The earliest information about Jews living in Kozienice dates back to 1596. Five Jewish families lived in Kozienice in 1607.

Kozienice was a royal town; the local Jewish community was established by virtue of a privilege issued by King Zygmunt III in 1616. Under the terms of the privilege, the king allowed Jews to posses 12 houses, earn their livelihood as butchers, and granted them the right to manufacture and distribute liquor. The privilege was renewed by King Władysław IV in 1633. Additionally, Jews were also allowed to build a synagogue and maintain a cemetery. The cemetery was located on a hill outside the town.

In 1786, 1,240 Jews lived in Kozienice, making up 55% of the total population. The town was sparsely populated – according to a saying popular at the time, “in Kozienice, when two people meet, it's a crowd”. In 1820, modern brick market stalls were erected. They had “an interesting architectonic form; their arcades are supported by eight wooden columns and they have hip roofs with cut-out eaves. The building was made of brick and built on a rectangular plan; it had six rooms.

At that time, the town became a well-known centre of the Hasidic movement. Its creator, Rabbi Izrael Icchak Hofstein (1733–1834), was a famous Talmud researcher and a Kabbalist and was known as as the Kozienicer Magid. Some of his teachers were Dov Ber of Mezeritch (from Międzyrzecze) and Elimelekh of Lizensk (from Leżajsk). His work was continued by Mosze Eljakim, Chaim Mejer Jechiel Szapiro, Eliezer, Jechiel Jakow, Jerachmiel Mosze, and Aaron Jechiel. The latter (b. 1889) had a particular affection for simple Jews[1.1] and left Kozienicel he lived in Warsaw, Łódź, and Otwock. He died of typhus in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

In 1827, 1,185 Jews lived in the town. At this point in time, the Jews constituted 59% of the inhabitants. According to the 1930 census, 117 houses were inhabited by 804 Poles, 1,178 Jews and 4 Evangelicals[1.2]. Jews mainly earned their living off crafts, trade, and selling liquor.

In 1830, the tsar donated the royal demesne of Kozienice to his general, Ivan Denov. At that time, a significant development in the town took place. Barracks were built and the castle was renovated and expanded. In 1856, Jan N. Chądzyński wrote that Kozienice was “one of the more respectable Polish towns, built in a pleasant and joyful area.” When Kozienice became a district town in 1867, a new road from Kozienice to Radom was built; it helped to revive the local trade. The town also had a sheet metal factory, a tannery, a brewery, and mills. In 1897, the town was inhabited by 6,391 residents, including 3,764 Jews.

Before the outbreak of World War I, the Jewish community of Kozienice had a chief rabbi, Jakub Wajnberg, and three assistant rabbis: Josek Szapiro, Beniamin Frajlich, and Józef Jehuda Mincberg.

Shortly after Poland regained its independence in 1918, Kozienice had 6,878 residents, including 3,810 Jews. Jews were the majority of inhabitants of the market square and lived in 10 out of the 40 streets of the town. Marcin Urynowicz wrote: “Undoubtedly, the most important street for the Jewish community in Kozienice was Magietowska Street (also called Magietowa – named in honour of the famous Magid), inhabited exclusively by Jews”[1.3]. Two synagogues and the famous rabbi's house were located on this street.

In independent Poland, Kozienice maintained the status of a district town. In 1921, the town already had 8,633 residents, including 3,811 Jews[1.4]. Since the beginning of the 1920s, the town was an important centre of craftsmanship, especially shoemaking, which was dominated by Jews.

