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Gimnazjum nr 3 im. Tomasza Morusa linia

Who are we

We are the students of The Thomas More Junior High School nr 3 in Otwock. We have united to realize our common idea: to familiarize ourselves with the history of Otwock Jews – of their culture and coexistence with other citizens. Our group consists mainly of girls, but there are also a few gentlemen with us. What makes us special is our ambition and eagerness to take action. We will try to hold on until the end of the project, we are not going to give up so easily!

Why we do this project

We have decided to do the project because we are interested in the subject. We live in the town which has the interesting past connected with Jews. We would like to deepen our knowledge – to familiarize ourselves with the history of Jews from Otwock, to see how their relations with other people from the town looked like. We will prove that television is not the only way to spend one’s free time. Combining the pleasant with the useful we are going to save the past from fading into oblivion.

Jewish community in our town

Jews in Otwock were mentioned for the first time at the end of 19th C. In the 1880s a rabbi from Warka, Kalisz Simcha Bunem settled in the middle of forest on a piece of the land that he had rented from two Jews - Blass and Reindorf. He built a big bet ha-midrash, i.e. a school where the Holy Book is studied. After some time, Hasidic Jews started to arrive there and that is basically how the Jewish community was born in Otwock. From that moment on, it grew constantly - legal conditions were favourable for it. Not only Warsaw Jews came here, but also those who fled harassment on the other side of The Bug (mainly in Russia and Lithuania,) moving to The Duchy of Warsaw. During that period Otwock became famous because of its spa climate. Exactly in the period of significant increase of the town’s popularity, additionally intensified by opening the Vistula Railway (Kolej Nadwiślańska,) which made Otwock easier to be approached, the spa in Nałęczów closed its gates for those patients who professed Judaism. This deprived them of any opportunity to cure their ailments. The event became the main cause of mass Jewish settlement in Otwock and it promoted establishment of sanatoria by them. In 1908 21% of all citizens were Jews. The Jewish population settled mainly on the rustic grounds near the forest, i.e. it dwelled mostly in the southern part of the Town on the right side of the rails. Aleksandra St (now Kupiecka St) was the heart of the Jewish district – the majority of Jews from Otwock cumulated right here. They lived in wooden houses with conspicuous open-work adornments of verandas and porches in ‘świdermajer’ style*. At the beginning, the Jewish community in Otwock had no synagogue, so they probably prayed in private houses. However, there was a mikvah in Szkolna St, which, as it was a bath with running water, was used by them in their ritual baths. Later, they built the first meagre concrete synagogue in Aleksandra St and two rabbis moved here – Ruben Zeman and Icchak Janowski. From 1910, the second house of prayer with a ritual bath was situated in Górna St.

Otwock Jews were part of Karczew Jewish commune. Such situation continued until 1916, when the independent Jewish commune was established here. Its duties included: the maintenance of the rabbinate, synagogues, the ritual bath with the slaughterhouse, and the cemetery, which was founded around 1900. It could also take action in the area of charity and religious education. The office of the commune was situated at 26 Berka Joselewicza St (currently Świderska St) and the rabbinate - at 23 Aleksandra St (now Kupiecka St.) Icchak Mendel Janowski was the rabbi of the Otwock commune from 1918 and Ruben Zejman was the rabbi’s assistant also from 1918 until the outbreak of World War II. The members of the authorities were: the president Pinkas Kacenelenbogen, Dr Mojżesz Rabinowicz, Blas Hersz, Szlama Solnicki, Tobiasz Mokotowski and Moszek Kajman. In 1930, Lejb – Moszek Engelman assumed the function of the president.

The Jewish population, which was quite diverse, soon outnumbered the Christians in Otwock. The ordinary people inhabited central ‘town’, while the richer lived in the villa district, especially in Śródborów. The Jews were engaged in trade and craft. The most various workshops the town belonged to them precisely. In 1917, 135 of 157 successful trade works were in hands of Jews (i.e. 86%). Also, running a guest house or a spa was quite popular then. Villas for rent and boarding houses were usually owned by richer inhabitants. The main market place lain in the southern part of town. Here cumulated the minor Jewish trade and craft, here were also cheap guest houses.

