Zator was a town in the Oshpitzin district lying on the left bank of the Skawa River approximately five kilometers before it joined the Vistula. It was located about 17 kilometers southeast of Oshpitzin near the railroad tracks of Skawina-Oshpitzin, and four kilometers distant from the Spitkowice railroad depot on the line connecting Skawica [?] and Trzebinia.
The earliest historical records of Zator, then an established village, are from early 13th Century sources. Later on, the village of Zator became the property of the Benedictine Church, when Prince Wladyslaw of Opel [?], granted it the privilege of German Law. Fairs were held in Zator in the 13th Century and a customs station was established. Zator was recognized in 1292 as a town in the Lower Silesian pattern of townships.
The town was pillaged and destroyed in 1445, and after the rise of the Zator Principality the erection of a fortress was begun. The ruins of the town were rebuilt and the locality developed and expanded. In 1468, a suburb named Blych [?] was started and populated by weavers, tanners, furriers, and the like. In the latter half of the 15th Century and in the 16th Century, Jews constituted the majority of the residents of the suburb that were near the Bugaj, and in Kamenec which was beyond the Zator Fortress.
Prince Janosz sold this miniature principality to King Ulbrecht, with the stipulation that it remain in his possession until his death, so that only in 1513 did Zator return to Poland when it received from King Zygmund the Elder the customary rights. To these were added a number of additional ones in the years 1524-1581. In addition to the rights to hold two fairs annually, Zator was granted the privilege of two more per annum, and in 1569 King Zygmunt August granted it the Magdeborski [?] Rights of Jurisprudence.
The Hospice (hospital) was erected in 1510 and in the middle of the 16th Century it is already recorded as some type of school.
Zator was classified as one of the intermediate group of towns. It had four areas zoned for agriculture, 11 fishponds, and more than 50 workshops (12 shoemakers, 11 bakers, 8 butchers, 7 weavers, a number of jewelers, etc.). At that time a number of Jewish craftsmen are already mentioned. They took an active part in the rebuilding and the development of the town. By 1629 there were 195 houses in Zator. Later on, the town was nearly wiped off the map once more in the great deluge that engulfed the town and known locally as the Flood, to the extent that in 1662 there were only 400 inhabitants. This number included a total of seven craftsmen, most of the houses were in ruins, empty and forlorn, and the area under cultivation was tiny. Soon after, however, the town underwent rapid development and almost total transformation, since only ten years later there were 51 craftsmen there (31 of them in the agricultural crafts).
At the end of the 16th and the turn of the 17th Century Zator was granted new privileges for additional fairs, but in 1711 the population began once more to wane due to the outbreak of swamp-fever, and still later, in 1769, a major conflagration destroyed a number of the buildings (most of them were made of wood), and among them the church as well. Recovery came in the beginning of the 18th Century, as the local economy developed and expanded, especially the fish farms and the trade in fish. The social and cultural aspects developed as well; schools were established and a library which contained more than 5000 volumes.
After 1772 the Austrian authorities limited the number of fairs to two. The Starosta (district governor) Pyotr Donin purchased the property of the district authority and built a fortress in which to live and for his offices. (The fortress was renovated in 1836 by the well-known architect P. M. Lanco [?].)
The total population of Zator in 1811 was 1296 inhabitants, primarily engaged in agriculture. The area looked more like a neglected village than a developing town, as it had been one hundred years ago. At the end of the 19th Century there were two flourmills, two brick-works, which later also manufactured roofing tiles; a workshop for the manufacture of soap, and 29 craftsmen. The local authority the City Council founded a trade school to teach basket weaving.
In 1921 there were 275 houses with around 2000 inhabitants and the city limits contained 11.5 square kilometers. The town did not grow much since then, not in population, and not industrially. The population never passed the 2500 mark, with more than a third engaged in agriculture; a third in small industry and household goods, while the remainder were not categorized as to occupation.
There are no exact sources about the beginnings of Jewish settlement in Zator. In any case, there were more than just a few Jews there at the beginning of the 16th Century, since in 1502, when Janosz, Prince of Zator, renewed the franchise of the Lords of Brzeznice to raise the rates of the custom duties, Jews are mentioned as being liable to pay the levy according to their [polls] numbers.
It is also known that during the reign of the Oswiecim-Zator Principality it was permissible for Jews to live only in the capitals of the principality. After the acquisition of the principality by Poland the entire area was opened to Jewish settlement. The 1564 census lists only one Jew in Zator, who paid the poll-tax of one Groszy. Somewhat later a group of Jews settled behind the Zator Palace. The district governor, Miszkowski, even leased the Zator inn to Jews until, in the wake of a complaint lodged about it, Bathory intervened and ordered the return of the inn to the [non-Jewish] citizens. Some 100 years later, in the 1765 census there is a notation that the Jews who had settled in Kamenec near the palace had paid a protection-tax in the amount of 260 gold coins, and that those Jews who had but recently come to Zator paid 240 gold coins.
From the end of the 18th Century on there were increases and decreases in the Jewish population of Zator, paralleling those of the town in its development. More than once it was nearly devastated by natural disasters (floods, epidemics, fire, etc.) and each time it was restored. The Jews suffered from these disasters in equal measure with the rest of the population, but always remained despite the difficult conditions and did not leave the town. Even at the peak of development, the Jewish population of Zator never quite reached 1000. The Jews were involved in the economic, social, and cultural life of the town, and they were mainly occupied with trade and agencies, and some were craftsmen, manufacturers, and professionals.
