The proper Jewish settlement of Toruń started at the end of 18th century. The earlier centuries saw sporadic appearances of Jewish merchants trading finished products. There were three Jews living in the town in 1793: a teacher, a kosher butcher and a cook.
The number of Jews started to grow in the early years of the 19th century. The newcomers came mostly from neighbouring towns of Chełm region, Pomerelia, Kujawy and Wielkopolska. The biggest groups came from Fordon, Inowrocław, Leszno, Międzyrzecze, Gniezno and Podgórze.
The members of the forming community rented a townhouse on Prosta Street to convert it into a synagogue. The kehilla, formed in 1822, rented a bigger townhouse at 16 Wysoka Street. A cemetery was founded in the later Pułaskiego Street, probably in the final years of the 18th century. The year 1723, quoted by some sources as the foundation date of the cemetery must be perceived with some doubt.
The construction of a synagogue took place after the kehilla was finally established. The synagogue at 10 Szczytna Street was officially opened by the rabbi Michael Jekel Sachs of Berlin on 3 September 1847. The two-storey synagogue was constructed in the centre of the plot No. 411. It was bordered off by two townhouses, which later served as premises of the kehilla (kitchen, school, council hall, theatre). The way to the synagogue led through courtyards of the townhouses.
The 19th century political emancipation encouraged the Jewish assimilation processes and acculturation. The number of Jewish pupils attending Christian schools grew – for example out of 179 Jewish pupils in 1859 as many as 155 were attending Christian schools. Those proportions were sustained in the following decades. The Jews of Toruń vastly accepted the German cultural pattern. Only their religion remained unchanged with the language, clothing and partially customs being adopted from the Germans. Another result of assimilation processes was the erosion of old, Judaist rules. It caused the group to loose coherence and a part of their identity. That led to a reaction from the conservative circles. The circle was led by the Toruń merchant and thinker Hirsch Zvi Kalischer (Kaliski, 1793-1874), who was one of the first people to present a coherent vision of rebirth of the Jewish state in Palestine. The plan for the colonization was described in his book Drischeth Zion oder Zions Herstellung (published in 1861, 1865 and 1905). He justified the colonization with the so called “national principle”. He revealed his plan during a conference held in Toruń in 1860. The participants of that conference, which included many authorities and rabbis, amon other rabbi Elia Gutmacher from Grodzisk, established the “Chibbat Zion” (or “The Supporters of Zion”) organization. Furthermore, there was established the association for the colonization of Palestine Isrealitischer Verein zur Kolonisation von Palestina in Frankfurt/Oder.
The first major conflict between the elders of the commune and the orthodox Kalischer family dates back to the year 1825. Kalischers held prayers, independent from the ones celebrated in the local community by rabbi Herman Siemion Leser, at their own house in Szeroka Street, because they did not consider the official rabbi to be orthodox enough. The prayer services in the Kalischer family house gathered over 20 men. The previous rabbi was the eldest member of the kehilla – Leser, a keen orthodox himself. After his death, his leadership in the traditionalist circles was taken over by Hirsz Zwi Kalischer. The conflict was never resolved. A new rabbi, Dr Krakauer, was chosen in 1850, and he managed to stay in his office until 1856, when he was replaced by Dr Engelbert. Being well aware of the pressure applied by Kalischer and his supporters, he tolerated the division within the kehilla. More liberal activists accepted his superiority in the community, but the adversaries supported Kalischer, who was considered to be an authority in ritual and dogmatic issues.
After the Engelbert’s contract ran out, Kalischer remained the informal rabbi of the kehilla. The newly elected rabbi, who arrived in Toruń in 1862, Dr Maurycy Rahmer (a graduate of the rabbi seminar in Wrocław) decided to put an end to this conflict. He established an elementary school for those children, whose parents supported the more secular views and another school for the supporters of the tradition. Although the opposition was fierce, he introduced elements of reformed rites. Each year, during spring holidays, he conducted confirmations for girls, whom he considered to be ‘’worthy’’ of that. The girls attending the private Higher School for Girls were given a basic religious education as well.
