Jewish settlement in the town dates back to the 15th century. Jews came here when the Ciołek family still owned the Żelechów estate. Subsequent settlers concluded contracts with the landowners and paid for leave to take up residence in the area. They also had to pay the local parish priests. Nevertheless, the Jewish population increased steadily. The first synagogue was built in the 17th century. And the 18th century saw the establishment of the first Jewish organizations, including the Association for Recitation of the Psalms and the Union of Jewish Tailors. The Hasidic movement was very influential in the town. In the late 18th century, Jews made up about 70% of the total population of Żelechów. They engaged mainly in trade, craft, leasing, inn-keeping and transport.

In the 19th century, Jews of Żelechów had not only a wooden synagogue but also a mikveh, hospital, school and cemetery. Their population grew significantly. At the time, they opened several industrial plants: a confectionary, joinery, brewery, distillery and carbonated water bottling plant. Most Jews lived in the city centre. By the end of the century, a brick synagogue stood there, and Żelechów was known as a Jewish town.

In the interwar period, in the 1930s specifically, Jews made up one-third of the town council. Jewish political life thrived. The local Jews increasingly engaged in cattle slaughter and trade. A printing house owned by M. Goldberg was established in the town. Żelechów, however, did not avoid the intensifying anti-Semitic campaign.

During the Second World War, in September 1939, Żelechów was occupied by the Germans, who burnt the synagogue the same month. Following negotiations with the Russians, they left the town in October 1939 for a few days. Polish gangs looted Jewish houses during their absence.

In November 1939, the Germans started to deport Jews from Uchacz, Sobolew, Kalisz, Lusławice and others to Żelechów. About 13,000 displaced Jews ended up in the town. Groups of young Jews were transported to various forced labour camps.

In October 1940, the Germans established an “open” ghetto in Żelechów. It was closed down in October 1941 and liquidated in September 1942. About 300 Jews were shot on the spot, while all the others were transported to the German Nazi extermination camp Treblinka II. Polish guerrilla units and a Jewish unit under the command of Szmuel Olszak fought near Żelechów[1.1].

After the war, the few Jews who had survived the Holocaust began to arrive in Żelechów. A Jewish committee was established with Moszek Boruchowicz, Szmul Hochgelerter, Chwil Lewinson, Srul Najsteter, Lejb Perel, Majlech Rosenberg, Syma Zysman and Motek Solnicki on the management board. In December 1944, it had 132 registered members. The committee initiated the exhumation of Jews murdered nearby Żelechów. Their bodies were moved to the Jewish cemetery at Reymonta Street. In the following years, a majority of Jews emigrated from Żelechów. In 1952, in a letter to the Jewish Historical Institute, the Presidium of the Municipal National Council stated that:

“120 people returned to Żelechów in 1944. After the Soviet Army had withdrawn, all of them left the town in the face of persecution suffered at the hands of forest gangs, and there are currently no Jews in Żelechów” [1.2].

Bibliography

  • W. Yasni (ed.), Izkor-buch fun der żelenower jidiszer kehile / Sefer Izkor le-Kehilat Żelechow, Chicago (1953).
  • G. Szymczak G., “Historia ludności Żydowskiej w Żelechowie”, Zeszyty Wiejskie, (2009), vol. 14, pp. 198–237.

 

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] G. Szymczak, “Historia ludności Żydowskiej w Żelechowie”, Zeszyty Wiejskie (2009), vol. 14, pp. 198–237.
  • [1.2] Qouted in A. Skibińska, “Powroty ocalałych”, in: B. Engelking, J. Leociak, D. Libionki, (eds.), Prowincja noc. Życie i zagłada Żydów w dystrykcie warszawskim, Warszawa (2007), pp. 577–578.