First Jews most likely appeared in Czarnków in the Middle Ages. However, there are no reliable sources that could confirm this hypothesis. The onset of regular Jewish settlement in the town reaches back to the 17th century. Jews were thought to have come to this region with German colonists. The presence of Jews in Czarnków during the 17th century is evidenced by notes in civic registers from the period, where they are recorded as permanent citizens. The oldest preserved document bearing testament to the existence of a Jewish community in Czarnków is a bill granting local Jews civic laws issued by A. Gębicki in 1677. Another document, issued by Adam Naramowski on 3 November 1701, sets out general obligations imposed on the Jewish population of Czarnków, and includes a provision granting Jews the right to trade in wool. Subsequent privileges from 4 March 1742 and 12 January 1757 have not been preserved, they are only known from 19th-century transcripts.[1.1]
Jews mostly settled in the north-western part of the town, in the so-called Poznańskie Suburb, which soon became known as the Jewish district. Its area was located outside the city gates and was separated from the town with a “heavy chain,” lowered only on important holidays – when the chain was lowered, Jews were allowed to enter the city. According to a story cited by Julius Klemm, author of a 19th-century book on the history of Czarnków, the city was locked up in the aftermath of a crime supposedly committed by local Jews – they were said to have robbed Duke Sapieha from Wieleń. However, as the time went on, the Jewish district was absorbed into the area of the city proper.
The life of the Jewish community was mostly centred around the square in front of the Church of the Holy Ghost (existing until 1655). The predominance of Jewish dwellers in this area was evidenced by the fact that no attempt was ever made to rebuild the church, as it could potentially spark a conflict between Jews and Catholics. In 1738, the square was still empty and was used as a marketplace until 1759, when a brick synagogue was built. The temple survived until 1878.[1.2] In the Old Polish period, Jews had a defined set of obligations towards the city and its owners. They were to pay tax on real estate, cover the cost of salaries of city guards or perform the service themselves. At the time, most local Jews were involved in tailoring, fur processing, and dyeing. By virtue of a document issued by Gębicki, Jews were prohibited to work as butchers (the ban was later confirmed by Namorowski). With the development of dressmaking in Czarnków, Jews began trading in wool and cloth, later also dealing in cattle and wood. The city owners entrusted them with the tenancy of two town inns. An interesting source of information on the erstwhile Jewish community are 14 loan contracts, so-called Wiederkauf, dating back to the years 1710–1773. They were concluded between the collegiate church and the Jewish community of Czarnków. Although canon law prohibited Christians from taking loans on interest, it was allowed to give such loans to Jews. The debt amassed over several years was only paid off at the beginning of the 19th century (partially in kind).[1.3]
No information has been preserved on the financial situation of the Jewish community between the 17th and 18th century. It is certain that it was divided into several strata. Wealthy merchants and craftsmen made up only a small group – most local Jews lived in poverty. This state of affairs is confirmed by a contract signed in 1729 in which the necessity to take a loan by the community is justified by the needs of the populace. Records from the 18th century kept by the office of the local governor include the names of erstwhile Jewish community elders; in 1710, the elders were: Iochym Słomka, Moś Krawiec, Icek Szyja. Unfortunately, the names of rabbis working for the kehilla in the same period have not been preserved in any sources. However, we do know the names of families wielding significant influence on the life of the community. Sources mention such surnames as: Gierszon, Słomka, Herz, Lachman. The life of the community centred around the synagogue. According to Klemm, it was erected in 1759. It was located at today’s Bartoszaka Square. In accordance with the regulations of common law, a prayer house had to be established in every city having a minyan (a group of 10 adult Jewish men). This means that a synagogue may have existed in Czarnków even prior to 1759. However, prayers may have initially been held in a house of one of the community members. Marek Fijałkowski believes that the date provided by Klemm indicated the year of the erection of the second synagogue. He estimates that the first wooden synagogue was built in the 1720s, as it was first referred to as a separate building in sources dating to 1729.[1.4] The archives of the Jewish burial society include a document confirming the existence of a private school for boys in the town.[1.5] The school was funded from community contributions and supervised by a special committee appointed by the kehilla. The wooden school building was destroyed in a flood in 1747.[1.6]
No information has been preserved on the total number of members of the Jewish community of Czarnków in the Old Polish period. The earliest data dates back to 1773, when Jews constituted 22% of the total population of the town (362 people). Their living standards deteriorated drastically after Czarnków was annexed by Prussia. By virtue of the General Juden-Reglement of 1750, Jewish people were divided into two categories: protected Jews (Schutzjuden) and unprotected Jews. The former group was further divided into protégées and tolerated Jews and comprised solely individuals owning material goods of a total value of at least 1,000 thalers. The people classified in the latter group were ordered to leave Prussia by virtue of the royal edict of 1 May 1773. In the course of twelve years, over 6,000 of the poorest Jews were expelled from Prussia (mostly to Poland). It is important to note that in 1772, the territory of Nadnotecki District (Netzeditrikt), which included Czarnków, was home to a total of 11,000 Jews, constituting 6% of the total population of the region. Owners of towns in Greater Poland were often reluctant to expel Jews and sought to counteract the royal regulations. Similar efforts were made by the Jewish communities themselves. In 1779, the Czarnków kehilla filed a plea to the Prussian authorities, asking for permission for 39 community members to stay in the town. The request was motivated by the fact that the listed Jews fulfilled 50 important religious roles. The government eventually allowed a group of 15 Jewish people to remain. It is unknown how many Jews were forced to leave Czarnków.
