The earliest mention of Jews living in Koło dates back to 1429. In the 15th century, the local kehilla was constituted. The settlement developed dynamically thanks to the royal privileges, including the one issued in 1564, giving local Jews equal rights with other citizens. In 1565, there were nine Jewish-owned houses in the town. The community also owned a school building. At the time, the kehilla paid 30 zlotys of poll tax. A similar amount is mentioned in registers dating back to 1579. In the years 1628–1632, there were 21 Jewish houses in Koło. The wars of the second half of the 17th century resulted in a decrease in the number of Jews living in the town. In 1674, Koło had 24 Jewish residents. In 1665, they owned five houses.[1.1]
In the 18th century, the Jewish community started to grow. In 1765, it had 256 members, and in 1793 – 561. At the time, Jews constituted 56% of the total population of Koło. In the next century, the number of Jews living in the town was steadily growing, reaching 4,000 people in 1897. The beginning of the 20th century brought an intensive development of the community, which had 5,242 members in 1909. The interwar period, however, saw an opposite trend, with the Jewish population gradually diminishing. In 1921, the community had 5,159 members, in 1931 – ca. 5,000, in 1939 – 4,560. Some secondary sources state that Koło had ca. 6,000 inhabitants in 1931, but this is definitely an overestimation.[1.2] In the 1920s and in the first half of the 1930s, the local Jewish community was considered one of the largest in the country. In 1921, it had ca. 5,200–5,500 members, in 1931 – slightly over 5,000, and in 1939 – ca. 4,700. Besides the town of Koło, the kehilla likely had jurisdiction over Budzisław and Grzegorzew, each inhabited by several Jewish families (in 1939 – 22 and 25 people, respectively).
Jews played a significant role in the economic life of the town and the region. In 1897, 52% of trade was in the hands of Jews. A list of commercial enterprises of Koło from 21 November 1919 names 97 companies, including 93 that belonged to Jews (96%). In 1938, 37.7% of craftsman’s workshops in the town had Jewish owners. Some of the most prominent large enterprises were: factory of agricultural machines owned by H. Nasielski (later Nasielski Brothers and Izbicki), printing houses of M. Rosenstein and E. Szwarcman, sawmills run by Salomon Goldberg, Michał Borenstej and Dawid Rauf, Josel Szatan, M. Trajber, M. Michałowicz (in Szatanek village – Budzisław Municipality), mills owned by Abraham Warmblum, Jakub Lewi, Herman Danziger, H. Neuman, Icek Gutman, faience factory run by Michał Rauch, porcelite factory of Jakub Teychweld (Tajchweld), brickyard of S. Bornstein, candy factory owned by S. Fordoński and H. Hirsztein, tannery run by Sz. Kapłan, factory of decorative tape of Pejsach Wołkowicz, vinegar factory of Chaim Baum, oil mills of S. Brukstein and Gliksman brothers, stocking factory run by Chaim Erdinast, absorbent cotton factories owned by Abram Przedecki and Woldenberg, company making pressing wax of Pinkus Gliksman and H. Moszkowicz, factory of embroidery in Nagórna Wieś run by Kuczyński. Among the local large-scale merchants were: Chaskiel Wacholder (horses and land property of 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). I. Gutman and H. Nasielski founded a company providing car transport from Koło to Kutno and Łódź.
