The first records of Jews in Wieluń comes from 1537. It is unknown, however, from where they had come. In the modern period, Wieluń held the de non tolerandis Judaeis privilege. For this reason, the Jewish community settled in the nearby Bugaj and Byczyna. Thus, Jewish settlement in Wieluń did not develop until the period of partitions.[1.1] In 1806 Szmul Kempner (later Kępiński), Berl Dawidowicz, Berl Tratel, and Dawidowicz Tratel purchased houses in Wieluń. During the period of the Duchy of Warsaw, Michał and Lewek Krzepiccy settled in the town. In 1808 the Jewish community of Wieluń already numbered 70 people.

The rapid growth of the Jewish population in Wieluń was opposed by other inhabitants. As a result, in the 1920s the Government Committee of Internal Affairs and Police ordered Jews to immediately leave the town. However, as a result of appeals, they could stay in the town. Disobeying the town law, Jews still settled in the center, frequently buying buildings destroyed by fire that had belonged to Poles. In the second part of the 19th century, they owned nearly all the front tenement houses in the market square. Many of them authorized the purchase of real estate and the Russian authorities frequently issued them relevant permits. During the 1890s the Jewish community of Wieluń numbered 2,502 people, 37.8% of the town’s total population.[1.2]

In the 1920s, the Jewish community built a brick synagogue on Żołnierska Street (Farnej). A mikveh was also erected. In the 1940s the synagogue supervision (Markus Dawidowicz, Salomon Herszberg, and Moszek Bratek) decided to build a new synagogue as the old one was in a critical state and in danger of collapsing. The new synagogue was built in the Classicist style. Until World War I, the function of rabbi was performed by Szlama Srebrnik, and then later by Mendel Grinberg.[1.3]

In the second part of the 19th century, the modernization movement Haskalah was popular among the Jewish community. It combined the effort for assimilation with increased effort aimed at education of the new generation of Jews who spoke Polish and Hebrew (more fluently than Yiddish, which was to be of lesser significance), as well as with making more effort to teach Jewish history. The followers of Haskalah organized lectures and talks, which met with immense reluctance from the Orthodox, especially from the Chassidim.

The influence of the Haskalah had its origins in Kępno located on the other side of the Russian-Prussian border, where Jews enjoyed greater citizen’s rights. As the slogans of the movement were becoming more and more popular, 3 Jewish children attended the Piarist schools in Wieluń in the 1820s. In the second half of the 19th century, however, the majority of Jewish parents sent their children to state primary and secondary schools. Adolf Kantorowicz is the example of a young Jew brought up in the spirit of the Haskalah movement. He was a medical student, sent to Siberia following his participation in the January Uprising.[1.4]

The representatives of Jewish traders and shop owners showed their keen interest in elections for administrative functions. In 1862 Joachim Kępiński, a Jewish merchant, became a member of  the town’s authorities.[1.5] Many Jews were entrepreneurs, including a cotton products manufacturer named Mosze Goldsztein, an oil mill owner named I. Rotszyld, a soap factory owner named Berl Majerowicz, and a sawmill owner named Henryk Dawidowicz.[1.6]

In the 19th century, the Jewish community included representatives of healthcare personnel of the general hospital, for example, feldshers Ary Borensztejn and Markus Landsberger. The county feldshers were Jakub Moszkowicz and Abram Abramowicz. Dentist’s offices were run by Fajwel Lewin and Lewin Fiszel, and maternity care was provided by Róża Tuch-Landsberg.[1.7]

After World War I, the Board of the Jewish community in Wieluń consisted of Abram Besser (chairman), I. Aranon, Chaim Szaja, and Beniamin Warszawski. During the elections to the board in 1931, the largest number of seats were won by Zionists (6) and Aguda (4). As far as elections to the town administration, those worth mentioning from Wieluń Jewish community are Idela Szyja, Lewin Fajtla, Abram Pakuła, Berl Lipszyc, and Dawid Pelta. Among the political parties the most influential were the Zionists and Poale Zion. The leading members of Aguda were Jakub Szaja, Maurycy Kurlanda, and Cwajling. Those who sympathized with  Poale Zion were Józef Bronsztajn, Berl Szmulewicz, and Awner Wołek. In the elections of 1929, the Town Council consisted of 24 members, of whom 9 were Jewish.[1.8]

