The earliest records on Jewish settlement in Chodecz date back to the years 1569-78. Following the wars of the mid-17th century, Jewish settlement revived circa 1674. There is a mention of 4 Jews residing in Chodecz at the time. 100 years later, in 1782 there were mere 3 Jewish residents.

The growth of Jewish community began properly in the 19th century. Approximately in the mid-19th century the Jewish Religious Council Board was established in Chodecz. Within its borders, aside from the town itself and Chodecz borough, Pyszkowo borough was also located. In 1860 there was a rabbi in the Chodecz Jewish Religious Council. Local Jews, aside from trade, specialized in producing men’s footwear [1.1].

The number of the Jewish community members in the years 1921-39 oscillated between 470 and 402. The majority of the Jewish state tax payers earned their living in trade. The rest engaged in various other professions: tailors, butchers, glaziers, entrepreneurs, landowners etc.

There were various Jewish organizations in town, such as Gemilut Chesed (Heb.: bestowing kindness), which was founded in 1928 on the initiative of Chil Mayer Wajngart, Noah Silberberg and Wolf Nosek, and totaled 35 members; or the Merchants’ Union, active in the years 1925-28, even though it was officially registered on March 6, 1926 (the Union founders were: Ch. M. Weingart, J. Adamaszek, J. Ł. Czyżewski). After the Merchants’ Union had been dissolved, Jewish and Christian merchants together established a branch of the Small Retailers and Traders Central Office. Poles constituted 40%, and Jews 60% of the total of 48 members. The guilds were also of a mixed character, with 15 Jewish members, while 45 were active outside of the guild. The vast majority of Jewish artisans belonged to the branch of the Central Jewish Artisans’ Union of Poland, which was established on September 26, 1927; it totaled between 14 and 32 members in Chodecz.

The Jewish Zionist Community Library, which was founded in the years 1921-22 owing to the financial support of Hela Lubraniecka, was one of the vital cultural institutions in town. Initially Leyb Wajngart held a post of the librarian; he was succeeded by Sala Fogel. In 1927 the owner of the premises, Leyb Czyżewski, ousted the library, which provoked the Member of Parliament, Apolinary Hartglas, to intervene at the starost office. There was also an amateur theatre group, whose prime mover was actor Jakub Weislitz. Gruszka from Wrocław was the director; the first play was performed in the Abram Szpeichler’s barn. The other people active in the Chodecz Jewish cultural life were: Szlama Szklarczyk, Sz. Paluszak, Sz. Wajngart, B. Wajngart, M. Lubraniecki, R. Paluszak, F. Czyżewski, M. Górko.

The first Zionist group in Chodecz was organized in 1915, headed by Hersz Opieszyński. On November 1, 1917 the Zionist Union was registered. There was also Tzeire Zion group (Heb.: Youth of Zion), established and managed by two brothers, Ezra and Jakub Lejb Szumiraj from Dąbrowice Kujawskie. In 1925 a branch of Hitachdut (Heb.: federation), the Zionist Labour Party was established by Shmuel Zylberberg (who held the post of a chair for many years), Abram Wajngart and Ajzyk Gabriel. In 1926 Hitachdut totaled 26 members, in 1932 only 14. One year later a branch of the Zionist Organization and Poale Zion Right was established. The Communist Party of Poland was least influential – it numbered mere 4 members, led by Icek Halter, who was also the head of the District Committee of the International Red Aid. Aside from formally registered branches of political parties active in Chodecz, there were also parties which operated in an informal fashion, such as the Orthodox Agudat Israel (Heb.: Union of Israel), Mizrachi (Heb.: lit. Eastern), non-partisan Orthodox (mainly Hassidim) and the Bund. There are hardly any records left on their operations, similarly to those of The Aid for Working Palestine League, The Aid for Poor Jews Immigrating to Palestine or Keren Kayemet le-Yisrael (Heb.: Jewish National Fund).

Life of the Jewish community was unfolding along five streets. 33% of all Jews lived on Kościuszki Squre, 29% on Wspólna Street, 18% on Szkolna Street, 16% on Warszawska Street and 4% on Kościelna Street. Most important Jewish institutions were all located there. The Jewish Council owned the following: a synagogue, a brick built building (at 10 Kościuszki Sq.), half of which was used as a cheder, the other half providing 4 flats for the most impoverished members of the community. There was a brick built annexe behind the building with a mikveh (Heb.: ritual bath), and a wooden annexe for the caretaker. Behind the mikveh there was a small “booth” of a kosher poultry butcher.

