The first mention of Jews settling in Częstochowa dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, even though at the time, the town had the de non tolerandis Judaeis privilegewhich remained in force throughout the pre-partition period and was only repealed by the reforms of the Four-Year Sejm (1778-1882). One of the first preserved documents confirming the presence of Jews in the town mentions a contract between a Jew, Mosiek, and the local Mayor and Municipal Council. The contract refers to a loan granted to the town, necessary to cover a contribution imposed on Częstochowa by Swedes in 1705. In exchange, the municipal authorities allowed Mosiek to live in Old Częstochowa for as long as it took for the loan to be repaid. In 1765, 56 Jewish families lived in the town[1.1].

It is worth mentioning that in mid-18th century, Jacob Frank (1726-1791), the famous leader of the Frankist movement, was kept in the local prison. In 1760, rabbinical court found him guilty of blasphemy and he was sentenced to prison in Częstochowa, where he was kept for thirteen years until being freed by Russian General Bibikov. Despite his imprisonment, Jacob Frank had a number of supporters in Częstochowa. 

During the reign of King Stanisław Poniatowski (1764-1794), Jews most probably lived off small trade and weaving. They remained under the jurisdiction of the kehilla in Janów – Jews who died in Częstochowa were also buried at the cemetery there. The first prayer house in the town was established in N. Berman's private apartment at Stary Rynek Square 15. It was closed in 1765 when the Old Synagogue was built (on the corner of 32 Nadrzeczna Street and Mirowska Street). 

The situation of Jews in Częstochowa began to improve after 1793, when Poland was partitioned and Częstochowa came under Prussian control. An independent Jewish community was created there in 1798 and a year later, a Jewish cemetery was established. In 1806, a Jewish school was opened in Częstochowa. In 1806, when Częstochowa became part of the Duchy of Warsaw, 496 Jews lived in the town (14.8% of the total population). The entire Częstochowa district had 1,310 Jewish inhabitants (18.8%). This indicates that one third of the local Jews lived in the town itself. In the nearby villages, Jews constituted roughly 2% of the population. 

At the beginning of the 19th century, many German craftsmen and businessmen from Silesia arrived to Częstochowa. This group also included Jews. At that time, it was easy to tell the difference between the poor Polish Jews and the rich German Jews. The wealthiest people hired foreign tutors for their children. In 1818, two foreign teachers lived in Częstochowa – Leon Gotenberg from Głogów in Silesia and Wilhelm Imier from Praszka. As a result, Częstochowa gained a large group of Jews with an assimilated views and ways of life. In 1818, a group of well-educated Jews informed the town's authorities that they were prepared to dress in a more "European" way and send their children to private schools. The richest and most assimilated Jews lived outside the city's "Jewish district." At that time, there were two Jewish elementary schools in Częstochowa, plus a Talmud-Torah with around 100 pupils, a craft school with 80 pupils, horticulture school with 30 pupils and about 50 cheders with around 4,000 pupils. Altogether, 4 945 Jewish children were students of elementary and secondary schools[1.2].

In 1827, there were 1,141 Jews in Częstochowa (18.5% of the total population). Around that time, Jews started to establish their own industrial plants, which caused many poor Jews living in nearby villages to move to the town looking for work. They did not have the right to reside in Częstochowa and were in constant fear of eviction. In 1829, ca. 100 families lived in the town illegally. A small group of Jews was also engaged in smuggling goods across the nearby border. In 1828, Dawid Gutenberg established the first Jewish manufacture workshop in Częstochowa.

In the 1830s, the Chairman of the Jewish Community Board was Herc Kon (1789-1862), a supporter of assimilation. In 1841, Częstochowa Synagogue District encompassed Jews from the towns of Częstochowa and Mstów, and from villages such as Rędziny, Łojki, Łochynia, Grabówka, Lubojenka, Wyczerpy, Radostków, Lubojnia, Kiedrzyn, Kościelec, Błeszno, Konin, Wikłów, Wierzchowisko, Kamienica Polska, Nowa Wieś and Kazimierz. Herc Kon supported the efforts of Częstochowa's progressive Jews to open a private Jewish school. Many Jews gained higher education at western universities. They wanted to bring about progressive reforms in the town. Jewish craftsmen also supported assimilation. In the second half of the 19th century, a relatively large group of Jews decided to convert to Catholicism. 