In 1937, Orele, a rabbi from Kozienice, moved here. Along with him, a big group of his followers came, which resulted in economic revival of Otwock. Already in 1895, the first sanatorium for Jews, created by Józef Przygoda, a medical assistant, started to function as far as World War II; later run by his son Władysław (at 5 Warszawska St.) The first Jewish guest house belonged to Lejbusz Gezuntheit. Gelbfisz’s guest house attracted Hasides from Warsaw. In 1931, 75% of homes for rest and boarding houses (i.e. 41 of 54) were Jewish property. Therapeutic resorts on the territory of Otwock were run by Jewish associations: ‘Marpe’ (from 1907) and ‘Brijus’ (from 1911.) ‘Zofiówka’ (in Kochanowskiego St) was founded in 1908 by The Association for Mentally and Neurotically Ill Jews (‘Towarzystwo Opieki nad Umysłowo i Nerwowo Chorymi Żydami’.) This big psychiatric infirmary had 275 beds in 1935. Its first chairman was Samuel Goldflam. In 1907, The Jewish Association ‘Marpe’ (‘Treatment’) bought a villa at 70 Świderska St to arrange ‘the health cuisine’ for poor sick people, functioning as an outpatient sanatorium from 1913. In 1924, a resort for Jews suffering from tuberculosis was run – ‘Marpe’ sanatorium, maintained by The Association for the Jews with Tuberculosis (Towarzystwo Opieki nad Biednymi Gruźliczo – Chorymi Żydami.) In 1913 on the dune between Świder and Otwock (in Kołłątaja St), a new ‘Marpe’ sanatorium was established. At the same time, the first tuberculosis outpatient clinic ‘Dawtil’ in the town was founded at 17 Polna St. In 1911, The Jewish Association against Tuberculosis (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Przeciwgruźlicze ‘Brijus’ – ‘Health’) bought 32 morgues** of forest on the slopes of the Meran Dune. ‘Brijus’ sanatorium was built there. ‘Brijus’ Association had also the second sanatorium (‘Haszachefes’ - ‘Help’) in Włodzimierska St (currently Goldflam St) for the youth under threat from tuberculosis. In 1929, among 14813 patients, there were 11335 Jews (more than 76%), while seven years later, 22700 out of 28397 them were Jews (it was around 80%).

In the inter-war period, Jews were let to have their part in the Town Council. In 1919, they had 11 of 24 seats in the Council and the function of vice-mayor. In commissions, the equal number of representatives of both nationalities (i.e. Jews and Poles) was fixed. In this way, the things went until 1939. The cooperation proceeded without conflicts, harmoniously, the decisions were made jointly. Both nationalities were united by the common business – health resort visitors.

In 1921, Otwock was inhabited by 5408 Jews, which was 63,2 % of its total population. By the end of the 20s, two synagogues were built. One of them was built in 1927 on the property of Szloma and Chaima Goldberg at 41 Warszawska St. It was the main temple seating 650 worshippers. The second one, which was concrete and two-storey, was built in 1928 according to the project by Marcin Weinfeld. It stood on the territory owned by Małka Weinberg – at 30 Mlądzka St (now Reymonta St and Żeromskiego St crossing.) At 11 Mlądzka St (currently Żeromskiego St,) in ‘Rose’ Villa, the Small Synagogue was situated.

The Jewish associations were one of the phenomena of cultural life in Otwock. Among the organisations whose members were the people of Jewish origin, we find such as: The Jewish Culture Association (Żydowskie Stowarzyszenie Kultury), The Jewish Culture and Education Association (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Kulturalno – Oświatowe ‘Torbut’) and The Jewish Culture Association (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Kulturalne ‘Jabne’). The cultural life flourished in the apartment of Oszer Perechodnik, a Jewish merchant – it had a hall suitable for concerts, shows and radio-concerts. The cinema ‘Oaza’, owned by Motel Nuswald, was at 4 Sienkiewicza St (now Armii Krajowej St) and the private cinema ‘Miramare’ was owned by Mojżesz Łopata, seated 150 people, and was open 3 – 6 days a week (at 29 Warszawska St.) Also, schools for Jewish children were run along with the Talmudic boarding college, where the youth from the whole country studied.

