The first mention of Jewish settlement in Pilzno dates back to the second half of the 16th century. Around 1560, the starost (royal official) of Pilzno, Jan Tarło, brought them to the town from nearby Tarnów. The survey, carried out in 1564, listed two Jews, bailiffs who were exempted from paying taxes, but who were obliged to work for the court, as well as three others householders with numerous servants[1.1].

In 1577, the Jew were forced to leave the town. The townspeople were ill-disposed toward them, seeing  them as business rivals and, as a result, appealed to King Stefan Batory with a request to impose a ban on their settlement in the town. In order to investigate the case, the king appointed a commission with the Castellan of Biecz, Mikołaj Ligęza, as its chairman. In the end, the commission decided that the Jews “(…) had been preventing the inhabitants from earning a legitimate living, be it in trade or in other branches of industry, causing immense loss and harm to the townspeople”[1.2].

Despite the attempts on the part of the Jews to appeal the judgment, they were made to leave the town, and then, by a decision of the town council, they were also deprived of the right to do business in Pilzno. The de non tolerandis Iudaeis privilege was repeatedly confirmed by the consecutive monarchs Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki in 1672, Jan II Sobieski in 1676, August II in 1697 and Stanisław August Poniatowski in 1766.

The ban on Jewish settlement in Pilzno remained in force until the mid-19th century, although, it apparently had not been strictly observed, since it is known that, in 1747, Józef Mayer from Pizlno was present during a fair organised in Lipsk[1.3], while in 1777, 19 Jews were listed in the town[1.4]. However, the local people knew how to take care of their rights and when, in 1760, the governor of the town of Pilzno, Stanisław Piniński, leased the Jews the right to sell alcoholic beverages in the town centre, they demanded that the king award them 10,000 zlotys in damages[1.5].

According to a report drawn up by the parish priest of Pilzno, Father Zaborowski, and submitted to the Episcopal curia, there were no Jews in Pilzno in 1814, whereas the nearby villages were home to as few as nine Jewish families. In 1830, the ban on Jewish settlement in Pilzno was totally lifted and the first Jew to be granted the right to take up residence in the town was the barber Aron Ader from Dębica. Other Jews followed him soon thereafter. The 1880 census indicates that there were 2,128 inhabitants in Pilzno at this time, among them 551 Jews, which comprised around 26% of the town's population[1.1.5].

Initially, the Jewish inhabitants of Pilzno belonged to the kehilla in Tarnów and over time they established their own community. To this end, a piece of land was acquired in 1865m with a wooden building which was later transformed into a synagogue, was acquired in 1865. It was situated on today 3 Maja Street. In 1877, a mikvah was erected nearby and, at the start of the inter-War period, a cheder was also built. The only condition to establish a new, independent kehilla was that it should have not only its own synagogue, but also a cemetery. So, as early as in 1873, land was purchased from the owner of the nearby village of Strzegocice to establish a Jewish cemetery there[1.1.5].

Eventually, an independent kehilla was established in Pilzno in 1873 headed by Aron Seelenfreund. He was succeeded, in 1897, by Mendel Kornhauser, owner of Pilźnionek (today, part of the town), and then by Rafael Ader. Until the kehilla in Pilzno was established, the affairs of the local Jews were settled by Rabbi Becalel Naftali Chaim Horowitz from Ropczyce[1.6].

At the turn of the century, the Jewish community in Pilzno numbered about 700. Rabbinical duties were performed by Gerschon Adler, followed by Dawid Singer and Joszua Adler[1.7]. During 1905-1906, the community numbers grew sporadically due mainly to the migration of Russian Jews to the United States via Austrian Galicia[[refr: | Pilsen, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, New York 2001, p. 990.]]. In turn, during 1914-1915, another population drop occurred, this time due to hardships and economic problems of the war[[refr: | Pilsen, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, New York 2001, p. 990.]].  In May 1915, as many as 12,000 Jewish refugees from Russia flowed in, cared for by the Joint Distribution Committee Joint and Alliance Israelite.

