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Translation of "Szydlowiec" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Our appreciation to Sandy Zimmerman, who allowed us to publish
the translations which were done by Shalom Bronstein for her private use.
This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 557-561, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Subdistrict of Konskie, Kielce District)
The first mention of Szydlowiec is from the 13th century. In the beginning of the 15th century, the village and areas near to it passed to the noble family Odrovonz, who adopted the family name Szydlowieczki for themselves, using the name of the village. City rights were granted to Szydlowiec in 1427. Stanislow Szydlowieczki built the first church in Szydlowiec in 1432. King Casimir IV [Jagiello] (1447-1492) permitted him to annex new areas to the town, perhaps as a result of his connections with the Polish royal house. Szydlowieczki served as a Marshallak, head of the king's court. Keshisht of Szydlowieczki served as Kashtalan, governor appointed by the king, of Krakow and as leader of the king's ministers. He did a great deal to develop commerce in the town and in 1505, he received from King Sigismund I the privilege to hold two annual fairs. King Sigismund II in 1587 increased the permitted number of local fairs to five. By the end of the 16th century, Szydlowiec was already an important center for commerce and crafts.
The invasion of the Swedes in the middle of the 17th century put a sudden end to the period of development and growth. Szydlowiec was almost completely destroyed and never recovered her previous standing. In 1666 its population numbered only 478 inhabitants, and only in the 19th century was population and economic growth renewed.
According to one version, Jews settled in Szydlowiec in the second half of the 16th century. Since it was the private city of a nobleman, there were no restrictions preventing Jews from settling there. They could easily earn a living in the developing town, especially through commerce and skilled crafts. However, documentary evidence mentions Jews as residents of Szydlowiec only from the second half of the 17th century. In 1663 King John II Casimir (1648-1668), granted them privileges, which included the right to produce whisky and to sell it. This privilege was renewed in 1676 by King John III Sobieski (1674-1696). The Kings in 1683 ordered the Kashtalan of Sandomierz (cf.) not to discriminate against the Jews in the levying of taxes and to even help them economically. In the beginning of he 18th century, when Poland was having difficulty recovering from the damages suffered during that period's wars, the condition of Jews in Szydlowiec worsened. Local Jewish merchants could not continue paying their debts, and in March 1717, King Augustus II issued a decree concerning the spreading of the payment of the debt over a one-year period.
According to a survey that was written in the 70s of the 18th century, the number of Jews in Szydlowiec was ten times the number of non-Jews. The Jews dominated all aspects of crafts and commerce in the area and lived comfortably. The administrator of the city in 1788, Prince Radziwill permitted the Jews to acquire land and to build a synagogue and Beit Midrash [lit. study house]. The growth of the Jewish population in the city also continued in the 19th century. But only after the annulment of the restrictions on Jews living in all parts of Poland (in 1862), were they permitted to expand their quarter and construct new dwellings.
The community of Szydlowiec is mentioned in the Pinkas of the Council of the Four Lands in 1719. The Council, meeting then in Jaroslaw, directed that the community of Przysucha be under the jurisdiction of the Szydlowiec community, which by then had already become an important Jewish center in the area. Serving as rabbi between the years 1693-1700, was R. Meir ben Isaac Eisenstadt, the author of Panim M'eorot. He also served the community of Worms, Germany for a short time before returning to Szydlowiec where he was again the rabbi between 1712-1717.
From the beginning of the 19th century, Szydlowiec was an important Hasidic center, first and foremost of the Przysucha Hasidim. R. Leibush Szydlowitzer, a disciple of the "Seer of Lublin" [Ya'akov Yitzhak of Lublin, d. 1815] and the "Holy Jew from Przysucha [Ya'kov Yitzhak of Przysucha, d. 1814], settled in Szydlowiec in 1814 establishing a Hasidic court, but its influence was minor. In contrast, R. Natan David Rabinowitz (d. 1865), the son of R. Yerachmiel of Przysucha, established a local Hasidic court with thousands of Hasidim bearing the name of the town. All of his sons established their own Hasidic courts, but only the oldest, R. Tzemah Barukh remained in Szydlowiec. R. Shraga his brother who outlived him by many years, returned to Szydlowiec at the end of his life. In the middle of the 19th century, R. Abraham Katzenelbogen (c. 1867), a disciple of "The Seer of Lublin", served as rabbi. After his death, occupying the position was R. Joseph, the author of Sh'eirith Yosef. He and the Dayan [judge in rabbinic court] R. Dov Bear were Kotzk Hasidim. From 1878, R. Joseph Gelblum held the position of rabbi. Living a long life, he was still rabbi in 1912. The son of R. Tzemah Barukh, R. Natan David, continued the Hasidic dynasty. R. Natan David, the son of R. Shraga Yair, also lived in Szydlowiec. His brother's son, R. Tzemah Rabinowitz, succeeded him in his position. He served along with R. Hayyim Yisrael Shalom Y'kutiel, the son of R. Natan David, the son of R. Tzemah Barukh. Both R. Hayyim Yisrael and R. Tzemah Barukh perished in the Holocaust. The rabbinic judges in Szydlowiec were R. Yisrael Yitzhak Katz and R. Eliezer Hayyim Yodman. R. Nisan Halevi Lewinsky, author of Haemet V'hashalom, served as head of the Yeshiva. However, in the proclamation calling on people to affiliate with the Mizrahi Zionist party, he did not sign his name as the head of the Yeshiva but as the rabbi of Szydlowiec.
