days. Jews also owned the flourmills in the town.
Around 1860 the Jewish community in Wloszczowa was established and built the synagogue. In a few years, a Talmud Torah [school] and several charitable organizations also came into being.
Among the rabbis of Wloszczowa known to us by name are R. Reuven Hakohen (the rabbi of he Admor R. Shlomo of Radomsk, the author of Tiferet Shlomo [The Glory of Shlomo]. At the same time, the father of the Rabbi of Radomsk, R. Dov Zvi was also active in the city. Afterwards, R. Shmuel Zvi, a Hasid of R. Issachar Dov of Radoszyce, served the community. In 1890, R. Avraham Aharon Halevi was the rabbi; R. Shimon Eidless followed him.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the fist group of young Zionists organized. They were principally occupied with raising money for the Jewish National Fund and in studying Hebrew. The Zionists organized a branch of "Poalei Zion," while the non-Zionist Jewish workers established a branch of the Bund. After the revolution of 1905-1906, the [Russian] government prohibited all political activity and these groups disbanded. In 1912, the government even barred the Jews from opening a public library. In 1915, after the German occupying force annulled the previous restrictions on political activity, the Zionists and the Bund resumed functioning. A vigorous cultural life developed among the town's Jews - evening instruction in Hebrew and on the history of the Jewish people, lectures, and cultural parties. Two Zionist sports groups also were established - Maccabi and Hapoel.
In 1918, the armies of the Polish general Haller passed through Wloszczowa taking revenge among the Jews. In response, the young Jews organized for self-defense and positioned themselves against the rioters. The bloc of young Jews in the Sejm raised a question on the issue with the Interior Minister. However, the Polish government objected and for some months refrained from taking any action to end the violent disturbances.
When the rule of government in independent Poland stabilized, the Jews began to reconstruct their enterprises. In 1923, there were 364 workshops and small factories in Wloszczowa in Jewish hands; in 60% of them, there were hired employees, for the most part Jews. Others were family businesses and their premises also served as the family's living quarters. The main products produced were textiles and other items, building materials, food and cleaning supplies. Most of the Jews continued in small businesses or in peddling among the villages. Some leased forests and were involved in the lumber trade. At the time, there were many unemployed Jews and the others had difficulty making a living. To help them, several organizations were established to provide mutual aid including credit institutions. Between the years 1925-1928, three Jewish banks providing credit on easy terms were opened in the town. The treasury of the Free Loan Society was reorganized and lent small sums with no interest to owners of businesses. The sum loaned was in excess of 50,000 zloty. Among those receiving loans were owners of small shops (tailors, carpenters, shoemakers, butchers, etc.), 15 grocery store owners, 10 clothing stores, 10 other storeowners, 51 operators of stands in the marketplace and peddlers. Also, the long standing shelter society and the society for visiting the sick renewed their activity at this time. In addition, organizations of craftsmen and of small business operators began free loan societies. These organizations helped its members to get the proper government work permits and represented them before the authorities.
In spite of the growing economic crisis, this period was marked with increased political and Zionist involvement activity as well as a vigorous cultural life. Among the Zionist parties active in the city were the General Zionists, Poalei Zion, Mizrahi and the Revisionists; the Hashomer Hatzair (the local branch started to organize in 1917 and in 1929 had some 150 members), Betar (at the end of the 1920s and in 1929 numbered dozens of members), a branch of Hehalutz was organized in 1924. Alongside was also a branch of Hehalutz Hatzair [the Young Pioneer]. The members of Hehalutz had a training farm in the rural area adjacent to Wloszczowa. In 1925, the first group of trainees from the training farm settled in Eretz Yisrael. In the 30s, a branch of Hehalutz Hamizrahi was also established. The old Maccabi and Hapoel sports organizations revived their activities - Maccabi numbers some 50 participants, while Hapoel had some 30.
Zionists made up the majority of the Jewish community and they directed its leadership. However, the city also had active branches of Agudath Israel and of the Bund. In 1933, R. Hayim Asher Finkler, the Admor of Radoszyce, was appointed rabbi of the city, although he maintained his residence in Radoszyce and only came to Wloszczowa occasionally. R. Finkler perished in the Holocaust although he was able to survive almost until the end of the war.
