The lack of any preserved sources makes it impossible to determine the exact date of Jewish arrival in Błaszki. Jews began to settle in the region in the 12th century. The first information about Jews from Kalisz comes from that time. In the 14th century, there already existed a perfectly functioning Jewish district. In 1453, a dokument issued by the king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk for the Great Poland Jews mentions the Sieradz kehillah just after the Poznań and Kalisz kehillot[1.1].
There exist two hypotheses concerning the origins of Jewish settlement in Błaszki. According to one of them, Jews came to Błaszki in the 17th century following the privilege issued by Jan Kazimierz in 1652, which allowed the Sunday fair. According to another hypothesis, Jews settled in Błaszki at the end of the 16th century, when Jewish refugees from Moravia and the Bohemian lands appeared in Warta. The migration could also be caused by the royal decree of 1569, which forbade Jews from settlement in Sieradz[1.1.1].
Despite different religions and customs, local communities of the Great Poland warmly welcomed the newcomers. They, in turn, contributed to the development of their new places of living. They settled down with their families, bought plots of land and houses. Moreover, they engaged in trade, building and production. In numerous towns, mostly those inhabited by the gentry (such as Błaszki), Jews were granted complete freedom as far as trade, craft, religion, and customs are concerned. The Medieval Polish Jews worked in over fifty different professions, and they were leaders in food processing as well as leather and textile-clothing trade. The majority of Jewish merchants were shop owners, innkeepers, and stallholders, who carried their goods on their back.
Despite initial kind reception, there occurred some inevitable conflicts. The wave of condemnation of Jews, so characteristic of the 17th century Europe, was not as strong in Poland as in Western countries; yet, there still occurred some economics-based conflicts. The general tendency to fight Jewish competition could also be noticed in Błaszki. In the second half of the 17th century, the town was mostly a trade and craft centre. There lived several dozen of Jewish families who, welcomed by the Lipski family, met with countering of the church authorities. For example, Reverend Wyczółkowski recommended a prohibition of trade on Sundays and holidays. He also ordered people to make sure that Jews do not build a synagogue in the places where a Corpus Christi procession took place and that Jewish inns and beer houses were at least 200 steps away from the church[1.2].
In 1763, there occured an meaningful incident in the Polish-Jewish relationships. Jan Łukasz Kiedrowski from Kiedrowice sent a manifesto to Kalisz. He stated that in February 1763 Jews from the nearby villages – Brodnica, Błaszki, Warta, and Koźminka, invaded a mill in Tłomacka Wola, killed all the catholics, then set the mill with the corpses on fire. During the incident a 12-year-old child was reported to have died[1.1.1]. After the incident, the owner of the mill expelled the invadors, and the owner of Błaszki forbade the Jewish rioters settle in his town.
Exact demographic data concerning Jewish population came not until the years 1764-1765, when a census of Jews was conducted for fiscal purposes. According to the census, at the turn of 1764 and 1765 Błaszki had 247 Jewish citizens. The numbers did not change significantly at the end of the 18th and 19th century. In 1808 the town had 519 citizens, 259 of wchich were Jews. They mainly traded in grain and seeds, as well as in eggs which they used to buy in local manors and farms[1.3].
As far as professions and occupations are concerned, in 1764 Błaszki had: nine traders, four distillers, nine tailors, one weaver, five butchers, one glazier, and five workers of the synagogue. It is not known whether there existed an independent Jewish community. In 1793, Błaszki had 472 citizens, who live in 42 houses (29 houses were owned by 215 Poles, and 13 were owned by 257 Jews, which means that one building was inhabited by around 20 Jews). The houses were wooden, each of them had one chimney. Jews owned 13 houses, 3 inns, 21 trade stalls, a jail, 2 wells, and a public scales[1.4].
