The first information referring to Jews from Zduńska Wola comes from 1788. The information mentions that the settlement was inhabited by 33 Polish and Jewish families; there was a town hall, Catholic church, synagogue and a school “where Jews gathered”, all built by Masłowski[1.1].

In 1825, Stefan Prawdzic-Złotnicki achieved a tsarist privilege from Alexander I and the settlement upgraded to a town. Article 5 of the privilege concerned entirely the Jewish population and strictly indicated where the Jews were supposed to live, i.e. the former Stefana Street, Ogrodowa Street and the area (No. 39) at the town square. The Article in question mentioned as well the Jews who had lived in Zduńska Wola before the edict. These people, as far as they owned any real estate outside the marked area, could still own their property. However, when they died, the successors had to sell these properties to Christians within half a year. The only stipulation was that the Jews had a fixed occupation which would generate income. The Article listed the preferable professions and they were: fabricant, self-employed craftsman and salesman – wholesaler of handicraft products. The owner of the town was obliged to hand over the parcel intended for building a Jewish cemetery for the legal right to derive profit from the property without charge. At the same time, Article 5 determines that the Jewish settlement in Zduńska Wola was to be regulated. The number of Jews could not exceed one tenth of the Christian population[1.2].

In 1823, Jacob Hiller-Warszawski, Abram Wrocławski and Gabriel Bernstein acquired from Stefan Prawdzic-Złotnicki the so-called House under Three Stars. It was situated on the western side of the square and converted it into a synagogue. The charter privilege from 1825 informed that the synagogue could occupy the same place provided that its entrance would be on different side than the square.

The Jewish Kehilla, established in 1828, was for the first two years dependent both financially and administratively on the Jewish Kehilla in Łasek. Together with creating their own cemetery in 1826 the Jews from Zduńska Wola gained independence.

The Jewish Kehilla included the Jews living in the town and those from the neighboring villages. It had its own budget whose money was spent on various types of undertakings such as allowances, medical care, winter first aid, or Passover flour. The kehilla subsidized the Talmud-Torah religious school, the Bejt Jaakow religious-orthodox girls’ school, the Talmudic school, which prepared boys for rabbinical studies, and in 1939 even Judaic Evening Courses. The major part of income was appropriated for the clerks’ salaries and for expenditures connected with administration. The budget money supported also charitable organizations. The most famous association in Zduńska Wola was the Funeral Parlor (Chewra Kadysza) [1.3]. It organized funerals for a nominal charge and for the poor people – completely out of charge. Moreover, there was the Interest-free Bank Gemilut Chasadim Chasyd, which offered loans for those of limited means.

According to the Almanac of Jewish Kehillas from 1939, the kehilla employed 12 clerks including three-person office staff. The rabbinate consisted of one main rabbi, four assistant rabbis, four shochets, two ritual inspectors, one cantor and four caretakers.

The property of the kehilla comprised a huge synagogue, temple, ritual bathhouses (mikvahs), private house (religious school Talmud-Torah), cemetery, pre-burial house as well as parcels adjacent to the temple. The annual budget of the Jewish kehilla in Zduńska Wola for the year 1939 amounted to over 79,000 zlotys including 40,000 zlotys from ritual slaughtering, from the post contributions (contribution of a kehilla’s member) and 25,000 zlotys from the cemetery. According to the aforementioned Almanac there were 930 post holders who paid 5 - 2,000 zlotys.

Of the total Zduńska Wola population, numbering 20,472 residents in 1920, there were 5,983 Jews[1.4] who constituted a numerous and financially significant group. A lot of well-known town factories both in 1902 and earlier belonged to Jews: Abram and Joel Piekielny, Lewi Ick, Lejzer and Moszek Warszawski, Hertza and Rajchenbaum Rabinowicz. The merchants included Jacob Hiller-Warszawski, Gabriel Berenstein, Izrael Tykociner and Jacob Izrael Frenkiel. After 1863, the town saw a growing number of Jewish factory owners and craftsmen. The Jews traded mostly within the area around the square, especially on the floor ground of the town hall. We can read that […] the streets in Zduńska Wola were small […] I can remember the noise caused by traders. Some Jewesses were standing at the corner selling poppy cakes (Makagigi)[1.5].

