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Translation of Stezyca chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 348-349, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Garwolin district, Lublin province)
Stezyca began as a village owned by members of the nobility. In 1581, King Stefan Bathory granted its residents the privileges of a city. The grant of privilege was confirmed in 1713 by King August II and again in 1744 by King August III. As the 19th century came to an end, a small textile industry developed there.
Documents from 1504-1507 show two Jews from Krakow, Moses and Jacob Fishlowitz, as tax collectors in Stezyca. At the time, it was forbidden for Jews to live in Stezyca, to own real property there, or to engage in commerce, except at the weekly market day and the annual fair; but it appears that several Jews stayed in the town despite the prohibition. Documents from 1760 tell of a harsh dispute between Jews and townspeople regarding the rights of Jews to live in the town and conduct business there. One Jewess was wounded in the course of a quarrel. The conflict came before the governor, who held that the ban remained in force but, at the same time, sentenced those residents who had beaten Jews to be flogged. Only after the third partition of Poland (in 1795) was the prohibition on Jews living in Stezyca cancelled.
Most of the Jews in Stezyca earned their living as small businessmen and craftsmen. They included several wheat merchants, shopkeepers, rag-merchants, and peddlers, as well as tailors, cobblers, and masters of other trades. During the First World War, economic life was paralyzed, and the Jews endured scarcity. Their economic condition remained harsh during the time between the two world wars, primarily because of the economic decline that Poland suffered in the twenties and the economic boycott to which Jews were subjected by anti-Semites during the thirties.
The few Stezyca Jews did not form an independent community. There were a local study house and kosher meat slaughterer, but the dead were brought to Garwolin (q.v.) for burial and the Jews of Stezyca were members of that Jewish community.
During the inter-war period, small groups of General Zionists and Agudat Yisra'el were organized in Stezyca.
On the eve of World War II, about 30 Jewish families resided in Stezyca. At the start of September 1939, some of them moved to Deblin-Irena in the hope of bettering their economic situation there.
During the first months of the German conquest, the Jews in Stezyca suffered no persecution and were able to continue living in their homes and working for their living as before. At the end of 1939, a Judenrat was established; it had three members headed by a local communal leader named Epstein. The Stezyca Judenrat was subordinate to the one in Deblin, and its primary role was to conscript forced laborers for the Germans. The Jewish laborers, numbering about 60, were divided into two work groupsabout two thirds of them worked in a German military hospital that had been set up in the area and in other forms of service to the German army, and the remainder were engaged in building and repairing roads and highways. The man in charge of them, a Polish engineer from Deblin named Baroszicz, treated the Jewish laborers decently, and the hospital and other service workers also did not suffer at the hands of their supervisors, though the work itself was hard. The Jewish laborers were paid a daily wage of four zloty. Most of the local Jews earned a living; they were not forbidden to leave Stezyca to purchase food or other necessities from the farmers; and they did not suffer hunger. When necessary, the Jews were able to obtain medical treatment from a Polish physician from Poznan who had come to live in Stezyca. At the start of 1940, the Jews were required to wear a white armband with a Star of David.
With Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in summer 1941, the condition of the Jews worsened, and food shortages prevailed. Men fit for work were transferred to the labor camp in Deblin.
In spring 1942, reports spread in Stezyca of the deportation of the Jews of Lublin province to extermination camps. On 6 May 1942, S.S. men from Deblin came to town, and the Jews were ordered to pack a small bag and appear at the designated assembly place. When the order was publicized, fifteen Jews fled into the woods; two of them were caught and shot to death by the Germans. The Jews who remained in Stezyca were transferred to Deblin and sent from there, together with the local Jews, to the Sobibor extermination camp.
A few weeks later, 40 Jews were brought to Stezyca from the labor camp in Deblin. Some of them were former residents of Stezyca, among them the three members of the Judenrat and their families, who were taken off the transport at Deblin. The man in charge of them, a Pole from Poznan named Kovalski, transferred them to a new labor camp set up in Stezyca. The laborers were engaged in construction work and in road repair and were lodged with their families, about 60 people in all, in one house in town. On 27 October 1942, Kovalski learned of the authorities' intention to liquidate the small labor camp in Stezyca. He warned the members of the Judenrat and, thanks to him, about 20 Jews, including Judenrat member Katowitz and his family, managed to flee to the woods. Those who remained in Stezyca, numbering about 40, were transferred on 29 October 1942 to the labor camp in Deblin. (On the fate of the laborers in the camps at Deblin, see the article on Deblin-Irena.)
In April 1943, a new labor camp was set up at Stezyca. The laborers, about 200 Jews from various labor camps in the Lublin province, were lodged in two houses in town and occupied in building a highway to Pawlowice. That camp existed for about two months and was liquidated in June. We know nothing of the fate of its workers.
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