FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF KIELCE JEWS
by Jan Główka, Muzeum Historii Kielc, 2009
What has remained after the Kielce Jewish community until today? What has remained of the people who played such an important role in shaping the image ant the history of the city in the XIX century and in the period between the wars?
We shall start our recommending at the Museum of the History of Kielce, situated on 4 St. Leonard Street. The Museum holds items connected with the participation of Jews in forming local society and shaping the city’s image in the XIX and XX centuries.
In the exhibition rooms presenting the permanent exhibition entitled “From the History of Kielce”, one can find information on the presence of Jews in Kielce from the middle of the XIX century until modern times. The development if industry in Kielce from the 1870’s would not have been possible had it not been for the active participation of Jewish industrialists. It is testified by numerous documents connected with the industry in Kielce and its vicinity until the end of the Second Republic of Poland. In several showcases, there are some archive documents, photographs and cult objects which are evidence of the existence of the Jewish community. A portrait of a tzadik by Henryk Czarnecki, a kielec artist who painted famous Kielce citizens, deserves special attention.
The period of the World War II and the Holocaust is documented by a collection of ghetto photographs, depicting women and men wearing armbands with the Star of David.
A separate section is devoted to the Kielce pogrom of 1946. A multimedia presentation brings the visitors closer to those tragic events which put an end to the Jewish community in Kielce.
Information on Kielce Jews can be obtained from the State Archives in Kielce and the National Museum in Kielce, where an inquisitive researcher can find numerous keepsakes, photographs, postcards, archival documents, paintings, items of artistic craftsmanship and articles made by Kielce craftsmen. There are archival documents related to the Jewish Community in Kielce, Kielce political parties, associations or societies.
The Gallery of Painting and Decorative Art in the National Museum in Kielce presents paintings by both Jewish artists and artists taking up the Jewish subject-matter, such as Maurycy Gottlieb, Tytus Czyżewski, Roman Kramsztyk, Tadeusz Kantor, Artur Nacht Samborski, Eugeniusz Żak, Apoloniusz Kędzierski, Franciszek Kostrzewski and Józef Szermentowski.
From the Museum of the History of Kielce we will walk towards the Main Square, which is situated close to the area of the former Jewish ghetto established by Nazis in 1941 (an area confined by Orla, Piotrowska, Starozagnańska, Pocieszka and Radomska Streets). In the vicinity, there was a small ghetto situated in Bodzentyńska and St. Adalbert Streets and in the Main Square and through the Square of St. Tekla (a house in the corner was a ghetto pass office) we will walk to a place of particular importance to the history of Kielce Jews. It is a building of a former synagogue in Warszawska Street, where until the middle of 2011 year was the seat of the State Archives.
The synagogue was opened in 1903. The heavily decorated building on 17 Nowowarszawska Street was designed by Stanisław Szpakowski. During the World War II, Germans converted it into a prison and a storehouse where they kept all stolen Jewish possessions. The building was damaged by Germans and then burnt at the end of World War II. In the 1950’s the synagogue was rebuilt changing its architecture and interior design.
The commemorative plaque situated by the main entrance reminds visitors of the building’s initial purpose. The plaque bears the following inscription: FORMER SYNAGOGUE OF THE JEWISH COMMUMITY CONVERTED BY GERMANS INTO A PRISON FOR JEWS AND A STOREHOUSE FOR STOLEN JEWISH POSSESSIONS. There is also the Star of David and a quotation from Psalm 94: “THEY CRUSH YOUR PEOPLE, O LORD; THEY OPRESS YOUR INHERITANCE. THEY SLAY THE WIDOW AND THE ALIEN; THEY MURDER THE FATHERLESS”.
In 1996, another plaque was founded commemorating the Jewish victims of World War II. The plaque bears the following inscription: TO THE MEMORY OF 27,000 JEWS FROM THE KIELCE GHETTO KILLED BY NAZIS IN 1939-1944 IN KIELCE, TREBLINKA AND OTHER GERMAN EXTERMINATION CAMPS. THE COMMUNITY OF KIELCE.
In front of the main entrance to the former synagogue, a commemorating wall devoted to the Poles who helped Jews during the Holocaust and killed by Nazis has been built. The names of the murdered Poles are situated under the heading THERIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS. TO THE MEMORY OF POLES MURDERED BY NAZIS IN 1939-1945 FOR GIVING HELP TO JEWS AND SAVING THEM FROM HOLOCAUST.
Not for from the synagogue, there are numerous mute witnesses to the tragic events of the World War II, including a tenement house in 18-20 Warszawska Street, a former Jewish hospital organized by physician Mojżesz Pelc. Its patients were murdered in 1942, after the liquidation of the Kielce ghetto.
