The border location of Olecko contributed to its trade development, although not to the extent expected by its inhabitants. Nevertheless, merchants and Jewish smugglers appeared there for years.

An extraordinary event occurred in 1704 when the municipality office in Olecko was informed by a pastor from Szarejki, Marcin Kräuser, that a crime of blasphemy had been committed. Izaak Mejerowicz, a Jewish man, was accused of having done it. It all began harmlessly, arising from a dispute over fish.

Izaak Mejerowicz (Markowicz) was from Wiżajny (Wisrainen). He was born in 1667 and settled in the Prussian town of Szczecinki in 1701, where the owner of a local tavern let him stay. Mejerowicz was involved in trading at fairs. On 17th January 1704 (ca) on his way back from a fair in Gołdap he stayed for a night in Kucze, in the County of Olecko, in the house of a nobleman, Jan Kuczewski.

Whilst there, Mejerowicz got into an argument with Krzysztof Przyborowski, Kuczewski’s brother-in-law. The argument originated from a discussion over why Jews can eat only fish with scales, while Christians can eat fish without scales. In the course of the dispute Przyborowski tried to hit Mejerowicz but Kuczewski defended him. Eventually Mejerowicz was accused of profanities against God. At the end of 1704 he was sent to prison in Olecko, and took part in the court proceedings. Jan Kuczewski testified that Mejerowicz said: “What is your God? He is born from a Jewish woman, from the same place as everyone else (he grasped his abdomen in saying so), he was circumcised, speaking Polish – they cut off his foreskin, speaking German - an dem Fisel beschnitten wordem. God shall punish you in the future for eating such fish”. As the house host suffered from toothaches, he did not get involved in the conversation, saying only that it was Jews, not Christians, who would be punished.

The episode was prolonged by Krzysztof Przyborowski, who visited Kuczewski’s house. He admitted that although the Old Testament prohibited eating eels and pork, God allowed the Christians to eat them. Przyborowski then cited a parable about Saint Peter. After listening to it, Mejerowicz said allegedly: “The God who let you do it only became God later. He was first a man, the same as all other people.” He was said to have repeated these words five times. Przyborowski was outraged by this and wanted to beat Mejerowicz and throw him out of Kuczewski’s house. They quarreled even harder, calling each other pagans and swearing. In the end, Mejerowicz reportedly said: “You Christians have to make a living of damn farming, while we Jews, as a nation chosen by God, make money by trade. That is why you are cursed and we are God’s children.”

Mejerowicz did not admit committing the blasphemy. He testified that they got into a discussion about a ban on eating certain types of fish, as specified in the Bible. He admitted that Przyborowski called the Jews pagans, and that he replied that they should let them be these pagans. When Przyborowski asked why Jews do not believe in Christ, Mejerowicz explained that they cannot believe in someone who was born from a woman and was circumcised on the eighth day. Asked about the aim of his explanations, Mejerowicz said that he did not intend to offend God, but only wanted to discuss. Testimonies of the Kuczewski family did not bring anything new to the case. Mejerowicz kept on denying the blasphemy he was accused of, even on being tortured. On 4 April 1704 three Jews came to Olecko to request for an attorney for him. The court rejected the request, considering it contradictory to court practice. On 17 May 1704 the judges found Mejerowicz guilty of the blasphemy and sentenced him to have his tongue ripped off and then be burnt at the stake.

Mejerowicz appealed against the court’s judgment to the Prussian King Frederick I, who ordered to withhold his execution, and in August 1704 to transfer the case files to Królewiec. Mejerowicz was taken there and the Court of Appeal reargued his case in 1704. The court’s judgment is unknown, but the sentence was probably withheld, and the Jews of Królewiec requested not to hold the execution in their town.

Differences and disputes in the field of religion occupied inhabitants of the borderlands for decades. At the beginning of the 19th century Olecko became a local center for the Christianization of Jews living in Prussia and the borderlands of the Kingdom of Poland. Since 1822, one of the six branches of the Association for Spreading Christianity among Jewry with its seat in Berlin (Gesellschaft zur Beförderung des Christentums unter den Juden) functioned in Olecko. It was probably established by the town’s superintendant Jan Schellong.

Horn, a legal adviser, took an active role in Christianization activity. On 18th January 1824 Leyser Trallel vel Carl Waltenberg became a Lutheran due to Horn’s activity. Five witnesses took part in Waltenberg’s baptism including Becker, a missionary and preacher from Warsaw, and a missionary called O’Neill.

The twenty-year old Abraham Nishel from Filipowo was baptized on 4 June 1827. He had earlier stayed for 2 and a half years under Horn’s special protection – in the social, financial and religious realms. The adviser also gave him his surname – the convert was registered in the book of baptisms as Christian Horn. The baptism was extraordinarily organized – Horn was the first witness, and the others were a counsel (von Morstein), two priests (Frenzel and Raphael), a preacher (Brzoska), a treasurer (Milchhöfer) and a tannery master (Korth)

Luis Herrmann Jacoby, a merchant from Świętajno in Olecko County, was baptized on 18 June. He was the son of a Jewish merchant from Ełk. The Jews of Olecko, who comprised a Diaspora of about 56 people, were involved mainly in trade and commerce. They traditionally monopolized the textile industry (for example Louis Sokolowski and L. Alexandrowitz). A Jewish community was established in the town, and the synagogue and cemetery were built.

After the Nazi Party (NSDAP) won the elections in March 1933, mass attacks against the Jewish population began. They arrested a lot of Olecko merchants, but soon after set them

As anti-Jewish persecutions intensified, many of Olecko’s Jews decided to migrate to Królewiec, and most moved to Berlin. Some managed to move from Germany to the Netherlands (such as Arthur and Walter Friedmann). In 1939, the last Jews were deprived of their property, and an informal ghetto was established in Olecko, in a multifamily building at Bergstrasse 13 (at present 1 Maja Street, opposite Wąska Street). This address is recorded as the war-time place of residence for the following Olecko inhabitants: Anna Czarninski, Horst Czerninski, Sally Czarninski, Khana Michalowitz, Max Rehfeld, Margot Sokolowski and Taube.

On 6 December 1939 a group of local Jews was deported “to Poland”. These included, amongst others: Anna Czerninski, David Czerninski, Günther Czerninski, Helene Czerninski, Sally Czerninski, Anna Menchelowitz, Lina Rehfeld, Ephraim Reinhardt, Franziska Reinhardt, Margot Lore, Jenny Salomonsohn, Lewin Sokolowski, Lisbeth Wessolowski and Taube Wessolowski.  The time and place of death for most of them are unknown. Some died in Auschwitz including G. Czerninski and M. L. J. Salomonsohn. Most of those deported were taken to the Lublin ghetto in December 1939 including Horst Czerninski, Ephraim and Franziska Reinhardt. David Czerninski was most probably taken to Biała Podlaska, and then to Lublin.

Lists of Holocaust victims show the names of approximately 50 people connected with Olecko by birth or by place of living. They were imprisoned and tortured in the ghettos of Theresienstadt, Riga, Minsk, Kaunas, Litzmannstadt (Łódź), Piaski, Lublin, and Shanghai, and in the camps of Auschwitz and Sobibór. The last remaining Jews are said to have been deported from Olecko to the death camps in 1941 or 1942. Members of the following families survived the Holocaust: Czerninski, Czerwinski, Lichtenstein, and Sokolowski.

 

Bibliography:

  • Führer durch die jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland: 1932–1933, Berlin 1933, s. 25.
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