The information concerning Jews appeared in official town documents already in 1813. These were the letters of a sub-prefect of the Zgierz county and the mayor of Zgierz regarding the right of the Orthodox Jews to buy houses there[1.1]. In 1818, the commissar of the Łęczyca district demanded from the mayor of Zgierz the foundation of a separate Jewish district. In response the mayor proposed to separate Christians from Jews. The plan included prohibiting Jews to settle in the market square, but allowing them to settle in Sowia Street, which was significantly distant from the city centre. Those Jews who owned houses in the centre were forced to sell them quickly to Christians. They were threatened that if they had not obeyed, their whole property would have been confiscated.
On 30 March 1821, the commissar Witkowski of the Administrative Department of Mazowieckie Province Board accompanied by German industrialists came to Zgierz willing to settle there. They signed an agreement concerning the foundation of a textile industry centre in Zgierz. According to it, every settler was to receive a plot and a garden. Moreover, Jews were not allowed to live with the Germans. It designated that they should settle along the western side of Łódzka Street up to Rudnicka Street[1.2].
On 21 December 1824, a decree concerning the creation of the Jewish district was issued. Those who were not willing to adhere to it, needed to be expelled from homes by force. On 13 June 1825, town’s authorities issued a decree aimed at Christian residents and house owners, which stipulated the punishment of those who after 1 July 1826 would rent flats to Jews[1.3].
An independent Jewish community in Zgierz was established probably at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1824, Jews had their own synagogue supervision. The first community council comprised: Lejzer Bornsztajn, Baruch Steinbok, Meir Blumental. By the end of the 19th century, the community owned a cemetery, a brick synagogue, a beth midrash and a shelter for the poor and the needy. The first rabbi of the community was Hirsz Ha-Kohen, often called a “Wise Man”. He established a yeshiwa in the town and as a consequence, the town was given a prestigious name “Talmudic”. As many as 50 rabbis graduated from this renowned school. Rabbi Hirsz Ha-Kohen died in 1877 and was succeeded by Eliezer Ha-Kohen (formerly rabbi of Sochaczew and Pułtusk). In the years 1898-1940, the duties of a rabbi were performed by Szlomo Ha-Kohen, author of the “Oaza spokoju” (“Oasis of Peace”). He was the last rabbi of the Zgierz community and died in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942[1.4].
Rapid demographic development of the Jewish community led to overpopulation. Upon establishment of the Jewish district, there were 30 Jewish families in the town, while in the 1850s already about 400. The majority of the Jewish houses were one-storey buildings which were inhabited by several families. Overpopulation and disastrous sanitary conditions caused a cholera epidemic in 1848[1.5]. Enlargement of the Jewish district became inevitable.
In 1855, the Jewish district in Zgierz was enlarged and comprised the northern parts of Sieradzka and Piaskowa Streets, as well as the streets: Stryjowska, Błotna, Konstantynowska and Szlachtuzowa. Moreover, those living beyond the district were given one year for a compulsory removal. Despite restrictions and bans, Jews settled beyond the designated borders, for instance in the New Town area. It aroused objections and protests of other inhabitants. It was not before the 1862 regulation issued by Aleksander Wielkopolski, that the Jewish community was given full rights to choose a place to live[1.6]. It contributed to the increase of Jewish inhabitants in Zgierz from 506 in 1808 to 8,337 in 1857 and 19,103 in 1897. Therefore, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Jewish community constituted 5.3% of the whole population, in the mid-19th century — 19.6% and in the 20th century— 18-19%.
The character of the industrial city along with its fluctuating economic growth led to frequent tension and radicalization of the poorer population. The socialist activists most certainly included a group of Jewish proletariats. Jewish workers’ organizations emerged and the development of those movements increased at the beginning of the 20th century. Józef Birencwajg was a renowned SDKPiL activist in Zgierz back then. In 1905, a seat of the Bund was founded in Zgierz which took place after the dramatic events of 1905, known as the revolution, which in the area of Łódź also took on an anti-Semitic character.
Between 1918 and 1939, the Zionists, but also the Bund and the Aguda were of greater importance among the Jews of Zgierz. Various associations and socio-economic organizations operated in the town, such as the Association of Jewish Craftsmen and Merchants, the Association of Employers and the Jewish Tailors’ Guild[1.7].
