[Page 11 Hebrew] [Page 29 Yiddish]
by Jeszayahu TRUNK, New York
Translated from Hebrew by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz
I dedicate this work about the community of my birthplace, Kutno, from its beginning to its destruction, to the memory of my mother Frymet, my sisters Prywa and Dobrusz, her infant daughter Lealeh, my brothers-in-law Ber and Dow, who were in the Warsaw ghetto and were slaughtered by the Nazi murderers. Also to my brother Izrael Jehoszua whose life ended in a soviet concentration camp.
May God take revenge!
When did Jews settle in Kutno? This question is connected to a more general one: when and where did Jews settle at all in Mazowia?
From the sources available to us it is not possible to extract information concerning the beginning of Jewish settlement in this province. It is reasonable to merely assume that Jews arrived there from the surrounding Polish areas, that is greater Poland and Kujawia, and later also from lesser Poland, Silesia and areas under the rule of the German crusaders.
The most ancient documentation of the presence of Jews in Mazowia dates from 1237 and concerns Jews from Plock. Following this, there is a gap of about two hundred years, until the year 1413 when the name of a Jew from Czersk (near Warsaw) appears in one of the documents.
The political and economic situation in Mazowia during the 13th and 14th centuries was not at all ideal for absorbing many Jewish outsiders, since then they were mainly occupied in trade and finance, and they could only make a living in relatively developed places, enjoying political stability conditions such as these were not prevalent in Mazowia.
Only at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th, during the reigns of Prince Janusz I and Siemowit IV, when ties with the kingdom of Poland were strengthened, did a lasting peace prevail in this area and the grand duchy rose up out of its two hundred year long slump. It is possible, therefore, to assume that Jews started to settle in Mazowia during the second half of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th. And so, in very old documents from law courts in Mazowia from the early part of the 15th century, we come across mention of Jewish communities. In Czersk as noted previously, the oldest source material is dated 1413; Warsaw 1414; Wyszogrod 1422; Płock 1425; Plonsk 1446; Zakroczym 1449; Rawa Mazowiecka 1448; Sochaczew 1443; Błonie 1478; Pułtusk 1420; Ciechanów 1488; and Gostynin. Of course, these years are not associated with the early settlement of Jews in such places, since most of the dates refer to a single event.
From this list of towns it can be seen that the Jews settled mainly in the southern and western parts of Mazowia, while in the north and east which were lightly populated and near the border and at all event lacked stability, no Jewish communities could be found in the 15th century. As we know, Kutno is located in the western part of Mazowia.[i]
History of the community up till the end of the 18th century
The oldest document concerning the Jews of Kutno is dated 1513. In the same year, King Sigismund granted an iron charter to three Jews from Kutno, specified in the document by their given names: Mosze, Solomon (Szlomo) and Lewek. This deed authorizes debtors' freedom from payment of their debts for a period of one year although from the date of this document it should not be assumed that Jewish settlement in Kutno was only established from the beginning of the 16th century.
It can be supposed that Jews arrived in Kutno no later than the second half of the 15th century. In the two neighbouring communities Gąbin and Gostynin Jews were already dwelling there in the first half of the 16th century. From the middle of the 16th century Polish documents already mentioned names of Jewish merchants from Kutno, although, until the 18th century, most of the sources concerning all aspects of the lives of the Jews in this town are meagre. Interestingly, in 1685, we can find in Amsterdam a printer named Aszer ben Anszel Kutner, whose name without doubt bears witness to his home town.
From the beginning Kutno was a private town, made up of the estates of landowners. In the 16th century it was the private property of the wife of the governor of Rawa Mazowiecka, who according to her personal request, in 1555, was granted by King Sigismund Augustus the right to hold a fair in the town. Undoubtedly, the setting up of a market affected the status of Kutno, but never the less the town remained unimportant, and around the year 1800 the entire population numbered altogether 2,378 souls (Jews and Christians).
As noted above, only from the second half of the 18th century do we have documents and historical sources regarding accounts of the Jewish settlement which allow us to paint a fairly clear picture of Jewish life in Kutno. At the beginning of the second half of the 18th century in 1753 Kutno was beleaguered by fire. The wooden huts quickly went up in flames and the town became a complete ruin. Ten years went by before Kutno was rebuilt. Then, the last Polish king, Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski, granted count Zamojski permission to restore the town. According to the census of the Jewish population which was carried out in Poland between the years 1765 and 1766, the Jewish community in Kutno amounted to 928 persons, but, it turns out, this total includes Jews living in the nearby townlets, Żychlin and Gostynin[1-5], and also the Jews dwelling in the neighbouring villages. Therefore, how many Jews lived in Kutno alone cannot be determined for certain. The population census does not indicate the true number of this population owing to the feelings of distrust among the Jews towards every government census, whose aim was none other than to increase the tax burden. In his research, Prof. Rafael Mahler notes the conclusion that the population not included in the census reached an average of 20%. From this, the upshot is that the number of Jews in Kutno and surroundings reached 1,115 souls, apart from infants below the age of one year who were not counted. Prof. Mahler estimates them to account for 6.35% of the population. The end result is that the number of Jews living in Kutno and the surrounding villages in the years 1765-1766 reached a total of 2,000 souls.
This corrected figure looks more accurate if it is compared to the number of Jews living there ten years later in 1776. In that year an official document stated that there were 200 Jewish families living in the town and a further 187 in the neighbouring villages. If we calculate that, on the average, each family comprised five persons, we get 1,000 people in the town and 935 in the surroundings.
It was also stated in this document that there were 885 books at the disposal of the townsfolk and in the villages, 200 books. The object of this book census, carried out at that time in Poland, was the collection of stamp tax on books which the state treasury imposed on Jews. Thanks to this book tax we know of the existence of a doctor in Kutno, around the year 1775. Stamp tax was collected that year on behalf of six books from this doctor who had a Polish name Mark (probably Mordechai).
From the 18th century we have in our possession documentation about two rabbis from Kutno. The first of them, who lived at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, was Rabbi Mosze Jekutiel Kaufman HaKohen, author of the book Shrewbread and was the son-in-law of the Kalisz rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Abeleh Gombiner, author of Shield of Abraham. Rabbi Kaufman was born in Krotoszyn and died there in the year 1722 while serving as rabbi of the congregation. His successor is thought to have been Rabbi Arie Lajb, son of the rabbi of Kalisz Rabbi Josef Chaim, who, in 1768, the community of Poznan appointed as a preacher and also at the same time served as a rabbi
Jews from Kutno could be found in Warsaw during the second half of the same century. As is known, it was forbidden for Jews to live in this city, and only at the time when the Sejm parliament was meeting were they allowed to visit and trade, on condition that they had a daily pass (which was a special permit) and which had to be purchased. Around the year 1784, a Jew from Kutno, Mosze ben Szlomo (Solomonowicz) served as commercial attaché for the Austrian ambassador in Warsaw and enjoyed his protection and exemption from a permit to be in the city.
Another Kutno Jew, Mosze ben Szmuel (Szmulowicz) was an arms supplier during the uprising in the streets of Warsaw (17th April, 1794) at the time of the Kosciuszko uprising and even offered the rebels a contribution two horses and a cart.
It turned out that, thanks to his past in politics, in the spring of 1807, Mosze ben Szmuel was appointed by the mayor of Warsaw, Paweł Bielinski, to the post of lobbyist for the Warsaw Jewish community council, the Kahal. However, because of this appointment an argument broke out between the mayor and the Kahal heads who did not approve and rejected him. The affair was discussed at the offices of the central authorities and in the end the mayor was forced to retreat from his intention.
Even tradesmen's' apprentices started to come to Warsaw to try their luck. In the year 1787 the Warsaw Gazette printed the following item about one of them, named Dawid: Instead of the homeless vagabond thanking the master tailor for his goodness, he stole from him and ran away.
Other wandering Jews naturally chose to travel further away from Warsaw and, in 1820, it was possible to find Jews from Kutno at the famous markets then held in Frankfurt, Breslau and Leipzig. In order to pay for their expensive travels they borrowed money from Polish landowners.
The charters of two artisans' guilds were also drawn up at the end of the 18th century (in the two last decades of that century) one of the guilds involved was that of tailors, milliners and furriers, which was made official by landowner Gadomski in 1783. The other guild, the society of butchers, was certified by the landowner in 1791.
The charter of the artisans gives us a credible picture of conditions prevailing in this area at the second half of the 18th century. The original charters were drawn up in the Polish language and, after Kutno passed over to Prussian rule (after the second partition of Poland), were translated into German.
The charter of the amalgamated guild was typical of the other charters of Jewish artisans of that period. Their principal aim was to avoid competition among the craftsmen and make a reasonable living possible, while requiring strict supervision over the assistants.
Paragraph 18 of the charter affirms that a craftsman was forbidden to employ more than one assistant and one young apprentice. However, if his workload was heavy, he was permitted to take on a second assistant, on condition that he was married or too poor to employ others. The craftsman undertook to pay one third of his profit (the third groszy) and if a craftsman should tempt the assistant of another to work for him, he would have to pay a fine to the treasury of the guild (paragraph 23).
It was also forbidden for the craftsmen to send their assistants to the villages and markets in order to get hold of work there. Only the craftsmen themselves were allowed to take care of orders.
Should a craftsman spoil his work, he would have to pay for the damage out of his own pocket, and not from the guild's account. The aim of this regulation was to maintain a high professional standard and to prevent unqualified persons from entering the guild as craftsmen, and even to work as assistants (paragraph 14).
Each contract between the craftsman and his assistant had to be registered by the head of the guild. The length of time of the contract had to be stated and also other work conditions. The contract would be entered in the guild ledger by the secretary, who would receive from the craftsman one copper groszy for his effort (paragraphs 22, 29).
The assistant was forbidden to leave during the time of the contract. Should a craftsman employ an assistant without making sure that his previous employer agreed to his leaving, the craftsman would be obliged to pay a fine of four groszy into the guild's account (paragraph 23).
Each craftsman was obliged to pay a weekly fee into the treasury of the guild. A craftsman who employed an assistant 4 shilling, and if he did not employ an assistant 2 shilling (paragraph 30).
It is not by chance that these charters did not mention contacts with Christian craftsman's guilds or the community leaders, since, unlike in cities of the kingdom, where, as always, the Jews were forced to compete fiercely against the Christian craftsmen, in the privately-owned cities the Jewish craftsmen enjoyed the landowner's protection, and were not subject to regulation, neither by the Christian guilds nor by the community leaders. The word of the landowner was law.
