The Martyrdom and Extermination
of the Jews in Kielce During World War II
Cover design and photos
Looking back from the perspective of the year 2005 we can safely assume that the Jewish community from Kielce, taking into account 20 942 inhabitants at the beginning of the 2nd World War, has got at last a profound scientific description of their history. Numerous editions of books, articles, reports, assemblages of documents have been issued, not leaving on account of such difficult matters as incident in 1946.
This book refers to the hardest period of time concerning Jews from Kielce, the time of the War and occupation, when Germans murdered most of Jews with full premeditation and intent, and appropriated their belongings. The crime was planned and executed with high precision. In February 1945 there were only 201 people of Jewish origin in Kielce.
Some archival materials of the Chief Commission for the Investigation of the Genocide Committed on the Polish Nation (placed in Warsaw) and the Territorial Commission of Kielce, were used in this composition. The records of the Attorney General of Poland found in the National Record Office in Kielce appeared extremely valuable to the author. The data found in the newspaper Gazeta Żydowska (The Jewish Gazette), which had been published from 1940 till 1942 by permission of the authorities in occupation, were treated with great care. In Kielce there was a branch of the Gazette publishing house at Czwartaków Street, so the fact makes the materials found in the Gazette very valuable. We can find there some information about the Judenrat; their framework, activity for the poorest people and disposition. There are also some particulars concerning the Jewish Order Service (Jewish police force).
The State Journals issued by the Governor General, the Chief of the Radom District and the Starost of the Kielce District, were very helpful to the author too. We can find there the law aspects of decreasing the Jewish people's rights and eventually settling them in the Ghetto. That meant isolation from Polish people and difficulty in finding food, clothes and medicines.
Unfortunately not many recollections have remained till now, so the author has scrupulously examined all those that were found in the Jewish Historical Institute and in Yed Washem in Jerusalem. Thanks to Wiliam Mandllow (?), Rafał Blumenfeld and the kindness of the management of Yed Washem the author could look through all the inestimable testimonies he had found there.
In the work there were also used some remembrances of Poles which were sent for a competition organized in 1974 by the Cultural Department of the Town Office of Kielce and by the Provincial Public Library placed at Pocieszka Street.
In the materials we can find some atmosphere of the occupation period, see the relationship between Poles and Jews and learn some aspects of help given by Polish people.
Of a great importance for the history of Kielce are the letters of Gertruda Zeisler who came to the town from Vienna. Her letters sent from Kielce to her family, which was spread all over the world, showed her mental state and incredibly hard conditions of living in isolation. Since she was intelligent, well educated and fluent in German language she was a sharp observer of the activity of Germans, the Judenrat and native Jews. Her remembrances confirmed the point of view that a lot of Jews could not believe that Germans as a nation of great cultural roots would bring the Jews community to the complete extermination. She was killed at Treblinka Camp as most of the Jews from Kielce.
Very interesting information were obtained from the Jews who had survived the War and after some years decided to visit their hometown. A lot of precious details were found in letters of the following men: Henryk Gringras alias Zvi Ganoth, Henryk and Bernard Zelinger, Seweryn Piasecki, Dawid Szczekociński, Rafael Blumenfeld, Dawid Lewartowski and some others. The letters delineate the martyrdom of the Jewish people from Kielce under the Nazi occupation as well as show the hard times of the Jews in the territory of Soviet Union, the Jews that lived eastward of the Bug River in 1939.
Very useful were the following scientific descriptions: the complete edition of The modern history of the Jews in Poland edited by Prof. Jerzy Tomaszewski in 1993 and Kielce during Nazi occupation 1939 - 1945 edited by Adam Massalski and Stanisław Meducki in 1986.
The were also used some assemblages of articles and remembrances inserted in About our house which was devastated and Eighty anniversary Kielce bulletins edited by Koło Kielczan (Crcle of the Kielce Citizens) in New York, in 1985.
The martyrdom and extermination of the Jews in Kielce during the War as well as their life in the Ghetto was not easy to reconstruct. Now in Poland there are practically no Jews that went through the Ghetto and survived the occupation. At that time Polish people were worrying themselves about everyday living and they did not know the real situation in the Ghetto or they knew very little of it. On the other hand the initiation of examining the documents and remembrances began relatively late. Many eyewitnesses had already died when the County Commission for Nazi Crimes Investigation in Kielce started their investigation in 1961. Besides, they put their attention mostly on the Pogrom in Kielce in 1946.
As many years have gone by since the end of the War it is still more and more difficult to verify the correctness of data, numbers and names. Quite a lot of those Jews that were serving in the Judenrat and police knew what was the purpose of the institutions. They tried with all their might not to let their names be ever seen in The Jewish Gazette. The result was that it was not possible to ascertain the entire composition of the Judenrat and the Jewish Order Service.
At the final part of the book the author touched the problem of help given to Jews by Polish people and the Polish Underground. As the invaders way of treatment in relation to Polish people was very severe, the help was not realized in the extent tat would provide for the Jewish people's needs as far as food or medicines are concerned. Moreover Poland was the only occupied country in Europe where any sign of help for Jews was punished with death. And it was not an empty thread. A few Poles were shot within the Ghetto and quite a big number of people were sent to extermination camps. Nevertheless many Poles from Kielce and neighbouring villages sheltered Jews when the Ghetto was being liquidated in August 1942. It should be pointed out that when Nazis committed the extermination of Jews from Kielce in the Treblinka Camp in August 1942 the German troops were spread throughout Europe from Pyrenees to Moscow and Nazi flag was waving on top of the Elbrus Mountain. It was the apogee of German power. The end of the War was to come in three years time.
The author would like to acknowledge the particular help of Mr. Yaacov Kotlicki in English edition of the book.
Jewish Community in Kielce in the Interwar Period
In the years 1918-1939 the Jewish municipal department of Kielce was one of six departments in the Kielce Poviat. In September 1939 it numbered 20942 people, 75% of who constituted Orthodox Jews wearing characteristic black gabardines, yarmulkes and white stockings. Out of 3500 Jewish families in Kielce about 400 lived in affluence and sometimes even in luxury. These were families of factories' owners, attorneys, doctors and civil officers. An equal number of the population lived in poverty; 100-150 families needed constant or temporary support of different charitable institutions. Unfortunately, as time went on the Jewish Community was poorer and poorer, which affected the standard of life. In 1930s there were periods, when over 300 families received free matzoth from the Rabbinate and the Board of the Jewish Community at Passover.