After the Second Partition of Poland, the Sieradz Province (along with Błaszki) was incorporated into the Southern Prussia. The plans of Prussian politics towards Polish Jews were specified in the so-called General-Juden-Reglement fur Sud-und Neu-Ostpreussen Publisher in Berlin on 17 April 1797[1.5]. The reason for issuing the Statute was connected with fiscal matters. Door to door selling was difficult to control by fiscal authorities, which incured serious losses for the country. Prussians decided to place Jews under strict fiscal control. In order to limit the number of poor Jews, who did not bring any income to the national treasury, the authorities ordered the Jews who settled in the area after the Prussian Army encroachment to leave the country until 1 October 1797. Those who did not obey the order were removed by force, and those who came back illegally were punished (prison or forced labor). The Jews who lived in the area legally were listed in the so-called General Register of Jews. At the age of 10, they received a protective letter. However, without the consent of the authorities, they could not change the place of living or profession. The authorities also aimed at limiting the Jewish population growth, including mainly the poor ones. New regulations were introduced. Jews were required to obtain a consent for marriage, and both the bride and the groom had to be over 25. Marriages with women from outside Prussia were forbidden. The only exception was when the woman had over 500 thalers, and the man had an appropriate job. According to the General Statute, the Jewish community constituted a separate state, a religious corporation devoid of full civic rights. The Statute also specified the occupations that could be held by Jews, these being trade, farming, stock-farming, and waggon-driving. Apart from that, they could also occupy themselves with certain contract works. Occupations such as usury, selling beer or vodka on credit, mobile sales, and house-to-house selling were forbidden. Jews were allowed to run inns on the condition that it was their only profession. In case of any disobedience of the rules, Jewish property could have been confiscated and they themselves could have been expelled from the country.
At the end of the 18th century, there appeared two major socio-religious movements, which influenced the Jewish community in the 19th and 20th century. These movements were Hasidism and the Haskalah. Hasidism came from the South and the East, and as it turned out, it had its numerous followers in Błaszki. The Haskalah, or the Jewish Enlightenment, also marked its presence in the town.
Almost 200 years after the first Jews appeared in Błaszki, their number slightly increased (259 Jews in 1808). The exact foundation date of the Jewish community is unknown. It is yet probable that in the 18th century, the Jewish community in Błaszki was subordinated to the Kalisz kehilla, and it functioned under its auspices. According to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, it was not until the 19th century that the Jewish community of Błaszki began to function independently of the Kalisz kehilla and rabbinate. The same source provides the information that in th first half of the 18th century there was a synagogue in Błaszki[1.1.3]. The oldest known archives confirm that the synagogue existed in 1806. In 1822 an important document was published “The list of charges and pays collected and paid by the Błaszki kehillah in the Kalisz Region and Province” („Wykaz stawek różnych przez kahał w mieście Błaszki w obwodzie i województwie kaliskim zebranych i wypłaconych”). It concerned the years 1806-1822, and it mentioned the rabbi of Błaszki[1.6]. According to this register, the yearly incomes of the local rabbi and the kehilla teacher amounted to 1,800 zlotys. The register alaso included charges (for the tallow and wax light), which confirm the existence of a wooden synagogue and a cheder in Błaszki in 1806.
Along with the Tsar’s decree of 1821, Jewish communities were liquidated, and in 1830 the so-called Jewish parishes were transformed into districts of synagogue supervision. The rabbis were obliged to perform the function of registry office clerks. In 1822, a protocol for the State Commission on Religion and Public Enlightenment was prepared entitled “On the liquidation of the Jewish kehilla in the town of Błaszki” (“O rozwiązaniu kahału żydowskiego w mieście Błaszkach”). The protocol consisted of three parts. The first contained a register of dues collected by the Błaszki kehilla. According to the document, the expenses were covered only by the dues and charges – the yearly income of the kehilla amounted to 2,674 zlotys. The second part of the protocol lists the kehilla’s funds, which were spent on the synagogue (no arrears reported). The final part of the protocol listed the kehillah’s debts, and it consisted of only one entry, a loan for 3000 zlotys (for 7 years) granted in 1781. The annual commission amounted to 150 zlotys, and the loan commission amounted to 1,050 zlotys. The document was signed by the synagogue caretakers: the cashier Lejzor Hopman, Aron Wągłczewski, Paweł Zalc, and Slomo Kopel[1.7].
In 1781, the State Commission on Religion and Public Enlightenment liquiated the Jewish Burial Society, which was the subject of complaints, as the Jewish community believed it charged too high fees for their work. After the liquidation of the society, its members performed their functions secretly.