From the same period the last decade of the 18th century a very illuminating document has been preserved, from which we are able to learn about the life of the Jewish community. This is a statistical record carried out in 1796 among the Jewish population by the new Prussian authorities in this area, when Kutno was annexed to the kingdom of Prussia, following the second partition of Poland in about 1793. This partition lasted until the year 1807, the year when the grand duchy of Warsaw was declared (1807-1815). This statistical record is fairly accurate and includes several categories.
Family members by age
Homeowners or tenants
House condition and type of building
The statistics also included Jews living in 71 villages, giving the names of the villages and the landowners. In addition, the record gives names of those owing taxes and a general survey of the community institutions, financial matters, details on property condition, tax exemption and dwelling problems among 250 families in the town and villages.
A protocol signed by the clerk of the authority was added to the statistical record, attesting that the community leaders had sworn to tell the truth when giving information to the authorities. It was also mentioned there that the Prussian official warned them that they would have to pay a fine of 5 taler for every person not reported. The community leaders replied that they are prepared to swear as their words were based on the whole truth.
However worse than all the threats and solemn announcements, it appears that their words did not completely describe the reality, and the reasons for this are very clear: the fear implanted in the hearts of the Jews of all the various official censuses. Their instinct was always right in making them aware of the danger awaiting them with every census, since they were carried out for financial reasons.
Each tally had its single objective control over tax payments and their increase, especially in their particular case when the census was performed by a foreign, controlling rule whose taxation policy towards the Jews was clearly known to them. It is possible that the community leaders sought ways to lighten the wickedness of the verdict. The leaders themselves were caught in a difficult situation, and were troubled by a tragic conflict between pangs of conscience and demands of society, but apparently the general concern prevailed.
Therefore the numbers in the document must be regarded with caution and it should be remembered that the stand of the community leaders would have been to reduce them as much as possible. These methodological precepts are critical before setting out to examine the numbers in detail.
We are sure that the picture that we wish to describe was undoubtedly typical of most of the landowners' townships in the 18th century.
According to official statistics from 1796, the Jewish population of Kutno was 1087 souls.
|Boys up to age 14||166|
|Girls up to age 14||152|
|Boys over age 14||28|
|Girls over age 14||13|
|Male servants, assistants, apprentices||25|
From Table No. 1 it can be seen that the number of boys and girls of various ages was 359. Since, according to the list, the number of families totalled 357, it works out that each family had slightly more than one child. This is not at all likely and so it seems that a false report must have been given to the authorities. There are several reasons for this: the number of children was reduced because of the poll tax and, regarding the boys, the fear that they would be enlisted into the army; also, as in Galicia, the threat of compulsory education.
If it is remembered that, according to the custom in those days, young boys and girls aged 14-16 got married, it is obvious that the number of unmarried youngsters below the age of 14 was relatively small.
If it is assumed that the size of the average family was five persons (and regarding this period that is undoubtedly a low number), a total of approximately 1,760 souls is reached. To this must be added 43 servants, assistants and apprentices.
And before us is a population of at least 1,800. This figure, therefore, is greater by 713 than the official number. It is likely that 65 percent of the Jewish population (mostly children) was not included in the official census.
If we continue to compare the figures, it can be seen that the number of married men is almost equal to the number of married women. In contrast, the number of boys of various ages is greater than that of the girls: the numbers are 194 to 165. Even though there were more reasons to hide the young boys from the eyes of the authorities than the girls, when the numbers of boys is larger than the girls, there is no room to doubt the veracity of this connection.
It is possible to explain this lack of proportion in that the young girls married early and that the relation between boys and girls below the age of 14 was 166:152, while it changes among the older children to 28:13.
In answer to the question how many people lived in each house, sadly it is not possible to give an exact reply, because the above statistics only record the home owner's name and not the names of the inhabitants. If it is remembered that among Jews at that time 90 percent would be living in Jewish homes, we arrive at the figure of 1,620 people living in 100 houses, which is 16 persons (three families) to a house. From this the conclusion can be drawn that these houses were really very small.
According to the official statistics, 381 Jews lived in the 71 villages on the list (in error the clerk recorded 378), that is, 98 families. Among them are:
|Boys up to age 14||84|
|Girls up to age 14||63|
|Boys over age 14||8|
|Girls over age 14||5|
|Male servants, assistants, apprentices||19|
As we know now, the correlation between the unmarried children and the number of families was slightly higher among the Jewish villagers than among the townsfolk: 160:98, that is 1.6 children per family; even that figure is too low and should be corrected. The same reasons that persuaded the towns' people to state lower numbers worked also for the villagers. The correct number of Jewish villagers was, apparently, higher than the official number. Even if it is assumed that the village family had five members, the figure of 510 is reached. To this must be added 26 servants, assistants and apprentices a total of 536 people. This figure is therefore 35 percent higher than the official figure. Only about a third of the village Jews was not included in the census. It is simple to understand the large difference in the extent of evasion between the town and the village, since in a village it was not easy to deceive either the community or the authorities concerning the number of children where certainly they were known to everyone, while in the town, where the Jewish population was spread out and larger, evasion was easier.
So it can be seen from Table No. 2 that the number of married men is equal to that of the married women. The relation between the girls and boys of various ages is 92:68, which is a larger difference than that found in the town. It turns out that the village Jews tried as far as possible to send their daughters out of the village almost exclusively to protect them. Apparently these girls grew up in their relatives' homes in the town. This disproportion is especially marked among youngsters, girls and boys, over the age of 14: 8:5, and can also be explained by the custom of early marriages.
Regarding the number of Jewish families in each village, going by the findings there were one or two families in each country settlement. Only in one village were four Jewish families counted and in three villages, three families.
According to the official census, the overall figure of Jews in both the town and villages reached 1,452, and according to our calculations 2,340 people.
Dealing with age, the census counted children from a quarter of a year old. According to the official figures, the number of children aged two years and below was 89 (24 in the villages and 65 in town). The number of elderly persons over the age of 60 was 122 (11 in the villages and 111 in town). When comparing the number of elderly with the number of adults (males and females) in town and village, the townspeople had 111:583 and the villagers: 11:184. The number of town elderly persons was three times bigger than that in the villages. It is obvious that the harsh quality of life in the country physical labour and so on did not make it a place for the old. In addition the elderly tended to move to towns for religious reasons. When the number of children under the age of 2 years is compared to that of older children, in the villages the relation is 24:160 and in the town 65:359. These figures give room for conjecture, since there was almost no difference in the number of children between town and village.
General remarks: At that time, among the Jews of Kutno there was a conspicuous lack of professional training. In dividing the various wage earners into groups, first of all the main occupation of the bread winner was taken into account, even though his secondary jobs made him also belong to another category. Therefore, each column of occupations must be studied for primary and secondary activities. Artisans can be found who at the very same time were shopkeepers and also the opposite, or a single earner who had many sources of livelihood. In many cases it is not possible to define the slightest economic difference between the various occupations, and even the classification of the different occupations into groups sometimes becomes whimsical. Altogether 31 families were found to have two jobs, that is, more than 8.5%.
A bar was a particularly acceptable form of activity on the side. A goldsmith was found who also kept a bar and in addition to that he also dealt in spices; also a hat maker, a dealer in skins, two tailors and three furriers who all kept bars. The preparation of salt was considered a secondary occupation and two barbers did that, also two bar tenders, one nurse, a merchant and a shopkeeper. We also find a goldsmith who at the same time worked as a textile merchant and a shopkeeper; a dealer in skins who also produced candles; a tailor, a furrier and a costume decorator who at the same time were shopkeepers, and a shopkeeper who made hats during the summer season. It was usual that craftsmen such as hatters also sold their products by themselves. Likewise, the wives of the poorer community officials, such as the synagogue singers and the teachers, were stall holders in the market. It is interesting that the only Jewish furrier who had an additional occupation was a hunter and fashioned other corpses (most likely he dyed the skins of the animals he hunted). With regard to his non-Jewish activities, the list informs that his life style was not moral, he was defined as a big wastrel and heavily built and the community was not able to get him to pay his taxes.
It should be added that the reason for so many occupations was that a living could be not be made from one occupation by itself.
Occupations Among the Residents of the Town
According to the official list from the year 1796 the Jews of Kutno were busy in the following occupations:
|Tailor (primary occupation)||74|
|Hat maker (primary occ:7; secondary: 2)||9|
|Artisan (non specialized)||3|
|Candle maker (primary occupation: 2; secondary: 1)||3|
|Worker in felt*||2|
Therefore, 231 Jews made a livelihood from an occupation which was their main one 175 were independent workers and 56 were wage earners: assistants, servants, daily staff and messengers. Ten Jews (about 4 percent) were occupied in labour as a secondary job.
Ten Jews were occupied in the free professions: 4 barbers (who also served at the same time as wound dressers), 2 wound dressers and two musical instrument makers. If these occupations are included in the larger categories (primary and secondary) the following table is obtained:
|Free occupation (see detail, above)||10||4.1|
Therefore, about half of all craftsmen worked in the sewing trade. In this trade, the professional structure of the working Jewish population was similar to that prevalent up to the First World War.
In contrast, a small place was filled by the haberdashery trade (1.7%), which at a later date increased in importance among Jewish professions.
Especially great was the number of tailors, which, together with assistants, reached 70% in the needlework category and 34% of all craftsmen. The number of costume decorators (15), butchers (11) and assistants (18) should be emphasized. These figures should certainly have been greater, but, for reasons which have been mentioned previously, lower numbers were reported. Approximately only five apprentices were recorded. It must be noted that also this figure does not fit the actual situation.
Typical for those days, is the group of messengers (4 of them) called by the German name Fuss Bothe, who were employed both by the community and private clients. It is likely that the mail services also used them to deliver mail. In addition, it is usual that cobblers and painters were definitely absent from the list apparently this work was completely in the hands of the Christians.
The findings do not show that there was any kind of industrial enterprise then.
The Census listed the following categories of trade:
|Small trade (mixed shops)||24||3||1|
|Liquor, smoking equipment||5|
Four agents should be added to those making a living from trade giving a total of 115 persons, that is, 25 percent of the population. As can be seen from the table, not a small number of persons were employed in trade as a secondary occupation 18% of all the merchants. If we compare these numbers with those occupied in crafts as a secondary job, we will get a relation of 18 : 4 . Therefore, the numbers of those employed in trade as a secondary occupation was 4.5 times greater than those in craft as a secondary occupation. The reason for this is obvious. Persons occupied in crafts have to have knowledge and skill in their special work, whereas vendors in the market or bar tenders in the inn do not need that. Indeed, we find that the bar and market stall owners make up the largest group of those having secondary occupations (14 out of 43).