According to the Gazeta Kielecka of 1939, out of 8010 properties in Kielce 20,7% that is 1660 belonged to Jews. These were houses, grounds and plots. Most houses in Kielce were built of broken stone and in general didn't have current water and canalization. According to the Municipality, 85% of the buildings carried away the sewage directly into gutters. In better conditions lived people on the main streets: Sienkiewicza, Focha, Słowackiego, Śniadeckich, Hipoteczna and Mickiewicza. Those houses were built with the purpose to profit from renting flats, which required their high standards. Although they were expensive, they didn't lack customers, the number of wealthy people - both Poles and Jews was growing. However, the majority of the families lived in only one room. According to the studies carried out by the Jewish health care under the leadership of doctor Mojżesz Pelz, about 25% Jewish families in Poland lived in attics, basements or had a workshop or a shop in the room whey they lived. It affected badly the health of people of such occupations as: saddler shoe-top maker, shoe maker due to toxic substances escaping from leather and chemicals. The health care knew the situation and tried to protect first of all the youth. At the doctors' suggestion schools introduced obligatory distribution of cod-liver oil, summer camps and periodic follow-up examinations.
The main occupation of the Jewish residents of Kielce was trade and craftsmanship. In little shops with modest windows but with excellently outfitted interiors the owners would patiently wait for customers always offering them 'the best' and 'the cheapest' goods. Great sign-boards, ingenious advertising and the assurance that one could haggle over the price encouraged people to shopping. An exquisite picture of Kielce with its trade on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War can be found in the memories of Jadwiga Henl:
from the corner of Kościuszki Street up to the market there stretched small, scruffy houses or dirty tenement houses, dotted on the ground floor with Jewish shop windows. The pavement was cluttered with barrels full of herrings and on the frames of the wooden houses there were broomsticks, brushes, paintbrushes, spades and baskets. It was a vibrant street ( ); everywhere could be heard the guttural sounds of Jewish words. Everywhere, in broken Polish, people would praise their goods and over the streets wafted up the smells of herrings and garlic.( ) A Jewess sitting in the street used to sell lime in front of her there was a decimal balance and a spade. Such was the arrangement of a primitive stall.
Since the competition in trade was enormous (24 residents for one stall, 52 for one grocer's shop), some Polish merchants tried to depreciate the Jewish trade accusing them of not obeying the basis hygienic rules. We must, however, agree with Aleksander Hertz, who wrote: A primitive and dirty Jewish stall derived from primitive and dirty peasant villages, which derived from primitive and dirty towns and the general economic situation of the country. The Gazeta Kielecka of Mai 1938 wrote about Kielce: The further from the city center, the less pleasant, clean and pretty  The Jews dominated the peddling. According to the Municipality, in 1938 the Jews owned 61,8% business establishments in Kielce; predominantly fabric, outfit shops and grocer's. The wholesale of coal was dominated by the Herszkowiczes, of iron by the Mordkowiczes and the Eisenbergs, of the food products by the Rotenbergs, Goldblums and Lewichs. In car trade dominant were the Janklewskis and the Kahans. If somebody had enough cash, it was possible to import within a few days cars produced in Western Europe or in the USA. To significant companies belonged also the Trade and Commission Houses owned by the Wilners and Cukiermans.
Merchants had a great opportunity to sell their goods at the fairs and markets, which in Kielce took place twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. On the stalls of the merchants from Kielce one could buy fabrics, outfit and shoes. The comers from the neighboring villages and the Jews from Ponidzie used to sell flour, grits, dairies, bread, poultry, fruit and products of village craftsmen. Teofilia Muszyńska recollects: Although in 1930 it was possible to get everything in shops, the markets still had their unique charm. One could see the product, touch, choose as well as haggle. Everybody was willing to lower the price by a few grosz, which was quite important. The Jewish trade was consolidated and at the same time supervised by the Association of Jewish Merchants and the Jewish Union of Small Merchants and Salesmen
In the Interwar period the Jewish craftsmanship developed. In 1930 the Jewish residents owned 56,7% of craftsman's workshops. Dominant were shoemakers, tailors, shoe-top makers, bakers, butchers and saddlers. The competition was enormous, especially when taking into account that one tailor's workshop was for 278 people and one bakery for 712 people! In the best situation were jewelers, furriers and confectioners; in the hardest conditions lived shoemakers and tailors. In 1932 the situation of shoemakers, who had already experienced the results of the crisis, was worsen by the opening of a shop Bata, which imported cheap, machine made shoes from Czechoslovakia. In 1938 the crisis affected the Jewish butchers due to a law limiting the ritual slaughter.
In order to protect the interest of the Jewish craftsmen as early as in 1920s the Association of Jewish Craftsmen was established with its seat at 2 Kozia Street. It organized educating courses, gave legal advice and tried to run cultural activity. In 1927 first Jewish guilds were created. The most numerous one, with 247 members, was the Poviat Guild of Shoemakers, Tanners and Saddlers. Also in the established in 1929 House of Craftsmen, which catered for raw material, educated craftsmen and fought against illegal craftsmanship, there were also Jewish members: Boruch Laks, Judka Bekerman, Chaim Tenembaum, Szmul Nusynowicz and Josek Zylberberg.
In the Kielce industry definitely dominated moderate capital which exploited the available, rather modest mineral resources. Out of 12 significant on the provincial scale industrial factories the following ones were owned by Jews in 1938: The Limestone Factories and Quarries 'Wietrznia' (Lipowa Street) owned by the Zagajscy and the Wilners, The Limestone Factories and Quarries 'Kadzielnia' joint-stock company (Legionów Street) owned by the Erlichs, The Kielce Industrial and Woodwork Factories 'Henryków' (Młynarska Street) owned by the Nowaks, Bruners and Lewichs The Factory of Feathers and Fluff Processing 'Plumapol (Okrzei Street) owned by the Frieds (vel Fryd) and The Automatic Mill Kłos (Legionów Street) owned by the Grauzes, Zylberings and the Grünbergs.
