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History of the Jews of Miechów

by Nachman Blumenthal

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Statistical data

The Jewish settlement of Jews in Miechów is one of the youngest in Poland. Until 1862 – the year of the Great Reform in Congress Poland, concerning that part of Poland then belonging to Russia (since the Viennese Congress of 1815) and which included Miechów – Jews were forbidden to live there. The land was acquired by a Catholic monastery, as was emphasized in the Jewish Encyclopaedia[1]. Although no single document remains to bear witness to that prohibition on Jews entering the city (Judeais de non tolerandis), Jews were not permitted to live in Miechów or to be found there after sunset. However they regularly came into town when there was a fair or on market days from the surrounding villages in order to conduct business with the non–Jewish residents. Beginning in 1860 they were permitted to maintain their store–rooms and shops in town.

Only in 1862–1863 were the Jews allowed to put down roots there and they readily used that permission, as the census from those years show. A similar situation occurred in the 16 surrounding towns in Miechów's area[2].

A census carried out in Russia in the year 1857 demonstrates that there wasn't a single Jew in town[3]. The total population of the county was – according to that census of 1857, 109,877 souls made up of 105,582 Slavs (the Tsarist Government was not interested in emphasizing the large number of Poles in town that had become Russian so they were included together under the category of “Slavs”), and 4,295 in “The Ancient Religion” (“Israelites”). The next census from 1897 determined that the total population of Miechów reached 4,175 souls of whom 1,436 were Jews (34.4%). In the entire county there were then 115,000 people, among them 5,808 Jews, (5.5%)[4]. That represents a substantial rise in the number of Jews in the county.

The number of Jews continued to grow and in the first census conducted by the now– independent Poland, in December 1921, the number had grown to 2,383 in a total population of 5,699 (41.8%)[5]. In 1921 8,318 Jews in the entire county represented 5.6% of the total population[6]. Hand–in–hand with the growth of the Jewish population the population of the non–Jewish population was also growing as can be seen from the following table:

 

Population of Miechów as Shown in Official Tsarist Russian and Independent Polish Censuses

Year Total
Population
Number
of Jews
% of
Jews
1827 1,230
1857 1,427
1897 4,175 1,436 34.4
1921 2,383 5,699[7] 41.8

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During the thirty years when Jews were not present in town, the number of citizens grew by only 197 souls; while after Jews were allowed to settle in town the general population grew by 868 souls during 40 years and in the following 24 years after that by 1,021 souls. These figures prove that the growth in population during that period was not due to natural growth alone but an influx from without, seeking and finding improved sources for sustenance in that town. The settlement of the Jews in Miechów acted as an incentive, therefore, for the non–Jewish population and added to the development of the town.

A significant influence on the growth of the number of Jews in 1920–1921 was the pogroms carried out in the surrounding villages: the Jews sought shelter for themselves in the county seat – Miechów.

When we come to compare increase of the number of Jews in town with the number of non–Jews in the period from 1897–1921, we find that the Jewish community grew by 40% while the non–Jewish settlement grew by only 31%. But in the following years, until the outbreak of war, the numerical relationship changed negatively for the Jews. That is also true for the rest of the Jewish demographic factors.

We find for example, from Wasiutyński[8], interesting figures concerning children up to the age of 10, Jews and non–Jews, in the whole of the county of Miechów. In the year 1987 there were 1,859 Jewish children up to the age of 10 that comprised 32% of all the Jews; in 1921 the number was 2,224. From an absolute point of view the number indeed increased but compared to the growth of population their contribution lessened from 32% to 26.7% – a known trend among Jews when they become urbanized in large towns.

Regarding the census from 1921 onwards it is important to point out that the questionnaire provided by the authorities did not ask for the “Nationhood” or “People” of the resident but there were two other questions asking for “Religion” and “Mother–tongue” from which one can clearly draw precise conclusions regarding one's national affiliation. According to that census it was found that there were in town 2,383 persons of the Mosaic Faith (mojżeszowe wyznanie) but only 1,968 of them indicated Yiddish or Hebrew as their mother–tongue. These last were considered as belonging to the Jewish Nation. Regarding the others (415), it may be assumed that a small number of them were assimilated and the remainder were not familiar with the questions asked by the census officer who spoke only Polish. The official, the Commissar of Elections, was interested in proving the increase in the Polish–speaking citizens. He received official instructions directing him along those lines and sometimes exploited that authority.

By the way, the Jews also attempted, where possible, not to be included in the census for different reasons – (lack of identification papers, mistrust of the authorities, superstition, evasion of a “poll–tax”, etc.[9]

No details were ever published of the last census undertaken in Poland in December 1931. It is only known that the town numbered 6,360 souls and there were 585 houses. Regarding the County the following numbers were recorded:

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The total number of residents in that year were approximately 154,000 of whom:

Roman Catholics 146,863
Mosaic Faith 7,271
Greek Catholics 32
Orthodox (Paraslavs) 67
Evangelicals 36
Others (Free thinkers) 305
Total 154,574

Distribution by language:

Polish speakers 147,738
Yiddish (and perhaps Hebrew) 6,762
Ukrainian 36
Russian 1
German 9
Lithuanian 2
Czechoslovakian 2
Other languages 24
Total 154,574[10]

Jews, who did not declare Yiddish as their mother–tongue represented about 7% of the number of Jews. It is doubtful if all of them were assimilated. (See comment above in re the census of 1921).

We have no official statistics for the later years. According to details supplied by “The Joint” in 1939 there were only 1,800 Jews in Miechów[11]. That number is less than the reality. It is true that an economic crisis overtook the Jews of Miechów, as it did on all the Jews of Poland during the years leading up to the Second World War. Following that emigration grew; but until then there was no emigration. In an article sent to Yad Va–shem in Jerusalem the ex–Mayor of Miechów, Julian Piwowarski, apparently taken from documentation in the hands of the authorities, gives the following numbers:

In 1895 – 665 Jews
In 1909 – 1,340 “
In 1939 – 2,448 “

These numbers seem reasonable.

