The article contains long passages from Bogdan Jagiełło’s text entitled “Z dziejów osadnictwa żydowskiego na Mazowszu Zachodnim (do 1914)”, which first appeared in “Rocznik Żyrardowski” in 2011, vol. IX, pp. 527-550. We publish them thanks to the Author’s kind approval.

Jews arrived in Wiskitki at the beginning of the 18th century[1.1] and their settlement intensified under Prussian rule, which in the region of western Mazowsze began after the Second Partition of Poland in 1793. Growing Jewish presence was fostered by a specific Prussian policy which included, among others, ousting Jews from villages and abolishing former town and guild privileges in towns (1802). In this way Jews could settle only in towns, but in turn they would be allowed to trade in goods previously reserved only for Christians. Similarly Jewish craftsmen were allowed to produce certain goods, although they were not members of guilds[1.2]. Soon a large number of Jews arrived in the towns of Mazowsze, many coming from Brandenburg and Dolny Śląsk. According to Prussian data, in 1798 Wiskitki was inhabited by 55 Jews, probably belonging to about 10 families. In 1880, Jews constituted 11% of the town’s residents (that is 77 out of 664 people) [1.3]. In her personal diary, countess Paulina Łubieńska noted: “It was an ordinary Fair on All Saints’ Day, it turned bad for the little Jews, Sabbath prevented them from trading. Numerous people came to the Fair”. Wiskitki had the right to hold six fairs a year (on 2 February, 8 May, Sunday after Corpus Christi Day, 22 July, 1 November and 6 December).

In the period of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-1814), Jews were deprived of political rights despite the existing Constitution. Formally, they were suspended for ten years by a decree issued on 17 October 1808. The 1808 census showed that 1,356 Jews were supposed to live in the towns of the then Sochaczew county, and in Wiskitki as many as 88. However, the numbers were largely overestimated in some counties of the Warsaw department and underestimated in others. In 1810, a new census was conducted, which revealed that four towns of the Sochaczew county were inhabited by 2,324 Jews (increase by 35,6%)[1.4]. The Napoleonic Wars did not favour large migration nor population growth. Due to great mobility, which was always characteristic for Jews, the statisticians found it very difficult to provide adequate numbers of the Jewish population at that time and in later periods.

The Kingdom of Poland’s authorities issued in 1822 a number of  regulations concerning Jews. Kehillot were replaced by synagogue supervisions, which would only deal with religious matters (maintaining synagogues, cemeteries and ritual baths) and charitable activity. In larger communities these tasks were performed by a rabbi, his assistant and three affluent Jews; in smaller communities – only by rabbi and two members. Jews were also formally prohibited from inhabiting main squares in government towns. They were supposed to live in designated areas (one street or several neighbouring streets). Initially, 31 such areas were designated in the Kingdom of Poland and one of them was located in Wiskitki. Simultaneously, an official ban on new Jews settling in the town was issued, but of no avail.

In the first years of the Kingdom of Poland, Wiskitki began to be called a factory town, due to development of cloth making. Indeed, in the town operated 32 German cloth makers who were brought there by the owners of the Guzów estates, the Łubieński family. It was the army that in particular needed a lot of cloth. The authorities attempted to sustain the role of Wiskitki as a market settlement, which was hindered by peripheral location of the town towards other towns of the Łowicz county. The closest town was Mszczonów, which, together with Grodzisk Mazowiecki and Błonie, belonged already to the Warsaw county. Additionally, the route from Rawa through Mszczonów to Sochaczew avoided Wistkitki to the north due to extensive dumps. Only in 1859, its 15-kilometer-long stretch leading from Szymanów through Wiskitki to Ruda Guzowska was paved.

After the houses around the main square and the Lutheran church in Wiskitki burnt down in 1823, the Committee of Mazowieckie Province won approval of the Government Committee for Internal Affairs for paving half of the square. The tender was won by a Jewish entrepreneur Mosz Eyzynberg from Mszczonów. On 15 February 1826, the Committee of Mazowieckie Province requested the Government Committee for Internal Affairs to delineate a living area for 153 Jews from Wiskitki. It was to enclose “the entire area to the north of Warszawska Street, entire area to the south of Sochaczewska Street and the entire area to the east of Sochaczewska Street” (Warszawska Street was later called Staro-Warszwska; Sochaczewska Street – Guzowska). The Government Committee for Internal Affairs accepted the proposal of the Committee of Mazowieckie Province. The final decision was taken on 21 June 1826 by Gen. Józef Zajączek, governor of the Kingdom of Poland.

