The first record of the presence of Jews in Inowrocław dates back to 1453. The local Jewish population must have been of a considerable size – in 1504, the citizens of Bydgoszcz petitioned to King Alexander Jagiellon to be allowed to obtain legal rulings in dubious cases from Poznań and not from Inowrocław, where magna pars incolarum iudei sint (“Jews constitute a large part of the population”).
In 1505, Alexander I granted Stanisław Jarosski the right to collect debts from Jews living in Inowrocław, allowing him to manage them at his own discretion. In the years 1564–1565, the Jews of Inowrocław owned 27 houses, four empty lots, a school, and a synagogue. Abraham was one of the very first local rabbis. A Jewish cemetery was opened sometime before the end of the 16th century. A tax of five thalers was paid to the monarch by the kehilla. The oldest preserved tombstone from the Inowrocław cemetery dates back to 1591.
In 1598, the Jewish district was located in the eastern part of the town – one would access it through the Jewish Gate (later Toruńska Gate). In 1564, the townspeople paid annual taxes to the amount of 20 guilders. In 1565, the poll tax was paid by 166 Jews, including 30 poor people and students. In 1578, apart from the poll tax, the Jewish kehilla was obliged to pay the following levies to the local governor: 15 guilders of slaughter tax, six honeycombs, one pound of pepper, four pounds of saffron. There were also taxes payable to the deputy governor, imposed during each of the five annual fairs – 0.5 pound of pepper and 0.5 pound of saffron. In 1582, the kehilla was sued for not paying the tax for 70 people in the years 1578–1579. In 1629, the Jewish district comprised 65 houses, and in 1647 – 67. Out of all 220 taxpayers residing in Inowrocław in 1647, the poll tax was paid by 30 Jews.
A century later, the Inowrocław kehilla had as many as 980 members. The development of the community was boosted by the royal privilege granted to the Jewish population in the 18th century, later confirmed in 1681 and 1772. The document gave the Jews of Inowrocław the same rights which were enjoyed by the Jewish populations of the provinces of Poznań, Kalisz, Sieradz, and Brest. They were allowed to take up residence in purchased or newly erected houses near the synagogue, that is in the Jewish district located along the eastern town walls. They could use the cemetery and engage in crafts and trade, as well as purchase goods, slaughter and sell cattle, and sell licensed vodka and beer. Unofficially, Jews were also able to buy and live in properties purchased outside the Jewish district.
In 1698, tailor Josef Lewkowicz and his wife bought a square in the town from Christians for 150 guilders. The following men held the post of the local rabbi in the 17th century: Samuel Josef Joske (1614), Samuel Krakauer, and Lemek Kasper (1695). The community was managed by a council of three elders elected every three years (each of them held the office for one year) and by four jurors. Any disagreements between the two groups were settled by a ten-person committee. Five auditors were responsible for the examination of financial accounts and records. The community authorities were selected from among the members of three curiae – the wealthy, tenants, and craftsmen – through a draw of lots in the presence of the rabbi, the mayor, and 5–7 commissioners. Disagreements between members of the community were resolved by the rabbinical court comprising the rabbi, assistant rabbi, and juror. Trails were held in the presence of a synagogue servant, three governors, seniors, and vice seniors. In the 18th century, a rule was enforced requiring two seniors to be elected from the Hirsch and the Jelonek families, as they paid at least 1,800 guilders of tax to the kehilla.
A lot of Jews died during the Polish-Swedish wars of 1655–1660. Around the same time, a serious conflict erupted between the Jewish and the Catholic population of Inowrocław. In his ordinance from 20 September 1658, King John Casimir seized all Jewish-owned plots and handed them over to the town. The decision was made on the ground of alleged treason committed by Jews, who were said to have sided with the Swedes and helped them destroy the town. The municipal councillors sold many of the seized plots. The synagogue was demolished and the remaining building materials were used to erect the church in Parchań. The Jewish population temporarily left the town. There were no Jews living in Inowrocław in 1659. However, as soon as 1681, they received a royal privilege allowing them to return to the town and make a living off trade and crafts. The new synagogue was erected in 1684.