Trade and, to some degree, craft remained the main source of income for the Jews of Pilzno. In the inter-War period, of the 118 stores in Pilzno, 74 belonged to Jews, and 29 of those were situated in the market square[1.1.6]. Some of them operated out of tenements belonging to Christians, others in Jewish tenements located in the market square itself. It is worth mentioning Schüssel’s historic tenement inhabited, at that time, by Doctor Rosenberg and his family, as well as the single-story tenement owned by the local merchant Weiss and situated in the north side of the market square. A minority of the Jews made a living by practicing crafts. Despite the fact that the new legal provisions concerning craft guilds, introduced in the second half of the 19th century, forbade using religious provisions in guild statutes, and thus, made it possible for the Jews to enter the guilds, not many Jews seized the opportunity to do it[1.8]. Among the Pilzno craftsmen in the inter-war period, only as few as ten were Jewish - two tinsmiths, two glaziers, two barbers and four bakers.

A decided majority of the Jewish inhabitants of Pilzno were Orthodox, mostly Hassidim connected with Szlomo Halberstam, the tzaddik from Bobowa. A considerably smaller group was a progressive elite, consisting of a few lawyers and doctors, who took a liberal approach to the religious rules. The results of the May 1924 election to the kehilla are unambiguous and indicate that the Orthodox Jews were more influential. At this time, 140 people with the right to vote elected the kehilla board. Its president became Saul Ader, his deputy Adolf Abraham, and court agent Majer Lerner. All of them were connected with the Orthodox circles. In the following years, however, Zionists became ever more increasingly active within the community[1.9].

Jews also endeavoured to take an active part in the life of the local government. At a session of the town council in 1918, of the twenty councillors, three were Jewish, In the 1930 town council elections, of the 48 councillors electored, 12 were Jewish[1.1.6].

The beginning of the 20th century and the twenty years’ period between the wars constituted a golden age for the Jews of Pilzno. Many Jewish organizations and associations arose at this time. They included scout organizations (Akiba, Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni, Hashomer Hatzair), political organizations (the General Zionists, Mizrachi) and the very many economic and financial organizations (Towarzystwo Zaliczkowe/Loan Society, Towarzystwo Kredytowe i Oszczędności dla Handlu i Przemysłu/ Credit and Savings Society for Trade and Industry). What is more, there were many Jewish representatives within Polish associations. The Polish trade organization, almost half of whose members were Jewish, was the “Stowarzyszenie Gospodnio - Szynkarskie dla Powiatu Pilźnieńskiego w Pilźnie” (“Society of Hostesses and Innkeepers for the Pilzno County in Pilzno”). It was established in 1920 and its members were the residents of Pilzno and the vicinity whose occupation was running restaurants, pubs, inns and taverns.

Despite the strong Jewish competition in the economic life of the town, Polish-Jewish relations were good. It was only in 1918-1919 that any antisemitic incidents occurred[1.10]. The atmosphere deteriorated again in the 1930's. At this time, initiated by right-wing circles (Stronnictwo Narodowe/National Party), an action aimed at propagating Polish trade began, consisting for the most part of picketting Jewish stores[1.1.6].

In the inter-War period, the religious leader of the Jewish community of Pilzno was first Samuel Adler (in the 1920's)[1.11] followed by Menasze Horowitz, who was the last rabbi of Pilzno.

For the Pilzno inhabitants, the war began on 7 September 1939 when the German army occupieded the town. Soon afterwards, Jewish houses and institutions began being destroyed. On 19th September, the Nazis burned down a number of Jewish buildings on 3 Maja Street, including the synagogue, ritual bathhouse and the cheder. Not long after that, the Nazis also vandalised the Jewish cemetery. They then ordered the establishment of a Judenrat, the main task of which was to provide the required quotas for forced labour. In November 1940, the Germans transported some of the Jews to Nowy Sącz from where, in 1942, they were sent to the Nazi death camp in Bełżec[1.1.9].

In June 1942, the Germans began establishing a Jewish ghetto on the site of the former market place - between Legionów and Słowackiego Street. Twelve Jews, who were designated by the local Judenrat as being incapable of working, were executed in the Jewish cemetery on 12 June. There were 1,200 Jews enclosed within the Pilzno ghetto at the time of its liquidation in August 1942. They were sent to the ghetto in Dębica. From there most of them (about 700 people) were transported to the Bełżec death camp. Some of the Jews ended up in the camp in Pustków, from where some were taken to the Auschwitz camp. Some Jews from Pilzno and the surrounding area avoided being imprisoned in ghettos. They survived the War, mainly thanks to the help of the Poles. Among them were a married couple, the Ryba family from Stołowa, Józef Rysiński, who was a member of the Rada Pomocy Żydom (Committee to Aid Jews) and the Jabłonowski family from Strzegocice.

