This stone shall be a witness unto us... (Joshua; 24; 27)

The Jewish Community of Czestochowa

The history of the Jewish community in Czestochowa began around the year 1700 with only a few Jewish families who were occupied in the weaver's trade. In the year 1765, their number grew to 51 families and in 1799, the Jewish community established a cemetery near Kucolin. Until this time, funerals took place in nearby Janow. The cemetery was in existence until 1907 when it was rebuilt and fenced. Thus it remained until the German occupation during WWII. During the occupation, the Germans carried out executions of Jews at the cemetery, burying their victims in mass graves. Following 1945, Jews who had returned used the cemetery until about 1970. The last official funeral was on May 3, 1970, at the death of Albert David, of blessed memory. However, until 1973, a few, quiet and secret burials took place at the site. But, little by little, the cemetery grounds were neglected and succumbed to natural deterioration. Nettle, bushes and trees grew in the passageways and on the graves. The cemetery was ruined by rain, wind and storm - and people. The tombstones of marble and granite disappeared. In recent years, families from the world over come to visit the graves of their relatives. Hassidic Jews visit the grave of their Zaddik, Rabbi Ichak Mayer Justman.

In 1765, the Jews in Czestochowa began to build their first synagogue on Nadrzecznej Street. In 1872, at a cost of 25,000 zloty, the synagogue was enlarged. It survived until the last war, only to be completely destroyed by the Germans. Another larger and more impressive synagogue was first built in 1899. It was considered one of the grandest synagogues in Poland at the time, and was completed only in 1909, with the help of a few families of Czestochowa. In 1939, the Germans robbed it of all its precious riches and valuables and the following year it was burned down.

The Jewish children did not have a public school until 1805. But in 1806 they received their own school in the Jewish (Yiddish) language. Elementary and professional Jewish schooling was available only from the end of the 19th century. There were an elementary girls' school on Mirowska Street and one for the boys on Garibaldi Street. Near the synagogue was a special school of music and Jewish songs for future offices of cantor and choir positions at the synagogue. On Nadrzecznej Street was a Talmud Torah school, with an enrollment of 100 pupils in 1893. The Talmud Torah had a few professional vocational classes and in 1898 became a trade school for locksmiths. Besides this professional school, thousands of pupils received their education through private Jewish schools. The tendency to teach the Polish language spread in other schools as well. In 1905, out of 10000 Jewish inhabitants, 4000 were students.

The Jewish community of Czestochowa took part in social and political activities in the city. Their participation against the Russian rule was considerable. For example, Daniel Neufeld, director of the Jewish gymnasium, was leader of the manifest protesting the assault of the Czar's soldiers on the Old City - where Jews as well as Poles were wounded and killed. About a year later, in October 1863, he was arrested and sent to Siberia. The Jews of Czestochowa were prominent in social life3, medicine, the press, libraries etc. For example, Henryk Merkusfeld was a typical philanthropist; Jan Glikson was called the "brain" of the Jews; and Edward Kohn was a doctor at the beginning of the 20th century famous as "the heart of Jewish society", helping the poor and loved by the non-Jewish inhabitants of Czestochowa as well.

On the break of the 19th-20th century, the Jews of Czestochowa were the first owners of the printing press and propagated the printing trade very well on a big scale. From the year 17887, there was a printing press of Samuel Kohn and the printing of Wilhelm Kohen was distinguished for 40 years until the press was liquidated following the Occupation. The same events ended the very well known press of Oderfeld's brothers. The Jewish community owned their own press. It put out the weekly Izraelik (in the years 1865-1918). In 1906 the Glos Zydowski came out and afterwards the Hajnt. The Bund organization had its own press.

In the year 1900, the Charity Organization was promoted and in the same year it got more than 3000 members who each paid 3 zloty yearly membership dues, the funds of which were dedicated for social assistance to the needy. The Charity Organization opened two kindergartens, an old age home and an orphanage as well. Also medical help was given and Jewish savings bank established, along with coal distribution for the poor and so forth. Through the initiative of the Jewish community, cultural social meetings were held, not only for the Jewish population. In the home of the Wolberg family, NMP Alley no 12, a garden-theater-coffee house was established which held exhibitions, meetings and sometimes also theater performances.

Everything changed when the Germans came to Czestochowa. A horrible time for the Jews began. Prohibitions and humiliation made existence more than difficult. Freedom and work possibilities were limited and at the same time, people were sent to forced labor camps and other places under German rule, being forced to do heavy work for the German military sources/ They fought hard to remain alive. In 1942, transports began to take Jews by truck to "work" in the East - but they were instead taken to the gas chambers. The Germans selected a few hundred young and healthy Jews for daily work who were left behind in the ghetto Czestochowa. In this closed ghetto, a Jewish resistance organization put together a group of 300 fighters. During the action of liquidation in January 1943, the group with their leader Mendel Fiszlewicz, fought back and attacked the Germans - with very little ammunition and terrain difficulties - losing 255 fighters. In this way, they found merit for themselves in the history of Jewish Czestochowa...

The cemetery has remained the only sign of Jewish life from the Jewish community of Czestochowa.

 


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