“Rawa Mazowiecka” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume I

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Translation of “Rawa Mazowiecka” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 257 - 260, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

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(Pages 257 - 260)

Rawa Mazowiecka

(Rawa Mazowiecka district)

Translated by Merav Shub

Population Figures

1.9.1939(?)Approx 2,500

The Jewish Presence Until 1918

Rawa Mazowiecka achieved town status in the second half of the 14th century. In 1462 it became the capital of the Rawa district. During the first half of the 16th century the Jews settled in this developing urban environment. In 1547 there was a blood libel against the Jews of Rawa Mazowiecka: they were accused of murdering a Christian child. The King tried to prevent this groundless accusation against the Jews and appointed a special committee to investigate the affair, and thereby to a certain extent calmed the feelings of the town's people against the Jews, but in spite of this the Jews left the town in the middle of the 16th century. During the Polish war with the Swedish in the 17th and 18th centuries Rawa's situation deteriorated and its population declined. In order to improve the town's economic condition, and as was customary in those days, the town's elders (Starostas) brought Jewish merchants and artisans to the town. The settlement of Jews in Rawa in the 18th century led to the town's boundaries being expanded by incorporating the village of Zamkowa Wola on the other side of the Rilka River. This village belonged to a portion of the King's estates, which was known as “Rawa's Starostas” (under the authority of the Starosta who ruled Rawa). Around 1775 the village was designated an urban district, and as mentioned above, was joined to Rawa Mazowiecka. Its official title was “Jews' Town”, and as this indicates, it was inhabited by Jews. It comprised an elongated market square and one wide street, which was later named Jerusalem Street. In a 1789 census it was recorded that, where farmers used to live and on empty plots of land, 25 Jewish houses had been built. The merchants who inhabited them intended to establish cottage industries and to manufacture mirrors and metalware. The local Jews had the professional expertise required for this: among them there were “machinists”, tassel/fringe weavers, gold cloth weavers, starchers, goldsmiths, coppersmiths, tin-workers, stocking-makers, glaziers, comb-makers, wire-makers, needle-makers, pin-makers, and tanners of glove-leather.

Rawa Mazowiecka's citizens objected to the establishment by the Starosta of the “Jews' Town” within the borders of Rawa Mazowiecka, and they took their complaint to the courts. But the Court rejected their complaint and, moreover, allowed the Jews to distil alcohol and sell it in various places. However, in deference to the wishes of the locals, the Jews were not permitted to sell it in the local inn. The Court also allowed the Jews to trade only between 8 and 12 in the morning. A later court ruling, in 1782, extended their trading hours until 3pm. A local civilian and military committee sent a letter to the president of the Sejm in Warsaw, asking that Jewish trading hours be again reduced. Their proposal was rejected, but local objections tended to restrict Jewish economic initiatives.

In the first half of the 19th century a marked increase in the Jewish population occurred and this was one of the main drivers of the town's development in this period. Groups of German and Polish weavers settled in the town, and a village named Tatari, in which a weaving industry developed, was incorporated into the town. In the 1860s Wolf Bergman, one of the Jews of Rawa, managed a small ribbon factory. There was a sudden deterioration in the Jews' condition as a result of the 1861 fire, in which the whole of “Jew's Town” went up in flames; it never returned to its former state. The Jews, along with the rest of the population, suffered greatly during WWI; for nine months Rawa Mazowiecka was on the front line, and the town was totally destroyed.

An independent Jewish kehila (community) with its subsidiary institutions was established in Rawa, probably at the beginning of the 19th Century. During the second half of that century Rabbi Shlomo Margolis was the town's rabbi for a while; he later served in a number of other communities. Around 1875 the town's rabbi was Rabbi Abraham Shmuel Bar Joseph Lamm, author of Eshel Avraham. In 1899 Rabbi Yerachmiel Moshe Noach Rappoport was appointed as a halachic authority, and from 1908 he was the town's senior rabbi, until the time of the Shoah.