Situation of the area was consistent with an old practice saying that Jews are to live as far as possible from the Main Square, and if closer, then on the opposite side as the church[1.5]. At that time, on the southern side of Warszawska Street stood a brick tenement house of the counts Łubieński family and the Town Hall (disassembled in 1849), behind which, towards the church, there was a rectangular square (ca. 50 m x 80 m), until late very muddy, which was significantly elevated before paving.

In the following years, the Committee of Mazowieckie Province consequently refused the Jews right to live around the Main Square, on 9 June 1832 stating that: “All the more the Jews are not allowed to settle outside their area, that the town of Wiskitki is a factory town, where rooms on other streets of the town should be left for Christian factory workers”[1.6]. At that time, Wiskitki was inhabited by 48 Jewish families, that is 227 people. Earlier, the German cloth makers were given in perpetual lease two empty plots in the Square, on the condition that they would build them up. In 1834, the Committee approved the proposal to enlarge the Jewish area and include in it the rest of Warszawska Street and Kozłowicka Street (later called Mszczonowska, and finally Pańska Street).

In 1841, the local Jewish community leased land for a cemetery[1.7]. In 1844, part of Sochaczewska Street was paved and the rest of it four years later. In 1845, behind the mill on Warszawska Street, brick shops of butchers and bakers were built; later, they were partly leased by Jews (demolished after World War II, and around 1960s, despite their historical character, rebuild into garages for the Voluntary Fire Brigades). In 1847, Hersz Gips, a junior surgeon, began his medical practice in the local hospital. In 1855, the newly delineated Nowo-Warszawska Street (Żyrardowska) was paved, to which led a dyke from the side of Kozłowice. Also the plot after the Town Hall and the small square between the mill and shops were paved; the square served later as a small market place. In the neighbourhood a synagogue was built. For a long time Jews were even refused to rent flats in houses at the Main Square, which often resulted in a financial loss to their owners. Only in 1853, Hersz Dorembus obtained a permission to settle outside the Jewish area and trade in iron. Yet, he was forbidden to produce and sell alcohol beverages[1.8]. His descendant owned a small power plant in Żyrardów.

In 1853, Wiskitki had 1,477 inhabitants, including 413 Jews. In 1859, the total number of inhabitants amounted to 1,630, including 549 Jews and 125 Germans. The years 1860-1 noted 1,807 residents, including 749 Jews. Between 1863 and 1864 in Wiskitki lived 1,930 people, including 772 Jews, who owned 24 houses. In 1866, the number of inhabitants reached 2,100[1.9].

In June 1862, as requested by Aleksander Wielopolski, the Tzar agreed to grant Jews political rights, abolish Jewish areas and allow them to settle freely in all towns of the Kingdom of Poland. The edict guaranteed equal rights for Jews in courts. It also extended the list of professions which they could practise and cut separate taxes they were obliged to pay (kosher and ticket tax). In the second half of the 19th century, an influential rabbi worked in the town - Elijahu ben Awrum-Juzpe (died 1887), called the “Rabbi of Wiskitki”, author of religious treatises Dwar Elijohu and Ejzar Elijohu[1.10].

Initially, Wiskitki profited from the expansion of the nearby Żyrardów. Especially influential were the Catholic and Evangelical-Augsburg parishes situated there. The local rabbi Lipa Gochgelertner and members of the synagogue supervision: Moszek Indyk, Lejzor Rubinstein and Chaim Milgram, probably did not foresee that younger members of their community would start to move to Ruda Guzowska. Yet, so it happened – the more economically attractive factory settlement of Żyrardów, and the neighbouring villages of Ruda Guzowska and Teklinów drew Jews coming mainly from Wiskitki and Mszczonów.

In 1897, the first common census was conducted in the Russian Empire. At that time, 1,138 out of 3,060 inhabitants of Wiskitki were Jewish[1.1.1]. According to the 1909 census, Wiskitki was inhabited by 1,585 Jews, that is 38% of the total population.

After a successful coup ‘d’état on Tzar Aleksander II in 1881, Russia witnessed many pogroms on Jews which were inspired by the authorities. Also many Tzar’s regulations discriminating Jewish population were issued. In 1911, Menachem Bejlis was arrested, brought to court without evidence and accused of ritual murder in Kiev. It initiated a new wave of anti-Semitic incidents. Only after two years the police arrested the real murderer of the child. Due to the pogroms in Russia, at the end of the 19th century Jews began to emigrate to Great Britain and the United Stated. At the beginning of the 20th century, first groups from Żyrardów and neighbouring towns headed abroad. In the eastern towns of the Kingdom of Poland arrived Jews strongly influenced by the Russian culture (the so-called Litvaks), who came from the eastern lands incorporated by Russia during the Partitions of Poland.

