History of Jewish Wiślica
Wiślica is a small but very old Polish town. Situated on the left bank of the river Vistula, it used to be an important place of trade. It played an important role in Polish history in 15th and 16th century. Today a gothic cathedral and a house of a famous Polish medievial chronist, Jan Dlugosz, belong to the tourist attractions.
Jews always willingly settled near main trade routes, and no wonder that the first references to the Jewish population of Wislica go back to 1514. Due to conflicts among the town inhabitants, the king ordered the governor to demolish the synagogues and expel the Jews in 1545. The events testify to the fact that a Jewish community had already existed in Wiślica in the mid-16th century.
Soon the Jews were allowed to return to the town and to rebuild the synagogue. As in other royal towns, the main occupations of Jews were usury and trade, especially liquor trade. In the 1560s lending money at interest was the profession of Abraham from Wiślica. The economic competition on the Jewish part led to many clashes with the Christian population. The Polish inhabitants of Wiślica wanted King Zygmunt August to issue a privilege which would limit the number of Jews in their town. They succeeded in their attempts and the document issued by the king included such a decision.
The period of the Swedish deluge (1655-1660) proved to be hard and catastrophic to the people living in Wiślica. Swedish and Hungarian armies plundered and burned down the town in 1657. Many people were murdered at that time, and most victims were those of general Czarniecki who killed fifty Jewish families. The 1660 census did not record the presence of any Jews in the town, and it was not until 1674 that a record was made of 20 Jewish tax payers.
Later sources quoted the Jewish population of Wiślica at 33.6% of the total population. In 1827 there were 785 Jews in the town, which was 46.5% of the total population. In the first half of the 19th century, Wiślica had 1,675 inhabitants, of which two-thirds were Jewish. The town had 129 houses, including 7 brick houses.
Thirty-six houses (including the synagogue) burned down during the fire in 1858. In 1872 the Poles in Wiślica decided to let Jewish craftsmen join the guild, manufacturing morocco leathers. In return the Jews were obliged to return to the Poles 60% of the profit they made from training apprentices and from certifying masters and journeymen. Both sides benefited from the agreement which strengthened Polish-Jewish relations. The cooperation was based on tolerance and understanding, and the fact that the Jews were let into the guilds was an unprecedented phenomenon, not only on the governmental scale, but also on the scale of the entire Kingdom of Poland.
The beginning of the 1880s saw a big change in Polish-Jewish relations, and it was mainly about tightening anti-Semitic internal policy. Results could be observed almost immediately, with many anti-Semitic incidents taking place in many Russian towns, and later also in Kielce Goubernia. As soon as May 1881 in the Wiślica marketplace there appeared a proclamation. It was to protect Catholic businesses and to call for beating and expelling the Jews. After a two-week investigation, it was claimed that the whole situation was only a stupid mistake.
Jewish families attached considerable importance to study and that is why since earliest childhood, boys would be sent to Jewish schools called cheders. The children attending the schools received basic education in religion, liturgy, and Jewish history. In 1909 there were seven cheders in Wiślica.
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, the Wiślica religious community had a synagogue and three houses of prayer operating in private buildings belonging to Mordka Kac, Mendel David Lida, and Israel Horovitz. The war hostilities did not bypass Wiślica. During the war there were instances of plundering and demolishing of some of the buildings, including the house of Itzak Horovitz at Złota Street. Following the war, the house was renovated and its new owner, Yankiel Lewkowicz, turned to the community with the request for permission to establish a House of Prayer inside, but the kehilla members decided that the two Houses of Prayer already operating in the town were enough for the Jews in Wiślica.
The information contained in the 1921 census for Pińczów County reveals that there were 1,314 Jews in Wiślica and they constituted 63% of the total population of the town. They were mainly traders and craftsmen. In the 1929 Address Book of Poland the following Jewish businesses are mentioned: tinsmith - G. Szwarc; accessory stores - G. Bergfrajd, J. Goldhar, J. Klajnplac; tailor’s workshop - A. Flaum; manufactories - I. Cichy, S. Linden, Ch. Ostrowicz, L. Rozental; dairy - H. Rajgenwerc; flour shops - Ch. Hammer, M. Lancman, J. Toft, A. Zylberberg, R. Zylbersztajn; bakeries - E. Kliger, J. Kuperman, J. Meller, Z. Mendlowicz; beer-houses - G. Zylbersztajn; butchers – I. Meller, J. Mendlowicz, A. and S. Topił; sawmill - Ch. Hopfenberg; watchmakers – L. and T. Bekierman; groceries - A. Fajner, J. Kajner, J. Goldhar, S. Szajner, H. Szwugier, O. Trygier, A. Wajnsztok, Z. Zyngier; restaurant - Z. Zylbersztajn; grain wholesale - A. Bukiet, I. Szwugier, Y. Topf, M. Zylbersztajn; iron trade - I. Buchman, I. Federman, J. Hammer.
In the interwar period, the Jews in Wiślica had one synagogue, two houses of prayer, a cheder, a mikveh, a funeral parlor, a gravedigger’s house, a cemetery, and a plot for a new cemetery. In 1932 the synagogue underwent a thorough renovation. With the death of rabbi Israel Horovitz in 1923, a new rabbi had to be elected and it proved to be no easy task because the kehilla offered quite a low salary. After a year Chaim Shulim Schwartz was elected. After the 1924 elections, the Board included Icek Schwarcgier, Alter Bukiet, Yankiel Topf, Ajzyk Flaum, Chaim Shlomo Schwartz, Daniel Rozentraub, Majloch Papier and David Lipschitz.
In 1931 the community had 1,468 members, a year later 1,500 (223 families). The rabbi was H. Schwartz, and N. Herszkowicz was the shochet. The budget of the community was signed by the Board which consisted of president Wolf Borensztajn and members Itzak Szwugier, Chaim Hopfenberg, Szaja Rozenwagger, Wolf Bochenek, David Levi, Josek Flam. Except for Rozenwagger, who was an Orthodox Jew, the rest were Zionists.
In 1933 the Wiślica county office recorded the presence of 1,548 Jews. In 1937 there were 1,577 Jews there, and 180 families paid contributions.
Before the outbreak of World War II there were about 1,500 Jewish inhabitants in Wiślica. The extermination of the Jews in Busko County and the municipalities incorporated from Pińczów County began in September 1939. From 1939 to 1941 high monetary contributions were imposed on Jewish families, from whom also gold, valuables, and expensive fabrics were extorted; laborers’ companies were formed, where people had to work under very difficult conditions. Mutual help played a very important role among the Jews during World War II. One of the most important was the Jewish Social Self-Help Organization (Żydowska Samopomoc Społeczna). A branch of it was formed also in Wiślica. The ghetto was established in Wiślica in May 1941. Two thousand people were kept in 76 houses. It was dissolved on 3 October 1942 when all Jewish inhabitants from Wiślica were forced to march to Pińczów from where they were driven to the death camp of Treblinka.
For more detailed information check http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/wislica/5,history/.
or the book in Polish: Gminy żydowskie małe by Krzysztof Urbański, 2006 (History of Wiślica, Pages 290-295)
Copyright © 2012 Andrzej Selerowicz
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