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Translation of Kilmontów chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published in Jerusalem
This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 505-508. Published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(District of Sandomierz, Province of Kielce)
Translated by Alex P. Korn
[with footnotes and bracketed comments added by the translator]
Translation donated by Judith Urbach
Edited by Roni Seibel Liebowitz
Klimontów is located on the banks of the Pokrzewka River, in a valley surrounded by hills, at the junction of the Opatów-Osiek and Sandomierz-Staszów roads. Established in the 12th century, Klimontów is numbered among the oldest settlements in Poland. Up till the 17th century it was a large village community. In the year 1604, its owner, the nobleman J.Z. Ossolinski obtained a Privilege from the king of Poland, Zygmunt III (Zygmunt Waza), which included granting municipal status for Klimontów. In the year 1611 the town obtained an additional Privilege that enabled it to hold two market days per week and three fairs in two years. The town developed both demographically and economically until the Swedish invasion of 1655-1656. The Swedes planted destruction there, destroying homes and killing many of its inhabitants. The town was liberated by Commander Czarniecki's soldiers.
Klimontów's recovery was slow. In the year 1663 there were only 530 residents and 241 houses. Most of her inhabitants supported themselves through agriculture and commerce, but there were also several craftsmen. The town was owned, in succession, by a number of Polish noble families beginning with the Ossolinski family and later by the Leduszynski, the Radoszewski and other families.
In the 18th century a weaving and cloth manufacture industry was established in Klimontów, but the town never returned to its former status. In the year 1869, Klimontów lost its municipal status as part of Russia's imposition of punishments against towns in Congress Poland for the participation of their citizens in the Polish Insurrection of 1863. Notwithstanding that it was a village settlement, the population of Klimontów increased in the years 1869-1921 and numbered as many as 3,737 people in the year 1921.
At the end of the First World War, Klimontów was included within the borders of the independent Polish Republic, retaining its village status throughout the inter-war period. At the beginning of the Second World War, under the Nazi occupation, the number of residents increased (mainly those of the Jews), but after the expulsion of its Jewish population, the population was drastically reduced.
It is a possibility that Jews had been residing in Klimontów as early as the 16th century, in spite of the fact that official sources report that they initially settled there in 1604, the year the town received municipality rights. The Jews of Klimontów established an organized community with all the appropriate institutions; they built a wooden synagogue and received a plot of land for a cemetery. The main sources of their income were in petty commerce, crafts and agriculture. When the Swedes invaded Poland, in the year 1655/1656, the Jews of Klimontów were victimized as were the other residents, and when the town was liberated by the soldiers of the Polish Commander, Czarniecki, they were assaulted by them as well. The history of the Jews in the second half of the 17th century is described by Rabbi Berachia Shapira (the son of Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Shapira), who authored sermons and original interpretations of the Torah. After the violence subsided, the community regenerated itself slowly but surely.
By the end of the 19th century, Klimontów's Jews had opened several shops and 3 restaurants, and many others were peddlers serving the surrounding villages or were master craftsmen, mainly in tailoring and shoe making, also serving the needs of the peasants of the region.
The Jews of Klimontów were strictly religious and faithfully maintained their communal institutions and guarded their traditions. In the years 1857-1865 the Jewish community owned a significant amount of real estate. They had a synagogue, which was built in the 50's of the 19th century on the same location as where the old wooden synagogue used to stand; a large wooden house in which the community's rabbi lived; two buildings - one made of wood and the other of stone - for the schools; and a large wooden building that housed the hospital. The Jewish community of Klimontów took heed that there would always be, without interruption, someone to occupy the seat of town rabbi. Among the rabbis who served in Klimontów that are known to us by name are Rabbi Isaac Shapira, Rabbi Chaim Bar-Yosef Horowitz, Rabbi Meir Yehoshua Gelernter, and Rabbi Simcha Bar-Yosef Gelernter (from the year 1901).
After the First World War the Jewish population of Klimontów increased, and, adding to the synagogue, two Batei Midrash [study halls] and a few shtiebelech [informal prayer rooms] for the chassidim were established. In this period a Gemillut Chassadim Fund [a charitable fund for the poor] and several institutions for charity and compassion, such as the Leenat Tzedek [hospice for the poor] and Bikur Cholim [health insurance] funds, were founded. Public life in Klimontów was very lively. A branch of the Zionist Organization and Zionist parties, such as, HaMizrachi [The Easterners], the Socialist Zionist Po'alei Tzyon [Workers of Zion], and the Leftist Po'alei Tzyon were founded there. Among the Zionist youth movements active in Klimontów were HeChalutz [The Pioneer], HeChalutz HaTza'ir [The Young Pioneer], HaShomer HaTza'ir [The Young Guard], HaShomer HaDati [The Religious Guard], and HaNo'ar HaTzyoni [Zionist Youth].