In the 1860s, the majority of the kehilla consisted of the supporters of the traditional rites. The secular school had 30 pupils, the Bible school 60, and the Higher School for Girls 70. Regardless of the Kalischer’s efforts, the influence of the supporters of reforms was mostly increased by parents, who sent their children to Christian schools. In 1859, out of 179 Jewish pupils 155 attended Christian schools, in 1861 167 out of 190. Rabbi Rahmer systematically introduced elements of reformed liturgy to his religious service.
The number of Jews living in Toruń began to fall ever since the year 1880 due to migrations to inner Germany and, in lesser extent – to overseas emigration. The political and legal emancipation of the Jewish population in the 1840s caused some unwilling responses in the Christian communities. The anti-Semitic slogans were battled by the evangelical pastor Fryderyk Gessel.
The first half of the 19th century saw the majority of Toruń Jews in the lower-income groups. Only a few of the 59 families recorded in 1839 belonged to the middle-income classe: three bankers – Meyer Gurmann, David Meyer, David Kaufmann and merchants: Moritz Meyer and Juliusz Goldschmidt. The majority of the members of the kehilla was involved in trade, mostly small-scale one, particularly in old things (26). The remaining ones made their living from usury, transport services and agencies. In the second half of the 19th century, the Jewish community played an important role in the economic life of Toruń. 78 (or 44.7 percent) out of 174 trading companies in existence in 1866 belonged to Jewish owners and in 1891 92 out of 217 (41.9 percent). They were mostly clothes stores, and sometimes companies involved in wood or grain trade or transport services. There were just a few companies in industrial field (a distillery, tobacco factory, steam mill of Gustaw Gerson – the owner of a Gdańsk mill).
A few Toruń Jews (Moritz Heilform, Aronsohn, Hirsfeld, Cohn) participated in arms smuggling for the Polish January Uprising (1863-1864). They were later sentenced to serve time in prison for that offence. The members of the kehilla proudly stressed that 33 of their members were conscripted to the Prussian army for the war with France (1870-1871). At the end of 19th century, Jewish workers from Russian occupied Poland, working in Jewish companies, were expelled from Toruń[1.1].
After the rebirth of Poland, most of the Jews from Toruń left for Germany. Gradually, Jews from inside the Polish territory started to arrive in the city. Virtually, all of the kehilla’s officials left. Only the cantor and Max Moszkowski, the mohel, remained. The Jewish community was internally divided. The German Jews residing in Toruń prior to 1920, albeit weakened, tried to dominate the newcomers. The roots for conflict were numerous: the way of life, political stance and attitude towards religion. The communal documents were prepared in German language until 1925.
After the turmoil caused by the hasty migration, the situation began to come back to normal after the new board was elected in 1923. The new board consisted of: Dr Herman Wolpe (the president), Gustaw Gerson, Dr Natan Stein, Herman Jabłoński and Dr Jakub Behr. The kehilla had 459 members in 1927, 530 in 1929 and 623 in 193. Following the incorporation of the Toruń County (including Chełmża), the number of the members of the kehilla increased to 1,200 in the year 1939. The internal divisions managed to survive and last until the outbreak of World War II. New divisions emerged within the newly settled Jews, with two opposing camps appearing: so called conservatives – representing the group from the former Prussia and the democrats – coming from the former Russian and Austrian occupation zones. The conflict between those two groups was particularity heated, when the new rabbi was to be chosen. In the years 1930 - 1932, the office was held by Jakub Litman, he was then replaced by Dr Izaak Glizenstein, elected in 1932. He proved to be far too unorthodox for some of the members of the kehilla, and far too pro-German at the same time. The representative to the Polish Parliament, Icchag Grünbaum was to resolve the conflict. In the end, the rabbi remained in the office, but was only approved in 1934. In 1938, the office of the Military rabbi was held by Mojżesz Zuberman[1.2].
Jews no longer played an important role in the economy of Toruń. They owned just 23 trading companies in 1939 (just 4.6 percent of the overall number). They were mostly (apart from a single restaurant) shops with clothes and shoe stores. Several Jews had small industrial companies: a lard and vegetable oil processing plant (leased from a German citizen), a brickyard in Grębocin near Toruń owned by Izrael Kozakiewicz and several small chemical factories. A group of a few dozen craftsmen had their own workshops. There were 37 small workshops owned by Jews from Toruń in 1937, most of them owned by fur makers, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, carpenters, glaziers and hat makers. The majority of Jews used the services of the People’s Bank, which had 18 members.
