First Jewish families probably settled in Pieniężno (formerly Melzak) in 1814[1.1]. With time, a community of several dozen people was formed in the town. After the legal changes of 1847, the local Jews established an independent religious community. It owned a cemetery on the Jewish Hill (Judenberg) and a synagogue at Ornecka Street (Wormditter Straße).

The community was the most populous in the 1970s. The town was inhabited by nearly 130 Jews, who constituted ca. 3.5% of the population. They mainly earned their living from trade, offering their products to their Christian neighbours. The community started to shrink at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, there were only 70 Jews left in the town. The situation became even worse after the end of World War I, primarily due to mass migration.

Nevertheless, a synagogue community still existed in the town in 1932. It consisted of 17 Jews (among nearly 5,000 inhabitants – 0.3% of the total population), and only seven people paid the community tax. Members of the community board included: M. Lewinnek, Julius Putzrath (secretary), Fritz Jacoby (treasurer). The community property consisted of the aforementioned synagogue at Wormditter Straße and a cemetery; ritual slaughter was carried out in the town. Two children received religious education. There is no information about the community’s budget – perhaps its activities were only maintained from expedient contributions.

Although there were only a dozen or so Jewish people living in the town in the interwar period, they experienced numerous repressions at the hands of the Nazi authorities. During the Kristallnacht on 9/10 November 1938, the local synagogue was set on fire and was completely destroyed along with its furnishings[1.2]. In 1939, there were no Jews left in the town.

Lists of the victims of the Holocaust and World War II feature the names of 28 people born or living in Melzak. They were transported to the ghettos in Theresienstadt, Riga, Litzmannstadt (Łódź), Bełżyce, Minsk, and to the Stutthof camp. They were murdered in Berlin, in the ghettos in Theresienstadt and Litzmannstadt, in the camps in Treblinka, Stutthof, Auschwitz, and Sobibór[1.3].

On 16–17 April 1986, an event called the Jewish Days was organised as part of the second edition of the Pieniężno Meetings with Religions held at the Missionary Seminary of the CICM Fathers. An academic conference was organised, and the delivered lectures were published in print. The conference was accompanied by an exhibition entitled “The Religious Life of Jews,” featuring items from the collections of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Synagogue Museum in Tykocin.

Bibliography

  • Führer durch die jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland: 1932–1933, Berlin 1933, p. 20.
  • Sommerfeld A., “Juden im Ermland,” [in] Zur Geschichte und Kultur der Juden in Ost- und Westpreussen, Hildesheim 2000.
  • Religia i kultura żydowska. Materiały z Sesji Judaistycznej, eds. Wodecki, E. Śliwka, Pieniężno 1986.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ministerium des Innern, Das Etablissement der Juden in der Stadt Mehlsack auf Grund des Edikts vom 11. März 1812, 1814, ref. no. Rep. 77 (M) Abt. I Sekt. 34 Tit. 1021 no. 1.
  • [1.2] Sommerfeld A., “Juden im Ermland,” [in] Zur Geschichte und Kultur der Juden in Ost- und Westpreussen, Hildesheim 2000, p. 58.
  • [1.3] Gedenkbuch. Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933–1945, [online:] http://www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch/directory.html#frmResults [Accessed: 20 Oct 2010].