In 1835, a register of Jewish incomes in Błaszki was prepared for the commission of the Kalisz Province. According to the register, Błaszki was inhabited by around 900. Just for the sake of comparison, there lived over 300 Jews at that time in Sieradz. Among the Jews of Błaszki, there were 40 tailors, 30 linen manufacturers and rope-makers, 65 (including 40 women) home servants, 18 tavern-keepers, 14 laborers and as many traders and inn-keepers. According to the list of names of merchants and stall-keepers published in 1845, 7 traders of Błaszki were occupied with domestic trade, 9 people – with international trade, and 11 people – with spice trade. There were 3 Jews engaged in spice and textile trade, and those were regarded prominent and wealthy. Another register was conducted the following year, and it concerned the same people[1.8].
According to the list of wool and cotton factories from 1845, there were 22 small factories in Błaszki, half of which belonged to Jews. In 1847, there were 2 textile factories, which supplied the domestic market, and 16 small factories, which took up dyeing, tanning, linen manufacturing, and steam engine manufacturing (the latter belonged only to Poles). In the first half of the 19th century, Jews of Błaszki also engaged in processing and manufacturing cloth and processing wool, cotton, and linen.
Jews of Błaszki were involved in a number of lucrative professions, thanks to which they quickly grew rich and invested their capital. This statement may be illustrated by the following examples. In 1858, A. Neyman tried to obtain permission for the purchase of a house, which functioned also as a cloth factory, from the heir of Błaszki, while in 1861 Hersz Kott and Icek Rappaport wanted to buy a brick house in Błaszki[1.9].
In 1833, the authorities of the province ordered the Municipal Office of the Town of Błaszki to prepare a document determining the fees paid by the Błaszki school pupils in 1838 („Rozkład składki szkolnej mieszkańców miasta Błaszki w stosunku ważności na rok 1838 do poboru sporządzony”). According to the document, the school in Błaszki educated both Polish and Jewish students. The highest fee, which amounted to 10 zlotys, was paid by a draper Mendel Goldbart and a grave-digger Jakób Goldbart. On average, the fees did not surpass 3-4 zlotys. Moreover, they were paid not only by Poles and Jews, but also by people of German descent. The total sum collected in fees amounted to 760 zlotys, and it was assigned for the sake of school needs. The list of teachers in 1838 contains 5 people, 4 of whom are teachers of Jewish children: Jakób Mojżesz Natanowicz, Abraham Landau, Lejbuś Kopel, and Abraham Jozek Jasiński (ŻIH, the Department of Monument Documentation. H. Marcinkowska. Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek. Błaszki 2001, p. 26).
The tendency to limit Jewish mercantile dominance had not yet occurred, and the coexistence of the three nations seemed peaceful. It may be illustrated by the two examples, which show how the Polish people stood up for the Jews of Błaszki. Namely, in 1845, the last fair on the occasion of St. Roch festival fell on Saturday, the day of Jewish Sabbath, due to which Jewish market traders could not take part in the fair. This, in turn, rebounded on local and neighbouring citizens. Unfortunately, the next fair also fell on Saturday. However that time, the citizens of Błaszki applied to the district administrative official to postpone the fair to Sunday, so that the Jewish traders could also participate. Another time, the province officials wanted to move the fair from Sunday to Friday. This change did not come into effect due to strong protests. From that time, two fair were organized – one on Friday and another one on Sunday[1.10].
In the middle of the 19th century, the Jewish community in Błaszki was completely independent. Jews owned a synagogue (the function of the synagogue senior supervisor was performed by Natan Zaltz), a cemetery (in 1831 Jakób Huberman was the grave-digger), and an alsmhouse for indigent Jews built in 1850 by the synagogue supervision. The house did not have any stable source of income, and its functioning was dependent upon the generosity of wealthy citizens[1.1.10].
