For a long time, Proszowice was an ethnically homogenous town. Jews were not allowed to settle there, although some researchers (e.g. Majer Bałaban) estimate that first Jews started to live in the town in the middle of the 15th century[1.1]. What is certain is that in 1692, a Jew by the name of Jakub Lewkowicz became the leaseholder of royal mills. It is also known that the very same year, he erected a brewery on the outskirts of the town, even though the townsmen of Proszowice strongly opposed the construction of the establishment[1.2].

The authorities of Proszowice did not provide local statistical data for the purpose of the 1790–1792 census of the Jewish population. The town, therefore, is described as having no Jewish inhabitants, but there were several Jewish families (dealing mainly with lease of taverns or breweries) living in the neighbouring villages (Gniazdowice, Klimontów, Makocice, Stągniowice, Szczytniki, Zagrody, Błonno)[1.3].

In the second half of the 18th century, a doctor from Proszowice called Aron was well renowned and highly esteemed far beyond the area of the town. In 1766, he was asked to provide his services for Duchess Maria Zofia née Sieniawska, the wife of Ruthenian Alderman August Czartoryski[1.4].

After the January Uprising, the number of Jews living in Proszowice sharply increased. This was because Jews were no longer obliged to obtain a permission of temporary residence in order to carry out economic activities. In the years 1866–1868, Chaim Prajs, a resident of Proszowice, became the first collector of the market fee.

In the interwar period, Jews became fully fledged residents of the town. In the 1919 Election to the Municipal Council, three Jewish councillors were elected: Abram Rajcher, Kałma Erlich, and Aron Josek Lichtensztejn. It was also a good time for Jewish trade and industry. In 1921, Mordka Klajner and his associates established a sawmill in the town; it employed seven people. Both the building housing the sawmill and the machinery were some of the most modern in the area.

The most popular occupations among the Jews of Proszowice were: tailor, baker, and butcher. When it comes to crafts, most Jews dealt with shoemaking and carpentry. Many owned their own shops or worked as travelling salesmen. Wealthy merchants traded in grain, cattle, and second-hand tools. There was also a matzo bread factory in the town, well known everywhere in Poland.

In 1921, there were 1,307 Jews living in Proszowice (the total population amounted to 3,297 people)[1.5]. In 1939, the number grew to 1,323[1.6].

Before WWII, the Jewish Community of Proszowice also comprised the villages of Klimontów, Kowale, Wierzbno, Koniusza, and Luborzyca. It had 1,400 members in total. The community owned a small synagogue located at the Market Square, a brick mikveh (destroyed in a fire in 1929), a cemetery, several squares and a slaughterhouse[1.7]. Until 1924, Michał Zawadzki was the rabbi. After he resigned, the function was temporarily performed by Fiszel Symcha Goldkorn[1.8], who was to hold the position until the election of a new rabbi. Goldkorn's main opponent was Aba Wachs; their fight for the position turned out to be far from amicable. A private note written by the town's alderman suggests that the situation was exploited in order to prevent the budget from being approved[1.9]. The community was continuously torn apart by disputes and conflicts; the divisions were caused by the religious and political battle between the members of the Mizrachi and the Aguda. When Goldkorn died in April 1927, the function of the rabbi was temporarily performed by Henich Szajnfrucht. His service did not help mitigate the conflicts within the community, so he was replaced with a rabbi from Sędziszów called Nuchym Ber Horowicz. He was supported by the orthodox Aguda and by the local branch of the Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government. In 1931, the Ministry approved the selection of Szymon Alter Frankiel from Skawina as the next rabbi; he resigned from the position in 1936. Another election was organised; the winner was N.B. Horowitz. Nonetheless, the conflicts did not die out. According to the calculations of the Alderman's Office, it was planned for the budget, estimated for 1,439 Jews, to amount to 25,194.12 zł, including 12,170 zł from contributions, 10,000 from ritual slaughter, and 3,024.12 zł from other sources. When it comes to contributions, it was planned for all outstanding payments to be covered[1.10].

