The beginning of the city was a settlement from the 13th century. Its
name was Szeylow, then Zeliow. The first historical reference is
dated 1402 and can be found in a volume "Liber Beneficiorum“ by Jan
Laski. Until the 18th century Zelow was a typical nobleman's village,
located quite a distance from major roads and lost among the woods and
poor fields. The inhabitants worked in agriculture and animal
husbandry. The settlement, which at that time belonged to Mr.
Jozef Swidzinski, was bought in 1802 by Czech immigrants who went
there to escape religious persecution in their country. They founded a textile
industry which is still functioning well even today. The
Zelow craftsmen specialized in the production of satin, cretonne, and
decorative plush. At the beginning of the 19th century, a large
Czech people took place, and new settlers, Poles, Germans, and Jews,
appeared in their place. The small city became quite unique in Poland, having
a fulminate religious life of the four national groups.
oldest trace of a Jewish presence in Zelow are notes taken by a priest,
Aleksander Glowacki, in congregational registry of the reformed protestant
"1817, on May 13th David son of Abraham Majer, a Jew and publican in
Zelow, died of consumption at the age of not even a year“ and "On
June 3rd, 1818, son of Szalamon Storm, a butcher in Zelow, was born
and was circumcised on the tenth day, getting the name of Ozak
during this ceremony“.
During Mr. Glowacki´s term in the parish, a first attempt was made to
drive out newly arriving Jewish settlers. He ordered all Czech families
not to rent rooms to Jews. The reason for that was rather an economic
than a religious one: the threat that Jews could accept cheap jobs.
Another attempt was made in 1831 after a Jewish trader, Hersz
Kupferwasser, brought to Zelow a delivery of cotton which was infected
with cholera bacillus and many inhabitants died. Quite a few Jewish
families had to leave the city. We know their names: the families of Jozef
Wolf, Chaskl Bialek, Hersz Kupferwasser, Anszel Kohn, Abram Sadowski,
Szlama Grebek, Icek Wieruszowski, Szabsza Jakubowicz, Josek Sromotka,
Jankiel Rogala, Chyl Markowski, Szlama Sztorm, Berek Bronsztayn, Szmul
Birnbaum, and old Bialek. In 1833 the last Jews left Zelow going to Lask.
years later a new wave of Jews came to Zelow, this time they were Jewish
peddlers. They were first allowed to stay for a winter, and finally they
settled down. In a report dated 1867 by a priest named Mozes, there is a note
about 40 Jewish families, counting more than 100 persons. Boruch
Rosenblum, Majer Rosenblum, and Majer Tanski (or Tauski) bought land
from Czechs becoming co-owners of the city. This was possible due to
reforms in the Polish Kingdom which gave Jews the same rights and
to buy land.
In about 1880 almost 100 Jewish families lived in Zelow,
although some other sources gave the total number at 250. The "Dictionary of
the Polish Kingdom and other Slavic
countries" quotes 488 Jews living in Zelow at the end of the 19th century
and their number grew constantly. In 1878 a Jewish cemetery in Zelow was
founded, In 1906 – according to Wojciech Kriegsaisen it was 1909 – a
religious community was founded. Soon a wooden shul was erected (before this,
a facility had been rented in a house belonging to Pawel Jelinek).
In 1910, in the first election – with votes of 110 persons from 133 –
a board was selected: Icek Fraid, Chaim Liberman, and Haszman
Sztarch. At that time 1,573 Jews lived in Zelow which was six times
more compared to 1878.
After Poland became independent in 1918, the first Parliamentary
election was held on 26 January 1919, gathering altogether the 2,068 inhabitants of Zelow. Among
12 political parties there were three Jewish organizations, and they
received 187 votes (Rada Narodowa 48, Poalei Syjon 37, and Orthodox 102).
During the census in
Poland in 1921, the total number of Jewish inhabitants of Zelow district
was 1,859, but the same document specified only 552 person of Jewish
nationality. As you can see, the criteria of nationality and the
belonging to a religious group were not the same. According to Tadeusz
Czajkowski, there were In Zelow and surroundings villages 2,046 Jews
(2,000 in the city of Zelow).
a large percentage of Jewish people in Zelow is reflected in the
local administrative authority. Among the 17 persons on this body of
mostly Polish and
German origin, there were two Jews.
