The origins of the Jewish community in Bakałarzewo probably date back to the second half of 17th century. We know of this from the Bakałarzewo Parish Chronicles, which reads as follows:

"In the years 1669-1674, Rev.Brentellt was the parish priest of Bakałarzewo. At his initiative, and with the consent of local smallholders, the town received its name of Bakałarzewo from a bachelor who had once lived there. This was the beginning of an active town life. Roads to Prussia and Królewiec led from the town. Merchants began to arrive. Trade developed. From that time, Jews began to settle there. They continued living there until the outbreak of war in 1939".

As we can see, the Jewish people came to Bakałarzewo in around 1670. The 1786 church census states that, within the parish of Bakałarzewo, there were 1,920 Catholics, 17 Germans (probably Protestants) and 199 Jews, however, this number may have been underestimated. Most or all the Jews from the Bakałarzewo parish lived within the town itself.

Data from the 1789 census shows that Bakałarzewo consisted of 68 Christian houses inhabited by 283 people and 17 Jewish houses inhabited by 160 people.

Table 1. Demographics of Bakałarzewo According to the 1789 Census
    Faith < 16 yo 16-30 yo 30-45 yo 45-60 yo > 60 yo    Totals
M         F M       F M       F M         F   M         F  
 Christians 64       61 32     44 27    20 18       13   4           -      283
    Jews 27       42 22     16 18    16 8           7   3           1      160

M - Males   F - Females

Source: Lithuanian Central Historical Archives in Vilnius (Lietuvos valstybės istorijos archyve), SA 4056, k. 107.

At the end of 1799, the Prussian authorities created a statistical description of the towns of New East Prussia. We learn that, in Bakałarzewo, there were 620 inhabitants and 76 houses. There were 285 Jews, which accounted for 46% of the total population. This proportion of the Jewish population in Bakałarzewo was the second highest amongst all the surrounding towns. Only in Raczki was the percentage of Jews higher where it was 73.2% of the total population (see Table 2).

Table 2. Jews in the Towns of Suwalszczyzna in 1800
  Town No. of Residents No. of Jews      % of Jews
Augustów           1,987       462           23.3
Bakałarzewo              620       285           46.0
Berżniki              304         62           20.4
Filipów              802       201           25.1
Jeleniowo              471       100           21.0
Krasnopol              860         50             4.7
Przerośl           1,310       205           15.6
Puńsk              299         60           20.1
Raczki           1,008       738           73.2
Sejny              516       113           21.9
Suwałki           1,184          -             -
Szczebra              219         32           14.6
Wiżajny              685       247           36.1
  • Source: Wąsik J., Pruskie opisy miast polskich z końca XVIII wieku. Departament białostocki, Poznań 1964, pp. 73, 85, 125–129, 133–134, 136–138, 140.

The 19 century was a period of growth of the Jewish population in Bakałarzewo. In around 1820, 500 of the 1,003 inhabitants were Jews. In 1827, 525 out of 934 inhabitants were Jews. They definitely prevailed in the second half of the century. Around 1860, 215 Christians and 791 Jews lived in Bakałarzewo (nearly 80%). In 1864, there were 309 Christians and 1,008 Jews. Christians owned 34 houses, whereas Jews had 60. In addition, four buildings were belonged by the owners of the  town. In the third quarter of the 19th century, the Jewish community in Bakałarzewo accounted for more than three quarters of the town's population. In Raczki, the percentage was even higher - 80%. In other towns it was slightly smaller, but also at a high level, for example in Wiżajny it was more than 50%.

We do not know the names of rabbis or other persons leading the community in the days of the First Polish Republic. It was not until 1819 that the first reference was made to a rabbi of Bakałarzewo - Eljasz Jankielowicz. His name is found in sources from dated 1821. Apart from the rabbi, we also know the name of the cantor of the Bakałarzewo kahal of that time. His name was Mortchaj Izakowicz and, like the rabbi, he was included in the fourth poorest group of the population of Bakałarzewo. The cantor sang prayers and other religious songs and conduced services in the synagogue during holidays. It is interesting to note that both the rabbi, Eljasz Jankielowicz, and the cantor, Mortchaj Izakowicz, lived near the church, across the road froom the organist and in close proximity to the priest, Wawrzyniec Przybylski - the Catholic parish priest (on the corner of today's ul. Młyńska and the road leading to the presbytery).