According to the Polish Address Book, the most prominent Jewish enterprises at the turn of the 1930s were: the brewery of C. Minceberg, the brickyards of Sz. Rozenbaum and Ch. Fajfer, the printing house of J. Wajnberg, grain mills of S. Awensztern, Ch. Blatman, D. Gielberg and W. Giman, the steam mill of M. Frajlich, the oil mills of I. Ajzenman, Sz. Epsztajn and J. Wajnberg, the transportation company of Ch. Zylbeman, the soda water factory of J. Wajnberg, the sawmill of Z. Szabson and I. Honiksztok. Many Jews were engaged in trade: L. Birenbaum, Fajgenbaum, Sz. Koiman, Ch. Kronengold, M. Rozen, D. Sylman – in silk fabrics; I. Szpiro – in wood; M. Halbersztadt, Z. Lewin, M. Rozen, and R. Wajnberg – in haberdashery; Sz. Awensztern, and Ch. Gewis – in shingles; R. Ajchenbaum – in colonial goods; W. Wajnberg – in kitchenware; Sz. Erlichman – in furniture; R. Ajzenmesser, F. Dymant, D. Kestenberg, and M. Szpigiel – in shoes; Ch. Kohn, I. Mandel, H. Szarfharc, Sz. Szwarcberg, and M. Wajsbrot – in leather; R. Rozencwajg, J. Borensztajn, and I. Zyman – in tobacco; M. Awensztern, Sz. Flumen, M. Szames, and J. Szterensztajn – in grain; M. Lejwa, M. Puter, and T. Zylberberg – in iron. S. Weinberg ran a bookshop, Zylbersztajn had a beer house; Sz. Borensztajn and L. Szabson owned restaurants[1.5].

In 1932, Jews owned 103 out of 126 market stalls. Loans were granted by the Stefczyk’s Credit Union (Kasa Stefczyka), the Municipal Cash Savings and Loans (Gminna Kasa Oszczędnościowo-Pożyczkowa), the Municipal Bank (Kasa Komunalna), and the Cooperative-Credit Bank (Bank Spółdzielczo-Kredytowy). Despite economic stagnation, Jews owned 63.5% of all houses in 1939. The Jewish population actively participated in the government of the town. 41 Jews, including Orthodox Jews, non-aligned, Folkists, Zionists and Bundists, served as town councillors in 1918-1939.

During the interwar period, Gniewoszów was a part of the Jewish community of Kozienice. As it can be seen from the preserved correspondence written in 1922, The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Public Education ordered to increase the pay of Rabbi Jankiel Wajnberg from 300,000 Mk to 500,000 Mk and the salaries of the shochetim to be increased to 425,000 Mk. They also raised the pension of schochet Korman's widow from 37,500 Mk to 65,000 Mk[1.6]. The local Talmud Torah school got a donation of 115 000 Mk from the Ministry. The local district governor was praised for his efforts “to solve the economic problems of the community.”

The District Office carried out a detailed audit of the Jewish Community in 1924 because, as it was written in the official; documents, the community had five rabbis and four shochets. Moreover, there was a long-lasting conflict between Rabbi J. Wajnberg and assistant rabbis J. J. Mincerg, B. Frajlich, and J. Szapiro. This led to a “complete disorganisation” of the community[1.7].

Despite internal and financial problems, the Jewish community planned to purchase a house in Sieciechów. The official who audited the Board in 1925 accused the community of wastefulness and “ignoring the economic reality”[1.8]. The poor were neglected. He also wrote about other instances of mismanagement of funds – the rabbi, for instance, not only received a salary of 2,750 zł but also had his rent paid by the community. However, this allegation was ill-founded as the Board was obliged to pay for the rabbi's accommodation.

The budget of the community depended mainly on revenues from ritual slaughter. The shochets worked illegally, though, which was confirmed by David Levin, one of the butchers. The Board rejected their demands to earn 500 zloty per month. Additionally, after 1918 the Board suspended Rabbi J. Weinberg's salary and accused him of having insufficient qualifications to perform his duties. The rabbi had lived in the town since 1896 and had kept the book of births, marriages and deaths for Kozienice, Zwoleń and Gniewoszów. The long-term conflict led to several elections for the new rabbi. Among the candidates for the new rabbi were brothers Aaron and Mejlech Hofstein, the descendants of the Magid from Kozienice.