He describes the Jews of Miechów as being steeped in the life–style of Western Europe rather more than those of the surrounding towns and villages, especially in the latter years. He says:

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“In 1939, only a small percentage of the town's Jews were distinguishable from the general population by their dress or language or their culture. The relationship between the Jews and the townspeople was normal, good and peaceful. Jewish traders bought and sold agricultural produce. They bought the produce from local land owners with estates and from farmers and exported them to various countries.”

It is possible that before the war, Miechów was the only town in Poland where there were still Jews living from the previous generation, who remembered the generation of the first Jews who settled there. In this book are gathered the names of the founders' synagogue quorum: apparently they spoke about them and occasionally related incidents about them, their names passing from generation to generation until they reached us. The settlement of Miechów itself is very old. It was already known of in the 13th century when a group of monks of the “Order of the Holy Sepulcher” came from the Holy Land and founded there a monastery, named “The Holy Sepulcher” in which they built a model of the tomb of Jesus that they had seen in Jerusalem. Already in that century it achieved the status of “town” and was granted the right of self–government.

According to the modern Polish Encyclopaedia[12] by the middle of the 19th Century the whole town was already paved. It was an emblem of progress and European style of the day. In that period Miechów belonged to the region of Radom and included nine towns: Kshoynzh, Działoszyce, Slomniki and others.

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New Poland

It fell to the town of Miechów to play an important role in the history of the new, independent Poland. On 6th August 1914 the First Brigade of Pilsudski's Polish Legions left Krakow and marched to Miechów by way of Radslavice(?). It was the first appearance of the Polish Legions that came from Krakow (Galicia, Austria) and crossed the old Russo–Austrian border in the direction of Miechów (Russia), without military actions, since the territory had been previously conquered by the Austrian army.

The commander of the Legion, Josef Pilsudski, later to be the first President of independent Poland, together with the Chief of Staff Kazimierz Sosnkowski, was delayed in Miechów and remained there in the massive building of the alcohol manufacturing factory, destroyed by the Russian army before they left the town.

The following day, the well–known leader of the Polish Socialist party, Legionnaire officer, Ignaz Daszyński[13], later Chairman of the Polish Sejm arrived at Miechów. Daszyński took the apartment that had belonged to the doctor Jan Biali, who fled together with the Russians; he was appointed by Pilsudski as Military Vice–Commissar of the town and the county. As Mayor, Pilsudski appointed Gluchowski(?) and as Governor of the county, H. Zawarski(?), They organized a Militia and a hospital for infectious diseases; “Christians and Jews freely contributed 1,000 Austrian Kroner and gave it to the Polish army.” (Daszyński). The last Polish military Commissar in Miechów was Dr. Richard Konitzki(?)

On 12th August 1914 a new Polish military commissar arrived in Miechów, sent by the Austrian army; he took over the responsibilities of the Polish Commissar who had overstepped his authority.

On the 13th of August Pilsudski returned to Krakow; his Staff Headquarters moved to Kielce, where the first regiment of the first brigade of the Pilsudski Legionnaires was raised.

On the way from Miechów to Kielce many legionnaires fell, among whom not a few Jews[14].

 

Persecution and Disturbances

With the establishment of Independent Poland in November 1918, Miechów was one of the towns in which the farmers from the surrounding villages together with soldiers from the new Polish army began to harass and persecute the Jews. In that activity they were “experts” – especially the subordinates of General Haller who had been brought from France – and also the Polish soldiers from the region of Poznan. The arrival of these soldiers always cast a the shadow of fear over Jewish residents.

These hooligans started by cutting the peyote and hair of the Jews; afterwards they “took” from the shops whatever they felt like taking and finally they would despoil their homes and murder the Jews.

Concerning these acts, the Polish–Jewish press of the day and also the Jewish factions of the Sejm protested. It was some time until peace and quiet returned and Jews began to be citizens of the new Republic, and to fight for their civil and national rights. Nevertheless after a period of relative calm the situation worsened.

Many and varied were the sufferings of the Jews in Miechów. At the time of the first elections for the Sejm, for example, the government created many difficulties for Jews who wanted to take part in the vote raising doubts “….whether they are Polish citizens. And in as much as in Poland only Poles have voting rights, Jews who wished to take part in the elections are obliged to present a sworn statement that they are Poles.” (“Chwila”[15] – 4th April 1919). Obviously, the Sejm factions were forced to become involved in the situation and not only that one.

The report of the Sejm Jewish representatives for the years 1919–1923[16] contain the following

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details incidents in which the faction saw need to act. Here are a few events from 1919: 8th March – 19th April – disturbances. In the first incident there were 7 injured and in the second – 60; concerning pupils in Polish schools who were forced to write on the Sabbath; in 1920 an event occurred involving the police: “The Jewish community is not permitted to work freely there…” In the month of June 1921, our factions were involved because of anti–Semitic incitement going on in town (name–calling in the streets, slogans, etc.).

The “Chwila” edition of 21st May 1919 reports that at the railway station Miechów Jews were attacked and that Hartglass and Prilutzky of the Jewish faction in the Sejm were themselves witnesses to the event. The Jewish factions tabled a question concerning the event to the Head of State Pilsudski.

Larger attacks occurred in Miechów in local settlements in May of the same year. As a result the factions tabled a question in the Sejm. A special committee, created by the Sejm reported: “At the time of the disturbances in Miechów 3 Jews were seriously injured and 10 lightly so. In the county of Miechów: in Charsznica – 5 were seriously injured and 32 lightly injured, in Słomniki – 2 seriously injured and 8 lightly, in Kshoynzh – 2 seriously injured and 6 lightly injured. Many shops and the synagogue in Słomniki were ransacked. In connection with that event 40 people were arrested (“Chwila” 1st June 1919).