Between the Two World Wars

During this period, the life of the Jewish community was subject to a number of upheavals, caused by a lack of finances and by disagreements between Rabbi Rappoport and various groups within the Jewish community. Rabbi Rappoport treated his opponents harshly (among these were the Zionist and trade organisations). The situation deteriorated in 1931, when wages were not paid for some time to the kehila employees. On this occasion the district authorities intervened and sentenced the members of the kehila board to six days in prison for neglecting their duties. In 1931-1932 a split developed between members of the local Agudat Israel party; members and supporters split into two factions, made up of followers and opponents of Rabbi Rappoport. The rabbi's opponents nominated a separate candidate list for the 1931 and 1936 elections to the kehila board. To fight them, Agudat Israel entered into a coalition with the Mizrachi and the Merchants Union in 1931.

Between the two wars the General Zionists, Mizrachi and right-wing Poalei Zion were all active in Rawa. In the elections for the 20th Zionist Congress, in 1937, four lists participated, and obtained the following votes: the League for a Laboring Eretz Israel – 83, the General Zionists (Group A) – 88, the General Zionists (Group B) – 1, Mizrachi – 24.

Economic organisations, such as the Merchants Union and the Artisans Association, were also active in Rawa.

Rawa was one of the towns in which the economic boycott imposed on Jews in the 1930s was particularly extensive. On 4th September, 1934, riots broke out against the Jews. The rioters attacked Jews and stole their property. The police arrested some of the leaders of the pogrom and the courts sentenced them to prison sentences ranging from two weeks to two months, but the court of appeal commuted their sentences. In the course of the following years, tensions increased, becoming especially severe on market and fair days. At these times the Endeks organised boycott supervision units, who were stationed in front of Jewish shops and stalls. Some of the young Jews were inclined to stand up to the aggressors; quite often they would go out into the streets in large groups and demonstrate by singing in public. The district authorities warned the community leadership that these actions might be seen as a provocation, and lead to more pogroms. To prevent this a general meeting was called in 1935, at which the community's leaders called on parents not to allow their children to engage in provocative behaviour on the streets. At one of the fairs in 1937 there was an attempt to provoke a pogrom but it was quashed by the police and by the Polish shoe-makers who resisted the attackers.

The Holocaust

During the first days of WWII, Rawa was heavily bombed, and its population was severely affected. The Germans entered the town on September 8th1939, at which time all the Jewish males were gathered in the market square, where the Germans indulged in a sadistic game. Among other things, Rabbi Rappoport and the Rabbi of Oiyazed, who was staying in Rawa at that time, and many of the Jewish dignitaries, mostly aged, were made to run several kilometres in the direction of Tomaszow. In a nearby wood the Germans threatened to kill them. Rabbi Rappoport asked for permission to return home to arrange for the burial of his son, who had been killed in the bombardment. The Nazis mocked him, abused him and dealt roughly with his daughter who had run after her father. She returned to the town to bury her brother. The two rabbis were held in the forest until late in the evening, flogged and only then released. On another occasion the Germans accused the Jews of killing a German soldier. They ordered all of the Jews to gather in the market square. The women were locked up in the church and abused by the Nazis. The men were ordered to lie face down and were threatened that whoever makes one move will be shot. They lay like that until evening, when they were made to stand against a wall; a number of them were shot. On that day the Germans searched the Jewish homes; some witnesses say that Polish homes were also searched. The total number of people killed on this day was estimated at 40, 23 of them Jews.

One day all the Jewish men were ordered to gather in the market square to have their beards shaved. Rabbi Rappoport, who was still in mourning for his son, was also brought. The rabbi's daughter asked the local Protestant priest to plead with the German authorities to let her father keep his beard. The rabbi was allowed to keep his beard but was sentenced to 100 lashes and the priest was threatened with severe punishment for speaking on behalf of the rabbi. After 30 lashes the aged rabbi fainted and was taken to hospital. What is noteworthy is that the Catholic priests, and the Protestant priest who spoke up for the rabbi, came to visit him. Later the Germans searched the rabbi's home and stole his property, including money and jewellery that Jews had given him for safekeeping. The rabbi fell ill as a result of these events and died shortly afterwards.

During the first week of the occupation the German authorities arrested several of the town's Jewish dignitaries and accused them of holding meetings. It may be assumed that some of those arrested were killed. There were numerous round-ups for forced labour and many occurrences of Jews being beaten on the streets. The Jews also had to pay a fine. The Germans demanded that the Jews sign a document stating that they were Soviet subjects. Because of the harsh Nazi terror, in which the local Volksdeutsche population participated, several hundred Jews (mainly the wealthier ones) fled Rawa in the first months of the occupation most of them to Skierniewice.

