Jews first arrived in Bobowa in 1732. They were brought to the town by its erstwhile owner, Michał Jaworski, who was seeking to revive the struggling local economy. In 1765, there were 44 Jewish families living in Bobowa.[1.1] Jewish merchants were granted a number of individual and group privileges by the authorities of Bobowa, including personal permissions to trade in certain goods. This soon led to the Jewish community fully dominating the local trade. In return for the privileges, Jews were obliged to pay high fees to the heirs.[1.2]

Source documents indicate that by the First Partition of Poland, the Jews of Bobowa had already formed a compact and efficient community. They erected a synagogue in 1756. Stanisław Łętkowski, the erstwhile owner of Bobowa, regulated the legal status of the Jews in 1773. By virtue of the privilege issued by Łętkowski, higher taxes were imposed on Jews, who were also obliged to pay a fee to the owner of Bobowa for their personal liberty and trade privileges. A mortgage was established on the synagogue. Subsequent taxes were imposed on Jews by the partitioning power. Until 1774, they paid one gulden per person, but in 1776, the so-called “tolerance tax” amounted to four gulden per family. The 1785 Tolerance Patent also introduced the so-called “kosher tax,” high marital charges, as well as the so-called świeczkowe (tax on Shabbat candles lit in the synagogue).

According to Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego of 1880, Jews constituted over 40% of the population of Bobowa and played an important role in the local economic life (they owned 90% of stores and 18% of artisan workshops).

On the night of 10/11 October 1889, a great fire broke out in Bobowa. Jews were accused of starting it and blamed for their sluggishness in extinguishing the flames. According to the local records, the fire was started by a candle burning in a Jewish hut during the Sukkot festival. One house after another caught fire, and soon the whole town was ablaze. The fire raged throughout the night and almost completely destroyed Bobowa, consuming all arcade houses around the marketplace, the parish church, town hall, manor house, and hospital.[1.3]

Bobowa was one of the largest centres of Hasidism in Polish lands. The first tzaddik in the town was Shlomo Meyer ben Nathan Halberstam (1847–1906), grandson of Chaim Halberstam, a tzaddik from Nowy Sącz (he assumed the name Halberstam after the name of the town where his mother was born). Shlomo Halberstam arrived in Bobowa in 1893. He had earlier served as rabbi in Bukowsko, Oświęcim, and Wiśnicz. In the latter locality, he came into conflict with more progressive Jews. However, he had also established the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Wiśnicz, which he then moved to Bobowa.[1.4] He was fervently opposed to secular education and sought to exempt Jews from the obligation of attending public schools.

In his teachings, Shlomo Halberstam emphasised the importance of Talmudic studies and modest living.[1.1.4] Bobowa became a pilgrimage site for Jews from all Eastern European countries, as the tzaddik was widely respected not only by his fellow believers, but also by Catholics. He was considered a half-God and miracle-maker. He died in a German health resort. His ohel in the cemetery in Bobowa continues to be visited by pilgrims from all around the world.

After his death, he was succeeded by his only son – Ben Zion Halberstam (b. 1874), known as Bobover Rebbe, who rose to prominence in the interwar period. He converted Bobowa into one of the most prominent Hasidic centres in the region and the entire country. He founded numerous branches of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva throughout Galicia. His followers would also found so-called “Bobov shtiebelekh” in many towns and villages. Ben Zion was visited by some of the greatest experts on the Talmud from Poland, Hungary, and Russia. He was also actively involved in the local social and political life and often made patriotic speeches. In 1936, he protested against the ban on ritual slaughter, and in 1938 he called for aid for Polish Jews displaced by Germans to Poland. He also became famous for composing Hasidic tunes – the so-called nigunim, which he would often sing during Sabbath dinners. He had seven daughters and four sons, including Nechema Golda (Chumcia), whose wedding with Mojżesz Stempel from the district of Kazimierz in Kraków went down in history. The ceremony, held in 1931, continues to live in the memory of the oldest inhabitants of Bobowa, as it was attended by ca. 5,000 Jews, who arrived to the town in trains arranged especially for that purpose. In the Kraków-based daily Nowy Dziennik, the wedding was described as follows:

On Tuesday, the wedding of Mr Stempel, son of the Vice-President of the Jewish Community Council in Kraków, and daughter of the local tzaddik was held in Bobowa. It was attended by throngs of the tzaddik’s followers and many guests arriving in a special train.

The wedding guests were welcomed at the Bobowa court by a cavalcade of horsemen and marching Hasidim in unusual attire. The Bobowa court provided lodgings for all visitors. The wedding ceremony was held at 5 PM in the market square and attended by numerous Jews from Bobowa and nearby localities. It was followed by a reception with several hundred guests, which lasted until the early morning.[1.5]

In 1931, the tzaddik and his family moved to Trzebinia, closer to Kraków.[1.6] He was succeeded by his son Moshe. After the outbreak of World War II, Rebbe Ben Zion and part of his family escaped to Lviv, where on 25 July 1941 he was arrested and then shot by the Germans.[1.7]

In the interwar period, Jews constituted 70% of the municipal councillors in Bobowa. In the 1930s, the population of the town was also clearly divided when it comes to their professions. For example, there were 61 Jewish and only seven Polish stores in the town, while the number of Jewish and Polish craftsmen amounted to 17 and 33, respectively.

The Wehrmacht entered Bobowa on 7 September 1939. They soon started to persecute the local Jewish community, which was harassed, assaulted, and had its property confiscated. Many Jewish refugees arrived in Bobowa in the first stages of the war, for example from Gorlice, Krynice, and other nearby localities. In May 1940, there were 710 Jews residing in the town, while in the summer of 1941 – as many as 1,272.