Later on the factions tabled a question concerning the anti–Semitic incitement orchestrated by General Latinik. In December 1921 the Factions received a reply according to which the Military Prosecutor of Posen had been commanded to investigate the matter…

Nevertheless, later on, as events and the world moved on and life returned to normal, the authorities in Miechów occasionally introduced anti–Semitic orders and from time to time there were outbreaks of anti–Semitic disturbances by individuals and organized gangs.

As an example “Der Heint” (the “Today” 28th May, 1930), information that an anti–Semitic inspector of schools Josef Schimkawitz at the time of the 3rd May festival, accosted a Jew named M. Heilig(?) and slapped him twice across the cheeks for no reason. Heilig referred the matter to the Chief Inspector of schools.

A questionnaire that was distributed among the survivors' organization included the following question: Which event from the years of your childhood is most etched in your memory? Very nearly all of them noted that the anti–Semitic riots that broke out in the first years of the rise of Poland in Miechów, Kshoynzh, Vilietchka, Charsznica and others. Understandably, each person recalled his own subjective memory, and each one recalled different details, but the overall picture was quite clear: violence against the Jews coincided with the establishment of the State.

Ya'acov Wildmann– Zlikovitz from Borzysko writes:

My memory of the pogrom of 1918 has never faded. It was Friday evening, and my Grandfather was reciting Kiddush. Suddenly there was a loud knocking on the windows and doors and there was shouting: “Open up!” The knocking and shouting grew unceasingly louder and louder. We stood trembling and dumb with fear. I was only a youngster but I could sense the danger and my heart filled with fear. The farmers broke down the door and the windows, gangs of bullies burst inside and began to beat my grandfather and grandmother with sticks. A woman neighbour somehow managed to smuggle us away and hid us in her home. We had a shop full of knitted goods and the hooligans took all the stock and destroyed everything. We couldn't continue to live there and moved to Miechów.

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Ya'acov Solnik wrote in his reply concerning the widespread anti–Semitism:

“The anti–Semitism in our town was very fierce, in every respect – physically and intellectually. More than once we had to defend ourselves against attacks from non–Jewish gangs, especially during excursions that the Young Zionist movement organized on Saturdays. Or we got beaten.

I remember in 1936 we heard that anti–Semitic pupils from the local school were planning a pogrom. I was among those that organized a self–defence program. We secretly notified all the Jewish youth. We divided them into groups according to where they lived and the night before the proposed attack we were prepared and on guard. We had also advised the Polish police who promised their help. It is impossible to know why – but the day passed quietly and without incident.”

Another ex–resident of Miechów, named Yaffe recalls how, in 1937 gangs of bullies stood in front non–Jewish shops and blocked non–Jewish customers from entering.

Yet another Miechów resident, Yehezkiel Dror relates how he was given 10 days in prison because he had made propaganda during the elections to the Sejm, in favour of the national Jewish Front, Bloc Number 17, a stand which was unpopular with the authorities: the regime supported Bloc Number 1. (Sanacja).

The anti–Semitism caused population relocation within the Jewish settlements of Poland and strengthened the resolve of Jews to leave Poland.

Benjamin Goldberg indicates an additional phenomenon:

In the winter of 1939 – the last winter before the outbreak of war there was an outbreak of typhus (Typhus exanthematicus), in Miechów that affected only the Jewish population. About 30–40 heads of families were victims, mostly men, nearly all of them died. Among them: Gimelkovitz, Gershon; Goldberg, Mendel; Sarni, Hirsch Leib; Pintzevsky, Ya'acov; Rozenkrantz, Hirsch.[17]

The town was closed and quarantined – no one went out and no one came in; fairs and markets were cancelled. The peddlers who earned their daily bread wandering the streets and local villages, selling all manner of items for a chicken or basket of eggs, stopped going around; the non–Jews were fearful of getting too close to them, afraid of catching the disease.

Rabbi Alter Rozenberg, the collector and sexton of the “Burial Society”, found difficulties in mobilizing volunteers to carry out the last rites on the victims, because of the threat and fear of the plague was pandemic.”

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Sources of Income

The sources of income for the Jews of Miechów were similar to those of all other Jewish settlements: Artisans, merchants, free professions. The Jews were very active in the areas of farming and economics. They established the mill “Marimont” (mainly owned by the Warshawski family), a generating station (owned by Avraham Sercaz and Hanoch Kaiser) and other small factories (bakeries etc.).

Undoubtedly, the seal of anti–Semitism made its impression on the lives and development of the town's Jews, perhaps more significantly than in other places (big pogroms in the years 1919/20 and offences against Jews – physical and otherwise – in the following years). The number of Poles in the town, who made a living from trade, was greater than in other towns. They represented 25.4% of Miechów's traders, while in other towns the percentage of Jewish traders exceeded 80%. These figures refer to the year 1897[18]). It is true that over time that situation changed but nevertheless the state of Jewish trade didn't improve. The reasons for that were: the rise of Polish trade unions boycotts against Jews, higher taxation implemented against Jews while Polish cooperatives were exempt, and more. The Polish traders would organize operations against the Jews in order to rid themselves of Jewish competition. The authorities also took a hand to destroy the economic status of the Jewish trade thus, for example, in 1922 the Jewish bakery was closed[19] on the grounds that sanitary conditions were inadequate and unsatisfactory.

The Jewish factions in the Polish Sejm would table questions and protests on the basis of conspicuous discrimination against the Jews – but uselessly. Both the open and hidden anti–Semitism of an overwhelming proportion of the Polish population, including the authorities, continued to increase and with it the economic destruction of the Jews.

