The first Jews arrived in Sopot in about 1860. In 1869  there were only 5 Jews living there. While Sopot was gaining in importance as a sea resort, the number of Jewish inhabitants was gradually growing . It was a very popular  holiday destination among the Polish Jews. The biggest influx of Jewish population took place at the turn of the 19th and 20th century.

Originally the Sopot Jews belonged to the kehilla in Wejherowo. It was not until 1900 that the authorities allowed the visitors to say their prayers in the Kadisz Nissenbaum boarding house, located at  35 Grunwaldzka Street. In 1903 Simon Friedländer, an itinerant preacher, arrived from Gdańsk. The boarding house offered also kosher cuisine available to all the guests.

In 1912 the Jewish population of Sopot set up their own religious community (kehilla) and a year later they drew up its statute. Only men with an annual income of 420 marks or house owners and without a criminal record could exercise an active electoral right. People residing in Sopot for at least a year gained a passive electoral right. The kehilla board and the team of representatives were elected once every six years. After three years by-elections were held.

The chairman of the first board was a doctor – Maks Lindemann. The board also comprised a rentier Hermann Glückauf and a wholesaler Georg Lichtenfeld. The representatives were: Eugen Koenigsfeld, the owner of the pharmacy – “Pod Orłem”, Alfred Kantrowitsch, Samuel Simon, Leopold Boss and Philip Mendelsohn, to name but a few.

In the years 1913-1914, the board bought some land, founded a cemetery and built a synagogue according to a design of the local architect, Adolf Bielefeldt. The opening of the synagogue took place on 26th May 1914. The sermon was preached by a rabbi from Gdańsk, Robert Kaelter. The choir of the Gdańsk synagogue took part in the ceremony. Until 1918 the board office was located in the building of the synagogue. The next chairman Samuel Simon moved the office to his trading house at today 5 Bohaterów Monte Cassino Street.

In 1922 a mortuary chapel was built in the cemetery. In 1928 a mikvah was added to the synagogue. The first floor was converted into a flat intended for the serviceman and a watchman. The non-Jewish Wandtke family lived in it. Franciszek Wandtke was a watchman and his wife Agnieszka cleaned the synagogue and helped women in the mikvah.

In 1920 Sopot found itself in the territory of the free city of Gdańsk. In this time a fair-sized group of Jews arrived from the Wielkopolskie province and the east borderlands. Jews from the east were referred to as Ostjuden; they were mostly orthodox. The did not want to integrate with the local, progressive Jews and quickly set up their own organization - the Eastern Jewish Association which aided emigrants from the east. In 1929 the association consisted of 398 members.

In the 20th century three immigration waves of Jewish population reached Sopot: one around 1905 after the pogroms in Russia, the second about 1920 and the third in 1930. The first wave of newcomers was small. Sopot was then inhabited by Raw Abram Yehuda Chen who became the spiritual guide of the orthodox immigrants. In 1935 he left for Palestine.

In 1921 Ostjuden established the Zionist Organization which came under the authority of the Berlin headquarters. It was headed by Samuel Spytkowski who raised money for the fund Keren ha-Jesod.

The census conducted in 1923 showed that the number of Jews living in the city was 40 times greater in comparison with the results from before World War I, however part of them emigrated to the Unites States. The main activities that the Sopot Jews pursued were: services for the spa guests, trade and crafts. There were many Jewish boarding houses where mainly Jews were staying. Each of them had its own shochet (a ritual butcher). Sopot was also full of Jewish restaurants, shops and workshops. In the interwar period there were also shops with kosher meat, e.g. at 3 Sobieskiego Street (there was a butcher stall in the same building) and 6a Monte Cassino Street.

In 1930 the last elections to the kehilla board were held. The elected board  comprised the Jews who had just settled in the town, i.e. the directors of the Gdańsk companies “Oleo” and “Bloomfield Overseas” – Abraham Kornmann and Benno Friedmann, as well as a factory owner, Abraham Turbowitz. Siegmund Seeling, a colonial merchant and the owner of a few Sopot tenement houses became the kehilla chairman.In about 1930 the kehilla board moved to the tenement house at 809 Niepodległości Avenue.

The Jewish kehilla in Sopot had not had their own rabbi until 1937 when Majer Bieler was appointed (according to the oral tradition he performed his function from 1930). Earlier the religious tutelage had been exercised by the chief rabbi from Gdańsk. One of the Sopot preachers was Moritz Hofmann who resided at 4 Helska street. He was also a teacher and a synagogue custodian.

After Hitler had ascended to power the Jewish population became persecuted and Sopot ceased to be a popular holiday destination among Jews. Jewish citizens and bathers started moving out of town. In 1935 anti-Jewish manifestations took place on the beach. Cars carrying anti-Semitic slogans drove around the  town. From 1937 the anti-Jewish attacks escalated. Shops that belonged to Jews were ransacked. Jews were forbidden to trade on the local market. In the second half of 1938 the attacks on  Jewish population grew stronger, also their shops and flats were destroyed. Jews could not enter cinemas or theatres. Working in public institutions became impossible for them. A vast majority of Jews left town, many of them emigrated. After burning the synagogue in the night of 12/13th November 1938 the Nazis began the dissolution of the Jewish religious community.

A month after the events of "Kristallnacht" the municipal authorities along with the senate of the Free City of Gdańsk, which was dominated by the Nazis, signed a policy of conciliation. In accordance of this policy, the municipality was to ensure that all Jews leave the city as soon as possible and the Senate was to see to it that there wolud be no antisemitic activity during this time. The area belonging to the kehilla was bought by the local authorities for 16 thousand guilders. The kehilla chairman, Siegmund Seeling, took legal steps to receive a compensation in the amount of 116 thousand guilders from the insurance company “Commercial Union Assurance Limited London” which insured the synagogue against fire. The case was brought to court in Gdańsk, and the kehilla’s attorney was Herbert Lewy. Unfortunately, the case was soon withdrawn from  court by virtue of the decision issued by Rudolph Bittner, the Senate’s proxy for Jewish affairs. At the beginning of 1939, around 4000 Jews remained in Sopot and Gdańsk. Most of them were waiting for visas and the sale of their property.

In August 1939 there were still 140 Jews in Sopot. After the outbreak of the war, they were taken to concentration camps in the General Government.

When  the war was over the Jewish kehilla in Sopot started to regenerate. In 1945 it numbered 454 people. The Poalei Zion Ichud Association established even a kibbutz called “Kineret” at 11  Helska Street. Unfortunately, in mid 1947 a new wave of emigration started and lasted until 1950. There are currently around 100 Jews living here. On the wall of the residential building erected in the place of the synagogue (at 1 Dąbrowskiego Street), a commemorating plate has been put up in memory of the destroyed synagogue.

 

Bibliography

  • Domańska H., Zapomniani byli w mieście. Dzieje sopockich Żydów w XIX i XX w., Warszawa 2001.
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