The earliest mentions of Jewish settlement in Oborniki, one of the oldest cities in the Poznań Province, date from the mid-16th century. According to Heppner and Herzberg, Jews started to settle there as early as 1485 when the city received a new privilege from the king after a devastating fire. A synagogue was most likely erected before 1564.

By 1600 Oborniki had a substantial Jewish population. A document from 1631 obliged Jews to pay the same fees as other inhabitants of the city. They settled along their own street known as Żydowska Street, which ran from the northwestern end of the town square to the Wełna river.

The governor of Oborniki in 1700 was a Protestant, Bogusław von Unruh (Unrug), who attracted Protestant settlers into the city. On 2 January 1724 he issued a privilege for Jews, confirmed in 1754 by King Augustus III the Strong. The document charged various fees from the community, including a castle fee of 200 zlotys, a charge for “never getting herrings from the castle” in the amount of 130 zlotys, a cattle and sheep fee of 80 zlotys, street tax and bridge tax, a fee for suet and tallow, and also "as an additional fee, 30 zlotys twice a year at New Year and Easter”. Altogether the charges amounted to 500 zlotys. In exchange, Jews had complete freedom to trade and elect their rabbi and shammes. Any complaint by a Christian against a Jew was to be considered first by the Jewish council of elders. Given such favourable conditions, the number of Jews living in Oborniki multiplied quickly. The Jewish quarter was becoming too small, but in 1757 the Jews were specifically ordered to remain within the designated district. The townspeople complained that the production of wine and vodka by Jews made the market too competitive.

The chronicle of Oborniki (“Kronika Miasta Powiatowego Oborniki”), published in 1926, an amateur work by Michał Maćkowiak, a Greater Poland Uprising insurgent and later mayor of the city, contains a quote from a document concerning a mikveh: “due to their religion and customs, Jews always had a bath house assigned, but one collapsed due to old age in 1798. Jews were granted [...] at the Wełna river [...] hereditary lease on land and on that land they built a bath for Jewish women, known as ‘Taube or Taufe’. For that, they had to pay a lease of 10 zlotys per year”. Maćkowiak also reports that on 10 August 1757 the parish church burned down and “fire spread to Jewish houses which stood too close to the church”.

The primary occupation of Jews in Oborniki was trade in timber and salt, as well as crafts. After incorporation of the city to Prussia in 1793, the growth of the Jewish community continued. “In 1813 jews in Oborniki stated that though it was true that from the time when Piotr Bieliński held the office of county administrator in Oborniki, they had been obliged to pay 784 zlotys annually to the County Administrator's Office, and later the Municipal Fund, they only did so because they were forced, while their free settlement document only required them to pay 500 zlotys”. In 1835 Oborniki was inhabited by 349 Jews, including 14 women and 15 men aged 60 and over, 92 men and 88 women aged 14-60 and 64 boys and 78 girls under 14 years of age.

The children attended both a Jewish school and a Christian public school. In 1856, Jews constituted about a third of the population of Oborniki. In 1880, the city had about 400 Jewish inhabitants. Among them were about 50 Jewish tailors, who travelled the area offering their services to peasants.

The following Oborniki rabbis are known by name: Izrael ben Jacob Hurwitz (appointed in 1652); Josef, who was a dayan in Poznań in the years 1696–1698 in addition to holding many other positions; Wolf Klausner (1804–1811); Samuel Sanwil (1817); Abraham (listed as deceased in 1830); Zvi Hirsch ben Aron Schneidemuehl (1832–1875); J. Goldschmidt (1876–1878); Jacob Bick (1886); M. Broch (from May 1890); and Rafael ben Alexander Kirsch (from 1895).

At the turn of the 20th century the Jewish community in Oborniki merged with the Szamotuły community. Associations active in the city at the beginning of the 20th century included the Derek Tov Society (“Good Path”), Ner Tamid Society (“Eternal Light”) and a tailors' association. Both the city board and the city council had Jewish members.

Jews from Oborniki fought on many Prussian battlefields. In 1864 those soldiers were Louis Lewinsohn and Hermann Zwirn, in the years 1870–1871 – 6 men (one of whom died and one was wounded).

Most Jews left Oborniki when World War II ended and the city once again became part of Poland. As in other cities of the former Prussian partition, the local Jews most likely felt close to German identity and culture. In his chronicle, Maćkowiak reports: “After the liberation of Oborniki, its Polish life is beginning. Germans and jews are selling their real estate and moving to Germany. Polish life intensifies day by day. The teachers are getting down to work teaching our children to sing and read in Polish. The songs ‘Boże, coś Polskę’ and ‘Marsz Dąbrowskiego’ can be heard, tears of joy and weeping mothers kissing their children tenderly can be seen in the streets of our city. The national identity of our beloved Poland is forming”. In 1921 Oborniki still had 137 Jewish residents, who constituted 3.3% of the total population. By the time World War II broke out, only 60 Jews remained in Oborniki. All of them were resettled by the Germans to the General Government in 1939. In 1940 a forced labour camp for all the Jews from the region was established in Oborniki.

Bibliographic note

  • K.-D. Alicke, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, München (2008).
  • A. Heppner, I. Herzberg, Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart der Juden und der jüdischen Gemeinden in den Posener Laender, Koschmin – Bromberg (1909).
  • M. Maćkowiak, Kronika Miasta Powiatowego Oborniki, Ziemia Obornicka [online] 27 March 2013, https://oborniki.com.pl/historia/dawne/mackowiak.php  [accessed: 27 August 2015].
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