Yet, the Jews from Zduńska Wola represented more versatile professions, not only merchants and factory owners. J. Goldberg mentions as well craftsmen, for example a furrier (Warszawski, Zulta-Broda), a tailor (Itzik) and a baker (Lewek) [1.6].

Generally, temple properties were located around synagogues, e.g. a mikvah that was situated at 8 Sieradzka Street in Zduńska Wola.

To operate better, the Jewish kehilla called upon the Temple Supervision Board. Its first members were Berek Potocki, Mordka Dajcz and Lajbuś Birnbaum[1.7]. The first rabbi of the Religious Jewish Community became Lewi Cybis (1825-1830), later the function was performed by Mojżesz Rubin (until 1835) and then by Mendel Lipmanowicz (1836-1893), Lewi Izaak Flajszer (until 1901), Rachmil Szaja Mincberg, Lajzer Liebszyc (1907 – 1925) and Isachar Berisz Beer.

Usually in the Hassidic tradition the rabbis left some information in their wills that indicated who they would like to see as their successors and sometimes they chose their sons or sons-in-law. However, when a rabbi forgot to settle the issue, many quarrels and disputes occurred. Such situation also took part in Zduńska Wola. In 1907, before election to the new Temple Supervision Board, two “parties” engaged in a fierce battle, which is mentioned in a book by Rabbi Joskowicz: Once in the past in Zduńska Wola a war broke out among the rabbis. At the beginning of the 1930s,[1.8]. Rabbi Liebszyc was elected by the Hassidim from Aleksandrów to serve as a rabbi. On the other hand, the Ger Hassidim from Góra Kalwaria who inhabited Zduńska Wola wanted their rabbi to become a religious leader. This dispute, which arose between the Hassidim, lasted several years. […]. They were on very bad terms, did not talk to each other and no one greeted eachother with a kind hello. Common meals were out of the questions because each group had their own shochet, and the Ger Hassidim did not acknowledge the shochet from Rabbi Liebszyc[1.9].

One group tried to keep Lajzer Liebszyc at the post of rabbi, the others tended to change both the rabbi and the Temple Supervision Board. Meanwhile, the fact that the board was doing double bookkeeping became known. The group supporting Rabbi L. Liebszyc achieved success[1.10].

In the early 20th century, Jewish elementary schools began to be established. Estera Lenc from Lviv, was the principle of the school operating from 1926 in the municipal park. The teaching staff included, among others, Eliezer Kapłan, the later Minister of Finance in Israel. The kehilla created also a religious school called Talmud-Torah, which in 1925 was attended by 257 boys. In the interwar period also a religious school Bejt Jaakow existed.

In 1939, the Council of Jewish Kehilla had 17 members including eleven ones that belonged to the Orthodox faction Agudat Israel, two Zionists, and four non-partisans[1.11].

According to the accounts of Chrzanowski, the relations between the Jewish community and other ethnic and religious groups were proper. Starting with 1938, antisemitic feelings were more and more noticeable.

Both in 1940 as well as between the years 1941-1942 many Jewish people were leaving Zduńska Wola. At least several hundred residents fled from Reichsgau Wartheland. It is still not precisely known how many of them were taken to labor camps. In the meantime, approximately 3,000 Jews came to Zduńska Wola from Sieradz, Pabianice, Kalisz, Poddębice, Szadek, Widawa, Burzenin, Klonowa, Majaczewice and other places. The number of Jews in Zduńska Wola after the displacements in 1941-1942 amounted to 10,000-12,000 and this was the biggest agglomeration of Jewish population in Reichsgau Wartheland[1.12]. The preparations to built a ghetto lasted from the very beginning of the occupation. They were preceded by numerous repressions of the Jews, beginning with abusing, insulting and beating and ending with cases when Jews were killed. The date of creating the ghetto remains unknown. J. Śmiałkowski indicated that it was around May or June 1940. The District Committee for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes in Łódź questioned some witnesses and the hearing revealed that such a precinct existed as early as in 1939[1.13].

