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Translation of Wojsławice chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 156-159, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Translated by Tamar Amit in memory of the Rajsbaum family
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
Wojsławice is mentioned in documents from the 14th and 15th centuries as a private city of the Polish nobility. The town owner in the year 1680, Stefan Czarniecki, was a relative of the famous Hetman Czarniecki.
In Wojsławice there were 6 annual markets.
A great fire in 1497 caused great damage to the city but it was quickly restored. After it (the great fire), the King of Poland exempted the town's citizens from taxes for 5 years. Fires frequently repeated. In the year 1778 a great fire destroyed most of the houses in the town.
In the 19th century, when Wojsławice was part of Congress Poland, the local economy developed slightly and towards the end of the century there were wool cloth manufacturing factories and some large workshops. But during the days of WWI and after it, in the period of independent Poland, the local economic activities were almost at a standstill.
Individual Jews, citizens of Wojsławice, are first mentioned in documents from the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1588 a Jewish barber from Wojsławice, Meir, was prosecuted for not paying taxes in the amount of 15 Florins for his business. In the book of Responsa (Questions & Answers) by R' Moshe Isserles (the Rema), from the mid 16th century, a Jew from Wojsławice was mentioned as he joined the Dragons batalion in Lublin and was killed in battle.
In the end of the 15th century there was a story about a Jew from Lithuania, Moshe Chaim, who came to Wojsławice and introduced himself as a bachelor although he left behind him in Lithuania a pregnant wife.
In the Persecution decrees of 1648-1649 the Jews of Wojsławice were amongst those attacked by the troops of Khmelnitsky but most escaped from the town in time and were saved.
In the years of the deluge and afterwards, an economic crisis hit the Jews of Wojsławice and surrounding areas. The Jewish Community had to borrow large sums of money from the clergy, nobility and other city folk and could not pay the high interest payments. In 1658, the king Jan Kazimierz cancelled part of the Jewish community's debts.
In 1760 there was a blood libel in Wojsławice. During that time, the wife of Jacob Frank lived in the town along with a group of Frankists while her husband was imprisoned in Częstochowa. One of the Frankists tried to blackmail the community for 2,000 guldens but his plan did not succeed. After a while, when a body of a young Christian boy was found, the Frankists spread the rumor that the boy was killed by Jews so that his blood could be used for Passover matzos. The Rabbi, R' Hirsch ben Joseph (Jozephowic), the rabbinical judge and two community leaders were interrogated under heavy torture. The Rabbi died under torture and the court decreed that he committed suicide and ordered his body to be dragged through the town streets tied to a horse's tail and then burn it. The others were sentenced to death by cutting their bodies into pieces. The priests offered them clemency if they would convert but after they agreed the punishment was only changed to death by beheading. The blood libel was brought before Pope Clemens III by a Jew from the town of Lukow, Jacob Kapel, sent to Rome on behalf of the Jewish communities of Poland.
After the big fire of 1778 when most of the Jews of Wojsławice lost their houses and property, Lady Humbelina Potocki, the town's owner, gave the Jews privileges. For example, their rights were made equal to those of the other town residents; they were allowed to purchase land and build houses all over town; they were allowed to practice any trade or craft and they were allowed to sell liquors (made by townsfolk only). Apart from the taxes that were imposed on all residents, Jews had to pay a one-time sum of 7,500 guldens to the Royal treasury in the year following the privileges. Within the community, Jews were allowed to elect a community committee, elect a rabbi, build a synagogue, sanctify a cemetery and decide on the internal community taxation. The rabbi was exempt from taxes to the royal treasury. This bill of rights assisted the growing and prosperity of the community.
From the first Rabbis of Wojsławice we know the following by name:
Rabbi Zvi-Hirsch HaCohen, son of R' Zeev-Wolf of Brisk;
Rabbi Avner, follower of the Seer of Lublin, that exchanged Responsa with Rabbi Akiva Eger.
Rabbis serving in the rabbinate of Wojsławice during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century: Rabbi David Landman, Rabbi Baruch Israel and Rabbi Meir Shraga Feivel Weinstein (in 1906). The last Rabbi of the community was Jacob Isaac Citrinboim, who was elected after many disputes as many supported the candidacy of Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Meir Feivel. Rabbi Citrinboim perished in the Holocaust.
Alongside the synagogue and the Beit Midrash there were several Shtiblach [Hassidic synagogues] of the Tverski Hasidim, the Belz Hasidim and the Gur Hasidim.
At the beginning of the First World War, as the Russians were retreating from the area, the Cossack soldiers from the Czar's army held a Pogrom on the Jews of Wojsławice – they plundered Jewish property, abused Jews on the streets and raped women and girls. The Austrians, who took over the town in 1915, restored order and peace and as long as they ruled, the town enjoyed security. Along with that, the economic situation worsened and many went hungry. The community opened a public kitchen to feed the needy. During the war, some youths from the community established a branch of Poalei-Zion and were also involved in various cultural activities. Their plan to found a Hebrew school did not materialize.