The legal status of Jews living in the Prussian state was regulated with subsequent edicts issued in 1797 (“General Regulations for Jews”). Under the new law, Jews were considered a separate estate within the realm. The division into protégées and tolerated Jews was upheld and a list of professions available to Jewish people was defined. Jews were also obliged to adopt specific surnames and disclose their places of domicile and business activities to the authorities. The restrictions imposed on Jewish people were later gradually relaxed – guild privileges were abolished in 1802, Jews were allowed to apply for municipal citizenship in 1808, and the so-called Emancipation Edict was adopted in 1812. In the Grand Duchy of Posen, these edicts were only implemented in 1833 and 1845, while full equal rights for the Jewish population were introduced in 1848.
In 1840, Czarnków was inhabited by 1,081 Jews. With time, the local Jewish populations started to shrink in size.[1.1.6]
Czarnków’s incorporation into Prussia led to the city’s economic downfall and impoverishment of the population, including Jews. Jewish merchants trading in wood and cloth were cut off from the market of the Polish Kingdom.
In 1776, the city was completely destroyed in a fire. However, no information has been preserved on how the disaster affected the Jewish community. The year 1833 saw the introduction of the Edict on Industrial Freedom, which gave a boost to the development of Jewish craftsmanship and resulted in the rise of small production plants specialising mostly in food processing. The biggest Jewish enterprises operating in Czarnków in the 19th century were the companies owned by I. Simonsohn and I. Fraustad, both producing textile goods. The Prussian authorities implemented another edict in 1831 – this time, its provisions were largely disadvantageous to Jews, as it limited the number of fairs allowed to be held in Czarnków from eight to only four per year. This led to the decline of Jewish trade and triggered a wave of emigration from the town. The economy started to recover after the Prussian victory in the war of 1870–1871, but Czarnków’s industry and trade remained largely local and modestly scaled.
While the names of rabbis working in Czarnków in the Old Polish period have been lost to history, there are extensive sources documenting the men who held the post in the 19th century. The first rabbi whose name and surname have been preserved was Elias Shapiro vel Spiro, who held his office from 1830 to 1855. His successor, Dr. Shlomo Popper, was born in 1815 and was a prominent thinker and researcher of Jewish history. He was also the author of a German translation of Derishat Tzion by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and the inspector of a local school working in a two-level system; its students were taught to write, read the Bible in Hebrew and were given classes on savoir vivre and algebra.[1.7] During his term as the rabbi, the Czarnków community built a new, marvellous synagogue (1879). Popper died in Czarnków in 1891. In 1893, the post of the rabbi was briefly taken over by Dr. Shmul Freund from Silesia, graduate of a rabbinical school. He left Czarnków in 1899 in order to become rabbi in Ostrów Wielkopolski. However, during his short stay in Czarnków, Freund managed to open the Jewish History and Literature Association. He died in Hannover in 1939. The subsequent rabbi of Czarnków was Dr. H. L. Weyl. He was born into a prominent rabbinical family from Rogoźno. He graduated from the theological seminary in Berlin, where he was a student of Szymon Horowitz. While serving as rabbi in Czarnków, he was involved in the activities of the burial society, the Jewish History and Literature Association, and the Association for the Care of the Poor. Weyl was an Orthodox Jew. He held the post of the rabbi until 1919. He moved to Düsseldorf after the Greater Poland Uprising. In 1937, he managed to reach the Netherlands, where he was apprehended in 1940. He died in Auschwitz on 11 November 1943.
