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Translation of Zychlin chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Zychlin chapter
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 116-119, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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Translated by Leon Zamosc
|Sept. 1, 1939||(?)||2,600-2,800|
Jewish settlement until 1918
Zychlin was first mentioned in a document from 1332. It gained city status in 1450 as a private aristocratic city. Despite the fact that there were clear signs of urban development in terms of population, it lost its city status in 1867 as punishment of the Russian government for the residents' support to the Polish rebels in 1863. In 1924, Zychlin recovered its city status.
While no legal or administrative restrictions to Jewish residence in the town are known, there are no records about the presence of Jews in Zychlin until the 18th century. Those first records indicate that they worked in petty trade and the crafts, mainly as tailors and shoemakers who sold their products on market days. Some also traded in horses and cattle during the fairs. In the middle of the 19th century, the food industry in the town developed to a certain extent, with a considerable number of Jewish factory owners participating in it. In 1894, Jews owned most of the town's industrial plants, including a steam mill, a leather factory, a soap factory, and two oil factories. However, the most important sources of livelihood for the Jews continued to be the small commerce and the crafts: of the 184 shops in this period only 7 were not owned by Jews, and among the 16 bakers there were only 4 non-Jews.
At first, the Jewish community of Zychlin was subordinate to the communities of Kutno or Gostynin. In 1766 the community of Zychlin was already independent and, during its first decades of existence was run by notable homeowners. By the end of the 19th century, the Gur Hasidim became the majority group, took over the reins of the community, and continued to rule it until the end of the First World War. Zychlin's original synagogue, a wooden building, was erected in 1780. One hundred years later it was replaced by a stone building. There was also a Beit Midrash and some shtiebels of Hasidim. In 1912, the opponents of the Gur Hasidim established a shtiebel of their own under the name Linat Zedek. Later on, this shtiebel served as a base for the local branch of the Mizrachi party in Zychlin.
By the second half of the 18th century the community had grown. One of the first rabbis in Zychlin was Shlomo ben Avraham, formerly a Magid in Dobra and Kalish. His essay Benin Shlomo was published in Shklov in 1789. In the 1840s, other Hasidic rebbes settled in the town, founding what would become the Zychliner dynasty. In 1824, after the death of Rabbi Efraim Fishel of Strykov, some of his followers had crowned Rabbi Shmuel Abba (who at the time was living in Buduanov) as Rabbi Fishel's successor. In 1844, Rabbi Shmuel Abba moved to Zychlin, engaged in practical Kabbalah, and became known as a miracle worker. The common people flocked to him. In his area of control and influence, especially the enlightened cities and towns of the Prussian occupation, Rabbi Shmuel Abba fought the harbingers of progress, the people of education and reform. After his death, the leader of the Hasidim was his son, Rabbi Moshe Netanel Zychlinsky (who died in 1912), and then his grandson Rabbi Menachem Yedidya, who died in the Zychlin ghetto in 1940. Rabbi Shmuel Avraham, the son of Rabbi Menachem Yedidya, continued as head of the Hasidim until Purim 1942, when the Germans killed him by firing squad on the day before the liquidation of the ghetto and the deportation of all the Zychlin Jews to their death.
The first Jewish political organizations were established In Zychlin at the beginning of the 20th century, including the Bund in 1903, the Zionist-Socialists in 1905, and Poalei Zion in those same years. With the news about disturbances against the Jews in 1905, the local revolutionaries (apparently, members of the organizations mentioned above) organized self-defense groups to face possible troubles. During the reactionary period after the revolution of 1905-1906, these groups disintegrated due to the persecution of the authorities. Political activism resumed when the German armies occupied the town during the First World War. That period saw the foundation of the organizations Bnei Zion, Tze'irei Zion and the Jewish Scouts. In 1914 there was an attempt to establish a non-partisan professional union, Zukunft (Future), but the occupation authorities soon abolished the union. After the end of the war, the Poalei Zion party founded in 1918 the Arbayter-Heim club, and next to it the Union of Needle Workers and the Leather Workers' Union. With the news of the harassment of Jews by units of General Haller's army in 1918, a local self-defense group was organized in Zychlin by the youngsters of the sports organization Turnparein. In the years 1918-1916, there was a public school with 4 class levels for Jewish children, supported by the municipality.
