Jewish Cemetery in Belchatow
"Kirkut w Bełchatowie"
(From the Lodz newspaper Morning Voice, August 22-23, 1992)
Translated from the Polish by Krzysztof Malczewski
Visiting the Land of Ancestors:
Starting from the early medieval times Jews settled down in Poland. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the total Jewish congregation was 750,000 people. In this century the first Jewish settlers showed up in Belchatow, dealing mainly in trade and weaving at home.
Jewish Cemetery in Belchatow
In 1820, the city was inhabited by about 200 Poles and 100 Jews, who even then had their own synagogue and Jewish cemetery. According to data from 1860, out 1,499 residents, Jews were a dominant group -- they were 1,139. In the year 1897, there were already 2,897 Jews living there.
In the first years after regaining [Polish] independence, gradually proportions between the Jewish and Polish nations were getting more balanced. Jews in 1921 were more, 3,688 (59% of residents of the city), but already in 1936 they made up only 44% of residents of Belchatow (and the total population then was 8,932). On March 1, 1939 there were 10,461 people in Belchatow, 5,354 were Poles and 4,280 were Jews.
During World War II the Germans declared Belchatow a Jewish town (Judische Stadt). The occupants, after taking over the city, destroyed all liturgical objects and created a ghetto, which was within the perimeter of Febryczna, Pabianicka, Sienkiewicza and Narutowicza Streets. In the ghetto the Jews from Belchatow were kept as well as those from nearby areas. There were about 6,000 people.
In August 1942 around 1000 Jews were taken to the Lodz ghetto and 5000 to the death camp in Chelmno on the Nerem. Some of them lived until the end of the war. More like a group of several hundred Jews, who left Belchatow before the war started, found shelter in many countries of the world. Among them were the United States, Australia, countries of South America and later also Israel. Jews living in Argentina created a Jewish Organization of Belchatow in 1941 and, together with and assisted by the help of Belchatowian Jews spread all over the world, they issued "Yizkor" [Yizkor Book] in 1951 dedicated to their Polish roots.
There are not too many objects or evidence of Jewish culture left in Belchatow. A big cemetery (area of 1.69 ha.) at Lipowej Street was devastated by Hitler’s Nazis and the stones were used to pave the riverbed of the Widawki River, to repair bridges, and to pave pavements. After the war government and local authorities also did not care too much about the destroyed cemetery. The remaining stones from the Belchatow Jewish cemetery were used in the foundations of new buildings.
Hitler’s Nazis also destroyed the Jewish synagogue – its remains were finally removed in the 1950’s.
What is then still to be found after more than 200 years of the presence of Jews in Belchatow? Besides some houses, practically nothing.
In August 1989, at the presence of about a 20-person delegation of the Belchatow Jewish Organization there was finally unveiled a memorial plaque at the wall of the local city cultural center. The caption on the plaque, written in Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, says: "In memory of the 5000 Belchatow Jews exterminated by the Nazis during the years 1939-1945."
The Jewish nation respects its cemeteries and cherishes them. However, the area of the former cemetery at Lipowej Street was changed in the 1970’s by the decision of the local party organization, and they turned it into a city park -- then they also destroyed the symbolic stone made of pieces of original stones at the place of this monument. The mayor of Belchatow, Stanislaw Wojtasik, unveiled on August 12, 1986 a monument in memory of the Polish Scouts. In July of the current year  this monument was moved to Zarzecina.
Construction of the final monument was a result of the talks that the mayor of Belchatow, Edward Olszewski, had with Menachem Sharon, who was a former secretary of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw and now is the chairman of the Belchatow Jewish Organization active in Tel Aviv, and also talks with the Vice President of Israel for Israel-Poland associations for promotions of relations and friendship. Together they made settlements in the area of the former cemetery. They were to put the monument with a marble block with the following caption: "Jewish Cemetery Destroyed by the Nazis During the Years 1939-1940" [sic: the tablet actually says 1939-1945]. As was the case of the plaque put on the wall of the cultural center, this caption was made in four languages.
On the 23rd of August 1992 they plan the main festivities related to the 50th Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto in Belchatow. Taking part in these festivities, it is expected, will be about 50 representatives from Israel and 50 Jews [originally] from Belchatow from different areas of the world. On the 23rd of August at 12 o’clock this monument will be unveiled in the Jewish Cemetery.
At the request of the Israeli party, the local government made an index of the Jewish population, the Jewish residents that lived in Belchatow until 1936. On the basis of resident books, birth certificates, and death certificates, they managed to establish 6, 854 surnames.
The Jewish population has lived in Belchatow for more than two centuries and they also inhabited areas close to the city. They had an impact on the cultural and social life of the community by introducing new ways of looking at things, with which this community had not been familiar before. With their work and their creativity they enriched Belchatow’s material life and spiritual life, contributing to the progress of the town.
For those who passed away we can do only this -- we can care for the preservation and rediscovery of treasured relics of Jewish culture. We have to seek to get into a real dialogue, which should be run without historical (and hysterical) animosities and phobias. I hope that the visit of former Belchatowian residents of Jewish origin will start this dialogue on our local level.
Memorial Card for the 50th Anniversary of the
Liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto
(Courtesy of Phyllis and Hiller Bell)
Click on "Next" below to read a translation of "Belchatow's Jews," by Boguslaw Dziedzic, the late Director of the Regional Museum and President of the Association of the Friends of Belchatow, in the Association's Bulletin No. 2, published in June 2001. The article also summarizes the history of the Jews in Belchatow, including the Holocaust and the return of some survivors in August 1992 on the 50th Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Ghetto for the dedication of the Cemetery Monument and reunion with former school friends and playmates.