In 1840, there were 2,999 Jews living in Częstochowa (59.9% of the total population). In view of the increasing poverty and food shortages, the kehilla organised aid for the poor in the years 1847–1848. However, the community was unprepared for providing help on such a big scale. In general, wealthier Jews called themselves “locals” or “residents” in contrast to the poor ones, who were called “strangers.” As a result of those animosities, many Jews moved to Łódź in order to find work. A local correspondent of Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums (General Newspaper of the Jews), Icchak Bursztynowski, appealed to the Jews from Częstochowa to help the poor on a regular basis. However, this appeal was not met with any huge response.

The 1850s were another period of economic development of the town and of an increase in the wealth of Jews. This allowed for concerted actions to be carried out during a cholera epidemic in 1852. Not only were the victims of the epidemic provided with help, but preventive measures were also taken in order to protect poor Jews from being infected.

In 1858, the city had 2,976 Jewish inhabitants (34.5% of the population). The Jewish community was very socially diverse and each family's place of residence was a clear representation of its financial status. An unofficial division line ran along Warszawska Street and Krakowska Street. Wealthier Jews lived in the city centre (Aleja Najświętszej Maryi Panny, Piłsudskiego Street, Garibaldiego Street, Wilsona Street. Craftsmen, traders and workers lived in the Old Town, in tenement houses along narrow streets (streets: Targowa, Garncarska, Kozia, Gęsia, Ptasia, Nadrzeczna, Senatorska, Spadek, Mostowa). Their income did not always cover all day-to-day needs of their big families[1.3].

On 8 September 1862, a patriotic parade took place in Częstochowa; it was attended by both Poles and Jews who called for the Russian rule to end. In revenge, Tsarist Colonel Olejnicz ordered for his soldiers to loot and burn down the Old Town. Dawid Neufeld, the principal of the Jewish secondary school, vehemently protested against this action, which caused the Tsarist authorities to close his school and expel him from Częstochowa (he moved to Warsaw). Martial law was then imposed.

In the second half of the 19th century, industry started to develop in Częstochowa. Among the facilities established there were printing houses and cellulose and glass factories employing thousands of workers. As a result, Jews from nearby towns and villages arrived in Częstochowa. In 1900, nearly 12,000 Jews lived in Częstochowa (29% of the population). Most of them were engaged in trade or worked in industry or finance. There were Jewish schools and a Talmud-Torah operating in the town. In 1912, the Yiddish newspaper Reklamenblat was the first publication published in Częstochowa (it was issued until 1913). The first local Jewish journal Czenstochower Tageblat was issued in 1914 and existed until 1919.

The New Synagogue was built at 16 Wilsona Street in the years 1899–1909.

Following World War I, the Jews of Częstochowa placed their hopes in the reborn Polish state, which promised equality for all its citizens, regardless of their creed. However, on 27 May 1919, an anti-Jewish riot took place in Częstochowa; some of the participants were soldiers of the General Haller’s Army. 7 Jews died in the riots and 32 were injured. 

In 1921, 22,663 Jews lived in Częstochowa (28% of the population). In 1923, 30,000 Jews belonged to the Częstochowa Jewish Community, which encompassed the villages of Aniołów, Gnaszyn, Wyczerpy, Huta Stara, Brzeziny Wielkie, Raków, Dźbów, Blachownia, Ostrowy, Błeszno, Rędziny, Mirów, Nowa Wieś, Poczesna, Rększowice, Hutki, Kamienica Polska and Kiedrzyn. The seat of the kehilla was located at 10 Najświętszej Marii Panny Alley. The community had two synagogues, a prayer house, a mikveh, a cemetery and a poultry slaughterhouse situated at the junction of Mirowska Street and Nadrzeczna Street. The community trade school was situated at 6/8 Garncarska Street and a horticultural farm, 17 morgens in area, was located at Rolnicza Street. Apart from the assimilated Jews, the community had many Hasidic members; the Hasidic community was headed by tzaddik Icchak Majer Justman.