Trade in iron, couriers, and alcoholic drinks such as wine, liqueur and arak, was the monopoly of the land owner and was mostly leased out. Trade in iron was leased out for 1,200 florins a year; courier service 1,500, and alcoholic drinks at various rents. At first, monopolies included a larger number of businesses and, according to records, kept very strictly. Following is a list of types of merchants, their numbers and percentages.
|Traders in wool||18||15.6|
|Traders in skins||10||8.7|
|Bartenders, wine merchants||27||23.5|
|Market stall traders||21||18.3|
It is found that barmen and wine merchants comprise a quarter of the traders since the keeping of bars in the towns and villages was very popular then.
Also usual for those times was the relatively large number of traders in spices 10 (they have been included in the group of shopkeepers), such as tobacco and snuff merchants.
Community Workers (Clerks)
This group of workers could be appended to the free traders, but owing to its special nature and large number, has been itemised in greater detail.
It turns out that a sizeable portion of the Jewish population (9.7 percent) earned a living from the community. Especially large is the group of teachers (11), janitors (6) and grave diggers (5). It is likely that that not all of them were actually community employees, but were recorded as such in order to claim exemption from taxes (according to the list, community workers did not usually pay taxes). Also, with the object of being a business man of some sort, presented themselves (by gentlemen's agreement) as community workers.
The first column notes the total of servants (slaves) as 25, and in the second column 18 boy and girl assistants and apprentices a total of 43 people. The first column is not exact. Although it is difficult to determine the number belonging to each group, according to our estimates, if the number of servants included 8-10 males, then the number of people engaged in domestic service would be 26-28. If this number is divided among the 352 families, the result is one servant (male or female) for every 13 families. In our opinion this number is also not correct, since for reasons mentioned above concerning the concealing of the actual size of the population. There is another matter to be added: employment of servants indicates a certain degree of status. So even if this number is doubled, only one-sixth of the Jewish population was able to maintain a servant girl or slave - an indication of the economic status of the Jews in the town.
Female servants are only recorded among the eighteen higher class families, that is, traders in fur skins, lease holders in the iron and alcoholic drinks trades, goldsmiths, civil representative, butchers, tailors and a teacher who also was a house owner. Even the rabbi had a caretaker.
Only three families enjoyed the services of female servants, or a girl and a man. Although they were not the richest they had status a trader in silk and two wool traders. Interestingly, the big landowner of the town (a butcher and rich landlord) did not declare that he had servants. The girl servants were very young girls of twelve years old and apprentices were from ten years old.
Into this category fall 19 families, which is 5 percent. Belonging to this group are eight young families (from 13 to 20) who are still living with their parents. It must be noted that most of them will become independent as soon as they have obtained all the necessary equipment, at the end of the dowry chest period about the age of 20. The remainder of the group are the elderly (6) and disabled (5), most of them without children. Some of them are supported by relatives and some by the community.
It is permitted to cast doubt on this figure of the unemployed and to suppose that it was greater than five percent. As is known, the Prussian authorities put pressure on unemployed Jews and so there was an agreed reason to reduce these numbers, either by concealing or by fictitious employment.
|Independent: craft and industry||158||41.6|
|Community clerk; Free trader||47||12.4|
|Wage earner: Servant; assistant; Apprentice; Daily worker||56||14.8|
Special emphasis must be given to the fact that according to the statistics, some 42 percent of the livelihoods were from crafts and only one quarter from trade. If those engaged in special jobs are added to the craftsmen, independent and wage earners and also the free professions (except for the community clerks), a full 60 percent is reached. About eighty percent are independent and 15 percent are wage earners.
In the village the method of livelihood of the Jewish families can be divided as follows:
|Independent: brewer (lease holder)||40|
|Bar tender (side occupation = 2)||24|
|Tailor (side occupation = 1)||7|
|Milkman (lease holder)||1|
|Not independent: beer and spirits refiner||14|
One hundred and twenty-two persons were occupied in their main job and 5 had a secondary job.
If the various activities are put into larger groups, the following picture of the occupational composition of the Jewish village population can be obtained:
|Brewer, spirit distiller||14||11.9|
It turns out, therefore, that brewery activity is the largest group, almost a third of all the occupations. Also large is the percentage of bar tenders (17.9). Independent workers make up more than two-thirds (68.7 percent) and the non-independent are a third (31.3%) of the whole Jewish population in villages.
As the previous table shows, more than 60 percent of the Jews in the villages (76 out of 122) earned a livelihood from the bitter drop, as distillery lease holders, bar tenders and brewers. 78.8 percent earned a living from crafts and industry, and 18.8 percent from commerce.
Professional specialization was greater in the village than in the town; the professions were defined in a clearer fashion. Only two families were occupied in two activities at the same time. The list informs of two distillery lease holders who were, at the same time, bar tenders. Also, of the three ritual slaughterers, one of them was also a tanner, another was also a milkman and the third also worked as a teacher.
Usually, the contract for leasing a distillery was determined verbally between the owner and the tenant. Some occasions of a written contract were also found. The conditions of all leasing contracts were handed to the Prussian authorities by the landowner. On average, the lease cost 150-300 gold zlotys (the lowest cost 50 and the most expensive about 2,000). The duration of each lease was different mostly one year. Only in one case was a lifelong lease recorded.
The number of tanners in the village seven is surprising, while in the town one person was occupied in this craft. The reason for this is that the landowners held the monopoly of the leather trade in town, which did not affect the villages and so there were convenient conditions for tanning. This way it is also possible to explain the large number of ritual slaughterers who took care of the Jews' requirements in the village, in addition to three village slaughterers, there were also two town ones who were employed for the village Jews.
One of the tanneries was larger, where, in addition to the owner, three workers could be found.
Five out of the 14 brewers were wage earners in the landowners' breweries, two worked for Jewish distillery leaseholders, and the rest in other places. Two of the helpers were heads of families and the other a young man of about twenty years old and another about fifty years old.
It is typical that the list of village Jews does not include even a single farmer.
In the village 33 people were occupied in domestic service 28 girls and 8 men, which is one servant to four families that is to say, three times more than in town. Most of the male servants were employed by the lease distillers (16 out of 18), who were the highest class among the village Jews. Four of those kept two servants each (a girl and a male) and one, who also had a salt refining business, even had three. The shopkeeper also had two servants. In contrast, in town, only three families had two servants, and three servants were not found in any family at all. Only two of the bar tenders had servants and among the craftsmen, only one tanner had. Typical of the servants in the village was that the number of male servants was 2.5 greater than that of females 18:7. In the town it was an opposite relation 18 girl servants as opposed to 10 males. These differences can be explained by the dissimilar nature of the work. Men were required for the hard work conditions in the village breweries and distilleries, and also it can be assumed that Jewish girls did not tend to work in the villages. Male servants were mainly aged 20-30, whereas the girls were aged 13-16.
A fact that is worthy of noting is that in all the villages visited in the census, only one Jewish shopkeeper was found. Apparently the needs of the villagers were satisfied by townspeople on the one hand and by the bartenders on the other.
It must also be emphasized that not one unemployed person was recorded among the Jewish villagers.
The following table shows the occupational structure of the town Jews in parallel to the village Jews.
|Town Jews: independent||66.5|
|Domestic staff, assistant, daily staff||14.8|
|Village Jews: independent||63.6|
|Wage earners: servants, brewers, assistants||33.6|
In this table the greater percentage of independent workers in the town stands out in comparison to that in the village, in a relation of 66.5/63.6. In contrast to that, the percentage of wage earners is greater in the village 33.6/14.8 that is more than double. The relationship is caused by activities in the village being more laborious, such as in the refinery, brewery or tannery, which employed a larger number of wage earners. Also, improved material conditions in the villagers influenced the employment of wage earners; this subject will be discussed further.
The percentage occupied in craft and industry was greater in the village by 3.4, compared to the city where the percentage occupied in commerce was greater by 6.3. If the peddlers are calculated as shopkeepers in the village, the relation is equal.
Material Situation of the Jewish Population
Additionally, the statistics under discussion surveyed the situation of the Jewish population. The organizer of the survey came to the conclusion that the Jewish situation was very serious following the heavy tax burden imposed by the land owners on the Jews of Kutno, and also due to the commercial monopoly on various necessities possessed by the land owners. As proof of that, the report mentioned the fact that the Jews had been forced to stop building the synagogue which was started thirty years previously, that is, about 1766.
The report further notes that since about 1791 the Jews had been feeling more fortunate, because at that time the taxes had been reduced and also since the land owner had received large sums of money from rich house owners for the community loans. In that way the community income had grown, as up till then fees from leasing the ritual slaughtering had been used to cover the debts.
Concerning the details of each tax payer's property, we do not have any figures (the statistics deal with occupation and amount of tax of each person). The report notes that the list of the community's taxes, which served as a basis for our evaluation tables, included facts on the possessions of each tax payer, and even of those who were exempt from taxes. To our regret, this list has not been preserved so that in our effort to clarify the economic situation of each family we only have at our disposal the list of taxes.
Even the facts concerning the occupants or owners of the homes are not able to be of help to us. The fact of the matter is that the home owners should have been included among the wealthy class, although when coming across home owners who were dependent on assistance, which was a large number of home owners, according to occupation and the level of tax paid, they cannot be included among the wealthy class. House ownership, whether sole or shared ownership, is not an indicator of an individual's wealth. If we remember that most of the houses were made of wood (97 out of 100) therefore in the case of the ownership of a hut of this kind and, in addition, it's being shared, it is more important to show the economic situation of the person living in it. This group comprises 130 families, which is 34 percent of the whole total of Jewish families. Although the list includes wealthy house owners, the rich merchants, only a small number of home owners made a living from rents, and our list does not mention these.
Using the level of taxes as a measure of economic situation, we obtain the following table:
|Amount (florins)||No. of
|% of persons
|2 - 20||115||42.2|
|20 - 50||101||37.6|
|50 - 100||38||14.2|
|100 - 200||8||3.0|
The table shows, therefore, that the first type which is classified as not wealthy (paying the minimum amount of tax) contains 115 families. The second type, which comprises groups 2 and 3 and contains, as it happens, families who were moderately wealthy, 139 families. The third type (groups 4 and 5) comprises 16 wealthy families.
The remaining 88 families were exempt from taxes:
The 72 families who were exempt from taxes can be divided as follows:
32 families (26 + 6) can be classified as poor; 22 community clerks (except for the rabbi), 2 judges and the civil representative can be classified as not wealthy, which group also comprises 7 families of assistants. The remaining 8 families, who were still living at the parent's home, have to be classified according to the parents. This last group is included in the wealthy group where the new son-in-law is offered board and lodging so that he can continue his studies and it can be supposed that wealthy families were able to grant this to their children.
Going by this, the following picture of the economic situation of the Jewish population of Kutno can be obtained:
|Group||No. of families||Percentage|
Next, the connection between the levels of this population and their occupation will be examined.
