by Emilia Wanatowicz and Stanisław Wanatowicz
Mielec, February 2002
Bogusz Stęczyński, a former visitor of Mielec, noted: “The city today is mostly inhabited by Jews, it is famous only for mud during the autumn rainfall.” Today, there are no Jews in Mielec, and few monuments have survived. Most of them were destroyed during or after World War II. A more skilled and informed observer can, however, find many traces of the Jewish population that used to live in Mielec.
YouTube video of S. Wanatowicz giving this walking tour (in Polish)
Self-Guided Walking Tour (in English)
1. Synagoga i kwartał bóżniczy (The Synagogue and the Bóżnicza Quarter)
The synagogue was the center of the life of the Jewish community. It was a symbol of the independence of the commune and testified to its wealth. In accordance with the Torah, a house of prayer had to be established in every town with at least 10 adult Jews. When the community grew in numbers and strengthened financially, its members decided to build a synagogue.
A wooden synagogue was built in Mielec at the beginning of the 18th century. A new, spacious architecture, rarely found in Poland, was erected at the end of the 19th century at ul. Sandomierska. The interior of the synagogue was decorated with a wall painting depicting scenes from the creation of the world and the flood, which undoubtedly constituted a departure from tradition, as religious regulations forbade the depiction of human and animal figures in any way. The walls of the synagogues were usually decorated with quotes from the Talmud and the Torah as well as floral and geometric ornaments. There was also a Beit Midrash (house of prayer), a mikveh (ritual bathhouse), a ritual slaughterhouse, and kosher meat stalls next to the synagogue. The rabbi also lived on ul. Sandomierska.
In September 1939, the Mielec synagogue became one of the first places of Jewish martyrdom in Poland. After destroying the Wista, Wisłoka and San Operational Group “Jagmin”, which resisted in the forks, the greater forces of the 8th Infantry Division of the German Army South, commanded by Field Marshal Mannstein, entered Mielec on September 13. On Erev Rosh Hashanah – the eve of the Jewish New Year 5749 – many pious Jews were praying in the synagogue, others were taking a ritual bath, and still others waited with poultry in line to the butcher’s shop. The Germans chased 50-70 Jews from the synagogue to a slaughterhouse. The windows and doors were bolted and the prisoners were fired. Then the synagogue, two houses of prayer and a slaughterhouse were poured over with gasoline and set on fire. This first large-scale crime of genocide on Polish soil was widely echoed throughout the country. It was also noted by Emanuel Ringelblum in his Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto.
The burnt walls of the synagogue were demolished in 1942. In the 1970s, an obelisk was erected in its place – one of the few symbolic reminders of the former presence of Jews in Mielec.
2. Mykwa (Ritual Bathhouse)
The mikveh is a Jewish bathhouse. It served the ritual cleansing of people and equipment. Its central part was a swimming pool, which should hold approximately 8,000 liters of water. In Mielec, the mikveh was located at the back of the synagogue, exactly in the place of the current parking lot at ul. Lelewela. It was burned down in September 1939 and dismantled shortly thereafter.
This is how Stanisław Kryczyński recalled the vicinity of the synagogue1:
“I ventured into the stinking alleys of the ghetto near the synagogue and interrupted guttural, screaming chats about business for astonished Jews. I asked about dates from the history of Jewry in the town, about their religious records of the community. From the cheder, the pitiful chants of school boys blew out passionately, and some rotten air gushed from the inside of the synagogue; I was more than once in a completely different world, in which on the Sabbath evening there were solemnly strolled figures of bearded old men with sidelocks, in fox fur hats, satin black coats and pants, and white stockings, caricature spectra of the German Renaissance from the backstreets of some Frankfurt or Mainz. “
1 Wspomnienia z poszukiwań naukowych; Mielec. Studia i materiały z dziejów miasta i regionu; T. 2; pod redakcją Feliksa Kiryka; Mielec 1988; str. 761
3. Nowy Rynek i Kamieniczka Fenichelów (New Rynek and the Fenichel Family Tenement House)
The ‘New Rynek’ (market square) was directly adjacent to the synagogue quarter. Its surroundings were inhabited almost exclusively by Jews. In the middle there were wooden butcher shops where kosher meat could be purchased. At ul. Wąska 16, the Fenichel family lived in a tiny tenement house.
