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Jews in Zgierz in the Latter Half of the 19th
and Beginning of the 20th Centuries

by Avraham Wein of Jerusalem

The fate of the Jewish settlement in Zgierz in the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (until the First World War, 1914-1918) does not differ from that which prevailed in all of the Jewish settlements in Congress Poland of that era. However, there were aspects that were specific to the character of the industrial city of Zgierz.

In order to appropriately portray the picture and evaluate the era of “stabilization” and “positivism” in Jewish Zgierz of that time, it is necessary to often return back to the earlier years, when the settlement conducted a bitter struggle for its existence, for living rights in the Jewish quarter and in the extra quarter, and – prior to being freed from the oppression of the Czarist authorities and their local Polish “stooges” – for civic and economic rights.

The relative stability was a result of the persistent struggle during the first half of the 19th century between the nobility in Congress Poland, who were the conservative-feudal powers and wished to preserve their privileged status; and the new powers – the representatives of the ascendant industrialization and urbanization processes in the country.

The final victory came immediately upon the release of the new powers of the workers by removing the oppression of the peasants [1], and was also caused by the removal of some of the restrictions upon business, craftsmanship, and the investment of money in land and building enterprises of the Jews. The decree by Czar and his “followers” on June 6th 1862 (in which some of the feudal restrictions against the Jews were removed) sealed, perforce, the partial victory for the new ways. This brought about – in accordance with the needs of the new era and as a result of the prolonged struggle of the Jews for their rights – a demonstration of their capabilities to conform to the new and display their vitality, despite the unfavorable restrictions that had been placed upon them for many generations.

The situation of the Jewish community of Zgierz stood out in the following area: the growth of the Jewish population during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Later, we will present a table illustrating the growth of the population of Zgierz, which shows that the greatest growth occurred during the years of the restriction on residency rights and other restrictions on the Jews (1827-1857). The growth was almost five-fold. During the following forty years, the Jewish population grew two-fold, at a time when the growth of the non-Jewish population stagnated.

Year 1808 1827 1857 1897 1921
Entire Population 506 4,527 8,337 19,103 21,129
Jewish Population 27 356 1,637 3,543 3,828
Percent of Jews 5.3 7.9 19.6 18.6 18.2


The Vocational Structure of the Jews in the 19th Century

Even though we are lacking exact data from the second half of the 19th century, we can derive analogies from the court cases that took place about the vocational structure from the 1850s and through the later years. We note a growth in the numbers of artisans, workers, and manufacturers. There were groups of manufacturers, textile and confectionery[2] – clear signs of the productivity of the newer times.

In the 1840s, there was already specialization in the fields of manufacturing. Together with the population growth and development of industry, the number of Jewish textile workers also grew. In 1828, there were a few trades that were not found among the Jews of Zgierz.

The following is the list of the number of Jews involved in various textile trades in Zgierz in 1848: 1 'drelich' worker[3], 1 weaver, 1 dyer, 1 cotton worker, 1 'grempler', 1 ribbon maker.

In Zgierz, as in other places, the number of Jews in the clothing industry grew quickly. In the first half of the 19th century, there was only a small group of Jews working in these vocations, as can be seen from the following table regarding the number of Jews in the clothing industry in the years 1828-1848.

  1828 1848
Hat makers 3 10
Tailors 15 46
Shoemakers 1 3
Total 19 59

The population growth also caused an increase in the number of other artisans, including the food industries.

  1828 1848
Oil makers 0 1
Bakers 2 1
Pastry bakers 0 2
Butchers 4 6
Vinegar makers 0 1
Total 6 11

Jews engaged in other trades, in the years 1828-1848:

  1828 1848
Sheet metal manufacturers 1 0
Tanners 2 0
Comb makers 1 2
Book binders 0 0
Jewelers 0 3
Blacksmiths 0 2
Painters 1 0
Glazers 1 5
Lace makers 1 3
Turners 0 2
Various others 6 4
Total 13 21

Jewish business also attained a new situation. Already by the year 1828, a large number of Jews merchants were involved in the textile branch. Some of them marketed wool for the manufacturers and weavers who worked in their own homes. Others dealt directly with wool and cloth, and a few with other merchandise. Those merchants were also involved with organizing the production of textiles. They would give wool to the weavers, take the cloth from them, supervise the manufacturing, and then sell it to wholesales, or sell it in their own stores. It is known that the first Jewish manufacturers in Zgierz, such as Chanoch Librach, Yisael Litauer and Shimon Waldenberg, began their careers in that fashion. Thereafter, as their capital increased and they gained experience in the textile industry, they established their own factories. Instead of having the wool woven by home manufacturers, they organized the production in their own workshop.

The following is a list of Jewish merchants in Zgierz in 1828:

Wool, textile and iron dealers[4] 1
Wool and textile dealers 3
Wool merchants 9
Textile merchants 1
Fashion merchants 2
Spice merchants 1
Flour merchants 1
Oil merchants 1
Salt merchants 1
Tobacco merchants 1
Iron merchants 1
Saloon keepers 2
Total 24

Already in the 1850s, the number of merchants, shopkeepers and country-goers[5] was smaller than the number of artisans and workers (employees). Only a portion of the merchants (wholesale and retail) had stores. Others owned shops in the market, and some transported their merchandise and sold it in the surrounding villages.