This group comprises one tenth of the entire population and contains elderly and sick craftsmen, for example, tailors, mainly repairers and patchers and also daily workers (5); middlemen (1), peddlers (1), messengers (2 out of 4), furriers (2), and so on. Six families of elderly and disabled should be added to this group.
This group is a fairly wide one and contains wage earners of all types: craftsmen and other workers 74 families and 33 shopkeepers. Among the craftsmen not considered wealthy are half the number of tailors (36) and half of the costume decorators (8); less than a third of the furriers (8) half of the hat makers and a third of the bakers (2).
Among the tradesmen, about half of the small merchants (9), bar owners (6), market stall owners (8), most of the peddlers (5), and middlemen (3) belong to this group. To this group are also appended 22 families of community clerks and five small families who lived off private charity. All these families paid house tax (smoke tax - podymne), and three of them also paid taxes to the community and the land owner. One of them is noted to be bankrupt.
Apparently, the boundaries between the poor and the not wealthy were not strict persons in both groups were occupied in the same areas. For example, both messengers exempt from taxes and messengers eligible for taxes, although at low rates, can be found. This is also the case for repairers and furriers. In all instances the movement from group to group is frequent; these two groups are actually made up of two different levels of poverty, especially since they contain about half of the whole population and this is plain proof of the economic situation of the Jews of Kutno during the second half of the 18th century.
Moderately Wealthy persons
This type is the largest of all in number and incorporates the established persons from the groups of occupation - ninety families of craftsmen and 47 merchants. Among the wealthy craftsmen are half the number of tailors (38), almost all the butchers, most of the furriers (16), all the barbers (4), half of the costume decorators (7) and others.
Among the merchants were half the textile merchants (8), most of the leather traders, half of the small traders (13), bar owners (7), market stall owners (8), and others.
As mentioned above, included in this group are four families of community clerks and eight young couples who were still living in their parent's homes.
Seventeen families belong in this group more than half of the textile traders (9), also included are two goldsmiths, four lease holders of whom the richest of them paid a yearly rent for a sum of 6,000 florins in return for meat slaughtering. Also rich was the costume decorator whose trade connections reached as far as Breslau; he was the only one among the merchants whose trading branched out over the borders of his country.
|Craftsmen (%)||Merchants (%)|
From this table it can be learnt that the percentages of the not wealthy and wealthy merchants and craftsmen are almost identical. Most of the craftsmen are in the wealthy group and a few in the not wealthy, whereas most of the merchants are in the wealthy group.
This is not the case in the two smallest groups the poor and the rich. While the percentage of craftsmen in the poor group reached 12.6, among the merchants 2.1 percent were poor. Among the craftsmen and other workers the percentage of poor was six times greater than that of the merchants. Among the rich the situation is just the opposite only 2 percent of the craftsmen are included in this group, in contrast to 13.8 of the merchants, which is seven times greater.
Economic State of the Village Jews
On this subject the material available is even more defective, since the tax levels cannot be used as a gauge because a third of the village population did not pay any taxes to the community of Kutno (they paid a poll tax to the communities that they belonged to previously). Twenty-six families had settled in the villages and so far no tax had been levied from them.However, it turns out that the economic situation among the village Jews was better than that of the town Jews. First of all, this fact is made clear from the large number of lease holders of distilleries (40 families). As was mentioned, the lease fee reached an average of 150-300 florins a year. No doubt, that these tenants should be more or less included in the wealthy group and six of them in the rich group, since two of the latter paid rents of 2,000 florins, one 1,700 florins, one 820 florins, one 700 florins and one paid 600 florins. To the wealthy group five bar owners have to be added who paid a high rent of up to 100 florins.
Another fact which indicates the improved situation of the village Jews is that only seven wage earners as noted in the document before us - were considered poor. Of them, two shopkeepers who became impoverished, of whom one who loaned himself to the land owner as a brewer, three slaughterers in the village, one elderly tailor and a baker who toured the villages with his baked goods. It is strange, therefore, that only two of them the old baker and the slaughterer were totally exempt from taxes. All of the rest had to pay poll tax. Further proof of the better economic situation of the village Jewish population is the fact that, in the village, there was a female servant for every four families and in the town, for thirteen families.
Villagers according to their economic status
|No. of families||Percentage|
|2) Not wealthy||28||36.9|
This table only shows 77 out of 102 families, which is approximately 75% of the population. We are sure that the relation of the percentages between the different groups would not have changed even if the entire population had been included. Should there have been any change, it would have only increased the wealthy group. This is because about half of the families not included in the table were bar owners who it can be assured belong to the wealthy group and of the rest (craftsmen), almost all of them pay the poll tax to the communities they belong to and also rent at an amount between 10-50 florins a year to the lord of the village.
If the economic state of the townspeople is compared to that of the villagers, the following table can be constructed:
|2) Not wealthy||42.1||36.9|
This table shows in an outstanding way the assumption concerning the improved economic state of the Jewish village dwellers in contrast to that in the town. First of all, it can be seen that the number of the poor in the town is three times greater than in the village: 9.2:2.3. And is it to be wondered at, that in town, there were various charitable societies enabling a significant number of families lacking means of livelihood to exist? Therefore, in the village not one single person can be found who existed on public funds. The only one was the old tailor who was supported by his son. Also, in the village the number of not wealthy is smaller compared to that in the town 36.9:42.1. There were more rich families in the village than in the town almost double: 7.9:4.6
The village Jews kept up contact with those in the town and the rich villagers owned or were partners of houses in the town.
The townspeople: As already noted, a full list of the taxes and those paying them is found in the statistics. Firstly, the taxes will be described. As related in the report, the lists were made up according to a special tax table which was put together by the leaders of the community. In this table were detailed the various types of taxes that each community member was obliged to pay, and also those that according to accepted custom there was exemption from. In addition, there was an estimate of the economic state of the tax payers, setting out the amount of tax.
It was also stated that the tax level that each Jew had to pay to the community and the land owner was determined each year by five people selected by lot and under oath.
The statistics notes five types of taxes:
The kingdom tax included three secondary taxes:
The poll tax was paid by all those obliged to pay tax; it amounted to between 3 to 18 gold zloty and was on an average of 6 zloty per family. According to a law passed in parliament in 1775, the poll tax was determined at 3 florins for each person one year old and upwards. Levying and collection of the taxes was the business of the community but they did not actually abide by the amounts and fixed them according to the economic situation of the family. In 1796, in the Kutno community, this tax amounted to 1,654 florins.
The army tax was only according to the law, since no Polish Jew was required to pay it. As will be shown, this was not the only tax that Jews did not pay. It turns out that the Prussian official did not know and he recorded in his tables all those taxes that the Prussian Jews were obliged to pay.
Only house holders were obliged to pay the chimney tax, which was between 2 to 8 florins. In that year this tax gathered 482 florins. The kingdom tax for the same year amounted to 2,136 florins.
The community tax also comprised three sub taxes:
From all those taxes the Jews of Kutno only paid the first tax directly. The second was intended to cover the interest on community debt and was not paid as a one-time tax but added it to the ritual slaughter payments according to a fixed levy. The sum of the yearly Synagogale tax was a minimum of 2 florins and a maximum of 390. The same year the income from it was 6,539 florins. Income from the slaughtering tax, transferred in the lease, amounted to 3,200 florins. The total income collected by the community from taxes was 9,739 florins.
The third group of taxes paid to the lord of the village - included a direct tax (tlaki) which was compulsory for almost everyone, and also a system of indirect taxes in the form of lease payments. The lowest tax was 2 florins and the highest 80 florins. Annual income was 2,321 florins and 15 zloty.
The indirect taxes which the landowner usually transferred in a charter were as follows:
In addition to the taxes paid to the various authorities, the community also levied taxes in order to cover civil expenses, payments to the land owner, etc.
The list also notes the following leases:
The total sum of the various taxes paid to the country, the community and the land owner came to 19,196 florins and 15 zloty. According to the official account this sum can be divided into an average of 17.70 florins per head. Since 270 families were eligible to pay tax, each family paid 71.01 florins.
Out of 357 wage earners, 270 were taxable, which is 75.6 percent of the whole population. The various exemptions have already been discussed; they are only listed here:
As a group which carried a heavy burden of taxes, the butchers can be selected. In addition to general taxes they made special payments for the benefit of leases in slaughtering and delivery services. The levy of payments for the łopatkowa was on each animal.
For an ox 2 florins, 25 zlotyPayments for delivery:
For a bull or cow 1 florin, 4 zloty
For a lamb 28 zloty
For a goat or sheep 12 zloty
An ox 3 florins
A bull or cow 2 florins, 15 zloty
Small animal 1 florin
A lamb or sheep 1 florin, 15 zloty
Payments for slaughter:
An ox, bull or cow 4 florins, 5 zloty
A 2-year old animal 2 florins, 25 zloty
A 1-year old animal 1 florin, 10 zloty
A lamb, goat or sheep 20 zloty
As shown, the butchers' fees to the lease holders were fairly large. It should be noted that the extra payment for an ox came to 8 florins and 5 zlotys, and for a cow 7 florins and 24 zlotys. The price of an ox was 80-100 florins and for a cow 50 florins. And from this, part of the various payments totalled 8-10 percent of the value of the ox, and 15-16 percent of a cow. Of course, all this would be paid by the consumer.
The income from meat was divided between the community 3,200 florins - and the land owner 2,800 florins. However, it should not be forgotten that the lease owners did not add customs duties to this transaction and this is a modest evaluation if their profit is calculated to be 30-40 percent and that all who had to pay korobka (kosher meat tax) were the same type that understood what was going on. Altogether the Jewish population paid about 8,000 9,000 florins a year in meat tax. From this, it can be concluded that a Jew who was not wealthy could only enjoy eating meat on the Sabbath and festivals.
From the three types of taxes the village Jews only paid the state the poll tax, and to the land owner they paid the indirect taxes on the breweries and bars. Unlike the town Jews, the villages did not have to pay house tax, community tax or talaki to the land owner.
The levy of the poll tax in the village was approximately the same as in the town, an average of 6 florins per family. The income from this tax amounted to 390 florins. The land owner collected 14,288 florins from leasing the breweries and from bars 256 florins was collected. As already mentioned, 50 florins were collected from leasing the smallest brewery and 2,000 florins from the biggest. Concerning the bars the smallest paid 20 florins and the biggest 100 florins. Money from leasing milk supply came to 20 florins.
Only 66 out of 98 village families (65.8%) paid tax. Thirty-two families did not pay taxes; of these, 26 families had only recently arrived; two assistants; two poor families; two families who owed taxes for several years (1 tailor, 1 bar owner). It was usual that out of 22 bar owners, only five paid rent and all of them declared that they do not intend to pay taxes as bar owners, to the lord of the village.