The first elementary school for Jewish children was found in 1919 at 31 Karczewska St, the second in a rented place in Staszica St, and another one at 1 Wesoła St. Apart from that, many schools and custodial institutions were founded by associations, such as ‘Chorew’, ‘Bejt Jakow’, ‘Jabne’, ‘Torbut’, ‘Talmud Tora’, ‘Tomchaj Tmimin’, ‘Szlojmej Emunej Isroel’. 15 private schools were also run. In cheders – religious schools of the elementary degree – children were taught to read prayers, translate the Holy Book to Jewish and to write in this language. Among others, the following structures worked: Całka Pszenny’s cheder – the oldest one in Otwock, where they taught the religion exclusively in Jewish and where one of teachers was Mendel Chanower; ‘Achawas Tora’ – one of the biggest and the oldest cheders; 4-class girls school Bejt Jakow of ‘Szlojmej Emunoj Isroel’ group; Talmud Tora – the biggest free private religious school for children from poor families; the school of ‘Torbut’ Association, for people planning to emigrate to Palestine. Jesziwa – the school of the countrywide range, educating rabbis, religious judges, religion teachers, and Talmud experts was run. It was led by The Association on Support and Promotion of Talmudic and Religious Knowledge (Stowarzyszenie Popierania i Krzewienia Wiedzy Religijno – Talmudycznej ‘Tomchaj – Timin’). In 1938, it had about 100 students. Rabbi Juda Eber was its chairman.

The Association ‘Szomrej Szabas Weadas’ (‘on Obeying Saturday and The Main Rules of The Religion’) was established by rabbi Icchak M. Janowski at 7 Aleksandra St (now Kupiecka St.) Additionally, the Association on Help for the Poor (Towarzystwo Wspomagania Biednych - ‘Hochnasat Kalo’), run under the leadership of Dawid Fajowicz, collected money on trousseaux for poor girls. The Association for Jewish Orphans (Towarzystwo Opieki nad Sierotami Żydowskimi - ‘Centos’) ran two country posts of the nationwide range: a special school for orphans, cripples and the Therapeutic and Educational Centre (‘Centos’). Also existed: an orphanage, the children care institution of The Association on Health Care for the Jewish Population in Poland (‘Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej w Polsce’; established in 1928, providing comprehensive care of doctors), day nurseries, kindergartens. ‘Bikur Chojlim’ Association founded an outpatients department, which offered free guidance and a bed in a hospital; whereas The Association on Care for the Poor and Sick (Towarzystwo Wspierania Biednych Chorych - ‘Tomchaj – Chojlim’) ran a free eating-house.

The following operated: ‘Volcano’ Sport Club, headed by Moszek Zylbersztajn, the Otwock department of The Labour Association of Physical Education (Robotnicze Stowarzyszenie Wychowania Fizycznego - ‘Gwiazda Sztern’) and The Jewish Labour Sport Club (Żydowski Robotniczy Klub Sportowy - ‘Hapoel – Robotnik’). Also, The Jewish Craftsmen Union (Związek Rzemieślników Żydów) and The Jewish Minor Tradesmen Association (Stowarzyszenie Drobnych Kupców Żydowskich) were run.

As you can see, Jews were mainly the owners of sanatoria, private schools, culture centres, economic entities and a number of active organisations, parties, associations (about 35 in total,) which is a testament to the extent of Jewish colonisation in Otwock.

In 1939, Otwock, as the biggest resort near Warsaw, had more than 19 000 citizens, including 14 000 Jews (it equalled 75% of total town population.) Then World War II came, bringing the extermination of Jews. The years of occupation caused mass executions and destructed the achievements of Jewish culture.

