The beginnings of documented Jewish settlement in Ciechanowiec date back to the early 16th century, but some scholars suggest that the first Jews could have settled down in the area much earlier. The preserved documents, however, indicate only that a Jewish entrepreneur, Michel Józefowicz, rented a royal customs house in Ciechanowiec from at least 1523.

The Jews of Ciechanowiec initially belonged to the municipality of Tykocin.  Probably as early as in the second half of the 17th century or, according to other sources, at the turn of 18th century, the dynamically growing Jewish population established the first independent Jewish qahal. It was probably part of the Tykocin district or, according to other historians, it constituted a separate district, one of the biggest and most important ones in the region of Podlasie, sending independent representatives to the Waad Arba Aracot sessions. Most likely in 17th century or, according to other sources, already in 15th century, the first wooden synagogue and at least one beth midrash were built in the left-bank part of the town.[1.1].

The preserved documents indicate that, from the beginning of the 18th century, the Jewish community of Ciechanowiec made efforts to obtain a privilege in order to erect a brick synagogue. Even though the bishopric of Łuck and Brześć gave the initial permission already in 1712, the construction works began after 1743, thanks to the town’s rabbi, Jakub Bejnuszewicz. A document from 1754 confirming the rights granted to the Jews of Ciechanowiec in August 1712 by the bishop of Łuck, Aleksander Wechowski, indicates that, apart from the privilege on the erection of a synagogue, the Jews were given also a permission for free trade and legal rights. They pledged in return not to trade in alcoholic beverages on Sundays and Christian holidays and not to hold services outside the synagogue, i.e. in private houses.  Moreover, they were not allowed to employ Christians, especially Christian women.

In the second half of 18th century, the kehilla of Ciechanowiec was the fourth largest one in the region of Podlasie in terms of population after the kehillas of Tykocin, Węgrów and Siemiatycze. Jews making their living mainly from trade and crafts constituted about 60% of the overall population of the town at that time. There were numerous Jewish shops, bakeries, as well as craft workshops, mainly those run by tailors, shoemakers, and hatters. The majority of Jewish inhabitants of Ciechanów gained profits from manufacture and sale of alcohol, as well as from renting taverns and mills.

After the third partition of Poland, Ciechanowiec and a larger part of Podlasie were incorporated into New East Prussia, which introduced various legislative restrictions of rights and privileges and simultaneously increased burdens on the Jewish population. Some taxes, however, were reduced in accordance with the economic policy of the Prussian authorities, whose aim was to encourage Jewish merchants to settle down in the town. After 1807, as a result of the Treaties of Tilsit, the Jewish community of Ciechanowiec found itself divided between two countries. The right-bank part of Ciechanowiec (the New Town) was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland (so-called “Polish side”), while its older left-bank fragment became part of tsarist Russia (so-called “Russian side”). The legal situation of the Jews improved under the Russian rule. They could buy real estates and develop industrial activities. All the earlier Prussian restraints concerning change of profession ceased to be in force. In 1857, 900 out of 1200 inhabitants of the right-bank New Town were Jews. Although the number of Jews decreased to 771 by 1880, they still constituted about 70% of the population. At the same time, the left-bank part of the town, so-called Old Ciechanowiec, was developing rapidly as a centre of industry and trade; in 1880 it had about 3,500 inhabitants, of whom over 70% were Jews.

About the mid-19th century, Old Ciechanowiec was one of the largest Jewish centres of Podlasie. The weaving industry developed at a fast rate starting from 1820; 7 out of 15 textile factories operating in the town belonged to Jews, who came to dominate also trade in wool and established a transport cooperative allowing for profitable transport of goods in the face of the lack of a railway line[1.2]. Numerous weaving plants operated in the town, most of which belonged to Jews. Some of them, however, went bankrupt in the following years. There were also three Jewish button factories and a wool factory. Moreover, the Jews in Old and New earned money from the lease of inns, taverns and breweries.

The development of the textile industry and forced migration of Jews, caused by the introduction of the so-called “Pale of Settlement” in 1882, created good conditions for settlement in the town. The influx of newcomers additionally accelerated the growth rate of the town in the 1880s and 1890s. During the same period, the economic and demographic situation of right-bank New Ciechanowiec gradually deteriorated. There were only 3 drapers, 1 leaseholder of a mill, and a small number of itinerant merchants. Some of the Jewish inhabitants of New Town gained profits from small craft, land cultivation, or lease of real estates.