In 1844, the function of the rabbi was performed by Józef Żajdel, and the supervision of the synagogue was the duty of three men: Abraham Kopel, Natan Żeat, and Abraham Izbkicki. At that time, the authorities of Błaszki stated that the synagogue had no debts or kehillah charges. In 1856, the position of the rabbi was handed over to Lejb Władysławski, and after his death, to his son Jehyjel until his death in 1902. In 1863, the synagogue supervisors were: S. Szajer, M.B. Lewkowicz, H.Koth, and F. Krajewski[1.1.10].
In 1863, a document was drawn up, which listed incomes to the treasury of the Błaszki synagogue in the Kalisz County (the Warsaw Governorate) between 1846 and 1863. The most significant amount of money paid by the Jewish community was assigned for municipal expenses (taxes, public fees, rents). The second position on the list is occupied by salaries paid to the employees of the community. A lot of money was assigned for the maintenance of the synagogue, the school, and the small synagogue (fuel, light, stationery, bookbinding, etc.). The fees were also used to help the poor, for instance, distributing free wheat on the Passover. The sources of the synagogue treasury incomes were mostly dues, then religious fees, and the contributions of the faithful. However, the list does not contain any information about incomes from circumcision, marriages, ritual baths, the Torah scrolls , interest from dowry, and the purchase of etrog bought for the Sukkot holiday[1.11].
In 1853, there was a wooden synagogue, a wooden house of the rabbi, and a half-wooden half-brick kosher slaughterhouse in Błaszki. The owners of the brick houses were, among others, Abraham and Chaim Kąpel, Mosiek Zelig Węgłczewski, Berek Kopel, Chaim Eisner, Abraham Charłupski, and Mendel Goldberg.
In 1857, the Jews of Błaszki turned to the gubernatorial authorities to expand the synagogue, which was then inspected by the Kalisz County Builder, the town council representatives and the synagogue supervision. As it is written in the document from 1858, “(...) the synagogue in Błaszki is 67 Russian feet long (a Russian foot – 0,29 m, ½ cubit – ed. M. S.), 45 feet wide, and 22 feet high. There is an entrance hall, a porch for the stairs, new exterior door (the main inside door can be opened), two staircases (18 stairs in each of them) leading to the galleries (...) In Błaszki, there are 1,636 Jews, out of whom 150 go to the synagogue everyday”[1.12].
The synagogue in Błaszki, suggested in the Tsar’s decree from 1844, was located far from the town’s churches. The synagogue was situated to the West. In its central part there was a bimah – a platform where a rabbi was reading fragments of Torah. Inside the bimah, there stood a shulhan – a table for the person reading the Torah, sometimes also the Elijah Chair where circumcision was performed. A typical equipment of a synagogue was as follows: on the Eastern wall there was the Aron Kodesh – where the Torah scrolls were kept. It was covered with a parochet – a subtly embroidered cloth. Women prayed separately in a women’s section, which constituted an outside gallery that surrounded the main hall from three sides.
According to the document listing houses and other buildings from 1864 (“Wykaz liczby domów i innych zabudowań za rok 1864”), in Błaszki there were 18 private brick houses (including 5 one-storey houses), 106 private wooden houses (including 1 one-storey house), a church, the house of the parish priest, the house of the organist, the synagogue, a Jewish bath house, a Jewish shelter, a kosher cattle slaughterhouse, a brick Christian elementary school, and a wooden Jewish school[1.13]. In 1883, Russian authorities demanded that a report on the Jewish clergy is prepared (“O duchowieństwie żydowskim”). Thanks to the document, it is now known that in Błaszki there was a synagogue as well as 2 Hasidic prayer houses, and that the community employed a rabbi, 7 Jewish clergymen, a synagogue assistant, 13 religion teachers, and 13 teachers who educated 102 Jewish students[1.14].
In the first half of the 19th century, the direct medical care in Błaszki and the nearby villages was performed by the medical assistants. There was no fully qualified doctor in the town, so the medical supervision was performed by a town doctor from Warta and a county doctor from Kalisz. It was not until 1860 that Błaszki had its own doctor. Feldshers were divided into 7 categories. In1857, there were three feldshers in Błaszki, who also worked in Staw and Iwanowice. Pursuant to the document issued by the Medical Council in 1845, a permission to perform feldsher practices was granted to Jakób Lewkowicz and Berek Sztajn[1.15].
