Jewish Community in Post War Kalisz

Hila Marcinkowska

The Jewish Council in Kalisz started  their activities soon after the Soviet Army had taken up the town. The Council seat was located in a building at 11th Listopada Square  no 15 ( Main Market-place no 15). The first persons who registered there came in March 1945. The files showed the very first registered person to be Estera Łaja Pregerowa, who had been a nurse and a midwife in pre-war Kalisz and who survived the German occupation in Warsaw. In August 1945 the total number of survived Jews was 344, till November 11, 1945 the list of registered persons numbered 479 people.1 The following year, 1946, other 1818 people got registered (mainly repatriates from the USSR and demobilized soldiers).

At the first stage of the Council activities, the majority of Jews were people coming back from concentration camps: from Auschwitz – 47 people, Częstochowa – 40 people, Teresin – 14 people, Buchenwald – 8 people, Stuthof – 7 people, Mauthausen – 6 people, Gross-Rosen – 3 people, Zuken-Hauen – 2 people, Jaworzno – 1 person and other concentration camps – 188 people. Altogether, the number of Jews who survived the death camps and came back to Kalisz was 337 people. Besides, there were 66 Jews demobilized from the army and 19 Jews from underground army (former partisants). In the German Nazi part of occupied Poland, called General Gubernya (German: Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete) there were 68 survived Jews.

Table 1.  Place of survival and number of survived (1945 – 1950)

Place of survivalNumber of people
Repatriation from the USSR1278
Concentration camps188
Underground army19

Between 1945 – 1950 there came 1278 people, repatriates from the Soviet Union, who managed to survive the war in that country. Altogether, 2270 people got registered in the Jewish Council in Kalisz (1136 men and 996 women)2. The register enclosed childern born during the war as well as after 1945. During the war there were 116 babies born in the Soviet Union and 19 babies born elswhere. In 1945 there were 117 babies born, including 24 babies born in Kalisz (59 babies were born in the Soviet Union and 34 babies were born in other Polish towns).

Table 2. Survivors according to their gender.

Married men / married women391398
Widowers/ widows2437
Others (bachelors/spinsters/ youth)970
The total number of registered1136996

Some of the people registered in the Jewish Council were just passing through Kalisz on their way west. Yet the majority declared that Kalisz or one of the neighbouring small towns/villages were their hometowns before the war.  The biggest number of people was pre-war Kalisz citizens: namely 1277 persons. Then came the number of people from naighbouring small towns/villages where there had been individual Jewish communities or numerous Jewish centres before the war, i.e. Koźminek with ………………. survived and registered people, Błaszki with ……………….. people, Stawiszyn with ………………. people. The most numerous professional group among the returning survivors was craftsmen: tailors and shoemakers but also electricians, mechanics and salesmen. There were but a few educated people that returned (medical doctors, lawyers, teachers), including two actors and one stage manager.

The files end with the number of 2270, yet there are 138 files missing. Some of the files are written in  printed forms, other are written on small cardboard cards, but even then the information is systematic. The files contain the first and family names, the file number, date and place of birth, parents’ names (including mother’s maiden name), job, marital status, place of residence before September 1, 1939, present residence and place of sojourn before the liberation. Many files contain information on the persons’ departures.

The Jewish Council’s field of activity covered Kalisz and the neighbouring little towns/villages, like Błaszki, Koźminek, Opatówek, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Szczytniki and other. The Jewish Council in Kalisz registered also pre-war citizens of Sieradz, Zduńska Wola, Turek, Konin or Łódź. Some of the Jews got registered in Kalisz and stayed there, others were just passing through. It was quite often that Jews unable to find a proper place decided to go further and seek better living conditions. It was not rare that travelling through many towns they got registered in various Jewish Councils on their way. Quite ferquently, when they finally settled somewhere down or found a job they were crossed out from the files. The Jewish Councils tried to comprise all the Jews in the area, but quite often the Councils were percived only as a kind of employment or accomodation agencies or as an institution to find missing family or friends.