Among the most significant industrial plants in the city numbered: Electrical Mill Ekonomia (Chęcińska Street) owned by the Mintzes, Owsianys and Ajchlers, Brick factories (Legionów Street) owned by Rachmil Rozenholc, brick field Głęboczka (Piotrkowska Street) rented by the Cukiermans, Marksons and Gołębiowskis, the brick field Podwietrznia (Poniatowskiego Street) owned by the Rabinowiczes. The Factory of Processing the Kielce Marble owned by Józef Urblajtel, limestone quarries Międzygórze (Lipowa Street) owned by the Lipszyce.
46 Jewish companies worked in the timber industry exploiting the Kielce forests. They were organized into the Union of Producers and Timber Merchants of the district Radom of and Kielce. The potentates in this branch (sawmills, storehouses of timber) were the following families: Nowak, Bruner, Lewich, Ajzenberg, Dębski, Bugajer, Machtynger, Prajs, Kestenberg and Maliniak. In the tanning industry dominant were the following family names: Bekerman, Tenenbaum, Grünberg, Zylbering, Urbajtel, Moszkowicz. In connection with the development of car communication Dawid, Mojżesz and Icek Kahan built modern storehouses of fuel on Chęcińska Street. The families of the Wilners, Erlichs and Zagajskis got also involved in the trade with crude oil, naphtha and petrol.
The prospering industrial, craftsmen's and trading factories advertised their products on a large scale: they printed brochures, catalogues, visiting-cards, put advertisements in newspapers, made occasional prints and the so-called Księgi adresowe (Address-books). Smaller printing was done usually in Jewish printing houses: of Boruch Wajnryb, Josek Moszenberg, Mendel Perl and Majloch Najmiller.
The possibility of investment and development depended to a high degree on obtaining a low-interest credit. In Kielce it wasn't very difficult. The Jews used the Credit Society of Kielce, The Communal Savings Bank, banks, banking houses and 18 credit co-operatives, 12 of which belonged to Jewish shareholders. Among the most significant companies can be numbered: The Kielce Branch of the Bank Łódzki (Sienkiewicza Street), Dawid Rozenberg's Banking House (Sienkiewicza Street), People's Bank (Niecała Street), Co-operative Bank of Real Estate Owners (the Marketplace). There were also loan banks at the guilds and the Board of the Jewish Community. From 150 to 200 families practiced the so-called professions. These were: doctors, lawyers, barber-surgeons, notaries, debt collectors and pharmacists. Worth mentioning is also a group of doctors. In 1932 out of 38 doctors practicing in Kielce 15 were Jews. Towards the end of the 1930s this number increased to 22. The best known and the most valued were: M.Pelc (internal diseases), Jerzy Fleszler (urologist), Gerszon Harkawi (laryngologist), Józef Lewinson (internal diseases), Izaak Lewin (oculist), Jakub Goldsztajn (radiologist), Gabriel Sztyfter, Beniamin Serwetnk, Etla Sołomanik, Maria Krauz, Bajla Hirszon, and Uda Ajzenberg (dentists). The dentists were assisted by 7 dental technicians. There were also a few exquisite barber-surgeons, such as Szloma Rotman. The doctors were united in the Union of Jewish Doctors initially presided over by doctor J.Lewinson and then by doctor M.Pelc. S.Rotman and then Moryc Binsztok were the presidents of the Union of Jewish Barber-surgeons.
The following lawyers had their own practices: Jakub Manela, Izydor Zimmer, Eisig Rottner, Herman Frejzynger, Adolf Weisenfreud and Henryk Fruks.
A few dozen people were employed in education: cheders, yeshivas and high schools. The teachers distinguished themselves by their education and devotion to the youth. To the best pedagogues numbered: doctor Noe Braun, engineer Antoni Russak, doctor Izaak Zieliński, doctor Salomon Feuer, doctor Szymon Datner, Stefania Wolmanowa, Sara and Małka Mincówna.
The life of Jewish society in the commune was regulated by the Council and the Board. The Board's duties were: establishing and maintaining synagogues, prayer houses, schools, rabbinates, the mikveh, the cemetery, supporting charities and supervising the religious upbringing of the youth. The Board, according to the decisions of the Council had the right to collect municipality tax, which allowed a great activeness on the social-religious field: A simple man couldn't imagine life outside the commune and without the control of the rabbinate. The commune helped the poorest social groups, forced the richest through imposing taxes to share their wealth. In Kielce there were elected 20 members of the Council and an equal number of deputies, in the Board there were from 10 to 14 members and an equal number of deputies. The Council was successively presided over by: factory owner Herszel Zagajski and merchants Dawid Rotenberg and Abram Piotrowski; the Board by: factory owner Herman Lwei, bank clerk Izaak Rajzman and merchants Wolf Kluska and Smycha Goldman. The board office was on Leonarda Street.
The Board elections took place in 1920s, 1924, 1931-1932, 1936. In the Board elected in 1931, consisting of 14 members, there were 8 merchants, 4 craftsmen, a bank clerk and a farmer, which reflected the professional structure among the Kielce Jews. During the elections, and then at the Board meetings there were lively and sometimes fierce discussions between Orthodox Jews, Zionists and Mizrachists; the members of the Union boycotted the elections of communal boards. In 1920s the strongest group constituted the adherents of Aguda and later on the Zionists, who competed with the so-called non-party religious Jews.
In 1930s the budget of the Kielce Jewish Community had an income of 200-300 zloty annually. This amount came mainly from municipality fees and from the ritual slaughter of cattle and poultry. The collected funds were divided into three parts: the first one was allocated for keeping the rabbis, religious supervisors, cantors and the synagogue choir, the second part for keeping the communal clerks, maintaining the ritual cuisine, hospital fees and repairs, the third one for subsidizing the educational system as well as cultural, charitable and social institutions (in this case not only the Jewish ones).