In 1890, a brick synagogue was built in the place of the wooden one[1.1.14].
From 1 July 1846, the Administrative Council of the Kingdom of Poland forbade Jews to wear their traditional outfits, including those of women’s. The ban did not concern rabbis and other members of clergy while performing religious ceremonies and all other Jews while going or coming back from the synagogue. Moreover, women could not shave their heads as a part of the ritual of marriage under the penalty of a fine. Rabbis were obliged to ensure that the new rules are obeyed under the penalty of arrest, reformatory, or enlistment to the army[1.16].
At the beginning of the 20th century (1909), Bałszki was inhabited by 5,370 people, including 3,324 Jews. There also lived 53 members of the Orthodox Church and 135 members of Evangelical churches. In 1919, there lived 5,567 people who were granted permanent residence (3,791 Jews), which accounted for 68% of all the dwellers of Błaszki. According to the first census, conducted in 1931, the town was inhabited by 4986 people (2,237 Jews)[1.17].
It indicates that within 10 years the population of Błaszki increased by 1090 people. The number of Jewish members of the community slightly changed, which was caused mostly by the immigration of entire families, mostly young people, to bigger industrial centres in Poland and abroad – mainly to the US, Palestine, and South America. In 1936, Błaszki had 4986 citizens, including 2996 Poles and 1990 Jews[1.18].
Interestingly, Christian population did not participate in the first post-partition elections to the Błaszki Town Council. The reasons for this boycott are yet unknown. Perhaps people thought that the newly reborn country would not last for a long time, as it was not acknowledged by most countries. Perhaps it was the proximity of the border and long-lasting partition of the country that caused the people of Błaszki to lose faith in their own country. In November 1918, a Council was established, but only Jews took part in the elections. 6 out of 10 members of the Council were Jewish, 3 Poles were chosen by Jews. The mayor was Władysław Spiczyński. Poles did not accept their mandates, as they wanted to have the right to choose their representatives themselves. The authorities, alarmed by the boycott, demanded that the Poles perform the functions chosen for them under the penalty of arrest or fines. Christian members of the population never accepted the new council, disregarding its orders and regulations. The situation changed in 1918, when on the request of the community, the council gained 4 new members – 3 Poles and 1 Jew. Florian Jackowski became the mayor, Klemens Przybył – the deputy mayor. The town council of Błaszki thus became a representation of two nations. On 18 June 1919, new elections were held. However, the list of people entitled to vote did not include some citizens of the town. Despite protests of displeased people, the Election Committee dismissed the complaint. 12 councillors and 6 deputies were elected.
During the 1927 elections, from 2,492 people entitled to vote, only 1,699 participated in the voting, choosing from 7 electoral committee lists. The new Jewish councilors were as follows: a carpenter Fajwusz Moszkowicz, a cap maker Icek Szwarcbart, as well as merchants – Menachem Gelbart, Wigor Lejbuś Zajf, Mordka Huberman, Salomon Madowicz, and Lejb Erzon, and assistants of the following merchants – Mojżesz Kalman, Mojżesz Brand, Mendel Rubinek, and Mojżesz Dawid Blum[1.19]. The citizens of Błaszki reported irregularities to the Central Election Commission, which invalidated the Bund list and the list of labuorers and craftsmen due to falsification of signatures on the lists. The outcome of the elections was influenced by the fact that the lists were rendered invalid, so the Commission decided to annul it. The next elections were preceded by dismissing the mayor, his deputy and juror Mordka Huberman. The mayor announced a protest strike, but eventually he was forced to concede. During the elections held in December 1932, the residents of Błaszki were divided into two electoral districts. Out of 2755 citizens entitled to cast a vote, 2501 actually voted. The following people were elected to the Town Council: a merchants Lajb Erzon and Mamelok Lewi from Aguda, a weaver Josek Dawid Zajf from the Bund, a merchant Chill Kopel from the Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government (BBWR), and a Zionist merchant Salomon Madowicz[1.20].