Upon the initiative of HaMizrachi, a Hebrew school, a kind of cheder metookan [a modernized system of schooling in Hebrew and general subjects founded in the 19th century] was instituted in Klimontów. Also, evening Hebrew classes were conducted in the village, and a Zionist library was founded.
As to the non-Zionist political parties active in Klimontów, there were Agudat Yisrael [Organization of Israel], the Bund, and the Communists. The Communists set up a library that existed right up to the outbreak of the Second World War, in spite of the fact that its operation had been prohibited since 1926. Agudat Yisrael, the dominant party in the Jewish community in terms of its membership numbers, established a course of studies in Klimontów for the religious girls as part of the Bais Ya'akov [House of Jacob] school system. Two professional unions were active in Klimontów: one for the merchants and the second for the craftsmen.
In the immediate years after the First World War, the Jews were severely hurt by the economic crisis, and not a few of them were left without sources of sustenance. The Jewish community's institutions for welfare and assistance were recruited to give aid. The old Gemillut Chassadim Fund gave minimal no-interest loans to owners of small businesses who could not obtain credit from any other source.
In the 20's and 30's manifestations of anti-Semitism persistently increased in Klimontów, not only originating from individuals and groups who were members of [certain] parties and organizations, but also from the local government. At the beginning of 1927 a new police chief arrived in Klimontów who terrorized the Jews, insulted passers-by in the streets, and even used to sick his dog on them. One time the dog bit a Jewish boy of 12 years who was later in need of prolonged medical treatment. Another time he set upon a group of Jews who were standing in the street. One of the Jews, I. Greenblum, was apparently startled by the dog and shouted out loud, and, in response, the police chief began to beat him cruelly. A policeman who was passing by saw what was happening and requested his commander to refrain from hitting the Jews. But, the commander continued his actions, and even sicked his dog on Greenblum's sister who was also there. The young woman was in need of medical treatment. That same Greenblum brought a lawsuit to the Klimontów court against the police chief. The police chief summoned the plaintiff to his office and threatened him that if he does not withdraw his complaint he will come to harm. But the Jew was not frightened off by the threat. The great irony of this incident was that the judge ordered the Jew to pay a fine in the amount of 2,000 zlotys for the reason that he had shown disrespect to a Polish constable, even pulling off a button from his uniform.
In the 1930's attacks on the Jews of Klimontów, who then comprised 70% of the population, increased. In spite of the fact that they were the majority in the town the authorities persecuted them systematically. There were 9 restaurants in Klimontów, 5 of them under Polish ownership and 4 owned by Jews. The town council decided that the number of restaurants in Klimontów was too large and that it was necessary to close 3 of them. Every one of these 3 were Jewish-owned.
In the year 1936 economic anti-Semitic provocations increased. The anti-Semites called for the imposition of a ban on the Jewish businesses and even terrorized them. They achieved their goal; Jewish economic activity was for the most part paralyzed.
During this period of economic crisis and of increasing anti-Semitism, support for the Zionist movement was strengthened. In the 1936 elections for the Jewish community's council, Agudat Yisrael lost its majority which it had enjoyed for many years. The Zionists received 212 votes and 4 mandates in the council, the Jewish craftsmen's union received 87 votes and one seat, while Agudat Yisrael received only 150 votes and 2 seats.
The Zionist youth movements also increased their memberships, and their activities branched out. Many of the graduates of the youth movements left for hakhsharut [training in agricultural camps] for eventual aliyah to the Land of Israel. In the year 1938 several young people from Klimontów came to the Land.
In July of 1939, elections for the twenty-first Zionist Congress took place in Klimontów: the World Organization of General Zionists received 66 votes, HaMizrachi received 69 votes, the Eretz Yisrael Ovedet [Working Land of Israel] Bloc received 6, the General Zionists won 15, the Leftist Po'alei Tzyon won 5, and Eit Livnot [Time to Build] won 2 votes.