Between the two world wars
During the interwar period, there was no change in the occupational structure of the Jewish community in Zychlin. Most Jewish residents were among the poor, making a living as small merchants and craftsmen. There were only a few affluent Jews leasing forest plots for logging and operating as tenants of dairy farms that belonged to landowners. No Jews were hired in the large non-Jewish industrial plants found in the area, which included two sugar factories, a beer factory, and a brick factory. Only two Jews worked in the flour mill, which was owned by Jews. A new industry, which employed less than twenty craftsmen, was the knitting of socks by order of contractors from other cities. In this situation, many Jewish families (especially youngsters) migrated to larger cities.
The Zionist organizations played a crucial role in the political life of Zychlin. Local branches of the General Zionists, Mizrachi, Hapoel-Mizrachi, Poalei Zion-Left, Poalei Zion-Right, and the youth movements Hashomer Hatzair and Hanoar Hatzioni were active in the town. In the 1930s, the Hechalutz branch was founded, which brought together the pioneering youth of all the organizations. In 1932, Poalei Zion established in Zychlin a training agricultural school for future life in the kibbutz. At the initiative of Poalei Zion-Left, a local trade union council that grouped Jews and non-Jews was founded in the town in 1924. Under the union's leadership, there was a successful bakers' strike on that year. The results of the elections to the Zionist Congresses indicate the influence of the various parties. In the elections to the 20th and 21st Congresses, there were about 270 shekel buyers who voted as follows: General Zionists 101 votes in 1937 and 79 in 1939, and the Workers' League for the Land of Israel 120 votes in 1937 and 142 in 1939 (in alliance with Poalei Zion-Left). The other Zionist parties won 10-20 votes each. The Bundists and Folkists were few in numbers. Agudat Israel was active in the community and in education. After World War I, the Zionists defeated the Gur Hasidim of Agudat Israel and took over the community's administration. In the 1931 community elections, the Zionist parties won 5 seats, Agudat Israel 2, and the artisans' list 1.
The influence of the Jewish parties in the municipality was demonstrated by the fact that, in line with the results of the 1927 election, a Jew was supposed to occupy the position of deputy major. In the end, the position was lost because the representatives of the Jewish parties did not reach agreement on the candidate (rather than voting for the Jewish candidate, a representative of Poalei Zion-Left voted for the candidate of the Polish Socialist Party). In 1927, under the influence of the Jewish councilmen, the municipality allocated a thousand zlotys to the Jewish Craftsmen and Traders Bank, which was founded on that year.
Prominent among the Jewish institutions in Zychlin during this period was the Gemilat Hesed fund, which in 1936/37 alone provided 450 loans to the needy. Linat Zedek and Bikur Holim, which had existed in the town for years, continued to provide health relief. The Jewish Craftsmen's Association took care of obtaining craft licenses for its members and assisted them with low-interest loans. The Jewish Merchants' Association also had a lending fund.
The high status of the Zychliner Hasidic dynasty cast a shadow over the local rabbinic authorities. After the First World War, the rabbi of Zychlin was Yechiel Yitzchak Rappaport, activist of the Mizrachi party. His Agudat Israel opponents spared no effort to undermine him, denouncing him to the Polish authorities in 1920 as a Bolshevik. As a result, rabbi Rappaport spent some time in prison. The last rabbi of Zychlin was Avraham Mordechai Alter, born in 1872. He was a Ger Hasid and was considered a great scholar. He did not transcribe his many innovations out of humility so as not to flaunt the crown of the Torah. He perished during the Nazi occupation.
Despite the small size of the community, there were many Jewish educational institutions in Zychlin. The community ran a Talmud-Torah for the poor. Immediately after the First World War, Agudat Israel established a yeshiva and a school for girls, Beit Yaakov. The Zionists opened the Tarbut school, offering evening classes for Hebrew, the Bible and the history of Israel. Due to lack of resources, the Tarbut school was closed in 1928. The already mentioned 4-grade municipal school for Jewish children was transformed in 1922 into a 7-grade school that was attended by most children of the town. The principal and the teachers (except for one) were Jews, which was not typical of such public schools in other towns of Poland.