The Jewish community was severely impacted by the 1929 economic crisis. This was due to the fact that most Jews earned their living from petty trade and craft. Small businessmen and small crafts workshops were most affected by the recession. Many of them went bankrupt, which caused a rise in the number of unemployed inhabitants of the town[1.4]. The Jewish youth found itself in an exceptionally unfavourable predicament as they were unable to continue their education and had to work on a minimum wage. The process of impoverishment of the Jewish community is clearly manifested in data regarding the number of taxpayers in Jewish communities. Data from Częstochowa, Będzin and Sosnowiec shows that in 1933, 58.6% of the community members were exempt from payment and 20% paid annual contributions of only 5–10 zł. This indicates that about 78% of the Jewish population was in a difficult financial situation[1.5].

During the interwar period, the following journals were published in Częstochowa: Czenstochover Tsaytung (until 1939), Undzer Vort (until 1919), Dos Naye Vort (until 1925), Arbeter Tsaytung (1923–1928); and weeklies: Dos Lebn (1926–1927), Di Tsayt (1927–1938), Undzer Ve (1930–1939) and others.

Jews from Częstochowa were also actively engaged in cultural and social activities. There were twenty registered associations in the town, among them: the Philanthropic Association for Jews, the Society for the Protection of Health, the Jewish Hygiene Association, the “Beys Lechem” Jewish Support Association (fighting poverty), the Society for the Assistance of Poor Jews, the Association of Friends of Jewish Children, the Owners of Religious Schools Association, the Relief Society for Poor Jewish Girls, the Society for Assistance to Poor Mothers, the Association for Clothing Distribution, the “Linas Ha-Tzedek” Association, the Society to Help Jewish Students, the Jewish Union of Disabled Soldiers, the Association of Jewish Combatants, Malbish Keter Tora, the “Shomrei Shabes” Society, the “Yeshiva Keser Tora”Society, the “Yeshiva Bnei Tora” Society, the Tanach Study Society, Chevra Kadisha and others[1.6].

On 19 June 1937, a pogrom of Jews took place in Częstochowa as a result of the anti–Jewish declaration issued by the Camp of National Unity. For three days, guerillas of Polish nationalists destroyed Jewish shops, workshops and apartments, plundering and vandalising private property. The police remained passive. As a result of the pogrom, 20 Jews were injured, 206 Jewish families suffered financial losses, 46 shops and 21 apartments were demolished and the synagogue was set on fire. According to the police, 15,000 Poles took part in these events[1.7]. Over the next few weeks, a wave of pogroms spread to villages surrounding Częstochowa – Kamińsk, Mstów, Żarki, Cykarzew, Radomsko, Koniecpol, Kleszczew, Przedbórz, Działoszyn, and others.

The German army entered Częstochowa shortly after the outbreak of WWII, on 3 September 1939. The very next day, a pogrom later dubbed “Bloody Monday” took place in the town. It was triggered by a false accusation, according to which a Jew had allegedly opened fire at German soldiers. Over three days, 990 Poles and 150 Jews were shot. The first victim was Naftali Tanenboum, the owner of the button factory at 7 Piłsudskiego Street. Apart from being killed in mass executions, Jews were assaulted, raped, and robbed off their property[1.8].

In September 1939, Germans destroyed the Old Synagogue and on 25 December, they set fire to the New Synagogue. At the same time, a Judenrat was established in Częstochowa; it was headed by Leon Kapiński. See: The list of members of the Częstochowa Judenrat.

