Września was situated by a major trade route to Silesia. As an important commercial centre, it was chartered quite early, in the 14th century. It is possible that there were already some Jewish settlers arriving to Września at the time, but source documents do not include any concrete data. The Jewish presence in the town is only confirmed by some of the oldest tombstones in the local Jewish cemetery (now defunct), dating back to the 18th century or even earlier (in 1909, Herzberg and Heppner wrote that they were “at least 200 years old”).
In 1579, 75 local Jews paid a total of 60 guldens in taxes. According to Heinrich Graetz, over 100 Jews were martyred in Września in 1656, during the Swedish Invasion. In the same period, one of the Jewish residents of the town was Ephraim ben Josef, author of several selichot, i.e. penitence prayers said on the Days of Repentance. Another rabbi associated with Września was Moshe Yehudah Selig. The oldest documents mentioning the Jews of Września date back to 1621 and 1632 and concern privileges granted to the Jewish population. However, an official religious community was only established in the town around 1700.
The synagogue in Września was erected in 1710. Although made of wood, it served the community for a long time and survived all the way to 1873, when it burnt to the ground in a fire. Destroyed with it were likely all documents produced in the early years of the Jewish community’s operation. To replace the burnt building, a new masonry synagogue was erected in 1875. It survived until World War II, more precisely until 1940, when it was blown up by German soldiers. The new synagogue boasted an ornate Aron Hakodesh produced by Abraham from Bromberg (Bydgoszcz?). The first Jewish cemetery in Września was established around 1700, followed by another in 1868. Only a handful of incomplete tombstones from the newer cemetery have been preserved to the present day – they are now kept in the Września Children Regional Museum.
The remnants of concrete foundations of the burnt wooden synagogue remained untouched for some time after the fire. Local legend had it that a young Jewish couple had been laid to rest there, killed during an unspecified ‘uprising.’ As reported by Heppner and Herzberg, a male and a female skull were indeed found at the site, both pierced with an iron nail.
In the period of Partitions, Września was one of the oldest and most numerous Jewish communities in this part of Prussia. At the end of the 18th century, there were 550 Jews among the total population of 1,276. In 1793, the year when the area was annexed to Prussia, the local rabbi was Hirsh Aron London (Mirels). He was born in London, earlier served as a rabbi in Schwerin, and died in Września in 1814. He hailed from an eminent rabbinical family and was the author of Rok 1793 (Year 1793), a Hebrew hymn praising Prussian General Moellendorf, commander of troops which seized Poland and Pomerania. The wife of Rabbi London, Wittusch, was a Talmudic scholar and was renowned for her knowledge of medicine. Their son, Aron Mirels, later succeeded his father as the rabbi of Września but died young. Another prominent rabbi associated with the town in the 19th century was Meïr Löb Malbim, author of commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. Many rabbis serving in neighbouring localities also hailed from Września, for example Joschua Heschel Kutner, rabbi of Trzciel and Szamotuły. Among some of the most prominent figures originating from Września were also conductor Louis Lewandowski and his brothers Hermann and Jakub, cantors in Hamburg and Halle.
During the Revolutions of 1848, Września was seized by Poles for a short period of time. The insurgents were reported to have broken into the synagogue on 15 April 1848 and torn Torah scrolls to pieces. They were also to beat up local Jews, which resulted in several fatalities. Two girls were reportedly sexually assaulted, one of them died. The violence was supposedly committed in revenge for the Jews killing wounded insurgents.
The peak size of the Jewish community of Września was recorded in the mid-19th century with over 1,300 members (50% of the total population of the town). A Jewish primary school was opened in Września in 1870. Jewish children could also attend a religious school. In 1899, the community had only 528 members (130 households). Many charitable organisations were active in the town at that time, attending to the sick and supporting the poor. Września also boasted an association promoting Jewish culture and literature, led by the local rabbi, Doctor Lewin, as well as the “Sulamith” Women’s and Girls’ Association. Jews took an active part in the local political life as members of the Municipal Council and deputies to the City Hall. Many Jews from Września fought in the war in 1870–1871.
The following years saw an outflow of Jewish residents from Września. They would move to bigger towns or migrate to the United States. The surge of anti-Semitism in Germany additionally accelerated the process. In 1905, Września had 5,435 inhabitants, including 490 Jews. At that time, the local rabbi was Doctor M. Lewin.
In the 1921 census, soon after Poland regained independence, only 151 of all 6,627 inhabitants of Września declared Jewish faith, while 111 people declared Jewish nationality. At the beginning of the German occupation during World War II, there were only 60 Jews in the town. In October 1939, they were resettled to the General Government, where they shared the fate of the local Jewish communities. Many Jews lost their lives in forced labour camps which were established in the whole district of Września in 1941.
- A. Heppner, I. Herzberg, Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart der Juden und der jued. Gemeinden in den Posener Laender, Koschmin–Bromberg (1909).
- “Wreschen,” in: The Jewish Encyclopedia; A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, C. Adler, I. Singer (eds.), New York–London 1907 [online] https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15029-wreschen [Accessed: 16 June 2015].