The history of the Jews in the town of Wąchock is extremely complicated. This stems from the fact that the Jews of Wąchock belonged to various kehillot, as they were unable to establish their own kehilla and then to maintain it. The first Jews settled in the town in the 1780s. In 1787, there were two Jews living in Wąchock.

At the time of the Partitions, Wąchock was under Austrian rule. As the town was Cistercian property, there were quotas introduced and confiscations carried out. The victims of the new regulations were Marianna and Adam Michalski, a Jewish married couple, whose plant and a metallurgical furnace which they leased in Marcinkowo, with the consent of Abbot Józef Szaniawski, a canon of Krakow and the bishop of Chełmno, were confiscated[1.1].

The Jews living in Wąchock first belonged to the kehilla of Szydłowiec, and then – the kehilla of Iłża. It was only in 1860 that an attempt was made to establish the kehilla of Wąchock. There were plans to legalize the already existing house of prayer. It was a small wooden building. Unfortunately, the plans came to nothing, as the Jews did not manage to obtain permits. Moreover, at the initiative of the mayor of Wąchock, the house of prayer was closed down. The Jews were only allowed to open it on some Jewish festivals.

In 1908, another attempt to establish the kehilla was made. The Jewish community had its own rabbi, and the house of prayer was functioning again. They also had their own cemetery since 1911. It was only on August 12, 1911 that the kehilla was formally established in Wąchock. It was separated from the synagogue district of Iłża. Being probably quite poor, the Jews of Wąchock found it hard to support their own kehilla.

Therefore, in the years 1926-1929, the Jews applied to the administrative authorities for their community to be incorporated into the Wierzbnik (Starachowice) kehilla[1.2]. Apparently, the Jews of Wąchock did not want to be part of the poor kehilla of Iłża, which faced financial difficulties at that time. The kehilla of Wierzbnik, in turn, was considered to be the richest in the whole area.

That must have been the reason why the Jews of Wąchock undertook to get separated from the Iłża kehilla while at the same time attempting to join the Wierzbnik synagogue district. Being poor, they did not intend to maintain their own kehilla in Wachock. A breakthrough year in this respect was 1929, when they were included in the budget of Iłża for the last time, and 1930, when they were first entered in the list of fees in the Wierzbnik Jewish community.

Two other settlements that separated from the Iłża kehilla along with Wąchock, were the village of Wielka Wieś and the town of Skarżysko-Kamienna[1.3].

In the interwar period, the Jews living in Wąchock owned a square where a brick synagogue was located, a brick mikvah, a cemetery and a ritual slaughter house, the income of which was 4600 zlotys in 1925, a 5500 – in 1928[1.4]. In 1930, Józef Rzeźnik, a member of the community, was appointed to administer the ritual slaughter in Wąchock.

Not being an independent kehilla, the Jewish community of Wąchock were subordinate to the Rabbi of Wierzbnik. However, they did have their own assistant rabbi and two shochetim: Herszk Warszauer and Faim Najnudel, whose salary was 1870 zlotys, which was raised to 2400 zlotys right before Wachock separated from the Iłża kehilla, and kept at this level after Wąchock joined the Wierzbnik kehilla in 1930. Other administrative workers were Chaim Rubinowicz, who earned 1600 zlotys, and Mendel Finkielsztein, a collector, with a salary of 200 zlotys.

In 1931, several Wąchock Jews ran for the Municipal Council elections in Wierzbnik. These were Gelbtuch Wigdor, aged 35, a merchant by profession and a Zionist, and Mandel Froim, an orthodox Jew, aged 59, a merchant[1.5].

The Jewish Merchant Association operated in Wąchock at that time. It included 30 members and was headed by Szajn Icek[1.6]. Budget fees were collected both in Wierzbnik and in Wąchock. The proceeds were shared to cover the needs of both centers: the refurbishment of buildings belonging to the kehilla, the administrative fees of the Kehilla Board and the aid to the poorest members. 