The inspector controlling the community on behalf of the District Office in 1927 wrote the following: “the downside of the community’s management is parsimony, even when some expenditure should be made. Its seat is dirty and shabby; the floor has not been cleaned for a long time; the furnace is black and sooty; the walls are dilapidated. The Talmud Torah gives off the same impression. The school, left on its own, is also very dilapidated”[1.9]. He also stated that the members of the Board remained passive because the arrears from contributions for 1925 amounted to mere 4,205 zł. He said that the Board should have been stricter in their enforcement of collecting payments[1.10]. The Board appointed 250 families to pay the contribution in 1928. The average fee was 8 zł[1.11].

At that time the community had three important tasks: to build a mikveh; to build a fence around the cemetery; and to take care of the poor. The tasks were not easy to perform, mainly because of insufficient funds. In 1928, it was planned to collect 30,000 zloty from slaughter, 5,000 zloty from contributions, 550 zloty from cemetery charges, 100 from Torah reading, 50 zloty from granting permissions to erect monuments, and 1,200 zloty from selling matzo. The total amount of money was to reach 37,000 zł[1.12]. The anticipated expenditure was as follows: 4,282 zł for the construction of mikveh, 750 zloty for the Talmud Torah, and 250 zł for artisans' courses. The assistant rabbis B. Frajlich, J. Szapiro, and J. J. Mincberg received the annual salary of 3,600 zł each. The community also paid three pensions to rabbis’ widows. The inspector disapproved of the Board donating 300 dollars to rabbi Mincberg's daughter on the occasion of her wedding[1.13].

In 1930, 600 people were chosen to pay contributions ranging from 2 to 300 zł. The expected income was 5,540 zł. As many as seven lists were submitted during the election of the Board in August 1931. There were many arguments and appeals, as only 715 people were allowed to run in the election[1.14].

In 1931, the planned income was supposed to be 34,500 zł from slaughter, 5,510 zł from contributions, and 1,000 from cemetery charges. In reality, only 33,433 zł were collected from slaughter, 1,411 zł from contributions, and 510 zł from cemetery charges. Responding to the District Office inquiry, it was stated that people could not pay contributions because of a prolonged economic crisis and growing poverty.

In 1932, 519 families were chosen to pay contributions, which constituted 81 fewer families than two years earlier. It was obvious that the community was getting poorer. The revenue from the contributions was supposed to be 6,500 zł, but it was impossible to collect this amount. The District Office planned to collect 53,576.31 in 1933. The income from the contributions(from 5 to 150 zł), paid by 411 families, was supposed to be 15,000 zł[1.15]. It was easy to see that such an amunt would not be collected. The planned revenue from slaughter was to amount to 34,000 zł, and from other sources – 4,650.55 zł from other sources. The community was planning to spend 8,000 zł on assistant rabbis, 20,300 zł on other officials of the community; 1,650 zł on other spendings, 5,513 zł on investments, 1,120 zł on subsidies for various institutions, 3,720 zł on charity, and 13,372.82 zł on other expenditure.

In 1933, Aron Hofstein was selected to be the rabbi after a long-term conflict. However, he did not take the office as he could not speak Polish, which was one of the main requirements for any rabbi. For this reason, J. Szapiro performed the rabbi's duties. At that time, Moszek Waserman was the head of the Board, Berek Bochman was the deputy, and Icek Ickowicz was the treasurer. Icek Borensztajn, Icek Milgram, Szloma Kohn, Berek Zalcberg, and Pinkus Korn were the members of the Board. The Zionist Party had the majority of seats. Abram Kafar, Wolf Zateman, and Moszek Cukier were melamedim. Pinkus Birembaum was the teller.

The community planned to collect 39,489 zł in 1934. In 1935, they only planned to collect 29,170 zł. In 1937, 4,892 Jews lived in Kozienice; 496 families were appointed to pay contributions. The estimated value of the movable property of the community was 8,040 zł; the value of its real estate amounted to 70,000 zł. The debt reached the amount of 6,803 zł. According to the inventory, the community owned a synagogue, a beth midrash, a bathhouse, and a cemetery.