The "Jewish School" was located on the site of the present hydrophore. Next to it were two more kahal buildings. It is difficult to determine what type of buildings, but probably a study hall and a hospital.

In the years 1827-1832, the fucntions of a rabbi was performed by Lejbko Ebsztein Meierowicz. From 1833, the head of the  Bakałarzewo Kahal was Eljasz Bardyni. He was re-elected in 1841 and served until at least 1862. In the years 1827-1836, Szloma Hirszowicz was the administrator (szkolnik) of the Bakałarzewo Kahal. There is a reference from 1832 mentioning a synagogue supervisor, whose name was David Mintz. In 1842, Owsiej Lejbowicz was appointed to that position. From1847, Jeko Piekarski was the Kahal administrator. Owsiej Lejbowicz Frydman was the synagogue supervisor at least in the years 1850-1862.  From 1829, we know name Szmajła Dębak, who was the mikveh supervisor. In 1835  Peru Jazikowski performed that function in Bakałarzewo. In the years 1850-1856, we also know the name of the Kahal attendant in Bakałarzewo - Aron Oszerowicz.

The "supervisors" maintained the proper functioning of the Kahal. In 1839, Szołom Gołąbiewicz performed that function and, from 1842, together with Mowsza Wiżański and Josiele Penkowski, they created a three-person group monitoring the activities of communal leaders. In 1847, Abram Góralski, Abel Gotelson and Gerszom Mintz became the new supervisors. They performed these functions probably until 1848, when they were replaced by Mowsza Wiżański, Aron Pienkowski and Szlom Meynberg. From 1851, Mowsza Wiżański continued to perform these duties, while Aron Pienkowski and Meynberg were replaced by Josiel Pienkowski and Jeko Erszfeld. In 1860, Jeko Erszfeld, Abel Morgoliński and Abram Góralski became supervisors.

At the beginning of the 1840's, the Kahal owned the following buildings in Bakałarzewo:

  •     a synagogue - wooden, shingled roof, good condition.
  •     a study hall - wooden, shingled roof, in good condition.
  •     a hospital - wooden, covered with straw, good condition.
  •     a bath house - wooden, covered with timber, good condition.

By 1862, only the synagogue and the study hall remained. The hospital appeared in the sources for the last time in 1847. By 1850, it had gone. It had probably burned down in the late 1840's. The bathhouse was mentioned in 1859. It too burned down around 1860. The Jewish cemetery in Bakałarzewo is mentioned in 1862. The cemetery was, at that time, "surrounded by wooden boards".

Maintaining the Kahal involved a considerable amount of money. These funds came from fees for religious services, lease of community property and donations from the faithful.

Around 1877 a new synagogue, with a shingled roof, was built.

In 1872, Szolon Szmari was the rabbi in Bakałarzewo. In the years 1878-1879, Szmajło Perelman performed that function. In 1878, Owsiej Frydman was the kahal administrator, mentioned already in 1883. In the early 1890's, the members of the synagogue board were: J. Zyman and probably Dawid Golcman, who performed this function from 1886. In 1897, one of the supervisors was Mejer Szołom Golębiewski. In the years 1898-1910, the post of rabbi was vacant. Presumably, the last acting-rabbi in Bakałarzewo, before World War I, was Judel Chaszesman, mentioned in 1912 and 1913. The cantor at that  time could have been Mojżesz Safirstein (1918), also known as the lower rabbi.

In 1891, there were two cheders In Bakałarzewo. Among the teachers were Sender Bużewicz, Mosze Helberin and Szestak.