A large fire in 1876 destroyed most of the dwellings in the city. The synagogue and the Beit Midrash were among the few structures that survived. The community, numbering at that time some 6,000 souls, organized to aid the many homeless, and special funds for that purpose were established. Among those establishing these funds was R. Samuel Mohilever, one of the leaders of Hibbat Zion in Poland. The reconstruction of the city was only completed in the 80s of the 19th century. At that time, there were 330 houses in the city.
Towards the end of the 19th century, some of the Jews of Szydlowiec branched out to new areas to earn their living. Jews operated 14 tanning and shoe making workshops. They also owned 10 quarries outside of the city that sold their output throughout Poland and Russia. Jews also owned the two flourmills in town, which employed many other Jews.
In the beginning of the 20th century a Jewish workers organization was established in the city. The brothers Moshe and Jacob Tanenbaum organized the "Bund" branch in Szydlowiec. On the eve of the 1905 Revolution, Vladimir Medam, one of the leaders of the Bund in Poland, visited Szydlowiec and delivered a lecture to the Jewish community. There were also Jewish and general workers organizations in the town. In December 1905, the Jewish and Polish members of the PPS (Polish Socialist Party) attacked the government offices in Szydlowiec. The local report sent to the police in Warsaw stated that the attackers belonged to a Jewish revolutionary group. Jacob Tanenbaum was arrested in 1906 in Radom (cf.), and sentenced to 3 1/2 years for revolutionary activity.
In the years 1910-1911, the Haskalah movement began its first activities in Szydlowiec. Local activists established the Kultur Verein [Culture Organization] where local young people could gather, listen to lectures and conduct discussions on issues in society. This club also had a small library. On the eve of World War I, members of the Jewish Culture Club attempted to open the first Hebrew language school in Szydlowiec. But the war prevented its implementation.
The Germans who captured the city in the days of World War I (in 1915) cancelled all the limitations that the previous [Russian] government had put on political activity and organization. The "Bund" renewed its activity and opened several public kitchens on a co-operative basis. "Poalei Zion" established a branch in the city whose members started drama and music (Hazamir) clubs and a Hebrew language school that had four grades.
Even after the war, the Jews still made up the majority of the population - about 70% of the total. Their principal source of income in the 20s and 30s was in clothing manufacture. The city had some 150 workshops in this area that employed 1,400 Jews, of whom 244 were paid workers. Second in importance was leather working which employed some 230 Jews. Some 100 Jewish heads of households made their living in the areas of baking and food supply, while 50 more families supported themselves in the fields of metals, construction and mines. In the city, there was a small group of wealthy Jews - the owners of the flourmills, the mines and the large merchandisers.
In 1928, a branch of the People's Bank, the co-operative bank in Warsaw, opened in the city and had some 200 affiliated members. In 1930, the Zionists established the Bank L'Mishhar, which set aside a small portion of its profits for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund of Eretz Yisrael.
Szydlowiec had a very influential organized workers movement. It had three professional groups - the builders, the tailors and the shoemakers. Most of the members also belonged to the "Bund." From time to time labor disputes would break out between the workers and the owners of the factories and mines. In 1923, a large strike of Jewish construction workers under the aegis of the Bund broke out. In May 1924, another strike was declared with the workers demanding a 60% salary increase. In the beginning of 1925, the police arrested for questioning 105 activists in the Jewish professional organizations on the suspicion of communist activity, but they were released in three days. Knitting workers went on strike in April 1932 and some of the activists were taken into custody for one day. The attempts of the factory owners to break the strike by hiring strikebreakers and through the intervention of the Polish police evoked a strong reaction from the workers.
