Jews were granted the right to settle in Żabno in 1675. Unfortunately, it is uncertain where they originally hailed from. It is possible that they were brought to the town by the erstwhile heir, Rafał from Borzym, who gave them a number of privileges, including the permit to trade during fairs and weekly and daily markets in the town and the neighbouring villages. They were also granted propination rights and allowed to run inns, bake bread, produce cold meats, build houses, and purchase real estate from Christians. Special streets where Jews were allowed to settle were marked. The newcomers were also exempted from paying taxes for a period of seven years. Those favourable conditions resulted in fast development of the Jewish population in Żabno. In 1692, the former privileges were confirmed and expanded with the permission to build a synagogue and establish a cemetery.

The first famous rabbi of Żabno was Shalom David Unger, author of religious works, son of Tzaddik Mordechai David Unger of Dombrov (Dąbrowa). In 1711, the Jews of Żabno paid 766.06 Polish zlotys in poll tax. In 1765, the Jewish community had 636 members, including 460 living in the town itself. In 1777, there were 180 houses in the town, inhabited by 155 Christian and 94 Jewish families; this amounted to a total of 661 Christians and 333 Jews. In 1779, Żabno had 185 houses with 146 Christian and 79 Jewish families. The population comprised 654 Christians and 281 Jews. Towards the end of the 18th century, Żabno became an important centre of Hasidism.

The 19th century marked a period of continuous natural disasters and poverty suffered by the people of Żabno. Floods struck the town in 1813 and in 1828. In 1873, the local population struggled with a cholera epidemic and in 1888 – with a fire which destroyed almost the entire settlement. However, the Jewish population was well-prepared and able to face all the hardships. They had very well organised social help, their own hospital and a house for the poor and the elderly. The Municipal Council would also give out benefits to some Jewish families. In the years 1895–1897, four Jews received such allowance.

At the time, the Żabno kehilla had jurisdiction over Jews from the following localities: Bieniaszowice, Chorążec, Czyżów, Demblin, Goruszów, Jadowniki Mokre, Jagodownik, Janikowice, Konary, Miechowice Małe, Miechowice Wielkie, Nieciecza, Nowopole, Odporyszów, Sieradza, Sikorzyce, Targowisko, Ujście Jezuickie, Wietrzychowice, Wola Rogowska, Zakirche, Żabno with its suburbs.

According to statistical data, the size of the Jewish population in Żabno fluctuated throughout the 19th century, but generally tended to grow. In 1830, the town had 309 Jewish residents, in 1845 – 210, in 1870 – 647, and in 1890 – 672 (over 50% of the population).

At the turn of the 20th century, Jews were an influential group within the Żabno society. They owned a number of properties at the market square and were the dominant force in the local trade and crafts. They had their representatives in the Żabno Municipal Council. This meant that they could influence decisions concerning the entire town and shape local social relations. In the years 1888–1894, the Jewish councillors were: Dawid Schneider, Moses Ehrenberg, Izaak Lekrhaupt, Jakub Neumarkt, Dawid Bienenstock, Aron Offen, Jochene Grossbard, Jakub Tiefenbrun, Salomon Haber; in the years 1894–1903: Salomon Salpeter, Chaim Grossbard, Izaak Lekrhaupt, Salomon Haber, Izaak Haber; in the years 1903–1906: Salomon Salpeter, Salomon Haber, Izaak Haber, Chaim Grossbard, Samuel Haber; in the years 1906–1907: Chaim Grossbard, Izaak Haber, Salomon Salpeter, Salomon Haber and Samuel Haber. In 1900, a private primary school run by the Baron Maurice de Hirsch Foundation operated in the town. It was located in a rented building and had 87 pupils in two grades. In the years 1913–1914, the school’s headmaster was Samuel Offner.

At the end of 19th century and in the first half of 20th century, many regions of Polish lands experienced a wave of mass emigration. The outflow of the population had its roots in the bad economic situation and the resulting poverty. The surveys conducted by the Tarnów diocese consistory in the years 1907–1910 clearly reflect the scope of the phenomenon. The collected data shows that in 1907, 23 people migrated from Żabno overseas, and 80 people left the town seasonally, including 28 individuals moving to Saxony and 30 – to Denmark; a group of people headed to Westphalia. In 1910, as many as 42% of the members of the Żabno Jewish community lived outside the town. In 1921, this proportion increased up to 52%.

In 1910, Jews constituted 47% of all inhabitants of Żabno (361 people), and in 1921 – 29% (730). The situation of Jews deteriorated even further after World War I. The advancing war front left many houses destroyed and the people impoverished. Persistent hunger forced many inhabitants of Żabno to leave the town; those who stayed lived in wooden houses, with several families often crammed in a single room.

In 1921, Jews constituted 29% of the town’s population, but the number of community members had increased to 730. The election to the community administration took place on 21 June 1923. A total of 148 people had voting rights, and all three mandates were taken by Orthodox Jews. The other groups, that is the Zionists, Progressive Jews, and independent candidates, did not manage to introduce their representatives to the community structures. The election committee was composed of Berisz Zimmels and Lezer Fisch. An election report dated 30 August 1928 (probably concerning the subsequent election) informs of another victory of Orthodox Jews.

The Jewish community of Żabno was thriving in the interwar period. They almost entirely controlled the local trade, running stores at the market square and all adjacent streets. The prosperity of the community is evidenced by the fact that Jews purchased seven trade statements from the Kraków Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In 1939, the Merchants’ Association operated in the town. Its representative was Z. Krajzwirt. Young Jews wishing to become engaged in artisan production attended the same crafts school as the Christian youth. They also had to advance through all the stages of education obligatory for a given profession. They would often complete their internship at the family workshop. The Union of Jewish Craftsmen played an important role in the town. In 1918, Jews were also allowed to join the Guild Council.

In the years 1921–1928 the Jewish members of the Żabno Municipal Council were: Rafael Perlberg, Hirsch Grossbanrd, Baruch Zimmels, Salomon Salpeter, Żalel Kreichsbürth,, Zekman Menachem Mendel, Fenichel Samuel, Samuel Salpeter; and in the years 1928–1933: Samuel Salpeter, Rafael Perlberg, Salomon Salpeter, Hirch Grossbard and Baruch Zimmels.

The prosperity of the Jewish citizens of Żabno came to a screeching halt with the German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II. Ca. 600 Jews lived in the town in September 1939, constituting 50% of the town’s population. In 1942, there were 665 Jews residing in the town. Soon after seizing Żabno, the Germans drew up a register of all Jews, who were then banned from listening to the radio and had their radios, skis, and ski boots taken away. They were also prohibited to change their place of residence or use public transport. They were banned from becoming members of political, cultural, and educational institutions. The occupiers would progressively introduce more and more persecutions and restrictions against Jewish people. In 1942, the Union of Jewish Craftsmen was dissolved.

In May 1942, Germans shot a large group of local Jews. They then set up a ghetto where they imprisoned ca. 700 people. It was located eastward of the market square, starting from Tarnowska Street. In September 1942, a group of Jews from Żabno was shot in Dąbrowa Tarnowska and in the town itself, while the rest were deported and killed in the extermination camp in Bełżec. A group of 40 Jews was left in the town to tidy up the area of the former ghetto. They managed to escape and hide in the local forests. After Jewish people were removed from Żabno, Germans destroyed all the property they had left behind. The synagogue and the house of prayer were demolished. However, the building of the mikveh survived until the 1960s, while the Jewish cemetery exists to this day.

Bibliography

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