The oldest mention of Jews in Koło comes from 1429. In the 15th century the local kehilla (Jewish community) was constituted. Monarchal privileges favored the town’s development. One of them, from 1564, made Koło Jews equal with other citizens. In 1565, they owned nine houses and a school house. They paid 30 polish zlotys of Jewish poll-tax then. A similar amount can be found in 1579 registers. The number of Jewish houses in the years 1628 - 1632 rose to 21. The wars in the second half of the 17th century influenced the restriction of the population of Jews living in Koło. In 1674 there were 24 of them. In 1665 they owned five houses [1.1]. In the 18th century, the Jewish population started to increase. In 1765 it numbered 256 people, in 1793 – 561. Then the Jewry made up 56% of the total population in Koło. In the next century the number of Jews increased systematically and reached 4,000 people in 1897. The beginning of the 20th century brought an intensive development of the town, which amounted to 5,242 people in 1909. During interwar period the Jewish population gradually diminished. In 1921, the community numbered 5,159 people, in 1931 about 5,000, in 1939 it was 4,560. The size of the population – 6,000 that appears in many studies concerning the year 1931 should be acknowledged as an overestimate [1.2]. The Jewish community in the 1920s and in the first half of the 1930s was ranked among large municipalities. In 1921 it numbered about 5,200 to 5,500 people, in 1931 not much more than 5,000, and in 1939 about 4,700. It included, besides the town of Koło, most likely the municipality of Budzisław and Grzegorzew, where a few Jewish families lived (in 1939 - 1922 and 25 people respectively)[1.3].
Jews played a significant role in an economic life of the town and region. In 1897, 52% of trade was in the hands of the Jews. On a list of commercial enterprises of Koło dating 21 November 1919 there were 97 companies, including 93 that belonged to Jews (96%). In 1938, 37.7% of craftsman’s workshops were possessed by Jewish owners. Among larger enterprises the following ones stood out: a factory of agricultural machines owned by H. Nasielski (then Nasielski Brothers and Izbicki), printing houses – M. Rosenstein and E. Szwarcman, sawmills – Salomon Goldberg, Michał Borenstej and Dawid Rauf, Josel Szatan, M. Trajber, M. Michałowicz (in Szatanek village – municipality of Budzisław), mills – Abraham Warmblum, Jakub Lewi, Herman Danziger, H. Neuman, Icek Gutman, a faience factory – Michał Rauch, a faience factory – Jakub Teychweld (Tajchweld), a brickyard – S. Bornstein, a sweet factory – S. Fordoński and H. Hirsztein, a tannery – Sz. Kapłan, a factory of narrow tapes – Pejsach Wołkowicz, a vinegar factory – Chaim Baum, an oil mill – S. Brukstein, Gliksman brothers, a factory making stockings – Chaim Erdinast, absorbent cotton factories – Abram Przedecki and Woldenberg, a company making pressing wax – Pinkus Gliksman and H. Moszkowicz, a factory of embroidery – Kuczyński in Nagórna Wieś. Among the merchants trading on a large scale were: Chaskiel Wacholder (horses and land property 48 hectares in Budzisław), Aron Ryczke (agricultural products), Hersz Nasielski (corn), Trale Zylberberg (wood), Chaim Fogel (tar paper manufacturer and trader), Jakub Markiewicz (iron), Fabian Walter (textiles), Izrael Krokocki (cattle), Konińscy (fuel), Zelmanowicz and Gutman (poultry), Chaim German (textiles). The company of I. Gutman and H. Nasielski provided car transport from Koło to Kutno and Łódź.