There is no way of knowing if this was in fact the way or if it was a whim on the part of the land owner alone. It is likely that the land owner decided this by himself. The two slaughterers paid rent, since they also had occupations on the side.
The total sum of taxes levied on the village Jews reached 14,930 florins, which is an average of 39.3 florins per head and 226.3 florins per family. Compared to the town levy, the village levy per person was more than double, and per family it was more than three times greater. Sixty-six families paid only 42.2 percent less than 270 families in the town. The number of Jewish families in the town was four times greater than that in the village and the total taxes amounted to only 28 percent compared to that in the village.
The rent for various leases paid to the land owner in the village was twice that paid in the town: 14,564 florins compared to 7,321 florins. Rent from leases on distilleries in the village alone amounted to 14,288 florins.
|Land owner tax||7,321||14,544|
According to the above table, taxes paid to the land owner amounted to 21,865 florins, which were 64 percent of all the taxes, compared to 25 percent collected by the community and less than 10 percent state taxes.
The number of families and occupations liable for tax in town and village together reached 337* [Translator's note: Later twice quoted as 336], and from the account made by the Prussian clerk (apparently to be discussed later) the number owing taxes from the town and village population was greater 428. According to our calculations, the number of Jews reached 1452, from this exempted from tax: (1) elderly men aged 60-80 and (2) women with no age limit: 426 persons; (3) youth under the age of 14: 427 persons; (4) girls with no age limit: 230; (5) male servants younger than 14 years: 5; (6) female servants: 25;
This gives a total of 1024 persons, leaving a total of 428 persons liable to pay tax (1452 less 1024 = 428).
As will be seen, this figure of those liable for tax was only on paper, and undoubtedly changed after payment from each individual. Below the account is the signature of the Regent of Plock, and the date 8.5.1796.
Typical of the Prussian taxation system was the clerk's inability to make do with increasing the number of those liable for tax on paper from 336 to 428, but immediately increased the figure with a new account to 878 people, and, a few lines later, to 1251. According to this, everyone was liable for tax, even infants in the cradle. The impression is credible that the two last figures were personal calculations made by an over-zealous and faithful clerk whose intention was to squeeze the population as much as possible. This assumption is supported by the fact that these calculations were not signed by the regent as was the first reckoning. At all events, it is clear that the Prussian authorities increased the numbers of tax payers in comparison with the first list (the official one) if only that number of tax payers was greater by 27 percent than that in the days of the Polish authorities (428 : 337).
According to the report, the charter of rights dated 22nd November 1796, given by the King of Poland Stanislaw Augustus to the landlord of Kutno, served as a basis for the special contract (the Pacht Contract leasing contract) between the land owner and the Jews. The date is apparently incorrect since Stanislaw Augustus relinquished his throne in 1795. It is likely that before us is a mistake by an illiterate scribe or a forgery.
The contract clearly determines:
To our great regret we were not able to obtain this important document. According to the report in the beginning the Jewish residents of Żychlin and Gostynin also belonged to the community, and even paid it taxes. But in the end they rose up and set up independent communities with their own rabbis. The Prussian clerk noted that the Rabbi of Gostynin was not legal as he did not have the relevant qualifications and contrary to the laws of Israel, he also engaged in commerce (!).
Jewish residents from 71 villages in the area also belonged to the community and paid taxes to it. They were obliged (under threat of excommunication) to travel to the town to give any information required.
According to the Prussian clerk, the Kutno community at that time (1796) did not keep up any contact with communities in other areas of Prussia and not even with other communities in Poland.
As noted, there were in Kutno a rabbi Rabbi Tuwia was his name two judges (one called Beisitzer in the original document), a civil representative (syndik), 4 ritual slaughterers (2 for the villages), 4 cantors, 11 teachers, 6 beadles, 5 grave diggers, a scribe, and one prayer summoner. As mentioned, in addition to the teachers from the community there were also private teachers. The number of clerks was very high and it is doubtful if that was indeed their number.
As leaders of the community the following appear in the documents: Szalom ben Meir, a rich textile merchant and lease holder for meat slaughter and butchery has been mentioned many times, Hirsz ben Lajbel, bar owner, and Wolf ben Chaim (a free wine merchant owing to special privileges from the land owner); also a tailor from the rich group Szlomo ben Abraham. The statistics also refer to a synagogue and a religious seminary which were inside wooden buildings. Concerning the brick-built synagogue, whose building was started in 1766 and stopped owing to the difficult economic situation, this was already discussed previously (this synagogue was completed in the year 1799).
The community also maintained guest houses. The income was derived from a direct tax which brought in 6,539 florins and also from slaughtering tax, which it is remembered, brought in 3,200 florins in 1796. Together the income in 1796 reached a sum of 9,739 florins. Up to that time the land owner had levied the meat tax himself as compensation for the debt owed to him by the community. He collected 2,600 florins a year and only from 1796 onwards the fees from leased slaughtering went to the community treasury.
The highest community tax was 390 florins and the lowest was 2 florins. This tax went in parallel with two other kinds of taxes to the state and to the land owner. Whoever paid a lot to the state and the land owner, a lot was also taken from him for the community. However, exceptions were also noted. That is to say, village Jews did not pay community tax, as they claimed according to the report that the landowner forbade his Jews to pay tax to the community, and even, the clerk noted, in order to compromise with the landowner, the community relinquished the income from the settlers. Here certainly the whim of the landowner became a set custom.
Although the burial society books have a record that a tenant from the village of Golmbow paid community tax, it is likely it does not mean community but poll tax to the state, which was also levied on village Jews.
It must be mentioned that the community suffered from a permanent financial deficit.
The Burial Society
Two sources are available concerning the burial society at that time: a short report in the Prussian document and the register of the burial society itself. The register is from the year 1808, but there are some entries from earlier dates, from the year 1755. The ledger relates that by secret the previous one was taken from them; the reasons are not noted, but it is reasonable to assume that the matter is connected with the conquering Prussian authorities. The pages from 1755 and afterwards are from the old ledger, and apparently they were torn from the old book and bound together with the new one.
During the Holocaust this ledger was lost, together with the community archives and other cultural treasures.
The source of the regulations in the ledger is from the 19th century. The records in the ledger are complementary with the report and relying on both, a reliable picture of the organization and activity of this institution is painted.
At the head of the burial society stood managers who were elected in elections arranged on the concluding day of the Passover festival. Slips bearing the names of registered voters were placed into a ballot box and it was customary to take out five slips. Those who were selected were deemed legitimate [kosher] and they carried out the position of managers for eight days, which is until the new month of Iyar. Up until that date they were obliged to appoint three managers for a period of tenure of one year and also three substitutes. It was forbidden to appoint the previous managers and also the legitimate selected were not allowed to appoint themselves managers. However they were allowed some rights: they were allowed to let new members join and to add new regulations to the register, and also to fill the position of regulator in other communities. Passive voting rights were granted only after six years of membership and active rights after three years. Up until the same time the member was called Młodz (an initiate) very young and he was obliged to respect the veteran members and to carry out all his obligations as a member. One exception from the rule was that it was customary that outstanding pupils and important persons were released from the Młodz.
In contradiction to what was written in the Prussian document, the ledger emphasizes that the managers were obliged to hand over a financial report at the time of the election assembly and that the accounts had to be confirmed by all present. Each month a different manager headed the society. The managers had to be financially stable and with no blemish in their way of life.
In addition to matters relating to burial, other duties were imposed on them: visiting the sick, distributing benefits to the poor and festival refreshments to religious staff.
The caretaker of the society had to stay overnight in the home of a sick person during the first days of the sickness; after that the society members did it, under the supervision of the monthly manager who summoned the members by little notes. Later on, the burial society also had its own hospital. As already noted, the burial society usually donated money to the poor, widows and also the elderly, caretakers and other lower rank religious staff. Going by the record of 1811, monthly support money amounted to 88 zloty. According to the Prussian document, in 1795-1796, the expenses of the society reached 840 zloty a year. Society income was derived from membership fees, from donations paid into the collection boxes at funerals, from monthly payments made by the members for the poor, from income from the mikveh [ritual bath house] built with money from the society, and also from the sale of burial plots. This last payment was paid according to the financial situation of the deceased. The highest payment made was during the Prussian rule 180 zloty and the lowest was 3 zloty. Of course, funerals were also conducted free of charge. A member of the society did not pay more than 10 zloty even if he was very rich. The subscription fee for the son of a member was also 10 zloty (outsiders paid more); however, this could only be paid after marriage. The salary of the caretaker was paid from income from the ritual bath, from the collection box and an additional 30 zloty a year. From the document, his monthly salary was 300 zloty a year.
Typical of the social strictness of the society is an action concerning a member, the son of a butcher who had started to deal in his father's business, in contradiction to his promise at the time of registration in the society that he would not do so. Because of this his voting rights were taken from him (details from 1810).
The burial society held an important place in the community and to a certain extent was in competition with the community council itself. At times, the same people headed the two institutions at the same time (in 1808, Mosze Majzler headed the community council and at the same time was the caretaker of the burial society). As mentioned, the income from the ritual bath house was at the disposal of the society, and the society was informed of matters referring to charity, care of the sick, etc. Typical of the competing status of the burial society is a detail in the protocol from the year 1791 that three years previously (that is, in 1787) the poll tax of a village lease holder from Golmbow was reduced following cancellation of a loan of 300 zloty that he had borrowed in order to buy land for the extension of the cemetery. It is characteristic that the guarantee for this loan was the silver finials of the scroll of the Law.
The Synagogue Treasury
According to the Prussian report this cash fund had no great value since the only person putting money into it for some years was the manager in charge of it. Income was derived from donations made for the participation in readings of the Law in synagogue which brought in an average of 400 zloty a year. The money was used for lighting in the synagogue and for small repairs, and covered expenses.
The report relates that the Prussian authorities remarked that an income of 400 zloty a year seemed too small, since in other communities this amounted to several thousand florins. However, the caretakers and leaders explained that, because of the dilapidated condition of the synagogue the public did not attend services in the stormy winter days, and owing to this the income was low.
The impoverished situation of the Jewish population at the end of the 18th century was also reflected in the financial state of the communities which sank into debt, which was a burden on their condition. It was their bad luck that their expenses grew at that time.
In addition to the taxes which increased from time to time, which the community owed to the state, the town council and the land lords, there were also expenses to the civil representative mainly bribes for the bail of innocent persons in blood libel cases, etc.