In the beginning of 1941 the Germans set up a ghetto in what used to be the Jewish quarter (the synagogue and the neighbouring streets). The order to move was given without any warning: all the Jews living outside this area had to move in immediately and so they were only able to take with them a few belongings. The ghetto was surrounded by a fence but not sealed. Contact with the surrounding area was easy. Overcrowding was severe, both because of the small size of the ghetto and because of the Jews who were brought in from other places. During 1939-1940 many refugees, including people expelled from Biala Rawska, Skierniewice, Nowe Miasto on the Pilica River and other nearby towns, arrived in Rawa. The stream of refugees did not abate. In February and March 1941, during the period of mass refugee movements from the Warsaw district to the Radom district through Rawa (one of the first towns on this route), many Jews passed through and quite a few stayed. As a result, the Jewish population increased, even though several hundred had left in the early months of the war. In October 1940 there were 2,700 Jews in the town; in May 1941 there were 3,360 (of whom 798 were refugees), and in 1942 there were about 4,000. There was not enough room in the ghetto for such a large number of refugees. Some of them did not get permission to live in the ghetto, and these were ordered to live on the town's outskirts behind Skierniewice Street. Some of these people moved into the ghetto illegally. They were not included in the population registers, did not receive ration cards, and were at greater risk of being expelled or captured in the round-ups than were the legal inhabitants.

Throughout the ghetto period, attacks and persecution by the Volksdeutsche and the German police were common, and round-ups for forced labour continued. On the eve of the Jewish New Year 1942 the German police rounded up a large number of people who were sent to the Zawada Labour Camp near Tomaszow Mazowiecki. For ten days they were forced to dig ditches; only half of them returned to the ghetto.

Initially, there were few cases of typhus in the ghetto. It became an epidemic when the men, a few of them ill with typhus, returned from the Zawada Labour Camp. It is also possible that the illness broke out among the refugees and deportees, whose living and sanitary conditions were worse. Because of the shortage of medications and lack of medical care in the small ghetto hospital, the number of fatalities was high.

Until the beginning of 1942, the ghetto was open and it was easy to obtain food. Most of the artisans earned a living from semi-legal work for the local population, and from legal work for the German authorities. Every day teams of Jewish workers were brought under guard to work in the surrounding farms. They were beaten and badly treated but received food and on the way home were able to smuggle food into the ghetto. In addition, official food rations were given to the ghetto inhabitants, although these were meagre in quantity.

At the beginning of 1942 the situation of Rawa's Jews took a turn for the worse. One day the German police encircled the town's outskirts where the Jewish refugees lived, and brutally forced them into the ghetto. The ghetto was sealed and anyone leaving it without a permit was threatened with death. Nevertheless, food smuggling continued, but now Jews caught leaving the ghetto or involved in illegal commerce were endangering their lives, and some of them were killed. Worse yet, the official distribution of food to the Jews was stopped in February-March 1942.

On June 23rd 1942, the German police arrested 17 or 18 Jews, who were then thrown into the ghetto “prison” (a room in the Judenrat cellar) and were later shot.

The liquidation of the ghetto started on 27th October 1942. The day before, 4,000 Jews were brought into the ghetto from Biala Rawska. They slept in the streets. That night, rumours about an expulsion of the Jews, intended for the following day, started to spread through the ghetto. Panic broke out. At dawn German and Polish police encircled the ghetto. According to some accounts, the Jews were gathered into the synagogue, being allowed to take with them only a small parcel. Over the following days all the ghetto's inhabitants, including the Biala Rawska deportees, were put onto trains and transported to Treblinka. According to another account, the Jews were gathered in the market square and then deported, some on carts and some on foot to Tomaszow Mazowiecki, from where they were transported to Treblinka. During this round-up, many Jews were killed in the market square. A small number managed to escape and find shelter in villages, but most of those who escaped were later found by the Germans with the help of Polish informers.

A few dozen Jews who had lived in Rawa at the outbreak of war survived. Most of the survivors returned to the town (there were 33 Jews in Rawa in October 1945) but they soon left for good.

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