The Jews searched for help against the economic ostracism: they organized themselves into professional unions (traders' union, artisans' union etc.), they founded cooperative banks for helping the needy and distressed, but none of it really helped because there was no widespread demand to support the Jewish market; the Jewish agent or intermediary became superfluous, because of the growth of the number of Polish merchants and also of anti–Jewish slogans that were heard even from ministers of state, like the Prime Minister General Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski, creator of the slogan: “Boycott the Jews – Forwards!”.

With that policy Miechów preceded other towns significantly and was an “outstanding” Polish town. That policy is rather puzzling when one remembers that in the county of Miechów, battles were fought by Kościuszko (1794/5), as he preached equal rights for Jews and in his army there were Jewish fighters. Memories of that rebellion remain in the corporate psyche of the people. Racławice – the place where Składkowski defeated the Russians, not far from Miechów – became a symbol of freedom and equality.

It was here, also that the rebellion of 1863 against Tsarist Russia broke out in which Jews also fought and acted together with the Polish rebels. In memory of the rebels a memorial was erected in Independent Poland in the Market Square.

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Rabbis

The first town Rabbi to settle in Miechów was Rabbi Yesheyahu Shainfrocht. He officiated for forty years to the complete satisfaction of the entire community. He also represented the Jewish community in its external dealings in a seemly fashion. He died in 1922. He was succeeded by his son, Hanoch Shainfrocht who followed the same path as his father and didn't confine himself to religious matters alone. He was revered by many sectors of the Jewish community and took an active part in their social life. He perished, together with the community, which he refused to abandon, in September 1942. The reader will find many interesting details concerning him in this book from people who had direct contact with him during good times and bad, right to the bitter end.

The Rabbi Hanoch Shainfrocht was one of the founders of the “Mizrahi” school and supervised it throughout its existence; he displayed great understanding for the youth organization “The Hashomer Ha–Dati” which also included girls.

 

Social and Political Life

Miechów was a small town, nevertheless there was almost no Jewish political party that did not have a branch office in Miechów and didn't have some supporters. Each party attracted members to its side and that caused a very vibrant socio–political life. By the way, it is worth pointing out that the competition between the parties was carried on here in a quiet and orderly fashion more–so, in fact than in many other places in Congress Poland.

The strongest political party here was the Zionist party in its many factions. On its reach and growth we can learn from the results of the elections to the Zionist Congress. From the elections of the years 1929 and 1935, we have the following results:

  1929
Number of votes
1935[20]
Number of votes
List ‘A’ (On guard) General Zionists) 57 196
List ‘B’ (Women's Party)
List ‘C’ Mizrahi 125 151
List ‘D’ Revisionists 3 6
List ‘E’ Hitachdut and Hashomer ha–Tza'ir 84
List ‘F’ Poalei Zion (left wing) 22
Total 185 459

We can see here a significant increase in the number of votes cast during the period under consideration. There was also a branch of the “Aguda” party in Miechów and a few supporters of the “Bund” and a small number of communists (the “Reds”).

A large part of the Zionist youth movements belonged to the general “He–Halutz” party. Its members planned to immigrate to Palestine and prepared themselves at several training camps: Cieszyn, Czechowice (agricultural training–farm of the Zionist youth), Charsznica, Wolbrom, Kshoynzh–Vileyka, Proszowice, Łódź, Łuków, Zavirtcha, Vodislov, Galnika(?), near Góra Kalwaria, Olkusz, Bendin, Bystra(?).

There were Halutsim who, after five years of training were unable to obtain certificates, and they perished with the rest of the victims of the Holocaust.

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Youth Movements

During the twenty years of the existence of Independent Poland the following youth movements were active in Miechów:

National Guard later called the Young Zionists;
Mizrahi Youth;
Agudat Yisroel Youth;
Hashomer Ha–Dati;
Beitar.

In 1931 there was a convention in Miechów of all the regional branches of Hashomer Ha–Dati.

In all the youth organizations there were libraries and bulletin boards. Sometimes there were lectures. Drama circles were produced in Miechów and the local area. The income from these productions was always intended for national or social targets (The Foundation Fund, for the local poor and once even the Students' organization); once a year there was a “Flower Day”.

In a comment published in “A New Day” (22nd March 1922) it was ironically reported that a writer from Miechów of the paper (whose name was not mentioned), reported that on Purim there was a production of S. Lanski's “The Dybbuk” by local players. A large number of people from the town and the surroundings came to watch the play but because the play was a drama rather than a comedy half the audience fell asleep during the performance…

On Purim they would dress up as leaders of the Zionists and stroll around the town from house to house, singing and playing music; the money collected was ear–marked for the Foundation Fund for Israel. (K.K.L.).

The Young Zionists played an important part in the collection of money for the National funds. In the evenings they would gather at their centers and pass the time singing songs and dancing the “Hora”. The groups published a magazine in Yiddish (in 1924–1925), called “Torch”. There were sections containing songs, critiques and information on the important invents both in town and in Palestine. In total there were about 20 editions and it seems not one has survived.

There was also a public Jewish library in town called “The Zamir”; a children's library called “Dror” a drama society; a football society and a sports club called “Forward”.

 

Schools

Jewish children in Miechów studied in the national schools – Polish government schools – in “Haderim” and the private Jewish school, “Ha–Mizrahi”. Many Jewish children studied externally with private teachers in order not to have to sit bare–headed in Polish schools or listen to the Christian “Our Father” every morning or suffer the not a little the anti–Semitic taunts of the pupils and teachers.

The girls learned reading and writing (Hebrew and Yiddish) with Fassia Teitelbaum and Shlomo Solewicz.