Many of the children at this time also learned in private hedarim as well as in the town's Talmud Torah. In 1925, Agudath Israel activists established a local school of the network of Beth Jacob School for Girls. The Zionists, on their part, attempted to open a school of the Tarbut network in Wloszczowa. Although it was opened, it had to close after a short time, as the parents could not afford to pay the tuition.
In the 20s as well as the 30s the Jews, for the most part, held half of the city council seats - 6 out of the 12. Only in 1938, after the government devised various schemes to reduce the power of the Jews, were only 2 Jews elected to the council.
The growing anti-Semitism in Poland in the 30s also manifested itself in Wloszczowa. Jews were exposed to a growing economic boycott and many were forced to close their stores and their stalls in the marketplace. Along with this, the number of needy requiring assistance of all kinds grew. In 1935, 200 Jews received assistance from the treasury of the Jewish community.
In the first week of September 1939, Wloszczowa fell into German hands. A fair number of Jews fled immediately with the outbreak of the war eastward, to the Soviet occupation zone. But, thereafter, many returned to Wloszczowa.
Already, in the first days of their conquest, the Germans would seize Jews for forced labor. Frequently, they would abuse Jews and plunder their homes and stores. At the time that fines and edicts were enacted against the Jews, their stores were confiscated, their freedom of movement restricted and they were required to wear a distinguishing mark. According to the German administrative division of October 1939, Wloszczowa was included in the Radom District of the General Government.
It appears that the Judenrat of Wloszczowa was established in the fist weeks of the German occupation. Most of its members were appointed from among the members of the last community council. The head of the community, Landau was at its head. Along with the Judenrat, a Jewish police force was created. One of the first orders the Judenrat received, apparently still in October 1939, was to prepare a census of all the Jews of Wloszczowa in order to list them for forced labor.
Wloszczowa did not suffer any damage from battles and already in September Jewish refugees from the surrounding areas, whose homes were destroyed, flowed in. In the end of September and the beginning of October, the Germans transferred 300 Jews from Mezokaszony and from Maciejowice (cf.), towns that were badly damaged in the bombing. In the end of 1939, hundreds more, expelled from Lodz, as well as 200 Jews from Poznan, and in February 1940, 440 more Jews arrived from Wloclawek, exhausted, sick and lacking everything. The Judenrat sent 275 of them to Kurzelov (cf.) and the rest were sent to two nearby villages, Kloczevsko and Bromiez. On March 10, 1940, there were 1,455 Jewish refugees in Wloszczowa and vicinity. A year later, the number grew to 1,538 and in April 1942, there were 4,277 Jews in Wloszczowa and vicinity, of whom 1,654 were refugees.
In the end of 1939, the typhus plague spread among the refugees. In the end of January 1940, the German rulers required the Judenrat to establish within two days a hospital for those stricken. The Jewish workers kept to the time allotted and renovated the building set aside for this purpose. Within 24 hours, the workers readied 25 beds and 25 blankets. Local Jews donated bed linens and clothing for the ill and on 27 January, the hospital opened. The welfare department [of the Judenrat] covered the cost of the hospitalization for most of the patients. A Jewish clinic that functioned until 1942 also opened. By the end of 1940, all the Jews of Wloszczowa, more than 2,000 in number, were vaccinated against typhus.
The welfare department of the Judenrat did a great deal to help the refugees, most of whom arrived with nothing. People of the department collected money, food, clothing and other items from local Jews. The first 300 refugees, who arrived in the fall of 1939, did receive help. Within a few days, all of them were housed with Jewish residents and a public kitchen was established for them. At the end of 1939 or the beginning of 1940, with the arrival of masses of refugees from Lodz and other locations, a second public kitchen was opened. For the purposes of saving money, the two kitchens were combined and from April 1940, the merged kitchen supplied the refugees with more than 700 meals per day. The kitchen continued to operate, with some short interruptions, at least until March 1942. In the months of January and February 1940, 250 refugee families received 150,000 kilos of coal for heating.