Jews of the interwar Błaszki were mostly engaged in trade, both retailing, for instance stall-keeping and tenancy (which often served as a support of large families), and trading at a larger scale – Jews run storerooms and warehouses. There were also people purchasing and manufacturing leather and an economically significant group of tailors (15% of all working Jews in Błaszki). Just as in the 19th century, an important role was played by the trade of grain, crops, and agricultural products even though the area encompassed by the trade diminished. Jewish craftsmen produced mainly for the local market. The only exception were tailors, who exported their goods to Poznań. In 1920, a branch of the Union of Jewish Craftsmen was created in Błaszki. It aimed at protecting the economic welfare of its members. In 1938, the Union numbered 35 people[1.21].
Housing situation in interwar Błaszki did not look very optimistic. In one-room or two-room apartments, there lived even a few Jewish families. Furthermore, Jews often lived on attics, in cellars, and in annexes to houses. The front apartments were spacious, well-lighted, and they belonged to rich merchants, shopkeepers, and craftsmen. Flats in back-premises were low, due to which an additional room in the attic was usually marked. These flats were inhabited by poorer craftsmen, small agents, and tradesman. There were also some workshops under the first floor in basements which also served as shabby hosues. In 1931, there were 320 houses in Błaszki, and the number of flats amounted to 1,060. Jews mostly lived in the following streets: Bożnicza St., Stare Miasto, and Rynek Dolny St. (current L. Suwiński Square). Within the district, there was a synagogue, the house of the rabbi with the Beth Midrash, a bath house, a kosher slaughterhouse, and an old cemetery. However, the existence of this Jewish district did not cause any exclusion of Jews from the community of the town. On the contrary, Błaszki was an ideal example of a peaceful coexistence of the two nations – Poles and Jews shared their places of residence, lived together, and owed much to each other.
Regaining independence by Poland was followed by introduction of new national legislation concerning religious communities. The first normative document was the decree about changes in the organization of Jewish religious communities in the former Kingdom of Poland issued by the Chief of State on 7 February 1919. In the years 1925-1927, the provisions of the decree were extended to the remaining provinces, and on 5 April 1928, a consolidated text of the law concerning Jewish communities of the country (excepting the Silesian province) was issued. The law was supplemented twice by the enactments of the Minister of Religious Denominations and Public Englightenment from 24 October 1930 and 9 September 1931. First law determined election regulation for the communities (board), the election of rabbis and lower rabbis, while the second law determined communities financial management rules[1.22].
Błaszki was ranked as one of the smaller Jewish communities in the Second Polish Republic (bigger communities numbered over 5000 Jewish inhabitants). The governing body of community became the board, elected once in 4 years, consisting of 8 members and 8 deputies. Voting rights were granted only to men over 25 years old, while the elegibility to stand for election was the right of Polish citizens of the Jewish faith over 30 years old who had lived in the commune for at least a year.
In 1902, after the death of rabbi Jehyjel Władysławski, the Jewish community of Błaszki was stirred by the dispute over the choice of his successor. The candidates were two rabbis: rabbi Abu Note Kupfer, a supporter of Zionism, and a Hasidic tzadik of Czopów. The Hasid won; yet, he left Błaszki in 1904 after the town burnt down twice. He was replaced by his competitor, who performed his function until the year 1907. The next rabbi of Błaszki until 1924 was Jeshail Kanał, who then was appointed to the Board of the Rabbinical Court in Warsaw. After Jeshail Kanał, the rabbis were only the supporters and activists of Zionist parties – Josel Fuks (1924-1931), Abu Nusen Elberg (1931-1933), and Szmul J. Blbaum (from 1933)[1.23]. The political views of the rabbis often caused conflicts in the community of Błaszki, which became the battlefield of the Orthodox believers and Zionists. The conflict revealed itself, for example, during the campaign that preceded the first elections to the Jewish Community in Błaszki, which took place on 1 June 1924. Out of 318 people entitled to vote, 302 people (95%) actually voted. Zionists and the Orthodox each got 2 seats. Rabbi Josel Fuks became an ex officio member of the board, and his right to vote was equal to this of other members, which gave the advantage to the Zionists. The board chairman became rabbi Fuks, his deputy – M. Gelbert, also a Zionist. This was the source of the conflict. In June 1924, the orthodox from the Aguda appealed the district governor of Kalisz following the outcome of the elections. They stated that Fuks voted for himself. The petition was turned down.