During the crisis of the years 1939-1933 considerable amounts were given to the Kielce craftsmanship. In the latter parts of the 1930s the People's Bank, where savings of the poorest Jews were allocated, had to be supported due to threatening bankruptcy. Unfortunately, in the course of years the situation of the bank was constantly deteriorating. In 1925 the fee was paid by 1953 families, in 1927 only by 1607 and in 1939 by 1135 families. There were attempts to save the budget, asking for help associations of compatriots in Canada and in the United States but there was hardly any answer. Those societies weren't rich either.
In the Kielce rabbinate there were three rabbis appointed at the time of Austrian occupation and confirmed in 1918 by the Polish state. The supreme rabbi of Kielce was Abela Rapoport, the son of Gutman, born in 1878; his deputy was Alter Hochberg (spelled also Horberg), born in 1871, the function of rabbi's assessor performed Hersz Gryszpan, born in 1875. They had all passed rabbi's examinations under the Russian occupation. Rapoport always declared himself as a non-party, the others as orthodox. In 1918 the rabbi supported the Polish reasons of State and was always loyal to Poland. He was one of the first rabbis in Poland, who ordered prayers for the intention of saving Poland and defeating the Bolsheviks in 1920; throughout the whole interwar period he would order prayers on the anniversary of the Constitution of 3rd May and 11th November. His relationships with the Town Council, Voivodship Government and the Curia of the Diocese were excellent. To Rapoport's prestige testifies the fact that he was commissioned organizing a rabbis' meeting from 2 to 4 July 1933. 250 people came to the meeting, including rabbis from Lublin, Zamość, Koprzywnica, Małogoszcz and Nowa Słupia. There were invited also people who had in Kielce the title of rabbi but didn't perform the function: Szaja Ber, Efroim Rabinowicz, Lejzor Finkler, Izrael Kestenberg and Bima Goldman. The subject of the conference was overcoming ignorance and demoralization and improving the religious condition of the Jews. The participants also broached the subject of the economic crisis and the situation of Jews in Germany.
When on September 3, 1938 the new bishop Czesław Kaczmarek came to Kielce, rabbi A. Rapoport undertook actions to come into closer contact with the superior of the Catholics. The opportunity arose during the celebrations related to the death of Pope Pius XI. On February 15, 1939 the rabbi informed the Curia of the Diocese that the Jewish Community in Kielce would commemorate the death of His Holiness Pope Pius XI with a requiem service in the Great Synagogue and the memoirs about the Pope would be delivered by the rabbi himself.
Apart from the Great Synagogue there were in Kielce over 30 prayer houses. A part of them was related to people who came to Kielce from neighboring towns and had common names: Chęciny, Chmielnik, Raków, Pilica. In the Orthodox environment zaddiks Cejmach Rabinowicz and Szaja Goldman enjoyed a great respect. At 39 Piotrkowska Street used to meet the followers of the zaddik from Radomsk. There was a yeshiva Keter Tora financed by orthodox Jews from the whole Poland. The head of the yeshiva was reb (a way to address respected members of the commune and older men) Cwi Elemanach Szapiro, the lectures were delivered among others by zaddiks from Tarnów and Chmielnik. Influential was also zaddik from Radoszyce Chaim Uszer Finkler. Ichaak Blumenfeld propagated the teachings of zaddik Mordechaj Alter from Góra Kalwaria.
The political life of the Kielce Jews was characterized by immense disarray, from extreme orthodoxy to extreme revolutionism. At the beginning of the Polish state the dominating position had the Central Organization of Orthodox Jews in Poland, Aguda. It had about 500 active members and an equal number of opponents. If necessary, it could mobilize 2-3 thousand people.
The leading activists of Aguda were: Henoch Kaminer, Pikus Finkler, Jankiel Pasyrman, Mordka Fiszel Kaminer. The Board of Aguda created the following supporting organizations: The Union of the Workers of Zion, the Youth of the Israel Union, the Society of Saturday Celebrating and the Society Rabi Meir Baal Nes. The seat of Aguda was at 13 Kozia Street. The Board used to order prayers for strengthening the economy and defense. The Aguda's activists participated in the elections of the Sejm, Senate, the Town Council and the Board of the Jewish Community.
While the Aguda was supported mainly by older people, the youth was attracted to the Zionists. The Kielce branch of the Zionist Organization in Poland had its seat at 28 Wesoła Street. Two fractions were developing Ejt Liwnot (Time to build) and Al Hamiszmar (On guard). In the meetings participated from 80 to 150 people but the strength of the party was estimated at 300 active members and an equal number of sympathizers. The leading members were: Izaak Rajzman, Alter Ehrlich, Chaim Zielony and Moryc Zieliński. The youth section of the party constituted the scouts' organization Haszomer Hacair (Young Scout), which had its seat at 68Sienkiewicza Street. The 80-100 members of the party were mainly pupils of the Kielce high schools. An extension of the Zionist Organization constituted the Women's International Zionist Organization WIZO, which had in Kielce about 40 activists. On Czarnowska Street their seats had Cejre Syjon (Sons of Zion) and Bures Syjon (Daughters of Zion). With the party co-operated the Jewish Immigration Association with its seat at 57 Sienkiewicza Street and the Zionist Club on Wesoła Street.
The activists and members of the Union of Zionists Revisionists Brith Hacohar, who aimed at the reconstruction and development of Palestine, recruited from moderately wealthy middle class. The Board was active through its specialized sections: propaganda, professional training and physical education. The Board's members were among others: doctor Jakub Szatz, Michał Wittlin, Jechele Preis and Lucjan Kopf. At their invitation several times in Kielce Włodzimierz Zabotyński stayed.
In December 1933 the Zionists created the Union of Promoting the Physical Development among the Jews on the name of W. Zabotyński. Its members wore brown uniforms and fiercely exercised on the Kielce Stadium, where there were sports rifle ranges. The commandant of the sub-district of Kielce was Adolf Lew and the head of the managing department was the co owner of the Polish Hotel Salomon Zelinger.
At the beginning of 1932 the founding meeting of the Young Zionists Revisionists Masada took place in Kielce, during which it was emphasized that the Jews should participate in the coming war and fight for an independent Jewish state.