In May 1945 a general meeting of Jewish citizens took place, where the Council’s administration body was elected. That meant: Aleksander Nagórski became the President, Józef Sieradzki became the deputy, Moszek (Moise) Błaszkowski became the secretary, Abram Jakub Friedman –  member of the management, Bolesław Hamburger – member of the management, Estera Łaja Pragerowa-Bolkowska – member of the management. The were also Franciszka Zaksowa in the section of education and culture, Arje Heber – clerk, Hanna Skowrońska – the chéf, Bronisław Paryzenberg – storekeeper, Feliks Lesman – caretaker, Jetta Grynwald Frankiel – auxiliary cook and Filip Białek – auxiliary cook3. In 1946 Lejb Diament became the President of the Jewish Council.

At the first stage the Jewish Council in Kalisz focused on helping all the arriving Jews to find lodging and food. First meals were issued in April 1945. Food was acquired from the Provincial Jewish Council in Łódź and from the municipal stores. The Jewish Council helped also the railway travellers and opened a spot for them at the railway station in Kalisz where the passengers could get food, dressing materials and medication. One of the most important tasks of the Council was, however, to keep the records of the survived Jews. Apart from the files, on a white – painted wall in the Council the registered persons could write their names and addresses where they were going to. There were also scraps of paper sticked there with notes like „Chaim Markowicz, son of Lajzer, born in 1913 in Kalisz, Ciasna Street no 6. Present address: Saut curson Los Angeles California USA”. All that was to provide the survivors with information of their families and friends.

Jews returning to Kalisz got financial and material support from the Council. Survivors from the concentration camps received financial support in the amount of 20 000 Polish zloty paid once, repatriates from the Soviet Union received from 2000 to 10 000 Polish zloty. They also got material support, i.e. clothes and food. The Council distributed parcels from Palestine sent by former Kalisz citizens and parcels from  the UNRA. Statistically there was half  a parcel per capita.

Religious activity was an important issue for the Jewish survivors. Thus in May 1945 there was a meeting which elected the authorities of the Jewish Community in Kalisz, a year later the Community turned into a congregation. The President was Hersz Trojbe and the chazan was Chil Froman, a pre-war cantor from Lvov. As no synagogue survived the war the praying room was in a private flat at 11th Listopada Street no 15. Members of the congregation took care of the Jewish cemetery at Podmiejska Street. The Jewish Council in Kalisz was supported by former Kalisz citizens who presently lived in Palestine and who established Kalisz Committee of Assistance. Here is a fragment of a letter written in November 1945 by the Kalisz Jewish Council to the brothers in Erec Izrael: „[…] having come back to Kalisz a single man cannot find anybody from his family and has a feeling as if he lived in a cemetery, and cemetery was visited but once in a year. Those persons crave for warmth, for a heart and for their own environment. Both synagogues are pulled down, the old cemetery is no  more, it has been erased and the tombsones now make pavements along the river Prosna. The other cemetery has survived only partially. The hospital and mykva are no more. The cemetery has no fence. Every Jew coming back to Kalisz gets a lodging and 300 Polish zlotys paid once. We are running a canteen. The meals compose of two dishes. The sick are taken care of with particular attention. There is a Religion Community associated with the Jewish Council […] There is a common lodging-house associated with the Council4 .

In November 1945, on the initiative of the Jewish Council, there was an exhumation of the victims murdered by Nazis in mobile gas chambers; there were 1 500 bodies of Kalisz Jews. The victims were unearthed from their mass graves situated in neighbouring woods. They were men, women and even babies. The bodies were buried in the Jewish cemetery. The ceremony attracted all Kalisz Jews and turned into a manifestation against Nazi crimes.

One of the characteristic features of Jews was not only their mobility but also their social, economic and political activities. Similarily to other towns, they established in Kalisz The Organization for Creative Development (OCD) and The Society for Health Protection (SHP). Within the activities of the SHP an outpatients department was opened at 11th Listopada Street no 15. It served its patients till 1950. Since May 1, 1946 the Council building hosted a kindergarten for children. Thirteen children attended it5. Jewish war orphants were located in Kalisz orphantry; in 1946 there were 26 such  orphants there6. Courses organized by the OCD helped the Jewish people to master new professional skills, e.g. of shoemaking trade, of tailoring, glaziery, car mechanics, etc. The OCD was active up to 1950.