Jews in business in Zgierz in the years 1828-1848:

  1828 1848
Dealers and merchants 24 37
Shopkeepers 1 5
Saloon keepers[6] 2 1
Total 27 43

Besides the already mentioned trades, the number of Jewish workers also increased. This formed a new vocational structure among Zgierz Jews at that time.

  1828 1848
Hairdressers 3 0
Doctors 0 3
Feldschers 0 1
Wagon Drivers 0 5
Workers 17 46
Total 20 55

The complete vocational structure of Zgierz Jews in the years 1828-1848:

  1828 1848
Manufacturers 0 5
Workers connected with textile production 0 6
Craftsmen 38 92
Dealers and merchants 27 43
Workers 17 46
Others 3 11
Total 85 203


The First Commissioners

It is assumed that the vocational structure and its proportional statistics did not change greatly until the end of the period that we are dealing with. The changes that took place were the increase in the number of workers towards the end of the 19th century, including the proletariat, agents of the semi-proletariat, and home manufacturers. For example, the number of Jewish wagon drives and coachmen reached approximately 100 at the beginning of the 20th century. They served the Zgierz-Lodz route. The construction of a tramway line along that route took away their livelihood.

To our regret, we do not have available any numbers; however, there was a large group of brokers and commissioners in Zgierz at the end of the 19th century. They oversaw the staff in the factories, and the marketing of the particular type of merchandise. They played an honorable role in the economic life, and gained the trust of the Jewish merchants who had come from Russia (known as Litvaks). The better known commissioners included: Ozer Cohen, Tzvi Hirsch Cohen, Tovia Lipschitz, Beinish Cohen, Yehoshua Kaufman, and Leib Paizer. They all excelled as maskilim and general activists.

The First Jewish Manufacturers in Zgierz

In Zgierz, as a center of the textile industry, the manufacturers were smaller in scale than those of neighboring Lodz, which had first of all developed in the beinvol[7] industry. At first, in the 1840s, the first Jewish manufacturers came to Zgierz. One of them established the first factory for beinvol production. There were such factories in Zgierz, however the main role was played by the textile manufacturers. The participation of Jewish in industry in Zgierz began after the conclusion of the crisis in the textile productivity during the 1830s.

The first Jews who established factories in Zgierz were: Henech Librach, who together with his brother Feivish set up a factory with 20 weaving workbenches; and later Yisrael Litauer. Two large factories were founded around the year 1845. They belonged to Shimon Waldberg and Marcus (Mordechai) Rubinstein. Shimon Waldberg encountered great difficulties in obtaining the rights to live outside of the Jewish quarter. They also refused to grant him a concession to establish the factory, which was to be outside of the quarter, in a house rented from a Pole. The reason given by the person in charge for rejecting the request was that he must insure that there would be no complaints from the eminent Zgierz manufacturers, the brothers Maues and Malc, and for this reason, the governing authorities see no need to permit the Old Believer (starozakonny) Shimon Waldberg to establish a new factory and to live in the extra quarter. After a great deal of negotiation and intercession, the Old Believer Waldberg succeeded in obtaining a concession. A bit later, he purchased the house, where the factory was established and enlarged. It is not clear for how long the first Jewish factories existed. In all likelihood, they met the same fate as other factories that were founded at that time – they existed until the 1880s.


Internal Jewish Life

The so-called synagogue leaders (“Dozor Boznicki”) became active in the year 1824, in the community office that had already existed there for about two decades. The Zgierz community was not left with large debts and other difficult problems, as was the case with other Jewish settlements that had a longer history. Nevertheless, within the first decades, the synagogue dozors already faced many problems. The dozors had no small amount of problems due to the deadly epidemic.

In the 1820s and 1830s, an active missionary campaign was directed toward the Jews by the monks of the Franciscan monastery of the neighboring town of Lagiewniki, and also by the Protestant ministers who served the German colonists. Through many means, the dozors were successful in averting the missionizing activity.

Until the 1860s, the dozors had to deal with ongoing problems regarding the difficult living conditions within the Jewish quarter, and with efforts to enlarge the area. The dozors also attempted to help Jews who wished to obtain a permit to live outside the quarter. Very often, it was a member of the dozors who did this; for they were members of the richer strata of Zgierz Jews. Some of them, such as Hillel Berlinski or Chaim Lubraniecki, conducted an extensive battle during the 1830s and 1840s for the right to continue living in their own houses in the extra quarter or in rented houses in the market or on neighboring streets.

For the most part, the representatives of the dozors conducted their work over a set term. From their documents we can find the names of the first Jewish manufacturers. It is clear that, in the industrialized city, they were among the wealthiest and most honorable citizens, the foremost speakers of the Jewish community. The first manufacturer who was registered as a Dozor was Shimon Waldenberg. His term was during the years of 1843-1851. In 1846-1848, the manufacturer Yisrael Litauer wished to be recognized as a dozor. He also played a significant role in the struggle of the Jewish community to enlarge the quarter. Chaim Librach as well was one of the first Jewish industrialists. He became a dozor in the years 1849-1851.