Memorable from among the teachers are Av'eleh Lewit, Marsha Muncznik, David Staschower, Yisroel Eli Krymolowski, Yesheyahu Hirshenhorn, in whose class they played football on Fridays providing they knew the weekly portion of the Torah.

Among the managers of the Mizrahi school were Yitzhak Weiner, Tzvi Kleinarltz(?), S.N. Kahanofsky and others.

In the “Heder” “Torah Foundation” – the “Agudat Yisroel” stream, there were seven classes. The teacher of the top class was Moshe David Waxberg. In addition there was a school for girls from the same stream – “Beit Ya'acov”.

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The Government Gymnasium

Miechów had a State–run Gymnasium named for Tadeusz Kościuszko. According to the report filed by the management for the academic year 1930/31, there were 275 pupils, all of them of Polish nationality; possessors of other nationalities were not accepted. These were the religious affiliations of the pupils:

262 Roman Catholics
1 Orthodox Christians
12 Mosaic persuasion

From the numbers it is possible to see that the numerus clausus was in operation. The Jewish pupils represented only 4.4% of the school population whereas in the town itself the Jewish population was almost 40% and it was known that the desire to study among the Jews was very strong. Clearly, therefore, in the State controlled gymnasium in which the school fees were minimal, especially for the children of officials, they weren't too hasty to accept Jews. Because of this the Jewish children studied in private gymnasia – Jewish or Polish – in other towns: Kielce, Chenstochov, Olkusz, Krakow and others. In the year referred to, there was, among 16 graduates of the gymnasium, one Jew – Sheintal Barak.

Among the staff there was one Jewish teacher, Sofia Kodlrowana(?) who taught natural sciences. Jewish religion was not taught at the gymnasium n spite of the fact that the curriculum specifies it. Only immediately preceding the matriculation exams, the pupils were sent to the Rabbi where they were examined in religion and the result registered on the matriculation certificate. The institute's doctor was Stefan Lehman, a relapsed Jew.

There was one Jewish member on the parents' committee, Avraham Sercaz, the community head; also taking part on the committee was the wife of the Jewish school's inspector, Burstein, who, according to rumor was also a relapsed Jew. In the national and primary schools, the religious teachers were Eliezer Lavie and Ya'acov Kornfeld.

 

Public Institutions

1. The Cooperative Bank

The Jewish cooperative society in Poland published annually mimeographed reports that included statistical details concerning the cooperatives included in that society. Following are details taken from the report of 1937:

The bank in Miechów, named Bank Spółdzielczy was founded in 1922. At the beginning of 1937 it had 153 members; during the year another 5 were added and 15 left; at the end of the year, therefore, there were 143 members. Their businesses were as follows: merchants and industrialists – 81, artisans – 46, others 16. The share value was 25 złoty. The financial involvement of the members, in addition to the share was 20 złoty. There were three clerks.

Almost all the artisans and merchants in town were affiliated.

Loans that the bank granted that year totalled 86,228 złoty about 756.39 złoty to each loan.

Only 19 of the share–holding members and ordinary depositors were in need of loans.

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A distressing and characteristic sign of the times can be seen in the fact that the total deposits that were withdrawn were greater than those deposited by 1,311 złoty: a relatively large amount if one takes into account that financial transactions of the bank were small.

A second cause of the bank's weakness was that it suffered from non–repayment of loans. No wonder therefore, that the bank made no profit.

As said above, the manager of the bank received no salary for his work, while the three clerks received the miserable sum of 1,631 złoty during the year or a monthly salary of 45.3 złoty. That is such a small sum that only a man in an economically deplorable situation, or a minor, still at living at home with parents and without prospects would be prepared to accept such a position.

From all these figures we can see that the bank was not considered to be one of the big banks and those who received its services were among the “Hoi polloi” of the population to whom the bank would extend a small loan at a small discount. All this proves how much the bank was needed by the masses of the impoverished toilers. The bank existed until the outbreak of World War Two and its situation certainly didn't improve.

 

2. The Merchants' Bank

The bank was founded early in 1929. On 24th March1929 the General Meeting of the Bank's members discussed changing the constitution and name of the Bank, a decision recognized and authorised by the Regional Court in Kalish, was changed to: Spółdzielczy Bank Kupiecki.

Avraham Friderich, Haim Feureisen and Moshe Koppelowitz were elected to manage the Bank, and as their deputies: D. Isskowitz and Shmuel Fogel.

At a congress that was convened on 23rd June 1929 in Lvov Moshe Koppelowitz was elected representative and member of the Regulating Board of the Central Society of all the Jewish cooperative banks affiliated to the Society of Banks, whose base was in Warsaw,. Moshe Koppelowitz also represented the General Cooperative Bank of Miechów.

The Merchants' Bank dealt with various banking issues and activities and existed up until the outbreak of World War Two.

There were also Jewish professional societies: The Union of Artisans and the Union of Merchants. There also existed charitable organizations such as “Visiting the Sick”, “Sick–bed Assistance and Lodging for the Poor”, “Brotherly Help” and so on.

 

The Community

With the elections to the Community in the offing the “Battle of the Parties” broke out, mainly between the Zionists and the “Aguda”. There were small organized groups taking part in the elections, the Artisans' Union or one of the groups from a religious faction and so on. Similarly various “Blocs” sprang into existence, as was usual in Poland in those days.

The results of the elections for the years 1924 and 1931 show us clearly the atmosphere that spread over town and the direction of the national tendency.

The Zionists 2 places (Avraham Sercaz, Shimson Yeruzalimsky)
Hamizrahi 1 place (Yermiyahu Blum)
Aguda /Artisans / Religious 1 place (Hanoch Kaiser)

(“Today” 3rd June 1924).