The Czarnków community was largely Orthodox. For years, it was governed by representatives of families belonging to the Free Union for the Support of the Interests of Orthodox Jews: Hirsz, Federman, Michelsohn, and Krager. The community boasted an extensive network of societies and organisations holding an important role in the Jewish public life. One of the oldest associations was the “Chevra Kadisha” Burial Society, presided over by Natan Federmann since 1896. The Association for the Care of the Poor and Children came into being in 1858 – it provided clothing to the poorest community members. Another organisation active in the town was the Women’s Association, among whose members were Mrs. Weyl, Mrs. Popper, and Mrs. Simonsohn. The aforementioned Jewish History and Literature Association owned a collection of over 200 volumes of book and subscribed to six Jewish magazines, making all its resources available in the form of a library; the association also collaborated with selected press publications. The year 1893 saw the foundation of the Singing Society; its president was I. Kohl. The Zionist Union was established in Czarnków after a speech given in the town by a certain Dr. Bloude in 1807. The Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith was founded in 1913.[1.8] Czarnków also boasted branches of various all-German Jewish organisations, including the Union of Help for Palestine and Eretz Israel, whose goal was to raise funds for the formation of the state of Israel, as well as the Support Association for German Jews and the Society for the Support of German Jewish Culture and Craftsmanship. Schooling, especially religious education, was an issue of particular importance in the Jewish social life. In the Old Polish period, a religious school operated at the synagogue; in 1830, it was attended by 100 children. After the adoption of the Flotwell reform in 1833, compulsory elementary schools were introduced for children aged 7–14. A new school building was erected in 1878, next to the new synagogue at today’s Bartoszaka Street. In 1919, the school had 30 pupils.
In 1879, the building of the synagogue at Bartoszaka Square was replaced with a new impressive edifice. It was a tall one-storey building made of red brick. It could be accessed through three entrances – one for men and two side ones for women. The atrium was used for everyday prayers. A narrow corridor and double doors led into the main hall. The room was richly decorated, the bimah was placed in the centre, and the Aron Hakodesh covered with a parochet – on the eastern wall. The synagogue was equipped with silver candleholders and lamps. The women’s gallery was located on the first floor. In 1903, the Soliger family funded the installation of gas lighting in the synagogue.
A number of Jews from Czarnków served in the German Army during World War I. Many of them (e.g. B. Joelsohn, T. Silberg, M. Wronker) had earlier fought in the ranks of the Prussian armed forces during the war of 1870–1871.[1.9] In 1905, Czarnków had 240 Jewish residents.[1.1.6]
After the incorporation of Czarnków into Poland, many Germanised Jews left Czarnków and migrated west of the Polish border. Among the emigrants were leading community activists, including Rabbi Weyl and school teacher B. Lewin. This process is clearly reflected in statistical data: in January 1919, there were 440 Jews in Czarnków, in 1923 – 298, in 1930 – 180. Until 1928, the Czarnków community and all other communities in the Poznańskie Province operated in accordance with the Prussian law of 1847. As from 5 April 1928, they were governed by the decree of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Public Education. According to Marek Fijałkowski, the function of the rabbi in Czarnków in the years 1919–1938 was performed by M. Adler, but his claim is contradicted by the studies carried out by Damian Pałka, who has discovered documents according to which the post was vacant throughout the interwar period, probably due to the difficult financial situation of the community.[1.10]
The community was headed by the community board and the Council of Representatives. In 1921, the members of the board were: Salli Cohn, Juliusz Lemchen, and Markus Rosenthal, deputies: Jakob Karger, Samuel Nathan, and Seeling Anschel. The Council of Representatives was composed by: Israel Pincus, Nathan Federmann, Hirsch Simon, Joseph Hirsch, Dr Michelsohn, Hirsch Rothschild, Herman Caspari, Meyer Simonsohn, Louis Karger, and their deputies: Isaak Pommer, Salomon Jastrow, Abraham Singer, Adolf Rauschamann, Markus Kochmann, and Salomon Schleimer. In 1932, the board comprised J. Lemchen (chairman) and M. Rosenthal. Federmann was appointed chairman of the Council of Representatives, whose members were Salli Moses, Leon Nathan, Louise Back, Abraham Victor, and Marcus Rothschild.