Those Jews who decided to stay in the town worked mostly in Jewish cooperatives. In 1947 there were four of them (the cooperatives called „Przełom” and „A.R” produced clothes, „Jedność” produced shoes and other leather items and „Skup” used to buy and sell fluff) employing 86 workers altogether. According to the report by the Jewish Council in Kalisz there were 9 Jews working in state-run factories, 5 Jews working in small private firms or workshops, 3 Jews engaged in home manufacturing and 15 Jews working as clerks (including 3 persons in the Jewish Council). There were also 3 young Jewish people with jobs7.

Some of the Kalisz Jews were active politically. Almost all Jewish political parties could be met there: „Ichud” the Union of Democtratic Zionists, „Poalej-Syjon” the Jewish Socialist Workers’ Party, „Hitachdut” the Socialist Labour Party and „Bund” the Socialist Workers’ Party. Yet, number of the parties or their members did not mean their effective political influence in the town. Plurality of the parties, however, made the common impession that the general Jewish population support the political changes in Poland and that they are co llaborating with the new political system.

Kalisz, as other Polish towns and regions, witnessed successive groups of Polish Jews departing. A precedence was the situation after the pogroms in Kielce and Cracow and after the murders committed on Jews in Warta, Wieruszowo and Wieluń. The most serious reason to leave Kalisz was, however, the incident that happened in 1946. Then a group of 100 Polish Jews, repatriates from the USSR, returned home. Their Polish neighbours, accustomed to the scarcity of Jews in the town and having settled in the pre-war Jewish apartments, decided to ‘liquidate’ the problem. The repatriates were staying in the building of the Council while their Polish ‘neighbours’, having cut off the telephone wires broke into the building, arms in hands. One of the women, staying at that moment in a backroom hid under a bed and then called help throug the window. There was a group of Soviet soldiers coming nearby and she asked them to inform the garrison (at Łazienna Street). What would have happened if the soldiers had not taken the cry seriously ? Fortuantely they jokingly told about that a medical doctor whom they met (he was a Jew from Błaszki) and who served with them in the Red Army. The doctor took a few soldiers with him and they rushed into the Council. They managed to arrest all the assailants but none of them was legally accused for assoult with arms8.

After that incident the majority of Kalisz Jews decided to leave the town.

Till the beginning of 1950 there were about 100 Jews in Kalisz.

The Regional Jewish Council in Kalisz was open till 1960.

In 1998 the competence of the non existent Jewish community was taken over by the Jewish Community in Wrocław.

 Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute (JHI), Warsaw, , section: Kalisz. The Regional Jewish Council. Nominal Rolls of Jews registered in Kalisz, 1955-1946, a typescript, language: Polish, files no 575; Archives of the JHI, section: Kalisz. The Regional Jewish Council. Statistical Report on the Activity (May 1956), a typescript, language: Polish, files no 600.

2  Number 2270 is the last one of the existing files. There are 138 files missing.

3  Archives of the JHI, section: Kalisz. The Regional Jewish Council. Nominal rolls of the Jews registered in Kalisz, 1945-1946, a typesctipt, language: Polish, files no 600. Archives of the JHI, section: Kalisz. The Regional Jewish Council. Statistical Report on Activity (May 1946), a typescript, language: Polish, files no ………………….

4  Letter in the possession of the author.

5 Archives of the JHI, section: Registration. Personal files. Province: Łódź. Nominal roll of Jews registered (included a list of children engaged in Jewish Councils, in production workshops, in institutuions, etc.), 1946, a manuscript, language: Polish, files no 191.

6 Archives of the JHI, section: Registration. Personal files. Province: Łódź. Nominal roll of Jews registered (included a list of children engaged in Jewish Councils, in production workshops, in institutuions, etc.), 1946, a manuscript, language: Polish, files no 191.

7 Archives of the JHI, section: Registration. Personal files. Province: Łódź. Nominal roll of Jews registered (included a list of children engaged in Jewish Councils, in production workshops, in institutuions, etc.), 1946, a manuscript, language: Polish, files no 191.

8 Account by Estara Kawe.