The 20s and 30s was a period of greatly increased Zionist activity. Dominant in the area were the General Zionists, who founded the youth movement Herzlia and maintained a large public library. In the years 1929/30, 1,067 zlotys were raised for Keren Hayesod. In Szydlowiec, a Betar youth group organized and in 1933 they dedicated their clubhouse. In the 1930s, both the Hashomer Hatzair and Hashomer Hadati Zionist youth groups organized pioneer training farms for their members. For the various Zionist Congresses, the following results are from Szydlowiec:
|16th (1929)||19th (1935)||21st (1939)|
|Revisionists/Party of the Nation||26||35||21|
|Working Eretz Yisrael Bloc||--||123||93|
In spite of the fact that Jews made up the large majority of the population in Szydlowiec, there was no government-sponsored school for them ("Shabshuka" - schools where classes were not held on Saturday or Sunday). Most of the children attended one of the three Polish elementary schools in town, and in the after school hours studied Jewish religion. At the same time, there were 20 private Hedarim (plural of Heder) and one Talmud Torah that had about 150 students. There was a Beth Jacob school for girls and a small school of the Tarbut network (sponsored by Mizrahi).
For many years, the balance of power in the community was held by Agudath Israel that drew its strength mostly from the Shtiblach of the Gerer Hasidim. In the 1931 elections for the community council, when it became clear that Agudath Israel lost its plurality, activists of Agudath Israel convinced the [Polish] authorities to reduce the number of eligible voters from 2,000 to only 819, composing mostly their own backers. The town was outraged. The election committee was disqualified three times, but in the end, the limited list put forward by Agudath Israel was approved. To the Jewish town council, three delegates from Agudath Israel, three delegates from Mizrahi and two from the Bund, were elected.
Also, in the elections to the town council the numerical majority of the Jews was reflected. Even though the Jews had a substantial preponderance in numbers, they were discriminated against in the arrangement of the list of qualified voters and did not have a majority in the council. In the 1929 elections, nine Jews were elected to the twenty-four-member council - 4 Zionists, 2 representatives of Agudath Israel, 2 members of Poalei Zion S'mol [left] and one representative from the Bund. In 1932, nineteen Poles in contrast to thirteen Jews were elected to the council.
Anti-Semitism that spread throughout Poland in the 1930s did not bypass Szydlowiec. In the public schools, fistfights broke out from time to time between Jewish and Polish students. In most cases, it resulted from the Anti-Semitic instigation of the schoolteachers. In 1935, the Jews protested to the regional authorities, because the new road from Krakow to Warsaw as it was planned would cut through the old Jewish cemetery of the community. All their attempts to avert this desecration were in vain.
On 4 September 1939, German planes bombed Szydlowiec. Anti-aircraft guns were placed at the accesses to the city and the Polish army fought fierce battles. Fear of the bombing saw many Szydlowiec Jews flee to area villages. The Polish army withdrew from the whole area on 6 September and chaos reigned in the city. Villagers and Polish soldiers exploited the situation and looted property of the Jews. On 9 September, the German army entered Szydlowiec and as soon as the soldiers arrived, they began persecution and cruel treatment of the Jews. Men were seized for forced labor to clear the war damage. Jewish passersby were beaten or their beards or side locks (peyot) were ripped off. At the end of September [Saturday, the 23rd], the Germans broke into the synagogue during Yom Kippur prayers and dragged the rabbi, R. Hayim Yisrael Shalom Yekutiel, and some 1,000 worshippers outside and set the synagogue on fire.
A few days after the capture of the city, a local Judenrat was established with the last head of the community, Sh. Eisenberg, at its head. Alongside, Jewish work units were set up. Most of the workers were engaged with reconstructing the damage in the city. In the beginning of 1940, the Jews of Szydlowiec were fined five million zloty. When the Judenrat failed to raise the full amount, the Germans seized 23 of the prominent members of the community, including Eisenberg and Pinchas Brik, among the wealthiest in the city and executed them in the Jewish cemetery. After the execution of Eisenberg, Abraham Redlich was appointed chairman of the Judenrat. Along with the Judenrat, a Jewish police force was created.
