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Translation of Konstantynów Łódzki chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Konstantynów Łódzki chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume I, pages 238-240, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
Note: An effort has been initiated to restore the Jewish cemetery in Konstantynow Lodzki.
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(District of Łódź)
It is safe to assume that Jews settled in Konstantynów even before it became a factory town. With the influx into Konstantynów of weavers and other textile experts from within and outside Poland, there was also an influx of Jews. The legal status of the Jews of Konstantynów was defined by a government decree in 1830, one of whose clauses stated, "In order to prevent the damaging concentration of Jews in Konstantynów, it is established that the municipal office will accept as residents of the city only those who present residency permits signed by the mayor." This situation remained in force until 1862, when an order of the Czar canceled all restrictions on the mobility of Jews in the Kingdom of Poland. For this reason the Jewish population in Konstantynów increased very slowly until 1862. Even after this, the increase was slow, for which there are several reasons. The main reason was that the weaver's guild did not permit Jews to work in the textile industry. Jews also did not want to work in the factories, because of their reluctance to work on Shabbat. Another reason was the regular and significant migration of Jews into Łódź, the nearby city which was growing and developing. The influence of this situation on the occupational structure of the Jewish population in Konstantynów was dramatic: the vast majority were small salesmen or involved in other traditional Jewish trades. Among the 100 people who paid the communal tax in 1864 were 52 small businessmen, 2 landlords, 18 tailors, 2 furriers, 2 hatmakers, 3 shoemakers, 3 tanners, 1 ribbon weaver, 2 butchers, 3 wagon drivers, 1 barber, 12 day-laborers and only 1 weaver. Aside from these occupational groups, there were also groups which were exempt from paying the communal tax: the employees of the community and its officers, the religious officials, and the indigent who did not have any fixed source of income. In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, Jews slowly began to enter the textile industry. In the years before World War I, tens of Jews already worked in this area. Most of them worked out of their homes, receiving raw materials from the Jewish factory manager in Łódź and returning to him the finished product.
Already in 1825 an independent Jewish community existed in Konstantynów, operating a synagogue, a house of study, bath-houses, a poorhouse, and a cemetery which remains consecrated to this day, and it employed a dayan [dayan]. The government was reluctant to recognize the independence of the community, on the grounds that these institutions were housed in rented buildings and not in their own edifices. The efforts of the community, with the support of the mayor, bore fruit, and in 1835 the local Dayan was authorized to function as the rabbi of the independent community. (The first elections for communal leadership took place in 1832.) The first dayan in Konstantynów was Rabbi Pinchas Freidenreich. In addition, Rabbi Yehezkel Naumberg, formerly the dayyan of Lutomiersk, functioned as dayyan from 1823-1832 (apparently without salary). In 1832 Rabbi Yehezkel Naumberg was called to serve as the rabbi of Łódź. In 1835, Rabbi Pinchas Freidenreich was elevated to the rank of rabbi of Konstantynów. In 1852 the local government opened an investigation on the allegations that he imposed a herem on Jewish workers, especially women, working in Christian factories. Rabbi Pinchas asserted that he did not impose any herem, but rather warned female workers in his sermons about the dangers of moral corruption, in particular after he was informed that two Jewish female workers were about to convert to Christianity. The government instructed the rabbi to publicly disavow the herem. The end of this affair is not known. It is probable that the cause of the affair was a dispute within the community between the rabbi and members of the community's leadership. From 1885-1890 Rabbi Shmuel, son of Moshe Weiss, a descendant of Rabbi Heschel of Lublin, served as rabbi of Konstantynów. Rabbi Shmuel Weiss wrote a work of responsa literature called Minhat Shmuel (on the fourth part of the Shulkhan Arukh), and also Divrei Shmuel (insights into the Talmud). When Rabbi Shmuel moved to Węgrów (1890), Rabbi Menahem David Greenbaum, the former rabbi of Nowy Dwor, served as the rabbi of Konstantynów. Rabbi Menahem also led in Konstantynów a circle of Admorim, who followed the Radoszyce-Sobota stream. After his death (only a few years before World War I), Rabbi Yaakov Aron Levi became the rabbi of Konstantynów. He died during the war.
Until the end of World War I, a traditional Jewish lifestyle dominated Konstantynów. The leading figures were the hasidim, particularly Radoszyce-Sobota hasidim, but also hasidim of Gur, Alexander, Sochaczew, each having their own shtiebl. During the years of the aforementioned Rabbi Yaakov Aron Levi, Konstantynów had a yeshivah with 80 students from both the town and its environs.
During World War I the first Zionist organizations were established in the city: Maccabee, which also organized sporting events, and Daughters of Zion, which also operated a library.
In the two decades between the wars, there was an awakening in the political and cultural life of the Jews of Konstantynów. Immediately after World War I the Histadrut Ha-Zionim Ha-Klaliim was established in the city (from a merger of Maccabee and Daughters of Zion). After a few years branches of Poale Zion, Hitahdut, and the Revisionists were founded. Youth movements also developed: Gordonia, established in the 1920's, Betar (1928), and Brit He-Hayil (1932). The head of Brit He-Hayil was an army rabbi in the reserves, Rabbi Naftali Meir Rosenbloom. The youth movements in Konstantynów established a joint group to prepare individuals for aliyah. There were nearly 100 dues-paying members of the World Zionist Congress in Konstantynów. In the elections for the Zionist Congress of 1937, the votes split as follows: General Zionists, 48; Mizrahi, 4; League for the Working Land of Israel, 28.