In the later years, the stature and importance of the dozor function in the eyes of the Jewish community diminished. In his letter to Yitzchak Mizes, the well-known Maskil from Krakow Avraham Yaakov Weisenfeld (who settled in Zgierz in the year 1860) characterized the parnasim-dozors of Zgierz with sarcastic words. According to him, “they do not occupy themselves with communal matters, for there are a bunch of ignoramuses who occupy themselves with communal needs. For here, it is considered an embarrassment to lead the people.” It is possible that there is a great deal of exaggeration within these satirical words; however that is how a prominent maskil reacted to the social and cultural situation of the Jewish community of Zgierz.

Certainly the work of a synagogue dozor was not easy, for with every step, he would run into restrictions and anti-Semitic decrees. In 1837, the Jews of Zgierz attempted to obtain a permit to build a synagogue. The houses of prayer and shtibels that were available at that time were too small for the growing community. The synagogue would have to be built in the Jewish quarter, on a lot that was purchased from a Pole. The commissar of the Leczyca region did not wish to grant his approval, with the pretext that the Jews must not erect a building on that lot, for it belongs to the regime, and the previous owner did not have the rights to sell it to the Jews. The eventual agreement of the commissar cost no small amount of trouble and money.

The synagogue was built on that lot on Lodzer Street. It was a small, wooden building. During the 1850s, the Jews of Zgierz first began to collect money to build a brick synagogue. The building cost a great deal of money. At the time of the sale of the synagogue by the “city” (1853)[8], they had collected 9,930 rubles. By around 1860, they were already able to inaugurate the new, brick synagogue.

In the middle of the 19th century, the synagogue dozors had a wooden communal building. In the 1850s, the dozors built a new building. There was also a mikva (ritual bath) in that building. The poorhouse was also moved to the new communal building. It is worthwhile to point out that the number of elderly and ill in the poorhouse was not very large. In 1841, for example, there was only one resident.

In the middle of the 19th century, all of the traditional, religious and communal institutions already existed in Zgierz, and the dozors were responsible for providing them with buildings. The building was too crowded for their needs, and in the latter half of the 19th century, new and better buildings were built for them.

In 1879, they began to collect money for a new mikva and bathhouse, for the old one was ruined. After receiving approval from the authorities, they build a new, brick mikva. The building cost 5,314 rubles. At approximately the same time, they also built a new, brick building for the Beis Midrash.

In the later half of the 19th century, the dozors attempted to acquire a permit from the authorities to purchase a field in order to enlarge the cemetery. This issue dragged on for years. At first, the city physician and the architectural supervisor of the magistrate refused to grant a permit. Later, after they succeeded in overcoming those difficulties, a new decree was issued: the authorities did not permit collecting money for that purpose. Indeed, the money was collected in an illegal manner. The authorities claimed that the money stemmed from foundations to which a few rich Jews of Zgierz contributed. The cemetery was expanded in the year 1885.

We can conceive of the amount of “silencing” money each action cost[9]. As in all towns, the Jewish community of Zgierz had to deal with the question of the “eruv”[10], which was deliberated upon for several years. The authorities (the Leczyca commissar or the magistrate of Zgierz) would order the dismantling of the eruv, or would impose new demands (how high the posts can be, the thickness of the wire, etc.). The Jews would pay bribes in order to have the decree annulled. This situation repeated itself in the years 1834, 1857, and later.

In the second half of the 19th century, the dozors had to deal with new specific problems regarding the status of an industrial city, and also with the growth of the Jewish population. Due to the economic circumstances, the following issues arose: the impoverishment of the employed workers, the Sabbath peace, and he work in larger factories, etc.


The Decree against the Wearing of Jewish Garb

The struggle of the Jews of Zgierz against the clothing decrees forms a chapter unto itself. In 1844, the Czar issued a decree that the Jews in his empire must exchange their clothing for that of Russian citizens. They were prohibited from having peyos (sidecurls), and they were required to cut their beards. In 1846, the deputy of the Zgierz city president came to the synagogue five times, read out the new decree, and threatened fines for not obeying it. The results were negligible, and the Jews continued to dress in their traditional garb. In February 1847, the city president himself came to a Hassidic shtibel on a Sabbath morning during the time of the prayers, in order to investigate why they were not following the directive. He saw that the Jews were wearing their kapotes, and many of them were fined.

The secretary of the magistrate came to the synagogue a second time. They did not let him enter the synagogue. In his report, he wrote: “The representatives of the synagogue dozors, in particular Yisrael Litauer and Hersch Horowitz, met him in the synagogue and impeded him. He was afraid of trouble from the Jews, as is often encountered in Jewish Beis Midrashes, and he had to leave empty handed.”

There were other forms of opposition to the decree. A characteristic occurrence took place in the year 1846. After the speech of the city president, in which he clarified the question of wearing Jewish garb and having a beard and peyos, the rabbi of the city, Shalom Tzvi Hakohen, turned to the worshippers with a few words regarding the relations with the city president: “The peyos can be a little shorter and the beard a little trimmed. However, if the beard is shaved off and if short cloaks are worn, a person will no longer be considered part of the Jewish community. If one has already cut off the beard, one has already been cut off, and if not – he will soon be cut off.” Later, the rabbi summoned the gabbaim of the charitable organization and the burial society (Chevra Kadisha) and warned them of his decision.