During the interwar period there were three Jewish public libraries in Zychlin. The two larger ones were run by Poalei Zion-Left and Poalei Zion-Right. In addition to the already mentioned sports organization Turnparein, the football club Hapoel was also established in 1927 by Zionist youngsters and Poalei Zion.
In the years leading up to the Second World War, the Jews of Zychlin were subjected to harassment. In March 1939, a gang of the Polish right-wing party Endecja forced a local Jewish peddler to remove his stand. The despairing peddler responded with a shout, and for this he was tried and punished for insulting the Polish people.
Zychlin was occupied by the German army on September 17, 1939. The next day the Germans abducted a group of young Jews, took them to a remote village 20 kilometers away, locked them up for three days in a church, and then allowed them to return to Zychlin. A few days later, the Germans concentrated the Jews in the market square. Many of them were drafted for manual labor, such as sweeping the streets and cleaning the apartments and offices of the Germans. The press-ganging of Jews for forced labor became a daily routine in the town. After a while, the authorities imposed a ban on Jewish bakeries, arresting and imprisoning the Jewish bakers who continued to bake and sell. After vigorous lobbying and high penalties paid by the bakers, the ban on baking was lifted. Two additional penalty taxes were imposed on the Jews of Zychlin, including one as punishment for allegedly burning the synagogue after the Germans torched it themselves. In November 1939, the Jews were ordered to wear a yellow ribbon on their sleeves, and after a while the ribbon was replaced with yellow stars that had to be worn on the chest and on the back. The Jews were required to affix the sign Jude on the doors of their houses and observe a curfew from 5 pm to 6 am. In April 1940, the local authorities imprisoned the Polish and Jewish intelligentsia in Zychlin, especially the teachers. The prisoners, including many Jewish teachers, were sent to concentration camps in Germany.
The Zychlin ghetto was established in the summer or fall of 1940. It had two sections. The large ghetto was set on the right side of Narotovich Street and was crammed with approximately 1,800 people. The small ghetto was located on the outskirts of the town, in a suburb called Fabianovka. Both sections were overcrowded, with several families in each apartment and more than ten people occupying the same room. The Jews were ordered to seal their windows facing Narotovich Street in order to insulate them from the Aryan side. The living conditions in Fabianovka were extremely harsh. It was a wet and swampy area, with dispersed primitive houses that had no sewage and no well water to drink. The Jews had to dig their own well. It appears that no part of the ghetto was fenced off. Apparently, only one German policeman guarded the ghetto, near the building where the Judenrat was located. Officially, Jews were allowed to leave the ghetto only in exceptional cases, and only with a special license from the authorities (for example, to visit a doctor) and accompanied by a Jewish policeman. The Jewish policemen and members of the Judenrat were free to move throughout the town. The Jews who left the ghetto without permission were beaten, robbed and imprisoned. Contact with the non-Jewish populations of the city and the countryside was easy. The Aryans - the Poles and the Volksdeutsches (Ethnic Germans) - often entered the ghetto, ordered clothes and shoes from Jewish tailors and shoemakers, and bought ready-made items. They paid with money or food. In an empty lot next to the Judenrat building, and in a field near Budzinska Street, an illegal trade flourished: the Jews sold their products or the rest of their property, the Christians sold food. Many Jews secretly slipped out to buy food in the surrounding villages, and the Jewish workers who were daily escorted by policemen to work outside the ghetto would also bring food on their return. Illegal trade and smuggling of foodstuffs were made possible by regular bribes to German policemen and Volksdeutsche auxiliaries.