The promotion of community taxes and introduction of consumer taxes on meat etc. which burdened the poor population was not enough the community treasury was empty and the community was forced to borrow money. Loans were fairly easy to obtain since in Poland banks appeared only at the end of the 18th century and owners of capital did not have anywhere to invest their money. Because the church laws forbade the taking of interest, loans were willingly made to Jews, and especially to the community, which was then considered a more secure loan. Credit was given by the farmers and the land owners, and especially by the rich clergy. However, owing to the impoverishment of the population and the inefficient management of the financial market in the community, the loans could not be paid and in order to pay the accumulated interest the leaders took out new loans. In this way the debts of the community grew and reached hundreds of thousands of zloty. The various attempts that were made by the government of Poland to manage the debts were unsuccessful and the problem was handed down as an inheritance to the countries which divided up the kingdom of Poland between them.
The community of Kutno was no exception. Their loan was given by the land owner of Kutno. According to the report, in the year 1791 the Kutno community reached an agreement with the town lord who was then the governor Gadomski by which it had to pay a sum of 3,500 florins interest yearly. His successor, the lord Zantkowski, received as coverage for this sum, the rent from meat slaughtering leases which reached the sum of 2,600 florins a year. In this way, the yearly deficit was 900 florins. However, the Jews claimed to have paid in addition 500 florins, but the accounts were not finalized.
An interesting detail has come to light the Jews took the previous land owner to the law court (the Prussian court) in Torun. In this case, the Jews tried to prove that the land owner forced the agreement on them and that he illegally added further sums to the actual debt. The report notes that it is likely that from the outcome of the trial the land owner returned the rent from meat slaughtering for the whole of the year 1796 to the community.
The rich in the community bore the burden of the debt. As noted, they paid the land owner various sums on account of the debt. At the same time the lease for meat slaughtering went up in price, to 3,200 florins. However, the report adds that even that still did not bring the community debts to settlement and we are entitled to believe it.
The Prussian authorities annexed Kutno to a new territory southern Prussia, which included the province of Poznan. Cut off was Inowroclaw, the whole area of Kalisz, Brześć Kujawski, the area around Sieradz, Łęczyca, Płock and parts of the province of Mazowia Rawa - altogether about one thousand square miles.
There is no information available concerning the state of the community of Kutno in the new political situation, since the above mentioned survey only deals with the previous period.
The policy of the Prussian authorities towards the Jewish population in the Polish areas was dictated by fiscal motives, on the one hand, and by the character of the enlightened bureaucratic ruling authority, according to the Prussian concept at that time, on the other hand.
According to an order from the year 1797, the Jews in south-east Prussia were subject to a list of economic restrictions: trade in the villages was forbidden; wage earners were forbidden to deal in secondary occupations etc. The authorities struck out at Jewish autonomy by limiting the power of the communities and rabbis to religious matters alone, cancelling the boycott and the organizing contacts between the communities.
In the same way, the burden of taxes was made heavier. The Polish poll tax was upped from 3 to 10 zloty. New taxes were also added: army tax, tax on kosher meat, wedding payments, burial, etc. Only those over the age of 25 were allowed to marry, and only if they had a steady income (and had capital).
The Juden-Reglement (Jewish regulations) of the year 1797 hurt the Jewish population seriously. With the Prussian single mindedness and methods the police state attempted to destroy the Jewish life style, established for generations. Jews were especially hurt by interference into the internal workings of the communities. By a stroke of luck, this rule only lasted fourteen years.
The Kutno community in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th
During the time of the Grand duchy of Warsaw Kutno belonged to the district of Warsaw and the Jewish community was considered one of the important ones in it.
However, the Napoleonic wars caused the Jewish population in the town to dwindle, and in 1808 the official estimate of the Kutno community was no more than 1,357 persons. In the eight years since 1800 the size of the Jewish community had decreased by more than three percent, although among the Polish population the decrease was greater from 877 souls to 748, which is a drop of 18 percent. At that time, the percentage of Jews in the town's population was 64.5.
In negotiations with the grand duchy of Warsaw, the representative of the Jews of Kutno stood out: Head of the council, Mosze ben Jerimyahu Majzler. In 1809 he can be found as civil representative of Warsaw district, who, together with the delegates from Łęczyca and Lutomiersk, he fought for decreasing the burden of tax on kosher meat. This tax was implemented by state law on 25th March, 1809, for the amount of 3,300,000 zloty, and replaces all previous taxes. However this amount was beyond all the paying power of the Jewish population which had become impoverished during the wars. The amount of tax was 84 zloty per family, about four times the load that a family under Austrian rule had borne. All attempts by Majzler were fruitless.
In his letter to the head of the community council of Poznan, dated 22nd October 1809, he wrote: To hear the reply of the minister of justice, nothing is left but for the mourner to rend his garment to pieces. At the end of October 1809 Majzler attended a meeting of representatives of the Warsaw district communities, where there was a consultation session regarding the steps taken by the government to make changes in the distribution of the kosher meat tax between the various communities and the Warsaw community, in favour of the country towns. The trifling decreases made by the treasury to the Jewish residents in a number of districts (Łomża, Płock, Bydgoszcz) did not satisfy the Jewish delegates and they met once more in Warsaw, in mid July 1810, and paid a fee to have an audience with the prince, the state council and the chancellor. And in the end the chancellor agreed to call a meeting of representatives of the Jewish population in the area of the entire grand duchy, which was held in Warsaw at the end of March 1811. Majzler as present among them, as the representative of Kutno and, together with Eliezer Mosze Efraim from Inowroclaw was received for an interview with the chancellor in the name of the entire assembly. However, all suggestions to lighten the burden of taxes on the Jewish population, and to exempt them from military obligation (arguing that citizens not enjoying equal rights should not have to serve in the army) all were rejected by the government.
However, the representatives did not accept the stand of the Principalities' authorities and continued their battle against the injustice. During the second half of the month of July, the heads of the Leszno, Poznan, Inowrocław and Kutno community councils met again in Leszno. Mosze Majzler, the Kutno representative, played an important part in this meeting, which attempted to persuade the government how honourable the demands of the Jewish population were. While carrying out these activities, Majzler moved from Kutno to Leszno, where he fulfilled the post of civil representative for the community which was one of the most important in the grand duchy of Warsaw. At the beginning of 1811 an order was given stating that all questions to the government had to be made in Polish, but not one person could be found in Leszno who had reasonable command of the Polish language. The wealthy community, therefore, turned to the head of the community of Kutno, who was not only fluent in the Polish language but also it turned out that as civil representative for the government he was well known for good connections with influential people. The community of Leszno requested Majzler to become their representative at a salary of 8 taler a week and in addition to that he would receive half a percentage on each wedding tax.
And so, in January 1812, Mosze Majzler signed, as one of the delegates for the Poznan district, on an agreement stating that the problems of the slaughtering tax and army service would be settled. In exchange for the Jewish representatives agreeing to put the tax up to 3 million zloty, the Jews were exempted from military service. Majzler also continued in this position, also during the exciting years of Napoleon's journey to Russia. After the abolishment of the grand duchy of Warsaw the district of Poznan was annexed to the large grand duchy of Poznan (1815). Then Majzler was heard of for the last time. On 13th August 1815 he gave a patriotic speech in honour of the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm and his commissioner in the great grand duchy of Poznan, Prince Anatoly Radziwill. The speech was published and printed (Imrei Shefer, Barcelona, 1815)**
Mosze ben Jerimyahu Majzler died in Leszno on 14th of Heshvan, 1828.
The rabbi of Kutno, Rabbi Eliezer Brisz, was also connected with Leszno. He came from Leszno and served as rabbi in the young Synagogue in Leszno. In 1820 his name can be found among the signatures on The Strong Arm, with the designation: Head of the law court of the Kutno community. Rabbi Eliezer Brisz died in Kutno on 5th Tishri 1830. He was extremely respected among his contemporaries. In a letter from the famous rabbi of Leszno, Rabbi Jakob Lorberbaum, to the citizens of Kutno, he requests them to allocate Rabbi Eliezer Brisz a weekly salary of 5 taler, and he writes about him: The great light, the sharp-minded, the skilled.
During the time of the Polish rebellion (1830-1831) it was discovered that a Jew from Kutno, by the name of Szymon Bryn served in the secret Russian police and was a deputy agent of Matias Szlay one of the leading agents in the secret police in Warsaw. Szymon Bryn, or Shymele as he was known in Kutno, studied at the religious seminary in his youth and, since he knew a little Polish, was appointed secretary for the community. On a visit to Warsaw on community business he met Szlay who suggested to him that he should be a spy in Kutno. Szymon agreed and swore an oath that he would be faithful to the police and tell the truth. In reward for his service at first he received 3 red zloty (54 Polish gulden), and later 5 zloty. Apparently he submitted his reports in Yiddish and reported all that he saw and heard in Kutno. But it seems that he did not have anything significant to report. During the uprising the police archives fell into the hands of the rebels and so the name of Szymon Bryn came to light. In the spring of 1831 he was arrested and after interrogation his name was made public as a secret agent. The incident was no small sensation among the Jews of Kutno. Later on the authorities released him and from then on he was under police surveillance.
The economic prosperity of Congress Poland also reached Kutno. The first buds of industry which started blossoming in the last decade of the 18th century flourished well in the twenties of the 19th century and the prayer shawl factory was awarded a silver medal at the industrial fair which was held in Warsaw in the year 1828.
Following the opening of the Kalisz railway and the Vienna track in 1845, Kutno turned into an important railway junction in the Plock district and also for the district of Kalisz, since these places had been cut off from a direct rail connection with Warsaw.
In 1852 Herman Epsztajn, the well known Jewish industrialist and banker, founded the Konstancja plants the largest sugar factories in Congress Poland. After his death the factories passed to his son, Mieczysław Epsztajn who managed them until his death in 1914. His father's enterprise was liquidated after he died. The Konstancja factory served as a source of much related employment for the Jews of Kutno transport of raw materials, delivery of sugar to other towns, etc.
Another banker, Szymon Teplic (1822-1894) settled in Kutno after liquidating his business in Warsaw and dealt in supplies for Konstancja, and was also partner in the sugar factory belonging to the well known financier Leopold Kronenberg. His grand-daughter Lily converted to Christianity and entered a convent in France. If converts are being discussed, also the Frankensztajn family should be mentioned. Leon Frankensztajn was a merchant in Kutno in the second half of the 18th century. His son Alexander Leon served as an inspector in the tobacco monopoly for the Congress Poland treasury. His grandson, Edward, held an important post at the Russian embassy in Brussels and was elevated to the Russian hereditary aristocracy. He was also known as a gifted violinist.
In the twenties of the 19th century there was a school in the town for Jewish children. There, secular subjects were taught and examinations were held for clerks in the town council. Before the war, certificates relating to this school were stored in the town hall archives.
In the 30's the house owners of Kutno usually sent their children to learn secular subjects in Warsaw, and in the years 1830-1831, the brothers Icchak and Naftali Nelkin could be found at a rabbinical school in Warsaw (which got a name among the orthodox as a nest of unbelievers); at that time they were pupils in the second and third classes.
