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Translation of Praszka chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Praszka chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 204-205, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(District of Wieluń)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The Jewish Settlement Until 1918
Praszka, which attained the status of a city in the year 1392, was situated on the former border between Poland and Silesia, along the trade path of wheat, wool, and textiles exported from Poland to Silesia. The city was afflicted numerous times (due to wars in the middle of the 17th century, and the fire of 1852). Praskza lost its status of a city in 1870, and regained it only in 1919.
The Jews settled there at the beginning of the 17th century. Most of them were merchants who forged vibrant commercial connections with Silesia. There were also barbers and tradesman, including glassmakers. Despite the destruction that overtook Praszka during the wars of the 17th century, and the repeated attacks from the city residents, Jews continued to live in that town. In 1674, two Jews of Praszka were taken to be martyred in sanctification of the Divine Name in Piotrków Trybunalski for the accusation of killing a Christian boy (a blood libel). All the Jews of Praszka were deported immediately thereafter. Jews returned and settled in Praszka about a half century later. A modest sized synagogue was built in a suburb around 1736. The Jewish population grew a little at the end of the 18th century. The growth began when the owner of the city of that time strove to increase his income through taxes and fees by encouraging Jews to settle on his lands. More than once, the landowner (poretz) took property that had previously been given to the city dwellers and sold it to the Jews or leased it to them at high lease rates. The Jews also purchased houses from the city dwellers, and several houses transferred over to them after the mortgage was not paid off. The rate of growth of the Jewish settlement of Praszka slowed during the first half of the 19th century as a result of the ban upon Jews from dwelling in the border area, as well as the general economic decline of the town.
According to data from 1793, the professional composition of the Jews of Praszka was as follows: 12 Jews occupied in trades (four butchers, a baker, five tailors, a furrier, and a binder), two Jews engaged in wholesale commerce, and 24 in retail. Aside from these, a significant number of Jews worked in commerce in addition to their primary occupations. The Jewish merchants would purchase small amounts of grain, wool, and cattle from farmers and the low level nobility, and export them to Silesia. The Jews of Praszka worked in this business also during the 19th and 20th centuries, and therefore any conjunctional trends in Polish-Silesian commerce influenced their economic status. Such a trend first affected them around 1790, when Prussia imposed stringent restrictions on the import of grain from Poland. The price trends of wheat during the years 1817-1820 sealed off the sources of livelihood of the Jews for some time. The Jews of Praszka were also engaged in inn keeping. The inn of the landowner of the town was generally leased to Jews. The owner of the city would also lease to Jews the collection of the tolls of the bridge built over the Prosna River, leading to the route to Silesia.
A Jewish businessman of Praszka, Joachim Kempner, amassed a large fortune at the end of the 18th and during the 19th century. In 1812, Kempner leased the iron foundry next to the town of Grabów from Prince Radziwiłł. From the beginning of the 1820s, he held the mortgage for the estates of Danków and Lypa near Praszka, and developed exemplary agricultural and cattle raising enterprises on these lands. Kempner was the first Jew in the Kingdom of Poland who was given permission (in 1832) to purchase lands on the condition that Jews settle on them. Jewish settlement did not take place (among other reasons, due to the proximity to the border district), and therefore Kempner moved to Wieluń.
In the 18th century, the Jews of Praszka belonged to the community of Działoszyn. They buried their dead in its cemetery. The Jews of Praszka attempted to separate from the community of Działoszyn and to found their own community. The city landowner supported them in their aspirations. The dispute lasted until 1823, when an independent community was established in Praszka.
Rabbi Chaim Moshe Levi served in the rabbinate of Praszka during the 1850s. Rabbi Aharon Pinchas served around 1877. Rabbi Yaakov Kopel Rothblum served in the town around the beginning of the 20th century.
Between the Two World Wars
The increase of trade between Poland and Lower Silesia, which belonged to Germany, encouraged the economic development of Praszka at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. During the first post-war years, this commerce turned into smuggling at times. Due to this, frequent searches took place in the homes of the Jews, and fines were imposed on anyone caught engaged in this. The situation quickly came under control, and the Jewish merchants of Praszka would receive transit permits from the German authorities, permitting the import of agricultural materials and wool, and the conducting of trade in Lower Silesia. When they returned, the merchants brought back
|Praszka, the synagogue (photo taken after 1945)|
manufactured products. However, in 1930, the German authorities banned this trade, leaving a significant proportion of the Jews of Praszka without livelihood. At that time, the possibilities of trade for the Jews in the villages surrounding Praszka also became restricted, due to competition with the Poles and the increase in anti-Semitism. Many Jewish businessmen and tradesmen were assisted by the Jewish Cooperative Bank that was set up in Praszka. In 1933, this bank distributed 238 loans for a total sum of 107,600 zloty.
However, this deterioration of the economic situation did not detract from the development of cultural and communal life within the Jewish community. The Zionist influence grew in the town, but there were also many supporters of Agudas Yisroel and the Hassidim of Aleksander. The Bund also operated in the area. The Zionists opened their own synagogue in 1933. The competition between the Zionists and the Bund led to the establishment of a new organization of tradesmen called Handworker-Chalutz. A hachshara point for the pioneering youth of that city and nearby cities was set up in Praszka in 1922, and functioned for a period of time. The hachshara operated on a farm that was leased from a farmer near the town. A WIZO (World International Zionist Organization) chapter, founded in 1934, also functioned in Praszka.