Anti-Semitic propaganda, inspired by the Polish Nationalists circles, had a major influence on the perception of the Jewish community in Toruń. The Toruń newspaper "Słowo Pomorskie" had a leading role in those instigations, together with the Society for Social Self-defense “Development” (Polish: Towarzystwo Samoobrony Społecznej “Rozwój”).
The borders of the Toruń kehilla changed in 1932, with the incorporation of the liquidated Chełmża kehilla. The estate assets of the kehilla were estimated at 31,000 [1.3] zlotys, while movable property was worth 243,500 zlotys, including the former Chełmża one worth 138,500 zlotys. The kehilla was not in debt. The most important parts of the assets in Toruń were: the real estate at 12 Szczytna Street, with Bet ha-Midrash and a private flat (40.000 zlotys); the synagogue at 63 Podmurna Street (35,000 zlotys); the cemetery in Przy Rzeźni Street (5,000 zlotys); the real estate at 10 Szczytna Street (a bakery and a private flat) – 15,000 zlotys; the estate at 61 Podmurna Street (private flats) – 10,000 zlotys. In Chełmża: the synagogue at 8 Szewska Street (80,000 zlotys), the equipment of the synagogue (25,000 zlotys), butchery (4,000 zlotys), the cemetery at 23 Stycznia Street (4,500 zlotys), the silver and liturgy items (6,000 zlotys), the house at 33 Hallera Street (35,000 zlotys) with an extension (15,000 zlotys)[1.4].
In the kehilla one could also find a library. As the newly arrived Jews, who believed in Zionist ideals, thought that the library was ran by “locals”, they started efforts to create a library of their own. It came to an end in 1928, a new library was opened, functioning at the Association of Jewish Merchants. The attempt to legalize a branch of the “Brith Trumpeldor” organization failed[1.5].
After the German army entered Toruń, only 63 Jews were still remaining in the city. The other 500 fled the Toruń. 222 people returned after short period of time. Between 18 and 23 September 1939, all Jewish resident in the city were registered. On 4 October 1939, the town commissar issued a decree stating, that the Jewish emigration from the city was desirable and should be supported. The Jews were to receive re-settlement certificates. Before leaving, they had to receive a formal permission, after leaving and having officially listed all their possessions at their places of residence. Jews leaving Toruń were only allowed to keep a few personal items. The ones leaving Toruń could choose between Włocławek, Aleksandrów Kujawski, Golub, Dobrzyń on the Drwęca river and Łódź. 126 people left until 28 October 1939 with around 80 people still remaining in the city. Due to a slowdown in the emigration process, 50 Jews were arrested and detained in the 8th Fort in Toruń, where they were loaded (together with the remaining Jews) and transported with the last shipment heading to Łódź on 17 November 1939. The Jews transported from Toruń met the same fate as those they were transported to. Just a few people remained, most of them so called “half Jews”. Two such people were registered in September 1941, and the same number was recorded in September of the following year. The synagogue in Toruń was dismantled in October 1939[1.6].
After World War II, the Jewish community had only one hundred people. Some of them them did not engage in Jewish organizations or in the life of the community. Those who did not hide their origins created the City Committee of the Central Committee of the Polish Jews (CKŻP), which was subordinated to the Regional Comitee of CKŻP in Bydgoszcz. It had its seat at 15 Konopnickiej Street. Winnik was the founder of the Toruń Committee. At the height of its activity, in 1947, the committee had 87 members. For some time in 1947, the Koszalin CKŻP Committee was under the Toruń committee. A group of so-called repatriates from the USSR arrived in Toruń in 1946. They quickly found shelter and employment in administration, schools, army and industry. The CKŻP branch was led by Winnik, Majer Gerber (Chairman), Gruglewska (Secretary) and Mosze Próżniak in 1946 and Płotnik, Kelnerowa, Szapiro, Frejman, Kurzawczyk, Szejnbaum and Eichenbaum in 1947. After a branch of the Society for Jewish Culture and Community in Poland was established in Bydgoszcz in 1951, the organization took care of the Jewish communities of other cities and towns, including Toruń.