The administrative authorities demanded from the synagogue dozors and the rabbi that they convince the Jews to obey the directive. However, neither the rabbi nor the parnassim would allow themselves to be overseers of the fulfillment of anti-Semitic decrees.

Yisrael Litauer, in the name of the synagogue dozors, gave over a declaration to the city president, in which he writes as follows: “I believe that it is not appropriate to control the Jews at the synagogue during the times of prayers. I am not able to guarantee whether or not all of the Jews who do not hold a permit to wear Jewish garb have indeed changed their clothes, for I do not even know all of the Jews…”.

The tactic of the dozor changed completely the persecutions of the authorities. When they demanded that the dozor compile a list of Jews who are not following the directive, he beat around the bush and answered that “the Jews of Zgierz no longer wear illegal cloaks. Some of them have received permits to wear Jewish garb, and some have paid, in accordance to the law.”

This answer was far from the truth. In the years 1848-1850, only a few changed their cloaks, and shortened their beard and peyos. The issue of paying for the rights to wear Jewish garb only later came into effect.

The situation of the poverty, in particular among the Jews who lacked means, was even more difficult. They did not have money to purchase or to pay the fines in order to wear Jewish garb and to maintain their beard and peyos. They tried to rescue themselves with various excuses, claiming that they could not cut off their beard and peyos due to various illnesses. However, it was more difficult to find an excuse regarding the Jewish garb.

{Photocopy page 112: A deed for the purchase of a plot of land to enlarge the Jewish cemetery of Zgierz, March 3, 1885.}

Shmuel Senderowicz attempted to find a workaround even in that area. When an official of the magistrate detained him, he declared that “The Jewish garb is much warmer”. However, this excuse did not help him – he was required to shorten his beard and peyos, and to pay a fine.

Many other Jews found themselves with the same fate. It was also to no avail when a few of them attempted to save their beards by shortening their kapotes slightly, claiming that their cloaks are of “the Russian style”.

Without paying attention to the persecution, many Zgierz Jews, in particular the Hassidim, did not change their clothing, and did not attempt to pay the fines. The Hassid Yosef Zhurkowsky was a characteristically stubborn example of that type. The city president wrote the following regarding him: “Zhurkowsky did not pay attention to any of the warnings, he laughed at them, and he instigated the Old Believers to speak out against the authorities… We can see Zhurkowsky on Sabbaths and festivals parading about in Jewish garb.” They recognized Zhurkowsky as the chief rebel who instigated the Jews to disobey the ordinance, and they imposed a large monetary fine upon him. The cholera epidemic (1848) deflected the attention of the authorities from this question, and in the 1850s, the Jews were already permitted, in exchange for a large sum of money, to wear various types of garb, not only in accordance with the “Russian style”.


Cultural Life and Education

The aforementioned maskil Avraham Yaakov Weisenfeld wrote in 1860, in dark colors, about the cultural situation of the Zgierz community. From his words, we can create an image of a backward town, with a traditional way of life and set of customs. It is clear that such a maskil who came from such a large Jewish center as Krakow, which was full with teachers, Torah giants, and maskilim, felt that Zgierz, with its restricted horizons, Hassidic ways and toiling masses – and that indeed describes the majority – was in complete contrast to Krakow.

In fact, during the second half of the 19th century, Zgierz became known in the region as a place of Torah. The city acquired a name for itself with its rabbis, Yeshiva, and ordinary studiers of the Beis Midrash. The first rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Tzvi Hakohen (died in 1877) occupied the rabbinical seat for 52 years. He was lauded in the rabbinical literature as “a Gaon and Tzadik, who presided over a great Yeshiva”. Hundreds of students, and approximately fifty rabbis, graduated from his Yeshiva. After him, Rabbi Tzvi the son of Eliezer Hakohen occupied the rabbinical seat. He had previously been a rabbi in Sochaczew and Pultusk (he was a grandson of the well-known Rabbi Yaakov of Lissa). In 1898, his son-in-law Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib Hakohen, the son of the first rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Tzvi of holy blessed memory, became the rabbi of Zgierz. He was the author of Neveh Shalom. He was known as an expert in Torah and wisdom. Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda also took an interest in worldly matters. He boldly advocated with the city president on behalf of Jewish workers and Jewish factories. In his speech at the inauguration of the Machzikei Hadas organization (1912), aside from his words regarding the mater at hand, he also lectured the Jewish manufacturers and reminded them of the importance of solidarity with their fellow Jews.

It is clear that almost until the end of the 19th century, the Jewish cultural life centered around the cheder, Yeshiva, Beis Midrash, and Hassidic shtibels: Kotzker, Gerer, Aleksandrower, Sochaczewer, Strykower, and others.

However, the new winds already blew in with the creation of the “Cheder Metukan” (1891) under the leadership of the scholar and writer Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson (Y. Ben-Yamini), the father of the poet and later the eulogizer of the Holocaust Yitzchak Katzenelson may G-d avenge his death. The leaning toward a worldly education can be seen by the participation of Jewish children of Zgierz in the elementary school.