Another place connected with the presence of Jews in Kielce from the XIX century until 1946 is a pavilion of the Jewish hospital in 25 Kościuszki Street. The pavilion was designed by Stanisław Szpakowski and built in 1902-1908. During World War I, it treated patients suffering from spotted fever during the outbreak of this epidemic. Since 1928, the hospital was maintained by the city and in 1935 it became a part of St. Alexander City Hospital, situated in the same Kościuszki Street. In 1940, Nazis closed the Jewish pavilion and transported its patients to a hospital in Radomska (currently Warszawska) Street. In 1946, the bodies of Jews murdered during the Pogrom were placed in the hospital pavilion. The wounded were treated at the hospital. In 1995, the building of the Jewish hospital was renovated retaining its historic façade.
In 2000, in the city hospital situated nearby, a commemorating plaque devoted to the memory of doctor Mojżesz Pelec was founded. It bears the following inscription: TO THE MEMORY OF DOCTOR MOJŻESZ PELEC, 1881-1941, AN OUTSTANDING PHYSICAN AND SOCIAL WORKER, MAJOR OF THE POLISH ARMY, COUNCILLOR OF KIELCE, AND MURDERED IN AUSCHWITZ. CITIZENS OF KIELCE.
Leaving the synagogue, we will walk west passing the Voivodship Office to reach Menorah of Memory – the monument devoted to the victims of the liquidation of the Kielce ghetto, which is situated in IX Wieków Street. The monument was created by Marek Cecuła, a son of a Jew who survived the ghetto and the pogrom. It is a menorah coming out of the pavement. The monument, unveiled on August 26, 2007, was founded by Jan Karski Society with the support of the President of Kielce.
Next, we will talk towards Piotrowska Street, where in 2006, in the 60th anniversary of the Kielce Pogrom, a monument devoted to the victims of those tragic events was unveiled. The monument, designed by Jacek Sal, was founded by the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. The opening celebration was attended by Waren Miller, chairman of the Commission, Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland and Wojciech Lubawski, president of Kielce. Three Peace Trees (Świętokrzyskie oaks), symbols of unity and peace, were planted. The participants of the celebration including representatives of the governments of Poland, Israel and the USA as well as citizens of Kielce prayed by the tenement house in Planty Street. The commemorating plaque on the main body of the monument bears the following inscription: TO THE MEMORY OF JEWS MURDERED IN KIELCE ON JULY 4, 1946. BEFORE THE WORLD WAR II, THERE WERE 21,000 JEWS IN KIELCE. MOST OF THEM WERE DEPORTED BY NAZIS TO INVITABLE DEATH AT TREBLINKA EXTERMINATION CAMP. AFTER THE WAR, SOME JEWS WHO SURVIVED RETURNED TO KIELCE JOINED BY JEWS FROM SMALL TOWNS OF THE KIELCE REGION AND FORMER EASTERN PARTS OF POLAND. ON JULY 4, AN ANGRY CROWD ATTACKED AND MURDERED THE JEWS. THE EVENTS PROPELLED THE JEWISH SURVIVORS TO EMIGRATE TO ISRAEL, THE USA AND OTHER COUNTRIES. TO PAY HOMAGE TO THE VICTIMS OF THE POGROM SO AS THE MONUMENT BECOMES A WARNING TO THE PEOPLE AND A CRY FOR TOLERANCE AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN NEIGHBOURS.
In the vicinity of the monument, on 7/9 Planty Street, there is a tenement house, where the tragic pogrom events of 1946 took place. Some commemorative inscriptions devoted to the victims of the pogrom as well as a Jewish Memory Chamber opened on the ground floor remind the visitors of the events.
In 1990, a plate in three languages with the Star of David was built into a wall of the house. It says: TO THE MEMORY OF 42 JEWS MURDERED ON JULY 4, 1946 DURING SOME ANTISEMITIC RIOTS. THE COMMEMORATING PLAQUE WAS BUILT IN ON THE 44TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE EVENTS AND FOUNDED ON THE INITIATIVE OF LECH WAŁĘSA, CHAIRMAN OF NATIONAL, COMMITTEE OF SOLIDARNOŚĆ FREE TRADE UNION, BY THE NISSENBAUM FAMILY FOUNDATION.
During the ceremonial celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the pogrom, in front of the tenement house a plate was placed with a quotation from the prayer of John Paul II, which he put in crack of the Walling Wall in Jerusalem: LORD OF OUR FATHERS, YOU CHOSE ABRAHAM AND HIS SESCENDANTS TO GIVE YOUR NAME TO THE NATIONS. WE ARE DEEPLY DADDENED BY THE BEHAVIOUR OF THOSE WHO CAUSED YOUR CHILDREN TO SUPPER. ASKING FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS, WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO REAL BROTHERHOOD WITH THE NATION OF CONBENANT.
