History of the Jews of Mielec: 1573 to 1939
Jews lived in Mielec for almost 500 years, starting in the late 16th century with the arrival of “Israel the Jew” and his wife Bilha in 1573. The Jewish population grew to a peak of more than 5,000 where they were approximately half of the total population of the town. Jews in Mielec were very heterogeneous in composition, ranging from extremely wealthy to very poor, land barons to paupers, ultra-Orthodox to secular. Most of the shops and industry in town were run by Jews, including flour mills, soap factories, distilleries, and feather trade (goose down for pillows & bedding, and decorative ones from around the world for fashion).
Mielec’ Jewish community was led by three generations of rabbis now known as the Melitzer Rebbes. Part of the Ropschitz Rabbinic Dynasty, the first Melitzer Rebbe was R’Jacob Horowitz ZTVK”L (1784-1836), the son of R’Naftali Tzvi Horowitz of Kolbuszowa (Kolbasov) ZTVK”L. R’Jacob Horowitz was succeeded by his son R’Yehuda Horowitz ZTVK”L (1820-1879), the second Melitzer Rebbe, and then by his grandson R’Naftali Horowitz ZTVK”L (1845-1915), the third Melitzer Rebbe. The Melitzer Rabbinical dynasty survived the Shoah; the great-great-great grandson of R’Jacob Horowitz, R’Naftali Asher Yeshayah Moskowitz RBIH”K, is the current leader of the Melitzer Shul in Ashdod, Israel. There is an excellent book by R’Aaron Halberstam that chronicles the lives and accomplishments of the three generations of Mielec Rabbis.
After several pogroms in the early 20th century and with the assistance of programs such as the Baron Hirsch Foundation, Jews began to emigrate out from Mielec – mostly to the United States. The Jewish population in Mielec began to decline in the aftermath of WWI and eventually was declared one of the first ‘Judenfrei’ towns under German occupation in WWII after a forced-march eviction on March 9, 1942. We will never know the exact number of Jews from Mielec and its environs that were killed in the Shoah. One of the goals of this site is to be a memorial to these victims. The current count of those killed, died, or persecuted to death between September 1, 1939 and May 8, 1945 is 1054 (as of July 2020).
Brief Timeline of Mielec Jews 1573 – 1945
Most of the information below is gleaned from Rochelle Seidel’s book, published in 2012. See the Literature page for book citation.
1573 – First Jews recorded living in Mielec
1662 – First census of Mielec is taken, recording 491 total residents including approximately 100 Jews.
1720 – First Jewish cheder opens to education Jewish children.
1721 – First Jewish synagogue is built in Mielec.
1765 – Jewish population of the Mielec is recorded at 585 persons including 12 tailors, 3 hat makers, 1 ribbon maker, 2 goldsmiths, 5 butchers, 3 bakers, 1 soap maker, 1 glazier, 1 velvet maker, 1 boiler maker, and 2 barbers in the town itself.
1781 – Jewish population of Mielec is recorded at 734 persons.
1799 – Jewish population of Mielec is recorded at 1008 persons, about 34% of the overall population.
1810 – Rabbi Jacob Horowitz moves from Kolbuszowa to Mielec and becomes the 1st Mielec Rebbe.
1839 – Rabbi Jacob Horowitz dies in January; son Yehuda Horowitz becomes 2nd Mielec Rebbe.
1846 – Peasant riots break out in Mielec.
1856 – A great fire engulfs Mielec, destroying 60 homes in Mielec (including 28 Jewish homes) and the Jewish synagogue.
1873 – The first railroad is built from Mielec to Dębica; there is a cholera outbreak in December, killing many citizens including approximately 200 Jews.
1879 – Rabbi Yehuda Horowitz dies; son Naftali Horowitz becomes 3rd Mielec Rebbe.
1882 – Jewish population of Mielec is recorded at 2731 persons, about 45% of the overall population.
1890s – The Baron Hirsch school is founded.
1895 – Peasant riots break out, destroying many Jewish businesses in Mielec.
1896 – Out of 50 businesses in Mielec, 45 of them are run by Jewish families.
1902 – New Synagogue is built near Mielec Rynek
1905 – Jewish population of Mielec is recorded at 4017 persons, about 62% of the overall population.
1910 – First Jewish bookshop / library is established by Rachel Grau.
1916 – Rabbi Yehuda Horowitz dies while in exile in Vienna during WWI; son Menachem Mendel Horowitz becomes 4th and last Mielec Rebbe.
1918 – Peasant riots break out in March and November, destroying many Jewish businesses in Mielec; the first Mielec youth Zionist organization, Hashomer Hatza’ir, is created.
1919 – Another peasant riot breaks out in May; the Jewish football (soccer) team “Maccabi” is founded.
1921 – There are 86 Jewish-owned workshops and factories in Mielec; the Beit Yaakov School for Girls is founded.
1923 – American J.D.C. helps the Jewish community rebuild the ritual baths (mikveh).
before September 1939 – Jewish population of Mielec is recorded at 5420 persons.
September 1, 1939 – The German Army invades Poland. The Germans occupy Mielec less than two weeks later. See full history of WWII and the Shoah in Mielec here.