In the 18th century, the kehilla was significantly indebted to the local parish priests and monasteries. The situation was exacerbated by restrictive Prussian legislation introduced at the end of the 18th century, which seriously impeded Jewish trade and resulted in mass migration of the local Jewish population. After Inowrocław was seized by Prussia in 1774, each year the forty poorest families were forced to leave the town. The rule was enforced for 10 years. Despite numerous restrictions, many Jewish families continued to live in the town. In 1773, it had 200 Jewish inhabitants, in 1785 – 137, and in 1802 – 191. The Jewish community suffered severely in the fire of 30 August 1775. It consumed 145 Jewish and three Christian houses and two barns. The synagogue was significantly damaged.
In 1780, Jewish merchants Elias Ephraim and Samuel Meyer obtained a license to buy and sell products from the Bydgoszcz Royal Factory. Similar licenses were granted to Abraham Hirsch and Meyer David Jelonek. In 1777, Israel Mencus, also known as Mandel Israel, administered the production of vodka in Inowrocław and managed the royal mill. In the late 18th century, the Jews from Inowrocław were primarily engaged in petty trade in silk and wool imported from the neighbouring Polish territory. With time, they moved on to wholesale trade in wool and grain, which were sent to Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, and Elbląg. Some industrial goods were exported to Lithuania.
A decree enacted in 1806 introduced another restriction on the local Jews, who from that moment on were allowed to own no more than one house. In the early 19th century, more and more Jewish houses started to be built outside the traditional Jewish district, mostly in the so-called wastelands. In spite of the ongoing process of emancipation, many Jews living in the area of the Prussian Partition remained faithful to their traditions. The most important tenets of traditional life were the beth midrash, Talmudic studies, and belief in the unquestionable authority of the rabbis. Ca. 1724, Josef Wolf Levi was appointed rabbi of Inowrocław. His successors were Szamszon Chaim Cohen (his father was the rabbi of Poznań in 1730–1733), Awigdor Josef (1767), Fabisz Baruch (assistant rabbi), Arje Löw Caro (1780–1797), Lewin Ascher Margulies (1880, son of Rabbi Medechaj Jafe). The beth midrash was destroyed in the fire of 1775, but it was reconstructed in 1782. When it suffered further damages, a new brick building, funded by Salomon Abraham Hirsch, was erected in 1804.
The cholera epidemic of 1831 claimed numerous lives from among the inhabitants of Inowrocław. As many as 120 Jews died between 5 September and 20 October. They were buried outside the town. The plague influenced the decision to thoroughly tidy up and organise the town and the Jewish district. In accordance with the regulations introduced for that purpose, new authorities of the Jewish community were elected in 1833. The posts of supervisors were held by Michael Lewi, Simon Franzos, Feibusz Skole, Jakob Hirsch David, Lewin Chaskel; the representatives were Gedalie Salomonsohn, Louis Levin, Rafael Schlesinger, Jacob Elias, Elane Salomon, Meyer Baruch Levin, Aron Hirschberg, Josef Ruben, Herman Aron Jacob, Chaim David Löwin, and Michael Mendlicki.
The gradual liberalisation of the law in the 1830s and the 1840s allowed Jews to become increasingly involved in the public life. In 1835, the naturalised Jews of Inowrocław (72 people) ran in the election for two seats in the Municipal Council. The community authorities proudly emphasised the participation of Jewish volunteers in subsequent wars. In 1841, illiteracy was eliminated among Jewish boys – all of them were taught to read and write in German. In 1835, only 133 out of all 292 boys in the town had attended German classes. The older generation was much more reluctant to accept the culture of the dominant nation. In 1851, one in three members of the Inowrocław community was not able to write in German.
The synagogue erected in 1776 was pulled down in April 1832. The construction of the new one was supervised by an engineer from Bydgoszcz, while interior woodcarving and goldsmithing works were carried out by Goldbaum, also from Bydgoszcz. The synagogue was officially opened on 9 September 1836. Its formal closing and farewell took place on 19 September 1908, when the building was transformed into an ordinary house of prayer, beth midrash, and the seat of the community administration. The new synagogue, erected on Solankowa Street, started to operate on 9 October 1908.