The changing geopolitical situation and demographic conditions caused the Jewish community to systematically drop in numbers. Some left, others decided to assimilate with the Polish society, the remaining ones were forced to leave Poland following the March 1968 events[1.7].
- T. Kawski, Inwentarze gmin żydowskich z Pomorza i Wielkopolski wschodniej w latach 1918/20–1939, ‘’Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej”, 3-4, (2006).
- A. Marolewski, Żydzi w Toruniu w okresie międzywojennym, (2005).
- Z. H. Nowak, Dzieje gminy żydowskiej w Toruniu (1815–1939),in: M. Wojciechowski (ed.), Mniejszości narodowe i wyznaniowe w Toruniu w XIX i XX wieku, (1993), 27–34.
- Z.H. Nowak, Gmina Wyznaniowa Żydowska w Toruniu w latach 1920–1939, in: J. Szyling (ed.), Gminy Wyznaniowe żydowskie w województwie pomorskim w okresie międzywojennym (1920–1939), (1994).
- Z. H. Nowak, Z dziejów toruńskich Żydów w czasach międzywojennych, in: M. Wojciechowski (ed.), Mniejszości narodowe i wyznaniowe w województwie pomorskim w okresie międzywojennym (1920–1939), (1991).
- J. Szyling, Eksterminacja Żydów na Pomorzu Gdańskim w latach 1939–1945, in: Z. H. Nowak (ed.), Emancypacja – asymilacja – antysemityzm. Żydzi na Pomorzu w XIX i XX w.,(1992).
- [1.1] R.L. Jakub, Korespondencja do Redakcji. Toruń 16 VIII 1863, „Jutrzenka”, 39, (1863), 25 September, 389-391; Z. H. Nowak, Dzieje gminy żydowskiej w Toruniu (1815-1939), in: M. Wojciechowski (ed.), Mniejszości narodowe i wyznaniowe w Toruniu w XIX i XX wieku, (1993), pp. 27-34.
- [1.2] Archiwum Państwowe w Bydgoszczy (APB), Okręgowa Komenda Policji Państwowej w Toruniu 1920-1939, sygn. 4604; APB, Urząd Wojewódzki Pomorski w Toruniu 1920-1939 (UWPT), sygn. 4484; J. Zineman (ed.), Almanach gmin żydowskich w Polsce, 1, (1939), p. 245; Z. H. Nowak, Dzieje gminy żydowskiej w Toruniu (1815-1939), in: Mniejszości narodowe i wyznaniowe w Toruniu w XIX i XX wieku, (1993), p. 62.
- [1.3] Translator’s note: the figures do not add up, the possible value for that position could be 310,000 rather than 31,000
- [1.4] T. Kawski, Inwentarze gmin żydowskich z Pomorza i Wielkopolski wschodniej w latach 1918/20-1939, „Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej”, 3-4, (2006), pp. 75, 92.
- [1.5] Z. H. Nowak, Z dziejów toruńskich Żydów w czasach międzywojennych, in: M. Wojciechowski (ed.), Mniejszości narodowe i wyznaniowe w województwie pomorskim w okresie międzywojennym (1920-1939), 61-69; Z. H. Nowak, Gmina Wyznaniowa Żydowska w Toruniu w latach 1920-1939, in: Jan Sziling (ed.), Gminy Wyznaniowe żydowskie w województwie pomorskim w okresie międzywojennym (1920-1939). Zbiór studiów, (1994), pp. 59-74; A. Marolewski, Żydzi w Toruniu w okresie międzywojennym, (2005).
- [1.6] J. Sziling, Eksterminacja Żydów na Pomorzu Gdańskim w latach 1939-1945, in: Z. H. Nowak (ed.), Emancypacja-asymilacja-antysemityzm. Żydzi na Pomorzu w XIX i XX, (1992), pp. 84-86.
- [1.7] AŻIH, CKŻP. Wydział Organizacyjny, sygn. 19. Sprawozdanie z działalności KŻ w Bydgoszczy za 1946; Ibidem, sygn. 60. Protokół posiedzenia Zarządu KŻP w Bydgoszczy z 8 III 1947; APB, Prezydium Wojewódzkiej Rady Narodowej w Bydgoszczy, Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych, sygn. 3733; APB, Urząd Wojewódzki Pomorski w Bydgoszczy 1945-1950, sygn. 915.