Initially, it was planned for all Jews living in Upper Silesia to be deported to the General Government, but seeing that the authorities of the latter did not agree to take in the deported, a decision was made to create a number of ghettos with the goal of gathering the Jewish population and using them as cheap labour[1.9]. Even before a Jewish district was created in Częstochowa, the Judenrat had had to coordinate its activities in order to cope with the requirements of every new edict issued by German authorities. In December 1940, the Judenrat consisted of 21 departments (including the Jewish police) and employed 676 higher and lower officials. On 9 April 1941, Waendler, Stadthauptmann of Częstochowa, issued an edict (dated for 7 April) establishing a closed Jewish quarter in town (it was finally closed off on 23 April 1941)[1.10]. About 40,000 Jews were forced to live in the Częstochowa Ghetto (48,000 people right before its liquidation). Following the ghetto's establishment, Germans began deporting Jewish workers to construction sites of defensive fortifications along the border between the General Government and the Soviet Union. Subsequent transports were directed to ammunition factories in Skarżysko-Kamienna and Bliżyn. Altogether, 3,000 Jews were deported from Częstochowa in 1941. On 22 September 1942, Germans initiated the liquidation of the ghetto. This operation ended on 8 October 1942. Over that period, 38,250 Jews were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp, and 2,000 people were shot and buried in mass graves at Kawia Street. In November 1942, the remaining 5,000–6,000 people were moved into the so-called “Small Ghetto,” whose inhabitants were forced to work in the HASAG (Hugo Schneider AG) armaments factory. In the years 1942–1943, Germans shot 850 randomly selected Jews. From the beginning of 1943, they carried out a series of selections amongst the Jewish population. Some Jews were deported to the ghetto in Radomsko and to the forced labour camp in Bliżyn. People unfit for work (the elderly and children) were shot. These activities made way for the final liquidation of the “Small Ghetto,” which was initiated on 26 June 1943. The operation met with resistance and on the part of the members of the Jewish Combat Organisation. Clashes between Jewish and German forces ended with German victory on 30 June 1943; ca. 500 Jews were burned alive inside the ghetto.

The remaining 3,900 Jews were put to work in three forced labour camps - Apparatebau (the “Peltzery” factory), Warthewerk (the "Warta” factory) and Eisenhütte (the Częstochowa Ironworks). On 20 July 1943, a selection of prisoners was carried out, which resulted in 300 people being shot in the “Peltzery” camp and another 100 killed on Garibaldiego Street. In December 1943, 1,200 Jews were deported to Germany. The men were transported to the Buchenwald concentration camp and the women to the Dachau concentration camp (they all died). 

In the second half of 1944, Jews from the liquidated ghetto in Łódź and the liquidated labour camps in Kielce and Radom Province (mainly Skarżysko-Kamienna) were transported to the labour camps in Częstochowa. Consequently, the number of prisoners increased to about 10,000. On 15 and 16 January 1945, around 3,000 Jews were rapidly evacuated and transported in trains to concentration camps inside the Third Reich (they all died). 5,200 Jews were freed in Częstochowa itself, while ca. 3,000 Jewish inhabitants of the town were liberated from the camps in Bergen-Belsen (15 April), Buchenwald (1 May) and Ravensbrück (5 May)[1.11].

Following the end of WWII, more than 5,000 Jews resided in Częstochowa. Most of them were former prisoners of German camps operating in Częstochowa and its surroundings. The local Jewish life was revived. Branches of various organisations were established in the town, including the Jewish Committee under the Central Committee of Polish Jews. The community opened a Jewish school, orphanages and a branch of the Jewish Congregation (at 18 Garibaldiego Street). Local committees of Jewish parties resumed their activities. This included the Bund and Zionist organisations which, apart from implementing their programmes, also offered social assistance to its members and their families. In the 1940s, many Jews were given financial aid by JOINT and the Central Committee of Polish Jews. The Częstochowa branch of the Jewish Committee established a cooperative for tailors and shoemakers in order to guarantee jobs. Moreover, private tailors', shoemakers' and carpenters' shops were opened in the town. In June 1946, Częstochowa had around 2,000 Jewish inhabitants, but the Kielce pogrom (4 July 1946) forced most of them to migrate. After the events of 4 July, as in other towns inhabited by Jews, a branch of the Special Commission of the Jewish Committee was established in Częstochowa.