The need of mass development of all kinds of sports was stressed also at the meeting of the Kielce branch of the J.Trumpeldor Youth Association in December 1933. On that day the representatives of 28 circles of Bejtar established the Independent Kielce District.
At the beginning of 1936, basing on the funds provided by merchant Leon Rodal, a branch of the Independent Zionist Organization, which comprised of about 50 members, was created. The head of the Board was A. Lew.
For many years at 16 Market Square there was the seat of the board of the Organization of Zionists Orthodoxies Mizrachi, which comprised about 300 members. The party played a significant role in the Council and the Board of the Jewish Community; it supported religious education, fought to obtain the funds to keep the Jewish Male High School. The leading activists were: Eliasz Rozenblum, Wolf Kluska, Izaak Kohn and Abram Ajzenberg. A base of the party constituted Cejrej Mizrachi (The youth from Mizrachi), consisting of about 150 members and the Jewish Cultural-Educative Society Tarbut. The authorities of the voivodship permitted the creation of the Food Association Mizrachi, which financially supported the activity of the party.
The Kielce branch of the Zionist Labor Party Hitachdut with its seat at 1 Leonarda Street never had more members than 100. Its programme provided activities aiming at the creation of a Jewish society in Palestine, which would work on a collective basis, characteristic for the Hebrew culture. To the party's activists belonged: Kalman Kluska, Chil Rozenkranc and Estera Zylbersztajnówna and others.
In Kielce there were also several socialist parties. On the threshold of independence a great role played the General Workers' Union the Bund. It participated among others in the creation of the Council of Workers' Deputies, organized strikes and public meetings. In 1922, after some members had gone over to the Communist Labor Party of Poland, the Bund actually existed only thanks to the financial help of the Radom branch. A kind of revival could be seen not earlier than in 1927, due to an enthusiastic activist of the board Chil Weltman. The work of Kultur Ligi was noticed, reading room Muza was created and trade unions enjoyed greater interest, at the same time winning support among transporters, unskilled workers and the workers of the leather industry. The leading members of the party were: Ch. Weltman, Izaak Szmulewicz and Mojżesz Trajster. The party had its office at 6 Bodzentyńska Street.
In 1926 the Poviat Starosty in Kielce became an object of interest of the Poalej Zion-Right (PZ-Right) and Poalej Zion-Left (PZ-Left). Both parties promoted socialistic ideas, fought for a lay commune and wanted to remove religion from public institutions. They suggested that the Hebrew language should be the national language in a Jewish state, whereas Yiddish should be sufficient for everyday communication. The difference between the parties constituted their attitude to general actions, such as collections for the National Funds and the Foundation Funds, which at the same time means participation in general stream of Zionism.
PZ-Left had about 400 members, PZ-Right 300. The leading activists of the first fraction were: Abram Kierszenbaum, Szja Cukier, Aron Bursztyn, Mordka Mordkowicz; of the other fraction: Abram Wajncwajg, Mendel Borensztajn, Szaja Gros, Mojżesz Berliner. Under the influence of PZ-Right were 80% members of the Trade Union of the Food Industry Workers; PZ-Left enjoyed a strong support among the members of the Class Trade Union of Jewish craftsmen. The parties organized meetings, public meetings, lectures and youth schooling. They also put stress on sports. The office of the Board of PZ-Right was on Duża Street and of PZ-Left on Czysta (Focha) Street.
Only 60-70 members belonged to the Jewish Labor Party in Kielce (Jidisze Fołks Partej in Pojlen). The seat of its board was on Czarnowska Street. Except for a few meetings and readings a year, it didn't show any activity.
It's difficult to give the precise number of Jews involved in the work of the Association of the Communist Youth (ZMK) and the Communist Party of Poland (KPP). Revolutionary ideas were popular as long as they propagated the principle of equality, which the Jews felt strongly about. Since 1925 there hadn't been in Kielce any greater political process without Jewish activists in the dock. After an analysis of the processes and police files we can assume that in 1918-1938 about 300 Jews from Kielce came across the ZMK and KPP. The leading activists were: Abram Biedny, Abram Włoszczowski, Leokadia Szyndlerowa, Zyndel Fuchs, Hersz Rapoport, Eliasz Wilk, Ales Goldsztajn, Icek Paciorkowski and Chana Wygańska. When in 1937 the political police in Kielce began to prepare a list of people who could possibly be interned in case of a war or internal riots; among 178 Kielce residents there were 50 Jews the KPP, ZMK and trade unions activists.
The majority of orthodox Jews kept themselves in the background of the political and social life, whereas the intelligentsia tried to participate actively in the city life. Already during the first elections of the Town Council assimilators, Zionists and socialists fought for votes. That situation repeated in the following elections. During the interwar period the functions of councilors were performed by: Abram Ber Ajzenberg, Moszek Dawid Ajzenberg, Noe Braun, Józef Fiszman, Szapsia Goldszajder, Gustaw Goldwasser, Szmul Goldman, Wincenty Jokiel, Moszek Kaminer, Herman Lewi, Mendel Lipszyc, Mojżesz Pelc, Izaak Rajzman, Markus Rawicki, Jakub Rotenberg, Dawid Rozenbeerg, Józef Skórecki, Mojżesz Stolarz and Herszel Zagajski. Those were people who enjoyed respect both in the Jewish and in the Polish society. M. Rawicki worked in the provision committee, N. Braun was a member of the sanitary committee and H. Lewi occupied himself with student grants.
In the interwar period there existed 40 different associations, unions and Jewish organizations in Kielce. These were associations which supported health care, education, culture and associated different trade and youth groups, as well as people involved in charity. (see: annex 1)
In the interwar period the Jewish education system in Kielce developed. Dominant were the reformed cheders, where the children learned apart from religious subjects, Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish also the Polish language, history, geography, calligraphy and sometimes book-keeping. A religious education provided the following schools: Talmud Tora, near the junction of Planty and Sienkiewicza Street; Jesoda Tora, at 2 Kozia Street, Mizrachi School Jawne at 15 Rynek (Market Square); Keter Tora on Piotrkowska Street and Bejs Jakow for girls, at 3 Aleksandra Street. There were also schools by the Great Synagogue and the Association of Jewish Craftsmen.