Hirsz Kopel, son of the wealthy Kutno merchant, learnt in the 50's at the medical-surgical academy in Warsaw.
During the years of the Polish rebellion, in 1863, Dr. Josef Handelsman held an important post in the neighbourhood of Kutno, and this interesting personality deserves attention. Josef Handelsman completed his studies at high school in Warsaw in 1833, and in 1859 at the medical school in Petersburg. During the Crimean war he served as a doctor in the military hospital in Warsaw (Ujazdów), and in 1854 settled in Kutno. The young doctor quickly looked for a respected place in the society of the town, and owing to his specialty in brain inflammation diseases, many patients thronged to him and he gained a reputation among both Jews and land owners. When the rebellion broke out Dr. Handelsman was appointed head of the rebels for the whole area of Gostynin. He was very active in the rebellion and urged the Jews to cooperate with the rebels. One of them was Icik, servant of the Kutno merchant Hersz, who collected fees and donations from the Jews of Kutno for the rebels' funds. He collected 150 roubles from the merchant Senator, and from Kronzylber 120 roubles. It can be assumed that by his influence, feelings of friendship prevailed between the rebels and the Jews in the Kutno area. At the Christmas celebrations a toast was raised towards unity between all the faiths and classes. One of the rebels, by the name of Wiszniewski, was in charge of some craftsmen and among them some Jews; Dr. Handelsman went around the place secretly, tended the wounded in the camps near Gostynin, Łęczyca and Koñsk.
In 1863 Handelsman journeyed abroad to look for weapons. There he came into contact with the Jewish agents, Goldsztajn and Kaliszer. On return to Poland he was arrested and sentenced to exile in Siberia. However, Count Graf, the deputy of the Czar, changed his sentence to three months imprisonment in the Dęblin fortress and police surveillance after serving the sentence. We do not know if indeed Handelsman was imprisoned in the fortress, but in any event, after he returned from going abroad, he stood trial again. This time he was sentenced to two years in prison. After serving his time he returned to Kutno; in 1909 he moved to Wloclawek and died there of old age in the year 1911.
His eldest son, the Polish historian, Prof. Marceli Handelsman, was born from his Christian wife, and was brought up from birth as a Christian. In 1944 he was murdered by the nationalist Polish underground N.S.Z. The younger son, Josef, was a high school teacher.
During the time of Handelsman and shortly afterwards Dr. Feliks Orensztajn (1849-1916) served as doctor in Kutno and was highly esteemed. He was born in Warsaw and completed his studies at the Faculty of Medicine in 1873. The same year he worked in Kutno where he worked as doctor for thirty-four years, until 1907. He died in 1916 from typhus which he contracted while treating his patients.
To his special credit is Dr. Orensztajn's development of a therapeutic centre at Ciechocinek. Also his research in the field of medicine won him praise among medical circles in Poland.
Among the rabbis in the first half of the 19th century, Rabbi Mosze Aharon Kronzylber should be mentioned, who apparently served as rabbi after the death of Rabbi Eliezer Brisz and also Rabbi Mosze Jehuda Lajb (born in Łęczyca), who was the author of the essays Fresh Olive (Warsaw 1851) and Glory of Jerusalem. At first he served as rabbi in Kowal, Sierpc, Dobrzyn and Łask. In 1857, he emigrated to Israel and settled in Jerusalem where he died in 1879.
After Rabbi Lajb left, apparently Kutno remained without a rabbi for two years. However, in the month of Tevet 1860, Rabbi Israel Jehoszua Trunk, the famous genius, formerly rabbi in Pułtusk, was welcomed as rabbi. During the years of the reign of Alexander the Second the legal limitations which had been put on the Jews of Poland were lifted, and on 5th June 1862 a law was declared giving equal rights to Jews. The Revere was cancelled and Jews were allowed to buy land in most of the towns in Poland.
On 31st May 1862 Jews were permitted to keep pharmacies and to be craftsmen; on 1st January 1863 the kosher meat tax was abolished, and two days later the day pass was cancelled Jews had been required to hold a pass entitling them to go to Warsaw.
The greatest satisfaction was concerning the abolition of the kosher meat tax, which had been a burden on the Jewish population for scores of years. The same year Jews were granted the right to vote in municipal elections.
In connection with these events festive prayers were offered in the synagogue and religious seminary in Kutno. The town Rabbi gave a sermon and Szlomo Icchak Oslowinski the cantor did not spare a special chant for the Czar, his representative in Poland the Grand Prince Constantine, and for the head of the civil administration Marquis Wielopolski, who supported the granting of equal rights to Jews at the price of their assimilation. It was he who persuaded the Czar to publish the ukases from 1862 and 1863.
In the Hebrew newspapers from the second half of the 19th century details were published about people and incidents characteristic of the way of life in those days. For example, the paper HaMagid, in 1861 (no. 16), in an article from Kutno, related that a new scroll of the law (the fourth) was brought to the synagogue, donated by the widow Bajle Zylberberg. She was a rich enough lady, since the first ones cost 6,000 Polish zloty. The celebration was commemorated generously - first there was a reception for the whole town, where, according to the reporter's notes, more than one thousand were present (men, women and children).
Rabbi Jehoszele Kutner, who was then the rabbi, brought the scrolls under a canopy into the synagogue, accompanied by musical instruments. The cantor sang and there was dancing in the streets. As a token of respect and gratitude, the widow was permitted to place the scroll with her very own hands in the Holy Ark. In the evening the donor arranged a feast for the scholars and generously distributed charity.
Numbered among the big rich men in the town at this time was the lumber merchant Jacob Erdberg, who had business connections with the land owners and employed many Jewish families. In his will he left 3,000 roubles as a public charity. He died in 1873 and in a letter to HaMagid newspaper his son in law, Fajwisz Weber, wrote that Christian notables from the town and surroundings came to the funeral. His wife Miriam was also very popular in the town.
Among the respected home owners at that time the old Zalman Pinkus who would speak Germanised Yiddish and wore a top hat must be mentioned. Also estate owner Lajb Kuszmirak and the Kocker Chassid Jehuda Majer Lipski (later he moved to Gur) who was given special permission to wear the robes of a rabbi.
Among the small group of Enlightened Jews Wolf Lajb Lehrer must be mentioned. He taught Hebrew and Bible studies and was one of the few readers in the town of HaTsfira. Also the Kutno reporter for HaMagid, J. Rozencweig, Israel Wolf Gliksman, father of Dr. Abraham and Dr. Icze Gliksman and the stepfather of the leader of the Bund, Wiktor Alter.
Authority in the community was, of course, in the hands of the respected house owners, rich men and scholars, although it did happen that the common people rebelled and claimed that their opinion should also be heard in the community.
This interesting happening, from the year 1886, was reported in an article in the newspaper Hamlitz: On a certain Sabbath, a new cantor who had come to the town was supposed to lead the prayers in the synagogue, but the heads of the congregation did not agree (the reasons were not given in the article). Therefore the cantor lead the prayer in the seminary and it was very nice. The next Sabbath the common crowd asked that the cantor lead the prayer in the synagogue. The matter was brought before the rabbi and according to the compromise that he suggested, the cantor would only lead prayers for the beginning of the Sabbath and the additional Bible reading in the synagogue. But the common crowd did not give up and a skirmish broke out in the synagogue which resulted in a scrimmage, the old cantor was driven off the lectern and even beaten up, and his condition added the article was serious. It is amazing how the feelings of the crowd got agitated over the prayers of a cantor when even the accepted authority of the town rabbi was not able to placate them.
How the quarrel was resolved we do not know.
Apparently, at certain times, outstandingly friendly relations existed between Jews and Christians, and this is proved by the catastrophic fire in 1875. On 19th March 1875 a fire broke out in some Jewish houses and six hundred families were destitute. In an article it is reported about the great help extended by the Christians in putting the fire out, and also how a group of amateur Polish actors dedicated the earnings from their show towards the damage. Owners of estates in the area offered flour and potatoes. Normal relations also existed between the community and the last landowners in Kutno, the Zawadzkis. In 1891 when the lawyer Zawadzki died, the community laid a wreath of flowers on his grave.
It is very likely that no wreath of flowers was laid on the grave of a young woman from Suwalki who devoted herself to the education of Jewish girls and who, in the same year 1891, killed herself with her own hand. This woman, after teaching at the gymnasium in Vilna arrived in Kutno with the intention of opening a school there for girls. Apparently the townspeople did not support her. Due to a shortage of funds so she wrote in her farewell letter she was unable to realize her wish. So she put an end to her life by swallowing poison. Who was this woman, a pioneer in the field of education in the town? About this, the article we have does not tell at all.
Demographic and occupational structure from the end of the 19th century
until the first quarter of the 20th century
According to a population census carried out in czarist Russia in 1897, 5,345 Jews were living in Kutno 2,611 men and 2,763 women, and the entire population of the town was 11,250 people. The percentage of Jews, therefore, reached 17.5%.
Among this number were 1,496 heads of families and 3,849 dependents on them. On the average, there were 2.6 children per family. The number of children in families engaged in trade was greater than the general average and reached 3.5. This was because among the craftsmen the youngsters became economically independent earlier than among the merchants or shopkeepers.
|Craft and industry||436||1210||1646||30.9|
|State, charity support||9||5||14||0.2|
It turns out, therefore, that nearly one third of the Jews made a livelihood from craft and industry, as opposed to nearly forty percent from commerce. Those marked in the list as owners of capital were, apparently, house owners, interest loan merchants and other who invested money in one way or another in trade. A significant percentage, therefore, of the Jewish population, made a living from commerce and business credit.
5.4 percent were employed in transport and in the free professions 1.2 percent.
The census did not record the separation of wage earners into employers and employed. These two groups are included as independent. At any event, surely servants, clerks, scholars and teachers were salaried. All these together come to 12.2 percent, which is certainly correct, since this percentage does not include all the functionaries and clerks, for example, the apprentices, industrial workers. No figures are available for determining the part these groups played in the Jewish wage earners group altogether.
It must be mentioned that the list omits agricultural workers completely; it must be imagined that they were not absent among the Jews who leased farms or owners of gardens and fields. But it seems that farming for them was only a secondary occupation during the summer, and the list deals with only one source of income.
Below, the various occupations are given in more detail.
|Alcohol & other drinks||49||132||181||11.2|
The livelihood of two thirds of all the wage earners in craft and industry was derived from needlework of all sorts. As in suburbs of other cities and towns, here also tailoring was a typical Jewish occupation. The second place is taken up by processing of alcohol and other drinks. More than ninety percent of those occupied in this did not work in breweries, but they certainly were owned by Jews, and mainly Christians worked in them. Third place in the list is held by the textile industry, and the fourth, building. Fifth place goes to the wood industry and the sixth to food.