In 1909,  the Jewish Community Council members in Bakałarzewo were:

  • Judel Lejb Zyman, aged 65, lived in Bakałarzewo since birth, no criminal record, the supervisor from 1901
  •  Mira Gitelson, aged 69, lived in Bakałarzewo since birth, no criminal record, the supervisor from1901
  •  Abram Mirowski, aged 33, lived in Bakałarzewo since 1875, no criminal record, previously he was not a member of the Board, co-owner of a mill.

We do not know how the Bakałarzewo Jewish community functioned during the First World War. At that time, there was only a small group of Jews in the town and, in 1915, the so-named "old synagogue" was closed.

In 1809, 25 year old Aron Izraelowicz was the miller in Bakałarzewo. In around 1820, the Jewish community of Bakałarzewo lived mainly around the Market Square and in ul. Królewiecka (now  Młyńska). There were two houses on the road to Filipowo (today ul. Filipowska); both inhabited by Jews. A large number of Jewish homes were situated along ul. Królewiecka, due to the  proximity of the border to which the street led. This was the street which entered the town from nearby Prussia. Here a traveler could obtain whatever he/she needed. Also the road to Filipowo was attractive, though to a much lesser extent. This was the "gateway" to the town from the north, used by people from surrounding villages when they came to Bakałarzewo to shop or to go to church. This was also the road which led from Przerośl through Filipowo, Bakałarzewo, Raczki and Augustów, further into the Kingdom.

Commercial life flourished on the Market Square in the centre of town. It was the scene of weekly markets and annual fairs. As can be seen from the plan, the entire eastern frontage of the Market was inhabited by Jews. Other parts of downtown were mixed, but with Jews in the majority. On the southern frontage of the Market, there were two corner houses inhabited by both Christians and Jews. In the building on the south-western corner of the square there lived four Jewish families and a the Catholic organist, Wincenty Wilczyński. Jews also lived in the building located in the middle of the market, which was an inn run by Judka Chaćkielewicz, and stallholder, Leybko Judkowicz.

Grodzieńska (now Suwalska) and the street which today is called Krzywa were entirely Christian. Kamieńska and Kozia Streets contained several Jewish houses, but those streets were dominated by Catholics.
Tax inventories show what Jews did for a living at that time. There were merchants (31 people), tails (11), inn-keepers (7), butchers (6), commerce (4). Three people were engaged in winemaking and baking.  Two people dealt with tar making. There was also a barber, a laborer, a stallholder, an inn-keeper, and two shoemakers and gardeners. In addition, five people were engaged in cottage industries, there was a rabbi and cantor.

The above data indicates that the main source of income for Bakałarzewo Jews in the early 19th century was trade and craft. Only a few Jews were engaged in farming.

Jews were also engaged in the smuggling of goods to Prussia. This was a very lucrative undertaking and so the number of Jewish inhabitants in Bakałarzewo at that time grew rapidly. In addition to smuggling, Jews were also shoemakers (4 people), innkeepers (4) and tailors (2). There was also a butcher, a baker and a barber and 4 stallholders. Among them were Jankiel Kasperowicz - a trader, Aron Zelingier Lejbowicz - a trader, Abram Szczęsnowski - a trader, Eljasz Bardynia - a trader (later rabbi), Abram Hersh - a trader, Jankiel Judkowicz - a trader, Szmajła Abramowicz - a trader, Dawid Judłowicz - a trader, Mortchaj Simelowicz - small scale trader, Abram Jankiel Ebsztejn - stallholder, Abram Izraelowicz - stallholder, Szołom Gołąbiewski - stallholder, Berka Chlebowski - tailor, Aron Epsztejn - miller, Lejba Zduński - potter, Jeko  Piekarski - baker, Nota Rabinowicz - baker, Jankiel Paliwoda - butcher.

Bakałarzewo Jews were very diverse in terms of wealth. Some of them, such as stallholders, inn-keepers and merchants were very wealthy, owned their own houses and led reasonable lives. But there were also poor Jews, who worked for the rich Bakałarzewo townsfolk. They did not own their own houses and lived with their employers.