Isaac Fenichel was a painter of considerable artistic talent. His works were, among others murals in the Mielec synagogue and the new synagogue in Tarnów. Isaac’s son – Abraham Fenichel (known as Abba by everyone) received a thorough education at the local gimnazjum (secondary school) in Mielec and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. He created works related to the life of Jewish ghettos. In the houses of the townspeople in Mielec, there are also reproductions of outstanding Polish painters made by Abba Fenichel.
Abba Fenichel was also a soccer player and a member of the board of the “Makkabi” Jewish Football Club. After 1945, he became an illustrator of the publications of the Jewish Historical Commission in Kraków.
4. Rynek (Market Square)
Before World War II, on the Rynek in Mielec, apart from stately and ornate tenement houses, hotels and elegant warehouses, there were shabby hovels and grubby shops. It is puzzling that the most representative part of the Market Square was adjacent to the synagogue, and neglected – by the church.
Rynek 16: From 1910, it housed a Jewish bookshop and printing house run by Rachel Grau. Earlier, from 1899, Juda Kurtz was involved in printing texts with Hebrew fonts. The second Jewish bookshop was run by Aaron Moses Grün. In this way, the approximately 5,000-strong Jewish community in Mielec had the opportunity to obtain literature in two Jewish bookstores, not counting Polish ones.
Rynek 21. A tenement house with an interesting Neo-Baroque facade. The hotel Pod Złotym Orłem, owned and run by a Jewish man named Fortgang, was located here. Before the war, two other Jewish hotels also served visitors in Mielec: one run by a man named Reich, and another by a man named Jasse.
Rynek 32: The Blattberg tenement house. One of the most impressive buildings in the Rynek. It was built after the great fire of the city in 1900. It housed a shtibal – a private house of prayer, the trace of which is the elevation of the 1st floor in one of the rooms.
Rynek 3 and 4: In front of these tenement houses, on March 9, 1942, an initial selection of displaced Jews from Mielec took place, most of whom were sent to labor camps in Pustków and Mielec, and for those unable to work, to extermination camps or shot in Borek. Adjacent to the Rynek is also the tenement house which does not belong to it administratively at ul. Kościuszki 2. In the interwar period, a textile shop of a Jew named Klagsbrun was located on its ground floor. Klagsbrun, who survived the war in the USSR, was later the president of the Mielec Jews’ Association in Israel. After his death in the early 1980s, the Homeland Association practically ceased to function.
5. Szkoła Barona Hirscha (The Baron Hirsch School)
Among the older townspeople of Mielec there is still the term: “Baron Hirsch’s school”. It concerns a building erected 100 years ago at ul. Mickiewicza 17. Maurice Baron de Hirsch (1831 – 1896) was a rich Jewish philanthropist. He made a huge fortune on the construction of railways in Turkey and on stock exchange speculations. After losing his immediate family, he devoted his wealth to the material and moral improvement of his fellow believers. In 1890, he allocated 25 million gold francs to the construction of Jewish settlements in North America. 50 million francs was allocated by Hirsch for the purposes of Jewish settlement in Argentina, which he intended to make the Promised Land for his people. Another 25 million was spent on the network of Jewish schools in Galicia. Among the 35 school buildings that were built before the donor’s death was the Mielec school built in 1892.
Unfortunately, the idea of establishing a modern religious school did not find fertile ground among the Jews from Mielec. The education of children still boiled down to attending cheder (traditional religious school), or for richer families, hiring private melameds (tutors). Therefore, the religious community decided to hand over the building to the city authorities, with the designation as an elementary school for girls of both faiths, and Maria Konopnicka became its patron with time. The school building, which originally stood out above the surrounding wooden one-story buildings, is currently overshadowed by the “Kazanówka” and “Ikar” buildings next to it.
6. Szpital Pinkas Kranz (Pinkas Krantz Hospital)
The Pinkas Krantz Foundation Hospital existed in Mielec as early as the beginning of the 19th century. It was more a shelter for the poor than a hospital. The Jewish and Christian communities contributed to its maintenance. Around 1930, a new brick hospital building was erected at ul. Sękowskiego 8.
7. Muzeum „Jadernówka” (The Jaderny Museum)
The Jaderny Museum, located on ul. Jadernówka, holds a rich collection of photos of Mielec from the end of the 19th century, many of which show the life of the Jews of Mielec.
8. Kirkut (Cemetery).
Cemeteries and churches are the most common relics of the past in our country. Yet despite the number of Jews exceeding the number of Christians in this city prior to World War II, there is neither an active Jewish cemetery in Mielec (although some restoration work was done in 2003) nor any sign of the former synagogue.