German occupation put an end to Jewish presence in Pilzno. Those who survived the War left the town shortly thereafter. In the mid-1990's, Rabbi Josef Singer, the last living Pilzno resident, visited the town. He had left the town in 1939.With the help of Stefan Garrin and Joel Adler, he managed to redefine the boundaries of the Jewish cenetery which had been vandalised by the Germans and reconsecrated it.

Exceptional reminders of the Pilzno Jews are the drawing of Mechel Zweig (1928 –?) who, in the 1938/1939 school year, was a Grade Four pupil of the local comprehensive school. They were found in the beginning the 21st century, during repairs to a house. They were in the attic, wrapped in newspaper and concealed behind a roof beam.  Painted in water-colours, there are 32 works showing plants, domestic animals, ships, a snowman with a broom, children on a toboggan, even a Christmas tree, painted eggs in a basket and a miniature figure of a lamb representing Jesus Christ, made of sugar and placed in a small basket to be blessed in church at Easter,  and a gingerbread heart with the inscription "St Kazimierz”. The collection 11 year old creator perishedin the Holocaust. Sadly, he did not live to see this amazing collection go on public exhibition[1.12].

 

Bibliography

  • Pilzno, [w:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, New York 2001, p. 990.
  • Potocki A., Żydzi w Podkarpackiem, Rzeszów 2004.
  • Samsonowska K., Wyznaniowe gminy żydowskie i ich społeczności w województwie krakowskim (1918–1939), Kraków 2005.
  • Szczeklik J., Żydzi w Pilźnie i ich zagłada, „Rocznik Tarnowski” 1995/1996, pp. 223–240.
  • Wójcik M., Mechel Zweig i jego rysunki, „Chidusz” 2014, Nos. 10–11 [online] http://chidusz.com/mechel-zweig-i-jego-rysunki/ [accessed: 07.09.2015].
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Szczeklik Józef, Pilzno i jego dzieje, Pilzno 1994, p. 266
  • [1.2] Szczeklik Józef, Pilzno i jego dzieje, Pilzno 1994, p. 266
  • [1.3] Muszyńska Jadwiga, Żydzi w miastach województwa sandomierskiego i lubelskiego w XVIII w., Kielce 1998, p., 96.
  • [1.4] Potocki Andrzej, Żydzi w Podkarpackiem, Rzeszów 2004, p.122
  • [1.5] Szczeklik Józef, Pilzno i jego dzieje, Pilzno 1994, p. 267
  • [1.1.5] [a] [b] Szczeklik Józef, Pilzno i jego dzieje, Pilzno 1994, p. 267
  • [1.6] Szczeklik Józef, Żydzi w Pilźnie i ich zagłada [in:] Rocznik Tarnowski 1995/1996 pp. 223 – 240.
  • [1.7] Szczeklik Józef, Pilzno i jego dzieje, Pilzno 1994, p. 268 zob. również Samsonowska Krystyna, Wyznaniowe gminy żydowskie i ich społeczności w województwie krakowskim (1918 – 1939), Kraków 2005, p. 117
  • [1.1.6] [a] [b] [c] Szczeklik Józef, Żydzi w Pilźnie i ich zagłada [in:] Rocznik Tarnowski 1995/1996 pp. 223 – 240.
  • [1.8] Szczeklik Józef, Pilzno i jego dzieje, Pilzno 1994, p. 101
  • [1.9] Pilzno, [w:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, New York 2001, p. 990.
  • [1.10] Pilzno, [w:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, red. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, t. 2, New York 2001, s. 990.
  • [1.11] Samsonowska Krystyna, Wyznaniowe gminy żydowskie i ich społeczności w województwie krakowskim (1918-1939), Kraków 2005, p. 117.
  • [1.1.9] Pilzno, [w:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, New York 2001, p. 990.
  • [1.12] Wójcik M., Mechel Zweig i jego rysunki, „Chidusz” 2014, Nos. 10–11 [online] Mechel Zweig i jego rysunki | magazyn żydowski Chidusz [accessed: 07.08.2022].