At the turn of 1950, most Jewish institutions and facilities in Częstochowa were either liquidated or nationalised. On 29 October 1950, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland and the Jewish Culture Association merged and the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland came into being. A local branch of the Association was established in Częstochowa; in the 1950s and 1960s, it aimed its activities at children and youth. It organised, for instance, English courses and a drama circle. Following the reactivation of the Organisation for the Development of Industrial, Artisanal and Agricultural Productivity Among the Jewish population of Poland (ORT) in 1957, a local committee of the organisation was set up and ran, for example, courses in leathercraft[1.12].

The situation of Jews in Częstochowa and in other cities deteriorated after an anti-Zionist campaign carried out during the summer of 1967 which culminated in the events of March 1968. This caused another wave of migration, in the aftermath of which the Jewish community ceased to exist at the beginning of 1970s.

The revival of Jewish social life began with the fall of the Communist government of Poland in 1989[1.13]. the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland re–opened its branch in Częstochowa.

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Footnotes

  • [1.1] L. Brenner, The Rise of the Jewish Settlement in Czestochowa 1700–1939, in: Czenstochov; A new Supplement to the Book “Czenstochover Yidn” [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa/cze005.html [Accessed 15 April 2014]; J. Mizgalski, Żydzi Częstochowianie, (2004).
  • [1.2] Y. Szatzki, Jews in Czenstochowa Up to the First World War, in: R. Mahler (ed.), The Jews of Czestochowa (Częstochowa, Poland), Translation of “Tshenstokhover Yidn”, (1947) [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa1/cze003.html [Accessed 15 April 2014].
  • [1.3] J. Mizgalski, Żydzi Częstochowianie, Częstochowa (2004), passim.
  • [1.4] J. Borenstein, “Zagadnienie pauperyzacji ludności żydowskiej w Polsce”, in: Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego (1955), p. 9.
  • [1.5] T. Berenstein, “Walka KPP przeciwko pogromom”, in: Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, (1955), p. 12.
  • [1.6] Mizgalski J., Żydzi Częstochowianie, Częstochowa 2004.
  • [1.7] T. Berenstein, “Walka KPP przeciwko pogromom”, Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, (1955), p. 25.
  • [1.8] B. Orenstayn, Czestochowa Jews in the Nazi Era, in: Czenstochov; A new Supplement to the Book “Czenstochover Yidn“ (Częstochowa, Poland), ed. E.C. Singer, (1958) [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa/cze039.html [Accessed 15 April 2014].
  • [1.9] K. Świerkosz, Żydzi w obozach hitlerowskich na Śląsku Opolskim podczas II wojny światowej, in: 45. rocznica powstania w getcie warszawskim (19431988), materiały z sesji popularnonaukowej, (1988).
  • [1.10] A. Rutkowski, “Zagłada Żydów w dystrykcie radomskim”, in: Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego (1955), p. 83.
  • [1.11] S. Waga (ed.), The Destruction of Czenstokov (Częstochowa, Poland), (1949) [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Czestochowa2/Czestochowa2.html [Accessed 15 April 2014].
  • [1.12] Borkowski M., Kirmiel A., Włodarczyk T., Śladami Żydów: Dolny Śląsk, Opolszczyzna, Ziemia Lubuska, Warsaw 2008, p. 8; Brener L., Der jidiszer jiszuw in Czenstochow noch der cwejter welt-milchome (1945–1956), [in] Czenstochov. A New Supplement to The Book „Czenstochover Yidn”, ed. S.D. Singer, New York 1958, pp. 81–84; Namysło A., Utracone nadzieje. Ludność żydowska w województwie śląskim/katowickim w latach 1945–1970 / Lost Hopes. Jews in Silesian/Katowickie Voivodeship in Years 1945–1970, Katowice 2012, pp. 40, 124, 141, 160, 168, 172.
  • [1.13] M. Borkowski, A. Kirmiel, T. Włodarczyk, Śladami Żydów: Dolny Śląsk, Opolszczyzna, Ziemia Lubuska, (2008), pp. 8-10.