Walking south along the river, we reach Sienkiewicza Street. One of the important elements reminiscent of the Holocaust and the common history of Jews and Poles on Polish land is the Jan Karski monument, situated on a bridge in the corner of Sienkiewicza and Planty Streets. It was unveiled in April, 2005 and presents a legendary courier of the Polish Underground State. Following his return to the west during the World War II, Jan Karski informed the anti-Nazi coalition about mass extermination of Jews on the territory of Poland. He was awarded the Order of the White Eagle and the medal of the Righteous among the Nations. The figure of Karski, sitting on a bench and playing chess, was made of bronze by Karol Bandyta. The monument is a starting point for annual memory march which leads to a Jewish cemetery in Pakosz.
In the district of Pakosz, there is a Jewish cemetery– devastated by Nazis and during the communist regime in Poland. In 1981, a lapidarium (collection of stones and stone fragments) made of 330 macevas and fragments of grave slabs and fragments of grave slabs was built. In the cemetery, there is a monument of the pogrom victims and plate s commemorating the martyrdom of Kielce Jews during World War II.
The following inscription can be read on the monument devoted to children murdered by Nazis: HERE ARE BURIED THE HOLY ASHES OF 45 DEAREST AND INNOCENT CHILDREN MURDERED BRUTALLY BY GERMAN CRIMINALS ON MAY 23, 1942. THE YOUNGEST WAS 15 MONTHS, THE OLDEST 15 YEARS.
The monument commemorating the holocaust of Jews during World War II beard the following inscription: TO THE MEMORY OF 29,000 CITIZENS OF KIELCE OF MOSAIC CONFESSION, WHO ON AUGUST 21, 1942 WERE SENT BY NAZIS TO EXTERMINATION CAMPS.
In 1987, the cemetery was renovated on the initiative of the Nissenbaum Family Foundation and Association of Kielce Compatriots in New York, especially by William Mandell, the chairman of the association. Burial places were cleaned and a new fence with Jewish symbols was constructed.
Close to the cemetery, there is a sepulchral chapel – ohel of tzadik Mordechaj Kuzmirer (Motele Twerski), from a Chernobyl Chasidic dynasty, who died in Kielce in 1913. Until 1939, the ohel was situated in a separated part of the cemetery where some other noble Jews, such as rabbi David Goldman from Chmielnik or rabbi Haim Samuel Horvitz from Chęciny, were buried.
The traces of the Jewish presence in Kielce could be found in numerous tenement houses in Sienkiewicza, Paderewskiego, Orla, Kozia, Wesoła, Niecała and Hipoteczna Streets as well as on the Fredom Square.
The building of a branch of the former Commercial Bank, constructed in 1898 at 5 Sienkiewicza Street (currently shops) testifies to financial activities of Jewish bankers. In the corner of Sienkiewicza and Mała Streets, there is a building constructed in 1909 by Mendel Ellencwajg which housed the first cinema in Kielce, “Phenomen” cinema. In the 1920’s, at 6 Staszica Street, Maks Ellencwajg built “Palace” cinema which is currently known as “Moskwa” cinema.
Some traces of Jewish schools are still visible in Kielce. There is a building of the Jewish Junior High School at 25 Seminaryjska Street, Junior School for Girls run by Stefania and Władysław Zimnowód at 1 Słowackiego Street and the schools of Róża Minc at 13 Silnicza Street. In the corner of Sienkiewicza and Planty Streets, there is a bulding which housed “Talmud Torah” – a school for children from poor Jewish families.
The villa of industrialist Henryk Bruner, situated at 33 Żelazna Street, is an interesting example of the architecture of the inter war period. Before the war, the house was rented by Władysław Dziadosz, Kielce voivode.
The religious life of the Jewish community in Kielce left its traces on 3 Słowackiego Street, where one can still admire the house of prayer built by Hersz Zagajski. Inside the house, there are beautifully ornamented walls.
There are also some traces of Jewish trade and industry. On Freedom Square, in the building constructed in the 1770’s by Chaskiel Landau, which currently houses the Museum of Toys and Plays, there were market halls.
On the edges of the city, there are some remains of lime kilns and quarries – “Wietrznia” and “Kadzielnia”. Today, they are well known nature reserves. Near the rail track from Dęblin to Dąbrowa, there are some remains of old factories established at the end of the XIX century, including the first glassworks “Leonów”, which belonged to the family of Chajman (currently “Iska” plant), bentwood furniture plant “Henryków” and steelworks “Ludwików” – the largest metal foundry and factory producing equipment for the army.
Kielce “Granat”, “Henryków” and “Ludiwków” factories were also the places were Jews were exterminated. In the camps adjacent to the factories and situated in Karczówkowska and Młynarska Streets several hundreds of Jews lived. In 1944, those who survived were transported by Nazis to labor camp in Częstochowa and also to Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
A common history not only of Jews and Poles, but also of Russians and Germans who co-existed in Kielce for many decades was interrupted in September 1939. The period after the World War II was a tragic epilogue to the common life of those communities.
While trying to accept sometimes difficult past, we remember that the image of Kielce was shaped by all its citizens and the permanent traces testifying to the existence of Jews in Kielce confirms us in the belief that we have common goals and work to be performed in order to create a positive image of our region’s capital city.