The Jewish religious education wasn't financed by the state; therefore its keeping fell mainly upon the Board of the Jewish Community, associations and parties.
A good command of Polish had later on, during the occupation, a great significance for people hiding under the so called Aryan papers; it gave them the opportunity to survive among the Poles. Unfortunately, according to the Jews who survived the war, the religious schools didn't give such opportunities.
On Mickiewicza Street Sara Rajzmanowa ran a 7-class school for Jewish girls, a similar school ran also sisters Sara and Małka Mincówna on Silniczna Street. An 8-class humanistic school ran Stefania and Władysław Zimnowoda at 1 Słowackiego Street. The classes were conducted in Polish and apart from that also Hebrew was taught. For boys there was the Jewish Male High School attended by 150-200 pupils. In the interwar period more and more Jews sent their children to state high schools. It facilitated a later university admission Boys usually chose Żeromski High School and girls Blessed Kinga High School.Also Śniadecki High school was appreciated.
An important form of education constituted different courses. By PZ-Left there existed an Association of Evening Courses for workers; PZ-Right organized Evening Courses Kibbutz; the Association of Jewish Craftsmen ran journeymen and master's courses.
In the years 1918-1939 in the Jewish society could be observed the development of different associations and cultural institutions. Among the most significant ones numbers the Jewish Cultural-Educative Society 'Tarbut at 15 Wesoła Street. It promoted the Jewish culture, the Hebrew language, ran a library, which had 6927 books in 1929. Annually, about 300 readers used the collections of the library. At 15 Market Square there was the seat of the Cultural-Educative Society Jawne, which promoted the Hebrew language and culture. The Cultural Association Liga (At 6 Bodzentyńska Street) had about 50 members; it also promoted music, literature and arts. An equal number of members had the Association of Music and Litreature Hazomir, which promoted Jewish music and arts. The association managed to organize The Jewish Choral Society. The Jewish Artistic Scene, which was created in 1931, assembled about 40 theatre enthusiasts. Kielce had an exquisite Jewish Synagogue Choir with over 200 members. It was led by its subsequent cantors. It added splendour to all kinds of celebrations organized by the Communal Board.
In the years 1926-1934 there existed J.L Pelc Library. It had its seat at 19 Leonarda Street and possessed a collection in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish; it also organized readings, literary soirées, and created theatre clubs. In 1937 the library was closed down, accused of spreading communism. The book collection was taken over by the Hachulec Pionier.
Also political parties, social and youth organizations and schools were involved in cultural activity. Worth mentioning are the Jewish Scouts Organization, the Circle of Friends of Zimnowodas' High School and a similar club at the Jewish Male High School. A great popularity enjoyed also the concerts organized by the Union of Professional Musicians, which had existed in Kielce since 1922, as well as recitals organized by some families, such as the Grostals and Gringrases.
In 1926 Maks Ellencwajg built on Staszica Street a modern cinema, which had 486 seats. At the end of 1930 the most modern in the country sound apparatus was installed there. In the repertoire predominant were German and American movies and the Polish ones constituted about 5%. There were also movies with Yiddish subtitles, watched massively by the Jewish youth.
It was always possible to play chess, read newspapers in numerous pubs, cafés and tea-gardens. The best known were: the Club of Jewish Intelligentsia on Wesoła Street, the Jewish Craftsmen's Club on Kozia Street, the Zionistic Club at the Market Square and the Jewish Craftsmen's Tea-Garden on Mała Street. Due to the great crisis of 1929-1933 the theatres from big cities began to come to Kielce, friendly welcomed by its residents. The Kielce residents could see plays performed by the Vilnius Jewish People's Theatre, the Chamber Theatre Ararat from Łódź and the Jewish Chamber Theatre from Warsaw.
It was attempted to keep a significant press organ but it was impossible for a longer time because Kielce was too small. A good beginning made the school youth in 1921 editing the magazine Olamejn. There were only 5 issues. The magazine was reedited in 1927 in 1000 copies. The editor and the publisher was teacher Boruch Graubart. In 1932 appeared the magazine Masada issued by the Union of Zionist Revisionist Youth. It came out in 500 copies, in Polish and Hebrew. An urban character had the following newspapers:
The Jewish Sports Club Sztern (Star) was financed by Poalej Zion-Left. It assembled mainly the craftsmen's youth.
The football section was on a good level, especially in the years 1934-1935. Under the influence of Poalej Zion-Right remained the Jewish Workmen's Sports Club Kraft (Strength), which consisted of workmen's and craftsmen's youth. The club ran a football, gymnastics and a table tennis section. Also the Jewish Workmen's Sports Club Hapoel (Workmen) and the Kielce Jewish Sports Club Bar Kochba were related to PZ-Right. The clubs organized common rooms, campfires, sports camp for young people and mass tourism. In 1925 the Sports Club Jutrznia was created, which remained under the influence of the Bund. It had about 40 active members. Due to a lack of funds the club was limited only to three sections: gymnastics, table tennis and a tourist section. The club didn't develop until 1934, when it was joined by the activists of the Sztern, dissolved by the police. The communist youth owned the Sports Club Odzież, which was financed by the Jewish Tailors' Guild. It had: a football, table tennis, chess and a tourist section.
In 1930 all-day recreation and Sundays and holidays became fashionable in the Jewish society; especially outings to the forest of the district Stadion, where there were a rifle-range, swimming pool and tennis courts. At no great expense one could hire a Jewish cart on Krakowska Rogatka and go to Słowik, Sitkówka or Chęciny. In summer the richer used to go to renowned health resorts, for example the rabbi, who many times went to Karlowe Wary. At the end of the 1930s holidays in Czarnecka Góra and Jastarnia came into fashion. There were enough activities for those who stayed in Kielce: bridge, billiards, cinema or newspapers. Those who liked risk called at the lottery shops of Majer Opatowski on Siekiewicza Street or of Leon Szarogreder on Duża Street. But one needed money. The social life of the Jewish poor was strongly limited; they used to meet on the occasion of weddings, baptisms, confirmations and various anniversaries; sometimes wealthier workmen, shop assistants, salesmen met in the Jewish Workmen's Tea Garden at 2 Mała Street, where one could drink beer, tea, eat a piece of cake and even dance. In spring the favourite rendezvous place was the municipal park, where the firefighters' and military orchestras gave performances and it was possible to take a boat trip on the pond. Many wealthy Jewish families had an open house and invited acquaintances for dances, balls and social gatherings. It was often connected to all kinds of collections of money so as to support charitable institutions.