At the beginning of the 19th century, a significant number of Jewish children attended the local elementary school, where they studied alongside Polish children. This fact stood out in comparison with other Jewish settlements. Incidentally, the synagogue was very characteristic. The provost of the diocese did not wish to engage in didactics, so he did not teach the children the Christian religion. The teacher also did not take the initiative in this situation. Thus, the school had a worldly character. In a report from the chairman of the Wojewodztwo Commision of Mazowia (1820), we read the following: “An elementary school existed in Zgierz. The teacher is not overly capable, however he comes from a good stock.” The chairman talked much better about the Jewish children in that school: “Among the school children, the Jews especially exhibit their abilities in study.”

However, the unfavorable situation of Jews in the Kingdom of Poland, and the continuing restrictions regarding Jewish life described in the “Zgierz agreement”[11], as well as the restrictions upon the Jewish quarter – restricted the participation of Jewish children in the local, general elementary schools.

The first acknowledgement by the authorities of the Jewish elementary school took place on July 1st, 1885. From among the synagogue dozors[12], the guardian of the school (which consisted of one class!) was Avraham Weiss. The school was located in rented premises on Lodzer Street. The first teacher was Isidor Jakubowicz. He received an official nomination from the city president. Jakubowicz possessed the appropriate pedagogical qualifications; however in 1890, he moved to Lodz. Shimshon Schnepper, a graduate of the teachers' seminary of Leczyca, took his place.

The Jewish elementary school in Zgierz was under the strict supervision of the Lodzer school directors. On more that one occasion, that fact was the cause of various forms of friction. For example, the directors demanded the observance of the regulation that Jewish teachers should not teach in schools or institutions over which the directors were not in control. In 1890, the teacher David Karelicki was fired from his work in a school for violating that regulation by teaching children in a cheder. In 1912, the inspector demanded that another teacher be expelled, with the motive that his teaching results were not good even though he possessed the required qualifications – he was a graduate of the teacher's institute of Vilna. The dozors attempted to protest to the Lodz school directors when they ordered the transfer of Karelicki to Sulejow. The dozors claimed that the poor results of his teaching was not a result of poor teaching methods, but rather was caused by the style of language that was not understood by the students. This was a much clearer hint of the strict ordinance to teach only in the Russian language. In 1890, when Cecilia Holland became the principal of the elementary school, at the time of her nomination she wrote an instruction against strictly upholding the principal of teaching in the Russian language at school.

Only a small percentage of the children attended the elementary school. The majority of children obtained their elementary worldly education from other schools or from private tutors. The cheders continued to play the dominant role in the life of the Jewish children of Zgierz.

The following table shows the number of students of the Jewish elementary school in Zgierz from the years 1886-1912.

Year Number of students
1886 38
1891 64
1910 54
1912 34

In the first elementary school, there was a co-educational system in place. The majority of the students were girls.

The absenteeism rate among the students was large: 30% among the boys and 13% among the girls. The reason for this was, first and foremost, the inconvenient location. The classroom was crowded, the air was stale, and the children often suffered from headaches. In 1894, the school principal Avraham Wachtel attempted to obtain money and a permit to rent an additional location. This took place shortly thereafter.

The budget of the school was obtained from two sources: the parents of the children paid specific sums, and a tax was collected from the Jewish residents of the city. Approximately 250 citizens paid between 50 kopecks and 5 rubles annually to that end.

In the year 1913, the school was split into two classes. In the same year, a one classroom school was opened for girls.

After the outbreak of the First World War, a few preschools and elementary schools for Jewish children opened. They played an important role in the cultural and social life of the Jewish settlement. In the schools, they organized performances with the participation of the children. As with other events, they were organized around the Jewish holidays and important nationalistic occasions. In 1917, for example, in the school that was directed by Perl Bergholtz, they organized a Chanuka evening, and he income went towards the building of a childrens' home.

In 1918, there were five Jewish elementary schools in Zgierz, and the city council planned for a subsidy in that year to build a Jewish middle school. Until the year 1914, the Jewish youth enrolled in significant numbers to the business school, that was well-known in Zgierz and the area. A large percentage of the Jewish intelligentsia of Zgierz was connected with that well-known learning institution.

In 1912, a Yagdil Torah society was founded in Zgierz. The following people belonged to the management committee: Shlomo Sirkes, Eliezer Sirkes, Mordechai Shmuel Cudkowicz, Gedalyahu Yedidyah Zwiekelski, Yisrael Moshe Rozenowicz, Avraham Natan Elberg, Mendel Wechsler and Yitzchak Niekricz. The purpose of the organization was to enable students to learn for free. The organization oversaw the building of Cheders, Yeshivas and Beis Midrashes, as well as libraries and dormitories. They concerned themselves with the material wellbeing of the students and teachers. In 1912, the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva were founded, which continued in existence until the outbreak of the Second World War.

The development of synagogue organizations and groups, as well as the scholarly atmosphere from the Yeshivas and Beis Midrashes created a general climate that was able to give rise to the first groups of maskilim and social activists with a worldly outlook; later this current increased, and encompassed larger segments of the youth and the adults.