Also included in the Council was by law, the town Rabbi of Miechów

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The results of the elections in 1931 were:

General Zionists 4 places (among them 2 artisans)
Mizrahi 2 places
Religious non–party 1 place
Aguda 1 place

(“Today” 28th May 1931).

The Community Chairman was for many years, Avraham Sercaz, who was also a member of the Municipal Council for an extended period. His replacement was Dov (Bernard) Goldman.

 

The Municipal Council

During the years 1932–1949, among the 12 members of the Municipal Council there were 5 Jews, while in the management the was just one alone – Mordecai Muhlstein.

In 1936, 9 Jews were elected among the 24 members of the Council and one to the town management. The Jewish members were: Hirsch Adlist, Moshe Aharon Gruszka, Reuven Shmuel Kleiner, Moshe Koppelowitz, Moshe Sosnovsky, Bezalel Weizmann, Avraham Sercaz, Haim Feureisen and Avraham Friderich; Yermiyahu Blum was in the management.

 

Zionist Activity

Among the important events on the national–State scene that caused excitement and arousal in the whole Jewish community that must be mentioned – apart from the Balfour Declaration – was the celebrations that took place after the San Remo Agreement. In the “Today” newspaper of 31st May, 1922 one reads: On Saturday 29th April 1922 there was great celebration in the synagogue in which all the Jews of town took part and even the supporters of the “Aguda”. At the reading of the Torah, more than 50,000 Polish Marks were donated to the Foundation Fund.

That same day at 4 PM there was a big meeting in the synagogue and 1,000 Jews took part. On the next Saturday the amount donated by those called to the Torah exceeded 100,000 Marks. The dedication of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem at that time also echoed excitedly in Miechów.

In 1930 Alter Droyanov came on a visit from Palestine and appeared in a production. He wrote recorded a number of anecdotes that he heard from the youngsters and was much impressed by their personality. In 1933 a big demonstration took place against the regime of Hitler. All the shops and workshops were closed and the demonstrators marched past the Government building chanting anti–Hitler slogans.

 

The Second World War Years (1939–1945)

The town of Miechów was overrun by the Germans on 6th September 1939. The governorship then passed to the German civilian authority that at its head stood Dr. Hans Frank. On the 26th October 1939 Miechów was attached to the County of Krakow. The post of County Governorship of Miechów was created, that was much larger than the previous county (Polish): the new county included 6 towns (Wolbrom among them) and 871 villages and covered an area of 2,900 square kilometres with 410,000 residents[21].

The first County Governor was Dr. Zinser. The department for Volksdeutsche, propaganda, housing issues and Jews was administered by a graduate of the school for SS officers, Leutenschläger. They brought German–domiciled nationals to town and they had all

[Page 48]

the important administrative positions; less important tasks were given to the Volksdeutsche, including control of the rail (guarding the railway station etc.). The following offices were created and operated in town: German Inspectorate of Forests, German Police station in addition to the Polish one, a branch of the criminal Police (Criminal Commissariat) and an office of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP). For the children of German nationals, two schools, in Miechów and Wolbrom were instituted in which there were 21 pupils and two teachers[22]. Schools for the local Polish population were not a consideration while the Jewish children were not considered at all in need of schools.

Similarly a labor office was instituted in town that was directed towards putting the Jews to forced labor, the Poles to “obligatory works” and young Poles for building works on Polish project – “the front organized work camps”. They built bridges and roads, drainage systems etc. For that purpose a branch office of the Krakow base – “Strassen und Brückenbau” was opened in Miechów. As a result of the stream of refugees coming from towns and villages, the population of Miechów grew by more than 10,000 (10,090 according to German sources[23]).

In October 1940 there were in the whole county of Miechów:

    %
Poles 421,324 92.7
State– and Volksdeutsche 496 0.1
Ukrainians 158 0.03
Jews 32, 497 7.1
  454,475  

In his advertisement of 1942 (p 15), D. Pearl states that such a number of Jews were alive at that time and that later the number of Jews was substantially reduced. In October 1940 – before the above statement – there were 2,788 work–places of Aryan artisans and 948 of Jews. From among them skinners represented 33% and in second place metal–workers, carpenters and others.

Among the increased number of Jews in the county were included 15,000 displaced Jews from Krakow, that had resettled in Działoszyce (5,000), Wolbrom (3,000), Miechów, Slomniki, Proszowice and Skalbmierz (about 1,000)[24].

On the 1st March 1943 the German authorities of the Generalgouvernement conducted a census of the civilian population according to which there were at that time in Miechow only 6,392 souls, many less than the number at the beginning of the occupation. The difference signifies the number of victims up until that time[25].

The Jews in town suffered from all the edicts that were laid on the Jews throught conquered Poland. However, in Miechow the edicts were intensified in some instances, for example: from the festival of Succot, 1939 until Passover 1940 Jews were allowed out on the streets only from 9 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. After the conquest of the town Torah scrolls were burnt during which the Jews were made to sing; „and purify our hearts that we may worship you in truth“.[26]

Miechów was different from the other towns in the General–gouvernement in that the head of the Judenräte in the whole County (eleven, all told), was a (German) government appointee, a Jewish commissar (Isaac Applebaum).

[Page 49]

His title was: Kommissar der Judenräte für den Kreis Miechów – Commissar for the Jewish councils in Miechów County. The official newspaper Gazeta Zydowska writes a short time after his appointment that the situation of the Jews has been bettered and that the Commissar makes many surveys accompanied by representatives of Government institutions But the Jews living in the Miechów ghetto had other opinions.

In the same edition the paper complimented the Judenräte and the Aid Committee whose field of activity encompassed the town and all the surroundings.

According to an official document of 30th December 1940, the Assistance Committee had the following members:

Freidrich, Avraham – Export merchant (Chairman);
Adlist, Hirsch – Articled artisan;
Sercaz, Avraham – Business owner of ”Marimant”;
Dr. Krieger, Leon – Lawyer'
Dr. Lancer, Moshe – Doctor.

