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Translation of Jędrzejów chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Jędrzejów chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Originally published in the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal,
Vol. 7, No. 1 (Winter 2003)
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 259-262, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Jędrzejów is one of the most ancient settled places in Poland. It was established upon the lands of the village of Berzerzinka, a gift of the brothers Janisław and Klement Grichim, bearers of important positions in the church in the Cistercian order. The monks of this order were brought to Poland from Burgundy and were known for their contribution to the development of agriculture, construction, fishing and other areas. In 1149, a monastery was built there and a town grew up around it, which increased and developed quickly. In 1271, Bolesław the Humble, the king of Poland, granted the settlement the status of a city, and at about the same time the name was changed to Jędrzejów. In 1510, a great fire broke out in Jędrzejów which destroyed the vast majority of the town. In the wake of the catastrophe, the inhabitants appealed to the king of Poland, Zygmunt the First, and requested that he reaffirm the rights of the city of Jędrzejów and grant it privileges to ease its reconstruction. The king granted their request, and soon a wave of development was felt in the town and the local population grew. During the 16th and 17th centuries, several important conventions of the Polish nobility took place in Jędrzejów. Over time, Jędrzejów became a commercial and manufacturing center for the region. During the 18th century, there were 20 cobblers' workshops there, 10 hatters' workshops, and dozens of workshops for other artisans. During that same century, silk production developed there and during the 19th century the manufacture of various textiles developed there as well.
In 1815, as a result of the decisions of the Congress of Vienna, Jędrzejów was included in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, which was under Russian rule. In 1817, the Cistercian monks' ownership of the monastery and the city was revoked and the Czarist government of Russia was recognized as the owner of the city. In 1885, a railway station was built in Jędrzejów, and an agricultural implement factory, a foundry, a brewery, two sawmills and a steam driven flour mill were established there. In large areas around the city, tobacco and fruit orchards were cultivated, and bee-keeping also developed.
In this period, a teachers' seminar was established in Jędrzejów, which was known throughout Congress Poland.
The city continued to develop during the years between the two world wars as well.
On September 4th, 1939, Jędrzejów was conquered by the German army. The Germans expelled part of the Polish population from the city, liquidated the Jewish habitation that had existed there and destroyed its economic infrastructure.
The first rabbi in Jędrzejów was Rabbi Natan, the son-in-law of the Chassidic Admor Rabbi Mosze HaKohen of Warsaw. After him Rabbi Yerachmiel Yeshaya Mincberg (The Rabbi of Luków) and Rabbi Aharon Wajnberg (towards the end of the 19th century).
The Jewish merchants and manufacturers made a significant contribution to the development of the city. Wholesale merchants conducted business with large cities in Russia as well as in other countries. Thus, for example, documents of the time mention the export of eggs and sugar to Germany.
Gersztajn, the community leader, owned a large manufacturing plant for processing copper parts and accessories, which were used in the local sugar factories and brandy distilleries. Twenty-five laborers worked in this plant. Gersztajn also owned a fired brick factory and stone quarries in which mainly Polish laborers worked. Other Jewish entrepreneurs founded flour mills, saw mills, breweries for beer and a small factory that produced oil in Jędrzejów. The first tailor in the community was G. Hersz, and the first carpenters were the Brajtbort brothers. Besides them there were also bakers, glaziers, medics, cobblers and other artisans among the Jews of Jędrzejów. Several Jews functioned as agents (factors) of the large property owners near Jędrzejów and managed the acquisitions and exports of the estates. By the end of the 19th century, most of the Jews of the city were already established and their businesses flourished; they bought property and built homes in the city.
The economic success drew additional Jews to Jędrzejów, the community grew and lively public Jewish life developed there. In 1902-3 the first Zionist group that was associated, ideologically, with the Odessa Committee, which emphasized settling in the Land of Israel was active in Jędrzejów.
Jews were also active in the socialist camp. During the 1905 revolution the city was caught up in tremendous activity, and socialist parties and movements were organized among the Jews as well: the Bund, a Jewish sector of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), the party of the Socialist Zionists (ZS) and the new Zionist-Socialist party led by Dov Ber Borochov (Di Yidishe Socialistishe Democratishe Partei), which had already established its branch in Jędrzejów in 1906.
The activists from the Zionist and socialist movements also encouraged cultural life in the community. In 1909, the first public library was founded in Jędrzejów. The library quickly became a center for all of the social-political and cultural activity of the Jewish youth in Jędrzejów.