With the beginning of the 20th century, a “rule” for monthly fairs was introduced. In Żyrardów they were held on first Wednesday of each month. Remaining Wednesdays and Saturdays were normal market days. With this decision the authorities fought off Jewish competition. In the Żyrardów Plants the weekly wages were paid on Saturdays thanks to which the workers could buy more on the market in front of the factory gate. In Wiskitki fairs were held on first Tuesday after the first day of the month and in Mszczonów on first Monday after the 15th day of the given month. The fair in Mszczonów  offered more products, whereas the fair in Wiskitki noted more transactions. On both fairs the Jewish merchants showed the greatest ability to trade.

This is how Wiskitki (in Yiddish called Wiskit) was described at the turn of the 20th century by its former inhabitant, Gerszon Mejer Smetanka, who left for Argentina in 1908:

“The town was divided into two parts by a small river, which the Jews called the Deshike Vaser. In the part of town that you entered coming from Żyrardow lived the common people – artisans, wagon drivers, and butchers. Also located here were the butcher shops – the Jewish ones as well as the non-kosher, Christian ones. Here, too, was the shulhoyf, where there stood the bes medresh, the mikve and bathhouse, and where the rabbi lived. Żyrardow Street ran through this part of town, and the street of the butcher shops ran off it. There was also a street called the Rebitsn's (rabbi's wife) Street. This had nothing to do with the wife of the current rabbi, who didn't live there (…).The other part of town was home to the elite. It held the marketplace, and the shops. The merchants lived there, as did the leaders of the Jewish community, and other fine folk. The shtibelekh of the Grodzisker, Gerer and Alexander Hasidim were also located in this section (…).In the middle of the marketplace was a pump that provided “good” water for drinking and cooking. The marketplace was also where the wagon drivers were stationed, waiting to take passengers to the train; arriving passengers were brought here as well. Every Tuesday was market day. Jewish merchants and artisans would drive in from nearby towns. Tailors, dealers in cheap clothing, shoemakers, harness and saddle makers and carpenters would bring their wares. Butchers would buy cattle, and Jewish horse dealers would do business, buying or trading horses. These Tuesday market days were among the most important sources of livelihood for the town. Once a month there was a fair, larger than the weekly market day (…). The Jews lived in the center of town, on both sides of the river. The Christians –Poles and some Germans – lived on the edges of town. The Jews worked in small businesses, and especially as artisans, which was their exclusive domain, except for a few trades (…). Jewish women also worked as artisans. They were seamstresses, milliners, sewers of bed linens, and a wigmaker, whom they called a “coiffeuse.” There were women who sold candy, fruit and other snacks in the marketplace (…). Children studied in the heder, the traditional religious school (…). It was obligatory for the heders to provide an hour of Russian instruction each day (…).The shtetl had an array of “khevuras” or societies, for example: (…) the “khevra t'hilim,” the Psalms Society, (…) the Society of Jacob's Well (…). Every shabes evening a “rabbi,” (…) would lead them in the study of the book, Jacob's Well (a sixteenth century compilation of religious texts). (…) The Khevre Kedushe, or Burial Society, was an association of the elite.”[1.11].

The first World War weakened the local community. In 1921, only 591 Jews inhabited Wiskitki. In the interwar period they dealt with different branches of trade, among others, with peddling around neighbouring villages. They also worked as butchers, fish sellers, drivers or coachmen of passengers and wares, porters, bakers, tailors, shoemakers and glaziers. Many of them did several seasonal  jobs a year e.g. leasing orchards. Two Jewish barbers operated in the town, and their shops were centres of local social and political life.

To prominent inhabitants of Wiskitki in the interwar period belonged Eliezer Gerszon Fridenzon, an orthodox Agudath activist, son of a famous Talmud scholar, who, together with Sara Szenirer, was member of the Bet Yaakow movement. Fridenzon was also a journalist and even founded an Association of Jewish Orthodox Writers “Alef” in Łódź. During the German occupation he stayed in the Warsaw ghetto, where he probably died during the Uprising[1.1.10].

Wiskitki was seized by the Germans on 8 September 1939. The local Jews were subjected to forced labour in camps. Until January 1941, the number of Jews in the town increased to 2,000, as the refugees from neighbouring town arrived. In February 1941, they were resettled to the Warsaw ghetto, from where they were transported to the Nazi German extermination camp in Treblinka[1.12].