This was a small Kehilla of great quality with good and upright Jews. There was one large synagogue in town, which was destroyed by the Nazis, and a Bes Medrish from which the sounds of Torah, chanting, and prayer echoed from early morning until midnight. (The Germans turned it into a Cultural Club). In the ancient synagogue there was a designated, reserved seat, known as the place where the Rabbi R Elimelech of Lejask sat when he stayed in Zator during his wanderings of Exile Redemption. Jewish life in Zator was brisk and fruitful. Always leading the Kehilla were select people who strove with all their hearts for the benefit of the community. The Kehilla Council was generally chosen by the Jews of Zator and of those nearby villages which according to the district governor belonged to the Zator jurisdiction. Sometimes, however, the authorities intervened and appointed the council delegates to suit themselves.
Among the villages that officially belonged to the Zator Kehilla were:
|Przajczow [?]||with 17-20 Jewish families.|
|Gremca [?]||with 2-5 Jewish families.|
|Pietrowice [?]||with 2-4 Jewish families.|
|Welisznice [?]||1-2 Jewish families.|
|Osiek||2-3 Jewish families.|
|Wajprsza [?]||3 Jewish families.|
|Wilamowice [?]||1-2 Jewish families.|
There were many more activists who toiled for the good of the community, and gave their time, energy, and substance, each according to his means, such as Pinchos Künzlinger, a scholarly Jew and Talmid Chacham, a wealthy merchant who set up a Yeshiva for Bachurim in his home and supplied all their needs. I should mention R Leizer Lipshitz [?], R Chaim Lieblich, Lipel Blum, R Ahron Levi son of Rabbi R Yakov, Av Besdin of Trzebinia, who was among the uppermost cadre of ten at the Admor Rabbi Elazar of Oshpitzin, R Yosef Hofstein, in whose home the town's elite would gather, and where all who wanted to eat the Shaleshudes together on the Shabat would congregate. Then, too, there was R Shmelke Scheller [?] and his son-in-law Yitzchak Dranger [?], and last, R Pinchos Hofstein, who died young at the age of 38. He was one of the aristocratic Avrechim and the pride of the town. It is told about him, that at the end of the First World War, after the cruel pogrom when all of the Jewish property was pillaged and robbed there were then also murdered victims when R Pinchos and his household, his wife and nine children returned from their hiding place to their ransacked home and could not even find a chair on which to sit nor a bed to put the children to sleep, nor food for the children. The only thing left standing was the bookcase with its books, and he lifted his eyes towards heaven and called out: I thank you! Blessed be the Holy One for that, the little bit of Yiddishkeit remained!
The Rabbinical post at Zator was occupied by famous and prominent Rabbis. Previously, filling the post was Rabbi Yakov Scharf, author of Darkei Yosher. After he left for Oshpitzin he was followed by Rabbi R Avrohom Gutwirth, and he was followed by his son Rabbi Zvi. When Rabbi Zvi died, his son-in-law, Rabbi R Moishe Salz was chosen. He was the last Rabbi of the Zator Kehilla. He perished in the Shoah together with the members of his Kehilla. HYD.
May their memory be preserved for goodness and blessing!
Just like neighboring Oshpitzin, Zator, too, was a town with long-standing Yichus and fine substantial Balebatim, Hasidim and scholars, merchants and truly hardworking Jews who lived from honest labor. The sounds of Torah always issued from the Old Shul where the Rebbe R Elimelech of Lejask had once Davened. There was a Balebos in Zator, R Shmelke Scheller, that had completed the entire Talmud several times. The town's Rabbi was a rare, fine man and loved all Jews. For this attribute he was greatly beloved by both the Hasidic scholarly factions as well as the simple Amcha types. His son-in-law and his successor, R Moishe Yosef Salz was also a renowned Talmid Chacham, a disciple of the Gaon, R Meir Arak [?] of Turna. The Rabbi also conducted a Yeshiva of older Bachurim on his premises and they were supported by the town.
Among the elite of the town's Balebatim should be mentioned: R Pinchos Künzlinger, R Ahron Levy, R Shmuel Edelman, R Ahron Shimon Weinberg, R Moishe Hofstein, R Moishe Lipshitz, the coal merchant who donated coal for heating the Bes Medrish every winter; R Eliezer Schneider, a wealthy Jew who cherished the Mitzvah of Gmilus Chasodim and would loan money to all the needy merchants before the time of the fair; R Lipa Blum, R Moishe Geiger, R Avrohom Ritter, and many more who led a nice Jewish life, and all perished as martyrs at the hands of the German murderers.
When the Germans arrived in Zator, all the Jews were soon obliged to leave their nice homes and to concentrate in the poorest section of town in peasant shacks and even in cow sheds. The Rabbi got a little room, too small to even turn around in, but he sat day and night and studied Torah. The villains searched for him and found him. They beat him murderously and dragged him mockingly through the streets. They took him out of town and killed him. This was also the fate of the Shochet and Mohel, R Mordechai Yitzchok Elias, the son of R Eli Elias of Sanok, and the son-in-law if R; Boruch Nichtborger of Limanowa. This Shochet had his own Bes Medrish and founded a Kove'a Itim La Torah Society [daily study] where several hundred people would study and Daven. He was devoted to the education of Jewish children. His wife Blume assisted him in his holy work. Although there were good Melamdim in town, he imported several learned Bachurim from out of town to help educate the Jewish youth in the spirit of Torah and Hasidism. The Germans happened on him as he was slaughtering a chicken. They beat him mercilessly, bound him in chains, and brought him to the Wadowice jail. He was under the threat of the death penalty by hanging. After much exertion and monetary costs he managed to gain release from jail and he immediately fled to Trzebinia. Later on, he and his wife were transported to Auschwitz. Miraculously, his two sons survived and are now living in New York.
The Germans declared Zator a border town in 1943 and deported all its Jews to Wadowice.
So it was, that the lifeline of Zator, a nice Jewish Shtetl, was severed.
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