The border of the ghetto run along 32 - 2 Sieradzka Street, the western and southern sides of Independence Square, between M. Nowotki Street (in 1939 and today Juliusza Street) and J. Dąbrowskiego Street, up to the confluence of Szadkowska and Opiesińska Streets, and then along a scarcely populated area from Opiesińska Street to west, along a drainage ditch, it crossed Stęszycka Street (today Getta Żydowskiego Street) and turning south along Narwiańska Street it reached Sieradzka Street. The ghetto was approachable by five guarded gates. Outside the gates everything was supervised by the Jewish Security Police, inside, on the other hand, by the Schupo Uniformed Police. Like in other ghettos, the Nazi authorities established the Chamber of Elders in the Zduńska Wola ghetto. The supervisor became Dr. Jacob Lemberg who in 1940 at Ogrodowa Street, within the ghetto, organized an agricultural farm (called by the Germans “Ackerbaufarm”), which was the source of vegetables and milk for the ghetto prisoners. The farm workers were young people aged 17-21 and the total number of the employed was about fifty. The farm work was not the only occupation of the inhabitants of “the enclosed precinct” many of whom did communal works such as cleaning the streets, or building a rifle-range in the town stadium. Others worked outside the ghetto and even outside the town, e.g. excavating peat near the Fern (Paprocki) Forest.

Before the dissolution of the ghetto in Zduńska Wola, it was the biggest ghetto in Reichsgau Wurtheland excluding the Łódź ghetto; its segregation was carried out in 1942. The ghetto inhabitants were supposed to show up in Hilfskomitet building[1.14]. Right there, with no clothes on, they received “A” or “B” ink stamps placed on their behinds, bellies and chests. This is how the whole situation was seen by Israel Tabacksblatt:

The stamping took three days and the order of it was as follows. At midday, at lunch-time, only men were called someplace. They were taken by the Jewish Police to a place where they got the stamps. Each and every man was to stand before a Gestapo policeman. There, the officers marked them with “A” and “B” stamps putting the letters on both of their hands and breasts. At the same time, the men were required to give their personal details including a full name and address. All information was written down on specially prepared sheets of paper. After lunch, the same procedure was repeated with women from the same region. One day after this action it turned out that this stamping was only perverse, cynical sadism of the Nazi beasts. The naked and defenseless people were beaten until their bodies were bruised and covered with blood[1.15].

It was probably because of this selection that 397 people were sent to the Łódź ghetto on 26 June 1942. The Jews were aware of what was going to happen to them as they knew about the murders in the Chełm Forest.

To liquidate the Zduńsa Wola ghetto, the Nazis mobilized a significant number of the SS members, police including a special unit Rollkommando and the town Schupo post at the head of which stood Lieutenant Herman Funke. Hans Biebow – chairman of the board in the Łódź ghetto and Woli Wilhelm Bittel – manager of the ghetto in Zduńska Wola also participated in the whole undertaking.

A preliminary segregation was carried out at Stęszycka Street where the ill, disabled, elderly and kids were murdered. Others were herded and chased along Stęszycka, Narwiańska, Mostowa, and Sieradzka Streets until the Jewish cemetery at Kacza Street. Rabbi M. P. Joskowicz remembers those days:

They gathered us on the square in the ghetto at 4 o’clock a.m. There was no water for us and the sun was scorching. Those who refused to go out were shot dead in their homes. The Nazis shot one hundred fifty people. They took bodies of the dead and still alive people to the Jewish cemetery, threw them into a pit and then filled it with soil. The survivors said that the common grave was still expanding over a few days[1.16].

The whole accident was heard and seen by non Jewish residents and the explosive noise could be heard at the other end of the town.

At the cemetery gate, the commission of Hans Biebow and the Gestapo officers divided the crowd into two groups: the young people able to work, and the kids, ill and old people. Many of them, driven to despair at the thought of being separated from their kids and relatives, chose death on the spot. The cemetery was lit during the night. Sometimes the Nazis shot at the crowd without any reason at all.