On the professional ground there was a strong link between the Poles and the Jews while the social contacts were reduced to minimum. Alicja Birnhak characterizes this problem in 1930 in Kielce as follows: Mom and auntie Pola were absorbed in social life ( ) the sisters belonged to a social club, played cards and gave parties. A that time Jews and Catholic Poles hardly ever mingled socially therefore the circle of my mother's friends and acquaintances were almost wholly Jewish: doctors', lawyers' and engineers' wives.
A considerable part of the Kielce Jews reacted to the creation of the Polish state in 1918 with expectation and some anxiety. They were especially worried by a wave of pogroms. It reached Kielce on 11 November 1918 and caused antagonisms between the Jews and the Poles. The first move towards reconciliation was made by the Jewish intelligentsia, who already on 11 November announced that they wanted to cooperate with Poles in order to support the restoration of the Polish state. An important role played the conciliatory attitude of rabbi A. Rapoport. In January 1919 a group of Jews under the leadership of doctor J.Lewinson started a collection of bread, clothes and money for the benefit of the starving people in Lvov. On February 8, 1920 there were ordered prayers in the synagogue on the occasion of Poland's regaining access to the sea, and in mid 1920 for the intention of the Polish troops withdrawing from Kiev. The Committee of the State Defence obtained financial support. Considerable amounts were given to the committee by: Jankiel Urbajtel, Jakub Sztrenfeld, Małka Goldszmidt, Mordka Fiszel Kaminer, Berek Piotrkowski and Adolf Lew. On August 25, 1920 there was organized a collection of blankets, shoes and clothes within the frames of a single loan ordered by the Council of the State Defence. The Jews weren't indifferent to the Silesian uprisings. Considerable amounts were given by: H.Zagajski, A.Ehrlich, M.Ellencweig, M.F Kaminer and H.Lewi. The two latter were also members of the Defence Committee of the western Borderland and participated in the organization of the Week of Defence of the Eastern Borderlands.
On June 3, 1920 the Jewish Commission of National Loan Propaganda was created. Its members were: rabbi A.Rapoport, producer Bernard Bugajer, bank clerk Chaim Ajzenberg and merchants: Beniamin Lew, Boruch Moszenberg and Aron Ajzenberg. When the Russians reached Warsaw the rabbi ordered prayers for the intention of defeating the Bolsheviks.
The rabbinate and the Board of the Jewish Community consistently supported all forms of improving the defence of the country. There were created circles of the Leagues of Air and Anti-gas Defence (LOPP). In the Board of the Municipal Circle were: H.Zagajski, M.Pelc and L.Bugajewicz. The Board of the Jewish Community paid annually from 40 to 200 zloty to support the LOPP. The LOPP circles were created by Jewish schools, guilds, institutions and associations. When on the tenth anniversary of establishing the LOPP (that is in 1933) a procession was organized in Kielce, the Zimnowodas' School was highly commended by the press for original decorations. When in 1935 a circle of LOPP was created by a hairdressers and photographers' guild it was decided at President Mordka Szpiegelglas's suggestion that 10% of annual income would be given for defence. Even the Gazeta Kielecka emphasised that that example should find followers.
After the board fixed a national loan at 120 million zloty in 1933 Kielcer Cajtung appealed: Jewish Merchants! The state is calling you! ( ) we must buy the National Loan in a common effort with all the people! In Mai 1935 at Adolf Mauerberger's proposal, the president of the board of the Association of Real Estates Owners, there was a meeting with the President of Kielce, Stefan Artwiński. The declaration was sold for 10000 zloty. Gazeta Kielceka wrote: a loyal and civic attitude to the loan and kindness towards the head of our city. The money was raised also for the banners of the Kielce regiment, the monument of Czwórka (four legionaries) and a sanctuary of J.Piłsudski. The Marshal was respected by the Kielce Jews, forasmuch as he knew some people from the war and was a friend of major M.Pelc. There existed a common conviction that he was a philosemite. The Marshal's death was taken with sincere sorrow. The rabbinate and the Board of the Jewish Community immediately sent a telegram to the President of Poland; there were also requiem services in the synagogue.
On May 14 in the office of the Union of Jewish Workmen there took place a meeting of seven guilds, at which homage was paid to the Marshal. Icek Gutman read the manifesto in a standing posture: Jewish craftsmen of Kielce unite with the whole Polish nation in unutterable pain caused by the death of the First Marshal of Poland Józef Piłsudski and they honor the historic contribution of the Renovator and the Builder of the Great Poland.
The Jewish residents massively participated in the funeral. They also decided to contribute to the building of the J.Piłsudski House of Immigrant in Palestine. Every year on the anniversary of the Marshal's death the rabbinate ordered requiem prayers.
Piłsudski's death was followed by considerable changes in the attitude to the Jewish issue. The Jews worried about the bench ghetto, limits imposed on the ritual slaughter and sharper and sharper declarations of some politicians. In January 1939 Gazeta Kielceka reported the declaration of a Kielce MP, Colonel Zygmunt Wenda: We are only waiting for a command to clean our national home. It didn't stop the Jewish generosity for the sake of the national defence. On 1st April 1939 doctor J.Lewinson and doctor J.Fleszer gave 1000 zloty to the National Defence Funds (FON), raised among the Kielce doctors. They also joined the action of collecting valuables for the FON. Under the leadership of rabbi's wife Sara Rapoport in the collections participated: Stefania Rembiszewska, Estera Kajzerowa, Ewa Zylberbergowa, Sara Pachlowa, Pola Pelcowa, Mojżesz Pelc, Judka Cukierman, Dorota Ehrlichowa, Cyna Cytrynowa and Ellenbogen. 71 golden wedding rings, 57 rings, 9 watches, 13 pairs of earrings and 1536 silver coins were collected. Also the producers participated in the action. The manager of Kadzielnia gave 100 tons of coal and 100 tons of broken stone, the manager of Wietrznia 200 wagons of lime.