Among the economic and professional organisations active in the Jewish community were: the “Gemilut Chesodim” Koło Jewish Interest-Free Loan Association (Kolskie Towarzystwo Żydowskie Bezprocentowych Pożyczek „Gemiłus Chesodim”), the “Gemilut Chesed” Charity Association (Stowarzyszenie Dobroczynności „Gemiłus Chesed”), the Labour Union of Unqualified Workers (Związek Zawodowy Robotników Niefachowych), the Association of Jewish Craftsmen (Związek Rzemieślników Żydów), the Jewish Merchants’ Association and the Jewish Credit Co-Operative Society – Unified Credit Co-Operative Society (Żydowski Związek Kupców i Spółdzielnia Kredytowa Żydowska – Zjednoczona Spółdzielnia Kredytowa), the “Achdut – Jedność” Supply Co-operative (Spółdzielnia Zaopatrzenia „Achdut-Jedność”). The following cultural and educational organisations operated in Koło: the “Yavneh” Jewish Cultural and Educational Association (Żydowskie Stowarzyszenie Kulturalno-Oświatowe „Jawne”), Kultur-Lige, the Jewish Library and Social Reading Room (Żydowska Biblioteka i Czytelnia Społeczna), the Society of Friends of the Hebrew University (Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Uniwersytetu Hebrajskiego), the Jewish School Union Association in Koło (Stowarzyszenie Żydowski Związek Szkolny w mieście Kole), the Association of Evening Courses for Jewish Workers (Towarzystwo Kursów Wieczorowych dla Robotników Żydowskich), the Jewish School Association (Żydowski Związek Szkolny), the “Yiddishe Arbeter Fray” – Jewish Working Woman (Żydowska Kobieta Pracująca -„Jidisze Arbeter Fraj”), the “Hazomir” Jewish Singing Society (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Śpiewacze „Hazomir”). The town boasted amateur theatre groups run by Poale Zion-Right and the Bund. There were also various sports clubs, youth groups, and paramilitary organisations: the Jewish Gymnastic and Athletic Association (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Gimnastyczno - Sportowe) the Maccabi Sports Club, Hashomer Hatzair; groups associated with Poale Zion-Right: the Hapoel Sports Club, the “Freiheit” youth organisation; associated with Revisionist Zionists: Betar, Brith Hachayal; associated with Poale Zion-Left: Borochow-Jugnt, the “Gwiazda” Sports Club; associated with the Bund: the “Zukunft” the youth organisation, the “Morgestern” Jewish Sports Club; associated with General Zionists – HaNoar HaTzioni. Koło also had a branch of the non-partisan Zionist HeHalutz – Pioneer organisation and the Society of the Friends of Working Palestine. The following educational institutions were active: the W. Medem pre-school, the seven-grade “Yavneh” General Private Religious Co-Educational School (7-mio klasowa Wyznaniowa Prywatna Koedukacyjna Szkoła Powszechna), the “Et Chaim” Jewish Common School (Szkoła Powszechna Żydowska), the Co-Educational Secondary School of the Jewish School Association (Gimnazjum Koedukacyjne Żydowskiego Związku Szkolnego).
The largest political groups of the interwar period had their cells in Koło: Agudath Israel with Poale Agudath Israel, the Bund, Poale Zion-Right, Poale Zion-Left, the General Zionists. All of these political groups were opposed by the Communist Party of Poland and its youth organisation – the Communist Association of Polish Youth (Komunistyczny Związek Młodzieży Polskiej).
In the second half of 1920s and at the beginning of 1930s, Poale Zion-Right was particularly popular among the Jewish inhabitants of Koło. In the election of 1931, they gained five seats on the community council. Members of this political group, Dr Szulrichter-Gaworowska and Abram Koniński, represented Koło in the elections of delegates to the 15th Zionists Congress in 1927. Zionists from Poale Zion-Right competed with the Bund for influence in the Kultur-Lige. With time, the conflict moved to the Municipal Council. However, councillors hailing from both parties would join forces in criticising the representatives of Poale Zion-Left.
After the election of 1931, the community council had the following composition: General Zionists – three seats, Poale Zion-Right – five seats, Poale Zion-Left – four seats, Agudath – one seat. The chairman was Josef Schwarz. The term of the council, however, proved to be very short-lived. New elections were called in 1932. The decision of the governor provoked dissatisfaction among many members of the community. The election eventually took place on 31 July 1932; Poale Zion-Right won with seven seats, Orthodox Jews – five, Zionists – five. On 17 September 1932, Mojsza Berkowic (representing Orthodox circles) was appointed chairman, while his deputy was Uszer Kleczewski (also Orthodox); Rozental (of the Mizrachi) became the chairman of the community board, with Koniński (Poale Zion-Right) appointed his deputy. In late October or early November 1934, Salomon Goldberg became the chairman of the council. In 1934, compulsory administration of the council was instituted, with the local rabbi serving as the head of the new institution. The decision exacerbated the conflicts between various political factions in the community authorities. Opponents of Orthodoxy were particularly critical of the changes. They accused the rabbi of greed and charging excessive fees for ritual services. In addition, the rabbi’s scheme to remove the “Yavneh” school from the community-owned building did not gain him any favours among the parents of the pupils. Subsequent elections to municipal authorities took place on 29 August 1936. After the last elections before the outbreak of the war, held on 19 March 1939, the community council had the following composition: Poale Zion-Right – two seats, Zionists – one seat, craftsmen – one seat, unaffiliated candidates – one seat, the Bund – two seats, Agudath – one seat, according to other data: the United Bloc of the Bund and Poale Zion-Left – two seats, Poale Zion-Right – two seats, Agudath – two seats, Zionists – one seat, craftsmen – one seat.
