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Translation of "Sieradz" chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of "Sieradz" chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume I, pages 263-265, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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In the 16th century the Jews of Sieradz dealt mainly in money lending and commerce. The Jew Yakov, mentioned above, traded in textiles produced in Sieradz and the surrounding towns, as well as money lending, pearls, and zinc-spoons. The first Jewish settlement in Sieradz lasted 150 years. In 1569, the king granted the privilege prohibiting the residence of Jews in the town of Sieradz ["privilegia de non tolerandis Judaeis"].
In the 17th and early 18th centuries, because of the severe economic situation and decline in the town's population, the Jews did not bother to seek a permit to live inside the town. They did attempt to resettle and trade in the 1820's, however, the town dwellers objected to Jews living in their midst and took them to court. The court acknowledged the validity of the privilege of 1569 prohibiting Jews from residing in the town of Sieradz ["privilegia de non tolerandis Judaies"].
In the second half of the18th century, a new Jewish settlement began to emerge. At first, just a few Jews lived in the town, among them a tailor, a furrier and a shochet. In 1793/4 there were 16 craftsmen representing 22.9% of the Jewish population (9 tailors, 3 butchers and 2 furriers). Among the Christians, who were mainly farmers, craftsmen made up just 1.8% of their working population. Apart from the craftsmen, there were also two Jewish shopkeepers, a pub owner, a barber and a midwife.
In 1817, there were 18 tailors, 5 furriers and 2 glaziers. In 1833, among the 187 working Jews were 6 tailors, 2 furriers, 2 weavers of fringed materials, 2 barley grinders, a carpenter, a glover, a soap maker, a butcher, a sheet-metal worker, a cotton comber and a jeweler. Included in this list are also 9 shopkeepers, and 4 merchants who traded mainly in textiles produced in the Łódź industrial zone, and in imported wine. In 1833, Shlomo Rothschild opened the town's first commercial bookstore where he sold Polish books. At the end of the 1820's the Jews established industries producing soap and candles and another Jew set up a brewery.
In 1822, an order establishing a separate Jewish quarter brought serious hardships to the Jewish population of Sieradz. This quarter was to include merely 4 streets, and the transfer of the Jews from their homes to this ghetto was to take place over a period of 5 years that is, up to 1827. The actual implementation of the order did not go smoothly, partly due to the stratagem pursued by the Jews in their efforts to annul it, and to other problems such as the shortage of houses in the allotted area. Citizens of the town who had rented out their apartments to Jews also tried to cancel the order; they were anxious not to lose those profits gained from rent payments. The order decreed, among other things, that Jews were allowed to reside outside the quarter on condition they build a stone house instead of a wooden house. This proved that the local authorities were interested in some Jews remaining outside of the Jewish quarter so as to contribute to the building of stone houses throughout the town. Up to 1833, from among the 692 Jews living in Sieradz, 505 moved to the Jewish quarter, leaving 187 residing in other parts of the town. Those in this ghetto were living in 111 rooms, which is to say an average of 4 or 5 persons to a room; this went against the obliged sanitary standard in the whole Kingdom of Poland. The struggle over living accommodation continued up to 1862, when the restrictions on Jewish housing were abolished in every town throughout Poland.
Between 1810 and 1820 an independent Jewish community was established in Sieradz. In 1812, the cemetery was consecrated up to then the Jews of Sieradz had buried their dead in nearby Burzenin. At the beginning of the 19th century, a Rabbi named Reuven Yisrael Frankel served the community. In 1830, Rabbi Abraham was the rabbi in place; he was well known for his learning and sharp intellect. After his death in 1846, his younger brother, Rabbi Shlomo, took over the office. He would discourse with renowned rabbis, such as Rabbi Dov Majzels, the Rabbi of Łask, on 'Questions and Answers,' the great rabbinical work on Jewish law and legend. During the period between the two world wars, Rabbi Binyamin Ha-levi Lewi served the community.
In the second half of the 19th century, a number of Jews of Sieradz became prominent in political and social circles. In 1862, a proprietor of a brewery, Israel Kempinski, was elected to the municipality of the district of Sieradz, and his deputy, Szymon Wolasz, was also Jewish. In 1864, Kempinski was banished to Siberia because of the participation in the Polish Nationalist uprising of a 27 year-old Jew from Sieradz. On this account alone, Markus Perkal was hanged in the town. A bitter fate awaited those Jews exiled to Siberia, accused of revolutionary activities. In 1908, a 53 year-old Jewish peddler, Zysman Celnik, was exiled to Siberia for such activities. In the infamous Sieradz prison, quite a few of the inmates were Jewish revolutionaries. Three of them, Jakob Szumierski, Haim Yehudah Fuks and Lewek Fuks, were sentenced in 1908 to two years exile in the north of Russia.