In 1915, during World War I, Jędrzejów fell into the hands of the Austrians. At first, the conquerers forbade any social, cultural or political activity and the library closed. In 1916, the restrictions on the cultural and social activities of the inhabitants were removed and the library also reopened. A drama circle was established in conjunction with the library, and the income from its performances was dedicated to developing the library, and there was also a special appeal made for the same purpose. According to the instructions of the Austrian occupation forces, elections were held for the community committee. The Austrians divided the inhabitants into three groups of income merchants, artisans, and clerks and those in the free professions. Each one of these groups sent representatives to a body that was appointed to prepare the voter lists and to present the lists of the voters and the candidates to the authorities. The community prepared for the elections, but in the meantime the war ended, the Austrians retreated and Jędrzejów returned to Polish hands.
In the first months after the renewal of Polish rule there was anarchy in Jędrzejów, and the Jews suffered from it more than anyone else. At the end of November 1918, Polish anti-Semites attacked the Jewish inhabitants of the city. In response, Jewish self-defense organized in the city that succeeded in putting an end to the riots. The anti-Semitic activists did not give up and attempted to hurt the Jews in other ways. They began a vigorous campaign and called for an economic boycott against the Jews, but at that point they were not yet successful, since the farmers of the area remained loyal to the Jewish merchants.
In 1920, a bank of Jewish merchants and artisans was founded in Jędrzejów. The Polish cooperative institutions that were established at this time to aid the Polish merchants and artisans constituted serious competition for the Jewish merchants and artisans. The Jews of Jędrzejów decided to imitate their competitors and in 1925, a Jewish Cooperative Bank was established in Jędrzejów which served the entire public, from the merchants to the large and small artisans. Every Jew was able to get a loan from the bank on easy terms in order to create a source of income for himself.
The boycott campaign of the anti-Semites and the anti-Semitic policies of the Polish government in the areas of the economy, as well as the heavy taxes that they levied upon the Jews, destabilized their economic situation. Many of the Jews of Jędrzejów then sought ways to immigrate to countries overseas. In the 1930s, the economic situation worsened even more, but the opportunities of emigration and moving to the Land of Israel grew continually smaller.
In this period, polarization grew among the members of the community. The struggle was mainly between the supporters of Agudat Yisra'el and the Zionists. The battle became so fierce that the two camps did not shy away from any means, including informing to the authorities and provoking violence. In 1924, a private fight in Jędrzejów turned into a bitter public struggle with political overtones. During a party that some young people, members of Agudat Yisra'el, were holding in their shtibl, they got drunk and their shouts disturbed the neighbors. The sons of a feather merchant who lived nearby attempted to calm the drunkards, but they were beaten. Those involved in the fight used improvised weapons from whatever came to hand and a 15 year old youth, one of the Aguda members, was injured and later died of his injuries. The Aguda newspaper, Der Yid, headed the article that it published The Zionists murdered an Aguda youth in Jędrzejów because of election campaigning. This episode made the Polish anti-Semites very happy, and venomously mocking articles appeared in the Polish press decrying the Jews. The rumours spread all over Poland and served as incitement material in the hands of the rival camps. The entire Jewish public split into factions. The Zionist institutions came out with a sharp condemnation of the plot and the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Yechiel Yeshaya Wajnberg, sent a vigorous denial to the Jewish newspapers Der Tag and Moment, and published the accurate story of what had happened. However, the protests, the denials and the counter-denials continued for many days, and even after it was clear that the plot was far from the facts, it continued to bubble for years and arouse hatred between the Aguda people and the Zionists in the community.
In the elections to the community committee that were held in 1920, Agudat Yisra'el made great efforts to preserve its premier standing in the community; its campaign publications included pieces such as The Zionists and the Mizrachi want to turn the Study Halls into Theaters, or The Torah forbids voting for Zionist Criminals. However, the results of the elections proved that Agudat Yisra'el had lost its birthright. The lists of the Zionists and the Mizrachi together received 7 seats on the committee and Agudat Yisra'el received just 5. The representatives of the Jewish artisans did not define themselves politically, which led to an unclear situation. In the elections in November 1932, the rule in the community institutions moved finally into the hands of the Zionists. The national-Zionist bloc, which was made up of the Zionist parties, the Zionist artisans and the Mizrachi received 5 seats and Agudat Yisra'el received just 3. The Mizrachi representative, I. Ickowicz, was elected to the position of community leader. The Polish authorities confirmed the results of the community elections and the community was lead by the Zionist bloc until the outbreak of World War II.
Zionist activity in Jędrzejów had grown stronger even before the Zionists were elected to the community committee. In 1931, a convention of all the members of the Zionist movement in the Kielce district was held in Jędrzejów.