By virtue of a German order, a Judenrat (Jewish Council) was established in Bobowa in early 1940. In May 1940, its president was Samuel Messinger. The council was responsible for providing forced labourers to the occupier – at first, they were mostly people apprehended in roundups.[1.8] The Judenrat supervised the Social Service Committee headed by Dr. Klara Faff, which provided assistance to the poorest residents of Bobowa and to displaced people. On 3 November 1940, a folk kitchen was opened in the town. It served 1,000 dinners a day and meat two or three times a week. On the same day, the “Certes” centre was opened, aimed at providing daily food aid to children aged 4–14 in the form of a bread roll and cocoa. Ca. 125–140 portions were served each day. The kitchen charged 20 groszy for each meal and the “Certes” – 15 groszy, but only a half of the patrons paid the amount.[1.9] The kitchen was able to operate thanks to subsidies from the Judenrat, support of the American Joint Distribution Committee in Kraków, and produce donated by the local inhabitants.

In October 1942, the Germans established a ghetto in Bobowa, where they placed ca. 2,200 Jews. Its area comprised the entire town centre. Poles were only allowed to enter its perimeter to access the parish church. Several Polish families who lived in the marketplace received special passes. At first, the ghetto was open, but it was surrounded with a fence in the summer of 1942.[1.10]

In January–March 1942, several executions were held in the local Jewish cemetery. The first was carried out on 5 January by local Gestapo officers. The corpses were buried in a mass grave in the cemetery in Bobowa. On 4 March 1942, the Gestapo murdered a group of 30 people, including women, men, and children, whose bodies were also buried in a common grave in the necropolis.[1.11] Among the victims of the executions were five Jews closely associated with Rabbi Halberstam. In the winter of 1941–1942, Jews from smaller localities were imprisoned in the Bobowa Ghetto, including the inhabitants of Brzana, Mszanka, Bielanka, Gładyszów. The ghetto became extremely overcrowded.[1.1.10]

In the spring and summer, many Jews from the Bobowa Ghetto were deported to labour camps in Bieżanów-Prokocim. A group of 210 Jews was sent to Bieżanów to work at the railway.[1.1.10]

On 13 August 1942, the ghetto in Bobowa was liquidated. On 14 August, the Nazis murdered 25 people in the marketplace of Bobowa, while others were transported to other execution sites. The president of the Judenrat, Messner, was offered a chance to survive, but he declined.[1.12] Ca. 700 Jews – most of the ghetto inhabitants – were shot dead in Stróżówka near Gorlice (in the Garbacze Forest), while all the remaining ones were deported to the labour camp in Szebnie and to ghettos in Gorlice and Biecz, from where they were later transported to the death camp in Bełżec. Once the execution was over, the Germans demolished 82 Jewish houses, loaded construction material and valuables collected from the rubble on a train, and sent them to the Reich.

After the war, not even one Jew returned to Bobowa. Today, former Jewish residents of the town live in England, the USA, Israel, Argentina, Belgium. The current seat of the Bobover tzaddik is Borough Park in Brooklyn, New York. There are also communities of Bobov Hasidim in Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, London, and Israel (i.a. Bnei Brak and Bat Yam).

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] “Bobowa,” [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, red. S. Spector, New York 2001, s. 157.
  • [1.2] Majcher K., Bobowa. Historia, ludzie, zabytki, Kraków 2008, p. 21.
  • [1.3] Gass I., “Żydzi w Bobowej podczas okupacji hitlerowskiej,” Rocznik Sądecki 1995, vol. 23.
  • [1.4] Król A., Wnuk cadyka zakłada dwór w Bobowej [online] https://www.rp.pl/artykul/230949.html [Accessed: 12 Jun 2014].
  • [1.1.4] Król A., Wnuk cadyka zakłada dwór w Bobowej [online] https://www.rp.pl/artykul/230949.html [Accessed: 12 Jun 2014].
  • [1.5] Cited from: Król A., Wnuk cadyka zakłada dwór w Bobowej [online] https://www.rp.pl/artykul/230949.html [Accessed: 12 Jun 2014].
  • [1.6] “Bobowa,” Małopolskie Szlaki Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego [online] http://zydziwmalopolsce.pl [Accessed: 12 Jun 2014].
  • [1.7] The Bobower Rebbe, Rabbi Ben Zion bar Shlomo Halberstam (1874–1941) [online] http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/communities/trzebinia/religious_life_halberstam.asp [Accessed: 12 Jun 2014].
  • [1.8] Kraemer J., “Bobowa,” [in:] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1939–1945, vol. 2, Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe, Part A, eds. P. Megargee, M. Dean, Bloomington 2012, p. 487.
  • [1.9] Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute, A.J.D.C., ref. no. 8.
  • [1.10] Kraemer J., “Bobowa,” [in:] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 19391945, vol. 2, Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe, Part A, red. P. Megargee, M. Dean, Bloomington 2012, p. 487.
  • [1.11] “Rejestr miejsc i faktów zbrodni popełnionych przez okupanta hitlerowskiego na ziemiach polskich w latach 1939-45. Województwo nowosądeckie,” Informacja Wewnętrzna/Główna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce 1984, no. 66/25, p. 16.
  • [1.1.10] [a] [b] Kraemer J., “Bobowa,” [in:] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 19391945, vol. 2, Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe, Part A, red. P. Megargee, M. Dean, Bloomington 2012, p. 487.
  • [1.12] Kraemer J., “Bobowa,” [in:] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 19391945, vol. 2, Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe, Part A, red. P. Megargee, M. Dean, Bloomington 2012, p. 488.