The first Jewish family came to Bartoszyce from Gdańsk in 1737. The father had a special protective letter issued by King Frederick Wilhelm, allowing him to trade small items of all kinds, especially silk and wool products. The fact that he could afford a private tutor for the children was a proof of the family's wealth. In 1748, their grown-up son started his own family and from then on, at least until 1753, there were two Jewish families living in Bartoszyce. However, there were no more Jews living in the town from at least 1779. In 1801, a Jewish trader from Złotów wanted to settle in Bartoszyce and to start a wholesale business. Yet the General Directory refused his demand, justifying their decision with a statement that Jews from the new Prussian provinces (acquired as a result of the partitions of Poland) should not change their place of residence.

The settlement pattern changed in 1812, when the emancipation edict came into force. While there were no Jews in Bartoszyce at the beginning of that year, by the end of the year, there was probably at least one Jewish family living in the town. During the next year, two Orthodox Jews were recorded as residents. In the following years, the diaspora grew to several dozen people. The Orthodox Jews were mainly tradesmen.At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the municipal administration of Bartoszyce borrowed from two Jews from Berlin in order to pay off the town's debts to the French and the Russians.

In the 1840s, the Jewish community had more than 60 members and their number would range between 60 and 90, i.e. 1-2 % of all inhabitants, until the end of the century. A denominational cemetery was created On Rastemborska Street (Rastenburgerstraße, now Kętrzyńska Street), and a synagogue was erected at the intersection of Młyńska Droga (Mühlenweg) and Synagogalna Street (Synagogenstraße), probably in the 1850s. A Jewish religious community was formed after 1847. Initially, it probably unified Jews from Bartoszyce and Friedland, yet there were already two independent communities before 1914.

The Meyers, who had built their fortune on the profits from their milling business, were the wealthiest Jewish family in town. Although officially created in 1878, the “Mahlmühle Meyer” company had started its activity before 1845. In 1885, Meyer employed 18 workers. In the 1930s, the company owned a steam mill, a water mill and a steam-powered oil mill. Apart from producing flour, the Meyers also traded cereals, fodder and synthetic fertilizers. In 1919, two houses for the workers of the "mills" were built in Joannicka Street (Johanniterstraße). One could reach the company on the phone by dialing 1 or 100! J. Meyer was an active member of the local community. In 1903, on the occasion of the company's 25th anniversary, he gave 1000 marks to charity. In 1909, during the official opening of the fire station, Meyer provided the firefighters with an "operational" vehicle.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jews of Bartoszyce constituted a strongly assimilated part of the East Prussian/German society. Bartoszyce had its largest Jewish diaspora in 1910, when it amounted to 95 people, i.e. 1.3 % of the town's population. Three German army soldiers of Jewish origin associated to Bartoszyce died during World War I

The advanced assimilation process did not hinder the development of anti-Semitism, particularly strong after World War I. It was even believed that the growth of the Jewish diaspora coincided with the crises in the Prussian, and later the German state”.  Anti-Semitism escalated in 1933, when the NSDAP came to power. The first boycotts of Jewish shops took place as early as April 1933. In 1934, J. Meyer was forced to sell his enormous enterprise to new Aryan owners.. An increasing number of Jews sold their properties and left Bartoszyce, moving to Berlin or emigrating to the United States. During the Kristallnacht, 9-10 November 1938, the synagogue was burnt down. While in 1937 the Jewish community in Bartoszyce consisted of 12 families, in 1939 there were only 12 people left.

Among the victims of the Shoah and the World War II, there were 19 people who were born or had lived in Bartoszyce. They were sent to the Luckau prison and the camp in Buchenwald, or deported to ghettos in Theresienstadt, Riga and Litzmannstadt (Łódź). Jews associated to Bartoszyce died in the ghettos of Riga and Litzmannstadt, as well as in the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bernburg.

 

Bibliography
  • Graetz P., „Arisierung” der Mühlenwerke J. Meyer, [in:] Die Juden in Deutschland 1933–1945, red. W. Benz, München 1993.
  • Hein M., Historia miasta Bartoszyce 1332–1932, Bartoszyce 2001.
  • Kabus R., Juden in Ostpreussen, Husum 1998.
  • Löwenstein L., Die jüdischen Gefallenen des Deutschen Heeres, der Deutschen Marine und der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914–1918. Ein Gedenkbuch, Berlin 1932.

 

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