Economic and professional organizations represented: Koło Jewish Association of Loans Free of Interest ‘Gemiłus Chesodim’ (Kolskie Towarzystwo Żydowskie Bezprocentowych Pożyczek „Gemiłus Chesodim”), Charity Association ‘Gemiłus Chesed’ (Stowarzyszenie Dobroczynności „Gemiłus Chesed”), Labor Union of Unqualified Workers (Związek Zawodowy Robotników Niefachowych), Association of Jewish Craftsmen (Związek Rzemieślników Żydów), Jewish Merchants’ Association and Jewish Credit Co-operative Society – Unified Credit Co-operative Society ( Żydowski Związek Kupców i Spółdzielnia Kredytowa Żydowska - Zjednoczona Spółdzielnia Kredytowa ), Supply Co-operative Society ‘Achdut-Jedność’ (Spółdzielnia Zaopatrzenia „Achdut-Jedność”). Cultural and educational organizations: Jewish Cultural and Educational Association ‘Jabne’ (Żydowskie Stowarzyszenie Kulturalno-Oświatowe „Jabne”), „Kultur Liga”, Jewish Library and Social Reading Room (Żydowska Biblioteka i Czytelnia Społeczna ), The Society of Friends of Hebrew University (Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Uniwersytetu Hebrajskiego), Association of Jewish School Union in Koło (Stowarzyszenie Żydowski Związek Szkolny w mieście Kole), Association of Evening Courses for Jewish Workers (Towarzystwo Kursów Wieczorowych dla Robotników Żydowskich), Jewish School Association (Żydowski Związek Szkolny), Jewish Working Woman - ‘Jidisze Arbeter Fraj’ (Żydowska Kobieta Pracująca -„Jidisze Arbeter Fraj”), Jewish Association of Singing ‘Hazomir’ (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Śpiewacze „Hazomir”). Amateur theatre groups organized by Poale Zion Right and “Bund” were active. Also, sports, youth and paramilitary organizations: Jewish Athletic Association (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Gimnastyczno - Sportowe) ‘Makabi’, ‘Ha-Szomer ha-Cair’ connected with Poale Zion Right - the sports club ‘Hapoel’, the youth organization ‘Frajheit’, with Zionists revisionists – ‘Bejtar’, ‘Brith Hachajał’, with Poale Zion Left – ‘Borochow-Jugent’, the sports club ‘Gwiazda’, with ‘Bund’ - the youth organization ‘Zukunft’, Jewish Sports Club ‘Morgenstern’, with General Zionists – ‘Ha-Noar ha-Cijoni’. The Zionist non-party organization ‘Hechaluc Pionier’ and the Society of Friends of Working Palestine were active. Education was represented: the W. Medem pre-school, Seven-class General Private Religious Co-educational School ‘Jabne’ (7-mio klasowa Wyznaniowa Prywatna Koedukacyjna Szkoła Powszechna), Jewish Common School ‘Et Chaim’ (Szkoła Powszechna Żydowska), Co-educational Secondary School of Jewish Religious Association (Gimnazjum Koedukacyjne Żydowskiego Związku Szkolnego).
The largest political groups had their departments in Koło: ‘Aguda Izrael’ with ‘Poale Agudas Izrael’, ‘Bund’, Poale Zion Right, Poale Zion Left, the General Zionists. Generally, activists of the Communist Party of Poland and the youth organization – the Communist Association of the Polish Youth (Komunistyczny Związek Młodzieży Polskiej) were in opposition to all political circles.
In the second half of 1920s and at the beginning of 1930s Poale Zion Right enjoyed considerable influence. After the election in 1931 they had five representatives in the District Council. The representatives of this political group, Dr Szulrichter-Gaworowska and Abram Koniński, represented Koło in the elections of delegates to 15th Zionists Congress in 1927. Zionists from Poale Zion Right had the dispute with representatives of ‘Bund’ about influence in Association ‘Kultur Liga’. With time, conflict moved to town council. However, councilmen of both trends jointly criticized representatives of Poale Zion Left.
Political influence in the District Council after elections in 1931 looked as follows: General Zionists got three seats, Poale Zion Right – five , Poale Zion Left – four ‘Aguda’- one. At the head of the council was Josef Schwarz. Such state did not last long. In 1932 the new election was called. The decision of the mayor provoked dissatisfaction of many members of the municipality. Finally, in elections of 31 July 1932 Poale Zion Right won getting seven seats, orthodox – five, Zionists – five. On 17 September 1932 Mojsza Berkowic (orthodox) was chosen the council chairman, Uszer Kleczewski – the deputy (orthodox), Rozental (‘Mizrachi’) – the chairman of the council board, Koniński – the deputy (Poale Zion Right). At the end of October or at the beginning of November 1934 Salomon Goldberg became the chairman of the council. In 1934 the team of receivers of the council were appointed. A rabbi became head of it. The decision additionally antagonized relations among separate groups. Opponents of orthodoxy were particularly critical. They indicated the rabbi’s greed, excessive charges for ritual services. Also the rabbi’s designs, who aspired to remove the school ‘Jabne’ from the building possessed by the council, did not gain him a liking of parents whose children learned there. Next elections to municipal authorities took place on 29 August 1936. In the last elections, before an outbreak of war, held on 19 March 1939 an order of influence in the council board was as follows: Poale Zion Right had two seats, Zionists – one, craftsmen – one, non-Party members – one, ‘Bund’ - two, ‘Aguda’ – one seat, according to other data: ‘Bund’ Block and Poale Zion Left – two seats, Poale Zion Right – two, ‘Aguda’- two, Zionists – one, craftsmen – one.