Several Jewish organizations responding to the appeal of the Judenrat helped the welfare department. In the beginning of January 1940, the Joint Center in Warsaw sent 2,500 zloty and a shipment of clothing. The health organization, T"AZ sent medications. On 19 April 1940, the Joint sent another 8,000 zloty to Wloszczowa. From time to time, they received other small sums of money from this organization. For the Pesah holiday of 5700 (1940), the Joint sent Wloszczowa 2,580 kilos of matzah; in the second half of 1940, the Joint sent Wloszczowa 1,000 kilo of flour and some other food supplies. However, when the Warsaw Ghetto was established, help from these organizations ceased. During the years 1941-1942, the Jews of Wloszczowa received assistance from the YSS organization (Jewish Self Help) in Krakow. The local Jews also contributed from time to time money to help the refugees through the welfare department. The amount of these contributions totaled 8,500 zloty. With these funds, the Judenrat was able to buy for the 595 needy refugee families 11,182 kilograms of potatoes, 1,483 kilograms of beets, 909 kilograms of onions, 50 kilograms of meat, 5,416 eggs and 21 kilograms of soap.
Also, in Kurzelov, where hundreds of refugees who came to Wloszczowa from Wlocawek were relocated, the welfare department opened a public kitchen that served about 300 meals a day to the refugees. Until the end of 1940, 15,000 kilograms of potatoes, 3,052 kilograms of bread, 2,430 kilograms of flour and 836 kilograms of beans were sent to the Wlocawek refugees in the two villages.
On 10 July 1940, the Jews of Wloszczowa along with the refugees who were with them were transferred to the ghetto. To this impoverished and small area of the town, more than 4,000 Jews were jammed in incredibly crowded conditions. The conditions of the Jews of Wloszczowa and the refugees among them worsened with their transferal to the ghetto. German gendarmes roamed the streets of the ghetto and abused its inhabitants. Noted for his cruelty was a Volksdeutsch from Lodz by the name of Yelek, who murdered Jews for his enjoyment. The residents of the ghetto were left with no resources to maintain themselves as the Germans confiscated most of their property. Even those who previously contributed to sustain the refugees now were numbered among the needy. In February 1942, 2,100 Jews required aid.
The welfare department also cared for the hundreds of Jews who were sent to forced labor camps outside of Wloszczowa. In 1940, the department sent on average every day 15-20 food packages to those in the work camps. The cost of these deliveries came to 10,000 zloty in the period of six weeks. The responsibility for Jews showing up for work was put on the Jewish police. Any time a Jew did not show up on his own, the Germans would seize a Jewish policeman in his place. The well to do could free themselves from this obligation by contributing a payoff to the Judenrat treasury and in their place they would enlist someone without means or a refugee. With time, the Germans increased the quota of those compelled to report for labor. In February 1942, all the able-bodied Jews were required to report for work in Wloszczowa or one of the camps outside of Wloszczowa. In the summer of 1942, two groups from Wloszczowa were sent to the forced labor camp at Skarzysko Kamienna - the first one numbered 150 people.
The Wloszczowa ghetto was liquidated in September 1942. First, a group of Gestapo men came to Wloszczowa and in a few days, apparently 19 September (two days before Yom Kippur), the Germans assembled all the Jews of Wloszczowa in the city square. In the square, 250 people were separated from them - for labor and the members of the Judenrat and their families. All the others, some 5,000 in number, were marched to the train station. After a short time, after the group of Jews who was chosen to remain in Wloszczowa dispersed, the Gestapo members returned and seized arbitrarily another 70 Jews and attached them to the transport. All were sent to Treblinka.
For the 180 Jews who remained in Wloszczowa, most of them men, a small forced labor camp was established and they were required to clean the ghetto. In the fall of 1942 some young men from Wloszczowa who managed to escape from Treblinka, arrived at the work camp - among them was Shaya Semel. They told them the truth about what went on in the Extermination Camps, but not a single one believed their words. In December 1942, the Germans liquidated the remaining Jews of Wloszczowa.
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