The oldest trace that proves the existence of an organized Jewish community in Piła comes from 1563. There were three Jewish houses and a synagogue in the town then. Jews paid 1 florin and 22 cents rent for each of them. Moreover, the tenants paid a tax for leasing meadows in a form of an oat tribute. In 1577, they paid 10 Polish zlotys of poll-tax. The number of Jews in Piła gradually increased. In 1569, Jews already owned five houses. A rapid development of a Jewish settlement dates from the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the mid-17th century, they made up a population of about 500 people. 177 Jews paid poll-tax. In 1626, in the house of a Jew Juchym, who lived by the church, somebody started a fire. It spread across the whole town. As a result, Piła was completely destroyed. The owner of the town, Queen Constance of Austria, and her royal secretary who acted on her behalf, Samuel Targowski, made a decision to rebuild the town. They took care of the interests of both local Christians and Jews. A new area for Jewish community to settle was mapped out ‘towards the road leading to Ujście’. Later, the territory was called the Jewish Market and a Jewish district formed around it. At first the Jews did not take fancy of the new place. It can be shown by the fact that at the beginning ‘Jews did not build any houses on the area given to them by an inspector, and the cause of this was that they were settled a long way from the town and were afraid of insulting and dissolute people starting fires and slighting them[1.1]. They were allowed to build a wooden in the Jewish market. The number of Jewish houses increased to 14 in the middle of the 17th century. A tragic incident occurred when the Swedish army occupied Piła in 1655. The soldiers robbed the Jews, burnt their sacred objects and murdered more than 30 people. The Jewish community practically ceased to exist. Soon, however it started to rebuild. The members of the Jewish community generally worked in trade, and the location of Piła on the way from Królewiec (Königsberg) to Berlin created favorable conditions for it.[1.2]
In 1773, 30 merchants in the town worked in trade. Practically, all of them were Jews and, among them, there were 12 traders in cloth, six in foreign goods, five in wool, five in horses, one in fancy goods and one in silk. Jews could also sell beer and mead. In 1772, they had 43 houses out of 236 in Piła. 80 Jewish families lived in them. In 1773, there were 37 Jewish houses out of 209 houses. There was also a synagogue. Along with the collapse of the local economy at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, almost all the trade was in the hands of Jews. Butchers dominated among the Jewish craftsmen at that time. There were three of them (50% of the total of employed in that business in the town). A merchant from Berlin – Beniamin Veitel, opened a lace-making school for Jewish girls in Piła. 206 girls from Piła, Czarnków and Wieluń attended the school. Until the end of the 19th century, Jews in Piła made up a relatively large community as far as Greater Poland conditions are concerned. In 1834, there were 404 of them, in 1880, there were 805, in 1890 – 798. Only since the last decade was there a distinct decline in the population. In the 19th century, a Jewish school was established[1.3]. In the 19th century, there was an increase in the number of supporters for a reform of Judaism according to the haskalah way. After 1848, opposition to the supporters of the traditional Judaism made reformers start-up, their own group that would remain in opposition to the majority of the community[1.4]. In 1834 a big fire destroyed many houses and the synagogue. Only with donations from other Jewish communities (notably from the Jews of Breslau) it was possible to build a new one.[1.5] In the 19th century, the first mutual aid, professional and political organizations were set up, independently of the structures of the Jewish community. Most of them co-operated or supplemented the activity of the community until the 1930s. Since the late 20s a districtrabbinate with almost 1400 members in 14 congregations had his seat in Pila.[1.1.5]
After the national socialists took over the government in Piła, in a similar way to the whole Third Reich and Piła regency, from 1933/1934, the authorities undertook a number of actions against Jews. Anti-Jewish street demonstrations, a boycott of Jewish shops, the smashing of windows and distributing anti-Jewish leaflets were organized. The windows in synagogues and shops were broken. The inscriptions ‘Jude’ and ‘Judenladen’ were placed on the latter. The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) did not by-pass Piła. The ‘action’ started at night on 9/10 November 1938. Jewish shops and apartments were destroyed. Thirty-five Jews were arrested and taken to a camp called ‘Work Service’ in Złów. A few persons were beaten and battered, then deported to the concentration camp in Sachsenchausen. The synagogue was set on fire and almost burnt to the ground. A number of people took the decision to emigrate because of the pogrom. Only about 50 Jewish families out of 150 stayed in the town. The board of the Jewish community was forced to sell a three-storied building of theirs for almost nothing. Out of the 12,000 marks gained, 3,000 was used to pay off a mortgage, and the rest, 9,000 was to cover the cost of a journey of six emigrants going to Shanghai and the cost of the demolition of a synagogue. In 1939, Jews were made to leave Piła. Those who stayed, after the outbreak of the war in 1939, were deported to Lublin[1.6]. At the end of February 1940, Jews living in Piła regency were arrested and taken to Piła. Before they arrived in the town, they were deprived of their possessions. They came only with hand baggage and were put in one of the labor camps. Their ultimate fate is unknown[1.7].
The incidents were preceded by mass displacements of so-called Polish Jews from the territory of Germany. Their transports in October and December 1938 arrived in Piła by trains and cars. From there, they were directed to the Republic of Poland. Among the displaced, there were Jews from Berlin and Szczecin[1.8].
- [1.1] Zygmunt Boras, Zbigniew Dworecki, Piła..., passim; Zenon Guldon, Jacek Wijaczka, Ludność zydowska w Wielkopolsce w drugiej połowie XVII wieku, [in:] Żydzi w Wielkopolsce na przestrzeni dziejów, edited by Jerzy Topolski and Krzysztof Modelski, Wydawncitwo Poznańskie, Poznań 1995, p. 21.
- [1.2] Zygmunt Boras, Zbigniew Dworecki, Piła..., passim; Zenon Guldon, Jacek Wijaczka, Osadnictwo żydowskie w województwach poznańskim i kaliskim w XVI-XVII wieku, „Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego“, 1992, no 2-3, p. 66-75.
- [1.3] Zygmunt Boras, Zbigniew Dworecki, Piła..., passim.
- [1.4] Sophia Kemlein, Żydzi w Wielkim Księstwie Poznańskim 1815-1848. Przeobrażenia w łonie żydostwa polskiego pod panowaniem pruskim, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, Poznań 2001, s. 282.
- [1.5] Klaus-Dieter Alicke, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 3, München 2008, p. 3701.
- [1.1.5] Klaus-Dieter Alicke, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 3, München 2008, p. 3701.
- [1.6] Karol Jonca, „Noc Kryształowa“ i casus Herszela Grynszpana, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 1998, pp. 174-176.
- [1.7] Jan Sziling, Eksterminacja Żydów w krajach nad Bałtykiem okupowanych przez Niemców podczas drugiej wojny światowej, [in:] Studia z dziejów Żydów w regionie Bałtyku, edited by Zenoin Hubert Nowak and Zbigniew Karpus, Toruń 1998, p. 173.
- [1.8] Jerzy Tomaszewski, Preludium Zagłady. Wygnanie Żydów polskich z Niemiec w 1938 r.,, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN Warszawa 1998, pp. 138, 214.