The oldest Jewish cemetery in Mielec was probably – as was often the case – next to the synagogue in Nowy Rynek. Later, a Jewish cemetery was located on ul. Jadernych. It stretched from the present Freedom Monument to the railroad tracks. It was surrounded by a high brick wall. In the now-neglected area, there were numerous matzevot (tombstones standing vertically) and a few ohels (small buildings above the tombstones of rabbis and tzaddikim). The most beautiful tombstone, made of marble imported from Italy, was owned by a man named Kanarek. The grave of Rabbi Jacob of Ropszyce, the son of the famous tzaddik Naftali of Ropczyce, was highly revered. It was located to the right of the funeral parlor, so in the place of the present post office building.
At the northern wall of the cemetery, there were seven tombstones of Austrian and Russian soldiers of Jewish nationality who died during World War I.
On the site of the former Jewish cemetery there is now an obelisk funded by Rachel Sussman. According to the inscription in the cemetery, the cemetery was established in the 14th century, which is not confirmed in historical documents. The first, single mentions of Jews in Mielec come from: 1573, 1601 and 1602. For a community to be established, and thus a synagogue and a cemetery, ten adult Jews – men are required. Thus, it could have happened in the first quarter of the 17th century. The Jewish cemetery at ul. Jadernych was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942-43. Despite the fact that the Jewish religion forbids building the cemetery grounds (regardless of the time that has elapsed since the last burial), turning them into parks and carrying out exhumations – in the 1960s a post office was built in this place. The area was dug and the bones found were moved to the parish cemetery, and then to the Jewish cemetery in Nowy Sącz. In the fall of 1993, part of the cemetery area was fenced.
In the area of the former cemetery there are also tombstones, which, after the destruction of all Jewish cemeteries in Mielec in 1941-1941, were used to build roads and strengthen the banks of the Vistula River and the sewer.
9. Hotel Jassego (The Jassy Hotel)
Next to the train station at ul. Głowacki, around 1930, the largest hotel in Mielec at that time was built. Its owner was Chiel Jassy. In the 2-story building, from the 1960s onwards, there was a bus station for the next 30 years. The hotel building was destroyed during World War II and was demolished in the early 1990s.
10. Kirkut przy Dawnej Ulicy Cmentarnej (The Jewish cemetery at the former Cemetery Street)
This cemetery was probably established at the beginning of the 20th century due to the lack of free places for burial in the cemetery at ul. Jadernych (then Kolejowa). The road leading to the new cemetery was from the intersection of ul. Wolności with the railway crossing – the street called Cmentarna (now Żeromskiego), which ended at the entrance to the cemetery located at the height of the current intersection with ul. Jagiellończyka Street. The Jewish cemetery was liquidated by the Germans around 1942 and now there is not even the slightest trace of it.
11. Stadion Makkabi (Makkabi Stadium)
One of the many sports clubs operating in Mielec in the interwar period was the “Makkabi” Jewish Sports Club. Its name was derived from Judah Maccabee – the biblical leader of the Jewish uprising against the Roman occupiers. The “Makkabi” association gathered several hundred clubs located in almost all Polish cities and towns. These clubs were established from the earliest years of the 20th century. The “Makkabi” from Lviv and Kraków were recognized as the strongest Jewish clubs in the world. In 1933, the Polish Branch of the “Makkabi” Universal Association organized a winter Makkabiad in Zakopane. ŻKS “Makkabi” in Mielec was established in the early 1920s. It was associated with one of the local Zionist organizations and conducted activities not only in sports, but also in culture. Its leaders were boys named Zaiden and Mechlowitz, as well as Abba Fenichel – a graphic artist and painter valued after the war in Israel. At the beginning of the 1930s, on the land belonging to the Jewish community, “Makkabi” built its own stadium. The team played the inaugural match with Mielec’s “Krukies” on the new pitch.
The Mielec “Makkabi” team was one of the strongest in the region. The players were often hired by the president of “Makkabi” in Radomyśl Wielki – a boy named Węgrzyn – to strengthen his team.
The outbreak of World War II brought an end to the activities of “Makkabi” in Mielec. Its stadium was taken over by the German Sports Club, and after the war, “Gryf” played here. Currently, the Hala Targowa (Market Hall) stands on the site of the stadium.
12. Cegielnia Mojżesza Ascheima (Moses Aschheim’s Brickyard)
At ul. Wojsławska, you can see the remains of buildings of one of the largest industrial plants in the city before 1937. It is a brick factory, which once belonged to Moses Aschheim, undoubtedly the wealthiest Jewish citizen in Mielec at that time.
