The beginnings of permanent Jewish settlement in Skierniewice date back to the end of the 18th century. According to the 1800 census, there were only eight Jews living in the town. Three of them were merchants. The size of the Jewish population began to grow rapidly after the Prussian authorities abolished municipal privileges restricting Jewish settlement.
In 1826, a Jewish quarter was marked out; until 1862, Jews were obliged to settle exclusively within its confines. The quarter was located between Barania Street (now Okrzei), Poprzeczna Street (now Mireckiego), Rawska Street (now Św. Stanisława), and Stodolna Street (now Pierwszego Maja). During this period, local Jews were earning their living as small traders and craftsmen. In the first half of the 19th century, the Jewish community of Skierniewice was subordinate to the kehillot in Łowicz and Sochaczew.
Jews started to settle in the town in great numbers following the construction of the Warsaw-Vienna railway line, and later after the construction of the railway junction in Skierniewice. The local religious community was instituted in 1850. At that time, a Jewish cemetery and a burial society (Chevra Kadisha) were founded. A few years later, in 1854, a wooden synagogue was built. The community also had a ritual bathhouse – a mikveh (at present-day Okrzei Street) and a religious school, located at present-day Batorego Street.
In 1886, Tzaddik Szymon Kalisz (1857–1926) settled in Skierniewice with his court. This had a significant impact on the growth of Hasidic influence in the town. Born in Warka, Kalisz was considered by many to be a miracle maker; thus, Skierniewice became a pilgrimage site for his followers. Another well-known rabbi of Skierniewice, holding the post at the end of the 19th century, was Meir Yechiel ha-Levi Holzstock, later the tzaddik of Ostrowiec.
At the turn of the 20th century, Skierniewice Jews established many institutions and societies; the community also had its representatives in the Municipal Council. Many political associations and organisations were formed in the town. The leading political force was the Agudath; the Bund also enjoyed a big following. In the interwar period, the Jewish Credit and Loan Fund, called the Jewish Bank, was established in Skierniewice. It had its seat near the intersection of Batorego and Strykowska streets. At the time, over 4,000 Jews lived in the town, constituting one third of the total population.
Germans entered Skierniewice on 8 September 1939, immediately engaging in the extermination of the Jewish population. Already in October 1939, the German troops burned down the synagogue. In 1940, ca. 2,000 Jews from Łódź and other nearby towns were deported to Skierniewice, and the number of people held in the local ghetto increased to 6,500. The closed Jewish quarter in Skierniewice had been formed in October 1940. It was liquidated at the turn of April 1941. All its prisoners – a total of ca. 5,000 people – were rushed to Warsaw along the road running via Rawa Mazowiecka. The exhausted, sick people were dying on the way; several hundred Jews died before reaching the capital. After the war, the local community was not revived.
- Sefer Skierniewice: le-zeykher der fartilikter kehileh kdosheh, ed. I. Perlow, Tel Aviv 1955.
- “Skierniewice,” [in] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Bloomington – Indianapolis 2012, pp. 434–436.
- “Skierniewice,” [in] Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. II, New York 2001, pp. 1192–1193.
- “Skierniewice,” [in] Encyclopaedia Judaica, eds. F. Skolnik, M. Berenbaum, vol. 16, Detroit 2007, p. 658.