From the memoirs by Israel Tabacksblatt:

It happened on 25 August 1942 around midnight when the Nazis pulled all the Jews out of their houses and forced them to gather on the square. Everybody was supposed to stand there for the whole night. In the morning, the community was led to the cemetery. There waited high passages for them to overcome. At first, little kids were let through and those who were carried by their mothers were thrown over the fence. At the cemetery, the gathered inhabitants were divided into two groups. One group included 1,200 or 1,300 young men; the other was clustered in a very small area. This is when the massacre began. A lot of the SS bandits commanded by Biebow stepped into the crowd and began to shoot in all directions causing everybody to run and disperse. The murderers waited for that very moment. Another group, who were previously prepared, used their automatic guns that were brought to the cemetery only for this purpose and started shooting from different sides at the helpless people. Hundreds of fatally wounded people fell victim of this short atrocious moment. The SS men forced the Jews to dig graves and burry the dead. When the night came, those whose lives were spared were supposed to lie on the ground, face down, and stay in this position until morning[1.17].

The list of people killed in Zduńska Wola during the dissolution of the ghetto has not been disclosed yet. The mere 219 names have been determined. Within two subsequent days the Nazis took 9,000 people to the concentration camp in Chełm on the Ner. During this journey many of them died due to the lack of fresh air. Another thousand was transported on trains to the ghetto in Łódź.

 

Bibliography

  • Chrzanowski J., Zduńskowolscy wyznawcy Mojżesza, „Na sieradzkich szlakach” 1993, no. 3/31.
  • Galiński A., Getto w Zduńskiej Woli [in] Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, 1993.
  • Goldberg J., The History of Jewish Settlement In Zdunska Wola, [w:] Zdunska Wola, ed. E. Ehrlich, L. Kaye-Klin, Tel Awiw 1968.
  • Joskowicz M.P., Opowieść o radości i cierpieniu, Warszawa 1996.
  • Klauzińska K., Cmentarz żydowski w Zduńskiej Woli, praca magisterska, Katedra Etnologii Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, Łódź 2000.
  • Stulecie Miasta Zduńskiej Woli, ed. L. Wicher, Łódź 1925.
  • Śmiałowski J., Zduńska Wola – Monografia miasta do 1914 roku, Łódź 1974.
  • Tabacksblatt I., The liquidation of the Jewish Community in Zdunska-Wola, [w:] Zdunska Wola, ed. E. Ehrlich, L. Kaye-Klin, Tel Awiw 1968.
  • Zdunska Wola, ed. E. Ehrlich, L. Kaye-Klin, Tel Awiw 1968.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] J. Śmiałowski, Zduńska Wola – Monografia miasta do 1914 roku, Łódź 1974, p. 16 – 17.
  • [1.2] Stulecie Miasta Zduńskiej Woli, ed. L. Wicher, Łódź 1925, p. 68 – 69.
  • [1.3] M. P. Joskowicz, Opowieść o radości i cierpieniu, Warszawa 1996, p. 11.
  • [1.4] Stulecie Miasta..., p. 25.
  • [1.5] M. P. Joskowicz, Opowieść …, p. 8.
  • [1.6] J. Goldberg, The History of Jewish Settlement In Zdunska Wola [in:] Księga Zduńskiej Woli, Izrael Press Ltd, 1968, p. 8.
  • [1.7] Stulecie Miasta..., p. 34.
  • [1.8] Joskowicz gives a wrong date here. His book is memoirs and needs to bee corrected in many points. Eliezer Liebszyc was elected the rabbi in Zduńska Wola in 1907.
  • [1.9] M. P. Joskowicz, Opowieść..., p. 9.
  • [1.10] K. Klauzińska, Cmentarz żydowski w Zduńskiej Woli, Master’s Thesis, Ethnology Faculty UŁ, 2000.
  • [1.11] J. Chrzanowski, Zduńskowolscy wyznawcy Mojżesza, "Na sieradzkich szlakach", Sieradz 1993, No. 3/31, p. 13.
  • [1.12] A. Galiński, Getto w Zduńskiej Woli [in:] "Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu", IPN XXXV, Warszawa 1993, p. 143.
  • [1.13] Ibidem, p. 144 – 145.
  • [1.14] Ibidem, p. 147.
  • [1.15] I. Tabacksblatt, The liquidation of the Jewish Community in Zdunska-Wola [in:] Yizkor Book, Izrael Press, 1968, p. 44.
  • [1.16] M. P. Joskowicz, Opowieść..., p. 50.
  • [1.17] I. Tabacksblatt, The liquidation…, p. 45.