The greatest influence in the Jewish community in Konstantynów was Agudat Yisrael, which was established immediately following World War I, and the organizations affiliated with it, Agudat Yisrael Workers and Agudat Yisrael Youth. Representatives of the Agudat Yisrael served as the leaders of the community. Throughout this period the head of the Jewish community was a member of Agudat Yisrael. Also, most of the Jewish representatives (three or four in number) on the city council were members of this party.
During this time period, the rabbi of Konstantynów was the son-in-law of Yaakov Aron Levi, Rabbi Hayim Radzinski, the last official rabbi of the city. In September 1939, shortly after the Germans took over the city, he left for Łódź. Between the wars, the son of Rabbi Menahem David, Rabbi Ephraim Greenbaum, continued the chain of Admorim, and after him Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz, who died during the Nazi destruction of the Łódź ghetto. Around 1930 the community began constructing a new synagogue (the old one had been built of wood), but it was not completed before the beginning of World War II.
In the area of education only Agudat Yisrael was active: in 1920 it established a modern heder and in 1925 it opened the school Beis Yaakov, in which about 80 girls studied; they constituted the majority of the Jewish women students in the city. Among the cultural institutions of Konstantynów, aside from the Daughters of Zion library, there was a drama club affiliated with all of the youth organizations. The first issue of the monthly "Der Tzair" was published under the auspices of Agudat Yisrael Youth; it marked a first-rate cultural event. In the area of sports, the Maccabee organization a continuation of the aforementioned culture and sports organization from before World War I was active throughout this period.
In the period of intensified antisemitism in Poland in the 1930's, the German youth group was the most active among the local anti-Semitic groups. After Hitler rose to power, an organization of Hitlerjugend was established in Konstantynów in the framework of the local German gymnastics organization. In 1932 a procession of Sochaczewer hasidim was stoned during a celebration dedicating a new Torah scroll in their shtiebl. Even those inside the shtiebl were stoned. In 1935 members of the Hitlerjugend shattered windows in Jewish houses and spread the false accusation that the Jews were planning to destroy the German Protestant church.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Germans shot two Polish doctors and commanded the leader of the Jewish community in Konstantynów, Baruch Scheiber, to send a group of Jews to bury those who were killed. The practice of taking Jewish men from the streets and from their houses to perform forced labor continued without stop. Once nearly all of the Jews of the locality were brought to the abandoned factory of the German Shweigart and ordered to clean the entire premises, because the government was planning to convert the place to a barracks for the German army. The Germans hit the Jews while working and taunted them. On their return home they were commanded to sing, "We, the Jews, wanted the war." The theft of Jewish property continued; the Germans took merchandise from stores and property from houses. Jews were deprived at gunpoint of their money and everything of value. Jewish businesses were transferred to the Germans. In a few cases the Jewish owners were ordered to operate the factories until the raw materials ran out, and the products were taken for the German government. With the persecution, the theft of property, and the disappearance of sources of income, the condition of the Jews progressively worsened. The last of their property was taken and sold. They could not buy anything in "Aryan" stores because the Poles would report them to the Germans and they would be chased out of the line. A German soldier killed a girl, Golda Gutmanowich, who was standing in line in a store, after the Poles reported her. Anyone who could obtain flour baked bread at home. The different types of persecution, including a curfew from 5:00pm to 8:00am, made the lives of Jews increasingly difficult.
In particular, the Germans taunted Jews with beards. In the first days after the occupation, German soldiers cut the beard of the elderly Yeruham Pilgrom with a knife, and seriously injured him. After that, they ordered the Jews to cut their beards. The butcher Icha Meir Yaakobowitz did not cut his beard. One day a Volksdeutsch stopped him and, after taunting him, called to another Jew and ordered him to pull out the hairs of the butcher's beard by hand. This Jew was well known by the Volksdeutsch and, for that reason, requested that he not do this and swore on his life that the butcher would cut off his beard. And so the butcher was forced to carry out the order, in order not to endanger the life of the Jew who swore on his behalf. After Rosh Hashanah the Germans desecrated the synagogue and destroyed the Torah scrolls. They ordered the beadle, Shlomo Leib Kolniadz, to take all of the Torah scrolls into the courtyard, to douse them in the gasoline which they had brought, and to set them ablaze. After that they converted the synagogue into a storehouse. On the first day of Hanukah of that year, the local Germans continued to torment the Jews and extracted bribes from them. They broke into Jewish apartments throughout the city in order to find minyanim at prayer. The Jews who were caught praying were to be killed, but the Germans were satisfied to take bribes.
The functioning of the community was disrupted because many of the leaders from before the war fled. As in other cities, the community institutions and social organizations ceased their operations because of the German terror and the lack of means. Out of fear of interacting with the Germans, most Jews who remained in the area refused to participate in the work of the community leadership. Among the individuals who had the strength to address the needs of the community and to represent it in these difficult conditions, we know only the name of the new chairman of the leadership, Baruch Scheiber.
The Jewish community in Konstantynów did not last even four months of occupation. On the morning of December 22, 1939, the local government ordered Chairman Scheiber to prepare the Jewish population for expulsion. Scheiber went to all of the Jewish residences and announced that in the afternoon they were all to appear at town hall and to bring with them their personal belongings. The Jewish wagon-driver Koropatov rode through the streets of Konstantynów and loudly proclaimed this announcement himself. The head of the German police organized the expulsion. Elderly and weak Jews were permitted to ride on wagons which were apparently rented by the Judenrat. Under armed guard the Jews left for Głowno (which was under the general government). On the way some of the Jews were able to escape after bribing the guards and to flee to Łódź. The rest were brought to Głowno. From there many Jews escaped to other places, particularly Łódź and Warszawa.
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