In 1815, following the stabilisation of the political situation in the region, many Jews from Inowrocław started to smuggle various goods into the neighbouring Russian-controlled Kingdom of Poland. Others mostly dealt with trade in flax and crafts.
In 1842, a special committee appointed by the Jewish community drew up a report on the request of the municipal authorities. It described the culture and religious life of the local Jewish population. According to the report, women prayed in German, while cantors used Yiddish interspersed with a great deal of German words and phrases. Regular religious classes were only held in the cheder. In public schools, attended by many Jewish children, religion was not taught. Therefore, most parents sent their offspring to private schools. The rabbi remained the highest authority to most members of the community, including its adinistration. The report also included several proposals for progressive reforms, which were bitterly opposed by the local traditionalists. The vision of the community presented in documents from 1884 suggests it was still very much conservative.
On 27 July 1834, the community received the status of a congregation. In 1856, it had 2,300 members (500 families). It was managed by the board, comprising Louis Levi, M. Latte, J. Oppenheim, A. Freudenthal, R. J. Levi, L. K. Levi and the representatives: M. Mendlicki, H. Lesser, J. Abrahamski, A. Levi, J. Michalski, A. Hirsch, Cohn, J. Szkolny, A. Sprinz, S. B. Francos, J. H. Jacobi, M. Engel, A. Hirschberg. In 1863, a new department was opened in the local secondary school; it was attended by forty Jewish children. Religious classes were given by Dr Polak, and later by Rabbi Dr J. Kohn. A local Jewish school was also set up, with Juliusz Masur, and later Cohn and Moses Elias as the school principals. The school was closed down in 1877 and its pupils were moved to a mixed school where Masur and Elias worked. On the initiative of rabbi Kohn, a special unit with Hebrew language was established in the school, with the post of Hebrew teacher entrusted to Klein (until 1886), I. Herzberg (1886–1890), Samuel, and Rabbi Kohn.
In 1862, eight years after the death of Rabbi Joske Spiro, a new rabbi was elected – Dr Lazarus (Elieser) Polak. Before he took over this position, he had served as the rabbi of Janowiec. He left Inowrocław in 1872 and became a rabbi in Budapest, where he died in 1905. In 1872, Rabbi Dr Jacob Kohn was selected as his successor. He held the office until his departure from the town in 1933.
On 2 November 1870, the community was given a new statute, which was approved by the authorities on 29 March 1871. The community board at the time included R. Schlesinger, J. Oppenheim, A. Freudenthal, H. Senator, A. Spring, Abraham Levy; the representatives were Abraham Spring, J. Levy, Salomon Jacobsohn, B. Kaufmann, Josef Löwinsohn, Hermann Seelig, Louis Sandler, Rafael Kuczynski, Salomon Meyer, David Michael, Wreschner, and Itzig Feibusch. The community had jurisdiction over the Jewish populations of the following localities: Inowrocław, Grodztwo, Szymborze, Połczyn, Dąbrówka, Rojewo, Szarlej, Łojoewo, Brudnia, Tupadły, Mątwy, Liszkowo, Minutowo, Sikorowo, Łąkocin, Cieślin and Czyste.
The community started to shrink in size in the second half of the 19th century. From almost 2,000 members in the 1830s, only 1,389 were left in 1900, 1,150 in 1905, and ca. 950 before 1914. The board at that time consisted of Salomonsohn, Warszauer, Louis Handler, Isidor Levy, J. Peiser, Leopold Levy; the representatives were Latte, R. Librowicz, B. Schwersenz, N. Markus, H. Freudenthal, L. Levy, E. Rosenberg, P. Rosenberg, S. Stein, S. Berkel, L. Fränkel, A. Rosenfeld, N. Lachmann, J. Spioro; deputies: Grünberg, J. Dombrower, M. Bibco.