In September 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, 3,100 Jews were residing in Klimontów. During the first days of the war, Jewish refugees from Lodz arrived in Klimontów. The Germans entered Klimontów on the 13th of September, 1939. (According to another account, it was on the 11th of September.) On the day of their arrival, the Germans collected all the males in the village from the ages of 14 to 60, both Jews and Poles, into the market square. The commander of the German military unit that was garrisoned in Klimontów addressed those assembled and warned them that many army units were about to pass through Klimontów, and that if any one of the local population would dare to lift a hand against a German soldier, all the residents of Klimontów - the elderly, the women and children included - would be immediately killed. In the course of three hours, German military units passed through the village, and all during that time the men were confined in the market square. Afterward, the detainees were dismissed, and, while they dispersed, the German soldiers fired several shots into the crowd. Three people were left dead: two Jews and one Polish peasant.
It was just a few days into the invasion that the German soldiers began to commit acts of plunder and robbery. It was their habit to enter Jewish stores and empty them of their inventory. They also used to go into the residential homes of the Jews and, at their pleasure, take out furniture, home furnishings, and other articles. And, while carrying out these acts, the marauders did not refrain themselves from insulting and cursing, nor from even beatings and tormenting.
At the beginning of October, 1939, the Jews were ordered to elect a Judenrat. At first, Chaim Himmelfarb headed the Judenrat, but after a short time, when it became apparent that he was not suited for the position, E. Tepperman was appointed in his place. At the end of October, 1939, a contribution totaling 100,000 zlotys was imposed on the Jews of the province of Sandomierz. It fell on Klimontów to contribute its portion of 12,500 zlotys. According to another account the amount was much higher than this.) The Germans took 10 hostages, all of them public figures, and threatened that if they not pay the sum on time the hostages will be taken out to be killed. With much effort the Jews succeeded to gather the money, and the hostages were set free.
The unit of the German army that was garrisoned in Klimontów took up residence in two of the most beautiful and comfortable buildings in the town: the Polish school next to the monastery and the building next to it where the Polish kindergarten was housed. Immediately upon their arrival, the Germans began to kidnap Jews for forced labor in the town and in surrounding regions.
In January, 1940, an S.S. unit numbering 400 men situated itself in a settlement near Klimontów, and the situation of Klimontów's Jews worsened greatly. The S.S. unit demanded that it be supplied with young and healthy Jewish workers. Young Jewish men and women were recruited for backbreaking work, neither for wages nor for food, under the watch of S.S. men. The work was accompanied by abuse and murderous beatings.
In March of 1940 the S.S. men eliminated Klimontów's Jewish community's libraries. They transferred the books to Sandomierz and burned them there. Afterward, they confiscated other Jewish property, as well, threatening with the penalty of death anyone who tried to hide merchandise.
At the same time the Germans demanded that the members of the Judenrat be replaced. In March of 1940 the second Judenrat began its work. M. Shulman was appointed at its head. A Jewish police force [of 8 men] was also established. The new Judenrat carried out the commands of the rulers. In April, 1940, many of the Jews of Klimontów were sent to work in a quarry which was at an 18 kilometer distance from Klimontów. The Jews were marched to work on foot, accompanied by policemen, and were obliged to arrive at the location before sunrise. Whoever lagged behind while walking was beaten until blood was drawn. Those Jews of Klimontów who were wealthy redeemed themselves from this work with the payment of large sums of money, and so the entire burden fell upon the poor. One day the Jews did not appear for work. The Germans were quick to respond. On the 6th of August, 1940, early in the morning, policemen from Opatów took all the male Jews out of their beds and, without giving them time to dress, collected them in the market square. There they were cruelly beaten and then led to work in the quarry. After this incident the supervision over work became extremely stringent. Many of the forced workers became ill and some of them died. There were also several escapes. The Germans threatened to hang anyone who did not appear for work on time.
In the winter of 1940/41, the conditions for the Jews of Klimontów worsened very much. The governor of Klimontów, the S.S. captain, Kneipl, used to heap abuse upon the Jews for his amusement. Together with his entourage he used to go out and come to call on Jewish homes. Because of a shortage in heating materials, coal and wood, the Jews did not heat their houses; during one visit this Kneipl ordered his subordinates to smash the windows in order to make it even colder in the house.
In the year 1941 the number of Jews in Klimontów increased. Added to the refugees from ód were a large group of Jews from Vienna as well as Jews who were expelled from the villages neighboring Klimontów. The crowdedness, the hunger and typhus [and dysentery] epidemics did their work in the Jewish quarter, and many died.
On the 25th of December, 1941, the Germans instructed the Jews in Klimontów to gather all the furs in their possession and to hand them over to them. The chairman of the Judenrat, Shulman [Sic, see footnote no.13] recruited the Jewish police, with the participation of the Polish police, to watch over the execution of the order. The Germans threatened death upon anyone who would hide a fur or try to avoid submitting to the order in any way.