Out of the total of 497 families, i.e. 2475 Jews, only 262 people paid the fees to the kehilla, which amounted to the total income of 2626. 87 zlotys. In 1929, the total fees paid to the kehilla were 2626. 87 zlotys plus 400 zlotys from the additional list of fees. Majority of the Jewish community of Wąchock were poor, with only 3 people being obliged to pay more than 10 zlotys. The group paying the fee of 5-10 zlotys was more numerous and included 14 individuals. 
The remaining 68 people were liable to the fees of less than 5 zlotys. This shows the poverty of the community, which is additionally proved by the fact that 53 people were exempt from payment of the fees altogether due to their poverty(List 1).

The community being so poor, it was important for the kehilla to support charity and help the poorest members of the community. All the more so as it did not really change upon joining the Wierzbnik kehilla. In 1932, the Kehilla Board expected to collect 80 zlotys to help the poorest. Unfortunately, they did not manage to collect that money as Wąchock inhabitants would offer in-kind donations, such as candles or fire-wood.

In the same year, the mikvah, in turn, was expected to bring the profit of 100 zlotys. Again, the kehilla did not get the money as the tenant did not manage to collect the sum, which he justified by low income and the fact that the mikvah is old and in need of small repairs that the tenant pays for with his own money[1.7]. Since December 5, 1931, the mikvah was leased by Mendel Oracz for the annual charge of 82 zlotys[1.8].

During the Nazi occupation, Wąchock Jews worked at forced labor camps established by Herman Göring Werke and Hassag arms production plants in Starachowice and Skarżysko-Kamienna, respectively. Many of them did not manage to survive the forced labor. There was no ghetto established in Wąchock.

Until 1942, the Jews were free to move around the village. In most cases, several Jewish families would occupy one flat, which was due to the war destruction as part of houses were burnt down and not suitable for living in. There were also some newcomers from neighboring settlements, who arrived in Wąchock looking for shelter. Therefore, it is actually impossible to estimate the number of Jewish population.

On October 22, 1942, all Jews staying in town were first transported to Starachowice, and then – to the Treblinka concentration camp[1.9]. Some Jews were helped by Poles who hid them at their houses or other farm buildings. Yet Wąchock being a small settlement at that time, it was difficult to hide Jews from the prying eyes of next-door neighbors.

Therefore, there are known cases of such families being denounced. One of them was the Głuchowski family, whereas Jan Ciok was more fortunate as he managed to save another man’s life, for which he was awarded with the Righteous Among the Nations medal.

When the war ended, the Jewish owners of buildings did not return to Wąchock. 
 

Bibliography

  • Penkalla A., Żydowskie ślady w województwie kieleckim i radomskim, Radom 1992
  • Zieliński K., Stosunki polsko-żydowskie na ziemiach Królestwa Polskiego w czasie pierwszej wojny światowej, Lublin 2005
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] K. Winiarczyk, Kalendarium Wąchockie, „Informator Samorządowy Miasta i gminy Wąchock”, 1996, no. 20, p. 3.
  • [1.2] Penkalla A., Żydowskie ślady w województwie kieleckim i radomskim, Radom 1992, p. 97.
  • [1.3] Archiwum Państwowe w Kielcach [National Archives of Kielce] (henceforth: APK), Urząd Wojewódzki Kielecki I [Kielce Voivodeship Office I] (henceforth: UWK I), classification number 1671, cards 110-114; classification number 1520.
  • [1.4] APK, UWK I, classification number 1685, card 4, classification number 1709, card 17, classification number 1624, cards 112, 117.
  • [1.5] APK, UWK I, classification number 1685, card 4; classification number 1624, card 113, 120, 163; classification number 1671, card 350; classification number 2600, card 334.
  • [1.6] APK, UWK I, classification number 2602, card 320.
  • [1.7] APK, UWK I, classification number 1709, card 38.
  • [1.8] APK, UWK I, classification number 1671, card 128.
  • [1.9] Account by Andrzej Jankowski, a judge of the former District Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Kielce, Kielce March 31, 2010.