13. Kaflarnia Stemplera i Wekslera (Stempler and Weksler’s Tile Factory)
At the corner of ul. Wojsławska and ul. Moniuszki, we meet another Jewish industrial plant – the Stempler and Weksler tile factory.
14. Zawale i ul. Żydowska (Zawale and ul. Żydowska)
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a street called ul. Żydowska (Jewish Street) in Mielec. It was a road parallel to ul. Hetmańska, surrounded by one-story houses and inhabited mainly by the poorer people. Its traces were blurred in the 1950s.
Below ul. Żydowska was the Zawale district, inhabited mainly by the poorest Jews. During the occupation, the Nazis planned to create a ghetto here. However, this idea did not materialize.
There were several cheders (religious nursery schools) in the town. One of them was at ul. Legionów 23.
16. Młyn Zuckerbrota (Zuckerbrot Mill)
At ul. Legionów is located another of the small Jewish industrial plants, the Zuckerbrot flour mill. Its owner, Isaac Zuckerbrot, was on the first list of German hostages, published in October 1939.
17. Muzeum Regionalne – Pałacyk Oborskich (Regional Museum – Oborski Palace)
The Regional Museum in Mielec is located in the Palace of Count Oborski, built in the 17th century and thoroughly rebuilt and extended at the beginning of the 20th century.
The museum’s collection includes, among other items, a silver balm, an etrog vessel, Hanukkah lamps, a Torah scroll, old editions of the Talmud and about 300 applications from Jewish citizens for issuing identity cards.
18. Miejsce Masowych Egzekucji na Borku (Site of Mass Executions in Borek)
At the corner of ul. Sienkiewicza and ul. Traugutta there was a low, sandy hill. It became a place of execution for about 200 Jews shot here on March 9, 1942. The bodies of the murdered were buried partly on the spot, and partly in the nearby area purchased a few years earlier by the Jewish community for the purpose of a new Jewish cemetery. The hill was leveled at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, and the sand extracted from it was used on construction sites.
19. Kirkut przy ul. Tragutta (Cemetery near ul. Tragutta)
When in the cemetery at ul. Jadernych started to lack space for new burials, the Jewish community purchased land in the suburbs of Borek at the end of the 1930s. This area was not used before the outbreak of World War II. On the other hand, from March 1942, Jews murdered in the town and its vicinity were buried here.
Currently, the cemetery area is fenced, and an obelisk has been erected on a low mound in memory of about 300 Jews buried here. There are a few individual tombstones below the mound.
20. Masowe Mogiły z lat 1942-44 (Mass graves from 1942-44)
At ul. Świerkowa there is a small cemetery where the ashes of Jews murdered and died in the labor camp in Mielec are located. About 1,000 victims of Nazi terror are buried here. The cemetery is surrounded by a low wall and there is a memorial obelisk and a tombstone in honor of a couple named Amsterdam.
21. Obóz Pracy (Labor camp)
A labor camp for Jews was established in February or March 1942. It was located on the premises of the “Heinkel” aviation plant, where the Germans surrounded the 1 hectare area with barbed wire and built several wooden barracks. It could accommodate up to 3,000 prisoners at a time. In the first weeks of the camp’s existence, there were 250 Jews from Mielec and Wielopole. The number of prisoners began to increase rapidly in mid-March 1942 after the liquidation of the Jewish community in Mielec. Due to the chaos in the first phase of the camp’s existence, some of the people brought here managed to escape. In a short time, prisoners built several more residential barracks, including one for women. The Mielec camp operated as a branch of the concentration camp in Płaszów. Its official name was Arbeitslager Mielec – Konzentrationslager Płaszów.
Initially, the role of Lagerführer was performed by the commander of the Werkschutz – a man named Stein. Both Stein and another of the Werkschutz guards – Fallerowski, abused the prisoners in an exceptionally sadistic way. They were beaten for sluggishness, shot for attempting to escape, accidental damage to tools, and even for the wrong posture during the march to work.
A lot of valuable information about the situation in the Mielec camp was left in his memoirs by Samuel Silberstein, a prisoner of 10 (!) concentration camps. He wrote: “Each workplace had its Gruppenführer. There were two Polish workers for one Jew. There was one German Vorarbeiter and one handyman. Each of them had the right to beat prisoners. For the slightest breach at work, each of them punished the culprit separately. Everyone wanted to hit. You just didn’t know who to put ‘the back of the body to be beaten’ first.”
