The first mention of Jews in Mielec dates back to 1573 and refers to the nuptials of Barbara and Izrael. Later on, in 1601, a certain Mojżesz living in Mielec acquired a property within the town’s borders.
During the Swedish Deluge (1665–1670), forty local Jewish families were killed. According to the tax census in Mielec, only twenty Jewish families paid the head tax in 1662, and in 1676 – as few as six. At the time, there were also 12 Jewish families living in the nearby town of Rzochów (nowadays a district of Mielec), where the first Jewish settler had arrived in 1631. In 1676, twenty Jewish families paid the head tax in Rzochów.
Initially, the Jews of Mielec and Rzochów were subordinate to the kehilla of Opatów. The first wooden synagogue was erected in 1721, but it was lost in the great fire of 1865, which also destroyed two other houses of prayer. A cheder was opened by the community in 1720. At the time, the head of the kehilla was Abram Markowic. In 1741, the local Jews were given suffrage in municipal elections, so that the members of the town council would be chosen “with the consent of the whole populace and all the synagogues.” In 1765, the Mielec kehilla had 914 members: 585 in Mielec itself and 94 in Rzochów. In 1777, the Jews of Mielec paid the tolerance tax in the amount of 914 zlotys, which would suggest that Mielec was the ninth largest Jewish community in the territory of today’s Podkarpackie Province.
Mielec came under the Austrian rule in 1772. Therefore, since 1792 all Jewish children attended both cheders and the so-called Jüdisch-Deutsche Schule – schools for Jews with German as the language of instructions. A brick beth midrash was erected in the town in 1799. The same year, a wooden synagogue was built in Rzochów. At the time, 1,008 Jews lived in the town, which constituted 34% of its total population.
The Jewish community of Mielec was mostly Hasidic. At the beginning of the 19th century, the local rabbi and tzaddik (with the latter post assumed in 1827) was Jacob Horowitz, son of the famous Tzaddik Naftali of Ropshitz and a former rabbi of Kolbuszowa. The community had 1,980 members in 1846, and in 1870 – 2,534. The kehilla owned two synagogues and employed three rabbis, with the function of the chief rabbi held by Judah Horowitz.
In 1872, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Mielec on economic grounds. The local police did not manage to handle the situation, and eventually soldiers were called into the town. A similar anti-Jewish incident took place in 1895.
In 1881, Pinkas Kranz founded an almshouse for needy Jews and Christians. In 1885, the Credit-Verein was established with N. Schmirer at its helm. Another credit union was founded in 1892; it was headed by Natan Gross. Thirteen out of the 24 members of the Municipal Council were Jewish. At the end of the 19th century, a new brick synagogue with two turrets was erected at the site of the old temple. A kosher slaughterhouse and a mikveh were located right next to it. There were 45 shops in Mielec, 41 of which belonged to Jews. In 1899, Abraham Juda Kurz opened the first printing house in the town. A total of 3,993 Jews belonged to the community in 1900, including 2,817 living in the town itself. The kehilla ran a religious school. Another school was founded by the Baron Maurice de Hirsch Foundation. Naftali Horowitz held the function of the rabbi. In 1905, 4,017 Jews lived in the town, constituting 62% of the total population. It was the same year that the first Jewish bookshop was established by Rachela Grau. In 1918, Salomon Weisser established a charity fund to support poor Jews.
When the Russian troops seized the town on 21 September 1914, the Cossacks plundered Jewish houses and shops. On 4 and 7 November 1918, Jewish shops were looted by peasants from the nearby villages. One of the intervening police officers was killed in the incident. On 1 May 1919, another wave of anti-Semitic riots swept the town. This time, 4,000 people participated in the pogrom, both from the countryside and the town itself. In the course of the riot, 14 Jewish shops and five flats were plundered. Moreover, eight Jews were injured when trying to defend their property. Although similar attempts at triggering riots were made on 8 and 15 May, they were not successful due to the firm attitude of the gendarmerie and the army.