In the 1880s, the maskilim, in addition to the circles of professional intelligentsia such as doctors and others, concentrated around Avraham Yaakov Weisenfeld. His house served as the gathering place of the wise. It became a sort of a “salon” for students, scholars and poets; there, one discussed problems of “Torah and wisdom”. As Nachum Sokolow lamented in his eulogy (in Hatzefira, 1897): “He belonged to the last of the old generation of wise men of Galicia[13]”. In his eulogy, he also summarized Weisenfeld's cultural activities in Zgierz.

The following people were prominent among the group of maskilim: Tuvia Lipschitz (his rich library was donated to the national library in Jerusalem by his heirs); Yissachar Moshe Szwarc (he published scientific treatises in various periodicals, and was published with the pseudonym “Black Sea”[14]); Yaakov Berliner (Baniel), a well-known Zionist activist in Zgierz and in Israel (from the year 1926), as was Moshel Eiger.

The great writer David Frischman and the well-known writer and poet Yaakov Cohen were born and raised in Zgierz. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, various educational forums were organized for workers, artisans, business employees, and groups of youth who did not have the means to study in the middle schools. The initiators of those courses were groups and organizations that were founded with the purpose of spreading culture and education among the youth and the broad masses. This started with the Hazamir organization (at first, this organization bore the name Muza). The initiators of Hazamir were: Yeshayahu Shapiro, Ber Kon and Aharon Kaltgrad, who were also members of the first managing committee.

According to its charter, Hazamir[15]was first and foremost an organization for music, song, drama and literature; spreading musical and literary culture, and assisting talented youth.

They created a choir, an orchestra and a dramatic group. Hazamir organized concerts and literary evenings, and popularized the best music and books, in particular Yiddish ones. They organized speakers and popular lectures. Well-known writers, artists and scholars would appear as lecturers, including ones from the large centers of Jewish culture (Hillel Zeitlin, Yitzchak Katzenelson, etc.) In 1913, Hazamir also took on the role of a sports club.

In 1913, Michael Shimon Zaltzwasser (a dentist), Avraham Morgenstern (a craftsman) and the weaver Leib Miller created the Jewish handworkers union, with the aim of spreading culture, science, tourism and geographical knowledge among the Jewish workers and artisans. The union had a library and a club, where various events took place. It was also a soup kitchen, which played an important role during the time of the First World War. The organization ran vocational courses for the youth, and in 1915, it conducted a course for weavers.

From 1910, Zgierz had a very large Jewish library. The Lodzer Volksblatt of July 18, 1915 wrote that the library contained over 1,000 books, and had more than 150 members.


The Revolution of 1905; Political Life

Already in the first years of the development of industry in Zgierz, rebellions[16] by the factory workers took place. In 1826, the first rebellion of employees and textile workers in the kingdom took place. That tradition of struggle workers movement in the city, and its influence was still noted in the 1880s. The first Polish workers' party, called Proletariat, conducted broad-based activity in the Zgierz. We cannot state the exact participation of Zgierz Jews in the activities of Proletariat. However, it is known that many Jewish families, especially workers and artisans, who lived in need, did create the foundation for Jewish participation in the actions of Proletariat.

It is interesting to see the various observations of Dr. A. Zonnenberg in his brochure about Zgierz (printed in 1890).

The author lived in Zgierz and was known as a Jewish doctor and general activist. He writes: “The average dwelling of a Jewish resident of Zgierz was a room of 25-30 square meters, with, for the most part, one window that let in a small amount of light. The walls were not of limestone, the ceiling was low, and there were holes in the floor. In the summer, particularly in the hot months, the heat was unbearable. Winter was even worse. The small ovens did not give off sufficient warmth, the walls were wet, there were drafts from the windows, and there were holes all over, which the dweller could not patch up themselves or ask the landlord to do so, since he was owing in rent. This all created a difficult atmosphere, and not infrequently, I myself witnessed the lowly state, when I was called in as a doctor.”

In the beginning of the 20th century, the participation of Zgierz Jews in the workers and revolutionary movements, especially among the youth, became significant. The influence of the S.D.K.P.L. (Social Democratic party of Royal Poland and Lithuania) became quite large among the Jewish workers. At that time, The Bund did not have a local branch in Zgierz. The local agitators helped lead the Lodzer committee of that organization. After the revolution of 1905, a local Bund organization was first created.

The Jewish students of the business school formed an important base for the activities of the S.D.K.P.L. and played a visible role during the time of the revolutionary events. Josef Bierzenzweig stood out in the front rows of the revolutionaries, not only in Zgierz but also in the entire Mazowia area. He was arrested for the first time in 1901. At that time, he was 20 years old, and a student in the fifth class of the business school of Zgierz. The police conducted a search at his home, and found a great deal of revolutionary and Marxist literature, originating both from within the country and from the outside. In 1903, he was sentenced to three years of exile in eastern Siberia. At that time, the police discovered new material regarding his activities and leadership in the Zgierz organization. They ordered a new investigation, and jailed him in the famous 10th pavilion of the Warsaw citadel. There, he became ill with tuberculosis and died. His funeral in Warsaw on May 6, 1904 turned into a gigantic manifesto. It turned into a confrontation with the police. Many participants in the funeral were arrested by the police – including some Jewish young people from Zgierz.