Council infrastructure made up two synagogues built in the 20th century at Nowy Rynek (Jewish Marketplace): so-called large (‘metal-roofed’) and small (the corner of Kuśnierska Street). Next to it, there was the mikvah and Jewish Common School ‘Jabne’. A cemetery from the 16th century with an area of 21,773 square meters was located in Narutowicza Square. Jews lived mainly in the so-called island part of the town (Garncarska Street). The Municipality was led by rabbi Dawid Chaim Zylber-Margulies (Zilber-Margulies) for 50 years. He died in 1941. The cantor was Jakub Litman. He gave concerts in the 30s of the 20th century in many cities in Kuyavia, East Greater Poland and Masovia collecting means for the journey to Palestine.
Polish-Jewish relations in the 30s of the 20th century became tense. On the one hand, it was a consequence of the general political and economic atmosphere. Anti-Semitic incidents increased. On 15 July 1933 there appeared notices on the walls and sidewalks that read ‘Down with Jews’ (Precz z żydami), ‘A Jew is your enemy’ (żyd twój wróg), ‘Do not buy from the Jew’ (Nie kupuj u żyda). Eight perpetrators were arrested. Jan Poduszny was the leader of the group. On 20 December 1937 an anti-Jewish banner was hung out, in February 1938 two windowpanes in Jewish flats were smashed. On 18 March 1937 a fight between two drunk members of Nationalist Party and two Jews took place. All were punished. On 29 March 1937 an incident where hydrochloric acid was poured over some clothes in a Jewish shop was recorded. In the first week of December 1937, six signs on Jewish shops in Marszałek Piłsudski Street were painted over. Three perpetrators were captured and sentenced to seven days in prison.
The response to the increasing wave of anti-Semitism was meetings called by, among others, Zionists. Problems were discussed and they tried to search for methods that would overcome or minimize the occurrence. In Koło, appropriate meetings were held on 18, 19 and 26 February 1938. Loyalty to national authorities was officially retained. In the large synagogue, on 29 June 1935, the funeral service in memory of Józef Piłsudski with the participation of the rabbi, Ch. D. Zylber-Margulies, and the chairman of the council board, Salomon Goldberg, was organized. In the Seym and Senate elections in 1930 Jewish traders voted on the list of Non-Party Block of Cooperation with the Government (Bezpartyjny Blok Współpracy z Rządem). Jews loyally took part in subsidizing Anti-Aircraft Defensive Loan.
Representatives of Jewish community were systematically involved in work of town authorities. In the outgoing composition of the town council, after the elections on 15 June 1919, 15 Christians and 9 Jews (Abram Berkowicz, Jehuda Berkowicz, Jakub Gierman, Załme Gierman, Dawid Mordkowicz, Chaim Chmielnik, Hersz Szuer, Izrael Eiznerowicz, Rozalia Kaufman) had a seat. One of the jurors of municipality was Szulem Bresler. The record of the composition of persons in the second term of the council in the years 1919 - 1929 has not been retained. In the next elections, on 16 June 1929 Jews entered list number 2 (Poale Zion Right ) that won two seats, number six (‘Bund’) – two, number eight (Poale Zion Left) – two seats, number 14 (orthodoxes, non-party and Zionists ) – five seats. The jurors became: Abram Zandeman, Ezra Rejchert, Neuman, and Abram Lejb Luksemburg. The following ones had a seat on the council: H. Hirszbajn, Kaufmanowa, Alje Chmielnik, Szyja Dawid Frankowski, Bencjon Goldberg, Ajzyk Wołkowicz, and Mosze Mendel Halter. For the elections in 1939 on the lists were put: United Workers’ Block ‘Bund’ ( Zjednoczony Blok Robotniczy ) and Poale Zion, the Jewish ‘with no name’, Polish Socialist Party, Class Trade Unions, the Christian ‘with no name’, Christian Economic List (Chrześcijańska Lista Gospodarcza), Retail a Tradesmen Union (Związek Detalicznych i Drobnych Kupców), Class Trade Unions (Klasowe Związki Zawodowe). In the composition of the council there were six Jewish councilmen (the list of Zionist Organization and Poale Zion Right – four seats, ‘Bund’ and Poale Zion Left lists – two) out of 24. After the elections to National Councils in Koło Gromada , Jews won four seats, in the previous terms they had none.