From 1943, the SS took care of the camp with Hauptscharführer Höring as commandant. In May 1944 he was replaced by Josef Schwammberger. The latter was tried for war crimes – and as he was one of the last of the war criminals wanted during the entire post-war period – he was sentenced to life imprisonment only in 1991. It is also worth recalling that the second of the great criminals “active” in Mielec – Rudolf Zimmermann – was identified in the 1960s in the GDR as a communist activist (!) and also sentenced to life imprisonment.
In mid-July 1944, when the front was approaching Mielec, the Germans began evacuating the camp with about 3,000 prisoners, including 300 women. Lagerfuehrer Schwammberger personally shot all the Jews who remained in the infirmary before his departure. The entire transport was loaded into freight wagons and taken towards Wieliczka.
22. Synagoga Rzochowska (Rzochów Synagogue)
Before World War I, Rzochów was one of the most beautiful wooden towns in Galicia. This beauty was emphasized by a beautiful wooden synagogue located at the southern wall of the Rynek. It was built in the 18th century and its shape resembled a tent in which Old Testament Jews kept tablets with the Ten Commandments. The Rzochów synagogue was destroyed sometime after 1942, like all other wooden synagogues in Poland.
23. Kirkut Rzochowski (Rzochów Cemetery).
As an independent town and Jewish community, Rzochów also had its own Jewish cemetery. It was located on a small hill in the forest, at the extension of ul. Kolejowej. The hill is still called Kirkut by the local population.
Towns around Mielec
Borowa (pronounced “bor-OH-va”
The Jews in Borowa had their own rabbi, who, however, resided in Mielec. The dead were also buried in the Jewish cemetery in Mielec. However, there were two houses of prayer and a mikveh in the village. In 1921, 186 Jews lived in Borowa.
Przecław (pronounced “CHEH-swaff”)
In the 1930s, Przecław was inhabited by about 300 Jews. They owned a house of prayer, a bathhouse, a ritual slaughterhouse and a cemetery. There were numerous religious organizations (Chevra Kadisha, Tehilim Yidn) and political organizations. For some time David Horowitz – son of the famous Planczer rav – was the rabbi. A Jew named Yankel Aisland was the town’s vice-mayor before World War II.
The Przecław cemetery was located on the slope of a hill on the edge of the village of Podole. It housed, among others, the tomb of an Austrian soldier of Jewish nationality who committed suicide in a nearby village during World War I.
Radomyśl Wielki (pronounced “RAH-da-mish vee-EL-kee”)
Radomyśl Wielki was the largest Jewish community in the powiat (district) after Mielec.
Many well-known figures of Jewish origin came from here, among which the following are worth mentioning:
Arthur Miller – American playwright. His parents and ancestors came from Radomyśl Wielki. In 1965-69 Miller was the president of the international Pen-Club. He was world famous for his dramas including “Death of a Salesman”, “The Crucible”, and “A View from the Bridge.” Arthur Miller was the last husband of Marilyn Monroe.
Melech Noy (aka Neustadt) – one of the leaders of Poale Zion in Poland. During World War II, he organized help for Jews from Poland and Lithuania in Russian labor camps, kolkhozes (Soviet farm collectives), and in Siberia. After the war, he took the office of the Secretary General of the World Confederation of Poale Zion. A street in Tel Aviv is named after him.
Joseph Pfeffer-Altman – Secretary General of Poale Agudat Yisrael in Israel.
Joshua Brand – director and creator of the TV series “Northern Exposure”
One should also note the writers and writers: Reuven Aisland, Moshe Gold, and Eliezer and Samuel Margoshes.
There was a yeshiva, a Talmudic secondary school, in Radomyśl where Jews from nearby towns were educated. Shmuel Engel (1853-1935) was one of the most famous Talmudists and rabbis of Radomyśl. He was the author of several religious books. He was highly respected by one of the most famous tzaddikim Issachar Dov Rokach from Bełz. The Jews called Engel “the splendor of the chosen people” and called him Gaon, a title that was once held only by the rectors of Talmudic schools.
Jews from Radomyśl wrote about their city: “Radomyśl was not an ordinary town. Radomyśl was the capital of Torah”.
Apart from the tenement houses in the vicinity of the Rynek, the mikvah and the Jewish cemetery have survived to our times. The former inhabitants of the Jewish city quite often come to visit this shtetl, which they call Grois Radamishla.