During the first world war, the Jews of Sieradz founded charity organizations to aid the local population as well as refugees coming into the town. In 1915, a shelter for refugees was set up, as well as a kitchen providing free meals; also a youth club where cultural activities took place and free meals were supplied. A Jewish sports association was instituted, too. In these years, Zionist influences and activities increased in Sieradz, and Agudat Israel got organized.
In Sieradz were several branches of Zionist parties: General Zionists, Mizrachi, both Po'alei Zion Right and Po'alei Zion Left. Youth organizations were founded: Hashomer Hazair, Zionist Youth, Young Mizrachi and Hechalutz. The influences of these various factions on the Zionists of Sieradz can be ascertained from the election results at the Zionist Congresses. In 1937 the General Zionists got 85 votes, Mizrachi 75, League for the Land of Israel Workers 65. In 1939, the General Zionists gained 94 votes, the League for Land of Israel Workers 68, and Poalei Zion Left 36 votes. During these times Agudat Israel (anti Zionist) continued its activities, devoted mainly to the community and to Jewish education. A branch of Po'alei Agudat Israel was also established in Sieradz.
In the 1920's Agudat Israel increased its power in the Community Committee. In the elections of 1924 Agudat Israel received 149 votes, the joint list of Craftsmen and Zionists got 100, Mizrachi 98 and Hasidei Alexander 51. In the 1920's the Jews had but one representative in the Town Council. However, in 1930, 6 Jews won seats on the Council: 5 United Jewish block and 1 Po'alei Zion. The man elected to the Mayor's committee was a Zionist, but nevertheless, voted in, unanimously, by all the Jewish factions.
At the beginning of the 20's, efforts were devoted to setting up a Jewish school in Sieradz; a Heder, 'Yesod-Hatorah', was established. A few years later, a company, "Shul Kolet", opened a small elementary school - 'Yehudah' - in a two room residence. The local branch of T.O.Z. monitored the health of the children under school age, organized summer school for part of the summer and provided milk for those from poor families. In the 1920's two Jewish libraries functioned in the town; in 1929 they united and became one. There were also two sports associations: The Jewish Sports Association and Maccabee.
In the 1930s, anti-Semitic activities intensified in Sieradz. In 1935 they were centered around two elderly Jews accused of handing over 3 Polish children to the Germans during the first world war. The accusation was never proven but was used to inflame anti-Semitic propaganda. They demanded that the two accused Jews pay compensation to the families. This demand went hand in hand with the economic boycott of Jews, then causing great hardship. In 1937, 28 Jews were forced to liquidate their shops; these were replaced by 42 Polish competitors. In the same year, 55 market stalls owned by Jews were closed down and 48 Polish stalls came in their stead. Also, 11 Jewish workshops were liquidated, and 10 Polish workshops were set up. As a result, in 1937, 84 Jewish families remained without means of support, 73 of whom, unable to find an alternate source of income, moved to other towns.
During the years of the occupation the Jewish population in Sieradz decreased because the local authorities initiated expulsions. In December 1939, some 1,200 Jews who had been expelled from Sieradz and Kalisz arrived in Sandomierz. In 1940 or '41, 1,000 Jews were expelled from Sieradz to Zduńska Wola. Most of the younger Jews of Sieradz were sent to work camps in the region of Poznan -- the first such transport probably took place in June '41. Thus, in the last year of the existence of the Jewish community in Sieradz (1942), the population stood at 1,000-1,400. They lived in an open ghetto established on March 1, 1940. In 1942, during the 6 months before the final destruction of the ghetto, persecutions intensified; the Jews were now ordered to appear at German army headquarters twice a day, where they were carefully counted to make sure that no Jew had dared to run away from the ghetto. They were also ordered to leave their houses open during this attendance, thus facilitating the robbery of the remnants of their meager possessions.
The final expulsion of the remaining Jews of Sieradz took place from August 24-27, 1942. All the Jews were assembled in the local church. After undergoing the selection, 184-190 young, healthy men, and some craftsmen were transported to Łódź Ghetto; the rest were sent to the extermination camp at Chelmno. Many Jews were also killed during the actual demolition of the ghetto.
A place of work for Jews in the notorious Sieradz prison, in the years 1940-1941 (1942), is worth mentioning. Imprisoned with Jews from Sieradz were others from the area, including Pabianice and Zduńska Wola. A workshop for weaving from refuge had been set up, and employed not only the Jewish prisoners, but also Jews from outside of the prison. The Jew Ajdlic, an expert who ran the production, would travel, accompanied by German guards, to Zduńska Wola to select suitable items of raw material for the product. This Jew was granted special privileges in the prison: a cell for himself, and the right to choose those workers (always Jewish) he saw fit to employ.
Some 80 Sieradz Jews survived the war; 27 of them returned to the town, for a short time.
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