During the interwar period, several cheders, a Talmud-Torah school and a state primary school for Jewish children operated in Zgierz. Apart from that two sports clubs were registered: Makabi and Szomrija. At that time also a hospital and an orphanage for Jewish children functioned there. Charity actions of the Jewish community of Zgierz were subsided by the Jewish People’s Bank, local philanthropists and Jews living abroad, mainly in the United States[1.8].
In the 1930s, anti-Semitic moods and tendencies arouse in Zgierz. Several members of the Jewish community were attacked and some of the merchants reported losses. Some of the factories in Zgierz went on strike as the Polish workforce did not accepted the fact that new Jewish workers had been employed[1.9]. Upon the outbreak of World War II, there were 4,800 Jews in Zgierz, compared to the overall population of 25,000-30,000 inhabitants.
On 7 September 1939, as the Germans were entering the town, they killed on their way Zysman, who tried to get to Strykow with other refugees. The repressions towards the Jewish community began with the very first day of the Nazi presence in Zgierz. Initially, the following Jews were arrested: Mendel Gibralter, a pharmacist Rozenberg, Nachum Kamiński, Mosze Ickowicz, Berl Helman (a grave-digger) and Abraham Jakub Rodzinek. The detained were ordered to stand in front of the rifle barrels for several hours. They were beaten, and some got their beards burnt. There are recorded cases of suicide among Jews who did not stand the pressure. Among them were: Zygmunt Kaltgard and his wife Kama.
Next a curfew was announced from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m, and synagogues and houses of prayer were closed. The Germans began searches in private houses and also laid a registry duty on Jewish people. There were also two types of financial contributions imposed on them. In November 1939, all Jewish dignitaries and political activists were sent to the camp in Radogoszcz. Among them were: Karol Eiger, Awigdor Różalski, Abraham Zylbersztajn, Lejbusz Srebrnik and Józef Pantel. The repressions were not only of a physical nature. Jews were forced to litter bins and lavatories with talliths and parochets. Holy books were torn and burnt in the market square.
There was no ghetto in Zgierz. On 26 December 1939, the Germans ordered all Jews to gather on the pitch that belonged to the „Sokół” sports club. Next the majority (about 2,500 people) was led to the 26 km distant Głowno, which was located in the General Government. Only a small group of Jews (mainly craftsmen and their families) was transported to the ghetto in Łódź[1.1.9].
Around 350 Jews of Zgierz survived the war. In the first post-war years, around 60 Jews from Zgierz lived in Poland, mostly in Łódź and in the Lower Silesia.
- The Book of Zgierz – An Eternal Memorial for a Jewish Community of Poland, J. Jacobs (ed.), Tel Aviv (1975).
- R. Rosin, Zgierz, Dzieje miasta do 1988 roku, Łódź – Zgierz (1995).
- Zgierz, [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, vol. I: Poland. Pinkas ha-Kehillot Polin, Jerusalem (1976), pp. 106–111.
- Zgierz, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), vol. III, New York (2001), pp. 1503–1504.
- [1.1] The Book of Zgierz – An Eternal Memorial for a Jewish Community of Poland, J. Jacobs (ed.), Tel Aviv (1975), p. 29.
- [1.2] R. Rosin, Zgierz. Dzieje miasta do 1988 roku, Łódź-Zgierz (1995), pp. 118-119, 126.
- [1.3] The Book of Zgierz – An Eternal Memorial for a Jewish Community of Poland, J. Jacobs (ed.), Tel Aviv (1975), ps. 42.
- [1.4] Zgierz, [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, vol. I: Poland. Pinkas ha-Kehillot Polin, Jerusalem (1976), ss. 106–111.
- [1.5] Zgierz, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. III, New York (2001), pp. 1503–1504.
- [1.6] R. Rosin, Zgierz, Dzieje miasta do 1988 roku, Łódź – Zgierz (1995), p. 127.
- [1.7] Zgierz, [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, vol. I: Poland. Pinkas ha-Kehillot Polin, Jerusalem (1976), pp.106–111; Dia-pozytyw [online] http://www.diapozytyw.pl/pl/site/slady_i_judaica/Zgierz [accessed: 06 May 2009; the subpage is non-existent on 18 April 2015].
- [1.8] Zgierz, [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, vol. I: Poland. Pinkas ha-Hehillot Polin, Jerusalem (1976), pp. 106–111.
- [1.9] Zgierz, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), vol. III, New York (2001), pp. 1503–1504.
- [1.1.9] Zgierz, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), vol. III, New York (2001), pp. 1503–1504.