It must be noted that no Jews at all were found in the metal industry and none either in the chemical industry.
The number of independent women, from the economic point of view, is quite negligible. Only in the clothing branch were a few women occupied, 12 out of 286. In contrast, they made up a significant part in mining services 5 out of 13.
Very small indeed, according to the table, was the part Jews played in the forest industry; only one man, while in other settlements this was one of the important occupations involving capital-holding Jews. The second largest branch of industry, after craft and industry, was commerce. Division of the branches of commerce are set out below:
|Produce, grain etc||52||235||287||14.5|
|Skins and furs||19||82||101||5.2|
|Metal and machines||15||59||74||3.8|
|Wood and heating materials||12||44||56||2.7|
According to the above table it turns out that about one quarter of all those engaged in commerce (24.7 percent) would not have been able to indicate clearly what merchandise they dealt with, and appear in the table as general merchants. Apparently they were luft menschen people with no definite business, who at that time were quite a routine in suburbs of cities and towns, and who made a living from anything that came their way. Together with family members, they made up 9 percent of all the Jewish population. The large number of agents could be appended to that group (at least, half of them), and also those appearing in the category of undefined employment. Altogether this group, whose economic basis was unsure and was from hand to mouth, amounts to 600 people, including family members, that is, 11.5 percent of the whole Jewish population.
This number clearly indicates the rundown economic situation of large sectors among the Jews, especially since it does not include poor craftsmen, disadvantaged religious workers and just poor. Together with all those, the number of economically disadvantaged persons was twice as great, at least.
More than half of those occupied in trade were grocers. After them came the textile merchants, produce and skins.
In contrast to craft, women held an important place in some types of commerce. More than one fifth of the grocers were women, and also more than one quarter of the traders in drinks 3 out of 11. Out of 15 door to door peddlers, five were women.
The number of those engaged in services was 220 155 women and 55 men. On an average, every seventh family could have engaged a male or female domestic servant.
According to the list, 134 families, which is 465 people (9 percent), belong to the group which lives off capital. As already noted, these were apparently house owners and money lenders who took interest for mortgage loans.
The group of clerks includes community clerks and clerks from the municipal and state administration. Out of fourteen families engaged by the community (a rabbi, two judges, a cantor, slaughterers, caretakers, trustees, etc.), only one Jew was employed by the municipality (apparently dealt with the birth records of the Jews), two were engaged in postal services and one young girl who served as a state secretary.
Strangely enough, one Jew appears in the list as a clerk in the Prawosłavic church, and one young man was employed in another Christian sect but nothing is known about the nature of their work.
A significant number of Jewish families were occupied in transport 65 families (5.4 percent), since Kutno was a railway junction for the whole area which had been isolated from a railway line (Plock and surroundings, Koło, Konin and parts of Kalisz district). Carters from Kutno apparently played an important part in transporting loads between these places and the railway station of Kutno.
Twenty-five families made a living as tutors and teachers and four families were active in the area of science and art. However, the author of this article is not able to identify them.
Among those practicing the free professions, the list notes two lawyers and seven doctors and nurses (two women among them); together with the science and art families, a total of 13 families. This accounts for no more than one percent of all the families.
Going by the class division of that time, 81 (38 men and 43 women) were merchants. Towns' people numbered 5,226, and seven people were classed as farmers.
Concerning the educational standard of the Jewish population, 1,209 people knew how to read and write Russian (760 men and 449 women), which is more than one third of all the Jewish population aged 14 and older (34.3 percent). Their mature national and Jewish awareness is indicated by the fact that only three people recorded their mother tongue as other than Yiddish or Hebrew. Only a very small percentage noted Hebrew as their mother tongue.
The list also records one Jewish prisoner locked up (his family name is not entered).
Also two prostitutes who supported two children.
It is appropriate to mention the changes that took place in the occupational composition of the Jewish population in Kutno over one hundred years 1796 to 1897.
|Craft and industry||41.6||30.9|
|[ii] (community etc.)||9.7*||1.5|
The changes in the occupational composition of the Jewish population that occurred over one hundred years are extremely obvious: the share of those engaged in commerce grew from one quarter of all the wage earners to nearly 40 percent. In contrast, the number of those occupied in trade and industry went down from over 40 percent to less than a third.
But it must be taken into account that a certain proportion of craftsmen at the end of the 18th century were engaged at the very same time in trade, especially bars, and actually the percentage of Jews occupied in trade was higher than that recorded. However, even after this reservation, the fact remains that in 1796 more Jews were engaged in craft than a year later.
The number of Jews living off community funds decreased. In 1897 the total number of clerks was no more than 1.5 percent, while in 1796 the number of clerks had reached almost 10 percent of all wage earners. In contrast, in the 19th century the part taken by transport and delivery workers was almost five times greater. Among the servants and female domestic workers no change was recorded 8.4 and 8.6 percent.
In 1796 more than five percent of the Jewish population was unemployed and lived off charity, and in 1897 this group was only 0.2 percent. From this it can be learnt that the poverty that the Jewish population was sunk into at the end of the 18th century had diminished.
The years before the First World War were boost years for the Jewish population.
Between the years 1897 and 1910 the Jewish population in Kutno grew by 3,900 persons, an increase of 73 percent and was, in that year, 63 percent of the population of Kutno. This growth cannot be attributed solely to natural increase which, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, reached an average of 16 per thousand.
During these thirteen years, therefore, the natural increase was 1 per 100 persons. If this number is added to the number of Jews in 1897, the figure of 6445 is reached, while, in reality, the number of Jews in Kutno was 9,245 people. It turns out that the remaining 2,800 people represent Jews from other places who resided in Kutno.
This large migration in thirteen years proves that Kutno was a place for employment which attracted Jews. In the same years commerce and haulage developed. Jews contributed largely to the building of large mechanical flour mills and other plants for the agricultural industry. Jews from other neighbouring little towns and faraway places settled in Kutno; at the beginning of the 20th century there was a significant settlement of Lithuanians who engaged in trade and industry.
|1808||1357||748||64.5||- 3.1||- 14.9|
|1840||2635||1425||64.9||- 79.0||- 19|
|1857||3859||2009||65.8||+ 34.9||+ 14.1|
|1897||5345||5187||50.7||+ 30.7||+ 158.2|
This most instructive table represents the growth rate of the Jewish population. In the second half of the 18th century, between the years 1776 and 1796, there was a great increase in the size of the Jewish population which reached 80 percent. And in the period from 1796 until 1808 the number decreased by a quarter. The reason for this happening springs from the Napoleonic wars and the political reverberations in the years 1796-1815. The Christian population in the town also decreased during that time.
After the stabilisation of the national situation and the preparation of congress Poland (1815), a period of consistent growth took place which lasted the entire 19th century. In the first quarter (1808-1827) the Jewish population doubled in size and in the second quarter (1827-1857), by more than a third. It was similar for the next forty years (1857-1897).
The growth rate of the Christian population was almost parallel to that of the Jews, apart for the period 1857-1897 when the growth of the Christian population exceeded that of the Jews, even when the number of Jews grew nearly to thirty percent, the Christians increased by 158 percent.
And so, throughout the entire 19th century there was an overwhelming majority of Jews in Kutno. In 1857 they comprised two thirds of the whole population, but at the end of the century the situation changed to the advantage of the Poles, and in the 1897 census the percentage of Jews decreased to half (50.7%).
In the first decade of the 20th century the balance changed in favour of the Jews and in 1910 they comprised 63.0 percent of the town's population. However, with the emergence of independent Poland, there was a drastic change.
In the census conducted in 1921, the population of the town was 15.976, from which 6,784 were Jews, that is, 42.5 percent. And in the following census in 1931 there was a further decrease. Out of a population of 23,368 souls in Kutno, the Jewish population contained only 6,440 people (according to their estimate), that is to say, no more than 27 percent.
In comparison with 1910, a peak year for the number of Jews, in all periods the number of Jews in the town grew smaller. In both actual figures and percentages, this was the result of events from the First World War and emigration to countries overseas in the 20th century. Even so, it must not be ignored that the decrease in the percentage of Jews in the town results from an artificial calculation based on administrative inclusion of areas in the town jurisdiction populated by Christians.
Intellectual and social image of the community in the 19th century
Kutno is sited on the border of greater Poland and Mazowia and its geographical situation has moulded the stamp of the Jews of this town. The spoken language was a mixture of Polish Yiddish the slang of greater Poland - and the real Yiddish, from Mazowia. Also were sharp Opponents (Mitnagdim) house owners who wore shiny top hats and Chassidim from Kock, and Warka, on the other hand. Mitnagdim, who were intellectuals and read the HaTsfira and Washington Courier newspapers, and Kock fanatics who chased after the rabbis, were in the town. The geographical border line of Kutno expressed itself in the Kutno dialect which contained a mixture of languages.
While the spoken language of the old generation was Germanised Yiddish, in the spoken language of the young generation Mazowian Yiddish had already taken over, quite simply. Also there was a clear blend in education and with the popular countries. In town there were scholars who were downright common. The street of the butchers (butcher's alley) of Szalom Asz was not far from the seminary and in the neighbourhood of the court of Rabbi Jehoszele Kutner lived the street organ grinders and the simple people. Like every Jewish town Kutno was rich in types that became a legend in popular folklore like Mordechai and Chaim described by Szalom Asz in his book Motke the Thief and by J. J. Trunk in his book Poyln.
The Lithuanians made up a special group; they settled in Kutno after the expulsion from Moscow in 1891. They brought with them the spirit of the metropolis to the quiet atmosphere of the small town and a freer relationship in the religious life. They were large rich merchants and industry magnates who covered the expenses of the community and for this reason were treated tolerantly by the town's people who were not strict regarding their immoral behaviour. Some of them even filled important posts in the community.
So, the foundations of the patriarchal society began to shake and new times arrived and with them, new schemes. The new generation got caught up in national and social movements and in 1908 the literary society was founded, affiliated to the centre which is in Petersburg, which opened a library and organized reading evenings with the participation of authors such as Szalom Aleichem (1913), H. D. Nomberg, Hillel Zeitlin, and others.
In the elections for the second Duma [parliament] in 1907 a group of Poalei Zion was active in the town.
With the outbreak of the First World War the situation of the Jewish population in the town changed and was pushed on to new paths.
Jakub Goldberg. Osiemnastowieczne lokacje miejskie w dawnych województwach łęczyckim i sieradzkim. Rocznik Łódzki, tom IX (XII), 1964. p. 82. Return
Jewish Studies in Memory of Alexander Kohut, New York, 1935, p. 235. Return
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Kutno, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Sep 2020 by JH