The ghetto set up in Klimontów was not sealed, but the Jews were absolutely forbidden from leaving the town, except for the purpose of working in the quarry; and, when the work crews went out, they were escorted under the vigilant supervision of the men of the Polish police force and German policemen.
In the summer of 1942, large groups of Jews were sent out from Klimontów, a total of about 300 people, to the labor camp at Skaroysko-Kamienna. They worked in factories for the production of armaments under very difficult conditions. One of the young men of Klimontów escaped from the camp and returned to his family. In the wake of his escape the Germans decided to teach the Jews of Klimontów a lesson. At the end of August they arrested all the members of the escapee's family, 14 in number, and all of them were taken out to be killed. But the murder of the family did not satisfy the Germans; they demanded that another 20 Jews be handed over to them. The Jewish police arrested 22 people, most of them from among the refugees, and all of them were killed by shooting at the hands of the German policemen.
On October 30, 1942, S.S. men and Ukrainian gendarmes surrounded Klimontów, and with the aid of the Polish police took out the Jews of Klimontów from their homes and collected them in the market square. There they carried out a selection. One hundred and fifty young men were separated out and were sent to forced labor in the camp of Belzec, while the remaining Jews, about 4,000 souls, were marched on foot to Zlota, a distance of 18 kilometers from Klimontów. On the way the Germans shot to death 80 elderly and sick who could not keep up the pace; the path was strewn with bodies. From Zlota, the Jews of Klimontów were taken to the train station in Nadbrzezie and there they were boarded onto freight train cars, with 120 people to each car. Dreadfully crowded and without water, 4,000 Jews of Klimontów were sent to the extermination camp of Treblinka.
Just before the march to Zlota began, 65 Jews had been taken out of the queues; among them were the members of the Judenrat and the police. They were required to do the work of collecting and sorting the property of those being expelled. Afterward, when the belongings and articles were transferred to the German warehouses, these men were brought to the sub-ghetto [Judenstadt] of Sandomierz. There they were joined by another 200 local Jews who had hidden during the Great Aktion in Klimontów, and all of them together were transferred to labor camps. Back in Klimontów only 5 disabled Jews remained and they were killed on the spot. Klimontów was declared Judenrein.
Only a few of the Jews of Klimontów those who worked in the labor camps, Jews who concealed themselves in various hiding places, or individuals who succeeded in getting out to the forests were left alive and were liberated at the end of the war.
2. Additional population figures are available in the Polish language book, W Dobrach Ossolinskich: Klimontów i Okolice [In the Ossolinski Family Estate: Klimontów and Evirons], written by Eugeniusz Niebelski. The history of the town, including the additional population figures, is on the web site, http://republika.pl/arpawlik/klimontow/docs/historia.htm. An English language abstract can be read at: www.republika.pl/arpawlik/klimontow/docs/english.htm. The following are the additional population figures: 1663: 530 residents of which 129 are Jews; 1764-1766: 676 residents of which 340 are Jews; 1827: 1,314 residents; 1862: 1,920 residents of which 1,318 are Jews; 1909: 5,213 residents of which 3,813 are Jews; 1921: 6,000 residents of 80% (4,800) are Jews; 1939: around 6,500 residents. Assuming that Jews still comprise 80% of the population in the year 1939, as in 1921, the Jewish community numbered then about 5,000. This figure is inconsistent with the Pinkas HaKehillot article, but agrees with what Mordecai Pentchiner states at the beginning of his article, Churban Klimentov. Back
3. Sic in the Hebrew. An examination of a current map of Poland reveals the river to be named Koprzywianka. Back
4. Nowadays, there are no direct roads connecting these two pairs of towns. With reference to a current map of Poland, a better description would be as follows: Klimontów is roughly located at the intersection of the line joining the towns of Sandomierz and Staszów with the line joining Opatów and Osiek. Klimontów is on the road linking Opatów in the north and Rzeszów to the south and is almost equidistant from Sandomierz to the east and Staszów to the west. Back