The figure of Chaim Zyman represents the growth of wealth of some of the Jews in Bakałarzewo. In 1864, he asked the Provincial Government for permission to build a new house on the Market Square in Bakałarzewo. Five years later, the same Chaim Zyman bought the Siekierowo farm from Jan Stegman for 18,000 rubles, which included the lakes - Siekierowo, Sumowo, Garbaś, Długie, Gacne and  Głębokie. In 1889, the co-owner of a water mill in Bakałarzewo was the then 26-year-old Jankiel Lejb Zilberman, son of Gdal. The other co-owner was probably Szymel Mirowski, born in 1844. They both lived in Bakałarzewo.

Even when Bakałarzewo was deprived of its city rights in 1870, this did not result in an outflow of Jews from the town. In 1880, the town had 1,554 residents, of whom the majority were Jews. In 1891, out of a total of at least 1,766 residents of Bakałarzewo, 1,314 were Jews. Censuses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries show  conflicting data. Some indicate drastic declines in population, while others show quite the contrary. The last years before World War I were characterised by a gradual reduction in the Jewish population of Bakałarzewo and an increase in the population of Catholics. This was due to many of the Jewish community moving to larger cities and to the United States.

In the inter-War period, Jews formed a small group. They still attended the synagogue (located behind the today's bank building). Thanks to stories told by the oldest inhabitants, we know of a few names of former Bakałarzewo Jews. Franciszek Świderski remembered Rówka and Haita. The first one was also mentioned by Regina Wasilewska. Janina Wojciechowicz (nee Topolska) from Bakałarzewo mentioned Mirowski, a miller, who lived at the intersection of ul. Filipowska and the Market Square. Aland, who had a shop, lived on ul. Młyńska. Beliński also lived on ul. Młyńska and Smoleński and Judko lived on the Market Square.

In 1927, there were two synagogues. One was built in around 1877 (wooden, with a shingled roof). It is estimated that the synagogue building was in a fairly good sanitary condition. However, it required the renovation of the floors, chimney and foundations and whitewashing of the interior. The second building, the so-called "old synagogue", was not suitable for use and, soon afterwards, it was demolished. It had not been used since 1915. The size of the Jewish community in Bakałarzewo at that time was not large (212 people). The only remaining synagogue in Bakałarzewo resembled other wooden houses in the settlement. It only had slightly larger dimensions.

One of the wealthiest people in the town was a Jew, Jankiel Białogórski, who owned the Nowopole farm, with an area of 341 acres. Białogórski was a respected citizen. He belonged to many Jewish organisations and also maintained social contacts with, among others, teachers.

Most Jews from Bakałarzewo left the town before September 1939. The border with Prussia was too close and the threat was too obvious. Many went to nearby Suwałki[1.1]. The owners of the mill in Bakałarzewo made the same decision - Abram and Rejzla Mirowski, Mejer Zylberman, Chaja Kopciowska (nee Zylberman), Rachela Izak (nee Zylberman). In a transaction dated 21st July 1939, they sold the mill buildings and adjacent land to Bolesław and Bronisław Janczewski. The buyers paid 37,000 zł for the property. The new mill owners previously lived in the settlement of Rakowo-Most (Mały Płock commune, Łomża district). They received permission to purchase the property on 24th May 1939.

In September 1939, the town was bombed. The Jews managed to save the Torah scrolls from the synagogue and transport them to Suwałki. Then, for only a few weeks, the town fell under Soviet occupation. Some Jews fled from the town with the retreating Red Army. The Jewish cemetery was vandalised [1.1.1].

After the War, the community was not revived. Currently, the only remaining trace of the existence of the Jewish community in the town are the remains of the Jewish cemetery.

Bibliography:

  • Borowski Sh., My shtetl Baklerowe [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Suwalki1/suw349.html [accessed: 30.06.2014].
  • Lithuanian Central Historical Archives in Vilnius (Lietuvos valstybės istorijos archyve), SA 4056, k. 107.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Borowski Sh., My shtetl Baklerowe [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Suwalki1/suw349.html [Accessed: 30.01.2020
  • [1.1.1] Borowski Sh., My shtetl Baklerowe [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Suwalki1/suw349.html [Accessed: 30.01.2020