In 1923, 3,020 Jews and 2,415 Poles lived in Mielec. Cham Friedman was the president of the kehilla in the interwar period. The Jews of Mielec took an active part in Polish patriotic initiatives. A man named Strauss served in the Polish Legions under the command of Józef Piłsudski, while Lejzor Salpeter was a member of the Citizens’ Committee in the Legions. The following political parties and youth organisations operated in the town: Mizrachi, Agudath Israel, Poale Zion, Histadut, Hashomer Hatzair, Hehalutz, Gordonia, Betar, Bnei Akiva, and the Maccabi sports club. In 1927, Chana Hermelowa established a private library in the town.
In the 1930s, the Jews of Mielec started to migrate from the town in large numbers. In the period between 1937 and 1938, 691 Jews left the district for Palestine, whereas 1,555 left for West European countries and the USA.
Before the outbreak of World War II, 5,420 Jews lived in Mielec and 1,922 in Rzochów; among them there were many refugees from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig.
The German army seized Mielec on 13 September 1939, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Soon afterwards, the Nazis burned 80 people alive in the synagogue and the kosher slaughterhouse. Moreover, 22 Jewish refugees from Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Tarnów, and Żabno were shot to death at the airport in Berdechów. The other two synagogues in Mielec were set on fire the same day. A commemorative obelisk has been erected on the site of the massacre in the synagogue. On 10 November 1939, the Germans took a group of the town’s citizens hostage, including three Jews. The same month, a lawyer by the name of Fink was appointed president of the Judenrat.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 300 local Jews were imprisoned in the labour camp in Biesiadka; over 200 of them worked on felling trees for the German companies “Fischer” and “Müller.” Ca. 40 Jews were imprisoned in the subcamps located in the hamlet of Przyłęk Staszkówka, while 30 Jewish women were detained in the nearby Smoczka. Executions with a firing squad were occasionally organised in the camps. In the winter of 1943, the camp and its subcamps were liquidated and all the Jews were taken to an unknown destination.
Another labour camp was set up in Cyranka, today one of the districts of Mielec. It had ca. 40 prisoners, who worked on felling trees and road construction works. At the beginning of 1944, they were all murdered on site along with the members of the Jewish guard.
Ca. 100 Jews were held in the labour camp in Dębiaki. They worked on road construction and built a forest railway line connecting Mielec and Nowa Dęba. In the spring of 1944, they were all deported to Mielec and probably murdered.
A forced labour camp was established in the Mielec Aviation Works, converted by Germans into Flugzeugwerk Mielec, in the spring of 1942. It was officially a branch of the Płaszów camp. In March 1942, ca. 250 Jews were detained in the camp, including 170 people from Wielopole Skrzyńskie. In the winter of 1942, more Jews were transported to the camp, with its population increasing to 2,000. The camp was liquidated in July 1944; at the time, it had ca. 2,000 male and 300 female prisoners, all of whom were transported to Wieliczka and then to Flosseburg in the Third Reich. The sick and the weak were murdered.
The last stage of the extermination of Jews in Mielec began on 9 March 1942. The Gestapo murdered ca. 300 Jews in Borek, one of the districts of Mielec. A commemorative obelisk has been erected on the site of the execution. A total of 1,000 people were killed in all executions held at the time. The Germans then started to deport the remaining Jewish population. The process began on 13 March and lasted five days. Young people were taken to the labour camp in Pustków, while ca. 500 Jews were sent to the ghettos in Bełz, Biała Podlaska, Dubienka, Włodawa, Krasnystaw, Międzyrzecz, and Parczew. They were eventually sent to the death camp in Bełżec. Mielec was the first town in the General Government to be pronounced Judenrein – free of Jews.
It is believed that ca. 300 Jews from Mielec survived the Holocaust. After the war, 183 of them returned to the town. According to registration data collected on 15 August 1945, there were 160 Jews living in Mielec at that time. However, only 20 Jews remained in the town until the end of the following year. This sudden decrease was the result of a pogrom carried out on 25 October 1946.
- “Mielec,” [in] Encyclopaedia Judaica, eds. M. Berenbaum, F. Skolnik, vol. 14, Detroit 2007, p. 205.
- Potocki A., Żydzi w Podkarpackiem, Rzeszów 2004.
- Wanatowicz S., “Ludność żydowska w regionie mieleckim do 1939 r.,” [in] Mielec, Studia i materiały z dziejów miasta i regionu, vol. 3, Mielec 1994, pp. 34–61.