While the living conditions of the Jewish residents were not too difficult, most of those who came to Zychlin as displaced refugees from other towns suffered starvation. On January 1, 1940, there were about 600 refugees in Zychlin among the 3,000 Jews. Their numbers increased, and so did the overcrowding in the ghetto, which on the eve of its liquidation had 3,200 Jews (March 1942). Most of the refugees came from Kutno, Dabrowice, Sanniki and Wloclawek. The housing difficulties of the refugees were enormous. For example, a large group of Dabrowice Jews were housed in a half-ruined brick factory. Many refugees, however, were forced to live outdoors. Most of them were penniless, could not buy food, and had to survive on the meager German food rations (the daily ration of bread in the ghetto was 120 grams per person) and leftovers that they rarely received. In the large ghetto, the Judenrat opened a public kitchen, which distributed soup to the poor from both ghettos, once a day. In Fabianovka it was not possible to open a kitchen because there was no suitable building. The Judenrat received only one grant from the Joint Distribution Committee's office in Warsaw.
The chairman of the Judenrat was the head of the community administration before the war, Alter Rosenberg. Its members were: Max Rosenberg, Yosef Halmsky, Isaac (or Noah) Kalmer, Yehoshua and Mordechai Ziger, Yitzhak Seifert, Dr. Winogron. The chief of the Jewish police force was Yosef Oberman. Every day, they selected the workers according to a list and hired replacements for those who were able to pay to avoid being drafted for work.
With this organization of the labor supply, the press-ganging of workers ceased in Zychlin. But this did not prevent the deportation of young Jews to the labor camps. These drafts were a nightmare for the ghetto residents. From August 1941 until the end of the year, several hundred men were sent to the forced labor camps in the Poznan area. The living conditions in those camps were terrible, and none of them returned to the ghetto. Two Jews from Zychlin were hanged in the Naklo camp for trying to steal some potatoes from a nearby field. About 60 women from Zychlin were also sent to do field work on one of the estates. Luckily, the farm manager treated them decently. The Judenrat, or the chief of the Jewish police, had to prepare the list of men selected for deportation, which were collected during the night by the Jewish police. Understandably, people in the ghetto detested the Jewish police and especially its commander.
Under the appalling sanitary conditions, typhus cases appeared in the ghetto. The only doctor in the ghetto, Dr. Winogron, organized a small primitive hospital without proper equipment and medications, trying to eradicate the plague with the help of two assistants.
Signs of the imminent liquidation of the Zychlin ghetto came with the news that arrived in early 1942 about the liquidation of the ghettos in the Kolo district, especially Klodawa. It is believed that some Jews who managed to escape from Chelmno, the site of the mass extermination, reached Zychlin. There was also a hardening in the attitude of the local authorities. For example, the postal connection between the Zychlin Jews and the Jews in other places was severed and the Jews captured outside the ghetto began to be killed. Smuggling, which had been largely ignored by the German police, was now severely repressed. Regular searches began in the ghetto, accompanied by robbery. Many Jews considered fleeing to Warsaw on the assumption that the Germans would not eliminate its large Jewish ghetto. But the trip involved large expenses, and only a few rich people were able to leave Zychlin. One of such groups was caught on the road and the Jews were shot on the spot. Only a handful of Jews had the opportunity of hiding outside the ghetto with Polish acquaintances.
By the end of February 1942, the German police arrested the chairman of the Judenrat and the chief of the Jewish police. They were hanged in prison. In the following days, the ghetto was liquidated. The police broke into the houses, looted property, and killed Jews in apartments and streets. The members of the Judenrat and all the Jewish policemen and their families were publicly executed in the market square. The family of the chairman of the Judenrat and the wife of the Jewish police chief were apparently murdered even earlier, immediately after they were hanged in prison. A member of the Judenrat, Y. Ziegler, tried to resist the German policemen before he was killed. With the ghetto strictly surrounded by police guards, about 200 people perished in this aktion. On March 3 1942, the entire population of the ghetto, 3,200 Jews, were taken to the market square and loaded on carts confiscated from the local farmers. The operation was rife with beatings and shootings. Failing and slow people were shot on the spot. The deportees were taken to the train station in Krosniewice, loaded onto wagons and transported to the extermination camp in Chelmno. The policemen who conducted the action and escorted the carts told the Jews openly that they were being transported to death. Only a very small number of young Jews managed to escape from the wagons.
Of the Jews who lived in Zychlin at the outbreak of the war, only 68 survived: 41 in the Nazi camps, 14 who escaped to the Soviet-occupied area of Poland, and 13 who were given refuge by Poles or managed to obtain false Aryan identity papers.
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