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[Pages 318-315]

My Hometown – Miechov

Miechov was founded in the 13th century around a monastery that was erected there by monks of the order of the Holy Sepulchre (the Bozhogrovites). Up until 1819, the monastery retained the ownership of most of the land in the area and Jews were not allowed to settle there.

The Jewish settlement in Miechov started to develop in the years 1862–1863 after the great reform of the Polish Congress in which the prohibition on settlement by Jews in the region was abolished. By 1897, there were already 1,436 Jews in Miechov, representing one–third of the population. In 1921, their number reached 2,383, more than 40% of the total population.

The flow of Jews to the place was influenced indirectly also by the pogroms that took place in those years in the surrounding towns. Miechov, as the county–town, attracted Jews seeking shelter. The Jews for their part contributed much to the development of the town and fertilized her economic and cultural life.

The Jews of Miechov were mainly tradesmen and craftsmen and not a few of them were members of the free professions. They set up flour mills, electrical mills and many other enterprises. The Polish tradesmen tried to restrict their activities and did this by the establishment of trade associations only for Poles, putting a boycott on Jewish shops, levying high taxes, and so on. The status of the Jewish tradesman fell considerably in comparison with that of his Polish counterpart and it became increasingly difficult to keep going. Nevertheless, the Jews did not despair; they established their own associations, founded a co–operative bank and established funds for helping the needy.

Education of the very young children was put in the hands of teachers in the Mizrachi and Agudat Israel “Chadarim”. The older ones attended the state primary school – boys and girls separate – since there was no Jewish school in the town. In the Polish school, the Jewish pupils received scripture lessons from a Jewish teacher. When the “Mizrachi school” was founded, the majority of the boys transferred to it, and next to it was then established a Jewish school for girls.

In the Polish state secondary school in Miechov there existed a “numerous clausus” with regard to Jews. Only a few Jewish children were allowed to continue their studies there. The children of Jews who wanted to obtain

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higher education were forced to move to other towns. For all that, there was a high percentage of people with higher education; lawyers, teachers and doctors.

Two libraries operated in the town: the “Hazamir” for adults and the “Dror” for the youth. The former served also as a cultural centre and evening courses were held there. There was also a dramatics group and a sports club.

The economic foundations that the Jews established in Miechov have already been mentioned; the most important of these were the co–operative bank, founded by the craftsmen's association and the trade bank set up by the tradesmen's association. These two foundations provided economic support for the Jews of the town. Also of note were the activities of the various mutual aid philanthropic societies which gave much help to the needy. Among them may be recalled the “Achiazar” Association which served as a charity organization and the “Bikur Cholim” society which aided poor people when they were ill.

In the revival of independent Poland, Miechov played a distinguished role; there, was set up the staff of General Pilsudski – later to be the first marshal of Poland. And yet, the Jews of Miechov who had taken an active part in the uprising, suffered hardships after the liberation; in particular, the soldiers of General Haller (the “Hallerchicks”) assaulted them and together with the farmers in the surrounding areas, made pogroms against the Jews, holding them in fear for a long time. These events left their imprint on the Jews of the town and they find their expression in some of the stories in this book.

During the period between the two World Wars, the town developed both economically and culturally and the Jews adapted themselves to this development. The community was not conservative and its members were open to progress and learning. In this period, 90% of the Jews of the town were Zionists, both in theory and in practice.

The political life of the town was very active and each of the important Jewish parties had a branch in the place. The Zionist Party had the greatest number of supporters followed by the “Mizrachi” movement and that of “Hashomer Hatzair”. A small minority belonged to the “Agudat Israel” and to the “Betar” movements.

Parallel with these movements, there operated also youth organizations of which the largest and most important was “Hashomer HaLeumi” (afterwards called “HaNoar HaZioni”), founded by the General Zionist Organization. Following them in importance was the “Betar” movement and “HaShomer Hadati” founded by the Mizrachi and finally, “Zeiray Agudat Israel” which did not take part in Zionist activities. All the organizations and movements engaged in lively and widespread activity and especially did much for the Keren Kayemet. They organized “flower days”, shows and bazaars in which produce from the Land of Israel was

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sold. At all events and at every opportunity, the “Blue Box” was prominent as a sign and symbol of national revival and of longing for the homeland.

Many members of the youth organizations left for pioneer training (“Hachsharah Chalutzit”) in various parts of the land and awaited their turn for Aliyah to the Land of Israel despite the many difficulties in obtaining certificates.

The extent to which the Jews of Miechov took an interest in Hebrew culture may be gauged from the fact that on the day that the Hebrew University was opened on Mount Scopus in April, 1925, the whole town celebrated. The event left its imprint for a long while and contributed much to the spirit of national pride.

The Jews were active also in local councils and were even elected to the administration. The chairman of the congregation who served in that capacity for many years was also a member of the town council. The secretary of the congregation, Mr. Eliezer Lavie, in his foreword to this book, gives a detailed list of the heads of the congregation and prominent figures (see page 17). The first Rav of the Miechov community was Rabbi Yeshayahu Scheinfrucht who served there for 40 years from 1882 until his death in 1922. He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Hanoch Haaneach Scheinfrucht who was beloved by all and who took an active part also in the social life of the town. He was also one of the founders of the “Mizrachi” school. In World War II, he refused to leave his congregation and perished in the Holocaust.

In the winter of 1938/39, there was an outbreak of typhus among the Jewish population of Miechov that took a heavy toll of life.

In World War II, Miechov was gradually invaded by Nazism: First, the civil German government took over with Dr. Hans Frauch as General Governor. Then, on September 6th, 1939, Miechov was conquered by the Germans. A month later, the city became attached to the Krakau district and the regional “Kraushauptmanschaft” was established there. At that time, all key positions were naturally held by Germans and the Jews, who were concentrated in the ghetto, suffered from incessant humiliation and maltreatment. During the German conquest, synagogues were ravaged and the Jews of Miechov witnessed Torah scrolls set on fire. They could not help when seeing that fearful sight, uttering the words of the famous chant ‘Vetaher Libenu’. They did not, however, wait passively for their tragic fate. The Jewish community was quick to establish welfare agencies which were responsible for the regular supply of drugs, soap and basic food substances. The Jewish commissar appointed, distributed the products among the families and everyday administrative matters were well organized by the Judenrat. The conditions, however, were constantly deteriorating. In 1941, Miechov suffered another typhus plague and the Jewish population was nearly the victim of total starvation. Then, in June –, 1942, another humiliating edict worsened the status of the Jews in the region. Jews were compelled to live within the boundaries of the J├╝discher

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Wohnbezirk (the quarter allotted to Jews by the regime). The edict was signed by Kelpers of the Police department. Naturally, the Judenrat could not avoid this edict but there were repeated attempts to avoid final expulsion by paying a heavy ransom. There were vague rumours of concentration camps and the Jewish population sought ways of survival. The ransom proved ineffective and in September, 1942, the Jews of Miechov were expelled from the entire region. The young and healthy were sent to labour camps, the rest to concentration camps in Belzits.

Several youngsters tried to escape camp Prokocheim and found shelter among the labour groups at Miechov but soon after, in November 1943, they were killed together with the healthy youth of Miechov. Only 34 Jews survived from this holy community. Some of them had joined the partisans, others succeeded in escaping to the free countries. A few survived the camps.

There were some examples of heroism and bravery.

Magnified and Sanctified be His Great Name

 

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