In September 1924, new decisions were made. Hersz Mojlech Unger, an Orthodox, became a gospodarz gminy, Mojse Jane Aronowicz, also an Orthodox – the inspector of the community, and Szloma Nuta Sztajer, a Zionist – the cashier. Unger and Aronowicz submitted a votum separatum, disagreeing with the choice of the Zionist cashier. As the opinions were divided, the board ordered new elections for the chairman. Fuks won for the second time. He got 3 votes, winning with Aronowicz, who got 2 votes. In that case, the Orthodox withdrew the votum separatum. This, however, did not end the conflict. In November, the Orthodox accused the rabbi of organizing board meetings at night, which they could not attend, as they were harassed by Zionists on the streets. Their antagonists took advantage of the situation, and in their absence, passed the bills that stirred the most heated emotions. The Zionists were also accused of disturbing prayers in the synagogue and turning off the lights at school. Moreover, in order to overcome the Zionist majority, the Orthodox applied to the authorities of the district for expanding the board by non-party Huberman, a town hall councillor. On 27 September 1924, during its next meeting, the board decided to increase the fees for ritual slaughter, which were artificially reduced before the elections (reasoning that there had been a two-million zlotys budget deficit inherited from the previous board). Again, the Orthodox turned to the authorities. Unger and Aronowicz filed an application to the county authorities, arguing for the commencement of an investigation regarding the slaughter. They also petitioned the authorities for not appointing the rabbi the board chairman. In November 1924, the county authorities answered all the complaints, regarding them unfounded. The balance of forces did not change after the elections to the Jewish Community Board in Błaszki, which took place on 25 February 1931. The last elections to the Jewish community took place on 30 August 1936. It turned out that on the scale of the country the most successful party was the Bund. However, the situation in Błaszki remains unclear. H. Marcinkowaska thinks that Zionist influence was strong enough not to cause any change in the balance of forces (ŻIH, the Department of Monument Documentation. H. Marcinkowska. Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek. (2001), 57).
In 1924, the outgoing board gave an account of the financial status of the communityof Błaszki. It had a synagogue in Bożnicza St. (present Mleczarska St.) built at the end of the 19th century, an old Jewish cemetery (with a funeral house) within the area of the Old Town, a new cemetery in Polna St., a prayer house, a kosher slaughterhouse, and a ritual bath house. Apart from the synagogue supported by the community, Błaszki also had 4 prayer houses. The first one, Beth Midrash, was located in the house of the rabbi. Other houses, which were private, were the places of meetings of the Hasidic followers of tzadik Ger, and supporters of the tzadikim from Aleksandrów and Sochaczew. On 13 January 1938, an official list of rabbis and lower rabbis holding their offices in the Kalisz county was created. The community of Błaszki employed only one rabbi, Abram Nusen Elberg, who happened to be the last rabbi of Błaszki.
The outbreak of World War II brought an end to the existence of Jewish community in Błaszki. Only a few days passed since the Germans entered the town, when the persecution of Jews started. Confiscations, plunders, beating, and public humiliations started. On the night of 8/9 September 1939, a group of people, including 4 Jews, was arrested. Their fate remains unknown. A few days later Germans arrested 10 leading representatives of the Jewish community, who were later on shot at the Jewish cemetery in Błaszki. Their houses were then plundered. During the first few weeks of the occupation, Germans closed the synagogue and prayer houses, stole liturgical items, profaned theTorah, and banned the celebrations of the Jewish New Year, ritual baths, and kosher slaughter.
In the middle of September, the first anti-Jewish regulations came into force. Moreover, the activities of all Jewish institutions and organizations were banned, and the enterprises were confiscated along with their savings and then transformed so that they were Aryan from then on. From 14 November 1939, Jews were forced to wear bands with a David star under the penalty of death. Every Jewish house and enterprise was labelled. A curfew was introduced between 8 pm and 5 am. Jews were forbidden to change their place of residence and leave the town. In general, Jews were outlawed, and they were punished with death for even trifling offences. The authorities planned to create a ghetto by the end of November. The planned borders of the ghetto were: from the South - Kaliska St., from the East – the area spanning from the western frontage of the Lower Market (Dolny Rynek) to the South-West corner of the Lower Market. The plan had never been realized.