The influential position of Jewish burghers of Inowrocław is reflected in the list of the ten wealthiest inhabitants of the town in 1913. Among the names on the list there are Dr Leopold Levy, Siegfied Sand, Bernhard Schwersenz, Leo Davidsohn, Carl Freudenthal, Siegfied Sand, Boruch Wiener, Albert Abraham.[1.1]
The community lost its previous splendour in the aftermath of World War I. Jews left Inowrocław in great numbers and moved to Germany. In 1921, only 252 Jewish inhabitants were left in the town, and in 1927 – 126. In the second half of the 1920s, the town started to see gradual influx of Jews from inner regions of Poland. In 1925, the community was headed by Leopold Levy, Wilhelm Warschauer, Artur Joel, Szmul Kaczmarek, Ludwik Lippmann, Moritz Hirsch, Józef Abraham, Stanisław Simon; the deputies included Meyer Smolarz, Jerzy Leser, Willy Schwersentzer, Maks Freykor, Boruch Ostrzega, and Meyer Paździerski.
After Rabbi Jakub Kohn left the town in 1933, his duties were taken over by Dr Efraim Sonnenschein, who commuted to the town from Bydgoszcz. In 1935, Dr Stanisław Simon became the new rabbi. His activity and attitude over the following years bore great influence on the community. He was born on 3 March 1907 to Majer and Salomea nee Nower. In May 1926, he graduated from the Second Jewish Secondary School in Łódź. He went on to study philosophy, history, and history of art at the University of Wrocław and at the Wrocław Rabbinical Seminary. He received the Fränkelische Stiftung Scholarship. In October 1928, he passed the supplementary Prussian Realschule school leaving examination in the German Institute for Foreign Students at the University in Berlin. This allowed him to serve as an assistant rabbi in the Jewish community in Berlin. In 1933, he departed from Germany and arrived in Łódź, where he managed the newly established school of agronomy for Jewish children in Helenówek, near the local agricultural farm. He took his doctorate examination on 4 February 1931. He arrived to Inowrocław on 18 March 1935 and served as its rabbi and community secretary. One of his greatest achievements was settling the conflict among the local German Jews, who withheld the Jews immigrating from former Congress Poland from gaining any political leverage. His initiative led to the foundation of the Society of Jewish Culture in Inowrocław, which united both groups. He coordinated the work of the Wolffsohn Foundation – Shelter for Jewish Orphans. His efforts were focused on changing the Jewish dislike and indifference toward Poland and Poles. He organised backing for the FON (Fund for National Defence) and was a member of the LOPP (Air and Chemical Defence League, an organisation promoting aviation, including military aviation). Rabbi Simon was responsible for replacing German with Polish as the language used in religious services. He also organised the community archive. In 1939, he published his work Żydzi inowrocławscy w czasach Księstwa Warszawskiego (1807–1815) [“Jews of Inowrocław in the Era of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1815)”] based on community sources. He was probably killed in 1939, during the so-called “Jewish operation in Gniewkowo.” The rabbi was assisted by cantor and slaughterer Szlomo Szlingenbaum from Koło.
In the interwar period (1919–1939), despite the shrinking size of the Jewish population, several organisations continued to operate in the Inowrocław community. The Freemasons formed the “Astrea Loge no. 2” (among others: Wilhelm Warszauer, Leopold Levy, Walter Klose, and A. Krakowiak). The Israeli Association of Women was run by a member of the Cohn family until 1924, when it was dissolved. Other organisations active in the town included the Society for the Support of Jewish Culture (which sought to be officially registered in 1935, but to no avail), the “Gemilut Chesed” Interest-Free Credit Union (it was established in 1937 and had 35 members), the Wolffsohn Shelter for Jewish Orphans (managed by Rudolf Markowicz until 1927, by Isidor Markowicz until 1936, and by Rabbi Stanisław Simon until 1939). On the initiative of Levy, a branch of the Zionist Organisation headed by Meyer Smolarz was set up in 1937; it had 30 members.