In the elections to the Jewish communal council in Praszka in 1931, the United Zionist List earned three mandates, Agudas Yisroel two, and the Aleksander Hasidim one. In the elections to the town council in 1934, the Zionists earned two mandates, and Agudas Yisroel did not earn any. A united Jewish list was set forward in the elections to the town council in 1939, and earned two mandates.
Educational institutions already began to develop during the first years following the First World War. A Talmud Torah, a modern cheder, and a Beis Yaakov School were all founded. A government elementary school for Jewish children (Szabasowka) was set up in 1925 with seven grades. Jewish teachers also taught there. Two Jewish libraries also operated in Praszka between the two world wars. The Kulture-Liga, founded by the local Bund, operated a library and a drama club. The local sports activities were centered around the Maccabee Organization.
The anti-Semitic spirit became extreme in the town council. During one of the meetings in 1932, a member of the Endekja Party noted that The Jews are thirsty for Christian blood. Similar activity spread through the town and its environs, leading to the danger of pogroms against the Jews. Therefore, when the Endekjas organized an anti-Jewish meeting in January 1932, the vice head of the district was forced to come to town and call up police units to cancel the meeting. Danger lurked for the Jews in the area as well. The few Jewish merchants who conducted business in the villages were sometimes attacked by farmers. At the height of the anti-Semitic incitement in February 1932, a gathering of the farmers took place on the market day in Praszka, at which the speakers called for a ban on Jewish commerce. The Jews closed their stalls in the marketplace for a period of time on account of the tension, and out of fear of attacks. This atmosphere persisted until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Since Praszka was situated in the border district, it was one of the first places conquered by the Nazis in September 1939. When the Nazis entered, they enlisted the Jews to hard labor at first in the repair of the bridge over the Prosna River that was destroyed by the retreating Polish Army. The Germans arrested ten Jews one at a time as hostages, and held them in prison for a certain period. All of the Jews, but perhaps only the males, were gathered in the market square, where their beards were cut off with mockery and degradation. A curfew was imposed on the Jews from sunset to sunrise. The Jews were forbidden from leaving their houses at all on Sundays. The theft of Jewish property was carried out through lists of property that the Jews had to turn over to the authorities, as well as through slander. Everything was stolen from the Jews: merchandise from the shops, sewing machines, jewelry, furniture, kitchen utensils, and mattresses. In November 1939, valuable holy objects were stolen from the synagogue. After emptying out the synagogue from everything inside, it was turned into a coal storehouse. In April 1940, the Jews were forced to destroy the wall surrounding the cemetery and to use the stones to pave the pathway.
A Judenrat and Jewish police force operated in Praszka, as it did in other places. The ghetto was established in Praszka after Sukkot of 1940. As the Jews were being deported to the ghetto, the Germans pillaged their property, which was placed outside the doors of their houses in accordance with their command. The ghetto encompassed several alleyways near the Beis Midrash. The ghetto was not fenced off at the beginning, but it was later enclosed by a barbed wire fence. In 1940, 961 Jews lived in the ghetto, including 840 locals and 121 refugees and deportees from the area. As time went on, the Germans crowded in another 700 Jews from Wieluń and Wieruszów. On the other hand, the Germans removed about 500 Jews from the ghetto in the winter of 1941 and sent them to the Przedmość Work Camp near Praszka. They worked there in paving roads and in quarries under extremely difficult conditions. The camp was liquidated in the summer of 1942, and the surviving Jews were transferred to other work camps in the area of Poznań.
The ghetto was liquidated in August 1942, along with the rest of its Jews. A selektion took place during the aktion: 27 Jews were shot in the cemetery, and the rest were deported to the Chelmno Death Camp directly or via Wieluń. The Wieluń Ghetto, which was liquidated at the same time, served as a concentration point for the Jews of the entire area before their annihilation. A few expert tradesmen of Praszka were sent to the Łódź Ghetto.
Yad Vashem Archives: M-1/Q 1783/357.
AGAD: KRSW 1514; KWK 198; Weiluńskie Grodzkie OBl. Księgi Miejskie Praszki 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Weiluńskie Grodzkie Rel. 33.
AP Łódź: Anteriora PRG 2113; Archiwum Potockich I Ostrowskich z Maluszyna I/272, I/ 275.
Piotrków Trybunalski and its area, Tel Aviv 1965; Sh. Kliger.
Kinat Sofrim, Lwow, 1861.
W. Patykiewicz, Archidiakonat Weiluńskie, in Wiadomości Diecezjalne, Częstochowa 1958, no. 1.
Heint June 26, 1918, August 30, 1922; Der Jud June 19, 1921; Der Yiddishe Tagblatt April 14, 1939; Neie Folks-Zeitung March 19, 1928; Di Zeit 1919 no. 12; 1930 no. 8, 12, 22, 23, 32; 1931 no. 21, 28, 29 42; 1932 no. 2; 1933 no. 7, 32.
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