In 1938, Nuchym Szlomo Perłow (born in 1911 in Russia) was appointed rabbi by the Provincial Office in Kielce. His annual salary was set at 2,700 zł. It was one of the lowest salaries in the country. J. Szapiro became the assistant rabbi[1.16].The attempts to introduce some changes in the Board were unsuccessful. Just before the war, the arrears in contributions were 2,981.20 zł.

Several associations were registered in Kozienice. In 1923, the local branch of Auxilium Academicum Judaicum was established to help students from Kozienice. In 1926, the “Talmud Torah” Society for the Religious Education of Youth was established. The Society ran a school for 120 poor children and employed two teachers. In 1931, The Linas Hatsedek Society was created. In 1936, Szachn Goldberg, a religious writer, instituted the Gemilut Chesed Charity Association. Chaim Maier Zalcberg emphasised the importance of the association for the community: “This institution was known by poor merchants and craftsmen. When the deadline of repayment of a promissory note was approaching, one knew where to go for a loan (...) the entry fee was 5 zł. The cash fund was also getting money from the amateur theatre. The entire income from selling tickets was donated to fund. (...) Initially, the highest loan was 100 zł, but just before the war, even 500 zł were lent”.

During World War II, German troops captured the town in September 1939. In the fall of 1940, they established a ghetto where over 12,000 Jews were confined. In 1942, Jews from Magnuszew, Trzebień, Wierzbica, Głowaczów, and other localities were also brought into the ghetto. In September 1942, Germans liquidated the ghetto and all of its inhabitants were sent to the Treblinka death camp.

Bibliography

  • Kozienice, [in] Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, vol. II, eds. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 668.
  • Penkalla A., Żydowskie ślady w województwie kieleckim i radomskim, Radom 1992.
  • Sefer Kozhenic. Cum 27-tn yor-tog noch dem groyzamen hurbn fun undzer gevezener heym, ed. B. Kaplinski, Tel Aviv 1969.
  • Sefer Zikaron le-Kehilat Kosznitz, eds. B. Kaplinski, Z. Berman, M. Donnerstein, R. Wasserman, T. Madanes, L. Mandel, E. Feigenbaum, L. Fishstein, D. Kestenberg, New York 1985.
  • Urynowicz M., Żydzi w samorządzie miasta Kozienic w okresie międzywojennym 19191939, Warsaw 2003.
  • Zalcberg Ch. M., Di Gmiles – chsodim – kase in Kozhenic, [w:] Sefer Kozhenic. Cum 27-tn yor-tog noch dem groyzamen hurbn fun undzer gevezener heym, ed. B. Kaplinski, Tel Aviv 1969.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Sefer Kozhenitz. Cum 27-tn yor-tog noch dem groyzamen hurbn fun undzer gevezener heym, ed. B. Kaplinski, Tel Aviv 1969, p. 119.
  • [1.2] Wiśniewski J., Dekanat kozienicki, Radom 1913, p. 72.
  • [1.3] Urynowicz M., Żydzi w samorządzie miasta Kozienice w okresie międzywojennym 1919–1939, Warsaw 2003, p. 29.
  • [1.4] Penkalla A., Żydowskie ślady w województwie kieleckim i radomskim, Radom 1992, p. 131.
  • [1.5] Księga Adresowa Polski (wraz z W.M. Gdańskiem) dla handlu, przemysłu, rzemiosł i rolnictwa, Warsaw 1930, pp. 232–233.
  • [1.6] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1752, fol. 481.
  • [1.7] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1751, fol. 642.
  • [1.8] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1605, fol. 3.
  • [1.9] Urynowicz M., Żydzi w samorządzie miasta Kozienic w okresie międzywojennym 19191939, Warsaw 2003. p. 41.
  • [1.10] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1605, fol. 1.
  • [1.11] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1605, fol. 19.
  • [1.12] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1717, fol. 136.
  • [1.13] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1717, fol. 489.
  • [1.14] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1512, fol. 2.
  • [1.15] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 1717, fol. 14.
  • [1.16] State Archive in Kielce, Kielce Provincial Office I, ref. no. 3356, fol. 6.