Three years later, at the Parliamentary election on 5 and 12 November
1922, 3,486 inhabitants of Zelow district (from the total of 7,608)
Unfortunately, all documents from the Jewish Community in Zelow were
destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. However in a register of
inhabitants of Zelow 1931-1939, there is much evidence of Jewish families.
According to this information, the majority of them lived
in the center of the city, such as in the Rynek (Main Square) and the streets Kosciuszki,
Sw. Anna, Kilinskiego, Sienkiewicza, and Waska. Some families lived in
Pilsudkiesgo street, Piotrkowska and Zeromskiego. Only e few lived in
Nowy Rynek (New Square), Plocka, Poznanska and Zlota.
The Jewish population of Zelow remained together in houses located in
neighboring streets. In the 1930s one room apartments were
also rented out to big families with up to six children, and often a weaving machine was also located
in the one room as well.
Extermination of Jews
Nazi authorities started to repress the Jewish population from the first
days of the occupation of the city. They used the same methods as in
all other Polish towns: Jews were robbed of all rights, had to wear
armbands, were expelled from their apartments and their shops, and
their working place taken away.
was not all, unfortunately. The next step was to create a ghetto,
situated in the center of the town and bordered by the streets Rynek, Sw.
Anna, Zeromskiego and Kilinskiego. There are different dates quoted as
to the establishment of the ghetto, sometimes 1940, sometimes 1941. There
was no confusion concerning the date of the ghetto liquidation: from June
to September 1942. According to the German census of
December 1939, 3,714 Jews lived in the ghetto, mainly from
Zelow, but also from the surrounding villages or towns such as Dabrowa
Rusiecka, Dzialoszyn, Szczercow, Warta, Widawa, and Wielun. There is no
agreement whether it came to such a accumulation in form of a
migration or whether there were organized German transports. Jews who first
came to Zelow from Szczercow or Widawa were escaping from the
approaching front in September 1939. Probably people wanted to join
centers or simply to find lodging with their relatives.
Jewish population grew from 3,700 in 1939 to 4,500 only one year
later and nearly 6,000 in 1941. Considering how small the ghetto
was it is hard to imagine how so many people could live in such a
small space. Despite much oppression it was not a typical closed
ghetto like in Lodz or Warsaw. It was more like the ghetto in
Belchatow where Jews were allowed to live in chosen streets. Besides
that, Jews had their own authoritative body called the Judenrat, their
own police (presided over by Josel Frenkel), medical personnel, and a
in Belchatow, there was a public execution of male Jews, hanged
publicly in winter 1942 (probably on the 19th or 2oth of March). The
were chosen by Judenrat, probably by lot. The gallows had been
brought from Belchatow. The whole Jewish population had to watch the
execution, even the children of the victims. The noose was put on by
other Jews, among them Abram Siwek (according to the report of the
Priest Ciosek), probably the only one who managed to survive the
war. After the execution a dinner for invited Nazi officers from Zelow
and Belchatow took place and the Judenrat was obliged to deliver food and
total extermination began in summer 1942. Between June and September
first 286 Jews from Zelow (mostly handworkers and other specialists)
were transported to the ghetto in Lodz. The rest, "useless" for the Nazi,
were transported to the concentration camp in Chelmno upon Ner and
murdered. About 30 Jews fled and saved their lives. The German
statistics from November 1942 did not mention any Jews in Zelow.
only the population, but also other Jewish traces were wiped away by
the Nazis. The old wooden synagogue and mikva (Kosciuszki Street 9,
behind the new synagogue made of stone) as well as the cheder (Sw. Anna
Street) were destroyed. The new synagogue was saved because it was
used by the Nazis as a storage place. It was a building consisting of four
rooms, two larger and two smaller ones. In each of the bigger rooms
there was room for 500
people. The German occupiers destroyed also all
documents, also vital records, of the Jewish Community in Zelow.
written by Andrzej Selerowicz
Based on the book "Zelow, wspolnota
nacji, wyznan, kultur" by Slawomir Papuga and Andrzej Gramsz;
Grako, Lodz, 2003.