The political parties in Wieluń ran their own educational facilities. As a result, a girls school run by Mizrachi, Bet Jaakow which operated under the auspices of Aguda, as well as several cheders operated in the town. Moreover, there were libraries which were the centers of Jewish cultural activity.[1.9]

The community board was in charge of a kehilla house with a garden on Palestrancka Street, a mikveh, a synagogue in Sienkiewicza Street, a cemetery, and a cemetery house in Kijak, as well as a house for poor Jews. In the interwar period, the function of a rabbi was performed by Rothenberg, and then by H. Justman.[1.10]

In the 1920s, Jews owned a motorized mill. It was a two-story brick building with a pent roof covered with tar paper. It had a brick drive. Initially, the mill was equipped with two pairs of rollers, as well as with a few French stones. Following the takeover of the mill from a Polish-German company, its Jewish owners (Herman Schike and others) renovated the building and equipped it with 4 pairs of rollers and with cleaning machines. There were two other such mills which belonged to Jews, including the so called amerykanka (between 1937-1939 it was leased by Lajb Berkowicz, Abram Jakubowicz, Abe Kamiński, and L. Lisak). Jews also owned a tannery located on Św. Barbary Street.[1.11]

In the interwar period, many workers in Łódź factories lived in Wieluń. In the 1930s, road transportation was established between Łódź and Wieluń which helped people commute to work. Many drivers and bus owners were Jewish.[1.12]

Jews constituted a significant percentage of Wieluń’s entrepreneurs. Chaim and Majer Bobrowscy were the owners of a lime kiln and of a brickyard, Chaim Rajch was also the owner of a lime kiln in Rudzka Street. Beniamin Warszawski was the owner of a sawmill in Częstochowa Street, and Moryc Lewkowicz was the owner of a steam sawmill and of storage depots for timber on Joanna Zubrowa Street. Among the merchants the leading figures were Hersz Szternberg who owned of warehouse with haberdashery on Narutowicza Street, Zelek Cyncynatus who owned warehouse for foodstuffs on Śląska Street, Kasriel Brum who owned a fur shop on Augustiańska Street, and the Szaj family who were the owners of several shops in Stary Rynek. Small and medium-sized enterprises could take a loan from the Loan and People’s Bank located on Fabryczna Street (Narutowicza) 5, which was headed by Uszer Mendlewicz, as well as the Merchant and Cooperative Bank which was initially located on Okólna Street and then at 13 Narutowicza Street, headed by Abram Besser.[1.13]

During the Second Polish Republic, economic and cooperative associations brought together the Jewish entrepreneurs of Wieluń. For example, the Jewish Craft Guild was made up of Józef Markus, Hersz Uri Jakubowicz, Baruch Kac, Rywen Korzec, Machel Luel, Chaim Bern, Izaak Janas, Mendel Abramowicz, Idel Abramowicz, and Izaak Wiśnia. A tailor and hatter guild included Chaim Kalinowski and Abram Grinbaum.[1.14]

Several Jewish organizations operated in the town that focused on charity and support for the needy. There was the Bikur Cholim association (visiting the sick), which reorganized itself into Linas Hacedek in 1925. It still supported the sick and the poor, however, it also organized night watching. It provided food and winter clothes for the poor. Similarily, Kranken Frauen Chewra aimed at helping sick women.[1.1.3]

In the beginning of 1939, Wieluń was inhabited by 5,238 Jews who constituted 33% of the total population. They lived mainly in tenement houses in the town center, which was completely destroyed in the first hours of World War II. German planes conducted several air raids and the bombardment lasted from 4.35am until 2pm. 2,000 people died in the whole town. The German air raids razed 75% of the town’s buildings.[1.15]

In the beginning of the occupation, the Germans appointed a Jewish Council of Elders, the Judenrat, which was made up by Tuwje Chaim Lipszyc, Benjamin Warszawski, Maurycy Lewkowicz, and Chaim Ber Najman. Soon after the creation of the Judenrat, the Germans arrested its chairman, Chaim Lipszyc, and took him to the forest near Mierzyce where he was executed.[1.1.9] His successor in the Council Of Elders was Mordechaj Bruder, who collaborated with the Germans.