In 1939, after German army had invaded Poland, Jews were gathered in the market square from where the men were put to repair the blown up bridge over the Warta River. They set fire to the synagogue and accused Jews of starting the fire. A tribute on the Jewish community was imposed. The intelligentsia were arrested, many were murdered in the streets. Until the end of 1939, about 300 Jews were shot. Burial of the dead Jews in the town was prohibited. The funerals were moved to the village of Ruszków II, where the dead were buried before 1939. A district of an open ghetto came into being. At the turn of November and December 1939, 1,300 Jews were kept in the small synagogue, that was not destroyed, and in the building in Nowomiejska Street. On 4 December (or about 10 December ) 1939 a group of 1,139 people were taken away to Izbica Lubelska, 62 people found themselves in Krasnystaw, an indeterminate group in Turobin and Hrubieszów, 175 people in Zamość. In March 1941, in Żółkiewka in Krasnystaw County, Jews from Koło and Kalisz arrived. Part of this group reached Komarów in Zamość County. On 2 October 1940, 150 families from Koło were sent to Bugaj and Nowiny Brdowskie ( Lubotyń municipality) where the ghetto was created at the beginning of December 1940. In June 1941, groups of Jews from Koło were directed to labor camps in Greater Poland. In August 1941, about 100 women and girls were sent to the labor camp in Wrocław. A group of Jewesses from Koło and Izbica Kujawska stayed, among others, in Oborników. A consequence of displacement was that the population of Jews in Koło was shrinking. In 1939 they made the group of 4,987 people, in January 1940 – 3,000 (including 500 refugees), in December 1940 – 3,000, in 1941 – 2,000. On 12 December 1941 ten Jews from Kościelec municipality were resettled in Koło. The rest who remained in the town were killed between 7/8 and 11 December 1941 in the death camp in Chełmno on the Ner River. Earlier, the authorities had imposed on the last about 2,300 Jews the poll-tax of four marks. The money was to cover an alleged journey to the ghetto in the eastern Little Poland that was supposed to be created in the Spring of 1942. All the people were gathered in the building of Judenrat and the synagogue before being taken away [1.4]. After the war, not many Jews returned to Koło. They set up the department of Central Committee of Polish Jews that came under the District Committee in Włocławek for some time. It ceased its activity at the end of the 1940s..
- [1.1] Zenon Guldon, Jacek Wijaczka, Ludność żydowska w Wielkopolsce w drugiej połowie XVII wieku [w:] Żydzi w Wielkopolsce na przestrzeni dziejów, pod reakcją Jerzego Topolskiego i Krzysztofa Modelskiego, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, Poznań 1995, p. 24; Zenon Guldon, Jacek Wijaczka, Osadnictwo żydowskie w województwach poznańskim i kaliskim w XVI-XVII wieku, „Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego” 1992, no. 2-3, pp. 66-68, 71-72, 76.
- [1.2] Monika Opioła, Tomasz Kawski, Gminy żydowskie pogranicza Wielkopolski, Mazowsza, Małopolski i Śląska w latach 1918-1942, „Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek”, Toruń 2008, pp. 91-92.
- [1.4] Szerzej o historii społeczności żydowskiej w XX w.: Monika Opioła, Tomasz Kawski, Gminy..., pp. 91-101.