The person in charge of recruiting Jewish forced laborers, a Volksdeutsche by the name of Robitzky, in the beginning of 1940 arranged a list of all the men fit for work from the age of 16 to 60. In August of that year, SS people from Lublin came to Szydlowiec and demanded that workers be sent to work camps in the Lublin area. Several groups of laborers were sent to three work camps in Wolonow (cf.) and to a camp near Josefow (cf.). The Judenrat appointed Kalman Rosenbaum in charge of conscripting forced laborers. The Judenrat had good relations with the headquarters of the Gestapo in Radom (cf.), and one time the head of the Judenrat, Redlich, managed to get 400 forced laborers returned to Szydlowiec from the camp at Januszew.
The Germans ordered the setting up of a ghetto in Szydlowiec in March 1940. However, when they realized that the Jews constituted the vast majority in the city and lived in all the neighborhoods, they were satisfied with prohibiting Jews from leaving their houses in the evening or at night. Nevertheless, in December 1941 the Jews were forced into a ghetto that covered about 1/4th of the city. A delegation including Judenrat members Yerachmiel Morgenstern, Michael Rosenbaum and Avraham Finkler tried to convince the commandant of the SS that it was impossible to crowd so many Jews in such a small area, but he denied their appeal. On the other hand, the ghetto was not walled.
In spite of the decrees and limitations, the Jews of Szydlowiec in the first years of the occupation enjoyed better conditions when compared to the fate of their brethren in other locations. The number of Jews in the city in 1941 was over 10,000, with some 4,000 of them refugees who settled in Szydlowiec. The Judenrat opened a public kitchen for the refugees in the house of Isaiah Opotowski.
On 3 September 1942 50 Jews were sent from Szydlowiec to the large forced labor camp of Skarzysko-Kamienna (cf.).
The large deportation (Aktzia) began in Szydlowiec on 23 September 1942. At 6:00 AM, the ghetto was surrounded by large forces of Lithuanian and Ukrainian guards, Polish police and local firemen, under the command of two SS officers with the rank of Oberstormfuhrer [senior storm trooper commander] - Matilka and Franz Schipers, who supervised the expulsions from most of the other cities in the area. The ghetto residents were ordered to report by 8:00 AM to the city square and bring with them personal belongings not exceeding 20 kilos per person. From there, the Jews were marched 4 kilometers to the railroad station and were sent in cattle cars to the Treblinka death camp.
At the time of the deportation, Schipers and Matilka declared that Jews who paid 1,000 zloty would not be expelled. Only some 100 people accepted their offer. They were separated from the other deportees, were kept for three days under guard and were then murdered. Schipers and his men searched the houses looking for Jews in hiding. Some 600 people in hiding were caught and shot. Also, the patients in the Jewish hospital, some 52 people including Rabbi Neta Rosenberg, were taken from the building and put to death.
After the major deportation, some 150 Jews still remained in Szydlowiec, the members of the police and workers. Some of them were involved in gathering and inventorying the property of those expelled while the others worked in the Pinkart Factory, which was owned by Jews before the war. Other Jews who came out of various hiding places soon joined them and the number of Jews in Szydlowiec came to about 600. On 30 September 50 of them were transferred to the Skarzysko Kamienna labor camp. Those remaining were also sent there on 2 October and only 80 Jews who were occupied in cleaning the ghetto remained. In November when their work was completed, they, too, were sent to Skarzysko Kamienna.
In December 1942, the Germans set up new ghettos in Szydlowiec and three other cities in the Radom Region, and called on those who survived the deportations in the region to settle in them for their own safety. At the same time, Jews in hiding and their Polish protectors were told that every Jew caught outside of the ghettos would be shot along with the person who gave him shelter. In a short time, the new ghetto of Szydlowiec had some 5,000 Jews. The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and the Polish mayor had them housed in the old tannery. They were joined by 1,000 people evacuated from Radom. The Germans appointed a new Judenrat with Yerachmiel Morgenstern at its head. On 8 January 1943, this ghetto was also surrounded by SS troops along with German police and the distribution of bread and coffee to the Jews was terminated. On 13 January, the SS troops entered the ghetto and cleared it of its residents. Some 80 people were executed on the spot while the rest were brought to the train station. There were several trucks from the Hassag Company, owners of the large weapons factory in Skarzysko Kamienna and some 1,000 people were taken to that work camp. The remaining people were sent by train to Treblinka. The train passed through Radom and some 1,000 Jews were forced on the train there.
Today, testifying to the glorious past of the Jewish community of Szydlowiec is the cemetery, whose old tombstones were preserved. This cemetery, one of the most beautiful in Poland, was declared after the war a historic site and the Polish government looks after its care and preservation.
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