The revolutionary events strengthened in Zgierz in particular in January, 1905. Under the influence of agitators who came from Lodz, a general strike was proclaimed on January 28th. A gigantic meeting took place on that day. Three thousand Jews, Poles and Germans participated. During May and June of 1905, there were strikes in the factory and smaller workshops. New demonstrations took place on October 18th. The students of the business school were in the lead. The demonstrators waved a red flag. A Cossack charged in and dispersed the demonstrators; a number of them were wounded and arrested. Two Jewish students, Max Szreiner and Moshe Zeidman were among those arrested.

Organized Zionistic activity took place in Zgierz during the first years of the 20th century. Zionist circles were formed, which conducted broad-based publicity and cultural activities. In 1911, during the era when the Zionist organizations were declared illegal by the authorities, a youth movement by the name of Tzeirei Zion was created in Zgierz. It was officially called “The Youth Union”. It was forbidden from conducting political activities, so only cultural events were mentioned in its program. In that group, they discussed the spreading and propagating of the study of Hebrew, strengthening the Hebrew press, and creating a library for Hebrew books.

The members of Tzeirei Zion were numbered among the Zionist activists of Zgierz during the later years.


Composition of the Communal Leadership (Dozor Boznicki)
of Zgierz in the years 1824-1857

In the years 1824, 1826, 1827: Leizer Bornstein, Baruch Steinbok, Meir Blumenthal. They were elected on January 19th, 1825.

In the years 1828, 1829, 1830: Moshe Steinbok, Meir Blumenthal, Leizer Bornstein. They were elected on December 3rd, 1827.

In the years 1831, 1832, 1833: Yosef Weilandt, Yisrael Frakenberg, Berl Warmwasser.

In the years 1834, 1835, 1836: Eli Mogden, Chaim Lubraniecki, Baruch Warmwasser.

In the years 1837, 1838, 1839: Chaim Klimentowski, Yaakov Poznanski, Rafael Zucker.

In the years 1840, 1841, 1842: Chaim Lubraniecki, Hillel Berlinski, Menashe Blawat.

In the years 1843, 1844, 1845: Menashe Blawat, Shimon Waldberg, Shimon Lewin.

In the years 1846, 1847, 1848: Yisrael Litauer, Chaim Meir Horowitz, Rafael Zucker.

In the years 1849, 1850, 1851: Chaim Lubraniecki, Shimon Waldberg, Wolko Zonnenfeld. During the term, Henech Librach replaced Shimon Waldberg.

In the years 1852, 1853, 1854: The same representatives as in the previous term were elected again.

In the years 1855, 1856, 1857: Yerucham Berliner, Gershon Blum, Wolf Zonnenfeld.

(From the protocols of the general archive in Lodz and from the archives of the Pietrikower governing authorities, number 2581.)


My Hometown at the End of the 19th Century

by Leon Lipschitz of Gan Shlomo, Petach Tikva.

Zgierz had a German character approximately 80 years ago. The streets with German residents bore the names “Heren Strasse”, “Meierhoff Strasse”, etc. The Germans employed various means not to let the Jews enter into the new forms of livelihood in the textile industry, in which the following German industrialists dominated: Barst, Lorentz, Binder, Dlugoshevski, Ernst, Cerent, Meierhoff, Schultz, Hoffman (Masshinen), etc. The first Jewish industrialist in Zgierz was Reb Yossel Rubinstein, a deeply pious Orthodox Jew. He studied the weaving trade, and set up future generations of weavers who remained weavers in Zgierz or in the surrounding towns. These weavers included: Reb Moshe Eiger (both a Torah scholar and a maskil), Fuchs, Zucker, Szaransky, Glicksman, and Zilbershatz.

After difficult tribulations and discrimination that was perpetrated by the Germans upon the Jews via various intrigues with the regime, they began to deal in all areas of the textile industry. Such industrialists included the father the well-known weaver David Frischman, Fogel, and others.

At that time, Jews from Latvia began to arrive in Poland. They knew how to communicate with the Germans very well, thanks to their worldly outlook and business activities. They became the confidantes of the large-scale German industrialists.

At that time, a new element could be seen among the textile industrialists – the commissioners. The first commissioners of the textile industry in Zgierz, who introduced the use of the Russian Mark in the Zgierz production, were Jews. All of the participants in business gradually became wealthier, and earned good livelihoods. The well-known commissioners of the textile industry in Zgierz were: Shlomo Horowitz (from Byelorussia), who was a fine Jew, and used to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah; Tuvia Lipschitz, a great scholar who was familiar with worldly languages; a writer who enriched Hebrew literature of the haskalah generation and helped develop new young talent; David Frischman; Yaakov Cohen, Yehuda Leib Lewin, Berkowicz, and others.

I remember Zgierz very well from my childhood – the last years of the 1800s. The Germans babbled about town. The councilors of the Zgierz magistrate were Germans. The civic garden, between Pienkowska and Leczyca Streets, was adorned with a wooden stand and a musical band that played every Sunday. The city president was Pienkowski, a patriarchal warrior with a German wife. He rose to his position as a loyal citizen in the Czarist authorities, and became president of Lodz, distinguishing himself in the higher rungs of the Czarist regime. The president of the magistrate in Zgierz was a drunk by the name of Sluszewski. The civic cashier was Malinowski, also a man with a German wife. The doctor was Banda, an old German who loved his patients. He knew all of the children by their names. Polonized Germans included Drs. Hesner and Neubauer (the later changes his name to Nowomieski). The first opticians were Gebel and Eisenschmidt, and later also Patek, a Pole.