5. This is not accurate. There were two Klimontóws: The town of Klimontów in the Sandomierz district was established in 1604 by Jan Zbigniew Ossolinski, the palatine of Sandomierz .... . The palatine established the town according to the Magdeburg law, on the banks of the River Koprzywianka, on the lands of the village, Ramuntowice, whose origins date back to the 13th century. There was already one [village of] Klimontów in the Ossolinskis' estate - it was situated on the same river, about two kilometres away from Ramuntowice. It was a settlement established in 1240 by Klemens of Ruszcza, the Castellan of Cracow. Hence the Ossolinskis, establishing a town with the same name, sort of kept the historical continuity of the Klimontów settlement and commemorated its famous founder who died in 1241 during the Tartar raid that destroyed a considerable part of Poland. Throughout the 17th century the two Klimontóws existed side by side on the River Koprzywianka - the old one and the new one, the village and the town [respectively]. Only in the following century did the new owners of the [e]state give the old Klimontów the new name, Górki, and only the town, Klimontów, was left. Its name is derived from the name of its founder - the Castellan Klemens. Source: www.republika.pl/arpawlik/klimontow/docs/english.htm. See footnote 2, above. Back
6. Niebelski (see the aforementioned web site) does not list these two noble families, but these: Morsztyn, Sanguszko, Ledóchowski and Karski. Back
7. According to Niebelski (See footnote no. 2), the population in 1921 was 6,000. Back
8. This apparent discrepancy is dissolved in consideration of the fact that there were two communities with the name Klimontów, as described in footnote no. 5, and the early, 16th century colonization by Jews may be not of our Klimontów, but of the older village with the same name. In connection with the Jews, the aforementioned web site informs us that The Ossolinskis, who had their family seat in the nearby Ossolin, cared about the splendour of the town. They allowed people of different religions to settle down there. In this way the town was built by both Poles and Jews. Back
9. The synagogue is still in existence and has been restored. Back
10. Leib Zylberberg states it was on September 9 at 2 p.m. Mordecai Pentchiner writes that the Germans first entered the town on Monday, September 13. According the aforementioned web site the date was September 7. Back
11. According to Mordecai Pentchiner's account these included Yonah Feintuch (a town notable), Avrahmelle Shor (a chassidic Jew), Urbach Srulle's Meilech [i.e. Meilech son of Srulle] (also a well-known chassid), Tenenworcel Chaim, Pentshiner Hillel, and others. According to Leib Zylberberg's recollections, they included himself, Alter Shmidt, Shalom Karmez, Yona Feintuch (former president of the kehillah), and Moshe Meir Tziner. Back
12. According to M. Pentchiner's account, the location was in Karski's palace in neighboring Górki. Back
13. In Leib Zylberberg's A Yeed fun Klementov Dertzeilt, a source for this history, the name of the chairman of the second Judenrat is Motl Shuldman. Since Shuldman was more common a name in Klimontów than was Shulman, it is more likely that the chairman was Motl Shuldman. Pentchiner lists other members of the second Judenrat: Itshe Weisbrod, Vovtshe Feintuch, Hertzke Eisenbuch, Moshe Pentchiner (son of Hertzke), Zavl Loffer, and others. Back
14. The quarry was located at Miedzygórz, situated northeast of Klimontów. Back
15. Pentchiner reports that 60 Jews at a time worked at the quarry, arriving there either in lorries or more often by foot, and spent the week there. Back
16. If the Klimontów ghetto was administered as many others were, these monies were collected by the Judenrat probably in order to maintain a free soup kitchen for the children of the poor. Back
17. Pentchiner's account states that the work in the armaments factory in Skaroysko began in May, 1941. Back
18. In Pentchiner's account, the escapee was Moshe Rzaziak [sic for Rzezak?], 22 males of his family were arrested by the Polish police by order of the German police, and were shot. They were buried by Jewish policemen. The Judenrat was ordered by the Germans to arrest another 48 Jews, but only 13 were brought; they were then lined up against the wall of the Jewish cemetery and shot. According to Zylberberg, the escapee was Moshe Rozengarten and 14 members of his family, including his fiancée, were shot. The additional victims demanded by the Germans were collected by the Polish police and included David Zilberstein, Mendel Martz, and Chil Rappaport's mother. Back
19. This is a suburb of Sandomierz located south of the city and separated from it by the railway tracks. Back
20. Pentchiner relates that he found the following survivors in Klimontów: Yechiel and Shaul Lederman, Leibtshe and Moshe Zylberberg, Yechiel Gotlieb, Avraham Zlotnicki, Sheine Weisbrod, Pessel Goldwasser, Chaim Pentshiner, and Tovtshe Stecki. On May 10, 1945, A. Zlotnicki, Ch. and Sh. Lederman, Ch. Pentshiner and his pregnant wife, Rivetshe, were all murdered in Klimontów and were found with their hands and feet hacked off. This was reported by the sole survivor of the massacre, Tovtshe Stecki, who had stayed that night with a Christian. The other Klimontowers had earlier gone to Lodz. According to Zylberberg's account, the date of the massacre was April 16 and it was perpetrated by the National Army soldiers. Back
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