Bibliographical note:

  • E. Bergman, Ludność żydowska w miasteczkach Mazowsza w XIX i XX w., [in:] Mazowieckie miasteczka na przestrzeni wieków, Warszawa (1999).
  • P. Fijałkowski, Żydzi w województwach łęczyckim i rawskim w XVXVIII w., Warszawa (1999).
  • P. Fijałkowski, Żydzi w miastach Mazowsza w świetle źródeł pruskich z końca XVIII i początku XIX wieku, „Kwartalnik Historii Żydów” (2005), no. 3 (215).
  • B. Jagiełło, Z dziejów osadnictwa żydowskiego na Mazowszu Zachodnim (do 1914), „Rocznik Żyrardowski” (2011,) vol. IX, pp. 527–550.
  • Pinkas Zyrardow, Amshinov un Viskit, M. W. Bernstein (ed.), Buenos Aires (1961) [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/zyrardow/zyr417.html [accessed: 19 June 2015].
  • M. G. Shmetanka, My Home Town, Viskit, [in:] Pinkas Zyrardow, Amshinov un Viskit, M. W. Bernstein (ed.), Buenos Aires (1961), p. 417 [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/zyrardow/zyr417.html [accessed: 16 September 2015].
  • J. Szczepański, Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIXXX w., Pułtusk (2005).
  • Wiskitki, W. Pałucki (ed.), Warszawa (1977).
  • Wiskitki, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (ed.), vol. 3, New York (2001), p. 1149.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Wiskitki, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), vol. 3, New York (2001), p. 1149.
  • [1.2] J. Szczepański. Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIXXX w., Pułtusk (2005), pp. 32–33.
  • [1.3] P. Fijałkowski, Żydzi w miastach Mazowsza w świetle źródeł pruskich z końca XVIII i początku XIX wieku, „Kwartalnik Historii Żydów” (2005), no. 3 (215), p. 328.
  • [1.4] H. Grossman, Struktura społeczna i gospodarcza Księstwa Warszawskiego na podstawie spisu ludności 1808-1810, Warszawa (1925), pp. 18–23, 46–49, 91; E. Bergman, Ludność żydowska w miasteczkach Mazowsza w XIX i XX w., [in:] Mazowieckie miasteczka na przestrzeni wieków, Warszawa (1999), pp. 100–101.
  • [1.5] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 2003; B. Jagiełło, Miasto fabryczne Wiskitki 17961869, [in:] Wiskitki, W. Pałucki (ed.), Warszawa (1977), p. 78; P. Fijałkowski, Żydzi w województwach łęczyckim i rawskim w XVXVIII w., Warszawa (1999), pp. 69–72.
  • [1.6] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 2004, Komisja Województwa Mazowieckiej do Komisji Rządowej Spraw Wewnętrznych (Committee of Mazowieckie Province to Government Committee for Internal Affairs), 9 VI 1832 r.
  • [1.7] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 2004, Komisja Województwa Mazowieckiej do Komisji Rządowej Spraw Wewnętrznych (Committee of Mazowieckie Province to Government Committee for Internal Affairs), 24 IX 1834 r.; Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 2007, Komisja Województwa Mazowieckiej do Komisji Rządowej Spraw Wewnętrznych (Committee of Mazowieckie Province to Government Committee for Internal Affairs), 14 X 1841 r.
  • [1.8] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 2008, Komisja Województwa Mazowieckiej do Komisji Rządowej Spraw Wewnętrznych (Committee of Mazowieckie Province to Government Committee for Internal Affairs), 7 September 1853
  • [1.9] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 6963, p. 91; Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 6964, p. 88; Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 6966, p. 33; Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 6967, p. 251; Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Komisja Rządowa Spraw Wewnętrznych (Government Committee for Internal Affairs), no. 6969.
  • [1.10] Pinkas Zyrardow, Amshinov un Viskit, M. W. Bernstein (ed.), Buenos Aires (1961), pp. 417–422 [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/zyrardow/zyr417.html [accessed: 19 June 2015].
  • [1.1.1] [a] [b] Wiskitki, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), vol. 3, New York (2001), p. 1149.
  • [1.11] G. M. Shmetanka, My Home Town, Viskit, [in:] Pinkas Zyrardow, Amshinov un Viskit, M. W. Bernstein (ed.), Buenos Aires (1961), p. 417 [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/zyrardow/zyr417.html [accessed: 16 September 2015].
  • [1.12] Wiskitki, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (ed.), vol. 3, New York (2001), p. 1149.