In the same building where the Judenrat offices operated, a peoples' kitchen opened up and distributed 300 lunches. The Women's Committee distributed food to 150 children. There was also a kindergarten managed by an accredited nursemaid. 400 of the 800 lunches distributed in the region were financed by the Judenrat. The chairman of the Judenrat was Adlist.

The Judenrat supplied an oven for sterilization. The health committee supplied an inspectorate for examining living accommodation and the community doctor gave free medical assistance to the needy poor. The health Committee prepared medicaments. The bath–house was open to the public every Friday.

 

mie049.jpg
Shmuel Leib Adlist

[Page 50]

In an article from the above newspaper (vol. 88 10th October 1941), they continue to praise the activities of the Judenrat: in the 14 communities there are 14 kitchens operating without loss. The expenses were met by the activities of Jewish self–help and by monthly payments from wealthy circles. Of 3,300 souls in Miechów 1,000 required assistance from the kitchen; a payment of 40 groschen – that covered only a part of the Funds price – was collected from over half the diners. 200 children also received a free breakfast or paid 10 groschen. From the two reports of expenses that we have brought from the official Jewish newspaper we learn that the situation of the Jews had worsened significantly.

In August 1940 vaccines against Typhus exanthematicus were injected. The poor received the vaccine free. Because of the extremely congested conditions in the ghetto the Judenrat transferred 100 families to other communities, provided accommodation and a parcel of food for the journey.

In November–December 1940 there was an outbreak of Typhoid (Paratyphoid) in the ghetto (Gazeta Zydowska Vol. 31 5th November 1940 and vol. 44 20th December 1940). At that time there were 100 Jewish artisans working in their workshops in Miechów; the chairman of the Judenrat made sure that they received additional food and raw materials.

From the Jewish–Social help center in Krakow, the Council for help would receive essential materials from time to time. For the month of August, for example, 100 kgs. of oils, 150 kgs. medicines 200 packets of laundry powder 50 cartons of milk were delivered.

In the month of August the Jewish Ordnungs–Dienst was formed. The Polish police appointed Dr. Leffelholtz as Commissar of the Jewish police for the whole “great” area of Miechów, in which 11 branches of the Jewish Ordnungs–Dienst operated. The service waged war against beggars; foreign beggars were sent back to their homes. The Jewish commissar for all the Jewish communities in the area was also responsible for the distribution of food. The store of food that was supplied to him by the Town management for the whole area was distributed by him as he saw fit (Gazeta Zydowska Vol. 88).

The Judenrat instituted an arbitration council, a judiciary council which had 9 members (3 units) and other administrative departments.

For the 14 kitchens that operated in Miechów and the area the department of nutrition and agriculture of the area Governorship would from time to time portion out necessary commodities and fuel for heating. The portion was gradually reduced with time until it ceased entirely.

Thus, for instance, the Committee of Assistance for the Jews (Jüdisches Hilfe–Komitée or, in Polish: Żydowski Komitet Pomocy for the month of September 1941 there was a special rationing (Sonderzuteilung) for the poorest of the county: 655 kg barley grits; 555 kg pasta; 655 kg sugar; 3,000 flour; 500 kg sugar; 700 kg spaghetti; 300 kg buckwheat.

The rationing for October of that same year was far less, while just before Passover 1942, Miechów received from the center 400 kg of potatoes and flour.

In March 1941 there was an outbreak of Typhus exanthematicus in virtually the entire County. Later the plague attacked Miechów as well. By order of the authorities a curfew was placed on the houses and residents that had become infected: for 8 weeks it was prohibited to enter or leave those houses.

It was even prohibited to introduce food into the homes. The Jews living there were

[Page 51]

expected to starve completely. The committee in Miechów organized correspondence to the Jewish central Help Committee in Krakow. The same harsh edicts were handed down for Pilica(?), Zarnovitza Wolbrom and others.

In a letter from 18th April 1941 to the center, it was stated that in Miechów 23 cases of Typhus exanthematicus had been recorded. Members of the stricken families had been isolated and those Jews were forbidden to leave town. The Help Committee was obliged to assist those families. The German office would occasionally supply a little foodstuff for the isolated people like: 10 liters skimmed milk for the 43 isolated souls from Skalbmierz for the two months of August and September 1941.

Many facts prove that even in those dark years, the Jewish people managed to maintain the “Imago Deo” and made heroic attempts with all their strength to continue to live normal lives especially in the care of their children. Against the law, they insisted on educating their children in secret. The older children studied and read for themselves. They also took part in the children's section that appeared once a week in the Gazeta Zydowska, the only Jewish paper in the Generalgouvernement that was published in Polish in Krakow. For instance: in vol. 30 (15th April 1941) and vol. 44 (3rd June 1941) we find a geographical and mathematical questionnaire for children set by Riva Warschawski of Miechów, to amuse and test themselves.

 

The Deportation and Destruction

On 26th September the Commissar of Miechów proclaimed an order demanding 300 Jews to leave the ghetto no later than 4th October and move to Działoszyce. There were 6,747 Jews living there at that time – 47% more than before the war (4,574).

On the 30th June 1942 another proclamation appeared creating a “Jewish living area” in Miechów (Jüdischer Wohnbezirk). Anyone found outside that area would be put to death. The order was signed by Kelpers as manager of “Police Matters” department in the offices of the County Governor.

Of course with no choice in the matter, the Judenrat could do nothing but acquiesce. On 25th August 1942 the head of the Gestapo Beierlein demanded cash payment of a fine, in gold and other valuable possessions. The demand was made separately to each town – and they had until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. There is no need to say that there was not the first “Fine” that had been levied on the Jews of the county. But this time it was levied – supposedly – to delay the deportation. At that time rumors were already rife about the extermination camps… so the Jews found it essential to pay the ransom in order to save their lives. The Judenrat therefore, fixed a price for each family and the Jewish Ordnungs–Dienst made moves to collect the money[27].