Little by little, with great effort, Jews in Zgierz also were numbered among the doctors. They also were Polonized and assimilated. These included Drs. Krowkowski, Schreier, and the Jewish national spokesman Dr. Zilberstram, the brother of the deputy of the Russian Duma and the Zionist leader Dr. Zilberstram.

I also remember the name of other Jewish intellectuals: Kahanstam, who graduated from the rabbinical school in Warsaw (under the leadership of the assimilated Dr. Eisenstat)[17]; Yaakov Jakubowicz, and old feldscher; and Baruch Botshe Grynfarb – both graduates of the feldscher school of Warsaw. They were both well mannered and very popular with the Jewish masses.

The largest segment of the Jewish community consisted of long-cloaked Orthodox Jews. As in other cities, most of them opposed the establishment of a Jewish elementary public school with Russian as the language of instruction. Prior to the establishment of the school, the authorities appointed teachers for the cheders and for the Jewish Metukan school, which was lead by Binyamin Katzenelson, a great scholar who was the author of “Olelot Efraim”. He was the father of the poet and martyr Yitzchak Katzenelson.

With the founding of the elementary school, the great Wachtel arrived as the principal. He was a graduate of a teaching seminary, and he led the school without nonsense, as he established generations of students, including from the poorer strata. The students completed school able to understand Russian reasonably well, and knowing a little German. It was forbidden to teach Polish.

Young people with peyos and long cloaks would secretly “steal into” the teacher in the class, having come from the Beis Midrash to learn Russian and arithmetic very secretly.

The center of haskalah and the study of Hebrew literature were built up in Zgierz by the following people: Yissachar Szwarc, Moshel Eiger, and Reb Tuvia Lipschitz. Their work for the Jewish national renaissance in our city was with the greatest meaning. They were the shapers of the Chovevei Zion group in Zgierz, and later, the founders of the Zionist union. Under their influence, in cooperation with the young intelligentsia, Zgierz became a center of Zionist work and pioneering.

{Photocopy page 124: Greetings of Congratulations marking a donation to the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) in honor of the young couple Glika and Aharon Sperling. Signed by Yissachar Szwarc and his wife, 1912.}


  1. This meaning of this sentence in Yiddish is somewhat unclear. Back

  2. The Yiddish term here 'konfektzia', is not in my Yiddish-English dictionary. I doubt that it connotes the modern term of the manufacture of delicacies or sweets. The Webster's dictionary defines confectioner also as a maker of fine craftsmanship, which is a more likely definition here. Back

  3. I could not verify two of these terms, which I placed in quotes. Back

  4. I suspect that the words 'wool, textile' his entry are erroneous, as they appear in the next row as well. In term of the term 'dealers' on the first two items of this table, vs. merchants on the remainder of the items, I suspect 'dealers' refers to wholesalers or middlemen. Back

  5. An interesting term 'dorfgeiers' – village goers. I suspect it refers to those who peddle their wares in the villages of the countryside. Back

  6. In the preceding table, the saloonkeepers seem to be included in the general number of dealers and merchants (the number of which in 1828 – 24 – is equivalent in this table and the preceding table). Back

  7. I am not sure of the meaning of this term. Back

  8. It is not clear what this means. It seems to refer to the official transferring of the permits to the synagogue from the city to the community. Back

  9. Money to bribe the authorities to overlook a situation. Back

  10. The Sabbath boundary whose purpose is to permit carrying outdoors on the Sabbath. The legal technicalities of the eruv are beyond the scope of this footnote. Back

  11. The footnote at the bottom of the page is as follows: In the agreement between the regime of the Kingdom of Poland and between the German colonialists regarding their conditions for settling in newly developed areas. Back

  12. I have used the word 'synagogue dozors' throughout, which bears the equivalent meaning of the term used in the previous historical section. Here the word 'shul' is always given in Yiddish, whereas in the previous section, the was given in Polish translation (boznicki). I expect that it does not literally refer to the synagogue itself here, but rather to the religious community. There is some confusion in this current sentence, as the word 'shul' can mean both synagogue and school. However, I believe it is referring to the same group of communal leaders here. Back

  13. The literal term here is “The last of the men of the Great Assembly”, a term taken from the Mishnaic tractate of Pirke Avot. It refers to the last of the group of the Great Assembly, the group of the latter prophets and sages who codified much of Jewish ritual. Here, it refers to the last remnants of an earlier generation of scholars. Back

  14. Szwarc (Schwartz) being Yiddish / German for black. Back

  15. The term Hazamir in Hebrew means 'the choralist', or 'the singer'. Back

  16. I expect that this refers to strikes, but the Yiddish word (bunt) has more of the sense of mutiny or rebellion. Back

  17. The word for Rabbinical here is 'Rabbiner', which has the connotation of a Reform rabbi. Back

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