In the elections to the 16th Zionist Congress (in 1929), the Al HaMishmar list received 23 votes, Et Livnot 38 votes, HaMizrachi 176, the Revisionists 12, and the Hit'achdut 5 votes. As a result of these elections, a branch of the Torah vaAvodah [Torah and Labor] movement was founded in the city, as well as the association of the Religious Zionist Artisans. These Religious-Zionist organizations, together with the other Zionist organizations in the city, developed a broad range of Zionist action in the areas of Hebrew culture, and held appeals for the Jewish National Fund. The Zionists put special emphasis on pioneer training and moving to the Land of Israel. The training sessions were organized by the pioneer youth movements that were active in Jędrzejów Hashomer HaTza'ir, HeChalutz, HeChalutz Hatza'ir, HaNo'ar HaTzioni, Tzi'irei Mizrachi and Hashomer Hadati. In 1934, a branch of Beitar was established in Jędrzejów.
In the early 1920s, a Hebrew school of the Yavneh chain opened in Jędrzejów. During this period a Jewish library also operated in the community named for A.N. Jawec [Yavetz].
The rabbi of the community at this time was Rabbi Yechiel Yeshaya Wajnberg, the son of Rabbi Aharon Wajnberg. He perished in the Shoah. There was a Chassidic Admor in Jędrzejów as well, Rabbi Itzak Shlomo Szapira, son of Rabbi Shalom of Przytyk (The Rebbe of Sobków).
In February 1940, the Germans demanded the establishment of a Judenrat [Jewish Council] in Jędrzejów. Tajtlbaum was appointed chairman of the Judenrat, and Kasinski and Kamerat were members of it. The Judenrat was a mediating body between the institutions of the German authority and the local Jewish population as well as that of the entire area. In June 1940, the governor of Jędrzejów district published a decree regarding the establishment of a ghetto open to the Jews of the city. Every day Jews were kidnapped from the ghetto for forced labor, and as part of this they were humiliated, beaten and even shot. In December 1940, a decree was published that required all of the Jews who had beards to shave them off in order to preserve their health (in the words of the decree). That same month the Germans confiscated warm clothing and furs from the Jews. The life in the ghetto became more difficult from day to day and it became more and more crowded after Jews from the surrounding cities were also brought there. Hunger, cold and disease reigned in the ghetto. At the beginning it was still possible to leave the ghetto to obtain food, and aid was received from Jews abroad, and especially from the Joint Distribution Committee. But in March 1942, the ghetto was closed and surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and the commerce with the non-Jewish inhabitants was forbidden and came to a halt. Within the ghetto the hunger grew stronger and the mortality rates were very high.
In May 1942, the Germans demanded from the Judenrat a list of Jews who were active in the left-wing parties, their friends and relatives. The Judenrat handed over a list with 16 names. After a few days, the head of the Judenrat and his family members, some other Judenrat members and the 16 people whose names appeared on the list were arrested. They were all sent to Kielce (cf.) and from there to Auschwitz.
In August 1942, Jews from the surrounding countryside were brought into the Jędrzejów ghetto and the crowding reached its peak. The Jewish police, which had been established back in July 1941 on the command of the German governor, received strict instructions to preserve order.
On September 15th, 1942, S.S. and German policemen surrounded the ghetto along with Ukrainian policemen. They conducted searches in the houses and the inhabitants of the ghetto were commanded to report the following day at 8 a.m. in the market square in the ghetto. At the appointed hour most of the Jews gathered in the square; the Germans repeated their search of the houses; those who were not capable of coming out were shot on the spot. From among those gathered the Germans removed 250 who had the required professions and gave them special documents. Among them were three members of the Judenrat and 25 members of the Jewish police and their families. These people were separated from the rest of the Jews and allowed to remain in the ghetto. The remainder, numbering 4,556, were marched to the train station and crammed into freight cars, in terrible crowding and under threats, beatings, humiliations and torture. No one knew where they were being sent. On September 17th, 1942, the trains arrived at Treblinka. As soon as they arrived, the women were separated from the men and put into the gas chambers first, when the murder of the women was finished, the men were also put in there, except 50 men who were taken to sort the possessions of those murdered.
In the Jędrzejów ghetto, a group of Jewish laborers remained, which numbered 230 people. They were housed in small homes and the area was fenced in with barbed wire. This place was given the name the Small Ghetto. After about a year, on September 2nd, 1943, the Small Ghetto was surrounded by the S.S. and German policemen and Ukrainian policemen. The Jews were led to the market square, but without their belongings. In the square, their oppressors abused them, beating many of them, and 62 people were shot there. The rest were sent on the same day to the labor camp at Skarzysko-Kamienna (cf.). The workers from Jędrzejów were nearly all employed in the munitions factory.
Of the 4,500 Jews of Jędrzejów before the war, only 80 survivors remained at its end 57 who survived in the labor camps; 11 who hid in hiding places; and 12 who escaped to the Soviet Union and who returned after the war.
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