The personal security of Wojsławices Jews decreased with the establishment of an independent Polish state and this lasted for several years.
At the end of 1918, Polish soldiers from Haller's army passed through Wojsławice. The soldiers attacked Jews on the streets, cut off beards and side locks of religious Jews and plundered property. In 1920, Wojsławice was temporarily taken over by the Soviets. After they retreated, the Jews were accused of collaborating with the enemy and another pogrom almost followed.
In the early 1920s, the local economy was at a low point. The Jews had a very hard time trying to recuperate their businesses. They set up several mutual help organizations and charities as well as courses teaching different crafts and trades. The traditional benevolent organizations Linat Tzedek, Bikur Holim and Tomchei Aniyim recommenced their activities and as Passover approached, many families were helped by the Kimkha dePischa initiative.
With all the economic hardships, the 20s and 30s were years of awakening Jewish public life.
Branches of Poalei-Zion Left and several Zionist parties with Zionist youth movements including Beitar (in 1928) were established in town. The Orthodox established a branch of Agudat Yisrael and the adjoining Zeirei Agudat Yisrael. Many of the community's children continued, as before, attending private Cheder lessons and Beit Midrash but the number of those attending the general school kept rising. Agudat Yisrael opened an elementary girls' school as part of the Beit Yaakov network. The Jews of Wojsławice had two libraries at that time – one by Poalei-Zion and the other by Tarbut. Tarbut also held evening Hebrew classes.
The anti-Semitic waves that washed over Poland in the late 1930s did not bypass Wojsławice. The local anti-Semites mostly published slander & hate publications and called for an economic boycott on the Jews.
With the outbreak of the second world war, dozens of young Jews left Wojsławice on their way East, to the Soviet occupied areas in Poland, but the Germans caught up with many of them and made them return to their homes.
Wojsławice fell on 11th September 1939. Immediately, the Germans started rounding up Jews for forced labor. Most work assignments were harsh and disgraceful. Several weeks after the occupation the Germans caught 150 Jews and sent them to the village Żmudź 18 kilometers away to dry swamps. Most of them did not withstand the terrible conditions and succumbed to fatigue, hunger and diseases. Those who survived were returned to Wojsławice after about a year. Another 80 Jews were sent to Belzec to build the extermination camp. Few of these returned. Jews remaining in Wojsławice were also taken to forced labor assignments – paving roads, installing electric lines from the power station to the German homes and so forth. Every now and then some SS soldiers from the Chelm district would come by Wojsławice and abuse the local Jews for their amusement. More than once shots were fired into the groups of the road workers and the bodies of the dead left scattered around. In late 1939, the Germans confiscated all Jewish owned businesses and property and imposed on them various decrees like the obligation to wear a white arm band with a blue Star of David. The synagogue and Beit Midrash were confiscated and turned into stables. At about that time, the Jews were commanded to set up a Judenrat. Alongside the head of the Judenrat, Einhorn, there were four other past community leaders. As soon as it was set up, the Germans demanded various contributions through it as well as used it for confiscations of valuables. The Judenrat itself tried to assist the Jews as much as possible. For example, the Judenrat sent clothes, food and medicines to forced laborers in far away labor camps.
At a date unknown to us, a ghetto was set up in Wojsławice and although it was not fenced it was forbidden to leave it. The Judenrat opened a community kitchen to assist the needy and also handed out small amounts of money and clothes. Towards the end of 1941 the Germans moved into the ghetto some Jews from nearby villages and the crowdedness in the ghetto increased drastically.
The liquidation of the ghetto was carried out in several stages. All the old men in the ghetto, 50 to 60 men, were sent in early January of 1942 on Gestapo orders to Wlodawa where they were added to a transport to Sobibor. In the autumn of 1942 all remaining Jews were instructed to report to the square in front of the Greek-Catholic church and from there they were also sent to Wlodawa; The men by foot and the women and children by carts. While on the way to Wlodawa, another order came for them to return to Wojsławice, probably as a result of a problem with the transports from Wlodawa. The next day they left for Wlodawa again to be deported to Sobibor and possibly other camps. Among those deported was also the Rabbi Jacob Isaac Citrinboim.
Most of the Jews that did not report to the deportation site were caught and shot, but some managed to escape somehow. Some of them reached the Chelm ghetto and shared their destiny with its occupants, others found shelter with Poles and others ran to the forests and tried to join the partisans. Most of the Jews who asked Poles for shelter were handed over to the Germans or killed by the Polish themselves. The Polish partisans in the forests also did not hesitate to kill Jews, especially those belonging to the Armia Krajowa. Only a few managed to escape and survive until the end of the war.
Yad Vashem Archives, 03/3270
CAHJP (Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People), HM/6716, 6760, 8443.
Wojslawice Yizkor book, Tel Aviv 1957]
M. Horn, The participation of Jews in the Polish Wars in the 16th century and 17th century, Pages of History, Warsaw 1980
Haynt, 24 April 1930
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