The payment didn't help in any way, and on Thursday 21th Elul, 3rd September 1942, the largest deportation of the Jews from the whole County of Miechów, went into effect. Much material on the deportation is to be found for the reader in this book, in which it is discussed from different points of view.

Jews from the surrounding towns were brought to Miechów. A “Selektzia” was carried out on the forecourt in front of the railway station and the young and healthy were separated and sent to work at the special camps; the remainder, the great majority, were jammed into the freight–cars and transferred to – as we learned later – the extermination–camp at Belzec.

In Miechów the main deportations began the same day. At 5 o'clock in the morning, the German Gendarmes woke all the Jews and commanded them to assemble within 10 minutes. The transported the Jews to the Railway station, separated the younger ones and sent them to the work camp at Plaszów near to Krakow. The women, the old men and the children were sent to Belzec,

[Page 52]

to the extermination–camp. There remained a small group of youngsters who had to remain behind to attend to the deserted ghetto; he left–behind Jewish property. The valuable articles and documents of the Community Office from before the war and the days of the Judenrat – especially the “Department of Jewish Population” – were transferred to the central offices in Krakow, in accordance with the orders of replacement County Governor, Schmidt, from 11th December 1940.

A number of young Jews who escaped from the Plaszów camp joined the work–force platoon in Miechów. On 14th November 1943 the platoon was liquidated: 70 healthy young men were shot on the spot, among them: Moshe Koppelowitz, past–member of the town council; the son–in–law of Michael Lis, a member of the community council of Slomniki; Wolf Bar Kaiser, a member of the Community Council of Miechów and Chairman local Zionist party; Aharon Schweitzer, one of the respected residents, and others.

From among the Holy Community of Miechów, there remained only 34 Jews alive. Some of them because they lived on the “Aryan side”, as it was called, some of them survived the camps and others joined the Partisans. Among those were Berger, Grynbel and Meyer Shalom, who perished later.

These are the names of the Germans whose bestial deeds are etched on the memories of the Jews: Beierlein – Head of the Gestapo; Kazak – his deputy; Josef Rittinger – Criminal Police; Hacket Dachowe, Schubert, Robert Biev, Dr. Schmidt – deputy County Governor; Bindt – Inspector of prices – all of them Reich–domiciled German nationals. Volksdeutsche: Kobalski – Gestapo; Micha Beckmann Gorniak – Labor office.

On the matter of resistance an important Polish source provides an example: At the time of the deportation from Miechów, Kalman Malinarski drew a knife from his boot and attacked the deputy County Governor, seriously wounding him.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Strasbourg 1913, vol. 11 pp. 440. Return
  2. Bogdan Wasiutyński: Ludność Żydowska w Królestwie Polskim pp, 69. Return
  3. In 1865 there were 3.9% Jews in the whole of the county of Miechów; that was the lowest percentage in the 19 counties of Congress Poland. See pp. 27 in the book by Wasiutyński quoted above (Note 2). Return
  4. Wasiutyński states – in contrast to the Encyclopaedia – a different figure concerning the total number of residents in 1897, i.e. 3,731 alone; consequently he give a higher percentage of Jews: 38.5%. Compare: Bogdan Wasiutyński: Ludność Żydowska w Polsce w wieku XIX i XX, Warszawa. Return
  5. Wasiutyński p.30. Return
  6. Ibid p. 17 Return
  7. Ibid p, 30 Return
  8. Ibid p.181 Return
  9. Statistisches Gemeindeverzeichnis, Berlin 1939. Return
  10. E Podhoritzer–Sandel: O Zagładzie Żydów w dystrikcie Krakowskim Biultyn Żydówskiego Instytutu Historyczneo 1959, Nr. 30 pp. 88. Return
  11. Published by Shmuel Argelbrand from 1859–1868 in Warsaw, in 28 volumes. Return
  12. Pamiȩtniki, 1926 Vol.2, p. 162 et seq. Return
  13. Glos Gminy Żydowskiej, Warsaw, 1938 No. 10/11 Return
  14. The Jewish–Polish newspaper that was published and distributed in Lvov Return
  15. The provisional National–Jewish Council and Jewish faction in the Sejm from January 1919 until July 1923 – edited by Y. Greenboim. Warsaw, 1923. Return
  16. The Miechów county Governor recalls the plague of February 1939, in his report of 5th July 1940 and adds that it caused the deaths of more than 100 people (Yad Va–Shem archives). Return
  17. Dr. I. Schiper: Dzieje handle żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich p. 537, 1937. Return
  18. See “The Jewish Artisans' Voice” Vol. 1 : 11.4.1922, the Journal of the Central Council of Polish Artisans. Return
  19. Max Freiherr du Prel: Das Generalgouvernement, Würzburg, (second edition), p. 260, 1942. Return
  20. Ibid: (first edition), p. 1943, 1940 Return
  21. Die Struktur des Arbeitsamptbezirkes Krakau, (The Katograph 1942) Return
  22. Gazeta Zydowska, No.23 7.10.1940 Return
  23. Yad Va–Shem microfilm Return
  24. The Ringleblum Archive, V. No. 448. Return
  25. According to Avraham Tannenbaum: The Auszidlung in Miechów County, Our orld, Munich, No. 60 (142) 22.10.1948 Return
  26. The Observer: H. Menahem, 30.7.1945, p. 3, mentioning all the Jews by name, afterwards more Jews “appeared” – when they were saved Return
  27. Machajek: Chłopcy z lasu. P. 122, 1950. Return

 

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