In 1937, the Jewish Community of Proszowice had 1,428 members; 191 families were obliged to pay contributions. The movable patrimony of the community was estimated to 1,200 zł, while its real estate was worth 13,000 zł; its debt amounted to 10,844.69 zł. The Community Board was composed of the representatives of Orthodox Jews, Zionists, members of the Mizrachi and some politically unaffiliated persons. In the 1930s, the Zionist movement started to gain more and more popularity in Proszowice.

At the beginning of September 1939, German troops entered Proszowice. In December, a Judenrat was established there. Germans used different forms of repressions against Jews: they confiscated their property, closed their establishments, and forced them to work in benefit of the occupant. No ghetto was established in Proszowice. Moreover, Germans did not permanently reside in the town; nonetheless, during their visits Jews were beaten, robbed, and occasionally murdered. In the years 1939–1940, the local community expanded due to the arrival of ca. 2,000 refugees forcefully displaced from other regions; they were fed by the communal kitchen run by the Judenrat.

On 29 June 1942, the Jews of Proszowice were sent to the Nazi transit camp in Słomniki. Most of them were eventually transferred to the death camp in Bełżec. After the so-called “Action,” ca. 100–200 remained in Proszowice. They were sent to Bełżec in November 1942. Throughout WWII, there were also some incidents of Jews being murdered by local peasants[1.11].

Among the Christian population of Proszowice and surrounding villages, there were many people who provided help for their Jewish neighbours. The local parish priest, Józef Pawłowski, helped people of both creeds by opening canteens and clothing distribution points. In 1943, the Wilk and Wierzbanowski families were murdered for helping Jews. In case of the latter, Germans killed two children – a ten-year-old and a two-year-old[1.12].

After the war, ca. 60 Jews returned to Proszowice. In July 1945, eleven Jews were murdered in the Miechowski County. Two people were killed in a forest near Proszowice. This resulted in all remaining Jews leaving the town[1.1.11].

Footnotes

  • Proszowice, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 2, ed. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 1030.

  • Proszowice. Zarys dziejów do 1939 roku, ed. F. Kiryk, Kraków 2000.

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] M. Bałaban, Dzieje Żydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, Kraków 1913, p. 264.
  • [1.2] F. Leśniak, W okresie Polski szlacheckiej, [in] Proszowice. Zarys dziejów do 1939 roku, ed. F. Kiryk, Kraków 2000, pp. 168–169, 172.
  • [1.3] Ludność żydowska województwa krakowskiego w czasie Sejmu Czteroletniego. Spisy z powiatów krakowskiego, ksiąskiego, lelowskiego i proszowickiego z lat 1790-1792 ze zbiorów Archiwum Państwowego w Krakowie, ed. K. Follprecht, Kraków 2008, pp. 34, 138, 148, 244, 264, 304, 443, 452, 552; F. Leśniak, W okresie Polski szlacheckiej, [in] Proszowice. Zarys dziejów do 1939 roku, ed. F. Kiryk, Kraków 2000, pp. 172–173, 193.
  • [1.4] F. Leśniak, W okresie Polski szlacheckiej, [in] Proszowice. Zarys dziejów do 1939 roku, ed. F. Kiryk, Kraków 2000, p. 194.
  • [1.5] Proszowice, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 2, ed. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 1030.
  • [1.6] W. Bernacki, Między wojnami światowymi, [in] Proszowice. Zarys dziejów do 1939 roku, red. F. Kiryk, Kraków 2000, pp. 318–319.
  • [1.7] National Archives in Kraków, 1st Provincial Office of Kraków, file no. 1652, sheet 71.
  • [1.8] National Archives in Kraków, 1st Provincial Office of Kraków, file no. 3360, sheet 22.
  • [1.9] National Archives in Kraków, 1st Provincial Office of Kraków, file no. 1752, sheet 11.
  • [1.10] National Archives in Kraków, 1st Provincial Office of Kraków, file no. 1593, sheet 4.
  • [1.11] Proszowice, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 2, ed. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 1030.
  • [1.12] Polacy i Żydzi 19391945, ed. S. Wroński, M. Zwolakowa, Warsaw 1971.
  • [1.1.11] Proszowice, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 2, ed. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 1030.