At the end of the 19th century, Jews in the both parts of Ciechanowiec constituted about 72% of the overall population, as compared to 22% of Roman Catholics and 3% of Protestant and Greek Catholics each. The partitioned town had two synagogue managements, supervising numerous synagogues and house prayers, the majority of which was situated in the left-bank part of the town, and one Jewish cemetery located at Długa (today’s Sienkiewicza), Kościuszki, Mogilna and Uszyńska Streets and on the premises of the Świętojański housing estate. There were also at least two mikveh: one on the left bank and the other on the right bank of the town. The latter was located at Wspólna Street, near a synagogue complex and a rabbi’s house. There was also a Jewish hospital and Talmud Torah operating under the auspices of Ciechanowiec kehilla.

At that time, Ciechanowiec was not only an important economic and commercial hub, but also a significant hotbed of orthodox religious thought, where many rabbis worked, such as R. Szabbataj ben R. Elizer Zussman, R. Chaim ben R. Perec HaCohen, R. Jakow Leib Heller, R. Elijachu Baruch Komaj, or, later, R. Dawid Kamin and R. Mosze haLevi Rubinstein. There was no Hasidic movement in the town. The preserved sourced indicate only that Eliezer Hassie (died in 1871), a follower of a tzadik from Kock, lived and taught for a short period of time in Ciechanowiec before moving to Białystok[1.3]]. The Hasidic movement started to develop in the town as late as in the first half of the 20th century.

At the turn of the 20th century, the economic situation of merchants and entrepreneurs from Ciechanowiec was gradually deteriorating as a result of growing competition from Christian businessmen. Called “Little Białystok,” the town still remained, however, an important center of the small textile industry and crafts with Jews playing a significant role[1.4]. In Ciechanowiec there were also numerous merchants trading in wood, flour, and textiles on much a bigger scale than a local one. Numerous smaller shops ware also functioning here. Apart from fairs organized twice a week, there were also 6 large markets a year, including a famous horse fair.

During WWI and the Polish-Soviet War, the town was largely damaged and a lot of its inhabitants, including the Jews, died or escaped to Russia. After the end of warfare, the Jewish community of Ciechanowiec gradually recovered. During the interwar period, Ciechanowiec Jews were the owners of several bigger textile factories, mills, sawmills and carpenter’s workshops. They also traded in eggs and geese on a large scale. In the town there were numerous Jewish craftsmen, including shoemakers and tailors[1.5].

Jewish social institutions gradually revived. Political parties and organizations of almost all factions were active in the town. The Zionist organizations were especially popular, among them the “Al Hamiszmar” organization of general Zionists, Zionist-Orthodox “Mizrachi”, or revolutionary “Bejart”, as well as youth organizations, including Haszomer Hacair or Hehaluc. In the city there was also an orthodox party called “Agudat Yisrael,” whose activity focused mainly on participation in municipal and City Hall elections, as well as on educational activity and charity. There was also a unit of the Jewish socialist party “Bund” and the Folkspartei. In 1927 the Association of Jewish Merchants was established in Ciechanowiec, giving low-interest loans. At the same time, the Association of Jewish Craftsmen and an organization associating small merchants were set up. In 1925 was the beginning of the operation of the Gemilut Chasadim charitable organization, founded and run by Ciechanowiec merchants and craftsmen, giving low-interest loans. Linas Hacedek associations provided medical help for people in need.