A prayer house was located in a separate building. The Jewish cemetery was established most probably in the first quarter of the 19th century on the area of over 10.000m2, approximately 1200 metres from the town border. There was a thatched-roof earthen house of the cemetery caretaker on the premises. Amongst the movables there were: 8 Pentateuch Scrolls, 4 altar curtains, 2 seals, account books. In 1939 the Jewish Religious Council immovables were estimated at 9 thousand zloties whereas movables at 500 zloties. Eliasz Poznański was the head of the Council from 1908 until 1938. Mojżesz Braun was a teacher at the cheder and Ber Jakub Paluszak was the community kosher butcher.

Little is known about the beginnings of the Jewish Religious Council in Chodecz in the Second Polish Republic. Josek Adamaszek, merchant and property owner, representative – similarly to the remaining members – of the Orthodoxy, was the head of the Council. The next management took office on December 1, 1924. J. Adamaszek became the head for another term. The members were representatives of the Orthodoxy, Mizrachi or non-partisans. Yet another management was elected in 1931, headed by H. Szklarczyk. Amongst members of the board there were Zionists, Orthodox, non-partisans as well as members of the Bund.

Zionists from Chodecz participated in the political life of the town by engaging in the Town Council activities. In the first election on December 13, 1918 Josek Adamaszek, Mordka Halter and, a little bit later, Izrael Czyżewski. In the next election on June 20, 1927 Jewish Zionist Party entered list no. 4 under the name of the Merchants’ Union. Chil Majer Wajngart, Josek Adamaszek and Icek Górko won the mandates. In 1930 N. Silberg became a juror at the court. After the 1934 elections N. Silberg, Maks Rotholc and Chil Majer Wajngard joined the town administration. At the last election which took place in May 1939 in Chodecz Polish parties won 10 mandates while Jewish parties won 2.

In the 1930s anti-Semitic sentiments became apparent; they manifested themselves mainly in the economic boycott of Jewish shops. However, the scale of this boycott must have been small, since it had not been reported in police or administrative reports. The only evidence of the growing sense of threat amongst the Jewish community was Rabbi Poznański admonishing the Jews to refrain from engaging in affrays with Poles, despite the general sense of despondency caused by the economic boycott[1.2].

The Jewish Religious Council in Chodecz was liquidated between the autumn of 1939 and the spring of 1942. In 1940 440 Jews resided in the town. After a selection, some of them were sent off to labour camps near Poznań. A group of 316 people (74 men and 242 women) was deported on three separate transports (September 28, 1941; October 9, 1941 and at the turn of the 1941 and 1942) to the Łódź Ghetto. After the deportations at the beginning of 1942 170 Jews remained in Chodecz. Little is known about their fate. Most probably they were murdered in the Nazi death camp in Chełmno on Ner[1.3].

After the end of the Second World War few Jews returned to Chodecz. A branch of the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland operated here until 1949. In 1946 7 Jews resided in Chodecz, in 1948 – 3, and between spring and autumn of 1949 – 2. After that there were no Jews left in the town of Chodecz[1.4].

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Z. Guldon, J. Wijaczka: “Ludność żydowska w Wielkopolsce w drugiej połowie XVII wieku” in: Żydzi w Wielkopolsce na przestrzeni dziejów, J. Topolski, K. Modelski (eds.), (1995), 33, 36; A. Mietz: Cementarze chodeckie. Dzieje i zabytki (1993), passim.
  • [1.2] Vloclavek ve ha-svivah. Sefer zikaron,K. F. Tchrusch, M. Korzen (eds.), (1967), 51, 827-28; A. Olejniczak: Żydzi w powiecie włocławskim (1918-39) (2000), passim.; T. Kawski: Gminy żydowskie pogranicza Wielkopolski, Mazowsza i Pomorza w latach 1918-1942 (2007), 45-52.
  • [1.3] T. Kawski: Gminy żydowskie pogranicza Wielkopolski, Mazowsza i Pomorza w latach 1918-1942 (2007), 53
  • [1.4] T. Kawski: Kujawsko-dobrzyńscy Żydzi w latach 1918-1950 (2006), 267-268