In 1932, the community gained control over the villages of Pakość, Mogilno, Kruszwica, Gębice, and Trzemeszno. Overall, the value of communal property in 1938 was estimated at 60,000 zlotys in real estate and 201,425 zlotys in movables.[1.2]
Before the German army seized Inowrocław, the Jewish population of the town decreased by ca. 30–40%. On 14 September, the Germans devastated and plundered the synagogue, and then set it on fire. The next day, all Jews were ordered to gather in the beth midrash. During the operation, Dr Leopold Levy was shot dead. Germans started to blow up the reinforced concrete walls of the synagogue. Its demolition was finished in 1940. The building of the “Astrea Loge No. 2” Masonic lodge on 61 Solankowa Street was also pulled down. The old Jewish cemetery was destroyed and ploughed. The new one was devastated.
The prisoners held in the beth midrash underwent a process of selection. The people selected for extermination were sent to the Inowrocław prison. In October, they were taken from the site together with Polish prisoners and transported to the forests near Gniewkowo, where they were shot dead. Their bodies were burned. The others were shot dead in Rożniaty, Przedbojewice, Łagiewniki and the areas surrounding Kruszwica in the autumn of 1939. In October 1939, women were separated from children and sent in cars to Gniezno on 20 October. The next transport, headed to Gniezno and Kruszwica, left on 14 November. The women and children held in Gniezno and Piotrków were transported to Piotrków Trybunalski in December 1939. By the beginning of 1940, there were no Jews left in Inowrocław. Only several, or maybe around a dozen people survived the war.
Labour camps for Jews started to operate in Inowrocław in 1941. One of these was situated on Świętokrzyska Street. Its prisoners worked at the construction of the municipal swimming pool and in horticulture. The other camp was established in three barracks behind the glassworks. It had ca. 300 prisoners. They were used as forced labour force in road works and railway works. When the camp was liquidated in 1943, they were taken to the Łódź Ghetto. Many Jews were held in the transit camp operating in Inowrocław (1939–1944). After the war, several Jews returned to the town, but they did not form any organisational structures.[1.3]
- Guldon Z., “Żydzi w miastach kujawskich w XVI–XVIII wieku,” Ziemia Kujawska 1993.
- Heppner A., Herzberg I., Aus Vergangenheit und gegenwart der Juden in den Posener Landen, Koschmin–Bromberg 1904–1919.
- Kawski T., “Inwentarze gmin żydowskich z Pomorza i Wielkopolski wschodniej w latach 1918/20–1939,” Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej 2006, no. 3–4.
- Kawski T., Kujawsko-dobrzyńscy Żydzi w latach 1918–1950, Toruń 2006.
- Łaszkiewicz T., Żydzi w Inowrocławiu w okresie międzywojennym (1919–1939), Inowrocław 1997.
- Simon S., Żydzi inowrocławscy w czasach Księstwa Warszawskiego (1807–1815), Inowrocław 1939.
- [1.1] See more: Heppner A., Herzberg I., Aus Vergangenheit und gegenwart der Juden in den Posener Landen, Koschmin–Bromberg 1904–1919, passim; Dzieje Inowrocławia ed. M. Biskup, vol. 1, Warsaw – Poznań – Toruń 1978, passim; Guldon Z., “Żydzi w miastach kujawskich w XVI–XVIII wieku,” Ziemia Kujawska 1993, pp. 100, 103–104.
- [1.2] Łaszkiewicz T., Żydzi w Inowrocławiu w okresie międzywojennym (1919–1939), Inowrocław 1997, passim; Kawski T., Kujawsko-dobrzyńscy Żydzi w latach 1918–1950, Toruń 2006, passim; Kawski T., “Inwentarze gmin żydowskich z Pomorza i Wielkopolski wschodniej w latach 1918/20–1939,” Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej 2006, no. 3–4, Document no. 8, pp. 82–83; Łaszkiewicz T., “Simon Stanisław,” [in] Inowrocławski Słownik Biograficzny, ed. E. Mikołajczak, Inowrocław 1997, pp. 87–88.
- [1.3] Łaszkiewicz T., Żydzi w Inowrocławiu w okresie międzywojennym (1919–1939), Inowrocław 1997, pp. 68–72; Kawski T., Kujawsko-dobrzyńscy Żydzi w latach 1918–1950, Toruń 2006, pp. 265–283.