In 1923, the immovable property of the community included: synagogue, cemetery with the keeper’s house and a mortuary, community building (probably the seat of the board), ritual bathhouse, and schools. This shows that the community did not run a ritual slaughterhouse, as kosher meat was produced for a special fee by the cantor in the municipal slaughterhouse. In 1932, by virtue of the Decision of the Minister of Religious Affairs and Public Education […] on the territorial division of Jewish religious communities in Poznańskie Province and Pomorskie Province, the Czarnków kehilla was merged with the communities in Lubasz, Wieleń, Oborniki, Rogoźno, Ryczywół, Murowana Goślina, Szamotuły, Wronki, Pniewy, and Obrzycko. Oborniki became the seat of the new community, which shows that at the time Czarnków did not hold a prominent position in the region, probably due to the exodus of many of its members.[1.11]
Not much information has been preserved on the relations between Poles and Jews in Czarnków. The attitude of the Polish population towards Jews is perhaps best illustrated by one of the stories described by A. Hanke, participant of the Greater Poland Uprising, in his memoir. He wrote about the following incident: during the elections to the Soldiers’ and Workers’ Council (27 December 1918), a German man by the name of Philip suggested the following composition of the council: two Poles, two Germans, and one Jew. The Poles protested and instead proposed three Poles, two Germans, and one Jew, arguing that “a Jew is also a German.” The Polish suggestion was eventually implemented.[1.12] In the 1930s, members of the National Democratic Party became active in Czarnków; they would openly speak out against Jews, but the most radical action they took was a boycott of Jewish shops. Despite attempts to restrict Jewish participation in the economic life of the town, most local Jews continued to make a living from trade. Colonial shops were run by the Rauschmans, the Vochrows, and the Rotchilds; clothing goods were sold by Nathusius; Dawid Engel ran a bakery; the Moses family owned a dairy shop; Magnus Wolf traded in horses; S. Pinkus traded in chickens; Hugo Betler leased meadows by the river Noteć. In 1938, 115 Jews resided in Czarnków.
German forces seized the town on 3 September 1939, and on 8 December 1939, all local Jews were transported to Kruszew. From there, they were moved to the ghetto in Łódź. Letters from Łódź were still arriving to Czarnków in 1940. We do not know which concentration camp became the final destination and the murder site of Jews from Czarnków. The synagogue was probably pulled down in 1940. In the years 1940–1943, Germans destroyed the Jewish cemetery founded in 1819; some tombstones were sold, while others were placed on the local hill as landslide protection, where they have remained until the present day.[1.13]
Very few traces remain of the centuries-long presence of Jews in Czarnków. Among these is the building of the mikveh at Wodna Street and the school erected at Bartoszaka Square in 1878. A bus station is located at the former site of the synagogue. The Jewish cemetery was partly destroyed during the war, but its remains have survived to the present day. Individual gravestones can be found in the bushes at its borders; a larger cluster of matzevot is located near the remains of the mortuary. All in all, ca. 30 gravestones have survived in the area of the cemetery. The mortuary was used as a residential house until 1988. Its occupant was not a Jew; he was a gardener who took care of the greenery in the cemetery. Next to the house there were stairs leading up the hill. One more trace of the Jewish community has survived – the “Jewish Hill” which was the site of the old Jewish cemetery. Some overgrown matzevot have surely been preserved there under a layer of soil.
- Bartkowiak R., “Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej,” Czarnkow.Info [online] http://www.czarnkow.info/archiwum/rok2011/11-04-21.php [Accessed: 26 Mar 2020].
- “Czarnkow,” [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 1, eds. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 284.
- Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21.
- Pałka D., “Żydzi w Czarnkowie na przestrzeni wieków,” Sprawy Narodowościowe, 2009, fasc. 35.
- [1.1] Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21, p. 39.
- [1.2] D. Pałka, “Żydzi w Czarnkowie na przestrzeni wieków,” Sprawy Narodowościowe 2009, fasc. 35, p. 183.
- [1.3] Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21, p. 40.
- [1.4] Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21, p. 42.
- [1.5] Pałka D., “Żydzi w Czarnkowie na przestrzeni wieków,” Sprawy Narodowościowe, 2009, fasc. 35, p. 183.
- [1.6] “Czarnkow,” [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 1, eds. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 284.
- [1.1.6] [a] [b] “Czarnkow,” [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 1, eds. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 284.
- [1.7] Bartkowiak R., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej.
- [1.8] Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21, pp. 44–45.
- [1.9] Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21, p. 47.
- [1.10] Pałka D., “Żydzi w Czarnkowie na przestrzeni wieków,” Sprawy Narodowościowe, 2009, fasc. 35, p. 189.
- [1.11] Pałka D., “Żydzi w Czarnkowie na przestrzeni wieków,” Sprawy Narodowościowe, 2009, fasc. 35, p. 191.
- [1.12] Fijałkowski M., “Z dziejów gminy żydowskiej w Czarnkowie w XVII–XX wieku (szkic historyczny),” Rocznik Nadnotecki 1990, no. 21, p. 45.
- [1.13] Pałka D., “Żydzi w Czarnkowie na przestrzeni wieków,” Sprawy Narodowościowe, 2009, fasc. 35, p. 192.