The community owned two synagogues built in the 19th century at Nowy Rynek (Jewish Marketplace): the so-called Great Synagogue (“metal-roofed”) and the Small Synagogue (at the corner of Kuśnierska Street). Next to it, there was a mikveh and the “Yavneh” Jewish Common School. The Jewish cemetery, originally founded in the 16th century with an area of 21,773 square metres, was located at Narutowicza Square. Most Jews lived in the so-called island part of the town (Garncarska Street). The community head was Rabbi Dawid Chaim Zylber-Margulies (Zilber-Margulies), who held the post for 50 years. He died in 1941. The cantor was Jakub Litman. In the 1930s, he gave performances in many cities in Kuyavia, East Greater Poland, and Masovia, collecting funds for a journey to Palestine.
In the 1930s, tensions started to grow in the relations between the Polish and Jewish communities in Koło. The number of anti-Semitic incidents started to surge. On 15 July 1933, slogans reading “Down with Jews” (Precz z żydami), “Jew Is Your Enemy” (żyd twój wróg), or “Don’t Buy From Jews” (Nie kupuj u żyda) were painted on the walls and sidewalks throughout the town. Eight perpetrators were arrested. Jan Poduszny was the leader of the group. On 20 December 1937, an anti-Jewish banner was hung out in Koło, while in February 1938, two windowpanes in Jewish flats were smashed. On 18 March 1937, a fight broke out between two drunk members of the National Party and two Jews. All the involved parties were punished. On 29 March 1937, hydrochloric acid was poured over clothes in a Jewish shop. In the first week of December 1937, six signs on Jewish shops at Piłsudskiego Street were painted over. Three perpetrators were captured and sentenced to seven days in jail.
In response to the increasing wave of anti-Semitism, meetings were called by various political factions, including the Zionists. Jewish activists were seeking to find an appropriate method of combatting anti-Jewish sentiments. In Koło, such meetings were held on 18, 19, and 26 February 1938. Jews formally remained loyal to national authorities. On 29 June 1935, a funeral service in memory of Józef Piłsudski was held in the Great Synagogue in Koło with the participation of Rabbi Ch. D. Zylber-Margulies and Chairman of the Community Council Salomon Goldberg. In the national parliamentary elections of 1930, Jewish traders voted on the list of the Non-Partisan Bloc of Cooperation with the Government (Bezpartyjny Blok Współpracy z Rządem). Jews loyally contributed to subsidising the Anti-Aircraft Defensive Loan.
Representatives of the Jewish community were actively involved in the work of municipal authorities of Koło. The outgoing municipal council ending its term on 15 June 1919 was composed of 15 Christians and nine Jews (Abram Berkowicz, Jehuda Berkowicz, Jakub Gierman, Załme Gierman, Dawid Mordkowicz, Chaim Chmielnik, Hersz Szuer, Izrael Eiznerowicz, Rozalia Kaufman). One of the magistrate jurors was Szulem Bresler. No records have been preserved in regards to the composition of the second term of the council in the years 1919–1929.
In the subsequent elections, on 16 June 1929, Jews ran from List No. 2 (Poale Zion-Right) which won two seats, List No. 6 (Bund) – two seats, List No. 8 (Poale Zion-Left) – two seats, List No. 14 (Orthodox Jews, unaffiliated candidates, and Zionists) – five seats. Abram Zandeman, Ezra Rejchert, Neuman, and Abram Lejb Luksemburg were elected jurors. The following Jews won seats in the Municipal Council: H. Hirszbajn, Kaufmanowa, Alje Chmielnik, Szyja Dawid Frankowski, Bencjon Goldberg, Ajzyk Wołkowicz, and Mosze Mendel Halter.