In 1940 Wieluń was inhabited by 4,053 Jews, including 450 refugees from other towns. Some men were sent in several transports to labor camps in the vicinity of Poznań.[1.16]

In the spring of 1941, the Germans established a ghetto. It was located in the area between Kilińskiego, Krakowski Zaułek, Targowa, and Plac Targowy Streets. The seat of the Council of Elders was located in Palestrancka Street. The order in the ghetto was maintained by the police including Sendrowicz, Jakubowicz, Charłupski, and Fajtlewicz.[1.17]

Conditions in the ghetto were very harsh. People lived mostly in old, abandoned buildings or wooden sheds. There was a very high mortality rate largely due to the spread of contagious diseases. Executions of Poles and Jews were very common. In January 1942, during a public execution, Wolf Szmulewicz, Chil Pilcer, Fajwel Świder, Izrael Nober, Zyske Mojżesz, Załman Jakubowicz, Jankiel Jakubowicz, Lajzer Aleksandrowicz, and Spinka (actual name unknown) were hanged in the Old Market Square.[1.18] Executions then took place both in the town center and in the Jewish cemetery. It is estimated that Germans killed a few hundred Jews at the cemetery.

The fate of the Jews of Wieluń was sealed in August 1942, when they were nearly all (10,000 people) taken to the extermination camp in Chełmno on the Ner river. Only 922 people, mainly those who were young and able to work (mostly craftsmen) were sent to the ghetto in Łódź.[1.19]

Those who survived returned to their hometown. According to Miriam Geve, who sent a letter to the Wieluń Land Museum, there were approximately 70-80 survivors. Unfortunately, as Miriam states, after the killing of 7 Jews by "armed forces," the remaining Jews left Wieluń.

Bibliography

  • T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003).
  • Wielun, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 94–98.
  • Wielun, in: S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, 3, (2001), 1443–1444.
  • Wieluń, in:  G. Miron, Sh. Shulani (eds.), The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos during the Holocaust, 2, (2009), 928–929.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Wielun, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 94–98.
  • [1.2] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 21, 33, 58–60.
  • [1.3] Wielun, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 94–98.
  • [1.4] Wieluń, in: Pinkas HaKehilot Poland, 1, (1999), 94–98.
  • [1.5] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 39.
  • [1.6] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 95–100.
  • [1.7] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 73–75.
  • [1.8] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 253–262.
  • [1.9] Wieluń, in: G. Miron, Sh. Shulani (eds.), The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos during the Holocaust, 2, (2009), 928–929.
  • [1.10] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 283–285.
  • [1.11] W. Baranowski, A. Lech, Katalog zabytków budownictwa przemysłowego w Polsce, t. IV, z. 3: powiaty Wieluń i Wieruszów województwo łódzkie, (1969), 31–32.
  • [1.12] Wielun, in: S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, 3, (2001), 1443–1444.
  • [1.13] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 289–292, 304, 310–312.
  • [1.14] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 292–298.
  • [1.1.3] Wielun, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume I (Poland). Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, (1976), 94–98.
  • [1.15] S. Słomińska, Wieluń, 1 września 1939 r., in: Z dziejów dawnego Wielunia [online] http://historiawielunia.uni.lodz.pl/1wrzesnia2.html [Accessed 20 October 2014].
  • [1.1.9] Wieluń, in: G. Miron, Sh. Shulani (eds.), The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos during the Holocaust, 2, (2009), 928–929.
  • [1.16] Wielun, in: S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, 3, (2001), 1443–1444.
  • [1.17] T. Olejnik , Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 603.
  • [1.18] T. Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793–1945, (2003), 605.
  • [1.19] Wielun, in: S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, 3, (2001), 1443–1444.