* The style in which the wooden houses were built by the people living in the so-called ‘Otwock line’ (‘linia otwocka’) 
** Morgue – a historical area unit, used in Poland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and other countries; 32 morgues  ≈ 18 hectares ≈ 44 acres

What we do in the project

Our project is entitled ‘Following the Track of Otwock Jews’ (‘Śladami Żydów otwockich’). Within its confines, we will search for information about Jewish legacy in books, on the internet, among our acquaintances. We will perform interviews/conversations with inhabitants of the town. We will visit such institutions as the museum or the archives. We will take care of the Jewish cemetery, we are going to tidy it up. Walking the streets of Otwock, we will look for places connected with the history of Jews and take some photos.

On November 12, we visited The Youth Community Centre (Młodzieżowy Dom Kultury) in Otwock, where we were able to see Wojtek Wiśnicki’s film installation organised by The Association of Artists and Friends of Otwock Culture (Stowarzyszenie Artystów i Przyjaciół Kultury Otwockiej - SAiPKO) under the auspices of the Otwock Starosta*. The piece called ‘Fifty Metres of History’ (‘50 metrów historii’) is based on the recollections of Calek Perechodnik – a Jew from Otwock. The display was accompanied by the presentation of pictures from the film-set. We got opportunity to talk to the director and the actresses, to listen to the words of Perechodnik’s confessions, to feel the atmosphere of the pre-war days, and finally to find inspiration to work... Once we had entered the spirit which cannot be described with words, we used the time given to us by the headmaster of our school and went to the nearby cemetery. We wanted to see its present state, preparing for the future activities. We have to admit that what we saw there saddened us very much. Mainly, we found upturned (and even broken) macebas. This visit was a lesson of history for us. We read inscriptions with interest, we welcomed the renovated (as they seemed to be) macebas with joy. Now we knew that we had a lot of work to do, but we would definitely be back.

On January 18, we went to a museum lesson in the Museum of The Otwock Region ‘Soplicówka’ in order to deepen our knowledge about Otwock Jews, with whom the history of our town is inseparably connected. We were guided by Mr Sebastian Rakowski who perfectly knows what is what in the field of Jews. The visit to the Museum (which we have presented in details in the gallery) gave us quite a lot. Thanks to it, we are rich in some piece of the history of our Little Homeland.

Also, we managed, relying on the available materials, to work out the history of Jewish population of our town, which we update each time we gain some new piece of information.

*Starosta – the alderman in Poland

What we are going to do next

After the first stage, in which we searched for the traces of Jews in Otwock, we decided to arrange information we have gathered, analyze it, and reconstruct the history of Jewish community in Otwock. To enrich and enhance our knowledge, we are going to visit Otwock Region Museum, the local archives and find people to interview them.

Our attendance at the above-mentioned presentation of ‘Fifty Metres of History’ (on November 12) resulted in striking up acquaintances with people, who will help us to run our project. Mrs Barbara Kurkiewicz – Matysiak, the author of books about Otwock who knows the town like nobody else, has agreed to guide a walk through the streets of Otwock in order to introduce some places related to Jews, while Mrs Grażyna Zielińska - Zenkner, the president of The Association of Artists and Friends of Otwock Culture, promised to organize a meeting with people who will help us to find out more about the history of Otwock Jews. We are very glad about that and we expect the productive cooperation.

On Friday, January 18, we are going to Otwock Region Museum to a museum lesson concerning the history of Otwock Jews. We hope to meet Mr Sebastian Rakowski, the author of the exhibition ‘The Otwock Jews’, which is currently on its way through the whole country. We will publish a report soon.

In the current stage we have collected most information ourselves. Obviously, we asked our families for help (irreplaceable grandmothers and grandfathers) and also our friends. Now we are planning to use the vast knowledge of museum and archives staff.

We have contacted with The Civil Committee on Otwock Jews Memory (‘Społeczny Komitet Pamięci Żydów Otwockich’) and with Mr Karczewski. After hearing some of our ideas connected with the performance of our project, the secretary offered us help and meetings. Of course, we will take this opportunity. Thanks to this acquaintance, we have managed to obtain an invitation to the presentation of the posthumous medal ‘The Righteous Among the Nations’ for a nun from Otwock.


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