The following lists were submitted by Jews in the election of 1939: the United Workers’ Bloc of the Bund and Poale Zion (Zjednoczony Blok Robotniczy Bund i Poalej Syjon), the Jewish “unnamed” list, List of the Polish Socialist Party and Class Trade Unions, the Christian “unnamed” list, the Christian Economic List (Chrześcijańska Lista Gospodarcza), the Retail and Petty Tradesmen’s Union (Związek Detalicznych i Drobnych Kupców), the Class Trade Unions (Klasowe Związki Zawodowe). The newly elected council was composed of 24 members, including six Jews (Zionist Organisation and Poale Zion-Right – four seats, the Bund and Poale Zion-Left – two seats). In the elections to the Communal Councils, Jews from Koło won four seats – they had had no representatives in the council in previous terms.
In 1939, after the German invasion of Poland, Jews were gathered in the Market Square of Koło. Men were driven to the bank of the Warta River and tasked with repairing the blown up bridge. The Germans set fire to the synagogue and put the blame of the event on Jews. A high contribution was imposed on the Jewish community. Members of the intelligentsia were arrested, many people were murdered in the streets. Until the end of 1939, ca. 300 Jews were shot. The occupier prohibited Jews from burying their dead in the town. All funerals were moved to the village of Ruszków II, where burials had been taking place even before 1939.
An open ghetto was established in Koło. At the turn of November and December 1939, a group of 1,300 Jews was held in the Small Synagogue and in the communal building at Nowomiejska Street. On 4 December (or ca. 10 December) 1939, a transport of 1,139 Jews was sent to Izbica Lubelska, 62 people were deported to Krasnystaw, an indeterminate group was transported to Turobin and Hrubieszów, and 175 people ended up in Zamość. In March 1941, Jews from Koło and Kalisz were deported to Żółkiewka, Krasnystaw County. Some were sent to Komarów in Zamość County. On 2 October 1940, 150 families from Koło were sent to Bugaj and Nowiny Brdowskie (Lubotyń Municipality), where a ghetto was formed at the beginning of December 1940. In June 1941, groups of Jews from Koło were directed to labour camps in Greater Poland. In August 1941, ca. 100 women and girls were sent to the labour camp in Wrocław. A group of Jewish women from Koło and Izbica Kujawska was held in Oborniki. Due to the numerous displacement campaigns of the Jews of Koło, the local community was quickly shrinking in size. In 1939, there were 4,987 Jewish people living in the town, 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 were resettled to Koło. Those who had not been displaced from Koło were killed between 7/8 and 11 December 1941 after being sent to the death camp in Chełmno (Kulmhof). Before the transport, the authorities had imposed a poll tax of 4 marks on the last group of ca. 2,300 Jews remaining in Koło. The occupier claimed that the money would cover the costs of transport to a ghetto which was supposed to be formed in Eastern Lesser Poland in the spring of 1942. Before the transport to Chełmno, all Jews staying in Koło were gathered in the building of the Judenrat and in the synagogue.
Very few Jews returned to Koło after the war. They set up a branch of the Central Committee of Polish Jews which for some time was subordinate to the District Committee in Włocławek. The Koło branch ceased its activities at the end of the 1940s.
- Guldon Z., Wijaczka J., “Ludność żydowska w Wielkopolsce w drugiej połowie XVII wieku,” [in:] Żydzi w Wielkopolsce na przestrzeni dziejów, eds. J. Topolski, K. Modelski, Poznań 1995.
- Guldon Z., Wijaczka J., “Osadnictwo żydowskie w województwach poznańskim i kaliskim w XVI–XVII wieku,” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 1992, no. 2–3.
- Opioła M., Kawski T., Gminy żydowskie pogranicza Wielkopolski, Mazowsza, Małopolski i Śląska w latach 1918–1942, Toruń 2008.
- [1.1] Guldon Z., Wijaczka J., “Ludność żydowska w Wielkopolsce w drugiej połowie XVII wieku,” [in:] Żydzi w Wielkopolsce na przestrzeni dziejów, eds. J. Topolski, K. Modelski, Poznań 1995, p. 24; Guldon Z., Wijaczka J., “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] Opioła M., Kawski T., Gminy żydowskie pogranicza Wielkopolski, Mazowsza, Małopolski i Śląska w latach 1918–1942, Toruń 2008, pp. 91–92.