It appears from the records and memories that a major part of the Jewish intelligentsia was reluctant not only to Germany, especially after 1933, but also to the Soviet Union. Well-read Jews who maintained business contacts with many European countries thought that the communism consistently aimed at destroying the intelligentsia. The successes of the Russian economy were regarded as exaggerated because both in the years 1923-24 and in 1932 it was necessary to collect matzoth for hungering Jews in Russia. Different was the situation of a part of the youth mainly from poor Jewish families. The USSR was seen as a country where settlement zones were abolished, where the Jews were accepted into military schools and enjoyed equal rights. For many people the life of Lew Trocki constituted a model of career. Russia was uncritically perceived by the activists of the KPP and ZMK, as well as by some members of the Bund. They didn't believe in purges, starving people to death or the exterminations of whole nations in the USSR. The note about shooting Polish communist leaders in the USSR written in the Gazeta Kielecka was regarded as propaganda of bourgeoisie. Poland was considered to be an obstacle in the world's revolution. A change of attitude towards the Polish state could be observed not earlier than at the end of 1930s. In August 1939 the imprisoned in Kielce communists, mainly Jews, addressed the following application to the prosecutor: Facing the danger of Hitler's invasion on Poland, the undersigned prisoners, convicted on the base of articles 93-97 of the code penal, declare, in accordance with our anti-fascist views, the will to join the nation as a volunteer of the Polish Army in order to protect our homeland. At the same time we stress that after fulfilling our duty for the country we will present ourselves to the authorities in order to serve the due sentence. Obviously, the contemporary administration didn't have any reasons to believe in such declarations; therefore the applications were put into the prison archive.
The attitude towards the Great Britain and France depended on the attitude of these countries to the Palestine question and the possibility to emigrate. In 1920 in Kielce appeared an English mission, which undertook the organization of travels to Palestine. It supervised the creation of the Emigration Syndicate, at 57 Sienkiewicza Street. The decision of Winston Churchill opened the gates of Palestine but in practice The Jews could obtain settlers' visas if they could produce $2500. It was an immense amount, mainly for the poor Haculec youth. Hence the fight for the funds to finance the travel. In 1922 there were some big public meetings in Kielce, at which the Zionists agitated for the departure. However, the first bigger groups left Kielce not earlier than on the turn of 1924-1925, under the direction of Abram Piwko, Moszek Meer and Aleksander Tanewurcel. A tannery owner Alter Ehrlich and a teacher Dawid Księski strongly supported the idea of the departure of the youth, who received from them all kinds of help. At the same time people were emigrating to Canada, the United States, Argentina and Brazil.
In Kielce theoretically everyone was in favour of leaving for Palestine. The Board of the Jewish Community, where the Aguda and the Zionists had a strong position, gave annually from 500 to 1000 zloty to the National Funds and the Funds of Buying Back the Lands. The creation of the Hebrew University was enthusiastically welcomed and people decided to pay 200 zloty annually for its maintenance.
In 1929 a pogrom of the Jews took place in Palestine, during which 150 people died. When the news reached Kielce a public meeting was organized in the Orfeum room on 2nd September on the Market Square, where leading British politicians were accused, not without a cause, of anti-Semitism. When the murder of a well known Zionist activist Chaim Arlosoroff on June 16, 1933 became generally known it was decided to transfer the funds raised during the latest collection of money in order to finance his monument in Palestine. Every year there were organized solemn meetings on the anniversaries of Teodor Herzel and Ber Borochow's death. In 1933 the board of the Haculec Pionier invited for a meeting 120 boys and girls from Kobryń, Korzec and Włodawa, who were doing a traineeship in the Kielce factories, before their leaving for Palestine, in order to hold them up as models for the Kielce youth.
When Hitler's Germany came to power the number of Jews leaving Europe rapidly increased. In 1934, 422,359 Jews from Europe, including 16,829 from Poland, went to Palestine. It brought about a protest of the Arabs and the Great Britain declared that it would limit the Jewish immigration. In this connection at the appeal of the Board of the Jewish Community and the Rabbinate a great public meeting took place near the synagogue, during which the murders of Jews and the anti Jewish policy of Great Britain were criticised. When the Board and the Rabbinate heard about the attacks in Jafa, Nablus and Jerusalem and the injuries of three Jews from Poland in 1936 they responded with a public meeting on 28 August. Apart from condemning England, it was declared that nothing would stop the Jewish emigration to their old Homeland. Similar opinions prevailed during a requiem celebration organized in connection with Nachum Sokołow's death, the president of the World Zionist Organization.
In 1937 the English decided to limit the Jewish immigration to 12000 people, which caused numerous protests among the Jews, including the Kielce Jews. Since 1933 the problem of immigration to Palestine had been associated with the situation in Germany. On March 27, 1933 at a great public meeting their official pronouncements made: Rabbi A. Rapoport, juror Lwe, deputy rabbi A.Hochberg, secondary school teacher B.Gaubart, merchant L.Rodal. People were exhorted to boycott German products, the Polish government received thanks for the attitude of the Polish consuls in Germany and Great Britain was criticised for the limits imposed on immigration. After the meeting 5000 people went to the Town Council, where D. Fryszman submitted their petition to the voivode. The crowd was carrying banners with the slogans: Down with Hitler, Open the gates to Palestine, Building a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan will solve the Jewish question
At a meeting of the Rabbinate and the Board of the Jewish Community it was decided that the delegation from Kielce would participate in the conference of the commune in Warsaw concerning the contemporary situation of the Jews. It was also declared that a petition would be sent to the League of Nations. Meanwhile, a rise in the number of departures from Poland could be observed. In the interwar period about 300 people left Kielce and moved to Palestine. To the increase of Kielce residents in Palestine testified the creation of the Association of Jewish Compatriots of Kielce in 1938. It was third such association of the Kielce Jews, after the United States and Canada.
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