The power was initially exercised by a local German H.Halbert, who was then replaced by Muller, a German from the Reich. Muller organized the Town Hall, which became the working place for Alois Rottel, a Czech by birth. These two men exercised unlimited power over the town and its citizens. Mayor Muller immediately started tormenting Jews. He ordered all Jewish men to be present on the square between the park and the Upper Market (Górny Rynek) every day at 6 am. After some physical exercise (the “Sind sie Jude” action (“Are you a Jew?” action), which consisted of torturing Jews with sophisticated physical exercise), Jews were forced to take part in clearing works in the town and nearby area. Muller ordered Jews to choose from themselves 3 men who would come to the town hall at his every call and who would be responsible for collecting money from the Jewish community. From September to November, the Mayor ordered the collection a few times which significantly contributed to their bad financial situation.
In 1939, a plan of the resettlement of Jews was drawn up. Its aim was to prepare, or to “clear up” the occupied land for German settlers. Between November 1939 to February 1940, all Jews from the lands incorporated to the Reich were to be resettled to the General Government. Błaszki was no exception. On 20 December 1939, the Jews of Błaszki were summoned to an auditorium “Błaszkowianka”. They were deprived of all the valuables and keys to their apartments (labelled with addresses), which were given to German commissariat trustees. All the Jews were transported to the General Government by train. Only those who froze up stayed.
Jews of Błaszki were divided into 4 groups and transported to Warsaw and Lublin disctricts (one group to Konstantynów near Lublin, the remaining three groups to Łosice, Sarnaki, and Sokołów Podlaski). The displaced were deprived not only of their properties and possessions, but also of basic necessities as well as work possibilities. These people obtained help from local Jewish committees, and they were accommodated in synagogues, shelters, and Jewish hospitals. Unfortunately, this did not change their dramatic situation. The newcomers were decimated by hunger and illnesses. Most of them stayed in their new places of living. Only a few managed to get to Warsaw and Łódź. Some escaped to the USSR. Those who stayed shared their fate with the members of local Jewish communities – they died in gas chambers of Bełżec, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Sobibór. Only one Jewish family stayed in Błaszki, the family of a tailor, who worked for German military policemen and officials. In 1942, Germans transported the family in an unknown direction. Over 10 Jews from Błaszki managed to escape in September to Sieradz and Warta. They lived in these town until August 1942, when Germans were liquidating all the ghettos from the Reichsgau Wartheland (the Reich province of the Land of the Warta River), whose inhabitants were killed in Chełmno on the Ner river.
Froim Zalc, one of few who survived, returned to Błaszki just after the war in 1945. Yet, he did not regain his lost property. During the occupation, Germans removed or sold everything that belonged to Jews. The house of Froim was now inhabited by another family, who lived there since he had left the house in 1939. Jews did not return to Błaszki. They settled in bigger cities or emigrated to the U.S. Israel, and Canada. One family settled in Australia.
- H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001) (more books available).
- Blaszki, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 69–70.
- [1.1] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 13.
- [1.1.1] [a] [b] [c] [d] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 13.
- [1.2] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 14.
- [1.3] Blaszki, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 69–70.
- [1.4] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 15.
- [1.5] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 16.
- [1.1.3] Blaszki, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 69–70.
- [1.6] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 19.
- [1.7] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 22.
- [1.8] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 24.
- [1.9] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 24-25.
- [1.10] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 28.
- [1.11] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 28-29.
- [1.12] The protocol of the synagogue inspection from 22 July 1858, Central Archives of Historical Records, vol. 1539, 54; H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 31.
- [1.13] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 34.
- [1.14] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 35.
- [1.15] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 33.
- [1.1.14] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 35.
- [1.16] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 37.
- [1.17] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 41.
- [1.18] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 42.
- [1.19] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 43.
- [1.20] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 45.
- [1.21] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 48.
- [1.22] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 50.
- [1.23] H. Marcinkowska, Miasteczko w kolorze niebieskim. Żydzi z Błaszek, (2001), 52.