After WWI Ciechanowiec saw revival of Jewish education. Right after the war the popular Tarbut school and Matukan cheder renewed their activity. Beside the municipal building Talmud Tora was functioning together with a Hebrew school. They were financed by Jews from Ciechanowiec who emigrated to the United States. A school for girls, “Beit Yaakov”, was functioning since 1925 under the auspices of Agudat Yisrael. In the same year, a Jewish kindergarten was founded in the New Town in Ciechanowiec. There was also a public 7-grade school for Jewish children, called “Szabasówka”. In 1928, a yeshiva was founded in the town, attended by about 100 young men from Ciechanowiec and neighboring towns. Jewish cultural life was thriving thanks to a youth’s orchestra, and at least 3 theatrical groups staging plays and musicals in Yiddish and Hebrew. Numerous Jewish libraries could also be found in the town, including the “Tarbut” library run by Zionist organizations, I. I. Perec library of the Bundowiec family, and many other smaller libraries run by various organizations. There were also Jewish club sports: the Zionist “Makabi” sports club, founded in 1923, and “Hapoel”, established in 1927, or according to other sources in 1930, functioning under the auspices of the He-Chaluc organization[1.6] as well as “Stern”.

1937 in Ciechanowiec saw the intensification of anti-Jewish sentiments, which led to massacres in the nearby villages of Przytyk and Wysokie Mazowieckie. Those events contributed to the mass emigration of young Jews from Ciechanowiec to other countries, including Palestine. After the outbreak of WWII on 1 September 1939, Ciechanowiec was bombarded and subsequently occupied by the German army, which plundered Jewish property. In accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Ciechanowiec became part of the Russian occupation zone. The Germans, who left the town, were replaced by the Soviet Army. Private shops and factories were transformed into cooperative societies while the fortunes of rich owners were nationalized. Those who did not want to obey the new authorities were displaced by force to Siberia. In late 1939, thousands of Jewish refugees came to Ciechanowiec from the territories occupied by the Germans, which lead to an outbreak of a typhoid epidemic. In 1940 a large group of men from Ciechanowiec, including Jews, was conscripted into the Russian army and sent to the front. On 22 June 1941 Ciechanowiec was once again bombarded and invaded by the German army. In October of the same year, the Germans established ghetto, which, during the winter of 1941/1942, housed about 4000 people, including Jews from Ciechanowiec, refugees, and inhabitants of the neighboring towns of Zaręba and Czyżewo[1.1.1]. During a mass execution on 31 October 1942 in nearby Pobikry, the Germans killed 250 men and 35 women from the Ciechanowiec ghetto[1.7].

The first large ghetto liquidation action was held on 2 November 1942, when the majority of its inhabitants were transported to the concentration camp in Treblinka. The final liquidation of the ghetto was carried out on 12-15 November 1942, when the last Jews were transported to the railway station in Czyżewo, from where they were taken to the camps in Treblinka and Majdanek near Lublin.

In 1944-1946, there were attacks on Jewish Holocaust survivors. On 27 August, during one of such attacks on a Jewish house, Chawa and Meir Kosower were killed.

Bibliography

  • Ciechanowiec, [entry:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, red. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, t. 1, New York 2001, s. 260.
  • Ciechanowiec and Bialystok District. Memorial and Records [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ciechanowiec/Ciechanowiec.html [accessed: 27.01.2020].
  • Ciechanowiec, mehoz Bialystok. Sefer edut we-zikaron, red. E. Leoni, Tel Awiw 1964.

 

 

 

Print
Footnotes
  • [1.1] Ciechanowiec, [entry] in: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001, p. 260.
  • [1.2] Ciechanowiec, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001, p. 260
  • [1.3] Ciechanowiec; mehoz Bialystok, sefer edut ve-zikaron, ed. E. Leoni, Tel Awiw 1964, pp. 28 i n.; based on the English translation: Ciechanowiec and Bialystok District. Memorial and Records [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ciechanowiec/Ciechanowiec.html [access: 27.01.2020
  • [1.4] Ciechanowiec; mehoz Bialystok, sefer edut ve-zikaron, ed. by E. Leoni, Tel Aviv, 1964, p. 215 i n.; based on the English translation: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ciechanowiec/Ciechanowiec.html
  • [1.5] Ciechanowiec, [entry] in: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001, p. 260
  • [1.6] Ciechanowiec; mehoz Bialystok, sefer edut ve-zikaron, ed. by E. Leoni, Tel Aviv, 1964, p. 379 – 385; based on the English translation: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ciechanowiec/Ciechanowiec.html
  • [1.1.1] Ciechanowiec, [entry] in: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001, p. 260.
  • [1.7] Ciechanowiec, [hasło] w: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001, p. 260.